Monday, February 24, 2014

It's Official

After may be a lifetime of planning and suggesting and wishing, I've finally locked in the biggest adventure opportunity of my entire life.

Four and a half months. Europe. Asia. I'm not sure where else yet.

But now that I've finally booked and (mostly) paid, I'm kind of terrified.

Don't misunderstand and think for a moment that I regret my decision at all, but this is the biggest adventure I've ever undertaken and by far the longest time I will have been away from home or my family and friends. So I'm a little afraid, but I promise it's nothing a little extra planning won't fix.

But so far, here's the sitch:

May - June - Topdeck tour around Europe.

July - ?

August - ?

September - Cruising from Singapore through Asia back to Perth.

The question marks mean I haven't made up my mind yet on what I'm doing but seriously - think of the opportunities! It's the time to work abroad and volunteer in digs across Europe, finally see the rest of Britain and Ireland, go to Russia!

File:Aladdin-Bposter.pngI stay awake at night thinking about what to do, or good lord what to pack - it's really not that weird, I've never been to Europe in the warmer months so I really have no experience with that kind of clothing. Not to mention what kind of supplies I'm going to need for that long a trip! My head spins with possibilities and potentials.

Not to mention that my US ESTA is still valid so it's a possibility that I make it back there as well since my cousin will be there in July and Aladdin is opening on Broadway later in the week - just think about it.

There is really no limit except for money - that old thing. But I'm not worried about that and I know as soon as I leave I'm going to live like it's the end of the world, and that it's all going to be just fine.

I'll go and I'll have the time of my life. There will be time to get a job or go back to uni or whatever I fancy later; I'm only young and this is something I've wanted for so long. There's just so much of the world out there to see still and I can't believe for a moment that just staying, waiting and maybe getting a job to join the Rat Race is the best idea for myself right now. I need to have an adventure, roam and wander and find something that I'm looking for, think about where to go next - literally and figuratively. That's the life for me.

I'm not saying this to be boastful or make anyone envious, I'm just trying to share my excitement and how I feel. My intention is not to be negative at all, just to share. And what a thing to share, in my opinion, even if it's not the experience itself and only the plans.

So whilst I might be afraid, at the same time I'm not worried. I'm going to have an amazing time and when it's over I'll make things right by choosing a new path to a different success. Life is too short to always play by the rules or play it safe, to never take risks or dive in when you might be afraid. It's too colourful to never sing, or to travel, and what's money if not to be used for the purpose of enjoying it? This is the the opportunity that I've waited years for, and I promise you I am going to enjoy every single moment of it.

Just watch me. 

Sam xox

Friday, February 21, 2014

Gender Politics On and Off the Screen

The interplay between men and women has been the subject and catalyst for comedy and dramatic effect since the dawn of time. The Greeks used it in theatre, history is dotted with it, opera sang about it (usually very high pitched and mostly in Italian), and film has polished it for more than a century. I'll be the first to admit that I am a big patron of it - romance would not exist the way it does today without it, especially not the genre of the rom-com or the bittersweet love story; but that doesn't make it always ok. 

This post is going to probably be a little insufferable to begin with, because what I mostly want to talk about is the negative side to gender politics and how it comes across on screen sometimes. The major issues I mean are connotations, defamation, stereotyping and rape - which all of course happen off-screen as well. Obviously there are also a lot of pros too, but I'll get to those later. 

Connotations are the things that we align with other things; images, ideas or beliefs that we associate with something else and what it means. For example, negative connotations of priests might be rigidity in relation to things like sex, homosexuality and abortion - not that it's entirely true, just that portrayals can lead to people later having those associations. Negative connotations of female behaviour is one thing that bothers me more than it should on screen. Things like being hopelessly whiny about love and romance, being openly sexually adventurous (which I reiterate are NOT bad things) that can often get a little twisted somewhere between being portrayed on the screen and people interpreting them. 

