Posts in Category: USA

Bits and pieces from N’Awlins-LA-San Fran

Final destination

Hello from our final stop- the beautiful San Francisco.

After a 7 hour bus from LA, we arrived to a decidedly different climate from the one when had left. It was a) windy, b) cold and c) foggy. What’s going on San Fran? Here, layering is clearly the way to go, one minute it’s cold and Sam’s alpaca jumper is out, the next I feel like reaching for the sun screen and flip flops.

We’ve hit SF during pride weekend and man, it’s busy!

This is such a beautiful place and we’ve spent pretty much the whole time walking. We haven’t even taken a streetcar (although Sam did drag me to the museum) as the whole city, whilst very hilly, is walkable (good job we brought decent shoes for this.)  We’re staying near Fisherman’s Wharf, which is col but super touristy, so we decided to head west along the bay to the Golden Gate Bridge. Now, we’ve seen a lot of bridges this year, so it could just be bridge fatigue, but we were expecting something….more? To us, the Brooklyn Bridge was way more impressive. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still cool to see and walk over, but I don’t know if I’d necessarily come bak to see it. We then hiked out to Lands End, which was a lot further than google maps led us to believe. Such a great area with lovely hiking trails and barely anyone there. Yes, it took abut 3 hours to walk there, but at least we got the step count up!

View of the Golden Gate bridge from Lands End.

Lands End- although the land carries on so technically is it Lands End?

Then came possible the most exciting event of the past month- OBAMA AND THE OBAMACADE DROVE RIGHT PAST US! We, and everyone around us, were giddy with excitement- he was SO CLOSE. Now, this might not be such a big deal for Americans, and particularly those who’ve seen him before, but to Sam and I, who absoltuely adore Obama and everything he stands for, it was a huge deal.

No lies, there were about 50 vehicles in the Obamacade. There is no way anyone is getting to him.

We took a ferry over to Sausalito, a cute town 30 mins across the water. From here, we took a bus to Muir Woods to visit the Redwoods- holy moly those are some big trees.

I was trying to see how far my arms could get. The answer: Not very.

There’s great hiking here and we spent several hours exploring, to get views like this:

It probably would’ve been better for us to hire a car whilst were in San Fran- we could’ve gotten to Muir Woods a lot faster, visited Sonoma and Napa Valley for wine (although at this point there is a case to be made for us not needing anymore wine) and generally would’ve helped with the many many steep hills in the city, however it basically comes down to the fact that we’d rather spend our remaining money on seeing/eating/doing rather than a car!

We have found spectacular Chinese food here- good enough to give our favourite Schezuan places in HK a run for their money- it’s meant we’ve eaten it pretty much every night but after a year away from it, we just don’t care! Best Xiou Lin Bao we’ve had in a long, long time.

As Sam’s presenting at the Redhat tech summit, we’ve been given a very fancy hotel for our last night in San Fran- after a sob story about how travelling was coming to an end, we’ve ended up in a suite- thanks Sam and your ridiculously clever brain! There’s something super satisfying about the fact it’s all free and I don’t even have to do any work for it, unlike Sam who is presenting for an hour to a roomful of tech experts tomorrow.

After his presentation we’re going to scoot off back to LA for our flight to London- sob sob. It’s been awesome and we have so many memories still to process, but the real world awaits!

We will be writing a final post very soon.















Chillin’ in LA

Hello from Santa Monica, Los Angeles!

This week has mostly been a relaxing week and it’s been wonderful. The weather has been perfect sun, with a nice breeze so it hasn’t been too hot like it was in New Orleans. We’re a few blocks away from an absolutely gorgeous beach that goes on for miles, and it’s even close to the main street full of cute restaurants and places to drink.  This is a very, very nice place to be.

After taking the first day out as a beach day (after a year of travelling we’re pretty knackered. Sounds wrong I know but it really does take it out of you) we broke our rule of avoiding tour buses.  Los Angeles is MASSIVE and it’s almost impossible to navigate without a car.  Our amazing AirBnB host June recommended a tour which had consistent 5* reviews on Tripadvisor so we decided to give it a whirl, as it ticked off all the major sites in one day.  And it did not disappoint!

