9th July – Santa Monica/Venice/Culver City, Los Angeles, California, USA

Coffee at coffee bean with Joe and Cholo has become a morning ritual. The trainee at the service counter is nervous and has trouble understanding my accent accidentally adding super sweet vanilla syrup to my latte, my teeth are on edge. I munch a toasted bagel with whipped cream cheese. Dad jumps in an Uber to Roger Dunn’s and mum and I walk down to 3rd street promenade for a wander. We pop in and out of the shops including Bloomingdales and the Barney’s department store. We walk to Main to meet Simon and Dad for a slice of pizza in the restaurant next to the Doves salon. A couple of Pinot Noirs later and mum and I are in an Uber heading to Venice Beach to take in the sights of muscle beach, the skate park and the bustling beachside market. It’s fun showing mum all the places that I’ve been hanging out on my two and a half months here. We stroll along Venice beach until Simon calls to say he’s finished work.

He collects us and we go cake shopping at the Vanilla Bake shop, famous for their beautifully decorated celebration cakes and cupcakes. We purchase a big chocolate and vanilla cake, it’s tall and iced in white frosting decorated on top with crisscrossed milk chocolate piped icing. I run next door to whole foods to buy a selection of fresh berries to accompany.

A quick shower and change and we’re off for a BBQ at Danny and Aubrey’s. Their home is lovely, warm and inviting. Cagney and Lacey, the affectionate chihuahuas, welcome us and lap up the strokes, hugs and belly tickles lavished upon them by each of us in turn. We join the party with Sonia Dove, her husband and his mum. The wine flows, the laughter increases in volume and the food is cooked. Danny has lovingly prepared homemade chicken and Gorgonzola burgers that are divine. An evening of stories, banter and fun ensues and we leave having had a wonderful night.

3rd July – Santa Monica/Beverly Hills/Downtown, Los Angeles, California, USA

Ann and I have arranged a day together. I drive to Beverly Hills to her house and meet her 90+ landlady Gerry leaving for a day out at the beach with her niece. We drop off some dry cleaning at the Beverly Hills Plaza and drive Downtown. Ann wants to take me to The Last Book Store and I’m so glad that She did. It is awesome. A labyrinth of bookshelves filled with books old and new. On the second tier quirky shops line the balcony overlooking the store selling art, crafts, oddities and cards. Yarn, a knit shop, has amazing pieces of hand crocheted life size woollen art. We wander around the place in awe of the inspirational space that utilises books in the most interesting of ways.

In need of coffee we get lost in the Downtown grid system trying to find Grand Central Market. We find it eventually and sit at the coffee bar and people watch. Hunger strikes and we find a seat at a vegan ramen place. Ordering two spicy ramen with the additional vegan egg option. It is a weird culinary experience. We eat it all but vow not to eat there again.

We are leaving Downtown behind us when Ann remembers that the Endeavour space shuttle is in town. After a panicked phone call to the California Science Center, that informs us that there are only 5 tickets remaining and twenty minutes before the box office closes, we begin a mad dash drive across the city. Our endeavour was worth it – we arrive with seconds to spare and are soon running around the maze of exhibits searching for a space ship!

In a purpose built hangar we encounter the Endeavour. It is smaller than my imagination had predicted but still magnificent. Such a crazy thought that this aircraft has been to space.

We drive back to Beverly Hills where I pick up Kasia’s car and drive back to Joe’s to walk Cholo. Ann and her friend Rachel collect me and we all go to the movies. I saw a trailer for Weiner Dog the other day and it looked really funny. I was wrong. It is terrible.

Ann drops me home where I chill out for a little while before I need to drive to LAX airport to meet the family returning from Montana. I make the mistake of going straight to World Way instead of parking nearby and waiting for a phone call to say they’ve got their luggage. I am stuck in the masses of traffic circling each terminal awaiting their arrival.

They arrive and call. I drop off the car for Simon and Kasia to drive home and jump in a cab with Mum, Dad and Joe. The driver is a maniac. It’s like being on a rollercoaster, but we’re soon safely home. Good to see the folks.

