Wednesday, August 28, 2013

East Coast Adventures

Amy with her parents and Thomas stoked with his carrot, pineapple, coconut cake.
After a pretty full-on winter, getting back to Stamford and having some good time to chill out and enjoy some sleep-ins and spring weather was fantastic. With the usual lunches at Amy's Grandfather's (Poppy), family birthday parties, BBQs and family dinners, there was something happening most days. This family likes to keep busy. Otherwise, Amy worked some days substituting at primary schools and I raked the yard one day too! We both also had to complete our 20 practicum hours for our TEFL qualification, which we did by sitting in on classes at the Adult Learning Center in town. 

Goat on the Spit, manned by a dude with a big mustache.

I had a new and unique cultural experience of Greek Easter with the extended family of a full Greek BBQ on a beautiful roasting Sunday. We had two goats on the spit and the usual overload of other delicious Greek dishes. Easter was hosted by the Triandafilidis family (try to say that)- the family Amy's cousin Danny is marrying into. 

My friend the Mule
 Just down the road from Amy's house is a cool nature centre. Definitely aimed for families and children, but Amy and I have enjoyed meeting the animals and seeing their produce gardens. Chicken, goats, donkeys, pigs, cows, horses and the such. I do find it all quite amusing and entertaining, especially on a beautiful spring day. I always manage to have a bit of feeding time and give as many animals as I can a little tickle.

Diem being a good cat
Beer samplers at Coalhouse
I would often spend some time with Amy's sisters dog Diem, either looking after her during the day or whenever she was at the house. I don't really like dogs, so I just pretended she was a cat and that worked out better. Diem was quite confused about this sometimes though. A favourite afternoon activity of Amy and  mine was drinking some beautiful American craft beers at Coalhouse Pizza. We hit happy hour often with Amy's two friends Alli and Dana (Appearing later in NZ) for best value, at $5 for 4 samples of a rotating repertoire of 50 beers. I can't think of anything better than that!

Long Beach Island sunset

We also headed away for a little escape to LBI on the Jersey Shore for my birthday weekend, staying at Aunt Margaret and Uncle Steve's little batch. It was good to see the area recovering well after Hurricane Sandy which made a good wee mess of the place in November. With it still being early spring, we had the beach to ourselves, and I headed for the waves after what was the longest time I have ever been away from the coast. Seems the gods of the ocean weren't very happy with me about my absence and they taught me a good lesson, working me super hard in rough swell for my first surf. Still recovering from my broken leg it was a test, but now I'm just confused, Beach or Mountains?
Where are the waves? Seriously they were really big though!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

CHI Town

Slapping some balls around in the cage

After our little road trip back from Colorado, we set up camp at Matt's family's house in an outer suburb of Chicago. Just another fantastic example of a wonderful family hosting us. Matt showed us glimps of his suburban side. Full of fast food chains, strip malls and even a batting cage. America!!! We watched playoff NBA basketball and NHL ice hockey with his family, played pool and table tennis in his basement, made some excursions to the city and found a brewery to tour. It was a good way to spend time with my best buddy after a winter season where barely a day went by that we didn't spend time together.

For a day trip, we took a drive to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Matt's sister lives there so we stopped in to say hello and grab some dinner with her. Not before we hit the big attraction of the Lakefront Brewery tour. With some very wet weather, we had a damp walk to get to the brewery. Not helped by the fact that my leg was still very broken, and seeing as I had ditched my boot and was rolling with the theory that straining it will make it stronger, made it a bit of slow damn walk. The tour was standard procedure but I was very impressed with the brewery being set in a huge old factory building on the bank of the river leading into lake Michigan. There defiantly was no shortage of big old buildings in his very 1900s industry influenced city, which is something we noticed right around the surrounding cities of Lake Michigan, a stark contrast to our traditional image of a coastline, but obviously representing the importance of these industries demand for water resources.

Lakefront Brewery, Milwaukee
With my sore leg I did end up struggling to walk a bit so my best buddy Matt hooked a brother up with a lift. He's a bit of a decent dude and also gave me a pair of his shoes because he had seen me wearing the same shoes the whole winter and thought the old ones were due for retirement.

