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Saturday 23 February 2019

Backpacking Part Five - The Pimp Palaces of LA, Tattoos, Going Blonde, Vegas and San Fransisco

My very dear Readers, we find ourselves at the end of our adventure. This is our last stop off. We so hope you have enjoyed living vicariously, or perhaps, precariously, through your Hapless Blogger’s adventures…

Here we board the plane again from Tahiti (definitely on the list to return to and I do regret not doing it justice), and head for LAX. This is most certainly the case now, but even then it was definitely the case, you must have somewhere booked to stay. They were very scary at the airport back then, so I can only imagine what they would be like now.

In fact, someone told us this in the queue for passport control! I distinctly remember flinging open the Lonely Planet and just writing down the name of the first youth hostel listed…this, dear Readers, was my error…However at the time it was necessary.

Off we went in an old taxi to said youth hostel located in the Venice Beach district (they were meant to pick us up from the airport but never turned up…alarm bells rang but I chose to ignore them)…LA was intriguing…I didn’t really know what to expect to be honest, and Readers, once more, I fell in love. The weather was fab, not boiling, more sort of nice, English Summer’s day with a tinge of sea mist in the air…it might have been the pollution, but let’s not think about that. On reaching said youth hostel, at the back of Venice Beach, I can, Readers, only describe it as a former pimp palace…There aren’t any other words applicable. Think red, shag pile carpets, Jacuzzis with no water in that didn’t work and a lot of people kind of hanging about. Not my scene. But to go back to the theme of this entire Blog, it’s about “Travel Trends”, and this is a facet of the travel trend of backpacking: one youth hostel can vary wildly from another. Some will be your scene, and some just won’t.

Now, remember, we had inhabited virtually uninhabited islands for many months now, where the pace of life is slow, and you spend your life kind of pottering. Now, having been thrown into LA, it was all rather exciting…and full of bikini shops! Hurrah! So on our first night at the Pimp Palace, we went to a nice looking bar on Venice Beach and got horrendously drunk. I mean horrendously. I don’t know about you, Readers, but your Idiotic Blogger has no tolerance for Tequila which has a large presence in the cocktail, Margarita… We drank with the locals who all thought our accents were so cute…

It took me the whole of the next day to stop throwing up. Thankfully there were plenty of MacDonalds around to frequent their loos… And we changed youth hostels to an interesting Art Deco affair in West Hollywood. West Hollywood, Readers, is code for “the dodgy end of Hollywood”. But I was determined to walk on the stars and all that malarkey. It’s all a bit dodgy, but that didn’t bother me, and I had a lovely time walking around. LA is very big, and everyone drives everywhere. The buses are a bit ropey, and you have to be careful where you go with them, even more so nowadays I would assume. We didn’t hire a car this time and this idiot decided she wanted to walk.

Having given up and taken the bus, we got to Beverly Hills. With hindsight, you’re best off to take one the billions of tours on offer. In a coach. With air conditioning. And a guide to tell you where you are and what you’re supposed to be looking at. I did not. And got very sore feet. Beverly Hills is fab, and exactly how you’d imagine it to be. Rodeo Drive also… bit like New Bond Street with palm trees. At the bottom is the Beverly Wilshire. Here’s a tip for you. By this time, your Helpless Blogger was desperate for the loo. The Beverly Wilshire clearly has loos. Never be put off or think you aren’t good enough to go into a place (see Princess and the posh resort on the Isle of Mana), so in I swanned, all backpacker boho (or so I thought, but the fact remains, Readers, that I retained some sort of Princess semblance for the whole time). Excellent loos, I might add, and out again.

Head to Santa Monica. The pier is great fun and the whole place has a laid back, beachy vibe. Gorgeous beach of course. Very big Spanish influence and definitely a place I could live.

We then moved to the Bevonshire Lodge Motel. I found it and it’s still in existence and it hasn’t changed! I can’t remember how I found it, but it was everything you’ve ever wanted in a very classic American motel. Interestingly, I didn’t have a car… but that didn’t matter. The rooms look pretty dated now, but to us, after extremely basic living for quite a long time, they were luxurious. Fluffy towels, a fridge in the room, and a nice bathroom with working facilities were wonderful. It even had one of those funny motel pools…It just so happened that it is in an amazing location! By a park and a block away from The Grove which hadn’t long opened. It’s a kind of open-air shopping centre with restaurants and back then, unbeknownst to yours truly, the place to see and be seen. At the time “The Simple Life” starring Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie was out and popular and The Grove is where they hung out…they were very sweet and it baffles me to this day why Americans continue to find our accents “cute”?! Honestly it was a recurring theme. I took it upon myself to dress a bit like them, all short skirts and pastel colours and then, guess what, dear Readers, your Hopeless Blogger decided to GET A TATTOO AND GO BLONDE…

I am a naturally very dark haired person, but having lost so much weight (a perk of travelling) I decided, as home time was creeping ever closer, to go home blonde with a tattoo… My companion wishing to have nothing to do with it (remember the topless toe incident in Rarotonga, do we see a pattern here?!) off I walked to Melrose. Fab area. I took myself to the same tattoo parlour where Britney had her fairy done (yup, must be good) and presented myself. Picture the scene. It was, erm, a few years ago, and it was very popular to have a tattoo on one’s lower back. So I had the guy design one especially for me, squatted over a stool, focused on the big Hollywood sign that I could see out of the window, and thought of England… I would love to make you laugh and tell you what a disaster it was, but it wasn’t, it was a beautiful tattoo and I am still proud of it to this day, and a great reminder of that moment in time. To get a bit philosophical for a minute, my lovely Readers, isn’t that what travelling’s all about? I didn’t take a photo, but I will remember that view, that parlour, and the moment in time forever. The very best memories come from travelling.

Back in the room, and we can agree that thankfully the tattoo was a success. The hair, on the other hand, dear Readers, wasn’t. Very dark people shouldn’t go blonde. I’ll just leave it there.

