A Travellerspoint blog

The Grand Finale

Our final two weeks on the East Coast of the US

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We were more than ready to move on from Memphis, Tennessee, after an extended stay due to the Thanksgiving holidays. On 26th November we checked out of our motel and took a 10-hour overnight Greyhound bus to the Windy City of Chicago, Illinois.

The journey itself went fine, although we didn't manage to get much sleep so we were shattered by the time we got to the Chicago Getaway Hostel, our accomodation for the next 4 nights. It turned out that the hostel was one of the nicest we've stayed in on the trip; it was in a great location, was clean, had free breakfast and free internet. :-)

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After having a power nap for a few hours we were up and ready to explore the neighbourhood of Lincoln Park. Just a few blocks from the hostel was the park of the same name, which had an amazing zoo (free admission!) that we spent the next few hours looking around.

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By any zoo standards, it was incredible with a range of animals from lions, bears, seals and much more. It was a great way to spend our first day in Chicago even though it was raining.

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It was a special occasion on 28th November, with Kayleigh turning 26. :-) we had breakfast and got the train to Downtown Chicago (called the Loop after the famous train tracks over the streets) to kick off a day of sightseeing. We walked through the city centre, past the Willis Tower (USA's tallest building) and many other impressive skyscrapers.

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Carrying onto Millenium Park, we looked around various art sculptures and the human face fountains. Our favourite part was Cloud Gate, nicknamed the Bean, which with its odd shape reflects the city and is quite unique. We had fun pulling silly faces and taking amusing photos, we're total art connesieurs! ;-)

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As we continued walking round the city, we were pleasantly suprised to find Chicago's Christmas Markets at the Daley Plaza. Our first instinct was to look for a hog roast (like in Manchester), but they didn't have one so we had tasty bratwursts which went down a treat. To top these off Kayleigh had warmed mulled wine while Phil had a nice German beer. Good times!

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It was early evening by the time we got back to the hostel, and we only had an hour to get ready for Kayleigh's birthday present from Phil (she had no idea what is was yet!).

A quick train journey got us to Lincoln Square, where we headed to the Chopping Block, an infamous cookery school in the city.Kayleigh was excited as Phil had booked for us to do a 3-hour hands on Pasta Workshop. We learnt how to make pasta from scratch, and cooked 3 different dishes while sharing a nice bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. It was great fun!

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At the end of the class we got to sit down with the rest of the group and enjoy the food. Indeed, we made so much everyone got to take home boxes of leftovers - that was our next days meals sorted!

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Another attraction we were keen to see in Chicago was Navy Pier, known for being the top tourist attraction in the city. Although it was off season when we visited we enjoyed looking around the shops, boats and rides and it was easy to see what a great day out it would be in the summer.

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We had a late lunch at Giordano's Pizzeria, famous for it's stuffed crust. This place does not kid around either, their pizza is more like a deep dished pie full off pizza goodness. We enjoyed as much as we could but had to take half of our order away with us. Yum. It was a great way to end our stay in Chicago.

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On the 1st December we packed our bags and began our 20-hour Greyhound bus journey to Washington DC (the longest bus ride of our entire trip). In fairness it wasn't too bad a ride, we got to see some lovely scenery (including a snow-covered Indiana) and we both managed to get some sleep.

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Having arrived in the capital at 8am we headed to a nearby cafe for some hot drinks, mainly to wake us up and we couldn't check in until midday anyway. It took only a short 15 minute walk to get to our accomodation, Hostelling International Washington DC.

We dropped our bags in the 10-bed dorm and went straight out to have a look around. The hostel was only a few blocks from the White House, which had been decorated ready for Christmas.

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After taking a few pics we walked round to the National Mall, where most of the museums and monuments in DC are located. It was at this point that tiredness kicked in, and we decided to leave the rest of the sightseeing to another day. We headed back to the hostel for a bite to eat, watched Addams Family Values in the TV room and had an early night!

We slept in until 11am the following day, missing the free breakfast in the process (doh!) Never mind though, we had a Chilli Dog on the way to the National Mall. Once there we checked out the National Monument, the WWII Memorial, the Abraham Lincoln Monument and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. They were all really impressive.

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For our last full day in DC, we walked to the Museum of Natural History and checked out the various exhibitions, including dinosaurs, mammals and the infamous Hope Diamond.

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The Museum also had a really good section on the origins of man. What do you think to how the two of us would look as neanderthals??

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Across the road from there, we continued onto the Air & Space Museum which had the Apollo 11 landing pod, history on the Wright Brothers and lots about the Battle of Britain.

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As this was our last day, we figured we could 'treat' ourselves to a Nando's. :-) However we hadn't planned on the portion sizes being bigger than at home, we ended up eating absolutely loads, but it was so good!

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We had a great time in Washington, but even after 4 days we had only just scratched the surface as there is so much to see and do. And with 5 days of our trip remaining, we took a 4-hour bus from the capital to the Big Apple, New York City.

