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USA

Seattle Update

Last chance before we board the cruise

19 °C
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Wednesday 22 September

Homewood Suites Seattle Downtown gets even better. As I said in my previous post, the suite was most impressive, but quite beyond expectation, the service continues to improve. One of my priorities was to get my Travel Insurance form printed off and returned to the insurer.  I took my PDF file on my thumb drive down to the front desk and asked if they could print it for me.  "No problem, but you are welcome to use our Business Center, it is complementary". Found a very smart Dell computer and a small laser printer, plug in the thumb drive and direct it to print the form, nothing happens, no paper in the printer, look around the room, no paper there either.  OK back to the front desk, explain my problem, profuse apologies and I'm handed half a ream of paper - no charge. Compare that to other hotels where they charge you by the page for printing.

Having printed the form and filled it in, I need to fax it back.  Down to Lloyd at the front desk, some confusion on my part regarding the fax number.  He tries three or four combinations without success.  I asked him if he could scan it onto my thumb drive, sorry, the hotel doesn't have a scanner. Bugger!!  Lloyd is not beaten, "If you like, I could take this document home and scan it for you.  Can I have your email address ??"  He apologises that there may be a delay of some hours as he still has a few hours left on his shift. We retire to suite and flick though the numerous TV channels and generally sort of plans for the the next two days.

There is no bar or restaurant in the hotel, plenty of those in the area. We were advised to head down to the dinning room where 'Management" provides a "Happy Hour" with complementary hot entree, beer and wine available for purchase.  The entree consists of a mini pizza, salad greens, dressings and fruit juices. This Happy Hour is provided Monday to Thursday !!!  How good is that ??  I forgot to mention, hot coffee and brew your own tea available all day as well.  Back at the suite there is an email from Lloyd with the scanned page attached I detach it and then forward it to the Insurer, within minutes there's a response from them thanking me for my prompt (?) action and hopes we continue to enjoy our holiday. A long day over and we head back to the suite.

Thursday 23 September

A great way to start the day, a hearty breakfast in the dinning room.  We head off to find the Hop On, Hop Off (HOHO) bus stop at the Space Needle, Seattle has turned on a grey wet day so we wear our rain-coats.  The park surrounding the Space Needle has some very impressive buildings scattered over a four block by four block area.  Decided to leave the trip to the observation desk until the next day.  Ask the security guy where the HOHO Bus stops ?? "I'll show you" he says and heads out the door and along a path and points out the HOHO bus at its stop. He attracts the attention of the driver and the bus waits patiently for us to turn up. I don't know where they find them, but the lass providing the commentary has a great sense of humour and a wealth of stories to keep us informed and amused.  We get off at the Pioneer Square with the recommendation that we do the Underground Tour.  We enjoyed almost two hours on this most amazing, informative and amusing tour amongst the foundations of the current buildings.  A quick late lunch and we pick up the HOHO Bus again and get off at the Pike Place Markets where we wander around for about an hour.  Most impressive array of flowers, fresh fruit and vege and at least three huge fish stalls. Back on the HOHO Bus and walk 'home' from the Space Needle stop. Spend some quiet time and sort out plans for tomorrow then down to the Happy Hour.  Spicy beef and chicken with rice, vegetables and salad greens, what a great way to end the day.

Friday 24 September

The famous Space Needle is first stop today. Located at the Seattle Center, it was built for the 1962 World's Fair, during which time nearly 20,000 people a day used the elevators, with over 2.3 million visitors in all for the World Fair. The Space Needle is 605 feet (184 m) high at its highest point and 138 feet (42 m) wide at its widest point and weighs 9,550 tons. When it was completed it was the tallest structure west of the Mississippi River. It is built to withstand winds of up to 200 mph (320 km/h) and earthquakes of up to 9.1 magnitude, which would protect the structure against an earthquake as powerful as the 1700 Cascadia earthquake. The tower also has 25 lightning rods on its roof to prevent lightning damage.

