Author Archives: Samwise

Seattle – end of the line

In the not too distant past, my mum met an American girl travelling in London. Fast forward a few years (and a few kids), and for our final few days we’ve stayed with the Gangwish family in Seattle, keeping the link going! After getting back into America after the ferry from Victoria, Byron met us outside the terminal building and we headed out to Renton. We’ve stayed at Byron and his wife Jen’s place, and considering we hadn’t seen each other since we were about 11, we got on pretty well! Not much has changed in that time, South Park is still funny, but nowadays we can drink beer as well.

Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier

The Frasier skyline

The Frasier skyline

After catching up with Sharon and reminiscing about her and my mom’s adventures in the 70’s, we spent our first full day in Seattle being proper tourists. We took the monorail, posed in front of the Space Needle (but were too cheap to go up it), and went to the EMP Museum. This is an amazing place, originally a Pacific Northwest music museum, it now has some excellent other exhibitions too. As well as the Nirvana and Hendrix features, including clothes, music, fan letters and more, there was a Sci-fi area, Fantasy exhibits and a horror movie hall. Being funded by Microsoft’s other guy, Paul Allen, it was full of cool interactive technology with crazy geeky memorabilia. Awesome.

Lego or real?

Lego or real?

Real or Lego?

Real or Lego?

Da da da daaaa da

Da da da daaaa da

My name is Inigo Montoya...

My name is Inigo Montoya…

In the afternoon we checked out the world famous Pike Place Market, complete with fish-throwing, the original Starbucks (stupidly big queue), the gum wall and the waterfront. Completing the all-American day of fun, we met up with the Gangwish crew outside of Safeco Field and went to watch the baseball! The Seattle Mariners vs. the Chicago Whitesox, and it was brilliant. Baseball is a sport you can zone in and out of, and there was a really nice chilled atmosphere, with lots of families and it was a very pleasant way to enjoy a couple of beers and take in the views from the stadium, designed to allow a clear view of the Seattle skyline. The Mariners won 4-1, and I’m pretty sure I understand most of the rules now.

The postcard shot

The postcard shot

Must be joke here somewhere...

Must be joke here somewhere…

Take me out to the ball game!

Take me out to the ball game!

Best seats and view in the house

Best seats and view in the house

Swing, batter batter batter

Swing, batter batter batter

The second day we did more of the same, exploring Seattle on foot and doing some shopping for a couple of presents and souvenirs, much against my wishes. I feel like everyone should just be happy to see us, but Mrs H insisted. We also visited the 73rd floor of the Columbia Center, the tallest building and indeed tallest views in the PNW. Panoramic views over the city, sound, lakes and mountain, and cheaper than the Space Needle!

Attempted arty shot

Attempted arty shot

Pioneer Square

Pioneer Square

Nosebleed territory

Nosebleed territory

A $12 view

A $12 view

The homes of sport

The homes of sport

Sum bleddy tall

Sum bleddy tall

That night, Sharon cooked us some amazing Alaskan salmon, before we got the Byron and Jen’ college experience by playing a few rounds of beer pong. My accuracy was not good towards the end, but Laura was a bit of a shark and managed to avoid too much beer.

Learning from a pro

Learning from a pro

MR and Mrs G

MR and Mrs G

Falling behind on the drinks

Falling behind on the drinks

Illegal leaning

Illegal leaning

For the last full day of our entire trip, Byron and Jen took us on a bit of tour of more Seattle highlights. Jimi Hendrix’s grave, complete with multiple half smoked joints left in tribute, the crazy looking Fremont Troll and a couple of beers in the Gasworks Park, overlooking Lake Union. Our final night, and we eased ourselves back into English culture with a trip to see the Seattle Sounders play ’soccer’! The atmosphere was incredible! We thought that the Americans weren’t too fussed about proper football but I haven’t never experienced an atmosphere like this in England.

