Big Sky Country from the Saddle

Destinations, USA

Big Sky Country from the Saddle

No Comments 20 September 2013

Since I’ve had this dream of visiting Montana for so many years – I’ve had a lot of time to envision what my time there would be like. Long days, relaxed nights. Big mountains, tranquil creeks. Friendly locals, wild wranglers.

One of my flaws when it comes to travel is that I think too much into a trip and start to come up with scenarios in a destination that are like something out of a movie. I say it’s a flaw, because I’ve often been let down by places that would have been incredible – solely because I expected too much.

Due to how long I’d been thinking about Montana, I was prepared to have that happen again.

But it didn’t.

And one day in particular went above and beyond any expectations I had for my time in the “Big Sky Country”.

Montana

Erin and I on our horses Happy and Price during a back country ride.

A Full Day Back-Country Ride

The biggest activity or highlight to any trip to a dude ranch – no matter where it is – is obviously going to be the horses. Lone Mountain Ranch makes every effort to ensure that that depending on your experience with horses, you’re paired with one that’s best suited for you and that you become familiar and comfortable with your horse before the main event.

This started long before I even arrived at the ranch. They sent me and my friend a questionnaire to fill out asking whether we had ever ridden horses among other things. Based on that they pair people with the right horse for them. Since I have limited experience with horses, they put me with one that was extremely well-trained and gently on the newbies: Price.

Price is gorgeous.

Pretty much every wrangler said she was their favorite, but I think they say that about all the horses. She was definitely mine though. She followed my commands no matter how lacking in confidence they were and took care of me through a week of riding. Visitors to the ranch can pretty much take their horse out on a ride throughout the day as long as a wrangler is their to guide them. So prior to the big horsey event: a full-day back country ride, I had a few rides to get used to Price and vice versa. It was pretty special that I – as well as everyone else on my trip – got to have the same horse all week, to which I credit the wonderful wranglers at LMR.

Then came the big day.

Montana

Erin and Happy pause to take in the scenery. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

For our back-country ride, Alexia – our wrangler for the day – took myself, my friend Erin and a couple from England to Sage Creek. I was a bit worried about riding that day as it was raining in the morning, but it cleared up by the start of our ride, about 10 a.m., and Alexia said this was the ideal weather to start a back-country ride, because if it was sunny the whole day – the ride would be very hot and a bit exhausting.

Our ride started in a heavily wooded area and just as we hit that “Tall, Wide and Handsome” scenery that Montana is known for, the sun crept out revealing one of the most stunning views I’ve ever had on my travels. A skinny, trickling creek divides wide open yellow land. Purple mountains ahead layer each other. The clean air is slightly perfumed by wild sage plants scattered all around.

The complete silence of this peaceful terrain allowed our group to get to know each other. We all shared first in line behind Alexia so we could pick at her brain a bit about riding and of course Montana. About three hours into the ride we stopped for a packed lunch, turkey and bacon sandwiches on the biggest slices of bread I’ve ever seen, and a quick cowboy nap.

Montana

Bobbi taking a quick nap after lunch. Photo by Erin Jensen

After lunch we turned around to head back to where we started and though we followed the exact same route – it looked completely different. While we didn’t get to see any unusual wildlife on the ride, I did trot and gallop on my horses for the first time. Motioning with the horse as you speed in the open air, hair blowing behind, might be one of the most thrilling feelings I’ve ever had.

I get the whole horse thing now.

They’re such beautiful creatures and so powerful. Though I only had Price for a week, she left a huge impression on me. I am not a fan of hiking, so I usually just end up driving through different areas when I’m touring, say, a national park. I like it, but I always feel like I’m missing out on something by not getting out of the car and venturing into unpaved roads. For this reason – plus my absolute love of animals – I’ve come to the conclusion that horse back riding is easily my favorite way to explore. In fact, I started envisioning Ric and I out on rides on our own – especially when we passed a group of cowboys and cowgirls on horses with a few mules traveling behind with their bags and Alexia told me they were heading out somewhere to camp for the night. It just all seems to perfect to even be true.

Montana

Alexia leads behind a group of cowboys and cowgirls heading to camp for the night. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

This back-country ride allowed us to see Yellowstone in a way totally different than all those suckers who follow the paved roads in the park – which is probably why the Yellowstone day trip I wrote about in my last Montana posts, was at the bottom of my list of best activities during my stay. Lone Mountain Ranch allowed me to see the park and Montana in a way that’s not possible to all visitors to the state.

This back-country ride allowed me to see the Montana of my dreams and then some.

Disclosure: I won my week at Lone Mountain Ranch through Passports with Purpose.

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Montana’s treasures: Yellowstone National Park

Destinations, USA

Montana’s treasures: Yellowstone National Park

2 Comments 17 September 2013

Montana’s nickname “The Treasure State” came about because of its wealth of minerals, including gold and silver, but for me that name resonates most in regards to Yellowstone National Park. Though most of this national park, which covers 3,468 sq miles of land, resides in Wyoming, four out of the five official entrances to the park are in Montana – making this great state the gateway to Yellowstone.

Yellowstone National Park

A lone bison grazes yellow fields at Yellowstone National Park. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Given my love of US national parks that spawned from my last road trip out west, you can bet the number one question on my mind after winning a week at Lone Mountain Ranch in Big Sky, MT (via Passports with Purpose) was “Will we be visiting Yellowstone?”. The answer: of course! Bozeman is one of the most popular means of getting to Yellowstone. Big Sky was about an hour drive from Bozeman Yellowstone Airport and the West Entrance to Yellowstone about a 45-minute drive from Big Sky.

During my week long visit to Lone Mountain Ranch, they offered two day trips to Yellowstone, which are included in the overall price of staying there. Plus, they drove my friend Erin and I out to the West Entrance for free to see the Grizzly Bear and Wolf Discovery Center on another day.

I took the first chance I could to go on a day trip to Yellowstone. We left at about 8 a.m. and didn’t return until about 6 p.m., so it was a long day – but it kind of has to be if you want to see the park in just a day.

