Day 4 – Washington DC

It has warmed up considerably in DC. That after yesterday broke the all-time record for the coldest temperature ever recorded on 27 March in Washington – 15 F – the previous record was 17 F.  Today though it rose to 60 F (or around 20 C).  Might more pleasant even though it was overcast. Not that it mattered to me because I had meetings starting at 8am through to 5:30pm. It started with breakfast with the Dutch followed by a 4-hour meeting on professionalism, lunch with the Americans and then another 3.5 hours of presentations/discussions.  Not my idea of a fun day.

Michael decided to go to Pentagon City because that was where the Bose store he wanted to go to was located.  Helen and Chloe had breakfast with one of the other wives from SA who is also here and then also headed to Pentagon City for some shopping. I got the updates via cellphone messages from the credit card purchases.  michael renamedMichael managed to get himself renamed at Starbucks (see photo). You get the SA accent thrown in there if you say it phonetically. Michael also managed to have the a-typical American conversation with a random lady that went like this:
“Where you from?”
“South Africa”
“Oh – Africa – I have a friend who lives in Botswana – do you know her”
I have had that sort of conversation in the past as well and I reply:
“No, but I have a friend who lives in Canada, surely you must know them”

They got back after lunch and I guess they just loafed in the hotel room this afternoon. On the other hand we were listening to the Commissioner of Social Security talking to us.  The Social Security Administration pays out over $700bn a year (yes you read that correctly). To put that in perspective, the GDP of South Africa is $400bn so this means their Social Security system is almost double the size of the SA economy! That makes the Commissioner a lot more important to the world economy than anyone in SA.  I understand who the photographer seemed so much in awe of her.  The French guy who was fast asleep while she was talking didn’t seem very impressed though.

beerWe decided to just have dinner locally (read across the road) this evening. Nothing special.  But I was impressed with the beer that I ordered though. It was called Pabst Blue Ribbon but what was really impressive was that it was selected as ‘America’s finest in 1863’ (see photo, bottom line). It hasn’t won anything since then.

We went for a walk after dinner but Helen turned back due to sore feet from other walking. Michael, Chloe and I did a tour of the neighboring suburb though.  Some really nice houses. Michael googled and we discovered the prices started at about $4m. Not particularly big properties (maybe a quarter of an acre) but really nice looking houses. What was surprising was that most of them only had a single garage and the cars parked out of front were Toyota, Kia, Chrysler etc – no luxury cars or only very few. I guess all the money went into the house.

On the way back we stopped in at Baskin Robbin’s for a quick ice cream and then back to the hotel (yes we got one for Helen too). Early to bed so that we can wake up early again …

Day 3 – Washington DC

Another work day for me.mall  Another sightseeing day for Helen and co.  My day started at 7am with breakfast with the Brits.  First time I have ever seen anyone from the UK up at 7am. Fortunately I was hungry at 7am because I had woken up at 5:30am.  At least it is getting slightly later each day. After breakfast I had a task force meeting on Ethics (for 2 hours), then another 1 hour 30 minute telecon with the UK office (#bigphonebill) followed by lunch and more networking.

H, M & C though went off sightseeing again. They covered off the American History Museum (which includes Abe’s hat though Helen said she didn’t see it … #missedthebigattraction), Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument (which is closed still from the 2011 Earthquake damage) and the Vietnam Memorial.  As you can see it was another clear day though still quite cold. Nothing in Washington is close by and so it involves a lot of walking between sights.  For instance, it is 1.1 miles from the Washington to Lincoln Memorials. When they got back after lunch (which they had at the all American must-have-at-least-once-while-in-America MacDonalds), they were all tired and ready for an afternoon nap. I was ready to get out of the hotel glincolniven that I had spent the whole day inside.

I eventually gave up and woke Helen up at 4:15pm and we headed out to Georgetown which is a short taxi trip away from the hotel. Chloe wanted to go to Georgetown Cupcakes (https://www.georgetowncupcake.com).  It has apparently famous because it has it’s own TV show. There is a perpetual queue (or as American’s say – line) outside the store. Michael and Chloe lined up to get the famous cupcakes while Helen and I went to Dean & Deluca (a food and home store).

appleGeorgetown is very quaint.  Most of the buildings are brown brick. It is definitely an upmarket area. There are also very few overweight people. Usually I wouldn’t remark on that sort of thing but when I come to America I expect to see many obese people and so when you don’t, it is noticeable. We did some more shopping at the other-must-go-to-store – Apple. Helen bought herself a new phone because her current iPhone is pretty battered and abused and it was 30% cheaper buying an iPhone in the US than at home. They even setup the phone for her (including transferring her contacts and other info) in about 10 minutes. Hopefully she won’t lose the Yellow Submarine iPhone she now owns.

clydesWe headed for dinner and ended up at Clyde’s – same place we ate in Georgetown when we were here last as a family (with my parents – @Mom&Dad – do you remember the restaurant?). Big portions as usual, free refills of softdrinks, beer in the bottle – no glass offered. Good service, nice atmosphere, good food and excellent beer (Samuel Adams Lager – another one of my must-dos when in the US).

