Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The Everglades

Another day, we took a trip to the Everglades, which I didn't know masses about other than from a uni project my sister did on it about a zillion years ago. Tour companies offer these trips literally on every street corner so we found one for about $40 and set off on a bumpy ride. Forty minutes later, we arrived and hopped on an airboat. I cannot describe how hot it was. Whether it was sitting on a metal seat or just being away from any kind of breeze, I felt like I was about to melt. Anyway, this airboat just drifts down the water and you can spot various alligators and birds… it was fine and quite interesting, but to be honest most alligators look the same so once you've seen one it's a bit of an anti-climax. There was one part where a mummy alligator was sat with its babies, these tiny six-inch gators that look harmless but reminded me of the bit in Jurassic Park where the raptor things hatch out of the eggs and look friendly but really aren't. (Sidenote - I know dinosaurs aren't real and alligators aren't dinosaurs, but whatever.)

Anyway the mum alligator was just sat there, with her eyes and nose poking out of the murky water – and she looks pretty fierce. Maybe she's a single mum or a feminist, I'm not sure. Maybe her husband is out working all day. I don't know much about alligator politics or the social system. But I didn't want to cross her. The guide said the alligators are pretty used to the sound of the airboats now, so they are fine sitting near to them. But don't piss them off.

After that the airboat driver takes a little tour and it's all fine and mildly interesting, but inside I'm thinking yeah I just want to go and lie on the beach. Shallow? A little.

So we get off the boat and go to this tiny alligator theatre-type thing (now I'm imagining alligators doing stand-up comedy or some kind of one-gator show, but that's not what this was) and an "expert" brings round a medium-size alligator for everyone to see… blah blah blah oh it looks scary but really it's kind of sad as it has its mouth taped shut and there's something about that I just don't like. How unlucky have you got to be if you're an alligator picked for one of these shows. Your mates are chilling in the water and you have to entertain the proles. Gutted. The guide tells us a bit about the animals and then gets in the "ring" with a huge one (certain friends at this point will be thinking "that's what she said" but that's just IMMATURE AND YOU KNOW IT) and does this thing where he puts his hand in its mouth, then teases it to bite and oh the suspense and is it going to bite his hand off who knows nah I'm sure he's done this all before and oh look it chomps down and his hand is still intact and everyone claps then he asks for tips. Show's over. Also because I am only Smurf-size I can't really see all the action but I can tell from the whooping and gasping what is going on.

After that we get an ice lolly because we're basically dying from the heat. A few peacocks walk past and they are gorgeous, so I took a few photos. This little girl walks past and starts teasing the peacocks in the hope they'll fan their feathers, but instead they just fly away.

Sit back and enjoy the pictures below...


More Miami...

I ended up staying in Miami for just over a week and in that time I don't think I looked at a clock or calendar more than five times. It's truly a crazy place, and one I definitely recommend if you really want to forget about real life. (Ex-colleagues please don't judge me for that Oxford comma, I've been gone from Adfero for almost three weeks so cut me some slack.)

I met some great people and we generally just hung out at the beach under a blazing sun and 30F temperatures all day every day - bar one near-tropical thunderstorm - then went to a few places for dinner and drinks in the evening. The great thing about it is that you can easily walk around and get everything you need, which is, from what's experienced, quite unusual for most US cities bar NYC. One thing though - Miami sure is pricey. One place charged us $14 for one cocktail and in another we paid $35 for two tiny drinks. I'm not cheap but it would have to be straight tequila to be good value for money at that price. Not that I drink tequila. Well sometimes I do, if certain ex-workmates show me the order in which a tequila slammer needs to be done.

We found ways around it though, namely buying mini bottles of bizarrely flavoured liquor (in the UK there is two or three flavours of Bacardi, here there are about 20) and pouring them into sodas. Don't judge us!

The pic below is of my cocktail, called a Miami Vice. Because the bar is in Miami. it's called Miami Vice. Right? Everyone with me?


