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California dreamin’ – you sure were great!

Posted by on July 4, 2013

20130702-202129.jpgAnd so we headed to the USA – Hawaii, California and Nevada, land of the free and of everything larger than elsewhere (including us after a few weeks). A place where after backpacking around Asia we could live the American dream for a few days. And guess what? It’s lived up to expectation and we loved every bloody minute!! In fact, I feel rather pathetic about this but I think it’s been my favourite country so far. But a country of extremes it truly is; where people live the dream alongside those living on the streets, where service, helpfulness and politeness is beyond anything you could ever imagine, until it becomes clear you have no money and suddenly people can be very cold. Where people are huge, unless you are very rich when the aim is to be so small it’s ridiculous. And yet, despite this, its still a beautiful, amazing place. I wish we had had longer. Good job we’ll be heading back there then at the end of our trip…..

Aloha!…..
Our USA jolly started in Hawaii. Ridiculously excited we set off from a very cold New Zealand. Flip flops, shorts and T-shirts pulled from the back of our rucksacks to the front again we embarked on a journey that would see us do the most extreme time change on the planet – after 20 odd hours of traveling we would arrive 4 hours before we left!

We fly over Sydney at night during an illumiation festival. The Opera House, Bridge etc looked stunning from the plane. Photo from Vivid Sidney Facebook

We fly over Sydney at night during a light festival. The Opera House, Bridge etc looked stunning from the plane. Photo from Vivid Sidney Facebook

The journey itself gave us a bit of a flavour of what America would be like. On the NZ to Oz flight Quantas messed up my food. So we were given free passes to their business lounge in Sydney whilst we waiting for our transfer. It was an all you could eat buffet and drinks with a stunning view of Sydney. The food was amazing and we realised that we had not seen anything like this since we left the UK. Huge qualities were duly consumed. Good job. Turned out on the flight to Honolulu we were on a budget airline even though our flight was booked with Quantas. 9 hours and no free films. Outrage! (I’d be planning what to watch for weeks.) No nice free small bottle of red wine. Loud Americans talking all the way through the night. Endless screaming children. It was only our full tums that kept our tempers in check.

So we arrive at Honolulu airport first thing in the morning, find the bus to Waikiki and meet our first rude bus driver – something that would become a feature of our stay in the US. Exact change only he shouts. There’s no shops or anything to get change. “Not my problem” he says, “exact change only”. We finally find a Starbucks and I buy a small bag of almonds. $2 it says in the packet. I hand over a 10 dollar bill and I get $7 something back. I’m too tired to argue. I traipse back to the bus stop and we get the bus. The bus driver tells us we need a different stop to that in the email from our hostel. I have this little routine – when we have a wifi connection I go into the maps app on the iPad and take tons of screen shots of maps of where we are going. I try to take enough of different sizes for all eventualities. Sadly I’ve messed this one up and our map is too small to see individual road names. We get on the bus and just hope for the best.

Honolulu – wonderful!
Honolulu is fab. Like everything in the USA it’s far larger than we expected and the bus takes nearly an hour and a half for us to get to the hostel. But I love it straight away – the tower blocks by the mist swirled mountains, the buzz, the torches with live flames that line the roads lit at night and the amazing weather. It’s hot and sunny but not humid. Perfect. Waikiki, it turns out, is quite small and you can walk from one end to the other in about half an hour. I finally find a map photo that I can follow on the bus and we navigate ourselves to the hostel. It’s 9am and we have been traveling for nearly 24 hours. Many hostels let you book in early. No such luck in this one. Rules is rules; 3pm and not before. Oh well, better go exploring then. We walk to the beach – amazing blue water like we’ve not seen anywhere else but it’s so so busy it’s untrue. Along the beach are loads of ‘parks’, small sort of shelter areas. Most of them seem to be home to homeless people and people on drugs, much of the space taken up by shopping trolleys full of people’s wordly possessions. The smell of dope is strong. I was shocked – somehow this wasn’t the idea I had of Hawaii Five-0.

