Hej duschen. Hej dricka en halvliter vatten rakt från kranen. Hej SL. Hej tvåfilig motorväg. Hej Konsum. Hej katterna! Hej mer teve än reklam (nästan). Hej tvestjärt i springan till balkongdörren och hejdå. Hej balkong.
Tonight we get on the plane back to Sweden so this is our very last and final day in the States. We came back to New York City without too much trouble. Queues for about half an hour just as we drove through Bronx, but very smooth otherwise. But... And there's always a but! As we parked the car, for the very last time, just to check into our hotel and drop the bags off, we got a feckin parking ticket. I won't even tell you how much it was because it was just a ridiculous amount of money. We'd even paid the price at the meter, but it turned out the spots were only for commercial vehicles (we kind of had a feeling we were doing something half-wrong, but decided to chance it, and there you go).
On the plus side, the car rental company didn't really complain about the dent in the car, and we didn't have to pay extra for that.
I hope our readers enjoyed the everyday ramblings of the journey. This space has been a nice place to unwind and sort through the day's events. I suppose it's also kind of like a travel diary, and unless Blogger decides to call it a day, we can look back on this and get help remembering all the stuff we've seen and done.
Thank you everyone who has commented - it really helps motivation :) And thank you everyone who's been reading and lurking.
It will take me a long time to sort out the photos, but when they're done I'll post a link to some facebook album here.
Before this blog reverts to Swedish, we'll give you a super fast top-three list-list.
Favourite places in USA: -Grand Canyon (Arizona) -Redwood forest (California) -Big Sur (California)
Worst places in USA: -El Paso (Texas) -New Jersey Turnpike (New Jersey) -Any large city interstate junction
Best hotels (based 95% on size and comfort of bed!): -Phoenix Park Hotel (Washington DC) -Treasure Island (Las Vegas) -Best Western, Eureka (California)
Worst hotels: -Quality Inn, Battle Montain (Nevada) -Econolodge, Washington DC (this inn was the first of many we dubbed 'cockroach inn') -Day's Inn, Pensacola (Florida - after this one, we called every Day's Inn we saw 'Fail Inn' and never stayed at another one)
Totally worth the money: -Ben and Jerry's ice cream factory (Vermont) - $3 for a day of a lot of queuing, but a lot of fun and ice creamy goodness! -Universal Studios (L.A.) - $70 and worth every penny -White Sands National Monument (New Mexico) - $7 and the luckiest of our random finds.
Totally not worth the money: -Disney World (Florida) - $80... Don't go here unless you have kids. -Empire State Building - $20 to go up a bloody elevator. They should pay YOU $20 to queue for 45 minutes... -New York City Map - $8 from a newsstand. We discovered later that every hotel has them for free. Our worst buy in our time here!
Right, check-out time is in half an hour and I still need to brush my teeth and pack a bag. See you back home, friends and family!
Just a quick note from Wickford, Rhode Island. We found a café here that has free WiFi, so we're not completely out of touch with the modern world, although most of the time we are!
We're staying in a lovely B&B where the bed is just a little bit too small and old, but that's the only complaint we have. The hosts are lovely and the other guests are older, but fun to talk to still. We get cooked breakfast and fresh fruit and this village is everything we hoped it to be. Right on the coast (beach is literally 2 minutes stroll down a side street from the B&B), quiet and pleasant. It's warm and sunny here, but not too hot.
Today there's a bluegrass jam in the park, so we're going to go enjoy that in a bit. Tomorrow we might go to Newport or Block Island or somewhere else in the area. Mostly we're just taking it very, very easy and enjoying ourselves :)
Quick update from White River Junction at the border of Vermont and New Hampshire.
So, we're in New England now and we can see why they call it that. The area has a sort of British feeling to it, from the rolling hills to the stone churches. Only difference is that everything is relatively new. Instead of old stone cottages, there's a lot of big, wooden, colonial mansions. We did a lot of house viewing on the road today :)
We went to the Ben and Jerry's factory outside Montpelier and to sum it up, we ate far too much ice cream. But it was a really good trip, only $3 for a guided tour and a free scoop of ice cream at the end. Mattias and I got some extra ice cream for being the most faraway guests on that particular tour! The furthest away anyone else was from was Florida.
We like it here. The temperature is pleasant and the mountain air is fresh and sweet to breathe. Hopefully we'll still have the same good feeling when we head down to Rhode Island tomorrow. Not sure if we'll have an internet connection at all for the next 5 days, and after that, we're virtually coming back!