Arriving at about 5pm, we hopped on the subway from the Port Authority Bus Terminal to 103rd Street, where a 2-minute walk got us to our hostel, Jazz On The Park. We were so excited to be in NYC that we barely even looked at our room before dropping our rucksacks and getting back on the subway heading for Times Square. The weather was pretty grim, it was chucking it down, but that didn't stop us as we wanted to see one of the most iconic parts of the city. It was exactly how you'd imagine, huge flashing lights, packed with tourists, yellow taxis flying by, it was great.

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The next day the weather hadn't improved much at all, but we put our coats on and took a walk through Central Park. We had fun seeing the reservoir, Belvedere Castle and the Ice Rink, but nobody was skating as it was so wet. :-(

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From Central Park we strolled down Fifth Ave, where we did a bit of window shopping and saw the festive window displays. Further south we reached Rockefeller Plaza where the infamous Christmas tree was lit up, it was beautiful! We were certainly in a Christmassy mood by now.

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All the walking had worked up our appetite - conveniently located across from Rockefeller was a small pizzeria so we went in for a slice each. Yum!

We woke to sunny, blue skies the following morning, so after a bit of breakfast we got the subway to Lower Manhattan, jumping off at Chambers Street. It was in the Financial District and one block from the World Trade Centre site, which was busy with construction for the new Freedom Tower.

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We wandered down the most 'powerful' street in the world, Wall Street, and continued onto Pier 17 for a bite to eat. Just a few blocks from here we got on the walkway for the Brooklyn Bridge, apparently the "world's first steel suspension bridge", completed in 1883. It was great fun walking across taking in the magnificent views of the city. A definite highlight!

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After a quick visit to Soho, we headed to Macy's and then onto the Rockefeller Centre to see the Christmas tree lit up at night. It was even more spectacular. :-)

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On 9th December we were very excited to be out early for a day Kayleigh had planned way back in March this year, as she had booked for us to do a helicopter tour of New York for Phil's birthday present. We took the subway to Lower Manhattan and got to Pier 6, Downtown New York's Heliport. We didn't have to queue long, and before we knew it we were whisked off in a chopper and were flying high over the city!

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The weather was perfect and the views were absolutely spectacular, we could see for miles and the sight of New York city really did take our breath away. The tour gave us the opportunity to see everything the city has to offer, including the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, the Empire State Building (which towered over everything else!), the Yankee Stadium and just the sheer size of the tri-state area.

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We couldn't help but feel like that was the finale of our life-changing trip, so we headed straight for a pub to enjoy some cold brewskies while drowning our sorrows lol.

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For our last full day in New York, we spent time walking down Fifth Ave and buying the odd Christmas present to take home with us. The main highlight of the day was going to see Grand Central which was enormous, a lovely old-fashioned building. Apart from that, we packed our bags (throwing quite a bit of well-worn clothes away!) and prepared for the journey home the next morning. :-(

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And onto our final day, which seemed to arrive very quickly, we checked out and took the subway to JFK airport where we relaxed before a 5-hour flight to Reykjavik, Iceland, arriving at 2am in the morning NY time. Another 3-hour flight got us back to Manchester, and over 8 months after leaving we were back home, tired but happy to be greeted at the terminal by family. :-)

Since we've been home we've spent time catching up with family and friends, which has been great as we've missed a lot of people.

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Its extremely hard for us to sum up our trip, as we've done so much and seen so many amazing things, meeting loads of interesting people along the way. However we can say its been a trip we'd do all over again in a heartbeat, every single penny we saved was worth it and we don't have any regrets at all.

From partying on the beach in Thailand, to visiting family in Australia, to jumping off canyons in New Zealand, to snorkelling the Blue Lagoon in Fiji all the way to seeing New York at Christmas time, its been the perfect trip for us. Even though we got engaged before we left for Bangkok, we're even closer as a couple and have a lifetime's supply of happy memories to enjoy, and even more photos!! Haha!

We'd like to say a HUGE thank you to everyone who has been reading our blog, checking out our photos and leaving comments for us, its been so nice to know that people have been with us every step of the way.

Anyway, we have lots of stories to tell and videos / photos to show, but we'll have to save them until the next time we see you. :-D

Loads of love,

Phil & Kayleigh

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P.S - To anyone who's been following the map below, we can confirm we have done over 32,000 miles or 52,000 kilometres. Haha!

Posted by JoyRyderRTW 05:40 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged new_york flight chicago christmas usa america capital backpacking pizza washington library statue_of_liberty helicopter iceland rockefeller central_park white_house joyryderrtw willis_tower chopping_block millennium_park giordanos national_monument Comments (1)

Route 66 On The Greyhound

Making our way through middle America by bus

rain 9 °C

We left big, bad Vegas at 6 in the morning and made the 6-hour Greyhound journey to Flagstaff, Arizona. The small town had a nice country feel with old fashioned buildings and little streets, which we walked through to get to our Motel just outside the centre. We were shattered from the bus ride (and from the fun in Sin City) so we spent the rest of the day chilling out in front of the TV.

