Los Angeles Airport is called LAX.

And I am positive that LAX stands for ‘laxative’, because it really gives me the shits.

They are renovating at the moment. This is wreaking more havoc than is usually wreaked by this overgrown, poorly staffed airport disaster.
I arrived tonight, dropped at Terminal Three – the one with Qantas signs outside. I was flying Qantas, so I thought this would be a good place to get out of the cab.

Inside the terminal, only half of it was operating. The rest is boarded up, with big signs saying ‘renovations in progress’. A helpful man, wearing a badge reading ‘Airport Ambassador’ (boy has he got his work cut out for him), asked if he could help.

“Yes, please, where do I check in for Qantas?”

“Where are you heading?”


“Oh, you need to go to Terminal Four.”

I must have looked a little stricken, as I imagined a long hike with my luggage. “Oh, it is not far. About a two-minute walk,” he smiled helpfully.

I pushed on with my brand new, crappily built and falling apart luggage. There was a bright beacon just outside the door: A luggage trolley! (The best three dollars I spent today). I loaded it up and manoeuvred my way to Terminal Four. Straight to the counter – no waiting – things were looking up.

I told the woman I was flying to Sydney via Brisbane.

“You need to go to the next Terminal – Terminal Three,” she said matter-of-factly.

“I just came from there,” I said, just as matter-of-factly. “They sent me here.”

She sighed heavily, as though just one more idiot Australian would send her around the bend.

“You are flying to Brisbane first?” I nodded wearily. “Then go to Terminal Three.”

I did as I was told, like a schoolgirl scolded. On entering Terminal Three, I looked for any indication of where a Qantas check in counter would be.

The ambassador approached me, “I sent you over to Terminal Four,” he said helpfully.
“Ah, yes, but I have been sent back here. Could you please tell me where the Qantas check in counter is?”

“Are you flying to Sydney?”

I was too tired to explain, “Yes.”

“Then you need to go next door to Terminal Four.”

It seemed he would not stop being helpful until I explained fully, so I said “I am flying to Brisbane first, so apparently I need to be here.” He looked confused but sent me to the right counter. From there it was smooth sailing. The check-in clerk even seated me in a row with no other passengers in it – so I can stretch out. (Yay!) But he is Qantas staff, and has nothing to do with the actual running of the airport.

A few days ago, Ben and I flew into LAX, from Seattle. We got off our flight and followed ‘baggage claim’ signs, which took us at least a kilometre through the airport. We ended up in a completely different terminal to the one we had arrived at, our bags nowhere in sight. Confused, we asked for help. Now granted, I should have never interrupted the poor airport employee while he was text messaging his girlfriend, but all he did when I said ‘Seattle’ was point to a baggage carousel. He didn’t even look up.

We went to where he pointed, a little disconcerted that there was no one around, there was no baggage and there were no signs indicating a flight had come from Seattle.

I looked around. He was the only airport employee within walking distance. I approached him again.

“Excuse me, I am sorry to interrupt (you text-messaging while you’re meant to be working), but we flew in on Virgin from Seattle…”

He interrupted me, “You flew Virgin? Hell, you in the wrong terminal. You gotta go to Terminal Six.”

Ben and I looked at each other, “We followed signs here.”

“You in the wroonggg terminal,” (he dragged out the word ‘wrong’ like we were not only rude for interrupting, but stupid as well.

Ben and I both said something to him about his tone and we could still hear him chastising us as we walked towards Terminal Six, about half a mile away. Inside were our bags. Again, I am adamant that we followed the signs.
LAX is a mess. It is always a mess. It is just too busy for them to finish any of the things that they need to do to get the place working properly. I hear that Heathrow is having all sorts of problems with the new Terminal Five, but despite this LAX will surely retain its title as THE WORST AIRPORT IN THE WORLD. And I should know: in the past three days I have been to four of the terminals.

I should say (so I will) that I am very thankful that I get to travel at all. As my dad said to me earlier today, “That’s just what travelling is about – you take the bad with the good, and just get on with it.” He was referring to the fact that I spent 6 hours in an L.A. hospital yesterday with food poisoning – but I will get to that another time. His comment is just as apt for my little hitch tonight. And it was a little hitch in the scheme of things. It will be forgotten as soon as I stretch out across those three seats, and fall into an exhausted sleep.

Sydney here I come.

Post script: I arrived safely home. I kept a close eye on those two free seats next to me, until a flight attendant moved someone into the one on the far end. Instead of sleeping as though on a couch, I slept as though in a car seat, which is still better than only having that one seat. THAT is like sleeping on an ironing board.

It was as good a night’s sleep as I could have hoped for, yet at 5pm Sydney time, midnight on the west coast of the U.S., I struggle to keep my eyes open. Will be an early one.

Snow, sushi and shopping

In Bandon, Oregon I awoke with a promise to myself. I would be going for a run – on that grey stretch of flat, taut sand. It would be cold to start with as the temperature outside was less than balmy, but I would warm up quickly from my exertion, and I would be energised by the clean, salty air. I searched through my bags for socks. “Damn it!”

“Um, Babe?” I heard from the other side of the room. “It’s raining.” I looked up and sure enough there they were. The fat drops of Oregon were back. “Bugger. Well, I’m not running in that. I could, though.” I contemplated running in my wet weather jacket and a cap.

