Paul and Rita's World Tour 2006/7 - USA & Canada


 Montana +
 Michigan & Chicago
World Tour 2006/7 home page home


History:  Discovered by the native Americans several thousand years ago, a former British colony, given independence in late 18th century. Doing alright now, though.
Language:  Loosely based on English, Spanish becoming more prominent
Money:: US Dollar, 1GBP = 1.88USD as at 10/10/06.  For current rate check
Travel Advice- UK Gov Advice for USA 


Diary shortcuts - click on item to jump to section

5th Oct 2006 - London to Florida 
6th - 8th Oct 2006 - Archer Florida
9th - 11th Oct 2006 - Archer to Seattle, WA
12th - to 22nd Oct 2006 - Seattle, WA
23rd - 25th Oct 2006 - Seattle to Vancouver and back
26th Oct - 1st Nov 2006 - Seattle to St Joseph, MI
2nd - 6th Nov 2006 - Boston, MA


Thu 5th October, 2006, London to Florida

Started the day early with a generous car lift with my sister, Theresa, from her new place in Dunstable to Luton parkway. What a fantastic sister she is, I've always said so.  As you may have guessed, I'm hoping for another lift in the future. Caught the 6:37am train straight through to Gatwick, pausing momentarily on the bridge over the Thames long enough to take a few pictures of a fabulous sunrise over Tower Bridge.  What a beautiful sight, and an exceptional last reminder of London as we depart these shores for six months.

Sunrise over London Bridge.  Isn't it great how I squeezed a picture of London onto our USA page?

We had already checked in online for our 11am departure, but wanted to get to Gatwick as early as possible as we didn't know what the queues for security checks would be like, especially as we were flying to the states.  We needn't have worried, we sailed though all the checks in about 10 minutes and were soon sat at the Wetherspoons bar having a final taste of real beer before the hard times to come with no real ale.  That's got to be the hardest part about leaving the UK for me, especially for six months!

The 9 hour flight passed without trouble, raced off the plane to try and beat the anticipated queues as immigration but were pleasantly surprised to find only a few people waiting.   Our luck broke there though, we didn't have the house number of Rita's old school friend, Mike, who has recently moved to Florida and will be our host for a few days, along with his new wife Maria.  We thought this would be a minor matter, but our passports were taken and we were invited into an office near the immigrations desks.  We had to wait only about 5 minutes until we were seen to, and showing them a few emails from Mike was enough to satisfy them.  What followed was a bit strange, once we had collected our luggage from the conveyor, we then had to give it back in, presumably to be scanned again, before collecting it 15 minutes later in the main terminal.  We had booked a car online with Alamo, and despite a long line we were quickly seen to and wandered across to pick up our economy car, the cheapest available!  At the pickup garage, we were told to go to the compact lane and pick any car, but there was only one car in the lane, a Chevy HHT, much bigger than the standard economy car, but it was the only one left so we took it.  At the exit we half expected them to say we'd got the wrong class of car, but they didn't say anything, so we got a free upgrade!

Mike had emailed directions from Orlando to Archer, they seemed complex but turned out to be quite straightforward.  Rita did a good job of driving, despite it being her first time driving a left hand drive car, and we arrived in Archer just after 8pm.  Mike and Maria weren't home yet, so we were forced to wait in the local bar, where we found the locals very friendly and welcoming.   Mike and Maria gave us a warm welcome when we eventually made it back to their place at 9:30pm, but by then we were fading fast after a long day travelling.  

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Fri 6th to Sunday 8th October, 2006, Archer, Florida

Spent the morning at Mike and Maria's place, lovely rambling gardens (how can they call them yards?), Rita helped with feeding the horses,  and late morning Mike took us to Cedar Key on the Gulf of Mexico coast.  It's a touristy fishing place, with numerous restaurants and various types of accommodation, seemed a little run down but an interesting place to drop in to.  Saw some interesting horseshoe crabs mating on the water edge, not quite like any crab I've seen before, and apparently they've changed little in 25 million years! After an pleasant seafood lunch on the waterfront, we went shopping in Gainesville, Mike for some swimming pool parts, and me for a new power cable for my laptop.  The plastic coating on the power cable I bought in India last year has mysteriously started to disintegrate, so I need a new one quickly.  Also tried to buy an Americas style plug, so I could swap it for the UK plug on another power cable, but I couldn't find one in several electrical shops.  I find it easier (usually) to buy and fit a local plug instead of using a travel adaptor, especially as UK plugs are so bulky.  For dinner we had a traditional slab of pork ribs, cooked al dente by me on the bbq.  

On Saturday Mike took us to the Paynes Prairie State Reserve for a walk, hoping to see an armadillo in action, i.e. rustling around the undergrowth.  We had burgers and ribs for lunch at a roadside diner, locals place, before walking around the park for a couple of hours.  We didn't find any armadillos, but we did see some bison, deer, alligators, big spiders and some vultures.  In the evening we met some of Mike and Maria's friends for dinner at their place.

