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North America

New Orleans Mardi Gras 2014

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After living in the states for around six weeks, it was that time in the calendar year to attend the Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Kelly had made it a point that we would venture over and spend a weekend immersing ourselves in the festivities to show me the true American way and the blues of New Orleans. Now to be honest, I was expecting something completely different to the American style of Mardi Gras, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Now for those of you who haven’t caught on, I am from Sydney, Australia and the Mardi Gras here each year is a little bit different. It’s more of a gay and lesbian pride march. Don’t get me wrong I don’t have anything against people who choose to live their lives this way, it just wasn’t what I was expecting to see when we got to New Orleans. More on this later!

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So we packed the car in Tallahassee and braced ourselves for a long and straight drive. As we arrived into New Orleans it was interesting to observe through the window of the car the character of this place. To me I felt like it had such a rustic and cool hip vibe that expressed a history with its fair share of ups and downs.

We pulled up to Kelly’s friend’s quaint and modern apartment in the suburbs, freshened up and went straight out to see what New Orleans had to offer. After a short taxi ride and a history lesson, we had arrived on the infamous Bourbon Street. My god, I was ready for a big night. We hit up all the famous spots and sipped away our thirst with ‘big ass beers’, grenades from some bar called Tropical Isle. Dinner was served at an exquisite restaurant where we ate Cajun food and ordered Jumbo and fried gator. It was delicious!

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After filling our bellies we were off again down Bourbon Street, partaking in the bead throwing, competing with one and other for who could collect the most beads. At one point I think I was picking them out of the gutter and acting like someone on the balcony had thrown these to me. The highlight of my night would have ben stripping down to my undies for some beads from a women who was pushing 70.

After receiving the beads, we thought it would be time to head on up and throw beads to those down in the street. There is something satisfying about having people beg you to throw them these plastic beads. Absolute madness. The night didn’t end so well with some sneaky bugger stealing Kelly’s wallet and car keys. The next morning we spent getting a tow truck, new key cut and then made it out on the town trying to figure out how Kelly would get into the bars with no ID.

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We dedicated the next day to the actual parades of Mardi Gras and on the walk in I was surprised by the amount of people. In my head I was thinking, “Wow everyone is getting behind this gay and lesbian pride march. That’s so awesome.” To my surprise the parade started off quite tame with children playing music, singing, dancing and throwing beads to the crowds. Hours passed and I found myself thinking, “When were the lady boys going to make an appearance?”

Late in the night I confessed my innocence to Kelly and told her this was so different to our Mardi Gras. It all started to make sense to me. It’s a big blues festival where marching bands play music whilst parading about the streets of New Orleans. I learnt my lesson and will not be making that mistake again.

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All in all the Mardi Gras in New Orleans was outstanding as we had such an awesome time roaming the streets with a beverage in hand making the most of our time there. We became cautious of our surroundings after that, and Bourbon Street definitely left its mark on us. It will be something I will always remember.

Until next time… Bourbon Street and Mr. Naked Cowboy.

Review: Qantas First Class Lounge LAX Airport

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After an early morning flight from Miami International Airport with my elderly grandma, we landed in LAX Airport to disembark and find our way to the Qantas First Class Lounge for an extended layover. As we were on the backend of a family wedding in Cartagena, we had to make sure my granny had adequate time in between legs. (Cartagena to Miami, Miami to LAX and LAX to Sydney)

Once arriving at reception, the staff were quick to check each of us into the lounge and insist if we had any questions to please don’t hesitate to ask. On first impression, I was not too sure what to expect although once we found the comfort of the lazy chairs, this was a complete game charger. The 12-hour lay over was going to be nothing but class and comfort.

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After collecting the New York Times and Sydney Daily Telegraph from the newsstand I recall looking over at my grandmother who was lying down with her legs out gazing out the window. She was half snoozing half alert and before I knew it one of the staff had taken the initiative to gather together a pot of tea with milk as if they had read her mind and placed this next to her. To say I was impressed is an understatement, true class!

After catching up on the world news, we wandered over to the dining area of the Lounge to indulge in the exquisite menu. No word of a lie, the food is exceptional and the service really makes for a great experience. We greatly enjoyed three meals in the lounge, which were matched with French Champaign, wine, beer and spirits from around the globe. The plates I would highly recommend include:

  1. Salt, Pepper & Chili Calamari
  2. Chicken breast, Nut & Greens
  3. All of the desert options!

These were by far my favourite plates although if we had had longer I would have been sure to make my way through the entire menu.

