Wednesday, 27 March 2013

That All-American Experience

Wayne County Fair wristbands

Now on to Honesy-D, the nearest town to camp. This is where most of our days off would be spent, a small town with an all-american look. 

A usual day off would involve raiding the Walmart, munching down some decent grub and watching the latest Twilight film. 

However, if a more cultured american experience was desired then you needed to head into the town itself. There was a few B&Bs to choose from and all had that homely feeling, but that could just be because the older lady that ran ours suggested we call her “mama.”  

Although Honesdale wouldn’t normally be on a travelers list of places to see in the US, I highly recommend that on any journey, you stop in a small and town. It’s places like these where you get a real insight into the culture of a country because there’s less of the tourist pulls to distract you. BEX FYI: Visit the unknown.

Honesdale is the kind of white picket-fence neighborhood where swinging benches hang from porches and american flags flap from the beamers, so you wouldn't expect much nightlife. We did however, manage to find one lone bar with music where the residents of Honesdale were just all too interested to see who these crazy kids were.

A large man at the end of the bar, wearing a white suit and sunglasses, stared us down until his minion man came to tell us that drinks were waiting for us at the bar. We were expecting a shot and were astonished when an $11 Pink Flamingo cocktail each was waiting for us. We thanked him and continued to dance but when the other locals joined in the boogie, the gangster man took a huff and stormed out of the bar. His minion warned us that “we’d done it now.” Uh oh, upsetting local big wigs may not be a good idea.

We continued to dance with a slight fear lying in our bellies.  To dispel it we distracted ourselves by persuading the owner to let us dance on the bar. Now I don’t mean slutty style, we just wanted to have a Coyote Ugly moment. But that dream was short-lived as Whitney stumbled and smashed a glass and we were then removed. 

The next morning we woke to “mama's” big breakfast. Eating like kings we didn’t want to leave but “mama” had other ideas. She’d had complaints of noise and the theft of a flag so was not keen on having us stay any longer. “Mama” was not happy. None of the girls had any knowledge of this flag theft and we all believed we’d been as quiet as can be but the boys sat there in suspicious silence.

Aside from the town’s bar, the big must is the Wayne County Fair. If you’ve ever seen the end scenes of Grease you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.  It is an annual event where people come from all over the county to attend. There are rides and animals, and food and music. It’s a colourful event and a whole lot of fun.

The best part though, was munching on a corn dog. There’s a first for everything and eating a corn dog had always been on my list of things you have to do before you die. It was surprisingly tasty but I think it just wouldn’t have tasted right unless I was standing in a random field, surrounded by crazy farm animals and sharing it with my Honesdale crew.

Again Honesdale provides another all american experience. 

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Get your Scrant-ON!

Round Lake Specialists hitting a local bar

So Mexico ended my US tour for 2009 but obviously I hadn’t had enough because in 2010 I went back. Returning to Round Lake Camp, I spent another summer as dance specialist in the Pennsylvania sticks and was able to rack up a hold other host of american cities on my “been there” list.

Scranton, known as the electric city, may not be as well-known as other US destinations but it is more than deserving of a post. It was the closest city to camp, about an hour away, and located in the Lackawanna Valley- I just love that name. It became known as the electric city after the streetcar system was established there in 1886- a bit of historical info for you.

For camp counsellors Scranton really was electric. It was like Disneyland for us because it meant real food, great shops and being back in civilization. 

The city has numerous hotels, including big names like the Radisson and the Hilton, and for the life of me I don’t know why every year we all opted for a run-down motel called the Red Carpet Inn. This was a wholesome, american motel just like the ones you see in the movies. It provided all the bare necessities and at a reasonable price. More importantly it “allowed” us to pack 7 people into a 2 person room, take midnight skinny dips and boogie on the balconies. Well I say “allow,” I’m sure technically it wasn’t allowed but there were never any complaints...well almost never.

Trips to this fine city have provided me with many a memorable day, mostly because the food was epic and the two malls were a godsend. 

The first time I visited Scranton it was my first day off. About twenty of Round Lake’s specialists rocked up excited to sample our first piece of American culture. 

