Saturday, January 12, 2008

Some pics from my trip

Me & Ang with her school friends - N.Y.E.

New Years silliness haha

Me & Ang

Cold enough to wear my winter coat! 2nd night in Jax

Me, Whitney, Elliott, Tracey, Jeff

Me & Tracey

Tracey & Me - pirates style!

Jeff, Tracey & Me in Lilo & Stitch shop

NZ display in 'Its a Small World' ride

Me with Disney castle

Walt Disney, Minnie & Me

Me & Irene

Friday, January 11, 2008

Philly, Jax & B'ham!

First up, Happy New Year! Hope everyone has a blessed 2008 :) Well its been a little while since my last update so will try to catch y'all up on what i've been up to...

Philly (home of the Fresh Prince & sweet chilly Philly)
I stayed in Philly from 23 Dec - 1 Jan with my long-time penpal Angela & her family :) As you can see from those dates, I was there for Christmas & New Years & Ang and her family (her sister Julia, and her mum & dad) were so lovely to me. They live out in North Philly in a cute neighbourhood & they have this standard sized poodle Asta who is still just like a big puppy...he was pretty huge esp when he stood up on his back legs!

Oh yeah before i forget, the flight down to Philly from Manchester, NH was definitely the worst flight i've ever been on!! To start with the visibility in Manchester was terrible & so my flight to Philly was delayed a few hours. Then when we finally got to board the airplane they said that it was a little bit overweight and asked for 4 volunteers to get off the plane (those that didnt have connections to make). They offered an incentive - a $200 voucher with US Airways (the airline i was on), good for travel within continental US. 3 people got up straight away & we all clapped and said thanks to them, but then 1 more person still needed to get off. They were like 'is there anyone else just goin to Philly?' & i sat there feeling a bit guilty for not volunteering but I didnt want to hold up Ang & her mum any longer than i needed to as they were waiting at the airport for me. But eventually 3 more people volunteered to get off. So we start to take off and i look out the window and there wouldn't have been more than 5 miles visibility, it was pretty crazy! I was like 'man i hope these pilots know what they're doing!'. It was pretty much turbulent during all 1.5hrs of the flight & the captain even said to make sure that the person next to you in your seat was awake & aware of the turbulence (dont know how anyone could have been sleeping thru it!) and to make sure their seatbelt was tight etc. But the pilots did an amazing job though, gotta hand it to them & it was definitely reassuring when the flight attendant said that these were the best team of pilots she'd ever flown with :) Anyways they did an awesome job of landing in Philly, was nice & smooth despite the wind & the rain that greeted us in Philadelphia. I was so glad to be back on solid ground!
*sidetrack over*

Anyway, on Christmas Eve we went to the Christmas Eve service at Angela's church which was good. Was pretty similar to Christmas Eve services back home - Scripture readings with various carols in betweens as well as some musical items. So that was cool. Their church didn't do a Christmas Day service though, so that was a bit different to home. Anyway later on Christmas Eve we went to their friend's Christmas Eve party which was fun - just mingled & chatted with people & i got to try hot apple cider for the first time! And yeah we just had different nibbles & desserts.

Christmas Day dawned sunny and cold...but alas, NO SNOW! so that was a bit sad as i was really hoping for a white Christmas but i guess i had seen a lot of snow up Hartford & Boston ways. Christmas morning we opened stockings and had brunch and then just relaxed a bit and opened presents. They gave me several things including a really good book on the history of Philadelphia (since they know i majored in history), a Target voucher, a hot plate thingy which was in the shape of a Celtic design i think, a novel, a bookmark etc etc. So that was really nice :) Later on in the afternoon Angela's nana & aunty came over and there was some more present opening & then we had Christmas dinner - turkey, stuffing, green beans & artichoke and sweet potato casserole, was good! Dessert was pumpkin pie and this fruity mincey dessert thingy (kinda like a Danish type pie/fruit mince pie) and cookies & other yum desserts. Us girls then finished off the evening by watching 'While You Were Sleeping' hehe :)

The next day i went with Ang & her mum into downtown Philly and we went to the Constitution Center which i found out was relatively new - has only been around 4 years! It was quite a cool place tho - we went into this like ampitheatre type room where they did a multimedia presentation of the history of the Constitution. There was this lady that was a narrator who stood in the middle of the room and she talked about some of the history while there was different images etc being projected onto the screens all around the room. There were audio and video clips which was cool to see and yeah it was just a really good presentation, very dramatic :) After it was over we went into this other room that had all these different statues of the signatories to the Constitution that included Jefferson, Washington, etc etc so that was cool and i got my pic with ol' George Washington & Ben Franklin haha. They also had this big book there that you could sign to show your allegiance to the Constitution and it even had a little blurb welcoming international visitors as well to sign it, to show their support for constitutional governments worldwide. So i thought that was cool and I signed it :) Then we went into the First Ladies exhibition which was pretty interesting. There was displays of different dresses and souvenirs from each First Ladies time in the White House as well as a bit of a bio about what each of them had focused on. One thing that stood out to me was how each First Lady has focused on a range of different things whether it be literacy/education, health or conservation.

