30 May 2012

Las Vegas

Las Vegas, a theme park for adults.

Cool so after finally getting out of Los Angeles to meet my parents here in Las Vegas, I honestly don't have too much to say about this place (which may sound surprising), it was cool, but nothing amazing. Well, not for a highly budget conscious backpacker in the company of his parents that is. I think to enjoy Las Vegas in the traditional sense (wild nights, gambling, drinking and crazyness) you need to have some great mates with you and not care about your budget or expenses what so ever.

In saying all that however I still had a really great time just chilling out with my parents, it had been 2 months since I had last seen them so that in itself was rewarding enough, but also just to have some nice, reliable company for a week. Not to mention them letting me stay in their hotel rooms!

Living out of hostels and a backpack is exhausting...

The main part of Las Vegas is on the Las Vegas Boulevard (aka The Strip), a large road that runs straight through the center of Las Vegas from one side to the other with all the big casinos along this one road. They are all absolutely huge, and way over the top, and have fierce competition in trying to attract you in to spend your money with them. The winner here is the tourist with so much to see and do!

I will let pictures do most of the talking.

No need to go to Paris now, I've already seen everything there is to see now!
Inside the Pairs casino, with the ceiling painted like that it made for a really cool atmosphere!
Excalibor Casino, pretty epic
New York New York Casino, amazing
Bumblebee beak dancing in the street
As I mentioned, all the casinos try their best to attract you in so a lot of them have these amazing free shows. The Ballagio Casino has this really impressive water show with jets of water shooting about perfect choreography in tune with a song. It was really well done.

It was so good in fact that my parents and I went back that night to catch it again. Oh and Travel Buddy joined us!

It's a big city for a small bear!

We then went into the older part of town to a place called Fremont, where they have this huge 200m or so long LED screen which basically acts as a roof of an entire street. They put on a really great light and sound display show every hour, it was insane.

Then I found this place. I already have a continually diminishing respect and view of America, and a place like this just takes it to a whole new level. It is called the Heart Attack Grill where they have these massive burgers, and out the front they advertise that if you are 350 pounds or more you get to eat there for free. 350 pounds! Only in America...

Afterwards there was still so much to explore.

Mirage Casino
Luxor Casino... one of my favourites!
How impressive is that! It is hard to make out, but there is a gigantic black glassed pyramid that is the actual casino and hotel! With a huge Sphinx out the front for an entrance. This Casino was easily one of my favourite in terms of theme and the impressiveness of the engineering that went into designing and building it.

Inside the Luxor, very cool!
The next day my mum and I went out to explore a few more casinos we had yet to see.

Venetian Casino... can you guessed the theme?
Inside the Venetian, pretty impressive
And that was just a small taste of how the last week has been like. But yes, in essence, nothing too crazy happened. Which is cool by me.

My best advice I can give about this town is how to get free drinks at the casinos. Simply sit and pretend to gamble, whether you are sitting at the slot machines, or at the craps table, and just do a bit of arm waving in 'frustration' that you didn't win and before long a waitress comes around asking if you'd like a drink! You could really do it all day if you wanted. There was one time I was sitting at a slot machine simply waiting for my parents, not even pretending to gamble or anything, heck I wasn't even facing the machine and a waitress came and offered me a drink haha!

Oh and another piece of advice is to chat to absolutely anyone, Las Vegas I would guess consists of more tourists than locals, with the spectrum of the type of people varying dramatically. For the first few days I was alone before my parents arrived and one night I went to grab some dinner at an outside burger bar, while there I got talking to this sitting next to me and before long 2 hours had gone by and I left noticeably more knowledgeable about Canada, it's people, the rules and potential excitement of the game billiards (pool table), and how much 'better' British Canadian citizens are so much cooler then the French ones haha! Great night.

