Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Backyard Travel: Australia

I’ve recently had a bit of a financial reality check, which as a traveller, is not much fun.

It’s that time in my life when I’m thinking about making some of those grown-up decisions, like getting a mortgage. This unfortunately means I may have to cut down on my expensive international travel addiction, and try to stick to one a year (or less – yikes!).

As much as I break out into a cold sweat at the thought – I’ve realised I’m lucky to live in a beautiful country full of travel adventure options. I think because my country is an island I’ve developed an obsession with ‘overseas’ travel’ when in fact, there’s plenty to see at home too.

So it’s about time I appreciate the amazing Australian places I’ve been lucky enough to visit…and to start a bit of a domestic travel wish list!

Coolangatta, Gold Coast

I am actually lucky enough to call the Gold Coast home, but before I lived in this beautiful coastal city, I visited my favourite part – Coolangatta – every year.

Not only does it still have a friendly, small-town-feel to the area surrounding some of the world’s most amazing surf breaks (Snapper Rocks to name just one), it's also five minutes from an international airport and has some of the most amazing beach views anywhere in Australia.

You can spend a day at the beach without having to fight for a square of sand, a common problem at so many other world-class beaches, and accommodation and dining isn’t overpriced. And if you’re a surfing fan, make the trip in the Australia summer to catch the Quicksilver Pro, the first stop on the ASP world surfing tour.

The Murray River, Victoria

Australia’s longest river may look less than exotic to many visitors; I think it could be the brown, muddy water, but it really is an amazing river to travel down.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Five reasons to visit New Zealand

I was lucky enough to spend last weekend in New Zealand for a wedding. It was a lightning-quick trip and it got me to re-evaluate my ideas about travelling there.

The view from the flight into Christchurch
I’ve now had the pleasure of visiting New Zealand three times because I fell in love with a Kiwi. I have to admit, and the traveller in me is not proud of this, that before meeting the boy, I wasn’t in a hurry to visit the Land of the Long White Cloud.

I know this may seem crazy to anyone who lives half the globe away from New Zealand – but as an Aussie, who lives just across The Ditch, I must confess I took New Zealand for granted. It wasn’t on my top five list of places to go next.

But Aotearoa, I must confess to you, I judged you too hastily. You are a magnificent country to visit and travel.

Here are my Top Five reasons why...

1. Nature untouched

New Zealand is a place where nature almost seems untouched by humans. Whether it's Milford Sound at the bottom of the South Island, Stewart Island or Matamata on the North Island, where the Lord of the Rings Trilogy was famously filmed, you won’t be disappointed. As well as hitting the big touristy places, some of the lesser-travelled areas like the picturesque farming land of South Canterbury or the hot springs of Hanmer, are well worth travelling off the main highway for.

Monday, October 11, 2010

These (Country) Boots Were Made For Walkin'

Music Festivals. I think they’re the tasty icing on the travel cake. I recently got the chance to experience the CMA Music Festival in Nashville, Tennessee. I’ll admit, it was different to other music festivals I’ve been to – but it was deliciously good!

Me and my Kiwi had been travelling through the southern states of the US and the plan was to road trip from Memphis to Nashville, before going on to New York City.

We hadn't planned to be in Nashville especially for the festival - it was a lucky coincidence - so most of the accommodation was already booked out. I trawled travel and hotel websites and eventually found a modest hotel, a Super 8, near Nashville Airport. It was too good to be true! And it turned out it actually was. The hotel was cheap and nasty - and that's a compliment! We were blessed with a blocked shower drain, stained towels, a bed cover peppered with cigarette burn holes, but really, they were merely first world problems. Thanks to Super 8, we saved around $200 a night on accommodation. Most of the two and three star hotels closer to the heart of CMA Festival activities in Downtown Nashville (like the Best Western) were going for no less than $300 per night. In stark contrast to our gross hotel room was the country music capital of the world, Nashville, Tennessee. An incredible city; rich with the sound of live country music floating our of every bar, populated by friendly locals and host to a pretty amazing music festival.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wishful Wednesday Travel Photo

Like many people - I'd rather be out travelling the world - but more often than not I'm stuck in the office working to pay for my jaunts.

