Monthly Archives: November 2010

National Broadband Network: Charging Forward.

As someone who languished with dial up whilst all his friends got ADSL, then got ADSL and then moved to a location where the sync speeds weren’t all that great you can imagine why I’m always excited to hear good news about the NBN making progress. Sure I’m not stuck with my old 56K connection which served me well for the better part of a decade but I can think of enough uses  for a 100Mbit connection that would make my life a whole lot easier (none more so than being able to host my own websites with a decent amount of bandwidth behind them). There’s been little news on how the roll out has been going and the only recent good news was that it wouldn’t be canned because of the hung parliament. Picking through my month sized backlog of blogs and news articles today changed that however.

On Friday it seems that the Senate approved a bill which splits Telstra’s wholesale and retail arms effectively putting an end to the natural monopoly advantage that Telstra had over every communications company in Australia. Back when I first heard about the government attempting to do this it seemed more likely that Telstra would be doing the separation themselves under the watchful eye of the ACCC. This legislation shows that such an arrangement couldn’t be met and instead the government has made good on its promise ensuring that the NBN can proceed as planned. Telstra isn’t wholly losing out in this deal however but they will be competing on level ground with the other telcos once the separation is complete.

The cost to the Australian public for this deal is $11 billion and that pays for all the copper networks and the Telstra customers that will be migrated over to NBNco. That cost may seem high however the alternative is to duplicate much of the infrastructure that supports the copper network, namely the cable ducts. Replicating that entire network just for the fibre cables would consume much more than the amount than what’s being paid to Telstra, especially if you factor in the costs of disrupting everyone while you dig trenches up major roads. Additionally with a good chunk of Telstra’s shares still being held by Australians and the Australian Government (to the tune of 10.9%) it works in Australia’s best interests to not tear into Telstra too ravenously, even if they deserve it.

The deal is fantastic news for the NBN program. Back during the election there was the distinct possibility that the hung parliament could have swung the other way which would have had it scrapped in favour of the Liberal party’s cheaper option. With that obstacle avoided it meant that the fledgling NBNco could continue the work it was doing in the initial pilot areas whilst plans for the larger implementations took shape. Now with Telstra’s network under their belt they can begin developing roll out strategies for larger deployments. That also means that should we face a change of incumbent parties in the next election it will be far too politically toxic for them to can it and Australia will end up with one of the most advanced communications networks in the world.

We are of course many years away from the majority of us receiving the benefits that the NBN will provide but it’s always good to hear that it’s still making steps towards its realisation. With the Internet filter dying an (albeit extremely slow) death the future of communications in Australia is starting to look a whole lot brighter than when it was back when I first started writing about it. Hopefully I can continue along those lines for many years to come, I’d hate to have to write about why the filter should die again 😉

Goodbye, Dearest America.

The last day of any holiday is always filled with a wide gamut of emotions. We woke up naturally a good 3 hours before we needed to check out and spent that time lazily packing our bags for the day ahead. Our flight wasn’t until 10pm that night so we would have a good 10 hours before the time we had to leave the hotel and the time we had to catch the plane back home. Whilst we still had tickets to the San Diego Zoo I wasn’t too keen to drive the 2 hours there to see it, nor was I too confident that the drive back would be less than 2 hours. Instead we decided to spend the day shopping in downtown Los Angeles for gifts and generally lazing about before the 14 hour flight home.

After checking out and grabbing our car from the valet we headed towards a mall I had managed to find through Yelp. It was a traditional American outlet mall with everything being outdoors and the only indoor area being the food court on one of the upper levels. We spent many hours perusing through the various shops, picking up gifts for our family members that we hadn’t yet accounted for. Time was passing slowly and after what seemed like forever we collapsed in Barnes and Noble for some coffee and free wifi. It was only 4pm around that time meaning that going to San Diego was out of the question so we decided to hit up a movie to pass the last few hours before we’d charge over to LAX.

Arriving at one of the local theatres we discovered that the movie we had decided to see, Skyline which had been endlessly hyped during our entire trip, wasn’t available at this cinema. Undeterred we decided that we’d check the others to see if they were showing it. Strangely none of the theatres near us were showing it meaning we’d have to choose something else. Not really enticed by any of the options we went for Due Date since it was a comedy, figuring some light hearted fun would be the ticket. We bought our tickets but the show wasn’t on for another 45 mins, so we went into the attached mall.

