Coming soon near a theatre near you…

I have finally got around to looking at the hours of video footage I shot whilst we were in America and have put together a couple of films of Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. To be fair I didn’t actually use my camera as much as I thought I would so the Vegas footage is quite short. For the Grand Canyon clips I’ve used the trailer feature within Apple’s iMovie which I think goes well with the filming.

I still have footage of Yosemite and San Francisco to go through, so watch this space for more blockbusters to come…!

Miles and miles of scenery

A bit of a disturbed night; too much wine for me and an upset stomach for Tina meant we were both tired in the morning. It also was our last day in Vegas and we were back on the road to California once we’d packed and checked out.

But first breakfast and the buffet; a hearty meal always a good cure for any ills.

Having eaten, we went back to the room for the last time, packed the cases and vacated the hotel after checking out and ensuring the billing was correct. We really loved our stay in Vegas and The Bellagio, even Tina who was sceptical at first, enjoyed it. And the helicopter trip just was fantastic.

We set the sat nav for our next destination, Fresno, and it came up with an arrival time of 4.54pm and it was only 10am as we left. It was going to be along day with just under four hundred miles to cover.

We set off up the strip for the last time and soon joined the Interstate 15 south towards Barstow. Progress was good and we soon made our first stop at Baker for fuel and a comfort break (or to use the restroom at the Americans would say). The time was midday.

Continuing south we crossed the Mojave National Park, a sacred American Indian reserve; the desert area looked an extremely dry and harsh place to live. One of the places we also passed was the Mojave Air and Space Port, where many of the worlds airliners are kept once they are no longer required. It would have been interesting place to stop and look but I missed the turning so we carried on.

We ploughed on, observing the changing scenery, firstly desert, then tree lined mountains followed by the flatter Napa valley, where most of the grapes are grown for the Californian wines. It was amazing to think that only a few hundred miles apart you can see such varied landscapes.

We carried on our journey, stopping once more, before finally arriving in Fresno at the next hotel, number four, bang on time, just before five. After checking in, we were given our room key and were gobsmacked when we opened the door. The room had a lounge area, separate bedroom with a king-sized bed and two TV’s. When I checked the paperwork I realised I did actually order that particular room, so it was not too much of a step down from the Bellagio after all.

After showering and freshening up we went in search of somewhere to eat, walking across the street to a Chinese restaurant. On enquiring as to whether they can accommodate gluten-free food the waiter said “they close at 10pm”. Tina and I looked each other and walked out.

We wandered up to a shopping precinct and found a restaurant that was recommended to me; ‘The Cheesecake Factory’. When we checked the menu they did indeed have food I could eat but the items were expensive and stted they were for 6-8 people. We walked out of that one too.

We had more luck at the final restaurant, Flemmings Prime Steakhouse and were soon shown to the table. Tina said she was not that hungry so we skipped the starter (or appertiser as the Americans like to call it) and went straight for the main course. I went for New York steak again whilst Tina had chicken (again). We skipped dessert. The bill came to $99 making it the most expensive meal of the holiday to date.

Whilst we were waiting for our food, we did some people watching; I watched a couple polish off a two person appertiser plus one another, a salad each then a main course each (one had chicken the other steak) plus all the side trimmings. I have no doubt they would have had a dessert as well had we remained the to find out. Tina observed that the Americans don’t use their cutlery the same way as us. She watched a few eating their meals and noticed that they cut normally using both implements then put the knife down, swap the fork into their right hand to place the food in their mouths. This fascinated her and said I would never be able to do that as it takes too long to get the food in my mouth, me being a fast eater.

We paid the bill and returned back to the hotel room, it being extremely warm as the outside temperature was a lot higher than we’d been used to.

A grand flight…

20110519-220711.jpgAnother good nights sleep, the hotel accommodation is so comfortable and enables easy relaxation.

Off for our Grand Canyon tour by helicopter later this afternoon but first a few hours to explore some more of Las Vegas.

