22/9/16 – Doing as the locals do

Got up semi-early to get ready and pack the last few things before leaving our nice Miami apartment. A friend of Lydia’s picked us up and took us to the Alamo to fetch our car and didn’t even want to charge us for the ride! We still tipped him, of course. Our car wasn’t ready yet, but the man behind the desk upgraded us to a bigger one free of charge to save us spending our vacation sitting in the Alamo. I do love Americans. There was also the Latino double of Oliver Hudson working on the desk. I genuinely thought it was really him (and that he’d super downgraded his career somehow) until I heard him speak.

Our car was a big Dodge Journey that I quickly dubbed Harry (Hazza if you’re feeling casual). It’s so good to have a car to just pile everything into, rather than having to lug around various bags and cases, particularly the box that’s filled with alcohol. Both the Alamo guy and our unofficial taxi driver commented on how it was the most important piece of luggage we were carrying. Not untrue. We only drove about an hour out of Miami before we had to stop off at a Burger King. Hunger is real, people, even if Burger King is pretty unsatisfying when you consider the wide variety of eating options here.

Back on the road again. Watched an episode of Psych and then we were distracted by a Walmart. Actually the first one we’ve seen. Finally got my big box of Seagrams, as well as more Red Bull, Sunny D, Milk Duds and a giant bag of popcorn. Then I discovered the clothes section and got very distracted indeed. I ended up picking out a stripy jumper dress of all things, but it was just too nice to pass up and as Mom pointed out, it was very me. Everyone knows black and red is my colour scheme. Even better, I also got various pairs of boxers with Deadpool, Batman and Wonder Woman on them. There were some lovely Harley Quinn ones, but sadly, they only had them in massive sizes.

By the time we were leaving, it was pouring with rain, so we had to wait it out a little before we were brave enough to make a run for it to the car. Thankfully, we didn’t have anymore distraction stops. I’d planned on using the driving time to write, but the drive was so nice that I ended up just watching through the window instead and taking the odd photo. Definitely some lovely views driving into the Keys. We booked into our very cute hotel in Key Largo and had a mill around in the room for a while. Had a little read and then Skyped Kel for a bit. I don’t think she’s enjoying hamster-sitting for Wilson, since he managed to get out of his ball. Yes, I named my hamster after a ball and yes, it’s ironic that he’s tried to make his grand escape from it on a few occasions.

Headed on out after that and had a little wander around the area. We walked down the waterfront first and found some lovely red and blue wrasse, stripy little Angelfish looking Sergeant Majors and some teeny, teeny jellyfish. We then went inwards and onto the street that ran parallel to the water. It was so freaking adorable. It was like being in a proper little fishing village, which I guess technically, we were. All of the houses were built up above the first storey with open patios underneath, besides the garages, clearly prepared for any potential flooding. They all looked really nice and cute though and everyone had their own unique mailboxes, like ones that were being held up by a manatee or alligator statue.

After exploring everything there pretty much was to explore – which really was only a little – we went to a restaurant called Sharkey’s, where we got to sit upstairs out on the balcony, overlooking the waterfront. Now this was just the most perfect night. I had a literal bucketful of a cocktail called Sharkbite Punch, which was mango and passionfruit rum, pineapple and orange juice and grenadine. To go with that, I decided to be adventurous and went with the beer battered fresh shrimp and sea fries. I’m really fussy with seafood and had to ask for them to be served without the tails on, so it was a brave step for me, but god, it was such a good choice. It was so fresh and so tasty and I felt so pleased that I’d chose to be adventurous. As well as the food and drink being delicious, there was a musician playing an acoustic set of great covers of songs I love like Three Doors Down, Oasis and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Then we even got to sit and watch an electrical storm out over the river where the lightning made the clouds light up pink and blue. Talk about the most incredible atmosphere. Everything was just perfect.

Suitably stuffed and with Mom certainly not wanting any more cocktails after our buckets, we headed back to the room. I had a few of my Mike’s Hard Lemonade and read, then planned to watch the rest of Sahara and then do some writing. Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on which way you look at it – Dad discovered Impractical Jokers on the telly, so I had no choice but to watch that after only watching a little more of Sahara. Guess we’ll try again tomorrow.

