A Travellerspoint blog

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Day 14 - Sunny San Francisco

sunny 17 °C
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Here is a photo left over from yesterday - I thought it might give you a laugh at how rugged up I am!

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After a much needed sleep in today, we met James, who owns the apartment and had a chat about some things to do in San Francisco. Then we meandered 3 blocks down hilly streets to have breakfast bagels and breakfast burritos from 'chameleon' a little cafe on the list of good local places provided by James. They had good coffee! This is a big deal in the US, I haven't had a decent coffee since I arrived in America 14 days ago, so I will definitely be visiting here again before we leave for a coffee fix!
San Francisco is a pretty city, it is quiet and as the boys described it earlier today - more like our suburb back home, I think they mean the atmosphere because the buildings and sidewalk are nothing alike (we do have much more grass and natural elements back home) - but the feel of this city is homely, I can tell we will enjoy the time we have here very much.

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On James advice we walked down our street which took us into China town, we checked out the crazy swords, knives and bb guns in their shops as well as the other junky wares being sold. Of course the boys loved it and came out with throw down fire crackers, another fire cracker (this guy was trying to sell all types to Teen1, I had to remind him we couldn't let them off or take them home!). We visited the fortune cookie factory down a dingy alley in china town, we tasted reject cookie coatings, watched an old Chinese lady put messages into the soft flat pancake like cookie, then fold and bend it and put it aside to crisp as it cooled. We bought a large bag of fortune cookies and a bag of reject cookies to Teen 1's delight.
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We continued on through the financial district, along down the hills to pier 9 with views of the Bay Bridge and walked along the water in the warm sunshine to pier 39 for clam chowder, crumbed zucchini and more chilli fries for Teen2! Following that we visited the sea lions congregated in their haven along the pier. There must have been hundreds, barking their distinct sounds, smelling fishy, one of the platforms had them lined up like sardines all asleep, another had some playing, one kept pushing off another who would leap out of the water onto the pier, they were amusing to watch. I didn't realise, but they began coming to San Francisco following the earth quake in 1989. They grew to around 300 in months, then in 2009 hit an all time high at 1701. We also had our first sighting of the Golden Gate Bridge shining in the sun, it was a beautiful sight.

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We continued to wander along up to Fishermans Wharf, exploring some tourist shops, the tween bought a huge bubble maker from a kite shop, we found a shop called Route 66 - that had many things old American. Again, I am a little obsessed with old American, and am looking forward to driving on Route 66 when we head to Vegas so had to visit that shop. 90_20140104_173925.jpg

We were going to get a tram home, but had walked a while already so decided to keep it going. The boys really did experience the San Francisco hills, uphill!

Back home, we got some groceries from 'Le Beau' market, two blocks up..... There is a trader Joe's, but it was 4 blocks walk and after those hills too much effort! We were dying for a steak and salad after all the American food we have been eating, so bought some supplies. A night at home watching a movie is the plan...... We are doing that as I type. While I will miss NYC, it is nice to be in a city that does sleep!

Tomorrow the tween has chosen for us to bike ride across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito and get the ferry back. Then our Alcatraz trip in the evening, I have never seen a child so excited about a landmark. He has been rattling facts off to me all day. An example of how playstation games (can be educational I guess, his favourite game black ops 2 is set in Alcatraz.

Posted by Auggiesfamily 22:24 Comments (1)

Day 15 San Francisco

A trip to Alcatraz

sunny 18 °C
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Well our plans changed today, our bike ride to Sausalito had to be rescheduled, as we needed to board the boat for Alcatraz at 3.20pm. Because we knew we would be bound to a time and were mindful it may have taken us longer than expected, we didn't want to risk it. Perhaps we will drive it instead once we collect the car tomorrow!

So my day started with a quiet breakfast in the garden of our apartment, with some local birds eating out of bird feeders dotted around the yard. Then Teen2 and I waked a fair few blocks to buy a MUNI pass for travel on public transport as trams are quite expensive at $6 per person per ride. We purchased a pass at $20 each, meaning you only have to ride 3 times and it is worth your while. Then teen 2 and I caught a tram, of course, back up to our apartment to meet the others. We were fortunate that our stop was on a corner where Grace Cathedral was located, we have heard the bells of the cathedral ring from our apartment - they are so pretty. Grace Cathedral is a well known church in San Francisco, Barbara Eden from "I dream of jeannie" was married there, along with Courtney Cox and David Arquette (although we know how that turned out).

