Posts Tagged With: california

USA Tour: My final day….4th July

It was sad to say goodbye to a few people on the night before and on 4th I had to goodbye to my little gang…Heather, Melissa and Steph all left late afternoon. I had originally decided to go back to Santa Monica to hang out and see the fireworks but after seeing how long it took yesterday to get from there to the Hacienda, I gave up on the idea.

Achim was staying until the 9th but moving hotels. He was going to a hostel in Santa Monica. As I was due to leave early on the 5th, he kindly agreed to go watch the fireworks from El Segundo (we asked the hotel if there was going to be some around) and then make his way back to his hostel instead of me trekking the 2 hours back.

We spent part of the day by the hotel pool but the fog hadn’t lifted and we were literally shivering after we enjoyed the really hot jacuzzi. We spent the rest of the afternoon in the hotel patio, chatting away and reminiscing some of the funniest moments. You could tell that everyone was slowly losing his sparkle from having to say goodbye. Finally the time came and it was just me and Achim left. We decided to go explore where the fireworks was going to be to see what wee needed to plan for.

People were already getting ready and marking their spot in the street with deck chairs and blankets. The whole area had been cordoned off so there was no traffic.

The fog had finally lifted by late afternoon so it was warming up.

The fireworks were going to be launched from a baseball stadium which had been all closed off and you could buy a ticket for $3 and get a seat in the arena and enjoy the pre-fireworks concert. We decided not to.

We walked back towards the hotel to go get some supplies for an impromptu picnic. Originally we had thought of going to dinner in one of the restaurant and then wander back for the fireworks but seeing that a lot of people were already claiming space all around, we decided it would be safer to buy some food and drinks and lay our towels out and wait for the big bang… It took a while for the sun to set and we were so close to the airport that we think we saw Steph’s plane take off…

I am sure that the fireworks would have been nicer on Santa Monica but as it stand it wasn’t too bad…

I tried to take a few pics with my Nikon Coolpix but not easy without a tripod…

We left just before it ended as Achim wanted to be the mass exodus so he could catch the shuttle bus back to the airport, where he could catch another shuttle bus to get to Santa Monica…it took him about 2hours even at that time of the night… I am glad I didn’t have to do.

I had been lucky to have been alone in my room the night before so I was a little surprise to find that I had a room mate on my way back. She was also returning from a trek. We chatted briefly and then I turned off as I wanted to be at the airport in plenty of time…you know me, I am a nervous traveller 🙂

My flight was at 11am and I got there for 8.30am so I had plenty of time to kill. Did a little last minute shopping. I had started to develop the cold that had gone around the bus in the last week of our tour so I bought some medicine to help. I also had my first McDonald…somehow, throughout the journey I had managed to avoid it…not really out of choice as I like to try out McD in the countries I visit as they always have a “local” speciality. In India I had a McMaharaja which is a chicken curry burger, in Thailand I had a McThai…which is also chicken curry type but did taste different…and in LAX I had a breakfast burrito…which is not something you get in Europe for sure!

My flight back was dreadful. My cold developed full tilt and I think I got myself a fever at some point. I couldn’t sleep despite my earplugs and eye mask because I felt hot and cold all night and I couldn’t breathe with my mouth closed and I can’t really sleep with my mouth open. I watch a couple movies but I didn’t want to spend the night doing that…I was really happy to land on Friday morning and my commute back home was long…I wasn’t supposed to go to bed on arrival so I could control the jet lag but between the sleepless flight and the fact that I felt absolutely dreadful, I didn’t last very long….long enough to take a well deserved shower and to call my Nan to reassure her that I was a live if not well…

I had 3 days to recover from the jetlag before I was due to start at my new job…unfortunately for me, jetlag decided to kick the night before my first day and stayed with me for a few more nights…of course it did.

Taking stock…

My big highlights were:

San Diego

The Grand Canyon – of course

Yosemite – for the accomplishment of the hike

Baseball game and Alcatraz in San Francisco

Santa Barbara – the whole town actually, it felt like a place I could live in.

The people… I was worried about the American people…they can have a bad reputation for being obnoxious, loud and little too much overly Christian….throughout the trip I discovered how nice and friendly they can be, I was impressed by the customer service everywhere we went (regardless of tipping convention) and I didn’t get too much Christianity shoved back at me.

My fellow travellers…we had an amazing group and I am hoping to stay in touch with a few. We are already talking about when we see each other next and I believe the first reunion is going to be in Zurich (Steph’s haunt) to go skiing. Then, it should be Aberdeen…

And here’s for the memories

More Burt Reynolds action

The girls


With the top boys…


LAX in Vegas


Limo action in Vegas with Lisa and El


With the lovely Heather…


I can’t wait to go back out there…The country lived up to my expectations and the people surpassed them…Now I want to see it all…I want to go to New York, I want to see Miami, New Orleans, go to Boston and see Washington and I also want to see Canada…. Until next time…


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USA Tour: Day 14 – Hollywood & Santa Monica (03/07/12)

Before we left Santa Barbara, we went to see the famous Mission…the day was dull, misty and grey…it was too early to go inside the mission but a lot of the interest is in the art that has been created on the parking lot.

