Thursday, 31 December 2015

Madison and home....

Our Madison Adventures continue...

Our time in Madison is coming to a close but we still have a little more adventure to share.

Still awaking rather early, we had a light breakfast and set off on the short journey out of town to Sutter Ridge Pumpkin Patch where we had a great time exploring the farm, playing the barnyard games and marvelling at the 'problem solving' goats. We then took the 'Hay Ride' to the pumpkin patch where Jasmin and Victoria selected a couple of pumpkins of their own.

Fortifying ourselves for the day with an apple cider doughnut we drove on to the small town of Cross Plains where we had our first open house viewing of the day, a really delightful little house built in 1948, well within our price range. The house was lovely, but, a bit further out of town than we wanted and the bedrooms were on the small side.

We then drove into the centre of Middleton and had a lovely coffee and shared a bite of lunch at Barriques Victoria and I shared a feta and hummus wrap while Jasmin had the soup, all very tasty, we plan to have many more lunches here.

It was now time for our next open house viewing on Friendship Lane in Middleton. This house had a lovely garden but the rest was horrible, as I write in December seven weeks later this place is still up for sale and knocked down by $30,000. Still not interested.

As we were in Middleton and Victoria seems unable to pass either a Michaels or Bath and Bodyworks without going in we dropped onto Greenway Station to check out both and also popped into the World Market store on the site. They have a European foods section and we were delighted to find that we can buy Rich Tea biscuits.

Time to go to our final house viewing at 6206 Camino Way, from the outset we were not sure about this one, not really the right location for us and a few things going against it. But wow, this place is perfect and I note that it is still on the market. If we were looking to buy straight away then this is the property we would go for. The realtor 'Barb' was a great help and I think we will contact her again when we do come to look.

That's enough house hunting, we now had another mission to enjoy a beer on the Memorial Union Terrace and watch the sun go down over Lake Mendota.

It is rather a lovely view, but there is a lot of building work taking place at the moment and rather spoils the terrace, hopefully, we can have some good times here next year.

After watching the sun go down we took some photos on State Street, I quite like this one looking up towards the Capitol building.

It was time to leave the city and head back towards our apartment. Unfortunately, I got rather lost trying to get back and the 20 minute journey took well over an hour and I was quite tired and grumpy when we arrived. I cheered myself up by picking up a pint of frozen custard (peanut butter cup flavour) from Culvers, I suppose we shall never find out what a Butter Burger is!

It was our last night and I was certainly ready for bed and was soon sound asleep.

We had a light breakfast on the left-overs in the fridge and the pumpkins were put up for adoption! Our final drive into Middleton and we enjoyed having another look around the locale that will hopefully be our home before checking out the apartments at Deer Creek.

These apartments are lovely and the site has great amenities. Another bonus is that they are situated a five minute walk from the office. Of all the apartments seen so far I think that this is where we would most like to stay and we have already started the process of applying for one.

It was time to head back to O'Hare, we made sure we paid all the tolls this time and were soon in the massive roadworks around the airport and had a 45 minute excursion in heavy traffic to fill up with gas so that those gits at Hertz did not charge us a fortune to fill it.

At the airport we dropped off the car and were soon at the terminal and checked in, then joined a 45 minute queue to get through security. Once air-side we browsed the shops and had an evening meal at Wolfgang Pucks before boarding our American Airlines flight back to the UK.

The food on the way back was nowhere near as nice as on the way out, but after watching Inside Out we all got some shut-eye before landing back in Manchester at 0630 and driving home to catch up on some sleep.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Autumnal Madison Adventures

So, following on from where we last left off.

It is Friday and I was still suffering really badly from jet-lag so am awake well before 0300 and don't feel like I have had any sleep at all - uuurgh!

Today I have a meeting in the Madison office with my prospective new manager and then will be meeting up with the team members for their quarterly review, this is really quite exciting and even though I have met them all before I am really quite nervous.

We had been warned that the it can take a good 45 minutes from where we are staying to get to the office as it is the other side of town and roadworks on the Beltline are causing lots of delays so we set out with plenty of time to spare and of course arrive well too early. So, we stop for a while to kill time then I drop Victoria and Jasmin off at a Classic McDonalds and I drove to the office to meet Ben.

