A surprise ending to our five-month trip

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A surprise ending to our five-month trip

6 Comments 07 March 2013

Five months of pure travel have come to an end.

Way back in September, Ric and I set off for a trip that would take us back to Southeast Asia and to both our homes in time for the holidays for the first time in two years.

Our plans went almost according to plan, that is, until the very end.

Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Our route

Starting in Auckland, New Zealand, our first destination was Bangkok, Thailand. After one week of partying in the city, we headed north to Chiang Mai, where I played with elephants and met a few bloggers. From there we met up with my Dad and headed south to Railay. With only a 30-day visa, we had to leave Thailand after that, so we headed to Langkawi, Malaysia. Meant to head back to Bangkok overland, instead we continued south to Kuala Lumpur then flew back to Bangkok for free thanks to a canceled flight at the start of our journey, which Jet Star gave us $100 sorry vouchers for.

The next leg of our journey almost didn’t happen because of stupid Hurricane Sandy. Our flight from Bangkok to New York was scheduled for only two days after the hurricane hit the northeast. Luckily, we made it to NYC okay and on time. This would be my first visit home in over a year and Ric’s second visit to the USA. Our stay in NJ was more about spending time with family than traveling, but we still managed to fit a few trips in, a weekend in Brooklyn, a week in Canada and day trips around my home state.

After one month at home, it was off to England, Ric’s homeland, for Christmas. Ric is from a little town in the north called Bollington. This would be my first time visiting England with Ric and his first time home in three years. Needless to say people were happy to see him. This leg of our journey was also more about spending time with family, but again, we couldn’t sit still for too long. While in England, we visited Eyam, Liverpool and Lyme Park.

Photo by Richard John Hackey

The surprise

When this trip started I published a post mapping it out and wrote at the end that what would follow our five-month adventure was a surprise. Well, it was a surprise to me too.

I was meant to be writing this post from Mount Maunganui, New Zealand and telling all of you that we returned to the country with BUNAC visas. Instead, I’m writing to you from London, United Kingdom a bit of a shocking reason as to why the plans changed.

We missed home.

And I don’t mean like homesick, I miss my Daddy. I mean like practically, I don’t want to spend another few years not seeing my friends and family. I know it sounds crazy coming from a girl who praised Australia and New Zealand and would do anything to stay.

A mixture of not wanting to spend over a grand every time we wanted to see our families, getting sick of dealing with visas and a need for some kind of a real base has led Ric and I to England. Obviously, Ric is from here, so he’ll be working. Me on the other hand, I’m just a visitor, so I’ll be freelancing, while we take steps towards something more permanent.

This actually wasn’t the easy route for us and our relationship, but in the long run, when we both have the same place to call home and go back to it no matter what, I think we’ll realize it was the right decision.

Photo by Richard John Hackey

The other surprise

On top of changing our last stop, we also added an entire other trip to the itinerary. If you haven’t noticed, I kicked off 2013 with a road trip around western USA. The trip with Jucy rentals came about very randomly.

I had worked with the company before and really love them. Someone on the team asked me if I could recommend any US bloggers to do a trip. At that point I was coming back to the States in January anyway to sort out my New Zealand visa, so I jumped at the opportunity. I spent three weeks cruising out west, two of which I got to share with Ric.

Photo from Pulau Payar by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The best moments

-Finally discovering the perfect island in Southeast Asia. I thought this would come about on my first trip to the region in 2011, but every island we visited was missing something. Langkawi, Malaysia was not. On this island we found a cheap hut on the beach, warm waters, friendly reggae bars and food I could actually eat without getting sick. Thank god for Malaysia and curry.

-Ric celebrated his first Thanksgiving and I got to celebrate my first with the newest addition to our family, my nephew. Having a cross-cultural relationship, one of the best things in the world is to be able to celebrate special occasions with your partner and your family. This Thanksgiving was perfect.

-Having my name chanted by tens of drunken Englishmen to the tune of a football chant. I loved Bollington. It was so good to finally visit Ric’s village, meet the people I felt like I practically knew already and see where my special boy grew up. The partying wasn’t so bad either.

-Falling in love with the USA again. When I left America three years ago, I really didn’t want to go back. I just didn’t feel like I belonged there or that my thoughts on how life should be were possible there. That all changed in California. It made me not only like America again, but want to move back. I realized how vast the USA is and how different every city and state in it is as well.

Photo from Art13 London by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

What next

For the first time in probably two years I don’t really have a concrete travel plan. I am a free-spirit and what not, but since meeting Ric, we’ve always had a plan. We have one now, but it’s more to sort out our living situation than go on any big trips. But there are still a few things on the horizon.

First is the Three Peaks Challenge in northern United Kingdom. To complete, people must climb the highest peak in England, Scotland and Whales in less than 24 hours. I plan to do it in the summer. I’ll be back in the USA this summer for a friend’s wedding and Ric and I are hoping to get his family out there in the summer as well. We’ve been together for almost three years and our families still have not met. Bonkers!

Finally, I won a trip to a dude ranch in Montana with Passports with Purpose this Christmas. That’s the second year in a row that I’ve won something through the organzation. I can’t really express how excited I am for the trip. I’ve had a weird fascination with Montana for a very long time. I’m hoping to visit in the Fall.

Until then expect a lot of posts about my favorite city in the world: London. If there’s anything you’ve ever wanted to know about or see in the city, let me know and I look into it for you!

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Wish you were here: My Santa Monica Dream

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Wish you were here: My Santa Monica Dream

4 Comments 12 February 2013

Goodbye my Santa Monica dream.

I played that same Angus and Julia Stone song as I wrote my final post from New Zealand in September. Little did I know, five months I would actually be saying goodbye to Santa Monica, the last stop on a world tour that started with that farewell post.

As I write from a bumpy bus en route to San Francisco, that same refrain running through my head.

