Sunday Feb 14, Washington DC

We drove into DC today. As everywhere else, the roads are partly blocked by snow, and the traffic was worse than we’ve seen anywhere else (including NY).

As we approached the city, we saw Marine One leaving, presumably with the President on board, since there were two additional helicopters flying in formation. Again, like with New York, it was a bit eerie seeing sights that are so familiar, yet not. Weird feeling, like you’ve walked into your TV somehow.

Alex has become very interested in taking photos this trip, which has mostly been great – except when we both want the camera at once, LOL! Sadly, we lost the second camera today – the one I bought in Times Square last week. Somewhere between the National Museum of American History and the car it went missing. Hopefully someone handed it in in the museum – we’ll give them a ring next week.

The museum was fascinating, we saw the original star spangled banner, a display on slavery and a 200 year old house which has been relocated from near Boston, showing various stages in its occupation. Alex was thrilled to see C3PO in the “flesh”.

We were pretty limited in what we could do by a combination of snow and the number of spoons all of us had, so we drove around a bit and saw some of the sights from the car, including the Capitol, the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial. Amazing how they’ve built temples to all these old Presidents – a very different attitude to past leaders than we have in Australia, or even than the British have to their royalty.

We stopped at the Lincoln memorial, got out and took a bit of a walk (or in my case, wheel) around. The reflecting pool (which runs between the Lincoln and the Capitol, and is over 600m long) was frozen over, with tourists walking on it. Apparently someone fell through the ice a few days ago, and had to be rescued (it’s less than waist deep, but the ice made it hard to get out). That doesn’t seem to be stopping everyone else, though.

In various ways it’s clear that America is still struggling economically. Homeless people outside the Whitehouse, no money for plowing or salting the roads, many roads aren’t being repaired properly, and there are potholes everywhere. And this year the kids have missed a lot of school due to the snow. Normally, that means they extend the school year by a week to make up the days. But this year, they won’t, since there’s not enough money to pay the extra wages (teachers don’t get paid during vacations here, so it’s a big expense). Unfortunately, there is still plenty of cash to fund two wars πŸ™

Alex, Scott, Jacqui and I walked to the front of the Whitehouse, as Alex was keen to take a few pictures.

Friday 12 and Saturday 13 – Shopping, sleeping and not much else

OK, I’m cheating and doing two days in one. But honestly, we’ve done very little. We’ve caught up on our sleep – which I badly needed. My health’s doing well, but this week of relaxing and doing not too much has been badly needed.

We’ve spent plenty of time catching up and hanging out – we’ve all missed each other while the Colemans have been here. Steve, Scott and Alex have been playing Magic and a bunch of other card games, and we’ve all been watching the Olympics.

We’ve also been to the shops – as if we hadn’t done enough shopping in NY! Scott and Alex now have enough clothes to last them for a good few years (and can stop wearing the jeans I bought them when I was last in the US in 2006, we’ve now re-stocked). My bankruptcy will be announced shortly.

The snow is endless – they’ve been busy plowing and salting, but there’s literally nowhere to put it. In some locations they’re carting it away in trucks and dumping it in remote locations.

This photo of the carpark at the local Westfield (yep, they’ve got ’em here too) gives you some idea – this is what it looks like pretty much everywhere – snow stacked several metres high wherever you look, blocking access, parking spaces, whatever. Footpaths are all non-existent, and most roads are only partially plowed. I don’t have any issues driving on the wrong side or with different road rules, but I’m really glad I’m not trying to drive around here.

To add to the problems, there’s a shortage of salt and plowing equipment (because of the extreme conditions) and because of the economy many cities and states just don’t have the money to pay for sufficient or timely plowing – after the last storm they delayed for a day because they couldn’t afford to pay the Sunday overtime.

Thurs Feb 11 – After the snow

We woke up to sunshine today – with lots of icicles and snow everywhere. The boys got to learn how to dig out a car:

We dug out the car to go grocery shopping – apart from that (which is always fascinating in a foreign country), we did not much. I wandered around and took a few more photos:

Weds Feb 10 – Blizzard!

