My new job has lead me to be in America for a few days…(The photo’s are all HERE)
It’s my own fault really – I admitted to knowing about a product we are looking into, and also that I have Quality Engineering qualifications & experience. Next thing you know I’m sat on a British Airways Boeing 747-400 at Heathrow and chugging off down the runway to start the long haul flight to Seattle.
I had an idea that the trip was coming up, but I didn’t realise that it would be at such short notice. We had 3 working days to sort it all out – Transportation, Flights, Hotels – and all the various forms needed to do the trip.
I’ve not “done” America before – nor have I flown for more than 90 minutes – so no matter what the trip was about, it was going to be an adventure and learning curve. The only advice I was given was “Order small – don’t go for the medium or large meals” – So I took that info in.
I woke at 6am on Tuesday 12th May and went into work as per usual. Just before midday I went back home to meet up with the taxi that would take me and my work colleague (KM) to Heathrow.
The taxi ride was uneventful and we arrived at Terminal 5 with time to kill. We had booked in on line and also filled in all the immigration paperwork on-line. We only had hand luggage so went straight through check in and grabbed a coffee as we waited to be called. All very painless and smoothly done – T5 seems to have learnt a lot from the previous terminals.
At around 3pm (UK) we got comfy on the aircraft… well, as comfy as economy will allow a 6’4″ guy to be! Luckily we had booked ahead so we had seats in the rear of the aircraft where the body narrows, so instead of three abreast we had a double. It didn’t offer more legroom, but it did mean I could stretch out to one a bit due to a slight gap between the seat in front and the side of the aircraft. If you look at the picture You’ll see row 52. We were in the seats on the right (last but one row – I was window side).
We trundled off down the runway and started our trip up towards Scotland, then over Iceland, Greenland and on past Canada into America. Around 9 hours flight time…. and with an 8 hour difference in time we landed 1 hour after we took off….
The views were extraordinary – I’ve not seen anything like it before. Icebergs and frozen land masses bigger than you can imagine. I had to take a few photo’s to try and show those who haven’t done it before how great it is.
Eventually we get to Seattle at 5pm (1am UK) and 5pm. Now it was a case of finding the hire car company and driving a further 120 miles to Woodland PA where the motel I had booked was situated (I was a bit nervous about a few things with the motel…. Firstly, it was a motel… secondly, I had no real idea of what it was like, apart from a Googlemap Streetview that showed it right next to a motorway….).
The hire car was a Toyota Prius – A car that does what it has to do (don’t call it an eco-car… it’s far from being an eco-car). It was a bit weird to get into the wrong side of a near silent car and drive out on the wrong side of the road at what should’ve been 1am and dark out – but was actually now 5pm and bright sun… The Prius is an odd beast… No key as such, just a block you shove into a hole. You start it by pressing a button at the same time as the gas… then you burn a goat and select drive… and select drive…. and look for the handbrake… and try to select drive…. Look – we were tired and had never been in one before!
KM drove the 2hr trip down the I-5 to Woodland. The sun was out and we felt refreshed as we went past what would have been 2am and 3am in the UK…
Eventually after driving through some immense scenery we arrived at Woodlands WA at the Lewis River Inn. First glance was that it wasn’t on a motorway – just a normal wide American road… very wide. Probably called a lane out in America…. or a Motorway in the UK…..
After booking in we took our first look at the rooms…. or tried to. The electronic swipe cards didn’t work, so I went and changed them. They still didn’t work so KM went and changed them – This time a Motel person came up to the 2nd floor rooms to see if we were just being daft….
Using the new key cards my door opened up, but KM still had a problem…. a problem that was rectified by him walking a few strides to the left and trying the card in the correct door…. We were tired, okay?!
The room was huge…. Proper huge. So much bigger than a Holiday Inn or similar – looking at about twice the size. big TV, full size fridge (full size for the UK….) and a view… oh Lord what a view!
I had booked two balcony rooms overlooking the river. I thought if the weather was good I could sit out and read in the evening, or catch up with my work notes. I didn’t expect too much of a view – and was proven wrong! Great rooms, great views! Best place I have ever stayed in – and that is no word of a lie.
We dropped our bags in our rooms – splash of water on our faces and then went in search of food. The search lasted 30 seconds… Mexican restaurant across the street…..
I remembered to not order big helpings, and I am so glad I was told this advice. This picture shows KM tucking into his meal… It was just a regular meal…. I chose the Tres Amigos chile with three samplers of different dishes on it… HA!! these Americans obviously don’t know the difference between “SAMPLER” and “FULL BLOWN MEAL”, as I was given a plate like a dustbin lid with enough food for a small army…. or at least a family of 4 from Europe.
That night I saw the pillow but was asleep before I hit it… Over 25hrs since I had last slept had finally taken its toll on me.
On the second day on American soil we set about planning the audit. It was a wet day, so we started with a breakfast at Rosie’s Restaurant (www.rosiesrestaurantusa.com). This would become the daily haunt for our morning food – and on the final day it would provide me with my last big taste of America.
As with all the eateries we hit, Rosie’s had great service. It was fast and polite – You didn’t even get fully sat down before the iced water and coffee hit the table – and that never dropped below half a cup as it was always being topped up.