I didn’t plan to visit California, let alone Santa Monica, on this five-month tour. Really, if everything had gone to plan, I would be writing to you now from New Zealand. But as usual with travel, I didn’t end up quite where I expected, nor have I taken the route I intended.

And what did I get in return for this detour?

I fell in love with a destination, yet again.

Pacific Pier is Santa Monica’s most well-known attraction, but did you know Route 66 ends here? Photos by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

When Ric was booking his flights to come and meet me in California, he asked me when to book the return flights. The worst possible question for a pair of one-way travelers like us, but one that had to be answered considering the USA’s strict requirements for visitors. I said book it for the day after our road trip would end. He said why not a few days later so we can enjoy the sun. His mom said why not a week?

And with that suggestion from a woman nicknamed “The Oracle”, that’s exactly what we did.

Why not a week?

Money, as usual, was a worry, but all we’ll be doing next is returning to rainy England for the end of winter. Why not soak up the California sunshine, if only for a few days more?

So we had our extra week in California, but where would we spend it? This was a question left unanswered until the night before I was scheduled to drop off my camper van in LA. I had wanted to head to San Diego. Ric just wanted a beach. We were both sick of moving and couldn’t fathom sorting out public transportation to another city the next day, so we settled on a hotel only 20 minutes away from the campground in Malibu, where we spent the last night of our Jucy tour.

Santa Monica.

It’s weird how at home we both felt in a place we never intended on visiting.

I’ve heard a few stories about people who ended up staying in a place for years, maybe even until their death, after arriving for some random reason, like their car broke down there. If it weren’t for visas and what not, well, this post might have gone something like that.

But for now, our time in Santa Monica was limited to a week and what a week it was. I was meant to work the entire time and Ric meant to catch a tan while lounging next to the Pacific. While we both fulfilled our duties, we also fit in a fair bit of exploring.

Ric and my friend Julia at Cha Cha Chicken on our last day in Santa Monica. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

We went to a live taping of Conan, which allowed us to walk through Warner Bros. studios. I spent time with one of my very best friends from NJ who brought me as her plus one to the premiere of Burning Love at Paramount Studios. Ric found a local pub in Ye Olde King’s Head, a bar where we watched England defeat Brazil and made friends with a bunch of people from Michigan. We took in the sights at Venice Beach, toured the town’s canals and even tried the fish tacos from I Love You Man at James Beach. We played at Pacific Pier, learned at the Getty Villa and ate our last meal at Cha Cha Chicken.

Ric and I really got into a regime, visiting OP Cafe every morning for its $3.99 breakfast specials. Photo by Richard John Hackey

There is something very special about Los Angeles. I’m not sure if people start to take it for granted after living there a while, or if its lost on people in the Entertainment industry, because they know all the tricks behind the magic, but it’s a spectacular place to be a newby. You never know what’s going to happen in the city or where your day will lead you. Who will you bump into? What opportunity will arise?

It’s such a special place and while a lot of people say the magic of Hollywood was lost after the Golden Age, I don’t think that’s true. It definitely wasn’t lost on me and I don’t believe it’s lost on the millions of people who arrive each year, hoping all their dreams come true.

I didn’t come to LA with a dream, but I’m leaving with one. And while I may have to say goodbye to my Santa Monica dream, I have a feeling I’ll be revisiting it in a few years time.

The Facts:

We stayed at Ocean Park Hotel on 32nd Street. At $65 per night, this was the most affordable place we could find, but a very clean and quiet place to stay, not far from all the action.

LA is definitely a city that requires a car. I took on the public transportation here a few times, and each journey took me one to two hours, plus multiple buses to complete. Rent a car if you can.

If you want to feel a bit of old Hollywood, visit Culver City. It’s a very clean cut area of LA that seems naturally lost in time and oozing with film history. The Culver Studios has been used in several films including Gone with the Wind. Much of the cast of The Wizard of Oz stayed at Culver Hotel during filming.

My food and drink recommendations are as follows: OP Cafe has breakfast specials for $3.99; hearty and delicious, the fish tacos at James Beach are amazing but very expensive $19 for the dish and the best spot we found was Cha Cha Chicken; authentic Caribbean food, plus its BYO, which will save you some money.

The fish tacos from ‘I Love You Man’ can be found at James Beach in Venice Beach, CA. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Finally, see a live taping while in LA. It’s not only the best, but also the cheapest day out Ric and I had in LA. Tickets are free, but can be competitive. Book ahead for shows like Ellen and Conan. Do more research if you’re not too concerned with what show you see, because there are a million to choose from here and some are crying for audience members to add some laughs in the background.

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Wish you were here: Northern England

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Wish you were here: Northern England

No Comments 12 January 2013

There’s a side of England people miss by only visiting London, and I think that’s it’s most quintessential side.

Quaint villages mapped out by winding cobblestone roads. Homes dating back to the the 14th century and beyond. Endless farmland only defined by miles and miles of dry rock walls. Country pubs that always seem to attract a crowd, even if they’re in the middle of nowhere. Horses, wellington boots and of course lavish retreat homes, once owned by nobility, now open to the public.

One wonderful thing I’ve learned from traveling a only few different countries more extensively in the last few years, rather than just one spot in several just to tick another nation off my list, is that when you only visit one city, you actually miss out on the country, both as a place and as a whole.

I made that mistake on my past three visits to the UK, most of which I spent in London. Don’t get me wrong. I love London. It’s an amazing place and a true destination unto itself, but it’s only a tiny part of a country with serious character (and plenty of them as well).

Ric made this very clear to me when we first started dating and I told him of my visits to the UK. Meeting and developing almost all of our relationship abroad, we must have talked about where we come from and the people there a million times before either of us got to actually see it for ourselves. His eyes would light up when he’d tell me of the England he knew and the places near him I had to see. Mine did the same when I finally got to visit his homeland this holiday season.

