A Travellerspoint blog

Monarch Lake, Sequoia National Park

I said, "ok!"

snow

I would imagine that most of you would have heard by now that the last week in LA was just the best ever!

I arrived on the 11th and Andrew on the 12th. I hadn't seen him since I left Sydney several weeks earlier and couldn't wait for him to walk through Customs. I had waited for him to walk through those doors so many times before over the years. This time wasn't much different - nervous excitement and a funny feeling (a good one) in my stomach at the first sight of him!

I suppose it didn't matter that it was still morning, Andrew made me drive straight to Baja Fresh for fish tacos! From the look on his face, I am pretty sure that they were as good as he had remembered. Note to the Aussies: fish tacos sound gross but are really good!

The next couple of days were spent catching up with friends and attending the wedding of the mutual friend who had introduced us more than six years ago! I hadn't been home in over a year and a half while it had been even longer for Andrew. Each time I return to home to Los Angeles, it looks a little different. I suppose I do too! I know it isn't the friendliest place on earth or the easiest place to get around but it is where I am from and part of who I am - even if, according to my American friends, my accent dictates otherwise.

Last Sunday we exchanged our rental car for one of my Dad's. The one we were allowed to drive is bigger than anything you could ever imagine seeing in Sydney! On the upside, it is as safe as a tank and would get us to the Sequoias for a few days of camping amongst the bears.

We had been to the Sequoia National Park a few years prior and knew that we would need to allow ourselves a great deal of time if we were going to hike in straight away. Well, it was not be and we spent the first night in a roadside motel with a surprisingly comfortable bed.

The road leading up to the base of Sawtooth Pass goes on for 25 miles and has 698 turns!!! When we finally arrived, we were shocked to find that the ranger had closed up shop for the season!! I tried not to panic while Andrew used the pay phone to contact the park people for information on bears, weather, etc. It turned out that the park would be closed to the public in a weeks time due to winter and that the bears should be hibernating. Now, if the bears don't even want to be out there, should we? According to Andrew, yes!

The hike in was as steep and beautiful as I remembered but a lot colder. I was grateful that my Dad had thrown a pair of gloves in the truck for me to wear if needed. Funnily enough, he also chucked in a heavy duty maglite, two bottles of sunscreen (spf 50) and two coolers (not practical for hiking up a mountain). He is the best Dad ever!

Half way up the mountain, we passed a couple that we had seen in the carpark. They were heading back due to concerns about the weather. With a look of confusion on my face, I asked the woman what was all over her jacket. It was snow!!! Yep, snow!!!

We made it to Monarch Lake just in time to have a quick snack of salami and put the tent up before dark. While I couldn't feel my hands, I managed to get my boots off and zip myself up in my sleeping bag. Thank God Andrew had spared no expense when he purchased the sleeping bag for me five years earlier. I guess he figured that if there were any chance of my sleeping outside on a regular basis, I would need the best sleeping bag that money could buy.

We ate our dehydrated dinner by the fire of our little gas stove and hoped for good weather the next morning. Throughout the entire night, I wasn't sure that nature had heard our hope as the snow fell with the determination of an early winter! I managed to sleep through most of it while Andrew tossed and turned, moved food from the tent to the bear box some ways away and planned our emergency exit just in case.

What we woke to was a complete surprise!!! While the ground was covered in snow, the lake glistened and the sun rose to provide the faintest bit of warmth if you stood in the right spot. It was absolutely beautiful!

I must admit, however, that I didn't see it straight away because I had to be coaxed out of my sleeping bag and the tent. Andrew had paved the way 10 minutes earlier and swore that the morning light was not to be missed. Begrudgingly, I pulled my gloves and boots on (I still had every bit of clothing on that I had hiked in) and joined him outside. He was right, it was absolutely breathtaking!!!

There are moments in life where one feels lucky to be a part of something special and this moment was definitely one of them in my book. There I stood with Andrew's arms around me, mostly because I was shivering, and the morning sun on my face. Just when I thought that it couldn't get any better, Andrew kneeled down on one knee and asked, "I would like to know if you would marry me?" The second I realized what was happening (it did take me a moment), I teared up and replied through gloved hands cupping my mouth - "ok."

