Vancouver.

From Seattle it was onto my last destination, Vancouver. I had another train trip full of lovely scenery, although much shorter than the one to Seattle, a few border control type questions at the train station in Vancouver and then I was through and in another new city in another new country.

I didn’t have a full week in Vancouver because I’d only added it into my plan on the advice of the guy in Brisbane, and unfortunately it rained quite a lot while I was there and I was full of a cold which I wanted to get rid of if I could before flying home so I did stay inside in the warm and dry quite a lot. I did have one lovely day however when I wandered along the water and ended up at Stanley Park. As I got into the park itself I noticed some signs advertising horse drawn carriage rides round the park which sounded really fun but I figured it’d be the cute, little, romantic type carriage for two which could be a bit weird on my own, but it wasn’t. It was actually a fairy big carriage with about half a dozen rows of benches so I promptly jumped on for a tour of the park.

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And then before I knew it it was time to head to the airport. I had a short flight back down to LA, a night in a hotel by the airport, and then a flight back to London and home. Thankfully my cold wasn’t too bad by then and I didn’t cough much on the plane although I did then go and have a coughing fit once we’d landed.

And there we go. About 9 months, 9 flights, 5 countries, 1000s of photos, 1 skydive (:D!) and one big adventure and, finally, one finished blog!

In case you didn’t know I’m currently on a Canadian adventure so make sure you sign up for updates on my second blog acymraesincanada.wordpress.com if you want to know what I’m up to. There are posts imminent!

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Seattle.

I got the Seattle version of the City Pass which kept me busy here and my first stop was the aquarium which was fun and not something I’d have probably bothered with without the pass.

I love him! He's so cute!

I love him! He’s so cute!

And I think he's settling down for a good gossip!

And I think he’s settling down for a good gossip!

I also went to the EMP Museum (Experience Music Project) which had all sorts of music and pop culture including my favourite which was all about fantasy worlds on books and films. There were costumes from films, artwork, props video interviews with authors and filmakers. They even had some original Tolkien manuscripts which I was very excited to see although sadly you weren’t allowed to take photos of them.

I had a cruise of the harbour on a rather grey day!

I visited the Pacific Science Centre which wasn’t really my cup of tea.

And I took two trips up the Space Needle, on in day light and another once it had gone dark.

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Back on the ground afterwards.

Back on the ground afterwards.

In between trips up the Space Needle I went to the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit nearby which was very cool. To begin with you went through a number of dark rooms that contained different, really lovely and colourful blown glass sculptures. Then you went out into the garden which had more of the sculptures incorporated into it. It was really good and the whole thing had a slightly strange, Alice in Wonderland type feel to it.

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Also while in Seattle I enjoyed wandering round Pike Place Market (and leaving my mark on the Gum Wall!) and wandering along the waterfront.

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As you can see it was very grey during my stay in Seattle but it stayed dry just about all the time so it wasn’t too bad. And then on the last day, when I’d used all my City Pass tickets and done everything I wanted to do the sun came out and it was a beautiful day. Isn’t that just typical?

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Travelling to Seattle.

Next up was Seattle, a fair distance from LA, so I decided to take the train which meant a 34 hour trip. I splurged out and paid for a teeny tiny cabin and the whole journey was great. I’ve always wanted to do a long overnight trip on a train, it seems like a very classic Poirot type era thing to do. Thankfully there were no murders on my journey. Because I was in a sleeper car all my meals and snacks were included in the price, I got first choice of meal sittings and a guaranteed seat in the dining car whereas the plebs (;D) in the regular seating weren’t guaranteed a seat there and could have just had to go to the snack car. We also had a special panoramic lounge car with comfy chairs and wide windows and a glass roof to watch the world go by, as well as a car attendant to see to all our needs.

My cabin was literally the width of the seat and just a bit longer than the two seats together. For sleeping the two chairs flattened out and the attendant came and made up the bed for me. If two people were travelling in there a second bunk could be pulled down from the ceiling. Each car had a number of washrooms and also some showers but I wasn’t brave enough to use the shower.

As I said my ticket included meals in the dining car which was full of tables of 4 so being on my own I had to share with people but that was fine. They were mostly American, and mostly older and mostly fascinated by me and my accent. There were a few choices of food and they were the same for all 4 meals so I kept picking the one thing I was certain I’d like which meant by the end of the journey I was a bit fed up with it but it was nice enough.

