A Travellerspoint blog

And Finally.......

home again, home again.......

overcast 15 °C

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Oscar Wilde famously said that Hell was spending eternity in the same room as your best friends.

Well, three months in the constant company (for half of the trip - Thailand and America -we even shared the same bedroom!) of your squabbling daughters can sometimes get a bit much too!

The initial point of the exercise was for us - especially the girls - to spend time with their grandparents in South Africa and Australia.

The second part of the plan was to introduce the girls to some of our favourite places in the World. To show them different cultures - and let them meet genuine poverty too. And to live out of a backpack, without all the trappings of home, for 3 months.

Both have been satisfactorily achieved.

We had no real problems - no illnesses, thefts, accidents, etc and can happily say that we all felt we needed more time than we had in every place we visited.

The hospitality we received along the way was awesome and we were able to spend time with some of our special friends from way back........

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This weblog has been a great way of recording our adventures both for our friends and family and for our future memories - we'll copy the blogs to word documents and print a hard copy for the kids and grandparents (and anyone else who may want one) to put away.

Probably saved a fortune in postcards too!

The only time that the kids really suffered was travelling in tropical heat in Thailand. As soon as we recognised this, we cancelled our plan to travel down the peninsula, set up a base in Phuket and did day trips away, eventually flying straight from Phuket to Singapore.

At other times the important thing is to keep them busy. Multi-program seatback screens on aeroplanes are fantastic. On other long journeys, or waits, we ran the gamut of games from the Ministers cat (& derivatives) to our favourite - What am I? (animal, vegitable, mineral or abstract). We also made great use of secondhand bookshops.

This may well be the only opportunity we ever get to do such a trip together, but since we've all come home wanting more I think the seed has been well and truly sown.

Where next?

Wychwood Music Festival.

After that - well, watch this space!

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Will miss:

Heather: Elephant ride, Bike Ride, Murphys, snorkelling

Rhiannon: Elephant ride, Killer Whale, Yosemite, Marlo (mouth of the Snowy)

Frith: Family and friends, seeing new places, California, Phi Phi, Marlo

Graham: Snorkelling, Old Friends, Family, Thailand, Marlo, Hot weather

Won't miss:

Heather: Mosquitoes, Burn, Jellyfish sting

Rhiannon: Mosquitoes, Spiders, Hot weather

Frith: Not enough time anywhere, Mosquitoes, Gecko poo, Sharing a room with the girls for 3 months

Graham: Taking Rhiannon to restaurants, coming home

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Posted by chaddo 12:59 Archived in England Comments (1)

California - San Francisco

We left our hearts......

sunny 18 °C

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The first good news was the Hotel (the Astoria) that I'd booked online six months ago - after reading a lot of travellers reviews - is simply fantastic.

At 400 dollars for 4 for the whole week (including breakfast), less than many hotels charge for a night, I had been concerned that it would be grotty, but it was lovely - and being on Bush St, right next door to China Town Gate and a couple of blocks from Union Square, the location was ideal!

The second is the Muni transit tickets - ours were $24 each for the week and the girls were $10 for the whole month! The bus system is fairly quick and easy to use and our passes also include the underground and the Cable Cars. So unless you need to travel out of town, a car would just be a liability.

We had planned to do a lot of shopping here but, even with the strong pound, there didn't appear to be many bargains around. So we just went out and enjoyed ourselves.

We're having luck with the weather again - it's beautiful. We hired bikes on Fisherman's Wharf and cycled along the waterfront, over Golden Gate Bridge and down to the pretty little town of Sausalito for lunch. We had intended to take the ferry back but we were all feeling fit so we carried on around the Bay to catch the ferry at Tiburon (another pretty little town - sigh - Frith is looking at house prices!).

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It was a great day. We ended up cycling over 17 miles and to top it off we had dinner in a Thai restaurant!

The next day started rainy so we went to the Exploratorium (interactive science museum) in the Palace of Fine Arts, which was wonderful - there were almost too many things to do in a single day.