The Space Needle features an observation deck at 520 feet (160 m), and a gift shop with the rotating SkyCity restaurant at 500 feet (152 m). From the top of the Needle, one can see not only the Downtown Seattle skyline, but also the Olympic and Cascade Mountains, Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, Elliott Bay and surrounding islands. Photographs of the Seattle skyline often show the Space Needle in a prominent position, even appearing to tower above the rest of the city's skyscrapers, as well as Mount Rainier in the background. This occurs because the tower, which is equivalent in height to a 60-story building, stands roughly four-fifths of a mile (1.3 km) north-west of most downtown skyscrapers. (Lifted from Wikipedia).

The weather wasn't great but we managed to take a few photographs anyway. Used the HOHO Bus to get us down to the wharf area and bought two ferry tickets to Bainbridge Island for a total of US$6.90, yes, both of us and a round trip. The ferry trip is about 35 minutes and the vessel carries up to 200 vehicles plus about 2000 passengers. It has the feel of a cruise ship with ample seating and an extensive restaurant. We got off at Bainbridge Island and walked to the town centre, a pretty little town and apparently a magnet for young, active people interested in outdoor activities. We were there for just the hour and headed back to Seattle on the next service. Had a hot lunch aboard the ferry which was quite good value. All in all a very efficient and professional service run by the State.
Back to the start point on the HOHO Bus and back to the Hotel. Time to do some laundry and a light dinner. Tomorrow we check out and start the cruise on the Norwegian Star.

Catch up with you from Vancouver.

Posted by greynomadm 18:40 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Honolulu 17 to 21 September

Waikiki - This Place is Full On

sunny 29 °C
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Friday 17 September (second time - last half)

We slept until about noon and then went out to walk the streets of Waikiki. What an amazing place, literally wall to wall tourists and the things tourists look for. The temperature was about 31 deg but the humidity was not too oppressive.

Found a place called the "Cheese Burger" and were cajoled into ordering a lunch. It may have been the jet-lag or old age but what I thought we'd ordered and what arrived displayed considerable variation. An enormous "burger", wicked fries and a bottomless mug of Coke. I'll try to upload a picture. 2010-09-17_0025.jpgWe walked about some more and staggered back to the hotel with the idea of having an early night. Great idea but didn't quite work out like that. We'd been partly asleep for about two hours when the local party animals came to life. Loud voices, vehicle horns and raucous music kicked in at about 10 pm and went on until well after 2 am.

Saturday 18 September

Attended a promotional free breakfast and were convinced to part with $10 for some cheesy photos intended to show us in the holiday mood. After the breakfast we signed up for a tour of the Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbour for Monday. The shuttle then transported us to the most expensive tourist trap I've visited. The Mauwi Divers Jewelry where they manufacture (and of course SELL) some exquisite jewelry incorporating their famous black coral. They also match it with other gems and precious objects like pearls in any of a dozen shades from milky white to almost black. With price tags in the many hundreds of dollars I resisted until we were almost out the door.

We were bushwhacked but this charming lady who offered us the chance to open a pearl oyster (like a Lucky dip) for just $10. "Doesn't cost anything to look!". Our shell yielded two eggplant coloured pearls about 6 mm in diameter. She had also demonstrated on another shell which contained an 8 mm milky white pearl. She then cleaned the pearls with a little salt and a damp cloth and before we knew it the pearls had been drilled and the white one substituted for one that matched the eggplant 6 mm pair. "Don't do this for everyone, but happened to have this left over from yesterday." Quick as a flash and with more blarney than an Irish pub the three pearls had been mounted on 14 caret gold settings. Some more charm and fast talking and we walked out with only a 'small' dent in the credit card.

Another 'free' shuttle to Hilo Hattie the home of the Hawaiian Shirt. A large barn full of loud colourful shirts, sarongs and every conceivable tourist souvenir you can imagine. Managed to escape that place without spending a cent !! Back on the shuttle and 'home' to Waikiki for a late lunch and an afternoon nap.

