2012: A Reflection

It’s been a million years since I posted on this blog, and what started out as a ‘don’t worry, life still goes on after a 2:2’ morphed into a blog about my travels over the summer, and I haven’t really added to it since. I guess it’s been pretty non-stop since September and I’ve had a lot of ‘projects’ so to speak, so it’s nice to finally sit down and get back to doing what I like best: writing.

Craig’s upstairs asleep as he was up till half four this morning watching the Seahawks kick some poor other NFL team’s arse, so I thought that while I had the peace and quiet, I’d reflect on the year, which seems to have flown by as it’s Christmas Eve already. All in all I think it’s been a more or less positive year; there have been a whole plethora of high moments, and some low ones too, but overall, 2012 has been a year for change, a transition period, if you will, for me and everyone in my closest circles. The best way to break it down, then, would be simply to summarise the key events from each month (and try not to rely too much on Facebook to jog my memory.)

January

2012 kicked off on a bit of a shaky note; for reasons I don’t wish to divulge on the internet I wasn’t having the best time with Craig, but I’m grateful for it because I managed to learn from my mistakes and move on with a much more positive outlook. In brighter news, I went from hardly shifting any weight for my sister’s up and coming wedding in April to suddenly losing 9lbs in what felt about a week. I blame coming off the pill, but I suspect it was a combination of dieting, heavy gym-going and stress. Still, I was growing to love my new body and took to showing it off with my sister toward the end of the month, for her birthday night out at the Sugar Hut in Essex. This was the first (and last) time I’d ever tried fake tan, and I’m ashamed to say I quite liked the look at the time.

February

The thing that most sticks out in the mind for me about February was my sister’s hen night. Caroline was due to marry in April and her good friend and maid of honour Lauren had secretly planned for us and fifteen or so friends to stay at a cottage in Brighton. Amy and I were tasked with driving her to the unknown location, but, stubborn as she is, she refused to wear a blindfold. True to sod’s law all manner of things cocked up on the way down – Amy and I both played a part in accidentally revealing that there would in fact be a stripper present, plus we had to find a printing shop in Brighton that would allow me to print a picture of a massive cock to play our elaborate version of pin the tail on the donkey. Nevertheless everything worked out and Caroline had the time of her life – we all howled our heads off as my mother was literally molested by a Fairy Liquid-doused stripper, and the next evening we all dressed up to a ‘C’ theme and hit the town, with myself starring as Cheryl Cole and Caroline as a cheerleader. I remember posing for pictures with a man dressed as Jimmy Saville that evening; if I had known what would come of him later on in the year, I might not have been so keen. I returned to York though absolutely buzzing and just in time for my three year anniversary with Craig.

On the career side of things, I began working for ‘Mactriv’ this month, in which I was paid to write quiz questions for a trivia website. The work soon fizzled out after about a month or so but it was paid and it remains on my CV, and I was glad to be working in a role which involved my true passion, writing.

March

The wedding was nearing ever closer and my weight loss had peaked; if anything I’d probably started to gain it after losing a bit of interest in the diet, but my need to exercise still prevailed. So much so, in fact, that when Craig and I went to Portugal over the Easter Holidays, I took the time each day to visit the gym with his uncle, who lives in a beautiful house near Lisbon. Portugal was simply gorgeous and it was great finally getting to meet the elusive Uncle Bob, and I had a great time getting drunk with Craig’s nan and parents, mouthing off about our contrasting opinions of Madonna and babbling in Spanish to Bob’s Portuguese boyfriend, Fernando. March was the month of Craig’s birthday so I gave him his presents before we left for Portugal, and we all went out to celebrate on the 26th. We got back to England in April with a slight tan, ready for the wedding of the century.

April

Of course, the event of the season and indeed the focus of my very life at this point was Caroline’s wedding; everything was prepared for the big day and the whole thing went without a hitch. The ceremony was absolutely beautiful and Caz really did look amazing – I’m not usually one to wear my heart on my sleeve but I did well up a bit when my dad first looked at her in her dress. It was also lovely to finally meet Germán’s family; they were just as sweet as him and I couldn’t be happier for Caroline to be a Guerrero.

Family occasions seemed to be the flavour of the month for April – the day after the wedding, though she’d intended to keep it secret for a while longer, Amy revealed to me and my equally stunned brothers that she was in fact ten weeks pregnant. I honestly didn’t believe her until she showed me a picture of the positive pregnancy test, at which point I burst into tears and got so emotional I could have been accused of being with child myself.

Later on in April I found myself applying for my first journalism job – I’d really been looking to getting my life plan back on track this year, and I knew that I didn’t really want to carry on with Spanish, whereas journalism was something I truly wanted to pursue. I went for a job interview at a local magazine in York and was overwhelmed by how welcoming they were. Things would have been tough had I started the job in April, due to my degree coming to an end very soon, but I was willing to compromise.

May

Unfortunately by May I found out the outcome of the job interview. I’d lost out to somebody with eight years on me and experience in PR. There were no hard feelings however, and had I known then that I would go on to do work experience and eventually paid freelance work with them I wouldn’t have been so upset at the time. Still, looking positively, I have now just finished working for them and will be returning in January, so it’s good to still be in touch and I really enjoy working there.

Other than the job front, May was generally an exams-focused month; I had a huge essay to complete on Franco plus an oral exam. The oral exam went fine, or at least, I got a 2:1 in it, whereas everybody seemed to suffer on the essay. In hindsight however I really do think I spent too much time at my job and not enough time on the laptop, but you live and learn. I think it was around May 27th that my classes officially finished at university; I didn’t see it as an emotional end of an era however, but more so as the start of something new. May was also a month for really getting into my stride with The Yorker, the student media website I wrote for, and I’d begun to establish a very comfortable circle of friends, using my role as Social Secretary to start organising the annual awards ceremony.

June

June was a real turning point in life for me I think, and I accomplished a lot this month. I spent the beginning of it fretting over my impending 2:2, worrying that I wouldn’t get ahead in life with a less-than-2:1 qualification. I did eventually get a 2:2 however, but it’s probably the best thing that could have ever happened to me, because it flipped a ‘fuck-it’ switch in me and I decided to go for it with my boyfriend – we were finally going to drive across America like we’d always talked about.

