Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Two days in Macau

July 9, 2012 6am in Travel | Comments (1)

Day 1

As I pulled into Macau on the ferry, the first two things I noticed was that there were a lot of casinos, and also that it had a tower that looked like Auckland’s Sky Tower.

View of Macau from ferry

My God immigration was a nightmare in Macau – there were so many people trying to get in and most of them were Chinese people talking extremely loudly, not respecting the queues and it was just one general free-for-all. It took about 80 minutes to get through the immigration queues – I was so happy to get out of there.

I heard that most of the big hotels have shuttle buses from the ferry terminal, and I was staying in the Hotel Lisboa which was reportedly the most well known hotel/casino Macau had. I saw where all the shuttle buses were stopping, but they were on the other side of a major road and I couldn’t for the life of me work out how to get across the road. It was a hundred degrees and I was dragging my big suitcase around so I just gave up and for once thought I’d take a taxi.

Before we got there I realised I only had Hong Kong dollars and we were now in Macau, and I didn’t have any Macau patacas. I’d read that Hong Kong dollars are accepted almost everywhere in Macau so I hoped that was true. HK Dollars are worth 3% more than Macau’s currency so I figured it was probably true. The taxi ride turned out to be only MOP$20.50 (NZD$3.50), so I’m glad that I ended up taking the taxi – it made me realise how ridiculously cheap taxis were on the island.

Macau is a former Portuguese colony and so it has official languages of Portuguese and Cantonese. Lisboa (Lisbon in English) is the capital of Portugal and so that’s where this hotel gets its name – I think! I understand that this hotel is the oldest in Macau and still contains many Chinese antiques owned by, err, some famous Chinese guy. It was quite 70s inside and was clearly very impressive in its day.

By this time it was only lunchtime and they told me I was too early to check in. So they took my big bag off me and I had three hours to kill by looking around the city. There was the Grand Lisboa, the Hotel Lisboa’s newer brother right next door, which you couldn’t miss from pretty much anywhere in Macau.

Hotel Grand Lisboa

Luckily I didn’t have to worry about getting lost, because I knew that this Grand Lisboa building is so huge and so gaudy that I just have to make my way back there and I will be back at my hotel next door.

One thing I notice is that there was Chinese writing everywhere, very few of the shops had any English on them and I was getting a bit hungry by this point. But I managed to hold out. I saw some interesting looking apartment buildings, some built on the edge of cliffs.

Macau cliffside apartments
Macau apartments

After a while I was walking and all I saw was buildings, and so I thought I’d walk to the tower, which looked about 45 minutes’ walk away which I thought was okay despite the heat and I was carrying my bag with my laptop in it because I didn’t want to leave it with the hotel staff.

Macau Tower
Macau Tower II

I realised when I got to the tower that it is imaginatively called Macau Tower. I paid my fee to go to the top of the tower and saw the view.

View from Macau Tower I
View from Macau Tower II

There were people walking around the outside platform of the tower all harnessed in, but that cost a lot of money so I didn’t do that, plus it was quite scary! And if you stood in the right place on the observation deck, you could see people bungy jumping off the tower; they would fall right in front of you.

I took the taxi back from the Macau Tower to the Lisboa and it again cost the very small amount of MOP$20.50 (NZD$3.50). Wow, in London the minimum fee just for getting into the taxi is double this amount, incredible. But this time when I asked for the Hotel Lisboa I got dropped off at the Grand across the road, but that was fine, I survived.

I checked into my room, and decided to have a rest in the room for an hour or two. But, I had a lot of trouble getting any rest, because there was a lady in the next room yelling and swearing, and it was not just a bit of yelling, it was full on screaming and swearing for 5 or 10 minutes at a time, in English. Every now and again there was a big punch on the walls or something being hurled across the room. After a while it did stop momentarily and I fell asleep but then half an hour later it started again.

Also, at some point in my sleepy groggy haze, one of the hotel staff came into my room. I was dizzy from being woken up and I couldn’t understand what the staff member was saying but I sent him out and went back to sleep. Perhaps I had accidentally bumped the “please make up my room” switch without realising; I never worked out what he wanted.

After another half-hour of trying to sleep and getting woken up by the abuse from next door I eventually decided I had to go and ask to change rooms. I’ve never asked to change rooms in a hotel before but this was really going to ruin my holiday and also it was a 5-star hotel so I should be able to do whatever I want. The staff were very nice about it and I moved into a room two floors down and on the other side of the hallway so I even had a better view. But I had to change my king size bed for two single beds, which was a bit of a shame.

The view in the first room looked out over a roof and a bunch of air conditioning units, but the new room looked out over the tower and the hotel and the water and a major roundabout:

View from Hotel Lisboa room at night
View from Hotel Lisboa room in the daytime

Day 2

It was a bazillion degrees today and it would have been so easy to just stay in bed but I thought no, I’ve got to get out and see the city. Being a former Portuguese colony, I understood there was a lot of nice architecture and history to see.

Senado Square
Instituto para os assuntos civicos e municipais

Church in Macau
Another church in Macau

But also a lot of rundown apartment blocks.

Rundown Macau Apartment Blocks I
Rundown Macau Apartment Blocks II

The ruins of St. Paul’s were very touristy, but quite cool. This was about the only place where I saw another foreigner, or should I say, another Westerner, as we are called here.

Ruins of St. Paul's
View from the ruins of St. Paul's

I spent the day just walking around and seeing various buildings, walking in and out of streets and getting lost. Getting lost is part of the fun, especially since I had a map given to me by the hotel!

It was really hot, and so I made sure I wore the lightest clothes I had. Walking up and down hills in the extreme humidity was a killer, but that’s why I got all the outside stuff done in one day.