The Hendrix shrine

The Hendrix shrine

The Fremont Troll

The Fremont Troll

Lake Union

Lake Union

After a few beers, we joined up with a big crowd in Pioneer Square, and then with chants and a brass band, marched down to the stadium. Our seats were amazing, right in the hardcore superfan section behind the goal. Guys stood at the front directing the chants, flags and scarves were everywhere the sound was phenomenal. We didn’t sit down for 90 minutes, it was so intense! The ground is also used by the Seahawks and is the loudest in the NFL, and the 50,000 soccer fans made the earth shake. We got all the action at our end too, with the Sounders saving a penalty, scoring two goals in the second half and having a guy sent off. And, this being America, the whole thing was a gigantic spectacle, with fireworks, flags and flames shooting up to celebrate the goals. As Mitchell eloquently put it, “this is insane dude!”.

From the Cascades, to the Sea!

From the Cascades, to the Sea!

The Emerald Army

The Emerald Army

Byron confused by soccer

Byron confused by soccer

Superfan!

Superfan!

And now, we are sat in SeaTac aiport, spending the last few dollars and waiting to board the plane home (via a quick stop in Iceland). Rest assured dear reader, there will be more blogs on this year for all kinds of top tens, costs and future plans. For now though, we’ve had an excellent final few days of our trip in Seattle, and will definitely be back.

Half time calm

Half time calm

2-0

2-0

America! F&@k Yeah!

America! F&@k Yeah!

More goals should shoot fire

More goals should shoot fire

SOUNDERS TILL I DIE! SOUNDERS, SOUNDERS, BORN IN ’74!

The last supper

The last supper

Goodnight Seattle, we love you

Goodnight Seattle, we love you

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Categories: Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

PDX and the PNW

The Oregon Coast is beautiful, and it’s shame we didn’t get to spend more time exploring it. Like a lot of places so far in America, we need to come back one day. Without even looking around Yachats, we were on the road the morning after Crater Lake. The stretch of coast we did drive up was awesome, with the obligatory stunning lighthouse / cliffs / sea / yet another whale sighting vista stops.

Awesome Oregon

Awesome Oregon

Turning inland, we got to McMinnville, and stopped there to meet some friends we’d met in Fiji. Eric and Erin have just returned home to the US after almost 3 years living away in Korea and then NZ (see, it could have been worse mum). We had a great lunch with those guys, and then a tasty and super strong craft beer, before pushing on to Portland. So many people had told us how cool, fun and generally weird it is and in our 3 days there it didn’t disappoint.

Erin, Laura and Ben Franklin

Erin, Laura and Ben Franklin

We stayed in an AirBnB about ten minutes out of downtown, with an amazing woman called Judy. She was a brilliant hostess, cooking us breakfast each morning and giving us lots of good info and tips about the city. It was like staying with family or a friend, and the room and bed were super comfy too! We arrived in the early evening, and caught the bus into town. We knew Oregon was famous for crafty beers, but we didn’t know it was the 27th Annual Oregon Brewfest that weekend, right on the waterfront. So, new (and totally impractical for long term travel) beer glasses and beer tokens in hand, we sampled a few beers each and soaked up the atmosphere. Things could have turned ugly when Law asked for cider and I thought we’d be run out of town, but we managed to find a berry fruity ale instead!

Brewfest selfie

Brewfest selfie

Berry nice ale

Berry nice ale

The following day we explored the city, which was experiencing a bit of a heat wave while we were there. The views from the Rose Garden in the west hills were amazing, over the city out to Mt. Hood on the horizon. Downtown, we got ridiculously lucky and found a free parking space, and proceeded to spend the day ticking off all the touristy highlights.

Mt Hood overlooking the city

Mt Hood overlooking the city

Posing in the roses

Posing in the roses

The enormous Powell’s Books, which fills an entire city block almost, was amazing. We spent a couple of hours browsing and reading in there, and managed to limit ourselves to minimal purchases. A very cool place. From there we headed into the Saturday Market, full of craft things and people performing and generally keeping Portland weird. In the afternoon we had coffee at a cool little independent place, lunch from food carts and queued for about 40 minutes in the baking sun for the world famous Voodoo doughnuts. Totally worth it.

Prepping for the return to work

Prepping for the return to work

As the sign says...

As the sign says…

The voodoo queue

The voodoo queue

Totally worth it!

Totally worth it!