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In between dining and having a beverage with my grandmother, I made use of the high speed WIFI and relaxed in the comfort of the lounge chairs. The staff regularly did the rounds and asked if we needed anything at any time. Several of the Qantas ground staff became very friendly with my grandma, bringing her blankets and pillows to make sure she was comfortable for the full duration of this adventure.

After 10 hours in the Qantas First Class Lounge we ventured out to stretch our legs within LAX airport and make our way to board our flight from LAX back to Sydney. First Class with Qantas is exactly this ‘nothing but class’! Thank you Qantas.

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Now a little bit about The Qantas First Class Lounge:

All Qantas First Class Flyers are welcome into the lounge and are welcome to bring one guest as long as they are flying on the same flight. I would say the dress code is somewhat smart casual however once you leave the lounge as like every other flyer you take the time to freshen up in the showering facilities within the lounge and change into comfier clothing options.

When you check in, the staff will be sure to ask if you would like assistance to board your flight and will make sure there is a ground staff member to escort you.

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The Lounge has everything you would ever need on a layover. There is a vast amount of seating options scattered throughout the lounge aimed at relaxation, dining or business. The lounge offers customers the ability to self-serve their own beverages (tea, coffee, water, wine and beer), and also has the option to place an order with a staff member.

The bar is extravagant with many options from around the globe with friendly bar staff that will make sure to meet all your needs. Even the fussiest of eaters and drinking will find what they’re looking for.

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The Qantas First Class Lounge also offers meeting rooms that can be booked at reception for those who are busy on business trips. The bathroom and showering facilities are excellent and really add to the overall experience of long layovers where all you want to do is freshen up before boarding onto your second flight.

Both my elderly grandma and myself were extremely impressed with the Qantas First Class Lounge in LAX Airport. The experience was exceptional with great food, service and facilities that met all of our needs and more.

To check out the Qantas Lounges click here.

Take Me Back To Florida Keys

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Before arriving in America for the first time back in 2014 I really didn’t know too much about the states besides what I had heard or seen on TV. I feel like I knew more about the animals and terrain from watching National Geographic shows like Gator Boys and Deadliest Catch. I really didn’t know what to expect arriving in Florida, as I knew it was known as the ‘retirement state’ where people go to live out their lives on the beautiful shores.

After arriving in the states and staying in Tallahassee for a few weeks, it was time to venture to the other corner of Florida to meet Kelly’s family. We endeavoured on a seven hour drive from Tally to Fort Lauderdale after taking to pit stop due to what I would deem a ‘tropical storm’ then proceeded down to the Keys.

If you had asked me before meeting Kelly to tell you anything about the Florida Keys, I most probably would have made something up. Once driving into the keys it was quite awesome to come up over these large bridges onto an island that is encircled by stunning turquoise waters that appear crystal clear.

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As we pulled up to the rental property in Islamorada and I took a step out of the vehicle I could smell the freshness in the air of the ocean and the beauty that is the Florida Keys. After meeting Kelly’s family for the first time and shaking hands with her dad, we drank a beer and checked out the house. The house was big with plenty of rooms and space. Once taking ten steps out the back door you were at the pier where the boat was moored in the canal with a stellar view out to the ocean. After taking in my surroundings it was easy to see how the Keys is an absolute must for family holidays. It’s a paradise at their backdoor for all Floridians.

Our three days in the Keys comprised of laying out in the sun with a drink in hand, taking the boat for a run, attending The Keys Annual Seafood Festival and dining at some of the fine restaurants and bars scattered across Islamorada, like Robbie’s with the enormous tarpons. This was a very memorable experience for me and it is one place I could see myself at some stage in my life kicking back and relaxing to the picturesque sunsets and beautiful waters.

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After leaving the Florida Keys in 2014 I found myself pestering Kelly that if we made our way back over to the states from Australia at any stage we would have to go back down to the keys. We didn’t have to wait long! My wish came true when my brother decided to have his wedding in Cartagena, Colombia. This meant Kelly and I would fly to America spend some time with her family and then head on over to the wedding. Each time we spoke about our plans I was sure to be persistent and say ‘Oh how about the Keys?’ or ‘Lets get down to the keys!’ I think Kelly and her family caught my drift so they organised a weekend in the Keys for us all.

