Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Getting lost in Los Angeles (those who wander are probably lost......)

(Thai festival for Thai New Year in downtown LA)


(Lakers vs Clippers) 

(Chinese Theatre - Hollywood)

(25 degrees bar and restaurant on Hollywood Blvd)

(Dodgers stadium) 

(Mel's Diner - Hollywood)

I try and come to Los Angeles at least once every two years to visit close family that live in the burbs just outside the main part - Downtown LA, Hollywood, Etc. Last year I came for three months alternating between LA, Denver and Oregon where I am pretty lucky to have great family spread in such beautiful places.  I felt like I was living like a local, only with a massive backpack on my back and the occasional obligatory tourist activity - i.e. I went to a viewing of a tv show that had Lil Jon in as a guest... I went alone. It was a little awkward to be so excited without having someone to share my excitement with but I lapped up the experience anyway. Side note: Lil Jon totally touched my hand and I fully made eye contact with not his yes but certainly his shines gold grillz (is this how a white girl spells it?) - YE-AH. OKAAY. TURN DOWN FOR WHAT.... Or something like that.... 

This trip I knew we weren't going to be able to jam pack much in.  We only had around 4 days to site see - 2 before Vegas and 2 after Vegas including picking up the Jucy Van and bravely manouvering around the city.  I had seen most of the sites before, but I was hoping to add more to the experience and try new things that i hadn't done before like catch the train in and booze up one of LA's renown Sunday brunches (this didn't happen) or try one of the hip and swanky nightclubs down town and rub shoulders with the celebrities (annnnd this didn't happen too).  Yep, they didn't happen but what I was greatful for most was to spend some time with my Aunty and Uncle before they jetted off to Europe for my Uncles work (lucky).

What we did with our time; 
- Thai New Year Festival -in Thai town just east of Hollywood. It was a great and bubbly festival splattered with fashion stalls (where I picked up a couple of pairs of $2 earrings), clothing,  Thai nick nacks and plenty of food stalls. We decided to expand our bellies and do a food crawl throughout the whole street - only to those that had medium lines and satisfied looking customers.  We also bought along our I.D and went into the Singha tent area where they served beer towers for all their thirsty and tiddly customers. It ended the street with a Thai boxing match, and I found myself wandering trying to find awesome street art down random streets.
- Lakers game at Staples centre - any type of sporting games in America are great to see.  You will see the die hard fans, the drunken fans, the outright ridiculously large court or playing field and the atmosphere is usual pretty great. We snagged some cheap tickets online so do your research. Also if you can take your passport if you are wanting to have a few drinks.  We were refused service by one booth as we only had our Australian Drivers License, and if you forget... Keep trying all the booths until you find a friendly one. Or grow a few wrinkles. 
- Dodgers game at Dodgers stadium - I had never been to a baseball game so I thought it was time to try and see one.  We ended up getting tickets on Scoopon, so always remember to check all your good deal websites... And the seats were okay.  It might have been better to pay the money and sit a little closer... Lucky we had super fun fact whizz Emma with us who tried her best to explain the game, but sadly we got a little distracted and left by the ninth ball. Whoops. Dodgers food is completely what you'd expect - hotdogs, fries, pretzels and they come at a price. But I though I would get in the spirit and devoured a hotdog with the lot - ketchup, mustard, pickles and onions.  Also the stadium food stall guys are hilarious and givea. Good jingle. Some of them also looks they are one hundred years old and I respect them walking up and down the stadium stairs all night. Wow. 
- Downtown Hollywood - We caught the yellow line to union station and then the Red line to Vermont Hollywood station. We did the tourist thing, walked the Hollywood stars strip found a few star names for snaps, went to the Chinese theatre and had a giggle at the pathetic fake Spider-mans and Marilyn Monroes, searched for our favourite stars foot and hand casts in the cement courtyard and had a browse at the Hollywood and Highland shopping complex to site the Hollywoood sign. 

