Tuesday, 30 July 2013

A Tightass in Seattle

For those that are unfamiliar with the term it's not as gross as it sounds. It just means that you think very carefully about how you spend your money. I've always tried to spend my money wisely, but the last few days has really showed the extent of how far I'll go.
Every city has a few touristic sites it has on offer, whether it be a zoo, rose/Japanese garden or large monument. The majority of these rarely offer anything new and really interesting and the ones you do end up going to you do so for the sake of saying that you've been there, with a few photos to prove it. And they are usually stupidly expensive which is why only tourists go.
I often prefer to just get a feel of a new city we're visiting by strolling/biking around the different neighbourhoods, eating a awesome local restaurants and try to find free local events/fairs/festivals that are on. Our first day in Seattle we went to the 'wooden boat festival' and signed up for a free sailing lesson on a vintage wooden sailing boat. Now this is an example of just normal non tightass behaviour. Sailing lessons in Sydney are really expensive so who wouldn't jump at the chance for a free one right?

Well later that day we were walking around downtown Seattle and a guy offered us some help because we were staring at the street map for awhile. This guy ended up working for a timeshare company and asked us if we would be willing to go to a sales 'presentation' in exchange for $70 worth of tickets to Seattle's attractions. Now I would have normally walked away from these scammy-feeling deals but he was offering tickets to see the Chihuly glass garden which was the ONE paid attraction that I was willing to part money with after I fell in love with his installation at the Bellagio in Vegas. We also got the visit the space needle (like centrepoint tower in Sydney) as part of the deal.
I thought the presentation was going to be this boring powerpoint presentation in a big room full of equally tightass people and it was going to be SELL SELL SELL. But actually it was a smallish room and it was Kevin and I talking one on one to this young, friendly guy whilst eating free cake and sandwiches for 1 1/2 hours. We all knew that no timeshares will be bought that day (even though he was offering a heavily discounted rate of just $18 000) but he did his spiel, we got free cake and at the end we walked away with free Chihuly tickets. Huzzah! We also got a $25 restaurant voucher but it was an expensive restaurant we probably would spend another $50 there anyways because entrees would start at $20 or something.
So we went the space needle (which was ok but kind of boring) and Chihuly glass garden (which was stunning and of the likes I have never seen before) but this unused restaurant voucher was eating at me. There was no minimim spend on it so it would be like throwing away money if we didn't use it right? Even if we just had dessert there just to use it up? Kevin told me to forget it as it wasn't worth the effort but at the end of the day my tightassness won and I found myself rushing to this fancy pants waterfront restaurant to order two desserts and a clam chowder to takeaway 10 minutes before closing time.
I knew it would annoy them and I palpably felt how cheap I was being as I handed over the extra 25c I owed them but I have reached a point of such zen-like tightassness that I no longer care what people think of me as long as I'm saving money. To which the ultimate goal is not to hoard like Scrooge McDuck and just look at it but to put it to better use like buying as much ice cream as I want.
Best thing at the space needle was seeing this guy, remind you of anyone?
And since Kevin didn't even want any of the two pieces of cake or clam chowder I ended up sharing it with some folks at the hostel and bought their love through free food. One girl was eating a microwaved bagel with grape jelly for dinner for god sake and another guy was eating canned spaghetti that looked a lot like Hills I/D canned food (dog food). They were really happy about my offerings and happy to hear me yammer on about how I obtained all this free cake. And as canned spaghetti guy says "any story that ends with cake is a good one", and so ends mine.  I will now go lie down to nurse my bursting belly.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Fireworks Are Fun!

We were meant to be in Seattle for Independence Day but we ended up staying in Portland for 3 days longer as we couldn't bear to leave it earlier. As life would have it, this worked out in the most awesome way possible. There were a few places we could have went to watch the official fireworks that night but we thought it would be more interesting to buy our own since they are illegal in Australia. So that afternoon we walked down to the local fireworks stand with our hostel buddy Blake and bought an assortment of goodies to blow up that night. We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing, playing frisbee, drinking tea and eating scrumptious gelato from Salt & Straw. I was kind of hoping for a more exciting day but hey, at least we had fireworks.
 So whilst we were frisbeeing in the backyard Dave the compost guy* came by and casually invited us to his friends house party with the promise of food and lots of illegal fireworks that one of them had gotten on an Indian reservation or something like that. I was a bit hesitant freeloading off a stranger's party but Dave being the nice Portland guy that he was assured me it was more than fine. So as awesome as our current frisbee game was we abandoned it to search for the 'red house with the canoes in front of it' since Dave came on bike and had to quickly return to the party with the coal.

