Wednesday, June 30, 2010

San Diego: Fishies in the water, fishies in the sea

Whales and dolphins and seals, oh my!

That's right, we spent today in San Diego at Seaworld - home to the world famous Shamu.

After my visit to what has to be the most kid friendly of all the theme parks I have to say whales are signifcantly more kick ass than dolphins.

A whale being totally kick ass.

Whales can be cute too.

The one creature you have to be careful about at Seaworld are small children. I managed to get sneezed on all over my back by a little ratbag. Okay he was only around 2-years-old, but his mother should teach him to cover his nose!

There's a shark encounter, a seal show, flamigos and Nick's favourite... the otter.
Nick's picture of a smart little critter.

The 90min drive to the park went quite quickly as we travelled along the Pacific Coast.

Palm Trees and beach front properties are every and the pace is much slower than LA.

Thought the tempurature was only in the early 20s the humidity was high and the air was heavy.

We also managed to experience LA rush hour traffic on the way home. Thank God for the car pull lane!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

California: Universal Studios

Movies, movies and more movies.

Movie themed rides, shows and exhibits - movie fan heaven.

I loved Disney, but this was just that much more enjoyable. The queues seem shorter, the crowded smaller and the food is much, much better.

To get to the park you walk through a huge open air mall of shops and resturants.

Universal Studios is fairly similar to Movie World in Surfer's Paradise, Australia only bigger.

First up was the live Waterworld stunt show. The actors in the production have all been involved in some big name tv shows and movies so I wonder how this stop fits into their career.

Rides wise the Simpsons virtual rollercoaster, the Jurassic Park water ride and the Mummmy - a Space Mountain-ish - roller-coaster are the best.

The highlight for me was the Studio Lot tour. Without giving too much away it takes you through active sets including a NYC street scene and the Desperate Housewives set and throws in a few unexpected thills along the way.

The NYC St set

A real Desperate Housewives house!

Monday, June 28, 2010

California: Disneyland! Disneyland!

We didn't plan on going to Disneyland today, but ended up in the Magic Kingdom anyway.

We hoped to simply stop by to pick up our City Pass tickets but once we'd parked and made our way to Downtown Disney we couldn't leave.

The park is separated into two, the original Disneyland park and the California Adventure Park.

If I had to choose just one to visit it would have to be classic Disney,

Aside from the outrageously expensive and bad food, Disneyland is fantastic. The attention to detail is amazing with no sign of the outside world. The rides are a mix of littlies and bigger kid rides.

By the time we arrived at 10am it was already getting busy. Our first stop was Pirates of the Caribbean, part water slide, part anamatronic special effects show.

I don't know what the original ride was like, but this one was good fun - and the Johnny Depp robot-pirate-things looked just like the real thing.

Desipte beginning summer holidays our longest wait was 30mins for Space Mountain - a little bit scary, but mainly fun.

We even rode the Small World Ride - Nick seemed a little scared - lights, noise, high pitched voices singing a song over and over again.

Over at Adventure Park the obvious signs of Disney are missing. Instead the park is built around a man-made waterfront pier, like an old, seaside acarde.

The rides are slightly scarier, but there is still plenty of kids stuff.

We still have tickets for two more days so are hoping to pop back on Thursday to catch the rides we missed - mainly Indiana Jones.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

California: Crazy old Hollywood

Our first full day in the city.

LA is coloured like a photograph from the 1970s and a grey mist hangs over the city until it is burnt off by the afternoon heat.

Our tour guide from LA City Tours said the smoke wasn’t smog – that’s black – but a cloud that comes in off the ocean.

Earlier today we made our way into the city, on the extreme LA freeway. We weren’t quite sure where we were heading, but when we saw the turning off for Hollywood Boulevard we knew we were in the right place.

Hollywood Blvd starts off looking pretty rundown and old when it suddenly turns into the street we’ve all seen on TV with the Kodak and the Chinese Theatre. The pavement covered with star plaques stretches on and on, with plenty of well known names along with those whose fame has faded.