After showering we visited the hotel buffet, this time there was a bit of a queue to get to a table, but it moved fairly quickly and we were soon seated at a table. I decided on an omelette for breakfast along with bacon and some fruit. Tina stuck with a full breakfast and a croissant.
As we had a few hours to kill we decided to go up to The Luxor hotel as I wanted to take a look inside. I had noticed that there was tram that left our hotel and headed south so I suggested we use that to save on our, by now, blistered feet from our walking yesterday.

We boarded the tram and were soon at the end of the line south, although we didn’t realise that point and next thing the tram started moving north again. We therefore stayed on it returned back via the northerly stop, The Bellagio.

We then walked to the next tram station at the Escalibur Hotel and on to The Mandalay Bay Hotel, which was next to The Luxor, which you can access via walkway. Surprisingly the inside of the pyramid hotel was hollow, with all the rooms on stepped platforms reducing in size as they got closer to the apex. We took a few photos inside and out then started walking northwards up the strip, taking more photos on our way.

Eventually we stopped at the Sugar Store and ordered some massive ice cream sundaes and sat and ate them outside the Eiffel Tower. I, of course, managed to eat all of mine, why waste it, but Tina gave up after getting half way down hers. Even I couldn’t help her out. We both felt stuffed so we headed back to the hotel room for a rest before the limo pick up.

The limo arrived on time and together with a couple of other people we headed for another hotel to pick up someone else before driving the short distance to the airport. We signed in, paid our $80 additional fee (apparently to cover fuel etc) and waited in the lounge, watching a safety video. Soon after we were greeted by John, the Sundance Helicopters pilot who took us to his aircraft. We had the obligatory photo taken next to the chopper, before John gave us further instructions and got us settled in.

I was surprised as to how much space was inside one and also how noisy they are when the rotors are going. There were another five or six helicopters all leaving at the same time and once it was our turn we were off. Amazingly Tina seemed quite calm about the takeoff, looking around at the sights as we hovered over the airport. Soon we were heading west away from Las Vegas towards the mountains in the distance. I was surprised as to how smooth the ride was and felt at ease flying in a tin can with rotors. The views we got were fantastic, firstly of Lake Mead then the Hoover Dam. The helicopter was fitted with headphones for each passenger and as we flew along we had a running commentary of the history of the area. Also John, chipped in with other snippets of information, making it a very personal experience.

We continued on towards our destination, both of us taking photos and videos as we went. As we got closer to the Grand Canyon, following the Colorado river snaking across the landscape, we started to rise and suddenly you could see this magnificent sight in all its glory. The views of the canyon were spectacular, it was difficult to know which way to look. As John steered the helicopter down through the valley of rocks, he explained where we were going to land and soon after we were down.

He informed us that we had about thirty minutes before taking off again and that we could go and explore, take some more photos and then participate in the picnic and champaign. I took more photos and we then went back to eat.

And as I half expected, there was no provision for my gluten-free diet, despite receiving a telephone call from the booking company in the UK that is had been arranged and further confirmation when I confirmed the booking on arrival in Las Vegas. Oh well, the pieces of apple we OK but I was a bit miffed that I had been forgotten. We chatted to John about being a pilot and the canyon; he explained he’s been a gulf war veteran before becoming a civil pilot. Whilst we had been sitting there, we all noticed how the colours of the canyon were changing as the sun moved lower in the sky. What a sight.

John packed up the picnic things and we all re-boarded the helicopter for our return flight. Again, I took lots of video and photos of the fantastic landscape, hopefully there will be some that are worthy of printing out.

As we neared Las Vegas, we flew adjacent to the strip, enabling us to see the hotels in their full glory. This was equally as impressive as the Grand Canyon, although slightly younger in age!

We landed without incident and rejoined the limo, not before purchasing the souvenir photo of Tina and I for an extortionate $30.

Once we got back to our hotel we showered and went for dinner, returning to our favourite haunt, the Aussie Outback Steakhouse, Tina having chicken and I enjoyed a New York steak, washed down with a bottle of wine.