We also went to Gloria Estefan's restaurant for some Cuban food. It was average. And for days I couldn't get the song out of my head which she sang with that cartoon cat in the video, but then I realised that was Paula Abdul (the singer, not the cat).


One day, a friend and I took a boat trip around the small islands between the city of Miami and Miami Beach. It was hilarious - it's the equivalent of taking a bus tour of the stars' homes and you feel like such a tourist. In the middle of the ocean is Star Island, where numerous celebrities have homes. But, I doubt they actually live there, given the frequency of annoying boats such as ours getting up real close to their driveways (by driveway I mean harbour where a bloody massive speedboat is docked). As we passed each house, the boat driver would play a snippet of a relevant song or theme tune, so as you pass Ricky Martin's house you got Livin' La Vida Loca blared in your ears. It's not a song I enjoy at the best of times but I definitely let out a little giggle when his annoying voice hit the airwaves.

Regardless, there are some seriously awesome houses on the island. The most expensive - apparently worth $46 million - is owned by the kingpin of Teva Pharmaceutical. So if you think about the US healthcare system and look at his house, it makes sense he'd be one of the richest guys for miles. If every time I went to the doctor I knew I was paying for this guy to live here, I'd be pretty pissed off.

Anyway - here are some pics of the celebs' homes...

Ricky Martin's - he was clearly a fan of The Crystal Maze as he's tried to replicate the dome on his roof


Shakira, if anyone gives a s*** about her awful music. i've always thought she sounds like a goat when she sings. But then again so does Stevie Nicks and I love her.


Sylvester Stallone (yawn)


And here are a few more of Downtown Miami, a nice neighbourhood called Coral Gables and a few more of Star Island. I'm not in any of them because it's now 100% official - I can't keep my eyes open in any picture ever.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Miami Beach

I have to admit I was a bit clueless about Miami before I arrived here. For example, I didn't know Miami Beach is a completely different city to Miami. And South Beach - the bit you always hear about - is on Miami Beach.


My knowledge, as of my arrival date, came from two distinct areas: Miami Vice and the computer game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. I was OBSESSED with that game and played it for two months solid, although my brother had to help me with a couple of bits I couldn't do.

Oh, I'd also heard the Will Smith song about five billion times. That's a lot of time in my life I will never get back.

Anyway. To get a sense of what Miami is like, do the following:

Turn your oven to 100 degrees F and get inside
Take away pale white British people! Add overly groomed guys with mahogany tans and girls of all shapes and sizes wearing bikinis of all shapes and sizes
Add loud salsa music, house music and Cuban food
Think of what cigar smoke, coconuts and suntan lotion smells like, add a touch of the warm, bright blue ocean
Imagine light sand under your feet
Forget what day it is or what time it is, because it doesn't matter!

Here are some pics to give you an idea of the amazing Art Deco district (on South Beach, where I'm staying) and more:

And one of Miami Ink (obviously)


Here's my delicious pasta with tomato source and shrimp


More pictures to follow!


Saturday, 14 May 2011

Baltimore, Maryland

Baltimore is generally not a city tourists pass through. People know about it, mostly because of The Wire (and if you like the Food Network like me, you'll know it from Ace of Cakes).

It's a shame, because it's really, really nice. Yes, there is a horrid part, just like any major city. And, some statistics show it has a much higher rate of violent crime than average.

However, my friend lives there and I couldn't come to the US for six weeks without making time to stop by! She lives in Greektown, but we started the day at the Cross Street Market. Fact fans, I'm pretty sure this is the same market as in The Wire, when McNulty gets his kids to play front and follow, and they get Stringer Bell's number plate. I'm not 100% sure, but I like to think that's true.

Anyhoo, Baltimore (just like certain parts of Maryland) is known for amazing seafood. So we had crab cakes, Old Bay shrimp (Old Bay is a seasoning and it is beyond delicious) and - while not really seafood - these chicken wings called BRUCE LEE WINGS. Highly recommended! They're all sticky and sweet but teriyaki-esque too. My mouth is watering!