After arriving into Miami airport we were greeted by Kelly’s family and drove the two hours down to Key Largo where we would be staying for the next few days. This was a new area of the Keys for me and I was eager to get out on the water and explore. After a seafood dinner, key lime pie and a handful of coronas we were back to the house to rest up for a day of exploring.

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Kelly’s Dad had our day planned out with a boat rental from a local company. The first boat rental fell through due to several reasons including a ridiculous regulation that wouldn’t allow for us to take the boats to the sandbar or the larger reefs we were looking to snorkel on. Further the boats looked like they were about to sink to the bottom of the ocean.

Needless to say with the ability of IPhones these days and 7 eager boaters, we found a rental for half the price closer to where we wanted to go with regulations that said just bring the boat back in one piece. That sounded more like it. Only thing was the boat wasn’t the fastest thing on the water by any means, but it was comfortable and did the job. We took the rental boat out to some areas along the reef and sandbar floating about in the water with a beverage in hand. It was an awesome day spent out on the water with Kelly’s family and friends.

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The following day we were out and about the waters of the Florida Keys with friends of Kelly’s parents aboard their awesome new boat. As such great hosts, they ran us out to see the Jesus Status out at sea, stopped at several reefs to snorkel and took some mandatory time to drop anchor on the sandbars and enjoy the finer things in life, like American beer and hand made sandwiches. Over all my time in the Florida Keys, today was definitely a highlight.

Once out on the water in the Keys, it’s really easy to see why so many people make their way down here each year. The views, the water, the people and the sunrises and sunsets are absolutely stunning. No photo is going to do this place justice. You have to get there and experience what it has to offer, and for any crazy boater – this is your haven. If I could retire right now, I would be looking for a place down there to spend a few months out of the year really relaxing. I feel like each time Kelly and I are in the states now somehow we will be having a mandatory weekend in the Keys. I will be making sure of this. If you haven’t been down to any of these areas, make the trip. I guarantee you will have an awesome time and create memories that will last a life time.

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An Australians Perspective On College Life in Tallahasse, Florida

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From a young age I have always watched American movies and thought what would it honestly be like to live in America. I mean it all looks so interesting with the whole sorority and fraternity way of life at college. Could it be the same as the movies? Is it that wild? Before venturing to the states on several occasions I asked myself if I was born in the States would have I been apart of a fraternity or would have I opted for something else.

Well my turn came after meeting Kelly in Ireland back in 2013. I was over to the states for 3 months exploring and living the college life while she was completing her degree at Florida State University. I honestly didn’t know what to expect boarding the flight with a pocket full of paper money and American speaking airhosts aboard United Airlines.

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After arriving in the states and being chaperoned around Orlando, Jacksonville and St Augustine for a few days, we were en route to Tallahassee. The anxiety was building as I had also lived on campus at a university in Australia, but FSU was ten times the size. How was I going to survive this one?

We arrived into Tallahassee, and I met my roommates, one of which had just graduated and was a member of the Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity. Of course being Australian, my first question to him was, “Do you have a gun in this house and where is it?” I got a prompt response. “Yes, a 22 gauge shot gun in the cupboard.” He took it out and showed me. To be honest, I had no idea what I was looking at and just agreed with everything he was saying. We became mates and went shooting on several occasions. There’s something empowering about going out into the woods and shooting clays. I recall going shooting and the excitement of hitting my first clay after 50 attempts. It was like I had scored the winning points in a match! Although I will blame McKinley for poor throwing of the clays as to why it took me that many attempts.

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Anyway, back to Tallahassee. I could not get over how enormous this place was with over 50,000 full time students. Kelly took me for a drive about campus and I was asking, “are we still on campus?” Always with a response of “yes, yes, yes.” As we drove up and down these streets full of sorority and fraternity houses, I recall asking Kelly why the hell are there symbols above the doors that look like upside down horse shoes and traingles. She laughed at me and said these are the Greek Symbols. I was none the wiser.

