My date with an angel called Los Angeles

30 08 2012

I am an angel, so are you! Oh I know you are going to say that this sounds lame, but the City of Angels is what Los Angeles is also called :p

My trip to Los Angeles aka LA was sort of unplanned for. To be frank, I was really planning for Vegas. Since there is no direct flight from Singapore to Vegas, my original intention was to treat LA as more of a stopover. However, I was really glad for this stopover due to flight connection timing and the chance to date the “angel”~ the city does have quite a fair bit to offer.


Batman, Spiderman, Terminator, Simpsons, Michael Jackson, Desperate Housewives are names of movies, shows and famous singers whom many around of the world are pretty familiar with. Indeed, Hollywood has a far reaching influence and a clear product of globalisation. From here, many great movies were born and aspiring actors, actress and singers began their road to stardom. It’s true that Hollywood really doesn’t disappoint, to those seeking the road to stardom and tourists alike.


Apart from Hollywood, the “atas” (singlish for upmarket) Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive, Universal Studio, Disneyland (even though technically it’s in Anaheim and not LA) are also popular touristy spot to “check-the-box” 🙂

Ok, if there’s one thing I dislike about LA, it will be the irritating LAX airport. Security clearance at the airport was slow. There are not many shops in the airport (which is really surprising since it’s an international transportation hub). The worst part is that post immigration, there are only 2 small cafes serving limited selection of food! So an advice to all is to grab some food before you clear immigration at LAX airport else for foodies like me, LAX will surely make you feel miserable. As the saying goes “a hungry person is an angry person.”
Tips on getting around LA:
– It’s possible to get around LA with public transport BUT that means spending 4 times longer than if you are taking a car. So net, I highly recommend that you drive since attractions are all disperse over LA.
– If you are not driving, use the shuttlebus to go to your hotel (and ask your hotels for tours to Universal and Disney). Hollywood can be reached via Metro to Hollywood Highland Station and downtown LA can be reached via Metro to Union or Civic Station. Taxis are the most expensive transport but of course the most convenient.
– Driving in LA is easy but I noticed that the drivers are pretty impatient and love to horn. But just keep to what you are doing and IGNORE them.
Sightseeing tips:
– The famous Hollywood sign can be seen at Hollywood Highland which is easily accessible via Metro. If you have a car, you may want to drive to N Beachwood Drive where you can see a bigger Hollywood sign. If you are really keen to see an even bigger sign, you can drive further up the hill to 3000 Canyon Lake Drive. However, the roads there are extremely narrow and windy so be prepared for that.


– For a visit to Rodeo Drive, there are certain free parking along the roads opposite Two Rodeo Drive (the most famous photographed spot) in the residential area. Do read the signs to ensure that you are not parking at the “No parking” stretch. If you can’t find a place, don’t worry and drive around and you should see meter parking available which is not expensive. It accepts quarters and credit card.

– Try going to Disneyland early and the first thing you should do when entering it the park is to run to all the rides that have fast passes and grab the fast passes so that you can skip the line. If somehow you are arriving late, then forget about the fast pass as the rides timing that you are likely to get will be really late in the afternoon or evening so you may be better off queuing.
– Universal Studio Hollywood is not big but it’s divided into the upper and lower park. Rush down to the lower park first to do the rides that you want then come up to the upper park. One highly recommended ride that you will only get in Universal Hollywood is the studios tour (at upper park) so don’t miss that.
– LA is known for its beaches. There are many beaches in the city but the most popular ones are the Santa Monica Beach and Venice Beach. Do head down to these 2 beaches even though you may not be a beach person to experience a little part of LA. As the beaches are just side by side, you may want to drive to one, park your car and then walk from one beach to the other. You do need a car to visit (though there are buses but it requires a few transfers and at least twice the travel time). On the parking, there are lots of free parking along the roads to the beaches so try seeing if you can get a space to park before heading to the paid carpark. I was quite lucky to be able to find one that is within 3 minutes walk to Venice beach 🙂


Food & shopping:
1) I don’t think you will need help to find food and shopping in this city as there are just plentiful and really depending on what you looking for and your budget. Hollywood Highland area has lots of shops and restaurants. However, for souvenirs. I will recommend that you make a trip to Farmers’ market where you can get those souvenirs at a cheaper price.
2) Farmers’ market is also a great place to find nice food from all over the world. By the way, Singapore food is one of the top list of recommended food to try!