 - Where to eat - We spent most of our time in Monrovia where my family is based, so if you are around the area check out Myrtle street for some good deals and cheap eats.  But here are a few suggestions also and also where we had a few nibbles;

-We have had our fair share of diners in America, but I would have to say that Mel's Diner, even though it is a franchise has been the best. We went to the one just off Hollywood Boulevard, and I had a burrito bowl. Massive sizes and tasty.  - pictured 
-25  Degrees restaurant is right next to the Roosevelt Hotel. It has funky red decor and looks like it is set in the early days of Hollywood. The staff are okay... A little disinterested, but the food is pretty great.  I had 'Number three' - mezzo secco, jack green chilli, chipotle and avocado. The burger patty was cooked to perfection or at least to those who enjoy their steaks cooked right - medium rare. (Pictured)
-Vanderpump - downtown LA - for those who are reality tv show buffs, it was pretty surreal to hit this hotspot and wine and dine at somewhere so beautiful with a reasonable price.  Sadly when I went (not this trip) Lisa Vanderpump wasn't there... Or Stassi or Jax but Michael the manager was and that was good enough for me. Definetly book in advance. Definetly go. 
-Chipotle Mexican Grill - also a franchise and really classed as a fast food restaurant, however for those who knows me well know that I am obsessed with this place. Ohhhhh sir, burrito bowls are the best.  I usually get a steak burrito bowl, with brown rice, black beans, all salads, medium and mild sauce, sour cream and guac. YES I WILL PAY EXTRA FOR GUAC. Yum. 
-Panda Inn - also a favourite that I can not miss before I go back to Australia. This stuff is like fricken crack. Orange chicken, Shrimp and Walnut, steamed beans and edamame beans. I died and went to Chinese food heaven. It's not greasy, it's not too heavy and you feel great after you devour your white chocolate tip fortune cookie.

Where we wanted to get to; 

-Runyon Canyon - hot spot for celebrities and alike to do a bit of fitness and definetly get your sweat on. The hike is moderate and you can either walk it or jog it.  It was a little far out of the way for us especially when we didn't have a car for most of the time, but make sure you park in the right places and check signs. It's notorious for people to get their cars towed from up there. 

Here's a photo of me at Runyon Canyon last year!


Tahnee xx

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Aloha - Hawaii - The North Shore

(First night at backpackers - fine dining)

(Market fruit)
(Renown food van)

(Spicy garlic prawns and rice from the truck)

(Shark dive)

We had massive hopes for North Shore - I poured through blog post after blog post saying how beautiful, quaint and untouched the beaches were. It was away from the cheesy Hawaiian bar strip, and you could enjoy a space of sand on the beach without someone plonking themselves on your towel and taking a mouthful of your poke.  (No shit, we were lazing on Waikiki beach minding our own business until a chick came and set up her things directly next to mine.  I awkwardly smiled as if to say 'can you not' and she smiled right back saying 'I do what is want'. Wasn't going to happen.... I went for a swim. Ugh.) 
All this seemed true, it was definetly away from the hustle and bustle of Waikiki beach. I could walk without parrotmen or promoters constantly pestering me, and the beaches were fairly scarce of people. HOWEVER - it was pouring with rain for the two and a half days we were there and we had to escape back to sunny waikiki for the rest of the time. The weather was fairly unpredictable.
But those beach shots they look pretty sunny, right? 
Well that's because we shot them on the waaaaay to North Shore from Waikiki beach. The beach we chose to stop at was called Waimanalo Bay and is a local favourite.  The beach is clean and has plenty of room for everyone to comfortably laze on the beach without having that awkward feeling that someone is listening into your conversation - notably all your filth and nonsense talk. You can chill out by the pine trees, listen to people strumming their guitars, or try and nab someone else's hammocks that are set up on the beach (note I don't suggest this... But it would be kind of cool). It is about 40 minutes from Waikiki beach with a car and I strongly suggest using a GPS on the island. Hawaii struggles to give good signage points on their roads and we then spent the next hour after a great beach sesh trying to get to our accomodation.  We had been warned there was a tricky turn that a lot of people get confused at and we hadn't purchased our gps yet. Whoops. But if you think you're a whizz with the map (which we thought we were, how we were wrong) you can buy them from the zillions of abc shops at nearly every corner in Waikiki. 

