Travel: The delights of Hollywood

When someone first lands in LA I guess you would expect them to recall how amazing there first night was. Spent in the Hollywood hills spying on celebrities and drinking cocktails until the sun came up.

This is what I would expect to hear from someone else’s traveling adventure. For us the story goes a little differently.

Before anyone judges us, may I just remind everyone that we had just spent the night on a very ‘comfy’ airport floor and flown across America the following morning.

We spent our first evening finding a laundrette to do our washing. Well equipped with washing detergent, bought from a dodgey looking vending machine, we soon managed to get the cleaning of clothes underway.

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A man casually strolled passed us and asked if we would like some drugs but we politely refused and continued the mundane task of watching our clothes dance, swirl and splash around.

The clothes did not smell as fresh as I would have liked but I guess that is what is to be expected from a life as a traveler.

As luck would have it a Dominos sat next to the laundrette so we decided to grab a pizza and head towards a beach.

Siobhan, combined with Josh’s sudden breaking, nearly lost our pizza to the floor of the car.

I found LA dominos highly displeasing. Everything just seems to contain so much salt and little of anything else.

Soon after we finished eating we decided to head back to our hotel room and I was quickly sent into a salt and jet lagged sleep coma.

As disappointing as this tale of our first night in LA may seem, the logical side of it is, it enabled us to have clean clothes for the rest of our trip.

I nearly forgot to mention, we now have a car named Sin Wagon.

When we landed, we caught a shuttle bus to the Thrifty garage to pick up our hire car. As we queued up waiting to see what our vehicle for the next month was going to be, I was praying for a red swanky car worthy of the Sin Wagon title but unfortunately we got given a black one. Sin Wagon was still a justifiable name even though it was black.

Josh was given the task of being the first to drive but before he could even begin, we had to figure out how to move the seat back so Josh’s long legs could fit in. Who could have guessed that seats these days are electric?!

Once we got on the road Josh was doing great considering he had only ever driven a car during his driving lessons and that was on UK roads.

It was such a relief knowing we could pack up the car with all our luggage as and when we wanted, ready to head to another destination.

The following day we decided to head to Venice beach, having heard a lot of good things about the place. It is supposed to imitate the real Venice but when we got there I did not see any little alleys filled with water, no boats gliding along any rivers and no Italian restaurants for that matter.

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What I did see was a number of tramps picking rubbish out of bins, an outdoor gym with a few men posing near the weight machines and a beach, which could have been great if the mist wasn’t surrounding us. Needless to say, we were all slightly disappointed by Venice beach. The best thing about the place was a group of guys who put on a dance performance and I was pretty sure I had seen them in New York a month or so ago, so even they did not originate from this place.

I am sure the place may look and feel very different if the sun had been shining because surely all the hype cannot be about nothing.

The following day we decided to head into Hollywood. We walked through a lively market and headed towards the Walk of Fame. It was much bigger than I had imagined, lining a number of streets. In New York I felt like you had to walk with your head up so that you could see all the architecture, whereas in Hollywood I found myself constantly walking with my head down, so as not to miss some famous persons name planted in a star shape on the floor. You could spot the locals because they flippantly wondered the streets without their eyes glued to the ground. It almost felt as though the locals were annoyed at the tourists for being excited about a ‘sidewalk’.

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We saw the Chinese theatre which is famous for the concrete blocks that are set in front of the entrance, bearing nearly 200 signatures, foot and hand prints of famous people. Most of the stars have written short messages to a man named Sid and at the time I had no idea who Sid was. It turns out, after reading a little history about the place, that Sid Grauman was a showman who created the Chinese Theatre back in January 1926. I was very excited to be touching the concrete where famous people had previously placed there hands.

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We also went on a tour of the Hollywood hills and saw many things:

The church that Sister Act was filmed in.

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Rodeo Drive which was very glamourous.

The shop that Julia Roberts was rejected from in Pretty Woman.

Viper Room where River Phoenix died

The hotel that Marilyn Monroe had an affair with JFK in and the place she stayed in when she first started out.

Where Jennifer Anniston worked before she was famous.

Where Brad Pitt worked as a sign holder in a chicken suit before he was famous.

The first cinema in LA known as the Egyption cinema.

Dolbly Theatre where they hold the Oscars.

Michael Jackson’s, Bruno Mars’ and Madonna’s house along with the Playboy Mansion and Tom Cruises chimney.

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It was all very exciting and you didn’t really know which way to turn your head first. Warning: The drive is not a straight and simple drive and may cause travel sickness! As we were parked outside the Playboy Mansion I did think I was going to vomit – what a story that would have made.

