It’s good to know where your journey ends…

And that is a song lyric blatantly stolen from Peter Allen, ‘I Still Call Australia Home’. Appropriate, because as I write this I am sitting in an airport lounge in Hong Kong waiting for my flight home!

The last week or so of my holiday has been quite eventful!

I arrived into Vegas around 6:30pm on a Friday which was also Cinco De Mayo. Probably not the best plan, in hindsight. Any Friday night, as the lady who checked me in to the Luxor, is always busy what with the Americans getting away for the weekend. Cinco is probably even worse!

So I didn’t actually get into my room until after 8:30 and went for a wander around 9ish. Given my arrival time I hadn’t planned anything for Friday – just a walk down the Strip to stretch my legs. I’d forgotten how long the Strip is! And how hard it is to get around, with all the overpasses etc!

I was going to go into the Irish pub at NYNY which is kind of a Vegas tradition, but there was a $10 cover so I decided against it! Last time I went there I bought the CD of the house band, so I can hear them for free any time I want!

The other thing making Vegas particularly busy was the fact that there was a big fight on Saturday night which I found out at check-in – I made a mental note to stay away from wherever the fight was!

Pretty much every venue had a Cinco fiesta – this was NYNY.
Cool statue outside NYNY!
The Bellagio fountains never get old!

So Friday night was pretty quiet – just a wander, reacquainting myself with the area, and also checking out a few of the shops!

Saturday was all about shopping – I had put aside the day to go to the Premium Outlet Mall – I only had time to do one, and chose the northern one as that one had lululemon. I must say the whole outlet experience was not as good as previous times – I didn’t get much stuff (lulu was a bit of a disappointment!) and there were definitely not as many bargains. Maybe the advent of sales tax had something to do with it!

I did find this awesome gelato place, Amorino, which had heaps of vegan sorbets! I had chocolate, pistachio, and the most amazing blood orange and ginger! It was a pretty hot day too, so it was a welcome relief!

Amorino – where have you been all my life?

Saturday night I had a show to go to, but before that I grabbed an early dinner at Slice of Vegas Pizza in the Mandalay Bay Shoppes, right next to the Luxor. I went there specifically because they have a vegan menu – I had a feeling vegan food was not going to be quite so easy to come by in Vegas than in Portland!

Yummy sandwich and the awesomest sweet potato fries!

After picking up my ticket for Human Nature I went for a look around the Venetian shops – such an amazing setup they have there! The Venetian was where I stayed on my very first trip to Vegas and nowhere else has come close!

Yep – that just about sums it up!
If you haven’t been to the Venetian, this is all indoors!
Complete with singing gondoliers!

Human Nature were fabulous. I’d only seen them once before – at Carols by Candlelight in Adelaide in 1996, back when they were a boy band! And I was delighted to see them do an homage to boy bands as part of their show, including some of their own stuff! These guys are the total package – all-singing, all-dancing, funny, a brilliant show!

They weren’t afraid to take the piss out of themselves!

After the show, I thought about going back to the Irish pub but thought better of it – the fight wasn’t far from there, so I decided not to even bother going! Besides, I was going to have to be up early in the morning for my flight to San Francisco, so I decided instead to go to the piano bar at the House of Blues – not too crowded, really fun, and I managed to get a seat at the bar!

Duelling pianos at House of Blues!

I managed to squeeze all my stuff into my one suitcase, meaning that I wasn’t going to have to pay for a second bag on the flight! Anticipating a big haul at the outlets, I had fully expected to have to get the second bag out for the flight to San Fran. Once I got to San Fran there was no issue because on the flight home I could check 2 bags free of charge.

I was up and away early the next morning – my shuttle pickup was at 8.

Well, I was up, but I wasn’t away!

Because when I got to the airport and went to check in for my flight, I found out that it was cancelled!

I went to the check in desk and was told that I couldn’t get a flight to San Fran until the following day. They weren’t going to pay for a night’s accommodation, because the cancellation was known more than 24 hours ago, but they weren’t able to contact me to rebook me. She gave me a voucher for a discount on one of the airport hotels.