The problem with this is then that both men and women get the wrong idea about each other and how they're supposed to interact with each other, and we then lead into things like stereotyping. Odds are every movie you've ever seen contains at least one stereotype - they're everywhere. They're often comedic, sometimes inappropriate and occasionally offensive, but what makes stereotypes either positive, neutral or negative is the connotations that they have. 

Take Carrie Bradshaw, for example. Most western women probably know who she is and are familiar with what she's like; she's needy, sexually adventurous, an aspiring almost bohemian fashionista of a journalist living in a modern day New York City. Whilst some aspects are pretty specific, the stereotype of a young professional woman looking for love in the big city isn't a new one even if the show was a frontier in sexcapades on network television. And although Carrie isn't really a bad person, you shouldn't ever want to aspire to be her - she may be a new prototype in sexually open women, with some feminist qualities, but if you really pay attention to a lot of what she does she is truly a negative stereotype. All Carrie does is whine about love and being desperate to find it, and eventually does, but not before seasons of misadventure and inappropriate behaviour like stalking, snooping, screaming and cheating have all been accomplished. Don't get me wrong - the show does raise a lot interesting topics, can be educational and does right by bringing some issues surrounding sex to the public forum, but the stronger, more pro-feminist characters like Miranda and Samantha do not carry on in the manner that Carrie does. It's just a frustrating contradiction to have a character insist on being happy and single, whilst spending considerable time and effort in the active pursuit of a man. That is how negative stereotypes about women not being able to function as well as men are perpetrated, when women are so often characterised as needing completion in the form of a man instead of functioning on all cylinders regardless. 

Cinderella, too, is a much older and far more widespread and translatable example of this negative female stereotyping. Maybe even a perfect example - and in so many ways. She is a young, beautiful woman who cooks, cleans, makes house and dreams of being somewhere else only to be rescued by a handsome prince. Since the first accounts of the fairytale - long before the brothers Grimm showed up - Cinderella was always this domicile of an 'ideal woman' which when you consider the time period and the way that men liked their women best kind of makes sense, even if feminists clench their teeth about it now. By today's standards we, women particularly, tend to think that this isn't what we want to be, what we want our daughters to be, or what we want men to expect of us. We make a big deal now about teaching younger generations to get out there and be successful, to break away from the old woman in the kitchen ideal and to be man's equal. We teach each other that times have changed, that women have the right and the opportunity now (well, at least in the western world), and that we are very staunchly NOT Cinderellas. 

You can even see the change over the years in the characterisation of Disney Princesses from Snow White to Merida, and now Anna and Elsa. Tiana in particular teaches the value of working hard to make your own dreams come true, not by sitting around and just waiting for them (or a prince) to come along and save you. 

And to the men out there? Telling us to make you a sandwich or to iron something was funny in the 1980's, and sometimes it still is when it's very obviously supposed to be a satire - but god help the few of you that ever say it for real. We don't like it and it's particularly defamatory to us, not to mention belittling and stereotyping. And defamation can be a pretty serious thing, especially when used as a power play to make others seem weaker or more vulnerable. 

An example can be seen in the film Wolf Creek, in which two young women and a young man enter the bar in which a group of very seedy middle-aged men are hanging out in and make some lascivious jokes at the expense of the women. Whilst you remember watching it that it's just a movie and those guys probably aren't actually massive dicks in real life, the bar room heckling scene is a pretty common one especially in the place in which the film is set in Australia. And there isn't anything about what the men actually say that is ok - quite the contrary. 

Unlike Cinderella, this isn't something you can even blame on the times so much as just a regionalisation of people thinking they are above change. The film is set in 1999, not long ago and not long enough ago that women had no rights or were treated second rate, but you can't just blame the remote locals either for catalysing some men just acting like complete buffoons (or women, it's less common or open, but it happens). But it is something in particular that bothers me - on and off the screen because in neither forum is it ok. And trust me - two years in the mines is a great place to pick up on how much you really don't want to hear that kind of talk. 

