Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Goodbye USA

Left New Orleans on Saturday night. There's so much more to NOLA than just the French Quarter/Bourbon Street and I wish I could have stayed there much longer. Had my flight to Canada not been booked I would have done just that!

Kerry and I were back at the USA Hostel in Hollywood for our last two days in America. Went to the Whiskey and Viper Room on Sunday night, and then saw Steel Panther at the Key Club on Monday night. The Steel Panther show was crazy - I have never seen anything like it (and I don't think I ever will). We also managed to fit in a couple of tours during the day. First was a walking tour around Bel Air and Beverly Hills, where we saw a ton of celebrity homes (including the Playboy Mansion and the house that Michael Jackson died in) and then we finished up on Rodeo Drive. Second was a tour of the Warner Bros. studios in Burbank (someone we met in San Diego had suggested doing this). Excellent tour!!! I have a photo of myself sitting on the Central Perk couch used in Friends (will post later)...

And now I'm sitting at LAX ready to say goodbye to sunny LA and hello to cold Vancouver.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Well I am stuffed! Today is Thanksgiving and our hostel had a free lunch full of turkey, chicken, roast vegies, pumpkin and pecan pie, which we had in the backyard. It felt like Christmas day to me. The weather was warm and everyone shared drinks and travel stories. I have no clue where the afternoon went...

French Quarter & Tipitina's

Travelled by streetcar down Canal Street (same as San Francisco's cable car but much cheaper at $1.25) and visited the French Quarter yesterday. This is the oldest neighbourhood in New Orleans and it's a very touristy area. I had a delicious shrimp creole for lunch on Bourbon Street. I LOVE Bourbon Street - it's full of bars, restaurants and shops, and there are no dry zones so you're allowed to drink anywhere you like (in fact the whole of New Orleans is like that). I would love to be here during a festival, I just think it would be so much fun! Kerry and I spent most of the afternoon in the French Quarter, browsing in shops on both Bourbon and Royal streets. So many of them sell Mardi Gras beads and Voodoo dolls. I didn't buy anything.

Further north of the French Quarter is the oldest cemetery in New Orleans, the Saint Louis Cemetery #1. The cemeteries in New Orleans have always been tourist attractions - the above ground tombs make them unique from most others. We were told not to go on our own because the #1 cemetery is located next to a violent public housing project and muggings/assaults are common within the cemetery grounds. Kerry and I used common sense (i.e. we went together, we didn't have our purses on show) and we were fine. I thought the place was fascinating - I loved it! Many famous people are buried there (including Voodoo practictioner Marie Laveau).

Later that night we went to a bar called Tipitina's in uptown New Orleans. One of the girls in our hostel (Anna) was going there to see Anders Osborne (a rock/blues musician) and asked if Kerry and I wanted to come along. What a fun night!!! Anders and his band played some awesome southern rock for over two hours. Then, to top it all off, they invited a special guest to play guitar on a few songs...turned out to be Pepper Keenan!!! (he plays in the bands Corrosion of Conformity and Down). I love Down so I was stoked to see him up there. I was buzzing!!!!!!!!! After the show finished around 2am, Anna, Kerry and I went to a cafe for some beignet. Anna was driving back to Iowa that morning so she wanted to have some before she left (she'd been bragging about this dessert so I thought I'd try some too). Beignet is a deep fried dough covered in powdered sugar. Very yummy - a great way to end the night.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

New Orleans

Up early Tuesday morning for the first flight out of Miami (6:20am). Four hours and two plane trips later we had arrived in New Orleans.

The drive from the airport to the hostel was a real eye opener. Roads were bumpy and full of potholes, footpaths were cracked and uneven, houses were falling apart and abandoned...it looked like a third world country. We're staying in a place called India House, which is an old two story house converted into a hostel. It's in a residential area (just off the busy Canal street) and has a quiet and relaxed vibe to it. I had an afternoon snooze then met some of the people staying here. The weather is warm in NOLA and that evening we spent some time in the hostel backyard and ate Gumbo for dinner. Gumbo is a traditional New Orleans cajun stew - there are variations but the one we had was dark in colour and with sausage. Okra was used as the thickener. Everyone agreed it was good Gumbo!

I didn't leave the hostel that night. By 10pm I was tired and in bed. A few of us are going to see a blues singer tonight (can't remember his name). I love live music so I'm really looking forward to it!

