Lindy hopping in Edinburgh

27 07 2015

I’m pausing with finishing my USA posts, it’s been a couple of months anyway, so a bit more time isn’t going to hurt! I’ve not even started on my South America ones yet and I’ve still got NZ ones from last year in draft format. So what does that tell me? I’m shit at finishing blog posts.

This one though is getting done right now. I am in Edinburgh. I’ve been here for just over a month and I finally got to some lindy; a class last week and a workshop along with a social at weekend. I’ve been having a difficult time in my brain since I got back to the UK and settling into Edinburgh has proved challenging, more so than getting to grips with being in Wellington. Still, I’m here and I’m slowly making progress, putting into practice the advice of my lovely friend Wallo of taking one day at a time.

Last week was a very good week. I joined a Sing in the City choir and went to a lindy hop class and workshop. Going to, and participating in those activities reminded me how enjoyable and joyous and fun being an alive human person can be. The goosebumps I felt when singing with a group of people. The exhilaration of whirling round a dance floor, music carrying the movement. Sharing these experiences with other people. It felt pretty good.

Having started to learn to lindy hop from the wonderful Full Swing crew when I was in Wellington, New Zealand, it’s something that I knew I wanted to continue wherever I ended up in the world. I managed a couple of socials in Santiago, Chile and one in Chicago, USA and then nothing more until now. The workshop I went along to on Saturday was super. Rob and Diane Van Haaren are great teachers and I like their view of lindy hop being about a fun, shared experience for lead and follow, as well as a way to communicate and share ideas with incorporating jazz steps and including variations for both dancers.

I learnt a lot; the two lead point explanation so as a follow you know when a 6 count was changing to an 8 count was a penny drop moment. Although somewhat anxiety inducing for me, it was also somewhat liberating doing a bit of freestyling to incorporate some jazz moves into a dance. Yet as a follow I still find it really hard to not follow the lead on this! I guess I will get more confident and imaginative on the freestyling to more I practice adding something in just here and there. That I know will come once I feel more accomplished with the basics. I really need to stop looking at the floor though, that is a bad habit I need to conquer!

One thing I am improving though is just continuing to move. If I lose the pulse or the lead, I know I can just find my 6 count or charleston or 8 count back to the lead to find that connection again. That’s heaps better than when I just used to stop still! Ha! Poor leads!
I still can’t stop the giggles though, which some leads handle better than others!

Aside from it being a good dance learning day, it was also a good social day. I was worried about that beforehand, but as I’ve experienced from my limited lindy adventures; people are welcoming and friendly and inclusive. I needn’t have been worried. I wish I hadn’t been, it’s exhausting and I needed all my energy for dancing, not being a bag of nerves and anxiousness!

Reflecting on the day there’s no way I would have been brave enough to go along had it not been for my fantastic starting point at Full Swing. I’ve a lot to thank them for, more than in a dance way, but in a being brave way. I used to get frustrated when Michael would be all; ‘this is your safe dance space’ in class because I did not feel safe, I felt like a totally uncoordinated, useless idiot!  Yet, he was totally right! No one was there to tell me I’m shit and shouldn’t bother coming back. It was the complete opposite; people were encouraging and helpful and constructive. I’m hopeful that’s how things are going to pan out here too. I miss the Full Swing crowd and I’m thankful for the (dance) journey I am on. It started with them.

I will continue to whirl around the dance floor, to enjoy the shared experience of each dance, to get a little more creative with the freestyling, to be a little braver with the variations and most of all have fun times, because they are not only good for overcoming my difficult brain times, they are good for my soul :-)

Lindy hopping in Chicago

26 07 2015

I do this all the time, start a post and then either never finish it or take an age to finish it. This falls into the latter. Anyway, Chicago was a very interesting city, fun to visit and easy to navigate. To follow is descriptive and that is all. Enjoy.

I arrive to the hostel in Chicago and what’s the first thing I do once I’m checked in? A load of washing! Mrs Illingworth would be proud :-)


Holiday Jones Hostel

Clean clothes sorted I venture out for provisions, a Jewel Osco supermarket is close by the hostel. Chores done and now fun times can begin. I found a swing dance night a 20 minute bus ride away from the hostel at a place called Fizz. I asked on FB if there would  be lindy hop because I know there are USA variations on swing – lindy, East coast, west coast… Lindy hop confirmed and I’m donning my wonderfully swingy cat dress and getting on the bus.
I arrived at Fizz around 9.30 and the place was dancing! For a Monday night it was busy. I sat and watched for a bit to see what different styles were going on, then I got asked to dance, which I somewhat nervously did. Immediately I went back to my bad habit of looking at the floor and one partner kept correcting me about that! My first dance went pretty smoothly, with a good, strong, but not aggressive lead. After that the dances kept coming and in no time I’d found my pulse again.

I only had one really off dance when I could not follow my lead, at all. It was a pretty quick pace and he was doing

Dancing at Fizz

Dancing at Fizz

stuff that I was not familiar with in lindy. It was more a coast swing I think. I tried my best to keep up with him, but he just kept saying that I could do a basic step which was essentially a side to side thing and he could just freestyle. To be honest, that didn’t make for a very interesting time for me! I think it must’ve been clear that I was struggling to follow yet he kept doing more and more extravagant moves!

It’s interesting to me the way people approach dance. I had a couple of dances with an older chap with the most sparkly, dark eyes I’ve ever seen and the kindest face. Perhaps not surprisingly he was a gentle, but clear lead. I enjoyed dancing with him. We even managed a conversation while dancing, which says a lot for me in terms of concentration. In fact, I think I it helped.The movements felt natural and flowing, not quite effortless, but it felt like, well, good. It was enjoyable.

Another dance was with a very enthusiastic and jolly chap, very theatrical in his moves and loved his freestyling. His freestyling though was much more fun than the busy legs chap I mentioned before. He was more inclusive and encouraging which made me feel a little less self-conscious about my terrible attempts at freestyling! I had a fun time dancing with him.