Thanks for giving me a lift bro
We headed into Chicago City for a couple of days staying at Matt's brothers apartment and having Matt as our personal tour guide. This worked for us as we had a really good day in Chicago when we were there for just half a day during our road trip. Matt really looked after us, calling in the wicked weather for us too. We headed to the Zoo in Lincoln Park. This was a really awesome zoo, it had all the bad ass animals and best of all they generally all looked pretty happy and had some nice enclosures. We walked about town and once again I was amazed at the vividness of the blue/turquoise Lake Michigan and the retaliative calmness of Chicago. Surprising for one of the most dangerous cities in America, I don't quite understand!

Something Chicago is renound for, other than murders, is their deep dish pizza. Like the blood in the streets, the tomato sauce on the pizza runs thick. They also make it backwards, starting with toppings, then loading it with cheese and finally covering the top with the sauce. I cannot believe Matt waited till the second to last night before we left to introduce us to this phenomenon. This pizza is just a revelation, so much so that I am currently salivating on the keypad wishing I had some right now. So good!!! Another thing that caught me off guard was a particular 6 pack of beer we brought, Great Lakes Rye of the Tiger. I'm not sure what it was, I must have been having an off night, but this was the first beer I have ever come across that was too bitter, and too flavorsome, something I always crave. Maybe that makes it the greatest beer I have ever drank?


To finish our time off in the Midwest, we headed to another game of America's favorite pastime. The Chicago White Sox vs the Tampa Bay Rays. Enjoying some good $7 seats, we had a fantastic vantage point over the whole game as we witnessed the continued success of the Chicago sporting enterprises.

Fireworks display after Whitesocks win

Monday, August 5, 2013

From the Mountains to the Midwest

I-70 out of the Rocky Mountians
With our season over, the only problem we had was leaving the Vail Valley. This problem was caused by the 3ft+ of snow that had fallen over the last two days of the season. The ski resorts were closed but winter was far from over. With Interstate-70 being the only road out of the valley and being closed it was not looking hopeful that we would make it out anytime soon. To our surprise we woke that morning to a window of blue skies after days of dense snow falls, so we packed the car and got out while we could. Lucky we did, as it ended up snowing another few feet the following days, so we may have not have been able to leave for days. Now, when I say we packed the car, we jam packed every inch of that little Subaru Impreza to the absolute brim. We were riding back to Chicago with our friend Matt and all three of our possessions. It really was a tight squeeze!

Our first stop was at Matt's uncle and aunts in Denver. Enroute we stopped in at Avery Brewery in Boulder, had a few sips in their fantastic tasting room enjoying some amazing beers from a brewery we had enjoyed over the winter. We had a quick walk around Boulder too, but it was very cold so our look around town was brief. Winter here gave a very different vibe than what we saw whilst visiting last summer. Eg, not as great of a place to be homeless when its -10C versus 30C. But still, there were a few spaced out hippies/bums playing drums with buckets in the street. 

Avery Brewery, Boulder
Now, we had originally planned to just make a small trip to Fort Collins the next day and stay with Matt's cousin. Unfortunately the weather was not playing part and there was some serious snow accumulation happening in that area. So we made a late decision and headed off at 2pm on a 10 hour drive to Des Moines, Iowa where we had a couch to crash on at Matt's sister's boyfriend's house. A long drive but entertaining due to the good company. We drove 700miles/1100km. The weather was so cold and with it being snowy/wet the car grew some impressive icicles, this being the only cool thing to happen across the whole 400 miles in Nebraska.

Car Icicles

Enjoying craft beer
This long drive had made the trip much less daunting as we had driven the bulk of the journey now and in an unplanned way seemed not so bad. Now off we headed to Iowa City, a bustling collage town in, you guessed it, Iowa. We spent two nights staying with another one of Matt's sisters, and mostly just acted like students for a few days. We went to a good few bars and really enjoyed the student prices. We obviously took the task of drinking a Boot, a boot shaped beer glass which contained nine pints at the very reasonable price of $10.50, and even craft beer at that. So Matt, Amy and I ordered two for the three of us. I really wish we didn't. It was just so much beer = a bit too much joy! After a nasty hangover, we did finally get the first and only curry of my whole time in America and then proceeded to have another good night out at the bars. 

And off to Chicago we headed...

Stopped into a big truck stop