We woke up to a world of white today. Steve, Nikki, Hannah and Jacqui are spending this year in Annapolis while Steve is on sabbatical, doing ethics research at the Naval Academy. They’re staying in Navy housing – and the building dates from 1870. It’s been beautifully restored into a large 3 bedroom apartment with high ceilings and wooden floors – only in the basement can you see the age of the building.

The snow that dumped today took the total for the winter to an all-time record of 201cm – the average annual fall here is 36cm! Everyone here is talking about it.

The boys and I have only ever seen two lots of snow – walking on a glacier in Switzerland in 2000, and in January 1996 when we had a dusting at Falls Creek. This is just in a whole new category. Words escape me – here’s some photos of today:


From left to right: Alex, Mim, Hannah, Nikki and Scott.

Tuesday Feb 9 – going to Annapolis

We’re off to Annapolis today. 3 1/2 hours on a bus, then a half hour in the car (Nikki collected us from the bus).

But first, we had to pack and say our goodbyes to New York, and I had some last minute shopping to do. My wallet disintegrated last December, and I’d decided to wait till I got to New York to replace it. It was a beautiful morning, not too cold (only a couple of C below freezing, we’ve adjusted quickly) and I was feeling well, so I decided to walk. I left the boys with instructions to pack and wash the dishes, and off I set.

I quickly realised that the flatiron building was still on my “to see” list and was less than a block off my route, so I diverted past there to take a few photos. And then, of course, I found a souvenir shop with a great range of black and white photos of manhattan in the window, and had to stop and take a look. So now, when I get home, I’ll be able to hang a few framed prints on my walls. Pity they won’t be my own, but that can’t be helped. Maybe next time.

I’m again struck by the contrasts in the city. Huge avenues open up in one direction, and then you suddenly have grungy residential streets, or bustling light industrial or commercial ones in the other.

Pretty much everyone is friendly, helpful and polite. One thing that’s really surprised me is how safe I’ve felt here. Mind you, we’ve stuck to the lower half of Manhattan. But some of these areas aren’t exactly been upmarket.

So after we finished getting packed, we were aiming to get some really good burgers before we caught the bus – but we failed. We were almost out of time, and the taxi driver was unhelpful (one of only two in our entire stay). So he dropped us just near the Empire State Building (behind Scott in the photo) and while we waited Scott found us some food to tide us over. One of the things I regret is not getting up the top of the Empire State – maybe next time. Despite being completed in 1931, it’s again (since 9/11) the tallest building in New York.

The bus picked us up, and we headed out of town, through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware to Maryland. It was slightly surreal, for those of you who are Sopranos fans, we followed a large part of the route in the opening credits. As we drove, there was more and more snow on the ground, rivers were frozen, and you could see the clouds closing in as the storm got closer. When we got off the bus in Baltimore, we had to battle our way around thigh-deep drifts of snow beside the bus stop, and shortly after we arrived in Annapolis it started to come down in earnest.

Nikki collected us from the bus, and we were at their place a half hour later. I’ll talk more about their place in tomorrow’s post – almost as soon as I came in the door I was asleep. Much as I enjoyed New York, and I tried to take it easy, I still managed to use a few too many spoons in the last week – good thing that this next week we’re taking it easy!

Monday Feb 8 Moma, Lower East Side and Staten Island Ferry

Scott and I were up and out early again to go to the Museum of Modern Art to see an exhibition of Tim Burton’s works (http://www.moma.org/visit/calendar/exhibitions/313). Tim Burton created Edward Scissorhands, Sweeney Todd and a bunch of other movies, often working with Johnny Depp. Scott’s been a fan for a long time, and we both really enjoyed it. Burton has a really amazing imagination! We then stocked up on some books from the exhibition, as well as some photo books of New York. That made me feel a little better about not really being able to take any of my own photos – it’s just too cold, and I don’t have enough spoons. I also bought a great book of Ansel Adams’ photos in preparation for my visit to Yosemite National Park next week.

