The first thing you notice when you go to see Britney Spears’s live Vegas show is the young-but-getting-slightly-older fans queuing up for the best standing-room-only tickets hours before the show. From all accounts this is a nightly occurrence. I, on the other hand, was enjoying the fine dining and wine Vegas has to showcase–but that’s another story.
In fact Piece of Me still draws the same crowd it’s just that the girls have grown up a little and they’re in their 20s and early thirties (at a stretch). They’re still squishing into tight little dresses barely covering their bottoms and they’ve learnt how to walk in their massive heels. (Don’t get me wrong, there are still young girls and their parents … and the likes of me).
Like all the other shows around Vegas Britney is telling a story. And that’s exactly what it was–a show. I was expecting a concert. At a concert you expect the act to interact with the crowd.
With all the glitz, staging & lighting of a Vegas residency the only thing missing was Britney herself. I heard that the show is somewhat disappointing and she merely goes through the motions as she sings and dances her way through the night. The night we were there that statement wasn’t entirely true. This night she danced her way through popular numbers, strutting down the stage and running backstage for her many costume changes.
Piece of Me is well choreographed and executed, has all the bells and whistles in terms of lighting & effects, and Britney’s stamina is admirable.
But with all the glitz, staging and lighting of a Vegas residency the only thing missing was Britney herself. It’s hard to sing and dance–especially when you’re dancing with your all–but I thought I was going to see Britney sing. Or did I think I was going to see her perform?
Perform she did. Sing she did not. And that was disappointing. You didn’t just notice it for one or two moments, you noticed it over and over again. There were times when her moves were such that she could not have possibly been singing, and she didn’t make an effort to cover that up.
And she didn’t really interact with the audience. All we really got was a “Hello Vegas”. I wanted more. I wanted to hear from her, to have a chat, to get to know her a bit better–to get a piece of her.
But maybe Britney’s not ready to give us a real piece of her. I think Britney is trying to tell us something.
Britney was the epitome of success with hit after hit and teenage girls crying at the sight of her long before we even knew who Taylor Swift was. She was the original.
Piece of Me seems to be a tongue lashing, a message not by way of a song or an album but a Show. She’s reminding us what fame has done to her. We’re shown images of her career at the height of her popularity yet most of those successful songs were not on the playlist. Instead she chose songs like Piece of Me and Circus to tell her story. I wonder if anyone noticed? Don’t get me wrong it wasn’t depressing, there were good songs too. A highlight for me was Iggy Azalea up on the big screen duetting Pretty Girls with her. Having said that it did seem that Iggy was more “present” than Britney.
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She may have been down but she’s not out. She may prefer to ask her fans to come to her instead of touring around the world but she’s definitely changed. We changed her. Fame changed her. And for a while the world turned on her. Good for her as she has the last laugh because we’re lapping her up once again as she plays to packed shows, night after night, week after week. She deserves it, no one deserves to have a meltdown let alone one so public.
I’d recommend going to see Britney. I’m not sure if she’s going to sign on as there’s talk she may stop soon. The Show is worth it–especially if you’re a fan. Just go to enjoy her perform, don’t expect her to sing.
“Ahhh Santorini, you truly are a gift from the Gods.”
We crowd around the bus as it pulls into the local bus stop, all eager to get a seat as it’s a decent drive back to Oia (where we’re staying) from Fira, one of the centres for food, shopping and nightlife on Santorini.
It turns out it’s not our bus. Masses pile onboard—that’s why they crowd around. The bus is full. Another bus pulls in and the bus driver takes no mercy on the waiting crowds. The driver “hits” a local customer infuriated by the driver’s actions. He starts yelling at the driver who ignores him. He knew he was nowhere near the guy but the guy continues to yell abuse at him. Twenty minutes later as he left in search of a taxi—and as the bus pulls out on another trip—he’s still yelling.
Our bus arrives and, after surveying how it’s done on the Greek Islands, we get pole position in front of the queue and politely wait for those to get off before we push our way in.
We depart with little time to spare driving up a steep hill. I was sure the sign said do not enter. Who cares, this is Santorini in the Greek Islands and this is a big bus.
A car was in our bus’s way and our driver yells at someone out his window, one of the words being “malaka” and my childhood memories of growing up with first-generation Greek kids in Melbourne came flooding back to me. Why is it always the swear words we pick up when we learn another language?
We stopped for a long time as the cars were coming head on towards us. I don’t think this is working. The bus driver lights up a cigarette, the conductor does the same.
The bus driver starts yelling out the window presumably for the cars to get the flock out of his way.
“Spiro,” he starts in lively Greek addressing the conductor. I’m assuming he’s telling Spiro he needs to get out of the bus and tell the cars up ahead to get out of his way and let him through based on his hand gestures and the situation in front of us.
He sits back, swears again and waits.
Spiro was not having a bar of it as he too sits back taking a drag of his cigarette.
The driver starts again at Spiro. With this Spiro assesses the situation, gets out of the bus and heads up the road to stop the traffic, cursing the fact that he’s subjected to this well after midnight.
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We advance a couple of hundred metres and come to another dead stop. More lively Greek comes out of the bus driver’s mouth and Spiro chimes in.
The name Spiro also conjures up memories of my childhood in Melbourne–one of the highest Greek populations in the world outside Athens. The guy that owned the local bottle shop’s name was Spiro. I’m not sure what the name of the shop actually was but Dad and his mates always called it Spiro’s. Spiro looked after the alcohol for every single party my parents, and their friends, threw and every Saturday, like a trip to the butcher Mr Thomas, Dad would pop in to say hi to Spiro. Long before Vintage Cellars or Dan Murphy.
The driver hops on the radio. More lively Greek. Is this the usual bus route? Spiro and the driver seem somewhat surprised by tonight’s traffic like it has never been like this before but this is Fira in the height of summer—it’s busy every night. Isn’t it? The driver and Spiro light up a cigarette contemplating the situation ahead of them. We wait another 10-15 minutes as we watch the driver and Spiro decide what to do next.
“Get on the radio,” I imagine the driver says to Spiro as he hands him the radio talking in more lively greek. “I’ve already spoken to them they’ve done nothing to help.” I can’t imagine what the depot could do to help but I can’t imagine why they’re calling in on the radio either, perhaps to tell them they’re not moving and get them to share in their pain. I wish my old friends were here to translate. I’d love to know what they were saying.
