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Holiday: USA 6 September - 23 September 2004
Day 1 Home - Las Vegas
The cab picked us up from home at 7.30 and took us to Manchester airport. After checking in (with the same US Airways security guy as last time, funnily enough!) we had some breakfast in Burger King and bought some brandy from duty free just in case!!
Our flight was scheduled to leave at about 12 midday - once on we were surprised how busy the plane was! Last time we'd flown (2002) there had only been a handful of people on board. We amused ourselves by watching a few films until landing at Philadelphia airport and changing plane to take us onto Las Vegas. Flying into Las Vegas was pretty spectacular as it was about 8pm at night so all the lights on the strip were on.
Las Vegas airport looked a bit different than our previous trip as they'd finished all the building work they'd been doing at the time. There was bit of a delay getting our cases as a power failure on the plane meant the hold doors wouldn't open! We eventually collected them, got a cab and arrived at the Luxor at about 9.15pm. After a long wait to check in we were allocated our Room (no 8040), which was a Jacuzzi suite we'd booked as a treat seeing as we were getting married. These suites, which are located on each corner of the Luxor pyramid, consist of a sitting room, bathroom, bedroom and a huge Jacuzzi right in front of the window. It was fabulous! After a quick bite to eat in the pyramid café we couldn't wait to get back to it as my body was telling me it was five in the morning.
Day 2 Las Vegas
Up bright and early today - we were out and about by 7.45! Must have missed the jet lag this time. We ambled long to our favourite breakfast haunt 'Denny's' in the increasing heat enjoying our first views of Vegas. In Denny's I had steak and eggs and Lisa a smoked sausage breakfast (Lisa) which came with 3 pancakes - like you'd need them! Afterwards we braved a walk in the heat, 92 degrees at 9.30am, that's a desert city for you!
Our big task of the day was to visit Clark County Marriage Bureau to pick up our wedding licence. As we pulled up outside at about 11am we were surprised to see that the queue was already really long! We joined the queue and seemed to be waiting forever although it was entertaining to see the range of people there for the same reason as us! There were couples both old and young, people from different countries and some in suits and wedding dresses who were obviously getting married that day. Everyone was very good humoured and we had a chat with an older American couple who were tying the knot. We eventually got inside and reported to the clerk and after presenting our ID we finally got our marriage licence! No going back now!! As we were in the vicinity we visited Freemont Street which is famous for its nightly light show and had a coke to cool down.
Next we went up to the airport to pick up our hire car, busy day! We got to pick the car from a range of convertibles, alas no Pontiac Firebirds this time so we opted for a white Sebring. After us being so careful to limit our packing i.e. 1 case between two, we were gutted to find a huge boot in the Sebring! Oh well! I bit the bullet and drove us back to the Luxor and parked up - by this time the temperature was 103!
After all that exertion some serious R&R was needed. We headed down to the Luxor pool and sat in the sun with a beer and a frozen Margarita. Then back up to the room to try out the Jacuzzi! Considering the size of it (you could easily fit 4 people in) it filled really quickly and there were bubbles galore courtesy of LUSH! That night as well as the traditional stroll down the strip, we'd filled up at La Salsa in the Luxor and had scrummi Chicken Tacos & Fajitas.
Wedding day! Rather scary for us both.
The condemned man deserves a meal so we had a quick bite at the pyramid café for our breakfast. I drove us to the Little Church of the West, which isn't far from the Luxor but the heat was overpowering even at this early hour and so needed the Air conditioning. This wedding chapel is the oldest in Las Vegas and was built in 1942. It's seen its fair share of celebrity weddings over the years as well. We arrived about 10.30, wandered around the grounds for a bit and were then introduced to our minister for the ceremony, Reverend Rob Hickey and his organ playing, photo taking lady assistant. After a quick run through there we were up at the front of the church saying our vows, exchanging the rings and being pronounced man and wife! Like getting a plaster taken off.. what's all the fuss about
For the wedding breakfast we'd booked a table at the Stratosphere. This 900ft tower has both observation decks and a restaurant/bar at the very top and is a famous Las Vegas landmark. The restaurant also rotates, making one complete 360 revolution per hour. Both of us were totally blown away by the amazing view from the restaurant, it's a definite must see! After the meal we visited both the indoor and outdoor observation decks and had a look at the 2 amusement rides which have been built at the very top of the tower - not for the faint hearted!! We then drove back to the Luxor for some Corona in the Neffertiti bar before jumping in the Jacuzzi once again and sipping some celebratory brandy!
