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I'm a 37-year old Seattle girl who was bitten by the travel bug on my first tour of Europe in 2004. This personal blog follows my attempts to visit as many countries as I can, as often as my budget will allow. Since starting this blog in 2007, I've also worked as a freelance copywriter for an online travel publication. This only served to add even more must-see locations to my already extended list.
Follow me as I try to balance "real life" with exploring the world, all while trying to conquer a wickedly ironic case of homesickness.



22.11.09

Flight001


One of the perks of San Francisco was accidentally running into a Flight001 store. Flight001 is one of my daydream websites, so you can imagine how excited I was to stand in the actual boutique and play with all the fun travel items.

After spending way too long looking at absolutely everything, I proudly walked out with this luggage tag and this passport cover.

Masks on a plane

I've had a few people ask me if I did indeed wear this mask on the plane. The answer is yes, I did...on the way there. I got the best sleep I ever have on a plane, amongst coughing and sneezing co-passengers nearby. And the simple thing worked, as well. I stayed perfectly healthy for the duration of our trip; not even a scratchy throat bothered me a single time. I seem to be a poor mask-wearer, however, as the metal bit you're meant to pinch left two bruised abrasions on the bridge of my nose. Yes, it was funny. I spent the first few days in Oz looking as if I'd recently been in a bar brawl. Yet, to me, my health was more than worth it.

High on a very successful holiday and wanting to avoid looking as though I'd been punched (again), I opted not to wear the mask on the plane ride way home. And whadayaknow, I'm typing this post from my bed, wrapped in blankets, doped up on cold meds, running a fever, congested to the point of being dizzy.

Therefore, my final conclusion: the mask works, and that is worth looking just a little bit foolish. (Though I plan to better mold the metal bit next time!)

21.11.09

Review: Sydney, Australia

I've been trying for two weeks to describe Australia, and I'm still at a loss for the proper words. It is different than any place I've ever been to, and it frequently contradicts itself. But there is one thing that is absolutely certain:

Australia is wonderful.


Australia gets under your skin. It romances you; it stays with you. The weather is warm and the people are kind. Flip flops are as common during the workday commute as they are on the plentiful beaches. There is a constant breeze that smells like eucalyptus, plumeria and gardenia. Beautiful blue-green water crashes dramatically against warm yellow sand and stunning red cliffs. Sounds of lorikeets, kookaburras and ibis fill your ears. Forests of peeling eucalyptus trees roll across neverending hills. Influences from Europe, America, Aborigines and the Far East seem to coexist without any effort at all. It is old and it is new. It is rugged and it is elegant. It is arid and it is lush. It is city and it is bush. It is Australia, and it is proud of that fact.

London is still at the top of my list, but Sydney has powered its way to number two. Not really that surprising, as Australia is obviously a Commonwealth country. Reminders of Mother England are everywhere; any Anglophile will feel quite comfortable there. The fifteen-hour flight was actually no less miserable than the ten-hour flight I'm accustomed to, and I commend Qantas for their frequent snacks and much-appreciated hot towels.

Our two-bedroom Meriton Kent Street apartment was perfect for us, and the location near Town Hall offered a vast array of dining, grocery and transportation options. There was even a Starbucks the next building over; I was thrilled! Our view of Darling Harbour and the city skyline was stellar, especially during the two spectacular thunderstorms that rolled through during our stay.

Some aspects of Australia are so stereotypical, it actually brings a tear to your eye. Kangaroo fur is soft, emus are a little bit creepy. Forests of eucalyptus look just like in the films and photos. The bird songs are beautiful, a constant reminder of how far from home you are. The sun is brutal; we sported sunburns the entire time. The insects are incessant; bring insect repellent! I've never seen as many flies as I did while we were horseback riding in the bush.

On the other hand, some elements of Oz surprised us. Food and drugstore items are ridiculously expensive; worse than Hawaii. I never thought I'd find a more consumeristic country than America, but the sheer number of malls and food courts in Sydney left us totally gobsmacked. And just as soon as you think you've got it all down, something else different presents itself. For example, we London-lovers are totally accustomed to the law of standing on the right. In Australia, you stand on the left. You walk on the left. Everything is on the left.