I had another sleep when I got back. I was too scared to go out and try any of the local cuisine, because I’m such a fussy person and also there was so little English around. During my walks, I found a supermarket near the hotel and so I bought things like yoghurt and biscuits, and lots and lots of drinks because of the heat. They have cool drinks with bits of fruit in them and coconut and Aloe Vera and all sorts of things.

This time when I walked to the supermarket it was pouring with rain, so I took the umbrella which the hotel had provided and I went out. I tried to stick to the covered overpasses that occasionally followed the roads but I kept accidentally ending up in casinos and because I was dressed so shabbily I got Chinese guys coming up to me at the entrances speaking to me in Chinese,. I assumed they were trying to tell me that I was not welcome there in my dishevelled state. So I walked outside through the pouring rain.

I went to the casino in the hotel in the evening. My budget was strictly HKD$900, and the rest of my spending money was left in the room so I didn’t spend it – always a good idea when gambling I say.

I played Blackjack first, but it doesn’t seem so popular here and so it wasn’t long before I was the only one at the table. Perhaps I smelled bad, or perhaps it is bad luck to have a Westerner at the table. I don’t like being the only one at the table, and also, the dealer dealt really really slowly, so it made each hand take a really long time.

So I moved onto Roulette. I was a bit luckier here, and in three of the next four spins I had chips on the numbers that came up. So I spent quite a while here, and when it got to two o’clock in the morning I thought I’d better leave. I came out with HKD$2200 so that was a pretty good profit for a night’s work.

2200 Hong Kong Dollars

On the way back to my room I was followed around by a lady who kept winking at me and asking me where I was from. I heard that there were a lot of prostitutes in the Lisboa on the second floor. I just smiled and then looked away. She followed me to the lifts but then left me alone luckily! I say she, but I’m only 80% sure she was a she and not a he.

Day 3

I did nothing today except packed my bags and went back to Hong Kong. I could have got up early and went to see more things, but the humidity just meant I didn’t feel like it.

At the ferry terminal, I dutifully stood in the wrong queue for 10 minutes, I thought that it was one queue for all destinations, but each destination had its own queue because each destination was a different ferry company.

Then I went to check my luggage in before I went through the gates, because I didn’t want to get told off again. At the luggage check in there was a very flustered Scottish woman who I could tell didn’t have enough money to check in her luggage. She said “My ferry is about to leave, I don’t have that much, do you take credit card” to which the attendant said “no”. So she said she’d have to go to the cash machine to get out some cash. I asked her how much she needed and she said $10 (HKD, NZD$1.75) and so I gave it to her. Being British she of course wouldn’t take it but I made sure she took it and she said “good karma will come to you today”.

I couldn’t check in my luggage because that check-in was for some other destination. So I got on the ferry anyway and this time they let me take my bag on, and put it in the luggage space at the front of the boat. Weird.

This ferry was great, there was almost nobody on it which of course was brilliant. Again I looked like the only other Westerner except for one guy who looked like a real hardcore backpacker with his large backpack and his “unshaven for the last 5 months” look.


From Hong Kong to Macau on the ferry

July 9, 2012 5am in Travel | Comments (3)

I flew into Hong Kong with a plan to go to Macau, which is an hour or so ferry ride from Hong Kong. If you arrive between 11am and 6pm you can get the ferry direct from Hong Kong Airport to Macau, meaning that you don’t have to go through HK immigration, but since I arrived at 7am no way was I going to sit around for four hours on the wrong side of immigration.

There was barely a queue for “Visitors” for immigration and I got my bag straight away from the baggage carousel. To get to Hong Kong from the airport you can get the Airport Express for HKD$90 (NZD$15) or buses to pretty much anywhere for around HKD$40 (NZD$7). Being cheap like I am the decision was an easy one for me! Plus, I figured you’d be able to see more from a bus than a train which was most likely underground.

There’s a great website here where you can see where all the buses go to from the airport, then you can click on the routes and see a map of where they go. I worked out beforehand that the bus from the airport to the Macau ferry terminal on Hong Kong Island was A11. I worked out that it was the first stop after going through a big tunnel but I didn’t need to know that because the airport bus had a good information display that showed what the next stop was plus in Chinese and in English, plus if you buy your ticket from the window they give you a bus map as well which is really clear.

On the plane ride a guy and his girlfriend wanted to sit together but were sitting one in front of the other instead in the middle seats. The guy asked the four people around if any of them would consider swapping seats so they could sit together. I was the only one of the four that responded and I said “no, I like the window seat, sorry”. So that made for a bit of an uncomfortable flight. Surprise surprise, these two were also on the A11 bus that I took from the airport, sitting right in front of me. Needless to say we didn’t say anything to each other!

Getting on the bus, I could see very dark clouds forming, and near to getting off the bus, it started pouring with rain. The rain was sideways rain and very strong. But luckily it stopped just before my stop.

I knew it was going to be hot in Hong Kong in June, but when I got off the air-conditioned bus, I think my words were “holy Mother of God it’s hot”. It’s really humid and it looks like it is going to rain all the time – dark clouds are always looming. The high during the day was 32 degrees and the low at night was 28 degrees. Macau was exactly the same.

Getting off the bus stop labelled “Macau Ferry terminal”, it wasn’t clear where the ferry terminal actually was. You get dropped off under a big overpass, and there were construction fences as well so you couldn’t see any buildings. Plus it was morning rush hour and people were all walking in one direction, so I decided to follow them. The crowds led me to Sheung Wan MTR station (Hong Kong’s tube / metro / underground system), so I figured that was wrong. I walked back in the other direction, and found the vehicle entrance to the Macau Ferry, but pedestrians couldn’t walk in there. I was so glad I was really early and had plenty of time so I didn’t need to stress.

So I walked back to the bus stop, and tried to find a map or something. Everybody looked in a hurry and I wasn’t sure how many people spoke English so I just kept looking. By chance I turned behind me away from the road and saw between the construction “TurboJet ferries”. Hooray! So the moral of the story is, get off the bus, turn 180 degrees and walk straight ahead to find the ferry terminal!

