Category Archives: Holiday

In the genes

I just came across this photo of the current Mrs. Wombat’s Mum & Grandma, presumably in Blackpool, with an unnamed hottie in the centre. Now I know where my beloved gets it from.

Click to see a larger version

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#WOMBATSDOAMERICA 2015 Day 22

Blogging our recent US trip day by day, a month after the event.

1st December – From desert to snow storm

Bye San DiegoFrom my travel journal – “High over snow-topped mountains, flying to the Twin Cities. Delta cookies for breakfast. Rob, bless him, hauled himself out of bed at 4:30am to drive us to Lindbergh Field for our early flight. The roads were surprisingly busy for such a deathly hour. San Diegans get moving EARLY. The snow/wind combo in South Dakota may prevent Janine & Barry getting to Sioux Falls to pick us up when… IF we get there, so we may have to faff about finding a hotel. We’ll know in a few hours”

MinneapolisWe took off into a bright sunrise in San Diego, and landed in a cold, snow-coated Minneapolis. Once I’d connected with the free WiFi I received a text from Janine – “We have had around eleven inches of snow, and high winds are spreading it across the roads which are barely passable. There is a hotel right by FSD, but I may just have found a way to get you here tonight. I’ll message again when I know for sure.”

De-icingWe were relieved to find the flight to Sioux Falls unaffected by the weather, although there was a short delay to de-ice the plane. A wazzock had brought his wazzocky Swegway thing on the plane and was trying to cram it under his seat. Wazzock got told off by the flight attendant, heh heh.

Spot the GaryComing into Sioux Falls we could see that it had clearly had far more snow than MSP – it was lying thick around the airport, and still falling lightly, kicked up by a stiff breeze. Another text from Janine – “I’ve arranged for you to have a lift with a guy from Jess’s hunting lodge, who is collecting some hunters from Louisiana. He’s in a big, heavy 4×4 and is used to driving in these conditions. He’s called Gary: I’ve never met him, but I’m told you need to look for someone who looks like a hunter.” Oookaaaay.

Scary driveI found Gary easily, by virtue of his bright orange cap – for those who don’t know, hunters wear orange to avoid being mistaken for deer. We crammed into the back of a HUGE 4×4 full of hunters and hunting equipment. The two hour journey was terrifying at times, snow Janine'sblizzarding horizontally across completely snow-covered highway. However, the hunters were friendly (though one mistook my Yorkshire acccent for German, possibly misled by the German flag on my jacket) and the 4×4 warm, though we were squeezed in tight.

We met Janine and Barry at Vets service station and said goodbye to “the lads”. Finally we slid into Janine’s driveway, and I swear their house looked like fairyland, glowing green in the snowscape. And relax…

 

THERE ARE MORE PHOTOGRAPHS OF DAY 22 HERE

#WOMBATSDOAMERICA 2015 Day 11

Blogging our recent US trip day by day, a month after the event.

20th November – Coronado, San Diego

Almost OverI’ll tell you what – I was chuffed to little mintballs to be given a copy of V’s new album, Almost Over, which is exquisitely good. Hey, and I’m finally one of the cool kids – my name’s on the sleeve.

Coronado BridgeWe drove over the arching Coronado Bridge – the one I’d seen out of the plane window the night before – to, well, Coronado. Which is just a lovely word to say. There are LOADS of words that feel good in the mouth around San Diego – Tierrasanta, La Jolla, Escondido… the list is endless.

PaddleWe had an excellent lunch at the Sheerwater Restaurant out back of the Hotel del Coronado – the hotel featured in Some Like It Hot. I had a superb burger, but resisted the lure of a bacon milkshake. A walk out to the sun-drenched beach followed, with a paddle in the Pacific Ocean while gazing at the misty mountains of Mexico on the horizon. It was hard to remember it was late November.

