Day 8 of Trip to Land of Coca Cola

One of the CBD staff gave me the idea to change the heading today and signed of their email comments to me with ‘From the Land of the Vuvuzelas’. I think yesterday’s blog solicited the most return comments so far on the trip – not sure why – maybe the frozen custard was what did it.

We all managed a good night’s sleep and seem to have adjusted quickly to the 2 hour time change. It is now 10pm and I am feeling like an early night is probably called for. It is incredible to think that we are going to sleep just when everyone else is waking up. I get to see the effects of it when I wake up tomorrow morning again. This morning I had 35 emails on my CBD email address and 48 on my Gen Re email address (and I am meant to be on holiday!). I am being ruthless with my Gen Re email and so in about 10 minutes I managed to reduce them down to 2 that will need actioning when I get back to my London office.

We eventually managed to get the kids up and out of their room at 9am this morning. We decided to skip the $25 per person breakfast at the hotel (must be gold dust in the food or something at that price) and we took a wander down Wiltshire Blv until we got to Rodeo Drive. The problem we encoutered was that there were no places to have breakfast on either road and there was no way we were going to do any shopping in Rodeo Drive anyway. All there are are branded stores such as Jimmy Choo, Gucci, Dolce & Gabana etc. Most of the stores only allow you to visit if you have an appointment and they only accept 5-10 customers per day. Most merchandise isn’t price marked and asking would be out of the question. These people live in another world!

We did eventually find quite a nice place on Santa Monica Blv to have breakfast and on walking back to the hotel realised that the restaurants are on Santa Monica Blv and not Wiltshire. We won’t make that mistake again. We decided to go on a city tour which left at 2:30pm and lasted 4.5 hours and so we just relaxed in our hotel rooms for a few hours before going out for the afternoon. The weather is very pleasant here in LA at the moment – 27 degrees and tomorrow is meant to be 25 degrees. The tour driver says it is like this 300 days a year.

The tour was a small bus – like one of the new taxi minivan’s in SA. There were 2 other groups with us and in total we were 12 people excluding the driver. The driver’s weight though probably exceeded the 12 of us put together. The driver instantly irritated both Helen and I with his weak jokes and after he would say something that he thought was funny he would immediately say ‘only joking’ like we didn’t know. The tour took us first around Beverly Hills and Bel Air. Effectively it was a tour of the suburb and various famous movie stars homes were pointed out. We went past the houses of Robert Redford, Demi Moore, Bruce Willis, Samuel L Jackson, Jack Nicholson, Ozzy Osbourne, Harrison Ford (Helen swears she saw him through the fence), The Beckhams (who are apparently back from their trip to SA) etc. A number of the houses are quite close to the road and we weren’t that impressed with them actually. While they might be large, they were often on busy corners (like Samuel L Jackson’s house). Apparantely the building code in Bel Air is that each house must have a swimming pool and tennis court. It is also illegal to walk around Bel Air unless you are resident or on official business (like cleaning pools or mowing lawns). Bel Air homes were more impressive than Beverly Hills ones. The Beverly Hills one were similar in size to Constantia or Bishops Court but actually weren’t as nice in our view. The Bel Air ones were just ridiculously big. The Beckham’s home (for example) cost $35 million and the most expensive home we passed was valued at $190m and is owned by David Geffen who is the co-owner of Dreamworks (the movie company). He has a 9-hole golf course inside his property with a driving range from his bedroom window. It reminded me that they are clearly storing up treasurers in the wrong place as they ain’t going to be able to take it with them one day.

After the famous houses tour we went into Hollywood itself and down Sunset Blv (also known as the Strip). This is the place where all the nightclubs are. In our view they look very run down but I can only assume that the interior looks better than the exterior as we have no plans to check them out. The tour driver gave us 30 minutes to look at the sidewalk stars (of which there are 2300 filled so far and another 700 blank). You have to be in show business of some sort to get your name on one and it costs you $5000 as well for the priviledge. We also looked at the handprints & footprints in the cement outside the Chinese Theatre. The most recent one to be made was Jerry Bruckheimer (CSI producer amongst other shows) which was still cordoned off as it wasn’t fully dry yet. We also took a few elevators up in a shopping complex so that we could get our first view of the Hollywood sign. Michael remarked that it was so small that unless he knew it said Hollywood we would not have been able to read what it said. I heard one person next to me, ‘Thank goodness for my telephoto lens otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to see that”! It might be big but it is a long way away as well. As we still had a few minutes to kill before needing to be back, ice creams were purchased for everyone except me (I want to keep my trim and finely toned physique). The tour guide had probably taken the full 30 minutes to refuel himself as well.