Hawaiin Beaches

Hawaiin Beaches

Even so we love Honolulu and Oahu, the island Honolulu is on. Some of it is general beautiful polynesian beach like, but it has added buzz. I don’t feel like we are in the States, Patrick does. We go to Pearl Harbour which was moving and now beautiful; Honolulu is the most militarised place in the US, 2nd only to Gibraltar in the west. We didn’t get to go on the SS Arizona trip as it was booked up weeks in advance but the museums were fascinating. I hadn’t realised how diverse Hawaii had been around the time of the 2nd world war. We read moving accounts of how it had been for both Americans and Japanese who had lived there for generations. Particularly moving were there half American-Japanese accounts. Suddenly, as happens with war, friends and families were divided. Before you went in to the exhibits were signs warning that some people may find some of the statements offensive. I was surprised that it was actually really objective given it was a US military museum. A moving morning.

Pearl Harbour now. Beautiful and serene

Pearl Harbour now. Beautiful and serene

We take buses to other small beautiful beaches and watch the surf. We watch a bad Elvis and Hawaiian music show at the Hilton Hotel. Loved it! We go to the other end of the island – not much kop and it rains most of the time – it actually rains every day on the east coast but hardly ever on the west. Sadly the famous North Beach surf isn’t up and Pat can’t find anywhere to get a cheap lunch. When we were in Vietnam we went on a day trip. Our guide, whose English was pretty rubbish, kept telling us we would be stopping later ‘forlonn’. We had no idea what she meant until lunchtime when took us to a restaurant ‘for lonn’. It’s suck and we sat on the bus in Hawaii, Patrick bemoaning how he’ll had ‘nowt forlon’. At night I feel quite intimidated and scared walking past some of the ‘parks’ but I guess you can’t have everything. I go shopping and can buy fairly cheap nice clothes. We smile huge grins as we walk around in the heat marvelling at how many Japanese tourists there are here. It’s like all the best bits of Asia but with excellent toilets! I decide I could live there.

But it’s hostel time again

It really was as blue & green as this

It really was as blue & green as this

The only downside is we are back in a hostel. On our first morning, after the 6 hour wait we are allowed into our room. Despite the wait for check-in, the beds haven’t been changed. They are filthy and mine has the last occupants old plasters and biscuit crumbs on it. The rooms are hot and cramped and no aircon as advertised. We are charged $10 a night more than on our email so I start to argue. It all gets quite testy. Finally the manager is called and she explains it’s the local tax. Ah I say. “Not included in the price?” “Oh no” she says “prices never include tax”. So now I understand almondgate. It is something that will continue to fox us right to the end of our stay in the USA. Why they just can’t include tax in costs I’ll never know – but then that’s the USA for you. Everyone has to be aware of how any tax dollars they are paying.

I ask to swap rooms. The surly young bloke who failed to explain tax to me says he has no other rooms to move us to. I ask if we can have a refund for the other nights if we find somewhere else. The Manager is called again. She is totally apologetic and admits the beds haven’t been changed. She finds us another room with clean beds. Phew! It becomes a bearable home but we don’t really get to know anyone else in the hostel. The stayers are the worst and rudest we have come across, only interested in partying and saying ‘like’, generally very loudly late at night and early in the morning. No-one seems to sleep. The cooking facilities are in the bedrooms. One bloke spends his days fishing these amazing blue coloured fish. Sadly he spends his nights cooking them (generally around midnight). They may be amazing colours but seeing their skins or decapitated heads is not what you need when you wake up to make your first cuppa of the day!

We spend our time out exploring. Thank goodness we like Waikiki so much.

Please can I return?
It’s the first place we’ve been to since Istanbul that I say I really, really want to go back to. I’d like to visit other Hawaiian islands and Honolulu again, but next time with some money to spend.

