Who doesn’t love a freebie? Especially if it’s free books!

I’ve never been one of those lucky people who just wins things all the time. I’m not even talking big things like the lottery or a house or car, I mean small things, like raffle tickets or the tombola at a school fair. Now my Grandad, that is a man who wins things.. he always wins small amounts on the lottery, or the raffle prizes at his local dance (ok so it’s bath cream or chocolates or another photo frame..it still counts), and if he is putting a bet on a horse, it’s a good idea to do the same. I think perhaps he’s using up all the family luck. 

However, I seem to have found my winning luck, the thing is, it only seems to work on books! Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE getting free books, it’s exciting to come home to a parcel and not know what it is, then open it to find another book that could just be the best thing I’ve ever read. A while before I took my year off, I joined a major bookstore’s review programme and luckily got to read some great books, I didn’t particularly enjoy them all, but just having the chance to read something new and different before it hits the shops is enough for me. I kept reading while I was away, borrowing books from new friends or hostels, or getting them on my kindle, but it was nice to come home and get back into my pile of not-yet-read books and start adding to it (I know I shouldn’t but I just can’t help it, there are so many enticing covers out there!). 

Well, I’ve certainly added to that pile this past month, I’ve been incredibly lucky to receive 3 books from publishers to read in advance and review,  another 1 from a new virtual book club at my work (do virtual book clubs work? I’m not sure, but I’m giving it a try) and won a free signed copy of Eyrie from another publisher, via Facebook. 

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I’ve already read one of the books – I am Pilgrim – which I cannot recommend highly enough, by far one of the best thrillers I have read in a long time, packed with great characters & locations, perfect plot twists and intrigue. I didn’t want to put it down and have since lent it to a friend who finished it in a couple of days (its over 800 pages by the way, but don’t let that put you off) and loved it. It’s already had the rights picked up to make a film, but please read the book first! I’m interested to know what others think of the book too, have you read it? 

So 1 down, 4 to go.. now I just need to book a holiday so I can lay by a pool with a cocktail in hand reading all my freebies in the (not too hot) sun! 

 Reading gives us some place to go when we have to stay where we are – Mason Cooley

Live for the journey, not the destination…

After flights, buses and all sorts of transport over the previous few months, we decided to spend a few weeks heading up the west coast in a little hired Prius we nicknamed ‘Diego’ (side note: the Prius got us so far on so little ‘gas’, very efficient). Joining us, was our friend Mirjam, who we met in San Diego, and who shared our love of travel, laughter and, most importantly, food! We travelled north, stopping at various destinations along the way, whenever we saw somewhere that looked interesting, or when we got hungry, or just felt like wandering along one of the many beautiful beaches. Diego was packed full with all our bags and cases and a constant supply of ‘nibbles for the road’ and the radio provided us with a soundtrack to our trip (even if it was the same songs over & over with a bit of lost signal every now & then).

I tried to keep track of all the wonderful places we visited;

  • San Clemente – our first stop, feeling a little sad after leaving San Diego, we walked the pier and admired the beautiful coastline, complete with a railway track right alongside the beach.
  • Laguna Beach – we arrived here just in time for a beautiful sunset on the beach
  • Long Beach – There are some lovely shops down at the marina in Long Beach, a lovely way to spend a day, wandering around, surrounded by the sounds and smells of the sea

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Laguna Beach at Sunset

Laguna Beach at Sunset

  • Manhattan Beach – a lovely little town by the beach, some very cute boutiques and cafes, there was also a little aquarium at the end of the pier with starfish and seahorses, very cute indeed.
  • Venice Beach – my last experience of Venice was how different it was, there were medical marijuana shops next to tattoo shops and street performers like you’ve never seen before. This time around, I’m glad to say it hadn’t changed a bit, if you don’t mind the smell of marijuana, this is a great place to visit, walking amongst the canals or people-watching in a cool cafe by the beach, just seeing the world go by.
  • Santa Monica – I’m a big fan of Santa Monica, just a short walk from Venice Beach but its quite a different vibe, people working out on the beach, dog walkers being dragged along and the pier is just iconic and its quite something being there and looking at a scene you’ve seen many times on TV & in films. We also had the pleasure of listening to a great musician in a local shopping mall – Josh Vietti, incredibly talented, I even bought his CD which became a part of our road trip soundtrack.
Starfish at Manhattan Beach Aquarium