“Scratch that,” said my weatherman. “It’s snowing.” The weather was excusing me from planned exercise, as rain was one thing, but I draw the line at running in the snow.

We packed instead, and I moved the furniture back when Ben was in the shower – the five minutes of exertion my exercise for the morning.

The car packed, we just needed to find somewhere for breakfast. The highway led us to a diner, where the special of the day was corned beef hash with biscuits and gravy. No, really. We had oatmeal and eggs, and listened to the regulars commenting to the waitress that snow in April was a mighty strange thing.

We went to the grocery store to stock up on a few necessities for the drive – water, lollies, fruit – the usual. We were practically the only ones in there, and when it came time to check out, we wondered if we really were the only ones in the store. The checkouts were unmanned (or ‘unwomanned’ as it turned out). It seemed that everyone – customers and staff alike were too busy at the window admiring someone’s new car. Apparently, this is a big event in Bandon. With the car, the snow, and the guy who’d left his hat in the diner, causing a minor hullabulloo, the people of Bandon were having a big day.

That day we were heading to Portland, and it would be our longest day of driving. We had finished listening to Bill Bryson’s adventure the day before – literally minutes before we pulled into the motel parking lot – so instead we listened to music and select short stories. It wasn’t the same. A Bill Bryson audio book had been an inspired idea on Ben’s part, and on this our longest drive, I missed his dulcet voice and dry wit.

We drove through snow and rain, keeping to the coast as long as we could, before cutting inland to the lacklustre I-5. The roads in between were winding and the hills green and rolling. Oregon is, we concluded, a beautiful state.
Rugged Oregon

We stopped for lunch at McDonald’s. No, really. It was the only option we could find that we could trust in the small town whose name I forget. We got back on the road, and I fell asleep. I awoke guiltily, having left Ben without company for the better part of an hour. I am usually a far better co-pilot than this, and he had never failed me when I was driving. My penance was the two indentations on my face from my sunglasses, and the dried spittle on my chin.

We were coming into Portland.

Our NavSat ‘NeverLost’, did not fail us, navigating us deftly to our hotel with her slightly superior sounding voice – at 4 o’clock (4th day in a row!). We checked in and on opening the door to our room, discovered we actually had a suite. “Oh my God. It’s bigger than the Blue Banana!” I exclaimed.
Marriot Portland
I had enjoyed the cozy fireside at the old inn. I had enjoyed our picture window at the seaside motel, but this room appealed to the princess in me. I availed myself of the huge bathroom, unpacking all my toiletries and indulging myself with some ‘Sand-scaping’ (my non-essential ablutions). We changed for the evening, and headed out.
Pioneer Square Portland
Portland Street
As we’d come in, I had collected some brochures from the lobby. One advertised a sushi place nearby: Dragonfish. They bragged about their cocktails, so we thought this might be the place for us. It was only three blocks from the hotel, but by the time we got there, we were grateful for the warmth inside. Portland was cold that night.
We were seated quickly, and took time over the three menus – drinks, food and a separate one for sushi. We ordered fancy sounding cocktails and were not disappointed. The sushi that followed – three different dishes – was, we determined, THE BEST SUSHI EVER.
Dragonfish Sushi

We stopped eating after two bites each, and ordered a white wine to go with our three sushi rolls. I have never tasted any sushi that was so flavourful, and was presented so artistically.

We ordered more cocktails, and then a dessert. By the time we left, nearly three hours later, we were full and a little merry. We discussed whether it was silly to return for lunch the next day, and then decided that we would be silly not to. BEST SUSHI EVER.

The next morning we had set aside for shopping. Oregon has no state sales tax, like California and Washington, and we had a few things on our shopping lists that we wanted to get before crossing the border.

We jumped on public transport – an excellent system of trams that took us to Portland’s largest mall via some downtown sights and a river crossing. We arrived at 10:15, only to discover that Sunday trading had only the week before changed to 11:00. So, what does one (or two) do in a mall that is shut for 45 minutes? We did exactly what we said we would do if the mall was shut when we got there: wandered around with the other stupid people who did not check the opening time, seeing where all the shops were that we would go into when they opened.

Makeup and sports shoes. In and out in 60 minutes – well, not counting the 45 minutes of mall-roaming before hand. We headed back the hotel, checked out, and went for lunch. Dragonfish had a different atmosphere in the day, and we opted for an alcohol free lunch, but the food was just as spectacular.

Driving out of Portland, bang on time at 1:30, meant we would get to Seattle by 4. Straight up the I-5, a completely uneventful stretch of road, we were there with 10 minutes to spare. We switched drivers half way, and I drove us into the city. As we rounded a long curving bend in the highway, Seattle came into sight. She is a beauty, and for us both, it was a kind of homecoming.
End of the Road
Our road trip was over, but before we returned our car, we drove to our old neighbourhood – where we had stayed when I was here with Ben in January – to do one of the more mundane chores of a trip: laundry. We rewarded ourselves afterwards with a Thai dinner at a favourite restaurant.

Travelling like this with Ben is a great joy to us both. We are machine of a travelling team. We each have our strengths, and we use these effectively to ensure that we get to where we’re going, we have a fun time getting there, and we take full advantage of opportunities that come along. Ben and I have a beautiful simpatico, as travelling companions, and as a couple. This type of time together allows us to see every facet of each other, and to forge the best foundation of a relationship: a strong and happy friendship. In short, he is my best friend, and this part of the blog is where I thank him for the wonderful and brilliantly fun trip we had.

