Getting There and Around

For me, my visit to Hong Kong was a particularly special trip. I lived in Hong Kong as a young child, and have really fond memories of  the city, in fact my earliest memories are of Hong Kong. The humidity, the smell of the markets and ‘showering’ in the monsoon.  After living there for a couple of years, I was acclimatised to the heat and my blonde hair was bleached almost white by the sun, I had no memory of cold weather. So on arrival back to the UK into Heathrow (in December) my brother and I were amazed to discover that when we exhaled ‘smoke’ billowed out of our mouths like we were dragons.

My parents would also both reminisce about what it was like living in Hong Kong in the early 90’s so I was very excited to go back to see what the city had to offer.

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I’m a sucker for retro, old school diners and there are hundreds of them dotted all around the United States. They’re the quintessential American eateries that are cheap and cheerful, serving simple and substantial comfort food classics. What the old fashioned pub is to the British, the diner is to the Americans. I was fortunate enough to spend a bit of time in LA visiting a good friend recently, so here’s a roundup of my favourite old school diners in and around LA. The great thing about Los Angeles and the surrounding area is you’re never too far from a filming location, diners included, which is great for film geeks like me.

Rae’s Restaurant

 2901 Pico Blvd, Santa Monica

Old School Diners - Rae's Restaurant

This no-nonsense diner in Santa Monica oozes vintage vibes, with its bar and high stools and bright red comfy booths. It’s remained more or less the same since 1958. Rae’s serves a selection of hangover-busting breakfast favourites such as waffles, pancakes and well as eggs and bacon. Try the deliciously moreish fried potatoes. This place is definitely a breakfast or lunch destination because it’s open from 6:30am until 4pm. Make sure you take cash as Rae’s is a cash-only diner.

Rae’s was used as a filming location for the film written by Quentin Tarantino, True Romance. The diner is featured in the scene where Clarence and Alabama decide to go get some late-night pie after a night at the cinema, watching Kung Fu movies. Rae’s was also used in the film Lords of Dogtown and featured on the album cover for Elton John’s album Songs from the West Coast. Be sure to check out this place if you love old school diners. See the menu here

Nicks Coffee Shop and Deli

8536 W Pico Blvd

Old School Diners - Nick's Coffee Shop and Deli

Nick’s is a really cool place with exceptionally friendly staff and characterful decor. This old fashioned café’s walls are covered with signed ‘hall of fame’ photos. You can chill out in one of the retro booths or pull up a stool at the counter. They have an extensive menu with oodles of choice (it’s massive!) which caters well for vegetarians. Choose from diner classics with a Mexican twist or omelettes, sandwiches, pancakes, milkshakes and pretty much anything you could ever want for breakfast. The corned beef hash is particularly good. If you own a pooch, you’re in luck because they also have a dog-friendly outside area, making this the perfect place to grab breakfast, lunch or brunch.

Dinah’s Family Restaurant

6521 S Sepulveda Blvd

Old School Diners - Dinah's Family Restaurant

Dinah’s is really close to LAX, so it’s really easy to pop in for some munch if you’re heading to or from the airport. We were both jetlagged and in need of some coffee and sugary pick-me-ups so the tasty pancakes at Dinah’s was just the tonic. The diner opened in 1959 and it’s still full of old school charm.

Dinah’s was used as a filming location for cult classic The Big Lebowski. It’s the scene where the German Nihilists grab some food at a diner. If you want to be like the German Nihilists with their Lingonberry pancakes ask for the Swedish Pancakes, which do actually come with Lingonberry sauce, they’re delicious! Check out the menu here 

The Original Pantry Café

877 S Figueroa St

Old School Diners - The Original Pantry

The much-loved Original Pantry is one of the best old school diners in  LA and is one of the most famous restaurants in LA too. It opened its doors in 1924 and has been serving hungry customers day and night ever since. The décor exudes old-fashioned charm. Expect attentive and friendly service from staff who have been there for years and really great food. The best thing about Original Pantry is it never closes, if you fancy a late-night snack, this is the place to go. Visit midweek or in the evenings If you want to miss the busy weekend afternoons. They do fantastic sour dough toast, amazing coleslaw and the French toast is out of this world. Learn about the history of The Original Pantry here 

Pat & Lorraine’s

4720 Eagle Rock Blvd

Old School Diners - Pat and Lorraine's Coffee Shop

Another one of my favourite old school diners was Pat and Lorraine’s Coffee Shop. It’s a no-frills place, an absolute retro throwback to the 70’s. Portions here are huge, so you could probably share a plate between two if your puny European stomachs are not yet accustomed to the gigantic American portions.