There are hundreds of images so I couldn’t really take all of them.

This was our last day on the tour and we finished by a quick tour of parts of LA: we drove through Beverly Hills, and then stopped in Hollywood and ended with Santa Monica.

I was relatively disappointed by Hollywood. When we arrived there, there was a strong smell of manure floating around…which you don’t expect from such an urban setting and well there isn’t much to see.

We checked out a few of the stars and hand prints…I was obsessed with finding Burt Reynolds as he had kind of become our mascot following the story about the special shot called Burt Reynolds after which you have to display the moustache…it became a whole thing because the Scottish girls had no idea who Burt Reynolds was and we started doing the moustache after every alcoholic drink we had…

We got to see the sign from the shopping centre in Hollywood, we were quite far out so this is the best shot I got of it, full zoom. We tried a couple with us in front but it was impossible to see the sign…

I had a huge crush on Magnum P.I.! The only man with a moustache I have found attractive. It’s still one of my favourite series and I recently completed the DVD collection and nearly done watching it


We didn’t really have much time to go looking for particular “stars” so these were the ones that I actually recognised…On the stretch of road we were at, there were loads of starts from the early days of Hollywood and many I didn’t know.

Burt Reynolds!!!!

I couldn’t resist a little Steven Segal action…there is a joke there somewhere I am sure


This one was for my aunt who is a huge Duke fan


I just found this particularly amusing…Childish I know, but tell me it didn’t make you chuckle a bit!

This is as close as we got to BH!


Santa Monica


Now this is one thing I definitely learned on that day…I had no idea that Route 66 ended on Santa Monica Pier.

You could buy this map for $5! Although even if you had the time to check them out, all you probably could see was the huge gates…

We were about 5 miles south of Malibu Beach where Baywatch was shot in the 90s but this looks quite similar…

I wouldn’t mind one of those…although probably a bit scary during a proper storm…

Santa Monica Pier…


I took a lot of pictures of Black & Whites…mostly because of James…who was obsessed with them.

I thought this was a particularly interesting view point…

No pier is complete without an amusement park on it…

Apparently the “original” Muscle beach…although there weren’t any muscles around that day…

This was it…the end of our trip…after our little walk around the beach, we headed back through the shopping street…it took us a couple hours to drive back to the Hacienda. Everybody was quiet on the drive back…I think we were feeling the little depression that comes with knowing that it is the end.

Some of us were flying out this night, most were flying the following day. As it was the 4th of July I had decided to extend my stay for one more day to experience it.

Next Chapter: Celebrating the 4th July

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USA Tour: Day 13 – Santa Barbara (02/07/12)

We headed out to town for a day at the beach. We took the bus right across from our motel and within 15 mins we were in State St which is the main shopping street. From the first look I liked Santa Barbara’s Mexican’s influence. All the shop fronts are the same, hacienda style. It’s warm, it’s sunny and it’s clean. The town centre is quite small and yet it has all the shops, cafes, restaurants and bars that you might want. There are a couple of art house cinemas and I think even a theatre. When in the town centre you are about 15 mins walk from the beach front but if you don’t fancy walking, you can take a cute little shuttle train for 80 cents.

Bare feet are dangerous…!

SUP: Stand Up Paddling…is the top sport around there…


A cool van…


After a walk along the pier and the beach front (looking for the jet ski rental) we ended going to the beach for a bit of swim and sunbathe. We didn’t find the shop…

The marina

We had lunch at the beach cafe, which actually was rather nice. It was a nice day of doing not much…On the way back, I did a bit of souvenir shopping and bought a new pair of earphones from the drugstore as mine had broken.

We went back to the motel to get showered and headed back out for dinner.

We ate at a little Italian restaurant (the usual group…Steph, Heather, Melissa, Achim and I) and then went looking for a place to have a drink….

We settled for a place called the Sand Bar which had outside fires and looked funky.

They had really nice cocktails…I enjoyed a few Pina Coladas…


Then we discovered that they turned into a club after a certain time…which suited us very well and we ended up staying for a bit of a boogie…

Left to right: Achim, Heather, Melissa, Steph and a very tanned Me

The happy gang after a good night drinking cocktails (for the girls) and dancing…

Next chapter: Hollywood & Santa Monica

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USA Tour: Day 12 – Pacific Highway 101 & Santa Barbara (01/07/12)

So we left San Francisco and headed towards the most beautiful (and long) drive we had so far…Pacific Highway 101 is famous for its vistas…You drive along the ocean and it does live up to the hype. But first we stopped to see the famous painted houses of SF. They were the ones where the TV series Full House was supposed to be shot.

We missed out on seeing them the day before because of the delay with the Alcatraz trip and some of the girls really wanted to see them.

“Full House” houses

As you can see the day was foggy and grey. Apparently it’s often the case in the morning in SF. We did drive through pretty neighbourhoods to get out of town and it gave me back a little liking for the city…

There are lots of little houses like that around in that part of town and I wouldn’t mind one of those.

