USA 2011

California USA 2011

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The Biddles and the Hockeys left Somerset on the 18th September and travelled up to Heathrow by taxi, checked our bags in and devoured a good breakfast while watching England beat Georgia in Dunedin. Everything seemed to be going to plan until we arrived at the departure gate for our flight when they announced a flight delay due to technical problems. We eventually took off three hours late which was not a good start to a ten hour flight.

Chris Sue & Roger in the swim

Arriving at Los Angeles we took the shuttle bus to the Dollar rental car depot and upgraded to the largest car they had as we had too much luggage for the car we had booked. The Howard Johnson motel was only just over half an hours drive away but Chris then announced that he had left one of his cases at the Dollar depot so another hour later this was retrieved and we ended up at a local Thai restaurant foolishly ordering it spicy which meant inedible!

After breakfast we headed north to Three Rivers at the southern entrance to Sequoia National Park. With temperatures in the low thirties we relaxed in the hotel pool and set to work on swallowing the first of two litre bottles of Bombay Saphire and Tanquery which Sue and Carol could not resist at Heathrow duty free which were on a special BOGOF deal for £22!

At the top of Moro Rock

The next day saw us up early and into Sequoia National Park, so named after the huge Sequoia trees that grow there which are the largest in the world. After negotiating some serious road works on the mountain road we arrived at Moro rock, a huge rock dome over 6725 feet above sea level which towers 4000 feet over the canyon below. From the car park they have built a stairway 300 feet vertically up to the top which any reasonably fit person can climb who does not suffer from vertigo. Sue does not like heights much so I did not expect her to climb it but we all did and here we are on the top.

We had yet to get a decent meal since we arrived and a good cup of coffee was unknown. Breakfast at the hotel had consisted of tasteless scrambled eggs made from powder and sausages which looked like doggie poo and tasted like it, eaten from paper plates with plastic utensils. Catering facilities in the National Parks are dire so this state of affairs was set to continue and we staggered on desperate for a caffiene shot (especially Carol who is a coffeeholic) and with gnawing feelings in our stomachs!

General Sherman the largest tree in the world
Large group of Sequoias

The next attraction was the largest tree in the world, known as General Sherman. It is 275 feet tall, its trunk is estimated to weigh 1,385 tons and it has a circumference at its base of 103 feet. It is not, however the oldest tree in the park, a mere youngster at an estimated 2,200 years whereas others nearby have been around over 1,000 years longer.

Our next destination was Yosemite National Park. Here you see a rock landscape laid bare by glaciation and unique in the world as far as I know. We stayed in Oakhurst near the southern park entrance and again failed to find a decent meal, making do with a sub standard Chinese. A reasonable breakfast a few miles along the road put us in better trim for a hike up to Sentinal Dome of just over a mile and about 1000 feet vertical to the summit at 8122 feet where we looked down over the Yosemite valley and Half Dome, sliced in half by an ancient glacier.

Half Dome in Yosemite valley from Sentinal Dome

Returning to the car we drove on to Glacier point. Here you look over a precipice 4000 feet to the valley floor with an overhanging rock, perfect for diving off if you have a parachute!

Looking down into Yosemite valley from Glacier point

To the right of Half Dome the view is up the Merced River valley to the Vernal and Nevada Falls. There are frequent notices warning about the dangers of swimming or wading in above the falls but they still loose a few every year.

Nevada & Vernal falls from Glacier Point

The water seems still but underneath the surface is a big current which will carry you downstream and over several hundred feet of waterfall to your death together with the others who have jumped in to try and rescue you!

We managed to find sandwiches and hot dogs for lunch then down into the valley where we stopped at Bridal Veil Falls. Here the water falls 200 feet and the wind funnels down the valley so that a veil of water is blown across the rock. Naturally there were newly wed couples there having their photos taken.

A storm came in quite quickly and it began to rain so we abandonned Yosemite and headed back to Oakhurst where we managed to get a half decent meal in a steakhouse but still crap coffee! The next morning, after some research, we managed to find the Mariposa Gourmet Coffee Company and gleefully entered. Our coffees were generally weak and tasteless but Chris's was just tepid gourmet water so he took it back and refused a replacement. I doubt this business has a future but we did find a little cafe where we ate a reasonable breakfast and continued our drive to Monterey.

Good jazz saxophonist in Monterey

Sitting outside our motel in the sunshine drinking our way through the gin & tonics we decided to have an early wander round downtown Monterey, finishing up at Fishmans Wharf where we would surely find a decent fish restaurant. Wrong! We first found a pub with its own micro brewery and sampled a pint before selecting what looked like a nice restaurant on Fishermans wharf called Domenicos and were seated in a window overlooking the harbour with a seal colony below and pelicans on the ledge right next to us.

