Sunday, 7 September 2014

The City that never sleeps; New York, New York

29 May - 5 June 2014

Having taken the bus from DC to NY, I didn't know how I would feel when I arrived in the Big Apple; illated to have finally completed my trip? Sad? Confused? Scared?  To be honest, partly all of the above.  It wasn't that I wanted my trip to end, not at all, I can't wait to see my family but in the same breath, I couldn't believe this was it.  The thing that I'd worked so hard to save for was now over.  Seeing my mum and my bro was strange.  I felt like I was in a dream.  We'd rented an apartment for us all (mum, Callum Laura and I) in a great spot in Manhattan.  After grabbing a Chinese takeout for tea, I was ready to hit the hay.  It was made even more appetising as American's don't do little beds...this bed was HUGE!  If anything too big?


Our first day in NY started early to make use of our NYC pass.  This is something that you must buy when you visit the city.  It gives you access to up to 250 attractions over 3 days with the use of the hop-on-hop-off bus.  We started at the famous Grand Central Station.  What a beautiful building and certainly worth a visit.  If you've seen the film 'Friends with Benefits' then make sure you spot the cafe opposite the station which is the exact one used in the final scene of their date.  In the afternoon we wandered over to the Empire State Building to enjoy the magnificent views of the city followed by the Maddison Square Gardens tour.  The latter is such an iconic building having staged some of the most famous singers and sports clubs in the world and it's obvious why it's important to the citizens of NYC.    In the evening we headed to Times Square which is just a crazy busy place.  For me, this wasn't a highlight of our time in NY NY but I'm glad I witnessed it.

31 May

The morning was spent wandering the local area.  Mum managed to stumble across a Christmas shop so a little while was spent in there.  In the afternoon, we on, we joined a bike ride around Central Park which was a lot of fun and made us realise how big the park is!  We took photos in famous spots like Lennon's memorial and the long stretch which is featured in so many films.  The afternoon was spent in Natural History Museum.

1 June

Another hot day in the city that never sleeps.  We took the open top bus around the city.  In my view, there is no better way to see an entire city included those quaint and quirky suburbs which get overlooked.  We took the ferry across the the Statue of Liberty but unfortunately we couldn't get up into the crown as the limited tickets were sold out.  Instead, we headed back to Manhattan via Wall Street but the pasty Brits had forgotten to put suncream on, resulting in some rather red faces!!  I'll never forget mum lathering up in the middle if Walgreens.  She put on so much cream that she looked like a ghost!  Hilarious.  We took the bus down to the 9'11 Tribute Centre and the World Trade Centre. It's a place that everyone should visit.  It was made even more special as we joined by Danny and  Dellyn who I'd met at a cooking course in Thailand.  Danny had volunteered after the planes hit the twin towers so it was interesting to get his take on that days events; the day that changed the world as we knew it.  That evening, Danny took us to a rooftop bar which had spectacular views over the city.  It's not somewhere that you'd naturally find so we were very grateful to Danny for showing us.  We then headed onto Calle Ocho for dinner.  A perfect end to a great day or it was until I lost my Raybans. The single most frustrating thing to happen...

2 June

The morning was spent in the 'cop shop' reporting my lost sunglasses.  Not the best start to my day and quite surreal as I felt like I was on the set of a Hollywood movie.  As a result, mum and I opted to have a little fun and instead of taking the riverboat we opted for the jet boat ride.  Put it this way, my hair didn't quite look the same afterwards.  We took a couple of the photos of the Navy Ship docked by in the harbour for Uncle Steve then headed off to do some shopping at MSG.  We'd planned to go the Top of the Rock in the evening but it was fully booked.  Top tip: Book in advance!  Instead we headed back to the apartment for a take out pizza (well you can't come to NY without getting a slice of pizza, now can you?)

3 June

We took the metro over the Yankees Stadium.  Boy that metro system is confusing.  London's underground is simple and easy to use and other cities should take note.  It's for this reason that most people take cabs in NYC, at least this way you'll end up at your requested destination.  In the evening we wandered up to the Top of the Rock to look at what was described by many travellers I met along the way as "the best view in the big apple".  Unfortunately for us, the weather was wet and miserable, so the view wasn't quite how we'd imagined.  

4 June

Most of our penultimate day in the city was spent shopping in Soho for an outfit to Morna's wedding which was successful.  In the evening, I met up with the gorgeous Lizzie Daw and her husband Nick in Chelsea at a quaint French restaurant.  I can't tell you how wonderful it was to see her.  We laughed, giggled and reminisced about school, University and exchanged travel stories as they'd been living away for 2 years.  Yet we all missed London.  That city which has encapsulated our lives and one that can never be compared to others in the world.

