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Part 3 - The USA West Coast

1 British Pound (GBP) = 1.66 US$

Los Angeles | San Francisco | Yosemite | Las Vegas | Grand Canyon | Needles | Anaheim

Two days in L.A - Monday 14th - Tuesday 15th September

We arrived in LAX airport around lunchtime on Monday and began the hair-raising drive to our accomodation. Gavin is the designated driver as I'd have to pay a daily supplemement (being under 25 and obviously irresponsible !), but that was fine by me. After getting lost a couple of times and ending up on a seven lane freeway by mistake we found the Banana Bungalows.

We have a nice big room with two double beds, private bathroom, TV, fan and a huge huge cupboard. It's simple and clean but a tad on the shabby side. There's an outdoor pool which we've not ventured out to yet, a library with two computers for internet access ($1) for 10 minutes, a restaurant, gym (with a few weights and a treadmill) and a free brekkie of tea and toast. We missed the breakfast this morning as there was a huge queue and McDonalds seemed much more appealing than tea and toast ! The room costs $55 a night, but you can stay in a dorm for $18 per person. I just picked up a couple of hotel/motel discount booklets and it seems that lots of other hotels are cheaper, but I can't say for sure since I've not phoned anywhere else.

In the last two days we've endured the trials and tribulations of driving on the wrong side of the road. Gavin has been getting a bit stressed out and shouting at me for telling him to go down the wrong street a few times ! Hopefully it'll get better in the next few days.

Los Angeles seems to be a sprawling suburbia connected by lots of freeways. It doesn't really have a city feel to it.We walked down Hollywood Boulevard this morning, doing the tacky tourist bit - looking at the stars on the pavement and looking in the shops. Predictably after that we got lost again so we decided to buy a better map.

In the afternoon we hit Universal Studios. It cost a whopping $38 per person, but it was good fun. The "Back to the Future" ride was excellent, even after the second time on it ! The steep drop on the Jurrasic Park Ride which got us absolutely soaked was fun too. Tomorrow we are going to make an attempt to get up bright and early and head up the coast to San Francisco stopping for a night somewhere on the way.


Are you going to San Francisco - Wednesday 16th - Thursday 17th September

On Wednesday morning we set off on our journey to San Francisco, approximately 400 miles north of L.A with plans to stop in Monterey or Carmel for the night. It was a nice drive, good to get out of the hustle and bustle of a city at last. We left L.A a bit later than we hoped for at 11am and stopped for a coffee in Malibu (where the rich and famous have their hideaway homes), then at a beach in a place called Ventura for lunch. After a good look at our California map it became apparent that we wouldn't make it to Monterey until late evening, so we stopped at a place called Pismo Beach for the night. We stayed at a bargain priced motel using a coupon from our discount hotels book (only $29.95). It was actually quite nice with a big room, TV and a swimming pool with sundeck. I sat by the pool for an hour then we went for a walk on the beach. Pismo Beach is not a wild and happening place but it was good to have some peace and quiet and breathe in the clean, fresh sea air. We went out for a Mexicano at night. The Nachos were lovely, but the Enchiladas had lots of yucky black sauce on them and were a bit gooey and cheesy. Is that how they taste in Mexico ? The only good Mexican food I have ever had has been in Edinburgh, but I suppose that's a matter of opinion.

On Thursday we left our motel at 9am for San Francisco, stopping to fill up on gas on the way. It cost us $12 to fill up the tank - I could only fill up a quarter tank of petrol on that money back home ! The pump attendent told us that he used to live in Kirkcaldy (Fife, Scotland) for a while, to which Gavin replied "There are some scary people there." Gav is forever slagging off people from Fife - it's just because I used to live in Dunfermline ! We took Highway 1 for the first part of the journey rather than the Interstate 101 route (faster). Some of the journey was very scenic, driving round winding cliff top roads looking out on to the ocean, but a lot of the journey was annoying as there were roadworks everywhere and we had to stop every few minutes to wait on traffic lights.

