A Bookish Adventure

I started this blog to document an extended trip to the US and UK in 2012, introducing children to my Alice-Miranda series. It's hard to believe that it's just on four years since we launched the first Alice-Miranda title - and now there are nine books out in Australia with another five still to come. When I first came up with the idea of this precocious seven and a quarter year old, I had no clue that she would take me on such an amazing journey, not only in Australia but also across the world. I visited 37 schools while we were away in 2012 and gave over 80 talks - it was fantastic. In 2013 I've been on lots of new adventures in the UK - visiting schools from London to Southampton, Lancashire, Scotland, Newcastle and back to London again. After that I headed off to meet readers in Singapore. In Australia I've been to Melbourne, Perth, Albany, Alice Springs and Brisbane. There's a new series too - about a gorgeous little girl called Clementine Rose. She and Alice-Miranda don't know each other yet, but they will soon.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The best (and not so much) of the US and UK

It’s been great to have some time to reflect on the trip lately.  While we  were staying in Oswestry, near the Welsh borders and I was working away on Alice-Miranda’s 7th adventure, Alice-Miranda In Paris, Ian and I had some wonderful discussions about the best and not so best bits of the US and UK.  Things that make us want to be there forever and things that make us miss Australia.
So we decided to compile some lists.  Of course it’s just our experience but if you’re planning a visit to the US or UK anytime soon, some of our tips for young players might come in handy.
Best of the US
·         The people.  Once you get through immigration, where I advise you keep a straight face and do your best not to make any jokes, the people are fantastic.  Although, this time, after I had berated Ian and told him to be sensible and not make any wise cracks, the San Francisco immigration official turned out to be lovely.  And funny too.  Most unexpected after my first visit to the US where I felt like a criminal.  The UK immigration official was horrible, but I’ll get to him later.

·         Cost of living.  While the Australian dollar is around parity with the US dollar, make the most of it fellow Aussies.  Generally the US is affordable.  Clothes are cheap, food is cheap and in many places (New York excluded) the cost of hotels is not too bad either.

·         Food.  There is an extraordinary range of food in the US and it’s affordable.  Portion sizes are ridiculously huge so you can go out for lunch and get a doggy bag which will also do you for dinner too.  Steak in the US is great and the steakhouses in New York (although not so much in the affordable range) are brilliant.

·         iPad menus in restaurants – fantastic!

·         Drivers in the US are generally very considerate, which is excellent particularly if you are from Australia or the UK where the steering wheel is on the right hand side and we drive on the left hand side of the road.

·         New York – there is no place like it on earth.

·         The ‘open all hours’ mentality in New York city (but in other places too like San Francisco and Chicago)

·         Central Park – the lungs of the city and my favourite place in New York.

·         Frozen Hot Chocolate from Serendipity 3 – every bit as good as it sounds (and no wonder Alice-Miranda loved it). Sorry about picture on the side - for whatever reason I can't get it to rotate!

·         Extraordinary range of things you can buy in the shops – who knew that you could buy beer on tap in the pharmacy but Duane Read is in a league all of its own when it comes to chemist products!

·         Subways – highly efficient, and long distance trains that are clean and run on time.

·         Taxis in New York City – easy to get (except in the no man’s land changeover period around 3-5pm when getting a taxi is impossible).

·         Southern American accents – I could listen to them all day.

·         Salt water taffy – it’s delicious.

·         Friends – new and old – we met so many fabulous people in the US, who I have no doubt will remain friends for a long time to come.

Best restaurants

o   Boulevard in San Francisco – stunning food, beautiful décor and an all-round excellent experience.

o   My friend Diane’s house in South Carolina – her pulled pork was fabulous and while I’m still not convinced about grits, hers were delicious.

o   Cracker-barrel– now I know it’s a chain restaurant but for Aussies wanting a Southern experience, it was lots of fun and I loved my chicken fried chicken!

o   Viand – another chain in New York but the BEST GRILLED CHEESE sandwich I have ever eaten (so we went there at least five times while we were staying on the Upper West Side).

o   Philippe Chow – stunning Chinese in mid-town New York City.

o   DB Bistro Moderne – fantastic fusion food in mid-town New York City (the best burger I have ever eaten!).

o   Gallery Café at Pebble Beach – the best breakfast I had in the US.

Best hotels
o   Omni San Francisco – great room, best bed in the US, fantastic service and the friendliest hotel staff ever (and the most sensational chocolate brownie dessert which made me fall off the 'no sugar' wagon completely!)
o   The Lodge at Pebble Beach – stunning!

o   Hyatt Hotel Morristown New Jersey – a really lovely room and a pretty town too.

Ok, so I’ve detailed the best, now for some of the things we didn’t love quite so much
·         Coffee – it was horrible.  Percolated sludge with milk froth is not a cappuccino!  There were two places we found good coffee, Urban Table in Morristown (I could have hugged the girl who made it!) and Joe’s on the Upper West side in Manhattan.

·         Intersections with 4 stop signs – a little hard to get used to.

·         The sheer number of fast food outlets.  I don’t know how they survive but I do know why there are obesity issues in the US.