The main reason for visiting Flagstaff was its closeness to the Grand Canyon, so the next day we got a 2-hour shuttle bus from the town's visitor centre to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. As its one of the 7 natural wonders of the world we were very excited, and from the moment we stepped up to the edge of the huge gorge it took our breathe away!

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The park had a number of walking treks along the rim, we decided to go for Hermits Route for about 5 miles, taking in the magnificent views the whole time. After having a bite to eat at Hermits Rest we hopped on the free shuttle back to the park centre before checking out other Routes.

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By the afternoon the weather had gone from clear blue skies to windy with luming dark clouds, and on the shuttle bus back to Flagstaff the heavens opened with hail, rain and lightning. Little did we know though that overnight the weather would change again, to snow! Whoop!

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We got a foot of lovely white snow, which made the small town even more picturesque, so we spent our last couple of days in Flagstaff exploring the local area and playing in the snow. It was certainly a surprise for us as we expected nothing but sun in Arizona!

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On Monday 7th November we caught the local bus to the town centre before catching a 6-hour Greyhound bus to Albuquerque, New Mexico. The journey went pretty quick, we actually met some nice guys on this trip which made a change from the strange characters who we have come across on the Greyhound so far!

A short taxi ride from the station and we had arrived at our motel. We had just 1 full day here so the next morning we were up early, ready to see what the largest city in the state had to offer.

If we are honest there wasn't a great deal at all to see, but we did enjoy a fantastic lunch at the classic Route 66 Diner. We ordered a milkshake each, which were the biggest milkshakes you have ever seen and they tasted soooo good. We shared some fiesta fries at the same time, and it was all we needed as there was plenty to eat.

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The next day we were packed and at the bus station ready to continue travelling east. Our next destination was Amarillo, Texas, purely for the novelty of saying we'd been (plus we wanted to walk round singing the Tony Christie song lol).

It took 5 hours to get there, and as our Motel wasn't far from the bus station we decided to walk it to save some money. However after half an hour it had gotten dark and we realised we were in a pretty rough-looking neighbourhood, of course sticking out like hell with our massive backpacks. We went into a gas station where the clerk found it rather amusing 2 english people were in Amarillo, and she ordered us a taxi. Lesson learned!

Amarillo was a quick stopover on our trip, as the place didn't have much going on. The most notable part of being there was the fact it was our 10-year anniversary on 10th November. :-) Unfortunately we couldn't find any good restaurants nearby, so we decided to save a celebration for our next stop, Oklahoma City.

A relatively short 5-hour bus trip got us to OKC, the journey went quite quick as a woman sitting near us asked us to help her with her 1-year old son who was getting restless. She passed him to us and he calmed down, funnily enough she made the most of not taking him back straight away!

Once we arrived in the city it took an easy bus ride to get to our Motel on the outskirts of town. We were staying at America's Best Value Inn, which included a free continental breakfast, so we were up early for that the next day. We headed back into the city on the bus and went exploring, starting with the National Memorial of the 1995 bombing.

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The memorial site was where the original building used to stand, and it included a garden with chairs symbolising each of the 168 people killed in the explosion. There was also a reflective pool and heartfelt messages from family members on the fence outside.

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Later on we took a bus to Stockyards City, an old western-style part of town with cowboy shops, restaurants and the worlds largest cattle market. It was here we decided to dine at the famous Cattlemen's Steakhouse, featured on one of our favourite shows, Man Vs Food.

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The restaurant opened in 1910 and is known for serving some of the tastiest steaks in the US. The biggest of these is the Presidential T-Bone steak, named by George Bush Snr when he visited Oklahoma. Phil decided to go for it (when in Rome!) while Kayleigh went for a fillet steak wrapped in bacon. The steaks were absolutely gorgeous, and along with the fries, salad and bread to go with them we were stuffed by the end. Good times!

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For the remaining time in OKC we relaxed at our Motel, whilst planning our journey onwards over a Domino's pizza (tut tut tut!) In the end we made the decision to carry onto Memphis, Tennessee.

A longer bus journey of 8 hours got us to the city of Memphis, the home of the king of rock n roll. The first day we decided to take a trip to the legendary Sun Studios, where Elvis was first discovered along with countless other artists like Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins.

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We were taken on a 45 minute tour of the recording studio, hearing stories and classic recordings from the past 60 years. It was great fun!

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While in Memphis we had heard that the city was famous for its BBQ'd food as much as its music, so we headed Downtown to check it out. We ended up at Superior Bar & Grill on Beale Street where Kayleigh feasted on Smoked BBQ Ribs (fit!) and Phil had a jumbo BBQ Beef Sandwich (yum!), all while sipping beers and listening to the live blues singer on stage.