We finally reached San Francisco at 6 o'clock and headed down Lombard Street armed with our trusty coupon book. We dropped in at the Sea Captain's Motel, advertised at $39 a night and they said that they weren't accepting any coupons today, then informed us (after a few moments of thought) that it would cost us $99 ! We decided to try somewhere else and headed back the way we came, then before we knew it we were on the Golden Gate Bridge ! It was almost completely covered in fog, so we didn't get a view of the Bay or the bridge itself. We drove along the freeway a bit then stopped at a gas station to fill up the tank and figure out where we were going to stay. By this time Gavin was getting a tad stressed out and we eventually decided to head back over the bridge and back down Lombard Street again. We tried a few more hotels and motels and they either had no vacancies or were charging over $100 a night which is a bit outside our budget ! The reason for this is a big conference is taking place in San Francisco at the moment (just our luck !). We ended up staying in the Economy Inn for $95 (Economy ?), but we decided to stay for one night instead of two and head out towards Yosemite tomorrow evening instead of the next morning.


San Francisco for a Day - Friday 18th September

We checked out of our nasty little motel at 10am and headed down Lombard Street, down the winding crooked part on the way to Fisherman's Wharf. At this part of Lombard Street the speed Limit is 5mph and it's full of tourists snapping photos. San Francisco is built on 43 hills and the streets are very picturesque, full of white-washed housed and hills that go up and down at angles steeper than 45 degrees ! We parked the car at fisherman's Wharf for $8 for the day (some of the car parks charge $5 an hour so it pays to be choosy down here !) We decided to go on a tour of Alcatraz and queued for tickets only to find that they were sold out until Saturday evening ! I was quite disappointed about this, but later read in the guidebook that tickets are usually sold out in advance. We vowed to come back to San Francisco again one day and do all the things we didn't manage to do today, then settled on a one hour cruise round the bay and Alcatraz. This cost us $14 each with our $3 off coupons and was really good as the weather was lovely and sunny and the views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the city skyline were great. It was one of these narrated tours with a personal headset which told stories about the building of the bridge, the history of San Francisco and its buildings and Alcatraz Prison (otherwise known as The Rock). Very interesting ...

Golden Gate Bridge

After the boat trip we wandered around Fisherman's Wharf, Pier 39, some of San Francisco's streets and up the hill to Coit Tower for more views. We left San Francisco around 4pm and headed over the Bay Bridge towards the town of Stockton (about half way between San Francisco and Yosemite). San Francisco was a great town and I'm sorry we could only spend a day there, but I shall be back again one day !

We arrived in Stockton a couple of hours after leaving San Francisco - twice the time it should have taken due to a massive traffic jam on a 4 lane highway - very frustrating. We arrived in Stockton around 6pm and got a room in the Days Inn for $36 (thanks to the trusty coupon book again !). The town of Stockton is not much to look at from what I have seen so far. We went out for some food at around 9pm and the place was deserted and dodgy looking ! I looked Stockton up in our guide book and the downtown area is described as "seedy". Prostitutes, drug dealers and gangs are also mentioned ! We ended up getting a Chinese takeaway and eating it in our hotel room, as the thought of going out on the town and sampling the nightlife made me feel slightly uneasy. Tomorrow we'll be heading off to Yosemite. Will we see Yogi Bear ? Or is it Yellowstone where he lives ? I'm sure we'll soon find out !


Yosemite National Park - Saturday 19th - Sunday 20th September

We set of from the lovely town of Stockton at 10am on Saturday and headed on to Yosemite through the winding mountainous roads of highway 120. I phoned and booked a cabin at the Yosemite Lakes, 5 miles west of the park for $33 a night. The address was Hardin Flats, Groveland, so we stopped in the village of Groveland to look for the place without success. After asking for directions in a nearby gift shop we found out that it was another 20 miles or so further along the 120. American villages seem to stretch on forever, even though the populated part is quite compact. (Lodging Info: Yosemite Lakes - hostel, lodges, camping, RV Parking, Yurts. 31191 Hardin Flats, Groveland. Tel: 209/962-0121. Cabins sleep 4 for $33, shared shower & toilets).

