Travelling Tales: Saturday and Apples (Ann Arbor, Day 5)

So my last full day in Ann Arbor, and for that matter in the US, involved a lot of walking! Tony, Amy, Mary, Sophie and I headed out this morning to experience the pre-football-match atmostphere up at the Michigan stadium: one hundred thousand people pouring into the stadium, most of them wearing Michigan blue and yellow! We walked against the flow of the tide, like salmon, so I got some pretty good pictures:

We spent the next few hours wandering around town – I went into a Michigan collegiate clothing shop and bought myself a very cute sort of mini-hoodie, in grey with a blue Michigan logo. I wore it for the second half of today because walking around town was really hot! We walked a few miles around various places in Ann Arbor, taking various detours to find fairy doors and go into cool shops, including one that made its own paper – racks and racks of gorgeously patterned papers! I could have just moved into the shop, it was beautiful.

Then in the late afternoon we drove up to an apple orchard and picked a huge bagful of apples! It was great fun, and Amy took some lovely photos while we were doing it. They’re still on her camera, though, so I’ll have to get them soon, to put them in my album!

And then just before we went out to dinner, Anne came by to drop off an eyeliner that I’d accidentally left behind at hers, so I got to see her again and hug her goodbye! Dinner tonight was in a really American place called Grizzly Peak, and there was an enormous moose head on the wall above our table.

So I just finished packing up my stuff and I’m pretty much all set to go in the morning! I’ll have to rearrange a few things, though – I had to shove a load of things into bags and zip them up because I was being besieged by Einstein, my cousins’ completely bonkers and hyperactive cat. I took a hilarious picture of him when he was trying to open the door, though (unfortunately for me, he worked out how to do it pretty quickly):

So that was my final day! Tomorrow will include a brunch with some more cousins, last-minute shopping and then (alas) the airport, so I’d better get my skates on and get to bed!

Travelling Tales: Art and Salami (Ann Arbor, Day 3)

For most of today I’ve been extremely tired – I think the travelling and the time lag finally caught up with me last night! Even though I slept for a long time this morning, I was tired again by the early evening, so I’ll probably keep this short in order to get some rest before tomorrow.

This morning I was very sad to be parted from my dear Anne – Science took her off to her lab, and I walked back to the Iannones’ place. She was a sweetheart, though, and let me sleep in for a bit at her place even after she had to leave for work, so I was at least alert for most of the afternoon!

During the afternoon, Tony and I went to the U of M art museum, which was great fun! They have lots of collections that seem unrelated, but were great fun to wander around. One of the most interesting rooms was a big collection of etchings and lithographs by an artist called Whistler – there were some wonderfully detailed pieces of text about his developments and style and his broader work as an artist, so that was very interesting. What I liked the best, though, were the Tiffany windows – they were just beautiful:

A close-up of a few of the bunches of grapes is currently serving as the background on my phone!

After the art museum, we went to a delicatessen called Zingerman’s, which is apparently an Ann Arbor institution. It was absolutely amazing! There were hundreds of different cheeses and cured meats, and I would say at least a dozen types of bread! Tony picked up some amazing sesame bread and we both sampled a few cheeses and salamis before deciding on which ones to get. My particular favourites were a ham that had been cured with rosemary (which was just incredible) and the two cheeses I’d sampled – a manouri, which is soft and creamy sheeps’-milk cheese, and ‘Pleasure Ridge Reserve’, which was made from the milk of one herd of American cows and recently won an award for being amazing. It’s rich and sort of nutty and a little fruity (not with fruit in it, I mean, but with this amazingly complex flavour that has sweet notes in with the savoury). I’m seriously considering checking the US export laws and seeing if it would be legal for me to take a chunk home. Anyway, here’s a shot of some of the cheeses that were on sale:

The evening largely involved hanging out with Sophie and Mary, until Tony and Amy came back from their ‘meet the teachers’ evening at Sophie’s new school. Sophie and I spent a long time looking for part of her newest thing – it’s 216 very small and very powerful magnets, basically a bucky balls toy, which she builds the most amazing shapes with. She dropped a few, though, so we had a long quest to find them all. We got all of them except the last one, which Tony found when he got home.

