From Bollywood to Hollywood

Trip Start Jan 27, 2006
Trip End Sep 09, 2006

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Flag of United States  , California
Sunday, July 9, 2006

After a glorious 2 weeks in Raratonga we boarded a plane sulkily to go to the USA, if we had not been meeting Cath in LA we would not have got on the plane at all!

Had another great night flight (very cheap accommodation!), which saw Phil crashed out on 3 seats and me on 2 - this meant we had a good sleep and arrived relatively refreshed in LA. More than could be said for Ms Wells, who was travelling around the world the wrong way and had therefore lost hours that she needed to stay awake for now, and had had a really tight turnaround in Heathrow, so BA had left her case behind! Apart from those minor setbacks we had a loud reunion in Terminal 2 of LA airport.

Once in our hire car we battled the one way system of LA and went to find our hotel. So not to frighten Cath too much we had booked a Best Western rather than a hostel..... it turned out to be a top venue. I whooped with delight when we entered the room, coffee maker, fluffy towels, tv, those little luxuries, we had not had a tv for 2 weeks in Raratonga. The location turned out to be brilliant too, we dumped the car and walked 10 mins to Hollywood Boulevard, saw the famous hand and foot prints, the Oscars theatre and the stars on the pavement, and paid homage to Tom Cruise's star - all in our first few hours on the ground (the pace did not slacken off for the rest of the 10 days either!). Finally, exhausted, we dropped into a cafe for a massive pizza, when we converted the time is was 5am for Cath, so we staggered back to bed.

Just to let you know that Cath did all of this glamorous stuff secretly wearing a pair of Phil's boxer shorts as her case still had not arrived........ (oh sorry Cath, was I not supposed to mention that?)

Day 2 and we were off, we had pancake breakfast on the Santa Monica Boulevard (of Sheryl Crow fame), then drove to Santa Monica Beach - we sat by a baywatch lifeguard tower and watched the ocean roll in. Then we walked down to Venice beach, home of the tattooed masses and funky shops and cafes. We had a lovely afternoon, just watching the mad Americans stroll by.

In the evening we rewarded ourselves with a burger at Mel's Drive-In Diner, yummy!

Day 3 A morning spent on Rodeo Drive baby, and mincing around the Regent Beverley Wiltshire reliving our fave bits of Pretty Women. Saw our first and only famous person - Pierce Morgan, not a stunning spot, but a Tickable Viewing. In the afternoon we are in hot pursuit of the famous Hollywood Sign. We drove on and off Mulholland Drive trying to find the way to the sign, and literally kept losing the road, we had attempted several drives on the road and always ended up somewhere else. Finally found the vantage point and let the photos show, the sign is bloody miles away, even on zoom you struggle to find it....... We did try and get closer, but this took most of the afternoon and we just got hot and sweaty in 100+ temperatures.

First observation about the Americans, they are rude drivers and don't care for Brits who are on the wrong side of the road. Second observation, the signage is absolutely appalling, signing the road you are crossing not the one you are on and giving no warning of junctions which created a scene of Cath and I yelling "Left" (meaning "Right")and Phil sensibly refusing as he was 4 lanes away .......... oh how we laughed!

For $50 a head you can go on a tour of the stars homes in LA. For $6 you can buy a map from a dodgy bloke on a street corner and do it yourself. For those thinking of doing it on the cheap please factor in an additional tank of petrol to cover all the U-turns required!

Phil drove like Fernando Alonso around the streets of LA, and we ticked off so many houses that I would not dream of boring you with them all. Highlights were Ozzy's gate, which has scary gargoyles on it, no surprises there! The rear of George Michael, we figured we were not the first to see George's rear in LA!!! The Hefner Playboy Mansion which fills a whole block and the much photographed Aaron Spelling $30 million pad. But this list is endless, it took us 4 hours to view just a fraction of stuff on the list. The only disappointment was that Tom Cruise's house was really tasteless, Cath and I agreed it much have been Mini Driver's choice!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

LA safely ticked off the list we headed for San Francisco, only 400 miles north. We broke the journey in Malibu beach, home of Pierce Brosnan, according to our dodgy map. We managed to find a bit of beach where someone had left the gates open so you could drop down a steep bank onto the glorious white sand below. Well, you could if you were wearing all singing, all dancing walking sandals. If you were wearing taxi shoes, you had to come down on your bum - shame Cath had not borrowed a second pair of boxer shorts, she scuffed her bum something terrible on her very ungraceful descent!

