Category: United Kingdom

**I read and wrote this review when I was living in Sydney in late 2008**
Funny enough, the day after I finished this book I was watching the morning news and Charley Boorman, who is a co-author of this book, was on his own adventure of traveling from Scotland to Australia by ground only, was finishing his latest adventure in Sydney that day! How funny is that? Unfortunately, I didn’t get to hunt him down. Oh well, next time.

Anyway, this book is a sequel to another book that he and Ewan wrote a few years back except this one took them from the tippy-top of Scotland down to the bottom of S. Africa on motorcycles. These books are good things. They do good as they travel and bring awareness to causes that normally don’t get any coverage. Probably the only thing I have to complain about is the amount of stuff they carry when they travel. Since they are celebrities when they travel, they have like whole support crews, where if something goes wrong, someone is there to fix it. They would write about people who they met on the road, now they are real travelers. They are traveling like them, minus the road crew. They talk about things that could go wrong, but with the amount of people traveling with them, really what can? And of course, nothing does.

**I wrote this review when I was living in Australia, sometime in late 2008, early 2009**
It’s been awhile since I have read a comedy! And I have always seen stuff from this author, but never picked it up (YAY! for the free pile!). I think I just get hung up in details sometimes. This book was entertaining, always saying Yes to everything (the movie was based on this book, but I read it even before I knew that they were even making a movie) and it’s a good experiment and a good way to live your life, I think. I know I have said yes more lately (crappy jobs, etc…) when I think of this book. You just never know what is around the corner. The downside of this book, is like all travel humour books, the authors seem to have like buckets of money. So like, the Dude sees an ad for a trip to Thailand. Gotta say YES! Girl-sort-of-friend asks you to come to Australia (on a separate trip from the previous Thailand trip) Gotta say YES! Seriously, if the world had unlimited money, I don’t think people would ever say No. But since most of us live in the real world, the word No has to come up at some point. And I can’t remember the turning point in the book (these books always have them) but it seemed kind of lame and forced. Otherwise, always entertaining and I hope to pick up more from this author once I get a library card!! God, I miss the freedom of the library instead of having to rely on the trash that people leave behind.

Oy, what does Prince William’s trip to Los Angeles (oh yes, and Canada) have to do with travel? Story time!

Obviously, I have known about Prince William pretty much my entire life. Future king of England, blah blah blah. Doesn’t really have much to do with me in America. BUT! Oh, how did I discover his teenage hottness (okay, because we are pretty much the same age, thus I was a teenager the same time as him. So it’s all good).

The first time I went to Europe, summer 1997. I had been obsessed with England (partly because I loved travel and failed Spanish and French many times) for a while and wanted to go there so badly. We were doing our first family trip to Italy and for some reason, when my mom originally booked the tickets, the two of us were going to fly to London and my sister and dad were going to fly seperately through NYC. Ohmigod, I was so excited, even though we didn’t plan on leaving the airport. I was so excited! Then, right before we were supposed to leave, plans changed I was going to fly with my sister and dad. Ohmigod, I nearly cried! I was so dissapointed. To make it up to me, my mom bought me magazines (of which I was obsessed with British music and movie mags at the time which of course were wickedly expensive in the US) both ways (the August and September issues, I had it timed correctly).

Anyway, during our travels around Italy, I took notice of the magazines on the newsracks there. I couldn’t read most of the headlines, but looked at the pictures. And guess what picture grazed loads of them at the time?


My sister and I became obsessed. I mean, what teenager wouldn’t?! That shirt, those eyes, that hair (RIP)?!?!? Thus the crush of the decade was discovered. A month later, devastation hit Will’s life and the rest of the world discovered his hotness in the midst of a personal tragedy. The following summer, Chuck took Hank and Bill over to our side of the globe for a tour around Canada (not the US, of course) and the kids there went nuts, thus starting the teen throb obsession.

