En route and on packing

I wasn’t joking when I said I could be a packing consultant. It combines two of my main passions in life: putting items into small containers, and adventure.
I pack under the assumption all I really need are my passport, wallet, and iPhone. Anything else can be bought along the way. Overpacking is the pits, especially when you’re travelling by yourself.
Following one trip I discovered at the airport my suitcase was several kilograms over my check-in allowance. I had to buy a backpack, empty my case onto the airport carpet, transfer about 10kg into my new pack, then shoulder that home. Never again.
Now, I make a pile of clothing, then remove five items. Line up shoes, remove a pair.
My toiletries are almost all samples. (Thank you, David Jones opening night.)
I also hoard travel-savvy bottles. When I landed in New York, more than a year ago, one of the first things I sourced was face moisturiser. My skin was parched. Anyway, I based my choice not on the product but the jar it came in, which was clear plastic with a solid screw lid. It travelled home with me where it then sat in the bathroom drawer.
Occasionally I would unscrew the lid and inhale the scent which to me had become synonymous with New York. Sigh. Moving on. It’s now full of conditioner on its way with me to Nepal.

Things you can’t pack too many of:
– Snaplock bags
– Small gifts (essentially potential space)
– Wet wipes.

This isn’t as insightful a post as I hoped it would be, I’m sorry. The truth is I’ve completed one out of four flights this evening and I’m bored.
I don’t even have any photos to share with you because the sky was dark when I left Wellington.

Things you might not think to pack but should:
– Nail scissors
– Power adaptors
– A light robe to wear over pyjamas if you’re staying in shared accommodation.

Forget the packing, let’s talk destinations.
One thing I’m worried about in Nepal is getting invited to a local’s house and accidentally eating with my left hand. I’m left-handed, you see. And in Nepal, I’ve read, it’s custom to eat with your right hand. Toilet paper is a bit of a luxury so when you go to the bathroom you use your other hand, with water.
More immediately, I’m worried my flight, because it’s Cathay Pacific and not Air New Zealand, won’t offer free alcohol.
This is the real dilemma when travelling long-haul: sleeping pills or wine?
My advice: wine. Drink enough wine and sleep will follow.

Last stop: LA

I can hardly remember now, it was so long ago, but after Santa Barbara we drove to Los Angeles. Our last stop.

I already knew I would love LA. Big city, beaches, creativity, comedy.

I also knew the traffic was bad. But I didn’t realise it was that bad.

No wonder everyone has a podcast – it’s the thing to do when you have to spend half your day in a car.

I’m not sure if the selfie-loving types are drawn to LA, or if living in LA turns you into a selfie-loving type… despite the superficial stereotype, I’d go back in flash.

It reminded me of an experience in a Wellington shoe shop, which, I suppose, prepared me for the city. A blonde, tall, very skinny, American woman picked up a pair of psychedelic plastic stilettos and said: “I’ll take these.”

They were so extreme, even the shop assistant asked: “Why?”

The woman replied: “It’s hard to stand out in LA. These will help.”

Considering my social strategy in life was to “fit in”,  her remarks kind of rattled me.

I loved that about LA, though. It made it fun to just walk down the street.

Being such a square, this time I was the one who stood out. DSC_0581

City of Angels
This is a small octopus falling off Santa Monica Pier into the mouth of a waiting seal

Big Sur, take two

We loved that Big Sur road so much, we drove it again. And again.

We eventually pulled over, to check out Hearst Castle: the home and office of American newspaper publisher, William Randolph Hearst.

He built the nation’s largest newspaper chain, and a world-famous castle.

I thought: I’ve seen Larnach Castle – how much better can Hearst really be?

Well, I’m sorry William Larnach, but it was indeed, much better.

The castle has 165 rooms, 127 acres of gardens, terraces, pools, and walkways, all built to house and show Hearst’s legendary art collection.

Every ceiling, painting, piece of furniture, seemed to have an incredible story. Hearst and his architect Julia Morgan truly loved art; whether antique, custom-made, or exported from exotic lands.

The publishing business ain’t what it used to be, that’s for sure.DSC_0514DSC_0492DSC_0504DSC_0488DSC_0475DSC_0472DSC_0502DSC_0465DSC_0477


Big Sur and beyond

I’m so behind with the blog posts. And that’s a pity, because I feel like the magic of the coast lies south of San Francisco.

When people ask my favourite place, I’ve got into the habit of saying: Carmel-by-the-Sea.

It’s beautiful, but owing to its name, there’s also a personal connection. In short, Carmel has nothing to do with the Carmelites, but it does feature an impressive basilica.


We took a tour (if you’re a regular reader, you’ll know I love churches), from which we took away not only a great deal of knowledge about Carmel Mission and Saint Junipero Serra, but also about the history of California.

