Grant

Grant

Food fanatic, IT professional, Cloud Computing Expert, Software Developer and Travel fan.

 

Friday, 22 December 2006 00:00

Amazon day 3

Today we went to the island where the Quichua people live. Their houses are built on stilts img_0079about 6 feet off the ground. Chickens run loose and there are things growing in the ground. On the island are plantain and corn plantations. It was neat to see bananas growing on trees and of course we'd seen corn before. We also saw and ate fruit that I can't pronounce nor did I recognize. We saw mangoes and papaya trees and yuka plants. The rain started again as we were trudging through the banana plantation but it was ok because the wide leaves make great cover form rain. After the walks through the plantations we returned to a Quichua family home.

Thursday, 21 December 2006 00:00

Amazon day 2

I woke to the sound of a rooster crowing before the sun even came up. When you go to bed shortly after sundown you wake up really early. I lay in bed for about another hour before getting up for breakfast. We had granola cereal, fruit and eggs. At 9:00 we headed out for our jungle walk. They said img_6642we needed rubber boots and they were right. They provided the boots and the Amazon provided the mud. It was raining again pretty hard but we were told that was good because when the sun comes out the water from the ground evaporates and it because unbearable humid. I'll take their word for it.

Wednesday, 20 December 2006 00:00

Amazon day 1

orning came to soon and I'd not gotten a lot of sleep. We also would be missing breakfast because we were leaving too early img_0187 so I went out to find Internet and some emergency food and water for the bus ride. The Internet cafes were closed but I did find an assortment of rolls and water for the trip. We left anyway. The way I figured it we could go to Tena and either find Internet there or just rent a hostel and stay the night. Having gotten down the straight armed hand shake I hailed a taxi. He took a really round about way to the bus station which alarmed me for a second. His response to my pointing to the map was “No problema”. We rounded the corner and I saw the great statue on the hill and knew I was near the terminal. He pointed to the traffic going the other way and I understood. We arrived at the station 30 minutes early and headed for the shady restaurant on the bottom floor. We bought various types of chicken and a sandwich and headed for our gate. On the way the guy that sold us our ticket yelled at us and exchanged our ticket for a different one on a different bus company. I don't know why and couldn't ask because of the language barrier. He told us which lane to stand in and which bus number so we waited. When it pulled in we got on and waited another 30 minutes before it pulled out. During that 30 minutes he boarded the bus to tell us not to put our bags in the overhead racks and to hold them. Later in the trip I noticed that everyone else was holding theirs as well. Crime is rampant here. I sat on the side of the bus there our luggage was so I could see if anyone was trying to steal them which they didn't.

The roads around Quito are a mess and it took us 1 hour just to get out of the city. Most of the outer edges of Quito are these little concrete block houses with corrugated metal roofs of very poor people. Once we get a little ways away we crested a hill and we saw what looked like Beverly hills with nice villas and such. Obviously the rich live in the suburbs.

I've heard great things about this ride over to Papillacta Falls and our jungle excursion started out as just and excuse to take this trip. I'm glad we did as the Andes are beautiful mountains and greener than any that I've seen in North America. Our bus climbed through strange looking forests, high cliffs with amazing waterfalls, and finally entered the clouds. Visibility was about 30 feet or so. At the crest there was another bus heading for Quito stopped on the road. They were changing a tire. I'd noticed when we were in the bus terminal that

all buses had two spare tires on the roof. The fact that the other bus got a flat told me a bit about the upcoming road. The pavement changed to dirt, rocks and mud for about the next 3 hours. The bus would swerve toward the 200 foot drop to avoid potholes, take the outside line around curves and bomb down hills so it could maintain it's speed. We got to one place where the mud was really deep and we thought we were going to get stuck then we came upon another bus slogging along through the mud even slower (and at higher risk of being stuck) so our driver decided in order to maintain momentum we'd have to pass it. It was like watching a snail race with both busses spinning their rear tires in the mud and ours slowly gaining on the other one until we got a head of it. We were honestly going about 5 mph up the muddy hill. The other bus we never saw again. As far as I know it may have never made it.

