Monthly Archives: August 2012

USA Tour: Day 7 – Las Vegas (26/06/12)

We gave ourselves a lie in…I went for a morning swim and then the plan was to go to NY NY where there is a rollercoaster. I am personally not keen on rollercoaster and Steph and Melissa kept trying to convince me to go…I chickened out.

I wanted to go to a pool party and according to Mel’s list of things to do in Vegas, Wet Republic @ MGM was the best one, but unfortunately as we discovered speaking to ticket scouts on the Strip a) you have to book your ticket a little in advance (another one of those things you are not really told) and Wet Republic was closed that day….so no Pool party for us…saying that it was probably better as it probably would have packed with half naked people drinking and well I am not that comfortable hanging around in a bikini…

We had a quick breakfast there (I am ashamed to say that I followed the crowds and got a Starbuck’s breakfast instead of the NY Deli style one I wanted – the queue was too long there…)

I have to admit that they know how to amaze people in Vegas, the reproduction of Little Italy in NY NY or Venice in the Venetian (see later on) was incredible…well at least I imagine it was as I haven’t actually seen either in real life…but it looked the part…

We spent the day walking up and down The Strip, in the heat of the day…dipping in and out of the famous casinos to cool down…it was really baking!

Inside the Belagio…

 

Why lie indeed…I don’t know if it worked for him but it made me giggle…

 

Outside the Belagios….

 

Outside the Caesar Palace…

we went in of course and we even had lunch in one of the burger joints…A little overpriced, but expected from such a high rolling environment…

The only casino I really wanted to see…appealed to my inner child …

 

The Venetian…the casino that impressed me the most…it was magical.

 

A small optical illusion….

 

Venice…indoors…This is the only Venice I have seen so far

 

A little opera to sooth the mind…

 

That night we decided to go gambling a little. We went back to the Caesar Palace. I had decided not to play more than $20…after I lost $8 at the slot machine, I gave up. Heather was on a lucky streak…she won $40 and only played $5! Good return. Steph tried his hand at Black Jack but it was too complicated and the start bet was too high to really get anywhere with it…We got bored quite quickly of all that and went back for an early night… Our next journey was going to take 9 hours!!!

Next Chapter: Yosemite National Park

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USA Tour: Day 6 – Las Vegas (25/06/12)

Getting into Vegas was like seeing part of my favourite TV show though (CSI).

And we are off again. To tell you the truth I can’t remember much about that ride.

Although I missed the shot, we also saw a “drive thru” wedding chapel! I mean how desperate are you that you can’t even get out of your car to get married???!

We got to our motel, the Best Western Mardis Gras (not sure what Mardis Gras has to do with Vegas, but who cares…). It’s nothing special, except it has a pool in the court yard and considering how sweltering the temperature was we all needed a swim…but not so fast for Melissa, Achim and me….we were in dire need of clothes/shoes as we had been told that we were going clubbing in fancy places that night and girls needed to dress up and guys no trainers allowed. Now why didn’t I think that we might need party clothes on this trip, I am not sure but I had the dress and the shoes in my hand, in my room…put them in the case and then decided…nah, won’t need that! Silly because now, we have to make a mad dash to one of the shopping centres of Vegas – Town Square…20 mins cab ride and we get to the shopping area…it’s huge and we have no idea where to go. Melissa and Achim latch out on the first shoe shop they see (I was the only one who needed a dress)…I was freaking out because all the shops I could see were Gucci, Versace etc…no way I was going in there! I decided to ask the shoe shop assistant and she directed me to…H&M! Yup went all the way to Vegas to shop at H&M! A bit sad really… I left the guys sorting out their shoes and made a dash for the shop to save time…we were on the clock as it was already 3pm and we also wanted a chance to go swim before heading out.

First round of the shop, I didn’t find anything suitable and was starting to panic…then bam! perfect little top with a pair of short leggings and for the fun I even got a pair shoes to go with! I had just paid when Melissa and Achim found me and he decided to buy a couple of shirts too. As we were coming out the shop thinking how we were going to get a cab back, when one pulled in front us to off load some passengers and he was more than happy not to leave empty.