As we walked up to the restaurant we had to stop to buy some plasters as the blister on my foot was becoming uncomfortable. I managed to get back to the hotel OK, but standing on it was becoming unbearable. We watched some more of the games before going back to the room.

We were exhausted and we both asleep by ten thirty.

So much for experiencing ‘the town that never sleeps’, we just couldn’t keep up.

Viva Las Vegas…

20110518-163330.jpgHad a good nights sleep, Tina said she needed to catch up after early starts. We still were ready for breakfast at 8.30 though.

We decided to visit the hotel buffet breakfast offering; $34 for an all-you-can-eat affair. We didn’t eat much, but Tina spotted one woman eating two full plates of food at the same time. Then she went up for another. Back up to the room to prepare for a full day of sightseeing.
We firstly walked across the strip to buy some tickets for a show; we spotted that Lion King was playing and so we thought we’d treat ourselves. As we waited in line Tina noticed that black clouds were looming overhead, an ominous sign of the rain that the waiter yesterday was yearning for. Tina then returned back to the room to get a cardigan whilst I continued to queue. Once I paid for the tickets the skies were really dark and the wind picked up too so I rang Tina to get her to grab a jumper for me too.

20110518-175129.jpgWe then started walking towards the Mandalay Bay hotel which is at the extreme south of the strip and where we needed to collect the tickets for the performance tonight. The large hotel looked a lot closer that we’d realised and it took nearly three quarters of an hour to get there and that included a short tram ride too. On the way we passed the themed hotel and casino called New York New York hotel that had a large statue of liberty outside, The Luxor, a huge glass pyramid shaped hotel with many egyptian temples surrounding it.

Once we collected our tickets we then continued south, walking towards the ‘Welcome to Las vegas’ sign which meets visitors as they arrive. The sign also is covered by a live webcam which was the main reason for going there. We had timed it so that both Matt & Abby were going to be around to be able to view us live. Tina rang Abby as soon as we arrived, but firstly the obligatory photo of us both standing under the sign, kindly taken with my camera by someone who just happened to be waiting there. She was rewarded by a $2 tip.
We then had to wait around for Matt & Abby and various others that had been told we were there, us waving frantically in the direction of a large sign the camera was housed on, much to the confusion of others that were at the sign. Matt subsequently sent me a photo that took from the webcam showing Tina and I there. We then left to head back to the strip, by this time Tina’s feet were suffering due to a couple of blisters. Luckily we were able to hail a taxi cab and were shortly back at the Bellagio for a change of shoes.

A quick drink then we were off again, this time heading north towards The Venetian, another hotel, shopping and casino complex. I was previously advised that this was a must-do place and we were not disappointed. On entering the shopping area the shops are set out as Venetian streets with blue skies adorning the ceilings. Just passed the first shops we located the main attraction, a canal system with gondolas and singing gondoliers serenading their passengers to the entertainment of those watching from the side. Further up was St Marks Square, where there was some street entertainment, some restaurants and a Pandora jewellery shop. More of that in a minute. I said I was going to take some photos of the sights, whilst Tina disappeared…into the Pandora shop. After ten minutes or so I realised Tina was still in there and so I went in to find her being shown a necklace and trying to choose some accessories for it. Shortly after Tina had her birthday present sorted.

We headed towards the Monorail system that stops at various points along the strip and used it to get back to the centre, where we then stopped for coffee and Tina had some lunch. After purchasing a pair of flip flops for Tina (to hopefully stop any further blisters) we walked back to the Bellagio, watching a day time performance of the water fountains outside, which was just as good as last nights performance. Tina had spotted some perfume that she liked at a Gucci store so it was a quick detour to buy that before heading back to the room once again for a rest.

Off out in the car after showering, we made our way to the Mandalay Bay hotel for the show. This hotel had a massive car park that allows visitors to park, free of charge and get to the casino or theatre easily. The show was very colourful and true to the original cartoon film, although many of the songs we were unfamiliar with. Well worth going to see and Tina is now going to try to book up to see the West End version of the show again with Abby.

