Arriving in Hong Kong after a long trip via Melbourne, our Deluxe room was miniscule in size, bland
and airless on the 15th floor. Still, the bed was welcome and we fell into it, exhausted.
After a nice breakfast at McDonalds because nothing else much was open
(So the shops do close in other places, apart from Adelaide) we caught a ferry to Cheng Chau.
It was a lovely trip on the harbour though Cheng Chau was much changed from 1986.
It was a tourist resort on the harbour front with dozens of stalls selling knick knacks, but still
very traditional and quaint in the back streets.|
At night we went to the fabulous light show near the Space Museum. Hong Kong seemed more elegant and sophisticated than last time with more open spaces. The November weather was also perfect.
And then it was on to Frankfurt airport where we were surprised by glass sided smoking booths, about the size of 2 phone boxes, containing desperate people inhaling not only their own smoke but that of others, in sweaty proximity. Our first challenge was trying to buy a train ticket from the automatic ticket dispenser at the airport railway station. Not only did we not have the correct money, which was coins only, but we couldn't work the machine and most of the locals couldn't either, not even the person who was permanently on duty explaining how to use it. Maybe he could just have sold us the tickets but that does not seem to be the German way. It was a restless night with the usual boiling hot dunas but a wonderful German breakfast of hot foods, cold meats, cheeses and pastries put us right. It makes me cringe to think of the pathetic offerings at Australian hotels these days.
We visited Goethe's house as it was nearby. It was really interesting with many 'modern' features for the time including central heating and a fine clock/barometer. Souvenirs featured ginko leaves, based on Goethe's poem, one version, translated, following :
This tree's leaf, which here the East
Next morning it was back to the airport. One arrogant young man plonked himself down in our seats and wouldn't move until the hostess came over, while we were being cursed by all the people in such a hurry behind us, got no space in the overhead lockers as they were all filled up while we waited, and were then told off by the air hostess about our unstowed cabin luggage (the overheads being full of bulging suitcases and about 5 carry bags of airport goodies per person). The travellers on these inter European planes seem crazy or drunk or both, and there are so many men. It was pathetic, Lufthansa.
Arriving in Billund, Denmark, we picked up a car and drove to Vejle. While there we met with family and friends who entertained us yet again with parties and dinners. We would love to reciprocate but they have to get on a plane and come to Australia first! With Michael we travelled to Helsingør to Kronborg Castle to see the Maritime Museum & get information about the København, the 5 masted sail training ship which visited Pt Germein in January, 1924. In December, 1928 it disappeared without trace, on another voyage to Australia. The Museum has gradually accumulated material related to the ship, like photo albums and letters, but it was cold, close to Christmas and as they are building a new, separate museum nearby, they had not unpacked it all, so we were not greeted with much enthusiasm. Still, I took some good photos and was kindly given copies of diary pages written by young sailors while they were in Port Germein, which was amazing. We bought a CD of a documentary which had been made recently in Denmark about the ship .
As it was near Xmas the shops were very beautifully decorated with all the lovely Xmas things typical of Denmark. Their homewares are so stylish and beautiful and there is so much choice.We were leaving from Billund but had to fill the hire car first. We couldn't find a service station with any people-they were all automated and our cards wouldn't work. Tempers were flaring until we eventually found a station where the card was OK, and got the car back just in time. We then had to spend hours waiting for the plane but found some good souvenir shops when we checked in.
Security at Frankfurt was pretty horrific for the flight to America. I had to take everything out of my hand luggage including the big bag of toiletries I'd jammed in there because it weighed so much and my suitcase was already on 20kgms. They disappeared with my shoes for about 5 minutes. Eventually it turned out to be a container of talcum powder that was the issue. Meanwhile, Peter was stripped down to his T shirt having been forced to take off his jacket, shirt, belt and shoes!
On arrival at LAX processing was quick and efficient and we were soon out the front waiting for the shuttle bus to the car rental place. Dozens of big buses from all sorts of organisations were passing and picking up travellers constantly. It was hot and and we could see palm trees. After struggling up the narrow, high stairs of the bus (did they think of having a bus suitable for travellers, to use on the airport run?) with our big cases we soon arrived at the car hire place. The counter guy was some kind of foreigner whom Peter couldn't understand and couldn't hear. He kept ducking under the counter to talk on a mobile phone while he was serving us. After trying to get us to upgrade to a better car and take more insurance, he threw the GPS at us across the counter and left, telling us to go downstairs.
