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”.


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.


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.


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.


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

5 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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Where I’m off to in summer 2013

Blog, Destinations, USA, What I'm thinking

Where I’m off to in summer 2013

14 Comments 23 May 2013

There’s something in the air, literally.

I’ve had this fascination with Montana since college. I don’t know where it came from, but I do remember the first time I voiced it.

One night in college and I bumped into a guy I knew in grade school at Bob and Barbara’s in Philadelphia. He said his parents had retired there and it was stunning.

I looked at him with wide Bambi eyes and asked.

“What’s it like when you walk off the plane? What’s the air like?”

He knew exactly what I meant.

“Amazing,” he replied.

Coming from a city-heavy northeast USA, I couldn’t even fathom how spectacularly natural Montana is and how clean and crisp air would be when I was having that chat with an old acquaintance. But I’m happy to report that five years later, I’m going to find out for myself.

This summer, I’m going to: MONTANA.

Photo provided by Lone Mountain Ranch

I can’t remember being this thrilled to visit a destination since Prague in 2007. It’s not that I’ve not loved the places I’ve visited since then. I just think that everyone has a few spots in the world they put on a pedestal, Montana has been hoisted and praised by me for years.

This trip came about in quite an exciting way too. Every Christmas Passports with Purpose offers a long list of travel-oriented prizes put fourth by different bloggers and websites. To enter for a specific prize, people make a donation to the charities the organization is supporting that year. I must be the luckiest traveler alive, because I’ve won twice now. In 2011 it was a bungy jump and swing package at Nevis Bungy in Queenstown, NZ and 2012’s prize was a week vacation at Lone Mountain Ranch via Trekaroo.

On top of accommodation, meals and what not, the trip includes horse back riding, canoeing and a visit to Yellow Stone National Park. It really just gets better and better.

Photo provided by Lone Mountain Ranch

I’m looking forward to just being in Montana and experiencing its natural beauty, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited for a bit of lush tripping. If you know me at all, you’ll know I always travel on a budget and sometimes get by on a trip by the skin of my teeth. It will be nice to have my own log cabin, restaurant food and all the good things luxury travelers take for granted.

Photo provided by Lone Mountain Ranch

Photo provided by Lone Mountain Ranch

One other difference in this trip from my usual travels, I’ll be traveling with this girl:

You may have seen this photo on hostel walls across Europe. Pretty much the greatest person in the world.

I’m going to leave that photo there as a teaser and explain how special she is to me in a later post. But I will say before Ric, she was my ultimate travel partner. We’re both at a major transition in our lives, so I can’t wait to just spend some time hitting the road with her and righting the world.

Where are you headed this summer?

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8 Live Show Tapings in NYC and LA

Destinations, Film Locations, Guides, USA

8 Live Show Tapings in NYC and LA

4 Comments 21 May 2013

Do you think we’ll see someone famous?

It’s a common question when visiting the USA’s spotlight cities for entertainment, New York and Los Angeles. If it’s going to happen anywhere, it’s going to happen at one of these places. NYC and LA are places A-listers in film, music and theater call home and do the bulk of their work.

While you might see someone on the streets, one way to ensure you definitely see them in person, and attend an amazing show for free, is to visit a live show taping.

Whether it’s politics, comedy, sports, food or just pure entertainment that appeals to you, there is a free live taping for everyone.  Below I’ve list a few big ones, where and when they are taped, why you should visit them, how to get tickets and how likely it is that you will. Make sure to read the end of the post as well, to find out what to expect and how to prepare for a live taping.

New York City

Late Show with David Letterman
Location: Ed Sullivan Theater 1697 Broadway
Tapes: weekdays, unless on otherwise noted

We’ll kick off this list with one of the absolute hardest tickets in town. The Late Show has been on CBS since 1993 and David Letterman is up there with the greats in late night entertainment. This is the show where the most trending names at any moment moment, like Barack Obama during the 2008 election, want to be seen and what’s more exciting is that Letterman is known to give some of them a hard time, like Justin Bieber.

