Denver & Orlando: A Birth, U2 and THE Rolling Stones

Saturday 6 June to Tuesday 16 June 2015

travellingross rating = 10/10

The flight to Paramaribo on Surinam Air has become a little bumpy. The big black woman next to me who prayed when we took off from Miami has now started singing softly. To calm herself I suppose. I’ve just watched ‘The Accused’ with Jodie Foster on my phone. A 1988 movie that I’ve long overdue watched. And one of the few movies that survived the great external hard drive loss of 2015. This is where it ends. Where did it begin I hear you yell, let me tell you…

I met up with Melissa in Miami and we rented a car to explore the shops and see ‘Entourage’ movie at the cinema. One of my fav tv shows of the last 5 years made into a movie that doesn’t leap from small to big screen but entertaining nonetheless. Melissa returned the vehicle to the airport and had a few more days in town before returning to site. I on the other hand was off to Denver. First time I’ve ever booked flights the night before. Spontaneous is not really in Travellingross vocabulary.  Leaving things to the last minute is. So I had known for months that this weekend 7 June was the date my close friend Matt’s (re Rockies January ski trip) 1st baby was due along with the U2 tour hitting his home town of Denver. Good enough reasons for me to visit. And it turned out fateful given as I stepped off the cruise boat into Wi-Fi freedom, baby labour was on and during my flights to Denver the baby boy was born 2 days early. Layover in Charlotte which is also the first time I’ve ever googled “where am I” and intriguingly told North Carolina. Ok.

Staying in the Courtyard Marriott downtown off the 16th street mall was a nice choice. But for the 5 nights I needed, it was only available for 3 so I had to shift to a dodgy motel near Matt where my neighbours were permanent residents with cats. On the Saturday, I was able to see baby Tucker within 24 hrs of birth and introduce Matt to the concept of ‘wetting the baby’s head’ at the local bar. Sunday was a wander around town and then meeting my former Boddington boss at a bar near the Pepsi Center ahead of U2. I saw him for a brief moment in my January Denver visit but this was first real time hanging out for 6 years. When I first met Tom in 2006 it was a pivotal moment in my life when I was meant to transfer to the Adelaide head quarters and so I bought U2 concert tickets for their Vertigo tour at the Adelaide oval. It was a hit album and everyone, including long-time fan Tom, wanted to go so he got tickets as well. But I was abruptly transferred to join Tom in the small town of Boddington for a new gold mine expansion project I’d never heard of and we both sold our U2 tickets. So attending a U2 show 9 years later in Denver with the man who made my career is a bit special for both of us. And the show did not disappoint. Although an arena rather than stadium show (like the one I saw in Perth in 2010), it was epically grand with amazing effects, lighting, vocals, and twists that make me admire this band even more. I’d read that most songs were from their latest less-than-successful album, but this show is sold as every night being different and every song I wanted to hear was there and the encore 3 were my 3 favourites in an order I predicted to the randoms we befriended: City of Blinding Lights, Where the streets have no name, and One.

I caught up with Matt’s new family a couple more times before flying out Wednesday morning 10 June to Orlando. It was time to save some money so I booked a Days Inn, which are budget hotels that have been adequate for me in the past. This one was next to the county jail. But 50 bucks a night! I was more worried about the reviews of bed bugs than the prisoner visitors over-nighting creating fights. I heard plenty of arguments and a few late night parties with the obligatory car park burnouts, but above all no bed bugs. Phew. The only reason for Orlando on my itinerary was The Rolling Stones concert Friday night. Many encouraged me to visit the theme parks and Disneyworld. But my Disney dream was to put up the do not disturb sign for 6 successive nights and do what everyone else does on their weekends.

The Stones were beyond brilliant.  Enormous stadium, high energy show for anyone let alone 70+ year olds, hit after hit, and exceptional seats right next to the ‘cat walk’ as the woman next to me called it. It seemed the whole city was excited about this show as it dominated news, radio and bars around the venue. Even my hotel price tripled for the night. Similar to U2, attending this concert had history. Seeing the Stones in concert has been on my list for years and they were scheduled to play Perth in March 2014 and better yet I was home for it. Cancelled. Due to Mick Jagger’s girlfriend committing suicide. So when I saw a 12 date North American tour scheduled a couple months ago, I got VIP tickets and planned the entire break around the 12th June in Orlando. Crazy for some, exorbitant for others, life for me. Long-term mega successful artists and entities like the Rolling Stones inspire me, and yes I have a list of artists I’d like to see. Irrelevant whether u like their music, it’s undeniable they perfected their craft and sell a product that still packs 60,000+ seat stadiums. Lyrics written 50 years ago that connect to an audience today. And I like their music. It reminds me of family car trips, cleaning my Bodd house and that I can’t always get what I want. But if you try sometimes, you get what you need.

