Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Mango, Mango, Mango (sorry, in-joke)

Four faces of Bridget Howell... A visual poem that speaks of laughter, joy and... photo bombing...

Please note: No Bridgets were harmed in the making of this collage...

Hello America, Hello Hollywood

After an arduous flight from Melbourne to Los Angeles (featuring an awkwardly long stop over in Auckland) Ross and I gracefully landed in the grand old US of A!

We arrived in the morning and successfully survived our first day by wandering aimlessly along Hollywood Blvd with caffeinated beverages in hand. We were good boys and managed to get to bed at a reasonable hour after a tasty first American meal at "California Pizza Kitchen". The hotel we stayed at is located near the intersection of Hollywood Blvd and Highland Avenue, meaning it was only a short stroll to a fantastic open air shopping complex and fabulous views of the Hollywood sign!

I will tell you now that yes, Hollywood is unclean and scary and tacky and amazing all at once... Everyone told us that we would hate LA and that it was dirty and unsafe, people scoffed at how long we were planning on spending in its glitz and grime... Well I can tell you now that we absolutely loved LA! The city is abuzz with action and excitement, it is quintessential America from all your favourite movies and tv shows, there are memorable experiences around every star studded street corner... And there is ALWAYS a restaurant or burger joint selling the delicious food you know you shouldn't be eating. Our advice here is to simply give it a go without any prejudice and see what you make of it.

Tragic tourist tip: Take one of the tacky tours of the "Stars' Homes"! A good tour will take you about two hours and generally includes a rest stop with a good view of the Hollywood sign for your photo album. The aim here is not necessarily to see a celebrity (although it does happen quite a bit), or to marvel at their pretty houses (some are genuine stunners) but to see how close the rich and famous actually live to the main drag... Makes them seem more human really.

Probably one of our more unexpected moments of awe whilst in LA was our "Hop on Hop off" tour of the downtown area. When seeing a foreign city for the first time, I find that these tours are a fantastic way to orient yourself, see a good amount of the city and learn a few fun facts without breaking the bank. This being said I highly recommend you choose the method you are most comfortable with (be it public transport, taxi or tour bus) to see the sights in downtown LA. The buildings downtown are things of beauty and there is greenery covering a surprising amount of the area. The pre recorded commentary whilst on board gave us an understanding of what we were looking at and gave us the confidence to explore the city independently. Wide streets, fantastic views and some incredible people-watching made our daytime downtown experience well worth it!

Just a tiny selection of some of the beautiful buildings dotted all over Downtown LA

Whilst downtown, we decided that the Walt Disney Concert Hall was something that we wanted to have a look at (mainly because I saw it in a movie once and thought it looked cool). We took the chance and hopped off our tour bus... We were handsomely rewarded for our efforts... The building itself is absolutely beautiful and the free audio tour (with commentary by John Lithgow) is well worth the time as the building has a lot to say and, let's be honest, unless you are an architect you would probably never notice or appreciate the buildings many subtle nuances. This aside, our favorite part of the building by far was the gardens. These little alcoves of flowers and fountains provide a brief interlude amid the hustle and bustle of LA's central business district. The flowering trees and trickling fountains are not only beautiful, but attract butterflies and hummingbirds! I think this is astounding considering the concert halls location! Definitely my LA highlight.

A few angles of the Walt Disney Concert Hall. The ruby red flowers attract all sorts of wildlife and the rose fountain is made from thousands of pieces of broken porcelain.

If you are finding your LA experience a little bit too adult and serious... I highly recommend Universal Studios. A whole day at Universal Studios definitely satisfied my inner child and fed the movie geek inside me. I will tell you now that if you plan on visiting Universal Studios for just one day then you NEED a front of line pass! We managed to get in all the big rides, shows and attractions without waiting more than 10 minutes in a queue and still had time for food and carnival games!

How many iconic signs does Universal studios need! Me proudly protecting my first carnival win for the day! Please note the amazing front of line pass that made the day so much easier.

Rounding out our time in LA was a delightful three night stay in sunny Santa Monica. Here we were joined by some fantastic friends from home (Santa Monica was the connecting location for five different groups on five very different holidays). I can recommend no better way to unwind after the hustle of Hollywood than by spending a few nights sunning, shopping and swimming in Santa Monica. Not only is it great for the beach, promenade and famous pier, but the neighborhood is safe, quiet, happy and healthy.

This is what happens when best friends get together on Santa Monica Beach and discover some unattended life guard chairs.

Handy Shanwah hint: Make up your own mind about LA. I only ask that you give LA a genuine go. Most people hate it based on face value, yes it is dirty, dangerous, tacky and touristy... But behind all that there are some amazing things to see! Don't let other peoples opinions prevent you from having what could be a life changing experience.

The City of Angels is definitely more than just silver screen gloss and violent grit, if you give it a chance you will find yourself enjoying a whole lot more than you expected.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

A note on saying goodbye...

Whether you are going on a two month holiday or a two year overseas experience, make sure you leave enough time to say your goodbyes. The last few weeks get busy really quickly and working up until the day you leave sounds like a good idea but make sure you know what this means for the people you love.

Packing... It's not as simple as it sounds!

