Up until we reached Arizona, our time in the United States had seemed like a rather touristy affair. We’d spent three weeks in LA, San Francisco and Las Vegas, and even San Diego with its more laid-back attitude to life had a bit of a polished sheen to it. Knowing that we wanted to reach New Orleans at some point in the future, we decided the best route to take would be a fairly straightforward one; ie travelling by as direct a route as possible instead of criss-crossing back and forth via aeroplane all across the country. And so, somehow on our Great American Roadtrip-Without-a-Car, we ended up in Tucson, Arizona. Within the US this is a rather well-known city, but personally I had never once heard it mentioned until I opened our Rough Guides book and did some light reading; most visitors to North America will naturally go to the big cities on the East or West Coast (basically LA and New York with a few others thrown in for luck), so I was none the wiser about this intriguing location my friends, and let me tell you not knowing anything about a place can really lead you to being pleasantly surprised and downright happy to have found it.
After staying for three days at The Excalibur, which FYI is a gigantic and fantastically tacky castle-themed hotel and casino at one end of the South Las Vegas Boulevard, the plan was to venture in the vague direction of the Grand Canyon and continue from there, moving onwards across America in a joyous semi-pioneering fashion. What we didn’t plan for is suddenly having access to our money stopped (owing to simultaneous problems with our cards), giving us no option but to stay in Vegas indefinitely, and no longer in the giant fake castle, but instead at an equally cool-looking but potentially cockroach-infested motel. This, my friends, is the harsh reality of long-term travel: it doesn’t always go to plan and it definitely isn’t what it always seems on instagram. No way, José. Continue reading
Las Vegas is both hilarious and insanely amazing…GOOD. LORD! If I had to write a tag line for this city it would be ‘like Disneyland for gamblers and alcoholics.’ And although I wouldn’t describe myself as either of those it was to my own astonishment that I was fully in my element when we arrived by airplane one March morning. After leaving the cool air of San Francisco we flew over mountains and desert, finally coming in to land over the bizarre turrets of our castle-shaped hotel- The Excalibur- and he Luxor’s pyramid and Sphinx. I never thought about how surreal the idea of all these massive Disneyland-esque buildings in the middle of the desert really is. One of the most surreal sights I’ve ever seen, actually. I’m still laughing. Nothing but rock for miles and miles, then suddenly- BAM- here’s a giant castle, the Statue of Liberty, and the Eiffel Tower smack bang in the middle of No-Man’s Land. WHAT. A. LAUGH. There’s something about Vegas that just makes you want to throw all your money in the air and have a party in it wearing an outfit made entirely of feathers and diamonds. But, what if you do not have a pile of cold hard cash and a tacky outfit to prance about in!? Fear not, pals. I’m here to help. Continue reading
After a very brief stay in the HI Downtown San Francisco branch, we decided it was about time we upped sticks and moved on…to a different, cheaper hostel, in the very same city. Also part of the Hostelling International family, because as we had payed for membership we decided we might as well make use of it, know what I’m saying?
In comparison to the cloud of inner-city smell in the Downtown area (you know, the subtle aroma of bin juice mixed with car exhaust, urine and mouldy food from the back of restaurants), approaching the Fisherman’s Wharf hostel was practically like stepping into the countryside! This hostel is located in an old army barracks which is technically situated within one of the USA’s smallest National Parks, Fort Mason, on the cliffs overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, and surrounded by greenery. Quite frankly; it was just bloody lovely! Continue reading
Our first hostel stay in San Francisco was for three nights at the HI San Francisco Downtown, and I’ll tell you for sure it was a good’n. Although it was fairly late at night when our Amtrak bus deposited us into the centre of the city- get the lowdown on the Amtrak adventure here– the streets were so full of people that it put my mind at ease about finding a new place in the dark with only a memorised route to lead us there. Sometimes I get a bit concerned about wandering around unchartered territory in the middle of the night, know what I’m saying? The reception area on the ground floor had all sorts of people hanging out for the wifi purposes, and after checking in we entered the main hostel through a top secret door (i.e. nobody enters without a key) and went to find our respective rooms. Continue reading
Having spent two weeks gallivanting around the glitz of LA and the surfers paradise of San Diego, it was a strange old feeling coming into San Francisco in the middle of the night after an all-day train journey to Oakland and then a bus ride from there into the city centre. In comparison to our first two stops on the trip, San Francisco seemed almost European!? This was partly due to the higgledy-piggledyness of the streets and partly to the fact that there seemed to be a very clear city centre which is easily navigable on your own two feet. And I’m proud to say that even though it was dark and scary outside, we managed to find the HI San Francisco Downtown quite easily as I had become a dab hand at copying maps off of hostel computers, in record timing might I add. (Our trip was so budget that Internet was only available in wifi hotspots or at pay-per-minute hostel computers, so you’ll understand now why this is the Budget Edition of things to see in San Francisco)