A lot happened before I got my final degree score however. I organised the Yorker Awards, a real personal achievement for me, as I managed to book a venue and organise music, dinner and awards for 30+ people all to a reasonable budget. It was modest but everybody commented on how well it turned out and it gave me a really warm and fuzzy feeling. I also did a week working for the local magazine, and got to know everyone there a bit better. I really felt I fit in there and I hope that’s part of the reason they invited me back in November. It was all great stuff for the CV however so I’m very glad for all of my experiences in June as they’ve put me in good stead for the future.

July

July was the beginning of an entirely different experience for me. The first three weeks were spent toiling away at my job at the museum, where I had only just been getting over the horror that was the ‘Railfest’ half-term the month before. Nevertheless I made a bit of money for our six-week trip to America, and said goodbye to my lovely student house in York, before a brief stint living on my friend’s couch, all in prep for the mission across the States.

July 26th came round quicker than ever and suddenly I found myself in the departure lounge at Heathrow. For the second time this year and indeed ever, my mum met Craig’s parents again, as both our parents had met for the first time on July 11th for my graduation. Graduation seems so long ago now and it really was over so quickly, but I think that’s because Craig and I were focused on other things. Thus, the last week of July was spent in New York, and I did a lot, from watching Broadway shows to sailing round the Statue of Liberty and everything in between – but there were still so many other things that America had to offer.

August

August was a month I’ll never forget. The previous entries in this blog describe America in more detail, but I saw everything – the Rockies in Colorado, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Yosemite National Park, Alcatraz, San Francisco and Hollywood. If I could pick a highlight of the trip it would probably be Las Vegas – but that was only for the decadence of it all. I also saw so much stunning natural beauty in America that words cannot even describe.

On the career front, I began writing for a website called Weekend Notes, which paid writers to review things worldwide, with payment being awarded on a pay-per-click basis. I began to write slowly at first, but as I began to learn more about how the website worke, I developed my writing style and broadened the subject matter, and now it’s a nice way to earn a few extra pounds.

Craig and I watched the London Olympics start and finish from the comfort of the United States. When the Olympics 2012 venue was first announced I had no idea I would be out of the country, let alone driving across America, but I guess you never can really plan things like this trip.

September

The first week of September was spent in Los Angeles, as our trip in America began to draw to a close. Six wonderful weeks were rounded off by Disneyland and a tour of Universal Studios, with a lot of visits to the Cheesecake Factory in between. I was sure I’d gained about a stone in America, but to my delight it was only 3 or 4 lb.

When I got back to England everything felt a bit weird at first – suddenly I wasn’t expected to tip for every tiny little service I received, and I was looking at pound coins again, driving on the left and eating Marmite and Cadburys chocolate. In some ways though it felt like I’d never left; before long I was back at my old job at the museum, comfortably residing back at my friend Jonny’s. Again, I was back to make money, but this time, my focus would be on getting a job. I took a course on ‘how to get that journalism job’ at the end of the month, and during the course had to fight off phone calls about a job in a call centre, but more on that disaster later. October soon reared its dark head and after six weeks of relaxing, I was truly no longer a student, throwing myself back into the world of work.

October

October would probably be what I would call my ‘employment month.’ I’d begun signing up to all manner of employment websites, and was being royally screwed left right and centre by recruitment companies. At the beginning of the month I was on my way to a promising job interview in Harrogate, only to receive a call after having purchased my tickets to tell me that the job had gone. Disheartened, I went back to work as normal, only to receive a call from a publishing company I’d applied to in July and assumed I hadn’t got.

Before I knew it I was going for a job interview in London. I didn’t have a house in York yet so I figured why not, and I asked Craig to take me there so that I could be truly prepared. The interview turned out to be not what I expected; I was told that they could only offer me work experience, so I left, once again, feeling disheartened.

Later on that week I went for a ‘recruitment day’ at a call centre which had been plaguing me to apply. I still wasn’t really sure what I was applying for, so I put on my best interview head and went for it anyway. I found out a few days later that I’d got the job, and by the end of the month, I was in training for taking calls about mobile phone insurance. I figured I was in no position to turn down any job with the little amount of money I had, and so I began to reduce my hours at the museum. Meanwhile Craig had an interview mid-October, and ideally, if he had got the job too, the plan was to move in together.

November

November came and Craig finally found out about the job. He’d got it. Hence we were in the proceedings of moving in together. It all happened so fast; at the beginning of the week we were looking around a house, by the end of it we were moving in, but not without having to jump through a few hoops in the process. My new job and Craig’s current technically-unemployed status meant we had to give six months of rent up in advance, something which thankfully, his parents were able to cover. We’re now paying rent to them instead but it would have been nice to just pass the reference tests in the first place.

Career-wise, I knew my heart wasn’t in my new job. Every day in training I sat there berating myself in my head that I wasn’t applying for jobs that I really wanted to do – I felt like, career-wise, I was taking a step sideways, not forwards. After maintaining contact with the publishers in London, I’d managed to secure a week of work experience with them for early December, and I decided enough was enough with my current company. After they’d made the press for all the wrong reasons, I tearfully went back to the museum and asked if they would have me back, while I resigned from the other job over the bad press and the poor career move. I decided that, though the money was worse, I would have the freedom and time to pursue my career in journalism if I stayed at the museum. I’d gratefully received a large sum of money from my grandparents and wanted to put my all into finding my dream job. I regret leaving for the people I’d met, but other than that, I truly believe it was an excellent career move, as it freed me up for more opportunities in December.

December

The final month of the year was definitely one for career progress. A month previously I had, in my spare time, signed up to the Yahoo! Contributor network and I was now a published writer on one of the world’s most renowned news websites and search engines. This was all very exciting, as was an opportunity that arose out of the blue one day while I had taken some time off to visit my father in Lancashire. I received a phone call from the local magazine once more asking me to come and do some paid freelance work. Unfortunately, it clashed with my work experience in London and indeed any shifts at the museum, but I had a choice: unpaid work in London, paid work in York in a job I already had, or paid work in York at a potentially new job in which I wanted to have a career. The answer was simple. I pushed the work experience back a week and spent another week working for the magazine, which worked out wonderfully from a financial standpoint as I spent the evenings working a whole host of Christmas dinners. I was absolutely cream-crackered, but it was so worth it, as I now have another magazine to add to my portfolio, and will be working for them once again in January.

