Stop 8

Trip Start Jan 29, 2008
Trip End Apr 30, 2008

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Flag of United States  , California
Thursday, April 3, 2008

We arrived into pretty exhausted after a nine hour flight. We'd left Nadi on Thursday night at 10 pm and arrived in LA at half one Thursday afternoon after crossing the international date line, so we were pretty confused. Having said all that though, we managed to locate Mum and Lydia in a nearby arrivals hall and I have to say Lydia looked worse for wear than any of us. Apparently she was fed dodgy chicken on one of the flights and had been throwing up ever since. Lucky passenger next to her eh?! Needless to say they were as exhausted as us and we headed straight to bed pretty much as soon as we got into the hostel. The next day we took a walk down Hollywood Boulevard with our laundry - very glamorous....

The Boulevard has all the stars on the pavement for famous people, the vast majority of whom we didn't know, but we recognised the odd name here and there, The Beatles, Madonna, Britney Spears, Eddie Murphy, Tom Hanks etc etc. We had a wander down by the Chinese Theatre that day and saw where more famous people had left their hand and footprints in the concrete, along with messages for Sam, whoever he is. There were all the greats, Marilyn Monroe, Johnny Depp, Denzel Washington, Adam Sandler, Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, the Harry Potter cast and Roy Rogers and Trigger (yes, he left his hoofprints there). We went to the cinema that night for a bit of light relief - leatherheads was an ok movie, if you like George Clooney's sense of humour.

We went to Universal Studios the next day which was quite a good day out. We went on a few rides and even Mum joined in. They weren't anything like Alton Towers really, quite tame rides, focussing on the story behind some of the bigger movies made by Universal. For example, we got on a water ride called Jurassic park and we saw some mechanical dinosaurs which spat water at us as we slowly went down the river. At the end it became apparent that the dinosaurs had escaped and they took us up into the bowels of one of the office units and just as the T rex coming through the roof was about to eat us we went flying down a schute that sprayed a lot of water round. The effects were what were really quite cool. There was a 4d Shrek experience as well as a 4D Terminator experience. They were quite good, with water spraying on you when donkey sneezed and wind blowing up on the back of your neck when the robots started shooting at us. I really jumped at one point during the terminator experience, they blew something up and the shards of metal coming at me got me quite scared. There was a Waterworld war with water cannons and jet skis. We walked up the Sky walk that evening and Lydia got to go into the Hard Rock Cafe in Hollywood.

Lydia, Mum and Sarah took a tour the following day of the Stars homes and then we all went on the Hop on Hop off bus round LA. The sun is always shining but the wind is so so cold it's unreal. Lydia keeps complaining that she came here for a tan - that's just not going to happen! Sitting on top of the tour bus we were covered head to toe from the wind, and we were still cold! We didn't go to the beaches or anything, there didn't seem that much point in that kind of weather. Overall, I think La was a bit of a disappointment, Lydia didn't get to see any famous people, the people on the street are a bit pushy and the weather wasn't all that. There wasn't much character to the place.

The following day we hired a car from the airport - a 3.2 litre jeep no less and started our way up the highway to San Francisco. Driving out of LA on the four lane motorways past public buses and porsches etc I caught myself singing the theme tune to Speed - I was so waiting to see a Porsche drive into those big barrels of water at the junctions. The weather is beautiful when you're looking out at it from the inside of a car! The 101 highway was pretty scenic the whole way up, we drove right through wine valleys, there were alpaca farms and lots of scenic sea views. We stopped off just short of Santa Barbera to get out and go for a wander along the beach. The sea was freezing, there's no way I was going in there, I've even given up on the idea of going cage diving with great whites here because of the cold, but sitting on the sand it is possible to soak up some sunshine. Driving on the wrong side of the road proved fun, nobody else dared to and I have to admit it was more of a challenge than I thought it would be. The problem mainly lies where you've gotten lost, you're trying to turn to change direction, check road names and somewhere in the chaos your subconcious takes over and you try to get onto the "right side" of the road. I didn't cause any accidents though and only made that mistake once, I became very concious of what I was doing after that.

San Francisco was exactly what I'd imagined when we got there in the dark and my first challenge was to get parked up on the side of one of those hills! We had the car for another day, so we took it out for a drive the following day. We'd spent the evening looking for rodeos or ranches so that myself and Lydia could go out in Western saddles. We headed out to a little town on the outskirts of San Francisco called Half Moon Bay but couldn't find the ranch we were looking for. We had a wander round the town and got lunch there. It kind of reminded me of something out of the movie Practical Magic - all the stores were olde worlde or New Age, everything was slightly different. Even the grocery store looked like a big old hall or something from the outside. Having had no luck with the ranches we headed out to Santa Cruz to the beach for the rest of the day.

Our first day in San Francisco proper, we headed down to Union Square to catch a tram to the piers. I was adamant I'd keep working on my tan and wore a skirt I'd worn everywhere else so far on the trip. Problem was it doesn't look that good when the goosebumps are nearly as big as my knee cap. Anyway, the trams weren't working so we'd have to wait till that evening to catch our first tram ride. We got down to the piers via shuttle bus and had a wander round the national maritime museum - there was a little boat there that had travelled all the way over from Newcastle - round the south of England, South America and all the way back up, poor little thing! Unknown to us the Olympic flame was coming through San Fran that day and so there were a lot of supporters and protesters everywhere you look. A lot of them weren't happy because they transferred the route at the last minute. We went to pier 39 to the Hard Rock Cafe (Lydia wants to go to the Hard Rock in each city we go to) and then headed out to watch the Sea Lions sunbathing. In fairness the sun was out, it was just the gale force arctic wind that made it cold. I got some crab, wasn't that great, and Lydia got a new wide lens for her camera. It didn't help her spot any famous people tho.

