The American Series has Begun
Hello USA! Almost two weeks in and we are LOVING America! There have been a couple of hairy moments, namely the jobsworth at Gatwick airport trying to refuse us entry on to the plane, also us driving into a mountain lion ... but aside from that, it has been an absolute winner.
We flew into LAX on Monday 31st Aug and hopped on the LA Flyaway bus to Union Station, a cheap and easy way to get into the city but we crawled through traffic the whole way. An early indicator of what was to come. We then spent two days exploring the city. A trip to the Apple Store to fix this laptop was on the agenda for day one and thanks to the random appointment from an Apple Store rep in England, we travelled an hour and a half to get to the store which was supposedly "five mins from your accommodation," but we were treated to a delightful shopping centre, The Americana at Brand. There was a live band playing on a Tuesday afternoon, as you do; the water fountain was dancing; an old fashioned tram ran around the centre; there was a crepery and a Cheesecake Factory; all in all, perfect. We then had a wander up to Griffith Park (FYI the Observatory is not really accessible by foot unless you want to hike miles uphill without a foot path) and down to Hollywood to see the Walk of Fame and get our first glimpse of the famous sign. The Walk of Fame, surprisingly underwhelming. Hollywood is just full of tourists, says the tourist, and people trying to sell you things.
Next day we went into the big smoke and took a trip to the top of City Hall for a free lookout on their observation deck over the city. Would definitely recommend. Then hopped on a bus out to Santa Monica where we spent the afternoon frolicking on bicycles between Santa Monica beach, Muscle Beach and Venice Beach, watching street shows and wandering Santa Monica pier.
We picked up a rental car the following morning and donned our swimsuits, ready for a day of non-stop fun at Raging Waters, California's best water park (supposedly). Drove an hour out of the city, drove another ten minutes into the park, got to the entrance and it was closed. We were told by the security guard that we should have checked the website. What, the website where we booked our tickets from? The website that allowed us to choose the date we'd like to visit the park and at no point did the website think to mention that it was closed that day? Absolute stitch up. So we drove an hour back to LA, (plus obligatory traffic, yes at 11am on a Thursday) and ended up going to the Griffith Park Observatory now that we had wheels to get us up there! That was a lovely building, wonderful views and our best shot of the Hollywood Sign. Then, because our hands were tied by this whole water park debacle, we ended up lazing on Santa Monica beach for the afternoon. It was tough.
So, begrudgingly we trekked out again the next day to Raging Waters, through the traffic. This time it was open. Hurrah! Five of the biggest rides were closed though. Plus you pay an extra $15 to park, $12 for a locker, $15 for a meal voucher which can be redeemed on a $9.99 meal?! (Don't worry, I kicked off and got an extra salad. I think we all know who the winner was) A fun day was had but definitely not worth the money.
We spent the next day at Zuma beach, close to Malibu and then the rest of the day fighting LA traffic. The following morning, Sunday, we drove along Mulholland Drive for amazing views over the city and to feel at home amongst the mansions in Bel-Air, naturally. We then left LA and headed out on Route 66 to Barstow, a stopover on the way to Las Vegas and a city that has a drive-in movie theatre! The film we saw was dreadful but the experience was very cool. We continued on the road to Vegas the following morning, taking a small detour into Calico Ghost Town, an old mining town which was abandoned after the value of silver dropped in the 1890s. It was restored in the 1950s and is now a tourist attraction. Maybe the people left because the town lost its economy, or maybe they left because it is hotter than the sun! We came, we saw, we left. Worth a stop but if, like me, you can burn anywhere, suncream and a big hat are a must. A good thing about this detour is that it is about a mile away from Peggy Sue's Nifty 50s Diner. A diner restored to replicate the 50s, very cool and so tasty! Milkshakes and giant slices of pizza, a normal lunch in America.
So then on to Vegas. A place unlike any other. It's all so over the top but it has to be. We spent three days wandering the strip, doing a little shopping, a little gambling, seeing shows, watching the Belagio water fountain display (which never gets old), riding the High Roller for amazing views over the strip (best at night), flying over Fremont St in Old Vegas on the Slotzilla zipwire and just generally having a blast. I also got an early birthday treat of a delicious dinner in a gorgeous French restaurant and taken to see Jersey Boys. I love Vegas!
We headed east towards the Grand Canyon, stopping at Hoover Dam and a few kitsch places on Route 66. We stayed a bit outside of the Grand Canyon National Park in a city called Flagstaff. The drive was interesting in terms of varying terrain. Vegas is out in the desert so for miles, you're driving through dry, flat land and then as you move further into Arizona it suddenly becomes quite mountainous and green and the temperature drops a little. We spent a night in Flagstaff and then were up and out early the following morning for a full day at the Grand Canyon. We got our first, well glimpse isn't really the right word; our first panoramic view of the Grand Canyon at Mather Point. Everywhere your eyes can stretch are taken by this enormous vision. It doesn't look real, it's so large and the scale so vast. The colours are mind-blowing and you feel you'll never be able to do it justice. We walked the Canyon Rim and some of the way down the Bright Angel Trail for different views of the Canyon, a little bit more within it than above it. To get all the way to the bottom is a proper hiking/camping trip so we didn't do that but there's always next time! We stayed for sunset, got in the car to head home, were cruising along, satisfied with our breathtaking day out when we think we hit a mountain lion. Fairly stressful but we checked in at the rental office who said we'd only done minor cosmetic damage and could be on our way! You know, aside from the mountain lion (RIP), we really were pretty lucky.
So there you have it, almost two weeks caught up on. A few ups and downs but fortunately nothing major and now this morning we've woken up in Oxnard, California (we drove here, 8 hours yesterday, it's not witchcraft or anything), ready to properly start the Pacific Highway after our tiny detour into Nevada and Arizona. We love USA.