Spiro gets off the radio and lights another cigarette standing at the front of the bus staring at the cars lined up head on like we’re playing chicken, albeit stationary. This time nobody can move. The driver tells Spiro to get out of the bus and stop the cars once again and once again Spiro talks back but reluctantly get out of the bus some five minutes later stopping the traffic like he’s never had to do it before.
The traffic dutifully stops but clearly not a second before someone “asks nicely”. It was third time lucky and with that we’re on our way. And that was the last time Spiro had to get out of the bus to stop the traffic. On this trip anyway.
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Such is the joy of travelling: sitting in the front of the bus watching the adventures of Spiro and the driver put me in good stead to enjoy the holiday.
“There’s a reason Santorini is continually voted one of the best island paradises in the world.”
We arrived in Santorini on July 18 (2015 for the archives) and the referendum resulting in an overwhelming “no” vote yet somehow Greece negotiated a further bail out and further austerity measures. There are no queues at the ATM in Santorini however, credit cards continue to be accepted and it’s business as usual in this glorious part of the world.
In Santorini the travel brochures aren’t having you on. It is exactly as it looks: white, serene, picturesque views and an endless vision of deep blue sea and matching blue rooftops coupled with breathtakingly spectacular cliffs and volcanic mountains.
Family run boutique hotel built into the caldera. The hospitality is “Greek family”, in other words you are a welcome visitor but you don’t have to get up and offer to do the dishes or cook a meal while you’re there. Nothing is too much trouble and the attentiveness is genuine; it’s as good as it gets.
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Breakfast is served every morning on your private porch with a choice of Continental, Greek or Honeymoon style and extras like bacon, eggs or meats and cheeses. My favourite sound of the day was the clinking of the crockery and cutlery—our sign that breakfast was being set up and it was time to get ourselves up to start our strenuous day poolside.
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And, because we spent so much time around our room—we had a private room—we got to see just how well our rooms are cleaned. Each day our room was cleaned as if we were new guests coming in, not just any old guests but Greek Gods.
With only eight rooms staying at Filotera Suites really knows how to spoil its guests.
Where we ate
A great restaurant in the heart of Fira’s action with an extensive menu and great food and ambience.
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With a sunset deck it has a spectacular view of the famous Oia sunset. Our hotel booked us the best table in the house. Great food to match–and satisfied my fussy daughter’s tastes so got to be happy with that!
Recommended by Australian Gourmet Traveller, and a friend, Ambrosia is a little bit more special than the other restaurants. It’s small and quaint, has a small yet enticing menu and the waiters are top notch. Ask for a table outside. While the inside tables have plenty of character we felt a little warm and claustrophobic.
Sunset Cruise with Santorini Yachting Company
While we were happy chilling by our pool and wandering the cobblestone streets of Oia we also decided a sunset cruise was in order. With a couple of different stops—including the hot springs and Red Beach—it was an afternoon well spent. The grand finale of the famous Santorini sunset would have been enough to satisfy us anyway—the only thing missing was a glass of Champagne.
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Santorini frequently makes the top five island destinations to visit in the world. And there’s a reason. Not only is it breathtakingly beautiful but it’s mystical and magical. Best of all there are accommodation and restaurant offerings for all budgets—there’s no discrimination in Santorini.
And, at a time where Greece could use your money, there should be no putting off a visit to Santorini.
Everyone has a bucket list. I know I do. Well, at least everyone talks about their bucket list but I wonder how many people have actually written their bucket list. I know I hadn’t until late last year. Sick of talking about it I decided it was time to write it down.
To make it easier on myself I am reposting my bucket list. It was originally here but given I’m going to continue to refer to it it’s best if it’s a post all on its own. I’ve also updated it ticking New York for Christmas and Miami off the list.
1. Machu Picchu, Peru
Ever since I climbed the Great Wall of China I’ve been drawn to the Natural Wonders of the World and Machu Picchu is on top of my bucket list by a long shot. Now I just have to find time in the holiday calendar to lock it in.
2. Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park—two of five amazing National Parks
It’s a case of careful what you say out loud with Utah being high on my bucket list of USA. We were wine tasting in the Napa at the start of the year and a comment was made about drinking in Utah (being a Mormon state and all). My comment was about not going to Utah so it didn’t matter. I didn’t realise it had such incredibly beautiful landscape that I’m totally drawn to.
√3. Miami, Florida.
Pink Flamingoes & Pink Champagne sounds more like a line from Hotel California but it screams Miami to me. Except for the fact that Mr H has his own Don Johnson suit and the theme for his 40th was Miami Vice I had no real desire to head to Miami. But lately it’s been sneaking its way into top of mind and I think I’m sold. The home of art deco, great food, art and architecture Miami has made its way to my top 5.
The Art Deco District in South Beach is sensory overload–especially if you love Art Deco
4. Route 66 in Arizona
After seeing photos from a friend that recently rode a Harley down Route 66 I’m hooked. Like a cross between a trip down memory lane and something out of the movies the scenery looks spectacular and it’s a part of pop culture I want to get on board.
5. Boston Everyone I know that’s been to Boston falls in love with it. I’m completely drawn to the charm of Boston and can’t wait to check it out. I just can’t decide between visiting a friend for Christmas or going in the summer.
While I’m in the ‘hood I’m pretty keen to drive around and see Cape Cod (I’ve already been and loved it) and Martha’s Vineyard and further afield in Massachusetts to connect with America’s history. I think this part of America is worth exploring.
√6. New York When I first went to New York I hated it. Then I went back for work and loved it. Now the kids are keen to for a White Christmas. Apparently there’s nothing like New York in the winter and especially around Christmas. I’d love to make their dreams come true. Just have to get around braving the cold first.
There’s nothing quite like New York at Christmas time (even if it doesn’t snow)
7. Seattle I’m not really sure what the attraction is (apart from visiting a really good friend who lives there) but I’ve always been attracted to Seattle—a trip up the Space Needle and a visit of the Boeing Factory and it’s high on our list. Sometimes you just want to visit somewhere just because.