SunsetAs the sun sank we we took a trip to view the bay from the cliffs, then to La Jolla to catch the sun sinking below the sea while seals flopped onto the beach and pelicans flew overhead. Rats also raided a bin nearby. A day of good conversation, sunshine, amazing views, laughs, and reports of snow in South Dakota, our next destination in a week’s time. Eek!

THERE ARE MORE PHOTOGRAPHS OF DAY 11 HERE

#WOMBATSDOAMERICA 2015 Day 10

Blogging our recent US trip day by day, a month after the event.

19th November – from Michigan to California

Beans on toast US styleOur last Michigan morning. We introduced our hosts to the revolutionary concept of beans on toast, accompanied by some of friend Karen’s excellent bacon. Amazing that America doesn’t ‘do’ beans on toast, but then their baked beans are not as ours, featuring as they do the aforementioned bonus lump of pork fat. Not this morning though, for we had bought “Vegetarian Baked Beans”, with the fat loeft out.

Last drink in MichiganTo Traverse City we drove, there to browse shops and escape from the BITTER cold to eat gorgeous chicken chilli in the warm, cheery Mackinaw Brewing Company bar. Outside the clouds shivered, and occasional snow flakes drifted lazily in the chill air.

My arseAirport security had a little trouble with my backpack. I was puzzled, until the smiley, rather sexy, security woman rootled inside (the backpack, not me) and pulled out… MY GRITS. The huge sack of grits that Karen had sent us, along with that incredible bacon. After a merry chit-chat about the best way to eat grits (she mixed an egg in eww) I was allowed to board the plane to the West Coast, which lacked entertainment which, pardon me, was a bit thick considering the five hour flight. Hark at me, seasoned traveller* now.

It began to snow properly as we peered out at the tarmac, and take-off was delayed by twenty minutes or so while the plane was de-iced by a chap with a spurty-gun in a crane-lorry thing that I’d love to have a go in. This left connection times in Detroit a little tight, but we coming into San Diegoknow that airport well now and we walked briskly through the psychedelic tunnel to make our flight across America. We chased sunset, which therefore lasted hours, but due to sitting above a wing could not take full photographic advantage. We landed after dark, with San Diego beautiful below us. I saw a gorgeous arcing bridge, which would later cross to Coronado.

Single malt ahoy!Rob met us at baggage claim in San Diego, and the drive through the San Diego night was very pretty. Lights everywhere, interesting buildings, and – bloody hell – palm trees! And then there was single malt to welcome us to Rob and Valerie’s home. I went to sleep looking forward to seeing California in daylight.

*wanker

THERE ARE MORE PHOTOGRAPHS OF DAY 10 HERE

#WOMBATSDOAMERICA 2015 Day 9

Blogging our recent US trip day by day, a month after the event.

18th November – Grand Pianos

PianosYes, grand pianos. The American measure of windspeed according to Jamie’s TV. We woke to a seven grand piano day with intense rain. The rain eased as lunchtime approached, so we went to Frankfort for food at a fusion restaurant called, erm, Fusion. I had a curry – it was bloody good, an’all. It came, somewhat oddly, with a fortune cookie, which predicted the next day’s flight across America Fortunewith remarkable coincidentiality. No, that’s a word. Trust me, I’m a writer.

We walked off our post-prandial torpor, sauntering through a dreich day along the edge of Arcadia Marsh, which would be a dismal place to spend a whole day. A plop in the water was the most noteworthy event. No, not that sort of plop, you mucky pups. The sound, I mean, behind us, made by something unseen.

SunsetThe evening brought a glorious sunset, biscuits (US style) and gravy, Quantum Leap, packing for the next day’s flight, and experiencing that odd mix of sadness at leaving Michigan and eager anticipation for San Diego. Add a soupcon of airport-worry, and it’s surprising we slept as well as we did.

THERE ARE MORE PHOTOGRAPHS OF DAY 9 HERE

#WOMBATSDOAMERICA 2015 Day 8

Blogging our recent US trip day by day, a month after the event.