Following on from that was a dance with a guy who seemed really quite bendy in his limbs if that makes sense, almost snakelike. He was a man of few words and some fancy moves, but he was a patient and steady lead bringing me back to something familiar if I got a little lost. A pleasure to dance with.

Hmmmm…. Who else, oh, a chap that looked very like middle sister Illingworth’s fiancée, Ben and that made me smile throughout the dance. He was another steady lead, but fun with it, again, some good variations on the go.

For me lindy hop is about sharing something, creating movement together and most importantly fun! I do sometimes take it too seriously and feel bad that I’m rubbish, but for the most part, I do think it’s a lot of fun.  That’s what it was like with most of the dances I had tonight, with just that one guy who was dancing for himself I think, which is totally fine, but not very inspiring or confidence building for an out of practice beginner like me!

It was good to dance with new people again, like in Chile, it was really good learning for me. Still, can’t beat a whirl around the dance floor with my bestest lead though :-) Helps that he doesn’t mind when I crack up laughing if I lose the pulse or stand on him or something! He has the patience of a saint, as do many of the leads I’ve danced with. I’m keen to pick up lessons again once I’m settled somewhere as back at Full Swing in Wellington, I think we were going to get on to the roles of the lead and follow changing so that they can both lead in dances. That would be cool. I was also just starting to get the musicality a little more, so, knowing how to hear the music for dance. That helps a lot with the freestyling and variations. Ultimately though I need to practice more!

I would have liked to have stayed longer at the dancing night it got busier and busier, with a real nice atmos, but I was worried I would miss the last bus as I didn’t know what the timetable was and they don’t have it in the bus stops like in the UK. So, after an hour and a half or so I made my exit, feeling that nice dancing glow.
After that though I discovered that particular bus route runs all night! Ha!

Back at the hostel I had a little think about what I would like to do the following day…

Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon

26 07 2015

Flagstaff is ace. It’s a very cute and friendly little town, with the visitor centre at the railway station. Convenient! It was somewhat busier than usual for the time of year as it was graduation ceremony time for North Arizona University students. Flagstaff itself is a very easy town to navigate.

Dreaming Cow - Dark Cherry ChaiThere are plenty of places to eat and they are big into their craft beer. It’s a great base for exploring the surrounding wonders of places like the Grand Canyon and Sedona. I enjoyed a self guided walking tour of the most haunted spots in Flagstaff and considering its size, there are many! They also have a really nice organic nice foods supermarket, walking distance from the main area of town, which was great for some supplies for the next few days. I found the most delicious yoghurt there called Dreaming Cow, the best flavour; dark cherry chai. Yum.

Anyway, yoghurt aside, I enjoyed a moochy time in Flagstaff. I also paid a visit to their library, it would have been rude not to :-)
Oh and I guess I should mention the hostel. It was ok. Staff I spoke with were super and helpful and friendly and they were able to accommodate my early morning arrival which was ace. It’s extremely conveniently located. Possibly a 5 minute walk from the train station with a big bag.  Breakfast was good and plentiful. My room though, smelt of old cooking because it was situated next to one of the kitchens and it was sooooooo cold! Now, I’m not one for feeling the cold, in fact I’m mostly warm, so this was a new experience for me! It was in fact possibly colder in that room than camping along the way when we walked the Inca Trail in Peru! I did find a little heater under the sink though and that worked wonders :-) The plumbing in the bathrooms was questionable. I nearly had an overflowing toilet experience after a post poo flush that my friend Iain will relate to :-) Needless to say I had a second of a little panic thinking I’d have to go and tell whoever was on reception that I’d done a poo and broken the toilet! Thankfully that didn’t happen. Phew! Similarly while having a shower the water wasn’t draining to the point where I had to stop as the tray was going to overflow! Hot water was in plentiful supply though and that’s always so welcome when feeling travel grimey. The hostel building is pretty old, but for all its quirks it was fine for a couple of nights.

The next day I went on guided trip to the Grand Canyon, which was super. It is possible to take a shuttle from Flagstaff, just from the train station and navigate your own way round the park, but given I only had one day I wanted to make the most of it rather than fannying about not really knowing where I was going or what I was doing!

Grand Canyon
I had signed up to do a tour with the hostel, but they cancelled last minute because of the weather, it did snow, but not massively. So, at short notice I managed to get on a beginners hike and South rim tour with All Star Tours. That was so lucky because it’s their quieter time of year and so weren’t going to do this particular tour on the day I could do. However, a family booked on and I joined them :-) They were super lovely and friendly and the kids an absolute delight. Our guide, Molly, a Geology graduate was engaging, energetic and enthusiastic, clearly knowledgeable not only about the Grand Canyon, but also the surrounding area; the flora, fauna and history.

The changing weather actually made it all the more dramatic as there were times when it was snowing or raining or just really low cloudy fog making it tricky to see any of the canyon, yet the sun would break through and light up a section, giving us a glimpse of the vast, expanse of rock and river and vegetation. Amazing. The afternoon really cleared up and we enjoyed blue skies and sunshine as we did a short walk on the Kaibab trail, actually getting below the rim and into the canyon. It was fabulous, we stopped for lunch on the trail too.

Ordinarily I would have preferred to do a longer trek tramp hike, but given my lack of time I opted to do a tour with some sightseeing from different parts of the canyon. I totally understand why Molly prefers the longer hikes and backpacking excursions. She’s absolutely right that it’s better to see the Grand Canyon from below the rim and get right in it. Still, I’m happy with the choice I made. If I ever come back here though I’m going to do a longer adventure, similar to those we did in Peru, with the Colca Canyon and the Inca Trail. Just typing those words bring back wonderful memories :-)

My limited experience  of tours in the USA have so far been very positive. The level of customer service has been Sweets

exceptional. In fact that pretty much goes for the train too, with the exception of the first overnighter I did.

