Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Fiji Highlights!

We spent a month in Fiji in May 2014, visiting Nadi, the Mamanuka and Yasawa Islands and the Coral Coast. A month is definitely way more than we needed but it was awesome to have time to chill after a crazy month in America!

We left LA at 11.30pm on 30th April, and because we flew over the international date line, we arrived in Fiji at 6am on 2nd May! 

We arrived at the Nadi Bay hotel and even though it was really early they had a room ready. So we went to bed and woke up 3 1/2 hours later, and it felt like a new day and we didn’t have to worry about jet lag!
Most people only stay at Nadi Bay for 1 night before heading off to another part of Fiji but we spent the first 6 nights there before our island hopping trip, it was so nice to just laze around the pool, watch films on the laptop and chill!

On one of the days we caught the bus into Nadi town which cost 70 cents! We must have really stood out as being tourists as loads of people were trying to talk to us. I had read on the internet to just ignore them, which I was doing well at, until I turned round and realised a man was persuading Damo to come into his shop, and he was being too polite to say no! So we arrived in the shop and they got us to take part in a traditional Kava ceremony - basically sitting in a circle and drinking what tastes like mud from a coconut shell! They then tried to get us to buy things from their shop! 
It was cool to see the town but it wasn’t very big, there was a really colourful Hindu temple at the end of the main road though which was worth seeing!

We booked our island hopping trip with Awesome Adventures. It was a 12 night trip called ‘Tropical Awegasm’ and we went for the ‘full monty’ option which included accommodation, food, activities and transfers between the islands on the bright yellow Yasawa Flyer boat.

The start of the trip was so stressful, we got picked up from the Nadi Bay hotel and transferred to Denarau Marina, except the first bus that turned up couldn’t fit us all on so it drove off and we were left to wait for another one! When we arrived at the marina we were told to go and check our suitcases in first, and they put a label on our bags with the name of the first island we were visiting which was Beachcomber. We then had to queue up, we were still in the queue at 8.25 and the boat leaves at 8.30! Got given our vouchers and found out that our first island had been changed to Bounty island, argh!! Also got told that the ‘Seaspray’ trip (to Monuriki island, the one from the film Castaway) wasn’t running at the moment, so we had a trip to Mana island instead, but the voucher for it would be sent on the boat tomorrow!?! I was just so concerned about missing the boat and our bags ending up on another island so I nodded and ran to get the labels on our bags changed to Bounty!!

We somehow made it onto the boat and it only took about 35 minutes to get to Bounty Island. From the Yasawa Flyer, we had to jump into a really small boat to take us to the island, and our bags were thrown onto the small tin roof on the top of it! I was terrified they would slide off into the sea! It was only the two of us and one other girl, Claire, who was also from Southampton!! The island was so small that you could walk around it in 20 minutes, which we did that evening. It was also the place they used as Celebrity Love Island, but I never watched that programme! The accommodation was so basic, pretty much a hut with a bed, bunk beds and a fridge, and the bathroom attached to the back! The island was so beautiful though, and there was a pool and a big inflatable trampoline in the sea, which we had loads of fun on!

The following day was our day trip to Mana island (the one that we knew nothing about!) The people at the resort had told us the boat leaves at 9am, so we went for breakfast at 8.15 and waited around… it got to 9.30 and after being convinced we’d missed the trip the boat finally arrived!
And our ticket was on the boat! Pheewww!! Arrived at Mana island to a big group of people singing, got given snorkel gear and shown a map of the island, then we were free to go off and do whatever we wanted. We headed to the other side of the island and the snorkelling was amazing, we got further out and reached a flag in the water which seemed to be a marker for where the depth of the water dropped and there were hundreds of fish!

We took some photos with the underwater camera, then went for lunch which was a really nice buffet and we met a lovely family from Melbourne who we chatted to for a bit. We then headed over with them to the other side of the island, where the water was a lot calmer. They had kayaks so me and Damo went out on one, we then went snorkelling with the girls from the family we had met and saw loads more fish. Mana island was so beautiful and we had a brilliant day there!! We said that when we make it to Melbourne we would contact the family and try and see them again as we got on so well, and hopefully we still will!