Just as we entered the mall we spotted a puppy store (yes just puppies) and like any young couple we decided to go and ogle those cute little things. Really it wasn’t unlike any other pet store apart from the fact they had 3 “play rooms” set up at the back where you could pick a puppy and then take it there to play with it. I saw 2 families in separate rooms falling for this ploy, knowing full well that they’d be hard pressed to leave without their children’s new found playmate. Afterwards we spotted a Disney store and went in to grab a couple things that Rebecca wanted to get but hadn’t had the chance to last time we were there. We made our way back to the cinema which had the smallest rooms I’ve ever been in. It was really nice though as all the seats were comfy leather couches and the front most rows were giant futons you could lie back on.

After the movie was done we started the drive back to the rental car place to return our ride of the past week. I always remember these kinds of trips distinctly as that’s usually when it starts to sink in that the holiday is really coming to a close and all the memories start to flood in. I remembered so many things: the blazing Florida sun on my skin, the roar of the Corvette, the bitter cold kiss of Montreal, the sleepless city of New York and the child like wonder I rediscovered in Los Angeles’ theme parks. All of this was running through my head as we dropped off the car and took the shuttle to LAX where we checked in for our flight home.

The flight home went by much quicker than the flight there with the working entertainment system making sure many of those hours passed with ease. As we landed in Australia I felt those mixed feelings that any traveller has when they return home. Relief at the familiarity yet a sense of mourning that the trip is over, not wanting to let go of it. The feelings continued all the way back home and stayed with me until I fell asleep that night.

And now here I sit 3 days later recalling those experiences and the emotions come flooding back as if I was just boarding the plane back in Los Angeles. They will not soon be forgotten as the month Rebecca and I spent in the Unite States of America was more than just a holiday to us, it was our first true escape from our everyday lives that either of us have had. Sure we’ve both travelled before but never independently for this amount of time and because of that our perspective has changed radically. Time will tell if these feelings stay with us, but I feel this is tantamount to what happened to me almost 12 months ago which resulted in The Plan. One thing is for certain though, my heart now yearns for more experiences like these and my determination to make them happen has never been stronger.

I Don’t Think This is For Me.

The strategic gap in the curtains I had left the night before had worked well and I was awake several hours earlier than I usually was, despite the fact I had been up to midnight watching a new series on Discovery (Brewmasters, check it out if you’re into beer). Still I rolled back over and went back to sleep as Rebecca had been struggling to get to sleep all night, wrestling with what seemed to be an infection of some kind. Three hours later I got us both out of bed and ready for the day ahead, one that would take us over a hundred miles south of where we were.

After the fun I had had at both Disneyland and Universal Studios I was keen to hit up yet another amusement park. This time around it would be Legoland which was about an hour and a half drive from the hotel, hence the reason for wanting to get out early. Still we managed to get out shortly after 10am so we arrived with plenty of daylight to spare. The park itself was no where near the scale of Disneyland or Universal studios but it still had a parking lot to rival the others. We found ourselves a spot and headed on in and that’s where I started to notice that things weren’t as they were at the other parks. Mostly it was average age of the other punters, most of them were below 10.

Legoland it seems is mostly aimed at the younger generation with the rides, attractions and live shows all geared towards them. There are of course some things for us oldies to enjoy like Miniland (where there’s Lego replicas of cities) but for the most part unless you’re a youngster or accompanying one you won’t be missing anything by not visiting this place. We wandered around the whole park in about 2 hours not really finding anything that really tickled our fancy and the swag to be had here could be found at any place you could get Lego anyway. Disappointed we decided that since we’d already made the majority of the trip to San Diego we’d go the last 30 miles and knock off another attraction, Seaworld.

We got there with a few hours before it closed and there were still a few shows on before it was going to close. We started wandering around, checking out the various animal enclosures. The various aquariums they had were pretty interesting with a wide variety of sea creatures that I hadn’t seen all in one place before. After an hour or so of seeing some of the sights we went to the dolphin live show which also had 2 whales and a host of birds. It was a pretty well done show and whilst I’ve seen all these animals before I can’t remember seeing any of them perform. Almost immediately afterwards it was time for the final show of the day with the famous Shamu the killer whale. Again the feats they’d managed to train these creatures to do on command was quite amazing and the show went for almost half an hour. Afterwards we did a quick run around of some of the other exhibits we missed, including the penguin enclosure that had a smell I won’t soon forget.

