Wow, finally back from the marathon 17 day holiday to the west coast of the USA. As if flying back economy and having to go into work wasn’t depressing enough… now I have to do the biggest blog entry ever. With photos damnit!
Well, let’s start at the beginning…
Um, I can’t actually remember back this far. But I think I got up at the crack of dawn for a 10am flight. Stupid small car meant I had a 16kg solid suitcase on my lap the entire way up (no, I wasn’t driving). Things started to go better as we were about to board the plane and they took us to one side and said “apparently you have very important friends”. Woohoooo it meant the upgrade! Got on the plane and went UPSTAIRS to the upper deck. Wow, those amazing bed seat things, fully electric, unlimited champagne, free bar and snacks, a *menu* for the food (I had the first of many fillet steaks) and even the captain came out to make announcements to people rather than having some crappy announcement. Although, I wonder if the plane was on fire and plummeting to the ground whether he’d show the same level of commitment, with his hair on fire. Now *that* would be service.
Anyway, as the lyric goes, “If I hadn’t seen such riches I could live with being poor” – i.e. I know every single flight of my life from now on is going to be crap crap crap because of this one first class experience. Oh well. Better to have loved and lost etc.etc.
Me looking happy…
So, 10 or so hours of bliss later we arrived fresh as daisies. Well, champagne swigging, Kir Royal drinking, fillet steak eating daisies.
Next stroke of luck came when we got to Hertz to pick up the hire car. I have a gold card with them but hadn’t booked the car with it, so instead of waiting patiently in a massive queue I went to the gold desk and pretended that “this always happens” when she couldn’t find my reservation on the Hertz gold system. teehee. Best news was that I got a huuuuge silver convertible Mustang. Now, I know American cars are crap, but this was the best of a bad bunch. I loved it!
Set off towards San Francisco, managed to find the hotel pretty easily and used their valet parking. Wow I just love valet parking. You didn’t even have to take the cases out of the car. Stanford Court Hotel on Nobb Hill was our location for the next few nights and it was great!
Freshened up then set off for an explore of the city. Do I know where we went or what we did? Nope, but basically, just exploring up and down the hills on foot. Actually, I’m pretty sure we ended up at Fisherman’s Wharf to see the mad man hiding behind the bush and the sea lions…
Um, dinner. I think that was at the Washington Square Bar and Grill which was lovelyyyy. Mmmm French Onion Soup followed by posh burger. In fact, it’s almost true that all I ate on holiday was onion soup and meat. mmmm meat. Mooooo
Right, Day Two, fresh and ready for looking around. Um, I think we went shopping today to *the best store in the world* (notice I said store, not shop, sigh I’m goin’ American). Yep, Banana Republic. When I go into a clothes shop I can guarantee that I hate 99.9% of everything. But in Banana Republic I *like* 99.9% of everything! I managed to spend a few hundred dollars, would have been more if I had money or suitcase space. Checked out Diesel and the huge Macy’s on Union Square and a few other things. Also drove out to the Golden Gate bridge for a photo opportunity. Had a big lunch in an old fashioned American diner and in the evening we went over for a tour of Alcatraz. It was great going around it at night, much easier to imagine what it was like. The audio tour was really good as they put background noises on it like shouts and bangs and it spooked me right outttt. Also did an extra little tour of the hospital wing in the dark eeep.
Was pretty wiped out in the leg department when we arrived back on shore so started to queue for a taxi. A massssive black shiny limo was sat near the taxi rank and it’s window purrrred down and asked where I wanted to go… I said the hotel name and he said “I can take you there”. My initial thought was “yeh, for 100dolllars”. But he said 30dollars. Jen negotiated him down to 15!!!! So wowwww, back to the hotel in a limo! Woohooo, had a bar and TV and neon lights and chrome and everythingggg. Can’t remember about dinner. Um. Nope, it’s gone… ah yes, that’s because we’d had breakfast and lunch so skipped dinner. Oh the hardship!
Day three involved more San Francisco exploring. Drove down Lombard Street, wait and let me find a link… there it is. Went to the top of the Coit Tower (which is apparently shaped like a fireman’s hose, no snickering at the back). Oooh, also went for breakfast at the awesome breakfast place in the scummier part of San Francisco. I had Chorizo Hash which was just gorgeous. Hmm, what else. A bit more shopping I think, a bit more sea lion watching, a nice burger on the top of a skyscraper with this as the view…
Up earlyyyy to start the big trek out to Sequoia National Park to see the trees. The drive out was great, I love driving in the US so much, it’s just like being on autopilot and there is so much to see. I think the drive took about 5 hours, but it didn’t feel like it. Immediately drove to see General Grant tree which is the third largest tree on earth. Pfff, third largest? Useless! It almost too much to take in. Actually, that sounds really dodgy… maybe I should say it was awe inspiringly big. Found a sign to a small road that said “Panorama Viewpoint” on it so weaved our way up to to top, it was a great view!