8. Washington DC The nation’s capital. I loved Washington DC when I first went and I’d love to take the kids—one of those must-do destinations.
9. Niagara Falls I’ve temporarily forgotten about Niagara Falls which is precisely why I decided it was time to get this bucket list down on paper. Another natural wonder I think it’s a must-see.
10. Alaska I’d love to visit Alaska the problem is I don’t know how to tackle it. There are many options to cruise to Alaska but given cruising isn’t our thing. Either way I need to work out how to get us to see it.
11. Chicago My dream is to do a mother-son weekend in Chicago and do a Ferris Bueller tour of the city. Wouldn’t that be fun? Now I just have to convince my teenage son as somehow he doesn’t think it would be fun as I do.
12. Texas No real reason, just to see the big hair, big cars and guns!
13. New Orleans I’m torn as to whether I really want to do New Orleans—I think I want to, I used to think I wanted to but it’s not high enough on the list that I’ll make it here. Also not the sort of place to go with kids—much more fun if I could leave them at home. Let’s see how we go getting here but it’s on the list nonetheless.
14. Southern States I’ve been to Atlanta but I wouldn’t mind exploring some other Southern cities/states like Savannah and South Carolina. There’s something quite intriguing about the South.
15. Carribean I thought I wanted to go here desperately but most of the resorts do nothing for me. My re-thinking is if I’m going to do the Carribean I should sail around. Just need to get hold of some of my fellow 90210ers bank accounts to do it the way I’d like to do it.
My further-afield bucket list
16. Angkor Wat, Cambodia We had a glorious trip planned here before we were due to leave Shanghai but we cancelled it instead going back to Wales to be with my Dad. We were lucky we got to say good bye to him but the trip home ended up being a sad, sad time for me and we haven’t made it back to Angkor Wat yet.
17. Africa on Safari & Victoria Falls Continuing my affinity with the natural wonders of the world I can think of no better holiday than glamping on Safari. Victoria Falls has captivated us so this is high on our list.
18. Greece Our Australian friends from LA are moving to Greece next month and we’re dying to go and visit them. It’s fortunate I’m yet to hit Greece because it’s always best to visit a place when locals can show you around.
19. Champagne (in France not bathe in a sea of Champagne) I think this is pretty self-explanatory!
20. Northern Lights (from Sweden) One of those natural phenomena’s that need to be seen to be believed.
21. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Absolutely.
22. Marrakech, Morocco The colours, food and markets … love to visit Morocco.
23. Dead Sea and Egypt This is on my daughter’s wishlist but I agree. And, I’ve always wanted to cruise the Nile and see the Pyramids in Egypt.
24. India I’d live there given half a chance. Mr H on the other hand doesn’t want a bar of it. I’d still like to visit and see the Tag Mahal for myself.
25. Ayer’s Rock/Uluru It’s not really at the bottom of the list but realistically it’ll take a while for us to see this natural wonder in our own backyard, a sad indictment that when it’s in your own backyard you never really get around to seeing it.
Tick: Places I can proudly say I’ve ticked off my list
Paris was my first bucket-list place before I even knew what a bucket list was. It remains my favourite city in the whole wide world.
I never thought I’d make it to this part of Europe until a friend suggested we go to visit them a few summers (July not December) ago. The flight we needed to take would take us to Copenhagen before we caught a train across to Sweden. My dream became a reality. Copenhagen gave Paris a run for its money in the favourite city stakes.
My daughter had the biggest meltdown of all times in Stockholm and the restaurant I wanted to go to was closed for summer when we went but I still absolutely loved Stockholm. I’m so grateful we got to visit and enjoy this amazingly stylish city.
4. Climb the Great Wall of China
Another pinch me moment when, for my 40th birthday, I climbed the Great Wall of China with two friends. Visiting China was never something I thought I would do let alone live there. This is a must-do. (But set your expectations: there are hundreds doing the same thing and there are hawkers as you set off and as you return.) It remains one of the best things I’ve ever done.
5. Palawan, the Philippines
One of our families’ favourite holiday destinations. Each time we visit another resort we compare it to El Nido in Palawan and it’s pretty hard to reach the standard, beauty and hospitality of this part of the world. Can’t wait to go back.
Gourmet Traveller did a piece on this amazingly idyllic and beautiful town 10 months before we made our way there. With high expectations it still managed to exceed them. This is one beautiful town. The stop at Stone Wall City and the trip up to Shangri-la breathtaking. One of our best China holidays. I’m so glad we went when we did too: ahead of the tourist pack.
7. Harbin, China
What was supposed to be the most amazing experience of our lives was possibly the worst holiday. Ever. Really. Ever. An ice town with snow and ice sculptures 30 storeys high Harbin is one of those “only in China” experiences. The ice festival is positively beautiful and should seriously be a natural/manmade (you know what I mean?!) wonder of the world. But it lacks the American packaging–that white box–to turn the experience from awe inspiring to the happiest place on earth.
One of the amazing snow sculptures on show at Harbin, China
With a Welsh dad I’ve been lucky enough to visit London many times. I have always loved it–from a little girl to a young adult to a mother–and I’ll keep wanting to go back to get my London fix.
9. The Grand Canyon
I’d always loved the thought of the Grand Canyon but just never imagined us going simply because it wasn’t high enough on the list. So to take a helicopter from Las Vegas (another place I never thought I’d get to) and land there was one of those pinch me moments. I don’t think I’m quite done though: I think I still want to drive out to the South Rim and admire its sheer magnitude. This is covered in my driving Route 66 bucket list item.
Places that weren’t on my bucket list that I just fell in love with
I didn’t want to live in Shanghai; why couldn’t it be Singapore or Hong Kong? Why China? Because it was meant to be. Shanghai is Hong Kong on steroids with some of the best restaurants in the world, great Clubs, fabulous shopping and a history and culture that’s truly fascinating. What an amazing time and how super lucky we were to live here.
2. Hong Kong
My logic? Why do you need to visit Hong Kong (a city that wants to be New York or London) when you can have the real thing? I couldn’t be more wrong. Hong Kong has its own beat and it’s a good one. The food is amazing!
What’s on your bucket list? Love some extra inspiration from you. Share with me on Facebook or here in the comments section.