The next morning we left Bounty island for our next island which was called Waya Lailai. This one took about an hour and a half to get to. Once we got to where we get off the boat, the boat that took us to the island was TINY!! The water was also a bit choppy so we got completely soaked and so did our bags!

We got checked in and our ‘bure’ as they call them was right on the beach. Our vouchers for this island were a guided summit walk and snorkelling with sharks! Activities didn’t run on a Sunday and it was a Saturday, so we did them both! The snorkelling trip was first, we got on the boat (the same one that had picked us up) and it felt like we were on it for ages, I was a little scared about how far out we were heading! We finally arrived at the reef and all jumped out the boat into the water. Saw a few fish, then spotted the sharks! They were only small reef sharks and the guy who was our guide from the resort was diving down and grabbing them and bringing them up!

On our way back on the boat I felt like I was going to spew! We then just about had time for a quick shower, which was cold! Then it was time for the guided summit walk. It was SO hard!!! We had to scramble up rocks and really steep tiny pathways, I was a sweaty mess! It took about an hour to reach the top, which did make the climb worth it as the view was beautiful! We watched the sunset from up there, then it was time to go back down, I thought that would be the easy part but it was just as bloody hard!!! I kept slipping and thought I was really going to injure myself! We finally made it back then went for dinner, and sat with a couple from England who had also done the hike with us and another couple we had met earlier. The staff put the rugby on, on a tiny TV they had set up as it was Fiji vs Spain, and they were all going nuts for it! They are Rugby mad here!

The next morning I woke up and heard something running around in the room which really freaked me out, it was just a gecko though, which I don’t mind! But I then spotted the biggest cockroach I have ever seen laying on it’s back with it’s legs in the air wriggling about! Ewwww!!!

The next island after Waya Lailai was Coralview. This one is right at the top of the Yasawa islands, and it took about 3 hours to get to. When we reached the island and got onto the small boat, it started to leave and we could see our bags still on the big boat!! Luckily they realised and went back to get them!!

We got checked in, did a bit of kayaking, decided to do the ‘sunset hike’ up the hill but when we were almost at the top there was a huge spider in a cobweb right across the path! So I freaked out and went back down!! The following day we had vouchers for massages which were amazing!

Our other voucher at Coralview was for Saw-I-Lau caves trip. This one had a waiver we had to sign, and we weren’t really sure what to expect! A boat took us to the caves and we had to walk up some steps and then down some steps to get inside. We then had to jump into the water which was really cold! It was fun but kind of weird not knowing if anything was in the water with you!! The second part was to venture into the 2nd cave, which you had to swim underwater through a narrow tunnel to get to. I didn’t do this part but Damo did! They swam around in the 2nd cave which he said was pitch black so I didn’t miss much!

When we came out of the caves there were a few little market stalls to look at, the driver of our boat was asleep on the beach and snoring! Damo took a photo of him and all the stall owners wanted to see the picture and found it hilarious! The Fijians are just so happy and smiley all the time!

After the caves trip it was time to head to our next island, called Korovou. We met loads of people on this island, at dinner that night we chatted to two English girls, one being a carer and the other a stripper! They had a bit more entertainment than on the other islands we had been to so far, and that night it was 'Fijian dancing’ which was basically like the party dances which we used to do at work, they then did some fire dancing, then we all played a game of potato relay! Our team lost so we had to perform the “Bula dance” for the other team! We then stayed up late playing tons of random drinking games followed by a game of baked beans (like hide and seek but when you find someone you hide with them) before heading to bed as we had a trip to swim with manta rays the next morning!

The next morning we had breakfast then got on the boat to take us to the manta rays. It was pretty exciting, we saw plenty of manta rays, two swam right underneath me and one came right towards Damo! We did another manta ray swim on the next island though, which was even better, so I’ll go into more detail with that one :-)

The next island resort was actually called Manta Ray, and it was just a short journey from Korovou. Once we had checked in here we went snorkelling with Dan and Ed who we had met at Korovou, and it was awesome, we saw so much beautiful coral and so many fish!