When we got back to the motel, it was party round the pool…well not completely but music was blaring and the sun was shining…We had a few good giggle and added to the soundtrack of the holiday with Justin Bieber playing on a loop and One Direction becoming The Finisher’s tune…you had to be there.

Plan for the night festivities were dinner at a local Thai restaurant, with beer tower

and sharing all the food…we were at the end of the table so somehow, we didn’t get our money’s worth to tell you the truth (we had all put money in the kitty for that dinner and to pay for the limo…oh yes, we got ourself a limo!)…speaking of, the limo came to pick us up to take us up and down The Strip and around Vegas at night…we had all bought some alcohol from an off license beforehand so the party was on!

A party shot…

Caesar Palace fountain show…

We stopped there and got to see the whole 15 mins of it. It is done in time with a tune from the RatPack. I believe they change the tunes at every show, and I am ashamed to say that I can’t remember which one we had.

Paris by night…

New York by night…

Just to prove that I was there and to show off my outfit…no glitter but I felt cute in it 🙂 It is however annoying when people don’t know how to take picture…this one would have been better in portrait…would have cut out all the noise around…oh well.

I don’t have many pictures of that night, shamefully…not like Rachel who took about 200!! None of them deemed Facebook safe 🙂

After the limo tour, we went to the LAX night club where Melissa (the guide) had secured us some free entry…she had built it up to be this amazing place and it turned out to be pretty disappointing. It was small, girls were supposed to drink for free before midnight (anything we were told) but turned out it was only vodka based drinks, but not redbull…the bartenders were not nice and very slow so we only managed 2 drinks before midnight…there was no room to dance and shock of all shock, there is no smocking ban in the US so people were lighting up right, left and centre making it very unpleasant. We stayed there for a couple hours (if that). Long enough for a tall, black girl to offer Steph to teach him “how to dougie” which I found hilarious but he unfortunately declined. Now that would have been something to film!!

Some people decided to go home from there, others (us) went on to another club – XS @ Encore…unfortunately, as I was getting in the taxi, I jumped in a little too excitedly and hit my head on the door frame…it hurt really bad and made me moody…it was not help by the fact that I was just starting to enjoy myself at the first club and when we got to the new one, we lasted 30s on the dance floor because it was packed and they just stood in a corner near the bar…I wasn’t in a mood for more drinking so my happy mood just took a nose dive. At the first sign of someone wanting to go, I jumped in with and went to bed…some stayed and I had a night they don’t really remember 🙂 at least they had a good time…

The best part of that night was the cab ride between the 2 clubs. We got a really cookie dude who seemed to be high on something and just talked and talked randomly for the whole trip…

Next chapter: Las Vegas by day…

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USA Tour: Day 5 – The Grand Canyon (24/06/12)

Today is the day of my first helicopter ride! I am a little nervous as I can suffer from travel sickness but I have made sure that I have put my trust acupressure wrist bands.

First we have to go through the dreaded weighing…luckily it is kept discreet so only the cashier sees it. You get weighed so they can decide where to place you in the chopper to balance it all out…and boy did I get lucky! Not the heaviest but not the lightest either, so I ended up which what I think was the best seat in the house. front right with nearly a 180 view outside…

Left to right: Larry ” The Finisher”, Achim, Melissa, Me, Rachel and Lisa

The coolest profile picture I have had so far….

As I said before, there aren’t enough words to describe the experience…suffice to say that I loved every seconds of our 55 mins flight and wish it had been longer and that our pilot, although a thoroughly nice chap, had been a little more adventurous in his flying… I didn’t feel any motion sickness at all and instead I was awed and excited and amazed and even a little loss for words…believe me, that doesn’t happen very often.

Rick, our very competent pilot.

He had cool music playing on the headphones and he filmed the whole flight. We had decided to only buy one CD for the group and then copy it later as the DVD was about $20 and we thought it would be cheaper but I now regret I wasn’t the one to buy it as we didn’t get the chance to copy it whilst travelling and trying to sort this out now that we are all back home (and our group was very international).

So as they say a picture is worth a 1000 words…enjoy!