During our Europe trip Jade and I quickly realised how annoying, time consuming and painful it was to pack, unpack and repack your suitcase. Nothing ever fits in the same way and you always have more stuff than last time. During that trip we were traveling during the painful winter months, this meant that we had to lug around heavy jackets and bulky knits to keep from freezing to death. By comparison summer should be much easier right?

The problem with this logic is that it tends to mean that because we think our summer stuff is smaller an d lighter, we over pack because we have more space. My favourite strategy is the old rule of thirds... Pack everything you want/need/think you need... Then cut out at least a third. This way you don't end up taking that red number that you thought might look good if you ended up being invited to a semi formal, 50's themed party on a warm night with a slight north easterly breeze...

Handy Shanwah hint: no matter what type of accommodation you are staying in, pack something to keep your dirty laundry in and something to take your laundry to the laundromat (preferably the same "something" to save space). In Europe Jade and I found ourselves confusing our clean and dirty laundry (resulting in the uncomfortable sniff test) and arriving at the laundromat with an odd assortment of awkwardly sized bags to the bemusement of locals. While I'm on the subject, it is a great idea to locate the closest laundromat to your accommodation BEFORE you arrive because you can waste entire days trying to find one.

Once you have cut out the useless and unnecessary, then comes the packing... Everyone has their own style and preference when it comes to packing... rolling, folding, stuffing, layering, space bags, pack cells, suitcase dividers and the age old second suitcase technique (employed by Jade after she purchased too many handbags to fit in her already full suitcase). Use the way that works for you because even though that travel blog said you should roll everything in tight little balls, it is you who has to pack your suitcase and then repack it over and over again... Trust me, even If you start out with a brilliant strategy, it eventually gets to the point where you just cram everything in anywhere it will fit.

A brief photoessay on the crap that I managed to take with me...

One final thing to remember... It's not just your suitcase you need to stuff! It is just as important to pack your MP3 player full of tunes. A well stocked iPod will serve you well on your cross country train trips (you tend to run out of conversation topics a few hours in) I have three songs that I never fail to remind me of riding the train through sunny Italian countryside. This time I have spent a good 3hrs sorting through my iPod to ensure I have all the music I will need... Some chill out tunes for afternoons spent lying in Hyde Park, a range of up beat pop tracks for keeping the long train rides eventful, some classic rock and funked up indie for use while you wait for the laundry and a couple of urban beats for playing in the hotel bathroom before a big night out. I can't stress how important this is... I mean think about it, these songs will inevitably becomes the soundtrack to your holiday.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

It's harder than you think to stop living in the past

Okay so maybe I am still caught up in the holidays of yesteryear... But why shouldn't I be? People reminisce about their first kiss, their favorite pet, a great Simpsons quite or a lame Internet meme all the time and with furor. Indulge me a moment longer in my flashbacks as I talk about the people that made those trips special.

Kate enjoying a cocktail in the pool, Christine, Janet and Michelle striking a pose on the grand cruise liner staircase, Ross and Jade enjoying the English winter.

Kate. Intelligent, British, hilarious, strong willed and classy.
After coincidentally having three out of four classes together during my Uni years we decided it was fate. Our friendship blossomed over gossip, procrastination sessions, copious amounts of junk food and the Malaysian island of Lankawi. Kate is the type of friend who I might not see for years and then when we do meet it is like we have never been apart.

Jade. Quick witted, hilarious, romantic, honest and a massive bookworm
Jade and I met at the debilitating din that was my employment at a certain (unnamed) cinema chain. Form our first "date" seeing Memoirs of a Geisha together, we steadily became good friends until we decided that we should travel together for 2 months... Worrying at first (considering our stubborn attitudes and Jade's dislike of positivity) but we are better friends for it (best friends even) ... And better people too.

Ross. Lovable, kind, tall, informative and protective
What can I say about Ross... We have been together for almost Three years and he is definitely one of my rocks in the turbulent ocean that is life... That is, of course, when he isn't being the turbulent ocean.

Michelle. Bubbly, genuine, happy, positive and ambitious
I Have known Michelle for over twelve years now I can safely say she is one of my Best friends. We trudged our way through high school together, worked together, went to Uni together and traveled the high seas together (It seems she's a keeper). I can always count on michelle for honesty (generally quite bluntly) and a chipper outlook on life.

Janet. Sensible, sorted, intellectual, confident and witty
Being Michelle's sister has meant that Janet has seen me grow from an awkward teen to an awkward adult. Always handy with a fiery comeback, Janet is a strong, independent woman and we have a shared passion for fitness and money (although she is much better at making, spending and saving hers than I am).

Christine. Quotable, easy going, fiery, giggly and definitely marriage material
I found a great friend in Christine as we paired up on our Pacific cruise. Christine and I shared many beautiful moments together as husband and wife. Romantic mud baths, exhilarating speed boat rides, shell collecting on the beach, ice-cream in the sun, duty free shopping and many (many) sophisticated cocktails.

These amazing people have shared their traveling experiences with me and I am forever grateful for it. I often look back at holiday happy snaps and vacation videos and I suddenly find myself full of joy. Our shared experiences are some of the happiest moments of my life. My friends. My family. My fellow journeymen.