Christmas in Canada

It was a temperature change like no other. As soon as we stepped off the plane in the early morning grey clouds of Toronto it was a sigh of relief. Quickly followed by a shudder of ‘what have we done!?’ From 35 degrees to -7 it was definitely a shock to the system. We dumped our stuff off at our place we headed straight to an outdoors shop and bought essentials. Just like when we got to New Zealand we needed thermals, hats, scarves, gloves and hand warmers. We were set to explore and make Christmas memories in thick snow.

Toronto is a great walking city, you can get about really easily. We liked the urban feel with the views of the river right out of our flat we stayed in. The first night was comfort foods, hellooooo Poutine! During our stay in Canada we had so much yummy poutine, chips, cheese curds and yummy gravy. It was the perfect fix after missing gravy for so long.

We managed to cram lots into our time here. We found a great free event that runs twice a week throughout the year at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. We ended up seeing both performances the week we were there. A wonderful jazz band performing great Christmas classics along with their own new songs, and then a performance about a man’s night out after he finds his wife has left him. Two very different pieces but thoroughly enjoyed both.

To start our full winter wonderland Christmas we made our way to the Christmas Market. It was awesome, crammed full of fairy lights and decorations to get us starting to think all things Santa. After being in Mexico for three months and not having much of the build up to festive times, it was a great way to get into the festive spirit. We had mulled wine and wandered around the stores. They were all selling great products but nothing that could fit in the backpacks safely.

We spent a very cold afternoon warming up at the cinema, we love the cinema and Tuesday was $5 day. It was a really run down old school cinema that smelt a bit of feet but it was great. We also managed to catch a great and free event on at a different cinema called Wild Sound Film Festival. They showed around eight short films created and filmed by women, after each showing we got time to debate and question the film. It was a wonderful evening supporting newcomers into the film industry, as well as seasoned short film directors. It’s all donation based and they have many events throughout the year.IMG_20181213_183601.jpg

Toronto can’t be visited without making your way to Niagara Falls. We got the public bus over there and braved the icy winds and the sprinkling of snow that had begun. We were surprised that it was so quiet, but with it being winter we quickly learned why. The town is a little dreary, sad and grey with looming casinos and big hotels. We was glad we weren’t staying here and only visited for a few hours. The Falls are huge and it was exciting to go in the tunnels underneath to hear and feel the power of the water. But overall it was a little underwhelming, maybe a trip in the summer needs to be had!

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Our first time on a Greyhound coach all the way to Ottawa! The Canadians that we’ve met seem to laugh at the fact that we made the effort to visit their capital, claiming there’s nothing there. We did sense that the city is very much for the business and government workers but we had fun walking about exploring. We even got a free tour around the Parliament building that they are getting ready for renovating. You got to see the library that was saved from the great fire, the house of commons and the Peace Tower. We also learnt about their history and that the queen is also their monarch. It’s a great free thing to do for an hour or so in the afternoon. Ottawa is also home to the worlds largest naturally frozen ice rink, but unfortunately despite feeling it, it was not cold enough to be fully frozen.

A new obsession of maple candy has been born and we’ve never looked back. We did eat so much maple syrup, sugar and butter it was a bit ridiculous. We got our first taste at a farmers market in Ottawa. We also found Obama Cookies and such yummy mac n cheese that we’d been craving since the States.

After our short stay in the capital we got on the train and headed to Quebec City. It was getting closer to Christmas Day and we couldn’t wait to get into our Airbnb to get the supplies in. Quebec is such a beautiful city. Especially with all the lights strung up and decorations everywhere. It was by the coldest we’ve felt in all our travels so far. It got down to -20 degrees on some days with it feeling like -35… very cold. We went and explored on the first day, looking at the beautiful architecture, also visiting the christmas market. Although it wasn’t as big as Toronto’s one.

We found the big ice toboggan slide. It was amazing, so amazing that even though we couldn’t feel our feet or our faces after queueing for 40 minutes, it was still worth it.

We also got to try maple ice taffy, they have a trough of fresh ice shavings and pour hot maple syrup onto it. You use a lollypop stick and you roll the sticky maple and ice onto it. Delicious!

Christmas Day was full of lots of food and drink, even baking cookies to make ice cream sandwiches. We started the day going for a chilly walk around the snow covered park and video called family and friends so we didn’t miss them too much. Well untill our phones switched off because it was too cold for them outside. It was definitely a wonderful day spent together in a beautiful city and lived up to our cold wintery christmas that we wanted. Even with Netflix having a christmas fire and carols show, though I did make Stu sit through lots of christmas films…

 

We even had a christmas card to open thanks to Coops, I did a big cry since it was a surprise that turned up! We love you!