After being ejected from the park we decided that since we were 2 hours away from home we might as well find some grub here before hitting the road. I found a local place in one of the coast side hotels that had good reviews so we hit it up. The had an amazing beer selection so I ordered myself up a Belgian Triple, a slightly wheaty beer that had a really good taste to it. I also found out that “cheese steak” was code for a subway style sandwich rather than a steak with cheese on it. The food was however quite good and we left there fat and happy, ready to tackle the road home.

We have 2 full days ahead of us before we take the 14 hour plane ride home and at least one of them will be partly spent back at Disneyland for one last time, cleaning up the last few attractions we missed. It’s been an amazing month over here in the USA and with the end so close I’m starting to get all nostalgic for the good times I’ve had over here. Still as they say all good things must come to an end and soon it will be time for me to reintegrate back into society, however much I may dread that.

Yeah, I Needed This.

10 hours of walking around Disneyland yesterday had not been without its consequences with my entire lower body rebelling against me, not wanting to be moved from the warm comfort of the bed I was lying in. It didn’t matter though as I really wasn’t planning on doing too much today, I mean I had been doing enough over the past month with only a couple days spent kicking back so I was willing to let my body win this round. Still just going through the morning ritual got us thinking about doing at least something today, even if it was a more subdued encounter.

We’d driven past the Hollywood sign on our way to Universal Studios so we thought we might as well go ahead and check out Hollywood Boulevard while we’re here. Shocked at the fact that it’s actually a street we just dialled it in to the GPS and drove over there. We followed it for a little while and whilst it wasn’t like the other neighbourhoods we’ve been lost in it was distinctly not what I had remembered from all the videos and pictures I had seen on the place. Pulling over we found that whilst we were in fact on the right road we were travelling in completely the wrong direction. Spinning ourselves around we got into an area that started to look more familiar and we found a place to park just near to the main street and we got out to have a look around.

We walked up and down the Walk of Fame noting all the celebrities along the way. We then came face to face with the hard sellers for the first time since landing in LA and boy were there a lot of them. Thankfully most of them were grouped around Grauman’s Chinese Theatre so once we were out of that area most of them left us alone, except for one intrepid fellow who was “just providing information”. It was around lunch time so we found ourselves a nice little burger joint called 25 Degrees that also had a great beer menu. I ordered up a smoked porter and one of their burgers with a side of sweet potato fries. It’s definitely one of the better burgers I’ve had whilst over here, although it’s still hard to beat a Brod Burger.

Afterwards we decided to try and head up to the Hollywood sign for some pictures. The GPS had a route up there and it quickly took us into the hilly heights surrounding Hollywood but it became quickly obvious that these roads weren’t really friendly to high traffic, or any for that matter. Most of them were extremely narrow and half of that space was usually taken up by parked cars on either side. It was so bad I couldn’t tell if some roads were actually one way or just too narrow. We spent a good 15 minutes winding our way up only to have the GPS keep sending us in circles so we decided that it wasn’t worth it, especially considering that there’s a good hour or so walk up to the sign afterwards (I’ve seen a couple videos of people doing it).

Defeated we made our way back to the hotel and spent the next couple hours lying on the bed watching bad TV. I got restless and went down to the gym for a workout before coming back down and flopping on the bed, the hours flying by before we  realised it was almost 8pm and we hadn’t had any dinner. I convinced Rebecca to go and find me something to eat whilst I wallowed around on the bed and she returned with some tasty sandwiches not too long later.

Tomorrow we’ll be making the drive down to San Diego for Legoland and possibly hitting up some of the attractions we bought into with the CityPass. It’s a bit of a drive so this day of rest will be well used to get us up nice and early so we can make the most of being down there. We’ll probably spend our last few days here being a little more active than we were today, but we definitely needed this break before doing so.

Disneyland: Take 2.

Here in Los Angeles there’s technically 2 sides to Disneyland: the Park and the California Adventure. Our last trip over there had us just go through the California Adventure mostly because we just followed the crowd and didn’t pay any attention to what was going over the other side of the main entrance. Since we had a 3 day pass to the park we decided that we should make the most of it and visit the other park. With that in mind we made our way over there when the clouds that had ben threatening us all of yesterday opened up and began dumping a torrent of rain on us. We continued on hoping that it would let up by the time we got there.

We arrived and the rain hadn’t let up. The problem here was that the car park isn’t right next to the park, you need to take a tram to get to it. There’s no covered walkway to the tram stop nor any cover when you get there so we’d be in for a good 5 minutes of soaking before we got under cover. Not keen to repeat the performance of the last time we were here we decided to drive back out and get some wet weather gear. Not a minute after getting in the car did the rain stop and the skies clear clearing the way for us to get in. You would’ve thought that the wet weather would’ve put most people off coming to the park but the place was packed, even more than it was when we went there previously. I’d say that this was because it was the weekend, but I really didn’t think that it would’ve been that popular. I can be the king of underestimation sometimes.