I know you’re dying to find out how our Thanksgiving weekend went. Well I’m very pleased to report it was great. It was better than great. The plan to avoid the traffic worked a treat. We left on Thursday morning, stayed the night in Palm Desert with gorgeous friends then headed out early on Friday Arizona-bound.
We love Arizona and can’t wait to head back for more—specifically getting our kicks on Route 66. What started as a weekend to Sedona ended in a trip to visit friends in Chandler in Phoenix, Arizona. The irony wasn’t lost on me: Thanksgiving weekend and a lot to give thanks for in the form of gorgeous friends we met as expats when we lived in Shanghai.
Like lots of expat stories no sooner had we met and decided we quite liked each other than they were planning their exit strategy back to the US. Of course we never wanted to live in the US so the reality for us was wondering whether we’d actually see them again.
It’s always a late night when we hang out with them—we could keep talking all night—and I love that it’s not what they usually do but they Australianise themselves and we have lots of fun.
As we drove into Chandler my daughter started to get really excited. “Oh my god mum,” she said in that very dramatic tween way. “We’re in public school America. Can we live here.”
To her Chandler is like it is on TV or the movies: nice neighbourhoods, clean wide roads (that’s tarred—or black-topped—rather than concrete roads with lots of cracks and potholes like LA in case you’re wondering) and you can picture the yellow school buses stopping at the stop outside the street picking kids up to take them to the local elementary, middle or high school. My picture is more Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, hers is definitely Disney Channel.
We passed Chick-Fill-A, Olive Garden, Walmart, Target Superstore amongst the big, clean malls with lots of parking. She was in heaven. (We’ve never been to Walmart, perhaps not surprisingly there aren’t many around 90210).
Then when we arrived at our friends’ house it was like we took her to the Disneyland castle with all-you-can eat ice-cream with cherries on top. The epitome of an “American house” it had a grand entry, a formal living room and a beautiful staircase leading upstairs to big bedrooms with ensuites complete with Bath & Body Works foaming soap (appropriately scented for Fall and Thanksgiving). And downstairs a huge kitchen with the sink overlooking the resort-like backyard and a central island bench designed to gather around and serve the largest of feasts. You could almost see the Brady’s fossicking in the double fridge making sandwiches with mayonnaise and pastrami (or is it baloney?) and Alice telling them to head outside because dinner would be ready soon.
Yep, it’s no surprise Chandler has a sign as you enter that says “All-American City”.
Chandler: All-American City | Photo credit: Paper Turtle (pic links through to Blog)
We may be blessed to be living the dream in 90210 but Chandler is nirvana, utopia. It’s not Wisteria Lane or the Stepford Wives, it’s the Brady Bunch meets Ferris Bueller.
Twenty-four hours in Chandler with our gorgeous all-American friends in their all-American friends in their all-American town and I want to rush out and apply for a green card. If you doubted the American dream and discarded it as a myth you haven’t been to Chandler.
Don’t forget about the California Coastal Highway drive, LA to Vegas or LA to Palm Springs but if you’ve got a little longer try LA—Palm Springs—Scottsdale—Flagstaff—Sedona—Winslow—Grand Canyon—Vegas and back to LA.
Fabulous roadtrip suggestion
This is little roadtrip has overtaken my Route 66 entry on last week’s bucket list because it covers Route 66 and adds an extra dimension. Arizona gets pretty bloody hot during the summer so plan your trip well but if you like the desert (I’m fascinated by it) then this looks like it will be a beauty. (I promise to write about it once I’ve done it).
Meanwhile I can write about Palm Springs to Chandler. I took about 550 photos because I just wanted to capture the desert landscape it all seemed so beautiful. Like many things though you can’t really capture the vastness and the green bushes with the postcard-perfect cacti and commanding and majestic mountains. It’s an easy drive and although it’s only really four hours it can get a little dull for the driver. The Americans have these interstates so well-planned that the direct route approach does little for the driver. The upside of course is you’re at your next destination in no time and it’s great to stretch your legs and soak in the desert ambiance.
Like us Aussies the yanks love a good roadtrip. One of the most frustrating things in Australia can be the lack of anything at roadside rest-stops. Well in America it’s like the roadstop are the attraction. It can be hard to get a park, there are queues for the toilets, people hanging around and dogs, dogs everywhere.
Even though no one else in the world really celebrates Thanksgiving we all know about it. Thank you Hollywood. What surprises me is that many Americans are surprised no one else celebrates it. (OK Google disputes me on this one but, well, we don’t in Australia so don’t let truth get in the way of a good story).
Hang on… why do you celebrate Thanksgiving?
OK, I thought the story went like this: the Pilgrims came, took over, planted crops and celebrated with a feast to give thanks. My friend the UK Desperate Housewife gives a nice summary of why we have Turkey Day (its new-age name). And that’s pretty much how most people see it. To the extent I just found out that they’re trying to stop calling Thanksgiving Thanksgiving because of the small fact that the pilgrims came in and all but took over from the poor Indians. (I don’t think they should be called American Indians because they were here first).
But with a little help from Google the real reason for Thanksgiving is to celebrate the Harvest. So, are the websites changing history or did I have it wrong? And if Thanksgiving is to celebrate the Harvest then why are some powers that be in my wacky host country trying to stop us calling the Holiday Thanksgiving? It’s getting some traction too because many people are calling it Turkey Day. For what it’s worth my two cents worth is let it go, it’s been Thanksgiving for this long and it’s worked so focus on something that might actually matter.
I’ll admit it the sight of Americans holding hands while their turkey gets cold and they reflect on all the things they have to be thankful for made me feel a little squirm-in-my-seat uncomfortable. But celebrating it with my friends last weekend that was the last thing I thought about. No now all I can think is how lovely it is to reflect and be thankful for all we have.
It wasn’t that long ago that I was homesick and wishing I had more than two friends and yet here I am telling you about an action-packed weekend filled with different friends who have opened their homes to us.
Three things to include in your “giving thanks” speech
Now that I’m embracing this giving thanks caper here’s three things you need to include in your giving thanks speech—in case you’re ever invited to Thanksgiving dinner.
Good place to start: spouse, kids, brothers & sisters, nieces & nephews, parents.