Grabbing some breakfast at Pat & Lorraine’s is a must for  any big Tarantino fans, as it was used as the filming location for the opening scene of Reservoir Dogs, when the Dogs are eating breakfast and discussing Madonna lyrics. And yes, do leave a tip! Don’t listen to Mr Pink on this occasion as not tipping in the US is a massive faux par. You’ll be shunned, chased down the streets with pitchforks and flogged to death if you don’t conform.  20% is the standard amount to tip in the US. Just move the decimal point one space left and multiply by two, easy.

Just one more …

Philippe the Original, 1001 North Alameda

Not really a diner but I had to include this sandwich place that serves the best ‘French dips’ which are meat-filled baguettes that are dipped in the juices of the cooked meat. Drool over their menu here.  Go there and order the lamb with blue cheese, double dipped. Just do it.

Planning to visit Las Vegas too? Check out my previous blog here for an off-beat guide.

 

Shit just got weird. For me, Las Vegas is all about the whimsical, the wild and the downright absurd.

Step outside your comfort zone and take a look at my top 5 weirdly wonderful things to do in Las Vegas.

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Learning the best ways to save money and make money while you’re travelling means you can travel for longer. It may even allow you to roam for as long as you want to …

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I’m a firm believer in if there’re a will there’s a way. It might take you longer depending on your circumstances and commitments but by making small changes and sacrifices, most people can afford to go travelling. Here are a few ideas.

  • Controversial one … Stop Smoking. If you smoke about 15 cigarettes a day, and it’s around £8 for a pack of 20, that’s over £2,000 a year you could save, which is more than enough money to travel.

 

  • If you buy an expensive coffee on your way to work 5 days a week, you could save up to £750 just by ditching those lattes and cappuccinos. Take a small thermos for your commute instead and limit the Starbucks visits to the weekend only.

 

  • Charity shops. Shopping in charity shops has saved me so much money it’s unbelievable. I’d say around 60% of my wardrobe is second hand. I used to waste crazy amounts of money on clothes I’d wear only once (or never!) which is not only damaging to the planet; it’s such a waste of money. Head over to your local charity shops instead of the high street, you’ll be surprised what you’ll find. Instead of feeling guilty for spending £60 on a pair of jeans, feel incredible knowing that you’ve helped the planet, given money to charity AND now have a new pair of jeans for less than a fiver.

 

  • Share the rent. I’m not saying that you need to shack-up with the next guy/girl you see (although, that might also work) but sharing accommodation costs is one of the best ways to save money. Young, single professionals have been doing this for years in the form of flat shares but let’s say you’re a retired person who’s always wanted to travel or a middle-aged couple whose children have flown the nest and you’re looking at taking a career break to visit somewhere you’ve always wanted to go. If it’s a lifelong dream, would it really hurt to rent out your extra rooms for a few months?

 

  • Cook your own meals and take your lunch to work. You can save hundreds of pounds by only eating out as a treat instead of on a weekly basis. There are loads of budget friendly but tasty meals you can make on the cheap. Make more than you need, so that you can take the leftovers to work, way better than a shop-bought sandwich anyway, they’re crap.

 

  • Quit the gym. A you can probably tell that I’ve never been a fan of the gym, but if that’s you’re bag …  well …just…. like….. go for a run around in a park or something, man. Check out this dude.

 

  • Be social at home, instead of the pub. Invite your mates over to your house for a drink, instead of going to the pub, or if the weather is nice, go for a picnic. Chip in on a crate of beer or a couple of bottles of wine and nibbles and you’ll all save £££.