But the thing that bothers me the absolute most about the gender relationships between men and women is the subject of rape. I can deal with watching gory movies, slasher flicks, war films, thrillers, ghosts, nitty gritty hard life stuff and tragedies so long as they don't contain two elements: animal cruelty or rape. The second an animal is killed purposefully on screen or a character (usually female but not always) is raped, I see red. Rape is a very serious issue in society, and I think that too many people take it lightly. Having been raped is a very serious thing and I have heard people mention it flippantly before, like it was cool. And then there's the rape jokes - never have rape jokes been ok, so why do people make them? Saying something to someone like 'you're going to get raped' isn't funny and this bizarre and disconcerting desensitisation to it as an issue is causing more issues in the long run for society, which is why it probably needs to be addressed in a better way both on and off the screen. 

One way that I do, vigilante heart that I am, think rape is well tackled is in a film called the Last House On the Left. Now, I had a hell of a lot of trouble getting through this film because it contained a very graphic rape scene, which always bother me and keep me up at night, but the main plot of the film revolved around the parents of a rape victim taking bloody revenge on their daughter's attacker. It definitely brings out the primal side of me, but I think that that is fair justice and I'll tell you why: a very big part of rape is power play. The nature of equality between men and women is interwoven with the shifting patterns of power play - if someone is not given power, they are not treated as equal and the act of rape tears power from the victim. Historically, rape would be justified by invading forces reaffirming their superiority; men over women, white over black, Viking over Saxon, Roman over Sabine - the list goes on. Not to say that rape has ever been ok, just like slavery, but those responsible would find a way to justify their actions based on the level of power the opposition holds in a situation. Power is everything to some, and necessary to most. It's also why we have so many issues now with being purposefully politically correct, in order to return power to minorities. To rape, to forcibly take power from another person, is akin to committing an unforgivable curse - and so it is unforgivable! And that's even before we get into the physical damage the act can cause both men and women. 

When I see a rape scene or similar I always imagine a masked avenger, a very strong kind of assassin woman (like the main character of TIME, the details of which will be at the bottom of the page amongst those for all my works), slipping in to quietly execute the rapist. Also when I watch things about Hitler, like the Book Thief. I have a very active imagination. 

I know that I've spoken predominately about women, but I admit that's my field of knowledge more so than men are - I admit I don't know anywhere near as much about men as I do about women, so I'm just writing about what I do know and what I think. By no means do I think that women deserve more rights or are portrayed worse on screen then men because negative connotations and stereotyping occur in both sexes. It's probably a great deal to do with why we just can't seem to understand each other no matter how hard we try, and why we always seem to be going around with the wrong impression of each other. 

Now, I know that my opinions are just that - my own - and no one has to agree with everything that I've said because it is after all a bit of a rant. But I am interested in hearing some alternatives if you have them, or even just other points that I haven't made. I only mention it because I am bothered right now and I wrote about it to get it off my chest. I hope I didn't offend anyone, and I know there is a lot more I did leave out but because I wanted to focus on a few major issues which I did. But again, I am more than interested to hear alternative opinions if anyone wants to share them. 

Ok, rant over for now. 

Sam xox

Twisted

As I mentioned last night when I was trolling YouTube, I discovered something rather amazing: Twisted.



You can probably tell from the title, that it is somewhat of a parody of Wicked, the Untold Story of the Wicked Witch of the West or rather continuing in the same vein as a recent trend to retell famous stories from the point of view of the villain. Wicked is the most obvious example of this, but don't forget about the upcoming film Maleficent starring Angelina Jolie about Disney's first lady of villainy. I can't help but wonder who's going to be next.

If the lamp and the words 'Grand Vizier' don't give it away already, Twisted is based on an alternative retelling of Disney's Aladdin starring non other then the ever awesome and super creepy Jafar. Remember him from your childhood? He was the guy with the cobra staff and parrot who decided to try to ruin everyone's lives, make Jasmine marry him, take over the kingdom of Agrabah, steal the Genie from Aladdin and then turned into the giant snake at the end to literally try to eat Aladdin. He may have been turned into a genie himself and confined to a life of servitude at the end only to make a creepy comeback in Return of Jafar (and get defeated again), but one thing Jafar never manages to be is repentant or swayed. He is an old school villain like his predecessors (circa Ursula, Maleficent, Cruella de Vil and the Evil Queen) who basically does not give a crap so long as he gets his way, depressing backstory or circumstances be damned.