Arriving fairly late we piled into one of the rooms to chill out and plan the following day. However, it came to a halt when one of my camp besties, the drama specialist, took a funny turn that meant we had to call 911. When paramedics arrived they scooted the patient and myself to the ER. At the time I was pent up with worry but looking back I think it’s super cool I actually got to visit a real ER- no sign of George Clooney though and not at all like Grey’s Anatomy

Fearing it was something more serious we waited for hours on test results but eventually doctors confirmed it was just a panic attack. We were free to go but with no shoes or money (apparently I wasn’t good at this going to hospital and being prepared thing) hitching a ride back to the hotel proved rather interesting. We finally flagged a taxi who agreed to take us but by the time we got back to the motel the party was over. Nothing like a bit of hospital drama.

My next visit saw us visit a local bar where Scranton residents treated us like exotic creatures. Everyone was eager to find out who this crazy bunch of Brits were. BEX FYI: partying with the locals is definitely a cultural experience worth having.

Later that night we headed back to the motel but our large group had picked up a certain Scranton resident who was not keen to say goodbye. We hinted and hinted that this was the end of the night but Majestic was not getting it. He was dressed in what looked like pajamas and covered in cake mixture. Apparently he worked in a cake factory and hadn’t felt the need to change after his shift. 

Much of the night was spent trying to get rid of this guy so that we could head to bed...after some hefty heave ho from the guys we bid farewell to crazy cake man. Meanwhile Scranton police had arrived to investigate the noise. Fearing the worst the girls lined up in a row and tried to sweetly apologise to the officers. They accepted our apologies and agreed to having us take a series of posy pics with them whilst we insisted on calling them Office Dimples. A bit cringe but jail averted.

So, so far Scranton has provided me with a run in with two of its emergency departments. One more to go?

These are just a few occasions that stick out in my mind but lord knows there were a good few more fun experiences to be had in Scranton...

Scranton has played host to a whole load of crazy camp antics that I couldn’t even begin to write about but I can surely say that it holds a place in every Round Lake counsellor’s heart.

“Get your Scrant-ON!”

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

¡Viva Mexico!

If you like Pina Colada...

It’s time to focus on what Mexico is really all about; food, fun and fiestas. This was my first trip to Mexico and as a typical tourist I headed straight for Cancun. I have since revisited the country though and seen there is so much more that Mexico has to offer. However, Cancun wasn’t a bad place to start.

Sticking to the cheaper option, the boys and I opted out of a 5 star resort and headed downtown to a hostel called Soberanis. For only $20 a night we had a private room and free breakfast. Seen as though funds were running pretty low brekkie was a major bonus. This was a bargain hostel and one of the cleanest yet so looking at accommodation downtown is definitely recommended. 

Downtown Cancun was a much more vibrant and cultured area of the city and, with only a short distance to the beaches and nightlife, we were able to enjoy the best of both worlds. However there was a catch. To reach the postcard perfect beaches we had to cram onto a choc-a-block bus each morning. At only 13 pesos (approximately 70p) this was not an issue and like I’ve said before, public transport is a great way to experience a city’s true culture. This was certainly true of Cancun. Musicians, artists and street performers pile onto local buses to showcase unique performances. Combined with the constant smell of animal poop, the bus journeys are memorable experiences.

I know you’re probably thinking all this girl does is sun bathe, but trust me, I’m a lover of all things cultured too. In the mornings I visited the downtown markets and in the evening we always made sure to sample different food from some of the most authentic restaurants- that and the tequila!

Mexican food for me had always been a bit of a no no but eating it in its origin made a difference. I devoured the guacamole and tacos and munched away on burritos until I could fit in no more. 

On one occasion Tom even found a “kindred spirit.” Sitting in a remote taqueria , a man in his late forties approached our table. Between his broken english and my spanish we worked out that he believed he had met Tom in another life. So enthused by this he insisted we move out of the hostel and into his home. We thought that might be a tad too much but we did agree to dinner with him and his family. This was a great opportunity to learn more about the area and Mexican culture. 

As Tom got friendly with one local, I got close to another. A lifeguard named Viktor, who worked in one of the beachside resorts, had made it his mission to marry me. This was a an idea I wasn’t so keen on but this sweet boy provided us with much amusement. Each day he offered me a different gift in a bid to win my heart and whilst I declined most there were a few I couldn’t say no to. A free snorkeling trip in Cancun’s reef was golden, although I still struggled with the sea-swallowing thing, and passes to the exclusive beach club could not be refused. So a piece of Bex FYI: whilst using a man for his  assets is not recommended sometimes you gotta take a freebie when you can.

For those of you wondering how this fairytale romance panned out, Viktor and I did not wed and went our separate ways . However, I do believe his mexican charm won over a more naive Brit and he successfully obtained his UK visa. Lucky escape methinks. 