Next day we drove to see the *biggest* tree on Earth. Yep, General Sherman…
And wow was he big! In the walk around the sequoia glades I saw a wooden carving of a bear… THEN IT MOVED!!! Wow, a real live black bear. Kept our distance and watched him amble around, he even came on the path!
Then took a drive out to Moro Rock. I didn’t really know what to expect here… but wow! You park in a car park and then basically climb up a huge granite rock on a precarious path. The view from the top was stunning – and even better there was no-one else there! In fact Sequoia was really empty (apparently it only gets 5% of the visitors that Yosemite does). At the beginning of the path to Moro Rock was this warning sign that made me chuckle. In fact, the US is full of warning signs, obviously the best ones are in California where it’s pretty much illegal to do anything and *everything* is bad for you (for example on the free bottle of sherry in hotel room was a label “Sherry and other wines are known by the state of California to cause birth defects and etc.etc.etc.etc.” and most buildings have a sign on them stating that they contain substances that cause cancer). Anyway, back to warning signs… this one was on Moro Rock…
At about mid-day we set off out of the park and up to Yosemite. Again it was such a good drive, dropping from about 8000ft to 2000ft then climbing back up to 8000ft again and dropping down a few thousand feet into the park itself. Yosemite is really stunning, you basically have to experience its beauty as it’s hard to describe. It’s basically green with fricking huge cliffs and waterfalls around it. See, told you it was hard to describe! Here is a picture instead…
Drove to Angel Falls and did a bit of sight seeing in the park but as we have a couple of nights here we checked into the Lodge and ate. Mmm food (I had tuna). The excellent restaurant was next to the granite cliff face and a waterfall… pretty impressive sights to look at yes? Hard to tear your eyes away from them and towards your food right? Well, maybe so… unless you’re being watched by the cootest, fattest squirrel *ever*…
Early start (as ever when I’m on holiday) and off for a hike. Nono, not a walk, a *hike*. Now, what do you do when you’re about to go on a 6 hour, 7 mile walk that climbs/drops about a mile? Well if you’re me, then you don’t have breakfast, wear shoes with no grip on soles, you only take 1litre of water, you pack rucksack with hat and suntan lotion then *leave it in the car*. Sigh, idiots! The hike was to the top of the Vernal Falls and then on up to the top of the Nevada Falls and my god it nearly killed meeeee. My legs were like jelly for the last hour or so! Amazing views though. Here is a not so amazing one of me. I know I look like I’m posing but I was just trying not to collapse in a heap
Hmm, whatttt happened today. Ah yes. Checked out of the Yosemite Lodge (accomodation OK, basic but not bad) and headed towards the Tioga Pass which is the small easterly exit of Yosemite. Drive was again great, past a lovely lake, upppp mountains sides, downnnn mountain sides. Some of the roads disappeared off into the distance like those ones in the Road Runner where he runs off into the horizon. Drove for quite a way down the highway to Lone Pine, a real cowboy type town. It even had a bar with one of those saloon style doors! (which was a bit scary and we didn’t go in at first as I was worried the music might stop and everyone might stare). Had a good old mooch around after checking into the Motel and ended up having a fantastic posh meal in Seasons Restaurant. If you went to a tinyyyy English village the chances of finding a restaurant of this quality would be practically zero! Mmmm steak, what? you mean you’d guessed?!?!!? How?! Mooooo
Set off after grabbing a latte towards Death Valley. At first the road climbed even higher (even though we were already a few thousand feet up) but eventually it began to drop to the valley floor which was several hundred feet below sea level… look how cool the road was…
Death Valley is named because 200,000 people died crossing it. Well, not 200,000. Actually it was just one person! Talk about exaggeration!!! It was a good explore though and only about 98degrees so not as hot as it could have been. There had been flash floods so the main road out was closed. This turned out to be good as we went a different route and had a good explore. Here is a good photo of the cracked soil where it had rained…
Anyway, continued out of Death Valley towards Lassss Vegassss, the city that never sleeps. The roads getting closer to it had so many interesting (and massive) signs and flags that it was a miracle I didn’t crash, so much to look at! As we arrived at the Venetion we realised that we’d left our rucksack with camcorder and passports back in the previous motel, doh! Used valet parking and wangled an upgrade to a luxury suite and had a look at the view from ‘Venice’…
Watched a volcano explode, a ship sink, Frank Sinatra fountains, saw the amazingly tacky shop that Michael Jackson buys all of his home furniture from, went to bed. All of the above is true.
