Friday, September 28, 2012

Camping out in the North


Continuing with the no rules policy, John, Kathrin and I headed out again after a few days back in Stamford to travel round Connnecticut and New York, northward bound. On collection of our hire car, we were given a Chevrolet Impala instead of the economy model we requested. On questioning if it has good milage, the lady responded "but I gave you a bigger car." It's true they do love their big cars over here. So off we headed for our two week adventure North with no solid plans, but plenty to see. In fact, too much too see in the end.
Newport Town
Our first destination was Narragansett Beach in Rhode Island. A nice little summer holiday town which had a decent stretch of beach and beautiful clear water was a nice place to stop for a swim. We had to sneak onto the beach by jumping over a wall, because I don't quite agree with having to pay to enter a beach, as is the case at most beaches around here. Next we headed into Newport, RI. We drove the scenic coastal road that curves along the rugged coastline which is dotted with mansions. The landscape was remarkable, with the harsh coastal environment contrasting the perfectly manicured lawns and gardens. Newport's little town of eligant shops and buildings is really a very charming place to visit and if you're into shopping, its tax free!

Heading for Middleboro Massachusetts for our KOA, 'Kampground of America', a luxurious camping facility. We had a great tent site that was fully enclosed with trees hence I suggested we could be nudists! John and Kel declined, but you all know me!!! We had our first campfire here, something we did each night on the trip, but this night we also realized our biggest mistake, we had forgotten to bring blankets and I hadn't at all prepared for the cooler North traveling, as I only brought with me t-shirts and shorts, whoops!

On the way to Boston the next day, we traded in our big car for a very small Toyota, due to the Implala's excessive thirst. It was a squeeze, but we got all our gear into the little hatch. We had a fantastic day in the wonderful Boston, a city which holds its charm with a fantastic blend of old town history and new city vibe. We walked the entire length of the Freedom Trail which snakes through the streets and squares taking you past points and places of significance for the Revolutionary War for America's independence. It was fantastic day to see all the spots: Quincy Market, Fanueil Hall, the Old State House, Beacon Hill, historic graves, USS Constitution and finishing off our history day, we had a drink at the oldest pub in the US.

Cape Cod

Samuel Adam Brewery, Boston
Before leaving Boston the next morning, we stopped by the Sam Adams brewery for a tour and some tastings of their craft. I drank my share as John was driving and funnily enough my map navigation was still on the whistle all the way up the coast to Maine. We made Rockport our home for a few nights, a charming little port town. At this point we reevaluated our plan and concluded we'd prefer to have a more relaxing trip rather than less time in the car attempting to reach Canada, which is very far North for us. This was a good call because there were some beautiful spots about for afternoon picnics overlooking the harbour, pleasant little shops, happy hours at a local tavern, and time to put Mr Lobster on the campfire coals for a evening snack.

Yum Yum Yum!!!
Damp day in Arcadia National Park
Unfortunately, our weather luck had run out for a day though when we headed into Arcadia National Park striking a bit of a rainy day to put a bit of a damper on our first look around the park. We put off setting up camp and took a look round the southern part of the park. Thankfully it did clear up, but we certainly paid the price for not having our warm gear. We eventually got a fire going and sat under a beach umbrella to shield us from the dripping trees. The campground was a fantastic spot of seclusion and I enjoyed a few moonlit evening strolls along the rocky coastline.

Keeping dry

Blessed with sunshine the following day, we took in all the park had to offer by walking an awesome cliffhanger track up to a spectacular peak with unbeatable views. We stopped for a swim at a lake and had a cool dip in the ocean and drove to the top of the tallest mountain, which was more of  hill really. The park was really a spectacular destination of steep and rugged colorful pink granite mountians and a coastline of boulders, all the reminants of a volcanic core, scolded and shapped by past glaciations. 