Between Christmas and New Year celebrations we managed to fit in a few day trips around northern England. All the places we stopped aren’t too far apart, yet still manage to have different histories and completely different accents. They can be part of a one or two day road trip and a few are entire trip destinations unto themselves, but all definitely deserve a place on any British tour itinerary.

Chester

With Roman ruins and several buildings dating back to medieval times, this city near the border of Wales allows visitors to slip back in time. Walk on top of the walls surrounding the city, which were built as far back as 70 AD for protection of the fortress. Go for a boat cruise on the River Dee. And admire the many types of architecture in the historical city.

Did you know due to an old law that still hasn’t been repealed, it’s legal to shoot a Welshman with a bow and arrow from inside the city walls after midnight in Chester?

Walk the walls surrounding Chester for an overview, before diving in. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Eyam

Known as “plague village”, Eyam isolated itself after one of its residents contracted the plague from London in August 1665. Even today it’s sad to read plaques in front of the row of plague cottages, which state how many died in each house and when. Imagine losing your entire family in only a few months.

Only one plague victim is buried in the Eyam Church and that is Katherine Mompesson, wife to William, the rector of the church at the time who was a major decider in isolating Eyam when the plague broke out. Find her grave and make sure to go inside the church as well to learn more about the village’s history.

A row of plague cottages tells the story of how many were lost and how quickly the plague spread when it hit here in 1665. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Peak District National Park

If your more interested in the scenery than history of the north, then head to the Peak District for some stunning walks and views. Located mainly in Derbyshire, this area stretches out to six different counties in the north. Not only is it United Kingdom’s first National Park, but it’s also home to the second highest pub in England. End your day of walking at Cat & Fiddle Inn, for a well-deserved pint.

The Peak District offers open land and walking trails with dramatic views. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Chesterfield

Granted a market charter in 1204, you can bet this is a good place to go shopping for local produce and goods. Various markets take place take place all around the Derbyshire’s town almost every day. While you’re there, make sure to check out the ‘Crooked Spire Church’. A few legends surround why the spire went crooked, but it most likely has to do with poor construction.

Make sure to find the ‘Crooked Spire Church’ in Chesterfield. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Lyme Park

Probably best known these days as a major film location for the BBC mini-series version of Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth, this estate home and surrounding park make for a great day out, with a bit of history. The park grounds are spread across 1,300 acres of open space and walking trails home to deer whose ancestors there date back to Medieval times. Walk around Lyme Hall and its gardens, which were given to Sir Thomas Danyers by Edward III in 1346 for his service in the Battle of Crecy.

And don’t forget to visit the infamous lake where Mr. Darcy “strips off” and jumps in.

 

Make a wish for Colin Firth in the courtyard at Lyme Hall. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

London still the only stop on your agenda? Didn’t think so.

Have you ever visited ‘up north’? What was your favorite destination?

Banner photo of Bollington, a northern village I stayed in close to all these locations.

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Wish you were here: Liverpool

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Wish you were here: Liverpool

4 Comments 09 January 2013

Liverpool.

To people in England, it’s known for the locals’ scouse accent and loyal football supporters. To people around the world, it’s known as the home of Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields and of course, The Beatles.

But for Ric and I, it’s actually the first place we’ve ever visited at the same time.

How, you ask, considering we met in Australia in 2010 and until my current trip, I had not visited England since 2007?

Let me start by explaining Ric’s love of Liverpool Football Club. I could go on and on about how he was born supporter and remains one even though he lives about 30-minutes from Old Trafford and most of his friends are Manchester United fans, but I’ll just say this: the first gift Ric ever bought me, was a Liverpool shirt.

What a man!

So of course he was in Liverpool on May 23, 2007 when they played AC Milan in the UEFA Champions League Final in Athens, Greece.

What’s weird is that, I was there too.

Out of all the days I chose to leave London, where I lived and spent most of my six months in England, out of all the cities in the north I could have visited, it was this day and this city I chose. I must admit though, I knew nothing of football at the time, but friendly northerners persuaded me to stay and watch the game. While I was sad they lost, I’m glad I stayed, because when I met a roaring and very handsome fan only three years later, I had something to wow him with.

So just over five years later, we returned to Liverpool together, with his two brothers, to tour Anfield, home to Liverpool FC, and wander around the city.

A panoramic of Anfield. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

This was my first stadium tour ever and it might ruin all stadium tours in the future for a few reasons.

First, is the history. Originally, home to Everton, a rival Liverpool club, Anfield opened in 1884. Since then it’s has seen great triumph; like winning the top league 18 times, great men; like manager Bill Shankly who transformed the club to what it is today and great tragedy; a memorial to the 96 who died in the Hillsborough disaster stands next to Shankly Gates.

Second, is how much visitors see on the tour. In about an hour our group visited the press room, sat in the Kop as well as the team bench. I touched the “This is Anfield” sign before walking out to the pitch. I even sat in Gerrard’s spot in the team changing rooms. During all this, our guide told stories and facts about each stop on the tour.

Me touching the “This is Anfield” sign. Photo by Richard John Hackey

Red seats in The Kop. Did you know this used to be standing space? Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Players sit according to their position on the pitch in the dressing room. Shankly enforced this so they would talk about football. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Third, it was made extra special by going with Ric and his brothers. I can’t imagine bigger fans or more fun guys to go with.

Ric’s brother Jim interviews him from the same spot players are interviewed after a match. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Ric and his brother Ste on the waterfront in Liverpool. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The tour costs £16, which includes entrance into the museum. I recommend it to all Liverpool FC fans as well as those who have a general interest in Premiership football or just want to truly visit this northern city.

