Another trailer to savour…

On to San Francisco and another video. Again I’ve used an iMovie trailer feature which does allow some creativity and produce a different feel than the normal run-of-the-mill home movie.

Ideally it would be good to spend hours and hours on editing shots to produce a blockbuster but it’s not until you start to review the video footage then you realise much of it is of the same views. I guess I need to train myself to think ‘angles’ and ‘closeups’ when filming but I tend to just point and shoot and therefore get poor results.

Anyway here is the first showing…

Bye bye big city, hello pacific coast and quaintness….

Another good nights sleep, the earplugs really do work.

Last night Tina and I watched a movie I had downloaded onto my iPad prior to travelling. We had firstly started watching American TV but it’s not very good, although there are channels to choose from. Actually it’s all crap! Anyhow we watched Sherlock Holmes starring Robert Downey Jnr.

Today was moving on day and so after breakfast we packed our cases up again and checked out, not before I retrieved the car from the car park. We agreed to take scenic route down to our next stop, Carmel-by-the-sea via Highway 1. This road takes the pacific coast road along some beautiful stretches of countryside, but as the weather was poor, wet and misty it was difficult to see much at times. The pacific ocean didn’t look too inviting either with Tina remarking that it looked like the sea does at Hunstanton, brown and murky!

Still it was a nice change from driving the main highways and not too busy with traffic. There are also some pretty remote beaches along the stretch but not many people were using them, understandably.

We stopped briefly at lunchtime for a coffee and comfort break and at the same time used an ATM to get out some more dollars as we were getting short of cash. Once back on the road it wasn’t long before we reached our hotel, The Hofsus House, which was number six on our road trip.
Carmel-by-the-sea is very quaint, as is the hotel, with views looking out onto the Pacific Ocean, although when we arrived it was raining so not a lot could be seen. The town is a load of boutique shops, restaurants and hotels all crammed into a space of about a mile square, with a beach on the edge. All a bit strange really.

We rested and then took a short walk around Carmel, but the rain started again so we abandoned the exploring and instead drove to nearby Monterey to an outlet shopping mall, the Del Monte Center. We bought a couple more presents before stopping for a Starbucks cafe latte. We then drove back to the hotel.

Tina had a bit of a kip then we decided to walk back into Carmel to find somewhere to eat. We’d see a place called the Hogs Breath Inn in the maps we’d been given and apparently it had been previously owned by former mayor Clint Eastwood.

As it happened it was the first restaurant we came across so we thought we’d give it a go. Tina ordered mushroom soup and I had steamed artichoke, the only gluten-free option and too be fair it was OK, as this sort of starter would not have been my first choice. For our main courses Tina ordered a Dirty Harry burger whilst I plumped for a New York Steak, which was much better than last nights Hard Rock Cafe effort. Anyhow, I vowed that was going to be my last steak as I’d eaten far too much red meat whilst on this holiday.

We then strolled down to the beach, where with lots of others, watched the sun go down over the pacific ocean. Tina was not very impressed, as she said it goes down every night! She can be so unromantic sometimes!

We walked back up the hill to our hotel to retire for the rest the evening.

The crooked road, one way streets and a parking citation…

A good nights sleep for both of us; this blog is becoming a bit of a tale of our sleeping habits!
Tina had a good nights sleep and didn’t wake up until just before 9am, allowing me time to watch a couple of episodes of Wired which I’d copied onto my iPad for just such occasion. Up to now I hadn’t needed to watch as she’s been getting up fairly early. Anyhow, after showering (again, divulging our morning routines), we went next door to have breakfast.

We then walked the short distance to retrieve our car from the car park. I was a bit concerned as to how much the overnight stay was going to cost as I’d misread the charges and it actually cost between $2 and $2.50 per hour to park the car there. The total charge for the night was $22. I really must find a free parking spot on the roads tonight.

