24/9/16 – Everywhere she goes, Toni loves mashed potatoes!

Much slower get-ready today as we had a later check-out. Packed everything up and then went for a very poor breakfast that consisted of just fruit, most of which was tasteless melon. I just stuck to the grapes. We then Skyped Kel for a little bit before eventually leaving the room. It had been our most expensive, yet worst stocked room so far, but I was a little sad as the Key West had a hell of a lot of different Pokémon to catch. I’d say it was the geek in me that was sad, but that’s basically all of me. We’d had the option of going to the Key West museum as I’d seen an advertisement on a bus that they had the famously haunted Robert the doll, which weirdly, they’d been talking about in the episode of That Anime Show that I’d been listening to on the plane. I’d initially been interested in going to see him, but after Googling pictures, I swiftly changed my mind.

We finally thought to hook up one of the iPods in the car rather than listening to the radio, so we listened to my fifties and sixties playlist on the road. Had a several hour drive with a stop-off at some restaurant along the harbour for lunch. Couldn’t quite decide what I wanted, so I just ordered from the starters menu and had chicken tenders with honey mustard and mozzarella sticks. Yummy food, but shame about the server with the really bad attitude – though she did forget to charge us for our drinks – and the weird, cabbagey smelling toilets. Gross. We had a little nose out on the harbour afterwards and saw some beautifully coloured trumpet fish. We then got petrol from next door to the hotel and went back on our way.

Stopped off at a Walgreen’s en route, where I replenished my Red Bull stash – some of which I enjoyed in the car – and I wrote a couple of flash fictions. I8’ve barely done any writing whilst I’ve been here; it’s really not acceptable. Our satnav then had a mad moment when we got into Homestead and kept trying to take us to a Best Western, rather than the Super 8 that we wanted. We hit a seriously huge thunderstorm and had to wait it out in their car park, before sending Dad in to ask for directions. Thankfully, we found our real motel in the end. I do love Super 8s The first thing I did was fill up the fridge, yay.

Milled in the room for a while, did more writing, read, showered and broke out more of the Seagrams. There was an Applebees right in sight of our motel, so we knew exactly where we were going for tea. Me and Mom shared a pitcher of red apple sangria. Lovely, but the size was a lot more stingy than I remember. I then had an eight ounce sirloin steak with garlic mash and new crispy cheddar bacon potatoes. When it all came out, my mash was cold. And I don’t even mean it was lukewarm; it was stone cold. There was no other way to describe it. I hate to be the person to send food back – particularly as I was starving and it means you have to wait longer – but I like my mash to be at least warm. Sent it back, had to wait, then when I got it back, the mash was still cold. I was too hungry to care by this point, so I just ate it. Put a little dampener on the meal, but everything else was still lovely. With a nice peppercorn sauce, it would have been damn perfect. Sadly, steak sauces don’t seem to be much of a thing here.

Back to the room after that. Mom liked the Super 8, so she booked us a second night there in order to give us somewhere nearby to come and go from when we visit the Everglades. That was cool with me. Got more Seagrams on the go and read and watched Psych in between watching some interesting documentary on telly about cyber predators who killed and kidnapped young girls. Morbid, I know, but then when have I ever had normal interests?

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I’ve waited a long time to have these again. Jamaican me happy indeed.

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23/9/16 – We’re gonna need a bigger boat

Usual early up and get ready to get the rest of our stuff packed. Only this time I had to get Mom to try and help me put my hair into pigtails. That was fun, since Mom is nowhere near as perfectionist as Kel, which is what I want when it comes to my hair. Safe to say it took a few tries. We then loaded up the car and went off on our way further down the Keys. Once again, the drive was beautiful. Had to go across several long bridges and at a few points, the road narrowed out so much that we were driving the with the sea right on either side of us. Apparently one side if the Gulf of Mexico and the other is the Atlantic, but I’m rubbish at geography, so I couldn’t tell you for sure without Googling. Either way, the water was so incredibly still and flat that you could see the sky reflected in it to a point where you couldn’t tell where one left off and the other began.

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Now that’s scenery!

We stopped off at a Walgreen’s because Mom said that Auntie Lynne had requested us to bring back a specific toothpaste, of all things. I ended up having another mad shop when I found more DC stuff and bought a Harley Quinn makeup bag and lipstick, a mini Deadpool plushie and more Red Bull, of course. We then didn’t get much further down the road before stopping at an IHOP for brunch. Now this is what I’m talking about. I had to have my usual country omelette – ham, cheese, onion and has browns – with a side stack of pancakes and plenty of strawberry sauce. I also had a lemonade mixed with lime and mango syrup. Yum yum.