I dragged my bags up the series of escalators to get to the ferry ticket office, and I noticed I was the only one with any real luggage, and also the only foreigner. I bought my ticket which cost HKD$151 and went through the “departures” area. Someone pulled me aside, saying “your luggage is oversized; you need to go that way”. He pointed me in the direction of the luggage check in. He weighed the bag and said “That’ll be HDK$20 please” because it weighed 20.5kg. Apparently if it weighed 20kg or less, it would have been free. Oh well, that’s fine. Customs grilled me about the contents of my bag and seemed a bit surprised that I was taking such a big bag to Macau. I convinced him that it contained nothing but clothes, but I bet he looked through it anyway. At this point I was just impressed and happy that everybody I had encountered spoke English.

I was tired after the flight and had completely forgotten that leaving Hong Kong and entering Macau is treated as an international trip, despite both places being part of China, so I was surprised that I had to go through a passport check. The waiting area after that was chaotic, people everywhere talking really loud and really crowded, lucky there were big signs saying which gate is for which ferry. I wouldn’t have wanted to end up somewhere in Mainland China.

When the ferry was ready to board, everybody piled forward in a big push. I heard the guy by the gate shouting at some girls “Seat number!! Seat number!!” and I managed to work out that you were supposed to go and get a seat number from the little table to the right. I’m glad I found that out before the guy started yelling at me! I got seat 9A. Then I got on the ferry and the staff showed me where to sit. Finally I could relax and check out all the big buildings of Hong Kong which seemed to go on forever.

Hong Kong from Macau ferry 1
Hong Kong from Macau Ferry 2

New law on the tube for the Olympics

May 27, 2012 12pm in Random Ramblings,Travel | Comments (6)

I haven’t written in my blog for a while so I thought I’d post a picture I saw on the tube last week.  The first of these two stickers is obviously legitimate but for a while I also thought that the second one was too.  I thought “what a novel way to welcome people to London for the Olympics”.  But then I realised that was a bit stupid.  Although the sign is so professionally made, and it’s even spelled correctly.

I did a search on the internet, and it seems this sign has existed in London for almost four years… but this is the first time I saw it!

Peak hours may necessitate that you let other people sit on your lap

“Peak hours may necessitate that you let other people sit on your lap”

Thanks to my sister for pointing out the irony that I made a spelling mistake in the same sentence that I talked about spelling mistakes.

Highlands trip – November 2010

November 28, 2010 6pm in Travel | Comments (0)

So I got a new job finally, which was supposed to start on November 1. But when I got a call close to the time saying that I can’t start until November 8, I decided to spend 4 days up in the Highlands. Here’s a link to all the photos.

I flew into Glasgow, but my back was hurting a lot from using weights the day before (oops), and within five minutes of driving it was hurting so bad that I went to the A+E department of Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley, right by the airport. An hour or two later I got some painkillers and I was ready to go!

After coming out of the hospital I drove just over two hours up to Edzell, where Gabi lives who is a friend from many years ago. After staying there a night I drove over to the Eilean Donan castle, or the “MacRae Castle” as we call it, where our ancestors used to work. The rain was terrible, and the castle was closed. There were seven cars in the car park, and I was the only one brave enough to get out of the car. Then I drove on to nearby Ullapool to spend a night there.

Eilean Donan Castle Clan MacRae

The Ferry Boat Inn in Ullapool

There isn’t a lot between Ullapool and John o’ Groats, except three or four hours of narrow roads, and the odd sheep on the road.

From Ullapool to John o' Groats Grey day with a sheep visitor

At first the rain was torrential and I just about didn’t start the drive because at points there were rivers of water flowing across some roads, and it’s one of the most desolate parts of the country. But luckily I did take the trip because after a while it cleared up very nicely.

The sun came out!

I ended up eventually at Dunnet Head, which is the most northerly point of mainland Britain. There wasn’t much there other than a lighthouse. Then, on to John o’ Groats, where there wasn’t a lot to see.

Dunnet Head John o' Groats

And then back to see Gabi! It was low season so quite quiet. And because of my sore back, I wasn’t able to try out the pool. But I had a great time and didn’t want to go!

Gabi and I Glenesk Hotel

The next day was a drive back to Glasgow and then a flight back to London. According to Google maps, I drove 920 miles, or 1,472 kilometres.

My trip

Here’s a link to all the photos.

Day 81 – 13 July – The End… what a holiday it’s been

July 28, 2010 11am in 2010 trip,Los Angeles,Travel | Comments (1)

So, here I am, 81 days later, where has all the time gone. Seems like just yesterday I was complaining about the volcanic ash disruption back in April, and being scared out of my mind as I flew into Costa Rica. I’m happy and sad about going back to work – happy that I have a job to go back to, sad that my holiday can’t continue. I thought that by this time I would be super excited about going back to work. If I claimed that were true, I’d be lying.

Hannah and I drove our rental car to the airport to check-in early, because I wanted to get a window seat (read yesterday’s entry if you haven’t already). My flight was at 7:30pm and we got to the airport at about lunchtime.

Sadly, the check-in lady couldn’t get me a window seat, but she was able to get me an aisle seat in the very first row of Economy class, which meant that I had extra legroom but without the disturbance of being by the toilets or galley. I was pretty happy with that. The check-in lady was very sympathetic to my situation and tried to find out why my flight had been cancelled from before, but she wasn’t able to find out anything. She said something about “one of your original flights was changed and you went two days later”, but that wasn’t true.

Then we went and checked Hannah in for her 9:30pm flight with a different airline (the volcanic ash disruption from April meant we couldn’t fly together without paying LOTS of money). Wow, Continental Airlines have a MUCH easier and friendlier check-in process than American Airlines.

