Archive: January, 2005

Manic Month, Part 3

The sun setting over the Grand Canyon, Arizona. Here’s the final part of my traveller’s tales. Having covered Christmas and our time in Phoenix, it’s time to tell you about the Grand Canyon and the holiday aftermath. Then, I think it’s about time for some proper Web Design ramblings after this one! Anyway, my manic month has passed and I’m just about caught up with things. And so, I am now officially…

Back to Reality

We drove up to the Grand Canyon on the Friday of our stay in Arizona – it was New Year’s Eve. There were seven of us and a shit-load of luggage in our 8-seater Chevy! We visited Sedona on the way north. You’re getting into real red rock country around there, so we stopped and went for a walk around with the bears and the coyotes. We also tried to visit the Chapel of the Holy Cross, an amazing looking place with a cross design set right into the gap between these two rocks. The place had closed an hour earlier than advertised for New Year, so there we were trying to figure out how to open the electronic gates leading up to the place. We didn’t feel quite so stupid after a convoy of other families came to visit and someone came out to tell us it was closed.

It started snowing as we headed further north. It was so fine in places, like white dust blowing across the road – I’d never seen anything like it. We got up to the town where we were staying, just a couple of miles from the south rim. We found our hotel, settled in and were nearly too late for dinner. After our meal, we wanted to go sit in a bar or something and see what was happening in the way of New Year celebrations. The bar, appropriately called the “Wintergarten”, was closed for the winter. Marvellous. We were told at reception that a hotel down the road still had its bar open and that another hotel was running something at $20 a head.

Party central (sarcasm) for New Year.

With a party of seven, we decided we’d try our luck at this other bar… where we doubled the number of people already there! By 11pm, we began to out-number the other people in the bar, so we decided we’d head back to our hotel, get some champagne or something, and celebrate ourselves. Asking at the reception, we were told that we couldn’t get any alcohol because the rest of the staff had gone home for New Year. In fact, we couldn’t get anything at all. Just when we thought all was lost and our faith in the famous American hospitality had let us down, we met a lovely couple who’d come from another state (I forget where) for a holiday. They too were looking for something to do to celebrate the New Year. We went outside and threw some snowballs around for a bit, but soon headed back in because it was so cold! The couple were staying a few doors down from us, and when we all went back to our rooms to watch the New Year in on the tele, the guy came around with one of two bottles of wine he had brought with him for us to share. Our New Year was saved! We thanked him and toasted in the New Year with the wine. My girlfriend and I had been together for two years on that evening, so we had a double celebration.

The next day, we headed to the south rim of the Grand Canyon hoping to take a hike down a little way, but the snow the night before had made it unsafe for even experienced hikers to go. We had to settle for a walk along the south rim path and take in some of the awesome sites! It also gave us another chance to visit some gift shops for presents to bring back. At one shop, we met the guy who’d given us the bottle of wine for New Year and thanked him again, but we never got to repay him or anything – we intended to send a bottle of wine over to their table at dinner, but we never saw them again.

It was quite an experience walking along an incredibly icey path so close to the edge of an 8000 foot drop! Some people were having snowball fights, which was quite scary to watch at times. The view down the canyon was incredible though – little trees and bushes covered in snow for the first few hundred feet and then the red rock appeared, broke and twisted right down to the black rock where the Colorado flows. On our way back to the van we saw some elk amongst the trees, and we stopped at one of the viewpoints to watch the sunset before heading back to the hotel.

On the Sunday morning, our last day at the Grand Canyon, I had one of the greatest experiences of my life. I’d never been up in a helicopter before and I was really looking forward to going for a flight over the Grand Canyon in one. And that’s what we did. It was a strange feeling at first – almost like being in a tin can in the sky. The amazing thing was when we flew over the south rim and the canyon opened up below us. Of course, you don’t actually change altitude at all, but your stomach disagrees with you no matter what you say to it. One second you’re over luscious green forest, the next there’s an 8000 foot gorge opened up below you. We were taken all the way over the canyon, saw a few points of interest, flew over the north side of the canyon (which was closed for winter) and then back to the airport. What a way to start our last day there!