The view of LA from the Griffith observatory. It’s huuuuuge!

It fortunately wasn’t a walking tour- we were driven from site to site and given info en route, then left for 30 minutes-1 hour to explore at each location. Absolutely perfect for 2 people who hate being paraded round as dumb tourists!  We went to Venice, the home of muscle beach and where the bodybuilding movement was created by the amazing Arnold Schwarzenegger and co.  We then got to go through Beverly Hills and to Rodeo Drive, where there was a classic car festival on for fathers day which I really enjoyed, and I think even Laura did!  After going to a food market for lunch we then got to go to Hollywood to see the famous sign and walk the walk of starts.  I think this was the most surprising part of the tour- it’s not a very good road! It has kebab shops on it for christ sake.  Marilyn Monroe’s star is outside a McDonalds!  Still, Laura was very pleased to find Colin Firth’s star, and we got to see Donald Trumps star a day before it got vandalised with a mute sign :).

The rest of our time has been spent eating, drinking, and relaxing in the sun.  LA is very laid back, with seemingly everyone riding skateboards everywhere and spending all their time on the beach.  There’s an awful lot of plastic surgery around and we’ve overheard some of the most fake, boring, inane conversation known to man.  Conversely, there are also lots of friendly kind people, and there are still enough normal sized people around so that we didn’t pick up a complex (although we’ve both signed up to do the Manchester Half Marathon in October. Related?)

Apparently this is a ‘small scoop’……..American excess

We’re now ploughing on to our last stop- San Francisco.  I really can’t believe it’s almost over, and I also can’t believe that I have to do a presentation at a conference in 5 days. I’m woefully underprepared, but fingers crossed I’ll be able to pull it out the bag.  I suspect Laura may get quite a lot of alone time in SF whilst I practice!

N’ Awlins y’all

Hey y’all,

This place is hotter and more humid than HK, the Atacama desert and Dubai all rolled into one. It’s 38 today with around 80% humidity- going outside is an achievement in itself. There’s also been MASSIVE thunderstorms this week too, so you have to walk around with umbrellas at all times (not that they do much good.)

So, having seen New Orleans on TV as a backdrop so many times, we had an expectation of what it’ll be like when we arrived and to an extent it’s matched, but as we’ve discovered there’s a lot more (and much better) things to do than just the French Quarter. Don’t get me wrong- the French Quarter is stunning in terms of it’s Creole and Spanish architecture, and there’s incredible food to be found alongside amazing jazz clubs every night, but there’s also SO MUCH BOOZING.

French Quarter apartments

It’s the US equivalent of the Koh San Road in Bangkok (hideous.) Nola is one of  just 7 places in the entire country where public drinking on streets is allowed so everyone boozes it up all day and night  with insanely cheap drinks. There’s also no curfew for bars. If you’re into all that, it’d be very cool- at night loads of people go from one bar to the next with their drinks, to listen to jazz. It’s just that with all this booze comes ALL OF THE IDIOTS. There’s one street in particular (Bourbon) which should be avoided at all costs. Just don’t.

Music is ingrained into people, there’s jazz and blues pretty much everywhere you go, and it’s really cool to hear. Last night we went to a few bars with incredible musicians playing for free- most don’t have a cover charge, just a 1 drink minimum. Shows start around 6/7pm and go on through till after midnight.

We took couple of free walking tours- one about ghosts in the French Quarter and another about the culinary history of Nola. The  info we got was great, particularly about the cajun and creole influence on food. Food here is a BIG DEAL. Foodies could easily spend a few weeks here (although you’d probably gain 10 lbs.) We tried, amongst other things, the gumbo, alligator (surprisingly yum,) red beans and rice, snowballs, jambalaya, chicory coffee (drool) and beignets. If you ever find yourself here, go to Cafe du Monde for the beignets- it’s an institution here and everyone we’ve met who’s been here hammered it into us that this was the 1 thing not to miss out on. So. flipping. good.

Cafe du Monde beignets (think donuts)

Cherry snowballs- delish!

