Aug 032013
 

It’s 5:14 am here in Paris… I can’t sleep and can’t stop thinking about my time in New York.

13 amazing days have passed since my last blog update, there has just been so much going on. Today also marks day 64 of my solo world tour, time has gone by so fast – it only feels like I left Fiji a few weeks back.

It was such a tough decision to leave NYC. I had an amazing 4 weeks there and could easily see myself living in Brooklyn or Manhattan, a discussion I had plenty of times with several friends during my stay. After delaying my trip to Paris twice, I was almost set to change course completely and head to Puerto Rico with a cool Irish lad I met in Brooklyn named Kevin.  But at the last-minute I stuck with my original game plan as I really want to spend time in Europe before the summer is over.

I met some awesome people in New York – some real quality people.  Some I only spent days with and others I was fortunate enough to spend weeks, and I know many of those characters will cross paths with me again. Trying to adjust to the highs and lows of solo travel is a challenge for me – making great new friends and then having to say goodbye so soon is something I really struggle with.

There are so many experiences that I’d love to write in detail about but that would take far too long.  From massive nights out clubbing, attending music festivals, bar hopping around Brooklyn & Manhattan, dining at awesome cafes/restaurants and shopping in some seriously cool stores – what made these experiences so memorable were the people who shared them with me.

Kevin, Sam and I at Greenhouse in Manhattan. Turned out to be a HUGE night!!!

Kevin, Sam and I at Greenhouse in Manhattan. Turned out to be a HUGE night!!!

 

During my final week I was also lucky enough to hang out with a good pal from back home – Sam.  We covered a lot of ground together and as a result I obtained a completely different perspective of New York.  Unfortunately NYC is not the most accessible city in the world for wheelchairs, especially when you combine the lack of accessibility with the huge volume of people in the city.  But we didn’t let that stop us as we hit one of the most popular hip hop clubs in Manhattan called Greenhouse.  We also travelled all the way to Holmdel, New Jersey to see the ‘Americas Most Wanted’ tour with Lil Wayne, 2 Chains and TI.  And to top that off we also kept the Jersey theme going and went to the Lincoln Park Music Festival in Newark (via subway, PATH train and 2 buses!!!).  That was an eventful day in itself as we discovered that there were actually 2 Lincoln Parks – Jersey City and Newark. After arriving at the Jersey City location I was shocked to discover it was the wrong venue, but luckily we found 2 buses that got us to Newark a few hours later.  Once we arrived it was shaping up to be a massive day of performances (Redman, Naughty By Nature, EPMD) but the weather turned bad with heavy rain and a few lightning strikes later the festival got called off. I did get to see Channel Live perform ‘Mad Ism’ and Black Rob perform ‘Whoa”. And for the record, I do like other forms of music apart from hip hop.

I also got to check out Hoboken earlier this week with Mike whom I met out whilst partying last weekend.   Kevin already worded me up on how amazing the views of Manhattan are from Hoboken, and he wasn’t exaggerating.  Even though Hoboken is in New Jersey it still has a Manhattan ‘feel’ – just a lot more chill.  After downing a few buckets of wings with Mike and his friends, I played my first game of beer pong and smashed it. It was an interesting PATH train back to Manhattan that night.

View of Lower Manhattan from Hoboken

View of Lower Manhattan from Hoboken

So a massive thank you from me to everyone who so generously gave me their time in the USA. You all know who you are, the list is large and I am so appreciative of the opportunity to share my experiences with you.

soloworldtour signing out from the USA.

 

 

Jul 152013
 

It’s been over a week since my last post and as usual a lot has happened in that space of time. My solo world tour has now spanned 6 incredible weeks and is officially my longest ever time spent outside Australia.  So I guess if I were to do a world tour health check now against some key criteria, my scores would be:

Overall Rating (14th July 2013)  = 62%

  1. Fun factor 9/10
  2. Cities visited 7/10 – The weather in Fiji was prohibitive and LA was somewhat disappointing.
  3. Personal Challenge 5/10 – I’m definitely not pushing my boundaries enough here, particularly in relation to being more extrovert.
  4. People 7/10 – Whilst I have met some incredible people, this rating is more about the volume of relationships made rather than the quality.
  5. Health/Fitness 3/10 – No gym since LA (5 weeks), loads of alcohol consumed daily and whilst food has amazed I haven’t exactly been going healthy.