We made the rest of the drive uninterrupted down to our room in Key West. Another really cute place. Our ‘hotel’ building is like a small collection of massive houses with a pool and lots of front and side porches with swinging chairs on them. However, it’s also the first room where we haven’t got a fridge and we have a lot of drinks to chill. Thankfully, there was an ice machine out by the pool, so I did the first trip to fill up the ice bucket and then try to fit as many drinks in as possible. We had a quick settle into the room before going off to explore.

First off, I felt like I was in a Zelda game, because there were escaped chickens just randomly around on the streets – and some baby chickens, aahh. We headed on straight down towards the harbour. We walked past a pool party where a guy and girl were fully recreating the dance-off scene from White Chicks with Run DMC playing and everything. It was hysterical. Of course, technophobic me didn’t know how to find the video camera on my phone, so by the time I did start recording, they were just finishing. I need a tutorial for my phone, even after a month of having it.

We stopped off at the Key West Lime Shoppe for key lime pie and a lime slushie, mmm. Gotta have things where they originate from. We sat in a nice little courtyard with a koi pond. The shop itself was really cute. They did lots of lime flavoured sweets, sticks of rock, soaps, drink making kits… It helped that they were playing Red Solo Cup too. I sand along whilst Mom bought a proper, easy-use lime crusher so that we can make even better margaritas back home. We have our priorities straight. From there, we had a wander down the harbour, right along the waterfront. It didn’t have the same fishing village type feel as Key Largo, as it was much busier. Still totally welcome atmosphere though. Buzzing, but not crowded, not like poor new Bourbon Street.

We took great enjoyment in watching some very exotic fish along the edge of the harbour and that was where the excitement then came in. We saw more wrasse and Sergeant Majors, some electric blue wrasse-like fish, big fat jellyfish, a beautiful blue and yellow angelfish and some giant, giant tarpin. We saw a huge one lurking in the shallows and looking super evil before it disappeared under the dock. We were trying to point another one out to Mom, who couldn’t see as well, and then the show-off flashed all the silver on its side, right under the surface of the water. It was four foot long! But then whilst we were distracted waiting to see if it would surface again, Dad spotted a seven-foot nurse shark, right under our feet! Talk about seeing something exciting in the wild.

We headed back up one of the strips from there. Saw a Senor Frogs, which made me giggle as it makes me think of Impractical Jokers, as well as a shop that had a lurid pineapple design painted across the window that looked totally Psych-esque, as well as lots of real pineapples in the window. I went in all excited, but then they didn’t actually have anything pineapple themed that they sold. Boo the false advertising. On the way back to the hotel, we walked alongside a huge cemetery that was all built above the ground like Lafayette. It seems to be a real imitation of New Orleans here. They do Creole cuisine, have several bars named after Bourbon Street and some of them even do Hurricanes. Not sure why the similarities are there when the places aren’t even close.

We got back to shower and get ready. I broke out my last Mike’s Hard Lemonade that I’d managed to cool some in the ice bucket, which I then had to down on the way because the oldies suddenly put a speed on and were ready to go. We went to a nearby Peruvian restaurant called Inca’s. We really are getting around. Our server Jessica was so lovely and shared drunk sangria stories with us when we ordered a pitcher. For food, I had Peruvian styled fried rice, which was rice fried with chicken, spring onion and some kind of salty, soy tasting sauce. God, it was so good. I scarfed literally every single grain.

We all agreed none of us wanted to walk past the cemetery again in the dark, so we headed off towards one end of the town, which is actually the most southerly point of the states. However, when we realised how long of a walk it was, we changed our minds and hit a bar instead. Big mistake. The moment I walked in, it was very easy to tell that it was a smoking bar. Good god, it was disgusting. I hate the lack of smoking bans here. I had to breathe through my mouth the entire time I was in there, so I passed on having a drink as I wouldn’t be able to taste it. I actually went to stand outside for a while for some fresh air, but when the same middle-aged guy somehow found a way to walk past me three times and told me twice that I was “too cute to be out there by myself”, I swiftly decided to go back in and watch the oldies play pool and just go back to mouth-breathing. It was actually quite funny when Dad then ended up playing some crazy woman from Kentucky.