Laden down with books we got in yet another taxi, went back to the apartment and collected Alex (and dropped off all the books!). We’d noticed signs plastered all over our neighbourhood that Law and Order SVU was filming, so we went and had a sticky beak. Not much to see, it seemed like they were packing up. Scott thought we’d seen one of the stars earlier, so we’ll have to watch out for familiar streets in future episodes.

We then caught yet another taxi to the Lower East side, and had lunch in Katz’s deli – a kosher deli dating from 1888, which appears to not have been altered since about 1950. It’s where the “I’ll have what she’s having” scene from When Harry Met Sally was filmed. They have a name for having huge sandwiches. The meat was fantastic (we had one pastrami and one roast beef, both delicious) but the sandwiches overall were a little underwhelming. It was getting colder and colder, but Scott wanted to go to another menswear store in the area, and I wanted to have a look around. However Scott’s store had shut down (a victim of the economy, I’m guessing) and it was FREEZING cold, so we got yet another cab to the Staten Island Ferry, and the boys are getting better and better at folding and unfolding Bertha the wheelchair, and getting her in and out of the taxis. Most taxi drivers are quick to get out of the taxi, and happy to help.

The ferry trip was great. Beautiful light, great views, we rode past the statue of liberty and back. Alex and I had a great time taking lots of photos, although we were very nearly blown off the back of the ferry. The view of the city from there at almost sunset was just fantastic. However, the camera didn’t like it so much, and we AGAIN lost all the photos on the memory card because it just got too cold. I’m hoping I can retrieve them – it says there are no files on it, but there’s 5GB of space unaccounted for.

We packed a lot into today because we’re going to Annapolis a day early. They’re forecasting another snowstorm, which is expected to pretty much close both New York and Annapolis.

But there’s one more thing which we have to do before we leave New York – having a rib dinner at a jazz club. I thought I could lure the boys in with the ribs, but they were really keen about the jazz, too. We had a great night out – small little club in a cellar a couple of blocks from our apartment. Good food, good music, great atmosphere. What more could you want?

Sunday Feb 7

I’ve gotten way behind – too busy exploring Manhatton to be blogging! I’m going to attempt to catch up in the next day or two, but keep adding one entry for each day.
OK, Sunday. First things first – Jacqui ended up spending another night with us – yay! This morning we went and took a look at Times Square – it was about -8C so we escaped into a McDonalds in an attempt to keep warm. I caved in and bought another (small point and shoot) camera from a fast-talking salesman, in the hopes that we’ll be able to actually take (and keep) some photos without the camera freezing. This was definitely the most touristy place we went in New York, and we didn’t end up hanging around for long.

Then we walked (OK, I wheeled) Jacqui over to Grand Central Station, where she was meeting a friend to head to Ohio en route to a homeschooler conference. Grand Central was awesome in the literal sense – huge vaulted ceiling, and marble as far as the eye can see. After that Alex headed home for some peace and quiet (he’s been having a bit of trouble adjusting to the hustle and bustle of New York) and Scott and I went shopping – the beginning of Scott’s New York sartorial extravaganza – he’s going to be far and away the best dressed glassie in Sydney when he gets back. I must say, he’s not the only one who’s stocking their wardrobe πŸ™‚

After all that we were pretty stuffed, so headed back to the apartment. Scott promptly fell asleep (we’re all still living in some indeterminate time zone). Alex and I headed out to try to buy him a watch at the Macys β€œ20% off if you’re wearing red” sale – but failed. On our way home we explored the neighbourhood a little, finding a 7 eleven that doesn’t sell pies and sausage rolls, but then found a great Mexican takeaway – Scott ate half his in a haze of sleep and was back in bed 5 minutes later.

We’ve been doing all this to-ing and fro-ing mostly in taxis – which is proving to be not only cheap, but also a great way to do sightseeing, especially since it’s too cold to do as much walking as we’d like. Today we went past the New York library – where the huge wave came down the street in “The Day after Tomorrow”.