Starfish at Manhattan Beach Aquarium

Venice Beach

Venice Beach

Josh Vietti, very talented musician

Josh Vietti, very talented musician

  • Santa Barbara – Tall palm trees line the beach in SB and whilst they look good up close, the real beauty can be seen when you drive up into the hills and look down on the view – somewhere I think we all could have sat for the day just taking it all in. Thankfully we headed down to the pier though, where I found the most delicious chocolate shop and we spotted a huge Christmas tree to add to our daily challenge (as we didn’t have a tree due to moving around, we decided to take a photo every day with a different one – random, but why not?!)
  • Cambria – An adorable little town, just what I imagine of ‘small town america’, friendly locals, cute bars and restaurants that were closed by 10 and a cafe/book store/wine bar/music venue called Wise Owl – definitely one of my happy places on the trip! We also visited Nitt Witt Ridge on the way out of town, a house built with only a pick & a shovel and recycled everything – sometimes known as the poor man’s Hearst Castle – not somewhere I’d want to live (it looked a little unstable) but great to see and admire the work that went into building it.
  • San Simeon – Whilst we didn’t visit Hearst Castle ( a bit pricey on our traveller’s budget), we did stop nearby and view it from afar, the castle was home to William Randolph Hearst, a key figure in early 1900s USA and it seems he liked the lavish lifestyle – the castle includes a zoo, pools, a wine cellar and an airstrip… nice for some! The highlight of San Simeon had to be the Elephant Seals along the beach – these guys are simultaneously really ugly and really cute! It’s hard to describe, but my cheeks hurt from smiling at them flopping around, sleeping and participating in some unrequited love-making.
Nitt Witt Ridge, Cambria

Nitt Witt Ridge, Cambria

Elephant Seals, San Simeon

Elephant Seals, San Simeon

Cute, content seal amongst the Elephant Seals

Cute, content seal amongst the Elephant Seals

  • Big Sur – Driving along the Big Sur meant around 90 miles of beautiful coastline, peaceful surroundings and quick stops in what seemed like the middle of nowhere (at one point we saw the smallest petrol station I’ve ever seen, basically just a pump and a pay cabin). We had heard about an amazing waterfall (McWay Falls) that took your breath away, so we had to see it… it was pretty tiny, not quite what I was expecting, but it falls from the cliff directly onto the beach and into the Pacific Ocean and that is what is so spectacular about it. The falls are inside the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, surrounded by amazing views, wildlife and the most amazing colours of the ocean.
The views inside Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

The views inside Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

  • Carmel  – Home of ‘The Cheese Shop’ aka heaven! We spent more time than is really appropriate in this store, tasting some of the hundreds of cheeses and talking to the incredibly friendly staff, to the point where it was dark when we left and we missed sunset. If you like cheese, I would definitely recommend a trip to Carmel purely to visit this place, it’s that good.
The Cheese Shop

The Cheese Shop

  • Monterey – We had our first couchsurfing experience in Monterey and thankfully, it turned out to be a good one, we stayed with a friendly guy (in uniform – a friend of ours would have loved to have been there!) who showed us around town, told us about Monterey and pointed out that we should visit the seals nearby – which we did the following morning and loved them just as much as the Elephant seals, even though they were incredibly noisy.
  • San Jose – the third largest city in California and not somewhere you want to try to park a car! After driving around for quite sometime (and oddly picking up FBI wifi) we headed for the San Jose Museum of Art but unfortunately it was closed that day, so we settled with coffee by the Circle of Palms Plaza instead. We didn’t have time to stay in San Jose, but it’s definitely somewhere I would like to return to, I’ve heard the art, culture & education there are exceptional.
  • Silicon Valley – A quick stop en route to San Francisco, we had to take a quick drive through ‘Silicon Valley’, we’re all reasonably tech savvy and had to visit the home of so many companies that impact our daily lives – Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Apple, NetFlix, Pixar, Yahoo!..the list goes on. Some, like Google, have quite a presence, with Google-coloured bikes everywhere and statues outside GooglePlex, unfortunately, we couldn’t visit the gift shop without an employee.
A Google bike