We then headed into downtown LA and found out what it is like to live in LA – lots of traffic. It was 5pm and so we were caught up in rush hour. Even yesterday on the way from the airport (at 10pm), there were traffic jams. It doesn’t seem to matter what time of the day or night you get traffic jams here. It probably has something to do with 12 million cars in LA for the 15 million residents. That works out to about 1.5 cars per licensed driver. Everyone has a car and nobody uses public transport. I noticed that even during rush hour the public buses only had a limited number of people on board and plenty of seats available. Some other interesting facts about LA and California are:
• They register 10-12 tremours per day as LA is on the San Fernando fault
• California’s total exports are 5 times what the UK exports each year
• California would fit into the top ten economies in the world if it were it’s own country
• 1:4 residents in California are illegal residents
• LA is has the most diverse population of any place in the world – more nationalities live here than anywhere else
• The average length of marriage of a resident of Beverly Hills or Bel Air is 5 years (I am surprised it is so long actually)
• California’s cows produce 5 times more milk than from cows living in other states (California’s cows are obviously very happy living here)
Some of these I know personally but some of them were gleaned from the tour today (this is the only time my actuarial persona comes out).

On the downtown section we had a quick stop at Little Mexico (our driver was hispanic and I think he wanted to stock up on some food again as it had probably been around 30 minutes since he last ate anything) and then we moved on past Chinatown and a less wealthy area (the driver in Chicago called it the similar area there ‘marginal’). Helen said she wondered as we passed various stores how many of them were doing actual business and how many of them were merely fronts for crime syndicates. Our final stop was at the Farmer’s Market which I suspect was needed so the driver could refuel himself again (especially since he was the last one back to the vehicle). It was a really nice market selling fresh produce (veg, fruit, cheese, meat etc) as well as numerous stores offering foods of different types. We got some fresh fruit and cheese and biscuits as this was what everybody was missing. It is incredible how after being away from home and eating restaurant food all the time how you start to crave certain foodstuffs. On this trip it seems that fresh fruit is what we are all craving. At least in California you can get good fruit.

After this last stop we headed back to the hotel and got back around 7pm. We would summarize the trip as underwhelming. In fact it is not the trip that was underwhelming but actually LA. I asked Helen if she wanted to come back some time and she said definitely not (sorry Rachel). Helen would jump at a chance to go back to Chicago though. The city is grimey and the architecture is a total mix. It is sometimes modern and sometimes old. There doesn’t seem to be a pattern. There are some impressive buildings but in the main there aren’t many. Once again we have noticed the numerous empty and boarded up shops even in Rodeo Drive. You really can see the effects of the financial crisis and it is almost as if you can feel the economic depression.

We finished the day with dinner at the hotel restaurant as we were all too tired to bother about going out for dinner. Tomorrow we plan to out by 8:15am as we want to go to Universal Studios and they open at 9am.

Enjoy your day.

P, H, M, S & C

Day 7 of the Trip to Land of Free & Friendly

Helen told me to change the title as we got onto the plane to fly to LA today. The reason is that people are really friendly here – at least on the surface. The gate lady was incredibly friendly to us as we boarded the plane which prompted Helen to make the remark. Though it hasn’t been a once-off thing for us. Almost every day that Janet and I have walked to or from the exhibition we were greeted by people in the street. In England if you try make eye contact with anyone they very quickly look away and would most certainly not say hello to you in the morning. In America (or at least in both St Louis and Chicago) the people have always made eye contact and always greet you.

As I type this we are now in LA and it is 11:10pm here and my computer clock says it is 8:10am in SA. Just as I go to sleep, everyone in SA is starting to work (don’t think about calling me!). Yesterday I got a cellphone call at 4am in the morning – fortunately whoever it was never left a message and I also had my phone on silent so I never heard it until this morning. We arrived in LA at about 9:30pm after leaving St Louis at 7:30pm. The flight takes 4 hours and there is a 2 hour time change. Of course it feels like 1am for us at the moment and so I hope the kids have actually gone to sleep already. They have their own room again which gives Helen a separate room for ourselves after having to share with Chloe for the last 3 nights.