Regarding London, I spent a week staying with my grandmother and braving TFL to work for the publishers with whom I’d been in contact in October. This time round I got to test my interviewing skills, phoning up all manner of local celebrities and having a chat about their up and coming projects. It was all very new for me and I’m truly grateful for the experience, but I think now that my place is in York. Had I been offered a job straight away in October, my position probably would have meant that I might have gone for it, but now, with my house paid for in York and my connections with the local magazine, I think I would be happiest to stay.

Other irons in the fire that came from this month are a couple of days of work experience at the local paper in York in January. I’m really looking forward to it and seeing how I fit in in a newspaper atmosphere. I also had an online test for a job in Leeds which I’m waiting to hear back from. I’m hoping however, as the test took place on December 7th, that things are just a little slow over the festive season. December has been a very career-changing month for me however, with November being an awkward slump between the progress of October and December. I truly think things are on the up for me in January on the career front, and I’m going to put my all into finding that perfect writing job.

In summary then, I have achieved a lot this year. I’ve done a reading at a wedding, organised an awards ceremony, got a degree, travelled a continent, become an auntie and had my writing published in one student newspaper, two magazines and at least four different websites. 2012 has been, for me, a year for moving forward. I’ve hugely improved my CV  and am really looking to building my skills in 2013 to go even further.

I’ve learned a lot this year, not just about my career, but myself as a person and my close personal relationships with those around me. I’ve gained a lot of new friends and a lot of new perspective, and I hope that I can apply everything I’ve learned in 2012 to my new experiences in 2013. My New Year’s Resolution is to get a full time job in writing, and everything in between – truly, I want to begin rewriting a novel I’d got about halfway through when I was 17. As I said as the beginning of the post, 2012 has been a year for transitioning – I began it as a 21 year old, inexperienced undergraduate student. I am now a soon-to-be 23 year old graduate, with a wealth of experiences to share. I am now a grown up.

I guess a lot can happen in a year.

 

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LA-La Land

When we were booking the trip, or rather, when Craig was booking it, (I am geographically useless…) we had decided it was imperative to almost do California ‘backwards’, starting in the North, i.e. San Francisco, and driving downwards towards Los Angeles. According to the travel books we’d previously purchased, driving down the Pacific Highway is only worth it if you’re driving on the right hand side, otherwise, allegedly, you can’t see the sea. So ensued a rather painful journey towards San Luis Obispo, which should have taken around five hours, but with a stop and enough traffic to put the M25 at half five on a Friday night to shame, it took almost nine. In hindsight I feel bad for sleeping through most of it, but I was awake for the important parts, i.e. the Pacific Highway, and was reminded of various film locations as we drove, most notably, Austin Powers 2. (Remember when he’s in the car with Felicity cruising through the ‘English’ countryside?)

 

After two brief days on the road stopping at San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara (and being disappointed at not seeing Katy Perry) we were on our way to Anaheim, Los Angeles, for the final leg of our trip. The Super 8 motel in which we were going to spend our next 8 days was, being totally fair, not the most pleasant, if not for the ants nest and frequent visit from cockroaches, then at least the frequent reminders that failing to display a parking permit would result in our car being towed.

 

Still, who needs a nice hotel when you have the Cheesecake Factory and Disneyland on your doorstep?! Any plans to keep trim while I was away were definitely gone by this time folks. But alas, being one stone of cheesecake heavier wasn’t going to stop us from having a good time, so we bought a two day ticket (and winced at the ‘reduced’ price of $168) for Disneyland and California Adventure, two adjacent parks.

 

In hindsight, a one day ticket for both parks would have probably been enough, given the relative quietness of the month of September. Still, as a seasoned theme park gal who’s used to seeing ‘Nemesis Inferno: 240 min queuing time’ signs, a 10 minute queue for Space Mountain was quite meagre by comparison. Hence we started our theme park tour in Disneyland, and, being the theme park geek I am, I rushed Craig into the entrance at a little after 10am to make sure we got on the good rides first. Had I known that the queue for Space Mountain would inevitably be legging it through ropes and barriers, I wouldn’t have been quite so pushy, but like I say, I’m used to spending hours waiting in Thorpe Park.

 

Space Mountain wasn’t quite as overwhelming as I had recalled it being in Paris; for one, it didn’t have the ‘launch’ as its sister park does, however, when we went on it a second time round later on in the day, we had the good fortune of being in the front seats, and this made it, for some reason, a hundred times more awesome. We also unleashed our inner child by going on Buzz Lightyear: Space Invaders three times in a row, as, being a ride which involved scoring points by shooting laser beams, my competitive streak made me determined to beat Craig! But alas, I am a crappy shot.

 

One strange half hour of my life was taken up by the Captain EO 3D movie- basically, it was like some extended Michael Jackson video featuring aliens defeating other aliens, with some cheesy 80s music thrown in. All I could think throughout the whole viewing was, ‘what the hell is Michael Jackson doing there?!’ Still, an experience, I guess! Other highlights of Disneyland included a runaway train, which made for a pretty lengthy rollercoaster experience and definitely warranted three consecutive goes, and ‘Splash Mountain’, which was a mix of a log flume and some freaky acid-trip inspired take on the Disneyland Paris ‘Around the World’ ride. My only recommendation for that would be, don’t go on it while you’re high. It’s mind-blowing enough without narcotics!

 

The next day we used our ticket for California Adventure, which, the reliable staff in IHOP told us was far more suitable for adults. In retrospect I’m not sure if I believe them; there seemed an equal balance of kiddies and adult rides between both parks. Still, highlights included the ‘Soarin’ over California’ ride, which, I must admit, I was reluctant to go on, as I saw it as nothing more than a crappy 3D video (and I’d seen enough weird stuff in the form of Michael Jackson the day before…) and was keen to get on the ‘good’ rides before the queues started piling up. Of course, thirty minutes later, Craig had me eating my words- he’d been on it before and told me it was awesome, and alas, he was right. We were in the front row of a dangling row of seats which were suspended into the air and taken on a motion simulator adventure through California, from Yosemite to the Golden Gate Bridge and right back through to the park. It was pretty epic, and gave us a chance to view the waterfalls of Yosemite up close, something we could only do from what seemed a million miles away at the actual park itself.

 

Next up, rather foolishly, was a water ride- akin to Rumba Rapids at Thorpe Park, we were tossed about here there and everywhere through white water, all with the helpful commentary of some crazy granddad and his family. Probably not the best idea to get so soaked so early on in the day, but you live and learn.