We set off for the day heading back down to Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 but beforehand we decided to drive down the crooked or wobbly road, Lombard Street. Luckily there was no queue but there were lots of people blocking the road. Eventually they cleared and we did a leisurely drive down to the bottom. I wonder how many peoples photos we were in by the time we got to the bottom as it’s quite a tourist spot.

We then found a free parking space close to the wharf and walked down to take another look around. It was at Pier 39 that we bought some prezzies and had a coffee before Tina spotted the famous sea-lions next to the pier. A couple more presents bought, we the found the Hot Spud place again and had lunch before walking back to the car. As we were limited to only two hours parking we didn’t bother with riding the famous cable car, although it would have been an ideal time as the queues were really short for a change.

We then decided to drive to Chinatown to take a look around, but the place was very busy, with lots of roadworks and few places to park. It was here that I made my first major mistake driving when I drove through a stop sign and upset a lorry driver who’s turn it was to pull out. I must say most people obey the courteous system of first come-first served at the junctions; it seems to work well and everyone seems quite content to wait their turn.

It just doesn’t help when tourists ignore the rules!

We left the area and drove to the other side of San Francisco to the Golden Gate Park, which we’d been through on the tour bus. Today we decided to walk around instead. After finding a free parking space, we walked through a rhodendrun garden before finding the main area.

We strolled around this area before walking to the large glass conservatory that was donated to the park. I bet Nick, our next door neighbour would love to get a contract to build on as big as the one in the park, but I think he’d struggle building it on his own!

We agreed then to drive back to the hotel not before some serious bad driving by me. On trying to locate the correct road to get back, I inadvertently drove down the wrong direction of a way street, to the dismay of a drive coming the right way. I quickly pulled over only to see loads of cars behind him. I managed to turn around. We decided that the American roads are very poorly sign written and we are surprised there are not more accidents.

The above blog was typed whilst we were back at the hotel, getting ready to go out for another drive.

THE NEXT SECTION I AM SHOUTING AS I AM BLOODY FUMING (although I will type it in lowercase for ease of reading).

Whilst Tina was in the bathroom, I glanced out of our bedroom window to see a traffic warden placing a ticket on the windscreen of our hire car. As previously stated, parking restrictions are crazy here. As parking is at such a premium, most of the properties have garages and in order to prevent people parking outside them, residents can apply for paint to be applied on each side of the dropped kerb indicating you cannot encroach the gap. I parked in a space which I thought gave the owner plenty of room to get their car in and out of their garage. Obviously the owner did not think so and reported us!

The ticket citation stated ‘In violation of driveway’ Fine amount includes state surcharges – COMPLAINT and this misdemeanour will cost me At least $90.

We drove off and I was in angry mode…

“what a crap city, the sooner we leave tomorrow the better” I said!

We drove along the west coast of the city, observing the Golden Gate Bridge from the not-so-often-viewed side and then downtown back to the Bay area. We walked along for a short while before stopping at the Hard Rock Cafe at Pier 39 for dinner. We ordered Nachos and main courses but when the nachos arrived the plate was huge. We tucked in but almost immediately the main courses arrived. I think they wanted to get us done and out before the rush happened later in the evening. Anyhow we ate what we could and left.

We drove back to the hotel on the hunt for an illusive parking space. And we drove around and around. And around again. But we couldn’t find any so we ended up parking in the municipal garage again. Bye bye to another $22.

Back to the hotel to chill out for the remainder of the evening, me hammering away of the keyboard typing out this angry blog and Tina reading a book she downloaded on my kindle.

We know how to have a good time!

San Fran…

Not the greatest of sleeps either of us had; Tina got up at 4am to take pills for a headache, I just kept waking up throughout the night. I also snored throughout the night which didn’t go down too well with Tina and I should have the bruises on my legs to prove it.

Although the hotel room is not on a busy road, there are still lots of city noises that wake you; sirens and car doors etc. Still the ear plugs helped a bit.