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When we returned to Hubby and the boys, we decided to wander down to get mexican for lunch, but it was closed!! So back for more clam chowder for the tween and I and other take away for Hubby and the other boys.
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Then it was time to get the boat to Alcatraz - The tween was most excited, it's the most alive i have seen him on the trip....... he was very keen to see if it was really the same as his game.

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So over we go on the night tour of Alcatraz, we were blessed with beautiful weather, a great view from the boat, and a view of the sunset behind the Golden Gate Bridge from Alcatraz. When we arrived and began our tour, The tween and Teen2 said what an amazing job the creators of the game had done, they had even included the detail of a hanging key from an authentic Alcatraz escape story. They were most animated and were walking around saying things like, this is where the wolf lives, or this is where I keep dying!

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After Alcatraz, we wandered to the tram, caught it up close to our place and after a short uphill walk there aren't many overweight American's that we have noticed in San Francisco - no wonder!) we went to an Italian place (Nob HIll Cafe) around the corner for take away pasta. Yum, it was the best take away pasta we have eaten! Then Ben and Jerry's ice cream for dessert watching a movie. The chocolate brownie flavour is the best!

Posted by Auggiesfamily 21:53 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Day 16 San Francisco

Half way point of our holiday!

semi-overcast 16 °C
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It was a chillier start in San Francisco this morning, with the cold seeping through our layers, we needed to add another one! Time to pick up our car today to do some driving on the next leg of our trip. I was feeling quite nervous about what it would mean for us to travel on the roads here on the right hand side. We picked up our giant car (and GPS)- to fit all of us plus bags - and managed to navigate our way back to the apartment to plan where we would go for the day.

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As we were driving through the streets and Hubby was reminding himself (with my help) stay on the right, when you turn left, it is the same as a right turn for us back home...... etc.... Teen2 commented that perhaps I needed some anti-anxiety pills or something, 'mum, you need to calm down, it's fine' okay so I was a little freaked out....... Particularly when Hubby initially would drift towards the right side of the road closest to the parked cars! Yes just like me when I learnt to drive Mum!

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We drove to a couple of places locally, I wanted to see the house from the movie Mrs Doubtfire, (see above) (in cow hollow) that was great as it took us to a side of San Francisco that had many large houses and mansions. It was beautiful, while there we stopped by a couple of places on James list, one being Danielle Steel's 55 bedroom 1913 mansion in Pacific Heights designed by Alma Spreckles. See photos below:

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Following this city tour, we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito for a wander and some great take away sandwiches and ate them in the car while watching the local sea lions tease the birds in the water. It was lovely and a nice quiet little town.

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We were going to drive to a place called Lands End which had nice views over San Francisco, however didn't realise the distance. So we headed back to San Francisco, this time past Berkeley and over the Bay Bridge, while this was unplanned, it was a really nice way to travel from one side of the city along one bridge to the other, I would recommend this trip - with a GPS of course! Along the way we saw the cutest and most bizarre house boats. Unfortunately, I didn't get a photo of them as we were travelling fast and I was too busy raving about them! (but if you google images of houseboats at Sausalito you will see what I mean) I wish I had a photo to show you though, these house boats were like mini houses on the water. Like little Swiss alp style houses with the pointed roof, windows and even an entry way, but in a smaller model and floating - we couldn't believe what we were seeing.

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Back on San Francisco side, we thought we would drive past the bottom of Lombard street, as we had only seen the street from afar. I was reading in the local paper that the residents are wanting a change to the laws around the street restricting entry of tourists as it often takes them up to 20 minutes or more to get out of driveways because of all the visitors to the street. Apparently one resident was photographed taking out his garbage and was not thrilled! I suppose the way I walk out to my front yard some days, I would be mortified at a random stranger taking my photo!!
So being mindful of the traffic and tourists, we noticed the street was very quiet so we made a decision to drive down Lombards street - I know we are such tourists! It was pretty fun..... Photo to be added, it's on Teen2's phone and he is fast asleep......

Following this Hubby dropped Teen2, The tween and I at a store in Fisherman's wharf to see if we could buy more bubbles for The tween and he really wanted to get a tram home. Standing on the edge of a moving tram with other trams and cars rushing buy is my sons new favourite thing! Oh goodness here come the risk taking teens for my youngest!