Today was the last day of ICRS for Janet and I. Our first appointment was at 9am and we had 5 during the morning. Most of them were catching up with people we usually do business with but the last one of the day was establishing some new contacts. The attendance had dwindled significantly in comparison to Days 1 & 2. We managed to knock off our meetings quite efficiently and we headed back to the hotel at around 2pm. By that stage Helen had checked out and packed up. I usually do the packing so this was a novelty for Helen which I am sure she enjoyed (I am not going to ask her I am just going to assume she enjoyed it so that I can get her to do it again). Everyone was crammed into Lynne & Jeff’s room (11 of us in total). St Louis is famous for its frozen custard and so the girls & Jeff (excluding Chloe) headed off to go to the famous frozen custard shop in town. It was actually flavoured frozen custard and they all had ‘mini’s’ (which in SA would be equivalent to a large) and everyone said it was quite rich (though I never heard that from Janet as they dropped her off at the train station on the way back so she could get to the airport for her 5:30pm flight to Orlando).

The family had in the morning gone to Union Station which is a fully restored old station. Helen said it was interesting even though Jeff had led them on the scenic route (by foot) to get there. It is probably a good thing because she worked off a few of the calories from the frozen custard she ate later. Another thing we have noticed (especially in St Louis) is the number of boarded up shops. I noticed it on the route to the exhibition each day and Helen says that it is noticeable in each of the malls she has visited and it was again noticeable at Union Station today as well. I guess places like St Louis are the hardest hit by the recession in America.

They got back from the frozen custard sortee at around 3:30pm and at 4:30pm we headed off the airport. Jeff very kindly took us which again saved us on cab fare. The check-in process was smooth and easy and we after going through the pedantic security check (sans shoes, belt, watch etc) we headed off to our gate. Helen wanted to check out the shops (what else is there to do in an airport) and I wanted some food as I hadn’t eaten much for either breakfast or lunch. After that was completed I noticed that the gate had changed for our flight and so we moved to the correct gate. A number of flights had been delayed particularly those to Texas due to the Hurricane. As we were heading West our flight was not affected at all and we boarded and left pretty much on time (I think we were 10 minutes late).

The flight was pretty non-eventful. Chloe, Michael & Helen managed to sleep almost the whole way while Stephen and I read. We are now staying at the Beverly Hilton on Wiltshire Blv in Beverly Hills. In SA we would call it a ‘larny’ hotel. When I booked it I got a great rate on the internet. The downside is that they charge for everything extra so (for instance) the internet costs extra and as I am internet dependent there is no choice but to pay the money for the connection. It gets expensive when Helen, Stephen & Michael also want to connect though! As we got out of the cab I told the kids to make sure they held onto their bags otherwise I would have to part with another few dollars to get the luggage to the room.

As we are all tired we will take it easy tomorrow and just spend the day wandering around Hollywood and Beverly Hills. There is quite a lot to see around here by simply walking there and that is what we will probably do.

Enjoy your Thursday!

Yours from the Friendly Temples

P, H, S, C, & M

Day 6 of Trip to Land of Free & Big

The first hurricane of the 2010 season is about to hit the US. I know this (of course) because the Weather Channel is on. Unfortunately this isn’t good news for Janet and family as Janet is heading to Cancun with her family on Friday. Hopefully it will be past by that stage as they are predicting that it will hit land by tomorrow pm. We are, on the other hand, heading West to LA where the weather is much cooler. However, that is tomorrow only!

Today was pretty much a repeat for Janet and I, in that we left for the exhibition at 8am and got back to the hotel at around 3:30pm. We had about 6 or 7 meetings and some really productive ones. I felt it was a better day than yesterday. What probably swung it for me was a very good meeting with Crossway (one of the large USA publishers) and the owner’s son met us and we immediately made a connection. A 30 minute meeting pretty quickly turned into more than an hour with Janet nudging me and pointing at my watch. In the end Janet went off for our next meeting and I stayed behind a finished off the discussions. Even though we have been really careful about what we have collected, we still have a lot of catalogues and freebies and so tomorrow when we pack we might have to be a little more ruthless and get rid of some of the stuff.