A Google bike

  • San Francisco – A return to San Fran, somewhere I previously enjoyed immensely. After a hilarious lost moment where we realised we were underneath the road we needed to be on, we arrived. This time around, I spending time taking photos of the famous Golden Gate bridge (and almost got locked on the pier at closing time because I was so distracted by my camera), enjoying the sunset with a delicious Ghirardelli hot chocolate and generally just wandering the beautiful (hilly) streets.We also introduced Mirjam to the Cheesecake Factory in Union Square – dangerous, but delicious!
One of the many amazing Californian sunsets, this time in San Francisco

One of the many amazing Californian sunsets, this time in San Francisco

Ghirardelli Hot Chocolate

Ghirardelli Hot Chocolate

The iconic Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

The iconic Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

  • Antelope – We thought we were heading for Sacramento but our CS host lived a little further out the city, but we had an entertaining evening with our host who had quite a liking for incense and had worked with many bands over the years and enjoyed sharing stories.
  • Crater Lake, Oregon – well, almost, we got close to the lake, but couldn’t get any further due to the snow-packed roads, but it was worth it even for how far we did get, the enormous snow-covered trees were something we’d never experienced and quite different to the sunshine of California, certainly one of those breathtaking moments of the trip.
Almost at Crater Lake, the snow was a little deeper than expected

Almost at Crater Lake, the snow was a little deeper than expected

  • Salem, Oregon – We rested here in the evening at a lovely, little pub, having hot buttered rum cocktails to warm up and listening to a local band play live. In the morning, we grabbed some breakfast from an adorable place (Word of Mouth Cafe), who even gave us a free Creme Brûlée French Toast to share as a ‘Random act of yumminess’, Perfect memory of Salem.
The 'random act of yummy-ness' from Word Of Mouth Cafe in Salem, Oregon

The ‘random act of yummy-ness’ from Word Of Mouth Cafe in Salem, Oregon

  • Portland, Oregon – We spent a few days in Portland, but it wasn’t enough. Although it’s quite a big city, it has the feel of a small town, with independent stores, cafes and restaurants everywhere, a market with more original items than I had seen anywhere else on the trip, friendly people and even a neighbourhood street that was dedicated to Christmas light displays (we were there in December!). Our couch-surfing host was very friendly and showed us around, including a slightly random belly-dancing show at a local pub. One highlight for us all, but Caitlin especially, was Voodoo Doughnuts – a 24 hour doughnut store with queues down the street all the time..it’s that good! Sadly though, we missed something that would have no doubt been a highlight for me, apparently there is a book store that covers a whole block – I can’t believe I didn’t know this and will make sure it’s top of my list of things to do next time I’m in the Northwest Pacific!
The incredible Voodoo doughnut in Portland, Oregon

The incredible Voodoo doughnut in Portland, Oregon

  • The road trip ended in Seattle, Washington where we gave ‘Diego’ back before exploring the city on foot (back to normal!). More on Seattle to follow in the next blog.

Driving gave us a lot of freedom to include places we wouldn’t have been able to reach on the trip otherwise and I loved it for that reason, but I feel like we missed out on some of the random sites you come across just wandering around a city too and I definitely put on weight due to the lack of walking around cities combined with trying all the amazing foods everywhere had to offer, so I think for the sake of my waistline, I should probably stick to public transport in the future!

Without a doubt, I would recommend a trip up the west coast to everyone, there was so much to see and do and I love that we stayed in the same country, but places differ so much and the weather changed so dramatically the further north we got.

Like all great travellers, I have seen more than I remember and remember more than I have seen – Benjamin Disraeli

Vegas..it’s known for being a place to rest and recover, right?

Las Vegas is somewhere I have previously been and loved, a couple of years ago Caitlin and I joined a tour around a few places on the west coast, and Vegas was one of them. On that trip we made some great friends and Vegas was the most funny, entertaining place with those guys, we did the ‘partying hard and riding round in a limo’ thing that time and wanted to go back to see a bit more of the strip, visit the outlet shops and even gamble a little.