Whilst we’re there we realise that we have actually run out of money. Eeek! When we set off we agreed that we would keep a war chest for our return, enough to easily cover us for a year after we adopt a child. We decide to use a small amount extra and then just hope something will turn up. It’s not such a vain hope. A few days before we went to Hawaii we had the most wonderful email about our next stop LA. My brother, Giles, would be there and had a flat. We’d get to spend time with him and we’d have somewhere to stay. Hopefully, some money would come about too…

LA LA land...
So I email Giles and he agrees to pick us up at LAX. I warn him that we will be sleeping in Honolulu airport the night before our flight so not to expect us too fresh! The airport was arguably more comfortable than the budget flight we ended up on. Check-in is a shambles and me and Pat can’t sit together so I arrange to pay for both our drinks (no free food at all on this flight). Obviously the lack of sleep in the airport and a totally pisspoticle checkin has taken its toll and I must be looking very haggard;  the flight attendant tells her colleague to serve Pat, pointing to me and explaining that I’ll “be paying for my sons drinks”!!!

A history in airports
Me and Giles have airport pickup problems history which we both laugh about when we finally find each other after a delay. When I was 16 Giles was working in Corfu for the BBC, filming My Family and Other Animals. He bought me a one way plane ticket from Leeds, we would drive back to London, through Italy and France. I’m the only single person on this holiday flight (in the days before you got cheap airlines). I’m more than a little nervous about this trip as you can imagine. I arrive in Corfu and he’s not at the airport as promised to meet me. I have no drachma, no contact number. I ask various desks if they know where the BBC are filming; no-one knows anything. Taxi drivers constantly harass me and I’m more than a little scared. I am too hot and my sweat a mixture of heat and fear. I sit on my suitcase at the airport entrance crying.

After about an hour Giles drives in, a car full with other mates he has staying. Turns out he got there early but the boards said our plane would be delayed by 2 hours so they went for a meal, coming back early to make sure he was there when I landed. In the car, as we drive through the windy hilly corfu streets I mention I’d heard how in Greek weddings and parties people smash plates. Giles says he’s never seen any of that. The gods are looking down. We turn a corner, pass a taverna and can see a riotous party inside. Plates are being smashed left, right and centre. I’m vindicated!

Beaches, communist guns and shouty actors
I had an amazing two weeks – glamorous beyond anything I’d known at that time. Lazing on a beach sipping endless coke. Falling asleep on a lilo and floating to Albania, being woken by guns warning me off and having to swim about a mile back to a beach giving me a standing ovation! Ice-creams with Hannah Gordon and Bryan Blessed. Staying in a posh hotel in Florence that Giles had stayed in when filming with Jeff Goldblum. Pisa. A night in Monte Carlo. An electric storm as we drove to Paris. The world is a small place though. About 8 years ago I went speed dating at a very wet music festival in Scotland. I met this cracking bloke. Turned out he played one of the kids in that version of My Family!

Hollywood nights

Our neighbourhood!

Our neighbourhood!

So finally we find Giles and we set off to the flat he has rented in the Hollywood Hills. It’s just fabulous. We sit on the balcony, catching up with him, unable to believe we are there. He points out a house just nearby. This was Marlene Deitrich’s party house. We go out to eat in a well known pizza place. I spot Nicole Ritchie (sadly our only ‘star’ of the trip.) Next day we go to all the sites. The La Brea tar pools are stunning – seeing the history of Hollywood and how it was all built in just 20 or so years from some oil fields. The canyons and homes of the rich and famous. Mulholland Drive and the Observatory. Giles takes us to Swingers where we get our first American breakfast. Totally fabulous and we eat far too much and drink too many coffee refills! It’s perfect.

Sadly Giles has to head off on a shoot too quickly and so we are left alone. We get the bus to Santa Monica (lovely and posh) and Venice Beach (I was totally surprised how grungy it was). We marvel at the size of LA. The bus network is actually quite good once you work out the map. There’s little video screens on the bus. I loved this quiz that was honestly shown:

“Sarah is on the bus. She sees a bag on its own. What should she do? A – Report it. B- Nothing? C -Steal it? To win a t-shirt, email your answers to….. “

