I almost contemplated writing nothing about our holiday to Rhodes. After all, I had been here before, several times and I thought there would be nothing to say about our visit to the little Greek island.

But a few days in and there are a few funny things that maybe I should mention, if not just to provide a reminder for Laura and I in years to come.

The last time I stayed at the Garden Hotel was 10 years ago. It was 2003 and I was a much slimmer 21 year old on holiday with some of my friends. Looking back we had an amazing time, even though it did end up with one of us (AMI) coming home with her arm in plaster after an unfortunate encounter with a moped and a woman crossing a road? Can’t remember the exact run of events but it was something like that. I am sure Ami Roberts herself would recall the tale with much more enthusiasm.

So I am back at the Garden Hotel in Pastida, Rhodes. The hotel is still small but very friendly. It is now managed by Jenny, the daughter of the owner, Babis or Babos as Sarah Boyle use to call him. The food has got bigger, you get about fifteen courses with each meal but the drinks are still relatively good value for money, especially as we are in Greece, where I expected everything to be expensive.

There are other similarities of course. Obviously I am here with Laura, who has never been to Rhodes before and this is a very different kind of experience from when I was here last but I have noticed a few things this holiday has in common with the last one.

Feline Friends

Cats. Always on an excursion in the med, I never fail to come across some scrawny, meowing animal. Those who know me understand I am not a great lover of cats or any other animal for that matter.

Last time we came to Rhodes, we had an interesting experience with a cat. On one of the final nights of our holiday, Sarah, Ami and I were in bed. Mine and Ami’s bed were two singles that had been pushed together. It was the middle of the night and all of a sudden I was aware that Ami was awake saying, ‘it can’t be, it can’t be’. The next thing she was crawling across me before she switched the light on and declared ‘it is, it bloody is …. it’s a cat!’

To my (extreme) horror there had been one of the wild cats curled up neatly in between Ami and me. Literally in a little gap between our two beds. Just as I was starting to get ideas of cats being able to open doors and so on, we realised it had probably got in through the bathroom window. Neither myself or Ami were willing to pick up and get rid of the creature so we turned to Sarah for help. She rose from her bed as if this were a totally normal situation and picked it up, cuddled and caressed it before placing it on … the balcony. I soon pointed out to Boyle that as the balcony door was open, our cat friend was likely to come back in. She agreed and eventually put it out of the front door with me firmly closing the bathroom window behind her.

That was 2003. In 2013, I am sat dining alfresco, enjoying the warm evening heat, sipping a glass of locally produced wine and … fending off the felines with my feet and doing my mum’s tried and tested trick of stamping my foot on the floor or making a hissing noise. What is Laura doing? She’s feeding them! I was furious. She soon started to pick up the chips she’d been laying out for it, I can tell you!

‘I can recognise that accent anywhere’

The second similarity is perhaps a little less expected. I am not so sure I have ever stayed in a place where every other family appears to be from the same city as us. I can recognise, unfortunately, a Stoke accent anywhere and I first spotted it the day we arrived. Laura didn’t believe me at first but after a while she confirmed I was probably right.

After initial investigations, we discovered that not only were they from Stoke but they lived less than a mile away from where we do. Not only that, they were not the only family. There were two more, one of which lived in Blurton, which is about five minutes from us. That same night Laura and I were brave and decided to enter the quiz. The quizmaster turns up and he’s from … Yep, Stoke on Trent. Lived in Rhodes for the past 10 years or so. Such a small world.

We walked up to the village the other night. It’s about five minutes walk and there’s a few restaurants, bars and a supermarket. We sat next to a couple who again were from Stoke on Trent! I am beginning to think there’s no escaping them!

Last time I was here, we went out for the night in Rhodes Town. Walking down a street towards the end of the night, we bumped into these guys who were trying to get customers into their bar. At first we refused and there responses were ‘we can tell a Potteries accent anywhere!’ It turned out they were from Newcastle/Basford way and we spent the rest of the night playing drinking games that involved wearing a builders hat and being hit over the head with a mallet and ringing a bell which meant you bought everyone in the bar a drink. All in all, it was a good night.


Shakespeare was born in Stoke on Trent, apparently.