One of the exhibits I wanted to see was Tomorrowland as I’d seen that they a Honda ASIMO robot there. We headed over there first but before we could see ASIMO we had to go through the modern version of the house of tomorrow. In essence it was a giant advertisement for Microsoft, HP and I think CBUS for their home automation stuff. It was basically a small house that was rigged up with touchpads in every room to control the lights, sound system and anything else that might be in the room. The other parts of it were just massive rooms filled with XBox 360s and some other games further cementing the fact that this was just a paid for advertisement rather than an actual exhibit. Thankfully we managed to arrive about 10 minutes before ASIMO was scheduled to be on so we headed up there.

The show itself was basically just a scripted encounter between an actor and the ASIMO robot but it was awesome to see one of the actual robots up close and personal. They showed all its normal manoeuvres: walking up and down stairs, recognising people’s faces and kicking a soccer ball. I had no idea how long they had had this particular ASIMO so I wondered if it was one of the ones that was able to run but with the show almost to a close (and them saying its top speed was less than the run speed I knew about) I figured this one couldn’t do it. To my surprise this one could and they showed it running across the stage, leaving an ear to ear grin on my face that didn’t go away for a while. Satisfied we left the Tomorrowland exhibit and started making our way around the rest of Disneyland Park.

We spent many hours walking around the park, going on various rides and looking at the various attractions. Rebecca was especially keen to revisit some of the rides she had ridden as a youngster when she was last here almost 15 years ago and those were the first on our list. Time went exceptionally quick and before long the sun had dipped below the horizon, putting a chill on the wind that was blowing. This also meant that it was time for the Christmas Fantasy parade so we headed over the main road to catch it. The whole event lasted well over half an hour and was quite a spectacle. It amazes me that they did one of these every single day.

When the parade was over we headed back over to the California Adventure to catch the elecTRONica exhibit we’d missed last time we were here. It only begins after 6pm and I had wondered why, I mean pretty much everything else in this park was open all day. Walking through the entrance though I saw why, this thing put other light shows I had seen to shame.

The whole place was bathed in blue light and projectors shot images of TRON up onto every available surface. Further down there was also a DJ pillar covered in even more lights and supposedly played host a live DJ. All the while music that wouldn’t have been out of place at any rave I’ve been too cranked all around us with even a few punters busting out some of their moves. There was an old style arcade at the back with original cabinets of all your old favourites: Galaga, Donkey Kong and Space Invaders just to name a few. Just outside of the arcade is the End of Line club which is basically an open air bar decked out to look like it was straight out of TRON. The whole area was something to behold and I’ve got a couple videos of it that I’ll upload later as static pictures really don’t do it justice.

After wandering around there for a while we headed back out to catch the World of Colour light show. The entire place was packed with people and as we wandered around it become clear that Disneyland counted this as a ride and since we had showed up just before it was about to start we weren’t allowed in to it. However they’d roped off a big area of it that functioned as the walkway so we just slowly ambled our way around the entire show area so we could catch the show. The show itself is quite spectacular being a choreographed show of fountains with lights in the base and large projectors throwing images onto large sprays of mist. Once that was over we headed back to the car for the drive home.

On the way back we decided to grab a late dinner and couldn’t go past the In and Out Burger that we’d past several times on the highway over to Disneyland. We ordered ourselves up a couple burgers to take back to the hotel. The burgers themselves were pretty good although I’m not too sure if they’re up to the hype I had heard about them. Still the fact they managed to make a tasty burger that didn’t feel like a massive pit in my stomach after eating it should speak for itself, so I guess they win in that area especially when you consider their price.

I think tomorrow will be spent not doing a heck of a lot as our legs and feet are starting to rebel against us with all the walking and standing we’ve been doing over the past 3 days. We might make our way to Hollywood Blvd and take a leisurely stroll through it but I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t venture past the front door of our hotel room. We’ve still got another day at Disneyland to go as well as a jaunt down to Legoland planned but I don’t think we’ll be bothering with either of them just yet, I don’t think our bodies would appreciate that.

Movie Stars and Dirty Laundry.

