Before I start, I know the Bee Gees did not sing 'Welcome to the Hotel California', but as you read on, you may see the connection!
Yes, I went on another wonderful trip. It was time to add a few more magnets to the side of the fridge, and start to make the map of the USA a little fuller. Samantha had just added four, so not to be outdone, I was going to put half a dozen on the other side.
We left work early. Anyone who knows Dana will understand that this in itself was beyond amazing. Getting him away from his desk is a major feat, but to close the door, and put the phone on auto-answer before five (or six as is mostly the case) is considered an impossibility, but the only flights that were available to New England had us leaving Austin at 5.15pm. Amazingly enough, we were in the car and on the way to the airport at 3.30pm.
The first flight was very uneventful and landed on time. Our second flight, from Houston to Boston, Massachusetts, was slightly delayed. Unfortunately, the slight delay to 7.30pm meant that we did not land at Logan Airport until after midnight, taking into consideration the hour time difference. We didn't have to collect bags, so we left the terminal, and found the bus that would take us to our hire car. It was either the driver's first week at work, or she was very short sighted. Whiplash is rather a strong accusation, but if my neck was jolted just slightly more from the near misses with cars, other buses, and general brickwork of the airport building structure, I would have been able to sit at the front of the bus, on the dash! We were dropped at the front of the building, and joined the long queue, which at 1am was not the best way to start our holiday, but we were not going to be disheartened. Fortunately, the administration was very efficient, and we were at the desk within ten minutes. After completing the formalities, we asked the clerk if he could give us directions to the hotel. He started to explain the route, which was as clear as mud, and then told us we would arrive at the MIT University, at which time we would have to pull over, and call the hotel, as due to the one way system, he would not be able to explain how to reach the entrance. His directions, although sounding slightly bizarre, were very good. The road signs left something to be desired. As we drove down the main road, we saw the sign to Cambridge, the area that housed our hotel. Fortunately, not being familiar with the area, we were not travelling particularly fast, which allowed us to exit at the sign, literally. As the signs appeared, so did the exit, with no prior warning. We followed the road around, turned on Memorial Drive, and saw MIT and our hotel. The difficulty in reaching the entrance to the hotel appeared to be a right turn. We made a right turn, and the hotel entrance was immediately to our left. It was not until later in our trip did we realise that no one really wants to turn off the main road, as you will never, ever, find it again.
Our room, even at 2.15am, was lovely. Overlooking the Charles River, the old buildings on the opposite side were lit, and the view was beautiful. After the obligatory wet-wipe-down, I had a shower and went to bed. A few good men came to a conclusion at around 3.30 as did I, and I dozed off into a deep sleep, to be woken, quite happily, by the sun at around five. I slept for another three hours and made some coffee while Dana went to the front desk to find out how to leave the city. I sensed his frustration as he returned. 'No one knows how to get around this city. They don't even know how to leave the building'. It was at this point that I started to hum, 'Welcome to the Hotel California......'. Grabbing the proverbial bull by the horns, we got into the car, left the hotel, and followed the vague instructions given, finally, by one of the desk clerks, and promptly u-turned to get on the right road. Getting out of Boston was not easy, but we managed.