That night we visited the Luxors Tuthankamum exhibition. Although the exhibits were reproductions the whole thing was very informative. Headsets were provided to give a commentary as you toured the exhibition. We also popped 'next door' to the Mandalay Bay which is one of the few hotel/casinos in Vegas that we didn't get chance to visit last time. This hotel has a tropical/beach theme and is very stylish. There are several 'beaches' in the complex with real sand and wave machines. After supper at the pyramid café, again, I marked off day one of married life!
Day 4 Grand Canyon
After breakfast in Denny's again we left Las Vegas heading off on our honeymoon, our first destination being the Grand Canyon. Passing through the very picturesque 'Boulder City' we decided to stop off at the Hoover Dam and take the guided tour. This was very informative and we learnt about the original construction of the Dam (which was very dangerous by all accounts) in the 1930s and saw the huge turbines used to generate electricity.
Crossing over into the state of Arizona we drove for a few hours, stopping at Denny's for our dinner and arrived at the Grand Canyon Squire Inn in the dark. We checked into Room 2219 and went to the hotel bar for a few beers to relax. We met up with a really nice couple, Deanna & Ian, the first people we told we'd got married who bought us a drink to celebrate.
Day 5 Grand Canyon
Top down on the convertible for the first time today! After breakfast we drove into the Grand Canyon National Park which is only a few miles from the hotel. We picked up our 2004 National Park Pass which is well worth getting is you plan to visit a few different parks. After putting on our boots and backpacks we began our walk. Even though we'd seen it before our first view of the Grand Canyon was breathtaking. As opposed to our first trip the sun was cracking the flags making the scenery amazing. After videotaping and photographing the canyon from every angle we reluctantly headed back to the hotel for our second night and prepared to move on the next day.
Day 6 Sedona
Off to Sedona today, a place we'd not visited before but had been recommended by Ray in work who raved about the place. This was a relatively short drive so we stopped to visit 'Oak Creek canyon' which is very picturesque with great views across the canyon. This area was a favourite retreat and farming area for native Americans until European settlers moved in the 1870s. While we were there quite a few native Americans had stalls selling turquoise and coral jewellery. Back in the car to take the very winding road to Sedona itself passing huge pine covered mountains.
As we headed into Sedona, these mountains became rather colourful, red layer on the bottom, topped with a yellow layer and all sorts of weird shaped buttes. We found the Matterhorn lodge with no difficulty and checked into Room 22. This room had views out back and front, this one being accompanied by a wide balcony overlooking the main street. Sedona was a well kept town, apparently voted america's nicest at some stage, and we decided to go for a wander and visited the steakhouse for just a cool amber coloured beer which was remarkably refreshing. Sedona had numerous restaurants and loads of shops selling Mexican and cowboys good. We came away with an Indian blanket (cheaper in every other shop we passed!) a cowboy hat for Lisa and a belt for me. After all this effort we got back to the hotel for a relaxing, outdoor Jacuzzi before having a Mexican meal in the Vista Cantina (hmm not that recommended).
Day 7 Bylthe
This day we were to leave Sedona and the state of Arizona and to head to California. We were off to Palm Springs ultimately but decided to take it easy and do a stop over in Blythe, which is just into California. The drive, on Route 89, took us through the flat expanse of Cottonwood, an excuse to listen to Bad Company on the CD player. As we headed up to the hilltop town of Jerome (complete with its initial painted on the side of the hill, a custom in these parts apparently) the music changed to the Bee Gees. Continuing on up Mingus Mountain and then down into Prescott Valley, a vast expanse of land the music became Echo and the Bunnyman. Passing through the 'rip roaring' town of Wilmut with its traditionally shaped blue/grey church we came across a taxidermist's with a sign of 'Brand new dead things'. We stopped at a fab vantage point erected to commemorate a civil engineer, Charles Churchill Small, 'Father of the Arizona highways' and got a great view across the plains.
