A Travellerspoint blog

This blog is published chronologically. Go straight to the most recent post.

USA 2016 - Three New Adventures.

Forts of the Northern Plains, Alaska or Bust, East Coast History. A Capital Trip!


View Alaska or bust. Just Driving in 2016 on Johnash's travel map.

Bag End

We're sending this out during the Festive Season to wish our Blog fans a Happy & Healthy New Year. Also to warn you that another Blog is about to get underway. (I hear the groans from here!).

Almost 120,000 page views:- that was the rather overwhelming total of views the pages of our 2014 Blog received. Wow! Thank you.

We have booked all that we can for our next trip in May 2016 (we leave end of April, get back early June). All of our flights are booked and the other stuff was dealt with during our long hot Summer, (and boy was it hot 'n humid this year), through the Autumn evenings and into mid-Winter nights.

The trip is in three distinct parts and our first adventure starts in Omaha Nebraska, (as good as anywhere) and ends in Salt Lake City, via a whole raft of historic forts, a little known National Park in Nevada, glittering yet seedy Las Vegas, and a revisit of some Utah National Parks. Quite a drive!

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This is the first part of our Big Drive, from Omaha to Las Vegas.
The drive across Nebraska alone will take us a day!

The second stage sees us flying to Anchorage, Alaska. A first for us. We had some American Airlines airmiles, collected from our last trip, which turned out to be sufficient for two return domestic flights. Alaska counts as domestic and it's the furthest you can get on the required 25,000 miles. So best use is being made of those miles! In Alaska we have planned a loop drive from Anchorage to Valdez, then back along the coast by ferry.

And then.... on this, our 14th trip, at last we are making it to the capital, Washington DC, where we then pick up a route which appears in an old AA book we have of "unusual" USA routes (we have done several of these).

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This little book has taken to some unusual and off the beaten track places

It will take in some historic Civil War sites, then ventures into Dutch Pennsylvania, including Amish country. We plan to do a tour of Amish farms.

We end up in historic, and somewhat edgy, Philadelphia, which is another place we have avoided until now. We will detour into Delaware, just to add to our state-map fridge-magnet collection! On this trip there will be 6 new states to collect (assuming D.C. counts).

Our flight home from Philadelphia, direct to Madrid, was booked as a US Airways one, but with the merger of AA (the airline, not the fellowship!) and US, it has now been designated an American Airlines flight. It will give us a chance to try out the new, fully reclining seats. So we're sticking with the airline we know, despite some bad reports since the merger. We shall see.

We always get moans and groans about the number of food pictures we include in the Blogs. Some happy readers, however, seem to love them. Come what may, Arthur is not listening to anyone and will continue to include (and eat) as much food as possible.

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Arthur, on the left, with Stan

Your Email address will have been transferred over to the new Blog site, but if you don't want to be included on the mailing list, please let me know and I will delete it or, if you rather, it can be deleted from the Blog site online.

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Nice shirt!

Again, may you have a Happy and Healthy New Year... and we look forward to seeing you in late April. Yeehaw!

Posted by Johnash 23:33 Archived in USA Tagged roadtrip air_travel 2016 Comments (11)

Madrid

Gridlock!

semi-overcast 19 °C

RENFE ALTARIA TRAIN - Murcia to Madrid
Updated, Barajas-Madrid Hilton, HHonors Lounge, eating peanuts

"It is the reward of the journey itself, not the destination that we seek"

Once again, huge thanks due to our tranportistas to Murcia station, Jean and Vivienne, and Carol who will be in charge at Bag End as well as John & Antonia who will keep an eye on things, Ian, as ever and Mervyn who will be on call as well as Jean, Vivienne and Terry who are always there for us! And Sofi who, no doubt, will be a good girl and come in when she's called!

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We love you all! (cf Janet Webb at the end of Morecambe and Wise shows).

Here we are, somewhere on the red line between Murcia and Madrid.