We spent our 4th night in San Louis Obispo, a delightful town teaming with history, which is a bit of a miracle in America, most of our houses are older than the entire place.... anyway, on arrival we went to find the hostel, it was unfortunately full, but the owner recommended a motel, which turned out to be a) great, b) available, c) 1/3 or the price of our accommodation in LA. To celebrate our saving we decided to go out for dinner to a restaurant that had been recommended by the hostel owner, who will from now on be called St Christopher.

The Blue Sky restaurant was really busy, happily served us a fab bottle of white wine and we all ate heartily, lamb shank, pork with risotto and seafood taco's - you could hear a pin drop when the food arrived. At some stage during the past few days, when we had been trying to save money on food, Cath muttered the immortal words "I just want a hot meal" and we taunted her with this for the rest of her stay, anyway on day 4, she got one and it was probably her last.

The States is absolutely huge and we seemed to be spending absolutely ages in the car, poor Phil clocked up loads of miles and hardly ever went on the wrong side of the road..... We finally arrived in San Francisco on the afternoon of day 5, we had a great map and navigated our way to the centre where we managed, after a bit of walking around to find a room for 3, right in the centre. It was only 1 block from the Hilton, but 1 block can make quite a difference in the middle of a major city. Let's just say that there were lots of residentially challenged individuals hanging around to ensure we did not drop any of our change and it if was getting too heavy for us they would happily take it off our hands.

The great news was that we could walk into the heart of the city and after we had run the first block to the Hilton we could relax as most people had the right number of limbs and eyes.....

We loved San Francisco, it is charming and funky, we rode the tram, street cars and buses and crawled all over it. We ate clam chowder out of bread bowls at the waterfront, dined on fresh crab sandwiches, shopped in Macy's, Banana Republic, Abercrombie and Fitch (well Cath did!) and strolled around the parks.

Phil loved Haight Ashbury, where the 1967 summer of love started. It was a bit like Glastonbury/Camden, with funky coffee shops, incense and tie-dye everywhere. Here we discovered the Beyond Prozac smoothie - shot of expresso, banana, peanut butter, milk and cocoa - go on, spoil yourselves, it will keep you going for days and will definitely be a regular feature on the coffee shop menu.

From San Francisco we headed to the Sonoma Valley, nextdoor to Napa. We found the most beautiful motel, near the vines, but most importantly with a pool - it was absolutely boiling in the valley, hit 105 on our journey in, at 5pm you still needed suntan lotion to stop the burning and at 7.30pm we were still there frying. Once it was dark we got into the jacuzzi and then had a picnic and a bottle of wine by the pool - it was simply a lovely day. What was that about budget travel?!?

I should mention that during our stay in San Fran and a drive north over the bridge to Sonoma, we still had not seen the world famous golden gate bridge - it remained a mystery, shrouded in fog the entire time, even though it was sunny in town. Finally, after a morning of wine tasting, we drove back for our last night together and thank goodness the bridge was clear as a bell. Many photos later we were happy that we had ticked our final tourist sight of our worldwide tour with Cath.

That evening Cath got her second "hot meal" top fish and chips, that great American culinary delight?!?!?! This was an early Birthday treat, so we had wine again, and really pushed the boat out on starters too, as we licked the plates clean, we could not believe that we had stamped our way through California and 9 nights had flown by, but it was time for Cath to pack her suitcase, handover all her toiletries and head back to the UK.

From San Francisco Airport we drove to a small town called Mariposa on the outskirts of Yosemite National Park, we arrived late and could not find a supermarket, having tried to be good and find fruit or salad, we drove to Burger King and pigged out!