The rest of the week we mostly stayed around where Ang's family lives and also went to some family things of theirs. On the Sat (29th) i decided to take a day trip by myself into Washington D.C. (via train) while Ang worked on her grad school applications. I thought i'td be a pity to get so close to the capital & not visit it so i definitely wanted to go. And im so glad i did! The train ride was good, pretty comfy seats, and i went thru 2 states along the way (Delaware & Maryland) too. The night before i'd worked out what museums i wanted to visit at the Smithsonian institute, based on some of the exhibitions that were on. My first stop though in D.C. was (naturally) the White House. I took the Metro from Union Station to Federal Triangle (i LOVE D.C.s Metro system btw - its so clean, modern & efficient!) and then walked from there to the White House, and saw Washington Monument along the way. The gate in front of the White House where everyone gets photos was waaaay further away from the W.H. than it looked in other peoples pics that i'd seen! But it was still cool to be there and i got some good pics of it. Security was extremely tight around there as you can imagine being the capital & all...i saw both marked & unmarked police cars/vans + all the streets around Pennsylvania Ave (the White House is at 1600 Pennyslvania Ave) were all blocked off & there were cops standing in the middle of some of the roads too. Anyways after gettin some pics at the gate i went on down to the White House Visitor Center which was really good (had to go thru security check upon entering it...which also goes for all the museums as well) and it had some interesting facts about the White House and info on all the different Presidents & their families that have lived there over the years. There were a couple of videos too - one by First Lady Laura Bush on Christmas at the White House (the theme for decorating it this year was celebrating America's national parks) & Pres. Bush did one on the history & significance of the White House etc. There was also a model of the W.H. too which was pretty cool. Then i went to the National Museum of Natural History which had this awesome photographic awards exhibit called 'Natures Best Photography' which had amazing pictures of all kinds of animals & environments. And the best thing was that you were allowed your camera so i took pics of some of the photos hehe. Also in the museum was a dinosaur exhibit which was pretty cool, had huge life size models of all the major dinosaurs: T-Rex, Bracchiosaurus, Tricerotops, Steggosaurus etc etc. Then i went and walked down to the gosh was it a long walk!! Did not look that far but it was several blocks down & took a good 20mins at least to reach it. But it was worth it though and i got some good pics of it as well as in front of the reflecting pool etc. Then i went and stopped by the National Air & Space Museum and went to this exhibit on Treasures of American History (it was being hosted there as the American History museum is temporarily closed for renovations at the mo). It was a really cool exhibit that had all kinds of original items such as Dorothy's ruby red slippers, the scarecrow costume from Wizard of OZ, Kermit the Frog, Abraham Lincoln's top hat (which he kept all his important documents in & which he was wearing when he got assassinated), the first pair of Levi Strauss jeans, C3Po & R2D2, one of Mary Todd Lincoln's dresses, portrait of Billy Graham, Muhammed Ali's boxing gloves, Marilyn Monroes famous white gloves, George Washington's hunting/war clothes, the first Barbie, first teddy bear, Thomas Jeffersons Bible, the Greensboro lunch counter (where the first sit-in was launched by African Americans in the 1960s) etc etc. I was also able to get photos of most of those things too :) Then i went and had a look at some of the space stuff they had on display - they even had 2 sample missiles there from the Cold War American and one Russian one. There were also astronauts' space suits + a model of Apollo 11 etc. Then i went & had some lunch at McDonalds down in the Foodcourt and spotted the first McCafe that i've seen in the US! They're not common here at all. Speaking of which they also dont have the Deli Select Sandwiches at McDonalds here either. Anyhow, my last stop before heading back to Union Station was to stop by the actual Smithsonian castle but i only went into 2 of the rooms there (one of which had a memorial thing to Smithson) as if i'd gone in any further i would have had to go thru yet another bag check & i was sick of them by then. But the best thing about the Smithsonian Institue/National Mall (where all the museums are) is that they're free! Its awesome. It also only cost me US$6.50 to get an 1 day pass for unlimited rides on the Metro rail :) (as opposed to when i was in NYC and me & Alisa had to pay $10 for a 6 trip on the Metro). Overall I really enjoyed D.C. - its a really safe city, easy to walk around & there is heaps to see. If i'd had another day there i would have gone to Holocaust Museum, gone to more of the Smithsonian museums, Arlington Cemetry, possibly up the Washington Monument, and past the Superior Court etc.