After the cold nights and some rough camping, we rewarded ourselves with all you can eat Pizza Hut for lunch, Kel taking full advantage of the WiFi, even using it to Skype with her brothers in Germany on her iPhone. Some good driving taking back roads led us into the state of New Hampshire's White Mountians Forest Park. Here we enjoyed a nice escape from the tent with a night of luxary in a log cabin. We had beds, blankets and even a table to play battle ships on! Being the final night of our camping trip, happy to be heading back to comfy beds and all the comforts, but always sad to be leaving behind the simplicity of seeing some sights, having a few beers and eating a mean feed which John would cook every night and falling asleep cuddled up next to my bro.

Still through we had a big day ahead getting back to Stamford. Unfortunately a good 4 hours of interstate travel lay ahead but before that, a fantastic morning journey through the beautiful White Mountains Forest. We jumped on a few little walks and stopped for some very cool views, but I think John got the best deal getting to drive the winding mountain roads.
Maine Coastline

Friday, September 14, 2012

Devo in the US

The four week Epicness begins! John and Kathrin arrived on Thursday July 12th with a bit of a flight delay and a bit of traffic delay on pick-up. None the less, we collected them and got to the beach in Stamford as planned for a quick dip and a first taste of my homebrew. With a stacked schedule we had plenty of fun ahead but with a empasis on 'chillness'. We quickly established a rule to ensure this relaxed vibe, that there were no rules! No dramas!!!
Yankee Stadium
On that Friday we headed to the new Yankee Stadium to see some baseball, NY Yankees vs L.A Angels. We sat in the outfield in the classic bleachers where the true supporters sit, sing and drink beer. We enjoyed an entertaining Yankees win with a tight finish after a few home runs late in the 7th inning. Slower than cricket, it was still an entertaining evening.

Yankees vs Angles

We boogied off the next morning to Philadelphia for the Roger Waters concert of 'The Wall'. An epic show, with a fantastic atmosphere in our second baseball stadium of the weekend, with the mesmerizing music of Pink Floyd. We were sitting at quite a extreme angle to the stage up high in the stands, but for the price, it was an event to remember. The sounds, lighting and effects were all amplified by the atmosphere of all the grey haired oldies grooving to the vibes around us. 

So far to the side we essentially had a back stage pass
John with Rocky

We had a good little look around Philadelphia, first walking around the newer area of town, which is a very pretty area of fountains, statues and monuments and we even strolled up the famous steps Rocky Balboa does his 'Eye of the Tiger' training montage. We had a lot more to check out in the morning before heading off to Washington D.C as we discovered a whole other town, the old Philly, filled with lots of historic sites, building, lanes, squares and the Liberty Bell. We managed to have two authentic Philly Cheese Steaks in 24 hours as well! We had to return Amy to Stamford for work the following day, so she caught a bus to Stamford as we continued south to the capitol.

US Capital Building
So we had seemed to strike a good old heat wave as it was really heating up getting well into the high 30s C, which wasn't such an issue with all the museums in DC to cool off in, but made any outside activities terrifically exhausting. We did the whirlwind 3 days in DC seeing all the musts: Smithsonian Air and Space Museaum, The Museum of American History, observing the Capital building, White house, Lincoln Memorial, walking Arlington National Cemetery and plenty of others. After a day on The Mall we found ourselves at the local brewpub, Capital brewery. With fantastic happy hour specials we had wings and chips, tasty beers and Kathrin had a bottomless glass of American Lemonade.

Sunset at Delaware State Seashore
Hacky-sack by the Washington Monument

Being the hottest week of the summer, heading to the beach over in Delaware seemed like a great idea. After the last few nights of luxury in hotel rooms, tenting with the three of us in the small 2 person tent turned nearly unbearable. Our campground was in the Delaware State Seashore, but was far form the secluded paradise we were hoping. More of a trailer park, stuck next to a highway over a bridge, with not a speck of shade available within miles! We hit up the beach that afternoon, made the most of the fun shore breaking waves by body surfing, swimming and being away from the mid-day the sun.
Our "Campground"
After a sweltering night in the tent we called it a day early and headed back for Stamford. After the early wake up from the sun, we had spent hours at the beach already, so by the time we packed up the tent, it wasn't even 11am yet. Made some stops at outlet malls for Kathrin to get some shopping out of the way then headed for a stop on the Jersey shore. As we were just jumping in the water at Long Branch Beach, NJ we were denied by the lifeguards who were keeping everyone out of the water as there was a storm coming. And after a bit of some sneaky paddling and football throwing and getting back to the car, we were greeted by an amazing low rolling black bank of clouds and some wicked winds followed by the heavens opening up and some amazing lighting. Having to head back through New York to get home we decided we might as well give John a chance to try out his driving skills in downtown Manhattan. We took the Holland tunnel, our most expensive toll of the trip at $12, and ducked into Manhattan Island. We headed up the Avenue of Americans, ducked in out and around one ways and did a drive-by through Time Square.