But in keeping with the new tradition of Disney villains with more hidden insidious natures and sob story motives, this new take on Jafar is a refreshing parallel to the original. Just like we decided Elphaba was actually just royally misunderstood and we shouldn't judge her too harshly for locking up Dorothy and Toto, Twisted gives Jafar that touch of conscience and heart we didn't know he head. He's even the super nice guy that everyone blames for no apparent reason - well, except that he's a leading politician in a kingdom gone to hell.

Twisted premièred on YouTube, according to sources, in November 2013 (not too bad since that was only a little while ago and I only just discovered it). Produced by the very same StarKid Productions (Team StarKid) responsible for the amazing A Very Potter Musical and A Very Potter Sequel (and the start-up career of Darren Criss AKA Blaine Anderson), I expected some great things.

I wasn't disappointed.

You can really hand it to Team StarKid to take something like Disney and twist it to some pretty inappropriate hilarity. From turning Aladdin into a sort of careless master criminal kleptomaniac, to a parody of the Belle song from Beauty and the Beast you are left without any doubt that Team StarKid really did their research for the show. If you're a Disney fan you'll appreciate the adult Twisted humour for what it is, but don't fool yourself into expecting some Indina Menzel masterpiece with grandeur that reminds you to believe. Nope, it's a satirical look at Disney and other fairytales whilst reminding us again that whilst singing, dancing, believing and sighing is all well and good - it's moot if you don't put some effort in to making your own dreams come true.

Just ask Princess Jasmine.

With a score of some pretty catchy songs, more than a couple based on the tunes of some of Disney's biggest musical hits (try Part of Your World, Bare Necessities, Belle and One Jump Ahead), the musical does raise a pretty powerful point: that there is more than one side to a story and that they may be an alternative explanation for what you think you already know. And even if it isn't the main objective of the musical, Jafar's desperation to remain optimistic in the face of adversity and outright antagonism reminds us to keep trying.

And no musical would even be complete without a little love.

Twisted is a humorous step outside the norm with hat tipping to all your favourite Disney films, kind of like Austin Powers does to James Bond. It's hilarious, romantic, clever, catchy and somewhat optimistic. It is a fresh take on an old favourite and offers more than one alternative to a story we thought we knew. Plus some fun extras from the original Arabian Nights with a very special appearance from the one and only Scheherazade.

And at the end of the day you won't help but feel kind of bad for Jafar - even if he did go crazy in the end.

Like most things, I recommend Twisted. It's entertaining as all hell and something I'm sure even Walt himself would have appreciated. Well, so long as it wasn't played until after Disneyland was closed for the day.

If you're interested, you can find it here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-77cUxba-aA

Is anyone else feeling like they want to go watch Aladdin again?

Sam xox

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Shrek: the Musical!

At the end of 2012 I discovered that everyone's favourite loveable green ogre had been adapted to Broadway (a few years earlier, but still). And so, realising the production had made it to London where I'd soon be heading myself, I decided to check it out.

And loved it.

If you're a fan of the movie franchise or just musicals in general, then I garuntee that you will love this show just like I did. It's funny, naughty, romantic and touching with a score of catchy songs and wonderful performances that will surely make your evening.

The show expands on the effects Fiona's imprisonment has on her mental health, Shrek's back story and gives the fairytale characters a real chance to shine through that the films don't and all whilst busting out into song. With some of my favourite scores encapsulating some pretty comedic and heart-wrenching moments, you can probably tell that this was one show I was more than eager (ogre?) to take on. And when I finally made it to the West End performance I was not disappointed - except for that some of the songs, including two of my favourites Don't Let Me Go and Build a Wall, had been omitted and the show virtually redirected. But that aside, the West End production had me laughing my head off and crying like the biggest sap in the front row into my packet of Percy Pigs.

But since that was over a year and a bit ago, why do I mention it?

