Oct
31
2012

LA…We won’t be rushing back!

Well LA was a disappointment in my opinion and I won't be rushing back there anytime soon. Abby felt the same about the place, just over hyped for what it is.

As with most places on our road trip, if we pre-book the accommodation before we actually get there (which we only do when going to cities) we generally go for the cheapest place we can online without it being in a complete dive. Well the place we checked into in LA was as clean as any others we've been to and the location appeared to be ok, until the motel guy told us to make sure we didn't go out after dark unless we were in the car. We were staying between Lynwood and Compton but we didn’t see any real trouble even though Compton is gang central. Not the best of starts.

We did the Hollywood walk of fame which was good to see but not really worth the hassle. Every 20 yards you get pestered by someone trying to sell you a sightseeing tour, or trying to give you a free copy of their new music album and then charge you 10 dollars when it’s in your hand. And don’t just drop them on the floor and walk on, they tend to not like it! So if you can deal with the above, then there is the constant bombardment of beggars and homeless people and the thousands of Chinese with all the camera power in the world. Exhausting!

We walked Sunset Boulevard and the other things you ‘must’ do while in LA. The Hollywood sign for me was a complete disappointment. Thought it would be much bigger and much closer, or you could at least get up close to it, but you can't.

We had a drive around Beverly Hills which was nice looking at some of the houses and cars on the driveways. Santa Monica was nice and the Venice and Muscle beach were worth a visit. I would consider coming back here for a visit but I would make sure I stay here as well as it has everything you need and you don’t need to go near the rest of LA.

We did the Warner Brothers VIP studio tour which was cool. Got to see some of the sets and sound stages and saw some of the tricks they use when building the sets and setting them up. The only famous person we saw (well Abby did, I missed him) was one of the guys from 'The Big Bang Theory'.

So that's it really, not going to write any more about the place as it doesn't really deserve it in my opinion. Heading to San Diego now for a few days break and some beach time.

Oct
26
2012

San Francisco and ‘The Rock’

Our first experience of San Francisco was driving over the Golden Gate Bridge. It looked magnificent as we got nearer the city and it came into view getting closer and closer until we were right in front of it! It cost 6 dollars to drive over but was well worth it.

As we drove in for the first time, we had to try and get across the city and over the Bay Bridge towards Oakland. We were staying outside of the city in Oakland as it was much cheaper to do this and travel in each day. They have a pretty good transport system called BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) which only took 20 mins to get into the centre of San Francisco from where we were staying. We ended up pretty much going straight through the city and straight through Chinatown.

The city was just as I had imagined, roads were amazing, really steep hills and I was constantly wandering round looking at how difficult the foundations and sewage falls must have been to plan. It’s also a wonder how the cable cars get up and down the hills as well, must be some tension in those cables under the roads!

During the drive down to San Francisco, we bumped into 2 Canadians that were travelling back up to BC from a 3 week break in California. They told us about this little Italian restaurant they went to for the bloke’s birthday which had great views of the city. As we didn’t have any plans for where we were going to eat on Abby’s birthday we decided to go there. Well the place must have been located at the highest point in San Francisco, Abby was less than impressed by the time we got to the top. The last part of the climb must have been close to 40-45 degrees. Cars were parked perpendicular to the pavement and they looked like they were about to topple over.

The restaurant was lovely and food was fantastic. They had lots of photos inside the restaurant of the owner with all the A and B list celebrities that had eaten there. And boy, there were a lot of them! They even made Abby a birthday dessert after I mentioned it was her birthday and I lost count of the free glasses of port they gave us. Always worth playing the birthday card! We got some great photos of the city at night from the top of the mountain we were on.

As well as wandering round the city, fisherman’s wharf and shopping we decided to go for a tour of the rock. What an amazing day wandering round and listening to the stories of some of the ex-cons and guards (via the audio tour). We got to go in the cells on the lower level and into solitary confinement but for some reason they let us both out afterwards. Everywhere else was pretty much open to visit with the exception of a couple of buildings that were falling down and dangerous. I didn’t realise that the guard’s families and children all lived on the island as well, it wasn’t just a prison.