Part of the deal with booking the hotel we found through Groupon was that there was a nightclub situated directly below the hotel. It did mention that on weekends there would be a noise disruption and guests were to be aware of this. I still didn’t understand why an additional €20 supplement had to therefore be paid if you stayed on a Friday.

Especially if you heard the nightclub. Thank God we were as exhausted as we were because it was LOUD – and we were on the top floor of the hotel. I suspect that’s why the hotel was so cheap. It’s a shame because the hotel is lovely and well recommended but unfortunately the noise is just a little bit too much.

As part of our hotel deal we got a free Dublin bus tour. I don’t normally go for these things but as it was free we made the most of it. It also provided us with a nice lift to the Guinness Storehouse which I had never been to previously, Laura had though.

The Guinness tour has been done really well. Atmospheric, well laid out and spectacular views from the Gravity Bar at the very top. You can get a 360 degree look at Dublin, very nice.

After Guinness we headed back towards the Temple Bar and had a drink in our favourite haunt, The Porterhouse. Laura first introduced me to this pub when we went to London for the first time together in 2009, as they have a bar in Covent Garden. It was nice to visit the place in its home town. There’s always a good atmosphere in the Porterhouse. Laid back and relaxed. It’s well worth a visit either in London or in Dublin, or in New York I believe.

Our friends Kate and Will, had booked us a table at the recommended Arlington Hotel as a wedding gift on the second evening. Before we headed over that way we decided (again) to have a drink in the local pub literally by our hotel.

As we sat there in the early evening these two Irish guys got talking to us. We discovered that once the Irish get talking, they rarely stop (this is a compliment!) anyway, they asked us where we were from and we explained we lived near Manchester. We always say this because most people know where Manchester is even though Stoke is about 40 miles south, it’s just easier. One of the guys got very confused and said, ‘I know that place. It’s beautiful. William Shakespeare came from there’. I informed him that he was thinking about Stratford-upon-Avon which is very different!

The Arlington Hotel was brilliant. A meal accompanied by live Irish music and full on Irish dancing. The band were excellent. How they remember all of the words to the Irish songs I will never know! The Irish dancing reminded me of my friend Kate Humphreys. She’s a fan of an Irish jig at a party, especially when they play the Irish Rover. She is not a fan of Come On Eileen though! Her most detested song of all time!

We sat next to a couple from Israel at the meal. They looked like they’d just been told they were walking back to Tel Aviv. He sat glued to his phone all evening. How can you ignore a live band who are as engaged with their audience as much as these were in favour of your phone? As for his wife/girlfriend, she wouldn’t eat any of the food, she just flirted her salmon across the plate. When they asked her for a drink she replied ‘it is too soon for a drink!’


Camden of a different kind!

So we booked our hotel through Groupon, which can be a little worrying at times. We have done a couple of Groupon/Travel Zoo deals now and all of them have been excellent. However, the reviews for our hotel were very mixed when we read the reviews on Trip Advisor.

We really shouldn’t have worried. The hotel is a little walk from the centre – well we say a little walk, it’s about 15 minutes. When we told the bus driver we were walking he looked at us like we said we were going to do forward rolls all the way there!

It’s on a street called Lower Camden, which is very similar to Camden in London in many ways. Quirky, interesting shops, bars and places to eat along the way. It feels like it has a lot of character. Not bad for a quick booking on Groupon.

Back to the hotel, the Camden Deluxe, a converted theatre that still has its original 1950s facade. Recently been renovated, it’s really nice. We are at the top of the building and we have a great big window overlooking the city. It was £99 for two nights which for Dublin, was a bargain.

Drank some Guinness yesterday at a bar called The International. The Irish can talk! Met a bloke called Kenny, who was the bar manager. He told us how he was asking his girlfriend to marry him next week. Laura suggested he did a lip dub video, he was thinking more along the lines of petals on the bed or something! Anyway, his girlfriend is German and older than him and for some reason I couldn’t get the image of Angela Merkel out of my head!

We headed on into the Temple Bar afterwards. Last time I went there was nearly ten years ago with my two friends Sarah and Jack. It’s very quirky and I liked it a lot. God knows how Sarah, Jack and me got around Dublin last time we came. I always look at recommendations and reviews and maps these days, we must have been walking around blind all those years ago.