The next morning we headed off to Yosemite, as usual we did not have any accommodation, so called in a tourist information. A cheery American lady recommended staying in a rigid tent in the park itself. All of our research (Phil's research obviously), suggested we would need to stay outside the park and drive the 45 mins to an hour into the parking areas each day. We were seduced by the idea of staying in the park, so booked 2 nights there and then, before reading the Lonely Planet. Excited we drove into the park. The scenery was simply breathtaking, huge granite rock formations, massive waterfalls and a totally spell binding scale. Arrived at our campsite, in the middle of the summer holidays, at one of the biggest tourist attractions in the US, to find we were far from alone.... our campsite looked like a refuge camp, hundreds of rows of tiny white tents, circled by thousands of screaming kids. "Hello Mother, Hello Father, here we are at Camp Grenada" came to mind...... The second thing of notice was the beware of the bear signs everywhere. We had to sign a disclaimer for the hire car and were told that everything edible, or perfumed had to come out of the car and could not be put in the tent, it had to be stored in a bear proof locker. Ho, Ho, Ho we laughed, but dutifully stored all our stuff and used the bear proof bins for our rubbish.

Assuming this would be complete hype to protect the camp against any liability, we headed off to meet nature and were totally bowled over by the amazing scenery and especially the waterfalls. We walked up to Mist Falls, ummm, not exactly a mist, more like someone throwing buckets of water at you constantly while you try to climb the 300 steps to the top. Totally worth it for the experience and views and to see the fat American kids sweat! Favourite quote of the day from round female teenager "I am soooo hot and just so bored already" - she had not even got out of the car park.

We played by all the park rules during our "lovely 2 night adventure with nature" but the rangers did not, it seems they were rushed off their feet taking money from all the tourists and forgot to empty the bins on our second day. At about 7pm there was a riot outside our tent (honestly, I am not joking) when an American yelled "BEAR". It ran off, obviously, the kids all ran for their flash lights to go on a bear hunt and we thought about how to get out of this mad country.

The camps motto is that a "Fed bear is a dead bear" as they will continue to return to places where they have successfully found food. I would like to have credited this bear with more taste because he was lulled into the camp by a pizza box that would not fit in the stuffed bin, and quite frankly if he had seen it rather than just smelt it, he would have known it was shit..... But in he came for his supper, Yogi really does love pic-a-nics..... At 1am, the campsite was woken by the sound of a rifle crack - one dead bear to add to their collection. We were sickened and really upset by the whole experience and left the next morning.

Hoping this would not build on our already jaded view of the mad American race, we moved on to Sequoia National Park. Again absolutely beautiful, we stayed in a great motel owned by an Eyptian guy, who had lived in England, but was now settled in Three Rivers, a small but perfectly formed town on the outskirts of the park. Once he found out we were British he asked us "What did we dislike most about America?", I thought we would never get to our room.

The next morning was my Birthday, unbeknown to me, Cath had left some post from the UK with him, so I had cards from the family, plus Cath, Mel and the Dixon 6 and Kate and Dennis, plus lots of e-mails and texts too - it was a lovely surprise. I also had a new top and some lovely, pure white knickers from M&S from Cath - yipee new underwear. That evening I put on my new top and we headed off for a birthday steak in Bakersfield a little town on the way to Vegas.

Picture the scene, me overdressed in my spangly Ted Baker vest top, Phil looking dashing in a for once ironed shirt, the formica tabled diner, full of the over 65's eating their body weight in steak and then tucking into one of the 20 types of pie on the menu for pudding. We were so knackered we could not be bothered to move and we had already driven around looking for a motel so we knew there was not much on offer. Ordered our steaks, which were great, but Americans do not do veg - these were clearly microwaved and the portion was so small it was more like a garnish, they really are only interested in meat and chips. Our waiter took our order and said "don't forget to leave some room for pie" - we scoffed our steak and ran for cover, dodging the tumbleweed in the car park on our way.