The horseback riding was a dream come true. The Blue Mountains are stunning. The beaches take your breath away. Oh...and the BridgeClimb. Wow. I highly recommend it, even to people with an issue with heights. Their safety procedures are so secure, it's no wonder no climber has ever fallen. Sydney Harbour cruises should also be compulsory. It is stunning; nothing more, just simply stunning. My first jet lagged, right-off-the-plane view gave me goosebumps.

My plan has once again failed; I'd hoped to cross Australia off my list and finally settle down. That simply won't be happening. I will return someday; I must. Sydney was fabulous, but it is only a small percentage of the immense country. In the meantime, I'll buy lottery tickets so I can live in London for the Northern Hemisphere's spring and summer and live in Sydney the other half of the year. Just the thought makes me smile.

Thank you, Australia, for an amazing holiday. I tip my hat at your beautiful country and amazing people. You are a land to be respected and appreciated, and our trip was absolutely wonderful!

Review: San Francisco

Our 31 hour layover in San Francisco went beautifully well! I'm spilling over with rave reviews for every vendor we used. (Disclaimer: the author was not compensated in exchange for any recommendations in this blog. The information provided in this blog is solely the opinion of the author.)

The Omni Hotel San Francisco was beautiful. We were welcomed with complimentary cake, champagne and a kind birthday card. Our accommodations were perfectly comfortable, and the complimentary pre-scheduled morning breakfast and beverages delivered to our door was the perfect way to start our busy day. The location on California Street was convenient, and we were able to find reasonable dining close by.

Call us cheesy, but we loved Alcatraz. It was a peek into a completely different time and different world. I'm glad we chose to take the first cruise of the day; it cut down on crowds, and the morning sun above the water was a lovely way to see the city skyline.

Our secret to seeing all of one city in only one day was hiring a local guide, and I can't say enough good about Holger with Silver Lion Tours. From the ease of communicating with him to his exuberant greeting hug, it truly was like having a friend show you proudly around his city. He snuck us around traffic and tourist traps, stopped for any photos we wanted, offered informative commentary about everything, provided much needed snacks, and surprised us with little known local secrets all throughout the day. He not only took us everywhere easily, but he recommended his favourite restaurant for dinner (didn't charge us for the time it took us to eat), helped us prepare for our long-haul overnight flight, and saw us safely to the airport in a timely manner. Thank you so much, Holger!

I enjoyed San Francisco very much; it seems like a warmer version of Seattle with heaps more character. Perhaps I'll go back again someday and spend a bit more time.

17.10.09

Staying healthy en route

We all know airborne bacteria thrives on airplanes. This is a huge problem for me. Why? Because I'm a mouth breather. My partially deviated septum makes it exceptionally difficult to get enough oxygen when breathing solely through my nose. This gives all that nasty bacteria a free, unprotected path straight into my system. I try to drink lots of water to combat the problem, but that temporary solution doesn't really work when I'm asleep. It seems every time I nod off on a plane, I end up getting ill at some point during the trip. And since we're facing an upcoming fifteen-hour overnight flight, I must find a solution to this problem so I can get some rest.

That is why I'm going to try something new. I'm going to be one of those people this time around. You know, the ones that are wearing one of these:



Add my sleeping eye mask to block out the light and ear plugs to quiet the noise, and I'm going to look...well, quite humourous, frankly. My sister joked that I should write a note on the mask:
Don't worry. I don't have H1N1...but you might!

I'm definitely going to have to hide the camera from my husband and sister, but I should also stay healthy during the flight and arrive in Australia at least somewhat rested, and that is worth looking just a bit foolish. So please, don't judge! And don't laugh...too hard.

8.10.09

Chiseling out an itinerary

Our Sydney itinerary is slowly coming together:

Sunday
Fly to San Francisco
Dinner and comfy hotel

Monday
Tour of Alcatraz
Private tour of San Francisco

Tuesday
In flight en route to Sydney

Wednesday
Sydney Explorer bus ride
Sydney Harbour cruise

Thursday
Sydney sightseeing
including Sydney Opera House tour

Friday
Horseback riding in Glenworth Valley
Parramatta

Saturday
Beach day in Manly

Sunday
Trip out to Katoomba,
Blue Mountains, Three Sisters, Scenic Cableway
Sydney Olympic Park
Return on the Parramatta RiverCat

Monday
Bondi Explorer
Wooloomooloo, Rose Bay
Bondi, Tamarama and Bronte Beaches
Ocean cliff beach walk
Watson's Bay and the Gap

Tuesday
Sydney Harbour BridgeClimb,
Sydney sightseeing

Wednesday
Fly home, pass out, sleep for a week

23.9.09

Don't trust this man


Anyone that's been following my London estate agent scam artist saga might be interested to read this article. It's the second time the London Mirror has tried to shine some light on his company's underhanded dealings. However, even I didn't realize the grand total was so high, especially considering those that haven't come forward...yet.

