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Published: August 24th 2010
The GRand Canyon....A MAZE.... ING
I hope you are all doing well.
So the last time, Kate left you with us about to board our flight to San Francisco from LA. Well, we flew with American Airlines and didn’t get any food as it was a mere 1 hour gate to gate so we sat tight and before we knew it, we were descending into San Fran. Once we landed and jumped off the plane, we headed straight to the car rental centre to pick up our rental car for the next 20 days. We originally pre booked a Ford Focus type car for the 3 weeks in California-Vegas but after about two minutes of seeing the Ford Mustang Convertible we decided to upgrade and ride in style whilst cruising the sunshine state of California. We got down to the parking lot to find the car and boy we made a great choice with this ride. The Mustang looked great, but it did dawn on us whether we would get all of our bags in the boot as they are bulging at the seems now, fortunately they just squeezed in the boot. So after picking up
Mustang Sally, (it’s a shame she never
Born in the USA
met Harry in Australia), we were now on the right hand side of the road in a car as wide as a barge with little to no visibility in the back!
First off we needed to find a hotel so we decided just to grab one by the airport as it was about 6pm. We had been travelling for about 24 hours, even though we arrived in the US earlier than when we left Fiji, so we had in fact time travelled backwards, but anyway we were just ready to chill for a few hours. After finding a hotel, we spoke to an unhelpful Indian guy behind the reception desk to see if they had a room and we begrudgingly checked in. Once in the room I couldn’t wait to get out again and take Sally for a spin, so we decided to check out San Fran straight away and focus on sleeping later. So in we got and hit the highway - the highway to hell!!! We got on the 6 lane highway, with a map provided by the hotel reception and headed towards the city centre. Well, after about an hour we found ourselves driving in the
Watchout Lance Armstrong
dark in Oakland, it was what I can only describe as a “homeboy” neighbourhood. It seemed like a friendly kinda hood, everyone hanging on the street corners smoking, drinking, shouting and screaming, to be honest we didn’t blend in so well in the convertible. Kate was doing her best with the map provided but we were just going around in circles. Eventually 2 hours later we were back at the hotel with no real idea where we had been. So off to bed we went hoping tomorrow things would be more successful……….
Up bright and early the next morning we went to breakfast which was a bit of a free for all so we grabbed a bite and headed into San Fran in the light. We soon got into the city and went straight down to the famous Pier 39. We could see both Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge and these were two things we wanted to do whilst there but first on the agenda was food. We were told that the famous Clam chowder was a must do whilst at Pier 39 so we found a vendor selling the chowder and ordered a couple of sour dough
bread bowls with clam chowders. Now these were huge and pretty tasty, however, there was no way we could finish all the bread so we did our best but binned most of it. After the food we checked out the pier and then headed to a few shops to buy a map as the roads are pretty confusing and a "best of" Bruce Spingstein album, yes we had born in the USA playing pretty much for the rest of the journey (Orchy you would have loved it). After spending time down by the pier we had a little drive and found a hotel in the Nob Hill area which in fact was only 1 road away from the house in the film Mrs Doubtfire.
I walked in to reserve a room and coincidentally the very same unhelpful Indian receptionist was standing there! I have to say though that after seeing him for several days in a row he did become more friendly with time! So we checked in, put the bags in the room and headed out for the evening to enjoy an American style meal at Mels Diner and the cinema to watch the much anticipated Toy Story
Open top bus tour
3 in 3D, which we both enjoyed. In the morning we headed down to the pier again where we rented 2 bikes (for a minute we nearly had a tandem, luckily we didn’t in the end) to ride over the Golden Gate Bridge. They gave us a little map of a route to the bridge, where to go once you made it over and two tickets to get a ferry back across. So we cycled along the water front seeing the GGB in the distance and eventually made it to the bridge. It looked massive up close and just so recognisable, we have, like most people seen it in so many films over the years. We cycled all the way across, stopping only for those must have photos and once at the other side we decided to ride back over it again rather than get a ferry across the water. The view on the bridge was just “awesome” and luckily when we got to the bridge the clouds cleared and we could see Alcatraz and all over the city skyline.