We arrived in Tena and deboarded the bus. Immediately a taxi driver approached us but we were really most interested in toilets so we all ran off to find them. I motioned to the taxi driver to stay put and we'd be back. Upon returning he was still waiting for us and a man who spoke English said the taxi driver was Quichua (not Quechua/Inca) and spoke no Spanish. I told him Puerto Barrantilla and he nodded his head. I also mentioned I needed a Bank machine so he stopped at an ATM for me since where we going only took cash. The taxi was a 4 door Suburu brat looking "truck" that had no problem getting air on the many hills along the road. We arrived 20 minutes before our scheduled time. Puerto Barrantilla is nothing but a small road going to a residence and a path that extends from there into the Jungle to the Rio Napo. We followed the path and stood next to the river in the pouring rain - waiting. About 15 minute later an indigenous man arrived in a gas powered canoe and grabbed our bags two at a time and put them in the canoe then motioned for us to climb in. No words were spoken. Ten minutes later we pulled up to a wooden staircase leading from the rivers edge up to a wooden hut.

A young guy named Andy came to get our bags and took them to the large circular building with no walls. This was to be the reception desk and dinning hall. It was nothing but hay roof, wood floor and wood poles holding the roof up. There was a large hole in the center with trees growing in it. He sat us by a small fire and explained the program to us. A Swiss lady married a Quichua man and they started a reserve in the Amazon to help hurt animals. They later started a hotel and the Liana Lodge.The lodge helps pay for their work and buying more land. So far they have 1300 hectares of land and want to buy more to protect it. After we got the spiel he took us to our “rooms” which were also hay roofed huts with screens for walls. There was one real wall and that is between the two rooms. the outside lower wall is wood and the rest of the building is screen. The thatched roof is vaulted and open inside. There is no heat, Internet or electricity on site. This meant I couldn't charge camera batteries so my little cameras are getting a workout while my G7 sits because I only have one battery for it (later I found out they have a car battery they take to town and charge up on occasion just for the purpose of charging camera batteries). Outside the back door of the hut is a large patio with hammocks that were great to relax in. The rain persisted and we just hung out and relaxed in our hammocks while listening to the rain on the flora of the rain forest. Dinner was at 7 and was pretty decent. They serve three courses of soup, entree and dessert. A lot of it is junglish like strange fruits, cinnamon from the Amazon etc... Usually one meat and the rest vegetables or potatoes. They cook with gas but we use candles for all light sources including the reception desk and dining tables. We also use candles to light our huts. They don't put out a lot of light but your eyes do get used to them. Sleeping in the hut at night was real nice because you could hear all of the jungle sounds clearly. The cicada get a little irritating but we can hear an occasional toucan. There are squirrel monkeys that hang around the lodge and are great fun to watch.

Tuesday, 19 December 2006 00:00

Quito day 2

Breakfast time came and went before we got up the next day. Having missed breakfast we took to the streets figuring there'd be something there. The area that we were in is called New Town and the main street is Amazonas. If we headed south on Amazonas we'd eventually end up at Old town after cutting through two parks. Old town is the old Spanish built Quito and comprises of mostly colonial buildings. I've heard that old town Quito is very pretty and is on the UNESCO list of protected areas so I was anxious to see it. The weather was warm (but cooler than Guayaquil) and it wasn't raining. We found a small shop run by black ladies that offered Empanadas and yogurt with fruit. Mo stood her ground on not eating doughy things with meat in them so Natalya and I had empanadas and Jade and Mo had yogurt.

 

Both were very good. The empanadas cost 75 cents each and the yogurt with fresh fruit cost about a dollar. I didn't try the yogurt but she said it was very good and not like the kind at home. I can understand this as the yogurt we had in Poland was much better than the stuff we have at home. With that we headed toward old town. On the way we passed through a large park with an indigenous market where I bought a shawl. Don't ask what I'm going to do with a pink alpaca shawl because I don't know. Maybe give it to Piper because she likes pink. It was really pretty and the alpaca wool was so very soft. This isn't like the course scratchy wool in Mexico. The cost – 7 dollars! Shawl in hand we continued and found in the next park a spiral staircase that let us get up high enough to see the surrounding mountains. Quito if you don't know is at about 10,000 feet and rests in the inter-andian valley so it's surrounded by even higher mountains that are very green and the tops of them disappear in the clouds they're so high. We change to Agost (August) street and continue our trek to old town.