Came back to the room after that and did some more planning for the trip going forward. I then read some more Shock Wave and broke open the Seagrams before bed. The next move is afoot.

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The fake Psych shop that lied to me.

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!

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Holy guacamole, that’s good!

20/9/16 – I’m meeelting!

Got up after my most uncomfortable sleep so far. The bed itself was fine; it was just the first time I’ve felt really hot in the night. Clearly we need to have the noisy air con on through the night here. Had a pretty slow getting ready as we had to wait for the landlord Lydia, who wanted to come round just to say hi and give us some recommendations on where to go for food and where the beach was. Of course, we’d already found all of that out for ourselves last night. Watched some Suits, got suncreamed up and into my new bikini, then we were ready to go.

The beach doesn’t have any parasols or sunbeds – you have to bring that kinda thing yourself. Thankfully, we’d found some beach chairs in the cupboard that can recline, so we brought those down with us. It was ridiculously hot with no sign of a breeze. I couldn’t seem to get comfy in the chair or lying on a towel on the sand. I did have fun finding the tiniest, perfect little seashells though, as well as watching the adorable piper birds. Totally made me think of the little Pixar short they showed before Finding Dory.

We did have a bit of drama when somebody came down the beach shouting, “Get out of the water!” At first, I thought he was joking – maybe it’s just Brits who’d joke about that kind of thing –  but he kept on going, “I’m serious; get out of the water! It could be a manatee or it could be a shark.” Of course, by that point, everyone in the water had got out and the rest of us had ran down to the water’s edge to get a better look. Sure enough, there was a big black shape moving along the line of the shore and very close to where people had been swimming. Part of it broke the surface a couple of times and it turned out it was a giant manta ray, wow. Never seen one of those in the wild before. It really was huge too.

After the excitement, I pretty much started to die in the sun. It really was harsh without a breeze and I usually love lying in the sun more than pretty much anything. I’d already finished the drink I’d brought with me long ago, so I was very relieved when Mom and Dad suggested going for lunch. I wasn’t even hungry – always a sure sign that I’m flagging in one way or another – I just wanted a drink and some air con. Not much to ask for.

We ended up in Burgers ‘n’ Shakes, which had the poorest air con in the whole of America. Typical. I ordered cheesy fries and should have known that when it came, it’d be cheese sauce, rather than actual cheese. Americans need a few lessons in what real cheesy fries are, methinks. Though to be fair, I really didn’t care much about my food and just ate mechanically. I was much more in the drinks machine that was one of those machines that has hundreds of drink options. I tried and quickly poured away a lime Fanta, which tasted very much like Coke for some reason (hate Coke), before moving to the strawberry and fruit punch flavoured Hi C. I definitely made the most of my $2.50 by pounding two drinks there and then taking another to-go back to the beach.

Thankfully, there was a little more of a breeze when we got there and with thunderstorms looming, but never actually breaking out over us other than the odd clap of thunder, the sun actually went in for a while. I never thought I’d be happy about that, but I was able to read, write and watch some Psych in a lot more comfort. On the morning, I’d been so hot that I hadn’t had a hope of concentrating on anything other than the fact that I was melting. The sun came back out later, but it was cooler by then, which was very welcome.

After another several hours on the beach, we decided to head back, stopping off at Walgreen’s to get snacks and pop for the room. One of my cosplay girls had actually shared a picture of some Harley Quinn makeup brushes on Facebook last night with the original caption saying they were only available at Walgreen’s, of all places. Of course, I knew I was very close to one, so I was ready to go on the hunt. I actually found lots of Harley Quinn, Wonder Woman, Batgirl and Catwoman based makeup, as well as a really adorable Beauty and the Beast eye shadow set. I ended up getting the Harley brushes as a present for Emi – whenever I see her next – since I don’t use blusher or anything myself, then got my own Harley makeup box that actually had red eye shadow. Red! You never get red eye shadow anywhere! Teamed the buy with some Funyuns and more Powerade.

Had a very slow shower and get ready, because it was still far too hot. Discovered I’ve crazy burnt my legs and stomach. Oops. We then had a mild trauma when Mom decided to put a wash on and twenty minutes in, the washing machine started pouring water out on the floor. Double oops. Lydia had to call someone out to try and service it. Still didn’t quite figure out what was wrong with it, but we at least got to finish washing the clothes that were already in there and get them in the dryer. We seem to be a family that break things on holiday. I’ve broken beds, curtains and hairdryers in the past and the oldies don’t have a much better history.

