Sunday, 12 February 2017

trek america | hollywood to vegas, baby

11th of June 2016. 
6:30 in the morning and my alarm screams in my ear to wake me from my ridiculously light sleep. Apparently, anxiety and excitement aren't great tools for getting a decent nights sleep. Meeting 10 new people and starting a journey that would change my life, albeit terrifying, meant getting out of the comfiest bed in the world would be so worth it. I was the first to turn up in the lobby, promptly followed by Emily who would be the lucky lady to show us around the south of North America. We sat eagerly awaiting the rest of the group who would accompany us in the van for an entire month, 4 guys and 4 girls later, we were ready to sign all our paperwork and get on the road to Vegas. 

Firstly we started by introducing ourselves to each other. There was Laura from Weston, just down the road from me, which was so nice because she felt like home from home. Charlotte from just outside Birmingham, who was hilarious and would be the one to bring me out of my shell. Chris from London, who'd be the one to cause the drama. Lewis, also from London, who was the mediator and the one to speak all the sense. Eliza from Italy, the one that you never quite got to know. Regina from Germany, who was strong and outspoken. Silvan from Switzerland, who came across as shy but would soon emerge as sweet and funny and then there was Simon, the joker of the group.

This trip was going to be a fair amount of driving, so the journeys would be long and beautiful. LA to Vegas was a 4 hour trip, so we broke up the time by having a stop off at Hollywood Boulevard. Having been here the last two days I felt somewhat a pro, no longer was I a confused tourist but I knew exactly where the Starbucks was and the CVS to grab some suncream. After a brief stop in Hollywood, we were back in the van and heading to VEGAS! What better way to bond and start your trip than to start it in Las Vegas?

Not long into the trip, we make our first stop at the all American Walmart for snacks to keep us all occupied and fed until we pulled over for some food. I want to say that I was surprised that they sell guns in Walmart, but quite frankly I'd be lying. Never before have I come across somewhere you can buy pillows, graham crackers and guns in the same place. Loaded (pun intended) with treats, snacks and the biggest bottles of powerade you can imagine, it was time to head on to Nevada. I didn't realise how incredibly big America is and how much of it is just empty, it's endless desert, mountains and just absolute beauty. You hear so much of the built up states and cities, but not so much of the areas inbetween which are just as breathtaking. 

After an hour or two of endless driving, we stopped at The Mad Greek Cafe in Baker (and it was fucking baking... I think it was like 100 fahrenheit, it was smack bang in the middle of the desert to be fair), which to me was super exciting because I'd seen it on Diners, Drive ins and Dives... Obviously, most of us had gyros and milkshakes which were incredible. Full, and ready to party, we continued on our journey to Nevada. Once Vegas was in our sights, we stopped at a liquor store because the ones in actual Vegas are bloody expensive and few and far between. Our shopping trolley was ridiculous, baring in mind there was only 10 of us, the whole thing was full. Part of our trip included a hotel and party bus limo ride down the strip before a night out. 

7:30pm: Meet in Emily's room at The Golden Nugget, Freemont Street.

Beer pong. Something I will never, ever be good at. 50 inch pizza, something I absolutely will be good at. I have seen nothing like it before, the bloody pizza didn't even fit on the desk.
After mixing drinks, and creating poisons for our party bus, we headed downstairs to watch the light show on Freemont Street. We were lucky enough to actually be in one of the hotels/casinos on that strip, so we plodded past the swimming pool (it had a slide inside a shark tank... how very Vegas). Outside Chris got conned out of $10 by Darth Vader while we stood and watched.

After the light show we went to board our ride down the Vegas strip. To our surprise, we were welcomed by a pole in the back of the bus.. which we most definitely took advantage of. Vegas for me was a fantastic way to shift any divide in the group, we all got to know each other so well this evening. Our first stop on the strip was the infamous Welcome to Vegas sign. After a small queue of people and a wedding party (!!), we were accosted by a woman who wanted to take our photos for us for tips, obviously... this became a thing throughout.

After parting with a few dollars, it was time to make our way to watch the Bellagio water fountain display. I think when you see something in so many films, on tv and plastered over the internet, you go in with a preconception of what it'll be like... I was not disappointed. It was so beautiful, magical even. I didn't want it to end. Lewis and I were kept amused by the tourist groups with the pink fluffy cock on a stick. I know you need to keep the group together, so what better way than following a cock? Vegas is such a strange place. It's a world in the middle of a desert. It's tacky, yet beautiful. It was time to head back to Freemont Street to really get the night started. I'll be 110% honest, I don't remember all that much that happened after this bar casinos everywhere, a guy called Jonny and Chris getting kicked out of a bar.