Yellowstone National Park

Petrified wood scatters the volcanic park. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Yellowstone is the USA’s first national park. While I always think of Teddy Roosevelt when it comes to America’s national parks, especially this one, the designation of this space as a national park was actually signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872. The park is most well-known for its geothermal activity. Home to Old Faithful and at least 300 more geysers, Yellowstone is placed on top of an active volcano. The park also has close to 300 waterfalls, including Lower Falls, located in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, which you’ll see on a lot of vintage posters and post cards from the park.

Yellowstone National Park

Lowefalls can be found on several vintage posters for the park – it’s even better with no filters. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Beyond an active earth – this park also has a very active wildlife scene. It’s home to 67 species of mammals, two of which are threatened (the Canadian lynx and grizzly bear) and one of which is endangered (the gray wolf).

Anyone who has been following this blog will know that I’m more of a do-it-yourself, spend-as-little-as-possible sort of traveler. So going on a week-long trip to what is basically an all-inclusive ranch (minus alcohol and a few activities) was quite the luxury. In regards to things like park tours, I’ve almost never had someone to drive me around, let alone a highly-educated naturalist, so that was quite a treat. Our guide Kaitlyn knew pretty much everything there was to know about Yellowstone as well as the plants and animals there. She knew exactly where to take us and even better spots to see certain sights, like Old Faithful. Most watch it erupt from Old Faithful Inn, but she took us to a less crowded area.

Yellowstone National Park

Since it was foggy on my visit, I only saw steam as Old Faithful erupted. Still loved it. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Kaitlyn drove us around the Lower Loop and made sure to stop at Old Faithful, Fountain Paint Pots and Lower Falls. We spotted one bald eagles, a few osprey and several elk and bison while in the park. Plus, we got to see Old Faithful as well as Beehive Geysers erupt, which was a treat as the latter is bigger and usually only goes off every four hours.

Yellowstone National Park

I was actually more interested in Beehive Geyser erupting in the distance than Old Faithful. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The only criticism I have about this trip, which was in no way Lone Mountain Ranch’s fault, is the crowds. I always like visiting places like this at low season to avoid annoying drivers and congested natural areas. Since Yellowstone is one of the USA’s most popular national parks to visit, I recommend going sometime outside of high season, which can be hard because the park closes certain times of year.

Oh, and one other thing – I saw a guy smoking a cigarette in the middle of a wheat grass field in the park during one of the worst times of year for forest fires there. It really annoyed me. Please don’t be a jackass while in Yellowstone. You’ll ruin it for everyone else.

Yellowstone National Park

The water color in the park’s hot springs is so interesting. A buffalo actually fell in this one and you can see its bones. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

It was an incredible day to say the least – but actually it was my least favorite activity of the week. Not because it was bad in anyway – but I just felt the other activities during the week, like canoeing and back country horse back riding allowed us to see the same beauty Yellowstone has to offer without having to be in a bus all day. Still, saying this is my least favorite is like saying Godiva came out last in a chocolate competition. It was still amazing, but means there are even better things to write about in the coming days!

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Creepy, but informative: The Mütter Museum, Philadelphia

Destinations, USA

Creepy, but informative: The Mütter Museum, Philadelphia

5 Comments 16 July 2013

Kidney stones the size of rocks, a black, gangrene foot on display and an unborn child with spina bifida preserved in a jar. It might not sound like the most pleasant way to spend your Sunday, but the museum that houses these items and others from medical cases is raved about in Philadelphia.

The Mütter Museum is home to a 20,000-piece collection of body parts, medical instruments and wax models dating back to the 19th century. Housed in The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, America’s oldest medical organization (over 200 years), this collection all started with a donation by Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter in 1858 and has grown even since.

You’ll feel time slip back as you walk into the two story “cabinet museum” decorated in dark wood and red carpets. No white floors or blinding lights, this is nothing like the medical facilities you’re probably used to today. The first thing I see is a wall of over 100 white human skulls staring back at me from behind a glass cabinet. My body shudders.

The Hyrtl Skull Collection George Widman, 2009, for the Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia

The Hyrtl Skull Collection
George Widman, 2009, for the Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia

I turn left where an exhibition is on display called “Grimms’ Anatomy: Magic and Medicine 1818-2012″. It displays medical oddities that could explain certain fairy tales the Brothers Grimm are known for, like a girl whose hair would mat into one long tail being similar to the story of Rapunzel.

After seeing this special exhibition, it was time to dig into the real collection. Those human skulls that first greeted me are a collection from around the world. You’ll find skulls from Egypt, Romania and more. Even creepier than the wall of skulls though is what’s on display directly across from it – human-skin leather. Some physicians in the 19th century would actually use the skin of their patients for wallets, book covers and more as a way of remembering them.

Downstairs, things get even more strange.

The first thing that grabs my eye is a long thick brown sort of tube. As I read the display card, I learn that this monstrous-worm like model is of a colon. A Philadelphia man who suffered from Megan Colon or Hirschsprung’s Disease, actually carried this in his body. They found that he had 40 lbs of feces in there that wouldn’t come out due to severe constipation.

Scene photographed in the Mutter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, on June 11, 2009, in Philadelphia, Pa. © 2009 George Widman Photography LLC, Licensed for use by the Mutter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Scene photographed in the Mutter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, on June 11, 2009, in Philadelphia, Pa. © 2009 George Widman Photography LLC, Licensed for use by the Mutter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Downstairs you’ll also find several skeletons, including one from a giant, severe cases of gangrene, President Grover Cleveland’s actual tumor in a jar and different cuts of the skull preserved in blocks. The most disturbing pieces though, have to be the babies preserved in jars on display. Each child has a different deficiency that happened before birth, such as conjoined twins.