We spent that afternoon on a bit of a trek on a path which was now safe to go down. Of course, this would have been absolutely fine if my trainers actually had any grip whatsoever. But they didn’t. Parts of the path were still covered in slush from the snow, so I didn’t feel like going too fast! My girlfriend had hurt her ankle the day before, so by the time we had reached two-thirds of the way down to where we were headed, the rest of us were on the way back up. We headed back up too, but in taking our time we had managed to get some nice photos. A chill-out in the hot tub and a nice meal rounded off our time in the Grand Canyon quite nicely.

We spent Monday driving back south to Phoenix for our flight in the evening. We managed to find time to stop off in Sedona again, and actually managed to make a visit to the chapel we’d seen on the way up. We got back to Phoenix, returned the van and checked-in for our flight. Nothing much to note about the airport – we were quite unimpressed with the duty-free really. We cunningly grabbed some grub at the airport so that we didn’t have to eat too much of the food on the plane. I intended to spend most of the flight sleeping, but it just wasn’t happening. Flying back from America is so much harder – I must’ve got a grand total of two hours sleep. Still, I managed to watch a couple of films I hadn’t yet seen.

Well, that’s the end of our American adventure. I’ve got a few souvenirs, which included a bag of Oreo cookies but I’ve eaten them. And I also got some mixed fruit mentos. A friend sent me over some from Canada once and I loved them, so I had to get a few packs to bring back. I know you can get them in Europe, but I’ve never found them here in the UK! There are still some of them left. No, you can’t have one. Can anyone tell me why Americans buy Hershey’s chocolate? It’s disgusting! I don’t know why we brought any of that back. Of course, we brought back some less edible souvenirs too!

Upon return to London, we stayed there again for a couple of days to try to get over jet lag before heading back up to York. News reports about the tsunami hit home. As we were in Phoenix for a holiday, the newspapers were all we knew of the tsunami and its impact. Back home watching BBC News 24 really helped us to understand the extent of the devastation and how it had affected the whole world.

A couple of days rest and we were heading back to York. But the manic month didn’t end there for me. After a few days in York, it was time to head down to spend some time with my family – it was my Dad’s 80th birthday. You wouldn’t know it, y’know! Anyway, a bit of a break at home was just what I needed. I was still not over the jet lag and up until gone three in morning. Unlike most geeks, I’m in bed by midnight most nights now. Which is strange, because I normally get my best work done in the wee hours of the morning.

Anyway, I’m now back in York again, and it’s back to the grind! I’ve slowly been catching up on e-mails, blogs, forum postings and the backlog of work. I’m hoping to clear as much as I can in the next two or three weeks so that I can make a start on a couple of new projects I have in mind. But more on those another time.

No speeding ticket yet!

Manic Month, Part 2

A hot air balloon sporting an image of a cowboy on a horse In the previous part of this multi-part posting I wrote about our Christmas lead-up to our holiday in the States. And so, the next instalment is here, taking us on board a Boeing 474 747 to Phoenix for eight days in Arizona. We managed to cram quite a lot into those eight days, so for now I’ll tell you all about our time in Phoenix and leave telling you about our time in the Grand Canyon for the third and final part.

Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Nights

They can’t have much liked the look of the seven of us at Heathrow – we got taken aside for a thorough search through our luggage before we were allowed to check-in. Still, good to know that extra precautions were being taken – better than being sent back home again mid-way through the flight.

News of the earthquake and tsunami in South-East Asia reached us soon after take-off while flicking through the channels of on-board entertainment. The impact of the disaster didn’t really sink in when reading the newspapers in Phoenix, the death tolls reported on the front page rising with each day. I actually felt quite cut off while in Phoenix. The USA Today newspaper at the hotel was about our only source of news – we didn’t turn on the television at all while there.

I don’t like flights much and I had never been on a flight quite that long before. It was a smooth flight though and the in-flight entertainment helped the ten hours pass quite quickly. We landed late afternoon on a warm-enough Phoenix Sunday for our four days at Tapatio Cliffs – nice! We were all tired on that first extended day, but one night’s sleep is all that was needed to sort out the jet lag (although the trip back was a different story).

