Last Day

Sunday was our last day in the USA before we headed home (sorry for the delay in posting). We didn’t have much time in Greenville on Sunday am as our flights back started at 2pm. We did however want to have breakfast at IHOP (International House of Pancakes). Every time we are in the US we end up eating there at least once for breakfast. So we found the nearest one to us (about 4 kms away) and drove there.

The menu at IHOP is just ridiculous.  There must be at least 50 different options for breakfast alone. Of course most of them are Combos (pancakes + eggs + bacon/sausage + hash browns etc). They kindly have now put the calories next to each option. Most options started at 650 calories and given most women should eat about 2000 calories per day (and men 2500) that is a fairly sizeable part of your daily allowance (and note I said start at 650!). We came for the pancakes so we all had some option that involved pancakes. I did a combo of pancakes/bacon/egg; Helen had peach cobbler pancakes and Chloe chocolate chocolate chip pancakes. Chloe was disappointed in her choice (we will have to go back next time so she chooses more wisely).

People watching in the IHOP could keep you occupied the whole day. This was genuine Southern territory and the size of some of the people definitely matched the calories on the menu. The accents were also so Southern it was almost as if they were speaking another language. Talking about accents, Chloe has the Southern accent perfected.  Next time you see her get her to bring it out for you … she’s pretty funny.

Back to the hotel to pack up and then head for the airport. We had issues checking in online (in that we couldn’t) so we got to the airport a little earlier to get our boarding passes. You have to check yourself in at the airport even (no check in clerks) but midway through the process it told me to seek help anyway. They needed to verify we had visas for the UK. We finally got our boarding passes and headed for the gates.

Greenville is a pretty small airport and so no real lines at the security. Chloe for some reason is TSA Pre-Check which means she can go through another channel and doesn’t have to take out her laptop or take off her shoes.  Helen and I are not. We have no idea how she managed to get that status (maybe because she is below 18?). Helen’s suitcase was pulled over and unpacked. Apparently it was the choc chips or bake mix or something they didn’t like. Swabbed for explosives and then cleared (fortunately). We had time for some lunch at the only restaurant in terminal (I’m not kidding about it being a small airport).

We had a flight from Greenville to Charlotte, NC. If I had known how close Charlotte is to Greenville I would have driven.  About 150kms. As you can imagine flying that distance takes longer than driving it. At the gate they offered $500 for anyone wanting to fly later because the flight was overbooked … seems to happen on every American Airline flight. We left late, sat on the tarmac just off the runway for 15 minutes because they were switching around the runways at Charlotte and by the time we landed in Charlotte we were probably almost an hour late. Fortunately we had a reasonable time before our flight to London.

The London flight actually left 5 minutes early. I hate the overnight transatlantic flights as they take too little time to enable you to get a proper nights sleep. 7.5 hours of flying time but the flight takes 12.5 hours on the clock. Once you have had dinner (the flight left at 7:55pm), you can only get 3-4 hours of sleep (I got about 3 hours, Helen says she slept 5 hours) because they turn the lights on to serve you breakfast about 1.5 hours before you land. By the time we got to the flat in London I was needing to sleep again and so managed to get another 3 hours.

Helen and Chloe left Monday night for SA and I have stayed in the UK to work. Their flight home was uneventful and they seem to have gotten a good amount of sleep. Seemingly didn’t help the jet lag though as both Helen and I couldn’t fall asleep until 2am (UK time) and 3am (SA time) – and we only discovered that the next day when we were chatting on WhatsApp.

We all really enjoyed the time in the US. Seeing family and catching up is always special. But we also really enjoyed the ease of traveling in the US. Everything is very easy there (I suspect living there you just take it for granted). The short trip has made us want to go back for a longer holiday there again!

Until next time …

P, H & C

Wedding Day

Helen was awake at just after 5am and I followed shortly after that as well.  By 8am we were ready for breakfast again. We thought we would find a place outside of the hotel but the range is pretty limited around the hotel. We did walk down Main Street which was closed off for a farmers market. Beautiful produce (baskets of peaches for example) but no one selling breakfast (they missed a trick with that). So we headed back to the hotel to have breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant.