 

We soon learned that the ride we had been waiting for, California Screamin’, was shut- in fact, we saw the poor buggers at the top of the lift slope stuck dead, complete with park crew going up to rescue them. Scary stuff. Still, we carried on to the Hollywood Tower of Terror, which Craig had warned me about previously, and I imagined it to be like the theme park ride at the beginning of House on the Haunted Hill, just one straight drop. It turned out in fact (spoiler alert) to indeed be a mock-elevator, but not just one Detonator-esque drop, but several peaks and freefalls, making for the perfect photo moment.

 

Later on in the day after queuing for an eternity for a ride akin to the Buzz Lightyear game, the California Screamin’ ride had been reopened, and we rode it twice, waiting slightly longer the second time round to go on the front seats. It was quite possibly the longest rollercoaster I’ve ever been on- I think only the Pepsi Big One at Blackpool comes close- only this one came complete with a vertical loop and a launched lift hill. I realise I sound like a complete rollercoaster geek at this point, but having had a sister who worked at Thorpe Park for years and being a recovering Rollercoaster Tycoon addict, you sort of get to learn the lingo.

 

The next day we hit the beach, more specifically, ‘Seal Beach.’ Parking was a nightmare but clearly we had caught the eye of a very friendly Chinese man, who not only gave us his space right next to the sand, but also his all day ticket. Result? I think so. While Craig soaked up the sun and earned himself a very tasty splodge of pink sunburn across his midriff, I decided to take on the Pacific waves, although I should point out, not in a cool surfer fashion, but more so a should-have-bought-a-better-fitting-bikini, fall-on-my-arse type fashion. As a girl who’s used to the timid waves of Brighton or Scarborough, the cruel mistress that is the Pacific was certainly a change of scenery, and I found myself being knocked quite literally arse-about-face, 360, not knowing if I’d swallowed my pants or lost them in the watery abyss. With some trepidation Craig eventually tried the waters too, edging in slowly at first, but it wasn’t long until he was swept off his feet by the raging waves of the Pacific, being equally catapulted toward shore and swept back in again before he could pick the sand out of his arse crack! Still, all good fun, and two hours and four tonnes of sand lingering in our swimwear later, it was time to head home.

 

Although we were strictly in the LA area, we weren’t in the la-la land of Los Angeles, and so we decided to spend our next day in Hollywood, to see if we couldn’t get a cheeky glimpse of Cheryl Cole filming a new music video or Hugh Grant having a particularly pleasurable five minutes in the back of a car. Alas, we saw no celebrities, but it didn’t stop us from taking a fair few photos of the stars’ names along the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I was disheartened to learn the Meat Loaf does not yet have a star, and yet Big Bird from Sesame Street does. No justice eh? We also sampled the sights of the stars’ cement engravings outside Graumann’s Chinese theatre, paying particular attention to the biggies such as Arnie, the Harry Potter Cast and Michael Jackson. We finished off our day with a casual walk round the Hollywood museum, admiring the Marilyn Monroe exhibit and quivering at the sight of the Silence of the Lambs set, amongst other Hollywood treasures.

 

For our penultimate day in LA we had originally planned to go to San Diego, but the temptation of Universal Studios combined with the impending rainstorms in San Diego caused us to change our minds, and hence we bought tickets for the former instead. Of the three theme parks we’d been to, I can safely say without a doubt that Universal was the best. Where else can you find a place that combines my favourite movies with epic rides? There was a whole show dedicated solely to the Blues Brothers, one of my all time favourites, and I even got a photo with the Bluesmobile! Aaaaah! (Geek.) I also cacked my pants on The Mummy: The Ride, as I was riding it with memories of being absolutely traumatised as an eleven year old watching it, whereas Craig loved every second and made us go on it twice!

 

Transformers: 3D was also particularly marvellous; I don’t think not having seen the film affected the enjoyment of the ride- I genuinely felt like I was being chased after by robots and the special effects, including a wave of heat as the 3D monsters spat fire at us, only added to the heart-stopping experience. I couldn’t help thinking of the elderly when I got off the ride, and convinced myself, if it gave me palpitations, it would surely kill anyone over the age of 60.

 

Jurassic Park: The Ride was a pretty amazing water ride, one which we decided would be amusing to go on twice (it was early on in the day; we had time to dry off) and I felt pretty similar to the main female role in the first film as she takes off her specs and admires the Brachiosaurus for the first time. Talking of classic films, the Terminator 3D show was a particular treat, for all its annoying attempts to bring the film into the 21st century, it was refreshing to see cameos from Arnie and Linda Hamilton, so I could only conclude that it must have been a very old ride, or at least old footage.

 

We finished the day with a tour of Universal Studios, which was pretty impressive, although I couldn’t help thinking throughout, wouldn’t it have just been easier to film on location? Still, the tour included a 3D clip of King Kong fighting with a T Rex, an attack from Jaws and a trip down Wisteria Lane from Desperate Housewives, so who am I to argue? Other highlights included the Bates motel from Psycho, and the film sets of Apollo 13 and The Mummy, all complemented by a very cheery, if not a little camp, tour guide.

We rounded up our stay in LA with one last trip to the Cheesecake Factory, before having to get up at 5:30 the next morning to go and drop off the rental car prior to returning to New York to catch our flight home a couple of days later. Said flight, by the way, is one that I am currently on- I shan’t be uploading this until I am on English soil! Exciting stuff.

 

Anyway, that’s not quite the last of our adventures- tune in next time for details on a real NFL game and the fire that plagued our hotel on our last night in the States. For now, I’m signing off, as the plane has just encountered turbulence. Wish us luck!

 

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London, England?

