Our last stop of the holiday was Las Vegas. We did one night here in the RV before heading out to Arizona and Utah, and the two nights before we flew home. Vegas is mad - its a bit like Ilfracombe on speed. The whole place is geared for making money. On our first night we visited the Strip and saw the volcano at The Mirage and the fountains at The Bellagio. We wandered around the inside of the Venetian for what seemed like hours. I asked if anyone wanted a ride on a gondola but no one did.
Then we had two more days. We found the sign almost by accident when we were taking our rental car back to the airport.
Carl had his birthday present. Shooting three different types of guns. He decided he liked the machine gun best. Caitlin and Ellie had a go. Their arms ached afterwards.
We stayed in the Luxor. I liked that. The rooms were nice and the rest of the hotel too. It's weird cos its hollow inside and from the 13th floor you can look all the way down to the bottom. And the lifts go diagonally. We did a show on the last night - The Blue Man Group - that was fun, and Caitlin's NUS card got us in for half price.
And the first night we went to Dick's Last Resort for dinner. It is hilarious. The staff are rude and sarcastic, in a funny non-threatening sort of way, and they sneak up on you and put silly hats on you which say rude things. There's one in Orlando. We might have to go there too.
So that's my month in America done. I want to do it again!!!
After San Francisco we travelled into the wilds of the National Parks. First stop was Yosemite, where we parked our RV in a campground right underneath Half Dome. There was plenty of wildlife to see in the form of squirrels and deer., and this seemed to be a theme everywhere we went, to the point where Caitlin and Ellie were like, 'Deer are boring now'! We saw all the sites and had fun playing in the river underneath El Capitan.
We weren't actually allowed in Death Valley in our RV, much to Carl's disgust, but we drove as far as the sign. Whoo hoo!
We said goodbye to the RV in Vegas (more of that later) then picked up a car for a round trip through two more states.
We went to Zion National Park in Utah, where it rained and we saw some great thunderstorms with fork lightning. This was a theme that continued.
Monument Valley was my favourite. We went on an open-sided bus tour but had torrential rain for about half an hour that turned the desert floor into a river of red mud.
Then we were into Arizona and off to the Grand Canyon. More rain and thunder, but the sun came out in between and Ellie managed to give me at least six heart attacked by standing to close to the edge. We also did a helicopter flight over the Canyon. Fantastic trip.
We had three days and four nights in LA. That was enough. I liked LA but there was a lot of driving to get anywhere and a lot of traffic, so journeys that TomTom told you would take 45 mins, turned into journeys of well over an hour. We went to Hollywood first and got that over and done with. We tried to get closer to the sign than the view from the shopping mall next to the walk of fame with the stars on the pavement, but Carl followed TomTom which took us up a road we knew would be wrong cos it said so at the entrance. So then we gave up and went to the beach. Venice Beach is really too crowded, plus it was cloudy and windy. Santa Monica was nicer, but still cold.
Our best day was our Disney day. This was great. Familiar rides and new rides. It was hot and we were there from 9.00am until 10.00pm but it was worth it. Best Ride: Indiana Jones Adventure. We did it twice. Seats in the front of the car and the best ones.
On Monday we picked up the RV and drove up Highway 1. We stopped along the way to look at a few things including the Elephant Seals, who were mostly sunning themselves, but some were shouting at each other. We also stopped in Santa Barbara, which was really pretty, and had lunch in a bar on the pier. I managed to drop my camera, it came unclipped from its karabina (stupid Black Rapid strap). The screen at the back smashed but fortunately it still works with the viewfinder.
Then we had seven hours in San Francisco. We saw Fisherman's Wharf and the sea lions. We visited Chinatown (briefly), we rode on the trolley bus (after a long queue) and the best thing we did was just under two hours on a fire engine touring the city and crossing over the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a beautiful sunny day, so we were really lucky and got some great views of the bridge and the city. The tour guide sang to us, and kept ringing the bell, and everyone turned to look. It was great fun.
This is my first proper view of Estes Park on the day after we arrived last Monday evening. Just look how lovely it is with all the mountains all around. We drove in and wandered around the town, it only has a population of 10,000; and we did a spot of shopping. We soon discovered that they only have gift/nick-nack shops and Rocky Mountains/Estes Park t-shirt shops. Apparently if you want to do real clothes shopping you have to drive to Boulder which is about 35 miles away.