In Melrose was a branch of the Flight Centre, and it was here that we booked a very cheap little tour. LAX to Las Vegas, to San Francisco and back to LAX. If you book last minute over there OMG you can get Vegas hotels soooooo cheaply. We booked The Aladdin, which is now The Planet Hollywood for next to nothing. Off we went, with my companion keen to go and me, not having the slightest interest in gambling, not so keen. Readers, if you ever get a chance to go to Vegas you must absolutely go. It was brilliant. Much posher and less seedy than I had assumed. Everything back then was so cheap, but even now it’s good value.

The Aladdin was Arabian themed as you can imagine. The room was off the scale out of this world. Indoors, you are kept in this kind of perpetual twilight…it’s like it always feels like aperitif time…And you never have to go outside…You literally move from one casino complex to the next and there’s so much to do, I never even gambled. It’s basically a playground for adults: casinos if you want them, but shops galore, themed everything, and billions of bars and restaurants. Night clubs if you want, but really posh ones, not seedy ones. Of course, there is the seedy side, but you need to look for it.

Casinos of note were definitely the Paris, the Venetian and the Bellagio…the fountain show in front of the Bellagio is a sight to see. I won’t go on, but just go there. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough money to do the Grand Canyon tour, so it’s been added to my list. A bit of advanced planning wouldn’t have hurt me, but try telling me that at the time…So FYI make sure you budget, when you’re on such a long trip, for such opportunities.

Off to San Francisco we went – absolutely freezing compared to Vegas where it was so hot your eyeballs nearly pop out. Just an aside about tipping. In the UK, we are usually a bit sparing when it comes to tipping, as it’s only expected when you eat out, and even then, like 10% or so is acceptable. I soon learnt that in America, tipping for EVERYTHING is commonplace. However, when this is your last stop, and you are a backpacker on a budget, this can get you into their bad books. I had a rather heated argument with a bar tender in San Francisco, as he asked me for a tip for serving me a beer, whilst sat at the bar…I mean, pardon moi?! Thankfully, probably to get rid of me, he did give me a good tip (pardon the pun) of having a drink in the San Francisco Hilton. It’s a skyscraper with its bar on the top floor, and if you go there at sunset, you get the most wonderful, panoramic view of the city, the Golden Gate Bridge, Pier 39, Alcatraz, everything. Definitely go there!

Readers, at the risk of boring you, I also fell in love with San Francisco. What a city. Everything was even better than I expected. The Golden Gate Bridge was beautiful, and fascinating. Go to the museum. Little Italy really was little Italy.Little France, Chinatown, they were all just fabulous. Walk down to Pier 39 and eat clam chowder out of a sourdough loaf. Oooooh Readers it’s all just wonderful. Plus, weirdly, my ego was boosted as people kept asking if I was famous…I still, to this day, have no idea why!! I must have been impossible to live with, though!

We took the tour to Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. I’m not going to lie, on a lovely, sunny day, Alcatraz looks a little like a holiday camp, until you get up close. Then you are firmly put in your place.

If you’re feeling fit, walk up Nob Hill and back down the wiggly road…or take the tram. We walked, and by the time I got back I couldn’t feel my legs, they were just blobs of jelly! But it’s great fun.

Back to LA and back to our famous motel where I mooched for a bit longer, visiting various markets and areas of LA, until, dear Readers, it was time to come home.

I hope you’ve enjoyed backpacking with me. I’ve told you all my secrets...So whatever age you are, whatever period of your life you’re at, go. Not necessarily backpacking per se if that’s not your bag, but travelling. It changes you for the better, and gives you the very best memories you’ll ever have.

Thank you for coming with me!

Love from your Hapless Blogger.


Friday 15 February 2019

Backpacking Part Four - Fiji, the Cook Islands and Tahiti...topless...

So, dear Readers, we find ourselves back on a plane and headed to Fiji…after hurtling from one beautiful place to another in New Zealand, quelle drag, I decided in my infinite wisdom, that I needed to lie on a beach for a bit…

Off we went and landed in Nadi (pronounced, confusingly, Nandi) which is one of biggest towns on the main island, Vita Levu (the capital is actually Suva, but there are two airports). Now, dear Readers, what comes to your mind when you think of Fiji? White sand? Palm trees? Azure water? Cute stalls and markets? A gentle breeze? Paradise? Well, I am here to tell you that that IS NOT THE CASE!!! Nadi is a toilet of a place. It’s vile. We had booked ahead to a youth hostel and do you know the first thing they said to your Bemused Blogger? Get the hell out of Nadi and the main island and get to a smaller island. Funnily enough (sigh) they just happened to know where we should go and funnily enough had a boat to get us there. Incidentally, whilst at said toilet of a youth hostel, your Hapless Blogger was bitten by a spider…I think…but I woke up with one thigh double the size of the other...

Something else which isn’t in the brochures is the poverty: it’s incredible. There is a large Indian population in Nadi, and the poverty we saw was terrible. I don’t want to go into it, to be honest. It was shocking.

Mana Island. Half youth hostel and, not poverty, but still quite basic living, and half glamourous resort…N’ere the twain shall meet…until Princess here arrived…The backpacking side, being amalgamated with the poor, unsuspecting locals, was extremely basic, but it was wonderful at the same time, because it was predominately the locals who ran it. Fijian cooking is interesting, and a lot is cooked in or on a dug-out pit called a “lovo”. Funnily enough for a small island, we didn’t eat much fish which was a bit weird. Plenty of chicken and a plethora of cassava. Cassava is a root as such, and used instead of potato or sweet potato…It is completely tasteless and quite stodgy (which was presumably why they gave it to us) but if you’d had enough Kava, you didn’t really notice…

Kava deserves a whole new paragraph. It is an indigenous root which is ground into powder, then mixed with water in a bowl, to resemble and taste like old bathwater. It comes with a great ceremony and everyone drinks out of this bowl. It’s effect, however dear Readers, is something else. Quite extraordinary. I guess it’s similar to weed, but your entire mouth goes numb. Probably so that you can eat the cassava quite happily…but you don’t really care…

Another thing which happened whilst I was there was on my Birthday: I woke up on my Birthday morning to find that one of the locals had stolen all my bikini tops. All of them. Funnily enough, there are no shops on Mana…let alone bikini shops. Fortunately, your Hapless Blogger was quite happy to go topless in those days, so the crisis wasn’t as important to me then as it would be now…So topless sunbathing was the order of the day. Although if you’re planning a trip to Mana, I would warn you, that although the beaches are totally iydyllic, the main one has an airstrip behind it. Nodding off (probably after too much Kava and cassava) one day, I was rudely awoken by what looked like to me, a small aeroplane attempting to actually land on my head. Nope, just the landing strip which started approx. 10 METRES AWAY FROM ME!! Just FYI be careful.

