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Two Guys From California

So we are two guys from California who have settled in the UK and love to travel. We are planning to use this space to chronicle our travels. Sometimes we will post during our travels, other times it will be after.

You can email us if you want:

Dan – dan@twoguysfromcalifornia.com

Bruce – bruce@twoguysfromcalifornia.com

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Overnight Trips

A road trip to Durham

Dates: 20 – 22 November 2015
Modes of Travel: A Mini and a Qashqui
Cast of Characters: Dan, Bruce, Carol & Iain
Hotel: Travelodge

We planned this trip after our move to Scotland as one of our “We are still gonna see each other no matter how far apart we are” trips together.

As I was in London finishing up work for the third time I drove up with Iain and Carol and we met Bruce there.

It was an interesting car ride up for the three of us. First we left late because of me and hit all of the traffic you could possibly hit between London and Durham. The drive up was also filled with car trip fun like an exploding Lucozade up front, a services with very little open at 7pm, a pair of jeans and underwear ripping at the crotch as I got back into the car, road works causing a 1 hour diversion that was not signposted and when we arrived 3 hours later then we expected nothing was open for dinner so we called it a night.

Whilst we were enjoying our drive up, Bruce was chilling next door at Sambuca enjoying wine and food and texting us regular updates. Which was gaining him many points with all of us in the car.

We got up the next day to a very light covering of snow but a very nice temperature. We headed to town and our first stop, after breakfast from Cooplands bakery (where the boys had bacon rolls that had super crunchy bacon and even though she warned us it was crunchy none of us expected it to be that crunchy) , was Durham Cathedral.

The Cathedral was a really nice visit and if you are in the area you should pop in. It has some really nice stained glass (including one section that tells a story) and has areas that tell the story of Durham. There is a an open court yard area with some art work and a café and visitors centre with a replica of the cathedral being built in Lego.

After the Cathedral we decided to walk around town (the long way), which took us by the university area, through the woods and by a river. It was such a nice walk and we ended up back at the top side of the old town.

Now that we had “seen” the sites it was time for the obligatory pub crawl so we hit a few pubs and it was time for lunch.

After looking at Tripadvisor we settled on a a place called Lebaneat which had something all of us would eat. It was a nice place with good service and Lebanese wine that was enjoyed by all (I had some beer too).

After lunch we were back on it but as some different games were being televised we struggled to find places after the sun went down but did find several pubs we liked and got to see a little bit more of the city.

We weren’t really ready to call it a night, but as we were struggling to get in places we popped into Tesco for some room drinks and headed back to the hotel for a bit and enjoyed our drinks in Carol and Iains room whilst watching Carol’s favorite shows like Strictly and Xfactor.

We were all a little hungry and popped into Sambuca for some decent Italian food that was super cheap and plentiful. After dinner it was time for bed.

As we all had long drives ahead of us we decided to have lunch and head on out. We chose a pub just south of town called the Green Tree 1727 as they had Sunday Roast, which included veggie options we were not disappointed.

After lunch we headed our separate ways. We made it home pretty easy but poor Carol and Iain had some struggles and had a repeat of the trip to Durham with road works and traffic.

 

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Cruises, Overnight Trips

36 hours in Miami

Dates: 9 – 10 November 2015
Modes of Travel: British Airways
Cast of Characters: Dan, Bruce, Hannah & Brett
Hotel: Pullman Miami (originally booked as the Sofitel Miami)

So we arrived in Miami after our cruise on the  Norwegian Escape and picked up our car. We headed tto the hotel to drop our stuff of and get our bearings. We spent a little bit of time at the hotel as Bruce needed to catch up on some work. This allowed me to figure out where the malls were and what our game plan was.

Our main shopping goals were: Old Navy, Target and the Converse Outlet (well at least for me) and any other place we could find.

The first mall we visited was Mall of the Americas, which I thought was the mall Hannah was talking about. This place did have an Old Navy but quite frankly it was a dump.