As we hadn’t eaten a meal, we were unsure where to go, but ended up enjoying a nice dinner at one of the hotels restaurants. I had lamb and mash, whilst Tina had pasta.

We had another wander around the casino watching a few of the games being played. The way people just chuck money away at roulette fascinates me. One guy asked for $100 of chips, spread bet them all across the numbers and won $300 straight away. He then did exactly the same thing again with all the chips he had just won but this time he lost. And that was it. $300 gone in one spin of the wheel. Didn’t he know that the house always wins? He left the table.

Exhausted, Tina and I walked back up to the hotel room after another full on day.

Just like Kent by wetter…

20110518-065419.jpg“Next year we are going abroad to somewhere warmer and drier” I was quoted last year when we left Kent following a week of wet weather.

Well that didn’t quite work out as I planned!

Day three of our Californian adventure and another day awoken by the sounds of rain outside. And heavy rain at that. Apparently the temperatures are around ten degrees lower than seasonal norm for this part of the country. Typical! Luckily the in depth weather forecast that you get in CBS news says it will get better later on in the week. Great.

Fortunately we were not exploring today, we were driving so it didn’t affect us too much.

We decided to take breakfast at the hotel today as it was included in the price. As expected, the offering was continental…croissants and coffee and orange juice. I took down some of my dried crackers hoping there would have been some butter or jam, but no such luck. I can understand why hotel offer it for free; it’s a token gesture and I guess at the price we paid I shouldn’t expect more.

20110518-065432.jpgOnce we had packed our cases we braved the rain to the car and then set the sat nav for the address of the next hotel, the third of the trip, The Bellagio in Las Vegas. Before leaving Long Beach we topped up the petrol tank, $25 dollars worth, which worked out at around 50p per litre. Well cheap.
We then joined the rush hour traffic, which was heavy due to the unusually wet conditions and headed north. Eventually the traffic thinned out as we left the built up areas but the rain continued to fall making driving difficult at times.

We soon joined the Interstate highway and made good progress, and eventually the rain stopped as we got closer to Nevada. As lunchtime approached we pulled over at Baker, a town approximately 100 miles from Las Vegas, where we re-fuelled and had a light lunch (french fries and soda’s) before continuing on towards the desert city.

20110518-065449.jpgAs we got to the edge of Las Vegas, we started to observe the famous skyline, but rather than heading along the strip, our sat nav lady told us to bypass Vegas and remain on the interstate highway. It turns out I had programmed in the wrong address and it was taking us to another place completely. After pulling the plug from the unit, we then drove by instinct, eventually locating the hotel from the huge sign outside.

OMG!

Unless you witness Vegas first hand you cannot comprehend how brazen and brash the place is. From a half size Eiffel Tower, huge buildings, a hotel shaped like a pyramid, it’s all here.
We parked our car aside the hotel and went in search of the lobby to check in. As with previous bookings we had made through booking.com, all was in order and we were soon taking our cases to our room. In order to get to the bedrooms you had to walk through part of the casino, an odd experience and not what I was expecting. 20110518-065510.jpgWe took the elevator to the 15th floor and settled in to our new home for the next three nights.

The room was very plush, with a huge bathroom and a view overlooking the hotel swimming pools. We quickly unpacked and then went on a walk to explore the hotel, the strip and shops.
Back to the room for a rest and get ready for a night out on the town, well in our case a meal and a quiet drink somewhere.

We walked out of the entrance of the hotel just to catch the end of the fountain show; a spectacular show of water fountains to music. We then searched for somewhere to eat, ending up at Outback Steakhouse, the same Aussie themed restaurant chain as we frequented yesterday in Long Beach. This time I was fully prepared to ask for the gluten free menu and was pleasantly surprised with the choice. 20110518-065630.jpgI plumped for baby ribs in BBQ sauce. Tina had chicken and we both polished off a bottle of wine between us. On chatting to the waiter about the weather he was pleased it had been cloudy all day and was looking forward to the rain that was expected. We were not!

