Logo: Lobster cartoon
Image: USA animated flag
26 February 2005 (Number 2) :
Landed safely and on schedule at Sydney on the first leg of the flight to Honolulu. Technically, I'm still in my first 26th of February as I haven't yet crossed the international date line. Still, I won't be like the other intrepid traveller Phileas Fogg and forget to wind my watch back.
On the flight to Sydney, I was pleased to see that the episode of the Simpsons being broadcast on the in-flight entertainment system was the one where Homer nurtures a pet lobster (Pinchy) rather than eating it. The lobster is his world. Unfortunately, Homer ends up accidently cooking Pinchy in the bath.
There were only 6 of us on the upper deck (out of a possible 32) so the service was excellent. It meant that I could swap between the aisle and the window seat - I was in the latter as we descended into Sydney, so was fortunate to see the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, albeit in the evening's low cloud.
Now, for the second leg .... and hopefully a bit of sleep.
Image: Hawai'i State Flag
Well, after a long overnight flight, I landed at Honolulu. I'd lost two hours on the way to Sydney. During this second flight, I had to put my watch forward three hours, and then back one day.
It was now earlier than the time that I left Auckland. Weird. A very long day.
We did have a delay at Sydney, when we were left sitting on the plane on the tarmac for over an hour, while engineers fixed a problem with one of the rear doors. I didn't mind. After all, I wouldn't want the problem to emerge halfway through the flight.
There were many bumps during the flight, but I may have missed the worst turbulence through periods of half-sleep?
Sadly, there were no lines of Hawai'ian beauties waiting at Honolulu Airport to welcome the new arrivals with some hula dancing. So, I have to make do with the following graphic.
Image: Hula dancer
I passed through US Immigration and Customs without any problem. Fingerprints and photo were taken as part of the entry procedures, and the officer was quite cheerful. Shame the lady on the Tourist Information Desk wasn't. She was no help to me whatsoever, and was quite rude. In fact, I'm not really sure why she was there.
I managed to find the airport transfer bus, and eventually arrived at the Holiday Inn more than an hour later. As there were many drop-offs before mine, I almost got a full tour of the Waikīkī area.
Went for a walk later on, just to start getting some bearings. Popped into the US Army Museum down near the beachfront, but due to tiredness my brain didn't absorb much of the information. I did however remember passing a very strange tree with lots of hanging tendrils. I later learned from an information sign that it was called a Sausage Tree. Don't think I've seen one of those before.
I got back to the hotel and booked up a couple of trips, but then had to retire to my room. I was fading very fast.
I'd arrived in Hawai'i and I was in a right State.
27 February 2005 :
(I'm going to do my best to try sticking to American spellings in the following journal entries).
Pearl Harbor was the main venue on my tourist trail today, and was just a 45-minute coach ride from the center of Waikiki. It is still a working naval harbo(u)r, and it was possible to see many vessels around the edge, including the impressive-looking battleship Missouri.
Image: USS Missouri
It was on the decks of the Missouri on 2 September 1945 that the Japanese signed the formal surrender papers bringing an end to World War II. The ship, nicknamed Mighty Mo was launched in 1944 and had a career spanning 54 years.
For the huge number of visitors to the harbor, there is a small but interesting exhibition explaining the events of 7 December 1941 ("a day that will forever live in infamy") when the Japanese attacked the American forces, and which led the USA to join World War II. There is also a garden area where you can walk around, or simply sit and contemplate on the events that took place here more than sixty years ago.
Unfortunately, the information center and exhibition is woefully inadequate for the volume of people it was extremely crowded, and there was a long time to wait (nearly two hours) before getting into the cinema for the 20-minute film. The center is tucked away in a corner of the harbor, and I really hope that additional land is found so that they can expand the facilities.
Once the film had finished, we climbed aboard a boat for the free ride across to the USS Arizona Memorial - a bright-white marble building straddled across the exact position where the USS Arizona rests, and which still contains the bodies of over 1,000 sailors who lost their lives.
Image: USS Arizona Memorial
There was naturally a very subdued atmosphere on the Memorial, and it was quite an eerie feeling to be standing above the grave of so many who had died. Many people are visiting the site for personal/family reasons, and a couple of girls were dropping flower petals over the side. Its possible to see parts of the ship, either just below the surface, or just breaking through above. Oil continues to rise from the storage tanks of the ship, which is quite remarkable bearing in mind the time that has passed since the ship was sunk.
Image: USS Arizona visible from above
Despite the number of people around me, it was still a calm and thought-provoking place.
Once back at the information center, it was a quick walk back to the parking lot to hop back onto the tour bus. We were then taken for a drive through the National Cemetery of the Pacific at a place called the Punchbowl, due to it's distinct shape. (It was a drive through, as tourist buses are no longer allowed to stop, so that numbers of people walking the grounds are kept to a minimum).
Image: National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific
We were then taken back to downtown Honolulu, where we were able to view the only royal palace on American soil, the Iolani Palace. (Hawai'i used to have a monarchy). Other stops included the State Library and Archives, the Honolulu Hale (city hall), and the statue of King Kamehameha (located outside the Supreme Court). I learned that Kamehameha the Great, who ruled the islands from 1795 to 1819, is Hawai'i's most respected monarch. He brought the various islands together into one country, and combined modernising his nation with looking after his people. His picture is seen all over the islands today on signs marking the various historical places and buildings.
Image: Statue of King Kamehameha
I also learned why the Union Flag is part of the Hawai'i flag. It was all down to the British naval captain Captain Vancouver, who assisted the King in protecting the Hawai'ian islands, despite the fact that the British didn't colonise them. The King wanted a new flag and asked Vancouver to come up with a design. I don't think he could have spent too much time on the task - eight stripes representing the eight main islands, and a Union Flag slapped into the top left-hand corner. Nice work if you can get it.
In the evening, once I had been dropped off by the tour guide, I dined at the 'Red Lobster' restaurant situated just round the corner from the hotel. Part of a chain (maybe 600+ across America), it had the atmosphere of a Harvester restaurant - but you have a great choice of fish dishes, and (as I was soon to learn), served up in huge portions. Walking back to the hotel, I passed a sports bar, the sign of which included the phrase 'the world is my oyster'. Lobsters, oysters .. it all seemed very fishy to me.
28 February 2005 :
Last day of February, and hopefully my last on O'ahu for a few days. I was hoping to get across tomorrow to Hawai'i Island - more commonly known as 'the Big Island' - I had trouble again trying to book flights online, so I went off for the day with fingers crossed having left instructions with the hotel travel desk. People who know me well as someone who likes to plan in advance may be surprised at the last-minute nature of some of my travel arrangements these days ... I guess it's a sign of how I've relaxed since I've been away ?
I was booked on the O'ahu Grand Circle Island Tour - a 120-mile trip around the island, with a visit to the Dole Plantation. The morning was spent on the south-east coastline, stopping at various vantage points to see the surfing beaches. These included Hanauma Bay, the Halona Blow Hole, Sandy Beach and Makapuu Point. We then climbed up into the hills to the Nuuanu Pali lookout - providing a fantastic view down through the valley and across to the sea. A buffet lunch stop at a local golf club was then followed by a visit to the Byodo-In Temple. It can't be seen from the road, but it has a great location nestled beneath the mountains.
Image: Byodo-In Temple, O'ahu
A huge bell, known as a Bon-Sho (which I rang for good luck, and the "cleansing of the mind of all evil temptations through its lingering tones") greets you at the entrance, and it was then a short walk into the temple to see the 18ft image of Amida, the Buddha of the Western Paradise. Of course, showing respect entails removing your shoes before entering. As with the Memorial yesterday, I found it a very calm and reflective place.