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Originally we had planned only to stay in Memphis for a few days, but with Thanksgiving fast-approaching travelling during the holidays was ill advised. So instead we booked ourselves into a motel for a week, which was good as we still had some sights in Memphis we wanted to see like the Mississippi River.

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As well as sightseeing we took the time to relax and make the most of not travelling, as we've done quite a few bus journeys in the US. On one day we took the Memphis Trolley (tram) to Midtown where we watched Twilight : Breaking Dawn at the cinema. Kayleigh did not want to miss it! It was fantastic.

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Its hard to believe but we're now down to the last 2 weeks of our trip! We'll try and keep you updated on our whereabouts, we're getting excited to see everyone back home for Christmas. :-)

Loads of love,

Kayleigh & Phil

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Posted by JoyRyderRTW 09:16 Archived in USA Tagged grand_canyon usa memphis nevada albuquerque oklahoma_city amarillo joyryderrtw Comments (3)

Living the American 'Backpacking' Dream

Two jam-packed weeks on the West Coast of the US

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Following a much-delayed 10 hour flight from Nadi, Fiji, we arrived at LAX shattered and ready to catch up on some sleep. We had booked to stay at the Venice Beach Hostel, who picked us up for free (bonus) and we headed straight for a power nap. After a few hours we were up and out, as we wanted to check out the sights of Venice Beach.

We walked down to the pier, along the promenade to Muscle Beach, the basketball courts and all the weird and wonderful street entertainers. As it was off season and the weather was pretty grim, we didn't get to see it at its busiest, but it was still cool to check out all the famous stuff like where Arnold Schwarzenegger was first spotted and where White Men Can't Jump was filmed.

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Thirsty from our walking, we decided to go for some Budweiser's and shared some chilli cheese fries, a nice way to start our trip of the US.

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The next day we were up early for the free breakfast the Hostel set out, and we got speaking to the manager, Iain, who was from Coventry. He recommended we go on a City Tour of LA, as we'd effectively lost a day due to the trouble with our flight from Fiji. We thought it was a great idea, and we were on the shuttle bus within the hour. It was a full day of sightseeing in the City of Angels, we went to Venice Beach, Santa Monica, Downtown, Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive.

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Highlights for us were seeing the Walk of Fame with over 2,000 stars names in the sidewalk, seeing the Hollywood sign in all its glory, driving past Michael Jackson's house where he died and taking a stroll along Rodeo Drive. Kayleigh enjoyed doing her best 'Pretty Woman' impressions while Phil couldn't stop drooling over the custom yellow and black Bugatti Veyron outside the House of Bijan.

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We checked out of the Venice Beach Hostel at 7am the following day, to make our way across the county to Anaheim. The main reason for this is because before leaving Fiji we had booked tickets for Disneyland, the only one of the Disney parks to be designed by Walt himself. A quick bus ride to LAX and then a shuttle to Anaheim got us to the hostel we were staying in, we threw our bags down and walked to the park (only 15 minutes away).

Once we got into Disneyland we had an amazing time, the weather was perfect and it wasn't too busy. We had a blast on rides like Indiana Jones, Space Mountain and Star Tours, watched the parade and even met Mickey Mouse (Kayleigh was so excited!) Unfortunately, the park closed at 7pm as they had a Halloween party on that night, and only ticket holders could stay in. As we had not heard about this party and there were no tickets left, we decided to leave and instead we had a look round the shops and bars at Downtown Disney.

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For the second day of Disney, we walked over to the adjacent park, California Adventure. We had another fantastic day, going on the super-fast California Screamin', the Tower of Terror, Toy Story Midway Mania, A Bugs Life and the Little Mermaid ride among others. We also went to see some really good shows, Aladdin had amazing sets and a star turn from the Genie, Tron Legacy did some cool effects with lasers/lights and the World of Color lit up the whole of the park with lights and huge blasts of water. We were shattered by the end of the day, but we had bought 3-day passes so we had one more day to make the most of it!

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We went back to Disneyland for the third day, going on all of our favourite rides and some of the others we had missed out, including Splash Mountain where we both got soaked, although Kayleigh got it worse to be honest! Haha. To end it all, we watched the famous fireworks display and then the Fantasmic show, which topped off an amazing three days of fun! We're big kids aren't we?! :-)

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Our next destination was San Francisco, and we had decided to buy Greyhound passes (like in Australia) as we couldn't stretch our budget to a rental car and flights weren't flexible enough for us to see everything. We got the bus from Anaheim to San Francisco at about 4pm, and made the 8 hour journey to San Fran. We caught a cab from the Greyhound and arrived at Adelaide Hostel in San Fran at 1am, we checked into our 6 bed dorm room and crashed...we were shattered.

We slept in until 10:30am and missed our free breakfast (damn it), but after our wake-up showers we were ready to explore the city.