So to keep me going I've come up with a weekly travel photo spot aptly titled 'Wishful Wednesday'.

This is where I wish I was today....

Times Square, New York City

Got any great travel photos to share every Wednesday? Email me and I'll add them! (With a credit of course!)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Touristy Tours Part 3: Boring But Practical Graceland Tips

My last post was an emotional journey through Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley.

This post is a little more mundane – it’s the boring but basic things I’d recommend you do to make your rock ‘n’ roll pilgrimage to Memphis, Tennesse as smooth as possible.

Beale St Blues
Whilst conducting my recent jaunt to the home of The King I stayed in Downtown Memphis, where there are plenty of really good hotels at affordable prices - most will have rooms for under $100 a night. I would recommend staying Downtown for the atmosphere and convenience (it’s close to the famous and fantastic Beale Street). That is unless you’re really set on staying at the famous Heartbreak Hotel, located just behind the main Graceland entrance, which is also a unique experience, and the choice of many die hard Elvis fans. Just beware, if you’re staying at the Heartbreak Hotel, there isn’t much else to do in the area except tour Graceland, and Elvis Presley Boulevard is pretty seedy either side of Graceland. However, you’ve also got access to a free bus, which will take you to Downtown Memphis.

Personal jet anyone? The King's 'Lisa Marie'
If you want to do the musical double (both Graceland and Sun Studio, birth place of rock n’ roll) downtown Memphis is a great place to stay.

Sun Studio is about a 15 minute walk from the hotel area of Union Street. A tour of the famed recording studios, which gave birth to records by Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins (otherwise known as the Million Dollar Quartet) is worth the visit. The building is steeped with musical history - you can just about feel it in your bones when you arrive. When you’re finished the guided tour (I challenge any music lover to take the guided tour and not get chills listening to the very first rock ‘n’ roll recordings!) a bus will arrive. It does a loop between Sun Studios, the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, Heartbreak Hotel and Graceland – and it’s free! You get to ride to the spiritual home of The King in air-conditioned comfort, while watching an Elvis movie or show special on the flat screen TV.

Sun Studio -  birthplace of rock 'n' roll
Once you arrive at Graceland’s main building (which is across the road from Elvis’ actual home), everything is very user-friendly. Tickets are the first port of call, and you have a few options. The mansion tour tickets are around US$30 for adults, a few dollars cheaper for seniors and kids. For a couple more dollars the Platinum ticket includes the mansion tour, tour of Elvis’ two custom aeroplanes, the car museums and several other exhibits. For the serious Elvis fan there’s the VIP ticket, which includes everything in the Platinum plus a special extra exhibit at the mansion, front of the line access and a keepsake pass. You can be a VIP for around $69.

From the ticket building you can hop in a bus and meander slowly across Elvis Presley Boulevard and through the colonial style (musical) gates of the Graceland mansion grounds. The stately home is fringed by rolling green lawns and large lush green trees. More about the amazing tour here.

Once you’re done in the mansion – there’s still plenty more to see. If you’re an Elvis lover, you’ll want to set aside a whole day for Graceland – it’s not just a tour of Elvis’ former home – it’s also a multiple-museum experience.

I’d recommend hitting the mansion first, as it gives the necessary context for the Graceland museums, which include his car collection and seasonal exhibitions, showcasing Elvis’ infamously flamboyant wardrobe and possessions, including his Convair 880 plane and the smaller Hound Dog II Lockheed Jetstar aircraft.

The Elvis car museum
There are multiple souvenir stores, filled to the brim with Elvis paraphernalia and as corny as it can feel – it is also deliciously exciting for any Elvis-lover.

