Sunday, 14 August 2011
Here's a few thoughts from my recent trip to the U.S. (Leeds U.K. to Houston Tx)
I flew from the U.K. via Amsterdam, whereas the lady i was going to see has always flown via Manchester. The Manchester route requires a train ride across the pennines, and it requires also a longish stopover in Atlanta. The trip to my local airport is far quicker, and the whole heading east to go west thing works out pretty well. I'd choose that route again. Amsterdam Schiphol is a pleasant terminal, it's got its own library reading area, and an in-airport branch of the Rijksmuseum, full of old master paintings!
My plan of having no checked baggage worked well. that and online check-ins, zowie, what a stress-saver. Being a man I can contemplate two weeks in a foreign country out of one carry-on.
In fact, I took a few totally unneccessary things, as I'd mistakenly thought I might want shirts and a fleece for cooler evenings.... Hahahahahahaaaaaaaa!
cooler evening? there's a joke. But I was prepared for them, and for rain. I now realise I could have left them out. T-shirt is plenty. The much grumbled about security checks? I can't complain. I preferred the old days, when you didn't have to empty all your pockets into a tray, take of your belt and shoes, and stand in a scanner, before also being frisked. But it wasn't a big deal.
Arriving at Houston, I got in the wrong line because I truly couldn't understand the guy's accent. The correct line I then went to was a horrendous zig-zag shuffle. Very few immigration checkpoints were actually manned. It could have been handled better, and I was shuffling, zombie-like, for the best part of an hour. Once at the gate, it was polite and businesslike. There are tannoy warnings telling you not to grumble, cause a fuss or crack any jokes whatsoever, on pain of arrest, so I curbed my natural tendencies and tried to keep a stoic dead-pan expression. I feared that if I so much as smiled at the man who took my fingerprints, scanned my retinas, peered at my face (+took bone marrow, urine, and blood samples... no. not really. but I wouldn't put it past 'em), I'd find myself being shuffled away to a concrete cell. In fact, he broke the ice, and smiled at me, wishing me a pleasant stay. Customs? I was waved through.
Eventually I exited the labyrinth, and was met.
Texas was quite warm. Like between 96 and 104 degrees f all the time. That's around 38 to 40c. I've been warmer, I've been lots colder. I'm not against heat per se, but 80 ish would suit me fine.
England, of course, is MUCH cooler.
Hm. This post's rambling already, and I've barely started.
General impressions. Well, we spent some time in Texas, then a roadtrip along the gulfcoast through Texas, Louisiana, Missisippi, Alabama, and Georgia to Newnan, Georgia where RDG grew up. Most of that roadtrip was fast interstate travel, just passing through. Interesting for me, though, passing all those places I've heard of but know next to nothing about, places better known for their appearances in songs, movies,and books.
Two weeks. It's too short. Like Monet's water lilies, a blur, an impression.
Specifics? I never met anybody who wasn't polite.
Obviously, our travels were not exactly all-encompassing, but that's my recollection, everybody was very polite. Helpful. Even when there was a barrier of mutual incomprehension. Truly, the whole food thing, well, there are familiar names on some things, but when you get it it's nothing like what those labels signify here.
Just as an experiment, I ordered "hot English Breakfast tea" with my meal in a Cracker-Barrel in? might have been mobile Alabama... Anyway, as I'd pretty much expected, I got a teabag (Darjeeling, not EBT), and a small jug of water not warm enough to make a goldfish sweat.
I'd been intrigued that they actually had a hot tea option with several varieties listed, however, it's clear they don't get many customers who call their bluff on it. No, I didn't cause a Basil Fawlty type scene. There'd be no point, she'd just smile and humour me, then deliver the same not-tea to the next poor unfortunate who asked. I just ordered an ice tea instead. they've got that off to an art. I suspect any one of the southern states consumes more tea than england does, just not in a form we recognise. You can buy the stuff in gallon plastic containers, everywhere. But hot tea? Nope. nobody seems to grasp the basic fact that you can only make tea by hitting the leaf with BOILING water. In England it's understood. We do tea.
I expected, however that America would always do good coffee. Alas no. It's by no means guaranteed.
The food was good there, just um, strange. I'd ordered chicken stew with dumplings. No british person would have described what came as chicken stew with dumplings. Chicken in white goop with semi-solid bits of white goop, perhaps. It tasted okay, but looked like wallpaper paste.
We went to IHOP... "International House of Pancakes" What?
Well, the coffee was good as was the breakfast. but the pancakes? Um.
I left most of... they were too sweet for me. I'm more of a savoury eater, and sugary tasting pancakes with my bacon and eggs? that's just weird. Okay. That'll do for now, I've got brainfade.