There were no clear instructions but we soon worked out that the cars in the garage were divided into basic, intermediate, luxury sections etc, and you chose whichever one you liked in your range. We selected a red Toyota and tried to assemble the GPS. There were no directions in this pack either, of course, but finally a cleaner helped us put it together and we were off-straight out the gate, a couple of streets and onto the freeway into town and the Dunes Motel on Sunset Boulevard. It was a very basic motel but convenient with easy car parking and nearby shops. There was a nice restaurant next door where we had good hamburgers before dropping exhausted and quivering into a comfortable bed.
Next day we headed by freeway again for the Getty Centre as I had heard it was good. The car park was $15 but after that it was all free. A white tram took us to the hilltop
and on the tour we learnt about the architect, Richard Meier, and how everything is perfectly aligned and mostly made of imported carara marble. It is gloriously white and it was a beautiful day.
The entertaining thing was that there was an architectural professor who didn't think much of Richard Meier and kept arguing with the guide, who was getting really annoyed.
We looked at most of the galleries which had impressive displays of paintings, china, furniture, glassware, artefacts and a beautiful collection of illuminated manuscripts.
You could take photographs as long as the flash was off, and the gardens were spectacular with wonderful views over LA.
The following day we went to Hollywood Boulevard, parking in a pretty rough yard behind the main drag, for $20. It was Thanksgiving so it was a holiday crowd and all very informal. There were numerous people
dressed as movie characters but they wouldn't let you take their photos. You had to pose with them and pay, I don't know how much. Fortunately there were some
waxworks for those of us not inclined to part with our cash.
We had lunch at a shopping centre plaza a view of the Hollywood sign in the distance, and after buying a Hollywood star fridge magnet and a couple of plastic gold oscars at one
many souvenir shops, drove to Rodeo Drive. This part of town was rather different from our motel area, with a wonderful variety of stylish homes.
The shops were shut but there was parking all along the street at parking meters for a couple of dollars. The shopfronts were immaculate and the area clean, elegant and
decorated with hanging baskets of flowers and spectacular Xmas decorations. Very nice.
After 2 days we headed for Arizona, staying at Kingman at a Motel 6-$41. Motel 6s were amazing the whole time-cheap, basic but clean and much better organised than most expensive
places which are cluttered with unnecessary furniture but have no space for your cases. How many people actually want to put all their clothes in wardrobes and drawers for one
or two nights? And you hardly need lounge chairs when the TV is opposite the bed. Internet access was cheap and efficient too. For tea we
had another angry middle-aged waitress who kept asking if everything was OK. I could hardly tell her it was the worst ravioli I'd ever tasted though I was tempted, and that a
salad bar should have more than a few bits of lettuce and a tomato. Interrupting to ask how things are all the time, while being sullen and unhelpful, does not constitute service and we really begrudged the obligatory tip.
In the morning we had a look around the old town, the Santa Fe train and Powerhouse Museum before heading for the Grand Canyon travelling next to Route 66.
On arrival at the national park in which the Grand canyon is situated, we bought a $25 pass. We were worried about how viewing worked as it looked so complicated
in the brochures, but we simply parked in the car park and walked down the pathways to the Grand Canyon. It was cold but very blue and clear and the views were sensational.
I imagine in summer it would be difficult but it was not crowded on Nov 27th, though it was hard not to get in the way of a camera.
I took lots of photos, hoping for a good one, then we drove back to the Desert Canyon Plaza Hotel with a glorious sunset unfolding behind us.
After a long rest we braved the Steak House
across the road. The food tasted awful though the atmosphere was cheerful, and it was snowing when we got outside. In the morning the car was piled with snow and the crows, the first
birds we had seen so far, were cawing. Peter had booked for 2 nights as we thought we might need it, but we then had to fill in a miserable day around town as we didn't have snow chains.
We went to the Western Museum which was really good and the owner was friendly too. I took heaps of photos and then later saw a sign saying photos weren't allowed. After
doing some washing and having a quiet afternoon we went for tea at the Mexican place just a bit further along from the Steak House. I had tacos and Peter had an immense chimichanga,
as recommended by the guy at the museum. Both were disappointing. There were sides of salsa and guacamole but nothing seemed to have any flavour.
