Our Condensed UK & USA Travel Journal

James Preston Reply 10:41 AM
In the first edition, I indulged you in the process of how the journey all came into being. In this edition, I seek to try and summarize the entire journey, rather than create different posts for different legs of the trip, as I envision that to be somewhat boring for you, tiresome for me, and a little unnecessary considering I have so much else to write about as well!

So let's do this! I will list each destination visited, and a few of the highlights of each. Grab yourself a cup of coffee because this is an in-depth read! The visits to the various churches will be covered in later Blog posts...

LONDON:
Destination number 1. Off we went to the baggage claim where all our bags were in order, including a boxed wooden carving of a Giraffe. A gift for a family friend. Lugging the 1.5m makeshift box around was no problem, up until we had to catch the Underground to our apartment! With 3 piece of luggage packed to last us a month; plus this boxed giraffe, lining up on the platform of the Underground so as to board timeously was an adventure in itself! And the London Underground waits for no-one!

After carefully planning our swift boarding procedure, we embarked easily. Well, as easily as you can with 3 pieces of box-sized luggage and a giraffe! And Corinne was officially on her first London Underground Train!

Have a look at all this luggage!

If getting on was fun, getting off was Mission: Impossible! But like Tom Cruise, Mission: Impossible NOTHING! We did it without too much hassle. Next step... carry over 50kgs of bags up 3 flights of stairs at one of the busiest stations in London... Tower Hill!

We were incredibly blessed in that we were given a 2 bedroom flat in prime London location! And I mean GIVEN! That family friend I spoke of? Yep, him! So carting the Giraffe around was well worth the sacrifice... just!

After finally settling in at our beautiful flat in London's Tower Hill area, we had a great lunch at Tower Bridge's docks. And from there it was back home for some much needed rest, we had a busy week ahead of us!

Our first "official" day in London, the hub of the world, was Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Street shopping. That night we had a great dinner with Sheldon Bayley and his lovely lady Heather at their newly-purchased home in Feltham, South of central London. Great to see old friends when abroad.

The following day we attempted Madame Tussauds. Ha! 4 hrs estimated waiting time in the queue! NO THANKS! Seriously, the queue was lined up two blocks down the street. We quickly moved on and ended up going to Harrods. The largest department store in the world. A place where they pride themselves in that they sell everything! Even pets! Fifty odd years ago they even had a Lion for sale! Seriously! Go Google "Christian the Lion", amazing story.

The next 2 days were spent with my family on the South Coast of England, in Chichester and Bognor Regis. My cousin Nick picked us up from Chichester station after a fantastic train ride seeing the beautiful countryside of England. We then spent the evening with his brother Martin and his lady Nicky and a few of their mates. That night (New Year's Eve) we went bowling with Nick and watched a DVD. Very chilled, I know. But hey, we aren't really the party type!

The following day we were with my gran and my aunt at a pub on the beach in Bognor Regis. Again, so good to see family after so many years! And who knows, could be the last time I saw my gran. Quite a thought. Hence, so valuable.

That evening it was on the train back to London to be ready for our final day in the UK.

What a day it was! Earlier in the week we discussed the possibility of riding "The London Eye", the famous ferris wheel giving you 360 degree views of London and her countless famous sights. It was dark, and we seriously considered going anyway, knowing full well that we may not have time to do the must-do ride on Saturday (our final full day). But we decided against it that night and decided we would cut things fine on Saturday morning. What a choice!

Saturday morning was the most beautiful day of our week in England! Bright blue skies clear for miles! Perfect for the famous ride! How good is our Father in Heaven?

It really was great and gave breathtaking views of the city.

It was then a bit of touring Westminster and then off to Fulham Football Club where we had prime seats to the FA Cup match between the Preston's beloved Fulham FC and Swindon Town where we met up with "that" family friend and his daughter, Libby. You know, "Giraffe" family friend? Bernie's his name. What a fantastic guy.

We won 1-0 AND missed a penalty! Should've been better, but a win is a win and Fulham are now through to the next round of the FA Cup. Could this finally be a trophy year?

That night it was a final dinner in London with Bernie and Libby. We said our goodbyes, packed up, and the following morning caught a taxi to Paddington Station (remember the bear?) where we caught the Heathrow Express train to Heathrow Airport to catch our flight to JFK, New York.

NEW YORK
My first trip to the USA! (I had caught a connecting flight in the USA coming from Canada before, but that was it) Being born in the UK I had seen London many a time, so while it was fun, the USA was bound to be a great experience as Corinne and I could experience the exhilaration of all the sights for the first time together!