The sun grew increasingly hot as the day went on. We parked below the Kodak and made our way through Hollywood and down to Sunset Blvd where we saw the CNN tower and a beautiful South American church.

Heading back to Hollywood we sampled Californian fruit at a Sunday farmers market – the strawberries were amazing.

Every few metres someone is trying to get you to take their tour, there are also plenty of people after a dollar.

We picked our tour because our first choice was booked out until 4:30 and they were the next best.

The mini-bus was open air – great for taking photos – and took us to Mulholland Drive to take in the view of the city and the Hollywood sign.

Then we followed the winding green hills through stunning, celebrity owned properties including Jimi Hendrix last home, Jim Morrison’s last US home and Britney Spears first home.

More celebrity house spotting in Beverly Hills and checking out the top spots in Rodeo Drive and Sunset.

Finally we had a very nom dinner at a little Mexican place next door – best burrito ever!

Day 1: Safe and sound in LA

Well, here we are, it's 8:13 on a Saturday night and we're exhausted. Nick is laying half asleep on the bed and we should head out for a bite to eat soon.

Aside from the 12hour flight it's been a long day.

We touched down at LAX just before 12pm, but it took a long time to taxi to the terminal.

The immigration process to get into the States is insane! Families and individuals go up - Nick got sent back when we went up because we don't qualify as family - and everyone over 13 years old has to have their finger prints and retina scanned.

Once on the other side a shuttle met up us to whisk the Hertz customers to their car lot around 5 mins from the airport.

The Hertz lot is like a massive mall car park where rows of people queue for either practical or over-the-top-American cars.

We've picked up a cute little VW - so sweet - but it also has more juice than Herbie: Fully Loaded.

The directions from the lovely man at Hertz were pretty good and we were soon making our way along the eight lane highway 405.

With heaps of help from me, Nick managed to get used to driving the wrong way and we managed to avoid any near misses.

We've sampled a small slice of American cuisine with a snack of single slice pizza and ice tea. Nick topped his piece of pie off with some hideous pink lemonade, which tasted more of pink than lemonade.

We now know where Disneyland is and can catch a tiny tiny glimpses of some of the rides over the road.

We're now in our room at the Quality Inn & Suites Anaheim. The bed is comfy, but hard enough to type nicely.

Now to wake Nick up and get him some din-dins. It looks like we're going next door to Denny's.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The countdown begins

Five sleeps to go. 118 hours. 169,920 minutes until we take off from Auckland airport on our adventure at 1915 hours (that's 7:15pm).

To celebrate this milestone I'm FINALLY going to post our itinerary.

First stop is LA where we touch down at LAX at 12:15pm – a full 7hours before we leave NZ, the complexities of time travel.

So that's seven nights in LA taking in the sights and eating mountains of American food before heading up the coast to our next stop in the city of San Franciso. We'll call this city home for three days/two nights.

We'll be spending the fourth of July in San Fran so hope to find a little piece of Americana for the big day.

Then it's overnight in Yosemite followed by another night in Death Valley National Park

On Wednesday July 7 we swing into the city of sin, Las Vegas, for four nights of insanity staying at Treasure Island Hotel and Circus Circus.

From here until hit NYC our plan becomes fluid. With no accommodation booked we can take it as we go.

From Vegas we hit Flagstaff, the Grand Canyon, then Phoenix. A short stop in Truth or Consequences we move into New Mexico.

Everything is bigger in Texas as we swing into the LoneStar state. Fort Stockton, San Antonio, Austin and Houston.

Then it's on to Lafayette, New Orleans, Mobile, Panama City, Gainesville and Tampa Florida.

Then we loop around the Panhandle state from Miami, Cape Canaveral and Orlando.

Now it's time to head north from Savannah to Atlanta to Athens Georgia followed by Charlotte North Carolina, Richmond Virginia and Washington DC where we say goodbye to our loyal Hertz rental car and test out American public transport.