So…here we go pals. In no particular order, for those who are interested, these are my recommendations for how to explore San Francisco on a strict budget. (It’s totally 100% possible, trust)
We arose at the crack of dawn in our hostel in Downtown San Diego and walked to the train station in the pitch black darkness and pouring rain, which led me to the realization of two things. Firstly that my waterproof jacket was in actual fact not waterproof, and secondly that 6.30am is one of my least favourite times to walk about in the pouring rain. I was soggy, I was cold, I didn’t even have a hood and upon entering the station the animal I most resembled is a drowned rat. San Diego, Schman Diego, it was freezing. Thank God I had the promise of a magical journey on The Coast Starlight to pull me through that dark time. Continue reading
Stepping into the R.K. Hostel in San Diego was a bit like stepping into a parallel universe, where none of the characters we encountered were quite what they seemed and you got the feeling the majority of them were harbouring a dark dark secret, or at least an incredibly interesting and complex back story. The hostel itself is in a residential area within the city’s Little Italy, and appears from the outside to be a very lovely old house complete with porch running all the way along one side; apparently in the 1920s it was a hotel, and became a gay club shortly afterwards named the Moby Dick. So there you go. Continue reading
‘Good morning, San Diegooo!’ is the main thing that once sprung to mind when thinking of the Southern-most city on the coast of California. (If you haven’t watched Anchorman, I apologise as that will be lost on you) Now that I’ve visited, that is still the first thing that springs to my mind. Followed by…the following.
Arriving there from L.A. was quite a contrast as the whole city seemed so much more laid-back- and generally speaking, way cleaner- in fact it was rather a welcome break from the hubbub. The people are welcoming, they say hello, in fact they might even give you a smile as you pass them by in the street. The guy who built a lot of the Downtown area in the early days of San Diego’s existence was named Alonzo Horton…at one time he was a full on big-time-rich-from-digging-up-gold kind of a guy, but he was also very generous and trustworthy from the sounds of it. His life principal was, in his own words, “to be as happy as I can every day; to try to make everyone else as happy as I can, and to try to make no one unhappy.” Maybe that philosophy has just kept going through the generations of the city so that they’re all just happy-go-lucky, chilled out kind of people. Or it could just be that everyone is happier in the sunshine and San Diego has one of the most consistently awesome set of weather conditions in America, I don’t know. What I do know is that by the time of his death, ol’ Horton was but a poor man once again- rumour has it he was actually homeless. But did he care?? Did he HELL. There is more to life than money people, and Horton knew it. Plus, people loved him so much they named a shopping mall after him. You are a fully-respected member of society if people care about you enough to name a mall after you, money or no money.
Here, in no particular order are some interesting and awesome things I recommend getting up to if you ever happen to be in what is one of the most relaxed cities in North America. Continue reading
The spooky mist that had shrouded the palm trees upon our arrival into LA had disappeared by the time we woke up the following morning, luckily. After checking out of our hotel bright and early, we made our way to a bus stop to await the #3 Big Blue Bus towards our hostel in Santa Monica. Transport in LA’s pretty shoddy as the city’s so full on massive, but Big Blue Buses connect Downtown LA to Santa Monica so if you’re heading that way from the airport it’s handy to know. And they actually are big and blue, so you can’t miss them. Personally I felt like a bit of an idiot sitting in my human-size purple backpack on a crowded bus, but a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.
Whilst on said bus, I overheard (so did the rest of the bus, presumably) half of an extremely interesting conversation between a shaven-headed man who seemed to be a suspect in a murder case, and an unknown person on the phone (who may or may not have been his mother). He was just on his way home from being questioned by the police and seemed very angry about the whole situation. No-one else on the bus seemed that bothered, so I just went with it. There was a mild moment of panic though, when neither me nor my bf could work out how people were managing to stop the bus when they wanted to get off- there were no bells to be seen. As we neared our stop my heart was beating ever faster, until finally I noticed a cord running along the length of the bus and realised that was what we had to pull to exit the vehicle. Panic over. This is the type of thing that causes panic at the best of times, know what I’m saying!?