The house we arrived at was as Portland as Portland can get. It was a lovely red, wooden two storey building with fairy lights at the front, communal fire pit and vegetable garden in the back. The food was all vegan but actually tasted really good and even looked amazing thanks to all the edible flowers they had used from their own backyard. We met Molly (one of the housemates who lived there) who looked like how I imagine Blossom** would look 20 years on. She was so nice and seemed genuinely happy for 5 complete strangers to be in her houses, scoffing down her beautiful food and drinking her organic punch.

There was a MASSIVE pile of fireworks by the front door that looked like a pile of Christmas presents under a tree. The piddly pile we had brought to the party was almost embarrassing but it was nice to contribute something to the festivities.

So after an initial introduction of blowing some fireworks off the roof and some fire dancing courtesy of our new friend Ryan (who appeared to be a pyromanic with circus skills) we all piled out on the road for the  real fun to begin. The one firework I was most intrigued by was the chicken one that we brought. It had the firework in it and a balloon attached at the butt end. So after making a hilarious 'why did the chicken cross the  road' joke I lit that baby up and what unfolded cracked everyone up.
 The chicken spun around a bit and then made a loud exploding noise and sparked a bit. Then for the finale the balloon inflated which supposedly represented it laying an egg. It was yellow after all. Afterwards it was a good hour of consistently blowing stuff up which included a watermelon cut in half with an explosive in it and then taped back together. There were firework wands that would shoot sparkles right out as you hold it up and really big ones that you light up and run away really fast.

Being that close to the action was surreal and a little scary. There was one big one that blew out sideways rather than up and scared the bejeezus out of everyone. We all had ringing ears for awhile but after the initial shock wore off the fun continued. All the neighbours who had their cars parked on the street got scared about how big the blasts were and moved their cars out of the way but were still surprisingly nice about it.
 So with smoke filled clothing and singed fingers we eventually said our goodbyes to our new friends and the best thing was being so warmly thanked for crashing their party and getting the longest, warmest hug I've ever received in my whole life by Molly. For me it was one of the craziest and best nights of my life filled with noise, light and kindness but for them, it's probably just another day in Portland. 

I love you Portland.

*Our hostel was also a community centre where Dave was running a compost program and we went to a compost skillshare he ran one morning. 
** Blossom was a 90's TV show about a quirky yet charming teenage girl with a distinctive hat.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

My LA Family Part 2

After 3 weeks of wandering about we arrived back in LA to catch an early flight to Portland. And like last time my Aunt opened up her home to us for the night. It also gave us a chance to meet the rest of my LA family which included my Aunt's other children Don and Melanie and their respective spouses Katie and Jake. We had a really fun family gathering that night where we were taken to this awesome Asian buffet that best of all, had sushi. And not just rubbish rolls like in Vegas which consisted of mostly tuna and cucumber. Bleh! No, this place had the good stuff, nigiri rolls and endless amounts of it. There was heaps of yummo asian food there and this place was far superior to the ones in Vegas but the highlight was just to get to know my cousins better.

Most if not all of them are accountants for Disney which is kind of funny. Melanie moved from Disney to CBS where she gets to go to these mad industry sales where you can buy stuff they use on the sets of tv shows like CSI. You can buy furniture, clothes and pretty much everything they have on set and it's super cheap. She bought a cabinet for $25 and the guy working there told her she can have for free whatever she can fit inside it. Which ended up being a lot of clothes including suits worth a few hundred bucks with the tags still on them. I love a good bargain story and this one takes the cake. 

Another moment of the night was when Melanie was feeding Don's 6 month old, Wyler, some banana pudding. It was like pacman in his invincible stage where he runs around gobbling everything up frantically. "MORE PUDDING!!" his eyes and mouth demanded even though he can't really verbally express what he wants just yet. It's hard to describe the hilarity of his facial expressions and I wish I took a photo but I think I was having a parallel experience with my endless about of sushi and hence was a bit distracted at that point. 

Needless to say I wish we could have stayed longer with them as it really felt like being at home and that's a nice feeling after for months of being a foreigner.

