New York, New York

I must admit that I was a little hapy to be leaving a bleak and windy San Fran that morning.  Ready for the long haul to New York its going to be about 5 hours flight and arriving around 5pm.  Well that’s what the prediction was until we hit bad weather and circled around the airport for an hour.  The pilot announced over the loud speaker that we were being diverted to another airport and would have to wait there for another hour before getting on our way again into JFK.  No sooner did he announce that delightful message, not more than 1 minute later he announced that no, we wouldn’t need to be diverted and that we would be about land shortly.  Very happy people cheered after that announcement.

The “arriving” part of all my flights have been really good, with no dramas with bags or the transfers to the hotels.  Could be due to the fact that I’m always most excited when I land in a new city wondering what adventures will be ahead of me this time round.  The mini bus is full and I seem to get the front seat most of the time (being a party of 1) so that’s good for me.  Might I add that it’s not just the NY cab drivers that are crazy here, it’s the airport shuttle drivers too!! Thinking we were going a little fast I looked over to the drivers dashboard and saw that we were going 70 miles down 7th Ave NYC.  For a comparison, it would be like driving down Ruthven Street in Toowoomba doing 110km/hr.  Thankfully my hotel was not too far down on 7th Ave from Central Park (where the 70m/hr ride began), and I hear a “ooooohhh” coming from a pair sitting behind me, when we pull up to what appears to be my very swanky hotel “Manhattan on Times Square”.  So deep down I’m a little chuffed to be staying here.

Back to the warmth of what Summer should be, once I check in and drop by bags off in my room I’m off again roaming a new set of streets and avenues along with what seems to be 1,000 other people thinking of doing the same thing!  I’m buzzing so much on the inside, so excited to be here finally.  It doesn’t take long to notice the advertising LCD screens of Time Square, with the glitter New Years Even ball placed above the highest screen.  For dinner I have my very first hot dog fully loaded with mustard, ketchup and crunchy onions with pickle relish.  Delicious!!

The next day I’m off the the ticket box to redeem my vouchers for the hop on/off bus tours and entry passes to all the tourist sights.  It’s going to be a busy 5 days.  First of all it’s the “Downtown Loop” which take almost 2 hours to do the whole loop.  It was just what I needed to get my bearings.  The main attractions on this loop was Time Square, Madison Square Garden, the Bakery out of Sex and the City, Katzis Deli (from When Harry Met Sally), Ground Zero 9/11 Memorial, Battery Park (Statten Island Ferry, Ellis Island and Statue of Liberty), Brooklyn Bridge, China town, Soho, Little Itally, United Nations, Rockafeller Plaza and Central Park.  Either we had a bus full of people with the driest of humours or the tour guide was the only one who thought he was funny.

After this loop was over it was onto another bus to do the “Uptown Loop”.  At this point it’s good to add that these buses are open top up stairs and freezer boxes downstairs.  So we’re on our way past Central Park, Lincoln Memorial, all the Museums, Washington Heights, Harlem and back round to the Zoo and more museums.  Half way through Harlem the heavens decided to open up and the top of the bus went from happy snapping tourists to white covered hooded foreign gangsters with our tour bus supplied plastic ponchos.  There were not many photos taken from that part of the tour onwards.  With my trusty little pocket umbrella in my camera case I was set to keep on exploring once we got off the bus.

It was a Sunday and pretty much all day I’ve been thinking about this Yankee’s and Red Sox game that was going to be played later that night.  This game was on my list of things to do right from the start.  I even went into the club house store ready to get all the gear to support my adopted cities team.  Turns out that I wasn’t that brave enough to get my sh*t together and get to the stadium and to the game.  Which in hindsight turned out to be a ok decision not to go.  Instead I spent some more time around the city and had the most amazing time for dinner at a little place called “Ellen’s Startlight Diner”.  This place was fantastic, the most electric atmosphere where the waiters take turns in belting out a show tune for the customers.  It turns out that this diner has been doing this for decades and that the staff who work there are using it as a stepping stone to get into the broadway musicals that are playing.  In the last year they have lost 14 of their wait staff to the musicals with some of them taking lead roles in some.  These people just oozed talent, I didn’t want to leave, so I had to stay and have an authentic diner dessert too!  Oh and the Yankees game went on for over 3 hours so in the end I’m glad that I didn’t go.