The Byodo-In is a replica of a 900 year old temple in Uji Japan, near Kyoto, and is built entirely without the use of nails. It was completed in 1968 in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants to the islands of Hawai'i. It's fashioned to appear as a Phoenix with outstretched wings.
Image: Buddha, Byodo-In Temple, O'ahu
There were lots of koi carp swimming about in the ponds - the sun was out, so there was a great deal of glistening colour to see.
After a stop-off at a Macadamia nut farm (a big industry on O'ahu), our final visit of the day was to the Dole pineapple plantation. Interesting to find out about the history of the plantation and how they grow the fruits, but I was quite disappointed in the whole set-up. It felt quite amateurish - even the 20 minute train ride through the farm did nothing to change my opinion. At least the pineapple ice cream was ok.
We returned to Waikiki via one of Hawai'i's three Interstate highways. A strange arrangement, when you consider that Hawai'i isn't connected to any of the other 49 states.
Back at the hotel, I was concerned that the messages that were promised about tomorrow's flight arrangements had not been left for me. The travel desk was closed, so I didn't know whether anything had been sorted out. I had to make a few phonecalls, and ended up speaking to the owner of the travel desk. Twenty minutes later, the rep appeared with the necessary details, and I was relieved to know that I would be getting to see one of the other Hawai'ian islands.
1 March 2005 :
Once at the airport, my bags and I were 'randomly' selected for intense scrutiny. No problem - I had nothing to hide, and I wasn't running late.
I was travelling with 'Aloha' airlines, one of two main inter-island carriers. Although I normally pick an aisle seat, today I was sat by the window - a good move, considering the view I got of Waikiki below (and of the various islands).
Image: Waikiki viewed from the air
Spent the afternoon reading on the patio, with the sun beating down through the palm trees, with the odd drink or two providing suitable refreshment, and with the background sound of the excellent pianist who was playing in the bar.
Kupaianaha (that's Hawai'ian for 'wonderful').
Image: Palm Trees outside hotel at Hilo
2 March 2005 :
I was staying in the town of Hilo, based on the east coast of the Big Island. So today was a good chance to explore what the town had to offer. Apart from a few shops, not very much really. It is a university town, and has a large shipping and fishing industry, but there's not too much for the tourist to do. Saying that, it was a good walk between the town and the hotel (about 2 miles). I did want to visit the Tsunami museum - Hilo had suffered twice during the second half of the 20th century - but unfortunately I found it closed.
I spent the afternoon investigating the various tour options - my main objective of coming to Big Island was to see the Volcanoes National Park - and I needed to get something sorted out for tomorrow. Decided in the end to organise a hire car, as this would give me the best opportunity to explore at my own pace.
3 March 2005 :
Woke up to news that round-the-world aviator Steve Fossett might be making an unplanned visit to Hawai'i - I decided that I should keep my eyes peeled, just in case he had to make an emergency stop.
Once the transfer bus arrived (it was 45 minutes late) it was a quick trip to the airport to collect the car, and I was away. It's the first time I've driven in America, but having driven in Canada, France and Belgium I'm comfortable with a left-hand-drive vehicle. All was well until I had to swerve and make an emergency stop when a dog ran out in front of me. I quickly remembered the large insurance excess, and was very grateful I didn't have any damage.
The Volcanoes National Park is about 45 minutes away from Hilo, so it didn't take me long to get to the entrance and to part with the $10 fee.
I decided to do two drives within the park (1) Crater Rim Drive - 11 miles; (2) Chain of Craters Road - 38 miles. Both would give plenty of photo opportunities, with many different places where volcanic activity had shaped (and is still shaping) the landscape.
I made the first stop at the Steam Vents - reminded me of the similar places I had visited in New Zealand such as the 'Craters of the Moon'.
The top of the Kilauea Volcano is massive, and knowing that the drive round the crater is 11 miles puts the big gaping hole in front of you into perspective. I stopped off at the Jaggar Museum for some educational stuff, and then parked up near the Halema'uma'u Crater, which sits inside the summit, or caldera, of the Kilauea Volcano.
Warning signs are posted at the start of the 10-minute trail that leads visitors to the best vantage point, as volcanic gases are still seeping from the ground - not good for anyone with respiratory conditions etc.
Satisfied that I could cope, I made my way across to the vantage point. I was not disappointed. Although I was not to see red molten lava, being so close to ongoing volcanic activity was simply amazing. After all, volcanoes are the stuff of school geography lessons - and for me, those lessons were a long time ago.
The volcano last fully erupted in 2003, so I was keeping my fingers crossed that it wasn't going to become very active during my visit. There were numerous places within the crater where you could see green and/or yellow gases rise into the air. And all around were the blackened remains of the lava flows.
Image: Halema'uma'u Crater within caldera of Kilauea Volcano
After a couple more stops, I then took a right turn to drive down the 3700ft descent of the Chain of Craters Road. Again, there were plenty of stop-offs to look at the varying terrain. The road ends where lava crossed it in 2003. You have to park up about half a mile from this position, due to volume of traffic and space for turning in the road. It was a very hot day (and that's without hot lava all around), but it was fascinating to walk about on top of where the lava had flowed.
Image: Road blocked due to lava flow
For the real enthusiasts, it was possible to do a walk of about 4 miles across the rocks to reach the current lava flows. I didn't have the time to do the return trip in daylight myself, and I hadn't packed sufficient water or a torch etc to make the trip safely. I was happy with what I had already seen, including the distant steam plume where the current lava was reaching the sea.
Image: Lava and steam plume from volcanic activity on Hawai'i
The Holei Sea Arch was visible from the edge of the cliffs - created when lava flowed into the sea. I came away though not knowing how the gap in the arch was formed. Answers please on a postcard ...
Image: Holei Sea Arch, Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park
A very interesting day out, and a new experience of being right up close to a live volcano.
I got back to the hotel early in the evening, to find that there was a local film crew in reception. From what I could see, they were filming for a comedy, and the star looked like an Hawai'ian version of Phil Jupitus.
4 March 2005 :
Dropped off the hire car, and checked-in. Aloha.
Another 'random' search at the airport security, and then I sat in the lounge just as a group of local singers and dancers were starting their performance. At last, I had the atmosphere of the hula dancing and the melodious sounds of hawai'ian song.
A smooth flight back to Honolulu, and enhanced by the view I got of the two snow-capped peaks of Mauna Kea (in front) and Mauna Loa (behind).
Image: Mauna Kea, with Mauna Loa behind
A fairly restful afternoon. Dinner that evening consisted of buffalo wings (chicken) and hamburger (beef). And I paid the check with bills, rather than paying the bill with a cheque. What a funny world we live in.
Just before retiring for the evening, I decided to re-check my flight details for tomorrow. I'm really glad I did, as it suddenly dawned on me that to get the transfer bus to the airport and to check-in for the flight on time, I needed to get up by 5am. Oops. I was off to Los Angeles, and I had been a bit LAX in my planning.
5 March 2005 :
Every bag going to the US mainland gets an agricultural scan at Honolulu, to ensure no fresh foodstuffs are transferred from Hawaii.
I also seem to be a marked man, as again I was selected for a full frisk and bag check. There must be code added to my flight ticket to indicate that Im an overseas traveller, and I guess this is done when the check-in staff take a look at my ID (either UK driving licence or passport). It just seems a bit naive to think that all terrorists are going to be foreigners has everyone forgotten Timothy McVeigh who blew up a government building in Oklahoma ? Still, as Ive said before, I have no problem co-operating with the authorities.