So now we had quite a few hours to kill until our flight and we still had our rental car. We went for a drive around some of LA’s beaches. We saw Manhattan Beach which looked like a very beautiful place, it had a main road that ran parallel and near to the beach, but it was up a hill from the beach, and each side street went directly downhill to the water with lots of nice houses on either side.

Then we saw a big hill in the distance, and we drove up there to see what the view was like. It was beautiful. And the houses were massive and looked VERY expensive.

Nice view

All this driving used up a lot of time, and so we drove back to the airport, returned the rental car and sat in LAX airport for a few hours. When it came time for our flight, I said goodbye to Hannah (we departed from different terminals) and we went our separate ways. It was a bit sad, because even though we’d see each other again in a few days, we both had such a great time in America and it was very sad to leave it.

LAX waiting area

My flight back to London was nice, it was direct (unlike Hannah’s which stopped in Newark). The lady sitting next to me in the window seat looked like a Swedish supermodel, and she acted like it too, she had no idea how to work any of the video equipment or in-flight entertainment and I had to show her how to do everything. She said “I’m used to flying British Airways, this is such a step down for me”. It was funny.

So that’s the end of my 3 month (well, 81 day) trip to South America, the USA and New Zealand. I hope I get the chance to do something like this again one day. But it cost a lot of money. Seeing my bank balance when I got back to London was depressing. But then I thought again how lucky I was to be going straight back into a job.

I think a lot about the people I met on my trip, and wonder where they are now. It was actually quite hard because I made some really good friends, but then you have to leave them again almost as quick as you made them as you move on to other destinations. But I still feel like my life is a lot richer for the experience.

The end

Day 80 – 12 July – Knott’s Berry Farm… and my flight’s cancelled – PANIC!

July 27, 2010 2pm in 2010 trip,Los Angeles,Travel | Comments (0)

At 1am on the morning of 12 July, I went online to double check my flight time for the next day. I logged onto the American Airlines website, and to my horror, my itinerary had the word CANCELLED next to it.

Of course, I immediately went into panic mode. My flight was in just over 36 hours, and I had been kicked off it for some reason. Very rude, I thought, since I had had no notification at all via email, or phone, or nothing that my itinerary had been cancelled.

So, I had to make an extremely expensive call to American Airlines’ premium-rate London-based 0844 number – I knew this was going to be very expensive to call from the USA, but I had no choice. The guy on the phone was not able to tell me why my itinerary was cancelled, but thankfully there was space on the flight for me to be put back on. Normally I wouldn’t have minded spending a bit longer in LA, but I started my own company a few weeks back and needed to be back in London to sign the paperwork and do some boring admin stuff.

However, there were only three seats left on the plane, and they were all in the middle of groups of five seats. I’d lost the very excellent window seat that I’d booked three months prior. The guy on the phone said that if I checked in early, the check-in agent might be able to give me one of the few window seats that were in the exit rows, that they were not allowed to give out on the phone. Oh well, at least I had a seat I guess. Despite this, I will be writing one hell of a complaint letter when I’m back in London to get compensation, or at least, to get back whatever the horrendous cost of the phone call will be.

So after lying in bed for a while at 1:30am, not being able to sleep, I eventually did get a few hours’ sleep, and we woke up at 8:30 because we were going to Knott’s Berry Farm today. For those that don’t know, it’s a theme park with scarier rides than Disneyland. We decided to go after seeing on the internet that you could get $20 off if you went to any Southern California Subway store, making the day only USD$34.99, very cheap we thought, compared to Disneylands USD$90-something.

We went off to the nearest Subway in Garden Grove (via sat-nav) and after waiting in line for 5 minutes they said they’d never heard of any discount scheme to Knott’s Berry Farm. What a surprise, we thought. Just because we were suckers for punishment, we thought we’d try another Subway about 1 mile away. To our surprise, the guy behind the counter there handed us a big stack of discount vouchers. Hooray! So we bought Subway off him. He was very cool, shame the egg and cheese in the sub tasted like plastic. Not to worry, we felt like our Subway was almost free since we got $20 off each to the theme park.

When we got to the theme park, we noticed everything was a bit less refined than Disneyland. The queueing was a bit more chaotic (although the queues were MUCH shorter), they didn’t seem to mind if one person went by themselves on a four-person ride, there were no waiting times posted, and everything was just a little more “falling apart”. But we had an excellent time, and Hannah and I both said that it was overall much better value for money than Disneyland. And we couldn’t believe how short the lines were! I’m sure we didn’t wait longer than 10 minutes for anything, and sometimes you could get off one ride, go straight back into the line and get straight back on!

Hannah not looking forward to this ride Hannah getting her fortune

Hannah wouldn’t go on the Supreme Scream – the equivalent of the Giant Drop in Dreamworld, where you go up a very tall pole, sit up there for 10 seconds or so and then freefall back to the ground. Hannah said she would do it if it was the same size as the one at Rainbow’s End or Thorpe Park, turns out though that it was quite a bit higher. If you’re interested (I know I was) – here’s how far you drop on each ride.

Thorpe Park’s Detonator (England) – 30 metres
Rainbow’s End’s Fearfall (New Zealand) – 54 metres
Knott’s Berry Farm’s Supreme Scream (California) – 77 metres
Dreamworld’s Giant Drop (Australia) – 119 metres (apparently the tallest ride in the world)

The Supreme Scream was scary because although not as high as the Giant Drop, the surrounding landscape was completely flat and you could see for miles and miles (despite all LA’s pollution). The line for this ride was never more than 3 or 4 minutes.

Supreme scream

I didn’t know that Knott’s Berry Farm was “Peanuts-based”, and had Snoopy and Charlie Brown as well as all the other Peanuts characters there. I thought that was awesome. While we were there we saw a presentation called “Snoopy On Ice” which was people dressed up as the characters doing ice-skating, as well as other professional ice-skaters.

