Welcome to the Hotel California

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We are actually in the Coral Sands Motel just off Hollywood and Western. Been here longer than planned due to a little issue with QANTAS.

We have checked out twice, but as the song Hotel California goes, you can never leave.

I booked this motel because it was cheap and got reasonable ratings on Trip Advisor. I suspect that it once rented rooms by the hour, based on strategically placed mirrors and information issued about charging for additional guests but the clientele now are travellers, couples, friends, of all ages, from all over the world. We have a jacuzzi and a pool. It’s clean and comfortable.

We booked for 3 nights, will be here for 6 nights in total. We could have moved to a better motel as QANTAS will pick up expenses for the additional nights. We have stayed because every member of staff have been so caring and helpful. Bon, who checked us in on the first night, a Filipino who has been in LA of 18 years, is so lovely and kind. Brian offered to drive to the airport to meet Phil who had to return the hire car on the 29th. He has even suggested places to visit on our extended stay. Griffith Observatory

He gave me tissues and water when it all got too much. Checked the status of the QANTAS dispute, provided details of a taxi firm, all beyond the call of duty.

To sum up our experience here, we have had Five Star treatment form a two star motel. It’s a bit tatty, the walk to the main part of Hollywood Boulevard isn’t brilliant, but now we are used to the area, have realised that the metro is clean, safe and cheap, we have a great supermarket on our doorstep, a Starbucks, loads of very cheap Thai restaurants, but best of all great diner across the street. More on that and other great breakfasts in America, to come!

I really would rather be in my camper in NZ right now, however now I know I’m on a flight there soon, I’m going to make to most of the extended stay in the USA, by checking out what is supposed to be the most spectacular Halloween parade in West Hollywood. Watch this space.

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The Big Sur

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The Big Sur is probably one of the most famous drives in the world and deservedly so. It is simply spectacular. We set off from Monterey on Saturday morning with San Simeon, the first town at the end of the drive, as our destination.

We were lucky with the weather as the sea mist had threatened to obscure the coast, but the check out guy at Trader Joes had promised us good weather for our drive. He kept his promise.

We started our journey via Pacific Grove driving past Cannery Row on the way. If you ever visit Monterey, I recommend that you stay around here or Pacific Grove as it there is so much more to see and do here, than in Monterey itself.

The coast here is stunning. All the houses and trees have been bleached by the sun and sea water, the light is fantastic. I just wished we had more time so that I could go sit on the beach, listening to the sea, with a good book to accompany me. The previous day we had done the 17 Mile Drive and visited Carmel where houses start at around 4 million dollars. It was all very beautiful but somehow it was as if the rich had tried to tame this wild coast so they could wear their designer clothes and high heels, whereas the cost demanded shorts, sturdy shoes and a warm jacket. Surf board optional.

So, The Big Sur! It is 90 miles from Carmel to San Simeon, yet you need to allow 4 hours to drive it, because it hugs the coast and you just have to stop at almost every Vista Point to, well admire the vista!

It was a Saturday so we were accompanied on the journey by charity car clubs and Harley Davidsons, all there for the ride of their life. At one stop we passed a peaceful protest linked to the Occupy protests in many cities, with a live rock band playing, protesters waving the American flag, placard proclaiming ‘stop corrupt greed’ in another there was a string quartet playing, but mostly each laybye was another photo opportunity and a chance to be amazed by the scenery.

We had planned to stop for lunch at Nepenthe but so had everyone else on the road so gave the best burger on the Big Sur a miss and stopped instead at Cafe del Moro above a gallery featuring works by Henry Miller. There was a choice of panini or panini for lunch, so we shared a 10 dollar toasted sandwich. The views were great though. It was a day that the Lotus and Ferrari drivers came out to play and the cafes balcony was a good place to watch them, I almost thought I might see Jeremy Clarkson in a Prius , James May in a camper and Richard Hammond in a Smart Car.

We made another stop at Lucia Lodge a hotel in such a spectacular setting and one, if I ever have the good fortune to do this drive again, I would try and stay at. We lingered over tea, debated with the staff and other guests as to whether it was a fox or a bob cat we had glimpsed below and met Martin and Sandy, from Germany, who were asking for advice for somewhere to stay that night.

Six hour after leaving Carmel we left the Big Sur in search of our lodgings in San Simeon. We had glimpses of Hearst Castle towering above us, bathed in the last sun of the day. We followed the signs to San Simeon, found a beach and a wharf but no hotels. Back on the highway our new friends had sat nav and a phone so they tried to locate the hotel, we carried on along CA1 and then we saw not one but dozens of motels, lined up along the highway waiting to capture weary Big Sur survivors.