In the evening we went to a place called Fell's Point, which sits next to the famous harbour and is right across from the iconic Domino's Sugar sign.

We ate at John Steven and sat outside with my friend's dog! I had the Cream of Crab soup, pictured below:


We also shared the crab nachos, get ready to drool:


I then had a shrimp cobb salad (no pic, I wolfed it too fast) and some sauvignon blanc. YUM!!!

Oh, across the road there was the building in which they filmed Homicide: Life on the Street (great show by the way).


A few more pics of Fell's Point and one of Penn Station below... apologies again for my rubbish skills. I'm trying to improve!


I wish I could have taken more, but I was busy catching up with great company.

I'll leave you with my favourite clip from The Wire.


PS. I didn't encounter any crazies but there was one guy who told me to "watch out for the tiger, he's gonna get ya" as I crossed the street. Ironically, he was walking a little tea cup chihuahua as he said this.

PPS. Never get the Light Rail to Baltimore-Washington Airport. It may only cost $1.60 but it scared the shit out of me.

New York - City Hall

"You can't fight city hall."

I never really got what that phrase meant, but now I know it basically means that there is no point fighting a battle you can't win.

You'd think with an intro like that, this post was going to be really thoughtful and philosophical.

It's not.

I just really liked the City Hall building in New York (Manhattan), so took a nice picture. Fact fans, the mayor is Michael R. Bloomberg, who is in his third term and founded the Bloomberg media/information company, which I am a big fan of.



Thursday, 12 May 2011

Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan

I'm lucky enough to have visited NYC twice before. However, I've got a super-injunction out on the events of the first trip. The second was a 2008 holiday during which I somehow spent $95 on a Marc Jacobs headband. What a yuppie thing to do, sigh.

Both times I stayed in Manhattan, so this time I figured Brooklyn was an appropriate choice. I'm at the NYC Loft Hostel in East Williamsburg, a town apparently so trendy it feels the need to look the total opposite. I'd say ghetto-chic is being polite. Regardless, the hostel is nice - although I didn't manage to snag a bottom bunk and being the tiny smurf I am, it's a proper effort to climb into bed.

The picture below is of some of the great graffiti splattered across most walls nearby.


I took a walk today over the Brooklyn Bridge to Lower Manhattan. The views are pretty mint and it was gloriously sunny. To the right, I saw the amazing Manhattan Bridge and the Empire State Building; to the left, it's the Statue of Liberty. I'm not sure how clear these are on the photos, so take a look and see what you think. My photography skills aren't fantastic, I warn you!

So there you have it - I'm only here for a day and I think I spent it well.

As always, feel free to leave a comment or email me to say hi! I'm craving human communication, what with being a typically British solo traveller...


Monday, 9 May 2011

Cliche number 1 - The sidekick

Han Solo had Chewie, Holmes had Watson, Paul Daniels has Debbie McGee... yes, a sidekick is the new black.

So, without further ado, I introduce you to Hammy aka Heinz, who was gifted upon me by Mumsy (yeah I'm 27 and and my mum still gives me teddies, BOTHERED). He had a bean bag inside that you could put in the microwave, but I accidentally burned it.

Pictorial evidence below (he's the one on the left). He'll be coming with me and I will endeavour to take photos of him in various cities.


I miss the dog and I haven't even left yet

First, he tried to help me pack:

Then he just got in a biff and gave me the generic "canine sad pose".

I can't win.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

A polite inquiry

How many pairs of pyjamas should I take?
Do I really need nail polish?
How will I stop feeling homesick?
What if I get malaria?
What if I run out of money?
Why do I need five travel guides?
What if my luggage goes missing?
How do I put suntan lotion on my back if I'm alone?
Who should I trust?
What if I miss a flight?
What if I can't get a job when I come home?
Have I done the right thing?
Will I miss work?
What if something happens to a loved one while I'm gone?
What if I forget something "crucial"?
What if something happens to me?
What time can I check in?
Will my phone work?
How do connecting flights work?
Can I take the dog with me?