Beauty Wonders of the World

Travelling with a backpack doesn't generally allow much room for luxuries per se, so my makeup bag is a treasured possession. Filled to the brim with my "can't-live-withouts", I've squeezed all remaining space with lipsticks to maximise versatility whilst I'm travelling. So, when faced with an even smaller 6kg weight limit for the Lares Trek in Peru, I had to be really selective with the beauty heroes that would accompany me. Nothing like a three day trek, 36,000+ (gruelling) steps, two nights of camping and up to 4,800m above sea level to really test your beauty companions. Add to the mix extreme temperatures (25-30 degrees by day and below zero by night) and varying altitudes, you soon know which of those have really got your back (or your face as the case may be!). 
With the finale of Day 4 being sunrise at Machu Picchu, there was ever the need to be photo-ready and I wasn't about to 'bare all'. So, here are my eight absolute beauty wonders (photographed at one of the Modern Wonders of the World, no less).

Sun Gate.
Whether you find yourself in the country or city, SPF (sun protection factor) for your skin is imperative. You need that barrier to shield your skin from UVA and UVB rays to prohibit sun damage and the dreaded premature ageing it causes. Plus, think of all the pollution and other environmental nasties our skin endures on a daily basis. We've all seen how much dirt our skin can accumulate with the miceller water + cotton wool test at night. Whilst exhaust fumes seem to be an issue in South America (catalytic converters guys, come on), that wasn't my primary concern whilst hiking over mountains (as it normally is at home in London). No, instead it was seeing the local children with sun (and wind) burnt cheeks as evidence that the sun is ferocious the higher you climb, despite the chill in the air. 

I've tried so many SPF layers over the years, some straight-up, some in moisturisers and others in foundations, but they've never given me the strength of protection that my pale English rose complexion needs. Hello SPF 50! Big in the beauty blogging world at the moment - and quite rightly so - The Body Shop's Skin Defence SPF 50 is a lightweight formula that doesn't leave your skin feeling overloaded, greasy or chalky white (like so many sun protectors do!). It's an invisible layer that works away to give me all the protection I need underneath my makeup (and proven in its effectiveness when I've had sunburn elsewhere on my body!). A total beauty staple for me now. Such a hard product to find even amongst the crowded beauty halls but rarely one to hit the nail on the head. The other benefit here is I'm not compromising the efficiency of my moisturiser or foundation either - I can get them focused on what they need to do! If there is only one product you try from this post, let this be it. Even my self-proclaimed non-burning and hairy-faced hubby has been reaching for it... which says a lot about how high it is regarded in our household! 

The Body Shop Skin Defence Multi-Protection Essence SPF 50, £18

Base Camp.
Recommended by a makeup artist I met on a shoot earlier this year is this South-Korean-technology-meets-French-luxury brand, Erborian. After an appointment at Space.NK, I was sold on the incredible CC Crème à la Centella Asiatica. As the name suggests it's not a foundation (which I tend to reserve for special occasions when I want higher coverage). For me, this is a perfect everyday product and is not as heavy. As a lightweight cream from the tube, I apply with a sponge applicator for even coverage but brush or finger-application would be just as efficient. Its texture is a cross between a primer and a moisturiser so leaves your skin feeling beautifully soft and matte to the touch. And for the really clever bit (making it super-duper perfect whilst I'm on my travels) is it's one-colour formula adaptable for all skin tones thanks to its "colour-correcting" properties. Fear no orange lines here, the beauty is in its blending capabilities picking up the pigment in your skin for a seamless finish.

The handiest of skincare bases to carry whilst travelling, from climate to climate and week to week, as your skin tone varies.

Erborian CC Creme High Definition Radiance Face Cream Skin Perfector, £38 from SpaceNK
I have just seen that Space.NK offer a handy 15ml travel size for £17 - even better for holidays! I have the 45ml which is lasting me SO LONG I may still have some on my return five months down the line!

Incan Mask of Disguise.
Concealer is a product that I'm particularly loyal to, so it was a big moment when I packed Bourjois' Radiance Reveal into my makeup bag instead of my trusty YSL Touché Eclat. I'd been hunting down my shade for weeks (that's dedication for you) and once I found it, I bought three! (Don't you just love Boots' 3 for 2 offers?). So what am I looking for in a concealer? Coverage. Staying power. An un-caked finish. With a tick in all those boxes also add to the equation the radiance factor which ensures light reflecting away the bags and blurring those blemishes. So when the 5am tent knock came and the carb-heavy diet decided to make a protest on my face, this became my new best friend and I think it will be a long-lasting relationship beyond my travels!

