Madagascar 3 in 25 words or less? "You're our winner!" PER-DXBx-JFK-DXBx-PER

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jukebox333

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***Whilst I greatly enjoy the DYKWIA accounts of our Tony Hancock, no-one will ever know who I am, and so this TR will be a lot more middle-of-the-road (and rear-of-the-aircraft) – think Wal-mart, rather than Dean and Deluca! - but if you travel with kids, or are thinking of visiting the East Coast of the USA, you may get something from it. I hope you enjoy… ***

Some of you may have read my account of a rather epic adventure to Lapland last Christmas. As I mentioned in the epilogue to that TR, as I was hard at work planning the details of that holiday, I got an SMS from Mrs Jukebox: “Call me - Immediately!” Thinking the worst – an injured child, or deceased parent (!) – I grabbed the phone of my desk and dialled. Turns out that she had just been called by a woman claiming to be from Yahoo, and the conversation went something like this:

“Mrs Jukebox, do you remember entering the Madagascar 3 contest a few weeks ago?”
“Yes, I do”
“Congratulations – you are the winner of the grand prize, a family trip for four to New York, including flights, transfers, 6 nights accommodation, VIP tix to the circus, tix to a circus school, and tix to Central Park Zoo”
“O.M.F.G.”

We actually thought it might be some sort of Nigerian scam for a few days – the arrangements were handed off from Yahoo, Sydney to a promotional agency in London, and we never saw Mrs Jukebox’s name listed as winner anywhere. These guys were great. We’re a family of five, and I wondered how that works – it was simple: we just paid them the difference to book an extra child’s ticket where needed. I also wanted to spend an extra week in the USA at our expense – it was too far to go for just six nights; no problem! They asked for three potential dates – remembering we were only a month or so out from a four week Lapland White Xmas, so nominated May, September and December 2013 – and got our first choice, of May.

I sat our three rug rats down, and canvassed them on what they wanted to see and do in NYC while we were there. Eldest son suggest USS Intrepid, Middle son wanted to see the Statue of Liberty, and Miss (6) wanted to go to Build-a-Bear Workshop.

Around this time, Hurricane Sandy hit.

The agency was back in touch with us a few weeks later: because of the circus school was closing down, and by May 2013, the circus would have left town. It took a lot off the “Madagascar” theme of the holiday, but to their credit, we were given tix to go up the Empire State Building instead of the Circus School and allowed to use the credit for the VIP circus seats against Miss 6’s airfare. The Statue of Liberty closed to visitors (it’s re-opening 4[SUP]th[/SUP] July) and the Space Shuttle pavilion at USS Intrepid also closed due to storm damage. It’s kind of a shame, and on reflection, if we’d gone in September, we’d have seen these things, but as it turned out, they were in no way show stoppers.

By the end of October, we had all the details emailed to us: Emirates PER-DBXx-JFK and back; 6 nights at Double Tree Suites Times Square; limo transfers to and from JFK, and e-tix to the ESB.

I added the extra week to the start of the trip, and booked seats to Washington DC on an Amtrak express leaving the same evening we arrived in NYC. I also booked a rental car for a week (through Alamo UK website – it was 75% of the price of using the US or AU websites, bizarrely) and so by the end of 2012, when we got on our plane to Rovaneimi, we also had the core of our US trip locked in.
 

smit0847

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Congratulations! I really, really enjoyed your Lapland TR so looking forward to this one.

I always thought if I won a trip like this there would be certainly parts of the prize I would never even want and I'd just toss them away and use the airfares and accomodation.
 

Major

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I also enjoyed your Lapland TR and congrats on the NYC prize....looking forward to the details
 

casanovawa

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How many of these contests have i entered and won squat!!! :(

But yes good to hear about someone who finally got lucky on one of these things... :)
 

jukebox333

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Thank for the kind words everyone. It's Mrs Jukebox who has all the luck. I couldn't win a chook raffle to save my life!

***
So, May 2013 arrives. We had access to seat selection from the day we were given our RLN, and were able to get seats in the second and third rows of the economy cabin on the B777 flights out of Perth, the first two rows in the front of the cabin on the A380 to JFK, and the 2[SUP]nd[/SUP] and 3[SUP]rd[/SUP] rows of the second cabin out of JFK. ESTA applications had been submitted and okayed, and at T-24 I checked everyone in on-line.

On arrival at PER, we walked straight up to the check in (it amazes me how many people still do not use the E-check in option – there would have been forty groups in that line/no one in ours). Now I like to get to the airport early. As a ball park, I figure I should allow enough time to change a flat tire should we get one on the way, even if we are already checked in. So we faced up to Andrew the Emirates Clerk™ at around 8:30pm for an 11pm flight . He took our passports and started the formalities for checking five of us in, and when he appeared to be done , handed them back to me and coolly advised “We cannot board you tonight, as there’s at least one mistake in your ESTA applications”.

It turned out that through either a typo or misreading at the time of application, I has mistaken the N prefix on both of my sons passports for an M. In hindsight it amazes me I missed it, as the final check in the ESTA process is to retype the passport number.

So, what to? Well to Andrew’s credit, he advised us that it should not be too hard to reapply – and that they guys across the hall at the oversized baggage wrap booth should be able to help with an internet connection. At this point, there were plenty of worried looks all round from the family (and me, I have to say). So we hussled over to the baggage guy, who indeed kindly lets us borrow his terminal. I got my eldest son to carefully dictate the passport details, and triple checked them before hitting enter. The system spat back a multi-digit confirmation straight away that the new applications was approved, so I then did the second passport – now was not the time to try and link them into one application. Mercifully, by 9pm, we had two new numbers to use, and went back to Andrew, who called us up to his counter and checked our bags.