And of course, as any kid would like, oh how I wanted William to come to Los Angeles, my home! How much fun would that have been? You see pictures of celebrities all the time driving and walking down the street, it was my teenage dream to see William in today’s US Weekly, “Stars! They’re Just Like US!”. But since we are no longer a commonwealth country, it was very very rare that the British Royalty would come here. And really, why would they? We don’t have anything to do with them. It’s like in Los Angeles when we hear that our mayor is going to Europe or Asia for a conference (he has) and we are all like, what the fuck?! Isn’t that a job for state or national government? What does that have to do with us? NOTHING! We aren’t fancy enough for their holidays (hello skiing in the Alps or lounging in the south of Spain/Indian Ocean for holidays) and have nothing to do with “royal” government. As far as I could tell, William has only been to the US once before, when Diana took the kids to Disney World for holiday back in the early 90’s. Of course we all remember this picture:

Splash Mountain!!!

And I thought I read somewhere that William actually came to Kentucky or something to spend time on a classmates (not sure if (US) high school or college either) ranch for holiday once, but I can’t find any information on it, as it was a totally private holiday anyway.

But other then that, never been to the US! And NEVER to the west coast! Ohmigod, I nearly had 16 year old flashbacks when I heard about his latest travel plans to “California”. So vague. We are quite a large state, for all I know he could just be heading to Yosemite (so outdoorsy) or San Francisco (so European). But when the final schedule was released and he and Kate were going to spend all their time in Los Angeles, just being here, I was so happy! Unfotunatly, since this was a “state” visit, there were very few public events and the ones that were, were way way way out of my price range. It seemed like only the very rich or the very poor get an audience with the royals. But having grown up quiet a bit since I was 16, I was just so happy that they were in my hometown, in my time zone! I am quite a nerd like that, even though I was in the UK when William turned 21 (so I knew for sure we were in the same time zone:-), but it is just a different kind of nerd-out when it’s swapped and he is in MY time.

Moral: Why did he finally make it out west now? Was it Kate’s request and MAYBE they’ll holiday out here in the future? I can dream!!! I love it when travel introduces me to celebs in different parts of the world that when they finally make it back to the US, I can be all like, Yeah, I knew them when. Sort of like my old love of music.

Used: 2002

I have flown my share of shady airlines. But probably the one I get the most weird looks about is Kuwait Airways. When I spent the semester at UMass, my sister was spending the semester in Florence, Italy and I wanted to take a week off and visit her. You know, since I was already half way there. The summer before the semester began, I planned the whole week, which included a dirt cheap flight from JFK to London. Seriously, the whole thing, with taxes came to $300 in mid October, which was easily $100 less then anything else. And it was on Kuwait Airways. When I told people I was flying them, they were like, do you think it’s going to be okay. I would respond with, when is the last time you heard of this airline having any issues? And everyone would come back with a “true”.

So I checked in and don’t remember having any issues. Nearly everyone checking in was wearing some sort of garb, weather it be middle eastern or indian and the only other white person as far as I could see what an older dude standing behind me in line. He started chatting with me and he said he had taken them over to the US (his accent ID him as British) and said they were fine. No alcholole on board, which is a non-issue for me. I was issued a window seat with no problems. I remember the terminal being super empty. I remember when they called certain row numbers to board, everyone stampeded the gate, which in one of my pet peves. I hate when people can’t follow rules like that. I board last, to avoid the crowd. I have the whole 3 seats in my aisle to myself. Someone sits on the asile seat but before we take off, they move, so I end up with all seats to myself. YES! In looking throughout the cabin, I see the middle seats are jammed and full, bu the edge seats are more empty. So weird, but good for me! For the first time ever, I sleep the entire flight. Helps that it’s a short flight too, you leave at 10pm and you arrive in London at 10am, which is perfect! I am used to leaving mid afternoon and arriving mid day and getting hardly any sleep. I don’t remember the food and I remember the entertainment, while everyone having their own screens, not being the best. I remember one channel on the tv having the option to see which way Mecca was, so you knew which way to pray, which is not normally an option on any flight I have ever been on before. So that was different. No issues on arrival and no issues at immigration or customs because of the flight. All in all, a totally regular, normal flight.

