The Potato Chick
Travelling, eating and my other favourite things...
Disneyland & Los Angeles
In a sentence...the final hurrah.
Food we loved...chicken wings at Hooters – a classic American experience.
Perhaps we should have taken it easy during the last few days of our trip. Instead, we ran to the finish line at full pelt, taking in Disneyland and a whistlestop tour of Los Angeles in our final two days before collapsing onto the airplane in an exhausted heap.
I admit there were tears within our first hour at the happiest place on earth. It turns out that dropping down a 5-storey waterfall in a rickety log (otherwise known as “Splash Mountain”) is not good for my heart rate. I soon recovered from the trauma, however, and a truly memorable day followed.
After careful reference to blogs dedicated solely to planning your Disneyland adventure (yes, they really do exist), Nick had constructed a detailed itinerary which would ensure we could fit in all of the “must-dos” without spending too much time in queues. We rode all the classic rides including Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Dumbo, It’s a Small World and, of course, the Mad Hatters Tea Party (the infamous tea cups). Pirates of the Caribbean was my favourite, while Nick loved the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters where we “fired lasers to defeat Zurg”.
But Disneyland is much more than just rides. The gardens are just beautiful and so much effort has gone into every aspect of the park. Every staff member was chatty and friendly, proudly wearing a badge displaying their state (or country) of origin. The daily parade was a trip down memory lane which included characters from The Little Mermaid, the Lion King and Aladdin. And the people watching was second to none –children throwing tantrums...parents throwing tantrums...we saw it all.
Having a hire car meant that it was easy to explore both Santa Monica and Venice Beach. Wandering around on a Tuesday, Santa Monica was incredibly quiet. Venice, however, was filled with all sorts of interesting people and some fantastic street art. I was surprised how much I liked the streets behind Santa Monica beach. They felt a lot like hipster Williamsburg in New York.
Of course no trip to Los Angeles would be complete without experiencing its world-famous horrendous traffic. As we set off from Venice beach at 4.30pm it did not occur to us that peak hour was imminent (one does not worry about such things during periods of unemployment). Whilst it was good to see the Hollywood sign, to cruise along Mulholland Drive and to marvel at the ridiculously large houses and the sheer scale of the city, it probably wasn’t worth 2 hours in the car.
All too soon our time in LA was over and we found ourselves at yet another airport, ready for the long journey home. It had been an unforgettable final two days.
Next stop...HOME. Keep your eye out for a couple of final wrap-up posts.Posted 12 May 2015 Special thanks to Nick’s sister Nadine who so generously sent us to Disneyland. What an amazing gift xoxo. Special thanks also to Nick for planning our day with such precision.
Las Vegas & the Grand Canyon, USA
In a sentence...two absolute wonders (one man-made and one natural).
Food we loved...brunch buffet at The Cosmopolitan.
From the man-made excess of Las Vegas to the natural wonder of the Grand Canyon, our first few days back in the US had it all.
Just like New York, Las Vegas was one of those places where everything you see feels vaguely familiar.
Thanks to Ocean’s Eleven and The Hangover, I had a list in my mind of where we should be staying and gambling. Unfortunately, a night or two at the Bellagio or Caesars Palace doesn’t come cheap. After much scouring of the internet we settled on two nights at Hostel Cat and one special night at the Flamingo Hotel. Hostel Cat was at the North end of the strip, only a short bus ride to the action. Conveniently, when heading back to the hostel we knew it was time to jump off the bus when the giant STRIPPERS sign appeared in the sky...
Some of you may have noticed that one of my favourite things about travelling is eating delicious food. Which explains the hours I spent researching the best breakfast buffets in Las Vegas. In the end I settled on brunch at The Cosmopolitan, one of the fanciest hotels on the Strip. The array of food on offer was astounding – from the usual breakfast offerings to pork belly, a hot carvery and macaroni and cheese. To top it all off, the dessert offerings could have been an entire meal on their own. Despite our best intentions we ate too much and it was over 24 hours before we ate again.
A few days later we had recovered and we tackled the dinner buffet at the Mirage. Whilst the range of food was not as extensive, drinks were included which was pretty exciting for budget travellers.
Thanks to the poor health of her husband Rene, my dream of seeing Celine Dion at Caesars Palace could not be fulfilled. As an alternative, we settled on seeing the “X Burlesque” show at the Flamingo. We’d been to burlesque and cabaret shows before and the performers have always impressed me with acrobatics and amazing physical feats. This, however, was really just a good old fashioned strip show. I’ve never seen so many boobs in one hour. Still, the Flamingo was fabulous and it felt so luxurious returning to our room in the same building after the show.