Bourjois Radiance Reveal Concealer 01 Ivory, £7.99 from Boots

Max-chu Pow-cchu.
I first tried this powder five minutes before entering my Grade 8 Ballet exam. I was 14 years old. I have been using this every day ever since (that's 13 years I've been a dedicated buyer of this product... Brand loyalty anyone?!). Having been awarded a distinction in that ballet exam, I give this powder a distinction too! Coming to the stage to collect its award: Maxfactor Facefinity Compact Powder.

Under no circumstances do I leave my house without it in my handbag, so I wasn't about to leave the country or hotel without it either. So, why have I loved this for so long? It is the perfect shade for my pale skin for one (there are a few to choose from so you can find the best one for you). And two, it is the perfect mattifying stage post-base coat (CC cream or foundation) and pre-bronzer/blusher. For weekends when I'm going 'au natural' with minimal makeup, this forms my only base with a light to medium coverage over moisturiser. It is my absolute fail-safe to cover all sins (late nights watching Netflix box sets, the Friday night takeaway and the commuter shine on my T-zone).

Maxfactor Facefinity Compact Foundation 01 Porcelain SPF 15, £10.99 from Boots

Sun God.
I have to confess that this Lancome Star Bronzer sat in my makeup cupboard for a while. I was stuck in a routine of buying a compact powder bronzer (usually Rimmel or sometimes Elizabeth Arden if the purse strings allowed), using it halfway through, it cracking, crumbling and exploding inside my makeup bag/handbag/suitcase. At which point, amid a cloud of orange dust, I would berate the 'poor ergonomics' as my Design Tech teacher would have put it! So, this lit up like a lightbulb when I was scouring my little beauty drawers for this trip and I have to say I'm super impressed. This is such a neat and compact way to apply bronzer - I think I'm converted! No more mucky makeup bag lining or overloading the brush, simply pump the end of the tube once and apply as desired. As per the aforementioned pale complexion, I can get the perfect colour with only pumping every 2-3 applications so it will last even longer! I still carry a large blending brush with me to follow up with (the Star Bronzer brush is smaller than I am used to) though this isn't essential. 

Lancome Star Bronzer Magic Bronzing Brush, $36 from Sephora

Bl-inca Trail.
Don't you just love the little gifts you get from brands when you buy a couple of your much-loved products from them? Much of my beauty trunk has accumulated in this way and I've been converted to so many fab products thanks to testing the unknown. Lancôme has always been on my radar for mascaras but between YSL False Lash Effect and Benefit's BADgal I hadn't devoted enough time to get to know their products. But hello Hypnose Star in a handy 2ml travel size! Whilst I'd love to try the new curved wand applicators from other Hypnose mascaras in the range, this is a perfectly easy brush wand that doesn't leave clumps and applies heavy enough for my liking. It's been a tough cookie despite the sweat (the tears of Rainbow Mountain conquered it slightly I have to say but it isn't waterproof so you know, roll with the punches). A light coating on my top lashes was just what I needed for a little framing of my eyes. Definitely going to check out others in the range when I can!

Lancome Hypnose Star Noir Midnight Mascara, £23.50 from Boots

Sacred Shadows.
Eye shadows tend to be a space-hog in my makeup bag, particularly when I want a natural look, a glitzy look and a smokey night-time look in my toolkit. Carrying three different duos or individual shades just isn't feasible when space is of the essence so, enter this fabulous Bobbi Brown Instant Pretty Eyes Palette. A going-away gift I received in the last few days before my departure and this is a brilliant wardrobe of shades. The base shade, Ivory, is one of my most used, along with the Grey shade that I use along my eye socket for a touch of shadowing and definition for a daytime look. The Espresso dark brown shade has been a great smoky eye creator balanced by the Grey. For a special sparkle there's the Ballet (a pale pink shimmer) and Opal (a silver glitter). Seriously good colours, packaging and space saving.

Bobbi Brown Instant Pretty Eyes Palette*
*Just discovered that this palette is now discontinued *gasps and sheds tear* but I have found one that could be even better (though requires a little more space in your makeup bag) here with Bobbi Brown's Cools Eye Shadow Palette, £52.