I have a really good couple of meetings in the office and Jeff sorts out my Illinois Tolls before driving back to meet Victoria and Jasmin at Starbucks. They have had a great time, spending a good couple of hours browsing art and craft supplies in Michaels after their breakfast and then doing a bit more shopping at Greenway Station. After meeting the girls we drive into the centre of Middleton to take a look around. It really is lovely, very reminiscent of old films. We espied a new apartment complex in Middleton Station and as they have a viewing board out and we decide to take a look, these are really lovely, but a bit pricey.

There are also some lovely apartments to rent a short walk from the office so we go back to Deer Creek and make an appointment for a viewing on Monday. We have one final set of apartments to check out but they are unimpressive and the agent is a disinterested arse-hole. I cannot name and shame as I have forgotten the name of the complex!

We make our way back to our AirBnB stopping for a not-shopping session at Target. The idea being to get an idea of what we can buy that we usually buy at home. Of course we have to pick up some goodies, including speciality M&Ms and a 1l bottle of Sailor Jerry for about £10.00.

Back at the apartment I take the opportunity for a couple of hours kip before we go out that evening. We ready ourselves for the evening entertainment and I drive down-town for the first time. I get completely lost going around the Capitol so dump the car in the first available parking garage.

It is chucking it down as we meet colleague Jeff and his son Ogden in the Coopers Tavern, it is packed in there so without getting a drink we regroup in a bus-shelter as we decide where to go next. The Heritage Tavern is a few minutes walk away and actually right next door to where we parked our car, we head in there, it will be a good hours wait for a table so we settle down at the bar for some cocktails. After the first round we are joined by Debra, Jeff's wife.

After another round of drinks we are seated and orders dinner. I have a fantastic gnocchi with wild mushrooms from the specials board, as do Jeff and Debra. Jasmin has the Hickory Nut Pesto Soba and Victoria the Market Green Bean Risotto. Ogden, the only non-veggie had the Pork Schnitzel. It was unanimously agreed that the meals were all lovely and we found the company excellent. After some fantastic deserts and more drinks we say our goodbyes, head out into the rain and find the car for the drive back to our AirBnB.

Having had late night and a little sleep this afternoon I managed a lie in and did not wake until about six am, yes, that constitutes a lie in. We have a packed day today starting with another trip back into the centre of Madison.

We park the car at the same place as yesterday evening and visit the must see farmers market that is set out around the Capitol. This is great, lots of stores selling delicious fresh local produce, street entertainers, political agitators and what not. We have a great time browsing the stores and purchase pastries for tomorrows breakfast and some Wisconsin maple syrup to take home for our porridge and pancakes (not at the same time). After our lap of the Capitol we headed down State Street stopping in the Michelangelos Coffee House and enjoy a splendid mocha each and share a egg and cheese croissant. The atmosphere is somewhat spoiled by the drug deal taking place on the table behind us though!

We continue up State Street and drop into Anthology that was recommended to us by Debra, I pick up a great scratch-and-sniff pumpkin spiced Halloween card for Victoria and a set of vintage button badges to put away for Jasmin. By now we are ready for a comfort break so pick up a smoothie at Jamba Juice while we avail ourselves of the facilities. Continuing up State Street we get as far as the Memorial Union Terrace before heading back up towards the Capitol.

Nearing the Capitol we head west towards Monona and notice that the 306 West apartment building is having a open house for viewings. These apartments are really stunning, however, they are right at the top of our price bracket and would be miles away from work involving a drive through town and past the university every morning.

Heading back to the Capitol we stop for a coffee at Starucks, thankfully free of drug dealing and then do a half loop of the farmers market to get back to our car. Victoria and Jasmin are keen to visit Jo-Anns craft store on Odana. We have not eaten since Michelangelos so grab a drink and some fries at Burger King where we are served by a lovely chap. I drop Victoria and Jasmin at Jo-Anns and head over to Pegasus Games over the road. After about 30 minutes browsing the shelves I head back to Jo-Anns to find that Victoria and Jasmin are still making their selections. Ten minutes later I am in the queue to get fabric cut. Half an hour later I leave the girls in the fabric queue and go for a snooze in the car. Twenty minutes later Victoria joins me, another 20 minutes later Jasmin has finally been served. Yes, it took over an hour and a quarter just to get the fabric cut and paid for!

Rather delayed we head back to the AirBnb for a lot shorter time than we had expected. I had hoped to be able to get a short nap but 40 winks was all I got. This evening we would be meeting my future boss Ben along with his 10 year old son Arnun and Arnun's friend Nate at Trienen Farm. I had been here before a couple of years ago, but tonight in the Corn Maze they would be hosting Zombie Apocalypse 2015.