There was only a dim glow peeking through the curtains but it was lacking that distinct orange tint to it that I’d grown to expect. Throwing them back revealed a threatening looking sky with the overcast clouds merging into the smog in an eerily smooth gradient. It seems that the cross country flight had done some magic on our body clocks and we were up early again giving us some time to plan for the day ahead. We’d planned to go to Universal Studios today and decided to stick with that plan even with the foreboding weather. I also made a quick check to make sure that the server had come good after Danne kicked it over for me, thankful that it came around. I uploaded the 3 posts I had sitting in my queue before heading off, taking our laundry with us so we could get it done on the way home.

Dialling in the address into the GPS we drove the 10 miles to North Hollywood arriving into a strangely quiet strip of shops. We started walking around looking for somewhere to have breakfast and found a decent cafe about halfway down. The weather had was holding up and without my Internet connection on my phone working (again!) we decided to just go ahead and go into the park, figuring that it would could still visit most of the park even if it was pouring with rain.

There were a few people at the entrance to Universal Studios but it still felt almost deserted. It is the off season but that didn’t seem to have a damper on the numbers when we were at Dinseyland so we figured we had just gotten lucky. We made our way through one of the exhibits in the top lot before taking the multiple escalators to the bottom lot which was even more deserted than the top. That worked in our favour though with virtually no line for all the rides down there, letting us zip through the entire section in about half an hour. The rides were pretty good with their scale being extremely impressive. I can’t remember the last time I rode a rollercoaster that was entirely indoors (I think it might’ve been space mountain in Disneyworld in Tokyo where I hit my hand on a low flying pole).

After that we headed back up to the top lot to see some of the other shows they had going on. There were no less than 3 3D movies with all sorts of various augmentations. The most extravagant one was the Terminator with oodles of pyrotechnics and a cast of 3 people jumping in and out of various places all over the place. There were also a couple live shows that we saw the best of which was the Waterworld one. Now I’ll be honest here I was only going to go to it initially because there was a fated summer holiday where my brother and I watched that movie nearly every day. However the show itself was quite amazing with a smattering of watercraft, acrobatics and explosions all over the place. After we got out our last show at around 4:30pm everything was winding down so we headed out to find ourselves some early dinner before heading out to see a movie.

We found this amazing little Japanese place just up from where we had had lunch earlier. I ordered the tonkatsu with a Japanese beer I had never seen before: Echigo. We had just less than an hour so I was glad when our meal was served quickly and even happier still when it was quite good, especially for the price. Satisfied with our meal we went to see our movie for the night, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 1. 2 and a half hours later we emerged from the movie, both happy with the experience. I’d recommend the movie to anyone who’s enjoyed the previous releases in this particular series, I won’t comment on those who’ve read the books however (I haven’t).

Afterwards I found us a coin operated laundry not too far from we were so we headed over there to get ourselves some clean clothes to wear. After loading up the machine we sat down to watch what they had on the TVs around the place, mostly bad reality TV shows and overdone mexican dramas. About an hour later we were done and out of there, driving back through the rain that had finally started to come down. We got back to the hotel safely and flopped down on our bed, weary from the long day we had had. I’m not sure what we’ll be doing tomorrow but it will either be a visit to Legoland or back to Disneyland but really I could easily spend a day off my feet to let them rest. I don’t think I’ve walked less than 8KMs per day over the past 2 weeks.

Unexpected Joy.

Ah finally, a day where waking up was as natural as walking. I rolled over and checked the time, 8:00am a new record for this wearied traveller. I put my arm over my loved one and found her awake too which set off our normal morning ritual of getting ready for the day ahead. We had informally set aside this day to make our respective returns to Disneyland but hadn’t looked into it much past that. Figuring we could work out the details over breakfast we set about finding somewhere to get something to eat. Since this was our first full day here we assumed that finding something would be as easy as it was in NYC. Unfortunately it wasn’t and we wandered for a good 15 minutes before finding anything, making our future plans include finding somewhere good to go and making that our regular joint.

Just like in NYC southern California has its own version of CityPass which I picked up on when looking for cheap Disneyland tickets. Since it had been such good value before we decided to get them again even thought we didn’t think that we’d need 3 days at Disneyland (although we welcomed it). After battling through the dregs of the morning rush traffic we found ourselves outside those hallowed gates, now a multi-story parking lot capable of holding thousands of cars. We parked and then caught the tram into Disneyland proper and began our revisiting of childhood and teenage memories.