First up was Union Square where a lot of the big shops and restaurants are. After a bit of window shopping we continued our walking tour to China Town starting at the impressive Dragon Gate. We looked around all the little trinket stores and took a short trip to 'Golden Gate Fortune Cookies' to have a look at how they make them...and enjoy some free samples.

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Later in the afternoon we decided to endure the steep climb up to Coit Tower, built at the top of Telegraph Hill. It was tough, but we've climbed worse. Here we could take in the magnificent 360 degree view of the city and it really was quite spectacular.

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We can say this for San Francisco, it definitely lives up to it's reputation - the hills are brutal to walk up but the city is beautiful. With a vibrant, energized atmosphere after just a few hours we were already convinced that this is one of the favorite cities of our trip.

After taking in the view at the tower we made our decline (so much easier than climbing the steps up) down the Filbert steps before making our way down to the piers to the Ferry Building for an early tea...some tacos. Yum.

That evening we joined in some games at the hostel, we played 'Catchphrase', where you are given the name of an object, place or name etc and you have to describe what it is to your team mates without saying the actual word within a set amount of time. We won the first 2 rounds out of 5. Woo hoo. And with each win came a free bottle of wine - lovely. :-) By the 3rd round we had finished both bottles so it's easy to see why we did pretty crap on the rest of the rounds. Lol. It was a really fun night.

In the morning we got up at 9am to enjoy our breakfast, we met up with Brent (one of guys we had met the previous night) who showed us around the Financial District and the nearby Shopping Mall, before taking us to the right bus stop to get to the Golden Gate Bridge.

We chose a gorgeous sunny day to go and see one of the most beautiful bridges in the world, and after just 2 short bus rides we had arrived at the infamous bridge. The sheer size of the bridge was outstanding, and with its giant towers, sweeping cables and unique orange-red colour, it's easy to see why this landmark is such a popular tourist spot and the most internationally recognised symbol of SF.

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We snapped away on our camera and posed for a few photos before we walked to the middle of the bridge, the view was incredible with the sun shining down on the city and Alcatraz in the near distance. A great day out. In the late afternoon we made our way back by taking a romantic stroll down the coast before catching the bus back to our hostel.

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Our remaining days in SF were spent exploring the city further and relaxing, we left on Saturday 29th October bound for Bakersfield. The journey was an 8 hour bus ride from San Fran, where upon arriving we checked into a motel where we stayed for the night. Bakersfield was really just a stopover on our way to Las Vegas, which if we hadn't have broken the trip up would have been a straight 13 hours.....we didn't fancy that. So we checked out the next morning to begin the remaining 5 hour Greyhound bus ride. We had made it to the one and only Sin City. :-)

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A quick taxi ride got us to our hotel, the lovely Imperial Palace, which for the 2 night stay was actually cheaper than staying in the dorm in SF - crazy!

As it was 9pm, the strip was all lit up and we wasted no time in going out to see it. Our hotel was across the road from Caesers Palace so it was nice and central - we went to see the water fountains at the Belaggio, caught the pirate show at Treasure Island and had a go on the slot machines. We managed to win $10 so we treated ourselves to some tacos, rock n roll or what?!

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We spent the next day walking round the Fashion Show and Downtown Outlet malls, as we bought tickets to the House of Horrors halloween party at XS nightclub. Phil was chuffed to be going to the party as Afrojack was lined up to DJ and we're always partial to a good costume party.

Unfortunately for us, finding halloween costumes in Vegas was alot more difficult than we ever imagined. We literally couldn't find any good shops selling costumes all day. Luckily we had seen an advert for Party City, a specialist costume store where we had to get a taxi to. The store was pretty low on costumes but we managed to get some, Kayleigh managed to get the last 'small' womens outfit, the rest were all huge. Haha.

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We got to XS at 11pm, it was in the classy Encore resort, and the club was like something out of a music video. Apparently the place cost $4 million, it had a large dancefloor, outdoor pool area and private booths for the 'high-flyers'.

It had been a while since we'd had a good blowout, so we made the most of the party, dancing, drinking and enjoying the time together. Almost everyone was dressed up in costumes and the music was great (Afrojack rocked!), it turned out to be one of the best nights of our trip.

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We woke the next day after very little sleep and had to check out, as we booked to stay in a hostel further up the strip. With our massive bags we got the bus which was packed with tourists giving us funny looks, apparently Americans have never seen backpacks before (or they thought we were terrorists lol).

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We checked in at Hostel Cat and climbed into our bunk beds to catch up on some zzz's. The next day we were back to full fitness and went out to see the rest of the city, including the Little White Wedding Chapel, Caesers Palace, New York New York, Excalibur and the Venetian.

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In the evening we took a trip up to the top of the Stratosphere Tower which had brilliant views of the city all lit up. We had been advised to go on the X-Scream ride which flings you over the edge at the top, but annoyingly it was closed! Instead we went on the Big Shot which fired you up into the air right at the very top of the tower, great fun. :-)

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As it was our last night we decided to try our look again in the casino at Stratosphere, and after an hour on one slot machine we had won $45 from the $8 we had put in. Yay!