What a city! WOW! You cannot imagine the size of this place. Although not the biggest in terms of population density, what makes New York City, and Manhattan in particular, so spectacular is the incredible amount of massive skyscrapers! Most cities (including San Francisco, Seattle and LA) have just as impressive skyscrapers but in far less concentration. In Manhattan, the entire island is a mass of gigantic architectural wonders everywhere you look! They don't call it the "concrete jungle" for nothing!

My first experience of Manhattan was quite amusing... Corinne was dog tired after traveling all day (taxi, train, plane, taxi) and so I thought I would go and buy our subway tickets for the week at the nearest subway station. While there, being the adventurous type, I thought why not "try out" the subway system of New York? So I did. I hopped on the next train, and saw a few stops down was "Grand Central Station". Off I got, walked through a couple of corridors into the famous auditorium of Grand Central Station. Clock and all! It was breathtaking!

I then thought I'd quickly pop out onto the street. I open the door of my chosen exit, and the building directly across the street was none other than the Chrysler Building! One of the icons of New York's incredible skyline! I felt like I was in a dream!

Corinne on the other hand was back home feeling like she was in a nightmare!

I got back to the hotel room was Corinne was frantic after my little gallavant. Needless to say she wasn't happy. My excuse being that I was like a kid in candy store! Which I was! Knowing me all too well, she understood.

With only 3 days in New York, we had a lot to do! It started that night with a tour of Times Square. OH MY WORD! You have never seen anything quite like it in all your life! Not even the bigness of the movies can prepare you for the real thing. You cannot quite believe that advertisers would put so much money into doing anything they can to get their message across in a place where advertisements just make up another part of the mosaic of colour. But they do.

It doesn't feel real.

The next day we headed to the Empire State Building, which also is quite incomprehensible. The sheer size of the building takes your breath away! From the base, across the street, you cannot see the summit of the monster. It is unbelievable! Not quite as beautiful as the Chrysler Building, but just as majestic thanks to its imposing size. And the view from the top is like nothing you've ever seen! A sea of concrete displaying man's engineering ability.

You are at the highest point of the city with the highest skyscrapers in the world. It is so high that looking down you don't quite feel the same fear as though you would off a cliff, because the distance is just too far for your brain to comprehend.

The following day was the Statue of Liberty. And let me tell you, New York was the coldest of all the places we visited (including ski-ing in the mountains)! So waiting in the hour long queue for the ferry was fun. We eventually boarded and began our journey to Liberty Island, about a mile out from the mainland.

As you get closer you get an idea of what the millions of Italian, Spanish, German and other immigrants must've felt when they entered New York's harbour for the first time, with Lady Liberty welcoming them to the "Land of the Free", back in the early 1900's.

The statue really is beautiful, and a masterpiece of creativity and engineering, especially considering she was built close on 100 years ago. The island gives incredible views of Manhattan and her imposing skyline. The only site missing of course was the Twin Towers. Liberty Island was one of the best places to capture the World Trade Centre's unbelievable size. Hopefully her replacement will be just as remarkable. We'll have to plan another trip once it's completed! :-)

We then moved on to Central Park, which too is far bigger than you can imagine. Built in proportion to the size of Manhattan, I guess. It really is beautiful. The pioneering work of Landscape Art, it really is a haven of peace and quiet in the city that never sleeps. But too cold in Winter if you are from South Africa!

The next day it was off to Seattle...

We spent 2 days with my cousin, her husband and their 3 beautiful children in a suburb called Snohomish just outside of Seattle before going ski-ing for a week at Crystal Mountain 2 hours outside of Seattle. So I will get into what the ski-ing was like and come back to being with the amazing family in Seattle.

SKI-ING IN WASHINGTON (State, not DC)
As mentioned in the previous blog post, this was one of the reasons for the trip. I wanted to give Corinne a taste of ski-ing and snow-covered mountains!

After the 2 hour drive up in rain, we eventually reached the resort where the snow covered the entire area of the Mountain. It was so picturesque!

We had a beautiful room with a view of the mountain, and the restaurant where we were to have breakfast and dinner was just as cozy with equally beautiful views of the beautiful mountain landscape (if not better)!

We didn't ski on our arrival day, but rather settled in. That night we went for dinner at the lodge just at the base of the ski slopes where we met the most friendly lady! Sandy Hill, a former military soldier who was now a ski instructor in her "retirement" was like an angel! We met her as we were admiring the snow falling (because Corinne had NEVER seen snow) and the friendship was a blessing beyond description! Another one of the God-moments!

The next day, we headed to the slopes where we booked Corinne in for a lesson that afternoon. Sandy gave me some tips on giving Corinne the basics, and so we spent the morning going through them with Corinne. We started with 1 ski so Corinne could get the feel of the ski on her foot. She got it! I was so impressed to see how quickly she adapted!