I think the important thing to note here is that this solo world tour is not really a holiday in the strictest definition.  I do actually want to achieve a few personal goals outside seeing some beautiful places and meeting awesome people.  I have goals to really challenge myself in difficult situations by generally being more spontaneous and much more proactive in relation to seeking and forming new relationships.   I also intend on being away for circa 12 months so its important I stay healthy both mentally and physically.

So back to what I have done…

Once again I have been fortunate to receive such wonderful hospitality from my great friends.  Following San Francisco, I spent a week in Virginia hosted by Kay and Gabe whom I have known for some time and have shared some memorable experiences with.  They have a beautiful property in Purcellville – Virginia. It was a week of pure R&R enjoying the simple things in life among good friends Samantha, Andrew and their beautiful daughter Milla whom are from Australia.  We had wide open spaces, great conversations and loads of laughs during our week together and I could not have scripted a better way to spend the 4th July in the USA.

I now find myself in the familiar territory of New York having visited here about 4 years ago.  I’m staying in Greenpoint (Brooklyn) with Mandy and her fiancé Robbie and housemate Bianca – the place is called The Ceeflat and is an art gallery that doubles as residence for these awesome people. Greenpoint is very close to the up and coming Williamsburg which has exploded since the last time I visited. It’s great to be staying in Brooklyn away from the hussle of Manhattan.

Thus far I have been quite disciplined about shopping as I really don’t have the space and don’t fancy spending my time in stores. But New York is an exception, you can not come to this city without experiencing some retail therapy.  New York is home to stores not found elsewhere in the USA or abroad.  My 2 notable mentions are the following:

1. Sneakers – whilst I am no hardcore expert in sneakers I do know enough to say that New York is home to some amazing stores like DQM, Fight Club, ALife, Nike ID Studio and several other smaller boutiques.  My passion for sneakers really took off thanks to a good friend of mine Greg (DJ Vaughn) who sadly is not with us any longer.  I fondly remember visiting loads of sneaker stores with him in Japan a few years ago, Undefeated in particular – and since then I make a habit to visit sneaker stores in his honour when I travel.  Even if I don’t intend on buying anything, I still visit just to check out the collections and represent just as he would.

2. During my welcome to NYC dinner with Mandy and Robbie, I was given a great recommendation for a hip new eyewear chain that has recently opened its first store in NYC called Warby Parker. Many people describe this store as the Apple store for eyewear with an impressive open plan store layout, young hipster staff and unbeatable priced eyewear.  The frames are the latest designs made in the same factories that most of the ‘brand’ eyewear comes from – minus the price tag.  $95 buys you a pair of eyeglasses with prescription lenses ($150 for sunglasses).  They have some innovative concepts such as free home try on and 30 day returns if you decide you don’t like the frames.  They also give a pair of frames to someone in need for every pair purchased! It would be great to have a store like this in Australia.

Redman @ Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival

Redman @ Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival

Yesterday, I experienced the Brooklyn Hip Hop festival which is now in its 9th year.  Words can’t describe how brilliant the performances were – with Redman, EPMD and Pusha T all simply ‘dope’.  The festival was held on the water at Brooklyn Bridge park with Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridge in the backdrop.  Brooklyn is home to many of my favourite artists and is nearly always mentioned in the lyrics of their tracks.  So when artists physically perform in Brooklyn you know everything is going to be ‘A grade’ as the crowd are the finest connoisseurs of hip hop.  I was so absorbed with the music yesterday I literally had to force myself to take a few photos.

Redman @ Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival

Redman @ Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival

There was a tribute to MCA from the Beastie Boys and an amazing expression of turntablism  by DJ Scratch. My jaw was literally on the ground after hearing him scratch ‘Mary had a little lamb’ from the Rob Base classic “I wanna rock right now”.

There is so much love for real hip hop in the USA and from all walks of life. The crowd was diverse and everyone appreciated the quality of the performances equally.