Once we got back and returned the bikes Kate was gasping for a Ice cream so we went to
Ghirardelli’s just to satisfy Kate’s cravings!!! Now, we also wanted to go to Alcatraz whilst in San Fran, however, we had not banked on the tickets being so sort after. We went to the official Alcatraz ticket office and it was almost 1 week until we would be able to get onto “the Rock” and to be honest we didn’t want to hang around just waiting to go to a prison. We looked further a field and eventually came across a ticket option with a tour operator which offered us 2 tickets for Alcatraz and a open top city tour (valid for 3 days), so we took this over priced deal as we could go to Alcatraz the day after next. We headed back to the ranch and got ready to hit the night life of San Fran, well at least somewhere for dinner.
In the morning we jumped on a very traditional tram, from just near the hotel to head towards the city centre to jump onto the open top bus tour. We love these city tours and have done a few on the trip so far, so we headed around the city seeing all the points of
San Fran central square
interest. I won’t relay any as this blog is going on enough but it was so interesting hearing about the cities history and all those earthquakes. We hopped off of the tour bus and had hot dogs from a hot dog stand in the square in the centre of San Fran and then headed around the shops for some retail therapy!!!
One thing that did make us chuckle was when a homeless man asked Kate for some change, Kate replied with an apology of “sorry I don’t have any change on me” and the guy came back shouting at us, “Blank you, you Blanking Blank” …So anyway, about 6 O’Clock we could see that in the main square they were erecting a big screen and putting out rows of chairs, we enquired and found out they were showing a film on the big screen for everyone to watch for free. We thought should we bother as it was actually a little cold and we were a little tired but as soon as we found out the film show was Dirty Dancing Kate had made our minds up, we were watching it!!! We managed to get front row seats and
Seals ...and Kate
some popcorn and settled down to watch the film, however as always we were a bit early so we watched some braver people than me take a dance lesson in front of everyone before the film kicked off. The atmosphere was good and in true American style, the crowd participated in every scene, with a whoop whoop or a ahhhhh. It was good fun for all!!
The next day we headed down town to finish the city tour which took us through china town, past the city hall and past many famous sites in the city. We jumped off the bus at the ferry port to pick up our tickets to head across on the ferry to the infamous Alcatraz. After a ten minute journey across we docked at Alcatraz and jumped off and made our way to start the audio tour. The audio tour was narrated by a number of past guards and inmates which I felt added a realness to all the information and stories being told to us. The place was pretty scary and didn’t offer many luxuries for the prisoners locked up there. Kate was very brave and went into the solitary confinement cell and
the guard shut the door on her so it was pitch black, very brave Kate. We both went into a normal cell which didn’t offer much room to move around and we also saw the cells of famous inmates such as Al Capone and the Bird Man. The tour was great a definitely worth doing if you make it to San Fran.
That night we drove to just outside San Jose, so we were ready to start seeing some new places the next morning. San Jose was much smaller than San Francisco, it was quite a pretty town, we strolled around and picked up some healthy brekkie, as we realised our current diet of a doughnut and coffee for breakfast was going to end up in us having a heart attack before we got home! Then we jumped back into the Stang, put the roof down and headed to the next stop which was Santa Cruz. We were excited to find ourselves in America’s answer to Blackpool, well it has a boardwalk theme park and a huge arcade which I love and Kate hates! So after a couple of games Kate pulled me out and we saw a gorgeous
beach and a huge theme park. We were on a healthy run so just about managed to get around without being pulled in by corn dogs, chilli dogs, nachos or burgers, but it was testing us! We wanted to carry on the road trip, so back in Sally, enjoying the warm sunshine beaming down on us and we hit the interstate. By early evening after a beautiful drive we found ourselves at Montery. Kate had read about them having great trips to go whale watching, so we dashed straight to the Harbour to see if any boats were still available for tomorrow.