Where we stayed:

We stayed at the North Shore Backpackers and Plantation which is the only advertised backpackers on the North Shore.  Like that of Coral Bay and Exmouth in Western Australia, the locals are rightfully trying to stop new businesses opening up on their shores and wrecking what beauty is still left.  We were told that there are other forms of backpackers that are kept on the downlow but we weren't able to find them.  There is also one hotel resort on this side of the island called Turtle Bay - we explored the option, but it was way out of our budget so backpackers it was.  Our first night we stayed in a private room / shared bathroom situation.  It was actually really cool (even though we got there at night and we had to feel our way through the mud and puddles) - an earthy wooden structured backpackers with large common rooms in each duplex and a pretty equipped kitchen.  The private room had two single beds, and was good enough to rest for the next days activities (or lack of considering the weather).  
The second night we had to move out of the private room and drive down the road to the plantation lodges that were part of the same backpackers.  This wasn't as pleasant. 
Luckily we had the car, as we decided to leave most of our bags in the boot.  The plantation part of the backpackers was let's say, a little run down? Each of the shacks housed about 6 people in each, the front doors didn't shut, the bathroom was pretty undesirable and washing yourself was a bit of   challenge - the shower didn't have a head, and was pretty much like a weak hose that dribbled water.  Try and shave your legs in that ladies... I did and I'll tell you it wasn't pretty.  The kitchen was a little disappointing and we had pet ants crawling everywhere.  Also the wifi was only available in an open common room shack... In the dark... In the rain. One night we decided to do a bit more planning of the trip, so we cooked our edamame beans on the stove with our ant friends and braved the weather to use the internet. I think we lasted just under an hour, gave up and grumbled to bed. Don't me wrong, maybe the weather put me in a bahumbug mood about the place.  All I can say is get in early and book the private room if you are staying with someone else. It is pretty much the same price as sharing with 6 others in a dorm, and is a lot nicer. 

What to do:

- Food Trucks - before I came I researched on what to do while staying at the North Shore side of the island. Food trucks were unanimous amongst the blog posted I poured over, so even though it was PISSING down with rain we decided the brave it and find ourselves some Hawaiian food truck grub.  We chose this one not because it had raving reviews and thousands of people lining up (although there was a fair line still), buuut because it was the prettiest - judging a book for its cover, sometimes it works out.... In some cases it doesn't. In this case, I would recommend.  We decided to order one lot of the garlic spicy prawns and rice.  It was amazing how quick the two guys working in the van could churn out each of the orders, and in about 8 minutes we had a steaming hot meal to devour.
- Markets - we stumbled across a few farmers markets and food stall markets along the main road along the beach (rain... Rain everywhere - my hair frizzed, it wasn't ideal).  We did find an awesome fruit stall - they had avocados that were literally bigger than my hand and we had a big idea that we were going to go halves fill each of the halves with yummy salsa and cheese, but they weren't ripe enough so we sadly had to leave them.  Best bet one the north shore is to hop in your car and go exploring and pray that it doesn't rain. We founds a fee knick knack shops along our travels and most of them had free samples of chocolate, cookies and flavoured nuts. Winning.
- Shark dive - north west shark company. Around $120 Aussie. I don't know what possessed me to do it. Living in Western Australia it is not uncommon to hear about shark attacks in popular surfing spots, and I usually get a little anxious about swimming in open waters because of it.  Maybe it was the cage that encased us, or the fact that the sharks would have had a fair few people to get through (possibly and hopefully) before they got to me but I did it.  Look I'm not going to say that the sharks were monstrous... Galapagos and sandbar sharks, but they still reminded me of a Jaws movie and I wasn't too keen for the cage to disappear.  It might have sparked a bit of dare devil inside of me, and I might look into great white shark diving if I ever make it to South Africa or I'm told they do the dive in Adelaide (Scroops, keen?).