I mention a few times how creepy some of the items on display here were and just the whole feel of the museum, but the purpose of this place is for research and to learn more about biology. It’s one of the most interesting exhibits I’ve ever seen. I liked looking at the odd medical cases, but it was really cool to see things that are in my body on display, and I don’t mean models. I actually saw a human heart, entire skeletons and brains from an array of species, including humans.

Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter donated to this collection in the 1800s to “improve” and “reform” medical education. Almost 200 years later and the collection is still doing that for medical students, doctors and the general public.

Fast facts: The Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia is located at 19 South 22nd Street in Philadelphia. It’s open daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. General admission is $15. Visit their website for more information.

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The sweetest tour in London Town: London Cupcake Tours

Destinations, England, Favorite Things, Wine and Coffee

The sweetest tour in London Town: London Cupcake Tours

10 Comments 11 July 2013

Whenever I see a swirl of butter cream pink icing, a glistening beige cake beneath and some sort of delicious art on top staring back at me in a London window, I can’t say no.

Hi, my name is Bobbi and I’m a cupcake-aholic.

I am obsessed with the recent cupcake fad that has taken over this city. It’s hard to walk anywhere in London these days without being tempted by this itsy bitsy treat, but where should people go for one serious cupcake in the city?

London Cupcake Tours set out to answer just that with their self-guided tour packages. I spread my tour out over three days across two months and found some incredible places to eat cake in London Town.

The Package

I know what you’re thinking.

“Cupcake tour, what on earth is a cupcake tour?”

London Cupcake Tour

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

I return home one day to find a hot pink package addressed to me. Wide smile on my face, I run up the stairs to my flat and immediately open it. The first thing I pull out is the London Cupcake Tour Guidebook, which lists six places in London to try cupcakes, maps on how to find each place and popular attractions and sights nearby. Also in the package is six vouchers for one cupcake at each of the bakeries in the guidebook, a reusable tote bag, a few cardboard boxes to fit two cupcakes each, a London Cupcake Tour cover for my Oyster Card and two buttons that say, “I’m on the London Cupcake Tour”.

The gift certificates are valid for three to 12 months, so there is no pressure to do the tour immediately or even rush it all into one day. So I took my time and spread the tour out over three months sharing each day with a friend.

On Tour

Day one, Ric and I visit The Cupcake Bakehouse in Covet Garden to share a Nutella cupcake. From there, we walk to Sweet Couture Cake Boutique and use our voucher for there on a friend that works nearby. It’s her birthday, so we surprise her with a vanilla cupcake with one candle in it. Don’t worry – we also sample some of Sweet Couture’s cakes ourselves. Their zesty lemon cupcake looks too delicious to resist.

London Cupcake Tour

Taking the first bite of my first cupcake on tour. Nutella – yummm. Photo by Richard John Hackey

Almost a month later and I’m having serious cupcake withdrawals, so Ric and I set out on day two of our cupcake tour. After wandering through Portobello Market in Notting Hill, we find a Buttercup Cake Shop location next to Gelato Mia. It’s different from the location listed in the guidebook and you’ll find a few places on the tour have more than one location. There we try a sticky toffee cupcake. Next, we head to Holborn to visit Bea’s of Bloomsbury and try my favorite: red velvet cupcake. This is also my favorite sit-down stop on tour. Bea’s has such a cute and cozy set up. It’s a great place to meet people for cake and a coffee and their icing is so creamy.

London Cupcake Tour

A cupcake tree at Bea’s of Bloomsbury. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The last day on tour I head on by myself, but make another birthday purchase. First stop is Lola’s Cupcakes in Mayfair where I choose a cupcake that looks like a tennis ball. This little shop is celebrating the Wimbledon finals in the sweetest way possible. I’m pleasantly surprised to taste jelly as I bite into the vanilla cake! Last stop is Ms. Cupcake in Brixton, which is my favorite shopping experience. The bakery has a retro feel to it and the cupcakes are vegan, so everyone can enjoy. I take a Ferrero Rocher cupcake to go and share it with a friend later in the day for his birthday.

London Cupcake Tour

A tennis ball cupcake at Lola’s Cupcakes the day before Andy Murray wins Wimbledon. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Price

A London Cupcake Tours single pack costs £34.50 and can be purchased online. I thought this price was a bit high considering each cupcake would have cost £2-4 if purchased on its own. Honestly though, after looking at a few other food tours in London, that’s actually quite affordable. Walk.Eat.Talk.Eat’s tours range between £50-65. Remember, you’re not just purchasing cupcakes, you’re being guided through different areas in the city while visiting some of its best cake shops.

Final Thoughts

I thought this was the most adorable tour idea I had heard about in London. Cupcakes are very popular at the moment and bakeries just keep popping up in this city. London Cupcake Tour is a great way to experience that side of the city, while also touring it . My major problem with guided food tours is that they pack so much into just a few hours, which can be sickening after a while. That’s why I liked the set up of this food tour, because I could spread it out as much as I wanted. I didn’t have to eat six cupcakes in one day, which would have probably made me hate cupcakes.

London Cupcake Tour

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Overall, London Cupcake Tours was a nice addition to London life for me that allowed me to see bits of the city I wouldn’t have, like Brixton. All the bakeries were high quality and had something very special about them. I would recommend this to tourists with a sweet tooth and even locals that want to sample this exciting trend in London.

Thanks to London Cupcake Tours for letting me try out their tour. As always, all opinions are my own.

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15 Things I Will and Won’t Miss About Living in London

Destinations, England, Moving Abroad, United Kingdom

15 Things I Will and Won’t Miss About Living in London

10 Comments 09 July 2013

London seems to be a city that just keeps coming back into my life. I lived here for six months studying abroad in college and returned five months ago for a sort of place to live in limbo as me and my Ric tried to figure out a more permanent living situation.

In a nutshell, I adore this city. I don’t know what exactly it is about London, but the city just has something. Maybe it’s the free  museums and world-renowned art scene. Maybe it’s the city’s lively mixture of cultures and activities. Maybe it’s the city’s intricate and exciting history.

Whatever it is, this city had me at “Ya, alright?”.