After all the tours and sight seeing – there is one thing I implore you to do before you leave the hallowed grounds of Graceland. For the love of god, eat a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich (you can get them for about $4 at the diner near the main buildings). See how The King lived and eat what The King ate! It’s the only way to experience Graceland.

Got any tips from your Graceland experience? Any questions? Let me know!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Touristy Tours Part 2: My Mecca - Graceland

When a place has more than one song written about it you can pretty much guarantee it’s a place worth visiting.

Graceland, the stately mansion of the late, great Elvis Presley, located in Memphis, Tennesse, definitely fits into that category.

Yes, Graceland is touristy within an inch of its life. Yes, many, many people have been there before you and will go there after you’re gone. And yes it is a place where you’ve got no choice but to take a tour, but I don’t think that’s any reason not to experience it for yourself.

Places well visited are well visited for a reason. While it’s great to trek to far-flung exotic locations and experience things that few people have, I think it’s also just as fulfilling visiting a place which is well trodden by the shoes of tourists.

I will confess right now that I am an Elvis Tragic. It’s my father’s fault. I grew up listening to the crooning of Elvis Presley; in our family car, in the house and whenever an Elvis Special or movie happened to be on TV. Graceland has established a place in popular culture and the experience is worth it, even just for pop culture’s sake.

As I climbed the front steps of Graceland and entered the mansion I felt an excitement which literally gave me goose bumps. Here I was entering the home of Elvis, a place I had dreamt of visiting for many years, but in an inner contradiction I never expected, I also felt like I was invading Elvis’ privacy a little. After all, so many private things would have happened to Elvis that house, not to mention his actual death. It was definitely a little eerie standing in the foyer, knowing Elvis had passed away almost directly above where I stood, in the second floor bathroom.

That feeling dissolved a little when I continued past the foyer and into the front rooms. Firstly you’re confronted with the formal dining room and lounge room. The lounge is characterised by a multi-coloured stained glass door way ironically featuring peacocks, electric blue curtains and white-as-snow couches. Once you continue past these first two rooms, you view the famous kitchen of Elvis, where his mother lovingly baked for him and where he consumed many an artery-hardening peanut butter and banana fried sandwich.

Next is the outrageous Jungle Room, which Elvis created in part for his beloved daughter Lisa-Marie. The room is a sight which must be seen to be believed; it features bright green carpet, ornately carved wooden furniture and a waterfall.

The Graceland mansion experience has the ability to be very tacky and a little bit morbid, but the tour is tastefully done. Well, tasteful Elvis-style. The interior has been criticised as being everything from ‘white trash’ to ‘garish and gaudy’ but you can be sure there is nothing else like it. In fact, I was surprised at how much it felt like an actual home, as opposed to a house, despite the flamboyance. The upstairs area of the mansion is blocked off as a mark of respect; Elvis only ever hosted visitors downstairs, so no one goes upstairs. I found this soothed my feeling of voyeurism.

The tour continues into the downstairs area where you see Elvis’ TV room, complete with three screens, a bar and canary yellow walls. From there it’s through to the billiard room, with a real tear in the table still visible from a rowdy game of pool. The room’s walls are covered with multi-coloured material, arranged in a truly psychedelic concertina pattern. It almost hurts your eyes to look!

It’s then out onto the back lawn of the mansion and into Elvis’ father’s office, the former firing range (Elvis had a love for guns and law enforcement in his later years) and the well know racquetball court, which has now been converted into a record room, displaying an array of awards and famous Elvis jumpsuits.

From there you’re led into a series of rooms which serve as a museum of sorts to Elvis’ life and achievements. Several displays of The King’s awards, records, movie posters, famous costumes and even his wedding suit for his marriage to ex-wife Priscilla litter the walls. This part of the tour removes you from the intimacy of the rest of the mansion and takes you into the tourist-like experience, which is a little less confronting than the inner rooms of the house.