PCH 101 View – Oh my!

We had lunch there. It was cute. You have to walk through an art shop on the ground to get to the restaurant on the first floor. The menu was a little restricted and not cheap…but it’s pretty much the only place you can eat for a long way.

Saying that, I had a good breakfast so wasn’t really hungry so only bought a fruit salad.

After lunch we stopped at a view point. It’s a historical area where a famous rich woman used to have a house…

This was one of the views that woman had from her house…I could live with that…

A little birdie…

Our next stop was to watch the sea lions sunbathe….

We arrived in Santa Barbara in late afternoon. We were staying at the Oasis Motel about 15 mins bus ride from town centre. And of course it had a pool so as soon as we were settle in our rooms, we headed out for a swim. It had been a long drive and everybody needed to relax and cool down.

Mel had organised dinner in town at an American dinner called Joe’s Cafe. I decided to play a little more Girls vs Food by ordering their French double dip sandwich…which by the way has nothing French about it as we don’t do that at all in France.

Girl vs Food: Beef double dip sandwich. It was good but definitely was goood!
This is supposed to be a French style sandwich…I can tell you that I have never had one in France and grew up there!

We didn’t hang out in town for long after dinner..didn’t even go for drinks.

Next chapter: Santa Barbara – Day 2

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USA Tour: Day 11 – San Francisco – Part 2 (30/06/12)

So…this was our final day in San Francisco and it helped me changed my mind about the city.

So far, I had been underwhelmed with the city. I had enjoyed the cable car ride and the baseball game but that was pretty much it. The city itself hadn’t wowed me as I expected…This was about to change.

So the planning for the day was: people with tickets to Alcatraz were going there in the morning and those without were staying with Mel for a nice breakfast and a drive around the city. We were all due to meet back at 11.30am to then go to Ashbury Heights (the hippy quarter) and then the Golden Gate bridge…

First hitch, our tickets included a trip to Angel Island and unfortunately, this was the first stop so we weren’t due to get to Alcatraz until noon. Ooops… Rachel left a message to Mel and we set out to enjoy our day…and that we did. I absolutely loved both was beautiful and interesting at the same time.

The boat ride was really nice. A bit windy and chilly but sunny enough that it was enjoyable and we got to see San Francisco Bay under a beautiful light

San Francisco harbour

Windswept…and again, someone who doesn’t know how to use my DSLR…I should have kept those shots with my compact. Then again, being blurred means you can see all the imperfections 🙂

Alcatraz Island – at this stage, we were just passing through…

Bay Bridge

Arriving at Angel Island

Angel Island is a State Park and is known as the “Ellis Island of the West” as it housed the Immigration Quarantine park for a long time. It also was a military base for a while and still has some of the civil war barracks and hospital.

We spent 2 hours there, going around the park on the mini train.

It has beautiful views and there is a spot there where you are supposed to have the best view of the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge…that is if the fog is kind enough to lift…unfortunately for us, it didn’t and we didn’t see anything.

Old civil war time hospital. One of the oldest construction still standing on the island

Period dressed reanactment

The Golden Gate Bridge…in the fog

Old baracks

Immigration triage

Most of the Far Eastern world immigrated through this point but also some of Europe. Although it was mostly Chinese and they were detained sometimes for months, like prisoners. Families were separated. There were some famous poems which were engraved on the wooden walls.

Being on the clock, we didn’t get to go inside any of the building. This is a shot of the free postcard you get with your ticket. It’s an image of one of those poems.

We didn’t get much time to eat as we were due back on the boat to finally get to Alcatraz.

I had been looking forward to this part. Again, hugely influenced by famous movies like Escape from Alcatraz and The Rock.

I also discovered that Alcatraz wasn’t always a prison…

The Rock

Before being a federal penitentiary, Alcatraz was of course a military base, then later on a military prison.

After the prison closed, it became the centre for Indian rights activisms.

See more info on its history here:

Of course, the audio tour centres around its time as a prison…

Cell blocks

I didn’t take many pictures inside…it felt a little disrespectful somehow and I was just so fascinated by the audio commentary. If you go there, do not hesitate to do it. The sound effects are amazing and you feel like you are living it. It is a little creepy even. Unfortunately we had to skip through a lot of the parts as time was running out and we wanted to get the first boat out. We were already way out of schedule to meet up with the others on the mainland. On the way out, we passed through the gift shop where one of the former prisoners there was doing a book signing. I didn’t buy the book as I knew I wouldn’t read it but it was amazing to see someone who had lived through this place, especially after having heard of the dreadful conditions there and having seen the size of the cells…Definitely not the luxury some prisons offer these days…there were no human rights activists for them back then…

Trying to meet up with the others once we were back at Pier 33 was a lot harder than expected. Rachel was liaising with Mel and it wasn’t going well as she wouldn’t tell us where our next step was and insisted that meet up with them at the Golden Gate Bridge even though chances are we wouldn’t have time to walk it and the bridge was in the fog so much that we wouldn’t see much. We took our time though walking between Pier 33 and Pier 39 as Lisa wanted to go to a souvenirs shop she had seen the day before and didn’t think we would have time after we met up with the others…then we struggled to actually find cabs to get to the bridge…we finally got there, to see that the bridge was invisible and we definitely didn’t have to walk it…we got in the van and returned to Pier 39! We were a little annoyed that we had to pay for cab fares when we could all have met back there without having to rush back or if she had told us we were going to go there after, we would have wasted time before and had met back with her earlier…this wasn’t good planning at all.

