Posts Tagged With: tour group

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 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 island..it 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: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcatraz_Island

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 scene..like 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….

Chinatown

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 8 / 9 – Yosemite (27-28/06/12)

Day 8 – 27/06/12

I am not going to talk about the rideto Mariposa and our hostel in the middle nowhere. It was long, it was hot and we were really, really happy to arrive…

The hostel we were staying out is an eco friendly place in the middle of the wood, called the Yosemite Bug. They call themselves a rustic resort but it’s a hostel. We got dorms. http://www.yosemitebug.com/

The 2 good points about the place were a) it had a tiny spa and after a 9hrs drive, I was happy to pay $10 for the jacuzzi overlook the forest ; b) their restaurant: the menu wasn’t amazing but quality was good and portions were enormous. I went for the mexican salad in a taco bowl shaped shell for diner and I couldn’t finish it and their breakfast….the best pancake I had…actually they converted me to pancake for breakfast.

We had dinner and we stayed a little up chatting away and playing games…quite relaxing really…the cold and the mosquitos sent us to bed!

Day 9 – 28/06/12

Biggest blueberry pancake I have had…and it was soo good too!

It took 1 hour to drive to the actual Yosemite Park…we stop to take pictures of El Capitan, one of the famous rock climbing peaks…

El Capitan

and we had to wait forever inside before we could get started…Heather had forgotten her phone in her room at the Red Feather lodge in the Grand Canyon and they were mean to ship it out to Yosemite park. Turns out it’s a big park with a couple of postal codes…it tool an hour to track the parcel down.

We were due to do the Mist Trail but as we started an hour late, it put a little spanner in the works. Half the group stopped at the halfway point and turned back…My group (with Heather and Steph) was hardcore and we carried on. It was a really tough hike but beautiful and I am really proud of myself for doing it.

Yup we went all the way to the top of that!

The guys who made it! (left to right: Lawrence “The Finisher”, Stephan, Heather and me). Admittedly Lawrence got there at least half an hour before us but still…no one else did…and we waited for them whilst cooling our feet in the very cold stream…

Even Mr Piggy needed to get himself cool down…

Mr Piggy proving he also made it to the top!

After 30 mins up there we realise that no one was going to come…and wouldn’t you know, there was no water fountain there either. Luckily we met some really nice ladies police officers on a break, who had the kit to purify the stream water so she lend it to us to refill our bottles…I don’t understand what is the problem in those areas…saying I suppose getting plumbing set up there could be a be-atch but then, they could have someone to sell bottles or someone (like our guide) should tell you these things so you didn’t get caught up. Dehydration up there can’t be fun as of course, you still have to come down…It took us 2 and bit hours to get up there but luckily the trail loops around and we didn’t have to use the same route to go down…To be honest, considering how hard the last bit had been, I am not sure if I would have been able to do it back that way. We saw some people do it as we were crossing people going down as we were going up but they would done the easy trail going up so their legs weren’t spent yet.

We saw a guy that had fallen halfway through and it wasn’t pretty as it looked like he had tumbled whilst going down and not up…which over there is scary as hell as it is steep and only sharp rocks to break your fall. He was all battered and bloody and was being looked after the park rangers…

We were supposed to all meet back at 5pm near the park entrance gift shop but considering we wasted time waiting for the rest of the group and with time it took to get down, we were about 30 mins late (which all in all wasn’t too bad)…everybody else had returned by then…I was a bit disappointed that we had missed the opportunity to go swim in the lake as it had been so hot and it was supposed to be how we finished the day after the hike (the other group, the one that stopped halfway through, went to the lake to spend the time waiting for us)…turns out, they actually didn’t swim, barely dipped their feet in (like me up stream) as the water was way too cold…so I didn’t miss out on anything.

The day was not over yet…Mel had another vista to show us…back on the bus and 1 hour drive we were at Glacier Point. Nearly opposite from where we were…we could see the top of Mist Trail from across the valley.

Top of Mist trail seen with max zoom from Glacier Point…

Mr Piggy on top of the world….

The 2 hours drive back was pretty and we even got to see a wolf by the road side. I was on the wrong side of the van so I didn’t get to take a picture but I could see it. It was beautiful and so unconcerned by the vehicles that had stopped to watch it. We all tried to stare in the woods throughout the rest of the journey back to see if we could catch glimpses of bears but no luck…none came out for us. Then again, might not be such a bad thing as they are not particularly known for being friendly 🙂

Back at camp, we all had a quiet evening (not much else to do to be honest) at the lodge’s restaurant/bar. The spa was unfortunately closed by the time we had dinner so we just chilled talking crap and drinking cheap drinks.