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Bob filming me photographing him as the Madrid train comes into Murcia station. The Dymo tape on the video cam says "ZOOMED OUT???". Hopefully it will remind both of us to check the damn thing is indeed zoomed out. Our first day in Canada on the last trip was filmed on maximum zoom which does not work well when bouncing around on Canadian road surfaces.

Due to the previously discussed "upgrades" to the Preferente perks on Spanish railways, no breakfast served at the seats again, of course. So we brought our own picnic. (On our last trip, we were happily settling into our seats on the train for Madrid and looking forward to the nice hot breakfast that was always served at your seat. Only to find the rail company had done away with all that, following the UK model of cut the service, increase the fares, boost the profits, and s*d the customers!).

Let the food fotos commence.....!

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Cold sausage, small piece of "Gala" pie, hard boiled egg, Colmans mustard. Wonderful!

Another food item. Some may remember crab cakes were offered on our last outward flight. Well here're the rather interesting choices for our flight from Madrid to Dallas/Fort Worth

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The lifeblood of a Blogger is the feedback they get back from their readers. So I would encourage you loyal readers to provide a comment or two. Even if it's "Hello" or "*********!". Your comments, please. They will be very much appreciated.

I do use the word Blogger with some trepidation as I equate it with the first rude word I learned as a small kid. I learned it as my dear old Gran was checking her football pools whilst the results were read out on her enormous walnut wireless:

"Arsenal 1, Tottenham Hotspur 5" "Blogger"
"Blackpool 7, Manchester United 0" "Blogger".
............................
"Queen of the South 0, Hamilton Academicals 4" "Blogger"

Well the word sounded like Blogger, not that Blogger had been invented in 1953! My Gran never had a TV but she did have a phone. One of those candlestick affairs. Always wanted one of those. And no mobile phones, of course. If she wanted to speak to my Grandpa, she had to go round the 800 pubs in Bath to try and find him (Well not quite 800, he didn't drink in all of them. Not quite).

I digress (nostalgia isn't what it used to be)....
Guess the theme tune for this trip!

Well here's a clue sung by this lovely guy. You'll have to wait for the original....


STOP PRESS
Safely arrived at Hilton, Madrid airport. Eventually. Forgot it was a holiday weekend so most of Madrid is on the roads out of town. Anyway, nice young man at check-in gave an upgrade to suite. It was worth waiting for. Bob's Hilton gold card works its magic again.

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STOP STOP PRESS
Storms in Dallas so there could be delays. See you soon. Please remember to leave a comment if you can! Are these pictures too big for you, by the way? All devices are different. Please do let us know.

Thank you. We do love you all!
John & Bob
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Posted by Johnash 10:15 Archived in Spain Tagged madrid hilton renfe usa_2016 Comments (26)

TSA Precheck - Those magic words

rain 7 °C

Started in Iberia Lounge, T4S Madrid Airport
8.50am Saturday 30th April
Completed Room 1605, Doubletree Downtown, Omaha NE
8.30pm, Sunday 1st May

"He who is outside the door has already a good part of his journey behind him" Old Dutch Proverb

I forgot to mention how much longer it takes to leave home nowadays compared to when were young, spring chickens. Mainly because the checklist is so much longer. eg "Passport (in my shoulder bag). Tickets (where are the tickets? On the table). Cameras (do we really need to take three plus our phones?). Keys (a bunch that looks like it could unlock The Tower of London. Why do we need to take our keys?). Corn Pads (Have I got enough to see me through?). Haemorrhoid Cream (where did I put that. Aah.. it's in the bathroom." After 20 minutes comes back from bathroom without cream). "Where's my passport?" And so it goes on.



Where were we a few thousand miles ago?

Oh yes, on the train. We now take the train to the station after Atocha (the concrete spaghetti they call a station) to Chamartin, the 'end of the line'. Much more user-friendly and like a proper station. There we paused for a 12.50€ Menu del Dia then piled into a taxi to the hotel. All the months of planning this trip and we forgot that this would be a Friday afternoon as Madrid emptied for the long Mayday weekend. It was gridlock and what usually takes about 15 minutes took us 40. Well, it killed some of the time we had on our hands.