The only item on Nick’s agenda was gambling. Over three big nights we checked out New York-New York, MGM Grand, the Flamingo, the Bellagio, Caesars Palace, Paris, the Mirage and the Cosmopolitan. On night three I bailed early, utterly exhausted. I’d got involved at the Blackjack table and we lost our money quickly as Nick battled to play two hands at once. With me out of his hair, he enjoyed another few hours of Blackjack at the (now closed) Riviera and came out on top.
A night in the Route 66 town of Williams was the perfect antidote to the madness of Las Vegas. The Grand Canyon was absolutely spectacular; one of those places that reminds you how small you are in the scheme of things. It is hard to believe that, with less than a week of our trip left, the highlights continue.
We stopped at the enormous Hoover Dam on our way back to Las Vegas. I thought that Nick would be the only person in the world interested in such a tourist attraction. I was wrong.
After only four fabulous nights, we can certainly understand why Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon are two essential stops on any US itinerary.
Next stop...Disneyland & Los Angeles, USA.Posted 5 May 2015
In a sentence...a completely different side of the United States.
Food we loved...plantain cups filled with chicken, a traditional Cuban dish. Plantain is from the same family as the banana but tasted more like potato.
I don’t expect to receive any sympathy from those of you at home but what a relief it was to get back to tropical warmth and sunshine after almost 10 weeks of Winter weather. Miami was just what we needed and, coincidentally, it was the perfect mix of the US and Central America to ease us into the next phase of our trip.
Miami is a very interesting city and could not be more different to New York. The weather is steamy and sultry, we heard more Spanish being spoken than English and there are plenty of art deco style buildings to add a sense of old world style to the waterfront area. We stayed at South Beach which was filled with holiday-makers.
Of course, we did a trip on an airboat through the Everglades hunting for alligators. We were lucky enough to see quite a few which was pretty exciting. My favourite was the mother alligator we spotted once we were back on dry land who had three tiny babies on her back. They were so cute!
After a few false starts (seriously, we had to go to three different bike docking stations) we hired bikes and cruised along the Venetian Causeway which crosses Biscayne Bay from Miami Beach to mainland Miami. We rode through 6 stunning man-made islands which seem to be the playground of the exceedingly wealthy.
We finished off with a DIY food tour of Little Havana, Miami’s Cuban district, where we sampled the plantain cups mentioned above.
I cannot believe that Miami and New York City are in the same country. We are really looking forward to sampling and comparing a few other US cities at the end of our trip. Stay tuned.
Next stop...Isla Mujeres & Tulum, Mexico.
New York City, USA: Part Two
No trip to New York (or the US for that matter) would be complete without a bit of sport and we were lucky enough to see the following:
But we didn’t just leave the sport to the professionals. We squeezed in a couple of runs around Prospect Park and Central Park. We spent our final afternoon ice skating in the sunshine. Whilst I had expected to break a limb undertaking this activity I was surprised to discover that I really loved it. Nick had to practically drag me off the ice when it was time to leave.
Most visitors to New York take in a show on Broadway. Perhaps the Lion King, Les Miserable or the flavour of the month, Matilda. Not us. When Nick mysteriously informed me we were going to a show for my Christmas present I knew we would be seeing something obscure. And I was not wrong.
We saw an hilarious and quirky performance of Macbeth by the Drunk Shakespeare Society. As the name suggests, one of the members of the cast proceeded to get drunk throughout the course of the performance. The play was stopped intermittently for him to perform some sort of physical challenge or to make outrageous requests to other cast members when he got bored with the way things were proceeding. Lady Macbeth was forced to perform one of her most intense monologues in Chinese, for example.
Museums and memorials
I spent an afternoon at the fantastic Museum of Modern Art while Nick explored the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum which is located on a 250 metre aircraft carrier moored in the Hudson River.
I found the September 11 memorial particularly moving. For the first time I truly understood the enormous size of the buildings the planes crashed into. As we wandered around the cascading pools I was haunted by images of people jumping out of the burning buildings in absolute desperation.
We enjoyed a fabulous and slightly unusual Christmas Day. We treated ourselves to a sleep-in and then ran the 10k loop around Central Park. This was a great way to see the park in its entirety and to really understand just how big it is.
Given the location of our Manhattan apartment it seemed only fitting that we enjoyed a dumpling crawl for lunch.