The family went off to Grant Farm (I believe owned by the Busch family who used to own Anhauser Busch) and is a place with lots of different animals that have been rescued. I got to see a few photos only but the kids seemed to enjoy it. After that they went to the Mall and watched movies. The boys (including the big boy Jeff) watched Iron Man II and the rest watched Toy Story 3. The first thing Michael told me about the movies was the size of the Medium coke – we would classify it as Extra Large in SA from what he showed me. Helen later told me the same story as well. When they got back (which was after Janet and I got back), the kids went up for a swim on the roof top pool again. I went up briefly to have a look at the view and it was extremely bright up there as well. The kids were all having a great time together in the pool. Daniel (my nephew and Stephen’s cousin) has been with us as well and it is incredible to see how quickly he and Stephen have picked up their friendship again. It is a pity that they couldn’t see more of each other.

This evening we went to the St Louis Waterfront for dinner. If you have visions of the V&A in your mind then scrap that idea. It is a very small area of town which is very pleasant but is actually also not really near the water (it is at least 2 streets away). We had dinner at the Spaghetti House which Jeff says he remembers coming to 25 years ago. Obviously it was pasta for dinner tonight and it was another enjoyable evening together. After dinner we walked down to the river which has risen even further since Sunday night. Janet says she was done today at the River and where the kids had paddled in the water on Sunday afternoon was now off limits and in fact cordoned off. It is amazing to see how much it has risen in 2 days. We walked back to the hotel through the park and under the Arch (which looks even more impressive at night) and back to our hotel.

It is short and sweet tonight for 2 reasons, firstly I am incredibly tired and need to get to bed and (2) I didn’t get to the do the interesting stuff!


P, H, S, M & C

Day 5 of trip to Land of Free & lots of choice

Today was the first day of the ICRS (International Christian Retailers Show). The exhibition hall opened at 8:30am and Janet and I met at 7:30am to take the bus to the conference centre so that we could register. It was incredibly well organised (but I shouldn’t be surprised). When I thought bus to the conference centre I thought mini-bus but it turned out to be a full-size large 52 seater, air-conditioned bus (of course it would be!). The conference centre is probably as big as the CTICC and this in a small mid-West city. American’s do everything big.

And oh, I am now reminded about another insight I have had about America. They are almost obsessed as much with weather as the Brits. Helen just loves the weather channel and so it is perpetually on in the hotel room so we have heard everything there is to hear about the oil spill in the Gulf and the current tropical storm Alex (the first of the season) that has developed in the Gulf. What makes matters worse is that my brother-in-law (Jeff) told Helen last night that you can now watch it online … now I have no doubt we will end up watching it at home too!

Janet and I spent the majority of the day at ICRS and we eventually finished there at about 3:30pm after having about 8 meetings throughout the day. It felt more like 20 meetings and because you end up saying the same thing time and time again it does get very tiring. It was quite an incredible exhibition with around 350 exhibitors. The ‘buyers’ tend to go around with a wheeled suitcase collecting free books, CDs and other items. It is amazing what you could collect over a day and it was incredible to see what some people did manage to collect! Janet and I limited ourselves to things we felt really worthwhile and we either declined or ditched the rest in the nearest bin.

The family spent the day doing some sightseeing in St Louis and they watched the World Cup matches on TV. They also spent some time on the roof of the hotel in the hotel pool. The hotel is 29 stories high and the pool is on top. Helen says the view is amazing from up there.