124

130

Now that’s entertainment.

21/9/16 – To the beach

Up a little less early today. Much slower on getting ready, since Mom was looking up what we were going to do about the Everglades and the Keys. I had a Funyuns breakfast, did some reading and watched bits of Sahara for a while before getting all suncreamed up and ready to go. There was a little more of a breeze than yesterday, but it was still incredibly hot. I tried to tan up my back a bit, but the air was so close that I couldn’t lie on my front for long without feeling really uncomfortable.

Switched back onto my chair and did some reading instead. We saw a couple more manta rays in the sea. One of them was even bigger than the one we saw yesterday! They clearly like this section of the beach. After a while, we went for lunch at a Colombian place called Sabor Playa. God, I really am loving all this South American stuff. I had a chicken quesadilla, which was gorgeous and so, so cheesy. So cheesy that in the end, even I felt like I was having a cheese overload and I freaking love cheese. I asked for a lemon Snapple and because our server didn’t seem to have the best English, I ended up with some kind of apple ice tea. I normally don’t like ice tea, but it was actually really nice and refreshing and thankfully didn’t taste like tea at all.

Grabbed some drinks from Walgreen’s and had a few more hours on the beach after lunch. There was even more of a breeze this time, which was very welcome. Did more reading and then moved back onto my towel, partly to tan my back more and also because I’d already burnt all my front and lying on it meant it’d be protected from getting re-burnt. It also meant it wasn’t entirely comfortable, though I did manage to fall asleep for about an hour, so it clearly wasn’t too uncomfortable.

Came back to the apartment afterwards. Mom had more researching she wanted to do on the Keys, so I did yet more reading and playing my Disney game around showering. I even fit in a Mike’s Hard Lemonade amongst showering and getting ready. We then had another big leak from the washing machine – looks like they didn’t fix it properly after all, though maybe we shouldn’t have tempted fate by doing another wash. It was still crazy when we left the apartment. Normally, it cools at least a little by the evening, but it was still thirty degrees by eight o’clock.

We went to a Brazilian place that Dad had wanted to try called Cypo Café. Sadly, they only had wine and beer in the alcohol department, so I had to have a pineapple juice instead. Well, apparently it was pineapple juice. It was pineapple flavoured, but very synthetic and not at all juicy with lots of gritty sugar at the bottom. Bad Cypo Café. You can’t advertise this as delicious flavour. For my meal, I had grilled chicken breasts sauteed in garlic with mash and red beans over rice on the side. All of the sides were lovely, but the chicken was dry and very garlicky in some spots and then very plain in others. Mixed feelings really.

We went to a bar called Aromi after that, but either the fakey pineapple juice or something I ate didn’t agree with me, because I started to feel quite ill. I bypassed alcohol for the house water instead. You know I’m not myself if I’m drinking water, because I only ever do that if I have a bad head and have literally nothing else to hand or if I’m out and I’m already horrendously drunk but still have the sense to try and re-hydrate. The bar itself was pretty cool though. They had a cushion with Batman and Wonder Woman kissing on it, which I’m obviously gonna approve of.

We popped into Walgreen’s on the way back because I’d seen a super cute notebook I wanted to get – notebooks are absolutely my weakness for impulse buys, but hey, at least I always use them. I also got some more Funyuns for the start of the car travels tomorrow. I felt better after being back at the apartment; at least well enough to have a couple more of Mike’s Hard Lemonade. Spent the night watching When Weather Goes Viral. One of the meteorologists on there said that everyone has a little bit of weather geek in them and it’s completely true. Tornadoes in particularly have always fascinated me and it’s perversely interesting to watch storms go very wrong.

Pottered round doing a bit more packing in between watching the wonderful weather programme before bed, ready for the next move. First place in our itinerary that I’ve never been to before. Bring on the Keys!

101

Holy guacamole, that’s good!