The next two days I’m going to summarise in into one.  I have never walked so much in my life in such a short period of time.  First up was the trip over to see the Statue of Liberty.  This was my first real taste of being a true tourist and what better way to start but to wait in line (in the hot sun) for 1 hour and 12 minutes before getting through security.  I feel like I’m the only non speaking French person in the area at this point in time.  They are everywhere!!  So it’s onto the cruise boat and over to the island.  Let this be how the scene will be set for all the tourist activities and sights that I am about to embark on over the next 2 days.  You can tell from a distance that this place is already packed!  I had it in my mind very early on that I would hop off the boat, go around to the front of the statue, take my photos, take a minute to experience the moment, then quickly stop in the gift shop (because it’s got air-con and cold water) then hurry back around to the dock to get back on the boat.  I was on that island less than 36 minutes, but suited me ok.

It’s already 2pm in the afternoon so I head on up to the 9/11 Memorial which turned out to be perfect timing as the line was only a 15 minute wait to get in.  I was a little undecided about whether or not to go in.  It’s not really the place that should be a huge tourist area so I took a moment outside the gates for reflection.  Once inside it felt like that there was no bustling city going on with it’s business around the site.  You couldn’t really hear the traffic apart from the construction crews working on building the new 2 towers.  Or maybe it was the fact that you couldn’t really think of anything else that was going on around you, once inside.   I jump back on the loop bus and head back up to Rockafeller Plaza but by that time I didn’t have the energy or patience to wait another 45 minutes to be able to go up to the “Top of the Rock”, so this is carried over to tomorrow’s “to do list”.

In my last full day in NYC, there is still about 3 days worth of things that I have to do on my list.  If I could have my time again I don’t think I would spend another 1+ hour lining up to go up to the top of the Empire State Building.  But it’s one of those “must do” things on everyone’s list right?!?  Once again, once I was up there I snapped by camera way around each of the four sides then I was back down through the gift shop and back down to ground level and outta there!!!  It was at that point that I came to the concluion that I would waste anymore of my time waiting in lines for things I would not spend more than 30 minutes visiting.  Again using my trusty size 9’s I walked back up to Central Park, via Bryant Park (earlier on this morning there was over 100 people doing yoga in this park).  Where does the time go!!! It’s mid afternoon and I realise that I have not done any shopping what so ever since I arrived here.  I have heard of a few places to go into from friends who have been to the states before.  So there was a spot of window shopping done before heading into Central Park.

With my map back in the hotel, I just wander around the park taking it all in.  Again I know I’ve said it before, but everything seems so much smaller in real life.  I expected this park to go for miles.  But I made it through half of it with my newly aquainted fury friends who seem to be following me waiting for some offerings I presume.  The boat house – check, Alice in Wonderland statue – check, Strawberry Fields – check, and a few other places along the way – check!  But now I have to make haste back to my hotel for what will be my most favourite night and experience to be had in NYC – “Wicked” the musical…. on Broadway!!!!

With ticket in hand and some bratty kids in the lift pressing all the buttons from the 19th floor of the hotel down to the lobby, I finally arrive at the Gershwin Theatre.  Hmmm will it be a Glinda or an Elphaba daquari???  And the waitress had to ask if I wanted alcohol in it!  With my Glinda Raspberry Vodka daquari I make my way down to my seat and it’s amazing!!!  Four rows back from the front and just off to the right of centre stage.  With a full orchestra almost at my feet, I am overflowing with excitement!  Right from the very first note from the orchestra, to the last note of “Defying Gravity” to end the first session, I am loving every second of this musical.  All good things must come to an end but i still turn to the lady sitting next to me and say “again!!!”  Sadly, it is over but the number one on my “to do list” was so much better than I expected it to be.

Tomorrow I’m off to Washington DC for a full day of more sights this country has to offer.  It’s going to be a long day with a 6am start so it’s good night from me from the best night so far of my trip.

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San Francisco

With Viva Las Vegas behind me and the first 5 days done and dusted, it’s time for San Francisco to show me what she has to offer. The first thing you notice when you arrive in San Fran in Summer….. there is no Summer!!! It’s just like being at home for the Winter, but the good thing is that it’s not home, it’s San Francisco. There’s still a fair bit of sun left in the day so it’s off exploring I go once all checked in at the Handlery. Very nice hotel and the rooms appear to be recently renovated so it’s nice and modern. With white fluffy bath robes! Anyway, back to the exploring. With the fact that this city has over 70 hills all over, I’m conscious of how many I will go down and therefore will need to come back up over on my journey back to the hotel. I find myself in China Town and thinking that I’ve got my bearings already in these new surroundings. I even made it all the way down to the start of the Italian district, when I think to myself, “self, you better turn back around before you get lost”. So I go down a block and head back up the way I thought I came. Long story short, I did end up back at Union Square which is where I started from however that was not the way I thought I was heading – lucky for me!