Well, whilst trolling through YouTube watching bloopers from The Tudors, I discovered something amazing: a few weeks ago somebody put the entirety of the professionally filmed version of the show with the original Broadway cast onto the site. As if I was seriously going to miss an opportunity to watch the uncut version of the show the way it was originally performed with all my favourite songs put back in, right? Hence why at almost 1am I am buckling down to watch a musical.

You can find the show here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lmmZ_URZPEE

I'll leave it to you to decide whether you want to watch it or not, but I do recommend it. Though keep in mind it's not meant to be serious - just a bit of fancy free frivolity and humour with some romance and a couple really deep moments. Bryan Darcy James and Sutton Foster will make you both laugh and cry as Shrek and Fiona, and Christopher Sieber steals the show with his bawdy Lord Faarquad. So if you've got a few hours and you're in for a little bit of fun, give it a go.

You can also use the link to get you to an interesting new lead called Twisted: The Untold Tale of A Royal Vizier - but I'll get to that one later.

Stay Tuned.

Sam xox

Don't be afraid to go at it alone

I wonder sometimes just how fundamentally different my life would be if I was a normal human being.

Normal people, so I'm told, don't go to things like shows, movies, concerts, musicals or comedy festivals on their own. They don't decide to go abroad for X amount of time alone, they don't go out for dinner alone, they don't get drunk on their own, they don't go to theme parks alone or ghost tours by themselves.

And I suppose by those standards then I must really be a weirdo.

But I am inclined to disagree.

Going at it alone is brave - even if I say so myself. I don't mean to be arrogant, or superficial, and this post is not trying to make myself look better than I am or to take a stab at anyone in general or particular. No, this is rather just a reaffirmation that the world is changing - it's changed already. But there is still so much of it out there to see and adventures to be had.

Life will pass the people by who never take their chances, even if they have to go it alone.

And I've said it a thousand times; alone does not equal lonely.

Sure, there is still plenty to be said about the fun of going to things and having experiences with friends and family around you, but when someone isn't around to go with you then you shouldn't let it debilitate you.

I understand that not everyone is inclined to agree - no one has to - but coming from the standpoint of the adventurous, impatient, dreamer type of person that I am it's nigh impossible for me to always have to wait for someone else to come along with me for the ride.

I'm a free spirit, and patience is not a virtue that I have. Besides, if I always waited for someone else to come along and hold my hand - I'd be waiting forever.

Time for a jaunt - now that I'm unemployed and free - for a few months of more.

Heart don't fail me now, courage don't desert me...

I never said that taking risks and branching out on my own wasn't scary. I'm brave, but not even I can always laugh in the face of danger.

Sam xox

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Author

There's something to be said about envy. We've all felt it in varying shades and to varying degrees, but it is one of the original sins.

Not to say that I condemn it, because I feel it all the time particularly when I talk to people who've travelled more than me. But I suppose you could say that at one level, envy is the topic of conversation today.

I want to be an author - I have for so long, and so badly, that watching an online Q&A featuring one of my favourite authors makes me feel suddenly restless. Listening to her speak about how she writes makes me torn; I can't decide whether I'm more envious or more inspired to crack back down to work when I haven't lifted a finger to my work since the end of NaNo last year. It seems super lazy, but when you factor in being away for 5 weeks and Christmas craziness before that, it's really not as bad as it seems. Though it is still kind of bad, and I feel bad just like I should.


So on the one hand I'm very envious. Sherrilyn Kenyon is a fantastic author - in the past 15 years she's pumped out almost 50 books and very firmly entrenched herself into pop culture, history and my own life. Her work has helped to catalyst the solidification of some of my friendships and her stories have born ideas for adventures that I have both already taken and still planned for the future. I never would have made it to New Orleans without her and her all-too-amazing Dark Hunter series that I recommend you check out if you haven't before.

But I have to still say I am envious, and depending it may or may not be for the reason that you think. It's not the money, for one thing - though you can definitely say that by now Sherri is successful. It's not the best-seller list she practically lives at, or even the movie and television show deals she's landed. Though I'd be lying if I didn't admit I think all those things are really cool. No; It's the fan girl that she is.