The next day we went to Alcatraz! It was pretty cool there actually. You get a headset and it brings you round the prison showing you how and where the various escape attempts happened. When we got back to the mainland the girls went off to cycle the Golden Gate bridge - crazy! My feet were killing me at that stage, I couldn't do any more, my age was showing...

We messed up on booking the hostel for long enough and spent the next morning trying to find somewhere to live for the Friday night! It was afternoon by the time it was all sorted and Sarah and Lois decided to take it easy. Me mum and Lydia headed down to the beach, getting a pizza on the way. Lydia has been raving about getting a pizza in America, you'd think they'd invented it over here, but we got her one anyway and ate it down at the beach. We went for a paddle and although the weather had really picked up by now - it was beautiful, the sea was really cold. We went for a wander through the Cannery shopping area and got ourselves some ice-cream for desert (we're really into healthy living when Lydia is around but I reckon we're working it off up and down these hills) and then we spotted our first famous person - a slight disappointment, Billy Connolly. Lydia managed to pap him when we got on our tour bus for the Golden Gate bridge. The tour was great, on the top of an open top bus in the warm sunshine until one of two things would happen. There'd be a low lying tree branch and the tour guide would yell "duck". The second thing was actually out on the bridge - once you got to the middle that breeze re-appeared and suddenly we were being frozen alive. Luckily it didn't last too long and we survived the trip over. The views were beautiful and worth the hazardous drive. Sausilito on the far side of the bridge was pretty and you had a great view of Alcatraz from the bridge too. We took a tour through one of the suburbs and they've got some beautiful old houses, they are the only ones to have survived the earthquake and fires a couple of hundred years ago. It's also where the rich and famous live - we were shown where Nicholas Cage and Madonna have penthouse apartments.

The next day we went to the rodeo!!! I was quite excited about this anyway, and I think Lydia had been looking forward to it to. We got out of the city on the BART (that's the underground here, quite swish it is too with cushioned seats!) and got out to Cow Palace, a big indoor arena. It looked exactly like it does on tv, a big arena in the centre covered in wood chippings with a lovely lady riding round with the Amercian flag while a man sang the national anthem. They started the show with bareback bronco riding and we also saw bull riding (very scary to watch - noone made the necessary 8 seconds for their ride to count), barrel racing, Tennessee walking horses and a very cool Mexican cowboy who did the equivilent of dressage (hard to explain to you non-horsey people, I apologise) - getting his horse to prance around, take a bow, walk around on his knees and lie down. He also did a pretty impressive display of lassooing. All in all it was a great day out and I'd love to get a chance to go to a ranch and ride western style - I've even bought a cowboy hat for just such an occassion, should it arise!

Our final day in San Francisco was a disaster and I blame my mother. All five of us headed to downtown San Fran. We'd headed the opposite direction to the piers every other day so we said we'd see a bit of downtown. Unfortunately that's where all the shops were. we went into Levi's. I bought two pairs - in fairness they're an investment, I hate buying jeans and my river island ones I've had for six years, so it's an investment, definitely. From there we ended up in a few other shops. I sensibly bought some bikinis because I'll be doing a lot of diving going forward and my bikinis are a bit scruffy - again, one of them is probably five years old at this stage but you don't need details like that I guess. Then came the impulse buy of the century - I'm unemployed and have blown my budget for travelling before I even got to America but I found the most beautifully soft leather jacket, I just couldn't resist... It's an investment, I lost my jacket somewhere in New Zealand and need one for Canada. Although I don't know how good leather is for hiking trips and being weather proof.... Still tho and when you look at the exchange rate.... Anyway, I deserted the party after that and went to the safety of the hostel while they continued shopping. I think both Lois and Lydia outdid themselves on the shoes front. I know that Lydia went back to Ireland with six pairs of her own shoes and I'm not sure how many of Lois......

We booked flights to Seattle, it's about 1000 km from San Fran and it just would have been crazy to try do that by car or bus. We got so many comments from the girl on check in and the guy at security about how big our family was - if only they knew that there were two men left at home as well... We got in to a very rainy and cold Seattle and got two buses and a taxi (two of which shouldn't really have been needed but we got swindled) and found our very central hotel, overlooking the space needle. The next day was miserable again and while the girls went out to take a look at downtown me and mum chose to stay in the hotel watching telly and eating M & M's. Very naughty I know, but every now and then you just need a break and I've got lots of telly watching to catch up on and there were so many channels to choose from... The next day it brightened up a good bit and we all went up the space needle - pretty good views from up there. We took a look at the revolving restaurant, but it was going round a bit too fast for our liking and we decided not to try eat there. We went for a wander down to the piers and all along the coastline until we got a call from our aunt Margaret saying she'd arrived at the hotel. Margaret drove down from Vancouver to meet the family and we have a sneaking suspicion it was mainly to come pick us up and bring us to Vancouver. We headed back up and met her and we all headed downtown to grab a bite to eat. We found a nice restaurant on the seafront and got a three course meal and even shared a bottle of wine - very civilised!!! Lydia was not impressed with the food bless her and that's where the third course came in, she ordered a fudge cake and the american portions went out the window this time - I think this was supersized american portions. The waiter had thoughtfully brought us six spoons though, so we all chipped in.

It was an early morning the next day bringing them to the airport - they had to check in for half eight but I got to practice my driving skills and poor Margaret had to sit in the passenger seat while I got us a bit lost on the way back.
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