Once again, this is very overdue and I’m trying to write about stuff that happened nigh on three weeks ago. What can I say, time flies! The title is a reference to something I’m suddenly hearing of late; we’re used to people asking us where we’re from, but the last two times, it’s been, ‘London, England? Or London, Ontario?’ Now that can mean one of two things. One, that Americans are so ignorant of the Great White North that they assume they must all speak funny there, akin to us English folk. Or two, the worst case scenario, that in our attempts to avoid social awkwardness we have in fact acquired our own American (or Canadian?) accents. It was mildly amusing when the man doing a customer survey at Disneyland asked me which country I was referring to when I said ‘London’, as he didn’t even mention Canada- but anyway, that was LA, and so much happened before then! The best way to do this is probably to write in reverse chronological order, sort of- starting with that brief snippet of LA above, and the mention that we are now back in New Jersey, and progressing with our time in Yosemite. We were only in Yosemite briefly as we cut it short to prolong our time in Vegas. Naughty I know, to savour gambling and sin over natural beauty, but what can you do? It’s lucky we did of course, as the hotel outside of Yosemite was pretty shocking! Luckily, Yosemite itself wasn’t, and offered plenty of Kodak moments. We drove round the park and stopped off at various ‘points of interest.’ Highlights included stopping off at a waterfall and climbing some very precarious looking rocks, and an over-enthused Japanese man keen to get the perfect photo of the two of us. So keen, in fact, that he even gave me a lift up onto a massive rock for a photo, and made Craig and I stand in all manner of poses in order to get the perfect shot of us from below. He seemed a bit nutty, and I was sure he’d have run off with my camera were it not for the rocks! We also got to one point where we could peer through a telescope at the 7000 ft high rock a few miles ahead of us- I could hear people using it saying ‘there are people up there.’ Of course, I was cynical- it was only when I screamed ‘Jesus!’ while I looked for myself that I confirmed that they were in fact telling the truth. Who stands atop a rock 7000 feet in the air? How does one even get that high? Mentalists. After Yosemite we made the journey to San Francisco. The hotel was a pleasant enough Comfort Inn with very few amenities surrounding it; San Francisco, it would seem, is one of those places where staying in the centre is three times the cost. Still, it was a short (ish) bus ride to all the places we wanted to go, including the Cheesecake Factory! On our first day we took a bus into town to the Golden Gate Bridge. The buses in San Francisco are a little strange; when I asked for two returns to the bridge and presented a $10 note, the driver just said ‘no, you need exact change’ and waved us on. We sat for the next minutes like frightened criminals pondering what to do if a ticket inspector got on the bus, but as it turns out, a $2 ticket will give you unlimited rides within a certain time frame, so when we bought one on the way back, we didn’t feel quite so morally wayward. The bridge itself was obviously stunning, if not a little cold, and made for some excellent photo opportunities of San Francisco over the sea. We walked across it and back, and the whole trip took up most of our day, so we savoured the views of Alcatraz, knowing we would be there the next day. I wasn’t too sure what to expect from Alcatraz. Luckily, Craig made me download ‘Escape From Alcatraz’ the night before so I had some clue, but for some reason I was still going in with a sort of Auschwitz mentality, expecting to see all sorts of horrific images. As it turns out, it wasn’t too brutal; in fact, for an isolated island it was very welcoming, with all manner of cheery tour guides. We went to watch a video first off, and learned that it wasn’t in fact ‘just a prison’ but had a very colourful history; for example, it was taken over by Native Americans after the prison shut down as a protest against the invasion of their land. We then had a tour from a very enthusiastic guide who told us all the secrets of the escape attempts and the movies that had been filmed on the island, before taking an audio tour around the prison itself. There was a certain creepy feel to it, and the prison cells were so tiny that it’s hard to imagine people used to reside in them, but I just kept convincing myself I was walking around a film set rather than the living space of some of the world’s most notorious criminals such as Al Capone. The tour ended in the food hall and on a rather profound note; there was an exhibition called ‘Life After Murder’ which housed huge photographs of ex-murderers and their life stories after being re-introduced into society post-prison. The most moving part I guess was the ‘thought wall’ where guests were encouraged to write their thoughts about killers being given a second chance on a post-it. It was incredible to see just how unforgiving the public were; I’d say about 90% of them were ‘did their victims have a second chance?’ and the like. I’m still not sure what I think about it, but it was interesting to read their views. On the boat back I set about arranging to meet up with a family member. It really is a small world; my very own cousin who I hadn’t seen since 2007 just so happened to be in San Francisco at the same time as me! We decided to go for dinner that night with his friend (feeling slightly bad at making them go to the Cheesecake Factory despite them having gone there for lunch…) which inevitably ended up in going out for a few drinks afterwards. San Francisco is certainly a colourful place. After one awkward drink in a very quiet, pedestrian bar and about a million recommendations of where to go next from the bar staff, we found ourselves in a taxi on the way to a karaoke bar armed with a sense of dread. The bar was quite something. Dark and dingy, it instantly gave off a scary unwelcoming vibe, and we were greeted by the sight of two punks doing Iron Maiden on karaoke. So far, so scary. The bar staff were in fact only too happy to see us, and as the vodka flowed, even encouraged me to sing Bonnie Tyler amongst a sea of heavy-metal karaoke tracks. Suitably liquored up I gave ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ my best shot, even standing in the tactfully-placed cage adjacent to the microphone stand, making the moment every bit as dramatic (cheesy) as I could. Total Eclipse is always a crowd pleaser, and as the night progressed, turns out the songs did get cheesier, in between various wannabe serial-killers shouting their way through the whole musical repertoire of the Bloodhound Gang. As you do when you’re drunk, I naturally made friends with a ‘quirky’, shall we say, group of girls, and sang ‘Living on a Prayer’ with them, before dragging my cousin’s friend up to finish with Bohemian Rhapsody. Before we knew it, it was 2am and I’d put the world to rights with my cousin, keen to sing another power ballad, but woefully rejected as it was kicking-out time. Very drunk at this point, I found the death-ride home in the cab hilarious. The driver was clearly some sort of Nascar wannabe, and took the opportunity to race the cab beside us, whose patrons were screaming at us to flash them. Again, inebriated, I cheekily flashed my bum at them when I got out of the cab, but luckily none of the rest of my party managed to see! My cousin and I made an alcohol-fuelled emotional goodbye and we headed our separate ways, not thinking about the ensuing long drive to San Louis Obispo in the morning. And that’s where I’m going to sign off for now, as it’s 6:45 in New Jersey and I can do a 24 hour check in for my flight soon. I will endeavour to fill you all in on our adventures in LA after dinner!

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Viva Las Vegas

“So baby, shall we go to Vegas?”

Hell bloody yes! After checking out of the slowest-internet-on-Earth (although not worst- the hotel I’m in at present might just be a contender for that…) hotel, we made a cheeky stop for breakfast at a McDonalds drive in and made our way to Vegas. I had a sense of impending doom for the City of Sin awaiting me; I felt as if, having watched countless movies featuring the place, I had to have a certain cool about me; I would have to waltz into casinos in a cocktail dress and lay my cards down on the table as if I had every confidence in what I was doing.