I’ll be honest, I was mostly doing this for Rebecca and was happy to go along with it as long as she enjoyed herself. That all changed almost the second I saw the massive TRON Legacy stage that was smack bang in the middle of the walkway. I had forgotten that Disney was behind the whole TRON thing, not to mention a whole lot of other cool things like their Tomorrowland Exhibits which house the Honda ASIMO robot. We spent a good 4 hours touring the various shows and riding the California Screamer rollercoaster. Towards the end of the day Rebecca wanted to ride on of those rapids rides which, while I’m not adversed to usually, didn’t particularly want to ride on since I’d be wearing wet jeans until we could get back to the hotel. Still I thought I’d go along with it and you can pretty much guess the outcome, I got completely soaked. Since we had booked tickets for Medieval Times I didn’t want to spend the next 5 hours in wet pants so we headed back to the hotel, and that’s when things took a turn for the worse.

Now I had been in some pretty heavy traffic back when I was driving around in Miami, but it was all pretty comparable to say Sydney or Melbourne during their more busy times. Still we figured that leaving at 4:30PM we’d have enough time to get to the hotel and back to Medieval times before it started at 7:00PM. It took us about 2 hours to get to the hotel which was only 28 miles from Disneyland. Thankfully the trip back was a little better but it still took us almost an hour to drive back making us late for our tournament. Still we were assured we’d get in as long as we had our tickets so we persevered.

Once we got in we grabbed our seats, right up in the front row. I had found a good set of coupons that gave us the best package you could get for less than the cost of the regular tickets and boy was it worth it. Even on a Thursday night the place was packed to the rafters and the crowd was roaring as we walked in. The entire show is really something to behold with skilled equestrians, falconers and enough choreographed fights to give me a thrill I wouldn’t soon forget. I had had reservations about it when I had first heard about it but after experiencing it for myself I was totally hooked, cheering for our champion and booing all others. If anyone has a chance to catch one of these shows I highly recommend you do, it’s 2 hours that you’ll be sure to enjoy, especially if you’re a fantasy nut like myself. Thankfully the drive home was much smoother than the previous trips, getting us back to the hotel in record time.

Tomorrow we’ve got some errands to take care of (like getting our clothes washed) but we’re hoping to hit up Universal Studios in Hollywood. After today’s experience at Disneyland I must say I’m now looking forward to visiting the other theme parks as well as spending another 2 days at Disneyland, as the tickets we bought allow us to. Hopefully too my server will be up soon so I can post these for you guys because I know how desperate you are to hear about my last week over here 😉

Welcome to the Smog.

I was awake long before the alarm went off, an annoying trait I picked up many years ago when I was tinkering with my body clock. It always seems that whenever I set an alarm I’ll be awake at least 10~20 minutes before hand but should I try to wake without an alarm I’ll more than likely oversleep. Still I wasn’t as tired as I thought I would be and 30 minutes later I was ready to go and spending the last few moments in our hotel room watching the morning news whilst Rebecca got ready. We left the hotel 30 minutes later and caught a cab to JFK airport where we spent the next hour or so tracking down some breakfast before boarding our flight.

JFK to LA is one of the longest flights in the states and it was set to be about 5 hours to get to our destination. Thankfully this flight had Wifi and in a fit of forethought I had bought a monthly pass to the Delta in-flight system for only $7 more than the daily pass, granting me the ability to catch up on my tweets and Facebook posts. I didn’t use it much more than that though I was far too engrossed in the last 150 pages of Judas Unchained to care about much else, practically gulping down those last chapters without coming up for air. Knowing that I had 5 hours to kill and more than enough time to finish that book I had brought the sequel, Judas Unchained, along with me and started tucking into that immediately. I got about 100 pages into it before the call came on for us to land in LA. Our 5 hour flight had only lost us 3 hours putting the local time smack bang on midday.

After grabbing our luggage we made our way to the airport shuttle area to catch a bus to the hire car place. I had spent a lazy hour or so looking over the cars available the night before and settled on a Dodge Charger. Realistically it would be far too big for us, more suited to a small family, but I wanted something that would provide us a deal of comfort over some of the longer drives we were planning and the econoboxes weren’t really going to cut it. Arriving there we were told they were out of Chargers and the only one they had resembled a battered old Ford Falcon. A “mid sized” SUV was available for a similar price so we went ahead with that and got to pick our car. I picked a Jeep Grand Cherokee and got us on our way to the hotel with gusto.

After the initial excitement of seeing the city I realised that what I thought was clouds on the horizon was actually the thick blanket of smog. As we got closer it only got worse with the haze giving most of the buildings a particularly eery glow. Even in NYC the pollution wasn’t this bad as when we looked back at Manhattan from Liberty Island we could clearly see everything. From a similar distance in LA we were struggling to see the more distant buildings. Needless to say, I didn’t feel much like looking around town.