The next day, we got out of the city and had some fun in the nearby Columbia River Gorge. The river divides Oregon and Washington, and houses (of course) some amazing scenery. Having not gotten around to doing this in NZ, we decided it was now or never for white water rafting and we spent a few hours getting wet, cold and working out on the river. We went with Wet Planet Rafting, based on the White Salmon river just across the border in Washington. The half day trip was brilliant, lasting about 4 hours and really good fun.

Crossing the border

Crossing the border

Ready to get wet

Ready to get wet

The guides were great, bantering with us and each other, and making sure everyone was safe. The rapids weren’t too extreme, from class 2 to 4, and some of them felt pretty epic. At one point we had to get out and walk alongside a waterfall that was too high to go over, with the option to jump off a 20 foot ledge on the other side. Obviously I was straight over, and I was very proud of Mrs H for following suit and not wussing out like a few people did! The river was pretty cold and flowing quite fast, but the helmets, wetsuits and life jackets kept us alive!

Husum Falls, bigger than it looks

Husum Falls, bigger than it looks

At the end of the day, we went over the 10 foot high Husum Falls. This was optional, and the guides warned people it could all go upside down, but we braved it anyway. Just as the boat got vertical we hit the water with a shock, but everyone managed to stay aboard our raft. An awesome end to the trip. After this, we drove back the scenic highway along the river, passing by waterfalls and vista points constantly great scenery. At the end of the day, we were knackered and Judy, being the amazing hostess she is, cooked us dinner!

Multnomah Falls

Multnomah Falls

The Columbia a River vista!

The Columbia a River vista!

Nowhere near enough time there, but brilliant few days in Portland.

Cannon Beach, some angry clouds

Cannon Beach, some angry clouds

Moving on the next day, we hit the coast again at Cannon Beach for a picnic, then Ecola State Park. Amazing coastal scenery here and best of all was Indian Beach, the place that was used instead of Belles Beach at the end of Point Break! More than worth the $5 park fee. That night we stayed in Astoria, home of one of the greatest films ever made. It was still pretty hot out, but I made Law walk a couple of miles in the evening to find 648 38th Avenue. Why? Because this is the house they used in the Goonies! And for Film Studies bonus points, we passed by the Astoria Elementary School which is where Arnie worked in Kindergarten Cop! Geek overload.

Lose something bra?

Lose something bra?

A sharp whistle gets the kids in order

A sharp whistle gets the kids in order

Goonies never say die... And apparently also like Israel

Goonies never say die… And apparently also like Israel

Awesome

Awesome

The next couple of days, the last ones of our road trip with the car, were spent on the Olympic Peninsula. We quickly ran out of superlatives on this blog for scenery, but again this was just amazing. From Astoria we crossed the 4 mile long bridge into Washington, and cruised through the forests and logging towns until we got to Lake Quinault. After a bite to eat we had to take a dip in the stunningly clear blue water, flanked by the pines and spruces and with Mountains on the horizon.

Lake Quinault

Lake Quinault

Post lunch dip

Post lunch dip

That wasn’t it for the day though, and making the most of the glorious weather inland we stopped at the Hoh Rain Forest and went for a walk. The trails here pretty flat so while we discussed my impending joblessness and Law’s impending new job same placeness, we enjoyed the huge trees, hanging moss and glacial river. Nice.

Thinking about office work

Thinking about office work

Gnarly mossy trees!

Gnarly mossy trees!

Pushing on, we didn’t stop in Forks, the home of Twilight and a pretty grim looking town altogether, and got to our accommodation in another cabin in the woods. This one was the winner, thanks to the unexpected and deliciously homemade breakfast that awaited us in the fridge! That night, braving the grey mizzle and wind, we drove down the road a bit towards Rialto Beach. The weather just added to the wildness of the place, with huge cliff stacks and whole trees of driftwood. Huddling together and drinking our wine from a plastic cup, we spotted a pod of dolphins and watched them play about in the surf for the next half an hour. Another of those holy-crap-unforgettable-type moments.

Rialto Beach 'sunset'

Rialto Beach ‘sunset’

Proper Cornish picnic weather

Proper Cornish picnic weather

Dolphins!

Dolphins!