The way back was just as fine. Since there is only one flight a day, there is really no fear you are going to miss it if you get to the airport with enough time. I was in line behind a white family who was returning to the US and flew them for the same reason I did, dirt cheap! When I boarded, I had my whole row to myself again (window for me, of course) but once we took up, some guy sat on the aisle of my row, which I totally did not care about. I would prefer to have the middle empty anyway, as I like to pull that tray down for drinks and stuff as not to have to deal with mine. The center of the plane was again packed. And compared to what I am used to, another quick flight. You leave at 3pm local London time and are back in New York City just in time for dinner!

Moral: For that price, totally worth it. Not the best I have ever taken, but by far not the worst. The service was fine. And you can’t put a price on paying for a coach ticket and getting a whole row to yourself, especially on an overnight flight. We all hope for it, but it never happens. And I got to my destinations in one piece, which is the only thing you can really hope for when boarding a plane. Don’t knock certain airlines just because of their name and home country. I know I always think twice when I have to do this now.

Used: 2002, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010

Virgin Airlines in its many forms. I have flown with three of their services. The first was with VirginAtlantic back in 2002, during my first trip to London. A friend of mine suggested them and told me they were awesome, so when it came to book my flight and they were on par with being as cheap as any airline, I picked them. Yeah, kind of a disappointment. The seats were super tiny and on my flight from LAX to LHR, none of the entertainment consoles worked. Granted it was the overnight flight and you were supposed to sleep anyway, but a total dissapointment! Luckily, they worked on the way back. Good things: I liked the little bag of goodies you got when you got to your seat. I loved the pen that came in the bag and used it for years. I just liked the way it wrote. Also, I did like the funkyness of it all, but would have gladly changed to blah to get the entertainment working. That was the biggest disappointment. Otherwise, don’t really remember much else about them. Haven’t flown with them since.

Funny enough, I totally forgot about flying on Pacific Blue until this week when I was reading about the change in name to Virgin Australia (from Virgin Blue, see below) to include Virgin’s services in the pacific, outside of Australia. This service started within New Zealand in 2007, when I was living in Auckland, and to promote the new services, the fares were dirt cheap, so I bought some for my family when they came and we had to fly from AKL to CHC. 4 one-way tickets for US$114! But you pay for what you get. They only flew back and forth from AKL, WLG and CHC on various routes a few times a day. It seemed they only had a two or three planes that flew back and forth, granted distances aren’t very far and you can get from AKL to CHC and back in less then 4 hours. But if one flight was delayed, the whole schedule for the day was thrown off. I booked the last flight of the day from AKL to CHC, just in case of any delay and by the time we left AKL, we were about 4 hours delayed and finally left AKL about an hour after we were supposed to land in CHC. It sucked, but it was supposed to be a rest day anyway. So we ended up “resting” in the airport instead of the hotel. Oh well. I was just looking at the PacBlue website and it appears that they do not fly within NZ anymore, just from NZ over to Australia. So I guess those routes didn’t last long the way they were booking them. Oy.

When I was in Australia, they have a low cost airline called VirginBlue. I flew with them from Brisbane up to Cairns. The airline was pleasent enough. At the time I flew with them (October 2008) they allowed one checked bag, so I sent my bag through and there was no problem. You had to pay for all entertainment (though ads screened non-stop on your personal screen for all those that didn’t pay, thankgod, no sound) and the worst part for me was no free drinks, not even water! I almost shat my pants when I heard that. The only water they had was bottled and you had to buy it. I was so mad. I depend on water when I fly and I stupidly forgot my bottle (hell, you can even bring FULL bottles through security when you fly domestically in Australia) but still. We might charge you for every little thing on American airlines, but I would hate to see the day when they won’t even give you water for free with no warning. That is the day, I’ll start to fight.