The mansion tour is of the audio type – and I have to admit, I was a bit apprehensive about that. Audio tours can be very good or very, very bad. It’s a LONG tour if it’s bad. Thankfully, my fears were unfounded. It’s a big call, but this was one of the best audio tours I’ve had the pleasure of listening to. The majority of the tour features Priscilla and Lisa-Marie’s recollections of the Elvis they knew and their life at Graceland, in between smatterings of Elvis songs, which is a unique twist to the experience.

I’m normally very torn between living in the moment of visiting a major tourist attraction, taking in the sights and sounds, and snapping away like a tourist possessed. I like to document the places I’ve been, but with some moderation. But Graceland was different, I succumbed to the touristy impulses and I snapped away like my life depended on it!

The relentless picture taking continued until the final part of the tour – Elvis’ Meditation Gardens and his final resting place. The gardens feature a serene-looking meditation area and fenced pool – but also the graves of The King himself, his parents and grandmother.

Whilst standing at the grave site, I couldn’t bring myself to take a single photo. In that moment, I felt like it wasn’t appropriate. I wasn’t begrudging those around me, who had also likely travelled thousands of miles to be there, of taking all the photos they liked. But I just couldn’t do it. I was also shocked to find I was getting a lump in my throat. I am a major Elvis fan, but I had always associated an emotional reaction to a tourist attraction (even a grave site) with obsessive, slightly loopy fans. Now I was an obsessive, slightly loopy Elvis fan.

But really, isn’t that the great thing about travel? Sometimes it’s for seeing and experiencing new things and sometimes it’s for breathing new life into old childhood memories. I never thought I would say it, but my tour of Graceland was definitely a spiritual experience, of the rock ‘n’ roll kind.

Standing there paying my respects, I suddenly realised why hundreds of thousand of people made the pilgrimage to Graceland every year. Not just because they loved Elvis’ music, but because to them, Elvis represents a time in their life, a memory; some long forgotten emotion.

That’s why Graceland is a Mecca for many, a pilgrimage worth making for any music fan, Elvis Tragic or not.

In my next post, I’ll lose the emotional ga ga about Elvis and give you some practical tips for your own pilgrimage to Graceland!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

September 11: One New Yorker's Perspective

I’m sure almost everyone remembers where they were when they heard about the World Trade Centre terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

Downtown Manhatten
I was in my university dorm room watching the late news. I can’t remember the exact time but it was probably around 11pm in Australia. I watched the TV screen in disbelief as the live pictures rolled in, the second plane flying into the second tower. It was, as so many people have described since, like a scene from a movie. Surreal, unimaginable and unbelievable.

It’s a perspective that so many people who saw the footage of that day share, but what about the people who saw this disturbing chain of events unfold right in front of them, in real-time? They were the ones there at Ground Zero, tasting the rubble dust and smelling the smoke.

In 2001, I didn’t know anyone who lived in New York. I didn’t hear anyone’s story first hand. Sure, I read a lot of stories, and there were so many compelling, horrifying stories of loss and grief.

I met my American friend Judy in 2003, while travelling in the United States. She had lived in New York City for many years – both loving and disliking the city equally at times.

I saw Judy again in June this year when I visited her in NYC. I had known her for seven years and had never heard her firsthand account of that day. Over a few red wines, in a New York City bar on the Upper West Side, Judy told me her experience. It is a story I will never forget…

It started like any other work day. I arrived at my Downtown office building, just a few blocks away from what is now Ground Zero.

As I walked towards the main entrance to the building I saw a few of my colleagues and one of them said “A plane has just crashed into one of the World Trade Centre Towers”.

I immediately realised something was wrong, but a couple of workers outside the building didn’t even blink. They continued to walk into our building, unphased.

I raced inside and grabbed a phone. I called my mum in Florida and told her “I don’t know what’s going on but a plane has just flown into one of World Trade Centre Towers. No matter what you hear, I’m ok” and I hung up. Just minutes after that all phone communication in Downtown Manhattan was cut off. I stood with the small group which had gathered outside the entrance to our office, and as we stood I watched the second plane fly into the second tower. Words will never describe how surreal that sight was. The minutes which followed are ones I’ve thought about many times since, but it still seems a blur.