Finally we went for a meal at a restaurant called the Chilli Club. It was Thai and they did the hot soups we like, like Tom Yum. Afterwards we headed to a bar across the road called Kehoe’s. It had maintained all of its Victorian interior and the bar upstairs was originally the publican’s living room and it had remained unchanged! It was absolutely heaving. You couldn’t move around at all but it contained a brilliant atmosphere.


Top of the morning to ya!

Laura and I must be the only two people that have left the UK and gone somewhere where the weather is worse. However we expect the beer (Guinness) to be much better. Yes, we are in Dublin!

I’ve successfully managed my first flight of the year with Aer Lingus. It’s so quick it makes you wonder why people ever bother with a ferry. It took us less time to get to Dublin than it did to get to London on the train.

The one downside is the security checks at the airport. From someone who is very keen on keeping the skies safe, I am all for checks and what not at the airport. However, the new system at Manchester was like hell on earth! It took us over 45 minutes to get through with us having to wait for Laura’s bag to have an additional search. Apparently lipstick can be a weapon of potential mass destruction! Who would have thought it?

Laura and I are literally so tired. I didn’t even have the energy to get nervous about the flight this morning. Although there was a strange sound as we taxi’d down to the runway that I was very concerned about. It sounded like a cough but it was constant and very distressing!

It’s fair to say we are still on cloud nine after our civil partnership on Tuesday. We have been completely inundated with lovely messages, overwhelmed with people’s generosity and overall feel exceptionally lucky and blessed. We had the best day on Tuesday, it was everything we wanted and so much more.


The Holiday of a Lifetime

As Laura and I soaked up our final night in San Francisco, I asked her to pick out her highlight of the trip. She couldn’t, there have been so many and I have to agree with her.

We loved Vegas and would definitely go back. San Diego is another place we would love to see more of, especially the Old Town. We could probably take or leave LA, although we enjoyed Venice Beach and Santa Monica. The coast was just beautiful, Big Sur, Santa Barbara and Monterey and of course not forgetting the Blackpool in the sun that was Santa Cruz. The four days we spent there gave us a much needed rest from all of the sightseeing we had done.

Yosemite and the Grand Canyon. Two very different places but both quite magnificent. And finally, San Francisco. Everything we wanted it to be and so much more. I think that pretty much sums up the entire trip.

Castro, Haight and Ashbury and the Tendorloin

The Castro

Laura and I ventured into the Castro one morning via Laura’s favourite form of SF transport, the F Line tram.

The Castro is one of the more ‘hip’ areas to live; and it’s also the gay quarter. I would say, just by walking through it, it’s almost become too gay. Rainbow flags everywhere, bars and shops all promoting the same thing, it’s almost a bit too commercial. A bit like Canal Street post Queer As Folk. I am not saying it wasn’t nice, because it was. All very pretty buildings and nicely done.

One shop we went into was called quite simply, ‘Equality’. In there I read brief biography about a man called Harvey Milk. I can’t really believe that I had never heard of him or seen the film they made about his life staring Sean Penn. In short, he was the man who really fought for gay rights or equal rights at least and eventually won a seat in local government, only to be assassinated the same year. He had a phenomenal amount of support and the Castro became the gay quarter as a result of it.

Fascinating. Only bizarre thing is that San Francisco is considered to have the largest gay community in the world. It’s very accepted and people all over the city are very open about it but they over ruled the civil partnerships agreement and so the campaign for equality goes on. Another surprising fact from a city where you think nothing could surprise you.

Haight and Ashbury

We walked from the Castro to Haight and Ashbury. It was a tough walk, up some very steep streets but was worth it from the view we managed to get of the city in Corona Park at the very top. We saw some really nice houses on the way too, little rooftop patios and gardens that must have spectacular views.

My Dad told me that Haight and Ashbury was part of the Summer of Love, although George Harrison said that it was just a load of people sitting around and they weren’t proper hippies at all. It certainly projects a hippy kind of atmosphere. It’s very relaxed, lots of funky shops, bars, record stores (which is nice to see) as well as a variety of places to eat. More homeless people to, especially at night, which Laura and I discovered as we got the bus home.