For all the fan girls that Sherri does actually have (and boys) and all the cosplay, exitement, comic-con and dragi-con and all that, no one is more excited about Sherri's books and characters than Sherri herself. And I think that that is the most admirable thing ever. Even after almost two decades, she is still so dedicated and excited about her work. For an author, that's pretty amazing. She kind of reminds me of me - without the money, the movie deals or the cult following, because I get so excited about what I'm writing that I will absorb myself into the story for days - just like Sherri! I wouldn't leave the house if not for having to do things, and I would definitely pray to whoever'd listen to live the author life that Sherri does. Sitting around listening to music, drinking tea, making my stories come to life? Um, yes!

I can't promise myself I'll be as famous or as well-loved or talented or downright awesome as Sherrilyn Kenyon is someday, but it won't be from lack of trying. It won't be because I'm not passionate, or because I don't care, or because I didn't give it my all. I may be envious now, but I am definitely going to do something about it.

But where to start?

NaNo saw me continuing the first book of Eleanor Price's Underland series, and her trip down the Rabbit Hole to begin her adventure, but heaven knows Daphne isn't ready to be quiet yet. And Allora will never be forgotten when her story is still yet to be written and shared with the world.

There's no real answer to that question except to say that it doesn't matter so much as long as I start somewhere. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Travel Bug

Firstly, sorry that it's been so long since my last ramble. I will admit that it's probably seemed slack on my part, however I suppose I was just so overloaded with doing something everyday and writing all about it in my journal.

Let me tell you, that journal is stuffed cover to cover.

So let me share some highlights of the trip with you;

London

Do you really need me to say it? There is no place like London. Not to me - no matter how many times I go, the feeling of just stepping out of Heathrow and onto the Tube is like a big exhale and release. It's so nice to be there every time and I'm content with just sitting at a coffee shop, reading my book and soaking up the atmosphere. The layer upon layers of history and stories and ghost stories and legend are all so real just walking through the streets that I can barely even keep it together or the smile off my face when I'm around. You'd be doing well to get as excited by just walking through Covent Garden as I am.

But I'd have to say the highlight of London this time for me was probably finally getting to do the Jack the Ripper walking tour I'd always wanted to do. I got to track back through under the Roman wall and into Whitechapel, retracing through what was left of the original murder scenes after the WWII Blitz. (Yeah, thanks Hitler. Dick.) The only location left in a relative similar state was Mitre Square, and for anyone who's seen the show Whitechapel with Rupert Penry Jones will recognise it  as one of the more action packed sequences. But not only was the tour very informative and simply exciting, but I learnt a lot more I didn't know like about theories surrounding who the Ripper was, and that the Ten Bells (the pub many of the victims used to drink in, as seen in From Hell) actually still stands in the same place and serves alcohol. Additionally, I was surprised to note that no plaques or information was around the locations to commemorate the murders. But the reason for that, government decided, was that no matter how famous the murders and the speculation Jack the Ripper was still a serial killer, and serial killer's don't get public commemoration. Good point, London.

Universal Studios, Hollywood


Anyone who's ever been to Hollywood will know that it very much lacks the glam and glitz that Entertainment Weekly and all seem to portray that it does. It wasn't my first time LA (3rd) and it probably won't be my last either, but I still enjoyed it all the same. My goal was even to make it out of Hollywood, and I did, but when you extract the movie element from the City of Angels you're not left with too much else to work with. Contrary to popular belief, LA is kind of a dump; it's a big, spread out city with a lot of run down and ill kept areas, terrible public transport and not much going for it in the history sense. Which is odd when you consider that Zorro was set in Southern California and there's a big Spanish Influence. Though that in mind, the La Brea Tar Pits were definitely worth seeing if you're at all interested in prehistory (like I am) or simply excited by large Sabre Tooth tigers and mammoths.