Christmas dinner was perhaps Nick’s greatest ever culinary triumph. Our feast included beer can chook, scalloped potato, prawns and beetroot, pumpkin and feta salad. All that was followed up with pumpkin pie Nick made from scratch. We certainly went to bed with full bellies that night. I was so full I forgot to watch Griswald’s Christmas Vacation which Nick had downloaded specially for me.
We left New York City utterly exhausted but filled with fantastic memories of everything that we were able to see and do.
Next stop...Miami, USA.Posted 16 January 2015
New York City, USA: Part One
In a sentence...fabulous. Of course.
Food we loved...our Christmas day feast (both lunch and dinner). Closely followed by the dinner we ate at Buddakan.
I totally loved New York City but, then again, I expected nothing less.
We had a mammoth 11 nights here, the longest we have stayed anywhere so far. We spent most of our time in Brooklyn in a cute little spot between Crown Heights and Prospect Heights. We were within running distance of Prospect Park, Central Park’s lovely little sister.
We spent our final 4 nights in a fantastic apartment on Manhattan. Whilst technically located in Little Italy, the area is fast being overtaken as Chinatown stretches its borders and it really did feel like we were in the heart of dumpling land.
It was so much fun pretending to be real New Yorkers when we got “home” to our apartment each night. I think we did a pretty good job of soaking up all that the city has to offer – seeing the sights, sport, exploring the neighbourhoods, visiting museums and, of course, eating plenty of delicious food.
New York is one of those few places where everything feels eerily familiar. You feel like you’ve seen everything a million times before in movies and TV shows. Highlights included:
In addition to the above, my lovely sisters sent us on a Christmas Eve tour of New York’s holiday lights. The tour took us to the Lincoln Centre, the Time Warner building, Rockefeller Centre (where we witnessed a proposal on the ice) and the Christmas windows along Fifth Avenue. We smuggled a bottle of eggnog on board with us and had a great time.
It will come as no surprise that we made a beeline to Katz Deli for our first lunch in New York. Well, I made a beeline while Nick dutifully followed. Whilst it is expensive, their famous pastrami sandwich was moist and so tasty.
One of the highlights of our time in New York was the food tour we undertook of Chelsea Market and the Meatpacking District. We were ably assisted by our very camp tour guide Curt who regaled us with tales of his beloved pug (and pseudo son), Michael, while explaining the history of the area and the market. Tastings included scones with jam and marmalade, gourmet salt, a mouth-watering spaghetti bolognese, red velvet cupcakes, chocolate milk, donuts, cheeses, steak tartar, crostini and meat pies. Several people failed to show up for the tour and some others left very early which meant there was an over abundance of tastings for the rest of us. By the end of the tour we were well and truly stuffed.
Of course we ate our fair share of chilli dogs purchased from street vendors. Whilst they were always delicious I was surprised by how small they were. Isn’t this the land of huge portion sizes and morbid obesity?
We splurged on two special dinners at Aldea (Portugese) and Buddakan (Asian) and brunch at French style Balthazar. Both the dinners were excellent and we agreed that Buddakan may have been the best meal of our entire trip. Balthazar, however, could not live up to my lofty brunching expectations.
We hunted out good flat whites at Aussie owned cafes like Milk Bar and Two Hands. Nick also dabbled in some American style coffee which is ridiculously cheap, comes in a very large cup and can be customised with various sugary liquids.
But perhaps our favourite discovery was the humble bagel. At home, the only bagels I have encountered are dry and sad looking, usually the last item left on a platter of sandwiches at a K&L Gates lunchtime CPD seminar. But while staying in Brooklyn we frequented the very cute Lula’s Bagels who not only sold delicious bagels but a tempting range of cream cheese fillings including pumpkin and walnut, raspberry, sundried tomato and cinnamon and raison. I will never look at bagels the same way again.
We enjoyed exploring our “home town” neighbourhoods of Crown Heights and Chinatown. We spent a Saturday morning at the Brooklyn Flea Market admiring unique furniture, homewares and other bits and bobs we couldn’t afford. We also spent an afternoon in Williamsburg, the hipster suburb of Brooklyn which is filled with good street art and shops selling vintage clothes or antiques.
We did a free walking tour of Soho, Little Italy and Chinatown which was a great way to see bits of the area that we had not yet discovered ourselves. We wandered through a Chinese food market where you could buy live eels and frogs and finished off the tour with dumplings purchased for us by the guide. At first we thought he was so generous but it turns out that the little hole-in-the-wall sold 5 dumplings for $1.00.
TO BE CONTINUED...Posted 12 January 2015Special thanks to Jemma and Anna for sending us on the New York: See the Lights tour xoxo.