Kate was in luck - in fact there were several options for her to choose from. I had decided that I really didn’t want to go out on the sea in search of Whales, so Kate would go alone and I would amuse myself and meet her afterwards. We had a TacoBell dinner and got an early night as Kate had to be at the dock early doors in the morning…..over to Kate to tell you about the next day…
Well it was just a perfect day! Matt drove to the harbour where we discussed where
we would meet in 2.5-3 hours time. It’s funny not having a mobile sometimes as you have to be very specific about where and when you are meeting, there is no calling each other to change plans or ask where they are! So I walked down the dock, signed in and waited. Once on the boat we headed out to sea and within about 20 minutes we slowed down to see loads of dolphins around the boat. They were beautiful, black and white in colour and without a dorsal fin, so looked very different to other we have seen. As the boat accelerated away the dolphins swam along side the boat playing a game with us jumping up and down, and swimming under the boat it was fantastic to watch. We soon reached the area where the whales were. The first we saw was a Blue Whale (the largest type of whale) and it was huge! Then we left that one and found a pod of Humpback whales. It was unbelievable they jumped out of the water, played with each other and even swam under our boat at one point. I was in total ore of the beauty of these
creatures, stunning. This is something I had always wanted to do and here were these wonderful mammals right in front of me. I met some really interesting people on the boat too, so was full or stories to tell Matt when I got back to shore!
Back to Matt. So while Kate was living her dream on the ocean, I was living mine having the tastiest doughnut ever on land!! I was so pleased to hear what a great time Kate had, but I was pleased myself to be feeling normal having stayed on shore. So it was now mid-day the sun was shining and we felt like a cruise in Sally, so we headed South towards LA. The drive was fantastic, a little like the Great Ocean Road in Australia, with big cliff drops to our right and endless views of the stunning blue ocean. By early evening the sun was starting to set as we drove through Santa Barbara. It was a really beautiful place that reminded us of Italy, with high end hotels, restaurants and shops. So with us preferring budget accommodation we decided this wasn’t the place for us and we made it to just
outside LA to catch some sleep.
Once in LA we checked into the hotel and headed straight out to Hollywood Boulevard. We managed to locate Hollywood boulevard without any problems, so we parked up and headed down the street by foot checking out all of the stars on the sidewalk. We saw lots of names we didn’t recognise, I suppose there was life before Kate and Matt, but we also saw lots we did recognise, such as Michael Jackson and Whoopi Goldberg. By this time we were starving (not like an Ethiopian, but hungry all the same) so we headed to a traditional American/Italian pizza joint to fill our faces with pizza and diet coke. Hollywood Boulevard was a bustling place with all kinds of people from different walks of life, there were a high number of homeless people, street entertainers and alternative looking folk. We placed our hands in the hand imprints’ on the sidewalk of celebrities and I had an exact match with Nicolas Cage. As the evening rolled in we had a massive ice cream at the Disney café and then headed back to the hotel.
In the morning we headed down to Venice Beach.
We found it to be again full of different people, most of which were selling things ranging from t-shirts to tattoos. We saw the muscle gym and watched some Basketball, which got a bit heated over the score, we wondered if anyone would pull a gun, but they all played nice that day! So we were then ready to see the flash end of town. Sally took us in the direction of Beverly Hills and Bel Air, where we picked up a “Celebrity Houses” map, we picked out our favourite people and headed to see their houses. Check out the photos and guess who lives in those houses! The area was amazing, wide roads, palm tree lined and flash cars everywhere. We checked out Rodeo Drive and can see why they turned Julia Roberts away in Pretty Woman as its flash, flash, flash down there!