And that, rather anti-climatically I admit, was Las Vegas... ha! Mostly consisting of walking around with my parents, checking out all the free attractions, and thoroughly enjoying having the privacy and space of a hotel room for a change. It really was a great week and I don't think I could of asked for it to be any better really.

With Las Vegas accomplished it is time to hit the road! And what a really amazing upcoming days we have planned! With my parents staying for another week in America, tomorrow morning we are touring the Grand Canyon! Followed by us picking up a hire car and driving to Kings Canyon National Park! Then slowly making our way to San Francisco! 

It is going to be legen - wait for it - dary!

26 May 2012

Forth attempt to leave Los Angeles...

Thus far I have failed to leave Los Angeles three times. The first was due to hurting my ankle and not being able to move around much, therefore making traveling to a new location rather pointless until it had healed. The second, I tried to organize to drive myself to San Francisco... which didn't quite work. Sigh. The third attempt was just two days ago when my new friend Sandra and I had organized this awesome 2-week driving trip to Las Vegas... the fact that she is now in Mexico instead gives you a pretty good idea on how that worked out.

You know how the saying goes "If at first you don't succeed in traveling around a country for what is meant to be a once in a life time adventure in a foreign country... just, I don't know, try again I guess"

Or something like that.

Anyway so my parents are in America at the moment on a two week holiday, arriving in New York a few days ago and will be flying to Las Vegas in a few days time.

So I guess... Las Vegas it is!

This time there was to be no hire cars (I've learned my lesson) so I would be busing from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, a pretty easy 5 hour trip. Upon waking up I turned my phone on, 5 minutes later I receive a call. It's the bus company... what do they want?

"Hi Aaron, sorry to inform you but your 4pm bus booked with us has been cancelled"

Noooooo way! No no no no! This isn't happening, as if for the forth time the Universe is stopping me from leaving Los Angeles... this is just insane! After my lengthy brief moment of this-is-just-ridiculous-why-does-this-keep-happening freakout however the lady informs me that I am free to take a 1pm bus instead.

Ah, ok, I guess that's alright then.

So... for the forth time now... I say goodbye to all my friends and the staff (who I also now count to be really great friends) at my hostel in Los Angeles. This goodbye, despite my many failed attempts at leaving, actually felt more serious somehow. It was as if everyone (and even me) knew that this time would actually be the day I am leaving for good. The staff were so cool, giving me some really cool goodbyes and well wishes, oh and it just happened to be my birthday (sigh... 24 years old today... I don't want to talk about it...), so a lot of awesome 'happy birthdays' were thrown around the hostel also =)

Man I loved staying at this hostel so much, I made so many amazing friends who have come and gone (the worst part about traveling...); Manuel (Holland), Jon-Paul (America), Lewis (England), Vanessa (Venezuela), Julia (Germany) and Nathan (America), who were the very first friends I made here in America and some of whom I had one of my favourite highlights of my trip with climbing to the Hollywood sign. Mikael (Denmark) who introduced me to the LA Downtown Bookstore (which was amazing) and I spent a day with at the LA Museum of Natural History was just such a cool guy and I really hope to see again someday. Stefanie (Germany) who was just a really cool girl and I loved talking to. Sandra (Germany) and Lorenzo (Italy) I met just the other day who I had one of my most favourite days on my entire trip with. And it was only two days ago I met and became great friends with Adele (France), one of the coolest people I've met on the entire trip.

Just so many countless memories. After 7 weeks in Los Angeles however, it was time to leave.

Awesomely Adele accompanied me into Downtown (where I was to be getting the bus to Las Vegas) which made the trip much more enjoyable, and after a quick goodbye I was gone for good.

The drive was great! 5 hours absolutely flew by (besides the lady that could only speak Spanish wanting to sit next to me despite the plethora of vacant seats available...), and the views on the way were amazing!

I really wanted to get a great shot of seeing Las Vegas out in the distance all alone in the middle of the desert... but just before it came into sight I fell asleep, then woke up as the bus pulled up at our stop in the heart of the city... yay.