On the way it starts to rain. Jade didn't bring a coat so Mo loaned him her rain parka and at some point it got so bad we decided to go inside and get something to eat. For $6.70 all four of us ate more food than we could stuff in our mouths. We got chicken, rice, peas, soup and drinks. Not great food but ok and darn cheap too. A couple blocks later we're at old town and the rain had slowed to a drizzle. I've seen plenty of colonial Spanish towns and I don't think Quito stands out among them. Sure the main plaza is pretty but they have about 10 restored buildings and that's about it. We took pictures and then started climbing Chile street since that's where the locals were going. Along Chile street is store after store selling everything from shoes to stereos. This is apparently the Quito outdoor mall. When we got quite a way above the city we headed south once again on a deserted cobblestone street. I didn't really know where we were going or where we'd end up I was just curious. All over the city we'd been seeing indigenous people wearing the typical Ecuadorian hat, shawl and tons of necklaces. I don't know why they wear 30 necklaces but some of them are really pretty.

 

I haven't figured out how I'm going to take their picture yet. We walked past one indigenous lady and she smiled real big which I noticed. As she got past us she stopped in the middle of the street , turned and just stared while smiling. I too turned and to watch her and she started walking again only to look over her shoulder to smile some more. Apparently there was something humorous about a white haired lady, two kids and a gringo man walking around in untouristed Quito. On the way down the hill toward the main plaza again we heard a lady in one of the stores talking about the gringos. Quite the spectacle we are. We still don't see hardly any tourists.

The rain started to really drop on us so we spent about 30 minutes hiding under a ledge. Our new mission was to find the bus station so we could head to the Amazon the next day. Our original plan was to take a taxi since their cheap but my map said we were only about 10 blocks away so we decided to walk it to see what we could see. We found it soon after and my first Wizard of Ozian impression of it was that we weren't in Mexico anymore. In Mexico the bus stations look like airports and the buses are very nice. In Ecuador the bus station looks like a turkish market with people yelling out their destinations and prices. It was dirty and dilapidated. We did find someone that was selling tickets to Tena our jump off city into the Amazon.

Here is another impression that I'm sure Ecuadorians won't appreciate is that the people here try to rip you off at every opportunity. People say that about Mexico but I think it's far worse. I think they're as bad as the Turks. Anyway if you don't complain here the price will climb as you're talking then they'll try their hardest not to give you any change. In order to get them to give change you have to pry it from their fingers. That is if they don't outright steal your stuff in front of you. Anyway my Spanish is bad, Mo's is only slightly better and the ticket guy knew 20 English words. I had to communicate to him that we had to leave Tena at 2:30 so we could get to the lodge at 4:30 where we were being picked up by a canoe on the Napo river. The best I could do was to tell him we had to leave at 8:00. He had a bus at 8:30 that would get us to Tena at 1:30 according to him which didn't quite add up to me.

We bought the tickets for $24 and headed out to find a taxi. I've learned how to hail taxis in Ecuador to. You just stick you hand straight out toward the street and shake it like you're saying “so so” and the taxi will pull over and pick you up. I showed the taxi driver the address and he had no idea where it was. I showed him the map and he still had no idea. He stopped and asked another taxi while the crowd of cars behind us honked their horns impatiently. The other driver gave him some directions and off we went. Confused he just went north. We got to Agost street and I knew from there how to get home so I directed him. Quite strange that I a gringo that had only made the trip from New Town to Old Town once knew the way and the taxi driver didn't. We got to our one way street (that went the wrong way) so he let us out on the corner. Immediately 4 little kids about 8 years old came up trying to sell us chicklets. They were very very insistent and followed us while we walked. They swarmed around us like little hornets and we finally got rid of them and got a block down the street Mo noticed her camera was gone. By then they had disappeared and we went into our hostel to get ready to leave. This act impacted Mo considerably and she even decided to go home so she wouldn't be a bother to us. I've a very logical rational person so that wouldn't have ever occurred to me at all. To me we were down one camera but nothing else changed. Tired and hungry we went out to find food and get on the intenet to get the directions to our Amazon lodge.