Next chapter: San Francisco

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USA Tour: Day 6 – Las Vegas (25/06/12)

Getting into Vegas was like seeing part of my favourite TV show though (CSI).

And we are off again. To tell you the truth I can’t remember much about that ride.

Although I missed the shot, we also saw a “drive thru” wedding chapel! I mean how desperate are you that you can’t even get out of your car to get married???!

We got to our motel, the Best Western Mardis Gras (not sure what Mardis Gras has to do with Vegas, but who cares…). It’s nothing special, except it has a pool in the court yard and considering how sweltering the temperature was we all needed a swim…but not so fast for Melissa, Achim and me….we were in dire need of clothes/shoes as we had been told that we were going clubbing in fancy places that night and girls needed to dress up and guys no trainers allowed. Now why didn’t I think that we might need party clothes on this trip, I am not sure but I had the dress and the shoes in my hand, in my room…put them in the case and then decided…nah, won’t need that! Silly because now, we have to make a mad dash to one of the shopping centres of Vegas – Town Square…20 mins cab ride and we get to the shopping area…it’s huge and we have no idea where to go. Melissa and Achim latch out on the first shoe shop they see (I was the only one who needed a dress)…I was freaking out because all the shops I could see were Gucci, Versace etc…no way I was going in there! I decided to ask the shoe shop assistant and she directed me to…H&M! Yup went all the way to Vegas to shop at H&M! A bit sad really… I left the guys sorting out their shoes and made a dash for the shop to save time…we were on the clock as it was already 3pm and we also wanted a chance to go swim before heading out.

First round of the shop, I didn’t find anything suitable and was starting to panic…then bam! perfect little top with a pair of short leggings and for the fun I even got a pair shoes to go with! I had just paid when Melissa and Achim found me and he decided to buy a couple of shirts too. As we were coming out the shop thinking how we were going to get a cab back, when one pulled in front us to off load some passengers and he was more than happy not to leave empty.

When we got back to the motel, it was party round the pool…well not completely but music was blaring and the sun was shining…We had a few good giggle and added to the soundtrack of the holiday with Justin Bieber playing on a loop and One Direction becoming The Finisher’s tune…you had to be there.

Plan for the night festivities were dinner at a local Thai restaurant, with beer tower

and sharing all the food…we were at the end of the table so somehow, we didn’t get our money’s worth to tell you the truth (we had all put money in the kitty for that dinner and to pay for the limo…oh yes, we got ourself a limo!)…speaking of, the limo came to pick us up to take us up and down The Strip and around Vegas at night…we had all bought some alcohol from an off license beforehand so the party was on!

A party shot…

Caesar Palace fountain show…

We stopped there and got to see the whole 15 mins of it. It is done in time with a tune from the RatPack. I believe they change the tunes at every show, and I am ashamed to say that I can’t remember which one we had.

Paris by night…

New York by night…

Just to prove that I was there and to show off my outfit…no glitter but I felt cute in it 🙂 It is however annoying when people don’t know how to take picture…this one would have been better in portrait…would have cut out all the noise around…oh well.

I don’t have many pictures of that night, shamefully…not like Rachel who took about 200!! None of them deemed Facebook safe 🙂

After the limo tour, we went to the LAX night club where Melissa (the guide) had secured us some free entry…she had built it up to be this amazing place and it turned out to be pretty disappointing. It was small, girls were supposed to drink for free before midnight (anything we were told) but turned out it was only vodka based drinks, but not redbull…the bartenders were not nice and very slow so we only managed 2 drinks before midnight…there was no room to dance and shock of all shock, there is no smocking ban in the US so people were lighting up right, left and centre making it very unpleasant. We stayed there for a couple hours (if that). Long enough for a tall, black girl to offer Steph to teach him “how to dougie” which I found hilarious but he unfortunately declined. Now that would have been something to film!!

Some people decided to go home from there, others (us) went on to another club – XS @ Encore…unfortunately, as I was getting in the taxi, I jumped in a little too excitedly and hit my head on the door frame…it hurt really bad and made me moody…it was not help by the fact that I was just starting to enjoy myself at the first club and when we got to the new one, we lasted 30s on the dance floor because it was packed and they just stood in a corner near the bar…I wasn’t in a mood for more drinking so my happy mood just took a nose dive. At the first sign of someone wanting to go, I jumped in with and went to bed…some stayed and I had a night they don’t really remember 🙂 at least they had a good time…

The best part of that night was the cab ride between the 2 clubs. We got a really cookie dude who seemed to be high on something and just talked and talked randomly for the whole trip…

Next chapter: Las Vegas by day…

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USA Tour: Day 5 – The Grand Canyon (24/06/12)

Today is the day of my first helicopter ride! I am a little nervous as I can suffer from travel sickness but I have made sure that I have put my trust acupressure wrist bands.