It’s not impossible to find tickets, because the one-hour show tapes so often. Though you will have to be very flexible with your dates. Groups and individuals can request tickets using the online form on the show’s website. They can also apply for tickets in person at the box office. Located at Ted Sullivan Theater, it’s open Monday–Thursday: 9:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m or Saturday and Sunday: 10:00 a.m.–6:00 p.m, unless the show is on hiatus. Tickets:

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Location: 11th Ave between 51st and 52nd St in Manhattan
Tapes: Monday to Thursday, unless otherwise noted

This liberal-leaning Comedy Central show is one of the most talked about in political entertainment. Who would of thought from Big Daddy that Jon Stewart could be so witty and quick. The Daily Show can be controversial at times, but it’s always a good laugh. Come for Stewart, other rising comedians and and political debates, but don’t always expect well-known guests. While Stewart often has history-making politicians and Hollywood A-listers on, he also has people not everyone will recognize, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

Plus, Stewart takes time before the 30-minute show to answer questions from people in the audience and spends some time after thanking them for coming. What a man!

Look for tickets about two months in advance. The good news is that their ticket page is extremely well organized, so just get there two months ahead and you should find something. Tickets:

The Colbert Report
Location: 54th St between 10th and 11th Ave in Manhattan
Tapes: Monday to Thursday, unless otherwise noted

The Colbert Report is very similar to The Daily Show except Stephen Colbert is much more eccentric and tickets are a lot harder to find to his show. From Colbert you can expect elaborate sets, extreme interviews and hilarious interactions. Like Stewart, Colbert takes time to chat with the audience before and after the 30-minute show.

Booking tickets to The Colbert Report is pretty tough. It’s the same Comedy Central system as The Daily Show, but you’ll only find tickets available for maybe two shows a few weeks away as oppose to eight a few months away. Just keep check with this show or sign up to receive notice when more tickets become available. Tickets:

Location: 221 West 26th Street between 7th and 8th Ave
Tapes: Two per day usually on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays

The bubbly and beautiful Rachael Ray is a welcoming vision for a show that requires people to arrive in the morning. Come to this CBS show for free food and goodies. She often has competitions that members of the audience can take part in on the one-hour show. Plus, Ray books some incredible guests and makes them feel comfortable, so you see an interesting side of people. Don’t expect dramatic or ground-breaking interviews, but the show is a lot of fun. You only have to be 16 years old to be in the Rachael audience, but those under 18 must be accompanied by a guardian.

Tickets for this show are a lot more unsure than the ones mentioned above. People are asked to fill out a general request form online, but they don’t know about specific dates while filling it out. So do it a few months early and see what happens. Tickets:

Los Angeles

The Tonight Show with Jay Leno
Location: NBC Burbank Lot Studio 11 3000 W. Alameda Ave
Tapes: weekdays, unless otherwise noted

Host of The Tonight Show is the most-respected position in late night. The one-hour show has been on air since 1957. Once held by Jack Paar and Johnny Carson, Jay Leno took over the position in 1992 and has been a household name since then. They tried to switch Conan O’Brien into the position in 2009 and send Leno to his own later show, but the move was controversial to say the least and Leno was given his spot back not long after.

It’s filmed at NBC Studios in Burbank, California, which is an important Hollywood film lot, so it’s exciting just walking to the show. Plus, Leno gets the best in Hollywood A-listers and music acts almost every night of the week. They recommend booking tickets four to six weeks in advance via an online form. You can pick out a few possible dates when requesting tickets online. Guests must be at least 16 years old to attend. Tickets:

Location: Warner Bros. Studios 6564 Forest Lawn Drive
Tapes: weekdays, unless otherwise noted

Though Conan was sort of screwed over in the whole Tonight Show transition. He has an extremely loyal fan base, known as Team Coco and is still one of the biggest names in late night entertainment. Conan is on TBS and features the biggest names in Hollywood and music at the moment as well as up and coming comedians. Don’t be surprised if popular comedians like Will Farrell just pop on the show from time to time, not just for interviews either. It’s definitely one of the funniest late night shows on TV.