They’re there, good idea to acknowledge them.
The moment. Fairly politically correct to acknowledge that yes it’s good to have a roof over your head, food on the table and clothes on your back (and in your wardrobe).
It’s been raining all week here in LA and the sun is just coming out for a while. It never rains here so it’s all people talk about. People cancel meetings, hair dressing appointments and don’t know how to drive on the roads. It’s more than hysterical.
I’ve climbed the Great Wall of China, I’ve seen the Great Barrier Reef, I’m desperate to do Macchu Picchu and Victoria Falls and I’ve flown over the Grand Canyon.
And now I can say I’ve soaked up all that Yosemite National Park had to give me and in my book it is one of the Natural Wonders of the World.
Majestic, spectacular, mind-blowing, stunning, breathtaking phenomenal … it left us speechless and in awe.
I’ve said it a few times now: I never wanted to live in the US, I certainly wanted to travel the US more extensively than I had but it wasn’t far enough up my bucket list to imagine that I’d get to see the amazing things I’m having the opportunity to do. So forgive me if I indulge for a few more minutes as to how lucky I am to get the chance to visit Yosemite and to experience it not only with my family but with our close friends visiting from Australia.
No, this post isn’t about you reading about me gloating at having been to and admired Yosemite but about sharing it with you–more importantly how to conquer Yosemite yourself.
Many of my fabulous new LA friends haven’t been to Yosemite and I hope I can encourage them all to visit as it’s so well worth it.
When to go?
Well the materials say Yosemite is good to enjoy in every season and I’m sure it is. Winter is the quietest month and summer its busiest. For now I can only give you first-hand experience for summer.
Where to stay?
When I did my research the resounding advice was to stay in the Park. The downside apparently was you had to bring everything in because there are no shops in the park. That makes sense from Australian logic but when we got there we found supplies at a couple of the shops inside the park, enough I’m thinking to get you through. Also, there are restaurants in the park so even if you’re camping you can book at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly known as the Ahawanee) for example for dinner and drinks.
Book early (full stop AND exclamation mark)
If you’re planning to go in summer and want to stay in Yosemite try to book between 6-12 months in advance. There are first-come-first-serve campsites but you’ll have to join the queue early to guarantee yourself a spot.
I tried to book around five months in advance for two families and found no room at the Inn. There was a last-minute cancellation for a very basic cottage but decided against it. Instead we rented an RV (caravan truth be told) that was delivered and set-up at our campsite for us and managed to book a spot at nearby Oakhurst. It’s about an hour/hour and a half drive but it’s a pretty one and we didn’t find it much of a hassle. It also puts you at the main entrance (South Entrance) that’s open all year round.
There were nine in an RV
Here’s a link to help with driving directions. Our entire trip started in LA direct to Yosemite (about a five-hour drive) then a couple of days later continued to Vegas via Mammoth and Death Valley (which was spectacular).
This drive on the way out (through Tioga Road–Highway 120 East entrance) is closed through winter because of its high elevation and snow. We saw the last snow on the ground on our way out that’ll give you an idea of how much snow there must be in winter. It is a spectacular vision and different again from Glacier Point and the Valley floor.
To us, this drive out this far gate made us feel even more in awe of Yosemite and its changing face–the park just keeps on giving. (NOTE: If you’re going to do this drive it gets cold so bring a hoodie/jumper/sweats or whatever it takes in whatever version of English you speak).
The East Gate provides a different aspect of Yosemite well worth the drive
Other places to stay
We loved Bass Lake. It’s around a 1.5 hour-drive to Yosemite Valley but it doesn’t feel like it. There are some gorgeous houses and a decent-looking resort there. We had the added bonus of hiring a boat and going donuting and wakeboarding (& champagning of course) which the kids just loved.
Nearby Bass Lake was a pleasant surprise and a welcome find
Fish Camp is only a few kms from the South Entrance and while small had a number of accommodation options. I wish I’d have known about this when I was booking. I can’t tell you whether we would have secured accommodation here when Yosemite was booked out but I would have at least tried had I known about it.
Likewise Oakhurst (where we ended up) had heaps of accommodation offers and while hysterical ending up where we did I did look at the Best Western green with envy. Again, I didn’t really know to look here for other options–yes, quite ill-informed going in I agree but you live and learn.
A note re booking early. I was really peeved to find out that a couple having a drink at a table next to us at the Ahawanee only booked their room the night before and when we enquired there was one room free. How could this be? Hopefully it was due to last-minute cancellations and a lot of luck on their part. The hotel couldn’t give me an explanation–they naturally danced around that question!
What to see?
What isn’t there to see? We’re not big hikers so doing all the trails and hikes was not for us. That doesn’t mean to say it’s not for you. We spent a whole day driving (and walking & eating) around Yosemite then the second morning driving through the South Entrance to the East Entrance to Mammoth and onto Death Valley. (I can’t recommend this highly enough).
What did we see and did we think it was enough time?
Glacier Point Selfie #155 | It Started in LA
Tunnel view on your way down to Yosemite Valley (takes your breath away). You know you’ve come to it because you literally drive through a long tunnel and when you come out: kapow. Simply stunning it takes your breath away.
Exit from a tunnel only to be knocked out by the most incredible view–kapow
Yosemite Valley covering some waterfalls, Half Dome and El Capitan.
Yosemite Valley: simply breathtaking | It Started in LA
I felt like it was enough (as in I didn’t feel like we missed out on anything not that we were bored). As I said at the start I felt in awe, soaked it all in and the kids even managed time to play in the icy cold (and extremely pure) creeks. I didn’t feel rushed and I felt like I got a sense of the place.
One of the best decisions we made was to valet park at the Ahwanee Hotel and have a drink and lunch there. It was poles apart from our RV at the Trailer Park and the hotel is just gorgeous. I managed to take a peak at the cabins and while lovely they were pretty basic so I’m not sure whether you need to spend the big bucks to stay here.
Even if you don’t stay at the Ahawanee Hotel you can still eat or drink here
But then again I have nothing to compare it to (except the RV of course) but will let you know if I go back and try to stay at one of the hotels or lodgings.
Here’s a link to a great article I found on spending a day at Yosemite. (It pretty much gives a little more detail of what I just said.)