·         Bureaucracy at Yankee Stadium – ‘yes ma’am you can take your iPhone in but not your iPad’.  When I pointed out that they did the same thing, I was told to check my bag at the sports bar a mile down the road.

·         The exorbitant cost of hotels in New York City.

·         Added taxes – just when you thought you knew the cost of something there are a whole bunch of extra taxes laid on.

Best of the UK
·         The people – we met so many wonderful people – some of whom I had ‘met’ on the Internet and others we met while there; great teachers, children, booksellers and people we ran into in various locations – and it was lovely to meet Anna and Philip who came up from Littlehampton to the Queen’s Park Book Festival to say hello.  Anna has been an Alice-Miranda fan since her grandmother in Australia started sending the books to her – the fact that they made the effort to come up was just wonderful and I adored meeting them both.  It was great to catch with old friends too!
·          The countryside – rolling hills, stone walls, picture postcard villages – simply gorgeous.

·         Playing golf in the countryside and being able to look for a lost ball without fear of running into a snake; also watching rabbits frolicking, pheasants stalking about and squirrels darting this way and that.   It felt like being in a Beatrix Potter story.  I had hoped to see a badger but alas the only one we spotted was in not such good condition on the edge of the road.  Apparently moles are quite prolific too – although I would have been expecting them to wear glasses and a waistcoat so potentially disappointing!  Friends told us they were like giant rats so perhaps I’m glad we didn’t meet one.

·         The Tube system in London – once you get used to changing trains it’s a very efficient way to get around – the Oyster card system works well too.

·         The history is wonderful – there is so much to see.

·         Castles and historic homes – beautiful and completely fascinating.

·         Finding Caledonia Manor (real name Brogyntyn) – what were the odds? (see earlier posts for details).

·         Patriotism and love of the Queen – we were there during the Diamond Jubilee and the English do love a good street party and a reason to celebrate.

·         Stoic English spirit – we were invited to a Jubilee party in a field.  It was freezing and wet and yet the hundred or so people in attendance seemed to have a great time without a bother about the weather.

·         The Children’s Book Team at Random House UK – what a fantastic group – felt part of the family and the ‘Random Moment’ is a wonderful way to make authors feel welcome.

·         The wide variation in accents – so much to practice!

·         Sunny days are like gold dust – to be treasured.

·         Closeness of cities – and convenience of larger stores etc even when you are on the other side of the country miles from London.

·         M&S Simply Food – why can’t we have something like this at home – stunning range of food and well-priced too.

·         Real custard tarts – delicious (although my waistline will be glad that I left the UK).

·         Narrow boats and canals – what a great way to get around.

·         Better newspapers with a wide variety of stories (not just tabloid rubbish) – sounds hard to believe given the press we get about the UK papers.

·         Spitalfields Markets in the East End.

·         London cabbies who know exactly where they’re going and if faced with a detour, know exactly how to get around it.

·         The Eurostar to Paris – easy and comfortable too.

Best restaurants (from the limited number that we tried

·         The Wollesley in London – a bit of an icon and great for breakfast

·         Sebastians in Oswestry

·         The Boat Pub in Erbistock

·         The Corn Mill in Llangollen

Favourite towns

·         Richmond Upon Thames (I could live there in a heartbeat but the bank manager might have something to say about that)
·         Salisbury – beautiful and historic

·         Chester – gorgeous

·         Bakewell and the Peak District

·         Shropshire – Oswestry and surrounding villages

·         Llangollen in Wales

Best accommodation

·         Lion Quays in Oswestry – fantastic staff, service, rooms, great bed, canal view and plenty to keep you occupied – also great value for money.

·         Andaz Hyatt Liverpool Street London – fantastic modern hotel with interesting quirks and touches including iPad check in and personalized greeting and room tour – also a good location – and free mini bar.
Now for some of the things we didn’t love quite so much 
·         The weather – it will come as no surprise to most people but out of 6 weeks we saw about 9 days  of sushine and 6 days that resembled summer temperatures.
·         Freeway traffic – insane and crazy parking the wrong way on the street - can be a little offputting!
·         Proliferation of powerlines over the countryside
·         Some crazy drivers (and sorry folks, not nearly as considerate as the US nor as they used to be)
·         Rubbish television coverage, particularly the news
·         Warm beer
·         Cost of living in cities particularly
·         Coffee – not as awful as the US but still not consistently good.  Had great coffee at lovely bookshop called Booka in Oswestry but not many other memorable cups
·         English immigration official – rude, rude, rude!  With an attitude like that, it makes visitors wonder why they came (fortunately the people from thereon in were wonderful)
Overall, the best hotel we stayed in on the trip was the first one; The Omni San Francisco for being the complete package including the best bed (and we have slept in 26 different beds so far with one still to go in Hong Kong!)


  1. I LOVE this roundup, J! (esp the NYC comment on there being no place like it - couldn't agree more!). I'm overwhelmed at how much you've dedicated to this blogging; it's absolutely brilliant and I can't wait to go through it all in detail and relive your amazing experiences.

    It's a joy to see your shining success; you so deserve it.


  2. PS: sad to know the coffee in New York hasn't changed since I was there. Really sad. And great to hear London cabbies are still the best in the world! So loving this post.