It'll be good with a real breather after our big tour of the states. Don't be worried if you don't hear from us for a couple of days. We'll be walking along the seashore, or lapping up the sun in the B&B garden, or watching the sunset with a glass of wine and some seafood.
Today we finally swapped the corn fields for something a bit more spectacular. After spending one night in Erie on the tiny stretch of coast that Pennsylvania has onto the Great Lakes, we returned 'home' to the state of New York. The Empire State (such a modest name, eh?) stretches from New York City in the east to Lakes Erie and Ontario in the west and north. By the industrial city of Buffalo, Lake Erie's outflow gathers force as it narrows into the Niagara River and finally gushes out into Lake Ontario in the form of Niagara Falls. The lakes, river and falls also mark the border between USA and Canada.
Below is American Falls, the US part of the waterfalls.
The Great Lakes make up the worlds largest fresh water (sötvatten) area, and the water here seemed very clean and had a fantastic colour:
I promise, I didn't edit the picture one bit. It reminded me of the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean.
We walked around the park area (the oldest state park in USA) and had a look at the Horseshoe Falls, the majority of which are Canadian. Here, you were able to go right up to where the water rushes over the cliffs before falling 61 meters down into the gorge below:
Here are the American Falls again, but viewed from Goat Island, between the two waterfalls:
It was a spectacular experience, and if you're ever in NYC, take a few hours and travel up to the falls - it's really worth it!
We know we've been going on about how much we've been driving, and here we go again. Today we reached 10 000 miles on the odometer! That's 16 000 kilometers, or nearly 10 times the length of Sweden. Imagine 5 round trips from Skåne to Treriksröset and you'll get an idea of all the travelling we've done :)
We spent the afternoon and evening in the car and reached Albany, the capital of New York (that's gotta hurt, I mean... New York City is the best known US city, and not only is it not the capital of the USA, it's not even capital in it's own state!). We're not here for anything special, only spending the night in a roadside inn again. We just noticed that it's very airport-side as well (a jet may very well clip some roof tiles with the landing gear by the sounds of it). I suppose the name "Best Western Albany Airport hotel" should have tipped us off ^^
Tomorrow we head into the part of USA known as New England. We'll go up to Montpelier in Vermont where we're going to visit the Ben & Jerry's factory. If you know what it is, you're jealous by now. If not, nevermind.
Until tomorrow (or until the next internet connection)!
Tonight it's Mattias blogging, I've reclaimed control of my computer for one night. Mostly because we have had two days filled with driving and no sightseeing. Or anything interesting at all, really. So I thought I would take the opportunity to vent some excess rage I've accumulated over the trip while driving.
Disclaimer: Of course I'm a perfect driver that never makes any mistakes ;-)
To begin with, the roads. Overall, the American roads are crap. Make that Crap, with a capital C. Massive bumps that makes you think the suspension will give up any second, cracks and potholes, concrete pavement (sometimes with grooves that makes the car steer off unexpectedly)... Any possible damage you can think of, you'll probably experience it on any given road here. Today both me and Vanja actually started laughing over the sorry state of the road we were on. It was asphalt, but with massive cracks roughly every two meters. I believe sometimes the old concrete roads are "fixed" by simply adding a layer of asphalt on top of it, resulting in cracks when the slabs shift ever so slightly.
Which brings me to my next pet peeve. Where the roads aren't too bad, you'll probably find yourself in the middle of a road work that stretches for miles and miles. It wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't for the fact that it's mostly unpopulated with actual road workers. After driving at half the normal speed limit for 20+ miles without seeing a single person working or even an abandoned machine, you tend to get slightly annoyed. Unfortunately the result seems to be that most drivers here ignore the warning signs and the lowered speed limits and just keep on driving in 70 mph. Especially the truckers with their massive 18-wheelers. But more whining about that later.
Even newly paved roads are kinda bad. They usually have an uneven surface making the entire car vibrate, together with bumps and undulations that almost make the car make a lift-off.
Next up, my fellow drivers. I've identified a number of archetypes:
The Undecided. These people seem to have a problem keeping a fixed pace. On a 70 mph limit road they tend to reach 75 mph only to slowly drop down to about 65 mph. If you are unfortunate enough to catch up with an Undecided, you can find yourself being overtaken three of four times during their peak periods, until you finally had enough and either increase your own speed or dropping down below their low water mark.
The Speeder. Don't care about anything, usually driving at 85 mph or more. Loves to switch lanes to find the smallest possible gap in order to never have to go below 80. You could think they're in the movie Speed or something. Always keep an eye out for these suicidals when you're about to switch lane, just because there wasn't any car in that lane two seconds ago doesn't mean he (yeah, almost always a male driver) won't be there now.
