As you may already know, my bestie April has jetted off indefinitely to Canada.
In this new monthly post, I will be collating the best (and worst!) of April’s adventures from her travel blog, Explorational: An Aussie’s Adventures Abroad, for your vicarious pleasures.
Here, she details her feelings about her first overseas flight, trekking around Los Angeles and its theme parks, and arriving in Canada:
The whole airport thing went surprisingly well. All that worry for nothing! My mum and step-dad, as well as three very special friends, came to wish me “bon voyage” and help me navigate check-in, money transfer, and, most importantly, attempted to calm my nerves.
We had a lovely, sophisticated breakfast at good old McDonalds, checked in my luggage, got me some US and Canadian dollars, and then said our goodbyes at the rather non-ominous doors.
The goodbyes were the hardest part. My mum had already worried herself sick and I don’t know how she was after I left but she was crying, and making me tear up, as I was leaving.
My friends were very encouraging, rather than teary, but Scarlett didn’t want to let me go from our hug! I like hugs, but goodbyes have always been awkward for me. I don’t often feel like it’s going to be the last time I am going to see someone. Perhaps I can liken it to feeling it to be more of a “see you later”…
Going through all the departing procedures was reasonably breezy but waiting something like 2 hours for the flight to board was painful. I got fed a substantial amount on the flight. I had a yummy vegetable curry for our big meal (Mum would be proud!), and then a frittata which had mushrooms not mentioned on the menu.
Everything being free was great. I watched a series of movies including: Despicable Me, Due Date, Tangled, Gulliver’s Travels, The Social Network, It’s Kind of a Funny Story and Love & Other Drugs (bar the last 15 minutes – shattered!).
Not long after I unsuccessfully tried to sleep on the plane, while listening to an excellent playlist, we touched down in LA. The girl next to me decided it was a good time to vomit in a sick bag, making me feel kind of queasy.
I then headed through the initial customs checkpoint, grabbed my bag (which conveniently came round the conveyor belt as I walked up), and waited in line for baggage check. After looking at my passport, the overly burly customs officer waved me straight through. No one even asked me about the food I declared. So my Vegemite and Cadbury crème eggs made it in just fine!
My second day in Anaheim was planned as a California Adventure Park day but after waiting 45 minutes for the shuttle, I decided to follow a family for the walk to Downtown Disney, a place I didn’t even know existed.
Hooked from the first glance, at the Pin Traders store, where I subsequently spent $50 on badges, I decided shopping would constitute the day’s events.
I then visited the Lego store where I got a Ron Weasley Lego man keychain.
My next thought was food but I got distracted by Build-A-Bear (and the lack of appealing food options). I went into the store with one intention and left with exactly what I wanted—a chocolate brown-coloured Downtown Disney 2011 exclusive bear in green scrubs named Turkleton! He is absolutely adorable. Build-A-Bear also gave me some great ideas for presents so my plan is to return to Disneyland for one day in February before I head home.
I also discovered D Store and Mr. Potato Head versions of Chewbacca and C3PO. Very merrily purchased!
Upon entering the ultimate Disney store and making one last purchase, a stuffed Cheshire cat (to go with the Alice & Mad Hatter I’d got the day before), I asked for the nearest post office and set off to send my bulky loot home to mum. $80 later, my $200-ish worth of purchases were homeward bound, making me happier not to have to lug them around.
Next stop was California Adventure Park, and it definitely had some good stuff going for it. Not the lines I encountered or the confusion about how to get around thanks to the construction of the new Tron “experience”, though.
So I headed for Paradise Pier. I decided a fifteen minute wait for the California Screamin’ was acceptable as I had my chocolate soft serve to keep me occupied. (FYI: It was scrumptious!)
I seem to have developed quite a knack for consuming unstable foods right before discovering, and boarding, vomit-inducing rides. Thanks to my iron stomach, and the lack of “heart in throat” sensation (as my cousin Lizzie would call it), I kept everything internal. For a roller coaster, it wasn’t even as much fun as the good old Pirate Ship at the Rye Carnival!
I also went on the Mickey Mouse themed Ferris Wheel (opting for the non-swinging section as the wait was 25 minutes less), where I met two other Aussie travellers. We chatted about our impressions of the US and our plans for the rest of our trips.
The Silly Symphony swings were next on the agenda, followed by my favourite ride of the day, the Grizzly River Run. I met a couple of 20-something American boys in line who ended up with me on the ride. We had a good group in our “raft” and I spent the whole time in stitches. Was so much fun even if I ended up completely water logged (pun intended!).
At this point it was getting dark and I was a bit over the rides. So I ventured into yet another store where I found the build your own Mr. Potato Head section that my friend Eddie had told me about, which actually made me want to visit Disneyland. (In case you didn’t realise yet, I collect Mr Potato Heads!)
