RTW Day 1 – Bournemouth to San Francisco
16th February 2018
A dream start to our trip. The taxi is early and traffic is light. Similarly with the airport bus and there’s no queue at check in. What is going on? 17 minutes after we were due at Heathrow, we’re sitting in the departure lounge. The only hitch so far has been breaking 2 nails getting my case onto the luggage belt.
I knew it was too good to last. Once on board the cabin manager announces that there are 3 nut allergy sufferers so can passengers please refrain from eating nuts. So imagine my surprise when tea is served and consists of a ‘Nutty Nougat Bar’. Virgin Airlines have literally turned my nightmares into a reality. I am, in the words of Bowie, sitting in a tin car far above the earth, surrounded by hundreds of people all simultaneously eating nuts. I complain to the cabin manager. He explains that when Virgin say they are nut free, they are referring specifically to peanuts, and I would know this if I had checked the small print of my booking. I explain that the route operates as a code share. When I booked (with Singapore Airlines) I didn’t even know it was a Virgin flight let alone that the airline has rewritten the English dictionary. There is a full and frank exchange of views (mainly mine). The upshot is being moved to first class for the rest of the trip.
Thankfully this isn’t too long as we land an hour ahead of schedule. From my fancy first class seat I get a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge. And even more exciting, we are through immigration in 20 minutes. A US record by well over an hour. 19 hours door to door, and sitting in our room at the Lombard Plaza Motel. Not bad for a 6000 mile journey involving a taxi, a coach, a plane, a train and a bus.
RTW Day 2 – San Francisco
17th February 2018
First on today’s agenda; Crissy Field parkrun. It’s a lovely scenic route on a riverside trail under the Golden Gate Bridge with an equally lovely walk home via the Palace of Fine Arts, where we get adopted by a swan.
Next on today’s agenda; scrapping said agenda as the old man has hurt his leg running so can’t walk too much.
Obligatory first stop – the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s the sort of iconic view that you can’t help repeatedly photographing even though you know that you’ll get home and realise you have dozens of virtually identical photos.
On to Golden Gate Park. It’s huge and we have to pick some highlights to limit walking so we head for the gorgeous Japanese Tea Garden. There is an entrance fee ($10) and quite a long queue to get in, but it’s worth it!
Next, time to sit and rest a little in the De Young Museum sculpture garden. You have to pay to enter the museum ($15), but the sculpture garden is free.
Back to the hotel for the old man to recover while I go to the supermarket for supplies. I discover ‘6 Layer Dip’ a tub containing layers of refried beans, guacamole, green salsa, red salsa, sour cream and cheese. Wow. But can I count it as my 5 a day?
RTW Day 3 – San Francisco
18th February 2018
Today is a mixture of highs and lows. Highs – visiting Alcatraz and a rollercoaster of a tram ride. Lows – drinking Bud with clam and tomato juice and being called a fat arsed bitch by a tramp.
An early start as we are booked on the first boat to Alcatraz and the old man can’t walk too fast. We cross to the islands, with spectacular views of the city and bay in the process. Then take our head sets for a self guided tour of the island. The old man can’t understand why prisoners would want to escape from a prison where the canteen has an all-you-can-eat policy.
Then it’s on to pier 39 to see the sea lions and eat clam chowder for lunch.
Finally, a ride to Chinatown on the Hyde Powell cable car. The smell of burning from the brakes on the downhill section is most disconcerting.
We walk (hobble) through Chinatown, then catch the bus back to the hotel. And that is Essential San Francisco covered.
Dinner tonight is from the supermarket deli. All the staff of 5 are Vietnamese and the speciality spicy chicken smells amazing. Just the matter of checking it doesn’t contain nuts. The assistant can’t understand my question and calls for backup. They all have a go at trying to understand, even the cleaner has a bash. The manager is summonsed and gives me a printout of the ingredients. There are no nuts but numerous weird sounding chemicals. I am beginning to go off the whole idea. The staff gather round, they are keen to find out what my problem was. The manager explains, in English. They understand perfectly. The language barrier was caused by my accent. I buy Bud with clamato to go with dinner. Then it’s back to the hotel to eat chemical chicken, practise my American English and google clamato. Turns out it means clam and tomato. What on earth induced someone to think adding clam and tomato juice to beer was acceptable behaviour?