This is what we got to see of the Golden Gate Bridge…

Walking around Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf gave me back the excitement for the city though…

We had some free time on Fisherman’s Wharf until 6pm. Some people went into the Hard Rock Cafe…it was too busy for me and I wanted to walk around and do a bit of souvenirs shopping. Achim came with me… Later on, we were all due to meet up at Pier 20 to go on a catamaran cruise…I wasn’t too keen as I tend to be sea sick on small boats.

Amazing sea lions chilling by the pier

I shouldn’t have been worried by the cruise…it was one of the best nights we had…there was snacks served and we had all 3 drinks tokens. We shared the ride a other groups and I had a jolly time and thanks to my little acupressure bands, I didn’t get sick at all!

It was misty, windy and chilly on the boat, but luckily they had spare parkas for everyone! I regretted coming in my flip flops though as my tootsies got quite cold!

Once out of the bay though, the weather improved and we were treated to a beautiful sunset.

Mr Piggy enjoying the ride…

Left to right: Steph, Heather, The Finisher, Rachel, Tash, Melissa and James

There was another trek group with us and their tour guide decided it would be fun to wrestle on the net, pitching his group against ours, starting by a match between him and Mel…I have to admit, this was the funniest thing ever…I filmed it and it is a shame I can’t really add it here!

We sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge, still in the fog, and the weather turn called again.

Fog City Diner on Battery Street

After the cruise we went for dinner at a posh diner called Fog City Diner

The decor was quite cool and the food was really nice…It was a perfect end to what turned out to be nearly a perfect day…

Girl vs Food: Green Thai Mussels….it was creamy and had a strong kick to it but quite delicious. I enjoyed that very much and the mussels were ginormous!

Next Chapter: Santa Barbara

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USA Tour: Day 10 – San Francisco – Part 1 (29/06/12)

Now San Francisco was the leg of the trip I was waiting for the most. Everyone I know who had been there had told me how cool a city it was and I would love it. I don’t know if it is because we arrived through the grittiest part of town or if it’s because my expectations were so high but my first impressions of Frisco wasn’t on the awed part of the spectrum…I was disappointed.

Mel took us to the winding steps first. Apparently they are super famous as they are featured in many a movie. I oohed and aahed and pretended that I had heard of them but to tell you the truth, I don’t remember seeing them before…except maybe in one of The Hulk movies now that I think of it, but I am not entirely sure. I mean, some of my favourite car chases movies will have an SF Bullitt and I grew up on The Streets of San Francisco and Full House so I had maybe a little glamoured up image of the city… I wasn’t expected all the tweakers and homeless people wandering around in the streets…I also wasn’t expected it to be so cold after nearly cooking in San Diego and Vegas.

After the winding steps we headed to Fisherman’s Wharf for lunch. Now again, I was a little disappointed, it appeared to be quite small and tacky with numerous souvenirs shops but not much else. We had lunch in Mel’s favourite restaurant and I had my first clam chowder. Apparently it originated from Fisherman’s Wharf. I must make a small parenthesis again: I grew up in a village by the sea back in France and seafood is part of our regular diet…except that I don’t actually like fish and other seafood related meals. I mean I like mussels and I can eat fish and chips and grilled salmon, but you won’t catch me eating fish pies or fish based anything if I can avoid it. However I had decided that when travelling, you have to try local dishes as best as you can (I will draw the line at weird animal or insects type food) so I decided that I had to try the clam chowder. Luckily there was a set meal which had a small portion of it as a starter and then you had a sandwich for main (bravely I went for the prawn one too)…

My first clam chowder @ Sabella & La Torre’s Fisherman’s restaurant on Fisherman’s Wharf

This was my first pleasant surprise of SF. The chowder was deliciously creamy and didn’t taste too fishy. I really enjoyed it.

After lunch we didn’t much time to hang around for long as the place had been really busy and we had to wait for a while, our time was up quickly

The next step of our San Francisco adventure was to ride a cable car all the way to Union Square. Then we had a free afternoon shopping (not my favourite thing in the world to do, I’ll be honest).

Riding the cable car was fun…I wish I had had a place on the outside as you see more, but standing up inside was still better than sitting inside, so it was ok

Our driver…or operator, I am not sure what they are called.

I felt rubbish that day. I hadn’t put on my lenses because I thought we would have time to do that at the hotel before heading out…we didn’t stop at the hotel, we went straight out. Oh well, holidays are rarely the opportunity to be stylish…

An awesome percussionist. Apparently SF is full of people like him, unfortunately he is the only one we saw.