Friday, 12 July 2013

You Had Me at Hello, Portland

I've known for awhile now that I don't belong in Sydney. And a big part of my reason for traveling is to find a place that does feel right. If I could imagine a place with all of my favourite things, it would have the following:
- fantastic gelato shop with crazy flavours
- delicious dessert bakery
- lots of greenery and the smell of jasmine flowers everywhere
- well looked after dogs and cats everywhere
- high number of craft shops and markets 
- bike riding culture
- lots of friendly, chilled out people 
- nice weather
- Asian food

Portland ticks all these boxes and so many more, that within hours of being here I knew I never wanted to leave. I'd never have thought I'd want to be an American what with their stuffed up health care and ridiculously expensive college system but I find myself increasingly jealous of these Portlandians with their relaxed lifestyles and creative outlets. 

This really feels like a utopian society where people enjoy nice things like hand crafted clothes and macaroons for breakfast yet haven't become all pretensious and douchy about it. In fact, we're constantly being hello'd at or told to have a nice day by complete strangers. One lady even complimented my dress (and she wasn't in a store trying to sell me something). But you know what this town is missing. Terrariums. And I know just the person. But somehow I don't think the US immigration office will take that as an acceptable reason for permanent residency. So until I can find a way to weasel my way back here I will just have to watch lots of episodes of Portlandia (which I'm told is quite accurate) and put birds on everything.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

A Random Post For a Random Place - Vegas

Before Kevin and I arrived in Las Vegas we joked that we were going to be party so hard we would wake up the Hangover style in the San Francisco Greyhound bus station. But the reality of the situation is that I don't gamble. I don't really like strippers (sorry Kevin). And we didn't really want to go to any shows. So what were we going to do for our five days in Las Vegas?

We filled up our time surprisingly well actually. Firstly we were very pleasantly surprised at how large and nice our queen room at Bally's was. And it was right in the middle of the strip too. We spent most of those hot days lounging about by the pool, trying to fill in the gaps of my glaring thong tan (that's flip flops to you non-Australians). It's actually been years and years since I had a holiday doing absolutely nothing so this was a nice holiday from our holiday. Then when the temperature dropped we wandered about the strip, checking out all the free attractions of the various big hotels there.

Loving our room. Ahh space, I've missed you.

The best by far was at the Bellagio. Their fountain show every fiften minutes always offered something new and would never fail to bring a smile to my face and a tap in my feet. Then going into the hotel itself is like walking into Alice in Wonderland. I LOVED the large stained glass flowers that covered the ceiling that was done by Chihuly. And then there was the conservatory which had it's own aviary full of coloured finches and different displays full of colour, birds and other magical elements that was really inspiring. It felt like I was inside a giant terrarium!

Then there was the aquarium and free show at Caesar's, the wildlife habitat at Flamingo's and the canals at the Venetian. They were pretty cool too and helped to fill up some time but because everything felt a little artifical and just not quite right I wasn't falling off my seat impressed. They also had a fake eiffel tower at our hotel, a fake pyramid and a fake statue of liberty. It was all a bit crazy and over the top. But that's what Vegas is all about I guess.

What was truly spectacular however was the day tour we took to the Grand Canyon. Instead of just a big hole in the rock like I had thought it was, it was more of a landscape of layers of rock and large structures of interesting shapes and colours. Yes it was pretty hot but we got ice cream and enjoyed just wandering around the different vista points. We didn't have time to do any trails there but we weren't really keen on it anyway because of the extreme heat.

The other impressive thing we saw was the amount of food people can eat. We knew it wouldn't be the best but we thought we should try the many buffets in Vegas with the 24 hour Buffet of Buffet pass which allows you go into 6 different hotel buffets as many times as you want for that period of time. We timed it out so we got four meals out of it, which isn't bad for $50 per person. The best was breakfast and on the spot crepes at Paris and the dinner at Spice market buffet in Planet Hollywood. The prawns were awful but the crab legs were good and we ate A LOT of them. Needless to say, I over ate at every meal and was left nursing a stomach ache for a lot of that 24 hour period. An experience for sure but I was relieved when it was over. The same could be said for my Vegas experience overall. 

Unlimited cupcakes!! Stomach inducing for sure.
Showing some restraint.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

10 Reasons Why My Dad is Awesome

1. He once got out of a parking ticket by pretending to be Charles Bronson.

2. He has a fancy hi tech remote controlled helicoptor that can video record on his ipad. He flies said helicotpor in the house and everyone makes a run for it.

3. He changed his birth date to the 7/7 cuz it's easier to remember.

4. He has a full head of hair at 61.

5. At Port Arthur prison he hid in the punishment cell in the dark and jumped out at my mum and scared the bejeezus out of her.

