A summary and a farewell (for now!)

So, the newbie traveller’s travels have come to an end, for now! Here are my after thoughts:

I am looking through my blogs that I wrote before my time away and am basing this blog on my experience, bringing it full swing to my original post- how I can help people who have not been backpacking before and a summary of my travels.

Backpackhaving a good backpack was one of the most essential items to have. I cannot stress this enough. Get it right for you and invest in a good quality one! Many people I met had bags that were cheaper and were falling apart. Which brings me to my next item- I was told to bring duct tape but actually if you have a good quality bag then you shouldn’t be needing it. I certainly didn’t.

Trek towel and and a silk sheet– wow were they useful. The towel was super needed in a hostel where towels were only for hiring and not provided. It was also good because it was really absorbent and dried quickly- useful if you are not in a place for too long. The silk sheet was useful for all those times I did not feel safe from bed bugs or any other lingering insects. I am pleased to say though that none of these bugs had any affect on me. Though that doesn’t mean to say I didn’t encounter them through other people’s stories.

Jabs and malarone– hmm this is a tricky one because I didn’t become ill, apart from a cold, once. Of course, I wasn’t in somewhere like the amazon though. The malarone was very expensive and speaking to other people, they just bought some for when they felt like they needed it, which was also never. I also found that malarone gave me vivid dreams which is a side effected for some people. Would I buy it again? Probably, but not as a daily subscription. Jabs are all pretty handy to have for the future so I can never say they weren’t useful. I think the key here is to be vigorous with your mosquito repellent, though some places like in some Thai islands, it’s so touristy that I think the mosquitoes are immune to our creams so we were all eaten alive by them!  Also beware of high DEET oils, I had a high concentration one and it irritated my skin to the point I threw it all out.

Other medicines– Compeed plasters are amazing. Though I was pretty much in flipflops most of my travels, blister plasters are really handy, particularly this brand. Other medicines that I brought- like for stomach problems etc, I didn’t find I needed that much. I know though that, just my luck, if I didn’t have them, I would have needed them!

Hostels vs Hotels debate– Hotels are lovely and are great if you aren’t travelling and made of millions! So hostels were pretty much used for most of my travels. What I discovered with them was that they are not the stereotypes that you would assume, if you have never been to one. They are actually clean, some include a decent breakfast and are very much sociable. They have events including pub crawls, movie nights and tours. Yes, most of the time you will no doubt be sharing with one, or even two, great big whopper of a snorer but if you are travelling by yourself, it really is the best way to meet people.

My stay in New Orleans was a hotel and although it was a much needed break from staying in hostels and I enjoyed my own space and time keeping, not having to disturb people if you come in late or be woken up by people or vice versa, I didn’t really meet anyone there. I think in general, hostels can be quite fun if you are travelling but definitely book yourself into a hotel once in a while, it is very much worth it!

Diary keeping/blogs– ok so I thought I would make a note of this since I definitely have experience in it! I kept up my blog, writing a new entry throughout, every time I went to a new place which in some cases was every other day which would mean writing an entry to that pace! Wow, was it hard work but was so worth it. Some girls that I did a tour with in South East Asia though, would ask me what we did three weeks beforehand and the honest answer would be- I don’t know. If you are going to do a blog/diary- keep it up! It will be so worth it at the end when you have your memories all written down at the time you had them and not later when you barely remember being there!

Airlines– Each flight I took was with a different airline. So I thought I would write my thoughts about some of them that stood out. Lets see, these are the airlines I flew with: Qatar, Jet Asia, Lao Airlines, Ethopian, Cathar, EVA, Virgin America, United, Delta and Virgin Atlantic. Some were great, like Virgin America! It gives you free drinks with the small tv screens on the seat above with cool lighting in the plane whilst you sit on a comfortable leather seat. My flight was one hour! I am not so sure I would find the same service with European service providers. Hmm some others, like Ethopian Airlines, I found not quite to the best standard but ah well it got me from A to B. I did enjoy my Hello Kitty flight from Tokyo to Taipei where everything- my tickets, sign at check, the cutlery, pillows, air stewardesses’ aprons and the plane itself were all Hello Kitty branded. Though I am no fan of Hello Kitty, it was so bizarre that it was actually pretty cool. Sadly, though my transfer flight from Taipei to San Francisco was not Hello Kitty branded.

Favourite and least favourite places– favourites would definitely be Hoi An for its charm, Japan in general for its staggering amount of stunning cherry blossom trees, its bullet trains and sushi, San Fransisco for its coolness, New Orleans for its music and uniqueness in America, San Diego for its silk and beach and Lao for its not so touristy areas and its AMAZING fruit shakes. There were no particular places I didn’t like but I would have to say that sometimes it’s the people that make the memories and not the places. So for that reason, I would say Washington would be up there for one of my favourite places for the people I met and equally for the opposite reasons it would be Ngh Trang (though great for snorkelling) for my run in with my tour leader and Koh Phangan for one of the worst nights out I have had in a good few years!

And finally, what’s next for Diary of a Newbie Traveller – well I have emailed my work to confirm that I am indeed still coming back to work and also to ensure I have a job to come back to! So, tomorrow I will start work after a good few months of “bumming” around the world (or at least some of it!) and funnily enough, though I will never miss the rush hour of the London Underground, I have come to see that it is the most unique transport system in the world. No other place I have seen has the combination of a fantastic train network with the uniqueness of the tubes itself- the design and colour. Most other metro systems seem to be the template of a New York subway (though in some places, cleaner!).

Where is my next destination hit list? One of my lasting impressions that I have had of my travels is how much of Europe I have not seen and seeing as I am from England, it is not so much of a travel for me to do but it is funny that I had to travel half way across the world and have these countries out of my system, at least for the time being, to make me now start to think closer to home.

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So without much more to say, I want to thank all my readers out there who have followed me from the beginning and others who have done so during my travels. Until my next big trip, this is Diary of a Newbie Traveller signing it….for now!

How do you know when you are no longer a tourist?

Well that’s easy when your time in a place becomes blurred and you don’t particularly remember what you have been doing!

New York was the last stop for Diary of a Newbie Traveller. Though I will always be a tourist in a place that I am stopping for a bit and don’t live, this is my third time here. My original intention wad to stay for three nights but then I thought I would use my flexi pass that I purchased to extend my time away. So, I stayed for a week in the Big Apple…

HOSTEL HOPPING

After a reasonably comfortable Megabus journey from Philadelphia to New York, I arrived at my final destination for this trip. Unfortunatley, due to a combination of my lack of organisation, something of a foreign trait for me, and my cards being cancelled in Philadelphia, I booked my accommodation fairly late. As a result, I ended up staying in a hostel for the first night only in the Upper West side of Manhattan. I did ask for longer but they were fully booked, thankfully I was to discover!

I arrived to find two people making complaints to the hostel management which wasn’t a good start. Later when I checked in, the staff told me I didn’t need a password for the wifi, which I later discovered I did with which I went back and he gave it to me with a look as if I was somehow stupid for not getting it from him before. My bed was the bottom bunk of a bunkbed and was so low  that even my 5`3 self had to crouch when sitting! I also had a rug next to me which smelt of someone having recently thrown up on!

Finally, my thoughts of a hostel have always come short of the reality. They are not disgusting and dingy as one would think. Thus far, they were pretty clean and were to a decent quality standard, that is until I stayed there. The bathrooms made me feel like I was back at school with cubicles and horrible grimy showers.Eughh! So that night, I stayed well clear of the hostel and instead spent it in at a contributors meeting for a local New York newspaper where my sister is the editor, followed by a lovely dinner in the West Village.

The next day, I could not be more glad to hurry out of the hostel, much to the surprise of the same not helpful staff from yesterday. From there I lugged my backpack through the subway down to Chelsea for my next stay in another hostel and where I remained for all but one day in my stay in New York.

It was great, I kept my backpack in a locker there and packed an over night bag for my third night in New York, the second chain of the previous hostel also back on the Upper West side.

The next day, I was pretty apprehensive of this hostel from my experience with the first one. So, I made sure I had a late check in and decided that that day I would spend the evening doing my first of two touristy things there, watching the Yankees in the Yankee stadium. In all honesty, it was not as fun or as personal as the Giants game in San Francisco and more pricey.