We watched as the towers burned and billows of smoke poured from the gaping holes in both buildings. It was then we all noticed what no one wanted to say. People had started to jump from the buildings. The strangest thing happened…I started to talk. I talked through what was happening to the people around me, like a running commentary. I still don’t really know why I did it. It was as if it was a memorial to each person falling from the building; some one at a time, some in pairs. Any maybe it was also a way to make what was completely incomprehensible, somewhat real.

I later found out that some of our colleagues who worked in one of the towers had escaped in time, before the buildings fell. A manager had made the split second decision to tell the workers to leave, despite everyone being told to stay where they were.

It wasn’t long after that the first tower came down. And then the second. By that stage we all knew something incredible was unfolding and no one knew what that meant for the city. Pretty soon after that we were evacuated from the area.

Judy’s story is just one person’s experience of that day. It probably isn’t that dissimilar to other firsthand stories we’ve heard many times over in the media, through TV news, books and movies. It is dissimilar to some of those stories, in that Judy is still here to tell her experience. If she had caught her normal train and headed to work at her regular time, she would have been in the subway station when the planes hit. On that particular day, Judy had a meeting she was unprepared for and went in early to work.

Nine years later, New York is still an incredible city. The whole world witnessed the guts, glory and steely determination of New Yorkers in the days, weeks and months after September 11, during the slow recovery process.

9/11 changed many people’s lives – especially those living in New York City. Judy, like many others living in Manhattan, gave up her successful corporate career and set off around the world, backpacking to countries as far flung as Australia and New Zealand.

She told me she knows a lot of people who made similar decisions about the direction of their lives in the aftermath of that day. She still gets an annual call from her friend she experienced the evacuation with.

The thing that really hits home the reality of that day in 2001 is Judy’s view of what she lost that day. When I asked her how many people she knew, colleagues or friends, she lost that day; she said to me ‘only a few’.

That response will stay with me forever. It truly shows the magnitude of that day - that someone will consider themselves fortunate to have only lost a few people from their lives. Many people were not so fortunate. And may they always be remembered.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Touristy Tours Part 1: A Gator’s Favourite Food

Do you know what an alligator's favourite food is? No, it’s not Louisiana local, as you might think. It’s actually marshmallows. Well, to be honest, I can’t say that applies to every alligator – but the gators I got up-close and personal with in the United States were pretty happy to munch on a marshmallow or 50.

Okay, I hear your scepticism. Need proof? See exhibit A below…

This was taken in the canals and bayous just outside New Orleans, Louisiana. Although there are a hundred and one things to do in The Big Easy, it’s also worth getting out and seeing outside the beautiful but touristy French Quarter.

Despite some travelers' aversion to the organised tour – I reckon this is a great way to see the sights of a place and know you're not missing anything. For our swamp tour we were picked up in a bus from our hotel door and driven through the French Quarter and suburbans areas of New Orleans for about 40 minutes, before reaching the tour site at Marrero.
Once there we bought our ticket; there’s the low-key option of experiencing the tour on a cruise boat, where you float leisurely along the canals at a very relaxing pace. Or you can take the high-octane option of an airboat. Given my love of anything with eight or more cylinders and the excitement of a 454 Chevy on the back of a tin boat hull, I chose the latter.

Our tour guide was the real deal. He was born and bred in the Louisiana bayous and proud of it. Whilst telling us about the lives and loves of the Louisiana alligator (they mate early in spring and it's quite an achievement for a baby gator to survive to adulthood – quite often they’re eaten by their own), we also got a history of about the bayous and how devastating hurricane Katrina, and the more recent gulf oil spill, were for the region.