We ate at this really trendy but pretty pink restaurant. I could try to describe the decor but a picture is worth a thousand words so I'll leave it to the picture. I ordered the Ecuadorian croquette type things that were quite good, Natalya had Moussaka, Mo had salmon with a cinnamon spice from the Amazon and Jade had rosemerry sea bass. All was real good. For an appetizer I ordered some brandy and ham empanadas. Mo insisted on being stubborn about her no meat in dough policy but I insisted on her trying one and she loved it. Maybe later when we get to Peru she'll try a larger empanada. The feeling of not being ready for the next day was growing in my stomach so we left to find an internet connection. The problem was that I'd written down the times we were supposed to catch our buses but no real directions. I'd scribbled the times down solely for the purpose of buying our bus tickets and not to travel with so I needed to get to the Internet and write more thorough instructions on how to get from Quito to Tena then from Tena to Puerto Barantilla and the lodge. I walked the others home and headed out to be enlightened by an Internet connection only to find that all had closed down for the night which didn't help much. Beck at the hostel I found they had a computer with Internet. It was an old old machine with 64 megs of ram and Windows 98. After 20 minutes of trying to get it to do anything ( I mean anything) I gave up. I didn't sleep a lot because I didn't like not having decent instructions. As much as it may seem from the outside that I take risks with my kids this isn't true. Every place we go and every decision we make is over researched and thought out. This traveling with two lines of arrival and departure times wasn't how I did business and it bothered me. I would try again to find Internet inthe morning.

Monday, 18 December 2006 00:00

Guayaquill/Quito day 1

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Since we only had the morning in Guayaquil I wanted to get outside and walk to the waterfront so we skipped breakfast in the restaurant and headed for the street. Guayaquil looks a lot like Mexico City but without the beautiful buildings. Mostly modern (less than 50 year buildings) and not that clean either. We made it to the Malecon 2000 waterfront promenade that the locals are so proud of and it was nice but it reminded me a bit too much of Nice France for me to like it a lot. We ate lunch there which was a bunch of meats grilled with fries. It wasn't too bad and the price for 4 people with two waters was under $7.

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On the way back to the hotel we ran across an outdoor market which we just had to wade through because the experience of a Latin American market is one not to be missed. Mo got her first taste of the way these things work. She also got her first taste of heat in December as it was over 90 degrees. Back at the hotel I ask attempt to ask for a taxi and write down 1:00 on my scratch pad and she says si and motions to the front door. What arrives in 10 minutes was actually a regular car driven by a man that was probably the cousin of the receptionist! Anyway he got us back to the airport for another $5. I didn't know what to expect of the local Ecuadorian Airline TAME because I'd heard stories that made it sound like a bus company, first come first serve type of organization. We got there two hours before the plane was scheduled to leave which was what the guide books recommended of us. The lady at the counter spoke English and said she could just put us on the next flight which would be leaving at 2. But since I only had a reservation and had not paid for tickets I'd have to go to the next counter and purchase tickets. As luck would have it we got in the slow line and didn't get our tickets in time for hte 2 o'clock flight. We did however, happen upon a deal and got our tickets for $45 each instead of the $60 that the website listed.

While waiting for the plane we picked up some water, got on the internet and picked up some Chilean Empanadas. We were very excited to see the empanadas and they weren't bad but didn't measure up to Julia's in Adams-Morgan district of D.C. Security was a breeze. Apparently there is a shortage of ignorant fear in Ecuador that is so common in the States. Maybe we should pass it around a bit so we could get to the point of being able to carry more than 3 ozs of toothpaste with us on the plane. Heaven forbid we be able to brush our teach while on vacation. It's for our safety you know. Anyway the Ecuadorian security process isn't like this at all. The entire time we were in the airport there wasn't any lines and that includes the security check. We put our stuff in the bins and walk through the scanner and off we go to our gate which at this point was still unknown to us. Our boarding pass lists our gate as Puerto 0 and I ask a uniformed man and he just laughs and babbles in Spanish as if he thought I were born in Madrid. Since there was no Gate 0 I fell back to plan B. If you can't understand the language do what the locals do. I wandered through the crowd looking at other peoples tickets and found one that was the same as mine. The man spoke some English and said that they would announce the gate. Little did he know I was no longer interested in their announcements because I found someone to follow and follow we did. When they moved, we moved. As we were walking down the aisle to board the plane we heard the plane and gate announced in English. Now we know for next time.

