Published: September 23rd 2008September 23rd 2008
I look over the moon don't I?!
Hello again, it's time for my second blog if you are at all still remotely interested. Thanks to all of you who read (and some of you who enjoyed!) reading my last blog, I hope it wasn't too boring and self-indulgent. I loved hearing from all of you and thanks for the comments, feedback and constructive criticism!! This one is quite long and Paul I apologise as you are always right, but this has to be lengthy so I am sorry, but so much went on!
So after a month in Canada our plan was to head down the West Coast of the USA and I must admit this is the part of the journey I was looking forward to most.
Our first port of call was Seattle - home of some of my heroes - no, not Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, but Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix. Seattle was exactly how I expected it to be - laid back, pretty quiet and very grungy. I think it is state law that all men aged between 16-30 has a beard, scraggy hair and a potent smell of sweat - a bit like conscription. As you
can imagine, I fitted right in.
We decided to more or less detox in Seattle although we were staying above a cool grungy pub. We did go both nights but only for a good cheap meal (ok, ok, I had a pint or two). Sights wise, we weren't sure what to do in Seattle, but we wanted to make the most of the two days we had there. Seattle has the Space Needle which towers it's skyline, but after doing the CN Tower we decided against it. We decided we would go to the EMP (experience music project) museum. It was a huge museum full of music memorabilia, mainly based around the Seattle rock scene from Hendrix to the likes of Nirvana and The Presidents of the USA. I was in my element. I got to see original guitars played by Hendrix and some of his stage clothing. Also got to see handwritten lyrics by him and Kurt Cobain. Perhaps the highlight was seeing the guitar Kurt played in the video to Smells Like Teen Spirit. There was also a huge, impressive sculpture made entirely from guitars. Upstairs there was an open recording studio with guitars, bass guitars, drums and
Mark, Lewis and Me
In a San Diego club
pianos all open for the (paying) public to use. You can jam and record with random people, or just play on your own (story of my life!). It was really cool and I also got to prove to Mark that I could actually play guitar, as he hasn't believed me in the 3 years or so that I've known him.
We also visited the Pike Place Market which Seattle is known for. It's full of fresh fish traders, buskers, your token fruitloops and loads of tramps/beggars - I have got used to these in the USA, it is not nice to see everywhere though.
From Seattle we headed down to Portland, a painless 4 hour train journey. Portland was a cool little city, buzzing with restaurants, cafes and pubs. Again we took it easy in Portland and had a wander around, sent some postcards and generally chilled out. We went out in the night and went to a club where the Bouncers were clad in bulletproof vests. The Ritz it wasn't...
Before our 17 hour train journey to San Francisco we visited Powell's, one of the biggest book stores in America. It was pretty cool and
Me, Lewis, Mark and Harvey
we stocked up on Lonely Planets in preparation for Central and South America. After finishing the Slash autobiography (I love a bit of culture me!) I also bought and have finished a book called Yes Man by Danny Wallace - get it, makes you think about how negative we all are! Really funny too. Anyway, I digress.
Home of the Golden Gate bridge, Alcatraz, the 49ers and the Village People. Ok, I made the last bit up, but nonetheless San Francisco - awesome.
We arrived after a sleepless 17 hour overnight train journey, but it was worth it. It was uncharacteristically boiling hot so after checking in we took the long, hilly, but ultimately beautiful walk to and along the Golden Gate bridge. Very impressive and a bit surreal to be walking across such an iconic...umm, bridge. The views of the Bay were cool and that's another box ticked.
The following day was absolutely brilliant and also changed my indifferent opinion of American football. Another stunning day was made even more enjoyable with a trip to Candlestick Park to watch the San Francisco 49ers in their opening game of the NFL season against the Arizona
Cardinals. It was an excellent experience, so typically American. We got our tickets cheap from touts outside and once we entered the stadium the atmosphere was electric! Everyone was in the 49ers shirt, fans were optimistic, enthusiastic and constantly cheering - or eating and drinking! We had the stereotypical "Super Hot Dog" and took our seats next to some really nice American guy. Unfortunately for him we quizzed him constantly about the rules, history, etc.
A nice and classy touch, I personally thought, was the "use" of Cheerleaders throughout the game - now, if they did this at rugby matches, maybe I would finally see what all the fuss about egg chasing was!
Just to add to the typical American feel, at half time a plane flew above the stadium and dropped 4 navy seals from the sky - they then descended into the stadium to land in the centre circle, the last man draped in a USA flag - you couldn't write it, honestly. (Although I just did).
Unfortunately for them, the 49ers are going through a Liverpool-esque period of distinct averageness (yeah, you beat us Belch, but you know it's another false dawn). They lost and to
be fair were pretty woeful - the fans constantly chanted "DE-FENCE" - I couldn't help but think if they had chanted "OFFENSE" (or attack, in proper English) they may have been a whole lot bloody better!!