That night we had a few drinks and watched the show that they put on which was Fijian dancing and singing. At one point they came at us doing some scary war type dance and I took this photo of the guy up in my face!!! Ha!

After the show we played some card games and beer pong before heading to bed. The following day it rained really heavily literally all day! We had the manta ray swim today but unlike at Korovou, where it was at a set time, they wait til the manta rays are spotted then bang the drum! When you hear it, you grab the snorkel gear, jump on the boat and go!

We woke up at 6.45am as we knew the swim was usually before breakfast. We listened out for the drum but the rain was so heavy that we guessed they might hold off for a bit, and it got to 8am so we went for breakfast, which was really nice and had loads of choice! We had literally just finished eating when they said it was manta ray time! Oops maybe I shouldn’t of ate all those pancakes…!

We sped off on the boat and jumped in the water and there were so many manta rays this time, they were right there barrel rolling just underneath us! They are so so big and I did find it kind of scary at first, but it was and still is one of the best experiences of my life!!

Manta ray season is from May to October, and if you are planning a trip to the Fiji islands I would totally recommend you go during this time if you can!! 

The day we left Manta Ray the rain had finally stopped, but it was still really windy, making the sea really choppy so we couldn’t go snorkelling.
When it was time to leave, we had to board the boat from the other side of the island due to the water being so choppy. We had to wade into the water to make our way to the boat and my feet were starting to slip out of my flip flops so I took them off, then cut my feet on the coral! I also managed to end up waist-deep in the water before I got on the boat! We then had the roughest journey ever on the flyer, I felt sea sick the whole time, was soaked, and in a mood! So I made myself fall asleep! I did end up sitting next to a girl called Sunny though, who we had met at Korovou! She was telling us that she was chatting to some people on another island about all the different people you meet and the jobs that they do, and they said they had met some holiday park entertainers! She was like, “yes Vikki and Damo, I know them too!” Haha.

Our final island which we reached at about 6pm was Beachcomber, which we stayed on for one night, and was back down in the Mamanuka islands, a lot closer to Mainland Fiji. It was another small island, similar to the size of Bounty that we had stayed on first.
It has a reputation of being the party island but it was pretty quiet the night we were there, we watched a crab race where people bid for the hermit crab they think will win, then just headed back to the room.

The following morning we headed back to the mainland, our Awesome Adventures island trip was over but we were now heading down to the Coral Coast!

We stayed at a resort called Mango Bay for 10 days, which was about an hour and a half drive from the port.

We had a beachfront bure which was similar to the ones we had stayed in on the islands, except the shower was outside in a little garden! No one could see you though as it had walls all around it!

While we were at Mango Bay we went snorkelling, kayaking, made coconut jewellery, went on a sunset booze cruise, on the Sunday we visited the local village for a church service! We were the only tourists there and we didn’t know what to expect but it was free so we thought why not! It was all in Fijian so ended up getting very boring! The local villagers seemed to really appreciate us coming to it though.

On one of the days we went on a waterfall hike, where we were driven to a village, then did a kava ceremony as a welcome to us. We then made our way to the waterfall. We had to cross a river lots of times and some parts were really muddy as there had been some heavy rain. I almost lost a flip flop in the mud twice!

We reached a waterfall and it was beautiful!! There were some crazy Fijian guys climbing up the rocks and jumping in from really high up! We were given some bread to feed the fish and Damo went in for a swim, I didn’t because it was freezing!! Damo and another guy we had met, Ardon, were climbing up and jumping in.

After our 10 days at Mango Bay, we got a transfer on the TTF bus back to Nadi Bay for 2 nights before our flight to Auckland, New Zealand!

I would definitely recommend all the places we stayed, Awesome Adventures weren't perfect but the experience we got and the places we saw were amazing! If you are planning a trip to Fiji you should definitely try and get out to the islands, even if it's just for a few days. Awesome Adventures have a website here if you want to find out more. If you have any questions about anything let me know or leave a comment below, I'll be happy to help!!

