My Happy Holiday- Part 4

Christmas in Disneyland

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I’m looking tired but braved the teacups!

Yes, Disneyland. Kitty and I drove to Anaheim and checked in to a 4 star Marriot that did not have free wi-fi in guest rooms (Boo! Hiss!). It was such a disappointment after our luxurious experience in Vegas. I don’t think I can go back to 4 stars. Yes, Sara does mean princess.

We made it into the park around noon and it was just as busy as you’d expect it to be. I visited Disneyland once before when I was 7 years old, and as soon as we stepped on to Main Street USA I started having flashbacks to my trip in the 80s.

We turned left into Adventureland and visited the Enchanted Tiki Room. It must have left quite an impression on me because I remembered all the words to of the parrots’ song.

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My Mickey Mouse Ears and Krakatoa drink (the glass I got to take home!) at Trader Sam’s.

Most of the day is a blur but here’s some of the highlights.

  • Drinking at the Trader Sam’s Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Hotel, ordering a drink called Krakatoa (the name of the zine I co-wrote in high school) and the elaborate production that went on when the volcano in the bar erupted because of my order. Also when they played a Tiki prank on me by lowering my chair at the bar.
  • Churroes. That’s the only thing we bought in the park, besides our Mickey Mouse ears.
  • Captian EO. It’s still playing! The 4D experience of the 3D movie staring Michael Jackson directed by Francis Ford Coppola complete with rumbly seats. It’s awful and awesome in a hipster- retro kinda way.
  • The canoe ‘ride’ where we actually had to paddle a canoe around the lake. The people behind us on the ride were a sassy gay man and his lady-friend from England. We laughed the whole time about the work we had to do and yelled at people watching us ‘don’t do this, it’s awful.” Everyone just stared back at us blankly.
  • Getting on the monorail after we were drunk from Trader Sam’s.
  • Drunk driving at the Autopia ride.
  • Space Mountain- best ride at Disneyland. Also we learned that the best way to get on rides quickly is to do ask if they’re doing single riders.

Lowlights of the day

  • When we waited in a line for 15 minutes to get our photo taken with Goofy and he left with no warning or mascot handler apologizing to people in line. Not cool Goofy. Not cool.
  • Around 3:30pm there was a huge traffic jam of people, strollers and wheelchairs next to the parade root as we tried to get from one side of the park to the other. I thought there was going to be a fight or worse, that someone would pull out a gun (the bag check wasn’t that thorough).
  • 5pm when all the kids were cranky due to too much sugar and nap time.
  • It got dark! Like crazy dark. Disneyland should have more lights for night time. It was dangerous.
  • Because of crazy lines we didn’t get our photo taken with any of the mascots, also after 5pm we didn’t see any mascots. Boo-urns!

Disneyland is stuck in the past and that’s part of it’s charm. It’s also part of what makes it horribly offensive. Take It’s A Small World for instance, the only black people were in Africa and they were all dressed alike, yet every country of Europe gets to be stereotyped. Also Canada was only represented by a Mountie. Oy.

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The Canadian in It’s A Small World.

Would I do this again? Probably not. Was it a great way to spend Christmas? YES!

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Darkness in the Magic Kingdom.

My Happy Holiday- Part 3

Burbank Christmas Eve

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Santa Monica Pier

We spent the day in Santa Monica. The sun was out while we brunched and walked the pier. We poked in and out of shops that were not as bustling as  I had expected. It did not feel like Christmas eve. It was perfect. 

For dinner we met up with my Twitter friend @MusicScoop who took us to a fantastic Mexican restaurant in Burbank. Apparently Hollywood doesn’t have any decent Mexican places, but Burbank does.

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Margarita #1

I enjoyed my margaritas (yes, plural) and a burrito with extra guacamole, because even though avocado comes with everything in LA it’s always good to get extra. It was one of the best Xmas eve dinners I’d ever had, until a server came over to ask if someone had parked outside because drunk diver had hit a car. It turned out to be our new friend’s car. Luckily it wasn’t too badly banged up, but it did put a damper on the evening. It appears it’s not just LiLo and Amanda Bynes who drunk drive in LA.