The Dragon tail

 

I have loads of them but I won’t bore you with more…You get the picture really (no pun intended actually) even if my images don’t always do it justice as I feel the colours are a little faded and they felt a lot more vivid in my memory. If you are going to the Grand Canyon, I really recommend that you splash out for the chopper tour, it is well worth it. And go for the long one (55 mins) as the price difference between and the 30 mns one isn’t huge and it is well worth it! I could have stayed up there forever…well maybe not forever but it definitely ended too soon for my liking.

Once back on the ground, we headed out to the park for a day of hikes, cycle treks or leisurely wanders (depending on the group). I went for the cycle myself as I could get my hiking fill at Yosemite and wanted to cover a variety of activities.

Bike rental is quite cheap actually and we took a half day rental. We elected to do the Hermit’s Rest trail which according to the guide takes 4hrs return. Now, a few words of advice: the Park prides itself for its environmentally friendly credentials and in most cases it works…except for their notion that you should buy refillable bottles instead of water bottles as there are water points throughout the park….that maybe so if you hike but it is not the case for the cycle tracks…except no one tells you that. We discovered it the hard way.

We set out enthusiastically with a 500ml bottle each first through the woods where we met some of the local wildlife.

An elk (for those like me, who are quite ignorant about these things). They are quite placid and you can get relatively close (within reasons) as they are quite used to humans.

Problems started with our first, and steepest hill. It took us about 20mins to “climb” it and nearly all of our water. We still thought at that stage that we could refill at the first view point….no such luck!

View from the first view point

The hiking trail view from across the gorge. Apparently it is as hard as it looks. The guys who decided to hike it really struggled with it (except for The Finisher who is just a hiking machine!), they had water refill station though…

Mr Piggy showing off…

Apparently I was quite a hit on that ledge. Well I say a hit…I mean people looked at me funny wondering what the hell I was doing lying on the floor trying to photograph a toy pig! Crazy people everywhere uh?

Left to right: Achim, Steph, Heather, Me, Melissa and Simon

At the top…having literally just made and getting ready to run for the water fountain! The first 500ml didn’t even register my lips and mouth were so parched!

Did they say refreshments? We had ice cream…we deserve it too!

Because it took us longer than expected to reach the top, if we wanted to be able to cycle back down, we needed to only have a short break before heading back. Melissa and I couldn’t face it, Achim and Simon decided to wait with us, Steph and Heather braved it…

Having decided to take the bus back, we had time to have a picnic, check out the souvenir shop (I bought a lovely native american inspired silver necklace in the shape of a dreamcatcher and some photo prints) and a few pictures to show we were there…

Buses there were awesome as you could attach your bike at the front. Unfortunately they could only take 3 of them at a time and we were 4. So we split in 2 groups. Melissa and I went first. It was a busy bus, so we didn’t sit together. I was sitting next to a few oldies and a nice old man started chatting to me. I have to say it was hard to concentrate on the conversation as the heat and exhaustion were finally catching up to me and as I naturally feel sleepy on buses, I felt my head droop a couple times.

We couldn’t stay on the bus the whole way back, so we still had to cycle the forest bit, only problem was that we had followed Steph on the way up so we weren’t totally sure of the way back. Luckily I do have a good sense of direction. I can’t read a map, but I have a good memory of landscape, particularly if I have done the route at least once….I did good, only took one wrong turn and I realised pretty much straight away.

We got back to the bike shop with 15 mins to spare on our booking and Steph and Heather had only been waiting for 20 mins. We joined them to wait for Achim and Simon who got back a little after time was up.

We were exhausted at this stage so decided to head back to the hotel and take a swim in the pool before going out to dinner. Simon decided to try and do part of the Angel hike (crazy dude!) and once back, Achim went to the Imax cinema. Steph, Heather, Melissa and I went to eat at the Yippee-ei-o!! steakhouse in Tusayan. We fancied trying a little western style. The menu was quite limited but for starters we decided to be adventurous…well Steph convinced us that it was a good idea to try rattlesnake…we weren’t totally convinced but as we were all sharing it, we thought ok…let’s do this….

