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USA 2018

Beast of the east and the best of the west
  • Day38

    Redwood National Parks

    November 25, 2018 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 12 °C

    Long day today exploring the Redwood National Parks. It's a collection of three State parks and one National Park, covering areas of California redwood trees. These are the tallest trees on earth, reaching up to 120m in height which is just crazy. They're more slender than the giant sequoia trees though.

    Prior to European settlement these trees covered much of the Pacific northwest, but their timber is excellent and they were enthusiastically logged. So much so that it's estimated over 95% of the trees standing in 1850 have since been felled. Most of the remaining ones are protected inside these parks.

    Our first stop though was 20 minutes north, at the Oregon border. We weren't really going into Oregon, we just crossed over and had a brief look around at the first coastal viewpoint. Both found it amusing that a marijuana store was located as literally the first building on the Oregon side of the border, about 20 metres from California. Although it's now legal in California, it's been legal for much longer in Oregon.

    Back down the coast, we stopped at various points of interest around the parks. A large grove dedicated by President Johnson's wife, a few particularly special trees, interesting drives and lookouts, etc. Quite nice, and thankfully we had reasonable weather for it as well - a bit overcast but not raining.

    Late in the day we made the long drive back north to Crescent City where we were staying, which we'll have to repeat again tomorrow.
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  • Day37

    Travelling to California's Far North

    November 24, 2018 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 13 °C

    Long day of driving today, nearly 7 hours! We left Sacramento around 9:30am and drove northwards mostly on Interstates and Highways. The landscape now was turning heavily forested with lots of pine trees, very different to the deserts, scrublands and farming country that we'd been through so far!

    Eventually turned off the highway at Redding and crossed over the mountains on a tiny winding road. Much of central California is actually a long flat valley in between two mountain ranges, so heading back to the coast required crossing mountains. It was a long slow drive, but we eventually made it.

    We were in the area to check out the Redwoods National Park, which was a long and skinny national park spread out along the coast. Unfortunately for us, we were staying right at the far end in a town called Crescent City, and we'd have to retrace our steps tomorrow to visit the parks, and again the following day to leave the area. Alas.
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  • Day36

    Sacramento

    November 23, 2018 in the United States ⋅ 🌧 12 °C

    We had a quick breakfast and intended to leave by mid/late morning, but by the time we (I, really) were ready to go a huge batch of waffles was in the oven so we decided to stay for breakfast/lunch. Things got further delayed when Tracey got spattered by hot oil from some sausages, causing her to drop a pan of hot sausages on a hungry dog waiting at her feet (Mister Hogan, Ray and Cathy's dog) who then got a little burned and panicked. They were both OK in the end, but lunch was delayed quite a bit and we didn't end up leaving until after 1pm.

    I was fine with it since I was feeling very comfortable (and still full!), but off we went into the rain. First stop was at Lodi, about 90 minutes to the north-west, in the heart of California wine country. California is one of the world's largest wine-growing regions, but most of their wines never make it out of the country. We stopped at one recommended winery, did a tasting and bought a couple of bottles to send back to Ray and Cathy - we felt a bit bad since we'd shown up empty-handed in the days previous.

    The hour was getting late and we didn't have time to visit other wineries, so we pressed on for Sacramento, the small capital of California. There's a neat little old town right on the riverfront here; shops built out of wood with elevated porches and long awnings (sort of like Queenslander houses). It was very quaint and frontier feeling, though I'm not sure how authentic it was. Not too kitsch at least, and a train showing up at the nearby station covered in Christmas lights calling itself the Polar Express made us both smile.

    Bought some treats at a dog shop where Schnitzel got fussed over, then headed for Motel 6 on the outskirts of town. Grabbed dinner at a nearby Panda Express (Chinese chain), then turned in for the night. Just a flying visit to Sacramento this time.
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  • Day35

    Thanksgiving

    November 22, 2018 in the United States ⋅ 🌧 8 °C

    Thanksgiving is actually a really nice holiday. It's just about getting together with friends and/or family and being thankful for what you have. No rigmarole about presents or spending up big and all that stuff, just a large meal and a day off. There aren't even Thanksgiving sales or anything like that in the stores, just BLACK FRIDAY and CYBER MONDAY advertising.