San Francisco is definately the gay capital of the world. Abby and I were definately the odd ones out. We also saw two naked men biking down the middle of the piers on fisherman’s wharf. We haven’t got any pictures of this, thankfully Abby couldn’t find the camera in time!

Heading to LA now to see what all the hype is about so will post once we move on from there.

Oct
24
2012

Mt St Helens and the Drive to San Francisco!

We left Seattle and headed south on I5 towards San Francisco with a planned detour to Mt St Helens ahead of us. We didn’t realise just how long the detour would be to the volcano but it took hours. The drive was quite interesting though as the elevation changed quite a lot and we kept climbing above the snowline and then dropping down again. The biggest problem we had was the whole mountain was covered in a massive snow storm so when we finally got to Johnston Ridge Observatory, we couldn’t actually see the volcano at all. There was quite a lot to see and do inside the centre though so not a wasted trip at all!

Once we got back on the I5 and started to head towards San Francisco again, it was clear we had a bloody long way to go in 2 days! We crossed the state border into Oregon which turned out to be a very green state (from the rain it has) and its speed limits were 5mph less than in Washington, not that I or anyone else on the roads paid much attention to that. It rained constantly and we drove on until 7pm at which point we pulled over in a place called Albany and checked into a motel.

We hit the road again at 8am and after only 1 hour we were in some of the heaviest rain I have ever seen, let alone tried to drive in. Americans, like Canadians are rubbish drivers compared to us Brits, add torrential rain to this and you have a very nervous and panicky Abby!

When we got minutes from the California border the rain stopped, it was weird. The surrounding landscape became really dry and the greenery quickly disappeared. We took the forest road west towards the coast and headed for the valley of the giants, home to 75% of the worlds Great Redwood trees! Nothing really important or interesting to tell you about on the forest road other than we nearly ran out of fuel at one point (3 miles left on the fuel gauge, so Abby has now made herself fuel police). Abby summarised the journey on this road to ‘like being in Mario cart’!

 

The size of the trees in the Valley of the Giants was impressive and as we drove through, it was like driving at night. The trees blocked out that much light the whole highway is pretty much mandatory headlights!

After a few pictures among the giants, I found myself with a near impossible task ahead. With only 90 minutes (at best) of daylight left and over 280 miles left to cover and limited to none interstate speeds (so that’s 55mph to us), the chances of Abby getting to San Francisco for her birthday was beyond slim. I gave it a good go but after a few hours it was raining again, it was pitch black and I was playing dodge Bambi. So after 13 hours on the road we gave up and pulled into the dodgiest looking motel in a place called Garberville. After going inside to enquire about the price of this rats nest, $60 was more than we were willing to pay. So with Abby’s hands covering her eyes, we continued on into Bambi country.

After 20 minutes further down the road (with zero deer dead) we found an equally dodgy looking motel in a place called Willits. It was getting really late now and we just couldn’t be bothered driving any further. I can honestly say it is the scariest place I have ever stayed as there were Hispanic people everywhere, wandering round the motel car park looking up to no good (it was opposite two fast food places) and sitting outside the doors of the motel rooms. Abby was of course asleep within minutes as usual, which was a good job as I thought someone was trying to break in through the un-lockable bathroom window at one point. I did find a bit of wood and jammed it shut which just left me covering the front door. I lay there for a good 3 hours watching the curtains flashing blue and red with the police lights in the car park and I really did think about just waking Abby up there and then and leaving.


The next morning Abby awoke on her birthday to probably the worst place she has ever stayed and with that look of ‘what the hell are we doing here’ on her face, we quickly got on the road to San Francisco again, where things would hopefully improve.

Oct
21
2012

Sleepless in Seattle. But not from the price of fuel!

So we got the ferry back from Vancouver Island and started to head south to the USA border. Abby convinced me that we needed to go via the nearest National car hire place which was at Vancouver airport as she didn’t think the paperwork we had was sufficient enough to cross the border in the hire car. To cut a long, boring story short, National had messed up our reservation so we have 3 x 30 day reservations and not 1 x 90 day one. Despite National not trying to get in contact with us at all, they were 1 day from reporting the car to the police as being stolen, so it was a good job Abby made us go in. Needless to say, I am looking forward to the ‘talk’ with the spotty, arrogant, cocky manager in the Toronto branch when we do eventually hand the car back in!