5-6 June

Just before we headed to the Airport I managed to catch up with Alicia, another travelling friend that I met with Danny and Dellyn at the cooking class in Northern Thailand.  Although brief, it was great to see her and reminisce on my time away.  Mum and Laura had managed to get us seats on the upper deck of the plane home.  Although it wasn't quite Business Class, it was a lot roomier than economy.  The next day was a whirlwind, we landed, jumped on the Heathrow Express to Paddington, took the tube round to Euston, dropped off our cases at the hotel, eventually flagged down a cab to my job interview all in the space of a few hours.  By 4pm the interviews were over and by 5.30pm we were back at the hotel getting ready to meet Ann and Daniel for dinner.  To say the day was a whirlwind would be an understatement.  My feet barely had chance to touch the ground.  Saturday (6th) felt like it was never going to end.  I've never been so happy to board a Virgin train to Holyhead.  I knew it was only then that I'd feel I was truly home...

We pulled into the station, got off the train and all I saw when Ellie running towards me in tears jumping into my arms to provide me with the biggest hug imaginable.  I was crying.  Auntie Shelly was crying.  We were all crying.  We arrived back at Auntie Shelly and Uncle Steve to be greeted by a little party including a "Welcome Home Kirsty" banner, Balloon and a Colin the Catepiller Cake.  Everything I missed when I had my birthday away.  We ate my favourite Chinese takeaway and chatted with cups of tea in the living room.  I felt like I'd never been away.  You see that's the thing about living away from home, you can travel to many countries in the world, adapt as a result of experiences and people you've met along the way but life still remains the same once you've returned. 

After all, home truly is where the heart is....


Sunday, 24 August 2014

Exploring Washington DC and my first Baseball game

26-28 May 2014

After yet another delayed flight, I finally arrived in DC at around 10.30pm before taking a Super Shuttle over to Kari's place.  Super Shuttles are 8 seater taxis which are the next cheapest method of transport from the airport to the subway.  The benefit is that it takes you door-to-door.  

Washington DC is certainly a lot cleaner than I imagined it would've been.  I'd been told by other travellers that the city was dirty, grotty and to be honest a bit if a dump but I found it quite the opposite.      I was lucky enough to be shown round the city by my good friend Kari.  A personalised tourist tour.  

Our first stop was of course The White House.  A magnificent building which was just as I imagined.  Barack and Michelle's back yard was certainly very impressive.  Sadly they weren't in for a cup of tea...
We then wandered round to the Washington Monument which has only just recently opened from reconstruction.  We never got the chance to go up it as there are only 100 tickets released every day to walk up the monument.  From there, we headed over to the Lincoln Monument before wandering round the famous Reflecting Pool.  Lastly, we walked by the WW2 Monument and Vietnam Memorial.  Placed particularly poignant on Memorial Day.  It was quite eye-opening having been to a Vietnam and experiencing the war memorial from the other side. 

That evening, I met up with an old friend for dinner in Georgetown.  Emily and I haven't seen each other since living in the same town in France back in 2008/2009.  The weather was horrendous and DC was a washout.  That being said, we had a great evening at a quaint Italian restaurant which ended by almost being done by the cops for jaywalking!  It could only happen with Emily!!  So great to see her looking so well and catching up on old times. 

 It's my last day in DC and where better to spend it than a personalised almost access all areas tour of the US Capitol Building.  We swung by Kari's office where I got to meet her work colleagues before starting our tour of the building.  The highlight was without doubt sitting in on the House and Senate galleries. Certainly a lifelong ambition for a politics geek like me.  In the evening, Kari took me to Nationals Park to watch my first baseball game.  I'm not going to lie, I didn't have a clue what was going on for at least the first 30mins or so but I think I slowly got the hang of it by the end.  It was a great treat and an exciting way to end a fabulous few days in DC spending time with friends.