3) If you are craving for Japanese meal, head to Japan Town where you can get nice and very affordable Japanese cuisine. Likewise, for Korean food, head to Korea Town, Chinese food to Chinatown. Yes, it’s that simple 🙂 The “not so simple” task will be getting there which shouldn’t be an issue if you have a car. Otherwise, you can try the local transport system (which I took the metro to Japan town and Chinatown, but Koreatown I drove though :p)

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Antelope Canyon, you are indeed beautiful!

20 07 2012

Britney fans ~ I am sure her MTV “I’m not a girl, not yet a woman” should not be alien to you. When I first saw the MTV, I was thinking “wow the place where she shot the MTV is nice! Where is that place?” I later found out that it was shot at Antelope Canyon and Lake Powell near Page Arizona and it is one of the favourite shooting spots found in many photography competitions. Just by looking at the MTV and photos, I told myself that I MUST make a trip there. I am so glad I did. The highlight of my whole US trip this around which really makes me go wow wow wow is really Antelope Canyon. So despite it being a distance from Vegas, the whole journey was all worth it. The canyon is just awesome and its beauty is really beyond words. It is so beautiful that I felt it warants a separate posting 🙂

Tips:-

– What you can do (which is what I did) was combining the visit with Zion and Bryce Canyon. You can go to Zion (3 hours from Vegas), then Bryce (another 3 hours from Zion) and from Bryce it’s another 3 hours to Page. Stay overnight in Page and visit Antelope Canyon the next morning. You will need to get on a jeep operated by the Red Indians as this is a protected land of the Red Indians. After the tour of Antelope Canyon, you can get on to a cruise of Lake Powell. In the afternoon, you can make the way back to Vegas (which is a 5 hours straight drive). For those who does not want to drive, there’s a tour from Vegas operated by Lassen Tours with the exact itinerary as above.

– There are many hotels in Page. However, if you want to have a “special stay”, you can try one of the boathouse accomodation on Lake Powell. I didn’t manage to do that due to time constraint but I heard that it is quite nice.





It’s Vegas Baby! Zion, Bryce and Antelope Canyons are amazing too!

18 07 2012

I recalled some while ago, there was a breast cancer awareness campaign whereby based on your birthday, you will be given a “destination” and how long you will be there. Over the campaign period, I have seen many friends posting that they will be going to places like Munich, New York, Moscow, etc for XX months or years. The “curious me” took part as well and guess what, my “vacation” is supposed to be Vegas! Somehow (God knows why) it sort of gave me an “inspiration” to launch “Project Vegas 2012”. I know this sounds silly but indeed, just some stupid campaign like this got me to start planning for a trip to Vegas. Oh well, there’s always lots of good reasons (no matter how silly they can be) to get oneself out for a vacation right? Hahahha =) So Vegas here I come!!!

What seems like a silly campaign turns out to be not that silly after all. I had a great blast in Vegas and now screaming “I love Vegas and want to go back!!!” Vegas is indeed amazing and i have fallen in love with the city, actually it’s love at first sight. It amused me that in the middle of nowhere (Vegas is in the middle of the wild desert if you don’t already know), there exists such an amusing city. Eiffel Tower, Statute of Liberty, Pyramids, Venice, Rome, Bellajio, etc can be found in this amazing land (or what used to be wilderness). Of course, for those who want to try their luck, there’s no where in the world like Vegas (I was not asked for my ID when I played but when I. ordered alcohol, I had to show my ID lol). Not just that, great food and shopping, great place to catch great shows, a “hip” place well known for its great party venues (of course the Vegas code of “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas help), how can anyone not love Vegas? Now I understand why I friends have claimed that they can visit Vegas yearly without getting bored!

