A Travellerspoint blog

Thelma & Louise on the road!

USA 2012

large_P1030267_2.jpg23 days, 3000 miles, from the shores of the Pacific Ocean to rocky deserts, red canyons, lush forests and mighty mountains, covering 4 states - California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona: southwest USA never bores. We experienced temperatures from 17 to over 40 °C. Cruising with your car down the sometimes endless highways is absolute freedom. Seeing the sun come up over the Grand Canyon at 5 a.m. is almost a bit of a spiritual experience. So is seeing the sun go down :-)

Yes, ...Thelma & Louise hit the road once more! I guess I could be Thelma and my friend Lesley Louise, the point is we rented a car and had a great time on our American roadtrip. It wasn't a red cadillac, we didn't come across any handsome cowboys, and the FBI didn't try to track us down but we got the breathtaking scenery and the fun and excitement of going to a new place every day. After 3 weeks we did get tired of living out of a suitcase full of wrinkled and already worn clothes, but if I could've stayed longer I would have. I wasn't in a rush to go back home, even after 23 days. It's the vastness of the landscapes that captured me, the feeling of being a tiny human in the middle of landscapes that formed through millions of years - too long to even fully grasp. There was too little time at some places. We saw 1% of Yosemite, also a ranger pointed out to us! We stood on a dozen lookout points above the Grand Canyon but didn't experience what it was like down there between the rocks. Still, in those 23 days we saw so many beautiful places, it's impossible not to be impressed.

People ask me now about the American friendliness, is it true, isn't it superficial? Honestly, I thought it was a refreshing experience to see friendly faces - almost - everywhere.
Talking about clichés: we didn't set one foot in a McDonalds or a Denny's or whatever fastfood chain. Yes, it is possible to eat good food in the USA :-) There's nothing like a fresh catch from the sea, or eating fajita's in some quirky Mexican resto, and ofcourse you find Italian places everywhere (except for the desert town of Beatty :-)).

Feel free to read more about my roadtrip in this blog, I hope it can amuse you, maybe even inspire you to go on a roadtrip yourself through this impressive part of the USA.

More explorations:
My New Zealand travel blog:
Kiwiblog.travellerspoint.com

My Uganda travel blog:
Pearlofafrica.travellerspoint.com
http://pearlofafrica.travellerspoint.com/

Posted by Petravs 05:23 Comments (0)

Going home

sunny 20 °C

We're on an evening flight from San Francisco to Paris, so that gives us some time to say goodbye to Half Moon Bay very slowly. We drive down to Poplar beach for a morning walk. It's a broad stretch of sand along cliffs, and there's hardly anyone here on this Tuesday morning. I feel the sand on my feet, the wind in my face and wish I could do this walk every morning. We have to be out of the hotel by 12, so we have to head back, put the luggage in the car and then go for a stroll down the street. We decide to have a good lunch to get us going for the long journey back home and find the perfect spot and food on the sunny terrace of It's Italia. And that's how the journey ends, by 4.30 pm we're at the airport, flying back home....

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Posted by Petravs 08:30 Archived in USA Comments (0)

The Mystery Spot

sunny

We're taking it easy this Monday morning. Breakfast - the Meritt House Inn probably offers the best we've had in the USA - and then a last stroll to Fisherman's Warf. Apart from a few joggers the warf is only just waking up. Luckily we have the seals to make some noise. THese animals seem so lazy, but they're excellent hunters and very quick when they're in the water.
We can't leave Monterey without visiting the famous Aquarium in Cannery Row. THe mission of the aquarium is to inspire the conservation of the ocean, and they're doing a pretty good job. Every day thousands of people come here. From leopard sharks to seahorses and jellyfish, it's all here to see and even touch - well, not the shark, but seastars etc... I'm especially mesmerized by all the different kinds of jellyfish, very photogenic as well!

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The aquarium used to be a sardine factory and it took a lof of effort and money to turn it into what it is today, a project that David Packard (from Hewlett Packard) and his family took on. Really worth a visit!

FOr us the time has come to say goodbye to Monterey and head for our final destination of the trip: Half Moon Bay. We get stuck in the first traffic jam of our journey. And it's a real one, we hardly move. Leaving the highway doesn't help, all traffic got stuck. There's nothing for us to do but to be patient and turn up the music.

