If you had told me a year ago that I was on the precipice of finally starting to live my life and discover who I am, I would have laughed and told you to stop being so bloody philosophical/sentimental/full of crap! I had just moved to France and had left everything I had ever known in my whole life behind me in Wales. I spent the first month in a state of worry; nervous that I wouldn’t understand when people directly spoke to me in French, and planning every single sentence to ensure that it was grammatically perfect in my head before even contemplating joining in with a conversation. Although I never pined for Wales and my home comforts, it was one of the most difficult things I’d ever had to do.
The year passed quicker than I could have ever imagined, and before I knew it, my flatmate and I were throwing a good bye soirée in our beautiful flat that had been the hub of social events among my friends for the past year. I was reluctantly torn from my French reality to restart my life in the UK mid June, and I can honestly say that I found it harder to leave Nantes in June, than to leave Britain in the September of 2011 to start what would become the most amazing adventure of my life.
Now, when I revisit the time I spent abroad, I ache to be back in Nantes. I miss the little life I created for myself, and I miss the city where I discovered that actually I wasn’t as weak as I had originally thought. My friend recently found this video and it reminded me of all the things I loved about the city that I called home for the best 9 months of my life, and had to share it with you!
If anyone out there is considering doing a year abroad, I strongly urge you to go for it! You won’t regret anything about making the decision to go! You will learn so much about yourself and experience new cultures that will shape you into a better person.
Las Vegas: possibly one of the best places I have ever partied. And, believe it or not, the cheapest place we went out! That was thanks to my friend, Mr Club Promoter. A chance meeting in the pool led to my friends and I being added to Guest Lists and getting free club entry every night we went out! Nights out at Pure, and Tao filled up the weekend, and we even got the chance to party at the hotel everyone’s favourite royal, Prince Harry, called home during his short stay!
I would definitely say that being a woman in Las Vegas really pays. Every night the free entry was without any doubt because of the face that we had boobs. Once we had been ushered into the club ahead of the queue, we were then gifted with an open bar. Almost sounds too good to be true doesn’t it!? For us women it was great; but not so much for the men… The distinction between the sexes was so extreme that even the colour of your cup corresponded to your sex, with pink cups for the girls, and clear cups for the boys. If a man was seen with a pink cup, it was unceremoniously snatched away from his grasp as we were shocked to learn when my friend kindly gave an extra drink to a guy.
The clubs were so different from any club I’ve ever frequented! Rather than sticking to the floor with each step and avoiding sitting down on alcohol covered seats at all costs, the clubs were luxuriously decorated and just so snazzy. Pure boasted an amazing rooftop bar, with a fabulous view of the strip. It was simply incredible to be partying with the strip lit up in the background.
I have to say that my favourite place of all was TAO at The Venetian. It was so luxurious and, dare I say it of a place that people go to get absolutely drunk off their faces, really quite classy! There were bathtubs filled with water and rose petals, and a rooftop pool with cabanas to chill and when your feet just can’t take the pain of 5 inch heels any longer! It was such a relief from being a sardine on the dance floor, and still insanely warm in the nights. There were even Cirque du Soleil style acrobatics going on with women swinging across the room on ropes! It was definitely one of the best clubbing experiences I’ve ever had.
If a clubbing holiday is what you’re after there is no better place than Vegas to go. My holiday package was reasonably priced, and I ended up spending little to no money on nights out, definitely worth it for the high calibre of the clubs, and amazing fun you’ll have partying in Vegas. After all, it is sin city the original party destination – if you’re going to do something, then do it right!
If it’s good enough for Prince Harry, then it’s not too shabby for me! But remember, no one likes a snitch so what happens in Vegas…
The Arizona the desert really wasn’t as barren as I thought it would be. Where I was imagining large expanses of dusty landscape with nothing but miles of sand dunes as far as my eyes could see, the landscape was actually rather green, and full of life. We hit a Joshua Tree Forest on the drive back which was an amazing place. The cacti weren’t anything like the cartoon standard cactus branded into children’s untarnished minds, but more akin to a tree in height, with what looked like leaves on the end of the branches. These trees wouldn’t have looked totally out of place in the UK! The branches of the cacti spiralled away from the main branch of the plant in the most unusual interesting shapes that suggested the agility of a human limb!