Anyway, I think it’s about time that I got into bed! Tomorrow I think Tony and I are going to Detroit (despite Sophie’s protests that “Detroit makes you feel you’re dirty whenever you go there!”) to the Henry Ford museum, which sounds like a lot of fun, and then I believe we’re having a family gathering in the evening*, so I should probably get plenty of sleep ahead of that.

(*Note for non-Flanagans: the Iannones, that is, Tony and his brothers and sisters, are my mum’s first cousins: her dad’s sister’s children. There are still quite a few of them around this area, and I think the plan is that I should catch up with most of them over the weekend.)

Travelling Tales: Sunshine and Sushi (Ann Arbor, Day 2)

This morning, Anne and I got up early and visited a farmers’ market on her way to work! We ambled around admiring the local produce (and munched on locally-grown apples) but I did not succeed in my quest for maple syrup – the only syrup we could find was in glass bottles and they were too heavy to carry in my baggage (plus if they broke I’d get maple syrup all over my clothes). I guess I’ll just have to buy it in a shop. Or should I say a store?

Anyway, Anne had to go in to her office for a few hours to do Science, so I spent a happy while flicking through books in borders, purchasing a couple and then grabbing some lunch to eat in the sunshine in front of some Uni Michigan buildings. I wandered around town a lot, too, because it was a glorious afternoon and nice to be exploring. I took shots of the two fairy doors I passed, too:

This is to put it in perspective, and also because there’s a tiny little window on the wall inside the shop, which I thought was extremely cute:

And this one is outside The Ark, which is a music venue! It’s a perfect copy of the bigger doors. Note the tiny ticket window over there under the shop window!

After my wandering adventures, I met Anne for coffee before she had to go off to a talk, and I came back to hers to chill out for an hour or so before we headed out for dinner!

Dinner involved some EXCELLENT sushi – one of the types we ordered was smoked salmon, cream cheese and avocado, which was amazing, as was the chicken teriyaki.

And then Anne and I went to rummage and frolick in the vintage shop next door, which involved a lot of hilarity, and the trying on of clothes that absolutely didn’t fit.

We wandered home via photo opportunities on the steps of a big new U of M building and outside a very nice fountain, and Anne introduced me to ‘band of brothers’, a TV show about which I have heard much and it has been on my to-watch list for a very long time, so it was good to finally see it! We only had time for the pilot episode, but it was still amazing, and beautifully filmed. Anne tells me that they located actual WWII planes for some of the filming. The direction and the attention to detail is absolutely beautiful, but I know I’ll probably appreciate it more when I know all the characters (and can recognise them even when their faces are covered in mud!), so I guess I’ll just have to re-watch it! It was great to watch with someone who knows it so well, though, to explain things I didn’t quite get the first time! Plus, Damian Lewis. AMAZING.

So tomorrow I’m heading back to the my family to spend the weekend with them, so I guess I’d better get some sleep! I’ve had a super day, it’s been lovely to hang out with Anne and enjoy some fabulous Michigan weather. I think it’s meant to rain a little tomorrow, and then clear up over the weekend, so I hope the weatherman’s got it right. That’s it for today, then! Time I got ready for bed!

Travelling Tales: Crazy Random Happenstance (Ann Arbor, Day 1)

So today was my first full day in Ann Arbor, and it was absolutely delightful! I had a pretty leisurely morning, charging up my phone and camera and phoning both of my parents! It was lovely to catch up with them. Only Tony was home this morning, because Amy was at work and the girls were at school, so once my stuff had finished charging we headed up to their lakeside cottage to pick up some gear that Tony wanted to bring back to the house. The drive through the countryside around Ann Arbor was beautiful – so many trees (as I suppose you’d guess from the name?)! And I saw my first genuine American white picket fence along the front of a garden!

It was a gorgeous cloudless afternoon, so once we’d put the stuff in the car Tony took me for a spin around the lake in their boat, which was amazing!