After Janet and I got back, the girls all went off shopping to a local outlet mall and they had dinner at the food court in the mall. The boys all went off the watch a baseball game – the St Louis Cardinals vs Arizona Diamondbacks. We had great seats in the 2nd tier half way between home plate and 1st base. It was in what they call a club – we would call a box. The stadium is really awesome (had to slip that in) and it is the first stadium I have been in with an escalator. Behind our seats were dedicated catering places just for ‘the club’ and so we had cheeseburgers & fries (along with the compulsory Bud for the men and cokes for the boys). Don’t misunderstand me, the catering wasn’ t included in ticket price – you still had to pay for your eats & drinks. The game started well for the Cardinals (2 runs in the first inning) but then they lost there way and at the bottom of the 9th were down 5 to 3. However, the Diamondbacks made 2 errors in the field which let the Cardinals back in and they won the game 6 to 5 in the final inning. Very exciting and quite enjoyable. While the baseball doesn’t occupy all the time, there is always something happening on the big screen. The kissing camera (they frame people who are then meant to kiss for everyone to see – fortunately they never did it with Jeff & me), the Bud camera (showing people drinking Budweiser – they could have done that with Jeff and me but alas they didn’t), the talent show (some kids who do something crazy things), some good looking girls shooting caps into the stands (local equivalent of the Bulls Babes) etc. It was also incredible to see everyone wearing red (the Cardinal’s color – yes that spelling error was intentional) – there was a hardly a person not wearing red. I was also quite surprised how many women were watching – a much higher proportion than you would find at a cricket or rugby match (or at least it felt like that for me). For Monday night there were a lot of people watching (just over 41000). Great atmosphere and also entertaining to watch my brother-in-law behave like a big kid for the evening (probably what I look like at a cricket match .. on second thoughts … no, not possible).

It has been a tiring day and it is now 11pm and I need to get to bed.

Yours from the Land that does everything BIG!

P, H, S, M & C

Day 4 of Trip to Land of Free & Wealthy

Today we woke up to very hot & muggy conditions in Chicago. We all seem to be over any jet-lag now and into the right time zone as we all had a goodnight’s sleep. As we were leaving for St Louis, we didn’t have any time to do anything today in Chicago except have breakfast and then we managed to watch the first half of the England v Germany game. We had a taxi booked for 10am to take us to Chicago O’Hare airport for our flight to St Louis. We were sorry to be leaving Chicago because we had enjoyed our 3 days there – it is a beautiful city especially in the summer (I have been in the winter and it is a dreary brown/grey place covered in snow).

We were flying on American Airlines from Chicago to St Louis. I had booked the flight on my airmiles and paid only R15 for airport taxes per ticket (not kidding!). That has to be the cheapest flight I have ever taken in my life and I was concerned that there would actually be engines attached to the plane. As I travel a lot on BA, I get to use the First Class check-in etc on American Airlines as well which (in my view helps smooth an airport experience). Paul will call me ‘Ryan Bingham’ at this point (watch the movie Up in the Air with George Clooney and you will know what I am talking about) but I don’t care – it does make things much quicker. We did the self-check in thing and included Janet’s suitcase as one of ours as they wanted to charge her for checking in her one suitcase but I got 2 cases free per person because of my frequent flyer tier. I just hoped she didn’t have any contra-band in her suitcase! Unfortunately we discovered our flight was delayed by an hour due to the thunderstorms around Chicago. We cleared through security (no belt or shoes on) and headed to find our gate which was at the very end of the concourse.

We still had free vouchers for popcorn from Garrett’s popcorn (one of the vouchers from our Trolley tour) and so Helen and Janet set off to find the store and arrived back with 5 bags of popcorn. That became Helen and Janet’s lunch (with much ooing and aahhing about how good it was – I really think it was that good – popcorn is popcorn in my view). Every time I travel through a US airport I am staggered by the quantity of people going places. Chicago airport was just teeming with people with hardly a seat to sit on the terminal. It is quite incredible. If there is one thing Americans know how to do is to travel though. Their airports are generally well laid out (with the exception of Washington) and very efficient. Our plane came in at 12:25 and by 12:45 we were boarding and by 13:10 we had closed the door and were ready to leave. I was also pleasantly surprised by the plane, seat, legroom & service of American Airlines (or at least on this flight). We flew in an MD80 (if you don’t understand the letters don’t worry about – it is a plane with 2 engines and lots of seats) and it had WiFi installed so that you could work on your laptop if you wanted. As the flying time was only 44 minutes I didn’t bother but I hope some of the other planes we fly on for the longer flights (to LA for instance) also have it as that would be quite worthwhile for me.

We landed just after 2pm and my brother-in-law (Jeff) kindly offered to pick us up from the airport which saved us a taxi fare. We had agreed about a year ago to meet them in St Louis when they heard we were planning to come. They live in Tennessee and drove up and arrived at around 12pm today so the timing worked out really well. When arrived and collected our bags we went outside to find Jeff and were hit by the intense heat & humid – Chicago was like mid-winter compared to this. This sort of heat makes aircon a must. As an added treat, my other sister and brother-in-law (Meryl & Piers) had stopped in on the way home from their family vacation in New Mexico. They were also dropping of Daniel (my nephew) who is spending the 3 days with us here (he and Stephen are good mates). We got to catch up with them in the hotel for an hour before they headed on their way and it was really nice to just chat and see them all again (we haven’t seen them for the last 2 ½ years).