Rhode Island was not very far away, and lunch in Providence, on the river, sounded perfect. Finding a restaurant on the river was not a happening thing. Finding a restaurant was not much easier. After driving around for some time, we stopped to ask two young females for help. 'Oh', said one; 'You want to go down to Thayer Street. It's got some good restaurants. The brown kids hang out there'. I was rather taken aback, and surprised at her lack of integrity at referring to an ethnic community. How was I to know that there was a University called Brown in Rhode Island! There were indeed a lot of Brown kids, and parents, relatives and friends of Brown kids, leaving no room for the Texans! Finding nowhere to park, we drove out of town and decided to head straight for Connecticut. Just before we reached the boarder, we saw a little pub on the corner of the road, and pulled in, hoping to find some lunch, as well as some advice on where to get some souvenirs. It was nearly two o'clock, I had been in two states, and failed to purchase a fridge magnet. The pub was very quaint, and full of character, as were the staff. On my way back to the table, after using the facilities, Samantha called to see how we were progressing. We were given a menu and asked what we wanted to drink. 'You cant go into a pub and ask for two glasses of water!', Samantha exclaimed. The waitress seemed unperturbed, and returned with two glasses, and a pad to take our order. 'How do you want your steak cooked?', she asked me when I ordered the beef and blue cheese sandwich. 'How rare is your rare', was the riddle I posed. 'Um, I don't know, I'll have to ask Kyle', she said. This was then the answer to every question. 'Does the Chilli have onions?'; 'What would you recommend?'; 'Is there a gift shop or convenience store around here?'; 'What's the time Mr. Wolf?'. Kyle, it would appear, was the Oracle. I was half expecting a large computer with K.I.L.E., printed on the side, but instead, a rather skinny, young man appeared. With locals entering for lunch, and a beer, it appeared that Kyle was, indeed, to them, the authority on all things, which was rather disconcerting, as he did not appear to be particularly smart. Kyle knew how to drive his truck backwards in the snow, but didn't know what the tail gate looked like, as he just reversed into things, and didn't check out the damage. Kyle knew how to drive his truck the wrong way up a one way street. Fortunately, (as in his first statement) he knew how to reverse, as sometimes he met cars coming the right way, along the one way street. Kyle knew how to cook. (Hopefully not at the same time as reversing his truck) Kyle did not know if there were any stores around the area. Therefore, the general census was that there were no stores around the area. We left the pub, gastronomically satisfied, but without direction as to where to purchase the necessary souvenirs. About a hundred yards along the road, we found a convenience store. I was all for turning around and telling Kyle, but the thought of him reversing his truck down the winding hill, forced my decision against the idea. The convenience store did, indeed, have magnets. Cat magnets, house shaped magnets, California magnets and a picture frame magnet. They were on a stand behind the sun glasses, which were behind the caps. 'I have a very small shop, and have to find a space for everything', said the owner in broken English. 'I shall show you'. After she had dismantled virtually every display in the shop, she decided she did not have anything that was 'Rhode Island'. Feeling rather charitable, Dana bought a peach tea. The cheerful lady was not concerned about the disarray which had overcome her store, but seemed to be rather delighted that she had found some long lost wares. We left and headed West.
Connecticut was very pretty. That was it. We drove through and enjoyed the view, and fresh feeling that surrounded us. Had we not been on a mission to reach Maine, we may have driven into Hartford, and taken a look around, but as we didn't have any sites we particularly wished to see, we bypassed the capital, and drove back into Massachusetts, and through to New Hampshire.
The welcome center in New Hampshire was most welcoming. With Silver Birch trees surrounding the building, I felt more at home than I had in any other State so far, and by home, I mean England. Obviously, New England is named for a reason. Our encounter with the 'general person' in the center was very interesting, if not at all relevant to our trip. He told us where to head for in Maine, and the best fish restaurants; how his mother, when she was alive, had seen George Bush speak on Memorial Day in Kennebunk; how the illegal immigrants were given every available amenity; how the mafia run Providence in Rhode Island. I don't think he would see himself as controversial. We thanked him for the information about the fish restaurant, and headed north.
Maine was amazing. The sight of the Atlantic Ocean was enough to have me squealing with delight. 'We are at the seaside!' I pulled the car over and could hardly wait to take off my shoes and climb down the rocks onto the sand. I called Samantha. 'I'm by the seaside', I screamed. As my feet came into contact with the water, I realised I was at the edge of the USA. With Maine being the farthest north east State, having my feet in the sea meant that if I kept going, I could be heading home. There was something quite incredible about standing there, at the edge, with nothing but ocean. I know I was not at the far north tip, but it was still pretty amazing.
Dinner was scrumptious. Fresh haddock, and a wonderful view of the Ocean, which was now crashing against the rocks, as the tide was coming in, and the mist falling, was perfection. All we had to do now was head back to the hotel. We back-tracked through New Hampshire, and before I knew it, I was becoming a Bee Gee. 'Feel I'm going back to Massachusetts!' All was very wonderful, and the journey was without a hitch, until we reached Boston. Attempting to avoid the toll road was an impossibility, as was finding it. I am now very familiar with Chelsea, and would be able to take a job driving a taxi tomorrow, if necessary. Travelling up and down every road, most more than once, gave me quite a knowledge of the area. I know the way to the Post Office, the dock, the High School, as well as every Dunkin Donut in town. In fact, by the time we did leave, I felt like a local! Having reversed out of so many dead ends, we wondered if this would be a good retirement area for Kyle!
We did find our way back across the River, and once on the main road, I was able to scream at Dana, 'turn left' at the Cambridge sign, which once again appeared without a prior warning. It had been a wonderful day.