Deep fried rattlesnake – before

Tucking in…

After….it was seriously foul!

No meat, lots of bones and the batter tasted old…basically we didn’t eat much on that and we were quite happy to see the rest of the dinner show up to take the bad taste away

12 oz steak with beans, corn on the cob, jacket potato and a salad…I left the sides out well except of the salad and potato and gave the steak a run of its money…still I couldn’t finish it. Lot of meat there.

After dinner we decided to go for a quick drink at the taqueria next to the hotel…for the first time, I had made the mistake of forgetting my passport. I still amuses me to get carded before I can order an alcoholic beverage….the waiter could obviously tell that I was way older than 21 so let me off and I had a beer. The day was taking its toll though, the conversation was quite sparse and the eyelids heavy…we didn’t linger too long before heading back to bed.

Next Chapter: Vegas Baby!

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USA Tour: Day 4 – Route 66 and the Grand Canyon (23/06/12)

Now nothing spells luxury and holiday for me like the chance to have a swim first thing in the morning! There isn’t much in Lake Havasu as I said and we said in a fairly non descript motel…but it had a pool and because it’s so darn hot down there, by 7am it was just about lovely to take a swim!

Then, it was on the road again….to one of the most picturesque stop we had…Some random road side station on Route 66 in Huckberry…

Inside the ladies in service station on Route 66…

Mr Piggy on Route 66!

The diner inside the gas station….Route 66 – Huckberry

Mr Piggy’s fancy car….

Some of the locals

Anyone for a ride?

Watch the road…

License and registration….no Ma’am though.

After an interesting and colourful stop at the gas station, we carried on. On this journey, we got pulled over by the police for speeding (well Mel did, bless her) and boy do those cops lack a sense of humour. He never looked at us, kept his shades on and hand on his gun at all times!!! Actually he made us nervous.

For lunch we stopped at the funniest diner ever. In the middle of nowhere so the folks there do whatever they can to entertain themselves…sometimes at the expense of their customers…but always in a friendly manner so you don’t hold it against them really

The wall of fame….

Check out the Cheeseburger…here they serve it with or without cheese…truth!!

The Finisher after he asked for a small coke! They pretended to squirt ketchup out of the bottle to my face…of course, it was empty but I still squealed…to everybody’s delight.

I got cheese with mine and everyone got a smiley in their basket….cute!

We don’t who Bob is but I bet a few people would like to be him…:)

After lunch, rest of the journey was uneventful and we arrived at Tusayan, the closest town to the Grand Canyon National Park. We were staying at the Red Feather Lodge, which thankfully also had a pool.

We were supposed to go take a helicopter ride above the Canyon on arrival but being stopped by the police delayed us and when we arrived we were told that the flights in the afternoon had been cancelled anyway as it was too windy…did we want to take the early morning one the next day? Hell yeah!

We chilled by the pool until it got too cold and then we went to watch the sun set on the Canyon whilst eating pizza….

Happy to be here!

The boys checking how deep it is….

There is really no words to describe how small and insignificant you feel when the Grand Canyon is first revealed to you….you think you understand the scale but there is nothing this big on Europe…and the beauty of it at sunset…you feel special experiencing it.

Next Chapter: The Grand Canyon…full tilt.

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USA Tour: Day 3 – Lake Havasu (22/06/12)

Another day, another early departure and the chaffing of the van seat really didn’t help…I know, my fault.

So we set out for a looonnng drive to Lake Havasu, AZ.

Lunch at Chipotle, somewhere on the way…Massive burritos there!

 

Unforgiving Arizona landscape….we drove really close to the Mexican border and it felt real hot!

 

After a long drive in desertic landscapes, it was nice to take a dive in the lake…actually a crook in the Colorado River. The water was cool and the beer got hot quickly :(…

 

There isn’t much in Lake Havasu but they have a reproduction of London Bridge…for some obscure reason!

 

Nice sunset though…although you don’t get to see much of me…

 

All we did in there was go have dinner…

I think there is a whole chicken in my salad….they really don’t do half portions!

 

After dinner, we strolled back leisurely and went straight to bed…my sunburns were starting to feel about bearable!