We needed to eat and decided to give Wendy’s a try as it had been many years since we last had it. Just have to say we could have given it a miss, was not as we remembered it.

We then headed over to the Dolphin Mall which is “the” mall in Miami. It had everything but Target and much much more. We got several pairs of Converse at the outlet for super cheap, clothes rom Nautica as they were having a massive sale and then taking even more off at the register. Once we filled our boot it was time to leave

Whilst we were driving around we saw the target and headed over. It did not disappoint and we came out with everything we were looking for and more.

We headed back to the hotel and packed our bags with our haul and made sure we were within the weight limits.

Now it was dinner time and we wanted real Mexican so we found the best place we could in Miami based on reviews and ease of getting there and in the end I chose a place called Mi Rincosito Mexicano. By far some of the best Mexican food I have ever had and I really can’t wait to go to next time I am in Miami.

It was time to call it a night as it was quite late. The next day we left our bags at the hotel and headed out to pick up Hannah and Brett who had just finished their cruise. We spent the day with them before their flight home (They were on the early and we were on the late)

First stop was IHOP for a real American breakfast complete with Bacon, Sausage, Pancakes, Hash Browns and Chicken Fried Steak! Once we had our fill.

Next stop was a random mall so Brett could pick something up at the Apple store. Whilst we were there I saw our flight was delayed and it meant we would miss our connection to Edinburgh, so I called BA and 10 min later it was all sorted and we were moved to a later with no charge or hassle.

As this was their only day in Miami, we visited Old Navy again and a few other shops and just saw the city whilst we did it. As we were out and about I felt like a slurpee so dragged us to a 7-11 which Hannah and Brett had never been to and we stocked up on our 7-11 goodies like Slurpee’s, big gulps, crisps and hostess products. Sadly they had not corn dogs but I really wasn’t hungry so that was ok.

Next stop was the Publix to get some food items we had not found like Velveta. Supermarkets are so different in the US and we were spoiled for choice on everything.

It was almost time for Hannah and Brett to head back to the airport so before we dropped them off we introduced them to Panda Express. It was good, but sadly not as good as I remembered…… Have I really been gone that long?

So we dropped Hannah and Brett off and had a few hours to kill so we headed to South Beach and it was by far our favorite area in Miami.

Sadly our time to Miami came to an end and we headed to the airport. We were delayed after dropping the car as there was some type of security incident which closed down the car rental centre and the D/E terminals. It wasn’t a long delay but annoying.

After that we got checked in and were headed home. The flights were uneventful and we made it home (albeit without one of our bags, don’t worry it showed up the next day and was only dirty clothes anyways) a few hours later than planned due to the delay, but overall it was a good trip!

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Cruises

An ESCAPE to Miami

Dates: 29 October to 9 November 2015
Modes of Travel: Norwegian Escape
Cast of Characters: Dan, Bruce, Hannah, Brett, Debbie and Laura

This was our trip of the year. We have both always wanted to be on an inaugural sailing and we booked this trip before they started building the ship. Hannah and Brett were do to join for the whole trip but due to a scheduling conflict for Hannah at work they had to forgo the cruise and just meet up with us in Miami. However, they kindly drove us to the port.

I was already in London for my last week at work and Bruce flew down from Scotland and we all met at Heathrow for the journey to Southampton.

We had a quick journey to the port and they left dropped us off and we made our way inside. After a few formalities we were through security and on board the Norwegian Escape.

This was a long time coming and first thing we did was head to our cabin so we could drop our stuff off before we started exploring. We had a balcony for this cruise and it was pretty cool as it was a “bump” balcony so it had a little bit of extra space. The weather was poor for most of the trip until about a day before we arrived in Miami so we did not use it as much as we hoped, but it was nice to have the door open when we could.

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A View from our Balcony in Southampton

 

Now we were on board for 10 days so instead of a day by day, I am just going to share what we did.