Of course, the reality was very different, but more on that later. As we crossed the state line (and took the mandatory photo, this time of Nevada, for the geographically-challenged among us) we decided to take a detour into the Hoover Dam. I cannot even begin to describe how hot it was, all I can say is, I was glad I was wearing the handkerchief otherwise known as an Asda’s own playsuit, covering my modesty and not much more. We got out of the car and immediately had to climb a load of stairs- not the most welcome sight in Death-Valley-esque heat, but it seemed to be where all the other tourists were going so we followed suit.

Sure enough, we’d inadvertently made our way out onto the bridge overlooking the Hoover Dam (and walked back into Arizona…) and gazed out as the mutual fear of heights took over. I couldn’t quite remember if I’d seen pictures of it before; all I could conjure up in my mind was that episode of The Simpsons where Sideshow Bob’s brother turns up and tries to blow up a dam. Maybe that dam, goodness knows. Anyway, essential photo-taking over and we were back in the furnace that was our Toyota and just a short drive from Vegas.

I couldn’t contain my excitement as we rolled into civilisation and the myriad of hotels became visible. Though we were disappointed to have missed the iconic ‘Welcome To Las Vegas’ sign, there they were within the confines of one camera frame: Luxor, Mandalay Bay, even Hooters, and of course, what would be our hotel and evidently the centre of a naked Prince-based scandal, the MGM Grand.

‘Hotel’ is perhaps an understatement when describing the MGM Grand. In fact, I wrote a whole article on the place itself: http://www.weekendnotes.com/mgm-grand-hotel-casino/ (shameful plug I know, but it’s my only way of making money out here!) The MGM is in fact, the largest hotel complex in the world, and proved its worth by costing us half an hour just trying to park! Once we were in, we were immediately bowled over by the vastness of it all- this wasn’t the 15 x 15 lobby of the Comfort Inns we were used to; this was a grand lobby with a boxing ring sporting a bronze lion inside it, an adjacent casino, fountains, shops, restaurants, the works. By comparison, then, our room was surprisingly pokey, but certainly not lacking in class and boasting an epic view of Vegas through our very own tinted, remote control blinded-windows. Very suave.

The first couple of nights in Vegas we were just too scared to play on anything besides the machines- we swotted up on how to play Blackjack but just didn’t have the confidence to approach the tables, despite the numerous drinks upon drinks the waitresses would bring us if we tipped them a dollar. At first we didn’t really leave the MGM Grand, and I would find myself dressing in cocktail dresses, before realising that people were walking around at all hours in little more than bikinis and shorts having just come from the pool.

And how could I forget the pool. The pool, if you can call it a pool, was quite simply, paradise. On our second day we ventured in to the aquatic utopia to have a look around, and we were not disappointed. Before us lay five movie-themed pools, each complemented by their own bar serving (overpriced) cocktails. Hordes and hordes of bikini-clad women strutted around while large groups of men guzzled buckets of beer…in the swimming pools! And here’s the best part- surrounding the pools was the MGM’s classic ‘lazy river’, a huge river rapids which circled the perimeter and proved a huge barrel of laughs if you could get your mits on one of the coveted ‘tubes’ (rubber rings to you and me.) This was perhaps the highlight of the trip for me- rather than pay $16 to hire a rubber ring, we simply commandeered one and I hopped in, with Craig clutching on as we let the current take us round the river.

Suddenly we’d collided with a huge traffic jam of people riding these ‘tubes’, undoubtedly drunk, screaming, cheering, hurling chants at passers-by, ‘WOOOOH! TUBE PARTY!’ I hadn’t even had a drink and I found myself cheering along with them, bobbing along and dancing to the music that was pumping out across the five pools, and the party-spirit was absolutely incredible. Suddenly I felt as if I knew what George Michael was singing about in Club Tropicana; (apart from the free drinks of course) everyone was feeling the awesome mood and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky; we were just sipping drinks, soaking up the sun and riding the waves in a completely carefree atmosphere. Absolutely sensational.

After all the daytime fun we decided we simply hadn’t booked enough time in Vegas. Before long we were booking another two nights and exploring the strip like a right pair of tourists. After a few days we’d gained our confidence, I recall one particularly boozy evening in Excalibur, we had one very loyal waitress who supplied us with the Dutch courage to go and play the tables in New York New York.

I guess you could call it beginners’ luck- I played with $10 initially, and awkwardly made my way through the Vegas-esque hand gestures before winning $42 dollars within the space of about two minutes and a lucky blackjack. Realising my fortune, I decided to quit while I was ahead, and let Craig carry on as I thumbed through my $32 profit with glee.

I continued this strategy for the next couple of nights, quitting while I was ahead, and I feel, had it not been for all the time we’d wasted on slot machines trying to get free drinks, I could have left in profit. Of course, Craig played far more dangerously than I did, but he knew what he was doing! We’d left Vegas knowing we’d earned back quite a bit of what we’d played and had certainly had a lot of fun.

We also ate like kings in Vegas- having discovered the absolute heaven that was the Cheesecake Factory, http://www.weekendnotes.com/the-cheesecake-factory/ I made Craig take me there- three times! I sampled three different cheesecakes and loved every one. We also took the opportunity to rinse our free $75 dining voucher at the hotel buffet one night- only, it was a rather stupid move, as we ate so much, we both had to turn in for the night to sleep it off!

So after almost a week of sun and sin, taking in all the sights like the Bellagio fountains, Caesar’s Palace, the Mirage Volcano and the New York New York rollercoaster, it was time to go to Yosemite National Park after what was without a doubt the best part of the trip so far for me. Or maybe I’m just saying that because I made some money…

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Hello nature…

Entry Five: Thursday 16th August: Zion and The Grand Canyon

Hello again- long time, no see. I’d like to say I haven’t updated this in a while due to the monolithic wifi speeds at the Grand Canyon (but then really, what did I expect?) but truth be told, it’s a mix of that, working (more on that later) and having the time of our lives in Vegas.

First things first though. Last time I checked in I was in Utah- we’ve been through three states since then! Arizona, Nevada and California. The hotel in St George, Utah was simply stunning, nothing flash, but it had everything we needed including an outdoor pool, which was just the relief we needed as Utah was baking.