Vikki x

Friday, 16 January 2015

LA Highlights!

We arrived in LA after a 1 hour flight which left late as there was a problem with a door, then Damo’s case came off the carousel with the zip split open!! We then got a shared shuttle to the hotel which took ages! But finally we arrived at the Lowes Hollywood Hotel which was amazing!! It’s attached to the Hollywood & Highland Center, which has shops, restaurants, the Chinese theatre (where they have the stars handprints) and the Dolby Theatre, which is where the Academy Awards take place.

*Click to enlarge all pictures!*

After checking in we went to the Hard Rock Cafe as it was literally downstairs and there was a guy doing an acoustic set on his guitar! We had a bit of a look around but then went back to our room to plan what we were going to do while we were there.

The following day we caught the bus to Warner Bros Studios to do the tour! Arrived at the studios, which were huge! We bought our tickets and were put straight onto the next tour so we didn’t have to wait. First we watched an introduction movie then went with a tour guide to a cart which drove us around loads of outdoor sets, fake buildings and streets, where lots of films and TV shows had been filmed. Then we stopped at a building which was a museum of movie props and costumes, the first floor had costumes from Man of Steel, Dark Knight, Hangover, Friends and loads more, and the whole of the top floor was Harry Potter!

We then got back on a cart and were taken to some indoor sets, we went inside the set of 2 Broke Girls, then into a building which was full of cars from movies! They then took us into a room which had been filled with all of the props and set from Central Perk and we got to sit on the Friends sofa!! We then got to go inside the Ellen studio as it was a Friday which meant she wasn’t filming that day! The tour was awesome and lasted ages, I was surprised how much we got to see!

Once we finished the tour, we caught the bus back to Hollywood and Highland and walked up and down the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, which is actually huge and there are so many names that I’d not heard of! In some parts, like outside the Chinese Theatre, there are loads of people dressed up in costumes or trying to get you to buy their CD by trying to shove it in your hand!! While we were walking along it some guy said “What’s up Anna Faris” to me which was funny as I get told I look like her all the time (she’s the girl out of Scary Movie!)

The next day we took a photo of the Hollywood sign from the hotel, before heading to Universal Studios, which was just 1 stop away on the metro. We had been to the Florida one but there were a lot of different shows and rides here, there is also a whole area of film sets and studios like we’d seen the day before at Warner Bros. We got to see a few of them on the Backlot tour, I have so many photos and at the time we were told what film or TV show they were from but looking back i can’t remember what any of them were, other than Whoville from the Grinch!! We also had our photos taken with the Transformers and they were amazing they actually speak to everyone and sound just like the characters! Our favourite show was Waterworld, which is based on the film. And The Blues Brothers show was the biggest load of poo I’d ever seen, the one in Florida is so good so I was expecting the same but we walked off halfway through, it was that bad! All in all a good day, we arrived in the morning and stayed til 8.30pm so we were able to go on all the rides and see all the shows!

The following day we went to the Chinese Theatre, well actually just the outside of it, to look at all the stars hand and foot prints, it was so busy! There are some really old ones like Marilyn Monroe’s which is from 1953, and some much newer like the cast of Twilight. I was so confused about why Michael Jackson’s hands were so tiny but I later found out they made his one in 2012, and it’s his kid’s handprints along with a handprint of his glove! We then made our way down to the Pantages Theatre to watch Book of Mormon! We also realised there was a load of walk of fame stars that we had missed up by the Capitol Records building so we walked up and down there but it was mainly people we’d never heard of. Book of Mormon was hilarious and amazing, GO AND SEE IT!!!

The next day we checked out of the hotel and got a taxi to Santa Monica where we were staying for 2 nights. Santa Monica was so different to Hollywood and so much nicer, we wish we had stayed there longer! We stayed at Cal Mar Suites, it was like a mini apartment with a separate kitchen area and walking distance to the beach. The room was ready straight away so we checked in and headed down to the beach, we sat on the beach for a couple of hours then came back to the hotel and went in the pool. We then went to have showers and get changed and realised we both hadn't put sun cream on and looked like lobsters, argh!!