For New Years Eve, the Sopers had some of their family friends around who they usually have each New Years Eve. They came over for dinner & dessert, was nice to meet them and chat for a bit. Then later on me & Ang went to her friends place where some of their other school friends were for a bit of a reunion & we hung out & had nibbles etc. Just before midnight we tuned into Fox and watched live coverage of Times Square and saw the ball drop + other bands playing there. Man were there masses of people there! I was excited to be able to say that i'd been there like 10 days ago haha. Even though it would have been cool to be in NYC for New Years purely for the atmosphere, im glad i was away from the madness of it all as it would have taken forever to get out of Times Square! Plus it was nice just to relax at Ang's friends place & take some silly pics etc hehe.

Jacksonville, Florida (aka Jax)
On Jan 1, 2008 i flew down to Jax to stay with my friend Tracey. It was a pretty good flight (apart from having to circle the runway for half an hour before taking off, while the air traffic control tower sorted out paperwork for our flight!) and made it down there in just 2.5 hours. Stayed with Trace at various places during my time there as she had to housesit etc a little bit while i was there as well as try & move her stuff back into the place she stayed at before she went to Indonesia last year. The neighbourhood we were in was really really nice...the wealthiest bit of Jax, as its where some of the NFL players live and it also has a golf course that has big PGA tournaments i.e. where Tiger Woods & co have played. The weather tho was another story - the first couple of days i was there (Jan 1 & 2) it was freezing! like actually freezing. 32F and even below that a little i think. It eventually got a bit warmer during the rest of my time there so that was good. On Fri & Sat night i went out with Tracey & her friends to go hear some of their fave local bands play. On the Sat night there was also an NFL game on between the Jacksonville Jaguars & the Pittsburgh Steelers...the Jaguars one so everyone was pretty happy :) Still so funny for me to watch American football seeing all those guys with their bulky pads! haha. so different to watching a rugby game. On Monday just gone (Jan 7) we went down to Orlando to go to....Disneyworld!! The weather was perfect - nice & sunny & really warm :) In the 80sF (mid-20sC) which was nice. Was kinda surreal being there at first like seeing the Disney castle but it was cool tho. Got lotsa pics. We went on Big Thunder, Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean cruise, Its a Small World and we saw the Monsters Inc comedy show hehe. Unfortunately the Spalsh Mountain ride was temporarily closed (reopening in late Feb...must be because of winter) which sucked & then when we went to Space Mountain it was closed for an hour or so as something small had broken. By the time we went back whatever was wrong had been fixed but the line was super long! So i was gutted about that but i chose for us to give it a miss so we could go to MGM and/or Epcot. Haha was funny seeing the NZ display on Its a Small World (they play the song over and over and over and over thru that ride & in diff languages too!) - its so small compared to the Aussie one heh (typical!). It has 2 Kiwis and a little Maori figure doll thing. But still good to see it there. I also got my pic with Winnie & the Pooh, Tigger & Darby so that was cool haha. We also caught part of the music/dance thingy that Mickey & Minnie and some of the other Disney characters do at the castle, which i got some pics of. We also went to catch the bus to MGM but for some reason the bus never showed up! So that was weird, so we went to Epcot instead and went on the Soarin' ride -it was awesome! And definitely worth the 40min wait. Its a paragliding motion master type ride, really well done :) The lights around the Epcot ball and the fountains etc were also pretty to see. We didnt have time to check out the World Showcase (they have a showcase of 11 countries - each country has its own little restaurant etc with people from the actual countries working there) as Epcot shut at 8pm. Overall it was an awesome day & im glad Tracey & Jeff and there friends were able to take me to the Magic Kingdom...where dreams really do come true (lalala)! haha.

Birmingham (aka B'ham), Alabaaaama
On Tues morning (Jan 8th) i flew up here to B'ham, Alabama where im currently typing this blog from. And on my flight there was a Kiwi guy! He was sitting near me so got to talk to him a bit and found out he'd just travelled around Europe for 7 months and was doing some travelling around the US before heading back home soon. Funny recognising your own accent being able to hear a bit of what the Kiwi accent must sound like to other people. Its hard to describe.
Anyways im staying with some girls from the missions office at Briarwood, they're really fun to hang with :) Its been good to have a look around Briarwood - it really is a huge building! With all diff sections to it. I've met people from Missions offic, Campus Outreach as well as those involved with the Jr. and Senior High youth. Was able to meet the Pastor's wife (Cindy Reeder) the other night too as i went along with Heather to Cindy's birthday dinner. But it has been really great & a nice surprise to have been able to hang out with Irene :) She's now not coming back home till Feb and she's been coming up to Briarwood a few days each week so i got to see her the last couple days & we went shopping etc. Im hoping to go down to where she's been staying and doing Campus Outreach work at Montevallo Uni. So will see what happens.

Well this has turned into a massive post so will leave it here for now. Will try and put a compilation of pics from my trip thus far in one post.