That night I saw the kindess in strangers. The metro only took coins or credit cards to top up your metro card,neither of which I carried in abundance. However, one guy was happy to give me some quaters to top up my card. Unfortunatley, it swiped me through without me realising and thus reducing my money on the card, leaving me back to my original position. So I had to go to MacDonalds and buy something for change whilst asking for as many change in coins as possible. Upon hearing my dilema, the woman next to me said she had this problem in the UK and then gave me about $5 worth in coins to make sure I got home ok. Finally, thanks to the kindess of strangers, I arrived safe and sound the dodgy hostel!

As I arrived in my room, I met a roomate, a 50 year old man. As soon as I entered, without me uttering a word, he went in to a long talk about his Gaout problems, then about his home town in Louisiana and then finally, after hearing me say I am from London, the greatness of The Beatles and Abbey Road! Wow he wouldn’t be quiet for one second! Needless to say, I made a swift exit from that hostel which was also like its other chain, grimy, and back into the Chelsea hostel. This hostel was great for the location rather then on the Upper West side and it was good to finally be in one spot and not hostel hopping!

NEW YORK

So, back to my original thought. You know when you aren’t a tourist when the days blur and you can’t remember what exactly you have been doing and when, for you can’t put a tourist hot spot into the picture of that day.So, all I can give is a round sum of what I did this past week.

My second tourist spot was to finally go to the Top of the Rock which I did on a good day and the view of Central Park and its perfect rectangular feature was incredible, well worth the visit.

I ate sushi in abundance here and managed to introduce a fellow Brit who I spent yesterday with, the ways of independent sushi bars and not the chains!

I also saw in the luxurious setting of The Plaza, the end filming of American Hustle, a 70s film and sadly just missed out on the chance of catching a glimpse of Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence! Still though, I did enjoy seeing all the extras dressed up in their 70s gear and the cars and yellow cab also stylised in that decade too!

I of course, did a mandatory browse around the shops with some small success. Though, I still think that London shopping is better; it is all in one location!

Now a tall, gleaming building, I remember when the Freedom Tower was only a few storeys high when I first saw it a few years ago, on my first trip to the Big Apple. I walked down with someone from the hostel, to this building, a symbol of the tragedy that took place here and perhaps hope of the good things to come. I don’t know who the architect is but it reminded me very much of the newly built Shard tower in London.

One of the days was spent peacefully lying out in Central Park and underestimating the sun and getting an oh so flattering lobster face in the process! This is the face that I am going back to London with!

My last night there was spent in a bar down the road from my hostel with about 8 people, none of whom had known each other for longer then 24 hours, the beauty of hostels and networking events!

New York is such a great city and I am so glad it was my last stop. Hearing Alicia Keys Empire state of mind, you get a thrill and shivers down your spine of the possibilities the Big Apple can give to people and the electric atmosphere this amazing city has. As one guy in the hostel put it, he actually feels energy flow through his body when he walks on the pavements here. New York,  you most definitely live up to the reputation of “where dreams are made from”!

Well, I am currently on my flight back home to London now where I shall be writing one final entry  for Diary of a Newbie Traveller. Until then…….

Philly rolls, steaks and some American history thrown in the mix too!

Saturday, I had a morning with some of the Brits I had met in Washington. We had an enormous but good breakfast. After which we said bye to one of the Brits and then later I headed off, with some complications, to Philadelphia. My hostel was right in the old part of Philadelphia, so it was great for tourism!

The next day, I headed down to the Old district where my first point of call was the Independence Hall. This hall of course was not originally called that but it was where the Declaration of Independence was thrashed out and then eventually written by Jefferson. It was more importantly, where it was signed! So of course its name was changed. To go in though, you have to get a free ticket from the conveniently located visitor’s centre, just opposite and then go through security.

I think they time it so you can choose to go to this tour after- Congress hall. As Philadelphia was the temporary capital of the United States this was an important building with both houses sitting in it, top and bottom. The bottom level has been used as a template others. Oh and as a tip, if you do go there, be sure to go into the  old Town hall. It looks shut but apparently it is actually open to the public

Behind all these buildings is the Independence Square where the Declaration was supposedly read out to the public for the first time. So after that, I went just opposite to the Washington Square. William Penn created this square, and many others. His idea was to have an asymmetrical line of streets with these picture perfect leafy squares in between. This one, however, was originally used to bury the dead, particularly  AfroAmerican people. The square is also where the tomb of the unknown soldier of the American Revolution is placed. Not so grand as the WWII one in Washington but still commemorative for the people who lost their lives.

Adjaceny to the Independence Hall are many other buildings, many of which I wasn’t able to enter, including the Library where Jefferson had written in a letter, the declaration. The Second Bank of the United States is close, a beautiful pillared building now serving as an art gallery.

Now that it was later in the day, I headed for the top destination sight of Philadelphia, the Liberty Bell. The bell was not rung when the declaration was signed but when it was read out to the public. Ironically, it was made by the English, in the East End of London! In the 19th century it sustained a huge crack and though a lot was done to repair it, it altogether stopped being used. However, its symbol has lived on by others as a sign of hope for liberty and equality: women’s rights, a exact duplicate bell was made for this purpose, black men and women’s rights and native American rights. It was a pretty interesting read.

Next to it was the archaeological remains of George Washington’s house, as the first president. It ia a literal skeleton of room with various videos, including one of his slave who managed to escape but yet he continued to look for her years after.

After, I walked down to Arch Street to see the big sculpture of Benjamin Franklin, followed by a walk around the house of Betsy Ross’s House, the woman who made the first stars and stripes flag despite the dangers at the time. Then it was off to Franklin court, named after the infamous Benjamin Franklin. There, I just had time to see the Print Hous which he used.

My final stop for that day was a small side street, meant to be one of the oldest streets in America. It it a quaint, old English style road with cobbled streets and small two storey victorian terrace houses. It was lovely but it was funny hearing some girls saying how cute this street is, I was so tempted to tell her that in England, there are loads of streets like this. Still though, it was a nice way to finish my day!

The next day, I walked went straight to the US mint building.I had been to the note factory in Washington, so I thought I would see the coin one too. Unfortunately,I needed my passport which I didn’t have on me. I was rudely told that I was not allowes in until I had it and that as a non-american I was even more so in need of identification for the building. The WAshington one didn’t require ID, even though it is worth more. So I went back and got my passport to be greeted by a new security guide who stood there checking and rechecking it as if it weren’t me! I later discovered that another Brit who I met in Washington, also had trouble with the mint factory, after a guard gave him a 10 minute lecture about nothing. To be honest, the hassle wasn’t quite worth it. I am glad I went but it wasn’t all that interesting!

After, I walked through China Town, down to the other end of town, the Parkway Museum district. To enter the main part of the area, you have to walk down a Champs Elysee in Paris lookalike, for this road was modelled after it. At the end, in Logan Square, you are surrounded by large, Roman collanaded style buildings, most of them museums, including the Saint Peter and Paul cathedral which has the most remarkable stain glass windows.

Next stop was Rittenhouse Square district. Here, I stopped deliberately for my lunch- sushi with a Philadelphia roll! Basically like a salon roll but with Philadelphia soft cheese filling. The sushi place was amongst the best I have eaten and so well reasonably priced! The square, is another example of Penn’s stamp with its leafy trees. The area is considered the upmarket part of Philadelphia and is where all the shops are located. From there I walked down to South Street, the cool and trendy part of Philadelphia.

My day would have continued after had my bank not decided to temporarily cancel both my cards leaving me strapped for cash in the supermarket with a long queue behind me!

The next day, thanks to the help of my sister, I fixed my bank issue and headed back down to South street. First though, I had a look at the first bank of the United States, similar in style to the second but is mainly used as offices now.I would have loved to have seen inside though as by pictures, it had a lovely ceiling. After I stopped at Powell House which was closed but thanks to a nice old man helping sort out a wedding there, I had a look at the garden which was just lovely. It is definetly a garden for a wedding reception!