The boarding looked like it was going to be the usual undisciplined scrum… until Mr Emirates™, Andrew, appeared from the ground floor, and started sheep dogging the masses back and away from the gate. We were travelling with Miss 6, and so this holiday will probably be the last time we can play the “Families with young children” card, so we were grateful for his diligence!

The flight itself to DBX was unexceptional. 10 across in Y for 10 hours is not fun, and whilst Emirates IFE is good, I found their FA’s to be cool and detached, and lacking the personal interaction I have seen with QF, SQ and CX. The meals were hit and miss, too – dinner was fine (a spiced lamb and rice, I think) but the breakfast was... an airline breakfast. Nothing to write home about. Notable was the damn awful bread rolls Emirates serve – across all four flights/eight meals they seemed universally stale and tasteless. QF sourdough it wasn’t!

We arrived on time to DXB - 5:30am – and transferred to the B terminal for our flight to JFK. I know people rave about this airport, but I was underwhelmed. With 3 hours to kill, we tried to get WiFi, but the system just would not work. We shifted around the concourse, moved away from the gate, went downstairs. The iPads registered a connection, but it would not open to a useable link. We grabbed some coffee and bottle water… only to have to surrender these to security when we shifted downstairs when the gate opened. At least priority boarding was in effect for the next flight, too, and although the flight would be about 30 minutes late getting away, we were soon settled into our area at the front of the A380. Travelling with a party of five on a plane is a pain – it’s not a neat number. Luckily, on both outbound flights, the “sixth seat” in our block of two rows of three was not used, so we ended up with a bit of extra room for the kids to take turns sleeping.

I’d never been in an A380 until this flight. Up front they are incredibly quiet, but up there they also seemed to be very “springy” – the turbulence felt as though the fuselage was being bounced by someone holding the wings and flexing them – not the sharp jolts I’d call “normal” turbulence. The big windows are nice, but they are also further away from the seat, so that you cannot readily lean against them and go to sleep.

Leaving DBX at 9:00am local time, and arriving in JFL at 2:15pm meant it was a 14 hour, all-day flight. I’d never flown this route before, so for me it was quite a novelty to see things like snow on the mountains of Afghanistan/Iraq, or Skagen, on the northern tip of Denmark, where two seas meet, the icy interior of Norway, and even icebergs in the North Atlantic.

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Skagen, Denmark

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Southern Norway

We came in to JFK from the North, and as we crossed Long Island, I was able to see the skyscrapers of Manhattan on the horizon. It has been 22 years since I last was here, and seeing the skyline without the Twin Towers for the first time felt quite strange.

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Queens, LI - looking out to Manhattan

Arrival was at Terminal 4 of JFK – being up front, we were out of the plane quickly, and made our way to Border Security, where, from other reports I had read, I was expecting brash TSA formalities. How wrong I was! The young guy on the desk could not have been nicer – friendly, polite and in no way inflated by the uniform he was wearing. It was possibly the smoothest and most fuss free entry I have had to the USA. We collected our bags and exited into the arrivals area… which looked no bigger than PER, to my surprise. It really is low key! I found our driver, who took our largest bag (we only had two… at this point) and led us to the car park where our transfer was waiting.

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Love the road markings "Stretch Limos Only"

We made it into Pennsylvania Station in about an hour – even with heavy traffic on the Van Wyke Expressway - it was around 4:30pm by the time we’d found the Amtrak lounge and sat down. The rug rats, despite four meals and snacks in 24 hours, were hungry, so clearly a NY Pretzel the side of your head was an easy way to stop the complaining.

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Girl Vs Food!

We had two hours to kill before our train, and that passed quickly enough. At 6:00pm we joined the scrum of business people down the escalators for the express to Washington, found some seats and watched the setting sun as New Jersey and Pennsylvania rolled by our windows. The Amtrak staff were great – friendly, and helpful – in good humour for late on a Thursday night. Daylight was gone soon after Philadelphia, and we all napped on and off for the rest of the trip.

On arrival at Union Station in Washington, temps were down in the low double digits. The guy managing the line for taxis held us back and got a van for us to all fit in, and we were dropped at the door of the Holiday Inn Capitol around 10pm. Check in was silky smooth, and well before 11pm we’d showered and fallen into bed, utterly knackered from the previous 40 hours on the go.
 

kyle

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Congratulations. Looking forward to reading more of your trip.
 

Chris82

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Great TR read so far. Really good to actually hear from people who win these type of competitions. I know I've applied for my fair share, and have never won anything....almost to the point that I wonder "does anyone actually win these competitions??". And you got to go to NYC of all places!

Look forward to the next installment.
 

jukebox333

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Despite the late night, we all woke early, so showered and headed downstairs to the bistro for breakfast. The two youngest kids were eligible for $3 breakfast vouchers I’d been handed at check in, and there was a $2 off one I was given for any meal in the bistro as well, but even so the tab came to $60 plus tip. Before Mrs Jukebox could start to multiply our 14 days by three meals by $70, I reassured her that it was our first morning, we were in the business area of DC, and finding a cheaper breakfast for five wasn’t worth the $20 we might save, and we should just roll with it. She agreed, so we hit the buffet (helpful when you have a 13 year old boy in tow!) and fuelled up for the day.

Food of note: Biscuits and gravy. American biscuits are like a savory scone, but the gravy for these was white, and had a meat base - It did say, but I forget exactly what (bacon? beef?), it did not look too flash, but it was damn tasty. And probably a heart attack on a plate... even Mrs J got onto that one. Funny thing was, we never saw it again in our travels.