Key West

Thank god I had a day away from Miami! I hate to whinge but the same old routine (beach then club, beach then club) was getting boring. It also seemed like the good people were leaving the hostel and the annoying people were arriving. I could kill the four Chinese girls we shared a room with.....but that's another story.

Key West is about a 3 hour drive south of Miami. Kerry and I were the only ones from our hostel that did this tour. On our way there we passed the Everglades (swamp land) and some major islands in the Florida Keys (Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon and Big Pine). We arrived in Key West around 11am - the island is beautiful and so was the weather. Three cruise ships had arrived that day so the place was packed with tourists. After lunch and some shopping, Kerry and I signed up for a snorkeling tour called "Reefs & Ritas" (I didn't get the "Ritas" part until later). The 50 minute catamaran ride was rocky, but thankfully I didn't feel sick! The water was warm but choppy, and I struggled a little trying to snorkel whilst being lifted up and then down by the waves (some people considered it too rough and refused to go in). I'm happy I went in because seeing the coral and hundreds of colorful fish was amazing. On the boat ride back they served us Margaritas (so that's what the "Ritas" part meant!!!) and after 3 three cups I was ready to fall asleep.

Prior to leaving Key West I bought a slice of key lime pie (so many people had said this is a must when visiting the island). WOW! It was so delicious and not as tangy as I had expected. After that it was back on the bus for a 3 hour drive back to Miami. Looking back I would have liked to have spent less time in Miami and more time in the Florida Keys. Nevermind, maybe I'll get back there again someday.


Finally I have internet! Now I can blog about Miami.

Arrived Tuesday afternoon on the 16th November. We stayed at the Miami Beach International Travellers Hostel which is about two blocks from South Beach. The hostel was great value for money - excellent location, free meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and a TV in the room too! So many young party people and it's definitely the kind of place where you DON'T get much sleep. Kerry and I decided to extend our stay another 4 nights.

Tuesday night was a big one. About 40 of us took 2 limos to a local club (with VIP entry thanks to the hostel). The clubs stay open until 5am - every night is a Saturday night in Miami. I woke up with such a bad hangover on Wednesday. Spent the morning at the beach and then the afternoon in bed. Needless to say I was out of action Wednesday night.

Thursday, Friday and Saturday were much the same - beach during the day and a club at night (but no more hangovers). On Saturday night a huge group of hostel people went to the club Mansion. This is supposed to be one of the top 5 clubs in the world. Roger Sanchez was dj-ing that night so the place was packed. Such a great night, but I was so exhausted by the end.

By Sunday I was a little over Miami. I only spent an hour at the beach and the rest of the time at the hostel. Didn't go out that night because we booked a tour to Key West the following morning, which left at 7am. Plus my liver can't take any more alcohol.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


EPCOT was the second (and last) Disney World park we visited. This one is more adult friendly - there's a huge section of the park (known as the World Showcase) that sells food and product from Canada, the UK, France, Morocco, Japan, the US, Italy, Germany, China, Norway and Mexico. Countries are easily identifiable by their buildings i.e. you know you're in France when you see the Eiffel Tower, or in England when you see the red telephone box. The people who work in these shops are all from these countries, and they put on various performances during the day (which are fantastic!). Amongst the buildings were many small carts left over from the recent international food and wine festival. There was an Australian cart and I noticed on the menu they'd had lamb, barramundi and lamingtons, as well as wine from Rosemount and Penfolds. I would kill for a lamington right now.

We are leaving Orlando this morning and heading further south to Miami. We'll be there for the next three days. The weather will be even warmer (high 20s) but they did forecast rain :(

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Magic Kingdom

Disney World: HUGE! Six theme parks and twenty three resorts on 30,000 acres. Took a bus, monorail and ferry just to get to one park, the Magic Kingdom.

Yesterday was a looooong day. We left our hotel around 10:00am and got back around midnight (that's a long time to be on your feet and surrounded by so many kids). The Magic Kingdom at Disney World is the same as Disneyland in Anaheim. The rides we covered were: it's a small world, Splash Mountain, The Magic Carpets of Aladdin, Space Mountain, Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, Mad Tea Party, Tomorrowland Speedway, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and Haunted Mansion. We stayed for the fireworks show over Cinderella's Castle - it was fantastic - loved the flying Tinkerbell.

I woke up this morning with a cold, probably from being in wet clothes yesterday afternoon (thanks Splash Mountain). Going to rest-up today. Hoping I feel better for EPCOT (another Disney World park) tomorrow.