First we have to go through the dreaded weighing…luckily it is kept discreet so only the cashier sees it. You get weighed so they can decide where to place you in the chopper to balance it all out…and boy did I get lucky! Not the heaviest but not the lightest either, so I ended up which what I think was the best seat in the house. front right with nearly a 180 view outside…

Left to right: Larry ” The Finisher”, Achim, Melissa, Me, Rachel and Lisa

The coolest profile picture I have had so far….

As I said before, there aren’t enough words to describe the experience…suffice to say that I loved every seconds of our 55 mins flight and wish it had been longer and that our pilot, although a thoroughly nice chap, had been a little more adventurous in his flying… I didn’t feel any motion sickness at all and instead I was awed and excited and amazed and even a little loss for words…believe me, that doesn’t happen very often.

Rick, our very competent pilot.

He had cool music playing on the headphones and he filmed the whole flight. We had decided to only buy one CD for the group and then copy it later as the DVD was about $20 and we thought it would be cheaper but I now regret I wasn’t the one to buy it as we didn’t get the chance to copy it whilst travelling and trying to sort this out now that we are all back home (and our group was very international).

So as they say a picture is worth a 1000 words…enjoy!

The Dragon tail

 

I have loads of them but I won’t bore you with more…You get the picture really (no pun intended actually) even if my images don’t always do it justice as I feel the colours are a little faded and they felt a lot more vivid in my memory. If you are going to the Grand Canyon, I really recommend that you splash out for the chopper tour, it is well worth it. And go for the long one (55 mins) as the price difference between and the 30 mns one isn’t huge and it is well worth it! I could have stayed up there forever…well maybe not forever but it definitely ended too soon for my liking.

Once back on the ground, we headed out to the park for a day of hikes, cycle treks or leisurely wanders (depending on the group). I went for the cycle myself as I could get my hiking fill at Yosemite and wanted to cover a variety of activities.

Bike rental is quite cheap actually and we took a half day rental. We elected to do the Hermit’s Rest trail which according to the guide takes 4hrs return. Now, a few words of advice: the Park prides itself for its environmentally friendly credentials and in most cases it works…except for their notion that you should buy refillable bottles instead of water bottles as there are water points throughout the park….that maybe so if you hike but it is not the case for the cycle tracks…except no one tells you that. We discovered it the hard way.

We set out enthusiastically with a 500ml bottle each first through the woods where we met some of the local wildlife.

An elk (for those like me, who are quite ignorant about these things). They are quite placid and you can get relatively close (within reasons) as they are quite used to humans.

Problems started with our first, and steepest hill. It took us about 20mins to “climb” it and nearly all of our water. We still thought at that stage that we could refill at the first view point….no such luck!

View from the first view point

The hiking trail view from across the gorge. Apparently it is as hard as it looks. The guys who decided to hike it really struggled with it (except for The Finisher who is just a hiking machine!), they had water refill station though…

Mr Piggy showing off…

Apparently I was quite a hit on that ledge. Well I say a hit…I mean people looked at me funny wondering what the hell I was doing lying on the floor trying to photograph a toy pig! Crazy people everywhere uh?

Left to right: Achim, Steph, Heather, Me, Melissa and Simon

At the top…having literally just made and getting ready to run for the water fountain! The first 500ml didn’t even register my lips and mouth were so parched!

Did they say refreshments? We had ice cream…we deserve it too!

Because it took us longer than expected to reach the top, if we wanted to be able to cycle back down, we needed to only have a short break before heading back. Melissa and I couldn’t face it, Achim and Simon decided to wait with us, Steph and Heather braved it…

Having decided to take the bus back, we had time to have a picnic, check out the souvenir shop (I bought a lovely native american inspired silver necklace in the shape of a dreamcatcher and some photo prints) and a few pictures to show we were there…

Buses there were awesome as you could attach your bike at the front. Unfortunately they could only take 3 of them at a time and we were 4. So we split in 2 groups. Melissa and I went first. It was a busy bus, so we didn’t sit together. I was sitting next to a few oldies and a nice old man started chatting to me. I have to say it was hard to concentrate on the conversation as the heat and exhaustion were finally catching up to me and as I naturally feel sleepy on buses, I felt my head droop a couple times.