At the airport hotel, Bob's magic Gold card got us breakfasts included and access to the "Executive" lounge. The room was booked on Hilton points (left over from last time) plu 34€. We took an optional upgrade so the suite we got cost us the same as a standard room.

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Next morning, Madrid airport was as efficient and friendly as ever. Really! We now do like this airport a lot and would always use it, whenever possible. The Iberia 'Velazquez' lounge is one of the best and the breakfast laid out there was almost as good as the hotel's.

When we had boarded the train to the Terminal 4 satellite, we were suddenly engulfed by about 15 prams with their young, unsavoury and noisy contents, pushed by 15 young mothers (and a few fathers), all accompanied by a priest who looked like a young Pavarotti. We tried very hard but failed to come up with any scenario that fitted those circumstances. Where could they be going? Why a priest? Why us?? We quite expected them to turn up in Business class on our Dallas flight but somehow we were spared that pleasure.

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The flight was a little late coming in, but we got off almost on time with a hardworking and friendly yet somewhat harassed cabin crew. But they looked after us well. The lunch really was very good. We were speculating that American Airlines had declined after its effective takeover by US Airways but we were pleased to be proved wrong.

The salad (Spinach with walnuts, strawberries and blue cheese) was excellent, with the Prosciutto (why not Serrano!) and Mozzarella, provided a nice starter, though I never understood the fascination with Mozzarella. Somewhat tasteless balls of goo. Then, Bob's halibut could not be faulted and John's unusual Beef Cheeks were like an excellent, tender, beef stew. Ice cream sundae to finish. Excellent!

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5 hours into the flight we realised we had another 6 to go. Daunting But after a doze and a few episodes of Paul Temple, then a "light snack" of Croque Monsieur (Bob) and Thai Beef Salad (John, the beef slices were delicious) and we were soon descending through the cloud into the enormous airport at Dallas/Fort Worth in Texas. A bit earlier, the clouds had parted to give us a good view of the Virginia Coast.

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Major US airports are now fitted with Automated Passport Control terminals. These were brilliant and saved those interminable queues to get through Immigration. It scanned our passports, knew who we were, took our pictures and finger prints and printed out a ticket to allow us in. The only time we had to be "grilled" was by the customs officer after we had retrieved our bags.

We then had to get back through security. And that is where the magic words above - "TSA Precheck" - came into their own. We have no idea why we both got this as the rules had changed and it was only available to US citizens. Well that was wrong as we both got it. Somehow. It means a much faster line through security. No shoes off. No laptops out. No belts off or trousers falling down. No emptying of pockets and losing the contents. We were through and into the AA lounge in about 5 minutes.

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A three hour wait for our flight to Omaha and we were taking off in the dark. Very exciting! Then up into the clouds, landing in Omaha in the rain. A surprisingly busy and large airport and there was a long wait for our bags.

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We had been in touch with Hertz here expecting to be late picking up our car. The manager had Emailed us and told us Barbara would be waiting with our car. She was and kindly went and fetched it for us from the garage. A short drive to the Best Western at Omaha airport and we got into bed some 26 hours after getting up in Madrid. We sank into bed tired and happy!

The story of Omaha will be continued in the next episode. Meanwhile, thank you all so much for your comments. It provides so much encouragement when sitting down and typing in the evening is not always the most appealing thing to be doing!

Night night from Nebraska.

Posted by Johnash 19:37 Archived in USA Tagged madrid usa america_airlines Comments (12)

Oh My - Omaha is full of millionaires!

Room 324, Hampton Inn, Cheyenne, Wyoming
5.19pm Tuesday 3rd May

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” – Mark Twain

We've arrived here in Cheyenne, the capital of Wyoming, having just had one of those stunning and unexpected drives which makes these trips. But more on that later.