We went back out and headed down to the Third St promenade, which was so nice, full of restaurants and street performers who were actually good! On the way there we watched the sunset over the beach. We found a supermarket and got a few things to take back seeing as we had a fridge, freezer and oven in the room.

Next day and we headed down to Santa Monica pier to hire bikes for the day. We first rode to a post office as we had a load of stuff we wanted to send home, but it was going to cost $70 so we didn’t bother!
We rode down to Venice Beach and on the way saw Muscle Beach, we got as far as Marina Del Ray then turned back towards Santa Monica.

We were going to head in the other direction but by now our bums hurt from the bike seats! So we returned the bikes to the rental place and walked onto the pier. We went on the ferris wheel and the view of the beach was awesome!

After that we headed back to the hotel, I had a massive headache from the sun so i had a lay down, then we went out for dinner to Bucca Di Beppo which is an Italian and it’s all huge portions made to share! It was so good!

The next day was our final day in LA and we had our flight to Fiji at 11.30pm. We had to check out of the hotel at 11am but we stored our cases there, went to McDonalds for food and wifi, bought a Lonely Planet Fiji book and went to watch the new Captain America at the cinema! That evening we caught the bus to LAX ready for our flight!

Saturday, 10 January 2015

San Francisco Highlights!

Our flight from Las Vegas to San Francisco only took an hour, we flew with United Airlines, who were an okay airline but my suitcase came off the carousel with a broken wheel, argh!! We got the BART train from the airport as I’d read online somewhere that it was the cheapest way. Got to Powell St which was the station we needed, came out and had no idea where we were going, and it was so busy! We must have looked like lost tourists because next thing we knew a homeless guy came up to us and asked where we were trying to get to! He walked us to where we get a taxi from, hailed one down for us and gave us a few tips!

The hotel wasn’t far, we checked in and the guy at the desk gave us a map and wrote on it points of interest and buses to get, which was really helpful but he was also a bit hard to understand! The hotel was called the Mayflower Hotel and it was an old building with reeeally old lifts, which were cool but scary the first time we got in one! The room was nice and we had a little kitchen with a fridge which meant we could get a few bits in so we could save money on food. Oh and breakfast was also included! Bonus!

On our first full day the plan was to get weekly bus passes and then go to the Golden Gate Bridge. We followed the map the man in the hotel had given us and got on the number 30 bus and got off near Crissy Field. I wanted to walk along there and it didn’t look like a long walk. Until we were on the bus and I realised that section of the map said on it ‘Compressed area - 4.5 miles’!!
It turned out to be a really nice walk though and didn’t feel that far! There were lots of people walking dogs (we later found out that there are more dogs than children in San Francisco!!) The views of the bridge and Alcatraz were great, we finally made it to the bridge and walked along to the first tower. We had planned to go all the way across and back again, but we had already walked a long way and it was windy and a bit cold up there! Apparently even if its a boiling day you’ll still need a coat on the bridge!

When we got to the tower we looked down and spotted some dolphins in the water! So we watched them for ages, kept trying to get pictures but it was so hard as they’d come up to the surface for about 1 second! We also spotted some seals!

We then walked back across the bridge and got on a different bus that went from the end of the bridge. We decided to stop off in Chinatown to have a look round. It was a lot bigger than Chinatown in London and a lot more authentic, i felt like I was actually in China, even the banks names were written in Chinese! There were loads of fruit and veg stalls and loads of smelly dried fish, I took a photo but the stall owner told me off! We went and had some noodles and fried rice before we left, then went back to the hotel!

We looked on Trip Advisor and the number 1 thing to do in San Francisco was Wild SF free walking tours so the next day thought we would try it out! The meeting point was Union Square which was about a 5 minute walk from the hotel, and our tour guide soon rocked up in vintage clothes and carrying a ukelele, Wild Wes! We visited loads of places around the city including the St Francis Hotel, where the president was nearly shot but was saved by a gay military man. Saw a man who sings opera in the street, then onto Chinatown where we went in a fortune cookie factory and saw a man called Jun Yu who owns a barber shop and plays an instrument called an Erhu. He is apparently in the film Pursuit of Happyness, although I don’t remember him!
Then onto Jack Kerouac Alley, saw a Banksy painting, Columbus Tower and the tallest building in San Francisco, the Transamerica Pyramid. We learned looooads about the city and it was fun as well!