If that slice of advice was you cup of tea, check out my next blog about all about Saving money (and making money) Once you’re there.

 

  1. “It’s unsafe to hitchhike”.

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Nope. Unfortunately hitchhiking has become scarce in recent years mainly due to irrational fears both from drivers and would-be hitchhikers but it’s incredibly unlikely that you’ll be in any danger. There are far more good people in the world, who are simply happy to give you a ride than opportunistic murderers and rapists.

But, what about if you’re a woman? Being a woman in general has its risks, but being a female hitchhiker isn’t as risky as you might think. I’ve had drivers pick me up hitchhiking in the UK before simply because I am female and I seem less threatening than a bearded 6ft man, saying “I don’t usually pick up hitchhikers, but you don’t look dangerous” or the “I’ve got a daughter your age and I wouldn’t want a weirdo to pick her up” as if by them giving me a lift they’re rescuing me from the potential Buffalo Bill skin thief who’s inevitably lurking around the next corner. Let’s get real, nothing is without risk, we take risks every day, its part of life. How many of us have used an Uber driver alone, used an unknown babysitter, driven a car, taken medication, cooked with gas, climbed a tree, swam in a body of water … you get the idea.

It’s not unsafe to hitchhike in the majority of the world, but definitely read up on your destination first about local attitudes. Also, in some countries and states in the US it’s actually illegal. Use common sense and your gut instinct (e.g. does the car smell like an Amsterdam Café? Does the person smell of booze?) Remember, you’re not obliged to get in the car if you don’t like the situation, you can turn down a lift by simply making up an excuse. Or if you’re already in the car, just ask to stop at the next place. I’ve known plenty of people who hitchhike, usually fellow travellers both male and female, and I’ve never heard of any horror stories. Yes, if you hitchhike regularly it’s likely that you’ll have an odd-ball experience at some point, but more along the lines of conspiracy-theorist-hippy or socially-awkward-cat-lady rather than axe murderer. The chances of that odd-ball experience becoming dangerous is very slim (and sometimes the weird people are the most interesting!) Check out HitchWiki for some excellent hitchhiking tips.

  1. “You shouldn’t travel alone as a woman”

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Similarly to the hitchhiking stories, there’s lots of scaremongering concerning female solo travellers. But the risks are far fewer than you’d expect. Women do face higher levels of  sexual harassment and violence, but look into the statistics and you’ll find that surprisingly, we are more likely to be harmed by people we know.

“More than two thirds of women murdered by a man last year were killed by a partner or former partner … and 90 per cent were murdered by someone they knew” (Independent 2017)

OK, I don’t want to get bogged down in the dark and depressing statistics of violence against women, as this isn’t the purpose for my blog, I simply want to show you how as a woman, you are far more likely to experience violence at the hands of someone you know than a stranger. You’re by far more likely to be harmed by a partner, but does that stop you from having relationships.? Of course it doesn’t.  There’s no doubt that as a woman you need to be sensible and trust your gut, but you shouldn’t let your gender stop you from travelling solo. Check out these awesome travel blogs about women who go solo:

Be My Travel Muse

Adventurous Kate 

The Blonde Abroad 

  1. “You need a lot of money to travel”

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You do need some money of course; you need some money to do anything. But it’s more attainable than you might think. The word ‘travel’ might conjure up images in your head of swanky hotels, fancy cocktails on an immaculate private beach and indulgent meals. Travel has become synonymous with Luxury, but of course this isn’t the case and you can travel on a very small budget especially in countries that have a lower living cost than your home country. If you really want to travel, you’ll find a way to save. Depending on your situation it might take longer and you’ll need to make sacrifices, but it will happen. Take a look at my blog post here about how to save money to go travelling. There are also plenty of excellent blogs about travelling on a budget, take a look at the following:

How I afford travel: Badass trips on a not-so-badass budget

How to Travel the World When You’ve Got Absolutely No Money 

Budget Traveller 

How to Travel Europe on the Cheap 

  1. “Hostels are only for young people”