Peru-fect Pout.
A latecomer to the beauty bag party, I picked up this Marc Jacobs lipstick in Sephora whilst in California. Don't you just love it when they insist on giving you a belated birthday present? (Better four months late than never is my motto, theirs too it seems!). Amongst my makeup bag I have a coral, pink and red lipstick so for me this slotted in nicely as a new shade. Enhancing the pinky hues of my natural lip pigment, this lipstick is versatile depending on how many layers you apply. You can work a dark, deep pink with a heavy application but I chose a light coverage for a bit of a rosy pigment to bring some Kiss Kiss Bang Bang to my backpacking look! And as for resilience, it's really long lasting and even withstood a big drop mid-photo shoot (I made Mr A climb over an Inca wall to retrieve it!). 

Marc Jacobs Kiss Kiss Bang Bang 216 Lip Creme, $30 from Sephora

So, there you have it, my top makeup essentials. Tried and tested through my real-life experiences. They came, they saw, they conquered and my travel bag (and face) is all the happier for it!

What are the beauty bag essentials that you'd hike 36,000 steps with? How did they pass the test? And do you have any other recommendations?

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Quito's Tastiest Secret

So, I'm a foodie. If there haven't been enough references to eating thus far or Instagram pics of near everything I'm devouring, then let this be my 'fork' in the sand. And I'm starting with a goodie. Sharing this incredible Ecuadorian dining sensation with you in the hope that you will come and visit this incredible country and ensure you head to Urko!
Having spent an evening scouring Tripadvisor for activities and restaurants in Quito, this restaurant particularly caught my eye not just for the incredible reviews, photographs and star rating, but also the brand story and ethos which came through in every experience. Promptly booking a table we spent a Tuesday evening being utterly wowed.

The concept behind Urko is that it exclusively uses locally sourced ingredients, creates unique flavour fusions and the magic is in an open kitchen for all to see! 

"We are cooks with an Ecuadorian identity that seek to connect our guests with our land, its products and its people."

With fantastically fluent English-speaking waitresses telling us the Urko story first-hand, we got to business starting with the drinks order.
Cheers. 
Our waitress recommended either a Macerados or Gin & Tonic as the restaurant's specialities with around eight different mixes of each to pore over. The latter two words rang in my ears and, realising at 7pm it was indeed G&T time, I ordered 'Jengibre' - Spanish for ginger - with garnishes of lemon and grapefruit. It was the perfect refreshing balance of sweet and sour and arrived in a goblet that kept going the entire meal! 
Mr A continued his international craft beer exploration with 'Bonanza', a local red IPA, served in a wine glass no less. A first for Mr A but I think they got a good measure of him!
We were recommended to pick one or two Cucayos (meaning: small bites), an entree and a main each. This was the adult equivalent of being kids in a candy store - the menu was exquisite and there was a mouthwatering selection to choose from. Take a look at the full offering here.

A gift from the kitchen. 
Whilst we could see the chefs getting to work creating our multiple-dish feast, we were delivered "a little thank you gift from the kitchen".
Delivered on a rock were two corn crisps carrying a slice of sweet pumpkin, thyme mayonnaise and garnished with a balsamic vinaigrette soaked lettuce leaf sprinkled with chia seed. Two mouthfuls of heaven and such a tease for the amazing flavours to come. I was Google translating "our compliments to the chef" at this stage! A good sign...

Small bites (of heaven).
The attention to detail in the presentation is not to be overlooked. As a creative person, it totally took this culinary experience to the next level. So no less arriving on a tree branch were the Lamb Croquettes; crispy delicacies filled with an aromatic and tender lamb stew and naranjilla sauceThese are "little bombs of flavour" as Mr A described them! 
Pork & Pitta (a slight deviation from the menu's Duck & Pitta but a testament to their brand truth of fresh and locally sourced meat and the kitchen had sadly sold out!); Yuca pita bread filled with confited duck [read: pork] meat glazed with its own sauce, served with pickled broccoli, carrots and green apple. 
The four little parcels had sweet barbecue tones complimented by its sharper pickled accompaniments.  I was genuinely sad when these were over. If only a small bite constituted eight pittas!

Cheese truffles. 
Mr A and I are total cheese fiends. We've hosted parties and even Christmas Day just as an excuse to source a mean cheese board. So, when a menu presents an opportunity to have cheese earlier than the last course, this was very exciting. 
Enter: Cheese Truffles; Cheese spheres breaded with eucalyptus crumb, organic vegetables, red pepper sauce, pickled mango and crispy apple. What an absolutely genius flavour combination! I think we will dare to attempt recreation back at home! To note, we didn't even speak during this course...it was THAT good. 