It’s probably almost dinner time now (around 6:30pm ish) even though the sun is still up shining brightly. I walk around aimlessly for a few blocks looking what appears to be popular spots and I find “Lori’s Diner”. It’s an upstairs joint so I head up and once again tell the waitress “table for 1 please”. She takes me to a booth and as I sit down I experience the true meaning and feel of a diner. The seat has the indent in it of the hundreds of others who have sat in the same seat and the same booth that I find myself in right now. How very authentic. Imagine in your head what you picture an American Diner to be (and the sights of them that you’ve seen in the movies) and that’s what this joint is to a tea! It’s fantastic, with the old juke box playing a range of music from back in the day, the waiters/waitresses all have their little paper diner hats on and everything looks like it would have back in the 50’s/60’s. Steak, garlic vegies (they were the yummiest), baked potato with sour cream and a little dinner roll was placed in front of me. I was tempted to go for a milkshake too but played it safe with a water instead.

After dinner I head back up to Union Square where there was a large crowd dancing 50’s swing style. It was great to watch and there was even a guy giving half of the group lessons on the steps. The band that was playing “Slim Jenkins” was amazing and they really had the style and feel of jazz/swing music mastered. I wanted to stand there to watch and listen all night long, while swinging my hips from side to side like I had no control over them. The band finished and the crowd quickly dispersed. So I headed back over the road and towards my hotel when I came across another little 3 member band ‘ish. Three guys, one on lead vocal and drums (with flaming drumsticks too!!!), one on bass guitar and the last guy on electric guitar. They were amazing! Such contrast to the swing band that had my attention not 5 minutes earlier.

As the sun sets on my first day, I head back up to my room and turn in for the night. The bed here is very comfy too. The yanks certainly do know how to fill their hotels with the comfy beds and pillows!

Day 2 and I’m up early to start my Napa Valley Wine Tour. With a freshly toasted bagel in one hand and a caramel latte in the other I’m ready to tackle the day. Our tour guide is Eric (he will be known as the first of 3 “Eric” tour guides that I have had the pleasure of meeting). He also drives the bus for the day too. Sorry, my apologies…. “Coach”!! (reference for you there Cass!) First stop is Jacuzzi Wines (yep like the hot tubs). Got to taste my first US home grown/made wines here and to be honest, ours puts these ones to shame. Although I did like the last one, which the name escapes me right now but it sounds like it’s a house name out of Harry Potter. Zinfandel….. or something like that??? It’s not long til we arrive at our next winery. Actually it’s right across the road from this one, literally. The gardens and surroundings are just gorgeous and so peaceful. Again, not much chop of the wines but the place was still amazing. Geez we’re spoilt with good wines at home. Then it’s off to the little town of Sonoma. This is where we stop for lunch and a look around. The town is beautiful and I could see why the people who live there are so friendly and laid back. Keeping with the wine theme of the day, I head over to the Cheese Factory and choose a selection of cheese, salami, sun dried tomatoes and crackers to have for lunch, with a side of the juiciest red grapes. So delicious!!! The park is the central part of the town with its resident family of ducks that roam around the gardens and fountain. After lunch it’s back on the coach and off to our last winery “Madonna Winery” (not named after the 80’s pop star). The Cab Sav here is to die for!!!! Yu-umm! But $50 a pop and no shipping back home, I settled for another tasting instead. A big day and we’re back in San Fran. Sushi for dinner tonight and the place quickly packs out with a line forming out the door and back up the stairs to the street (I arrived at the perfect time).

Day 3 ad it’s our Safari Tour, with tour guide “Eric” number 2. This guy is fantastic, with his safari getup ad all. We were also all given our own little safari helmet and cheetah print knee blankets. Just like the travelling Uncle out of Fraggle Rock. It’s cloudy, rainy and windy early on a San Fran morning (like every morning I’ve been told). But our first stop is the Golden Gate Bridge. When you look at the photos, remember that it felt worse than it looked. But lucky the photos turned out ok. We trekked over every part of San Fran that we could, and by that I mean we went past the most zig zag street in the world “Lombard Street”. Apparently earlier in the year a limo tried to go down it with a group of students on board, on their way to their formal. They thought it would be a perfect moment to remember and experience on their special nite. Turns out that it takes the city of SF 12 hours to find a crane to extract the limo out of Lombard Street once it got itself stuck on turn number 3!!! Wouldn’t you be spewing if you were the car after the limo! During lunch I got chatting with an American couple on holidays and the lady works for a production company “Python People”. Turns out she’s just come back from Australia where she setup a series of the show all around Queensland and the Northern Territory. I haven’t had a chance to google them yet but she talked about meeting Bob Irwin and working up in “Carnes” aka Cairns.