Braving the desert heat in the middle of summer (all because I wanted to be there for the Independence Day fireworks and sale :p), I spent eight nights in Vegas. Yes EIGHT nights! But I still felt it was not enough. Vegas has just way too much to offer. No don’t be mistaken, I am not a gambling addict that stick myself to the casinos day and night. No no no…In fact, I don’t play at all (apart from the free $10 credit which Wynn gave away). But Vegas is not all about its casinos. During the day, I was so preoccupied with hotels hopping (going from one theme hotel to another and posing for photo shots) and of course, indulging in the great food (lots of nice dinner buffets and fine fining) and shopping the city has to offer. When night falls, there are so many great shows to watch (and so little time). I managed to catch Celine Dion which received many standing ovations during the hour and a half concert, Viva Elvis Cirque du Soleil and of course, the free shows at various hotels along the Strip. I was also lucky enough to be in Vegas during the Independence Day week and was treated to a nice fireworks show at Caesar Palace (ok as a matter of fact, I planned my trip to coincide with Independence Day). With so many happening stuff, it is little wonder why eight nights still left me feeling that I haven’t had enough of Vegas and can’t wait for my next visit.

Apart from just wandering in the city, the “explorer” in me decided to venture out to sights in nearby Arizona and Utah for a little sightseeing. So I made a day trip to the famous Grand Canyon South Rim in Grand Canyon National Park to see one of the wonders of the world. As it is quite a distance from Vegas (around 4 to 6 hours drive depending on traffic), I decided not to take the wheels but rather “donald trump” (aka fly) into Grand Canyon. Yes, I LOVE to fly and I won’t be shy to acknowledge this. Flying saves a hell lot of time and I just LOVE IT LOVE IT LOVE IT lol. In fact, I highly recommend flying into Grand Canyon if you can stretch your budget a little (ok it’s more than a little). It saves a lot of time, is less tiring thus ensuring that you will be in the best shape to enjoy the canyon, and the aerial view of Hoover Dam and the Canyon from high up provides an even more majestic and magnificient view of the canyon. Being a lover of flying, I also took the helicopter ride at the South Rim to get me up close to the canyon and also fly to the North Rim and the whole helicopter ride is indeed amazing! Note that tours (both bus and flight tours) offer the option of either the West Rim or the South Rim. For West Rim, there are helicopter tours directly from Vegas or you can choose to drive or take the bus to the West Rim (around 3 hours drive) and take the helicopter from there. For the South Rim, there is no helicopter directly from Vegas. You will need to take a plane to Grand Canyon Airport in the South Rim (or take the bus which typically takes 4-6 hours) and take the helicopter ride from there. The West Rim has a skywalk which allows visitors to walk on the glass panels to see the canyon below your feet. But even though the West Rim is part of the Grand Canyon, it is NOT part of the Grand Canyon National Park (which includes only the South and North Rim). Most photos that you see on Grand Canyon are taken from the South Rim. So personally, I will recommend the South Rim for first time visitors as it provides a more classic view of the canyon and is much more majestic. But if you choose the nearer West Rim, you will still find it nice as well 🙂 For flight/helicopter tour operator, I really like Maverick and find their service really good and professional. But the downside is that they are more expensive so if you want a cheaper option, you can try out Pavilion or Grand Canyon flight/helicopter.

Apart from Grand Canyon, I also made a separate trip to Zion National Park in Utah which is a 3 hours drive from Vegas. Coloured with reddish and tan-colored sandstone with soaring cliffs and great basins, Zion National Park is rather scenic as well.

Bryce Canyon (also in Utah) is also another nice national park to visit and is another 3 hours drive from Zion. Bryce is not really a true canyon but an amphitheater of magnificent red rock formations created by erosion in the high Colorado Plateau (called hoodoos). In fact, I love Bryce more than Grand Canyon as I find the colouts at Bryce much more vibrant (apart from the flying and helicopter ride in Grand Canyon which is the highlight to me).

But all said, the highlight of my whole US trip this around which really makes me go wow wow wow is really Antelope Canyon near Page in Arizona. The canyon is so beautiful that it made me wonder for a second whether it is real, so much so that I feel it warrants a separate post so visit https://thecarefreetraveller.wordpress.com/2012/07/20/antelope_canyon/

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Tips:

1) Visit Walgreen where you can get water, food and souvenirs. There are a couple of them along the strip such as at planet Hollywood & Venetian. Don’t get souvenirs at souvenir shops without checking out Walgreen first as the price difference can be huge.