Next day we mooched out back into the world that is Las Vegas. Saw the ‘Body’ exhibition which was the one from that cool/creepy programme on Channel Four with the real bodies, then saw a magician’s show with panthers and tigers and cheesy acts, then took in a few more casinos like the Bellagio (bit posh and boring) and New York. Did a bit more shopping then went for a great meal on the rotating restaurant on top of the Stratosphere, wow! Didn’t really do much gambling but did see some brides wandering around in their white dresses in casinos, Elvis impersonators… all the things you expect to see! Oooh, also had a 2foot long margerita cocktail! Two.Foot.! Nearly forgot, we went to see a great animal park thingy in the Mirage hotel. It had dolphins, tigers, panthers, leopards! All so cool but all a bit too sleepy in the hot sun. Wanted to poke them with a stick. A very long stick. To finish here is a bit of a blurry photo from the top of the Stratosphere…
So, next morning. pretty early check out, car gets delivered by the valet then we’re offff. Followed the satnav all the way up to Zion National Park. Wasn’t too sure what to expect here but after a long drive all I actually needed was a wee. After parking in the visitors centre we had to take a free shuttle bus up into the canyon. The rock formations were great, but, well… I think I’d been spoilt by Yosemite so it didn’t wow me that much. Went for a couple of nice walks though and it was a day well spent. Towards the end of the day we set out to the other side of the park to our accomodation in the buffalo ranch! Stayed in a log cabin… a log cabin with a jacuzzi bath (-: It was lovely though and we had a nice veranda to watch the bufallo. Had a fantastic steak for dinner in the lodges restaurant mmm steak. Then unfortunately they confirmed to us that we could go horse riding at 8am the next day, damnitttt!
Eeeek, I’ve never been on a horse and hoped to never go on one! We turned up at 8 o’clock and our gruff cowboy just kind of pointed at the horse and told me to get on. What the hell, was the hand brake even on? I did point out that I didn’t know a lot and he was more helpful then… still did a great impression of the cowboy from City Slickers though! The ride was really great view, amazing views over the canyons and hills and a lovely morning. We even rode close to the buffalo, but not too close as they don’t like horses apparently. Our cowboy was telling us that grizzly bears could out run a horse and break its back and drag off the body with one paw. Great. Thank god there weren’t any in the this state!
After we got back we set off in the car again to Bryce Canyon. It was only a couple of hours drive and it was interesting to see the geology changing once again. Bryce Canyon was great, lots of interesting rocks and not too much hiking!
As it wasn’t too late, I suggested to Jen that we had the opportunity of visiting the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. It’s a lot less visited and supposedly beautiful so we set off. It was a goooood long drive to get there though but the scenery was lovely, lots of beautiful forests and meadows which was surprising. This was apparently because it’s 1000ft above the south rim so gets all the rain. The views were beautiful, so lovely. Then took another detour to a scenic viewpoint which took another 2hours! Am glad we did it though as I’d probably never visit otherwise
Me at the North Rim…
Now we were faced with a three hour drive to Page. The journey was lovely though as we drove past a massive cliff face, I think maybe called the staircase or something? It went onnn and onnnn. It was lovely as the sun was going down.
We got to Page late and had a pizza and a few beers then flopped! Didn’t realise quite how many hours driving we’d done today but it was worth it.
Next morning we got up expecting to spend some time exploring Lake Powell… but the view from our room was pretty dull and it didn’t look that easy to hire a boat so we just set off for the Grand Canyon. Came so so so close to running out of petrol on the way there but managed to fill up. Stopped off at a small indian reservation selling jewellery and stuff which was interesting. The weather was odd today, probably about 75degrees and a bit cloudy – the first cloud I’d seen since San Francisco!
On our way to the hotel at the south rim we stopped off at a few scenic viewpoints and had our first proper view of the typical Grand Canyon that everyones seen on TV. Wow it’s impossible to describe. Really, I’m not even going to try… pretty damned big as well! Then we drove to our hotel getting there justttt in time for lunch. El Tovar hotel is really lovely and the burger I had for lunch was just fantasticcccc. Our room was amazing… it overlooked the south rim!
We had a bit of a snooze after lunch and a wander to the shops to look at beavers and other artifacts hehe. We had dinner in the same restaurant after a couple of drinks in the bar. Can’t remember what I had to eat but I bet it was cow related!