Monday, September 10, 2012

NZ reunion in NY!

Sarah, Amy and Kimberly in Times Square
It had only been two weeks since we arrived back in Stamford, and I was looking forward to my friends Sarah and Kimberly coming to visit! I met Sarah and Kimberly when I went to NZ in 2010 as they were on my exchange program AustraLearn. Through this program we spent a week together traveling the North Island on our orientation before heading to Canterbury. We all had classes together, went traveling together every weekend and I can thank Sarah for dragging me over to the University of Canterbury Canoe Club table to sign up, because she heard they had the the most fun, best parties, and some attractive males at the sign-up table. Turned out to be Thomas sitting there to convince us to join the club!

We were inseparable in NZ, but hadn't seen each other in two years as Sarah lives in Michigan, and Kimberly in South Carolina. Sarah had never been to NYC, so it was a perfect excuse to plan our reunion weekend right after returning home. The girls arrived on a Thursday, both into JFK but Kimberly at 7am, and Sarah at 5.30pm. We decided to drive in early, pick up Kimberly and go hang out at the beach on Long Island and later head to Queens to hang out. The only thing on Thomas' mind was waves when reaching the Atlantic coast. So, yes we squeezed his board in my little toyota Corolla and had the girls all squashed in too. We headed for Long Beach, and being early in the season still, there wasn't a soul in sight! Us girls sat on the beach and caught up, soaking up some sunshine while we watched Thomas attempt to surf. Problem was he only had one fin as two were  broken off on our travels. He did quite well managing to get by and even made friends with a local Long Island long boarder and played swaps for a wee bit! 

Collette, Amy, Kimberly & Sarah in Queens

We then decided to head back to Queens, and meet up with Collette, whose from Queens and who was my roommate in NZ in 2010! She met us for lunch, brought us to a very unique Czech Beer Garden, and then came with us to find Sarah at the airport. Now Kimberly had been to NYC before, but Sarah had not, and I can not even express how excited she was. She kept taking pictures of everything, and screaming she couldn't believe she was actually in New York City! We went and found some Greek food in "Little Greece" Queens, then we headed in an Irish bar for trivia night! 

Sarah and Kimberly came back to Stamford to stay with me for the weekend, but Sarah only had two full days with us, so we had to make the most of her time! Sarah didn't think she could see everything in a weekend let alone one day, but I planned out an action packed sight seeing day hitting all the big spots, in just one day! We took the train into NYC early, heading straight to Times Square. Sarah made sure we went into the most touristy store and bought an I <3 NY t-shirt and sunglasses. 

Amy, Kim, Sarah with the Statue of Liberty
We took the subway to Greenwich Village, walked around and then met Kimberly's cousin for pizza at John's Pizza, which he claimed to be the "best in NY." We got famous Magnolia's cupcakes, and then headed to the the World Trade Center site. We didn't go into the 9/11 memorial, but we did see ground zero and the new Freedom Tower. We then headed through Wall St. to Battery Park and rode the Staten Island ferry past the Statue of Liberty. We walked through South Street Seaport once back in Manhattan, and took the subway again up to Central Park. We had a mishap on the way, taking the express all the way passed the park and into Harlem! Finally we got off at Strawberry Fields, and walked around the park and to the boat house. This was a perfect place to finish the day, and even get an authentic street vendor hot dog! 

Manhattan from the Staten Island Ferry

Thomas & Amy in Essex, CT

On Saturday, we took a ride to historic Essex, CT with my mom and sister Shannon. We walked around the gorgeous little town, which has a historic inn and tavern, the Griswold Inn, one of the oldest continuously-run inns of America. On the way home, we stopped in New Haven, CT and walked around Yale University.