Nevada Falls, Yosemite

Waterfall

We arrived at our destination around 1pm after lots of turning back and missing junctions. Our lodge was small with bunk beds and a double bed, but really nice and set in the forest with a picnic bench and barbeque. After unpacking and stretching our legs we drove into Yosemite. It took about 5 minutes to get to the park entrance where you pay $20 a car for a week's pass, then it's a further 30-40 minutes drive to the Yosemite Village where the information centre is. We decided to do the Yosemite Falls walk which is a very short walk of less than 1 mile to the highest waterfall in the U.S and the 5th highest in the world. It was very nice, but apparently better in Spring when all the snow melts and the water gushes down. At the moment it's not much more than a trickle.

After our wee walk, we wandered about some more then headed back to Yosemite Lakes for dinner - pork, apple sauce, potatoes, salad, stuffing, gravy, punch and chocolate pudding (not all on the same plate !) for $5.25. I think we were the only people there under the age of 60 ! It was cooked and served by volunteers who do 20 hours of work in return for free RV parking for the week.

On Sunday we planned to get up bright and early and make the most of our day in Yosemite. We finally managed to arise at 9am after a very chilly night and found out that the bear(s) must have come out to play as all the garbage was overturned from the skip and strewn all over the place. The don't have any bear proof bins here like they do in Yosemite - maybe it's to distract the attention away from the cabins and tents ! We headed off to Yosemite again and decided on doing the Nevada Fall Trail which is a 7 mile round trip covering 1,900 feet. In the Yosemite paper it estimates 6-8 hours for the round trip. This must be if you are carrying a heavy backpack, two or three kids and stopping every half hour for a fifteen minute break ! We managed it in a couple of hours, walking quite slowly. The views were pretty amazing, especially if you come down the opposite way to take in the views of Vernon Falls. We attempted to stop for a picnic lunch at the top of the mountain and got plagued by squirrels - one of them practically climbed over my leg and on to the sandwich ! We tried to have lunch again twice more and were chased by evil wasps, so we gave up and ended up eating our food in the car when we returned.

There aint much to do at night here unless you have a few friends, lots of beer and barbeque food like the guys a few cabins away from us did. We ended up spending an exciting two hours doing our laundry, then we drove to the centre of Groveland for a burger and chips. Tomorrow we're planning to drive to Las Vegas in one day and spend a couple of nights there so it's early to bed and an early rise for us !


Viva Las Vegas - Monday 21st September

Today we set off on our journey to Las Vegas (or Lost Wages as it's commonly known), as early as we could manage, cruising through Death Valley on the way. Death Valley is hot and deserted as its name suggests and it's advisable to switch off the air conditioning when driving up hill here in case your engine over heats. Not too much fun when it's over 100 degrees outside !

We arrived in Las Vegas 9 hours after setting off and headed to Circus Circus on the strip where I'd reserved us a room ($49 a night, sometimes cheaper, double or more at weekends !). I've been to Las Vegas before, almost three years ago when I had a fleeting romance with a local who I'd met while inter-railing round Europe in 1995. So I've seen most of it before, but it'll be fun and Gav hasn't been here before.

Our first stop after settling into our room was the Circus Circus all-you-can-eat buffet for $6.99. The emphasis was on quantity rather than quality, with many of the dishes barely recognisable, but the salad bar was good and I ate far too much as usual and had to head back to the room to recover lying down ! After a few hours of watching continuous soaps and sitcoms we headed down to the casino. Gavin shoved a $5 bill into one of the slot machines and on his second go it was looking good, so I pressed the pay button and clink, clink, clink 300 big silver chips came out. Gavin was in a state disbelief for a while, claiming "I never win anything - they must be 25 cent chips !" He had to go and check with the cashier that they were really $1 chips, and they sure were. We spent the next couple of hours in the casino, but managed to keep nearly all of our $300. I played roullete for a while and lost $10, then we headed back to our room around midnight. Enough is enough !