Home to pack our things, do some washing, then across to mission district for Mexican (on James list again). We noticed a distinct difference in areas and the people. It was nice enough, but it would be unlikely that I would feel safe walking there at night.

We have been fortunate to see a variety of places in San Francisco, there are many more to see, but it truly is a pretty city and reminds me somewhat of home.
The image below has a photo top left of one of the streets we turned into tonight - holy cow!
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Posted by Auggiesfamily 22:55 Archived in USA Comments (2)

Day 17 San Francisco & Morro Bay

On the road.......

semi-overcast 16 °C
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Goodbye San Francisco, hello California Coast!

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We have seen some interesting things today, I may not have got a true picture on camera for you as we were too busy being In awe. Wow we have very much enjoyed our day travelling south in California. 64B7B5BA2219AC68172CD7F560583FA1.jpg

On James' advice we by-passed San Jose by going inland, instead of taking the coast road early on as it reduced the time and he thought we would benefit from a different stop along the way before we took the coast road. This was a great recommendation, we stopped for lunch at a place called San Juan Bautista. This little town had a population of 1720 approx, and was like driving through a little Mexican looking town - like something out of the 'Flying Nun' but much smaller. There was one street of shops, a small baseball pitch, chickens and a rooster wandering the streets, cactus planted in local gardens, it was an interesting, character filled place. The town has a mission church, see photo's. James was telling us that each 20 or 40 miles (can't remember exactly which) a mission church is placed. These were built for Mexican people travelling north to give them a place to stop and rest along the way when travelling by horse and cart from Mexico up the coast. They are very pretty, we saw this one and another at Carmel. We ate at a burger place called JJ's and it was the best burger I have had in the US so far!

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I attempted driving in the sleepy town of San Juan Bautista! It wasn't as tricky as expected so I agreed to drive to our next stop, yes even on a freeway! No one was aloud to talk while I concentrated on the speed, lane, turns and staying over to the left of the lane...... The car really is big and habit means we tend to stay closer to the left, but I feel more confident that I could drive as needed here in the USA!

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Next to Monterey and Carmel for a look at the beach suburbs. Monterey was a nice place to see, with large parks and a bay for swimming, it also has a great aquarium - for those staying or spending time there - we have been told it is worth a visit.
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Then Carmel, well this was unexpected, it is a magical little town, a little like a Thredbo style beach town, if that makes sense. The buildings and accommodation are Norwegian in style. Little streets, quaint like tree's and buildings, many with fairy lights. There are many upmarket stores here, exclusive designer brands including a Tiffany and co. store. At the end of the street is the beach, we were there around sunset, so were able to see beautiful views and colours of the sun setting over the water.

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We continued along the coast road from here to our stop for the night being Morro bay, we still had quite a bit to travel, but we are in awe of our surroundings. Huge hills to the left of us, ocean and cliffs to the right. The vegetation is dry grasses, pines and other large evergreen trees. That is about all...... Through Big Sur, where there were general stores and cabins/camp grounds built of logs. It is hard to describe the feeling of the atmosphere it is so American ........ The air, the look and the feel, is so different to our Aussie country side. It is exciting to experience - yep just like the movies..... all things American, I am in my element! Having experienced travelling the Great Ocean Road in Melbourne , or the Coast Road along Stanwell Point South Coast of New South Wales, the feel is completely opposite, but equally as pretty, just in a different way. It is very dry here, they are in quite a big drought at the moment and you can tell as you drive through the state.

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We have now arrived at Morro bay, while it is dark, it looks very pretty and our hotel room overlooks the bay. We are keen to see it in daylight in the morning. While grabbing our overnight bags from the car, we can hear sea lions barking and the air smells like the sea. Sleep well everyone....... Will let you know what tomorrow brings.

Posted by Auggiesfamily 22:16 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Day 18 Morro Bay/ Beverly Hills

A full day!!!

sunny 18 °C
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We woke to the most beautiful view overlooking Morro Rock out on Morro Bay today. What a beautiful little town it was to stop at...... It would be a lovely relaxing place to stay a while - a sleepy fishing town.
I woke and wandered outside and who was waiting there in the water but a seal that had come closer in the water for a look. We then had brekkie, a little kitchen and breakfast room was available to help yourself, so of course the boys made waffles on the waffle maker and they were the best waffles we have eaten! We then had a walk along the water where we again came face to face with some sea lions who had come up onto the rocks on the other side of a fence area from the footpath - talk about up close and personal. Then it was time to hit the road.