Meeting up with Ben and the young chaps we fist went to the pumpkin catapult where Arnun was very nearly on target and then we entered the 'Fox and the Grapes' maze at about 1800. We would have one hour before the zombies were released. A great time was had by all as we navigated the maze, finding each marker post and picking up the next section of the map. Arnun and Nate battled each other with corn, Arnun adopted a pet corn and finally just as we were completing the last section the Zombies appeared. Aaaaaargh!!!!!!!

Jasmin has never been good with clowns, so was totally freaked out when she came face to face with a Zombie Clown and had to take some time out to calm down around the bonfire with a generous portion of apple cider donuts.

We finished off with some snacks before heading back to Madison, stopping on the way at the China Inn on Cottage Grove Road. Jasmin had been wanting a Chinese take-away in the US and this place did not disappoint. For less than 20 dollars we had a lovely feast of freshly cooked food and there was plenty left over for the next day. Tired and sated we retired for the evening.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Madison Autumn Adventures

I have been given a fantastic opportunity to work in Madison and as Victoria and Jasmin have never been there we planned a family holiday so that they could take in sights of Madison and the surrounding area of Wisconsin.

I did not have a lot of leave remaining so we could only be away for seven nights before I had to be back at work, so on Tuesday evening I shut down the laptop, said my goodbyes to my colleagues and drove home. Victoria, Jasmin and I had tea then we loaded the car up and drove to the Travelodge Macclesfield Adlington  -with some trepidation after our previous Travelodge stay - to be greeted by a lovely chap in reception who was super friendly and helpful.

We settled down for the  night and it was soon 0530 and the alarms were going off. Following the receptionists suggestion we were soon at Jet Parks 3 and on the bus to the terminal. System problems meant that the queue for check-in and baggage drop took well over an hour but after a very quick pass through security, the only problem being Jasmin's expensive bra setting off the alarms, we were soon air-side and having a light breakfast.

Boarding the old 767 that American Airlines use for the Manchester-Chicago run we got settled down to not enjoy the in-flight entertainment. I had warned Victoria and Jasmin that American Airlines run this route like it is the 1980's and a small TV screen between 20 seats is not really up to par these days for a long haul. Fortunately, we had loaded up on films and books on our tablets.

Despite the poor in-flight entertainment, the flight was very smooth and the vegetarian meals very nice. After about 8 hours we made a bumpy landing in Chicago and were soon through security although we did have some extra questions to answer at bio-security.

Catching the courtesy bus we were dropped off at Hertz to pick up our Ford Focus. A Ford Focus would have been good, after ten minutes wrangling where they tried to fob us off with a Ford Fiesta or a Mazda 2 "It's a compact", "Yeah right!" we settled for a Hyundai Accent. What a complete bag of shit this is a cheaply built piece of junk. If any of my friends in the future hear me mention that I may buy an Hyundai please remind me of this episode and call me a twat!

More shenanigans from Hertz as they try to get me to add an IPass at $5.00 per day plus tolls. Yeah right! I pay you $30.00 plus $10.00 in tolls just so that I don't have to pay $20.00 in tolls. After the shitty Chrysler Sonic they palmed me off with in August and this episode I think I'll be hiring my cars elsewhere in future.

So eventually we are on our way and after just over a couple of hours of freeway driving we arrive at our AirBnB apartment in Madison. Sean checks us in and it's absolutely lovely, spacious, two bedroomed, spotlessly clean with a well equipped kitchen and garage parking at about £300 for five nights.

We are in need of supplies so we drive about a mile up Cottage Grove Road to the Metro Market a lovely supermarket with loads of organic and healthy choices. We pick up some groceries and are also checking out what we can get hold of if we do move next year. They stock Heinz Baked Beans and Birds Custard so that is two things off the list!

With the Horrible Hyundai at Metro Markets

Driving back down we pass The Great Dane and having already scoped the place out on the internet decide that we will unpack the car and walk back up there. It's about a mile walk but well worth it, I had a delicious Mac & Cheese, Victoria had the Peanut Stew while Jasmin had the Mozzarella and Tomato Panzanella. We washed them down with a round of tasty micro-brews.

It was only just getting dark and we walked along Cottage Grove admiring the Halloween decorations and were back at the apartment by about 1830, having been up since the equivalent of midnight we soon crashed out and went to bed.

Of course this early night had a knock-on effect in the morning and we were up by 0330! We read and lounged for a few hours and then breakfasted on bagels and cream cheese washed down with orange juice, going native already!

