04.05.2013

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It might be a little cliché to honeymoon in Hawaii but can you really argue? Sun, surf, sand (if you go to the right beaches) and still plenty of sight seeing, activities and shopping to more than keep you busy.

I knew very little of “the rich man’s Bali” prior to researching and after viewing google maps and the associated scaled distances I was expecting it to be a lot smaller, however after a rather slow crawl through traffic from the airport to our Waikiki hotel it was instantly recognisable, for good and bad, as just about any other major American city.

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But first, getting there. Like the savvy travellers we are, we held off till we could nab some crazy cheap flights and lo and behold a couple months out, Air Pacific had a sale and we were set. We heard and read a few horror stories about this budget Pacific carrier but didn’t really encounter close to a Tiger Airlines facebook post.

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Of course the trade off for cheap flights is usually an extra stop over, which was in Fiji. Better than a slap in the face yea? Unfortunately it was more like a slow slap in the face, we were scheduled to arrive early evening so the choice in venturing out was limited and with the sun all but gone, it wasn’t even worth a look at the beach outside of the Nadi airport. So with 7 hours to kill we made the most of what the airport had to offer, 2 levels of shops and a food court….cool, now there’s only 6hours 50min left to go. Yep, the place is small, the shops uninspiring and mostly redundant. The food court is based mostly around a carvery style vender which served a variety of meals from classic American to a few Asian dishes. Prices were ok and the quality not too bad. Best thing was they took AU (or USD) currency without a transaction fee but you got your change in Fijian dollars.

Travel Tip: Carry small denominations of AU or USD notes to minimise the amount of unused Fijian currency you’ll have to get exchanged or just keep it for your return stop over.

So to kill the time? We came prepared with a season of Fringe on a netbook, then we just commandeered a table. Later we mixed it up and pulled up some carpet near an unused powerpoint.

Travel Tip: If you get bored from counting the number of Aussie girls with French braids or corn rows and want a bit of piece and quiet, head downstairs to the airline lounges. You can pay a small fee for creature comforts inside or just stretch out on the floor/seats out the front for free.

(not) Christmas Island

(not) Christmas Island

(not) Christmas Island runway

(not) Christmas Island runway

Time marched on with the slumping body language and expressions of center staff till we were finally on our way – but wait, whats this? An extra stop at Christmas Island??? Ok first shock was the previous no mention of a second stop and the second was Christmas Island?? Isn’t that in the opposite direction?? Turns out its part of Kiribati, a tiny little island that’s more lagoons and oases than island – but a perfect place if you want middle-of-no-where picturesque beaches, endless fishing and literally nothing else. The ground crew there reflected the laid back environment, some rode up to the airliner on bicycles, most were either wearing thongs or were barefoot and shirtless. One even took a break from doing nothing by lighting up a cigarette, apparently avgas is so laidback here it couldn’t be bothered exploding :-\

After another hour of sitting around (minus the break where US border patrol entered the plane and searched seats …and the poor guys that fit the stereotypical profile) we were on our way.

On arrival at HNL airport we picked up our hire car from Alamo, despite some negative reviews for this location we had no problems at all and even ended getting to choose a VW Jetta over a Ford Focus. After spending a couple thousand miles in a Focus last time, it was an easy decision to choose the German… and it wasn’t just because it was red 😉 You can get around the island quite sufficiently using public transport and mopeds but nothing beats having the freedom and convenience of a car especially when you have multiple activities planned for a day and a bunch of shopping to go with it.

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Travel Tip: For the best prices on hire cars go to www.DiscountHawaiiCarRental.com – basically a blind selection from dealers of your car category choice, or better. Once your preferences are entered, you’ll get an email from the hire company with pick up details. A little daunting not knowing what you’ll get or from who, but they only deal with the bigger name companies so you should still have some choice depending on your nominated category. If you’re choosing “convertible” you’ll be mostly limited to a Mustang or Sebring … realistically you’ll end up with a Sebring (which is essentially an old Ford Taurus with the roof cut off. Yep, as ugly as it sounds) To give you an idea, a week hire for a “compact”, which going by the Jetta felt more like a mid-size was about $150 for the week, total of $350 with insurance which is always the killer. Still, at $200 less than the cheapest online advertised price, it was an easy decision.

The prepurchase of a $50 ebay gps complete with current US and Europe maps instantly paid for itself as we made a steady crawl towards Waikiki and our hotel for the week, The Outrigger – Ohana West.