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Lunch with Steinbeck, dinner with Forrest

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On the drive down the coast from Santa Cruz to Monterey the scenery was stunning, most of the time. The last few miles, we headed inland along Highway 1 across flat, fertile plains, dedicated to agriculture. The fields were full of people hand picking artichokes and sprouts. We saw signs advertising kiwis and strawberries too. These fields stretched out as far as the eye could see, between the sea and the mountains. Despite the obvious fertility, there was something else, the vastness, the intense human labour. This was a place where people worked the land by hand. Unlike the vast corn fields, that glow in the sun, this was not a place of beauty.

I had not then made the link between this valley and John Steinbeck. He was born and raised in Salinas, the town sitting in the middle of this plain. He sometimes worked the land to earn some money as a teenager, but mom was a teacher and dad was in business, so they were comfortably off, as you can see from the house.

We visited the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas and had lunch in the family home, now a restaurant run by volunteers. having read Mice and Men recently, I knew immediately that this was the landscape that it had been set in. What surprised me, was how much he had written and the diversity of his work, he was even involved in a Rogers and Hammerstein musical Pipe Dream which flopped.

I was also interested to learn he and wife number three lived in Somerset for a short while and his best friend was a marine biologist Ed Rickettswho did some ground breaking work in the Californian coast.

What interested me the most was that in the sixties he took himself off in a camper van to tour the USA with his poodle, Charley as a companion. He documented this trip in a book called Travels with Charley. As someone who is currently on a mini road trip in the states and on the first stage of a round the world trip, this book is now on my must read list.

Bill Bryson has been my travel,writer of choice till now. I suspect that I will be adding Steinbeck to the list.

We ended a busy day at Cannery Row, just to neaten of the Steinbeck connection. Now a place dedicated to entertainment not the sardine industry, with upmarket shops jostling against tourist tack and high end restaurants next to family chain, it’s a good place for a Friday night dinner.

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And because it was there, we could resist posing for these photos outside the place we ate.

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I left my heart in San Francisco

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I didn’t expect to love San Francisco. All I can say, I can’t wait to get back there. It’s an American city that thinks its in Europe. I was constantly reminded of the architecture of Barcelona and Madrid. The food where we stayed in North Beach was Italian, or Italian or Italian. Mostly.

The farmers market was reminiscent of the markets in France, beautifully laid out fruit and vegetable, all organic. Yet this is a truly international city with a Chinese quarter, Mexican, Thai and Indian food, and lots of fish on, well Fisherman’s Wharf.

Our hotel, the San Remo was a short walk from Fishermans Wharf, the cable cars and some excellent places to eat. We are supposed to on a budget, so the first night we shared chowder in a bread bowl at Aliotos a place we would return to on our last night as the food, service and views were worth it.

The one restaurant we ate at, stayed with us and not just in our minds, for a couple of days. The Stinking Rose Very cleansing! Good job we both indulged in the Bagna Calda!

We were lucky with the weather in that we experienced the city in warm sunshine and, how most people experience it, in fog.

A city of contrasts in so many ways!

We will be back!

Blog Action Day #BAD11

I am proud to take part in Blog</p><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>Action Day Oct 16, 2011 www.blogactionday.org

Blog Action Day 2011 is the day Phil and I start our round the world trip. The day started at 3am to get the National Express Coach to Heathrow at 4:30 am. The local high street was surprisingly busy with the kebab shops doing a roaring trade from the post Saturday night clubbers.

I noticed that half the food, so desperately ‘needed’ after 10 or so pints, had been thrown away, or more unpleasantly, thrown up, on the pavement. On a day that I am blogging on the subject of food, it brought it home to me how we, in the west can take food for granted.

On our travels we will visit the USA, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia and Thailand. As much as we will be enjoying new places, meeting new people, part of the fun for foodies like us is trying new food, and sharing meals with friends old and new. Our friends in Melbourne who we are house sitting for, plan a BBQ on our arrival to introduce us to their friends and neighbours. It’s what we do, gather people together, to share a meal. For some that shared meal will be very little.

I am writing this while enjoying my first meal of the day, at Heathrow T5 in Wagamamas. A curious east meets west breakfast with noodles, bacon, egg and cabbage, as airline food is so bad we like to fill up before we fly. We worry about getting hungry on the long flight. What do I know about hunger?