Plus, you get to walk through Warner Bros. Studios, where the show is filmed. Along the way to the studio you might see Chuck Lorre’s parking spot, the studio where Ocean’s Eleven was filmed and more.

Tickets to this show are known for being hard to come by, but you’ll also find last minute tickets pop up quite often. I found tickets the day before. Visit Team Coco to request tickets. Tickets:

The Ellen Degeneres Show
Location: Warner Bros. Studios 6564 Forest Lawn Drive
Tapes: weekdays, unless otherwise noted

Out of all the show mentioned on this list, Ellen is probably the hardest to attend. Not only is she a well-known name in entertainment, but she always has the best guests and giveaways. Expect to see her Hollywood friends, like Jennifer Aniston. If they’re going to show their face anywhere amidst controversy, it’s Ellen. But the show is usually pretty upbeat and hilarious. She dances in the audience and people are often asked to volunteer. Further, you’ll have to go through Warner Bros. Studios to get to her show, which, as I mention above, is cool no matter what.

You must be 14 years old to attend this show and all minors must be accompanied by an adult. Just keep checking online to find tickets for Ellen. They go fast and aren’t available very far in advance. This is one of those shows it might be worth trying for stand-by on the day, because it’s pretty unpredictable otherwise. If you want to do that call (818) 954-5929 before 12 p.m. on the same day of the show you wish to attend. Tickets:

The Soup
Location: E! Network Studios 5750 Wilshire Blvd
Tapes: Usually Wednesday mornings

This taping is somewhat of a secret, so thank me later if you end up going. The Soup is not nearly as large as the rest of the shows mentioned on this list and that’s a good thing for audience members. During the 30-minute E! Entertainment show, host Joel McHale who is also known for his role in NBC’s Community, makes fun of everything that’s happened on TV In the past week, especially Tyra Banks.

On E!’s website, they say that the taping is not public and those laughing in the background are only staff, but Joel McHale has tweeted to email for people who want to see the show in person. I’ve talked to people who have been and they say it’s a lot more personal than other live shows, because the crowd is small and McHale will even take photos with people at the end.

What to expect and how to prepare

  • Tickets to shows like Ellen and The Tonight Show tend to go quick, so if you’re planning a trip to one of these spots request tickets ahead. This can almost always be done online.
  • Tickets are always free to the shows mentioned in this post and most live tapings for that matter, so if you’re asked to pay, it’s probably the wrong website.
  • These shows usually just run straight through without re-takes but not always, so expect them to run longer than the their usual duration.
  • Shows are taped usually hours before the they air on TV.
  • You must be 18 years old to attend all these shows unless noted otherwise.
  • Make sure to bring identification, dress business casual and don’t chew gum.
  • You are not allowed to use cameras or phones once you enter a studio. In fact, you’ll be asked to leave professional cameras with security in most places, so it’s really not worth bringing them. Do not bring any bulky bags or luggage either.
  • Visiting a live taping is often a full-day event, so be prepared to wait in line for hours, even if you do have tickets.
  • Presenters hate hecklers or people trying to get attention in the audience. If you’re that person they’ll either poke fun at you or they’ll have to re-tape a segment and you could be asked to leave. Be prepared to clap and laugh though.
  • Some of the shows have time before or after each taping during which you get to chat with the presenter, but it’s not always guaranteed.
  • You’re going to watch a show, so don’t expect to end up on TV.

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The ‘Great Gatsby’ world tour

Australia, Destinations, England, Film Locations, Guides, USA

The ‘Great Gatsby’ world tour

4 Comments 07 May 2013

Traveling the world this summer, old sport? Why not stop by a few bars and locations having to do with the first big blockbuster of the summer of 2013, The Great Gatsby.

Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic American novel has taken over the world. Suddenly the jazz age, flappers and speakeasies are all popular again. Are we all just in the mood for a throw back? Is everyone simply enamored by anticipation of another Luhrmann spectacle? Or can this generation relate so much with the main message and times of the novel, they’re slipping back into the era?

Regardless, the recent 1920s throwback trend in entertainment and fashion can just as easily be added to your summer travel itinerary. See Fitzgerald’s Paris, visit places that inspired the author in New York, spot film locations for the recent film adaptation in Sydney and more with this ‘Great Gatsby’ world tour.

Tour Gatsby’s New York

Any good Gatsby world tour must start in the story’s location, New York. The book was set mainly in Long Island, which Fitzgerald fictitiously split into East and West Egg. While visiting the Empire State, people can tour Oheka Castle, a house that inspired Gatsby’s mansion, stop by the Plaza Hotel for a round of whiskey, visit Bobby’s NYC for a Gatsby-style party and much more.

Walk in Fitzgerald’s footsteps in Paris

Paris was a retreat for many American expatriate artists and writers in the 1920s including F. Scott Fitzgerald. The author lived in the city of lights from 1924-1931, during which time The Great Gatsby was published (1925). Though Fitzgerald actually completed the novel after moving to the French Riviera in 1923. Harry’s New York Bar is one known hangout of the author during his stay. has put together a more extensive city walk dedicated to Fitzgerald.

Spot Luhrmann film locations in Sydney

Baz Lurhmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby has added yet another destination to this world tour, Sydney, Australia, where the movie was filmed. The Aussie director used several locations in and around his home city, including Centennial Park; which was used for Gatsby’s estate, St. Patrick’s Seminary; which was used for Gatsby’s mansion, and Waverley Cemetery; we’ll leave out what this was used for in case you haven’t read the book yet. Writer Jerry Garrett elaborates on these and more Sydney film locations on his blog.

Party like it’s the Jazz Age in London

London saw a rise in speakeasy openings and 1920s-themed parties long before the premier of The Great Gatsby in New York City last week. Sure, the parties written about in the novel and shown on screen are intended for the Big Apple, but in truth, no one quite throws a party like the Brits. Plus, they have something extra to celebrate about with Londoner Carey Mulligan playing Daisy, the film’s golden girl. Some Great Gatsby party ideas in London Town include Prohibition 1920s; which is a monthly era-themed party held at a secret location, S.S. Atlantica; a monthly 1930s-themed party held on a boat on the River Thames and countless speakeasies located around the city. Dress in time-attire.

An evening in a 1920s California mansion

One last Gatsby style attraction is Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California. Built for newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst in 1919, this lavish Pacific Coast mansion still looks just as it did when Hollywood stars and icons came to visit during its heyday in the 1920s and 1930s. They offer an evening tour in the spring and fall that allows visitors to see what it would have been like to visit the castle during those times with actors and guides roaming the area dressed in time attire.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

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Playing prostitutes and robbers at Pioneertown, CA

Destinations, Road Trip, USA, USA

Playing prostitutes and robbers at Pioneertown, CA

4 Comments 16 March 2013

After two years of wearing cowboy boots in hot and non-western countries, my footwear finally came in handy in California.

Thanks to my readers’ advice, Ric and I made a quick stop at Pioneertown after a day in Joshua Tree. The old western movie set was built in the 1940s and used for TV shows like The Crisco Kid. Today it remains intact for tourists, with a few shops, a hotel and Pappy & Harriet’s, a restaurant and music venue that’s worth stopping at on its own, open for business.

Since Ric and I visited in the winter (out of season), there were no scheduled gun fights or crowds of people, so we decided to make our own fun. After all, if you show up at an old western film set in cowboy boots and a plaid shirt on you have to take advantage of it. So what did we do?