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So that is exactly what we did, we headed to all the hotels we hadn’t been to previously, admired the detailed architecture, artwork and sheer size of it all, we drank frozen cocktails from huge cups as we walked around, we spent a lot of time people-watching (there’s a clear fine line in Vegas of those who are ‘Crazy’ and those just having fun on holiday! Although I can’t quite place the guy dressed as Elvis who was riding around in a wheelchair.. what do you think? ) and we gambled a little (only a tiny bit, I remember my note from Perth about losing! But this time I won, tripling my money..if only I had gambled more than $5!). We also managed to find a pizza place that we went to at 5am last time we were there which we remember as having the best pizza ever… Unfortunately the drunk mind and taste buds lie a bit and whilst it was good, no one could call it the best ever!
We found a duelling pianos bar in one of the casinos and popped in for a drink, it was rock and roll night, but when they saw us they started playing Backstreet Boys! I’d say I’m offended, but I loved it and much preferred it to the rock and roll songs I didn’t know. There was a fun point where someone requested ‘paradise by the dashboard light’ by Meatloaf, a song I love and one that reminds me of my sister (she used to dance and sing like crazy when it came on.. probably still would if I put it on now!). Anyone who knows the song, will know it’s long, like 7 minutes long, and there were people in the audience who didn’t want to listen to that for 7 minutes, so they chose another song and tipped more (that’s how it works, higher tip means your song is played next), so the pianists, switched songs, the original requester then tipped more again for meatloaf to continue.. This went back and forth for a while until the song was finished and the customers had spent a small fortune for their song choices, but it made the audience smile!

 

Gambling & winning

Gambling & winning

 

We also had time for a show this time around, and whilst I really want to go and see a cirque du soleil show, I just couldn’t afford it this time around on my budget, so we decided on one that would make us sing, dance and laugh..Divas! Men dressed as some of the biggest divas in showbiz (Whitney, Better Midler, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Beyonce, Shania Twain, etc) dancing along to their top tunes and looking better that we could hope to look sometimes! We even got to meet some of the cast afterwards. Quite the Vegas experience!

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Last time in Vegas, we slummed it in a motel off the strip, this time, we decided we wanted to be closer to the action, and certainly got that with the (cheap) hotel we chose,when we stepped onto our balcony, we had views of so many of the big hotels, through the day we could see the mountains surrounding Vegas and at night, it was bright lights and loud music. Exactly what we wanted, and while it wasn’t the mad trip to Vegas that most people go for, it was ideal for us, especially after San Diego. I feel like I’ve seen what I want to in Vegas now, and whilst I would be happy to go back there anytime, I don’t feel like I  need to have it up high on my (ridiculously) long list of places I want to visit.

 

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San Diego – fun, new friends and the creation of Whiskey Girl

I’m finally going to catch up on my blogs from the rest of my time out, and while it may take a while, I’ll get there. This one is going to be a long one, because San Diego turned out to be a huge part of our trip, and one of the places that springs to mind as soon as I’m asked where my favourite place was, so I apologise in advance, but I didn’t want to miss anything out.

After leaving Los Angeles, Caitlin and I headed down to San Diego for a few days. We have, in the past, experienced an American thanksgiving and it was terrible, we were in a less than satisfactory hostel and the ‘celebration’ they put on was just a borderline food-poisoned meal. Suffice to say, when we knew we were going to be in America over thanksgiving for a second time, we decided we wanted to try to have a more successful day. After checking out lots of hostels online, we came across a small independent one that had great reviews, International Travelers House, and decided to take a chance on it. I can’t quite explain how that chance was one of the best we could have taken! We arrived at the hostel, greeted by ‘hello’ in every language you can think of, painted up the stairs, and cheerful guests and staff. ITH has a vibe about it that I’ve not really experienced in hostels before. Everyone is there to meet people from around the world, experience a new place and mostly, just have fun. Within minutes we were chatting to a group of people and already knew we liked it there. The hostel organises lots of free activities that bring the group together, all for free, such as nights out, hikes in nearby La Jolla (a beach and a cliff-top with beautiful views and the most amazing imprints in the sand from the waves), trips to the local farmers market, taco Tuesday, games night, etc. Dinner and breakfast are also free and time to meet the group. In some places, and with some people, this might be too much, but it just worked here and I can’t quite say why. But we loved it, a lot! We had crazy nights out (I may have drank a cocktail out of a cowboy boot in one of the western themed bars, but I managed to stop myself getting on the mechanical bull!), laughed every few minutes (to the point where Im glad I have waterproof mascara otherwise I would have looked a mess!) and met some great friends from all over the world, who I know we’ll stay in contact with.