But like I said the best part of Hollywood is without a doubt all the glam and glitz of the film industry...which is a little less glammy in person than you probably think. Armed with nothing but time and opportunity, I attacked Hollywood with a vengeance and managed to do tours of all three major film studios available to the public, including Warner Brothers, Paramount and Universal. Whilst Warner Brothers was excellent (Friends couch, anyone?) Paramount was perhaps the better of the private tours, with a very in depth excursion offered through the sets, backlots and sound stages of the studio. Now, I didn't see a celebrity - I've never seen one in America to date - but I did get to see the sets and props for quite a few movies and tv shows that I like including Harry Potter, Friends, Glee, American Horror Story and Ellen. Though when I whittle down to my upmost favourite studio tour, I can't get past the epic awesome that is Universal Studios. Unlike the first two, Universal is a theme park along side the backlot and sound stages with an awesome selection of rides like Jurassic Park and the Mummy, exciting shows like the Animal Actors, Shrek 4D and the Special Effects show, and then everything in between. Perhaps one of my best moments was watching Beetlejuice strut around and rummage through the garbage can nearby - fans of the Tim Burton classic will understand - and attempting to eat the mother of all turkey legs. Best day ever.

San Diego


Whilst not originally one of the stops I'd planned to make in America this time, I'm glad that I made it down to San Diego. Whilst LA was spread out, dirty and kind of miserable, San Diego was picturesque and gorgeous and not even because it was less than an hour from Tijuana, Mexico. If you're looking for a chilled atmosphere, great Mexican food (without actually being in Mexico), and some awesome animal fun, then I definitely recommend it and Downtown sure knows how to make it easy for you to get around.

I went with the purpose of hitting up Sea World, and whilst I'm glad I did, Shamu's antics weren't nearly as exciting as I thought they'd be. The real stars of Sea World should have been the Sea Lions and Otter show because hot damn was that the cutest thing ever - I'd definitely go again just to see them. Also, feeding Sea Lions is an experience everyone should have. But despite the awesomeness of the fat-blubbery Sea Lions, San Diego Zoo was a much more exciting place to be. When I ignore the fact that I hiked a few miles from downtown (uphill) to get there, it was a much more enjoyable time than Sea World purely for the fact that it was probably the best zoo ever and filled with the most amazing animals. The black jaguar was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen in my life and I probably could have just watched it for hours. They are truly the most underrated of all creatures.

San Francisco


I have never managed to spend enough time in the City of Cable Cars. I spent longer there by a couple days this time than I did in 2011, but it was no where near enough time to see and do everything that I wanted to. And I say this after having walked over 10 miles around the bay city once again in the fruitless attempt to find the Walt Disney museum. There has got to be a better way to find that place - it's like trying to get to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Rather than any particular place in San Francisco being my favourite (although Alcatraz was pretty amazing) I would have to say the entire city itself was a highlight for me. It was just nice - it was a big city, with a heavy animal culture, nice weather, and a much nicer culture than LA. And then there's a rich history there in Alcatraz and in the bay, the Sea Lions at Pier 39 (who you can hear all the way to Coit tower). I don't want to carry on with all the reasons why, but in so many ways San Francisco may be my favourite city in the United States - I just like it.

Salem


I was a little trepidatious to get to Boston initially since I knew the weather was going to be so cold, particularly since right before then the polar vortex had rampaged through America and left a lot of places in the north and mid-west snowed over with temperatures as low as -30. I was not looking forward to that, but luckily for me by the time my sojourn to Massachusetts did come around, things had warmed up considerably. We were back to a happy -10 or so. I can deal with -10.