The HI Capitol is almost at the far Western end of The Mall. It was a brilliant Friday morning, and so we walked from there, up past the Washington and WWII memorials to the Lincoln Memorial. I was quietly surprised Miss 6 managed that distance ~ we just took our time, and really enjoyed it. We were about three weeks late for the Cherry blossoms – I’ve seen them previously, and can tell you that, apart from the crowds, if you get the chance to be in DC in the Spring, they are a spectacular sight.

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Wrapped in post earthquake scaffold, but still spekky.

From the Lincoln memorial, we took a look at the Vietnam memorial, and then headed over to the White House. That just about did it for the tick-the-box sights, and the kids were flagging a bit by now, so we stopped into the National Museum of American History. This is a three floor building, and the kids really enjoyed themselves here – plenty of displays across a variety of subject: the original, massive, Star Spangled Banner; Dorothy’s red shoes; Kermit the Frog; a display of gowns from First Ladies down the years. Mrs Jukebox made the observation that it was amazing how people had had the foresight to save so many items that on their own were not noteworthy, but as a collection, increased in interest and value.

Next on The Mall was the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. This was full of Night At The Museum type stuff – skeletons, dioramas and displays. I’m not a massive fan of this stuff, but the people doing the taxidermy here must be seriously talented, as the poses and look of the animals really made them look a lot more impressive than your bog standard stuffed-dead-beast sort of thing I am used to seeing.

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Australian Exhibitionist, Smithsonian Museum

Last on the ticket for the day was the Air-Space Museum, which was just one block from our hotel. I’d visited here in the 1980’s, and so knew it would be something the kids would enjoy. There’s plenty to see – the first plane to break the sound barrier, the Apollo 11 capsule that carried the crew back to earth, even the original Wright Flyer.

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Planes, missiles and rockets everywhere...

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Tucked away in the basement shop - tho' not for sale - the original USS Enterprise. Really.

I looked for, but did not find, the Focault Pendulum I saw back in 1988 - to a 21 year old engineering student, it was very cool! Turns out it is gone, and the SSB is where it used to be. Shame, as it was one of those things that I wanted the boys to see - my youngest, in particular, would have blown his little mind thinking about the science behind it.

The great thing about all of these museums was they were free. Not even a “suggested donation”. So much history and information, available for every single person who can get to the door. Wonderful stuff. Contrary to the website info, the day we were there, each was open till 7:30pm, but by 5pm we’d pretty much museumed ourselves out anyway – and the feet were starting to hurt too! - which was a shame; you could easily spend three or more days, just looking over the Smithsonian Museums on the Mall, but I was glad to give our kids a taster, and I would not doubt if they make their way back to look over these some more when they spread their own wings.

We grabbed a pizza and some stromboli’s from a take away around the corner from the hotel for dinner – the food vans that had been around to feed the Government workers at lunchtime were all long gone, which was a shame – they looked and smelt tasty, and all had plenty of customers.

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Food van frenzy - 7th St SW, DC

We packed up that night, ready to leave DC. I didn’t mind staying at the Holiday Inn - for $270 Thu Night/$145 Fri for a room for 5, it kept us right in the middle of the action, and was clean, had good internet, and there were no surprise charges or extras. The next few days would be on the road, and so I planned an early start to pick up the rental car and visit one last museum before we hit the interstate…
 

jukebox333

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Saturday Morning in DC –while Mrs Jukebox beat the two youngsters into silence and stowed their bodies in the.... er, prepared the young ones for the day, I hoofed it back overto Union Station to collect the car with Jukebox Junior. It was about a 15 minute walk from the HI, right up past the Capitol building.

The Alamo office is upstairs at the station, and after a bit of a gruff start (Alamo and National share adesk – Dolly, the woman was sitting under the National sign – so I asked if the Alamo agent would be coming along, and was asked rhetorically “Do you see a barrier betweenus – we’re all the same company honey…” But to her credit, she lost her attitude once she saw I had a booking, and after signing off on the paperwork, we headed upstairs to find the car.

I’d read over at TripAdvisor about the rentals at Union Station being hard to find. Well we had directions, and thought we knew where to go… but, yep, it took us three attempts. The trick is that even though the rental car parking is on the 2[SUP]nd[/SUP] floor, you don’t go up the escalators to that floor –you go out and around, following some subtle signage… and it’s all the way across at the back, behind the bus terminal and the rest of the car park. I had booked a Nissan Maxima, but when I got to the park, had been given a Hyundai Genesis. Turns out that was not a bad thing – the car was new, and had plenty of room, although it did feel like it had very spongy suspension. Still, we went through some pretty cough weather over the next few days, and it kept on going strong.

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Hyundai Genesis

I got in, and just kept chanting to myself – keep right, keep right, keep right – and backtracked the same way we had walked from the hotel. We needed to get a booster seat for Miss 6, and so a stop at Wal-mart (where we’d spied them online for $12, rather than paying $70 for one as part ofthe rental) was the plan. Then, Mrs Jukebox and Miss would be dropped off at Tysons Corner Mall, for some seriously girl shopping, while the boys and I did some man stuff.

I’d sussed all this out before I left Perth – Google “directions from x to y” - and had printed out the pages for each day’s travel – and on the back of each page, even done my own shorthand – just the route numbers and exits we needed (cos I knew I could gavethat to JBJ, and he’d be able to be my Navman. I’m not a luddite, but just have never needed a GPS – especially with US roads as simple and well built as they are – plenty of warnings on exits, and route numbers always posted). Unfortunately, I gave Mrs Jukebox the cribsheet, and she got a little excited – halfway to Wal-mart, she started reading from the next set of directions… so we ended up at Tyson’s Corner. I cut my losses and we dropped the girls off,and headed over to Dulles airport to the Udvar-Hazy annex of the Smithsonian Air Space Museum.