I contacted the travel agent’s 24 hour emergency number – the girl I spoke to looked into alternative flights but she wasn’t able to find anything with any airline. So I went back to the lady at the check in desk and she booked me on the first flight out the next day. (I didn’t think that one through – it was a 7am flight which ended up meaning a 4am shuttle pickup! Still, I wanted to get the most time possible in San Fran!)

Airport hotel? I’m in Vegas for another day, as if I’m going to stay at an airport hotel! No thanks, I’ll be staying on the Strip! I went on Hotels.com and found a room at the Excalibur (not the most fancy hotel but good enough and in a good location) for $29, (plus the resort fee of $30 something) – I thought that would be fine, and in case the travel insurance company weren’t prepared to pay for it, I didn’t want to risk spending hundreds on a fancy hotel room, especially considering I would hardly be spending any time there!)

I contacted my hostel in San Fran and explained what had happened – in the end they didn’t charge me for the missed night, which they were quite within their rights to do, because I gave them less than 24 hours notice.

I also went on Vegas.com to see about a cheap show for that night – might as well make the most of the ‘bonus’ night! I had a discount code from when I bought the Human Nature ticket, and ended up booking to see Blue Man Group – I’d heard good things, they were performing close to where I was staying, and it was an early show, given that I’d be getting up at 3 I was going to need an earlyish night!

Fortunately I was able to check into Excalibur early, dropped my bags off and headed straight out to get some more cash and then headed downtown on the bus. There was a vegan restaurant near Fremont St, VegeNation, that I wanted to try out.

Stupid Google Maps had me getting off the bus at the wrong stop but it did result in me walking down the street where all the wedding chapels were, which was kind of cool – including the one where Jon Bon Jovi got married!

I ended up getting a burger from VegeNation and it was really good, I got it ‘to go’ as they were really busy and I didn’t want to waste time waiting for a table! I ended up having to sit at a bus stop to eat it though – there are literally NO places to sit on Fremont St!

Another EXCELLENT vegan meal!

I’d been to Fremont St before (aka ‘Downtown’ or ‘The Old Strip’) – I’d forgotten how tacky it was, almost as tacky as The Strip! Heaps of cheap and nasty souvenir shops but less people walking around with yard glasses of margaritas!

I headed back to the Strip, I had read on the Interwebz about Cirque de Soleil having free open rehearsals for their Beatles show on Sundays, so I’d hoped to go to that, but found out when I got there that they don’t do it on Sundays anymore… so instead, I went shopping at the Fashion Show Mall!

I made my way back to the hotel to get ready for the show. Blue Man Group was not like anything I’d seen before – hard to describe! Their own website describes the show as ‘comedy, theater, rock concert and dance party all rolled into one’ which is probably a good description! I was glad to be seated near the back, away from the ‘poncho section’! I really enjoyed the show and would recommend it to anyone who wants to try something different! It was a perfect ‘last show’ for the trip – I’ve seen a huge variety of shows during the past 4 weeks!

Yeah… not really sure what the point of the headbands was!

Then it was back to the hotel to pack and set my alarm for arse o’clock!

Take 2! This time I actually did make it to San Francisco! And I had a window seat on the plane so I got to see Vegas from above!

Damn wing, ruining my photo!

I took the BART to the hostel – I stayed at USA Hostels where I’d stayed on my 2 previous trips to San Fran. My travel agent had warned me to stay away from the Tenderloin area. On the walk (all UPHILL!) from the train station to the hostel I noticed the flags advertising the neighbourhood as, you guessed it, Tenderloin! Luckily it was daytime, I certainly wouldn’t be wandering through here at night – lots of homeless people and, it appeared, drug addicts!

I wasn’t able to check in right away, but I left my bags, quickly got changed and went to do my one ‘must-do’ for San Fran – a run across the Golden Gate Bridge! Given that I had lost a whole day, arriving on Monday instead of Sunday, and that I was leaving on Tuesday night, I had no time to waste!