It was busy but it didn’t feel like it was over-crowded or compromised with lots of activity. We got parks at each vantage point, managed a table for lunch and wandered around freely.
Others might not agree with me though. When we got out of the car I was so excited and started saying to our group (who, OK, were not in close, close proximity to me), “Oh my god, this is amazing,” or words to that effect. He (apparently) said something like it was until I spoilt his recording of the serenity. Had I have known he said that I would have charged him money for my voiceover (or had him delete me if he didn’t cough up–either that or put him in touch with my agent and lawyer). I didn’t realise we were in a museum or library. Some people take life waaay too seriously.
The only time we felt it was overwhelmingly busy was when we were due to leave–there was a bit of a traffic jam. We parked the car and sat by a creek near Curry Village to let the traffic subside. It didn’t take long and we drove out of the park back to the Trailer Park.
The Crystal clear waters at Curry Creek, Yosemite
The drive didn’t seem to take long at all and remember we had two cars and five kids so I reckon that’s saying something.
I would go again in a heartbeat. Next time I’ll try to stay at a hotel in the park. I’ve also added a trip to Mammoth on my list and I’d like to check out Lake Tahoe further north.
Do what you can but just do it. Especially if you live in California you have no excuse not to visit Yosemite–a natural wonder right on your door step. And if you don’t–what a great excuse to come to California. But just remember:
I’ve spent a bit of time talking about our recent bouts of homesickness. Thankfully I can report that we’re all cured for a while and we’re moving onwards and upwards.
Why? We went home! We heard the ads on the radio, we heard the talk around town and we thought, “why not?”, we need a bit of Koalafornication at the San Diego Zoo. (Although a bit of David Duchovny Californication might have done the trick too).
It’s such an easy drive from LA straight down the 405 to San Diego there’s no excuse not to go–regardless of whether you’re visiting LA or live in LA. It should be about a two-hour drive but nearly died when the GPS told us it would be a lot more. My precision timing had us to the zoo just after 10:00 which I figured would be early enough to get a park, get our tickets and avoid the long queues for the Pandas. Instead it had us coming in at closer to 11:00. Sigh. Why are we always late? (Actually I’m partly to blame because I insisted on being Superwoman and baking fresh Hot Cross Buns for Good Friday).
It turns out the GPS wanted us off the 405 to avoid traffic. We went with our gut, stayed on the 405 and we were there just after 10:00. Success. (Note: we could’ve been lucky, if you’re stuck in traffic on the 405 it can add hours to your trip so it might pay you to detour).
The carpark was filling fast and there were queues at every ticket window. Either this zoo is really popular or we’ve come at the wrong time. Or both? I’m pleased to report the queue moved quickly, just enough time to take a family selfie, look around and we were in. Once we were inside we didn’t feel like the zoo was so super busy that there were people everywhere so it was nice. All good. Straight for the Pandas.
Enjoying the SkySafari very much thankyou!
It’s so good having older kids who can read a map, less for me to do. We opted against the bus (as it seems this is where most of the entrants wanted to go) and decided to do the SkySafari. Bit of a queue but it moved quickly and it would get us to the Polar Bears and Pandas so we could walk downhill in time to have lunch at the Sydney Grill.
The San Diegans go ga-ga over their very own Pandas, why not? What’s not to love?
I heard a story that the San Diegans love their Pandas. The town goes into “Pandamonium” when one of the Pandas does something and when one gives birth it’s like the future King (or Queen) of England is born. And why not? Pandas look like they should be cuddly and fluffy and because we’re not going to go near them let us believe that. They are so cute. Besides it’s good to see a town get behind their very own.
(Tip: Even if there is a queue for the Pandas there are things to see on the “journey” so don’t be put off by it).
The highlight of our morning wasn’t the Pandas though–it was the Polar Bears. How fun are they? They are show-offs, stirrers and just big kids who love to have a good time. Check this:
Want a good shot of me? How about this?
After lunch we headed to the impressive Koala Exhibit. Thoughts of Austen Tayshus’s Australiana came straight to mind: “How much can a Koala Bear?” Loved the fact that the hosts on the buses had to spell out, “Did you know the Koala is not a Bear?” on their way past the exhibit and I wonder a) how they came to be known as a Koala Bear (or a Koala Be even–you know who you are Phillippa Jones!) and b) how Americans are still surprised by that fact.
But as good as it was the Australian Outback wasn’t the highlight of our afternoon. No, the Tortoises were. Yep. The Tortoises. All the way from the Galapagas. The over 100 years old and still going strong. It was feeding time and one of the tortoises (let’s call him Piggy) ate a whole head of lettuce then started playing tug-o-war with his mate’s dinner. Not nice for the mate (not mate as in partner but mate as in friend) but fun to watch. Love surprises like that.
Share nicely “Piggy” (Piggy not in the middle, Piggy just managed to take that whole lettuce minus one leaf from his poor hungry mate!)
Top Billing: the star of the zoo is
But who gets top billing of the day? This Magpie deserves top billing as the star attraction. Say “hi” and he’ll say “hi” back. No word of a lie– click on the links and watch these!
And as if that surprise wasn’t enough we were getting a drink and they were letting some birds go in an afternoon ritual where they get to stretch their wings and go for a fly. Thanks for the special show, we really were special guests.
Along the way I heard a boy say to his Dad, “Can you find someone to carry me?” Couldn’t agree more. That’s what the buses and SkySafari is for though so we had to do one more trip on the SkySafari–this time back down the hill.
You’re either a regular zoo goer or you’re not. I fall into “you’re not” category and loved every minute of it spending the day with the family at the San Diego Zoo. It’ll be one of the days I’ll treasure in our Californian adventure.
Typically when you’re young, keen parents you take the little kids then you may or may not remember to bring them back when they’re older. It’s great when they’re older and you go and appreciate different things. Stop thinking about it and do it–you can’t possibly regret it.
xx It Started in LA xx
PS: It Started in LA & family were guests of the San Diego Zoo. Thanks so much for hosting us. We had such a fun time and would love to do it again. It’s a good idea to buy tickets before you go and here’s a link I prepared especially for you.