Sarah left the next morning, and we spent the next two days hanging around Stamford and the surrounding towns with Kimberly! It was so sad to see them leave, but we have plans for another reunion in the near future, hopefully in some awesome Michigan or South Carolina location! 

Thomas, Amy, Kim & Sarah in Essex, CT

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Keeping Pace

With all our spare time Amy and I have had plenty of time to get out for runs. Before we arrived back Amy's dad Ted invited us to run with him in Stamford's 5km run supporting the local cancer centre. With only a week to get ready for this race we took it pretty casually and had a couple of 2-4km training runs and just did our best on the day. Amy and Ted were planning on sticking together and and their goal was to just run the whole thing, however I made a little challenge with Amy's brother-in-law Tom. We were all happy with our time on the day, especially considering the lack of preparation. Tom wasn't so happy I beat him by 3 minutes though!!! I came in at 24 mins 45 secs, and Amy and Ted coming a respectable 36 minutes. 

Now after weeks and weeks of bring averagely committed to training, we had another race one town over in the upscale New Canaan supporting Autism. Another 5km lay ahead of us and we were more prepared with specific goals. I ran hard and was absolutely dying as the others were. I was stoked coming in 19th overall and 4th for men in my 20-29 age category running a 21.09 with and Amy and Ted getting in at 30.19, Amy taking out the 4th for females in the age bracket too!!! 

In true American style we were greeted with pizza at the finish line!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

My Girlfriend's Cousin's Big Fat Greek Engagement Party

A few weeks after arriving in Stamford, we received an very formal invitation to Amy's cousin Danny and his fiancee Despina's engagement party. You may be confused looking at the photos thinking this was actually a wedding, but no, it was infact just the pre-party to the wedding. It was all about being Greek, and boy do they do it properly. Danny is the only grandchild in Amy's family to be involved with another Greek, and so both families wanted to put on proper festivities and celebration and this allowed us to be involved in quite the epic party. 

The party was held in the town just over, in the ballroom of a locally Greek owned Inn, with a guest list of 150! I had been warned this was going to be serious. I had to scramble to find fitting clothes appropriate for such an event, but eventually managed to come up with a sharp ensemble, wearing items from three different people. We were greeted with an open bar for the evening and a cocktail hour with some amazing nibbles to start.

Shannon, Nicole and Amy seated in the ballroom.

Again, this was no casual get-to-gether. We were seated at tables adorned with beautiful centerpieces, and experienced an evening of speeches, dancing, delicious food, cake cutting, gift giving, more dancing and MONEY! I had been warned about this tradition but didn't over think it. As the couple had their first official dance of their engagement, Amy's Grandfather walks over to the slow dancing couple and throws a bunch of $1 bills at them. I was completely shocked as a queue of people started lining up to throw money on the couple. This continued all night.
....... this 
This turned into .....

This was one amazing party and an event I enjoyed a lot. A night of dancing with about 80% of the music played being traditional Greek, followed by lines of linked armed dancers stepping and kicking through a dance floor so thick in money that it had to be swept three times over the evening and bundled up into black rubbish bags. A bit of practice earlier in the week, where Amy guided myself and her uncle through some basic steps, contributed to my superb dancing performances of the night!

Thomas' Home Brewery

It took me a few weeks to get underway, but getting right into full swing at my peak I brewed 60 liters of beer in one week. Amy's mum was very much concerned at all this brewing, worrying she might come home one day and I would have blown up the kitchen. Didn't happen, only occasionally making a little mess. So I continued off right where is was at in New Zealand brewing all grain beers from scratch, formulating my own recipes and approach. First hurdle was purchasing and constructing all the equipment needed. Not too difficult, I bought a kit which contained all the basic bits and just needed to buy a big pot and I cheekily converted a chilli-bin from the garage and production commenced!