Our Airbnb host was great at giving tips and information on where to visit. On boxing day we made a trip to a huge waterfall called Montmorency Falls. About half an hour out of the city, it was so beautiful and full of visitors. The public bus went straight there and you could explore the falls from the top and get a cable cart to the bottom. It was the coldest ever though so we tried to do it all quite quickly so we could defrost with more hot chocolates.

Montreal was so much fun. We went bowling, to the cinema and round the shops and restaurants. We also found our new favourite hobby that we’re going to carry on when we get home, if we have a garden… Axe throwing. This was an Airbnb experience and we loved it. We were taught how to stand and throw the knifes and axes and attempted to get the bullseye. They also have a giant Nerf assault course, which we wised we had time for.

New years eve was lots of fun, we celebrated the UK one in our apartment and then Canadian, so lots of bubbles were consumed! We ventured out into the night with lots of people to go and watch the fireworks. As always when you venture across the world to meet new people, we ended up standing next to a lovely family from England. Parents were over visiting their daughter who was studying at university here! The fireworks had nothing on the UK’s as it started to snow and the cloud came in. This just made the fireworks loud bangs and smoke. The crowds were huge despite it being so cold, but I think they are way more prepared for the cold than we were.

The last thing we wanted to do before heading to the mountains was to see a hockey game. It’s been a while but we love watching ice hockey. The Canadiens against the Toronto Maple Leafs, it was a great atmosphere. We were rooting for the Canadiens and it was great to see them win.

After fun in the city we were so excited to get to the mountains. We got our beast of a rental car and took to the snowy mountains. We went straight to Parc Omega an hour and a half drive from Montreal. It’s a huge area devoted to the conservation, moose, elk, bison, wolves, bears… all in their natural environment. You can buy carrots to feed to the animals, two bags were not enough. The drive around is magical in itself with the snow capped landscape but then add all the animals that roam around freely and it’s incredible.

Our first cabin was perfect. A beautiful bit of land that includes walks through the forest to a frozen lake and small streams. Snow shoeing is so much fun, we’ve never had to use snow shoes before but it is necessary to hike in the winter. We loved it! You end up in the middle of a forest deep in snow which stops any sounds, it was eerily peaceful.

Our second cabin was more rustic but came with a wonderful neighbour called Leon, a beautiful Golden Retriever. We had many surprise visits from him. Our cabin was equipped with Scrabble board games and a 1000 piece jigsaw that got started on straight away, it’d been a while. The cabin is set on a beautiful lake that was so deeply covered with snow that snow shoes were again needed.

And now Leon…

We also managed to fit in some slopes action, but in the form of tubing! We got in a queue full of small school kids and went crazy on the slopes. It’s like over inflated rubber rings that you see in water parks that have a rope around to pull along. Our first go down the hill and we really didn’t expect it to go so quick. It was ridiculously fast and caused a surge of adrenaline. We kept going up and down, trying out the different runs and loving it much more than the kids I think!

Overall we had the best, coldest, snow filled adventures in Canada we could want. We’ve already started planning a trip back in the summer months to visit the west side to British Columbia. We love you Canada!

 

Viva La Vida

Oaxaca (WaHaKa) City is our most favourite place in Mexico, and up there with one of our most favourite places we’ve visited so far. It truly is beautiful with lots of colonial buildings in the middle of the city, and the stunning 16th century church Santo Domingo. But it’s the vibrancy of the constant celebrations and people who make this place so wonderful.

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We decided that we wanted to learn some Spanish since we’d be spending a lot of time in Central and South America from now on. It’s good to be able to get by with some basics in the countries you visit rather than having to rely on people speaking English. Which you can’t really do here as so many people don’t speak English. Except all Europeans we met, they put English people to shame, they usually can speak 3 or more languages.

We found a lovely spanish school, Amigos Del Sol and signed up for 4 weeks of lessons. Emma had some previous knowledge but I had no spanish skills. The school was great, our teacher Esteban was brilliant and ended up being just us three for the whole four weeks. Esteban regularly had his Lucha Libre mask since he was also a secret part-time wrestler. We had the bonus of having cute dogs on site and one that was so tiny called Chapulina (Grasshopper) she liked to jump all the time. Grasshoppers are also a local delicacy here. Walking in town you would just see huge sacks of Chapulines for sale, cooked and covered in spices. Safe to say we were not bothered in trying these.

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Rogelio the owner is probably the nicest soul you could ever meet. So lovely and passionate about teaching and we came away feeling like family. Emma decided to collapse midway through our lesson and then faint a further 5 times before we got her home. Rogelio and Esteban could not be more helpful and offered anything we needed which was super sweet. It seemed everyone we spoke to in our time in Oaxaca got sick at some point, either dodgy water or from bites.