Next we made our way over to a karaoke bar across from the NBC Studios called Dimples.

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The sign on the front door of Dimples says that if you get up on stage they will film you for their cable access show. We also found out that Dimples was live streaming their karaoke night with people watching from Japan, the UK, and India.

My first song: Fergalicious. I did this song a few years ago in San Francisco and the crowd went nuts. Dimples, as it had only 20 people in the join, was less enthusiastic. I was given the Dimples ‘virgin treatment’ and gifted a DVD of my performance and a photo of me on stage. One of the weirdest moments of my karaoke was when an ad for Mount Gay rum flashed on my monitor. Doubly weird for me because Mount Gay rum is from Barbados, which is where my grandfather is from. … It’s like they knew.

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We sang a lot throughout the night and bonded with the cocktail waitress who made me get up on stage and sing Rihanna’s S&M with her. Also interesting to note: Rihanna is from Barbados. Perhaps this is a sign that I’m meant to return to Barbados, or as I call it, heaven on earth, this year.

The evening got weirder when a guy on stage said “Looks like the entire porn industry is here tonight.” This is strange on two accounts: 1- I never expected to be in the same room as porn stars and 2- there weren’t that many people in the bar. From then on I was very reluctant to touch the stripper pole in the middle of the karaoke stage.

Later a man who called himself Captain Christmas appeared and sang a few songs. 

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Captain Christmas

We ended the night as Sid, the karaoke host, requested; up on stage with the porn stars singing So What? by Pink!

We stepped out of Dimples at 2 a.m. onto their AstroTurf grass and drove home, keeping our eyes open for drunk drivers, buzzing on our fantastic evening. A new tradition was born: Mexican food and karaoke.

“And guess what/ I’m having more fun/ and now that we’re done/ I’m gonna show you tonight.”

My Happy Holiday – Part 2

Hurray for Hollywood

While we were driving in from Vegas we tried to contact the Airbnb we’d booked in Laurel Canyon. I phoned, while Kitty drove, and let it ring over 15 times. There was no answer and more surprisingly there was no voicemail. How does that still happen in 2012?

We started to get nervous. We drove down the skinny , windingroads of the Hollywood hills and found our AirBNB home but there was no person there to be found. It wasn’t even clear what door we were supposed to go to. It wasn’t until I wandered around the property screaming “Hello? Hello?!” that the owner/ manager emerged.

This guy looked like a stereotypical LA wanna be rock star: long hair, messy jeans and stoned. He showed us to the room we’d booked online weeks ago, and it looked less welcoming than the photos online. That fish-eye lens is very deceiving. We were staying at my friend Andrew’s place in Hollywood for the next few nights so we’d made plans to meet up with him at 9pm to get his keys. As we were refreshing ourselves in the freezing cold apartment for the night, the fuze blew – turning off the heater and several of the lights.

I texted Andrew to see if we could spend the night with him. He was fine with that.  Our knight in shining armour! We were out the money either way, but at least we’d feel safe and warm for the night. Kitty and I took our bags and snuck out without saying goodbye to our stoned friend.

Andrew lives in the perfect spot; East of the craziness of Hollywood and Highland but close enough to walk to most of the good stuff. That evening we took it easy, walked to the Archlight theatre and saw This is 40. My review: meh. Sure, it was funny at times, but I have a lot of questions. What about their mothers? Why are women in Judd’s movies either virgins or whores?

The next few days are a Hollywood blur. We checked out an improv show at Upright Citizens Brigade, went dancing at a Soul Night in Echo, went to the Getty museum, had brunch across the street from a 1984-looking dusty blue building (see photo below). Brunch was good, but I questioned the religion of everyone around me.

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Unnamed blue building we had brunch across the street from in LA.

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Hipsters or members of the church in the scary blue building across the street?

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Drinking my $20 margarita at the Ivy. Why so much? Because the server up sold me some top shelf tequila. Jerk.

We also decided to star stalk and went for lunch at The Ivy. Sadly, we didn’t see any celebs or paparatzi, but the people next to us were talking about cocaine and their drug dealers.