The concert finished just before midnight and I didn’t get to sleep til 4am. Mostly because there seems to be no taxi stand or hotel in downtown Orlando. I had to share with two women heading to sea world and I had to give directions to the driver. Orlando is not somewhere I’d return. Unless you come with friends to do the theme parks and stay at one of them. But it was a good opportunity to visit a suburban mall and catch up on things.

Feeling fulfilled after a productive relaxing entertaining break, the bumpy Surinam Air flight landed in Paramaribo in the early hours of 17 June and I arrived at the hotel at 2:30 am, couldn’t sleep until 4am, awake at 7:15am, in a vehicle to site at 8:30am, straight into the Managers Meeting at 1:30pm. Hitting the ground running. Time to pay for an expensive break.

Miami and a Bahamas Cruise

Friday 29 May to Friday 5 June 2015

travellingross rating = 8/10

The last work rotation was a hectic 16 days. A short one due to time owed from a longer rotation earlier this year. So there was not much time to ease back into it following my return from Amsterdam, which sucked cause it took me 5 days to get back into the time zone and hit fifth gear (it’s hard for me to admit that, as I used to claim there is no such thing as jet lag). Although that direct flight back was excellent with an economy comfort paid upgrade and landing at a decent afternoon hour versus the usual late night flight. There’s not much to report from a work front so I’ll include a couple photos and say it was training, budget planning, rain (350mm wettest month of the year), co hosting 5 Colorado school of mines visitors, stray dog ‘management’, and Suriname re elected their president. Interesting how developing countries care much more about elections than developed countries seem to.

I departed site a day after my sister’s birthday 28 May and had orchestrated a large group of us who all happened to be in Parbo at same time to have a night on the town. Something I would never do in Ghana so another sign I prefer this place. Great night and a rude awakening to get the 4 am shuttle to the airport for a 7:15am flight to Miami via Curacao. In the morning rush, I somehow lost my external hard drive that has my laptop and phone back-ups on it along with movies, music, and photos. Yeah so, my entire life ready for someone to hijack my identity. Weirdest thing is when I got to Miami the cable was in my suitcase, but not the actual device. I was sure it must be in the Suriname hotel but no. It’s a lesson to protect this like gold in future. Everything on there (except movies) is backed up on another external hard drive thanks to my OCD, so I don’t think I’ve lost much. Just hate losing stuff and this year is not trending well in that regard.

3 nights in Miami staying in a 5 star hotel was bliss. Time to sleep in, order room service each night, tick off some long due to-do list items. I usually file all my property and finance e-documents promptly but haven’t since November 2014. That’s just one example of how my organised life has got away from me since starting in Suriname.

On 1 June I set off on a 4 night Bahamas cruise. I’ve spent years thinking about whether I would like a cruise. Too old, too confining, crowded, hitting an iceberg. The usual hesitations. But with my placement in the Caribbean area I knew it was cruise moment of truth. After researching many farther afield options with different companies, I settled on a shorter Norwegian cruise in case I hated it. The reality was so different to expectations. Hard to spot a 65+ person with a diversity of ages, club techno music on the pool deck with a party atmosphere, big drinking culture, and lots of space. The balcony room was spacious enough with a bigger bathroom than expected but overall dated and tired. There were 3 stops but I didn’t get off at Nassau as it was rainy terrible weather. This suited me to have a chill catch up day.  They push the paid shore excursions but no obligation and I did my own thing. Easy enough except Grand Bahamas was a long taxi trip from port and not well organised. The evening entertainment is well structured and sort of corny, repeated. There is a casino on board and that surprised me although it shouldn’t.

Docking back in Miami at 7am, you had to be off the boat by 930am. I’m very glad to have done a cruise finally and rid some of the doubts. I would do another one, on a different company to compare and ideally around a few more islands. I do feel an obligation to get off at each stop so maybe a cruise with a couple full days at sea would suit me more.

