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USA

Santa Cruz, Monterey, Santa Monica, Las Vegas (Part 2)

sunny 10 °C
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Greetings from New Zealand!

Hello all, arrived today in Auckland, New Zealand after a pretty decent 13 hour flight from Los Angeles. Managed to get checked straight in to our hostel and also booked ourselves on the Kiwi Experience bus for Monday. First impressions of New Zealand are good, its nice to see the Queen on currency again!

So since our last blog we visited a few more places in California before we flew out here. We spent three nights in Santa Cruz where the weather was awful. As it was out of season a lot of the town was closed down as well which was dissapointing as we were hoping it would still be warm enough to spend some time on the beach. We spent most of our time there in the hostel or looking around the shops in town. Would love to come back here in the summer when I'm sure it would be heaving.

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Next up we headed a few miles down the coast to Monterey. In the 1930's Monterey was the "sardine capital of the world" and was made famous by John Stienbecks novel "Cannery Row". In the 60's, when sardine populations fell, all the canneries closed down and Monterey became a tourist town. Most of the old Canneries are still there now and Cannery Row is the main street in town, with loads of shops and cafes ect.... Monterey also has some of the best marine wildlife on the west coast. We saw loads of sea lions but you can also see sea otters, lots of different birds and you can also get on a boat and see whales. We happened to be in Monterey for Thanksgiving and had a nice lunch and a few pints whilst watching the NFL and Macy's Day Parade at a local bar.

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After Monterey the original plan was to head down to San Luis Obispo and then Santa Barbara. But because of the weather and how quiet Santa Cruz had been we decided to head straight to LA. During our travels so far we'd heard nothing but bad things about Los Angleles and our minds weren't put at ease when the first thing we saw after leaving the greyhound station was a car on fire in a McDonalds car park! Thankfully Santa Monica (where we were staying) was a lot nicer. Santa Monica is what you'd expect California to be like, huge white beaches, palm trees, and orange sunsets. The place is awesome. A block away from our hostel was 3rd Street Promenade, which was a really nice high street, all lit up for Christmas and full of street performers. We spent 4 nights there, and then, after finding some decent deals on hotels decided to head back to Las Vegas again.

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We spent most of our four days in Vegas in our hotel complex. We stayed in the Excalibur hotel which is the giant castle oppostite MGM. We had a room that faced out on to the strip which was amazing. We played a bit more roulette in the Bellagio and MGM and managed to come away even which wasn't so bad. We also managed to look around a couple of the hotels that we missed first time around.

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After Vegas we got the Greyhound back to Santa Monica for 4 more nights. On sunday we rented beach cruisers and rode down to Venice Beach. Checked out the skate park and arrived just in time to see a skate boarder take a nasty bail and crack his head open, it wasn't pretty but he was ok in the end. Ash and I thought Venice felt like Camden Town on a beach.

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The next day we got the bus into Hollywood to see all the sights. Pretty underwhelming really. We checked out the walk of fame and the Hollywood sign and then left.

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So thats America done. Next Sunday marks the half way point of our trip, its flying by!

Posted by ElliotWebb 02:03 Archived in USA Comments (2)

San Francisco, Yosemite National Park

storm 6 °C
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Ok, so i'm writing this from some wierd hostel in Santa Cruz. I say "wierd" because there's no alcohol allowed, an 11pm curfew and we're not actually allowed to be here between 11 and 5 during the day. Which wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't freezing cold, windy and pouring with rain outside. I didn't think they had rain in California? Starting to thunder now, great. Anyway, we caught the Greyhound out of San Fran this morning after spending just under 2 weeks there. Stayed in a great hostel in the centre of town and a short distance from Fishermans Wharf. On our first day there we went and had a look around Fishermans Wharf. Nice place, great view of Alcatraz and we found the Sea Lions at Pier 39.
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Again, the homeless population in San Francisco is pretty large but not as bad as in San Diego. The next couple of days we just spent hanging around the hostel or out getting food. Our second favorite Burrito place "Chipotle" was only a block or two away which was handy. That weekend we decided to go to Yosemite National Park, which was a pain to get to as we had to get two buses and wait for 3 hours in the shady town of Merced. It was all worth it though as Yosemite is one of the most beautiful places you're ever likely to see, especially in Autumn (or Fall as they like to say here).
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Our first day there we did two small hikes, the first one took us to the Lower Yosemite Waterfall which was pretty cool, the second took us to Mirror Lake which was nice too. On the bus on the way back home from the park we were able to get a great view of "El Capitan" which is a fantastic mountain with an almost vertical face. Unfortunetly I didn't take a photo of it so if you wanna see what it looks like you'll have to google it.
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Whilst in Yosemite we stayed at the Yosemite Bug Resort which was really good. Every night we just ended up in the club house with a cold bud and a nice meal sat next to a fire. Good times! Our second day in the park we hiked the Mist Trail which was slightly more strenuous than we'd anticipated. An hour and a half later and 1400 ft higher we arrived at the top of The Vernal Waterfall and what a view! One of the best things I've ever done. Once at the top we ate some lunch whilst looking over the entire valley of Yosemite. Awesome!
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Due to how much hassle and the expense it took to get to Yosemite we were not sure wether it would be worth it, but the 3 days we spent there were some of the best days of the trip so far. So after getting a bus then a train and then another bus back to San Fran we spent another 4 nights there. On the wednesday we took the ferry over to Alcatraz. Great trip and for only $26 I thought it was pretty cheap too.
We got a free audio tour there which talked about the prisoners who were kept there and some of the escape attempts all of which was really interesting.
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Also whilst in San Francisco we checked out the Golden Gate Bridge and went on a pub crawl with the hostel, all good fun. 3 nights in Santa Cruz for us now, then heading down the coast for Thanksgiving in Monterey. Hopefully the weather will have improved by then.
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Posted by ElliotWebb 20:20 Archived in USA Comments (2)

