Friday 30 April 2010

Beware the Swamp Bunnies, and Other Tales of the South...

So, most people who go into an alligator infested swamp worry about the alligators. Not me. It's the bunnies you gotta fear. There David and I were, having our leisurely stroll through the swamp (as one does), and an Eastern Cottontail darts into the bushes along the trail, ahead of where we were walking. We walk up to the location (wondering where the rabbit has gone, since there is a particularly swampy bit with a big alligator in it to the left). As we approach, both of us spot the rabbit, hiding along the trail. Apparently, it decided that this was a particularly good time to flee - problem was, it didn't seem to notice that I was standing there, and crashed head first into my right leg, did a sort of pirouette, crashed into my left leg, scratched it, then darted off into the bushes again. I'm pretty well flabbergasted by this point. Only I could manage to walk out into a swamp and sustain a bunny rabbit injury. I have a small bruise on my right leg where its head crashed into my shin, and a scratch on the left (which bled some). David wondered, idly, if bunny rabbits carry rabies. I don't think they do, but that would be just my luck to be felled by a rabid rabbit (I wonder if that's sort of like a rampant rabbit? But I digress...).

Anyway, before the great Bunny Terror of 2010, David and I spent a few days in Charleston. Charleston is absolutely just the cutest city ever - I really liked it a lot. The whole downtown area is full of 19th century and earlier houses, leaning in various different directions. Lots of live oaks with Spanish moss. The city gives off a sort of feel of quiet, genteel decay, while being quite obviously full of loads of money (though, as usual for me, I managed to find the really awful areas with the shotgun houses and sofas on the front porches...). We walked all over the city, ate huge amounts of really good food (including fried alligator - yummy!). We drove down to Folly Beach and walked a few miles along a deserted beach (it was cool and very very very windy, which might have had something to do with the lack of people). Anyway, Charleston was thoroughly enjoyable, and I would go back there.\

The drive down to Charleston was mostly quite dull. I-95 is a sort of endless repetition of highway walled in by forest. Deciduous, then mixed deciduous and conifer, then conifer as you drive south. At least driving around the west or midwest you get a view. Not on 95 - endless 'beauty strip' of forest, with the occasional really trashy truck stop. We managed to pick one of the trashiest, in North Carolina - huge truck stop with an 'outlet center' selling every conceivable type of schlock known to mankind. And - big surprise, men doing naughty things in the toilet. I mean, really - the place smelled like the ass of a sick wildebeast (I'm imagining, anyway), and was tended by some ancient toilet troll, who made the occasional half-assed attempt to clean it. What a good place to pull off the road and have a quickie in cubicles that clearly show multiple pairs of feet! Charming! Ah, the American road...

Yesterday, we drove the 350 miles up from Charleston to Pigeon Forge, TN. David's been driving, which is fine with me - I never get to be the passenger - it's been a nice change... Lots more boring driving up through SC, then we hit NC and the mountains just at dark (figures). Had dinner in Asheville - wow - talk about people with banjos falling out of their mouths every time they talk! Anyway, we got into Pigeon Forge late last night, and we spent today at Dollywood!

I think that Dollywood is perhaps the most fun I've had at a theme park ever. For one, we hit it on a non-crowded day - we managed all the really good roller coasters twice. The place itself was full of old people and Bubbas. (Also a bit odd, for someone from CA, living in London - the place was, literally, about 99.9% white). Country music played from all the speakers (including all the live shows), and all the rides were themed around Appalachia Americana. Pigeon Forge is one big (very big) strip of tacky motels, crappy restaurants, kitsch shops, and general 1950s American schlock. It's a bit like South Lake Tahoe on steroids. It's fabulous. And dinner tonight was a huge steak at a Texas Roadhouse, with a proper southern waitress who plopped her butt down next to us and just started talking.

I love going to the South. I don't think I could ever live here, but what fun to visit!

I'm going to have to go on a fennel tea and stick diet when I get back to London. Moo!

Tomorrow we are driving down to Birmingham, via the aquarium in Chattanooga. Pretty random...

Sunday 25 April 2010

Y'all Come Back!...