It was late in the afternoon by this stage so I went straight to my hostel... which was only $12 a night ha! Although you kind of get what you pay for, the place was good but was in no way great, it was basically like one of those country motels you see in the movies... except there is 8 other people in the same room as you. And I seen 3 cockroaches in the parking lot before I even reached the front door. And they closed the common room at 11pm. Seriously?

Across the road there is two Las Vegas wedding chapels... both of which were surprisingly rather busy! I don't really put much thought at all at how I'd like my wedding to be, I feel I'd be pretty easy going on where it is and what it is like, but even I would draw the line at 'Las Vegas chapel wedding'... ha!

One of the wedding chapels that was across the road. Ladies, get ready for the dream day!
I am really looking forward towards for my parents arrival (I have now been in the states for 7 weeks!), we have some awesome sights and trips planned, including a drive to Yosemite National Park (one of my must see places!) and then heading over to San Francisco. It will be great having some company, not to mention the... generosity of my parents letting me stay in their hotel rooms for a few nights =D

After 7 weeks of hostels, that will be a much welcomed relief!

Until then however I guess I will make some new friends and see what all the fuss of this town is all about. Thus far all I have gathered is that it is rather hot (even for Australian standards) and extremely dry, carrying around water with you is a must.

Let's see what happens shall we?

21 May 2012

Time to hit the open road! - Take two...

"No idea". That single phrase basically sums up this entire trip thus far.

After my failed attempt to drive myself to San Francisco a few weeks ago I liked to amuse myself by thinking that perhaps it simply wasn't meant to be and that everything will would eventually fall into place. I spent time alone in a hostel in Downtown Los Angeles for a while, then returned to my original hostel (because it is just so damn cool!). It had been a while thus I was starting to worry things would never fall into place, but suddenly things changed for I made a cool new friend, Sandra (Germany). She was looking to do a road trip around the West side of America and end up in San Francisco. I, who had now been in Los Angeles for 5 weeks (still jobless), was extremely eager to get away.

This seems like the meant-to-be I have been waiting for!

Our plan was to drive for two weeks from Los Angeles to Arizona (which has Sedona National Park and Meteor Crator) then up to Las Vegas in Nevada, then from there to the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Yosemite National Park, to finish up in San Francisco.


I said my goodbyes to all my friends at the hostel, with the long term residencies whom have known me for a while now not convinced whatsoever that I am actually leaving because of the amount of times I have 'left' only to come back again. I admit that I wasn't entirely convinced something wouldn't go wrong, but this was not the time for negative thoughts!

By 6am I awoke, hours before my alarm was set... there was just too much excitement! The day really was a direct repeat of the first time I did all this when I tried to drive myself to San Francisco, although it was really awesome to have some company! At 8.30am we caught the shuttle bus to the airport, then got a shuttle bus to the hire car place and lined up. Sweet!

Long story short, we chat to some lady (this time they did accept my debit card... what the!?)... and she told us how much it would cost.

"$580!?" Sandra and I exclaim, loudly, at the same time.

Counter grinch "Yes well when you add the insurance cover and the fact that you are under 25 years of age, it is $580 for the 5 days"

The website said it would only be like $300 or something... turns out the website's price doesn't include the insurance cost and the 'you are under 25 years of age' fee. Yeah... we're not paying that.

Back to Los Angeles it is... again... why does stuff like this keep happening! This is the third time I have tried to leave Los Angeles!

I was too tired to care really, being up since 6am with only 4 hours sleep and all. I was angry, but... I don't know, whatever I guess. Just add it to the 'list of adventures' or whatever you want to call it. Having Sandra for company was really good though, it was nice not having to deal with everything on my own for a change.