The Main Event. 
Promising to share our mains to get more to taste we opted for two rather different dishes. The first, Catch of the Day; Fresh roasted fish scallops covered with a citric peel, over a green plantain “sango”, crispy rice and deep fried fish skin. This arrived in a creamy sauce that had a curry look and feel. The fish texture resembled halibut yet fell apart and was so light that the supporting flavours balanced so well. Topped with a fish skin crisp and a rice base there was the full spectrum of textures. 
A cut above the rest. 
The winner of the main course did go to my choice (a mutual agreement but no surprises when you hear what it was...), Beef Cut; Juicy beef cut with a caramelised onion sauce, roasted garlic, Andean tubers, and sweet corn and cheese purée. Three medallions of beef steak cooked to melt-in-your-mouth perfection in a caramelised onion reduction with crispy wafers decorated on the top. On the side was a luxurious take on cauliflower cheese if you imagine the consistency of the sauce with roasted root vegetables (sweet potato, baby potato, carrot and mushroom). Very safely in my top 5 meals ever eaten, EVER!

After savouring every mouthful so intently, the slower pace of eating meant we were utterly stuffed, mildly delirious and having to decline dessert. Our whole experience of this restaurant was second to none and a highlight of our time in Ecuador (and rather grateful that as their cultural culinary experiences go, it didn't involve guinea pig!). The evening was complete with their dedicated driver taking us back to our hotel - the quality of the service continued - and we slumped into a food coma. 

Quito Your Job and Head To Ecuador

Based on the six days we just spent in the capital city, Quito, there are many reasons why you should do just that! 

Reason #1
To start with, a few facts about this place: It's one of the world's highest capital cities standing at 2,850 metres (9,350 ft) above sea level and was declared an UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site back in 1978. So it sounds pretty good on paper, right? Well wait until you get here! This city is incredibly beautiful with a complete spectrum of old - within Centro Histórico - and new - with the shopping malls, football stadium, parks and bars. Wherever you are within this 21km long stretch of Quito, at only 5km wide you can always see a bank of pastel matchbox houses framing this beautiful valley. 
Make sure you take a visit to the Basilica of the National Vow (Spanish: Basílica del Voto Nacional) for a fantastic 360 degree view within Quito and the TeleferiQo (a cable car to the summit of Volcan Pichincha) for views from the west overlooking the entire city at a mere 13,250ft!!

Reason #2
The currency is American Dollars which is super convenient (despite the inconveniently bad exchange rate at present) and your money will go much further than it would in the US. An example being a bottle of Coke... In California, it's a minimum of $2.50, in Quito, more like 70 cents.

Reason #3
They have a really efficient bus network that can transport you from one end of Quito to the other for the grand price of 25 cents. Yup that's about 18p vs the £2.40 we pay for a one-way bus ride in London. And there's no one-bus-every-10-12-minutes, they're pretty much every 30 seconds. The Ecovia (new buses) have their own designated lanes so are faster but can be quite crowded with locals and tourists alike. Any London commuter can hack it, although, as always have your wits about your possessions, i.e. no backpacks on your back or handbags with open zips... common sense stuff really. The blue buses (older community buses) are considerably quieter but they use the main roads so A to B takes much longer but you do get to take in more sights along the way. It's also amazing to see how many bus-to-bus salesmen/women jump aboard to sell you anything and everything from bags of corn to brooms! 
The other transport is, of course, taxis: don't ever agree to the meter as they will zig-zag around every street possible before reaching your destination, and trust me there's a lot of roads to zig-zag through! Our hostel owner, Luis, gave us great indications of prices so we could pre-agree a fee (for those with limited Spanish... "cuánto" or "precio" would do the trick!). The maximum we ever paid was $5 and that was to the TeleferiQo which is quite far out from Centro Historico (where we were staying). Average journey $2-$3. 

Reason #4
You can go to the middle of the world. Officially. 'Ecuador' is Spanish for equator don't you know! Visit Mitad del Mundo; a museum celebrating the indigenous groups of Ecuador and the official GPS markings of the equator and latitude 00'00'00. Your visit will be a mix of history - see how the Inca people would shrink the heads of their loved ones or enemies, a tomb and terracotta pot where a village chief would be buried after his death along with his entire family (the family all alive at time of burial), and a house built by hand to be cool in the day and warm at night - with a little bit of physics... which way does the water drain on the equator: clockwise or anti-clockwise? Neither would be correct - it drops straight down! Cue everyone checking their flushing toilets! Plus you're 1 kg lighter on the equator and significantly weaker - literally one metre either side of the equator made huge differences to our ability hold our arms up in a 'T' shape whilst someone pushed them downwards. Science, ladies and gentleman! 