One of the first things I noticed (well, being my first time in America) was the hospitality – everyone’s really nice to you, especially in restaurants. Of course, one of the next things I noticed was the automatic service charges – mind you, I heard that they generally add a tip to the bill in the States for large parties, which we were. Also noted was how much saltier foods seemed while over there – an American taste? Funnily enough, I noticed a lot of “lo-carb” foods while I was out there, which I had never seen much of at home in the UK, only to find ads on TV and products in Tesco upon my return.

We spent our first couple of days settling in and figuring out what we were going to do for the rest of our stay. We spent some of the first day walking the desert tracks on the outskirts of Phoenix, while others went playing golf – the real reason for choosing Phoenix I think. We also spent some time chilling in the hot tub. One girl told us how she liked our accents. Actually, we had a few people tell us that over the course of the holiday. Not sure that we were the ones with the accents though!

On our second day, we went to the Heard Museum of Native American art (passing a ““Shea”:http://www.mezzoblue.com/ Boulevard” on the way), while others played more golf. It was an interesting museum with a lot of atmosphere. Some of the exhibits told some poignant stories of how badly the Native American peoples were treated by the government – taking their land and interfering with their cultures. There was some amazing art on display. After going all the way around, we spent quite a while in the museum shop picking out souvenirs and presents to take back home. There were some absolutely beautiful things in there – art, textiles and baskets, jewelry, pottery, music and books… I think this was one of the only shops we went to where everything was authentic Native American art and craft – no “Made in China” stuff as we found up nearer the Grand Canyon.

Back at the hotel, we had a really nice meal in a French-Italian-Mediterranean restaurant called Different Point of View. It was up on top of this huge hill and had a great view of Phoenix. While we were there, I noticed this really odd display of red lights on the skyline which would fade in and out. I had noticed it when we left the airport a couple of days earlier, so I thought it must have been something to do with the air traffic control. We never actually figured out what it was though – if anyone knows, please do tell.

Of course, while we were in a big American city, we went to a mall for the compulsory shopping experience – another chance to get presents and souvenirs! We noticed a lot of cars, big cars, and hardly anyone walking in down-town Phoenix. We thought it a little wasteful – a bit like the towels in our room getting replaced every single day despite our following the hotel’s “towels on the floor get taken away” policy.

Our final day in Phoenix had to be the best. We were picked up at 7am from our hotel and taken just outside Phoenix to the Sonoran Desert for a ride in a hot-air balloon before breakfast. Due to the cloud cover, it took us a while to find somewhere to launch from, but it was so worth the wait! We had such a great view of the desert, the mountains and of parts of Phoenix. It’s a bizarre feeling, being up in a hot-air balloon. I could hardly feel it as we took off – you could just see the ground drop away from you! At one point, an ascending balloon below us forced us up into the cloud. It was absolutely amazing. You couldn’t see anything but pure white in any direction. After an hour or so up in the air, our pilot landed us in the desert for a champagne breakfast! So, now I’ve been up in a hot air balloon… and I’ve got a Certificate of Aerostatic Ascension to prove it!

After that fantastic experience, we headed back to the hotel to relax. I chilled in the pool while the girls went for some spa treatments and the others went to play yet more golf! I’m not one for golf really… and I’m pretty enough as it is! Our last evening in Phoenix took us on another trip out into the desert. The night before, we had booked a trip out in a Hummer to go star-gazing, but it had to be cancelled due to cloud cover. So we went on that last night instead and it was great. The Hummer is an amazing vehicle and a lot of fun I’d imagine. Our driver took us over some land just outside Phoenix that had been set aside for off-roading. We stopped and an astronomer was there with a telescope set up to show us a few things: we saw Saturn, the Seven Sisters (Pleiades) and the Andromeda galaxy, the nearest major galaxy to our own. Our driver also had night vision goggles so that we could see the desert flora and fauna, but it was the wrong time of year to see much of the wildlife.

So, that brings me to the end of our time in Phoenix. In the next final part I’ll tell you about almost plummeting to my death down the Grand Canyon, our surprisingly quiet New Year celebrations and the trip back to reality.