The first time I went to LA as an adult was in 2005. I stayed with friends who were down there for pilot season. I was hanging around with a bunch of skinny untrained actors that made me feel ugly and fat.  This time I was there just for fun and that’s just what I was having …then came Christmas Eve.

My Happy Holiday – Part 1

The Detour

I’m not the biggest fan of Christmas. It’s a time of year that usually makes me stressed out and sad. So when my friend Kitty suggested that we get out of town this year, I was all for it.

Our plan was to fly to Los Angeles and enjoy some sunshine and random Hollywood antics.

The adventure began at customs. I’ve always had interesting conversations with the US customs agents. I think it’s because I’m usually flying solo and end up with a man on the other side of the desk. This time the conversation went something like this:

Customs agent: Where are you flying to?
Me: L.A.
Customs agent: What’s the purpose of this trip?
Me: To avoid the holidays.
Customs agent: Oh yeah?
Me: (dramatic, yet comedic sigh) Yeah.
Customs agent: I’ve worked every Christmas for the past 13 years.
* Then both of us said stuff about holiday expectations and how people get fussy during the season.
Me: Yeah, we’re hoping to go to Disneyland and get drunk at the Tiki Bar on Christmas day.
Customs agent: That sounds like a good plan. You have a wonderful time. Don’t let this season get to you.
* He put out his hand for a high five, we connected, and I skipped off into America.

Kitty and I fly stand-by, because her mom used to work for the airlines. When we got to the airport all of the flights to LA were overbooked thanks to the snowstorm in Vancouver the day before.

 After getting bumped from two flights we decided to gamble on a flight to Vegas, thinking that we could pick up our rental car there and drive to LA that evening.

Our gamble paid off, we got the last two available seats on the flight.  Once we were in the air and the pilot had turned off the seat belt sign Kitty came over to where I was and said, “You’ve never been to Vegas have you? Why don’t we just say the night in Vegas and drive tomorrow?”  This, I thought, was a brilliant idea.

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At the airport in Vegas. I look tipsy already.

How did we ever survive traveling without the Internet, smartphones, and free wi-fi in airports? As soon as we got off the plane Kitty was on her laptop looking up hotels on Hotwire. That’s where she found our 5 star hotel on the strip for about $150. She had been to Vegas just a few months prior for a moustache convention she was photographing and knew of a hotel that I would absolutely love, something named after a drink and a lifestyle…

The Cosmopolotian smells like perfume and cigarettes, because there’s still indoor smoking in Vegas. This I find disgusting, mostly because I’m allergic to smoke, but also, hasn’t smoking been baned indoors since 2002? When I tell my kids (or more likely friend’s kids) that I used to have to shower after going out to bars, and throw my clothes in the garage because if I didn’t I’d wake up with my eyes puffed shut, they’re not going to believe me. 

The hotel was quite nice and modern by Vegas standards, apparently inspired by Sex and the City. At least that’s what I assumed, because there were shoe sculptures everywhere. The hotel bar was called the Chandelier and it has drapes of crystals from the ceiling to the floor two stories below. I frickin’ loved it! Our room was on the 59th floor and looked down on the strip and the Bellagio fountains.

Here’s a cinemagram I made from our view:

We went for a decent dinner at Holsteins. We both got veggie burgers. Yes, vegetarians in Vegas! I had heard that Vegas was full of greasy American buffets, but we didn’t see any of that. As we’d arrived too late to take in a show we entertained ourselves by wandering in and out of hotels and their casinos checking out the people and the architecture. The people who are playing the slots in Vegas the weekend before Christmas are an interesting breed of people. Not only did we smell cigarettes, but Axe body spray, B.O. and loneliness. 

Of course, this happened on the evening of December 20; the eve of the Mayan appocolypse. So where was I when the world was supposed to end? Wasting away in Margaritiaville. Actually, I was just passing through on my way to Caesars Palace.

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Curtains of crystals! Vegas really is gawdy.

The next morning we circled the strip looking for the Imperial Palace hotel where a great breakfast joint Kitty had been to  called Hash House a-go-go. We asked three different people in three separate hotels where the Imperial Palace hotel was and NONE of them told us that the hotel had been renamed The Quad. I guess Vegas is constantly changing, either that or people have no clue how to give good customer service, since the hotel changed its name back in September. 