A great flight thanks to American Airlines I even managed two cocktails before 10.30 ! A couple of hours later I landed at Los Angeles International Airport, in the State of California, having flown over the HOLLYWOOD letters which I could make out between the low clouds. Its a good job too, as the first thing I saw when entering the airport was a WHSmiths shop, and I couldve mistakenly thought I was back in England.
Image: California State Flag
I was only staying in LA overnight, so it was simply a case of transferring to the hotel just a couple of miles from the airport, and relaxing for the evening. It was a short day in any case, as travelling east from Hawaii meant that I had lost a couple of hours.
6 March 2005 :
All packed up, checked-in, and frisked (yet again) ready for my third flight in as many days. This time, the airline was Ted, the low-cost subsidiary of United Airlines. The flight wasnt too bad, and was made more enjoyable by the conversation with my neighboring passengers, a couple (Tom and Jean) from Swanage in Dorset.
Image: NEVADA State Flag
A smooth landing, followed by a quick and simple transfer into the center of Las Vegas. I was booked into Caesars Palace (please dont blame me for the lack of apostrophe !) the incredible Greco-Roman fantasyland, located in the middle of The Strip.
Clearly a popular place to stay, it took me over half an hour to battle through the queue at reception, despite the 18 staff on duty there. Free water bottles were distributed to the waiting throng. Once the paperwork formalities were completed, I was shown the way to Room 1066 so thankfully, for a change, an easy room number for me to remember.
First impressions of Caesars ? Wow, what an incredible over-the-top venue ! Three different casinos, hundreds of shops, many restaurants, bars, lounges and clubs, as well as a theater (The Colosseum, built especially for Celine Dion) and thats all without stepping outside into the sunshine. Its easy to get lost, so thank goodness for the free Empire map. Everywhere I looked there were statues and/or fountains adding to the Classical effect. The cocktail waitresses walking around in their toga outfits also added a certain something to the atmosphere.
Tastelessness, tastefully done if that makes sense ?!
There were Slots everywhere (about 2000 across the entire hotel), as well as the myriad of card and roulette tables all catering to the varying financial requirements of the patrons. I was more than happy to stick to the 1c, 2c and 5c slots. (I definitely would not be having a go on the $5-a-go machines). Although I was to have a few attempts at a couple of the table games, I was happy to leave them to the experts.
I didnt have a great deal of luck on my first attempts, but I didnt mind. Its a place where I didnt expect to win its a place instead just to enjoy the experience.
7 March 2005 :
I had decided to set aside $30 a day for the casinos (well, when in Rome ), and Lady Luck was definitely shining favourably on me today.
After a lunch at the Planet Hollywood restaurant, another venue within the confines of Caesars, I joined a group of punters at a set of Slots which were being compered by a Master of Ceremonies (dressed up in Roman garb), all obviously to encourage early afternoon activity. On my 7th attempt, I was surprised to get three Caesar heads on the winning line (what ever happened to cherries and melons?), which gave me a win of $300 and a coupon to trade in for a free gift. (I was horrified later on when the free gift turned out to be a medallion !). It was also tradition to shout Hail Caesar into the MCs microphone. Ho hum.
I left the Casino, as I knew there was no chance of me repeating such a win. I went for a proper stroll round the whole complex, which took well over two hours. It was the first time ever that I had seen moving statues (all done I think with clever animatronics), as well as spiral escalators. The ceilings in the shopping malls are painted with blue sky and clouds, all lit-up to create a 24-hour never-goes-dark (and a dont think about leaving) illusion. After a bit of hunting, I did manage to find the exit, and it was great to get out into the real world for a bit.
8 March 2005 :
A nice lazy start to the day, and then it was off to the Hotels barber for a haircut and beard trim. It was a good job that I won the money yesterday, as it was the most expensive haircut Ive ever had. Just please dont ask me how much it cost !
Spent time planning my accommodation for San Francisco, as well as organising my trip out on Thursday to see the Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam. I also heard from 3rd cousin Michael Franks, who lives and works in Vegas, and we sorted out arrangements to meet up tomorrow. I also got around to finishing off the latest part of my travel journal.
Later on, I had another flutter down in the Casino where I found a slot machine called Lucky Larrys Lobstermania. Although Larry may have been lucky, I eventually ended up about fifteen dollars down. Better luck next time. Still, I made the most of the free drinks on offer.
During the evening I went walkabout outside on the Strip. Stopped first at the Barbary Coast, but didnt stay long as it was very smoky. One thing Ive noticed in Caesars is the large number of people who are smoking in fact, now I think about it, there are people smoking everywhere, including the shops and restaurants (what a contrast to New Zealand, where theres now much more restriction). But at least the modern air conditioning and extractor fans in Caesars seem to control the fumes.
I then stopped off at the Paris, which incorporates a 34-story (sorry, but Im still trying to stick to American spellings) replica of the Hotel de Ville, as well as stunning replicas of the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. Even the casino inside is lined with street scenes from the Left and Right banks of the Seine.
Image: Eiffel Tower - Las Vegas style
The Tower was still open for trips, so I bought a ticket, queued, and went up in the elevator to the top. I got some fabulous 360° views of Vegas from the observation deck, in particular the lit-up Strip, as well as the floodlit musical fountain show (more than 1000 fountains) in front of the impressive Bellagio Hotel. Magnifique !
Image: The Strip - Las Vegas #1
Image: The Strip - Las Vegas #2
9 March 2005 :
I was delighted today to meet up with my relative Mike Franks, who up until now had been someone who, over the past 4 or 5 years, I had only been in contact with via e-mail. Were both descendants of great-great-grandfather William Cousins (1821-1895). William had five children. His fourth child was William Hambidge Cousins (Mikes great-grandfather), and his fifth child was Charles Augustus Cousins (my great-grandfather).
I met up with Mike at his bank (Sun West Bank), on West Flamingo Road, and then had lunch at a very good local Italian restaurant. Afterwards, I was kindly taken on a short tour of Las Vegas, before being dropped off back at Caesars. Inevitable, as its said that all roads lead to Rome. Unfortunately Mike had to return to work, which was a shame as both of us could have talked for hours. Still, we agreed to meet up again tomorrow evening, this time to be joined by Mikes wife and two sons.
I spent the afternoon looking round the magnificent Bellagio resort hotel, which is probably the most opulent in Las Vegas, costing $1.6 billion to build. Like Caesars, you can easily get lost amongst the casinos, shops and restaurants. One of the best places inside is the Conservatory and Botanic Garden, including its mix of real and mechanical butterflies. The highlight though is definitely the 18-foot lobby ceiling, comprising 2,000 hand-blown glass flowers, in every colour you can imagine.
My last visit of the day was across the road to Aladdins. I wasnt so impressed with this venue perhaps I was just getting a bit too blasé about these mega-hotels ? However, no other hotel was offering the sight of entertainer/illusionist Nathan Burton, who had just started a televised 7-day stint locked in a clear plastic box. Weird.
Viva, Las Vegas !
10 March 2005 :
Time to get out of Sin City for the day. (For those in Greymouth in New Zealand, it may have been time to get out of town following news of a tornado).
Once out of Las Vegas, and past Henderson, the first stop on the booked tour was at Boulder City, looking down towards the picturesque Lake Mead. Great to see a couple of chipmunks scampering around, no doubt also enjoying the panoramic view from the Overlook.