Viktor and kindred spirit man were just two of the locals we met during our stay. There were a whole host of mexicans who were nothing but hospitable. Every night on the Cancun strip we found it easy to make new friends to party with. 

Of course we visited the notorious clubs like Coco Bongo and City and undoubtedly they offered an amazing night. However, the not-so-famous clubs were just as good and lucky for me, although extremely sexist, girls often receive free entry. 

So all in all, Cancun provided me with a cheap and memorable fortnight, I just had to be prepared to lose my feminist instinct on the way and accept the freebies. Wrong?

Sunday, 17 March 2013

The Foot

The Foot

Now you will have to excuse this next blog of mine. It is going slightly off course but I feel this is a story that needs to be told. This tale is about a foot, a foot that had a huge impact on the next leg of my tour (excuse the pun) and is deserving of an entire blog post to itself. 

If you read the previous entry you’ll remember I had joined a team of guys in Miami. For myself and two of the boys, John and Tom, we were heading to Mexico. We had an early flight at 7 am so the night before I opted for an early one and left the boys to their antics.

Around 2am a hysterical John returned to the room moaning that he’d fallen and hurt his foot. I put the dramatics down to alcohol. For the next few hours John wept and wailed as Tom and I tried to console him. 

We should have realised then that he wasn’t joking but the foot looked fine and so we assumed his tears were purely whisky fueled. Sticking to the plan, we got up at 4am to head to the airport but John was still in pain. We urged him to go to the ER (I kind of wanted to see the hunky doctors) but by this point it was either go to the hospital or fly to Mexico. John was adamant we weren’t missing that flight and so we helped him hobble along.

For the remainder of this Mexican adventure the sole focus was the foot! When I look back at our trip I don’t think about the white sandy beaches, the nachos or nights at Coco Bongo, I think of the foot. The big, fat, purple foot that caused us no end of problems. 

First came the foot and the luggage. As nice as staff were, the hassle of hauling our luggage and pushing John in an airport wheelchair was a stress. It did however mean we got to skip a lot of queues. Little tip there, if you fake an injury you may get to queue jump.

Next came the foot and a wheelchair. Arriving in Cancun we quizzed hostel staff where we could hire a wheelchair. After hours of frantically searching downtown we found one. Relieved to get a rest John collapsed into it and Tom took the handles. It was only then that we realised that is is near impossible to push a 6ft4 guy along cobbled Mexican streets. 

So then came the foot and the crutches. For anyone that’s been to Mexico you’ll know that it’s not the most urgent or ogranised of places. This meant that a lot of people said they had crutches and ran off to get them but then never returned. Maybe it was the hilarity of watching three sweaty gringos run about town looking for some random crutches. 

You may ask why we simply didn’t take John to the hospital. It turned out John’s insurance didn’t cover him south of the US border and he refused to pay the medical bills in Mexico. So a piece of BEX FYI: always make sure your insurance covers you for your whole trip and in every location. 

We spent ten days enjoying Cancun’s beaches and nightlife along with the foot. In the morning the foot lay in bed as we brought it breakfast. The foot then hobbled onto the bus for our journey to the beach and then luckily the foot could rest on the sand all day. Come night time and the foot became quite intoxicated so that the boy at the end of the foot could forget the pain. The foot then very stupidly danced most of the night until the foot collapsed in pain back at the hostel leaving its owner howling in agony. An obvious tip here: don’t dance on a broken foot.

However, at this point John didn’t know his foot was broken. We still thought it was a sprain but after 6 days John finally caved and allowed us to take him to a clinic. Armed with my basic spanish and a dictionary we stumbled through mexican procedures until a doctor finally confirmed the inevitable. The foot was broken. A small bone on the top of the foot had snapped but el medico said no crutches  or cast would be necessary, only rest was needed. And so for another 8 days the saga of the foot continued.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

I'm in Miami B****

SOUTH BEACH MIAMI- one of the city's iconic lifeguard huts
Still in Florida, but leaving the family behind, it was time to get my shades on, find my teeny bikini and start my search for Horatio Caine. 

I had maxed myself out on CSI episodes and could not have been more prepared for any mysterious murders that may have cropped up during my Miami stay. Oh I had Horatio’s back. 

If he could have seen the way I climbed out of my Grandma’s pick up van, stumbled over the kerb, snapped my sandal, flashed my knickers and burst open my suitcase as I arrived, he’d have known he had a trusty companion in his midst.

