Posts Tagged ‘This Time Last Year’

We woke early on the 21st of May and packed up our camping gear. It had been a lovely night and, to be honest with you, I was a little sad to be leaving our peaceful, quiet spot in the Valley of Fire and heading towards the bright, busy city. However, we sort of eased into Vegas, so it wasn’t too much culture shock.

The first thing we did was get breakfast at Jamm’s Restaurant which was, according to the fifteen billion reviews I’d read online, the best place in Vegas for breakfast. Well, I am sorry to say it was a bit disappointing. Sure, it was quaint. Sure, it was off the beaten path (nowhere near The Strip, I mean), but it wasn’t all that special. It was a restaurant that served breakfast. They seemed to be a bit too busy to function efficiently, and the food was only so-so. Still, it gave us a place to go, so it wasn’t a waste. I had waffles.

After that we went to a coin-operated laundry and washed our clothes. I know, how hard-core are we, right?

After that we drove up and down the strip once or twice, just to get a feel for the place, before we pulled into the parking garage at the hotel we’d booked – Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall and Saloon. It’s small, but central – just what we needed. Although, when we arrived at the desk to check in they told us that they were overbooked and we’d been upgraded to The Flamingo. OK. Sure!

We reported to the VIP desk at the Flamingo as we’d been instructed, and, I have to admit, it made me feel quite special walking through the glass doors into the cool quiet of the VIP area. Pretty swanky. It was quite funny, to be honest with you. While we were waiting I happened to say to S that it was far too hot outside to be dragging our luggage from one hotel to the other and, all of a sudden and totally out of nowhere, there were two bottles of ice-cold water sitting on the desk in front of us! !!! As if by MAGIC!! So, I thought I’d try my luck and said, sort of under my breath, “Gee, it sure would be nice to have a huge wad of cash!” to see if any would appear…. Sadly, no… none did. Just the magic water. Which suited me just fine as it was very, very hot and humid.

After we were shown to our room (overlooking Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall and, across the street, The Bellagio) we took some time to freshen up and then headed straight out. Frivolity ensued. 🙂 We went to Paris and I got a strawberry daiquiri inside a plastic Eiffel Tower – 32oz I think. I did not finish it, thank goodness, or I think I’d have curled up for a sleep in one of the shadowy corners of Paris casino. I have to say, as an aside, that of all the casinos we went into (most of them), I liked the interior of Paris the best. It’s pretty.

Paris – See? Pretty!

As a lucky coincidence, a good friend of S’s from work was over in Vegas at the same time as us – and he’d just been married on the 18th! – so we met up with the newly-weds in the early afternoon. And spent the rest of the day drinking. Honestly. No, honestly. We started out with pitchers of beer at Bally’s then graduated to $1 bottles of Bud at Hooters (yes, Hooters – but only because of the $1 bottles of Bud… I hope!), and finally rounded off the evening with free shots of something pink from the promo girls at one of the bars at the MGM Grand. It really was a lot of fun. It was great to be able to be a small part of Tommy & Sarah’s celebration week, as well, although I did start feeling bad for Sarah (who doesn’t drink alcohol) sometime when we were still at Bally’s. Sorry, Sarah!

View from the Hotel

There are quite a few out-of-focus pictures of S and I standing in front of various famous Vegas landmarks as we tottered home from the MGM in the wee hours of the morning of the 22nd. I am not going to share any of them with you because, well, it’s kind of embarrassing! Y’all know I’m not a drinker!! This was one of those What Happens in Vegas… moments. And I’m glad I got to have one! I’d have been quite sad if I’d gone to Vegas and done nothing out-of-character! 🙂

So, this is where I will leave the story for tonight. Tomorrow – more Vegas.



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Stage One – San Francisco

After travelling for a very, very long time we spent only one full day and two nights in San Francisco. It was a welcome chance to get our bearings, to refresh and refuel. To say to ourselves; “Here is where it starts.”

It was raining when we got to The City by the Bay, and after settling in S and I travelled by local bus into the heart of the city. The bus ride was an adventure in and of itself. Two guys at the back of the bus got into a rather heated argument about whether the air vent on the roof of the bus should be open or closed – S and I found this quite amusing at first, a welcome diversion from the monotony of bus travel. Until the argument got much louder and more heated. And at some point it dawned on me that we weren’t in Scotland any more. That we were in America. Where everyone can carry a gun just about anywhere they want to. After that, I was less amused and more terrified. Eventually they settled down. And, a few stops later (after one of the guys had already left the bus) the bus driver finally asked, “What’s going on back there?” leading me to believe that he was quite aware of the threat of danger himself.

It was a strange sort of paradigm shift, let me tell you.

Exploring the city in the rain wasn’t much fun although we did our best. We first tackled some necessities (getting a USA phone number, for instance) and then got down to the business of Adventure.

Cable Cars in the Rain, San Francisco

We rode the Cable Cars. Obviously. They were as I remembered them. Charming. A much-needed reminder of bygone times when nobody really needed to be anywhere in all that much of a hurry. I loved them.

At Fisherman’s Wharf we were both over- and underwhelmed. There was a lot of neon, I’ll grant you that. And perhaps on a nicer day, or later in the day it would have been something to see. But we didn’t bother staying long.

We did visit the Musée Mécanique, which was equal parts fascinating and frightening. Again, I like harking back to an earlier age, but papier-mâché fortune tellers have always scared me.