Staying on the same day: Princess’ birthday, your Princess Blogger decided she deserved a cocktail at the beautiful bar of the posh resort we shared the island with. Having fashioned a half decent bikini top from a sarong, I strutted through the resort and plonked myself down at the bar. Although I wasn’t your typical “backpacker” my companion clearly was. They refused. I threw such a hissy fit, that eventually they relented and convinced me to take my cocktail in a PLASTIC CUP (quelle horreur but clearly they thought for their own safety) down to the beach, where, in protest, I proceeded to sunbathe topless, which in my own head I thought would piss them off, but in reality probably just caused more enjoyment and hilarity…

I have to tell you though, dear Readers, the ocean in Fiji will remain in my memory forever. It was exactly how it looks in the brochures. I’ll never forget I had a small diamond in a ring I was wearing, and in the water, the fish were attracted to it, and suddenly it was like swimming in a tropical fish tank, there are no words to describe it. That’s the sort of experience you go travelling for.

Clearly, Mana wasn’t really for me, having suffered a sustained attack by the local mosquito population, your Indignant Blogger managed to get to 213 mosquito bites, so we moved back to the main island, but this time to a youth hostel further along towards a place called Pacific Harbour. Fortunately this was sturdy as the weather closed in and it threw it down for days on end. To be quite honest, I just wanted to get out. Our next stop was the Cook Islands, and according to all the guides, it was the place to go. So, and this goes back to the first Blog post about backpacking, we were able to change our ticket and cut short our time in Fiji in favour of the Cook Islands.

Readers, please take it from me, that this was the best decision of my life!

The Cook Islands are, literally, paradise.

I fell in love. If you ever get the chance to have an adventure in the South Pacific, then visit this beautiful place. I could almost cry now, it was so amazing. Honestly Rarotonga is everything you ever wanted in a paradise island. As opposed to Fiji, the Cook Islands are actually owned by New Zealand, and it shows. The native is king, and everyone seemed so, so happy to live there. They lived simply, but certainly not in poverty.

Visually, it is lush and green, having mountains and national parks in its centre. Although one could say that Fiji could beat it in terms of beaches, and yes, it probably could, but it’s not to say that the beaches are not still phenomenal.

Your Intrepid Blogger decided to hire a car in order to explore the Island, and decide where she wanted to stay. Now, this had become a theme, because although you tended to have to have somewhere booked, thanks to my experience in Fiji, if you are car-less, then you have a difficult time getting to the place where you should perhaps be. So scarred from my Fijian spider-biting mosquito ridden nightmare was I, that even though Rarotonga is only 20 miles in circumference, I decided I would be safer to hire a car to get my bearings.

In the Cook Islands you have to buy your driving license, because back then your UK driving license wasn’t valid. Now, the law in the Cook Islands has since changed, and in fact, you only need to purchase one if you are intending on hiring a moped or motorbike and you don’t have a motorbike license in the UK. It no longer applies to cars. But guess what, it cost next to nothing, and I still have it as a souvenir.

Another fun fact: in the Cook Islands, there are no drink driving laws. You can get drunk as a skunk and drive home if you wish…being only 20 miles in circumference, let’s face it, it wouldn’t be far…

Car duly hired, we made it to the hostel which was a series of little individual huts. Really nice, actually. Then, being young and idiotic, I decided to test out the drunk driving by spending the evening at Trader Jacks on the cocktails, then driving home. I did the best parking of my life…I just don’t remember it…sigh…

The good thing, as I mentioned, about having a car is that you can go and find the best place for you. This, dear Readers, I certainly did. Having no internet, and no AirBnB or such like, we had to again rely on basically driving round until we happened upon something interesting looking. Having done my research today, there are loads more places along the same coastline of the same ilk, but at the time, this was the only one: t’s now called Cooks Bay Villas https://www.cooksbayvillas.com/beachfront if you wanted to have a look. They’ve been upgraded, clearly, since I was there, but the essence is the same: two palm trees, hammock in between. Paradise. And at that stage, very, very cheap. Readers, so cheap (and bearing in mind I had cut Fiji short so I had more time in the Cook Islands) I stayed there for 2 months. Just me, my companion, some good books, the hammock and the ocean…and still no bikini tops…

Having only hired the car for 2 days, and the location of the villas being on the other side of the Island to the main shops etc, my companion decided that we needed to hire bicycles. Now, Readers, I have never pretended to be any good on two wheels. To my parents’ utter dismay, it took me until I was 10 years old to learn to ride a bike…So as you can imagine, it WAS NOT like riding a bike, and I got on then promptly fell off. That was just the start. In the UK, one usually has a sort of bike-riding exam in the last year or so of junior or prep school where one learns such skills as taking one hand off the handle bars to indicate to other road users perhaps one’s desire to turn left for example. Yours Truly was so terrible at riding a bike in the first place, that they didn’t bother with her. So thus, when it came to riding the 12 miles or so from the bike hire place back to the villa, it didn’t go well. A fly flew into my face and as I couldn’t take my hands off the handlebars to get it off, it had to stay there until I reached my destination…