Meanwhile, back in Omaha, not the capital of Nebraska, we woke to a rainy and cold Sunday. That weekend, the town had experienced an annual phenomenon which must be unique. Bill Gates, plus 49,999 other souls descended upon the place for the "Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Meeting". This is the company owned by Warren Buffet, the financial guru who holds court in the town he calls home and dispenses his wisdom for the forthcoming year. People pay to hear this in the hope they will emulate his vast fortune. They won't. Except for Bill Gates who has (he happens to be on the board).

We had not realised why, back last September, when we'd started booking our hotels, so many were already fully booked while the others were demanding an exorbitant rate. We did find a room at the airport Best Western that didn't need a mortgage. By the Sunday, the hopefulls had gone and room rates were back to normal so we moved downtown to the Doubletree.

This part of the trip was based upon a route in True West magazine which covered the historic forts of the Northwest. We pruned the route down but the first was just outside Omaha, the start of the route. So that answers the question "why Nebraska, for ****-sake." Or "WHAT! Omaha?"

We drove out to Fort Atkinson and parked in the car park. But the rain was blowing into streams down the windscreen so we took a rain-check (haha) on the very first of our forts.

We then drove about 20 miles to find a mobile phone shop in Fremont. In the past we'd try to get the Internet on our phones but coverage was terrible. European phones are not compatible with the biggest US network (Verizon) so we bought a mobile router which would create our own WiFi network wherever we are, including in the car! BUT the young man in the shop had problems (not personal ones, though I think he may have on reflection) with authorising the SIM.

Long story short, we went off to Walmart to buy some essentials (new underwear for John, no photos!) etc. And back to find young Wesley had come up trumps and had our router working. We are very pleased with it and, apart from on the high Wyoming plains this afternoon, have had Internet wherever we've gone. And we can use the gizmo on future trips.

Gosh that was boring. Back to the travel stuff. We then explored the motorways that envelop Omaha. We expected a smallish city but it is a small city trying to be a big one, hence all the motorways. To be fair, it is a major junction for East-West and North-South routes.

We then drove down to the waterfront. We're on the Missouri here which, generally, forms the boundary between Nebraska and Iowa. Generally because the river has rerouted itself (or been rerouted). In many places the boundary zizags but the river goes straight past. For example, the airport is in Iowa even though the river is to the east of it. I knew all that I learned about Oxbow lakes would come in handy one day!

Down at the riverside we were frozen, so we beat a hasty retreat to the hotel and licked our wounds.

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The hotel thoughtfully closes its restaurant on a Sunday. Just the day you need it as everywhere else is closed on a Sunday! Scream! Anyway, an excuse to extricate the car from the multi-storey next to the hotel, and drive into Iowa to find a Village Inn diner.

Bob had Citrus Chilli Chicken and John treated himself to the one and only burger of this trip. Not bad. We were joined by the local youth enjoying a Sunday night out.

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Back at the hotel, which, I'm afraid has seen better days, we discovered a slight problem in the bathroom. Gentle reader, have you ever stayed anywhere where you need to lift the toilet seat before you can close the bathroom door? Well we have.... now!

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Doubletree is a Hilton brand that seems to suit us: getting on a bit and frayed round the edges. To be fair, though it needs quite a bit of TLC, it was still a nice Downtown hotel with a bit of style.

We really don't want to push the attention span of our fellow Bloggers, nor your humble author, too far. What's more, Arthur says he's hungry (how odd!), so we're going to call it an evening here. We have a "rest day" tomorrow in Cheyenne so we'll no doubt find a little time to continue our journey with you.

Thanks for listening but, most of all, thanks for all those comments. Thank you!

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Posted by Johnash 19:46 Archived in USA Tagged usa omaha blog nebraska 2016 Comments (10)

Nebraska is Flat - Official

but not quite!

sunny 21 °C

Room 324, Hampton Inn, Cheyenne, Wyoming
4.16pm Wednesday 4th May

“Travelling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta

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So Monday we leave Omaha early after a Doubletree breakfast, courtesy of Bob's Gold card.