People were very pleasant though and as went into various shops etc. they were keen to ask about where we were from, why we weren’t at home with the rest of the Olympic squad and so on. Haight and Ashbury is very similar to Camden. One guy we spoke briefly to on a bus had been to Camden and this is what he compared it to.

Haight and Ashbury was possibly one of our favourite parts of San Fran. We went there the most times anyway. Stumbled on a fabulous Thai noodle bar that did the most delicious food. I had proper Pad Thai noodles which should be the wide, flat noodles. I learnt this when I did the cookery course in Chiang Mai but very few places serve them with anything other than small, thin noodles, so I was impressed. Laura had another bowl of her favourite noodle soup. Mind you the portions were so big we couldn’t finish them off.

The Tendorloin

On one night, possibly after Alcatraz, we headed to a recommended Japanese restaurant. Typically Lonely Planet. From the outside it looked like somewhere you would never dream of entering, not without a bottle of bleach anyway, but from the inside it was perfectly acceptable in price and appearance. It was called Katanya – Ya, or something like that. Very small, very busy, brilliant, lively atmosphere. We sat and ate at the bar and it was delicious ramen, which is Japanese noodle soup.

We attempted to return on our final night in SF but there were was a queue that was going up the street to get in, so we avoided it. The Japanese restaurant was in a place called the Tenderloin. I know very little about why it’s called the Tenderloin, I will admit I have not researched this one but it was clearly the gathering ground for the homeless. Laura and I walked down one street where they were sleeping on both sides of the pavement. Must have been fifty or more people and you know from their appearance and they way they behave, the talking to themselves, that they are genuinely homeless and have been for some time.

A miracle

Not all people are quite so genuine though. We did some shopping on our final day and as we waited to cross the road, I saw a blind man desperately trying to make his way through the busy shoppers. My heart was in my mouth as he stopped very close to the road. I had a vision of him stepping out in front of an unsuspecting vehicle. Well, even if they were suspecting I am not sure they would stop.

But no, to my horror, he put away his stick and pressed the button and crossed the road perfectly fine. I couldn’t believe it. A miracle or a fake. More than likely the latter.

Francy has a makeover

As we attempted to make our way through the back to school sales, there was an area of the Westfield shopping centre that had these small stands, predominately selling make up. I got cornered by a George Michael in his Wham! day wannabe and spent the next 20 minutes with him plastering make up all over my face. I looked like I originated from the Caribbean once he had finished. I had more eyeshadow, powder and God knows what else, all over me. Every time I closed my eyes for him to try another product out, I opened them to his Cheshire cat grin and he kept calling me ‘a beautiful princess’. Laura was in hysterics and I had got the giggles. It was funny but he couldn’t persuade me to buy anything.

The Golden Gate Bridge Experience

Park Ride

For all of you that know me, you will know I am not known for my excellent stability when it comes to doing any form of balancing. So the decision to ride a bike across the Golden Gate Bridge may come as a bit of a surprise.

In reality, it’s probably the most popular and best way to see the best of the suspension bridge. Some people drive across it, but you don’t get the opportunity to stop and take pictures. Others walk it, but again it’s quite a blustery experience. So Laura and I opted for the bikes. It had been recommended that we bike there and get the ferry back but in the end we decided to bike it there and bike it back again. It’s just under two miles in length so it was a good stretch.

As you approach the bridge the shear size of it really hits you. Unfortunately, it is covered in typical San Francisco fog much of the time and on the morning we decided to do it, we couldn’t even see the base of it. Fortunately for us it started to clear as we got closer to it and when we were actually on it we could see the top of the suspension columns.

Such an exhilarating, exciting and terrifying experience. I was aware of how high up we were, how enormous the bridge was and how small I felt in comparison. Reading all of the signs as we went past that were directed at the people who go there to commit suicide, emergency helpline numbers. Laura read that people go there on a daily basis with the intention of jumping off. Very few people survive. A stuntman tried it in the 1980s, thinking he could survive, he didn’t. A girl of 18 tried to take her own life and survived, only to be successful from the same spot two months later. Very sad.