As you can read in the article, I actually managed to get contact Robin Larkins several months ago. Knowing he had just lost a court case to another victim, I threatened to do the file the same claim. Mr. Larkins responded by promising he would return my money - a full year late, mind you - if I removed my warnings about his company from this blog. And though I conceded, I still never heard from him after that.

My warnings have been republished, to say the least.

22.9.09

Dusty Aussies

Anyone following Aussie news?
They're enduring a massive red dust storm right now.
The photos are incredible.


Sydney Harbour in the middle of the day:
(Yes, that's Sydney Harbour Bridge!)



Bondi Beach:



Manly Beach:



Hang in there, Australia!

PS - it is intimidating to consider we are going to the other side of the globe. Now it looks like we're going to Mars. ::gulp::

11.9.09

What time is it?

I'm having a bit of trouble with the vast time difference we're going to experience this time around. I mean, think about it. Sydney is quite near the International Date Line, one of the first cities to see the day. With the exception of New Zealand and parts of Indonesia and Siberia, the rest of the world falls in line behind Australian Eastern Standard Time. They greet the day and pass it back.



Seattle, on the other hand, is near the caboose of this train. Pacific Standard Time is seventeen hours behind Sydney, eight hours behind London, three hours behind New York City. Pretty much the only ones behind us are Alaska and Hawaii...and they admittedly have their own non-concept of time anyway. (wink, wink)

This goes beyond thinking in terms of hours in jet lag; to fly from Seattle to Sydney means you have to start speaking in terms of days. These two cities only inhabit the same calendar day for seven measley hours. Just as Seattlites are waking up to start their Monday, Sydneysiders have lept into Tuesday without looking back.

This is doing my head in. Our flight to Sydney departs on Monday and arrives on Wednesday. We lose an entire day on a fifteen hour flight. On the flip side, we arrive home five minutes later than we departed. When we want to call our loved ones at home, when do we do it? What time is it at home? What DAY is it at home?!

I hope this gets easier...

9.9.09

The England I Miss Today

Wandering through the echo
of a massive stone cathedral
filled with the smells
and sounds of history.

St. Paul's.

Canterbury.

Yorkminster.


Candles flicker. Light floods through the stained glass. Everyone whispers. Hushed awe, if not solely for this magnificent edifice, than for what the building stands for.

And from the center of this great expanse, from inside the warm, wooden quire, a boy's choir sings a flawless evensong:

5.9.09

Winged beauties

Sometimes it's the little things
that remind you how far from home you are.

I hope I see some of these beauties in Australia.
I don't even know what they're called,
but they're absolutely stunning!



4.9.09

Shifting my thinking

I'm realizing a strange trend as we plan our trip to Australia.


Ask any citizen of a commonwealth country if they would like to visit down under, and their answer is usually that they have already been there. Australia is a common destination for them.

However, ask an American if they'd like to visit Oz, and though their answer is almost always an emphatic YES, they have never actually gone and are likely never to go. In the same vein, the travel sections of American bookstores have bookshelf after bookshelf of American, European and Mexican cities, but the Australia section never consists of more than ten books. Considering how large Australia is, ten books doesn't even begin to scratch the surface. When it comes to the topic of Australia over here in the American bubble, no one knows much, no one offers much information. It is almost as if Americans view Australia as some kind of Neverland, much revered but never visited.

For this reason, I can't help but feel like this trip is more of a rite of passage than others in the past. When we were planning our first trip to Europe, everyone had opinions and advice. Now, we mention we are planning a trip to Australia, and the responses are limited to, "Wow! Cool!"