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Serious Plane cough

This wing was not open when I lived in the US, and I had always wanted to go. It is serious plane cough. But it’s a major PITA to get to unless you have a car. It’s free to get into (parking outside the door is $15) and the only place to eat inside is Maccas, but apart from that, it is a plane enthusiasts wet dream.

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Space Shuttle Discovery

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B-29 Enola Gay

You walk in the door and are confronted with an SR-71, and glimpses of the Shuttle Orbiter Discovery behind it. Downone end are Concorde and Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb. The other end of this massive hanger has an F-14 amongst dozens of other aircraft, rockets and missiles, even the very first B707. The boys got to have a go at a Space Shuttle landing simulator, hosted by the Smithsonion, where they each were given tasks to complete as they glided towards Florida. “Docents” wander the hall, helping answer questions, and giving talks on the history of specific exhibits – I briefly overheard one describing how Enola Gay was selected as being the aircraft to drop the first atomic bomb – and would loved to have stayed to hear more. You could easily lose a day here, but we set ourselves a four hour limit, as we had to collectthe girls and get down to Norfolk that evening.

Once we were a quintet again, it was onto I95 south. The traffic had thickened up a lot since 8am when I picked up the car, but there’s a reasonable degree of order on the road; right hand lanes exit and disappear regularly, and slower cars are merging from them, so unless you are getting off the Interstate, keep in the left or second-to-left lane. We stopped for a coffee outside of Williamsburg, and then pressed on into Chesapeake, after about three hours of driving, where were booked into a Hampton Inn ($153/night inc. breakfast and free WiFi)

Check in was fast, and I was recognised as Hilton Gold and offered a drink and a snack from the choices in the display case. When we arrived in the room – a suite with two queens and a sofa bed – there was a follow up call from the clerk within 15 minutes to check if the room was satisfactory. It certainly was. We found the Hampton Inns excellent value - the ones I chose were all easy to find, had friendly staff, the rooms (beds and bathrooms) were clean, and for the price of the room, buffet breakfast was included. Having travelled so much in Asia, where a triple occupancy is a luxury in many cities, I was worried that the quins I had booked on the basis of web reviews would be a nightmare - but it worked out very well for us, and at no point did we contemplate asking for an extra room after we had arrived. Some of the hotels were bigger than others - I figured out afterwards that the "2 queens plus sofa bed" meant we would get a suite", but the "two doubles" or "two queens" meant no sofa bed, but a trundle bed - and that the rooms were half the size (but still manageable). From what I could tell, some of the Hampton Inns just did not have suites - they were all singles and doubles. Useful to know for next time.

There was a Wal-mart next door, so we were able to drive over and pickup the booster seat we’d missed out on back in Washington. I discovered a carton of Budweiser Lime-a-ritas (?), and suggested to Mrs JB that they would be good medicine to dull the roar of three kids who were a bit antsy at having had a long drive and a late dinner. I was right. Those little green cans became as welcome as any Panadol or Nurofen, and we made it the first order of business at each new hotel to send one of the rugrats out to fill the icebucket and get the first two cans in and cooling!

28 Durham.jpg

No Prescription Required
 

jukebox333

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The next day we headed down to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Our destination was the Kill Devil Hills, and Kitty Hawk. This was where the Wright Brothers first flew. There is a large obelisk on a windswept hill, and below it, markers have been placed that record the 1[SUP]st[/SUP] through 4[SUP]th[/SUP] flights in a powered aircraft, each successively longer, all made on that fateful December day in 1903.

21 Kitty Hawk.jpg

Kill Devil Hills, NC

You look at the first flight, and go “Meh, maybe they just got a bounce on take off…” but by the time they were at No.4, lasting a full minute and going >300m, it’s clear that they had indeed cracked it on that day.

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12 Seconds, 120ft...

It is almost 40 years since I was a passenger in an aircraft for the first time – and I have been lucky enough to see so much of the world, because of the availability of air travel – I guess that’s why this place feels special to me.

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Flight No.4, waaaaaaay in the distance - 59 seconds, 862ft. I bet his cough was not as sore as mine after 24 hrs in Y.

As we continued south and then headed inland, the rain and foul weather came closing in. There was not a lot else on the agenda for the day, and we ended up in Durham, NC at another Hampton Inn. Same deal here – recognition as an HH Gold,snacks and drink, and a check up phone call.

As I mentioned, at Hampton Inns, breakfast was included. The choices really were pretty good – eggs in some fashion (sometimes scrambled, or mini-omelette), bacon, sausage, yoghurt, cereal, juices, coffee, pastries, bread, oatmeal, fruit salad, bananas and apples… and make them yourself waffles. Jukebox Jnr (11) was fascinated by the machine used for these, and by our second morning, he had worked out the system to perfection, and became the short order cook for his brother and sister, churning out waffles to order!

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A few more of these, and he'll be as fat as Matt Preston....
 

jukebox333

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Departing Durham, our next destination was Roanoke, VA. It was a Monday morning, and most of the way was on a State Road, not an Interstate. This was slower going, butit did mean we passed through, rather than around, the small towns on the way.

It must have been a busy day at the Amish Barn Factory. We saw these for sale as we headed East, and then one came towards us on the back of a truck, being delivered. A few minutes later there was another. And then another. And then another. In the space of 90 minutes we passed about a dozen of these sheds on the back of trucks, all headed in the same direction. No idea where they were going, and we never did see a factory, but it was just one of those slices of American weirdness that made you shake your head.