Not enjoying the bike-riding, basically because I am intrinsically lazy, your Idiotic Blogger decided, in yet more infinite wisdom, to hire a moped. At this point, her companion told her to do it herself…so off she popped on the bus, all full of bravado. I must have gone to the only place on Rarotonga where the proprietor didn’t have a grasp of the English language, which was very strange. Rather than being a native, he was an Indian gentleman from Fiji…WHY DIDN’T ALARM BELLS RING? Well, they clearly didn’t. He took my money, and gave me the moped. Now, an important point to remember at this juncture, dear Readers, is that your Hapless Blogger is no good on two wheels. Quite why I assumed I could just jump on it and ride it, I have no idea. Another thing to picture, is that there is only one main road on Rarotonga, which runs round the island, and turning out of said rental place, this was the only teeny tiny piece of dual carriageway…So, you can imagine what’s coming next: having had the man start the machine of doom, I managed to get out onto the road and into the path of an oncoming lorry. Having swerved, I narrowly missed death, and kind of put my foot on the road trying to steady myself, breaking my toe in the process. With blood spurting everywhere I carried on my sorry journey to my destination, not at all understanding that one had to lean to go round corners rather than steer.

I was very distressed, and the amount of blood spurting out of my toe was substantial. I thought that all the looks and hooting of the cars coming the other way, and even pointing at one stage was due to the fact that they could all see how distressed I clearly was and the trail of blood from my toe.

No, Readers, it was not.

It was very warm in the Cook Islands, and bearing in mind I had no bikini tops, I had just put on my boob tube style top and a nice, floaty skirt (very “Traveller Chic”). In my angst of the near-death experience and breaking my toe, I had inadvertently pulled down my boob tube. Resulting, my dear Readers, in riding round half of Rarotonga, topless. So the pointing and honking had nothing to do with my angst, and all to do with the fact that I had just limped 12 miles with my bangers out!!!! Someone, indeed took a photo, and yes, I ended up, thankfully not on the front page, but in the Cook Islands News…”Tourist Rides Topless Around Island”…

Upon reaching my destination, and clearly still not realising what had happened, I screamed for my companion to get me off this dreadful contraption because I couldn’t stop and my toe was broken…but there was no response…he was on the floor, weeping with laughter…Suffice to say, I have never been on anything with two wheels since.

What can I say…you couldn’t make it up…

On a completely different note, whilst staying in my paradise, and nursing my poorly toe, I learnt to climb a palm tree…not in practice, obviously, I think we have discovered that that would be a complete nightmare, but in theory. Then I learnt to split the coconuts open (as a spectator) and make smoothies with the coconut flesh and milk (I managed that). I was also taught how to make the local dish of cerviche…I will never forget it…some locals came round with it one night, and we ate it in the beach, it was one of the best nights of my life. 

The food, the hospitality, the ocean, the beaches, the simple life, the chilled vibe…honestly, Readers, young or old or in-between, go to the Cook Islands, although they are the other side of the world, they beat any “Paradise Destination” I have been to since: Colony Club in Barbados? Nothing on the Cook Islands, and about 50 times the price.

Having been in the bubble of paradise for so long, it was time to go. I’m not going to lie, I extended our time there, so we didn’t actually have any time in Tahiti really, and everyone we spoke to said Tahiti, for a backpacker, was really expensive. Bearing in mind our idyl, we paid a fleeting visit to Tahiti, and headed straight for Los Angeles.

So brace yourselves for pimp palaces in Venice Beach and drinking with heiresses in Melrose…


Tuesday 12 February 2019

Travel Tips for the uninitiated

Dear Readers, today we thought we’d talk about a few little tips whilst travelling. 
Some, perhaps, obvious.  Others, less so.

Tips when travelling abroad

Travelling abroad is exciting, especially if you are going on a holiday or heading to a favourite holiday destination.  A change of environment is always refreshing, but whatever your reason for travelling abroad and wherever you may be going, meticulous planning and attention to detail are essential ingredients for a successful travel abroad.

Occasionally we get caught up in the excitement of getting away from our daily routines, and sometimes we are completely oblivious of the existence of holiday etiquette.  Getting to know the specific do's and don'ts when travelling abroad from the UK goes a long way to making the trip a memorable and hitch-free one.

The Dos 

Do ensure that your passport is valid for at least six months after the date you plan to travel and that you have met the entry requirements (if any) for the country you will be visiting.  For example, prior authorisation is required to enter the United States if you are travelling on a British passport.  This may be in the form of the Visa Waiver Programme or an entry visa.

Other restrictions may apply, depending on your criminal history and the countries you have recently visited. Be aware that you should not travel to Europe or anywhere else without a passport as they will not let you get on the plane/train/ferry.

Do engage the services of licensed and insured operators if you plan to take part in any adventure sports and ensure that adequate safety instructions are in place.  Ensure that you understand the operating instructions fully before engaging in the sporting activity.  Do obtain travel insurance for any adventure sports or any extreme sports activity you plan to engage in before you leave the UK.

Be aware that the legal status and the regulations concerning certain prescription medicines may be different in other countries than in the UK.  Do carry sufficient supplies of prescription medicines you are taking for the duration of your visit but do not take large quantities without checking with the embassy or consulate of the country or territory you are visiting if it is okay to do so.

Do obtain country-specific health advice on the territory you are visiting from the NHS website and ensure that you contact your GP or pharmacy for advice on managing any pre-existing medical conditions and how to obtain the necessary vaccinations.

If you stay in a hotel or guest house at your destination, do ensure that your doors and windows are securely locked when you are going out and before you go to bed at night.  Most hotels now provide safe deposit facilities.  Do lock up valuables you are not taking with you in the hotel's safe deposit box before you leave the hotel for your outing.  It is also advisable to obtain travel insurance which covers loss or damage to personal items before you leave the UK.

If you are going sightseeing, travel in the company of others if this is at all possible. Most tourist destinations now offer the services of vetted guides to tourists at a reasonable cost.  Do turn up promptly for your excursions and organised trips as it is impolite on other holiday makers and it could be eating into their holiday time.