I must admit, however, that I was a little disappointed with my response and made Andrew ask me a couple more times that day just so I could respond with an emphatic "Yes!" He dutifully obliged when I explained that he was never going to ask me again and I wanted to get the response just right!

So, there you have it, we are getting married!!! What an extraordinary highlight of my big adventure!!! I couldn't be happier!!!

Note: There is quite a funny story that goes along with Andrew having asked my father for permission. You will have to wait, however, to hear that one at the wedding :)

Love love Love, A xxo

Posted by AliciaD 20:12 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Never order the third bottle!

New York

This instalment will be brief because even the memory of it is horribly painful! By a sheer act of God, Maria pulled herself out of bed (luckily) 20 minutes before a very important meeting was meant to start. In less than ten, she looked a little bleary eyed but gorgeous! It was truly amazing! On my best day, I would need at least an hour and fifteen. She is definitely my Wonder Woman spin hero!

As for me, I had big plans that my credit cards would thank me for having avoided later. The truth is, I could not get out of bed. When I did, I felt more ill than I could have possibly imagined – even in India, which was only kind to me! The pain in my head was excruciating while the feeling in my belly was wretched. I swore off alcohol and hid under the blankets until 9pm!!! My best effort up until that point was when I decided that the least I could do was shower. Once done, I couldn’t face the thought of anything else and climbed back into bed. At about 6pm, Maria was right there beside me.

The thing is, it was my last night in New York and I still hadn’t seen my other two reasons (John and Will) for being there! At 9pm, I got the call. They had just finished up a two day writing stretch and were finally free. Amazingly, I managed to pull myself together in reasonable time (most of it owed to a cute dress and great pair of shoes) and grab a cab to Madison Square Gardens. John was exhausted while Will clearly had a bit of fuel in the reserve tank. We had free tickets to a concert and would get there to see the last 5 or 6 songs (John swears it was more like 8 or 10). It didn’t matter really, because I quite liked the band and John was making me laugh by dancing with complete abandon and absolutely no regard for those around us.

After the concert, we went for a quick bite to eat. Good move in that it was first bit of food I could even look at all day! The pizza was great but the gingerale was even better! Next stop the Bowery Bar.

If you have been to the Bowery Bar, then you know it is super cool. So, I did my best to rise to the occasion by mixing and mingling whilst sipping pellegrino out of a wine glass. I just couldn't face the idea of a cocktail!

What I soon realized, however, is that my best on that day was not good enough. I struggled through conversations with Entertainment types and asked three of the five guys in the band what they did for a living! One responded by asking if I had seen the show. I politely replied, "yes." He then followed up by explaining that they were the show!!! Oh, the humiliation - I blame the hangover.

It got worse from there but I will spare you the details and hold close the last ounce of dignity that I have left! Gotta love New York!

Posted by AliciaD 19:58 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Who ordered the third bottle?

New York

-12 °C

We have already been through my gypsy cab arrival in the Big City. So, moving on…

Before I even arrived, Maria had made a reservation at a great restaurant to kick off the evening – after late night pedicures, of course! With Maria ruling the world at work by day and Melsie running around Europe, I had to go the shopping alone. Well, not entirely alone in that I had plenty of plastic in my wallet!

First order of business, however, was a stop at Starbucks for that perfect American, super-sized, early morning, steaming hot, non-fat, decaff, skim milk, macchiato, no whip cream and extra chocolate shavings in an environmentally friendly to-go cup for good measure. Just kidding, I don’t even know what a macchiato is and only drink highly caffeinated, venti, skim soy lattes :)

Fully charged up on caffeine, I jumped on the subway (unlimited day pass for $7) and made my way down to Bleecker St. That’s where it all happened, love at first sight! There they were sitting in the window of a gorgeous little shop (Olive and Bette's)… a perfect pair of dangerously high patent leather beauties with a stacked heel just begging me to take them home. *Look, in my world, shoes can talk and that is exactly how it happened! It didn’t matter that they were the colour of a slutty zinfandel from Napa because I believe in buying outfits for the shoes instead of the reverse! Besides, I left that morning with the intention of buying the desperately needed pair of running shoes! The way I see it, I was halfway there having gotten the shoe part right!