Another long blog so far but we are nearly at the end of our trip so are fitting a lot in! This is the last bit, I promise. The following morning, the skies on the coast had cleared and we went back down to Rialto. It looked totally different in this weather, and with the tide low we walked to the end and climbed through the hole in the rock. It has a real end of the world primal feel with the cliffs and trees and I took a lot of photos. A lot. Also, seeing as we hadn’t done this yet in the states, despite passing by Venice and Malibu, I made us get in the sea. It was very, very cold!

Rialto with views

Rialto with views

Anti vampire weather

Anti vampire weather

Textbook wide arm pose

Textbook wide arm pose

Cold!

Cold!

I took a lot of photos

I took a lot of photos

Bald Eagle, looking rather majestic

Bald Eagle, looking rather majestic

Driftwood trees

Driftwood trees

For the twi-hards

For the twi-hards

After removing my finger from the camera long enough to drive, we turned east into the park. Lunch and another, warmer dip in Crescent Lake, and then up into the mountains to Hurricane Ridge. After doing the short trails around the visitors centre, and despite the relatively late time of the day, I convinced Law that a hike up Hurricane Hill would be a good idea. A sweaty mile and a half uphill later, and the panoramic views of the Olympic Mountain Range, endless forests, the Straits of San Juan de Fuca over to Vancouver Island and Canada (our next stop) and all the way out to the Pacific proved me right. The mountain goats wandering around helped make my case too.

Warming up after the sea

Warming up after the sea

Olympic views

Olympic views

Forgoing shopping to hike

Forgoing shopping to hike

Mind-blowing meadowy mountains

Mind-blowing meadowy mountains

Horny

Horny

Looking at Canada

Looking at Canada

Yet another vista

Yet another vista

Reservoir Goats

Reservoir Goats

Bambi lost

Bambi lost

This meant we got in late to Port Townsend which we’d like to have had a more time in, but the huge fish burgers and wine gave us a nice taste of the town and were a great final meal of our US roadtrip. The following morning, we drove down to Bainbridge early, caught the ferry to Seattle and said goodbye to the mighty Nissan Versa after 3180 amazing miles.

Back to backpacking

Back to backpacking

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On the road

Spoiler alert: this is a long blog with a lot of pictures. Blame America.

The day we left San Francisco, the city was wet and grey so we we were glad to have done the cycling in the sun the day before. But as we got further north, and the sun came out we had a great day of road tripping. Highway 1 continued to wind around the coast, and the scenery was just as spectacular as the Big Sur. Surf beaches, mountains into the sea, cliff stacks and ridiculous views all day. We stopped for a picnic at one point, and once again saw a whale swimming by!

Big Sur NoCal style

Big Sur NorCal style

Not the worst looking picnic spot

Not the worst looking picnic spot

Bodega Bay was a cool little town to stop in, and we had some tasty chowder at The Birds Cafe, named after the fact that Alfred Hitchcock filmed some of the classic film there.

Spot the tourist

Spot the tourist

At the end of the day we stopped in Fort Bragg. It wasn’t the nicest motel in the world, or the prettiest of towns, and the weird smell of Indian food clashing with weed kept wafting into our room! But it was fine and cheap, and the free pastry in the morning was alright.

The American motel experience. Funky smell!

The American motel experience. Funky smell!

The following day was another load of epic driving, and through some more of the most stunning scenery. After another stretch of coast, we turned inland at the end of Highway 1 and into the Redwoods. These are some of the tallest trees in the world and the road felt endless as we cruised through the thick forests. After the coast, the sea of green that surrounded us so different. We drove through the kitchy Chandelier tree, that had a tunnel cut through the trunk for carriages back in the day, and tourists with $5 today!

Tough to keep your eyes on the road

Tough to keep your eyes on the road

She just squeezed thru

She just squeezed thru

After this we pulled off the highway, and took the scenic Avenue of Giants. This is a 30 mile stretch of road twisting through the huge trees. There were various groves to stop in, and we spent a lot of time wandering amongst the trees and craning our necks. It’s impossible to capture the scale of the Redwoods in pictures, but we tried!

Big wood

Big wood

Sum bleddy stump!

Sum bleddy stump!

They're this big

They’re this big

That night, we stayed at a campsite just outside Crescent City right in a Redwood forest. Drinking wine and having a picnic outside our cabin and seeing the sun set on the trees was a pretty good end to a couple of epic days of driving. From the craziness of LA to the coast and now these trees, via Yosemite, California has got a lot going for it!