PPS: I’ll leave you with this image of Mother Duck heading out with her little ducks. Gorgeous. Surprised, however, by the number of people who thought that meant they could go up to the little ducks and pat them. Lucky the zoo had it all under control with one of the keepers keeping a closing eye on them to make sure that didn’t happen. Good job (as the Americans like to say and that I’m trying to avoid using quite as much as I do).
Mother Duck went out one day, over the hill and far away
We’re back! You may recall we’d all been a bit homesick and with Spring break coming up made a last-minute decision to visit mum in the green valleys of Wales. It was the perfect getaway to recharge our batteries at the same time staying away from Australia as going back there would completely do our heads in.
We enjoy visiting Wales. It’s funny because we’ve never lived there, nor did I grow up there but we always get this comforting feeling like we’re coming home. Probably because that’s where mum & my brother live and I love catching up with my cousins while we’re there.
Single-lane roads in Gower
REVIEW: Brittania Inn, Gower
Having only one week was good: we did only the things we really wanted to. One of the highlights of the trip had to be the divine pub meal we had at the Brittania Inn on the picturesque Gower Peninsula. Every time we visit we take a drive on the narrow country roads, marvel at the rolling valleys with lush green grass and sheep feeling at home in the middle of the road. It’s truly beautiful. When we first visited of course we’d visit the grand old castles signalling the deep, rich history the country has to offer. We still marvel at them but we almost take them for granted with a “been-there-done-that” smugness.
I don’t know if it was living in America for seven months (and being without British/Australian food) that caused us to rave, the change in ownership or watching Luke serve the entire restaurant and front bar on his own with his efficient yet laid-back Gower attitude, but we were captivated. I ordered the Welsh Steak & Ale pie. It was nothing short of To. Die. For.
Welsh Steak & Ale Pie at the Britannia Inn, Gower. To. Die. For.
Remember we ate not long ago at TODD English pub in Las Vegas–celebrity chef and all–but this meal wins hands down with its simple, let-the-food-do-the-talking approach to food. Everyone’s food was magnificent.
I started with a goat’s cheese tart that had freshly roasted vegetables in a fine pastry with freshly sourced goat’s cheese proving once again that quality ingredients are vital to making a good dish a great one.
Welsh Goat’s Cheese Tart
No room for dessert yet we still ordered and again that was stunning. (I highly recommend the Vanilla Cheesecake with raspberry sorbet and its extremely generous portion–but still my brother was reluctant to share. My son–the purveyor of profiteroles–thinks these are some of the best he’s had).
How does a pub literally in the middle of nowhere pull off such mouth-wateringly stunning meals? And then how does a pub in the middle of nowhere retain a top chef like this?
It was so good we went back a couple of days later just to make sure the meals were as good as we remembered. (And they were!)
Experiencing life from another angle
I love that everything in Wales is different–and you couldn’t get any more different from LA. That’s what travelling is all about really. Frankly, that’s what living in another country is all about–experiencing life the way others’ see it and appreciating things from a different perspective.
When we lived in Shanghai it was easy to contrast our life there with life in Australia. Now that we’re living in another Western country, though, it’s even more interesting to think about how different we all are yet we’ve come from the same place (for all intents & purposes). It’s not just that the Americans tried to simplify spelling or started driving on the wrong side of the road or even that they made turkey an everyday protein rather than a special-occasion one, after a “number” of years at living in different parts of the globe we’re all different now. It intrigues me so as I dwell on it some more be sure to get more posts on this topic.
And, it was interesting speaking to some of my readers about what they like hearing about, what they want more of and how much more they want. The main thing everyone had in common was surprise that celebs actually walk around and do things normal people do (clearly not trash mag buyers!).
Two things hit me:
Keep my blog dream alive–everyone is interested in life in LA and wants to hear more.
Celebrities are just normal people. It sounds strange to say but somehow because they’ve been successful in movies or TV Shows or created a phenomenal band and we see pics of them on the red carpet etc we don’t imagine them to be real. They are. They really are! More to come on this too but in the meantime I’ll leave you with one thought … yes, celebrities fart too.
Meanwhile back in LA …
There was another earthquake over the weekend–bigger and more damage than the one that freaked me out. Lucky for us it wasn’t as frightening where we are because the epicentre was much further away. I thought there might be one while we were away. I’m adopting the positive-thinking approach though and have a feeling there won’t be a big one like the “Shamrock Shake” for a while.
xxx It Started in LA xxx
Link to the Britannia Inn’s website if you want to book in lunch or dinner. Especially if you live nearby, you’d be mad not to.
I never expected to actually visit Las Vegas. Not necessarily because I didn’t want to or that it wasn’t on my bucketlist but that it wasn’t high enough on my bucket list for me to get there.
Moving to LA certainly changed that. When you live in LA you have no excuse (or reason) not to visit Vegas. Especially if your goal is to experience as much as you can of America.
I didn’t know how to tackle Vegas. Mr H has been there a few times for work and to see the Rugby World Sevens but it’s not exactly the type of place I expected to go for a family holiday. Until a friend suggested we join her and another friend for a long weekend. With our families. Off we go, no need to ask me twice!
What to do in Las Vegas
The thing about Vegas (that I didn’t expect) was how American it was yet totally un-American all at the same time. Let me explain. It’s so over the top with all the different resorts Vegas is definitely one of those #onlyinAmerica places. It’s crazy!
But at the same time as being American it is so un-American in that everyone walks around with an alcoholic drink in their hand. It is legal to carry & drink alcohol on the Strip. So everyone does it. It brings new meaning to the term “traveller”. And shops are making a killing from it. The rule seems to be: When-in-Vegas-you-must-buy-the-biggest-cocktail-you-can-and-bring-it-with-you-everywhere-you-go. Preferably in a huge Eiffel Tower-shaped see-through “glass” or another over-sized container. Either that or a beer.
I love a drink I’ve never made a secret of that but I have to say I wasn’t about to carry a huge daiquiri around with me. Especially with the kids. (Each to their own though).
Everyone can and does smoke. And Nevada is a gun-loving state so it’s easy to go one block off the Strip and get yourself a rifle (remember the Aussie swimmers who got themselves in hot water for posing with guns in a shop outside Vegas?). (I guess the gun thing is actually quite American but you don’t see gun shops off Rodeo Drive–only the gun safes in Costco!).
