I married James on 7th October 2017, just over a year after losing my Dad. It was a pretty wonderful occasion despite the fact it absolutely peed it down all day and I fell flat on my arse in front of everybody during the ceremony! The day itself was amazing, as was my Mum. She walked me down the aisle and happily gave me away – she even did the traditional, what would have been, father of the bride speech. I’ve always thought this woman was pretty ace and this just confirmed it. There were great people, good food, plenty of wine (obviously) and a band that allowed my sister to grab the microphone and sing an absolutely terrible drunken version of ‘teenage dirtbag’ – it was a great start to married life.
We honeymooned the following May and went on this ‘once in a lifetime’ trip. Although after recent events, I’ve very much debated just dropping everything and booking something similar again. I quite often debate running away from ordinary life and venturing out into the big wild world.
The first hurdle was dropping Stanley off at the kennels, for three weeks. For someone who isn’t much of a crier, I completely bawled my eyes out the whole way there and all the way home. James thought I was batshit. I immediately started to miss him and we hadn’t even got to the airport yet.
We started with a flight to San Francisco. Truth be told I’m not a keen flyer. I’m not scared of flying, I just get ridiculously restless so an 11-hour flight wasn’t exactly my idea of a good time. Thankfully, they had a wide range of movies and I watched The Greatest Showman for the first time. By the end of the flight, I knew the words to every song and I’ve remained a huge fan ever since.
James surprised me and had already booked a car to pick us up from the airport, he wanted something a little more special than your average taxi. After what was quite a questionable journey (why do people text and drive??), we made it in one piece to Hotel Zoe, our accommodation for the next 4 days.
We made ourselves familiar with our surroundings as soon as we arrived and wandered around Fishermans Wharf for the rest of the afternoon. We treated ourselves to an In-N-Out Burger and some Krispy Kreme doughnuts (yum!) and forced ourselves to stay awake until it was appropriate to go to bed. Thankfully by doing this, we woke up the following day without any jet lag – winner!
I was a big fan of San Francisco and if it wasn’t for the fact you felt like you were hiking up the worlds tallest mountain whenever you tackled the steep streets, I’d happily live there. We cycled over the Golden Gate Bridge, spent too much money in Macy’s, rode the famous cable cars and even took a trip out to Alcatraz. The vibe of the place was great.
A few days later, we picked up our rental car and started the journey to Yosemite National Park. It was about a four hour drive and the closer we got, the more lost we were. The rental company had given us a sat nav, but she was literally no use whatsoever when we kept losing signal! I ended up sat in the passenger seat with the biggest map of California on my lap, looking around thinking… shit.
We stopped in the middle of nowhere at a gas station to purchase a survival kit incase we became stranded. We bought gatorade and milk duds. I thought about having a wee but there was a glory hole in the toilet wall so I gave it a swift miss!
After some bickering, one or two door slams and some questionable wrong turns, we finally made it to Yosemite View Lodge in El Portal. It was really close to one entrance of the park so we thought we’d take a drive whilst we had some time. As we paid for our pass, we were given a map of the park along with some useful information. One section said ‘mountain lions live here, if you see them do not run, instead shout, wave and throw stones. Pick up small children so they look bigger and if they fight, fight back’ – great.
We took a few photographs as the sun began to set, it was so peaceful. As we were driving up a long winding road, the weather took a turn and it started to rain. It was becoming harder to see and the higher we drove the more mist surrounded the car so rather than find ourselves stranded with mountain lions, we decided to head back to the lodge.
Like most of the accommodations around Yosemite, it was self catering and there was only one shop which you had to drive to. We made some shitty pasta dish with some questionable meat to survive the night and stocked up on the only red wine they sold. All the bins had chains and locks attached to them because apparently bears liked to wander around looking for leftovers. I felt like we were in some American summer-camp film. It was so weird.
We only had one full day in Yosemite so we woke up really early and parked up before sunrise. There was far too much to see so we’d decided to stay around Glacier Point. The views were absolutely incredible and when the sun eventually beamed up in the sky, it was boiling, nothing like the day before. We went on a short hike into the wilderness and I was ridiculously gutted we hadn’t packed our walking boots. I kept thinking ‘Stan would love this’ but it’s a bloody long flight to go on a dog walk!
As we were walking through the forest, keeping as best we could to the path, we felt like we were the only people on earth. When we finally made it back to where we’d parked the car, we started to see more and more people and each main road was filled with mile long queues of cars. It was so busy! We’d forgotten that it was Memorial Day weekend and it would appear everyone spends the holiday picnicking in Yosemite.
