Archive for the ‘USA’ Category

Galveston, Oh Galveston

Posted: December 7, 2012 in USA

After our marathon yesterday, and two weeks of early starts in the Galápagos we were really looking forward to a sleep in and a slow start to the day. It was nice to have a leisurely breakfast and enjoy Tiki Island hospitality.

Once we finally got ourselves organised Jan, Keith & I drove into Galveston for a look around, without any specific agenda. We followed the coast admiring the beachfront architecture, while Jan pointed out landmarks. We stopped at a new housing development called Beachtown, which would be a very nice place to live. Lovely coastal architecture with a feel of old Galveston – 2 and 3 story houses clad in white weatherboard / Hardiplank, painted in soft pastel colours with wide verandahs and big windows. We had a look inside the display house, and could certainly imagine living there! We forgot to take photos though!

Back in the car we headed for a little car ferry that goes from Galveston Island to Bolivar peninsula. We spotted dozens of dolphins in the bay, though it was a challenge photographing them, since you never knew where they'd pop up. We drove around Port Bolivar for a while, stopping at an old jetty. We walked along the old concrete jetty for some distance (it was so long we couldn't see the end of it) photographing the incredible array of bird life we saw there. Who needs to travel to exotic destinations!?

The ferry crosses the main shipping channel - those big boats definitely have right of way!

Just a few of the birds we saw at Bolivar Jetty. Don't ask me to name them all!

One of the striking things you notice driving around Galveston, is the impact of Hurricane Ike, which hit Galveston in Sept 2008. The city was completely devastated, and there is still much evidence of the damage.

Some before and after Ike shots. Many houses remain derelict, or have been demolished.

Back on the ferry we spotted yet more dolphins, and tried vainly to get a great photo of them. We had a latish lunch at a lovely Greek Restaurant on the waterfront, where we enjoyed great food (I had a tilapia wrap – tilapia is a local specialty but apparently a noxious pest in Australia, I discovered – but it was delicious), and watched a solitary dolphin frolicking and a big storm come rolling in.

My best dolphin efforts so far.

After lunch Jan and I treated ourselves to a much needed pedicure and enjoyed a lovely hour of pampering. As we came out the storm hit and we raced back to the car and home, where we spent a quiet night in, where Jan cooked us a truly delicious dinner, and we watched American football and basketball on TV.


Quitting Quito

Posted: December 5, 2012 in Ecuador, USA

Some days are long, and some days are really loong.

We have said lots of goodbyes, and this morning it was our turn to leave. Our flight was scheduled for 10.15, so we caught the 8am shuttle from the hotel. Max & Kerry came down to say goodbye in their jammies & waved us off. And then there were two.

We found our queue for checking in with a little difficulty, and were lined up by 8.15. The queue was long but really didn't seem to be moving very fast. By 9am there were still so many people ahead of us I was sure we would not make our flight. I tried not to worry as it seemed everyone was waiting for the same flight. Soon we heard a rumour that the flight was delayed until 2.26pm. I checked the board and it still said 10.15. I was sure someone would have notified us if there was a 4 hour delay, and I was getting worried since we only had a 90 minute turnaround in Miami to catch our next flight to Houston.

At this point we remembered Keith has Priority Access so joined the shorter queue and eventually reached the front. The board had finally updated to reflect the 2.26 departure – still no announcement, but it seemed the rumour was true. When we eventually were served the American Airlines staff were very helpful. They had already rescheduled us onto a later connecting flight, gave us a lunch voucher, and even escorted us to an office and made a call to Jan to let her know we'd be late, since she was picking us up in Houston.

We had 4 hours to fill in at the airport – a sleep in would have been better! It turned out the incoming flight had had mechanical problems and was diverted to Panama, so I was glad we weren't on that plane! We found a cafe with decent food and free wi-fi, and filled in the time until we had to go through security. On the other side we found some nice shops, and more free wi-fi so the 4 hours went quickly enough. The flight was not full and we had an empty seat next to us, so were able to spread out, which makes a lot of difference.

We arrived in Miami International Airport, which is a seriously big airport. We managed to clear customs and negotiate the various queues with only a moderate amount of confusion (Keith's Priority Access was a huge help), caught the Sky Train to gate 51, found a cafe to get some dinner (It was around 7pm, and we knew there would not be food on the domestic flight to Houston) and then settled down to wait. The flight before ours at the gate was still being called about 30 minutes before ours was due, so we got that sinking feeling again that we were not going anywhere soon.

Eventually our 9.20 flight took off at around 10.30pm. It was a 3 hour flight, and I pretty much slept the whole way, thankfully. We landed in Houston at 11.45 local time (that was 12.45 Quito time) and went to collect our luggage, optimistic that our long day was coming to an end. But there was no sign of luggage, nothing to indicate it was coming soon, and no-one to ask. After maybe 30 minutes of waiting and wondering the bags appeared on the carousel marked with the details of a flight from Chicago – I guess there was no-one still there at that time of night to update the signs. Jan was waiting for us, and we gladly hopped into her blue Prius for the drive to Tiki Island.

By the time we had a cuppa and a bit of a catch up, settled in our room and collapsed into bed it was 2.45am (or 3.45am Quito time). What a long and exhausting day!

First world problems!