12th June 2016.
Oh wow, hangover galore. I'm not sure I have ever felt this bad in my entire life. I'm not sure what I expected really, it was Vegas. Surprisingly, I was up at 9 in the morning and on the strip by 12. Today was a free day so we could venture around this crazy place as and when we wished to, there were no time constraints, no driving, just all the time in the world. You don't realise how big LV is until you're walking around not having a damn clue where you are. Fun fact, did you know there are no pedestrian crossings in Vegas? It's all bridges and escalators, so getting anywhere is a fucking nightmare. Despite it being one of my absolute dreams to ride New York, New York, my stomach had other ideas. Even the thought of a rollercoaster made me want to throw up a tiny bit. Strolling through the casinos and Hershey's chocolate world (yum!) we had definitely built up an appetite.

Hard Rock Cafe seemed like a good shout, it was air conditioned... and at 50 degrees celcius, exactly what we needed. You know it's too hot when you're walking into shops with no intention of buying a damn thing, but stealing their air con. After a while, we realised none of us had heard from Chris or Lewis all day. We had hoped that they were just off doing their own thing and would see them later. I'll tell you what though guys, you can do an awful lot of walking here so be prepared. Take enough water, and make sure you're creamed up. It's incredible how much effort has gone into the hotels and casinos here, they're fucking phenomenal. One is literally a little Venice, it's just insane.
Emily had arranged for us to meet at 7pm to go to a cute little hipster food court for dinner. At this point, we had found Lewis but there was still no sign of Chris. BBQ was where it's at. Pulled pork, mac and cheese and a bread roll side. Everything in America comes with a bread roll. Still no Chris. On our way back to the hotel, we came across a huge metal praying mantis, little did we know that it fucking shot out fire. It absolutely fucking terrified a child which had me and the guys in stitches. I have never seen such a look of terror in my life. It was time to go back to Laura and Charlottes room for a game of cards against humanity before an early night. Finally, after an entire night of panic for Emily, Chris showed his face and his bottle of Jim Beam. Turns out he had been asleep, all day. ALL DAY.

In short, Vegas was an incredible experience and I feel so lucky to have been able to be here with some fantastic people. I would definitely come back to visit and maybe try my hand at a slot machine, but it's just not for me. It's completely overwhelming, so fucking hot and absolutely mental. Vegas is it's own world. At least no one got married...

Next time... a trip to Zion National Park and our first night camping. 

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

trek america || from london to la

Well hello there old friends, it's been a while... again. I've been kicked up the backside by an email telling me my domain had been paid for for another year, so here we are.
Back in June 2016, as I'm sure you're aware, I travelled 5000 miles across the world to LAX to embark on the journey of a lifetime. A two month trip around America. Anyone that knows me, knows how crazy it was for me to do this by myself. I decided to document my adventure daily so I could relive the experience when I got home, but unfortunately things have happened since then and I haven't gotten round to it. Now ladies and gents, now, is the time that I delve back into my journal and this time, I'm going to share it with you.

8th of June 2016.
5am. I'm no good with mornings. Infact, mornings are my least favourite time of day. This day, however was different, I was filled with anticipation and excitement. Panic set in. Do I have my passport? Do I have my dollars? Do I have my itinery? Insurance? Hotel bookings? After being calmed down by my wonderful mother, we jumped in the car and drove to Heathrow with my two brothers. I was ready (albeit terrified) to go and explore the United States but not until after food. A veggie breakfast and a bloody mary was just what I needed before I boarded an 11 hour flight by myself. I'm not the best flyer, infact I absolutely bloody hate flying, so getting on that plane alone was a challenge in itself. After lots of cuddles and a little bit of crying, leaving my family at security was difficult. I couldn't even bring myself to turn around to wave goodbye. There was no going back once I'd gone through those doors. I was doing this. I was going to America, alone, for two months. I had no idea what was waiting for me, walking into the unknown. The flight itself wasn't too bad, luckily I had booked my flights with Virgin Atlantic and they were absolutely fabulous. They could not have been more friendly or attentive. Despite how tired I was, sleep wasn't an option, there was a vast array of films available to me and I was constantly being given food and drink. We touched down in LAX at 2:15pm local time. Now it was time to be terrified of customs, which was completely unnecessary because it was nothing like you see on tv. It was smooth, the customs officers were lovely, only a few questions and I was picking up my super blue suitcase ready to "go hail a cab".  I'm going to skip ahead to my first full day in LA because all I did today was keep myself awake until 9pm, eat jalapeno flavoured crisps and drink ginger ale.

