San Francisco

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I definitely wasn’t wearing flowers in my hair when I visited San Francisco, the rain and wind would’ve dealt swiftly to them if I was, but I think it says a lot about a city when you can visit it during the worst weather ever, and still come away feeling like you wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

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We were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of sunny California on the afternoon that we first arrived, so we took the opportunity to stroll around the central city and check out what the cookies were saying about our fortunes in China Town.

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From then on though it was bone chilling wind and rain for the rest of our trip, and like I told the locals who felt the need to apologise on the city’s behalf, growing up in Wellington meant I was well prepared for the climate.

Despite the many moods of San Francisco’s weather we still managed to accomplish everything we set out to do there, including of course a trip to Alcatraz. Personally I think the moody sky added to what was a fantastic experience. I had very low expectations for visiting a prison (it was more a Mike thing to do), and was so surprised by how much I enjoyed the amazing audio tour that gave such an insight to life in Alcatraz. With my new found enthusiasm for the jail Mike’s now made a list of all the movies he wants to re-watch with me when I get home!

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When we arrived back at Fishermans Warf we were caught in the biggest deluge ever, raindrops the sizes of water balloons started falling from the sky and left us soaked through. So naturally we ducked into a tiny restaurant to feast on clam chowder and hot coffee. I know I shouldn’t say this being from a coffee snob country like New Zealand and all, but there’s something about bottomless filter coffee and cream when you’re in the States, it just comes with the territory.

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It of course also made for the perfect weather for one of my other new found loves, Irish Coffee at the mighty Buena Vista.

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One of the things the weather did make me feel pretty disappointed about was the fact that we weren’t going to be able to bike over the Golden Gate Bridge, as it was one of the things I had most been looking forward to. Given how unpredictable the weather was being, we decided to get on a Hop On Hop Off bus tour that’d at least drive us over the bridge to the very beautiful Sausalito. I didn’t feel totally at peace with the decision and clearly some kind of higher power knew it, as just before our hilarious bus driver was about to hit the bridge, he stopped the bus on the side of the road to give the most passionate speech about how, despite the rain and freezing temperatures, we MUST get off his bus and walk across the  Bridge or regret the decision to opt to stay dry and warm for the rest of our life times. Despite the vigor of his speech, Mike and I were the only ones to get off his bus, but man am I SO glad we did!! And despite having a precautionary bag full of ponchos, it didn’t rain on us once!

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Despite it being hideously expensive, and often actually quicker to walk, I rode the trams as much as I could! After years of watching Full House it really would’ve been rude not to.

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San Francisco really was the perfect start to our American adventure.

Washington DC

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Having just devoured the second season of Huse of Cards before we left NZ I was pretty excited to get to see what DC had to offer, but didn’t expect to be quite as captivated and blown away by the capital city as I was. Again, just being able to see with my very own eyes such well known landmarks, and to really be able to see history alive in front of me was a pretty great feeling.