Lynne (my sister) had pre-purchased tickets to go up the ‘Arch’ at St Louis and so we headed off to do that together. The Arch is the tallest monument in American and was built to commemurate that St Louis was the gateway to the West. It is a giant arch (over 600 ft high) and it has a capsule system inside it that takes 5 people at a time to the top of the Arch where you can look over St Louis and the Missippee River (St Louis is on the river). When we came down we went to look at the River which is actually in flood at the moment. The walkway on the side of the river is entirely covered and you can’t even get to the jetty where the river boats are parked – not sure how you get out to them at the moment.

We then headed for dinner at TGI Fridays which is a family style chain restuarant. The selection on the menu is ridiculously big – I don’t think I have seen a longer menu. It is actually too big because people (like Janet) who can’t make up their minds just take forever to order. The kids had long since ordered before Janet had her mind made up. It was a lovely dinner with good banter with the family (and Janet). I had Jack Daniel Ribs (those are ribs with a special sauce made from Jack Daniels). They were quite simply the best ribs I have ever had. Ribs can be fatty, or too spicy, or too much sauce – these were just right. Include a few local Budweiser beers (Anhauser Busch – the maker of Bud – is based in St Louis so it was a must to drink Bud while in the home of Bud!) and it was a great evening. It was a short walk back to the hotel where we are staying (Crowne Plaza) and even though it was raining it hasn’t dampened our spirits of a really enjoyable afternoon & evening.

Tomorrow starts the ICRS (International Christian Retailer Show) which is the reason we came to St Louis. Janet and I get to attend while the rest of the family will no doubt spend my hard earned money on some activity or shopping or something. It (the show) is obviously a big deal for St Louis as there were even signs at the airport welcoming delegates and the streetlamp’s have those long flags on them also advertising the show. I suspect it is going to be a major and mind blowing show but I will tell you about it tomorrow.

Yours from Land of massive choice

P, H, S, M & C

Day 3 of Trip to Land of the Wealthy

After seeing Saturday consumerism in action in Chicago I have changed the header to more correctly reflect American culture. We are staying one block off Michigan Avenue which is known as the Magnificent Mile. While the buildings in Chicago are quite impressive and often beautiful, the Trolley tour guide today said it is known now as the Magnificent Mile because of all the stores especially the expensive branded ones like Gucci, Armani, etc. It is just one Mile of shops.

We managed to sleep the night through at least last night. Both Helen and I woke up at around 6:30am this morning and the kids emailed at 7am to say they were also awake. We decided to have breakfast at a very nearby cafe (at the bottom of our hotel actually). After breakfast we finished watching the 1st half of the S.Korea v Uruguay game. We agreed to meet Janet at 10am in front of our hotel and we all went to the Levi store (which had a lot of items at 50% off). However, it was so hot and humid this morning that buying jeans just didn’t see the right thing to do be doing so while we (Janet, Helen and I) all tried on some jeans none of us ended up buying any. Helen and Janet then went off shopping together and I went off with the kids. Not entirely sure what Helen and Janet did because when Helen got back at 12:30 she hadn’t actually bought anything but she had managed to go the Cheesecake Factory though!

On the other hand, we went to the Bose store followed by the Apple Store. We had passed the Apple Store on Thursday but there was a line (they don’t know what queue’s are) to actually enter the store. That is because the Iphone 4.0 has just been released. However we were early enough today and managed to get it. We played with the Iphone 4 which I have to say is much better than the Iphone 3 – it is smaller, lighter and much better looking (sorry Marcus your phone has been supplanted). We also played with the Ipad which really is an Ipod Touch on steroids. Not sure that I would ever seen the reason for buying one of them. They are actually quite bulky as well. The kids and I enjoyed playing around though. It is incredible how successful Apple is in the US. You have to book an appointment to see an in store consultant and by the time we arrived there were no appointments left with one type of consultants and for the other batch (never figured out the difference) the earliest appointment was 3:20pm (and it was probably around 11am when we were there).

