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Vicki’s Travel Diary

Thursday, 22 Sep 2011

Location: San Francisco, USA

MapI can't believe it's nearly a week since I did my last page - the time is going so quickly! So what have I been doing in that week? On Friday I went on a walking tour of Beverley Hills and Bel Air - to see how the other very small fraction lives. Saw the house where Michael Jackson died, houses that used to belong to Elvis, Walt Disney etc etc. Julia Roberts was having a party set up. The houses are huge! The evening was spent at a BBQ then in the bar with a few beers, getting to know my room mates.
On Saturday I went on a tour to the Hollywood sign - we walked up as far as we legally could - the views would have been good but it was a bit hazy due to all the pollution in LA. In the afternoon I drove to Santa Monica with one of my room mates - went in the sea on the beach where Bay Watch was filmed (apparently) then went on a roller coaster on Santa Monica Pier. We then drove along the coast to Venice beach, which was totally different - miles of street performers, hippy type shops and stalls, and crazy people. It reminded me of Amsterdam without the porn!
On Sunday I drove to the Getty Centre with another room mate. It's free to get in, although the parking is $15 - Maria paid this as I was also giving her a lift to her next hostel in Santa Monica. The Getty Centre is a very interesting building - very arty, with good views across LA. The art is almost all European, including Van Gogh's Irises, and ranges from 10th century to the present day (David Hockney). I really enjoyed it but I think Maria was a bit bored. I took her to her hostel, then drove back to Hollywood. In the evening I took a walk along Hollywood Blvd (just round the corner from the hostel). It's very lively and busy at night - lots of people dressed up as movie characters like Darth Vader, Capt Jack Sparrow, Spider Man etc, outside the Kodak Theatre, where they do the Oscars, and the Chinese Theatre. I got a takeaway pizza and had a glass of wine while I waited, listening to a pianist play Rhapsody in Blue.When I got back there was a comedy night at the hostel, which was funny in parts, although I wasn't too impressed with one woman who decided to target me - nothing offensive but I didn't really like being focused on as an older woman!
On Monday I did some shopping then left LA and drove up Highway 1 (The Pacific Coast Highway) as far as Santa Barbara. I had just got to Malibu when a warning light came on in the car, saying maint reqd. Oh bugger - I phoned the emergency assistance number and was told it meant the car was due for an oil change. Was I going more than 500 miles? Yes - well get an oil change, keep the receipt and claim it back. Well, I've got better things to do then do their car service, so it will have to wait till I get back - I can't imagine anything bad will happen if the oil change is delayed by a few hundred miles.
The route to Santa Barbara was scenic in places but the weather kept changing - sometimes sunny, sometimes misty. I got to the town about 5pm and phoned the number of a hostel in the Rough Guide. Fortunately they had a room - I was a bit fed up of being in a dorm so I paid the extra for a private room, which was OK but I still had to share a bathroom. Had a really nice walk along the pier and watched the sunset - it was nice to be away from the city and to look at the mountains and watch the pelicans. I went out for a meal at a local bar - very nice paella and Pacifico beer.
On Tuesday I had an earlyish breakfast then set off up the coast. I tried to phone ahead to book another hostel but couldn't get an answer so thought I'd chance it again. I took Highway 101 for the first part of the journey, to make a bit of time, then stopped to visit Hearst Castle. This was really interesting. William Randolph Hearst had absolutely pots of money from ranching and he build and designed the castle using bits of buildings from various parts of the Mediterranean.The gardens were also pretty spectacular. The castle was set on a hill so it was warm and sunny, but down below I could see the fog covering the sea. Back on the coast the views had gone - hidden by the fog, and it was a lot cooler. I stopped to watch some elephant seals basking on a beach, but didn't really see much of the coastline because of the fog, which was rather disappointing. It reminded me of climbing Snowdon, the Ben and other mountains in Scotland! So I missed the best of the drive - Big Sur, but I did get some photos, and the fog lifted by about 6pm. I arrived at Monterey at 7pm and drove to the hostel I had tried to phone. I was told there were no rooms - I'm not sure I believed the guy on the desk - he was a bit suspect, and ignored me for far too long when I walked in. Anyway, he suggested a motel I could try, which would give me a reduced rate if I mentioned his hostel. When I got there they didn't have any rooms either, so I tried the motel next door. Fortunately they did have a room, although the old guy on reception was a bit creepy. Anyway it was all OK, and much better than a hostel dorm. It was quite late by now, and I didn't want to walk too far in the dark, so I ended up in a place called the Mucky Duck - yes, you guessed it - it was an English pub! OMG! They even served Strongbow!!! But I had a good steak and some excellent Monterey Cabernet Sauvignon so it was OK. On the way out I got chatting to the bouncer, who admired my pink jacket. He reminded me of Hurley from Lost, except he was wearing a kilt - a bit incongruous. He invited me to join him later for some weed, but I declined!
On Wednesday morning I explored Fisherman's Warfe in Monterey. It was very misty again, so no views, but I did see and hear lots of sea lions all around the harbour, as well as pelicans and harbor seals. The drive to San Francisco was very enjoyable, even if it was foggy. I drove through a large fruit and veg growing area and stopped to buy some fresh fruit, which I had been missing. When I got to San Fran I drove over the Golden Gate Bridge, but couldn't see it as it was completely shrouded in fog. I did get a view of one of the towers, and a photo. I found the hostel (thank goodness for satnav - I could get used to this, and driving an automatic!), which is bigger and a bit quieter than the Hollywood one. I'm in a 4 bed dorm with women from Ghana, Chile and Peru. Had a walk to Union Square and Chinatown then went out for meal at a Thai restaurant. Later in the evening the hostel had a free wine and cheese evening.
Today was really good. I went on a woods and wine tour. There were 9 of us - I was the only one from the hostel, the others were from hotels like the Hilton. We headed north, over the GG Bridge (still couldn't see it) to Muir Woods, which is a national monument of ancient Californian Redwoods. The drove further north to Sonoma Valley, which is a big wine producing area, near Napa Valley. We visited 3 wineries and tasted loads of wine, which, as you can imagine, I enjoyed very much! I even bought a bottle but will save it for a special occasion before I leave the States. Our driver and guide was very good, and took us to a viewpoint on the way back where we could see the top of the GG bridge above the fog - very atmospheric!
So that's it so far. Tomorrow I need to do some washing and shopping in preparation for my road trip around the National Parks. First stop is Yosemite on Saturday. I haven't got anything booked yet, and I can't get a permit for Half Dome, but will try to get one by phone at 7am on Sunday.
I'm also hoping to be able to transfer my photos to my memory stick tomorrow so I can put some on my page. I'm not sure when I'll next get access to the internet for an update, but I'll try to get on when I can.