Published: February 27th 2011February 12th 2011
The difficulties of getting into the U.S. are highlighted at Cancun airport when American Airlines (who I'd booked my flight with to Miami) refused to allow me onto the flight without proof of an outward ticket. I didn't have one. This problem was compounded further when I was told that none of Cancun's three airport terminals had an internet cafe; the nearest internet cafe being some 30 minutes away in a taxi. This was time I didn't have and so begged somebody at the information desk to allow me to use their computer! I managed to rapidly buy a cheap flight from New York to London for around $370 being under half the price I was quoted at the American Airlines checking in desk! I also have to fill out an electronic visa waiver for around $10. So I eventually make it to my flight after faffing around for over an hour and being $380 less in the pocket!
When landing in Miami, I catch a couple of buses and arrive at Miami Beach - alike a huge developed sandbar, made famous for it's huge beach (and The Golden Girls of course!) I stay at Jazz Hostel which is ok - around $23 a night which is cheap for Miami Beach. Given the poor weather for the first few days, I opt for a wander around the famed art deco district(s) of Miami Beach. The buildings are quite impressive as far as art deco is concerned. However, Miami's small scale art deco is quite a simple form of architecture so I can't help feel slightly underwhelmed by what I'm seeing. Perhaps I'm overly influenced by the decaying art deco of our country which is typified by crumbling cinemas, concert halls and public buildings. It is, however, a well preserved identity for Miami.
I also have time to visit the Museum of Erotic Art. An interesting place containing many graphic works, most surprisingly is the abundance of ancient erotic sculptures, some dating since before Christ! I guess the basics of sexual acts haven't changed that much over the centuries! No photographs were allowed so you'll be dissapointed to discover the lack of photographs on facebook; you'll have to use your imagination!
I also head out on a day trip to the Everglades. I hadn't intended on going but I realised that I may never be in this part of the world again so I convince myself to go. The trip is ok, albeit very touristy. It's centred around the Gator Park which seems to exist purely for tourists and so you realise by the end of the visit that the caged alligators are being bred for tourists - either for the shows or their heads as what I later discover in the tourist shop. The highlight is the propellor boat ride across the Everglades noting many birds, alligators and turtles along the way. No Gentle Bens though!
After Miami, I head to an even more tourist destination - Orlando. For a child, Orlando is the best place on earth; however, it is also great for adults. Disneyland is directed at children so I opt against that(Disneyland is so big that it has four theme parks alone) in favour of Busch Gardens and Universal Studios. I don't regret this decision at all. The off season combined with poor weather reports (but great weather!)makes for a great few days where I virtually walk onto the front of every ride. And what rides they are - outstanding. Busch Gardens is also a very interesting place as it combines the typical fun rides of a theme park with a vast zoo. The animals are kept in some of the better conditions I've seen at a zoo. The place even has a Sernegeto Plain where deer, zenras, giraffes etc roam free. Most of Africa's big animals are kept at the zoo and was also interesting to note that breeding excercises were in operation. Of particualr note is the parks conservation fund whih has donated millions to conservation projects worldwide; they are very proud of this and understandably display numerous schemes around the zoo area. It seems to combine the zoo and theme park quite well, Of course, no zoo can be truly natural and there are signs of animals in repetetive motions and looking very glum. I guess its a case of balancing the success of the parks conservation programme with the impact of the captivity of those animals which finances such programmes.
The following day is another theme park - Universal Studios - but of a different kind. The aim here is emphasis of human rather than natural creation. Busch Gardens has 4 superb roller coasters (three of which I'd say are the best I've ever ridden), Universal Studios has the three superb roller coasters, two of which I'd say are the best I've ever ridden, quickly taking the mantle from those at Busch Gardens! The second best ride is Dragon Chase (it's like two Nemesis running simultaneously, which at times you think might be colliding!) and the best is The Incredible Hulk. This ride ascends you alike any other roller coaster being attached to a chain pulley. However, half way up the pulley, the coaster accelerates like you don't think possible firing you out of tunnel straight into a 360 loop. Brilliant. I went on it 5 times.
After Orlando, it was a long train journey to Washington D.C. Even after our first smoking stop at Jacksonville the drop in temperature was incredible - possibly by as much as 20 degrees celcius and we were still in Florida! The journey lasts around 17 hours and is a good way to see some of the U.S. which you would miss by flying. It's cheaper and you also save on a nights accommodation. It's freezing in Washington D.C. and has poor weather. Due to my early arrival at the Hostelling International accommodation, I book myself onto the free monument tour. Despite the weather, it's an enjoyable tour which begins at The White House. I had expected it to be bigger and am slightly underwhelmed by it's appearance. I guess it's more grandious than 10 Downing Street but I had expected something more imposing. Next is The Mall where most of the famous national monuments are sited, all of them being dedicated to a previous president or associated with previous wars. Of the latter, those monuments are dedicated to those fallen in WWII, Korean War and Vietnam. The latter is a big dissapointment and I'm not surprised that Vietnam veterans were upset when it was unveiled. It basically looks like (and could be mistaken for) a retaining wall. The Korean and WWII memorials are much more befitting of what they are commemorating. Other monuments include the Lincoln Memorial which affords a great view down The Mall to the Washington Monument albeit lacking the effect of the reflection pool owing to its refurbishment. Also worthy of a visit is the Holocaust Museum which contains very graphic illustrations of this terrible time in history.
After a couple of days in Washington I catch the cheap Magic bus up to New York. New York is a fascinating place, chock full of places only until now seen on the big screen - Empire State Building, Central Park, Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, Brooklyn Bridge etc. I even manage to have my name pulled out of a lottery to attend the David Letterman shown! After a first night stay in the expensive Manhatten HI, I opt for the New York Loft hostel in Brooklyn at half the price. Whilst a fantastic sight lies around every corner, there are also a fair amount of frustrations, particulalrly the subway. Unlike the London underground, it is very difficult to spot a subway station, signage is irregular, maps are few and where they do exist often don't correspond to the streets above (e.g. subway stations have numerical streets but are named streets above ground!)
Manhatten is a much larger island than I had expected and contains many unexpected small scale buildings, churchs and parks. Unfortunately, whilst Manhatten is known for its tall buildings, there is also a fair amount of poorly designed buildings - the bigger they are only serves to emphasise how poorly they are designed! I also visit the Ground Zero site which is developing into an impressive cluster of buildings. Another frustration here is the visitor centre which doubles up as a souvenir shop. Whilst this appears a little distasteful, I also feel uneasy about a 'Flag of Honour' having pride of place on the visitor centre wall. Its the Stars and Stripes with the names of all fatalities in small print, including non Americans. Obviously, the attacks are defenceless but don't the U.S. realise that some non American families of those deceased might feel agrieved by having their relatives names on the American flag, particualrly when some of them might associate the attacks as being a result of American foreign policy; policy which they have no control over through being non Americans?
Such frustrations continue into U.S. media. It is around this time that the uprisings in Egypt are occuring. The U.S. news media report on the how Mubarrak has effectively run the country as a dictatorship and where democracy is supressed owing to the power of the military. The following news item then debates on whether the U.S. should continue with it's 1.5 billion dollar financing of the Egyptian military but fails to acknowledge the obvious connection between the two news items. It'll be good to get back to BBC news. Talking of the BBC, there are many advertisements in New York of a forthcoming 'original' TV series called 'Being Human'. It's basically copied from the BBC's version of the show despite the claims of it being original. I guess you can't beat the original, hence why I'm looking forward to heading home, although I guess that mood has changed somewhat now as I am finishing this blog the day before I return to work. Welcome back to the real world!