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Barn Ahoy!

We’d watched Man Vs Food on TV over the past few years, and knew North Carolina was one of the homes of “pulled pork” so I checked on the iPad the night before and found a diner that was open, that specialised in the stuff: “Pigs R Us”, no less. Not wanting to order the meat by the pound (!) we settled for a combination platter. Some suggested it covered all the brown food groups…

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Not a vegetable in sight...

That’s pulled pork, pork ribs, buffalo wings, brisket, hush puppies, potato salad, coleslaw and hotslaw. Not the place to be if you are vegetarian, or on a low cholesterol diet, me thinks!


Hush Puppies, I discovered are like dumplings – dough, deep fried, and served to be dipped in gravy or sauce. “We make our from scratch” the waitress told us – and they did taste good (so must have been bad for you, I guess). The pulled pork is done in a vinegar sauce – you can then add tomato/hot sauce to flavour from bottle on the table. On its own, it tasted almost like Tuna! The ribs and brisket were pretty awesome, though.

It was around 2pm when we got to Roanoke. Our stop here was to take a look at the O Winston Link Museum. Link is a famous photographer who, in the 1950’s, decided to capture the last steam trains working on the Norfolk and Western Railroad. But in doing so, we made a name for himself taking photos of trains at night. The museum in Roanoke holds a permanent exhibition of his work. I loved it, and was pleasantly surprised that even Mrs Jukebox enjoyed an hour or so, looking at the walls of photos on display – they seem so sharp, well thought out, and executed. This sort of stuff is a world away form point-and-shoot instant gratification of digital photos: this was film and flashbulb stuff, and developing the result afterwards, to see if what you tried, worked. Highly recommended.

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350px-OW_Link,_Hotshot_Eastbound.jpg
Classic photography

When we were done there, we headed over to Christiansburg, about 25 miles south of Roanoke,where we were booked in for the night. Hampton Inn again, but this time with a smaller room. I asked the clerk when she gave me the “is everything okay” call if they had any suites, but they didn’t, so we opted for the trundle bed – it was only an overnight, so no big deal. The weather had gotten worse, not better – we had thunderstorms and rain all day today – so looked for something indoors to take us through to dinner time. There were a mass of shops just over the road from the hotel – so we did a bit of window shopping and checking out prices, so we knew what to expect when we arrived in NYC.
 
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jukebox333

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The next day was something of a travel day - we started in North Carolina, and would be in Pennsylvania by nightfall.

Today was the day the rental car acquitted itself very nicely. We covered 800km, and I might have been driving at 85mph for part of the the way. The roads are certainly good enough for it, espacially in the part of the country, where there are lots of mountains, and the four lanes of I-79 just seem to go up and down them for mile after mile. There were quite a few State Troopers out and about, booking people, so I tended not to do more than 15mph over the posted limit. Mrs Jukebox was willing me to get pulled up at one point - just to see what it was like. I suggested to her that it might be a rather expensive souvenier...

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Interstate, North Carolina

We stopped off for a rest break for the kids at the New River Gorge Bridge - seriously large, and high. There were clouds and fog around, and the time stamp on these two photos was less than three minutes apart:

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Now you see it

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Now you don't

Lunch later in the day was at a diner called Little Sandy's in a tiny place called Bruceton Mills. This place had a touch of the "Star Wars Bar" about it - plenty of flannel on the locals, and plastic table cloths with well worn menus... We'd been trying to avoid the fast food chain cliche (a rule we set a few years ago, that helps the kids try local and unusual food when we are on holidays) but this time, it backfired and we eneded up in a cliche of a diner, with some pretty ordinary food. Still, the kids got fed, I was able to fill the car in the same stop, and it off North again.

The weather improving, but as we got onto the Pennsylvania Turnpike and turned East, a storm front belted in. The section of the PA Pike here is winding and narrow, and for the first time in our travels most of the traffic was semi trailers. I pushed on for an hour, but I spotted a rest area with a choice of places to grab a coffee, so we pulled up for a break. Inside there were tickets for the PA lottery in sale - $222 Million. The six bucks for two slickpicks was well worth it, as instead of fight with each other, the kids spent the next two hours deciding how to spend the money.

It was after 6pm when we got to Ephrata, PA, our home for next two days. Maybe it was cos the guy in front of me was HH Diamond, and was whinging about his rate, but for the first time, I wasn't acknowledged as HH Gold, not offered the treats in the cabinet (I'm sure if I'd asked, I could have had them - but we're talking a bottle of water and a packet of trail mix. Sheepstations were not a stake here!).

By the time we'd unpacked, and cleaned up, it was dark and late. In town, almost all the places selling food - both shops and diners - we closed. The chinese restaurant was open... it was that, or get in the car and drive to another town, only to face possibly a McMeal... or worse. So we raised the white flag and at the owner's suggestion (who was Chinese, which I guess was a good omen!), ordered the take away banquet for four. 20 minute later I stepped back inside to collect our food and was presented with a bag that must have weighed 5kg! There were spring rolls, four massive containers of food, four serves or rice - even fortune cookies. All for $30!

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Chinese banquet, PA style

Even with three "starving" kids, we only got about halfway through the massive pile. And it was pretty good for take away Chinese, too. So, hats of to "China Taste", in Ephrata, PA for a job well done.
 

jukebox333

Member
Joined
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Posts
488
We had chosen Ephrata to base ourselves in for two nights, so we could have a look around Lancaster County, come of the Pennsylvania Amish community – the group that eschews many modern luxuries such as electricity and motor vehicles, for a simpler life.