Once we finally found our breakfast joint and I drank all the fresh squeezed OJ I could get my hands on, we got on the road to LA. I had less than 24 hours in Vegas, but that was all I needed. Someone once told me that you should always leave a city with something you haven’t seen yet, that way you can return to experience it. The next time I’m in Vegas again I’ll make sure to see an Elvis impersonator and check out the old strip. 

Ahead of us was a four hour beautiful drive through the desert. We caught a stunning orange and pink sunset as we approached the city of angels. Our adventure already underway. 

How To Find Sunshine In Vancouver

I had a very Vancouver afternoon today. I hiked out of this miserable foggy city, climbed Grouse Mountain on the stairs they call the Grouse Grind.

Above those miserable gross clouds that surrounded us all day is sunshine; glorious rays of sun!

It was amazing. Plus, in order to get above the clouds I had to get some exercise. Exercise releases endorphins in your body, which create a natural chemical high. Tripple win!

Here are some photos I took on my iPhone, then edited with and app called Camera+ so that I could look more hip than I really am.

I’m On A Boat … S.O.S.

A few days ago I said to someone that my main regret about being an East Van person is that I rarely enjoy the ocean. I’m at the beach infrequently, I hardly head down to the seawall, and I’m never on a boat or in the water. I reiterated this story Saturday while I was on a boat in English Bay, minutes before the engine lost power.

If you’ve watched the Lonely Island video (above) you’ll have an idea about what I was hoping my boat experience to be like. Alas, there were no flippy floppies, or nautical themed pashmina afghans.

Here’s how I got there; Saturday morning I was supposed to be shooting a scene for a film I’m working on (low-budget/non-paying/ don’t get excited). We met at 9:30 a.m. and within minutes I was soaked from the miserable downpour that is a Vancouver winter. “You’re going out?!” an old man exclaimed, shaking his head at us as we headed towards a 30-foot sailboat.

After a few hours of unrelenting rain, the director called off the shoot. Some people went home, but lunch was being made, and I decided to hang out for a while. Ya know, to bond with the crew … okay, to get a free lunch.

The rain stopped around 1 p.m. and the suggestion of going out for a quick little cruise was brought up. Why not, I thought, I had nothing else going on that day, I might as well have an adventure.

Vancouver from a boat in English Bay.

Our team was down to four people: the captain of the boat, the director of the film, the make-up artist and me. A mini cast of Gilligan’s Island. The sun was starting to shine and the day was getting better. It was supposed to be a three hour tour, or less.

“We should have hung in. This is perfect weather for the shoot now,” I said to the director. Then we all shrugged.

I took a picture of the city and remarked on how beautiful it is.

I started thinking about what it is that people love about this city; the mountains, the ocean, the ability to rollerblade nearly every day of the year. These are things I often scoff about (especially the rollerblading) but in this moment, I got it. Vancouver is about enjoying the best of everything. It’s a city and a village. It’s being on the beach in the morning and hiking a mountain in the afternoon. It’s shooting a film and getting to hang-out on a boat when the sun comes out. It’s perfect. It’s not too hot, not too cold, not too big or too small; it’s just right.

Then the engine died.

It was then that our captain mentioned he’d taken it it in for service a week ago because this exact same thing happened before. Oy.

Close to a tanker in a little boat.

I knew we were going to be fine. I could see the Jerico yacht club. I could still see downtown. We were fine. But we were getting pretty close to a huge tanker … that was anchored.

Our captain made a few radio calls saying we needed a tow, but no one answered. A fancy power boat passed us speeding out of False Creek, ignoring our waves for attention.

Our options were to try and find someone our captain knew to tow us back into the dock, or pay for a tow. Being the low-budget project that we were, none of us wanted to shell out any money. Well, the director did offer to.

That’s when I jokingly said to my companions, “I’m going to tweet this.” And I did.

First Tweet to Save Our Souls

Apparently I don’t have any followers on Twitter that own boats. This is a shame. So, I put a message on Facebook. This got a better response. Mostly from friends who were taking this situation much more seriously than I was. “Call the Coast Guard” was the popular response from my stranded ‘check in’ at English Bay, after “are you serious?”