Sunday was a bit of a day of rest.  Rita and I went into Gainesville to have a look around one of the shopping malls in the morning and chilled out in the afternoon.  Maria was preparing for a big meeting in the week, but she still found time to cook up a fantastic dinner of local specialty dishes. The main course was cilantro chicken (I think cilantro is coriander) with spaghetti squash in a sweet sauce, served on a bed of rice with beans, fried onions and tomatoes. For dessert we had a lovely rhubarb and strawberry cob.  My description doesn't do it justice, but it was a lovely meal. 

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Mon 9th to Wed 11th October, 2006, Archer,FL  to Seattle, WA

Monday morning Mike left early to fly to his work in Galveston, we set off around 10am to leave Maria to get ready for her busy week ahead.  We set off east to St Augustine, arriving around lunchtime and checked into the Anastasia Inn, just across the Bridge of Lions, and only $40 a night with free wifi internet access .   The guy who first landed here was called Ponce de Leon, so I guess the bridge's name is a corruption of his name.   We walked back over the bridge, under severe repair, back into the old town.  I say old, but it was founded in 1576, which I guess is old by American standards.   On Aviles Street we had lunch at a Mexican cafe called La Herencla (or something like that), before wandering along the touristy shops on St George Street.  We found an upstairs bar with live music, it sounded good so we stopped by for a couple of hours and eventually stayed on for a snack for our evening meal    

Tuesday morning we collected our free breakfast from the reception area and took it back to our room.  Not a huge selection on offer, some cereal, bagels and muffins, but it was included so it would have been rude not to partake. Rita went for a walk down towards the lighthouse while I made maximum use of our free internet access to upload our website to my new ISP.  I've been trying to sort out hosting of our website for almost a month now, I ran out of space on our original host last year, so, being unable to buy extra space there at a reasonable price I bought some cheap space elsewhere.  It was getting a little difficult to maintain so a while ago I decided to consolidate the whole website onto one host, which should have been straightforward but I seemed to be going round in circles for several weeks.  Ok, I can see your eyes glazing over, so all I'll say now is it's been sorted and all should be ok now.

Rita's turn to drive, we set off down the East coast of Florida, aiming to find a place to stay near Orlando airport.  We stuck to the minor roads, actually the A1A and A1,  passing through famous places like Daytona and driving right passed the JFK Space Centre.  It was getting late so we didn't want to pay to actually go in.  We got slightly lost on the way in to Orlando, we only had the basic map that came free with the hire car, but eventually found our way to the La Quinta hotel only 5 minutes drive form the airport, where we found a good room with free wifi for a little over $50 for the two of us.

Up early for the flight to Seattle.  Dropped our car off at 6:30am and walked the short distance to the departure terminal.  We were a little worried when the guy directing passengers to the appropriate check in desk didn't recognise our flight number and had to go and ask someone else.  All was ok, the flight stopped off at Dallas first, and he hadn't realised it went on to Seattle.   We'd been told to expect long queues through the security checks, but they weren't too bad and we were through to the other side by 7am.

At Dallas we had the option of staying on the plane or getting off to stretch our legs, which seemed like a good idea to us so we did.  We had half an hour and managed to squeeze in a couple of beers and bought some food for the onward flight, as American Airlines don't seem to provide in-flight food any more.  How tight is that?

Arrived in Seattle pretty much on time and we were met by Rita's distant (possibly very distant) cousin, Linda, and her husband Ray.  Rita had been in contact with Linda for over two years, after Linda had contacted the Knapton family in Dorset to try and trace her relatives, but this was the first time they had met.  However, after so much email contact over the past two year we all felt as though we knew each other very well    

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Thu 12th to Sun 22nd October, 2006, Seattle, Washington

I stayed in Seattle with Ray while Rita and Linda drove over to Montana to see some more distant cousins, a drive of some 600 miles each way, so they were gone for the weekend.  In the mean time I explored downtown Seattle and got to know some of the locals beers a little more intimately.  I'll try and get Rita to fill in the details of the Montana trip when she gets time.

Linda and Ray looked after us very well and our time there flew by, with visits to the city and even a special open house day where all of Rita's distant relatives came round to meet her and for a chat.  

(Rita's contribution to follow) 

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Mon 23rd October, 2006, Seattle, WA, USA to Vancouver, BC, Canada

Caught the Amtrak bus over the border to Vancouver, stayed in a nice hostel on Richards St in central downtown, the St Claire.  Had thought about a day trip to Victoria but instead spent the day in Vancouver, good long walk around Stanley Park, out to the Lions Gate bridge.  

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Thur 26th October, 2006, Seattle, WA, to St Joseph, MI, USA

Flight from Seattle to Chicago delayed by an hour or so, which meant we missed the Amtrak train to St Joseph.  Instead we caught a South Shore train to Michigan City, and Mark very kindly drove out the 30 miles to pick us up from there.

We had a chilled out time with Mark in Michigan, Mark took me out to his narrow gauge train club and I had a go a one of the little electric trains.  Gave me a few ideas for our place in France.  Oh no, said Rita.  Also had an interestin night in the Livery bar in Benton Harbour, where they make their own beer.  It was an open mike night, and there were some interesting entries, and some were even fairly good.