Seattle was brilliant the second time around, but more on that some other time.

Blown Away by Oregon

I forgot to mention the spider. As we climbed into bed at the Requa Inn, there was a spider – in the bed – on my side. Ben did the manly thing and squished it with a tissue. I concentrated on the BEST PIE EVER and the brilliant day we’d had rather than the spider and the creepy dead lady in the hall, which is why my dreams were sweet that night.

We awoke to twittering birds and the sound of huge pickup trucks intermittently roaring past the inn – folks on their way to work we imagined. We suited up for a walk to the coast – about 2 miles up a winding road. The air was clean and smelled of wood stoves and damp earth. The road was steep, but we were working off the pie – and the burger – and the fries – oh, and the onion rings.

We huffed our way up the hill to be rewarded with a different view from the afternoon before. The blue sky had gone, now replaced with a brooding canopy of grey. It heightened the beauty of waves crashing against rocks in the distance.

Early Morning Walk
Morning Coast

Back at the inn we settled in to a breakfast of eggs and oatmeal. We then cleaned up, packed up and loaded up, ready for a day of natural beauty.

Our first stop was to drive north to Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. We were not certain what to expect, except that we could park and hike the well marked trails. The park blew any preconceptions out of the water.

We entered the park on a dirt track, and the sky started to emerge from the clouds. Sunlight pushed through the dense leaves and tall trunks to speckle the forest floor with light. We opened the sunroof of our car to look up as we drove, giant trees peering down at us.
Dizzying Heights
The driving was slow as the track wove its way through the thick, straight trunks. We could tell that as few trees were felled to make this road, as was possible.

“Luke Skywalker’s been in these woods,” said Ben. “Oh that’s right. They filmed those scenes from Empire here.” We both imagined Luke and Leia flying through the forest at breakneck speed – somewhat faster than we were driving.

Luke and Leia

We came to a clearing, a marked trail led off into the woods. Here was as good a place as any. We grabbed cameras, and followed the path. How breathtaking. The path was clearly marked, and even though it curled up hill slightly, this walk would be less than strenuous, and more about taking it all in.

Path through the trees

It was nearly silent. We could hear a single – and presumably lost – bee humming above our heads. There were no bird calls, and the air was still, so not even the rustling of leaves contributed to our soundtrack. All we could hear were our gentle treads on the slightly damp earth and our breath.

We moved ever upward, stepping over the occasional tree root, and following the winding trail. “Can you imagine the root system underneath us?” Ben asked. We were stunned by how tightly packed together the Redwoods are. We had also realised the day before that neither of us really knew what to expect from a Redwood. I have envisioned big bushy-topped trees, like Oaks, but these giant thrust straight up from the ground, with tufts of tiny leaves sticking out near their tops.

In tree world, if the Redwoods were not so terrifyingly tall, they would have been bullied for being ‘funny looking’. They were all out of balance, and not unlike very tall, solid people with tiny heads. But I did not dare laugh for fear that one would lift a root from the forest floor and step on me. I observed the reverent silence exemplified by the rest of the forest, mindful that these trees had been on the earth longer than I could conceive.

“Have you ever scene those pictures where they take the cross section of one of these trunks and show all the significant dates in human history?” asks Ben, pondering the history all around us. I had, and later I would buy him a postcard showing this.

We reached an arbitrary place on the trail, marked only by the half hour we had walked, and a giant orgy of 6 trees all growing together. “Would you like a kiss amongst giant trees,” asked my tall, handsome man. The trees politely turned away, and then we headed back down the trail. The sun was really breaking through the canopy now, stream of light bringing to life the damp forest. It was a beautiful chaos, with every colour of imaginable green, and every texture I knew. Bulbous, knobbly tree gnarls next to the satiny petals of a wild flower.

Friends of the Giants

Back in the car we continued to marvel at the world around us. Just before the end of the park, we pulled off to take another trail, hoping to get down to the ever widening river below us.

The trail was more treacherous than the previous one, with stones and tree roots underfoot, but it was short. We descended to the riverbed, having to go ‘off-road’ to see the really good stuff. I climbed a felled log and walked along it up towards a small waterfall. Ben climbed through brush and crossed a stream to see the river up close. We have fulfilled our Nancy Drew/Hardy Boy fantasies for the day and climbed out of the forest, a little out of breath from our childlike endeavours.

We drove into Crescent City, looking for a place to lunch – a proper lunch so as not to be caught out by starvation around dinner time. Subway would do, because it was fast, healthy, and we knew what we’d be getting.

Crescent City was a generic U.S. town of the working class variety. Pickup trucks and old boxy sedans criss-crossed paths, and the town uniform was jeans with a T-shirt or flannel. I saw a store called ‘Bikes and Guitars’. It was that sort of town: straightforward – what you see is what you get without flourish or embellishment. It was a stark contrast from the pristine, manicured towns of the Napa Valley.

The staff at Subway had twangy accents, like you would expect much further south, and they were personable and fun. I would also have to say that it was the best Subway I have had, perhaps because it was created with flourishes and flair that would put a top-notch bar tender to shame.