Driving down Rodeo Drive

Driving down Rodeo Drive

We eat at Mels Diner on Hollywood. We pass a Doggy Parlour that sells doggy frozen yoghurt. More healthy than ice-cream for the pooch, obviously! We do the walk of fame and get a ticket to watch a late night comedy show being filmed. The star, Craig Ferguson, is from Glasgow and the humour very British. There’s been times in my life when I’ve spent a lot of time in TV studios, chauffeur cars to get me there, drinks in the green room, contributing to all sorts of current affairs and debate shows – from Kilroy to live interviews on news programmes to panel appearances on Question Time. It’s Pat’s first time in a TV studio. I’m perversely tickled by going steerage after normally being a guest. Over the last couple of years I’ve loved presenting my radio shows but it makes me want my dream of being a TV presenter more than ever. There. I’ve said it publicly. One of the things I love about America is that people are really supported and encouraged to do more, to succeed. I fear we are scathing about that as there is something in the British psyche that doesn’t like success; not knowing your place or getting ideas above your station. When I was losing weight so many people would say “well you’ll only put it all back on again”. I love that the Americans would say “good for you, go for it”.

Holding hands with Marilyn

Holding hands with Marilyn

We see signs saying Violators will be prosecuted everywhere. I’ve always wondered where the title for my favourite album came from; now I know, it’s a word used loads here. Our fav was a sign saying Violators would be fined $461. Maybe that’s $450 plus tax?

The good and the bad
There are loads of other things that they just seem to have got right in the USA. Road signs are far easier to follow, with the signs at intersections on the other road and really viable. Bus fares are flat fares which makes it loads easier. The buses are great for disabled and buggy access (actually the only American word I like is stroller). Pedestrians have right of way on the roads and you can turn right on a red light if it’s safe.

Bang slap in the middle of Hollywood. So 70s darling...

Bang slap in the middle of Hollywood. So 70s darling…

The extremes, though, continued to amaze us. Even in Hollywood, the most glamorous town on earth, bits of it aren’t very snazzy at all. 9 months into traveling I am realising that there’s great and not so great parts of everywhere on earth. The difference here is that many people don’t have to stop in them, just sailing through in their tinted window limos. And then, of course, there is a food. Anything processed is just impossible in the USA made with ingredients that are so much worse for you than the same foods are in the UK. It’s virtually impossible to get anything without corn syrup which many believe is responsible for why Americans are so much larger than other nationalities. And don’t even start me on pink slime…..

But overall we love LA. Honolulu pales into insignificance. I REALLY want to live here! Our time comes to an end too quickly. It’s time to head to Vegas!!

The American bus experience….
We get a metro and then bus downtown to the Greyhound. We will learn that Greyhound terminals tend to not be in the best part of town. The local bus is packed and a nightmare with our enormous rucksacks; Pat obliviously stands in the aisle next to a nun who he keeps narrowly missing hitting in the face with his rucksack every time he moves. She is thankfully a very serene nun and just smiles. I go to the back and make a load of new mates. A man with no teeth and army tattoos, a very camp man with dirty clothes who insists in showing me pictures of Big Ben on his phone. Another man who keeps asking how the Queen is. Someone else asks if we have sea by England. A homeless woman who tells me she is transporting all her gear. We have a Freddy from Psychoville situation; she is carrying a doll like a baby. I try not to judge as from the conversation its clear she has some mental health problems, but I can’t help but smile when she shows me the doll is wearing sunglasses. “I don’t like it when she wears sunglasses” she says. “Don’t you think she looks spooky when she decides to wear the glasses? I don’t like it.”.

Just everyday superhero in Hollywood

Just everyday superhero in Hollywood

Of course the Greyhound terminal is carnage and we get it all wrong. We learn quickly that when you are poor and travel cheaply you are just herded about with no soft soaping. The drive to Vegas, though, is uneventful. We drive through desert and I have a facebook chat with mates in the UK. Our driver has a very loud tannoy which he loves shouting at us over. “Arriving at San Bernadino” in a very low Barry White voice has now become one of our fav sayings. Or “When we arrive stand behind the red line. Your bags will be removed from the bus. That’s BEHIND THE RED LINE, AGAIN BEHIND THE RED LINE. You’ll be told when you can move”. We get to Vegas. It’s boiling beyond belief, we stand quaking behind the red line. The bags are all unloaded and we wait. Then we are shouted at for not picking up our bags. Obviously – they were infront of the red line!