After Helen returned we headed out to catch the Trolley again to complete the city tour as we never finished it yesterday. It was an enjoyable hour and due to a Food Fair in the park they took us on a slightly different route which resulted in us having a great view of the city across Lake Michigan. I think Stephen and I both got some good photos. The only hiccup was when the Trolley driver misjudged one of the turns and he went over the curb. I was sitting about half way down and immediately he started turning I could tell he was going to do it. He hit it really hard and there was a large hiss as the air came out of the tyre. That didn’t deter him and he merrily continued on the tour with the half flat tyre. When we got out about 5 minutes later we could clearly see a gash in the tyre. He must have noticed the effect on the handling but he just continued onwards.

After a quick visit to the Herschey chocolate store (we got a free chocolate from the Trolley tour) and then a visit across the road to Ghiradelli’s for an Italian ice-cream, Helen and Chloe headed off shopping (as mothers and daughters do) and the boys went back to the hotel to watch the end of the USA v Ghana game (as fathers and sons do). Helen and Chloe got back just after the match ended and we just spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing at the hotel. At 6:30pm we decided to go and walk down the Navy Pier to meet Janet for dinner. Navy Pier is the place that I spent 2-3 days hanging around after Sept-11. For those of you who haven’t heard the story, I was stuck in Chicago from Sept 11 to Sept 14 after the terrorism events. I was with a colleague (James Louw) and James and I spent at least one day down at the Pier trying to kill time (it was deserted then). Today it was teeming with people which made it almost impossible to walk down the Pier. We found a place for dinner and sat outside enjoying the warm weather and the atmosphere.

The plan had been to stay for the 10:15 fireworks at the Pier but we just couldn’t see ourselves up still at the time (even though it is now 10:25pm as I type). We headed back to the hotel and decided to call it a night. We leave tomorrow for St Louis and have to leave the hotel at around 10am to catch our flight down to St Louis.

Some additional observations about America:

  • Dressing in the same clothes is a must do family thing. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are, matching shirts for boys & girls is obviously the thing to do. Even teenagers and mothers wearing the same clothes. Helen reckons it is because they don’t wear a uniform to school and so haven’t gotten the dressing like everyone else out of their systems. I am a bit concerned that when we meet our family tomorrow they will be dressed the same!
  • If Janet reads your blog, she will take it one step further and get photographic evidence of my observations. She has 2 pictures illustrating my point about women needing to wear longer pants – though both of the ones she has don’t demonstrate the tree stump theory (though she might take up that challenge now).
  • It is easy to waste your money in America (actually really easy). Helen and Chloe went into a store called ‘American Girl’ which is a store for doll (like Bratz etc) but in this store you can take your doll to have it’s hair done (for $25) or it’s ears pierced. No I am not kidding – it is a 3 floor store with everything you could want (and a whole lot of things you couldn’t imagine wanting) for your doll. The staggering thing was that there was a line for the hair salon.
  • Yours from the Temples (and one Greener) in Chicago.


    Day 2 of Trip to Land of the Free

    Last night I went to bed at 9pm and fell asleep at 9:00:15 seconds. When I woke up I wondered why the sun came up so late and leaned over to check my watch and saw it was 4am. I thought I must have in my stupor last night set my watch incorrectly and so got up and checked my cellphone clock as well but it unfortunately reflected the same time. I thought I better get back to sleep again and tried to do that until 5am when I gave up and got up and cleared my emails. Out of respect for my beloved I left the light off and worked by the light of the laptop screen but at 6am I gave up on that and turned the light on. She didn’t stir so I won’t make that mistake again.

    At about 7am she woke up and at 7:45am I went to check on the kids and found Chloe awake and reading her book with the aid of light she had brought along and the boys were still sleeping. Both of them had woken at 4am and 4:30am but they both went back to sleep again. Michael was buried in his bed. Stephen woke up again and we agreed to leave for breakfast at 8:30am. As breakfast at our hotel was +- $20 per person, we set out to find somewhere else to eat and after walking 20 minutes and crossing the Chicago River we found a bakery where we could have breakfast at ¼ of the price we would have paid in the hotel. Helen had muesli and the rest of us had scrambled egg with Applesandle wood smoked bacon (very nice!). All served on a plastic plate with plastic knife and fork. We walked back to the hotel and realised on the way back that everything (including all the shops) only opened at 10am. I was very stunned by this as in SA most shops are open at 8:30am and none later than 9am and so in the consumer country of the USA I was very surprised to find everything only opening at 10am.