While I was away, Virgin America started up. One of there big routes that I have taken many times since being home in the LAX-SFO route. They are usually on par with Soutwest when it comes to everyday price, so for the most part, why fly SWA when you can fly Virgin? They are located in Terminal 3 at LAX and Terminal 2 at SFO (having moved recently from the International Terminal). My only recc for the LAX terminal is not to take the last flight of the day, as that is when ALL their flights leave, including some jumbo jets to Australia on VAustralia. The security line is forever (compared to other parts of the day) and it sucks. I have never really had a bad experience on VA. Some flights have been delayed for mechanical and weather issues, but I have always been kept up to date on delays. Since they know that everyone carrys on their luggage now, sometimes you’ll get a message on the overcome, asking people to check their luggage at the gate for free and I almost always do that. Unfortunatly, you have already come through security at that point, but still, it’s one less thing to carry about the terminal. And last time I did that, they let everyone with no luggage, no matter what row you were in to board early and get a jump on watching the tv that they provide on individual screens for everyone for free! That is the best part of Virgin is the entertainment and I always have a hard time choosing what to watch or listen to when I fly them. Their planes are clean and attendents are very nice. I always look forward to flying with them.

Moral: Virgin as an airline brand seems to be hit or miss. All the low cost carriers in Australia have different issues, so VirginBlue having issues is of no surprise. I just got a crap flight on VirginAtlantic. I don’t hold it against them, just everytime I have gone back, they haven’t been the cheapest, so I’ll pass. But I highly reccomend VirginAmerica for all those in the US, if they happen to be going your way.

Used: 2001-2007

All my Harry Potter books

In general, I am late to the party in regards to Harry Potter books. I hated “magical” books when I was a kid and by all assumptions, I shouldn’t like these books. For some reason, it was the trailer of the first movie that got me interested (a movie trailer had never done that before, in 20 years!) and after seeing and loving the movie, I went out and bought all 3 books available at the time (4 was still in hardcover and no way was I investing in that). I’ll fully admit to anyone that the movie got
me into the books, because like I said before, I normally do not like stories like this. So this is Fall/Winter 2001. I went to Boston in January 2002, and when I was on the T, I saw someone reading a PAPERBACK copy of #4 and nearly freaked. Since it was a different cover, I came to the conclusion that it was a british copy. Luckily, I was headed to the UK in March! Part of souviners for myself and my friends were paperback copies of HP and the Philisophers Stone. NERD ALERT! Plus, I got a copy of #4 in paperback, even though by this point, I had read the american version of #4 (of course).

The following summer, 2003, #5 is FINALLY getting released. Of all places, I happen to be doing my “European Backpacker Summer” at the time and happened to be in London at the time! I hemmed and hawed if I wanted to join the midnight release parties and I actually ended up sitting out, mainly because the following day I was headed on the train/boat to Calais and I knew I could buy the book at the train station. And I am not one of those that is going to start (and def. NOT) finish the book in the middle of the night. I could wait. But the next day, picked up my copy (along with like bunch of other adults headed out on early morning trains) and a cool bag at WHSmith. YAY for the British cover! So this cover was yellow and that is the version they sold all over Europe all summer, so I got so used to seeing that cover, that when I got home, I was like, what is with the blue cover? So weird to me, even though I think it (the US cover) is a better representation of the book, as it’s a more dark story then the rest of them.

I was in the US for #6, nothing special there.

So they announce the relase date for #7, probably what, like a year in advance? It’s coming out summer/July 2007! I am going to be in NZ! I preread #6 before I leave to refresh myself and because I don’t want to take it with me. I have reread all of them way more then once anyway, but I am off for who knows how long and I am not trading my Harry Potter books away, as is my plan for the rest of my books while I am traveling.