The Constant Driver. These guys (or gals) seem to have set their cruise contol and have no idea how to release it. They go down the highway at a reasonable pace, usually slightly below the speed limit, which makes you overtake them every now and then. If you're unlucky to reach a reduced speed area right after overtaking a Constant, you can be sure they'll soon annoy you by driving one inch from your back bumper, wanting you to keep going in their beloved cruising speed. Sometimes a Constant Driver turns into an Undecided once they actually realize there are real road workers nearby and that maybe they should slow down. If a Constant would ever take a seat in a truck, they would become...
The Trucker. Truckers seem to be nice people, switching lanes to give you space when you enter the highway and all. But there seems to be a construction fault in every truck in America, and it's that the gas pedal is glued to the floor. If a truck wants to switch lanes to overtake another truck, you better get out of it's way. Or if you drive past a truck going at roughly the same speed as you, just to reach a section of the road sloping downwards, for the love of god, don't get in front of it. It will pick up speed in the down slope and run you down. Or just overtake you, if you're lucky.
Also, unlike Swedish roads where the normal procedure is to use a left lane to overtake someone. Here, most people seem to like to use the right lane for this operation. This usually means that when there's three or more lanes, the middle lane(s) are the slow ones, the leftmost lane is going slightly faster, and then the innermost right lane is used by the Speeders to zoom past.
I've also found the answer to the question "Why is rush hour actually called rush hour when it's usually not moving at all?". In Sweden, when there's a lot of cars, traffic usually slows down a lot and we try to maintain a reasonable distance in proportion to the present speed. Not so much here. Here you can rush down a six-lane highway at 70 mph, every single lane completely filled with vehicles at an average distance of two meters of each other. Throw in the odd Speeder switching from lane to lane and a few Undecideds and Truckers and you have yourself a wonderful mix. No wonder there are a lot of accidents happening. If you think you can try to slow down a bit to create a gap, I can promise you it will be filled by a Speeder in a second or two. Just go with the flow and hope for the best.
Oh, I almost forgot. When we first started driving down the east cost, we were surprised by the number of shredded and torn pieces of tires we saw along the roads here. I'm not so surprised anymore. The combination of horrible roads and the number of accidents makes it completely reasonable that the roads are lined with the leftovers of the cars populating them.
Just back from our evening swim in this hotel's luxurious pool area, and I'm feeling inclined to share some pics with you all.
Mt. Rushmore was one of those things we fit in because it was on our general route. Yes, it's as much of a landmark as the Eiffel tower, but a mountain right in the middle of America isn't something you desperately plan a 6 week trip around. Still, we were in the area so of course we had to see it!
For anyone who doesn't know, this monument depicts four old presidents: Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln, in that order - we actually knew all but Roosevelt without doing any background reading. Mattias wanted it to be Roosevelt, but I was convinced that he was president during World War II, and because the moment was finished in 1941 I was sure he couldn't have gotten his own face up there. We were both right - and wrong; there have been two Roosevelt presidents, one at the turn of the century (Theodore, and the one in the monument) and one, like I thought, during WWII (Franklin D, not in the monument). While the other three are much earlier, we guess Theodore Roosevelt was included because he founded a lot of national parks.
That was today's history lesson - now on to other things! All the way from Yellowstone and into South Dakota, we'd noticed a lot of bikers going our way. At first, we figured it was because we were driving on the smaller roads. We could imagine it'd be pretty boring and stressful driving a motorbike on the interstate roads. But eventually there was just too many bikes for it to be a coincidence. They were in every hotel and petrol station, and we saw a lot of shops and restaurants displaying special "bikers welcome"-signs. Finally we asked at the Custer inn and found out that in the first week of August, bikers from all over the country gather in Sturgis in western South Dakota for a week-long rally event. This is what the parking lot at Rushmore looked like:
The week doesn't start properly until tomorrow (Monday) and we've been seeing literally thousands of bikes going the other way all day yesterday and today. Apparently Sturgis has over 500 000 bikers visiting every year! That's nearly the population of all of South Dakota. We hear that there's a lot of drinking and nudity during the Sturgis week, and considering the general shape of bikers, we're not too sad to be going in the other direction ^^
So, today we crossed into Iowa, praying and hoping for a change of scenery. This is what we got:
You guessed it... Corn fields! With some hills! Apparently it's farmland all the way to New Hampshire now.