Pheonix, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, San Diego

semi-overcast 21 °C
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Hello, Elliot has allowed me to write this blog entry, however he doesn't trust me to do a good job and is watching over my shoulder while I write it.
So we left Houston on my birthday, and got a flight to Pheonix, Arizona to meet up with my parents. They are in America doing their own mini roadtrip for my Dad's 50th birthday. We all went to watch the Arizona Cardinals Vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers in an American football match. Arizona are known for being a bit rubbish and they lived up to that image! They lost after throwing a last minute interception. Before the game I wanted to buy an Arizona jersey, but after they lost i decided i would support a better team, with better team colours- go New Orleans Saints!
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The next day we headed off to Las Vegas!! We made a pitstop at the Hoover Dam, which was very impressive to say the least! More impressive still was the brand new bridge they have just built opposite the Dam. It opened a matter of days before we got there, so we were lucky enough to be some of the first people on it! It is the first time ever that you can get a view of the Dam without having to go over the Dam itself.
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We arrived in Vegas later that day, and hit the strip! The hotels there are unbelievable. 'New York, New York' being one of the most impressive, the outside is a giant montage of all the famous sights of New York, with a roller coaster on top as an added bonus! Elliot and I hit the Bellagio to gamble away what little money we have. We lost it all.
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After gambling away all our money we went outside the Bellagio to watch the famous fountain show, which was brilliant! The fountain looks like it's dancing to the classical music that is being played from speakers all around the fountain. Elliot later discovered the Volcano fountain outside the Mirage Hotel, which was even better, the water was made to look like lava, and there were fireballs and all sorts! Amazing.
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On our third and final night, we spent the evening checking out as many of the hotels and casinos as we could, including Ceasars and The Venetian. We could have spent twice as long in Vegas and still not seen it all. One of my favourite places on the trip so far.

After Vegas we headed to the Grand Canyon for two nights. It was my Dad's 50th birthday so we all went out for a meal on the first night to a restaurant right on the rim of the canyon- not that we realised as it was pitch black. Someone needs to light up that bad boy! The next morning we were all up early for a day of driving, hiking, and amazing views. We stayed until the sun set, which was one of the most incredible sights you could ever see.
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The next day it was another early start for the long drive to San Diego. This was where we said our goodbyes to my parents. We enjoyed San Deigo, however the amount of homeless people gets you down after a while. San Diego was a cool town, with a nice Park and Seafront (yes- we've now made it coast to coast!). We were staying in the Gaslamp district which was full of bars, restaurants and shops.

Arrived in San Francisco this morning, and that brings you bang up to date on our travels so far!...

Posted by ElliotWebb 19:32 Archived in USA Comments (5)