EPMD @ Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival

EPMD @ Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival

Whilst America may have it’s fair share of critics around the world, no-one can take anything away from its stature in my eyes.  I was talking to a local at the end of the show and he took the following words straight from my mouth “What makes America what is it… is simply the freedom of expression people have in this amazing country”.  There is no place on earth where people are so free to do and express what they want.

I am having such a blast in NYC that I have decided to see out the rest of my USA world tour component here.

I love New York. I love the USA.

Peace.

Jul 052013
 

San Francisco was probably the city most people said I had to visit when discussing my upcoming travel plans. It’s funny because there weren’t any defining reasons given – it was just somewhere I had to check out. Some cities are known for their nightlife, others for their coastline, or architecture, culture and so on… San Francisco’ defining feature for me is definitely the vibe of the city. People seem to have a uniquely different wavelength and everyone’s tuned right in.

Perfect morning in San Francisco

Perfect morning in San Francisco

Sure the city is easy to get around and public transport is good. The city is so well designed that I only took public transport once, on my last day as I had to carry 2 boxes of wine from the ferry to my hostel. It’s definitely a walker’s paradise with Market Street being the main strip similar to Broadway in Manhattan I guess. I arrived the day before Pride weekend and had 4 days straight of brilliant weather which everyone tells me is unusual for this time of year. I experienced the same in San Diego as well – maybe I’m bringing it with me…

Humberto, Michelle (Zeffyr), Adrien & Michelle.

Humberto, Michelle (Zeffyr), Adrien & Michelle.

I made some great friends in San Francisco and the hospitality I’ve received in recent times seemed to continue in uniquely different ways. Having met some great people through CouchSurfing in San Diego I decided to check out what events were going on in San Francisco. I stumbled across a small group looking to hang out at Pride together and formed a mini ‘United Nations’ with France, Peru, USA, Persia and Australia represented. It was great to check out the Pride festivities with such a chill group of people, we were all just going with the flow, walking around and people watching. Adrien and I seemed to form a good connection as we were hitting the vodka stations and really appreciating the dance music being played. I must admit, I very rarely experience poor music at gay events, and Pride was definitely no exception.

The day before the Pride parade, there were ‘low key’ festivities taking place around the Civic Centre.  Once this finished up for the day, we were looking for a place to keep rocking and stumbled across a place called ‘800 Larkin‘ in the Tenderloin ‘Loin’ neighbourhood.  This is where we met Shannon who really looked after our every need, and let us basically take over her bar. We shuffled through Pandora, made friends with locals and started to get pretty drunk.  I’ve never felt so at home in a bar before, especially a place I only just literally found.  Later that night we walked down Market and hit The Castro precinct, which is where all the action was once all the formalities finished.

Random Berkeley Crew I met in San Francisco

Random Berkeley Crew I met in San Francisco

I made a lot of friends in San Francisco. Random things happened.  Like walking along Market walking towards The Castro and stumbling across a bunch of Berkeley University students drinking really foamy cups of beer from a vending stall in the middle of the street that had shut for the day.  After quizzing them a little longer I learned that one of them knew how to tap a beer keg and there just happened to be one left that was half full.  They also taught me that by wiping your finger on your nose and then putting it in the beer, the foam would disappear – well there you go.  Completely random.

Chillin out in the loin.

Chillin out in the loin.

I did also manage to incorporate a winery tour of the Sonoma ‘Russian River’ region into the trip.  I am so glad I did it as I didn’t know the northern Sonoma area was renowned for Pinot Noir which is my favourite.  I had a great day with a great group of people and bought a bunch of wine which I wanted take with me to DC for the 4th July holiday.

My Sonoma winery tour group.

My Sonoma winery tour group.