Serra, a Spanish Franciscan friar, became famous as the “founding father of California” for setting up missions all the way up the coast of California. Carmel, founded in 1771, was the area’s headquarters. Serra died in 1784, and is buried beneath the basilica.

Last year, there was backlash against his elevation to Catholic saint, as America’s first Hispanic saint.

Carmel itself is a charming little town. Clint Eastwood used to be the mayor (1986-1988), there’s a “local-only” policy for cafes, and every second shop is an art gallery.DSC_0380

We were tempted to take home a piece or two by local artist Richard MacDonald, described as the world’s preeminent living figurative sculptor.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have thousands of dollars to spare.

Coming from New Zealand, I wasn’t expecting to be impressed by Big Sur, the rugged stretch of California’s central coast.

I’ve read it’s more a state of mind than “a place you can pinpoint on a map”, and – I should mention this is coming from the passenger seat of a Ford Mustang convertible – I found that to be true.DSC_0412

A day in the life of San Fran

I remember being on a flight from Dunedin to Christchurch during a university holiday, and figuring out how long it would take me to save for a flight to San Francisco.

At least until I graduate, I decided.

We arrived after dark, and spent the next day seeing as much of the city as possible.

Yerba Buena Gardens

We took the Bart and then the ferry to the seaside town of Sausalito.

It was a surreal moment, pulling away from the port and seeing the San Fran skyline in front of us.

Sausalito is for walking and Mexican food, so we wandered and ate, wandered and ate.DSC_0269.jpg

When we got back, the weather had turned. With the wind and grey skies, I felt quite at home.

More walking. Along the piers, to Fisherman’s Wharf. I know it’s cliché, but I just had to have a bread-bowl of chowder at Boudin Bakery.

The best $7 I spent all trip? The cable car: from one end of town to the other.

Sausalito. Can you see the cloud coming in?

We squeezed on the narrow wooden bench, leaning forward and back as people jumped on and off.

The wind picked up as we rattled through the neighbourhoods. My eyes stung, but I tried not to blink.

The terraced houses were flicking before my eyes, just like in that magazine on the plane those years ago.

Fisherman’s Wharf

We were heading to a comedy show, recommended by one of the theatre’s regulars.

Searching through the Tenderloin, I’ll admit there was a moment, probably after a guy with a big dog yelled rude words at us, that I wondered if we should give up trying to find the place and call it a night.

But around another corner, there it was: PianoFight.DSC_0294.jpg

The bar was packed. It was like stepping through the looking glass.

Sitting among a handful of locals and laughing at, and with, these improv performers (very good performers, I’ll add)… that was the highlight of the day.

We didn’t neglect Oakland. We also caught up with family friends who took us to a beer garden which would give Portland’s hipsters a run for their money. Very cool place.DSC_0303.jpg

The verdict?

Well, we didn’t go to Alcatraz, we were underwhelmed by the Golden Gate Bridge, SFMOMA was closed, but we loved The Bay Area for its people. Oh, and its pretty houses.

Avenue of the Giants

Everything is bigger in America, even the trees.

We took the time to drive the Avenue of the Giants, a world-famous scenic route in Northern California, running through Humboldt Redwoods State Park.

The area has 80 per cent of the world’s tallest 137 trees. Larger trees are around 500 to 800 years old, with some being around 2000.

At several points along the 31-mile-long drive, we stretched our legs.

The forest was quiet, with foliage muffling noise from nearby roads. The light that managed to get through was soft, and flecked with red dust.

The trunks are so tall and close together your perspective is distorted, until you stand next to one and try to reach your arms around it, then you realise you may as well be hugging the Statue of Liberty.

We’ve got plenty of trees in New Zealand, I know, but the redwoods had us truly awestruck.

Here, when a tree falls, even if there is no one around to hear it, it makes a sound. Heck, it doesn’t just make a sound, it makes an earthquake.

The Dyerville Giant, a 113-meter redwood in the park, fell in 1991. Apparently, the crash was so loud that people in the closest towns thought it was a train accident. It also registered on a nearby seismograph.

I’d been most excited about visiting the cities on our trip, but at this point I realised the allure of California is its natural wonders.

The road is narrow, and appears to be getting narrower as trees grow right to the edge



Portland: Thoroughly recommend

Thanks to Portlandia, I knew exactly what to expect of Oregon’s largest city: feminist bookstores, decorative birds, and bicycle-rights activists.

Our hotel room came with a record player, locally-made charcoal cleansing bars, and street art (inside).

It looked over the famous Powell’s Books, was down the road from Little Big Burger, and next door to Stumptown Coffee Roasters.

One of the many foodie alleys

I could have been happily entertained without leaving the block.