Vegas Baby!…..
This is my 2nd time in Vegas and once again it doesn’t disappoint. For years I’ve gone on to Pat about it. He expects to hate it but I think he quite likes it. We stay in the cheapo Circus Circus at the top of the strip. It’s 8pm and we head out to find some food. It’s so hot, the desert heat bouncing back from the concrete it’s like having a hot hairdryer blown in your face.

20130702-193003.jpgWe visit the hotels loving them all. We eat in diners, we drink refills of fizzy pop and our first margaritas, we lose a little money at the tables. We go to free shows; great circus shows at our hotel, an erupting volcano at the Mirage where we meet a bloke from Barnsley, the stunning Bellagio fountains doing a routing to american patriot songs.

We’re offered porn in the streets, leaflets and posters saying you can have girls delivered to your room within 20 minutes. The women on the posters are naked but there a black strip across their nipples. That’s ok then!

In 24 hours we visit Venice, Paris, New York, Egypt, Rome, Tuscany, Spain and a tropical rainforest. Needn't have bothered with the trip then....

In 24 hours in Vegas we visit Venice, Paris, New York, Egypt, Rome, Tuscany, Spain and a tropical rainforest. Needn’t have bothered with the trip then….

We are begged a lot and I give away $10 to a young pregnant woman which is a lot for us. Despite how much I love Vegas,  I just can’t help feeling the grossness of someone homeless and hungry amidst so much food and money. We laugh out loud at our hotel which has the most blingy entrance and car drive in which is totally covered in lights but in our rooms notices saying that they take  conservation seriously!!

The time passes too quickly. I agree with Pat that we need at least one more trip to Vegas in our lifetime.

Our 2nd road trip starts with a glimpse of the other side of Vegas
Saturday morning and we are due to pick up our new home for the next week, an RV. We’d called the rental company to check where they are. “Only a short taxi ride” says a bloke from Lancashire when we ring up to ask how we get there, “just about $40”. No way, Jose. We feel like total povs. We ask him about buses. He doesn’t know!

We finally find we can get 2 service buses, about an hour and a half journey to go a few miles. Its certainly the other side of Vegas. We wait to change buses at the Transit Centre, temperature about 40 degrees. Pat goes to check our connection; I am actually quite scared by the people there. Eventually the bus comes. It drives us through downtown, past the Golden Nugget and out towards the highway. This is where the original Vegas motels are. In semi-desert, they look really 50s but now they are either all derelict, boarded up, or are the homes for the Vegas workforce. Cheap rent, no doubt for previous few facilities. I imagine what living in one room for month on end in this heat must be like.

The old original motels are now cheap homes for the workforce

The old original motels now cheap homes for the workforce

Our bus is new and so our driver, a really helpful women in her 30s has an extra toy. Not only does she get to shout at us on the bus if we misbehave, she also has an external tannoy. We cover our smirks as she uses it to shout at a man at a bus stop who has stood sin the ‘wroooong placeeee’. One man on the bus is playing his hiphop on his headphones so loud she can hear it in her drivers cabin. She gives him a warning on the tannoy. No response. So she stops the bus and marches down to him, hands on very ample hips she wags her very long finger nails at him and tells him to turn if off. “Hey, mah music is for mah ears only, you hear?” she says “:You’all gotta turn it down. Ahve been on this bus siynce 3am. And ahhhm tired and baaaad tempered. So turrrrn it awwwwf. Mah bus, mah rules.” I love her.  I want to be as direct and confident as her.

An RV by magic…..
Since arriving in the US, every day I’d checked whether there were any relocations from Vegas to San Francisco we could book. These are Campers or cars that have been hired one way and the rental company need returned for about a dollar a night. We had no travel booked from Vegas to SF; even the Greyhound was looking pricey. But I held out hope that an amazing deal would come our way. Our last morning in LA I get up and check the website. Woo hoo! Suddenly there’s a 5 birth motor home needs moving from Vegas to LA at exactly the right time. Even better, the fuel is all paid for and there’s even a $100 allowance. Thank you Universe!

