26 March 2011


Playing Bocce on the PlayStation 3 

Yonge Street
From Los Angeles, we flew to Boston, slept in the airport (at least Pam managed to) then caught a flight to Toronto, where our friends Rob and Danielle, who have been living there for the last two years, greeted us with open arms. It was so good to see them and catch up over several beers!

Tucking into an Indian take away on our first night together
They were great hosts, striking a perfect balance between sightseeing and stress-free relaxation. On our first day, we quickly realised that shorts and t-shirts were not going to suit the freezing temperatures. We went to Kensington market and frantically searched for some warmer clothes. Browsing the shops was fun, especially trying on the craziest looking clothes we could find in a vintage clothing shop.

Toronto's skyline is famous for the 550 metre CN Tower. Doing the tourist thing, Pam, Rob and I went up to the viewing platform and realised just how sprawling Toronto is. Watching Pam nervously tip-toe across the glass floor was hilarious.

Hotdog stall
During our travels, we have sampled some unusual local specialities, but the classic street stall hotdog is up there with the best. Rob was very efficient at directing us to the best stalls - they were so good, we made several more visits!

At the Steam Whistle brewery
Another memorable moment was our trip to the Steam Whistle brewery. This restored brick building situated in the heart of downtown seemed like a really cool place to work and our suspicions were confirmed when we learned that the workers are entitled to three free bottles from a special beer dispenser - wow! Luckily for us, they extended their policy to customers and we were handed out free beer like there was no tomorrow. Now, that's what I call a good brewery tour!

Downtown Toronto
Toronto is a city which stands out for us on our travels. Walking around it, we saw so much diversity in its surroundings, from the high class shopping district of Yorkville to the bright lights of Dundas Square, Toronto's version of Times Square, and a remarkably safe feeling downtown.

On the way to Hooters - we were both rather excited...
Our fun-filled nights with Rob, Danielle and, of course, Martini (their cat) were filled with games, chat, movie nights and lots of good food and drink. Rob and I also enjoyed extending our nights into the early hours with some quality boy time. Just like when we were at school together, we would take every chance to play ultra-competitive games on the PlayStation 3. The game Move (which uses motion-sensor controls, like the Nintendo Wii) was a favourite for couples matches of Bocce (like French bowls) that usually led to the guys blaming the girls for defeats!

Master chef Danielle
We continued our boy time one afternoon by squeezing in a sneaky lunchtime visit to Hooters. We were like two giggling schoolboys, as we were served sub-standard food by rather pretty waitresses (I'm pretty sure that's the way it's supposed to be, anyway).

Unfortunately, Pam had to cut her time in Toronto a little short after hearing news from home that Maisie, her gran, had passed away. She was our number one blog fan and we loved calling home during our trip to share all our travelling stories with her. She was very much loved by Pam and her family and will be dearly missed.

The Falls on the Canadian side of the border
Flights were altered and plans rearranged, but I was under strict instruction from Miss Lawn (who insisted I didn't mess with her on this one) to enjoy the last few days until I was to follow her route back home to Scotland.

It would be strange to come all this way to Toronto and not make the short journey to see the famous Niagara Falls. So, on my final weekend, the three of us took a road trip there and were blown away by the natural beauty and the sheer scale of the two wateralls (one is in America, which we could see across the river, the other is on the Canadian side of the border).

Niagara Falls
The town of Niagara Falls, however, is as tacky and over-the-top as the waterfalls are beautiful. It felt like being in a bizarre version of Disneyland and was definitely not what I was expecting. The town's fudge shop was a highlight and we parted with a small fortune there.

A stop at Five Guys Burgers and Fries had been carefully planned by Rob weeks ago, following a recommendation from a friend. The old-school burger joint was packed out, and after trying the bacon cheese burger, it was easy to see why.

At the beer market
In Australia, Pam encouraged me to go on a wine tasting tour. In Toronto, Rob and Danielle's suggestion was the beer market. It was so much fun getting the generous samplers and using the guidebook to help pick out traces of flavours. My favourite was the Leffe Blond Ale.

And so ends our round-the-world trip! We hope you've enjoyed following our stories on the blog.

James & Pam

Toronto's CN Tower

10 March 2011

Los Angeles

The famous Hollywood sign
We reluctantly said goodbye to the Cook Islands, and moved from summer to winter in a day as we entered the US of A.

When we arrived at the airport, we were like two little lost sheep, but somehow managed to find a bus to take us to Beverly Boulevard where we were staying.

Los Angeles has been far from our favourite stop (it is just not Rarotonga) and we were underwhelmed by the lack of glitz and glamour Hollywood is said to possess. Hollywood Boulevard and the Walk of Fame is full of tacky tourists shops and countless weird and wonderful street entertainers eager to woo you into a photo shot with them.

The Terminator!
Hollywood's saving grace is the beautiful Grauman's Chinese Theatre and the famous hand and footprints of various A-list celebrities. The square featured many icons from the 1920s till the present day. We almost phoned my gran to find out all about the stars (she is an expert in this field) but I decided she might not have appreciated a call at 5am!

Home of the rich and famous
With only a few days to enjoy on the West Coast, we chose to skip the many surrounding theme parks (although we were tempted) and explore this concrete jungle. Without a car, it is nearly impossible to get around the city, so we jumped on a tour bus and saw many of the sights including Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive and Sunset Boulevard.

We stopped at The Grove for a hot chocolate (I hadn't quite adjusted to the cold weather) and a wander... then James found Abercrombie & Fitch and Gap. The flip-flops and t-shirts were ditched to make way for jumpers and jeans ahead of our stay in the sub-zero temperatures of Toronto and Boston.