This is the biggest hotel I've ever stayed in with over 3000 rooms, but not the biggest in Las Vegas which is the MGM with a whopping 5000 rooms ! Everything in the hotel seems to lead to the casino. There are three casinos - when you come out the restaurant you are in the casino, leave the reception and you're in the casino, you come out the shopping mall, you're in the casino, leave the swimming pool and guess where you end up ? Yes, the casino ! Are they trying to make us spend money or something ?


Las Vegas, Day 2 - Tuesday 22nd September

Today was a pretty non-descript day. Buffet Breakfast, Swimming pool, shopping mall, buffet dinner, room to bloat, Casino, walk down the strip (the part of Las Vegas Boulevard with all the neon lights), bed.

The strip is glittering, cheesey, over the top and fun to walk down, looking at all the themed hotels, casinos and tacky tourist shops galore. Las Vegas - you either love it or you hate it !


The Grand Canyon - Wednesday 23rd September

Well, we're out of the desert now and in to Grand Canyon country. We left Las Vegas just before 11am deciding to give the buffet breakfast a miss. 3 buffets in one day is enough, especially for the likes of me, who has to try a bit of everything that's on offer !

We arrived at the Grand Canyon National Park just before 5pm and checked into our room at Bright Angel Lodge which I'd booked a couple of months ago. It's advided to make reservations for the lodges a few months in advance as they fill up really quickly, especially during summer. Our room has a bed, toilet, shared bathroom and no views but it's right on the South Rim and $48 for each night.

We went for a short walk along the rim when we arrived and the views were spectacular. Tomorrow we're going to hike down into the Canyon a bit or do a shorter trail depending on how Gavin's feeling as he's a bit ropey at the moment.

Grand Canyon South Rim

We had our dinner in the Bright Angel Restaurant which was nice and now Gavin has the hickups for the fifth time tonight for no apparent reason. I've tried to give him a fright numerous times with no success. We really need Kirsteen here as she gives the scariest frights in the world - guaranteed to to scare anyone's hickups away first time !


A walk round the West Rim

Gavin was feeling ill today, so our plan was for him to stay in bed and me to go a wandering . Unfortunately we are staying in a different room for our second night as I'd moved our reservation forward a day and the other room wasn't ready when we checked out at 10am. We drove down to the village store to get supplies for breakfast and lunch then had a wander around the South Rim. I checked back around noon and our room was ready. The receptionist said we didn't owe any money as we had paid for tonight, to which I replied that we had only paid for last night. She told us that it said on the computer we had paid for both nights, I insisted we hadn't, but she just handed us our key, told me to sign the piece of paper and off we went. Either we have a night for free or it has been charged to my credit card. No doubt I will find out soon !

In the afternoon I did the West Rim Trail, leaving Gav to rest in bed. It would have been good to hike down the Canyon a bit but I didn't fancy doing it by myself. The first part of the trail was pathed and full of camcorder and camera toting tourists for the mile or so up to Mariposa Point. After that it was a lot quieter and turned into a dirtpath which got scarily close to the edge. It was a great walk with views from lots of different angles of the Grand Canyon with the Colorado River in the middle. The visibility was 60 miles out to the mountains beyond and the North Rim could be seen far in the distance. The Canyon is a mile deep in some places and 17 miles wide at the widest point. If you fall down you can generally wave bye bye to life, so I wasn't venturing too close to the edge ! I walked as far as a point called the Abyss, where I saw no sign of life and then headed on back, catching the shuttle bus along the scariest 0.8 mile part and then walked back the rest of the way. The bus runs all the way along the West Rim to Hermit's Rest, stopping at view points on the way, then returns, stopping at only a couple of places on the way back. I walked about 7 miles in total - the whole trail is 8 miles. The walk is nice and easy unless you're scared of heights ! On the last couple of miles I chatted to an older couple from England who asked me where in Wales I came from. "Scotland" I replied !

