Tagged: USA


At the start of the year I made some goals for the year. I won’t bore you with the whole list.┬áBut one item read…

Hike Whitney or something else big

suzie on whitney

Here I am on July 4th 2015.

Some things can happen. So what else is big that we should be hiking?

When in LA eat ethnic


I don’t have a vast amount of experience eating in LA but it’s clear to me that the best food available is the ethnic food. I was first made aware of this on last year’s trip to LA when we had Korean at Jeon Ju. There my bibimbap was hugely reminiscent of those I had eaten in Seoul and for days after I hankered for more of that crunchy yet creamy spicy rice. My love for all things ethnic in LA was elevated on our latest trip where I was simultaneous letdown by the pizza at Gjelina and had my heart set on fire by some outstanding Thai town delights. Let me explain more….

On Saturday night we walked from our place in Venice to the oh so desirable Abbot Kinney. We had checked out the dinner options online before we arrived and had settled on waiting for a table at the popular Gjelina. We put our name (and number) on the wait list and had a drink in The Brig to pass the time. Then when we were done waiting we checked in at Gjelina to find out where we were in the line. We were told “sorry not yet but we will call you” and so headed for a drink in The Otheroom. And then we waited some more. And some more. The promised phone call never came but when we finally wandered back to Gjelina at around 10:30 pm we were met with murmurs of “oh you’ve been waiting a long time” and were quickly taken to our table inside.

Finally seated the waiter rushed through the drinks orders and we were off. We started with a cheese plate that was reasonable although sadly overwhelmed by too many sweet accompaniments. Unfortunately I can’t share what the cheeses were because the waiter, when explaining, clearly messed up the descriptions by indicating that the goat’s cheese was a blue cow’s cheese from France so, frankly, I have no idea what we ate. Quickly following the cheese plate came our guanciale and hen of the woods pizzas. They were tasty but were more than a little burnt on the edges. And then, as if to balance out all the time we had waited, or more importantly so the waitstaff could go home, our check arrived and we were outside again. No longer hungry but with little more than a faint dusting of charred pizza on our lips we walked home feeling slightly deflated… until Sunday.

On Sunday after viewing LA from the Griffith Observatory we found our way back down the hill to be met by the best Thai food we have ever eaten. We used the Chow best 10 list to help us select the best eats and began at Ruen Pair. There we started with the sweet, spicy and savoury papaya salad. It was so delicious that I denied it was over when it was all eaten and was compelled to fish the remaining peanuts out of the dribbles of leftover sauce. The salad was accompanied by the seasonal morning glory and the broccoli with pork belly. Although both dishes look similar each green had its own unique flavour and texture with just enough spice to keep it interesting. All dishes were served up quickly and with a smile. Full and happy but still ready for more we were unable to stop there. First we crossed the street to buy cupcakes and coconut treats from Bhan Kanom Thai. And then we followed our dinner with the best Tom Kha and Tom Yum noodle soup we’ve ever had at Pad Ord. Served medium spicy the Tom Kha was bright, fresh and tangy. It looked beautiful and smelled wonderful. I’ve been pining for it ever since.

And that is the story of a weekend’s food that proved to me that when you are in LA you should skip hip and eat ethnic.

LA Airbnb beach retreats


This weekend we enjoyed the sun in LA.

Before arriving we arranged to stay at an apartment very close to the beach in Venice via Airbnb. This would be our third Airbnb stay. It’s a pretty different experience staying in someone’s home instead of an icy cold impersonal hotel room. It certainly gives you a much better feel for what it’s like to live somewhere.

In this case, as well as experiencing Venice beach life, the place we stayed was closer to the beach than we would have been able to get otherwise and also had a parking space which was very useful. However, I find you must be in the right mood for Airbnb-ing as the insight, savings and convenience you get can come at a cost. At a minimum, you must be a little more thoughtful about your surroundings as you are, after all, living amongst someone else’s belongings.

While researching the place we stayed at I found quite a few reasonably priced apartments in the area that would be ideal for a couple to stay in if they fancied a weekend at the beach. Check out my pick of the Airbnb accommodation available in Venice beach area.

Half Dome Hike

I recently wrote a post about how to make the most out of a trip to Half Dome in Yosemite. One thing I didn’t mention is that you should take a small camera (or camera phone in this case) with you so that you can capture the jaw dropping scenes along the way – and your joy at reaching the top! Stopping to take photos and enjoy the view on the way down can make the long slog easier to take too. Here are some moments from our most recent trip. They make me smile.

Half Dome trail

Half Dome trail

Climbing Half Dome

Climbing Half Dome

Hiking tips for Yosemite’s Half Dome

A couple of weeks ago we hiked Half Dome in Yosemite for the second time. Despite it being a hard slog it’s a really enjoyable hike with some amazing scenery and a daredevil adventure in the middle.