Finally after these two stops I hit South Street again. First stop was Head House Square which I think was one of the first outdoor markets. Either way, today it stands as just simply a land mark, though I am sure events do happen there, that day it was quiet and peaceful. Funny actually, it was about 11am and the whole street was peaceful, maybe because none of the shops were actually open! Further down South street is the Vietnam War memorial for all those American soldiers who died in it. It was, as one would expect, a serene monument, and a good place to sit and relax which is exactly what I did for a bit!

Philadelphia is known for its cheese steaks, so I went to the most famous one which happened to be on South Street. It wasn’t what I expected but still good nonetheless. My final tourist stop in Philadelphia was The Magic gardens which is a large, weird, square made entirely of mosiacs, bicycles, glass bottles etc. Interesting but weird.

The next day, I caught the same bus as the guy who I met in Washington and together we headed for New York where sadly my adventures will draw to a close and where I will be wrapping my final entries of Diary of a newbie traveller.

Washington sites and a lot of laughing!

So I arrived in Baltimore airport to head to Washington and it was my first day that I have arrived in a new city where it was raining, though thankfully it got better!

After arriving, I was told there were two Brits in the living room, a girl and a guy. So we ended up chatting and going for a late lunch. Upon getting back to the hostel, we then get chatting to another Brit. Following this, two guys came into our room and we discovered they were also English! 6 English travellers at the same time, arriving on the same day, in the same hostel is a first! Later that evening, we all headed to the infamous Ben’s Chilli restaurant where many famous people, including Obama, have visited.Good food but spicy. Here we ended up chatting away,mainly about super heroes and the not so divided opinion on the abilities, or lack of shall I say, of Aquaman!

The next two days, five of us spent the day together and the six of us in the evening for drinks the second night. I am not doing any history as most of these monuments you would probably know anyway! Here is what we saw…

Arlington cemetery. Here is where JF Kennedy is buried as well as the memorial for The Unnamed Soldier, a lovely monument  dedicated to all those unidentified soldiers who lost their lives in WWII. There is also a soldier there today who has shifts throughout the night and whose duty it is to protect the monument. We watched the changing of the guard which is pretty interesting too. The cemetery also gives a great view of the Pentagon, our original reason for visiting the site.

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The Lincoln memorial. It truly is a lovely sight seeing the massive statue of Lincoln and being able to see the whole way down The Mall.

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WWII Memorial. This is a large fountain for men and women who lost their lives in Asia as well as Europe.

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Washington memorial. Due to the earthquake a few years ago, this still had scaffolding around it-a rare sight. Apparently, it is slightly off being a direct cross with other memorials, all directed towards the George Washington memorial because it would be right in the way of the White House!

The Capitol building. The bottom half of this lovely building actually reminded me of the famous hotel in Monaco. A bit bizarre to think that but true. When you continue looking up, the statue at the top stands at 19 feet tall!

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Printing and engraving building
Anyone ever seen $1 million dollars in $10 bills? Well I have! You can go into this building, like all museums in Washington, for free. Except, this isn’t a museum. It is the building whose sole purpose is to print money to their sole customer, the Federal Reserve. Every day $15 million worth of notes are printed here, although it only becomes money when it is put in the Federal Reserve vault, until then you may as well call it Monopoly money, for all its worth.

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About 95% of the printed notes are accurate. All faulty ones will be destroyed and some further down the checking process, will have to be printed again. If you have any dollars, check their serial number, if it has a small star at the end, that bill had to be reprinted specifically with that serial number!

Jefferson memorial. This memorial is based on the design of the Pantheon in Rome, as he apparently loved the architecture. It was only built in the 30s, to give people hope during The Depression and to get them back into work. It is carefully situated in The Mall and his eyes are facing the George Washington memorial.

White House. This is pretty obvious and needs no introduction. So enjoy the photos instead!

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Later that night we all, including the sixth Brit, headed to the bar for drinks. Great way to end the night!

The next day the five of us headed out to the Air and Space museum which was to be one of the funniest days I have had in a while! One of the guys had a panaromic view photo app on his phone and he ended up taking three of the funniest photos I have seen in a while. The first has now been called Where’s Alfie? The second is The Perve photo (though it is not literal), the third is just of one of the boys and a picture of him all over the room in the same panaromic view photo. This was also the day that I got nicknamed Gary, as I thought the other girl by mistake called me Gary but of course she didn’t!

After we went to the Franklin Roosevelt memorial. By that point our mental age was about 10 and many of our photos reflects this, it was just all too funny! Finally we ended the day with Martin Luther King Jr. memorial and a night in with Chinese!

Finally, I mustn’t forget about the house dog, a bull dog named Popeye! He was chubby and way too cute! Loved him!
All in all, it is the people that make the place and because of this, Washington was one of my best times on my trip so far!

Feeling the beat and the food….New Orleans

New Orleans….hmm, when thinking about how to write this entry, my best way to write my experience was, rather then do a day by day entry like all my other entries, to separate it into sections……

So to kick off it has to be the most famous part of New Orleans, its beginnings… the French Quarter.

FRENCH QUARTER

The French Quarter may be named for the French influence but due to a massive fire that raged through the quarter, it was rebuilt with brick and stone of Spanish influence. So, most of the buildings have been built with large windows and beautiful balconies. However, the French Quarter is a melting pot of cultures and today we also see Haitian architecture too.

Saint Louis Cathedral
This is a magnificent cathedral but the most significant thing about it is first the cross at the top, it looks like it would be small but looks are deceiving. It stands at 16 feet! Second, the clock tower shows strange Roman numerals, its VI is written IIII and its V is written upside down, no-one knows why!

Jackson Square
This beautiful square was originally swamp but today is a place for tourists, street performers and fortune tellers alike. Andrew Jackson, who is credited as saving New Orleans from the Brits, stands in the middle. On either side of it stands the first apartment blocks of the States and in front of it is the Cathedral, flanked by two identical buildings, one of which was where Louisiana was signed over to the Americans, a mere $15 million. For so many acres it was a bargain but apparently the Americans had no idea what they were buying and had to be loaned money from England banks to finance it. This money in turn was used to finance the war on America! One of the buildings was once the city hall and then the court house. The other building was originally intended for priests but the sponsor, whose daughter was the maker of the square, died shortly after commencement of building, financial backing was lost. Today, both buildings are museums.

French Market
This site has been the host for years as a the commercial hub of the city. Today, however it stands as a tourist haunt full of cafe’s and the market is the place for tacky souvenirs and interesting food stalls selling things like alligator on a stick!

Royal Street
If you are looking for antique jewellery or swords, artefacts, this is the place to buy it. Small, independent shops line this cute but long street. That is one thing, I have noticed here, very few places are chains. So if you need your daily Starbucks coffee fix, don’t come looking around the French Quarter for it! To me however, this area because of that reason gets a two thumbs up! Anyway, I am sure there are many hidden treasures along Royal Street including I saw genuine Chanel jewellery! Lastly the hotel on this street, which I am sorry to say I have forgotten, has a cool carousel bar! So I spent my last night sipping a bellini on a round bar that slowly rotates and above is the colourful carousel. Excellent way to end my trip here!

Bourbon Street
Hmm, so this was the first street I explored when I arrived in New Orleans. The street is thronged with neon light bars advertising discount drinks. This street, to locals, is the Leicester Square to Londoners, the Times Square for New Yorkers, a place left for tourists and tourists alone. I can see why! If you are a hen or a bachelor then this might be right up your alley, otherwise avoid this street! Interesting though, that this street is not named after the drink.

All the streets in the French Quarter are named after people, the influence of Europe. However, when we go to the dividing line to the Central Business District, that separates what was the American side of New Orleans, Canal Street, it becomes a familiar set of streets that are throughout American cities- first avenue, second avenue and so on! Interestingly though, people from New Orleans pronounce these street names differently from others and are happy to correct you on pronunciation!