A bus trip and we're in NYC and we have to find our way to Long Island to Country Inn & Suites.

Then August 28 we spend two nights in the city of Boston (the most expensive city in the world, well, in my opinion at least.)

A further two nights in NYC courtous of Nick's parents before we fly to London on September 1 and the next stage of our journey begins.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Shipping up to Boston - from the cheap seats

The just passed, and gone too quickly, long weekend was a most productive one.

We've booked into some lovely accommodation through the wonder of and our credit cards are struggling under the weight!

Except for our final two nights in NYC (we're looking for something totally P.I.M.P - any suggestions?), we now have a roof over our heads for the first two weeks and last seven days of our trip.

In New York, we're staying in QUEENS (just like The Nanny!) at the Country Inn & Suites By Carlson. We've managed to score a rather nice room with free breakfast, wifi and - most importantly - city views!

Like us you might have thought of our whole trip NYC would be the most expensive place to lay your head - but how wrong were we.

That title has so far been awarded to the lovely city of Boston.

A boyfriend in love with the Dropkick Murphys is the reason behind our two day detour north & of course there is a lot of history in the area so I'm sure we'll love the city.

But, DAMN, the only reasonably priced places to stay are at least 30mins drive from the city, so with us relying on public transport we've caved to a nice place in the centre of town, the Radisson Hotel Boston.

So in celebration of the most expensive city in the USA, here is a rousing tune from the DKMs, Shipping Up To Boston.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Off Topic: My journey to the Outback

Way back in January I mentioned an upcoming trip to Outback NSW, Australia.

Well, that trip has been and go, so to prove I can string a few words together here is the published story on our website (text below)...

New South Wales: Mining town steals hearts of dreamers
Lightning Ridge draws many who hope to find precious opal, writes Kara Segedin.

It's not the flying, bloodsucking insects visitors need to be wary of in Lightning Ridge but a bug of a different kind - the opal bug.

Everyone in this lonely Outback New South Wales town has been bitten by the bug at some stage and never left.

Whether they came as miners seeking the famous black opal, or were drawn to the freedom of the Ridge's lifestyle, they're now trapped, proud to call it home.

You know you're in the right place when you see the sign: "Lightning Ridge: Population ?"

The number of miners in town is anybody's guess, opal miners being notoriously tight-lipped, with many sites registered to first names only, faithful family pets or false names, including a few famous cartoon character residents.

That's no great surprise. What was a surprise was that, thanks to rainstorms across the border in Queensland, the dry landscape I expected was surprisingly lush, and some of the roads north of the Ridge were flooded.

But that didn't stop us making our way to the Australian Opal Centre to find out what this precious stone means to the area.

Palaeontologist Jenni Brammall fell in love with the Ridge during a university field trip and now manages the centre, which holds an impressive collection of opal and opalised fossils including those of dinosaurs, early mammals and marine life.

But the most famous piece in the exhibit is a set of opal dentures that belonged to Harold Hodges, a well-known local opal seller and buyer in 1960s and 70s. Fed up with people asking him to smile, Harold cemented the teeth into the wall of the local pub where they stayed until after his death.

For now, the collection is housed in town, but in the next few years it will move to a state-of-the-art, underground, two-story building on the historic Three Mile opal field.

A different aspect of opal mining is on display at the Dig Inn on Bald Hill.

Husband-and-wife mining and cooking team Alan and Rynn Bair took over the business in Easter 2008 and their camp-tucker soon became famous on the opal fields. Now every evening 10-15 miners show up for dinner.

The outdoor dining area is beautifully rustic, lit by fairy lights, lamps and the bright night sky. While Alan puts the finishing touches on the beef, pork, chicken, soup and veges slowly cooking on an open fire, Rynn shares stories of long days out on the claim.

As with all miners, they keep tales of riches close to their chest - any word that you're on opal could lead to a late night visit from ratters, local thieves who head down shafts and strip them of their wealth - but that doesn't stop the yarns from rolling.