The tour finishes down at the pier and onto our ferry across to Alcatraz. I might just add here (this goes for any future reference of sights and places too), that everything appears so much smaller in reality than it does on TV or in the movies. A short 15 minute ferry ride over the island and we’re off exploring, that’s Piggy and I. With a self-guided tour headset on we begin to relive the time when this place housed the worst of them of all. This is the place where you go when the maximum security places can’t handle you. The fact that it’s freezing and blowing a gale just adds to the eeriness of the empty concrete yard where you know that’s this is where they must have plotted with each other on their planned escapes (reference for you Lola!!).

All that inhabits this place now are the gulls, and their babies. Big fluffy brown versions of their parents, in their nests waiting to be fed. A local guide even found one mummy gull with her baby underneath her wing with its beak and one little eye peering out of the white feathers. It wasn’t until we were out of the tour and had returned to the outdoor paths of the island that I remember Piggy was in my pocket the whole time. Sorry no photos within the cells but did get some outside.

With that ticked off my “to-do-list”, the ferry takes us back to the pier. It’s at this point that the good times of the day come to a halt. I find myself walking aimlessly around the place trying to find out how I’m going to get back to Union Square from the Wharf (which by the way is not a walk that anyone would want to do). I asked one cable cart driver which one I had to take to get me back to the hotel, and without looking at me he pointed over to the big blue bus across the road, heading the opposite direction, saying “you need that one”. Ok, good to know but there was no way I was going to catch ‘that one’! Anyway, as it turned out after another good 30 mins of walking around what seemed to be the same 2 blocks not knowing how the heck I’m going to get back to the hotel, I decided to take a breather and have some dinner. It’s around 7 pm by now and still light (love these long days of sunlight). I decide to take a look at Pier 39 and I find little fish and chip shop with the freshest catch of the day right off their boats. It was just what I needed and plus it was out of the cold wind. It’s amazing what a belly full and a regroup can do for you when you feel like things are getting on top of you.

And with that I’m back onto the main road and low and behold….. another Big Blue Bus!!!!! I quickly shuffle on over to it and it is going to exactly where I need to be. The added bonus is that the driver is giving running commentary, telling jokes and a history lesson all in one, along the way. He also had his iPad going playing songs that reference SF in one way or another. “Who Let the Dogs Out” because there are more dogs in SF than children. Adam Lambert because American Idol auditions were in town and Tony Bennet’s “I left my heart in SF”, that one is self-explanatory. There were a few more but can’t remember them. He is fantastic!!!!! Just imagine the Asian guy out of The Hangover and that would be this guy. Exactly what I needed to pick up my spirits. Everything is good in the world again. And with that my time in San Francisco is almost up.

This is the Last of Las Vegas

Ok so where I left off earlier this morning, I’ve got the last 40 hours left in Vegas on my pat malone so it’s a quiet nite in and up after a little sleep in the next day.  Still with my 24hr bus pass I figure I can get from the Luxor all the way up to Freemont Street (Old Vegas) within the time left on my pass.  So it turns out that I didn’t have enough time left to get me up to the other end of Vegas.  And when the transport officer (I figured that’s what he was) got on the bus I started to stress out.  “It was valid when I got on and I lost track of time” was what I was prepared to say to him…. Here I was thinking I was going to be repremanded by a transport officer, and I was going to get off at the stop that he got on at.  Turns out I was stressing for one stop for no reason (it was a long time between stops), so my actual stop was only another 2 away so I got away with that one.  I guess there’s worse things I could do hey!

Now I’m up on “Freemont Street” which is where the Strip started for Vegas “Old Vegas”.  It was very retro and still had all its lights flashing on all of the old casinos.  The biggest plus to this place was that it wasn’t over run with huge crowds.  Nice for a change.  So I made my from the middle over to the west end, then doubled back and across to the far east end, until it all got a little dodgy so I turned back around and headed back to the bus stop.  I was there for about 45 minutes at this stage when I came acrosss a small crowd of people gathered around a guy doing a street gig.  Turns out he makes art work with spray paint cans.  He was absolutely amazing, so very talented and I almost walked away with a painting myself.  I’ll post photos of one of the paintings I watched him do from scratch.  Ended up watching him for the same amount of time I had already been on the street for.  Some people are ooozing talent, thi guy was one of them!!!