And now, probably as you read this post, I’m leaving the London once again with no idea when I’ll return for a vacation, let alone to live, so I think now is a good time to reflect on the ups and downs of living in London Town.

Things I’ll Miss

Getting lost – kind of

My absolute favorite thing to do in London is walk around with no plans or destinations. I could walk this city for hours and hours and not even realize it, because there is so much happening to take my mind off the fact that I’m exercising. Tiny side streets – blue plate homes – hole-in-the-wall cafes – so much has happened in the city and so much has been added that you never know where you’ll end up or what you’ll find on a wander. However, you’ll never actually get lost enough to the point that you can’t find your way back home. There’s always a tube station close by, no matter how lost you get, hop on that and you’ll know exactly where you are again.

Free magazines and newspapers

I’m very old-fashioned with my media. While I do read more things online these days, I’ll take a massive inky newspaper or glossy magazine over a website or kindle any day. It was really nice in London to have that for the same price as online media: Free 99!

Not only am I going to miss picking up my free copy of Time Out outside Shepherd’s Bush Market station on Monday mornings en route to the library or Evening Standard weekdays on my way home, but I’ll also miss the paper boys. The way the guy says “Evening Standard” is always a highlight on my walk home and I know I’m not alone. I hear kids repeating the phrase just as he does at the library, girls on Uxbridge Road throwing it into the conversation in his voice.

Random happenings

I think we can all agree, whether you love or hate London, one thing is certain, there is always something to do in this city and they’re so random and unique. Into art? Head to an auction at Sotheby’s. Love the cabaret? This city is a mecca for it. Want to live in the past? You can do that too – at themed parties. Are you a total foodie? Don’t get me started – the markets here are incredible.

This city literally has something going on every day to suit all types of people. You really never know what you’ll get into or where you’ll end up on any given day in London. They say nobody knows how to party quite like the Brits, they’re kidding.

Free museums and art

London is the city where I really fell in love with art, so I might put it on a pedestal a bit more than I should, but it is a really great city for art lovers. National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Tate Modern and Britain, Saatchi Gallery, V&A – there is no shortage of art galleries in this city displaying Picasso, Manet, Dali and more legendary artists. And what’s even more amazing, most of these galleries and museums are free. London can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be.

British TV

This is something I’ll miss, but I know I’ll keep up with long after leaving London. England has some of my absolute favorite TV shows. For chat, shows like Graham Norton, A League of Their Own and Top Gear presented an entirely new and sort of no-hold-back sort of watching experience. It took me a while to completely understand the humor here, but I do now. And on some British chat show people are given wine – so you see a completely different side of all your favorite celebrities.

For scripted dramas and comedies, I’ll start by saying a lot of your favorite American series were based on British ones and often, the originals and a million times better. Shameless was my sort of awakening to how good TV is over here. Then of course there’s Made in Chelsea, which, for better or worse, I am obsessed with.

Curry and Kebabs

I never understood Britain’s bad reputation for food and drink. Sure fish and chips and Bangers and Mash are quite simple dishes, but they should not be used at the entire spectrum of British food. To be honest, I love eating in this country and especially London. Not only is England home to some of the world’s most famous chefs (Marco Pierre White, Heston Blumenthal, Jamie Oliver), but it’s also a melting pot of about a million different foods from around the world.

Two of those melting pot items that my mouth will miss (but my hips will not) are curry and kebabs. Let me start by saying I lived off Uxbridge Road during my most recent stay, where kebab shops and curry houses are literally almost every store front for about 20 minutes of walking. You try dieting when a spinning hunk of lamb meat is staring at you throughout every walk to and from anywhere. It’s not going to happen. We do a lot of food right in America, but we don’t come close to how they do curry or kebabs in London.

Urban parks

I get giddy every time I see a park anywhere in the world, especially England. London does parks right. Whether it be a perfectly trimmed rose garden or a wild forest, this city knows how to help people escape the hustle of the city, if even for just a stroll. It was actually in a London park that Ric asked me to marry him, Chiswick, so obviously that’s my favorite, but some other good ones to check out include, Regent’s Park, Holland Park and St. James’s Park.

Coffee

This is something I never thought I would miss about London, especially coming from New Zealand and Australia. Something big has happened in the cafe and coffee culture since I last lived here in 2007. There is so much focus on coffee here and they’re really producing incredible things with that. My favorite cafe is Wild & Wood in Holborn. Have a flat white there and you’ll understand why I’m not looking forward to going home to suburban chains.

The Tube

I’ve never seen a public transportation system run as efficiently as the London Underground system. If you can pay £7 for a day pass, that’s your entire day set in London with all it’s free museums and parks. You can literally go anywhere in the city with the underground and it always feels like a train arrives as soon as I enter the station. I am not looking forward to going back to NJ and relying on my car to get around.

Things I won’t Miss

Dog pee and poop on the sidewalk

I know it’s a city and sometimes your pets just have to go – that’s not controllable – but I’m not going to miss wondering if every bit of liquid I see in the street is a puddle of pee or water. Pee I can understand. You can’t clean that up as a pet owner, but crap on the sidewalk is inexcusable and so gross. I’m not sure if this was something that only happened in my area, because I have to say I did not see it often in other parts of the city, but for the love of god people – clean up after your pets, especially when they’re messing on pedestrian walkways!

Overcrowded

As much as I love all the hustle and bustle of a city and activities that come with that, I am not going to miss walking down the streets on a weekend in London. I feel like I’m in a herd of cattle a lot of days in this city. Crowded bars, crowded streets, crowded tube carriages…these things will not be missed.

Walking on the sidewalks

To add to my overcrowding and poop winge – I think people need an education in sidewalk rules before they arrive in London. I always walk according to what side of the street a country drives on, but I don’t think everyone else does that. Since the UK is the only country in Europe that drives on the left side of the road and loads of Europeans as well as people from around the world (most of which drive on the right) visit London on a daily basis – no one knows which way to walk on sidewalks. People from the UK/Australia/NZ go left – the rest of the world goes right. It especially annoys me at tube stations when there are signs on the stairs that say stay left, yet for some bizarre reason people are taking up both sides. It wouldn’t be as big a deal if the city wasn’t so busy, but it is and no one know which way to go, which frustrates me like crazy.