Here's a special pic for my dear friend Kim. I think this is where Engla originates from:
We do feel a little tried of the driving now, and the homesickness is starting to set in. However, there is a light on the horizon. After looking at countless expensive hotels, we've found a reasonably priced, perfectly located cute little B&B near Providence in Rhode Island (yes, in, not on - it's not actually an island) where we're booked in for four nights to round off our long, big trip with a little rest and relaxation by the sea. Still another few nights to go until then, but we also have Niagara Falls to look forward to!
Don't get me wrong, we're still having a good time. We have some good talks in the car on days like this, when there's a lot of driving to do. And there's always something special to light up every day, like these two perfect milkshakes we were served today at a 50's style diner:
Side-by-side two flavour milkshakes, served in tall glasses (not plastic!) with whipped cream and a cherry on top. Beautiful! I had a vanana flavour, and Mattias had the chocilla. You figure it out :)
Just a quick note from the hotel in Sioux Falls in eastern South Dakota.
We went to see Mt Rushmore today, but since it was the only interesting thing we saw all day I can't be arsed even uploading that one pic. We've spent the rest of the day travelling 350 miles on the interstate through road work and corn fields. Oh yes, corn fields. So. Many. Corn. Fields. I hope the usual change of scenery takes place when we drive into Iowa tomorrow because if I see another corn field I might just light a match and make a lot of popcorn out of it.
We also had our weakest cup of coffee so far here. Well Mattias had (some) - after seeing the colour I gave it a miss. I actually thought for a second they'd brought us tea. Mum, you would suffer over here :) I really miss our coffee grinder...
It's one big, long drive from here to Niagara Falls which is our next planned stop along the road. I think that's about 4 days away. Hopefully we'll find something interesting before that though!
No update yesterday since we both went to bed absolutely shattered at 9pm. The night before, I had a spot of food poisoning and spent the better part of the night running between the bathroom and the bed. Of course, that kept Mattias awake and he slept even less than me, because when I finally fell asleep from exhaustion, he couldn't get back to sleep for another couple of hours :/
However, we were on a rather tight schedule, having booked the next three nights in inns with quite long drives between each. There was no way we could fit in an extra day, because it being weekend and close to national sites, all the cancellation dates had passed. We had a choice of going on or paying twice for every hotel.
So we bravely faced the huge Yellowstone National park tired and sick! It's a very large park and to even get close to watching a bit of everything, you need a full day, fully awake. Most of the sights are connected to the active geological area of Yellowstone. The most famous sight is of course the geyser Old Faithful which erupts every 90 minutes, give or take 5 minutes. Luckily for us, we had seen a lot of similar things on our trip to Iceland last year, so even though we skipped a lot of stuff, we were safe in the knowledge that we'd nearly seen it before! A lot of hot mud pots, mini geysers and hot springs, and all around, a lot of dead trees:
We settled for seeing the bubbling Fountain Paintpots (very cool white, boiling mud - doesn't really show well in pictures though) and Old Faithful. We also drove through a large part of the park simply by going from one side to the other.
Here's the crowd in anticipation of Old Faithful:
And there she blows!
We'd heard a lot about the nature in Yellowstone and how fantastically beautiful it was. What we found was a landscape slightly different from what we'd seen around the states, but... Strangely similar to Sweden. At an elevation of over 8000ft (2400m), the climate was considerably colder than most places, and the landscape looked a lot like the Dalarna area. As a result, we weren't too impressed with the surroundings. But we did see some things you don't see in Sweden! As we were heading for the park exit, we came up to a big congestion of cars. Everyone was getting out and taking pictures of this handsome guy:
We also saw bison and a moose. Now we've seen everything from flamingos to eagles. We probably missed the chance to see a bear, and we're not terribly upset about that :)
If Yellowstone was a bit of a letdown, what with the sickness, tiredness and the Swedish landscape, the next part was way, way above expectations. For a couple of hours yesterday, and several hours today, we've been crossing the Rocky Mountains, and let me tell you that no pictures will ever do them justice. It really felt like you were right in the backbone of the country, the exposed skeleton of a continent:
After a good night's sleep (11 and a half hours!), we couldn't have asked for anything better. As impressive as the Grand Canyon, for miles and miles absolutely free!
We set two records while driving today. As the car climbed higher and higher, the temperature sank dramatically. It dropped down to 4C as we drove through some rain. So while here, we've seen temperatures between 4C and 45C! At its highest point, the pass was at an elevation 9033ft (2753m). Mattias has been to the Alps, but this was the highest I've ever been. You won't be surprised to hear that we drove through an actual cloud around this height. Trust me, it's not fog, it's a cloud:
Luckily for me, that cloud hid the sheer drop on my right side. If you can't see it, it's nothing to worry about :)
Now we're in the small town of Custer in the Black Hills national park area. The town is of course named after General Custer of the battle of Little Bighorn. This is an important area, both to the native Americans and to the more-recently native ones. There are a lot of memorials and monuments around here, the most famous of which is Mt Rushmore (with the four presidents carved into rock). We're going there tomorrow.