We were nervous about
driving in the snowy weather on Monday, having been warned about the dangers by our friend back at the car hire place in LA, but although the roads were icy, they had all been
ploughed. We stopped at a watch tower where the wind was freezing but we were able to see the Colorado River far below.
We drove on to the Cameron Trading House which had also been recommended by the guy at the Museum. It was huge and crammed with every kind of souvenir imaginable and most of the staff were American Indian. We had lunch in their gorgeous restaurant with its warm open fire and pressed steel ceiling. That afternoon we booked into the Holiday Inn at Kaytenta then drove into Monument Valley. It was quiet and isolated and very cold-spooky. The formations were spectacular-I suppose an older version of the grand Canyon with just vestiges of hills left. Peter wouldn't turn back, trying to find the exact location he remembered from Western movies. We ate at the motel restaurant and it was very bad. The town was grim with rough houses but lots of pick up trucks. We had breakfast in our room and headed for route 89a. It wound up and down mountains on the rim of the Grand Canyon. The snow got thicker by the side of the road and the tall pines looked perfect for Xmas cards. There were no service stations or toilets until we got to Jacob Lake Inn and had hamburgers at the bar. The staff were friendly and interested in our trip, being mostly students on holiday jobs. The road wound on and on until we reached Kanab, Utah, and a Comfort inn. There were dozens of motels but this one was perfect since it had a laundry next door to our room and an ironing board in the room, so I could do all the washing and ironing. We ate at a Chinese restaurant and enjoyed watching the locals. There were some lovely timber houses around town.
|Most American motels have baths, which is wonderful as we love baths, but they always
combine them with the shower. The levers for swapping between the two look ugly and often don't work.
Breakfast was included at our Grand Canyon Hotel, Kanab and in San Francisco, and looked good but it was awful-stodgy sweet bread and pastries. We never got fresh bread anywhere. Americans have lost their way when it comes to food.
Vegetables were non existent, apart from broccoli. Food service was also bad - they acted like everything was a huge effort. We were thankful for Chinese and Italian restaurants.
It was on to Las Vegas where we were booked into the Paris Casino for $70 a night. What fantastic value.The ground floor of the hotel was a French village
at twilight and the hotel foyer was hidden among many small shops. Usual story-once you know how it works it's fine, but puzzling it all out is stressful, especially when you are tired and
irritable-they certainly didn't go in for signs. After a rest we
decided to go on the monorail which involved a trek through Bally's Casino. It was surprisingly uninteresting because there was nothing much to see except the walls of buildings.
We were entertained by some drunken local holidaymakers, however. That night we watched the wonderful music and light show out the front of Bellagio's. Next morning we decided to buy tickets to
Jubilee, a show with proper high kicking showgirls-I thought that seemed appropriate for the place. The tickets were $99 each, no negotiation, and then I remembered a voucher book from our hotel
room-2 for 1-so we got the 2 tickets for $97 instantly-$101 savings, no argument. We had a look inside Bellagio's and it was glorious with a ceiling of coloured glass flowers.
From there we went to Caesar's Palace. It was huge, with more Roman statues than you'd see in most of Italy.
Tired of walking we caught a local bus for a quick look around town. People kept getting on and asking the driver stupid questions and a voice kept saying "Move to the back of the bus" and
"Stand clear of the doors". We only saw a couple of wedding chapels-I had been expecting more. Las Vegas is like the Gold Coast, a holiday destination
where people are out to have fun, but I didn't appreciate the touts on the street continually badgering Peter to take cards and brochures about hot girls available in his hotel,
even when I was holding his arm. I am not easily offended but those men were pigs.Jubilee was spectacular. The items were magnificent and colourful
and so full on that you could hardly take them in because there was no theme or connection, just lots of separate numbers. The outfits were glorious and looked beautifully
maintained. I loved the chorus lines but the whole show was sensory overload- I needed to take pictures to remember it.