Picture from my phone of my Google Map location.

Forty-five minutes after our engine failure, various attempts to fix it, radioing for help, seeing the speed boat return to False Creek and ignore our waves again, one of my friends who’d seen my Tweets called the Coast Guard. They then put out a call on our behalf, which was then responded to by the Vancouver Police. Yay, we cheered, as this meant we were going to get a free tow from the experts, and not die at sea like I was starting to imagine.

Our Heroes!

The guys that helped us out where amazing. They were funny, easy-going uniformed men who could parallel park a boat. They towed us back to our dock, with no questions asked. As we disembarked their fancy ship we all shook hands, then thanked our lucky stars.

Two days later, I’m still a little land-sick, but very happy to be back on dry land. Maybe being an East Van girl does have it’s advantages. 

I’m going to end this post with a fantastic tweet from Scott Brown that summarizes this experience perfectly.

Scott Brown, sports editor at the Vancouver Sun.


How to Live in Vancouver

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If you follow my blog you’ll remember that I recently wrote about living in London. Since I wrote it, I’ve been thinking about the city I live in right now: Vancouver.

When I was fourteen years old Vancouver was my mecca. I would come here on spring breaks to visit my cool aunt and uncle who lived in Deep Cove. They were cool because they had no kids and were working artists. Vancouver had a magnetic pull and I deeply wanted a life away from winter and cowboys.

I moved here when I was 21 to go to theatre school and there are a lot of things I wish I’d done differently. Granted, that was a decade ago and things in Vancouver have changed, but I thought it would be fun to write a letter to myself circa 2001 about how to live in one of the world’s most “liveable” and beautiful cities.

Vancouver from a car on the Cambie bridge.

Dear Sara Bynoe circa 2001

You’re moving out of Calgary! Congrats! You’re going to one of the best theatre schools in Canada. High five! You’re living by yourself for the first time ever. Yay! Here’s some things you should know about life on the West Coast.

1 – Don’t live by school. You’ll call that area the Langara getto. In 2001 there isn’t even a Starbucks nearby. That’s how dead the area is. Move to Mt Pleasant. That’s where you belong.

2 – Get a bicycle and use it. Biking is the easiest and the quickest way around town. You’ll drop that freshman 15 you gained in Calgary in no time, plus you’ll realize how freakin’ small Vancouver is. Plus Vancouver drivers are kind of crazy and parking sucks.

3 – Find anyway you can to buy an apartment in 2001.  Get your family to pool money for an investment property.  You’re going to be there for school for three years anyway, think of the money you’ll be wasting on rent. Find anyway to convince them of this. 

If you did buy something, by the time you moved to London for your MA you would have been able to make 200-300% profit. It would have easily paid for your school and then some. Housing costs just get crazier and crazier in this city. Maybe move in to the Lee Building at Main and Broadway, sure there’s prostitutes at the front door now but in two, three, ten years time – it’ll be the centre of awesome.

4 – Commercial drive is where it’s at for grocery shopping. Cheap and delicious produce is abundant. Join the car co-op (because Zipcar and Car2Go isn’t here yet) and take a weekly trip for food with your acting buddies.

5 – Dating in Vancouver is weird. Guys never approach women like they do in Calgary. I suggest you travel to Seattle.

6 – Hike the Grouse Grind. You’ll love it. Don’t wait until 2009.

7 – Yes, the rain sucks. Every April you’ll wish you were dead or somewhere else. Just go somewhere sunny in the winter, it will help. Also, take Vitamin D.

8 – The sushi in Vancouver is some of the best in the world, enjoy it. Because one day you’ll move to London, come back a year and a bit later and eat sushi and end up in the ER because sushi made you break out in hives and now you’re afraid of it. Enjoy it while you’re safe.

9 – Things that are awesome that you need to get involved with: Women in Film, PuSH Festival, the comedy scene, the Cinemateque, Cold Reading Series, blogging – bloggers are big in Vancouver.

Third beach with borrowed bike.