I had my own pre-conceptions about what the area would be like, and the first surprise was how small most of the farms here are – and that there a lots of them. Driving between the small towns in the area, I had expected it to be a lot more open, but there were farms, silos, and sheds all over the place.

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Jebbidiah's 3hp plough...

It’s hard not to treat the Amish like a tourist attraction: it’s just so Twilight Zone to see horses and carts mingling with traffic.
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Another day in Amish country...

The area is also home to many covered bridges – so we chose a back road and wandered down to look at one;

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No Clint Eastwood. No Meryl Streep...

Then we headed over to the community market at Bird-In-Hand; here all sorts of produce and baked good were on sale – and tourists were piling in by the busload. Across the road was the bakery, so we stopped off there, and tried some “shoo-fly pie”, a molasses creation that sounds awful sickly but was pretty good in small amounts.

Mrs.J had not been sure about taking a buggy ride – some were quite expensive and extensive – but the weather was so nice, she agreed to give it a go. There had been a buggy tied up next to the bakery, but when we came out, he’d gone, so we set off up the road, looking for another one. ¾ of the way to Intercourse, we found Aaron and Jessica’s buggy rides. They did shorter rides for (I think) $12/adult, and the gear looked smart and clean, so we gave them a go.


It was well worth the effort, as the driver invited the two young Jukeboxes to sit up front with him – Miss 6 even got handed the reins at one point – and he was informative without being a history or cultural bore (that sounds kinda harsh, but there are times when you don’t want the full detailed story of the religious revelations of the Mennonites – and this was one of them!). The commentary was as detailed as we needed, and he was able to answer any questions we had; it was great the way he knew many of the locals on the run – call out to them by name as we rode past, and asking how they were.
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6 year-old at the helm...

For such a low key attraction, we all enjoyed the change of pace, and were glad we did the trip.

The other advantage of it being a two night stay was that we could get some washing done before the last shift – to NYC. There was a coin laundry down the road from the hotel, and so late in the afternoon, while the clothes were spinning around in the dryers, I took the kids for a short drive around the farms. We came across a Wal-Mart, and I mused that with all the people around driving horses and carts, I wondered where they parked. In the stables of course! Yep, Wall Mart in Ephrata had stables for the Amish. Of course they would, eh?

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Even the Amish need to be able to shop for bargains...
 

jukebox333

Member
Joined
Jan 27, 2011
Posts
488
Another travel day today – destination, New York City.

There had been showers around overnight, but the morning looked great, looking out from our 3[SUP]rd[/SUP] floor room over Ephrata.

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Ephrata, PA

A couple of the staff stopped by and spoke with us at Breakfast – I gather word had gotten out that we were visiting from Oz, as they asked us what we had been doing and where we were headed. It was a friendly touch that lifted they stay beyond the faceless experience hotels can be.

So we had to back track a little – a two hour drive down into Washington to return the rental car. The traffic was heavy but flowing well – good to see the locals in Lancaster were planning something special for Mother’s Day:

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Yep, just what my Mom asked for!

I went to fill the car before handing it back; At this and all the other self serves I used, it was a case of swipe and authorise before the pump would start. This one after swiping, told me my credit card needs a zip code. ???? Swapped the Amex for a visa. Same thing. Tried the MasterCard. And a third time. So I went into the clerk – for the first time since I rented the car (!) and explained I was using an international CC – she then gave me a five digit number that could be used to activate the system. Funny that it was only needed in DC.

We negotiated the maze of streets around Union Station, and a dead rat the size of a domestic cat*, and dropped the car back at the car park, and went down to the concourse to catch our train to New York.

*I was gonna post the photo Mrs J took as she screamed in horror, but good taste prevailed...


Once again, the staff at Amtrak impressed me; I know trains in the US get a bum rap, but these people had character and personality, and the ride itself was pleasant and comfortable. Call it tradition, or just plan American Theatre, but the guy on the station announcements in DC, and the conductor on the train, seemed to revel in shouting “all aboaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaard!” just like in the movies. There’s probably a good reason you don’t hear that at aircraft gate lounges, but still, in its quirky way, it was uniquely American. We were on a 1pm departure on a Thursday, but the train was full most of the way – plenty of room at the carriage ends for suitcases, and plenty of people used the racks above the seats for larger-than-carry-on bags, too. $30/person each way, big, comfy seats that reclines, a large window to look out of, and food and drinks in the buffet car the next carriage along made the whole experience very civilized.

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Harve de Grace, from the North East Regional Amtrak Express

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Philadelphia, view from the train to NYC

Arriving in New York, if I didn’t have baggage, I might have contemplated walking the 13 blocks to our hotel, but sanity prevailed – however we needed two cabs, as we were five people plus three bags plus backpacks. It was 4:30pm and shiftchange, so cabs were slow in coming – we joined the line on 8[SUP]th[/SUP] Ave and waited. Mrs Jukebox was a bit nervous about dealing with a cab – and tipping – but I explained to her we didn’t have an option – it was 4 pax max in a cab. So when our turn came, I put her plus Jukebox Jr (13) in the first cab – I didn’t want her to be left curbside on her won – and stood back to wait for the next free taxi. The car moved off a few feet and stopped – I walked forward and the driver leaned out “How many of you are there?” 2 adults, 3 kids. “Get in!” So, this legend of a driver put our large bag on the front seat, and we sat the two younger kids on our lap in the back for the trip from Penn Station to Times Square. When we got there he said “Where are you from?” Australia. “Oh, yes! I am from India!” he proudly told us – “Where in Australia?” Perth. ”Ah, the WACA! I know it well…” We just cracked up laughing – members of the Commonwealth sticking together! The fare was $12, so I slipped the guy $20 – he’d saved me a second cab fare and a lot of grief. He was well pleased. A good result all round, I say.