Full, happy, and looking forward to adding another state to our ‘been there’ lists, Ben and I headed off and into Oregon.

The border came and went without much ado. I did a little car seat dance to mark the occasion. Bill Bryson was still telling his tale, and we still listened, riveted. Hours went by quickly, as his soft, self-deprecating tone filled our car.

Soon after entering Oregon, the sky turned from blue to grey. And then it rained. Thick, fat drops hit the windscreen. “Hang on,” I said looking intensely out the window a few minutes later, “is that hail?” “Yep,” said Ben, as though he had expected it. Rain, then hail: ‘Welcome to Oregon.’

We drove towards the coast, getting small glimpses of a spectacular coastline. “We can pull off at one of these lookouts,” noted Ben. “Here’s one,” he said pointing up ahead. I pulled the car off and onto a heavily pot-holed track.

At the car park, we both got out and the force of the wind nearly pushed me back into the car. I stumbled forward to get a look at the view. “Oh my God,” I said. “Geez,” Ben said. We were so eloquent.

A jagged black pyramid stood just offshore in the surf, battered by constantly breaking waves. The erratic water met grey sand, dotted with oversized pebbles, and rippled by the fierce wind.

Jagged Pyramid
I took some shots, and gratefully climbed back into the shelter of the car. Ben was braver than I. He pushed his way down to the shore, walking on a slant against the wind. The coast in northern
California had been beautiful – I described it an untamed – but this was something else. I was running out of superlatives.

We drove on. It snowed! The exclamation point is all I can do to convey my surprise. We’d thought the previous day had shown a contrast in weather, but this day had gone from mild and sunny to snowing – all within a 100 miles.

Our next stop was at a similarly spectacular spot, but this one for the human creations placed on precarious cliffs. A starkly white lighthouse, and the keeper’s neat white cottage, with its equally white picket fence, stood proudly on cliff tops. We stretched our legs by climbing the path to the lighthouse. It was a quick visit, though, as the rain started up again. We ran through it back to the car, arriving out of breath and laughing. We dried out as we continued north.


We were driving to Bandon, a small town on the southern Oregon coast. We arrived at 4. For an inexplicable reason we had arrived at our destination for the third day running, at 4pm. We had planned this trip, insomuch as two people can with Google Earth and some emails, but we were fluking our arrivals to coincide with check-in time. With two days to come, could we keep this up?

The Windermere Beach Motel presented us with a tiny attic self-contained unit, with a huge picture window that looked out at the beach. We re-arranged the furniture, after it was clear that we would want to sit on the couch and watch out that window for as long as we could. It was still four hours until sunset.

View from the Attic

We had set aside that afternoon for ‘chilling out’, which we did, reading, catching up on emails, sipping some wine we’d brought. All the while we kept an eye on our view, the changeable light revealing more about this stunning coastline.

We dined across the street at Bandon Bill’s Grill. We ordered beers, because the music and the atmosphere called for it. I had the hugest plate of baby back ribs I have ever seen. I made a valiant effort, but as the waitress cleared my plate, she remarked that her dog would be delighted when she got home.

We got back to our ‘home’ in time to watch the sun set. The horizon was peppered with bulky grey clouds, and the sun hid her naked self behind them. It was a burlesque show of peekaboo, and stolen glimpses of her beauty.

After she had disappeared for the day, we walked out onto the windy beach. It was smooth, and grey and vast. Other small groups walked too. Even though it was cold, there was something about this place that called us to come out and play.

The last light finally disappeared, and we headed ‘home’ again.

A Day of Contrasts

From Napa Valley to Klamath, on the northern California coast.

Day two of our trip was a day of stark contrasts.

We had dined the night before at Terra in St Helena. Terra appears in the Michelin guide (one star), and combines European and Asian food styles and tastes. The fusion works, and although we didn’t try it, the dessert ‘Angel Farts’ intrigued us. Instead, we completed our meal with a cherry compote and ice cream parfait, which was, ‘Parfait!’

We knew on waking that our host at the B+B had promised a ‘gourmet breakfast’, but I wondered if the culinary delights of St Helena could possibly continue at such a high standard.

We were not disappointed.

We joined another couple for a truly gourmet breakfast, both courses announced with the liberal flourishes of our flamboyant host, Carlos. “Baked pink grapefruit with fresh raspberry coulis and spun honey.” Who would have thought to bake a grapefruit? Apparently, Carlos, and it was both unusual and delicious.

“Wholewheat Belgian waffles, with melted French butter, and organic Maple syrup from Vermont, served with organic chicken and apple sausages.”

Waffles! I thought I would die of excitement, and they were amazing. The kind of waffle that retains its crispy exterior, while pools of butter and syrup meld in the little pockets. Ben remarked later that I had shown great restraint, and he knew that if we were not seated opposite strangers, I would have clapped in delight at the overwhelming deliciousness. I clapped on the inside.

Dinner was a distant memory as we finally moved from the table and finished packing. It was another beautiful day in the Napa Valley and we had quite a drive ahead of us up to the north coast of California, to Klamath. Our breakfast companions had informed us that Klamath is not on the coast (a surprise to us), and that Crater Lake was only about an hour from there (a happy surprise to us). We knew that if we made good time then we could get to Crater Lake before nightfall, a good addition to our itinerary.