10 – Go to Tofino! If you don’t do it while you’re in theatre school and life is easy (ok during the breaks) ten years later you’ll never have done it. I hear it’s amazing, so go.

11 – Maybe you should have moved to Toronto in 2005.

12 – This city has beaches! Go! Go much more often. Third beach is the best. It’s away from the city yet close to the city and there’s less naked people than wreck beach (which isn’t your scene at all).

13 – Just like how Londoners drink Vancouverites love to do drugs, mostly smoke pot. You’re too straightedge to be cool. Sorry. Just accept it.

14 – It’s true this is a hard city to crack. In a 2004 article with Famous (now Cineplex) magazine The King’s Speech actor and one-time resident of the lower mainland Colin Firth joked about how it was “much, much easier getting into Hollywood than to get into the Vancouver theatre system.” It’s not really a joke, although film is going to be hard to break into as well. Just keep doing your thing. You’ll do okay. Remember, an overnight success takes 10 years. Or there’s always Toronto. ;)

Enjoy it kiddo, you might not be here forever.

How To Live in London

Dear Sara Bynoe, circa September 2008

You have just moved to London, England to do a MA in Creative Writing. You’ve sold practically everything you own and packed up to live a new adventure. First off you deserve a BIG HUG, that was brave. Now, I want to tell you some things you’ll wish you’d known about living in London.

How to Live in London

1. When you first arrive take the bus everywhere. Do this for a week. Heck, you’ve got a monthly bus pass- get good used of it and learn the city! If you only take the tube you’ll pop up in random places and it will take you five months to understand that Covent Garden is a five minute walk from Leicester Square.

Also, learn what night buses go to your area and where you can get them from. This will save you strife as well as your social life.

2. The Royal Festival Hall is the best place to work for free outside of your home. Get a membership – it’s only £45. Either go here or the British Library. Cute British boys that read hang out there!

3. See more shows. Get on mailing lists and go to the cheap shows. This will help you a) network b) make friends c) get out of your head. Places you will come to love are: SOHO Theatre, Bethnal Green Working Man’s Club, The BFI, The Book Club Boutique (although you were there at it’s inception), Foyles Bookshop on Charring Cross Road has some great events also Shunt in London Bridge – (RIP, it was good while it lasted, even though it smelled like the Plague).

4. Start Teen Angst Night and Dance Dance Party Party in London. If you don’t others will do it after you move away.

5. Take better care of your back. Do not go to an osteopath. Pay the money and go to a physiotherapist. Also, if you cry in your GPs office they will send you for an MRI.

6. Just drink more. Apparently it’s the only way to date in the UK. Sorry, this sucks, I know. Or maybe find an AA group, if that even exists in the UK. It’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t drink there.

7. Travel. Go to Greece and Italy. Things wont be so good there after you leave the UK. Trust me.You also should go to Egypt for Christmas.

8. Get a job. You’ll grow roots, make friends and have money to spend. Check out this store Hobbs, they have a fantastic line called NW3 styled after Hampstead Heath in the 60s. You might be able to get a discount.

9. Be careful in Edinburgh the first time, especially in Opium, especially around short blond girls. Also, the guy you meet the first time you visit that bar is very cute, but he wants a wife … and kids … in the next year.

10. People do not talk to each other on the tube. They might talk to strangers on the bus. If you’re on the overland you are fair game – be careful who you make eye contact with.

11. Clapham really isn’t your scene. Move to East London.

12. Argos is your friend. Really, delivery is your friend. You wont believe what you can get delivered to your house!

13. If you hang out between Oxford Street and Carnaby Street the BBC will ask you questions and you’ll get to be on TV.

14. The best coffee in town is at Monmouth. There’s one in Borough Market and one in Covent Garden. Frequent them.

15. Borough Market is amazing for food. Go on a week day to avoid the Saturday rush.

16. Enjoy everything London has to offer. There are so many things to see, museums to visit, plays to watch, bands to listen to, conversations to speak and people to meet. If you ever dare say you are bored in London, well then, you’re a twat and you don’t deserve to live there.

Luckily, you will never do that.

Enjoy it, it wont be your city forever.

xo

Future Sara – circa 2011

View from my favorite pedestrian bridge in London. Know it? Leave your guess in the comments.