For the whole first day the cabin opposite mine was empty so I could flit between the two to take photos of both sides which was handy but then some people arrived during the evening and travelled all the way through to Seattle so that put a stop to that. We went through lots of lovely scenery, often right along the coast, but sadly we saw what I thought was the most beautiful bit while I was at lunch on the second day with my bag stowed under the table with my camera safely in it out of reach so I didn’t actually get any pictures of that particular stretch. Nevertheless here are some of the photos I did take.

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Los Angeles.

Hollywood!

Which has become completely photoless. But as far as places go it wasn’t the most picturesque so it was a worthwhile sacrifice for the photos to come.

For my time in LA I stayed in a nice enough hostel just off of Hollywood Boulevard, home of the Walk of Fame, film premiers and the Oscars, which was very exciting and once I was there I bought a city pass which gave me admission into 4 Hollywood attractions. The first one I visited was Madame Tussauds. Now I’ve never really seen the attraction of these but as it was included in my pass I thought why not? Having now been in one I still don’t really see the attraction. It was fun enough I suppose but I went through the whole place quite quickly and didn’t actually bother taking my camera out at all. I did snap some photos on my phone but the waxworks were all a bit weird so I don’t think we need to see them.

Next up was a movie stars homes tour which felt slightly stalkerish but was fun nonetheless. To begin with we drove up to a lookout that gave us some good views over the city and also of the Hollywood Sign.

Then we had a drive through all the posh neighbourhoods and our tour guide pointed out where all the celebrities live. We were in an open top little minibus and we all had a set of headphones so we could hear the tour guide which was a good idea because it meant we were able to enjoy the lovely weather and take photos without windows in the way but still hear the commentary although I was a little windswept by the end. Sadly I didn’t see any celebrities (that day or any other that I was there) but I did see the homes (or at least one of their homes) of people including Julia Roberts, Courtney Cox and Tom Cruise. I saw where Elvis lived at one point, where Michael Jackson died, where Peter Falk, the grandfather in Princess Bride, used to live and where a lot of Pretty Woman was filmed. I also saw a fair amount of Halloween decorations even though it was only October 16th!

I also took a Hollywood Behind the Scenes tour with my city pass which was very interesting. We walked up and down Hollywood Boulevard while our guide told us stories. We heard all about some of the different theatres that we passed like the Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre, and the Chinese Theatre which is where all the hand and foot prints are. We heard about the stars on the Walk of Fame and how you get one, about films that had been made on the street, about the Oscars, and there were all sorts of stories about stars past and present.

We were again linked with our tour guide by a headset so that we could hear him over the hustle and bustle on the street and not get lost but we did have a bit of a delay at one point because our group was two members short. In the end the tour guide discovered that they’d just left without saying anything to him and returned the headsets to the office. Some people are so rude!

The last thing I did with my city pass was a tour of the Dolby Theatre which is where the Oscars are held. Sadly you weren’t allowed to take photos inside the theatre but it was a very cool tour. The theatre is part of the Hollywood and Highland Centre, which is a big shopping and dining centre, and was built for the Oscars. As you approach the staircase leading up to the theatre there are columns with the names of all the Best Picture Films and there’s space for them to continue this right up to 2071.

The big courtyard of the centre itself was inspired by the set of an old silent film set in Babylon. It also had a ‘Road to Hollywood’ along the floor made of red paving stones to look like a red carpet leading from the entrance all the way to the back of the centre to a viewpoint of the Hollywood sign. Along the ‘red carpet’ were anonymous stories of how different people in the film industry made their way to Hollywood.

Honolulu.

Ta da! These posts are sadly quite photo lite, some more so than others, because I’ve literally filled up my media space on this blog unless I want to pay money which I don’t so I’ve had to be brutal in cutting some of the planned photos.

And then to America! First stop Hawaii. It was already dark when I landed in Honolulu but just stepping off the plane I was hit by a wall of heat which was a sign of what was to come that week. After an interminably long wait to get through customs it was out into the sweltering evening and onto a shuttle bus to take me to my hotel. Yes I did type that right, hotel. I’d spent quite some time in Sydney looking into hostels, reading many terrible reviews of them all and altogether dithering before finally deciding to book a cheap hotel for the week and I’m so glad I did. It wasn’t a posh hotel by any stretch of the imagination but it was lovely. I got to have my own space that wasn’t shared with anybody, a TV, air conditioning and a fridge which I kept stocked up with water and fresh fruit to keep me cool.