Although I wasn’t super impressed by Union Square, I mean it is another shopping area like many others in big cities…same shops and labels…I really liked SF’s trams and bus system. Each train is vintage style and in a different shape and colour. I would have liked to have the time to ride one to see if it was nice inside too.

The group of course split up quickly as we all had different things we wanted to do…well I didn’t have anything in mind so Steph, Achim and I went in search of a book store for Steph. The man hasn’t upgraded to a Kindle yet (despite my very convincing sales pitch – Amazon should really pay me for that as I have been singing the merits of Kindle ever since I bought one!) and he ploughs through books quicker than he can buy them…and curiously, there aren’t many book stores around in US, even in big cities. We found a badly stocked one in Westfield shopping center (another one) and there was nothing interesting for him. Achim had decided he wanted to buy an iPad so we dropped in the Apple Store…deal was done in 10 mins! I had planned on doing the same but I caved in and bought mine before leaving for the States. I know it would have been cheaper but I wanted to have it for the whole trip, not at the tail end. I don’t regret buying it before…

After that, Achim and I decided to go check out Chinatown. Steph wasn’t keen as for him Chinatown is the same everywhere you go so he decided to continue in his search for a book store (he never found one by the way).

We made our way up “the streets of San Francisco”…it’s a lot harder than it look, by the way.

Union Square (he)art

The Streets of San Francisco….


Union Square…more (he)art….

By day…

By night…

After that, we headed to the hotel to take showers and get ready for the main event of the day….my first baseball game!

Wall art in our room (I was sharing with Rachel most of the trip as she was the only other girl travelling on her own…all the other girls came in 2s). You could change the image by pulling the cord and I really liked the cleverness of it. Our hotel was called the Good Hotel and it was really quirky and modern…right in the middle of Mission area part which is full of druggies…We were told not to wander around alone at night….not what you want to hear from the city you have been dreaming of for years…

The temperature dropped dramatically too so it was chilly when we set out for the baseball stadium. It took us forever too as SF is as bad as Paris at 2am…there were no cabs around and with a group of 14 people, you needed a couple. We got the hotel to call for some with maximum seating and they kept sending us 4 seaters so it took a while…then trying to find each other was also not easy as Mel hadn’t been specific enough on where to meet. Basically there is more than one entrance to the stadium and somehow we didn’t all get dropped at the same! Duh.

Nonetheless, this was one of the highlights of my trip. We were told that a match can last up to 4 hours and there is a lot of starts and stops during the play so the plan was for us to stay a couple hours, eat hotdogs there and then head out to bars. Heather and Melissa decided to skip the game as they had already seen one during their eastern tour of US and didn’t enjoy it so much…

I LOVED IT! I didn’t find it boring at all even if a) I didn’t understand the rules – thanks Steph for trying to explain them to us ; and b) the local team, the Giants, lost badly to the Cincinnati Reds…poor them, better luck next time!

The stadium is amazing. Overlooking the bay, it’s a real treat. They, of course serve the usual junk food and you can get beers too, although don’t expect to get trashed there (which granted is now why you would go there) at $10 a beer ($5 for a coke!) it’s a bit steep…it doesn’t stop everyone mind you, as I saw a tweeny girl been taken out on a wheelchair, a sick bag attached to her face, completely passed out from alcohol overload. It wasn’t even 9pm! Shocking!

We stayed longer than planned as everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves but still we left before the end (like many others- supposedly fans -now for me that’s bad sportsmanship! You don’t leave because your team is losing -with no chances of coming back- you support it till the end!)

Our next stage was to catch up with Melissa and Heather -who had already been given the address of the bar we were heading out to- in what is supposed to be the party area (and which we discovered later was just for tourists -now granted, that’s what we were, but when you are on an organised tour, with someone who has been coming to San Francisco for years, you expect to be taken a little of the beaten track or at least somewhere that the local who hang out in)…Our first stop was a bar simply called 15 Romolo (which basically is it’s address). Now I don’t have any complaints about the place. It was nice, trendy and not too crowded. My complaint comes from the usual…I was just getting settled and into the groove when we “had” to move to the next one. Mel had told us about the oldest pub/bar in Frisco called The Saloon and it was meant to be our next stop. We got to the outside of it (short walk from Romolo) and my little gang looked at each other, not convinced. From the outside you could tell it was an old biker/rocker type bar. When I mean old, I mean the punters were middle age, paunchy looking blokes, probably wannabe bikers. The place looked tacky and they were asking for $5 cover charge…now $5 is not a lot but considering that we were probably only stay for just the one drink before moving on, we thought that it would make an expensive drink…so we passed. A few went in with Mel but Heather, Steph, Melissa, Achim, Lisa, Eleanor, Rachel, Simon and I decided to skip it. Melissa, Heather, Achim and I were not ready to go home yet though…the others grabbed a cab straight back to hotel but we went back to Romolo…we just couldn’t be bothered to look for another place.

