Monthly Archives: October 2017

Aloha! 28th Oct

Ten days into my Hawaiian leg and I’ve had a heavenly Aloha time in every possible way. My first five days were spent at Waikiki, in a hostel by the beach where my joie de vivre was replenished after its brief encounter with the Dementor’s Kiss of Las Vegas (if you’re not sure what the Dementor’s Kiss is, it’s from Harry Potter, look it up!). During the day I wandered through the countless amazing shops, weaved my way through swarms of Japanese tourists, chatted to other fellow travellers at my hostel, swam in the Pacific and sunbathed on the beach, trying my best not to cover myself and my book in too much sand and suncream as I wallowed about on my beach towel.

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A Gay Pride Parade took place in Waikiki whilst I was there. It was a lot of colourful fun, and what an atmosphere! 

My evenings were spent in the convivial company of my fellow hostel residents, drinking beer, chatting about everything and anything and watching the incredible sunsets. I didn’t do as much sightseeing as I should have done whilst on Oahu; the beach and the desire to relax rather got in the way, as did the pull of the good company at my hostel. I did, however, visit Pearl Harbour which was very interesting; seeing first-hand the sheer scale of the destruction caused by the Japanese and hearing about the meticulous military precision and planning involved. Interestingly enough, there were probably more Japanese tourists than American tourists at the memorial. I wonder what the Japanese think when they see it all.

The sun shone throughout my stay in Waikiki, until the day I was due to fly to my next island stop, Maui, whereupon it clouded over and began to rain. Earnestly. The little propeller powered plane that was my carriage took off and climbed steeply into the thick cotton wool clouds whereupon it started to jump and bump and wiggle and jiggle, like a ping-pong ball dancing above a blowing hair dryer. It was the worst flight I have ever experienced and I have never been so glad to be back on the ground, alive and in one piece.

That was not the end of the stormy weather though, oh no! That night there was an almighty lightning storm which resulted in the whole island losing power. This meant the next morning at my hostel there was no coffee, no lights, no air conditioning to temper the heavy humidity and worst of all……no wi-fi!  By the time darkness fell we were still without power and I was thankful for my head torch so I could find my way to the toilet without mishap. The next morning the power was back and everyone exclaimed that they’d really enjoyed getting to know each other properly and they hadn’t minded one bit not having wi-fi; it is true that most of us, myself included, have our noses stuck in our devices three quarters of the time when inside a hostel.

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Walking the Line at sunset on The Hana Highway, Maui

 

As my time comes to an end on Maui, or the Valley Isle, I have seen beautiful beaches, tumbling waterfalls (reminiscent of the ‘Timotei’ advert years ago), more awe-inspiring sunsets and three great big turtles resting on the shores down from our hostel. The most they did was blink an eyelid at us as we all gazed at them; they probably get fed up with being spied upon all the time. If I were a turtle I think I would.

Nexgt stop, The Big Island.

Lost in Las Vegas, 20th Oct

Rosanne Barr once said “I actually get more conservative when I’m in Vegas”. Now I’ve visited, I can I understand this sentiment. My stay in Las Vegas was at one of the city’s smartest hotels, one of only fifteen 5 star plus hotels in the world. It was the height of luxury and I was extremely lucky to have the good fortune to have a Fairy Godfather who made it possible for me to stay there. For three days I revelled in the joy of waking up between crisp white sheets, languidly stretching one arm out, pressing a little button beside my bed and watching lazily as the heavy bedroom curtains silently glided open to reveal Las Vegas basking in the morning sunshine through my spotlessly clean room height windows. Then I’d clutch my head, stagger out of bed and attempt to find my discarded clothes amidst the empty champagne bottles, cigarette butts and mini-bar contents strewn across the floor.

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My Room With A View

That last sentence was a joke, did you realise?! Anyway, back to Rosanne Barr’s quote. She might not have meant it in quite the same way as I’m taking it (I’ve no idea what her normal life is like) but I found Las Vegas completely over-whelming, a sensory overload in every way possible. The sparkle and glitter, the lights, the noise, the tempo and pace of it all was like nothing I’d experienced. Far from making me want to propel myself into the centre of the action, cocktail in one hand and ciggie in the other (I loved that you could smoke in the casinos), the over-powering magnitude of Las Vegas completely dwarfed my self-confidence. Everywhere I went people looked occupied; busy gambling or having fun with friends. I felt I was invisible, floating through the casinos like a ghost. I couldn’t see any access points for myself, where I could side-step smoothly into the social frenzy without looking like a giant, friendless lemon.