After Las Vegas we got onto highway 9SN. It was desolate with low vegetation and became more so as we headed into Death Valley. Worrisome, a name like that. Probably people died of starvation rather than pay $20 for a sandwich at Panamint, even if you could get served. The hills looked like piles of light and dark grey gravel that had been dumped for road building. Finally got to a small town called Lone Pine. We had lunch at Subway, breathing a sigh of relief, only to find that the bread even there was awful. We went next door to a coffeee lounge and it was excellent-real tea and coffee. A lady on the street told us that the mountain behind was Mt Whitney, the highest mountain in the continuous Americas. Gradually the countryside became more hospitable and we reached Bishop, a lovely looking town made up of fast food outlets, a huge Dutch bakery and lots of motels. Best Western was very expensive and the lady clearly thought people like us might not fit their client profile so we ended up at a Comfort Inn. We walked around the town which was really nice with lovely light displays and people out at parties in the lead up to Christmas. The Dutch bakery had a fantastic display of food, baked goods and mementoes.
After an unpleasant breakfast in the front office (did I say they are not big on service in America?) we drove on and on through snowy country. The immensity and height of the mountains was awe inspiring and we hardly saw a soul on the road. Feeling very hungry we were delighted to finally reach a chalet at Lake Topaz. It turned out to be a casino with about 20 disabled parking spaces and a huge car park-just out there in the middle of nowhere. They were putting Christmas lights on the roof and we could only conclude from its size that a lot of people were hidden in 'them thar' hills. The food was cheap and reasonable but I walked out the door to look at the view of Lake Topaz, didn't see the sign that said 'Mind the step' and fell like a stone onto the deck. Maybe they could do something about that step as it's obviously happened before. Perhaps that's why they needed so many disabled car parks. We drove through the mountains for hours, passing increasing numbers of cars and pick up trucks with Christmas trees strapped on, before stopping at a place called Davis at a Holiday Inn.
It was only about 30 kms to the Napa Valley next morning but the freeway was very busy. We had a brochure for Sattui winery at St Helena so we went there first. They had bread, cheese, and salami among other gourmet treats so we bought the doings for lunch but didn't have a drink as you had to pay about $5 for tastings-apparently it is the law. The buildings were lovely and we bought a few souvenirs too. St Helena was all very beautiful, prettier than the Barossa Valley, with glorious red leaved liquidambers and lots of pretty wineries. The shops were classy but the overhead cables wereugly in such a pretty spot (and in most other places too). When we walked down Main Street (yes, really), we were standing on the footpath to cross the road, in no hurry at all, waiting for the traffic to pass, when we realised all the traffic had stopped in both directions. Looking around we suddenly understood they had stopped for us! Americans have good road manners and are most polite, except when they are serving you, it seems. From Petaluma nearby, we travelled to beautiful San Francisco and down the coast road back to Los Angeles, stopping at interesting sites along the way. I've done enough social commentary so will stick to brief comments from here on.
Turning the cable car for the trip back to town, not far from our hotel, San Francisco. We also visited the cable car museum. It was free and very interesting.
View from the cable car.Alcatraz-the introductory talk too long and the climb very steep but the place was chilling.
Our accommodation in SF-only joking.
Peter in fridge magnet heaven, Pier 39 souvenirs The beautiful sailing
ship Balclutha in morning mist at the SF Marine Park-it visited Pt Pirie to deliver Oregon pine for shoring up the BHP mines. The ship had 3 incarnations and travelled all over
the world.SF was glorious but I don't know how they cope with those steep streets.
Pumpkins in the all day mist along the coastHearst castle-a terrific tour
A Danish soldier in SolvangSolvang-a taste of Denmark in California
The beautiful beachfront at lovely Santa BarbaraThe amazing Santa Barbara pier with shops and parking at the end-just fabulous
Our very own encounter with LA LawThere was a film crew at Venice Beach. I was quite a long way away and thought I'd
take a zoom picture of the filming for interest sake-they were not near me. Suddenly a girl walked up next to me and said, "Keep walking you
are right in the middle of a shot." I'd never even heard of the show, but if you look carefully behind the man leaning on the red fence, you will see Elijah Wood talking to Wilfred. Oops.
The stately Queen Mary-we almost had it to ourselves
It was a wonderful holiday with so much to see and do. I'd love to see more. My only complaints were the lack of fresh food and the number of tourist spots which had surprisingly little
written information available. For example, they did not have a booklet or CD on the Balclutha though they had a fabulous slide show on board which could have been made into one.
Similarly, the Cable Car Museum in San Francisco did not have a book to buy and take away about their actual cable cars and museum, though they had a great slide show.