So, let’s move on to Chicago. Oh hang on, before I do, I also found a nice, but overpriced sweet shop in Flagstaff. I got two dark choco covered pretzels and a stick with 2 marshmallows on it covered in choco and with a gummy worm stuck on.

Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon in pictures

Mooching with Mell in and around Ventura, CA

24 07 2015

I had a super introduction to the West Coast of the USA and a lovely time hanging out with long time librarian friend Mell and her family. This was a perfect way to start the LA part of my USA jaunt; Mell, having grown up in Ventura has lots of local knowledge and so was the best possible tour guide :-)

These were some of the highlights of this part of my trip…

Pacific Coast Highway
This is a stretch of highway that has some fantastic vistas.

Pacific coast highway vista Pacific coast highway vista Pacific Coast Highway vista Some sort of sea life

Seal watch
There is a seal colony at Carpenteria, which is protected.

Carpinteria Seal Sanctuary

Seals on a beach

Trek tramp hike in the hot, hot heat

While the weather was hot, hot, hot, the drive to and the walk itself were super cool. Although we set of earlyish, (I thought Simon was joking when he said I had to be ready about 7.30/8am!) it was scorchio by the time we reached our walking destination. This was where you can still find evidence of native Indians like the cave drawing Mell showed me, on the ceiling of a sort of overhang of a rock that forms a shelter.

Hot hot heat trek tramp hike Hike Hike Cave art Cave artIMG_3231 IMG_3233 IMG_3238

Los Padres

Trek crew


Mooching about Ventura – Museum and art

I’m always up for a museum visit, so when Mell suggested a look about Ventura County Museum I was pleased to go.Ventura Museum IMG_3241

Solvang and the Sideways cafe and cake
Solvang is a funny place for sure. The Danish Village of Solvang is situated 132 miles north of LA, 297 miles south of San Francisco and 382 miles west of Las Vegas.

IMG_3281 IMG_3283 IMG_3284IMG_3294

Me and Mell

Call godMellHans Cristian Adnerson

Sweet time at the supermarket

I always like a deek about a supermarket in a new country, in this case state. We went a bit nuts on the sweet buying front. Ooops.

Mell and the sweet tray IMG_3272

Retreat to the hills to visit Papa Rivas and Penny in their lovely cabin

Mell’s dad and his partner Penny have a beautiful cabin up in the hills, with, you guessed it, the most amazing vistas. Like Mell, they were so hospitable and welcoming, with such interesting lives and stories. I had a really lovely time with them at their home.

IMG_3246 IMG_3248 IMG_3249 IMG_3252



Cabin in the hillsArt

Train adventures USA: West Coast to East Coast

24 07 2015

This is a looooooonnnnggggg post!

At the end of April I said goodbye to Peru and arrived into Los Angeles where I was greeted by my lovely friend Mell. I enjoyed my time with her and her family in and around Ventura. It was great to be back near to the ocean once more. I’m starting to think I was fish or a whale or a dolphin or a mermaid or something in a previous life!  It seems like only the other day that I was organising and booking this part of my adventures and now I’m doing them. Crackers. I enjoy train travel in a leisurely way, but not so much in a commuting to a job type way. The short jaunt from Brighton to London was a well travelled route for me, sometimes for librarian related actives and sometimes for fun times. I have been known to take the train from Brighton up to Rhosniegr, Anglesey which is the best part of a days travel. In Thailand I took the train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, that was an overnighter on the way and a day timer on the way back. I’ve also travelled by train to the Netherlands. None of those journeys compare to the distance I’m going to cover going across the USA, but with train travel I appreciate seeing the changing landscapes whoosh by. You never know who you might meet and it’s often a more relaxing way to travel than driving or flying. Yet not always the most time and cost effective!

Aswell as enjoying travelling by train, I was interested in the history of the long distance train travel in the USA, specifically the story of the Pullman Porters, which I learned of by listening to a Radio 4 afternoon drama Super Chief. I was keen to travel on those lines where, from the 1860s, African American men that had been slaves were employed as Pullman Porters and other roles on the sleeping car trains, took the Pullman Car Rail Company to task over pay and working conditions. After 12 years they finally got better pay and working conditions, after forming the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1925.

To following describes each leg on my route from LA to NYC.

The Southwest Chief is the service that goes from LA to Chicago. It covers 78 station stops and we go through 7 states. Flips.

So my train adventures actually started early than planned as I took a train from Oxnard through to Union Station, Los Angeles. This was a good taste of what was to come on my longer journeys.

Oxnard to Union Station, Los Angeles
Train – Pacific Surfliner
Dep: 10.18am
Arr: 12.25pm

A short journey, in comparison to the others on my route, it took a couple of hours. I had a standard coach seat which was plenty big enough and had so much leg room I could fit both my daypack and my big pack. There was also wifi which was super. The train crew were entertaining singing little ditties along the way.

Arriving into Union Station, LA is quite something. It’s a beautiful station. Very grand. As I couldn’t check into my accommodation until 4pm I checked my bag with the Amtrak luggage office and then went for an explore of downtown LA, specifically MOCA.

Getting to my accommodation was by metro and bus, but I decided to walk the mile from the metro station. I was ready to put down my bags,by the time I got there that’s for sure, I think they weighed about 24kg combined! While in LA I travelled by the metro, bus and bicycle. While it takes a little more preparation, in terms of route planning and getting the right fare sorted, than having a car would, it is absolutely possible to visit and explore LA using public transport.

The next part of my journey was from Los Angeles to Flagstaff, for some Grand Canyon action.