Checking Stonehenge Off My Bucket List

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A bucket list is an inventory of things to do and places to visit before one kicks the proverbial can out of life. I do not have said list, but if I did, I suppose going to Stonehenge might be on it.

I was in the UK, I had access to a car, I was traveling with a friend from Brighton to Bath and Stonehenge was along the way. Why not stop and see this mystical area where Druids used to gather on solstices, celebrate marriages and sacrifice virgins.*

When we arrived to the road off the A303 where Stonehenge lies, I’d just completed my first two hours of driving manual on the left side of the road ever. I was ready for a break, and ice cream. Yes, Stonehenge has ice cream.**

I pulled into the parking lot at the National Trust site where a cute (for a Brit) young man asked if I had a pass.

“No.” I laughed. Mostly because, I mean, do I sound like I’m from here?

“You could at least pretend.” He joked.

“Oh! Yeah, totally. I have a pass. Yes.” I joked back.

“Okay, go ahead,” he smiled at me and waved us in.

I parked the car and sighed. Not for finally making it to one of the wonders of the world, but for finally being able to take my hands out of their death-grip on the steering wheel. Driving on the left, in a manual drive car and going around a roundabout for the very first time was one of the scariest/ most stressful moments of my life. Perhaps it too is something I can check off my bucket list.

After our ice cream was devoured and £7 entry was paid, we picked up our audio tour and headed towards the busloads of tourists.

You’re not allowed to get very close to Stonehenge, as some bad apples ruined it for everyone. Now, you wander around the stones counter-clockwise stopping at various points where you’re supposed to listen to info-logues.

After taking the mandatory “Facebook profile” shots (one arm in the air looking back on me and Stonehenge – or more realistically, the sky or grass and part of my face) I began looking at the second most interesting thing about Stonehenge: the people it attracts.

There was one man, about thirty years old, who looked to be meditating by himself on the Western side of the site. I tried to watch him and penetrate his thoughts, but I’m no mind reader. He sat cross-legged in jeans and a t-shirt for a long time.  I began to assume he was not meditating but simply taking respite away from his family.

It was people 60 years old and more who seemed to enjoy the site the most, maybe because they knew more about its history or that they had more respect for wonders, or had paid £60 for the daytrip and damn it, they were going to appreciate it. They walked around slowly, intensely listening to the audio tour about the history of the site and the theories about what it all meant and how it came to be.

Of course, there were the stereotypical Americans with big bellies, socks pulled up to their knees and cameras hanging from their necks. More interesting than the loud-talking yanks were the fence voyeurs: people who pulled their car to the side of the highway, reached their camera’s over the chain-linked fence to capture their check on the bucket list. Been to the side of the road, snapped that.

While wandering around these large stones in the middle of the English country side I found myself hoping for a life changing moment. Expecting that this sacred wonder would provide some kind of spiritual awakening – at least a sensation, a glow, or a feeling- but, I felt nothing. I wandered around this historical site, looking more at the other people that came here than the stones themselves, and I’m okay with that.

We exited through the gift shop, as you’re always required to do, passing up commemorative Stonehenge mugs, pens, key chains, calendars, coasters, books, book marks, posters, stuffed animals, snow-globes and cotton jumpers with Stonehenge embroidered across the chest as if it was a major university.

More important than the information I learned, more satisfying than getting free parking from a cute bloke is that after 8 trips plus a year of living in the UK I can finally check Stonehenge off my list.

* I didn’t learn that much from Stonehenge about what is was all about. If you want to educate yourself please visit the official Stonehenge site HERE.

**I’m lactose intolerant so I had a Popsicle but it doesn’t have the same ring to it as stopping for ice cream. 

Freedom Diaries – Day Three

If that song played before professional sports games has taught me anything it’s that America is the land of the free. This was something I had to point out to Kitty as often as I could during our trip South of our boarder. Literally, I’d point to things, bus benches, dollar bills, Foot Locker stores and say ‘Freedom,’ because that’s what it represented. It’s the answer to everything in America.