I met a really friendly Canadian couple on the winery tour who kindly helped me carry the boxes of wine I bought to my hostel.  They also told me about an insanely popular restaurant in Chinatown called R&G Lounge that they tried to check out a few nights back and it was too busy. Well I thought I would give it a try and the benefits of solo travel kicked in with a spare single seat at the bar (avoiding the minimum 1 hour wait).  I tried the signature fried crab dish and it did not disappoint.  The highlight of the night though was meeting a recently married couple – Andres & Yasmine from Miami.  They got married last week and had been in Nevada checking out the Grand Canyon and were travelling around the US.  They were looking for a chill bar to hang out in and I took them to 800 Larkin after dinner and we had an awesome night.  I love being able to connect people and places that I enjoy, it’s definitely a great way of returning the hospitality that has been extended to me thus far.

I had a blast in San Francisco, it was so good that I didn’t even have any San Diego blues.  These 2 cities are such a huge highlight of California for me and concluded my west coast tour.

Pride

Pride

So now I’m in the beautiful Virginia staying with some great friends Kay and Gabe.  I also have friends from Australia here – Sam, Andrew and their gorgeous daughter Milla.  Words can’t describe how beautiful it is here and how awesome it is to be amongst friends, particularly on the 4th July holiday.

It’s the change of pace I definitely needed.

Jun 292013
 

It’s Saturday morning, I’m chilling in a pretty cool café in San Francisco’s financial district called Sugar Cafe. After sleeping over 12 hours last night I feel great today and ready to see what San Francisco is all about.

But I really want to wrap up my 11 days in San Diego by writing about my thoughts and experiences.  There are not many places in the world I have visited where I have felt such a strong connection to the city and the people I met there.  I was telling some friends that it would take me some time to get over San Diego, but that is not how I feel – I just look back in fondness and reflect on my times there.

San Diego is a place where I really felt comfortable and connected – being there required minimal effort and good things just happened. I got so comfortable during the trip that I would totally trust random people and rely on their guidance. Like the taxi we got into a few nights ago in North Park, it was 1am and we only had 1 hour before all the clubs closed downtown. We had an East African driver and he asked us which way we wanted to go, I told him the fastest possible and after a few minutes none of us (including a local) had any idea where we were. I started to question him as he was speeding down the back streets but a quick search on google maps showed we were on the right path (albeit a different one)  and ended up arriving in Gaslamp in 10 minutes and less than half the fare expected. That just never happens to me anywhere.

Tommy - a cool guy I met in San Diego

Tommy – a cool guy I met in San Diego

I met some super cool and diverse people in SD – people I’d find it really difficult to connect with at home. I was out drinking one night with Alvin (works at my hostel)  and David (hostel room mate from US mid-west). We were at a bar in Gaslamp downing $6 tequila shots with a beer chaser. After a few of those I met a guy called Tommy Price. I had no idea who he was, I just introduced myself to him, his friend and his girlfriend. We were talking for a while about all sorts of stuff and I asked him if he could recommend a more ‘happening’ place in Gaslamp – he and his crew then walked us a few blocks to a place called Henry’s Bar. It was only then that I realised that Tommy was not your average guy. He basically knew the whole bar and I learned that Tommy and his crew are a Rockabilly outfit and were only in town a short time. They invited me to their show the next night and I’m super bummed I missed it. Hopefully I get a chance to check out another show out in the US somewhere.

Earlier that night we stumbled on a local kid called Martiné. He had recently turned 21 and was out on his own. We quickly took him under our wing and got him crazy drunk with us as we went from pub to pub.  Martiné was a hardcore Padres fan, and I don’t say that lightly. He had been to all recent games like 6 days straight (they play a lot of baseball back to back in the US). I asked him where I could score an authentic Padres cap before I left town as I was now a loyal fan.  That night he gave me his cap and would not let me say no. He was telling me that night that I would never find that cap anywhere and it was only available to members.  It was only until a few days later when I realised what a kind gesture that was, as I was wearing the cap around San Diego and was stopped by 3 people who asked if they could take a closer look at the cap and remarked on how cool it was. It is definitely my No.1 prized possession of the trip thus far.