The hotel itself is in downtown LA, a fact I had failed to notice when booking it. Usually this wouldn’t be much of a concern but I knew this meant they’d be charging like a wounded bull for their parking. Indeed they were to the tune of $35 a night, as much as the car had cost to hire per day. Still the valets were nice and it meant we didn’t have to worry about parking but after the amount we paid for the hotel getting hit for extras feels a bit rich. I had the same feeling when I hooked up my laptop in the room only to be shown an sign-in page for internet access for $13 a day. I’d stayed in a $70/night hotel that gave me the fastest Internet connection I’ve had in the entire US for free so this was just the icing on the shit sandwich. Undeterred I started poking around to see if they were doing ARP poisoning like the DoubleTree was in NYC and found that they weren’t. 10 minutes of trying various MAC addresses later had me up and running with an Internet connection without having to shell out for something that I don’t believe should be a paid extra in a 4 star hotel.

We wanted to pick up some hotel room supplies so I tracked down the closet Walmart and punched the co-ordinates. About 10 minutes later we were passing through a pretty run down section of downtown LA. We past the supposed location twice and noticed that what was supposed to be a Walmart looked like a run down strip mall. Figuring that it was either a planned site (or more likely, one that was closed down) I found another and promptly got stuck in pre-rush hour traffic, seeing a 10 mile journey take almost 45 minutes. We got there though and secured out wants before heading back to the hotel for a workout before dinner. We hit a local pizza place that served amazing pizzas, leaving us both too full to finish and taking a box home to polish off later.

We’re hoping to hit up Disney World tomorrow as it’s something that Rebecca has really been looking forward to. After visiting Disney Land in Tokyo almost a decade ago and hating it (but then again I was an angsty little bastard) I’m keen to see if I’ll have a similar reaction the second time around. Plus it will hopefully get us away from the dreadful smog that seems to be unrelenting around here, making staying in the city very undesirable.

Winding Down in Gotham City.

Today was our last full day here in New York City as tomorrow we’d be leaving bright an early for our flight over to Los Angeles. We hadn’t really had too much planned other than going to the Top of the Rock (the observation deck on the Rockefeller Tower) so after doing our usual late rising routine we wandered around looking for a breakfast place I had tracked down. After not being able to find where the hell it was we went to another only to find it was closed, wasting precious time. Giving up on my idea of not eating in the same place twice while we were here we made a beeline for Pigalle which was the first place to serve us decent coffee and a good meal only to come across a decent French place that was still serving breakfast for 10 minutes. Whilst the Belgian waffle paled in comparison to the one I had yesterday the coffee more than made up for it, leaving me with a healthy caffeine buzz.

We’d noticed the Ripley’s Believe it or Not! museum the other day when we were visiting Madam Tussauds and I made a note to come back and visit it later. Whilst the price of entry was a little steep I figured it was worth it to see something I was fascinated with some time ago. There were some choice exhibits in there including a hair lock collection which had samples from George Washington, JFK and Abe Lincoln. Since we’d lost our tolerance for standing and looking at things yesterday at MoMA we breezed through this place in around an hour and I’d hesitate to recommend it unless you can get a discounted ticket. It really did feel like a tourist trap.

One of the things I’d been meaning to do since day one was to visit Ground Zero. We’d walked past so many places with giant construction operations that I was sure we’d past it already and just not noticed but with it being far down town I couldn’t have been more wrong. A quick metro ride down saw us just a short walk from the infamous site and honestly I was expecting just to see the big hole like I had seen in countless pictures over the years. Surprisingly there’s been an awful lot of construction work and the desolate hole I was familiar with was no where to be seen. The entire site was ringed with banners of what the new Freedom Tower and corresponding monument would look like but I still managed to get a little peak of it from in between the gates. We also visited the nearby church and the 9/11 memorials they had which was an interesting insight into the event I had only experienced remotely.

It was around this time that my phone started playing up and I wasn’t able to find us a place to eat with Yelp. Undeterred we started wandering around looking for somewhere to eat, turning down many places for their lack of seating. After taking a chance down a small road we found this fantastic little Japanese place that ticked all the right boxes: soft shell crab, good beer selection and deep fried deserts. By this time it was almost 4pm and the place was pretty empty leaving nearly the entire staff catering to us. Whilst it wasn’t the cheapest meal we had here in NYC it was easily one of the best and it was found without the help of the almighty Internet.

