To the lady on the Boston Harbour boat tour…

Dear stranger-lady on the Boston Harbour boat tour, 

My son was an out and out horror today. 

He was so epically, UNBELIEVABLY, naughty, that after our brief encounter on the tour boat, we made our way back to our hotel – where, I admit, the day momentarily picked up with games of hide and seek, milkshake (cause no where delivers margaritas to my hotel room) and a dance party to Fat Man Scoop, but, when bed time rolled around, he was just as bad as ever.

I don’t know what his deal is, or where I’ve gone wrong…he was such a good two year old, but three? Three is…well, it’s…it’s…something.  Someone told me a couple weeks ago that I was essentially a bad mother to my son, those words have rung in my ears every day since they were written to me, and make me question myself constantly.  

Especially today.

At some point, I sat with my son in my lap, carefully pinning his arms to his legs to avoid him hurting himself, or, from being on the receiving end of one more punch, kick, or elbow from this tiny ninja and waiting out the storm.  I had, against all odds, kept my cool and was trying to reason with him, shush him, calm him – I think I even offered him cookies at one point, bribery? Whatever it took.  Trying to explain my desire to keep him safe, trying to encourage some deep breathing, and assuring him that once he exorcised the shrieking, thrashing demon from inside of him and listened, with his listening ears, that I’d let him sit, nicely, on his bottom (not standing jumping on a chair next to an open window) and leave him be.

You see, the three year old demon, clearly did not want to obey regular human being rules today, the rules that strongly suggest that when you’re on a moving boat you don’t run like Ussain freaking Bolt, in circles, up and down flights of stairs and generally put yourself in dangerous situations, or, essentially run any which place your parents are not – thinking this careless and reckless behaviour is funny, it is not.  

Prior to the boat tour he had also not taken heed of those other tricky little regular human rules, y’know, like, 

• Thou shalt not run on the train platform.  Never.  NEVER run on the effing train platform.

• Thou shalt not drop hands and bolt from your parents in a busy tourist area for any insane person to kidnap, or car to smash in to – or, for that matter, in any public place.

• Thou also shalt not clobber thy parents with moves that have clearly come directly from Conor McGregors back pocket.

And here’s where the double standard lies for parents. Let your kid run away from you on the train platform and get smushed by a train? Or jump out the window of a moving boat? Terrible parent.  Neglectful.  Absent minded.  Tut tut.  Head shake.  Clearly an utter hot mess who deserves to be burned alive at the stake.

Shout (or use that STOP FUCKING RUNNING YOU’RE IN IMMINENT DANGER” yell that parents have), put your kid in time out, or make any threats about tech-time, toys, candy or grounding them til they’re 35? and you’re too heavy handed, too strict, that poor child.  Terrible parent. 

Anywhoo, I digress.  After enduring more punches than I have in the ring, I tagged daddy-C in to the fight and sat longingly gazing in to Boston harbour wishing the waves could open and swallow me up and praying his, inexplicable and monumental meltdown would pass quickly, then you appeared.  

“Mama, I’ve been there,” you said to me quietly over my shoulder as I bit my lip and fought back my second wave of tears of the day, “could I maybe try to help?” you asked.  “Perhaps I could play a game with him and distract him somehow?” You suggested, your voice filled with empathy and understanding.

“Sure” I said, defeated, go for it” 

“Hey buddy,” she said confidently, “would you like to play a game with me to distract you?” She asked him.  

He instantly stopped melting down, looked at her curiously, and nodded.  His wet-with-sweat hair was matted to his forehead and his crocodile-tear stained cheeks were hotter than the Red Sox logo.  But he was listening.

“Let’s distract you,” she continued, “because I’m not mama or daddy and you may even listen to me.  Can you play patty cake?” She enquired,

He nodded to the affirmative (even though he cannot) and she requested he put his hands up.  He stared at her as she demonstrated her expectations.  “I’ll just leave my hands here until you’re ready to do it too”, she said to him calmly.  

He pauses for a second, glances at me, glances back to the lady, and double hi-fives the stranger.
She began singing and clapping with him, explaining the process as she went along – and for maybe 30 whole seconds he was my happy little boy again, before he plopped off the chair he was calmly sitting on and made a bee-line for the stairs to the upper levels on the boat.
I wanted to cry.  I wanted to curl up in a ball, admit defeat and have my parenting pass withdrawn.  I wanted to offer my small child up to this, clearly superior-to-me parent, and say ‘Hey, go for it’.  He’s yours to fuck up now.
“I don’t know what I’m doing wrong”, my voice quivered at her.
“You’re going to be fine”, she replied, “you’re doing great, mama.”
“It doesn’t feel like it” I sighed.
“You gotta love an independent, strong-willed child.  It will serve him well when he’s older, but it’s so hard to endure right now.  Stick with it” she encouraged.
Turns out, she has two girls herself, 6 and 8 year olds and was one of the most genuine, least “other mother”-y type parents I’ve ever met.  She’s been there, done that, and enjoying a little nice-time before gearing up for puberty and the bitchy-ville wars that she’s soon to be staring down.
Ok, the rest of our day was blown to shit, our hundred dollar day passes to the kids museum, swan paddle boats and trolley tour, among other things were completely wasted.
Ok, I had to physically hold him in his bed to stop him climbing, jumping, running and causing mayhem and throwing things at bed time.
Ok so I wanted the ground to swallow me up from embarrassment, anger, frustration, resignation…but for an instant, this absolute stranger, sat in my space, reached out a little branch of calm and made me feel even just a teeny tiny little bit better about myself in that awful moment.
So, thank you, lady on the Bostonian boat tour, in the chaos I didn’t even catch your name, for agreeing with me that 3 years old, is a whole nother level of hell, than 2 was.  For taking a moment out of your sight-seeing trip, in blissful solitude all by yourself, away from your own children, to try and help better my day, even just for an instant and to give me some relief from the hellish demon that has seemingly all but replaced my loving and kind little boy.  For making me feel better about my defeated-feeling self, when all I really wanted to do was drink, eat chocolate, cry and disappear.
As I stepped off the boat behind Col, who was getting his glasses smacked off his face for the 38559295th time, I received a text from a friend, “I get that he’s an asshole kid right now.  But you fought hard to have that little asshole and you’ll fight hard to figure out what his damn problem is and set him straight.  Even if it’s emotionally exhausting and there are days that you just want to quit.”
Today? Today I want to quit.
And so, I’m going to bed, teary and deflated, I don’t want today to last even another second.  And considering Col and I both all but passed out on the bed the second we got back in to the hotel room, I don’t think a good sleep in the bank is a terribly bad plan.  Hopefully tomorrow is a better day, because I can’t take another one like today so soon on its heels, especially since tomorrow? We fly again. Lawwwwd in heaven, help me.
Today was a bad, bad day.  I’m praying that tomorrow is better.
He wasn’t all bad – see? This cute, adorable, sweaty-faced, sun-kissed smile? Yeah.  He was grinning because he went running around the sidewalk next to a busy bus pick-up/drop-off area at the airport like the Tasmanian devil.  Causing high blood pressure, severe heart palpitations and shrieking.  All the while yelling ‘Ha Ha! You can’t get meeeeee!’ at Colin and I – and he’s right, we typically *can’t* get him, unless we cut him off from different sides and swoop him up when he can’t see us coming.  He’s a slippy one.
Why do kids gotta be such little a-holes sometimes?  All we have tried to do on this trip is bring him fun places and do fun things.  Screw it, our next vacation will be spent at Presidential libraries, WWII ships and state capitols and he can just live with it.
Ugh! He’s lucky he’s cute.