Bellies full as we drove off, we decided not to have lunch that day, but to snack in the car and have a ‘proper’ dinner. As we drove north through wine country, enjoying the sun and the landscape, we started an audio book Ben had brought. Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods is his travel biography about walking the Appalachian Trail in the east. Although we were in the west, the changing topography (fewer fields, more forests), and the changing weather (grey clouds and drizzle), allowed us to be transported and enjoy the hilarity of Bryson’s huge endeavour.
Napa Driving
We made great time. We arrived at the Requa Inn, just out of Klamath, around 4pm, meaning we could make it out to Crater Lake. The sky in Klamath was clearer than other parts of our journey, a milky blue, and the air was cold. From the start of our day, the temperature had dropped 25° F.

The Requa Inn was opened over 100 years ago, and the eclectic mix of furnishings and knickknacks bore testament to the whole century. A collection of cricket paraphernalia caught my eye, as did their haphazard – yet extensive – library. I did not like, however, the creepy photograph of a long dead woman that hung just across from our bedroom door. I was compelled to look at it every time I went in or out of the room, even though she freaked me out. “It’s just an old photo. You’re only freaked out because you can’t see her face,” said the sceptic. Yes, exactly. It is not normal to have a black splodge where your face should be.
Requa Inn
Our host informed us as we checked in, that Crater Lake was a 6 hour return drive from there, and that the roads would be closed anyway, because of snow. “Oh,” we both said, disappointed we wouldn’t see the brilliant blue of the lake’s water, contrasted with its snowy rim. Who had told us that it was close? Oh, yes. Carlos, our B+B host.

BUT, we could drive up the hill to go whale watching! We picked the innkeeper’s brain a bit longer, determining that we could drive south (back from whence we came) and drive into the Redwood forest, and that dinner was even further south (nothing open in Klamath on a Thursday night).

We dropped our bags to our room, and drove the short drive to the lookout over the Klamath River inlet. Like the other gem we’d be told at breakfast, the line about Klamath not being on the coast was rubbish. We were in Klamath, and we were standing on the coast. It was spectacular. I pulled my jacket around me, and we sat on a picnic table and scanned the water for whale spouts. None emerged, but the salt air and the view were enough.
California Dreaming
We reluctantly drove away, promising each other to return in the morning. We were going to see big trees now. We had stopped earlier in the day, just pulling off the road, at our first real glimpse of Redwood trees. The sun was still out then, and we walked through a small stand down to a pebbly riverbank.
A stand of Redwoods
This little glimpse into the world of giants whet our appetite for more, so when we took the turn off into Redwood National Park late in the afternoon, we were blown away.

We saw a car parked ahead, and pulled off the road. Another young couple was there taking fun photos of themselves with a giant hollowed out tree. We joined in on the fun, trading cameras and getting ‘couple/tree’ shots for each other.
Big enough for two
The air was cool, damp and smelled of centuries of nature. The other couple left and we explored further. The base of one felled giant stood taller than Ben and we estimated it at over 1000 years old.

Back in the car, we made our way to “Big Tree”, the imaginatively named largest tree in North America. We parked, and walked the path, and narrowed ‘Big Tree’ down to two big trees. We took photos with both, marvelling at their height and girth. It was getting chilly and dark, and we wanted to drive to the beach before dinner. A dirt track took us to the stark and grey-sanded coast. The skies had turned grey and the wind was biting, but the untamed beach, awash with driftwood, was beautiful.
Grey Coast
We defrosted in the car as we drove back to the highway, and headed further south to Orick for dinner.

We had been given the two big tips for dining in Orick. There was a Mexican restaurant (closed), and a biker diner (open). The diner was a beacon in the darkness, for we were starving, and had already decided that never again would we ‘car snack’ instead of stopping for lunch.

The diner was warm and smelled like home cooking. It was the first true diner experience I could remember having, and our waitress was sweet and personable, through her obvious exhaustion. We ordered diner food: a French Dip and onion rings for Ben and a hamburger and fries for me – oh and a salad, so we could feel somewhat virtuous. The French Dip – for my Aussie and British readers – is a roast beef sandwich, which is dipped into a beef broth. Salty, hot and beefy. And a departure for Ben, who is (mostly) a white meat only boy.
Diner Dining
We devoured our food nearly before it hit the table, and it was delicious. I mentioned to Ben that we had gone from whole wheat Belgian waffles with organic Vermont Maple syrup to burgers, fries and onion rings, in one day. Another contrast to enjoy.

The only question that remained after dinner was, did we have room for pie? Hell, yes! We took it go, mixed berry for me, and apple for Ben. Bill Bryson, earlier that day, had uttered a line that I now shared with our waitress: “Can you please cut me the biggest piece of pie you can without losing your job?” “I always do,” she winked conspiratorially. And when she handed us our pie to go, they were fat wedges, fillings oozing out the sides. I couldn’t wait to get back to the Inn.

We were the only guests that night, so had the large living room to ourselves. We helped ourselves to a bottle of Moonstone Red (leaving a note for our hosts that we would fix them up in the morning), and sat by the fire. Ben read aloud from an anthology of Walt Whitman poetry, which casually sat on the coffee table. We drank wine, and ate THE BEST PIE I HAVE EVER HAD, and grew sleepy by the fire.
Fireside Poems
A good day, and as different an ending as we could have imagined in the beginning.