When I was riding across it, I was just praying that the earthquake wouldn’t strike! We drove into San Francisco via the massive Bay Bridge that fell victim to the 1989 earthquake where one tier collapsed into the one below it.

Apart from dealing with the gusts of wind that come at you when you ride, you also have to deal with several other issues. One, the tourists who just stop in the middle of the bike path to have a chat or catch up with one another. Two, the people that ride on the wrong side of the designated path, it clearly states to stay right depending on which direction you were travelling. Three, the people who ride across it like they are training for the Tour de France. I swear Bradley Wiggins passed me on a couple of occasions. They weave in and out at about 100mph, Laura was screaming at them.

One of the highlights of our trip most definitely.


Alcatraz: the Rock

We took advice and decided to pre book our Alcatraz adventure some weeks before we left. This was good advice as when we turned up for our tour, the next available date they were offering was near the end of August, which would have been no good for us.

Laura and I had selected the night tour option, clearly wanting it to be as spooky as possible. It really wasn’t. The only thing I found daunting was the sound of all the birds circling the island as we waited to leave, that was a bit eerie.
If the night tour was good for one thing though, it was to see the magnificent views of San Francisco at sunset. Very beautiful, and we managed to get a shot of the Golden Gate Bridge in all of her glory too, even better.

Alcatraz is very interesting. From the hundreds of famous prisoners it housed to the many infamous escapes they tried. What I didn’t know was that the prison wardens also lived on the island along with their families, so many children grew up on Alcatraz. Imagine waking up next to Al Capone, not literally of course and especially not in his later years as he went mad with siphilus.

The prison cells were tiny, not much more than 5ft in width. It’s understandable why so many people wanted to escape. The small confinement would drive you mad alone. We had an audio tour which I don’t normally go for but it was really informative. It gave you little bits of history about certain parts of the prison, so for example, it showed you the cells where the famous three broke out of. It showed you the air vent that they knocked out and then you could see through to the pipe area where they climbed up onto the roof. The general belief is that they drowned in the strong currents of the pacific ocean and that their bodies were washed out to sea, but there are many people that believe they made it and escaped on to South America. Either way, they are still at large and the FBI are still looking for them!

In the end Alcatraz, like many things, became too expensive to run. The buildings were suffering from wear and tear (they still are too, many parts of the island you are not allowed to go to) and there had been many problems. Attempted escapes, shoot outs between prisoners and guards and the shear cost of looking after so many high profile criminals. It closed in 1963 (I think) the same year of the three escapees.

The F Line, a streetcar named Success

After our night tour, Laura and I decided to get this historic tram back into downtown. It was called the F line and looked like a retro tram. These electric trams became popular after the second world war and were seen as a cost effective way of transporting people around the city. Eventually they became unpopular or should I say out dated, but not to San Francisco. They kept them on and so there are all different trams operating the F line (which goes from Fisherman’s Wharf to the Castro) that originate from all over America.

San Francisco


On the way to San Francisco, we had struggled to find anywhere to have breakfast. As we drove out of Yosemite, there had been a lot of farms/fields and very little in terms of shops or restaurants. Laura did suggest one just as we left Yosemite, it was called the ‘Miners Arms’ and looked awful. I felt there would be better places to eat further afield. But after we had driven for miles and miles, looking out into desolate land, it was looking bleak. Laura kept making jokes that we could eat at one of these many places she could envisage in the distance, I didn’t find this very funny.

Eventually we came to an outlet mall that had, what looked like, a rip off version of McDonalds. It was called IN N OUT and had the same red and yellow colours attached to its sign. Laura and I were starving at this point so we decided to stop and eat.

It took a while for them to construct our burger. In fact, at one point I thought they had forgotten about us, but they hadn’t and just as well, because it was delicious. The staff were really friendly too. I read afterwards in the guidebook that recently in the US, gourmet burger places have become really popular, with different restaurants all trying to out do one another. The book said that IN N OUT have actually being doing fresh, gourmet burgers since the 1960s and that the chain should be congratulated on the excellent pay and conditions it provides it’s staff as well as the burgers it makes. Not quite a McDonalds rip off after all then.