Accommodation in Perth was the Double Tree Suites. I’d updated our booking online as a HH Gold member, and requested a high floor. Check in was smooth and fast, and we were given keys to a room on the 39[SUP]th[/SUP] floor... and a bag of the legendary warm chocolate chip Cookies.

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Mmmmmmmmmm - Warm Cookie Goodness!

The room was a suite with a large lounge and sofa bed, a bedroom with two kings, and a large bathroom/shower – nice, but honestly not a massive improvement on the large suites at the Hampton Inn. But maybe it’s me – I’m not a hotel person: you pay for a good bed to sleep in, and freshen up during the day; so long as the bed is firm, and the room and shower clean, I’m happy. We got a high floor 39 of 42, and our South facing room was at the end of the corridor – so away from the Times Square end of the building - so the street noise was minimal. This would be our home from the next six nights.
 

docjames

Senior Member
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Great TR. :mrgreen:

I can't help but feel it needs a cat/rat photo though.........:p
 

jukebox333

Member
Joined
Jan 27, 2011
Posts
488
Great TR. :mrgreen:

I can't help but feel it needs a cat/rat photo though.........:p

By request.


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Hit and run victim, G street NE, Washington.

Whilst there's nothing to really appreciate the scale of this thing, all I can say is that a) I was gobsmacked enough to go "OMFG Look at that!" whilst driving in city traffic, and Mrs J was so shocked, her first reaction was "I have GOT to get a photo of that!". :shock:
 

jukebox333

Member
Joined
Jan 27, 2011
Posts
488
Okay, time to bring this baby home...

Residency at The Double Tree

Well, I don’t know about other AFF’ers, but I cannot recall ever staying 6 consecutive nights in the one hotel for leisure… so our experience in NYC was very different for me.

Breakfast for four was part of the prize package, but I managed to arrange HH Gold membership before we left, and so was also eligible for a couple of comp’d brekkies each day, too. This detail hadn’t been sorted out on the first day, and so I signed two chits to my room – one for gratuities for four, and the other for an extra child’s breakfast (plus tip, of course). The next day, new staff, and same deal – except this time it was an extra adult breakfast. By the third day, accounts must have caught on, and the matre de went out of his way to let me know all the meals were comp’d and I just needed to sign them… in other words, add the tip. Given the value was the wrong side of $90, I was happy to be tipping $15/day, and left a but extra on the last morning.

The breakfasts were awesome… but honestly, by day six, you really get over it. There were Bain Maires with scrambled eggs, sausages, bacon, and blintzes.. all manner of cereals and muesli, trays of yoghurt, bins of bread, and proper bagels. There was also a breakfast chef, cooking eggs to order, omelettes ands waffles (no self-serve waffle maker here!). Of course on Morning 1, the kids made a b-line for the egg chef – and Miss 6 must have impressed the chef with her manners asking for a pancake, because when it came out, it was shaped like Mickey Mouse!

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We had been carrying around, and giving out, small Australian souvenirs – something Grandma Jukebox has taught us during a family holiday a few years back – so we found a small clip on koala and kangaroo pin, and Missy took these over to Eugene, the egg chef, and said they were for him. He told her to wait there, and a few minutes later, retuned with… a tin of eight Double Tree Chocolate Chip Cookies!

The staff at Gloria’s, the Double Tree restaurant, were brilliant. By the fourth morning, we felt like part of the furniture – the girl on the desk stopped asking for my name and room number, greeting me with “Good Morning, Mr Jukebox!”, we were shown to our “regular table”, and our standard coffee and juice order was brought to us within 90 seconds of hitting the seats! Each day we passed out a couple more Koalas or Kangaroo pins, and on the last morning our now-regular waiter brought over… another tin of Double Tree Cookies!

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These ones were taped shut, and made the trip back to Perth. 15 seconds in the microwave and they almost were as good as the warm ones we had a reception…

As for the six days in NYC, well we covered the normal first time in New York City bases – Staten Island Ferry, Chinatown, Wall Street, So-Ho, TriBeCa, Rockefeller Center – and there’s not a lot new I can add to those sights.

I did steer the kids to FAO Schwartz, which I hadn’t been impressed with as a skint 21 year old engineering student; as a father of three kids under 13, I liked it a whole lot more! Not that we bought anything special… okay, I got a Beatles theme Monopoly set (after Mrs Jukebox cajoled me as Id not spent any money on myself the whole trip) but the best part of the visit was taking my 11 year old son tot eh Big piano, and watching him play some of the songs he is learning in his own piano lessons… definitely as case of living vicariously through my kids: I’d love to have the talent to do it, and watching him concentrating as he jumped around, just like Tom Hanks in the movie: priceless!

We also went to Central Park Zoo, as part of the prize package. It was Mother’s Day morning, and sunny, and half of New York was out and about… and this zoo sucked. Truly. Think of something not unlike Taronga Park Zoo as it was in 1970. Only 1/10[SUP]th[/SUP] the size. Oh, and as for the connection with Madagascar – well they did have the penguins from the movie… and the seal. But that was about it. A polar bear looked decidedly hot and bothered, and there was a snow leopard – or was it a cheetah… meh, it was a cat, behind glass. Perversely, for a movie themed prized, the best part of the morning there was the Ice Age 4D movie attraction. Mrs J is quite the animal fan, and so she had set herself up for the zoo to be a big deal - and so the let down for her was probably the harshest. We probably should have ditched the CPZoo from the start and gone to the Bronx Zoo, which is much bigger, and a world apart from its smaller cousin.