    We ended up waking a bit late and having a lazy breakfast, before the younger ones decided to drive up the road a bit to visit Big Trees. It's a grove of redwood trees and a couple of giant sequoias too, so interesting to see but not much we hadn't seen already at Yosemite. There had been a big winter storm overnight, so a bit of snow on the ground up here but thankfully nothing back down at Murphys - just a lot of wind and rain!

    Back home where we had a light lunch and watched the Macy's parade along with some Thanksgiving football on TV, before having dinner around 5pm.

    Delicious turkey with gravy and cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes that were about 80% butter and milk, sprouts, carrots and sweet potato, and of course stuffing! Pecan pie and peach pie for dessert, both home made and delicious. I ate so much it felt like my eyeballs were going to pop out!
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  • Day34

    Meeting Tracey's Parents

    November 21, 2018 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 13 °C

    Today was Wednesday, and tomorrow is Thanksgiving, one of the most important American holidays. Ian and Tracey were planning to spend it with Tracey's parents at their home just outside Murphys in eastern California, and we were all invited!

    Under rainy skies we headed off out of Walnut Creek at lunchtime, driving for a couple of hours up into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. We arrived around mid-afternoon and met everyone - Tracey's parents Cathy and Ray are very nice, and had a lovely huge house to fit us all in. We felt very at home and welcomed, even though we came with three dogs in tow (Ian's dogs Dakota and Shay were with us along with Schnitzel).

    Dinner was very nice, though nothing fancy, and we stayed up until 11pm chatting and getting to know everyone. It was the first time my aunt Helen had met them too. Cathy was a former flight attendant and quite glamorous, while Ray was Irish and still had his accent and sense of humour, despite 50+ years in the US.
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  • Day33

    A Reunion

    November 20, 2018 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 16 °C

    We'd planned to go back into San Francisco for the morning, but with the smoke overshadowing everything and being satisfied with what we'd seen yesterday, we decided to just hang around the hotel until checkout at 12pm. Instead we used that time to book our next trip - Sri Lanka and India in January/February 2019! Watch this space.

    So we checked out, drove up into San Fran and then across the Bay Bridge to Oakland. First stop was a random Trader Joe's supermarket where we had lunch (cheap wraps and salads), then back to the car heading a bit further to east to Walnut Creek.

    Walnut Creek is where my cousin Ian lives with his girlfriend Tracey. I was really excited to see them both, as I'd never met Tracey and it had been nearly two years since I'd seen Ian. And coincidentally, his mum/my aunt was also in town after a trip to Mexico, so we had a nice little family reunion! Ian seems very settled in his life in California, working in the tech field while Tracey does something in the finance industry in San Fran.

    We had a great afternoon relaxing and catching up, then wandered over to a nearby Italian restaurant for dinner. Tasty food though with enormous American portions - none of us could finish! Wandered off to bed very full and satisfied.
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  • Day32

    San Francisco

    November 19, 2018 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    Up and out to explore the city! First stop was a district known as Haight-Ashbury, so named for two streets that run straight through the centre of it. Apparently this area was a real centre of hippie culture in the 1960s, and that's carried through until today. Lots of tie-dyed shirts, vinyl shops and the like, as well as quite a few oddballs hanging around.

    Headed up to the 49th Street stairs as well, which is a long pedestrian staircase in a residential neighbourhood. The stair fronts are decorated with mosaics, and when you look at it from the bottom of the stairs it shows up as one large pattern - very impressive.

    From here we headed to the Mission District, home to a lot of street art. Very Hispanic area where most signs were in Spanish first and English later. Grabbed a banh mi roll for lunch and then drove through Golden Gate park, the largest park in the USA. Even larger than Central Park in New York! Only looked at the edges though, as we didn't really have time to explore properly.

    Drove to Lombard Street where we drove down that narrow wiggly street - apparently the world's steepest. From here we went to the waterfront area around Pier 49 where the sealions are. Schnitzel was quite curious at first but then just wanted to bark, so we retreated from there and had an ice cream looking at the bay. Couldn't see much because of the smoke, but Alcatraz was just visible in the distance. We hadn't looked into it since dogs aren't allowed, but all the trips were cancelled due to smoke anyway.