Tomorrow we would be hiking further into the woods, and then driving into Oregon – a first for us both. We collapsed, exhausted, and I dreamed of giant berry pie trees.

Road Trip

“I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” Robert Louis Stevenson

This quote is taped to my desk at work – at eye level. I see it every day, and every day I think to myself, ‘How true.” Or mostly true, for me. Robert and I differ in the ‘not to go anywhere’ part, because I often travel to specifically go somewhere, but like R.L.S., I also travel just to move. Moving, going, leaving, arriving, this global kinetic energy that I partake of and contribute to, is part of my internal rhythm.

And this type of energy is heightened in a particular kind of travel: The Road Trip.

R.L.S. died in 1894, so it is safe to say that he never went on a road trip. Not really. Not the kind we take today, in cars, and on actual roads. He never knew the pleasure hitting the open road, with plans and expectations crammed in the mind, like the maps and brochures are crammed into the glove box.

But, as I climbed into a hire car in San Francisco earlier this week, I knew he would have approved. After all, ‘…the great affair is to move’, and the first leg of my trip with Ben, was the same trip Stevenson shared with his new bride in 1880: a journey north to the Napa Valley.

San Francisco is nothing like I imagined, basing my extensive expectations on remembered episodes of Full House and Party of Five, but it did not disappoint. In fact, our 44 hour stint there, our taster of a great city to which we will someday return, was so full that it is a whole post of its own. Soon. I promise.

This journey starts in SanFran, and ends in Seattle. It encompasses the Napa Valley, the northern Californian coast, Oregon’s coast, Portland, Oregon’s capital, and everywhere in between.

To the Napa Valley

Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge is cool. It is huge and iconic and brightly burnt orange, and crossing it for the first time means, “I have been to San Francisco.” Even though Ben and I had been traversing the streets of the city for two days, this was the moment when it sank in that I was actually there – and we were leaving.

Golden Gate Crossing

The drive to Napa Valley is just over an hour. This is not a long drive, unless you are dying to pee and arrive in Yountville. Yountville is one of many small towns dotted along Highway 29, and is just north of Napa. It is beautiful and pristine and apparently people who visit have no bathroom needs (there are no public toilets). After an excruciating reconnaissance of the town, which oddly was shut at 10:30 in the morning, I hobbled to a roadside porta potty. Back in the car, my mood lifted (Ben is a master of patiently bearing the desperate cries and angry rants that accompany this state of being), and we drove on to Chandon Estate.

Chandon Estate

Chandon sparkling white is a staple for me and my friends when we attend the horseracing carnivals in Sydney, so I was looking forward to visiting the Napa estate. The grounds and building were beautifully situated, and there was a reverent hush in the air. We were directed to a tasting bar, and Ben ordered a flight of wines – three half flutes, each wine distinctive and delicious (offered sips were gratefully accepted).
A taste of California
I ordered a sparkling rose, just released, and drank slowly as I drank in my surroundings. It was a perfect
California day: cloudless blue skies and 26°. We drove on.

I had done my homework and knew I wanted to go to Rubicon Estate, not far to the north. I could not remember why my reading had triggered this desire, until we pulled into the grand gates of Rubicon, valeted the car and walked up the steps onto a red carpet. “Ah, yes,” I said, “now I remember,” a large sign jogging my memory. The estate is owned by Francis Ford Coppola, and it is majestic.

Rubicon Estate

A $25 fee would buy us a three-day passport, which included 5 tastings, tours and, well, just being there. An orientation tour fed us the history of Rubicon, which was once owned by a Russian visionary called Niebaum. Niebaum envisioned the tasting rooms and cellar door culture that is now ubiquitous in wine regions worldwide. He produced exceptional wines, which were served exclusively at the White House and on exclusive trans-Atlantic cruises. In purchasing the winery and making vast, restorative improvements, Coppola has paid homage to its history and has restored its wine-making prestige.

Neibaum and Coppola

We tasted a flight of five wines, including a Sauvignon Blanc and a Syrah, and culminating in the 2004 Rubicon. The first three wines are only available at the cellar door, and Ben bought a bottle of the Syrah – it is outstanding. We would love to have bought a bottle of the Rubicon, but at $125, it is a little out of our price range.
Rubicon 2004
We enjoyed the ambiance and the banter with the older gentleman pouring our wine, and bid farewell to Rubicon, glad we had made the pilgrimage there.

We back tracked to Yountville; we knew there were many choices for lunch, having done our ‘reckie’ hours earlier. We ate at Bistro Jeanty, a French style Bistro on the main street. The food was prompt, and tasty, although I burned my mouth on the excruciatingly hot French onion soup. It made me a little grumpy, because how do you taste wine when your taste buds have been seared off?

I downed healing water as we drove on to Mumm. Mmm, Mumm. We were greeted by a warm woman, who put the officious staff at Chandon to shame. We seated ourselves on the patio overlooking the vineyard, and I presented a 2 for 1 coupon I downloaded from the net (wine tasting in Napa can be pricey).
Our hostess brought us two flutes of yumm, I mean, Mumm. “Hey,” she said, conspiratorially, “would you like to try our signature pour? While we’re not busy.” She brought us a taste of DVX, nearly full flutes and we sipped that along with our Blanc de Noir. Both delicious, but sipping and sitting in the sun was going to my head. Ben took his tiddly girl back to the car, and we drove on to
St. Helena, where we would stay that night in a B+B. We arrived at 4, after a day of sun, sips and sighs of pleasure. Ahhh, Napa.

