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Published: September 6th 2015
After years of wanting to do it, years of seeing other people post on Facebook about their amazing adventures, on 9th August 2015 I finally began a sabbatical and started my own world travels. For the next year I'll be travelling around India, SE Asia and China, and will try and relate some of the stories and experiences through this blog.
First stop on the tour before hitting Asia was the USA, to see some friends I met on a course in Oxford last summer, the World Nuclear University. I made some great friends there, and this was the first of what will hopefully be many reunions. We were all meeting up in Las Vegas (which seemed appropriate to celebrate the significant amount of drinking and general excess that went on during WNU) before road tripping up to San Francisco.
After a quick couple of days in Augusta to see another WNU friend, during which I proved at the golfing Mecca how genuinely awful I am at golf, I was on the way to our reunion. Vegas, baby!
I don't really know where to begin describing Vegas... It was every bit as ridiculous and over the top as
I imagined, and then some. Definitely a sight that everyone should see at some point in their lives! The plastic "botanical gardens" of The Bellagio, the authentic ancient Roman shopping mall at Caesars Palace, Paris, Venice, Cairo and New York in miniature along the strip, and of course the full canal, complete with singing gondoliers, running through The Venetian... And then the people watching - people sinking 100 bucks at a time into joyless slot machines, people drinking heavily at 9 am, street theatre that basically involved just standing naked on the street wearing an Indian headdress or similar... Talking to an old couple in Augusta before going to Vegas the lady warned me "Y'all be careful in Vegas, it has a lot of temptations... Some come with one arm, but most come with two legs" (giving her husband a meaningful look at this point... I didn't ask!). The dozens of people handing out call girl cards outside the poshest of casinos bore that one out too...
I'm not a big gambler so didn't end up too badly out of pocket in Vegas... We sat down at a quiet blackjack table at one point to try and pick up
how to play - cheapest table we could find and still lost $40 alarmingly quickly, just lasting long enough to really piss off the one other denizen of our table who was playing seriously (I didn't even know you could mess up someone else's game while playing blackjack - our croupier explained to us that in fact you can, and we had...) We went to Fremont Street (the old strip) one night which was more my style - very tacky, much cheaper, and uber portions of alcohol. We had rum and cokes there which came in pint glasses and barely got polluted with any Coke.
Nursing three-day hangovers, we picked up the cars the next day and headed off towards the Grand Canyon. After a quick stop at Hoover Dam, which was pretty great to see, we got to Grand Canyon just before sunset and went straight to a lookout point. It really is incredible... photos can't even begin to do justice to the scale and grandeur of it. 10 miles across from one rim to the other (where we were - it gets even wider), over a mile deep, almost 300 miles long... One of the few sights
I've seen that was more incredible than the hype. Definitely a must-see! After a couple more nights back in Vegas, we hit the road to San Francisco.
We were camping most of the way on the road trip, as American hotels are ruinously expensive, and our first stop after Vegas was Death Valley. Sitting here now it's pretty obvious to me that camping in Death Valley at the height of summer is a pretty stupid idea, but somehow it seemed like a good idea at the time... We arrived at our campsite at 4pm and it was 50 degC. The minimum temperature that night, just before dawn, was 35.5 degC. It was bloody hot! The name of our campsite was Furnace Creek - that probably should have given us a clue. Definitely not a good nights sleep, but for all that it was actually a pretty amazing experience - ultra-heat is kinda what you go to Death Valley for, and we really did experience it!
Very early the next morning we put the car AC on full blast and headed on. Over the next week or so we drove to Los Angeles and then up the Pacific Coast
Highway from LA to San Francisco. It was an amazing drive - a new spectacular vista at every bend in the road. Views that you could never get bored of, and definitely a drive where I wished we had a convertible Mustang, rather than the one litre Toyota Yaris we were driving... The final stop was San Francisco - we did the touristy bits; Pier 39 etc, ate some amazing seafood, and generally wandered around town - it's a pretty great city. A highlight was the day trip wine tasting to Napa that we did - it felt pretty surreal to have the first glass of wine in hand at 9:30 in the morning, but we soon got over that and felt pretty good by the time we left the fourth vineyard at 4 o' clock that afternoon, although I have to admit by that point we weren't even trying to taste the wine - we were definitely just drinking it. Still tasted pretty good though!
A very enjoyable three weeks in the U.S., great to catch up with all the people I've seen here, and some fantastic experiences. Next stop India!
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