Huge portions. And we get bigger too!

Huge portions. And we get bigger too!

So for the 2nd this trip we say hello to our new motor home. It could not be more different to our Jucy in New Zealand. We have a proper bed, an inside kitchen, a shower and toilet. This comes at a price. It’s horrible to drive and a beast. Surprisingly, on the trip so far we have only been in 2 counties that drive on the right – Turkey and Vietnam. I have a baptism of fire, literally starting up a van the size of which I’d never driven before and pulling out onto a very busy highway driving on the wrong side for the first time this trip. The fortune of $40 dollars we spent on hiring at sat nav becomes a good deal within minutes. As I told Pat, it may be $40 we don’t really have but it’s cheaper than a divorce…..

The beast

The beast

We head into the desert and I get used to the RV. I find a country music station in the radio. Perfect. We don’t know any of the songs but can generally join in by the 2nd or 3rd chorus as they are so obvious. We see a sign for a brothel in the middle of miles and miles of nothing, alongside an alien centre. This is area 51 country after all, most of it a US military base. We pass a Correctional Centre. A more terrible place I can’t imagine. There are road signs warning us not to pick up hitchers in this area. Hungry we spot a huge sign for our now favourite US diner, Dennys. I leave the freeway and we drive up a small road to the sign. Nothing there. We turn round; the sign says Denny’s in 56 miles!

That's hot!!

That’s hot!!

We drive and drive, eventually getting to a small town at the head of Death Valley. We fill up with ‘gas’ and buy provisions. There are two shops in this ‘town’; neither sells bread or tampons, but we do manage to find some weird camping food in a small RV park. The man working in there looks like a cliche old country timer. He writes everything we buy down in a book. Then he chats with us. After our customary discussion about how the Queen is he asks us our travel plans. We say we are heading into Death Valley. He sucks what few teeth he has left. “Aaaah’d not recomend it” he says. “Not until the sun goes dahhhwn”. The road is hilly and with the heat and aircon our RV might not make it he tells us. An English tourist on a motor bike nearly died just a few weeks ago. So we head to the local Dennys (no decent shops but, of course, a Dennys.) The heat is blistering. We have a look on the phone. Its over 50 degrees!

A drive through death……

Miles and miles into Death Valley

Miles and miles into Death Valley

So at about 6.30pm we set off. The road is so straight its unbelievable. We drive through miles and miles of nothing desert, seeing logs that have burned to charcoal in the sun. It’s still boiling. The RV is hard to drive, even on straight lines. Me and Pat have a deal on driving. Generally, I do city and motorway; he does country and windy and hilly. Its his turn. He has to grip the steering wheel hard. It seems never ending but we finally reach the bottom of Death Valley just as its starting to get dark. We go down a hill, turn a corner and there it is. Unbelievable! Just a huge plane as far as the eye can see of….. nothing. We carry straight on through. There’s only two small villages down there, one called Furnace Creek. We are so hot we don’t fancy that. We drive, and drive, and drive up and down hills, round corners worrying we don’t know the width of the van on these roads with ridges we find hard to see as it gets dark. We pass through the valley and keep going on the road now towards Yosemite. Finally, we find a place to stop at the side of the road. Its about 10pm. Kettle on, we discover that our milk has gone off in just a few hours despite being in a fridge. We put on the aircon which doesn’t seem to do much and spend a very boiling night in our little hot tin can. When morning comes we open the blinds. Nothing but desert, still. Bizarrely, its cooler outside than in. At our next stop we will discover we had turned on the heating. D’oh.

Up to Yosemite…..
So the next morning we head off on a leisurely jaunt to Yosemite. We stop for coffee in ‘Lone Pine’ and meet the local sheriff with his gun in his holster. We love it and we discuss the Queen, of course. We stay a night in an RV park at Yosemite. We had assumed it would be a social place. No such luck. Americans, we are learning, are very precious about their own space, super polite until their personal space or cars are involved. Pat gets told off for walking past another RV to the reception, seems he invaded their space and should have walked miles round. Pat seems to become very British all of a sudden. “Awfully sorry” he says, “I don’t know RV etiquette.”