Next chapter: The Grand Canyon via Route 66

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USA Tour: Day 2 – San Diego (21/06/12)

Despite our short night, we were all up bright and early. Breakfast at the hostel was quite awesome. The place has of course its own kitchen, so those who want to have their own food can but it provides the basics for a nice start of the day: toast, fruits, coffee, muffins…and for those who fancied a little cooking, they had pancake batter at the ready, all you had to do was cook it yourself….I chickened out and went for toast and fruits. I did regret not making a couple pancakes but I made up for it later on during the trip…

Breakfast done, we had a little time to get ready and during that time we arranged for our tickets for Alcatraz in San Fran – now here is a little parenthesis for those who plan to go to the Rock whilst in Frisco….BOOK EARLY! We were a week away from the day we had a free day there and yet, there were no more availability going straight to Alcatraz, we had to book it via a cruise company (which, by the way, charges you twice the price as you have to go to Angel Island too). We managed to snatch a few tickets but some of the guys were left wanting… – parenthesis closed.

Day 2 in SD was a semi free day…what it means is we had the choice of activities…going to the zoo or going to the beach with Melissa…I opted for the beach! I mean, I know SD Zoo is quite popular and famous but a zoo is a zoo and I didn’t come all the way to Cali to miss out on beach time!

We dropped the guys to the zoo and the rest of us sun bums went to Mission Beach…Nice place, a bit windy and so darn hot…I made the mistake of not reapplying sunscreen often enough and by the end of the day, I was thoroughly and painfully sunburnt!

Mission Beach, San Diego

Mission Beach, San Diego

A little Baywatch…

After beach relaxation…Rooftop terrace at LoungeSix (J St)

That beer I had on that lovely roof top was well needed after the heat of the beach. However, we were on a stroll through town so we only stayed for one and moved on…We ended up walking back to Westfield Shopping Centre which was surprisingly picturesque.

Westfield Rooftop

Ever fancied being in a hurricane? Well wonder no more, try the Hurricane Simulator!!

 

Apparently aussie G’Day is the same as saying welcome…didn’t know that, I thought it meant hello! 🙂

 

And that is the healthy dinner I had that night at a Mediterranean restaurant…it was absolutely delicious! (@Bandar Restaurant, 4th St). The decor of the place was also quite cool, modern.

 

After dinner we moved to the famous Tipsy Crow bar (next door), by then my sunburns were killing me. I felt I was cooking from the inside out…or the outside in! Couldn’t find a comfortable position. We played some pool in the upstairs bar for a while then went back downstairs…when some of the guys started to play some board games (well Connect 4 and Jenga) I gave up and went to bed. Turns out that everyone carried on for a while and they even went dancing. Boo! Saying that, I was in so much pain that I didn’t really sleep much and woke up still glowing a sickly shade of pink! I definitely wasn’t looking forward to the long drive to Lake Havasu (which, by the way is in Arizona and one of the hottest place I have ever been!!)…

Next Chapter: Lake Havasu, AZ

 

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USA Tour: Day 1 – El Segundo to San Diego (20/06/12)

We had drinks and dinner at the hotel’s restaurant. It was a really interesting place with a fair amount of locals (which is strange for a hotel really) and with weekly dance classes. Whilst we were eating (in the dark as the area was very badly lit), some people were taking dance lessons (ballroom style) in the centre of the restaurant. Still it was very nice to catch up with all my future fellow travellers and get to know them a bit.

Western USA BLT Trekkers @ The Grand Canyon, June 2012
Top row: Stephan (The Netherlands)
Middle row (left to right): James (England); Heather (Sctoland), Simon (Germany), Achim (Germany), Melissa (Scotland), Eleanor (NZ), Rachel (England), Lisa (NZ), Me (France via London)
Front row: Pam (Australia), Natasha (England)
(Ages varied from 21 to 38 and apparently even Mel – guide – was amazed how we all got on together…of course there were mini groups with more affinities within be overall, there hasn’t been any drama

We were set to all meet at 7.30am in the hotel lobby by our tour guide. She had left instructions on the notice board and wanted us on time…We were all there waiting, introducing ourselves to each other (those who weren’t there the night before at least) when she strolled in…30 mins late, seeping on on Starbuck frappuccino, Raybans on, straightened hair and long skirt on…She was definitely not what I expected a tour guide to look like! And then she opened her mouth and sounded so New York, it was like being in the movies!