The main reason we wanted to come to Oaxaca was for Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead). This is a time families welcome back the souls of their deceased relatives for a brief reunion that includes food, drink and celebration.  It was honestly one of the most wonderful experiences we have had and truly is such a lovely celebration for the dead. I wish we celebrated death the way they do here and certainly will try to more. Live brass bands, bright colours, happiness and remembering the precious times had with people.

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The streets get filled with Marigold flowers, in arches, displays and on wires along the street. These are meant to represent the fragility of life. It is believed that the spirits of the departed loved ones come to visit during the celebration and Marigolds are used to help guide the spirits with their vibrant color. You would also see altars, called ofrendas, honoring the deceased using calaveras, aztec marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed, and visiting graves with these as gifts. These were everywhere and in all shapes and sizes.

We met a wonderful woman called Becky from the spanish school, who was having lessons too. We ended up hanging out lots and visiting all the different celebrations. Then we went and got our faces painted and met some air stewards from America. We had a lovely night with them having a mixture of mezcals and tequilla. They had just flown in for the celebrations and it seemed a lot of people did that. It’s a wonderful time to be around Oaxaca.

Since we lived in the same place for 4 weeks it was the perfect restbite from constantly moving around and we started to feel part of the community. Our airbnb host would pop in for chats and we bought different foods from our neighbours. Oaxaca doesn’t just come alive when it’s Dia de los Muertos. There is always something going on. Loads of live music, party’s, weddings. It has a wonderful feel about it and lots of coffee bars.

Within Oaxaca Provence there is a large coast line, so we took the long bus down to the seaside. Emma’s travel sickness was not keen on this as the mountain road is just constantly winding for 10 hours. We ended up in Puerto Escondido. There are a few other beaches around but we really liked it there. Perfect little spot at the less popular end, with sunbed service and tasty food, Could not ask for more.

We stayed in a hostel there, which we hadn’t done in a while and remembered why we had not missed them. Someone came back at 3am trying not to pay for a taxi so the taxi man was going to beat him up. Then at 5am someone decided to come back and play their bongos and talk about the meaning of life… This is not a reflection on all hostal times we have had, we’ve had some awesome ones. But the likelihood that stuff like that is going to happen is higher when you stay at a hostal. It’s like being at uni sometimes but people finding themselves in a more profound way. On the way back to the airport we stayed a few more nights in Oaxaca city. We did some more siteseeing with Becky just before she left for home. There is so much to see in the surrounding towns and endless markets and delicious food.

Our flight headed towards Cancun so we could visit Playa Carmen and Tulum. These are the more touristy spots of Mexico, Cancun and Carmen more than Tulum. Toursity is generally usually a good thing, but here it just meant endless harrasment and tatt. Tatt is all the stuff you don’t want to buy but will be offered a hundred different versions of it. Sold on any platform they can sell it on. Tatt on a matt, tatt on their head, hands, cars, wheel barrows and sacks. We get it, people need to make money and we are beyond used to this sort of action. But here it was just on another level and relentless offering of drugs. If you come to these areas, you need to be staying in your resorts and doing tours as compared to other areas I would say the main towns are a bit rough and not nice even compared to other places in Mexico. There are definitely nicer places just further down the coast, but we were short on time so had restricted ourselves to these areas.

We enjoyed Tulum more,  but our most favourite part was our private cinema date night. It’s called Zine and part of a beautiful complex which is still being finished. You get your own private room, comfy chairs, air con and you pre-order a meal to be delivered halfway through the film along with snacks. We chose Coco since we’d never seen it before and had just enjoyed all of the celebrations it portrays in the movie.

Surprisingly the beaches around these areas suffer terribly from lots of seaweed. Plus some areas smell really bad, a mixture of sulphur and sewage. People are constantly trying to rake up the seaweed as it’s so awkward to swim around it. Overall if you want a nice beach holiday and some nice site seeing, maybe look else where first.

From Cancun we headed to Guadalajara, we wanted to see a good variety of places and this was meant to be a diverse city. This has so many great places to visit, parks, museums, and art galleries. Oh and more delicious food! Mexico is definitely the tastiest country we have been too. So much good food! We tried to squeeze in as much as possible. We were headed back to our flat when we saw a crowd start to gather by the road. We stood for a while and the crowed got bigger and bigger.  As it got completely dark, we could see a lot of lights in the distance and what appeared to be a parade. Then we saw it, the most famous truck in the world. The Coca Cola truck! Santa and the holidays were coming, slightly early but they were on their way!

It’s a big University city, so lots of nice places to go and a younger feel at certain areas. On Sunday like in lots of city’s in Mexico they shut one of the main roads down which goes through the whole city so it’s strictly for cyclists and pedestrians. This is to encourage families to come out and cycle and see their city. We only had a few nights here but made the most of it. Would love to come back.