Los Angeles to Flagstaff
Train 4 – Southwest Chief
Dep: 6.15pm Thursday
Arr: 5am Friday

This is the first of 3 overnight train journeys I am taking. I made it to the train with a little time to spare after a speedy jaunt around the Hello Kitty exhibition at the Japanese American Museum which is just one metro stop from Union Station. I didn’t need to check my big bag and so found my sleeping car and made myself comfortable for the evening.

My little room/cabin has two seats facing each other, which will turn into a bed and a second bunk above me that will pull down. There’s a fold down table, a tall, skinny wardrobe on one side, complete with hangers and steps up to the top bunk on the other. Water and tissues are provided along with blankets and pillows for sleepy time. There’s also a guide to the services on the train and some really quite comprehensive information about our route.

Tonight I’ll travel as far as Flagstaff and will arrive there at crazy o’ clock tomorrow morning. The train though carries right on through to Chicago and if you were to do it, LA to Chicago in one trip it would take you about 3 days!

So, back to this journey; Rick, the conductor has been round introduced himself and checked my ticket. Sam, the dining car attendant has given us the lowdown on how eating on the train works. He then came round to take dinner reservations. I’m down for the 7.15 slot, which is super because I didn’t get lunch today so I’ll be ready for eating for sure. As I’m in a little sleepy room meals are included.
It’s eating time before long, as I’m travelling solo I got seated with other people, wherever there is space. For this meal my eating companions are 3 women; one on an extended holiday with her terminally ill husband, one on her way home from visiting her daughter at university and one on her way back from a conference. Two of them are nurses. The other I’m not sure. They were thoroughly lovely people to share a meal with. Oh and I ate the pasta, which was a spinach and ricotta affair with a garden salad and bread roll, followed by a tiramisu, all washed down with icy cold water. It was a pretty good meal and we watched the sun go down as we ate. The service was super and efficient and friendly and we had real cutlery and fabric napkins! Fancy!
Back in my little room and I start making preparations for sleeping. I want to try and get a few hours at least as I’ll be awake at around 4am to get ready to leave the train at Flagstaff. There is a sleeping car attendant that can assist with bed preparation and the like, but I opt to give it a go myself and choose to sleep in the top bunk so I can still do sitting down underneath if I want to.
The sleeper cars come with tiny toilet bathrooms, obviously, but also with a shower. On this trip I did not take a shower, just got straight into bed :-) It was a compact space to get into up top, but cosy and comfortable. The only thing that was a little inconvenient was that the light switch was below the top bunk! Good job I had my head torch to hand.
I didn’t really have any interaction with our sleeping car attendant. In fact she did t even introduce herself I don’t think. Given this was my first overnighter I didn’t really know what to expect, but in retrospect she was rubbish compared to the other two over nighters I’ve been on and the car attendants on those. I put my own bed together on this journey and that was not the case with my other two as I’ll explain a little later. Still, this wasn’t the end of the world. First world problems hey??!!

So, bedding down for the night and hoping for a lovely sleep as we would arrive into flagstaff in the early hours of the morning, sleep did not come. Just lots of busy brain activities, thoughts about all sorts of things that I won’t bore you with on here. It’d be like a therapy session if I did! And so, even though I was pretty tired after a day full of arty adventures in LA and with a belly full of food, I could not drop off to sleep!!! It felt like I’d barely closed my eyes and my alarm went off and it was time to get up to get ready to disembark at Flagstaff. We arrived a little later than scheduled, but the journey was smooth, without incident. It was pretty cool to arrive into Flagstaff and the sun was rising, but a bit of a shock to the system as it was so cold compared to LA! In the time that I was there it did snow. Off I went to find my hostel and organise myself for the next couple of days. Grand Canyon action is on the cards. Exciting!

Flagstaff to Chicago
Train 4 – Southwest Chief
Dep: 5.30am Sunday Arr: 3.45pm Monday

Ok, train chat. So it was another early start to leave Flagstaff, we were scheduled to leave at 4.40am. For a change, but not really, I did not do a good sleep! All those thoughts making my brain busy and knowing that I had to get up early stopped me from getting some good eyeball closing time. The fact that the train was late, like an hour late did not help matters. I was pretty wired by the time I got on the train! Why was it delayed you may be wondering? Signalling problems? Staffing issues? A leaf on the tracks? No. The train hit a bloody elk! Poor elk! They can be pretty enormous too and later on in the journey we felt the effects as we had to detach a coach car because one of the wheels was wonky from the emergency stop the driver had to do. The elk incident occurred around Williams which is the stop before Flagstaff.

Anyway, we got on the train. I had to wait a little bit of time while Justin, our car attendant made up my room as there was someone else in it from LA to Flagstaff. He had it sorted in quick time and before long I was getting comfy in my space. Now, the Flagstaff to Chicago leg of my journey is the longest at 34 hours and 34 minutes. We actually arrived a half hour late so it was a 35 hour journey in the end.
On boarding I could have gone straight to breakfast as they had already started serving, but my belly was not ready for food, so I asked if I could have a cup of tea in my room. Justin sorted that for me and it was greatly received. He even brought me a honey to go in it. Now, just an aside about tea drinking while I’ve been in the states. I’ve acquired a taste for black tea with creamer or half and half! Sounds yuck I know, but when that’s the only option… I’ve not quite developed my palate for hardcore sans milk (or alternative) black tea drinking just yet. I think that takes a little practice.
Now, where was I? Ah yes, Justin bringing me a tea. So, I settled back with my tea and made a start on making the special love gift I bought the eldest sister Illingworth back in Solvang, the funny mini Denmark in California.

Soon after breakfast service had finished our diner supervisor Maureen came around to take lunch reservations. Honestly, the dining car crew do not stop. Like the sleeping car attendants they are on it all the time. I think I already mentioned that meals are included in the price of the sleeping car, but there was too much eating even for me!
The morning passed by with a mix of craft activity, email composing, music listening and gazing out the window at the changing scenery whoosh by. I saw some wildlife on this journey; those pointy horned antelope. I was hoping I’d see a jack rabbit as they are supposed to be quite something with big, long ears.

