a.k.a. Lacey and Adam make their friends and family jealous :)

Knickers and Flippa do Australia and America

"Once the travel bug bites there is no known antidote, and I know that I shall be happily infected until the end of my life." - MICHAEL PALIN

Latest

Everything’s bigger in Texas (especially the conferences)

I signed up for South by Southwest (SXSW) on a whim in September 2011 when a number of awesome people I met at a conference in the Napa Valley mentioned they were going. I didn’t know much about SXSW, but I figured these guys and gals knew what they were talking about so I bought a Platinum pass, booked some flights and a hotel, and next thing I knew it was March and I was on my way to Texas!

I got in a few days early to visit some mates – the lovely Nikolai and Lindsey – in Houston. Apart from letting me play with their three Labradors all day (bliss!), they bettered their hosting performance last October which featured Saint Arnold’s brewery on a Saturday morning – tough to beat – by taking me to bingo and to eat the hugest, most delicious chocolate cake I’ve ever had. Everything really IS bigger in Texas. Thank goodness Uncle Daryl’s chocolate cake is only available at The Chocolate Bar in Houston and not in Australia, or I would be the size of a blimp!

Uncle Daryl’s chocolate cake – yes, that piece is bigger than Linds’ head!

We take our bingo seriously…

Thoroughly pampered, I bid Houston and my lovely hosts farewell on the Friday and headed to Austin, 3 hours drive away. The city was already in lock-down for the conference, and I was shocked to have to queue for 45 minutes to pick up my badge. Turns out I was lucky – if I’d arrived an hour later, I would have had a 3 hour wait to look forward to! Tip 1 for new players: pick up your badge on Thursday evening if possible, before the rush begins.

I’ll stop there with the SXSW event details (see my next post for my take on the best sessions, tips and traps for an SXSW first-timer to be aware of) but suffice to say that everyone is right: you cannot hope to attend all the sessions you want to. Even with perfect organization and programming, simple physics defies you to get to every session on time. I averaged 5 sessions a day during the interactive section and was knackered by the end of the week. Pace yourselves, people. It’s the only way to survive! That, and a solid breakfast…

Breakfast of champions!

Apart from having my mind blown several times at the conference, I did all the things one does in Austin when they’ve already gotten blind a few times on 6th Street: I ate at the famous Ironworks rib joint – needless to say it was the only meal I ate that day. I danced at Dallas nightclub… that is to say, I watched the beautiful Bethany dance while Chris and I got drunk. Of course, the highlight of the whole thing was catching up with some fantastic people I’d met in 2011 who either lived in Austin or were visiting for the conference. I even got to watch a couple of them speak at the conference (which they did brilliantly. Well done Gene Kim and Chad Mureta!)

The feast: Ironworks beef ribs with pecan pie and black beer

The aftermath. I waddled outta there…

Hanging out at Dallas Nightclub with Chris and Bethany

After nine seriously exhausting but incredibly rewarding conference days, I was ready for the long haul home. 12 months should be sufficient time to recover, so I’ll pencil in my return for next year’s SXSW.

Advertisements

SXSW 2012: Reflections from a First Timer

SXSW meant nothing to me a year ago. I decided to attend on a whim, based on what I heard about it from some rather fantastic people. Turns out it was an awesome decision, and one I would highly recommend.

For the First Timers: What the heck is SXSW?

South by Southwest (SXSW) is not just one conference: it’s three. There’s an interactive component which runs for the first five days and focuses on the wonderful world of technology and that interweb thingy. There’s a music component which runs for the last five days (overlapping with interactive for one day) and includes live performances and sessions for the music-industry inclined.  The film component runs for the full nine days and includes screenings and sessions for the film industry. There are parties galore and, as you would expect, quite a crowd.

It would not surprise me if eventually it got so big they had to split them up somehow. There’s a definite transition between Interactive (read: nerds) ending and Music (read: hipsters) beginning. Fitting into neither category turned out to be no hindrance at all. It was an amazing experience I hope to repeat annually. Below are my tips, traps and highlights from this year’s conference.