Friday, November 12, 2010


Spent the past 3 days staying in Charleston, and there's three things that really sum up this city...churches, old houses and sweetgrass baskets. The weather has been really nice here - in the low 20s and sunny. Very happy I don't have to wear gloves and a coat!

Staying in the historical district meant it was easy to get around and visit points of interest. I loved wandering the cobblestone streets and seeing the old buildings and mansions (there are soooooo many old mansions here). Went to the Old Slave Mart Museum on Tuesday - this was the exact location where slaves were auctioned off during the 1800's. It reminded me of a man's will that I saw at a museum in DC. He had left his house, money and "slave" to his wife (slaves were considered property of course). I thought the OSMM covered Charleston's slave trade history well, but I also thought the admission fee was a little pricey. Later that afternoon we went to the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon to hear stories of early settlement, pirates, and civil war. Everyone that worked there was dressed in old costume, and stepping into the place felt like stepping back 300 years. Beneath the building was a dungeon that held many a pirate. Most were later hanged and their heads placed on wooden stakes and displayed by the harbour (as a warning to other pirates). Ewww.

The following day we did a cruise around the harbour on the Carolina Belle. The highlight of the cruise was seeing a pod of dolphins around the Fort Sumter area. Unfortunately my camera's battery died before I could get a good photo. After the cruise we visited the markets between Meeting and East Bay streets - this place was full of sweetgrass baskets - it seemed like every other person was selling them. I didn't buy anything (not a big fan of markets). For dinner we went to a place called Sticky Fingers for some delicious southern cooking. The meat was dripping with barbeque sauce, and they give you a towel in lieu of a napkin because it gets that messy!!!

Last day in Charleston was a quiet one. Spent the afternoon walking/jogging the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge (I needed it after last night's dinner). The bridge was a long one, and by the time we got to the other side it was time to turn back. Had an early night last night and was up at 3:00am ready to catch a 5:00am train to Orlando. I'm supposed to be on it right now but it turns out a trespasser boarded somewhere in North Carolina and authorities had to be called, therefore delaying the train. They say it should be here at 7:30am. I'm so tired....

"Rainbow Row" - the buildings are typical Charleston, but the colours are something different.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

D.C. Museums

D.C. is full of free museums, many of them part of the Smithsonian Institution (the world's largest complex of museums). This was my last day in D.C. so I had to be picky and choose just one to visit in the morning - I chose the National Museum of American History. One of my reasons for choosing this was that I wanted to see the "First Ladies at the Smithsonian" exhibition - a collection of gowns, shoes and jewellery worn by President's wives. There was a room that had all the inauguration dresses worn by the First Ladies, from Mamie Eisenhower to Michelle Obama. My favourites were Nancy Reagan's and Jackie Kennedy's (least favourite was Barbara Bush's). Quite an impressive exhibit.

That afternoon I checked out the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (not part of the Smithsonian). The layout of the museum was really good and the exhibits were really intense and visually engaging. There was a lot of reading to do and that became difficult with the crowds, but I had all afternoon so I was able to take my time. I wouldn't say I "enjoyed" the museum (definitely not the right word to use) but it was informative and well worth a look. I was very surprised by the number of parents that were there with their kids, given that there were so many graphic images/videos (particularly the footage of Josef Mengele's experiments). I wouldn't let anyone under 13 in there, but each to their own I guess.

So that was my second full day (and last day) in Washington, DC. Tomorrow we head further south on a 9 hour train ride to Charleston in South Carolina. Looking forward to it!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

D.C. Monuments

First full day in Washington, DC - it was exhausting, but a good one! Our hostel organised a free walking tour with a local volunteer named Jeff.  Now, I've done "free" walking tours before and they normally ask for tips at the end, but Jeff insisted that we hold on to our money. I was ok with that. We started the tour at 9am and visited many significant sites including:
  • The White House
  • Washington, Jefferson, F.D. Roosevelt and Lincoln monuments
  • Korean War, Vietnam War and WWII memorials

I was really impressed by the monuments honouring the Presidents. Out of all of them my favourite was F.D. Roosevelt's (I liked the water features it had). By the time the tour ended it was 1:30pm (that's 4.5 hours of walking!!!) so Kerry and I grabbed some lunch then caught the subway to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. We wandered around for about 2 hours visiting the grave of President Kennedy, Tomb of the Unknowns, Tomb of Unknown Civil War Dead, and Arlington House. Got some great views of D.C. from the cemetery too. We also planned on heading to the Pentagon but by the time we were ready to leave it was late, so we headed back to the hostel instead. Plus it's Saturday night...which means pub crawl night...I don't want to miss out on that!

The Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.
This was taken on the steps where Martin Luther King gave his famous
"I have a dream" speech.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Arrived in Philadelphia yesterday afternoon. The hostel we're staying in is called Apple Hostel - it's in an excellent location, just a few blocks from Independence Hall.  We arrived just in time for a free pasta dinner (woo hoo)! Went to a couple of pubs last night (one had karaoke) but decided to head back early as we only have one full day here and we want to make the most of it.

Philadelphia is really nice - many old buildings and historical icons remain in the city today. Spent the morning wandering the streets and saw Betsy Ross' House (she's credited with making the first American flag), Elfreth's Alley (one of the oldest continuously inhabited residential streets in the country) and the Christ Church (where Benjamin Franklin is buried). Later on we went to the Independence National Historical Park and saw both the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall (Independence Hall is where the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were drafted and signed). After that Kerry headed back to the hostel and I headed up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to see City Hall, the Love Park and Logan Square. By the time I got to the Museum of Art it was 4pm and there was no way I'd have enough time to view the gallaries BUT...I did manage to get a picture of the outside steps which were used in the film Rocky (yes THOSE steps). I thought that was pretty cool!!!

So that was my day in Philly! I managed to do all this in the pouring rain AND find time to eat a cheesesteak (at Jim's, one of the best in the city). What an accomplishment :)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Wicked and Goodbye to New York

Yesterday was our last full day in New York. This afternoon we head to Philadelphia - it's a 2 hour bus ride and it's costing us $8 each to get there. Bargain!

Like starbucks and cops, another thing New York has a lot of are street vending carts with people selling hot dogs. Yesterday I had my first hot dog in NY - delicious (I actually bought two, they were that good). After all this pizza and the hot dogs we've had, Kerry and I decided to go for a run around Central Park. We spent the next couple of hours running and walking and I felt a lot better for it. Kerry managed to use the gym at the YMCA for another couple of hours ... I on the otherhand was exhausted.

That evening we went to see the Broadway show Wicked. It tells the story of both the wicked witch (Elphaba) and the good witch (Glinda), characters in The Wizard of Oz. They portrayed Elphaba as misunderstood and actually a kind witch, with Glinda being kind too but very self-absorbed. It was fantastic and the props were spectacular! I'm going to miss Broadway and New York a lot :(

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Wendy Williams Show

I was on TV today!

Kerry and I have been watching a fair bit of TV since arriving in the USA, and one show we've enjoyed is "The Wendy Williams Show." The live show, hosted by Wendy, airs weekdays from 10:00am-11:00am and is filmed in NYC. Tickets are FREE so we went online last Wednesday and were able to get a couple for the show on Monday (today). We had to be at the set by 8:00am (they had donuts and coffee ready for us) and we were seated around 9:30am. Being a member of the studio audience was so much fun - before the show started they had the music turned up loud and the crew had us laughing and dancing around the set. They also told us how to react when Wendy came on, when to stand, when to applaud etc. etc. We had to get this right since it was live TV!!! The crowd went wild as soon as Wendy came on and her first segment, celebrity gossip, had us in stitches (Wendy tells it like it is). The second segment, celebrity guest, was not actually filmed live. It was an interview with Denise Richards that she had done a fews days before - this aired today with Wendy wearing the same outfit she had worn the day she interviewed Denise to make it look like it was live. The last segments involved the audience - a vaseline competition between 4 people and a dance off between another 4 people. I wasn't in either of them. After the live part of the show ended we stayed back for another hour to watch an interview with Wendy and Kelly Ripa (second celeb sighting). This one, like the Denise Richards one, will air at a later date but actually look like it is live (i.e. with Wendy wearing the same outfit).

The show repeated on TV that afternoon, so Kerry and I got to watch it back at the hostel. We were included in a few audience shots and then one with just the two of us - we both screamed and laughed as soon as that came on. It's true what they say about TV adding 10 pounds - I think I counted about 8 chins on me (even Kerry looked big). Oh well, I'm still glad I had my 3 seconds of fame :)

Middle section, fourth row, centre ... that's me in the red!

New York

Ok, so it's October 31st (November 1st by the time I post this) and I have yet to blog about the AMAZING time we've had in New York City. This past week and a half has been GO GO GO, and unfortunately we haven't had access to the internet in any of the hostels we've stayed in...until now...