Snoopy on Ice Ghost Rider

The scariest ride was the “Ghost Rider” (in the photo above), which was the oldest roller coaster in the world (I think it was the first roller coaster in the world). The reason it was the scariest was that it was made of wood and everything was held together by masses of wooden beams. It was scary because we could not believe that the carriages stayed on the tracks. I even bought the photo taken by the camera along the ride. We look terrified. I hope that I can find a scanner so I can put the photo on here.

EDIT: I must have made all that up, looking on wikipedia shows me that the GhostRider opened in 1998. Eek. They must have built it all rickety on purpose.

After a great day out, it was back to Econolodge, and time for the last sleep of my holiday before flying back to London.

Days 75-79 – 11 July – Five days in Las Vegas

July 25, 2010 6pm in 2010 trip,Las Vegas,Travel | Comments (0)

There’s heaps more photos in the same facebook album as the previous post.

Wed 7 Jul

We got up just before breakfast finished in the Good Nite Inn in Buena Park, and encountered the worst breakfast in the history of breakfasts – all there was was donuts which were stale, and coffee which was empty. No cereal or milk or anything else like that. Yuck! We ended up going to McDonalds across the road for breakfast instead.

After a detour of a couple of hours at a mall full of outlet stores where I bought two shirts, a new wallet and a belt, we were off on our four and a half hour drive to Las Vegas. The drive was quite uneventful, no traffic or anything.

We checked into Ballys Hotel and Casino, which didn’t sound very flash, but it was! It’s joined to the Paris Hotel and Casino, which has a big replica of the Eiffel Tower out the front, and is on the corner diagonally opposite Caesar’s Palace (seen on The Hangover and on Friends) and directly across from the Bellagio where they have amazing water fountain displays. On the other corner is the more quaint “Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall”.

The line to check in was really long, we must have waited 40 minutes or so to check in. But when we went up to our room on the 19th floor, we were really surprised how nice it was for £55 per night. We had a great view, and it was nicely air-conditioned – well it needed to be, outside was 40 degrees and when you went near the window you could feel the intense heat from outside.

There was no internet surprisingly, there were a couple of third-party wireless internet providers, and I stupidly paid $9.99USD to one of them to use their internet for 24 hours. However, I used the internet for 90 minutes, then went to bed, and in the morning, it wouldn’t let me use the internet anymore – it redirected me to the payment screen again, even though by my calculations I still had over 12 hours left. Grr – I’d paid $9.99USD for 90 minutes of internet and some potentially dodgy company now has my credit card details. There was no phone number to call and no address to write to. The only consolation was that internet cafes in Las Vegas seem to charge around $12 per hour. Looks like it’s going to be four days without internet. I’m so annoyed about this rip-off wireless internet that I’m considering writing a separate blog post just on that to name and shame them! Boo Guest Internet Services, you’re a rip off!

We went out and got huge drinks each for $17 knowing we could refill them for $13. No way did we need a refill, they were so massive! We also did a bit of gambling. Hannah turned $10 into $45 on the money wheel, and I turned $10 into $0.

Big drinks from Evening Call

Thu 8 Jul

We went out for a walk down “The Strip” (Las Vegas Boulevard) to see all the sights. It was another 40 degree day, which made for tough going, but we braved it. There’s smaller replicas here of the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, and the Sphinx, which are cool, along with countless huge hotels and grand buildings.

Our ultimate destination was a hotel called Mandalay Bay located right at the end of The Strip, because The Lion King is playing there and we wanted to see how much it cost to go. We ended up buying two tickets for Saturday, but right in the very back row since they were the cheapest! At least they’re in the centre. Hopefully it will be good because I saw The Lion King the cartoon about 25 times when I was young and it came out (I think it was around 1996).

We got back after a couple of hours and tried out the Ballys pool, it was great and such a welcome relief from the heat. It was the first time in a very long time, possibly since school, that I’d been in a pool where I couldn’t reach the bottom and I had to try and remember how to swim!

Later on, we had the news on in our hotel room, and we heard that President Obama was in Las Vegas and was staying at Caesar’s Palace. Wait, we thought, that’s right across the road. Sure enough, we looked out the window and all the traffic had been stopped for his arrival. We waited at the window for 20 minutes, and the traffic was still stopped, but we saw no sign of the President, so we got bored and went back to what we were doing.

We went and refilled our massive drinks from last night for $13, and went and did some more gambling. Hannah had no luck with the Money Wheel tonight, and I didn’t do much better, but we both had a bit of luck on the pokies – Hannah turned a few dollars into $54.84 and I turned $9 into $18.14.


Fri 9 Jul

This morning we woke up, looked out the window, and saw that all the roads were eerily deserted – there wasn’t a single car to be seen anywhere as far as the eye could see. The news had said that the President was due at a speech at 9:20am, and it was now 8:40am, so we figured this was his doing.

Hannah and I had decided to have buffet breakfast which was across the road at The Flamingo Casino next to Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall, but when we went down at 9:00am to the street level there were police there that wouldn’t let us cross the road. We thought this was a bit weird because people were crossing across at the other two crossings we could see. So we talked to some people briefly who were also trying to cross about the President’s arrival yesterday, and then shortly after a huge motorcade of police came around the corner, followed by President Obama himself and he drove right by us. It was very cool! We couldn’t actually see him because his car was tinted, but it was obvious which car he was in. We felt very special to be that close to the President purely by chance.

We then got to the breakfast buffet at The Flamingo. It was $14.99 plus tax and it wasn’t too bad, although I’d been looking forward to scrambled eggs for ages but I didn’t like the ones they had there so that was disappointing. They made up for it though with a massive selection of desserts, there must have been 20 or so cakes, a chocolate fountain with fruits and marshmallows, and a build-your-own sundae bar. Yum! Although being breakfast, I was disappointed with the small amount I could actually eat. And when we asked the waitress for another drink, she snapped at us saying something like we should have ordered our drink before they seated us, which was impossible since we didn’t know what we wanted then! She didn’t care about that though, and it scared Hannah off ordering a hot chocolate.