Saturday Feb 6 – we avoided the snowstorm

Luckily New York has mostly escaped the blizzard that hit the Mid-Atlantic coast last night. We got some snow, and it’s freezing cold, but we’re not snowed in. The Colemans in Annapolis got 32 inches of snow outside their place, so we’re grateful.

We’re all still struggling to adjust to the time difference – I was wide awake really early, but then slept till almost midday, when the boys and Jacqui woke me up wanting to go out sightseeing. We headed to Tiffanys, where I bought myself some silver jewellery, then we planned to go for a walk in Central Park.

But it was sooo cold that we stopped to stock up on more beanies, scarves and gloves first (from a stand outside the apple store, we really should have gotten a picture!). I don’t know how cold it actually was, but it felt frostbite worthy. This evening I’ve got chapped lips and bright red cheeks from the cold and the wind.

We then headed across the street to Central Park, but didn’t last very long. The pond in the south east corner of the park was 85% frozen over, and any time we were exposed to the wind it was just totally icy cold. Pretty, yes. Freezing, definitely. Alex and I were both keen to take a whole lot of pictures, but we couldn’t take our gloves off for more than a minute or two at a time, and my Canon DSLR got so cold that some of the images on the memory card were corrupted, and the battery stopped dead! It recovered OK once it was warmed up (although those photos were lost), but apparently doesn’t like the weather. Thankfully Jacqui’s camera is made of sterner stuff and we could take some pictures with that. Bertha also came through like a trouper. Her documents state she’s good down to -20C, and although we haven’t tested it that low, she just kept ticking well below freezing.

To retreat from the cold we decided to explore the Museum of Natural History, which is on the other side of the park. So we hailed another cab (Scott is fast becoming an expert). Thankfully cabs are everywhere, and get you where you need to go fast and cheap, and Bertha folds up easily into the boot (or trunk!). And as a bonus, every trip is another fascinating mini-sightseeing tour. It’s weird how this city is half familiar from countless movies and TV shows, yet still totally different.

The museum was great, but busy. Just about every New Yorker seemed to have the same idea to get out of the weather on a very cold Saturday. The boys were keen to compare it to the movie “Night at the Museum” – I just wanted to have a wander around.

The displays were mainly dioramas, with numerous stuffed animals portrayed in their natural environment. Very well done and fascinating, but in a very “old fashioned museum” style, not many of the interactive exhibits you see in so many places.

It was a really good introduction to America and brought home to me Jared Diamond’s argument in Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies that societies with richer natural resources develop faster and build a positive feedback loop, while others struggle to keep up. Seeing the huge size of the bears, moose, and even deer that there were available to hunt, and comparing that to the native wildlife in Australia makes it obvious why our indigenous societies stayed in the stone age while others shot ahead and created more developed civilisations.

They also had a slice from a giant Sequoia tree there that was more than 1500 years old when it was cut, and its cross-section reached to the roof of the very tall gallery it was in. I have no idea how they even got it in there, it almost looks like they must have built the building around it. I’m now REALLY looking forward to seeing those trees alive and growing when I get to California.

We then headed home (for another takeaway pizza for dinner), and Scott and Jacqui went grocery shopping so she’s got food for her trip to Ohio, while I sorted myself out a new sim card for my phone – which came with unlimited internet data for the rest of the month as well as phone calls. That gives me google maps and navigation wherever I can get a signal, as well as skype, email, and all the usual internet functions. We’re all set!

Friday Feb 5 – Day 1 in New York

We arrived safe and sound, but very sleep deprived, after about 24 hours travel (5 of them sitting around LAX airport in Los Angeles). The airlines were both very helpful about Bertha, and she survived the trip with a few minor scratches.

We got to the doorstep of our apartment building at a bit after 6am, having paid for the previous night’s accommodation so we could check in as early as we liked. I’m sooo glad we did – it would have been miserable not to be able to settle in and relax before we went out exploring.