After the tour we spent a few hours just wandering around Liverpool. I know the city was under a lot of construction the last time I visited, but I was honestly shocked by how much it had changed. Liverpool has a diverse and interesting mix of refurbished and modern buildings. From the 14th century Medieval Church of All Saints, to the reinvigorated 19th century Albert Docks, to the extremely modern Museum of Liverpool, which opened in 2011, it’s impossible to keep your head down in this city. Somehow this combination of architecture and design works in the city. To complete it all is the waterfront, lined with old-fashion street lights.

Contrasting architecture, modern black design in the front and the Royal Liverpool building behind. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Walking to Albert Docks from the city center. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

A walkway on the waterfront in Liverpool in the afternoon. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Both times I’ve visited Liverpool I’ve had a reason. Next time, I’m looking forward to just spending the day walking around and finding all it has to offer, because it’s the kind of city that keeps on surprising its visitors, even when they’re as far away as Australia.

Have you ever visited Liverpool? What’s a city that truly surprised you on your travels?

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Wish you were here: Christmas in Bollington

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Wish you were here: Christmas in Bollington

6 Comments 07 January 2013

After almost seven weeks in the US, it was time for the third and final part of our four-month world tour, which started in New Zealand in September. With only five days until Christmas, Ric and I boarded separate flights to his homeland, England.

It was a serious homecoming for him, as this is his first visit home in three years, first Christmas home in two and the first holiday season celebrated with his entire family in something like seven years. Ric’s not the only traveller in the Hackey clan. His mom always jokes that they’re going to lock her away for child trafficking. Her three boys are always off to different places around the world.

Brothers: Ste, Jim and Ric opening presents Christmas morning. Photo by Jill Hackey

I was a bit sad not to be there to see everyone’s face when Ric arrived, but my flight to Manchester Airport wasn’t far behind.

For me, this was my first time visiting Ric’s hometown of Bollington, which is about 30 minutes outside Manchester, and my first return to England after studying abroad in London five years ago. During those six months at Westminster University, I didn’t get to see very much of northern England, so we had a lot of exploring to do, but Christmas first.

Every Brit I met in Australia and New Zealand constantly talked about how amazing the holidays are in the UK.

They were right.

It’s not just a day or two-day event here, it’s a month of preparation and pretty much a week of celebration.

My expectations of Bollington after hearing Ric talk about it for the past two years, was that it was a mixture of The Holiday and Green Street Hooligans. Football fanatics in a quaint village. Walking into The Church House Inn with his family the night we arrived, I definitely had deja vu of Jude Law popping into a cozy pub in the country, friends smiling, fire blazing while Frou Frou’s “Let go” plays in the background. Going out with Ric’s friends for a fancy dress night only a few days later and listening to the football-like songs they made up for just about everything, even me, I got that match day feel from Green Street-without the violence.

Photo montage from the top of White Nancy in Bollington. Photos by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

All-in-all, I kind of knew I would love Bollington. For an American, it’s got buildings that date back further than my country. For a suburban girl, it’s nice to pop around the corner to the pub for a drink. And in general everyone has just been extremely friendly and kind.

On the gushy side, it’s amazing to see where Ric came from and get a better understanding of why he’s such a wonderful man.

After a few days of catching up, last minute Christmas shopping and getting into the spirit by visiting things like the Manchester Christmas Markets, it was already Christmas Eve.

Walking around the Manchester Christmas Markets on a very rainy day. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

I think our celebrations this year were mild compared to Ric’s in Bollington in the past. He always talked about a Christmas Eve pub crawl that started at about noon. Still recovering from the fancy dress pub crawl a few days before, we opted to spend this one having a few drinks at home and playing Trivial Pursuit with the family, which I must add, the girls team won. We made it out for a few hours to catch up with everyone in town, but we were fast asleep by midnight as Ric advised me, “Father Christmas might miss us if we don’t get to bed now.”.

A very techy Christmas, my dad gave me a new computer before I left for England, Ric bought me about every usb gadget imaginable and his friend gave us a usb fan (how amazing is that!?). Father Christmas gave me a stocking full of magazines, candy, beauty products and money (Thanks Jill!). Ric’s brothers gave us matching monkey onesies. It was a great holiday. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Father Christmas came with massive stalkings for Ric, his two brothers and even myself. He’s pretty good to have found me in Australia, New Zealand and now England. After exchanging gifts, we visited The Church House Inn where everyone had already snapped their Christmas crackers and were wearing those famous paper crowns. We came home to put on our own. Sadly, I didn’t win any of the Christmas cracker wars this holiday. But I did have an amazing dinner with wonderful people and managed to be on the winning team of Trivial pursuit yet again.

Ric and I at his Aunt and Uncle’s house on boxing day. Photo by Jill Hackey

Jumping forward to New Years Eve a week later, we celebrated again in Bollington. Ric and I both have the same mentality towards New Years, an overpriced holiday that usually let’s you down. So we never make grand plans, but this year we wanted to do something as Ric hadn’t celebrated with his friends and family in years.

One of his friends made reservations at an Indian restaurant in town called Viceroy. It was the perfect New Years night for me. We had a massive meal of curries, onion bajies and much more as well as several glasses of cider, sambuca and champagne. We danced for a few hours on a busy but roomy dance floor. Plus, we got to watch fireworks at midnight.

Celebrating New Years at the Viceroy. Photo courtesy of Graham Ratcliffe

We partied well into 2013 and woke up with the usual first day of the year headache.

Plans for 2013? I have a few, but I’m not announcing any of them yet. It’s a year that’s a bit unpredictable for Ric and I but I do have a good feeling about this one. So I’ll just work on keeping my resolutions of drinking more water and being more organized, then see how everything else pans out.

Happy New Year to all of you! What are your resolutions for 2013 and where will this year take you?

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Wish you were here: Fallingwater

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Wish you were here: Fallingwater

2 Comments 03 January 2013

In the 1930s, Edgar Kaufmann Sr, owner of the Pittsurgh department store in the same name, commissioned famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright to build a retreat house for him and his family in the quiet town of Mill Run. The family expected something innovative from the architect as that was his expertise, so their only real request was that the house include a view of a waterfall located on the property.