So next I’m back on the bus (this time with a new 24hr pass).  I head down a few more stops and get off at the “Stratosphere”.  The big tower that looks like Seattle Space Centre.  Of course I’m going to go up (Dad, did you put on your brave pants and go up???), so after I tried to go up the escalator apparently for VIP’s!, I was quickly ushered along and told how the general plebs get up to the tower.  A rather long wait to get into the lift to get up (of course) but for the poor young girl who fainted in her Dad’s arms due to the lack of air con in the place, the wait was a bit too much.  I thought it best that I don’t buy the ticket that includes all 5 rides that you can go on when you’re up the top of the tower (Lise, you could agree with that).  But it was fun to watch everyone else go through all the pain, nervousness and screaming while I sat on the sidelines and take photos of their freaked out faces!!  It was getting later in the afternoon so no wonder I was starting to feel a little hungry.  At the top of the tower was a make your own sandwich bar so that was a nice change to all the other burger and chips (sorry “crisps”) offerings on most of the menus.  Although I’ve been pretty good on the food front.  So anyway, roast beef base on a white rolls was what I was given, then the rest of the salad and sauce bar was at my mercy.  Yu-um!!!!  Of course it came with a super size Coke so that was the compromise.

This bus idea is much better than trying to do this walking game all the way back down to my hotel, and they’re air conditioned! Plus you get to do the tour of the strip again and sit back, relax and people watch.  So I’m back down to the Mandalay Bay which is next to the Luxor, where the bus lets me off.  Then I remember that the Aquarium is at the Mandalay.  After a wild goose chase of what seemed to be around the entire circle of the hotel, I finally find the entrance to the exibit.  A lot like Underwater World, but not as good.  But still got to test out my camera some more and play with the motion and dark lighting pics.

By the time I actually get back to my room after another full day of sight seeing and crossing more “to do’s” off the list, I realise that it’s almost time to get ready for the Criss Angel show on later tonight.  This is supposed to be the best show on the strip, we’ll see….  My seat is great!!! And half way through the show when he comes up into the crowd, he walks straight our isle shaking peoples hands (more like low 5’s for everyone on the isles), and yes, I did get to touch his hand and say hello.  That was about the most excitement in the whole show.  Don’t get me wrong, his tricks are “OMG how did he do that…..” but there wasn’t anything mind blowing or insanely crazy.  Maybe it just wasn’t for me, but his support act before the show and their parts in his show were HILARIOUS!  Anyway, it wasn’t a late night so after the show I headed back up to my room to re-load my bag with camera in hand once again.

This time I have just a few more things on the “to-do list” that I still want to check out, this being my last night and all.  Again with the bus express, it’s all the way back up the strip to the Bellagio.  First stop…. “Dancing Fountain at night”.  I get there and it’s just finished (next one in another 30 mins).  So I hike it up to the Mirage to see the volcano errupt, only to find out that it only happens on the hour (not every half hour like I thought).  So the last on the list is up to Treasure Island to watch the Boy Pirate Ship and the Girl Pirate Ship blow each other up (and watch the show they put on…..).  If I wasn’t already starting to get over all these people, at TI I’ve never seen so many people congregate in such a small space.  If you just wanted to pass by and get to the other side of TI, you got NO CHANCE!!!  Anyway, I managed to get a semi ok spot up on the viewing platform.  Good show, in true vegas style there was a lot of skin showing on the girls and even more importantly there was a whole lot of abs and muscle showing on the guys.  You can never have enough half naken men!

With a break from walking and fighting the crowds during that show, I now find myself having to fight that huge crowd as we all move at the same time (like a big fat moving anaconda that just ate a football field of people), to make my way back down to the Dancing Fountain.  Yes, I’ve decided that the volcano errupting will have to be sacrificed (otherwise it’s a 1am home time for me!).  Again, a show just finished when I arrived but with my poor feet needing a rest (completely wore the wrong shoes for walking long distance), I found a good vantage point and chilled there for the short wait.  I got this one on video and with my previous 2 viewings that were watched earlier (the first to “All that Jazz”, the second to “Viva Las Vegas”), this one was to a lovely piece of classical and soothing musical piece.  Like it was meant for soothing my poor feet and legs.  Done, done and decided to skip the last few things on my list, I headed back to the hotel.  Realising how hungry I was when I got back (at this time it is around midnight) it was a tub of yoghurt and an orange juice for dinner tonight!! Quite enjoyable indeed.  Tomorrow I have my last of everything in Vegas.

So many memories of the big things and not to forget all the little things that I think “Oh I should put that in my blog”, but have forgotten about.  Trust me they were heaps funny at the time…  With a little more confidence in doing all this on my own, San Francisco… Here I come!!!