10/5/15 – Our ideal kind of lazy day

We had a lazier start this morning, which worked out well as Kel didn’t get up till midday. We’d decided to skip breakfast this time as it would mean we would have only got about six hours sleep. I got up about half ten, compensated by eating some popcorn and watched an episode of Fullmetal, then I showered whilst Kel was still asleep. She woke up after just in time for me to dry my hair. Did a little bit of writing in between getting ready, then we made our way down to Emi’s apartment block for one o’clock. Emi’s mom Tamara had insisted on cooking lunch for us all. Her dad Konstantin and her younger sister Iliana, who now lives with her husband, joined us too.

We all sat round the little table in Emi’s room, which was cute, if a little awkward.I always find sit-down meals with people I don’t know mildly uncomfortable, but with the language barrier it was even more awkward. I couldn’t even convey my appreciation of the food properly! Emi mostly mediated. Konstantin doesn’t really understand any English. Tamara knows a little and Iliana apparently knows a fair bit, though doesn’t feel so confident speaking it to actual English people. She did have one moment thought where Emi was saying that I was clearly ready for cake and she added in perfect English, “I can see it in your eyes”. Then later on Tamara decided to demonstrate what she’d learnt from her English books and came out with, “I live in the zoo. I’m bimbo.” So cute and funny! I think the whole family’s combined English is just incredible anyway – particularly when Iliana learnt from online gaming and Emi learnt from watching movies and TV shows. Probably the most entertaining way to do it!

The food itself was great, though I quickly learnt that Bulgarians clearly like to serve a lot of things cold that we would normally have hot. It did nothing to hurt the excellent taste though! We had a chicken noodle soup to start and a type of Bulgarian salad that was thankfully put in the middle for everyone to help themselves, so I could get away without having any and not look like I was leaving anything on my plate. I am a no salad zone. After that was mash, pork steak with onions and a type of herby meat patty thing that was really, really tasty. Best of all though was the cake. It was triple layered with lots of cream, mascarpone, blackcurrants, strawberries, kiwi and banana. I don’t even like banana but it was really incredible. The sponge was just so soft and sooo good! I had some really nice cherry juice to go with everything too.

The rest of the family went off to do their own thing after food, whilst we stayed in Emi’s room to chill. Oh, I totally need a job working for Red Bull. Emi gets the best perks – she just had loads of free Red Bull in her fridge!She then doesn’t drink it because she doesn’t drink fizzy drinks, so it all got donated to me, including the various flavoured ones. Woohoo! I had a cranberry and an original in quick succession, then we started on nails.

Nails with Emi always takes a very long time as she’s such a professional. By long time I mean around five or so hours for the both of us. Not that it’s boring of course. It’s us – we can always find inane chatter to fill the time with. I got into trouble because I kept moving and then me and Kel kept making each other laugh. Hey, we were the good kids in school – we need to act out at some point in life. Whilst Emi was working I unleashed my perfect brainteaser on them that I came up with before. You have to hum/whistle/du-du-du the theme tunes to Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Superman and the A Team in turn, in that order. It’s perfect because it’s movie related and I can actually do it myself, but it seems to stump everyone else.

Emi finished off my amazingly perfect Harley Quinn nails, complete with a “hello puddin'” on my ring finger, and we sat back for more chill time. Of course I was the only one hungry again, so Tamara nicely heated up some more of the mash and meat patties for me. We then all had more cake. God, I really do love that cake. We talked more film stuff, as we do, then watched some of Men At Arms and saw them build an incredible Hylian shield! Want! Then they joined up with a Super Fans team to make a set of Final Fantasy kitchen knives. Sheer awesomeness.

We’d been quite horrified whilst we were there to hear it start raining, thundering and lightning-ing. Especially when it had been so lovely on the walk down – more shorts and tank tops weather and not even muggy this time! Thankfully it had died down and the thunder and lightning had stopped by the time we were leaving, though we still had to loan a brolley from Emi. Sharing a brolley only works completely if you’re sharing with someone who’s the same height. Otherwise you get one person getting rained on more and/or one person getting hit in the head, which was obviously what happened with us. We also had the added fun of having to jump some giant puddles in our very non-waterproof shoes.