If you’re thinking of hiking Half Dome I’d highly recommend reading One best hike: Yosemite’s Half Dome by Rick Deutsch. It really helped us prepare.

In addition to his advice, here are our quick tips on hiking Half Dome.

  • Get a permit – you must have a permit. Join the lottery to be in with a chance of permits in advance
  • Book accommodation – you’ll want to stay in the park close to the trailhead the night before. We stay in Curry Village
  • Practise – this is a long, steep and potentially hot hike. You should really try to hike some steep hikes in the months and weeks running up to this hike to get ready
  • Eat and hydrate – the days leading up to your hike make sure you are eating well and hydrating
  • Prepare – the night before the hike prepare your bag and be ready to go when you get up
  • Sleep well – try to sleep early because…
  • Start early – the first time we hiked this we started at 6 am, this time we started at 4.30 am! We are not morning people. Start early so you can get the ascent done in the cool and the dome done before the crowds. Believe me you’ll be happy you got up in the dark
  • Park closeby – there is a wilderness parking lot after Curry Village with bear boxes. It’s closer to the trailhead. In the morning you might not care but on the way back you’ll be relieved to see the car
  • Use walking sticks – they really help on subdome and on the way down. Love your knees
  • Don’t look down – if you are afraid of heights, when you start the climb up subdome don’t look down. Save that for the way back
  • Rest before the main event – don’t rush up the dome. Catch your breath, have a snack, be calm and then go
  • Clip in – having done this with and without a Via Ferrata I certainly know that clipping in makes this a much more pleasant experience. If you can get hold of a harness I’d highly recommend it
  • Go slow – it’s not a race. Maintain 3 points of contact on the dome. Be sure about your footing. Breathe and relax
  • Don’t run down – again, love your knees and take it slow on the descent back to the valley
  • Swim – your muscles will ache when you reach the bottom. Find a safe spot and have a quick dip in the Merced River to cool off, clean and reduce swelling in your muscles

That’s it. Good luck. And well done!

Our wedding in Yosemite: planning advice and recommendations

Last year I got married outdoors in Yosemite National Park. This blog post is my advice for others planning or considering Yosemite for their wedding. There is also some advice specifically for expats.

We had a small wedding with just 6 guests. We had a traditional ceremony outside but no formal reception. It was a beautiful day.


Photography: Patrick Pike Studios

Wedding planners

There are a couple in the area. The one at the national park and one that is ran by one of the local celebrants. We did investigate using the one but given the small size of our party it didn’t seem like they would offer a suitable package for us so we just arranged everything ourselves.

We used a lot of the information on My Yosemite Wedding and Yosemite Weddings to help us plan. Our photographer and celebrant were also helpful and gave advice.


There are about 4 or 5 different celebrants who serve Yosemite. We contacted all for their prices and decided on Carol because she was a women (I wanted a lady to perform the service), seemed the most laid back and friendly. Emily also seemed nice but was unavailable when we first contacted her. There is a bit of paperwork to get booked but once sorted Carol was very helpful in planning the ceremony via email. She suggested some standard service formats and vows. We used those to design what we wanted. We met her for the first time right before the ceremony to finalise what would happen during the service. The prices for each celebrant were similar and were around $400.

You will need at least one person to witness the wedding. We had my brother and sister-in-law do this for us but I believe the photographer has witnessed many!

Marriage license

You will need a California marriage license to get married. It doesn’t matter if you are not a citizen but you need to get the license in advance of the ceremony. You can get this in San Francisco at the City Hall like we did or closer to the park in Mariposa if needed. Your celebrant will help you get this sorted out. This is about $50.

The biggest pain comes after the ceremony as California do not automatically provide a marriage certificate. This means you must request and pay for one yourself. It took ours about 3 months to arrive. I believe once you have it it’s simply a matter of providing this to the UK to get the marriage recognised at home. We haven’t done that yet though.


Providing you have less than 10 people (including the celebrant and photographer) you can get married in many places around the park. Some people even hike out to places to get married! We reviewed the standard list of places and then asked the celebrant to recommend somewhere in the valley with a view of the waterfalls that was private and intimate. Someone suggested Superintendent’s Bridge because it was easily accessible, with a stunning view but was generally not too busy. We had no issues with people interrupting the ceremony at all.

There is also a small church very close to where Ian and I got married so you could do that if you wanted as well.

You must apply for a permit to get married in the park and this can only be done by filling out and posting forms but once it’s done there’s no trouble. Carol asked to see it but no-one else did. This cost about $150. You also have to pay the normal entrance to the park which is $20 per car.