Impromptu photo shoot!!

Doors swinging, Bobbi busts out of the Pioneertown Bank after a robbery gone wrong. Photo by Richard John Hackey

Without knowing it, she leaves her Clyde behind. The sheriff catches Ric, loot in hand, and locks him up. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

No money and no man, Bobbi’s forced to work at the local bath house. Photo by Richard John Hackey

Months later, Ric is released and he’s looking for revenge. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Besides pretending to be locked-up thieves and whores, we also fit in an epic meal at Pappy & Harriet’s. Ric had a chilli-steak burger with cheese fries and I had an obscene amount of unsweetened iced tea with lemons. Basically the makings of a perfect day.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Pictures of famous visitors to Pappy & Harriet’s, including one of Ice Cube wearing a sombrero. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

All I need in life is a mason jar of iced tea with loads on lemons. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Have you ever visited Pioneertown in California? Share your story below.

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Jucy Wheels out West: the good, the bad and the budget

Destinations, Road Trip, USA, USA

Jucy Wheels out West: the good, the bad and the budget

No Comments 01 March 2013

We’ve been driving higher and higher on Highway 180 en route to the Big Stump Entrance of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, elevation markers letting us know we’ve reached 2000, 3000, 4000 feet. The last few miles have not been easy. The fog is so thick I can’t see more than 15 feet ahead. Then it disappears and reveals one of the most beautiful sites I’ve ever seen.

I’d tackle any hard drive for this view. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Rocky mountains and trees fill the scenery to my left and ahead, two my right, the tips of a few mountains peaking above the clouds. I realise I wasn’t driving through fog before, but those clouds below me right now. If that’s the case, then this must be heaven.

It looks like it anyway.

It’s next to impossible to justifiably sum up my three-week road trip with Jucy Rentals in Western USA. I met so many characters, fell in love with so many destinations and the number of moments that almost brought me to tears driving in this beautiful country, well most of those moments will remain within me.

For me, this wasn’t just a road trip through California, Nevada and Arizona, but a chance to reignite the flame with my homeland. I’ve been away from it for three years now. In that time, I started to forget just how incredible it is. This trip was a serious reminder of that.

So while I can’t possibly share with you all my best moments and stories from the road, I can explain this trip in terms of numbers and figures and a few of my favorite things along the way.

Route and destinations

I kicked off this three-week road trip in Los Angeles, headed straight for the Pacific Coast Highway and never looked back. After a night in Santa Barbara, I continued onwards to Morro Bay then to Big Sur with a quick stop at Hearst Castle. After a three-day love affair in Big Sur, I headed up to San Francisco, to visit Alcatraz and take advantage of all the free things to do in the Bay Area.

Sunset at Morro Bay made me wish I had more time to visit the waterfront town. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The furthest north I hit on this trip was Napa Valley. From there I headed east to Yosemite National Park, then along the west side of the Sierra Nevada to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, after which I spent a night in the Mojave Desert. I spent one day cruising through the state of Nevada and one night in Lake Mead National Park.

I drove for about an hour on Route 66 on the way to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. A night in the national park there and I made my way back to the Pacific Coast with a few stops in between.

Three nights in Las Vegas, a day in Joshua Tree National Park then I was spreading my toes in the sand at Huntington Beach, CA. I beached it up during my last weekend with my Jucy Champ, visiting Venice Beach, Santa Monica and Malibu.

Distances and travel times

Altogether I covered just under 3000 miles around three states in Western USA: California, Nevada and Arizona. This took about 44 hours driving time in total, but fitting it all in three weeks was really tight. My longest drive in terms of distance was from the Grand Canyon South Rim, AZ to KOA at Circus Circus in Las Vegas, NV, 277 miles over about four and a half hours. The longest drive in terms of time, excluding inside national parks, was from Hearst Castle in San Simeon, CA to Fernwood Resort in Big Sur, CA, only 66 miles, but took about five hours, because of the routes winding roads and I kept stopping to take photos.