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I thought we’d covered a lot of ground walking in NYC, but it turned out to be nothing in comparison. The  beautifully warm (bordering on stinking hot, I don’t know how people in DC cope in Summer) Spring weather was incredibly beautiful, and arriving just as the cherry blossoms were on full bloom we decided to pound the pavement every step of the way (thank god for sneakers!!)
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The day we explored the National Mall was probably one of the most memorable days of my trip so far. We happened to be there on the same day as a group of World War Two veterans from Austin, Texas. After all this time it was their first visit to the monuments and memorials, many of which celebrated and remembered the sacrifice and efforts of them and their fellow vets. At the women’s memorial we met a World War Two nurse who thanked us for caring enough to visit, it was a pretty humbling experience.
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The Martin Luther King memorial only opened in 2011, and I’d have to say it was one of my favourites, surrounded by blooming cherry blossoms it was pretty inspiring. With the images of  MLK’s I have A Dream speech fresh in my mind, walking along the reflection pool to the Lincoln Memorial was also quite a magic moment.
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I think our whole DC experience was definitely all the richer for our timing with the cherry blossoms. The trees are only in peak bloom for a few days of the year and I was worried we would miss them. But in the end we hit it perfectly and I got lost in the amazing-ness of the flowers. I think I took about a million photos of them, but nothing quite compares to actually being in amongst them all.
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Of course, like everywhere, we weren’t alone in our admiration for the flowers, with the cherry blossom festival in full swing, I felt like the whole world had joined us in DC that weekend. But we were extremely lucky to have made two new wonderfully amazing friends at the wedding in Phoenix who helped us escape the craziness of the National Mall and see some that were tucked away in their neighbourhood – so beautiful.
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Dara and Eby were also responsible for redefining what we know as BBQ food. When they asked if we’d be keen on BBQ for dinner, I expected a barbie of sausages and chops. But no, in the good old U S of A this is what BBQ food means:
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Ribs, spicy sausages, pulled pork, jalapeños wrapped in bacon, all with a side of grits and mashed potatoes. Sure it might look like a heart attack on a plate but oh my it was delicious!!!!!
The next night when we couldn’t decide where to dine out, we decided dining in might be a better option. So we grabbed some city bikes and like some kind of very tame bike gang (I was very concerned it was legal to ride without helmets) we hooned through town, back to their apartment. And after nearly two weeks of restaurant eating it was so nice to relax with some wine in someone’s home. I’m sure I would’ve loved DC no matter what, but Dara and Eby made us feel so much more at home in the city, in fact I’m pretty sure I left a tiny bit of my heart right there with them.
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Unfortunately we didn’t have time to make it to many of the incredible Smithsonian Museums. We had a look around the Natural History and the Space and Air museums, but all of those places you could literally devote hours to. One place we did spend quite a bit of time however was the Newseum. While it’s not free  it’s definitely worth the price you pay, exploring news and journalism through historical events it was a must do for us. Plus it had an Anchor Man exhibit, and an interactive area where they had a green screen and auto-cue so you could pretend to be a reporter which was a little bit hilarious!
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One of the things I love most about America is how excited people get when they hear you’re from New Zealand, and DC was no exception. You’d think sometimes you were the first Kiwi to ever visit there. There were some seriously hard core looking police officers at Capitol Hill who broke out into buckets of smiles and laughter when they learned where we were from.  14 years later one of them still couldn’t quite get over how amazing it was that a place called Gisborne in New Zealand was the first place in the world to ring in the millennium. Gotta love being a Kiwi!
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It’s hard to find the words to express how much I loved this place, I’m already trying to plot how I might be able to get back there!

 

New York City

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Arriving in New York was definitely one of those pinch yourself kind of moments. It felt as if we’d stumbled onto some kind of elaborate movie set, and what we were finally seeing in person couldn’t actually be for real.

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For the little over a week we were there, Chelsea became our new home.We stayed in an old European-style lodge recommended to us by a couple of friends. While the room was pretty tight (as I think most reasonably priced NYC rooms are), a comfy bed, warm shower and waking up to freshly brewed coffee every morning was all we really needed in the so called city that never sleeps.

What I enjoyed the most about staying in Chelsea was that while we were still so close to all of the goodness Manhattan had to offer, we could escape Mid Town’s constant flock of Tourists should we want to, and retreat to this stylish neighbourhood and just soak up the day to day life of the every day New Yorkers going on around us.

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While the tourist traps of places like the Statue of Liberty and Time Square were a must do for us given it was our first visit, we were incredible lucky to have our friend Jack to spend some time with as it meant we got to see the city from a local’s perspective as well. Not only did he take us to areas the guidebooks forgot to mention, his local knowledge meant we got a wonderful insight into our surroundings, and his walking tours gave a whole new meaning to the concept of city strolling.

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I’d have to say one of the best afternoons we had was actually spent far away from the extensive security searches you find at most tourist attractions, the heaving ferries carrying hundreds of people back and forth to Liberty Island, and the crowds of Time Square. Instead it involved strolling the streets of Williamsburg in Brooklyn with Jack. The arty hipster neighbourhood with its Wellington-like cafe culture was charming enough, but it was when we crossed a street and saw the world around us literally change before our eyes from a hipster neighbourhood, to a Hasidic Jewish neighbourhood, in the space of about 10 footsteps, that really amazed me.