    We came back to the hotel and collected our camera’s et al and then headed out to the John Hancock Building – 2nd highest building in Chicago after the Sears Tower (now called the Willis Tower). They say the John Hancock Tower might be lower but it has a better view of Chicago. The viewing deck is on the 94th floor. Unfortunately the lift up (which takes 40 seconds but is the fastest lift in America) caused an onset of dizziness for Michael and so he just sat down at the top and waited for the rest of us to enjoy the view over the city. You get an audio guide which is narrated by David Schwimmer (of Friends fame) and was quite interesting. Once down and outside we had a quick drink from a fresh juice bar and Michael improved sufficiently for us to take a Trolley tour around Chicago. We were the only 5 people on the Trolley (bus with wooden bench seats) and so the bus driver (tour guide) customised his commentary for us and even explained what baseball was when he heard we were from South Africa. He asked why we had left now over the World Cup and asked if we had a Vuvu even. I was quite surprised as most Americans don’t follow soccer (football is something different for them!). This was the 2nd time I had been surprised since arriving – yesterday the customs official asked me whether we had any biltong in the luggage!

    The Trolley was one of those hop-on-hop-off types and about ½ way through we decided to jump off and take another one that headed to the suburbs and into South Chicago. The plan was to get off a the Science & Industry Museum. The tour of South Chicago took us past 2 famous people’s houses – Mohammed Ali’s and Barack Obama. They are very proud of the fact that Barack Obama comes from Chicago and they keep pointing out facts. Both bus trips claimed that Michele Obama met Barack at two different places – who knows who is actually correct! We jumped off at the museum and after a quick lunch in the foodcourt we went to sample the 800 interactive displays. It was like the MTN Science Centre on steroids. They have a German U-boat from WW2 and a United Airlines Boeing 727. They have a Storm centre which shows how Tsunami’s are caused, how lightening strikes, how tornado’s develop etc. It was interesting and entertaining. We planned to catch the 3:25pm bus back into the city centre and when it arrived it was pretty full. We (the strong lads of the family) ended up standing the whole way back (which turned about to an hour) while the ladies took seats vacated by two younger men. Stephen reckons he has developed a blister from holding on (it was my feet and ankles that were, and still are, killing me). The tickets for the Trolley tour give you a free T-Shirt so we collected those and then walked back to our hotel (about a 30 minute walk).

    At about 6pm Janet (Greener) called to say she had arrived. She came in from London today and is attending the ICRS conference with me at St Louis from Sunday through Wednesday (more about that from Sunday onwards). We agreed to meet at 6:45pm at her hotel (which is directly behind our hotel – one block difference) and we went to dinner at an Italian family restaurant. Helen kindly told the waiter that it was my birthday 3 days ago because you got a free Brownie. I thanked her for that and reminded her how much she would have hated that if I had done it. (I have a memory like an elephant and I will get revenge!) We all started feeling quite tired over dinner and I am again battling to finish typing this without falling asleeppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppp (oops – sorry follow asleep again).

    We have noticed a number of things about the US so far. Stephen reckons that he needs to speak to the women’s clothes manufacturers and tell them to lengthen the short pants. He is right – I don’t think you could get shorts any shorter as they would then be called underwear. While about 1 in 10 could wear them, the other 9 in 10 are simply scaring the children in the city (and they are actually scaring me as well!). When you have legs like tree stumps then you should cover them up and not flaunt them! The 2nd observation is that while I knew this before, their small (of anything but especially drinks) is like our large and sometimes our extra large even. If you drink the whole thing you just spend the rest of the day in the loo getting rid of it again. And then thirdly, after driving through one of the poorer areas in the South of Chicago, I was reminded again that even the poor in America are significantly better off than most people in Crossroads or Westlake. This country really is extremely prosperous and the pity is that I am not sure that most people are aware of how fortunate they are (and that is true even after the financial crisis).

    And now it is 21:30 and I cannot keep my eyes open any longer.

    From the Land of the Free and Wealthy

    P, H, S, M, C