Well, I'm sitting on the one working computer in the "business center" at the Kilmarnock Holiday Inn Express, in Kilmarnock, VA - a little po-dunk town out towards the Chesapeake. David and I drove down two days ago from DC - took us 5 hours to go the 140 miles, thanks to epic traffic. However, once we got off of I-95, it just got more and more rural - lots of dinky little houses sitting in the middle of rolling fields - often right next to the old, abandoned houses from the previous generations. There was a subtle shift in churches that went on as well, I noticed - the percentage of Baptist churches has increased quite dramatically, as has the size of the parish hall relative to the church - that's always a good giveaway that you're getting a proper thumper church - not sure why that is - I wonder if anyone has done a scientific study?

Anyway, we managed to fly into NYC on Weds eve, after a half-empty and totally non-eventful flight. Got into the shithole that is JFK at about 830 pm, and then had to schlep our way via AirTrain, Long Island Railroad, New Jersey Transit and Newark Airport Monorail to the rental car place. About 11pm, we picked up our rental - a Saturn Vue, which claims to be an SUV, but is actually such a serious weenie mobile I can't imagine it handling any more than a few dust particles. Our "airport hotel", that I picked out, turns out to be about 8 miles south of the airport, along the NJ Turnpike (v scenic - not). Problem is, we chose to be sensible and cheap, and took the 1-9 down there - a 6 lane horrid road lined with every conceivable type of fast food known to mankind. It is, apparently, physically impossible to turn left across the 1-9 (there is a physical law), so we spent quite a lot of time going up and down teh 1-9, trying to figure out how we were going to get from the west side to the mythical east side of the road (yes, we did try turning right and doing a bit u-turn). Finally, about 45 minutes later, we managed to straggle on into the hotel. Thank god for Google Maps.

Next day we managed to take in, I think, about all of Manhattan and then some (we are efficient). We did actually try to have dinner at the restaurant where we had our first date, but it doesn't seem to exist anymore. Shocking - and no blue plaque there either. I did, however, come to the very definite conclusion that were I to ever come back to the USA (no immediate plans), it would definitely be back to Manhattan. It still feels like home...

After our day of urban-ness, we drove down to DC - got lost twice - made one very illegal turn, and managed to roll in about 2am. Nice hotel, right in downtown DC - only problem was that there was some sort of huge dumpster out behind the hotel that they started emptying, on the hour, every hour, at 3am. Not much sleep was had. Anyway, we complained, and actually got the night for free! Yippee!

Our big DC visit consisted of having lunch with Jerry, and then hopping in the car for some epic I-95 traffic, heading south.

Which brought ut to Kilmarnock. This was the first time I actually met much of David's family. They are a weird and wonderful bunch, and I think he needs to see them more often. His cousin's wedding was at this tiny little Episcopal church out in Chickenwhistle, nowhere - actually, probably the most boring ceremony I've ever been to. Reception was great though - it was held about 30 miles from the wedding at this old-timey southern inn, owned by this very strict-looking, older woman, wearing all black, who spent much of her time fussing about the children.

Anyway, David's side of the family is generally pretty irreverent, big drinkers, rabble-rousers. Her side though - good old fashioned, moneyed, religious southerners. She insisted that he waited for marriage - to the point that he wasn't even allowed to live in the house they had already bought. Her dress was white - I guess legitimately. That poor silly boy. Oh well - her daddy's rich... ;-) I really am a horrible person, I am. (Still, the amount of gossip going around at the wedding - I thoroughly enjoyed myself).

Anyway, David's just come down from showering (and, he says as he reads over my shoulder, "waiting for your ass" - time to pack up and head for South Carolina - further down into Jesus-land...

More later...

Tuesday 20 April 2010

Life Under a Cloud...

Well, today was beautiful and cool and sunny, with a refreshing southwestern breeze. If you look up, you can see, hmm - blue sky. The last few days there was a little brown around the edges, and yesterday a bit of haze, but for all the volcanic gloom and doom, I want it to look a bit more Mordor-like. We are, supposedly, supposed to fly to NYC tomorrow, though, at this point, I don't really want to. The last thing I want to do is to walk voluntarily into the chaos that will be Heathrow Airport, if, indeed, it does open tomorrow. I mean, my God - they are getting the navy involved in getting people home, and here we are thinking about voluntarily leaving the country - we should be locked up! I keep hoping the airline will cancel. I feel guilty trying to convince David to cancel, as it's his relatives, but I just have this gut feeling - NO NO NO NO!