 

So the border crossing went as expected really. Bloke on the booth wasn’t impressed we were travelling around America and not staying in one place. He really wasn’t impressed when we told him we hadn’t booked anywhere in Seattle to stay. Got sent to the inspection area as we had to go inside and fill in some i94W forms. Waiting for us inside was a 90 minute queue behind some screaming Chinese children and a bloke that had a criminal record in Canada who was getting some grief from the border guards.

The whole experience went surprisingly slowly but we didn’t get much trouble on the desk from the young guy as I think he was more interested in Abby than anything else. One smile from her and we were in!

However the guard on the final barrier outside was a complete tit! He made me basically climb out the window of the car as he wouldn’t lean forward a few inches, so I handed him the passports and the orange form which now allowed us entry into the US. He never told me he just wanted the form so he dropped the passports on the floor inches from his feet, so I had to get out the car and pick them up. I felt like throwing something at him but decided against it. Stupid arrogant Americans! And we think the French and Italians are bad!

Anyway, things are kind of back to normal now as everything is in mph again, although I am still on the wrong side of the car and road. Fuel though is around the equivalent of £1 per litre back in the UK. Good times!

 

Seattle was a nice place and quite friendly. Abby did lots of shopping here. We wandered round the famous farmers market and saw the first ever Starbucks. We walked around the city for most of the day and did intend to go up the Space Needle but it was its 160 something birthday and only a dollar admission. We didn’t wait in the monster queue. It lived up to its name in the afternoon and rained quite a lot. We would have stayed a few days longer but wanted to try and get to San Francisco for Abby’s birthday and wanted to visit Mt St Helens on the way down. There was going to be a few long days of driving ahead!


As I'm writing this, we are watching the news about the massive earthquake that has just hit an island in BC, Canada. We first thought it was Vancouver Island but it was actually the Queen Charlotte Islands. We have also just noticed that there has been a state of emergency declared in Wawa, Ontario due to the massive amount of rain they have experienced recently. This picture is from the Ontario state news pages and shows the road we used to drive into Wawa when we stayed there about 4 weeks ago now.

Oct
19
2012

Vancouver and the Island

Arrived in Vancouver on Wednesday, checked into a motel and headed downtown. Had to get the Skytrain into the centre which sounds much cooler than it actually was. We were only on it for a couple of stops but in that short time it was obvious why Vancouver is called ‘Mini Hong Kong’. Chinese and English were the two obvious main languages (in that order) and although it was a nice enough place, I’m glad in a way it wasn’t better than Calgary.

Before we had a wander round the city, Abby made a note on the map of the area we had been told to avoid by both Roy and the Canada book we had been reading throughout our trip. We walked to Gastown and Chinatown and were on our way to Yaletown (where the restaurants and shops were) when we found ourselves right in the middle of the area we were supposed to avoid. It was like something out of a film where zombies come out of doorways making their way towards you from both sides of the street. I’ve not seen anything like it before, some proper crazy people about. A woman was emptying bottles of water all over the street while yelling at a copper, a bloke was counting leaves scattered all over the floor and getting really angry with the wind when it moved them around. Without trying to look too touristy with our map out and ‘mug us’ written on our heads, some fast changes of direction and an extremely quick pace got us out of bumville and back to civilisation.

There is not much left to say about the rest of Vancouver, not much to see as a whole, some nice areas, some bad, but lots and lots of Chinese people. Did have a great Thai meal in a place called ‘Simply Thai’ which if you are to believe the pictures hanging by the door, a place that Tom Cruise and Tom Hanks have eaten. It didn’t look like a photo-shop job and the food was good enough to make me believe it was true.

The best part of the whole of Vancouver was the drive down the Coquihalla highway (well for me anyway). Abby wasn’t too keen on the massive drops either side of the road, the constant road signs saying ‘IMPORTANT: Must carry snow chains from Oct – Apr!’ or the racing lines I was taking on the descent.  Around 90 minutes drive in total, not sure how high we climbed but there was a change of temperature from 14C at the bottom to 0C at the summit. Driving through the clouds and in between the mountains was fantastic, by far was the best road I have ever driven! Certainly a place to test those future 250’s, Leigh and Terry!