2) Get show tickets from Half-tix which has a few booths located along the strip (eg outside Treasure Island, in Fashion Show Mall). Don’t be bothered with the dining vouchers as they are not really good deals so why lock yourself on what you can eat?

3) Do catch the free shows especially the Bellagio fountain show (after 7pm is once every quarter) and Treasure Island show (one at 8.30pm and another at 10pm). What you can do is to start with the Treasure Island show at 8.30pm and then walk over to Mirage volcano show at 9pm followed by the Atlantis show at Caesar Palace at 9.30pm before moving to Bellagio for the fountain show. With this, you will be able to cover the free shows in 1 night.

4) If you are thinking of watching Celine Dion (which I will highly recommend), make sure you book the tickets early as they sell pretty quickly. For other shows, there’s no need to book upfront as you can get cheaper tickets from Half-tix.

5) It is possible to walk from one end of the Strip to another. However, given the heat (don’t forget that Vegas is in the desert), it may be advisable to take the bus (the Deduce and Express bus). A 2 hours ticket cost $5 and the 24 hours ticket cost $7. You need to buy the ticket from the ticket machine at the bus stop before you board the bus.

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Shopping:

1) There are many shopping malls linked to the Casinos eg in Venetian, Forum Shopping Mall (beside Caesar Palace), Miracle Mile Mall (beside Planet Hollywood), Crystals shopping mall (beside Cosmopolitan). The Fashion Show Mall opposite Venetian is a great place to shop and has a Macy’s there. Do go to the visitors’ centre in Macy’s to get the discount card which gives you an additional 10% discount.

2) For outlet shopping, there are 2 outlet malls in Vegas – one in the South and the other in the North. The South outlet is nearer to the Strip and is indoor hence may be great if you have limited time and prefers to be in the shade. The North outlet has much more stores so if you are fine to brave the heat and travel just a little further, this will be a better place to shop. Both outlets are reachable via the Express bus from the Strip. Make sure you go to the Premium Outlet Mall online website to register and print out the coupons to get the VIP booklet and extra coupons for additional discount.

3) Get the free cards from the various casinos for dining privileges.

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Nice food to try:

1) The Wicked Spoon Buffet at Cosmopolitan has quite a good international spread and good quality food and is my favourite buffet so far. Do go early as there will be a long queue at later timing.

2) The Buffet at Bellajio has a great spread and really popular as well (but quality wise I think Wicked Spoon is slightly better). Do go early to avoid the long queue.

3) The Cut at Palatio (beside Venetian) serves nice steak and is much cheaper than those in other places/countries.

4) For cakes or pastries (or a nice breakfast), head to Jean Philippe at Aria.

5) Pizza Place in Wynn has nice breakfast and pizzas.

6) Lobster Me in the Miracle Mile Mall has really yummy (and pretty cheap) lobster roll.

7) Serenpidity at Caesar Palace serves nice burgers and it’s Frozen Hot Chocolate is superb!

8) There are lots of good and affordable food in Vegas so just try them out 🙂

 

Hotels:

I stayed at Bellajio which is in the middle of the Strip and highly recommend this hotel. Do book the fountain view room if you can avoid it. I can say that the musical fountain show is one of the nicest that I have seen around the world and it is really awesome to see it from your windows. For those with big families, Venetian may be a good choice with its suites but really, I may be bias and will go for Bellajio any time 🙂





Big Apple New York ~ Sex and the City

11 12 2011

Big apple New York, the city that never sleeps. As a die-hard fan of sex and the city, I can’t wait to visit the city which Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda roamed. Therefore, I made special plans to fly out of Americas via New York, which gave me the chance to explore the hometown of sex and the city.

New York is indeed the type of city that I loved. Strolling down New York’s famous Fifth Avenue, I felt like I was in the Sex and the City show watching people walked pass, window shop, and the places where the 4 ladies met for the catch-ups and gossips. I also visited Onieal’s Speakeasy (which the popular bar Scout which the 4 ladies love to frequent), Magnolia Bakery (where Carrie and Miranda devoured cupcakes), the Plaza Hotel (where Carrie bid Mr Big goodbye and also the place where Mr Big hosted his engagement party with another girl), Louis K. Meisel Gallery at 141 Prince Street (where Charlotte works) and many more of the filming locations in Big Apple. Of course, I did other touristy stuff such as having a nice walk in Central Park, visiting the superb Metropolitian Musuem (I love this!),walking to the Wall Street (and seeing the “Occupy Wall Street” protest), strolling along Brooklyn Bridge, and took the cruise to see the famous Statute of Liberty and Ellis Island. As night falls, Times Square and Broadway is so vibrant with the beautiful lightnings and of course, the broadway shows!