After a few more shops and an uncomfortable conversation with the woman from my bank who was concerned (given the number of purchases recently made in four countries) that my credit card had been stolen, I made my way back to Maria’s for quick change before dinner. Just as I was running out of the door, Maria came through wearing the exact same dress (one of the great purchases made in Paris)!!! It was absolutely hysterical and quite lucky that we didn’t agree to meet at the restaurant! We quickly agreed that one of us needed to change. Maria took mercy on me given that I was still technically living out of a backpack. She is a very good friend!

So, there we were, perched safely near the bar in Public. Now, take notice that I mentioned ‘near’ the bar but not at the bar. I bring this up because, as it turns out, it doesn’t matter where you are sitting in a flash New York restaurant/bar… they still bring you alcohol!

If you haven’t been to Public, you should know that it is Melsie’s favourite. Still unclear if the reason being is that they have a fab Australian wine list (stuff I couldn’t even buy at the vineyards in WA!), excellent fusion food or the super hot bartender??? Either way, I would back her on all counts!

As Maria and I moved food around the plates, we managed to get through the first bottle of reasonably priced (Thank God because the one I wanted was $250 and this one came recommended by the nicest waitress ever as a consistently good drop) Australian wine pretty quickly. My funny friend Sam would show up somewhere between the first and second bottle. * Sam is a great friend from LA who helped facilitate my love for The Killers by downloading their first album on my then MP3 player whilst on the way to the airport for my move to Boston. Given that I only had one friend in Boston, Sam saved me from going quietly mad by having done that for me. I listened to that MP3 player all of the time - in the grocery store, running along the Charles, in the laundromat, etc.

Back to the wine!

Now, those of you who know me well also know that I have my limits when it comes to amount of alcohol I can safely consume without embarrassing myself. Lets just say, I must have exceeded that limit on that particular night! That said, from what I do remember, it was a fantastic night that ended with the perfect dirty martini shaken not stirred by Melsie’s bartender while Sam talked to us in a perfect “I speak French and only bits of English when I must’ accent that almost made me pee my pants! Maria doesn’t remember getting home but I do - Yellow Cab not gypsy :)

Posted by AliciaD 19:36 Archived in USA Comments (0)

New York, New York

and everywhere else since India

Hello!
I know that it has been ages but it felt a bit funny to write about all of the fun that I was having in Paris after having spent such and incredible time in India! That said, I have been reprimanded by a few (Biggsy, Monk, etc.) about not having posted anything. So, in a nutshell, here it goes...

Leaving India was a bit painful. I mentioned the tears but spared most of the details because my feelings were all over the place and I wasn't sure how much of it would actually make sense to everyone. India gave me many things over those few weeks -

I was reacquainted with the type of work that has always defined me, helping others. I acquired a great deal of patience, which we could all use on a daily basis. Anyway, the rest is for another day as the point of this entry is to update everyone.

OH, HOW I LOVE PARIS!!!

It is that simple, I love Paris. Perhaps I am one of the few who has never had a bad experience in Paris but it is absolutely true! It was lovely to be back as it had been about five years. The details are fuzzy now but I got in sometime in the evening and was desperate for a shower, water that wouldn't kill me and comfortable bed.

Booking a hotel was left with Mel, who is pure genius when it comes to organizing everyone. She earned gold stars on all counts by having booked us in at Hotel Bourg Tibourg in the Marais. Mel would arrive in a couple days, Maria in four and Huey & Aliya in five!

I passed the first couple of days in Paris by catching up on much needed sleep, sitting in front of one of my favorite paintings ever (which is so much better than that Mona character), looking for a new pair of running shoes (which I never found because the French appear to be terribly unfamiliar with the concept of shoes that one would use for purpose of running or "walking really fast") and speaking the worst form of French (which they graciously forgave me for every time I asked for something). By the time Melsie arrived, I couldn't be happier to see her as it had been several months and was ready for a bit of shopping. Again, she didn't disappoint!