Be mindful of your environment, if you begin to feel uncomfortable about a situation, simply apologise and take your leave.  Criminals often utilise the art of staged distraction that enables an accomplice make away with their victim's valuables while the victim is momentarily distracted.  Do be alert to strangers who distract you by spilling a drink on you or creating a scene or loud commotion just to distract you.

Do use cash substitutes like credit cards as much as possible instead of cash payments when you are out shopping.  Make a note of your credit card details and the phone number to call if your card gets lost or stolen. 

If you plan to drive while you are abroad, do ensure that your UK driver’s licence is current and valid for use in the territory you will be visiting.  Be aware that driving laws and convention vary from country to country.  Do check the minimum age for driving in the country you are visiting this may vary from what obtains in the UK.

A UK driving licence is valid for driving within the EU but if you plan to drive in a country outside the EU you will require an International Driving Permit (IDP). Motorists drive on the left in the UK, but some countries drive on the right side of the road.  Ensure that you park in well-lit areas and keep your valuables locked away in the boot of your parked car.  While on the road, don't offer lift to hitchhikers or total strangers.  Keep your vehicle doors locked and windows up when in the traffic.

The Don'ts 

Travelling to an unfamiliar destination comes with its own risks.  Tourists and visitors are often targeted by criminals.  Don't dress in a manner that can easily give you out as a tourist.  Blend with the community as soon as you arrive at your destination.  Consulting a map in public or appearing lost is an easy give away that you are unfamiliar with the environment.

Don't engage in other acts that might make you vulnerable.  An open display of valuables such as iPhones, digital cameras or exposing large sums of money in public places can encourage thieves.  Cash should be kept in a secure wallet or a small bag which you can carry with you at all times.  Don't walk in dimly lit alleys or isolated locations especially after it is dark.  Don't carry a bag containing valuables loosely slung over your shoulder as a thief on a bike can easily snatch the bag and make away with it.

Cultural differences exist between any two countries.  Even between the UK and the other countries in Europe, differences exist between their cultures and social etiquette.  It is incredibly easy to upset people whose culture may be different from yours by engaging in everyday things you take for granted in the UK.

For example, finger pointing might make people in some cultural environments uncomfortable because it is seen as rude.  It is seen as invasive to take photographs of others without checking if it is okay to do so.  Don't take photographs or make video recordings of locals without asking their permission.

Similarly, be aware that photographs near military installations, nuclear sites and such other sensitive locations may be misinterpreted and could be regarded by local authorities as breaking the law. 

Don't ignore or disrespect the culture of the people in the community you are visiting.  Tipping etiquette varies from one country to another.  It is more traditional in some countries than it is in the UK and it is seen as an insult in some cultures.  Learn about the tipping etiquette for the country you would be visiting before you head out.  You can also search for these information online or find out from the locals in a polite and friendly manner.

Do not take the locals for granted.  Don’t blare out music from your hotel room or near your hotel swimming pool while you are relaxing by the pool.  The local menu is an integral part of the people's culture.  Don't complain about the local foods or delicacies if they don't agree with your taste.  Don’t be greedy with your helpings when you attend all-you-can-eat buffets.  Have consideration for others.

Don’t engage in a religious argument with the locals.  It is advisable to avoid conversations about religion because it is a sensitive issue in most communities.

One might argue that people don’t respect those sort of guidelines in this country, and that is indeed a sore political point with most.  But we need to set a good example, or try to, once abroad, even if our football hooligans and stag/hen parties don’t! 


Saturday 9 February 2019

Backpacking, Part 3 - New Zealand, The Most Beautiful Place in the World

We arrive, dear Readers, in New Zealand.  Now, as this is a personal account and blog, your hapless Blogger is giving it to you straight.  No hearts and flowers here…It’s confession time.  I’m sorry, but Australia just didn’t gel with me.  Perhaps it was because I “only” drove the East Coast, perhaps it was that most of my relatives live there.  I don’t know.  All I do know, however, is that I am extraordinarily glad that I did Oz before NZ.  Now, I’m going to stick my neck EVEN FURTHER than it already is, and say, from my own experience, please do North Island before you do South Island.

I did it the other way round, and this blog is all about giving you advice, especially from real experience.  So please, if you haven’t already been to NZ, please take mine:  do North Island first.  Get ready to be blown away.  Then do South Island, and get ready to be blown off the chart.

To get on with the story, we landed in Christchurch (before the earthquake so I think it looks a little different now), and stayed in a youth hostel.  It tended to be a requirement back then and I think now it is definitely the case that you need to have at least one night already booked somewhere before you go…it’s hard to remember, but I distinctly remember in the US that was the case.  Anyway, all was fine and Christchurch was beautiful.  Just beautiful.  Cold compared to Sydney.  So be warned.  It was also strange, because I went away in January, so by the time I got to NZ it was March/April time.  In the UK we would expect to see blossom arriving on the trees etc, but of course, the Seasons being round the other way in the Southern Hemisphere, the leaves on the trees were turning!  So weird!!  And, as another aside, it's true about the water flowing in the opposite direction down the plughole!

Having learnt from the whole “Arsehole Fiasco” I decided in my infinite wisdom to hire a car.  It was a teeny tiny little automatic, but it was the best possible thing we could have done.  No big campervan fees, but the freedom to stop in a youth hostel, motel or hotel as I pleased.  I can’t remember, dear Readers, if this car had a name, but she was a great little thing.  We shot out to Akaroa, and so to Timaru, then Dunedin, hitting Bluff for their famous Oyster Festival.  If you’re in that area, stay in Riverton…

Readers, I have no words to describe how beautiful it was.  Round every single turn there was an ever more beautiful view.  The air was fresher than I had ever breathed.  There were few people, and those you meet, they’re so friendly and so willing to talk to you about their Island.  One of the best photos (sorry, it’s an old-school photo which I haven’t scanned onto any device so I can’t show it to you) I have ever taken was from Riverton, looking South towards the Gateway to the Antarctic where Bluff is situated.