26th May – Santa Monica, Los Angeles, California, USA

I sleep in following a terrible night’s sleep. Then cycle to Doves in time to grab some Thai food for lunch with Si. Gagging for a coffee I run across the road to the Urth Caffe and end up in a long line, when I eventually join Simon he’s nearly finished eating.

When he goes back to work I sit on the Dogtown patio with an iced coffee and a slice of banana bread listening to the LA locals talking. I could eavesdrop all day. I hop on my bike and ride home via Broadway picking up a postcard to write on the rooftop. The sky is blue and the sun warm so I do what I do best – tan.

Simon and Kasia call and I join them while they eat at Mendocino Farm. I opt out of food as I have an Equinox yoga class at 7pm. They drop me off at Equinox after dinner.

I’m a little intimidated at the gym, Santa Monican’s are so visibly fit and I am, for want of a better word, weedy at best. Basis for my anxiety however is unfounded. The kind staff at the front desk offer to look after my belongings as I don’t have a locker as a complimentary pass holder, the yoga teacher is totally chilled and the class itself is not pretentious, as I had imagined, but really relaxed and informal. We listen to upbeat music and get yogaing. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy it seeing as I haven’t done a class since Sydney and the hour and a half flies by. I leave with a spring in my step.

On my walk home I stop off at Vonns supermarket for supplies as Joe’s fridge resembles old mother Hubbard’s. I buy too much and struggle to carry the shopping bags home. I shower and prepare pasta, then slouch on the sofa for the evening.

16th May – Downtown, Los Angeles, California, USA

This morning I decide to go for a walk to get breakfast. I am hungry. I make my way along the grid system streets of downtown gazing up at the skyscrapers towering above me. A walk through Pershing Square leads to the bustling Grand Central Market, a hive of international eateries. With a world of food to choose from I have only one destination in mind, Eggslut. I join a long queue at this popular breakfast spot. Simon calls with his order and I take great pleasure in ordering his sausage, egg and cheese sandwich with oj, their signature dish – “a slut!” and the very LA box of water. I eat my breakfast sitting on a stool watching the chefs cook. The Slut is delicious – cage free coddled egg on top of a smooth potato purée, poached in a glass jar, topped with gray salt and chives, served with slices of baguette. We all sit at the coffee bar for a coffee and I may or may not have half a ham and Brie baguette!

This evening we go for drinks at the Ace Hotel rooftop bar “Upstairs”. This place is nice. I wish I’d brought my bathers as there is an inviting hot tub with views of the city, including our building. After we gape at the view and have a drink we leave Upstairs heading to another rooftop bar Perch, marketed as an elevated rest place. We find a table for drinks and a very late dinner. Beautiful views of downtown apartment blocks and soaring skyscrapers. We stay until closing then I end my day as it started with a walk back to our apartment through Pershing Square.

4th April – Brookvale/Manly, Sydney, Australia

Up with the birds this morning. Finn loves opening my bedroom door and laughing until I wake up – and with such a cute face I have to instantly forgive him. I chuck on some clothes and accompany Becky on the daycare run. As we are out and about we cannot help but stop for coffee at Ruby Lane in Manly. What a cute place. The menu is amazing so I treat Becky to a fabulous breakfast. We gossip over eggs and sip freshly squeezed detox juice, not even the downpour of rain can dampen our spirits today. We browse the shelves at the organic grocery shop inside before heading home.

Writing soon turns into eating, eating soon turns into napping (I was up early!), followed by more writing.

When James and Finn appear, Becky and I prepare green Thai curry and we all sit down to eat. With Finn sleeping we watch tv until bedtime. I’ve settled into the Grainger’s family life with ease, it’s going to be so weird when I’m back on the road again next week!

2nd December – Kyoto, Japan

I don’t sleep amazingly well, not entirely sure why, the futon was really comfortable. The pillow was quite odd. Filled with beads. Took a bit of getting used to but it made me happy from a hygiene point of view. I wake early, shower, dress and hit the road on my bike. My knees protest but needs must. First stop an hour’s ride to Arashiyama in the far west of the city. I take a wrong turn but the promise of a “nice view” on the hand painted sign spurs me on the pathway along the picturesque river. I arrive at a Buddhist temple up on top of a hill, also home to a troop of mischievous red faced monkeys. Quite funny that – monks and monkeys. A monk is using what I can only describe as a suspended battering ram to gong a giant bell that resonates for several minutes after it’s been chimed. He encourages me to take a turn emphasising that I only get three goes. It’s very satisfying for me, not so much for the monkey who almost falls out of the tree next to me!