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Absolutely not true. Hostels are for anyone. I think here we have been misinformed by the commonly used phrase ‘youth hostel’ when talking about hostels. I have seen old, young, middle-aged, families, school trips and anyone in between in hostels. They are just low budget accommodation with more practical facilities than a hotel, such as kitchens and laundry rooms. At the ripe old age of 27 I’ve stopped staying in dorms now and opt for a private room, but there’s no rule. If your budget only permits you to stay in a dorm, then a dorm it is, whether you’re 18 or 62. Check out this great post from Nomadic Matt about a 72 year old backpacking around the world.

  1. “You can’t travel when you have kids”

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Again, this is simply not true. I’ve seen families in hostels in South America, in beach huts in South East Asia and in RVs travelling the width and breadth of the USA. Yes travelling with children would face its challenges, but it’s still very achievable and introducing children to new situations from a young age will help. If travelling is a passion of yours, you’ll want to experience this with your children. As a childless person I’m by no means an expert, so check out these excellent blogs for tips on how to travel with your children:

Family Without Borders

Dotting the Map 

Trekaroo 

The Family Adventure Project

Travel Mad Mum 

Save your money, you DON’T need an expensive Northern Lights guided tour to experience the Aurora. I’ll fill you in on how we managed to see the spectacular natural illuminations without a guide. If you can follow these easy steps you can hunt the Aurora Borealis yourself, saving money and enhancing your experience.

Guided tours are sometimes a necessity in travel, there are certain places where I would not hesitate to pay for a tour, but seeing the Northern Lights isn’t one of them. You’ll have a more magical and personal experience with a real sense of adventure and achievement if you do it yourself, and here’s the recipe for success:

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Hong Kong’s Top 5 Must-Do’s

With so much to see and do, it’s difficult to choose just five experiences but here’s my top five must-do’s in Hong Kong.

Visit Tian Tan Buddha (Big Buddha)

Take the spectacular 25-minute Ngong Ping 360 cable car ride over to the majestic Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island and experience a stunning birds eye view of the sea below. The iconic bronze Buddha sits in tranquillity up on the hill with a serene expression and a palm facing outwards, symbolising stability in Hong Kong and peace on earth.

To get there, hop on the MTR over to Tung Chung Station and then get the cable car.

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Have a drink (or several) at The Beer Bay

Maybe you’re a homesick Brit or you’ve been travelling for a while and you’re missing the taste of home or even if you just fancy a reasonably priced drink in a nice setting, head over to The Beer Bay. It’s pretty much an expat bar on the waterfront, located at pier 3 and 4, it has a fantastic selection of beers. We had an Old Rosie Cider while watching the ferries. You can also watch the helicopters taking off from the helipad going to Macau.

 


Go up The Peak

Known to locals simply as The Peak. You can take the funicular up to the top of Victoria Peak and admire the breathtaking views from the top. This is a top tourist destination, and it obviously gets busy, so just suck it up and join the queue because the view is worth it. Learn about the history of Hong Kong and it’s most significant buildings as the audio guide takes you on a tour through the view. Well worth a visit.

 

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Tuck into some food at a Dai Pai Dong

Dai Pai Dong is the name given to the cheap, no-frills, outdoor eateries of Hong Kong. A quintessentially Hong Kong dining experience that shouldn’t be missed.

Where to find them: All over, but some good spots in Temple Street (also location of night market) and Fa Yuen Street.

What to try: Curry Fish Balls, Egg Waffles, Siu Mai (dumplings on a stick with meat filling) Goose Neck and Stinky Tofu, just try it OK.

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Take a ride across the water on The Star Ferry

In modern times there are quicker ways to cross over from Kowloon to HK Island and Visa versa, but this historic ferry route which has been in operation since 1888, should be experienced at least once on your trip to Hong Kong.  If you haven’t been on The Star Ferry, have you even really been to Hong Kong?


 

Finally, because I could’t choose just five and because no trip to HK is complete without an egg tart or a pineapple bun.