You could do worse than Christmas at the Alamo!

Due to some rather crappy confluences of circumstances, we ended up having absolutely nothing to do for Christmas, in a house that was filled with packed boxes and severely lacking in any ‘holiday cheer’ (no tree, no decorations, minimal presents).   We were originally supposed to be in Dubai (again with the, WE WEREN’T SUPPOSED TO BE HERE!!) the timeline got pushed, so we were then supposed to be in the UK for a few days, the timeline got pushed again, so we were then supposed to be in DC getting documentation accredited and then the move got postponed for at least six months, so we decided to make the best of a bad situation, and go somewhere, ANYWHERE, that wasn’t here.

We originally looked at going to Iowa (Amber had kindly invited us for Christmas ages ago!) but considering the stress we’d been under of late, we concluded that not going through the hassle of airports, security etc during one of the busiest flying times of the year, probably wasn’t the best idea.

So we moved to a road-trip, we looked at Atlanta or Mississippi, but, again, considering the stress-factor, we decided that an 18+ hour road-trip wasn’t the best option either.

Finally, we settled on heading back up to good old reliable San Antonio, a short drive away, yet far enough from home to be considered a getaway and somewhere that had a sufficient amount of holiday cheer.  We decided to pay over the odds, stay on the River-walk itself and enjoy not driving, just strolling to and from the River-walk from the hotel.

Christmas experience?

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This wasn’t our first Christmas ‘alone’, we’ve spent four out of our five Christmases in Texas, ‘just us’, and we tend to love it.  This *was*, however, our first Christmas travelling somewhere and spending it at the mercy of the hotel and restaurant industry.  In context, it was exactly what we needed, a few days down-time from all the insanity, somewhere where you didn’t even have to make your own bed, or pick up towels from the floor.

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For Texas, it was as Christmassy as you can probably get, the River-walk was covered in Christmas lights, mariachi bands were singing Christmas carols table-side, the hotels had been decorated with exterior lights and huge trees and for once, the weather was proper Christmassy (in that it was cold enough for snow, but we never saw any).

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We didn’t do much, walked the River-walk quite a lot, just dandered to and from the hotel, watched lots of cheesy 80’s movies and bad TV (we watched a lot of housing renovation programmes) and relaxed – which we needed.  It was truly blissful and I may have even burst in to tears when the insane world stopped and we found ourselves just spending an afternoon in bed, watching TV.

As Christmases go, it was pretty classy, we enjoyed getting some glad-rags on and taking in a posh dinner in a beautiful hotel – and I must admit, having someone else cook, even if it wasn’t what I, myself would have cooked for Christmas day? Was pretty damn nice indeed!

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I’m definitely no longer averse to going away for Christmas, like I once was, and San Antonio really has a lot to offer during the season – it’s a pretty good place to give some consideration to, should you find yourself needing somewhere to go for the holidays!

Here’s my ‘review’ on the place we stayed, the place we ate Christmas dinner, and somewhere you should try when you’re on the River-walk, whether it’s Christmas, or not!

The Hotel: Hotel Contessa

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After doing some extensive researching and price comparing, we settled on the Hotel Contessa, for three nights – which was a good deal for that hotel, don’t get me wrong, it’s just a lot more than WE would usually pay for a hotel, we are bargain travellers.  I’m not sure what I expected from a 4 Star hotel in the USA.  We normally stay in Holiday Inns or “lower priced” 2.5 stars – 3 star hotels that we Price-line, get for great prices and, more often than not, they are exactly what we need them to be.  Personally, I feel, for $200 a night that you should come away feeling that if you were to come back to the River-walk that you couldn’t possibly stay anywhere else on that river, other than Contessa cause it was so awesome.  I’m sorry, but I just didn’t feel that!

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Perhaps if housekeeping had treated my teddy lion better, I’d have enjoyed it more? Lol! It’s actually become quite the accurate barometer of a hotel, some housekeeping staffs put him in bed when they are done making it, some have him peeking out from behind the pillows, some have him on the floor or tossed on the bedside table – Contessa falls into the later.

For those money conscious reading this (my couponer self, loves getting a deal, I love making my money stretch further than just what somewhere charges for something).  We had read the reviews before leaving Houston (thanks yelpers!) and parked in the garage (not even a block away) for $12 per day, as opposed to the mandatory hotel valet parking for $30 – saving of more than 50% a day on parking before we’d even started.  We spent $6 more for three days parking across the street, than ONE day of parking at Contessa (plus, Contessa probably would have added tax etc) – score!

Check-in is later than any hotel I’ve been to, 4pm.  You can pay (!!!!) $40 to check-in early.  What a ridiculous policy!! We actually didn’t know this ahead of turning up at the hotel, so I guess we got lucky that our room was ready at 2.35pm when we rolled up to the check-in desk, as we didn’t have a problem.

Contessa charge $20 extra per day for the River-walk view, is it worth it? Who knows?  We opted to stay on the quieter side of the hotel, though we also ended up with a partial view of the river which was a nice surprise.

We were woken up on our first morning in the hotel at 7am by some dudes clock radio alarm playing the Red Hot Chili Peppers, someone running a shower above us and cleaning crews going door to door.  I dunno, call me fussy, but with a 4-star hotel, I expect the walls to be a little thicker than paper and more sound proof than those in the Holiday Inn or Best Western!  I expected better quality of sleep, a quieter night, and, should I have wanted it (and we did!!) a lie-in!

We ordered room service once and my main problem with it lies with the fact that the guy delivering our food, left the food and took the silver warmer cloches off and left the room with them.  WTF???? I wasn’t ready for it just yet and it was COLD when I got to it.  Who the heck takes the cloches off and leaves with them???!?!? The menu is also pretentious to the utmost degree.  I asked for their posh fish and chips and expected some king of the ocean to appear, not chewy fish nuggets, bland aioli and cold fries (though the cold could have been because HE TOOK MY CLOCHE!)

No condiments to go with the in-room tea or coffee? Seriously? Even the cheap-@ss hotels have sugar, sweetener, half and half and stirrers!!!!! The mini bar costs are extortionate (moreso than other hotels I’ve been in) – if you didn’t bring provisions, just walk the two blocks go to the CVS on the River-walk, which is more expensive than a ‘regular’ CVS, but much cheaper than the minibar!

Aside from the suite being fairly nice and spacious, (though no room in the fridge, no in-room microwave, not even a free bottle of water!) and considering that it was CHRISTMAS and the best “treat” we got for spending our Christmas in Contessa was a $5 off a movie on the in-room system.  Thanks :-/ Again, I wouldn’t be encouraged to pick this hotel for next Christmas, especially considering how amazing the Hyatt’s Christmas buffet was and how fab their staff were.

And while i’m on the rampage, their website is terrible, spa packages have basic information (they don’t tell you the extent of services), no prices, the restaurant didn’t have a menu up, they also didn’t have their Christmas menu online.  Everyone lives online, it’s the age of technology, just give me everything I need to know BEFORE I get to the hotel please!

Check out is early enough (at 11am), DO NOT have housekeeping hound me (by banging the crap out of the door) from 9.30am (and again at 10.30am!!) to be granted access to a room I’ve paid for til 11am!! Classless.  Absolutely classless!

I can’t quite figure out what the price per night “up-charge” is for, other than the fact that it’s on the River-walk and even then, there are some cheaper 4 star hotels with better reviews out there, but we opted for Contessa for something a little more plush and luxurious than the others.