Overpriced

As cheap as a person can make London with free activities and discount stores, it is one of the most expensive cities in the world if you don’t bother considering your budget. This is especially troublesome when you’re living here on the American dollar. I can’t help but exchange money in my head and every time I go to the store I feel like I’m paying double on top of something that already costs more than it would in the rest of England, the rest of the world. £16 cocktails ($US24) – £3 triangular sandwiches ($US4.50) – £2.50 coffees ($US3.75)- as much as I enjoyed eating and drinking you, you will not be missed.

Not having the right of way

Cars in London rule the road and they’re not going to stop for any idiot who wonders into the road. Don’t worry, I’m that idiot too. But what always bothered me is at cross walks when I would have the green man and suddenly he would start blinking. Now my understanding in a lot of places is that this meant, “Hurry up, you only have a few seconds to get across, but don’t worry you can still walk”. Not in London. As soon as the green man starts blinking for pedestrians, a yellow light goes on for the cars that are waiting and they immediately start to go or get angry at people for still walking in the road.

Rush Hour

I was fortunate enough to only have to ride the tube or be in central London a handful of times during rush hour and that was enough. This isn’t just London, but in a lot of big cities, people lose all respect for each other between the hours of 7-10 a.m. and 3-5 p.m. I’m not going to miss getting shouldered on the streets and nobody apologizing and I’m not going to miss getting shoved out of the way at a tube station so some jerk who just got there can get home two minutes earlier than me.

Every place has it’s good and bad, ups and downs, and London is no different. Though I had a few erks about living here, I think it’s clear to see that the positives more than outweigh the negatives. Take advantage of all London’s free activities – museums and parks – wander through the city’s side streets as much as possible and avoid the CBD completely at rush hour and you’ll walk away loving this city as much as me.

What are some of your favorite things about London?

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The real ‘Beach’: Ang Thong National Marine Park

Destinations, Thailand

The real ‘Beach’: Ang Thong National Marine Park

2 Comments 21 June 2013

Everyone heads to Ko Phi Phi for the famous lagoon film location featured in The Beach. It’s stunning and a great day trip, but wouldn’t you rather visit the original?

Ang Thong National Marine Park, off the coast of Koh Samui is the real inspiration behind Alex Garland’s secret paradise in his novel. The un-touched group of islands are worth a trip without any films or books to lure you in. Plus, the 42-island archipelago is especially superior to the must-see Maya Bay, because there are far less people. Walking around Ko Mae Ko and its natural lagoon with only a boat full of people, you’ll actually feel like you’ve stumbled upon a undiscovered paradise.

Ric and I visited Ang Thong National Marine Park on a day trip from Koh Samui. They picked us up in a fishing boat with about 20-30 people on board.

Ang Thong National Park

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Ang Thong National Park

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

I got excited when islands started to appear in the distance. I was taken aback by the changing sea color. It would go from a deep blue to a light green and back again.

Ang Thong National Park

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Ang Thong National Park

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The day tour includes a guided kayak trip, during which our guide pointed out the blow hole Richard would have escaped the shark that was chasing him in The Beach.

Ang Thong National Park

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The real hidden lagoon where the Swedes would fish and beach colony would play cricket located on Ko Mae Ko.

Ang Thong National Park

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The scene from the lookout point at Ko Mae Ko.

Ang Thong National Park

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The day ends with snorkeling and lunch at Mu Koh Ang Thong National Park. People can camp over night on this island with special permission, but we only spent about an hour here doing epic jump shots before returning to Koh Samui.

Ang Thong National Park

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Ang Thong National Park

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

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Jackson Apartments for working holiday makers

Australia, Australia, Destinations, Moving Abroad

Jackson Apartments for working holiday makers

8 Comments 20 June 2013

Moving to Australia with a working holiday visa puts people in a somewhat weird position. You’re visiting places for longer than most travelers, often working and living, so you don’t really want to spend that amount of time in a hostel and it be a senseless waste of money to spend it on a hotel. Yet, most will only spend between six months to a year living a destination, making it hard to find a company that will lease you a private place for that short a contract.

This was the predicament Ric and I found ourselves in when we reached Melbourne in November 2010. I only had about three months left on my visa, so there were few real estate companies that wanted to work with us, but we were a new couple at that point and wanted our privacy, which wouldn’t happen in a hostel.

It was actually the day I arrived, a few weeks after Ric, that we actually found out about Jackson Apartments. The Melbourne rental agency focuses on short-term apartment seekers. In fact, they prefer them. I saw their ad in a backpacker magazine, but through internet searches for similar terms I couldn’t find them anywhere. The company ended up being perfect for our situation and you might find they are for you as well. Here is a round-up of our experience with the company.

The Hunt

As with most cities Ric and I arrive in, we had to act pretty fast in finding a place in Melbourne as our money was very low and we knew any place we wanted to rent would require a deposit. With a bit of pressure on us and a pretty wide range of choices, we literally moved into our new place the same day we went searching for apartments with the agency.

I have to say I was a little bit worried about the introduction process as we had to pay our deposit in cash $AUD500 as well as a week’s rent $AUD360, but we really didn’t have a choice. Luckily, it ended up working out. They were really good with paperwork and moved us in our new pad on the same day. They showed us at least four different properties during our hunt, taking us to them by car and were really friendly.

Location

We stayed in two different apartments during our two and a half months with Jackson. The first was in St. Kilda and it didn’t quite work out as we were a bit too noisy for our neighbors. It was somewhat of an retiree complex. But the company didn’t blame us or hassle us, just recommended a new location and even came to pick up us and all our things on moving day. The second place we stayed was a million times better. Our three-bedroom apartment was fully-furnished and located right on Chapel Street in Windsor, which is full of bars, cafes and shopping. We had a deck, parking and we were right next door to this really cool Scandinavian clothing store that made their own beach in the back alley way.