How Vegas has managed to capture the conference market, families, entertainers, casino owners, luxury brands and yogans (American bogans) all in one is beyond incredible. Vegas has managed to do what few places can’t–attract everyone. It’s lifestyles of the rich and famous meets bozo the hobo trailer trash yogan. With everyone in between. Fabulous.
We were in the lifts coming down from my friend’s 59th floor suite and in hops Mr-&-Mrs-to-be Yogan saying, “We’ve just got engaged!!” He must have splurged his life savings to get that room (it was the lift for all the suites) and they were going all out.
Upmarket shopping heaven
There’s literally something for everyone
Driving from LA
The drive from LA to Las Vegas is easy and scenic. It should only take about four hours but beware if there’s traffic that could double to eight and you’re stuck with no way to veer off course.
It’s wonderful for an Australian living on the West Coast to witness the change in landscape from the Canyons of LA to the vast desert of Nevada then be greeted by the uniqueness of the Strip that is Vegas. The desert was something else–it was greener than I expected. There were many Joshua Trees to make it interesting but there were also many green bushes. What made our day though was seeing the tumbleweeds dancing amongst the bushes and Joshua Trees. Picture perfect postcards straight from the movies. The only thing missing was Roadrunner (they are real you know).
While on the road the main thing that caught my attention were the groups of people clearly roadtripping. It’s hard not to generalise but there were lots of groups of boys (you know? around 21 or so clearly going to have a good time) but also lots of families. It wasn’t what I expected to see. There was something about the way everyone was driving that suggested (like us) there was excitement in the car at the thought that in the next couple of hours they’d be in Vegas.
Arriving in Vegas
Get off the freeway as soon as you’re entering Vegas so you drive down the Strip. It was such an exciting feeling pooping that roof down and feasting on all the sights and sounds Vegas has to offer. We toured up and back to get our bearings and to soak in the atmosphere (also a great way to quickly check it out without needing to soak your feet in the bath for hours).
Check out my Vegas tip later in the post about cruising the Strip in style.
Vegas as a family
Vegas is doable as a family but you have to know what you want to do and plan a little. For example when we arrived we went for a little wander and I wanted a pre-dinner drink and to give the kids a snack. 5:00 wasn’t a good time to get an outside table because they were keeping these for diners only yet the tables for drinks only was in the bar space which isn’t the best place for the kids. Not a great start but we were off and running. Thankfully mine are older now.
There’s lots to see. And do. Walking around and exploring the casinos is enough to fill your day. Beware, wear comfortable shoes, there’s a lot of walking to do. Do, however, think about what you’ll be doing and what you’ll be checking out. You might feel comfy in those white runners, socks and shorts but you might not feel (or make it to a best-dressed list) the same when you walk into Dior looking for your next outfit (or trying to look like you can afford said outfit).
Book a suite–or score an upgrade. Do your research as there are great deals out there. Carefully check room sizes.
Book a limo to take you around & cruise the Strip in style.
Book a Show. Or more than one Show. There are literally tons to choose from. And great acts with so much variety. There are seven Cirque du Soleil shows alone. Plus Britney Spears is playing at the moment.
Trip around the world. Start in Venice (the Venetian), head to Paris (Paris), Rome (Caesar’s Palace) & New York (New York New York). If you’re feeling up to it visit Egypt too (Luxor).
Go shopping. Window shopping if you can’t afford the many designer shops on offer or outlet shopping if you wanna be but can’t be. Don’t forget to visit the Ferrari dealer at the Wynn. Our taxi driver tells us it sells more Ferraris than any other dealer in the US.
Book restaurants ahead of time. There are many walk-ins in Vegas being the tourist town but the waits (especially for outside tables) can be atrocious. It’s easy to book beforehand so make your life easier by doing so.
Detour to the Outlet shops, there are heaps to choose from and slightly less tax than in LA.
Splurge a little: YOLO!
So what did the kids think of Vegas?
They thought it was good. They liked the different “countries” and things to do but they hated walking through the casinos to get there and the smell of smoke which was everywhere. It’s funny how not so long ago cigarette smoke was in the air in restaurants and indoor places yet take it away and you get used to clean air. Each casino is different though. They enjoyed the shows and being exposed to all Vegas has to offer but they’re a bit straighty-180 so couldn’t cope with it for too long. A long weekend is enough.
Last bit of advice: get in early to make good use of your first day (and beat the traffic) and save checking out nearby casinos til last. That way you can venture out on your full days, still look around on your last day and hopefully get away ahead of the traffic. No point ruining the moment by sitting in traffic on your way back to LA.
If you’re visiting LA and have a couple of days up your sleeve, seriously consider a trip to Palm Springs, a couple of hours out of LA.
The view of a golf course from the mountain I hiked on.
How gorgeous and stylish can a desert be? Really? Well Palm Springs proves it can be. It is one of the most beautiful places on earth. It has its own look and feel: a cross between 1950’s/1960’s vintage glamour and a classic movie set. Those coffee-table books you see depicting that quintessential California style brings images of Palm Springs to the forefront of your mind don’t just pick out the best of the best–it’s all like that.
A weekend feels like a week and the feng shui–with the mountains surrounding you, protecting you–brings a sense of tranquility and well-being to the place. Why aren’t all the rehab clinics here?
Add to that its history as a place where Hollywood’s A-listers came to play and you’ve got yourself a magical recipe of gastronomical proportions.
OK, it probably helps that I was invited by a friend who has the most divine house. OOzing Palm Springs style I was not only cast as a leading lady in a vintage movie (or Slim Aarons coffee table book) but I was treated to one of the most gorgeous weekend experiences ever. From sightseeing to shopping, lunches and dinners to hiking and a foot massage thrown in in-between she knew how to host so her guests felt like royalty.
At least I’ve known Palm Springs the luxe destination. When I return it’ll still be amazing but it makes a difference where you stay. So, I’m going to save my pennies and stay in one of the many hotels that also look like they’re out of a Hollywood movie. Maybe by then they’ll be hosting me! Share my blog and let’s see where I can stay!
Check out my Pinterest board for all things Palm Springs & some of the hotel suggestions I’m going to consider for my next visit.