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The next part of our trip in the US is making our way East to New York, so far we are having an amazing time. We'll keep you updated as much as we can.

Loads of love,

Phil and Kayleigh

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Posted by JoyRyderRTW 12:21 Archived in USA Tagged venice las_vegas chinatown california halloween los_angeles casino san_francisco golden_gate_bridge disney trams disneyland hollywood anaheim beverly_hills mickey_mouse vegas_strip afrojack Comments (2)

Our Holiday Within a Holiday

Taking a two week break in Fiji for some sun, sand and sea!

sunny 22 °C

After 4 weeks of a campervan in New Zealand we were certainly ready to hit the pause button and relax at our next destination, Fiji. The journey from Auckland was dead easy, it took 3 hours to arrive in Nadi and the flight was good as we got a free meal and watched Zookeeper.

We had booked to stay at the Bamboo Hostel for a few nights in Nadi, and got a free pick up from the airport. Nadi itself is the main starting point in Fiji and is where everyone goes to sail onto the smaller and nicer islands to the North. We spent some time deciding on where to go, as there are about 300 islands that make up Fiji so we wanted somewhere chilled but quite remote to get away from it all. In the end we booked a week at a place called Nabua Lodge, in the Yasawa Islands, which is famous for being one of the most beautiful parts of Fiji.

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On the Friday we set sail from Port Denerau and made the 5 hour catamaran journey to Nacula Island, unfortunately the weather wasn't the best so it didn't look how we'd hoped it would, the clouds were grey and it was drizzling (who knew it even rained in Fiji! haha!) Never the less we checked in at Nabua Lodge and were welcomed with calls of "Bula!", which means hello, from the staff. We had paid for accommodation and all of our meals, so we had lunch and threw our bags down in our little private Bure hut and went out to explore. With the rain getting worse everybody ended up congregating in the common room, until at 4pm the staff called out for volleyball (a daily ritual there lol) and we played while getting soaked, great fun!

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That evening after a well-earned shower, we enjoyed a curry-themed meal and played silly drunken games with the rest of the group. This included the cereal box game which a Scottish couple came up with, where you had to pick up a cereal box with your teeth without using your hands. It sounds easy, but it wasn't, particularly for Phil and the other tall ones who struggled to get down with the box getting smaller and smaller. Kayleigh as you can imagine, did amazing well, getting all the way to the end when you had to pick up a tiny cocktail stick. Impressive!

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Breakfast was served at 8 o'clock every day, so we were up early to enjoy that. We were quite lucky with our timing on the island as the locals were all excited for the annual Yasawa Rugby tournament, where all of the islands compete to be the best. We took a short boat trip across to another island and the whole community was out in force supporting their team and having fun in the sun. Everybody was so friendly and welcoming, it was great to be there and enjoy the rugby (luckily the weather had improved alot too!)

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Later that day we got the boat back to our island and the whole place looked totally different, the water was a gorgeous turquoise-blue, the beach looked perfect and the sun was shining, we went straight for a dip in the sea and sunbathed, bliss. In the evening the staff cooked using a lovo (earth oven) and put on a lovely Fijian buffet with fish, chicken, pork and different traditional vegetables - it was really tasty. Afterwards everyone gathered round to watch England defeat France in the Rugby World Cup, unfortunately we played crap and got beat, so the less said about that the better.

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The weather turned once again the next day, and it was pouring it down literally the whole day through. Unfortunately on a remote Fiji island when it rains, there isn't much to do but play cards and relax inside, so that's what we did. Although we had booked to stay at the same place for 7 nights, most other people had booked using Combo Passes, which meant they stayed a few nights at one place then moved on to other places (which was more expensive). This was really good for us as we got to meet loads of people, from everywhere from the UK to Sweden to Germany to Canada to Australia to Denmark, an eclectic mix!

Each evening the staff would let all the new arrivals introduce themselves, and we ended up playing different singing and dancing games for free beers. Seriously, one night we had to sing 'God Save the Queen' with a few other English people lol!

On the Tuesday we booked a trip to the Blue Lagoon, the location for the Brooke Shields film from the 80s. The weather was perfect and we enjoyed snorkelling in the crystal-clear, shallow waters, where fishing is banned so there were plenty of colourful fish to get close to.

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In the afternoon we were back at Nabua Lodge on hammocks in the sun, exactly what we wanted from our trip to Fiji! We took a break only to take a short walk to the tea shop down the beach, where a local guy baked the tastiest banana and chocolate cake and served it with cups of tea, awesome!

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A couple of our other highlights at Nabua included walking up a nearby hill to check out the sunset, which was incredibly colourful, a truly unique sunset.