I rocked up at the Days Inn Hotel, adjusting my skirt and slightly limping from the fall, where 4 boys lay in wait for me. And by lay in wait I mean sprawled out amongst dirty clothes and empty beer cans whilst nursing hangovers. 

I was reuniting with some of the guys from camp and walking into that room I suspected this might not be the most glamourous few weeks.

The boys had opted for a 2 person room for 4 of them and me. This is a good money saver, albeit not technically allowed, so there are risks to consider. You’re probably expecting me to outline hotel rules and the consequences of being caught but no, I’m talking about the dangers of co-existing in a room, littered with half eaten chinese food and 4 “I washed my clothes month” kind of guys. It’s a dangerous job people but needs must when you’re aiming for minimal spend and maximum fun.

But who needs the lap of luxury when you’re already in Miami? As LA’s cooler younger brother I couldn’t wait to grab the beach bag and head down to see just whether Miami lived up to Will Smith’s promise that "Yo ain't no city in the world like this."

First place on my agenda was South Beach. This stretch of lush golden sand and sparkling blue sea offers every Miami stereotype in one sun kissed bundle. There’s the surfer dudes catching the waves and the model babes slapping on the oil, hippy musicians playing on the sidewalk and the city’s elite hitting the designer boutiques. Sitting on South Beach is like watching some amped up and much sexier version of Corrie. Eyes peeled for Ken Barlow's six pack.

Staying near to South Beach can be pretty costly which is why we had opted to stay further inland. This distance didn’t stop me and my “posse” from making our way there every day though. The bus was easy enough to catch and took us across town in no time. 

A massive piece of Bex FYI that I stick firmly to is avoid taking taxis. Wherever you are in the world one of the best ways to see a place and get a taste for its true culture is to board that bus. It may seem scary but if you check your info and ask for help you’ll be fine, and it's often a lot cheaper. And if you get lost who cares? You’re exploring and that’s what traveling is all about. 

After South Beach, Ocean Drive is the next big name that needs to be scratched off the list. The quirky buildings offer excitement and a bit of glamour even if all you can afford to do is gaze through the windows and wish you were rich. Known as the start of the Art Deco district, Ocean Drive holds some of the world’s most photographed houses including the Versace mansion-very posh!  

My trip in Miami was short and sweet. It gave me enough time to do a few Baywatch runs down the beach, hit the malls for yet more shopping and enjoy some beachside boogies. Although there's a lot more things that could be done in Miami after a few days in the sunshine and glamour I was all set. I had seen all I wanted and know what I had always thought...Miami is pretty cool. You were right Will.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Florida Magic


Beautiful white beaches, crystal clear sea and fish every colour of the rainbow. This was Key West, the next location on my US tour.

After a wonderfully amusing adventure on the west coast it had been time to say goodbye to my girls from camp. Whilst they flew back to the Big Apple I headed southeast to visit my grandmother in Florida. 

Now I don't know how much prices have changed but in 2009 I managed to fly across country for $80- a bargain flight! But often internal flights can be that bit cheaper meaning those long haul buses can sometimes be avoided.

An obvious tip here, but if you have connections in different locations use them. I just happened to be very lucky that my grandma had decided to uproot to the sunshine state 10 years previous leaving me a very comfy spare room to crash in and a great opportunity to see Florida. 

Now don’t get too excited, she doesn’t live anywhere near Disneyland, which had been my original hope, she lives in a city called Sunrise- sounds so idyllic right? Sunrise is located six miles west of Fort Lauderdale and is full of highways, malls and that’s about it. 

One thing about Florida is that it is extremely hard to travel around if you do not have a car so, piece of Bex FYI for ya: if you’re planning to visit rent a car as everything is a good drive away.

My brother and cousin had come out to meet me for this next leg of my journey and boy was it a laugh. Arriving in September, the area’s hurricane season, meant that we were hit with rain from 12pm onwards everyday- bad time to go visit grandma. This ruined my plans of sun bathing and pool lounging. Instead we visited the famous Sawgrass Mills Mall (sixth largest in the US) a dozen times, had extremely dodgy super-cuts (never recommended) and watched a series of bad movies. 

However, after a while it was time for us to venture a bit further afield. We rented a car and headed towards Key West, an island in the Straits of Florida. The island is surrounded by lush beaches, filled with gourmet restaurants with a stack of ice cream on offer at every corner. Thankfully, the weather here was a lot different to Sunrise. It was swelteringly hot, despite it being September, with no rain in sight which meant I could catch up on those rays.