We were stopped in the desert gazing at these extraordinary trees for around an hour. In that space of time, a handful of cars passed us! It was insane; we were literally the only people in that area. At one point, my friend just lay down in the middle of the road for a rest. The silence was so overwhelming that it became deafening, and at one point I managed to convince myself I could hear a rattle snake! We quickly snapped a few photos on the Mustang (it just had to be done!) and then we were on our way back to Las Vegas making the most of riding in the back of a convertible with the roof down even if it was slightly windy!
The sun setting against this beautiful scenery made for some fabulous imagery. The sun set bathed the desert in the most glorious colourful light with dusky pinks, oranges and even purples! The array of colours was outstandingly stunning, and it just served to highlight the natural beauty of our surroundings. My favourite view of the day was undoubtedly the silhouette of the mountainous landscape against the dusky blue sky just before the sun finally set on the best day of the holiday!
Starving hungry we got back to Vegas and pulled up to an International House of Pancakes (IHOP) to munch on some pancakes before bed. It was only at this point that the unsuitability of the car that we had chosen for the journey that we’d made became truly evident. The Mustang was covered in a layer of sand, and horrendously dirty! The pristine car that we had picked up over 12 hours ago no longer existed, and it looked as though we had battered this vehicle beyond recognition. Concerned that we would be charged a hell of a lot of money for returning the car in this unsightly condition, we hurriedly scraped together a plan to clean the car. Using hand towels smuggled from IHOP’s bathroom, and the melted ice in the water box we frantically wiped down the car with wet paper towels, using dry paper towels to shine the car after the sand had been removed. Picture the scene; it was totally ridiculous! The hilarity of the situation was not lost on us, and we were cleaning the Mustang in hysterics in the car park of the International House of Pancakes!
For me this was without any shadow of a doubt the BEST day of the holiday! I feel so lucky to have had this experience, and would one hundred percent recommend to any one that you make this journey. You won’t regret it, and you’ll come out of it with hundreds of fabulous memories. That’s what life is for, living! So go, LIVE!
So there we were; four women driving through the Arizona desert in a beautiful car, with no Satellite Navigational System, no internet access on our phones, simply relying on my excellent map reading skills to get us to the Grand Canyon, when we drove past a billboard telling us to turn left at the next junction for the Grand Canyon. Well of course, we missed the turning! After figuring this out (which took another few miles) and finding a break in the road to turn so that we were facing the right direction to get back to the junction, we’d managed to get onto a main road through a little town. Every few miles alongside the road there were several faded, rickety post boxes lined alongside each other, bent at weathered angles, indicating that people actually lived in this crazy place! We passed a school, several abandoned buildings, burnt out Chevy’s, and even a functioning bar, before we hit the deserted wilderness again. After that little town, some buildings could be indentified in the distance across the landscape. They were so sporadic in their placement that it looked more like litter that had been strewn from the heavens, and had embedded itself into the earth where it had landed.
We reached another billboard with an arrow pointing us towards the Grand Canyon, so once again we obligingly followed the directions; by this point driving through the back and beyond of Arizona, my paper map with only the main roads printed, had become redundant! Cruising through the country we were confronted with a “Rough Road” sign. Not really thinking that much about it we continued the journey pleasantly. Then we came to the 14 mile stretch of rough road…
I think I can safely say that a sign warning of “NO ROAD” would have been more appropriate than just describing the path as “Rough”, as it was not a road that any person from civilisation would understand as being a road. It was a sand track up the mountain, besieged with rocks of all shapes and sizes, and bordered on either side by cacti and wild cows. We would later learn that this road was the only one up to the Grand Canyon, and the surrounding villages! British drivers don’t really have to deal with this type of terrain, so it was quite the surprise. The drive up to the Grand Canyon wasn’t too bad. We were overtaken by larger vehicles more suited to driving in that type of environment with four wheel drive. The worst part of the drive up was that the two of us in the back were desperate to go to the toilet after having consumed litres of water on the journey, and this road seemed to be infinite! When would it end!? It was the most agonizing journey of my life, but the journey back down would be even more eventful! More on that later though…
Eventually, my friend who was in the driving seat, had miraculously manoeuvred the Mustang the whole length of the dirt track, and we had made it up to a road that was thankfully made of tarmac, and not natural rubble. From there the journey to the Grand Canyon West base on the mountain was smooth, and within minutes we had made it!