Our first port of call in Utah was Zion National Park, a forty minute drive from our hotel. It’s weird to think that a forty minute drive is a ‘quick’ drive by comparison to most of our journeys; I’ve offered countless times to do some of the driving for Craig but it’s senseless really to risk driving without insurance.

Zion National Park was simply stunning, and a good precursor to the natural beauty we would inevitably be witnessing at the Grand Canyon. We couldn’t drive in to the park directly, but took a shuttle bus in and made our way up the Emerald Falls trail- a trio of 3 hikes varying in difficulty. We thought we’d just try the shortest one, as we only had one bottle of water between us and there were countless warnings telling us we’d need at least one each. When we got to the first falls though, we knew we couldn’t just stop there.

In front of us stood the idyllic view of the Emerald Falls pouring over orange rocks hundreds of feet in the air. We were able to stand under the falls quite happily; I suppose it was equivalent to a lacklustre shower, but it was hugely refreshing in the August sun. The temptation to carry on was just too much and we figured if the easiest hike was this beautiful, the more intermediate hikes could only be better. The next stop was less than half a mile away according to signs so we pressed on.

The second falls weren’t quite as impressive, in fact, there were no falls at all, but an ominous-looking stream, but this was a nice spot to take a breather before taking the inevitable hike up to the top.

And it was worth it.

Up the top on the highest hike laid before us was a lake surrounded by huge rocks toppling over dizzying views of the park. It would have been perfectly serene were it not for the hordes of tourists who were equally rewarding themselves for hiking all the way to the top. Noise aside however, it was an absolutely stunning example of natural beauty and was certainly worth the hike over precarious rocks and thousands of ants’ nests. By this point our water was severely lacking, and so we decided to hike it back down to the visitor centre and call it a day.

One well-deserved ice cream later and we were on our way back to the hotel, while I smugly congratulated myself on completing such a hike in a very questionable pair of £4 Tesco flip flops.

Later that night we rather audaciously went to a Chinese buffet fifteen minutes before closing time. We loaded our plates and inhaled it quickly, wary of being the only customers in the place and the stares of all the staff, and, upon seeing a cockroach crawling across the floor, decided it was probably time to leave.

The next stop on our itinerary was the Grand Canyon- something I was eagerly anticipating as I’d always said that of all the places I’d wanted to go in America, the Grand Canyon was right up the top. After a long drive, we found ourselves inadvertently having to pay park fees as we had to drive through the park to get to our hotel. A brief comical moment ensued as the park ranger looked at Craig’s ID and shrieked ‘Daniel Craig!’ (Guess American passports have names written backwards..) I asked if we could get in free because he was James Bond, but alas. She told me she’d let Demi Moore in once, so I couldn’t help feeling a little insignificant by comparison.

When we got to our hotel, the feeling kind of dawned on us that we were in the middle of nowhere. True enough, there were a few restaurants and hotels peppered about, but, (and I realise how much of a ‘first-world’ problem this is…) there was just NO wifi- anywhere! Supposedly we should have had some in our hotel room, and I’ll give the Holiday Inn their due, there was a connection…and I have to say, it was pretty speedy, for what can only be described as dial-up. So no, we didn’t truly have the internet, hence the lack of blogs, for every time we tried to load a page, my browser would just time out, as if it had given up and run out of patience before I had.

Internet rant over, and we decided to go out for dinner, which was very much an eye-opening experience. All I can say is, thank God I only ordered a salad, (I’m eating a lot of salads lately thanks to jeans-gate in Aspen) as when we got the bill, it was $55! 55 bucks for a salad and a burger and chips!? Upon closer inspection, turns out the ‘locally-brewed beer’ our waitress was so keen for Craig to enjoy was $9.50 a pint, and so, $18 worth of beer later, we left the restaurant having learnt our lesson. The Grand Canyon is a tourist trap.

The latter, by the way, was obviously, beautiful. On our first day the weather was pretty awful (for a change!) so we only went to the visitor centre and took a few hazy photos, but on the second day, we took the car and stopped at all the lookout points on the South side of the park. Of course, we enquired about the ‘skywalk’, but were told it was a five hour drive away, but we’re more than confident that we’ve got quite an impressive batch of photos from the south end of the canyon. Not to mention, some were taken very close to the edge, something which I’m pretty impressed with myself for, considering my fear of heights. Word of advice: if you ever want to go to the loo at a National Park- don’t! While they may appear like toilets to the untrained eye, if you look down them, they simply are a bottomless pit. It’s quite terrifying. Not to mention the smell!

Anyway, the Grand Canyon is understandably quite indescribable by the written word, so I shall upload photos to Facebook in good time. For now, tune in next time for our adventures in Vegas…

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Some thoughts.

It’s half past ten in the evening and I’m quietly musing to myself in my hotel room in St George, Utah, while Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac gently soothes my ears. I love Fleetwood Mac- in fact, cheesy as it sounds, sometimes I get into these strange moods where I just LOVE music in general. It genuinely fazes me that some people can give or take music; they’re happy to plod along while Springsteen plays along in the background at work for example, taking no notice of the effect the music has on them. If it were me, I’d be shaking my fists, shouting ‘CAN’T START A FIRE!’…etc. Anyway, tonight while I’ve been adding yet another load of photos to Facebook (sorry guys, it’s more of a personal scrapbook for me, please unclick my updates on your feed if I’m spamming!) and listening to some pretty epic music.

I started off with some Extreme, God knows why, but every now and then I like to mellow out to the dulcet tones of ‘More Than Words.’ The mellow mood continued with Gotye’s eerie ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ and finally reached a crescendo with the absolute genius that is Fleetwood Mac. This is what I mean when I say I’m amazed that some people aren’t affected by music- how can you ignore the raw emotion of ‘Go Your Own Way’? To me it conjures up pictures of people leaving, people who were once deeply connected being torn apart, and if I’m not mistaken, was directly connected to the relationships of the members of Fleetwood Mac being severed. When people ask me what kind of music I like, I simply say ‘something I can shake a fist at while I sing it.’ Sounds a bit strange, but any kind of (cheesy) ballad that I can belt out unashamedly is exactly the kind of music I like, and ‘Go Your Own Way’ fits that description perfectly in my opinion. Anyway, I sound like a bit of a cheese gushing about how much I love music, and, for fear of appearing like Rachel Berry in Glee, think I’ll stop there.