Quickly passing through a dodgy looking place called Congress, we came upon a series of 'dust devils', whipping up the dust into mini hurricanes, presumably because of the heat. Heading west onto Route 60, we changed to The Doors, perfect music for the surroundings. At the town of Salome we came across some absolute hero cycling along, heading west. In the over a hundred-degree heat he must have been a local as you couldn't survive in that heat for too long. After travelling through Harcuvar the scenery brought us lots of Cactus men and then we were on the hunt for the Colorado river and the greenness that is California. After driving into the wrong hotel in Blythe we eventually found the Holiday inn express, checked into Room 236 and had a swim to cool down. A few take out Corona's and a meal in Denny's filled the rest of the night as there is not a lot to Blythe itself.
Day 8 Palm Springs
After a continental breakfast at the hotel we set off for Palm Springs, listening to the Beatles as the landscape changes to desert. Once we got there we were surprised at how big the place was, bigger than we expected and got hopelessly lost in the one-way system. A kind girl in McDonalds phoned the hotel for us and gave us directions to our plush mini hotel, the Coyotee Inn, for two nights stay in this mini LA, Its steeped in Hollywood history, where a lot of the stars would come for some R&R. As a result a lot of the streets are named after them such as Frank Sinatra Drive & Bob Hope Drive. The whole place has quite a 50's air to it.
The Coyotee Inn is such a relaxing place, small and with a Spanish feel to it, the few number of rooms are cited around the deep pool and ours, Room 3, had fluorescent stars on its ceiling that could be illuminated from the bed side for that night under the 'desert stars'! The bird feeders attracted numerous humming birds making the place so peaceful. That afternoon we went for a walk in the boiling heat and saw Palm Springs own 'walk of fame' before stopping off at the Kaiser for lunch enjoying sitting in the spray of the misting humidifiers, a feature of many of the restaurants there. Later in the afternoon we went for a beer in the English pub and met Jason, a cowboy, who had a few bucking bronco stories to tell as well as a few scars to show!
As we headed back we came across the Del Marcos Hotel, designed in 1947 by William F Cody. This themed historic hotel is fabulous and we couldn't help nosing around its artwork which brought out the manager who kindly let us film inside. Passing on food, we finished the night off in the 'Village Pub' bar instead before retiring to view the 'desert stars' bar in our room.
Day 9 Palm Springs
This day started in style at Ruby's the red and white 50's styled diner. Had the 'big' breakfast as we hadn't eaten since lunchtime the day before, three of everything, eggs, rashers, sausage & loads of has browns. Fully loaded we headed up to the famous aerial tramway. Fantastic views of Palm Springs had been much awaited but disaster! The flaming thing was shut for a few days (Still an excuse to visit again!) Not put off we decided to visit the 'living desert' zoo. That too had many of the attractions closed as the animal were being kept indoors due to the heat. Not the most successful of days up till now so what can one do, the Village Pub was open! Met Jason again with his new Mrs (shh don't tell his family as they don't know he's married) and after a couple of pails worth of beer (ice with bottles of Pacifico, not full of beer mind) we headed back to the inn.
We had a lilo fight in the pool during which I had lost my wedding ring, that didn't take long! Luckily my career as a diver paid off (the pool was 7 foot deep but thankfully small!) and I retrieved it. A ring resizing would be needed when I got home. A couple of poolside brandies whilst watching the humming birds feeding were needed to get over the shock (any excuse). That evening we went for a huge delicious Mexican meal in Las Casuelas Terraza restaurant and listened to the resident band with a Sven Goran Erikson look-a-like on the keyboards/violin.