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The photo on the top right is of eucalyptus tree's - we thought they looked like gum's and a smell of the leaves confirmed this.
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We don't have much to share today, as the day was spent on the road and we arrived here at 9pm......will explain why!
We saw a lot of the country side today, coastal, inland, and cities and towns.......about 20 minutes into our trip we stopped at San Luis Obispo on James reccomendation to see a place called the Madonna Inn. I had read about this in the weekend paper prior to James telling me the story of this kitsch inn that was very over the top. It was build by the Madonna family in the area who had excess money and resources. Wow, it was over the top gawdy, but I did love it. There was pink sugar crystals, water goblets in all colours, murals in the indoor walls, a water pump as a tap in the bathroom and you should have seen the cakes! I have included some photos, the one of The tween that is blurry...... I have included it for you to see the surroundings.

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Here are some shots taken from a lookout inland, it was a vast view!

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Next we made it to Santa Barbara, well this was a beautiful place, palm trees, beaches, Spanish style shops and houses, it was so lovely. Hubby commented that he would come and stay here - actually I think live here were his words! It was lovely! We stopped for lunch opposite the beach and sat outdoors...... It was a lovely place.

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On the road again!
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45 minutes later and we were at Camarillo outlet shops for some serious shopping. My friend Jenny gave me a tip that out of all the outlet shops in the US, these were pretty darn good. Well we made it to maybe 6 shops and were there for hours! The boys came out loaded up with Nike's and Vans and of course I made a stop at Calvin Klein plus stopping in some other stores. This place has 3 complex's it is gigantic. You would need a few days to make your way through it. But we were successful in the time we had, and if you asked for Nike's we got them!

Then the final hour drive into Beverly Hills, wow...... Did I hit the jackpot booking where we did. Keeping in mind it is dark, but we drove past the Beverly Hills street sign......are up the road from the Beverly Hills hotel, Rodeo Drive has what can only be described as amazing houses ......that scream of money, but it is such a pretty area. Our guesthouse is so homely, with more space than I expected, and it has more than we could need. In fact we are thinking of staying put here and cancelling our hotel in Anaheim as it is one less pack up we need to do..... As well as having a kitchen and large living area...... We will definitely provide photos tomorrow for you.

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But right now we are pretty knackered, it has been a big day!

Posted by Auggiesfamily 22:18 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Day 19 - Beverly Hills

Universal studio's

semi-overcast 16 °C
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Hi from Beverly hills, California!

Below is a photo of our accommodation as promised yesterday, we also took a few shots of houses we passed in the street for you to see. What's funny is I notice the houses, Hubby notices the cars!
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Here are some of the neighbourhood (am hoping to have a contrasting shot of a school in the next few days), it is funny, I feel the same about Hollywood and LA as I did when I visited in 1991, a little disappointed in the reality. The spark and romance of Hollywood seems to be missing, it's all very normal...... Not at all like it is portrayed on the telly. That's not to say I dislike it there are parts of the city that are lovely and others that you wouldn't walk in alone at night, but that is everywhere.
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We went to Universal Studios for the day and the boys a had a great time, they really enjoyed the studio tour, they were filming a movie and a few shows today - parenthood being one of my favourites. We sat in on a special effects session, this was great and tonight while watching telly The tween is pointing out all the special effects (makes you see tv differently!)

Our favourite rides today were definitely the studio tour/King Kong, transformers, the Simpsons and the boys loved the mummy (I sat out as this was a roller coaster). It is interesting seeing the change and advancement in rides. Those that were our favourites were in, like a large roller coaster car that bumped about and moved side to side, but around us was a 4D film with special effects playing. How things have changed, soon roller coasters will be extinct!