We repeat the exact same route back to the hostel as I did the last time this happened. The many buses, and landing in the same crazy neighbourhood with the crazy people where a bike got stolen in broad daylight. This time during our short stay in this neighbourhood (as I was eager to get out of it, although Sandra refused to acknowledge it was a crazy place), we witness a car accident in our first 2 minutes. It wasn't a serious one, but... still, come on, what are the chances!

Sandra still denies it is a crazy area but whatever, she hadn't seen it like I had.

As fate would strangely have it we just happen to run into Lorenzo (Italy) on the street as we were walking back to the hostel from the bus stop. We had only met this guy the night before, but already I thought he was pretty awesome. Naturally he was shocked to see us returning and asks what we are doing back and why we weren't on our way to Las Vegas. We explain. Then he asks what we are doing for lunch.

I wasn't really in the mood to go but I figured I should anyway, it was a nice day and all. First stop, a place I had never seen before; the Grand Central Market in Downtown L.A.

It. Was. Amazing! I couldn't believe I hadn't been there before!

It had the best and cheapest food I had had in my entire stay in Los Angeles, and I found a stall that sold Heineken bottles for only $2 a bottle! Are you kidding me! How have I not known about this place sooner! Suffice to say with my $2 a bottle beer and an amazing burger and chips, my spirits were back again!

After lunch we walked around some parts of Downtown Los Angeles I hadn't seen before. Yeah... this city is growing on me of late I admit.

I got told that the tall white building (right of the prominent blue building) is a scene from Independence Day
Spurred on by our high spirits and the amazing weather, it was decided to hit the beach. To Venice it is! This was another place I hadn't really explored as much as I should of so it was great to get the chance today. My verdict? It's awesome!

We walked around for a while, exploring the shops and just enjoying the atmosphere. There is such a variety of people in this place.

Haha! It's Muscle Beach!

This guy was skating around on these weird rollerblades, dressed like what looked to be Aladdin,while simultaneously playing an electric guitar with a mini portable amplifier strapped to his back, brilliant! Sadly I couldn't get a good picture of him because he kept wanting to advertise whatever was on the shirt he is holding.
And after that, it was time to hit the beach.

Now, I simply cannot describe vividly enough how amazing this next experience was for me, I know it is 'just a beach', no more special than the beaches back home really, but the simple act of walking around in the ice cold water with absolute perfect weather around me, my shirt off just soaking in the warmth of the sun shine, and my absolute favourite songs in the world playing in my ears, all just completely washed away any of the ill feelings I'd been carrying around with me due to all the bad luck I'd been having. It really was one of the most exhilarating experiences I have had in years, I utterly loved every minute of the hour I spent walking in the water, listening to my favourite music, and simply reminding myself of where I am and how far I have come. Regardless of what happens from now on, I know I can be proud of what I have achieved. 

Venice Beach
Feeling fresh and full of spirit, it was time I pulled myself out of the water and back to Sandra and Lorenzo (who both claimed it was far too cold to go into the water...). Chatting with them was the most I had laughed in weeks, it was a ridiculous amount of fun really. And to think that it was only that very morning that Sandra and I had failed at trying to get a car to drive to Las Vegas ha!

While lying on the sand, Lorenzo randomly asked me "Do you like The Beatles?" however, I had heard it as "Do you like beetles?" so I replied with:

"Which are you talking about, the car (Volkswagon Beetle) or the insect?"

A silence hung in the air for a few moments... then Lorenzo tentatively goes "umm... the band?"

It suddenly clicks to all three of us where the mistake was made haha! Probably a 'you had to be there' situation but far out we laughed hard at this one.

A short while later there was more confusion. With Lorenzo being from Italy, his English is good but not perfect, he was trying to explain to me that being at the beach is good for relieving allergies because of the 'yodum' in the water. Huh?

"You know, the yodum, you breath it in, and it rubs on your skin, it is good for healing"

"Umm... what? Do you eat it or... is it a cream?

"No no, you know, like in the water, the yodum... you know yodum, you can eat it too! It's in the water, you can put it on your food. Yodum! Come on, you know yodum, everyone knows what yodum is! Yodum!"