Afterwards we headed back into midtown so we could hit up our last attraction for NYC: the Top of the Rock. When I first saw this in our ticket book I didn’t think it would be worth it, I mean realistically the skyline looks pretty similar from any of the tall buildings. The difference was today that there was a low cloud cover over Manhattan and the viewing platform was a pretty awesome arrangement of large glass panels, giving a great view over the city. There was also quite a few less people at this than the Empire State building so we were able to mill around a bit more without having to make our way through the crowds.

The upper floors were host to an art installation that tracked everyone in the room with an array of LEDs on the roof and walls. This was one of the rare occasions where you could get on the actual roof of the place with its very own viewing platform. The view from there wasn’t too different from the lower levels but the novelty wasn’t lost on me, even though my previous high rise jaunt was several levels higher.

With that done we retired to our hotel room to prepare for our early morning tomorrow. Our flight leaves at 9:00am and we have to wrestle our way out of the middle of one of the biggest cities in the world, so we’re going to be leaving quite early to make sure we don’t miss our flight. Our destination is sunny Los Angeles, California where the minimum temperatures are higher than the maximums we’ve had here. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to it, especially since the last 2 weeks made that lovely Florida weather seem like a distant memory. Still I’ll be sad to leave NYC behind, it’s a great city with so many things to see and do that I won’t say no to coming back here, even for a short while.

Our Wicked Ways Catch Up With Us.

Something was different today. Maybe it was the clouds covering the sky or the late night we swore we weren’t going to subject ourselves too but this morning was slow to get going and slow going all the way. I had actually woken up early and was going to make the most of it but my body wouldn’t have any of it, pulling me back down into the sweet dream land I was struggling to leave behind. We finally woke at our usual time to make our way down to La Pain Quotidien, a local organic bakery that does a mean Belgian waffle and managed to produce a real coffee that didn’t taste like NYC swap gas. We’d figured that we could knock off 2 sights today leaving just one left for our last full day in NYC so we headed up to our first target: the Museum of Modern Art.

I’d heard of MoMA before through watching some vlogs about NYC a while back. I was interested in it primarily because of that but also hoping that it wouldn’t just be all paintings on walls or halls of sculptures. You see I’m not usually much of an art fan as much of it bores me but I thought that the modern aspect of it might ensure that a few items would pique my interest. Upon entering we were greeted with an exhibit that was part physics experiment and part magic trick with 2 fans blowing into each other with 2 loops of some material hovering between them. I’ve got a video of it which I’ll endeavour to upload later and post below because this thing is seriously cool.

Thrilled with the prospect that this wasn’t my grandma’s kind of art museum we started on the second floor. The first section we went through was an installation from a Vietnamese artist which was basically a documentary about helicopters and their use during the war. It was interesting to hear the stories of those who lived through that war but it confused me as to how the thing could be considered art. We went on to the next section which was dedicated to the modern kitchen with all kinds of appliances and designs going back over 100 years. There was also an awesome amount of wartime propaganda about eating certain foods or breeding rabbits (they’re off the ration!) to help the war effort. It was almost surreal that those kinds of posters actually existed but then again I’m several generations removed from those who experienced the last total war.

The next section was all industrial design with various products and art based on those products. Some of these exhibits were interesting mostly for the information around when the products came to be. After this we started making our way up to the next few levels and this is where we showed our total ignorance of the art world. We breezed through the next 3 levels of varying walls of paintings only stopping a few times when we recognised things like The Starry Night or a name of a long dead painter. An hour or so later we were out of there and jonesing for some grub so I found us a little french place not too far away where we could rest up before tackling our next target.

After finishing a delicious lunch we had both came to the conclusion that we’re not particularly big art fans which means we probably won’t be visiting the 2 other art museums we have in our booklet instead opting for another high rise (30 Rockefeller) and just letting the other one slide. Walking out we both felt the same tiredness that had plagued us in the morning return with a vengeance. We wandered back to the hotel where we zoned out for a good 3 hours before heading out for dinner. We shared a slab of ribs and the returned back home feeling fat and happy.

Tomorrow is our last full day here in NYC and we’re hoping to make the most of it. If we feel up to it we might hit up the last museum on our hit list but we’ve still a couple other attractions I’d like to see before we depart this giant city. That will also bring us into our final week of vacationing in the USA and into some warmer weather, preparing us for what awaits us back home. I’m not thinking about that too much as there’s going to be a lot happening between now and then and my brain is firmly in holiday mode.