Awesome name for road

Awesome name for a road

Glamping in the Redwoods

Glamping in the Redwoods

The next day, we hit the road early pushed on into Oregon. Since seeing an image of Crater Lake in a Reader’s Digest type book as kid, I’d always wanted to go there. We weren’t sure we’d fit it in as it was quite a detour from the coast, but we are so glad we did! The drive out there was awesome, as we slowly climbed through more redwoods and forests, passing by a river gorge and a lot of crazy looking Sasquatch chainsaw-made statues. Also, we learned the states have some different laws – so far no sales tax (awesome), and you aren’t allowed to pump your own gas here.

Laura didn't believe until she saw this evidence

Laura didn’t believe until she saw this evidence

However, as we got higher and closer to the park, the skies got greyer. Crater Lake is supposed to be an amazing sight – as the name suggests, the lake is at the top of a mountain in the crater formed when the volcano exploded thousands of years ago. It’s water is entirely made up of snowmelt and rain, and is some of the purest in the world. When we got there on the afternoon after our early start we saw… nothing.

Our first view of the lake

Our first view of the lake

The whole top of the mountain that the lake lies in was swamped in super thick fog! The scenic 30+ mile drive around the rim, which we started and then abandoned, had visibility of about 10 feet – it was crazy! So, after joining the crowds of slightly angry Americans in the visitor centre (”And you’re saying you’re not sure if the weather will clear!? Great thanks”. The poor park rangers got this and worse) we headed back to our cabin in the woods and drowned our sorrow with a huge meal in the diner across the road.

Fortunately, the next day was the complete opposite. We got up early, and the sun was out and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Our first proper sight of the lake from the rim was breathtaking. The water is so blue it’s hard to describe, and we stopped a few more times on the rim drive to take photos and just stare gormlessly from different angles. But, in the spirit of making the most our time in the area, I had found out what the highest mountain in the National Park was and made us climb it!

First proper view!

First proper view!

Happier with this weather

Happier with this weather

The Phantom Ship

The Phantom Ship

Mount Scott is just under 9000 feet, but it wasn’t too difficult a hike. After an hour of switchbacks and sweating, we were at the top. The views were incredible. The lake is obviously the big draw and dominates the western view, but staring in all directions was awesome. We could see some of the Cascade Mountains, tipped in snow, and all around were endless green forests and no sign of civilisation. Incredible and so worth it. Plus, because it’s a hike and not too easily accessible, there were hardly any people up there!

Not for everyone first thing in the morning

Not for everyone first thing in the morning

To the top, past snow!

To the top, past snow!

Leading the way

Leading the way

Worth the hike

Worth the hike

Amazing

Amazing

After climbing to the highest point in the park, we did the next obvious thing and got to the lowest. The lake itself is only reachable by one trail because the sides of the crater are so steep and unstable. Boat tours are available but expensive, so there were quite a few people trekking down to the small dock at the base of the trail. But just beyond the dock, the path moves on to the most natural cliff jump spot I’ve ever seen. Yeah, you can climb down to dip your toes in the safe way, but really when else are you going to get to jump into the crater at the top of a volcano, into the deepest and purest lake in America?

Hoping it's deep enough

Hoping it’s deep enough

Hell of swimming pool

Hell of a swimming pool

Surprisingly it wasn’t that cold, and I was quite happy swimming around peering into the stunning blue depths. After drying off and hiking back to the top, we found a quiet spot on the rim for one of our most scenic picnics yet! Crater Lake, like Yosemite and some parts of New Zealand and the rest of this trip, is one of those wow places that we’ll never forget.

Crater Lake...

Crater Lake…

Another decent lunch spot

Another decent lunch spot

Epic

Epic

But that wasn’t all our fun for the day. After leaving the lake we had the small matter of a 200 mile drive back west to the coast to deal with. Continuing Oregon’s trend of being really damn good looking, the drive was amazing. The entire way wound down through the trees, along rivers and gorges and was just stunning. When we finally hit the coast, the pretty continued. First the huge sand dunes, then rough and rugged coast with forests right down the cliffs into the sea and picturesque lighthouses. After a bite to eat in Florence, we watched the sunset into the Pacific and finally made it to our motel in Yachats in the dark.