Top 3 Tips:

1. Plan (optimistically) one day out

I went with the old-fashioned manual method: highlighting the pocket guides the night before, picking 3 or 4 things in each timeslot that I was interested in. This can be challenging if you’re attending all the conference segments (Interactive, Music and Film) as there are three separate pocket guides, so I focused on Interactive first. Be prepared: you will miss sessions. Lots of them. And to the best of my knowledge they’re not being shared online after the conference (major fail, SXSW organisers!) so if you really, really wanna see something, go early. Also check whether you’ll need to go to different campuses – you’ll chew time waiting for buses. A friend imparted some great advice for a newbie: stick to the Conference Centre and you’re bound to see the good stuff.

2. Pick some sessions purely out of interest

Some of the best sessions were ones that had at best a loose connection with my purpose for attending. They were awesome BECAUSE I didn’t know anything – it’s amazing what’s happening in the world that you have no idea about, and you have no idea what you’re missing unless you check it out. This is an ideal opportunity to do it: you get a 30 to 60 min rundown (usually a concise one) and the chance to ask questions. Who knows – you might find a career change! I especially found the keynotes impressive – as they should be. It’s not every day you get to see Al Gore and Sean Parker have a chin-wag about the state of democracy and how Facebook could change politics in America…

3. Take advantage of the free consulting (a.k.a. Question Time)

One of the panel hosts used the term ‘free consulting’ for question time and man, were they right! The presenters are passionate about their topic. They love it when someone engages with them meaningfully, and will usually be willing to help you in depth over a beer that evening. Take advantage of this! Be one of the first people up in the queue for the microphone with a well-worded, meaningful question you’d normally have to pay good money to have answered. If you can’t get them there and then, they usually give out their contact details, so use them! Hit them up via email or phone with that burning, brilliant question you’ll think of 30 mins after the session finishes.

Top 3 Traps:

1. Interactive schedule = headline-writing competition

The electronic schedule shows the first 5 words on your iPhone, and the schedule on a computer requires three clicks to get to the detail in any meaningful way. You’re basically picking the good headline writers by default, unless you trawl through the phonebook-sized full guides or click every item on the electronic schedule. The good news is, if they’re creative enough to write a good title they just might be creative enough to craft an engaging presentation.

2. Looking at your iPhone ALL THE TIME

I can’t tell you how many crashes of the flesh and bone variety I observed because someone was walking and looking at their phone at the same time. If you did this more than once, you’re a douche-bag. Heads up, people (literally!) If you’ve got your attention on the device in your hand instead of around you, not only are you a safety hazard to some poor unsuspecting person operating under the premise that people generally watch where they’re going, you’ll miss out on running into friends, hasty acquaintances and presenters you really wanted to speak to. You may even get run over (saw a few near misses around 4th). As much as the conference is about technology, its premise is getting like-minded people in one spot so some magic can happen. Don’t miss out because you’ve got your head down.

3. Queuing for hours

The inevitable by-product of so many attendees and a multitude of interesting sessions is having to queue to get in. If you’re keen on a keynote with a huge queue, note that these are streamed to rooms at most of the campuses. So, if you don’t feel the need to ask a question and don’t mind missing a bit of the ambiance, try the on-screen version instead.

The conference centre crowd between sessions

2012 Highlights

Ah, so many choices! I was lucky enough to attend all three sections (Music, Film and Interactive). I’ve picked the top experience from each… and then included a laundry list of all the other awesome stuff at the end 🙂

SXSW 2012 Interactive Highlight: Frank Abagnale

Holy amazeballs. This was easily my conference highlight. Frank’s youth is the basis for the main character in the film ‘Catch Me If You Can’, and if you’ve seen the film you’ll have some idea of what an incredible person Frank is. He usually talks solely about internet security; this time he talked about his life: what was right/wrong in the film, his insights and his life since the events that led him to work for the FBI (he’s been there for 36 years, 26 years longer than he was obliged to based on his sentence). The talk had almost nothing to do with Interactive but it touched everyone. There were tears. Yes, from me too.

The biggest insight was his observation that life is in no way short – life is the longest thing you’ll ever do, and if you f*** up, you get to spend the rest of your life dealing with those regrets. He also said some stuff about being a real man which is less applicable to me, but boys: Frank reckons a real man loves his wife and family, and tells them he loves them every day, and demonstrates he loves them every day. A real man is loyal and faithful to his family and country. Sounds like he’s learned these lessons the hard way.