We both needed our hair cut and coloured, so we went for a drive north of the tourist area, and set the sat-nav to try and find hair salons. All the ones it found were either in really dodgy parts of towns, or all the writing wasn’t in english, or it only had old people in there getting their rollers re-done, or it cost way too much, so we thought the only other chance we have was at the outlet centre that we saw near the airport, so we went there.

Paul Mitchell the hairdressers were having a sale in the outlet centre which was great, I got my hair cut and also got bleached highlights for $45USD, and Hannah got her hair coloured a really great light shade of brown. We had lunch at Auntie Anne’s (they have the best pretzels there with cheese dips and nice drinks).

On the way back to the hotel, we looked at the car’s dashboard, and it said it was 44 degrees (111 degrees farenheit). And I’d believe it too! Hannah was talking on the phone outside the outlet centre and I was going to wait with her but it was so uncomfortably hot that I had to go back into the air-conditioned shops.

44 degrees - nice and hot

Tonight our gambling didn’t go well, Hannah and I both lost $10 on the Money Wheel, and even though I won $10 from $1 on the very first spin, nothing more came of it. Although we had a good night at “The Tequila Bar” with $1 margeritas and $2 beers, and a $5 serving of tortilla chips and cheese which had so much cheese dip I couldn’t eat it all.

Sat 10 Jul

We slept in late today, until 11:30am! Then it was off to the pool for a while. But for the first time since we’d been here, we saw clouds, and were soon clouded over. So we went off early to Mandalay Bay hotel where the Lion King was showing. We got there at aboue 3:00pm for a 4:00pm showing, so we filled in some time gambling. On the Deal or no Deal game, I got a high offer of $9.34 on a $3 game, but I turned it down, and ended up winning the lowest box there which was $0.01. I still have the $0.01 cashout ticket as a souvenir.

The Lion King performance was great, despite being second row from the back we were right in the centre and we had no people either side of us, and it wasn’t that hard to see the stage, I thought it would have been worse. The people behind us talked a bit and texted on their phones a bit, but it wasn’t too annoying.

Afterwards we went to another outlet centre for more shops, I bought a polo shirt from Ecko. Then we had Mc-Donalds. I learned an interesting fact in Mc-Donalds – they don’t have McChickens in Nevada, only in California and other states.

Then we went gambling at Ellis Island Casino, we chose that one because the minimum bet on Roulette was $4 instead of $10 at the bigger casinos and so Hannah could learn how to play. She didn’t have any luck though, only winning one outside bet (red/black, odd/even, etc) out of six. I did better, I turned $40 into $67.50 on blackjack and then $30 of that into $85 on roulette – really the first time I’ve won anything decent all week. Although the last spin on roulette I put $3 on “double zero”, and the spin brought up the regular zero – if I’d put my money on the other zero, I would’ve won $105 just from that spin. I say bring back European Roulette which only has one zero.

Sun 11 Jul

Sadly it was time to check out of Ballys Las Vegas today, after checking out we went back to the pool and I ended up staying there for two and a half hours, and now I have radioactive legs. Oops.

Then it took us nearly 6 hours to drive back to Los Angeles because of the traffic, it seemed that half of Vegas heads back to California on a Sunday afternoon. Although we also stopped for KFC in Victorville.

Hannah said in the first day of Vegas that she could stay here for a year just chilling out, but today she changed her mind and said that we need to get back to reality sometime, and I agree. Besides, Vegas would get too expensive gambling every day! I’ll miss the pool though, although it sounds like London is having hot weather which is almost as good.

The sat-nav was having trouble, perhaps it was the heat or something, or the fact that LA just has so many roads, but it stalled twice, and reset itself three times, and once wouldn’t turn back on. Luckily though, during the periods that it was misbehaving, we didn’t miss any exits or turns, and we managed to check into Econolodge in Garden Grove. After removing the existing resident from the room (a bee), we settled in. And they have free internet! Which only works sometimes, from one particular point in the room. But better than nothing.

Days 71-74 – 6 July – Four days in LA

July 25, 2010 6pm in 2010 trip,Los Angeles,Travel | Comments (0)

Ok, sorry this one took a long time to put up! But there was a lot of stuff to do when I got back from my trip.

The photos here aren’t all the photos I took – I took so many! But you can see heaps more photos here on facebook.

Sat 3 Jul
Woke up early in the morning and drove to get my washing, although the woman didn’t have it, she said something about the boss taking it to another laundry place to wash and she’d have it here by 7pm. Quite why the boss needed to take my washing elsewhere when there must have been at least 50 washers where we were was a bit confusing. Hopefully I see all my washing again.

We decided to walk past every single star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. We didn’t quite know how long it would take so we set out at about 3pm. I knew Michael Jackson had a star, of course, and his wasn’t hard to pick – it was the one with heaps of people all trying to take a photo.

And also, I knew Judge Judy had a star too. She didn’t have anyone around her, but I was not leaving until I got a photo by her star!!

While we were walking we took a brochure for a tour of Hollywood by this open-top 15 seater van. The lady trying to get us to sign up offered it to us for $25 each down from $40, but we said “we’ll think about it” and walked away, knowing very well that we would do it either tomorrow or the day after because it was something we wanted to do.

We also drove to the Griffith Observatory for a view out of LA, but all we saw was how polluted LA actually is, and we couldn’t see much!

Sun 4 Jul

Today was Independence Day, it seems to be one of the more important of the American days off. We didn’t have a lot of plans today, we did a few things that didn’t require a lot of effort.