That evening we headed to a BestWestern hotel and stayed one night in luxury.

The next day I went to Warner Brothers Studios whilst Siobhan and Josh went to Universal.

Warner Brothers was one of the highlights of my entire trip. I loved learning about everything that goes on behind the scenes and seeing parts of the set that had been filmed in Friends and other programmes that I had watched. It was definitely worth the $60 I paid to go on the VIP Tour.

Whilst I was there, The Big Bang Theory cast were rehearsing in one stage, and Pretty Little Liars were filming in another. I walked along the street that was used in Gilmore Girls and is currently used in Pretty Little Liars and Heart of Dixie. I also got to wonder around the school that is featured Pretty Little Liars and saw all the girls bedrooms. It is crazy how small the spaces are in real life in comparison to how big they look on TV. I also got to sit on the sofa that was used in the filming of Friends!!

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I think I had a permanent smile planted on my face as we went round and it definitely made me want to work behind the scenes on a show one day.

Later in the afternoon we met up with the others and Josh drove us closer to the Hollywood sign. We managed to get to some great touristy pictures before we left LA for San Diego.

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Travel: Washington airport has comfy floors

On Wednesday 21 August we upped and left the lovely hostel in New York and headed for the Greyhound. I was slightly anxious to discover what awaited me on the coach as I had heard all sorts of horror stories about it beforehand. A friend from camp sent me a message about his experience of the Megabus and I could only imagine a similar thing was about to occur.

In the words of Carlo Dorresteijn, “Megabus is like a weird sort of museum. Wifi comes from a router that appears to be powered by an old, obese, deeply depressed hamster spinning on a rusty wheel with a dynamo ripped from a bike attached to it. A bus driver who keeps chatting through the crackling speakers about the traffic situation still being the way it was five minutes ago in a language I can only guess is supposed to be English. A gay couple heavily making out in the seats behind me [one the size of Peter Kay and the other the size of Dec from the comedy duo, Ant and Dec.] Bus Driver update: Ladies going to the bathroom should not try and crouch over the toilet to avoid touching the seat with their ‘fragile bits’. I went to the toilet, sat down, closed the door, which slammed into my knees a good inch before closing.”

All very delightful tales so you can see why I was a little hesitant about stepping onto the coach. To my surprise the whole journey was a breeze. There was no weird bus driver warning the ladies on board to not crouch over the toilet, no crackling radio and the wifi seemed fast and quiet. I was slightly disappointed that I couldn’t locate the sound of a dumpy, brown hamster roaming around a rusty wheel. My Greyhound coach story was therefore very uneventful and I ended up playing word association via Whatsapp messaging with my two traveling companions.

Arriving in Washington, DC, I expected it to be a little less humid but unfortunately I was wrong. As soon as you stepped off the air-conditioned coach you were engulfed by this overwhelming humidity. We made our way into Union Station and happily sat eating lunch back in the safety net of air-conditioning. We then took a quick tube to meet Kerry to drop of our bags as she was letting us stay at her house for the night. After briefly saying hello we hopped back on the tube towards the centre because we wanted to go and see the White House.

The White House was very much what the name says it is…white. The grass was also very green and the big black gates that surround the place towered above me.

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It didn’t take long to discover that walking was an issue in the current weather conditions. You took one step but it felt like 50 and Siobhan’s mosquito bites (which had swelled to the size of a mango on her leg) were starting to get to her. Luckily we bumped into Carlo who was leisurely riding around on rentable red bikes. It is these bright ideas of his that gives him the nickname Mr Fantastic.

We soon found ourselves our own red bikes and were gleefully able to cycle around Washington Mall with Carlo as our tour guide. That day we saw the Lincoln Memorial. It was very grand.

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By this time it was around six in the evening so Carlo suggested we head to China town for some dinner. He took us to a Thai restaurant and we enjoyed our first proper meal in DC. (Oh, I forgot to mention, Carlo isn’t actually from DC…he just new a lot about it.)

Tired from the days cycling and traveling we decided to head back to Kerry’s house to relax in preparation for the following day. I don’t really know why I was surprised at the size of her university living space because after living in America for three months, things like this shouldn’t shock me. American’s do not do anything on a small scale. The food portions are huge, the luggage they bring to camp is monstrous and the bagels are gigantic. Why would I ever think that university accommodation would be small, like it is in the UK?

The next day we were out on our personal Carlo tour by lunchtime. As I sat cycling on the red bike I was so grateful of there existence. The breeze that you got from a bit of a downhill made my hair blow and it was heavenly on the back of my neck.

