Well our holiday to America got off to a good start! We drove for about 4 miles and didn't hear any car horns beeping, we could understand what the receptionist at the hotel was saying, our economy class hire car turned out to be a Mazda 3 and our cheap LA airport hotel was as nice as some of the better hostels we've stayed in! We love it here already!
Our first day was spent mostly at the beach and our first stop was Santa Monica. We walked down the pier past fairground rides and amusement arcades, there were stalls selling hotdogs, gimmicky t-shirts and souvenirs - it was just like Blackpool!!! You can tell that LA is image conscious from the hundreds of cyclists, runners and rollerbladers going past but after an hour or so walk down the beach we got to the serious stuff - Venice Beach aka Muscle Beach!
! There is actually a fully equipped open air gym right there on the beach! There was loads going on around us, basketball, tennis with funny racquets, hand squash (squash without a bat!) and, of course, the Baywatch type lifeguards on the lookout! We had a quick look round Beverley Hills (very nice and posh shops but a bit out of our price range!) and then made our way to our home for the next two nights, a beautiful cottage in the Hollywood Hills! All of our accommodation so far has been in hostels or cheap hotels but we had been recommended (by Laura and Michael, the Scots we met in China) to try a website called Air BnB for this leg of our trip and it is basically people renting out spare rooms in their homes. So we thought we would give it a go and we are soooo glad we did! We arrived at the cottage to find a bed bigger than some of our previous hostel rooms and a welcome basket full of goodies! (No prizes for guessing who ate ALL of the biscuits!!). The kitchen was lovely, the garden looked out onto the Hollywood Hills mansions and we even had a telly and recorder so that Paul could watch Andy Murray win at Wimbledon! (Yey!!)
A walk away from our new home was Warner Bros Studio and we had booked a tour there. We were first taken around the outdoor lots which look like normal streets and buildings but they are actually just fronts of buildings and made out of fibreglass
! Our tour guide was excellent and took us to places we would recognise from film and tv such as the upside-down Spiderman kiss, the orphanage in Annie, the shop where Gismo was bought in Gremlins, the OUTSIDE area that was turned into the INSIDE of a casino for one of the Ocean's films, from ER the metal staircase to the L train and Dr Ross's apartment (OMG George Clooney has walked the streets that I am now walking!!!). We are big fans of Friends and we saw the alleyway where Rachel and Monica argue over who is going to talk to Jean-Claude Van Damme, the field where Ross plays rugby to impress Emily and the house and staircase where young Rachel thinks she has been stood up for the prom and young Ross gets dressed up to take her but then her actual date turns up! We went inside the studio where The Big Bang Theory is filmed, which we just started watching in South America. The highlight for us though was visiting Central Perk! We sat on 'the couch' and I held Rachel's cup!!!!! Although the set had been moved once filming had finished, it was still the same size and had all the original features. It was really interesting as it seemed tiny when standing looking at it but the guide explained how they trick you by using smaller furniture in the background and triangular shaped rooms etc. It was the same with the rugby field, that was a lot smaller than most people's gardens! The tour ended in a museum of clothes and props. The Friends stuff included Rachel's massively long letter to Ross, the 'Best Bud' bracelet and the jumper that identified Ross as the father of Rachel's baby
! There were clothes from films including The Great Gatsby, Inception and The Hangover (OMG Bradley Cooper has worn THAT outfit!!!!!! I so wanted to touch it........but that was prohibited!!). That afternoon we visited the Hollywood sign, the Hollywood walk of fame and the outside of the theatre where the Oscars are held which brought our LA visit to an end. I was constantly looking out for celebrities and although we didn't see anyone famous I quite enjoyed being amongst it all!
We then headed north to San Francisco with brief stops at San Luis Obispo and Carmel By The Sea which were both lovely towns.