And he threw in some security advice right at the end (that alone was worth the conference). He recommends:

  • Shredding all paperwork with a micro-cut shredder, and only a micro-cut. Shreddings can be reassembled from any other type
  • Always using your credit card for purchases – this way you’re risking the bank’s money, not yours. Caveat: you must pay the credit card off without being charged interest – don’t use a credit card if you find yourself paying interest because you can’t afford what you buy with it
  • On Facebook (or any other public forum), do not list your birth date (even omitting the year), your place of birth, and don’t have a full-frontal photo for your profile pic. These three items get you 98% of someone’s identity.

SXSW 2012 Music Highlight: Showcases (specifically the Aussie BBQ)

This was a tough one – over the course of the week I saw Bruce Springsteen, Kimbra, Lucero, Julia Price and a number of other stellar performances. Showcases turned out to be the best as they allowed you to go to one place (i.e. only line up once) and see multiple acts. However lame it may be to pick my own country’s showcase, I thought the Aussie BBQ was the best for three reasons:

  • Lowrider – any band that can give such a brilliant performance at 11am deserves some kind of accolade. I bought their album immediately afterwards.
  • Lanie Lane – cheeky, catchy and lots of fun.
  • The meat pies – yep, the food was THAT good. Snags on rags were not the only Aussie staple, they also had ‘Boomerang’ pies that put ours to shame. Breakfast of champions…

The Lowrider boys!

Boomerang pies! Nom nom nom

SXSW 2012 Film Highlight: WE ARE NATION

I’m no internet geek, but I thought it was hilarious (they’ve clearly dumbed it down enough for the average lay-person… like me). And not only was it side-splittingly funny, it was remarkably poignant given the keynote later in the conference from Al Gore and Sean Parker about the role of technology in democracy. I won’t attempt to explain the plot here, but if you’re into documentaries and even vaguely interested in the potential impact the internet can have on our lives, you should check this out.

And the rest…

So many choices! Too many good ones not to mention them.

The Angel Investing panel – mainly because it included one of my heroes: Tim Ferriss.

Angel Investing panel led by Chase Jarvis

Anthony Bourdain and his crew talking with their usual wit about how they use technology to create an active fan base.

Anthony Bourdain and the No Reservations crew

Al Gore and Sean Parker talking about democracy and calling the internet geeks to action to ‘Occupy Democracy!’ We may have the difficult choice of Julia or Tony in Australia (for the Americans: they’re both basically d*cks) but at least we don’t have the American political system. Sheesh!

Occupy Democracy – Al Gore + Sean Parker

The Boss! I won one of the coveted 2,700 tickets to Bruce Springsteen’s show, which went for 5 hours including the opening acts (Low Anthem was particularly impressive) and included Tom Morello. Fantastic!

Bruce Springsteen – he’s still got it!

Julia Price. I bought her EP after the performance. Not just a pretty face! Incidentally, you ‘Mericans can catch her on BRAVO’s Miss Advised over the next 8 weeks. Check it out… and please tell me what it’s about – I don’t have that channel Down Under 😦

The beautiful and talented Julia Price

Dale Stephens and the Uncollege. This young man has gone out and potentially solved the problem of our archaic method of preparing people for life by sticking them in a classroom for 16+ years by developing an experience-based program. Can’t wait to hear how his pilot cadetship program goes.

Chad Mureta‘s book ‘App Empire’. I bought it because I met him last year and he’s an incredible guy, but it turns out he also writes well and about a very interesting topic. Definitely worth reading!

The Filipich Wedding Extravaganza

When Adam proposed in Colorado on June 5th, he wanted to get married on 11/11/11 for no better reason that it’s a cool date. Sounded great to me. We’d been together 6 years, why wait? And 11/11/11 is surely going to be a hard date to forget. As it turned out, it was an excellent idea because Parkinson’s Law applies equally to weddings as any other activity: planning and executing one will take as long as the time you allow for it. In our case, it took very little of our time because we basically delegated the whole thing to my mother, Fran (thanks Mum!)