On that day we cycled along the reflection pool, watched a march at the WWII memorial, made a quick stop at the air and space museum, had a tour around the Roosevelt memorial (which was seven acres), stood next to the giant piece of rock that was carved into Martin Luther King, visited the Thomas Jefferson memorial and looked at the Vietnam Veterans memorial. All in a days cycling.

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Whilst in Washington, I always felt as though I was being followed by the Washington memorial. It seemed to spring up wherever I went. If you don’t have long to explore the place at least you will be able to say that you saw the tall pointed thing – it is everywhere.

For dinner we went to a place called Vapiano, an Italian in Chinatown (what are the odds?). I shared a pizza with Siobhan and we both thoroughly enjoyed it.

On our way to the subway, we stopped and listened to a street band play. They were all so energetic and it sounded great. As entertaining as the band were the real entertainment came from a young man in a very bright pink shirt. His facial expressions and dance moves were killing me, I couldn’t stop laughing. I really wish he was my friend!

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That evening we collected our stuff from Kerry’s, said goodbye to Carlo and thanked him for giving us a guided tour and headed to the airport to spend the night. Sleeping in an airport is very uncomfortable and mundane. The quiet music helped drift me off to sleep but the hard floor made sure it wasn’t a good one. Luckily I slept the whole way on the plane journey to LA.

My favourite thing about Washington was definitely the little red bikes, what was yours?

 

Travel: “Best overnight ever”

After camp Olympics, I thought any other day would be pretty hard to match it. However on Friday evening a group of us decided to make the most if our night off and head out of camp.

We didnt escape the luxuries that come with camp as the bugs, sweaty bodies and uncomfortable nights sleep still existed on this particular night.

We went hiking up a huge hill, sleeping bag and bikini readily packed. I must be the lamest hiker at camp as I plodded along at the back, complaining, sweating and nearly dying! I daren’t dream of what I must of looked like once I reached the top!!

By the time we reached the top I was so tired I could barely hold a conversation with anyone.

As soon as we got there, John Teva’s survival instincts set in and he went off into the jungle to gather some fire wood.

Callum, a New Zealand adventurer, used magnesium stuff to light the fire. It is pretty handy having a group of guys who all seem to be really into building fires! Actually I think it is generally all males who like playing with fire!

The night consisted of making s’mores, chomping on steak and campfire stories. It was a very enjoyable evening spent with a great group of people.

It was so enjoyable we didn’t end up drifting off to sleep until 4am, by which time the sun was coming up.

Snuggling down in my sleeping bag, crammed between two strong men (for protection from the two dear we saw and bears) in a four way spoon, I actually managed to get a reasonably good few hours sleep.

When I woke up, Steve was already in the middle of cooking breakfast; bacon, egg and sausage with Sunny D! As I was drinking the Sunny D I was reminded of how my mum used to only allow my sister and I to drink it occasionally because it apparently made us hyper.

Steve made me breakfast as I lounged about on my sleeping bag. Ashley had leant me her black pants that are apparently really big in America; Solos. They were pretty comfy and to me they just looked like yoga pants. John was so ‘frickin’ Teva’ he decided to not bring a sleeping bag and ended up sleeping in a ball wrapped in just a sheet – must have been so comfy!

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Once I had let my breakfast digest (I have been taught well, I didn’t want cramp lol) I went jumping off a rock into the lake. It took me a while to build up the courage to actually jump but I did it in the end. It was very refreshing and we all ended up spending the majority of the morning mulling around in the lake.

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At about 12 we started to pack up our belongings and decided to head back to camp. The hike down hill was quite enjoyable in comparison to the hike up. I was able to appreciate the Forrest with the all its creatures, including frogs and mini little orange lizard things.

Once I finally made it back to my unit I ended up sleeping from half 2 until half 7 in Ashley’s bunk. Her bed is so comfy and her fan is very powerful which makes it the perfect spot to nap. It has become a regular thing that I nap in Ashley’s bunk now and she just laughs about it!

That evening, Steve, Ashley, Casey, Laura and I went out to eat at a local diner. I had the French onion soup with a side order of fries which was a nice change from camp food.

So far this week camp has been pretty mellow. It has been so hot that I found it difficult to walk the half a mile between Teenside and Mainside. I managed to spend a lot of time in the air conditioned office, which was heaven, as I have begun preparing the all camp slideshow. This involved skimming through all the photographs that have been taken so far and choosing a few hundred. A difficult task considering we take, on average, 400 photos a day.

At the beginning of the week it rained a fair amount and the loud thunder feels like it is shaking you. The weather here goes from one extreme to the other. I can’t really complain about the rain as it at least cools down a little.