We arrived at Kelly’s Alpha Phi sorority house. The place looked like a children’s play house for some reason. I felt like it wasn’t real life. As I entered the doors and walked into the dining area I felt at least 50 pairs of eyes looking at me as if I was from a different planet. I just smiled and waved. I had to pinch myself, and I texted my closest mates this message:

“I am standing inside a sorority house full of girls. This is just like in the movies.”

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All of Kelly’s friends proceeded to come up and ask me to speak, which I thought was a little strange. I would respond with a ‘hello’, and they would all giggle from my accent. When we would go out in Tallahassee or hang out at the “house”, I would be having a long conversation with people, and they would turn around to me and say “I have no idea what you are saying.” We are both speaking the same language!

After having some ridiculous nights out, it is fair to say Florida State University is an insane party college that has a VERY healthy student life. Its nickname around the state is “Tallanasty” for a reason. From the socials to the semi formals and formals, St Patricks Day madness and daily dollar drinks at “The Strip”, it was like I was living out my own movie. The price of drinks never really hurt the pocket with bottomless cups for $10 on the strip or $2 happy hour at Madison Social. We were always looking for a cheap and exciting night. I mean this is the way of life at college.

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To this day I still don’t completely understand the sorority and fraternity way of life. It really seems highly demanding, and to think you could be fined money for not showing up to a meeting, well that’s just robbery. I mean do you get fined for not showing up to that 9am class on a Monday morning after drinking yourself silly on cheap booze? Didn’t think so!

In reality, it is what it is and I am glad I was lucky enough to be a part of it for 3 months. I learned from the best on how to ‘Y-bomb’, ‘shot gun’ and ‘smash and crush fireball.’ It was an experience that will stay with me forever. Although I am still waiting to tailgate at a Florida State college game, and I have been pestering Kelly to paint me a “cooler” since we met. Maybe that day will come sometime soon.

As my time at Tallahassee came to an end, I met some awesome people who all added to my time in different ways for better or worse. I will still sum up with this: Australians should give you guys a few lessons in how to drink. I mean I am all for a few hours of drinking, but making a day of it and lasting the entire day is much more satisfying. Its almost like you have achieved something for that day.

friends-florida-states-america-party-drinkingUntil next time thank you Tallahassee and Go Noles!

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Chasing Love Through America

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Read The Luck of The Irish for the beginning of this love story!

How one month became three.

Here I was disembarking my plane in Sydney, while Kelly had headed back to university in The States. We were now on opposite sides of the world. I was flat broke, but wasn’t going to let her, or others know this. I knew this was going to have to be a quick turn around, and I would need to make some money real quick to be able to keep my promise of entering the States within a month’s time.

I hassled every single one of my contacts in Sydney to the point where they had to give me work. Within 10 days of being home and after my first paycheck, my flights were booked. This is the best way to ever save to travel as you essentially are forced to save every penny that you earn. Also, this would mean I would arrive in The States the night before Valentine’s Day (Mr. Romance ha). The coming weeks I worked from sunrise to the wee hours of the morning. This time flew past as I was in a complete daze. I was working, eating, sleeping or chatting to Kelly on Skype. You might say this is boring; however, the distraction assisted in saving, and I managed to leave Australia with just under $8K. Not a bad effort for just under one month of work. This was the hardest I had ever worked in my life and it truly showed me the meaning that if you want something bad enough all you really have to do is go after it and anything can become possible.

I climbed aboard my plane in Sydney to fly via LAX to Orlando where I would be reunited with Kelly once I arrived. It was possibly the worst flight of my life. There was turbulence the whole way from take off to landing. Air hosts attempted to serve food as if they were throwing a Frisbee down the aisle, the plane bounced about in the clouds and the ‘please be seated’ sign  remained on for the entirety of the flight.

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I arrived in Orlando with limited sleep and headed to arrivals to finally be reunited with Kelly. I was walking down a corridor and saw a young girl holding a sign that read ‘Welcome to America, Sam’, but it wasn’t Kelly. It was some other person I had never seen in my life. Back of my mind was saying “Are you kidding me? You had one job to just be here for me when I arrived”. This little person then proceeded to say, “Sorry, Kelly got caught in traffic. She will meet us at the bar”. I was pretty cheesed off that she hadn’t made it but as I looked down, hiding in the corner, there she was, curled up with a cheeky smile on her face. She had just pulled off the biggest surprise I think I have ever got in my life.