Back to the coast

Back to the coast

Risking RSI from too many selfies

Risking RSI from too many selfies

In these four days we racked up a lot of miles, and could have hit Portland, our next stop, in a much more direct route. But this section of the road trip was just incredible. Long driving, windswept and wild coastline, the tallest trees on earth, huge American portions of food and unique natural wonders. The best zigzagging detour ever.

Sunset from Cook's Chasm, Oregon

Sunset from Cook’s Chasm, Oregon

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West Coast – the best coast?

When we were in Beijing, way back at the start of this trip, a guy from San Francisco told us this when we were talking about travel plans. Almost a year later, and the west coast road trip has begun!

Road trip face

Road trip face

Malibu Laura

Malibu Laura

With LA in the rear view mirror, we started cruising up the Pacific Coast. We didn’t get far before stopping in Malibu, strolling out along the pier and although we didn’t see any celebrity beach houses (we think), you can see why they’d live here. From there we pushed on north, the road winding around the coast making for some pretty special views, just an a few miles into the trip.

Straight into the pretty

Straight into the pretty

After a couple of hours we were in Santa Barbara and we decided to stop for lunch. Resisting the temptation for burgers and pizzas, and after wandering around the town for a while, we had a picnic on the beach before grabbing a nice ice cream on the pier. A small scoop is pretty big in America apparently.

Santa Barbara picnic

Santa Barbara picnic

Small scoops

Small scoops

Another day, another pier

Another day, another pier

From Santa Barbara we left the coast for a bit and drove into Solvang, a bizarrely quaint little town. It was originally a Danish settlement, and retains a very Scandinavian feel, right down to the windmills and Christmas shop! We didn’t stay long though because our final destination for that night, San Luis Obispo, had a farmer’s market on in the evening. I think it’s the reason Law chose SLO for us to stay.

Law finally takes the wheel

Law finally takes the wheel

Solvang - are windmills Danish?

Solvang – are windmills Danish?

They'm no Barnies maid

They’m no Barnies maid

It actually was a really nice town, and it was a good night to be there with the market on. About 4 or 5 blocks of the Main Street were totally full of people and stalls, with so much food to chose from! We ended up going with a burrito, and again what we thought was a small turned out to be huge. It was a good choice, but a tough call as we also saw, of all things, a stall selling pasties, albeit with a California twist. It wouldn’t have been right to try them, so we washed our burrito down with some cake and hit the sack.

Mmm...

Mmm…

We didn’t cover much ground the next day, but did pack a lot in. In the morning we went back to the coast and to Morro Bay, a cool little fishing town with a massive granite island / rock on the edge of the harbour. Watching the sailing boats and seals go by, we had some fish tacos and amazing garlic fries, and realised that America may not be the best place for healthy eating. After Morro, we went to Cambria, a really cool little town just off the coast where we’d be staying the night. We weren’t done for the day though, as we’d booked tickets for a look around Hearst Castle about 10 miles away.

Morro Babe

Morro Babe

A queue? Must be some good garlic fries

A queue? Must be some good garlic fries

It was mental. Insanely over the top opulence, with a bizarre mash of different styles and periods thrown together on top of a mountain. It was built by William Randolph Hearst, a newspaper magnate throughout the first half of the 20th century, the Murdoch of the day. The place was his west coast retreat, a ’ranch’ to entertain in and relax in. It took almost 30 years to build and was just nuts. From the road you can see what looks like palm tree ringed white palace, and once up the hill it just gets better. The front looks like a 14th century Spanish cathedral, with a mix of statues and bits of art decorating the building from all over the world and all over history.

The Castle on the hill

The Castle on the hill

Hell of a front door

Hell of a front door

"Hearst was a man of the people"

“Hearst was a man of the people”

We had a tour of the ground floor, led by a guy who loved his job (and Mr Hearst), who passionately talked about his life and the building. The insides are massive, stately rooms, filled with a range of historical and purpose made fixtures. Huge tapestries and paintings cover the walls, ancient church choir seats “saved” are throughout, the ceilings are hundreds of years old and dining room looked like Hogwarts. Outside, tennis courts, guest houses bigger than normal houses, palm trees and a huge ’Neptune’ pool are surrounded by panoramic views of the mountains and sea. It was amazing, like being in a medieval episode of Cribs. Possibly more money than he knew what to do with, but a really fun place to visit.