We didn’t stay super long…just long enough enough for another couple drinks and I ended up chatting with 2 guys at the bar…the others were laughing at me when I got back. They thought it was typical that of all of us, I was the one who got to chat with locals (ish)…What can I say? I am a friendly person and I do tend to attract randoms…sometimes nice ones, sometimes a little weird but I do like pointless chatter…

I enjoyed that part of the night…there was no pressure, just a group of people enjoying a drink (without trying to get drunk) and talking crap…On the way back to the hotel is when we discovered that we had been in the wrong area to party…the cab driver told us that locals never go there…at the same time, I didn’t really bother researching the trip so if I had, maybe I would have had a better idea…or not.

Next chapter: Alcatraz and Angel Island

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USA Tour: Day 3 – Lake Havasu (22/06/12)

Another day, another early departure and the chaffing of the van seat really didn’t help…I know, my fault.

So we set out for a looonnng drive to Lake Havasu, AZ.

Lunch at Chipotle, somewhere on the way…Massive burritos there!


Unforgiving Arizona landscape….we drove really close to the Mexican border and it felt real hot!


After a long drive in desertic landscapes, it was nice to take a dive in the lake…actually a crook in the Colorado River. The water was cool and the beer got hot quickly :(…


There isn’t much in Lake Havasu but they have a reproduction of London Bridge…for some obscure reason!


Nice sunset though…although you don’t get to see much of me…


All we did in there was go have dinner…

I think there is a whole chicken in my salad….they really don’t do half portions!


After dinner, we strolled back leisurely and went straight to bed…my sunburns were starting to feel about bearable!

Next chapter: The Grand Canyon via Route 66

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USA Tour: Day 1 – El Segundo to San Diego (20/06/12)

We had drinks and dinner at the hotel’s restaurant. It was a really interesting place with a fair amount of locals (which is strange for a hotel really) and with weekly dance classes. Whilst we were eating (in the dark as the area was very badly lit), some people were taking dance lessons (ballroom style) in the centre of the restaurant. Still it was very nice to catch up with all my future fellow travellers and get to know them a bit.

Western USA BLT Trekkers @ The Grand Canyon, June 2012
Top row: Stephan (The Netherlands)
Middle row (left to right): James (England); Heather (Sctoland), Simon (Germany), Achim (Germany), Melissa (Scotland), Eleanor (NZ), Rachel (England), Lisa (NZ), Me (France via London)
Front row: Pam (Australia), Natasha (England)
(Ages varied from 21 to 38 and apparently even Mel – guide – was amazed how we all got on together…of course there were mini groups with more affinities within be overall, there hasn’t been any drama

We were set to all meet at 7.30am in the hotel lobby by our tour guide. She had left instructions on the notice board and wanted us on time…We were all there waiting, introducing ourselves to each other (those who weren’t there the night before at least) when she strolled in…30 mins late, seeping on on Starbuck frappuccino, Raybans on, straightened hair and long skirt on…She was definitely not what I expected a tour guide to look like! And then she opened her mouth and sounded so New York, it was like being in the movies!

After all the formalities of signing in, giving insurance details and signing off responsibility, we packed up the trailer and set off in the van that was going to be our “home” for the next 2 weeks. First stop, San Diego.

Now, I don’t know much about San Diego and I haven’t done any research on it so I had no expectation about it. I just knew it had a famous Zoo and that’s pretty much it.

It took us about 3 hours to get there, with a quick pit stop for breakfast. We got into town to drop off the trailer briefly and then we were on the road again. This time, we were heading out to Old Town San Diego for a spot of lunch and to see one of the old pioneer town.

First american lunch at Coyote y Cantina, Old Town (San Diego) – I had been told that the portions were out of this world and I did give it a good try but I failed to finish my delicious chicken chimichanga.

After lunch, we took a walk in town – there isn’t much to see to be fair, except for a few tourist shops and some reconstructed pioneer village

We only wandered around for an hour or so and the one thing I remember vividly is how hot it was there, which after weeks of cold, miserable and wet weather in the UK was welcome.

After Old Town, we headed to our hostel (USA Hostel), located in the middle of Gaslamp district. This was one of the few hostels we were going to stay. Most of our trip was going to be in motels. The hostel itself is really cute and the decor is quite funky. We had to split randomly into 3 mixed rooms, which gave us the opportunity to get to know each other a little better in a smaller group setting. Actually, I ended up hanging out with the guys (and girls) from that room a lot more than with others…not sure if it was because it was the first night or just because I got lucky to be with people I had more affinities with from the start…

USA Hostel, Gaslamp district, entrance hallway.

After we got our things in our rooms and put on our swim suits, we headed back out to Coronado Island to sun ourselves and for the first chance to take a dip in the Pacific ocean.

Mr Piggy

Mr Piggy’s first outing on Coronado Island. He was quite a hit. At first, my travel mates were a little taken aback. After all, they had only just met me and they probably thought I was a tad cuckoo… but by the end of the trip, everybody would ask me if Mr Piggy got his picture taken.