And of course, we didn’t have just ONE big event. Why have a wedding day when you could have a wedding month? Being bi-coastal has it’s advantages, such as a legitimate reason to have two parties to celebrate a wedding. We also wanted to separate the ceremony from the parties – at most weddings we’ve been to, the bride and/or groom look exhausted by 10pm. So, that made it THREE events – the wedding (11 Nov), the Brisbane party (19 Nov) and the Perth party (26 Nov) – a wedding extravaganza!

Since only three people were at all three events (us and my Mum), we’ve put together this post with the whole story…

THE WEDDING

We opted to make the ceremony and reception a very small event: immediate family only, just fourteen people in all, including us. I’m sure this was a great relief to my mother, who had to plan the whole thing. It certainly helped us get organised too – turns out 11/11/11 was the most popular date to get married in 2011! Because the group was so small, everyone was able to stay in the same hotel as the reception, we could all use the one limo, no one got lost, no one was late (except the celebrant – no biggie) and, best of all, Adam and I could totally relax. The photographer told me I was ‘the most chilled out bride’ he’s ever seen – I take that as a compliment.

THE BRIDE'S SIDE - LEAVING Q1

We left from Q1 in two batches – Filipich clan first, Whites/Stenhouse/Saunders clan second. Adam and I picked the location the week prior, electing to stand under the sheoaks in the dunes of Phillip Park (or ‘The Spit’ as it is known to the locals) and the setting was perfect – cool, calm, and intimate. We loved it.

CEREMONY LOCATION - GORGEOUS!

I think the ceremony was lovely. I say ‘I think’ because it was a bit of a blur – I was preoccupied for part of it, alternating between trying not to cry (with joy of course!) and trying not to laugh at the celebrant’s incorrect pronunciation of my soon-to-be surname (I am now Mrs Filipeesh apparently). Fortunately I received some excellent advice from the incredible Amber Dotts Salisbury to get the ceremony taped, so I’ll verify it was lovely when I watch it again next week.

I do remember some parts vividly:

  •  Adam looked gorgeous, and I felt certain this was the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with
  • Having to actively stop myself from singing along as I was walking down the aisle to ‘Sweet Thing’
  • Fran and Jeneen’s readings (Kahlil Gibran’s ‘On Marriage’ and Apache Blessing respectively), which they each chose, and were incredibly thoughtful and moving
  • Tom and Ben were brilliant ring bearers (thanks boys!) and looked incredibly cute
  • Everyone had valiantly stuck to my request to wear pastel colours (thanks team!)
  • Falling over when I bent down to hug Tom – my darned wedges sunk into the sand when I put my weight on the heels. I just hope they got it on video!

JENEEN READING THE APACHE BLESSING

SEALING THE DEAL

FAREWELLING MY EASY-TO-SPELL SURNAME

Following the ceremony, we did the official photos (again, super-easy with a small group), sent the family off to hang out at Q1 then joined them around 6pm for a catered dinner in the sub-penthouse.

FAMILY + STRATEGICALLY PLACED KITE SURFER

CLANCY AND DES - OUR BRILLIANT CATERERS

DINNER ON THE BALCONY OVERLOOKING THE OCEAN, THE SURFERS LIGHTS AND AN ALMOST FULL MOON (YOU'LL HAVE TO TAKE MY WORD FOR IT)

Since pretty much everyone had to travel to the wedding, we decided to make a weekend of it: seafood buffet at Jupiters, a day trip to Dreamworld and a lot of lolling about in the sub-penthouse. Bliss…

In case anyone reading this is planning a wedding on the Gold Coast, I can happily make some recommendations:

  • Jeff at A Digital Production did our video and was an absolute stand-out. He was professional, thorough and make the whole experience fun. Everyone commented on how lovely it was to have such a happy person involved in the day. And the DVD he produced is nothing short of stunning – thanks Jeff!
  • Suzi Dent and her team for hair and make-up. It was impossible to be stressed with Suzi around (she’s hilarious) and she did such a great job.
  • Charli at Vogue Limousines for transport. Another bubbly, professional person, she really made an effort to look after us and the limo was awesome!
  • Jessica at Circle of Love Weddings to coordinate the set-up. Again, very professional and helpful, and the set-up was perfect – would not have changed a thing.
  • Stuart at Wild By Nature Photography for photos – another relaxed, thoughtful person to have involved. The proofs on the website look fantastic, and I’m sure they’ll be even better when we get our copies of them (all the photos on this post are by our family and friends as we haven’t got Stuart’s ones yet).
  • Clancy and Des at Catering by Clancy – no website, because he doesn’t have one (my hero!) The food was beautifully presented, absolutely delicious and everyone was very well looked after. Thanks for the recommendation, Robo!