I don't like this.

Hmm - they just announced they are reopening the airports. I hate to think what Heathrow is going to be like tomorrow...

Anyway, today David and I walked around Wimbledon - David really wants to buy something here (and I agree - renting really is throwing money down the toilet). Nice place, Wimbledon - a bit pricey, but I think it's somehwere David and I could both like (I've been trying to guide this whole process, b/c otherwise I think David would happily go out and live in Chickenwhistle, Nowhere, whereas I want to remain in the city, though I'm willing to move out a little bit...

Yesterday I biked 72 miles down to the south coast, then took the train back. Great day for it - just a few clouds and not too much wind. I didn't realize when I chose this ride though that it had not one, not two, but three 17% uphill grades on it. Ugh!

This is 'Bed-Zed', in South London - a low-impact, carbon-neutral housing development. I thought it looked kinda groovy.

And here we have a cock on a sign. Oh yeah, it's the town of Dorking...

Another big cock... (Oh please, do you think I'm that juvenile? ;-)

Cute small town at the foot of the South Downs...

Roots on a trail - thought they looked cool.

Oh dear - big grade I hadn't noticed on my route planning...

See, I wasn't kidding about the grade...

Saturday 17 April 2010

Pompeii Upon Thames

Well this is a fine mess. David and I were supposed to head to NYC tomorrow, but that ain't gonna happen. Stupid Iceland - first it wrecks the banks and then it wrecks our vacation. It could be worse though - at least we're just stuck at home - better than being stuck in some awful airport with no food or water. Anyway, we're rescheduled, at the moment, for Weds eve, but I have a sneaking suspicion that's not going to happen either, and we're just going to have to cancel. Stupid volcano. Actually, the funny thing is that in the TV newscasts, they don't mention the name a single time. I've not heard it once. The newspapers print it, but it looks completely unpronounceable. I suppose that is why it is just 'the volcano.'

We were supposed to have brilliant sunsets, but nothing so far. The sky has looked a bit dusty - polluted, really, and there is a light dust covering on all the cars, but nothing too spectacular. I mean, yes, I suppose it's not a very good idea to fly planes through the ash, but for all the mess it's causing, I think it should be a little more exciting on the ground - maybe not Yakima though - given that London can't cope with six inches of snow, I'm not too sure how it would deal with a foot of ash. Anyway, I guess we will just see what happens...

Wednesday 14 April 2010

This seaon is brought to you by Benadryl...

So, anyway, all those years of slaving away on a farm, mowing fields, moving rocks, mining salt (ok, I exaggerate a little), and I have, you know, your usual amount of hay fever. Usually I got all sneezy and itchy after I did something silly like mowed over a gopher hole (big belch of dirt, random crap, whatever). And then I go and move into the big city, where you'd think there wouldn't be so many things to be allergic to. Yeah right. Cherry trees - flowering weapons of mass destruction. Daffodils, forsythia, you name it - if it's planted in the city and looks pretty in the spring, I'm allergic. It's not your usual sneezy wheezy type allergy either - it's a much more 'urban', itchy eyes and puffy face type allergy. I'm lobbying the city to have the trees covered with plastic in the spring, but so far haven't had much luck.

Anyway, I've decided to join either the 21st or perhaps late 20th century and actually post some pics in my blog (and David is busy putting several thousand (literally) online, though I'm not sure where they are at the moment. I have yet to join Facebook, and am holding out for a written invitation and sum of no less than six figures.

Yeah - and back in the real world... I've got a few pics here - these are from bike rides and wandering around in London over the past few weeks.

This first one is a few weeks ago, about 15 miles north of London, looking back towards the city (in the far distance).

This next one is a sign pointing to a new housing development in East London. I just liked the name, for some reason... ;-)

This is a church near Windsor - just thought it looked really cool with the monkey puzzle tree...

Windsor Castle... What you can't see here are the hordes of touristas that descend on the town (I tend to stop in Windsor for a snack when I'm cycling west of London - it has a Starbucks, which usually means a guaranteed potty! :-)

Here we have the not-quite-completed Olympic stadium. What is a bit difficult to tell is the size of the fence, which is about 20 feet tall with about 10 strands of electric wire on top. That'll keep those nasty Parisians out of there!