The weather was lovely, retrieving the Horrible Hyundai from the parting garage we picked up the highway and then turned west on the Rustic Roads to the lovely little town of Baraboo. Once through Baraboo we entered the lovely golden road into Devils Lake State Park. Driving through autumn woodland, the floor is covered in leaves and above a canopy of gold, it really is 'take your breath away'.

Paying the $10.00 admission we parked up and made our way to the Chateau where we purchased apple ciders and coffees to drink by the lake before heading off up the buffs eastern side of the lake. We steadily climbed up the rocky buffs, with not a little moaning from young Jasmin, taking many opportunities to take photographs out over the lake.

We were even investigated by an inquisitive little chipmunk.

At the top we turned left and make our way back down through the woods, again stopping for many a photo opportunity before buying postcards to send home at the Chateau.

Leaving Devils Lake we headed back into Baraboo, but this time took the road out to Wisconsin Dells and stopped at the Outlets. It was getting quite late and we had not eaten since breakfast so we shared some pretzels and dip from Auntie Annies before doing a little outlet shopping. Quite a lot of our Christmas presents are now sorted.

We headed back to Madison along pretty much the way we had come and stopped off at Metro Market again to get some supper. I suggested that I buy some fare to cook for us, a regular at home is potatoes, veggie sausage and baked beans. Let's just say it was not my finest culinary moment, the real lowlight being the baked beans. What on earth are they doing to them? Give me Heinz Baked Beans in Tomato Sauce any day!

With the early start it was again time for an early night.

To be continued.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Travelling home from Anaheim

The holiday is almost over and it is time to head home from our adventures.

After packing we loaded up the car and headed to Downtown Disney where we shared a great breakfast of beignets and a cheese and egg sandwich at Ralph Brennan's Express.

Back to the hotel we checked out of the Marriott Fairfield which is really a great place to stay when visiting Disneyland and headed out on our final journey.

First stop was Brookhurst Hobbies where despite a good long time browsing the racks I was not inclined to buy anything new although Victoria bought me a present to put away for Christmas.

Our next port of call was Michaels where we both loaded up on goodies, Victoria for herself and for me to put away for her. This final day was turning into quite the shopping trip as we next stopped at the Citadel Outlets where we picked up some great bargains in the Labor Day sales, Christmas is sorted for a lot of family.

After all this shopping I was ready for a late lunch so we dropped into the same Ruby's Diner that we visited last year and were not disappointed, the food is great and the staff lovely.

It's getting on and the holiday window is closing, we drive back to LAX filling up with 'gas' and dropping the car back with Hertz with another 1507 miles on the clock. We board the courtesy bus to the terminal and get checked in.

We are flying back on a new British Airways A380 and have booked seats on the upper deck. It really is a smooth flight, really comfortable and the entertainment package is excellent. So good in fact that I stay awake all night watching films rather than catching up on sleep, oh well, I can do that when we get to the hotel -or not as the case was!

After the smoothest landing we ever experienced we arrive at Heathrow and go to pick up the bags. Our first case comes out after a few minutes, then there is a garbled message about baggage delays, the second case takes about an hour. With this and the problems dropping off the bags on the way out we are not inclined to ever fly with British Airways or use Heathrow Terminal 5 ever again.

We pick up the car from those nice chaps at Purple Parking and head over to the Travelodge London Heathrow Central Tired we are just ready to crash out. The first key they give us does not work, neither does the second, at the third attempt we are in the room. It's time for something to eat so we decide on a pizza, about to leave the hotel the fire alarms go off so we troop out and have the headcount.

We take ages to drive the short distance to Pizza Hut where after being seated we are ignored for 20 minutes so pick up our coats and leave, back at the Travelodge we order two coffees and a pizza, the pizza is actually quite nice, however the cappuccinos have no shots in them so are just steamed milk!

Knackered, we turn in to catch up on some sleep, over the next six hours the fire alarm goes off four more times. Finally at 0400 we have had enough, we load up the car and drive home.

It's really been a fantastic holiday, however the last few hours when we got back to the UK rather took off some of the shine.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Disneyland and California Adventures - Day Three

It's our last day at Disneyland and the holiday is almost over.

Monday had been spent in Disneyland and Tuesday we had spent the entire day in Disney California Adventure, for the third and final day we planned to take in both parks and stay until the fireworks at the end.