Decided to go for a big old walk along the hermits trail today. It was seven miles long I think but we didn’t walk all of it. Bloody hell though, some parts of the trail were just loose stones on a slope that ended *one mile down*! No wonder people die there every year. The views were magnificent. We saw the hikers and people going down into the rim on mules, ewww I’m glad I avoided that! Our walk was on the flat and I was still knackered! One day if I’m fit enough I’d love to go down into the canyon itself, or maybe raft along it. One day! We took the free bus back to the hotel and just as we arrived it decided to weeee down with rain, lots of lightening as well! So we had lunch and dozed for a while until we could begin to think about dinner… just look at this pudding, yep, I ate it!
Am really glad we went for our walk yesterday as it was still wet and damp today, the clouds inside the canyon itself were beautiful. Bought some supplies then set off for our masssive, truly massive journey to San Diego. It took us 11hours with only two stops. (The main stop was for pretty much the best take-away burger I’ve ever had, a Carl’s Jr 6 dollar burger. It was so so nice! The second stop was when we were pulled over by the border guards to see if we had any drugs or mexicans in the car (-:
Even though the journey was so long it was very relaxing and we didn’t feel tired at the end of it… can you imagine saying that after driving 11hours in the UK?
We were staying in a lovely small town called La Jolla next to San Diego, I’d like to live there one day! They had lots of restaurants, art galleries and a beach with grey seals on it! We watched the sun go down then had a glass of wine and cheese nibbles at our bed and breakfast (The Inn at La Jolla… such a fab place). After a rest we decided to go out to eat but as we weren’t that hungry we just had a couple of drinks and slept.
So, when in San Diego… you just have to go to Sea World! As we’d got up early we decided to beat the queues and got there pretty early. As we arrived Jen said “funny if it didn’t open till 10am”… and she was right! So we went for a drive into San Diego and looked at the impressive aircraft carrier Midway – famous for the Pacific sea battles of the second world war. Drove back up to Sea World and wow, spent all day there. I pretty much cried as soon as I saw the dolphins, so when I saw Shamu and the other killer whales it was so emotional! The shows were very well done and you couldn’t help but love the animals. Surprise of the day however was seeing a ‘pet show’. We were expecting lots of dogs doing tricks, but it had CATS! (jesus, my cats are totally untrainable how do these people manage!) and pigs and ducks and doves and parrots. It was amazingly choreographed and very funny. Jen even managed to convince me to go on a white water rapids ride. It was only a 30minute queue and was good fun… and of course I treated myself to a burger for lunch as reward. Mooooo
After more wine and cheese this evening and a nice chat with an american indian couple we set off for a drinkie and dinner. We ate at a lovely local restaurant… my god though the portions! I had a sort of onion loaf thing as a starter. Basically it was an onion bahji but the size of a SMALL LOAF OF BREAD. What the hell! Then after that I had to struggle through a massive burger! OK so I didn’t have to, but I managed it! Jen had a starter *and* a 16inch pizza all to herself – but only managed about one third of it! By now we both really could feel how much weight we were putting on. Oh well, moooo!
As San Diego was famous for its zoo we decided to head there this morning. Zoo’s sometimes leave me a bit cold as I don’t like seeing animals, especially birds, all caged up. But they do a lot of conservation work which is good. We saw the pandas and most amazingly a polar bear who was right up next to the glass…
The meerkats were cute as well, I want 20!
The zoo wasn’t too big really so we went for a drive up the coast to explore and then got back to the hotel for more wine and cheese! Dinner tonight was in a fabulous chinese restaurant. The portions were massive but I managed! Sigh, holiday was nearly over now so I had to stock up on calories.
Checked out this morning after another lovely breakfast, I forgot to say that the bed and breakfast made such great food in the mornings. Today for example it was sort of toast moulded into the shape of a cup with egg and stuff in it with a side order of bacon. mmmm. We’d found a gorgeous piece of African art at a shop called Africa and Beyond so went back today to finalise the order and sort out shipping back to the UK. Then we set off up the coast to Los Angeles and home. As we had plenty of time we went to Hollywood, drove along crappy sunset blvd and up into Beverly Hills. I haven’t seen the film Mulholland Drive – but I’ve driven along the road at least! Then we motored down to Santa Monica for a walk along the boardwalk, mooch round the shops and my final, huge, lovely… burger! Santa Monica had an equal number of truly beautiful people as well as homeless bums. Maybe they remind us normal human beings that we should be happy as we are!
Drove back to the airport through scummy Los Angeles and then began the longggggg journey home. No first class on the way back, just crap food, cramped seats and noise. Sigh. Then of course I had to spent 1.5hrs with a suitcase on my lap for the last leg of the journey!
Anyway, it was a 3500 mile journey overall and a truly great holiday. Americans as individuals are lovely, their country as beautiful… as a nation however, well I suppose no-one is perfect.