    Back to the car where we headed to our last stop - Baker Beach on the western coast. A dog-friendly spot where you get a nice sunset view of the Golden Gate bridge, so we walked along the beach for a while and let Schnitzel enjoy himself. It's also a nudist beach in some areas and a rather strange old man walked past with everything swinging in the breeze!

    It was gathering dark (albeit only 5pm), so we went back to the car and drove back to the Mission District. Found a park and grabbed a burrito at a locally-famous taqueria before heading home, satisfied with our efforts for the day!
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  • Day31

    West to San Francisco

    November 18, 2018 in the United States ⋅ 🌫 13 °C

    Left Yosemite and drove westwards across rolling fields and vineyards to San Francisco, the other of California's great cities. Drive wasn't too bad, fairly boring interstate roads for most of it.

    Our first stop was down south at Cupertino to have a quick look at the Apple Headquarters - they have a newly-built ring-shaped building that's very impressive, though obviously you can't see that much of it. They did have a cool visitor's centre that we enjoyed checking out though.

    Decided not to bother looking at any other tech company headquarters, and drove north into the city itself, to an area known as the Painted Ladies. This is a group of nicely painted houses facing onto a park that was made famous in a TV show - maybe Who's The Boss? I can't remember. Took a few photos then wandered a few blocks to meet up with a blogger friend of Shandos's and her husband.

    We'd originally planned to meet them in the park (she's a dog blogger and they had a nice dog as well), but with the constant bushfire smoke hanging around we decided to meet at their place instead. They were a nice couple - migrants from India around 15 years ago and had some interesting perspectives to share on life in the city and in the USA as well. We didn't end up leaving until around 6pm!

    Drove south to our hotel near the airport (we were staying well out of town as it was the cheapest option we could find!), and struggled a bit to find an acceptable option for dinner. Eventually we just had McDonalds which neither of us were especially happy with.
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  • Day30

    Yosemite National Park

    November 17, 2018 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 18 °C

    Up early in the freezing temperatures and headed across to Yosemite National Park, about 30 minutes drive away. We were a little limited in what we could do because of Schnitzel, who as usual was only allowed on paved trails, so we had to pick and choose quite a bit.

    But it worked out, we managed to drive the typical 2 hour Yosemite Valley loop, including Bridalveil Falls, Half Dome, El Capitan and a few other sights as well, and we filmed as we went.

    Spent a couple of hours in the afternoon driving up to Glacier Point lookout, which we assumed would be closed by now but thankfully wasn't! We'd gotten in just in time, as it looked like a large dump of snow was incoming for next weekend and if we'd arrived then, we likely wouldn't have seen anything!

    Last stop for the day was to the southern end of Yosemite, the giant sequoia trees. I remembered visiting these as a kid, although you can't drive up to them anymore - you have to get a shuttle bus from a carpark 10 minutes away. We got one of the last buses of the day in fading light, but still managed to fit in a mile-long walk to see the more impressive trees. Largest trees in the world, though not the tallest - those are the redwoods which we'll encounter soon.

    Back to the campground for the night where we had dinner in the on-site restaurant. Slightly overpriced but the queues were horrendous - pretty much everyone on site had the same idea and it took over 30 minutes to queue up for food! But it was tasty stuff, and they had a local band playing inside so the atmosphere was quite festive (thankfully we'd left Schnitzel in the cabin before they started up).
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  • Day29

    North-east to Yosemite

    November 16, 2018 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 20 °C

    Long day of driving today - left our place in Anaheim around 10am and headed north and east out of Los Angeles. Stopped at a spot called Tejon Ranch for petrol and an In-N-Out burger for lunch, before heading north again.

    Eventually reached our accommodation just around dark at 5pm, about 20 minutes outside Yosemite Valley. It's basically a campground and we had a fairly ordinary cabin, 5 minutes walk from the bathroom and in freezing conditions. At least we're only here two nights.Read more