Oysters at South Beach Bar in OB

Oysters at South Beach Bar in OB

It was awesome to see a familiar face on my solo world tour. After almost 1 month away thus far (how quick that has gone!!!) I guess I’m starting a miss my family and friends.  Fortunately for me, my friend Beth arrived back home in San Diego a few days ago from her European golf tour. She almost immediately made a beeline for me and made sure I got a taste of San Diego “Beth Style” and we just hung out and talked. I also met some really nice friends of hers – Katy & Kelly.  It makes a huge difference to get a local’s perspective, but for me was just awesome to hang out with someone I know and trust. We spent a full day just talking, eating and drinking and it was exactly what I needed.

I have been really humbled by the generosity of people I have met and know during my tour thus far. My previous boss, Heath Lee told me a while ago that the best present you can give someone is your ‘time’. That totally resonated with me and I have been so fortunate to receive this gift from so many people along the way. On top of that I have also received some unexpected offers of hospitality from friends I intend on visiting in the next few weeks.

When I was out with Beth and Kelly during my last night in San Diego, Kelly asked me what my most memorable/favourite experience was during my stay.  I didn’t have to think about that one too long and I quickly told her about my surfing experience at La Jolla. Whilst I am no Kelly Slater and nor were the conditions the greatest, I managed to spend 3 hours out in the surf and had one of the best sessions ever.  I was matched with a perfect board for my body size and conditions and was catching wave after wave and not getting tired for one second in the surf overlooking the cliffs near a break called ‘Blacks’. I could write forever thanks to the kindness and generosity of those I have met during my tour so far.

Me and my Swiss hostel room mates surfing Blacks

Me and my Swiss hostel room mates surfing Blacks

I have a feeling I will be back in San Diego before my tour is done. I was telling Amy (owner/manager Hostel on 3rd) that I might start my South American tour from San Diego. She encouraged me to do so and promised to help me find some travel buddies and a cheap car to buy that I could use to drive from San Diego as far as I could down to Central and South America. By the way, that hostel was an awesome place to stay, really felt like home so if you are visiting SD – stay there!

So San Francisco awaits!!! Its Gay Pride weekend here, the city is super busy and I need to get out there and experience. Thanks to everyone for the positive comments about my blog, I appreciate it.

Stay cool.

 

 

 

Jun 182013
 

After 8 days in Los Angeles, I was ready to move to my next destination. Staying in Hollywood, I was right in the thick of the action – metres away from Hollywood Boulevard.  Walking along this famous strip, I quickly learned it is a huge tourist trap whilst I avoided tripping over every 2nd person getting their photo taken next to one of the stars on the footpath and dodging the multiple tour operators and emerging rap artists trying to sell their demo.  It was kinda like Bourke St on steroids.

LA is full on. It’s fast, often pretentious and diverse. It has multiple scenes and I understand why it appeals to so many.  But for me, I guess its not my cup of tea.

My LA highlights include:

1. Venice Beach / Santa Monica – Venice is the USA’ number 1 tourist attraction (I would have thought Disneyland personally). The beach is awesome and the walk between Venice and Santa Monica is a must. I was so excited to see Muscle Beach but it was practically empty when I was there 🙁

Cupcake???

Cupcake???

2. LA Farmers Market has some great food and produce. I had some quality eats and then walked it off around The Grove which has some great stores. I then checked out some of my all time fav’s such as Undefeated and Supreme

3. The Griffith Observatory has some great views of LA and if you like science you would definitely want to visit this place and even catch one of the shows they have.

4. Food. Really this should be number one. One of the guys working at the hostel I stayed at recommended an awesome place called Tendergreens. This concept would absolutely kill it in Australia, kind of like a custom salad/vegetable bar with ethical protein sources and brilliant soups amongst so much other daily specials. Korean BBQ in K-Town was off the hook, late night Tacos from various food trucks, California’s famous In and Out Burgers and quality coffee. I could write a whole post on food. By the way, most of the food I’m eating is featured on my Instagram Page for which I have also created a direct feed on my website.

5. Venturing down to Crenshaw a couple of times was brilliant. Some of the rides I saw were crazy and it was definitely the ‘real deal’ in terms of getting a feel for what LA is really like. I spoke to a few people and really just hung out. First time I saw fast food chains with bullet proof glass protecting the staff – more security than most banks in Australia.