Sue and pelican at Fishermans Wharf

Unfortunately that is where the good review ends as the waiter was one of those American guys who learns everything by rote and makes no effort to listen to what you ask. We were offered choices of complimentary starters and some chose calamari and others sardines. Two huge plates arrived which were as good as a main course. The cheapest wine on the list was $32 and was fairly unpleasant. Then the main courses arrived, all seemed to be floating in soup. Mine smelt and tasted of TCP! Then the bill arrived and we had been charged $12 for a starter. Our waiter explained that only the sardines were complimentary (1 each) and apologised for misinforming us. We made no apology for not leaving him a tip which is usually expected to be 18% now in the USA.

We found a good breakfast just down the road from our motel and then discover Peets Coffee Shop - at last - the first decent coffee since our arrival! Here we met a talkative sheep farmer who had a property just north of a place called St. Louis Obispo on the coast 200 miles north of L.A. He told us not to miss it and described where we could see his sheep on the way! Sue asked him if they were pretty? He didn't know about that but had just sheared them so they were naked!

Lone pine at Pebble Beach

We set off around the Monterey peninsula and the famous 17 mile drive. The peninsula was first discovered by the Spanish in 1602 and it was in 1880 that the Hotel Del Monte opened and organised excursions round the coastline by horse-drawn carraige, then in 1919 a golf course was completed at a little picnic spot called Pebble Beach which has since become internationally famous. Jack Nicklaus said that if he had one last round to play it would be at Pebble Beach. There are now 8 golf courses on the peninsular and green fees are an astronomic, $495 at Pebble Beach! Silly money which is almost as silly as us paying £100 to watch an England v Scotland pool game in the Rugby world cup!
The logo that they use for the golf course is a lone pine tree on a rocky outcrop which actually exists and is 200 years old.

Sea Otter on 17 mile drive

We thought about buying a "made in China" hat with the Pebble Beach logo on it but they wanted a ridiculous $50 so we photgraphed the pine tree and might get transfers made to put on our $10 tee shirts!!

At one viewpoint we came across a lone sea otter lying on his back amongst the seaweed with his flippers in the air. These creatures are rarely seen and, as you can see from the picture, it is a job to tell if the image is an otter or a big lump of driftwood! Take my word that it is a sea otter as I looked through someone elses powerful zoom lens to confirm it. Made us think of a nice pint of otter in the Brewers pub back in South Petherton, Somerset!

Elephant seals at Piadras Blancas beach

After a swift visit and lunch at Carmel which was also too expensive for our pockets, we set off down Highway One and Big Sur. Unfortunately the sea mist, for which this coast is famous, kept sweeping in until we arrived near our destination that day at a beach full of elephant seals. It was the time in the season when the young who were born that year and juveniles arrive so there were only a few hundred on the beach but by December the population swells to about 15,000 with the big bull seals weighing up to 2 tons (a USA ton = 0.92 tonnes). The species were thought to be extinct during the nineties but from just a few seals which colonised this part of the coast the population has grown to the huge numbers you see today.

The San Simeon Pines Resort turned out to be delightful and in the evening we at last found a really good seafood restaurant in nearby Cambria.

Sue in English bar St Louis Obispo

The next day we continued down the coast to St. Louis Obispo, passing the naked sheep just before, and found it to be the most splendid place we had visited on this trip. After parking the car on a meter, people kept stopping to offer us change for which they would accept no payment. We then located a Peets coffee shop followed by a jeweller as my watch strap had broken which they repaired for nothing telling us that St. Louis was voted the happiest town in the USA. No wonder when the townsfolk give you money and mend your watch for nothing! Later we were in an English bar and Chris ordered a Coke and an orange juice for which the barman only wanted a dollar!

Chris and me pull a couple of birds!

We sat out in a courtyard beside a creek drinking good local ale with an old English red telephone box and a mural of "The Who" draped in the Union Jack!

There is an old mission here dating from 1772 when California belonged to Mexico and in the mission garden Chis and I pulled! One of the ladies was from Monterey and the other from Haight Ashbury in San Francisco who said that when we are next there we should ask for the purple victorian and she would show us around the area where Janice Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and the Grateful Dead came from!

We could have stayed in St. Louis Obispo for much longer but we had a 200 mile drive to LA and a plane to catch to Auckland. We arrived safely at the Dollar depot and Chris remembered to take his case to the airport. Our Quaintarse flight took off on time for the 13 hour flight to New Zealand.

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