RTW Day 4 – Monterey
19th February 2018
Today, up at 7 am. It’s earlier than the people in the room downstairs would like us to get up, which they deal with by banging on the ceiling while we try to pack.
It is time to hit the road, heading south along the coast to Monterey. The old man goes to pick up the hire car (twice because he forgets his passport first time). So we’re running late and by the time he returns, check-out time has passed and I’m sitting in the street surrounded by bags keeping my distance from the abusive tramp. The hire car is enormous, a Nissan Rogue. I feel like a proper American (apart from the fact that I need an interpreter to buy chicken).
We drive down Route 1, which varies between a multi lane highway and a single lane road meandering through the forest along the Pacific coast. We stop for lunch at Santa Cruz, sitting on a rock surrounded by Mesembryanthemum, with the waves crashing in below us and eager gulls circling overhead.
Then we continue to Carmel and 17 Mile Scenic Drive. It is indeed very scenic. If you cut out the golf courses, there are a dozen stops in a 17 mile loop around a woody peninsula overlooking the Pacific.
Each stop has stunning scenery and we work our way round taking lots of photos of the ocean, rocks, forest, ghost trees, harbour seals, deer and bird life. The wind is insane. It’s hard to stand up straight and I look like I’ve been trying to master the Donald Trump combover, but it’s been a great afternoon.
After checking into our hotel in Monterey, we walk along the coastal trail to Cannery Row, famous because Steinbeck wrote a book about it. But the sardines were fished to extinction so now it’s fancy shops and restaurants.
Back to the hotel via Trader Joes for less fancy supplies. Two firsts for me today; my first view of the Pacific and my first Californian beer.
RTW Day 5 – Ridgecrest
20th February 2018
Up early for a run along the Monterey coastal trail. A surreal experience, as it’s one of the virtual routes on the treadmill at my gym. So I’ve run it before on a rainy day in Boscombe, looking out over the A338. In reality, it is next to an even busier road. It’s also way colder than I’d anticipated so I pull the sleeves of my fleece over my hands. Passing runners feel the need to ‘high 5’ which means pulling my hands out of my nice warm sleeves. I watch the sun rising over the Pacific as I run. Not a bad way to start a day.
After what passes for breakfast at a Days Inn, we set off. Today, neither the route nor the destination are of great interest but will bring us close to Death Valley ready for tomorrow. It is a 400 mile drive through mile after mile of vineyards and orchards, up and up through ever more desolate landscape peppered with solar and wind farms. Then, just as we reach 3000 feet, the land opens up and we’re in Red Rock Canyon with its layers of rock in hues of red and yellow.
We end our journey at the Econo Lodge, Ridgecrest. The hotel and the town have seen better days and plenty of them.
The old man goes to ‘explore’ Ridgecrest. I can’t imagine it can possibly have anything to discover, so stay at the hotel. Some considerable time later he reappears, a jibbering wreck. He has trodden on a live power cable sticking out of a hole in the road. I say we should call a doctor but he is convinced beer is the answer.
RTW Day 6 – Death Valley
21st February 2018
I wake up and check the old man has survived the night, despite his encounter with a power cable. He is feeling better so we set off for Death Valley.
The road climbs and climbs until we reach the top of Towne pass. We’re at 4956 feet and it’s zero degrees. Then we descend into the valley on a road that it is more like a roller coaster. By the time we reach the bottom, we’re below sea level and the temperature has risen by 18 degrees.
The variation in the landscape is astounding. First, stop, the sand dunes of Mesquite Flat.
Next, we take a hike through the yellow rocks of Golden Canyon to Red Rock Cathedral.
On to salt flats of Badwater Basin.
Next, the stunning Artists Palette with layers of rock in every imaginable colour.
We make our way out of the park via the folding yellow and black rocks of Zabriskie Point.
The other side of Death Valley, we make stop at the ghost town of Rhyolite, an abandoned gold mining town.
Nearby are a house made of bottles and the quirky Goldwell Outdoor Museum with sculptures made of bandages soaked in plaster.