First, I looked up “Top 12 things to do for free in Los Angeles”. The first few things in the list we’d already done: The Hollywood Walk of Fame, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre with the celebrity handprints, the Hollywood Sign and The Griffith Observatory. Another thing on the list was Venice Beach which we’d already planned to do today, but something else on the list was a Mexican Market in central LA, so we thought “why not”. It sold lots of touristy type things like t-shirts and stuff like that, one thing Hannah and I both would have liked to buy was a ukelele that they write your name on.

For lunch we had mexican food in the place in the market that was the best combination of “cheap” and “not likely to give us food poisoning”. I was a bit scared of mexican food from when I went to a mexican restaurant in LA in 2006 and didn’t like anything they gave me, but I thought since I’d been to Costa Rica and had lots of rice and beans there that I would be okay. As I remembered, they served me with three different kinds of mushy beans with cheese, two of which were okay, the other had this really strong sauce of some kind on it. But I had a side of rice so that helped me eat it all.

Another thing we did was drive through the centre of LA, and it was quite deserted. As I knew from last time, there were some tall buildings. Here’s the tallest:

We went to Venice Beach on the west coast of LA and lay in the sun for a bit. As usual, I got quite red, but not so red that it hurt a lot. Hopefully it doesn’t peel. We overheard some people say there were fireworks in the evening on the beach, but because we were parked in a 2 hour parking spot and because these fireworks were still four hours away, we went for a random drive around and back to the hotel, and then drove back again.

Little did we know that the whole of LA seemed to be there, so parking was a nightmare – we had to park a 20 minute walk away from the beach. Then, we learned (by following everyone else) that the fireworks were actually 40 minutes down the beach from where we parked. So, when the fireworks were over, we had an hour’s walk back to our car. But they were worth seeing. The man in front of us kept yelling “America! Heh heh heh, heh heh heh” in a Beavis and Butthead voice, and then at one point he dropped his beer. It was worth going all the way there just for that.

Mon 5 Jul

Today I’d originally planned to take us to Disneyland, but then I realised that it was Independence Day holiday because July 4 fell on a Sunday. So we left Disneyland for tomorrow and did the tour by open top van that we heard about on Saturday. This time they offered it to us for $20 each, which was even better!

We saw a few famous sites. Here’s Ringo Starr’s house, and the house Michael Jackson was in when he died:

Ringo Starr's front gate House that MJ died in

Here’s Julia Roberts’ house, and the view she has:

Here’s one of the most expensive areas that I’ve ever seen anywhere – Bel-Air in Los Angeles. Every house was just so massive and as the tour driver said, you could just smell the money. And here’s the house from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

After the tour, we drove down to Anaheim which was about 45 minutes away from Hollywood, and checked into the Good Nite Inn in Buena Park, which was pretty good for the price.

Tue 6 Jul

Disneyland today!

At Disneyland, I personally was disappointed by the lack of thrill rides. Disneyland is divided into two parts, the traditional Disneyland that opened in the 50′s, and Disney’s California Adventure which opened in 2001. The latter was supposed to have more rides than Disneyland itself, so we went there first. There were some rides that were not bad, like the Tower of Terror which was an elevator that went speeding up and down through a haunted house, and “California Screamin’”, a roller coaster which offered some thrills.

We went on Mickey Mouse’s Ferris Wheel, which was kind of fun because the carriages swung back and forth, but then something happened and we were stuck on it for 10 minutes, and when we did get back down, they disabled the ride and sent everyone from the queue packing. They apologised for the delay but didn’t say what happened.

Although we arrived at 10am, and before we knew it it was 4.30pm, and we wanted to see Disneyland itself before dark. So we went across the path to Disneyland, and took the train that runs around the perimeter of the park. It looked like a fun place, clearly aimed at children, until at one of the train stops this child got on which was screaming so hard that after 5 minutes next to it on the train my eardrum was actually in pain, so we got off at the next stop to escape the noise.

In Disneyland we queued 70 minutes for the Space Mountain ride, which was a reasonably tame roller coaster but because it was in the dark it was a bit of fun. Everywhere you went had stroller parking, which was always full. In fact, by the time 7pm came around, the queues seemed longer than ever and the number of people in the park (considering it was a weekday) was astonishing. So we had a quick look around Disneyland and then went back to the car.

When we originally parked in the morning, they told us to write down where we parked. I thought “pfft, I don’t need to write down where I parked my car, I can remember just fine”. Thank god I did actually write down where I parked, because I would have never found the car again otherwise. It would have been lost in the unlimited time and space that is the Disneyland car park system – which cost $14 to park in, just for the record!

Day 70 – 2 July – Los Angeles and Hollywood!

July 6, 2010 7am in 2010 trip,Los Angeles,Travel | Comments (0)

My LAN flight was supposed to leave at 5 minutes past midnight, but just before this time they told us that there was a technical problem with their plane and they’re unloading everyone’s bags and putting everybody on a new plane, which meant we’d be leaving an hour late. Not a problem, I’ve got 12 hours to kill in LA until Hannah arrives.

The LAN flight wasn’t particularly interesting because like usual I slept all the way, only waking up for meals. It wasn’t hard this time since we departed at 1am. I had an exit row which was a surprise because I hadn’t requested it – maybe after scaring me the check-in guy thought he should be nice to me. The old withering Japanese lady sitting next to me had to be moved because she couldn’t speak English or Spanish which meant she’d be no use in an emergency, but because she didn’t speak either of these languages she had a hard time understanding why she was being moved.

At customs in LA they were polite but strict as usual and this time they made me get all my bags checked in the customs. That didn’t surprise that me that much because I’d come in from Peru. They checked through two of my bags but didn’t bother checking through the others. They asked me if I had any Coca leaves (the leaves that we were chewing on to help combat the altitude sickness in Peru) and luckily I had not accidentally left any in my luggage.