When we boarded the airboat and were handed our ‘optional’ (are you kidding?!?) industrial standard earmuffs, I noticed our guide packing two huge bags of marshmallows. I thought he was nuts, really. It wasn’t until we found a group of gators, who were willing to fight for a soft, fluffy marshmallow, did I actually believe they enjoyed eating them.
Ear muffs  'optional'

Please humour me while I nerd out for a minute and entertain you with some alligator facts I learnt during the tour…

Alligators have terrible eyesight. They really can’t see more than a couple of centimetres in front of their teeth. They were very fond of the lady sitting next to me, wearing a white t-shirt, the exact colour of the marshmallows.

Alligators were almost hunted to the point of extinction in Louisiana. Now, gator hunting is regulated by the government to keep numbers up. The people who live and survive on alligator farming are the only people licensed to hunt.

A bayou has an end and a canal doesn’t. I thought they were one and the same to be honest. But our tour guide informed us the famed bayous, lined with Spanish moss and thick sub tropical undergrowth, eventually come to dead ends and canals are the manmade versioned, frequented by freight barges and always flowing somewhere.

The tour was an amazing 1 hour and 40 minutes of reptilian excitement. Oh, and torrential rain. About 30 seconds after I sat down in the airboat, the heavens opened. We persisted with the tour though, and although I was soaked to the bone and had water in places that should never be wet, it was officially the best outdoor tour I’ve ever done.

What’s the best (or worst) tour you’ve ever experienced?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Top 5 Essential Food Experiences of New Orleans

New Orleans; also known as The Big Easy. Also known as The Big Easy-To-Eat-Lots-While-You’re-There! I happily ate my way around New Orleans when I was there recently. Here are my top picks…

Heaven on a Plate; the Cajun Donut
1. Cajun Donuts. And I am not referring to the famed beignets. Yes, beignets are beautiful, but I have to be honest and say the beignets made famous by Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter are a little bit overrated. What you really need is a cajun donut. They are made with dough and fried, just like a beignet, but the difference is this version is then smothered in melted butter and has the tiniest bit of sugar sprinkled over. The end result is an absolutely divine donut, which melts in your mouth!

2. Oysters. Seafood is something New Orleans is famous for and with good reason. There are so many places to enjoy a good oyster in New Orleans and if you visit the city in June, you may even get to experience the New Orleans Oyster Festival. You can try them fresh in the half-shell, grilled, Kilpatrick, Rockefeller. Try the Acme Oyster Bar, popular with tourists but rightly so.

The original and best; The Po'boy
3. Po'boy Sandwiches. Whoever invented the Po'boy should be declared a saint. These things are scrumptiously southern and I had a couple (ok, maybe five) of the best Po'boys sandwiches in all of America, while in New Orleans. They come so many different ways, but I like mine with the traditional fried oysters and the not so traditional spicy chicken, with some slaw and fries on the side.

4. Crawfish. This freshwater crustacean is on just about every menu in New Orleans and it’s great served simply, but I like to eat my crawfish with some style. Etouffee style to be exact. I had an amazing crawfish etouffee (French for ‘to smoother’). It’s basically crawfish tails smothered in a butter blend of onions, peppers, celery and garlic. Etou-fantastic! Head to Deanie’s Seafood on Iberville Street in the French Quarter for some etouffee excellence.

5. Gator. Vegetarians please stop reading now. Yes, they swim in the bayous around New Orleans but they also taste really good on a stick! You can get gator served so many different ways at so many places in New Orleans, but I had gator on a stick with cajun spices, cooked two ways; fried and grilled. But the burning question; what does it taste like? Well, it’s a bit chewy like beef but it’s white coloured flesh. Get your gator on a stick at Gator-Me-Crazy on Decatur Street. They also have the friendliest waiters in the French Quarter. 


What are your top 5 best foreign foods you've ever laid lips on?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Hustle and Hustle of New Orleans

St Louis Cathedral, New Orleans
Emphasis on the hustle. Sorry if you’re reading this blog thinking it will be full of foolproof travel advice. This was not my smartest or finest hour travel peeps. But I digress...

