For me its true, there is no place like home and my home is Chicago IL USA, but a close second would be Miami. After only a short trip I was able to see what inspired Will Smith to write a song about this place. This town has a beautiful mixture of people, and American and Caribbean cultures, the tropical weather is amazing, the nightlife is about lively as it gets, there’s plenty of delicious seafood and other cuisines just about everywhere you look, and no shortage of tourist attractions. Read more…
So you’ve finally booked your Bali cruise holiday and you’re off soon. Here are a few things not to miss out on before, after or during your Indonesian adventure:
Bali is a souvenir-collectors dream. It is one of the few places on earth where traditional craftsmanship, whether it be painting, sculpture or carving, is passed down from one generation to the next. It is done with the use of traditional tools and methods and that certainly shows in the end result. I was most impressed with the intricately carved coconut shells sold at the beautiful Gunung Kawi temple site, surrounded by lush palm trees, rice paddies and a volcano view in the distance. Purchase a lovely traditional sarong for yourself at the earliest opportunity, as it will be required for entry to many temples.
Balinese breakfasts are filled with mouth-watering banana pancakes, luscious tropical fruit salads and mugs of mild but flavourful fresh Bali coffee. Local food outside of tourist-focused areas can be very hot indeed, so make sure to ask for a mild version at market stalls! One dish that I remember fondly is Nasi Campur: a series of small vegetable and tempeh-based dishes placed on banana leaves around a central red-rice pyramid. It felt like eating a small feast, with all the dishes being quite distinct and differently spiced, definitely something for variety lovers! Bali is a well-known producer of coffee and spices, so if you can, make time to visit a plantation. Your relatives will definitely appreciate the spices you’ll bring home, and you get to try local teas and coffees and check out how everything is grown. This includes the famous (or infamous?) and most expensive kopi luwak coffee, made out of the poo of a civet, a possum-like critter. For the brave and rich only.
Ubud is the cultural centre of Bali, a destination recently made famous by Elisabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love,” with lovely restaurants, dance and theatre performances, shadow puppet shows, fashion and jewellery boutiques galore and its very own Monkey Forest. Do buy bananas to feed the naughty macaque monkeys, who offer free daily performances with the use of various props stolen from tourists, from water bottles to hair clips and pom-pom shawls – I witnessed the latter myself, and it was a riot, although perhaps not for the owner of the rather fancy shawl. You don’t want to know what the monkeys did with those pom-poms!
Balinese culture is still very traditional and community-oriented. The locals love to chat and if you show genuine interest, will tell you about their belief system, which is closely aligned with the cycles of nature, will happily share with you how they live, and – if you’re lucky to make a friend – show you their house. The houses are quite lovely and divided into separate pavilions devoted to different uses, arranged around a central courtyard which usually features a garden. Politeness and respect for others are highly valued in this country, so losing your temper is unlikely to get you the best result in any situation. Haggling is part of the local culture which follows a different rhythm, so it’s wise to take this onboard and just play along. The best policy is to be informed about accurate prices of items and tours, decide how much you’d like to pay and be fair, gracious and do like the locals do: smile a lot!
Hawaii is like a second home to me….luckily for me I have family who live here that I can visit almost every second year. Hawaii is one of my favourite places in the world – it’s a mixture of American culture and Polynesian culture blended nicely into one.
Waikiki is very much the “tourist” spot of Oahu, but heading outside of this area, you can experience the beauty and spirituality of the Hawaiian Islands and their locals. The “aloha” spirit is very strong here and the locals are very proud of their culture, their history and everything “Hawaiian”. My sister is also a hula dancer, so I’ve been lucky enough to see many of their performances and experience how sacred the hula is to the Hawaiian people.
The locals are very friendly and there is alot of natural and untouched beauty on these islands. There’s so much to do here whether its adventurous or relaxing - take a hike up to Diamond Head and enjoy the sites of the whole island of Oahu, visit the USS Arizona Memorial (where you can see the site of the ship that went down at Pearl Harbor), or drive up to the North Shore and stop in for some shrimp at many of it’s shrimp trucks. Driving around Oahu is easy and a good way to see the entire island…and while doing so, there’s alot of pitstops along the way where you can enjoy the views of the Pacific Ocean.
Shopaholics – stop into Ala Moana…trust me, you’ll love it! If you love food, the variety of food and food portions are huge! and if you just love relaxing and being by the beach or in the water – this place is just heaven. If you’ve never been to Hawaii, you have to visit at least once….and for those who have been, I have no doubt you want to come back again!