That afternoon Corinne had a lesson, while Sandy showed me some of the big slopes and reminded me of some of the skiing techniques. When we got down the mountain an hour later I saw Corinne going down the slope and I honestly couldn't believe how well she was doing! She well and truly GOT IT! I was so impressed! Not to mention thankful. A week of ski-ing when you can't ski would be absolutely disastrous. Thankfully this wasn't the case and Corinne was well on her way to creating memories to last her a lifetime!

The rest of the week was spent discovering all the wonderful landscape of the snow-covered mountains! While the final 2 days saw 10 inches of snow give us the best skiing experience you could ever ask for! Absolutely incredible! A week we will never forget! I would suggest everyone go skiing at least once in their lifetime!

The week was over all too quickly. Fortunately, we had another week in Seattle with family to look forward to, so it was too difficult saying goodbye to the slopes. Sandy incredibly offered us a lift into Seattle after our shuttle didn't arrive to pick us up! More of God's favour and provision! And after blessing us so much already she didn't even accept petrol money! Amazing. Sandy, if you read this, we cannot explain how thankful we are.

SEATTLE
It was then Seattle for a week with one of the most amazing families you will ever meet. The Thomas family. My cousin Carryn, married to Ian Thomas, and their 3 beautiful, amazing children Luke, Micayla and Bayley. What a week! A week that was far too short.

We did the DUCK ride with them. A remarkable informative tour of the city in a World War II amphibious vehicle, where we saw among other things the house that Tom Hanks lived in in the film "Sleepless in Seattle". That night Ian, Luke and I went to watch an Ice Hockey game (what an experience!) while the girls watched that same movie so as to see all the sights they had just experienced. We got home from the hockey game and we all watched the movie again!

The remainder of the week was spent visiting famous shopping spots like TJ Max, Costco, and others! Eating great burgers from the great Dick's Burgers. Playing street hockey, baseball, basketball and football with Luke and his friends. Walking Sam the dog in the beautiful suburbs. Adventure walks in the forest with Carryn and Corinne! Teaching the kids how to play rugby in the lounge. And long conversations about politics with the incredibly knowledgeable and insightful Ian. Not to mention visiting 2 incredibly influential churches in The City pastored by Judah Smith and Mars Hill pastored by Mark Driscoll whom I had the privilege of spending time with earlier in the week, but more about our church visits in a future blog post.

It was a week we will never ever forget. Spending time with family is just so special. We had so much fun with them, and we created such deep bonds, that leaving was always going to be painful. And it was!

We bitterly said goodbye to Carryn, the kids, and Ian after he dropped us off at the airport, and were on our own again off to San Francisco where we were to spend a day before heading off to Redding.

SAN FRANCISCO
A beautiful city. One of the most loved cities in America, and you can see why. The city really does have such character and a unique personality to it. After quickly dropping off our luggage (which had grown by a suitcase!) we caught the BART (SF's subway system) to downtown San Fran and caught a tram to Fisherman's Wharf, where did some shopping, sight seeing and had dinner at a classic Art Deco 1960's style restaurant.

The following saw us carting all our luggage (now 5 pieces) along the BART, then catching a yellow cab to the Greyhound station where we to catch a bus to Redding. We locked our luggage up in storage, and embarked on a whirlwind tour of San Fran to get to the Golden Gate bridge. It meant a 45 minute bud ride to spend 10 minutes at the famous landmark in the driving rain and howling wind to catch the bus back so as to not miss our Greyhound Bus that afternoon! IT WAS CRAZY! But we made it!

The Greyhound bus terminal and proceeding journey was an experience in itself. Being $330 cheaper than a flight to Redding, it was the logical option. But you quickly realise why it is so cheap. The people that travel Greyhound in the USA are those synonymous with wife beating, incest and trailer parks. So no more. I wrote a story describing our trip whilst on the bus which I may post in the future.

BETHEL CHURCH, REDDING
Our final weekend of the incredible journey was in Redding, a small city in California where some of the greatest testimonies of God's Love and Power come. The reason for the trip to Redding was to visit Bethel Church pastored by Bill Johnson and his incredible team.

We hired a car to get around the city, as the public transport isn't the greatest. It worked out perfectly, besides constantly reminding myself to stay on the right side of the road!

We attended a Friday night service, the Saturday morning "Healing Rooms" and all 3 services on Sunday. Along with having the privilege of an hour with Bill Johnson.

I will publish a far more detailed post of this remarkable weekend in the not too distant future along with interview with Bill Johnson on my website soon!

It was then off to LA from the tiny municipal airport to experience Disneyland for our final stop before heading home!

DISNEYLAND
What an experience! While we only had 7 hours or so to experience the magic of Walt Disney's incredible theme park, it will go down as one of the most memorable 7 hours of our lives!

