Sunday, September 9, 2012

Mobile - U.S.S Alabama

Since my childhood years I've been slightly obsessed with WWII. You'll have to forgive a young boys childish impression of a war as a great adventure. The evil nazis, the battered allied forces that barely manage to turn the tides of war. It's one of those moments in time where fact is greater than fiction. Growing up witnessing the wars of our time I realize of course wars are terrible, terrible things, however I have kept my fascination with anything WWII-related. On with the story.

Between the coast of Florida and the coast of Mississipi, the state of Alabama claims a small piece of the coast of the mexican gulf. Located here is the city of Mobile. And in this city there is something I had been dying to see. An actual WWII battle ship, the U.S.S Alabama, which served in the pacific campaign.

It was a good stop anyways for us travelling from the panhandle to New Orleans. We arrived noon-ish and the drive there was pretty neat following the coast. Even from a distance you could make out the gigantic landmark that the ship has now become. Compared to a modern time aircraft carrier I guess it's not as impressive but I was in awe for sure. The ship is now a museum and besides the ship there is an old WWII submarine, a bunch of airplanes and some tanks, all from that era. Admission is damn cheap if you ask me. 2 dollar parking and 12 dollar admission to the park for each adult. And for that you get a lot. We started out touring the ship and as we boarded I was awe struck once more. What a beast of a war machine. There is guns in any direction and caliber you could think of. And that brought a certain reality check to what life must have been like on a ship like this during wartime. The feeling intensified as you toured the crews living quarters. This was their home and only life support out on the great ocean. With nowhere else to go their only chance of survival was to fight of their attackers or perish. All the sudden the guns made a lot of sense.

It's pretty weird standing on the deck of a warship in the hot july sun, staring down the barrel of a machine gun, while kids are running around laughing and tourists are taking photographs. But you get a small sense of what it must have felt like back in the days. Staring at the sky, waiting for what's to come. The ship is a labyrinth of stairs and ladders, and it does take a lot of climbing and squeezing through narrow passages to get around. Funny enough my two greatest fears are heights and narrow spaces, but I guess the pure excitement made me forget all about it. I made it all the way to the top while M decided to wait a few storeys down.

On the way to the submarine you pass trough a hangar with some really neat fighter aircrafts. Best part of the hangar though is that it is air-conditioned. The submarine, the U.S.S Drum also served during WWII. Sinking cargo ships and laying out mines were some of her tasks. This is the most claustrophobic part of the tour. I had to push myself to go in there. The ship is in really great condition and most def worth it if you have it in you. It blows my mind that people lived here for weeks during missions. After just twenty minutes I was dying to get out. It's small, dark and extremely hot in there.

To end the tour we went and checked out some WWII-tanks on display out by the parking lot. By then we felt like we'd seen more war memorabilia then you can take in, in a day so we gave em a quick look and huddled back to the car. If you ever pass this way I do recommend a stop. It's fairly cheap and I doubt you'll ever find such a collection in one place somewhere else. Stay tuned for more. Next up is the big easy!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Panama City Beach - Exploring the panhandle

An explanation is at place. Some of you will have noticed that the blog hasn't been updated for a long time and that there is quite much left to write about. As we arrived in Sweden we were met by some really bad news that occupied our thoughts for quite some time. Now everything is OK again and I will do my best to finish writing about our road trip, even though school has started again. Here goes...

Life is a beach. At least it should be. Just an image of a beach - be it a picture or a painting sets off a firework of emotions in me, and I find myself longing to be there. The sound of waves, soothing like a lullaby. Each wave with the promise that after it's hasty return a new one will take it's place. Again, and again, and again. It's infinity in the making, and in it's presence I feel part of that infinity in a way that every moment seems like it will last forever. And what better place to spend infinity than with the warm sun in your face, your feet buried in the soft white sand, tuning yourself in with the universe. Needless to say we love the beach and we are always in search of that perfect one. That search led us to Florida's panhandle, famous for it's stunning beaches.

The panhandle - named so since Florida looks like a giant pan(debatable I guess) and the westmost part as it's handle, has a great number of beaches to choose from. After thoughtful consideration we chose two spend our two available nights at Panama City Beach. It seemed a perfect combination of a great beach and good nightlife. More then any people I know americans like to enjoy themselves while on vacation. That's probably why there are so many places spread out through the country, that seem to exist for the sole purpose of providing entertainment for the whole family. Panama City Beach is one of those places. Motels and hotels facing the water were priced in the upper scale, but not wanting to waste valuable beach time we soon settled for one that looked at it would give good value for those dollars. The Chateau motel had really luxurious rooms facing the ocean, and after checking in we had but to walk out our doors to grab a sun chair on the sun deck. A few cold ones later we decided to check out the nightlife along Front Beach rd. The road that runs parallel with the length of the beach, is packed with surf shops, bars and restaurants. Youngsters rented scooters from the many vendors located here and tried to race up and down this main road, only to be caught in the ever growing weekend traffic. Cars packed with hopeful vacationers like us trying to get the last available rooms. Seing this chaos we grew confident our choice to pick a place no matter the price was the right one. 