It, sadly, wasn’t as impressive as I was expecting from Eddie’s description. I had the option of a Pirates of the Caribbean, Tinkerbell or Mickey Mouse potato. After grabbing my box and stuffing my potato’s insides with little pieces, like eyes, noses and tongues, I realised the box, which must be closed upon purchase, was only really designed for one full ensemble. Determined to beat the system, I applied my practical application of Tetris skills and maneuvered all the pieces I wanted and shoved the lid closed. It was quite a process, as I had to decide what I really wanted and then make it all fit just right. I eliminated the pirate pieces as I already have two pirate themed potatoes at home and then worked with the Tinkerbell and Mickey pieces. Upon realising that Tinkerbell’s hair took up a ridiculous amount of space I knew I had my work cut out for me. But everything successfully fit in the end so I took my one of a kind Mr. Potato Head to the counter and handed over my $19.95, plus tax.
I consider Disneyland: defeated.
I realised I hadn’t eaten all day and after nearly passing out and/or vomiting on the 733 Santa Monica via Venice bus, so I hit up UrbanSpoon (which has been my saviour!) and had all but decided on Mao’s Kitchen until I saw Bondi BBQ. As the website claimed it to be Aussie inspired, I wanted to try it for myself. It was just across from my hostel but was boarded up (never a good sign) so I headed for Mao’s Kitchen instead where I chowed down on my favourite: beef with black bean sauce (mum would be proud!), and it was pretty damn good.
My second day I made the effort to walk the 45 minutes along the boulevard to the Santa Monica Pier. I’m not quite sure what the appeal of it is; same goes for the whole of Venice Beach. It’s not my kind of place. I only decided to stay here because it was closer to the airport than downtown Los Angeles or where I’d previously been in Hollywood. The whole place had an unsettling feeling about it.
But if tanning and/or pumping iron, street vendors and beggars are your thing, then maybe you should visit. [Early Bird note: Maybe the next season of Jersey Shore should be filmed here?] I somewhat regret not staying downtown but I will be back in August and will still have somewhere fun to explore.
On my last night in Venice Beach, my lovely German roommate, Marco, informed me he had received a text that Osama Bin Laden was dead.
All it said was: “Osama Bin Laden has been killed.”
So we did some internet research and watched a video confirming the news.
Barack Obama was to do a speech to confirm it.
I really didn’t think at all about how this news would impact on me until the next day, when I was waiting in line for security scanning at LAX for my flight to Toronto and overheard someone exclaiming, “Why did I have to fly this day, of all days?!” It dawned on me that today was, in fact, a day to be concerned about travelling in the United States.
Security leaving the US was a lot harder than entering, much to my surprise. Shoes and jackets had to be removed and as I jumped in the shortest line I realised I was about to be body scanned! Thinking it a bad idea and contemplating a shift to a simple metal scanner in another line, I read a sign that said if you refuse to be scanned you will be frisked. Deciding someone seeing me naked for a few seconds was far less invasive than someone frisking me for about a minute, I stayed in line and experienced my first body scan.
Having arrived at the airport 4 hours before my flight, I ended up with about three hours to kill, so I tried to write some stuff for my blog and just waste the time away, while enjoying a Starbucks breakfast.
My flight was rather boring and uncomfortable. American Airlines, despite the higher price they charge, doesn’t seem to offer much more than what I would imagine a budget airline here in North America would have. I felt cramped and overcharged. ($25 for one piece of checked luggage on top of a $300 fair—seriously?!) Nothing like my fabulous V Australia experience to LA.
Arriving in Toronto was a rather subdued affair. I had my working holiday visa processed, sadly only for one year, and was lucky to once again pick up my luggage the baggage carousel just as it came round the corner.
Then came the real security check. Having not been questioned on it arriving in the US, I was a little thrown when the Canadian Customs officer asked me if I had bought any food into Canada. I declared my Vegemite and half-eaten bag of Cadbury crème eggs and he let me straight through. I guess neither have been deemed threats to Canada so I was free to enjoy them at times when I missed home.
Again, with no plan, I headed out of the airport, found a shuttle and made a beeline for my new home, the Global Village Backpackers, in downtown Toronto. My lodgings are nothing flash; just the bare essentials. But the staff are nice and it provides the bed I need at night for a reasonable price. I’m set to stay here two weeks but I can always extend it if the accommodation search doesn’t go quite as well as I am hoping.
From my first few days here, Toronto feels a bit like Melbourne. There’re trams, which they call streetcars, and it’s rained a lot, just like home! Not sure yet if I like it here but it is going to be my home until August whether I do or not. So bring on the Canadian friendliness and the swooning over my intriguing accent.