Next post:

St Helena to the land of the giants.

Fear of Falling

Last post I revealed my desire to skip the nursing home and boldly jettison through older age with a pack on my back, a camera in hand, a grin on my face and guided by my sense of adventure.

In writing my promised list of things I have done on my way to earning my ‘Adventure Chick’ stripes, I found that I wanted to explain. I was excusing some of these feats because to me they represent ‘extreme’, and ‘brave’ and ‘living outside my comfort zone’, but I know that what I deem adventurous is, to some, just ‘fun’. In creating a post of cool things I have done, I realised there is a preface.

I am an adventurous woman. I make bold decisions for my life. I have moved to other the other side of the world – twice – with only a month’s income in the bank, and no promise of a job on the other end. I have taken chances in life that would make others flinch and choose the safe option. These big actions have scared me, but I have been brave; I have indulged my sense of adventure in grand ways. And ultimately, my boldness has rewarded me; my life often surpasses my dreams.

So why is it that I can take on a promotion, move to a new city, take a chance on love, but the thought of climbing onto a horse, or into a raft gives me heart palpitations and sweaty palms?

Because of the fear.

I fear three big things: Water, heights and looking stupid. These are common fears, but the first two are misnamed. I do not fear water – I do shower and bathe regularly, and I will swim laps in a pool. What I fear is drowning – in rapids, in surf, in water where I cannot touch the bottom, and scary things lurk.

‘Fear of heights’ is also a misnomer. I am mostly fine with being up high. I fly frequently, I cross bridges, I can stand on a chair and change a light bulb. I am, however, afraid of plummeting to my death, or even being seriously maimed. My fear is of falling. So much so, that I cannot even watch someone (Ben!) balance precariously on the edge of a cliff and look over the edge.

The last fear is the hardest to overcome. I spent much of my late teens and early 20s refusing to do something if I thought there was the slightest chance I would be bad at it. I figured that if I did not have a natural aptitude for something, I would subsequently look stupid doing it, or trying to do it, or trying to get better at it. I would succumb to the fear, and never try again.

Skiing:17 years old, school ski trip, 3 days in the snow, hundreds of dollars my parents didn’t have. I fell off the ski lift, and then I fell down the mountain (27 times – I counted). When I finally made it to the bottom of the mountain, I literally skied into the crowd waiting for the lift, knocking them over like giant skittles. As I wiped frozen snot and tears from my face with the sleeve of my stupid looking over sized ski jacket, I stomped back to the lodge in my stupid looking ski boots. There I stayed for the next 2 and ½ days, consuming my body weight in hot chocolate. Safe. And, in my opinion, not looking stupid.

And I nearly did not learn to drive. It was only my father’s patience and persistence, that I learned through my tears and refusals to learn.

Fortunately, in the most recent half of my life, I have cultivated the one thing that can fight this fear of falling on my face. It is called ‘laughing at myself’. Laughing at oneself is the foundation that allows us to try new things, to surprise ourselves, and to delight those who love us.

On the last full day Ben and I had together in Seattle, we ended up at a video arcade. There it was: the game Dance, Dance Revolution. It has foot pads and a screen; you watch the screen, and copy the steps onto the foot pads. It is not really dancing, more like the African Anteater Ritual (shameless reference to the 80s classic film Can’t Buy Me Love), a series of ever quickening stomping and stamping.

Ben did not even hesitate, plugging his quarters into the slot and mentally preparing himself for the challenge ahead. Hours of playing this same game in the comfort of his living room meant that he was really good at it. But what I was thinking as I watched my 6’1” boyfriend stamp and stomp to tinny techno, was how brilliantly unself-conscious he was. I felt a welling of, what? Pride, I guess. He was doing this crazy fun, silly thing, right there in public, and I knew there was no way I was going to have a turn when he finished. I knew I would look stupid.

There it was, that fear. It lurks, and pops up when I least expect it. It is a self-centred fear, because it is borne from thinking that ‘everyone is watching and judging me’. Ben would not have judged me had I stood up there and had a go. He would have laughed with me and encouraged me, just as he does when I learn new things on the computer (things he finds really simple), or fall down on a steep ski run (yes, I have gone back, and I love it).

So, that day in the arcade, when that fear bit and niggled at me again, I looked at my cute, funny boyfriend doing something I wasn’t willing to do, and I admired him and loved him all the more for it.

He has his fears too, and when I see him overcome them, when he wins his battles (however large or small) over his fear of the unknown, I am supportive and proud.

I want to banish this stupid fear of looking stupid – forever. So, I will continue to laugh at myself, to willingly be the fool, and to give things a go – even those things I will be bad at.

The other fears – water, heights – are as acute as ever. So when I do tell the cool, scary, adventurous things I have done, keep in mind the stakes, even if for you they’d just be a bit of fun.

Feel the fear and do it anyway.  Right? Absolutely!