Sunday 19 September

Not a bad night, getting used to the strange surroundings. Out for breakfast and a visit to some of the places not previously explored. The Waikiki Beach area is not all that big but it has tall buildings on every spare inch. We can't imagine how many hotel beds are available here. Had an early lunch then waited in the foyer for our afternoon tour.

We had a five hour small group tour to some of the scenic look-outs and nature reserves on the South East of the Island. The tour guide was most interesting in both the wealth and breadth of her knowledge of the area. Back at the hotel by just after 5 pm.

Monday 20 September

Up very early to join the tour of the Arizona Memorial Tour at Pearl Harbour. Like other American Memorials I've visited, this one is well organised and respectfully honours the many men who died on that infamous day in 1941. Particularly moving for me was the memorial to the many submarines that were lost during World War II. I counted around 50 submarines that disappeared with all hands, recorded are the more than 3,500 submariners lost during the war.

The Arizona Memorial has been built over the sunken wreck of the battleship, traces of oil still seep from the fuel bunkers. While we were there, local school children dropped flowers on the water and they drifted off with the oil sheen creating a moving tribute to the the ship's 1,177 crewmen who lost their lives on 7 December 1941 in Pearl Harbor.

From the Arizona Memorial we went to the USS Missouri (the "Mighty Mo") which proudly rides at anchor in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, next to the USS Arizona Memorial, the two marking the beginning and the end of World War II. The USS Missouri Memorial opened 29 January 1999 and is one of the most popular attractions in Hawaii. Our boarding was delayed for about 30 minutes because a film crew was shooting an episode of the new version of Hawaii-5-O. We finally made it to the fore-deck and during the introductory spiel, I felt dizzy and Jenny sat me down beside the forward gun turret.

Some of the film crew saw what was happening and called for medics. Within a minute or so I was laid on my back, being fed oxygen and having my blood pressure taken. The blood pressure was alarmingly low and before long two paramedics from the Federal Fire Department had me on a wheel-chair stretcher and I was loaded into the back of an ambulance. I was hooked up to a heart monitor and placed on a saline IV drip. Following a fast trip into Honolulu with lights flashing and sirens screaming I was unloaded at the Queen's Medical Center Emergency. I was pretty much recovered by this stage but was subjected to the full diagnostic routine, ECG, bloods, urine and observations. Some four hours later I was released with the conclusion that I was suffering from dehydration due to the heat, lack of fluid intake and general eating patterns following the rapid time and climate change.. During this time in hospital, an employee from the Missouri Memorial provided every possible assistance and ensured that we were provided transport back to the hotel.

Back at the hotel, we had to contact the Travel Insurance Company, not an easy task as it turned out. The instructions required us to contact the local operator and ask for a reverse charge call to be placed. Couldn't do it from the room phone, tried it from the public pay phone with the loss of 5 quarters and no result, my mobile phone decided to chuck a wobbly and I finally resorted to a flaky connection via Skype. That worked well enough to pass on our hotel land-line contact and a lovely lady rang back immediately. Contact has been made but the issue is not yet finalised. I need to print off a form, fill it out and fax it back to them. I have decided to hold that off until Seattle.

Tuesday 21 September

Understandably, Jenny was reluctant to let me out of the hotel. I was permitted to help with the laundry and was allowed out for breakfast. Then back to the hotel for an 1100 check-out. We sat in the foyer and stayed cool until 1545 when the shuttle arrived to take us to the airport. Quite a different experience entering Honolulu airport and booking in with Delta. Your check-in baggage is examined by Dept of Agriculture before you proceed to the desk. There you need to pay $25 per piece of luggage and you are issued with your boarding pass. Then off to security screening, every metal object in a tray, the net book in a tray, our boots and jackets in another tray and our back-packs. We're learning, but it still takes a lot of time and we were happy to sit and wait for the 2050 boarding time. We started boarding the 757 right on time and were amazed at the amount of carry-on luggage people were allowed to get away with. After the longest ever wandering around the airport we were airborne and headed for Seattle. A sleepless 5 hour 30 minutes later we landed at Seattle.