For lovers of entertainment, gambling, parties, shows and money – Las Vegas is the place to be! Located in the desert area of Navada and about 4-5 hours drive from Los Angeles, Las Vegas lives up to it’s name of being the entertainment capital of the world.
Walking through the strip is like looking at a big adult playground with all their different casino themed hotels.
The city definitely comes alive at night (lights, lights and more lights), with a noticably different vibe during the day. The amount of detail that went into each themed hotel is amazing – one of my favourite hotels being the Venetian where you actually feel like you’re in Europe!
If you’re after a party city, or just want to try your luck at winning some money, why not visit Las Vegas?
I have a soft spot for this city. I lived here for a short time after I graduated from University and I love it. Despite the fact that it’s a big city, I found the people here pretty friendly with a somewhat relaxed vibe. Downtown Chicago or the Magnificent Mile is where I spent alot of time since I worked 2 jobs right on North Michigan Avenue. The shopping here is great along that one strip alone and there are endless spots to eat, hang out or have a few drinks. There’s always a great vibe in this city, especially during the holiday season, and the city definitely lives up to it’s name “the Windy City” (there were times I thought I needed to tie bricks onto my shoes to keep me from blowing away). It also experiences 4 very distinct seasons, from extreme colds to warm summers!
Chicago was the first time in my life I experienced weather as cold as a Chicago winter, and the first time I saw snow (that wasn’t on TV). The landmarks and history of this city is pretty interesting too! You can even sometimes find stories and pictures of their gansta past of Al Capone in restaurants and read up on the Chicago fires on bridges and/or buildings.
If you get a chance to visit Chicago, pop into one of their museums, shopping malls, many restaurants or just hang out in Millenium Park and take some pictures at the Changing Faces of Chicago Waterfall or the Cloud Gate. While I was living in Chicago, I even managed to get tickets to be in the audience of NBC’s Jerry Springer Show – that was a bit of an experience in itself.
Another ‘must-do’ while visiting this city is checking out the observation deck of the Sears Tower – the tallest building in North America. From here you can see views of 4 States – Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana. It’s also the one building that stands out the most in Chicago’s city skyline.
You can also make your way to Navy Pier, which is a long pier that juts out into the shoreline. Here you can find stores, a ferris wheel, IMAX theatre and even a Children’s museum. It’s a popular place for tourists and it’s also the place where I got engaged (right by the water).
While you’re here, you should also try a deep dish pizza – this is a Chicago thing and they’re delicious!
Whether you want to visit this city when it’s covered in white snow, when the leaves are falling off the trees during the Autumn time or when everyone is out and about in the Summertime – Chicago is a great city to visit with plenty to see and do.
Melbourne has to be one of my favourite cities in Australia. It’s the second largest city after Sydney and it’s streets are filled with trendy cafes and restaurants, great shopping and nightlife, sporting, arts, entertainment and cultural events – there’s something for everyone!
I think Melbourne has a big European influence to it – even walking down the little streets of the city, you always manage to find something interesting and cool. It’s very multicultural and very trendy! I love it! The only thing I would struggle with is their weather – they can have 4 seasons in one day! (and their winters are freezing – I’m not a cold weather person at all). But it’s a beautiful city with so much to see and do here and I would come back here again and again.
Situated in South East Asia, the Filipino culture consists of a combination of East and West (as well as rich and poor – going from one extreme to the other). The capital city of Manila is a busy, populated and hectic society with a lot of Western influence tied in with their own native culture. There’s plenty to see and do here, from large shopping centres to more traditional activities. Their native food and international entertainment is popular among locals too! While exploring the city, it’s probably better not to be flashing expensive jewellery and watches on yourself – like in many big cities of third world countries (the locals can always spot the people that aren’t from there!). Be prepared to be approached by children begging you for money and/or food sometimes too – sad, but it happens.
There’s a big change of pace when you leave the city and head into one of their provinces…obviously less pollution, fresher air, more greenery and the people are a little more laidback. There are large areas of rice paddies and locals living very simple lives. You always see people in the streets late at night and most of the neighbourhoods/villages know eachother or of eachother – so there’s definitely a feeling of community in these areas (some of the most simplest things in life keep them all very happy).
The climate is warm pretty much all year around so be prepared to sweat! They also have some beautiful beaches and resorts in this country, and their food is delicious! The locals love international visitors too!
Not alot of people seem to know exactly where this little island is, but it lies in between the north tip of New Zealand and the east coast of Australia.