17th November – Old Baldy Dune, MI

BeansA sunny, gentle morning sitting on the balcony, sipping good coffee, watching Lake Michigan shimmer beyond the trees, and discovering that if you buy baked beans in America they have a lump of pork fat in them. Also that beans on toast isn’t known in the States. No, really.

Old BaldyOut to a woodland trail that led to Old Baldy Dune, a large high dune complex with splendid lake views and unusual plants. We wound through tall, straight trees for a mile or so to a sandy climb, scramble, and superb views at the end. Ace had a great time.

In the evening we visited Jamie and Barb’s church, where we enjoyed a pot luck meal and good company. HTrinityere we met Kate again. Though atheists, we were welcomed with open arms and cookies and didn’t burst into flame. The community is a joyful one, and the service was actually a lot of fun. A band called Trinity played religious country-rock very well. As churches go, this was a good ‘un.

THERE ARE MORE PHOTOGRAPHS OF DAY 8 HERE

#WOMBATSDOAMERICA 2015 Day 7

Blogging our recent US trip day by day, a month after the event.

16th November – Point Betsie & Beulah, MI

Point Betsie lighthouseHello, you’re still reading these? Blimey, you’ve got staying power. This was a gentle day, starting with a short trip to Point Betsie to see the lighthouse, and to search the beach for Petoskey stones. Glorious weather, glorious sky, and a daft lollopy dog. Perfection. I didn’t find any Petoskeys, but I did find a kind of fossil thing. #PROUD

To the small town of Beulah, unremarkable except that it stands on the eastern shore of Crystal Lake – well, one of the Crystal Lakes. There are fifteen in Michigan. Those early explorers were obv. a bit short of inspiration. This one, however, is the largest, being about eight miles long, end the water is exceptionally clear. This late afternoon there was nary a wisp of breeze, and the surface of the lake as still as looking glass.

Crystal Lake from Beulah Beach

The reflection of the sky was breathtaking, and I don’t use that word lightly. I daren’t breathe for fear of disturbing the amazing picture laid out before me. Then Jamie threw a rock in the water, which was also kind of cool. This was one of those sights that will stay in me till I cock my clogs.

Bacon doughnutsThen a quick shop, where there were BACON DOUGHNUTS OMFG and American sausage and mash for tea. Bloody lovely it was, an’all. The evning was finished off by downing a bottle of Glenfiddich with Jamie, after which I was extremely witty although no-one seemed to understand what I was saying and I ate many, many crackers.

THERE ARE MORE PHOTOGRAPHS OF DAY 7 HERE

#WOMBATSDOAMERICA Day 18

Blogging our recent US trip day by day, four weeks after the event.

Friday 22nd August – Amsterdam

DSCF4028Yes, OK, it should be #WOMBATSDOAMSTERDAM, but then it wouldn’t fit with all the earlier blog posts and that would be just WRONG. Anyway, over the Atlantic, at about 9pm Eastern Time Thursday when it was dark outside, Captain Keith (not Crieff, thank goodness*) warned us that there was bad weather ahead, which would cause some turbulence. He made the flight attendants sit down. The aircraft leapt about like a mad eejit. We caught brief glimpses of lightning among dense clouds out of the window. That was both beautiful and scary.

I tried to sleep, but dozed only fitfully, even though I used my full snooze-arsenal of squidgy neck cushion, tilty seat headrest, and loosening of the trouser waistband. It seemed hours before rosy-fingered dawn was stroking my eyes. No, you fools, that’s not the blonde who served us with what purported to be beef stroganoff, but tasted like beef with lard lumps. That’s POETRY to describe us flying into the next day.

The plasticky seat was making my arse sweaty, so it was a true relief when Captain Keith told us that we were beginning our descent into Schipol. I did remember to do up my belt before we went through customs. Sorry to disappoint those of you looking forward to a trouser joke. We emerged from customs at Arrivals Gate 1.