When we got back I broke open one of my cherry Carlings that I bought yesterday – home away from home and it only cost the equivalent of about 50p! Watched another episode of Fullmetal (oh Hughes, you really break my heart), did some more writing and we both marveled over some pictures online of Kenan and Kel in the present day. Kel actually grew up to be really attractive! Damn. Wound down for bed from there. I don’t think I can hack skipping free breakfast two days in a row!

Hello puddin'!

Hello puddin’!

31/10/13 – So no one told you life was gonna be this way

Early start and quick Skype with Mom so we could make our tour on time. Apparently Star had to have eight teeth out! Poor baby! We got two shuttles over to the Warner Bros. Studios and fangirled over the merchandise for a little while. Got two Central Perk magnets – one for home and one for Amy! We watched a short film first of great Warner Bros. TV and movie moments, then got in the little golf buggy thing to start the tour. First we drove round some outdoor sets that have been used for Shameless, Gilmore Girls and the old 60’s Batman, amongst others. There were a couple of park sections that were used in Friends too – where Ross played rugby and where Phoebe and Rachel went jogging. Too cool!

The corner of ‘Central Park’ where Rachel ran into the horse on Friends!

We saw the studio where they film Big Bang Theory, but couldn’t go in because they were rehearsing right then and there! Instead we got to see the inside of the Two and a Half Men studio. I’m not really a fan, but it was at least interesting to see how much smaller the scale really is in person. We went round a props room and also one with the genuine cars used in movie productions – including the Ford Anglia from Harry Potter and all the various Batmobiles! Then whilst we were driving between locations I spotted William H. Macy chilling in a buggy going the other way. How awesome?! I loved him in Sahara and Wild Hogs!

Just chilling with the bat tumbler. You know that’s right! (And ruining the cool image by holding my sunglasses like a weirdo to avoid fingerprints)

The last stop was a costume and prop museum. Sadly we weren’t allowed to take photos in there, which sucked because they had some really awesome stuff! There were costumes from Man of Steel, The Hangover, Harry Potter (which we’re an old hand with now but they had the twins’ Half-Blood Prince suits, wooo!) and the Big Bang Theory. We got to try on the Sorting Hat too, which actually spoke! I got Sorted into Hufflepuff… I’m doomed to be an idiot. There were also costumes from Friends, including Ross’s red sweater – which I just thought was awesome! Best of all were the Batman Nolan costumes. I totally could have stole the Scarecrow one. And to top all that off we even got to see the inside of the retired Central Perk set and get photos on the actual couch. Serious dream come true!

Not like we’ve waited fifteen years for this moment or anything…

We didn’t have time for eats before our next tour but I grabbed some Red Bull on the go instead (the real stuff, not the Zero crap). We got another shuttle and then got into a topless bus for our tour of the movie star homes. I also nearly wasted precious Red Bull by almost spitting in out in excitement when I saw a huge Justice League mural on the side of one of the buildings as we left the Warner Bros. Studios. We drove up into the mountains and round the famous provinces like Beverly Hills and Bel Air, spying on all the celebs’ houses. We saw both Robert Blake and Larry King out and about – neither of whom we knew who they were, but they were both nice enough to wave back.

A better daytime view from the Hollywood Hills!

We went back to Piper’s for food afterwards. I had more soup and some crazy loaded fries with cheese, chicken, BBQ sauce and ranch – a whole pound’s worth! (That is too many fries, Gaston!) And then we went for a wander down to Hollywood Boulevard for a few hours to nose on people’s Halloween costumes. On the way back we had a drink stop. I grabbed a ball of what I thought was some kind of alcopop, which then turned out to be 20% proof flavoured vodka. Gave my mouth a bit of a surprise! So I had fun mixing it with my Powerade whilst we watched bits of School of Rock and some Conan mash-ups (including him dubbing an anime, too funny!)

A pound of fries! If you want size context then look at how much the plate is bigger than me!

Also a fun fact that we learnt today: It only rains 25 days a year in L.A. Like I didn’t want to live here enough already!