Day 10 Santa Barbara
Out from Palm Springs we headed to the Coast towards Santa Barbara, passing hundreds of windmills. Ended up on the I-10 and wondered whether the fog around LA was actually just the pollution! Saw the Hollywood sign as we drove through LA and moved onto hit the coast and our first ever view of the Pacific Ocean. Heading up the coast road we got to Santa Barbara, and after a stop for directions from a very helpful bloke in the tourist info centre, reached the Country Inn by the Sea for a night in Room 362. The room had a cool vine covered veranda. The place was rather chintzy but cosy and was ideally located just back from the main promenade.
Santa Barbara is exactly what you'd expect from a Californian coastal town, very baywatchesque and there were a few guys playing volley ball even with the sun setting. Got a good few sunset snaps all palm tress and piers. We started following a walking tour explaining the towns Mexican heritage but it was hard to follow so did our own! Spookily enough it ended up in the pub, the Old Kings Road, where we met a couple of lads from Bolton who recommended visiting the Monterey Aquarium and where the barmaid, an ex pat, advised us not to go to the Indian for a meal. She'd explained that you'd not bother with a Mexican in Liverpool but go Indian so the reverse was true. Upon ignoring her advice I can only say she did indeed have a point.
Day 11 Carmel
Next day's route follows the spectacular coast road but we didn't get to see that much 'cos of the fog! We did see lots of Hummers though they were everywhere. As were the vineyards, responsible for all that lovely wine! We passed Guardelupe turned off onto CA-1, and travelled through Morrow Bay, the Big Sur state park and listened to Sheryl Crow and the Stranglers while making our way up to Monterey via a lunchtime stop in Cambria.
Our visit to the Monterey aquarium wasn't that cheap at $20 but for what was an old sardine factory its well worth it. I only wished we'd have made more time to visit it (it wasn't on the plan). In fact we'd only heard about it from the two lads from Bolton (top tip guys) who we'd met in Santa Barbara and thought a small detour wouldn't hurt. While we were there we had a look at the huge kelp pool, fed from sea water, the seals and the wonderfully lit jelly fish room, not to mention the sharks and ray.
It was a lot colder on the coast but Carmel by the sea had a warm charm about it. Art centre of the world it seemed as every other shop was an art gallery. We stayed in the Best Western Bay View Inn, Room 12 for a night and watched the sunset down at the gorgeous white beach. That night we had a pleasant meal at Italian meal at Tutto Mondo trattoria. The place had loads of photo's of Clint Eastwood (who used to be the towns mayor… 'the hell I was!') but he never showed (musta got lucky punk).
Day 12 - 14 Maraposa
Next morning and we had another visit to the talc like beach before leaving for Yosemite. We watched the unique politeness at four way junctions (no traffic lights required here!). There had also been a vintage car rally held in Monterey and the cars from it were everywhere. Because it was still quite foggy we didn't do the famous 10 mile drive, coastal road as we wouldn't have seen much!
As we moved inland the temperature started getting hotter again, time to listen to ZZ Top as we zoomed along the Californian highways that cut through the vineyards (all that wine!). We took a stop at the San Luis reservoir on the Panchero pass before moving onto Los Banos. Crossing yet another Seventh St (there must be one in every town) the temperature hit 95 degrees and we agreed to put the top back up once it reached over 100. Hey there's having a soft-top and having sun stoke! As we passed cotton fields they looked so surreal... bushes with what looked like snow on it, in such hot weather. I'd never seen cotton in its natural state before.
If you are visiting the Yosemite National Park, I'd recommend staying in Maraposa. Previously we'd stayed at the Yosemitee view Lodge which itself doesn't have much night life and El Portal, the nearest town to it, isn't that big. Its worth the 75 mile drive in each day from Maraposa for the evening choice of restaurants. We stayed in Room 133 at Maraposa lodge (Maraposa means butterfly in Spanish apparently) for a 3 night stay. Restaurants of note are the Charles St diner and the scruffy looking Mexican, which was fab and sooo cheap.
The hide out saloon is well worth a visit (if you can find it!). Its in the basement of an old building and is a small meeting place for the locals. It serves up the coldest beer in town… according to the sign anyway. The beer was indeed nice and cold and was more like a bitter than a lager. The barmaid, who was at least 100, served up complementary salty popcorn and as we did so noticed the sign, at the back of the bar, "do not lick the barmaid", which was the most unneeded sign ever. We met some interesting people in there and fit in with the unwritten rule that says you cant have a quiet beer in a bar in USA. Everyone wants to talk with ya!!.