Don't think he got the dining room from IKEA

Don’t think he got the dining room from IKEA

The smaller, indoor pool

The smaller, indoor pool

After Cambria, we spent the day doing one of the most famous stretches of road in the country, the Big Sur. The road from Hearst Castle up to Monterey is about 100 miles, winding around the sides of mountains that drop into the sea, past beaches that are beautiful, wild and barren at the same time rarely out of sight of the Pacific. Rocks and cliffs jut out of the sea with waves crashing, and around the next bend a colony of sea lions basks on a beach. We spent the whole day on the drive, stopping to take photos and just enjoy the views.

Big Sur begins

Big Sur begins

It's a seal's life

It’s a seal’s life

Constantly amazing views

Constantly amazing views

The road ranged from busy to fairly quiet, and for some stretches we were on our own. At other points, crowds can stop at the same place but it’s for good reason. At Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, cars are stopped all along the road, and by hopping the fence and walking a short track you see why. A pristine cove, naturally sheltered, with a waterfall dropping right down onto the sand. Just out to sea, a whale was swimming past, blowing and diving away. Amazing. And later, we just pulled off the road and made lunch, just us and the view.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns beach

Julia Pfeiffer Burns beach

Thar she blows! Same whale as in Kaikoura?

Thar she blows! Same whale as in Kaikoura?

Bixby Bridge

Bixby Bridge

By the time we reached the famous Bixby Bridge, which spans a creek and is ridiculously photogenic, we had almost filled a memory card with images that will never do it justice. We did find the time and energy to explore the über-quaint town of Carmel, which was very pleasant if a little too posh for backpackers! Considering Clint Eastwood used to be the Mayor, the lack of Western/Dirty Harry memorabilia was disappointing!

From there we finished up in Monterey, and spent the evening wandering around the town. Deciding to avoid the pricier food on the wharf, we ended up with massive burgers in a sports bar instead. For our final day (for a little while) on the coast, we spent the morning around Cannery Row and in the Monterey Bay Aquarium. There are some amazing exhibits there, and the fact we got discounted entry tickets from the AirBnB host we stayed with helped us enjoy it even more. The giant fish tanks were awesome, the sea otters very cute, but the highlight was eerily lit jellyfish tanks. Very cool.

Steinbeck street

Steinbeck street

A bit Bond villain maybe

A bit Bond villain maybe

Hammer time!

Hammer time!

Only a tiny bit of the route covered, but so far, the west coast is living up to the billing it got all those months ago.

Viewtastic

Viewtastic

Categories: USA | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

US(L)A

America, f@#k yeah!

America, f@#k yeah!

So, we are in America! The last landmass, last but one country, and last month and a bit of our gap yah. Back in the northern hemisphere, and into the summer and a land where the sun doesn’t set at 5.45pm! The change of pace from our last couple of months in NZ and Fiji, where we took things easy and took our time travelling, has been extreme. We’ve been doing different things every day and in just our first week have done so much. The blog feels a bit behind, so we’re now trying to catch up a bit.

Driving here is scary for all kinds of reasons

Driving here is scary for all kinds of reasons

Our flight out of Fiji left at 9.30pm on the 6th July, and after some uncomfortable sleep and the massively disappointing Anchorman 2, we landed 11 or so hours later in LA. It was about 1.30pm on the 6th July, a hell of long day. Dateline crossed, we kept our wits at the border control counter – “What exactly is the nature of your relationship?”, got our bags and then encountered the first big challenge…

We had booked a car for the first three and bit weeks here, which is all good in theory but when you’re a bit dazed and confused the 6 lane freeways and driving on the right side of the road can be a bit scary. I was pretty pleased when we made it off the freeway and into Santa Monica and found the apartment we were staying in. Tensest 10 miles ever. The place we were staying was great, and the friendly owner drove us off down toward her place at Venice Beach that evening. Coming from the peace and quiet of our last few months, the crowds, traffic and heat were a bit intense. We were loving it pretty soon though, it just feels and looks so iconically American. The pier and boardwalk, the flags, the Baywatch style lifeguard huts and the Stars and Stripes. Awesome.