Waikiki

Waikiki

There is of course a plethora of hotels to chose from, most going from “more than your flights” to “yikes!” but thankfully this (not so) little gem was significantly less than surrounding places including sister hotel, Ohana East, a mere half block away. Having the deal sweetened with Zuji’s package special made it even better. The only reason we could tell for the difference in price was from the décor. It looked like the last reno in the rooms was during the 80s but other than that nothing to complain about, good service, large room and balcony and a 5min stroll to the beach. There’s also Chili’s Bar and Grill on the ground level and a Denny’s just across the street, both with a wide range of foods and meal deals.

Travel Tip: Parking is a premium almost every where in Waikiki and of course they capitalise on it. There are a few cheaper long term parking spots but all a few blocks away and most not secured. Ohana East offers paid parking at about $20-25 a day with discounts for longer stays, which makes unloading and loading alot easier. The trade off is, the carpark is very limited so they tend to run out of spaces from mid to late afternoon but if you have already paid, you get directed to Ohana West down the road.

Waikiki Beach

Waikiki Beach

Waikiki Beach

Waikiki Beach

Travel Tip: A lot of the beach front hotels have “private” beaches ie. Its easiest accessed through the hotel. For off the street access you’ll want to head straight for Kuhio Beach Park (Waikiki Beach). Possibly one of the busiest beaches in Oahu, it has levies for shelter and corrosion prevention (I read somewhere that they actually import sand from Australia!), though the native sand is rather coarse. Great spot for a quick dip and kid-friendly but if you want to do anything other than a fun splash/cool down then its best you try elsewhere.

Bags dumped and a quick shower, we were ready to hit the streets of Waikiki!

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Hawaii 2012 part #1 – Arrival
Hawaii 2012 part #2 – Waikiki
Hawaii 2012 part #3 – Honolulu shopping – Part A
Hawaii 2012 part #4 – The Big Island – Volcano tour
Hawaii 2012 part #5 – Shopping Honolulu – part B
Hawaii 2012 part #6 – Tattoo Honolulu / Boardshorts: A Perfect Fit art exhibits
Hawaii 2012 part #7 – Pearl City area
Hawaii 2012 part #8 – Swap meets and Made in Hawaii festival
Hawaii 2012 part #9 – Cook offs and Car shows
Hawaii 2012 part #10 – North shore
Hawaii 2012 part #11 – Windward shore and Sealife Park
Hawaii 2012 part #12 – Chief’s Luau at Sealife Park
Hawaii 2012 part #13 – South shore – Diamondhead crater, Hanauma bay

03.05.2012

Nike - Paris

Ah Paris, one of the well known fashion and shopping capitals of the world… if you’re the type to frequent Rodeo Drive and the like, otherwise you have to venture further out to find outlet malls like La Vallée Village.

We only had one day of shopping so we decided to keep it central and stick to the “must-see’s” which meant we gave the hoity-toity malls a miss and looked for boutique sneaker and toy stores instead 😉

Les Halles metro station was the closest stop to most of these shops and conveniently part of the Forum des Halles shopping center which has a sunken open air section and the rest completely underground. Stores vary from high end brands to small boutiques. The few selling sneakers were more along the dressier side of things, coupled with the ever wallet punishing Euro, they were even less appealing. There’s a McDonald’s which is always a welcome sign… for free WiFi 😀

Entering the mall was fine via the metro station but exiting? Well that wasn’t quite so easy. It wasn’t till we were outside that we realised the whole thing was underground and from what we could see there was only one set of escalators out (that’s if we weren’t having another travel brain fart, which was highly likely with fatigue and jetlag clawing at our heels).

Fountain monument... thing

Up on the surface, there’s a small nature area with a fountain structure, no doubt with some historical significance like many random relics around the city… oh look Footlocker! It definitely doesn’t have the same presence here as it does in London but this store was quite large with a dedicated boutique styled store attached, specialising in basketball related apparel and sneakers – which wouldn’t look out of place in LA or NYC. The punishing Euro once again left us breezing passed a lot of items but coming across some unique pieces like a Yankees bomber jacket in hot pink with multiple team patches or a Yankees New Era cap in an illusive army green and orange colourway were too hard to resist 😉

Couple doors down there’s Skechers and Dr. Martins, if you didn’t get enough of them in London.