After that was out of the way, we headed out for food and found ourselves in a big Portuguese diner type place called Manola. Our waiter was sweet; he looked like the love child of Richard Ayoade and Gok Wan. He told us he’d actually been to the UK himself – to London and then Aberdeen, of all places. Even I’ve not been to Aberdeen. Me and Mom shared another lovely, huge pitcher of sangria and I then had twin grilled chicken breasts in a creamy green onion sauce with mash on the side. Damn, it was good. I’m loving all this South American cuisine. I think a tour of South America needs to be next on the travel list. I already want to see Mexico and Colombia in particular.

We popped into Lou’s Beer Garden on the way back, which was actually part of someone’s hotel – you follow the side of it down to the courtyard and bar area. I had an Amalfi Sunset, which was Grey Goose vodka (never say no to Grey Goose), aperol, grapefruit and lemon juice, agave nectars and bitters. Very strong, but sour cocktails always cancel that out nicely. Came back to the room after to cane several Mike’s Hard Lemonade, whilst watching more Psych on my iPod, as well as glancing up every now and then to catch the John Leguizamo parts in some awful Amy Poehler film that the oldies were watching. Back to the beach again tomorrow. A little heavier on the breeze this time, yeah?

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Now that’s a beach!

16/9/16 – Hush up and look at the gumbo

Got up early, but not crazy six o’clock early. Jet lag usually has me awake much earlier, but waiting until ten-ish to go to sleep clearly helped to get us back on track. Slowly got ready for the day and headed down for breakfast. I was delighted to see that there was a self-serve pancake machine. Never knew such a thing existed, but it was super easy to use and they had maple syrup, cream and rainbow sprinkles to put on top. Had my pancakes, as well as an egg patty and some mini sausages. The sausages were so tasty that I went back for more. Was tempted to do the same with the pancakes, but a queue had developed by that time. I’ll have second breakfast tomorrow instead.

We went out for a wander and found our way down onto the riverfront. I spotted the Natchez further down on the dock and actually managed to do some navigating on where to go, based on what I remembered from last time. We managed to get tickets for the morning Natchez cruise, since Mom wanted to go on a real steamboat and I knew that was the only real one here. Hopefully, the boring narrator guy that we had last time will have retired by now. We had a few hours before we were due to board, so we went off in search of drinks in the meantime.

We found Café du Monde, but it was horrendously packed with the queue lining up outside, so we opted to keep going and find somewhere else instead. No beignets today. We went to the Market Café and I had a very nice Mango Madness cocktail. At ten o’clock in the morning. Because why not? They had a jazz band playing, like many places in New Orleans, and it was a nice relaxation spot. From there, we had a wander through their version of the rag market and popped into a couple of shops. I got a jazzy shot glass from Aunt Sally’s Praline Shop.

We then came back to board the Natchez. They had the woman on top again playing the pipe organ from the steam. No Carpenters this time though. Mom thought it was cute, but then quickly got annoyed by it. We got some seats up on the top deck and surprise, surprise, the boring narrator has still retained his job. I chose to ignore him, since I remembered a lot of the history from my last visit. The lasting damage from Hurricane Katrina is still astonishing on the docks. I then started to rain a little too much for us to want to sit in, so we moved down a deck and grabbed a little table near the open side and spent the remainder of the cruise there.

After we disembarked, we were in need of food and I was also super in need of a drink from being sat in the heat. We went to a steak and seafood bar and I had loaded cheese fries. Except they told me they were fries. They were actually potato wedges. I don’t mind potato wedges, but there’s only so much you can eat before they become really sickly, so I didn’t actually finish mine. We then spent forever looking for a Walgreen’s that we’d spotted earlier, to the point where even I was remembering all the same streets as we kept looping round, since Dad’s a horrible navigator. I miss Kel and her in-built satnav. Thankfully, we eventually stumbled upon a CVS instead and I was able to replace my heat protection spray that had emptied during the flight and also bought some Red Bull and Funyuns for the room. Yay, Funyuns. I’ve missed you.