It was only my sixth day in the US and I was still on that familiar travel high…"I love all these unique places, strangers, friendly people chatting to us just because we’re from another country…"

I was so high that I didn’t have my street smarts with me. (I may also have been high on sugar – I had just moments before had a creole southern breakfast i.e. sweet crepe with creamy cheesy custard and fried apple). I would have to say that before this incident, I prided myself on being a savvy traveller. I always watched my valuables in crowded areas, forever on the look out for pickpockets. Not that day. I got hustled. Big time.

Dictionary definition of ‘Hustle’ is: To obtain something by deceitful or illicit means; practice theft or swindling.To solicit customers. Used of a pimp or prostitute. To misrepresent one's ability in order to deceive someone, especially in gambling.

Me. Pre hustle.
So, here’s a run down of what happened. My Kiwi and I were walking along the mighty Mississippi River when a woman (who had beautiful gold teeth) approached me...

Her: How y’all doin? I bet I can tell you where you got those shiny sneakers...

Travel Mistake #1do not wear your shiny new Nike sneakers in New Orleans. They are as good as a neon sign flashing ‘get your gullible tourist here’.

Smug ol' me thinks she will never know I bought them at home in Australia.
Me: Really?

Travel Mistake #2 - once you open your mouth and speak to the hustler...you are as good as gone.

She then introduces herself....

Her: Let me shake your hand ma’am. Please to meet y'all. Welcome to our beautiful city of New Orleans. I been born and bred here, even survived Katrina. I’ll give you a free shoe clean if I can’t tell you were you got them shoes.

(She had already started to clean my already sparkling white shoes with a tiny cloth and some no-name soap. Actually come to think of it, I’m not even sure it was soap).

Her: Ma’am, if I can tell you where you got them shoes, city and state, you’ll pay for your shoe clean? Shake on it?

Travel Mistake #3 - never shake on anything with a hustler and be arrogant enough to think you will win (and the deal will be fair).

Me: Sure. I promise.

We shake.

Her: So, you got them shoes on your feet, your feet are on the ground in New Orleans, in the state of Louisiana.

Me: S!ht. Damn. I’ve been had.

So naturally I laugh and turn to walk away. I won't be giving her any money, I think to myself, she just conned me! But the two massive guys sitting on a park bench about two metres away don’t think it’s funny. They are apparently with her. So My Kiwi reaches into his wallet and pays the woman her rate – $5 a shoe.

Like I said, not my finest hour! I went to drown my sorrows in sugar - Beignets. More on that next post.

Have you ever been hustled, hassled or hoodwinked? Please share. No names necessary. Your identity will be protected…

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Viva Lost Vegas

In the words of the great Elvis Presley…’bright lights city gonna set my soul, gonna set my soul on fire’…

And I would be setting my own pants on fire if I said that I saw and did everything I wanted to when I recently visited the surreal desert oasis that is Las Vegas.

The gambling mecca nestled in the Nevada desert was the first stop on my recent US trip, after LA. I had a fantastic time there (I think). Basically, I took the saying ‘What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’ a little too literally. I may have left a few brain cells there, along with a couple of hours of my precious holiday memories.

The view from the Presidential Suite
We (the Kiwi boyfriend and I) spent a couple of days in LA, easing into the holiday and getting over a bit jet lag. We arrived in Vegas and killed a few hours at the poker machines (no Lady Luck in sight), before checking into our room at the MGM Grand. Lady Luck decided to make a rare appearance at that point. I had pre-booked our room, a spa suite; through Lasvegas.com and subsequently got the very first (and probably last) upgrade of my life! We spent our two nights in Vegas in the Presidential Suite. I know. Yes, it was as awesome as it sounds. More on how to swindle upgrades later (legally, of course!).