Tickets for the Skywalk bought, we were waiting for the bus to take us there! The four of us clambered onto the Air Conditioned vehicle, and took our seats at the front. I took it upon myself to enquire as to how long the bus would take. Unfortunately I hadn’t phrased my question too clearly, and after asking the driver “How long is the bus?” he responded by saying “55 feet.” Needless to say this was confusing to me as I had meant the length of the journey. Rather than be rude and disrespectful to said bus driver (he was an elderly gentleman) I simply replied, “Oh Thanks.” He then got off the vehicle, walked the length of the bus, and returned with a correction, it was actually 54 feet. Well, as my friends were all loosing themselves to fits of laughter, I kept my composure and once again thanked the gentleman. I must learn to speak more clearly.
After an awkward bus journey of not more than a few minutes, we were dropped off at the Skywalk. As soon as we walked to the edge of the cliff, we were all absolutely astonished by the sheer scale of the Grand Canyon. It was insane! Only when a toy like helicopter in the distance flew past, did we realise just how immensely huge the Canyon is! It was simply awe inspiring, and definitely nature’s finest work. We were privileged to be in the right area of the Canyon to see the rock formation that made Eagle Point; the detailed shape of the rock was just amazing. It really looked like an Eagle gliding effortlessly with its wings outstretched. It was simply incredible to think that this amazing place was the result of millions and millions of years of nature just being nature, and I don’t think that there are words to convey just how spectacularly beautiful the views are.
We made our way onto the Skywalk, and after having to stow all of our personal items in lockers (a cheeky way to make people pay for the photos taken by photographers employed by the Skywalk) and covering our shoes with horrible disposable protectors, we made it out onto the glass walkway over the Canyon. After making it halfway around, admiring the beautiful views, I spied a crack in the glass, then in panic I looked down through the transparent floor and saw where I would fall to my imminent death if that crack spread. Well, I really shouldn’t have looked down! I totally freaked out and made my way to the exit rather hastily, before my jellified legs gave out on me! My friends loved it, and once I’d regained my composure, desperately clinging onto the handrail over the steel structure, I rejoined the group and we had some beautiful photos. Although I’m glad I did it, I would say that it isn’t really worth it. I felt that we had better views from the edges of the Canyon, than from the Skywalk itself.
We got back on the bus, and instead of heading back to the base, we were sped along to Guano Point. We spent a little time there, having mandatory I’m-in-the-Grand-Canyon photos (see below!) and then bought some beautiful handmade bracelets from the local people, and headed back to the base. It was time to get back to the bright lights of the strip, before the sun deserted us, and night fell! Driving in the desert in the day is hard enough, we weren’t keen to try it in the night!
Fed (with the delicious blueberries from Walmart) and watered, we were back in the car, and facing the dirt track again. A Mustang really wasn’t a great choice of car for this trip! On the way back, it was all pretty much downhill. Rather than a slow climb up the mountain, my friend was off roading in a convertible!!! Every time a car passed us, the visibility of the road in front was completely diminished, and we were left driving into a cloud of dust, with absolutely no clue what the hell would be around the corner. My friend was rivalling Lewis Hamilton with the speed at which she was taking corners in the convertible – we may as well have been rally driving! We were all creased laughing, listening to the stones scraping the underside of the car; wondering how the hell we had managed to get it so wrong, and simultaneously hoping that none of this was actually damaging the car!
We finally made it to the end of the road, and the car seemed to be in one piece! The sense of relief was unanimous! There was just one more thing that we wanted to do that day – see a cactus up close of course!
Boulder City was the first semblance of civilisation outside Las Vegas, and what turned out to be the last before we hit the desert. The small town with a population of just over 15 000 souls, nestled in Clark County just 30 miles from the infamous Sin City, couldn’t have been more different than the melting pot of tourists that we’d just left behind! The town centre featured a row of buildings all proudly displaying the name of local owners, that wouldn’t have looked out of place in an old school Wild West movie! Bizarrely the town even featured its own rust coloured collection of wild animals, including a Tyrannosaurus Rex, casually chilling on the side of the main road through the town centre… A far cry from the cosmopolitan Las Vegas strip and it’s multiple heaven reaching hotels!