After dinner some more shopping. I bought a pair of jeans from Urban Outfitters. Helen was impressed because she said it is a very hip store. Not sure why she was impressed because clearly I am hip. She’s been married to me for over 20 years now and she is surprised I am hip – seriously I don’t understand women!

Cab back to the hotel so that they could enjoy their cupcakes for desert. Apparently they were amazing (I don’t eat cupcakes because I am a healthy eater) but then at R175 ($16) for 6 cupcakes they had better be the best cupcakes they have ever eaten.

Now Helen is channel flipping on the TV. Helen should not be allowed access to the remote when we travel in the US.  Her first choice is to watch the Weather channel. Failing that it is the food channel (which she is on now). If I am lucky we get CNN for a short time. American TV is worth a whole blog in itself. Actually American TV adverts are worth a blog by themselves. But I will keep that for another day. I’m just glad that the Protea’s didn’t lose to Netherlands today in their World T20 Cricket match. We have breakfast with the Dutch tomorrow and that would have been embarrassing.

Day 2 – Washington DC

omni shoreham1The day started early for us. For Michael it was 3am, I managed to get through to 4am and then dosed on and off until 5:30am and Helen was up from about 5am as well.  Chloe did the best and she was awake just before 7am. I am actually here to work and I had a breakfast at 7:30am. Usually I would be moaning about so early a start but today it felt like I had put in 2 hours of work before breakfast.  The breakfast meeting was followed by another meeting and then I had a telecon for an hour and half with my UK office. Morning gone.  Lunch with the other conference attendees (and free) and then fortunately the formal part of the day was done and I could work the rest of the afternoon in the hotel room. My view from the room is the one you can see in the photo – the snow is melting but it was pretty cold outside though (see if you can spot any famous landmarks in the picture – there is one – I promise).

Helen and the kids went out to have breakfast and do some sightseeing.  The breakfast in the hotel is $21 excluding tax and tip.  Tax is some ridiculously high rate and so after a standard 16% tip you are talking well over $25 per person for breakfast (or R275). No one person can eat that much for breakfast.  On second thoughts after seeing one women occupy the lift by herself today, there is at least one person staying in the hotel who probably could (and will).  Helen, Chloe and Michael headed into the centre of Washington on the Metro rather and had breakfast at Starbucks. They also went in search of pre-paid SIM cards and battled to find them until they found an AT&T shop.  Now they all have USA phone numbers for the duration of the time here and we can all breathe again as this essential daily need is fulfilled.

Helen is very impressed with how friendly everyone has been in Washington. She said that they were trying to figure out how the metro tickets worked and some random lady came up and offered help and showed them how to purchase the tickets. The people in the stores have also been very friendly. Americans know how to make you feel good about spending your money in their country. Michael gave up staying with Helen and Chloe as they were quickly into shopping mode.  Michael took the metro back to the hotel by himself and no doubt spent the rest of the afternoon on the WiFi.

morgan adamsAfter Helen had her afternoon nap we decided to go for a stroll around the area.  We walked up to an area called Morgan Adams which is like Washington’s Long Street. It being early afternoon it was pretty dead though.  Pretty area and nice to get some fresh air. By the time we got back to the hotel I reckon I had lost all feeling in most of my face and I was wondering whether I still had ears or whether they had frozen and dropped off at some point along the way.

Michael didn’t come with us but instead tried to go the hotel gym. They wouldn’t let him in though because you need to be 18. You can use the pool though so long as you’re 15, you can drive at 16 but you can’t use the gym until you’re 18?! Seems a bit inconsistent but those are the hotel rules.

restaurantWe had a dinner this evening in the hotel restaurant with all the other Safrican’s attending the meetings this week.  There were 11 of us for dinner and it was a relaxed and enjoyable dinner. The portions remained giant-sized but then again why would I expect anything less.  The picture is of the interior of the restaurant – quite beautiful.  The hotel really is charming in many ways. They have up in the lobby the very famous events the hotel has hosted and this included hosting many of the foreign dignitaries for JF Kennedy’s funeral (including Charles de Gaulle).  It was also the location used for the shooting of the movie ‘Pelican Brief’ starring Julia Roberts (based on the novel by John Grisham).

We have managed to make it to 10:30pm tonight but I can hear Helen yawning loudly from behind me as I type.  Bed is calling …. until tomorrow.

Arrived in Washington DC

HeathrowToday was consumed in traveling again.  We flew from London to Washington DC.  The flight left about an hour late. Some issue with no plane being on the stand and then the pilot said they had a few small technical issues which needed to be resolved. While we were waiting to board some guy abandoned his luggage for a few minutes. It was noticed by the gate staff and they made a few announcements and no one claimed the bags and then the guy just sauntered over and sat down next to his bags. Seriously – who just leaves their bags in a terminal building.

dc landingWe eventually left London just after midday and landed in Washington at 4pm (with a 4 hour time change). The flight was uneventful. Lunch + movie, sleep for a few hours, afternoon tea and then we landed. A little bit of turbulence over the mid-Atlantic but otherwise quite a smooth flight. Coming in to land though was quite interesting as it was a white-out. Chloe was trying to take a photo but you could really only see the ground just as we were about to land.  It was snowing as we landed and quite hard too. At least 3 inches on the ground and apparently there was no snow at all yesterday. 0 degrees C. Cold. Very cold.