We couldn’t stay on the bus the whole way back, so we still had to cycle the forest bit, only problem was that we had followed Steph on the way up so we weren’t totally sure of the way back. Luckily I do have a good sense of direction. I can’t read a map, but I have a good memory of landscape, particularly if I have done the route at least once….I did good, only took one wrong turn and I realised pretty much straight away.

We got back to the bike shop with 15 mins to spare on our booking and Steph and Heather had only been waiting for 20 mins. We joined them to wait for Achim and Simon who got back a little after time was up.

We were exhausted at this stage so decided to head back to the hotel and take a swim in the pool before going out to dinner. Simon decided to try and do part of the Angel hike (crazy dude!) and once back, Achim went to the Imax cinema. Steph, Heather, Melissa and I went to eat at the Yippee-ei-o!! steakhouse in Tusayan. We fancied trying a little western style. The menu was quite limited but for starters we decided to be adventurous…well Steph convinced us that it was a good idea to try rattlesnake…we weren’t totally convinced but as we were all sharing it, we thought ok…let’s do this….

Deep fried rattlesnake – before

Tucking in…

After….it was seriously foul!

No meat, lots of bones and the batter tasted old…basically we didn’t eat much on that and we were quite happy to see the rest of the dinner show up to take the bad taste away

12 oz steak with beans, corn on the cob, jacket potato and a salad…I left the sides out well except of the salad and potato and gave the steak a run of its money…still I couldn’t finish it. Lot of meat there.

After dinner we decided to go for a quick drink at the taqueria next to the hotel…for the first time, I had made the mistake of forgetting my passport. I still amuses me to get carded before I can order an alcoholic beverage….the waiter could obviously tell that I was way older than 21 so let me off and I had a beer. The day was taking its toll though, the conversation was quite sparse and the eyelids heavy…we didn’t linger too long before heading back to bed.

Next Chapter: Vegas Baby!

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USA Tour: Day 4 – Route 66 and the Grand Canyon (23/06/12)

Now nothing spells luxury and holiday for me like the chance to have a swim first thing in the morning! There isn’t much in Lake Havasu as I said and we said in a fairly non descript motel…but it had a pool and because it’s so darn hot down there, by 7am it was just about lovely to take a swim!

Then, it was on the road again….to one of the most picturesque stop we had…Some random road side station on Route 66 in Huckberry…

Inside the ladies in service station on Route 66…

Mr Piggy on Route 66!

The diner inside the gas station….Route 66 – Huckberry

Mr Piggy’s fancy car….

Some of the locals

Anyone for a ride?

Watch the road…

License and registration….no Ma’am though.

After an interesting and colourful stop at the gas station, we carried on. On this journey, we got pulled over by the police for speeding (well Mel did, bless her) and boy do those cops lack a sense of humour. He never looked at us, kept his shades on and hand on his gun at all times!!! Actually he made us nervous.

For lunch we stopped at the funniest diner ever. In the middle of nowhere so the folks there do whatever they can to entertain themselves…sometimes at the expense of their customers…but always in a friendly manner so you don’t hold it against them really

The wall of fame….

Check out the Cheeseburger…here they serve it with or without cheese…truth!!

The Finisher after he asked for a small coke! They pretended to squirt ketchup out of the bottle to my face…of course, it was empty but I still squealed…to everybody’s delight.

I got cheese with mine and everyone got a smiley in their basket….cute!

We don’t who Bob is but I bet a few people would like to be him…:)

After lunch, rest of the journey was uneventful and we arrived at Tusayan, the closest town to the Grand Canyon National Park. We were staying at the Red Feather Lodge, which thankfully also had a pool.

We were supposed to go take a helicopter ride above the Canyon on arrival but being stopped by the police delayed us and when we arrived we were told that the flights in the afternoon had been cancelled anyway as it was too windy…did we want to take the early morning one the next day? Hell yeah!

We chilled by the pool until it got too cold and then we went to watch the sun set on the Canyon whilst eating pizza….

Happy to be here!

The boys checking how deep it is….

There is really no words to describe how small and insignificant you feel when the Grand Canyon is first revealed to you….you think you understand the scale but there is nothing this big on Europe…and the beauty of it at sunset…you feel special experiencing it.

Next Chapter: The Grand Canyon…full tilt.

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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: 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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