San Francisco is a great city and seems to have a real mixture of people living there. We spent some time wandering around the Mexican district admiring the street art and eating gorgeous ice cream in Humphrey Slocombe's (another brilliant recommendation from Laura and Michael!). Paul chose Secret Breakfast flavour, the ingredients of which were bourbon and cornflakes! I was a bit unsure of his decision but to my surprise it was delicious! That afternoon we made our way to the Fishermans Wharf for our trip to Alcatraz! The prison is on an island a mile and a half away from the mainland in the Bay of San Francisco and was used between 1934 and 1963 for criminals who constantly caused trouble in other prisons
. The prison was thought of as hell and everyone knew that “If you break the rules, you go to prison. If you break the prison rules, you go to Alcatraz”. Famous inmates included gangster Al ‘Scarface’ Capone and murderer Robert 'The Birdman' Stroud who, when asked by a parole board why he should be released from prison, allegedly stated that there were still people out there that he wanted to kill!! Parole denied!! He was incarcerated for a total of 54 years, of which 42 years were in solitary confinement! An audio tour by former inmates guided us around the building and described various escape attempts and conditions in the cells and solitary confinement. It seemed to me the inmates suffered from the psychological torture of being so close yet so far from the mainland and their loved ones. The inmates described how on certain nights, if the wind was blowing the right way, they could hear people laughing and talking on the mainland. And the wind certainly did blow there! It must have been freezing in winter seeing as I was freezing there in summer!! The prison was thought to be impossible to escape from because if an inmate managed to escape from his cell and the prison building they then had to survive the Bay water which has notoriously rough currents and is freezing cold! A total of 34 prisoners tried to escape but only 5 are unaccounted for. Their fate is still unknown with some wardens certain that they would have drowned and others convinced they somehow made it to Mexico
! We also had a lovely walk from Fishermans Wharf to the Golden Gate Bridge, stopping on the way at Pier 39 to see the infamous sealions…….except there were no sealions there…….not one!!!!! Apparently they go off somewhere else to have babies at this time of year! One last thing that we had to do whilst there was have a ride on the trams! They somehow manage to get up the extremely steep hills with ease and are an iconic part of San Francisco’s history. At $6 each for roughly 5 minutes it was an expensive ride but it was great fun!
Our next destination was Yosemite National Park. I should point out that Paul has already visited all the places we are going to in America. It’s a good job I am here this time though to guide us round because Paul needed help, based on the last time he was here with the lads ten years ago! Him and his mate, Gav, thought they’d tackle the iconic ‘Half Dome’, but instead, stupidly followed signs for the ‘North Dome’ (a completely different peak!!). It was a tough trek, they got to the top, high fived and then turned round, only to see Half Dome about a mile in the distance!! Ha ha!!! Useless!! Anyway, still no Half Dome climb this time around (you have to pay extra and book well in advance to use the cables!).
Day one’s trek was Upper Yosemite Falls which was a tough climb uphill for about three hours and is actually the highest waterfall in North America. It was really worth the effort as there were fantastic views from two lookout points and we could cool down with a swim at the top! The water was absolutely freeeeeeezing but it was nice and refreshing! (We even saw the barrier that saved Trigger’s life and stopped him falling a mile or so down a vertical cliff all those years ago ha ha!). Day two was a lot easier for us as we first drove to see the Giant Sequoia trees at Mariposa Grove. These trees are the biggest living things in the world and live for around 3000 years! After that we walked a loop of Sentinel Dome and Taft Point. Sentinel Dome was a relatively easy climb as we could drive to a nearby car park but at the summit was a sensational 360 degree view of the park. Taft Point did not have such a great view but the attraction with this is that it is surrounded with sheer cliff edges with absolutely massive drops! Scary stuff and it kind of feels like it should be cordoned off in a civilised country like America! Our third and final day in the park saw us complete a 14.5 mile trek (which Paul turned into a 15.5 mile trek by running all over the place to get photos!) up Clouds Rest. Mosquitos and flies tortured us along the trail but the view at the summit was totally worth it. We could see all the classic Yosemite peaks plus loads more mountains in every direction. As you will see, we had lots of “go and sit on that rock” photos every day!!!!
California has been great and the weather has been perfect (except for misty San Francisco)! I can understand why the rich and famous all move here! Canyon country next……..