This is the view back towards the cottage…

…and this is the view of the far side of the lake from on the water. It was beautiful!

When we got back Mary was back from school so she helped us unload and I chatted to her for a bit, then threw some overnight stuff into a bag and Tony dropped me off downtown to meet my lovely friend Anne! I’m at her place now. We had a wonderful afternoon, having lunch (an excellent club sandwich on focaccia bread!) and catching up, and wandering around Ann Arbor.

And later on she provided me with my inaugural frozen yoghurt, which was AMAZING. I don’t know why we don’t have frozen yoghurt in the UK. I seriously think it might be the next big thing. It’s chilly and delicious and better for you than ice cream. And comes in tubs! And you can add toppings! It is like the beautiful lovechild of breakfast and dessert, it’s amazing.

This was mine (there are two flavours of yoghurt under all the toppings):

Anyway, it’s getting late now and Anne and I are planning on going to a farmers’ market in the morning so I should probably get some sleep! Time is moving so quickly, I can’t believe it’s already Tuesday – and the end of Tuesday, for that matter! But I have many more fun things planned for the rest of the week, so I should get some rest and get ready for them.

Travelling Tales: Plane Clothes (New York to Ann Arbor)

So today involved a hop from New York to Ann Arbor. I had a lovely breakfast this morning with Carmel and her mum, in which I ate a sumptuous amount of strawberries (and made a mental note to give myself strawberries for breakfast more often). I was very sad to leave Carmel’s – I had a fantastic few days with her there.

She dropped me off at JFK at about half twelve, so I only had two hours before my flight left at 14.25 (actually I think we were delayed a little bit, but I was on the plane by then). It took a very long time to check in my bags and get through security, though – there was a big family, quite young parents with a gang of six or seven kids aged from about ten all the way down to a tiny baby, who were ahead of me in the queue and the fact that the children were clinging to each other and their parents seemed to bewilder the security people, who were ordering them to come through the scanner one at a time, which frightened the littler ones. It was sort of cute, but I did not envy those parents.

Anyway, I got to the gate and pretty much sat down and read Good Omens (a book by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman that is basically an apocalypse satire, and it’s one of the funniest books I’ve ever read), got on the plane, read Good Omens and got to Michigan. It was a glorious flight, actually, because the air was so clear. I took a couple of photos out of the window of the plane that were pretty cool:

And this one was a little bit later on:

And I saw a wind farm, which made me think of my dad. You can just see it on the right-hand edge of the first picture, just up from the coast.

One of the things that’s strangest, for me, seeing America from the air, is all the squares. All the fields and the cities have straight lines, where everything in Britain is rumpled and scattered like a duvet that someone’s been sleeping restlessly under.

Anyway. We landed pretty much on time, but I got a little bit lost inside the airport, and ended up on a very long pilgrimage to the luggage pick-up (and realised that they had an indoor train when I was nearly at the far end of the enormously long building. AN INDOOR TRAIN. It was pretty cool, actually.) Tony, my mum’s cousin, picked me up from the airport, and we took a scenic route to Ann Arbor. His wife, Amy, who’s a great friend of my mum’s, was home, and just starting to cook when we got there; and so was Sophie, their younger daughter, who’s now eleven. Mary, who’s 17, was still at rowing practise, so she got in a little later. She’s a lot taller than she was the last time I saw her! It’s so great to see them all again – they lived close to us in England for a year or so when I was about 15, and we saw them quite a lot then, so it’s really lovely to catch up with them all.

After dinner we went for a walk into town and all got ice creams at a Ben & Jerry’s place. Sophie was my tour guide, telling me all the cool places that I had to go. And she showed me some fairy doors – little doors about four inches high on some of the streets. Apparently there’s a fairy door map, so I think I’m definitely going to have to get one and take pictures of them all!

Anyway, I’d better get to bed now because I am pretty tired. I don’t know what it is about planes, I’m always exhausted after I get off them! And I need to get plenty of rest so that I can explore more of Ann Arbor tomorrow. I also have to arrange when to meet up with my dear friend Anne, which I am very much looking forward to, so I think it is definitely time I let myself recharge.