The Last of Las Vegas

United flight 667 to LA just boarded so I’m sittling here with me, myself and I catching up on some travel homework and trying to post some photos up to this site (with no luck it seems…).  Arrived here at the airport early after a yummy last breakfast in Vegas (Eggs Benni! on crumpets though… instead of toast or muffins).  Free coffee and juice to wash it down with, well the whole thing was free due to $100 of vouchers the hotel gave me on the first day.  I think the last post had me up to the day that Miss Erin Musgrave arrived.  After trawling the strip for cheap booze, we raided the CVS pharmacy and walked out with a four pack of mini bottles of Australian Wine – Sav Blanc (not one of Australia’s finest!!) and a tallie of Smirnoff Ice (bogan right!!!).  We headed back to the hotel for a quick rest which ended up being on and off for the rest of the night.  With the heat and Ezmay having travelled since midnight that morning, it must have been needed!!

The next day however started nice and early with Ez springing out of bed like a gazelle.  We headed down to the buffet for breakfast (Dad, it wasn’t all that great like your memories of it) but still it was still free (thanks to the vouchers).  After breaky it was onto the express shuttle and down to the Outlet Shopping Centre.  Because we’re on the West Coast, everything that would normally feel like “up” at home is “down” over here (as in directions of which way we’re going…). So some of the shops were a little the same pricing as back home but the Levi’s, perfume, Ralph Polo and DKNY most certainly had the best buys!!!  Enjoy your 2 pairs of Levi’s for $80 Ez!!!!  I’m getting myself some in LA!  Turns out a massive thunder storm passed over us without us even realising, we must have been in the zone.  But like home, that just made it real muggy when we finally made it outside after a half marathon of 5 hours of shopping.  With bags in hand we headed back to the hotel (with our 24 hour buss pass).

So you might have already seen the photo post and check in of the 2 of us at “Dicks”.  We got given those sexy paper hats which we proudly wore all dinner long (for those who haven’t seen these posts, head over to my FB page).  We bravely left the sizing of our alcoholic beverages to the dude who was our waiter.  He was a good laugh, he asked my what size I wanted to which I answered “how big do they come”.  Givin it right back at ya mate (after what he wrote on my sexy hat!!!).  Such a good night and we nailed our huge dinners.  Although the last few bites were a struggle and both of us didn’t eat everything on our plates (sorry Mum).  Lise, I had half a rack of ribs OMG!!!!!  They were amazing!!!!  And we ended up with a huge yard glass of frozen cocktail (me Margarita, Ez a Raspberry Vodka), with the glass being a take home souvenier.  If this was the last of my travel destinations I may have packed it in my luggage, but alas this one got donated to all the rest left behind at the hotel.

Alas Ez has left to head on her next mammoth travel from Vegas all the way to London!!!  With about 3 stops along the way, poor bugger.  It was so amazing to have her here with me on my travels and I’m so grateful and thankful to her for taking the detour to spend some time with me!!!!  She is truly and awesome and amazing gal and friend for life!!!  Luv u Ezmay!!!!  Oh I forgot to mention our trek around the pool area the first day Ez arrive (after my GC tour).  It was hilarious and exactly what you would expect in a Las Vegas casino pool area.  We just laughed and assessed everyone that we passed, good times.  We made it around the full lap of the pool area until we came to a sign that said “VIP Area Only”.  Turns out their security aint that grand in the VIP Area.  Maybe they knew we were celebraties in our own rights!!!

It was a very quiet nite once I was back in the hotel room, by this time its around 8:30pm (the sun is only starting to go down now).

Ok, so my flight is about to board so I’ll have to leave this one here and continue again soon………………

Welcome to the United States of America

After a quick 13 hours in flight with little to no sleep, a very excited Aussie girl landed in the land of the free.  As dawn was breaking and a haze settled in over the city, we landed in LA and the nerves started to set in.  The airport seemed much smaller than what I was expecting but the herd of us on flight QF15 made our way down to customs.  Watching a poor guy get sent back to the forms counter 3 times before he had the right paperwork to be able to enter, while waiting a good 45 minutes in line (that’s probably not very long for LAX right?), I finally approached the officer “Farley” with sweaty palms and nerves running all through me.  Plus I was starting to stress that I was going to miss my connecting flight to Vegas, but I made it through ok and had only a short 10 minutes wait to go through baggage check before my bag was taken again and I was on my way out of the terminal and into another one.  The heat here reminds me so much at home, it was a little comforting.