San Francisco Traffic

I am so glad that Laura drove into San Fran and not me because the traffic was insane. Possibly similar to driving in New York, although in New York you don’t get very far very fast. In San Fran, pedestrians appear to rule the streets and not the cars! People just walk out all over the place and then you have the trams and electric bus cables to contend with.

We literally dropped our stuff off at the hotel, and by this I mean we pulled up outside and emptied everything onto the poor Bell Captain who was patiently waiting to assist us, before we set off to take the car back to the airport, where we assumed we had to drop it off. Lucky that Laura read the information and reminded me about the phone call I had made to Trailfinders the week before we left and had changed our drop off point to a city centre one, that was literally two minutes around the corner! The thought of attempting to make our way back from San Francisco Airport was as daunting as boarding a plane itself. For me anyway.

Chancellor Hotel

This hotel was one that we had booked through our tour operator, Trailfinders. It was clearly one they recommended and used a lot as there were many other Trailfinder travellers staying there too. We have encountered quite a few people, many English, who are doing a similar kind of trip to us. In the lift we met a couple who had started off in San Francisco and were heading to LA before finishing off in New York.

The Chancellor was in a brilliant location. Right in the heart of Union Square. Thank goodness it wasn’t any further up what they call Nob Hill, because some of the streets in SF are so steep! Mind you, we needed to burn off some of the thousand of calories consumed in American food. They are not stingy with their portions, they manage to make a salad fattening in the States!

The Chancellor had a special feature that Laura was really interested in: a pillow menu! They boasted how they had over twelve different variety of pillows. Laura had the classic ‘all feather down’ and I had one called ‘buckwheat’ which claimed to relieve you of any stresses. I must say it was really good! I found I only needed one pillow and it just seemed to mould into the shape of my head perfectly. It was quite an unusual experience because it wasn’t particularly soft, but I found it very comfortable. I’ve already checked them out on Amazon, £32.99 and I will be ordering one when I get back.

Sack Obama, Save NASA

Homelessness and poverty is a subject that has continued to upset me during my time in the USA. I can’t believe a country with so much wealth and power has so many people sleeping on the streets. Yes, they may be victims of alcohol and drug abuse, but there are many of them that are quite old, disabled and mentally ill. They are just desperate, and it’s very hard to walk past them. If you were to give a dollar to every homeless person you saw, you would run out of money within the hour, that’s how many people there are.

It was ironic walking up past Union Square that there was a group of people campaigning for Americans to ‘Sack Obama, Save NASA’. I know the Americans are immensely proud of their space project but the fact that they would rather plough millions if not billions of dollars into space as opposed to making sure everyone has a bed at night just shows how many of them organise their priorities. The same people had also altered Obama’s face on the posters they had of him and had given him a Hitler style moustache. A bit unnecessary we felt.


Back to our first night in San Francisco then, and we headed off to Chinatown which was just around the corner from where we were staying. We called in at a watering hole called Irish Bank on the way, recommended by the Lonely Planet and one of Laura’s work colleagues. There was an Irish barmaid too, who had heard of Stoke on Trent! The first one! She recommended that we biked across the Golden Gate Bridge and got the ferry back.

We ate in a Vietnamese restaurant called the Golden Star (or similar to that), again another Lonely Planet recommendation. It was nice and clearly popular. They kept force feeding me their version of tea though, which I wasn’t that happy about. I kept passing it onto Laura, who, poor girl, was in desperate need of the toilet every ten minutes. She had to drink an entire pot to herself!

Chinese whiskey

After our trip to the Golden Star we headed to Li Po, which was a Chinese bar. Laura didn’t like the look on the outside but I persuaded her to venture in. We have noticed that many Americans tend to order a pint with a whiskey chaser on the side. The barmaid told us that the locals drink Chinese whiskey, so we decided to give it a go. What a mistake! Never again! Blew my head off – and I am not even that fond of whiskey. We did have lots of fun though.

Santa Cruz

Blackpool in the sunshine

Is a bit how I looked upon Santa Cruz as we drove into the city. It wasn’t what I had imagined and it was certainly a lot different than Monterey and Carmel. There was little sign of irrigation along the ‘sidewalks’ and I couldn’t see any art galleries or shops in downtown.