Lunch time arrived and I got seated with some, well, interesting people, yes, let’s say that. They seemed perfectly nice people in the short time I spent with them and while I found their company a little odd this was mainly because I could not find a common interest and I tried, believe me! This was made a little more tricky as one of our table kept chipping into the stilted conversation with a contribution of a completely unrelated topic! That’s how it seemed to me me anyway, but we’d manage to go with it all the same. As well as the challenging conversation there was increasing agitation from the other side of the table as the lunch service was not as efficient as it had been on their previous journeys on this line. Not one for confrontation, as the agitation opposite me increased so did my anxiety! The staff in the dining car were doing the best they could and it was the first shift for one of them.

Needless to say, the calm quiet of my little room was welcome! Before I knew it, Maureen was on her rounds again taking dinner reservations! More eating? I opted for a later sitting and in the afternoon I shut myself in my room and had a little disco party to try and work off some energy and work up an appetite for tea. It was a unique disco party experience. I got some more crafting done and some more daydreaming before tea. Tonight it started off as just me on a table. I was then joined by a solo man and another solo woman. As all the veg/fish options had gone I ended up having macaroni and cheese with some vegetables :-) This was accompanied by a tiny red wine, which caused some amusement amongst the diner staff. My dining companions were fun and easy going so conversation was a plenty. The fella was on his way to Washington, D.C. as one of his friends was graduating having returned to school to do museum studies. Amazing! He also has family there. He was an interesting chap, working in tech support but himself going back to school and undecided about what he would like to do next.  The woman was going to Kansas City to visit family. Even though I was full up with mac and cheese I still managed to force down a tiramisu pudding and another tiny wine. It was good chat times and I was ready for sleeps when I got back to my room. Justin had already set my bed up, which was super, although I wanted to sleep up top, but I went with the downstairs bunk and it was just fine. It’s more roomy than the top bunk, so I had a pretty good sleep. Hurray! The train can jolt and rock quite a bit and so that woke me up a few times and there are people getting on and off throughout the night,  but I soon drifted back off. I think the wine helped!

The on train route information leaflet was very, very thorough :-) One of the highlights on this route was at Raton Pass, which is the highest point on the Santa Fe part of the journey. 7800ft. Imagine that!

I’m going to pause for a moment with my description of the journey to tell my best learning fact from this journey, this one came from Justin, the car attendant and did not feature in the information leaflet provided :-)

The town of Trinidad, just over the New Mexico state line into Colorado, we dropped off and picked up at this town. In the 1970s it was known as ‘the sex change capital’ of the USA! This was because of a Dr Stanley Biber, who became known as one of the best gender reassignment surgeons at that time.

Morning came and with it sunshine and another landscape whooshing by my window. Maureen had already been over the tannoy to tell us the diner was open and breakfast was being served. I did some lolling about in the bed before getting up and washed and dressed, there is a shower on board and then I headed to breakfast. My breakfast buddies were a semi retired couple from Michigan. More food antics as there wasn’t any! Well, that’s a bit dramatic, there was only the continental left, which suited me just fine. You get so much food. I’ve done some good squirrelling bits away for later in the day; a yogurt and wheat biscuit, which is not like a weetabix,  but a salty scone. It’s interesting to see how people respond in different food situations. While yesterday felt like there could be some crossed words with a traveller and diner staff, today was more disgruntled muttering from the chap to his wife about the lack of choice of food and slow service.
Again, no sooner had I got back to my room Maureen was on the tannoy letting us know that she was coming to take lunch reservations. I politely declined on this occasion, my belly totally full up with all the food. The kitchen and the diner staff do not stop. They must get very little sleep with the schedule they work to.

We were due to arrive into Chicago at 3.15ish, but we were a little delayed. Upon arrival it was rainy as I made my way to my hostel in Chicago, Holiday Jones. It’s in the Wicker Park area of the city so a little way from downtown, but it is extremely well connected by metro and bus and there was a ‘divvy’ bicycle station just about 2 minutes along the street.
It’s a short walk from Union Station to Clinton on the blue line and then around 20 mins to Division and another short walk to the hostel. All very manageable.
I’ll write more about Chicago in a separate post, but for now, just know that I had a fabulous time there.

Chicago to Washington DC
Train 30 – Capitol Limited
Dep: 6.40pm Thursday
Arr: 1.05pm Friday