After the tour finished we walked to Lombard Street, which is the crookedest street in the world! We walked up the steep pathway which ran alongside it and took some pictures from the top, then got on a cable car and rode it back down to our hotel!

The following day we did another Wild SF walking tour, this time our guide was called J Jo. We started off by walking down to the ‘F line’ streetcar which we rode on to the gay district called Castro. In Castro we saw the first ever gay bar to have windows, a cookie shop which sold penis shaped macaroons, and a vintage cinema which had a Frozen singalong that day! We then walked to Dolores Park which had awesome views of the city. On the tour we met a girl from Canada who had family living in the same town I’m from in England, deffo small world!

After going for lunch with a few of the people who were also on the tour, we went to check out an alleyway that J Jo had mentioned that was full of street art. We then got on a bus which went to Steiner Street, which is where the house is from Mrs Doubtfire! The bus stopped right outside the house so we got off and took some pictures.

We then walked down to Japantown, where there was a Cherry Blossom Festival going on. There had been a parade earlier on which we'd missed but there were still lots of people dressed up and things going on. I had an amazing ice cream crepe from a place called Happy Face that looked like a teddy bear!

The following day we headed down to Fisherman’s Wharf. We went in the Ghirardelli chocolate shop for a hot chocolate then walked down the road towards Pier 39, which is where there are loads of sea lions who have just decided to live there!

On the way we saw a man sat with a handful of twigs in each hand so he was hidden and looked like a bush, and as people walked past he was going "arghhhh!” and making them jump! It was so funny we stood there for ages just laughing at everyone’s reactions! We carried on down and saw tanks full of crabs, had a clam chowder, and saw a seagull steal a little boys corn dog that he’d had one bite of, and swallow it whole including the stick!! 

We then got to Pier 39 and saw a man doing spray paint pictures, we had seen them in New York and Las Vegas but this time we decided to watch him do a picture and then buy it. Then we went over to see the sea lions, there was so many and they smelled pretty bad!

It was then time for our trip to Alcatraz! We made our way to Pier 33 to board the boat, we did the night tour which leaves at 5.55pm. Once you arrive on the island you walk up to the main prison where you are given headphones for the audio tour. We spent time going around the whole prison and learning about the prisoners, officers, history and things that happened there like the escape attempts. It’s definitely a must do in San Francisco and was so interesting! Once we had finished the audio tour we were free to have a look round the prison’s hospital, which was a bit creepy! We then got the boat back to the city and it was dark so it was great to see the city all lit up.

The following day we just did washing, I got a new suitcase, did a bit of shopping and ate at the Cheesecake Factory, yummm!! Then the day after we got a bus to the Palace of the Fine Arts, not to go in but just to take pictures of the outside and the gardens as it was really pretty. We then had decided to visit the Walt Disney Family Museum as it was in the same area, called the Presidio. We decided we could walk there but we had no idea how to get there, so we just kind of guessed! We walked for probably a couple of miles before we found a big map so we looked at that, but the museum wasn’t on there! Then some guy who was driving past asked if we needed help and kind of directed us but we were still a bit confused! About 2 minutes later he drove past again and told us he’d take us there for $15, erm no! We walked up a road that looked like it was leading us deep into the forest, then along another road past a cemetery, then we found a big building which I think was a church so we went to ask in there! A nice lady was in there and told us it was only round the corner, yay!

We spent ages in the museum, which was all about Walt Disney’s life, from when he was born right up until when he died. That part was really sad and it made me cry! My favourite things to see were pictures of the first ever known drawings of Mickey Mouse, and some pictures of Walt and his wife from a photobooth, where they are just pulling silly faces in every photo!

After looking round the museum we got the bus home, had amazing pizza from a place opposite the hotel and packed our cases ready for LA!!