Austin, Houston, San Antonio

sunny 28 °C
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So writing this in our hotel room in Grand Canyon Village. Its been a while since my last update so i'm gonna make this a double blog! We spent 4 nights in Austin, Texas staying in the HI hostel. It was located right on a lake downtown about a half hour bus journey away from 6th Street. Had a couple of good nights out there and managed to meet up with some Australian friends we had met earlier on the trip. Again, there was no shortage of cheap beer! Austin calls itself "the live music capital of the world" but we didn't actually see much live music, certainly not as much as Nashville or Memphis.
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Austin has the second largest bat collony in North America. Every night at sunset around 1.5 million bats fly out from under "bat bridge" to go and feed on insects. We went and watched one night, hundreds of people line the bridge and wait for the bats. They absolutely stink but it's an amazing sight. We also checked out South Congress or "SoCo" as the locals call it. This is a really trendy part of town where there are loads of Boutiques and arty and crafty shops. We also discovered our favourite burrito place there, Freebirds! England needs one of these big time! Went and had a look at the Texas capital building which they proudly state is 12 ft taller than the Washington Capital building. Remember "everything is bigger in Texas!"
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After Austin we caught the Greyhound bus to Houston to meet some family friends who were putting us up for 2 weeks. We had an absolutely fantastic time there, not least on the first thursday when my Dad turned up to meet us completely unannounced (well allmost). We went out one friday night to a homecoming high school football game. A great night and gave us a taste of real America but it all felt like something out of High School Musical.
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The next day we went to see the Houston Dynamo's Vs Seattle Seahawks in the final game of the MLS season. Houston had nothing to play for but won 2-1 in a fairly entertaining match. About 20,000 fans were there and the atmosphere was great, loads of streamers and the mexican fans there made noise from start to finish.
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When asked "What is the one thing you'd like to do whilst in America?" earlier in the week, Ash had answerd "fire a gun" So the following weekend we were taken to a firing range. The first couple of shots we're pretty nerve racking as there's so much to remember. Ash had an embarressing incident when a hot bullet shell flew down her top, although now she has a pretty cool scar!
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Whilst in Houston we also did a day trip to San Antonio with my Dad. We visited the Alamo, went up the Tower of the America's, and had lunch down at the River Walk. We learnt a lot about the history of Texas, and discovered even more when we visited San Jacinto (an old battle field where Texas won it's independance from Mexico).
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Posted by ElliotWebb 18:43 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Nashville, Memphis, New Orleans

sunny 28 °C

Writing this in our hostel in Austin Texas after 20 or so hours of travel. Left New Orleans at midday yesterday and caught a 17 hour train to San Antonio where we had to wait for over 4 hours for the train to Austin which took another 2 hours. The last week or so has been awesome.
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Starting in Nashville where we ended up staying for 5 nights. The hostel there was really chilled out, with a nice garden and walking distance from Broadway, which is the main strip. We arrived there on a Friday which was great as Nashville is at its best on the weekend. There are bands playing in bars from about 10am untill 3 in the morning, pretty much all country and bluegrass music. Went out into town on the Saturday night with 2 Canadian guys with whom we were sharing our dorm. We went to a club with a live band playing, people dancing on tables and all sorts. Pitchers of beer for six dollers- garanteed saw heads all round the next morning! The next night we got tickets to see The National at the Ryman Audatorium, which was one of the best gigs ive been to. The Ryman is a really famous country music venue and its around a hundred years old so we were really lucky to get to see a band there. The rest of the time in Nashville was mostley spent at the hostel, checkers burgers and jack in the box. There's a reason poor people are fat here!
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Headed to Memphis next, only for 2 nights as we had heard there wasnt much to do there. Went to Beale Street on our first night which was similar to Broadway in Nashville, a long strip with bars all along with some great blues bands playing. Went into a very funny kareoke bar but decided to leave after they started dragging people up to sing. The next day we headed to Sun Studio's, the famous recording studios where Elvis, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johny Cash ect.... were all discovered. Had a guided tour which was excellent as the studio has remained the same since the 50's even all the sound proofing tiles were original. Also they had the microphone there that Elvis recorded his first tune with! A great tour and only 10 bucks each. After visiting sun we jumped on the free shuttle to Graceland, we jumped straight back on the bus when we saw the price of the tour. Slightly above our budget and I wasn't that fussed about seeing it.
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Got the Amtrak train to New Orleans the next day which was 8 hours but a fantastic trip as it was straight down through Mississippi and Louisiana. At one point you cross over the Mississippi River on an old wooden bridge which was pretty scary. Arrived in New Orleans and hit Bourbon Street straight away. Went out with the Canadian guys again as they were on the same route as us. Bourbon street is very much a modern party street with loads of night clubs. So we found a back street where all the Jazz clubs were and found a club called the Spotted Cat where a traditional New Orleans band were playing. We ended the night grabbing some food in a weird convenience store with a random burger place in the back. The rest of the time in New Orleans was spent at the hostel (either in the pool or watching football or baseball) or wondering around the French Quarter. On our last night we went out again down Bourbon Street, again with the Canadians. My memory of this night is pretty non-existant, however Ash assures me we went and bought some beer on the street (its not illeagal in New Orleans) and headed to a Kareoke bar. After that we went to a club where they had dueling piano players taking requests. We managed to get some Bruce and some Tom Waits played. Could have stayed in New Orleans a lot longer.

Anyway in Austin now for 4 nights then off to Houston for 2 weeks of rest hopefully.

Posted by ElliotWebb 12:37 Archived in USA Comments (1)

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