The campers in Ashley’s bunk always seem to have amazing food. I have been introduced to double stuffed Oreos dipped in Nutella! I don’t think I will be loosing any weight whilst I am at camp now!!

The last couple of days have been, what I describe as, your typical days at camp. 8.15am breakfast, teach some kids photography, take pictures of kids doing their activities, walk half a mile to the office and upload pictures, 1pm lunch, take some more pictures of kids doing activities, walk back to Teenside, nap, dinner, bed.

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On Monday evening a muscial band known as the Shlomones came to camp and everyone gathered in the Eddie Canter Theatre to watch them perform. I had to take pictures of the event but half way through I ended up cheering and dancing along with it all. I am pretty sure most people found it horrifically cheesey but for some strange and shameful reason I always seem to love the camp shows that they put on.

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After the show we went back to the diner and I had the soup again. It is so good! I also ordered lemon meringue pie which was ok! Huge but just ok.

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On Wednesday night I had to sit on duty (OD) which requires you to make sure all the campers are in their bunks and stay in their bunks until they drift to sleep. I have done 2 so far and they are normally very boring and tiresome. This time was pretty fun as another counselor ended up drawing a beautiful henna tattoo on my hand.

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Yesterday night it was Casey’s birthday so we all piled into Ashley’s car and headed for a nearby bowling alley. On the way we got lost and Casey and I went a little crazy. I have no idea why we found saying hashtag before every sentence so hysterical but we did and I think it will forever be hilarious. I felt like dressing up last night so I did my hair and makeup for the first time in like 2 weeks. It felt goooood!

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As always, the week has been tiring yet a lot of fun.

 

A lot of the photographs featured on this post are curtesy of Dan Cleare 🙂

Travel: Poison ivy, lake fun and the Olympics,

Over the past few days I have managed to bond a little with the campers who I share my bunk with. They are very sporty and keep asking me to try and do an American accent. Now I don’t mean to blow my own trumpet but I think I am pretty good at it now! They were impressed anyway!

I also went in the lake for the second time. I did another four laps of the lake which allowed me to use the diving board and a burger bounce.

Both the diving board and burger bounce were a lot of fun and I cannot wait to go back in the lake again! It was so refreshing after I spent the entire day wondering around camp teaching, taking pictures and sweating.

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For the past few days I have been so itchy and my ankles have developed blister spots. I thought I had just had an allergic reaction to mosquito bites but after visiting the nurse I discovered I have a poison Ivey infection. I apparently just have to wait for it to scab over and then I am all better! Mark (a fellow English friend at camp) came with me to the health centre and made me laugh along the way!

That night I also had to sit OD (on duty) in a different unit. This involves sitting in a certain spot from 9.30-12.30, making sure the campers go to sleep. It was very boring and I am not looking forward to doing it again next week. It also doesn’t help that I was nearly falling asleep because camp life is truly tiring!

The past two days have been crazy. Olympics, also known as colour war broke out at camp. It is one of the biggest camp events. The entire camp is split into 4 different colours, this year there was white Captain America team, blue Spiderman, red Iron Man and black Batman. Essentially it is supposed to be kept a secret until the Olympic break out occurs. Steve put together a audio clip and asked two councellors to have a dance off between each other. Half way through the clip Whammy’s (a man who has the most distinctive voice at camp) voice comes booming through the speakers. Everyone is wondering what is going on and then he announces the beginning of the colour war. We had Batman enter on a bat-o-cart, Captain America jumping from a shack at the back of the theater, Spiderman swinging from the roof and Iron Man climbing onto the stage. Everyone was going absolutely crazy and I had to try and capture the whole thing in pictures.

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Overnight, whilst all the campers were asleep, camp had been transformed with banners supporting different teams strung up everywhere! Everyone was dressed in their assigned colours and the constant stream of chants began at breakfast. I spent the day taking pictures of all the different Olympic events and ended up staying up until 2am to edit and upload them all so parents could see. Yesterday was also the 4th July so lots of people had big American flags and we had to sing happy birthday to America in the dining hall.

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I also managed to take a dip in the lake, in between taking pictures, which was a relief because it was such a hot day. I think I have established that my favourite part of camp is the lake, it is just so fun.

Comment: Visit to Argos, I mean the Embassy

I headed to London last Wednesday for my Visa appointment which was at 8am the following day. Luckily I have a nice friend (Josh) who let me stay the night so I didn’t have to pay for a hotel because London hotel prices are ridiculous!