Why can’t American’s go to Cuba? Freedom.
How can we ride a cable car down an insanely steep street in standee-only areas? Freedom.
How’d that man get so obese? Freedom!

Our big plan for today was to get on one of San Francisco’s famous cable cars,  go for breakfast and enjoy life, because that’s what 2011 is all about.

We got on a cable car near the Powell/ Market turnaround and hung on for dear life. We were both standees along with one young lady with the most awful hair extensions I have seen since my time in London. This girl was orange, had fake nails and surprisingly no British accent. I could have sworn I’d seen her on my favorite make-UNDER show Snog, Marry, Avoid, that’s how fake she looked.

 

City Lights Bookstore

After surviving the cable car we got off near Washington Blvd to wait in line at Mama’s. It was cold, the people around us weren’t very chatty and did I mention that it was cold?

I took a tour to City Lights bookstore which was only a few blocks away from our line-up. City Lights is famous for being the birthplace of beat poetry first publishing Howl by Alan Ginsberg. I bought a book; The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis, who is one of my new favorite writers. I also purchased a book bag so everyone will know what a literati I am when I walk down the street.

After two hours or more we were finally seated. Luckily the breakfast was worth the wait. More fresh squeezed OJ and coffee! Kitty ordered the french toast sampler made with banana bread, cranberry bread and some other yummy kind of bread. I’m more of a savory breakfast girl so I ordered the veggie Benny which came with avocado, mushrooms, spinach and tomato, a side of fruit and hash-browns.

After we ate we rode the cable car further down the hill to Fisherman’s Wharf where I learned that San Francisco is the birthplace of sour dough bread. Or at least that’s what Kitty told me about the Boudin Bakery that’s located there. Then as it was still cold, even colder because we were by the water looking at Alcatraz Island, we needed to warm up by drinking hot chocolate from The Ghirardelli Chocolate Company. Freedom! My flavor choice was caramel and sea salt. It tasted like a party in heaven.

Our late afternoon was spent indoors trying to warm up watching the movie Black Swan. That’s the one where Natalie Portman plays a deranged ballerina. That’s all I have to say about that.

San Fran woman walking her dog.

Our day was lovely and very event filled but it was the evening that was the highlight of the first day of 2011. We went for karaoke at Mint, which according to their website is ‘one of the world’s best known karaoke lounges.’ When we walked in I instantly hated the place. As a recent convert to karaoke clubs, I found this place very intimidating. It was full of douchebags, or that was my first hit. Kitty put in her song right away and feeling awkward, I refused. After 20 minutes of watching the crowd and downing a highball, I got the courage to put in my song.

Karaoke in America is very different than here in Vancouver, Canada; granted I’m judging this based on two places, San Fran and New York. In America you are singing to a crowd. They are right in front of the stage, they are dancing and they are in to it. You get a chance to be a rock star. This night at the Mint, we were rock stars.

Kitty had the crowd in the palm of her hand with her rendition of Alone by Heart. Everyone was coming up to her afterward complimenting her – which is something people rarely do in Canada. One guy wanted her to sing it again with him. It was adorable.

Then after what felt like an hour, I was called up for my song: Fergalicious. It was THE BEST time I’ve ever had doing that silly song. The crowd was loving it. I was even sassing a gay man in the front row who ate it up. Afterward I got a wonderful compliment from a girl, “You blew my mind!”

At that point my mind was completely changed about The Mint, but it was much too late to get in another song. That’s the downside of these busy clubs.

However, the guy that wanted to sing a song with Kitty ended up getting me to sing with him. We sang “Strongly, Madly, Deeply” by Savage Garden. We later found out that this guy was a soon to be dot-com millionaire; the CTO of Dropbox. Of course he was, this is San Francisco aka the Silicon Valley. Home of Google, Apple computers, eBay and so much more! On a side note, Kitty is a big fan of Dropbox. Apparently it’s like YouSendIt only better.

The next highlight of the night was walking home past a woman who mumbled in her craziness ‘sh*t, sh*t, sh*t, goddamn, goddamn, happy new year, sh*t.” This became the catch phrase of the next 24 hours.

With our egos inflated we ended January 1, 2011 enjoying the freedom that is America.