It was then a short drive along the Nevada Highway to the impressive Hoover Dam. Finished in 1936, and with Art Deco embellishments, it was remarkable because it was finished ahead of schedule and under budget. (Funny to think that the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas cost 10 times the amount it did to build the Hoover Dam).
Image: Hoover Dam
Dam impressive. Halfway across is the State border between Nevada and Arizona and a time difference of one hour. But no point in changing my watch, as I would only be in Arizona for a few hours.
Image: ARIZONA State Flag
After a photo stop, it was onwards towards the west rim of the Grand Canyon. Stopped on the way at a chocolate factory in a little town called Dolan Springs. But the factory was more of a mobile home with a small shop built in, rather than anything that Willy Wonka would put his name to.
To get to the west rim area, it was necessary to go off-road for about 15 miles, and this route took us through some great countryside a lot of red earth (reminiscent to me of the area near Ayers Rock and the Olgas in Australia) with plenty of Joshua Trees. Huge plateaux with mountains beyond added to the wonderful scenery.
Once we arrived near the edge of the Canyon, we had to change to a big tourist bus, to take us on the remaining mile or two of road. Something to do with the rules of the Native American reservation, apparently.
What can I say about the Canyon ?
Breathtaking, amazing, awesome . theres nowhere else on the planet like it.
Image: Grand Canyon #1
The views all around were staggering. There were helicopters buzzing between the sides of the canyon, well beneath my sight line, with the meandering Colorado River way down below. Trees at the base of the canyon looked as though they were the size of insects.
Sitting at the edge with such an outlook was simply magical.
Image: Grand Canyon #2
Image: Grand Canyon #3
It was definitely a Have a nice day ! sort of day.
Image: NEVADA State Flag
Much later, and back across the dam and across the border, we eventually arrived back in Vegas, dodging one or two traffic jams on the way. I was dropped off near the end of the Strip, between the Stratosphere (a 1149ft tower, with roller-coasters atop) and the Sahara Hotel, where I caught the monorail back to Harrahs. It was the closest stop to the Venetian Hotel, where I wanted to have a look inside to see the Gondoliers wending their way along the Grand Canal. Again, yet another truly over-the-top sort of place.
Image: Venetian at Las Vegas
During the short walk back to Caesars, I passed the Mirage Hotel complete with its exploding volcano out the front. This time, quite literally, over the top.
As a great end to a great day, I then spent the evening in the company of Mike and his wife Debbie, together with their two sons Mikey and Connor. We went to a Mexican restaurant (Cozymels), where I tried (and enjoyed) a lovely Baja fish dish. It was wonderful to meet the Franks family, and good to put faces and personalities to people who have, until now, just really been names on the Family Tree.
11 March 2005 :
It was time to leave Las Vegas definitely a Disneyland for adults. Id only spotted a couple of Elvis impersonators, but quite a few newly-weds some of which were in the Casinos still wearing their wedding outfits. Its a place where nothing should surprise you. Tacky and wacky. But saying that, you cant help but be impressed by the sheer scale of the resort hotels. And bearing in mind the tens of thousands of rooms that are situated in Vegas, its amazing to think that it runs on an occupancy rate of about 98%. Book early to avoid disappointment.
I checked out of Caesars, and took a taxi across to the airport. I have a funny feeling that I was ripped off, as the route taken could hardly have been called direct.
This was therefore one occasion where I decided not to tip. Although I was expecting a heated discussion about it, the driver remained silent. Perhaps he realised I knew that he had taken advantage of this tourist ? (On a general point, Ive not yet encountered any problems with tipping usually a $1 or $2 tip suffices, depending on the service involved, or 10%-15% in restaurants. The thing I find worse, and Im still trying to get used to, are the various sales and local taxes that get added onto prices).
Yet again, I was randomly selected for a frisk and search at the airport security point. Its getting more interesting though, as this time I also had to stand in a new machine that blasted jets of air over my body. I assumed this was a clever way of detecting drugs and explosives. I was clear on both counts, you wont be surprised to learn.
Anyhow, whilst waiting for the plane, there was the funniest tannoy announcement that Ive ever heard : Can the person who left a pair of false teeth and a hearing aid in the mens restroom please come back to collect them. I pondered on whether the forgetful person who had removed their hearing aid would have heard the announcement ?
I had been in the restroom about 5 minutes earlier, but my teeth and my hearing were intact.
There were quite a few bumps during the Delta Airlines flight to Salt Lake City, but I didnt mind as the scenery outside the window was more than enough to keep my thoughts off the turbulence.
Having now been on many flights on this trip, Ive got used to striking up conversations with my neighboring passengers. No Dorset residents this time, but a young American called Eric. I asked him what he thought of Delta only to find out his father was a pilot for the airline, so perhaps was slightly biased. Anyway, Eric went on to tell me that hes a member of the US Army Reserves, and clearly was quite worried about the possibility of being called up for action in Iraq. It was very interesting to hear his perspective on the US occupation. Hes just 20.
Anyway, having landed, I was now in Utah.
Image: UTAH State Flag
A short minibus ride later and I had arrived in Salt Lake City.
One thing I immediately noticed was the difference in the temperature here compared to the heat of Las Vegas. It must be something to do with all the snow-capped mountains that surround SLC, and the reason why the Olympic Winter Games were held here in 2002.
After checking into my room, I took a stroll across to the 35-acre Temple Square, the main hub of the city. I joined a short guided tour into the two vistor centers, but unfortunately there's no access for tourists into the Temple itself.
12 March 2005 :
I was woken up at around 2am by the sound of a trains loud horn, and couldnt get to sleep again for at least a couple of hours. I later found out that the Union Pacific Railway passes by about half a mile away. Nearby, wailing fire engines also added to the night-time disruption. Its a real shame that there isnt a noise ban in the early hours.
As planned, I spent the whole day at the Family History Library, run by the Mormons (Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints, or LDS for short). Fortunately, its conveniently situated just round the corner from where Im staying.
Over the next few days, I would attempt to find answers to many of the outstanding genealogical queries I currently have. Some intense research was in order and Im glad I had spent a bit of time in advance sorting out what particular items I wanted to resolve.
The Library contains the worlds largest collection of family records theres over 2 million rolls of microfilm, thousands upon thousands of books and microfiche, and free computer access all spread across 5 levels, split by geographical area. Thats a huge amount of research material, and thankfully extremely well indexed. I would be the proverbial child in a candy store over the next four days. The British Isles section is located on the bottom level (basement 2) with subdued lighting, it felt a bit like going down into a bunker. Long rows of numbered/indexed filing drawers were situated alongside long rows of microfilm readers. Plenty of desk area for general research, alongside numerous drawers of old maps and documents. Enough room for casual visitors as well as the serious genealogists. There were many LDS helpers on hand to help with queries, as well as providing hints and tips.
Overall, the library was much smaller than I envisaged, and is a fraction of the size of the National Archives building (formerly Public Record Office) in Kew. And for contingency purposes, duplicates of all of the LDS records are apparently held in a nearby mountain vault.
The book section provided me with some useful background information I was looking for, particularly on the Abingdon and Havant areas. I was also delighted to find in the Sussex section a signed copy of my great-aunt Ivys pictorial book about Pulborough (theres even an early picture of me in the book Plate 41 !)
13 March 2005 :
Yikes. A cold front had moved south overnight across Utah, leaving the temperature at a very wintry level. Unfortunately, this is the first day that I have felt quite unwell. Im suffering with a bad cold and sore throat, which Ive put down to the dramatic change in temperature Ive faced since arriving from Vegas. It must be cold, as its the first time on this trip that my winter jumper has had to make an appearance.