After breakfast it was time to get ready for the wedding (some of us take longer to get ready than others). We left for the Church just before 11am. The wedding ceremony was at Downtown Presbyterian which was pretty close to the hotel. The Church is not very traditional (for American Church’s at least) as the building is a converted warehouse. The ceremony was ‘unplugged’. I thought that meant no electricity (understandable for South African’s!) but it actually meant, turn off you phone and participate in the ceremony and not take photos and post onto social media. Apparently it has become quite an issue in the US that people live stream the ceremony onto Facebook, SnapChat stories, Instagram etc. So Melissa & Andrew requested that no photos be taken during the ceremony and that people rather be present.

American’s have strong traditions in how a wedding is conducted. All the wedding party including parents & grandparents are part of the procession into Church. My brother’s youngest daughter (Victoria – just under 2 years old) was flower girl but she wasn’t going to walk in by herself so my brother had Melissa on his arm and the flower girl on the other hand. The pastor conducting the ceremony did a superb job. His talk was woven into the vows and the ring exchange which was the first time I have heard someone do that. The tears were flowing from Helen from when my sister-in-law came in (brought in by one of her sons). The groom (Andrew) pretty much cried through the whole ceremony. It was a very touching and godly ceremony and really encouraging to see them start their marriage on such a note.

We were asked to stay behind for some photos with the bridal party.  Only 3 of our direct (wider) family were missing – Stephen, Michael and Daniel – all too busy watching cricket no doubt! We then headed for the reception which was at the hotel we are staying at. Drinks to start while the photos continued. America has the stupid law that only people over 21 can drink alcohol (it really makes no sense that you can be in the army and die for your country but you can’t have a beer). Some instances of underage drinking might have been noted by the cousins (maybe helped along by their parents obtaining the drinks for them).

At the reception we were again seated with my sisters and brother-in-laws (and one niece) which made for easy conversation and an enjoyable lunch. It also meant that when the bar opened my brothers-in-law were the first at the bar … got their priorities right! Another American tradition is for the bridal party to enter after being announced by the DJ.  The bridesmaids and groomsmen come in as couples and all do a unique entrance with a little dance or swirl or whatever they decide on.  Helen looked surprised but it’s my 2nd American wedding so I was expecting it this time.

Lunch was served (which was pretty good) and after the main course we had the speeches.  The leading bridesmaid and groomsmen both do speeches and toasts followed by my brother (father of bride) and then the groom. Then the dances took place with bride and groom going first and then the moment I was waiting for – my brother with Melissa.  I have never seen my brother dance (or at least not that I can remember). While I was expecting him to end up on the floor at some point, he did actually did quite well … #impressed David! The DJ called for all fathers and daughters to join them and so I took Chloe up (though she complained she didn’t know how to dance!). My one brother-in-law had two daughters there and none of them moved a muscle … #losers!  After that Andrew and his mother danced and the DJ also invited all mothers/sons to come up and join them. I did make a point to invite my Mom up though she declined. Stephen/Michael … where were you?? Daniel where were you? … Jason was #loser too.

When Melissa & Andrew were ready to leave we all exited the hotel and lined up outside to blow bubbles over the departing couple. There was also an ice cream truck (think genuine American ice cream truck) as part of the farewell. Very creamy, sweet ice cream but as they say in US ‘a neat idea’.

By this stage it was 5pm and we were pretty tired. We had agreed to meet up for a final farewell at the place my brother and parents are staying at.  We got there at about 7:15pm and just enjoyed a chilled evening chatting. We got back to the hotel at around 9:30pm and were all pretty tired and fell asleep quickly and slept to about 6am this morning.

Until tomorrow …

P, H & C (moaning about how tired she is …)

Greenville SC Cont.

As most of our day was free yesterday we spent some of it doing shopping. The first shop we went to was CVS Pharmacy (after breakfast). Now you must say ‘A Pharmacy?!’ but if you have never been to American then you won’t understand that their pharmacies are unique. Firstly you find a pharmacy on just about every block corner in America. Secondly, the items sold in pharmacies are wide-ranging.  They are really like a mini-supermarket where you can also get your medication. One of the aisles contained wine … confirms my thought that drinking is good for your health otherwise why would it be in a pharmacy otherwise?! We spent just under $100 in the pharmacy. There is some medication you can get simply off the shelf in America which you cannot get anywhere else in the world and so we always take advantage of doing precisely that when we are in the US.

Helen and Chloe had a brunch with the bride, bridesmaids, other aunts and cousins. That is fairly traditional in the US.  Usually it’s held on the day of the wedding but as it is a morning wedding, this one was held the previous day. I picked them up from there after they were finished and we headed to do some more shopping. Helen had discovered that this weekend is tax-free weekend in SC. One weekend a year just before school restarts the whole state has a tax-free weekend.  I assume it is so people can buy all the necessary school items but we understand it also includes other essentials like TVs even! We could take advantage of that and save ourselves a few more %.