We shared a bagel for breakfast from the concession in the hotel and made our way into the park and entered Disneyland doing a little shopping on Main Street before rope-drop where we went straight to the Alice in Wonderland ride and were on after only a couple of minutes in the queue. Exiting the ride we went around the corner to the Toad Hall where we boarded Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and careered through the streets of London avoiding jail and weasels.

A brisk walk through to Frontierland and we were again riding the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad - yee haw! One of the few rides we actually think is better in Paris. As an aside, sat right behind us was a bloke who sounded like that annoying kid from Polar Express all grown up. Next we were in Advetureland and queuing for about ten minutes to get on to the Indiana Jones Adventure, fortunately we avoided the Eye of the Idol and broke out of the temple to safety.

Not having been in the park for an hour yet and we next boarded a crew of scurvy pirates for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and then an all together more sedate Jungle Cruise although the hippo attack is very scary!

I had to have an obligatory photo with the cannons.

Back to the Central Plaza we had photos in front of the castle before walking up Main Street and boarding the Disneyland Railroad, this is quite different from the one in Paris in that you can actually get on it and the cars are not compartmentalised but instead are two rows of stepped benches facing into the park so that everybody can see. After a full lap of the park we went into Star Tours using the fast-passes we had picked up earlier and this time we were pod racing on Tatooine. Exiting the ride, Victoria bought a rather fetching R2-D2 dress at Star Traders.

It was now time to use the first of our 'front of the queue' passes from the previous day and we were soon straight on to the Matterhorn Bobsleds and sliding down the mountain front, having never been able to ride this on our previous visit we had now ridden three times in two days! Having had nothing to eat since the half a bagel each at breakfast we were getting quite hungry so it was off to Hungry Bear for a fine Fried Green Tomato sandwich, probably our last ever as they are now discontinued.

The Haunted House was closed, but we took the opportunity to peek over the fence at the Halloween preparation make-over.

It was time to try our second 'front of the queue' ticket, however, arriving at the Peter Pan ride it was closed due to a technical fault, Mrs Scrivs face dropped! To console her we went to the Tiki Juice Bar and purchased a lovely Dole Whip in a souvenir Tiki bowl. If you've never tried a Dole Whip you should really give it a try.

We left the park by boarding the Monorail and riding out to Downtown Disney before retiring to our hotel for a short rest.

Eagle eyed readers will notice we have changed into our Disney Tokyo Seas shirts, these attracted many admiring comments and enquiries as to where they could be purchased.

After a couple of hours loafing it was back to the parks, this time entering Disney California Adventure where we went straight down Buena Vista Street and after a very short queue boarded the Monsters Inc. taxi to check on Mike, Sully and Boo. In Cars Land we opted for the single rider line on Radiator Springs Racers and were fortunately in the same car together as we raced around the track.

Stopping off at the Cozy Cone Motel we had photo-pass snaps done with Mater before heading off to Paradise Pier and again riding the Golden Zephyr.

Our time in California Adventure was drawing to a close, we made our way back via the Cosy Cone Motel again for a photo with Red and stopped to eat some lovely pretzel bites before making our way back to Buena Vista where we waited a short while to have our photo taken with Mickey Mouse and I got myself a huge ice-cream from Clarabells before making our way into the main park for the final leg of our Disney tour.

We went straight to the Peter Pan flight and to Victoria's delight it was open, we flashed our  'front of the queue' pass and were soon flying out of the window, over the streets of London and on to Neverland, Mrs Scrivs was so excited! We then made our way to New Orleans Square for another ride on Pirates of the Caribbean before our second Dole Whip of they day, I'll say again, they are lovely.

It was now time to pick a spot for the Paint The Night Parade and we found rather a great one by the Mad Hatters Tea Party, purchasing popcorn to fortify myself through the event we sat and waited while dark fell and the fantastical parade began.

The parade over we had at least another hour before the park closed and were able to cross into Tomorrowland and board straight away on Autotopia although I insisted that she had a go I drove - have I not done enough driving this holiday? Next we boarded Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters and after a hard fought duel Mrs Scrivs easily came out on top.

Our last ride in Disneyland was to be Star Tours after a brief sojourn to Hoth we were under the sea in Naboo in a very similar mission to one we had on the first day, there are apparently 56 combinations so we shall try to experience them all.

We left the park and headed to Downtown Disney where we bought a Wetzels Pretzel and a Cake Pop to share before retiring to our room exhausted. It's been a great, but very tiring three days.