If there’s one place in this world that has managed to preserve its history, it’s right here on Norfolk Island – it’s like a real life museum without the walls! The island is home to the descendants of the famous Bounty mutineers. There is still evidence of convict history everywhere – the old prisons, homes, hospital and buildings where slaves and prisoners were worked to death. You can take a ghost tour at night where they share real ghost stories, then finish the tour off at the island cemetary! You can also take a history tour during the day where you can learn about all the horrific things that happened on the island – after all, the island was used to imprison convicts (and make sure they endured the harshest of punishments!).
Alot of people have a misconception that there’s nothing to do on Norfolk Island, yet I was pleasantly surprised by how much I actually enjoyed visiting this little island. It was both interesting and beautiful! It has a very, VERY laidback and slow-paced lifestyle where most people on the island know eachother….and are all very friendly! Everyone seems to wave at everyone too, whether they know you or not….so just wave back (as they say “when in Rome..?”).
The locals are all very welcoming of visitors to the island, and they have their own native language which is a mixture of Old English and Tahitian! It’s very safe staying here too, you can drive around the island and leave everything in your car (windows open), with the keys still in it, and you wouldn’t have to worry about anything disappearing. The fastest speed you can drive around the island is about 50km per hour (not that you would really need to drive fast anywhere here though).
A funny thing that I found about Norfolk Island is that cows just walk around the street and they actually have more right of way than you do (so if you hit any of them, they can get better Lawyers than you can to! ha!). The island is very ‘rural’ and very green and peaceful, so another great way to get around and see the island is to go bike riding. You will also find that almost everyone on the island is multi-skilled….so the same flight attendant that took care of you on the flight over to Norfolk Island can be the same person who takes you on a bike tour or pampers you with a massage at the local day spa!
There’s more to do here than most people think, and if you’re interested in convict history…you can see alot of it up close right on this little island!
Photographs: by me
One of the many Whitsunday islands that make the Great Barrier Reef it’s home is Hamilton Island. This beautiful little island is known for its coral reefs, blue waters, beaches, wildlife and many activities – it has it’s own little mini town with restaurants, stores, golfing facilities and even a Yacht Club.
If you don’t want to spend the entire time walking around the island, a popular and fun way to get around is by Golf Buggy – although you can only really go 20km an hour. Drive up to the tallest point of the island to take some great snapshots or just take time to explore – you really can’t get lost!
Visitor accommodation all have a very ‘island’ feel to them, and you can stay in bungalows or one of their hotels. Hamilton Island is suitable for couples and great for families with young kids – there’s plenty of things to keep the little ones occupied!
If you want to stay in style, there’s always the option of checking in to the luxurious ”Qualia” which is situated on the secluded northern tip of Hamilton Island. I wasn’t lucky enough to actually stay at this resort but I managed to get in to inspect the property, which was just beautiful! - lots of privacy, a plunge pool on your deck, stylish, spectacular views…what more could you want? and Oprah Winfrey stayed here, so it has to be good right? right! Yes, Hamilton Island was the first place Oprah arrived in on her first trip to Australia. It’s a great place to take the family, or just get away with friends. Before you go, it’s a good idea to check that you’re not visiting during the rainy season so you can enjoy the facilities and island as much as possible.
Photograph: by me
All the movie buffs would be in their element visiting Universal Studios!…and even if you aren’t, this is a pretty exciting and fun place to visit for anyone.
Located in Hollywood, California…it’s just a short train ride from the Hollywood Walk of Fame! Once you enter this place, you’re surrounded by Movie/TV magic! All your entertainment experiences can be found right here.
You can get up close to movie and tv sets, anywhere from Desperate Housewives’ Wisteria Lane to the Bates Hotel in the Psycho movie. You can also see the cars that featured in movies like ‘Back to the Future’ or ‘Fast and the Furious’….or sit in on Universal’s Animal Actors show where you can see the animal stars perform stunts and tricks like the dogs from the ‘Grinch’ or ‘Marley & Me’.
For anyone who has been to MovieWorld on Australia’s Gold Coast, Universal Studios would have to be like that, but multiply that by 50!
My favourite part of this place would have to be the rides – I went on the majority of the rides in the park and they were all alot of fun!….and for all those Simpsons fans, their Simpsons virtual rollercoaster ride was awesome. They even have a Kwik-E-Mart there where you can purchase anything ‘Simpsons’. You can also witness a battle in the rainforest between King Kong and Godzilla – and feel their wrath!
Universal Studios is definitely a must see while visiting Los Angeles. If you’re looking for a full day of fun or just want to check out some sets or shows, this place has so much to offer their visitors. You have to come at least once!
Photographs: by me