Jackson Apartments

These were our neighbors… Only in Melbourne. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Price

Between Ric and I, it costs $AUD360 per week for a fully-furnished room in a three-bedroom apartment. Now I’ll be honest and say that you can find cheaper if you’re willing to sign at least a six-month contact for a place in Melbourne, but we didn’t have that luxury. I’d say for our own private room in a really good location, we paid the same as it costs in Melbourne for two bunk beds per week in a six or eight person dorm. For this reason, I thought the apartment was worth it.

Customer Service

Everyone we talked to or worked with during our stay was really laid back and genuine. We didn’t have any problems. In fact, I felt like they really tried to make sure we were in the right place. A true testament to them being good people is that I needed information recently, three years later, for partner visas for Ric and I and they went above and beyond in providing it, asking for nothing in return.

Comfort

It’s hit or miss with the apartments and rooms you’ll find. Don’t expect anything glamorous and some of the places are older and a bit shabby as there are a lot of older places in Melbourne. But the apartments are clean and if you have any complaints about things they’ll work on helping with it. We got very lucky with our second place. It had been refurbished not too long before we arrived.

Jackson Apartments

Christmas 2010 on the deck with our roommates. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Overall

I stayed in a million different places in Australia: hostels, trailers, bus stations, tents, friend’s couches and rooms that just happened to open somewhere by chance. Ric and I had only been seeing each other for about two months when we arrived in Melbourne and I didn’t want to go through that time with him in a hostel, but we had very little other choice. We tried to find a room with people on Gumtree, but even there they wanted people who were going to stay in the city longer. We had to move fast, so Jackson Apartments was actually the best possible solution for us. Not to add sentiment, but we had our first apartment together with them and I feel very lucky that they made it a good experience.

I highly recommend them to couples or even just friends traveling in pairs who are only staying in Melbourne for a short period, but want somethings a bit more private.

Like what you see? Follow me on Bloglovin’, Twitter and Facebook to keep up with what I’m writing about ;)

Like what you see? Follow me on Bloglovin’, Twitter and Facebook to keep up with what I’m writing about ;) – See more at: http://www.heelsandwheelsonline.com/2013/06/how-to-move-to-new-zealand-five-steps/#sthash.XJJLyyv4.dpuf
Like what you see? Follow me on Bloglovin’, Twitter and Facebook to keep up with what I’m writing about ;) – See more at: http://www.heelsandwheelsonline.com/2013/06/how-to-move-to-new-zealand-five-steps/#sthash.XJJLyyv4.dpuf
Like what you see? Follow me on Bloglovin’, Twitter and Facebook to keep up with what I’m writing about ;) – See more at: http://www.heelsandwheelsonline.com/2013/06/how-to-move-to-new-zealand-five-steps/#sthash.XJJLyyv4.dpuf
Like what you see? Follow me on Bloglovin’, Twitter and Facebook to keep up with what I’m writing about ;) – See more at: http://www.heelsandwheelsonline.com/2013/06/how-to-move-to-new-zealand-five-steps/#sthash.XJJLyyv4.dpuf
How to move to New Zealand: five steps

Destinations, Moving Abroad, New Zealand, New Zealand

How to move to New Zealand: five steps

4 Comments 13 June 2013

You’ve taken the plunge.

Despite all your 20-something friends getting married and having babies, plus your parents pressure to find a “real job” and settle down, you’ve decided to leave your home country for one year and move abroad on a working holiday visa.

And what a plunge it is.

New Zealand.

Land of the long white cloud. One of the most scenic and most peaceful places to live on earth. A place where there are more sheep than people and even hobbits are celebrated. For most, it’s the other side of the world. Two large islands floating out in the Pacific. Not far from Australia or Antarctica, you don’t get much more off the map than here.

That can be daunting for people planning to make a home there for the year, but it doesn’t have to be. The truth is that New Zealand is one of the friendliest nations in the world and I’ve found, one of the most accepting of foreign guests. These five steps will help those 18-30 years old move to New Zealand on a working holiday visa.

1.) Start saving

You’ll want to separate your budget into two things for New Zealand, flights and money required on arrival.

I point out flights, because no matter where you are flying from, a one-way ticket to New Zealand is not cheap. Expect to pay about $US1,500 for a one-way ticket. Add $US200 on if you are flying somewhere other than Auckland.

After putting money aside for your flight, the rest of your budget depends on what you expect to do upon arrival in the country.

New Zealand’s immigration website states that people must have a minimum of $NZ4,200 to be eligible for the US Work Holiday Scheme. I’ll be completely honest and say that they don’t verify it. I didn’t have to prove I had those funds before applying, nor at the airport upon arrival.

That said, I really recommend having at least that much. I wasn’t checked, but you might be. Plus that is a good safety net for anyone unsure of when or where they will be finding a job in their new country.

I would recommend no less than $US2,000 to feel secure from the time you arrive until the time you find a job.

People should also consider whether they will be working, soon after arrival or after traveling around a bit. New Zealand can be an expensive country to travel. It has a lot of extreme sports that you would be silly not to try, but it’ll cost you.

Milford Sound

Head to the bottom of the South Island to see Milford Sound. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

2. Apply for a working holiday visa

Just do it! I don’t know why people, and by people I mean me, put this off. Most are happily accepted and if they are not, it’s usually for a very valid reason. You’ll be asked to pay an application fee, which varies depending on where you’re from. When I did it, it was free to US citizens, at the time this post was written it cost $US140, but it can change so click here to see how much it will cost you to apply.

The process is pretty similar for all the countries eligible and it’s very straight forward. You can apply online. To do so, you must fill in all your personal information, including passport number. You must answer questions about your health and your character.

Depending on your answers, you may be asked to submit more information, such as a medical, but usually you won’t be. Just follow the process and be honest.