After all the formalities of signing in, giving insurance details and signing off responsibility, we packed up the trailer and set off in the van that was going to be our “home” for the next 2 weeks. First stop, San Diego.

Now, I don’t know much about San Diego and I haven’t done any research on it so I had no expectation about it. I just knew it had a famous Zoo and that’s pretty much it.

It took us about 3 hours to get there, with a quick pit stop for breakfast. We got into town to drop off the trailer briefly and then we were on the road again. This time, we were heading out to Old Town San Diego for a spot of lunch and to see one of the old pioneer town.

First american lunch at Coyote y Cantina, Old Town (San Diego) – I had been told that the portions were out of this world and I did give it a good try but I failed to finish my delicious chicken chimichanga.

After lunch, we took a walk in town – there isn’t much to see to be fair, except for a few tourist shops and some reconstructed pioneer village

We only wandered around for an hour or so and the one thing I remember vividly is how hot it was there, which after weeks of cold, miserable and wet weather in the UK was welcome.

After Old Town, we headed to our hostel (USA Hostel), located in the middle of Gaslamp district. This was one of the few hostels we were going to stay. Most of our trip was going to be in motels. The hostel itself is really cute and the decor is quite funky. We had to split randomly into 3 mixed rooms, which gave us the opportunity to get to know each other a little better in a smaller group setting. Actually, I ended up hanging out with the guys (and girls) from that room a lot more than with others…not sure if it was because it was the first night or just because I got lucky to be with people I had more affinities with from the start…

USA Hostel, Gaslamp district, entrance hallway.

After we got our things in our rooms and put on our swim suits, we headed back out to Coronado Island to sun ourselves and for the first chance to take a dip in the Pacific ocean.

Mr Piggy

Mr Piggy’s first outing on Coronado Island. He was quite a hit. At first, my travel mates were a little taken aback. After all, they had only just met me and they probably thought I was a tad cuckoo… but by the end of the trip, everybody would ask me if Mr Piggy got his picture taken.

I liked Coronado Island. It was nice and clean, what I expected of a Californian beach with Baywatch style lifeguards’ towers (see below)

It was also my first opportunity for a bit a artsy photography

However, only a few brave ones went to taste the water. The Pacific is surprisingly cold and I chickened out. I bet Melissa regretted going in considering she had forgotten her towel and she spent the rest of our time on the beach shivering uncontrollably, poor thing.

After a couple hours on the beach, we went back to the hostels for some showers and the chance to explore the city a little before we were due to meet up for dinner.

I had a couple things I wanted to buy, like a baseball cap as I hadn’t taken a hat with me and some sunscreen as I had to borrow some. There wasn’t many places you could shop around there. Lots of bars and restaurants in Gaslamp but unless you want to go into the big shopping centre, not many other options.

I was well excited with my cap as it spells my initial and practically lived in it as the sun was really strong out there.

After shopping and shower, I was ready to have a drink and found out that the 2 other girls from my room, Scottish girls who were travelling together, were up to join me. We didn’t go very far as we only had about an hour before dinner time, so we went to Whisky Girl which is literally at the bottom of our hostels.

Things got really funny quite quick there as I somehow caught the attention of a very drunk Canadian naval guy (not up with my naval terminology) who just decided to sit down next to me and kept hooking me by the neck. Heather and Melissa were literally in tears just watching me trying to keep him at a distance but still stay friendly (you never know). I didn’t realise that San Diego was such a big naval town but I guess with 2 naval academy/bases around, you are bound to bump into some navy boys…didn’t expect to meet some from Canada though 🙂

Me and a very drunk Canadian Navy boy named Andrew (I think!) @ Whisky Girl, San Diego.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thankfully time to meet the rest of the group for dinner had arrived and left the Canadians blokes continue their rampage. It didn’t take them long to find new willing female companions I can tell you!