I arrived at Union station with around an hour to spare; as I had a sleeper car ticket I could make use of the Metropolitan Lounge which is a bit like the Virgin first class lounge at Euston. Travellers received a warm welcome from the reception staff there, we could also make our dinner reservations, I went for 8 o’ clock. It does amaze me how some people are not very good at following instructions. The fellas checking people in have the most amazing patience! Once I was sorted I made the most of the facilities; had a tea and a pink lemonade, munched on some crisps and then it was time to board the train.
Another long journey with this one, scheduled to be 17ish hours it was nearer to 18 1/2. It was my last overnighter of the trains across the USA and the service wonderful once again. This time I was in car 3000 in room 3, our car attendant was Phil, a friendly chap with a love of The Beatles; he’s keen to visit Liverpool at some point and his sister is cross stitching him a ‘Beatles’ quilt for his 40th, it’s somewhat overdue! The car attendant has room 1 and so I did some good earwigging on conversations between the car attendants :-)Cloudy sky
We set off and I continued with my crafting for sister Illingworth. I had some chat with the car attendants and enjoyed a tiny red wine I’d bought at Walgreens for $1.50 as my aperitif then we were called for our dinner slot. My eating companions this evening were all British! A lovely couple; civil servants, from London who were in Chicago for a very fancy wedding by the sounds of things and were on the way to Washington, D.C. to visit the sister of the woman. Then there was a very entertaining and engaging Doctor, a Gastroenterologist in fact, based in Bournemouth. He was in Chicago visiting his nephew after a gastroenterology conference and was going to Washington, D.C. to see his brother in law and family. As the couples son had done an MPharm and was in the midst of his pre-reg we had a lot of health/NHS chat, which was interesting. Especially given the result of the election.
Eating wise I had salmon and a jacket potato with some vegetables, it was a bit salty, but good apart from that. You can’t get lemon, lime and bitters here, but they have a pop called Sierra Mist which is just lemon and lime so that’s s good thirst quencher with a bit of fizz. I had a tiny ice cream for my pud, back in the comfort of my tiny room :-) Company for this tea was ace.
During this journey we changed time zone so time went forward and hour. Phil made up my bed at around 10pm, but really it was 11pm. I got into my pjs, washed my face, brushed my teeth and settled down for the night.
The day before there had been that awful Amtrak train crash near Philadelphia, those poor people and their families. With this in my brain, I had trouble dropping off to sleep as with each jolt of the train or the sound of another train whooshing by or a sharp stop would bring me back to awakeness. I eventually did fall to sleep, those tiny cabin beds are actually pretty comfy.
GreenI woke up to sunshine and more lush greenery whooshing past my window. Very different to the more arid scenes of the eastern side. What I liked very much on the LA to Flagstaff and then the Flagstaff to Chicago journeys was the information leaflet in the tiny room. It explained about significant historical places along the way. On this train they had a couple of volunteers from ‘Trails and Rails’ in the observation car to explain a bit about places of interest; history, nature, that sore of thing. I was keen to go and listen to them, but I had a stroll through the observation car and it was full up! I retreated to my tiny cabin room and followed our route on the leaflet. That’s something I would suggest they do actually, make their leaflet more like the one on the Southwest Chief, with more explanation about the route, significant landmarks and the like.
I do so enjoy passing through all those few house villagey towns along the way, getting the briefest of glimpses into the lives of those who live there; do they have bicycles outside? Have they got a dog? Are there children’s toys laying around in the yard? How many cars do they have? All of these things that fly by in seconds can give some indication of those who live there and then I can make up my own stories about their lives :-)
On this leg of the journey we pass through Martinsburgh which is the oldest, still in service, train station in the whole of the USA! There’s still evidence of an old fort there from the civil war times.
We arrive into Washington, D.C. a little later than scheduled. Now, while waiting in the metropolitan lounge at Chicago, I received an email to say the train I was due to catch from Washington, D.C. to NYC had been cancelled, I imagine due to the crash the other day, and so I’m advised to speak to an Amtrak person about alternative services. I make my way to the Amtrak ticket desk and I’m told without a shadow of a doubt that there are not and will not be any train services running in the next few days at least. Oh. They refunded my  ticket and I had a small, internal panic about how I was going to get to NYC and meet up with Papa Illingworth. There’s always a way though hey and I resolved to sort that out once I got myself to the hostel.

I made my way to the hostel, this time a Hostelling International which is related to our YHA network, via the metro red line, which needs an update. I mean, carpet, in a metro train? Yucko. They could just tear that out and out and put in a more easy clean floor, then it might not smell so bad in there! Still, it did the job and I got to the metro center and walked the 3 blocks to the HI Washington DC. Now, accommodation in Washington, D.C. is expensive! This hostel for a bed in a 4 bed coed dorm room is $50 a night. Granted, it’s not mega monies, but compared to other places I’ve stayed, some where I’ve had my own room, it is!
Turns out I’m the first one to arrive into the room, followed by 3 fellas; Manush; an orthopaedic doctor from North Carolina, had been doing a poster presentation at a geriatric medicine conference and was hanging out for the weekend. Chris, an Irish chap who had been working in Australia and was now waiting for his visa to go and work in Canada and the final of our four, I have no idea! He appeared in the time that I was having a shower and was spark out in the bed, fully clothed and all! He must’ve had a long and tiring journey. I can say though that before he arrived our room wasn’t stinky, but on retuning from my shower there was defo and aroma of stinky feet! Urgh…
Anyway, meeting the roomies happened over the course of the evening. I’ll say more about my whistlestop evening bicycling adventures round Washington, D.C. in a separate post.
Back to my travel arrangements for the Washington, D.C. to NYC leg of my journey. Now the train was out, I had a look at the bus, and while cheap and cheerful, that would take circa 6 hours so I would have even less time in Washington, D.C. I opted for a flight which would take around the same time as the train, with getting to and from the airport. Travel sorted thanks to the wonders of the emergency credit card, I hit the streets of Washington, D.C.

Washington DC to New York City
Train 192 – Northeast Regional
Dep: 5.20pm
Arr: 8.45pm

No train time now as I mentioned this service, along with many others as cancelled after that pretty tragic crash earlier in the week. Awful.

So this leg of the journey became Delta flight 2627 from Ronald Reagan’s airport in Washington, D.C. to La Guardia airport in NYC.

As I type, I am in a plane, I have been in the plane for 2 hours and all we’ve managed to do is taxi to the runway! We are now taxi-ing back to the terminal as we cannot take off because of stormy storms in the north Eastern corridor coming our way. Literally just as we were going to the runway a big old thunderstorm plopped on our heads and while it passed over, some time ago now, air traffic control won’t let us take off because there are three more storms on the way :-/ BUMS! Still, I’d rather be on the ground in an aeroplane while a thunderstorm is happening rather than up in the air in it. Oh gosh, that would be like the flight from Lima to LA with that high drama, out your seat turbulence and the shouting of Ay dios mios! accompanied by repeated praying. Yowsers!
So, update. It’s now 3 hours since we were supposed to take off. We sat on the place for circa 2 hours and then we got off the plane for circa an hour and now we’re back on the plane. I’ve got my fingers crossed that we take off and make it to NYC. As always, it’s an eclectic group of passengers. I’m sat up in the front row of the plane, next to a really fancy, dandy man, with an impeccable dress sense. He looks expensive. He also has a very cool carry on bag that I know my friend Christopher Whale would love. The lady sat to my left, is equally well turned out and looks expensive. I look like a stinky bag of rags! The most noteworthy passenger on board though, well noteworthy to me I guess, is none other than Spike Lee!! SPIKE LEE! How exciting is that?!