We used Patrick Pike. We had the elopement package which included 3 hours of shooting, digital photos and some credit for prints.

He was super nice and took care of us on the day. He also recommended some places for the ceremony as well. He knows all the good places for photos and is willing to make suggestions based on your personal needs. We basically said “take good photos” and he did!

It was the most expensive part of our day (around $1500) but we decided it was worth it and were very happy with the results.

If you want to go with him I recommend getting booked early as he does get busy and actually photographed another wedding right after ours that day. Due to him being very busy it did take about two months for our images to be available for review.

Hair and makeup

I used Carol Cardinale at Bellisimo Brides. Carol was very cheery early in the morning and curled my hair just like I asked for. Carol cost approximately $200 for hair and makeup.


There are places you can collect from on the way to the park. Or often Patrick, Carol or Carol will collect them for you. I didn’t do that as I wanted to make my own so I brought flowers at the market in SF and made them when I arrived at the hotel.


Likely the ceremony will be away from the accommodation. If you don’t want to drive there Patrick or the celebrant can help. They don’t have glamorous cars though. We just used my sister-in-law’s hire car. You could arrange something else if needed.


We stayed in the park at the Ahwahnee. It is a little on a pricey side at about $400 per room per night. It is rustic and old but grand and calm. The location is amazing. I’d recommend it. We stayed in the Classic Rooms which are mid priced. There are other places to stay in the valley and just outside the park.


There are wedding cake places that serve the park but we didn’t bother with this. We just brought in a cake from our favourite local bakery in San Francisco called Tartine and ate that in the hotel grounds after the ceremony.


We didn’t really have a wedding dinner. After the ceremony we had drinks in the Ahwahnee bar and ate our cake in the grounds. In the evening we got changed and just had dinner at the Ahwahnee. It’s a grand old dining room with a great atmosphere. It gets busy so book ahead. The food is ok, not amazing. The servers had been tipped off that we got married so we had a nice reception when we arrived, a special dessert and the piano player toasted us. That was all very nice. Dinner (3 course) is close to $100 per person with a tip. They have a decent wine list.

Hope this helps others getting married in the park!

A mini break to Great Basin National Park

About 10 hours drive east of San Francisco on the Nevada/Utah border is Great Basin National Park. One of the remotest national parks in the US, Great Basin is a diverse park with 78,000 acres of wilderness. This was our first visit.

We left San Francisco on Wednesday night and took the I80 East to Reno. Our stay in the Siena hotel and casino was more than satisfactory. In the morning we grabbed pastries and coffee from The Homage before heading east across the desert to Great Basin.


After taking the I80 for a while we turned onto the US50, the loneliest road in America.


We eventually reached Great Basin after 5 pm. We had some BBQ dinner and then headed off to the night sky ranger program. Sadly it was too cloudy so see anything through the telescopes but we admired the lightening show in the distance and considered them our July 4th fireworks instead.

The next morning we wandered around the mountain nature trail at Lehman Caves Visitor Centre before taking our Grand Palace tour in the Lehman Cave. This is a 90 minute tour which takes in all the public areas of the cave.

Lehman Cave is limestone and marble solution cave that was first discovered in 1880s by Absalom Lehman and is famous for its shield formations. Many of the formations we saw were drier than those we had seen in Crystal Cave at Sequoia and so looked less polished but also less slimy. Volunteers who help on the tour become proud cave cadets!



After a few snacks for lunch we began the Bristlecone Trail hike. This trail takes in the bristlecone pine grove below Wheeler Peak. It was a fairly easy trail up and the reward was a saunter through the majestic and elderly pines. The interpretive tour taught us that many of the trees germinated well before the birth of baby Jesus and some still standing had died before Christ!


As we had made good time on the Bristlecone Trail we decided to take in the Alpine Lakes Loop as well. Teresa and Stella Lakes were both fairly small and shallow but the views along the trail, as well as the alpine streams, made for a very picturesque and peaceful hike.


On our final day in the park we packed up camp and traveled south to the Snake Creek entrance of the park. We took the 7.5 mile trail to the historical Johnson Mill and Lake. It was a steep and hot climb 2500 ft up but we were rewarded by bright summer meadows and some interesting mine ruins to poke about in. Again the lake was a little lacklustre compared to lakes out west but it was still a pretty sight to signal the turnaround point.



We ended our day in the Great Basin area at the Ward Charcoal Ovens state historic park just outside Ely. The ovens were used to create charcoal to smelt silver ore. The cool breeze inside the oven was a nice respite from the hot day. A strange contrast to what they used to be like!


As before our journey back to San Francisco took us across the lonely road again but this time in the evening. The landscape and solitude did not make the journey long but served to amplify the colours of the setting sun and twinkle of the stars. A suitable way to end our trip from the emptiness.