After the exhilaration of the 49ers, the next day we visited Alcatraz. We took a ferry across to the island and were taken on a tour of the prison. It was very interesting to hear the stories of famous inmates such as Al Capone and also of failed and successful attempts at escape. It also made you realise the dreary existence of prison life, so although you lot are moaning about work, the weather, etc, you don't have it that bad...by the way, I'm in San Diego after a day at the beach surfing and lying in the sun.
Then to Yosemite National Park - or so we thought! We had stayed in for an early night ready for our day trip to Yosemite to see some beautiful mountains, views and wildlife. We needn't have bothered, we missed the bus.
The tour operators informed us on arrival that the bus had left 30 minutes before and it was out fault. It wasn't
and we had proof in an email print-out that had given us the wrong time. I was of course courteous, polite and very reserved as I always am (isn't that right Mum!). If I'm being honest I was pretty p*ssed off! Anyway, they agreed to refund us, although we missed out on Yosemite, for now at least.
So that was San Francisco, a very cool city which gets a massive tick from me.
One more incident to tell you though, it's never plain sailing with Mark and myself. On arrival at the train station ready to go to Las Vegas, we agreed for Mark to look after the bags (all 5 of them!) whilst I ran across the road to buy us a subway for the journey. Simple in theory. The woman serving me spoke worse English than George W. Bush. She took an age to make them, then decided to count my change back to me like she was a child in Reception with 3 fingers missing. I kept my cool and legged it back to the station, only to see Mark with a panic-stricken face, standing in the doorway of the train. I sprinted and jumped on
- the train literally left about 20 seconds later - a close call! Mark was just about to unload our luggage and accept we were stranded!
We arrived in Vegas after quite a long journey and headed straight out to the strip - that's a road by the way, not a club. Vegas is a pretty unique place, a place catered for all human vices - drink, drugs, sex and gambling - result! (I'm joking mother). Not being a gambler myself I thought "When in Rome" (although I wasn't) - I actually won $50 on roulette not knowing what the hell I was doing. What I was pleased with is when you gamble in the casinos, hot women bring you drinks for free!
The hotels/casinos on the strip are hard to describe, just massive with shopping malls, food stores, everything. My favourite was the Bellagio where we had an out of this world all-you-can-eat buffet for $20. It was beautiful and I stuffed myself solidly for an hour. I did pay for my gluttony, but I'll leave that to your wonderful imaginations...
So to the Grand Canyon (or so we thought - again!). We got
Looking very camp
up at 4am to watch Utd vs Liverpool (yeah yeah yeah) and our bus to the Canyon was at 6.15am, perfect. No, in our typical fashion, we got the day wrong and were actually booked in for the following day. I was like Michael Douglas in Falling Down, only more tired.
I lounged around the pool instead and we went out that night - I won $60 this time. Admittedly, I wasn't exactly winning millions, but still. We actually managed to get the right bus the following morning and it was worth it. We went via the Hoover Dam, which wasn't that great, but the Grand Canyon was spectacular. We did a 30 minute helicopter ride over the Canyon and it was unbelievable. It was so beautiful I also managed to momentarily forget that I was in a piece of metal, thousands of feet in the air. However, the view of the Rockies from Sulphur Mountain is still my favourite view so far.
So to LA. I'd heard mixed reviews about the place, but I thought it was good. We stayed in a cool hostel slap bang in the middle of Hollywood. We wandered the Hollywood
boulevard and saw the walk of fame and the iconic hollywood sign on the hills. Also saw our first celebrity, Evangeline Lily, of Lost fame, who was in the same pub as us. I'm not 100% positive, but I think she was eyeing me up...
We also did the tour of Universal Studios which was cool, although overpriced. But it was fascinating to see the sets of films and all the behind-the-scenes stuff and rides. That night we went out to the Sunset Strip in LA to visit some of the famous rock bars - The Whisky A Go Go, The Rainbow and Johnny Depp's Viper Room. To be honest, although I'm glad I saw the places all my favourite bands started in, they were run down dives.
I instantly liked San Diego. It has great weather, nice beaches and good bars and people. The people are really laid back, probably inwardly they are incredibly smug as they must know they have it good with the weather and beaches, etc. We hit the Ocean and Pacific beaches a few times and I had a little surf, although having not surfed for a long time I
Home of the 49ers
got absolutely battered by the beast that is the Pacific ocean. We finished off San Diego with a trip to its world famous zoo. It wasn't great, that's all I can be bothered to tell you. I could tell you a lot more about San Diego and things that happened but I think you'll agree with me that this blog is already too long.
We fly to Mexico City tomorrow and I can't wait. It's going to be such a culture shock and that is what is exciting for me - proper travelling. From there we will head south through Central America and then onto South America, but I'll leave that for later blogs. I hope you are all well, keep the emails and comments coming, it's great to hear from home.
There are more photos below