The plane at best was 1/3 the way full which was great as we had nobody sitting next to us. It was an Airbus A320 which had more legroom than any plane I'd ever taken. It even still had that new airplane smell. Either it had just been made or the captain had picked up a “That new airplane smell” deodorizer from 7-11 on the way to work and had it hanging from the rear view mirror.

 

The in flight snacks were great too, little homemade sandwich things made from flat bread. No commercially packaged pretzels for TAME. We reached cruising altitude for about 10 minutes then started to descend again showing how small this country is. The Quito airport is even smaller than the one in Guayaquil and the signs even less clear. We followed the crowd again which appears to be a good practice to get into. At the exit there was a taxi booth which made me happy because I wouldn't have to deal with the corrupt taxi problem. We paid our $5 and loaded are gear in the taxi.
Sunday, 17 December 2006 00:00

Seattle to Guayaquil

img_6530Mo's daughter picked us up at 3:45 am to take us to the airport. We didn't get snow like was predicted and half the city was still out of power from the storm but the airport was still operating so off we went. We arrived at the airport and stood in line like everyone else. Some from Continental told came along and told us that if we didn't have any bags to check we could use a kiosk and get our boarding passes ourselves. This turned out to be a good thing because the self-check kiosk had no line at all. We were a little apprehensive about the security check because of the heightened security status in airports. We could not carry any liquids in bottles larger than 3 oz. Each passenger could have one and only one zip lock bag of quart size with 3 oz bottles in it. We worked extra hard finding bottles of sun tan lotion, bug lotion, shampoo, saline solution etc in bottles under 3 oz. The whole thing is ridiculous because I'd bet that if I had a quart bag full of 3 oz bottles of nitro glycerin I could blow a hole in the side of just about any plane. But hey, I felt safer knowing that terrorists are too dumb to think of this. It's nice to see the extra amount tacked onto passport fees going to good use. After all this work in getting the bottles Natalya's bag gets flagged and they take us into a small area divided off and asked me if there was any bottles in our bags. I of course said no very confidentially because I KNEW there were none.

Three seconds later he pulls out not one but three bottles full of liquid over 3 oz. It seems one of us (not mentioning names Natalya) decided to add stuff to the bag after they'd already been packed. They asked us if we wanted to check the bag with the liquids or throw them out and I said throw them. There goes $50 of Proactiv. We flew from Seattle to Houston with nary a bump from the clouds. It was one of the smoothest rides I'd had. When I book plane tickets I try to get layovers of about 2 to 3 hours but because we didn't get our tickets until last minute I didn't have a lot of choice and ended up with a 6 hour layover. Hmm, 6 hours in Houston, Texas. Boy that's a happening place. We ate as slow as we could, walked all over the E terminal and came to the conclusion that Continental had their own airport because we never saw anyone from any other airline. While I was waiting in line for Chinese food I asked a gentleman about this observation and he said that this terminal building was only Continental but the others served other airlines. It hadn't occurred to us that there were more terminal buildings. Let's just ignore the fact that we were in the E terminal and E isn't the first letter of the English alphabet because if we don't it would make us look pretty dumb. Armed with our newfound wisdom we searched out a way to get to the other terminals in the form of an elevated train. We love trains and have spent many hours in Dallas riding it's sky train around in circles in an attempt to kill time so we were more than anxious to hop aboard this one. It only goes in a straight line but was air conditioned and barely had anyone riding it. We went to the other terminals and walked their halls as if we were expecting to see something different from what we'd already seen. We saw a few more restaurants, more terminals, more airlines and older moldier smelling hallways. Since the train was the highlight so far we returned to it and rode it's length several more times until we decided to camp out near our gate. A year ago when I went to Mexico from Dallas I commented on the fact that our journey into the foreign country starts in the airport because the people flying the line to the foreign country was filled with people from the foreign country. This was no different as the waiting area for the plane to Guayaquil, Ecuador filled with little brown Spanish speaking people, presumably Ecuadorians. The plane Continental decided to use was a single aisle Boeing 737 which seemed quite odd as 737s are generally short haul planes. The smooth journey from Seattle to Houston would not be repeated again and we had quite a bit of turbulance over central America. I just shoved my in-ear earplugs deeper and the volume of my travel pod cast higher. An hour of the “You live where?” pod cast guy asking questions and very gratuitously providing all the accepted answers to the host got a little irritating so I turned it off and slept a bit. I awoke to a plane descending which is a strange feeling anyway. The landing was ok and we talked a bit with a petite and attractive Ecuadorian girl that sat one row ahead of us. She lived in the states but was born in Ecuador and was bringing her almost 4 year old daughter to Ecuador to see family.
Saturday, 21 October 2006 01:00