Next stop, Los Angeles!!

Tahnee xx

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Aloha - Hawaii - Waikiki Awakening

(Waikiki beach) 

(Diamond Head Hike View) 

(Finishing stairs at Diamond Head)
(Acai Bowl from Jamba Juice) 
(Coconut Mojito - Dukes, on the beach front) 
(Fish taco's - Dukes, on the beachfront)
(Mai Tai - Dukes, on the beachfront)
(Waikiki beach)

(Farmers Market Macaroon's)

(Koko Crater trail - 1000 steps)
(makittas Buffet Restaurant)

Before we got the shores of Hawaii I had done my research and devised a tick list of things I wanted to see and do in the week we had booked.  We arrived in the Honolulu airport early morning, fairly cranky and tired from our 9 hour flight over (which hasn't been my worst flight, or longest for that matter).

To relieve any stresses we paid $15 each to get the 'Speedy Bus' which took us directly to our hotel and could pick us up at a different location (which we needed having three difference accomodations booked in Waikiki and one in North Shore - which we had two different rooms over two difference nights. Sigh. Backpacker life). We later found that there was public transport that also could have taken us to our doorstep for a lot cheaper, and there are always hotel shuttles to the airport which would also save a penny.  But sometimes when your hungry, smelly, and tired you look for the easiest option. 

Where did we stay in Waikiki?
We found accomodations in Hawaii pretty challenging especially on a shoestring budget.  Hostels were still charging $30 for shared accomodation, and $35 each for a private room but these rooms went quick and we missed out bar one night.  Other than that, Waikiki known for its influx of tourism bumped the prices of 2 - 3 star hotels to what would normally be the price of 4 - 5 star hotels.  Made life difficult but we just managed. 

-Grand Castle Waikiki - 2 nights 
Basic room, with Wifi. Great location at the end of the restaurant and bar strip on the foreshore.  Two doors down from Starbucks (wifi saviour), one door down from Teddy's Burger which actually had pretty decent Acai bowls and about 10-15 walk from shops, markets and the Diamond Head hike which overlooks the Waikiki foreshore.... Annnnnd of course you are right next to the beach... The Waikiki Beach. 
-Polynesian Culture hostel - 1 night
We had to stay here last minute as we thought we might have stayed in North Shore for longer, but due to bad weather we decided to seek some sunshine back in Waikiki.  For a hostel we thought it was still a bit over priced.  We booked a 'semi private' room (whatever that meant) because it was about the same price as a six bed dorm.  In the end 'semi private' meant walking through a tiny bombed room with three bunk beds and sleepy people to our hole in the wall at the end + share bathrooms (which was expected).  I think have done my dash with hostel stays.  This not being the worst hostel I have stayed at - they did offer cheap bulk made dinners, free breakfast and the place did have a funky vibe with graffiti'd walls trekking up the stairwell.  Also once you picked the right wifi for your floor it was pretty good.  It is definitely not the cheapest though. 
-Hokele Suites - 2 nights
We decided to try and stay a few streets back from the strip to try and save some money, but in true style it was a last minute decision so it was still quite pricey.  There was a pool in the centre of the hotel which was a nice touch (not that we used it), and the room had a cute little balcony at the side of the room which had city views and was great for people watching (Mind you the people you were watching were either on their balconys or in there apartments with the windows open - professional creeping 101 don't make eye contact. I repeat, don't make eye contact. That's a bit too creepy). It was great having the luxury of a double bed each in the room, and cable TV when we wanted to collapse into bed after a big days hiking and happy hour.  Downfall - wifi was only limited to the lobby area by the pool and was usually fairly busy with school spring breakers so the connection wasn't always the best. Also they charged hidden taxes to use the Wifi which I thought was a bit rich considering it wasn't in your room. 