THE GARDEN DISTRICT

This is an area that used to be plantation land but was built by the Americans to show the Europeans that they too can build superb houses and yep they did! Everywhere in this area is lined up with magnificent large houses which grand entrances, surrounded by leafy trees, giving the area its name. Yet, for all its grandeur, I found it a down to earth area. Funny though, I was walking through with a self guided tour to a Greek style building which is today used for a Women’s Society and found it open. So I went in to be told that I was to go round to the kitchen and be told what to do! Apparently, I was to be a waitress for the day for an event! However, I soon corrected the women and was told a bit about the history of the building instead.

La Fayette cemetery
This small cemetery is split up like a cross and is morbidly an interesting time to spend wondering through the marbled and stone tombs that house the dead to this day. Apparently, a body is put there for year, with the humidity here that is how quick the body becomes just bone. After which the body is removed and stored in a box in the tomb and the top space is now ready for the next body!
The majority of people lying here are Irish and German immigrants that died during a Yellow Fever epidemic, shortly after the fire. Not realising that the disease was transmitted through mosquitos, everyone assumed it was contagious and avoided relatives at all cost. The body count was high nonetheless.

Commander’s Palace
This grand Victorian, high end restaurant is famous here. However, without a reservation and cash to burn, it had to be missed. However, you can get lunch there and with that recieve 25 cents martinis!

St Charles Avenue Street Car
This tram was originally the second horse drawn street line car and today stands as one of the few remaining street cars left in America. It is a great way to experience the city as it takes you all the way Uptown through the Garden, Warehouse and Cenntral Business districts.

PLANTATIONS

You can’t be in down south without seeing a plantation. I chose the Laura plantation.Firstly because that was supposedly the best to learn about the history, with its slave cabins still standing and secondly because I was drawn by the name which is my name too! This plantation is an example of a Creole plantation. Unlike, the American one’s, visually the main house is colourful whereas the American master houses are typically white, flanked with columns.

There are many plantations in the area though. The other popular one is Oak Alley which has a beautiful drive way up to the front of the white pillared mansion, with trees delicately draping over each other on the way down. This plantation was good for photos and Laura was good for history.

In Louisiana, women, white or black, could own their own business and because of her intellect one woman inherited, over her older brother, this plantation. She ran a strict and slick operation, often a brutal one, though her children were better. Interestingly, the plantation showed up the difference of culture between Creole and American. So for example, it was common practise with Creole culture to conduct business in your bedroom; as a result, she lost American business. So she moved her business affairs into a small study off the bedroom but which people had to walk through to reach. Thus, showing the Americans she would not be walked all over!

We saw the slave cabins too, small rooms really in a hut which were used up until fairly recently as accommodation. There were only a few remaining but at the time there was a mile long line of huts and children each day had to bring breakfast to the slaves in the cabins. In this plantation, I am told, the owner bought many young girls to use them as breeders of slaves, it was cheaper to have slaves born from your own then purchasing new one’s. You could however, buy your freedom with payments that you received. The older you got the more you appreciated as  commodity but if you could buy your freedom, it worked for both parties. The mistress would get her money back to purchase a younger, fitter slave and the slave would of course receive their freedom

Another wide difference with Creole culture is that was expected that whilst the mistress was pregnant, it was perfectly accetable for the master to have a relationship with a slave women, despite being against the Code Noir, law for the keeping of slaves, like for example all slaves were to be baptised Catholic. Any children born here were born into slavery though, as the child took the status of their mother. However, in town, if you were a women with 1/4 or an 1/8 black ancestry, you could attend a ball where it was perfectly accetable to meet a white man and they take you on as their mistress, a common law marriage in today’s society. The man would sign a contract where he was obliged to buy the woman a house, clothes, sometimes slaves and a horse and carriage. In sum, he “kept” you to a good standard of living and their children were also treated with the same respect.

It is often that people associate one race with slaves on a plantation. However, originally it was anyone that was basically the bottom of the hierarchy in society. It was class not race originally that determined whether you were sold into slavery, so many Irish and Italian immigrants were used as slaves. Later, race became the determining factor.

FRENCHMEN STREET

Jazz, jazz, jazz! This street was great for jazz bars and is where the locals go to get their jazz on! So I started with the Snug Harbour, the oldest  I think of bars around here. You had to pay but I liked it and since it was just me, I managed to get a single chair right up at the front. From there, I did a jazz crawl down the street, starting with The Spotted cat. It had no cover charge which was great but it was just good jazz and a great atmosphere. Definitely going back there! After, I stood and listened to some street performers which was cool, though you don’t need to go down to Frenchmen Street for this. During the day, some of Royal Street is cordoned off from cars for the very purpose of street performers. My last stop on Frenchmen Street was Maison which is three floors of music. It was a great atmosphere but not quite the traditonal jazz and did covers of famous songs.

ST LOUIS CEMETERY#1

I was told that around this area, where the project houses are, had a high rate of muggings. So I booked a tour for this. He told us this was a myth but I was glad for the tour. The cemetery is for Catholics only, although there was later built a Protestant area, separated by a brick wall! In this cemetry is supposedly buried Marie Laveau, the Voodoo queen. However, I am told that she is not actually buried there and the stone tomb is just that, no body inside, instead she is supposedly buried in St Louis Cemetery#2. I don’t know enough to go into detail but in sum, she practised voodoo in mystical ways that gained her a large following and as a hair dresser for the wealthy, she was privy to gossip which helped her gain in popularity.

Voodoo is associated with black magic, mainly because of its portrayal in Hollywood. However, it is not the practice of witch doctors sticking needles in a doll to harm others and is more about spirits. So when slaves were brought from Haitia, they were baptised Catholic and expected to follow practise it. However, secretly they practised Voodoo and thus created a blend of two religious practises, such is the way here where everything and one is created through a mix of cultures.

WAREHOUSE AND CBD

Magazine Street
This street is renowned for independent shops, clothes and objects alike. So I went down it. Clearly, I went down the wrong part as I didn’t see anything of much interest there!

WWII museum
There are many museums in these two districts but the most famous one has to be the WWII museum. It stands as America’s national WWII museum. The reason for this is down to Andrew Higgins who, with his `Higgins boat`, a design that had the back of the boat fall flat onto the ground, making it easy to exit, was instrumental in landing tens of thousands of soldiers on Normandy beach on D Day. It was such an informative and well thought out museum, it was just a pity I had to rush through as it was near closing when I went.

MY HOTEL

My main concern here was my safety, being by myself and that hostels are about a 40 travel to town. So I paid over the odd prices. Having come from hostel after hostel, I actually readily took the pleasure of my own room and bathroom! It was also so good to be in the heart of New Orleans, all transport goes to it. Am I glad to have chosen a hotel? Yep, you bet you I am, a small bit of luxury in between travels and a comfort long awaited! Would I chose the same hotel again? Uh no! The service wasn’t that great- I had to carry my bag up to my room and the people behind reception weren’t that friendly. Despite this, it suited my needs at the time!

LAST BUT NOT LEAST…FOOD
So, New Orleans is famous for its jazz but also to fill those tummys with Louisiana food! Below are typical food for the area and which I tried…

Jambalaya
It’s like a paella but spicier and the rice is different.

Gumbo
I went to The Gumbo Shop to try this. It’s a stew served with rice. I chose the sea food Gumbo.

Shrimp Creole
Yum, I had this dish in a family owned restaurant in French Quarter down a main street but still hidden from the world. It is a tomato based dish with prawns and served with rice.

Po`boy
This is basically a giant sandwich, normally served with roast beef or fried prawns and then lettuce and tomato. Being a seafood lover, there was no question which option I had! Good but a lot of food!

Beignets
There are two places in the French Quarter to try these flat shaped, piping hot doughnut style food, both different in texture, covered in icing sugar. The first is Cafe du Monde.  A cafe open 24 hours a day and is a hit for its coffee. The other is Cafe Beignets. I tried both to compare and see which one was better. My answer was easy, the latter. It was less crowded with a cute resident fluffy cat. However, it won because the beignets were more consistent inside, whereas the former was hard and pretty hollow inside.

Bread pudding
Similar to bread and butter pudding, a great way to use your unused bread but not the healthiest!

Banana Foster
This is flambouyed bananas with copious amounts of rum, though apparently suitable for children as the alcohol evaporates while cooking.

Yum, everything was pretty good and I would probably eat it all over again but I do feel like I have been given a whole tub of butter to munch on throughout my stay there!