We made it to the Grand Canyon just before dark. Photo by Richard John Hackey

Budget (fuel, accommodation, food, activities, rental and insurance)

I spent a total of $559.94 on fuel. It cost me $505.71 to camp out 15 nights during the trip. I stayed with a friend for three nights in San Francisco, got a hotel room for one night at $70 in Napa Valley and used American Express points to spend two nights in a hotel in Las Vegas, which would have costs $60 total.

I went to the grocery store three times on this trip, which cost a total of about $150 in total. I spent about $400 between snacks, eating out and alcohol.

Between five National Parks ($90), various tours and tastings ($111) and one show in Las Vegas ($89), the total of activities adds up to $290.

Three weeks with my Jucy rental with unlimited mileage ($1,410), plus 21 nights of partial insurance ($189), since I was already covered for Supplementary Liability Insurance because with my own car in the USA cost a total of $1,599, plus taxes etc. All trip prices vary depending on how long you’ll be renting for, how many miles you’ll be traveling and what kind of insurance you require, so it’s best to get a quote for yourself.

This brings my trip to a grand total of $3,574.65. This is a basic budget you could use if you are interested in doing a similar road trip of the USA, but consider how many people will split the cost of fuel, camp fees, entrance to national parks, etc. Plus you know yourself best, how often will you be eating out or going out for the night. I did very little on both.

Favorite drive

There’s a reason why my drive from Hearst Castle to Big Sur was the longest in terms of time. The drive alone is stunning, sun setting on the Pacific Ocean to my left, rocky mountains to my right and to add to the thrill of it, this drive is along a cliff with a massive drop to the sea. But I also got to see some really cool things at stops along the way, elephant seals, whales, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and Henry Miller Memorial Library.

I must have stopped ten or twenty times in Big Sur to look at the sights. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Least favorite drive

After a long day of driving through Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, I went through the worst driving conditions I’ve ever experience on Route 58 in the Mojave Desert. Fog so thick, you could only see about two lines on the middle of the road ahead. This happened at night as well, when all I wanted to do was park up and sleep.

Favorite stop

This is a very hard one, but overall Joshua Tree National Park was best for me. I’ve wanted to see the National Park for a very long time and it was even more interesting than I anticipated. The town of Joshua Tree is small, but quality. The people in this area are really unique and fun. Plus we came across some random things in on our drive through here, like a drummer in the desert and an old western Hollywood set.

Make like a Joshua Tree. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Favorite RV park

During my trip I stayed in 13 different campgrounds and RV resorts. I can honestly say that they were all friendly and special for different reasons, but my favorite is going to have to be Fernwood Resort in Big Sur. The woods there are beautiful and I was parked up right next to the Big Sur River. The bathrooms are heated. Plus the Redwood Grill attached to this resort is cosy and filled with really friendly and interesting locals to talk to.

Colorful lights line the bridge across the Big Sur River at Fernwood Resort. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Best lesson

Buy a national park pass if you plan to road trip Western USA. The $80 “America the Beautiful” pass will allow you to enter and leave all National Parks in the country for an entire year. It be dumb not to visit National Parks in the USA and they each cost $10-25 to enter. We visited five in three weeks, which cost a total of $90, which means we could have saved $10 if we had known about this pass.

Want to read more? All posts about my trip out west can be found here. Enjoy and safe travels!

Thanks to Jucy Rentals USA for sponsoring my trip out West. Visit their website to start planning your own US road trip. Use the code “BobbiUSA” to receive 10% off your booking. Follow my trip right here on Heels and Wheels, as well as on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

As always, all opinions are my own.