After wrapping up well, I managed a walk around the city, which actually had the air of a ghost town. The Sabbath seems to be strictly observed by most people here. (The Family History Library is closed all day).
Image: LDS Temple, Salt Lake City
Image: Sunday Rush Hour in Salt Lake City
I returned to the hotel, and spent most of the day resting. It seemed funny that although the skiers in the area were enjoying the slopes on the mountains, it was me who was heading downhill fast.
14 March 2005 :
Today marks the start of my seventh month of travelling it still only seems like yesterday that I was waiting for my first flight at Heathrow. I know that I still have a couple more months to go. Im also aware that all good things come to an end . but not just yet !
Just a real shame that I didnt feel better.
Coughing and sniffing for most of the day, I probably shouldnt have been cocooned down in the basement with the other researchers. At least the microfilm machines were split into booths, so hopefully my germs were confined to a relatively small area. I have waited a long time to come to SLC, and I couldnt afford to waste the time stuck in bed.
I was pleased to track down the death records of two of my great-great grandparents (Pannell and Moorey families). Exact dates had escaped me for the past fifteen years, ever since I started on the Family Tree.
I was particularly pleased to find out much more information on the Timbers part of my family, who originated from Norfolk. Scanning through various films of Parish registers detailing baptisms marriages and funerals, I tracked down and cross-checked names and dates for parents and siblings of great-great grandfather William Helsdon Timbers, so I was able with certainty to add one further generation on that particular branch. More Timbers for my tree.
The other great find today was the extra information I was able to locate on the family of William Timbers wife, Frances Lacy. Not only was I able to confirm details of her parents Matthew and Mary (up to now, I had no knowledge of her mothers maiden name, which turned out to be Adams), but with a lot of further digging, I was able to find details of Marys mother (Sarah) and discover the names of Marys maternal grandparents (Daniel and Ann). Daniel and Ann are therefore two of my (64) great-great-great-great-great grandparents !
15 March 2005 :
Still feeling no better, but I was determined to carry on with the research. I had found a pharmacy last evening, and I was now well dosed up on cold remedies and extra Vitamin C.
Spent a bit of time looking into the Brewerton, Blunden and Strudwick families, and then turned my attention to the Rousell branch one of the Somerset and Dorset parts of my ancestry.
Unfortunately, I could not glean any further light on the mystery of Uncle William Rousell who I learnt about during my recent visit to Sydney. Born in Lopen, Somerset in 1803, Williams father (also called William) had emigrated to Tasmania with his wife Keziah in 1832. William the younger (1839-1926) had stayed with my Sydney relatives in the early 1920s, claiming to be a cousin. But no link has ever been proved, and after a couple of hours I had to give up the trail. Another mystery for further investigation.
Having free access to the Internet in the library meant that I was able to research a lot of the useful websites that are geared to genealogy. The normal subscription sites (for censuses and wills etc) were free of charge, so I took full advantage of the opportunity. Managed to trace some more ancestors back to the 1851 and 1871 censuses showing addresses, names, ages, occupations and relationship to the main householder which has given me useful extra background.
In the afternoon, I switched my attention to the Charman (Sussex), Streeter (Sussex) and Wills (Dorset/Somerset) parts of my family, and again I was able to locate a number of individuals who up til now I had only scant information on.
All in all, a very successful few days of research. So much material at my fingertips. Out of 2 million microfilms, I probably only looked at 60. Plenty more therefore available to me for a future visit. And plenty of new leads to follow up once I get back to the UK.
16 March 2005 :
Feeling slightly better today.
I faced the usual drill at the hotel (checking-out) and airport (checking-in and security). The Delta Airlines flight was no problem at all it made a pleasant change to be on a small (50-seater) plane.
Gained an hour upon landing at San Francisco. Happy to find my bag was first off the carousel, and a nice simple transfer by minibus into the city.
Image: CALIFORNIA State Flag
I was back in California.
Recently, a few people had kindly e-mailed me hints and tips for my time in San Francisco, and I was keen to explore as much as possible while I was here. As I wanted to get my bearings quickly, I ventured out towards Union Square, just two blocks away from my hotel. On the way, I encountered a few panhandlers who all seemed keen to lighten my pockets of all my spare change. (Ill make further comment on this later on in the Journal).
Ended up at the Macy*s store. As it was dry, I went up to the top of the building to the rooftop restaurant (now a franchised Cheesecake Factory) for a bite to eat.
Image: Sign on roof at Macy*s
There were great views over the edge of the roof down into the Square, but you had to keep an eye out for all the seagulls that were also keen to share in the food. I was getting a bit fed up with the traditional American fare (it seems that everything is served with chips), so I ordered a Caesar Salad. It was more of a case of Fail Caesar than Hail Caesar. You would think that it would be very easy to make. Unfortunately, the chef was clearly having an off-day. It was awful, and even included a few ingredients from one of the other dishes on the menu. I decided to complain resulting in a free meal, and profuse apologies from the manager.
17 March 2005 :
Happy 7th Birthday to Jérémy (in Belgium).
After a good nights sleep, I headed back towards Union Square and the queue at the end of Powell Street for the cable car. I didnt have to wait too long, and the trip to Hyde Pier and Fishermans Wharf was really good. Lots of hills on the way. Not sure yet how the cable car works, but Im sure Ill find out.
At Hyde Pier, I paid $5 to walk round three ships, all part of the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park. The Eureka (a side-wheel ferry) and the Hercules (a steam-powered tug boat) were moored up on one side of the pier, and the Balclutha (an impressive square-rigger built in Scotland) was on the other.
Image: Balclutha, Hyde Pier, San Francisco Harbour
Out in the harbour I could see the island of Alcatraz, as well as the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges.
Walking along the Wharf, I passed a lot of restaurants and seafood stalls. It seems that San Francisco is a good place to catch crabs. These and other assorted seafood were on display, but I didnt see any lobsters. At Pier 45, I saw an old warehouse with an interesting sign, and decided to look inside. It was the Musée Méchanique full of old amusements, arcade games and fairground items.
My next stop was at the Ripleys Believe It or Not Museum. An interesting mix of the strange, the bizarre and the unbelievable. Exhibits included shrunken heads, optical illusions, weird and wacky art, strange people and odd animals.
CLICK HERE for more information (www.ripleys.com)
The afternoon turned out to be quite warm, so where better next than a visit to the Ghiradellis ice cream parlor for a delicious sundae. (Many thanks to Alan Mochrie for this tip).
In the cable car queue for the return to Powell Street were two girls from Huddersfield, who had just arrived for their vacation. We got chatting, and I found out that they were going on to Vegas and Hawaii, so was able to share useful information with them.
Back in the city center, I made my way back to the hotel but again had to be wary of the panhandlers. A couple of them were fairly aggressive. On further investigation, I found out that Union Square and the adjoining hotel area borders onto the Tenderloin district, notorious as one of SFs trouble-spots. There are homeless shelters and some drug problems. Muggings have been known, especially during the hours of darkness. Oops, Ill have to be very careful over the next few days.
Almost forgot Happy St.Patricks Day (to those who it matters to). I remember to mention this, as for the first time in my life someone told me today that they thought I must be Irish. Either my accent has changed dramatically since I left the UK, or the woman had one too many celebratory glasses of Guinness.