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A long drive ahead but we are greeted by blue skies and the sun just starting to warm the chill of the early morning mist. Our aim is Ogallala, on the other side of Nebraska, but we don't want to do it all on the Interstate. Instead we follow the old Lincoln Highway, the original transcontinental highway (yaboo to Route 66) of which we had driven a stretch out of Chicago on our last trip.

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We're following the North Platte River and the Union Pacific railroad, so we cross both frequently.

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GAS(oline). Now this is important! We have lost out because of the £/$ exchange rate but gained because of the much cheaper fuel. This time it is costing us about $23 to fill the tank. Last time we paid up to $80. Admittedly a bigger tank and in LA, but we were regularly paying $60 a day for fuel. Our Ford Explorer can take E Fuel which is gasoline and alcohol and that is even cheaper. But we have only found it once.

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This part of Nebraska, though flat, has neat farms and huge fields. But no one working on them anywhere. And this was the case for the next 700 miles, almost, into Cheyenne. Not a soul working on a single farm or field anywhere. To be fair, the corn crop had been cut (last year?) and the cattle can look after themselves. Gradually we go from farmland to range, with cattle dotted everywhere. Their unfortunate brethren we saw travelling in the opposite direction, presumably to the meat processing plants in Dodge City, KS. Oh dear!

We stop at Fort Kearney and learn a lot about the plight of the Emigrants on their trek to the promised land, West. We are following, more or less, 3 trails. The Mormon, Oregon and California trails. We learn also of the native American who suffered so much as time went on. From all the facts we learned, (far too much for here) this one was telling. Far more emigrants died from accidents with guns than from attacks by American Indians. (Tell that to the National Rifle Association, please!).

large_US2016-Day04-06.jpglarge_US2016-Day04-07.jpglarge_US2016-Day04-08.jpgThese carts were pulled by Mormon converts, mainly from Liverpool, who could not afford ox or mule drawn covered wagons. Just imagine dragging that 1,500 miles over this terrain!

American Indians were usually among the least of the emigrants’ problems. They were peaceful and actually helped the emigrants in their journey in a variety of ways. Mostly, the Indians traded with the emigrants. Tales of hostile encounters far overshadowed actual incidents, and relations between emigrants and Indians were further complicated by trigger-happy emigrants who shot at Indians for target practice and out of unfounded fear.

Our next port of call was the immense Union Pacific marshalling yards at North Platte. Someone had the idea to build a tower so that we rail freaks could watch the amazing spectacle of thousands of freight cars being shunted and sorted over hundreds of miles of track. It was like watching a giant model railway layout. Brilliant.

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This earlier image is of the yards before they reached their current 315 miles of track

We had been over-ambitious in planning today's route and cut out our diversion off Interstate 80 (which has now replaced the historic Lincoln Highway) to the Museum of the Prairies. I expect they're still looking at their watches wondering where the heck we are!

We drove on, sticking to the Freeway, to our stop for the night at Ogallala, named after the Oglala Sioux tribe. The city was a stop on the Pony Express and later along the transcontinental railroad. It first became significant as a terminus on the cattle drives from Texas to the Union Pacific railhead here in Ogallala.

Now here's today's useless but surprising fact. The famous Pony Express only existed for 18 months. It never got a mail contract and then the amazing transcontinental telegraph line was built by Western Union, which killed it off.

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This would have been Arthur's choice of motel, but not ours!

Dinner was taken at Arthur's favourite, Denny's, where we were by far the youngest customers! Even the staff were older than us (not really).

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Not even Arthur fancied the bacon sundae! We keep forgetting to photograph our food. Sorry!

Next, Elk's Penis (aka Chimney Rock) and Scott's Bluff on the way to Cheyenne. And we find hills in Nebraska!
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Posted by Johnash 16:54 Archived in USA Comments (12)

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