But they didn’t specify what view of that waterfall they were after.

As usual, Wright shocked the world when he created a blue print of a home literally built on top of a waterfall. Fallingwater received notoriety before construction completed in 1939 as it was featured in Time Magazine in January 1938. It served as a retreat home to the Kauffmanns and in 1963 Edgar Jr., the son of the three-person family, donated it to The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, allowing visitors from all over the world to see what might be Wright’s most popular home.

The famous house is well-worth a visit, but requires a bit of dedication to reach. Mill Run is located in a remote area of Western Pennsylvania. The area is known for its skiing in the winter and river activities in the summer, but if you’re not from PA, chances are you wouldn’t have known that. Located one hour and 30 minutes from Pittsburgh and four hours and 30 minutes from Philadelphia, allow yourself plenty of time to reach this icon, because I neglected to do that.

I’m not sure when I first heard about Fallingwater or what it was that made me want to visit so much, but I had wanted to visit there for at least ten years. For some reason, I never planned a trip. I saw the Robie House in Chicago, IL and learned that Kentuck Knob, another FLW house was located only ten minutes from Fallingwater, but still I never managed to get out there.

When my dad was going on and on about a woman he had just fallen in love with, one of the things he said about her was that she had always wanted to visit Fallingwater, like me. It instantly became something we had to do, finally. So my dad, his girlfriend, Ric and I made the drive out on my last weekend in the States for the holiday.

Ric, myself, my dad and his girlfriend Jodie, taken at a look out point near Kentuck Knob.

While we didn’t get off to a good start due to poor planning by me (I thought Mill Run was three hours from our home in NJ, turns out it’s five), everything could not have worked out more perfectly on our trip.

We left at about 10 a.m. and with a few stops, arrived at our accommodation by 4 p.m. I had looked at pretty much every hotel available in the area. I was really hoping to stay some place a bit different, like a bed and breakfast, considering how quaint the area is. Unfortunately, every room in our price range at a place like this was booked. By far the best sort of accommodation I found up there was renting out an actual Frank Lloyd Wright designed house, but this was booked out as well.

I started to settle on Holiday Inn when I figured I would give the room share sites a try. The pickings were sparse as this place is really in the middle of nowhere, but I found a loft condominium on Airbnb, which was only $100 per night and located right on a ski resort. It was perfect, kitchen, fireplace, two bedrooms, even a Christmas tree. So we lit a fire, made sushi, played a few games, then went to bed early to be fresh for the following day of home tours.

The four of us doing a holiday photo at our loft for the weekend.

As things worked out, we ended up visiting Kentuck Knob first. While this home was designed by FLW, he had very little to do with the building of it. A team of local contractors led by Herman Keys created the home based on the famous architect’s blue prints. Keys made a few changes of his own, which turned out for the best as the house remains in perfect shape today and is still privately owned by Lord Palumbo of England, but open to the public.

A view of Kentuck Knob. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

I’m actually glad we saw Kentuck Knob first, because while it was extremely impressive, I think it would have been a bit anti-climatic after Fallingwater.

I’ve seen Fallingwater a million times in photos before, but I was still amazed by it upon arrival.

How was this home built in the 1930s? It’s so modern.

Built directly over a waterfall, FLW made use of the rocks and shape of the earth, building the house literally into it. On top of touring what is already a piece of art, visitors can browse through the Kauffmanns’ private collection, including pieces by Pablo Picasso and Diego Rivera.

There are a million and one details to and stories about Fallingwater that our tour guide went through with us along the way. I especially liked the steps in the lounge area that went down to the water and had glass doors, which serves as a sort of air conditioning for the house and is constant reminder of where the house is situated.

The house features FLW’s famous “deconstruction of the box” by joining glass windows together at the corners of the house and allowing those corners to look open. And of course, it was really special for me to finally see that famous view of the entire house in person.

Fallingwater taken from a lookout point on the property. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The two houses exceeded my expectations in every way and were worth the time and money. Each tour costs $US20 per adult and lasts about an hour. Plan your visit in advance, tickets sell out quick, as does accommodation in the area. Plus, you’ll want to work out directions prior as the area can be a bit difficult to navigate on a GPS and know exactly what your travel time is.

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Wish you were here: Canada

Blog, Canada, Destinations, Wish you were here

Wish you were here: Canada

7 Comments 19 December 2012

Sometimes you don’t travel to venture off path or explore the unknown, but rather to retrace the footsteps of those before you. That was the case with our trip to Canada.

Ric and I visited the country of course to see the sights and learn about the culture, but mainly to catch up with a good friend and in memory of Ric’s late grandfather, Eric.

Ever since I met Ric, he’s talked about Canada. As you can imagine, our conversations are constantly filled with questions of ‘where do you want to go next’ and ‘where have you always wanted to visit’. While my answers are always random and often changing, his remains the same: Canada and the USA. He saw a lot of the States last year and saw it a bit more in depth on our current visit, so he was extremely eager to finally venture further north as was I, since the only part of Canada I had seen before is Niagara Falls, which everyone tells me isn’t really Canada.

Ric’s love of the country has been instilled in him from birth. His grandfather lived there for a bit in the 1950s and if history went slightly different, he would actually be a Canuck today. His interest in the country only became stronger in Australia when he made an incredible friend in a Canadian called Kane. So this trip to North America, we had to visit.

Luckily, I only live about an eight-hour drive from the US/Canadian border at Niagara Falls. We spent two days driving up there, taking in the stunning Pennsylvania landscape most of the way and stopping at Watkins Glen State Park, a waterfall I had seen on Pinterest, in New York.