When I Grow Up

My oldest relative is my Great Aunt Joan. She is in her seventies and there are rumours (which I totally believe) that she was once a spy and worked for MI-6 (like James Bond). She lives with Foy and they are two very sweet, dear old English ladies. In fact, my family even refers to them as the ‘DODs’ (Dear Old Dears). It is an ironic, but endearing title that they wear with pride, while they safari in Africa and trek through the Australian Outback.

You see, the DODs are the original adventure chicks, and when I grow up I want to be just like them.

The last time I visited them in their tiny village outside of Oxford (where they casually refer to their neighbours as that Cusack girl who is married to that lovely actor – Sinead Cucask and Jeremy Irons – and yes I am shamelessly name-dropping, but I am totally into that six-degrees thing and think of all those connections!), Foy asked us to come up to the study.

My sister and I made our way up to the second floor, where the cubby-style study resides. Foy booted up her computer and then began playing the video from their latest trip – a safari in Africa. Joan watched from behind us, as the scene on screen cut to nine lionesses devouring a zebra, at night.

“Um, Foy? Did you film this?”

“Yes, dear.”

“How close were you? I mean, how much have you zoomed in?”

“Oh, we were close. What do you think, Joan? We were probably about 20 feet away?”

“Oh, yes, about that.”

My sister and I looked at each other, gob smacked. I had long admired the adventurous spirit of these two women, but this elevated their status to ‘goddess-like’. It was then that I knew I would always travel. I will endeavour to be an adventure chick long into my 80s – and why not? It is in my blood!

Next post: Cool stuff I have done to start earning my ‘adventure chick’ stripes.

Mexican Jumping Beans

I am not a huge Willie Nelson fan, but I do subscribe to his sentiment, because like Willie I can’t wait to get on the road again.  It is time.  I have ants in my pants, itchy feet and can’t sit still.  Were I six and were my mother here, she would wonder aloud if I had swallowed Mexican jumping beans.


This happens to me when I am close to travelling again.  It is eleven more sleeps, which means I am in final preparation mode.


The past couple of months have been about the planning.  Ben and I have been online and on the phone, swapping ideas, websites and our latest toy, customised Google maps.  We read up and revise, and discuss and decide.  It is a fun process, and one that lends itself to building anticipation. 


We will both fly into Los Angeles where I have friends, and where we will stay for a couple of nights (a short stay, but we will be back).  We then fly to San Francisco, where neither of us has been, and where both of us are excited to go for the first time.  I bought us a tiny guidebook, but really, we are governed by the ‘laws of first-timers’.  We are staying near Fisherman’s Wharf, where we will eat sourdough bread and seafood; we will ride a tram up an impossibly steep street; we will see the Golden Gate Bridge and visit Alcatraz. 


Importantly, Ben and I have promised each other that while we are following these obvious tourist tracks, we will be travellers.  We will find wonder and fresh perspectives in our touristy endeavours.  It will be our mantra: ‘travellers, travellers, travellers’.


From San Francisco, we hit the road.  We pick up a hire car and will continue north to Seattle where Ben is due for work, taking five days to get there.  We have some varied stops planned, the first of which is The Napa Valley.  Oh, Napa – the scenery, the wine, the Chintz!  


In seeking out a Bed and Breakfast close enough to several wineries, but somewhat off the main strip, we viewed more shots of Chintzy bedrooms that I ever care to again.  Some rooms are even named after the Chintz: The Pink Rose Blossom Room, The Room with Two Many Pillows (Ben: “Where do we sleep?”), and The “Oh my, Grandma’s Sewing Box Threw Up’ Room.  Resigned to the fact that Chintz is a given no matter what, we decided on the place with a spa tub and gourmet waffles.


After being spoiled in The Napa Valley, we will rough it in a Northern Californian coastal town, replete with Redwood Forest.  Yes, we go from wine tasting to woodland trekking, a challenge for even the most experienced packer.  From there, ever north into Oregon, a state I will get to add to my ‘I’ve been there’ list. 


I have friends from Oregon.  They all extol Oregon’s beauty as its greatest virtue.  To honour that, we will drive the coast for as long as possible, and then head inland up to Portland.  At this stage all I know about Portland is that I should shop there, as Oregon has no state sales tax (and Washington State has one of the highest in the U.S.).  I will be as true to my wallet as time allows, for we are due in Seattle the next day. 


Ben has work there Monday to Thursday and then we will be able to explore further a field for a couple of days.  For me, four days alone in a favourite city is a gift, and then of course, we can head out to the wonderful array of Seattle’s restaurants in the evenings. 


We fly out of Seattle on a Saturday, giving us that night in LA, where I have been promised we will Par-Tay.  My LA friends are in the know, which is important when in a city of that size.  LA visitors without a ‘local guide’ can suffer from ‘Disney-itis’.  This is a condition whereby they think they have been to LA, because they stayed in Anaheim and went to Disneyland.  Disneyland is not LA.  LA is a vast and energetic city with much to see and do that does not include a giant mouse and mass merchandising. 


So, eleven more sleeps.  At this stage I write lists: To do, To buy, To pack, To take on the plane.  I am a list-maker in everyday life, but when in travel mode, they are even more crucial.  They keep me sane, grounded.  And for a girl who swallowed a handful of Mexican jumping beans and can’t sit still, some kind of tether is necessary to keep my feet on the ground – for the next eleven days anyway.


“On the road again, I just can’t wait to get on the road again…”