New York is the city that will never bore anyone. But one thing though, like most cities, New York is not all the glamous as what Sex and the City portrays. It does have the not so nice sight (like the city may not be that clean, etc) so don’t be disappointed by what you see. Overall, New York is a city that will blast your head off. Have lots of fun shopping and partying!

Tips:-

– Make sure you reserve a day to visit the Statute of Liberty and Ellis Island (which has the museum showcasting the history of immigration into the US). You can book the tickets for the cruise online. If you want to visit the inside of the Stature of Liberty (the Crown or the Pedestal), you HAVE to pre-book. Especially for the Crown access, booking is generally required 6 months in advance to secure the ticket to the Crown.

– Do plan to watch at least 1 broadway show. It is really great!

– Metropolitan Museum (otherwise known as the MET museum) is a MUST to visit (it’s one of the world’s top 4 museums). The entrance fee is only a “recommended” fee so you need not pay the full fee (you can pay any amount you like to get in). However, since the museum relies on the fees to maintain its exhibits, I suggest that if you pay as much as you can afford it. By the way, you need at least 1 full day to see the whole muesum so if you are a museum go-er, make sure you factor in the time needed.

– Do visit the M&M store. You will be lost in the happy wonderland of M&Ms.

– Hotels in New York is never cheap. The further you get from Broadway/Times Square, the cheaper the price will be. If you are on a budget, just pick any hotel near to the Metro. The New York transport system is pretty efficient and you will reach your destination in no time. However, I prefer to stay in the centre of the city and hence paid a bomb for the accomodation.

– Navigating a foreign transport system can be a bit overwhelming the 1st time. But once you understand how the system works, it is really easy. The routes of the Metros are named by numbers. So just take note of the train number (ie 1, 2, 3, 4, etc) and note the direction that you are travelling to. For certain routes, it may be served by a few numbers but not all the train numbers which run on the route will stop at all stations (some train number is express and limited stops only). So take note what train number stops at the station that you are located (or want to visit). It is all written on the Metro map so just look carefully and all will be well.

Food:-

– We often call cheesecake as “New York Cheesecake” right? So make sure you eat the New York Cheesecake in New York! I recommend Junior’s Cheesecake (the Strawberry ones) which is really yummy. You’ll feel as though you’ve stepped into an episode of Sex and the City.

– Carneige Deli located at 854 7th Aveunue (55th street) is one of my favourite. They are famous for their pastrami and cheesecake. Note that the portion is really huge so you may want to share. There’s a surcharge to share (an additional amount you need to pay to share) but it works out to be much cheaper than buying 2 sets. Anyway, 1 set is good enough for 2 (and for small eaters, it may be good enough for 3!).

– Pizzas are cheap, really cheap. 1 big piece only cost US$1 at most pizza shops so if you are on a tight budget, it’s a good choice.

– Do note that the food price recorded on the board generally exclude taxes (eg in Starbucks) so don’t get a shock when you are asked to pay more than the price you see.

Shopping:-

– Century 21 near to the World Trade Center is a departmental store that sells many branded goods at huge discount.

– Woodbury Premium Outlet (an hour from New York) is THE PLACE to go for 1 day shopping trip. You can take a coach from Port Authority (a return ticket cost US$42). Tickets can be purchased on the spot. For details, refer to https://www.coachusa.com/shortline/booking.asp?action=ProductDetail&productId=1985.

– For higher end shopping, Macy’s (near Broadway) is a good start. I love Bloomindale’s (at 1000 3rd Avenue) too.

– For ladies, do head to the Victoria’s Secrets store for your inner beauty.

– Basically most things are cheaper in the US so make sure you bring a big luggage (or buy one there since Samsonite and Victorix are much cheaper in US).