Unfortunately the walkway at Watkins Glen was closed for the winter when we visited, so this was the closest we could get. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

After a night in a random Comfort Inn along the way, we left early the next day to see Niagara Falls. I had only seen the Falls in summer, so it was amazing to see them in the winter, warm misty water fogging up the cold air, creating a really dramatic scene. We only spent an hour on the American side, because we knew we would be back and we were eager to see Kane.

He lives in Port Dover, a few hours away from the Falls. We spent the night at his house and instantly clicked with his family. We drank wine over a bonfire and the next day we went quading. Their whole set up out there is really nice. Lots of land to play with and a really close-knit family to share it with. It was hard to leave and we had to visit again.

We were up hills, through rivers and in a lot of mud on our quad trip in Canada.

So when we left for Toronto a few days later, it wasn’t goodbye, but see you in a couple days.

Toronto is a city that doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it should. We visited the city pretty much completely based on the fact that Ric’s grandfather lived there and loved it so much. But after a day of exploring, I’m sad to admit it wasn’t a city that had crossed my mind before.

I hate comparing places, but this was my feeling in Toronto. I’ve met a lot of Canadians and Aussies who say how similar their cultures and personalities are. On that level, Toronto reminded me of a cold Melbourne. Not too many people, but plenty of things to do. Valued small and individual businesses, rather than commercial. A main stream city, but some really funky areas.

Can you tell which one of these players in front of the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto is real? Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Being there in the winter was especially good, because I visited Canada the way I thought I would. We went ice skating, snuggled up in a cafe with coffee and ate hearty food in the form of poutine. How I went 26 years of life not knowing about poutine is beyond me. Kane’s mom mentioned that we had to try it a few days prior, so we made an effort to do so in Toronto. We visited a place called Smoke’s Poutinerie, which has several locations all over the city and features an array of spins on the Canadian classic.

Traditionally, poutine is fries served with warm brown gravy and pieces of curd cheese. Smoke’s does that but then adds to it. For instance I tried poutine Nacho Grande style served with chilli, cheese, guacamole and sour cream.

I tried a Nacho Grande version of the poutine at Smoke’s. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Decadent. Indulgent. Insanely delicious.

The rest of our day in the city we spent just wandering around. We visited places like the CN Tower and the Hockey Hall of Fame, but it was more important to us to visit places Ric’s mom said were important to Eric, like The Royal York, which the history of fascinated him.

I’ve never been on a trip like that, because my family through its recent history hasn’t been much on the move. I always hear about friends with Polish or Italian roots going on trips to retrace that, but my ancestry is Native American and English, so anything I would trace would be in my own backyard or England about 400 years ago, which we have no record of. I loved seeing Ric follow his grandfather’s footsteps in a foreign country and seeing that meaningful side of a place.

As mentioned, we paid Port Dover another visit. Kane and his girlfriend Jacqui took us all over to places like Long Point, a sandy hamlet that stretches far into Lake Erie, and The Boat House Restaurant in Port Rowan. Visiting Canada is interesting for me because things are similar to the States, but so different. It’s kind of a homey feel that keeps me on my toes. But I love the country, how much open land they have and that the Native culture is still around, because it’s not really in the States.

We didn’t make it too far on our trip home, stopping in Niagara Falls on the Canada side for the night. You really need a full day in Niagara Falls, not to explore the area, because it’s pretty cheese and expensive, but to see the Falls at day and night. They light up at night and it’s something you don’t want to miss if you make the effort to visit there.

Niagara Falls by day. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Niagara Falls by night. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

After that night, I was ready to get home as we leave for England very soon. How does time manage to go about three times faster during the holidays?

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Wish you were home for the holidays

Blog, Destinations, USA, Wish you were here

Wish you were home for the holidays

No Comments 14 December 2012

About six months into my three years abroad, I remember speaking with a few veteran travelers about spending the holidays abroad. They had done it a few times and at the time of our conversation, I hadn’t spent a single holiday season away from the USA.

“It’s good, but it’s better at home,” said one French girl. “No matter how much I love to travel, I always prefer to be at home for the holidays.”

Well two and a half years and two Thanksgivings and Christmases later, I have to admit that I can’t agree with her more.

Let me be clear and say that I loved my past two holiday seasons abroad. Both were in the southern hemisphere and warm. I also spent both with Ric as well as a lot of new friends. My holidays abroad included great food and lots of drink. Plus, santa always managed to find me no matter where I was in the world.

But as the song goes, “There’s no place like home for the holidays”.

So I was extremely happy to be spending this Thanksgiving back in the States and it was an amazing one. Ric and I started the day at my Dad’s house eating donuts and watching the Macy’s Day Parade. We then came back to where we’re staying, with my Aunt and Uncle to bake a few pies and get ready for the night. We stopped by a friend’s house for one meal. Then headed to my brother’s for the main event: Thanksgiving dinner.

I made pumpkin and pecan pies this Thanksgiving. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

I loved every minute of the day and was so happy to finally give Ric a proper Thanksgiving.

But Ric and I couldn’t suppress our travel instincts for too long. We spent Black Friday on the road with my dad and his girlfriend exploring my absolute favorite destinations in and around New Jersey; Frenchtown, Lambertville and Bucks Country, Pennsylvania.

We started Black Friday with a visit to Two Buttons, owned by Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert and her husband Jose. The store includes all sorts of authentic imports from around the world. It’s packed with furniture, jewelry and more. You could literally spend hours here and still not scratch the surface.

Goodies found at Two Buttons. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

From there we took the scenic route along the Delaware River on the PA side up to the quaint Frenchtown. This is by far one of my favorite places to cruise. It’s filled with history, beautiful homes and foliage that creates a tunnel to drive through. In Frenchtown we had coffee at The Bridge Cafe and shopped around for a little.

At that point in the day we were in need of wine, so we headed up to Sand Castle Winery for a tasting that resulted in the purchase of three bottles.