Reason #5
From Quito (the capital city of Ecuador), heading West you have fantastic links to the coast (approx 6 hours by car or bus), the jungle if heading East and the financial city of Guayaquil, which is just a short 40 minute flight to the South. Most significantly, you are only a 2-3 hour flight from the Galápagos Islands. This is a massive draw for many travellers to Ecuador, but sadly we didn't have enough time in our schedule (I know, cry me a river) but have heard wonderful things. We've been advised a minimum of 6 days to see the best of it and up to 10 days to really see it all. Plus another trip we wanted to make is down the country towards Cuenca (South East) to ride the Devil's Nose Railway line in Alausi. Again, ran short of time but if you had longer, I would certainly recommend it based on our own research. Find out more here.

Reason #6
There's a huge variety of day trips within close driving distance including Cotopaxi for some lung-testing hiking up the volcano with the option to mountain biking down! And whilst adapting to the altitude (the above is recommended once you've acclimatised), spend a day visiting Mindo Cloudforest. This is how our Monday in Mindo went:

Up at 7am for an incredible breakfast courtesy of our host at Dawn's Lodge, Luis, who had arranged the tour and would be our guide for the day. Turns out he was also our Spanish teacher for the day - fantastico! (I learnt more than that, I promise, just don't want to show off!). Two & a half hours drive out of the city and up into the Andes. For any car sick prone travellers either take tablets or sit up front as half the journey is pure winding roads (and they're crazy drivers!). 

Arrive at Mindo and after paying a $10 admission fee to the Cloudforest, take a cable-car zip wire above the trees to the start of three hiking routes. With options of 30 min, 2 hour and 4 hour paths, we chose based on the waterfalls you can see at each end point. Walking with our taxi driver Eduardo, we continued our Spanish lesson on foot whilst taking in the incredible jungle surroundings. Note to husband: if you want to wear shorts cover yourself in DEET otherwise you will get in excess of 30 mosquito bites. Gym leggings were the way forward. 
Another ten minutes up the road (bumpy gravel track) and you arrive at the Canopy, a series of zip wires through the forest. For $20 each we chose the full experience and spent an hour and a half zooming along above the cloudforest! With two dedicated guides that managed all the safely aspects, all you have to do is sit back, lean your head away from the wire and enjoy the view! Each wire is varied in height and length. Some you go solo, others you ride as a 2 with your guide to enable the butterfly or superwoman poses - Mr A even did the last one upside down and backwards!
Afterwards we went to a butterfly farm (called 'mariposa' in Spanish) whose owner talked us through the timeline of crystallise to butterfly before walking into an incredible butterfly enclosure full of flutterings and flashes of colour. You can also take a walk through the orchid garden and admire in silence from a hammock a whole host of hummingbirds. 
Ending on a sweet note was the chocolate plantation to see how 'real' Ecuadorian dark chocolate is made... and wow. Our Portuguese chocolatier talked us through the whole process from tiny plants to cocoa bud, the fermenting, drying, roasting, pressing and finally onto a plate in front of us to taste along with a range of flavours. Highly recommended!

Reason #7
The parks (parques) around Quito are beautiful and plentiful. The main park - La Parque Carolina - situated in between the old and new centres boasts a derelict plane and a number of volleyball and football pitches (which Mr A assured me they were better quality than those back home) at which you could play or watch the locals. 
Back in the historical district, Parque Itchimbia (located a short but steep walk from our hostel) gives you a great panoramic view of the city scape and perfect for the Quito sign photo! 
Finally, make sure you take a trip up to El Panecillo - a poignant Angel statue that stands at the top of a hill overlooking the Centre Historico. We would advise a taxi ($3 from town) as it's a long walk but you can head back down via the steps which bring you out near the San Francisco church... Another famous tourist spot. Just be careful, we were advised against walking but felt safe as it was midday and there's a clear pedestrian stairway route. Once you reach the bottom have a cup of coffee or some lunch at Tianguez next to the San Francisco Cathedral to catch your breath and admire the view.

Reason #8
'Ecuador' and 'cuisine' aren't two words you would typically hear in a sentence together. Particularly not when in the company of fierce competition from its South American neighbours. Argentinian steak, yes. Brazilian BBQ, absolutely. Peruvian ceviche, of course. But Ecuador is somewhat an unsung hero in my opinion after 6 days and what amounts to 18 meals there. The three restaurants I'm going to share cover all budgets and atmospheres...