I did spend one night, or at least half a night, in a hostel at the end of the week because my flight away from Hawaii was so early that I knew I wouldn’t be getting much sleep the night before and so didn’t really think it was worth paying for a hotel room for that night. So, after considering and then dismissing the idea of staying at the airport overnight I decided, somewhat reluctantly, to grab a taxi across town on my last day and check into one of the hostels I’d seen such bad reviews for. Thankfully it wasn’t quite as bad as I’d been dreading, I didn’t see any hordes of ants or cockroaches like many people had but it was a small room with barely enough room for us all, noisy and very hot even though I was by the AC unit so there was no sleep had that night and before I knew it I was back in the shuttle bus on the way to the airport but I’ve got ahead of myself.

The only thing I really had planned for my time in Hawaii was a visit to Pearl Harbour. But then the US Government decided to shut down or something, I didn’t understand the details, during the time I was in Hawaii and that meant that all the state run parks and monuments and what have you were closed including Pearl Harbour. So in the end I wandered, I sat by the beach and I enjoyed the privacy of my own room. I particularly enjoyed looking round the International Market Place and I did happen to come away with a souvenir or two. Well it’d have been rude not to.

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So there we have it. Hawaii was definitely lovely but not somewhere I’d rush back to.

Sydney Again.

From Melbourne I went to Canberra but I only stayed a couple of days because the hostel was fully booked for about a week after that. My main memory of Canberra is how quiet and empty it seemed, especially given that it’s Australia’s capital. I went into the city centre one afternoon, and it was a Sunday, but it was just completely empty, felt a bit weird.

Anyway after that it was back to Sydney. Sadly I couldn’t stay in the lovely hostel I stayed in before so I stayed in a nearby one that was nice enough and included free breakfast because I was a YHA member which was a definite bonus.

Last time in Sydney I went past the ANZAC War Memorial in Hyde Park quite a few times but never went in for one reason or another. This time I did. There were some interesting displays on the ground floor but what I found particularly moving was the domed ceiling of the main hall which was covered in 120,000 gold stars each one representing a person from New South Wales who fought in World War 1.

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As part of the centenary celebrations of the Australian Navy there was an International Fleet Review in Sydney Harbour and on my last day in Sydney there was a big firework and light display planned as part of it. So, after making sure I was all packed and ready for the next day, I trotted off down to the harbour following all the crowds. After a bit of wandering I chose a spot by the Opera House and waited for it to get dark. There were a couple of bands playing throughout the afternoon and helicopters and planes buzzing overhead (and an incident best forgotten wherein I queued for food for about 45 minutes and then foolishly chose the worst possible thing that involved lamb drenched in horse radish sauce, yuk!) and before I knew it the show was about to begin.

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To begin there were smaller fireworks going off along with imagery that was projected onto things like the Opera House and the towers of the Harbour Bridge giving a brief run through of the history of the Navy along with a segment of remembrance, and then the firework display went epic. There were fireworks coming off the bridge, off ships in the harbour, from some of the buildings in the city and all over the place, it was great!

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Snapshot 1 (29-12-2014 22-42)

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And then it was back to the hostel and to bed ready to fly back to Auckland the next morning. All my flights were in the morning, apart from my last one home, which meant getting to the airport horribly early which was worrying enough as it is given how little of a morning person I am. This flight was even worse because it happened to fall on the day that the clocks went forward so in trying to work out when to set my alarm for and whether my phone would change the time automatically or not, or if at 2am or whenever it is that they technically change it would just completely malfunction and destroy itself (unlikely but still a concern) I became even more paranoid about oversleeping and missing my flight. Thankfully I didn’t and all was well.

I had a day or two in Auckland, just long enough to buy some souvenirs and what have you, and then it really was farewell (for now) New Zealand. I did experience one last lovely bit of Kiwi helpfulness at the airport. When I went to change the New Zealand and Australian money I had left I just gave them the notes assuming that they wouldn’t take the coins and that I could just put them in one of the charity collections I’d seen but the lovely lady said she was happy to take change even when she saw the mass I’d somehow accumulated. So I dumped it all out on the counter, she added it up and gave me lots of US Dollars and I was on my way. It did mean I had slightly unrealistic expectations at LA Airport about a month later. I’d barely finished asking if they took change there before I got a short, sharp reply of “No”. Ah well.