Photos by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Those bottle came in handy for our BYO dinner at the Hamilton Grill Room. This classic restaurant on the canals in Lambertville has always been a favorite for me. We had a bit of time to kill before our reservation so we stopped into the Boat House just across the way for a few cocktails first.

The tiny bar is dimly-lit and filled with ivy-league sport decor, most specifically that of rowing. It’s the kind of place you’d expect a cool professor to retreat to after class in the 1940s. Plus they serve amazing cocktails.

After a few rounds, we finally headed to the Hamilton Grill Room for that dinner I had been craving since I last left NJ. I walk into the restaurant to be greeted by a man in a colorful bow tie. He brings us to our seats that look out on the canal. The restaurant is full of people and warmed by the wood fire oven, part of the restaurants open kitchen area. Centered in the restaurant is a big ice pit with fresh meats and fish on display. A chef works next this preparing meats in an array of methods as people look from a bar in front of his.

The chef cooks fish in the middle of the Hamilton Grill Room. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

We eat oysters, lamb, salmon and steak. Drink wine and chat about the day. There’s no place I’d rather be than here this weekend and no company I’d rather have.

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Wish you were here: New York City love

Blog, Destinations, USA, Wish you were here

Wish you were here: New York City love

4 Comments 13 December 2012

This is a story about how I fell in love with New York City.

Let me start by explaining my relationship with NYC before this past weekend.

I’m from New Jersey and support Philadelphia sports, which would explain the love/hate analogy to most people in the area. To clarify, New Jersey is the butt of a lot of New York jokes, which many may have noticed on shows like How I met your mother. As far as sports go-the feud between our teams runs deep and comes up often as Philadelphia and New York are less than a two hours drive from one another.

It’s all in good fun. Still I hesitated loving what New Yorkers and North Jerseyans refer to as “the city”.

I visited friends there a lot in college, went up a few times for school and work related things over the years, but I had really never spent more than a day exploring Manhattan. And I completely neglected a part of the city that I always thought I would like, Brooklyn.

But it’s a bit hard to ignore the big apple when you’re visiting the USA with a foreigner. Like most people, Ric has always wanted to visit New York City and our day trip last year wasn’t nearly enough for the Englander.

So on this trip home, we decided we would spend a few days in the city, touring a bit, but really just wandering. He wanted New York City and I wanted Brooklyn. We decided on spending three days and two nights, a long weekend, in NYC, staying at an apartment in Brooklyn, touring that borough, but also visiting Manhattan again.

Mogan Ave., the nearest subway station to our apartment in Brooklyn, NY. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

It was the kind of weekend that people dream of in the city.

We arrived at our apartment at about 1:30 p.m., parked the car, unpacked our stuff and headed straight to Bedford Avenue, a Williamsburg street we read has a lot of great bars and restaurants. There are a lot of ways to get to NYC, if you are looking for flights to New York, visit dialaflight.com.

Ric and I are pretty much always on a budget. It’s kind of hard not to be when you’re taking off five months from work every now and then. But we never found that stopped us from having fun and in Brooklyn it was no different.

To be completely honest. It’s amazing how cheap things are in the USA. Arriving here straight from Thailand I’m still in the habit of comparing things to there and a lot of meals and drinks costs the same in Bangkok as they would in NYC. Taxis are another story though.

The biggest bargain of the day came at the very first place we visited, The Charleston. The dive bar runs a deal where you get a free personal size pizza with every drink order until about 8 p.m. Basically, I spent $US4 for a pint of pumpkin beer and a pizza.

The Charleston on Bedford Ave. gives you a free personal pizza with every beer order certain times of the day. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Feeling merry, Ric and I went on a bit of a pub crawl down Bedford Ave. Some stops included, Luckydog, Morgane and Maison Premiere. All have their own character, most have happy hour and oysters. The last place I mentioned is a huge part of the reason I started to fall for NYC.

Walk through two doors and it’s almost as if you’ve completely escaped not only this city, but also this century. Faded-paint on the walls, dim lighting and a big curved bar in the middle, Maison Premieredoes throw back in the classiest of ways. Even our waiter, who had perfectly parted hair, a crisp shirt and tie, full white apron and serious mustache, addressed us as sir and madame.

Slip back in time at Maison Premiere on Bedford Ave. in Brooklyn, NY. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

I’m torn between whether to describe it as the type of place Don Draper would go to late at night for whiskey and oysters in Mad Men or the type of place the Fitzgeralds would take Owen Wilson’s character to for Absinthe in Midnight in Paris. It had both those menu items by the way, so naturally Ric and I went for the drink that they say makes you see green fairies.

We didn’t.

But we did feel like we were transported to another world at Maison Premiere. People take so many risks in hospitality in New York City and with this restaurant, it paid off.

We didn’t see any green fairies, but we love how serious they take their absinthe at Maison Premiere and what a large selection of the spirit they have to offer. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

After a drink we continued the night with a bit of live music, then pizza and schwarma. I’ve been wanted to try the last thing since I first saw The Avengers. Good recommendation Tony Stark.

The next day, we woke up early to visit Smorgasburg, the ultimate foodie market, not far from where we spent the prior night. This new Saturday tradition in Brooklyn is located in on the river at N. 6th Street, giving it one of the best back drops of any market I’ve ever been to, the NYC skyline. You can find a range of freshly prepared food here from adobo chicken to Mexican sandwiches to lobster rolls, all delicious.

One of my favorite markets in the world, Smorgasburg offers a stunning view, amazing food and warm apple cider. Photos by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Next door to Smorgasburg was the Renegade Craft Fair. This market is actually located in several locations around the world and features work by independent craft artists. Inside we found a lot of handmade jewelry, stationary and clothing. We even got to paint our own glasses and use a funky photo booth for free.

Courtesy of Magnolia Photo Booth Co.