“I’m at Arrivals 3 gate,” Yvonne texted, “See you soon.”

“On our way,” I replied. We followed yellow signs to Arrivals 3 which sent us round in a big pointless circle. Bloody stupid airport. Seriously, it took half a bloody hour.

DSCF3946“I’m under the Heineken sign at Arrivals 2” I texted, followed quickly by “Oh bumholes, I mean Arrivals 3.”

It was very crowded, so I went searching for one charmingly attractive Dutch woman among scores of them that were thronging the area. Seriously, die Nederlandse vrouwen zijn prachtig. Soon we were hugging hello, though, and I’m sure I wore a big daft grin at finally meeting one of my longest and best Twitter friends.

Yvonne drove us into the city in her nippy little car, and walked us across towards the canal. We passed massive queues at the van Gogh museum, and I revelled in being in my fourth country in two weeks. I loved all the bicycles, and the trams. We were delighted by random statues of iguanas, too.

DSCF3951Yvonne took us on a narrow-boat tour around the canals, which we boarded opposite Hard Rock Cafe, a nice bookend for the one we’d seen in Niagara. The cruise was superb, and just right for the cloudy day and our slightly hysterical mood. We passed a houseboat museum, Anne Frank’s house, a tulip museum, the Bimhuis concert hall, the Rembrandt Museum, Opera House, and all manner of bicycle thronged bridges, houseboats, and fine houses.

Afterwards, we retired for a pleasant coffee and chat in a pleasant coffee house. It really had been a lovely day. The heavens opened as we left the cafe and we were drenched by a torrential downpour. DRENCHED, I tell you, in DUTCH RAIN! It was WONDERFUL.

Back at the airport after bidding farewell to Yvonne we steamed quietly, waiting for the gate to open for our final flight. And guess what? Yes, after all we’d already experienced, the capricious gods of flight had one last twist to throw at us. A long delay brought on by the very storm that had soaked even our underwear was greeted by a shrug. We were used to such things by now.

Then, a gate change which meant a scurry clear across the airport. Knackered after a brilliant day that had had little sleep before it, we were simply going through the motions now. More security checks, more waiting, more annoyances. Finally we boarded, now desperate just to get home.

DSCF4045Still those Gods of flight had not finished, however. We crossed the North Sea and were finally over England. When we were low enough to see land we spotted Scout Moor wind farm, and from the orientation managed to figure out that we were flying over our house. We gave a weedy “Yay”.

Manchester Airport was surprisingly easy to get out of, and there was Martin, good old Martin, who’d dropped us off on Day 1 seventeen days before for what was to prove, quite simply, two of the most amazing, astounding, astonishing weeks of my life.

Thank you for sticking with the #WOMBATSDOAMERICA blog posts. They’ve been a joy to write, and have helped me to revisit all the magical things we did, and the incredible friends we met and made. Where will we go next? I’m not sure – San Diego? Michigan? Canada? We’ll just have to wait and see.

*one for ‘Cabin Pressure’ fans there. For non-fans, this might give you a flavour http://youtu.be/sHgeeGOypGI

MORE PHOTOS OF DAY 18 HERE.

#WOMBATSDOAMERICA Day 16

Blogging our recent US trip day by day, four weeks after the event.

Wednesday 20th August – Cleveland

DSCF3864We were up early, ignoring the lying clock, and out quickly. Breakfast was at six, but we really didn’t have time as we managed to cadge a ride to the airport in an old lady’s cab that was just leaving, and it seemed safer to just get there than to trust that the car we’d asked for would actually arrive Mary grabbed a banana, lucky lady.