So I made my way through another check in and security check point before I find a spare seat in an  over crowded terminal, with what turns out to be plenty of time in the end. A couple of announcements come over offering passengers to give up their seats on our flight for $500 in travel credit and a secured seat in a later flight that day.  Tempting…..  Once again we’re up in the air and this time onto Vegas.  Landing a short hour later, the reality sets in that yes, I’m actually in the US and in Las Vegas! The taxi line is crazy long, but at least we’re moving.  It gives me time to scope out the different kinds of people around, lots of fake boobs, orange tans and botox faces, and even a guy who I hope is a Doctor in his full scrubs.  It’s even hotter here but I’m loving it!  A quick ride from the airport to the hotel and I’m back in air con with a strong scent of odd coconut oil wafting around the front main entrance.  The ceiling seems to go forever and there are people everywhere, it seems now that checking into a Vegas hotel on a Friday afternoon is not the cleverest idea.  Again another change to people watch!

So I’m now up in my room which has a great view of a few of the hotels down the strip.  I’m on the top floor so it’s almost 180 degrees view around to the west, north and east.  With 24 hours of no sleep and it only being earlier in the day, it’s time to freshen up and head to explore for the very first time.  The first 3 casinos are linked with a walkway through each, so once I make it out of “Excalibur”, it’s over the foot bridge to “New York New York”, onto the MGM and down the strip along the line of shops between each of the casinos.  So after an afternoon of exploring and trying to stay awake for as long as I can, a quick bite to eat (Beef Burito and – so delicious) and a Margarita to wash it down with before I head back up to the room to turn in for the night.  Plus I’ve got my “Hoover Dam” tour early in the morning.  At this time it’s been a good 32 hours since my I last pushed out some zzz’s.  Good effort if I do say so myself.

So this post is a big one as I’ve only just been able to get the internet connections sorted, which means this is about 3 days of travels and adventure all in one.

I slept like a baby last night and the bed and pillows are heavenly!  As I walk out of the main entrance and head to the pick up area for my Hoover Dam tour, I meet up with a couple from NZ doing the same tour.  As our big pimped up hot pink dodge jeep rolls up (you cannot miss them!), our guide Debbie gets us settled in and we’re off to the next hotel to pick up the rest of our tour.  With a full jeep we’re off out of Vegas and onto Boulder City (the city they built especially to house the workers of the Hoover Dam).  I saw my first Taco Bell today, here in Boulder City.  The dam was amazing with a tour included of the engine room and turbines of the power plant they use to generate power for the surrounding areas.  I can’t remember how far down we were, but if you have a look at one of my photos of the power station at the bottom of the dam spillway.  The stories of how the men (no women) made this dam and the engineering behind it all so far ahead of its time (back in 1935), is amazing.   After our dam tour and a quick walk out to the border crossing between Nevada and Arizona, it’s off to the gift shop to get our free fridge magnet and onto our pink jeep again.  This time we head up to another car park with a short walk up a few stairs and we’re onto the start of the new bridge that has been built over the Hoover Dam.  With cars and trucks screaming past us not 2 meters away, it is truly breathtaking being so far up here looking down on the dam where we had just been.  This part wasn’t supposed to be on our tour itinerary but it didn’t take much to twist Debbie’s arm for her to take us up there.  The rest of the tour group (other than the NZ’s) are all Americans and I had pretty good conversations with most of them, they are so interested on hearing about Australia and my travels plans for the US.  We make our way back to the Jeep and head back to Vegas.  I could have spent another few hours on this tour.  Really loved this tour!!!

So it’s just past midday here when we get back to the hotel, so after a quick drop of stuff back to the room, I’m off again on another exploring expedition.  This one lasts about 3.5 hours and I made it from my end of the strip to the other.  The way to the end was ok and I was handling the afternoon heat pretty well I thought, that was until I turned around and started to head back and realised that how far I had to go to get back to the Luxor.  By this time I’d downed 2L of H2O already.  A recovery stop at the Bellagio to watch the dancing fountain was just what I needed (to find some shade out of the heat helped too!).  They have a show each half hour and I could have stayed there all afternoon to watch each one.  By this time I’m thinking I’m a little hungry, then I think back to the last time I ate….. Yeah that would be last night, so I find a delicious café and chow down on some lunch (somewhat healthy too), oh and another bottle of water.  The next hour is a little blurry as my feet start to feel like they’re on fire but before too long I find myself back in the comfort of the air con’d “Excalibur” which means I’m so close to being back to my hotel, my room and more importantly a cold shower.  What happens next was not on the plans but I must have needed it and the heat I would think had a bit to do with it also.  So I’m sitting in my room giving my poor legs and feet a rest when just close my eyes for a few minutes.  At this time it’s around 4.30pm, the next time I look at the clock is when my phone rings randomly at midnight (Vegas time).  It was only the gardener letting me know that he’ll be around tomorrow to cut down some trees and tidy things up.   Just in case I saw a random guy viciously attacking my garden.  I didn’t have the energy to tell him I wasn’t even in the country anymore.  So now I’m wide awake…. But it wasn’t long until I was back pushing out the zzz’s again after downloading my 500+ photos that I’ve taken only in the first 2 days of my travels.