Travelling Tales: ‘I’ll Go to the Theatre’ (New York, Day 4)

Today was a very chilled-out day, which was nice, since yesterday was so busy. After the dinner party last night Rita had stayed with her and Carmel’s mother, who lives in an apartment that takes up the ground floor of Carmel’s house. This afternoon, Carmel and I drove into Manhattan to the theatre, and Rita came with us rather than taking the train home.

Carmel and I went to see ‘The 39 Steps’, a Noises Off-style spoof of the Hitchcock thriller. It was a fantastic production – four actors played all of the parts, sometimes with lightning-quick costume changes and sometimes playing more than one part at once. A lot of fun was poked at theatrical conventions and Hitchcock, and it was an extremely enjoyable afternoon.

After a feed of Thai food (and a lychee mojito) we returned to Carmel’s house. I’ve got to sort out my washing and pack up my stuff in order to leave for Michigan tomorrow! I can’t believe it’s Sunday already. I’ve had a wonderful time in New Jersey and New York, though there are still so many things I haven’t seen! I suppose I’ll just have to come back some time. What hard choices I have to make.

 

Travelling Tales: 9/11 (New York, Day 3)

Today, of course, was 9/11, and a very interesting day to be in New York it was.

I started off fairly unhistorically, meeting Ellie for some absolutely amazing pancakes for brunch in the West Village (lemon pancakes with strawberries and maple syrup: amazing).

Ellie and I then went for a lovely walk down the riverside, dodging cyclists as we atoned for eating so many pancakes. In fact, I took Ellie to the Irish heritage hunger memorial that I visited with Carmel a couple of days ago, which was fun. I noticed something that I hadn’t before, which was that the names of Irish counties and cities were carved into the granite rocks they had scattered around the place. I took photos of a few (especially Clare, for my ma).

We then walked past the World Trade Centre site – or we intended to. The main road that we needed to cross in order to get there was, just as we got to it, the site of a massive, miles-long avalanche of motorcyclists, hundreds and hundreds of them pouring down the streets. I believe it’s a memorial ride in honour of those who died on 9/11, but there were definitely some tensions between them and a guy carrying a ‘build the mosque now’ placard.

There were a lot of demonstrations going on around Ground Zero today, which is why it was so interesting to be there. Not just commemorating the dead, but pro-war on terror and anti-war at all, ‘Grief should not be an excuse for bigotry’ pro-Islamic centre, ‘Jesus loves America’ which was ostensibly honouring the dead and those who gave up their lives, but spent a lot of time shouting about how Jesus made America great and made New York great and how He built America just for us so we should be grateful and love him, which I thought was a shame because it made it a bit contentious (Native Americans?) and sort of detracted from honouring those who died. Politics was everywhere today.

It made me wonder: who’ll be happy if this centre doesn’t go up? Who’ll be happy if it does? And what, if anything, does that say about them?

Here are a few photos of the different rallies:

These are the Christian demonstrators:

And these are the pro-Islamic centre people:

The funniest demonstration was a group of Marxists who were standing by the pro-Islamic centre crowd but criticising all the other demonstrations, saying that everybody else’s demonstrations were a sign of the evil of the capitalist system and how the power should be in… different hands. It was all very Doctor Horrible. I picked up their pamphlet, anyway, just to see what was in it (a lot of Trotsky. Seriously, there’s an ‘Honour Comrade Trotsky’ thing on the second page). Anyway, I thought it would be fun to unleash my Deconstruction Skillz on it, which I intend to do later on.

Anyway, after our encounter with the conspiratorial communists, Ellie and I went to that bastion of Americana, Starbucks, and had tea. We then walked up through various districts of New York, via some japes in jewellery shops trying on lots of bling, through Soho and along the edge of Chinatown, and then we went up to Times Square and broadway (because I’m a really terrible tourist, I’ve only seen the Statue of Liberty from a distance and I’ve been to no other famous NY landmarks). So I took some shiny neon pictures and a nice shot of the Empire State building:

And then we spotted Mickey Mouse on his way home from the office:

And then I came back to New Jersey and went out to dinner with Carmel, her sister Rita, and some of their high school friends who are still in the area, which was a lovely evening. Her sister Rita lived with a couple of the friends for a few years when they were younger, I think, which sounds like it was a pretty lively household. It was a great night, though (and the food was amazing, especially a hand-made spicy guacamole dip that was just incredible).