The sign was right, the view from up here is nice. Many tourists come to Japan in the springtime to experience the wonder of the cherry blossoms in bloom. That must be quite a spectacle but the trees in Autumn are spectacular. Displaying a kaleidoscope of green, red, orange, pink, brown, yellow and green. I stop my bike often to look and take pictures on my way back along the river.

I find the Tenryu-ji Temple and the Arashiyama bamboo grove along with hoards of other people. I have a little look around eating a soyabean donut, then try a bean jam pie – shaped like a fish. Both good. Breakfast eaten I’m back on my bike heading to Kyoto’s main attraction the Kinkaku-ji Temple, the famed golden pavilion. Appearing like an apparition, almost floating on the lake. The gold leaf reflects the sun reflecting the water ripples. Very pretty.

Now for the longest ride of the day. From the far west to the far east. I am gagging for a coffee, I pass several tearooms but my caffeine addiction is giving me a headache. I pass a really cute and modern coffe shop, park up my bike and down a black coffee – properly hits the spot fuelling the next leg of the journey.

The Ginkaku-ji Temple is set at the foot of a hill surrounded by beautiful gardens, water and trees. It is also very pretty. I shuffle around the gardens following a Japanese tour group then head south on my bike along the Path of Philosophy to the Nanzen-ji Temple. I’m all templed out now, tired and starving hungry so stop off at a little restaurant that appeals, it has an English version of the menu, so many restaurants don’t and it’s such a put off as it makes it awkward for everybody. Note to self – learn Japanese! I order katsu don, breaded pork cutlet on savoury egg rice served with pickled vegetables and miso soup.

One more stop off on my sightseeing tour today and it is miles away – typical! I really want to see it though. I’m going to have to move if I want to get there before it gets dark. I’ll rest my legs later!

The Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine is at the base of mount Inari, other shrines can be found all over the mountain connected by a pathway made up of thousands of torii, Japanese gates. Since early Japan the Inari was seen as the patron of business and now successful business owners donate a torii in gratitude. So many torii so close together have created a vermillion and black corridor winding its way around the mountain. It looks really cool.

Sightseeing done, I now need to organise my life, so dart up to the Kyoto railway station to get my ticket for tomorrow. The railway station is an amazing structure, uber modern, 10 story high ceiling housing the train station, restaurants, a department store an underground shopping mall and a rooftop garden with views across Kyoto. I take the 5 escalators to the top, a staircase of light changes colour spelling out words and a gigantic Christmas tree towers over everything.

I cycle back to Gion to wander through the twinkling arcades that blast out Christmas music. I miss Christmas shopping a lot, so foolishly find things I would buy if I wasn’t travelling. It’s not long before hunger strikes again. I find a Japanese fast food outlet that makes their own noodles. I stand and watch the chef sprinkling flour and throwing the noodles about before chucking them in a vat of boiling starchy water. I kind of understand the menu, some of it is in English, but mostly I just copy the other customers. I buy a base dish – in my case a bowl of thick noodles in a small amount of dipping sauce, topped with a soft boiled egg and yams. The man passes me a steaming bowl I put on my tray and slide along to the tempura section. A huge selection of delights await my choosing. I opt for fried chicken and pumpkin tempura. Then I go to the condiments desk where I decorate my grub in finely chopped spring onions and tempura batter bits, grab some wasabi, a glass of water and sit myself down to munch. Ayumi explained to me while we dined the other night that slurping your noodles is not seen as rude in Japanese culture, it is a necessity. That is true. I still don’t like to hear other people doing it – I’m such a Brit!

Dinner done, dessert next with a tea and free wifi – that’s right, thanks Starbucks, what would any traveller do without you! I book my accommodation for the next couple of nights and do some research on my next destination. I also chat to Hannah in Brunei thanks to Whatsapp free phone calls (and thanks to Cath and Amy for hooking me up with that!). Then head back to Chita ryokan to chat to the folks back home and get some sleep. I have sightseeing cycle exhaustion.