From there we went up, round the Island to Milford Sound.  Again, Google it, I can’t describe it, it’s too beautiful.  From there we retraced our steps to Queensland.  Home of the Bungee jump.  And no, I didn’t do the double bungee from one side to the other.  The approach to Queenstown along Lake Wakatipu is breath-taking.  And Queenstown itself is like Backpacker Central.  We checked into a hostel there (and watch out, because it can get extremely booked up) where my male companion was mistaken for a female…he soon had a haircut!  Queenstown is dedicated to extreme sports.  I just loved it, and enjoyed being hurtled round Lake Wakatipu on a jet-boat.  There are a million things to do, and lots of cool young things to hang out with.  On leaving Queenstown, I headed North to Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier.  I will never, ever forget driving right through a double rainbow.

Interestingly enough, because of the high standard, I did actually stay mainly in youth hostels in New Zealand.  Everything was always spotlessly clean, and it seemed that the owners really took pride in them.  So I can absolutely recommend heading for youth hostels in South Island.

One thing you have to beware of, especially when you park in the carparks of Te Anau and Milford Sound are the Kiwi birds.  An angry Kiwi will puncture your tyres with its bill, no problem!

Basically, you cannot go wrong wherever you go in South Island.  It’s all so damn beautiful, you’ll never want to leave.  Honestly, with my hand on my heart, I would have stayed there forever.

This is where it goes slightly wonky…It was time to depart for Auckland.  On landing in Auckland (I can’t remember why we flew, as we could easily have taken the ferry from Blenheim to Wellington) we stayed a few days.  Out of the whole of NZ, I would say, at that stage at least, Auckland was the least backpacker-friendly place.  It’s a bustling city, and perhaps it’s improved by now.  Your intrepid Blogger took the ferry to Waiheke Island.  My relatives were living there at the time.  Now, this is a bit aside from the Travel Trends story, but thanks to my experiences with relatives in Oz and NZ, don’t stay with them (in fact, we haven’t heard from the Australian ones since…).  Certainly for not more than a week.  But the problem is, when you’re a young backpacker on a budget, it’s a welcome reprieve.   Also, because you’ve come all the way from good old Blighty, they want you to stay with them forever…My relatives on Waiheke were building the most enormous house, and consequently staying a very small one.  Which was fine…And they were very welcoming and kind.  Smoked a lot of weed.  Which was fine…Weed features a lot in NZ…But I warn you now, it’s not easy.  Also, it’s very normal in NZ to go without shoes…which is fine…but their feet (my relatives, obviously not all Kiwis) were sooooooo dirty! 

A highlight was going Red Snapper fishing which was amazing…and I thoroughly recommend visiting Waiheke…my relatives are no longer there.  I would tell you what happened to them, but you wouldn’t believe me…

They sent us off with an enormous bag of weed, which I had no idea about, as your hapless Blogger was extremely innocent in those days, but her companion seemed to get through it…Anyway, back on North Island and another cheap hire car, go to the Bay of Islands.  I will never forget seeing Whales for the first time.  Just right out in the ocean.  North of the Bay of Islands is 90 Mile Beach, which isn’t.  But anyway, be a bit careful when you get to the top as the locals don’t like tourists driving through their land…even if it’s a main road…and DON’T ASK THEM what they’re growing.

Now, having said that North Island isn’t as beautiful as South Island, does not mean that it is not beautiful.  It is.  It’s stunning.  There are some amazing places.  Your Blogger got very, very drunk in Taupo (you have to go there, Lake Taupo is so beautiful) then in her infinite wisdom, drove to Rotorua.  Rotorua is famous for its water and it’s SULPHUR.  If you feel sick and hungover, DO NOT go to Rotorua.  However, it is beautiful (of course) and we visited a traditional Mauri village.  Here we were taught how they cooked over the hot springs and most interestingly gave a real performance of the Haka…I will never forget, until the end of my days, how the men of the village likened the Kiwi Rugby team’s Haka to a bunch of girls doing aerobics!!!

The food in NZ is amazing as there are so many different influences.  Not being squeamish (see sea cucumbers in Singapore), I tried everything I could.  Smoothies were a big thing over there, before they were popular here.  And everyone’s really healthy, as the lifestyle is outdoor.  There’s a lot of lamb, of course, but there’s a huge Asian influence.  Their fish and seafood is amazing.  It was also the first place I ever tried sweet potato fries, although now they’re mainstream, it was most unusual back then.

Their accent is so funny:  fush and chops anyone?!  Also, I had a small disagreement with a native as I couldn’t understand what he was talking about:  “tin pigs” turned out to be “tent pegs” but there you go…

Now, dear Readers, it is time for us to depart NZ’s fair shores.  “Travel weary” is a thing.  And a lot of the time, at the time, you don’t appreciate a place, and its people as much as you should.  In the years since my visit I wish I had stayed longer than the 4 months I was there, but hindsight’s a great thing.

So, get your bikinis out, it’s time to go to Fiji!


Thursday 7 February 2019

And now for something completely different...

Words That Have Different Meanings in American and British English

Dear Readers,

Taking a break from all this strenuous backpacking and traveling, we thought we do something completely different. Although we all “officially” speak the same language, we clearly don’t. There are huge, and often hilarious differences. We thought the cunning linguists among you might enjoy some highlights:


British people use the work anorak as slang to describe someone who has a very strong interest in a thing or topic that is unacknowledged or considered boring by the general public. The term is used synonymously with nerd or geek. Americans use the word anorak to refer to a type of coat with a hood, often lined with fur…although we do too, it can be rather confusing….


British people use the term banger to refer to a sausage, as in “bangers and mash,” a small, noisy firework or a car that is old, damaged and in a barely functional state. Americans use the word banger, as do we, to describe a club-friendly song or beat.


In Britain, a bird is a girl or a young female, similar to the way young females are referred to as “chicks” in America. However, some Britons consider the term derogatory as it is sometimes used as slang to refer to a woman who is attractive but a bit of an air-brain ergo the name “Dolly Bird”. In America, a bird is an animal with feathers and tweets.