So, now, for the second time this evening, the doors have been cross checked and we are being made ready for take off. Fingers crossed, fingers crossed, fingers crossed. I’m going to sit back, relax and listen to the drama of the week podcast and hope that one of the flight attendants will come round bearing wine once we are airborne. They can’t serve it when we’re just on the runway, alcohol I mean, not just wine. I didn’t know that.

Anyway, see you in New York City, for Papa Illingworth and littlest daughter Illingworth adventures.

Los Angeles – cycle ride tour

9 05 2015
I haven’t blogged for ever such a long time and I’m still writing my South America journal en Español, even though I’ve been in the USA for a week or so now… I’m terrible. Having said that, if I pieced together emails, Facebook messages and texts I’ve sent along the way I’d probably have a fairly comprehensive account of my travels. Why am I writing this now then, you may wonder? I think my photos on the Facebook give a pretty good idea of the places I’ve encountered and the experiences I’ve had, on the cycle ride tour however, photo opportunities were few and far between and so now I’m using my words to share this day.
Before I get involved with describing the cycle ride tour though, let me just mention that I am tippy tappying this post on the train from Los Angeles to Flagstaff. I’m in a little room/cabin with two seats which will turn into a bed and a second bunk above me. There’s a fold down table, a tall, skinny wardrobe on one side, complete with hangers and steps up to the top bunk on the other. Water and tissues are provided along with blankets and pillows for sleepy time. Rick, the conductor has been round already to check tickets and Sam, the dining car attendant has given us the lowdown on how eating on the train works. He then came round to take dinner reservations. I’m down for the 7.15 slot, which is super because I didn’t get lunch today so I’ll be ready for eating for sure. As I’m in a little sleepy room dinner is included.

Selfie on the train
Now, I’ve got this set up because the plan was for my wonderful friend Jo to join me on this USA leg of my journey but circumstances have prevented that from happening which is total big fat hairy bums.  So, instead I am imagining her sat opposite me and sharing in the excitement of this train adventure.
Now, let me get on with the cycle ride tour chat. After a bit of art at MOCA on Monday and a bit of celebrity culture at the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Hollywood Forever Cemetery on Tuesday I decided on a cycle ride tour taking a variety of areas and sights of LA. It was a dear do for me at $162 USD which is about $220 NZD and £110 of your English pounds. There are lots of tours of LA that you can do and they see touted all along the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It’s an experience; the reps trying to sell you a tour. I found it particularly interesting the way they tried to guess my nationality as a little hook to get me into a convo and then sell me the tour. I was Australian, German, Dutch and English walking down that street, but mostly Australian! One guy offered me a 2 hour sight seeing tour round Hollywood for $20, but that really didn’t appeal. Then there was the double decker open top bus sight seeing option for circa $50 which gives you more options of going to different areas of LA; you know, one of those hop on, hop off jobs, but again, that didn’t really appeal. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some sort of tour snob, I very much enjoy a city tour and the ones I’ve mentioned can be great, especially if you’re short on time. I was just after something, well, something a little different.
It’s no secret that I’m a cycling fan and I’ve made use of the cycling options in the places I’ve visited on my travels. Having left Pearl Meteor with one of the sisters Illingworth in the UK, I knew that when I got to NZ and settled a little I would be getting a bicycle and that’s where Aveline Alive Dunlop came into my cycling life. Cycling adventures in South America were few and far between and if I’m honest I did not fancy getting involved in the frantic and frenetic, horn tooting traffic there! A cycle tour of LA however seemed a great way to give my legs stretch and explore some of the neighbourhoods.
Bikes and Hikes were the company I went with; I booked on the night before, figured out my route to get to them on the bus and arrived in good time. There were 8 people in total on the tour and our guide, Eric. After a safety briefing and some instructions we set off. They encourage riders to travel light, taking just money and a camera, yet, because I have, some may think, an almost obsessive attachment to my rucksack, it came with me. Our guide carried sunscreen and snacks for the group. Each cycler received a water bottle as part of the tour and there were plenty of opportunities to top up throughout the day.
The cycle ride itself started at 10am and we made it back to the Bikes and Hikes office at around 5pm. With only a short break for lunch, it was a good days cycling, we covered around 32 miles all in all.
On leaving the Bikes and Hikes office, on Santa Monica Boulevard, we turned right to head toward Beverly Hills, taking in some of West Hollywood on the way. In this little section of the tour the highlight for me was stopping at a house where Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra each had an apartment, where it’s rumoured they had a little love nest. It was in this area that our guide gave us a bit of history on Sunset Strip and how it became the drinking, gambling, disco party zone of LA. In a nutshell it’s because alcohol was banned in LA in the olden days, prohibition and all that, but it was legal in West Hollywood.
The next most enjoyable part for me was a stop off in Beverly Hills at Greystone Mansion. Once owned by the wealthiest family in LA, it is now owned by Los Angeles County. It was a treat to take a a short walk around the grounds, our guide telling us stories as we went, it’s had a fairly turbulent past with family feuds and two suspicious deaths; were they murder or suicide?
It’s been used in lots of films; including X-men, the Batman with George Clooney and Ritchie Rich.
It’s still used in the pictures, but you can also hire it for an event. I imagine that would be mega monies!
We carried on from there to Beverly Hills and mooched around past celebrity homes. This bit was wasted on me! I mean there were some lovely looking houses, but sooooooooo many millions of dollars it’s obscene. I guess the ones that stood out were; Mick Jagger’s current place in LA and one where Neil Diamond used to live. Oh and we went past the one that Michael Jackson died at…morbid.
Our trip continued through Bel-Air past one of the houses they used in the fresh prince of Bel-Air and then on to the UCLA neighbourhood, which looks real fancy for student residential area! Up and through the veterans hospital grounds, but I couldn’t really hear what the guide was saying about either of these places as there was a lot of traffic and I was toward the back of the group. A brief stop at Bundy Drive to discuss police chase action and then on to my very favourite bit of the day – Santa Monica Beach, along to the Pier, a spot of lunch at Venice Beach and five minutes watching the skateboarders, then some chat about Muscle Beach and the work outs people would do, that couldn’t go by without mentioning the governator himself; Arnold Schwarzenegger. He still does some judging of body building competitions held there.
It was sooooooooo lovely to be near the water again. I miss the sea/ocean. All along that coastline was sandy, sandy beach and swooshing ocean. Lovely. Santa Monica seemed like a good place to have a moochy afternoon; stroll on the pier, have an ice cream, that sort of thing, but we didn’t stop there. A little further along a Venice and its a different vibe; lots of street people, artists, musicians and makers selling their wares along the promenade. It has an edgier, grungier feel to that of Santa Monica.
 Santa Monica bit o beach and pier
Onward still and we went inland a touch to see some of the remaining Venice canals. Pretty. Although at this point me and another girl, Jeanie got separated from the rest of group because a local resident took umbrage with us cycling. She was all shouty, telling us we were going to get knocked down because we were going the wrong way. She insisted we pass this information on to the guide, which we did, eventually, when we were reunited! It’s a good job Jeanie had her phone and could call the office to get on to our guide to come and find us! What a bit of hoo ha…
 Venice canals
The group back together we headed along to Marina Del Rey and the Fishermans Village, which is a mini Marina, not too dissimilar from Wellington, in size at least. After a wee stop we continued on to Ballona reserve which was super cycling all the way along to Culver City. This bit was another highlight.
A brief stop in Culver City to talk about a hotel that once belonged to Charlie Chaplin, but  he lost it in a bet with John Wayne!
The hotel has a bit of a fruity history with tales of orgies held by the actors that played the munchkins in the Wizard of Oz! According to our guide, they enjoyed drinking all the drinks and doing all the sexy times with all the people! Sadly two of them fell to their deaths from one of the upper floors of the hotel and after that there were no more drunken orgies.
 We made our way back to Bikes and Hikes pausing to peer across at the Ivy and other famous people hang outs, getting back to base at around 5pm.
All in all a good day. I would have liked to have spent a little more time at the coastal places, having a mooch about for an hour or so, but that would change the nature of the tour. Also, I couldn’t always hear what the guide was saying and before I had chance to ask for a repeat, we were off again. Still, a good way to see lots of LA, get some exercise and meet some nice people.
On Thursday I went to the LA county museum of Art and the Hello Kitty exhibition at the Japanese American Museum. There are photos of those activities though, so probs don’t need to use any more words at this time.
Tomorrow I’m off to the Grand Canyon and I may be lost for words after that!
Hurray for adventures :-)
Me and my bicycle for the day, Lavinia.
Don’t know what’s going on with my massive belly :-/ I’m a right slouchy Susan.

