Los Angeles – Behind the Glitz & Glamour of Hollywood

Hollywood celebrities, legendary rock venues, multi-million dollar mansions, bleach blonde hair, chiseled bodies, and plastic surgery are just some of the images that pop into my head when someone talks about the City of Angels.  Until recently, I had zero desire or interest to visit this world-famous city mainly out of fear – the fear of being bombarded with fakeness.

LAX - Airport Logo

LAX – Airport Logo

When the opportunity presented itself for me to spend a few days in Los Angeles for my company’s annual Sales Kickoff, I thought it was time for me to put these preconceived notions of Los Angeles to the test.  It was also an opportunity to reconnect with my friend and former co-worker, Lorie, who I had not seen in three years.  Yes, this is the same Lorie who I went ice skating with on the Eiffel Tower.

Malibu Inn Dinner with John & Lorie

Malibu Inn Dinner with John & Lorie

With three days to spare before Sales Kickoff, I sure as Hell made the most out of my 72 hours in LA.  During this time, I noticed that there is more to this city than we are made to know.  Was I wrong all along about the fakeness of Los Angeles?!?  Behind the glitz and the glamour, Los Angeles (surprisingly) offers a lot more to the first-time visitor than one can imagine!

Gorgeous Scenery & Climate

First and foremost, Los Angeles is one of the most scenic places in the world.  Surrounded by mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Los Angeles has plenty of outdoor activities for everyone – surfing, hiking, bicycling, skate boarding, etc.

Runyon Canyon

Runyon Canyon

Griffith Park Observatory, Malibu Pier, and Runyon Canyon were just some of the places that allowed me to enjoy the grandiose views of Los Angeles County.  Combined with the good weather – it felt like late Spring/early Fall weather in Canada – I was overwhelmed with a sense of serenity unlike any feeling I have had before on past travel experiences.

Cost-Effective Attractions

Los Angeles is by no means short of attractions for its millions of visitors each year!  Beaches, night clubs, amusement parks, and high fashion shopping are just some of the activities that tourists can enjoy here over the course of a few days.  While it is quite easy to spend a boatload of money in Los Angeles, it doesn’t have to be the case.

Hollywood Walk of Fame

Hollywood Walk of Fame

Whether you spend a day at Santa Monica Pier or few hours taking photos along the Hollywood Walk of Fame or take a walking tour of Beverly Hills, it is quite possible to still have a fat wallet at the end of your LA trip.  In fact, the most money I spent during my time here was for a hockey ticket to see the LA Kings takes on the Calgary Flames.  Mind you, I just needed a single ticket for myself, and there happened to be seats available for this game with a 50% discount.

Super Friendly People

There is a saying that “people you meet from LA aren’t really from LA.”  Boy was that cliché saying ever true!  Lorie and her husband, John, moved here several years ago – Lorie is from Tennessee and John is from Boston.  I also met a couple of Cougars who were a bit friendlier to me that I would have liked.  Both of them, coincidentally, came from Chicago although neither of them knew each other as I met each one separately a day apart.

Bulgarian Tony

Bulgarian Tony

By far my most memorable moment in LA was meeting Bulgarian Tony, who moved here several years ago to be a photo stand-in for Orlando Bloom in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie series.  Tony helped me find my way to the Staples Center after taking the subway down from Hollywood so I could make it to the LA Kings – Calgary Flames game on time.  Had this been New York City or any other large American city, I am not sure that patience and friendliness would have been reciprocated.

LA Kings vs. Calgary Flames

LA Kings vs. Calgary Flames

So there you have it – three factors that completely changed my perspective of Los Angeles.  By no means is this an exhaustive list of the factors that gave me a positive outlook on LA, but they are enough to make me completely change my outlook on the City of Angels for the better.

Have you ever had a 180 degree view on a city you’ve never visited before?  Where was it and what factors changed your mind – for better or for worse?

Categories: California, United States | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Pittsburgh’s Best Vantange Point

If you ever get the chance to visit Pittsburgh, then you definitely want to go to Mount Washington.  Mount Washington gives you the iconic viewpoint of downtown Pittsburgh as seen in many travel brochures and magazines promoting the city.

To get to the top of Mount Washington, you could either drive up it or take the Duquesne Incline.  During my first visit to Pittsburgh in May 2009, I opted for the Duquesne Incline.

Duquesne Incline

Duquesne Incline

The Duquesne Incline Duquesne Incline is located at:

1197 West Carson Street

Pittsburgh, PA. 15219

Open Monday through Saturday from 5:30am – 12:45am and on Sundays from 7am – 12:45am, the incline is opened year round.  A round trip costs around $5 US/person, which is not too bad.