When I found out the dates for our NYC stay, Isuggested we catch a ball game. Mrs J wasnt too thrilled, but her uncle + family was gonna meet us in town, and when I went online, I found that the Yankees had a Mastercard $5 game - seats for five bucks! So we agreed to make it a night out, and I bought 8 tix for a wallet snapping $40!!! We took the subway up to the new Yankee Stadium on game day, and I had to go to the "Will Call" booth to pick them up, as it was an international transaction... finding the Will Call was an effort - the place is huge! - but once I got there, I handed over the receipt to the guy at the counter, and he in the strongest Bronx accent he said to me "We get so many Australians coming to our games these days. Welcome!" and then when he saw it was a booking for eight, blurted out "WHAT DID YOU DO - INVITE THE WHOLE TOWN????" The way he said it was just gold, and he really made us feel welcome - if that's possible in a crowd of 30,000 or so. The seats were hugh in the bleachers, but the sight lines perfect (you could choose your exact seats online) - we could see every pitch and every hit.

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The night grew chilly and the Yanks were down 3-1 to the Mariners at the top of the 7th, meanwhile sellers were wandering the stands "Bud! Bud Light!" and one guy with a squeaky voice "Crackerjack!" that somehow came out "Quackerjak" (which of course the kids then repeated at inappropriate intervals every else on the rest of the trip, just to make us laugh). In the end the Yanks came back in the eight to win 4-3. This ball game ended up being one of our highlights of New York - it was wonderfully everyday American, and something every one of us enjoyed. If you get a chance to go to a game when you are Stateside, I can unashamedly recommend it.

This year is the Centenary of Grand Central Station, and the wekeend we were there, coinsided with a display of old pullman railway carriages. So on the Sunday morning, I took the boys down there, to show them the amazing roof above the main concourse, and to look at the trains. I always love visiting this place - it's as beautiful and grand as any cathedral in my book

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Of course if your wife wins a trip to New York by naming her favourite Madagascar 3 charatcter, what do you think HBO will have playing on TV on the Saturday night you arrive in the Big Apple? I couldn't make this up if I tried....

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Note [empty] tin of cookies...
 

jukebox333

Member
Joined
Jan 27, 2011
Posts
488
Almost home!

So, with a bit of pocket mone left to spend, Miss 6 went to the Build-a-Bear Workshop. We'd had a really good experience with one of these in Kolding, Denmark, and the one on 5th Ave didn't disappoint either - we love the way the young people who serve you really take the time to get the kids interested in what is going on, and make it more than just a "we're selling you a bear" experience. The big thing in the US now are the "American Girl"" dolls - and we had a look there, too, but Miss 6 wasn't overly sold on the idea, so I gather we probably saved ourselves a lot of money!

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We went up the Empire State building early on our 2nd to last morning, when it was forecast to be clear - and it was, but very cold for May (10C) - the views were excellent, and at 9am there were no quese, which was great. The hawkers flogging tickets and bus trips wasn't though. I don't remember these guys ebing a fixture in NYC when I lived there through 1990, and to be honest, they are a pain in the butt. We'd expereinced that sort of thing with copy watch and handbag sellers in Hong Kong and Shanghai, but walking around with a family in NYC it really becomes an annoyance. Yes, you can ignore them - and we did - but my perspective is that in the 23 years since I was last there, NY has swapped the pan handlers who passively begged for a much more in your face scourge.

We needed to do some laundry, and via Yelp I found a wash-and-fold on 53rd and 9th that ended up washing 8lbs for $10 - bargain! I dropped off before breakfast Monday and collected at 7am Tuesday - on the way back, I saw one of the funnels that directs heating steam above pedestrians, so had brought the camera. Another classicly New York view captured:

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The Liberty tower had it's spire installed the morning we arrived - and did the Staten Island Ferry. Obligatory shot below. We consciously chose not to visit Ground Zero - only I had ever seen the WTC towers, so there wasn't a sense of loss for the rest of our party. I did comment to Mrs J how empty the sky felt as we walked around Wall Street - the absence is a strangely strong feeling.

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I tried to arrange a late check out for our last day, as our flight to Oz was not due to leave until 11pm. The best the Double Tree could do was 1pm... or fork out an extra $600 for another night. That wasn't going to happen, so we packed early, had breakfast and bid farewell to our friends (!) and set off for morning sightseeing, with the plan being to meet back at the room at 12:30pm, for a quick freshen up and we'd then leave the bags at the concierge and go out again till 6pm - our ride to the airport was due at 7pm.

Mrs J and Miss 6 went shopping (!), and I took the boys to the USS Intrepid. Have to say, this was a bit of a let down after The Smithsonian Museums at Washington. The price of admission was steep, and many of the exhibits were "extras" - Concorde, the Space Shuttle... What was there was good, but having seen 90% of it close-up for free the week before, stumping up almost $70 for two hours there was a bit rich. If you really want to see this sort of thing, hold onto your pennies and go to DC.

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We spent the final afternoon at the Museum of Natural History off Central Park West. This was a great way to let the kids burn up some energy, and kill a good four hours. Lots more brilliantly stuffed animals and ethnographic displays, plus the biggest damn meterorite I've ever seen.

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Night at The Museum, Anyone?

We meandered along to 72nd Street, where I showed Mrs Jukebox the Dakota, and explained the signifigance of the building and it's infamy vis John Lennon and Rosemary's Baby, by which time it was stumps for us and we caught the subway back to Times Square, and prepared for the transit home....
 
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