In sum, I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. I am sorry readers that you have to make do right now with just my words and not my photos. New Orleans would definetly be on my list of places in the States to go back to!

San Diego…..

So, my original plan was to head from Santa Monica to Orange County. After asking around and googling it, it turns out that it would take a train and apparently many buses to get there. Of course, if I had a car it would be a easy but that seems to be the motto here in California. So sadly OC had to be a miss. Instead, I caught a hostel hopper-shuttle bus to San Diego….

Here, I picked a hostel here that was not a chain and was new. I was apparently the first person they had dropped off at this hostel, so as we approached I was a bit apprehensive. I got dropped off the driver and co owner gave me, and the other people dropped of  previously, a discount which was great! As I walked into the hostel reception, I noticed there was no one in here. It was a large common room but empty!

I had booked for all six nights but to be on the safe side, I asked if I could stay for two and the owners were really good and agreed. After getting many direction tips from the woman who owned the hostel, I settled for walking to Seaport village. On the way, I spotted, though it is easy when it says it on the outside, the restaurant where Top Gun was filmed!

The Seaport Village is a small touristy area full of restaurants and people doing magic tricks. It was quite pretty and a great way to start off my trip here in San Diego. This area is also has a great view of Coronado bridge, a boomerang bridge that stretches from San Diego to Coronando Island.

When I got back, I got chatting with two English guys and we ended up going to the National Comedy Club where two teams did a stand off with impromptu games and slap up comedy off celebrities that the audience pick. It was entertaining, not what I was expecting but still fun. After, we went to England- that is to say, the pub next door is so English it was having a pub quiz and the quiz master was in fact English!

The next day, I headed for Coronado Island, famous for its Hotel Del Coronando where Some Like It Hot was filmed. The hotel is a cool, Victorian building with a huge cone like building to the side. After a quick walk around, I headed to the beach, the one off the hotel. If I thought the beach in Santa Monica was lovely, then this beats it hands down though the sea here on the West coast is absolutely freezing! The sand here is like silk and yet there weren’t many people there. There was one downer: the island is also used by the marines, so every few minutes a jet plane or helicopter would whizz by pretty low.I thought it was pretty cool but it could get on people’s nerves.

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Anyway, it was utterly delicious to just lie out! I was enjoying the silkness feel beneath my fingertips so much that I ended up lying out slightly star shaped! As a result, a photographer for a magazine asked if he could have a photo-completely legit and not some perve with a camera, of me as someone who is clearly enjoying the beach. I politely declined though!

The next day, one of the guys whom I befriended a few days ago and I went to San Diego’s biggest attraction- the zoo. This is one, if not the, largest zoo’s in the world. It is set in Balboa Park which just has museum after museum all housed here. We first did the guided bus around and we were so glad we did as it gave us a good feel for the zoo. It is split into geographical areas, so Australia is to open shortly. We then went to a rare animal talk which was a weird looking creature with what looks like almond flakes slotted next to each other as its coat and a long tail with a long nose. No idea its name though!

After, we took the sky cable car to the other side of the zoo where first we checked out the zebras and the adroable polar bears. Then, we went to a jaguar feeding time talk. Wow, they placed these big chunks of beef on branches in the enclosure and as soon as they opened the door, they pounced out, a mother and her cubs. The father is also around but is not allowed near the cubs as he would most likely, as a male jaguar, kill the cubs. The male cub took the giant cow bone and ran inside, anytime another got near he would growl fiercely. The female and mother wondered around looking and finding the meat, the female one was still looking way past everyone had gone in. We were told she is soon to be shipped to Louisiana zoo and the male will be soon also taken away and so the mother and father can then begin their breeding session all over again.

Next stop were the most adorable pandas from China- China-the clause for allowing them in the San Diego zoo is when the panda couple have cubs, after a while they have to be given to a zoo in China. So we saw the mother chewing on some panda just slumped on the floor and her cub swinging in a hamock, all in an efficient manner. Next door is the daddy who is also chewing bamboo but unlike the mummy, his bamboo is everywhere and the place is completely disorganised!

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Baby panda!

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After, we wandered round through the monkey trail, seeing guerillas eating leaves right up against the windows, orangatangs rolling over like a dog also up against a very animated human audience!

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There were also many birds but sadly birds are not as interesting as the animals, particularly as many of them were in the non endangered category. We think they were put there to fill space! All in all, we got round to most animals and it was a pretty good but long day!

That evening we decided to go for sushi and have a California roll in California! We went to this AMAZING sushi place that is unbelievably cheap. We got 9 rolls, 6 pieces per roll, and it totalled $14 each, bargain! Then it was a quick drink at an Irish bar to finish the night off.

The next day was pretty quiet, I ended up changing hostels, as it was just too quiet in the other one. So, the two guys were nice enough to carry my bags to the other hostel, the third and final but original USA Hostel. After seeing the boys off to the airport later, I wandered through the Gas Lamp District (picture below) to the William Heath Davis House, a saltbox house with its original architecture still intact and the only house around here of its kind remaining.

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William Heath Davis is credited for the birth of Downtown San Diego. This was his original house, though moved and has been used by many others since. Each room of the house shows the house as it was with its different uses. So there is a hospital room, as it was used as a hospital later on, a living room, children’s room, an army bedroom as other houses built with this one were made into army barracks, a study where they discovered a secret room  at the back of the bathroom and study with $5,000 gold and a whisky distiller in it. Apparently, the owner at the time told everyone his study was sacred and it was to be locked for only his access;  when he died, they discovered his extra hobby!

After, I ended up lying out in the grass with what I later discovered was a dog area and I soon confirmed what I already knew here in California: if you want a date, get a dog and head for the dog park!

Later that evening, I headed to my room to find that the only other tenant in the room was an Irish guy who I first took the hostel hopper bus from Hollywood to Santa Monica and then coincidentally from there to San Diego. It was such a coincidence, so we ended up going out for a drink before he flew out the next day.

I was told that La Jorra beach, translated as The Jewel, is the best beach around. So, the next day I took the hour long bus down a motorway to the town of La Jorra. Man, was I disappointed! It had sea weed everywhere, so there was loads of flies and they kept on landing on me, so all I felt was constant itchness! Had I not been to Coronado Island beach before, this would have been a pleasant beach but well it was just no comparision. Having said that, if you are looking for water sports then here is the place for it. It has kayaking, scuba diving, snorkelling and diving.

My last day in San Diego was a debate-do I go back to the lovely Coronando beach or look around Balboa Park. After a good think, I decided that I had had a lot of beach, so the park it was. My roomate and I headed to the park, although she went to the zoo.

Boy did I chose the right place. Balboa park has a stunning rose garden with many varieties, they looked so beautiful that I thought they were not real! After I walked around this stunning architectural landscape park. If you are a museum buff, this is the place to be. The park boasts 14 museum all within easy walking distance which is impressive but what makes it worth my time is the architecture.

Built originally by the Spanish and then later enhanced by America during The Depression, all the museums are housed in these impressive European style buildings. Most of them look like they should have been a church, due to their impressive design. In particular, the one to look out for is the Museum of Man which has a colourful dome.

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It was very much worth a trip, besides the weather wasn’t the best for sunbathing anyway!

I finished my day with going for dinner with another of my roommates and an Aussie who was kind enough to help me upload my photos. After dinner, my night finished with cocktails, though not too many as I had a 6am start to New Orleans! The Aussie was pretty funny, commenting on pretty much every girl that walked by, the pretty and not so attractive- he had a pretty dry sense of humour like a Brit but more open and honest! Entertaining night to finish off my San Diego trip!

Right… I am in the line to board my flight to New Orleans!

Beautiful Santa Monica and quirky Venice Beach

So with my last morning in Hollywood, I set out, to try for the third time, to the Chinese theatre with the celebrity handprints; finally I was successful, though there was a tour there which made it hard to take photos.

The hand prints range from Marilyn Munroe to Michael Jackson, to the Harry Potter and Twilight stars. After, I continued down Hollywood Boulevard where I did a hunt for the recently awarded Backstreet Boys star and was successful with that too I am pleased to say!