Brewing an APA in small pots before I had got my big pot.
Unfortunately there wasn't a home brewer's supply shop in Stamford, closest was 20 miles away in NY. So I have started using a fantastic online site which allows me to access every ingredient and piece of equipment imaginable used to homebrew beer. This has allowed me to brew some really exciting beers.

So far the styles of beer I have brewed are: American Pale Ale, Strawberry Blond, Rye IPA, Milk Stout, Wheat, Black IPA, Nut Brown Ale, British Bitter and a Cream Ale.

Taking temprature in the mash tun.
Nut Brown Ale in the Carboy ready for fermentation.

I have been extremely happy with the beers I have made. With around 20 liters of each of these beers sitting in the basement, I do have alot of beer, just not many people to share it with unfortunately. With many of these styles being very strong in flavour, its been proving a bit much for the average American beer drinker! Following scientific research validating alcohol consumption for cardiovascular wellbeing, I myself have a drink or a few everyday, Amy too does very well to quality control my beers even managing the odd sip of the darker ones, so we are getting through them.

Stoked with my Black IPA

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Connecticut Lifestyle

So after our one month on the road in the US and after countless days traveling across the pacific and NZ, Amy was finally reunited with her family. After being away for more than a year, they were happy to finally have her back. Not too sure that they were stoaked that she brought me with her though! So home it was for us for the next wee while in a cute little suburb of New York City: Stamford, Connecticut. 

Stamford is a town of just over 120,000 people, located at the south-western end tip of Connecticut. The State boarders New York to the south and Manhattan is only a 45 min train ride away. The town is located on Long Island Sound, a stretch of coast sheltered by Long Island, NY. That means no waves. The closest surf is a few hours drive away in either Rhode Island or New Jersey. Stamford is located in Fairfield Country which is amongst the wealthiest counties in America. So in there are plenty of ridiculous mansions about to gawk at!

The travels hadn't made as big a dent in the bank balance as I had expected, so we just continued the jobless, responsibility free lifestyle. Amy was also very excited to meet her little nephew Mikey, whom her cousin had given birth to a few weeks after Amy arrived in New Zealand.  

Amy with Mikey at West Beach
For the summer Amy had a job at a camp for children with Autism starting a month after we arrived. This was her fourth summer working at this camp and it was definitely the best one yet. With an average of 15 kids and 5 counselors, 3 volunteers and 2 directors, they definitely weren't short on staff. For 6 hours a day, they did arts and crafts, sports, games and countless themed activities. During "All Around the World" week, Amy was asked to come up with the activities for an Australian day (Which she turned into Australasia). She decided to have a typical morning tea for the kids of toast with Vegemite resulting the standard foreigner's reactions of spitting it out and making faces, but one volunteer claimed to loved it. The day also included a Kiwi Lingo matching game and an attempt at playing rugby which resulted in two injuries. All in all it was a fun filled 6 weeks!

Thomas tending to the potted garden
We have spent many days just relaxing at either one of the two beaches in Stamford, taken many opportunities to sleep in and there is always a family event or BBQ springing up most weekends with either dinners out or big family feast at home. We eagerly planted a garden both in Amy's grandparents back yard and a potted garden on the back deck at home (The forest in Amy's parent's backyard has proven to be a bad location for a garden due to the excessive shade, and countless deer and other animals coming through enjoying a feast!) Amy's grandparent's garden has produced dozens of cucumbers, so many that Poppy (Amy's grandpa) has started putting them in the neighbors mailboxes! Tomatoes have been the only true success on the porch garden, with cherry tomatos coming out our ears and today I just picked a huge red beefsteak tomato. Our peppers are coming along also but the summer is very harsh and many other plants didn't cut it.

Beach chair accident
 Continuing with the summer theme for nearly a year at this point has some rewards. Despite the often unbearable heat here, usually well into the 30°C's everyday, we have plenty of time to enjoy this weather. I started skateboarding at the local skate park. This has become my surfing, in the older style of skateboarding carving round the bowl, Dogtown style!!! Making quite the impression on the local kids, one in stark amazement said "man, where did you get those shoes?" to my dirty, ripped, $20 dunlop Volleys and "Every time I hear you talk, I just picture you with a kangaroo or somthin!"