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

The road tripper’s guide to cooking like a champ

Destinations, Road Trip, USA, USA

The road tripper’s guide to cooking like a champ

4 Comments 27 February 2013

Being a budget traveler and just enjoying cooking in general, it means a lot when I can cook while traveling. That’s why the best thing, for me, about traveling with my Jucy Champ in California had to be the full kitchen in the back. I loved waking up and making breakfast in the middle of a Cachuma Lake Recreation Area or cooking as the sun sets next to me in Big Sur.

The nice thing about cooking on the road is not only that you eat more affordably, but also that you can pick the best seat in the house.

I mainly ate what was cooked from the back of my Champ on my tour out West. No matter how equipped the kitchen, cooking from the back of a vehicle is a lot different than cooking at home. This guide will name the essentials that should be on your first shopping list, things to keep in mind and my personal road trip recipes.

Cooking essentials

Do you often catch yourself saying, “Oh no, I forgot….”? Road trippers should purchase these three things on their first trip to the grocery store to be used throughout the trip.

  1. Salt and pepper
  2. Dish soap and sponge
  3. Olive oil or butter

Boiling some water from the back of my Jucy Champ for coffee in the morning at Cachuma Lake. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Make sure you have

You think soup would be something inexpensive and easy to make on your road trip, until you get back to the car to find you don’t have a can opener! Luckily, my Jucy rental came fully equipped, so I didn’t have to buy any extra appliances, but it’s always good to be sure. Before planning out your meals, make sure you have these key items.

  1. Can-opener (soups, tuna, sauces)
  2. Sharp knife (meats, vegetables)
  3. Cutting board
  4. Colander (pasta, rice, vegetables)

Tips and reminders

Some things that are obvious to seasoned road trippers are unknown to newbies. Keeps these things in mind when cooking in your RV or camper van.

  1. No illegal dumping. This applies to anything and everything coming out of your vehicle, not just bathrooms. If you are emptying your waste tank ask people on the campground where to dispose of it.
  2. Consider how long things take to cook. The butane gas cartridges used for portable gas stoves pack quite a bit of cooking time, but be realistic with how long your meal idea with take.
  3. Wash up immediately. This is the golden rule in all kitchens, but especially those in cars. It’s not a good idea to drive with things floating around. Wash up and put everything away after eating, so you can go as soon as you want to.
  4. Cool off. Make sure your stove top and any pots or pans have cooled down before putting them away.
  5. Plan ahead. Purchase all your groceries etc. in advance of visiting national parks or secluded areas. These places have few choices and most are more expensive than say in the suburbs or big towns.

Three meal ideas

There are so many things you can cook from the back of your camper van. My advice is to keep it simple, but still have fun. These three videos were all shot from the back of my Jucy camper van and will give you some ideas of things to cook on your road trip.

Breakfast: Eggs California

Lunch: Nachos Grande

Dinner: Creamy fettuccine with three-cheese sausage

Thanks to Jucy Rentals USA for sponsoring my trip out West. Visit their website to start planning your own US road trip. Use the code “BobbiUSA” to receive 10% off your booking. Follow my trip right here on Heels and Wheels, as well as on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

As always all opinions are my own.

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

The road tripper’s guide to Las Vegas

Destinations, Guides, Road Trip, USA, USA

The road tripper’s guide to Las Vegas

No Comments 22 February 2013

The whole idea of Las Vegas, a mirage in the middle of the desert, makes it the perfect road trip city.

Its centrally located campgrounds allow road trippers to park up and leave the car for a few days. But for those who want to keep exploring there are plenty more interesting road side attractions, like the Hoover Dam, located less than an hour from Las Vegas Boulevard, otherwise known as “the Strip”.

Since the city packs so much, the only real problem is choosing what to do with your time here. This guide will help you decide that.

KOA at Circus Circus is the only RV Resort in Las Vegas located on the Strip. Perfect for road trippers. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon


Las Vegas has quite a few campgrounds and RV resorts, but only a couple are located either on the Strip or right next to it. If you want to camp and be close to all the action, check out KOA at Circus Circus or Oasis Las Vegas RV Resort.