Whilst on the train a man came and sat opposite me, I glanced up from my book in curiosity. On deciding he was not as interesting as my book I returned to reading. He was chatting on the phone for a while and I thought nothing of him. I then heard him say goodbye and out the corner of my eye I saw him retrieve a black notebook from his bag. He opened his black book and began drawing. I only assumed he was drawing because he kept turning the book from side to side whilst putting pencil to paper. Looking down at my kindle I sensed someone was watching me, I quickly glanced up and was shocked to find the man quickly glance back to his notepad. After this happened several times I began to think that he may be drawing me. My suspicions were confirmed when I noticed that there was a drawing of another girl on the facing page.

I did not really know what to do so I a sheepishly sat there knowing a strange man was drawing me, in his little BLACK book. The fact that the book was black is what freaked my out. I then thought that this is ridiculous so I decided to get my own back by taking a picture of him. You know…just incase he is a serial killer. I now have evidence.

1368631483152After an eventful/slightly bizarre journey, I finally arrived at Paddington Station where I caught the tube to Brixton to meet Josh.

That evening Josh decided he wanted to bake some cakes. I agreed to help and suggested we make those lemon meringue cupcakes I blogged about the other day. He was torn between his love for lemon and his desire to bake chocolate chip cupcakes with mint chocolate chip frosting. Undecided, we ended up baking both. When I say we, I actually mean Josh and I sat and watched whilst one of Josh’s close friends did all the work. I did help by licking the mixture out of the bowl and Josh did dictate from the sidelines. I guess you could say it was a group effort after all.

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I have to say that both cakes were delicious and I will definitely recommend them to anyone.

After the hectic baking session, feeling as though I had over indulged on my share of cakes, I headed to bed to ensure I had a good nights sleep ready for my early morning start.

On the day of my visa appointment I begrudgingly rolled out of bed, at 6.30am, to get dressed. As I left Josh’s flat the sun greeted me and by the time I made it to Brixton station I was wide awake and ready to delve deep into the underground to catch the tube to Green Park.

Once at Green Park I quickly typed in my destination onto google maps and followed the trail by foot. Realising I only had 10 minutes until my appointment, I began to run the last leg of my journey until I spotted the American flag flying high above the building.

The Camp America team were very helpful, checking my paper work with a smile despite the early hour. Everything seemed to be in order so I was able to join the que outside the security entrance. Two men stood nearby with guns – scary.

As expected, I was ushered along the conveyer belt of people, passed security and into the building itself.

Inside, I was instructed to take a seat and wait for my number. It really was like being at Argos, I sat, I waited for my number and then I approached the desk. The only difference was not retrieving a household object at the end and I also wasn’t allowed to occupy myself on my phone whilst I waited.

I find it a little odd that you aren’t allowed to take your phones into the Embassy building. In this day and age, a mobile phone is attached to practically every person. If it wasn’t for my smartphone, I wouldn’t have been able to find my way to the Embassy as easily. Thankfully Camp America were there to look after my electrical items but I am sure it is a huge inconvenience for everyone else.

Whilst at the desk I had all my finger prints taken and for some reason I was disappointed to find out that they didn’t use ink and paper. I now cannot imagine why I even thought they would use ink and paper, but I was disappointed no the less because I really wanted to see what my finger prints looked like.

After that I moved along the conveyer and waited in line to be interviewed. It was fairly simple and I was done within the hour which left me with four hours to spare before my train left London.

Reunited with my trusty phone, I google mapped the location of Oxford Street and was happily surprised that it was only a short walk away.

Heading down the street I realised that none of the shops were open yet so I decided to grab some breakfast and my morning cup of tea. This was far easier said than done because I ended up walking the length of Oxford Street before I spotted a Costa. Bewildered and desperately in need of that tea, I headed for the counter and ordered a chocolate swirl to accompany it.

I found a table in the corner and happily sat with my tea and swirl, checking all social media whilst I ate.

After an hour had passed, I presumed the shops would have opened their doors to customers, so I left Costa and headed for Topshop which just so happened to be right across the street. With America in mind I ended up buying a few things.Screen Shot 2013-05-19 at 15.42.20

I thought the yellow dress would go perfectly with the blue jumper and I have wanted a large gold neckless for a while. I then went into other shops but didn’t buy anything else until I came to Pull and Bear. Here I bought the denim shirt which was surprisingly only £19.99, a whole £14.00 cheaper than the one I tried on in Topshop… bargain!

Basic Denim Shifrt – Pull and Bear £19.99

Daisy Circle Chain Neckless – Topshop £10

Ditsy Floral Flippy Dress – Topshop £18

Curve Hem Sweat – Topshop £18

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With a slightly lighter purse and great train snacks in hand, I headed back to Paddington Station to catch my 13.15 trainback to Bristol.