We spent the next two days sleeping little and shopping lots!!! The mornings would start with the requisite coffee/tea, pain au chocolat and yoghurt. The chocolate was for energy, of course. Shopping in Paris, whilst horribly expensive given the current state of the dollar, was amazing!!! We bought the prettiest dresses ever only to retrace our steps for the exact same ones once Maria arrived! So, yes, we all have the same beautiful outfits :)

On Friday night, the three of us had dinner at a gorgeous place. I can't remember the name at the moment and would love to pass it off as being too long ago to recall but the truth is that I had far too much to drink that night! At first, I was terribly unimpressed to find that we had been seated amongst a bunch of Americans with menus in English. As I contemplated asking for a new table, the girls figured out that we had been seated in the 'non-smoking' area of the restaurant, which can also be translated as the American section. We decided to stay put and had a lovely meal. The drinks at the bar later were good too!

The three of us woke up the next morning at a horrible hour at the insistence of Mel's phone (it was Paul). I was most startled and closest to making it stop. In full hungover form, I hit the floor with an unexpected thud - eye mask and all! I blame not being used to sleeping in the same bed with two other people for not having realized where the bed actually ended.

Saturday would be a repeat of the night before with Huey and Aliya in tow. We did, however, have an extra room that night. The Marais is such an incredible part of Paris. If you don't believe me, you can ask Huey as he was out that night until 8:00 a.m.

On Sunday, we said goodbye to Maria and Aliya and high-tailed it to catch the train to Avignon. I still can't believe we made that train!!! The trip to Avignon was quick and Paul was waiting on the other end. Dinner that night was lovely and the house that Mel and Paul are living in at the moment was even more lovely. The days were passed with visits to the surrounding areas, amazing lunches & dinners, crossword puzzles over coffee and fresh baked goods. I hadn't been to the South of France and can only hope to return sometime very soon as it was pure bliss.

BARC(TH)ELONA!

Huey and I arrived in Barcelona a bit fatigued from the train trip but unwilling to waste a single moment. So, we checked ourselves in at Hotel Axel. Now, this particular hotel had been booked by Huey while I was in India. He is also very organized. So much so that he happened to find one of the only hotels (to my knowledge) that has a big sign in the lobby that reads - "Heterofriendly." Absolutely hysterical and very chic as you might expect. We had drinks with a friend that night at some of the local bars. To our dismay, we also went to bed very hungry as Barcelona seemed to shut down entirely!!!

We saw just about everything one is meant to see in Barcelona on Saturday. While it was good to check some of those things off my list, I am the worst tourists ever. We tried to make up for it that evening by going out but were disappointed to find ourselved totally surrounded by tourists and bad tapas.

Moving on the Madrid....

Now, it seems to be my pattern but I always find the good in the places that most people think are ordinary or awful. When it comes to the contest between Barcelona and Madrid, I choose Madrid!!! We had the best time ever. Madrid was what I wanted from Spain and I loved every bit of it.

I saw my first Goya, had proper tapas, practiced my Spanish and barely slept a wink!!! What is it with those Spaniards singing til 6:00 a.m.? Perhaps they just know how to embrace life and can't imagine missing a single moment?

Ed hosted the best party of all time on Saturday night!!! His friends were incredible. While he is an easy person to love, they truly seem to adore him and didn't fail to demonstrate how much by having hired the most beautiful belly dancer I have ever seen!!! I was in charge of Mojitos and didn't dare disappoint by having followed the typed and printed instructions provided by Ed in all of his OCD glory. I must say, they were an absolute hit and allowed us to skip the formalities and focus on the fun.