Home for the night is the Exchange Club Motel, Beatty. Lonely Planet describes Beatty as ‘broken-down’, so expectations are low. The receptionist suggests we have dinner at VFW. We’re through the door, into a room with camouflage covered windows and tables inset with medals and bullets, before we realise VFW stands for Veterans of Foreign Wars. Not surprisingly, most of the patrons are vets (think British Legion with a sprinkling of Hells Angel). But they’re a friendly bunch and we’re made to feel very welcome. The food is good too, although we skip the deep fried Oreos. All in all a very pleasant day.
RTW Day 7 – Las Vegas
22nd February 2018
From the insane natural beauty of Death Valley, today we visit the man made craziness of Las Vegas.
It’s a chilly minus 6 degrees when we set off on the 120 mile journey with 90 miles of fuel, assuming there will be somewhere to fill up en route. 30 miles in and nothing but desert in sight, we are considering turning round, when we spot an Alien Center which also sells fuel (we are on the edge of Area 51).
We reach Las Vegas by 11 am and go for brunch at Planet Hollywood. The old man moans that it costs $20, then polishes off 5 platefuls.
We walk south along the strip, past the various themed hotels; Paris Las Vegas with its Eiffel Tower, New York-New York with its Statue of Liberty and roller coaster, castle-like Excalibur and Egyptian styled Luxor. Along the way we are serenaded by a drunk Elvis on a mobility scooter and bump into Superman on an escalator.
We aim for the Welcome to Las Vegas sign. It’s a lot further than we’d expected and old man tries to convince me to make do with a sign pointing the way to the Welcome to Las Vegas sign.
Sign located and photographed, we return up the strip to check in to the Ellis Island Casino and Brewery and go to the bar to claim our free litre of beer. It comes in a glass flagon with the hotel logo on. There is a difference of opinion on whether this is a cool souvenir of our trip to Vegas or a heavy item to carry with us for the next 30,000 miles.
Then back out to see Vegas lit up after dark and to watch the exploding volcano at Mirage. I hadn’t realised the sheer scale of the strip. In one afternoon we’ve walked 13 miles and only covered the bottom half.
RTW Day 8 – Las Vegas
23rd February 2018
Las Vegas day 2 and to be honest, my tolerance level for this place was one day. We go down for breakfast at 8 am. The restaurant is in the corner of the casino which is already full of gamblers and a surprising number of people drinking beer. Even in my hardcore student days, I don’t recall having beer for breakfast. The hotel breakfast consists of a ‘basket of pastries’. I haven’t seen a fruit or vegetable since we entered Nevada.
Junk food consumed, we take the monorail to the top of the strip to Stratosphere and pay $57 to spend 30 seconds in a lift to the top of the tower.
Then to Circus Circus to watch a man ‘free ladder’. People around us are excited – they recognise him from America’s Got Talent. I assume he went out in the first round. I can’t imagine Simon Cowell standing for such nonsense.
We decide we’ve had enough and return to the hotel, passing Mickey and Minnie Mouse fighting over a bottle of wine.
Back out briefly later to see the dancing fountains at Bellagio, then we return to our hotel (which has its own microbrewery). It’s safe to say I’ve had my fill of Las Vegas.
RTW Day 9 – Grand Canyon
24th February 2018
Today is serious bucket list stuff as we head for the Grand Canyon. I’m excited but a bit nervous. The weather report is for snow and temperatures well below freezing (minus 14 to be precise). We haven’t even packed coats.
After breakfast in a smoke filled casino, we depart Las Vegas, grateful for some fresh air. First, an obligatory stop at the Hoover Dam spanning the Colorado River. On one side it’s Nevada and 9 am whilst on the other it’s Arizona and 10 am. It’s obviously a very clever piece of engineering but it’s also beautifully Art Deco with surprisingly ornate gold doored toilets.
We climb the ramp to the O’Callaghan Tillman bridge, a 2000 foot long vertigo inducing concrete structure with a great view back across the dam.
Next, a detour along Historic Route 66. We stop at Kingman to visit the quirky Route 66 Museum.
Then lunch in Mr D’s diner, a wonderful 50s themed diner with great food. The portions are huge and the old man orders a shake so large it comes in 3 glasses. Completely stuffed, we continue on down Route 66. Lonely Planet has led us to believe that this will be fun. In reality, apart from our stop at Kingman, it’s a desolate 83 mile detour.