As I was dropping my bags off, someone behind me said “Hi Jane!” I looked around and it was Sean, an Aussie guy I’d met at the hostel in Portland, I knew he’d been coming to San Fran but we hadn’t discussed what hostel we were staying at – turned out we were at the same one! He was checking out as I was arriving! Small world! (San Fran has a lot of hostels so it is actually quite a big coincidence when you think about it!)

It was a beautiful day, and as per a lot of the runs I’ve done while I’ve been in the States, I had to stop frequently to take photos! Stupid sexy San Fran!

CRAP day for it!

The run across the bridge itself was very ‘stop-start’ because there is just a narrow footpath which has to accommodate 2 directions of travel for both cyclists and pedestrians. Probably not a good choice of run if you wanted to run fast!

From the other side of the bridge at Vista Point, I ran down to Sausalito from where I got a ferry back to Fisherman’s Wharf. The last part of the run I was able to get a bit of pace up, especially at the start where it was downhill!

It was a bit cold and windy on the boat but the views were worth staying outside for!

Then I walked back to the hostel via Union Square where I wanted to check out a few shops. lululemon was first – no good bargains to be had there! I also went to have a look at Macy’s, and a discount shop called Ross where I bought this amazingly comfy shoes (which have since given me blisters, but I have walked a LOT in them) – I had no qualms about buying shoes now, since I had the second bag! Plus they were only $20 AND machine washable!

I eventually got back to the hostel to check in around 5ish, had a shower and grabbed a quick bite to eat. One of the really good things about this particular hostel is that they have heaps of activities, at least one every day. It’s a great way to meet people! Unfortunately I would miss out on the pub crawl on Tuesday night, as that started at around the same time as my shuttle was due to take me to the airport!

I did however make it to wine and cheese night – naturally I didn’t partake in the cheese but I was pretty keen to sample some of the local Napa Valley wine! (I had considered booking a Napa or Sonoma tour for Tuesday, but given that I’d lost a day, and had been up since 3am, I thought maybe a full day tour might not be the best option! I did get my wine though, as it turned out!) 

Free wine on a Monday night – very civilised!

I got chatting to a guy called Leonard from Toronto and and an Aussie guy called Glenn (originally from Melbourne, had lived in Adelaide for a time but now travelling the globe) – pretty soon the free wine had all gone but Glenn and I got a bottle of Argentinean wine from across the road and ended up playing pool until the early hours of the morning with another Aussie called Jai (I’m hopeless with names – the only reason I remember his name is because he was from Mackay so I kept referring to him as ‘Jai from Mackay’!) and a girl whose name eludes me – after having been up since 3am I eventually hit the wall and went to bed in the early hours of the morning!
Tuesday, my final day, I didn’t set an alarm, but ended up being up in time to go on a free walking tour. It was really interesting, I went to places I didn’t remember having been to on previous trips, and learned a lot from our guide Mina!

Union Square – the Tony Bennett heart- was where the tour started!
Cool frog sculptures near the Transamerica Pyramid, where the tour ended!

After the walking tour I walked down to the Ferry Building to get a good coffee (my friend Emma had recommended Blue Bottle Coffee which was excellent!) and also check out another recommendation from Emma, Humphry Slocombe, an ice cream place with unusual flavours (they only had one vegan flavour, Pink Lemonade, which didn’t really appeal to me so I didn’t end up getting anything) and then walked down to The Plant for lunch – a curry ‘bowl’ (actually a box – I got it ‘to go’ because I wanted to go and sit down by the water to eat it!). I was joined for lunch by one of America’s giant seagulls!

Like, twice as big as Aussie seagulls!

Next on the agenda was to go check out the Palace of Fine Arts – how I’d never been there before I don’t know, but Glenn had recommended going there, and I’d already been to all the big ‘touristy’ places, plus this was free, and it was another beautiful day, so I thought why not? I was going to take a bus there but after sitting waiting for buses that never came, I ended up walking there!

I would definitely rate this as a ‘must-do’ – you don’t really need heaps of time there although if you wanted to you could spend a good few hours wandering around! And you could sit on the grass and eat lunch with the ducks and watching the turtles!

Seriously… just go there!!!

Lots of these little guys swimming about!