While on the topic of applying, NZ immigration requires visitors to have travel insurance. If you’re from a country that does not have national healthcare or something corresponding the the New Zealand healthcare system, I highly recommend getting travel insurance. It literally could be a lifesaver.

sunset mount maunganui

Another beautiful sunset in Mount Maunganui. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

3. Book a flight

I mentioned the cost of flights earlier, but there are a few more things to consider when booking a flight to New Zealand.

For starters, don’t buy a return ticket. I’ve done this twice on long term trips and both times I had to pay ridiculous fees to change my ticket. You have no idea where you will be or what you’ll be thinking at the end of your working holiday experience in New Zealand, so save yourself the money and don’t book a return flight. Plus, on a trip like this, it’s better to not have an expiration date.

Remember that with a working holiday visa people are NOT required to have a return ticket to enter New Zealand. Just keep a copy of the visa as flight attendants at the check-in counter almost always ask about this.

The easiest place to arrive is Auckland, but also look into Wellington and Christchurch. Those destinations are usually the next most affordable landing spots. Research and consider where to land seriously as flying and moving around in New Zealand is expensive.

If you are flexible about dates then do some research and find what time of year has the cheapest airfare. I would set a date early, so you have enough time to save and prepare. Some things to consider; seasons (ski season is big in Queenstown, but you’ll want to get there at the start of it), the holidays, obligations at home (housing contracts, etc.) and the amount of time it will really take for you to save up.

Queenstown Air New Zealand

I arrived in Queenstown via Auckland when I first came to New Zealand. Fly Air New Zealand if you can. They’re amazing. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

4. IRD number and bank account

Both an IRD number and bank account are needed to work in New Zealand.

Inland Revenue will supply you with your IRD number. For US citizens, this is similar to a social security number and important for tax purposes. To apply, you must fill out an application and present your passport as well as another form of ID, such as a driver’s license (it can be from overseas). All documents must be verified and photocopied.

This cannot be completed online. You must visit either a post office in New Zealand or Automobile Association Driver Licensing Agent. The post office should have applications available. The process is very quick. You should receive your IRD number within 8-10 days

Setting up a bank account is pretty similar everywhere. Be sure to bring your passport, another form of identification and proof of address.

Proof of address could be the letter your IRD number arrived in or it could just be a note written about by a staff member at your hostel stating that this is the address where you are living at the moment and signed. Don’t stress over how long you’ll be staying at that address. It’s not extremely important, especially if you are applying for an online banking account, which you should be.

Some banks charge a fee for people to hold certain bank accounts. Most places offer online banking accounts, which are free and the best option for temporary visitors only in need of an account to be paid into. I had accounts with both Kiwibank or Westpac. Neither of them charged for online accounts and I actually got a really good interest rate for my savings account with Westpac, earning $NZ12 some months.

Hobbiton

Hobbiton was one of my favorite tours in New Zealand. Photo by Bobbi Lee hitchon

5. Find a job

Backpackers or temporary workers will find the most jobs available in hospitality, agriculture, raising money, telemarketing and publicity.

I’ve actually tried all these things while working abroad and suggest hospitality for the most fun, best money and most interesting experience. That said, the jobs available to you depend on where you are located and your experience.

The best source for finding jobs online in New Zealand is Trade Me. You can also find a job just walking around town. Make sure you are prepared with a CV and other things needed. Also, make sure your CV caters to the industry you’re applying for jobs. Don’t present a resume that list your IT experience when applying for a job as a cook. I know this should make sense, but it’s lost on a lot of people.

Most of the New Zealand population are located in its major cities of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Besides a few holiday towns and some heavy farming areas, most of the country is quite rural. I only mention this because it makes finding a job in certain areas a bit more difficult.

It was really easy for me to find work in Wellington. I had about seven interviews after looking for only one day, but I struggled in Blenheim, which is a small town. The jobs offered there were mainly on farms, which usually require you have a car and I didn’t. I use this as an example of things to consider about where to live and work first. A lot of times, the best option may be in a city or a place where people can get around without private transportation. That way you can save up for a car and buy one if you want.

Most places will ask you to commit to six months or a season. So try and get to a place at the start of a season as more jobs will be available and you can fully commit.

I spent a few months working in the kiwifruit industry in Te Puke to get an extension on my working holiday visa. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

I spent a few months working in the kiwifruit industry in Te Puke to get an extension on my working holiday visa. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

By the end of these steps you should be working and holidaying in New Zealand. This experience is so special, because every activity in a new country, even the mundane ones like work, is different from home. It’s a new experience, which is what makes this opportunity so special.

Like what you see? Follow me on Bloglovin’, Twitter and Facebook to keep up with what I’m writing about. ;) – See more at: http://www.heelsandwheelsonline.com/2013/06/going-back-in-time-at-the-blitz-party/#sthash.nylXurU4.dpuf

Ready to go? Apply for your working holiday visa here NOW! Not interested in New Zealand? Check out How to move to Australia: five steps.

Like what you see? Follow me on Bloglovin’, Twitter and Facebook to keep up with what I’m writing about ;)

Like what you see? Follow me on Bloglovin’, Twitter and Facebook to keep up with what I’m writing about. ;) – See more at: http://www.heelsandwheelsonline.com/2013/06/going-back-in-time-at-the-blitz-party/#sthash.nylXurU4.dpuf
Like what you see? Follow me on Bloglovin’, Twitter and Facebook to keep up with what I’m writing about. ;) – See more at: http://www.heelsandwheelsonline.com/2012/03/a-day-in-hobbiton/#sthash.WvPTTER6.dpuf
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Going back in time at the Blitz Party

Destinations, England, Favorite Things, Vintage World Shopping

Going back in time at the Blitz Party

3 Comments 11 June 2013

There is no better city for a period-themed party than London. It seems to have sections that represent pretty much every era in its long history. For this reason, Ric and I felt like we had slipped back to the 1940s, long before even entering Great Suffolk Street Warehouse for the Blitz Party.