'Plantain' is something you will eat a lot of here and gets served in many forms with pretty much every meal. It's the sister to the banana but much sweeter. Fried plantain crisps are served as an appetiser (like prawn crackers in a Chinese restaurant or Poppadoms in Indian cuisine) and other times it comes as a carbohydrate alongside rice to fill you up during your main meal. So finding a restaurant named 'Fried Banana' we just had to try. It's in the heart of the 'new' district but off a quiet side street from Plaza Foch, the hub of bars and restaurants that attracts a lot of tourists. However we almost had the restaurant to ourselves as we ate rather early by comparison to Ecuadorians (usually around 9pm). To start, I went with the healthy option of a salad (uncooked vegetable aren't something you should eat unless you can trust they are prepared properly) and Mr A had, to my food envy, mozzarella cooked in honey - exquisite!! For main we went for a traditional meal which was Arroz` con Camaron, a kind of prawn and vegetable fried rice and, you guessed it, plantain on the side. Seriously delicious carb overload I have to say. You cannot leave this place without trying the desserts! We had the famous fried banana and fried apple dishes which were cooked and sweetened with cinnamon, nutmeg and other spices. It was a proper autumnal dessert given the temperature outside matched that of England in October! 

Location: Mariscal Foch E4-150 y Av. Amazonas
Budget rating: £

If you want a chilled out vibe, this is the place for you. With an underground cave feeling to its interior there are several pockets to choose a table within. Famous for their craft beer (quite a find in Quito you know) and pizzas, this might not be a traditional cuisine experience but it is a delicious one. With eyes bigger than our bellies, after a full day of travelling and hiking, we ordered the Mexican Flag and Guapa Papa. One with a tomato base and the other with a pesto base, the toppings were heavy upon a crispy base, making these pizzas dreamy. Wash it all down with your choice of six craft beers (which frequently rotate on the menu ensuring a small but tasty selection and reason to revisit!). From a travellers perspective, the steady wifi and Spanish version of Cards Against Humanity makes for an entertaining (if not confusing) evening!

Location: Jose J.Olmedo
Budget rating: ££

Urko 
A culinary experience to remember for a very long time. It was a push on our budget when you are away for five months but to put it into perspective, a three course meal with alcoholic drinks cost around £80. I'm going to be posting a detailed food blog on this restaurant as it deserves its own platform. Surmise to say, each plate looked like a piece of art and it tasted like it should belong in a hall of fame. The drinks menu came with a dedicated mixologist and incredible flavour combinations and, part of the ethos of Urko, is their open kitchen for you to see the chefs at work creating their masterpieces. 

Location: Isabel La Católica
Budget rating: £££

So, hopefully that's enough to whet your appetite and entice you into a trip to this beautiful and culturally-rich country. The people are very welcoming and it's not totally overrun by tourists like many of South America's capital cities. Add in a visit to the Galápagos Islands and I think it could quite easily rival most two/three week tropical holiday destinations and at a fraction of the cost (if you can get good flights). 


One Week on the West Coast

The west coast. Highway One. An iconic strip of road with incredible 180 degree views. Add two people and a car and that is what you call a road-trip. Think Thelma & Louise, Bonnie & Clyde, Starsky and Hutch. Except we opted to avoid the police hunt, spare the bank robberies and swap the Ford Gran Torino for a Hyundai from Hertz. Once Mr A had given up the dream of driving a convertible and I'd taken the polka dot dress and rollers out of my backpack, we swapped the 50's dream for the 00's. Minus the leather driving gloves, Mr A was his own Lewis Hamilton navigating the winding Highway One like the swimming pool hairpin at the Monacco Grand Prix. Here is a week in our lives going from A to B to another B and another B...

Point A: San Francisco 
You might have already caught wind of our antics in this windy (but officially: misty) city and if not check this out here. Driving over the Golden Gate Bridge was our first sighting of water of the non-chlorinated variety since the Thames in London after our desert antics and the first of many ventures with Air BnB. The States is notoriously expensive and when we found ourselves here in peak season, this offered a much more affordable option. The financial benefit gained, there are so many others; a decent bed, local knowledge, staying away from the tourist trap(s) and, in the case of our San Franciscan host, arriving to the smell of baking and first dibs on her warm zucchini bread. Add to that picture the cup of tea we were offered before bed and you have yourself a home from home. So much fun to have your own front door in a strange city and when your hosts have such immaculate taste and are clearly very creative people, it gives you new eyes to see what's outside your new front door too. It is thanks to Praise that we also discovered Tartine’s Bakery (see my Instagram thread @MrsAtoB_). Check out the apartment here if you find yourself in need of a place in SFO.