For anyone planning a wedding anywhere, I can recommend ordering a dress from Peri Dress in China. Mine arrived 3 weeks after I ordered it, fit perfectly (I didn’t have any alternations – seriously!) and was beautifully made. They answered my email questions promptly and specifically. I was very impressed.

BRISBANE PARTY

This was quite a small event – 25 people in all – but heaps of fun! We hired a room at the Chalk Hotel near the Gabba where Rebecca (the Functions Coordinator) looked after us brilliantly. We ended up kicking on there till after 3am! It was pretty much as you’d expect a party to be, so I’ll head straight to photos after a few specific thank yous to the people whose attendance necessitated a flight and/or long drive: Bec and Chris, Al and Lil, Becky, Peter and Gail, and Shasta – thanks guys, it was AWESOME to have you there! And an extra special thank you to Roy and Jackie, who flew all the way from Adelaide only to miss the big event due to a health issue.

THE INTERMEDIA GANG

THE GRAMMAR GANG

THE UQ GANG

THE GRAMMAR GANG (VERSION 2.0)

PERTH PARTY

With Adam’s extensive family, this was always going to be a bigger affair than the BrisVegas bash. We hired a room in Floreat, got a fantastic band re[TRIO]fit – the whole nine yards. It was brilliant! This time I think the furthest anyone had to travel was from Cowaramup, so it was slightly less taxing on our guests 🙂 Even though it was our third time cutting a cake and making speeches, we were still enjoying it, and had a fantastic time catching up with everyone. By the way, you all looked very spiffy!

THE 'LOVE SMELTER' TEAM - PART 1

THE GORGEOUS SOCCER GIRLS

CHINAS! MY SEXY CUZZIES-IN-LAW...

'LOVE SMELTER' TEAM - PART 2

THE BRILLIANT BAND - RE(TRIO)FIT

THOSE CRAZY FILIPICH FOLK (AND LETCHES, AND DRAGOVICS, AND MAKRIDES, AND...)

THE MARR SIDE OF THE FAMILY (INCLUDING MY AMAZING HAIRDRESSER FOR THE EVENING, CLAIRE!)

THE THIRD AND FINAL CAKE CUTTING! NOM NOM NOM

And they lived happily ever after…

Well, it’s a work in progress. We’re in Busselton these days, eagerly awaiting a flood of visitors (hint, hint) and planning a honeymoon in June – coz we clearly haven’t had enough holiday/relaxation time.

San Francisco

Somehow, with all our tripping around, I managed to miss SF. This simply would not do, so we changed our point of departure for Oz to SF (instead of Denver, which coincidentally I missed too, despite flying through there 20+ times) and spent our final two days in the States in (comparatively) sunny California. SF is a beautiful city and I can see why so many people gravitate there. It was wonderful just driving/walking around the streets (well, the ones that weren’t too steep anyway), admiring the houses.

TYPICAL SF HOUSES - LIGHT, BRIGHT, ORNATE

We were a wee bit touristed out by this point – 4 weeks of sight-seeing and photo-taking had left us rather uninspired, so we kept it pretty basic: no bikes, no trams, no Alcatraz trips. Just some good food and views.

VIEW TOWARDS THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE

ALCATRAZ - THIS IS AS CLOSE AS WE GOT

MARKETS - DROOL...

And that’s it for our 7 months in the USA! We had a fantastic time and would do it all again in a heartbeat. The USA is a brilliant place to travel, and it really does have something for everyone. No doubt we’ll be back. We did not, however, have much time to ponder, reflect and get teary over our departure as the moment we got on the plane it was time to prep for the next adventure: marriage! When we left SF, it was 12 days and counting to the big event. Next installment: the Lacey and Adam Wedding Festival!