Further options can be found in the city, but Lake Mead National Recreation Area and Red Rock Canyon are two conservation areas located just outside the city that offer camping, making them ideal places to escape the 24/7 party, but still be within reach of it.

However, if there is one city you might consider ditching the RV or camper for a few days and staying in a hotel, it’s this one. Las Vegas has a very wide range of hotel rooms, some as low as $19 and centrally located. Staying in a hotel can be more affordable than camping in Las Vegas, but make sure to weigh out the two options.

Best part about road tripping into Las Vegas from the West? Passing the “Welcome to the Fabulous Las Vegas sign” on arrival. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon


Vegas is a lot bigger than most people expect. The city limits stretch out much further than just one road full of casinos, so look into locations when booking or planning things here. It’s very easy to get around the city by car. Fuel is fairly affordable all over, though the further from the city center you are, the more affordable it becomes. Don’t forget to check out traffic reports during long weekends and holidays as this holiday destination will be a lot busier at those times. Always expect to drive slow down the Strip.

RVs or campers with height restrictions might have trouble finding parking in certain areas, especially Las Vegas Boulevard, because the parking is often in garages. Be mindful of this and plan ahead. Those who want to travel the Strip without their car, should purchase a one day pass for $7 with The Deuce, a double decker bus that runs up and down the Strip all day and night. Also look into what free shuttle services your hotel or campground offer.

Try Gordon Ramsay’s Burgr, which allows people to visit a famous chef’s joint, but at a decent price. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon


Fine dining in Sin City is endless and delectable. Some of the world’s best chefs work here and the city is known for its unique restaurants. For those on a budget, there are a lot of grocery stores, like Wal-Mart and Trader Joe’s, just off the strip to stock up food before parking up or heading out.

How about a drink of Absinthe? Or you could just see the show! Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon


Those who intend to take part in this city’s renowned nightlife scene should stay on the Strip to be closest to all the action. This will help you avoid expensive taxi fares or the hassle of worrying about public transportation on nights or days out, which you’re likely to have several of during your stay. Plus it’s easy to find nice, affordable rooms in this area, so there’s no reason not to book here.

Drinks are free to gamblers, whether they’re spending pennies on slot machines or Bejamins at poker tables. Tips are expected and you might have to wait longer for the following drink if you don’t. Another idea for affordable drinking is to check Spy On Vegas, which organizes open bars around the city during the week.

Walk across the Memorial Bridge for the best and scariest view of the Hoover Dam. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon


Though visitors don’t really need to leave Las Vegas Boulevard during their stay, it would be good to also check out Downtown Las Vegas. This is the original Casino strip in Vegas. It’s great to check out the funky signage on Fremont Street here, though you probably won’t feel much like Sinatra walking through the somewhat cheesy enclosed area.

Remember that there is a lot more to do in Vegas than drink. If you’re getting a bit tired of the constant boozing, check out the city’s spas and shows, which are among the best in the world.

It’s amazing how many great things are within reach of Las Vegas and several tour operators use Vegas as a starting off point to see the Southwest. Less than thirty minutes from the Strip is Lake Mead, which is the largest reservoir in the USA, and Red Rock Canyon, which is known for its rock formations and Native American history. Beyond Lake Mead on Route 93, about 45 minutes from the Las Vegas city center is the Hoover Dam.

One final trip people often take from Las Vegas, but is very far out is to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. It takes about four hours to reach the South Entrance of this National Park and under three hours to reach the entrance to the skywalk, which goes out over Grand Canyon West, though this is not open all year.

Road tripping to San Francisco or Los Angeles? There’s a guide for that!

Thanks to Jucy Rentals USA for sponsoring my trip out West. Visit their website to start planning your own US road trip. Use the code “BobbiUSA” to receive 10% off your booking. Follow my trip right here on Heels and Wheels, as well as on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

As always, all opinions are my own.

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

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