The only two people I had conversations with outside my hotel were Vzongo from Croatia, a nice croupier who gave me a blackjack lesson, and a kind old American man who came to my rescue when I clearly looked like I didn’t know what I was doing with the electronic blackjack machine. He was right, I had no idea. When I add that I lost all the money I gambled, not that it was much, it will come as no surprise. You have to be quick and smart to gamble and as a total beginner, I was neither of those things (I am, of course, both of those things normally).

So yes, I became more conservative in Las Vegas, much to my own surprise. The aura of the city has a curious effect I think, normal emotions become heightened and for me it was the sense of being on my own, up until that point I’d been quite content with my solo traveller status. I didn’t stay out late, I didn’t have any ‘big’ nights, I tried to spend my money, er, wisely. Instead I spent time by the peaceful hotel pool, enjoying the people-watching, reading my book and inspecting my midriff to check if it was looking any thinner.

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Occupying my time by the pool; if I squeezed this man’s white head with my big toes, would it pop? (he wasn’t dead by the way, just sunbathing in an unusual fashion)

 

Now I’m in Hawaii and everything is back to normal. I’d go back to Las Vegas again, definitely, but I wouldn’t go on my own.

“Excuse me, are you Storm?” a glamorous American lady stood in front of my table and asked. I looked up from my book; no, I’m afraid I’m not, I responded with my most charming of smiles, my British accent sounding disproportionately refined in comparison to her American drawl. She apologised and moved on, her face tipped up and forward as she strutted away to continue her search for ‘Storm’. I wondered who ‘Storm’ was, she sounded strong and glamorous and surely important if she had a breakfast meeting scheduled in the restaurant at Chateau Marmont. I felt quite buoyed to be mistaken for this ‘Storm’ person. I did a quick search on my phone and was pleased to find only one ‘Storm’, an attractive American musician who looked nothing like Gillian McKeith. That would do.

A short while later, as I crunched my way through an expensive bowl of the Chateau’s granola and berry mix, trying to look around to see if I recognised anyone but also attempting to be subtle at the same time (this is a very difficult thing to do), I became aware of a familiar sounding male voice on my right. As I swivelled my eyes over in his direction I already knew they were going to find Keanu Reeves. I would have said the ‘gorgeous’ Keanu Reeves, but that wouldn’t be entirely true as he looked biker-ish and in need of a good wash. Despite his grubby appearance, I was bubbling with excitement and really wished, for the first time on this trip, that I had someone with me to relish the moment. Instead I behaved like everyone else at the Chateau and ignored him completely, so much so that I didn’t even look up when he walked right past my table. I kind of wished I had, but alas the moment passed too quickly. No-one fusses over the famous here and you get the feeling that they are all around, lurking in quiet corners (of which there are plenty), probably itching to see who else is here too, but trying to behave as if they didn’t care either. We are all probably more similar than we think.

Staying at the Chateau was an unforgettable experience. I walked past the characterful, flower-adorned bungalows where Lindsey Lohan stayed and where John Belushi over-dosed. As I lay by the pool, I observed beautiful, wealthy women sunbathing with their tiny dogs, the kind you might accidentally send flying into the pool if you didn’t look where you were walking, and well-dressed business men strolling self-importantly around the pool edge talking on their phones. I loved my suite, yes suite! My arrival must have been fortuitously timed because I was upgraded to a beautiful set of rooms in a tower corner of the Chateau, complete with a large balcony. Wowsers!  Everything was gracious and original and spoke silently of a glitzy, elegant past. I even loved that the luxurious, deep pile cream carpet in my suite had cigarette burns scattered through it because it let you imagine the wild parties that must have taken place. What is acceptable at the Chateau would never be so at a generic, modern 5 star hotel and I embraced that; it’s imperfection was, and is, its very perfection.

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My bedroom, where the view was good and the bed linen felt expensive
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The kitchen with its original 1950s units. Marilyn Monroe might have washed her wine glass in this very sink…

Whilst the staff at the hotel were all polite and efficient, friendly overtures weren’t really made between guests as far I could see and whilst that made me feel a bit of an outsider, it is also probably the beauty of the place, that there is this feeling of anonymity, that you can be who you want to be. I was a little sad to say farewell to the Chateau last Wednesday and leave behind the glamour and glitz, but I was also looking forward to seeing our lovely family friend, Bruce, and staying in a home where I could have a cup of tea, a cosy chat and not worry all the time about what I looked like, or who might be walking past me.

I’m writing this from Santa Monica, where my hotel room has a beautiful view of the Pacific. I’m also on the edge of the original ‘Muscle Beach’, I must go and have a look and admire the muscles today! Las Vegas beckons tomorrow.

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One afternoon I went for a walk near Bruce’s house in Beverly Hills (a lovely location). Here’s a photo of a local garden. It was by no means the only garden full of cheesy Halloween decorations!
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For my brother, if he is reading this. This is a road in Beverly Hills, just for you!