For a change of pace, we went kayaking on the Bayou- we wanted to see the big alligators up close and personal, but no luck. Awesome views though. We also wandered round the Garden district- clearly where all the money is (couldn’t find Beyonce’s house though I did look.) We took the ferry over to the West Bank when the city got a bit too much and hung out in cute coffee shops.

Wouldn’t say no to this

Katrina isn’t really talked about here, although there is a fierce sense of patriotism to the city and you get a real sense of love and loyalty from locals. They’re all passionate about Nola and love to tell you about the best places to go, what to eat etc. This is a city that’s totally committed to preserving its history- houses are, for the most part exactly as they were 100 years ago. People sit out on porches to drink their coffee, all neighbours chat in the streets and everyone knows everyone. People seem very content. It’s a city with a big personality and feels totally different to DC and NYC.

As much as we’ve loved it here, the heat and the relentless sightseeing pace is wearing us out so tomorrow it’s off to LA to hopefully kick back and sit on the beaches of Santa Monica for a few days. Well, that’s Sam’s plan- although I did pick up a sneaky little guide book so who knows?

White Houses and wine

Washington DC- the ultimate place for a West Wing fan

Hello everyone!

Sam here. I am in fact still alive. Laura had given me a brief break from doing the blog posts but apparently that time is over and I’m back on them again.  Fortunately we’ve had an action packed week in Washington so it’s a nice easy post to write!

So close to Barack!

As anyone who knows us well will know, we are huge fans of the West Wing, the greatest television show to have ever aired, and normally we rewatch the entire 7 seasons once a year.  It’s obviously based in Washington (at the White House!) so we were like kids in a candy shop getting to walk around and see all the sites from the show.  We were impressed and surprised by how close we could actually get to the White House, and we even got to go inside the Capitol building where the house and senate meet (alas only to the visitor centre, as we’re foreign we aren’t allowed in the chambers whilst they’re in session.)

We also got to go around all of the monuments, such as the WWII monument and the statue of Abraham Lincoln.  Having seen all these things on television for so many years there’s something particularly weird to actually seeing them in real life.  I don’t think anything disappointed.  Everything in Washington seems to have been well planned and built meticulously to impress and doesn’t fail to.  We were also blessed by clear weather every single day, and everything looks better in the sun :).

Me and my buddy Abe.

It turns out there’s much more to do than explore the government buildings.  We were lucky to be staying with our friend Casey who we met 4 years ago when we got engaged in Fiji and he was an incredible host, keeping us busy and entertained the whole week.  Thanks to him we even got to do our favourite activity: wine tasting!

There was a giant cow. We don’t know why.

Apparently, all bar 1 state produces wine in the US, and a short 1 hour drive took us to the vineyards of Virginia. They specialise in reds but I personally preferred the whites, and each one of them proved a stunning location.  Not having to bike round like we normally do was a turn up for the books too!

Wine country!

Washington is also home to the Smithsonian museums.  There are about 18 or so different ones on a range of topics, and they’re all absolutely free (which suited us to a tee!) Laura and I parted ways for this, she went to the American History museum to look at, amongst other things, the inaugaral ball gowns of the first ladies (snooze) whereas I went to (literally) the most popular museum on the planet, the Air and Space museum! I don’t think I’ve been so wide eyed before as I walked into the main hall.  They have the only existing lunar module left (the bit that landed on the moon during the apollo mission, although this one has never left the planet) along with the actual command module that brought back Armstrong and co on Apollo 11.  They also had a ton more stuff but I won’t ramble as Laura will just delete it. Suffice to say it was incredible, and I barely scratched the surface in the limited time I had there.

We also got to go the National Portrait Gallery, which amongst other exhibitions has all of the portraits of the presidents.  This was really interesting as it had a small overview of each one- it’s amazing how many presidents have died in office!  Getting the Vice Presidency seems like the easiest way into the big job.

So, we certainly had great company, great museums and great monuments, but Washington also had amazing food. I am absolutely putting back all the weight I lost over the previous 7 months.  All the food is so rich, the portion sizes large, that even though we’re basically doing one meal a day I’ve definitely put on a few pounds.  I think the copious amounts of beer probably aren’t helping either (the US is a haven for microbreweries).