I picked up my rental car, and drove out to Hollywood to check into the room for me and my sister the first three nights – Super 8 in “Hollywood Area”. It was nice enough, but because it was Independence Day Long Weekend in USA it wasn’t terribly cheap. It wasn’t too far from Hollywood itself, but some of the people in the area seemed a bit dodgy and strange. Although, after taking a drive through Hollywood itself, I noticed that a higher percentage of people than usual there are very strange indeed!

I was a bit early to check in, so I went and dropped off all my wet clothes from Machu Picchu to a laundry, and was told I could pick them up tomorrow for $14USD. A bit more expensive than the $2-$3 I would have paid in Lima for the same thing! I filled a bit more time in by going to the supermarket and then checked in to the hotel once they had a room cleaned. Then, I just hung around in the room until Hannah arrived.

Hannah flew in from London on Continental Airlines at around 7pm that night, I met her at the airport and drove her back to Hollywood. That night we went for a walk around the area and found dinner. We saw a few of the Hollywood Walk of Fame stars, but there was nobody we knew – we hoped that’s because we were at the very edge of the walk, and the more famous people were nearer the middle near all the landmarks. Anyway, we were going to find this out tomorrow.

I checked my emails and found out that Ian had had a very bad flight – apparently his and Richard’s flight had been diverted to a different airport in Buenos Aires, and they weren’t told about it, so when Ian looked for his taxi transfer it was nowhere to be found. When he asked the airline for help, he was told that the airline can’t do anything for them. So he asked if his baggage would still be checked all the way to Auckland like they were told, and he was told that they don’t check bags all the way through. Sounds like a bit of a nightmare – I don’t know what happened after that except that both he and Richard did get home with their bags, thankfully.

Day 69 – 1 July – Cuzco -> Lima, and Lima stopover

July 6, 2010 7am in 2010 trip,Cusco,Lima,Peru,Travel | Comments (0)

I woke up early this morning after the housekeeping barged their way into the room at 6:30am, then after going back to sleep for an hour I woke up at 7:30am. We didn’t have to check out until 10:00am but I wanted to see some of the town because I didn’t get a chance to when I flew in as we went straight out of Cusco in the taxi.

Actually, because I had my clothes all over the floor, I didn’t have very long to see much. I went and had breakfast in the kitchen and went out into the town. I saw the main square, and I also saw a church called La Merced. I really wanted to see this church because it was the pit stop for Leg 1 of The Amazing Race Series 7 and I’m a sucker for seeing destinations off this show because I love it so much. I got there as it opened at 8:00am and was the only one there. The woman inside wouldn’t let me look around unaided, she insisted that I see every bit of the church, and I felt rude because I didn’t have long.

Ian, Richard and I got our taxi transfer to Cusco airport. We were a bit early so Ian spent some time and taught me the card game two-player 500, it was pretty awesome, although I lost.

It was a short flight to Lima. Ian and I both had 8 hour waits until our flights out of Lima, so we both tried to check in on our respective flights out of Lima to save carting our bags around for hours.

My next flight from Lima to Los Angeles was with LAN – most of the rest of the flights on my itinerary were with American Airlines, but this was a “codeshare” flight which I’d never done before – a flight that was booked and paid for via American Airlines, but the actual flight was with LAN. I went to the LAN self checkins, which had no record of my booking at all which got me a bit nervous. A woman nearby told me that these checkins were for domestic flights only and sent me to the “bag drop” line at the main checkin.

After a while in the queue, I went up to the guy at the counter, who, after much fluffing around, told me that they have no flight to Los Angeles at that time. Yikes! Oh god I thought. He went and consulted separately with two of his colleagues then proceeded to type into the computer for 5 minutes. He then asked me “you’ve changed your flights, haven’t you” to which he got a very short, sharp “no I haven’t!”. I wasn’t feeling very good about this by this point. Anyway, after 5 minutes more of typing into the computer he did give me a boarding pass. “Is this by the window?” I asked, only to get a “no, it’s an aisle seat” followed by some evils and a new boarding pass by the window. Oh well, I didn’t mind, my bags were off my hands and I had a boarding pass.

Ian and Richard didn’t have as much luck on their flight to Auckland via Buenos Aires – Aerolineas Argentinas didn’t even have a desk open by that point so they had to pay 21 soles each (£5.25) to check their bag into left luggage for the rest of the day.

We exited the airport, ignoring all the official taxis and people saying “taxi taxi taxi” outside the airport. We walked outside the airport boundary to where the “dodgy” taxies were, I say dodgy taxies but then 90% of all taxis in Lima are dodgy and we used them all the time before. Only the official taxis are located inside the airport and they cost twice as much. So I bargained a 25 soles (£6.25) fare into central Lima to show Ian and Richard around the centre of the city. I’m not sure why, but the taxi driver took us through some really rough areas of Lima and I started to doubt where I’d asked him to take us!

Sometimes they have world cup games playing in the main plaza but there was none at that time. So we caught another taxi to the market Polvos Azules where I bought a fake football shirt and some other fake branded clothes. Then, we caught yet another taxi out to Miraflores where Ian had earlier seen a painting that he liked. We had dinner in Miraflores and then Ian and Richard bought paintings each, and I bought a massive 200cm x 160cm alpaca rug, which was so soft but is going to be a nightmare to carry home on the plane. By this time, it was only a few hours before our flights out so we got a taxi back to the airport.

Our time in Lima airport was uneventful, except for a security guard on a power trip – Richard hadn’t put his liquids in a plastic bag, and when they went through the scanner, the officers argued with him that they weren’t in a plastic bag and that he needs to buy one for $2USD. Eventually Richard did, and as soon as he paid his money and got his bag, the officers left him alone – didn’t recheck his liquids or anything – Richard was not happy.

I left Ian and Richard to their flight which boarded at 11:25pm and then went and sat by myself for another 40 minutes – my flight was at 5 minutes past midnight – so technically the next day. Oops, in that case, better close off this blog entry right here.