I didn't know how much I'd like Boston until I got there, and by that point it was already too late to extend my stay. But the main reason I went was purely to visit the old Puritan town of Salem, just a little south of Plymouth where the Mayflower landed in the 17th century - you know, back when people were miserable and Oliver Cromwell was burning down anything remotely fun (like Shakespeare's Globe). Those of you who have heard of Salem, however, will probably recognise it from a kind of major tragedy that occurred during the year 1692 and is internationally known as the Salem Witch Trials. During 1692, 19 people (and two dogs) were executed by hanging and 'pressing' at the behest of a small group of Puritan girls claiming to be possessed or bewitched by witchcraft. Now, it's more than likely that none of the accused were actually wtiches, and the last victim was officially declared innocent in 2001, but the tragedy goes down in history as a really scary example of mass hysteria and peer pressure. So, obviously, I wanted to go my entire life and even named my black cat Salem (also after the cat in the show Sabrina the Teenage Witch). And let me tell you, even though it was cold, frozen over, and some stuff was closed, it did not disappoint at all. I will definitely be back - hopefully for Halloween one year.

New Orleans


Have you ever been to perhaps the most haunted, tragic city in the world? I have, twice. But I still love it and want to go back for a third.

But New Orleans is definitely a wonderful place even before the sun sets everyday. As one of the oldest and continuously operating places in the entire United States, New Orleans has been the home of pirates, vampires, voodoo priestesses, colonials, southern belles, confederates, cajun and creole people and swinging jazz musicians since 1718. But as you can imagine it has had its fair share of horror and not even the stuff that Anne Rice wrote about. For one thing the French Quarter burned to the ground twice, thousands were felled during the yellow fever pandemic and we haven't even gotten within 100 years of Hurricane Katrina. As sensitive as I am to spirits and ghosts and whatever you want to call them, I had a really hard time being in the French Quarter on my own after dark - not because I didn't like it, I rather loved it, but because I was so scared and I felt it so much. I found myself drinking every night in order to relax a little, and with Bourbon street (the so-called Disneyland for adults) not too far away it was never hard to find a good, strong cocktail. (Side note: the French Quarter does not have laws against street drinking so long as you keep it in plastic - you can walk around with your drinks, like on voodoo, vampire and ghost tours...). One of the best parts was drinking in the oldest bar in the US - Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, since 1752 - which not only was haunted, used candles due to a lack of electrial wiring, and was one of the last remaining French buildings left in the Quarter but famous pirate Jean Lafitte and his friends used to drink there. Could that be any more awesome? Pair that with the tons of ghost, vampire and voodoo stories and information I learned from some of the greatest guides ever, and you have a pretty amazing time in New Orleans already. But one last thing: Beignets. Literally, heaven.

Disneyland


Everything is in that one word; it is my Mecca, and genuinely, in my opinion, the Happiest Place on Earth. Had I not needed to, I never would leave.

Anaheim, of all the Disneylands - and I have been to them all! - is probably my favourite. It is the original opened in 1955, and whilst Walt Disney World in Florida with its 4 parks is all kinds of awesome, there's something to definitely be said about the original. From the Indiana Jones ride, to the Little Mermaid and California Screamin'; from Space Mountain to Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion, every trip to Disneyland is a sure thing for a wicked good time. Need I even go on?

So, now that my amazing trip is over, I should mention that whilst I was away I was sadly informed that business had spiralled so badly of late that it was necessary for my job to be made redundant. And whilst I still loved my job I'm actually really glad because you know what this means: London.

There is no need to wait around and start to worry that I'm wasting any time because the time is here. I've actually already booked a tour through Europe for May, something I'm vastly excited for because (you know, apart from the fact that its in Europe) I get to be away for my birthday and for the first time travel somewhere during warmer months. I'm even planning to stay away, volunteer, do some archaeological digs, and travel for 4 months prior to meeting the rest of my family in Singapore to go on a cruise through Asia. But obviously I intend to work in the meantime and I've already been applying.

No matter the heebie jeebies I get, or concerns my family raises with my apparently 'rash' or unreasonable move to get out there, I'm not afraid. I know that this is what I want, I have and will have the means to do so, and that this is the best thing for me to do. I'm only 23, I've got all the time in the world, and it's not as if I haven't thought about it. I'll get another full-time job when I get back, though I've already applied (even in London), and things are going to be fine. I'm an adult and even if sometimes it doesn't seem like it - I do know what I'm doing.

I guess you could say the travel bug caught me, but the adventurous spirit has been inside me my whole life.


Sam xox