What a difference a day makes.....

What a difference a day makes…..

At the campsite we are warned about bears. Sadly, none come to visit us. A friend told us on facebook how when she was camping in Yosemite they heard a noise, opened their tent and there was a bear looking back at them. “One of the most frightening but exhilarating experiences Ive had” she said. No such luck for us.

So we set off to drive through the national park. Its cold, the previous night we had had to put extra blankets on the bed. And its raining. A lot. We can’t believe it – in the space of 100 miles we go from desert to snowy packed rainy mountains.

We continue to amuse ourselves on the long drives where there’s no radio reception by talking American. Harry Enfield’s “Im a kawwwwp” (cop) comes out very highly, followed “Im a kawwp, with a duwwwg (dog) and I drink cowwwfeee”. Small things and little minds and all that. 🙂

The towns of California…..
We leave Yosemite where all the RV spaces are booked up months in advance and try and find somewhere to park for the night. But sadly what on our map looked like gaps between towns has turned into one long, joined up sprawl. We make it as far as a place called Tracy and chance our luck. We get to park for free in the Truck park of a Motel 6 motel. We sleep sandwiched between two huge trucks. Its strangely comforting.

Our final day is a short one and we head to an RV park in a place called Pleasanton. I love it here. Its like the set of Desperate Housewives, in a really nice way. Only 45 mins by train from San Francisco this is the kind of American town I could imagine having a really nice life in. Its pretty and chic and warm and slow all at the same time. I sit in coffee shops and watch the world go by. I visit a local museum with a Lincoln exhibition on. I’m horrified by my lack of knowledge of American history. Damn that plane to Hawaii; Lincoln was top of my movie list to watch!  Patrick has a game of golf at the local driving range. All is right with the world. Next stop, San Francisco itself.

Goodbye RV and hello San Francisco….
We drop off the RV on the edge of SF, a town called San Leandro. Sorting out all the dumping and the vehicle checks totally stresses me out. As we wait for a taxi which doesn’t arrive to take us the station where we’ll get a train to SF – and then where we’ll find a local bus to get us to our hotel – I feel very homesick and overwhelmed. I start crying, about money, about going home. I’m annoyed with myself. We are about to go to one of the worlds most beautiful cities but I am scared about finding our hotel, and what it will be like. The only one we could afford had such terrible reviews.

Of course, it all turns out OK. We get lost in SF but love the people we are seeing. I often say i don’t think there’s enough eccentrics in the world. I wrong, it’s just they are all in San Francisco! We finally get to the hotel with just a few wrong turns and some much needed exercise. The hotel is pretty shabby and run down but our room’s not dirty.

But the location is ace. We explore China Town and watch a fire engine navigate the local streets. We walk to Fisherman’s Wharf which we love. We marvel at the fabulous sea lions on pier 39. We watch another building on fire (are we bringing bad luck…?). We walk up and down steps which play music as you walk like a piano. I’ve been to Alcatraz before so Pat was going to go but all the trips are sold out. We get a bus through Pacific Heights to the Golden gate bridge and walk across it. I ruin it by singing that song ‘Bridge to your heart’ as we walk. Neither of us can get it out of our heads and we are driven demented that we can’t remember who did it. I stake my pop queen reputation on someone connected to 10cc but I don’t know who. Google later proves me sort of correct. 10 points thank you very much. We travel the cable cars which we adore and get a bus out to Golden Gate Park and through Haight Ashbury. I sing karaoke in a bar late one night and Patrick pulls a Danish businessman. I just love the houses and the vibe; I wish I’d been there in the summer of love. We love the hilly streets, even the grown men skateboarding down them. Giles had told us of a Mark Tawin quote. “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco”. We can see it. One minute its boiling in the sun, the next you are cold. People are wearing jackets and jumpers even though it’s June.

There is no doubt that SF one of the worlds most beautiful cities. Doesn’t beat Edinburgh, and arguably Amsterdam, for me, but it sure is amazing. We feel so lucky to be here and Pat loves every moment as much as I do.