Although only 4 miles long and 2 miles wide, Key West holds host to a multitude of attractions including the Key West Botanical Forest and Garden, the Butterfly and Nature Conservatory and the Key West Gay and Lesbian Museum and Archive

Now I have to admit that our day trip to Key West meant that time was limited. However, we still managed to wander around the town, check out the beach and end the day with a cruise of the island and a snorkel expedition.

Key West has loads of options for outdoor sport, boating trips and sunset sails and often they can be the best way to enjoy a new place.

Myself, the bro and cousin, ventured into North America’s only living reef and spent time snorkelling in the colourful sea. Sounds a lot more glamourous than it was because, as an adult, I still can’t master the art of not swallowing sea water and having it go up your nose. This became a point of hilarity on the trip but the sea life views were worth it. 

A trip like this could not come more recommended. The cruise was a reasonable price and allowed us to see the best of the island.  Everything about Key West was stunning and the boat trip highlighted that by ending our day with a sunset view from the water. This picture represents the wonderful day I had in Key West made all the better by spending it with family. Florida Magic.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

LA here we come...

LA 2009

Los Angeles. The place where money, glamour, a miniature dog and an abundance of Botox is essential in order to survive the cut throat societies that lay deep in the LA valleys- well at least that’s how they make it seem in The OC

I had waited a long time to visit the LA and couldn’t wait to roam around Beverly Hills and skate along Venice Beach. I had always pictured myself staying in a 5 star hotel tottering around in hot-pants and heels just living the dream. However, the reality of backpacking at 18 is somewhat different. On a student budget once again a hillbilly hostel was all we could afford.

Arriving at Backpackers Paradise Hostel my dreams were quickly shattered- almost every shop and restaurant in the area was protected with a sheet of bulletproof glass. Local residents quickly warned us against leaving the hostel after 6pm, and advised locking our doors at all times- you know just in case we got shot. Backpackers Paradise was in fact in a ghetto town called Inglewood, nowhere near the glam beaches and bars I had pictured. 

So a piece of Bex FYI: whilst I applaud spontaneity, in America it’s almost essential to book accommodation in advance. It's also advised to do a quick google map check to see exactly where it is and how close it is to where you want to be. If you do not follow this advice you may end up in some bad ass neighborhood where fears for safety are rocket high. No no, if you do this expect an adventure that certainly will have your folks back home biting their nails to the quick.

To console ourselves from the mistake we'd made, myself and the girls ravaged the free popcorn and Mountain Dew in the hostel. We then lapped up the sun by the poolside whilst trying to ignore the floating (and used) condoms in the pool. 

But it wasn’t all bad; BPH did offer free rides to the beach (meaning they squeezed 20 of us into the back of an old rickety van) and offered bus tours of LA. 

On day one we decided to chill by the beach after our death ride drop off and soaked up some sun. 

Day two we wanted to get out there and see all the sites. We embarked on a bus tour which, although $75, took us to all the hotspots. Red Rooster Ryan, our extremely enthusiastic tour guide, gave us snippets of info in between performances of his own songs. We picked up earplugs around about the third stop.

The tour took us right up to the luxurious Beverly Hills where marbled mansions and tree-lined paths held the homes of the rich and famous. Cue a big sigh here for the realisation that I’m probably never gonna own a five storey, 2000 acre, barn converted, forest covered, gold plated pad.

Next onto Hollywood for some essential pics of the Hollywood sign and the Walk of Fame. The Dolby Theatre, Rodeo Drive and Venice Beach are all other must-see locations on the tour. I felt like one of the Olsen twins just cruising around in a blacked out mini bus wearing my over-sized specs. 

Now everyone knows that I'm a big advocate for a good bus tour and whilst I acknowledge that some places are better off explored on foot, LA is not one of those places. 

A tour bus is 100% advised and is worth the extra cash, even with the annoying guide. I’d recommended staying in LA at least a week if you want to get to know it well, 3 days certainly wasn't enough for me. Being over 21 is probably pretty vital as well if you want to experience some of the nightlife. 

LA is an amazing place and is everything you think it will be but there’s a hundred things I’d love to go back and do so I can't quite cross it off my list yet. 

When I next go I've decided I will be a bit more prepared though. I will A) wait till I’m a successful professional so I can afford to live it up B) book a nice hotel in advance that is pretty central and C) pre-print Channing Tatum’s address so I know exactly where to find him.