Later, we walked along the seafront to the Cannery, which was boring, then on to Cioppini's for dinner. I had their special seafood linguini: Swordfish, Salmon, Scallops, Prawns & Mussels in a Pesto, Garlic & Cream Sauce, topped with Dungeness Crab. One of the best meals I've ever had!

The following day we went to Six Flags Marine World and Wildlife Park in Vallejo. We bought a package ticket including ferry and bus from Blue & Gold Fleet at Fishermans Wharf. Watch them - they tried to charge us adult rates for the kids!

The Tigers, Dolphins and Whales were fantastic.

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After our first Roller Coaster ride, Rhiannon was desperate to go on Medusa - an insane twisted, contorted manifestation of somebody's perverted idea of a good time. Neither Frith nor Heather was game so.......

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Actually, it was the best ride I've ever been on. For all the G forces and twists and loops, it was extremely smooth. And I don't have to do it again.

Those were the high points. The crowds, the awful food options, the queues, the "amusement" arcades, the usual theme park trimmings - they were the low points.

Frith took the girls to Alcatraz (I've already been).


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I met up with them at Pier 33 and we returned by cable car.

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In the evening we ate in a self service chinese cafe where you pick and choose from approximately 20 dishes and they weigh your plate at the till (charging $6 per pound). What a good idea for parents with fussy - and vegetarian -kids!

We had various other outings - to shops, Golden gate Park, Haight-Ashbury (full of very colourful shops and wannabe hippies), before flying with Virgin back to London on the 18th of April. The highlight of the flight was looking out at the Northern Lights during the night (note: not my photo).

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Will miss:

Heather: Yosemite, Six Flags, Bike Ride, Mark Twain room (Murphys)

Rhiannon: Yosemite, Six Flags, Bike Ride across Golden Gate Bridge,

Frith: Service in restaurants, food, San Francisco, Yosemite, Bear boxes, Route 49, Murphys, Death Valley

Graham: Yosemite, Death Valley, Bike Ride, Gold Country, Redwood forest

Won't miss:

Heather: Sleeping on the floor, waking in Yosemite (cold!)

Rhiannon: American Food

Frith: Reno

Graham: Crap Cars, State Troopers, TV & Radio evangelists!!!

Posted by chaddo 06:38 Archived in USA Comments (0)

California - Yosemite

Wow!

snow 0 °C

We set off very early from Murphys and reached Yosemite at 10.00am.

The first views of the Valley were absolutely breathtaking! It was like a Disney film set come to life - and then some.

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We checked in to a camp site. The ready-made accommodation was canvas tents with concrete walls. Each tent had a lockable steel trunk outside for food. We were instructed that no food - not even toothpaste should be left out - or in the car because the bears will break in and get it (apparently this is happens practically every week).

Deer are OK though....

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We had lunch in the village and then headed off to walk up to the halfway point on the Yosemite Falls Trail. These are the highest falls in America and, being at the start of the Spring melt, they were close to their best (they dry up completely in late Summer).

Our path took us up 1500 feet of switchbacks. The weather was lovely - low teens and sunny. When we reached the lookout we were able to see the falls from top to bottom.

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Looking down at the sheer drop to the valley, I was reminded of Chris Booth, the father of some friends of my daughters, a fairly quiet, unassuming chap - who mentioned at a party shortly before we left England that he had climbed El Capitan - a practically sheer granite cliff nearly twice as high as the drop that I was now contemplating.

I take my hat off to him!

In the evening we lit a fire and toasted marshmallows. I drove to the village shop. On my return - inside the camping ground - I was pulled over by a State Trooper who told me that I had exceeded the 25mph speed limit. I was put through 10 minutes of co-ordination tests and a breathaliser - in the freezing cold, with blue and red lights flashing throughout and quite a few interested bystanders. I assume that the co-ordination tests are to check for drugs. Anyway, he didn't find anything wrong and went away.
Was I bothered?