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We bought lunch from the flintstones restaurant, as you can see, we are still working on fattening up Teen1! That large drumstick, is a smoked turkey leg!
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Below, The tween had his face painted to match his demeanour at the time- zombie like!
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Here is a snapshot of the filming that was happening today, James Franco was directing, producing and acting in a movie being shot on the lot today, I included a photo up higher in the Wild West setting.
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On the way home, we stopped by Graumans chinese theatre (now known as TCL Chinese theatre) to see the footprints of celebrities past and present. Michael Jackson for The tween (not in this photo), Hugh Jackman for me (that's the closest I will ever get!) and Frank Sinatra for you Dad (photo2)- in the photo is also Gene Kelly, Will Smith and Jennifer Aniston.
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A few shots of Hollywood and Rodeo drive tonight before we went home!
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Lastly, here is a photo of the next door neighbours house - The tween took it tonight, he is in awe!
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Posted by Auggiesfamily 20:44 Archived in USA Comments (2)

Day 20 - Beverly Hills

Star struck!

sunny 22 °C
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Today was time to head to Warner bros studios! I hadn't realised that there was a tour at this studio until my cousin Carolyn recommended it to me. So glad we went, this is what coming to Hollywood is about, seeing your favourite shows and movies behind the scenes and coming up close and personal with aspects of these, and if your lucky an actor or two. This is what universal studios used to have (on my last trip 20+ years ago) but is now more like a theme park.

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We started with a drive on the lot past some houses from Gilmore girls, friends, pretty little liars, the waltons and more........ It was great seeing them set up or not, and have explained how they are used in filming. Because they are a set they often have double sides so they can be used for a variety of purposes. We went past a park with a gazebo, some streets, from New York and Vegas, it was really interesting, our tour guide had a lot of knowledge and was able to tell us what shows and episodes the houses/streets/shops were used in.

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Next we explored the cars, you may see some familiar ones in the photos - Steve there is the shagmobile from Austin powers just for you.

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We then went into a warehouse type building where the sets were for shows, the particular one we went into was for pretty little liars, and while I am not familiar with the show it was very interesting to see how small the actual rooms were in the 'houses'. The sets were literally stage front type rooms put together with carpet or timber floors and furnishings to fill the space and make them life like, it was amazing. They also showed us a school set and described how the one set was used for multiple purposes - cafeteria, gym, various classrooms they even had an outdoor area (inside the warehouse). We were unable to take photos there - in case we reveal some secrets!

We drove past where the costumes are stored, where the sets are made the lot has it's own real operating fire station, mechanics, gas station...... It is a little community! All the while watching carts drive past with 'big bang theory' written on them or other shows. We saw them filming an episode of the mentalist, Simon Baker was there - at a distance we could see some action...... It was very exciting (......by chance we saw this episode air on TV - that was weird but exciting, we were really able to see how the lot was used to put together the show......we had a chuckle at how it didn't seem real now that we knew how it was filmed, but we couldn't stop watching). We drove past Mike from 'Mike and Molly' although we didn't realise at the time - we don't watch the show often. We were hoping to see a glimpse of a set or actor from 'Big Bang Theory' or 'ellen', but while they were on the lot today, they were filming or using the space for rehearsal so no glimpses).

Then my favourite part....... We entered the set of one of my all time favourite tv shows - and my boys too....... While this show isn't still filming, they have left the set - set up from it's last filmed episode - 'Friends' in Central Perk, the coffee shop. Wow that was something, we saw the menu as it was on the last take...... sat on the couch, saw the detail, and learnt some friends facts...... It was an experience I won't forget!

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We then walked through where the props were this was fantastic and a museum of props also...... see photos below, you may recognise some of the items........

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My fair lady above right, Big Bang Theory on the left. The conjuring - you can even see a face in the jack in the box - like the movie..... But I recognise this one!
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The piano where Sam - played it again in Casablanca. Batman, Heath ledgers outfit worn in 'the dark knight' and Charlie's piano from two and a half men, with his ashes in the urn!
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Harry potter!

We also learnt today, that the trees you can see in the city streets above can even be removed (they are in pots) and a fire hydrant or newspaper stand can be installed. Also there is even gum on the sidewalk, made by drops of tar..... So clever, it would be such interesting work.

As we were wandering we heard a story about the waterway behind the studios ....... See if you recognise this from a movie I would be surprised if you haven't seen it.......

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That's right...... It involved a car race between Danny Zuko and Kenickie - in 'Grease'.

Now that we found some Hollywood romance...... We were off to the the Hollywood sign from a vantage point listed on information given to us at the studio. North Beachwood Drive. Travel to the very end and turn to park when you see the Hollyridge trail sign - there is a hike there that would be great to walk, if you have the right shoes, which I didn't. It was a great spot!