But before I do that, I want to mention how we met Debbie and Laura. I am part of Cruise Critic and on some of our cruises we will go to the meet and greet. This was one of those trips and these two were at the same table with us. We all got to chatting and next thing you knew we were doing stuff together the whole cruise and they were really fun to hang out with. It was also because of them we did some of the stuff we did whilst on board, like Brat Pack and Howl at the Moon.

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A few shots from the middle of the atlantic.IMG_3007

The Escape is the newest NCL ship with a lot of venues and restaurants to visits. Overall the ship was cool, but service at times was slow and the thing we heard most often was “I’m sorry we just ran out of that” even just after boarding. Would you believe the whole trip they did not have any Sauvignon Blanc by the glass and by the end of the 10 days most everything was out.

Escape Casino – Good size casino and smoke free, we possibly spent a few hours a day in here.

The Supper Club – We visited the supper club twice. The first was for a haunted house the ship put on for Haloween which was pretty cool even if they didn’t follow their own rules like don’t worry no one will touch you.

The second visit was for real when we saw For The Record™: The Brat Pack Live At The Supper Club, which is a musical mashup of all of the John Hughes Bratpack movies. Whilst the food left a bit to be desired, the show itself was great and one of the best I have seen at sea. I will say if you are going to see it, be sure to get one of the back rows as the show happens all around you and it can be difficult to see parts of it if you are seated near the stage.

The Garden Cafe – This is the buffet and it was pretty standard but had a really nice  layout and good selection of stuff. They even did it up for halloween.

Margaritaville at Sea – This is the first one at sea and it was included on our trip so we ate there a few times for lunch and once for Breakfast. The food was good but the service sucked.

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Headliners Comedy Club – We spent a few nights in here watching Howl at the Moon. This is where dueling pianos and comedy meet and we really enjoyed each visit. They take requests and suggestions of what to play next. What is the difference between a request and suggestion… a request includes some cash or a shot.

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This picture also includes the Tenors of Rock who joined the Howl at the Moon guys for a few sets.

 

 

 

 

Bars of The Waterfront located on Decks 678There were several places to visit including the 5 o’Clock somewhere bar, Tobacco Road, Sugarcane Mojito Bar and the District Brew house.. Quite frankly all of these (except 5 o’Clock Somewhere) were a bit of a disappointment because either the drinks were just eh or in the case of The Cellar Wine Bar and the Brewhouse, they were out of wines or beers we wanted to try.

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Restaurants of The Waterfront located on Decks 678All of them were very good. Food Republic was probably the standout for us. Good service on every visit and something a little different to eat. Cagney’s is normally pretty good and it wasn’t too bad, other than service, but it was not as good as previous visits on other ships. The real standout for us was La Cucina, which is the Italian restaurant on board. There was a new menu for this trip and it did not disappoint. We went twice, once on our own and once with the Girls.

O’Sheehans – This is the 24 hour restaurant onboard that is similar to the Blue Lagoon on some of the ships. It was our first experience with O’Sheehans and it was ok. The service left a bit to be desired but the food always came quick and was good.

MDR’s (Taste & Savor) Overall the dining was good onboard and the service was ok. Only once did it wow us. We never had to wait for a table so that is a plus right.

Water Slides and Ropes Course – I did both of these whilst Bruce read his book. I am scared of heights but thought the ropes course could be fun. Whilst it was fun it scared the shit out of me and I did not spend too much time up there. The water slides however were pretty cool, I only went on the tube slide which had a clear bit that went over the side of the ship. As it was cold and wet it was only me up there, but I enjoyed it and was able to go for a few runs.

Spice H20 – was a nice area on Deck 17 AFT which is an adults only outdoor area which includes a massive screen and a bar. I think it would have been great if they would have shown a movie or something on the big screen. Instead it was just photos of different places around the world.

Escape Theatre – They had a few things on here, we played Bingo in here the most, but I also saw After Midnight which really did not do it for me. But Laura knew one of the managers in the theatre so we were able to get a pretty cool back stage tour. It was quite amazing! We also saw Tenors of Rock in here which was a special for the cruise. They are a all male group form the UK and they were pretty good.