I had read a little about it’s counterculture, so I decided to try and see past the rough exterior. We decided to park at our hotel and walk down onto the front as it was too early to check in. I was desperate for the toilet at this point and so we asked at our reception if we could use the restroom. The guy informed us they didn’t have a public one but we could use one of the rooms. Well, my heart sank when I saw the state of it. Grim was not the word. Laura tried to convince me it was a disabled room. This made me feel worse. Why, just because you are disabled should you have to have a room like that?

My despair continued as we walked around the beach area. It really wasn’t what I expected and it did remind me of Blackpool the more we walked. Laura tried to reassure me, said it was a hip university town but I couldn’t shake off the thought of spending four nights in that room.

We decided to go and check in. Laura promised me she would ask to see the room before we paid and would demand a better one if it didn’t meet my standards. I must admit she was very patient. However, I am fussy when it comes to staying places. Not overly bothered about much so long as things are clean.

Laura and I famously (nearly) stayed in the world’s most horrific bed and breakfast with our friends, Fran and Iain. Laura and I had scoured the Internet for accommodation to celebrate her friend’s 30th birthday. We had booked this B&B based on a picture of an outside table and chair, Lord only knows why. It was awful when we got there, absolute filth. From the outside it looked like a house I would never want to enter let alone a bed and breakfast I would want to sleep in. We didn’t stay long, we literally ran off! We have learnt from this error since and now we always, always read reviews from Tripadvisor.

Thankfully the room at the hotel in Santa Cruz was one of many that had been renovated. It was very modern, wooden flooring, huge flat screen TV and fridge/microwave and I agreed to stay!

A compromise

Laura loves the beach. I love the pool. We decided to compromise on a 50/50 split for our days n Santa Cruz. As it was the weekend then the beach was buzzing with activity. Lots of beach volleyball going on, families on days out, surfing and huge sandcastle building. Some people were taking shovels to the beach in order to construct their castles, clearly it’s a serious business.

In the afternoons we transferred to the pool back at our hotel. On the way we called into a small Mexican eatery. On our first day in Santa Cruz I vowed to Laura I would not eat there (I will put this down to my poor frame of mind at the start of the trip) because it was really, really good. Very cheap and you can get just quick food like some nachos with Mexican beans on top.

The pool at the hotel is not big and this brings on the debate about children abroad. I have no problem with kids having fun when they are on holiday and being playful in the water, but I fear it comes a little out of hand when there is literally waves of water engulfing the sides of the sunbathing area. When they got out water pistols I had to give them one of my ‘looks’. Their mothers were there but didn’t share our concern. The only thing they were concerned about was drinking their Corona Extra. Laura felt I was overreacting, I am not so sure.

Engfer Pizza

This was a Lonely Planet recommendation (shock!) but one that took us to the other end of town, past the fun fair that is permanantely on the beach. Laura asked if I wanted to go on the Big Dipper. My answer, in short, no. They promote it on the fact it is the oldest wooden roller coaster in the world or something, I wouldn’t go anywhere near it. Especially considering it was so close to the ocean!

Now, in Hearst Castle, they wouldn’t let you touch any of the marble sculptures or fountains that were outside the house, in Santa Cruz they allow you to walk on a train track! It was like a scene from that film, Stand By Me. There was a walk way alongside the track which I decided to walk on, some people were taking their kids down the centre of the track in the middle of the bridge! Unbelievable. I kept saying loudly, ‘they wouldn’t allow this in England, health and safety, health and safety!’

The woman on the reception at our hotel didn’t recommend walking to the Engfer Pizza place. She said we would definitely need to drive as it was so far away. It took us 40 minutes on foot! Laura was fuming, ‘Americans! Don’t walk anywhere. This was less than two miles!’

Engfer Pizza was in an old warehouse that was originally called Engfer Works. It was on a street called Seabright and clearly housed a lot of the university students. It looked young and there were a couple of bars around as well as some Internet cafes.