From here it was two flights to get to Canada. I was challenged at the airport to a dance off and then enjoyed the beautiful lights of our night flight.

 

 

 

 

Ciudad De Mexico

Hola Mexico! We were so excited to get to explore Mexico for three months. It’s somewhere that we really wanted to visit and slow down a little to take time in certain areas. We spent two weeks in the capital. Luckily for us we landed on Mexico’s Independence Day and got swept into the busy bustling city to watch the festivities.

It was the best introduction to Mexico, the streets were closed off to traffic and thousands of people were in the streets celebrating. They smash eggs full of colourful paper over your head, let firecrackers off in the street and everyone gets searched in long queues by the army before you enter the main square for huge fireworks. Fireworks so loud it felt like the earth was shaking as they echoed off the buildings and smoke filled the air as the show went on. So much smoke that you ended up not actually seeing the fireworks in the end!

The next day was a salute to the armed forces. Huge parades go down the main roads full of army vehicles and processions. It was wonderful to see everyone being celebrated since the history is full of distrust between the government and the citizens.

This busy and chaotic city is full of museums, art galleries and a huge park for a break from the traffic and noise. Though the park at the weekend is so full and bustling you do have to walk really far in for some peace. There’s so many vendors selling everything from a photo with an Avenger to shaved ice with syrup and chili sprinkled on top and every plastic toy in between. The park has a theme park, galleries, fountains and a lake to go boating on. We visited here a few times during our two weeks stay and really enjoyed the atmosphere and huge space of it all.

We visited the incredible museum of anthropology and learnt so much about the Mesoamerican life. We were lucky to see a traditional Danza de los Voladores where four men climb to the top of a ridiculously tall pole hang upside down and spin down whilst playing music. It was fascinating to watch and they didn’t even seem dizzy when they landed back on the ground.

The biggest part for me and I think Stu too, was visiting Casa Azul, Frida Khalo’s house. We planned to go on a weekday to try to beat the crowds. I was so excited to step into her space and find out all about her art, loves and life. We weren’t disappointed and it was amazing to be in her creative space and see so much of hers and Diego Rivera’s work. She was an incredible powerful woman who never let her illnesses and trauma stop her from what she wanted to achieve. Frida is a true inspiration to so many around the world and if you come to Mexico, you have to visit Casa Azul.

Stu managed to find a quirky bar to go to not far from our flat. It’s set up like a speakeasy. It was throwing it down with rain with thunder and lightning tearing up the sky but we were determined to find it. You went through what looked like an average cafe and said we had a reservation, luckily the first cafe we went in was the right one! You went through a store cupboard and into a small but beautiful bar, the staff were really passionate about every cocktail they produced, we had such a good night and a couple of free drinks to try. After you’ve had enough you exit through a real drinks fridge…

Thank you Rick Stein, this legend with his tv show in Mexico made us brave enough to venture to a Pulqueria. This is a bar that sells solely Pulque which is a fermented alcoholic drink that dates back to the Mesoamerican times. We didn’t try a new modern fancy bar, no, we went to the same one as good ol’ Rick. It was intimidating at first but the staff were really friendly, explained everything in spanish but to our luck we got sat on a table full of amazing students who were studying to be maths teachers. We had a fun time teaching each other different words in our languages and sharing buckets of Pulque. We tried lime and chili, guayaba and oat… the oat was not great. The drinks are thick and fizzy and strange but definitely a must do.

In our two weeks in Cuidad de Mexico we ate so much delicious food as well, street food is everywhere and it’s delicious. We were surprised at how much vegan and veggie food were available and how much the traditional spirit Mezcal can burn your tongue… We upped our chilli levels here and never looked back. We took too many trips to the Churreria which was a two minute walk from our place. Nothing beats a hot churro and thick cinnamon spiced chocolate to dunk into.

We took the local bus to see the huge ruins of Teotihuacán. It’s about a 50 minute bus ride out of the city, we were warned that people do get robbed on these buses but we had no trouble at all. It was a bit weird when a guy came on and filmed us all on the bus but apparently that is a standard security measure and we had this happen many times whilst travelling in Mexico. The ruins are huge and sprawling, the temples are really old and crumbling but you can still climb up them. The views from the top are stunning, you get to see the layout of this ancient world. It’s so hot as you’re walking around, there’s no shade but it has to be done to see the amazing sights. The only annoying thing were the constant vendors walking around trying to sell plastic key chains or whistles that apparently sounded like a jaguar.

With all the museums, parks bars and street food we tried, we only just touched the surface and we can’t wait to be back to do more exploring. We’ll have to come back to the capital anyway so we can make a transfer to our favourite place Oaxaca, which is coming up next!