Sunday morning, we knew, would be a challenge. Having worked a route of out the hotel, and town, we were confronted with The Boston Marathon, which was being run directly outside our hotel. Our 'way out' was blocked with barricades. 'Welcome to the Hotel California.....you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave'. Oh ye of little faith! If there is a will, there is a way. With the police standing guard at the exits, we turned the other way, and headed out backwards, (no, not in Kyle fashion) to the Interstate, through the 'other' part of town, and out into the countryside. Matching each telephone, mile for mile, on the Interstate, Massachusetts has a Dunkin Donuts. Perhaps they have an extra large police force? We needed to check in online for our flight the following day, but none of the said delicacy pitstops had wi-fi. We continued down the road, and past signs for many, many English towns. As well as Cambridge, there is an Oxford, Taunton, Lancaster, and Exeter. There is also a Middlesex and Essex as well as a Westminster. Each time we saw a sign, I was grabbing the camera. Of course...this is called New England for a reason!
Vermont was beautiful. The scenery was outstanding. Hills reaching up so far, and so green. It was breathtaking. And just for the heathen, the Welcome Center had wi-fi. I was able to check us in, and check emails, before going out on to the Terrace to send a picture to my sister. I had sent her one previously to show to my mum, of me waving. She sent me one, of my mum waving back. That was also a highlight of the trip. I was in Vermont, with not quite enough time to drive to St. Albans. They were in Sainsbury's, in Hertfordshire, England, just around the corner from St. Albans. We were also just too far out to go and visit Stowe, the home of the Von Trapp family. Too bad I wouldn't get to view the home of the real life Sound of Music singers, but Julie Andrews wouldn't be there either, so not such a loss.
We chose not have lunch by the river (again) and (again) were unsuccessful in finding anywhere that met our requirements. The two restaurants that would have been contenders had shut down. I did manage to get a magnet and a t-shirt! Success at last! Lunch was interesting. We waited for a table at a nice looking, busy cafe. We ordered two sandwiches and waited...and waited. Half an hour later we were told that Sunday brunch always takes at least thirty minutes, as they don't cook the food earlier and microwave it, they use fresh produce, cooked to order. Our sandwiches arrived and were very tasty. However, I am pretty sure that lunch meat is not cooked fresh to order! Ninety minutes after we arrived, we left the restaurant and decided to head over the bridge, back to New Hampshire, through Worcester, and beyond. The topography was, again, beautiful. I found a pharmacy, with magnets! I now had three states to add to the fridge.
'Feel I'm going back to Massachusettes', was heard across the highway, as we re-entered the State and headed down to Plymouth. Seeing the Mayflower (albeit a replica) and knowing that this is where the Pilgrims landed, was again worth the trip. Plymouth, however, was like Southend. A typical, English seaside resort. Yes, I went paddling; it's obligatory! The 'front' has boarding houses (or 'bed and breakfast' inns) and souvenir shops. The only thing that was missing was the mass of deck chairs along the promenade. After another Haddock supper, I reluctantly returned to the car, and said cheerio to the sea.
Our return to Boston was not without a hitch. We missed the tunnel under the river and took the wrong fork in the road. Not only are you unable to leave, it is virtually impossible to enter. The toll road cashier gave us directions, and told us we would see our hotel. We did, as we passed it on the other side of the river. We saw it again as we passed on the other side, and again before we ended up under the sign, where I screamed 'turn left now' for Cambridge.
Leaving for the airport, Dana, once again, expressed his feelings about the city for the last time. The word 'hate' was used each time we entered and exited, and this morning was said more heartfelt than previously. There are no signs to the airport, outside the airport. As soon as you are on the outskirts, there is a sign. Follow the sign and then the road forks, without a sign. 'You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave'. We realised, it doesn't apply to the Hotel, it applies to the City! We were fortunate. We chose the correct fork. We returned the car, and the bus took us to the terminal. After obtaining boarding passes, we were sent to the x-ray machine. My bags were x-rayed and so was I!
The flight back was very smooth. I was upgraded so I didn't have any complaints. Dana had a window bulkhead so he was happy. The trip was amazing. Six States and some pretty awesome sights. I am very blessed. The only evidences of Wal-mart was a truck, and one very small store tucked away behind the trees in New Hampshire. Having a four day week is definitely going to be an advantage. The Legislature in Texas is going into a special session, so there is still work to do, but that is ...... another story.