Saturday, 25 June 2016

Y'awll c'mon down to the Mississippi now!

New Orleans, New good it should be named twice! We had heard about this city mostly from Jill, born and raised there, who raved about the people, the food, the music and the relaxed way of everything. So when an opportunity came up to spend a long weekend before flying to Mexico we had to do it. Man, I am so glad we did. It was pretty spectacular.

The food first. As a local Jill could take us to the best places that we wouldn't find as tourists. I'd like to say they were cheaper but everything here is budget blowing for us poor travellers, especially after being in Asia for so long! But we don't know if we'll get back here so we had to try it all, more gluttony, more extras kilos and more alcohol than can be good for your liver. 

Firstly we munched on Crawfish in a diner on a highway with plastic tablecloths and the weirdest collection of wall art in an eatery I have ever seen (yet). It was the end of the season so Jill needs a last fix and orders 10lbs, yes, 10 whole pounds, of them along with some corn and potatoes that all boiled up in the same pot with all the spicyness. The flavour is good but it's a lot of hassle for a tiny bit of flesh so Jill's expert crawfish shelling wins the day and she gorges so many we have to roll her out of the restaurant. Then there's Snowballs, shaved ice with the sweetest syrups in a choice of about 100 flavours poured over. To top it off we have a healthy slathering of condensed milk on ours too. My teeth actually hurt after eating this massive sugar high. 

The other obvious New Orleans delight is the Beignets, or beige nets as I called them, a deep fried cake that's kind of a cross between a doughnut and an eclair. We enjoyed these is a cafe in the park generously covered in castor sugar. More furry teeth. The other not so obvious food treat was a Venezuelan breakfast of Arepas, a corn dough baked roll that you fill with, egg, cheese, tomato, avocado or pretty much anything you like. Absolutely delicious and filling, kept us going for a few hours. This was lovingly prepared by Jill's boyfriend, Gabriel, a cool Venezuelan guy who plays percussion in various bands and skateboards. I know, far too young and hip for us, and he was great company too! Talking of sandwiches, we also sampled the local Po'Boy which comes from the food that used to given to the poor boys by the wealthy. It's a long baguette filled with meat, tasty but not so special, sorry Jill. One final foodie thing, though not technically food, and it was enjoyed at 11am just after the Arepas, was the frozen Daiquiri. We were taken to a shabby looking store painted bright pink and called 'Daiquiris' that apparently Beyoncé comes to when she's in town! Again in a huge choice of flavours and all pretty strong. Exactly what you need just before you visit a cemetery.

Which is exactly what we did. Because New Orleans is actually below sea level they don't bury their dead, so there are these fabulous mausoleums and crypts. We wandered round snapping pictures and even saw one for sale. Not sure how that works! This was followed by something a bit livelier, a Cajun Zydeco festival. We weren't really sure what to expect and what we got was way more than we could have imagined. The instruments are an accordion, a washboard, drums and two guitars. We saw Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers. Dwayne was a large black guy looking a bit gangster playing the accordion with the energy of an eighteen year old on a Friday night. His side kick was a cowboy hat wearing, washboard ass kicking dude and they gave a great performance. 

The crowd was dancing the Cajun two step and a few couples were fantastic to watch. There's something about the music that makes you want to tap your feet and jig your shoulders. It has definitely inspired us to listen to more, it's such a happy style of music. We are really getting into this then we're reminded that the Pride parade is this evening so we need to get our arses over there. Yet another spectacle. The parade starts with remembrance of the 103 killed or injured in the tragedy of the Orlando shooting and is fairly intense but it's followed by a succession of floats, dancing groups, motorbikes, marching bands and even the local Jewish and Christian communities join in. There were men, women and those we weren't sure of that marched, sang, danced, biked, floated and strutted along the streets. 

They were wearing, from almost nothing to the most extravagant costumes with feathers, leather and sequins in the seven colours of the Pride flag. In true Mardi Gras style beads and lollipops were thrown at the crowds to catch and wear or eat. Chris was absolutely in his element. He caught and wore necklaces, he cheered and clapped everyone and I think secretly he wishes he could have joined them. Unfortunately we went straight from the festival otherwise he would have dressed up in something from Gabriel's dressing up box! I'm not saying anymore than that.

