San Francisco - Big Sur - Los Angeles

Trip Start Jan 22, 2006
Trip End Aug 17, 2006

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Flag of United States  , California
Thursday, March 9, 2006

Alas this will be my last update from the United States! In about 24 hours we'll be jetting off to Fiji and leaving the first segment of our travels behind. We've had a pretty amazing time here so far and I hope you've all enjoyed reading about them as much as we've enjoyed the writing. For those of you who are interested, I've now added a few photos of Yosemite to my last entry.

I last left you in Turlock near Yosemite and our departure from here was swift following a twighlight police raid in the hotel room next to ours. Thank God they got the wrong room! Hehe only kidding. Dan got a glimpse out the window of the guy they arrested and apparently he looked like a criminal, so we feel reassured he must be guilty. At least our departure from the Merced area we'd stayed in the last 4 or 5 days was an exciting one.

The next stop was Redwood City in the San Francisco Bay Area. Staying in the centre of the city was too expensive particularly with a car and so we stayed 20 miles or so to the south. We were here for several days so took it easy and decided to explore the local area. Dan dragged me to the local mall (you know how much I hate shopping) and into a Tower Records he was chuffed to pieces to find. The place was quite busy and after looking around for a reason why, Dan announced it was because the Black Eyed Peas were coming that day to do a signing. I was quite surprised because although it was busy, it wasn't packed for a band as big as that! Turned out that Dan had mis-read the sign. Instead it was a locally known Philippine band we'd never heard of. Still, it was exciting while it lasted.

The next day we drove up to San Francisco in the pouring rain and decided to follow the scenic trail. It's a shame it was such a murky and miserable day as some of the views were great, particularly from Twin Peaks where the city was laid out below. Despite following the route clockwise which seemed the logical way to go, we kept coming against one way roads that forced us to follow our own sense of direction and those of you who know us well know that we have none. We attempted to drive through Golden Gate Park, a beautiful green area in the centre of the city, but most of the roads were closed forcing us the wrong way down one way streets and to eventually abandon the scenic route. The park was nice though and helped escape the busy city as you wound between the trees, lakes and grassland.

Apart from going round it the wrong way, the trail was a great idea because it took us through the 'real' San Francisco. I loved the colourful houses full of decades of character. I loved the hills (although I'm glad we were driving up them!), they gave the city personality compared to the flat uniform cities we've stayed in before.

After the park we headed north and stopped at the Legion of Honor which was a grand building housing famous artwork by artists like Rodin ('The Thinker' being the first thing that greets you as you walk toward the entrance), Rembrandt, Monet and Picasso. After spending a few hours looking around and having lunch in the extortionately priced cafe, we braved the rain to see a little more of the city. Somehow we missed our turn off the highway and ended up driving over the Golden Gate Bridge with no way back without either taking the 200 mile detour or paying the toll. I'd planned to cross it at some point but probably when we could see something other than rain through the windscreen. We then got hopelessly lost on the other side and ended driving up and down some incredibly steep one-car-width roads along the coast. Despite it being hairy in the pouring rain, we saw some gorgeous houses in overlooking the bay and I couldn't help but think it must be glorious to live with those views.

We somehow managed to find our way to Golden Gate Bridge and paid the toll to cross back over. On the way back to the hotel we drove down the famously windy Lombard Street and, with what must have been serious talent managed, to miss the entire thing by trying to video and take photos at the same time. There wasn't much to film anyway thanks to the weather - it's typical that we should arrive here for the first period of rain they've had in weeks!

The next morning we managed to drag ourselves out of bed early and drove to Fishermans Wharf and picked up the tickets for our trip to Alcatraz. The ferry to the island took about 10 minutes and we spent it on the top deck looking at the Golden Gate Bridge and the city shore. Thankfully it wasn't raining although sadly the skies were pretty grey. I bet the views are even better with a blue sky. A ranger greeted us at the pier and pointed us in the direction of a short film about the history of the island. It was well worth watching, particularly as I didn't realise the island had ever been anything other than a prison. I was completely ignorant of its history over the last few hundreds of years including its use by the American Army and the occupation by Native Americans in late 60s / early 70s protesting for their rights.

We climbed the steep hill to the prison and collected our headsets for the audio tour. I really enjoyed hearing about the prisoners' experiences as well as learning about the jail itself. The conditions of the prison were pretty grim with tiny cells, freezing draughts and solitary confinement cells for the badly behaved inmates to be shut in the darkness for days at a time. The attempted escapes were both cunning and shocking with some conjuring up brilliant plans while others used brutal violence. None are thought to have been successful although one man got very close - a couple of yards away in fact, washing up at a rocky shore where he was hurt and caught, only to find he was 50 yards from the shore and freedom he'd been aiming for - and another two were never been found either dead or alive.