Following the road out of the bustling commercial centre of Boulder City, we headed up a hill into a residential estate. Ever the cautious traveller, I was slightly concerned that we’d taken a wrong turning! I was wrong, and as we reached the peak of the hill, an azure lagoon surrounded by mountains of dusty orange stone came into sight. It was an incredible, unexpected view. Although I knew it would be there (I’m not totally geographically challenged) the stark contrast of the clear cobalt lake sparkling under the desert sun, against the dry barren mountains took my breath away. The lake was a true oasis in the middle of a barren environment. It was such a beautiful landscape because of the contradiction of the thirst quenching lake against the dry lifeless mountains which coexist harmoniously. After admiring the view from the moving car (totally unrecommended!) we made our way down the winding mountain road into the heart of the Hoover Dam.
After parking the car and quickly sorting ourselves out, we stepped out of the car only to be blasted with 115° F heat!!! I don’t think that I have ever felt such heat, but then again I have lived in Wales my whole life and although I’m no meteorologist, I think I can safely say we have never experienced temperatures of such extreme highs! The atmosphere was close to the point of being suffocating and it was inescapable. Standing on the dam, we were completely on display for the wrath of the sun’s intense beaming rays to make us their victim, and it was draining on energy levels to an extreme! We were able to stand on the dam long enough to snap a few pictures before quickly retreating into the luxury of Air Conditioning! Grateful is not a strong enough word to describe my appreciation at that moment for the person who created AC! On behalf of everyone who has ever experienced such heat, Thank You.
The fact that the Hoover Dam was built by sheer man power, under the most extraordinary and extreme circumstances is unbelievable. I take my hat off to the men who laboured tirelessly under the punishing heat of the desert sun to build this wonder of the industrial world! It is more incredible to think that this dam has provided a lifeline to so many people since its creation; economic relief to the men who built the dam, who may otherwise have been struggling through the Great Depression, and a source of sustenance to all of the surrounding areas that have been able to flourish because of the energy generated and supplied to them by the dam. It is just amazing.
We got back in the car, drained our water resources from the polystyrene ice box we had found in Walmart (win!), and headed towards our destination with anticipation. If a manmade attraction was that stunning, the naturally created Grand Canyon was just going to be even better! Hello Arizona!
Road tripping to the Grand Canyon through the beautiful Arizona desert in a Mustang convertible definitely rates as one of the best days of my life so far! The car was oh so beautiful and stylish – and suited four fabulously cosmopolitan women beautifully! Little did we realise how uncomfortable the cream leather interior would become under the heat driving through the desert, and how badly a convertible handled off-roading, but more on that later!
Before we had even left the car park I knew that this day was going to be one that I would fondly remember for the rest of my life! The day started with a bang, as my friend forgot that automatic cars don’t have a clutch and accidentally slammed on the breaks, causing strategically placed sunglasses to fall onto our shocked faces! Who knew driving an automatic could be so confusing!? The gear stick was labelled with letters rather than numbers, some of which were simply incomprehensible to us British drivers! American readers, please could you enlighten me as to what “S” means and what it is used for!?
Convertible top down we made our way out onto the highway, the adventure had begun! I didn’t quite realise how windy it would be when sat in the back of a convertible going 65mph on the I-215! Thankfully I was prepared for anything on this trip, and my new scarf, packed in case of getting stranded in the desert overnight (I hear it gets quite cold…), doubled up brilliantly as a device for keeping my hair covered and out of the wind! Bird’s nest hair that hasn’t been styled doesn’t look good on anyone – fact.
A quick pit stop at Walmart was essential before the big drive in order to stock up on some good old H2O, fresh Californian fruit (the blueberries were the best I have ever tasted in my life!), and a super sized bag of Cheetos in preparation for potentially breaking down and becoming stranded in the desert. Then we were off, with nothing but a flimsy paper map from the desk clerk at the car rental place, the road, and an awesome playlist to get us to our destination!