Location: Las Vegas, USA
I dont have a lot to say about Vegas, It wasnt my favourite so far. The city lived up to its reputation of being over the top; it was almost like being on a film set. We stayed in downtown Vegas on the Fremont experience. Many people say that this is the real Vegas where it all began. The main benefits of staying in this part of town are mainly down to the cheap rooms - a fraction of what you would pay in the UK and with a lot more luxury. However, I much preferred the newer part of Vegas where all of the famous hotels are located and where luxury is taken to a whole new level. Where else can you find hotels housing Broadway shows, top music acts, luxury brands and amazing restaurants?
We stayed in the Golden nugget, a grand and established hotel. The rooms were huge as were the two King size beds it contained. There was even an in house casino which meant that you didnt have to go too far lose all of your money! I played a few slot machines but didnt win enough to justify the time spent on them. Although in Caesars Palace I took some good advice from Vicky by finding the 5cent slot machines, playing them really slowly whilst looking out for the waitresses who would pass by and offer you a free drink from the bar. So even though I was spending money I was still getting something back!
I definitely had a good time in Vegas but it felt as if we were on holiday rather than ´travelling´. I started to understand that staying in hotels made me feel as if I had only left the country for a couple of weeks which in turn made me want to return home much sooner. So I much preferred my time of communal living in San Francisco where we were able to build so many friendshps and I am looking forward to doing much more of it in LA.
After our 2 days in Vegas we were grateful that we saw the good sense to pre book our flights to LA from rather than having to drive 400miles through the same desert in the opposite direction. We dropped the car back to the avis car rental pint at the airport. But....... the city of Las Vegas is currently one big building site which meant that our 10 minute journey to the airport as calculated by our sat nav was now much closer to a 1 hour journey. This slight problem with the addition of me having to turn around 5 minutes into our drive to collect my mobile from our hotel room combined with the avis rental desk not liking either of our maestro cards meant that our planned one hour walk around duty free had now been eaten up and turned into us missing check in for the flight. But in America a domestic flight is somewhat similar to taking a bus or train so the check in clerk didnt even waste time in asking us why we were late and swiftly told us that we were on the next flight which would depart in less than two hours and this was all without any additional charge.
So we checked in our bags, ate some food and made the next flight to Los Angeles.
Location: Santa Cruz, Saint Louis Obispo, USA
After a fantastic five days in San Francisco we headed off on our road trip. Luckily the local Avis car rental centre was only 2 minutes walk from the hostel which meant that we didnt have to waste any time getting lost.
Thanks to British Airways we were given a free upgrade which meant that our car was even bigger than what we had imagined! But we had a very long drive ahead of us so the additional sat nav, automatic drive and cruise control were sure to come in good use. It did take a few miles for me to get used to driving on the ´wrong´side of the road and it also took a little time for me to stop reaching for the clutch. But, overall I have to say that driving in the states is pretty easy. The roads are long, straight and wide and they dont really have roundabouts which make for a much easier drive.
Our first stop on the road trip was Santa Cruz, which I have to say wasnt all that amazing. It was a bit like a smaller version of Brighton but with loads more sun and several volleyball courts marked into the sand. We decided to stay for a couple of hours to congratulate ourselves on not having crashed the car on the highway. We found a local Mexican restaurant which is probably some of the best fast food that you will find in America. I say this because America is full of fast food joints, none of which are particularly good. Everything is over salted, with extra sugar, extra dressing, extra cheese, extra bacon which can all be supersized if needed. This does go a long way to explain why America has such a weight problem.
After finishing our Mexican lunch we headed back to the car for our final drive of the day to a small town call Sain Louis Obispo. We hadnt really planned this part of the trip in detail so we decided to rely on the lonely planet guidebook for a recommendation on where to stay. After around 4 hours of non stop driving we arrived at our destination. It all looked pretty pleasant so we decided to step inside and give it a go. However, the lonely planet reviewers probably hadnt visited this hostel in a number of years as the place wasnt really fit for human beings. We were shown a dorm by the host which was big enough for 4. But she saw that we were nice people and recommended that we look in town at one of the many hotels as they would have many rooms available. So we took her advice and headed back into town.