The real excitement of the day has to be our visit to The Mystery Spot, a strange place in the redwood forest of Santa Cruz :-) The laws of physics and gravity don't seem to work here, also we've read in our books. It's enough to make us curious and we decide to go there. We buy our ticket and are then organised in groups, each with a guide who takes you up to the heart of the mystery spot, a wooden shed. The shed looks like it's going to fall down any minute. It's crooked and yeah, strange effects occur. Our guide Vincent performs a few tricks, seriously confusing us. Small people become tall people and vice versa, and standing inside the shed is a real challenge for your brains, trying to match the view of the crooked floors and walls with keeping balance. Apparantly there really is no proved explanation, and the guide tells us afterwards that some visitors - the 'super sceptics' actually get mad and demand a refund or go into discussion because they think it's all a scam but can't explain the things they experience either.
Well, whatever it is, it's good entertainment, especially for kids.

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Having had enough excitement for the day we drive up to Santa Cruz in search for a nice terrace and a drink. We find it at the harbour, and take some time there to reflect on our trip. It's unbelievable that we're getting on the plane tomorrow to go back home. From Santa Cruz it's a short drive to Half Moon Bay, a quiet yet charming little town. It's a rural area, and ofcourse there's the stunning ocean again. Our lodging for the night is the Zaballa House, a historic home, but we're stayin in a newer building around the square. The best place in town to eat is 'It's Italia', so that's where we go and it really is excellent.

Posted by Petravs 07:35 Archived in USA Comments (0)

"You guys are sooooo luckyyyyy!!!"

Whale watching in Monterey Bay

sunny 19 °C

Today is Lesley's birthday, and what better way to start your birthday than going on board a boat to go whale spotting? Yep, we're up for the 2,5 hours out on the water in Monterey Bay to encounter these mighty mammals of the sea. First we do some necessary shopping: an extra fleece jacket to keep us warm, it gets cold out there! There's some time left before we have to get on board and we observe seals and a group of brown pelicans. The pelicans are hanging around 2 men who are cleaning fish and are anything but shy. In fact, Lesley gets a slight slap of a pelican wing as another one lands on the dock and then tries to swallow a giant fish head. THe pelican has to give up, it's painful to watch!

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If we get excited over a group of brown pelicans, the whales should be awesome to see :-) Before we all go on board of the Princess Monterey, maritime biologist Catherine introduces herself. Now, this lady doesn't need a microphone. She shouts in excitement. "You guys are sooooo luckyyyyyy!!! yeah!!!! Yesterday, a killer whale jumped right up in front of the boat, made my captain scream like a girl!!!!!!". Our biologist screams, laughs, giggles and gives high 5s to nearly all the kids. She's up for it, and so are we - although in our more quiet Belgian way :-) Catherine gives one more advise: "If you get seasick, just hold on at the back of the boat, hang over the water, and let it all go, it will attract the birds, hahahahaha!!!!".

I'm not feeling even remotely seasick, I love being out on the water - and am very happy I got that extra fleece jacket! It doesn't take long before there's a first excitement: a group of dolphins. And then: 2 humpback whales coming quite close to the boat. "Oh you guys, they're coming to greet us, look at thaaaat," shouts Catherine in her microphone on the upper deck of the boat form where she scans the ocean. It is impressive. We just see a part of their backs, and then their tails as they dive under again, but to realise that these gigantic animals of the sea are so near us, it's great!! We spot a lot of humpback whales, although somewhat more in the distance for the rest of our exploration. The boattrip actually brings us over the Monterey Submarine Canyon, known as the 3rd largest submarine canyon in the world. Not that we can see anything, but it must be quite impressive, like a Grand Canyon under water. So close to the shore this makes the submarine canyon an ideal environment for sealife with very nutrient-rich water.

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Back on dry land, there's plenty more for us to see in and around Monterey. Cannery Row used to be the heart of the sardine-canning industry here, thriving from the 1920s to the 1950s, made immortal by author John Steinbeck in his book 'Cannery Row'. Also his book East of Eden, one of my alltime favourites refers to this area and the earlier days around here. Today the old sardine factories have a new life as stores, restaurants and even an aquarium. We have lunch at Fishhoppers, a family owned restaurant with marvellous views over the bay. Today our waiter is Jerry. I haven't mentionned this in any of the other posts, but nearly all waiters introduce themselves because they depend on your tip for their wage. It's such a big difference to what we know back home, and actually mostly quite nice. It upgrades the whole dining experience :-) Jerry misses half a tooth, but he is very friendly, even brings a whole plate with about 8 desserts to chose from to our table, despite the fact that we really don't want dessert. It's a good trick from the restaurant though, don't give your customers a dessert menu, just bring them the real thing immediately so they can't refuse. Still, we're showing character and stick to our lunch.