18 March 2005 :
Still stuffed with cold, and it was raining hard, so all in all a fairly miserable day. Walked across to Chinatown in the morning, but apart from that it was a quiet day for me. In reality, I was glad for a bit of a rest in the afternoon and evening, and hoped that it would help me to recover.
19 March 2005 :
When I woke up and looked out the window, I was disappointed to find it raining hard again. But at least I felt a lot better. I had lost the cough and the sore throat, but still had a blocked nose. I knew it was blocked, as I passed within 5 metres of a Lush shop and couldnt smell a thing.
Moved hotel today I would now be at the Hotel Mark Twain for the next six days. It was still near the Tenderloin district, but at least the hotel itself was much smarter than the one that I was at before.
It was necessary to go shopping for new shoes, as I discovered a leak in the pair I was wearing while out in the rain yesterday. I also needed to buy some tape for my big travel bag. It should still last for the remainder of my journey, but I realised that without making some repairs I might lose some items.
Found a great little internet café the Golden Gate Perk. Took the chance to catch up on e-mails, as well as work on a couple of the Family Tree queries.
In the evening, I decided to try the hotels restaurant, Sultans, which specialised in Indian cuisine. Maybe I could finally kill my cold with a curry ? Unfortunately, the restaurant didnt specialise in good service.
20 March 2005 :
Took another enjoyable trip this morning on the cable car between Powell Street and Hyde Pier.
Image: Powell Street, San Francisco
But this time I got off the cable car before the end, at Lombard Street the so-called worlds crookedest street. Cars are allowed down the hill, but the speed limit is restricted to 5mph. Its definitely quicker to walk.
Image: Lombard Street, San Francisco
I then carried on walking towards Fishermans Wharf, and bought a ticket for the cruise around the Bay.
Image: Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
Image: Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
It was great to get close up to the Golden Gate Bridge, although disappointing not to go right under. Due to the rough water, and a storm moving in from the Pacific, the skipper had decided to turn the boat just short of the bridge. Most of the passengers were holding on tight, as the boat was moving about a great deal. It sure was a swell trip.
We then headed back towards Alcatraz the trip didnt include a landing on the island, but the commentary on the headphones gave an insight into the history of the place.
Image: Alcatraz, San Francisco
Lunch at the local Hooters restaurant (delightfully tacky yet unrefined), and a visit to the Cannery Warehouse shops, was followed by a walk all the way back to the city center. Sometimes I surprise myself I walked up and down the numerous hills, despite the fact that I could have jumped onto the cable car at points along the route.
Stopped off at the Cable Car Museum, which gave me useful background to the origins of the cable cars in San Francisco, as well as the campaign to keep the cars when the authorities seriously considered getting rid of them. (SF without cable cars would be like London without red double decker buses).
Image: Big Wheels at Cable Car Museum, SF
I also now know how the cable car system works. Obvious really, when you think about it. The name gives it away. Its one long cable on a huge loop (over 4 miles) to which the cable cars grip onto in order to move along the streets. The cable (hidden beneath the streets) moves along at 9 miles per hour, and the driver on board simply increases or decreases the grip to speed up or slow down. A separate brake enables the car to be brought to a complete standstill. Particularly useful when passengers need to climb on or alight.
21 March 2005 :
Heard on the news that there were two tornadoes in the San Francisco region yesterday. There was quite a bit of structural damage to a number of houses and businesses. No wonder the skipper of the bay cruise was cautious about going too far out from land.
Amongst my e-mails, I was really pleased to receive a reply from an old school chum I had unfortunately lost touch some years ago, and have now managed to track him down working for Lloyds TSB at their Head Office in Bristol. Its a small world. Id sent off a speculative e-mail yesterday, hoping I had found the right person. Needless to say, plans are now afoot to meet up, once I return to the UK.
It rained for most of the day, so I went on a coffee shop and bookshop crawl (makes a change from pubs).
I did find the local Hertz depot to sort out a hire car that Ill be picking up on Friday morning. This will enable me to drive north out of San Francisco, and across the Golden Gate Bridge all the way up the west coast to Seattle. Im planning to spend about 6 days on the drive, so I should get plenty of opportunity to see the sights. Lets hope the weather improves.
Later on, I had supper at Loris Diner in Mason Street, the epitome of an American Diner. As soon as I had walked through the door, I felt that Id walked straight into the Back to the Future filmset. Mr.Sandman wasnt playing on the jukebox, but there was plenty of other 1950s music to create the right atmosphere. Black and white chequered floor, red and chrome fittings, and black and white posters round the walls all added to the ambience, and the food and drink (popcorn chicken and jacket potato, along with a traditional milk shake) was great too.
It continued to rain throughout the night, persistently.
22 March 2005 :
Torrential rain was evident for most of today, and the forecast that I watched on the television for the next few days was no better.
If it carries on like this for much longer, I might have to consider collecting up two of each animal.
So, thanks to the heavy rain, I spent today reading, writing and relaxing. I had hoped to make a trip out to Yosemite National Park, but the poor weather over the past few days did not encourage sufficient people to sign-up for the trip, and it didnt run.
I couldnt be bothered to go out in the rain to find somewhere for dinner, so I made a return visit to Sultans. The service hadnt improved since my previous visit, but the curry (once it arrived) was ok. At least I didnt find a human finger in the food, as someone had done in their chilli in a San Francisco Wendys restaurant. And yes, they did show the offending item on the evening news. Yuk. Finger lickin' bad.
23 March 2005 :
More rain today, although there were a couple of hours in the afternoon when it cleared. I managed to find the Metro/Underground at least it was dry beneath the roads. Its a bit complicated for the uninitiated, as there are two underground systems one called BART and one called Muni.
I took the Muni system, and headed towards the San Francisco Bay. Ended up at the Embarcadero station, which was just a short walk from the main Ferry Terminal building, most of which has now been converted into trendy bars, restaurants and retail outlets. The building is situated just a short distance from the Bay Bridge a double-decker construction that appears to be far busier than its Golden Gate equivalent.
The only thing I had to remember with the Muni system was that all tickets had to be purchased with quarters (25c coins). If you ran out of quarters, it was no good trying to get change from the Muni machines you had to use the BART ticket machines instead. I wonder if this is whats called an integrated transport system ?
24 March 2005 :
Miraculously, the rain had cleared, and I was able to look up at a blue cloudless sky again. Good job too, as I was booked onto the Tower Tours City Tour. Following a pick-up at my hotel, the first stop was down at the Tour Office to pick up the ticket. Once aboard, we were introduced to the driver/guide, Vinny (not one of my cousins).
Very comfortable coach, and only about half-full not only did this give everyone a bit more room, but would mean that we would not waste so much time waiting for people to get on and off the coach at the various stops.
First destination on the tour was the north vista point of the Golden Gate Bridge, which meant that we were driven across the bridge and parked up. Great views, with the added benefit of a few birds of prey buzzing around above our heads.
Image: Golden Gate Bridge (with birds of prey)
A few facts :
Length of the main span of the bridge : 4,200 ft
Width of the bridge : 90 ft
Height of the towers : 746 ft
Height of the towers above the roads : 500 ft
Length of one cable: 7,650 ft
Number of strands of wire on each cable : 61
We then headed back across the Bridge into the city, with a drive around the coastline, a quick photo stop at Ocean Beach (usually foggy, but clear for us), before arriving at the large expanse of the Golden Gate Park.
Stopping outside the Japanese Tea Garden, I made for the entrance to the Botanic Gardens (also known as the Strybing Arboretum). Lots of flora and fauna (as you would expect), but also many squirrels scampering about. Fortunately, squirrels are quiet creatures, so they didnt interrupt the calm and peaceful atmosphere.