We only had to walk to the neighboring restaurant for our first Margarita on a patio by the sea. The house band were playing super cheesy covers which fit perfect with the tacky theme. The atmosphere was family friendly and it suited us just fine after our crazy week in New York. The rest of the night was spent strolling up and down Front beach Rd just enjoying the laid back bars and night clubs.

Next day we hit the sun deck as soon as we woke up. When ever you got to hot from laying in the sun you would just run down to the ocean to cool off. It was magical. After a few hours we started getting hungry and decided to grab lunch at Hooters. Hooters is a tacky chain of restaurants with the only requirements for their staff, to be female and have the "right" size bra. However it is nothing like a strip club, it's pretty much your everyday budget restaurant. We've been somewhat reluctant to try it out in the past but since it was right next to our hotel and had a patio facing the beach we gave it a go. Try everything once right?  Not many vegetarian options but the deepfried jalapenos made it all worthwile. They also served some mean margaritas that improved the rating for us. The rest of the day was pretty much a copy of the night before so I'm not gonna go in to details on that. Especially since there is so much more interesting stuff coming up that I wanna share. So stay tuned....

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Madeira Beach - a Deja vu

America - the land of contradictions. So many layers I feel it sometimes is impossible to say what is America, and what is an American?

And so it was time for us to leave New York and all our friends behind. A feeling of mixed emotions, sadness and excitement. The knowledge that we had barely scratched the surface and yet that urge to go explore something completely new. A passion we have shared together since that very first trip to the states, to seek and find the real America. So we said our goodbyes to Mikael with that strange feeling, that even if we are seing each other back in Sweden, we will never be able to re-create what we shared anywhere but here.

A rooftop brunch in Brooklyn seemed a fitting end to the N.Y-adventure. A couple of blueberry sangrias and a perfectly executed Eggs Benedicte later, we soon enough were flying into a setting sun against the Manhattan skyline. We arrived in Tampa, Florida, close to midnight and we had just about time to pick up our rental and take off. We picked the closest motel, a La Quinta Inn since we were knackered and just wanted to get some sleep. Before bed we ventured cross the street to a night open IHOP. An old time favorite that I should stay clear off since I'm trying to quit carbs, but hey it's vacation.
So as the subtitle hints you about, we were in for a deja vu. Two of them as a matter of fact. Last year we met this great couple in Key West on a sunset cruise, Rob & Maureen. We spent one night chatting away in a bar and immediately hit it off like we'd known each others for year. They live in Tampa so we made plans to meet up with them before we had to go north. When looking at places to meet up we suddenly realized we were right by the coast and the same beach we stayed on last year, Madeira Beach. We gave Rob and Maureen a call and they were game for meeting up for dinner by the beach. Last summer we found a great little motel sitting right at the beach front so we crossed our fingers and drove out there. Much to our luck we found that the Surfs Inn Motel was vacant.

The Surfs Inn is a fantastic spot. The beach is beautiful and right outside your door. You wake up and you get right into the ocean. The inn itself is a rather rundown place and the staff have their ups and downs as far as service goes. That's not why you stay there though. Its strength is the people who stay there. People that have walked the walk of life and always have a story they are willing to share. At night by the pool they gather, they drink and they talk. Since it's on the west coast you can watch the sun set into the ocean and then talk the night away before the sunrise chases away the last diehards, for a few hours of rest. Last year we met awesome friends there and I was hoping by some chance they might also be there still. Never gone. Before dinner we walked down to John's pass, a gathering of surf shops, bars and other beach related shops. Crossing one of the bridges we caught a glimpse of our first ever free living dolphins. Super cool! While shopping around for useless knick knacks we got the call that Rob and Maureen was on the way so we hurdled back home.

We met up with them at the hotel and right away we were catching up. We shared some drinks by the pool before getting dinner at nearby Screwi Louie's. A typical beach shack with an outdoor patio and cocktails served in plastic mugs. Right up my alley. It was a great dinner with great conversations. Such a fantastic way for us to learn about the american culture from the people living in it. The night continued pool side as is custom at the Surfs Inn until they eventually had to make the drive back. A warm welcome to the south with good food, good stories and great friends. Hope to see y'all soon,


Thursday, July 5, 2012

New York - part 5

Last day in New York means time to go out with a bang! It also means I'm gonna try to summarize the Brooklyn experience compared to Manhattan. I drive my wife crazy sometimes with my comparisons. Guess that's just how I'm wired. I enjoy comparing Brooklyn with Manhattan in the same way I enjoy comparing the guitar styles of Jimi Hendrix and Angus Young. Also maybe you who read this will find it useful if you decide to go here. So here goes and please forgive if I'm repeating myself. Brooklyn is in many ways a contrast to Manhattan. It's quieter which some people might enjoy, myself I love the noise. It's not as available since it's mainly residential. This however is not only a bad thing. It invites you to explore in a different way to find your favorite places. It's less pretentious and now this I find very refreshing at times, since I am not very impressed with people showing of f lifestyle and money. It has a slower pace than Manhattan and in many ways feels more genuine. Manhattan on the other hand is... well it's Manhattan! Nothing in the world can compare to it. The feeling when you find some secret roof top party makes you feel like you're in on a secret. The best thing is you dont have to pick one. If you want a cheaper stay and a good nights sleep pick Brooklyn and do take time to explore it while you are there. If you want action at your door step, pay the extra dollar and pick Manhattan. Having stated that i want to add to the protocol before moving on, that we got the best of two worlds this time. We had a blast! Now on with the story...