I liked Coronado Island. It was nice and clean, what I expected of a Californian beach with Baywatch style lifeguards’ towers (see below)

It was also my first opportunity for a bit a artsy photography

However, only a few brave ones went to taste the water. The Pacific is surprisingly cold and I chickened out. I bet Melissa regretted going in considering she had forgotten her towel and she spent the rest of our time on the beach shivering uncontrollably, poor thing.

After a couple hours on the beach, we went back to the hostels for some showers and the chance to explore the city a little before we were due to meet up for dinner.

I had a couple things I wanted to buy, like a baseball cap as I hadn’t taken a hat with me and some sunscreen as I had to borrow some. There wasn’t many places you could shop around there. Lots of bars and restaurants in Gaslamp but unless you want to go into the big shopping centre, not many other options.

I was well excited with my cap as it spells my initial and practically lived in it as the sun was really strong out there.

After shopping and shower, I was ready to have a drink and found out that the 2 other girls from my room, Scottish girls who were travelling together, were up to join me. We didn’t go very far as we only had about an hour before dinner time, so we went to Whisky Girl which is literally at the bottom of our hostels.

Things got really funny quite quick there as I somehow caught the attention of a very drunk Canadian naval guy (not up with my naval terminology) who just decided to sit down next to me and kept hooking me by the neck. Heather and Melissa were literally in tears just watching me trying to keep him at a distance but still stay friendly (you never know). I didn’t realise that San Diego was such a big naval town but I guess with 2 naval academy/bases around, you are bound to bump into some navy boys…didn’t expect to meet some from Canada though 🙂

Me and a very drunk Canadian Navy boy named Andrew (I think!) @ Whisky Girl, San Diego.







Thankfully time to meet the rest of the group for dinner had arrived and left the Canadians blokes continue their rampage. It didn’t take them long to find new willing female companions I can tell you!

We had dinner at a place called Sloppy Joe, which is half Italian half American, at least according to their menu or it was seriously confused. Place was a walking distance from our hostel. Dinner was nice but the early start of the day was starting to show. However, as it was our first proper night out, we weren’t going to head home so soon. Melissa (our tour guide, not the Scottish lass) had a place for us to go drinking and dancing to start….and we ended up at the Whisky Girl! It was quite amusing really, although our Canadian friends had disappeared…

So we ended up back at the Whisky Girl (on 5th/G St –  for those interested). We were meant to stay there for only the one drink and then move on to the next bar but in the end, we stayed as we ended up having a good old time. Shortly after we arrived they started to remove the tables and the DJ started playing some tunes and before long we were all dancing (some more successfully than others!). We got some interesting chat up lines, like “Hi, I have a room. Do you want to get out of here?”. I am not sure if the line works generally but it really gave us a good giggle and something to talk about for the whole of the trip.

As it stands, I danced my little booty off until not so much of the small hours, but it was close to 2am when we all decided to head back up. Our rooms were right on the street with no double glazing so I was quite happy that I don’t travel without my silicon ear plugs and my eye mask these days. I had a good night sleep which more than I can say for the rest of the room.

Few weeks have gone now since I have been back and this first night is still the best I had all the whole trip (with our last night in Santa Barbara coming second).

Next chapter: Day 2 – San Diego….Mission Beach

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USA Tour: Taking off to The City of Angels (19/06/12)

The day has finally arrived!

I said goodbye to my colleagues on the Friday as the timing of my holiday couldn’t have been better. My contract was ending where I was working for the past year and a few weeks before my holiday I was offered a great job, to start on my return! Now the stars don’t align like that all the time do they?!

So after a well drowned leaving party (with my new favourite drink : vodka slimlight soda) and two intense days of last minute shopping and packing, I was ready to take off!

I am a nervous traveller generally. By nervous, I mean I stress that I will be late, have forgotten my passport or be stuck at security check for some random thing I have forgotten to take out of my bag. I check, double check and trebble check every thing…I fret nervously in the train going to airport and I panic if I don’t see my gate straight away… Nothing ever happened but I can’t help it…unless I travel in a group and then I let others stress themselves.

This trip was no exception, particularly because it was my first time going to the US and I had heard so many stories about going through customs over there which didn’t make me all too relaxed.

Getting to the airport and through security was without incident…maybe all that stressing was for nothing or allowed me to have everything ready…

At my gate, I was waiting excitedly to embark when I noticed a guy sitting casually on the floor with his guitar (and about half a dozen bags!)…He looked familiar but I couldn’t place him for a while. I kept looking back at him (hopefully discreetly enough) and then I had my “smack my forehead” moment…I was in the presence of a minor celebrity! I say minor as I don’t think that many people know him (I commented about it on my Facebook status and only one of my friends knew who I was referring to); he actually might like it to be referred to being minor…anyway, this was the TV actor Ben Bass whom I knew from the TV show “Rookie Blues” (Canadian series) and I suddenly got even more excited. I am not big on celebrity spotting and I didn’t actually go to him with the “OMG! You are Ben Bass, aren’t you? I love your show, can I have your picture?”…I was quite happy to share the moment with my friends on Facebook (and now here) without making a fool of myself to the man, who probably wanted to travel quietly. Still I couldn’t help but wonder what he had been doing in London and kept sneaking looks at him, grinning stupidly to myself!