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We spent the night having dinner and drinks in Orlando with some of Kelly’s friends and checked into our hotel. Now this was the night before Valentine’s Day. The next morning we drove to St Augustine where we would spend the day adventuring through the town and have dinner and drinks down by the water. The next morning we were on the move once again to Jacksonville to spend the night with Kelly’s cousin and score a free night of accommodation.

These days flew past and next thing we were in Tallahassee, Florida. I had moved into a spare room in a college house, which had no windows or natural light. I originally thought this would only be home for a couple weeks before we traveled for a bit. My plan before heading over was to stay for one month, return home to work, then fly back over for Kelly’s graduation 5 weeks later. We planned we would then both fly back to Sydney, Australia.

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I settled into the fraternity and sorority life style. Yes, these do exist and yes, they are just like they are depicted in the movies. I attended Kelly’s semi-formal date functions and drank my sorrows away at the cheap college bars. Kelly was still finishing up her degree, and I was still finishing up mine in Australia. However, I was lucky that in my earlier years at university I had been able to place all of my internal subjects within my first two years and the last two years could be studied via distance. This fitted in perfectly with my travel plans and America worked absolutely fine.

Kelly was all about showing me around and made sure we ate at every single one of the restaurants, did all the things she had done in her years at college and even worked around taking me to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Now me being Aussie our Mardi Gras is a little different as a ‘Gay Pride March’ and I didn’t know what to expect. New Orleans was eventful to say the least, with a wallet and car keys stolen; however, we managed to get through and make it back to Tallahassee.

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A few weeks later came Spring Break and my god I was excited to party on and finally meet Kelly’s family. I was a little bit nervous meeting Kelly’s Dad, so I had thought ahead in Australia and bought him a bottle of Bundaberg OP Rum – a guaranteed way to earn his respect. We spent the week hanging out with Kelly’s family down in the Florida Keys out on the boat, playing ‘left, right, centre’ (best game on earth) and having great conversations.

Days passed and next thing we were climbing aboard a Celebration Cruise to the Bahamas with 10 of Kelly’s best friends for a couple days. The cruise was, putting it politely, interesting. Possibly the worst customer service I have ever come across in my life. When the DJ stops the music and tells you not to splash as you jump in the pool you start to reconsider your choice of cruise. We laughed our way through all the negatives and tried to make the most of the experience.

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We arrived back to Kelly’s home in Florida and three days later I was set to fly home to Australia. I thought, “What am I doing? With the money I am going to spend on another flight back over in a month’s time, I may as well just stick around and hang out a little while longer”.  So I called the airline and pushed my flight back another 7 weeks paid a small fee, and the rest is history.

So I headed back to Tallahassee so Kelly could finish off her final year of study at Florida State University. In the coming weeks, I watched her graduate with honors and I will say, I was super impressed. Her family and I sat through the 4 hour ceremony and screamed out as her name was called.

We flew to North Carolina to see Kelly’s cousin get married in the meadows of the countryside, which was absolutely amazing and spent some time getting to know Kelly’s family that little bit more. Then returned for the last time to Tallahassee to pack up shop and make the long nine-hour drive back to Kelly’s family home in Fort Lauderdale.

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My trip through the states was now coming to an end and the final leg was to happen in the coming days. Kelly and I had been discussing what we would do after America, and it was unanimous she would fly over to Australia with a one year working visa in hand. The only hurdle was going to be her parents and to our delight they were absolutely fine with the idea besides a few tears.

So now it was time to board our final flights from Miami to California for yet another one of Kelly’s cousin’s weddings with her family, and I would then fly off back to Sydney. The wedding was such an amazing experience to be a part of, on a catamaran, cruising throughout Newport.

The next two days we spent adventuring throughout Laguna and Huntington Beach, riding bikes along Venice Beach and finishing the evening with a beer in hand on the Santa Monica Pier. Now this might all seem like a lot to think about in such a short period of time, but time flew past and these were some of the best moments of my life. The memories and the company were exceptional and to spend so much time with Kelly and her friends and family (even though they didn’t really understand my accent) just made the experience that much better.

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So here I was once again at another airport saying goodbye for the third time to the love of my life with the promise she would be over in Sydney in three weeks. We all said our farewells and off I went to climb aboard my flight home.

Does this love story continue in Australia?