I'm beginning to grow curious as to how many - or more aptly, how few - fellow Americans we will encounter on our trip. It is exciting that we could very possibly be in the tourist minority, though I can't help but hope our trip will encourage more Americans to follow suit. Pop the bubble. Pack a bag, buy the ticket and go. Even though it takes a great deal of effort, it is never not worth it.

(As a sidenote, I'd like to thank the Brits and Kiwis for taking on the position of most resented visiting nationality. It's a nice break for an American!)

31.8.09

Adorable safety procedures?

We all hate this part. We've heard it a million times before.

But Thomson found a way to capture our full attention:


25.8.09

Beautiful

Rush Hour London from Chris Searson on Vimeo.

Where are you from?

One of my favorite parts of traveling is the inevitable, “Where are you from?” It is that brief initial moment when you first interact with a local, when you are as much of a novelty to them as their city is to you. And you start to learn just how others view your country, your city or your continent.

The first time I answered this question, I answered in a very standard American way. “Seattle, Washington.”

You see, it is customary here in the great US of A to include your state, which fiftieth of our big ole country you call home. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that half our city names are duplicates of each other, but the only time you wouldn’t include your state is when you’re from somewhere huge, like New York City or Los Angeles. Otherwise, tack your state name on the end.

However, that is generally not how people think of a country that is not their own. Just like the Englishman who once answered my inquiry with, “I’m from Derbyshire.” My American brain was immediately confuzzled. Where the heck is Derbyshire? In those terms, it makes perfect sense that the moment we say Washington to a non-American, the inevitable reply is, “Oh, the capital!”

Now, if you’re still stuck in Ameri-think, like I was during my first encounter, you immediately wonder, “That’s strange. The capital of the state of Washington is Olympia,” and look at them strangely. It takes a moment to realize they’re referring to the only Washington most non-Americans are aware of.

“Oh, you mean DC! No, I’m not from DC. I’m from the opposite side of the country.”

Well, now they’re totally confused.

Okay, forget the whole Washington thing; focus on Seattle. “Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Space Needle?” seems to be understood internationally, as you immediately bond over, “How’s my butt?”

And if all else fails, grab a map. Our cab driver in Vienna had a worn world atlas on the passenger seat of his car covered in little dots, presumably all the hometowns of his fares over the years. And as soon as I pointed to Seattle, his immediate response was, “OH! Near Canada!”

Well, yeah, I suppose we’re near Canada. Kind of. It’s a three-hour drive that hardly anyone actually takes. I’d never really thought of it that way.

Or the guy in Canterbury, England who responded with, “Oh, Seattle! That’s on the West coast, right? I’ve always wanted to go to San Francisco.” Okay, that’s two states away, but it’s definitely closer than DC. So I responded with, “Yeah, we’re only a two-hour flight from San Francisco.”

To which his friend provided my absolute favorite where-are-you-from response to date: “TWO HOURS?! How is that close?! I could cross my entire country in a two hour flight!”

Ah, it’s all relative. And I simply love it!

20.8.09

Putpockets

Sometimes I find something
that makes me love London just a little bit more.

19.8.09

Australian visa, check!


My first foreign country visa application ever...
APPROVED!

Things just became a little more real,
and whole lot more exciting!

15.8.09

Bring it on, Branson


I've wanted to give Virgin Atlantic an opportunity to knock my socks off for several years now. I hear the experience, while still being economy seats stuck in a metal tube for hours, is as positive as you can possibly get up there in the big blue. Travelers simply love Virgin.

So when Virgin America started flying our friendly domestic skies, Sis and I vowed we'd jump on the opportunity whenever it came our way. And it finally has!

That's right, people. We're foregoing earning/redeeming miles on our regular airline partnership to test out Mr. Branson's party in the sky. We're flying VA to San Francisco, and we're quite excited about it!

(And you better believe I'm mentioning my 30th birthday when we check in. Upgrade, please?)

San Francisco in 31 hours


The focus of our trip in November, of course, is Australia. But there simply aren't any direct flights from Seattle to any Australian destination; we must layover in California. Our choices: Los Angeles or San Francisco. We've been to LA multiple times, don't quite understand the appeal, and kind of loathe LAX. So, SFO it is!