This went on for about 5 minutes. I was thinking hard but I didn't have a clue what he was on about, you put 'yodum' on your food, and the 'yodum' is good for healing when at the beach?


"Haha! Lorenzo, dude... do you mean, sodium?"

He sat quietly for a moment as his face went red from embarrassment.

"Yes I mean sodium..."

Then we had an absolutely hilarious time making fun of the German language (Sandra is German) because Lorenzo and I both believe that the language always sounds somewhat angry when spoken (Sandra does not think so). This lead onto the fact that, while the word 'surprise' is pretty similar for lots of countries (eg. sorpresa in Italian), in German it is '├╝berraschen'. So when using the German word for surprise when saying the name of the chocolate 'Kinder-Surprise' you have a rather aggressive sounding kinder ├╝berraschen (rawr!!!), scaring kids away from candy and surprise birthday parties ha!

Wow, what a day. It really was one of the best times I have had on this entire trip so far, I cannot thank Lorenzo and Sandra enough. Alas it was time to leave, but not before getting our picture taken to mark the moment.

Sandra (who wasn't aware till the last second we were ready to take the shot, hence the slant ha), Me and Lorenzo heading home after the beach. An absolutely amazing time.
For dinner we went to a nearby restaurant, and on the way ran into Elijah Woods! (He played Frodo in Lord of the Rings if you couldn't picture the name). For anyone who is familiar with the TV show 'Wilfred' (it is an Australian show), well the Americans (being typical Americans...) are filming their own version and Elijah is playing the main character.

After getting told off by... I don't know, the director? for being in the way of filming, this was the best picture I managed to get as I scrambled for the Camera app on my iPhone...

He is standing behind the blonde girl. Yeah... it was best picture I managed...

After dinner it was time to bus back to the hostel, once again landing in my favourite neighbourhood on the way... man this place freaks me out. I'd been arguing to Sandra when we were in this same neighbourhood that very morning that it is a bad place, where I recounted the story of the last time I was here and seen the crazy people in the restaurant and the old guys' bike getting stolen, and only minutes after I had told that story to her we witnessed a car accident, yet still she denied it was a bad place.

Now, eight hours later we are back in the same neighbourhood, and to further prove my argument, we see this at the KFC...

Notice that the entire counter top is protected by a big wall of glass, you have to talk through the little speaker holes to order, and in front of that guy is a box where the register attendant passes you your food... ha!

This neighbourhood really does keep getting better and better! Classic =D

The bus eventually came but we missed it because... I am not as 'agile' as I usually am due to my injured ankle (to Lorenzo's and Sandra's immense amusement, I was honestly worried Lorenzo was going to have a heart attack he laughed that hard ha...), so we had to walk, 9.30pm at night, the couple of kilometers back to the hostel (not my idea). 'At least my ankle is noticeably better' was the only positive I could think of while walking through that neighbourhood.

Once safely back at the hostel I spent the remainder of the night chatting and laughing hysterically with Lorenzo, although it was all to be short lived as disappointingly he was to be heading off to Mexico the very next day. The stars seemed to have aligned for Sandra however which is cool (I am happy for her) because with our driving trip obviously not working out, it turns out that accompanying Lorenzo to Mexico would be the absolute perfect next step for her trip for just so many reasons, so she was to be heading off with Lorenzo the next day also. I am sincerely going to miss them both immensely, the hostel already didn't feel the same.

So alas it appears not heading on our road trip to Las Vegas didn't turn out so bad after all, I had one of the best days I have had on this entire trip, and Sandra found the perfect next step for her trip. Once again the phrase 'No idea' comes to mind.

Although it does leave me hanging and I am forced to yet again in the moment plan my next move.