Being a Proper Backpacker, 8th Oct

It’s been pointed out to me that it’s not common terminology to talk about ‘youth hostels’ anymore, it’s ‘backpackers’ inns’ which is the lingo of today’s traveller, a term which quite rightly covers everyone regardless of age. The very fact that I didn’t know this, or had somehow forgotten says a lot, like I am an old fuddy-duddy who is not up to speed with what’s going down with the kidz these days. The person who enlightened me was probably wondering why he had to explain it to me as I am clearly no youth, maybe he thought I was one of those sad sorts of individuals who wants to hang out with young people in a hopeless attempt to hold onto their dwindling youth. Let me be clear, I am not!

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The Golden Gate Bridge. It was a very foggy day that I chose to go. Our tour bus drove over the bridge and my goodness, it was absolutely freezing.

I’ve now stayed in two ‘backpackers’, one in Victoria, BC and one in San Francisco. Victoria was a bit of a shock to the system, all this sharing bathroom business and passing people in their underwear on the way to the toilet, and having to heave my monstrously heavy backpack up three flights of stairs in a very ungainly fashion (shades of Hyacinth Bucket). However, I’ve hit the traveller ‘zone’ now; I’ve stopped wearing my belt with my trousers so they now hang on my hips in a more laid back way rather than sitting up high on my waist all neat and tidy, and I got used to having a slice of $4.50 pizza from the local take-out for dinner instead of sitting down in a restaurant and ordering a glass of wine and a plate of food costing more than $15 as you can’t get much for any less than that. San Francisco is the most expensive city in the USA so pizza parlours and cheap beer was definitely the best way forward.

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Alcatraz! Did you know Al Capone died of syphilis? Should have been more careful…

I’ve met some fun, interesting people at the ‘backpackers’ in San Francisco. Over the past few days there’s been lots of happy chatting and it’s been intriguing learning about other people’s lives, people are pretty open about their ‘real’ lives when they’re miles away from it, not altogether surprising I suppose (unless you turn up on their doorstep and realise they’ve told you a pile of rubbish, which is always a possibility). Every now and again I had an accidental reminder that I’m a more mature traveller; the other night we were heading to a local bar when I realised I’d forgotten my passport (they I.D everyone, even if they’re 103, moribund and in a wheelchair) so Tom, a handsome German twenty-something year old student, piped up and offered to tell the bouncer that I was his Mum as it might help get me in. Pause. O.M.G. It is not flattering to be thought of as a Mother figure for a man-boy (unless his Mother had a teenage pregnancy and looks like Claudia Schiffer).  Then there was lovely bearded Antoine from Paris, whom I shared a beer with; as I was pouring his out he looked up at me in surprise and said ‘Sarah (in a French accent), you have not checked zat I am over 21!’ and I thought Holy Smoke, I just assumed you were, it never even struck me to ask!

The crowning comment came from a young squaddie who was part of a team of British Army soldiers who’d been taking part in the Armed Forces Squash Championship in San Francisco, or something similar. They were all very buff and when they weren’t playing squash they were usually drinking. This particular soldier didn’t look a day over 19 and was as skinny as a beanpole. One evening I was put in his team to play ‘Beer Bingo’ (a silly game, but fun nevertheless).  I’d just scored a point for the team, so he enveloped me in his arms and shouted loudly, ‘Well done Gillian McKeith!’. Shock and horror. It took me just one moment to realise he meant that wrinkly old fake Doctor who presented ‘You Are What You Eat’ about ten years ago. I felt quite numb for all of five seconds as I conjured up an image of Gillian McCrinkly McKeith with her beaky nose and tiny chin. I didn’t let on though, I laughed joyously and gave him a gentle slap and said ‘don’t ever call me Gillian McKeith again!’ (I may have added a swear word between Gillian and McKeith). My offender was too sozzled to even notice. Well, it’s all part and parcel of the travel experience, they say you learn a lot about yourself. I now know that I look like Gillian McKeith, to some people at any rate.

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At Beer Bingo, note the inebriated squaddie on my left…..
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Here’s me, just sayin’ hello. Haven’t put my make up on yet.

Moving on, I’ve now left San Francisco and am in Paso Robles today, en route to LA tomorrow. It’s very hot here, about 29 degrees. Yesterday we drove by Pebble Beach along the 17-Mile Drive. Lots of big, beautiful expensive houses and incredible seascape views.

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SO great to see Charlie Bell and Stan for an In-and-Out burger (thank you Charlie!) whilst watching The Blue Angels (US equivalent of The Red Arrows) fly over San Fran harbour doing eye-wateringly amazing aerobatics. A beautiful, sunny afternoon! 
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It was brilliant to catch up with Paul Day, an old friend from my days in Japan. It was a genki evening with lots of biru!