All the pizzas were cooked from fresh and they had a massive selection of drinks. I’ve discovered that even in coffee houses, the majority serve alcohol. Laura and I had the speciality ‘No Name’ pizza which is, in effect, a huge amount of salad cooked on garlic bread. It was by far the best pizza we had ever eaten. The woman behind the counter said that they got a lot of people on the back of the Lonely Planet and that ‘she was beginning to love that book’. She also said that more often than not, people returned the following day. We thought about it, but Laura wanted a Thai, so we didn’t and bizarrely it was closed on Mondays!

Olympics and karaoke

The Olympics have been tricky to follow at times. I know all about Team USA but have had to rely on Facebook and emails from my Dad to find out what Team GB had won. You can get the BBC website over here but it has lots of adverts on it. We called into a bar one night that was showing the Olympics and more specifically, the diving.

Well, what an emotional night it turned out to be. Firstly, there was a down syndrome girl singing Lady Gaga on the karaoke and then there was the roller coaster of Tom Daley on the 10m platform. In between all of this they showed us Mo Farrah win his second gold medal, I was a mess upon our departure!

Blue Moon

Is the name of the wheat beer we drink in one of our favourite haunts back home, the Glebe in Stoke. As its an American beer then it is widely available over here. They serve it the proper way as well, with a slice of orange in it. Delicious.

The Mexicans

So, previously I had mentioned the children playing in the pool and their mothers drinking Corona Extra with not a care in the world.

Fast forward a day and Laura and I were drinking the Corona Extra with them, eating fresh watermelon and in the pool with the kids getting splashed. I really shouldn’t judge people based on first meeting. They were really nice and amazed at our travels around California.

It took about 20 minutes before they asked us about Kate Middleton, which I thought for Americans, was quite a long time! I say Americans, they originally came from Mexico. They loved our English accents, especially when we said the word ‘mum’. They thought it was fab that I worked in an all boys school that looked like Hogwarts. Yosemite was a favourite place of theirs and they, along with many others, have said we will love it. What did surprise me with the Mexicans was that they live about half an hour away from San Francisco and up until recently, one of them had only just driven across the Golden Gate Bridge. Her sisters were amazed, ‘what? Are you kidding me?!’ they asked her, but she swore it was true.

You sound so sexy!

In England they have Challenge 25, where if you look under that age then you have to produce ID. It’s the same in the States but it’s like Challenge 30, so we have to produce our driving licences all the time. Which makes us feel quite young.

We were in a liquor store (we honestly haven’t spent the entire holiday drinking) and we bought a drink. We had been to the beach and we didn’t have our ID with us when they asked. The lady asked Laura our ages and Laura replied ‘I am 31 and she’s 30’, well she made her repeat it three times claiming that she loved her accent and that ‘you sound so sexy’. It made us laugh!

Seals and dolphins

Again on the beach in Santa Cruz we saw lots of seals, swimming really close to the shore. The highlight was the pair of dolphins that were swimming in the bay just a few metres away from where some of the children were playing. The kids were screaming with delight, so were their parents for that matter.


I woke up one morning, when it was still quite dark and decided to check the iPad for emails and news. I put on my glasses, or so I thought. After about ten minutes I noticed Laura looking at me a little oddly.
“Oh, I see what you’ve done now.” she said. I wondered if Laura thought I had slept in my glasses. Then she burst out laughing because clearly I had no idea what she was on about. I touched my glasses and thought to myself that they did feel a little bigger than usual. For the past ten minutes I had been wearing my sunglasses, in the dark with no idea! Laura thought this was hilarious and so did I, I didn’t even notice any difference in terms of visibility!


There is a huge amusement arcade along the famous Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. The Americans love this. Lots of games to play like pinball, air hockey and racing games. Very similar to our amusement arcades only of course in America, they are much better value for money. Four tokens costs you $1 and when one of the machines swallowed our tokens I turned around and there was an assistant ready to open up the machine and sort out the situation. You definitely wouldn’t get that service in England. If it swallows your money then you probably have to leave your name and address and wait until someone from the machine company comes around and empties it, which could be weeks or months.

All in all, I ended up loving Santa Cruz. A little like Blackpool in many cases, but it makes you think how good Blackpool could be if it did have the year round weather.