Archives for category: USA

Hawaii is a place that you read about, hear about, occasionally see on television and if you’re anything like me, could never actually conceive of going to because its just so bloody far away.

And yet for ten days in December, this was exactly where I found myself, sitting on the beach, splashing in the sea and feeling none of the usual cold and shit-I-haven’t-done-any-shopping anxiety normally associated with the weeks before Christmas.

We stayed in Waikiki which was very nice but absolutely rammed full of Japanese tourists filling their suitcases with cheap designer clothes and shit trinkets.

To get away from it all we were able to jump on a bus to the North Shore of Oahu, a place known for its beautiful beaches and world famous surf. When we arrived to an almost entirely deserted stretch of golden sand, I was slightly disheartened to see the red flags and No Swimming signs out. Lovisa just took all her clothes off and ran straight in to the 20 ft waves.

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Not wanting to look like a baby, I followed her in shortly after. And then like a baby, couldn’t control myself in the water, got smashed in the face by a shit ton of ocean, and nearly died. When I eventually washed up ashore, it took me three days to wash the sand out of my hair.

After all that exertion it was decided that we had earned a cheeseburger. Luckily there is a restaurant in Waikiki called Cheeseburger Waikiki. Fitting. It was so good we went back the next day. And the next two days after that. You would think there was only so much pineapple, beef, cheese and teriyaki in a bun that a man could be expected to enjoy eating in a week, but I haven’t yet found out how much that is. Next time I’m in Waikiki I’ll update you.

Unnecessary and gratuitously sexy picture.

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Greetings bastards. I hope you’ve all been enjoying the sun or snow or whatever weather conditions you’ve been subjected to over the last week and a bit. I’ve been dosing up on an enormous amount of vitamin D, straight chillin on the beach in Hawaii, like a right spoilt little sod.

Before we get to that though we have some recapping to do, so get comfortable and ready yourself for Chapter 35: Los Angeles.

Los Angeles is a sprawling enormousness of a city, much more a collection of small towns than anything else. We stayed in Downtown. In pretty much every other city in the world ‘downtown’ means where the action is and where it’s fun to go. In Los Angeles it means where the crack is and where it’s fairly terrifying to go. Ok, maybe it wasn’t as bad as all that, but aside from our very lovely hotel, the surrounding neighbourhood was yet another example of the American antipathy towards its empoverished peoples. Wherever you go in this country, a large community of mostly black, homeless and/or drug addicted people is never far away. For this I would just like to say a few swear words. Fuck you America, you racist wankers. Pay taxes, look after each other, stop pretending to be leaders of the free world when you don’t have your own shit together.

Ahem.

Sixth form politics aside, downtown LA is great, if nothing else for the fact that you can walk to Little Tokyo in around ten minutes and eat unbelievable sushi for an extraordinarily good price, then be home before sundown, when the really scary men come out to play.

If you find abject poverty a little galling it might interest you to know that a short bus ride away live some of the richest people in the world, in a little town called Beverly Hills. And if you’re willing and silly enough, you can pay someone to drive you around and show you their houses. I know deep down that I ought to sneer at celebrity obsession culture, and I appreciate that it is weird and voyeuristic to creep up to people’s houses just to see what vulgar monstrosity they’ve spent their latest royalty check on. But I defy anyone I know not to shit themselves and lose all sense of perspective when they get told they’re sitting just footsteps away from Danny Devito’s front lawn.

Of course you don’t have to go to Beverly Hills in an open top bus to see a celebrity. If you hit the beach down in Venice, among the ‘doctors’ who will give you an on the spot ‘assessment’ and ‘prescription’ for ‘medical’ marijuana, the skateboarders who will give you a massive inferiority complex with all the rad tricks they can pull off while absolutely off their tits, the busking pianist with the cat, and the man with the implausibly relaxed dog whose belly you can rub for a small donation; in amongst all the weirds you can see Will.I.Am making a new music video. Or at least you could if you went last Monday like we did.

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In summary, LA is like everywhere else in America. It has a drinking problem, it has obscene wealth, its inhabitants are accordingly mental and despite all its obvious flaws, I liked it.

San Francisco shares much with our former home, Brighton. It has a gay scene of international repute. It has a ‘vibrant arts community.’ It is riddled with drunks and drugs and homelessness. San Francisco has a large number of enormous sea lions lolling around at the sea front, maniacally barking for the amusement of tourists. Brighton has a large number of enormously overweight hen parties lolling around in sea front bars, maniacally shrieking to the bemusement of tourists.

If that doesn’t necessarily sound like a ringing endorsement of the city then that’s fine. You probably take a bucket and spade every time you go to Brighton and get really disappointed when your pebblecastles don’t stand up properly. But I assure you, San Francisco really is the tits and you’ll love it.

It really doesn’t appear to make any sense that there is a city here at all. Everywhere you turn there is another massive hill which in any other town would have seemed a decent enough excuse to stop building and not have any ambition for making one of the biggest cities and most important business and financial centres in the world. The town planners here had very different ideas, presumably because they were San Franciscan and that meant they were permanently high.