We did a little shopping in the local stores before heading back to the Motel to get to work on the audit notes. After we had completed that it was getting late, so we went for a short drive and then went for food. Nothing special on this night – just a burger at a chain burger restaurant – and although they were tasty they lacked a certain Americaness. The regular burger was the same size as a UK Big Mac…. and the Colossus Burger was… well, the same size again. Nothing eye opening about that at all.
The following morning we headed out across to the company we had to audit. I can’t really go much into that as it is business related, but I can say the company were very helpful and accomadating and went out of there way to make sure we had everything we needed. One guy (hey Dave!) also pointed us in the direction of a WalMart (so we could try a bit more Americana). After the days auditing we washed up and went off to WalMart to find out what the fuss was all about…
It had to be the first time I expected to see the curvature of the earth within one shop! The building was huge – and cheap. I guess with lower land prices it is easy to put out better prices and have larger shops. WalMart is pretty much a UK Tesco hypermarket, Homebase hypermarket, HM Supplies hypermarket, Halfords hypermarket etc all wrapped into one brand store…
Our evening meal at an American Restaurant (Oak Tree). A good sized meal with another American dish to finish off… Apple Pie. Let’s face it, we had a packed business trip, so I had to try and get as much as I could out of the limited downtime.
The final day we ate once more at Rosie’s – and as this was the last day I figured I’d see if Rosie’s would serve a burger up as a breakfast item… silly question really as they do. I saw they had no 1/4lb burgers on the menu – the smallest was a 1/3lb burger. Well… 1/3 is pretty big, but they also had 2/3lb burgers… the biggest was a double 2/3lb burger! Yup… 1 1/3lb in one bun! I didn’t go for that as I wanted a single patty of meat instead of the stacked things that just fall apart. My answer was in a 1lb burger!!! It was the size of a UK dinner plate and full of a succulent burger with a great relish and salad. I had to cut it in half to eat it – so two 1/2lb parts! I managed the whole thing quite easily as it was so darn tasty!
Following on from breakfast we went to the company we were auditing to collect some more paperwork they were putting together for us. After a wrap up meeting it was time to head back to the airport. We had a few hours to spare, so we detoured off of the I5 and went via the recommended Mount Saint Helens as we made our way to Seatac airport (Once more – thanks to Dave for that pointer – much appreciated).
Mount Saint Helens… as it came into view it was awe inspiring. I’m afraid there really isn’t much to say… even the pictures do not do it any credit. All my senses just over loaded as we drove up the surrounding mountains to various parking areas with viewing points. Looking down 2,500ft to the roads and forests below just didn’t seem real – it looked like a diorama from a museum. The huge vastness of the whole area simply destroyed any perspective I had.
Our altitude was just insignificant as my mind had trouble getting around what it could see. In fact as we drove higher up it looked even more surreal. At one point we were stood on a brick wall 3,800ft over a valley and it didn’t seem to register! Pretty much overloaded with everything else to be worried!
At the furthest point of our detour we visited Coldwater Lake. This was another place that gave me a sensory over load. The place was not just quiet – it was silent. No telephone signals, no gift stores, no public… just us…No noise… nothing. No wind, no trees, no water burbling… just nothing. It’s so hard to even describe what total silence is like. You can’t put your fingers in your ears to experience it either, as you’ll hear the blood rushing and pulsing within your head…. nope…. Coldwater Lake was something else. A volcanic lake of the clearest green/blue melted ice water – It was beautiful.
As we carried on our trip to Seatac airport we stopped over for lunch at a Wendy’s. It was in the car park that I suddenly realised one of the things that had been playing on my mind for the whole trip…. the fact that there is a whole lot of sky. Everything is so spread out – even in the built up areas – that you are very aware of the unbroken views you had of the sky. It made the whole pace seem even bigger. Amercican cars, roads, homes etc may seem really big compared to the UK, but when it cames down to it they do not look out of place in America, where the roads, cars and homes look so very small compared to the environment they are in.
I cannot really explain my thoughts in one blog page – for once I am at a loss – but there was a final helping hand from the view out of the airliner window as we came in to land in England….
As we turned to land the altitude display in the seat in front of me showed we were at 3,800ft…. I took a photo out of the window and suddenly it clicked…. not 12 hours earlier I was stood on a brick wall at around the same altitude looking at Mount Saint Helens and down on the miniature forests and towns below…. The difference was that I was now in an aircraft with no ground under my feet… I had perspective… and we were damned high up. In the air above the UK the altitude made sense… the sheer size of the St Helens view focused a bit better…
As I had only taken a carry on bag with me I had very little room for gifts. All Chris wanted was a selected of candy that was very American and seen in movies – and for Alex it had to be a car!
A saviour of the trip was the fact I had my Mac with me. I set it up with Skype so I was able to talk to, and see, Chris and Alex back in the UK. It was using this that Chris told me about her viral infection… Her head had inflated over night and she was badly swollen, although by the time I got back it had gone down a fair amount.
The following day after my arrival back in the UK she took Alex out shopping whilst I slept in to try and catch up on sleep. I woke up as she came back in the house with a few of her friends from work… I woke to her calling upstairs that she had been in a car crash! The Berlingo had been smashed into at a junction – the fault was admitted by the other driver, but the car is not drivable now, and at this stage we have no idea if it will be repairable….. the insurance wheels are turning as I type…