We'd planned on seeing the Crazy Horse memorial tomorrow as well, being just four miles from here, in the Rushmore direction. However, while I was waiting for the tumble dryer to finish (more laundry, yay), I saw a poster about a nightly laser show at the memorial, so we took a trip there this evening instead.
The Crazy Horse memorial is another rock carving, and will be the largest sculpture in the world when finished. It's been slowly in the making for over 50 years, and since the original sculptor died in 1982, his family has taken over. The heads of several native American tribes came together and asked the sculptor to create this memorial over Crazy Horse because they "would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes, too". It will be several times larger than Mt Rushmore when completed and has thousands of years of history behind it. To me, it felt like this memorial was perhaps the most important one I will see here.
So far, progress on the memorial has been very slow, mostly because it's not state funded. For a long time, it was just the sculptor (whose name escapes me - he was of Polish origin anyway) himself working on it, carrying all the tools and dynamite for hours every day just to get up and down the mountain.
Now, the face is complete and since it was unveiled, the memorial has attracted more people and thus generated more money. The progress is a bit faster now.
Here's a full shot of the work site:
And here's a close up of the face:
Here's the model that the sculptor made. We promised ourselves to come back to see it if it becomes finished in our lifetime :)
Crazy Horse is pointing towards his homeland. It's said that when the white man asked him "where is your land now?" he replied "my lands are where my dead lie buried". That would be pretty much all of North America. Crazy Horse famously never signed a treaty, and never bargained with the white man. He also didn't want his picture taken, and there is some controversy as to whether this sculpture is actually appropriate. There's apparently strife between different parts of the native American community. In any case, I think it will be a remarkable and fabulous thing if it's ever finished.
The light show was pretty good, according to Mattias (I forgot my glasses in the car and couldn't see much) but the history behind it was much more interesting. We also had the chance to see some real native American crafts in the museum and gift shop. The stuff we've seen before (in tourist shops) has unfortunately had "Made in China" stickers on them when you turn them over...
So, tomorrow it's further into South Dakota as we continue the last leg of our road trip!
We continue our journey east. We're now in the pleasant town of Pocatello (I had to ask Mattias where we are now - I'm like one of those diva rock stars who go out on stage and yell "Good evening Norwaaaaay! What's that? Sweden? Same shit, different name..." - all these inns that look the same feel like we're living in Terry Pratchett's movable shop; you never know where you're going to wake up) where we're lazing in our bed after eating at yet another all-American diner. For your information it was about two weeks since I had any fries!
Not much to report. I won't bore you with the details of my quiet, controlled Swedish rage against the last motel we had (broken flush, broken A/C, batteries removed from remote, woken up at 7.30AM by people tearing up the carpet in the corridor, NO APOLOGY FROM MANAGEMENT!) because the one we're in now is sooo lush.
I want to share something though. America is truly wondrous in how climate, scenery and temperature changes dramatically from one hour to the next, and also from one state to the next. State lines are usually drawn by natural borders, like mountain ranges or rivers. This results in adjacent states usually having rather different atmospheres. Today, we definitely experienced some of those changes.
One day, three states, three pictures:
The dark, gray, dusty desert of Nevada: The salt flats near the Great Salt Lake in Utah: The green, rolling hills of Idaho: Yellowstone national park tomorrow. It's huge, and we only have one day, and the road layout is a circle of which we'll only have time for half. Because we are such typical tourists, we're going to take the route past Old Faithful (they geyser that erupts every 90 minutes). Pics tomorrow, hopefully!
Nothing much to say today, we've been on the road for a long time today, suffering from the extensive roadwork between Anderson in California and Reno in Nevada. We're now back in the desert and after finding every single inn in Winnemucca filled to the brim with pensioners (not sure what they were doing, maybe some 65+ poker tournament?), we drove all the way to Battle Mountain, quite far into Nevada.
We've been a bit troubled regarding our Yellowstone accommodation. Our first problem was that any which way we tried to plan our nightly stops on the way there, we either had to drive not very much, or way too much each day. The second problem is that hotels in the Yellowstone area (anything within a couple of hour's drive) are extremely expensive on weekdays and horrendously, fantastically, can-not-believe-it expensive on weekends.