The weather was bizarre while we were there. It was beautiful sunshine most of the time, but every now and then thunderstorms would roll in off the top of the mountains, rumbling so loud you could understand why Tolkien wrote about Stone Giants hurling rocks at each other. They didn't last long or rain much, but it was pretty interesting when it happened. We were playing crazy golf in the middle of the first one.
One day we went to the top of Prospect Mountain on a cable car. There isn't much to do there but admire the view, visit the café and obligatory gift shop, but you can also buy peanuts to feed to the chipmunks and squirrels.
We went for a drive into the National Park, the entrance is 4 miles from Estes Park. This is us at Sprague Lake. Beautiful. We saw a couple having wedding photos done there. We enjoyed the sunshine. Then 6 miles up the road we went to Bear Lake, 9700ft above sea level. The clouds rolled in, it thundered and so we didn't stay long because Caitlin and Ellie had decided to leave their rain coats at home!
On our last evening we had pizza at Mikes house, which was right next to our cabin. It was a lovely evening. We chatted about all things to do with Estes Park and Barnstaple and our lives. It was surprising how much we had in common, including the fact that Ellie and Mike were in India at exactly the same time as each other two years ago. Weird.
I loved the Rockies. Why couldn't I have lived there. Stupid financial crisis. Stupid American government.
New Orleans was mad but lovely. Our hotel was right in the middle of Bourbon Street. Bourbon Street is like Gone With The Wind meets Ibiza. It is full of old buildings covered in neon signs and filled with people getting drunk at night - all night. All the local bars sell cocktails. Carl and I tried a Hurricane, which was okay, something blue in the Hard Rock Café (don't remember its name) and the Hand Grenade, which is very popular, very nice and very potent.
But the rest of the French Quarter I fell in love with. Above is Decatur Street which is near to the Mississippi river. And Royal Street is also lovely with lots of little shops to poke about in.
On our wedding anniversary we took a trip on the Steamboat Natchez. We had the jazz brunch tour which included an all-you-can-eat buffet. It was very pleasant in the air conditioned room, eating, drinking and listening to the jazz. We also did the two must-dos when you go to New Orleans. We visited Preservation Hall to listen to the jazz band. You are not allowed to take photos, so none of us took our cameras, knowing it would be crowded and hot inside, but the minute they let us in cameras and phones sprung into other people's hands and they were snapping away. They weren't allowed during the performance, but I was slightly miffed that I could have got some shots of the inside and didn't. I enjoyed the music though.
The other must-do is Café Du Monde. We queued for about 20 mins before getting seated. The menu is limited but people only come for the beignets and coffee. I drank my coffee, even though I don't normally, it was quite nice. But the beignets were lovely. A portion is three. I could only eat two of mine. They are warm and covered in icing sugar. Yum!
We left Washington on Monday, having picked up a hire car at the airport, and drove into Virginia to the Shenandoah National Park. It was very pretty with views of mountains all around. This was our accommodation on the first night, The Skyland Resort, quite basic but the view was good. It was very cold and wind though, and Caitlin didn't like the fact that there was no internet in the room.
On Tuesday we drove down the Skyline Drive. If you look closely you can just about see the bear that walked across the road in front of us. We also encountered a turkey and several deer. When we left the park we drove straight on to the Blue Ridge Parkway, another long scenic road through the mountains, until we got to Lexington.
We wanted to go the Drive-In Movie theatre but it was closed so we did a Ghost Tour instead. One and a half hours of walking round Lexington and stopping to listen to tales of ghost that had been seen including cats, dogs and Robert E Lee's horse. We also ventured into the cemetery where we saw the statue of Stonewall Jackson shake its head. It was entertaining, Ellie laughed lots.
We drove across the state line into North Carolina - look, the line is actually marked on the road!
This was my favourite place, the New River Inn and Cottages, Glendale Springs. The lady had messed up our booking when we got there and put someone else in the two bedroom cottage, so we got the three bedroom cottage instead. It was lovely and I really enjoyed sitting on the swingseat, drinking beer and reading my book in the sunshine. I would have liked to spend longer there. (I'm not sure this is the best picture though - its hard to tell when they're only little icons on a little computer)
Our wettest day was Thursday. We went to Grandfather Mountain and Linville Falls. This is Carl clambering over rocks to get a better photo. That's how high up we were. The Parkway is a lovely road, and after this we drove up even higher along mountain ridges and right into the clouds at 5500ft and more, but after hours of not being able to see further than about ten meters all around I was quite glad to get back down again.