The city by the sea – San Francisco

28 10 2011

San Francisco is the 1st stop of my “round the world” trip (I mean literally flying 1 round around the world”).

Most people will know of its famous Golden Gate Bridge and cable cars. After being there, I can totally understand why these 2 “sites” become the icons of the city. It is not doubting that the Golden Gate Bridge has often been acclaimed as one of the world’s most beautiful bridges. I actually spent the whole morning strolling along the beach, with the waves brushing my feet while admiring the bright orange bridge suspending across the sea linking San Francisco to the Marin Headlands and thinking “Life is beautiful!”.

After having seen enough of the bridge (ok I was trying very hard to tell myself to move on so that I can cover other places), I took a leisure stroll along the coastline, passed the Palace of Fine Arts, the Golden Gate Park to Fisherman’s wharf. It was a long walk but an enjoyable one and a good preparation for some feasting.

Lunchtime around Fisherman’s wharf is bustling with life and of course, the air is filled with the fragrances of my favourite seafood ~ from clam chowder soup, to crab salad to lobsters to prawns sandwich and so on. I ate to my heart’s content (as I was so
hungry with all the walking plus I LOVE seafood, especially crab and lobsters).

After a heavy lunch, I decided to “burn my calories” and went to the pretty lombard street, one of the most crookedest street in US, but foot up from Fisherman’s wharf up the steep, hilly street. The steep, hilly street was created with sharp curves to switchback down the one-way hill past beautiful Victorian mansions. Locals often joke that if not for the byzantine curves, easing out this treacherous slope, people could be killed rolling down the hill 😉

Back to Fisherman’s wharf, I took the cable car to Union Square, the “city centre” of San Francisco for my favourite exercise – shopping! After hours of satisfying exercise, I felt my stomach groaning yet again and I made my way to Chinatown for a nice afternoon high tea “Dim Sum”, before heading back to Union Square to continue my exercise =)

In the evening, I went back to Fisherman’s wharf via cable car for an relaxing evening with the nice restaurants & pubs lining up the streets.

Tips:

– For an idea of how steep Lombard street really is, go two blocks up, to Filbert Street and peer down over the ridge. Lombard is even steeper. If you are driving, head West on Lombard Street to take a drive down the curving part of the road.

– If you are looking for 1 way cable car ride, try taking the cable car from Fisherman’s wharf. The queue is much much shorter than at Union Square. There’s this cheaper pass that includes unlimited rides on cable car (it’s a good transport between Fisherman’s wharf and Union Square). It is sold at Union Square (but must go there early as it is sold out super quick).

– Always ask for a transfer ticket when you take the bus/tram (even if you are not going to do a transfer). The ticket will entitle you to another ride (any bus/tram) within the next 90 minutes without having to pay again. Also, make sure that you carry the exact change for the bus/tram ride as no change will be given back to you.

– San Francisco Chinatown is superb. The food is nice and cheap (spend like $6 for 3 courses meal enough to feed 4 people).

– I stayed at Fisherman’s wharf (Argonaut Hotel). It’s quite nice and I will recommend to those wanting to stay at Fisherman’s wharf. For others who prefer more “life”, I will recommend that you stay in Union Square instead.

– 2 days should be sufficient to cover the sightseeing spots in the city. If you have more time to spare, venture out to Napa Valley to see the wineyards and the beautiful Yosemite National Park.

I left the city with fond memories of San Francisco. As the flight took off, I remembered a poem that George Sterling wrote about this city by the sea:-

At the end of our streets is sunrise;
At the end of our streets are spars;
At the end of our streets is sunset;
At the end of our streets the stars.

Ever the winds of morning are cool from the flashing sea–
Flowing swift from our ocean, till the fog-dunes crumble and flee.

Slender spars in the offing, mast and yard in the slips–
How they tell on the azure of the sea-contending ships!

Homeward into the sunset sill unwearied we go,
Till the northern hills are misty with the amber of afterglow.

Stars that sink to our ocean, winds that visit our strand,
The heavens are your pathway, where is a gladder land!

At the end of our streets is sunrise;
At the end of our streets are spars;
At the end of our streets is sunset;
At the end of our streets the stars.