Maybe it’s *because* we are used to finding fantastic hotels at rock-bottom prices that I left feeling short-changed?  For example, we stayed at an EPIC Sheraton a few months ago, for $57 a night, and while there was really nothing badly wrong with Contessa, I just can’t, in good conscience, rate it on the same level as previous hotels we have stayed in, for much cheaper.  I feel like the “River-walk factor” gets away with way too much, and it just doesn’t cut it! (end rant!)

Christmas dinner: Q on the Riverwalk

Col lookin' VERY excited to have seen the buffet on his way in!

Col lookin’ VERY excited to have seen the buffet on his way in!

Google is your friend, though it took us a while to investigate which restaurants were open, if they had a specific Christmas menu, if so, what was ON their Christmas menu.  It’s like it’s some underground network of nods and winks to find Christmas dinner on the River-walk.  Be warned, Irish/British expats, finding a traditional Christmas dinner, is nigh on impossible – even from the British and Irish bars along the River-walk, which was highly disappointing.  Can you imagine the influx of expats if they offered even a carvery dinner for Christmas? I’d be first in line!

Make a reservation, we used open table.  I think they quietly allocate an hour for your table, but we weren’t rushed out of our spot – we tried to savour each plate and enjoy our experience, instead of hitting it hard like the Tasmanian devil and being stuffed after the first course! Lol! It was busier than I anticipated it would be, but not so crowded that you were all up in your neighbours business.

Per person cost was $46 + tax and 18% gratuity (or there abouts)  it worked out at around $116 for the two of us – this is a bargain, even at twice the price (which is more what you’d expect for a Christmas dinner).  It was an EPIC feed!!  The price includes all the food in all the land (buffet), free champagne, mimosas, fruit juices, sodas, tea and coffee – which we didn’t know ahead of time, but we were very happy to discover.

I counted 5 courses, but you could probably count more or less depending on how many plates you use and how highly they are stacked 😉

All of this is recalled from my food-coma memory, so bare with me – thankfully I took pictures to aid my memory recall! Lol!

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Salad bar: 3 types of lettuce, 4 kinds of dressing, and about 7-8 pots of “toppings”, cucumber, onion, carrots, tomatoes, peppers, bacon and croutons.

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Behind the soup/bread there were also 3 drawers of salads, broccoli salad, pasta salad and what looked like sweet potato salad but I could be wrong.  Fresh, fresh, fresh! As salads go it was delicious.  Start small though, you wanna build up to the meat!

Soup: butternut squash bisque – just a little cup, but dear LORD it was delicious.  I could have enjoyed gallons of the stuff! Don’t overload on bread at this stage.  DON’T DO IT.  1 or 2 slices, max.  Save the bread for the cheese course, if you can manage it by the time you get there!

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We left the cheese and antipasti station for the moment, but it’s right there – so you WILL be tempted.

Entrees: carving station (pork loin, prime rib) here you’ll find the mashed potatoes, apple sauce, mushroom demi-gravy, and – weirdly, bread pudding, which you *may* if you’re my husband, mistake for stuffing!

I tried the pork, it was great.  It wasn’t dry, the dude can slice as much or as little as you’d like.  Prime rib was wayyyyy too raw for me but hubby loved it.  Mash potatoes were EPIC.  Hubby who doesn’t tend to like potatoes, loved them.  It was great to see brown jus-gravy and not thick creamy white gravy.

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On the other side of the salad bar, you have the other entrees, carrots and asparagus, crab topped rainbow trout, braised short rib, sweet potato mallow gratin, stuffed chicken breast, wild game paella… I’m not kidding, ALL THE FOOD IN ALL THE WORLD!!!

I loved the veggies, the braised short ribs rocked my world, like freakin’ amazing.  The trout was perfectly cooked too.  Least fave was the chicken, I just didn’t care for the stuffing inside and it was a little dry and boring compared to the other treasures on offer.

Next it was the cheese, bread and antipasti/cold seafood.  If you have room.  The breads were fresh and delicious, the cheeses were just sitting right there – it was tempting to take an entire block, and hubby could have camped at the antipasti table all day….and night….and the next day!

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If you’ve any room left, the dessert table is round the corner beside the bar.  I had a small piece of cheesecake with raspberry coulis which was light and tasty.  I thought the cake was chocolate cake, it wasn’t (unfortunately), it was the strongest coffee flavour EVER.  Pass.  Not my bag.

I also managed half a slice of the key lime pie – hands down the single best key lime pie I’ve ever eaten…and wished I could have taken the other half back to the hotel in a box to have eaten whenever I was eventually hungry again (around 10 or 11pm!!)  Hubby also tried a swiss-roll type thing that he said was nice.

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Things they need to improve this fab meal?  A wee bit of stuffing (it’s CHRISTMAS dangit!!!!) custard and/or whipped cream and pleeeeease label each dish, you’d probably reduce waste if people know what they are picking up!! I ended up accidentally getting Caesar dressing instead of ranch, cause they all looked the same in unmarked jugs!

Service was really great, he was bubbly, friendly, attentive and didn’t rush us or treat us any different for not ordering any alcohol and when I asked for tea, he brought me like six kinds!

Notable mention: Waxy O’Connors

Ok, first of all this place should obviously be split into two sets of reviews.  Bar vs food – if you read the Yelp reviews, the food gets rave reviews and the bar-service gets poor reviews.  At first glance you could be tempted not to come here as there are places with better reviews around and 3.5 stars isn’t everyone’s bag.  Don’t be.  Give it a whirl.

Disclaimer: most of my readers know that I am IRISH, we’ve lived in TX for 4.5 years, but have a very high standard when someone brands their bar and food as an Irish pub, with traditional or authentic food.  I am VERY fussy when it comes to “Irish fare”, but in spite of expecting disaster, we discovered that not only was this place great for food, but it was one of the best, complete meals we have had in a loooooong time!!

Upon reading yelp, I told Col (yes, he had no choice in the matter!) that he was having fish and chips and that i’d have the bangers and mash.  We also ordered a side of the fresh brown bread cause I was curious.

The fish was delicious, flaky, lightly battered and plentiful.  The chips are more akin to “Five guys fries” and not the “real” chips we were expecting, but they were yummy too – and yes, we even ate the peas, which was unusual enough that our server commented on it! (I ate most of them with my bangers and mash) lol! Bangers and mash was delicious, the gravy was excellent, best sausages we have tried this side of the atlantic and creamy, smooth mash potatoes.

The brown bread could have done with being warmed and a smidge less sugar, but it was as close to wheaten bread as i’ve found outside of home.  Even the butter was room temp – which I can’t even find at home ! Lol!!

For dessert we shared apple pie with ice cream.  The apple pie was delicious (hubby says I need to mention the crust being outstanding!) and the ice cream came in a separate wee bowl so it didn’t melt all over the pie – genius! And delicious – all they are missing is a lick of real custard!!

I can’t say enough good things about this place.  Service was fast and very friendly, food was hot and delicious, great quality food across the board, but the best sampling of “Irish” food that we have found since crossing the Atlantic 4.5 years ago!

Billgrimage to Little Rock, Arkansas: General information

I thought now would be as good a time as any to start my travel blog for Little Rock, Arkansas.  Though with only an hour left of battery life, chances are I’m going to have to pick it back up when we eventually get to H-Town.  It’s probably not the best of times for me to start writing about this trip, however, because I’m settling in to a 7 hour stint in the Bill and Hilary Clinton international airport, not exactly the best way to end our Bill-grimage (this being what we nicknamed our trip, a pilgrimage to visit the home of Bill Clinton).