From there we headed into Manhattan to wander around. We’ve both seen the major sights before, so now we just wanted to see where the day would take us. We visited Times Square and watched a film shoot. We gazed at the ceiling at Grand Central. We played around in the elevators at Waldorf Astoria. Then we searched for happy hour, which isn’t the easiest task on a Saturday, but we found it at Lucy’s Cantina Royale right next to Madison Square Garden

Prior to that we were feeling a bit tired from being out late the night before, but after a couple drinks we were kind of on the edge of going home or going out again. I’m glad we chose the latter.

From Lucy’s we visited Macy’s and the Flat Iron Building in East Village. We grabbed a shish kebab from a street vendor and decided that we wanted to stay out in the city as long as possible, so going home was not an option.

We started chatting to a New Yorker, I’ll call him Dean, as I’m not in contact with him now and unsure whether he would want his name on here. We talked about traveling, cider and the best places to go out in the city. Ric drank a boot of beer, I was tempted to drink a boot of wine and after a few, Dean invited us out to his friends bar in Tribeca.

Ric drinks a boot of beer at a bar in the East Village. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

On the way over we joked about “The wrong Williamsburg”, basically what would happen if locals from Williamsburg in Brooklyn and Colonial Williamsburg in Virgina got the two mixed up. We caused havoc at a classy joint and partied all night. Dean wanted us to carry on, but we just aren’t used to partying in a city that never sleeps. I think we paid for four drinks the entire night.

Nights like this are what I love most about traveling, spontaneity. Ric and I could have never planned a night like that in New York City and I think nights like that only happen in places like New York City. It was so much fun and filled with so many good stories. Dean, wherever you are, you are one of the biggest reasons I fell in love with New York City this weekend.

This post is brought to you by Dialaflight.com.

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Wish you were here: There’s no place like home

Blog, Destinations, USA, Wish you were here

Wish you were here: There’s no place like home

2 Comments 12 December 2012

God it feels good to be home.

Maybe I’m a little tired of constantly traveling.

Maybe I’m looking forward to spending the holidays with my family and friends

Or maybe, I’ve just become confident in my lifestyle.

I don’t know what it is about this trip home, but it feels right. It feels like for the first time in a long time, NJ is where I’m supposed to be.

It didn’t feel that way when I visited the USA last year.

After 18 months of travel, living in Australia, gallivanting SE Asia, my last trip home was a bit nerve-wrecking. Why? I got into this pace traveling. I was living the dream I always imagined for myself as a child and I felt like, if I went home, even if I knew it was only for a short while, something would keep me there.

This time is different. A shorter time away, only 15 months, but a longer time on the road altogether, almost three years minus a six week visit home, I feel confident coming home this trip. Confident in the fact that, though I still refer to NJ as my home more than anywhere else in the world, I know it won’t keep me, nor will any place else.

I think I was born to live this life: six months to a year working here, a few traveling around there and another six months working some place else.

Rinse and repeat.

With all I’ve seen and all I’ve accomplished over the past three years, I kind of feel like I can do anything. And I know that no matter what happens, I’ll always travel. Even if my options abroad run out and I need to work around the US, I’ll do it by traveling. Even if I have no money, I know there are always options to finding new experiences on the road.

In fact, it’s the times when I have the least that I have the best adventures.

So with that fear out of the way, I was able to just enjoy this trip home. Though I’m not sure a post about my happenings at home will be quite as exciting as the ones in SE Asia, I’m going to give it a go anyway.

This is where I went to preschool, which id especially pretty in Autumn. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

My time home is all about catching up with family and friends, moving house and eating.

The thing I miss the most when I’m away is the people I love. It feels so good to see my dad and know that it isn’t for only two weeks. I get to meet his new lovely lady. I get to spend time with my aunt, uncle, brother and sister-in-law. And one of the things I was most looking forward to, I’ve been able to get to know my one-year-old nephew. I came home for his birth the year before, but now he’s walking and talking. All I can say is that he’s amazing and I’m already working on getting him to travel.

My nephew Jake is so handsome. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

After a weekend of catching up with family and getting over jet lag, it was time to get in touch with friends. Ric and I spent a few nights on the town with different people. Mike, my best friend from high school, lives in Philadelphia and Julia, one of my best friends from college, was visiting NJ the week I got back. She now lives in LA, so it was so lucky that our visits overlapped. I also got to catch up with Michele, another friend from college, who asked me to be in her wedding, which I’m so excited about.

On a somewhat sad note, my dad has decided to sell the home I grew up in. It makes sense for him, but I’m not going to lie and say I’m not a bit sad to see it go. So this trip home, we won’t be staying there. But it seems there is no shortage of homes available to me in NJ at the moment. Ric and I are staying in my aunt and uncle’s house at the moment, but we’re meant to be moving all my things into my dad’s new house.

I went from being homeless, to having three to choose from.

Did I mention Ric is visiting home with me as well?

It should be a no brainer, we go everywhere together, but in case you were wondering, he is. That makes the trip home extra special for me, because I get to see it all through his eyes. Canada and USA are the places he wants to travel most, so I love seeing how excited he gets about simple things over here, like steam coming out of street grids and the size of our burgers, which leads me to my final point about coming home, food.

Ric is amazed that steam actually comes out of street grids in Philadelphia. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

America is renowned for its indulgence. You can find just about every type of food here, but you can also find a lot of it deep fried. And the northeastern States are pretty well-known for all their amazingly delicious and fatty foods.

My dad is a major food lover. He knows just about every bakery and sandwich shop in New Jersey. So when I come home, I eat, a lot.

A few months ago I published a post about the food list Ric and I made on his first visit to the US last year. We’re still trying to complete it this time around.

Ric eating a cheesesteak at Pat’s on his last visit to the USA. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The number one item on that list we missed last time is Thanksgiving, which is now only a few weeks away. Did I mention how excited I am to be home?

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