We decided to get the ferry over to Vancouver Island and visit Victoria and some of the other places we’d heard were worth seeing. The ferry was pretty uneventful (I was watching for icebergs on deck) but the journey was over in 1hr 35mins.

Victoria was lovely and did remind us of the UK. The weather was about the same and the streets could have been from any northern city. Victoria also hosts a castle and cathedral which we visited and is extremely rare for Canada because it’s such a new country. Most of Canada’s buildings are under 100 years old with the exception of a few in Montréal. Anyway, the castle and cathedral were nice to see but not a patch on some we have back home. There was a lot of shopping available, some nice parks and lots and lots of pubs which is probably why it reminds Brits of back home. Also had the best ale of our trip so far, Blue Buck by Phillips brewery which is brewed on the island apparently.

Looking to get the early ferry tomorrow morning (Saturday) and then try to sneak over the border into the US and make it to Seattle for a few days. Not sure if the hire care is allowed into the USA (we have no proof it is only the word of the woman in Toronto) so we might be touring Canada a bit longer… which wouldn’t be a bad thing!

Oct
17
2012

The wine regions of BC

Well we headed back up towards Banff and Lake Louise and headed straight through the Rockies into British Columbia and to the mountain town of Revelstoke. We stayed there for a night and made use of the free aquatics centre we had entry to with the motel. It wasn’t much to shout about but we did spend an hour or so in the steam room and Jacuzzi which was relaxing.

The motel we stayed in was quite nice but right next to the train line that follows the road up through the mountains. We had trains passing every five minutes and they continued on through the night which didn’t impress Abby much. These trains were much longer than the rest we’ve seen so far (200+ carriages and 3km long - not like I was counting). Most of them had 2 engines up front, one in the middle and one at the rear, just to get the sheer weight of the cargo over the mountains!

Anyway, we had a day wandering round the little ski town which looked really nice, but as there wasn’t any snow we headed off down to Kelowna, the wine region of BC.

We had heard Kelowna was very different to the rest of Canada and we really could have been anywhere in France, Italy or the Med. It didn’t feel at all like any of the Canada we had travelled through. Rolling hills both sides of the town overlooking a big lake, with vineyards all over. After only being there for 30 minutes it was obvious it was a bit of a retirement home for Canadians but we could see why.

As we were in Kelowna for 2 days we decided to do the wine tour trail. We hit as many of the wineries that were open as we could (7-8 in total I think). We didn’t go with a group tour so I just drove between them and needless to say, Abby did most of the sampling. It was a nice day and we got to see how a couple of the wineries made their wines and heard about how they stop the bears eating the grapes! We finished the day by coming away with several bottles of wine and as there had been quite a few generous samples throughout the day, a slightly drunk Abby.

So our next stop is Vancouver which is 4 hours away but it should be a nice drive as we going to take the Coquihalla highway! :-)

Oct
14
2012

Goodbye Alberta. We'll be back...

 

The last week has flown by, partly because we have both been having so much fun, but probably because we have spent most of it drinking far too much! This is pretty much due to us spending 8 nights with the fantastic Ann and Roy Williams, some old friends of Abby’s parents. They have lived in High River for 6 years after moving to Alberta, Canada and what a fantastic place! Not only is their house amazing but High River itself is extremely beautiful and so accessible to all its surroundings.

We arrived on the Friday 8th which was the start of the Canadian Thanks Giving weekend. Abby hadn’t seen Ann and Roy since she was 12 and I’d never met them before. We decided to stock up with some wine and beer before we arrived, but after having the tour of the house, we went down to what can only be described as the best basement I have ever seen, and probably ever likely to see! Roy had built an actual bar in his basement, kitted out with pool table, relaxation area, full DJ/PA system, old style America Jukebox and another bedroom (for those that really can’t make it home). What he didn’t tell us was that pretty much the whole street comes round every day for a party!

We met some fantastic people while we were staying with Ann and Roy, too many to name but everyone was so friendly and made us feel so welcome. This was probably why we ended up staying 8 nights instead of the originally planned 3!