We return to the main road at Seligman and get stuck behind a gang of bikers for 50 miles, finally reaching the Grand Canyon 19 minutes before sunset. Just time for a quick visit to the rim. It’s certainly a spectacular view. Mainly hues of red, with a layer of snow around the top.
We check into our motel, Maswik Lodge. We are asked to consider the environment by foregoing room service. I suspect this has more to do with their profit margins and ask how someone making my bed and emptying my bin will affect the environment. The old man gives me ‘the look’ and I forego my rant and my room service. Our room is cosy despite the freezing temperature outside. We are at the far end of the complex. The bar is quite a trek, so we put on every piece of warm clothing we packed and set off through the snow for a beer.
RTW Day 10 – Grand Canyon
25th February 2018
Last night we slept well – it’s quiet like you only get miles from the city. It may be minus 14 outside but the central heating means our room is like a sauna. I take a shower and count the towels. There are 15. I’m tempted to return to reception and discuss the environment some more. We leave our room to discover a herd of deer in the car park trying to work out why their food is covered with weird white stuff.
After a tantalising glimpse last night, today we have a full day to explore the Canyon (from the top – it’s way too icy to consider going down unequipped). We take a shuttle bus to its furthest destination then walk back along the rim trail. There seems to be two sorts of tourist here; the lazy who just want to jump out of a bus, take photos and jump back in the bus and the adventurous who want to hike down into the Canyon. A leisurely stroll along the rim doesn’t seem to appeal to either so we have trail almost to ourselves and wander along enjoying the views and taking multiple photos.
We return to the village, purchase supplies and drive along Hermit’s Road to find a picnic table where we have lunch with the most awesome view.
Upon return to the lodge we find we have been given rewards for foregoing room service – drinking bottles with a Grand Canyon logo.
One last outing to watch the sunset and to buy some Grand Canyon Amber Ale, which apparently is inspired by the sunset but it’s in a brown bottle so who knows? An early night is called for, as we have a long drive in the morning.
RTW Day 11 – Phoenix
26th February 2018
We don’t sleep well, the room is unbearably hot which is ironic as it’s minus 13 outside. I’m tempted to call reception and discuss the environment some more. We give up when the fuel truck arrives at 7 to refill the gas tank opposite our room. Today’s destination is Phoenix, with a couple of stops en route.
We head out of the Canyon along Desert View Drive for our last view scenic views, culminating in the Desert View Watchtower, where you can climb 90 stairs (quite an effort at 7000 feet) for an elevated view of the Canyon and the Colorado River. It’s a scenic place for our breakfast picnic but it’s still just nudging zero degrees and difficult to eat a bagel wearing gloves.
We exit the park and after a brief flirtation with the interstate, divert towards Sedona, at my mum’s suggestion. I’m not convinced. Surely after the Grand Canyon, another red rock canyon will pale into insignificance? But it is red rock awesomeness. Much lower than the Canyon so everything is red, no snow here.
The road entering Sedona drops 2000 feet through half a dozen hairpin bends. We stop at a series of viewpoints as we make our way through the canyon.
Next Montezuma Castle, a 1000 year old 5 storey dwelling made out of caves in the cliff tops.
Tourists have not been allowed into the caves since 1951 but there is a diorama, which looks like a child’s school project, to show what it might have looked like inside.
We arrive in Phoenix after a long drive and 6000 feet descent with the landscape turning from pine to giant cactus. Several layers of clothing need to be discarded along the way. Phoenix is a proper city with proper traffic. We haven’t seen traffic since we left San Francisco a week ago, so a 5 lane freeway with cars zigzagging all over the place is quite stressful.
We check into our hotel – Grand Canyon University. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it is right in the middle of the university campus. It’s very nice and very purple. And it has a laundrette which is a bonus after 10 days of travel. It also has a pool, and it’s 21 degrees. So having spent the morning freezing my arse off, I am lazing by the pool waiting for my laundry before dinner.
RTW Day 12 – Los Angeles
27th February 2018
Today is our longest drive. 380 miles to Los, 366 of it on Route 10, so my awesome navigational skills will not be in great demand. As most of the day will be spent in the car, I get up at 6 am and head for the gym. GCU’s colour is purple and they’ve not skimped on the colour scheme. I run 5 km in a haze of purple motivational quotes before we set off for LA. I forgot to take my camera, so here is a photo I took from the GCU website.