In the morning the kids were disappointed that we hadn't seen any bears but soon cheered up when it started to snow. After 3 months in the tropics we weren't equipped for trecking in these conditions so we set off for San Francisco.

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As we climbed out of the valley, the snow intensified and I was worried that we'd be turned back (the car did not have snow chains).

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But it cleared pretty quickly and we had a pleasant drive (past hundreds and hundreds of Wind Generators) down to San Francisco.

Posted by chaddo 05:48 Archived in USA Comments (0)

California - The Gold Route

In them there hills.......

sunny 18 °C

Our intention had been to cross over the Sierra Nevada to Yosemite National Park, but we were told that the Tioga Pass into Yosemite was closed by snow, as were the next three passes along. So, rather than go all the way back south to Bakersfield we re-planned our route to go north to include Reno where there was an Alamo Branch so that we could change the car - the thought more winding mountain roads in the Dodge was just too horrible to contemplate.

So, after a long day of driving and car-swapping, we spent the night in the charming little historic gold mining town of Placerville. From here on our route followed highway 49.

Named after the 49 Gold Rush, this road follows the miner's wagon trail south along the western side of the mountains - and is thus very winding indeed. The countryside is beautiful; hills, valleys, small farms, lots of trees.

We headed for the classic old mining town of Murphys and booked into the oldest continuously occupied hotel in California (called Murphys). The register boasted such notaries as Thomas Lipton and General Grant, but the most famous of all was Mark Twain. And we stayed in his room:

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Murphys is a truly delightful little town - highly recommended. Since there were so many things to do nearby, we stayed for two nights.

On the second day we went on an escorted tour through Mercer Limestone caverns. We had hoped to do a 3 hour pot-holing trip but the girls were too young. Three of us were very disappointed!

We spent the afternoon walking in Big Trees State Park. As the name implies, these Redwood trees are huge! The largest can be 3500 years old and weigh 2600 tons - that's more than 18 blue whales - they are the largest (and tallest) things that have ever lived.

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On the way back to Murphys we visited Ironstone Winery and viewed the largest crystal gold nugget in the World. At 41lbs it is worth over 3.5 million dollars.

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Posted by chaddo 03:11 Archived in USA Comments (1)

California - Death Valley

L.A. is a great big freeway

sunny 40 °C

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We hadn't pre-booked a hire car because of uncertainty of flight dates (ours was the inaugural Rartonga - L.A. direct flight and had already been rescheduled once), presuming that we'd get to the car hire desks and find the best deal.

Wrong! At L.A.X. it doesn't work that way. The various car hire companies run free shuttle buses to their offices so when you get there, with wife, kids and luggage in tow, on the eve of Easter weekend, you're something of a captive audience and the guy behind the desk knows it. After 10 minutes of heated debate, the rate was reduced by a third, which still left me paying twice as much as the best internet rates for the same dates.

So - always pre-book!

Our car was a very large Dodge Magnum. Very flashy looking.
Great stereo.
Great Air-con.
OK for freeways but once out in the Sierra Nevada, it cornered like a channel ferry, and braked like a Mac truck. So bad was it that we ended up making a detour via Reno to swap it for a top-of-the-range Toyota, which was fantastic!

Back to the story....

We headed straight out of LA without stopping to visit the big mouse or rub shoulders with the stars in Rodeo Drive and, after an overnight stop in a roadside motel, drove into Death Valley, the second lowest place on Earth, and the second hottest.

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We explored the salt flats at Badwater and made the two mile round treck to the highest sand dune and back. Although it was only early Spring, the temperature reached 103F (40C - hotter than it has ever been in England), and it felt it!

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Death Valley is a strange place. A place that makes you want to sit still for a while and just listen....

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Equally strange - a couple of hours later we were surrounded by snow and freezing on the slopes of Mount Whitney!

Posted by chaddo 02:04 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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