Unknown sneaker store

Opium

A short walk down some narrow cobbled Carnaby styled streets sees a handful of small sportswear and street wear styled shops, many sport Diesel logos on the front, whether or not they’re all authentic is another thing. A few notable spots, Zoom flight sports – mostly lower end sports based model sneakers coupled with Diesel products and a signless sneaker store next door to Joe Allens which had an ok selection of Nikes and Vans. However THE store most heads will be here for is Opium, a store almost solely dedicated to the Jordan brand. There are a few “dressier” Nikes but predominantly Jordans, a couple region exclusive colourways like these J1’s in Torquoise and many were no longer in production so it was a fine opportunity to see some classic history in the flesh. There were also a bunch of boxes stacked to the ceiling in the back corner, possibly new stock, possibly deadstock but we just couldn’t bring ourselves to even ask ):

Shinzo

SBPro

Espace Kiliwatch

Heading north west along Rue Etienne Marcel will lead you to Shinzo, SBPro and Espace Kiliwatch. Shinzo is probably the pick of the bunch for the slightly limited releases but take notice if there is any “cleaning” going on. Turns out if there is, you’ll be told they’re “closed for cleaning” and ushered out even if you had already been browsing for a good couple minutes. I however have a sneaking suspicion that it was just more French hospitality since we didn’t look like we were going to buy anything since their prices are hardly favorable. SBPro tries terribly to latch on to Nike’s SB skateboarding range, even to the extent of incorporating a Tick like symbol in their logo, they do however have a decent selection of skate related brands and products. Espace Kiliwatch is more like City Beach or Universal with a broader selection of casual brands and styles.

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Last stop in this area was Artoyz, the Giant Robot of Paris. As much as we love Kidrobot, it was refreshing to see fewer pieces from them. Instead there is a nice selection of toys and apparel from local (city and regional) artists and what can only be described as a Posca marker vending machine! Definitely has to be seen to be believed. Unfortunately prices again were bordering on cringe worthy.

Nike - Paris

Nike - Paris

Adidas - Paris

With a couple hours to spare we decided to make a pass on Paris’ Rodeo Drive, Av. Des Champs Elysees. If you’re like us and can’t fathom how someone could charge, let alone spend $100 on a ratty thin t-shirt then the only points of interest will be the Adidas and Nike flagship stores. Both encompass more than ample real estate for their location and both come complete with eye catching quirks, Adidas with its Trefoil live photo wall (your photo is taken webcam style and then displayed along with other customers from the day) and Nike with a Bill Bowerman (original co-founder) collage of button pins featuring Nike and sub brand logos to form a mural. In true French fashion, the Adidas store also has a separate section for its “designer” range which wouldn’t look out of place in Jay Kay‘s waredrobe 😉 Other than those few points, most of the range and styles are almost identical to those found in London.

Toyota

Toyota

While you’re here, check out the Toyota showroom, most notably for its open wheeled F1 style concept car and wall mounted Yaris. Across the road is the Louis Vuitton store, perfect op to add some photographic proof to that knock off bag purchase :p

Louis Vuitton

And we’re done! As they say, a quick game is a good game and we were out of there! Next and final stop, Beijing!

Travel tip: To get to Paris’ airport – Charles de Gaulle aka CDG, find a RER station and purchase a ticket from one of the machines.

Paris 2011 part #1 – Arrival
Paris 2011 part #2 – Sight Seeing

Paris photo gallery

Greetings!

It was our last day in LA so we thought we’d see it off in style… from the sky!

Orbic Air is a helicopter tour company running out of Van Nuys airport – one of the biggest airports for private aircraft in the states so you may even catch a glimpse of a celeb stumbling out of a fictional “G6″ clutching a bottle of Don P. dregs 😉 There is a wide range of tours to suit any budgets and interests with selected scenic spots like the Getty Museum or LA Live arenas or you can go all out with an “ultimate” tour which covers all the major highlights. There are also dinner packages which include meal vouchers at the luxury restaurants in and around the airport. That said, there was really only one thing we wanted to see and that was what makes LA, LA…. Hollywood!

The process is very straight forward. After arriving, you get to wait in very nice waiting room before a short brief then a golf buggy ride out to the runway. Our pilot was very friendly and explained everything clearly and simply.

Los Angeles - its flat

LA Freeways

LA Valley college

The tour obviously focused mostly on Hollywood however you could easily see the downtown area and further. It begins with a view of some of the many snaking freeways that spaghetti the LA landscape. As the pilot said, if only he could take the helicopter home to avoid that infamous LA traffic! Universal studio city was next which looked like a permanent circus from above if it wasn’t for the War of the Worlds jumbo jet wreck and drive in movie screen sized blue screens.