Where to get it: Kam Wah Cafe

Cram into this rough and ready cafe and rub elbows ( literally) with locals and tourists alike for a pineapple bun with a huge chunk of butter, washed down with some strong milk tea. It’s busy, noisy and the service verges on  rude* but it’s pure Hong Kong through and through.

*To everyone, not just tourists, which kind of just made it comical – watch as they literally throw down plates under peoples noses. Part of me admires their ‘fuck you’ attitude.

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All these attractions and experiences are fantastic, but what makes them truly special is the people of Hong Kong. Hong Kongers are genuinely some of the friendliest people (maybe excluding staff of Kam Wah Cafe)  I’ve ever met. Thank you Hong Kong for welcoming me back to your amazing city after over 20 years away. I feel homesick just writing about it.

Up on the 118th floor of the Ritz Carlton Hong Kong is a gateway to the sky.

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OZONE, the highest bar in the world looms intimidatingly over the city. Head up for a cocktail and peer down at the streets below, where people become tiny specs. It’s not cheap, which is to be expected but its worth it for the view. I recommend going at the start of your night, just for one cocktail to get you in the mood for an incredible night in this vibrant city.

I love a great cocktail and these refreshing beverages don’t only look stunning they taste bloody good too. I had a Bamboo Cocktail, get the recipe here . Sip away and cool down, it’s just the tonic after a day of exploring in the heat.

Other delicious cocktails you’ll find at OZONE:

WAN CHAI COOLER
Vodka inf. Liquorice • Mint Tea • Lemon • Hibiscus Syrup • Peychaud’s Bitters

MONGKOK  DELIGHT
Bamboo Vodka inf. Sushi Rice • Blackberry • Lime • Hibiscus Syrup • Basil Yuzu Foam

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There is a dress code for the gents. No shorts, flip-flops or sleeveless shirts after 9pm.

Level 118, International Commerce Ctr.
1 Austin Road West
Kowloon, Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a food lover’s heaven. From world-class chefs to some of the best street food on the planet, Hong Kong will satisfy hungry bellies on any budget.

Foodies can get their fix of Michelin Star Cantonese nosh at high-end restaurants such as Tin Lung Heen at The Ritz, who serve up authentic food in sumptuous surroundings.


Mid-range dining 

If your budget doesn’t quite stretch that far, don’t worry you’ll be spoilt for choice as there are oodles of mid-range and budget-friendly eateries to choose from.

As a mid-range option I would definitely recommend The Market especially if you’re a seafood fan, which is located in Hotel Icon. It’s a buffet … I know, I know what you’re thinking but hear me out here. This isn’t an ordinary buffet. You can pile your plates high with fresh seafood, salad and desserts. There are loads of Asian and Western options to choose from. When we visited there was mountains of delicious snow crab, caviar, steak and a sushi station serving fresh sashimi made to order. I loved the tea smoked eggs with black truffle and the cooked to perfection lamb shank.

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It’s not cheap, but the secret is to go late on a Friday evening when they are doing a late-night (after 10:30pm!) special offer called the ‘Night Market’, we paid $398 HKD which is about £38 each. For the quality of the food and the fact you can have as much as you want (we truly stuffed ourselves) it’s not a bad price. We didn’t even mind eating so late as we were jet lagged anyway. A word of warning, be careful with the desserts, there’s a LOT of duiran options, including ice cream! Durian, an eggy/creamy/sickish/onionesque substance is the devil disguised as fruit, in my opinion. The best dessert was the matcha tea panna cotta, OMG so good.

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Cheap Eats

If you want to cling on to those coins but don’t want to compromise on flavour, get yourself over to One Dim Sum in Mongkok. There were people literally queuing down the street, and having their orders taken on the street, so you can see how popular it is. Plus, it’s SO cheap. The dishes are about $15 – $20 HKD each (£1.50 – £2) and the portions aren’t small (4x small Dim Sum or 2x Large buns in each dish) Going for Dim Sum is an absolute must in Hong Kong, and One Dim Sum is one of the best places to get it.

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