LA, Las Vegas, Seattle, San Fran back to LA

Our Air Bnb in Venice Beach was tiny but awesome, we were so adamant to stay in this area and the hotels were either really expensive or too far out. We were a 10 minute walk away from Abbot Kinney Blvd which is known as Hipster Street. It’s the perfect place to people watch whilst sipping an iced coffee in the heat before moving to the next coffee shop to get the perfect donuts. Venice is still the grungy, crazy, diverse place it was when I visited it as a kid with my family. I was so eager for Stu to love it, which he did immediately. You have the beautiful coast and the insanely wonderful people to watch and chat to. We walked through the canals looking at the wildly different houses which cost millions and wandered through alleys to get the best food.

We walked all the way from Muscle Beach to Santa Monica on the first morning. Stopping to show off our crazy skills on the gymnastic ropes… We stopped off at Pacific Park on Santa Monica’s Pier. It’s full of amusements, rides and candy floss. the view from the pier is also beautiful looking into the vast ocean and seeing how crazy busy the beach is. We loved our first couple of days here and glad we stayed just in this area before we set off travelling about. We knew we would have a few days to explore the rest of the city on the way back.

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Las Vegas… What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas right? This place was crazy. We’d been staying in a lot of dive motels trying to find the cheapest and cleanest we could get but coming to Vegas we decided to use our old friend Air Bnb. We stayed in a huge complex joined onto the MGM Grand which was a suite so we could cut costs down buying food and drinks in. Mainly drinks and some potato chips…

We did a lot of walking about the strip. Looking into all the crazy over the top hotels and listened to awesome live bands. The first night we went straight to New York New York Hotel to go on the roller coaster after a few beers first, it was so much fun! We gambled on the machines but didn’t dare get near the poker tables, they were great to watch people though. Stuie even won a bit of money on a random machine too!

We also booked to see Zombie Burlesque, it was a hilarious comedy, cabaret, burlesque show that we were glad we booked to watch. You came out with side pain from laughing. They definitely didn’t take themselves too seriously and it was a little bit of blue for a Vegas trip.

It did feel good to dress up and be silly for a few days since we’d been moving everyday from one place to the next. We also had a great night out on the last night in the old strip, which was definitely more worn than the glitz of the new strip.

We ended up finding a tiny bar tucked away, where we made friends with the bar staff (always a hangover looming when this happens) and a pianist who was a genius and could play any song you asked (shout out to Lou since we got Spandau Ballet played) Too many gin and tonics and songs later we piled into the Uber, spilt a drink, got a fine, and I was sick back in the hotel room… safe to say we did Vegas right. The next morning checking out and driving to Hoover Dam was a blurred memory that I’m still trying to forget.

Seattle… We fell in love with this city as soon as we drove into it. We always say it’s our favourite city that we visited. It’s a slower pace than some places we’ve visited with beautiful landscape just minutes from the laid back atmosphere. We’d go back here in a heartbeat. Our Air Bnb was a dream. The best one we stayed at in the States.

It was in a families garage that they had converted. The photo doesn’t do it justice since there were little details that made it amazing, like the three different styles of coffee makers and beautiful furnishings that made it out of a Pinterest pin board. There was also an Xbox which Stuie was extremely happy about but didn’t get much of a chance to play!

First we drove to Pike Place, it’s somewhere we’ve always wanted to visit because, well food. We researched into lots of places to try out, especially coffee and mac n cheese.

We were warned not to go at the weekend to the Market so it wasn’t too busy when we went. Beechers mac n cheese is the best and I’ve craved it ever since. We bought a few bits to cook back to the house along with amazing pasta, cheeses, breads and even tried lavender infused pasta. The first ever Starbucks is still right there with huge queues, we didn’t fancy waiting so the next day we ventured to the roastery, it’s huge with so many different bars to get a coffee, cake or even a cocktail at. We loved doing a taste testing here and watched as the coffee beans were making their way through the roasting process as we sat and enjoyed the caffeine hit.

As Seahawks fans we managed to get tickets to a preseason game at Century Field. It’s an incredible atmosphere in the city on game day. Everyone is sporting their jerseys, leggings, hats, jumpers, socks to support the team and people really get into the tailgate, this was only preseason as well, we can’t imagine how it is for the proper games.

I think the reason why we loved Seattle was the new quirky cafe’s and restaurants, the small independent shops and book stores, the fact that we saw our first poetry slam night and a lovely political left vibe throughout the city. You’re close to all this and yet a small drive out and you’re on Pudget Sound surrounded by beautiful waters and nature. Our ideal city.