Time was getting away from me so I didn’t make it to the other place I’d hoped to go to – the Botanical Gardens, which happened to be free admission that day! (Free is always a good thing when you’re getting towards the end of a trip!) Leonard had told me about that, but I quickly realised that I wasn’t going to be able to do everything! My next priority was getting a bottle of vegan Baileys to take home! I couldn’t be sure if it was available in the duty free store (as it turned out, it wasn’t!) but it didn’t need to be duty free, I just wanted to bring a bottle home, since it’s not (yet) available in Australia! So I went to BevMo (I guess similar to our Dan Murphy’s or First Choice) and got a bottle which I carefully wrapped and packed in my checked baggage.

Success!

Then I went to a free yoga class at a nearby community centre (another activity recommended by the hostel) – probably the best thing I could have done before getting on the plane for 14 hours!

And then, just like that, it was all over – my shuttle driver arrived to take me to the airport!

The flight itself was OK – once again I was lucky enough to be on an aisle with no-one sitting next to me, so I was able to doze off without anyone needing to disturb me. I don’t think I slept a great deal but at the time of writing (4:30pm Thursday) I haven’t had to take a nap so it must have been enough! Saw a pretty good movie too – ‘The Founder’ about McDonald’s – and 5 episodes of ‘Portlandia’ which I hadn’t seen before but was interested to watch after having been to Portland, where it is set!

I landed in Hong Kong around 6am on Thursday and wasn’t due to fly out until 7pm, so I left the airport and took the train into the city. I’d never been to Hong Kong before and didn’t fancy spending 13 hours in the airport!

It was warm and humid – probably high 20s or early 30s. I went for a walk up to Hong Kong Park and the Botanic Gardens which was lovely – an oasis amid the hustle and bustle of the city! Plus it was only about 7:30 when I got to town and the shops didn’t open until 10!

Love the contrast of the skyscrapers and the gardens!

I also went for a walk down to the harbour and to some public viewing areas – one of the cool things I found about Hong Kong is that there are public spaces, often outdoor patios within restaurants or cafes, where people can just wander in and out! And many of them happen to have pretty good views of the harbour!

Eventually 10am came so I went to the nearby shopping centre where, you guessed it, there was a lulu store. It didn’t take me long to realise that it was WAY expensive. Like, even more expensive than Australia! (I had to use my calculator because I couldn’t do the currency conversion in my head, but I quickly realised that I was not going to buy ANYTHING here!) The shops were all pretty high-end, and I was starting to get blisters on my feet by now, so I didn’t really fancy wandering aimlessly around the shops!

There was one other shopping centre I wanted to check out, and I discovered another cool thing about Hong Kong, that a lot of the buildings are interlinked, so I was able to get almost to the other shopping centre without going outside! 

Lots of cool public art here too!

I got there and it was another high-end centre so I didn’t bother looking in any of the shops, instead deciding to head back to the airport, making my way back to the train station via a very pleasant walk down to and along the harbour.

And then I decided to be a proper tourist and go on the observation wheel, because there was no queue, and it was only about $HK100 (equivalent to about $A16-17) – and was fortunate enough to get a whole car to myself!

Nap time?
Great views!
Ahh… lying down!
Money well spent!

Then I headed back to the airport, through security and immigration and to the lounge which was nowhere near as good as the one I went to at Heathrow on my last overseas adventure! The only free alcohol was canned beer, and NOTHING in the drinks fridge was cold – I so wanted a Coke but there’s nothing worse than a warm Coke, so I ended up just going with water, which was probably for the best! Plus 3 cups of coffee to keep me awake until it was time to get on the plane!

I had been looking forward to a shower but the lounge charged the equivalent of about $40 for a shower so I decided I didn’t want a shower THAT badly, and just got changed in the restroom (which was probably the smallest restroom EVER!) but still it was nice to have a fresh set of clothes for the last leg of the journey!

Plus, I did get a free lunch – see, there is such a thing!

So I think that is probably about it for my travel blog – hope you’ve been enjoying reading it! Back to normal programming next week – I have stupidly entered a trail race on Sunday so that could make for an entertaining race report!

See you back in RAdelaide in about 12 hours!

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