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.