Soon we are back in California and off the map in ‘Lonely Planet Southwest USA’. I’m not sure how California is not in southwest USA and there has been correspondence on the matter. I pointed out that it’s as south and west as the USA gets, but Lonely Planet stood firm. I ended by telling them I hope Donald Trump doesn’t consult Lonely Planet before building his wall, or the whole of California could end up in Mexico.
Two unexpected things happen when we reach the California border; 1) we get stopped by some sort of border police and 2) it starts raining. I’ve seen LA loads of times on TV and it’s never raining. We stop for petrol and snacks in Indio, a town on a plateau circled by mountains. It’s very Spanish. I buy Tapatio flavour Doritos. I’ve no idea what Tapatio is but I do (now) know it’s so spicy it burns my lips so badly they blister.
After 6.5 hours on the road, we reach LA. We’re staying in the Coral Sands Motel, just off Hollywood Boulevard. It’s a bit tired, in fact it’s bordering on the exhausted. The surrounding area in lined with rough sleepers and junkies. I’ve never seen so many people incapable of walking in a straight line. I go to the supermarket next door and the security guard is beating a ‘customer’ with a metre long truncheon. Dinner in our room and staying put till daylight seems like the best option.
RTW Day 13 – Los Angeles
28th February 2018
A day to explore Los Angeles. A good start, we discover blueberry flavour Philadelphia. After breakfast, we take the metro downtown. We have to stand, as the seats have homeless people sleeping on them. The level of homelessness is shocking; every bench, every piece of grass, every staircase has a rough sleeper on it. I googled LA homelessness, the total is a staggering 58,000. And this in a town where so many incredibly wealthy people live.
We walk through Grand Park to visit the wonderfully bonkers architecture of Frank Gehry – the Disney Concert Hall, all silver and weird shapes and angles.
And then on to the ultra modern Our Lady of The Angels Cathedral build when its predecessor was destroyed by an earthquake in the 90s.
We continue our walk through Little Japan, which appears to have a photo of George Takei on every lamppost.
Then we take a bus up the hill to Griffith Park to visit the observatory and take an obligatory selfie with the Hollywood Sign (a little underwhelming).
The observatory is fascinating, even if a lot of it goes right over my head, and the range of exhibits is broad from high tech to a piece of the moon to a representation of the Big Bang in jewellery. The Big Picture, mapping our place in the universe, is mind blowing stuff.
After a record $4 for a bottle of coke, we head back down by bus. In a weird first, the driver pulls up, announces he needs the bathroom and leaves the passengers on the bus with the engine running. I try to convince the old man to steal the bus in a bid to obtain his 15 minutes of fame. We get off at the wrong stop and have to walk through Little Armenia and Thai Town to reach the hotel.
RTW Day 14 – Los Angeles
1st March 2018
Our last day in the USA. I get up and buy breakfast; ‘everything’ bagels and strawberry cream cheese. It’s a weird combination. I hadn’t realised ‘everything’ includes onion and garlic. Strawberries and garlic, not a pairing I’d recommend, although Heston Blumenthal probably has an ice cream that flavour.
We start the day at the brilliant Getty Museum – an example of what you can create when money really is no object. If J P Getty had been born a century later and not struck oil, he would probably have ended up on one of those TV programmes about hoarders. But instead, he became the world’s richest man and amassed a formidable collection of art. Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Turner, Monet, Manet, Degas. It’s all here. The highlight of the collection; Van Gough’s Irises.
There’s also sculpture, furniture, stained glass, it goes on and on. From the funicular railway which transports you from you car to the museum, so you don’t have bother with troublesome walking, to spectacular gardens endowed with sculptures to JPG’s huge art collection, it really is a spectacle.
A last jaunt to the ocean before a long night on a plane. To Santa Monica for a picnic on the beach and a wander along the boulevard.
We pass Muscle Beach with a disappointing lack of muscle on display and a along the pier before departing for the airport.
Our two week US jaunt is over. From California to LA, via Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, we have covered a total of 2040 miles. We check in for our flight. It’s packed and we appear to be the only ones without surfboards. I feel like I’ve gate crashed a surf party. No surfing for us, next stop Fiji and a sun lounger by the pool.