San Francisco… Our main tourist attraction in San Fran was of course the Golden Gate bridge and Alcatraz. We’d booked tickets for the extended night tour back when we were in New Zealand since we knew it booked up really quickly, especially being there in the summer months. I’d been before but we got to see so much more on this tour. It took you into the hospital wing, an underground isolation group of cells that was so creepy and you got to watch the sun sink low under the Golden Gate. We heard different stories and found out what the island was before it became a prison, essentially it’s always been a fort of some form or the other and to hold off invasions for the bay. It’s gruesome and grimy and we loved it. There’s so much history and such a vast difference from prisons in our country now. We couldn’t imagine being stuck on the rock isolated from everything in bad conditions listening to the sounds of the city getting blown in through the windows.

We decided to walk to the Golden Gate through the park with a picnic. The day was beautiful and full of sunshine, the park was full of people playing various different sports and many like us who wanted to eat yummy food in the peace of the park from the city. We walked for miles and miles this day and enjoyed every bit of it, we even got a free bus ride back to the wharf!

There’s so much to do in San Fran, we walked all over the city to get the best bakery goods, see the wharf at Pier 39, coffee, tram rides to hang off and an awesome spot for a happy hour wine! We were also lucky enough to stumble across a great street food festival that had so many food trucks with a diverse array of food that would satisfy anyone!

After an incredible 5 or 6 weeks road tripping around the west coast of the States. We’ve seen so many tiny 2 road towns, stayed in horrendous motels that actually made our skin crawl (Thanks to bedbugs in one motel) and seen the diverse and incredible range of landscapes in such a small timeframe. We loved it. Especially want to mention Victor Montana and our unique stay in an Air Bnb that made us extend our stay. Maybe it was just because we got frequent visits from their dogs, lovely chats by the pond with the owners and picking our own fruit in the garden!

We did also visit Puyallup State fair which was an amazing experience, from vegetable competitions, strange and interesting collections and a huge fairground not to mention the food we’d definitely check it out again!

Our last few nights in LA were great, we stayed at the opposite end to Venice and explored the Hollywood Blvd (at night to get the real grotty sleazy experience for Stu) Universal Studios was our end treat to visit Hogwarts again! Also an ill timed trip to visit the Griffith Observatory, since there was an event on heading over there and we got stuck in ridiculous traffic. We’ll be back to this side of the states very soon. There’s so much to see and do and so many hills and forests to hike.

There were too many things to write about in our short but very jammed packed time. Here is a map showing the little loop we did with a few of our spots.

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See ya’ll in Mexico!

USA National Parks!

Our first National Park was Joshua Tree. The famous trees that are iconic to this area start filling the wide dusty open spaces between the highway as you drive into town.  The town is small but has great quirky restaurants like the Saloon where we heard an amazing blues band play and devoured burgers, mac n cheese and beer.

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We made sure we started a hike in the middle of the desert very early, we got there before the park opened. Fortunately it’s always open and we had bought an annual parks pass for $80 the day before. The pass is an incredible deal, some parks are $35 for one day and we visited a few so got our moneys worth. We stopped a couple of times on the way to our first walk and made the most of the quiet morning. It was already reaching high temperatures at 6am. We decided on a short walk through the desert and hiked through cactus, Joshua trees and discovered that there is an abundance of little critters skittering around like desert squirrels, rabbits, lizards, and chipmunks who became a favourite to watch throughout the roadtrip.

Near Joshua Tree is an old west town called Pioneertown which was founded by Hollywood investors 1946. They dreamed of creating an Old West set that was actually a town worth visiting, with 1880s-style false-front facades but interiors that had stuff for visitors to see and do too. Up went (from the outside) frontier stables, saloons, and jails; inside, they housed ice cream parlors, bowling alleys, and motels. More than 50 films and television shows were filmed here in the 1940s and ‘50s.

We came back in the evening, chasing the setting sun just in time to watch it sink away across a vast viewing point called Key View. On a clear day you’re meant to be able to see a mountain in Mexico. Maybe not for ever if someone gets their wall… The colours could never be captured enough on the camera, it was an incredible experience to see how many colours are in a sunset with changing vistas colouring the mountains below in different tones. We also played Blues Brothers on the way, just to set the mood…

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Joshua trees are actually apart of the Yucca family and are apparently named because Mormon settlers were reminded of a biblical story of Joshua reaching his hands to the sky. We thought they looked like a Dr Seuss story. Each to their own.

Next was the Grand Canyon. I had visited this park with my family many years previously and couldn’t wait for Stuie to see it. We decided to head to the south rim to view the sun rise. We had to set off from Flagstaff, which is an hour and a half drive at about 4am. We knew a popular area was Mather Point so we decided to beat the crowds and walked to Yaki Point where we had the sight of watching a perfect and beautiful sunrise all to ourselves. Of course we had to make sure Mark and Sam joined us.