We had dinner at a place called Sloppy Joe, which is half Italian half American, at least according to their menu or it was seriously confused. Place was a walking distance from our hostel. Dinner was nice but the early start of the day was starting to show. However, as it was our first proper night out, we weren’t going to head home so soon. Melissa (our tour guide, not the Scottish lass) had a place for us to go drinking and dancing to start….and we ended up at the Whisky Girl! It was quite amusing really, although our Canadian friends had disappeared…

So we ended up back at the Whisky Girl (on 5th/G St –  for those interested). We were meant to stay there for only the one drink and then move on to the next bar but in the end, we stayed as we ended up having a good old time. Shortly after we arrived they started to remove the tables and the DJ started playing some tunes and before long we were all dancing (some more successfully than others!). We got some interesting chat up lines, like “Hi, I have a room. Do you want to get out of here?”. I am not sure if the line works generally but it really gave us a good giggle and something to talk about for the whole of the trip.

As it stands, I danced my little booty off until not so much of the small hours, but it was close to 2am when we all decided to head back up. Our rooms were right on the street with no double glazing so I was quite happy that I don’t travel without my silicon ear plugs and my eye mask these days. I had a good night sleep which more than I can say for the rest of the room.

Few weeks have gone now since I have been back and this first night is still the best I had all the whole trip (with our last night in Santa Barbara coming second).

Next chapter: Day 2 – San Diego….Mission Beach

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USA Tour: Taking off to The City of Angels (19/06/12)

The day has finally arrived!

I said goodbye to my colleagues on the Friday as the timing of my holiday couldn’t have been better. My contract was ending where I was working for the past year and a few weeks before my holiday I was offered a great job, to start on my return! Now the stars don’t align like that all the time do they?!

So after a well drowned leaving party (with my new favourite drink : vodka slimlight soda) and two intense days of last minute shopping and packing, I was ready to take off!

I am a nervous traveller generally. By nervous, I mean I stress that I will be late, have forgotten my passport or be stuck at security check for some random thing I have forgotten to take out of my bag. I check, double check and trebble check every thing…I fret nervously in the train going to airport and I panic if I don’t see my gate straight away… Nothing ever happened but I can’t help it…unless I travel in a group and then I let others stress themselves.

This trip was no exception, particularly because it was my first time going to the US and I had heard so many stories about going through customs over there which didn’t make me all too relaxed.

Getting to the airport and through security was without incident…maybe all that stressing was for nothing or allowed me to have everything ready…

At my gate, I was waiting excitedly to embark when I noticed a guy sitting casually on the floor with his guitar (and about half a dozen bags!)…He looked familiar but I couldn’t place him for a while. I kept looking back at him (hopefully discreetly enough) and then I had my “smack my forehead” moment…I was in the presence of a minor celebrity! I say minor as I don’t think that many people know him (I commented about it on my Facebook status and only one of my friends knew who I was referring to); he actually might like it to be referred to being minor…anyway, this was the TV actor Ben Bass whom I knew from the TV show “Rookie Blues” (Canadian series) and I suddenly got even more excited. I am not big on celebrity spotting and I didn’t actually go to him with the “OMG! You are Ben Bass, aren’t you? I love your show, can I have your picture?”…I was quite happy to share the moment with my friends on Facebook (and now here) without making a fool of myself to the man, who probably wanted to travel quietly. Still I couldn’t help but wonder what he had been doing in London and kept sneaking looks at him, grinning stupidly to myself!

Ben Bass

Imagine how delighted I was when after boarding I discovered he was sitting in my aisle, one sit away from me!! Because of his million bags, he literally filled the bin above our seats so I got to speak to him and he helped me put my own bag in another locker. I was chuffed and feeling like a teenager. My delight was short lived when he got upgrade to premium eco seat to make room for a family so they could sit together. Still, as I said to the only friend who knows who he is “he touched my bag!!”…I know, I know he is hardly Brad Pitt but that made my day nonetheless!

