In the Easter Holidays of 2012, on the spur of the moment decision, my parents (actually, just my stepdad. My mum is very adamant about avoiding huge expenditure and increasingly so on impulsive decisions) decided to pack and travel to America. With my GCSEs fast approaching and with an increasing amount of stress, I obviously made the decision to go with them and miss a few days of school. I had only visited the US once before, and dare I say, I did not get the full experience - we spent a week in Disneyland Florida and did not venture outside the park. I was 9.
Anyway, we were without a plan of action. We had only booked the hotel of the first destination, had no idea where we were going, the only thing we knew was that we wanted to go from San Francisco down to LA. Which meant, ROAD TRIP!
Travelling was awful, long haul flights and hassle make me cranky. Our flight was delayed because the plane had a few "technical problems" and after hours of waiting they finally decided that they could not fly. They'd booked us all onto a flight with another airline, their plane being smaller, slower and kind of funky smelling. Check in was manic, we found there were no seats left to sit us together and alas my parents and I were separated :'( . Most annoyingly, they offered my stepdad a first class seat and he declined -.- I would've volunteered and he did not recommend me *sigh* (one day).
I think I'll insert a pointless anecdote here about past travelling experiences, just for the sake of nostalgia. You should know, when it is just my mum and I travelling, something always goes wrong. Exhibit A: My mum and I were flying back to London from Beijing, we had stopped to get a few souvenirs by the duty free shop. Now, I began to have a sneaky feeling we should be boarding, she ignored me of course, I was about 6. Unbeknownst to us, the airport staff had put the intercom on and had been calling us for the last 20 minutes to board. They somehow found us...queue the embarrassing run down to the boarding gate. We got lots of glares on the way to our seats :). Exhibit B: We were going to Paris. My mum forgot her passport. We missed our train. As you can see, always eventful.
Back to the Road Trip:
City 1: San Francisco The taxi driver that took us to our hotel, I thought was hilarious. We sat in silence for the first 40 minutes listening to an Indian radio station at full blast, he'd refused to make any conversation. As we began nearing San Francisco's inner city, he'd finally perked up and started firing questions at us. In the end, we couldn't get him to shut up, we sat in the car for 5 minutes after we'd already arrived waiting for him to finish. He's a funny guy. The thing that struck me first was not the vibe, or the bustling city; it was the amount of homelessness. I was already aware there was a considerably larger population of homeless people in the US, but seeing it up close certainly made me more alert. In the UK, most would never approach you, and I must admit in the dark, with 3 or 4 people throwing themselves at you asking for money did scare me quite a bit. It definitely got rid of some of the jet lag I was experiencing.
We stayed in San Francisco for about 3 1/2 days. It is an incredible city and I'd have to say one of my favourites. What surprised me? My navigation skills! The bus routes were all very confusing, so many coloured lines criss-crossing on the paper, but I figured it out fairly quickly. I knew exactly where we were and where we needed to be going. Things turned a bit awry, when I led us down to a slightly dodgier area (only once!), there were a couple of street fights and shouting and a slightly deranged man muttering about military operations. He scared the living daylights out of my stepdad and refused to take any bus in America again (they kept being delayed). He suggested they should make an app pinpointing the dodgy areas of cities. So if there are any app developers reading this, you know what to do!
The Highlights of San Francisco: -The Golden Gate Park was stunning and had some seriously breath taking views. The park was huge and had views of the Golden Gate Bridge (which we went to later on), museums, windmills, lakes and beach chalets. The Japanese Tea Garden was a memorable one for me. -Other places included China Town, Fisherman's Wharf and Union Square
We hired a car on the last day of San Francisco and drove to the next place.