Image: Squirrel in the Botanic Gardens, San Francisco
Next on the tour was Twin Peaks two 900-foot hills that sit in the center of town, providing amazing views of the city, the Bay, the bridges, and of Mount St.Bruno in the south. A popular spot, with many cars and coaches in the small parking area, as well as quite a lot of ad-hoc t-shirt and souvenir stalls to try and tempt you to part with your dollars.
Image: View from Twin Peaks, San Francisco
Our route then took us through the Castro District (colourful, with rainbow flags all around) and the Mission District (originally a Spanish, then a Mexican, and latterly an Irish and Italian neighborhood), and then a stop at Alamo Square. The locals dont like coaches stopping at Alamo Square, but its where youre able to see the famous Painted ladies a row of Victorian houses with the towers of the Financial District behind. Its one of the most familiar images of San Francisco. We all made a mad dash to get our photos.
Image: The 'Painted Ladies', San Francisco
Driving back through the heart of the city, past the wonderful architecture of the City Hall and the Opera House, we continued through Tenderloin and Chinatown, before finishing up back at Fishermans Wharf.
The tour lasted about three and a half hours and I thought it was very good value. A return to Hooters (for a gourmet hot dog) and a trip back to the city center on the Trolley Bus finished off the day. Unfortunately, noisy roadworks outside the hotel throughout the night meant that I got little sleep.
25 March 2005 (Good Friday) :
As arranged, I picked up the rental car from Hertz, and set off for the open road. I had to get out of San Francisco first, which wasnt too bad I definitely enjoyed driving down the extremely steep hills, before turning left and then heading north.
I was actually glad in the end to leave San Francisco. There were some interesting things to see, and I'm glad I included the visit on my trip. But on the whole I found it a dirty city, and the pestering of the panhandlers in the streets really annoyed me. It's the worst I've ever encountered. Maybe I should be more charitable towards them, and I did on occasion hand over a few dimes or nickels. But in reality I can't improve the situation for them. There are many supporters who maintain they have the right to be on the streets .... but surely, that doesn't address the problem, and just continues their loss of dignity ? The relevant authorities need to solve the homeless situation in the city - as I'm sure I'm not the first tourist to moan about it.
Anyhow, once I was across the Golden Gate Bridge (named after the entrance to the bay, not the colour - its not golden, its apparently international orange), I had a choice of the fast road (Route 101), or the scenic and slower coastal road (Route 1). I took the latter, and am so glad that I did.
The coastline scenery was fantastic, from the Muir Beach Overlook, up to Bodega Bay and beyond all the way up to Fort Bragg. Waves crashing on the rocks with seabirds flying around. I had the windows and sunroof open to take in the sea air. Wonderful.
Alfred Hitchcocks The Birds was filmed at Bodega Bay in 1963 I know this from the free CD I was given at the tourist information office. A very useful CD, as it gave me a commentary all the way up to Fort Bragg. All I had to do was to switch it on and off at various stages to ensure the information coincided with where I was.
The road twisted and turned, away from and back towards the coast, hugging the steep cliffs it was one of those drives where you just didnt know what would be round the next corner. Its not a fast road, but that certainly didnt matter as it was great just to admire the passing scenery. The road passed through quite a few Cattle Ranges, marked by cattle grids and warning signs.
There were a lot of small fishing villages/towns on the way to Fort Bragg all with their traditional Chowder Houses and other small restaurants, inns and shops. Places included Jenner, Fort Ross, Salt Point, Stewarts Point, Manchester, Elk, Albion, Little River and Caspar. I was greeted at each village/town by the population sign 462 at Manchester and 250 at Elk as two examples.
Just before Manchester was a short detour out to the Point Arena Lighthouse another movie venue (Mel Gibsons Forever Young 1992). I didnt get to climb the lighthouse, but I did get to feed some racoons that were walking along the side of the road.
Image: Racoons at Point Arena
It was afterwards that I saw the Do not feed the racoons sign. Oops. Still, they seemed to enjoy the Hersheys chocolate.
Image: View of Pacific at Port Arena
Fort Bragg (Pop.7025) was where I stopped at the end of the day. Named after Colonel Braxton Bragg in 1857, the fort was abandoned just a decade later. I would abandon it after just one night.
I had enjoyed the drive today. It had definitely been a good Friday.
26 March 2005 :
Another day driving north up Route 1. It included a long inland stretch (22 miles) of very winding roads through dense forest, up and down twisting hills. Progress was slow, and concentration was intense.
The highlight of the day was when I reached the Humboldt Redwoods State Park, and took the 32-mile diversion along the Avenue of the Giants. I had read about and seen pictures of the giant redwoods. Now I was up close to them. Some grow to 350 feet and live for as long as 2,500 years, which is pretty impressive on any scale.
Image: Avenue of the Giants (with my hire car !)
Following a brief stop for lunch at Fortuna, I then found myself in the city of Eureka. A little further on, I encountered a field of elk, although they were quite a way off in the distance, so didnt provide a great photo in spite of the zoom lens. I stopped at the nearby car park and walked for 15 minutes along a path towards where they were situated, but dense woodland obscured any view.
The last big place on the Californian coastline is Crescent City, named for the shape it forms round the bay. I decided to stop there for the night. 227 miles completed today (added to the 188 miles I drove yesterday). I was making good progress.
27 March 2005 (Easter Day) :
Happy Easter to all my friends and family.
Woke this morning to the sound of howling wind, heavy rain, and the Pacific waves crashing loudly on the beach some 100 metres from my room. What a dramatic contrast to the past few days.
I decided to stay in Crescent City another day/night. I have time to spare on my journey to Seattle, and I didnt fancy setting off whilst the weather was so miserable. The only thing that would be driving today is the rain.
28 March 2005 :
On the road by 9.30. Soon afterwards, I crossed the State line into Oregon and straight away into Curry County.
Image: OREGON State Flag
Fortunately, it was a mild sort of day. A bit of drizzle from time to time, but nothing much else to spoil the drive. The Redwood Highway turned into the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway the end of the road wasnt yet near, but more, much more than this, I drove it my way.
Along the way, I passed many Tsunami Danger Area signs, marking a well-organised evacuation route for the various coastal communities. Lets now hope that similar plans and contingencies are duplicated around the rest of the worlds at-risk areas.
The only hold-up today was caused by a lorry that had driven across the side of the road. I dont think anyone had been hurt, but there was a lot of damage to the front of the truck, which was hanging precariously over the edge. I had good warning that there was trouble ahead. Red flares had been lit by the police to advise motorists of the approaching accident spot its a bright idea to assist road safety, especially to help provide extra security for those sorting out the aftermath.
After 178 miles, I decided to stop for the night, and checked into the Lighthouse Inn at the town of Florence. Time for bed.
29 March 2005 :
Continuing north along the west coast, my first stop was for coffee in Newport, followed shortly afterwards by a photo stop at Cape Foulweather. There was certainly a dramatic view. And appropriately, the weather was foul.
Image: Cape Foulweather
There was lots of rain and many occasions throughout todays journey when cross winds would gust and batter the side of the car. Too windy for an umbrella.
I drove through Depoe Bay (claimed as Home of the Worlds Smallest Harbour), and Lincoln City (with its motto of The Beach is just the beginning). I also passed by the towns of Dallas and Independence, and later on through the city of Salem. I didnt spend a lot of time there. Portland (Oregons capital) was next, and then it was across the main bridge into Washington State the state line being halfway across the bridge, in the middle of the river.
