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Aug 03, 2007

The US Of A

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This was our trip home from the UK to NZ.  We flew into LA and stayed at a hostel at Venice Beach which had bed bugs but plenty of nice people.  I checked my bed about 20 times a day so yes, I did become a little paranoid.  On the upside we were 1 minute walk from venice beach and all the bizarre people that hang out down there.  It certainly is a different world!  On the first night when we were jet lagged and trying to sleep there was a show (Californication) being filmed outside our window so that was entertaining.  I saw David Duchovney, my first famous person - actually not that exciting but hey.  

On our first day there we took the bus across town to Hollywood where we walked the boulevard and then took a tour in a stretch hummer around the stars homes, Mulholland Drive, Beverly Hills etc.  We even got pulled over by a Beverly Hills Cop because the tour companies are banned from being in those areas.  That evening we walked down to Santa Monica Pier and had dinner - quite a decent walk from Venice Beach.  We spent the next day walking around the beach and looking at all the weird and wonderful people trying to make a living from basically anything you can think of.  There was a guy begging with a sign saying "Why lie, it's for booze".  We also met the 'World's Greatest Pothead and the 'World's Greatest Wino' and some scary little muscley man.  It's kind of like a free circus down there!  

From LA we took the Greyhound bus to Vegas.  Although it is named after a fast dog that is where the similarity ends.  Our bus ran 2 hours late in leaving LA and then somehow took an extra hour along the way too so we spent all day getting to Vegas.  We stayed at the Luxor hotel which was pretty cool.  On our first day there we got sucked into a timeshare presentation by free gifts.  However we managed to get out of there without buying a timeshare and ended up $150 better off for our time.  Of course that money went straight back into the casino but hey, at least it wasn't our money.  So the rest of the time in Vegas was spent looking around all the amazing hotels - the Venetian and Paris are amazing!  The evenings were spent at the buffet and then at the pokies, which is great for free drinks!  I was up until 2:30am on the last night trying to use up my last $10 and in the end I went to bed with $10 in my pocket!  All in all we had a great time in Vegas and would love to go back.  You really have to experience it.

After 4 or so days in Vegas we flew up to Bellingham, WA to stay with some friends that we had met travelling in Italy.  It was great to get a more 'real' american experience including shooting M16's in the backyard (cos everyone does that!) and a family barbecue, and the all important trip to Walmart.  We went to Vancouver for a day and up to the mountains on another.  The scenery there is really beautiful.  It was also a great break from fast food and we had a great time catching up with our friends.  The highlight had to be the demolition derby where there were about 7 or 8 heats of cars.  The best was the pickups where one guy got shunted so hard on the side that his pickup rolled.  All very exciting.  It was smalltown US and I can honestly say I have never ever seen that many baby strollers in one place before!

We were planning on catching up with some other friends in Seattle but that fell through so we spent a day in Seattle just looking around.  The fishmarket were great and we went and had a look at the space needle too.  We flew from there to San Francisco the next day.  We got off the train and started the trek up the hill to our hostel, not knowing exactly how far it was.  With 2 suitcases, 2 packs and 2 carry bags and the hill getting steeper we decided to get a taxi which took us approx 3 minutes to get us to our hostel.  Of course with all that stuff where would be be but the top floor at the very end of the hall!  Our room mates there were all from Ireland, as were the ones in LA.  They were really nice so had a good stay there.  We'd booked the Alcatraz tour for that afternoon so we took the cable car trolley from Powell St to Lombard Street (the most crooked st in the world) and then wandered down to the waterfront.  The Alcatraz tour was great - my first time ever in a prison, obviously not Sean's.  After that we headed down to Pier 39 to see the sea lions and had some of the famous clam chowder in sour dough.  