My desire for a ‘do nothing’ break was not getting any more realistic as the night before docking back in Miami I booked flights and tickets to see the U2 concert in Denver as well as my good friend who was about to have baby number 1!

Random Observations

  1. I love that USA has everything I can get at home – groceries, snacks, restaurants. But that can be overwhelming to me who is less used to that choice and range nowadays. I walk into a store and almost step back at the number of aisles and check outs.
  2. I went to an Italian cafe and ordered a Greek salad. Delicious.
  3. Losing my external hard drive was eye opening to realise how much personal data I carried on that with such a care free attitude. Now it’s in the hands of someone who could choose to delete all the data by formatting it or go through all my files…and maybe steal my identity.
  4. Miami is easy for me
  5. I go through moments of wanting to party and be around a herd of people, to wanting to be alone in a hotel room without seeing another human being. Miami typically is associated with the former, but I craved the latter.  Especially after getting the party out of me in Parbo.
  6. Grand Bahamas – “this is where John Travolta’s son died” stated the taxi driver as the first opening line of her tourism remarks
  7. Cruise ship air con seemingly set to 16C so it is freezing inside
  8. The movement felt on the ship is more than I expected, like you’re drunk and swaying. This was only night one. Other days were never felt. Not sure why.
  9. Food is good
  10. Internet is $25 per day
  11. Champagne selection sucks – Presecco.
  12. Announcements get annoying and too frequent
  13. Many restaurant options, half complimentary. The others with a cover charge of $15-30
  14. Great Stirrup Cay was beautiful and exactly how I pictured the Bahamas. Walk further along the beach to find more secluded bays with some of the clearest water I’ve seen – where kayaks look like they are floating on air rather than gliding across the water surface.

Amsterdam: Finishing with a Birthday and a Mothers Day

Wednesday 6 May to Monday 11 May 2015

travellingross rating = 7/10

Following our short stopover in Antwerp, we returned the rental car to Amsterdam airport and then taxi’d the 25 mins or so to our vacation rental apartment. The location was out of the main part of town, but a 2 min walk to a tram stop that was easy enough to navigate wherever you wanted to go. The accommodation was welcoming and modern. Mum would have her birthday on 7 May and then it was Mothers Day on 10 May.

I have never had an interest in visiting Amsterdam. Amsterdam to me is about pot, prostitution, canals and bicycles (who do not obey any traffic rules). Not exactly the key drivers for choosing my travel destinations. This city is busy with tourists and the layout of the streets around the canals made me annoyed for reasons I still don’t know – maybe because you are constantly on the lookout for something that might run you over. It was nice to spend 6 nights in one location and relax a little and of course spend a couple of my Mother’s special days together. Here are the highlights and some observations:

  • Rembrandt House: I like his paintings and works. The house was sold by his bank to re-pay the mortgage and he died in debt. Interesting how this tends to happen to artists.
  • Keukonhof Gardens: for Mum’s birthday we spent the day at the largest tulip flower festival. Picturesque place with many colours and settings to explore. An hour or so to get there by bus, but with my great navigational skills (as opposed to Mum’s) I got us there and back with time to freshen up and go out for a delicious meal overlooking the canals in a fancy hotel.
  • Anne Frank House: We took turns lining up for 2.5 hours to get into a museum where all the furniture is removed and you are ushered around looking at wallpaper and floorboards. The interesting part was seeing her diary and papers. Anne comes across as a typical teenage girl spoiled brat and maybe that is what makes her story connect with so many young people – that she was normal. The Dutch Resistance Museum resonated with me more.
  • Heineken Experience: I had very low expectations of the brewery tour but Mum and I were both surprised at how good and creative it was. More than just a brewery tour, but an explanation on marketing, branding and how their history has evolved over the years. The tour finishes with a few beers and let’s just say that Mum was merry.
  • Zaanse Schans Windmill Park: For Mothers Day we trained here to explore some of the few remaining windmills in the Netherlands. Educational and scenic. Not many eateries though and could be more orientated to making a full tourist experience. This was our last full day in Amsterdam and for the trip and we concluded with a tasty dinner at the Lebanese Restaurant down the road from our apartment. One observation is that most restaurants seat you without a menu and you sit waiting 5 mins until they bring you the menu.