Last day and finally some sightseing as promised. Our first stop was something I had high expectations on. The high line park is an old above-street-level railway thoughtfully re-designed as a public park. It's architects have taken advantage of the "natural" elements of the structure and created awesome breathing holes for the stressed out citizens. Along the length of the park, art created by artists as well as people just living there, contribute to the over all feel. How rare is it not that something this wondeful is created for people to enjoy for free in a place where land probably has the highest market price in the world.
We walked the full length of the high line and got off in the north end. From there we had one more tourist thing to do, Grand Central. New Yorks central station is an epic piece of architecture. It's design is grand yet simple and clean. Featured in so many movies it is a must see. We also got to see the new apple store in there. Pretty neat allthough I think it's a little out of place.

As our day was coming to an end we got ready for our last night out. We had made plans to meet up with Ian. Our friends back home in Sweden who know Ian had told us a night out with him is a experience in it's own. Mikael and Ian already knew each other so we decided to all meet up at Union Pool, again. Ian was such a character. He is one of those guys who enter a room and just becomes the center of attention. I mean this only in a good way. And as Mikael told me later, he makes you feel like an old friend in ten minutes. Ian being one of the few born and raised New Yorkers took us on a roller coaster ride through Williamsburg. He'd constantly point out a place or a house and tell some story about it, and all the sudden the area felt so muchmore home like. It's like his anecdotes added a certain warmth to otherwise anonymous neighbourhoods.

I cant recall in what order certain events took place but here are some of the things we managed in a night. We bowled. We played pool. We had dinner in a restaurant featured in sex in the city. We visited rooftop bars, regular bars and somewhere along the line I finally got my bagel. I think it's one more of those nights better kept as a memory then described in text. I can share with you a careful selection of pictures though.


Saturday, June 30, 2012

New York - part 4

Every morning in New York I wake up before M and I go out to get coffee for the two of us. Every morning I return to our room only to bang my head hard in the ceiling. The reason I do that has to do with the history of Brooklyn. How can my newfound desire, to consume an increasing amount of painkillers have anything to do with that you might ask? Well, our hostess Susana explained that before the gentrifaction of Brooklyn, different parts where populated mainly by certain etnicities. The area around Bedford ave was populated by mostly polacks and the area around Consolyea street where we are staying was poulated by the Italians. So back to the reason I keep knocking myself half unconcious every morning. Susanas house was built by Italians that probably didn't take in account that a 5'9 Swede would be staying in it's basement one day resulting in that I cant stand upright in any part of our room.

We got up surprisingly early considering the night before. Another day of shopping lay ahead of us. Some of you might wonder about the lack of sightseing. Well that's because this is our third time in New York together and we've pretty much seen what we want to. A real good one is coming up though. But not in this post. We went back into union square, a ride that takes about five minutes. Again we did the whole Broadway with surroundings. Enough shopping to last us a lifetime. I'll spare you the details of that since it's not that interesting and also because i'm right now writing this sitting in the bath tub of a motel room, the only place the wifi works.

We had plans to meet up with old friends for dinner so we headed home to regroup. After a powernap we took to Union pool for a beer and an appetizer. M and Mikael had grilled corn with cheese from the taco wagon. After awhile we got the call from Kalle & Brandon who wanted us to meet up with them in Prospect Heights,yet another area in Brooklyn. We caught a train to get there and now i started to realize how great Brooklyn is in size. A long walk later we arrived on a rather busy street with loads of bars and restaurants. I noticed on the way over here that some parts where not really shady looking but a bit more worn down. Kalle and Brandon explained this with that Prospect Heights was not long ago a poor area, predominantly inhabited by groups of african-americans and chassidic jews. There used to be huge riots between the two groups but as gentrification set in even here, the middleclass with its money made the area safer and cleaner with the downside that a lot of the people who lived there could not afford to stay there.
On a less serious note, we had dinner at a Mexican Restaurant called something like Chevale. I might come back and revise that. Food was absolutely amazing and I curse that Sweden has still not one single mexican restaurant that is not a horrible take on tex-mex. I ate grilled peppers stuffed with mexican cheese that reminded me of mozzarella. It was covered by a spicy tomato sauce and served with a side of rice and black beans. As the kids say OMG! Dinner went down with plenty of conversation and a few pitchers of Margarita. It was just one of those perfect nights where everyone is enjoying themselves. We continued with drinks on a bar until we finally had to say our good byes, and took a cab back home intoxicated with these new experiences.