In Britain, a biscuit is a delicious, thin, hard baked treat you’d dunk in a cup of tea – what’s known as a cookie in the US. In America, a biscuit is a type of quick bread served with savory foods. It’s similar to a scone or barm in the UK. This confuses the hell out of us Brits in an American restaurant as often they have food served with a savory scone or biscuit which makes absolutely no sense to us whatsoever!


Britons use the word bog to refer to a toilet. Americans use the term bog to refer to a wet, marshy area of land, also known as a swamp.


If an American tells you, they are putting on their boots to go shopping, you may look at them quizzically. But don’t be alarmed. While boots refer to the trunk of a car in Britain, the term is a type of footwear in America.


Braces are the US equivalent of suspenders - over-the-shoulder straps that support trousers.  In the US, braces are used in orthodontics to align and straighten teeth.  In the UK of course, we have a totally different notion of suspenders than our American cousins, who are of course, innocently holding up their trousers, whilst our suspenders hold up our stockings…


You can refer to your male friends as chaps; just like you’d call them “guys”. In the US, chaps are leather leggings worn by cowboys or motorcyclists as a form of leg protection.


Chips are the American equivalent of French fries.


In the UK, a coach is a bus with comfortable seats, usually used to take people on long journeys.  It also means an old-fashioned four-wheeled horse-drawn carriage, now used mainly in official or royal ceremonies.  The word coach is also used to refer to a private tutor who prepares pupils for examinations.  In America, a coach is someone who manages a sports team.  It's also used to refer to the lowest travel class on a passenger aircraft (what we call the economy class in the UK).


You’d call them potato chips in America.  In Britain they are fried or baked potato slices with salt, sometimes with flavour.  In the UK , crisps can be a bag of Cheetos, a handful of Doritos or a packet of Lays, among other things.


When an American uses the word dummy in a conversation, they probably mean a stupid person and not a rubber treat for babies as we use it in Britain (known as a pacifier in US English). 

Fanny Pack

Now, a Brit would pass out at this reference, but in British English, this means “Bum Bag” which was we all know is a small bag which we wear around our waists to keep our possessions close to us especially whilst travelling.“Fanny” to a Brit is a moderate term for female reproductive organs. It can also be used as slang, mainly directed at men, instead of “wuss” or “coward”.


In the UK, a flat is a set of rooms for living in, like an apartment in the US.  It has nothing to do with having a level surface.


Flannel is a cloth for washing the face or body; Americans call it a washcloth. In America, flannel is a soft fabric/material used to manufacture warm winter night clothes and sheets.


We’re talking about the sport that made David Beckham famous. The one where players kick a spherical ball with their feet to score a goal. The game is referred to as soccer in American English. In the US, football is a game played with an oval-shaped ball which is moved forward by running or passing. The game looks a lot like Rugby.


In both American and British English, geezer is slang for a man. However, in the US, the term typically refers to an elderly person. In the UK, it is slang for a regular man, and is often used the same way Americans refer to young guys as “‘dudes.”


British gravy is made from meat stock, is always brown and is commonly served with roasts, rice, and mashed potatoes. In the United States, the term gravy is used to refer to a wide variety of sauces, and it is perfectly acceptable for it to be pale in colour, which would drive a Brit insane!


The British hamper is a wicker basket used to transport items, often food. Americans use the word hamper to refer to a household receptacle for clean or dirty clothing, regardless of its composition.


When an American refers to a jumper in a conversation, there’s a good chance he/she isn’t talking about a knitted pullover you’d wear on when it’s cold outside (known as a sweater in America). In the US, a jumper is a sleeveless dress worn over a top, blouse or T-shirt – what we call a pinafore dress in the UK. It can also refer to a person who’s attempting to jump from a height.


To get to the top floor of the Shard in London, you’d hop in the lift. But in America, to get to the top of a skyscraper, you’d take the elevator.


Never ask a Briton about their pants. You’ll get a very funny look or even a slap in the face. Pants in Britain mean underwear and not trousers as it means in America.


Peckish in American English means irritable or angry. In British English, the word means to be slightly hungry.

If an American tells you they are pissed, they’re not drunk. They are very angry or annoyed.  In the UK, when we’re drunk, we tend to be pissed!

In the UK, a rubber is a pencil eraser. In the US, the term refers to a condom or waterproof boots; the equivalent of wellington boots or wellies in the UK. 

Shag is British slang for having sexual intercourse. It’s often used by people who think the term “fuck” is too coarse and the term “making love” is too innocent. Americans use the word shag to refer to a rug or carpet that has a long, rough pile.


If an American starts talking to you about their trainers, they’re not discussing their padded sports shoes or a pair of “pumps.” They’re talking about their fitness experts who help them work out.

A trolley is what Brits use when they’re wandering the aisles of their grocery store, otherwise known as a shopping cart in America. An American trolley, also known as an electric streetcar, is a public transportation network (most famous in San Francisco).

A vest is the US equivalent of an undershirt or a beater. It’s the sleeveless garment you wear under a shirt. In America, a vest is a sleeveless garment worn over a shirt (the UK equivalent of a waistcoat). An example of an American vest is the ballistic vest.

There you go!  Any more suggestions, feel free to comment!


Friday 1 February 2019

Backpacking Part Deux - Australia via Singapore, Honk If You're Wicked

So, dear Readers, we find ourselves in Australia. Picture the scene: your hapless backpacking blogger has managed to get her backpack on again without falling backwards, and has headed to Heathrow. After many hours (I think Cattle Class has actually improved by now, but I hadn’t prepared myself for just how long it takes…although as an aside, travelling on your own or with another adult for 13 hours is INFINITIELY easier than travelling with a toddler for 2 hours) I land in Singapore.