Well, our mammoth drive today made it possible to cut our nightly stops by one (if we drive quite far tomorrow as well), and also avoid staying in Yellowstone over the weekend. "Only" $185 for the night there... Three times as much as normal! Well, it's a one-off in Americas most popular park.
Our connection here is very bad, so no pictures today (they were only boring desert landscapes anyway), and don't be surprised if there's not much here until the weekend.
The Redwoods are native only to northern California because of the particular climate there. Temperate with little variation between summer and winter, and nightly fogs during the summer which keeps the area humid. Millions of years ago, woods like these could be found all over the world, but with the gradual lowering (yes, lowering - despite the climate changes in modern day, it's still cooler now than when we had dinosaurs!) of the temperature, this is the only area in which they now grow.
That doesn't mean they all grow in one spot! The national park focuses on hikers, and not drivers, so some the really good spots (including the world's biggest tree) can only be reached by hiking quite far on foot. We opted for one of the shorter routes, a walk just under one hour where we saw some great scenery and of course, huge trees:
To give a little perspective, here's a shot of Mattias next to the biggest tree we saw today, and one of the biggest in the forest. It wasn't actually dramatically bigger than some of the others we saw!
This tree is about 100 meters high, 7 meters in diameter at the base, and 1500 years old!
We saw some elks, but having seen enough moose, deer and reindeer in Sweden, we weren't too impressed. They seemed mostly domesticated as well and grazed without a care right next to people taking pictures. No, I much prefer this little squirrel:
After leaving the national forest, we set off east and slowly homebound! In this rather remote part of the state, there were no big roads going east, so we took yet another mountainous route. And what mountains! Steep climbs and hillsides covered with lush fir trees as far as the eye could see. There was little to no traffic and we took our time as the road wound through the mountains. We went alongside the Trinity river for a long time, along the bottom of a great valley. It made us think of a mix of Twin Peaks, old gold rush movies and Stand By Me. Absolutely beautiful!
Pretty sunset over the last of the hills before the country flattened out again.
Tomorrow we're going into Nevada again, and then on to Utah and Salt Lake City where we hope to get a glimpse of mormons.
So, it's been a couple of days since last time guys! The night before last, we had problems getting a connection in our hotel, and yesterday we went to a late night showing of HarryPotterandtheHalfBloodPrince so we didn't come back to the inn until well after midnight and I was too tired to even look through the pictures.
A note on HP6... I'd give the film 4/10. Plus points for being quite truthful to the book in some respects, and for increasing that dark, ominous feeling that's been building up over the last couple of films. A HUGE minus for completely disregarding some vital stuff from the previous films. If you want to make a film adaptation that differs from the book, at least stick to the story throughout the films themselves!
Anyway, our experience was somewhere between hilarious and unbearable thanks to a man a couple of rows down who promptly fell asleep 5 minutes into the film and kept snoring extremely loudly through the whole show. Whenever there was a quiet (and therefore usually tense or emotional moment) bit in the film, the whole screen kept giggling and sighing at this guy. Several people went up to him (and his wife) and complained but nothing seemed to help. We'd heard that American audiences were a lot more noisy than Swedish ones, but this wasn't what we'd expected :)
Right, over the last couple of days, we've been travelling up the California coast. On Friday, we made our way slowly out of L.A. After an hour or two of suburbs, the country turned rather pleasant, this being the southern wine country of California. The road wound on through grape fields and sunny hills and we felt glad to be out of the city. We spent the night in the cute town of San Luis Obispo (the one without the internet connection). A few miles away lay the seaside town of Avila Beach, where we bought cheap, locally grown strawberries from a street market and watched the kids boogieboarding in the evening sun and surf. Avila had a long, lovely pier, and the walk to the end was well worth it, because we got to see some wild seals!
They were frolicking around the waves by the pier, no doubt hoping for food scraps from the people watching them. Unfortunately we didn't have any fish on us, but we got some good pictures all the same.
Yesterday morning we set off on Route 1 - the Pacific Coast Highway and the old main road before the inland interstate routes were built. One of the reputedly most scenic routes in the country, the road takes you right along the stretch of coast known as Big Sur. Through the early hours, the hills were covered with morning fog, and for a while we thought our entire drive would look something like this:
While the scenery was nice enough, foggy or not, we were very happy when it cleared up for the very best bits of the route. Here's a couple of pictures from a lookout point along the road. I think they give a pretty good idea of what most of the coast there is like:
The day was one of the nicest on the trip so far, and we have tons more pictures of this pretty area.