On Sunday to Thursday's you can stay in Vegas for next to nothing, well $50 a room, and the trusty Lonely Planet had recommended staying in a Casino on the strip, rather than a motel as they are only full at the weekends. We had made a reservation at Circus Circus and arrived to find that about 500 other people had also done the same, we were in a queue like Alton Towers with a 1 hour waiting time to get to the reception desk, I have never seen anything like it.... After putting on my best English accent with the Concierge I was informed about Express Check-in, which only needed a call from a phone box and there was one right across the lobby. We were onto it like a ferret up a drainpipe and left the screaming, moaning masses in the queue while we went to explore the hotel before returning to our lovely concierge one hour later, who had our key waiting - result.

Circus Circus - full big top, with ring master, trapeze artists, clowns etc until midnight. Full size theme park downstairs with rollercoasters galore, infact so many that you could buy a day pass for this bit alone. Thousands of fruit machines, more than Blackpool put together, plus blackjack, poker and roulette as far as the eye could see. We are not great gamblers, but marvelled at the scale and Phil tried his luck in the fairground trying to launch a rubber chicken into a pan with a hammer - $1 well spent. It looked like some people had been at their machines for days, food and drink containers stacked around them, they were scared to move in case some tight arsed Brit with only a dim to spend came and stole their machine while they went for a wee, or some change.

Las Vegas should be seen by everyone once, we walked up and down the strip in complete amazement at the scale of the place, it took about 20 mins to walk past some of the casinos, Caesars Palace was amazing, as was Paris with its own Eiffel Tower, Venice with gondolas going all around the complex, New York with the entire skyline recreated. We did love it, it was gordy, rude and over the top, but great fun. You could spend some serious cash there, the shops were delightful from George Jensen to Prada to Jimmy Choo I window shopped my heart out.

After Las Vegas, we drove to the Grand Canyon, this is on our list of '50 things to do before we die' so we were really excited at the prospect. All accommodation at the Grand Canyon itself is really expensive - ask Julie & Geoff Kershaw, they are the only ones we know who have stayed there - budget travellers stay in the outlying towns. We checked into the Econo Lodge in Williams, the closest town, 50 miles from the rim. In Williams, a cowboy is shot every night. We stood in the street and watched a military band play Dixie and then four cowboys have a shoot out, it was really funny and very quaint.

The next morning we were off, we arrived at the rim of the Grand Canyon and marvelled at the scale and splendor of the whole thing. It is hard to take in the shear size of the Canyon, you can only see a small part of the 217 miles of it from where ever you stand, but it is definitely one of natures natural wonders and by the time we had done our helicopter ride in the afternoon, the Grand Canyon was firmly at the top of our list of natural wonders - we absolutely loved it and both of us were really moved by the experience. The moment when the helicopter crested the canyon will stay with us for a very long time.

We have seen some amazing scenery in USA, and met some really nice individuals, but on the whole our patience with pushy, loud Americans was starting to wear a bit thin after 3 weeks, plus the place is so huge that we were spending hours each day in the car. Our plan had been to drive through Denver and Idaho up to Yellowstone and then to Seattle.

After the Grand Canyon we decided that we had had enough of the car and got a flight to Seattle instead.

So, here we are in Seattle, enjoying the coffee culture (home of Starbucks) micro breweries and some fresh fish.

For those of you who worked with Phil, or have ever had a conversation over a beer about his love of training, you will know Phil is the proud owner of Pete the Perch, who comes from the Pike Fish Market in Seattle. The Fish stall decided that it wanted to be world famous and set a vision to become the most famous fish market in the world. It succeeded and is now used as a case study by many. Phil learned about it at Cranfield on a course with Julie Kershaw and Dave Wain to name but a few. He has owned Pete the Perch ever since and whilst we have not carried much around the world (32 kg in total), we have carried Pete every mile and on 28th July we took him to the fish stall.

The guys were delighted to see him and very impressed that he had travelled about 29,000 miles to get home. They tossed him across the stall for good luck and we took photos to celebrate Pete's homecoming. It was a magic moment for Phil.

Well, we must leave it there for now, we are loving Seattle and will stay until 2nd August, then we will fly to Vancouver and start our final country, it seems amazing that we only have a few weeks left, but we are making the most of every day we have left.
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