The next day did a little shopping before picking up our rental car and headed off to Napa Valley.  We got to drive across the Golden Gate Bridge which was pretty cool.  Spent the night in Napa then next morning drove one of the wine trails.  Did a little wine tasting but not that great - probably why that one was free!!  We also drove up to the petrified forest where we saw petrified trees (obviously) and signs warning us of rattlesnakes which kind of killed the fun!  From there went back down the coast to start our highway 1 tour.  We got as far as Santa Cruz where we were planning to spend the night but being a Friday everything was sooooo overpriced that we had dinner there and then headed inland to Watsonville which was incredibly unexciting so we thought we'd find somewhere cheap but not so!  In the end we just needed a bed and overpaid for some scummy place with a tv from the 1960s'.  It even had a radio built in - am only of course.  Anyhow, at least it had a bath - gotta make the most of these things!  

The next day we high-tailed it from Watsonville back to the coast.  We headed into Monterey for brunch at a cool little cafe.  Then we took the 17 mile drive around millionares homes and golf courses.  This led us on to Carmel which we drove around until we could find our way back onto Highway 1.  From there we drove Big Sur which is just a beautiful section of coastline with no shops, houses, anything actually.  The next town (hours later) was San Simeon where we thought we'd stop for a very late lunch only to find that the place was basically deserted.  Kind of weird actually - shops all closed, restaurants all closed, a bit eerie all in all.  So instead we carried on to a really small town called Cambria with loads of choice in places to eat and we met a wonderfully friendly lady in the toy shop who gave us directions back to LA airport.  We really didn't have the heart to tell her that we were heading to San Diego after that.  We carried on from there to San Luis Obispo where we  met our first non-indian motel owner who also gave us a reasonable rate for the night.  No bath this time but free percolated coffee in the room!!  It's the small things that count.  The next morning we headed into the town to see the famous bubblegum alley where everyone sticks their chewing gum on the walls - kind of gross really.  We wandered around the shops there and ended up buying golf shoes and gloves.  Then found a wonderful little bakery that made the most amazing varieties of bread and bought some sandwiches for lunch.  We drove down to the beach at Gaviota State Park where we ended up having to pay $10 just to get in for an hour to stop for lunch.  Because of that we tried to get our moneys worth by staying a bit longer and going for a little bushwalk, although my paranoia of snakes probably made it a little less enjoyable.  

The next stop from there was Santa Barbara where we visited the Mission which was very pretty.  We drove down the beachfront but traffic was pretty busy so decided to carry on and see how far we could get.  We drove through Malibu for about an hour as it just seems to go on forever and then got to LA and drove through Santa Monica and Venice Beach where we stopped for dinner at Taco Bell.  Very exciting stuff - I had Quesadillas which I still don't know how to pronounce but tasted good.  We spent that night in a Motel at Long Beach.  

The next morning we headed off to Newport Beach home of the OC.  Disappointingly the rich part is cut off by locked gates so we could only imagine what the real OC is like.  We had brunch there at a chilli shop but we didn't have any chilli - not for breakfast.  That would have made for a long day in the car otherwise!  From there it was on to Laguna Beach but didn't see anyone from the 'real life' show.  We decided to continue on to San Diego and made good time so went straight to the Zoo.  We spent all afternoon and until closing time at the Zoo.  We were a bit gutted when we made a massive trek running up a really steep hill to the Kiwi House only to find that it was Day time for the Kiwis, which is when they sleep so the enclosure was shut.  Feeling a little dejected we settled for some elephants and camels then made our way back to the car.  Found a nice little motel and went out for our last dinner in the US at IHOP and boy do they do a good pancake.  I suppose they should really being the International House of Pancakes but they were great pancakes.  

We were up bright and early the next morning to be at Seaworld for opening time only to find once inside that none of the shows started for a couple of hours.  However I did get to pat a dolphin and we saw Shamu the Killer whale and actually made it to just about all the shows by 1pm when we had to high-tail it back to LA to catch our flight out.  My dreams of duty free shopping were crushed when we got through security to find one shop!  Thank goodness for Ipods and Nintendos!  So that was it - the whirlwind tour of the US.  Fabulous country, extremely friendly and lovely people, and truly fatty food.  What more could you need?

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