A Glimpse of the North-East: Richmond, New York, Boston

So far on our USA adventures, we had concentrated on the country’s great outdoors – rocks, canyons, lakes, waterfalls, mountains, wildlife. But it just didn’t feel right to head home without seeing some of the most densely populated part of the country – the North East. From New Orleans, we decided to fly to Richmond, Virginia for no better reason than it was near a drive that, at that time of the year, offered incredible views of the foliage: the Blue Ridge Parkway. Americans may not understand this, but for an Australian who is used to the pale greens and browns of the ‘bush’ and ‘outback’ where our seasons are not particularly marked, seeing trees covered in red, orange and yellow leaves is quite a novelty. We spend the 100+ mile journey transfixed by the scenery passing us and stopped occasionally to walk around in the glorious cool fall day.

VIEW FROM BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY

WANDERING IN THE WOODS

RAINBOW LEAVES

SEEING IS NOT ENOUGH - GOTTA TOUCH IT TOO!

Like anything new, it’s fascinating and you can’t get enough for the first 100 miles. After that, it was all beginning to look the same so we decided to pop into the nation’s capital for an extremely fleeting visit – I think we spent about an hour there. Saw the national monument, drove past the White House (without actually seeing it – twice!), then headed back to our hotel in Virginia. Definitely a car day.

From Richmond, we boarded the train to our next major east coast stop: New York! I was particularly looking forward to this stop, and New York did not disappoint. We did all the typical touristy things: Staten Island Ferry (saw the Statue of Liberty on that – didn’t seem much point getting any closer!), walked through Central Park, looked at the view from the top a tall building (we chose the Rockefeller Center), joined the other million or so tourists in Times Square at night, rode the subway, checked out the Brooklyn Bridge, heckled the Occupy Wall Street protesters, ate pizza, shopped… and loved every minute of it!

NEW YORK, FROM THE TOP OF THE ROCK

BROOKLYN BRIDGE UP CLOSE

SHE SEEMED BIGGER IN GHOSTBUSTERS 2...

TIMES SQUARE - SO MANY TOURISTS, THEY HAVE A GRANDSTAND!

And, of course, we went to a Broadway musical. Adam was not excited (understatement of the year) when I announced that I wanted to partake in this particular tourist staple, but sighed and agreed we could go. In recognition of this huge sacrifice on his part (I think he would have preferred to have his eyes poked out) I splurged on the only possible musical I thought he could enjoy: God’s Favorite Musical! No kidding. That’s what the shirts we got say anyway… That’s right, we saw The Book of Mormon, from Trey Parker and Matt Stone (makers of South Park and Team America) and I have not laughed so hard or so long in a very, very, VERY long time. It was brilliant! See it if you can.

CHEEKS AND RIBS SORE FROM LAUGHING - A GREAT PROBLEM TO HAVE!

After a whirlwind four days of fun we again boarded the trusty but now packed Amtrak train, this time bound for Boston. We were on the commuter train and it turns out wankers in suits are just as rude and arrogant in the USA as they are on the Qantas city flights in Australia. We’d had such lovely experiences with people all over the USA that I was beginning the believe they exported all their worst citizens, turns out they’re all on the Amtrak. Fortunately we were trapped with them for a mere 4 hours – and it was worth it to reach our destination.

Boston is probably amazing. I say probably, because it was freaking cold and raining for our 36 hour visit so we didn’t get to see it at its best. Not to be deterred by a bit of bad weather, we donned waterproof items (Adam his slick pants and jacket, me a $3 emergency poncho) and walked the Freedom Trail, which mainly featured churches, graveyards and cobblestones. It was a great way to get to see the city, but after 6 hours (by which time I was pretty much soaked) we gave up and headed back to our hostel to huddle around the radiator.

FOLLOW THE RED BRICK ROAD...

STARTING THE FREEDOM TRAIL - DEFYING THE WEATHER

FAMOUS DEAD PEOPLE: BENJAMIN FRANKLIN'S FAMILY

ONE OF MANY CHURCHES - PILLARS ARE CARVED WOOD!