Our first stop after that was my favourite camera store – BH photovideo. I’ve bought most of my cameras, lenses, etc from there over the years (even adding shipping and taxes it’s still a lot cheaper than buying locally in Australia), so I was keen to actually go to the store.

Well, the boys loved the place as much as I did – if not more. If we hadn’t restrained ourselves it would have been very easy to spend tens of thousands in very short order. They have many departments, everything from oldstyle film and chemicals to computers, MP3 players, printers – you name it. In each dept you browse, get advice as needed and when you decide on your purchase they summon your tub (which runs on a conveyor system that runs right through the entire shop) and add your items to it. When you reach the checkout, it turns up there and by the time you’ve paid it’s all bagged and ready for you. Very cool

Our next mission was to buy Doc Marten boots for all of us somewhere down in the village, but the boys changed their minds and bought different boots (Scott was indignant that Alex bought the identical boots he did) so I was the only one who ended up with any docs. And yes, you can all fall over laughing now at the thought of me in docs!

But I’ve now got boots that will pretty much last me forever and I’m ready for anything the weather might throw at me the next few weeks – which is a good thing considering the snow storm which is engulfing Annapolis as we speak (Nikki was buying candles today just in case) and is due to reach NYC tonight.

Most of you will remember me saying that, should the weather be terrible, we’ll skip New York, or change things around. Well, too late for that now, apparently the coming storm is going to be the largest in decades, although New York will only see the edges of it. We’re hoping that it won’t go beyond the predicted 1-3″ here, and that we’ll have some pretty sightseeing opportunities in Central Park tomorrow but that it won’t stop us getting around. Hopefully it won’t be too slippery for Bertha, but if so, I’ll leave her home – I managed fine today with taxis and some walking. although I’m wary of it all catching up with me a few days from now if I keep doing too much.

Overall the impressions of New York so far have been great – fascinating place, the people are mostly very polite and helpful. We’re still getting used to being in a fairly grungy dowdy looking side street, turning a corner and discovering we’re suddenly on 5th avenue or somewhere similar. The differences, and all piled on top of each other, are amazing. We also saw a temper display from a New York cop on point duty in the freezing cold, who very clearly expressed his frustration by attempting to dive through a taxi window and telling the driver exactly what he thought of him in very colourful language!

Our apartment is tiny (as expected). One bedroom (queen size bed with just enough room to get around it, no wardrobe), a kitchen area slightly bigger than ours in Sydney, with a fridge, sink, stove – and two sofa beds in it. Then we’ve got a living area about half that size with another sofa bed and TV, and a tiny bathroom (much smaller than ours at home). But it’s big enough, nice and central, and we each have our own bed – most important! Tonight Jacqui C is staying with us on her way to Ohio – she came up to New York a day early, while she could still get out of Annapolis before the storm.

We’ve done a little bit of local exploring, found a great pizza store a half block away, an (expensive) grocery store a block in the other direction, and a Subway sandwich shop, another sandwich place that does good bacon and egg rolls for breakfast, plus a corner store, all underneath us in our building. Oh, and a kebab vendor directly across the street. Different to Sydney kebabs, but yummy! It turns out that we’re surrounded by the City University of New York, and have a large National Guard barracks across the street.

Oh, and Jacqui was wonderful and brought me my replacement new Nexus One phone! I’ve been happily reunited with it, and am having lots of fun. I think I’m starting to understand the fascination with iPhones. Ria, you liked that iPhone you played with, I’m betting you’ll have fun with mine!

I took a couple of photos on the way to the grocery store this evening, and it automatically stored them complete with addresses (thanks to the GPS chip in the phone) – and if you click on the photo it opens google maps, with the location of the photo marked on it!

The only drawback is that right now it’s not actually a functioning phone – I haven’t managed to get my sim card working, and have decided it’s not worth spending more time on it to try to recoup the $10 I spent. So I’m heading to a t-mobile store tomorrow to get another sim – I’ll keep you posted as to what the number will be. Right now you can email us, or skype Alex, or facebook the boys – our internet connection works just fine!