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We walked to the other visitors centre where I had previously seen with my family. It’s such a busy and popular area to visit. Coming early in the summer heat is the only way to do it. There was no way we would have got a parking spot so easily or handled the hike we did as it got to lunch time and we were in the peak heat. The views are forever changing with the height of the sun, it’s so impressive. Next time we’d want to come for the white water rafting, we didn’t have time on this trip but it’s on the never-ending list of things to do.

It’s not a National Park but we made sure we did a tour of the Slot Canyons in Page. We were fortunate to walk through the orange/red spirals of the canyon on a Navajo Tribal Park. We sped through bumpy and winding tracks in a truck to the canyon. It was the most surreal and beautiful thing to see. Out in the middle of nowhere the canyon is only there due to water that for thousands of years has worn down rock to create tunnels that look fiery orange and red making the heat of the day vanish as you step into the shadows to explore them.

We also got to do the most intense short walk ever to see Horseshoe Bend. The tempretures were in the 40’s and the sweat dripping down our faces proved it was melting. We got the photo, saw how dangerously close to the edge people were getting and cooled off in a Walmart near by for fluids and AC.

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Arches National Park in Moab Utah was a great day driving around and hopping out for quick sweat inducing hikes. The history behind the delicate and wonderful architecture of the land is dated back to roughly 65 million years. So it’s old. Much like the colour of the landscape at Slot Canyon the Arches sandstone has been warped away by millions of years of water, wind and exposure. The different colours and layers you see in every rock are a timeline of this. The park is really busy with lots of people driving around, some areas are a little less crowded. We were expecting this anyway coming in the height of summer. It was easy enough to see the main sights as well as veer off away from crowds and explore different areas.

Zion National Park in Springdale Utah was one of our favourites. We got a very early hike at the Hidden Trail. The elevation at the start is crazy but bearable in the morning coolness, as we were making our way back down at lunchtime people were really struggling demanding to know if it’s all worth it… which it definitely is. The view at the top is mind-blowing, its tight paths winding up and around the steep climbs with no safety net so people fearful of heights were turning round at this point. It slopes down into a valley where you do have to rock climb a little to get to the end of the Hidden Trail.

We were lucky enough for the timing to be perfect to see the Perseid meteor shower at Zion that evening. The Rangers put on a talk in the open air at 9pm because there was a meteor shower happening. They even had a huge telescope set up to see the stars and planets up close and personal. The sky was thankfully clear and we got to witness thousands of stars and so many meteor showers that we lost count. Stu was ridiculously awesome at capturing the nights sky. We stayed at the park until 2am laying on the grass and watching the night light up.

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Zion (2 of 15)We had planned to visit Yosemite but unfortunately it wasn’t possible to visit due to forest fires that had ravaged through a big and main area of the land. There was many detours because of this and it’s something that is battled with the hot summer heat every year. Driving through many small towns and park areas were signs saying how much they loved and appreciated their emergency services. This did change our plans quite a lot though and we decided to head to Yellowstone.

Yellowstone National Park is a huge area, roughly 2.2 million acres and it is full of geysers, forest and wildlife. It was cooler up here in Wyoming so we went for a much longer hike. We got up at 5am to enter the park to get a parking spot and to start the hike to Fairy Falls. Along the way we got to view the Grand Prismatic geyser from a higher viewing platform so you see the entire circumference and colours which seemed fake with the mountainous range behind it. We ended up hiking to Fairy Falls but then cutting onto other trails and hikes of our own as well. We got back after 6 hours of walking, no bears were spotted as much as we tried. The landscape feels never ending and a lot more rugged than our previous hikes so far. We only had a day in the park but we did make the most of it.

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Crater Lake in Oregon is the bluest colour I have ever seen. The deep yet vibrant blue that never can be captured by a camera. The crater is roughly 1932 ft deep, it’s the deepest lake in the States. It was created by a huge volcano erupting and exploding 7,700 years ago. We got to hear about the impact of humans introducing non indigenous fish to the lake and messing with the eco system, it’s a daily battle to try and keep amphibians that are only found here alive and multiplying due to crayfish being introduced and trout. They encourage people to fish in one specific area to try and combat the imbalance that we as humans had created so long ago before the research had been done. There’s lots of hike around and only one way of getting to the bottom where there’s a jetty and you can board the speed boat at a fee or fish. They do have a floating tree that they have named The Old Man which is a vertical tree stump that has apparently been spotted bobbing up and down int he water since 1867. It dances around the whole lake so Rangers don’t know where it’s going to turn up that day.