Manic Month, Part 1

Five joined roundabouts The last time I managed to get any decent amount of work done was mid-December. This is not a good thing by any means. Well, at least, it doesn't seem such a good thing now with the amount of stuff I have to do to catch up! Anyway, an interesting few weeks ensued, which helpfully took my mind off of work.

This was going to be one long post, but it's taken me quite a while to type up, so I have split it into three parts, this first part covering the week leading up to Christmas.

Driving Home for Christmas

My mini-adventure started out with the drive down to Devon with my girlfriend for a week of Christmas-ness with family. It didn't really start out the way I meant it to go on. We decided to visit a couple of friends on the way south and having got “lost” trying to get to Banbury (we were meant to be on the M1, but the road signs disagreed), we then got flashed at by a speed camera when trying to make up some time.

We finally made it to Banbury an hour late. After an evening of catching up and an overnight stay, we sampled the delicious delights of Woodstock (no, this one's near Oxford), the ridiculous roundabouts of Swindon and the beautiful (if rather samey) buildings of Bath.

It was nice to get back to my home town of Barnstaple. It was time for my usual manic Christmas shop, as I hadn't yet sorted out any presents other than my girlfriend's. Other than that, our week in Devon was quite relaxing. A friend from Australia visited us for a couple of days before Christmas, so we took him for a few nights out and got to see a few more old friends who were back home for Christmas. And, of course, there was the obligatory carol service.

Christmas Day was quite busy for us. Our flight to Phoenix was on Boxing Day morning so we had to drive up to London straight after Christmas lunch. Christmas morning was opening presents and packing them up again soon after for the drive up to London. Father Christmas must have lost his sleigh while he was delivering presents – while we were packing, a yellow Sea King rescue helicopter flew over the house with him waving at everyone. I hoped he finished his rounds!

Me in Christmas hat with a glass of bubbley! We had an early Christmas lunch with my family – the classic turkey with lots of stuffing, chestnuts, pigs-in-blankets… Of course, someone had to drive up to London – that was me. I was permitted to have one small glass. Oh, and we had a white Christmas – just as we sat down to eat, it started snowing.

After lunch, we set off for London to have another helping of family Christmas before flying out for eight days in the Arizona sun. As expected, the drive up to London was quiet and uneventful. It did give us the chance to listen to some of the CDs we got for Christmas though!

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year everyone! I hope everyone had a pleasant Christmas holiday. I crammed a lot into two weeks off work and had a great time.

In Brief

I finished work a week before Christmas to spend a couple of weeks visiting family and friends. I managed to visit a few friends on the way down to spend Christmas with my folks in Devon, travelled to London on Christmas Day (the roads were very quiet) and then spent eight days in Arizona visiting Phoenix and the Grand Canyon with my girlfriend's family. I had hoped to write a couple of posts while in America, but limited Internet access and funds stopped that. I'll write up a full debrief soon as there's quite a lot to cover!

Now that I'm back though, I'm having issues catching up with everything! I've managed to wade through a load of e-mails and forum posts today – thank goodness for spam filters. Now I have to catch up on a bit of work that piled up during the break and try to book my train tickets to get down to Devon for my Dad's 80th birthday. That's something else I'm going to rant about soon, as I've already tried to book these tickets eight times, making me even more pissed off with the railways in this country than I already am! Anyway, look out for that in a series of articles I intend writing discussing things that annoy me.

Disaster in Asia

Shortly after take-off from Heathrow, I was saddened by the breaking news of the earthquake and tsunami in South-East Asia. The holiday in Arizona took my mind off the disaster a little, but the extent of those events was driven home by the reports I read upon return to Britain.

It was good to find out about Blog Aid, set up by Andy Budd to raise money for the relief efforts from blog earnings through schemes such as Google AdSense. It's given me a good reason to add Google adverts to this blog: to raise money for different charities. I don't get a lot of traffic, but every little helps right?

Resolutions

As yet, I haven't made any. I often don't because I tend to make them and then completely forget about it. I guess if I had one for this year, it would be to exercise more, but as someone who is mostly tied to a computer every day, getting active can be difficult to work into the day.