We showered then went to the room next door for the complementary breakfast; croissant for Tina, coffee and juice for me, then we drove a short distance to park the car for the day in a municipal garage. The reason we had to park the car in a car park rather than leave it parked outside the hotel is because during the day there are parking restrictions everywhere allowing only a maximum of two hours parking in one spot. Whilst parking this way is free, it does restrict you if you want to spend the day without using your car. Parking in the car park costs around $12 per day.

Once parked, we then walked downtown Lombard Street towards the city bus tour stop. We like using these tour buses as not only do they give you a guided commentary of the places you are passing, but also you can hop on and off at any point, using them as a taxi.
Before arriving at the stop we visited the famous Lombard Street winding road, that descends down a steep hill and is decorated with flowers, trees and bushes. This road attracts many visitors, both on foot and cars and in fact can take up to a couple of hours to queue to drive down it at times. It was fairly quiet when we walked down it. At the top of the road we also saw our first San Francisco cable car, with people hanging on like you see in the movies. It really does happen.

We boarded the tour bus and started on the two hour ride around the city sights. Firstly we were driven through the Fisherman’s Wharf area, which is now mainly made up of small shops and restaurants. Then we drove down Lombard Street towards the Golden Gate Bridge. The tour guide gave lots of useful information and played songs as we continued our journey.

As we left the Bridge area he said the ride may become a bit more windy for a few minutes. He wasn’t wrong as we had to ride through a tunnel, which was extremely blowy. We then headed for the Golden Gate Park, a large expanse of trees and shrubs that was designed and built by a Scotsman in the last century. The area was just sand dunes prior his vision, but somehow he managed to create an amazing parkland area that would be worth visiting again sometime.

The tour bus then took us through the area, Haight Ashbury which was famous for the hippy invasion of the 1960’s; too young for us to remember but we recognised some of the names he was stating that had lived there including Bob Dylan and Janice Joplin.

As we drove on we then saw the magnificent City Hall, with gold adorn decoration atop the dome, Apparently this building was rebuilt after the 1989 earthquake that devastated much of San Francisco and now sits on rollers that will move the complete building by about 10 feet if another earthquake hits.

The bus then headed towards the dodgy Mission Street area of the city, which the guide suggested not to walk, especially at night and then the financial district where there are many taller buildings. Shortly after we passed the famous Chinatown before heading back towards Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf where we got off.

As we passed through the Pier 39 area, we spotted a cafe called ‘Hot Spud’ so we made a beeline for there and enjoyed some lovely jacket potatoes, topped with all gluten-free bits as well. They even sold gluten-free sweet potato cheesecake so we bought a couple of slices to take out.
We walked the short distance to the pier area and sat an ate our cakes before strolling around the shops on Pier 39. After buying myself a San Francisco t-shirt we walked for a while before rejoining the bus to take us back to the car and hotel.

I then suggested we drive over the Golden Gate Bridge again and take a look around Sausalito. Unfortunately I parked in the wrong place and we didn’t discover the main area until we left the town and as we had little change for the parking meter, we headed back towards San Francisco. We paid our bridge toll fee and then parked up at the vista point on the south side of the bridge. Here I took a walk half way across the bridge, leaving Tina back in the car. The views were fantastic; the bay was clear and you could see all of the city and Alcatraz Island.

In the middle of the bridge there is a sign stating not to jump or else it would result in death. Your not kidding, it is miles down to the water. They stuck a telephone next to the sign offering counselling, I wonder how many people have been saved from jumping?

We left the vista area and parked further down along the bay to get some further shots of the bridge before driving back to the hotel. Unfortunately we arrived there before the free street parking starts, so I had to go and find a space after the period began at six.

As had been warned in the hotel writen reviews, parking in this area is at a premium and after driving for about half an hour with out success, I eventually parked the car back in the car park we had used earlier. It cost over $13 for a few hours earlier in the day, I dread to think what it will cost overnight! When I got back to the hotel Tina was about to leave a note and go and look for me as she was wondering where I had got to. I must remember to ensure any future hotels have parking on site.