When I arrived back Gavin had just awoken from his 3 hours of slumber, still not feeling on top of the world. At night I dined on salad, crisps, ham and cheese rolls in the room as Gav didn't feel up to going out for food. Now it's an early night in preparation for our early rise tomorrow for our trip to Needles (on the way to L.A). Until tomorrow...


Needles - Friday 25th September

A pretty non eventful day by all accounts - we got up early and drove to Needles, a very small "city" approximately half way between the Grand Canyon and Los Angeles. We arrived early afternoon and checked into the Days Inn & Suites for $24.99 (plus tax) with our coupon. Spent a couple of hours lounging around, reading in the hot sunshine and swimming in the pool which was quite nice. We went to Denny's for tea and we spent the rest of the evening lying about watching films on HBO - Turbulence and airplane terror film, then The Shadow Men about aliens dressed in black terrorising a family ! Gavin managed to drive on the wrong side of the road tonight - turned right, out of Denny's onto the left side of the road and never noticed until I told him. Luckily there was no traffic ! An early rise tomorrow for our drive back to L.A...


Needles Again - Saturday 26th September

It was uinexpected, but we're spending another day in Needles. Poor Gav was up all night being sick so I suggested that he spent the day in bed. I spent the day in and out the pool and in and out the room checking on Gav. He's feeling a bit better now. We're having another TV watching night tonight and hopefully it will be off to Anaheim tomorrow.


2 Days in Anaheim - Sunday 27th - Monday 28th September

Sunday morning was a little bit annoying. We set off from Needles at 9am with a quarter tank of petrol and plans to fill up somewhere along the road. Bad move. After driving for 45 minutes with no sign of Gas, we spotted the turn off for Essex with the familiar "Gas, Food, Lodging" sign. 5 minutes later we arrived in Essex which had only a boarded up Gas station and no sign of life. We then decided to drive back to Needles and fill up as it preferable to being stranded in the desert with no food, gas, water (or lodging for that matter !).

By the time we left Needles for the second time it was 10.45 - but better than being stranded in the desert I suppose. The drive to Anaheim was just over 250 miles and took around 4.5 hours with a stop for lunch in the oh so exciting city of Barstow. I had some food in Taco Bell, just to add to the list of fast food joints I've eaten in over the last few weeks - McDonalds, Wendy's, Burger King, Jack in the Box, Carls Jr to name a few.

In Anaheim we checked into the Brookhurst Plaza Inn for two nights ($33.95 a night with our trusty coupon book !) It was a nice place - big rooms (with fridge, TV & HBO), a swimming pool and spa outside. We spent a couple of hours by the pool soaking up the late afternoon sunshine, watched some TV then went out for dinner. I had Chicken Parmigiani which I'd never had before - the chicken was all greasy and the sauce was sickly - was it a bad immitation or do I just not like that dish ? Maybe I'll have to go to a proper Italian to find out.

On Monday we did Disneyland which was fun, although it seemed smaller and not so exciting as the one in Florida - or maybe that's just because that was nearly 10 years ago ! We spent nearly 8 hours there, visiting each land. Tommorrowland, Fantasyland, Mickey's Toon Town, Critter Country, Adventureland, Main Street U.S.A etc and went on all the rides we could manage. The queues were pretty short - we didn't have to wait much longer than 15 minutes for most of them, maybe because the summer is officially over and it was a Monday. Apparantly the quietest time to go is on Christmas Day, when there are no queues.

At night we got a Chinese Takeaway, flopped on the bed and watched some good old American TV - the new series of Friends was on and Ally McBeal !! Perfect.


Flying Over the International Dateline - Tuesday 29th September

Today we spent some time on a plane - leaving L.A at 3p.m and arriving tomorrow night at 9.30pm. We're missing out half of today and half of tomorrow, so I'm not going to waste much time writing about it !


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