San Fran and Vegas Getaway
Trip Start Jan 01, 2012
14Trip End Ongoing
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The morning of our departure started with cooked breakfast in the Delta Business class lounge which I have to admit wasn't a bad way to begin a long journey. Although we were dressed to the same level as the other guests it somehow felt like we were imposters, as if everybody else in the lounge knew we weren’t supposed to be there.
I don’t normally talk too much about flights in my blog but considering this was the first and most likely the only time I will ever fly business class it would be a shame not to
The seat was so spacious and I couldn’t help but fiddle with all the buttons as soon as I could, a bit like a child the first time they sit in a lazy boy. Within minutes of the seat belt sign switching off I was laying down flat with my pillow and feather duvet snuggled around me as I began my eight hour movie marathon. Sonia soon followed suit and very quickly the only interruptions became the meal service and bathroom breaks.
We had to change aircraft in Detroit and after getting the luxury treatment in Business class the standard of the domestic flight just didn’t compare. How on earth will I ever go back to economy after experiencing the amazingness that is Business?
We arrived into San Francisco and eventually navigated our way to our hotel in Fisherman’s Wharf which was no easy feat given that the subway was down due to a Chinese New Year’s parade. The Argonaut Hotel where we stayed was absolutely beautiful with its nautical theme and beds so high that I had to climb on. It was a far cry from the dodgy backpacker’s hostel we had originally been planning on staying at.
Despite the luxury of Business we were knackered and decided to call it an early night watching trashy American Soaps before giving in to the land of nod.
We awoke to a beautiful clear day with crystal blue skies, a far cry from the snowy freezing weather we had left behind in London
Alcatraz was definitely impressive and I learnt a lot about the stories of its inmates, my favourite thing about it was our arrival into the dock where I could imagine convicts had arrived in much the same way years before. There was an ex-convict there giving talks about his time on the island which somehow made it feel more real.
I have viewed several ex prisons since starting my OE and after a while one cell blurs into the next, and they soon all become much of a muchness. What was amazing though was the views of the Golden Gate Bridge across the harbour. I can only imagine how such a beautiful sight must have taunted the prisoners stuck on the island looking out towards civilisation.
From Alcatraz we made our way on foot to town walking along the Embarcadero and cutting through China Town. Chinese New Year’s celebrations were continuing that day and we got to walk through the middle of them feeling like part of the celebrations.
I loved seeing the bright giant Dragon puppets and what seemed really strange was that it was full of stalls holding what looked like competitions using Bingo cages
From China Town we began the walk to the other side of town to go visit the famous Painted Ladies. As we walked it was very easy to tell when we had crossed the boundaries of one area for another and there were certainly areas that neither Sonia not I felt particularly safe in.
London has a lot of homeless people as do most other major cities I’m sure but the sheer volume of homeless in San Francisco really took me by surprise. They really were everywhere just hanging about on every street corner and congregating in large groups. What I couldn’t understand were that so many were obviously homeless yet had better footwear than I have, Nike, Adidas, New Balance, Asics. If I can’t afford these brands how can they?
What was also different for me and I didn’t really click until Sonia pointed it out was that although there were the normal drunken, dirty homeless types there was also a large number of people begging that looked like you and I, like every day Joe Bloggs who were just down on their luck
Along our walk it was not only the volume of the homeless that was surprising but also the strong smell of Marijuana that floats about the city. You can’t go more than 10 metres without being assaulted by the smell. We came to the conclusion people must not smoke cigarettes and instead survive on weed. Of course you smell it every now and then in other cities and that’s not surprising but to smell it permanently with nobody but the tourists batting an eyelid was something different. If I thought Amsterdam was the city of recreational Marijuana use, I was dead wrong and it is a smell I will forever associate with San Francisco moving forward.
Eventually once we made it through both some shady looking areas and also some very beautiful suburbs we made it to see the Painted Ladies, a beautiful row of traditional Victorian Houses perched atop a hill looking out over the city. As the most photographed spot in all of San Francisco it was full of tourists but it was well worth the walk as it was picture perfect and the park in front of them made for a nice afternoon rest stop. As we sat in the park with the Painted Ladies in the background I couldn’t help but have the Full House theme song playing in my head on loop.
As I laid down in the grass, cloud watching and soaking up the sun a Russian tourist laid down in the grass relatively close
The Painted Ladies themselves were very beautiful and I fell in love with not only them but the similar properties we encountered on our walk back to Fisherman’s Wharf. I loved the use of three contrasting colours used to make each house individual and stand out from the rest and I hope that one day when I have my own little villa I can use this three colour technique for the paint job.
By the time we made it back to our Hotel I was knackered, my feet were in agony and I was ready to retire for the day but we decided instead to head to visit the very crooked Lombard St. Unfortunately we couldn’t tell from a map which was the bottom or top end of the street until we had dragged our tired little feet up the freaking biggest hill- only to discover we were at the wrong end of it. I don’t really know how else to describe it other than crooked and it seemed to have a constant flow of traffic as tourists made their way down its twists and bends.
The next morning we decided to go see the Golden Gate Bridge and were contemplating hiring bikes when Sonia spotted two bikes for complementary use at our hotel
The diner was every bit as 50’s in décor as I had imagined, I loved every inch of it, from the cashier desk that was the back half of a Cadillac to the retro gas pump in the corner. The breakfast came in a man size portion that I have now learnt is a typical American serving size. The shake was delicious but as I drank it I couldn’t help but be aware of how incredibly disgustingly filthy the place was. My feet stuck to the floor, my bum to the dirty vinyl seat and my eyes couldn’t look away from the biggest greasiest dust bunnies I had ever seen lurking in every nook and cranny.