After a short rest we then went in search of some dinner, Tina had spotted an Indian restaurant just up the road so we strolled up for some eastern fayre.

Whilst enjoying our curry, we discussed what we thought of San Francisco and whilst we liked what we saw, neither of feel that it’s a place we’d like to come back to. Yes, it’s good to see the cable cars, the wibbly wobbly road, the golden gate bridge and the famous hilly roads but we both felt that’s it not enough to revisit. Still we’re here for another day tomorrow so we’ll see how that pans out.

“If you are going to San Francisco”…

“be sure to wear flowers in your hair”. OK no flowers to hand but that’s where we headed off to on our road trip.

For the first time this holiday I slept beyond six o clock; no alarms going off, police sirens in the background or noisy neighbours. I still had to wait until eight o clock before Tina woke before getting up for a shower though as we were in no hurry to get moving.

We went down for breakfast and I was pleased to find that they provided bacon today rather than sausages, although I’m not certain how they manage to get the bacon to look the way it does (we suspect it is deep fried!). Coffee and juice to follow, then back to the room to pack and soon we checked out.

Once we topped up the fuel tank we headed off on the planned three hour journey to San Fran (as the Californian’s like to call it), priming the sat nav with the next hotels address. We started off going north on the Interstate 99 for a few miles before turning off across country before joining the Interstate 5. The countryside between the two main roads was extremely rural and flat, with miles and miles of farms, mainly wheat and fruit.

Once we joined the I5, after I had ignored the sat nav instructions, the scenery changed again to extremely dry & arid landscape; it’s amazing anything can grow in those conditions. Running pretty much parallel to this main road was a new canal system which I assumed helped irrigate the land. It certainly needed it. On the left side of the road was a ridge of hills that extended for the length of the highway north. The hills were again very dry, with the occasional cows or two grazing on the straw-like pasture.

From the I5 we joined the 580 towards San Francisco crossing the Altamond Pass, a valley where there were high crosswinds and hundreds and hundreds of windmills installed on the hillsides. I suspect the amount of electricity that is generated from those mills would be enough to power SF itself!.

We continued following the sat nav and the journey seemed to be taking ages, I guess I should have stuck to the planned route. Eventually we arrived at our destination about an hour later than expected, but bang on time to check in at hotel number five. The Mariner Inn was situated close to Fisherman’s Wharf, the Marina and the Golden Gate Bridge.

On driving towards the hotel I remarked to Tina as to how many TV programmes had been made in San Francisco using the streets as a backdrop.

“I remember Quincy MD was made here but what was that other famous cop show?”

“That’ll be The Streets of San Francisco” Tina replied.

“Oh yeah” I replied.

We unpacked and then decided to go for a walk to find somewhere to eat, having asked Yolanda on reception the best place to go. We headed off in the general direction she told us, but struggled to find anywhere that was not full or suitable for my diet. In the end we found a supermarket and bought a salad each and took it back to the hotel room.

Whilst out walking we noted how windy the place was; the stiff breeze made it quite chilly. Whilst looking for food we stumbled across the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. We also spotted Alcatraz perched on top of the island in the middle of the bay. It was a lot bigger and closer to the shoreline than I’d expected, I’m surprised not many more prisoners escaped other than Clint Eastwood.

We decided to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge in the evening to get to a restaurant where both had steak before driving back over it, paying a $6 toll fee for the privilege. I then intended to go back to the bay area to park up to take some photos but missed the turn and ended up driving through a tunnel south. Luckily the city grid system came to the rescue as it’s normally easy to find your way back once you work out which direction you need to go. The sat nav was switched on just help help matters. We found the hotel and retired for the evening.

Both Tina and my feelings were mixed of what we’d seen so far in SF; yeah it was great to see the GG bridge and the steep streets that make the place famous, but the city didn’t spark any yearning to want to explore.

Maybe tomorrow would bring a bit more enthusiasm?

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.