-The hikes - we made it to Diamond Head trail which isn't too strenuous to the top, and has a great view of the Waikiki foreshore. Koko Crater head which isn't for the faint hearted and a little fitness is required.  Koko Crater head trail was an old railway that the fitness junkies in Waikiki use to kick their ass in a training session.  It consists of over 1000 steps in which you feel your heart rate starting to increase after about 125 steps... I started counting but lost count. About midway the limestone blocks turn into airborne flat wooden slates and concentration is needed.  The view is worthy and the workout is even better.  We tried our luck with the deadmans catwalk trail which is technically closed and is guarded most days due to it being 'unsafe'.  I would have loved to give it a go, the photos I have seen looked the best of all three trails but alas big man guard was looking gruff and not very friendly as we drove up looking wide eyed and eager. Asshole. 
-Acai Bowls and Poke - new obsession. Not together. But seriously. YUM. Poke (pronounced Poke-ey) Hawaiian dish - raw fish chunks with a seasame seed sauce. Wait, that doesn't sound too desirable.... But please I beg you. Sooooooo gooooood. I didn't even get a photo of any bowl I had because I couldn't help but scoff it.  And for those who know me well I'm a serial food instagram offender. Shit, and Acai bowls... Well.... The obsession is real. 
-Happy hour - it's no Bali happy hour, but you can still find some drink specials at most bars and they usually run all night. A special mention to Lulu's bar who happened to have $5 cider specials on the night we had poke, and I had a delicious almond crusted Ahi tuna fillet and mash potato (salivating)
-Makitta's Buffet - we found a coupon for this restaurant in a free information booklet we picked up anddddd it included free lobster. Done. It's a few streets back from the main strip, but it's worth the walk.  Not only was there Poke, Sushi, Salads, Seafood, Prime Rib and many more on offer, it also included a hula dancing show andddddd it was only $20 plus tax. Needless to say we rolled out of there.
-Dukes bar and restaurant - awesome sunset spot, yummy coconut Margharita and decent fish tacos. Get in early to get a balcony spot. 
-Farmers Market alley under the Hyatt hotel (Mon, Wed, Fri, Sun) - we picked up some fresh produce and bits and pieces from the Farmers Market for our next days adventures.  Popular items were pre sliced mangoes, Tapioka coconut dessert (so yummy - just like a chia pod dessert), salads and macaroons (they were probably the best I have ever had!).


-Save your pennys if you are planning a trip to Oahu, Hawaii. Waikiki is slammed with tourists and have prices to match with the demand.  People who come here are willing to pay the big bucks as most are on a weeks holiday to then go back to work.  Having a two month trip ahead of us, we were trying to be mindful of our dosh, and staying in Waikiki and North Shore sure didn't help the bank account.  Also watch for extra expenses that aren't stated either in the menu (tax) or in your booking.  Some hotels we got charged an extra $10 per night just for Wifi and 'complementary' tea and coffee in the lobby. There was no option but to pay it. (Also like every American country, remember to tip - a dollarish at bars and around 20% for good wait staff at restaurants - it adds up).
-Signage - I'm not sure why, but we braved the wrong side of the road and hired a care from Enterprise (Nice and cheap for those who are looking) to hoon around the island.  I don't know why, but Hawaii signage seemed to be half assed.  You could think you were getting on the right highway (first sign) until you find yourself at a fork in the road and you don't know whether it's meant to be left or right because nothing is signed or marked and then you spend half a day taking the gamble of heads or tails. Funny in the beginning and frustrating by the end. 
-Promoters, Parrotmen and Preachers - it's a tourism paradise, which goes hand in hand with annoying promoters haggling to get people on their pub crawls, or to go on their tours, etc. Old guys carrying around sad looking Macaws (which in my opinion is cruel) asking you if you want to get photos with them for money about 100 times a day annnnd preachers handing out pamphlets and letting you know what they thought of you if you didn't take one. Rude.  

Waikiki was a palm tree paradise, overcrowded but I'm glad we went to check out the hype.  If I was to come over again I would try and get to the other islands that are less touristy so I can immerse myself more in the culture without the hassle.  Next stop is the islands North Shore. 

Tahnee xx