Next stop, much to Jill's disgust and completely against her will, we said we had to see the famous Bourbon Street. So off we duly went and to be truthful it was a bitter disappointment. It was noisy, but not with the sounds of any jazz, crowded with tourists, neon signs and it smelt horrible (I think it was pee and puke). So we walked down it once, took a few pictures with Chris focusing on the girls in short shorts and headed to the hipper area, Frenchman Street, where the locals hang out. Much more what we expected of New Orleans, more discreet bars with the sounds of various jazz bands and singers, truly music to our ears. Lesson learnt...listen to the local!

Our last day, after all the hectic running around, was lunch at Shaya. Voted one of America's top ten new restaurants. I think by Esquire magazine. Anyway, Jill had thought to book it several weeks in advance and it was Israeli food with a Mexican twist. Absolutely delicious! And after having filled our stomachs yet again, we thought it would be a good idea to check out the swamps. You know, the stuff you see on the film's of Louisiana with moss hanging from the trees and you could easily dump a dead body and get away with it. 

So Jill, in her usual accommodating nature, drove us 45minutes to a National Park to see the swamps. Ninety seconds into the walk we saw a snake, which we screamed at and ran from, then thirty seconds after that we were being dive bombed by horse flies amongst other buzzy, flying, biting things which for some reason really loved Jill. We carried on with us all looking like we were having fits, arms and legs flailing around, and randomly swearing with a Tourette's affliction. Bloody funny to watch but not so funny to have happen. Jill broke first and ran screaming, pulling at her hair to the car. But not before she yelled at Chris for the car keys and telling him she f**king hated him. He has ten pockets in his shorts and couldn't find the keys, she was a little stressed at this point. We drove, we saw the swamps, we ran away. Oh, yeah and we did actually see an alligator in the water right next to the car park, how fortunate!

Final word on New Orleans, the architecture. It is absolutely beautiful. The clapboard houses painted in every bright colour imaginable with porches and verandas with swings on. The intricate fretwork, well kept gardens and Mardi Gras beads still hanging from trees. It was a city that made us say Wow as we looked in every direction. 

Had a fabulous time in New Orleans, thanks to Jill and the beautiful people, of which we felt like one for a weekend.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

High Seas Honeymoon

It’s been 8 months since getting married and we decided it was high time to have our belated honeymoon. Which, after a reckless moment, turned out to be a short cruise to the Bahamas and stay in a nice resort. Neither of us had ever considered going cruising – Neither as a holiday or seedy form of entertainment. But, the thought of walking the decks in the moonlight after dancing the night away was rather appealing. Hence, a couple of days later, we jumped upon public transport and arrived at our swanky ship on a bus (classy).

After being herded from one desk to another for check ins, restaurant bookings, shore excursions et al, us and our floral shirt clad compatriots were finally quartered in our respective staterooms (sounds so much better than windowless cabin) and, due to Rachel using the word ‘honeymoon’ when we booked we were given a bottle of bubbly to start the fun.

Thinking it only right we polished this off and then set off to start the eating fest that epitomizes modern cruises.  My word, were we out of our league for that! Food piled high and threatening collapse was shoveled upon plates and then set upon by seemingly starving people who then abandoned them partially eaten in order to construct equally momentous piles of desserts. All sloshed down with multi refill cokes and carbonated refreshments. Its funny how the idea of buffet dining differs to the reality. The idea, for me, is the pinnacle of eating concepts – wide choice, personalised portion control, efficient delivery, no tipping, chance to revisit old favourites. For others there does seem to another dimension. Namely, I’ve paid for as much food as I want so I will take (not necessary eat) as much food as I want.

Watching the gluttony was a difficult pill to swallow (just one more thing to eat really) and did make us feel a little uncomfortable but it is what it is and after all, these folk did pay for it. Just like we paid for the subsequent various rum and cokes and 12 martinis we devoured en route (let he who has not sinned cast the first stone).