It started to rain by this point, so we decided to head back towards the hotel for a while to shower and things before going back out for tea. The rain was sporadic and switched between being heavy and light. We tried to wait out one of the heavier spells in a bar and had some homemade Hurricanes – which were way too strong – but it didn’t lighten up again, so we had to chance the rest of the way with our umbrellas. Showered as soon as we got back, then Skyped with Kel for a bit, had my Red Bull and did some reading for an hour or so before getting ready to go back out.

I’d already iterated my deep love for the Gumbo Shop from my last trip here, so that was where we were headed. The wait for tables was actually out of the door, which was initially concerning, but their turnaround service is crazy good and we were in there in no time. I had everything I had last time. Chicken andouille gumbo with bread and a frozen strawberry daiquiri. God, it was just as good as I remembered. Mom had the same and loved it too, so I was pleased that I hadn’t just bigged it up. Even more pleased that she wants to go back, because I’m clearly down with that.

From there, we found our way onto the wonderful Bourbon Street and I directed us towards Pat O’Brien’s. We were given a table out in the courtyard. It had stopped raining, the fire fountain was going, they wiped everything down for us and brought Hurricanes over to our table. Best. They were properly mixed Hurricanes too and way better than the ones we’d had earlier. We sat in there for a while and ended up making friends with a lad from Boston called Nick, who I think Mom wanted to adopt. He was super big on traveling too and wanted recommendations for time-lengths and things to do in the UK and other places in Europe too.

After we left Pat O’Brien’s, we carried on down Bourbon Street. I stopped off at one of the Tropical Isle places to get a Hand Grenade to-go. Just as yummy as I remembered. I pretty much downed it all by the time we got back to our hotel, but didn’t feel in the slightest bit merry. Sadly, the downside to going with the oldies is that they were point blank ready for bed. I stayed up and read for a while before conceding to do the same. I then had to get up twenty minutes later and be horrendously sick, despite the fact that I still didn’t feel like the drinks had touched me at all. Guess that’s just a mark of a good night.

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Gumbo, gumbo, in the pot… We need a princess; what you got?

30/10/13 – When you wish upon a star

Skyped the oldies before leaving this morning. They said Star’s op went well but that Izzy was mopey without her, aww! We went down onto the main strip so that we could do the Hollywood walk of stars. We got pictures of some personal favourites including Walt Disney, Buddy Holly, Patrick Stewart, Drew Carey, Nathan Lane, Kenny Loggins, Adam West and Leonard Nimoy. I found a John Wells too. How funny, Johnny’s famous! He’d love that too. (Yes, I talk about my characters like real people). There was an area outside Grauman’s Theatre where celebs had left hand and feet prints, along with messages. We found the Harry Potter trio, Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Chris Nolan, Michael Caine and Tom Hanks, amongst others. There were some cosplayers loitering around for paid photo ops, including the best Jack Sparrow I’ve ever seen – who gave me the creepiest/campest little wave – and an awesome Freddy.

Sorry Emma Watson, there were only two of us and you drew the short straw.

We grabbed lunch before heading back, then had a walk down to see the Paramount Studios. I started having qualms about my dress because several people beeped me on the way (I never know if that’s a good or bad sign). After that we went to a renowned shop called Whimsic Alley, which was full of Harry Potter stuff. They even had all the individual wands! They didn’t have the character names on them – to make it more fun they all had code names. Since I’m an uber geek I was able to pick out the twins’ wands without names or code names (though I appreciated that Fred’s was ‘joker’ and George’s was ‘skiver’). Of course I had to get them both. Fred’s for me to keep and George’s as one Christmas present down in the process! We then drove past the Disney concert hall on the way back.

We went to Piper’s restaurant for tea. I had beef vegetable soup (surprisingly good and easily the most veg I’ve eaten since Boxing Day’s bubble and squeak last year!) and chicken parmegian. Very good but again too much food, Gaston. After eating we went up to the Griffith Observatory. We looked through some of the super telescopes and saw part of the constellation Cygnus. It was really fascinating – just so unreal. Plus seeing all the city lit up was simply stunning.

We both wanted to shower and have an earlier night before our tour in the morning. We watched some Friends and a greatest movie villain countdown. I was kicking myself for not even thinking of Hannibal Lecter. I’d been forced to get Red Bull Zero earlier because Walgreens was out of the regular kind, and apparently Zero is always better than light… Heads up: it’s not. It is in no way an acceptable substitute. Give me the sugar and calories please!

The L.A. night-time view from Griffith Observatory!