Riverside view from our hotel

Riverside view from our hotel

But wait, let me rewind a little and explain what led us to such a stupid ‘layover’.

We have learned a couple lessons from previous vacations.

Lesson #1: More time.

We had this issue in D.C, San Francisco, Seattle, pretty much every one of our weekend trips – we never leave enough time to accomplish the things that we want to do, we’re always left wanting more, and, while this is probably OK for an American who has their entire life to return to these places, we are always seeking something new, so unless you’re my BFF and live in IA, we don’t tend to re-visit any place more than once, at least not for the foreseeable future.

Naturally, when it’s a city, or state relatively close to Houston, Texas, we decide to drive.  San Antonio or Austin, TX – 3hr drive, Corpus Christi, TX – 4hr drive, Dallas, TX 5hr drive, New Orleans, LA – 6hr drive, Oklahoma City, OK – 7hrs Little Rock, AR? It was set to be at least an 8hr (+ pit-stops) drive.

This is all common sense, I mean, to fly to San Antonio would take longer, than to drive – not the flight itself, but the entire airport process, from check-in to baggage claim, plus, more expensive, as you’d then be ‘sans voiture’.  We’d learned from OKC, and, even NOLA to an extent that anything over a 6hr drive, realistically requires the trip be extended by 2 days, to allow for the drive there, and home – which isn’t great when hubby has a set number of vacation days to take in a year, and you’re trying to maximise those vacation days.  So, we made a game-changing plan this time, to fly, and, given that flights to Little Rock, AR, were very reasonably priced, we ended up not coming out too far behind on cost, but being way ahead with regards to time – arriving in Little Rock at 8am Friday morning, and arriving back to Texas at 8pm on Monday night, four full days, 3 nights.

Lesson #2: Expense.

Usually, if it’s not one of the neighbouring places to Houston that we’re going to, we fly.  Which tends to mean the added expense of hiring a car, especially if the State Capitol building is not in the ‘main attraction’ City, like Seattle, for example, the Capitol (and other main attractions) were outside the city itself.

For Little Rock, however, it was one of the few cities we’ve thus-far come across, that is what we term, a ‘walkable’ city.  Score! No car hire cost, which, in financial terms (which is essentially the bottom line of any trip) would have set us back a few hundred bucks!

I’d done a lot of research around Little Rock (it was going to be hubby’s Christmas present, a camping trip of all things, but due to extremely cold weather, we postponed it) and discovered that a lot of their attractions were free, or very minimally priced.  This was both a surprising, and welcome discovery.  I think the most we paid for an attraction was $7 a piece for the Bill Clinton Presidential center, and since we weren’t bringing a car, we had no additional parking fees (if there are any) to consider.

For room and board, that’s always left up to the hubby to investigate.  He’s got that ‘priceline instinct’, though for Little Rock, we’d recommend NOT priceline-ing your hotel, as it could lead to any number of badly reviewed places to go and see.  He had a momentary urge to book us in to ‘The Capitol’ hotel, which, when we walked past every day, I can see why, from the outside it looks grand and gorgeous.  The inside, I’m told, is totally impressive – though we’d probably not have left the reportedly exquisite room while we were there.  All reviews for this place are over 90% and excellent.

Why didn’t we go with this place? Well, it was going to be $750 + tax + breakfast for the 3 nights.  And while they did offer cheaper rooms, there was no advantage to staying in those ‘cheaper rooms’, over staying somewhere else.  The potentially winning factor for the expensive room, for Col, was the European tub – somewhere lush for me to steep for a few hours, but for me? That’s a week’s worth of hotel right there, I couldn’t find a way to justify it in my head (or bank balance!)

Where did we end up? In a Double Tree just across the street from The Capitol Hotel.  We ended up with 3 nights, plus breakfast for both of us, plus free internet for multiple devices, two dinners and one dessert ordered by room service, plus all taxes and fees for $400.  Parking, if we’d had a car, would have been $5 a night, you get warm chocolate and walnut cookies on check-in, you’re right in the center of downtown little rock, there’s a tram stop right outside the hotel for those non-walkable locations (for example, North Little Rock across the bridge).  Not only that, but they allowed us to check-in SUPER early, we got to the hotel by 9am, check-in isn’t until 3pm, but they found us a room, without so much as a ‘tut’ or an eye-roll.

The hotel itself was good, I think we ended up with a queen bed, which, compared to our bed in Houston, was small, but adequate.  They had no interactive ‘movie-purchasing’ system on the TV – which is something we like to use when we’re on vacation, rainy days, early nights, or just if we’re feeling lazy and not wanting to go out into the land of tourists.  This was a downside, we were ‘stuck’ watching whatever movies were on TV, which aren’t always great.

One of the major draws to going back to this hotel for us, was the AC unit.  It was one of the very few hotels that we’ve ever been to, that we could get the night-time temperature down to ‘Arctic’, which is Col’s go-to temperature for nighttime.  The AC was excellent and Col slept better than he does in most hotels.

No fridge, no microwave and excessively SLOOOOOOW elevators, were mostly combated by the gorgeous river-side view we had and the fact that the staff and the free shuttle were both excellent, and breakfast (which we normally don’t like in a hotel) was delicious, and something we ‘used’ every day – we really don’t tend to drag our butts out of bed on vacation for breakfast, but the 11am cut-off made it do-able, even for the lazy McMasters.

One other thing about Little Rock, downtown doesn’t have a single freakin’ CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, Target, no souvenir shops or Starbucks line the streets.  It’s a small-town, with small businesses.  In fact, the whole bloody place shut down on Sunday, we were lucky it was raining and we spent most of our time indoors, and while the attractions are seemingly ‘open’, it took us hours to find somewhere to eat, that was both open and decently reviewed on a Sunday afternoon.

Now we’re back to the later flight home, the flight leaving at 7pm was over $100 cheaper than the flight leaving at noon, we figured ‘why not?’ (though in hindsight, with check out being at 11am instead of the usual noon, we lost an hour from the get-go!)  We figured we’d spend the day sight-seeing and hit up the airport around 5pm.

But, since our to-do list was done (and we weren’t left with that ‘wanting more’ feeling we normally are),  I guess that we made the poor mistake of  still being programmed to the good ole Continental days, when, if you turned up to the airport and requested you go on standby, they’d do it, squeeze you into an earlier flight and spend the day trying to sell your evening flights – which tend to be more sought after.

United, on the other hand, require a $75 per person fee, to get put on the standby list.  Trust me – it was tempting – 7hrs listening to smooth airport jazz is slowly making me reconsider it on a 2-hourly basis, when each interim flight to Houston gets boarded.  While we were sitting there, two guys turned up just as their flight was taxing to the runway, they confessed to the gate agent that they hadn’t given themselves enough time to get through security, that it was ‘TSA’s fault’.  The agent told them that it’s required that people get to the airport with enough time to get through security, and at least two hours pre-flight, but he moved them to a later flight – no cost.

So, we get there almost 8 hours early, and watch two half-empty flights take off and they want $150 to bump us up? Yet two dudes, who admitted that it was their own fault that they missed their flight got bumped for free?!?! Are you KIDDING ME?!

I can think of any number of things to spend $150 on and United unnecessarily being douche-bags isn’t one of them!

The worst of it is, if we’d come in February, I’d have still been a Gold member of their reward programme, so we’d have been put on standby for free.  Bollocks.  Loyalty seems to mean nothing to United – I’ll remember that in future!