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We also had fun on 'BBQ night', when the staff put on a lovely feast and finished it off with a Kava ceremony. This is where everyone sits in a circle chatting, playing and listening to music while a drink is passed around for everyone to try. Kava itself is made from a root plant and is a mild anesthetic so it makes your lips tingle when you drink it, and it also helps you sleep lol! We thought it tasted like muddy water, but it was worth a try as its a Fijian tradition.

For the rest of the time we made the most of the weather and relaxed on the beach, topping up our tans. We returned to the main island at Nadi for a few days before heading onto Los Angeles on the Tuesday, or so we thought!

When we arrived at the airport our flight had been cancelled, doh! We got to the check-in desk and the airline gave us vouchers to cover transfers, accommodation and meals, we were one of the fortunate bunch to be put up at the 5-star Sofitel resort. We were greeted with welcome drinks, cold towels and a rustic Italian buffet (including all you can eat desert, whoop!) Our room was the bit of luxury we had missed (it had two double beds!), it was just a shame we only had 5 hours to sleep before getting up at 4am to go back to the airport.

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Unfortunately, after checking in and boarding the plane, guess what??? We were told we had to all disembark the plane, as we had been delayed another 7 hours, so everybody cramped back into the small terminal and waited. By the time we finally boarded the plane we were exhausted, but at least we were on our way to the US.

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10 hours later we touched down at LAX, and so our US adventure had begun by losing a day, never mind, we've still got plenty of time to make it up.

We'll update you when we can, wishing you all well from across the pond. :-)

Love Phil & Kayleigh

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Posted by JoyRyderRTW 20:06 Archived in USA Tagged auckland beach fiji new_zealand nadi volleyball catamaran joyryderrtw yasawas nacula_island nabua_lodge Comments (2)

Joy, Ryder and Bruce in New Zealand! Part 2

Continuing our journey up to the North Island

sunny 23 °C

Hi Everyone,

We hope you are all well at home. We will dive right in and pick up where we left off last time, which was Invercargill. We hope you enjoy our latest entry!

So Invercargill...we only spent one night here and in truth we did very little. It was here however that we decided on the route we were going to take up to Dunedin. We agreed on driving up the beautifully dramatic Catlins. The scenery on this coastal route was magnificent, enhanced even further by the sunshine. We stopped off at Curio Bay, which is best known for its petrified forest and the extremely rare yellow-eyed penguins. After a bite to eat (sandwiches not penguins, we didn’t manage to get a glimpse of them) we also had a wander over to Porpoise Bay which was stunning. Later in the afternoon we took a short but steep trek to see Mclean Falls; so it was a pretty busy sightseeing day all in all. :-) We wanted to spend the night in a DOC campsite that we had read about, but after trying to find it for a good hour and driving down the longest gravel road in existence with no result...we gave up. Haha. We settled instead for a holiday park at Kaka Point.

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We woke up early in Kaka point and enjoyed some tasty bacon butties before heading off in Bruce again, this time to Nugget Point to see the seals and take in the northern side of the Catlins coastal view. The seals were quite far away and to begin with we had trouble seeing them, however another tourist leant us his binoculars so we could have a peek – they kind of looked like big slugs sunning themselves on the rocks from that distance. Lol. On the way back to our holiday camp we stopped by Roaring Bay, in the hope that this time we might see some penguins, but we were unlucky again. Doh.

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From Kaka Point, Dunedin is about 90 minutes away, and this was our next destination. On arrival we parked up in the city centre to have a look around. Funnily enough it was here we ran into Martin Johnson and Mike Tindall, we’re not big rugby fans so it was just a quick ‘Hi’ and ‘Bye’. Lol. We grabbed some lunch and had a look around before heading to our campsite, the ‘Dunedin Holiday Park’ which was overflowing with English Rugby fans all excited for the England v Romania game the following day – to which at this point we were planning to go but still didn’t have tickets.

Our first point of call in the morning?? Cadbury World of course. We joined a short tour and spent the morning in the factory learning all about different chocolate and tasting plenty of examples. Mmmmm. Even liquid chocolate. Our second point of call was to get our tickets for the rugby match. Luck was on our side that day as just as we walked into the ticket office 2 category B tickets became available, what a result. This meant paying just $51 each instead of $97. After we purchased our tickets we joined the 1000s of England and Romania fans for a few drinks before walking down to the recently built Otago Stadium. The game was great with an electric atmosphere, even better with a 67-3 win as I'm sure you all know. After our win we walked back into Dunedin centre and enjoyed a Vietnamese food banquet and some drinks, it was a fantastic way to end our day.

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The next day we began our 3 day journey up to Picton ready to catch the ferry to the North Island. On the first day of this leg we stopped off at Oamaru, a preserved historical city where we had a look round their farmers market and old fashioned candy shops, toy stores and cafes. Later in the afternoon we continued to Ashburton where we stayed at a Holiday Park overnight. It took 2 hours the next day to continue our drive up through Christchurch and onwards to the seaside settlement of Kaikoura, and as the weather was glorious again we enjoyed a hike through the lovely coastal alpine scenery which was overlooked by snow-capped mountains, it was just gorgeous. We spent the night at another DOC campsite before making the 2 hour journey to Picton the next morning and catching our Interislander ferry to Wellington at 6pm later that evening.