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On one of the early nights out there was a lady getting people to try Wild Turkey whiskey shots. I don’t normally drink whiskey, and remember trying my dad’s and pulling faces at the taste. But, this lady was giving away free T-shirts and bottle openers and being a budget traveller, I just had to have the freebies! It worked out well, I wore the Wild Turkey T-shirt for the rest of the evening and found a new favourite drink, whiskey, cranberry and lime. The slightly crazy antics of the next few nights, along with the whiskey consumed provided me with my new nickname, Whiskey Girl. As for San Diego itself, it’s a very laid back city with great weather, so I can see why people want to live there, the night life is great fun, and we certainly tried out a lot of it! There is a duelling pianos bar there, which we loved. The idea is, two pianists sit opposite each other and the audience requests songs, of any genre, from any time, and if they know it, they play it and chat and joke and get members of the audience up to join in, it’s good fun and it’s amazing the talent these people have, it made me want to take piano lessons (add that to the growing list of things I want to do!). We sung-along to everything from Billy Joel to Katy Perry and loved it so much. The Californian sunsets are generally all pretty amazing in winter, there is just enough cloud cover to show off the different colours of the sun as it sets and we weren’t disappointed in San Diego. There is a place called sunset cliffs, where there are some beautiful houses lining the road (wouldn’t mind that view!) and then a lookout point over the sea and the sunset..a perfect place to drive to on one of the hostel activities. But before heading there, we popped to a bar overlooking the harbour for a Bali Mai Tai, and not just any mai tai, this place claims to serve the strongest mai tai in the world. We all laughed it off and thought ‘when in Rome and all that’ and ordered a round of them. Wow! With no mixer, only a variety of different spirits, they weren’t joking about it being strong, but it still tasted good. One drink down and we were all best of friends, giggly and even having a bit of a photo shoot before heading to sunset cliffs. As we got out of the car, I was trying to be helpful, I let everyone out and closed the door behind them before stepping backwards.. not realising that we had pulled up alongside a short car railing and subsequently I took a bit of a tumble! After the mai tai, I found this hilarious and couldn’t get myself back up because I was laughing so hard, and instead of coming to help me, my lovely friend Caitlin laughed and took photos, isn’t she nice?! Thankfully it was only my dignity that was hurt this time. If I’m honest, I chilled out more through the days on this part of the trip, partially due to hangovers, partly just because I could! One favourite memory from a lazy day was most of us squashed into the living room watching Pitch Perfect in Spanish, and still loving it even though we couldn’t understand it! But when I did head out, I loved it. Balboa park, is a large park area near to downtown, filled with museums and galleries and a cute little Spanish market village. I visited a photography exhibition there and especially liked some of the photos from local school kids showing their impression of San Diego, it’s inspiring to see how creative children can be when given the right tools and support. Unfortunately, after an eventful 5 days, out time in SD came to an end, we had a flight to Las Vegas already booked and we couldn’t change it. So we said our goodbyes and headed off the airport feeling a bit sad, sore from laughing and a bit drunk still if I’m honest!

 

The world's strongest Mai Tai

The world’s strongest Mai Tai

Yep, that's me after the 'Mai Tai fall of 2013'

Yep, that’s me after the ‘Mai Tai fall of 2013’

But then…

After a couple of days in Las Vegas, we were missing San Diego and all the people we had met, we specifically planned our trip with lots of flexibility just in case we really liked somewhere or were ready to move on a little sooner than expected, and this felt like the perfect time to make a change to the schedule. We hired a car in Las Vegas, drove across the border into California and along some of the most peaceful roads you can imagine (I would not want to break down there, it could have ended pretty badly), listening to various radio stations as they tuned in and out (a particular favourite song was Honky Tonk Badonkadonk!) stopping off at Joshua Tree national park (great trees and views, very cold and windy though, so it was difficult to stand and watch the sunset) and then Palm Desert. This is somewhere that was recommended to me when we were planning the trip and I can understand why. It’s such a peaceful city, with a small town feel, the streets are all lined with palm trees and twinkling lights in the evening. We decided we need to recover a little there and found a great juice bar to stock up on vitamins and nutrients before a chilled out day at the Living Desert Museum, wandering through the desert and seeing some if the animals and trees that live there, I loved all the different types of cactus, they look so interesting and just make you want to touch them.. is that just me?!