Now one thing permanently scarred in my memory when I think of Yosemite is the toilets. Think about it, you are in the middle of nowhere and they haven’t exactly built pipes, plumbing and waste disposal. What does exist, is a little hut with a hole in the ground. Honestly, I’ve never smelt anything so fucking rancid in my entire life! I found myself balancing over this hole trying not to piss down my leg whilst holding my nose to stop myself gagging. I sit here now writing this and I shiver at the thought.
But not wanting to leave Yosemite on a disgusting note – the views and everything about the place was spectacular.
Another early start and five and a half hours later, we landed in Santa Barbara. Famous for it’s soft sand beaches and chilled out night life, I can see why it’s a top holiday destination for that summer getaway. You ain’t buying a property here for less than $1m. I can safely say it lived up to its reputation and we enjoyed the time out to just sit and relax.
Did you know that happy hour in Santa Barbara actually lasts around six hours? No one put a warning on this to say it didn’t mean you needed to drink constantly for that whole time but hey-ho! It started with one, two or eight sangrias around the pool followed by a few mojitos at a local bar. Before we knew it, we were drinking red wine in a small side alley Italian restaurant. I only remember this restaurant because we stunk of garlic the following morning. There was no massive surprise that I woke up hugging the toilet.
The most painful part was nursing a hangover from hell whilst we had to pack up, get in the car and make our way to Santa Monica. Thankfully, James had booked lunch for us at Paradise Cove Beach Cafe in Malibu as a pitstop on the way. We almost made it there quite effortlessly until we had to pull over and source some bottled water and ready salted crisps in the attempt to revive me before the sangria made a second appearance.
The cafe was lovely and was obviously quite famous for it’s food. The walls were covered in photographs of celebrity visitors, they served pasta straws with your drinks and you couldn’t help but stare at other people when their food arrived, in complete envy that you hadn’t ordered that dish yourself.
We made it to Santa Monica and spent the afternoon at the pier. We watched street artists do things with their bodies that did not look possible and enjoyed some chips whilst attempting to avoid a rather large seagull that also wanted a few. We finally decided to call it a day and attempt to catch up on the sleep we’d lost the night before.
Again, we only had one full day here in Los Angeles and there was so much we wanted to see. This included The Griffith Observatory, the Hollywood Sign and the walk of fame. This can all be done in one day right?
As we drove up to The Griffith Observatory, we could see the Hollywood Sign… miles away in the distance. It was too far away and we wanted to get closer. Apparently you couldn’t park anywhere near it anymore, so the only way to get close was by foot. We googled how long it would take from where we were and it said a round trip would take about four hours… four hours we didn’t have. So being the clever couple that we are, we read a few forums where people had debated the quickest way to do it. We found someone who said you could park in a nearby cul-de-sac and then you’ll be able to walk up there in 45 minutes. Perfect.
Let me be very clear – this was a stupid idea.
The ‘hike’ was not an official route and there was no path, it was around 100 degrees and there were signs everywhere telling you to be careful of rattle snakes and rock slides. We were climbing what felt like sand dunes in the desert. Under foot was slippery and there were no railings to stop you just sliding off the edge. My husband, the saviour, kindly positioned himself so every time I fell flat on my arse, I just fell into him and not down the side of a cliff. He was my wonderful human barrier. I regretted not packing walking boots once again as gym trainers with zero grip was an extremely poor choice.
Buckets of sweat later and around 55 minutes of pure pain and dehydration, we made it. We stood behind those huge letters and allowed muscles we hadn’t used in years, recover. Champions of the world.
If anyone ever tells you that going down is easier than going up, they are lying. The only reason we made it back down to the bottom quicker was because we basically just rolled downhill. I pretty much made my way back to the car on my backside. But we did make it, alive… and there’s a visitor book that one of the houses had put on their porch with our names signed in it. ‘We survived Hollywood bootcamp’.
Growing up as a huge movie fan, I dreamt about Hollywood. What I would give to stand on those stars and feel like an actress. How I’d love to bump into the rich and famous on Broadway. Yeah. Surprise surprise, it’s nothing at all like I imagined, in fact it’s actually a bit of a shit hole. It was not at all as glamorous as I had hoped. I think movies make it out to be something it isn’t and once we’d seen a few stars on the sidewalk, we were done. We spent the rest of the afternoon driving up and down the avenues, just taking it all in. We even made it to the playboy mansion gates, but that’s as far as we got.
If you were to ask me now which was my favourite place during the whole honeymoon, Yosemite aside, it would be San Diego. There was no rushing by this point as we had four wonderful days here. I absolutely loved it. We’d booked tickets to watch the San Diego Padres at Petco Park – this was our first ever baseball game. I loved sitting there, attempting to understand the rules whilst nibbling away at the worlds largest pretzel.
We spent half a day exploring the USS Midway – James absolutely loves this type of stuff. We made the mistake of not eating before we went and after about four hours into it, I found myself getting really hangry. We finally found a bar and decided to share the loaded nachos starter. Honestly, you’d never have seen anything like it, the plate was absolutely piled high! We didn’t eat for the rest of the day afterwards. How was that a starter for one?