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We arrived in Wellington and drove just outside of the city to Harcourt Holiday Park where we camped for the night. The next day we went into Wellington to have a look around, making use of the free internet at the library to let home know we arrived safe. We then decided to carry on driving north, as our time in New Zealand was starting to run out and we had a lot of miles to cover before our flight onwards on 4th October. We made our way to the small town of Dannevirke for a overnight stop, and then continued to Napier, by this time we had racked up about 5 hours driving on the North Island so were ready for a break.

At Napier we had a look around the main town centre and walked along the beachfront, apparently it's the Art Deco capital of the world. We were chuffed as we managed to get a free sausage buttie and some free sweets from a local bank doing some advertising, literally 2 minutes from where we parked - it was just meant to be!

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Having spent some time enjoying the sunny weather we departed for Taupo in the centre of the island, or thats what Phil made Kayleigh think! The region of Hawke's Bay is famous for its wineries, so Phil drove to the oldest winery in New Zealand, Mission Estate, surprising Kayleigh in the process, haha! The winery was set in its own picturesque surroundings, we walked in and did some free tasting before buying a bottle to take away with us. :-)

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Two hours later we had reached Taupo, which is famous for being set on the biggest lake in New Zealand (it's huge!) We made our way to the main info centre to see what camp sites were in the area, and luckily enough they had some free places to stay due to the Rugby World Cup being on, result! That night we cooked off some spaghetti and watched Brick on Bruce's dvd player, a strange film we had picked up from Jucy Rentals, we wouldn't recommend it though!

Being up nice and early the next day, we headed into Taupo to check out the place. We parked up at the lake and watched tourists try their best to do the lake's "Hole in One" challenge, although it looked way too difficult so we decided against having a go. Later on, we drove out of town to see the lookout, which gives you a view of the whole town, it was just ok really (nothing on the views at Queenstown to be honest!)

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The highlight of the day was going to Huka Falls, where you can get pretty close to a waterfall on the Waikato River. The falls themselves aren't the highest, but its impressive none the less as they aren't very wide and absolutely loads of water flows through (apparently 220,000 litres of water a second!)

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After a relaxing evening in the van and a bit of breakfast the next day, we left Taupo and drove up to "Sulphur City", Rotorua. The place stunk of rotten eggs, as its a geothermal area shaped by volcanic activity, nice! We headed for Waimangu Volcanic Valley, where we did a 6km trek past smoking craters, geysers and bubbling pools, it was like a whole other world. The highlight for us was the inferno crater, which had an amazing sky-blue colour.

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We had been advised not to stay overnight in Rotorua (mainly due to the smell), so we drove further north to Matamata, where we set up camp for the night at the Opal Springs Holiday Park. We chose this site as campers get free use of their natural hot spring pools, so we pretty much just parked up and jumped into lovely 38 degree water, bliss!

The other reason we chose the site at Matamata is its really close to the Hobbiton Movie Set (www.hobbitontours.com), where the 'Lord of the Rings' Shire-scenes were filmed. The next day we went for a tour of the set, and unfortunately we had to sign a non-disclosure agreement for the production company, so we can't upload any photos or give much detail on it, but we can say we had a great time.

By now our time in New Zealand was running out, so we had to make the 2 hour trip to Auckland where we stayed just outside of the city close to the airport. The following day we had to say our goodbyes to Bruce and give him back to Jucy Rentals, which was a shame although we are really glad we rented a van as it enabled us to have a lot more freedom and we got to see so much of New Zealand. After we had dropped Bruce off we grabbed a lift on a shuttle to the airport where we booked into a cheap hotel for the night, so we were close by for our flight to Nadi, Fiji, the next day.

New Zealand has been incredible, there are hardly words to describe how beautiful this country is and how pleasant and welcoming its people are. This is definitely somewhere that we would like to visit again as even with as much as we did manage to cram in we barely scratched the surface.

And with that our New Zealand adventure was over, and our Fiji one was has just begun. We are in Nadi at the moment in a small hostel called Bamboo on the beach. Early tomorrow morning however we are catching a Catamaran out to Nacula Island in the Yasawas, one of Fiji's most attractive group of islands - and we can't wait.

Thanks for reading everyone, we hope you enjoyed it. We will catch up with you all again soon, probably from the states.

Lot's of love

Kayleigh and Phil

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Posted by JoyRyderRTW 01:51 Archived in Fiji Tagged auckland rotorua fiji new_zealand matamata kaikoura rugby nadi curio_bay joyryderrtw kaka_point rugby_world_cup Comments (3)

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