In true Spanish form, the party begrudgingly ended at 6am. Huey got a plane just a couple of hours later while the rest of us tried recounted the best parts of the night before and made plans for the rest of the day. I absolutely loved Madrid. I have promised Ed and Luciana (Ed's amazing sister) a party at our place in December. How am I ever going to top the belly dancer, flamenco singers and Spanish party goers? I know, I will start with Mojitos :)

NEW YORK, NEW YORK

It has been just a bit more than six long years since I was last in New York!!! I can't believe it has been that long and I am thrilled to be here after the longest day of the most ridiculous flight itinerary ever!!! When I arrived at JFK, I was painfully exhausted and almost cried when I saw the queue for a taxi. I decided to take a deep breath instead and remember India. That's when the brilliant plan to take the air train to Jamaica and catch a "gypsy" cab to Manhattan surfaced.

Paris felt like a century ago and I was happy to see Maria when I arrived. We've got big plans for the next few days and I promise to keep everyone posted. I have once again joined the land of modern technology where internet and mobile phones are as important as ones appendages. I have refueled with the biggest soy latte known to man and am in need of a new pair of snakeskin shoes! So, that's all for now but more soon.

Love, A xxo

Posted by AliciaD 09:57 Comments (0)

Varanasi - Burning Ghat

It has been a few days now and it seems as though the sites of Varanasi never cease to amaze me. As previously mentioned, the first day started with a night boat ride down the Ganges. While I had a feeling then, I am certain now that we paid far too much by Indian standards for the trip - 500 RS compared with the 100 RS I have paid twice now for a much better view of the city! After the second shafting from our guide Pappu who took us to an 'authentic holy man' and a really dodgy pashmina shop (~ 300 AU for a itchy fake), I decided that the relationship needed to end with an abrupt goodbye. The products were the worst I've seen during my entire stay in India and are best purchased (particularly the pashminas if you are looking for the real thing) in Delhi. There aren't enough words for the 'holy man' experience!!! The only thing holy thing about him was his shirt and line about there not being any need to pay for a reading, which I had no intention of getting! I could, of course, leave a donation for the poor if I wanted...right.

I have since left the Rashmi Guesthouse for Ganpati Guesthouse just a few doors down. While the rooms are much simpler, the staff are great. Ganpati has far more ambience and a comfortable backpacker feel that is right in line with what I was looking for in Varanassi.
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My time in India is sadly coming to an end in a few days and I have come to understand that there simply aren't enough adjectives to describe the whole experience!

As we (myself, Kylie and our new friend Jorge from Mexico City) approached the Burning Ghat last night, the guide paddled right up to the steps leading to the wooden pyres. I sat stunned, feeling as though I were intruding in the worst way. I was quickly motioned by those standing on the steps to come forward and with a fair degree of uncertainty, did. What happened next was a bit surreal. We were led up the stairs to a terrace overlooking several burning bodies, one of which was in the process of being lit by the eldest son of the family who prior to doing so must have his head shaved and bathe in the Ganges. For the first time in my life, I was speechless.

It had been explained to us that five types of people need not be burned prior to being placed in the Ganges - pregnant women, children, Holy Men, Lepors and those bitten by cobras. It takes about 300 kilos of wood to effectively burn a body. Each kilo would cost a family about 150 RS (~ $5 AU) per kilo. Before leaving the Burning Ghat, I was 'blessed' by an incredible looking old woman who touched my head and held my face in her palms.

I woke up this morning to another boat ride at 5:30 a.m. It sounds early but the entire city is awake as it is time for the morning bath in the Ganges. Aside from that, anyone might find it hard to sleep because the mantras seem to start promptly at 5:00 a.m. There are hundreds of people in the river by 6:00 a.m. Many of them are praying, brushing teeth, and soaping up.

I have been most impressed by the Japanese tourists who don't seem to flinch about diving into the septic but holy water of one of the most important rivers in the world! They are incredible, every one of them. I, on the other hand, have not been so brave yet. I have considered a lame excuse for a dip but haven't been able to bring myself to follow through in spite of the feeling I get when I watch everyone else take part in such a special ceremony. I just about worked up the courage this morning until I saw a dead cow and body floating passed me while on the boat! I suppose tomorrow is another day!

Love, A xxo

Posted by AliciaD 22:50 Archived in India Comments (2)

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