Anyway, the real purpose of this entry was to make a point- one which, will probably offend some, and unnecessarily stereotype others, which I don’t mean to do, but I can’t make the point otherwise. I was just thinking about the purpose of taking this trip. Having gone to the University of York, though I hate to stereotype, I encountered my fair share of what I would call ‘toffs’, many of whom, had taken a ‘gap year’ (yaaar) previously and had their Facebook profile plastered with images of them cradling third world infants. Now then, while I obviously think this is a very noble cause, unfortunately, it’s not something I can see myself doing. I have nothing against philanthropy for any cause, but it really nags at me when I hear people who come from massively privileged backgrounds going to third world countries with the purpose of ‘finding themselves.’ Yes, while there may be nothing more rewarding than helping the needy, the reality is, they will always be poor, and may even go as far as to find it insulting when someone from a completely alien and privileged culture comes in with the mission to ‘help out’ for all of five minutes.

I’ve gone a bit off-track here, and probably offended quite a few, but what I mean to say is, I never considered myself a person who would like to travel, ignorant as it sounds. Hence, I chose the States- a privileged, first world land and the very definition of capitalism. While I would obviously love to help out those who are less fortunate than me, the reality is, I’ll never alone be able to save the fate of an entire nation, so the best I can do is to stop preaching about the misfortunes of others and make those around me guilty/miserable, and instead accept that I am immensely lucky to be in the position I am in. Being in the States may not have made me ‘find myself’ in terms of encountering those less fortunate than myself, but it did make me realise the whole enormity of the country- how readily available everything is. Fast food. Wifi. Cars. So I may be ignorant and very un-travelled, but I do genuinely feel that being here has taught me something- I thought I had it all in England (and obviously, compared to most of the world, I do) but I can’t help feeling that an American in England would be hopelessly underwhelmed. The sheer vastness of everything here has made me truly appreciate what I have in England- close friends, small, local communities, and obviously, everything we take for granted, like food and shelter.

So in sum, no, I haven’t broadened my horizons on the basis that most do by exposing myself to abject poverty- but I still have reached the same conclusion- I am lucky. Very, very lucky. And all I can do as one singular person is to thank my lucky stars that I am as privileged as I am, and continue to contribute however I can to charities in order to benefit those in less of a fortunate situation than me. So there you have it- the States may be lacking (mostly) in poverty and culture, but you can still learn a thing or two by travelling, wherever you go!

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Mishaps and mayhem across the States

Entry Four: Sunday 12th August

Mishaps and mayhem across the States

I’m currently sat writing this from my hotel room in Richfield, Utah, having left Grand Junction, Colorado, this morning. Lucky for us the Olympic closing ceremony is playing on NBC and Jessie J is serenading (murdering) us with Brian May while they duet to We Will Rock You. I have to admit though, it has been an amazing ceremony- I think in terms of visuals, the opening ceremony topped it, but in terms of music it’s been unbeatable. The Spice Girls and Taoi Cruz probably could have stayed home but hey.

Anyway, this morning got off to quite an awful start on my account. Yesterday we arrived in Grand Junction, Colorado, having enjoyed the cable cars up a mountain in Aspen the day before. We enjoyed just having a day shopping and taking a dip in the pool. The reason for the mishap this morning, however, was the journeys in between. Inevitably we’ve made our way through our fair share of snacks between stops across the States, and an ever growing pit of rubbish had been growing around my feet. Trying to keep our rental car moderately clean, yesterday upon arrival in Grand Junction I gathered up all the mess and put it in one of the plastic bags currently residing beside my feet. It was only this morning when Craig asked me, ‘have you seen my Ray Bans? I put them in the food bag.’

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuudge. The very same bag I recall absent-mindedly dropping into a bin outside a cinema at the mall yesterday.

Panicking, this morning we drove to the cinema with me fully prepared to root through the bins, only to find a clean bin bag and to later be informed that all rubbish goes into a trash compactor.

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuudge. So that was a very expensive mistake on my part, and certainly amused the ladies on the sunglass stall at the mall. Sadly they didn’t have the same model, but I will endeavour to find him the exact pair and purchase them while grovelling to him. Of course, by this point, we’d also realised we’d left our travel mascot, Travel Bear, in the hotel room in our Ray Bans-induced haste. Luckily however the maid had recovered him, so this morning wasn’t a complete disaster.

So having left Grand Junction and deciding that fate really doesn’t want us to have sunglasses (Craig stepped on mine by accident when we were camping in Colorado Springs- perhaps we both need to learn not to leave things lying about!) we were on our way to Utah today. The state line wasn’t as climactic as I had hoped, for some reason I was expecting some sort of border akin to the Mexico-US border. Nope. Just a sign. The scenery changed almost instantly however; rather than seeing green mountains all around us, suddenly everything had changed to rock, which became steadily more and more orange the further into Utah we drove.

About half past five mountain time we arrived at our hotel to be greeted by a very cheerful, if not doped up on some sort of hallucinogen, receptionist. Neither of my debit cards worked so I’m informed she’ll charge me tomorrow- I might just slip out the back door! Craig informs me we are now in the ‘Mormon Corridor’ of America, as apparently this area is particularly popular with that faith. I’ve nothing against religion, but I feel I should add, this morning while we were tucking in to our sinful breakfast of pancakes, we overheard a couple ordering bread and water because ‘their religion dictates that they should eat as Jesus would have done.’ Whatever floats your boat!

 Anyway, talking of being sinful, having not exercised in what feels like weeks we decided to use the hotel’s gym facilities this evening.

If you can call it a gym.

The ‘gym’ at this hotel is a cupboard with a cross trainer in it that’s older than me, an exercise bike and a lateral pulldown machine. I mustn’t grumble though. For the first time in ages I can feel my muscles again and I’m confident I won’t be splitting holes in any more jeans like I did in Aspen. That was embarrassing. Plus we got to watch the ceremony while we worked out so I can’t complain.

So, after a few days on the road, highlights included Craig crapping himself on the ski lift, eating lobster for the first time at Red Lobster in Grand Junction (not as good as crab, I’ve decided) and hopefully, taking a 10pm dip in our Utah hotel’s pool, which I’ll do as soon as I post this.

Tomorrow we’ll be on our way to St George, Utah, where I’m reliably informed the gym facilities will be slightly better! Watch this space, I’ll come back looking like an Olympian…

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