July rolls around. It was the middle of winter. It rained. If you are in a time zone ahead of the UK, the book gets released in time with them, so for NZ, we’re talking 11am, Saturday morning (12am UTC, 4pm LA time, the previous day!!) If I was crazy, I could have read the book before LA even got their hands on it! NUTS!!! I think the book should have just had a full on UK release time, no matter what time it is in the US. That would have been so so so awesome. Anyway, I get to the mall and the two book stores aren’t packed at all, maybe like 30 kids at each. That is how NZ rolls! After the crowed clears like 10 minutes after 11am, I just stroll to the counter and just say, one please. The sales person knows what I am talking about. I take the bus home and dig in. I actually finish the book in 2 full days and unlike the previous 2 where I plow through them, just so no one ruines it for me and usually by the end, I am totally burned out, this is the first book that I actually read very closely. What else is new, there isn’t much else to do in NZ.

The cover of the international copy of black, so I get used to this one, even though it’s a horrible cover. Unfortunatly, since I was unemployed for the first 6 months of coming home, buying the US version of HP got shifted low to my priorities list. And even now that I have a job, I actually haven’t picked up the US paperback yet. I really should. The US covers are so much better, plus they have those little pictures at the start of each chapter! Pure HP fans think the UK “versions” are better, but they kind of aren’t. Since I have so many versions of the whole series, it takes up an entire shelf on my bookshelf at my parents house. I do like that.

Moral: I am such a nerd, that I love having stories like these about my book buying expirence, especially for such iconic and non-American books like these. I liked seeing how crazy fans are in every country and as usual, the US is still the most nuts. I have little stories like these about the movies too, since I was only at home for like half of them. Maybe later this year, when the last one comes out, so I can write a complete story.

Used: 2002

I am going to deviate for a moment here to share one of my favorite travel stories, when my friend Melina (said Hanson friend from NJ) and I went to London for spring break in 2002.

We had both been to Europe before with our families, but neither of us had made it to London and we both had been wanting to go for years. Right after 9/11 we made the executive decision to just bite the bullet and go. Neither of us were scared of flying, so that wasn’t an issue at all. Anyway, when we were discussing accomodation options, I think I threw out staying in a hostel. I had done it 2 years before when I traveled around Israel with a group and didn’t find it as scarey as I originally thought. So we booked a week in the largest (cheapest) room at Ashlee House, which is near Kings Cross. That seemed central for us.

As she came from the east coast and I was coming from LA, Melina arrived before me and we made plans to meet at the hostel at 3pm on our arrival day. Her plane landed at 6am and after wondering around town, we made perfect time and she arrived back at the hostel just as I was putting my bag into storage. She had returned to take a nap, but I was excited and wanted to get out there and walk around and wake up, so she obliged me and walked around for a while, even though she was dead tired. We ate dinner at Pizza Express (our most expensive meal of the week, for two money starved students) before heading back to check into our room for the night. We pull our bags from storage and headed to the assigned dorm room. We took one step in and stepped out. It was filled with dirty old men, clothes hanging from everywhere and there is no way we are staying there. We are so tired and I nearly started to cry at this point and ask if there is another room we could stay in. Luckily, we were in London the first week in March, so not high tourist season and there was space in a 4 bed female room so we went up there. I go to the bathroom to take a shower and while the showers had doors, they were just in a huge room and the doors were perfectly clear and that is when I broke down and just cried. There is no way I could stay in this place for 6 nights. I haphazardly threw on some clothes and returned to our room and talked to Melina and knew she wasn’t feeling it either. When I walked from the Tube station to the hostel earlier in the day, I noticed a Comfort Inn 2 blocks away. Comfort Inns are cheap in the US, so how expensive could this place possibly be? We piled on jackets to go outside and take a look. We arrive and the receptionist is on the phone, but they have a price list and back in 2002, the price for a twin is £90/room. No way can we afford that for 5 more nights, when the hostel was only costing us like £20/night/person. I groan and the women gets off the phone and asks if she can help us. We tell her our issue and end it with, but your prices are too much. She says, wait a moment, let me call my manager and see what we can do. I nearly faint. At first, I was like we can pay £60/night, before realizing that that is still over $100 and once she gets the manager on the phone and asks how much we can pay, I say £50/night. She hangs up and it’s all approved. I put the whole fee on my parents credit card to reserve the room for 5 nights starting tomorrow, since we have already paid for the hostel for one night and I breath out the biggest sigh of relife, I am so happy!! We rushed back to the hostel and canceled the rest of our reservation for the week, which luckily we hadn’t paid for yet.