We left Boston at 8am on a clear, sunny day – looks like we just missed the good weather. Oh well, a perfect excuse for a return visit 🙂

Nawlins Weezy Anna

2012 Mission 1: Finish the USA posts! Yes, we’ve been back in Australia for 2 months, but I’ve just been through all the photos and some of the best stuff isn’t up here yet. So, here we go…

Our story resumes in mid-October, after the Western Caribbean cruise. Getting off a cruise ship could be a rude shock after seven days of pampering, pandering and total laziness. But never fear: if you’re considering a cruise, we can wholeheartedly recommend New Orleans, Louisiana to soften your landing on the way back to harsh reality. No one is in a rush in New Orleans – no one. Never seen a place quite like it… Even the way they say the name of the city (the title of this post = phonetic pronunciation) is no speedy event.

CRUISE RECOVERY - NEW ORLEANS

We stayed in the CBD, within spitting distance of the French Quarter and it’s (in)famous Bourbon Street. What a ramshackle, charming area. Unbelievably filthy and smelly in places. We thought this must be due to the flooding from Katrina, but apparently not – the French Quarter wasn’t flooded during the hurricane. It’s just always been filthy. This must, at least in part, be due to the prolific number of oyster shells discarded every day. It was full of spots to eat, drink and while away the hours people watching and listening to live music. And full of action – on Monday night, Bourbon Street was more lively than Surfers Paradise on New Years Eve! We naturally gravitated there every day to drink punch, Hurricanes and/or absinthe (thanks Norm, Linds and Mark for the recommendations), scoff oysters and admire the street musicians, among other entertainment options.

BOURBON STREET - LET THE DEBAUCHERY BEGIN!

BLUES + RANDOM WOMAN

WE LOST THE BOYS A COUPLE OF TIMES... NO IDEA WHERE THEY WENT...

We were in NOLA in the lead-up to Halloween, an ideal time to see the place as everyone is seriously into spooky stuff, with the city’s love of voodoo and all things weird and wonderful. This is just one example of the extent to which families dress up their gorgeous houses:

GRAND HOUSES, GREAT HALLOWEEN DISPLAYS

In honour of the time of year, we thought we’d check out the famous LaFayette Cemetery #1 – site of every spooky graveyard you’ve ever seen in the cinema. Due to the proximity to sea level, it’s necessary to entomb bodies above ground rather than 6 feet under. Apparently Lestat (Tom Cruise’s character in Interview with a Vampire) has a pretend tomb here. It’s a pretty run-down, ratty looking place, but not without charm.

LAFAYETTE CEMETERY NO. 1

And of course, no visit to the south could be complete without 2 things: sampling the Creole cooking and checking out the gators. We took care of #1 at the New Orleans School of Cooking, which we highly recommend. The food (crab bisque, shrimp Creole and pralines) was incredible, but now that I know what goes in there I’m not sure I’ll ever eat it again. Ignorance was bliss… For #2, we hit the swamps on a tour in one of those air boats. It was a surprising tour for many reasons:

  1. The swamp doesn’t stink (for some reason I thought it would)
  2. The people are intelligent (the TV show Swamp People had given me a different impression)
  3. Alligators eat marshmallows. Apparently they see in black and white, so the marshmallows are obvious to them. I’m not sure it’s a traditional part of their diet, but it worked – they came a’runnin’ (well, swimming) for them!

GATORS FIGHTING OVER MARSHMALLOWS (AND NOT US - A BONUS I GUESS)

ADAM CHANNELLING STEVE IRWIN

BAYOU BOATING

We loved Nawlins, but too much of a good thing was not helping my waistline (carefully measured for the wedding before the cruise) so we said a teary goodbye after 6 days and headed north to see something most Aussies haven’t: the changing of the leaves in fall. Coming up next: Blue Ridge Parkway!

The Wild West(ern Caribbean Cruise)

We flew into ‘sunny’ Fort Lauderdale on Thursday. Not much to say about the place really. It was windy, raining and full of fit people with fake tits and tans driving cars that had Adam rubbernecking wherever we went (I’m sure he was only looking at the cars, not the tits!) We took the opportunity to get into the cruising spirit and basically did nothing – it was great.