Five days later, we were back to the Hertz dealership and on our way down the famous California coastline...

Point B1: San Jose
Setting off down Highway One, I'd like to say here "with the wind in our hair" but it was AC all the way. A must-see stopping point is the totally bizarre Winchester Mystery House, owned by Mr & Mrs Winchester and their daughter. Sadly after the passing of her husband and daughter, Sarah Winchester, heir to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company inherited $20 million dollars and earned $1,000 a day in royalties (back in 1880 you can imagine the extent of her wealth from the royalties alone), continued to develop the house with workmen onsite 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for 38 years resulting in a 160 bedroom house and some rather bizarre attributes. Controversy over whether her actions were to confuse the spirits of those killed in association with the Arms Company or because she'd genuinely lost the plot split critics; there were doorways to brick walls, stairways to ceilings and windows to everywhere and nowhere. Worth a visit but note quite a hefty entrance fee of $36 pp. 

Point B2: Monterrey
A beautiful fishing town that has a big history in canned fish. We stopped to feel the sand between our toes, the heat on our shoulders and stretch our legs down Main Street. Hosting the first ever Bubba Gump restaurant, I had to refrain from running and running and running right on in there. The aquarium at the end of the street came highly recommended to us and had we had longer to stay there we would have coughed up the entrance fee (a rather steep $50 pp). So us honeymooners opted for the free option (with the exception of purchasing a frozen yoghurt) to walk the coastline around to Lovers Point and enjoy the sights. 

Before arriving at our second Air BnB, we continued just a few miles down the road to nearby...

Point B3: Carmel
Home to Clint Eastwood don't you know and if you don't bump into him (it is a very small place after all) you can visit his dairy farm and former restaurant Hog’s Breath. Noting the affluence by the designer shops and myriad of Lambourginis, Ferraris and a Pagani Zonda, or "super cars" as the boys at Top Gear would have taught me - this is a place to daydream and watch how the other half live. Turns out we were in town at the same time as Monterey Car Auction and Concours d'Elegance, an auction of super-rich cars to the super-rich. Our backpacks were particularly good here at making us stand apart from the crowd!! Down by the beautiful beach at sunset was stunning - busy with tourists but that's to be expected when most of the shops have security guards and restaurants have waiting-lines. Carmel felt to me like a Rodeo Drive or Brompton Road avec la plage. 
Point B3: 17 Mile Drive
Having been turned away from entering the 17 mile drive earlier in the day on our way to Carmel due to the “private car auction”, we were stoked to find our Air BnB was actually within the confines! Staying with the lovely Richard and Renata, we were made to feel so very welcome. After allowing us to do our travelling chores: laundry (it's the only chore really), the driving, walking and fresh sea air had us crashing for what was about to be the best nights sleep in America. I needed a stepladder to get into the bed and a harness to pull me out of it 10 hours later. Wow. This bed is made of dreamZzz. Check it out here: Pebble Beach Forest Room.

Point B4: Pebble Beach
On the advice of our host to see the coastline at its best, we set off early doors to take to the 17 mile drive; beautiful winding roads with vistas and top spots to check out, starting with Pebble Beach. If there's one way to eat breakfast on the west coast, the beach is it... Until Mr A shares his blueberry muffin crumbs with a nearby seagull only to prompt a recreation of the scene with the pigeon lady in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York City! 
Woven into the scenery is the world famous Pebble Beach golf course, which regardless of whether you are a fan of the sport, you would be in for a treat - particularly when you see some tee-off metres from the sea edge (Mr A was hoping for an invite). For me, despite being impressed by the golf course, I was watching the ‘other’ local inhabitants in action; sea lions, squirrels and seagulls that is! 
A great spot is Joe's Point where a Chinese fisherman used to live and sell his product. I loved that they weren't sure whether the man was named after the place or the place named after the man!

Back on the road, we headed south on Highway One via Big Sur, which was luckily open despite nearby forest fires. Lots of handmade signs of appreciation lined the roads as firefighters have been working tirelessly to contain them - a seemingly impossible task as we watched helicopters flying overhead collecting seawater to help dampen the flames! We had been monitoring the situation and even bumped into some friends in San Fran who were doing the route in reverse (northbound) and had been diverted to the 101 (a much more crowded and less scenic interstate road).
Fortunately for us, we were able to continue our journey and make the most of the various vista points to stop and appreciate the winding roads and majestic scenery, as per the above after we had crossed Bixby Bridge. The drive offers the perfect opportunity to blast out some classic tunes and take in the views but remember some water and snacks as there aren’t a huge amount of places to stop along the route. 