So what did we get up to while we were there… well we did quite a lot alongside the job and house hunting, and I’m not even joking! In no particular order other than as I am recalling them from memory:

Had a fantastic home cooked Thanks Giving dinner by Ann
Went hiking for the day in Banff (Johnson’s Creek)
Improved my pool game
Went around Calgary and up the tower
Ate the best barbequed steak in my life
Went to watch Wade and Tanya play in Riley’s Cattle Barn
Went to our first Bass Pro shop in Canada (refrained from buying a crossbow or rifle)
Went shopping in Okotoks
Visited the Indian graves and a Hutterite colony (which would never have happened if Roy wasn’t with us)

Added to the list above were also numerous great/late nights when various people popped over from the street for a ‘few’ drinks! The local sergeant was a right laugh on the karaoke!

Also managed to give Ann and Roy something back for letting us stay so long… fixed Ann’s laptop and repaired and serviced Roy’s Wurlitzer 3400 statesman jukebox. So just want to say a big thank you to Ann and Roy for the last 8 days!

Below are a couple of pics from over the last week to try and sum everything up!

So to summarise, Alberta is definitely the best place I/we have been so far and the place I want to move to once I get home (Abby has also shown more interest than I expected which is good). We are heading through the Rockies towards the wine regions of British Columbia over the next few days which Abby has been looking forward to.

Oct
4
2012

A birthday in the Rockies!

Driving into Jasper has defiantly given us the most amazing scenery so far. The mountains look amazing but even the tops of them (3000m-3500m) don’t have any snow, so it shows just how warm it gets here in the summer compared to the Alps. The amount of trees once you get high up is unbelievable, it just goes on forever.

It was my birthday on Tuesday the 2nd and what a great few days I’ve had. Woke up on Tuesday morning to it snowing and all those mountains that were lovely and green the day before have got their first snow, so we are really lucky to have seen them in both conditions just a day apart. The snow is great but makes me want to go skiing which unfortunately will have to wait as all the Canadian Rocky resorts don’t open their season until end of October.

We intended to do some hiking on my birthday but due to the heavy snow and poor visibility we decided to go and visit the Miette hot springs instead. The drive along the road (only 56km away from Jasper) was epic with some lovey hairpins and white snowy verges. The springs were not as I expected (small lakes or steaming pools), but were actually 2 swimming pools that were naturally heated by the volcanic activity. They have to cool them down naturally as the springs are around 70C according to the information boards around. One of the pools was at 38C and one at 40C and there were also two plunge pools at 6C and 10C but I couldn’t tempt Abby into these. It was amazing sitting there in the lovely warm water with the snow falling onto us!

Wednesday the snow had stopped and although there was only a dusting within Jasper itself, there was around 10” to a foot as we drove to Maligne Lake to do some hiking. We had planned to do the route Opal hills which was a 14km hike round trip but the park had closed it due to ‘Presence of Grizzlies’! We opted for the Bald hills route instead which was only 13.2km but also looked over the other side of the lake.

As we hadn’t prepared for hiking in the snow, so the choice of attire was a tricky one and Abby proved this by getting changed 3 times in the back of the car. The snow was around 1 foot at the start of the trial so Abby opted for full snow gear, including salopettes and her ski jacket. I assumed it was going to be quite warm at the top so went for just 3 quarters and a t-shirt with my body warmer. It started off fairly easy going but half way up we did have to engage 4 wheel drive and scramble. It was near 2 foot in places so I made Abby plough the way as my legs were cold. The views when we got to the top were amazing and well worth the now frozen ankles I had!

The way down would have been 1000% better if we’d had a sledge or some skis but we never. :-( When we eventually got back to the car we decided to both partake in a cup of hot chocolate in a nearby lodge café. If you know me you will understand that’s its completely unheard of for me to have any kind of hot drinks at all, but I am happy to say I am not converted and all it did was burn my tongue!

The drive down back to Jasper was made by seeing our first close up Bear, Moose and Wolf! Abby shouted at me to get back in the car as I ran towards the bear armed with only the camera. I only got as close as 10 meters where another woman was standing taking a photo. She didn’t look like a very quick runner so I knew if things went wrong the bear would probably get to her first!

 

So all in all a great couple of days in Jasper, we are staying her until Friday at which point we will make the 6 hour drive down the Ice-fields parkway (going to be amazing!) to just outside Calgary where we are going to stay with some friends of Abby’s for a couple of days to a week!

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