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Redwood National Park in California is huge. Not just the size of the area but the trees themselves. We were lucky enough to get a good amount of time here and do a hike but just driving through the area was amazing in itself. The shade and density of the forest really does cancel out so much sound and we feel like an ant compared to these giants. We even did the classic drive your car through a tree. It was a tight squeeze but a fun novelty. There was so much wildlife around here as well. We were really lucky to come across a herd of Roosevelt Elk, they are huge and so beautiful. We got really excited to see so many in the wild, they had at one point been dangerously close to being extinct but the National Parks Service intervened at the right time and it’s one of their biggest conservation success stories. This park is also great because you can be in the thickest part of the forest but a little drive out and you’re by the beautiful west coast sea spotting seals, whales and dolphins.

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Next stop is some of the city’s we visited on the way and our favourite ever Airbnb!

Final New Zealand And An Unexpected Trip Home

So from Franz Josef we needed start heading back towards the North Island, we followed the coast most of the way up with frequent stops taking in the breathtaking views and still on the lookout for more penguin action. It was another beautiful ferry crossing back to the other side. Thankfully Emma felt less sick this time so when we docked we headed straight to see Mount Taranaki. This is located on the westside and is the mountain we could see when was up near Mordor towards the other side. We did a walk towards it but had to turn back as the path was just full of snow and ice.

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So we thought something was missing in our lives and we found it. A Shakespeare themed glockenspiel in Stratford! This place was more Shakespearean than the real Stratford. Even the drain covers were engraved with Shakespeare’s face and who knew you could do puns with Shakespeare and CCTV. You’ve excelled yourself New Zealand. 

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We found a cute freedom camping spot by a lake and a farm but we found out we were in the middle of  a professional caravan club meeting. We arrived with Pam who sticks out like a sore thumb next to the grand caravans on display. We didn’t see anyone under 50 in the fanciest caravans. So we flew our flag of Northamptonshire’s finest.

This was our last night in Pam so we treated ourselves to Prosecco before visiting the shire the next day.

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Hobbiton! Would be rude not to visit one of the most famous attractions in New Zealand. Finally nice to see some houses designed for our size! It’s a brilliant concept from a business point of view from Peter Jackson and the farm owner. It was great to see the set up close and see how much detail had gone into it all. You even get to enjoy a drink in the pub from their own brewery. 

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We dropped PAM off, which was a little sad as she had looked after us well on our little journey around.. We had a little while left in New Zealand so we picked up a hire car for the last part of our trip. 

Once we’d picked up our hire car we headed into the centre of Auckland for an ice cream! We’d read amazing things about these ice creams, you can have a selfie frame, octopus and many more. We settled for a deluxe cone since we had to move the car from the most expensive parking ever, thanks Aukland! The ice cream was delicious. Our friend Alicia did an ice cream making session there, which we wish we had done now! Next time!

We stayed in a couple of Airbnbs and this was just the nicest treat ever. We didn’t have to run out in the cold in the middle of the night to pee and not have to wrap up in loads of layers to stay warm. We absolutely loved our time in Pam and definitely want to do it all again. But it certainly made us appreciate the comforts of a real home! 

The North is just as beautiful as the rest of this country! The bay of islands is particularly impressive. We made it up to Cape Reinga, where it is considered to have the separation point of two seas, the Tasman Sean and the Pacific Ocean, so you get to see lots of swirls and large clashes out at sea. 

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The tough bits about being away is when our nearest and dearest are unwell. Emma’s mum has been an absolute warrior this year. My mum also found out the date for her heart operation which was while we were also away. Both of them have been keeping us on edge at different moments and have been trying to be as supportive as we can while we’ve been away. Unfortunately my mum had some complications after her surgery.  We ended up having to fly home last-minute, which was literally the longest flights we’ve ever done and definitely felt it emotionally. We found a last minute flight, said goodbye to our lovely Air bnb hosts and drove the 4 hours to the airport. Pit stop in Dubai, a phone call at 36000 feet to my dad as he doesn’t like texting and we made it to England. Huge thanks to all the support from everyone and to Alex for picking us up and taking us straight to the hospital. Was lovely to see a friendly face and we’re truly grateful.

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We arrived marching through the wards with our massive rucksack’s to immense relief of finding out mum was going to be ok, so while she slept on the ward we enjoyed the beer garden near the JR.

We stayed a couple of weeks and managed to catch up with a few wonderful people. Got to give the give the biggest hug to Shirley who we’ve been worrying about basically since we left.  Thankfully the mums are still fighting strong and there was not a lot more we could do, so we decided to carry on our trip, just skipping out Fiji. Plus I’m sure my mum was glad to get rid of her overly attentive son who had not been around her feet for 6 months to annoy her constantly. Love you mum!