The next day was pancake day! In an attempt to keep tradition alive, we went to the IHOP (International House of Pancakes) right next to our hotel. I wasn't hungry so just had orange juice but Dan ordered one of their [not very] small breakfasts to start off the day. When offered either pancakes or french toast he chose the toast which I found rather absurd considering the reason we'd gone there in the first place. Oh well!

After a few days more of exploring Redwood City and updating our journals, we drove to Santa Cruz because it's not that far (sorry had to be done - no doubt it doesn't make sense to a few of you). We circled it for a while trying to find somewhere nice and after finding the Boardwalk (a beachside amusement park) shut we drove onto the pier to have a look around and get some lunch. We got some fish and chips and ate them at the end of the pier overlooking a bunch of sea lions sunbathing in the water. Was lovely watching them until someone nearby chucked their leftover chips onto the floor and attracted all the enormous seagulls. I had to defend myself quite fiercely from the dog-sized birds while Dan left me to it! Charming! After lunch, we drove along the coast road and pulled in to watch some of the surfers strut their stuff. Some of the wipeouts were quite brutal but entertaining all the same. I think our arrival (and desire to get some action shots with our cameras) cursed them and the waves seemed to disappear.

The next day we set off fairly early and drove around nearby Monterey. I was sad we didn't visit the Monterey Aquarium as I'd heard it's excellent but considering we're going to Fiji and the Great Barrier Reef it seemed silly to waste our money. We continued our journey down Route 1, the coastal road that overlooks the Big Sur. The scenery was beautiful and we stopped every couple of miles to take in the view. At one vista point a squirrel almost ran over my feet, completely unfazed by our presence. Was quite nice but still scared the crap out of me! I've watched too much You've Been Framed to know not to be wary...

Later down the highway we drove past another viewpoint by a fairly frotty beach and dismissed it, eager to get to our hotel after the long drive. Out of the corner of my eye I saw massive rocks all over the beach and realised they were elephant seals! We quickly turned round and went back to have a closer look. Even though you couldn't get on the beach, the walkways still let you get wonderfully close. We were there at a great time of year with it being breeding season and many of the pups only being several weeks old. Most of the time the seals just slept or made noise but occasionally some of the enormous males shuffled their way to the sea for some fun n frolics in the waves. This was by far one of the best highlights of our trip.

We eventually tore ourselves away and continued to our hotel in San Simeon right by the coast. It was actually quite posh for a Motel 6 and we positioned ourselves in their bar for the rest of the night, spending almost as much on alcohol as we had on our room. Despite it being good fun and Dan even getting up to sing Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" at the karaoke (which he sang brilliantly and went down very well), I paid for it the next day. And the next. In fact that was 4 days ago and I still feel pretty unwell. Am I getting so old that I can't get away with a bit of drinking anymore?! Still the next day was one of the few times we were actually under budget, mainly because the sight or smell of any food made me want to die.

After the hangover (which I'm convinced was a genuine illness - and no, not alcoholism before some wiseguy pipes up), we left San Simeon and visited the long awaited Templeton. Yes ladies and gentlemen, there is a city out there named after me. We drove up and down the street a few times (yeah, there seemed to pretty much only be the one) and got a bajillion pictures of anything with the name Templeton on. We found a bus stop with the mileages to San Francisco and LA on and decided to get a photo of ourselves under it. The timing didn't go too well the first time and captured me running across the road to try and get in the picture, but the photo is really quite amusing. Managed to do it properly the second time round although I still think the first was better.

The town was quite nice and small with the 2900 population not quite living up to the 100,000s in the other cities we'd been to. It seemed quite built up since the last time I'd been (yeah I know - I'm sad enough to go twice). We left Templeton about 20 minutes after arriving and went onto San Luis Obispo where we stayed the night.

That's pretty much brought us up to now, having since driven to Camarillo where we stayed on our very first night. We're about 50 miles from LA and will stay here until we leave on Thursday. We've loved our time here and can't believe the first 7 weeks are over already. We're so excited about what we're doing in Fiji though that it softens the blow although we're dreading the long flight to get there. It's actually only just over 10 hours long, just slightly less the same from London to LA, but there's a psychological blow that we lose a day as we travel. For the past few months we've been 7 or 8 hours behind the UK (depending what state we were in) but during one flight we'll swap to being 12 hours ahead. There's something odd about leaving on a Thursday and 10 hours later it being a Saturday!

It's quite likely we'll have no internet access or phone signal while we're in Fiji considering most of the islands we're visiting has no electricity until sunset. In case we can't update before then, take care and see you in just over 2 weeks!

Edited to add: I've now had time to upload all the photos!
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