Back to the front of the Bellagio to catch the water show fully before wandering around the casino watching others lose their money. There are hundreds of slot machines, craps and roulette tables and blackjack games, but to be honest I didn’t think it was that crowded, perhaps the recession has affected here too?

We soon retired to bed exhausted from another busy day.

And we’re off…

The cases are packed, the itinerary sorted, the dollars bought and the kids have their instructions written out, which means only one thing…USA is awaiting us!

It seems ages ago that I booked the flights and car hire, but at last the day before we leave has arrived and later on today we will be travelling down to Heathrow ready for the morning getaway.

I am really looking forward to the break; not only to explore places that I’ve never been before but also just to take a well-earned rest from work. I can feel that my batteries are drained and two weeks away from the hustle and bustle of employment will do me the world of good.

Hopefully we will be leaving the house in good hands; this trip will be the longest we’ve left the kids in charge but I’m sure they’ll cope. I guess the cash we leave them for shopping will help :).

We have left instructions as to what they should be doing whilst we’re away including when the bins need emptying. Abby finds this most amusing as apparently that is the thing we keep reminding her to make sure she does. Why are we so obsessed with getting the correct coloured bins out on the correct week?

Anyhow, I’m uncertain how much internet access we will come across whilst we’re in the States; if it’s anything like New York then we will be pretty isolated and I won’t be doing many updates. Still I will be keeping a diary for posterity, which hopefully I will be able to publish on our return.

But until then…byeee!

USA here we come…soon!

Preparations have really started now for our California/Nevada road trip next month.

When I first booked the flights I’d only made reservations the first couple of hotels, thinking I’d book the rest when we land at Los Angeles, but in the end I have decided to pre-book most of them so we don’t have to spend time driving around searching for accommodation.

Once we leave the ‘City of Angels’ we will be driving up to Las Vegas, stopping off at Lake Havasu City on the way. This ‘City’ is famous as it is the place where the old London Bridge was sited after it was purchased by the American’s a couple of centuries ago.

Slight change in itinerary since publishing this; we’re now staying at Long Beach near Los Angeles rather than travelling to Lake Havasu City. Reviews suggest the place where the old London Bridge now resides is a bit of a dump so we will be bypassing it and going straight to Las Vegas.

Next we take a short drive to Las Vegas where I have booked up into the Bellagio for three nights. Judging by the reviews we are going to be spoilt whilst we stay there! I have also just booked a helicopter tour which will fly us to the Grand Canyon; Tina was not too keen as she doesn’t like flying but I hope she will enjoy it once we start to see the wonderful scenery.

When we leave Las Vegas, we then head towards San Francisco, not before stopping off at The Yosemite National Park. I have booked a couple of nights hotel accommodation at San Francisco with a view of extending should we decide to stay longer.

I want to visit Alcatraz, the famous island prison, but Tina is not keen; I think she believes I will leave her there!

Towards the end of the second week we will head back towards LA, driving the coastal route which apparently is spectacular.

As usual I will try to keep a diary and if possible make a video diary too.

USA here we come…

At last I am going to fulfill a wish of a lifetime by visiting the western part of the USA when Tina and I take a fly drive to California next year. It was last year when I realised that going ‘independent’ in America is easy; when Matt and I went to see the Space Shuttle launch in Florida I just booked our flights, car hire and hotels over the internet. I loved the fact that we could see different parts of the state without being tied to one hotel and driving was so easy and comfortable.

And so my task over the next couple of months is to plan a route, do a bit of research on places to visit and sort out some hotels and a hire car. We firstly fly to Los Angeles, where we will spend a couple of days, before heading off to explore. I want to experience the splendour of the Grand Canyon, see for myself the ‘over-the-topness’ of Las Vegas, visit the Yosemite National Park before heading for San Francisco to finish off the trip.

It’s not going to be a relaxing two weeks; there’s a lot to pack in and a fair bit of driving to do, but it will be an unforgettable experience and I’m really looking forward to it.