On Sunday we boarded the biggest cruise ship currently afloat – the Allure of the Seas. It’s epically huge, with 5,000+ passengers, 2,000+ staff, 16 floors. It had some very cool features, like Central Park: an outdoor garden with lovely cafes and complete with recordings of tweeting birds (though I did find a dead sparrow on the deck one day at sea, so maybe there were real ones too). Another oddity was a drinking spot that moved up and down between the Royal Promenade and Central Park, called the Rising Tide Bar. If you want more details on the Allure, here’s an 11 minute video on YouTube. I can’t speak for the quality of the video as we didn’t watch it coz, you know, we’ve seen the real thing 😉

A FLOATING CITY: 8,000+ PEOPLE FIT ON THAT THING

DECK 8: CENTRAL PARK

DECK 5: ROYAL PROMENADE AND THE RISING TIDE BAR

We were totally impressed with our room, and our view – the wide blue ocean. We started the first few days with room service breakfast (until we found the buffet – deadly) and finished every evening with chocolates on our bed – pretty tough to take.

STARTING THE DAY IN STYLE

ENDING THE DAY WITH CHOCOLATES (AND CUTE TOWEL ART)

Sitting around admiring the fixtures only keeps you occupied for so long. Fortunately, there were ample options to entertain 5,000+ cruisers all day and night:

  • OPTION 1 – MOVE. Choices included swimming pools, hot tubs, climbing walls, basketball courts, a zip line across the 16th floor over Central Park, FlowRiders (boogie boarding and surfing machines), an ice skating rink, a gym, numerous staircases etc. Yes, staircases. Every step counts when you’re on a cruise. Besides, every landing had cool art.
  • OPTION 2 – WATCH. There were shows of all descriptions: Broadway (Chicago), tribute bands (Revolution covering The Beatles), acrobatics (Blue Planet, Ocean Aria), comedy and ice skating. And if that didn’t excite you, there was plenty of people-watching to do – the range of people on this cruise was wide, as were many of their waistlines!
  • OPTION 3 – DRINK AND/OR DRESS UP. I don’t think we had a dry day. It’s pretty hard to knock back a big Jamaican dude welcoming you with a tray of Pina Coladas and telling you to drink a couple of inches down immediately so he can top it up with more rum. Dressing up for 2 of the nights made me feel like less of an alcoholic (I’m dressed up – must be a special occasion, right?) Phill and Adam found their formal attire onshore in St Vinnies for the grand total of… $60. Nice one, boys!
  • OPTION 4 – EAT. A lot. No photos of this – it wasn’t pretty.

OPTION 1: ADAM CLIMBING

OPTION 2: OCEANARIA THE AQUA THEATRE (BASICALLY A RIP-OFF OF 'O' IN LAS VEGAS)

OPTION 3: THE OFFICIAL WELCOME CELEBRATION

As if all that wasn’t enough, we had three ports of call in three different countries. Frankly, I found they distracted me from the fun to be had on board, so I only ventured off to try their activities. We stopped at three ports:

  • TUE: LABADEE, HAITI – basically full of unfriendly, obnoxious people, but quite a nice location which was designed to trap you there with no opportunities to get beyond the port. We did what is apparently the ‘world’s longest zip line over water’: 2500 ft. It was an awesome feeling to step off the ledge. $85 for 60 seconds of glory.
  • WED: FALMOUTH, JAMAICA– we ventured out of the compound to get a taste of the real Jamaica and it was enough to send us back to the cruise-tourists-only compound. We could have got beyond the port, but we had a date with some quad bikes (All Terrain Vehicles for the Yanks) and a bunch of mud so we didn’t go exploring.
  • FRI: COZUMEL, MEXICO – better. Good vibe, good shopping etc. We opted for the ‘3 reef snorkel’ tour, which was a good choice because it was pissing down with rain and we’d’ve gotten wet anyway. Not the world’s most interesting snorkeling spots, but still good to get in the water and check out the place. Somehow I managed to get massacred by stingers (everyone else escaped) so have been munching antihistamines ever since.

LABADEE: ZIP LINE (YEP, THAT'S OUR BEHEMOTH BOAT IN THE BACKGROUND!)

FALMOUTH: 4 WHEELIN'

MY SHOES MAY NEVER RECOVER...

COZUMEL: GREAT WEATHER FOR SNORKELING!

THE 'REEF'

For such a lazy week, I’m surprised to look back on how much we packed in. We were reminded of how lucky we were when we got to Miami Airport and had to deal with non-cruise staff (how do those people remain so upbeat and friendly for 6+ months at sea??)

Next post: The Big Easy (yew!)