Wednesday 22 January

Arrived Seattle International at about 0600 local time (watches forward three hours) we collected our cases and looked for transport options to down-town Seattle. We were advised to catch the train, great idea but none of those advising it knew precisely how to find the train. It took a while because the facility was so new it hadn't yet been fully sign-posted. We found the station and the automatic ticketing machine. They are great, but totally useless when you don't know the local geography. Which,line, which station, what kind of ticket ?? Up to the platform and a very helpful security guard gave us all the information we needed. $1.50 each compared with $35 for a taxi into down-town.
We arrived at the central rail station and made it to the surface and being just 0730 there aren't many people about to ask for directions. A man making deliveries to the corner drug-store pointed us in the direction of a taxi rank. A quick ride had us at the hotel. Welcome was fantastic, "Yes we have a room ready and breakfast is on for another half hour, do come down and join us - complementary". The suite is enormous, two queen sized beds, full kitchen including domestic sized refrigerator and a dish-washer. The lounge room has another flat panel TV, a couch and arm-chair and a desk with two chairs. Yes there's a bathroom as well. Lovely breakfast and crashed out for about 3 hours.

More later, perhaps after the cruise.

Posted by greynomadm 13:21 Archived in USA Tagged update Comments (2)

First Leg Completed

From Moruya to Honolulu

semi-overcast 31 °C
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First Leg is now complete.

Thursday 16 Sep

Boarded the bus to Sydney at 0905 (local) and had a trouble-free trip to Sydney arriving there just after 1600. An easy walk down Pitt St saw us checked in at the Metro City Central by 1700. A brisk walk up George St to the Town Hall area and picked up some Healthy Food for dinner. Nothing much else to do so crashed fairly early.

Friday 17 Sep (first one)

Up much earlier than required and we were waiting on the curb by 0815 for an 0830 shuttle pickup. The shuttle was a little early and after stopping at 4 or 5 additional hotel we set off for Sydney Airport. Arrived at the International Terminal way too early and sat around waiting for our check-in desk to open..We checked in and were happy that our combined luggage was just under 40 Kg. Through Immigration and on to the security check. First mistake, didn't remove the NetBook from my backpack. Removed it and sent the backpack through again. Rejected because I had a tube of toothpaste in my toilet bag. The toothpaste was confiscated. Too bad.
Another longish wait in the air-side duty free and departure lounge area. Had brunch there. Started boarding Air Pacific FJ910 at about 1230. A 747 and very few empty seats, mostly in business class. We were in seats 67D and 67E if the seating was any further back we'd have been hugging the tail. As Jenny said "We're lucky to be inside!!" Flew out just after 1330 for Nadi in Fiji. Touched down at Nadi and through another security check to the transit lounge. Sat there for about 2 hours and boarded a 737 for Honolulu via Apia in Samoa where we disembarked and were treated to another security check and sat for about an hour. We boarded at just after midnight and crossed the International Date Line so we're back at the start of Friday ??

Friday 17 Sep (repeat)
A long 5hr30min flight saw us land in Honolulu at 0700 (local). Immigration was painless, full set of fingerprints taken as well as a digital photo. No delay and through to baggage collection. Picked up both cases and headed for customs. A cheery "Aloha" and we were outside the terminal. Couldn't have been simpler. Met the lady in charge of the shuttle bus and by 0800 we were at the check-in desk of the Aqua Waikiki Wave. Room was ready and we stripped off and tried to catch up on sleep. Jenny is gently snoring as I write this. I just couldn't nod off.
Will update again in a few days.

Cheers from Honolulu

Posted by greynomadm 05:54 Archived in USA Tagged planes Comments (2)

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