Universal City

Universal City back lot + War of the Worlds plane crash

Next is the iconic Hollywood sign, you thought it was pretty cool looking up at it from Canyon Lake road? Its nothing compared to looking at it front on from about 50 metres away.

The postcard at the start of this entry was taken @30mm on FF, yep, THAT close!

Hollywood Blvd, downtown LA in the distance

Hollywood walk of fame, Mann's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood and Highland

It was cool to fly over the main tourist spot of Hollywood Blvd and be able to pick buildings that we had visited earlier. Being the focus of the tour, you get a nice slow circle of this area before heading over to Beverly Park (Beverly Hills, Bel Air and Hollywood hills are also covered) where hundreds of the most famous and disgustingly rich celebs are out admiring their gold plated shark tanks or are building a guest house for their guest house or simply tearing down the original house and building a new one – I’d probably do the same if it was previously occupied by one of the Kardashians.

Beverly Park

Beverly Park

Beverly Park

Overall it was an amazing experience (more so if you’ve never flown in a helicopter before) made even better by the very friendly and professional staff. Special thanks to Merlinda for making the booking and admin process a breeze.

If you’re reading this Merlinda, hoping you kept that (modest) tip for yourself! We all know those pilots already get paid too much 😉

Photo tip: if you’re quick on the lens changes, take a long lens to pick off sites on the horizon. Generally I would recommend a wide to mid-range zoom to capture the vastness as well as zooming in on some of the luxury homes, cool movie back lots and landmarks.

Los Angeles 2011 part #1 – Arrival, Melrose Trading Post
Los Angeles 2011 part #2 – West Hollywood shopping, Mulholland Drive
Los Angeles 2011 part #3 – Downtown shopping – Fashion District
Los Angeles 2011 part #4 – Downtown shopping – Japantown
Los Angeles 2011 part #5 – Steel Panther @ The House of Blues 17/5/11
Los Angeles 2011 part #6 – Hollywood sign, Farmer’s Market
Los Angeles 2011 part #7 – Peterson Automotive Museum
Los Angeles 2011 part #8 – Greater LA area shopping
Los Angeles 2011 part #9 – Hollywood sight seeing with Orbic Air
Los Angeles 2011 part #10 – Driving in Los Angeles/California

Complete Los Angeles 2011 photo gallery here

Melrose Av West Hollywood +cliche' cop car

After a day stopover in Ueno, Tokyo we were on our way to Los Angeles. Crossing the International Date Line meant it was going to be the longest Saturday ever, even longer than that 3 day bender in college where I was down to drinking Vodka and cordial dregs from the night before by the end of it… but that’s another story.

It’s true what they say, “nobody walks in LA”. Simply because everything is so far apart… and to add to it, the public transport is pretty rubbish for a major city. So your best bet if you’re staying longer than a 2-3 days is to hire a car. Being the USA this can be quite cheap but remember you will need to find and pay for parking.

Since we were only there for 3 days we opted to skip the car and go with the alternatives. Coming from the airport, the easiest and quite reasonable option for door to door is to use Super Shuttle, a private shuttle bus company at pretty much every major city in the States. They’re easy to spot as you leave the terminal, big blue vans with bright yellow writing. You can just go to the stop and wait for one or pre-book, save a few bucks and guarantee yourself a seat, roughly $20-25US. Note that you will more than likely be sharing with other passengers over several pickup and drop off points so the journey can take some time. We also noticed there can be a lack of order/priority at times between the driver and the representative at the pickup point, pretty much whoever yelled/nagged or was stubborn the most got their way!

If you’re on a tight budget then your only real option is to catch a bus which may not be feasible if you have to make 3 transfers and still have to hike it with all your luggage. The up side is it’s a fraction of the cost (round $5US) and you don’t need to tip the driver.

After circling LAX 3 times with a full van load we hit the motorway along with LA’s oblivious sloth-like drivers. A bit over an hour later we were at our hotel, the modestly luxurious Double Trees in Santa Monica. 4 star/3 diamond rated, short 10min walk to the beach, 15min to the pier and definitely one of the better priced hotels for the location. The big warm chocolate chip cookie on arrive was a nice touch :) Room size was more than adequate, large lounge area with kitchen space and large bedroom. Not to mention it was so good to have a shower after wearing the same clothes for more than 56hours!

I wrote a more detailed review on Tripadvisor, complete with a whinge about housekeeping taking our shoe boxes!