So we spent our first night jumping up and down on the beds in our room and testing the spa. We awoke the next morning ready to rumble. We hit the pool at the MGM Grand first. Cocktails by the pool did you say? Yes please. After a couple, we peeled ourselves away from our hotel and hit the infamous Las Vegas Strip. Our intended destination was The Bellagio hotel and casino a few blocks north, as we wanted to see the amazing fountains at the entrance. Apparently they move to music. I wouldn’t know. We checked out the New York, New York Hotel and Casino and saw the Monte Carlo. And…well, that’s about it. That’s it, you say? Yes. That is where the memorable part of our Vegas visit ended. Here is our last known holiday happy snap in Vegas...

Our next photo is two days later in New Orleans, about 2,500 miles away. It took that long before either of us felt up to pressing the button on the camera again.

The last known Las Vegas photo.

Yes. That was all we saw of The Strip that day in Vegas.

So what happened, you ask? Well, we were browsing some street markets on the strip, which just happened to be near an outdoor bar. The name escapes me. So we thought – why not just one drink? One turned into many and it was all downhill from there.

My Kiwi took me home to bed about 5pm and I ventured out again at 10.30pm – sang some Karaoke (badly) and tried to keep down water (didn’t happen). Then I walked My Kiwi back home at 3am.

So that you don’t make the same mistakes as me – I’ve come up with a list of the Top 5 Ways to Keep the 'Viva' in your 'Las Vegas'

Vegas is better on a school night. If you can, visit Vegas mid-week. The four and five star hotel rates are half price compared to the weekend and people are always partying no matter what day of the week it is.

See the sights first, party second. The last thing you will want to do is traipse up and down The Strip feeling as dry as the Nevada desert, especially in summer. Same goes for the outlet shopping. It’s fantastic, but it’s a hell of a lot of walking. Alternatively, take it easy on the free drinks or leave the crazy Vegas nightlife until the end on your visit!

Did someone say free alcohol? If you’re on a budget, there are plenty of ways to avoid paying for your drinks in Vegas. The first one is to follow the ladies with the trays in the gambling area. They will serve you free drinks if you’re gambling, and a dollar in a machine is all it takes! And heaps of casinos have drink specials – Bill’s Gamblin' Hall and Saloon is famous for $1 Margaritas.

Plan a budget for Vegas spending. Then double it. Vegas can definitely be done on a budget, but it’s a good idea to plan for extra spending. Seen The Hangover? Then you know what I mean. Don’t get left short.

Viva food! Vegas has some amazing places to eat. Many famous celebrity chefs have restaurants in Vegas, so make the most of the ridiculous amount of choice available. The MGM Grand Casino alone hosts Michelin star chef Joel Robuchon’s French restaurant, Wolfgang Puck’s namesake and famous Japanese eatery, Shibuya. If you’re on a budget and looking for some traditional American fare, try The Studio CafĂ©, also at The Grand. Amazing ribs and Po'boy sandwiches.

So when have you been somewhere exotic and not seen the sights? Or been ill (self inflicted or not) and confined to your hotel room? Tell me your best lost holiday story!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I've won the lottery

You know those people who say they would still go to work every day if they won the lottery? I am not one of them. I would be on the first plane to somewhere exotic (Mexico is up there on my to-go list).

I recently returned from the most amazing three-week trip around the USA. I had been planning it for years and it was amazing, but I found myself thinking, why do I work again? And then I remind myself. I work to pay for the very travel I’m now enjoying.

So I’m now back at work and having major travel withdrawals - finding to hard to concentrate on my work, unable to make it through the day without an unhealthy reliance on caffeine products and sugar (ok, so I’ll admit that may have existed before the holiday) and a general longing to be at an airport, somewhere, anywhere!

So I’ve decided to write like I have won the lottery. No, I’m not crazy. Please humour me and read on.

I’m going to continuously travel via this blog, until I can get on the next international flight outta here. I’ll reminisce about my most recent adventures and all those before that. And when I finally get on the next one – I’ll add that too! It will be almost like I’ve won the lottery and can travel everyday, rather than going to work. Don’t feel jealous, I won’t be giving up my day job.

And just maybe, while you are working your day job, you might steal a look when you are bored, distracted, can’t find any sugar/caffeine, and help me keep the travel dream alive!