9th November – Ella, Sri Lanka

I’m currently sat at the top of Little Adam’s Peak, dangling my legs off a tallish hill and one of Ella’s main tourist attractions. From here I should be able to see the Ella gap, a picturesque valley looking out over the Sri Lankan southern plains, and opposite towards the steep Ella Rock on the other side. Instead visibility is practically zero. The beautiful view is being kept from me by the selfish clouds – no fair. Sometimes the grey turns white and I think the sky is going to clear, but it soon goes back to grey. It’s surreal sitting here unable to see more than 20ft away, especially knowing what beauty lies beyond and the height of the dizzying precipitous drop off below. The winding walk up here was so pretty, through the green tea plantations with promising patches of blue sky amongst the billowing white clouds. I could even see the pinnacle as I approached but as I arrived clouds swept up the mountains in a mysterious misty veil. I’ll give it five more minutes then I’m heading back down.

This morning I stayed in bed until 8am, after arriving in the dark and then being lulled to sleep last night by the sounds of the jungle creatures and critters I’m excited to see the view from my balcony. It is not disappointing. Perched on the side of a steep hill incline looking towards Ella Rock everything is lush and green and jungly. I eat breakfast looking at the view then ask Raveena to show me the shortcut to the main road that I had so much difficulty finding yesterday in the dark. Then I hire her son and his tuk tuk to take me on a mini tour of Ella. First the Rawana falls, a waterfall cascading down the side of a mountain disappearing under the road and reappearing the other side. Then he takes me to the Dhowa Rock Temple, an ancient Buddhist dwelling with a 38ft Buddha carved out of the rock face. My favourite part of the temple is the line of Buddhas encased behind glass, worshippers have left traditional flower offerings in front of a majority of them, but one particular Buddha has a bowl of spinach and a jar of marmite – amazing! We tuk tuk through the tea plantations to the foot of Little Adam’s Peak where I embark on the forty five minute climb ascending through the tea plantations to the pinnacle where I was sat earlier.

Instead of descending back to the bottom of the hill/mountain I am tempted halfway by a chalk board advertising coffee. I’ve had so much Sri Lankan tea I am craving a good coffee. I am so glad I follow my cravings. 98 Acres is breathtaking. A spa resort set in a beautiful tea plantation. I climb up to the panorama from cafe98 with glorious views over the southern plains. What a treat. I pick a great table, order a much needed cappuccino, a ginger beer and a club sandwich – absolutely lush! A gentleman on an adjacent table strikes up conversation as I peer into my iPad, “You may want to look up, the clouds have lifted”. He is a lawyer working for human rights, based in Colombo but originally from the Philippines, taking a break from work and also travelling solo through Ella for the day on a private tour of the area. We swap stories and admire the view.

I head back to my guest house to be met by Hooney, the manager, he takes me up to the highest point of the adjoining guest house to see the view. I tell him how similar looking it is to Wales (if you ignore the palm trees, the monkeys and the temperature) – the cloud cover is about right!

I head to Ella’s Main Street to try all my cards in the ATM, it didn’t work earlier and it doesn’t like my other cards either! This is a cashless crisis, luckily I spot a bank clerk leaving the bank and ask her advice – apparently I’m not putting my pin in when requested (in my defence it doesn’t actually request it on screen and I missed the white box!). Disaster averted. I head to Chill, a restaurant and bar that whenever I pass is always rammed with people, for a celebratory Lion beer and a Sri Lankan style spicy pizza. All is right with the world again. I chat to Edgar, a solo Austrian holiday maker who has a penchant for hairspray, is reminiscent of Barry Manilow and has left his wife at home (I wonder if her name is Mandy?)! I bet she’s chuffed to have a break from him because he’s a bit dismissive of everything I have to say. Wish he’d picked somewhere else to sit to be honest! He’s like a European fun sponge. I’m glad when he stands up to leave, then racked with guilt when he wishes me a safe onward journey.

I stay at Chill for a while catching up with friends back home via my trusted companion the iPad, then don my head torch (which hasn’t seen the light of day… or should that be the light of night… or dark of night… or the light of dark of night!) since Africa to illuminate my journey home through the jungle to my bed.