As Saint Louis Obispo is pretty small we only had to drive for around 5 minutes before we were on the main strip of hotels. To cheer ourselves up from the previous experience we decided to pick the most glamorous looking hotel, one which was most likely way out of our budget. We left our backpacks in the car so as to not look like backpackers and headed to the reception to make a deal.
The receptionist was pleasant enough, a young girl from New York who was studying in the area. She explained that all of the rooms in the hotel were suites and that we had just arrived in time for the free tasting of local Californian wines and beers - we were definitely in the right place! However, she then went on to tell us that the rate for a room would be $160. Not bad when compared to British standards for a suite but we were now on a backpackers budget of less than half of this between the two of us! But we continued to talk to her over our free glass of wine (the Americans love to hear the British accent) and we managed to get her down to our required figure of $80. But to get this price she informed us that we had to tell her that we were American government officials as they all received this special rate!
So we made the most of the last hour of the wine tasting and we enjoyed the rare luxury of our suite as we knew that we were soon to be back in dorms!
The next day we were up early to continue our road trip to a small town called Valencia which is home to the 6 flags theme park. If you havent been to 6 flags its basically a serious high adrenalin rollercoaster theme park where almost every ride holds a world record. Our original plan was to go to Disneyland California, but all of the people that we spoke to told us that 6 flags was even better! Luckily we went on a quiet day as all of the schools were still open. As Im sure you can see by the pictures we had a good day out!
Next stop Vegas!
Since our visit to Valencia, the town has become even more famous as Rhianna shot her latest music video there on the day of our visit. Also, Mariah Carey held her second Wedding reception in the actual 6 flags theme park!
Location: San Francisco, USA
We've finally arrived. Terminal 5 wasnt as much a disaster as we thought it would be; in fact I would go as far to say that it was a pleasant experience as we didnt have to queue once! The only slight problem at the airport involved Donna not being able to find me after she decided to go to WH Smiths at the last minute. As a result I ended up having to search terminal 5 with 10 minutes to spare before gates closing! Donna has now established that I will be leaving her at any particular airport when she fails to look at her watch.
The flight went quickly as I used much of the 10 hours to recover from all of the leaving parties and dinners that I had in the previous weeks. The only problem was when I arrived in San Francisco when the US official took my picture, took my thumbprints, fingerprints and hand prints and then continued with so many questions that I ended up being confused. She wanted to know where I was employed (Im unemployed), how much cash I had (I only had credit and debit cards and the tiniest amount of dollars) and she then wanted to see my return ticket (I had an electronic ticket!). But despite all of this she finally took a few more minutes staring into my eyes before she stamped my passport, let me cross the border and told me to have a nice day.
The train to the hostel was easy enough and everyone was so friendly as they welcomed us to the city. The first thing that we had to get used to was the hills. Lots of them. We decided against taxis as we had to stick to a budget although Donna has now decided to buy a rucksack with wheels as her current one weighs as much as she does when carried on her back!
The Youth hostel was better than I expected. We've started off with a private dorm with a bunk bed before we venture into the world of shared dorms. We've got pretty comfortable bunks (Im having to climb to the top), a huge TV with cable, an iPod docking station with radio, an en-suite with a powerful shower and a small wardrobe - not bad for $35 per night. The hostel also has lots of activities on offer. On Friday we had karaoke night and on Saturday morning we went on the weekly walking tour to Golden gate bridge which was led by our crazy host called Dianna who tells us that she is from Jamaica West Indies and Jamaica in the Bronx. She also organised a group of around 30 people from the hostel to go to the weekly Dancehall party in the tenderloin district of San Francisco (quite a dodgy area with lots of homeless, beggars and criminal activity). I didnt go as I was driving the next day but Donna went with the Ozzies from the dorm next door along with some of the German girls that we met the previous night.
Today is Sunday and we are about to leave San Francisco and set off on our road trip down the coast to LA. We were considering staying another night as we made friends with a girl called Emma who is from Wakefield of all places. She wanted us to go on the Californian wine tour but we've got a lot of driving to do so we've decided to stick to our original plan by leaving today.
I hope youve enjoyed the first installment, more updates to come, along with pictures when I can find a computer that allows me to do so.