Why I like the talky radio

16 03 2015

I spend more time listening the radio than watching the tellybox or the internetweb and I was just having a few moments contemplating why this is and the reasons are pretty basic I think. 

1:  it’s a habit. I get in from work or dancing or wherever and if I’m pottering around my room I’ll put the talky radio on, sometimes I’ll have music on, but mostly the talky radio. My most listened to stations are the BBC radio 4 and the BBC radio 4 extra
Occasionally I go for the BBC radio 3 for the music and words stories/plays they broadcast.
2: there’s always something to listen to which suits my mood, especially with the listen on demand option. A Greek tragedy for a melancholy afternoon, a comedy for an upbeat half hour turn around time from getting in from work to going out for dancing or the evening, a philosophical conversation for a contemplative morning, current affairs for keeping up with the world and reeling at the plethora of views and opinions from all the different human people informed by their unique experiences and learning.
Then there’s The Archers, the omnibus, naturally, which has seen me through hangovers, cosying up in the dark winter months, taking it on the move in the bright and breezy spring time, keeping me company as I travel round the world, messaging fellow Archers Addicts with exclamations or questions or comments or all three! 
3:  emotional connection. I have fond memories of my grandma listening to the radio into the night, things like The Bradshaws, as well as local radio stations late night phone ins and request shows. I found it comforting to hear the low murmur of her radio if I got up in the night for a wee or arrived in late after a night out. 
4: learning! I love the learning and the radio is a good learning medium for me. I learn about subjects/topics like physics, philosophy, women’s issues, politics. I also learn about the world, with insights into other communities, cultures and customs through programmes like ‘From our own Correspondent‘. 
This also encourages empathy and mindfulness as I attempt to learn about experiences and lives of others. For this ‘The Listening Project‘ is also great. 
I also learn by listening to broadcasts in other languages. While I’ve been in New Zealand I did an introductory Te Reo and Tikanga in the workplace course and as a follow on from that occasionally listen to the Māori language radio. I’m heading to South America shortly I’ve been having a listen to Spanish language stations to try and get my brain into gear for doing some speaking. 
Hurray for learning! 
5: it’s my friend. This encompasses all my points so far and in a way I think of the radio like the books on prescription initiative
There are broadcasts I would suggest to promote health and well being; an opportunity to learn more about ourselves and our place in the world, how we are part of our communities, societies. How we can gain a better understanding of being alive people.
6: listening. I enjoy listening to how people use their words and voice on the radio. For no other reason that the sounds they make. 
That’s the end. 


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,676 other followers