After my morning success, I got the Santa Monica shuttle bus and said goodbye to my roomates. I am not going to pretend, I was glad to see the back of Hollywood and driving into Santa Monica, I see what a difference a half hour drive can make!

Going into my dorm, I got chatting to one of the girls and we both headed to Venice Beach. It is a quirky and cool vibe full of street performers, painters and a legal weed practitioner! There are also basketball games, specific skateboarding parks and a version of tennis that I have never heard of. The courts have no double lines and the rackets are covered so you don’t hit the strings. There we helped ourselves to our burger lunch and took to the beach.

The sand is as soft as silk and the two of us were soon drifting off to sleep. After waking up, we headed back for me to find out that I had random patches of red where I didn’t put suntan lotion on! Walking back, you can definitely feel the difference between Venice and Santa Monica but I liked both. Here, I felt so far physically and mentally away from the the grime and unsafety of Hollywood.

In the evening, we headed down 3rd street Promenade with all the restaurants and shopping. In a way, its like an American take on a Meditteranean popular beach town. It is a lively and charming atmosphere with some street singers but not the same type of vibe of Venice Beach. Whilst here we sat down for some sushi, it didn’t take long to get my sushi craving back! The food was amazing and the only downside was that about 30 minutes after we sat down and ordered, it was happy hour on food but because we ordered before, we weren’t eligible. Still, the food was good! After we went bar searching and as we didnt know where we were going we ended up in an American take on an English pub, The Britannia. The pub had wooden beams inside and the bar looks like a good old man’s pub, I even tested them out by ordering Pimms, nooone but the Brits knows about this amazing fruity spirit. Sure enough, they had it but it was mostly full! So far so good but the major giveaways were the many, many tv screens showing the basketball and the live singers! There we got chatting to a Brit and his housemate. The Brit was born in Watford and so new my area which was cool. However, I was pretty astounded 10 minutes later when he asked me the exact same questions and was shocked to hear that I am indeed British! He clearly started early with the heavy stuff!

The next day, we headed down to the shops and though I didn’t go crazy, my backpack is bulging at the seams, I did buy the few odd things and I just couldn’t resist some Lucky Charms cereal.  It was imported into England some time ago but due to its high sugar content, was banned from English supermarkets! My final afternoon here was then spent wandering around the streets and then heading to Santa Monica pier where loads of people were walking up with the toys they had just won. After, I stood on the shore just watching the waves lap up the sand.

All in all, Santa Monica was just so lovely and I would thoroughly recommend going. Yes, Hollywood was good to see the sights and it was good staying there as its convenient but now I have seen the main sites,I would stick just to Santa Monica. Its safe and a cool and chilled out beach town with lots of character
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Two days in Los Angeles……without a car!

A superb Virgin America flight brought me from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Though the flight was only 50 minutes, we were provided with drinks, had leather reclining seats and the touch screen to watch films. Ryanair, please take note!

After long wait for my bus ride, I annoyingly missing my first bus by a fraction of a second, I arrive from LAX to downtown Los Angeles. Driving through the area to Union Street, there were many skyscrapers, all of which looked like they had just been put up last year and next to them was just derelict, scorched land. It was my first and lasting impression of Los Angeles- they say you only have one chance to make a first impression! Union Street station was a lovely, beautifully created station, it is one of the last American 1930s railway stations with interior art deco.

Taking the metro down to Hollywood Boulevard, I noticed one thing. The metro`s demographic was either Hispanic or African-American. In every other city I have been to, there has rarely been any type of stereotype for public transport users but here there definitely seems to be. Walking down Hollywood Boulevard, the Walk of Fame, I got to see many of the celebrity stars which was cool but the street is not so much Hollywood glamour and more like I was keeping my bag close to me! This street is lined with souvenir shops, dressing up shops, clothes shops where all the models have figures similar to Pamela Anderson and many beggars. Picture perfect Hollywood this isn’t!

The next day, one of my roomates and I headed to the Hollywood sign. A bus took us for a bit up the hill but it was up to us to walk the rest! The hill isn’t at all for walkers and is more designed for cars. So after a good half hour climb round windy roads with grand houses, we ended up talking to a woman from New Jersey who was kind enough to give us a lift, as she was going too, further up. After a good few shots, we parted ways-her back down, us further up to get better pictures. A few more windy roads led us to the nearest point we were ever going to get of this legendray sign.

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Originally the sign said Hollywoodland and was used to advertise the land. After falling into disrepair it was given to LA council. My history is a bit a bit shady but they I think wanted to turn the hill into prime celebrity houses but instead celebrities forked out money to preserve the sign and knocked down the Land part of the sign. Hugh Hefner is a big contributor to the sign and now officially owns a letter of the Hollywood sign, as does Warner Brothers, and it is their job to keep their letter up to standard.

Anyway, after many pictures, we got talking to a Texan couple who were kind enough to not only drop my roomate off at Paramount Pictures, where she was having a tour, but as I was also going to Beverly Hills, like them, they drove me down too. So we spent a while walking around Rodeo Drive before parting ways. I then went to find the Troop Beverly Hills house, a film made a good 15 years or so ago but the house there is so gorgeous, I just had to find it. Find it, I did but not before walking down a very long road with quite frankly pretty pretentious houses with giant Romanesque pillars flanking the giant doors, think Bishops Avenue but two levels for all you Londoners. The film house was lovely though, peach coloured, big but not pretentious!

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Then I walked down to the Beverly Hills hotel which is also featured in the film. Whilst there, I asked for the best bus to take to the concierge. His response was that he had never taken the bus before! Well that seems to pretty much reflect what I have already been thinking. Nobody takes public transport around here and in fact it is a pretty poor system, so that’s not surprising!

If you are the minority without a car, good luck! I have spent only two days here and this fact has frustrated me beyond belief, having been in loads of cities where the public transport is sufficient enough to use. This fact, contributes to my feeling of there not being much sense of community here, everyone drives their own car, 99% of the time with large cars and solo passengers. Therefore, there are no pedestrians; take today, I was the only person walking down a street for a good 45 minutes! These are just my observations and thoughts and you may, the reader, disagree with me but can’t deny the facts I am presenting!

After I managed to find the right bus, I headed to the Chinese theatre where the hand prints of many legends are. However,  I was stopped short by the Iron Man 3 premier. So with not much else going on, I waited for the stars to arrive and two hours later they sure enough did. So I saw Robert Downey Jr and the director of the film!

The next day I had my Paramount Pictures tour. As per the norm, I found it hard to find the stop and asking a staff member of America’s got talent, produced the same response as the concierge from the day before. First, she wrongly told me I was on the wrong street, I corrected her and then she said she has never ridden the bus before!

After waiting around and being on the verge of getting a taxi, I finally caught the right bus and arrived for my tour on time. The tour guide took us first around the film set of See Dad, starring Scott Baio, then a doctor’s talk show. Inbetween she pointed out random areas of the small but only studio still in Hollywood that have deliberately been designed to look like theatre sets but are normal offices, so they are doubled up for uses, even the gift shop which has a coffee shop, is used as the coffee shop in Glee! She also showed us the area where the I love Lucy actress had her offices. We drove through different streets representing different areas of New York but can be decorated differently to fit other sets. For example, the financial district, the sky scraper is used in Mission Impossible and Mr and Mrs Smith. The sets were so life like!
After, we headed to the car park where there is a massive blue sky screen. The car park in front of it can be pumped with water and can shoot scenes like the scene in The Truman show, the final fake screen was this fake screen. We then headed to the original Paramount arch, for the present double arch isn’t the original and was later build as part of the extra security expansion. Such a lovely arch that I am afraid my photo doesn’t do it justice…

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We also stopped off at the Forrest Gump bench, Finally a perfectly 90 degree angle original bench to help Tom Hanks have perfect posture for the film!