Though I guess that being stuck in this jazz-hell for the next five hours, gives me the chance to blog about the wonders of Little Rock, AR for you fine readers.  So, I’ll get right on that before my netbook battery dies – and no, I don’t have my charger handy, hubby made the assumption that United would actually give a sh*t and try and get us home before 8pm tonight, so he packed both our chargers.  In about two hours, both our laptops will run out of juice, and then the fun will begin, meanwhile, let me tell you about Little Rock, cause in reality, it really ain’t a bad place to visit!

531626_10152618443185411_2037015647_nUp next, the ‘Things to do‘ and ‘Where to eat‘ in Little Rock, Arkansas…

Travelling to D.C in slow motion!

Alright, our journey to D.C was pretty much stalled and delayed at every, single, turn.

Model plane in D.C airport!

Even when we fly domestic, we get there two hours before departure time.  That should, realistically give us enough time to get out stuff together, combat most issues and get our butts to the gate with a nice amount of time to spare (and, in many airports, enjoy the free WiFi).

We normally leave one hour before this two-hour window, as it takes us around forty minutes to get to the airport, giving us around two hours and twenty minutes at the airport.

In the past, we’ve attempted to leave on a Friday evening, this hasn’t worked very well and we vowed NEVER, not EVER, to do it again.  However, this time, due to the last minute nature of our flight (and buying it through the Continental – yes, they’re still Continental to me!!) we did it and boy did we suffer!

A forty minute journey took one hour and forty five minutes – seriously! The traffic was chaotic, rush hour, north of the city, on a freakin’ Friday night! Disaster! We had enough time to get there, dump our bag, rush through security, pick up a dinner from Wendys (yuck!!! So much for our leisurely dinner in Terminal E!) and get to our gate before they boarded us on to the plane.

In spite of our delay to the airport, check in and security were surprisingly empty, which, I guess I should have been suspicious about, after having rushed through security and our food, we boarded and were told that there was a delay, we were waiting for a ‘weight’ report before we could take off.

Twenty minutes later, we’re told there’s yet another delay, as the electronics have gone a bit daft on the plane, so we waited more.

While we were waiting, I saw an ad for a movie that I wanted to see, so, I swiped my card, flicked through the movies, only to discover that the stupid movie wasn’t there, so I got stuck watching Happy Feet II, which, while cute and adorable for kids, wasn’t exactly the period drama I had my heart set on watching.

Once we were airborne, we started to hit some turbulence, which the pilot informed us, was the remnants of the storms that had blitzed through the mid-west, leaving a path of destruction.

We were told, shortly after we got through the turbulance, that our assigned runway was  closed and that the new one was much shorter, but, and this is the kicker, it was ‘still legal for a plane like this’, uhmmmm….ok?! LOL!! The landing was pretty bumpy, with a lot of reverse thrust.

When we got to the baggage carousel, there was another delay, seriously.  At every stage, we were delayed.  I was not a happy camper!!!!

Finally we were on our way, ok, in a smoke filled taxi, but we were on our way!

The hotel was pretty cool, the room, on the 17th floor, was your typical hotel room (though we had no fridge), in spite of the fact I had it set to 67F in the room overnight, we still cooked alive, they charged for internet, per day (not 24 hours) and per computer, and the walls were paper thin (the neighbours were fighting for a large chunk of the night).

By the time we got to our room, it was 12.07am, and we were totally famished.  We called room service, but, they said they closed at midnight.  Great.  Thanks for the help *insert eye roll here*.  We’ve been in hotels before that have gone above and beyond the call, and, given that it was so close to the kitchen-close time, they threw stuff together for us.  Instead, here, they recommended Dominos pizza, so that’s what we had before passing out.

Our room 🙂

Las’s travel tip: Even when travelling domestically (I.E in the country that you’re living in) it’s wise to leave at least two hours ahead of your flight time.  Ok, you could end up waiting for ages in the departure lounge, but, on the other hand, you may encounter something unexpected and need the extra time!

Day 1 – Livermore, Stockton, Sacramento and Berkeley!

It was time to go!

I hadn’t had the weeks of excitement building up to this trip, as I’d other stuff to ‘get past’ before we left.  With choir, Helena’s visit, Christmas etc the trip was upon me before I really knew what was happening.  It meant that when the excitement DID hit, I was like a kid at Christmas!

The alarm went off at 4.30am, neither of us managed to raise ourselves, so we snoozed until five.  En route to the airport, we had to pit-stop at Magz’s to pick up the charger for my net-book that we’d left there on Christmas day.

Once we hit George Bush Intercontinental, chaos struck.  All rhyme, reason and common sense had gone out the door! The place was hiving!! The queues were crazy, everyone was in the wrong queue, and, by the time we got through security, it was pretty much time to board, but, since we’d not eaten, we made a point of stopping and grabbing a grilled chicken wrap to share on-board.

The flight was ok, I slept for at least half of it.  I was sat next to a royal douche bag.  He was rude to the stewardesses, he had no concept of personal space and sat with his leg pretty much on top of mine and his elbow buried in my waist for the whole flight.  I should have taken the offer of an upgrade to First class that they extended prior to the flight.  I didn’t, however, cause they could only upgrade one of us – and I didn’t want that (aren’t I a nice wee wifey?!)

We landed at 11.20am, slightly earlier than scheduled.  However, the ‘ahead of time’ success didn’t last long.  Baggage took over 40 minutes, we were the only flight there (though they announced that ‘a number of flights arrived together’) and it took FOREVER to get our bags – so much for priority baggage!!

Trying to find the hire car place, wasn’t very intuitive.  It was poorly sign-posted (if there was a single sign), but when we got there, the guy at the desk was lovely.  He offered us a car upgrade (from a Sebring/Mitsubishi to a Chevy Camaro) for $15 a day, which my petrol headed hubby snatched up faster than I could say ‘what do you think?’  Thankfully, I did get to chose the colour, otherwise we’d have ended up cruising around San Fran in a bright yellow Chevy!! LOL!

While we were sorting out the car, a guy was walking back and forward to each of the car hire desks asking if they had a reservation in his name.  Turns out, he’d no idea where he’d reserved his car! LOL!

Got the car and hit the road, in search of food.  I don’t know where Californians eat, but holy crap it was hard to find somewhere to stop for lunch.  Thankfully, Lucy SatNav took us the more scenic route and we stopped at a Chilis in Livermore for a quick lunch.  I know, I know, Chilis isn’t exactly something ‘new’ since we live in the States, however, it was the best Chilis we’ve had in a long time, if not, ever.

From there it was an hour or so, on to a town called Stockton, where we dropped in on the Stockton Arena to see a friend of Col’s from home, who’d moved to California a few years ago.  He used to be a linesman for the Elite hockey league in the UK, so I knew him to see, but I’d never really chatted to him.

We found him sitting in the stands, sat and had a good long chat with him (where he offered to let us come and stay with him next time we were in town) before he had to go and referee a game (there was a kids tournament going on) and we were on the road again!

On the road to Sacramento!

This time, another hour or so, took us to the State Capitol.  Now, those of you who have read this blog for a while, know that Col and I love State Capitol buildings, we try and factor them in to our trips if we happen to be nearby.

I LOVE State Capitol buildings!

This one, Sacramento, California, makes our third one (after Austin, TX and Olympia, WA) and as Amber reminded me, we’ve not even done the Iowa Capitol and we’ve been there a bunch of times! LOL!

Col and I outside the Capitol building

The place was decked out for the holidays, it was gorgeous, the architecture was lovely and we got in for a dander.