We’d heard great things about San Diego Zoo so we dedicated a whole day to visit. I’ve never been a huge zoo fan (animal confinement and all that jazz) but I really enjoyed it and the weather remained kind to us. I wish we could have stayed in San Diego longer, not because we had other events planned, but just to enjoy the vibe for another few days. We quite enjoyed just sitting at a bar with a beer watching whatever game was on the TV.
Now it was time for our first internal flight.
The first thing that hit me when we arrived in Las Vegas was the heat. I’d never felt anything like it before. Sometimes you felt like you couldn’t breathe and even the taxi drivers were dishing out bottles of frozen water. I found as soon as I stepped out of the air-conditioned hotels, I instantly turned to sweat.
I’d had this great idea about all the fun stuff we could do whilst here, but none of it really materialised. James had lost his wedding ring a week after we were married (don’t get me started) so I thought it would be fun just getting married again with his new one – but it’s not actually as easy as that. I think unless you know what you are doing in Vegas, you don’t end up in any situations like ‘The Hangover’.
Truth be told, we aren’t massive party animals. Give us an old mans pub over a nightclub any day. We also don’t gamble, but we did have a go. I won $27 and was ridiculously happy with this, despite the people in the queue next to me cashing in thousands. Yes, I’ll just take my $27 thank you…
We pre-booked a helicopter to fly us over the Grand Canyon. We knew you could drive but it seemed to take a ridiculously long time and quite frankly we couldn’t be bothered sitting in a car again. So the best way to see it all, was from the sky. It wasn’t cheap, but it was worth every penny. I also pride myself on the fact although there were the odd occasions of heavy breathing, I did not throw up.
The last leg of our trip was New York. We’d visited previously back in 2014 but we’d always said if we were passing again, we may as well stop by. It was actually a great ending to the entire trip as we didn’t need to do much because we’d done all the attractions before. We didn’t need to wake up ridiculously early and we just did whatever we wanted. We sat on a bench outside Central Park every morning with a Starbucks coffee and did some last minute shopping – mainly consisting of lego!
We made one new discovery during this trip – Little Italy Pizza. This is a small pizza shop that sold the BEST pizza I have ever eaten in my life. Want to know a funny story? James left the camera, containing all our honeymoon photographs, on the back of the chair and only realised when we were about 5 blocks away! My face dropped and I ran straight back, sliding across car bonnets to thankfully find it still there. My husband, the saviour sometimes, a complete pain in my arse others.
During our last NYC visit, we’d stayed at some classy hotel with the worlds biggest bed. This time round we’d decided to stay somewhere a little less high profile. We’d booked in at The Empire Hotel which appeared heavily on Gossip Girl. A lovely little place with a nice little roof top bar. It was a shame that it’d gone slightly downhill since its Gossip Girl days, even the P in the sign had given up.
We ended our trip drinking overpriced gin looking out over the NYC skyline.
During the whole flight home, I was so excited to see Stan. As soon as we made it back, we dumped the suitcases and went to go and get him. I’d pretty much worried the whole last week of the trip, it made me feel sick wondering if he thought we’d left him for good. It’s safe to say he was absolutely fine although extremely excited to see us. He waltzed through the door, wagged his tail for about five minutes and then curled up in a ball and went to sleep. He woke up three days later.
Now it wouldn’t be a true nothernwife blog entry without some sadness right?
Jet lag hit me like a ton of bricks, but I thought I best ring my Mum to let her know we were safe at home. We spoke about a couple of our adventures but nothing in detail because I’d probably see her really soon. I asked her how she was. There was a short pause and she told me she was sat with my sister and they’d been to an appointment that very day and had some news.
She had breast cancer.
The first thing to cross my mind? My Mum is now going to die, just like my Dad did. I think when you’ve already lost someone to cancer before, you automatically think that is the only outcome.
Now I’m not that mean to leave this chapter there. I’m not going to leave you hanging on what happens next.
My Mum is okay.
Don’t get me wrong, life became a whirlwind of emotion again after finding out. We attended every single appointment with her and every visit was full of anxiety and worry that we’d be given bad news. This was just our default position now – that every time you sat in front of a doctor, you’ll be given bad news. But whilst the news wasn’t great for a while, after some radiotherapy, two operations and many appointments, she was given the all clear because they’d caught it early.
Thank fuck for that.
Do you remember when I told you my life was pretty ordinary for a while? Well after both parents had cancer, one terminal, I thought that was enough shit. If there was an almighty power attempting to challenge me, I felt like I’d been challenged enough.
But it would appear the world had a different plan for me. A plan to really push me to the brink of survival.