The Grove: a shopper's paradise
We spent the rest of our time exploring the Downtown area. The sky-scrapers and palm-tree lined roads felt like the real L.A. and we enjoyed spending time in Pershing Square where we sampled some delicious strawberries and sugar-coated almonds at the market.

Luckily, we stumbled upon a great little area called Alameda. The charming streets pulled in the crowds with Mexican food stalls galore and numerous craft shops. The nearby Chinatown was also a great little spot for meandering in the afternoon sun.

Our hostel was situated in Korea Town so we tried eating like the locals at a barbecue restaurant on our first night. This didn't go very well! As soon as we sat down, we were brought an abundance of dishes (many of which we didn't recognise) then pointed towards the hot plate in the middle of the table. We battled with the chop sticks and worried over the wok but we somehow managed to cook some of it and, although I am sure it did not taste as it was supposed to, we enjoyed it all the same.

The following day, we decided to try something a little easier. Alan and I always used to request a Taco Bell stop on our family holidays to America, so I decided it was time James was introduced to this American institution! I think it's safe to say he's joined the fan club!


7 March 2011

The Cook Islands

Rarotonga's Black Rock

Kia orana! Our week on the laid-back island of Rarotonga has been perhaps the best we've ever had, so brace yourself for a rather lengthy blog post!

The Cook Islanders are renowned for their love of music, so we began our week with a church service to sample the traditional acapella hymns. Of the Cook Island's 13,000 population, 90% are Christian, so 'island time', which is relaxed on any given day, slows right down on a Sunday. The singing was incredible - our ears were ringing after each song because the locals sing so passionately and with beautiful harmonies.

On the scooter
After enjoying a lunch provided by the church for its visitors, Pam and I waded across the shallow, blue lagoon of Muri Beach to Koromiri - one of the four palm-tree covered islets set before the reef - and I decided to do what every guy should do at least once in their lifetime: open a coconut on a rock. The process took ages, and I'd like to say it was worth it, however, the warm coconut milk left a lot to be desired!

Snorkeling in the lagoon
Rarotonga is so small that the bus service runs either clockwise or anti-clockwise. Virtually all the locals travel instead by scooter, so we decided to follow suit. To hire one, we had to do a practical test (literally drive up and down the street) and obtain a Cook Islands driving licence from the police station (which, I think, is more a souvenir than anything else).

With the local rowing team
The person beside us on the flight had told us about the local rowing club meeting at 5pm most evenings to practise in the Muri Beach lagoon. We went down to watch them one evening, where we met the same guy from our flight. The coach asked if we would like to join in and, of course, we jumped at the chance. However, by the end of the second race, I was happy to jump out of the boat and give my muscles a rest!

This guy ate the pawpaw in our garden!
At night, a kind Frenchman working in Rarotonga for six months, who also took part in the rowing session, invited us to dinner. We were treated to tasty French cuisine and wine, whilst also being shown how to open a coconut with a machete (it's a lot easier than on a rock).

The massive Boogie Burger
The following day, we hopped on the scooter and went to Black Rock on the West coast of the island, where we paddled among the brightly coloured fish. Afterwards, it was time to act on another tip we were given on our first night and try the island's famous boogie burger - it definitely lived up to the hype (we went back for another a few days later!)

On the drive back to Aremango Guesthouse, our home for the week, we stopped at an outdoor island dance class. Such is the hospitality of the locals (or their desire for a cheap laugh?) that they practically begged us to join in. We did, and it was good fun dancing to the pounding drums, but really difficult to keep up with their super-quick moves.

Bashing open a coconut
Just five minutes from Aremango Guesthouse is the island's best snorkeling spot: the Fruits of Rarotonga. We snorkeled in the lagoon, amazed at just how many fish were in there with us! The zebra fish, in particular, were happy to swim right up to us (we were happy that the larger fish kept to themselves).

On the cross-island trek
The tiny brewery of the island's local beer (Matutu) was conveniently located nearby the lagoon, so we stopped in for a tour and a tasting. Later that afternoon, we decided to get the blood pumping and hired a double kayak and rowed to the reef then to the volcanic islet of Taakoka.

At Wigmore's Waterfall
Our final energetic activity of the week was the mountainous cross-island trek. Using our arms as well as our legs, we climbed steeply up towards the 413 metre Te Rua Manga (also known as 'The Needle') using the tangled tree roots as much a possible. When we stood under the huge rock at the top, we had a great view of the North and South of the island. Heading back down, the thin trees either side of the slippery track saved us several times from spectacular falls! We were tired and muddy by the time we reached Wigmore's Waterfall, but the swarming mosquitos hurried us into the cool water, which was exactly what we needed after the four-hour trek.

My facial expression didn't change for hours after this was taken
At night, we went to Te Vara Nui Village for a traditional meal and cultural dancing. The food was delicious, especially the baked fish in coconut marinade and the chicken cooked in an umu (an underground oven). The show itself was fantastic. The women danced in very fluid movements, while the men stomped across the stage. The live band looked like they were having so much fun as they played their drums and ukuleles and the fire-jugglers were simply mind-boggling!

Ta Vara Nui Village
On our final full day in Rarotonga, Pam and I cooked dinner for our fellow travellers before taking the bus into Avarua to sample the local nightlife at a beach hut bar and club.

After very little sleep, we drove to the Saturday morning market, which was a highlight of our week. It is a major event on the island and we loved hearing the live music, browsing the stalls and trying the delicious fresh fruit on offer.

Partying in Avarua
You'll have noticed that this blog entry is much longer than normal - that's because we've loved our time in the Cook Islands so much! The memories of our time here will definitely stay with us forever.

Next stop: Los Angeles!