My parents arrive in America shortly for a 2 week holiday which is cool, I think I will go meet them in Las Vegas, but we shall see how things turn out. I am starting to think that I am not in control of this trip and some mysterious forces are leading me somewhere instead.

And that, amazingly, all happened in just one day.

17 May 2012

Headshots, Casting and Chance meetings

So after somehow finding myself auditioning in front of a casting director to become an extra in movies the other day, I surprised myself by actually being rather good at it, thus got told I had to call a number and ask for a Teresa at 9.20am the following day. I honestly had no idea what the hell was going on, all I wanted was to be put on some 'extras in waiting' list or something, and the next time extras are required I'd simply get a call or email.

Teresa answers my call "Ah Aaron, yes thanks for calling. Ok well yesterday went well so let's get you signed up shall we? What I need from you is some printed professional headshots and a resume' detailing your acting experience, background, and any skills you might have"

... seriously?

Speaking to Teresa just presented more questions than it answered... I am now more lost than ever. But whatever, I'll roll with it. I inform her that I have none of those things, so she gives me directions on how to get some professional headshots done and acting resume's made. Headshots... really? I hate photographs as it is, now I get to hate professionally taken ones also? Yay.

I manage to do all that in the morning (yes... I actually went and got professional headshots taken ha!), then go meet with Teresa in the afternoon. She's unavailable, instead I meet the manager of the casting place. The guy was hilarious! Although he wasn't trying to be funny in the slightest, I just found him to be so in general, he depicted the pinnacle of what a movie producer is all about. 45 years old, silver suit, silver shaved hair, talked extremely fast and was constantly distracted. During our interview he cracked me up when his phone rang, he looks at who's calling, sighs and says to himself "I don't have time for this right now" and just lets it ring out ha!

The guy loved me for some reason, I don't know why, and took one of my headshots for himself. That was a few days ago now and since then I have been to a few more interviews and have heard 'your information has been passed onto the producers' a few times also. I know it's extremely likely that nothing will come out of it all, but I love to take risks so I guess we shall see.

Foolishly optimistic perhaps? Probably!

We shall see!

So all this job searching and casting auditions and interviews have happened in the last five days since my failed attempt to get to San Francisco, and I have been staying in a hostel in the heart of Downtown L.A (since my old hostel was completely booked for the week, but I am really loving Downtown surprisingly!). I haven't seen anyone I know the entire time, nor have I made any new friends either (was having too much fun on my own strangely), so you can imagine my surprise however when I return back from the interview with the casting manager I just talked about above where, against all odds, I run into Julia (whom you will recall as one of my first and best L.A friends) and another good friend Pedro, both of whom just happened to be staying in my hostel that night, despite the fact that Pedro has his own house to stay at, and Julia was meant to have had flown out of America already!

"What are you guys doing here! Julia, you are meant to be back home in Germany by now!"

I just couldn't believe that after saying goodbye to Julia last week when I was leaving for San Francisco, that somehow we have managed to meet up yet again. So easily I could have arrived literally only 10 seconds earlier or later and I would have completely missed them.

Julia was in the most depressing of states, she'd just spent literally the last 24 hours at the airport, unable to fly out due to trouble with her credit card... yep she slept, ate, cried and stressed at the airport for an entire day and night! She was now due to fly out tomorrow instead. And Pedro was there helping her out.

I on the other hand was in amazing spirits because after five days of complete solitude I realized I was getting pretty antsy for some social interaction.

"Guys, let's grab some dinner!" I screamed too loudly suggested coolly.

We then spent the next four hours chatting away, having the absolute best time, and it was awesome to get Julia's spirits up after her ordeal.

Julia in much better spirits
Me and Pedro
So with that we got to give Julia a final happy moment to remember for her last day on her world trip, something she did not expect to have! And I got to have some completely unexpected fun instead of sitting quietly on my own for the night, amazing.

Then the next morning they were gone, and I was in solitude in a hostel in Downtown Los Angeles looking for jobs once more. They are already missed.