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I think that’s what I loved most about NYC, this patchwork of cultures that fit together like a puzzle resulting in such a vibrant amazing city. Where you can literally cross a road and feel like you’re in a whole new world –  in this city I really didn’t feel like we were in America at all.

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Visiting Ground Zero will also be an experience that stays with me forever. It wasn’t so much the memorial itself (which was very beautiful, and amazingly peaceful given the busy working world operating so closely around it), but I think it was more being able to stand on the street with the hustle and bustle of people coming and going around you that brought home more acutely what things must have been like for those people in New York City that day.

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We managed to pack a lot into our short NY stay: we walked the high rise, spent a rainy afternoon at the Museum of Modern Art, explored Wall St and the financial district, saw Spring start to creep out at Central Park, got a little more than breakfast at Tiffanys, converted to the religion of the Knicks and Yankees, found heaven in the form of Broadway musicals, gained several kg’s eating the most delicious food from restaurants and food carts lining every city street, AND got rip roaringly drunk off Martinis at a fabulous gay bar with a former drag queen turned NYU maths lecturer (appropriately named MissCalculation).

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But despite such an amazing whirl wind week, it’s a concrete jungle I still feel like I’ve only just scratched the surface of ….

Phoenix, Arizona

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When most people think about heading off to explore America, I don’t imagine Phoenix Arizona sits very high on their ‘must see’ priority list. But that’s exactly where my love affair with this country began. So it seemed only natural to put a big old tick in the ‘will be attending’ box when Mike and I were invited to the wedding of my incredibly amazing high school exchange host sister Kelly, and her equally amazing now husband Eric.
And given it was the decision to tick that box that ultimately lead me to take an even bigger leap towards Europe too, I figured this would be the perfect place to get things started.
I don’t know whether it’s the fact that the middle of the Arizona desert is such a stark contrast to New Zealand, or that it’s the place where I’ve met some of the most incredible people of my life, but to me the canvas of burnt oranges, browns and reds that melt into a blazing sky of sunshine is beauty quite unlike any other. Some might say it’s bland and boring, but when you look a little closer you see it’s a mosaic full of life. Where a desert flower in full bloom opens your eyes to a world of beauty you’d never considered before.
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This most recent trip was my third back to Arizona, and like each time before it filled me with a happiness that I can’t quite put into words. There’s something about seeing the expanse of desert stretching further than what seems like forever out of the plane window that always excites me.
And it truly is a treat for all of the senses, given one of the best things about Arizona is without a doubt the food. I love Mexican food so much and even just thinking about what Phoenix has to offer in the way of tacos, burritos, and chimichangas gets my mouth watering.
So when our new friends Dara and Eby suggested we do a midnight post-wedding run for some authentic Mexican food, I knew it would be rude to say no! And I’m so glad we tagged along for the adventure as the stars definitely aligned for us that night. We hailed a cab outside our Hotel and were picked up by Ramon, a Mexican cab driver who’d originally come to the States to play Baseball. When we told him of our late night mission, he called ahead to his favourite local to tell them he had some special guests he was bringing to get some food. When we finally arrived you could’ve been fooled into thinking we’d nipped across the border, not a word of English was spoken, and I had no idea what part of town we were in. Any nerves however of where we were quickly subsided, as Ramon turned off the meter so he could come inside, tell us what was best to order, and wait with us so that he could drive us back again. And if you were wondering, yes, my tacos were beyond delicious.
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It might not have the bright lights of New York, or the Hollywood frenzy of LA, but for me Phoenix never fails to deliver, and this trip was no exception. You can’t ask for more from a city than being treated to amazing new friends, delicious margaritas, 6 layer dip, game nights, wedding dance floor anthems, photo booth mayhem, hiking under the desert sun, lazy mornings by the pool, and all topped off with a sprinkling of my new found love Trader Joes Cowboy Bark.
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It broke my heart just a little to once again have to say goodbye to my home away from home. It might not be the top of everyone’s American wish list, but I can’t wait to go back again.
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