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Below some images of things 'only in LA!'
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We worked up an appetite so headed to farmers market for lunch and a browse, so next comes one of the highlights of the trip, we drove around and the sign said no parking..... So a few events happened which meant we frustratingly had to drive around the block and decided to go in where it said no parking anyway..... Clearly this delay happened so we could spot a celebrity!!!- all things happen for a reason!
As we were taking a ticket, a black jeep was paying for their ticket, Hubby said to me 'hey, isn't that what's his name....' So we looked in the direction of the car and lo and behold it was James Marsden, check him out here who my boys recognised as 'Cyclops' in the movie 'X Men' so this conversation for me was frustrating because I knew he was in one of my favourite movies but couldn't get my brain to match the guy driving the car in front of me. I did, however get a little excited and to my childrens embarrassment say quite loudly, 'oh my god, how exciting' apparently this got his attention and he was looking in our car with a funny look on his face.......

Then Hubby said he was in '27 Dresses'! Oh my gosh! It's Kevin! The lead guy the reporter who writes up the weddings, gets to know her and....... If you haven't seen it you have to now! As you know we visited some of the places from the movie in New York - one being the boathouse, so you can imagine my excitement. He drove around the corner in front of us after that! We saw a celeb in Hollywood...... Now Hollywood is complete!

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We did get an amazing banana split but had eaten most of it before we even thought about sharing it with hubby or taking a photo! Sorry, it was amazing though, you will just have to picture it!
After a nice lunch and buying one of those amazing candy apples, we went for another drive and then home for some Chinese takeout...... And the rice does come in those little boxes!

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Driving on Route 66, and a window with some dresses suitable for this weekends golden globe awards!
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Posted by Auggiesfamily 21:55 Archived in USA Comments (2)

Day 21 - Beverly Hills/Anaheim

Via Santa Monica

sunny 18 °C
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Well it was time to leave the lovely Rodeo Drive.......
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Today we decided to do a tour of some local houses - Michael Jackson's final residence for Lachlan. What a huge residence, it was a bit sad driving by here and also a little surreal to think he was there not so long ago. Apparently the Presleys were neighbours years before.

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Then we visited the Magnolia Bakery from an episode of Modern Family, again Lachlan was keen to go here as he was quite amused with the popularity of this bakery in the episode. Thankfully no lines, they did have great cupcakes and Banana pudding, but as with many other places in the US, not great coffee. I have worked out that it is because when they make a cappuccino they don't fill with heated milk and then add the froth, they add froth only, so it is a double shot of coffee and half a cup of froth...... hence very strong. It was recommended to me to try a latte - so am hopeful that tomorrow I can get a decent coffee!! The other amusing thing about the bakery was that Josh ordered and ice coffee, he discovered, as did Lachie a few weeks back that ice tea and ice coffee is literally that...... cold coffee or tea with ice in it, not what we are used to.

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Next some houses from our favourite TV show, Modern Family...... Claire and Phil's house from modern family as well as Jay and Gloria. They were along the way to Santa Monica.......so we figured why not - it's also a great way to see different suburbs of LA. Also the boys were keen to see them and speculate how they used them for filming from their newly acquired knowledge about the movie business!

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Then Santa Monica - it was exciting to see Santa Monica Pier, different than expected, the same flat, dry feel that LA and Hollywood has but interesting nonetheless. We had taco bell (on Alex's fast food list of the US) then a ride on the famous Santa Monica Pier Ferris Wheel. Of course I hated every second..... and yes my eyes did fill with tears - I can't help it I have no control over it..... I just have a huge fear of heights! Of course this was to the great amusement of my caring boys, and my poor husband who had a painful journey with me squeezing his hand. But I couldn't go to Santa Monica pier and not ride the ferris wheel. There were food stalls, souvenir shops and a carnival at the pier to explore.
Next a walk along the sand and checking out under the boardwalk....... but we couldn't walk under - only a bridge part..... that was a shame!

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In the photo above you will see the shot of the beach has people all along it, there was college competition frisbee the whole way along the beach in little square plots. It was serious stuff, there was even a tent with several lounges in it.
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Finally, driving to Anaheim, we have checked into our very large and beautiful hotel. We have a good size room with bunk beds up one end and our bed up the other - with a door in between. This will come in handy, as anyone who has spent 3 weeks non stop with every member of their family in a car, plane, room, shop etc....... will appreciate that that level of closeness is sometimes TOO MUCH!!!!! Especially when we all like our own space. The hotel makes it easy for families, there is a games room, a fire pit, a heated spa...... and more.
So tomorrow a slow morning with a swim and then an afternoon/evening at Disneyland. I may be late with blogging tomorrow if we are home very late.