It's pretty at night!

Most of the building, however, was offices and out-of-bounds to members of the public, not a whole lot to look at, unlike the other two Capitol buildings we’ve been to.  But it definitely had a good view, and looked lovely at night time!

Tis the season!

Next up, we headed to Old Sacramento, where, I’d been told, was the place to check out if you’ve never been to Sacramento before.  It didn’t disappoint (other than shops started to close before we got there, so not everywhere was open).  It was very quaint and ‘olden style’ there were streets lined with a variety of shops.

Old Sac

We started in the Rocky Mountain chocolate shop, where we agonised over our selection and finally settled on a few pieces of chocolate.

Chocolate

Other places I enjoyed included the sock-shop (though, for me personally, $15 for a pair of socks is ridiculous!!) I DID however get a cheaper pair, slipper socks, with grippers on the bottom that’ll be good for our tiled/wooden floored house in Houston.

Sock shop!

The Taffy Shop was pretty cool, I enjoyed looking around at all the flavours and really had to use some self control and discipline not to buy anything at all.

Taffy Shop

We also hit upon a ‘California shop’, where everything was 50% off, store-wide.  I came out with a magnet (we buy a magnet in each city we go to), a floppy swim-hat and a calorimetry wooly headband thing that I have barely taken off since!! Great shop!

It was definitely a nice dander, especially with all of the Christmas lights lit up etc.

Around 7.30pm, we met up with Twana and Devon.  For those of you who don’t know, Twana and I have known each other at least 6 years, we met on Livejournal, the same place I met Amber, Nikki, Nicky and many other friends.  But, I’d never met her before.

Today was the day! She lives in Sacramento and we decided to go out to diner together.  We went to a Mexican restaurant in Old Sacramento called, ‘La Terraza’.  The place was nice, though the server was the only guy on, he said they’d run out of chips and salsa (WTF!), he got our margarita order wrong (which, by the way was a HUGE freakin’ margarita) and, as such, we ended up with TWO ma-hooooosive margaritas at the table (guess that’s not such a bad thing that he got wrong) and he got Devon’s order wrong.  He DID however, let Twana steal me a glass (not the humongus glasses the margaritas came in, however, but a little brandy glass that I shall cherish forever! LOL!)

Yes, yes, I drank most of that myself!

The food and drink (man, it was delicious drink!) was definitely overshaddowed by the fun and conversation we had with Twana and Devon.  We got along just as well in person as we have done online for all those years and I with we could have spent more time here, just to hang out with her!

Twana and I

I drank the majority of one of the margaritas all by my self.  UGH.  I ended up feeling sick (I even grabbed a sick-bag in the car, just in case) but after about 10 minutes of the wind blowing in my face, I was fine and the hour-long journey was quite enjoyable (except for the fact that the Chevy has blind spots the size of the moon!)

Our retro decorated room!

We arrived at the Double Tree hotel around 10.50pm.  Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the Double Tree, but the service here, was not the service I’ve come to expect from a DT hotel.  Both ladies at the desk were occupied, one was on the phone (then moved to a guy standing at her desk), the other, was dealing with a guy who was pricing rooms, then ran out to the car to talk to his wife, then came back, suggested a change, and got another quote before running out to the car again.  When the first lady had finished with both the phonecall and the guy at her desk, she just walked off, leaving us standing there, behind mister to-and-fro.  GRRR!

When we eventually got seen, she checked us in (giving us a King instead of two doubles), but she said an upgrade to Marina view would be an extra $20 a night – had we been spending a lot more time in the room, we’d have gone for it.  But not being around much to enjoy it, made it a waste of $60 – plus my cookie was cold.  NOT the DT standards I’m used to! LOL!

The room wasn’t bad, though the AC/Heating unit sounds like an engine blow-back when it kicks-in, making it difficult to sleep.

Parking may be free (which is why we stayed in Berkley and not in San Francisco – cause all hotels in SF charge for parking) but there’s no fridge, no microwave (which is pretty much standard for any hotel over 3 stars in the States), the breakfast buffet is overpriced, the walls are thin and, a big one, the internet isn’t free.  In an age of increasing free WiFi and most hotels that we’ve stayed in, in the US giving free internet, having to pay for internet was a bit crappy.

What made it WORSE, is that the $10 per day for internet, is that it’s PER COMPUTER, NOT per room!!! Are you friggin’ kidding me?!

And there ends my Double Tree rant, and our first day in California!

My top 10 pet peeves while travelling…

Yes, I’m aware this makes me sound like a royal douche, but I don’t care…I’ve travelled quite a lot this year, for various reasons, and there are a number of things that really ‘gets my goat up’ as we would say back home.

On one flight a few months ago, I was talking to an air hostess and a business woman who were seated next to me.  We went through an entire list of things that really piss us off while travelling and I decided to take a moment to blog mine.

At first I thought coming up with ten would be impossible, however, I have since found that it’s stopping at ten that’s the issue!

I think, essentially it comes down to one, single point,

You are not the exception to the rule.

1.  The overweight bag.

You’ve come to the airport two hours early for your flight, like the airline suggests.  You’re standing in the queue to check in, and the gobshite in front of you is having an all-out argument with the lady at the counter.

YOUR BAG IS OVERWEIGHT!

One or two pounds, ok, I could maybe understand that, the slight difference, or ‘give’ between weighing your bag at home and weighing it on different scales at the airport.

TEN POUNDS? Are you friggin’ kidding me?

Let me break this down for you, cause it seems even the most basic maths are beyond your comprehension.

Your bag is overweight, you have two choices,

1. Pay for the extra baggage (yes, you forfeit the right to complain about insane overweight baggage fees when you tried to stow a small child in your luggage and claim ignorance)

2. Take crap out of your luggage, chuck it, wear it, stick it in your hand luggage, I couldn’t care less, but standing there arguing about it isn’t doing anyone any good, especially you.  Cause the longer you argue, the more I and everyone behind you in the queue wants to happy slap you upside the face!

Also? You might want to invest in bathroom scales to check your baggage BEFORE you leave the house, or, y’know, don’t pack every fucking thing you own into the worlds smallest case!

2.  Under 100ml.

You’re in the queue at security, you’ve past no less than ten signs, since entering the airport, to tell you what you can and cannot take through security on your person, or in your hand luggage.

Inevitably, you get stuck behind some knob who’s decided his full-size Clarins moisturiser, or his Gucci aftershave may be over the 100ml limit, but that the rule doesn’t apply to him.

It does.

Yes, that includes your bottle of water.

As a follow on to this point, the signs posted all over the airport, are pretty self explanatory.  Aside from the dozen things you should have put in your checked luggage, how about taking off your shoes, belt, coat, emptying your pockets and taking your laptop out of it’s case while you’re at it, eh? Instead of waiting to be told (and keeping the line back at the same time!)

Just sayin’!

3.  The Human Stampede.

You’re sitting in the departure lounge, the poor helpless gate-worker picks up the phone to announce that we will shortly be commencing the boarding procedure.  At this moment, 75% of the people who had, until now, been calmly seated and reading, listening to music, or chatting, spring in to action and decide that hovering around the gate with their passports and tickets primed and ready to go, will definitely make the guy let you on the plane faster.

Sit the hell down!

You have paid for a designated seat, the plane won’t leave without you and there is ZERO need to stand from the moment he picks up the phone and says ”we will be boarding from the back of the plane”, until he boards you, on row 6.