Sure, we ended totally blowing our budget and spending like 4 times what we had planned, but it made the week and trip so much better! We had our own bathroom and tv. We didn’t have to pack up our stuff every night as we were staying in the same place, our own room, for nearly a week. The complimentary breakfast was fantastic! We didn’t have any lock out hours, which Ashlee House had at the time, which worked well for us because what we ended up doing all week was going out in the morning, tour around, have lunch, coming back to the hotel for a nap and then going out again at night. We couldn’t have done that in the hostel!

When I came back through London for one night by myself later that year in October, I emailed the hotel and asked if I could book a single room for £50/night (still cheaper then list price) since I was arriving late and didn’t want to wonder the street and they approved it. In looking at the Ashlee House website for this story, it seems they have redone the hostel considerably since our expirence in 2002, so I wouldn’t even listen to our exprience there.

Moral: It doesn’t hurt to ask for a lower price then advertised, especially during the off season, because you never know what you may get. I am not a haggler by any means and it being London, this is one of my favorite travel stories.

Used: 2003

I spent a summer in Europe “backpacking” around and one of the things I did was take the Eurostar from London to Paris. Everyone told me it was so nice and so great that the two cities were now so closely connected! While I do like getting to some places quickly, transportation is part of the travel experience for me. Anything different and slower is okay with me in most situations. While I was in London, I took a train to Dover and then the boat to Calais and it was lovely! I came back to London the same day, sad that my passport wasn’t stamped with a France stamp. Everyone in my family went to France 5 years before and now I had finally made it! Anyway, later, when I was actually going to France to like see stuff (there isn’t much to see in Calais) I decided to take the train because everyone raved about it. I guess I ended up on the two worst days ever for the Eurostar via the chunnel, because I will say NEVER AGAIN!

From London to Paris, everything started out fine, but then for some reason, we arrive in Paris and sat on the tracks for about 2 hours before we finally could disembark. No idea why, we just sat. So freakin’ annoying. Then I wait in the taxi line and when I get to the front the driver starts screaming at me in French and while I don’t speak a lick of it, I am pretty sure he was telling me that my hotel was very close and he didn’t want to take me that close. I knew my place was close, but as I was in a city I had never been to nor spoke the language and it was well after 10pm, I wanted to take a cab. I asked some random cabbie and they quoted a price that I knew was at least twice as much as it should have cost so I said no and stormed off. I figure out which street my hotel is on and just walk with focus and determination. Some guy got my attention as I was walking and was speaking English, so for some reason I stopped. He starts to give me some sob story and wants money. I immediately walk quickly off and he yells after me, are you Jewish? That freaked me out (because I am) and I couldn’t find my place soon enough. I got very very lucky and found my small hotel after a 10 minute walk and crashed out. Moral of the story? I don’t know, I got very very lucky.

Now it’s like 4 weeks later and I am headed back to London. It is the hottest days on record and the train station is deathly hot, as nothing is air conditioned. Trains are running about 4 hours late. I am nearly out of Euros and really don’t want to take any more out of the ATM and some food stand gives me a water even though I am like 10cents short. But the wait is forever until my train is called. Everything is such a nightmare, that they are barely checking tickets and none of the seats are assigned, you just sit as you load. And I had worked so hard to get a window seat! I don’t remember if I got one or not. I just remember waiting for hours and being so thankful to be back in the cool breeze of London. Luckily, I knew the neighborhood where I was staying and while it was kind of a shady place, everything ended up okay.

Moral of the story: Take recommendations with a grain of salt. If I had to do it again, I would have just taken trains and the boat. So much more exotic.