In the park itself, some of the best views of Yosemitee Valley are from Glacier point, bout 3000 ft up not for those with vertigo. There is also stunning views of half dome 8,842 ft and Mount Florence 12,561 ft. We also took in a hike round to mirror lake which wasn't (no water see) and later in the day quite a trek up, in the clouds, to Vernal Falls were the weather was wet, cold and very foggy (just like being in the Lakes!)
Day 15 San Fransisco
Sorry to be leaving, we headed off to San Francisco taking Highway 140 and at 50 degrees brrrr listened to the Beatles to warm us up. Then onto highway 120 through Oakland, over the top of the Bay bridge ($3 cheek… probably to help pay for the new bridge span which is needed cos the older one is not earthquake proof and has to be sunk deeper and made of steel not wood like the old one. Apparently its miles over budget, pardon the pun, so governor Arnie has a problem!)
Anyway you get great views of San Francisco from the bridge (so maybe its worth the dollars), in time for afternoon coffee at Café Marconi, in the Italian quarter, North Beach facing the Francis Ford Coppola building and a walk, in the hot sun, around the Peter Macchiarin and Vallejo Steps. Lisa had us round the whole business district looking for doughnuts but bizarrely enough couldn't find any (isn't that all these people eat anyway, whilst at work?? These American TV programs must be right surely!)
Our last hotel for this trip was the Holiday Inn Select Downtown and Spa, where we'd checked into Room 2303 for 3 nights. We had requested a non smoking room (and a good view) but got a smokers but with a brilliant city view of Coit tower, up Columbus and Alcatraz so we didn't complain. Of a night, watching the beam from the Alcatraz lighthouse was very therapeutic!
Day 16 San Fransisco
Next day saw breakfast at Loris diner in Ghirardelli Sq, looking over towards the huge stretch of the Golden gate bridge, which is red? We walked this off looking round the harbour at the old ships and moved along the piers to Pier 41 to board our pre-booked (recommended) tour to Alcatraz (even more recommended). It only took 20 mins to get there, were welcomed by park ranger giving a talk on the history of the place and we could stay as long as we wanted (wouldn't fancy the last ferry of the day though!). During the visit we paid extra for the audio tour, by ex warders/prisoners, explaining what went on. I doubt without it the experience would have been as deep. The view of, and sounds that came from, the city must have been hard for the prisoners to bear.
The afternoon saw another audio tour aboard the USS Pampanito, a submarine moored up in one of the piers. This was the second time I'd been aboard a sub, the other one was a German U boat and they were both time capsules. They both had a similar crew size but I'm sure you can guess which one had more space!
Day 17 San Fransisco
Next day we did a full walking tour round the city. Starting off at Union Square cable car terminus, we headed down Market Street and we were surprised that it got really seedy so quickly. Next and quickly onto Haight Ashbury for a refreshing cola in Asqew watching the world go by including two girls holding hand (cool) wearing moustaches! (not cool.. They were false though). In the afternoon we moved on through the golden gate park into Richmond and surveyed the posh Presido terrace. After passing through the Presido National Park (Golden Gate) and pacific heights back along Lombard St we think we well deserved a drink and the most gorgeous bowl of chilli in Loris Diner.
During our stay in San Francisco we actually stayed in to watch TV (ha not like us) but it was the new series of CSI (as well as the brand new NY setting). The food we had in he city was excellent and we'd mostly eat in the Italian, North Beach area, the Pinocchio restaurant, one of note. We even took in some real ale in the San Francisco brewing company on Columbus, Keep going guys, you'll get there in a few hundred years!
Day 18 San Fransisco - Home
Travelled home with a nightmare connection at Philadelphia airport
(which is huge if you only have 20 minutes to swap planes!)… and
thus our case got delayed again, welcome home Mr & Mrs Blundell!
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