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So, after our mini road trip, we arrived back in San Diego, to pick up where we left off. Unfortunately some of our new friends had left while we were gone, but we met the new guests straight away at dinner and realised it wasn’t going to be all that different. Our first day back was quite a girly day, shopping, manicures, gossip and chats over coffee then wine, it felt like coming back home after a trip away and catching up with people! Nothing changed with pub crawls and nights out, new places and new people but same laughs and fun! We explored San Diego a little more through the days this time, making an effort to see daylight! The harbour area is beautiful, with huge naval ships and small (but expensive) yachts and boats, green lined streets and a massive statue based on the famous Times Square Kiss, it’s quite impressive. There is a small village near the harbour with independent stores and a cafe/bookshop, I could have spent hours in there between the books and cakes and coffees! After managing to tear myself and my friends away, we wandered down to the shore to watch another beautiful sunset. It’s days like that which remind me how great travelling is. On a final day in SD, we headed to Coronado Island..which isn’t actually an island, but that’s what it’s known as, because it’s mostly separated from the mainland and has a cut off, serene feeling to it. A great place to visit and walk along the beach, watch sunset, chill out in one of the bars or cafes, or hire a bike and cycle around. The neighbourhoods had a lovely, homely vibe to them, somewhere to raise kids who could play out in the street but be close to the ‘big city’ for the culture and entertainment that it can offer. Another exciting thing about going back to San Diego, we were there at the same time as Jay-Z and somehow managed to get tickets to see his show. I’ve seen him before, but loved it again and it’s always interesting seeing how crowds from different areas or countries react to music and events. I have to be honest I was expected crazy rowdiness from the Americans, but they were quite tame in comparison to some shows I’ve been to. As it was December when we were back in San Diego, we were able to see the Christmas decorations and visit the local Christmas markets and choir performance at Balboa park. I wasn’t feeling especially Christmassy but it was nice to see the kids putting on their festive show and get into the Christmas spirit.

One of many beautiful California sunsets

One of many beautiful California sunsets

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The ITH gang

The ITH gang

After extending our bed bookings in the hostel more than 3 times, because we just weren’t ready to leave (and consequently trying out most of the rooms available), we finally had to leave the hostel and SD before we ran out of time to fit everything in. I honestly wasn’t ready to go and felt extremely sad leaving this place that had instantly taken us in and felt like home nor was I ready to leave the amazing, hilarious, caring people that we had met, but I had to. I absolutely left part of my heart in San Diego and have no doubt I will be back there again to build more memories and meet new people who will change me a little, just as those I met this time have.

Sad to be leaving SD!

Sad to be leaving SD!

Should we go back to SD for a few more days, we have the time and we did love it there and we’re so close…?

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This image pretty much sums up our time in SD

Happy new year!

I’m a little behind with my blogs, so I apologise for that, but I’ve just been having such a good time and doing so many great things that I’ve just struggled to find the time to write them..I promise Ill catch up soon!

That said, I just had to pop on and write this quick one to say Happy New Year to everyone! I’ve had one of the best years ever and I hope that 2013 has been great to you all too!

Earlier this year I was a tiny bit worried about the decision I had made to give up work and set off around the world, knowing I hadn’t saved enough money or planned as much as someone like me would want to, but the year has given me so much more than I could have expected and I have no doubts it was the best decision I could have made.
I’ve spent time with amazing people – meeting new friends, catching up with old ones, seeing children learn and play and laugh, and having small but significant interactions with strangers. I’ve visited places I’ve dreamed of going my whole life, places I hadn’t even heard of and seen things I didn’t even know existed. I’ve tasted food and drinks that have made my mouth water and got (a little too) close to the most wonderful animals.
I’ve been supported throughout the year by my family and friends who encouraged me to live my dreams and I hope they all take that advice themselves and follow their dreams in 2014. You never know where they will lead and that’s half the excitement.. If you are going to have regrets, regret the things you do, not the things you didn’t do.