This is last weekend at Hampton Court - lotsa daffodils.

On my bike last weekend - random country road west of London - very good biking country.

I didn't actually get the name of this town, but there are quite a few little towns that look about like this (the newer towns aren't quite so charming...)

Southern English countryside...

Friday 9 April 2010

Poussin - Tastes like Chicken!

So, we all went over to Paul and Ali's last night for dinner, along with two other friends of theirs. Paul is a certified 'foodie', and can go on ad nauseum about the magical powers of this that or the other spice to bring out the amazing flavour, texture, aroma, sensual experience of something that most other people would just consider yummy or gross. Anyway, as per usual, the food was fantastic and we rolled out of there feeling somewhere between a manatee and Oprah. We learned all about how the medieval rich folks like to stuff various animals into others to show how wealthy they were at banquets (here I was imagining something like a chinchilla stuffed into a badger stuffed into a pteradactyl or something...). One should have thoughts like those and eat that much food straight before bed. I had a rather vivid dream about being in the departures lounge, at the airport, getting ready to go to the USA. Some woman from customs was going through all our bags, looking for meat products made with brain material. She kept yelling at us for having food made with brain, and we kept asking, 'but how do we avoid food with brains?'. She finally got annoyed with us, said 'I don't have to take this anymore', and stormed out of the room, leaving me to ponder this awkward situation, along with the fact that David was poking me, my alarm was going off, and I had to pee. So, a great start to the day.

Anyway, it was a fairly non-eventful day - lots of boring busywork (we are in the middle of a restructure and have to do very important things like write essays about times that we've shown initiative, rather than getting on with actually showing some initiative. Local government at its finest...). Tomorrow I'm having a nothing day (well, a gym/run/see Alice in Wonderland day, and then an absurdly long bike ride on Sunday.

Hmm - what else - well, Robin is suffering greatly from his excess of fun last weekend - I do feel bad for him, but I have to admit there is some degree of me thinking 'dumbass'. Oh well - these things happen, and sometimes we learn... On the plus side, he can't ever say that I am not stoic... And that's about it - off to the bathroom now to look for some anti-barf meds for Patsy Poops-a-lot. It's all fun and games here in urban gay central! ;-)

Wednesday 7 April 2010

The things we do...

So, at one point, in a conversation that I think was actually entirely sober, David, Robin and I decided what animals we most resembled. David is a polar bear. Robin is a fruit bat (so much so that I once bought him a fluffy stuffed bat at Yosemite b/c it reminded me of him), and I’m a budgie. Anyway, upon Robin’s return last night from a big leather/rubber/fetish party weekend in Berlin (they do those things very well in Germany, go figure), I came up with a new term for Robin – he’s now the “hodent” of the house. No great mystery there, with the bat reference, what that might mean… Anyway, Robin is home today, feeling ill and sorry for himself – pulled a sickie from work, which I’m sure they aren’t suspicious about at all. I’ve suggested plastic on all the furniture. I am actually quite sympathetic, especially given the number of silly situations I’ve gotten myself into over the years, but yeah, there is a certain amount of schadenfreude inherent to the situation, I’m sure… Sigh – the things we do in the name of fun.

Anyway, my long Easter weekend was a little less exciting. Friday I did very little, to the point where I can’t even really remember what I got up to, though David and I did talk about the possibility of buying here at some point… Ooh scary! Saturday we went over to Adrian’s, in East London, for an afternoon roast, then walked out around the Olympic grounds. I was actually fairly amazed at how much building is going on there, and even more amazed by the 20 or so foot tall, unclimbable fence, topped with multiple strands of electric wire, going around the perimeter. I guess they don’t want Parisians getting in there and burying stinky cheese, or other such things… Sunday I hung out with friends, and then Monday I went for a very nice 77.5 mile ride. I got David along for about 35 of it, with some amount of whining. The spring flowers are really finally getting into the swing of things, so it really was a very pretty ride (out around Windsor again), and I was very happy for my anti allergy nasal spray!

David and I are heading in 2 weeks for our big East Coast trip – heading down from CT to AL, via tidewater VA, Charleston and Dollywood (we’re going to really hit the big culture spots in the South!

And now I should probably do some work, before boss gets back from meeting and wonders why I am blogging… :-)