Adams Morgan and the National Mall

The Adams Morgan district is quite eclectic and nice. One of the guidebooks said you’d end up here to eat noimg_6064 matter where in D.C. you stayed so it only made sense for a gourmand like myself to just stay near the food. Don’t you agree? There is the aforementioned Mexican restaurant (Mixtec), several Ethiopian, one Ghana, one lebanese/Indian, a couple Indian, one Syrian, one Falafal fry stand, one American and a spattering of other restaurants here. Definately the place to be if you like to eat. There was even a McDonalds for those people born without taste buds.

We ate breakfast at the Inn and headed straight to the National Mall. We didn’t go to Claires to get accessories, or the Bon to pick up any sweaters or any of that in case you were wondering. The National Mall is a really wide strip of grass which is lined with museums of the Smithsonian Institute and the ends are capped by the Capitol building and Lincoln’s memorial on each end. This is where the sights are and it was going to be a beautiful day!

We started our tour of the Smithsonian Institute by going to Smithsonian Castle where we picked up our info book and got directions. The Smithsonian castle is a building that’s “castle like” that was built in the lateimg_6111 1800’s. Our first stop was the National Gallery of Art which I don’t believe is really part of the Institute but I could be wrong. We wanted to go there because people compare it to the Louvre and it had a Da Vinci painting, the only one in America actually. We later found out that the only people that compare the National Gallery of art to the Louvre are those that haven’t been to the Louvre. American pride wants us to have a museum equal to the best and I’m here to say that it probably isn’t possible so they should just move on and try to be something else.

Thursday, 19 October 2006 01:00

Washington D.C.

As I said earlier we arrived at Union Station in D.C. early in the morning. We were starving so we found food at one of the many restaurants downstairs from the tracks. The station in D.C. is really quite nice is set up like an airplort in that it has monitors for watching your train, newspaper stands, restaurants, bookstores etc.. Downstairs is the connection to the metro which reminded us of being in Europe. I just love being able to get around without relying on taxis or renting a car. We weren’t in any great hurry to get to our Bed and Breakfast because we couldn’t check in until 3:00pm and it was only 11:00am when we got done eating. Still tired from getting poor sleep on the train we longed for a bed to take a nap in. We ventured to the metro station and found our route (the red line) and purchased tickets. The Washington D.C. metro works a lot like the London Underground in that you need to enter the metro using a ticket and you can’t get out unless you still have it so it’s best not to toss the ticket until you’ve exited. This is unlike Paris, Prague and Budapest because in those cities you don’t need anything to exit. In Budapest you can even get on with nothing but you risk being nailed by the authorities which can get expensive.
Monday, 09 October 2006 01:00

Charlotte to D.C.