Point B6: San Luis Obispo 
As you head south there's two things you notice; it gets warmer and it gets bigger. I found the next three cities to be each versions of the same thing, that as you slowly got closer to LA became more populated with surfers and popular food chains. And for that reason, the smaller of the three was my favourite. San Luis Obispo had such a friendly, suburban feeling to the area. It was easy to walk from our loft conversion Air BnB to the centre of town (Marsh Street) and there was everything you needed without it being ostentatious. We spent hours in a bookstore, exploring vintage shops, eating at the incredible Big Sky Cafe and ended in a reclining leather chair in the local cinema – “living like a local” I think they call it. It was the most innocent and delightfully relaxing afternoon/evening spent after another five hours cooped up in the car and navigating the slow, single lane roads from Carmel. Before you leave, make sure you take a visit to Bubblegum Alley (next to Mother’s Tavern on Higuera Street); it is what it says on the tin, a small side-street that would be fitting in Willy Wonka’s factory and would make Violet Beauregarde proud. Kind of gross when you think about it and I wasn’t keen to get too close but the overall effect was…in-chew-esting.
Point B7: Santa Barbara
Upping the ante in the next destination; Santa Barbara - The rise of the juicing culture, yoga and lunching with your InstaDogs. Just a 90 minute drive south of SLO, you can leave early and then spend the late morning and afternoon nourishing yourself with superfoods from The Natural Café, exploring the shopping on State Street and hanging out on the beach by Stearns Wharf. The perfect way to see out your day is on the beach about 10 minutes down the road in Mesa and on the doorstep of our penultimate Air BnB stop over, which had its own private garden entrance. A short stroll away we watched the most incredible sunset at Shoreline Beach (accessed by steps at the end of Mesa Lane in the middle of a lovely residential area). 

Point B8: Santa Monica
Rocking a hippy vibe just along the coast between Malibu and the heart of Los Angeles is Santa Monica, home to one of the most famous strips of coastline in the US and only an hour drive south of Santa Barbara. Of course, I had high expectations of buffs on the beach and lifeguards jogging in red swimsuits. But behind the TV camera is a slightly different view. When not walking their dogs or juicing, the locals head to downtown Santa Monica shopping district on 3rd St or hit the basketball court, skateboard park or tackle the famous West coast waves (our attempts to jump them and subsequent mouthfuls of salt water meant they were definitely over 6ft!) 

After an afternoon of taking in some sun and shopping, an evening in the Zinque Bar (on the corner of Abbot Kinney and South Venice Blvd) is the perfect way to unwind after the exertion of wave-jumping, or in my case, bandeau-bikini-rescuing. Chatting to the barman who had happened to live 10 minutes down the road from us in London and ran a notorious nightclub venue, gave us fantastic recommendations and we enjoyed happy hour celebrating the Californian grape and local IPA! The most incredible bar snack is the Burrata for melt-in-your-mouth mozzarella to help soak up the alcohol after 5 or 6 hours have passed. A great recommendation of our final Air BnB host, Jenny, and the first of many for our few days soaking up the last of life in America. The morning after the night before head down Abbot Kinney for a real nutritious hit from Kreation Kafé, which offered a plethora of healthy juices and meals.
Taking the house bikes for a spin, we explored the famous Venice Canals, four strips of short walkways lined by beautiful houses for the local affluent real-estate owners – it’s very tranquil and offers an insight into why Venice got its name. 
Just a short walk away is the equally notorious Muscle Beach gym where I was determined to ‘perform’ one pull-up (purely for the camera – there was no interest in a full workout). One was just about possible, which is surprising considering the 23kg I’m lugging around on my back every day! After an afternoon of checking out (the slightly cheesy) Santa Monica pier and sunning ourselves on Venice beach, we were quite appreciative of a quiet night-in with Netflix!

So, after 400 miles of negotiating the confusing fuel station systems and poor local drivers (in Mr A’s opinion) there it is – my guide to a week of exploring the West coast. Quite possibly the most perfect setting for a road-trip which gives you a true insight into the California coastline, culture and… extensive juice network.

Next stop, LAX, flying south to Quito, Ecuador.
Over and out North America.



© Mrs A to B

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