We arrived in San Francisco around 7PM, and because we were tired from all the driving, we just had dinner and went to the cinema.
Now, San Francisco... We really don't feel we did this place justice. It looks like a gorgeous city, and it had a cool feel to it, but we had too little time, and the wrong kind of time.
We'd read in the guide book about a 'scenic drive through the city' which sounded good. We've since come to the conclusion that the authors of these guide books don't actually travel anywhere themselves, they just sit on their fat arses and throw together some shit they found on the net along with some stock photography and laugh all the way to the bank.
This scenic route was supposedly 'well marked out' by some kind of sign with a bird on it. On our 1 hour drive, we saw a total of ONE of these signs. Secondly, there was some kind of sporting event going on, and half the streets were closed off and the traffic was horrendous. Also, you drive along the same roads as the trams, which added to the stress. While Mattias was completely absorbed in the traffic, I was doing my best to read the map, with the result that none of us saw any of the points of interest on the route. We did see the Opera House and something else that was big and white nearby, but the thought of stopping to take pictures, in the middle of all this traffic with absolutely no parking spots... No. Just no.
We eventually left the route for some quiet side streets and did some fun/scary driving on those extremely steep streets that San Francisco is so famous for. We had to take it really slow to not literally scratch the front of the car when we crossed a street (obviously the streets are like steps, because the streets crossing them have to lie flat as well!), coming from that kind of angle. Sadly, I was too busy digging my heels into the carpet and holding on to my handle to get any good pics :)
Eventually, we ended up in a large park area overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, downtown and the Alcatraz prison island. It was calm and pleasant there, and we had lunch in a cozy little park café and watched the people of San Francisco being all recreational on their day off. At last, I could get my camera out!
Downtown S.F. Note the steep streets!
Golden Gate Bridge:
Look at those low clouds! If that wasn't the Pacific Ocean underneath you might think this was high up.
We left the city behind, promising to return sometime and really spend some time there. However, the rest of the day wasn't bad either!
We hadn't booked a hotel, which was good because we ended up driving much further than we thought we would. Route 101 took us through Napa Valley and the real wine country, and into the mountains and a taste of the Redwoods. The road was so beautiful, smooth and empty it was pure joy driving. Most of the woods were pine and leafy, but here and there we saw some Redwood trees. Look at the car in this picture, and compare it to the tree next to it. We think this is probably a tiny example of a Redwood tree :)
Have a look at this:
You might ask yourself, what is that big SUV doing driving so close to that bus? Actually, this is something we see every day when driving. It's an RV (recreational vehicle, a camping truck, husbil) truck pulling the family car along. Yes, they actually tow their big fat cars so that they can use them for shorter trips while camping and sleeping in that big old camping truck. It's crazy! Also, they completely ignore any towing/truck rules on the freeway and speed along at 65mph/110kmh with the car bumping along behind it!
Just as the sun started to set, we reached the coastal areas again after driving through the inland forests all evening. Our first hint of that was once again those low clouds:
Now we're in a very comfortable inn in Eureka, and tomorrow we're off to the actual Redwood Forest National Park to have a look at the world's largest tree. We'll see if it fits in a picture at all :)
Today was devoted to exploring the Universal Studios theme park. Located just outside the city center of L.A., the park is nestled between Universal City (where all sorts of merchandise and food can be found) and the actual sets themselves.
What then would be more fittingly than to take a tour "behind the scenes" in Hollywood. The first ride we went on was a mix between a ride (with collapsing bridges and subway stations, and an immersion of the train into water), a sneak peek of active sets (Wisteria Lane from DesperateHousewives) and a tour of old sets. Here's a shot of Bates' Motel from Hitchcock's Pshyco :)
They had a Norman sneaking around, putting a body in the trunk of the car and threatening the crowd with a knife. Below is a part of the set of Steven Spielberg's WaroftheWorlds:
As you can see, they destroyed an entire jumbo jet (not to mention many, many cars...) to make things extra realistic.
The park was just the right size and level of excitement for us. Less kids than at Disney, of course, and the rides were a bit scarier and more fun. We took the JurassicPark flume ride and somehow managed to sit in the seats that took the entire splash of the 84ft (25m) plunge at the end. We weren't dry until hours afterwards!
TheMummy rollercoaster was an extremely thrilling and fast ride that left us breathless. Onward then to the less dramatic but still cool shows of pyrotechnics from the firefighter movie Backdraft, and a slightly silly tour of the special effects set.