Once at the top of Mount Washington, you can check out the “Point of View” Statue.  This statue was created in 2006 and depicts George Washington and the Seneca leader Guyasuta, with their weapons down, in a face-to-face meeting in October 1770.  The meeting occurred when Washington was in the area examining land for future settlement along the Ohio River.

"Point of View" Statue

“Point of View” Statue

It is at this point that you can see the point where three major rivers merge – the Ohio, the Allegheny, and the Monongahela.  So, for the best skyline view of Pittsburgh, make sure you go to the top of Mount Washington towards the “Point of View” Statue.

Categories: North America, Pennsylvania, United States | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Orlando – The City Behind the Mouse

When people go to Orlando, they tend to visit the main theme parks at Walt Disney World or Universal Studios.  Rarely do you ever hear people going to Orlando for the sake of visiting … well, Orlando.  With millions of visitors each year, surely Orlando has a lot to offer or so I thought.  After checking into my room, I asked the Concierge for some ideas of what I could do here for fun.  Turns out not very much!

Lake Eola Park is the main attraction in downtown Orlando.  It is about 23 acres and the lake is actually a sinkhole rather than a “lake.”  Most of Orlando’s main festivals and celebrations are held here, like Independence Day fireworks.  Given that it was mid-April 2008 when I was here for a business trip, there were no major events planned for that weekend.  So, I walked around for an hour or two taking photos and enjoying the various birds that I saw along my walk until boredom set in.

Lake Eola Park

Lake Eola Park

The other “main activity” to do in Orlando is visit historic Winter Park.  Honestly, Winter Park was my main reason for staying in downtown Orlando for a couple more days after my business trip ended mainly because one of my co-workers at the time lived in this area and I wanted to see what his hometown was like.

Winter Park is upscale, affluent historic village 15 minutes northeast of downtown Orlando.  The main activity to do here is the Winter Park Scenic River Boat Tour.  It is a relaxing, hour-long long ride on an 18 passenger pontoon that takes you through the several lakes and canals that cut through this quirky town.  Open daily from 10am – 4pm, it’s a low-cost activity at about $12 US/person.

One of Many Mansions in Winter Park

One of Many Mansions in Winter Park

What downtown Orlando lacks during the daytime, it more than makes up for it with its raucous nightlife.  I am not sure if it’s the lack of tourists or the Latin influence here, but the bar scene in Orlando ranks high on my list of travels.  Orlando’s night life centers on the Central Boulevard and Orange Avenue area.  As a single guy at the time, it was really easy to meet local women here seeing as not too many of them run into a Canadian at their local bar.

Aside from the good nightlife, Orlando is the most boring place I have ever been.  Although I try to keep an open mind when I travel and try to see the good in everything as much as possible, it still is a real stretch to find something really worthwhile to do in downtown Orlando.  Now I understand why visitors flock to the nearby theme parks at Walt Disney World and Universal Studios Florida instead.

What’s the most boring place you’ve ever visited?  Why was it such a “dud” for you?

Categories: Florida, North America, United States | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Sam Kee Building – The Thinnest Building in the World

Vancouver’s Chinatown is the largest in Canada, and within this elaborate neighbourhood sits some really cool attractions, including the Sam Kee Building.

First acquired by the Sam Kee Company in the 1903, this building was built on a standard sized lot at 8 West Pender Street.  It once housed 13 different businesses – primarily public baths with living quarters on the second story and the basement holding several offices and shops.

Sam Kee Building

Sam Kee Building

By 1912, the City of Vancouver decided to expand the width of West Pender Street and expropriated about 24 feet (7.3m) of the above-ground portion of the property.  Instead of giving up on this commercial building, the architects Brown and Gillam were hired in 1913 to redesign the building as it now looks today.

Today the Sam Kee Building is home to the Jack Chow Insurance Company – the primary tenant – and is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the “World’s Thinnest Commercial Building.”  The width of the ground floor from store front to the rear of the building on the ground floor measure 4’11 (1.50m).  To put this into perspective, I am 5’3” (1.60m) and can easily touch both the store front and rear of the building at the same time with both hands.

Inside Sam Kee Building

Inside Sam Kee Building

Without a doubt, this has been one of the most unusual tourist attractions I have ever seen.  The best part is that it is free to visit and you are allowed to take photos inside as long as you ask the front office staff of Jack Chow Insurance permission to take a photo inside.  I am sure that they are used to this by now.

Here is the official location for the Sam Kee Building:

Sam Kee Building

8 West Pender Street

Vancouver, British Columbia

V6B 1R3

So the next time you are in Vancouver, make sure you visit this world-famous building in Chinatown.  It is literally located within a couple of blocks from Chinatown’s Millennium Gate.