For instance:

Fortune Teller

This guy is super creepy. As are his good buddies, the wooden dancing men:

Frank, Bob, Charlie and Sam

I’m sorry, but that’s just FREAKY!  Although, considering we did spend about an hour there wandering about and paying the odd nickel to watch some of the fascinating machines actually working, it was well worth the visit.

Knowing, as you do, my adoration for all things Amusement Park, consider the following:

Toothpick Fantasy

This one is made entirely out of toothpicks!!! How awesome is that??

After we had spent all of our dimes and nickels we wandered away down the Embarcadero towards the Ferry Building. We stopped in for something to eat at Johnny Rockets. Because S had never been to one. And because they sell milkshakes. And play excellent music. And you have a mini-jukebox at your table.

Milkshakes and Jukeboxes

See? There IS reason behind my madness, even if I am the only one who sees it!! 🙂

We saw many iconic images during our walk including Alcatraz (as seen in yesterday’s post), the Fog City Diner (of cookbook fame) and, of course, The Ferry Building itself.

The Ferry Building

When we returned to The Ferry Building the next morning the view had changed somewhat. See if you can spot it…

The Ferry Building, Again

Yes, folks, that’s right. The sun was shining. Glorious, warm, American sunshine. Nothing beats it, trust me. The Scottish sun, even at its highest and hottest, just can’t hold a candle (and yes, I am aware there is only one sun…).

We met up with a dear friend of mine, Jeremy, whom I hadn’t seen in years. He took us for coffee at Blue Bottle Coffee in the Ferry Marketplace which was, quite possibly, the best coffee I’ve ever had (And I’ve been to Italy. And the Italians know their coffee!). Oh, my! Can they ever brew a good cup of coffee. If you haven’t been and get the chance to go – do it. RIGHT NOW. that’s an order!!

After that we went for a short walk in the sunshine (see above) and then stopped for something to eat at The Plant Organic Cafe. Where the food, company and conversation were all extremely satisfying.

When we parted with Jeremy (with promises to meet up later that night) we headed straight to the Alcatraz Ferry. Even though our scheduled ferry didn’t leave until much later, the folks at the ticket office were very kind and let us take an earlier crossing (freeing up our afternoon for more frivolity).

On the Ferry

What can I say about Alcatraz that you don’t know or can’t guess? It is over-commercialised, yes, but even so it is an eerily silent place with whispering ghosts in every shadowy corner.

OK, so I may be employing a bit of poetic license there, but the fact is there’s a chill in the air on the cell blocks. Anyone with a modicum of imagination can picture what the place was like when it was actively being used as a prison and wish themselves elsewhere.

Cell Block

We learned a lot – the audio tour is very useful. We saw the scarce windows (above) and the solitary confinement cells just opposite. We saw the mess hall and the warden’s office. We saw the depressing visitor’s area. We looked through the plexiglass into the ventilation shaft where the only people to escape Alcatraz snaked their way to the roof.

We walked in the rec-yard where you have an exceptional view of the bay and of the city. A perfect means of punishment for some of the prisoners who were sentenced to be on The Rock for life.

View of the City

View of the Bay

Of course, the prison closed in 1963 and now it’s a tourist trap. But, like I said, if you can imagine them, the inmates are still there, whispering to each other through the closed bars…

Prison Cell

Anyway, I digress.

After we got back to the mainland we walked towards Fisherman’s Wharf. At some point it struck us that it might be a fine idea to rent bicycles and ride over the Golden Gate Bridge. No, I’m not joking. That was our actual thought process. Wouldn’t it be fun to ride bikes across the bridge? Well, yes, it would.

So we rented bikes.

And we rode.

And rode.

And rode.


A lot.

And then we rode some more. And then, when we eventually arrived at the base of the gigantic, monstrous, insurmountable (teeny, tiny) hill leading to the roadway across the bridge – we realised we didn’t have time to cross it and get the bikes back in time. So we took a few pictures and rode back.

I may be exaggerating a little, but I swear to you it felt like we rode for about 100 miles. All uphill.

The end result was worth it, though. I mean, look at these pictures:

So then we rode back to the city and dropped the bikes off. And walked around a while, and rode more cable cars. It was, of course, necessary for us to visit Lombard Street:

Having wrung all the fun we could out of one day in San Francisco, we returned to the hotel to freshen up a bit, then headed back to the airport to pick up our rental car.

This was not a simple task. This car would be our mobile home for the next 20 days! Somehow we snaffled an upgrade, and I sure am glad we did. Look how pretty he was:

Dodge Avenger 🙂

We then drove back to the city and met up with Jeremy and some other friends for a much-deserved and much-enjoyed night on the town. There were drinks and merriment and laughter. The perfect end to an excellent start to our vacation.

San Francisco was beautiful and warm and welcoming. We could have spent much more time there. Certainly one full day did not do it justice. However, our plane was leaving from New York City in a few short weeks and we had a lot of miles to cover.

So, we went to bed on the 18th of May full of excitement for the next morning when we would really and truly begin our Epic Road Trip Adventure and the next day we woke early and drove out of the city towards Sacramento.

With my longing for, and love of, the open road, with the sound of wheels on asphalt and the wind coming through the open window it’s not hard to understand how my mind barley lingered on the beautiful city we were leaving far too early. Somehow, though, I found time to regret our departure.

Perhaps this is why:

Sunshine on the Bay

Sunshine on the Bay



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