After a surprisingly healthy and good meal, we queued up to watch the live show Waterworld, inspired by the movie. The film may not be Oscar material, but the show was certainly nothing short of awesome with a mix of big water splashes and explosions. The guy who was playing the part of Kevin Costner actually looked a lot like him too! Here's the bad guy falling burning off a tower:
Big bada boom at the grand finale:
We rounded off our 7 hour visit with Terminator2: 3D and Shrek 4D (including moving seats, more water splashing and an uncanny illusion of spiders running over your feet!). While these shows were obviously made specifically to boast 3D effects, they left me thinking that the future of films is not in spectacles.
Anyone who knows anything about film history will be familiar with the many failed attempts of adding extra dimensions to movies. There have been experiments with scented cinema (look up Smell-O-Vision if you don't believe me), super wide screens and of course 3D itself which first appeared in the 50's when movie creators would go to any lengths to win back their audience from the television sets. So far, 3D has always fallen flat after a couple of years every time it's resurfaced. I'm hoping that this time around won't be an exception.
To me, going to the cinema is viewing a good film in the setting it was intended to be seen in. To me, it's the difference between seeing a band live on stage, and hearing it on an old cassette tape. Bearing that in mind, I never wanted a band to jump down to me in the audience and start poking me with their instruments, and I don't want to smell their breath. I need the perfect blend of a dark, quiet room, a comfortable seat and a large screen to be able to reach that cinematic Nirvana where you're completely absorbed in the movie, whether it be with its story, the acting, or simply the pictures in front of me. With a 3D movie, it's all about the spectacle, and it becomes a sort of interruption with a pause where you're meant to 'ooh' and 'aah'.
Today was a fantastic, fun spectacle which is just what you need sometimes, but I'm certainly hoping that the future of cinema will honour other virtues of film :)
(Anyone need essays written on the topic of the future of cinema are welcome to send cheques, 50€/page is a reasonable price, no?)
Even though we waited until 11am to move onto the freeway, it took us far too long to get to our first stop of the day: the beach. The city of L.A. turns into the city of Santa Monica before reaching the ocean, and the Santa Monica beach is every bit as lovely as it looks in Baywatch. Unfortunately, Pammy seemed to be off duty and we had to make do with a slightly overweight, balding guy for a lifeguard. Have a look at this beach though:
Don't you wish you were here? It wasn't crowded at all, and the sea was soothingly cool and the air was warm with a breeze. Just below sweaty hot and one hundered per cent perfect.
We had the best hamburger so far (and we admit, we've had a few) at the lovely Mary's on Santa Monica blv. The place was gay friendly and really cool. Mattias reported disco balls and ABBA music in the men's room, and our check came in a silver stiletto shoe :D
From there on, the day started going slightly downhills. We took a little spin around the blocks trying to find a parking spot near the Hollywood walk of fame (the stars, you know) and just as we went over a crossing, a man who had parked right on the corner flung his door open and we slammed into it. Miraculously, his car was perfectly fine, and I think we were more worried about him making a fuss than what happened with our car. At least a life of lawsuits flashed before my eyes when I heard the horrible noise of car against car.
Anyway, our little darling now has her first beauty spot, a cute little dent just behind the right hand headlights. To be honest, with some of the city driving that goes on here, we're surprised it hadn't happened before. Nearly all cars have scratches and bumps here. And not to worry, we went for the extended insurance which covers this sort of damage.
A little shaken, we started off down the walk of fame, in what we realised 15 minutes later was the "wrong" direction. After many blocks of "who the hell is this, the most famous person we've seen so far is Drew Carey..." the stars ended and we had to walk back to where we started. Only about a block away in the other direction were the real stars, and the famous slabs of concrete with hand- and footprints on them. After comparing hand sizes with 50's movie stars ("my god my hands are massive!"), we stumbled across Michael Jackson's star:
People were crowding about it, taking pictures and putting down little tokens of love. Apparently it was completely mental there the days after his death.
Our final sight for the day was Mulholland drive. It's not only a pretty poor David Lynch movie, but a very attractive address housing people like Jack Nicholson and Paris Hilton. It's a long, windy road up in the Hollywood hills, streching over into Bel Air. There are lots of scenic views and surprisingly enough plenty of parking spaces. The views themselves were lovely, the driving was mad. People zoomed around in their huge SUVs that took up all of their lane and half of ours, at twice the speed limit, alongside sheer drops that made me feel faint and hold on tightly to my comfort handle.
Here's a view of downtown L.A. from Mulholland drive:
The famous Hollywood sign:
Sunset over Mulholland drive:
Tomorrow we're going to Universal Stuidos. I'm not sure how much of a photo opportunity it is, but if I see something cool, I'll snap away.