6. He once gave a guy $20 at a petrol station because he was in need.

7. When most people are retiring he set up his own business and is really successful.

8. He played so much ping pong he got tennis elbow. He continued to play but with my old wrist guard wrapped around his elbow.

9. He was was once a French teacher,a fridge mechanic and now fixes cars.

10. He gave me 50% of my DNA which I am grateful for. Thanks Dad and Happy Birthday!

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Why I Hate Grehound Buses

So after 3 months in South America I have no problems with long haul bus rides. The 12 hour bus ride from San Fran to LA was going to be a breeze. We would leave at 11pm, get to sleep all night, then be ready to go once we hit Vegas. It all seemed pretty simple. But alas this was not how things unfurled.

Being the paranoid being I am, I convinced Kevin to skip dinner so we could return our rental car from Yosemite and get back to SF Greyhound bus station nice and early to pick up our tickets. We asked the guy working there what time we should get in line at the gate and he told us 15 minutes before departure. Perfect, we had 1 1/2 hours to grab a fast food meal with time to spare. Incidentally, we bumped into Vincent, a french guy we had met at our Yosemite hostel who told us his bus to Portland had been cancelled a few hours ago and he had been stranded at the station waiting for an alternative but the people at Greyhound had nothing as yet so they kept telling him to come back later. This was sad to hear but at this point we were unfazed. These things happen and I'm sure he would be on his way soon.

Kevin got us some kebabs which was the only thing open at the time and we hung around chatting to Vincent. Ok, 10.45pm, we wished Vincent the best of luck and headed to our gate. Then we heard a commotion at the next gate. The bus was full and there were a small group of girls who wouldn't make it. I felt so sorry for them but then in the middle of her rantng I could hear her say "why would you sell so many tickets and not have the seats, look at all those people still waiting" whilst pointing to us. And THAT'S when it hit me, their bus was our bus and we had ust missed out out on seats along with the 20 or so other folks still in the line. Plus they had changed the boarding gates without telling us. Bastards! 

So we all rushed to the service counter to see if there was another bus we could catch. Surely if there were this many people wanting to catch a bus they could arrange something right?? At this point I was still naively optimistic and had some faith in Greyhound. These illusions were soon to be left shattered into a million shards of bitter disappointment. Soon afterwards they made an annoucement that ALL buses that night had been cancelled and then we had about 50 angry people at the counter demanding all sorts of reasonable things like another bus to their destination or a refund but this was met with a verbose, bumbling speech from the guy working there about how empathetic he was for us and how he himself was robbed on a bus the other week. WTF dude? Can you actually give us some useful information rather than wasting even more time. 

So we finally were able to ascertain that there were no more buses to Vegas for another two days and since we had already booked a nice hotel room we opted for the refund. But even this simple task overwelmed the imbeciles at Greyhound who after another ten minutes of fumbling told us they didn't have the code to authorise it and we we would have to wait til the manager came in at 5am the next day. Without so much as an apology. So there are no buses and we had to hang around just to get our money back? The reason, they had no drivers for the buses. 
I'm sorry, but I thought you were a moderately large, functional company. Is there a strike happening? No. Was there a bubonic plague outbreak affecting only bus drivers? No. Well this may seem preposterously simple but call your back up drivers! 

Then Kevin started taking photos of the angry mob for documentation purposes which set off an argument between him and the Greyhound guy. I was tempted to burst out in one of those high pitched crazy laughs at the ridculousness of the situation. One girl was running around in tears because she had a flight to catch and didn't know what to do and it was nice to see a group flock around her with kind words and moral support. At about 1am they got sick of talking to people and just shut up shop and snuck off. It was a cold and miserably hard linoleum floor for a bed that night where I finally fell into an angry, broken sleep at 2am.

Trying to sleep amongst chaos.
Of course, the guy that opened up shop at 5am the next morning had NO idea what had passed the night before and was pissed because he was left to clean up the mess. Oh joy, so lets spend another 20 minutes explaining everything again. When I told him I was in the same boat as the girl in front of me he had the nerve to say "no you're not, everyone's got different things going on". Don't give me your philosphical bullshit man, I just spent the night on your dirty ass floor so just give me a refund so I can leave Greyhound limbo! I have never in my life been so happy to leave a place and I swore on my dog's grave that I would never step into another Greyhound bus station again. The end.

P.S. We drove to Vegas and it was fine.