Our second day in opal country starts early when we are collected from our motel by Black Opal Tours' mini-van and guided around the Ridge. It's the sort of place where a guide is welcome because of the idiosyncratic system of directions that operates here. Dotted around in what seems to be the middle of nowhere are brightly-painted and numbered car doors that act as road signs to the main sights. Each colour represents a different route and free maps are available at the visitors' centre.

In fact, cars and doors are much in demand round here. The bumpy roads are littered with the remains of burned-out cars that have been picked over for parts. Here and there we spy makeshift miners' homes made out of whatever the owners could get their hands on.

However, what we were after was the chance to fossick for opal.

Tales of big wins can make opal mining an addictive pursuit, so no matter how much they find, miners keep going back in hope of the next big hit.

Only a few years ago, a lucky tourist picked up a $20,000 stone in the mullock heap outside the visitors' centre. And then there's One-Bucket Bob, who found a million dollars' worth of opal in the first bucket of dirt he pulled out of his mine, only to spend it quick, and come back to find another million in the next bucket.

I was certain this was going to be my lucky day as our group scrummaged through white piles of scrap looking for the gleam of an elusive opal. Unfortunately, the closest I came to opal was a few specks in some rocks - nobbies - and a couple of pieces of quartz.

But even if you don't find opal there's still plenty to see, including mining-related sights such as Fred Bodel's Camp and Lunatic Hill, and magnificently eccentric works of art such as Astronomer's Monument, Amigo's Castle, Bevan's Black Opal and Cactus Nursery, the Black Queen and Chambers of the Black Hands.

Astronomer's Monument was built by Polish immigrant Alex Szperlak, who retired to the Ridge as the "second Robinson Crusoe" after years in prison for a crime he didn't commit.

Another artistic sight is found 11.2m underground in the 100-year-old mine named Chambers of the Black Hand. Miner Ron Canlin started carving animals and pillars into the walls and, as his ideas and skills grew, the works became larger and more detailed.

Decked out in coloured hardhats, we climb down into this magical world where tunnels open into vast chambers filled with paintings and sculptures. With so much to see and so many characters to meet, I truly have the Lightning Ridge bug - oh, and a few mozzie bites as well.

Credit cards and fall down Kat

Such a long time since the last post and things are looking a little different (hopefully a little better) around here.

Our credit cards are taking a hit with bookings coming out our ears and my knee is black and blue after a meeting with the concrete floor at Neighbourhood Bar.

Some big-picture changes have occurred in the past months. First, I am now working for Herald online which means no more late nights or weekends (unless I get the call up for evening work). Also, I am now the proud owner of an Offical UK visa. The process for getting one of these little beauties is long and tiresome. First you fill out what seems to be a 50 page form online, pay $300 and get you finger prints scanned - and this is where the fun begins.

There is no UK visa office in NZ so all enquirers go to Canberra - fun times. It's a nervous process that is made worse because you have to send you passport away. After weeks of waiting and no word, I emailed to see what the deal was. Another week later I find out they didn't receive my envelope so I quickly send them a second courier package. Then what should turn up five days later, my passport complete with Visa in the orginal envelope.


The count down until we leave NZ has really begun, and the reality of the move is starting to sink in... only 25 days and counting, so much to do, so little time.

Two weeks ago while recovering from a trip to the dentist I put together a lovely itinerary for our holiday complete with distances and driving times only to have it torn to shreds by one picky boyfriend.

On the plus side, he has now drawn up a pretty complete timetable and we now have the fun task of picking where we are going to sleep.

So far we've booked seven nights in LA at Quality Inn & Suites Anaheim at the Park. Not the fanciest place in the world, but it looks comfortable and the owners seem nice. And, now for the best bit, it's only a short walk to DISNEY LAND (more on that later)!

We're looking to stay somewhere pimp in Vegas, but with so many options it's proving very difficult to chose!

The details for our trip are coming along nicely so I should have a holiday plan ready to share any day now.

Until next time, keep on trucking.