We arrived at the hotel at 12pm after the fun flight in a twin propellor light aircraft, it was then straight off to Disneyland, described as "the happiest place on Earth"!

A fitting slogan for such an amazing place! It truly was unforgettable. We arrived through the gates where we were greeted by Tigger from Winnie the Pooh and Captain Hook from Peter Pan. It was fantastical! The sun was shining after a week of rain, is God good or what!?

The streets were designed straight out of the movies lined with 1970's classic boutique shops, while the horse-drawn trams and vintage cars carted people from the entrance to the centre of the Park. We were happy to walk though, soaking up the experience.

We started by admiring the statue of Walt Disney holding hands with his creation Mickey Mouse showing him the beautiful land he had engineered. What a great idea.

The statue stood at the base of the magical Fantasy Castle. The beautiful setting couldn't be more fitting for Walt and his most popular creation.

After getting some great photos we headed off to do some rides. It was just incredible. After a few simple story-telling rides, we headed off to "Toontown". One of the most creatively engineered areas of the park. The buildings were built straight out of the cartoons. And I'm talking Roger Rabbit style cartoons! Yep! The houses were all well out of proportion, completed against conventional engineering logic. You felt like you were in the cartoons. It was incredible.

This was the site of our first rollercoaster! A 30 second ride that took our breath away! A ride for the kids! But neither of us had ever been on a rollercoaster before so the experience was unforgettable! We were laughing and shouting the entire way. It was awesome! But that was just the start of it all...

We then went on to do far more exhilarating rides like Matterhorn Bobsleds, Big Thunder Mountain Railroads, and my personal favourite Splash Mountain! Splash Mountain is very similar to the world famous ride at DisneyWorld (different to DisneyLand) where you ride a log boat on a river system and drop down a steep drop several storeys high landing in water below creating a mighty big splash! I'm sure you've seen it? The one where everyone has their hands raised and people are at the bottom getting wet? If you don't, leave a comment and I'll get you a Google Image...

But Splash Mountain was my favourite ride of the day! So much so I immediately did it again! Needless to say, Corinne stayed behind and watched after the first round. What makes this ride so memorable is the final steep drop. You get pulled up pulley a good 20 metres high for the final drop, and once at the top... they let go! The incline is insane and the drop lasts for about 4 seconds or so! The speed you pick up in those 4 seconds is incredible!

They have an automated camera that takes a photo of the log as you drop, and it was my favourite picture of the day! It gave such a good indication of both our characters. I had my hands lifted high as I looked straight screaming with joy! While Corinne's expression resembled a person about to die! Eyes shut tight, mouth gaping wide open in fear! It was hilarious!

On top of those rides we did the Jungle Boat Ride, Pirates of the Caribbean, Winnie the Pooh, Indiana Jones (one of the most popular rides at the park) and others. Finding Nemo was also incredible as it took you on a submarine tour underwater while holograms of Nemo and the other characters from the Disney film swam alongside you as they chatted to each other. Incredible technology.

Tomorrowland was also a favourite where ASIMO was exhibited, the most advanced humanoid robot ever, and the only one in the world in public exhibition. Google him if you're interested. I stood there with my mouth gaping. While Corinne slept. :-)

Just before we headed out for our last few rides we by chance stumbled onto the evening parade where every Disney character imaginable was doing their thing. To say it was magical would be an understatement. The show truly did leave you breathless and absolutely blown away.

8pm (closing time) came all too fast. Our last ride on Peter Pan was a memorable one, but sad. The day was so exciting and fun-filled you just didn't want it to end. We were both fairly disappointed and somewhat sad to say goodbye to one of the most incredible experiences of our lives. We walked the Disney streets one last time, passed the Fantasy Castle with Walt and his "son" Mickey, and made our way back to the hotel after another 2 hours of shopping in the DisneyLand tourist shop. It was time to come home.

A special thanks to my sister Louise for making that day at DisneyLand possible. We were scheduled to leave LA anyway, and hadn't even planned DisneyLand, until she suggested it and even paid for our 2 tickets. Without you Lou, following the prompting of the Lord, it wouldn't have been possible. Thank you.

The following day began the great 40 hour trek back home. We had an adventure we would never ever forget. What a privilege. What a blessing.

The flights were great. God again showed off by giving exit seats on both our flights! Those seats are the prime seats of Economy Class, so we knew God was just favouring His kids! Thank You Dad!

And it was back in South Africa! Ah, but it was good to be home. South Africa truly is such a majestic country. And we were thankful we could come back to the most beautiful countries on Earth!

If you read this far, thank you. I would love to hear your comments, so if you stopped by, let us know your thoughts.

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