I have no idea what 2014 will hold, but I can’t wait to see, the first few months are planned already, with Canada, Cuba and more of America in the pipeline, but I’m already thinking about the next trip and the changes to come!

Happy new year!

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.” —Neil Gaiman

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The city of.. Angels?

Los Angeles was the first stop on the North America section of my trip, following a 15 hour journey there from Melbourne and a 3 hour wait in immigration, I finally arrived at my hotel at the same time I had left Australia (all these changes in time zones have really confused my body and mind!). I’ve been to LA before and had mixed views, I loved Santa Monica, it’s a beautiful beachside town, with cute little shops and tea rooms and gorgeous sunsets, but I was not a fan of Hollywood, it felt fake and overhyped. I was flying into LA and I wasn’t all that bothered about returning to Hollywood, but a friend of mine had lived there for a few years and highly recommended West Hollywood and lots of places around there. I love talking to people about where they have travelled or lived and getting inspiration for my next trips, so I didn’t hesitate to take his advice and book a few days in WeHo.

Without a doubt, LA is the craziest place I’ve been, the people there are bordering on insane in so many ways. A local I got chatting with hit the nail on the head when she said “LA is the worlds biggest open air mental asylum”. There is a lot of drama in the city and I suspect a lot of it goes on outside of the studios! Unfortunately there is a big homeless population there and many appear to have turned to drugs of varying degrees to get themselves through it, it’s quite hard to see and know you can’t really do anything other than give some spare change to make any impact on their situation.

Staying in WeHo meant I had the opportunity to walk around the area and into Hollywood, seeing the usual tourist landmarks of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, the walk of fame, the Hollywood sign and sunset strip (home to Chateau Marmont, The Viper Room, The Roxy, etc) but also around the lesser know areas, visiting cute little book shops (Booksoup is adorable and has so many great books, guest author talks and that perfect ‘brand new book smell’) and cafes, seeing the homes of the ‘ordinary’ people of LA and generally spending a whole lot of time people watching!

As lame as it is, I wanted, no, I expected to see famous people in LA, so when I heard there was a Disney Frozen premiere on at El Capitan, I had to wander along and see if I spotted anyone I recognised. Very excitingly I saw Neil Patrick Harris (HIMYM) and his family, Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars) Demi Lovato, Amy Brenneman (Private Practice), Kevin McKidd (Grey’s Anatomy), Josh Gad (Jobs) and a few others. Whilst that was great, I couldn’t contain my excitement the following day when I got to be in the audience for the hilarious recording of Jimmy Kimmel Live.. Guest starring my crush, Idris Elba!! I love Idris, especially as John Luther in the BBC series, he is a great actor and pretty much my ideal man! At one point in the show I almost lost it when he made a joke that I laughed at and he winked at me.. perfect! To top of the excitement, Adam Levine was there doing a hilarious speech accepting the PEOPLE’s sexiest man alive title he had just been given, Rene Redzepi (Noma chef) and the band Chvrches performed. I hadn’t heard Chvrches before, but they were brilliant, definitely a group I will be adding to my playlist.