Wow. Today’s post has been pretty long, but it merited it. It’s getting late now, and I have to get to bed! My legs aren’t so happy with me for making them walk so far today, but hey, I fuelled them with pancakes, so I’m not sure why they’re complaining.

Tomorrow, alas, is my last full day in New York/New Jersey. I’ve had a wonderful time here, and it’s been great to spend time with Carmel and catch up with Ellie. I’m not sure what we have planned for tomorrow, but I’m sure it’ll be amazing fun – though maybe not quite so exciting as guessing at the demonstration that’s going on around the next corner and having a man confess to you that he’s a Trotskyist while he’s trying to talk to you about the underlying problems of the system.

Travelling Tales: Natural History (New York, Day 2)

(Edit: I’m expanding this on Sunday early afternoon, because on Friday I didn’t have enough time to do the post justice.)

Today I took my first solo steps into New York, and went to the American Museum of Natural History! It was amazing, I spent hours and hours wandering around taking photos and generally being thrilled by all the science. I’ve wanted to go there since I was a little girl (that is, when I was three and decided to be a dinosaur hunter because my dad and I watched a documentary about dinosaurs and a good portion of it involved this museum).

I started off in the Room of the Universe, which is basically a giant model of the near universe with added information (and was full of small children and their parents). Naturally, I located Sirius and took photos of it!

And I found out what my relative weights are on different planets! And for the sake of comparison and thoroughness I weighed myself on Earth and I’m 120 pounds.

I also saw an enormous iron meteorite, but it was surrounded by people so I didn’t get any good pictures.

After the space science, I moved into the rooms of biodiversity, which had models of hundreds of different species covering the walls and hanging from the ceiling. There was an Ocean Life room, too, which was lit a murky dark blue and had a life-size model of a blue whale in it. My first book was about a blue whale, so naturally I took a lot of photos of that. This is one of the best:

And there was an absolutely ENORMOUS chuck of sequoia tree, which obviously I took many photos of (and definitely didn’t plan on tagging my sister as it on Facebook) and on it was written a number of significant dates, from 550 ad when the tree started growing, to 1891 when it was cut down. Here’s a shot to show you the scale of the thing, the detail photos will be in my album!

And then I spent a long, long time wandering around the dinosaur rooms! There were lots of little kids up there, too, so my inner three-year-old was in good company. It was so exciting to see them, and to remember watching them on TV when I was a sproglet. I was EXTREMELY alarmed that an empty case was labelled ‘velociraptor’, though. (On further inspection, it had a skull in it, but still! It was a very large case to hold such a small skull!) Anyway, here’s a triceratops:

And after the dinosaurs, I asked a security guard how to get to the room of gemstones. I received the best directions I have ever received in my life, which were, “Go down this corridor, hang a left at the bear, continue until the giant canoe, turn right, and you’re there.” I did indeed hang a left at the bear and turn right at the giant canoe, and then I got to the geology rooms. My favourite room was the room of precious stones (magpie!) and the sapphires in particular were amazing:

So that’s my Christmas present sorted, okay?

As always, I took a load of photos, which I’ll be putting up in albums later. This is just a report and a taster. But I survived the subway, anyway, and then when I came back Carmel introduced me to her partner, Tom, and we went out to dinner with some of his friends, where he introduced me as their love-child, in town until the paternity suit is done. Dinner was in a barbecue place a few streets away, with a swing band playing in the background – a fun way to spend a Friday night, especially since Tom’s friends are former rock’n’roll musicians – Jerry played with Debbie Harry for years, and has a very impressive list of people he’s met and partied with.

I’m tired now, though, and still haven’t quite got over my jet lag – it’s not too bad, it just wakes me up ridiculously early in the morning, and broken sleep isn’t the best.