On Wednesday morning we caught the Amtrak into Chicago and spent a day in the city.  It was a bit on the cold side, a couple of degrees above freezing, so we sheltered frequently in warm buildings, the warmest we found to be the bars.  Walked all the way up to State and Walton street to try and find a Blues bar I had been to 15 years ago, only to find its been knocked down and replaced with a Walgreens drug store.  The b*****ds! The cheapest hotel we could find for the night was out near O'Hare airport.  The Chicago Transport website told us to take the green subway out to the end of the line and catch a bus to get to the hotel, but when we asked a passerby for directions to the green line.  He looked at us shocked, and told us we should not go on the green line, it would be too dangerous for us. I wont say the exact reasons he gave but I thing they may have been racially motivated, but as it was getting late we took the longer option of a tube to the airport and catch the hotel transfer bus.   

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Thur 2nd to Mon 6th November, 2006, Boston, MA,USA

American Airlines let us down again and we arrived late in Boston, but only by 45 minutes, and to cap it all, they had no beer or wine on the flight. Well, not for economy passengers such as ourselves.  It's not as if we weren't prepaired to pay for it.. Caught the T (the Boston MRT) into town and 20minutes later we were at my brother Andy and his wife Carroll's place in town.  

Had a great weekend with Andy and Carroll, we've been to Boston a few times before but it was nice to go to some familiar places as well as some new.  Rita squeezed in a trip to the Art Museum, where she was even allowed to take photos, most unusual,.  Andy and I had a few hours of pool at our regular place, I had a lucky streak (or so Andy claimed) and I think I won most games, but Andy won the "Winner Takes All" final game, so he claimed the victory.  Meantime, Carroll was busy with a promotion in a wine store in town, part of her work for her cookery based website, Check it out for some great easy to prepare recipes, and you can subscribe to a free monthly newsletter too.  (Yet another un-paid promotion link)

The weekend passed all to quickly, and early Tuesday we caught the T out to the airport for our 8:40 flight to Chicago, connecting with an 11:05 flight to Narita, Japan.  We had been a little concerned about this connecting flight when we realised we only had 35 minutes to make the second flight, but we had been assured it was a valid connection.  Our first flight went ok until just after we had pulled away from the gate, when they announce a 20 minute delay.  That might have been ok, as we only had a hundred yards between the gate we arrive at in O'Hare and the departure gate, but we were further delayed in the air and didn't land until 11:05.  We ran to the gate but they had long since closed it, and although the place was still sitting at the gate, they wouldn't let us and the other five passengers who wanted to make the same connection get on.  We tried to get American Airlines to put us on another flight with another carrier, but they couldn't find seats for us, so we would have to wait for the same time flight tomorrow. And, because they said the delay was not their fault (it was air traffic control and the weather that delayed them) they wouldn't put us up in a hotel for the night, although they would give us discounted rooms at a hotel airport.

So we had an extra day in the US, meaning we would have a day less in Japan, so we changed our future flights to allow us a whole week in Japan.  That's one of the benefits of our OneWorld Alliance round the world ticket, we can change the date and times of our flights without charge as often as we like, if we want to change the routing though we'd have to pay.  

On Wednesday morning our we caught our flight with no problems, and set off for Japan.  Our route took us over Alaska, a state we had planned on visiting this trip but didn't make it.  Our RTW ticket seemed to imply we could fly there as part of our allowance of stops, but we couldn't find any flights we were allowed to book.    

Continued on our Japan page

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Tue 7th to Wed 8th November, 2006, Boston, Chicago and set off to Tokyo 

Our American Airlines flight from Boston to Chicago for our connecting AA flight to Tokyo seemed to be going well until we had been pushed away from the gate and had taxied a short distance, then we had the announcement that Chicago air traffic control had delayed us by 20 minutes.  As we only had 35 minutes between our scheduled arrival at Chicago and the take-off time for our Tokyo flight, this was not welcome news.  We eventually took off 30 minutes late, and just to complete the misery, we had to circle for an extra 10 minutes to get a landing slot.  Our arrival gate was only 100 yards from the Tokyo flight gate, but when we arrived there the flight had been closed for 10 minutes and there was no way we were going to get on.  Oh well, we had to miss one flight sometime, I suppose, and this is our only planned  connecting flight for this trip so we'll just have to make sure we turn up in time for all our future flights.

We phoned the re-ticketing helpline who thought they might be able to get us on the United Airlines departure at 12:45, but no such luck, our only option was to wait for tomorrow's flight.  We tried to get AA to pay for a hotel, but the best we could get was a reduced rate room at the Ramada Plaza.  Apparently, because it was not there fault (by their estimation) that was the best they could offer.  Not even vouchers for food and beverages, although I did wonder if our reputation had preceded us. We have been here recently, after all.

Nothing to do now but sit back and watch the results of the mid term elections, seems to be the only thing on TV today.  Perhaps we'll have a beer or three to help it along.

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