But we did. A book of self-guided walking tours took us around the compact city centre: Waterfront Park, Old Town Chinatown, Pearl District, and Downtown.

The architecture, particularly in the historic areas, was low, brick, often covered in art, which made the city seem all the more twee and appealing.

World famous Voodoo Doughnuts. We waited in line, for doughnuts!

The food was good, the coffee was better. By American standards, anyway.

After watching an artist set up an exhibition which consisted of spilled Twisties on a white surface (hey, when in Portland…) we gave the galleries a miss for the thrift shops.

Indulging my church obsession, Willie let us stop by the First Presbyterian Church of Portland.

Waterfront Park

The man at reception said staff keep the placed locked and supervised – even during the day – to keep out the homeless.

Hmm, I thought: “And as the door of God’s mercy is always open, so too must the doors of our churches…”

However, I can sympathise – there sure are a lot of homeless people in America.

See Willie’s name tag? That means he’s not homeless and is allowed inside

The following morning, I got up early and attended The Bar Method.

More expensive even than the barre studio at home, but worth it.

Other than I don’t have a tattoo or stretch earring, I felt perfectly at home in Portland.

WA to OR

For two nights, we experienced the comforts of home as we stayed with family friends in Olympia, Washington.

Washington is green, in more than its landscape. We were surrounded by forests and rocky beaches, backed by snow-capped Mount Rainier. Oh, and pro-Bernie bumper stickers.

It was great to tag along to softball and gymnastics, Willie even tagged along to the barber to get his hair cut.

The visit was topped off with a visit to the military base, before we crossed a bridge into Oregon and headed south along the coastal road.

First: Astoria, for coffee and a quick look at the haunted house. Next: dinner and a wander around Cannon Beach, where we briefly regretted not booking a room.

That regret was quashed, however, when we checked into our place at Ace Hotel in Portland. Willie turned on the record player and ran a bath, while I planned our breakfast destination for the following morning.

A beach near where we were staying, between Olympia and Lacey
Eyeing each other up…
Willie interacting with the locals
The border between Washington and Oregon

Seattle stopover

The not-so-nice man at immigration in Vancouver told Willie: “I’m afraid I can’t let you in.”

Having flashed my visa, I was already loading my bags on the train.

I said: “We can pay.”

And $6 later, we were both on board. We blamed Brussels for the confusion.

Seattle was a whirlwind visit. We arrived after dark, but the old-fashion street lamps and neon signs lit the road to our accommodation in Pioneer Square.

The following morning was Easter Monday, plus it was raining, so the streets were deserted. Pike Place Market, however, was bustling.

The clouds (mostly) cleared by the time we got up the Space Needle.

I’ve often heard people describe Seattle as “grey”, and that was true for us, too.

Honestly, the better view is from ground-level, where you can appreciate the splashes of colour in street art, the details of the architecture, and the friendly faces of the locals.

It was all too soon before we had to head south.

View from our hotel
One of many flower stalls at Pike Place Market
View from the Space Needle

Vancouver: VPL, coffee, and Chinatown

In 2009, the Wisconsin Tourism Federation changed its name to Tourism Federation of Wisconsin.

It’s fair to say Vancouver Public Library‘s acronym isn’t quite as crude,  but I couldn’t help chuckling as I walked through the doors.

I walked up, up, up to the seventh floor, hoping for a view from the top. Instead, Special Collections restricted access to the best windows.

I’d recommend grabbing a sunny table on the sixth floor, and making the most of that, instead.

Next stop was Gastown, primarily to visit Revolver for a cup of the best coffee in town (so I’d heard).

Here’s how my guidebook describes the neighbourhoods : Gastown is touristy, Chinatown gritty, and Yaletown yuppie.

I carried my coffee through the Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, which promised to be a “journey back in time to 15th Century China”, a “window to another world”.

The BBQ pork bun I bought further down the street did a better job of that, I think.

In front of the gardens, a woman cried out and pointed at the sky. She was pointing at an eagle. Apparently, it’s a big deal to spot a bald eagle in Vancouver.

“We’re blessed!” She said.

“Where has it come from?” I asked.

“Heaven,” she said with a wink.

Then: “Nah, probably Stanley Park.”

The Vancouver Public Library: designed by renowned Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie and opened in 1995
The atrium at Vancouver Public Library
I can’t recall where this was taken, but there are a lot of theaters around the place
Good coffee: a rarity in Vancouver and North America in general
Vancouver’s Chinatown is the biggest in Canada
A corner in Downtown Eastside Vancouver
I’m not sure why there were old cars at the waterfront. Possibly a show?
On Waterfront Road, facing North Vancouver
A view from the waterfront to the CBD, featuring the city’s tallest and most iconic landmark: Harbour Centre