In conclusion: I love museums, dinosaurs are still the best, and the Museum of Natural History gets my seal of approval:

Travelling Tales: New York, A Day (Day 1)

I thought it might be nice, since I’ve got my computer here and have access to the internet, to update every now and then on stuff I’ve been doing in America!

So yesterday marked the first time in my life that I’ve flown further west than Ireland. The flight from Heathrow was okay, it just sort of – went. I was tired, though frustratingly enough not tired to sleep, so I was absolutely shattered by the time I landed at JFK. I felt quite strange, like my body clock was protesting that I was still awake, but had got very confused about the amount of light there’d been flying over the north Atlantic. It’s funny, this is the first time I’ve gone on a long flight where it hasn’t been aiming east or south, so I guess it’s appropriate that it’s the first real solo trip I’ve made. I entertained myself by taking a lot of photos out of the window – largely of the light on the clouds, but at a jaunty angle, to account for the wing of the plane. This is my favourite, taken somewhere over Quebec:

I’m staying in New Jersey at the moment, in a lovely little place called Montclair, with Carmel, an old friend of my mum’s. Carmel and my mum met because Carmel’s aunt lived in the house next door to my grandparents in Ballaghaderreen, the family hometown in the West of Ireland. I had a lovely hour this morning chatting with Carmel’s mother, who lives downstairs, and is Irish. This morning was pretty relaxed, actually, because Carmel picked me up from the airport last night, we got in at about 11pm (which was 4am GMT) and I pretty much checked my emails, informed my parents that I survived, and fell asleep. It was strange waking up this morning, though, because my body definitely felt like it was afternoon. So we were pretty relaxed and had a leisurely breakfast, then headed out to New York at about half one.

We ambled around downtown Manhattan for most of the afternoon, starting with the World Trade Centre site, which is a massive building site now, and then going around the corner to this tiny little Irish Heritage place that is basically a plot of land about twenty metres square on a plinth, and on the plot of land is a lot of grass, some drystone walls, various Irish rocks and a transplanted tumbledown Irish cottage. It is actually an Irish cottage that was brought over stone by stone and pieced together again – and the massive plinth it rests on is covered in quotations, in Irish and English, about and from people who moved from Ireland to America (many at the time of the Great Famine). It was very surreal to see it sandwiched in between two enormous, sparkling skyscrapers. ‘Skyscrapers’, what an amazing word. And there are some very, very shiny buildings in Manhattan. Anyway, this is a shot of the buildings opposite it, just to illustrate the point (those massive cranes are actually on the World Trade Centre site):

Anyway, after that we wandered down Wall Street (with a quick side-step into a Tiffany’s shop: I love love love the Tiffany’s Keys collection, but don’t have $900 handy to spend on my favourite) and past the court house with all the steps that’s shown in all the cop shows (and I think Batman?) – sadly no sign of any actors, but still a beautiful building. And we went to Brooklyn bridge and past City Hall before heading to Chinatown to meet up with Carmel’s sister, Rita, for dinner.

On the way back we decided to take a detour and get the ferry to Hoboken, which was fun, because it was getting dark, so the buildings were all lit up and reflecting in the water. I’ve been pretty tired for the last couple of hours, though – it’s twenty past ten here, which means it’s 3.20 GMT, so no wonder. But the walking was good, it was so nice to just walk and walk after spending so much time yesterday cooped up on trains and planes. Anyway, since good things come in threes, here’s a shot of the New Jersey side of the river from the ferry just to round things off:

I’ll post the majority of my photos in albums on Facebook, but I thought it would be nice to stick a few in here. Anyway. Those were the highlights of my first day in America. Those, and talking to a very nice NYPD officer and secretly being very excited that he was a Real New York Police Officer. I think it’s time I called it a day (I am definitely going to call this post ‘A Day’ now) and got some rest.

In conclusion: yay America, wow New York, camera happy, sleepy. But I really hope you actually read the post and didn’t just skip to the end, because that would make my day look really boring.