After breaky we started our bike ride, whoever said that remembering to ride a bike is easy was a great big liar. I had no coordination, control or sense of direction. The ride through the park was beautiful as was it along the beach. When we stopped to checkout a small animal Sonia had spotted an elderly couple stopped to explain to us it was a gofer and to give us a little bit of a lesson about the local area
The ride was going fine until we actually hit the bridge. I was absolutely bricking it, my heart was beating at a million miles an hour, I was sweating and swore I was having a panic attack. The views were amazing but with nothing but oncoming rush hour traffic to my left and a giant blue ocean to my right combined with the fact I was wobbly on the bike, afraid of heights and can’t swim I thought I was in hell. Sonia kept giving me words of encouragement until I was safely on the other side. I couldn’t face the thought of crossing the bridge back so instead we cycled to a small picturesque coastal town called Sausalito before taking a ferry back.
That afternoon after returning the bikes and resting my very sore ass and Sonia’s sunburnt hands we took a traditional cable car ride before doing a bit of souvenir shopping.
The following morning we were up at the crack of dawn heading back to the airport ready for our next flight. We were both taken aback and were very suspicious when a little old lady tried to make small talk with us about the weather and our holidays. It isn’t until now with hindsight that I realise that really she was just being polite and that Sonia and I have just been living in London for too long where the only people who talk on public transport are holidaymakers or weirdos
One short plane ride and a nap later we found ourselves in lively Las Vegas. Our Circus themed hotel wasn’t exactly 5 stars but with having paid only GBP30.00 for two people for two days I couldn’t really complain.
We headed out to the far end of the strip to go and see the famous Vegas sign. Snapshots taken, we started to wind our way up the Strip stopping to marvel at each of the hotels. What fascinated me aside from the hotels of course were the numerous billboards covered with scantily clad women holding machine guns. Apparently it’s the thing to do as a tourist after gambling and drinking is to go to a machine gun firing range
The hotels themselves were amazing, from the Pyramid of the Luxor to the Statue of Liberty to the canals of the Venetian, everything was just like the originals only scaled down. I underestimated the length of the Strip and by only half way my feet were killing me and my senses so overloaded by the amazing things I had seen.
Sonia got insulted by a foul mouthed Elvis who felt the need to speak filthily about her 'snatch’-a term I hadn’t heard before
That night after a bit of a rest we headed back down the strip but this time to the Bellagio to go see the O performance by Cirque du Soleil at 2230. Of all the performances on offer I have to admit that O was the lowest on my list. I just couldn’t comprehend how a show could be water based. I was pleasantly surprised and just like every other Cirque du Soleil show I have seen it was amazing. The only problem was that after the early morning start and some very full on days I was knackered and caught myself dozing off a couple of times during the performance. The only thing that eased my conscience was the fact that I could see Sonia doing the same.
It was another early start the following day as we joined a group tour to head out to the Grand Canyon West Rim. A four hour bus ride was not exactly my idea of fun but it did give me plenty of time to nap. The dry red dessert as we crossed from Nevada into Arizona was nothing like I had seen before and I loved the view of all the Joshua trees as we sped past.
We arrived at Eagle Point to get our first glimpse of the Canyon, it was absolutely magnificent. It felt never ending and made me feel so small in the world. Without handrails and with nothing but a giant gaping hole in the earth in front of me I felt some of the same panic I felt back at the Golden Gate bridge rising. I opted not to do the Skywalk-a walk over some thick glass over the Canyon as I figured the view would be the same and I didn’t think my quivering legs would be able to take it
We ate our lunch at the Hualapai Ranch, a mock western themed town complete with pistol duelling cowboys, stocks, and Clydesdale horses. With not a cloud in sight, and shared lunch on green and white gingham trestles with a cowboy and turkey singing in the background it was quite magical.
The 4 hour bus ride back was much the same as the journey out with the exception of a quick stop at the huge engineering marvel that is the Hoover Dam. We spent that night retracing our steps on the Strip but this time taking in Vegas in all its neon glory.
Day three in Vegas saw us heading to an outlet shopping mall. I love US outlet shopping, the bargains are just incredible but in the stinking heat it was just a mission. It may have been a mission but a successful one resulting in Sonia and I having to buy another suitcase in order to fit all our purchases in. Two handbags, one pair of shorts, three pairs of earrings, one sunglass case and a giant bottle of Hershey’s chocolate sauce later I was a happy bunny.
That night we flew back to San Fran ready to start our last day in the States before returning home. After perusing the Disney store we met with a hotel rep for lunch who was hosting our accommodation for both of our San Fran stays. In exchange for a hotel viewing we got luxury accommodation at a discounted price
The rest of our afternoon we spent filling every spare available inch of our luggage with last minute shopping. We had bags full of Kisses, Nerds, Reece’s Pieces, Lucky Charms and I can’t even begin to count how many dresses I bought or Old Navy items that Sonia did.
We headed back to the airport with bags in tow ready to begin our long flight home in business class style.
I had always said that America was never really big on my to do list, and had I not had free flights I may never have been but I am so thankful that I did. I realise that San Francisco and Las Vegas may not be real America but this trip has definitely inspired me to want to see more.