The flight to Cleveland went normally, which was turning out to be unusual for us. Cleveland was our eighth airport in two weeks – Manchester, Amsterdam, Detroit, Erie, Buffalo, Minneapolis, Sioux Falls and now Cleveland. Our list of unusual flying events that “almost never happen” was also quite long now –

  • An “Is there a doctor on board?” call.
  • Security cock-ups with the TSA not having the right forms available.
  • Flight cancelled requiring departure from a different airport the next day.
  • Flight turning around mid-air due to a technical fault.
  • A missed connection due to storms.
  • An overnight stay in a hotel.
  • Flying TO a different destination due to cancellation.

The news that morning had been of a volcano in Iceland that was threatening to erupt. The last time that happened it had played havoc with flights. That would be all that we needed to complete the set.

As we stepped outside at Cleveland into hot sunshine (Door 1, fact fans) Tom and Kim drove up, arriving exactly on time rather like Janine and Barry had at Sioux Falls. We drove into the city and spent the day at the remarkable Cleveland Museum of Art.

DSCF3866The place is deceptively vast, with an impressive central courtyard roofed in glass. We meandered for hours, finding hundreds of works of art of endless variety to admire. Near the entrance, though, was an extraordinary interactive wall of art. A packed grid of pictures of works floated around. Each picture could be touched to reveal a larger image, information about the piece, and its location in the museum.

CMA-Gallery-ONE-SculptureClose by there were other large screens on which the visitor could experiment, or play games. I had a go at something called ‘Embody Art’, where the idea was to copy the pose of a work of art. I tried to emulate ‘Angel’ (1583–1584 by Annibale Fontana). Apparently the angelʼs extended arm would once have held a trumpet. Her movement mirrors the blast of sound from the instrument. I’d have done better if I’d known that before making a wazzock of myself.

DSCF3883Tom and Mary declared that they were hungry and, the cafe looking ridiculously expensive, we wandered outside to find somewhere to eat. We ended up across the grassy square outside at the Botanical Gardens, where the food was excellent and much cheaper than at the Museum of Art AND there was an exhibit of Lego. Mary only managed half her sandwich, though. She put the rest in her bag to take home and put in Kim’s fridge where, for all we know, it remains to this day. Strolling back over to the museum we spotted a red cardinal atop a nearby tree, singing for all it was worth. A beautiful bird.

DSCF3923The museum was superb. Even Tom seemed to really enjoy it after being sceptical at first. The exhibits that really spoke to me were those where the artist had given the subject genuine expression, where they looked real rather than idealised. For instance Valentin’s ‘Samson’, Rubens’ ‘Portrait of Isabella Brant’ or David’s ‘Cupid and Psyche’. ‘Fifth Avenue Nocturne’ by Hassam was one American painting I loved. Other beautiful items that I coveted were a two-handed sword from 16th century Germany, an Italian table depicting Chronos and an ivory sculpture portraying ‘Christ’s Descent from the Cross’, an eight-figure group carved from a single elephant’s tusk. Poor elephant, yes, but what an intricate, impressive work of art.

Thoroughly exhausted, back we went to Erie where Kim and Tom fed us on many snacks. Mary and I particularly loved Kim’s Brie thingy. We got to say hello to Monnie once more, which was nice. We watched several episodes of ‘Jeopardy’.

“A show with a sodding theme tune that won’t ever leave your head.”
“What is Jeopardy, Merv?”

After that, much packing against tomorrow’s flights home, volcano willing. I dearly hope that we can reach Amsterdam easily, see Yvonne, and return to Manchester without incident.

#WOMBATSDOAMERICA Day 15

Blogging our recent US trip day by day, four weeks after the event.

Tuesday 19th August – Fun with Flying

IMG_1951626521094“Don’t worry,” they had told us about our first flights abroad. “Things so rarely go wrong. I’ve been flying for umpteen years and never had a problem.” Oh yeah, virtual smug person, well you can stick that right up your pipe and smoke it. Stream of consciousness notes from the travel journal follow:

“Gate A8 to Detroit, some ‘weather’ so we’re going over the top of it and coming into Detroit from the east leaving Minn. 3 seats each side of aisle, pro tip: roll-on bags fit better wheels out. Air. Bumpy fluffy clouds.”