Hasselhoff was ere

Hasselhoff was ere

Venice Beach

Venice Beach

Only in America

Only in America

After a fairly epic sleep, we drove into the city and found the way to Hollywood. Cheesey and crowded, the walk of fame, Chinese Theatre and all the textbook sights were so cool to actually see. Laura was disappointed that I only took photos of obscure stars, but Gene Roddenberry is a legend. The driving was a bit scary still though, so we ended up haggling a discount for an open top tour ride around all the sights. Very touristy, but totally worth the $25. Mullholland Drive, the Hollywood sign, Beverley Hills, Rodeo Drive, Sunset Blvd and various celebrity homes – surprisingly good fun.

90210 baby!

90210 baby!

The drama degree finally pays off

The drama degree finally pays off

Iconic... And slightly hazy

Iconic… And slightly hazy

Hef's front gate

Hef’s front gate

One of the big questions for our time here had to be answered – Disneyland or Universal Studios? I’ve never been to any kind of Disney, but we could get to the one in Paris easier than a return to LA so Universal won out, and we had an amazing day there. We got in reasonably early, and went straight to the lower lot where the big rides are. At this point the queues were quite short and first up we went for Transformers. It blew our minds! Even the queue was entertaining, designed like a military bunker with various videos being shown. The ride itself is a really intense simulator, and it totally felt like we were in an Autobot / Decepticon smack down.

Best. Day. Ever!

Best. Day. Ever!

Roll out!

Roll out!

The Jurassic Park ride was awesomely old school, animatronic dinosaurs and a massive water slide with a soaking ending. The Mummy ride was also great, a roller coaster / house of horrors hybrid. The Studio Tour was a real highlight, going through various famous sets like the Bates Motel, western, Mexican and European towns, the neighbourhood with the crashed 747 from War of the Worlds and the street from The Burbs (Desperate Housewives made it slightly more famous I guess). Amity, complete with Jaws attack and the King Kong simulator were also great fun.

Jurassic Park gets you...

Jurassic Park gets you…

... Wet!

… Wet!

SHARK!!!

SHARK!!!

Waterworld. Better than the film

Waterworld. Better than the film

The whole day was awesome, all the rides great and we definitely got our money’s worth. I think we saw everything on the park map, even the kids’ rides. The next day we capped off our time in the City of Angels / mental roads, with two quintessentially LA experiences. We spent the morning and early afternoon wandering around Santa Monica and Venice, checking out the fair on the pier, Muscle Beach (not many people working out), the boardwalks and the general slightly freaky atmosphere. In the evening, we went and watch a sitcom being taped and became immortalised as part of the “live studio audience”.

Workin it

Workin it

It’s free to go and see things taped, so we checked what was on and booked a few weeks ago. Slim pickings, so we ended up watching a show called The Exes being shot. It stars Donald Faison (Turk from Scrubs), Wayne Knight (Seinfeld) and Kristen Johnson (3rd Rock), and whilst it probably won’t make it onto our box set list, it was a great night. A stand up comic keeps the audience warmed up all night, before and during shooting, and ensures that you laugh at the right moments. It must be a hell of a job, especially on the 3rd or 4th take when we’d all heard the jokes a few times! It was the comedian’s birthday as well, so we got treated to a singalong as Turk jumped into the audience and sang Stevie Wonder’s Happy Birthday – surreally cool! No cameras allowed though 😦

As well as these celebs, our first genuine star spot came the day before. After touring Hollywood and Beverly Hills, the first proper famous person we saw was Eddie Marsan, a British actor, coming out of the supermarket. I said “big fan, sorry”, and he went “hello”. So LA.

LA wasn’t really one of the main places we wanted to visit in the states, but we had such a good time there. The size and traffic and heat were all intense, but there is so much to do and we’d love to go back there one day. But manifest destiny and go west young man and all that, so after 4 great days the road trip began properly, and we hit the Pacific Coast Highway.

Bye LA, thanks!

Bye LA, thanks!

Categories: USA | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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