West Hollywood

We only really had one major day for shopping in LA so we wanted to make it count. While downtown has it perks you really cant go past the one stop shop, that is West Hollywood. If you want strictly high end designer gear than you’ll wanna keep going till you hit Hollywood for some Rodeo Drive action, otherwise this is a great place to start for modern streetwear, quirky vintage, good selection of sneakers and a generous serving of everybody’s favourite retail dish, sales!

First stop is Melrose Ave. complete with “Melrose place” (the street, which looks nothing like the show and no one actually comes back to life after they die (if only it was the same for the show)). This stretch of 10-15 blocks is great for a day, or even a half day power play shop-over.

We started down the western end at Burton/Analog. Plenty of ski, surf and skate wear, relaxed staff and even their pet dog lounging next to the counter. A little further along is Fred Segal, kind of like “Country Road” meets Roger David and Cue, mostly noted for its vine covered building and in store toilet (a godsend since there’s no public toilets that we could see till you hit La Brea Ave more than 1km away!)

Heading east you’ll hit Bape, Adidas Originals and then a little cluster of the coolest group of shops you’ll ever come across. Kidrobot, Tokidoki and Loyal army covers the Japanese inspired art, vinyl collectibles and apparel so cute you’ll leave with sore thumbs from pinching the cheeks of everything there!

Loyal Army and Kidrobot on Melrose Av

Paul Frank continues this theme with their large store. They had quite a few items on sale but on the day we were there they were also handing out scratch-it coupons where you received a mystery %-off discount. The shopping gods smile upon us that day as we scored 40% off. If we didn’t have to try and get it home, the beach cruiser bicycle would be sitting in my garage right now!

The last shop of mention in this group is one of our favourites, Johnny Cupcakes. For those that don’t know, no, unfortunately they don’t actually sell cupcakes, but they do sell cupcake related clothing and accessories in a less cutsie and more So-Cal rock kinda way and the store is set up like a 50’s bakery!

Retro ovens, display cases, fridges and even a black and white checkered floor. Most of the items are in the fridges and a café pastry style display case. Not only that Mr. Cupcake, Johnny Earle himself is quite the entrepreneur and only too happy to share his knowledge on his blog and tours business seminars to uni students and work expos. The designs range from baseball and sport themes to their classic cupcake and bones logo, all in a variety of bold and vibrant colours. What makes the designs special is they are all limited, once the batch has sold out that is it forever. Definitely one way to not be another General Universal Pants clone.

Johnny Cupcakes on Melrose Av

A couple blocks along Melrose, you’ll hit North Fairfax Av. With Flightclub LA and Supreme. Flightclub has a feel of a Hong Kong or Tokyo shoe store. 2 large walls from floor to ceiling of shrink wrapped sneakers, very impressive. They also deal in pre owned items like K-Skit but don’t opening advertise it as such, so if you’re after brand new, you might want to check first. Either way, you’re in for some bargains and maybe some rare finds. The selection is predominant Nike and Jordans with a scattering of other brands, a small rack of tees and a selection of G-Shock watches and New Era caps. I picked up 2009 Nike SB Greenbay Packers for $60US, which are more than double that to buy locally at $160AU rrp and 2009 Nike AF-1 Armed Forces Ltd Ed. for $70US.

Most of the sizes are on display but don’t hesitate to check with them, just in case

Flightclub LA

Further down Fairfax is Supreme if you have a penchant for the more designer stuff or love muppets apparel 😉

If you’re still feenin’ for sneakers, back on Melrose is Sportie LA, which is divided up into 3 separate stores, new footwear, new apparel and preowned. The new footwear store is one of the few places that focus less on Nike, in fact they don’t even have a brand listing on their site, instead they opt for Converse, Adidas, Vans, Asics, Supra and even LA Gear. Though if you’re looking for some rarities or a bargain or just something a bit different than the norm, the preowned store is the one to scope out. There are some items that have clearly been on display forever and are subsequently “shop soiled” and dusty (no shrink wrapping), but the majority of the stock is in good/mint condition. Further in to the store is all new stock, with plenty of boots and dressier shoes for the ladies.

Stay tuned for part #2 when we continue to cruise down Melrose, up La Brea to Hollywood Blvd.

Los Angeles holiday photos here

Los Angeles part #1 – West Hollywood
Los Angeles part #2 – West Hollywood(pt 2)
Los Angeles part #3 – Santa Monica and Venice Beach Shopping
Los Angeles part #4 – Santa Monica and Venice Beach Sightseeing