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It's Sunday afternoon now and is there anything nicer to do than cruising in your car down an amazing coastline? We decide to do the so called 17 Mile Drive, a scenic route along Pebble Beach and Del Monte forest. This ride doesn't come for free, it's in fact a privately owned road, by all the rich inhabitants. Villas are plotted all over the place, along with golf courses. So you pay an entrance fee, but it doesn't stop people from coming. On this Sunday we're driving in a long line of cars along the 17 miles. THere are numerous stops on the way, one of the best known is "The Lone Cypress". Apparantly the tree in question, standing on a rocky perch is more than 250 years old. Mmmm....we've seen much more impressive views along the coast. At a few stops there's some wildllife watching to do, mainly birds and seals, and ofcourse the squirrels :-) Although there are signs saying not to feed the animals because it brings the ecosystem out of balance, we see a dad and his son giving bread to the squirrels. This is when Lesley proves she would be a good ranger or even sheriff: she walks up to the man and says it's not allowed to feed the animals :-) THe guy is a bit confused, stands there with the bread in his hands: 'oh.....I didn't know.' We can smile about the situation but it really is unbelievable that despite warning signs people keep on feeding wild animals, just for fun and in doing so damaging the animals and the environment. Common sense...
It's a though job being a ranger, so we're eager to go for a drink, but the only place we find is some uptight bar next to a golf course. We decide to endure our thirst and do the rest of the ride. Leaving the 17 Mile Drive I follow a - free! - scenic route down to Pacific Grove; I think it's much nicer. Back at Cannery Row we get us that long awaited drink. For Lesley's birthday dinner we go to Domenico's at Fisherman's Warf and just today, of all days, we have an unfriendly waiter!! It's a quiet Sunday evening, not really much of a birthday vibe here. It's strange to think that there's one more full day left of our trip. Tomorrow the circle will be nearly full, arriving in Half Moon Bay, close to San Francisco where it all started 21 days ago....

Posted by Petravs 07:03 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Take my breath away

The Big Sur Coastline

sunny 18 °C

Cambria and Moonstone Landing are pretty, but they're just the appetiser for what's to come: today we're doing one of the most beautiful scenic drives in the world! Pretty exciting. Just passed San Simeon we spot elephant seals on the beach. Quite a spectacle. There's a whole herd on the sand and a few of them in the water, it's hard to tell if they're playing or fighting. A few of the males make quite a lot of noise, I guess they're always fighting over females, territory and power. Some things are universal :-)

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Highway 1 leads us higher and starts to become very winding. Every curve brings a grand view - azure sea foaming against granite rocks. A natural high is the beautiful Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. You park your car, pay 10$ and then follow the trail to the McWay Falls, dropping into a rocky sea cove. This is an extraordinary piece of coastline and I hear several 'waw's' around me.

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It's hard to tell where Big Sur ends and begins, that doesn't even really matter. What's important is that this is an amazing piece of land and ocean, that so far escaped the coming of hotels, boats and beachtourism. Lets hope it will continue to do so. We admire the views also at lunchtime, sitting on the terrace of the café at Nephente, a well known lunch spot.

Our first stop back into civilisation brings us to Carmel, a former artists' colony and today a very 'upmarket' place to live. Clint Eastwood used to be mayor here, so you can guess it's not your typical American village. No neon lights here, no fun fairs to attract the masses, this place is for the wealthy. Still, it's free to go for a ride along the lanes with fairy-tale cottages and to stroll the white sandy beach. And that's what we do. We spend some time watching the many surfers trying to catch a wave - some more succesful than others. It's Saturday, family time and we spot several people getting themselves prepared for a BBQ on the beach. It's all possible here!
Saturday is also a great day to get married, also we notice at Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo. We don't have to pay an entrance fee as there are several weddings today, and that also gives us the opportunity to do some more people watching :-) Brides and grooms, wedding guests in their posh clothes, a toddler wearing heels,....Other than that the Mission is a charming place, much smaller than the Mission in Santa Barbara, but that's kind of what I like about it. It's not the religious aspect, but the history of the place that appeals to me.

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From Carmel it's a short drive to Monterey, our home for 2 nights. THe Merrit House Inn turns out to be a really nice accomodation, at walking distance from Fisherman's Warf. We have a late dinner in a resto recommended to us by the man at the reception. It's a modern, sort of loungy place and what's really funny is that they have a set of crayons on every table - and this is definitly not the typical place to bring your kids along. So by the time people are ready for coffee, we see a lot of them drawing and scribbling stuff on the white paper table cover. Before we know it, we've drawn impressions from the whole trip over our paper :-) Not exactly high art, but fun to do as the tables around us are also into drawing.

We can't draw yet what the next day wil bring, but expectations are high: we're going out on the water to spot whales!

Posted by Petravs 04:07 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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