Having built an utterly inaccessible city they at least had the decency to build a local transport system that looks really cool. The cable cars that remain are almost completely unchanged since, although presumably when they first came in to being they weren’t a tourist attraction costing $6 for a single ride, and therefore people with normal budgets could actually afford to use them. Still, nice to look at. (Just trust me on this because I can’t find the pictures we took of them. Promise they are nice to look at.)

A 15 minute boat ride away from San Francisco is Alcatraz, probably the world’s most infamous prison, or to me, the setting for the 1996 action thriller The Rock, a film so bad that I must have watched it at least 15 times when my mum got the film channels when I was 11.

Alcatraz is now actually operated by the same National Parks service that looks after the Grand Canyon and Sequoia National Forest so it was no surprise to find that it is brilliant. Even though one inevitably feels and looks a bit of a dick using an audio guide on a walking tour of an attraction, we put on our headphones and walked around like good little prisoners.

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Lovely views of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge and the rest of the Bay Area from the recreation yard; not really sure what the inmates had to complain about but loads of them died trying to escape so I guess it wasn’t all fun and games and walking tours.

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There is plenty more to recommend to do in San Francisco, but none will be as delicious as this.

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That’s a grilled ham, cheese and onion sandwich, dipped in egg, deep fried and sprinkled with icing sugar with spicy strawberry jam for dipping. Completely and utterly astonishingly brilliant. If you ever find yourself in the Bay Area, I can heartily recommend a trip to Show Dogs for a sausage or a gnarly sarnie.

If you’re not hungry, just go for a walk. You’ll meet crazies, get incredibly toned calves from all the climbing and find that you love San Francisco because it’s the shit.

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From reading this blog you could reasonably expect that the whole of America is ugly and disgusting. There are enormous swathes of it that are, and because I’m a bit of a bastard I find it much easier to be disparaging about these bits rather than concentrate too much on the places in between that mean that I am actually having a remarkably good time on this trip and not just wasting a few months being angry at fat people.

However today I would like to pay tribute to the nice things that we saw on our drive from Las Vegas, through the Sequoia National Forest and up through California. Let’s look at some trees.

Not just any trees either, but really massive trees. In fact, this tree is the biggest known, living tree in the world.

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He is about a gazillion metres wide and ten gazillion metres tall.

There are lots of other very big trees in this forest.

Trees with crazy ass roots.

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Trees you can make friends with.

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Trees you can hide in.

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Trees you can drive through.

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And when you’ve had enough of trees you can climb to the top of a mountain and sit on a rock and forget that you’re in the filthiest, fattest, most warmongering, socio-economically deluded country in the world.

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Las Vegas is horrible. If you read my earlier blog about the cruise we went on, take all the disturbing, ugly, dementedly tacky shit from it and turn it up to ten, you get approximately nowhere near how awful this town is.

Despite knowing that it was full of hookers, off-duty naked British royals and couples getting drunkenly hitched, we had been duped, mostly by George Clooney being so bloody suave and handsome in Ocean’s Eleven, in to thinking that Vegas still retained some glitz, glamour and what a stuck up European like me might quietly describe as ‘class.’ We were wrong. While we had pressed our trousers and skirts in anticipation of partying with supermodels and formula one drivers, the rest of the town was content with rolling around on mobility scooters wearing their pyjamas, smoking cigarettes and clinging to plastic cups filled with a litre of strawberry daiquiri.

But we didn’t let this get us down. We embraced the shit out of it. Because if there’s one thing that Lovisa and I enjoy more than taking the piss out of everything that is wrong in the world, it’s being everything that is wrong in the world.

Here you can see we enjoyed a day out by the canal in Venice. And by “in Venice,” of course I mean “somewhere in the depths of an enormous hotel in the Nevada desert.”

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Culture, see?

Of course Vegas does have a culture of its own. It’s called getting off your tits and throwing all your money in a machine or on a table with the drunken belief that you might get some of it back.

We duly got ourselves some $2 margaritas and put these bad boys in to a slot machine.

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A combination of alcohol-induced faith, beginners luck and/or button-pushing/handle-pulling skills left us getting almost all the money back out of said machine. They say the house always wins but in this case it was clearly us as we wanted to have a genuine Las Vegas experience and losing $30 to a slot machine is surely the most authentically Vegas thing one can do. Perhaps we should have lost more, had our relationship break down, slept with a prostitute, become unemployed and started begging in the street with a sign claiming we were Vietnam War veterans, but we were just too awesome at pulling that handle.

The Grand Canyon is big. Anyone that has been there will you tell you that, and that it is so big that no pictures can do it justice and that it doesn’t matter how big you think it is going to be, it will always be bigger when you get there and it will take your breath away and blah, blah, blah. Basically, people give this place a build up almost as big as they want you to believe it is and so it would take a pretty remarkable feat of physical enormousness for it not to be a massive let down (but not that massive! Get it?!!)

So thank goodness it’s so bloody big then.

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Here, the peak in the middle with the Rice Krispie-ish looking rock on the top is over 5 miles away.