Cabin Crawl – One of the Cruise Critic events that we attended was the cabin crawl which was pretty cool as we got to see every type of cabin on the ship from an Inside to a Two room suite in the Haven.

Between days 2 and 3, one of the other people on board had a medical emergency of some sort which required us to change course and head towards shore. The next thing we knew a Spanish Navy Helicopter was overhead and an at sea medevac took place. I have to say it was pretty damn cool to see, but I hope to never have to worry about it.

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So that was the main parts of the trip. Overall we really enjoyed it and so happy we met the Girls as they really helped make the trip a lot of fun.

The cruise finished in Miami and what should have been an easy disembarkation was a total shambles. It took us almost two hours and the whole process was truly a cluster from actually getting off the ship to finding our bags and immigration.

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Our view when we arrived in Miami…

The next post will be our 36 hours in Miami!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Weekend Getaway

Un week-end à Lille

Dates: 23 – 25 October 2015
Modes of Travel: Eurostar
Cast of Characters: Dan, Bruce, Carol & Iain
Hotel: Mercure Lille Centre Grand Place

Bruce and I have wanted to go to Lille for quite sometime and before we made the move (or even knew about it) to Scotland we booked a weekend trip with Carol and Iain.

Bruce was already in London for a work trip so I flew down and met him in the early afternoon. We made our way to St Pancras where we met Carol and Ian. The train was later in the day as we all planned on going after work originally. Bruce and Carol popped into M&S for provisions so we had something on the journey to Lille (the train is about 90 minutes so we needed wine and snacks) In their haste to ensure we got all we needed for the journey they grabbed a £30 bottle of English Sparkling Wine which was nice but not worth the money.

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The journey was uneventful and we made it to Lille right on time. It was a nice night so we walked to the hotel and whilst not the most direct way it was interesting to see the back streets of Lille and a few restaurants that could be possible places for our dinner.

We checked in and took off up the main street and after about 15 tries  (many were closed or would be soon) finally decided on a place that… A) was open and B)had veggie options for the fussy veggie as Iain likes to call Carol (for the record, she is less fussy then me). After dinner and a few drinks we called it a night.

We woke up the next morning and headed to a wee French patisserie called Paul for a some pastries and coffee before really starting the day. We walked around for a bit and found a neat little market in the Grand Place that had several small stalls selling random stuff.

We had hoped for an open top bus tour (I mean who does not like a tour of a bus station like we had in Lyon and Carol and I enjoy our naps) but everything we read said none were available in the off-season so we had written it off. However, a quick visit to the tourist information centre showed us Google can be wrong and we booked the next tour, which was an hour away. So we walked around a bit and ended up over by the Place de la Republique which had some event taking place that took place in a tent that was shaped like breasts. It was time for our tour so we headed back to the info centre and took the city tour.

A tour is always good as you can see more of and learn about a city. This tour did not disappoint. We not only saw the whole city and a few places to possibly go back to (and we did) but we also saw the obligatory transport station Gare de Lille Europe.

It was a nice tour and when it was over time for lunch. We wanted to try a highly rated Thai place that Carol found on Trip advisor but sadly it was closed. So just across the street was a Vietnamese Restaurant called Le Co Do Hue. Iain was skeptical as he had not had Vietnamese before but they had veggie stuff so we popped in. We were the first customers of the day and we were quickly seated and provided menus. After about 2 minutes of trying to translate French to English they brought us English menus and we all figured out exactly what we wanted. The food was quite good and it was pretty inexpensive as well.

After lunch we explored the city and walked to a few points we saw on the tour including the Birthplace of Charles De Gaulle and the Lille Zoo. Whilst the Zoo was small it was cool to visit and free to boot! We enjoyed the Zoo and stopped off for a drink and then walked back to town.