So, what are my final thoughts on DC:

1. Clean, spacious and friendly.  DC isn't what I expected it to be.  It was much more.

2. I visited government buildings, something which I haven't even done in my own country.

3. Experienced my first baseball game.

4. Would I go back again? Absolutely!!

Next and final stop: New York, New York

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Lights Camera Action in LA

23 - 25 May 2014

After a long bus journey involving delays and unexpected change, I eventually arrived into LA at 8pm.  Thankfully, the bus dropped me right outside what was to be my last ever hostel stay.  Hostelling International (HI) USA Hostels could certainly teach other hostel owners a thing or two; great service, guided tours of the facilities, free towels, ensuites but most impressive of all private screens around your bed allowing you to have a rare 5 mins to yourself.  During check-in I met Rebecca, another traveller from London who was also on her last leg before home, infact her last night.  Regardless of how tired we were, I couldn't let her celebrate her last night of travels in a hostel, so we opted to go to The Piano Bar.  This bar is famous in LA for launching the careers of some incredibly talented musicians.  Seemingly, it's also a great place to meet people, like Lance.  A guy from LA who works for Disney and is one of the talented animators that worked on Frozen.

As Rebecca was leaving mid morning for the airport, it meant we had to take an early morning taxi ride to the Warner Bros studios.  It wasn't somewhere that had come up in my basic research of the city but I'm glad I had the opportunity to go.  The set is much much much bigger than you imagine so no wonder you have to travel round in a golf buggy!  After touring the grounds and wardrobe museum including trying on Hogwarts's sorting hat (I got Gryffendor) we finally got to explore the backstage sets of Ellen, 2 Broke Girls, The Fosters (comedy staring J'Lo) but most important of all...the FRIENDS set.  It's been a childhood ambition of mine to sit of THAT sofa in THAT coffee house. Another box ticked off that Bucket List!

Yet a trip to LA can't be made without a stop in Hollywood and Beverley Hills.  For a real estate geek like me, I quite enjoyed the "celeb spotting cruise" intcluding a drive by of Bel Air.  The same enjoyment cannot be said for the walk of fame and Central Hollywood. Sadly it looks nothing like what you see in the media.  It's riddled with tourists, dirty and somewhat plastic.  Not what I expected at all.

Thankfully, Lance kindly offered to take me out of Hollywood and show me another part of LA - Malibu.  After a drive through the hills, we arrived at a stunning vineyard located on the side of a hill.  It looked like a festival scene out of a magazine.  Certainly quite different from Central Hollywood.  In the evening, we had dinner in a beautiful beachside restaurant called Geoffrey's.  Not quite what you call a standard traveller's night out but the perfect way to end my first trip to LA.

Final thoughts on LA:

Although it wasn't what I expected and Hollywood was a massive disappointment, LA itself was a great place.  Yes it's pretentious particularly around Beverley Hills but isn't Knightsbridge or Chelsea?  

Public transport is next to none so plan your trip well.  Explore the suburbs outside the concentrated Hollywood and if possible, rent a car, you won't be disappointed with the view.

Sweet dreams LAX.  

Next stop: Washington DC

Sunday, 20 July 2014

The bright old lights of San Francisco

19 - 22 May 2014

San Fran has always been somewhere that I've wanted to visit since I heard it mentioned in an old Simon and Garfunkel song which my Dad used to play when I was little girl.  By far the best way to see this magnificent city is by one of those unavoidable tour buses.  Yes they may be cliche but they do the job.  From the famous San Francisco bridge to Macy's and the famous Cheesecake Factory.  You can see it all. One thing a good friend pointed out to me is that considering its must-try version is called the 'New York Cheesecake' you'd think they'd have a store in central Manhattan - sadly not.  So make sure you get your fix whilst you're still in SF.

Back to the city tour.  We started at Fisherman's Wharf most famous for Pier 39 and it's rather noisy inhabitants; sealions.  Some say that the council did their upmost to get rid of them for years but they kept coming back, so eventually they gave up.  The noise is quite incredible and a sight not to be missed.  

China Town is worth a wander, although it's pretty much the same as all the others I've seen in every major city across the world.  The only landmark I'd recommend is Dragon Gate on Grant Avenue. It was installed in '69 as a gift from the Government of Republic of China (Taiwan).  It's also the largest  of its kind outside of Asia.  

I loved Haight Ashbury.  Another quirky neighhood and one that delivered my perception of SF.  Funky, diverse and filled with boutiques and coffee shops, I wish I could've spent more time there.  I also enjoyed downtown SF.  Not somewhere that's highly recommended in tourist guides which in a way was a welcome relief.  I found some delicious restaurants and definitely foodie heaven.  Perfect place to meet an old work colleague for dinner and drinks.  A welcome return to normality. 