Image: WASHINGTON State Flag
Drove past Vancouver (the American one) and stopped for the night in the town of Kelso. Another 227 miles completed.
30 March 2005 :
Again, I continued the drive northwards. Unfortunately, I was now well inland from the Pacific coastline, so I had to be contented with lots of fields for scenery. Saying that, there were mountains in the distance which were also hiding my possible view of the volcano Mount St.Helens.
I took a detour to look at Rochester but it turned out to be just a small village. Still, it gave me the opportunity for the first time to use a drive-through ATM (Cashpoint). An impressive facility for such a small place.
I eventually reached Tacoma the main attraction appears to be a very big dome on the left hand side of the highway, which I assume is some sort of sports venue. There doesnt seem to be much else in Tacoma apart from a lot of concrete. Not an attractive city by any stretch of the imagination.
Pulled off Interstate 5 at Federal Way, and stayed for the night at a Super 8 Motel. First time I had used this particular chain of motels, and I dont think it will be the last as it was very clean and comfortable.
31 March 2005 :
The space between Tacoma and Seattle has been totally filled in with development both commercial and residential. I dont know whether they had a competition to come up with a name for this new city, but it has the obvious if not odd name of SeaTac.
SeaTac is also the name of the main airport. A second airport is closer to the city center, and appears to be one of the homes for Boeing.
And if youre wondering whats happened to all of the Concordes that are no longer flying, I saw one parked right alongside the SeaTac to Seattle road. Mysteriously though, it was on the opposite side of the road to the airport, in what looked just like an old car park. It looked quite sad if, of course, planes can look sad ?
I got onto the Freeway, which at one stage split out into eight lanes, sixteen if you count both north and south. It certainly tested my driving skills with cars and large trucks on either side weaving in and out and exit lanes on both the left and right hand sides.
Image: Seattle skyline - approaching from south
Arrived in Seattle early in the afternoon. I had to return the rental car easier said than done when you have to return it to their premises in the middle of a city youre not familiar with. Thank goodness for the road grid system as this definitely helped me. The Hertz car park was on the 6th floor of a multi-storey lot with some of the lowest ceilings Ive ever driven under. It was quite claustrophobic.
The 1223-mile journey from San Francisco up to Seattle had been fantastic. Im so glad that I decided to drive this part of my trip, rather than take a plane.
1 April 2005 (Day 200) :
Seattles founders, led by Arthur and David Denny, first landed on a windswept West Seattle beach on November 13, 1851. Two dozen men, women and children shivered through a drizzly winter before relocating to the sheltered eastern shore of Elliott Bay, now Pioneer Square. Today was windy and drizzly, so Pioneer Square seemed to be the sensible choice for the start of my look round Seattle.
Pioneer Square is the area that still boasts some old architecture, and is now home to 180 art galleries, retailers, antique shops, bookstores, cafés, restaurants and nightclubs. The area was almost demolished in the 1960s, as it had become extremely run down and (as with so many other places) was going to be replaced under an urban renewal plan with the wonderful concrete structures of the time. Fortunately, enough people banded together to campaign for the areas protection, resulting in one of Americas first historic preservation districts.
Most of the ground floors (first floors in America) of the buildings are in fact now one floor higher than originally. I discovered this on the Underground Tour nothing to do with metro trains, but a historic guided walking tour beneath Seattles sidewalks. We were therefore walking around the original roadways and store fronts, with the current-day roads above our heads.
Image: Underground 1st Avenue in Seattle
There were three separate portions to explore, in addition to an initial half-hour history talk. Very interesting, and a good insight of how Seattle developed from its humble timber industry beginnings.
Later on, back at the hotel, I was watching the news on the Fox television channel and the coverage of the Popes failing health. Well, Fox television actually announced his death and proceeded to broadcast a five-minute obituary only then to apologise profusely (and constantly for hours afterwards) that they had jumped the gun. Apparently, they overheard an Italian newscaster say something along the lines of thats it and proceeded to assume that the Pope had died.
2 April 2005 :
For a different perspective on the city, I headed for the Seattle Center, just a couple of blocks from where I was staying. The area was the site for the Worlds Fair in 1962, and still boasts its signature Space Needle. It is also home to many different entertainment venues, including cinemas, museums and theatres.
Image: Space Needle, Seattle
The tower has a height of 184 metres, so there were great 360° views from the observation deck. Yet another tall structure was crossed off my global list.
CLICK HERE for more information on the Space Needle (www.spaceneedle.com)
Image: Seattle from the top of the Space Needle
A return trip into and out of the city center on the monorail was followed then by a visit to the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame. Alien encounters everywhere, and a fascinating look back at some of the visions of Jules Verne, Mary Shelley and others.
Image: Robot at SFM, Seattle
There were many items of memorabilia from famous sci-fi films and television programmes, almost exclusively (and not surprisingly) focused on the American side of the genre.
I then took another trip into the city center on the monorail. One thing that is very noticeable is the number of coffee shops in the city. Seattle is the home of Starbucks, and Im not joking when I say that you could stand at the corner of any of the Blocks and look round and spot a Starbucks !
Although pre-empted by Fox television yesterday, it was announced today that Pope John Paul II had finally passed away. R.I.P.J.P.2.
3 April 2005 (03/04/05) :
Lost an hour overnight as we switched to Daylight Saving.
After a walk into the city center to pick up some photos I was having developed, I took the monorail back to Seattle Center, and went round the Experience Music Project.
Part of the venue is a museum, housing a huge selection of musical items, from concert posters and tickets to instruments (historical and/or famously-owned). Current displays I was able to look at include perspectives on the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. There is also a room set aside with loads of computer terminals where you can access the EMPs digital library including thousands of sample soundtracks.
The other part of the EMP consists of hands-on galleries that put the visitor behind the instruments. Absolutely fantastic. I particularly enjoyed playing on the keyboards, and in the Sound Lab having the opportunity to mixing rhythms, melodies and words to come up with my own compositions. Music to my ears.
4 April 2005 :
I needed to make some final changes to my flight tickets, but I couldnt find a OneWorld Alliance office in the city. So, I decided to take the Downtown Airporter bus out to SeaTac, and deal with the ticketing there.
Back in the city later on, I decided to visit the Smith Tower with its observation deck at the opposite side of the city to the Space Needle. It was opened in 1914, and at the time was the fourth tallest building in the world. It cost $1million to build, and has a height of 42 floors (522 feet). Access to the observation deck is made via the original elevators, and today with what appeared to be one of the original lift boys !
Image: Smith Tower, Seattle
Image: View from the Smith Tower, Seattle
The Smith in the name is due to Burns Lyman Smith (and his father Lyman Cornelius Smith), tycoons who built the tower, and who made their fortune with Smith & Western guns as well as Smith & Corona typewriters.
A walk along the waterfront with its many souvenir shops and its fish and oyster bars led me to the IMAX dome theater, where I watched two films. Into the Deep, about whats hidden in the worlds oceans, and The Eruption of Mount St.Helens, all about the volcano and its spectacular eruption in 1980. Amazing stuff.
5 April 2005 :
After checking out of the hotel, it was a quick taxi ride down to the crowded train station, where my coach for Vancouver was departing.
The trip up to the US/Canadian border went reasonably quickly. With the necessary documentation completed, and after a quick stop-off at the duty free (for the driver of the coach !), it was a simple process through the customs and immigration room.
Passport stamped, bags collected, back on the coach, and I was in Canada.
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