Evidence of weight gain on me.

On our final day we managed to get a bottomless brunch in (my new favourite breakfast meal has to be steak and eggs, I can’t get enough) and spend the afternoon drinking, seeing friends (our buddies Dani and Nick who we met on the Inca trail swung by) and even managed to squeeze the England match in too.  Safe to say when we woke up at 5am this morning for our flight we were a tad hungover, but another 15,000 steps around New Orleans and we’re back to normal again (I’ll save that for the next post.)


A huge huge thanks to Casey for looking after us so well, and we can’t wait to see him in London next year :).

New York, New York

NYC: The Dixon-Atkinson way

Hello again!

Coney Island Nathan hotdogs- YES YES YES

Finally! Our month in the USA has arrived and we’re so excited! We absolutely love NYC (who doesn’t?) and when we told my parents we were coming here, mum was straight on the web, searching for cheap flights. Fast forward 10 months and here we are, Sam, me, Mum and Dad all together in an apartment for a week- surely there would be some arguments? Tension? Frustration? Well, surprisingly, not really.

Sam and I flew over to stay with some friends who live out in Westchester for a few days. We had such a great time, eating so much, visiting cute little towns, hiking and hanging out with the ever adorable Valerie, their 1 year old daughter. Josh and Steph have the most beautiful house and gave us so much to aspire to in the future!

Then it was time to head to Brooklyn to meet Mum and Dad Dixon. The apartment we’re staying in is fantastic, it’s just that we’re so far away from tourist central- it’s around an hour to Grand Central and Sam and I quickly realised (reluctantly) that our days of siestas were over. There’s no point in coming back during the day when it would take so long to get back into the city.

Dad has never been to NYC before and it became apparent very early on that his mind was blown. In a good way. I thought his head was going to explode when we got to Times Square. Again, in a good way.

We’ve walked non stop for almost a week, so much that on a night we were exhausted and had to go to bed by 10pm pretty much every night. Obviously we’ve done all the touristy stuff- Empire State, Central Park, Rockefeller, Greenwich, Times Square, UN, Statue of Liberty etc but we’ve also done some really amazing things that, unless friends had recommended them, we would never have considered. We took a tour through the 9/11 Tribute Center, with 2 firefighters who were on duty during 9/11- it was amazing, in a very sobering way and I think was Dad’s highlight of the trip.

Serenity in Central Park

We also took a free guided tour of the NY Library- so so interesting and even better after the 3 glasses of wine consumed in the Oyster Bar at lunch.

We spent a day in Brooklyn- Coney Island, Williamsburg (amazing bars,) Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope. What an incredible place! Brooklyn is gigantic and we could have easily spent a week exploring it without even stepping into Manhattan. Shamefully we didn’t even get to the other boroughs- there was just no time. We wanted to get upto Harlem on Sunday to see the gospel choirs but again, there was just no time.

Battery Park

Our friend Josh works at Google, so Sam got to go for a tour- he came back incredibly depressed because he doesn’t work there. Just look how happy he is:

One thing we’ve been surprised by is the incredible diversity of NYC- the food (oh god, the food,) architecture, neighbourhoods and open spaces. I don’t even want to think about how much weight we’ve put on- it’s so bloody difficult to say no to anything! From amazing steaks, to yummy brunches to delicious bagels and pretzels, we’ve been so spoilt. Yes it’s pricey, but double yes, it’s worth it.

We did find the 18-20% service a little steep but it’s all about what you’re used to- I think if we had that in HK or London, we’d be used to it too. For the most part, service has been pretty decent so I didn’t mind too much.


The Wynd hotel bar- LOVE!

Oyster Bar

Tomorrow, Mum and Dad fly back to UK and Sam and I take the bus down to DC to hang out with the lovely Casey, Dani and Nick, all of whom we met travelling over the past few years.

NYC note:

Sam and I found out last night that Kanye was playing a ‘secret’ gig fairly near to where we’re staying. For about 10 seconds we considered it.

Then we realised it wasn’t starting until 2am.

Kanye, you’re entertaining in a what’s-he-said-now-way, but really, 2am?! No thanks.