There are 2 places which cannot be missed; Golden Gate Bridge/Golden Gate Park and the San Francisco Trolleys.  Firstly, GG Bridge.  Frustratingly, I didn't get to see it in full view due to fog.  I went 3 out of my 5 days only to find fog engulfing the entire view.  Apparently it's very normal and there's often only 5 day throughout the whole year that you get a clear shot.  A rather depressing statistic.  That all being said, the GG park more the made up for it.  One afternoon I wasted hours just sitting reading a book with a picnic.  A welcome retreat.  This brings me onto the famous trolley carts or trams to you and I.  At 6$ for a return trip over the hills of S. Fran it's not cheap but it's an absolute must do!

This leads me to my final thoughts on San Fran-Cisco:

As my first stop in the US, this was the perfect choice.  It's everything I expected and much more...
I can't wait to go back explore more of the districts on the other side of the bridge, find more eateries and perhaps go to a few gigs in the downtown suburbs.  

San Fran, until next time....

Next stop: LA

Monday, 9 June 2014

Auckland and final thoughts on NZ

17-19 May

My final few days in New Zealand were spent in Auckland with Matt.  We had a great Saturday evening at a Belgian bar followed by a Comedy show and a drink at the Irish bar.  On the Sunday, we took the ferry to Davenport, a small town which reminded us both of home.  We popped by the navy museum! walked up to the viewpoint, bought some home comforts and ate a roast dinner.  It was great seeing Matt after so long and I wish him all the best with the rest of his stay in NZ.

After checking out of nomads for the final time, I wandered round the city centre and went up the sky tower to enjoy the view.

So what are my final thoughts on New Zealand:

First impressions: stunning, magical, breathtaking

Favorite place: Queenstown

Unforgettable experience: skydiving in Taupo

Unforgettable moment: Maori night

Favourite view: every view along the road from Queenstown to Christchurch and Tongeriro crossing

NZ is one of the most beautifully green places I've ever been in the world.  It's somewhere that everyone has to visit in their lifetime.  When you look out of the car window, you feel like you're looking into a picture.  It's a place that I can't wait to go back to!

Next stop: San Francisco 

Punakaiki, glacier walking in Franz Josef and Wanaka

12 - 15 May

In the morning we headed south through the Buller Gorge to the 'wild' West Gorge, which stretches for over 600km along one of the top 10 drives in the world.  We stopped off at a few places along the way before heading onto Punakaiki, a town famous for its blowholes and Pancake Rocks.  

The next morning, whilst the others were off making bone or greenstone necklaces, we went off to a local beach in search of our own greenstone but sadly we didn't find any!  Our evening stop was in Franz Josef, a town famous for its glaciers.  A few of us opted to stay in another hostel purely for the freebies including. BBQ, wifi and spa.  The local area isn't easily accessible by foot so when they offered to take us over to Lake Matheson, we jumped at the chance.  For me, this was one of the prettiest places on the west coast.  Picturesque views particularly when the sun bounces off the snow-capped mountain tops.  Although as Esmae and Axel (Holland/Belgium) found out, the water was cold!!  The view of the Fox Glacier is also one not to be missed.

Our time in Wanaka was short but sweet.  Seb (Banberg), Lilly, Yohann and I went for a walk by the lake before playing uno and drinking wine with the others.  The next few days went by in a bit of a blur, we left Wanaka and headed for Queenstown via the Nevis Bungy.  Although I'm too much of a wimp to do one, I did fancy the swing but sadly due to my back, I couldn't!  Queenstown was a lot of fun and it felt great to be back.  After a bit of shopping with the girls and a few drinks in our room (with everyone- literally) we headed for the pub crawl and danced the night away.  I've loved spending time with this group and couldn't have asked for a better group of people to explore this country with so....thank you!

Next stop: stop in NZ

Windy Wellington and Abel Tasman

9 - 11 May

After a fairly long drive, we finally landed in the capital of NZ, Wellington.  We spent most of the afternoon picking up bits and bobs followed by a trip to Te Papa, a new interactive museum.  It was a great place to visit especially as it was FREE!  

In the evening, we decided to have a night out.  We all met in the hostel bar making the most of the free spaghetti bol and cheap drinks before heading out to one of the local bars.  It must've been a good night, if the hangover was anything to go by...

At some ungodly hour, we checked out and headed for the ferry over to Picton.  This is where we said goodbye to our driver, Seagull, and met our new driver Wee-Man.  We briefly stopped in the city of Nelson where we not only picked up 2 fellow Welshies but also Rupert Hughes who I went to school with!  What a small world....

Abel Tasman is a beautiful place and the hostel was amazing, particularly the single beds.  A perfect base for walks or just generally relaxing in the sunshine.

Next stop: Punakaiki