9th June 2016.
To get over my jet lag, I booked a couple of days in a hotel before going to the hotel Trek America had booked me into. Luckily, I had made friends with a guy on another trek who was in LA at the same time as I was. We met at my hotel and ventured into Hollywood. I didn't feel particularly safe in my hotel (it was only a few blocks from Compton and every other noise you heard was a gunshot, remind me to trip advisor my hotel next time) so it was nice to have a friendly face around. To check off our obvious Hollywood sight seeing points, we had a little wonder down the walk of fame. I didn't realise how large the walk of fame actually is. 
It's every where. Everywhere. Once we'd walked up an appetite, it would have been rude not to walk into the Hard Rock Cafe and eat ourselves silly with the American portion sizes. Little did we know, in the U.S soft drinks are refilled and bought to your table for free when you look like you're running out, definitely looked stupidly British when we apologised for not ordering them. After food, we headed off to the Chinese Theatre, admiring the great names we'd walked over on the way. It's always a bit overwhelming seeing places you've wanted to visit for so long. The Chinese theatre is just full of hand and footprints from insanely talented and influential people, so standing where they stood all those years ago was absolutely crazy, but that wasn't the craziest thing to happen that day. Once we'd been accosted by all of the people trying to sell us stuff, I decided to go into MAC and buy a lipstick because I was regretting not bringing any with me. 

We'd been keeping an eye on a red carpet being laid out at The Dolby Theatre, so me being the curious being I am, I asked the security guard what was happening later this afternoon. He told me it was an event to honour John Williams, the composer of Star Wars, Jurassic Park and many many more. Sticking around to see who turned up seemed like a pretty good idea considering we had no time limit and this is fucking Hollywood. Next thing we know, out walk John Williams himself, George Lucas, STEVEN FUCKING SPIELBERG, JJ Abrams, Idina Menzel (for anyone that knows me and my love of Wicked, I thought I was going to die), Kobe Bryant and about 20 minutes late... up rocks Harrison Ford. 

Guys, I'm on day one of my trip and I'm stood here thinking... 

Has this trip just peaked? Am I the luckiest tourist in the world? 

10th June 2016.
After the craziness of yesterday, I was well ready to pack up my stuff and move to the hotel Trek America had booked for me. Fully aware that I would be sharing a room with a stranger, my anxiety started to pick up for the first time since I got here. I checked in, was given my room card and my roommate for the day was already in the room. She was this beautiful, sweet Australian girl and we just got on straight away. Thank god. We spoke for a little while about my adventures in the US so far, and decided to go back into Hollywood but this time via the metro and the subway.
American public transport is actually a little intimidating, it's so busy and everyone on there just looks like you've offended them. Being an Australian and a Brit, it was quite noticeable that people were watching and listening to us like we were a different species, something they'd never seen before. 

Once we'd navigated our way to the right station on the subway, we avoided those trying to sell us things and went straight for food. This time Johnny Rockets (apparently the original hamburger) fed me, and by gosh, I was not disappointed. We didn't even need fries because the burger was so ridiculously huge. Tipping is basically compulsory in America, which is a nightmare because everything becomes so expensive, but we weren't sure if we'd tipped them so pretty much ran out of the restaurant. Oops. Is there a better place to go than Hollywood for Madam Tussauds? Probably not, so we forked out the $30 entry fee and spent the afternoon with the stars. Nurel was all over James Dean, and I was sure
one of them would be the real person. Drinks seemed like the way to celebrate the end of a great day, and the start of our trips. I felt so lucky to be paired with someone as lovely as her. I felt instantly comfortable and calm even though usually meeting new people terrifies me. We were told that the bar at Aloft, where we were staying, was one of the best in El Segundo, how convenient! It wasn't a late night for us unfortunately because of the 7:30am meeting time for my trek group, and with that realisation, suddenly, I was overcome with anxiety, excitement... anticipation. It was starting. My 9 week trip around the USA was beginning and I knew my life would never be the same.

Until next time...
Trek begins.
Vegas and Zion National Park.