4. It doesn’t fit!

Yes, because you over-packed your checked luggage to the tune of a small child and were too cheap to check an extra bag or pay the overweight fees, you have now been left in the unfortunate position of having the aforementioned small car, in tow, as hand luggage.

Newsflash – that bag, will NOT fit, in that overhead bin.

You’ve tried each way the case could possibly fit, the guy beside you, kindly offered to help, he can’t make it fit and the lovely air hostess (who has already put you on her ‘watch list’ by the way) has even tried to put it away overhead too.

It doesn’t fit under the seat, it doesn’t fit overhead and the crew cupboard has no room.

Take what you need and let her check it knob-end.  Give up, sit the fuck down and let everyone else take their seat! K?

5.  Go, before you go.

Did your mother never tell you this? Instead of hovering at the boarding gate, 10 minutes before your row is going to be called, how about you go for a tinkle eh? Instead of waiting until that golden moment where we reach cruising altitude, the air hostesses have pulled out the drinks trolley and start their service.

Worse still, is when they expect the air hostesses to stop serving people, back up from the middle of the plane to the closes ‘alcove’, which, of course is way back at the front of the plane, just cause you are now in urgent need to return to your seat and standing tapping your foot.

Know what’d solve that? If you peed before you left the airport, or after the ladies have finished going up and down the plane with their drinks/meal service.

Or go one better, just for being an impatient ass, stand there and wait for them to finish doing their job before returning to your seat.  Douchebag.

6.  In the upright position.

For the 200th time, put your friggin’ seat up for take off and landing already!

Yes, though you might not know it, the extra five degrees of lean does make a difference in an emergency.  The FAA has proven that it takes 15 to 45 seconds longer to evacuate an airplane when the seats are reclined. Each of those seconds could be a life lost!

Pray-tell, why do you need the extra five degrees of lean? eh?

You don’t.  Sit up and shut up.

And even if there wasn’t an *actual* reason for your seat to be in the upright position, she told you to do it, so once again I’ll say, sit up and shut up!

7. Bundle of joy.

Now, I love kids as much as the next kid-loving person.  What I do not love, however, is when your little ‘bundle of joy’, who just so happens to have the exact length of legs necessary, is sitting behind me kicking the utter crap out of my seat.

What I love, even less, is that no amount of pushing back against the kid’s kicking, no amount of looking behind me glaring, no amount of tutting, loudly complaining to the person next to me, or asking you (politely, mind you!) to stop your kickboxing child from making me vibrate from head to toe on and off for a seven hour flight – will actually STOP it from happening.

How’s about I wait for you to put your kid to sleep, trade places with the people sitting behind you and kick the back of your chairs for seven hours? hey? How would you like that?

You’re right, you wouldn’t.  Stop your kid – stop them NOW!

8.  The Window Seat.

This concept, is the same as when I sit on the aisle seat in the Toyota Centre (or any aisle seat really), I don’t mind getting up on occasion to let you out.  During a game, if you really can’t hold it to a break in play, then sure thing, I’ll get up.

But, if you get up every 5 minutes, or you wait until the person who JUST sits back down from their jolly adventure, before you decide to get up – so I’m up and down like a yoyo for the whole game (or, in this case, flight) then I’m gonna be pissed! Plus, you’ve not even been drinking that much, how the HELL do you need to pee so much!!

9. The recline

Don’t you just hate when people wait til the plane levels off, your captain has turned off the fasten seat belt signs and bam! The person in front of you hits the recline button, so that even if you wanted to get up and walk around, you couldn’t.  It’s not like those seats have much room to begin with, so when your sardine can, becomes even smaller – and not just for an hour or so, for the whole friggin’ flight, it’s not in any way cool.

I get it, you want to be as comfy as possible for a long-haul flight, you wanna kick back, chill out and get some sleep.  However, when I’m trying to eat my dinner behind you and you’re tossing and turning so much my drink is sloshing and I barely have room to hold a knife and fork? I want to throw my dinner at you.

10. Bags a-swingin’

Another thing that drives me absolutely bat-shit crazy, is when that throng of people on the plane stand up as soon as you’ve touched the ground and bulldoze their way through you, to disembark, as though the plane has caught fire behind them or something.

They run to the baggage carousel only to wait there a half hour, at the mouth of the baggage carousel, refusing to budge out the way so that OTHER people can get their bags off the belt, just in case they miss their own precious bag and have to walk 15 feet around the belt to catch up with it!

T’was hard to stop at 10…other pet peeves…

The light button does not make a ding noise.

The fact that I’m wearing my headphones should be a clear indication that I don’t want to talk to you for the entire flight.

The fasten seat belt sign isn’t on because the captain has a sick sense of humour.  He has machines that tell him you need to fasten your seat belt – so sit the hell down and buckle up!

Phew! Now, don’t you feel better after that?!

Day 1 – In Transit

It was a rare travel occasion for us on this trip, we had a lie-in on the morning of our departure.  It was pretty nice – and necessary, since we stayed up late the night before watching Lost! LOL!

The morning of our trip was also busier than most of our trips, I had to go to HEB to pick up some last minute provisions for the Stevensons, Col needed a haircut (at long last!) and we used yet another Groupon to have brunch in a little deli, Bagel Express.

We had $20 to spend, we each got a sandwich, drink and Col got a big muffin to take home and we still had like 50c left to spend! Crazy!

The food was ok, I enjoyed my club sandwich, the bread was fresh and tasty, Col enjoyed his tuna melt – though it wasn’t very melted, it was more like a tuna & mayo toastie, with some cheese slices.  It was pretty reasonably priced (we got two of the most expensive things on the menu), we’d probably go back, but we’d take out, it’s not a great atmosphere to sit and have a ‘meal’ in.

Back home, we finished packing, before heading up to Magz and Sam’s to drop of a bunch of stuff, including keys etc, then off to Col’s office to pick up some things he forgot to take home with him and then it was off up to the airport.

We’d already checked in, but the queue for bag drop, was the same queue as the one for check-in, so we had to wait just like everyone else.  The people in front of us had more bags than we could count.  They had more than their checked allowance and carry on allowance, but more than that, the lady who was checking the hand luggage insisted they had to weigh their hand luggage cause it felt WAY too heavy (and it was!) They were there for ages!!

There was a short delay at the gate, but nothing much to mention and we boarded pretty quickly too.  The cabin crew were all dressed in floor-length traditional dresses and they all looked very glamourous indeed!

Cabin crew!

We got stuck in some pretty bad take-off traffic, there was a traffic jam at the start of the run way with around 15 planes all queuing to get a take-off slot!

The flight was uneventful – just how I like it! Though I did get excited at the discovery of Matty Nay’s new album on the entertainment system!

I was very happy to see Matty Nay on there!

I watched a few films, (Date night, Kung Fu Panda, Kung Fu Panda II) before taking a couple hours of sleep and I watched Bridesmaids before we landed.  The flight was pretty quick, smooth and, like I said, uneventful.

We’d picked a set of two seats back by the toilet/galley, aside from the occasional toilet flush, they were pretty great seats.  No one to have to bother to get up to use the loo, there was plenty of space for us to recline and veg out and we were very comfy!

Col and I on board!

True to legend, the alcohol was free.  I enjoyed three of their on-board cocktail delicacies…a ‘Singapore Sling’.  Fruity and delicious (and not to mention strong!!)

History of the Sling!

Singapore Sling-ing!

The flight to Moscow took 10 hours, Moscow is 10 hours ahead of Texas.  We left Houston at 5pm Thursday, arrived 2pm Friday.  Our Friday lasted all of an hour, tops!