We arrived in NYC on Thursday 21st October around 11:30pm. The plane ride up from Charlotte was short (we got here about 20 mins early) and I spoke to a woman who has lived in the city her whole life. She is also a twin tower survivor. She gave Kerry and I some tips i.e. things to do, areas to avoid etc. and I'm glad we had a chance to talk. Once we landed we headed straight to our hostel (the New York Loft Hostel) located in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We were booked in here for the next week except for the coming Saturday night as they were all booked out. To solve that problem Kerry and I booked a really cheap overnight trip to Niagara Falls with a tour group from Chinatown. Best decision we made so far and I'll mention why later...now back to the hostel! The hostel was nice, the room was big, but the area wasn't the best - it was dull at night time and a few blocks down was Bedford-Stuyvesant which is one of the worst areas in NYC. Kerry didn't want to stay there but I was reluctant to leave and lose the deposit we paid (about $30 each). Then I thought "what would my mum say if she saw this area?" GET OUT came to mind!!! So we only stayed one more night.

We joined a tour group Saturday morning and headed upstate on a 10 hour drive to Niagara Falls. Along the way we drove through three different states - New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania - and we also stopped off at the Corning Glass Museum (pretty cool, just be careful not to break anything). By the time we got to Niagara it was dark and raining, but we still got a nice view of Horseshoe Falls before heading to a hotel in Buffalo, New York for the night. The following morning we were taken back to Niagara Falls to join the Maid of the Mist boat tour. This is the one where they give you a poncho and take you right up to the falls to get very WET! Now, here's the reason why booking this trip was the best decision we made...the Maid of the Mist tour runs from May to October each year, and it turns out this was the LAST tour of the year!!! Whew, the ride is definitely worth it so I'm happy we got a chance to experience that.

Back to NYC...Sunday night saw us checking into a new hostel on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. This is a much better location and we had a private room and a TV. I felt like I hit the jackpot! Since then things have gone from good to great. The "set-up" of Manhattan is fantastic - all roads that run horizontally are named 1st street, 2nd street, 3rd street etc. (1st starting in lower Manhattan) and all roads that run vertically are named 1st avenue, 2nd avenue etc. (with the exception of a few i.e. Broadway, Amsterdam, Madison). It's REALLY EASY to get around and the subway system is so good that you barely have to wait for a train. Day or night Manhattan is always packed with people and, like Starbucks, there's cops on every other corner - you NEVER feel unsafe. Kerry and I have been lucky enough to visit Central Park, Rockerfeller Center, Times Square, Empire State Building, the Amercian Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Sex, amongst other things. We've also done the Sex and the City tour (so much fun - went for about 3.5 hours) and seen two Broadway shows (Mary Poppins and West Side Story - fantastic!). One of the highlights of our stay in NYC has been the Circle Line Tour. It's a 3 hour boat ride that takes you right around the island of Manhattan - we had terrific views of the Statue of Liberty and got to get a real feel for just how big the city is. We passed ground zero (where they are currently rebuilding), Madison Square Gardens, and plenty of bridges (including the Brooklyn Bridge). Well worth the $29 we spent.

We were set to leave NYC on Friday 29th October but decided there was still too much to do, so we checked into the YMCA on 63rd street (even better location, and cheaper too!!). We'll be here until Wednesday 3rd November. A couple of other tours we have done are the "TV and Movie Tour" (visiting tons and tons of locations where TV and movies were filmed) and my favourite the "Slice of Brooklyn Pizza Tour." We spent the afternoon in Brooklyn and got to eat some of the BEST pizza in NYC (or in the world for that matter). We also saw a few movie locations and visited Coney Island (an amusement park built in the south of Brooklyn - it's not an island). We did the tour on Sunday, and on our way there we were redirected to another area as the road around us was closed for filming. Of course, Kerry and I (amongst many other people) stopped to take a look. They were filming a stunt scene for a new movie starring Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy. Tea Leoni walked right passed me. My first celebrity sighting - yay!

NYC has been very good to us these past 2 weeks - I would love to spend another 2 weeks here, but unfortunately my money is going down quicker than excepted so we will be leaving on Wednesday :( I could go on and on about this place, and there are so many more things we have done (just too much to write about) but I will try and get some more pics posted soon. 

Stay tuned...
Kerry and I outside the "Friends" apartment