Our first shop was Target which is a massive hypermarket type place (but on steroids). What strikes me every time I am here is the variety you can access in a store. An aisle of health bars was what struck me this time (and I really do mean an aisle). The prices are also incredible. I compared the price of golf balls (yes you can see my interest in that!) and they were about 30% cheaper than what we pay in SA. After some random purchases made at Target (like bake mixes) we headed to find a mall. The traffic was terrible and while it was only a few miles away it took us a long time to get through the traffic.  It is clear that everyone was out and about accessing the tax-free weekend.

While driving around it really struck us again how many shops, restaurants and cars there are in America. And make that large shops, large restaurants (both normal and fast food) and large cars actually. The place is just full of them. It really is a consumer driven society. I travel around the world a lot and have been to many different countries but it really stands out to me again when I am here. We did eventually find the mall but couldn’t find a parking. If you know anything about America you will know they never under-provide for parking at malls so it gives you an idea of how busy it was. I wasn’t planning to buy anything but Banana Republic were selling shirts (and they are really nice quality) at 50% off so not only did I not have to pay tax but I got it half price.  Who can resist an offer like that?

By this stage I was feeling the jet lag kick in and so we headed back to the hotel for a quick nap. Helen resisted and paid later on in the evening for that mistake. Last night was the Rehearsal dinner. It is traditionally held after the rehearsal for the wedding and includes the whole wedding party and close family and friends. We met my sister and brother-in-law for a pre-dinner drink (they were staying at the hotel where the dinner took place) and then we had dinner afterwards. It was a very nice evening. The food was great (it was done by Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse which is a top steakhouse chain in the US) and the company was great (we sat with my two sisters and their husbands). They played a video of Andrew & Melissa (the two getting married) with a variety of photos from their lives to date. That included a shot of my son (Stephen) and Melissa kissing (he started early!). There were also a few off the cuff speeches. Informal and very pleasant. We walked back to our hotel (it was around 9:30pm) and the Main Street of Greenville was just humming with people – clearly the place to be on a Friday night!

Until tomorrow …

P, H & C

Greenville SC

I sent yesterday’s blog from the flight from London-Philadelphia (the one we were almost kicked off from). I never said anything about the flight though. There are some things that struck me each time I travel on an American airline.  First is the age of the cabin crew.  The guy serving us was definitely closer to my parents in age than he was to me. If my parents ever run out of money in their retirement they can clearly get a job with any American airline as cabin crew. Only thing is that my parents probably couldn’t be as grumpy as the cabin crew. Given America is so known for their service, it really seems that all the grumpy, non-service orientated people end up as cabin crew.

The flight landed a few minutes early and the international arrivals hall was totally deserted. It seems we were the only international flight landing at the time and so we had no delay at immigration (and the guy was quite friendly too – also unusual). We parked at gate A6 and our connecting flight to Greenville, SC was from F29. We decided to walk to exercise off the 20 hours of flying. 15 minutes later and sweating profusely we got to terminal F. Fortunately we could use the AA lounge.  They give you drinks vouchers when you enter because you get nothing for free in AA lounge! Another thing that immediately struck us was that anyone talking on their cellphone did so with an ear piece in.  No one just talked on their phone holding their phone to their ear.  Worried about brain cancer? Too lazy to hold phone up to their ears?

At the gate for the flight to Greenville they announced the flight was overbooked (another one!) and that they wanted 2 people to give up their seats.  $500 voucher for any OneWorld alliance flight and guaranteed seat on the next flight leaving 2 hours later.  No takers.  Next offer, $750 voucher … was thinking of offering Helen and Chloe at that point! The flight probably only costs around $200 so that is a real profit.  I’m sure if you pick carefully you could travel perpetually at the expense of the airline on this basis! We ended up leaving late (waiting it seems for two AA flight crew to join the flight … probably why they needed two seats) and so arrived about 15 minutes late into Greenville.  Pretty bumpy flight as well due to the thunderstorm activity around … plane shook like a blender at times (nervous flyers wouldn’t have been happy).