That’s enough of that. It’s like reading Finnegan’s Wake, sheesh. I’ll start again.

Sad we were indeed to leave our wonderful South Dakotan hosts. They had shown us such a wonderful week, with unforgettable experiences and laughs that will linger in my memory until the day I kick the bucket. I had moist eyes as we left Barry and Janine at FSD.

DSCF3850We had no problems reaching Minneapolis, and finding Gate A8 for our flight to Detroit. On take-off Captain Sillyname informed us that there was ‘some weather’ in Detroit (no shit, Sherlock) so we would be flying over the top of it and coming into Detroit from the east. Before take-off we were given a bit of good advice – put your roll-on bags into the overhead compartment wheels outwards: they fit better.

The plane did a lot of taxiing at Minneapolis. The runway must be miles away. In flight, the plane was bumpy passing through clouds. That never occurred to me before. I always imagined that a cloud would make little difference to how a plane flew. Such innocent musings were soon gone as, three-quarters of the way to Detroit, Captain Sillyname made an announcement.

“Sorry folks,” he said, “We’ve hit a bit of a snag. We can’t fly over the big fuckoff storm in Detroit because our weather radar is knackered.” (I’m paraphrasing him here) “It’s a sod, but we’re going to have to return to the Twin Cities and have it fettled.” So return we did, and spent some of the time while we waited for an engineer looking up why Minneapolis was called ‘The Twin Cities’. Turns out that it’s actually two cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul’s. Like Manchester & Salford, I suppose, only cooler.

DSCF3848Now, our itinerary had given us a long connection time in Detroit, over four hours, but would we now still make our flight to Erie? Only time would tell. Engineers replaced the weather radar within an hour while the passengers chatted and walked about. The doors were closed. We might just make our connection after all. Captain Sillyname came on the PA.

“Thanks for your patience, folks. The buggered equipment has now been repaired, and we’ve whacked some more fuel in. We have been given clearance for take-off, yay! Oh wait. Bloody Nora – I’m now being told that twatting ATC have closed Detroit to all traffic due to the arsing storms there. FFS.” (still paraphrasing)

And so we continued to sit on the plane and chat or read or sleep. Eventually, after an age, we did take off. We had no idea at all what we would have to do in Detroit, so there was no relaxing on that flight. The Detroit screens showed that the last flight to Erie had indeed left, so we staggered to a crowded help desk where a harassed woman kept telling everyone to use the scanner. The scanner would not scan our thingies though, so we settled in for a long queue to have a word with the poor overworked agent.

“Wombats? Do we have Wombats here?” came a loud voice from a corner of the bay. Puzzled, we answered the shout and took a phone call from a lovely woman called Flo. She told us that Kim had spoken to her on the phone, explained the situation, and that we should come find her in the ticketing office where she would sort everything out for us. We found her, and she did, bless her heart. Also, we will be forever grateful to Kim for her heroic phoning and organising on our behalf.

IMG_6986Flo arranged for us to fly the next morning to Cleveland (where they had been going to take us anyway) to meet up with Kim and Tom. She also arranged a hotel for the night and transport to reach it, which turned out to be a limo. The driver took us through some dodgy looking areas, though.

Knackered, we spent the night at the Country Inn at Dearborn, having eaten only a cheese scone at breakfast. We did nick a couple of cookies from a basket in the lobby, and found some ice to melt for drinking water. The room was very comfortable, very clean, with two double beds. It also had a clock that ran an hour slow, so we made a mental note not to trust it, showered, and collapsed.

THERE ARE ONLY A FEW MORE PICS THAN IN THIS POST, BECAUSE WE WERE PRATTING ABOUT AT AIRPORTS AND ON AIRCRAFT ALL DAY, BUT YOU CAN SEE THEM HERE.

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