No one prepared me for the wall of sheer heat and humidity that would hit me as I disembarked, so bare that in mind. I had pre-booked a cheap hotel which was absolutely lovely and if you do go “via” somewhere, make it Singapore. I completely stumbled across Clarke Quay which was next to the hotel, and it was beautiful: full of vibrant stalls and street food – sea cucumber, anyone? Beware, can be poisonous and looks a bit like a poo, but a real delicacy. Being a Princess, I had to visit Raffles and have a Singapore Sling…Can I be really honest here? Ever so slightly disappointing…

On to Oz…now I’m not going to bang on too much about places, as this blog is about travel trends rather than a narrative on various destinations. On arriving in Melbourne, and spending time with family, your esteemed blogger made her way to Cairns. This is where the story starts: Cairns. A place from which you can take numerous tours to see the Great Barrier Reef. Cairns is also very hot and very, very tropical. It rained. A lot. So much so that it was too rainy and too stormy to actually see the Great Barrier Reef. So there.

Cairns is also full of Aborigines. This is an interesting topic, and a rather sad one. In New Zealand, I found the Maoris integrated, revered and their history lovingly kept alive. In Australia, for the Aborigines, quite the opposite. They were in little drunken huddles in the streets. It was so sad.

So deciding to leave Cairns and tour down the East Coast with Sydney being the eventual destination, I had to think about how to get there. You’ll love this. Not wanting to go with the general backpacking crowd, who were all embarking the “Oz Experience” coaches, your hapless blogger decided to go renegade and hire a campervan to drive the East Coast herself. Now, remember I did mention in the last article that I DO NOT CAMP. Bear this in mind.

Unfortunately, being at that stage under the age of 25, I was not old enough to hire a nice campervan. Now, being extremely old, should I ever be crazy enough to do it again, and all those of more advanced years embarking on such a trip, ABSOUTELY hire a campervan, you will have the time of your life! But remember, hire one with a nice place to sleep, and most importantly, AIR CONDITIONING.

So, dear readers, I, obviously, did not have these luxuries. The only campervan company available to me was https://www.wickedcampers.com.au/ they had just opened and were cheap and happy to rent their campervans to younger people. Suffice to say, by the time I collected the van (a converted, elderly Toyota Hiace) from the shed they had in Cairns, and driven it North (confusingly but I wanted to see some rainforest), I had named it. Arsehole. Mainly as it resembled its namesake. I stopped at my first ever campsite in a Godforsaken and very hot place called Palm Cove (sounds lovely, wasn’t really). Arsehole was duly parked and set up for the night. Arsehole was not only infested with BED BUGS but it was so hot, and there was no air conditioning, and don’t forget the volume of mosquitos up there in the tropical parts of Australia, that you had to keep the mosquito nets on the windows shut, blocking out any kind of breeze. Whilst the campervan in the pitch next door had their air conditioning unit running all night to assist you in the lack of sleep. It was the first and last time I ever camped.

Arsehole and her passengers made it to Airlie Beach, where she duly expired, marooning them for weeks on a dingy caravan park (it was preferable to the youth hostels)…once she was fixed, we bumbled along the coast. Now, I hadn’t realised until I was there, that swimming in the sea on the East Coast isn’t as pleasant as it sounds. Depending on where you are, you can only swim where there are shark/jellyfish/saline crocodile nets. Ever so slightly off-putting for the average traaveler. Apparently you “tend” to be fine, South of Brisbane…but it kind of puts you off taking the chance. I was always rather concerned swimming in these so-called “safe” areas or netted areas because the last time I looked, sharks and crocodiles have teeth. It’s part of their USP. So could they not chew through the nets? Or, let’s face it, Crocky could just pop round via the shore…

Noosa, and Noosa Heads definitely worth a visit, and I carried on to Brisbane, where, on finding the “Wicked” garage, I dumped Arsehole. In fact, dear readers, I rejected her. I was given a new one. Van, obviously, not arsehole. And on we went. Brisbane is lovely and I was lucky enough to go to Steve Irwin’s Zoo whilst he was actually there. Very cool.

As I was departing Brisbane in the new van, people kept honking their horns at me. I started to panic: had I not shut the back door properly? Were my pants falling out onto the road? So I stopped the van and went round the back to have a look. Now, if you have a quick look at the link I put in earlier for “Wicked Campervans”, although at the time I had no choice, they are, erm, spray-painted with erm, interesting artwork. Arsehole was so old and bashed up that you couldn’t actually see what her artwork was, but the new van had a fresh paintjob, and clearly spray-painted on the back of the van was “Honk if you’re Wicked”. So ALL THE WAY from Brisbane to Sydney, I was honked.

As an aside, if you are going to hire one of these monstrosities, it’s worth noting that not all campsites accept “Wicked” campervans. As you’ll see from the website, some of them are very, very rude.

Another note: I couldn’t recommend you had your own set of wheels more. If you get the coach tours, of which there are many, you are totally beholden to the youth hostels. And despite their names and reputations, are often not the cheapest option. Having your own set of wheels, even if they are Arseholes, gives you the choice. From my own experience, motels tend not only to be cheaper, but infinitely nicer. Obviously I had a companion, so if you’re on your own, maybe not. However cheap hotels and motels should not be overlooked.

Now, I am not going to list all the places I visited or tell you where to go, but if you do find yourselves in this area, then I would send you to, on nearing Sydney, the Blue Mountains National Park. Katoomba is the place you want to head for to stay, and it is undoubtedly beautiful. Sydney is definitely worth a visit, and I ended up staying, having said goodbye to Honk if You’re Wicked, finally, in the red light district. Not on purpose, obviously, but it was good fun. Sydney was without doubt my favourite place in Australia that I visited. I realise I only drove the East Coast, but that was quite a feat and, after purchasing some Ugg boots (before they were popular – yes, I am that old), I was more than ready to depart for New Zealand.

What can we take from travel trends in Australia? Hire a campervan that you can actually camp in; or a Wicked one, if you want a laugh. The locals will torture you with stories of snakes and spiders…the only wildlife I came into contact with was a frog in the loo…; they have great anit-drink drive signs: Drink, Drive, Bloody Idiot. Motels are often cheaper than youth hostels, and infinitely nicer.

I hope you’ve enjoyed your trip to Australia, now get someone to help you on with your backpack, and get ready for New Zealand!