Another early morning start for me today, but this time it’s “Visitors Day”!!!  With Ms Erin Musgrave en route from Chicago to Vegas, I head off for my “Grand Canyon” tour.  A quick drive to the private “Maverick Executive” airport to board our private chartered jet (feeling like a rock start right now!), we’re on our way to the Grand Canyon.  The pilots are great and we get to move around the plane and head up to the cockpit for a look see and to take some photos.  Even Pig Crackers had a go at flying the plane for us!  And one of the pilots “Todd” looked somewhat like tom Cruise back in his Top Gun days.  A quick 40 minute flight out to GC airport, we get our first glimpse at the Grand Canyon – West Rim.  When we arrive at the airport a few of us are off to the helipads for our next adventure.  The helicopter ride starting over the south rim and heading straight up and over the north rim was amazing.  It was way too short but our pilot “Dave” gave us a few extra minutes and took us over down into the canyon for a little longer.  You can’t come all this way and not see this place from the air, money well spent for sure!!!  After we get back to the helipad and a few photos with Dave and the helicopter, we’re back on the bus and headed up to a Lodge for lunch and a stones throw away from the GC rim itself.  What a backyard for the people that live and stay there!!!  Sitting down for lunch with a few of my new little friends (this place is crawling with little wildlife everywhere, predominantly Squirrels), there was a touch and go moment with poor Pig Crackers.  I was taking his photo with the GC in the background when one of the squirrels got a little too interested and close to Piggy.  I can only imagine what it was thinking when it saw Piggy sitting there on the ledge!  But no pork spit for the wildlife today!  Bought my first lot of souvenirs today, cute little dream catcher earrings – Lise, one for you too!  After lunch and free time at the lodge, we’re back in the bus, back to the airport and back on the plane headed back to Vegas.  Great tour and one day would be great to camp up there and stay for a few days to do some river rafting.

A quick transfer back to the hotel and I’m back up to the room.  When I hear, “Hey Gossy!!!”.  Whoo hooo!!!! Ez has made it safely here from Chicago and we’re ready to do some more exploring.  A quick trip around the pool area, what an eye opener (sights just like in the movies!!), then we’re off to the restaurant for a late lunch.  My first American Cheeseburger….. And a super uber strong Cosmo, which burned the whole way down.  Maybe a dash of “sprite” in this one thanks…..

So I should end this post here and get some sleep myself.  We’re hitting the shops in the morning, after a buffet breakfast of course!!!  Photos are to come and will hopefully be posted tomorrow.  Until my next post (which will be much shorter than this one I promise!)……. More adventures to come.

US of Amanda Jane….

It’s a chilly Friday night out, but I’m nice and warm in front of the heater, stretched out on my lounge with my little furby at my feet.  But this time in 2 weeks I’ll be around 9 hours into my 14 hour flight from the land of oz to the U.S. of A!

This will be my first trip to the US and my first OS trip by myself (well majority of it anyway).  My plan was to do the big loop starting on the West Coast over to the East Coast, down to the South then back to the West.  Well that’s kinda how it will work, with a little detour around Tennessee before heading back to the West Coast.  Where I will catch up with my favorite lil’ sis (ok she’s my only sister but she’d still be my fave) for another 14 days of reliving our childhood and relaxing on the beaches of Waikiki!!

Although everything is booked, all paid for and only a few little things still be sorted, I’m about ready to head off.  With only one week of work left, then 4 days of packing, final list checking, catching up with the gals, and an almost all day visit to my guardian hair angel….. I should be ready to put on my big girl pants and head off for my big adventure.

So my plan is to put most of the updates and posts on here as well as adding all the evidence of what hopefully will be a fantastic and adventurous 5 weeks and 4 days.  I’ll try and put a map up, tagging all the places that I’ll be visiting.  So if you come and take a look, and there’s a place that you’ve been and want to give me some advice, tips and places/sites that have to be a “must see/do” while I’m there, please let me know!!!!!  I have all the touristy stuff covered and booked but it’s all of the other unique and personal experiences that others have had while in the states, that I’d love to know about and try and get to experience too!!  And I already know about Dollywood and Munchkin Land at the bottom of MGM Grand 🙂  So please share……..

The next post will most likely be when I’ve gone through customs and I’m sitting contently waiting for the boarding call of flight QF15 “Brisbane International to LAX”.  Until then…. comment away with all the things that made your holiday in the US and you think that I should experience as well.

USAmandaJane xox