Categories: British Columbia, Canada | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Weech’s Wanders … Cruise Vacations

Cruise vacations have never been of interest of to me nor crossed my mind until my good friend from University decided to get married on one.  How could sitting on a ship for days on end with nothing else to do be considered “fun?”  Isn’t it better and cheaper to just take an all-inclusive vacation instead?

After going on this Eastern Caribbean Cruise for my friend’s wedding, my attitude towards cruising has changed for the better.  If you have never gone on a cruise vacation before, then please keep in mind my Top 5 reasons to go on one.

(1.) Low Cost Vacation

Much like an all-inclusive resort, cruise vacations can also be done on a tight budget.  Packages can range anywhere from $350 – $800 US/week depending on what cruise line you go on, the length of the trip and what time of the year you go.  The only downside to a cruise vacation is that neither flights nor alcoholic drinks are not included in the price like it would be with an all-inclusive.

Holland AmericaSafety TrainingPool Bar

 

 


Independence of the Seas Dining Room
The PromenadeSeaview Cabin

 

 

 

 

 

 

But if you are not much of a drinker or you just want to experience various islands or countries in the world without having to pay an exorbitant amount, like the Bahamas, Barbados or Hawaii, then a cruise vacation is the cheapest way to go.

(2.) Mobility & Flexibility

When you stop to think about it for a moment, a cruise ship is nothing but a massive mobile hotel. During my 7 day Eastern Caribbean cruise, we made stops at Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Saint Martin and Haiti before making our way back to Fort Lauderdale.  In the course of one week, I was able to set foot on four different islands.  That is something you could not do during an all-inclusive vacation.

Fort Lauderdale SharkSan Juan Map Sint Maarten Car Rental St. Thomas

 

 

 

Labadee

Philipsburg

 

 

 

 

 

Cruise ships have the flexibility to change their ports of call based on weather-related emergencies, such as hurricanes and tsunamis.  Fortunately, there were no emergencies during our particular cruise, but it is reassuring to know that your cruise vacation can be salvaged if such an event arises.

(3.) Amazing Food

One of the risks you might get with an all-inclusive resort is that the food might be poor or inadequate.  This can be especially true in countries like the Dominican Republic or Cuba.  On a cruise ship, however, vacationers need not to worry about getting sick from something that they eat.  Food is thoroughly cooked and prepared under Westernized standards.  This shouldn’t be too surprising as some of the world’s largest cruise liners are under either American or European ownership

Appetizers Cherry TartFresh Salmon Salad Fruit Display


Steak Dinner

 

Lobster Dinner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

À la carte menu options do exist, but passengers can get their fill of the breakfast and lunch buffets if they prefer that instead.  Dinners are particularly amazing as we had all you can eat steak and lobster during one of our nights at sea.

(4.) International Community Experience

It can be argued that the goal of any hotel resort is to provide guests with a friendly staff experience.  In fact, that should be every travel company’s goal to provide exceptional customer service.  What sets a cruise ship apart from the rest of their peers is that their staff truly provides you with an International community experience.  If you fly a certain airline or stay at a particular resort, then chances are that 99% of the staff you meet is local.  But on a cruise ship, however, the chances of meeting staff from around the world increases dramatically.

International Staff

Peruvian Waiter

Posing with the Staff

 

 

 

 

 

Since I don’t know the exact laws and regulations for becoming employed with a cruise ship are exactly, I won’t go into that topic.  What I do know is that we met a lot of staff on this cruise from around the world, including a friendly waitress from Peru who served my table on our steak and lobster night.  Now that we have the likes of Facebook, Twitter and email to keep us connected with people we meet on the road, you can easily hook yourself up with more International contacts by simply going on a cruise.

(5.) High-Quality Entertainment

If there is one thing that a cruise vacation certainly delivers on, then it is high-quality entertainment!  Whether it is gambling, piano bars, parades, theatre shows, pool parties or shopping that tickles your fancy, then a cruise liner will certainly cater towards your needs.

British Invasion Party

Belly Flop Competition

The Promenade Shops

 

 

 

Ice Skating Show

Flow Rider

Theater Show

 

 

 

 

 

Whatever gave me the idea that a cruise vacation would be boring was completely ridiculous.  My days at sea were filled up quickly with plenty of activities as you can tell by my photos.

As a convert to the cruising industry, I really hope you go on one yourself in the future.  If you have any questions for me about my experience, then please do not hesitate to ask in the comments section below.  Happy sailing!

Categories: Haiti, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, U.S. Virgin Islands, Weech's Wanders | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

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