All for us!!!
Anyway we lounged, ate, drank, watched the variety show (dancing girls, magic, men doing balancy things in leotards and a comedian) and although we danced the night away to an 80’s group and in the rave room and disco lounge we didn’t get to stroll the decks seeing shimmering moonbeams rippling on waves because it poured down. Ho hum. One highlight  was in the disco room where (after a slough in the dancing)  we got up  and partnered with two 80 year olds (oldest guests on the boat) wearing flashing, coloured sunglasses and got down to “the summer of 69” with my old gal even doing the air guitar move…Fantastic.

The following morning we docked in Freeport in the Bahamas and got transported to our hotel where we couldn’t get into our rooms for 5 hours. Its OK, We were warned so had packed appropriately, had received our all inclusive armbands and could sit around the pool/beach getting merry, eating and burnt. Yet again we had received an upgrade – this time on our room – which meant we were in a more select part of a huge resort, called Lighthouse Pointe, with larger airy rooms, a virtually empty beach, exclusive restaurant and less people tattoos.  All very nice.

I’m not the sort of man who usually kisses and tells but … It's a honeymoon for gods sake. So its fair to say that we made lots of love once or twice a day, supped on various cocktails whilst alternately sunbathing, reading or running for cover from a Caribbean shower. We swam in the infinity pool, bobbed about entwined in one anothers arms in the crystal clear and warm sea and generally sauntered around holding hands and being feeling lovely.
We have been together for 6 years now but to see us you would never believe it. Everyday is an adventure, everyday is filled with affection, consideration, passion and smiles. We have still never argued and still wake with a smile on our faces at the sight of one another. But you know what? Having said that, just knowing you are on honeymoon and married is a big endorphin-flooding thing and makes you feel special, other-worldly and beautiful and like giddy first-timers in their twenties we happily told everyone.

Pool sea and sky in harmony
I can’t actually tell you much about the Bahamas apart from what we saw in a short stroll to a touristy port and what I saw of the place during the transfer. The local people we did meet were laid back and friendly and the geography was pretty standard for the Caribbean although possibly wealthier than some other islands. Of the other tourists we met they were exclusively American by birth or choice and by nature or alcohol consumed, often loud and exuberant. Saying that we met a lovely couple of ladies (on a short break from their husbands and families) and shared stories and dreams and a fully moonlit evening with them before hurrying back to our huge bed…

Sadly, we didn't get any pictures of us together
apart from this one wearing our Nepal tee shirts
and taken for Uttam in Saping.
The cruise back was much the same as the outgoing trip although tinged with that end-of-a-holiday feel. And for some reason the people didn’t seem as buoyant as those on the outgoing boat (although they ate with last-meal fervour). This time, however, we did get that moon light walk under the stars and even soaked in a Jacuzzi.

So thank you Bahamas for a lovely time and thank you Rachel for a being a lovely wife x

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

God bless America

Garden gnomes American stylee
We have arrived in America and are like a couple of country girls on their first visit to the city. First impressions: F**k me everyone is big! Having gone through the privations of the Himalayas and the miniaturization of everything in Japan, this is somewhat overwhelming. People are big. Cars, roads, houses, buildings, food portions and coke cups are obscenely huge, Everything is clean, well ordered and manicured. The people are warm, and friendly and actually its quite fabulous living the American life for a few weeks.

We are staying with Dave and Leo, a great couple for whom we are doing a bit of Workaway whilst they are here and a bit of housesitting, when they’re not. Rachel found their ad on Trusted Housesitters and they looked great fun with their matching bow tie and shirt combo and have proved to be good company. We have had entertaining chats. good food and a foray into their extensive drinks cabinet and interesting lives. Just one point of interest being they do naked trekking!!?? We have a couple of dogs and a snake to look after. Andromeda (the snake) does very little, Windsor (an old long haired retriever) does a little more but mainly lays around life pretending to be an orang utang and being hairy. And lastly Colby, A very energyetic, Weimaraner who has a dodgy tum, is rubbish on the lead , is very loving and too smart by half.