The next morning we were hitting our next big city - Las Vegas! It took about 4 hours to drive there and the temperature kept rising the whole way there, it was so hot but we wanted to cruise into Vegas with the roof down but after about 5 minutes the temperature was just
And that was the healthy option
so high at 120 degrees it was impossible to keep the roof down so when the lights went red we put it up and cracked the air con on full. Our First impressions of Vegas - WOW! And it only got better!! For those of you who have not been to Vegas you would just assume that there was “the strip” but there are in fact 2 areas. Yes one is the strip but the other is downtown, where they have a tunnel of lights that stretches for 5 blocks and it’s the biggest screen in the world. So for the first night we checked into the Four Queens hotel downtown on Freemont Street, it was right in the centre of the down town action so we got straight out into the night life. We had a quick flutter on a few machines and before we knew it waitresses were bringing us drinks from the bar, so we sank a few drinks before heading out onto Freemont street. Now it was about 8pm by this time and the temperature outside was still over 90 degrees, so when we took one step outside of the casino we were looking for the
next one to cool down again. We spent a couple of days staying at the 4 Queens Casino before moving up to the main strip to stay at Harrah’s Casino which is a mid range hotel in the centre of the strip. The weather was sooo sooo hot for all the time we were there, most days around 113 degrees with a hot desert breeze so we didn’t seen much outdoors. It was officially a heat wave in Vegas and a lot of other areas in America at the same time. As a tip if you ever come to Vegas, you don’t really need a car as there are loads of buses that just go up and down the strip, so we took Sally back early as she was just sitting in a car park.
Now, when in Rome we decided to have a little flutter and so we set ourselves a limit to gamble, we decided we would only really play small in the scale of things. 1 cent here, $20 there, but in the first 5 days we hadn’t actually spent any money as we were winning back everything we were spending. However, on day 5 we
Kate joined a new religion
were in New York New York casino just strolling around when I had this feeling to play the The Wheel of Fortune machine. Is aid to Kate, I had the feeling so we headed over to the WOF Now this machine has a big wheel about 12ft in diameter and has 8 seats around the outside of it, each with an electronic fruit machine. We made our way over and again something or someone told me to sit on the yellow seat (I know it sounds ridiculous), we sat down put $20 in the slot and spun but nothing!! Another $20 and W H E E L rolled in on the reels. Now this now generated a little video on the screen that said “It’s time to play for big money, spin the wheel”. Well we both pressed this button and the 12ft big wheel spun, I looked around and we had a bit of a crowd watching and well the wheel spun round and around and tick tick tick boom!!! It stopped on the Jackpot prize of x20,000, Kate was speechless and I was just laughing!!! We didn’t know what we had won until $1000 came up on the
Ready for Dirty Dancing in the square
screen!!! Agghhh wooo!!! We jumped around and people congratulated us, we quickly went to collect, making sure it was real!!
We were so excited but we didn’t have time to celebrate as we had tickets to watch David Copperfield the magician in the MGM grand casino. The show was spectacular, his tricks were amazing but he was slightly board of the show it seemed to us. He might have been doing the show a little too long. So after the show we walked back across to New York New York and decided to try our luck on Wheel of fortune again! I choose our lucky seat as Kate was insistent, we sat down, put in $20 and well, yes again almost instantly we were on the big wheel! Again we spun the wheel and well, you’ll never guess but tick tick tick x20,000 Jackpot rolls in again!! We could not believe it!! We had won two jackpots in the same casino, on the same machine within a number of hours!! We were on a lucky roll, so we collected the money and moved down the strip to find another WOF machine. We found one in the casino Paris, we
sat down put $40 in and again W H E E L rolled in, this time the machine cost less to play, so the jackpot was less, but we were still hopeful. So we spun the wheel and yes you’ve guessed it x20,000 rolled in and we won $500. Now we could not believe we hit 3 jackpots in a few hours on wheel of fortune!!!!! I heard they might be changing the name to Wheeler of fortune now!! If luck wasn’t smiling on us that day I don’t know what was.