Chihuly Dooley

Posted: November 17, 2012 in Ecuador, USA

Mary is the most organised person I know. (Next time you come to Oz, Mary, I’m putting you to work in my study!). We didn’t need to be at the airport until noon, so she figured we could get to the Dallas Arboretum to see the Chihuly Glass exhibition if we left her house at 7.30, all packed and ready to go. That meant a rather early wake up, but since our bodies are still not quite adjusted to local time, it wasn’t too difficult an ask. And she had promised us left overs of yesterday’s delicious “breakfast casserole” (which was even better, if that’s possible, second time around – and yes, I did get the recipe!).

We had heard a lot about the Chihuly exhibit, and had hoped to see it, but it was scheduled to finish last month. Much to our delight, it was so popular they decided to extend it so we got to see it after all. Rain was forecast but the morning was clear, if somewhat chilly 30 deg F (yes, folks, that’s around -2 deg C) and a crisp frost on the ground. By the time we got to the Arboretum it was sunny and almost warm, and the sky was clear and blue – perfect! We entered as soon as it opened, so we had the place almost to ourselves and had a delightful 2 hours wandering, photographing and enjoying the gardens, the incredible glass sculptures, and the ‘fall’ festival displays.

We left the gardens in time to get to the airport for our flight to Guayaquil, in Ecuador, via a brief stopover in Miami. They say everything is bigger in Texas, and we were struck by the amount of space between buildings. Even in the CBD (downtown) there are open air car parks around office towers, and we saw many huge malls surrounded by vast open space. No wonder they need so many multi-lane freeways and those incredible spaghetti-like interchanges!

We are excited to be embarking on the next leg of this trip. I am writing this on the plane, so by the time I post it we will be in Ecuador, a country (and continent) neither of us has visited before. We had a great time in McKinney, Texas with Mary, and are very grateful for Mary and Rick’s generous hospitality.

PS. To save scrolling through endless photos, I have created collages using an iPad app called Diptic. Enjoy.

So many roads, so many cars

Dallas Arboretum is a beautiful botanic garden

I know they;re varmin, but they are cute varmin 🙂

Going early meant great light for photos

Every work is stunningly beautiful

The sculptures come in all shapes and colours

With some friends in the Arboretum

There were thousands of pumpkins!

Footnote – it is now nearly 2am and we are finally in our hotel room at Guayaquil. Our flight was uneventful except for a 45 minute delay while they tried to fit everyone’s oversize carry-on bags into the overhead lockers. We were expecting a ‘driver’ to pick us up but instead were met by Chris & Frank (our guides/hosts/organisers) in a cab (“bit of a mix-up”), and then waited in the lobby for an extended period because apparently they had re-let our room and there were no others available. A lot of heated words in Spanish were exchanged (not by us!) and in the end Frank moved out of his room so we could move in – thanks Frank!! Welcome to Ecuador!

The room is very comfortable, however, and we will sleep well tonight – what’s left of it!


Posted: November 16, 2012 in USA

After months of anticipation we are finally on our way! We flew from Sydney non-stop to Dallas on QF7. It was a long flight but fairly painless and I have to say the food was really very good. Beef with artichokes and pine nuts for dinner that tasted like beef with artichokes and pine nuts – who would have expected that?

Crossing the border

Traffic control

We landed at Dallas – Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) 2 hours before we left Sydney (technically 15 hours later) to be greeted by our good friend Mary Browder, who is the main reason we decided to spend a couple of days in Dallas on the way to the Galapagos. It was lovely to see her and very nice to be met at the airport. I’m embarrassed to admit to a rookie error  – I tried to get into the car on the driver’s side. Oops!

Breakfast Casserole

Mary has an action packed itinerary planned for our 48 hours here, but she kindly allowed us to recover from the flight and we spent the afternoon chilling at her lovely house. We had dinner with Mary and her husband Rick at a local cafe called Spoons (I had a Rueben sandwich and Keith had something called sliders which are mini-burgers – both yummy) and we tried valiantly to stay awake but we were tucked up in bed by 8pm. Of course jet lag set in and we were awake from midnight to 2am but we are feeling almost human today.

This morning we were up bright and early. Mary fed us a breakfast “casserole” which was seriously delicious – a kind of French Bread and fruit concoction, and we were in the car by 8am headed for an exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It was very well done with lots of background about the area the scrolls were found in and the history of the Bible itself. No photos allowed of course. We were surprised to learn that the South Western Baptist Theological Seminary, which hosted the exhibition, owns several original fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls. There were also facsimile copies of some of the main pieces. Although they were copies they are indistinguishable from the real thing, and we tried to forget they were not actually 2000 years old. There were also coins, pottery, glass and other ancient relics. It’s hard to grasp how ancient these things are!


The book depository building

The only allowed photo

X marks the spot

Capturing the moment

After lunch at a “Barbecue” restaurant called Sonny Bryan’s, we headed for the so-called “Sixth Floor Museum”. This is a museum about the assassination of John F Kennedy. It was on the sixth floor of the famous book depository where Lee Harvey Oswald (allegedly) fired the fatal shots. We saw lots of photographic displays, archival footage, and listened to an audio guide by a reporter who was there at the time. Fascinating to see and a bit chilling to be in the actual location. We saw the grassy knoll, and there’s even an X on the road at the spot where JFK was shot. You can’t help wondering what the future would have held had he lived. Next year it will be the 50th anniversary of JFK’s death.

The grassy knoll

Delicious dinner

Mary wasn’t going to allow us to escape without sampling her favourite food – Mexican. So dinner tonight was at Christina’s Fine Mexican Restaurant. Delicious food, no chilli overload (for me anyway, Mary likes it hot!), and Margaritas all round.