We decided to turn in the rental car in Charlotte and take a train to Washington DC for two reasons, it was actually cheaper (thanks to a 20% off promo code I found on the internet for Amtrak) and it’s a pain to have a car in D.C. We’re used to using the metro to get around anyway so it wasn’t much of a problem. The only problem was we needed to turn in our rental at 1pm and our train came at 1:50 am the next morning! We start off on the wrong foot by thinking we’re in Europe and started searching for left luggage facilities. In Europe you can leave your luggage places for a few euro. The man in the library recommended we try the grayhound bus station. They did have lockers but only about 10 for the 1000 or so people there so we took a taxi to the train station where we checked our bags in ahead of schedule. We then walked back to the city center and ate dinner an an Italian restaraunt which wasn’t bad. We were trying to kill time so we asked the waitress if there was a movie theatre around, there wasn’t but she gave us tips on how to get to one. So armed with a bus schedule we head for the other end of town to watch a movie. We end up watching two movies which took us to about midnight. We called a taxi to pick us up and waited the 25 minutes needed for them to get there. Then we waited another 10 minutes. We couldn’t call them again bacause the theater was now closed and the phone was inside. We had about 50 minutes left before our train left with our luggage. Since I don’t have a cell phone we headed for the main street to see if we could find a pay phone. We didn’t but we did find an all night diner and the man behind the counter let us use his phone to call again. It would only be 10 minutes this time. We wait 10 minutes and no taxi shows up. I’m getting ready to make this a really expensive night and offer a bunch of money to one of the people eating just to take us to the train station. Right before I did that the taxi showed. Thankfully it only took us 15 minutes to get to the station so we had about 20 to spare.

It’s been about 10 years since I’ve ridden an Amtrak train so it was interesting to contrast them with my more recent train experiences from Europe. I’ve ridden Englands worthless trains, the French TGV, German ICE, Italy’s Eurostar and many other eastern European trains. I have to say the Amtrak really isn’t bad other than the fact that it’s slow and only comes by once or twice a day. The seats are comfortable and spacious, the food isn’t bad and the service is pretty good. In Europe once you get on that train everything else is up to you. With Amtrak they keep an eye on you to make sure you get off at the right stop. They will wake you up too if you’re sleeping.

Anyway sleeping was about as comfortable as sleeping on an airplane but without the headrests that wrap around your head. So I didn’t get a lot of sleep but arrived anyway in D.C. at about 10:00 am.

Wednesday, 11 October 2006 01:00

Biltmore

For breakfast we went to the Waffle House which is a southern chain of breakfast cafes. It was then I realized that the south did in fact break away during the civil war and become a seperate country. The ladies that worked in the Waffle House were mostly missing their teath (the further south you go the fewer teath they grow…) and had accents so strong I could hardly understand them. At one point one said she need a billy goat or bush hog to get her going. The way she said it was hilarious so I laughed and pretended I understood her when in reality she might as well been speaking hebrew or something…

The reason we came down early before the wedding was so we could go to Asheville to see Biltmore. Iimg_5720-x planned a trip in 97 to see Biltmore but my daughter was born with medical problems and we didn’t go. I love French architecture and the Biltmore house is probably the best example of it in the U.S. It’s also an insanely large house on a very large estate. George Vanderbilt was a scholar and traveler so he wanted what he saw in Europe here in the states so he had a French Chateaux built in North Carolina. The area around Biltmore reminds me of the hills around Chinon or maybe the foot of the Austrian Alps around Neuschwanstein castle. In the end it’s a nice place to put an estate. We arrive and enter the 175,000 square foot house and immediately realize that even though it looks French on the outside this is an American house. It’s very easy to compare it to Versaille but that wouldn’t be a fair comparison because Versaille cost as much as half of the yearly income of every resident in France for one year to build. I doubt that Biltmore cost that much because the interior isn’t nearly as ornate. That’s fine because Versaille is really overdone. Who needs gold plated walls anyway? Biltmore is much easier to take than some of the French Chataeuxs but it’s also more apparent that although rich the Biltmores weren’t kings. Overall the Biltmore house was an enjoyable experience and I recommend anyone going there if they’re interested in that sort of thing. If you always wanted to go to the Loire Valley in France but just couldn’t make it this may suffice. If you do go make sure you check out the rose gardens and other parts of the estate.

We left Biltmore and ate at the Texas Roadhouse which was pretty good. We’re realizing very quickly that we should only be ordering one plate for both of us because the portions are huge. I think we carried half our food (at least) out in a to-go box. Our waiter said Statesville was only about 40 minutes away but we soon found out it was almost two hours. Maybe he just never leaves Asheville and doesn’t know…