Tale of two cities
At night our hotel comes into its own, or rather the area does and its reality busy. We are offered all sorts of drugs by people literally standing in the hotel doorway on our way back in. Next morning, we are offered drugs as we go to find breakfast. We have to move hotel for our last night and the area there, just off Mission, we will find is far worse. This is a street mainly made up of hostels and homeless shelters. We really see the down side of SF here. Almost everyone we see is black. On our last night we decide to go home early, we simply don’t fancy walking to our hotel at night. We chose on our final day to eat breakfast at a cheap place. I try telling Pat it’s a false economy to get rubbish food and which probably won’t end up much cheaper. I’m right. The coffee is undrinkable, the portions small so we have to order more. We spend only a couple of dollars less than the day before in a really nice place with fresh food. I sulk and bitch. Pat does too. I hate being right, he hates being wrong.

It’s Greyhound again…..
And so our first spell in the USA comes to an end. For our finale, a 22 hour Greyhound journey from SF to Seattle. We walk the miles to the Greyhound with our backpacks and wait patiently. The bus doesn’t turn up. I ask at the counter. “Must be late” says a woman behind it. I ask if she has any information or details. “No” she says. That’s economy customer service for you. About an hour after it was supposed to leave we ask again. Turns out we ‘missed’ it. We dispute the bus ever came. They hurriedly book us on another bus. Its an old Greyhound. No wifi, no plus sockets, no extra leg room as advertised. When someone complains the driver says over his tannoy “sorry no facilities folks. Welcome to the 80s!”.

24 hours later we are in Seattle. Its nice but we are underwhelmed. We do the main parts – their market area which feels more like Brighton than the USA to be honest and once again we are stunned by the chichi existing next door to so many people living on the streets. We go to a few bars; in the home of grunge there’s too many beards for my liking. Pat fits in well. Its all very blokey here.

We waste time sitting on the Waterfront walkway before its time to catch our ferry to our next destination, musing about how we are nearing the end of the trip, and we inadvertently stumble across something that could have a future…… The walkway seemed to mainly be used by runners. None of them looked to me like they were enjoying themselves. As is our want, we started to earwig, catching snatches of conversations as they went by. We just love what we are hearing and i get out my phone and start making a note, word for word. As we start to think about what we will do when we get home I wonder if this would be a way to get ideas for short stories….Or maybe even one long story using them all…….

  • 2 middle-aged business men “Lucy and Kyler are all higher up the totem pole than me for sure”
  • 2 runners “Hey you can run longer and quicker than he can”
  • A young couple “I’ll run illegally with you”
  • A middle aged man and women “I’ve done it every 9 years since 1995”
  • 2 middle aged male runners “Then the box fell open. I mean you’re supposed to wait a day or so….”
  • 2 somber looking Indian men “I got a full 4 or 5 inches”
  • Two older camp looking men “as I said to Lloyd on Saturday….”
  • 2 women in their 30s. “I told them I don’t have enough money Hto get my teeth fixed”.
  • A mum to her family “Well that’s the difference between different people’s degrees. Emily’s degree is hands on too”

The woman in a young couple “And they were like chanting right up close to you. And then started like punching you to see what you like do. It was like really full on.”

You can see all our USA pictures by clicking here.

3 Responses to California dreamin’ – you sure were great!

  1. Sarah M

    Love the Idle Hand Tattoo piccy! Memories of Las Vegas, San Fran (did you visit Japanese Tea Gsrden?) and LA (espec Venice Beach) have come flooding back! Well done for crossing Death Valley in that RV…fair play to your joint courage. I never made it in to Yosemite as it was on fire!! Are you doing the Grand Canyon?? You have to if you aren’t as that was most amazing experience of my time in California….And New York? You heading there before home??? Am SOOO jealous!!! Piles of waffles with maple syrup….mmmmm! Sx

  2. Nick Nuttgens

    A great read!
    xN

  3. admin

    Thanks Sarah, we are starting to realise that perhaps we were more than a little blasé about driving an RV through death valley. Good job probably – or we wouldn’t have done it!! Xx