Finally, to end the tour we stopped off to see the Paramount theatre. This theatre has seats taken from first class planes, to give the ultimate in comfortable! Here, directors can choose to film their films and edit them on the big screen. Also, she explained that the Silver screens is called that because original film for the films was made of silver nitrate! The theatre is also used for screenings. The director of Transformers insisted that his audience be provided with food to really give them the full cinema experience, food is banned there. Screenings help to discover public opinion and it is because of this that the new GI Joe film has a different outcome then the original script! The theatre is also home to a Glee scene, when Rachael Barry storms up to Whoopi Goldberg asking for a second chance to Neada. The outside reception of the film has also been used as hotel receptions, for example in Clear and Present Danger, and as a department store in the film Clueless. So literally every inch of the many acres of this film studio has more then face value use.

After, I headed to Melrose and Fairfax to see the shopping which really was nothing special but I did get speaking to a San Franciscan couple I walked with down the way which was nice. To finish my time in Hollywood, I went to the amazing Italian restaurant, off Hollywood boulevard. It is the oldest Italian in Hollywood and the interior is old wooden beams with stained glass windows and lovely decorated ceilings. It also had some connections to Frank Sinatra which was even better!

I tried today to go to the Chinese theatre but again with no luck as there was another event there. Tomorrow morning I shall try again, where I am not going to pretend that I will be sad to say goodbye to Hollywood and go to another part of LA, Santa Monica which I am told is lovely.

Saturday, I thought I would spend the day in Pacific Heights, the up market area of San Francisco. First I took the bus down to Alamo Square. One thing that I am ao surprised at, is the liberal use of smoking weed here in San Francisco. It is freely smoked on the streets and apparently the buses too! I found out on Sunday that it was Weed day on Saturday too so maybe that explains it!  So after getting off at Alomo Square and away from the bus smokers, I went back for better pictures of the Painted Ladies, for I only saw them driving past the first time.

So, I had a good look at them and took many pictures, one below for example…..

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Then I went to find the most famed movie house of San Francisco, the Mrs Doubtfire house on Steiner and Broadway. So I started my walk down Steiner, not anticipating just how long it was! After a while, I ended up coming across Japan town where they were having the beginnings of the Cherry Blossom parade.  There is a large Japanese population here but today Japan Town is largely owned and run by Koreans. At the festival, there were loads of stalls, a giant Hello Kitty inflatable and free yoghurt!

A pork bun (yes, I know its Chinese) and a free yoghurt later, I headed back down Steiner. Along this road, towards Pacific Heights, there are lovely Victorian houses and it is pretty evident the further you go along, the more affluent the area. Amazed by some of these picture perfect suburban houses, think Hampstead Garden suburb for size and prestine houses, I missed the Mrs Doubtfire house. Retracing my steps I came across it, an unassuming now painted brown house. No its not something special or grand to look at but walking around the area and seeing the house for myself was time well spent.

After, I headed down to Union Street where the shops and cafes of Pacific Heights are located. There I stopped off at Rose cafe, a cute bistro. Walking down the street was great, it reminded me of a version of my local high street. I loved the vibe and it was my kind of place with the relaxed cafes and pub type restaurants. 

Having spent most of the day walking around I found a nearby small square park. There I relaxed and read my book in the sun! It wasn’t too long, however, that I met Hayley, Emma, Spirit and many other characters, small big, white and black.Who are they? Well, I happened to have sat in a small park specifically for dog walkers! Whilst there I came across loads of dogs and ended up chatting, whilst of course petting the dogs, to the dog owners. I found out that California doesn’t keep homeless dogs for long, though San Francisco is one of the better cities and Orange county is one of the worst and so it has big uthenisia among animals which is sad. One of the biggest problems is with black pets. In America, black cats are associated with witches and black dogs are the devil’s dog. So on Halloween in America, many black cats go missing and are usually the first cats to be sacrificed. Having a black cat myself, I find that odd, stupid and cruel. After heading back to my hostel, I ended the evening with some dinner and jazz with my roommate which was cool, gearing myself up to my stop to New Orleans!

The next day,I had organised a half day wine tour which, due to the lack of numbers, was cancelled. However,  with an early phone call to the wine tour company and a little persuasion, I got upgraded to the full day tour for free and my taxi ride to Fisherman’s wharf, where it started, reimbursed! The day was great! We headed down to Napa Valley and went to two wineries: Sutter home where I tried, reds, whites, roses and a very nice but incredibly sweet dessert wine bubbly both pink and white! The other winery was the famous Beringer with its stunning grounds and its grand house. This house belonged to the older and therefore wealthier, having inherited the money, brother. The younger brother set up the winery and the older brother, upon seeing the succeess of his investment and his surroundings, came to live here too. With this, he moved his younger brother’s house along to make room for his more opulent house and planted it so it is the first thing you see when entering the grounds. He didn’t go wrong, with its old wood and lovely stain painted glass windows, it was evident who had the power here!

From there we headed to Sonoma where we had lunch in the small town. The best way to describe this town is quaint. It is exactly what I imagine a small town away from the city to lool like. It has houses with large front porches and the centre is a small square where the restaurants are lined up and the city hall in the middle. There I had a late lunch with two women I was talking with earlier. One of them had always wanted to come to California’s wine country and living in Florida it is hard but she made it!

My final day in San Francisco was spent first with a quick stop to Macy’s with a good view of Union Square. At the top of this department store is The Cheese Cake Factory where there is an enormous collection of types of cheese cakes. The slices are enormous though and are far too much for one person!

After I relaxed with a small picnic in one of the many small parks in San Francisco, this one was Yerba Burna garden where the San Francisco museum of modern art is, though the sun was far too nice to be inside! Yet I did not learn my lesson and now am yet again sorely burnt but this time at the back of me. One of my roommates commented that as a Brit, I was not used to the sun. This probably is somewhat true as Britain does have a famous reputation for rain, rain, a week of sun then back to rain and more rain! However, having been in hotter climates for the past few months, my skin is more climatised. Quite simply it added up to me being an idiot, forgetting to wear sun tan lotion and that my skin does catch colour quite well, albeit right now pink!

So after changing the back of myself into lobster, what better way to spend my evening down by Fisherman’s Wharf! From there I went on my final tour of San Francisco, a night tour of Alcatraz!

I am sure there is no need to give it an introduction, its name is legend enough. Thoughts of the film Escape from Alcatraz and famous inmates like Al Capone and Stroud the Bird man will flash up in your mind. For this island, so close to San Francisco, is the legendary federal penitentiary. However, it has been and was after, more then just that.

What started as an island for birds, turned into a military fort, though never active and then a minimum security military prison for soldiers who went AWOL, stole from other fellow soldiers or too drunk. It was only in the height of the depression in 1930s, when America was overran by notorious gangsters that people insisited on a crack down of stricter law enforcement. Only then did it become a maximum security prison; as one prisoner quoted- If you broke the rules, you went to prison, if you broke prison rules, you go to Alcatraz.

Six years after shutting down as a prison, for it was too costly to maintain, American Indians used it as a platform to fight for their cause of having their tribal lands stripped from them. Their original intention was to rename it Indian Island with a university, showing people that the first thing you see coming into the area, is this island, the origin of the history of America. However, they occupied the island for 19 months. Their point was taken and land given back to them. Today, thanks to its military history, it is now part of Golden Gate National park and has come full circle with it again being a bird island, many types of birds live and fly around the island.

Unfortunately many buildings were burnt down, like the warden`s house but much of the history still exists today. The theatre was originally the fort but if you look above the ground level, it is a different type of stone. This is where the officers and their families lived when it was a maximum security prison. Here, they astonishingly had their own community, with the children going to school in San Francisco and coming back when all the inmates were back in the cell house. So the families rarely, if at all, saw the prisoners and in fact they rarely locked their doors, so much so was the legend of the inescapable island.

Having said that, there were 14 attempted escapes. Two are the most famous. The first has now been named The Battle of Alcatraz.

As a result of a guard continuing his habits, being distracted by the only sun spot on the balcony overlooking the cells, one inmate used this to his advantage and managed to lock up the ground floor guard, climb to the balcony, use a bar opener to squeeze through the bars, breaking three ribs in the process and knock out this guard. With no idea what was happening, more guards were sent to the cell house, thus creating more hostages. Whilst this was going on, the prisoner released all cell doors and 6 inmates helped out. Thanks to the ground floor guard hiding the recreation door key in the loo, the prisoners never made it out. All in all, I think it was 5 or 6 people lost their lives, three of which were the prisoners.