I felt guilty for not really doing anything on most tourist itineraries like Universal Studios, Disneyland, Six Flags etc – but this trip is less about that and more about trying to get a feel for the culture.

Bushwick Bill

Bushwick Bill

Finally, on my way out of LA I popped back down to see the Geto Boys live at The Observatory in Santa Ana. They didn’t disappoint putting on a great show for all the real hip hop fans.  I stayed with a great couple, Phylline and James whom I found via AirBnB.  They were awesome and gave me some great local advice and took me out to dinner which was brilliant. The train out of Santa Ana to San Diego was also spectacular, with most of the 2 hour journey along pristine coastline – I really wanted to jump off and have a surf.

So now, I’m in San Diego. Moving forward I think I’ll need to do a few more regular blog posts to cut down on the length – if you have made it this far I give you some big props!

Peace out.

 

Jun 122013
 

So I have been in the USA for nearly 4 days and it’s definitely time for an update.

As much as I enjoy Fiji, I’m so glad I made the call to leave early. This is my third visit to the USA and I love this country more and more with each visit.

So where do I start??? Accommodation maybe… My first 2 nights I stayed in a place called StayONBeverly which is a hostel “of sorts”. It has about 10 individual rooms, with 3 shared bathrooms. Its run by a guy called Bo and is located on Beverly/Western near Koreatown. For $55 per night (plus tax) it’s a bargain but what holds it back is the location which is about 30 mins from all the action of Hollywood.

Today, I checked into a boutique hostel called Podshare in Hollywood which so far has been really good but I’ll update more on this later during my stay. This is my first ever hostel stay thanks to some motivation from a friend and I’m glad I made the decision, it definitely adds to the social element of solo travel.

GZA

GZA

Last night I stayed in Santa Ana (part of Orange County) which is about 2 hours travel via public transport or a 45 min drive from Hollywood. I went there to see the GZA – original member of the Wu-Tang Clan which is one of my all-time favourite bands. I have seen the Wu perform twice before but this show could not be beaten for the intimacy of the venue – Constellation Room (part of The Observatory). I was right up front for the entire show which lasted over 4 hours including the support acts.  The quality of some of the support acts was outstanding, particularly the rapper that was on right before GZA – definitely some talent there. (Check out my pics in the gallery as well)

GZA arrived late and didn’t get on stage until after midnight. The wait was definitely worth it. He has much love for his fans and was constantly shaking hands and interacting with the crowd.  He even walked into the crowd and performed during the end of his set – you can see the video in the Tour Videos section. It was well worth all the travel to Santa Ana to see the show, definitely a highlight of my short trip thus far.  I enjoyed it so much that I’m heading back to Santa Ana this Sunday to see the Geto Boys.

My Top 5 observations of LA in 3 days:

1. Public transport absolutely sucks here. Car is KING! Unlike NYC and many other capital cities, there is no substantial metro system and buses service most areas. Travel time on PT is usually double what it takes by car. Tip: If you are getting PT and are here for a week buy a weekly unlimited pass for $20 (Individual fares each cost $1.50 so unlimited is the way to go).

Killa Priest

Killa Priest

2. Marijuana is basically legal here. People are lighting up basically everywhere and I hear it is decriminalised in California. In addition, it is legal for medical use.  Killa Priest’ t-shirt (picture left) sums it up quite nicely.

3. Everything just works in the USA. Google Maps (with Public Transport directions and times), Yelp, Craigslist and the list go on and on. There is a huge amount of content on these sites and everything just links so seamlessly and without effort.

4. There is definitely some ‘No Go Zones’ especially after dark. South LA, East LA especially and even the Motel 6 I stayed at in Santa Ana. You need to be careful I guess, especially if you are female. But my philosophy is if you don’t mess with people, they generally don’t mess with you.

5. The food here is truly awesome with so much variety due to the huge multicultural influence. Obviously being so close to Mexico, I have had some of the best tacos ever. Korean is also popular with a huge Korean population in Koreatown. But really, like Melbourne you can get whatever you want, ANYTIME you want. Apps like Yelp just make it so easy.

I’m in Hollywood for another week so will add another post before I’m out.  Peace.

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