You may remember San Francisco has been on the table before. So we made arrangements to make this an extended layover and stay as long as we could possibly afford to. But that only came to a single night. So we now have the challenge of seeing as much of San Francisco as we possibly can in the dead of November in a grand total of 31 hours, including airport and sleeping time.

I'm starting to realize just how much this city has to offer and just how much of a whirlwind this will be. A private, customizable tour guide has become a serious consideration. And I'm definitely bringing my sexy poncho!

13.8.09

Anticipation

Why'd the siblings cross the ocean?

To get to the other side...


9.8.09

Signs of Anglophelia

I miss polite British apologies for...well, everything.



I miss irreverent British humour, even in warning signs.



I miss product names like Utterly Butterly.

30.7.09

Meriton Kent Street

We think we've found our Sydney home-away-from-home: the Meriton Kent Street serviced apartments. Seeing as how there are three of us - including one married couple - we thought an apartment would suit us better than a standard hotel room. And seeing as how these are far more affordable, rated higher on TripAdvisor and have far more square footage, they are now at the top of our list.

13.7.09

One & Other

On 6 July, London began One & Other atop Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square. (You know, the one that has most recently had that terribly awkward armless, pregnant lady? Yeah, that one.) The premise is pretty simple: for 100 days - nonstop - it is being used as a platform for a very simple contemporary art subject: the people of the United Kingdom. A new person every hour, doing...whatever. A true snapshot of the "real" UK for all the world to peek in on.

And for Anglophiles like me, it's complete crack. Just like the lovely Jenn who brought it to my attention, I can't seem to stop watching. UGH...I MISS LONDON!!!

To watch the mania, click here.

5.7.09

No photography allowed

I hate this sign. I'm not much for t-shirts, postcards, snowglobes and chotchkies. I prefer my travel souvenirs to be more useful items, and I highly value my personal photos. And though I understand why some of these places choose not to allow cameras, I can't help but feel a tiny bit jipped.


Some of my favorite spots I've visited but don't have any first-hand reminders of are the following (yes, all three photos were shamelessly stolen from Google images):

The Royal Chapel at Hampton Court Palace:


The Vatican Museum Hall of Maps:


And, of course, the Sistine Chapel:


What are some of your favorite no-photography spots?

4.7.09

UNESCO World Heritage List

As an architecture enthusiast, man-made structures dictate many of my travels. For that reason, I greatly appreciate UNESCO and their work on preservation and restoration of these gently crumbling giants. However, I realized this morning that I've barely scratched the complete World Heritage list. I also found it ironic that I can't scratch off The Olympic National Park, about an hour from my home, but I managed over half the list for Austria in a mere four days.

To keep track of my progress, I've posted my UNESCO list to the right, including trips we have planned within the next year.

How about you? How many have you visited?

1.7.09

Laundering travels

I found this article to be delightful; though I'll admit I don't quite have quite as much passion for laundry as the author. Last time my travel partner broke out the detergent in the bathroom sink, I sat there and watched lazily while my dirty laundry remained crumpled at the bottom of my suitcase. However, I can completely understand the sentiment that "the presence of hanging laundry, just about anywhere in the world, signals that you've left the manicured tourist zone and entered 'real life'."

I also love, "You know you're really traveling when you run out of underwear." Now that one I relate to completely!

23.6.09

11.6.09

Freedom without free time

The US has finally - FINALLY - opened up to considering joining the rest of the developed world by bringing the Paid Vacation Act of 2009 to Congress. While my first reaction is that a single week is still rather paltry by comparison, my official position is that I'll support anything that is aiming us in the right direction. And I sincerely didn't think a bill proposing a single week of paid vacation would ruffle many feathers at all. I was shocked that it did. I'm even more shocked that these arguments are now properly threatening this bill.

If you want to educate yourself about the bill, click here. If you want to see the revealing statistics on how sad American paid vacation currently is, click here. And finally, a great rebuttal to all the arguments against the bill.

To any American reading this post, I plead for you to seriously consider using your voice. Consider that this could open up other opportunities as well, including increased maternity leave for mothers and fathers. If you support this act, please contact your House Representative as well as your Congressman/woman and urge them to pass this bill.

And to all the people opposing a simple week of vacation: WOW, you need it more than the rest of us!

9.6.09

A bit more description

Click here for another perspective of our Austrian holiday, or just a lesson in which sister has the degree in writing.

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