We decided to find a wine bar so we could enjoy some wine and sadly it was very difficult and we struck out as they were all closed and opened later. So we wondered a bit and I remembered some pub from the tour. So we headed out that way and found them but sadly the world cup was on so they were packed. Luckily there was one place that had space for us called Le Fridge, which had a British theme with decent beer and wine!

It was now time for dinner and we found an Indian place called Maharani which had some decent ratings on Trip Advisor but we were sold by this photo……

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I mean who would not have wanted to visit the Throne?

Dinner was great and service was good and certainly better than Lyon. After dinner I remembered the first night I saw a Chocolate Kebab place so I led everyone there for desert.

We were not let down the place was really a Chocolate Kebab shop called Choco Kebab La Crepe Royale after desert we called it a night.

We had a few hours to kill after checkout and decided to give a Mexican place we saw a go, but sadly it was closed. So we found a very small cafe called La Vieille Bourse off Grand Place and enjoyed a nice lunch quick place to eat and headed to back to the Eurostar for our trip home. Bruce left us at St. Pancras for home via Luton and I stayed with Carol and Iain for my final week in London.

 

 

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Uncategorized

Quelques jours à Paris

Dates: 10 – 13 September 2015
Modes of Travel: Eurostar
Cast of Characters: Dan, Bruce, Brian & Andrew
Hotel: ibis Paris Canal Saint Martin

My brother Brian decided visit Paris and London for his 30th Birthday and his friend Andrew joined him for the big birthday trip. Bruce and I joined them a few days after they arrived and we all saw the city together. As many of you know, Paris is one of our favorite cities and always looking forward to a visit.

Bruce had to work the first day we were there, so Brian, Andrew and I walked around the city and visited Musée du Louvre. I have been before but we spent about 2 hours walking around and getting lost and I think we all really enjoyed it. Bruce joined us about 5 and we walked up the Champs-Élysées before heading to dinner.

Dinner on the first night was at a place in the 18th called Le Refuge des Fondus. It’s a fondue place that has some decent fondue, but the unique bit is all of the wine is served in baby bottles and to get to the other side of your table you have to climb over. We enjoyed many bottles of wine and when it was all over we walked around some more.

We headed up the funicular (first time for us) to Sacré-Cœur Basilica which is at the top of Montmartre. What an amazing view how have we not been up there before? This was like our 12th trip to Paris.

Day two saw the weather change and some torrential downpours so we took it easy. We had breakfast at a little café by our hotel and it allowed a quick break from the rain. Today was the day we did the sewer tour. For years we have heard about this place and finally able to go for a visit. It was not as good as we thought it would be, but definitely worth a visit if you are in the area. After the tour we walked around a bit and ended up at Notre-Dame. Now I have been many times before, but it always amazes me every time I walk in and this was no different. After our visit we walked around some more and then Brian and Andrew headed off to change and freshen up as it was still a bit wet. Bruce and I champed it out and headed to a wine bar we like in the 1st  called O Chateau and enjoyed some wine. We timed our departure horribly and got soaked on the way back to the metro. We went back to our hotel and changed and headed over to their area for dinner. They were in the china town area and we thought we would find some decent restaurants but nothing really called to us so we ended up at a place called Pho168. It was decent food and we enjoyed our meal. We crossed the street and had a crepe from the little stand. We called it a night and headed back to our hotel.

The next day saw our final day in Paris for this trip and we visited the Musée national Gustave Moreau. It was located in 9th in his beautifully restored home and even thought I knew nothing about him, it was really nice to visit and see his works. After our visit we popped into a little café called the Royal trinite. We had some drinks and just walked around the city. Once it got dark we headed over the Arc De Triomphe and went up. Again my first time up and it was so amazing and in my opinion a better view than le Tour Eiffel. We called it a night after our visit.

The next day we met the boys at Gare Du Nord and then said good bye to Bruce as the three of us headed back to London and Bruce went to Scotland.