An excellent audio guide tour takes you around the cell house, seeing various parts of the prison, including the cells of the second but most famous escape of Frank Morris and brothers John and Clarence Anglin, whose legendary escape became immortalised in the film Escape from Alcatraz, and the pipes which they climbed up. It also shows you the dinning room which in fact had one of the best prison food served and the creepy “holes”, a cell that when closed is pitch black, I walked in a bit but it was creepy to think people could have spent weeks in there. Having said that, the guards were not as brutal to the inmates as suspected. Interestingly though, the guards did have to separate the prisoners, all but African Americans were allowed to be with each other, as they were targeted by racial abuse. Later, I had a look around the hospital wing. This is where Stroud spent his last years, in hospital in solitary confinement. Then I heard a talk about one life of a prisoner who has been back since it stopped being a prison and after a quick talk about the prison doors, one of the tour guides opened and closed the prison doors for us to hear the clank of the doors shut and to feel like a prisoner whose life was defined here in Alcatraz. Being able to look across towards San Francisco and hear music and laughter, so close but so far away from it must have been psychological torment.

Finally, I headed down to the pier to watch the very informative film of the history of the island and caught the last boat back. Watching the island grow smaller in the distance gave me chills to think about missing the boat and being stuck for the night there! Still though, the prisoners, military, guards` families and today’s botanists have made it a lovely island full of various tree and plants.

My very last stop for San Francisco was a great seafood restaurant along the wharf. Great last day, minus the sun burn, to finish my wonderful stay in this lovely city. Despite its reputation for foggy and ever changing weather, I was fortunate enough to experience the city first time it with brilliant clear blue skies!

Tokyo!

If I took Osaka`s Neon lights and combined it with Kyoto`s peaceful and tranquille gardens what would I get? The answer? Tokyo…….

I arrived a few days ago in Tokyo from Kyoto by bullet train. It was awesome, particularly seeing Mt Fuji. My hostel is centrally located but the first thing I noticed was the lack of common room which posed a bit of a problem with my stay in general.

The next day I stayed within the area as I my hostel had organised a sushi party that night! So my first stop was a walk down to Asakusa where I saw the “beer tower” , a tower with an artistic impression of beer foam at the top of the building and the Asahi flame which is commonly referred to as the Golden Turd!

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Then I went down to the Sensoji Temple. After Kyoto, I was a bit templed out but its on the top things to see and is the oldest temple in Tokyo. There, there was a tourist market, Nakanise shopping street,  down the front gates to the shrine, thronging with people. It was great to have a look at what was on offer and it turns off at either side of the road so it was worth a proper browse which is where I bought my Tokyo magnet.

Next stop was a road with a history of over 100 years that specialises in kitchen ware, Western and Japanese. Here, for some odd reason, I purchased three chopsticks from three different sellers. I like them all but think maybe three for myself is a bit excessive! After a fairly short walk, I thought I would explore Ueno but the weather was so lovely, that I ended up having my lunch in the lovely park where you can row a plastic swan across one of the lakes, below. The last stop was the Ameyoko market where you can buy seafood next to a shoe shop, a random mix of stalls!

I later came back to my hostel to get ready for the sushi party! There my roommates had changed from the night before and were three Chinese women over the age of 50 years old! Anyway,I thought the sushi party would be fun and a great way to speak to other people when there aren’t other opportunities with this hostel. The sushi party was a lot of fun and made my own roll. One hostel staff made a green roll which was basically green veg with loads of wasabi for a wasabi enthusiast! Eughh, I really dont like wasabi, so for me it was gross! Anyway, my optimism turned out for the best as I ended up arranging to meet an Estonian girl for the fish market the next day.

The next day, I started my day in the Imperial Palace which was lovely but since most of it was closed, it wasn’t that interesting but the gardens were lovely. The Tokyo station is also worth mentioning as it is beautiful building, very Western design.

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After, I headed to Harajuku where there was another temple that is a must see, Meiji Jingu. Hmm, the grounds were pretty but the main attraction was to see a wedding which I was lucky enough to witness! So that made it worth the trip there. After I headed down to Kiddy Land on Omotesando, a pretty boulevard.  This is a store dedicated to toys but in particularly Hello Kitty, looads of memorabilia there for people to buy! Finally in that area, I headed to Takeshita Dori, below, which is a street dedicated for teenagers. There I spotted a Tokyo version of the 99 pence store.It was great!

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An easy JR, Japan rail, ride took me to the lively area of Shibuya with the famous Hachiko crossing,below. Millions of people cross this crossing every day. The photo below taken from the Starbucks which grosses more then any other one in the world. However, they only allow a tall (small) drink to keep the enormous people traffic wanting to get the best view of the crossing, moving.

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The plan was to meet the Estionain girl there for 10pm and go to the fish market. So, I walked around this neon light bonanza that makes Times Square in New York feel like the runner up! Whilst there I found a sushi belt restaurant off a side street that was amazing and super cheap, 6 plates for about £5, bargain!

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Anyway I waited half an hour for the girl but she was a no show. Sure she had a good reason but our plans for karaoke did not unfold! So I took the metro to see Tokyo Tower lit up, below. At first glance, you are looking at the Eiffel Tower but closer inspection shows it is not. Built in 1958, it was  meant to represent how Tokyo had growing prospects and was made taller then the Paris original, in competition with it. Sadly though, its Parisian sister shines in comparison.

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After, I headed to the fish market metro stop. After arriving in the 24 hour cafe,  I settled down to a loong night. The fish market in Tokyo, Tsukiji Market, is the largest wholesaler in Japan. The highlight of this market is the tuna auction at 5am. With the metro shutting at 12am and my plans with the Estonian girl gone. I sat in the 24 hour cafe, that other people visiting the market also do, until 4am where I headed to the market. I am very glad I did, as I was thinking I was super early but it turns out loada of people were there already and the first 120 people are allowed in only but it was fine. Whilst there I ended up chatting to an older Aussie couple which was good. The tuna auction lasted 20 minutes and was great, such a unique experience to witness. After, with the market only open to the general public at 9am, I munched on some goood sushi in a sushi cafe. When 9am hit, I wondered in and saw loads of varieties of fish and seafood. Below, was just one species of octopus!

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After I headed to Hama-Riku garden. I was a little reluctant as I have seen many gardens in Japan but I am so glad I made the effort. The garden is huge and is so peaceful and picturesque. One picture of many is below….

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Then a short walk took me to Ginza, our equivalent to Oxford street or New York’s Fifth avenue. This has many department stores,one that boasts a history of over 400 years. I would have liked to have stayed longer in the ara but no sleep and walking too much caught up with me. So after a quick stop on the JR line back to my hostel, I headed out to my final destination. Not before noticing my Chinese roomates had left and noone had replaced them, I have the room to myself.

My last trip was a bit unusual. If you know me, you won’t be surprised, if you don’t know me and are reading my blogs, you will notice a pattern! I headed to Shinjuku from an idea my sister mentioned, to experience the weird world of cat cafes! As Tokyo doesn’t really allow pets, many people go to these cafes to unwind whilst cuddling a cat! There were so many different breeds wondering around freely of two floors of a building. There are baskets everywhere for all the cats and you can feed them. As an animal fan, I still have to admit it was a truly bizarre experience, particularly seeing someone do the sudoku whilst stroking a cat! These cats are all a little chubby as I am not sure how they go outside, so I don’t know how they exercise. All of them are well pampered and are cute but with no owner, there is no loyalty built. So I found most of the cats not the most welcoming, unless you have food!

Tomorrow I leave Japan but I have loved it here, all the places. However, despite Tokyo being a large city, I found it so much easier to navigate then the smaller grid planned Kyoto. I am obviously truly a large city girl. My only other thought, is the music I have had in my head for the past few weeks. In Lao, Jack Johnson was consistently played, I think reflected its chilled out nature. Here in Japan, it was Maroon 5. Since I love Maroon 5, I have spent the past few days singing away to both artists! Bit random but these are my impressions!

A long haul flight awaits me now tomorrow to San Fran……