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To give a sense of perspective, you could fit all of the London Underground’s zone 1 in between where I stood, and that point which is only about halfway across the whole canyon.

So it’s big.

Which is good because you can pull heart attack inducing stunts like pretending to hang off the edge of a 1000 metre sheer drop.

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Also, if a child drops a toy there is a really small chance that he or she will ever find it again, meaning there is a much better chance that we could stumble upon it and take pictures of it.

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Big.

If you want to see more pictures and learn some Swedish while you’re at it, Lovisa did a blog post with lots more on it because she isn’t lazy like me. It’s here and it’s lovely.

While I have only just managed to post a blog entry about New Orleans (I actually wrote it two days ago but my iPad didn’t play ball when I tried to upload it first time and then I forgot about it because I’m busy, OK?) we actually left the Big Easy eight days ago, so I image you’re all thinking ‘just what have you been up to for over a week without keeping us updated you sod?’ Allow me to fill you in, with a new feature I’m calling:

Eight days condensed in to a few concise paragraphs that should only take about a minute to read

We went to Dallas. It was big and fairly ugly, like most of its inhabitants and its shopping mall Christmas tree.

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We went to El Paso. It was dark and fairly murdery. I had ‘chicken’ enchiladas, the filling of which had the exact same distinct flavour, texture and look of tinned tuna. I literally would have been better off with an Old El Paso dinner kit from Morrisons.

We stopped at a motel that was completely murdery. Here is the view from our poolside room.

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We somehow found ourselves staying for two nights in an incredibly beautiful, upscale golf resort in Phoenix, Arizona. Forgot my clubs but did manage to spend several hours by the pool.

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Then we drove, through the desert, past cacti, round sandstone, up mountains and through valleys.

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(Photograph in black and white to cover up the hideous clashing colours of my clothes, not to make the picture appear moody and emotional)

Finally we arrived in Flagstaff, AZ. It’s a boring university town with nothing really going for it. Except that it is next door to the biggest and best thing I’ve ever seen. More to come.

As much as me and Lovisa enjoyed taking the bus with the weird (by weird I mean completely insane) and wonderful (and by wonderful I mean completely charmless and definitely not wonderful) folks of the south eastern states, to do the meat of the America sandwich, we decided to treat ourselves to a car.

We got given a fancy ass Dodge thing by the rental car guy, loaded her up and set sail towards the west.

After a night in a decidedly no frills motel in Tallahassee, we arrived at our first stop; bloody lovely New Orleans.

I didn’t really know much about New Orleans before we got there, but for some reason I had convinced Lovisa that I was super keen to go there and was therefore delighted that it turned out to be an incredibly beautiful and interesting city.

There are of course enormous areas that were devastated by Hurricane Katrina and a great deal of the city is still in need of cleaning up, seven years on. It’s a shit and sorry state of affairs and someone in government is clearly doing a horrible job of budgeting the rebuilding process because a city of this size, history and importance deserves much better.

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But let us not dwell on the sadness of the place, and instead let’s talk about how the really good bits somehow managed to avoid all the terribleness. The French Quarter is pretty, has amazing street music and excellent restaurants.

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The buildings aren’t French at all, the Spanish rebuilt this part of town when it burned down in the 18th century (New Orleans gets its fair share of the shit that happens when people say shit happens, right?). Whoever made them, they did a lovely job. If you want a tour of them, you can go by donkey and cart.

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A donkey won’t take you out to the next neighbourhood, Merigny, which is a shame because its mental and well good. Look at the local cafĂ©/guesthouse/laundrette.

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That really is a laundrette.

In Orlando it is actively encouraged that every man, woman and child should eat ‘turkey’ legs (they actually have the appearance, flavour and grotesque size of a pig’s leg, but they market them as turkey and it feels less gross that way so I’m happy to be taken in and believe what they say). I’d not heard of it before but it is clearly a local thing because there were t shirts everywhere with turkey legs on them and no shortage of turkey leg sellers around the theme parks. Not wanting to miss out on local tradition, we got involved.

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Ridiculous, delicious, Florida.

And so to Orlando. For beauty, history and natural splendour, Orlando can surely only be beaten by one place; everywhere. There was more organic matter on our cruise ship, growing in the creases and belly folds of our fellow guests, than there is in the whole of Orlando. What there is in Orlando though, is mile after mile of carefully manicured fakery, so perfectly constructed so as to make you feel as though you are actually in a sort of weird paradise, a magical place, where dreams really do come true. Disney World baby.

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The Wizarding World of Harry Potter baby.

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A Dr Seuss themed, insane acid trip theme park. Baby.

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Definitely my favourite fake and over made up thing in Orlando right now though, is my sister, Annabelle. Jokes. Sort of. But seriously, for two weeks only, a small part of my family were/are in town. This is me and Annabelle feeling exactly as excited as we were 20 years ago, last time we were about to get on Splash Mountain.

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And here you can see my little nephew King Charles, all the way from the 17th century.

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In all seriousness though, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Annabelle, Bill, Georgina, Michael and of course Robyn for letting us stay with them. Y’all are the best, and I only hope that the tears have dried and the good times have started again since we left you.

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