Relatively quickly through passport control.  Very unusually for arriving in the US, the immigration official was very talkative and friendly. He was moaning about the weather (he used to live in Florida), gave us a little history lesson, a bit of sightseeing advice while he did the necessary fingerprint checks and stamping of the passport. Our one piece of checked baggage was already on the baggage belt and so we grabbed it and headed through customs and into the land of the free. Free but no place to buy a pre-paid SIM card for cellphone coverage.  Seriously – in the land of capitalism? Definite business opportunity at Dulles International Airport.  We grabbed a cab to the hotel. Another advantage of only 4 of us traveling – we fit into a single standard size cab (we are missing you though Stephen). The cab driver cleared his Islamic reading material from the front seat and I discovered he was actually from Pakistan.  We traded our mutual dislike for Australian cricketers and I watched the cab fare ticking over at about a $1 per second. It did also cross my mind if he was part of a sleeper cell in Washington DC … probably pushing the movie theme though and now those words are typed into Cyberspace I probably have the whole of the NSA surveillance centered on me now.

omni shorehamWe crossed the Potomac River, saw the Lincoln memorial.  Few sights already ticket off. We are staying at the Omni Shoreham Hotel. Impressive outside facade. Nice view even from the room. Still need to get our bearings but close to the Zoo (unlikely to be going there though) and a 10-minute cab drive to Georgetown (will be going there).  As we had no desire to go anywhere tonight we simply ate at the hotel. We were given a 5-seater table … thought of you again Stephen. chicken saladWe were also very quickly reminded of the ginormous portions you get in the US. That picture is of Chloe’s chicken Caesar salad (that’s her hand on the plate so you can reference the size). After I had finished eating I asked Chloe when she was going to start. It didn’t look like she had made a dent in the salad even. For someone to eat a salad that size at Chloe’s age you would need to be at least 4-5 times bigger than Chloe. Chloe probably won’t have to eat again this week – she can just feed off the leftovers from dinner. It must have contained a whole chicken (if not two).

It is now 9:10pm and Helen is already snoring.  I am not going to be far behind her.  Just trying to keep going until 9:30pm at leastttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttt

USA here we come …

After a 6 month break, we are back.  We are on our way to the USA and we will be there for 2 weeks.  We left last night from Cape Town.  Once we had checked-in (something I don’t usually do because I usually only travel with hand-luggage) and cleared security and passport control we headed for the BA Lounge.  It struck us then – there were only 4 of us.  First time ever we are traveling sans one of the children. That’s what happens when your oldest starts at university and has different holidays to the other 2.  The good news is that everything in the world is kitted out for families of 4 so we get the benefit of that at least.

The boarding was slightly delayed because they first boarded the elderly, wheelchair bound and thousands of children.  We have never seen so many of these ‘pre-boards’ on one plane.  I could blog just one 3 passengers in the same cabin as us.  Sitting across the aisle from me were two of the ‘pre-boards’ – a husband and wife.  Not sure how they got up stairs (we were sitting on the upper deck of a 747).  They kept me entertained because he was clearly partially deaf so she had to shout everything to him.  Anytime there was an announcement made, she had to re-shout it at him because he would say ‘What did they say?’  It didn’t matter whether it was the safety briefing, the pilot (who sounded like Sean Connery) or a general cabin announcement.

There was also another passenger sitting in front of the couple who was also very entertaining.  She kept getting up and doing yoga exercises, hamstring stretches, star jumps.  Not sure whether she thought she was on an exercise plane or whether she was hoping to lead the rest of the cabin in aerobics or whether she was just weird.  I am leaning to the latter.

We all did the usual of watch a movie, have dinner and then go to sleep.  We all slept well.  In fact Michael slept so well he missed breakfast entirely. Not a big issue because we are now sitting in the lounge at Heathrow airport waiting for our connecting flight to Washington which leaves at 11:15am. I woke up and realised I needed the toilet desperately but Mr Deaf was in the toilet and he took so long to come out that when he did we had hit turbulence and the pilot turned on the seatbelt sign. I reckon that is the ultimate form of torture – full bladder and turbulence.

We landed on time at Heathrow but then the pilot announced that there was no parking spot allocated to us. I seriously don’t understand airlines. The same flight lands pretty much the same time every day.  How can they suddenly not have a parking spot?! We did eventually get one though otherwise I would be typing this from the plane and not from the lounge.

I heard as we left the plane that Mr & Mrs Deaf are also connecting to Washington so no doubt there will be some more entertainment on the next flight as well if they are sitting near us!  Until tomorrow …