Location 2: Yosemite National Park
We went off course, and decided to travel East to see the valleys and glacier point. Unfortunately, we'd chosen the worst time to go as the weather took a turn and it started raining very heavily (which was just like being back in England really). We decided to brave it out, and drove up the hills. It was still raining, but as we drove higher it started to snow. Although we could not see much, the drive was incredible (not very relaxing for my mum who thought we'd crash and die). By the time we'd reached the first stop, the snow had turned really heavy and the park decided to shut accessibility to see the glacier point. The trip was not all just a waste, as we got some incredible shots and trekked to see the waterfalls. We returned to the ranch, much to my stepdad's joy of not getting eaten by a bear (he was on full alert the whole journey). We only stayed in Yosemite for a day and a half, which was such a shame, it’s such a lovely place.
Location 3: Monterey
My parents had their eyes set on this place it was very clean and quiet, and the locals seemed really friendly. It definitely had the feel of a seaside town, I wouldn't go as far as saying it was quaint, but it was definitely peaceful. Again, we'd only stayed for a day and a half, but we didn't leave until we'd seen the Monterey Aquarium. It was such a cool place and there were many activities including interactions with wildlife. The Manta Rays were really soft *-*. It's located right by the edge of the ocean so we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of dolphins as well. The sea otters and the sharks were really awesome.
Location 4: Santa Barbara
We made a stop at Santa Barbara and spent the afternoon there. It's funny how everything just seemed brighter there., the water was really clear, and the sand was really...sandy, the whole place was just really chilled. We hired a 3 seater cycling people mover carts and cycled around the touristy part of Santa Barbara. The environment was really nice; we sat outside eating sushi and listened to a group of ukulele players/singers play some Beatles songs outside the cafe.
Location 5: Santa Monica
Next to San Francisco, it was probably one of the favourites of this trip. We didn't think much of it at first, the beach was busier and a little duller looking than Santa Barbara. The fact that the hotel we were staying at was awful did not help either (no heating- would've thought my stepdad would be used to the cold by now, nope). However, our views of this place completely changed when we discovered the pier. The whole place seemed to come alive and I managed to get some incredible pictures of Santa Monica’s sunset and it transforming into night. They had shops, a Ferris wheel with some rides and an old vintage looking arcade store.
Location 6: Los Angeles
Because of our limited time, we decided to just have a tour bus take us to the main places in LA. This included Hollywood, the Hollywood Sign, and Beverly Hills. Hollywood was busy and loud as I though it would be. Hollywood is definitely a place I would not want to visit again, now quite like cities and busy cities excite me but it was not the cleanest/pleasantest of places, and everything was so expensive.
Within 2 minutes of arriving, aspiring artists who were trying to flog us their CDs swamped us. I remember one guy who seemed to have latched onto me. claim to be on radio the next day. He started signing a CD for me after I had told him my name. I refused to pay for it and he ran to another person trying to sell the same CD he had signed for me 10 seconds ago. Like I said before, the whole place was crazy and too manic.
My favourite place in LA - Beverly Hills. Fun Fact: Elvis Presley used to tip his waiters/waitresses Cadillacs.
My mum finally got her Louis Vuitton bag that she'd been searching for the whole trip. She chose the newest model (any objections about spending went out the window). Beverly Hills is so clean. You could literally eat your dinner from the "sidewalk". We popped into the Four Seasons Hotel, and I'm not even joking, the bathroom toilets were beautiful. They laid out fresh towels and had moisturiser dispensers for customers.
The whole trip was a bit of a whirlwind, my stepdad had to drive the whole way on his own, as although my mum drives manual (only her car though – don’t wasn’t to push it), she was incapable of handling an Automatic and nearly drove into a tree. Yes, she’s a strange one. One thing I found out; shopping in America scares me. Americans do seem to have a habit of throwing themselves at you, as soon as you’d tell one person you were just looking around, his/her colleague would jump in front and ask you the same question that the person before had asked 5 seconds ago. It’s not like I’d have changed my mind within the last 5 seconds, and I don’t think I would’ve had a grudge against the previous sales assistant.
Although America is not all that different to the UK in terms of lifestyle and I can't say the most bizarre places I've been to, I’d still say it’s a strange land, or maybe it is just the West Coast of America. I have yet to visit New York but I would love to go sometime soon. Next time though, I’m not flying with American Airlines, the plane really did smell funny.