In-Transit immigration took longer than I’d have liked, and the departure ‘lounge’ was just about 10 seats for a few hundred people, but before long it was back on the plane for take off!

For the first time in history, I slept for most of the flight – crazy! I was totally exhausted, and only managed one ‘Singapore Sling’ (running total: 4).  I did manage to watch two films (the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie and Something Borrowed which wasn’t as good as I hoped it’d be!)

We landed, got through immigration pretty quickly, picked up a couple litres of alcohol for the Stevenson’s (Baileys and JD, cause alcohol is seriously, seriously expensive in Singapore!)

Lone lady doing the work!

Our baggage carousel was jammed, so one single worker was working on her own to try and pull the bags out through a hole, throwing them in a big pile when she got them out.  It took a while to get our bags!

Amee was waiting for us – waving like a lunatic and hugs all round, before we loaded up their van and headed over to their apartment on the Island.

Our first glimpse of Singapore!

Sentosa Island

Sunrise over Sentosa!

We unpacked, had some cereal for breakfast, showered and took a two hour nap (I know you’re not supposed to, but at that stage, we didn’t care!)

Michael playing while the boys checked out in Giant!

After our nap, we played with Michael while Colin and Amee unpacked some of their boxes from home before we headed back over the bridge to Singapore to do the weekly grocery shop (where we picked up copious amounts of Cadbury’s chocolate and a Burger King for lunch!)

Colin and Amee have a babysitter who comes around on a Saturday night so we were Michael-free for dinner.  We went to Muthu’s curry house in Little India – it was lovely!

We had a table filled with samosas, spring rolls, wedges, poppadoms, garlic naan and I had butter chicken (though there was a mishap over the rice as the guy answered ‘yes, it does come with rice’, when he meant ‘no, you need to order rice separately’…in spite of the confusion to-do we all really enjoyed our dinner!

Dinner! yummy!!!!

He was using sticks here

I thought it was delicious and, I also got a kick out of the naan guys, who were sticking bare hands into the Tandoori ovens, they were very entertaining!

It was a great first night, we managed to stay up past the ‘9pm threshold’ that you’re advised to stay up past, so as to avoid bad jetlag…but I have to say, I was well pleased to see my bed that night! LOL!!!

View from our room at night!

''I got new boots boots!''…ok, not boots, but trainers!

The last week has gone by in a blur, four Body Attack classes within the space of five days almost killed me (but it didn’t!!)

But, thankfully it didn’t.  Not only did I endure all four hours of high impact cardio – while nursing a pretty badly injured calf muscle, I enjoyed it *gasp* I know! Me, enjoying exercise, who’da thunk?!

After talking to a personal trainer friend of mine (Sharon) about my injury, she agreed that perhaps my footwear wasn’t the most supportive or the best kind of footwear for the kind of exercise that I’ve been doing…

I mean, it’s not like Body Attack is a lot of jumping up and down or running around or anything…oh…wait…and it’s not as though my trainers are years old and so worn down that I can feel the ground through them…oh…wait…

In short, we needed to go shopping for new trainers.  I’d done a little shopping on my own, but with limited results.  I had an idea of the shoes I wanted, but they were out of my price-range (I mean, I didn’t want to pay $130 for a pair of shoes that I may not put to good ‘use’, you know what I mean?)

Instead, Col suggested we check out Katy Mills to see what we could find.  After a lap around the shops (and a momentary pit-stop at the 75% off sale in Bath and Body Works)

As you can see, he's thrilled!

We found a shop where I picked up a couple of pairs of trainers (they were B1G1 50% off, the best deal we’d seen on our rounds!).

Asics gel-cumulus 12

Asics GT2160

So far, I’ve only tried the GT2160’s at a few Body Attack classes – and I love them!

Ok, they didn’t magically make my calf any better, but they did help (and, from what I can tell, have stopped my right calf muscle getting buggered too!) and they are seriously comfortable.  More than that, they have also enabled me to be more active in class, I can now bounce around a little more without the impact of slamming my feet on the ground, hurting as much or being as ‘body shaking’ as it was before.

Lesson here – ensure you have correct footwear on when attempting to exercise.  Trainers DO have a shelf-life and you can do more harm than good, wearing trainers that are ‘past it’.

Aside from my Body Attacking, last week was filled with lots of baby shower planning – with only two weeks left to go til the ‘big day’, I’ve been using most of my free time to doing bits and pieces for the shower.  I can’t share much of it with y’all at this stage, but I’m excited that it’s now so close.

I can’t wait to host the party for the Maddens, I’ve had a lot of fun planning this shower for them – as I’ve said before, it’s my first time.  Though, I’m pretty sure, when it’s all over and done with, giraffes will be the last thing I want to see 😉

Heather’s shower, in October, will give me a rest from giraffes and hopefully make me sick of the sight of elephants – however, one baby shower at a time, eh?

I also started a Christmas list last week, yes, you can all say I’m crazy, but those of you who know me well, know I started shopping for this Christmas, on Boxing day (26th December), last year!

I’m an organised person, what can I say?

Aside from the exercising, crafting, planning and organising, the only other points of interest last week are two lovely lunches I had out with some friends.

Wednesday, I met the lovely Deb for a tasty French style lunch at La Madeline.  La Madeline is a restaurant that my friend Amee (who’s just moved to Singapore) loves! It was a lovely wee catch-up, I’ve not seen her for ages!!

Thursday morning, Col dropped me off at Magz’s house on his way to work, from there, Magz and I went up to the Trotter Rd YMCA for our workout, and then it was off to Kenny and Ziggi’s for a lovely lunch with Tracy.

Kenny and Ziggi’s is a New York style deli, phew! it took two days to read through the menu alone!

Gordon Ramsay would have a fit!! It’s huge!!

The portions are HUGE, which would be a great thing, though the food isn’t particularly impressive – at least what the 3 of us had wasn’t great.  I had the fish sandwich – and, although the bread roll was delicious, the fries were good, the fish tasted like it came out of a bag in the freezer and it wasn’t, even half the size of the huge roll that I got – so, for the most part, I just ate bread.

Maybe I chose the wrong option from the ENORMOUS and overwhelming menu…but how would I know given that the thing’s huge!

The menu was bigger than Magz!

After lunch, we picked up some Crave Cupcakes.  If you haven’t tasted these cupcakes – go, today!! They are DELICIOUS!! Magz got me a box of them for my birthday and they are simply DIVINE!

We were picking up a few for us to share with the lovely Heather, when we went to her house for the afternoon.  The three of us played with her dogs, ate cupcakes (washed down with a tall glass of cold milk) and watched The Devil Wears Prada.  It was a fun afternoon!

Col picked me up and we had, what turned out to be, a disgusting Chinese for dinner, we’ll definitely not be going back to Spicy China – which makes me sad, cause that’s where we get curry from (and they’re the only place we’ve found that sells chips!) But their awful service was unforgivable.

Col’s meal was clearly microwaved, it was tough and chewy (so chewy, in fact, that it was impossible to chew!!), he called them and they ‘cooked’ a replacement order which he had to go and pick up, and they gave it to him with no rice.  The replacement was no better.  GRRR! It was gross! What a disappointment!

The only other thing that’s happened in the last few days, was that Col booked our flights to Singapore! yay! I’m excited!!!

I got an email on Friday from Airfare Watchdog, it contained a great price for flights to Singapore.  Col did some research, turns out it was over $1000 cheaper than the flights we were looking at, and he made it happen!

We leave on September 15th and we can’t wait!!!