What we have just spent on food and drink, would I suspect feed a family for a week, or even a month in some parts of the world. What I have just eaten, could be all a family has in one day, or a week. This is just one food outlet at the airport. Gordon Ramsay‘s, plane food offers picnics at twelve quid. We are just two passengers passing through this airport today, buying food. How many meals will be consumed today here, how much food waste will there be? How many of them will know that I have sat here eating breakfast, blogging about food, on Blog Action Day?

Three days to go

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Just doing last minute stuff before we finally set off on our travels. Like making bread and butter pudding, to use eggs and bread up. The chickens haven’t been laying too well, recently but this week Scary has given us two double yolked eggs. Our friends are looking after them while we are away, so they will have plenty of eggs.

I have also attempted to upload iOS 5 but can’t work out how, which given all the problems is probably just as well. I have my iPad as I need it, with pdf’s of travel documents on the bookshelves, my Facebook, twitter, TripAdvisor and various other apps installed. Not sure that at this stage want to risk losing them.

Transferred some more money, with the same palaver and got the dollars. Done more washing, yawn, now back to that ‘to do list’.

What a difference a day makes

I realise I was feeling a bit down yesterday, but hey using this medium to get it out there must be part of the cure. And some pretty cool advice came back, currently re visiting the to do list using triangles for bullet points, to be coloured in when task completed.

Also the Shambrarian in me is resurfacing, not the beer bit, yet, so all my paperwork for the trip is filed in labelled plastic folders,

Duplicates have been made, money has been moved around to spread the risk and the 4 new pin numbers for our travel money cards, which will be hell to learn, have been recorded discreetly. If I do forget, my son has been instructed as to where the paperwork is. I’ve even made copies of passports and laminated them and emailed a copy to myself, just in case.

For as long as I can remember I have struggled with numbers, yet I sailed through English and the Humanities. Even now, if writing numbers, I need to get them checked because I know I have problems with numbers

Transferring money today was quite stressful as I had to use a card reader, remember a PIN, enter another number in the card reader, which then generated another number to enter on the PC. The you get verified by visa asking your pass word……. Grrrr.

To get me in the mood to do the mental work required, much of today has been spent finding the bedroom floor! All travel packing has been transferred to the spare room, what we don’t need has been put away, surfaces have been cleared and dusted. I even cleaned the windows. This, for someone who loathes housework, is a major achievement. The study has also been cleared, some filing cleared, some, ahem, put out of sight and Christmas presents put in a box to be sorted tomorrow.

New Zealand Coins

Image by yum9me via Flickr

Next job, on the list is to return my library books. On the way I’ll pop to the Post Office in the hope they have USA and NZ dollars. Worst case scenario is to get them at the airport! Not well organised, but I have lost 10 days in the count down due to putting my head in the sand.

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As I’m doing this on my iPad and still learning how, I have inserted a totally inappropriate (to the blog) photo, of my two cats Mel and Sue,  which helped cheer me up yesterday! Must add to the to do list….learn about photo library on iPad!

Cold Feet

An Autosleeper Harmony Campervan on a Talbot E...

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For just over a week I have done nothing on the massive to do list. Still no camper van booked, no dollars bought, and it is all the dishwashers fault. It broke down.

After many phone calls and days waiting in for the ‘man’ to fix it, then to take it away be ‘put on the bench’ it turns out it can’t be fixed. We have rented out the house and the dishwasher was part of the deal, so felt obliged to replace it. Handily?! The man had a refurbished Bosch which was much cheaper than a new one, so a deal was done. And it’s better and quieter than my old one.

The thing is, a dishwasher crisis wasn’t on my ‘to do list’ and it has tipped me off balance. Add to that a visit to the mother in law to sort domestic issues and my involvement in  library camp and you have a person who is denial that she is embarking on a trip of a lifetime in five days time. The butterflies in my stomach are on speed, I feel sick and have a permanent headache.

Also having a tea party for friends old and new, has contributed to the cold feet. It was lovely to see everyone, but saying goodbye has made it real. I am jolly glad no one is seeing us off at the airport. And that the bus that takes us to Heathrow is at 4am.

Anyway onwards and upwards, theatre visit tonight The Old Rep with people from Make Friends with a Book Shared Reading which will cheer me up.

On the up side, I have lost half a stone. Off for a walk I think. I need to get a grip, get active and power through it! Next blog will be cheerier, promise.