We have rented a car for the time here. First reminder of real American service standards. Show drivers license; give you the keys. Nice big American yank-tank made by Kia (Korean)! Never seen such a big Kia so no doubt made specifically for the USA market. 30 minutes to hotel (caught in rush-hour traffic on 6 lane highway).  We are staying at Westin Poinsett in downtown Greenville (http://www.westinpoinsettgreenville.com/). Quick shower to wash off 28 hours of travel and then we headed for dinner at the place my brother, parents and some of the other family were staying (Swamp Rabbit Inn). They booked the whole place.  Dinner was Shrimp Boil – basically shrimp, sausage, potato and corn boiled up together and then you just dump the pot contents on the table and everyone just eats with their fingers. It was invented in South Carolina in a place called Frogmore (used to be called Frogmore Boil). My kind of food. Desert was ice cream (cookie dough … our favorite) and cupcakes (including pumpkin cupcakes … see pic).  I’m not a cupcake eater but everyone else seemed to really like them and the pumpkin ones were gone first.

By this point we were exhausted (it was about 9:15pm) and so we headed back to the hotel and fell asleep almost immediately. Pretty much slept through until 5am (Helen 5:30am) at which point we were starving. The places for breakfast nearby opened at 7am and we were there pretty soon after that. The hotel recommended the Famous Toastery which was just around the corner from the hotel. The streets were deserted – nobody gets up earlier in Greenville it seems. Another reminder of America – massive portion sizes. French Toast, Egg & Bacon for breakfast (Chloe had flapjack … size of the plate flapjack). Very cheerful & friendly service (what I expect in the South).

After breakfast (given it was just 8am at this point) we decided to walk around the area. The hotel is very near to the Falls Park area and Swamp Rabbit Trail. We did the whole park area and a lot of the trail. It is very beautiful. You can imagine it was just swamp at one point but they have made a lovely park with a running track etc that follows the Reedy River.  There are small falls (hence the name Falls Park).  The beauty of the area really did strike us and I hope some of the photos capture it for you. Greenville Downtown area is also really quaint and full of character. We already like this place and we have only been here for about 12 hours!

Until tomorrow …

P, H & C

USA here we come

Yesterday evening Helen, Chloe and I left for the US.  We are going over to celebrate the wedding of one of my nieces. This will be the 2nd wedding of that generation.

The trip didn’t start brilliantly. The previous night American Airlines called and left a message on my work phone to say they were oversold on the flight across the Atlantic and they wanted us to re-route via Chicago but unfortunately they only had two seats on that flight.  WHAT?! (stronger language would have been appropriate) Why did they think that I would be happy with that? What did they think I would say “Sure 2 seats is fine, one of us will just stay behind in the airport lounge”? Given how much I fly, I have a high frequent flyer status on American Airlines (because they are part of the same grouping as BA) and so in fact does Chloe (Helen also actually but not the same level as the two of us).  Why are they not finding someone else to dump off the flight!?!

After many phone calls by the travel agent she finally spoke to someone at AA and told them to get lost. They said OK. But we hadn’t been able to check in and get our boarding passes.  So we went to airport early to hopefully get it sorted out there. Fortunately we were dealing with a BA check in person and he was extremely helpful and after a reasonably length time he managed to check us in and issue our boarding passes for the US flights as well.  A reminder again of the shocking service American ‘airlines’ (to encompass all of them) give!

Helen is becoming a bit of celebrity spotter in the lounge. On the trip home from the UK in July she saw Frances O’Connor (no I would have never known who she was but Helen did … Mansfield Park apparently). Yesterday evening she came back from toilet and said ‘Ben Kingsley’ sitting behind us. And now him I know … Lawrence of Arabia; Ghandi … Oscar winner. Chloe kept trying to get a photo of him and eventually got one this morning when we disembarked in London.

The flight from Cape Town to London was uneventful and pretty smooth so we all were able to get some reasonable sleep. We had a 3.5 hour layover in London before our flight to Philadelphia. I was again reminded of the different service level of American airlines. Just checking into the lounge took 5 minutes (not exaggerating). It has never taken me that long to get into a lounge. Usually they just scan your boarding pass and you’re in. Not with AA though – passports; security questions and an access controlled door to the lounge. They did eventually let us in.

As I type this we are mid-Atlantic. I love modern technology … WiFi on planes.  Had a WhatsApp conversation with Michael, dealt with some emails and typing the blog. Good use of the 8 hour flight. Hopefully the rest of the travels go smoothly (as they have so far).

Until tomorrow …

P, H & C