It happened as soon as we left Southwark Tube Station.

I notice two girls with Victory curls in front of us, one in a red flowing dress the other wearing a pink with fur wrapped around her shoulders. As we walk further from the station, skyscrapers and apartment complexes give way to a brick tunnel system and old pubs. It feels like we we’re entering into the shadows of a scary and mysterious time in world history, only finding relief in the gathering of like-minded people.

Blitz Party

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

And there are plenty of them.

It’s hard to give a general name to the location of the venue used for our bunker for the night, but I’d describe it as a system of brick tunnels with warehouse-size rooms. It looks like a storage place for ammunition during World War II, but during the Blitz Party, its many rooms are illuminated by red light, decorated in red, white and blue flags and filled with big bands and swing dancers.

Blitz Party

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Blitz Party

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Blitz Party

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Blitz Party

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

We arrive just before 9 p.m. and head to the furthest bar at the venue as the bar in room one is already packed. There are about four of five bars set up here. While chatting at a table with Ric about how crazy this party is and wondering where exactly we are, I look up to see three girls talking at the end of our table, only lit up by a spotlight behind them. They almost look like spies. I have to remind myself where I am and what day it is, but eventually I give in.

Blitz Party

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Our room is filled within an hour. I notice a circling spotlight to the right of a stage in the room. A band takes the stage and an explosion of confetti goes off the introduce them.

Blitz Party

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The place is packed and there are soldiers spinning their ladies around and throwing their bodies in the air. Ric and I explore the venue more to find an army truck and hordes of people taking photos in it, a wall with WWII propaganda and a make up station with the Beauty Queens offering free vintage make overs to people at the party.

Blitz Party

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

We eventually find ourselves in a smaller room that’s pitch black besides a few gas lanterns hung on the wall and a bar that’s illuminated in red. As my eyes get used to the darkness, I notice couples laying together on a few cots set up in the room. We go to the bar and purchase a punch made of earl grey, orange sherbet and liquor for £7. They’re served in blue tin coffee cups.

Blitz Party

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

This is a a different cocktail from those offered in the rations book at the main bars. It must be a reward for those adventurous enough to wonder through all the rooms here.

But then again, any person that would come to a party like this is already adventurous enough.

The Blitz Party is truly to feel the styles and trends of the past. They really succeeded in that affect. Be prepared to shell out a bit of money in your wardrobe for a party like this. It’s really important you come dressed for the part, because if you don’t you’ll feel pretty left out. I spent £47 on a Katharine Hepburn-inspired pants look. I did my own hair which was actually a lot easier than I thought and can be learned from watching Youtube videos.

The next Blitz Party is July 13 at the Village Underground, tickets are £20 and can be purchased on their website.

To view more photos from the Blitz Party, check out my Facebook album.

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The Blitz Party gave me press admission to review this party.

Preparing for an era party on a budget: Blitz

Blog, Destinations, England, What I'm thinking

Preparing for an era party on a budget: Blitz

1 Comment 07 June 2013

I’ve never been to a city that does throw back parties as well as London. Maybe it’s because the city has such a long and rich history, maybe they just know how to party, but I love it.

A “fancy dress” requirement is regular at private parties here and the themes are always so interesting, tarts and vickers anyone? Plus, dress up parties aren’t just for private gatherings, there a common affair at locations all over the city.

Last month I visited the Belle Epoque Party in Shoreditch, dedicated to late 19th century Paris, and I really don’t think I was completely prepared for it. I didn’t realize how much people dress up for themed parties here and honestly couldn’t afford to do it myself. It’s something quite special for 20-somethings to still embrace dress-up as much as they did at four and this time I intend to play the part.

Tomorrow I’ll be heading to the Blitz Party, a 1940s-themed party in a bunker just in time for D-Day. Times obviously were not great in the world back then, but style was, and I have a pretty good idea of how to dress for this party, without breaking the bank.

1940s girls

Photo: Young Red Violets

Hair

First thing’s first, when it comes to dressing up for a 1940s party: it’s all about the hair. For this era, you could get away with doing just your hair to fit the part and keeping everything else pretty simple. Victory curls are the most well-known 1940s look, so that’s what I am going to go for. There are some well-known vintage hair stylists in London, like La Belle Jolie in Crystal Palace, but I’m going to give this a go on my own, so I can splurge on a dress. All you really need to do is Youtube 1940s hair to find a few looks to choose from then and learn how to do it yourself.

Make up

Luckily, this step is fairly easy for my party’s era. Dark eyebrows, simple eye makeup, red lips and maybe a flick at the end of your eyelids with wet liner. Plus at the last era party I attended they had vintage make up artists, The Beauty Queens, on site giving complimentary makeovers. So I’m going to leave myself a bit blank in hopes of that. If all else fails, think WWDD (What would Dita do?).

1940s make up

Photo: Chlo-beau make-up

Dress

One complaint people might have about visiting an era-themed party is that they have nothing to wear.

This is my problem as well.

No, I don’t just carry a 1940s vintage dress with me around the world, but I would like to. I’ve chosen to invest in this, because I know I’ll wear it again. It’s very trendy right now and I love the look anyway. Luckily, there is no shortage of vintage stores in London. I’m going to head to Carnaby Street and Portobello Market today as well as hit some second-hat shops along the way. I’m looking to spend no more than £60 on my dress and I’m not too fussed whether or not it’s actually vintage, but they are a good place to go for inspiration. Time Out has a great listing of vintage stores in London. 

Moves

Other than creating a dance to “Zoot Suit Riot” by the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies in my friend’s basement when Swing was a fad in the 90s, I have no idea how to dance for the 1940s and just realized the meaning of that bands name… I don’t think it really matters that much, but it would be cool to show up with some moves. Returning to Youtube, practice these dance techniques while getting ready for the night.

By tomorrow you should be look mighty spiffy! Looking forward to seeing how my look is actually going to turn out and of course going to the Blitz Party tomorrow night. Are you going? What did you do to complete your look?

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