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Weekend Getaway

Ein deutscher Geburtstag

Date: 29 – 31 August 2015

Modes of Travel: British Airways, DB Regional Bahn, S/U Bahn

Cast of Characters: Dan, Bruce, Brett, Hannah, Indira

Hotel: Mercure Hotel Stuttgart City Center

Day 1 –

Well this trip was a few months ago and so much has been going on that we never got around to writing up our visit. We have a few today so they will be shorter than usual but with all of the info you would expect!

We booked this trip last November so we could get away from my birthday. As it turns out this was the year of German city visits for us and Stuttgart did not disappoint.

The day started very early at the T5 pod parking and then we made it through bag drop, security and to the lounge pretty quick.

The flight was uneventful (Facebook tells me I really enjoyed and said it was one of my best, but I can’t say I remember it) and once we arrived we made our way to the city centre on the S-Bahn. Once we got to the hotel, Brett and Hannah’s room was ready but ours wasn’t, so we dropped our stuff in their room and headed out.

We did some research before the visit, but we were surprised to see that the Stuttgarter Weindorf was taking place. This is a great wine fair/market with local wines from around the area. It was a bit warm (30+) so we stayed out of the sun and enjoyed many glasses of wine and local food.

We decided to take a small rest and headed back to the hotel. I had one of the souvenir wine glasses and whilst speaking to the receptionist and getting checked in, I managed to smash the glass on the counter. Now it was an accident ( I was possibly a little pissed and I talk with my hands….), but for the rest of the weekend all I heard about was how I attacked the poor woman on the counter when all she was doing was trying to get our room sorted.

All I will say about the hotel is whilst the staff was nice, the room was not what we booked (we did later get moved) but the A/C did not work and was boiling. It was possibly one of my most uncomfortable stays in a hotel ever.

After a small break we headed back to the city in search of drinks and dinner. The Weindorf was packed, so we headed further afield and found a nice Mexican place called Enchilada. Not only was the food decent and massive portions, but the happy hour includes blended real fruit margaritas that are some of the best I have ever had.

After dinner we enjoyed a few more drinks and called it a night.

Day 2 –

Today was my actual birthday and as it is a Sunday and most stuff is closed we decided on a day trip somewhere. Engineering works got in the way so our first choice Strasbourg was out. Whilst we were preparing for this trip, we were also in the midst of moving to Scotland. Indira (the move manager at Bruce’s work) is based in Stuttgart so invited us to visit Tubingen which is about an hour out of the city for a few hours.

So we took the train out to Tubingen and met Indira. She took us for a walk around the city and up (and I do mean up it’s a hilly place) to the University. Which gave us some amazing views of the area.

On our walk back down we stopped off an Bioeissalon Gorza for some ice cream. This is the first place I have ever been that the pictures in the menu matched ( or looked better) and it was awesome with lots of fresh fruit and a cost that was really really reasonable.

We walked around the city a bit more and walked along the river, when it was decided we needed some drinks so headed off to the Gasthausbrauerei Neckarmüller which was just behind us. We had a few beers and it was time to head back.

Once we made it to the city it was happy hour at Enchilada so we headed back for a few pitchers of margaritas and decided on BlockHouse for dinner. We had a good experience at BlockHouse in Munich and this did not match the service was slow/poor and the food was just eh.

We walked back through the Weindorf after dinner but nothing caught our eye, so we decided to call it a night.

Day 3 –

We had originally booked the later flight as we thought we could do something on the Monday, but other than lunch we had time to kill so we took the S-Bahn to the end of the line and then around the city kind of like a open top bus tour without the commentary.

It was time for us to head to the airport and at this point Brett/Bruce headed to security and the Priority Pass lounge and as I had a bag, Hannah went with me as she was my guest in the BA lounge (Brett joined me last time). We all chilled in our respective lounges and waited for our delayed flight, which sucked but was even worse as Bruce had tight connection at Heathrow.

In the end we made it to Heathrow in time for Bruce to make his connection.

Overall it was a good trip and a city we would defo visit again in the future!

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