Daisy Duke
We Have been left a pick up truck to get about in and get to go shopping for food, take out, drive to the beach, walk the dogs, say Hi to the neighbors and mow the lawn. It’s a good experience and makes you appreciate Florida for the places that aren’t Disney, Uniersal, Outlet malls or wet and wild and what regular life could be like here.

The Everglades

A few days ago we jumped into our pick up truck, tuned the radio to the local station and headed for the turnpike and onto the Interstate which runs pretty much straight across Florida from Miami to Naples. The Road for some inexplicable reason has a 55mph speed limit on it. Even though it’s almost empty and you can see for miles in either direction. Its dull driving and with cruise control on you can’t even alleviate the boredom by getting cramp. Still, I shouldn’t complain as it only takes an hour or so to get from the house to the heart of the Everglades and  ‘Shark Valley National Park’. There are no sharks. Or, for that matter, any noticeable valley. In fact we heard that the highest natural point in Florida is only 5 metres above sea level so even if there was a ‘valley’ it would likely be a bit shit.

Not a shark
So after this plainly misleading start we unloaded the bikes which we had in the back of the truck and set off on a 15 mile bike ride through the everglades. It sounds more “out there” than it actually was since the route follows a loop road created in the park 30 years ago. Even so, the sun beat down, the temperature soared, the sky was a brilliant blue and, actually, we were alone in the silence.  It was lovely. The first half of the ride followed a canal or drainage ditch in which we came across occasional alligators measuring 6 to 7ft long. These creatures just basking there a few feet from our juicy ankles. We saw a baby alligator, a couple of herons (big ones), a couple of turtles, some Florida gar  (a fish) and mile after mile of wetland grass waving in the breeze to the horizon. The far end of the loop has an observation tower that rises a few metres above the ground (its dizzying) and one can see for 20 flat miles in any direction. The second half of the ride we saw wetland grass – that's its. Just grass. No critters, no people, no nuffin. But then it’s a national park and  lets not forget we had just biked past 6 big live alligators in the middle of nowhere!

Simpsons sky in the Everglades
Palm Beach

It doesn’t matter if it’s withered or wobbles, whether it’s tight and toned or a loose bag of bones, whether you are stacked or racked…Miami’s South Beach welcomes you all. Here amidst the myriad of shapes, sizes and colours the sport of people watching is carried out from behind designer glasses peering over equally expensive cocktail glasses. Here you are treated to a level of body confidence we have not seen anywhere. Huge women wearing thongs and desperately struggling bikini tops saunter down the road with mountains of fat overflowing everywhere and are proud! Huge beer bellied blokes sit like so many Buddha’s eyeing the big girls whilst innumerable jocks (who in 15 years will become the new generation of beer belly boys) flex there arms and tight white, wife-beater clad torso’s as they are passed by very cute looking roller-skating , blond, beach bunnies. It’s a treat to observe and I offer a resounding Hoorah to each and every one of you for putting yourselfes out there and not giving a damn.

Palm Beach - Weird. No discarded flip flops
Palm beach, in fact, Miami is a very cool (Hot too - 94 today). It’s flashy and trashy and soaked in money and beautiful blue water. The buildings are eye catching with that famous 

The diner
Art Deco theme showing up everywhere in some form or another. Down on 11th Street , the heart of the iconic styled district we stopped at a silver clad, red leatherette seated diner for Cubano sandwiches and air con relief. Then, fed and watered and some $45 poorer, headed off to see the famous, spotlessly clean, expansive, crowded beach. Lifeguards in red shorts on four wheel drive buggies, garbage collection lorries emptying the hundreds of bins and various other service vehicles whizzing about to insure that no American need suffer the indignity of laying on a grubby piece of sand. It’s not my (very English) cup of tea. But it is what it is and it's a showpiece worth seeing…especially if that 25 year old chick in the hi-cut bikini skates past.

My lovely wife at Palm Beach

So, I gotta go and sit in the hot tub and stare at some lizards for a while.

Next stop – our belated honeymoon on a cruise ship to the Bahamas with 4 days of excess everything at the Grand Lucayan Resort.