Rest of the journey was quite uneventful. I watched a few movies, deciding that it wouldn’t be a good thing to sleep. I landed at around 1pm in LAX and started getting nervous again…It was time to go through Customs and all the awful stories I had heard were coming back to me.

There was quite a queue for the non US passport holders so I bid my time. Apparently I was lucky it went quite quick as I only had to wait for 45 mins for my turn (a lot of the other members of what would be my Trek group had to wait over an hour). Still I was quite happy when my turn came, I was bored and starting to feel the lack of sleep. I had had time to see what was requested of people so I felt a little more confident stepping in front the custom officer….and then my day was made all over again! The officer was a short guy in his 50s at least with a good 70s moustache and he is first words to me as I stepped in front of him after having travelled about 10 hrs in an eco seat were “Hello, wow you are gorgeous. Are you a model?”. Now there is no way you stay tired or grumpy after such a welcome! Of course, he probably says that to all the women under 50 he gets but that is not the point. Throughout our little chat, he kept staring at me and repeating how beautiful he thought I was and how I should definitely be a model…which obviously gave my ego a massive boost and gave a spring to my step when I left (about 10 mins later). This was the quickest “interview” I ever had and I couldn’t understand why so many people had bad experience with the process. I obviously got lucky.

Getting to my hotel (the one used by TrekAmerica for their tour departure) was quite easy as it was located about 10 min drive from LAX and they had a regular shuttle bus picking up passengers. In less than 30 mins after I picked my suitcase I was checked in my room, had met my room mate Aisleen (who was going on another Trek) and in the shower!

Trek has a very well organise system in which you can get in touch with the people who are registered in the same tour as you before you set off so I had already been in contact with a few of my future travel buddies to check when people were getting in and we had all agreed to meet up in the lobby that evening to go for a drink and dinner.

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USA Tour: The planning…

It is not an easy thing to write about a trip that you have been back from for a few weeks already. I always set with the best intentions on keeping a log of the daily activities and try to post to the blog whilst travelling but I always end up not having the time or the energy to put down the words.
So here I am, 6 weeks at least after I got back and decide to try to record what I can remember. I am sure, some of the memories will have faded and some will now be tainted with further knowledge but it is still fresher than in 10 years time when I really won’t remember all the details…

It all started last year, when I decided I had enough of waiting around for my friends to be available or ready to travel with me to the States. I mean, this is hardly a trip you want to do on your own, but at the same time, trying to convince 2 or 3 people to take 3 weeks off and commit to travelling together for that length of time can be tricky. I had been hoping that at some point I’d meet someone with whom I could do it but unfortunately it hasn’t happened yet. Then the last couple years have been tricky with all the recession issues, the being made redundant and the not having the guarantee of a permanent job for the following months…I kept telling myself, next year I’ll do it… Last year, I threw caution to the wind and decided it was now or never (well maybe not never, but basically the time was right) for me to take the plunge and go visit the country I had been dreaming about since I was 15! Growing up I wanted nothing more than to go to California, especially LA as all of my favourite shows were based there and I had a very glamorous view of it.
Living in the UK and having travelled a little and met incredible (and sometimes not so much so) people from around the world, I have had the chance to re-evaluate where I wanted to go…California was still where I wanted to go, but I had changed my desired city to San Francisco, having heard that LA isn’t as exciting as TV shows make it sound.

So, the decision was made…I was going to go and wanted to go to California. I also knew that the lasted I wanted was to travel alone…I hate that. I am not as adventurous as I would like to be and I have often admired and envied those people who can just pack up a rucksack and go travel on their own. The truth is I get scared easily and therefore I knew I needed to do a group thing. However, I didn’t want to end up in a group with only couples or pensioners so I had to choose my operator carefully….lucky for me, I came across TrekAmerica very quickly and from the get go, I felt that this was the solution for me. The Westerner2 BLT tour they offered seemed to be ticking all my boxes: visiting a few places in California, including SF -tick; Grand Canyon -tick, small group -tick, good for independent travellers – tick, 18-38 age group -tick! It only took me a week of ermm-ing and aah-ing before I confirmed the booking and then the long wait started.
The trip was booked for June 2012 and we were in Nov 2011!!

 

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