To celebrate our win we thought we would go and ride the roller coaster on the roof of the New York New York casino. It twists and loops, goes upside down and gives you a great view of Vegas, so we lined up and managed to bag the front two seats on the cart and headed up the high climb before we went zooming down towards the strip. I felt pretty sick after that but Kate was on a high!!!
The next day we had signed up to go on a timeshare resort presentation just off of the strip. The presentation was supposed to take about
2 hours and as a reward for going to view their resort we were given $120 to spend in most restaurants in Vegas. We watched the presentation, looked around their resort and listened intently as they tried to get us to sign up, but obviously we made a “don’t agree to sign up for anything pact” prior to going. So we just collected our restaurant vouchers and headed to Ceasers Palace to eat big at the very swish buffet restaurant. We could not believe the standard of this buffet and also the range of food they were offering. I won’t go into all the food, but we……well I had 5 deserts which does sound really greedy and I didn’t mean to be, but I just couldn’t help myself, oh and Kate had 5 deserts also the next night! Just give us a troff next time! Well actually we checked out a few more buffets during our week in Vegas, another favourite of ours was the Paris hotel buffet, the crepes were awesome so we took a pic to show you!!
Whilst in Vegas we also took a trip to the famous Grand Canyon. We looked into taking a helicopter
to the canyon but on the heli trips they only allowed you 20 minutes on the ground to look around the Canyon so in the end we opted for the bus. We had an early start for the first time in months so it was a shock to the system but we made it in time (6am pick up!). We boarded the bus and headed out of Vegas towards the GC. Now on the way to the canyon we went past the Hoover damm so we stopped there to check it out and take photos before carrying on, all I could think of was the scene from James Bond. So back on the bus we headed to the GC stopping for all the old folk every five minutes to go to the loo. After a few hours we stopped for lunch which we collected from a sandwich shop and carried on. Eventually, we made it to the canyon and jumped off. Well, it was gob smacking to see it in front of you. The size of it is unreal, it was massive, we couldn’t believe it. We have taken a few pics and it looks like a picture behind us
but I can assure you it is the canyon. We spent 2 hours walking around the canyon on a trail and took lots of pics. Kate loved it there as she loves these kind of things and to be honest not being a big one for things like this I have to say it is well worth a visit. So after two hours there we got back on the happy bus to head homeward bound to Vegas. The ride back was pretty stunning too as the sun was setting over the mini-canyons we passed, before reaching the bright lights of Vegas again. We were loving this!
In the next few days we looked around nearly every hotel and casino on the strip, ate at some of the restaurants and did a fair bit of people watching. We also enjoyed the Ballagio (hotel) water show, which is basically lots of water fountains choreographed to a song, we watched it when “time to say goodbye” was playing, Kate was nearly in tears.
So, overall we loved Vegas and will defiantly be going back with a group at some point (if anyone fancies it??). Kate was the most surprised how much
SF city shot
fun it was and also how you do actually need more than “just a few days” there, we spent a week there which was just about right. If you do decide to go it is so worth getting a hotel in the middle of the strip so you can cut down on how far you need to walk as it’s a big place.
Now our Vegas time came to an end and we were hitting the road to go and spend a few weeks with my Uncle Bill and Aunty Helen in Texas. We had booked a ticket on a greyhound bus which was scheduled to take 27 hours to arrived in Dallas…..yes 27 hours. We won in Vegas and we still got the bus, that’s ridiculous…..but anyway Kate wanted to experience the greyhound bus and meet all those lovely bus people. So up at 4:30am we headed the Las Vegas bus terminal to board the greyhound. It was on time, we got the special front seats and headed East into the sunrise.
So that about wraps it up for this time. The next one will be on real soon so keep your eyes peeled!!
Clam Chowder - Pier 39
Matt & Kate xxxx
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