When my friend Caitlin arrived in LA to join me for the rest of the trip, we set off exploring LA a bit more, visiting the Getty Centre, which we reached just in time for a perfect sunset (California does them so well), the Griffith Observatory (fantastic views of the city and of the stars and planets through giant telescopes, a tour of the celeb homes (including Ellen Degeneres, George Clooney, Jennifer Garner/Ben Affleck, Cameron Diaz, Paris Hilton, The Beckhams, Greystone Mansion – the house from the bodyguard and many other films, Katy Perry, Leonardo DiCaprio and many more, which satisfied our curiosity and made us a bit jealous), a hike up the Runyon Canyon and a long, lost journey on a bus where we almost ended up in Pasadena accidentally (but were set straight by a lot of helpful people on the bus, even one woman 4 rows down who overheard and shouted back “where are they trying to go?”). We also attended the Queen Latifah show, she seemed very cool, chatting to the audience, kicking off her huge heels as soon as they weren’t on camera and thoroughly enjoying the food she was helping to cook and Gavin McGraw appeared and performed his current song. The production of the show was pretty terrible though, we were kept waiting a lot and they shot the show in sections meaning we didn’t really see much at all, nothing like the JK show I saw a few days earlier which ran live.
There was a National Geographic exhibition showing in LA whilst we were there, celebrating 125 years which we couldn’t miss and the photographs were fantastic. It’s amazing how some people can capture so much with one photograph and how they can change the world, there was a movie showing some of the NG photographers talking about their work and there were a few points where I got goosebumps or tears in my eyes, it was that moving.
Finally, we treated ourselves to brunch at The Ivy, a popular cafe in WeHo, the food was beautiful, but the setting was spectacular, gorgeous fresh flowers on every table, bright colours and happy people everywhere, a lovely end to our LA stop.

So whilst LA is a bit crazy and touristy, I enjoyed it so much more this time with recommendations and just wandering around getting lost and taking everything in.

Older man on bus: Can you ladies please tell your husbands that they have beautiful wives? How tall are you? You should be an actress!

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Melbourne

When I’ve talked about Australia in the past to friends or strangers, I’ve always had the feeling I would like Melbourne more than Sydney. I’d heard it was similar to London (the place I’ve called home for years and loved) with culture, street art, amazing coffee and sometimes-friendly locals. I find that if I have high expectations of somewhere, I can be disappointed, so I tried to go to Melbourne without any. Thankfully I need not have worried, it was everything I was expecting.
I spent my days wandering around the city, looking at the ridiculously good street art (don’t ask me what means something is considered street art over graffiti, I have no idea, but it was all very good), drinking great coffee while people-watching (aussies are not lying when they say the coffee there is the best, I got a little bit hooked on macchiatos!) and hiding from the regular bursts of wind and rain.
I visited the immigration museum too, which was a very insightful look at how Australia has changed over the years and how it is made up of so many different races, religions and cultures.. Whilst this wasn’t always the case, (at one point there was a rule only allowing white British into the country) the good news is that changed and now Australia is very multicultural and diversity is always a good thing in my opinion.
I was staying with a friend in Richmond, which is locally known as ‘The Island’ because there is everything you need there and a lot of people hardly leave the area. There is every type of food you can think of, including a large range of chicken schnitzels which seem to be a big thing in Melbourne (no idea why, but they were everywhere!) and amazing dumplings from a cute Chinese place aptly named ‘I Love Dumplings’… I like it when places are straightforward about what they specialise in!
My evenings were spent relaxing, catching up with friends over drinks and dancing (and making new ones) and being entertained by Aussies! A friend of mine managed to get us tickets for the recording of the news show ‘The Project’, which airs every weekday in Australia, it’s a bit if a comedy version of the news, with a panel of hosts chatting. I didn’t know anyone on the panel, but they seemed quite nice and the show was funny. I even learnt a little about Australia and the Great Barrier Reef while watching, and as you probably know by now, I like to learn! I also spent another evening doing a pub quiz with a few others, hilariously, the theme was movember, so there were some interesting questions based on ‘tashes. We didn’t win, but we did pretty well and I always love a good quiz and a bit of competitiveness.
When I was younger, I was a regular viewer of Neighbours, along with millions of my fellow Brits and always said “If I go to Australia one day, I have to go to Ramsey Street”. unfortunately Ramsey Street doesn’t exist, so I had to go on a Neighbours tour to visit the real street on which Neighbours is filmed. As I haven’t seen the show in about 8 years, I had no idea what they were talking about for a lot of the locations we visited, but seeing the street, Harold’s store and Lassiter’s lake was quite cool.
Melbourne has a very cool vibe about it, there are street performers, art everywhere (in the middle of the famous Hosier Lane, amongst the powerful street art, I saw no less than 3 brides!) and fantastic markets with amazing jewellery and clothes, live bands and food from all nations.
Melbourne is a very cool place, one I’m glad I had the chance to visit and get to know, even if the weather does let it down a little!

If you don’t like the weather in Melbourne, wait 5 minutes and it will change

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