Ben Bass

Imagine how delighted I was when after boarding I discovered he was sitting in my aisle, one sit away from me!! Because of his million bags, he literally filled the bin above our seats so I got to speak to him and he helped me put my own bag in another locker. I was chuffed and feeling like a teenager. My delight was short lived when he got upgrade to premium eco seat to make room for a family so they could sit together. Still, as I said to the only friend who knows who he is “he touched my bag!!”…I know, I know he is hardly Brad Pitt but that made my day nonetheless!

Rest of the journey was quite uneventful. I watched a few movies, deciding that it wouldn’t be a good thing to sleep. I landed at around 1pm in LAX and started getting nervous again…It was time to go through Customs and all the awful stories I had heard were coming back to me.

There was quite a queue for the non US passport holders so I bid my time. Apparently I was lucky it went quite quick as I only had to wait for 45 mins for my turn (a lot of the other members of what would be my Trek group had to wait over an hour). Still I was quite happy when my turn came, I was bored and starting to feel the lack of sleep. I had had time to see what was requested of people so I felt a little more confident stepping in front the custom officer….and then my day was made all over again! The officer was a short guy in his 50s at least with a good 70s moustache and he is first words to me as I stepped in front of him after having travelled about 10 hrs in an eco seat were “Hello, wow you are gorgeous. Are you a model?”. Now there is no way you stay tired or grumpy after such a welcome! Of course, he probably says that to all the women under 50 he gets but that is not the point. Throughout our little chat, he kept staring at me and repeating how beautiful he thought I was and how I should definitely be a model…which obviously gave my ego a massive boost and gave a spring to my step when I left (about 10 mins later). This was the quickest “interview” I ever had and I couldn’t understand why so many people had bad experience with the process. I obviously got lucky.

Getting to my hotel (the one used by TrekAmerica for their tour departure) was quite easy as it was located about 10 min drive from LAX and they had a regular shuttle bus picking up passengers. In less than 30 mins after I picked my suitcase I was checked in my room, had met my room mate Aisleen (who was going on another Trek) and in the shower!

Trek has a very well organise system in which you can get in touch with the people who are registered in the same tour as you before you set off so I had already been in contact with a few of my future travel buddies to check when people were getting in and we had all agreed to meet up in the lobby that evening to go for a drink and dinner.

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USA Tour: The planning…

It is not an easy thing to write about a trip that you have been back from for a few weeks already. I always set with the best intentions on keeping a log of the daily activities and try to post to the blog whilst travelling but I always end up not having the time or the energy to put down the words.
So here I am, 6 weeks at least after I got back and decide to try to record what I can remember. I am sure, some of the memories will have faded and some will now be tainted with further knowledge but it is still fresher than in 10 years time when I really won’t remember all the details…

It all started last year, when I decided I had enough of waiting around for my friends to be available or ready to travel with me to the States. I mean, this is hardly a trip you want to do on your own, but at the same time, trying to convince 2 or 3 people to take 3 weeks off and commit to travelling together for that length of time can be tricky. I had been hoping that at some point I’d meet someone with whom I could do it but unfortunately it hasn’t happened yet. Then the last couple years have been tricky with all the recession issues, the being made redundant and the not having the guarantee of a permanent job for the following months…I kept telling myself, next year I’ll do it… Last year, I threw caution to the wind and decided it was now or never (well maybe not never, but basically the time was right) for me to take the plunge and go visit the country I had been dreaming about since I was 15! Growing up I wanted nothing more than to go to California, especially LA as all of my favourite shows were based there and I had a very glamorous view of it.
Living in the UK and having travelled a little and met incredible (and sometimes not so much so) people from around the world, I have had the chance to re-evaluate where I wanted to go…California was still where I wanted to go, but I had changed my desired city to San Francisco, having heard that LA isn’t as exciting as TV shows make it sound.

So, the decision was made…I was going to go and wanted to go to California. I also knew that the lasted I wanted was to travel alone…I hate that. I am not as adventurous as I would like to be and I have often admired and envied those people who can just pack up a rucksack and go travel on their own. The truth is I get scared easily and therefore I knew I needed to do a group thing. However, I didn’t want to end up in a group with only couples or pensioners so I had to choose my operator carefully….lucky for me, I came across TrekAmerica very quickly and from the get go, I felt that this was the solution for me. The Westerner2 BLT tour they offered seemed to be ticking all my boxes: visiting a few places in California, including SF -tick; Grand Canyon -tick, small group -tick, good for independent travellers – tick, 18-38 age group -tick! It only took me a week of ermm-ing and aah-ing before I confirmed the booking and then the long wait started.
The trip was booked for June 2012 and we were in Nov 2011!!


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