Goodnight from Anaheim....... sweet dreams

Posted by Auggiesfamily 23:24 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Day 22 - Anaheim

The magical world of Disney!

sunny 22 °C
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Today we decided to have a lazy morning with late breakfast and the boys wanted a swim in the pool....... so off to Denny's for breakfast! we were laughing, as Denny's isn't rated very highly in the US as it is another 'chain' restaurant so everyone tells you to steer clear. but we went anyway - for $50 we had a cooked breakfast for all of us including drinks. It was like a more upmarket sizzler. Compared to me sometimes paying $20 for myself for breakfast in Sydney, This place was wholesome, fast service and a bargain! So for something that does the job - take a visit if you find yourselves here.

Then a lay by the pool while Alex and Lachie swam and got rid of some of their restless energy and excitement. While mike and Josh went to the games room for a game of air hockey!

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I was very excited to be taking the boys to Disneyland! Tonight was fireworks night and they were open until 11pm. hence the late start, we didnt want a full exhausting day. So we arrived at Disney into a massive parking area with a little tram to drive you down the road to the parks. In we go and there is a buzz of excitement from the boys, I am grateful that they aren't to old to enjoy this!

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There really is a magic to disneyland, despite your age. We decided to head to some of the popular rides, space mountain being one of them. On the way there Michael was approached by a family with 9 fast passes to Space Mountain who were leaving and they gave us their passes! A fast pass is where you put your entry ticket into a machine that allocates and hour where those with a fast pass can go onto the ride. It is a great idea as the ride is closed to everyone else for that hour. Alex said that he could have kissed that guy for giving us the fast passes. We had an hour until our fast pass time, so rode a few other rides close by in 'Tommorowland'. What was funny was that the boys wanted to have a ride on some of the rides that were for the younger children, they said it would kill time and we thought they would get off saying it was lame. In fact it was the opposite they came off raving about them. We went on a buzz light year Laser shooting ride where you had to shoot the targets, and a ride where you had to drive the car although it was on the track. Alex and Lachie had loads of fun with this! Not looking forward to teaching them to drive after that!

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We saw a 3D movie made called 'captain EO' with the first 3D camera in 1986 that featured Michael Jackson, there was also a few 4D elements thrown in like wind and bouncing chairs! This was pretty amusing, considering the advanced technology and 3D that we have now. It was one of those movies that make you cross eyed for watching - those of you around 35 and older will know what I'm talking about. Lachie thought it was lame and couldn't believe how high Michael Jackson's voice was!

Then off to space mountain, I was hesitant to go on this because I knew it was a roller coaster, so the boys went first and said they would report back, well they loved it and convinced me to go with them. It was great, a roller coaster in the dark, but fast rather than big dips.

We then had dinner in a pretty little cafe a perfect vantage point for the fireworks, over looking the sleeping beauty castle - after dinner, an announcement was made that the fire works were cancelled! NOOOOOO! They don't have it week nights only weekends, so we will have to settle for the Pixar parade instead tomorrow night.

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Off to New Orleans Square for 'pirates of the caribbean' we had no wait time and the boys loved it so much we went a second time. Late night at Disney is a good time to be there. At 10.30 we caught the Disney train back to the main entrance to come home, we are tired and happy and still have the Magic of Disney with us until tomorrow!

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Posted by Auggiesfamily 11:48 Archived in USA Comments (3)

Day 23 - Anaheim

More Disney!

sunny 25 °C
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Today, we headed to Disneyland for the day, our aim was to catch the rides early that we wanted to go on yesterday, but that had lines. The beauty of Disneyland on a Monday is that there were much less crowds on a Monday, we didn’t line up for longer than half an hour.

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We went on Star tours, a star wars simulation, it was awesome, I did not have to close my eyes once!
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Then we went into a expo type theatre in tomorrow land, we saw iron man, a future house, and the boys got to try out and X-box one – they got there games fix!

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Following this I tortured the boys on it’s a small world and the madhatter tea cups ride and we wandered around toon town and some of the younger childrens areas for a look. We then headed to splash mountain, for those of you that haven’t been to Disney, this is the log ride that has the big drop on the end. Dad and Michael tricked Mum and I into this on my last visit here so I wasn’t tempted this time. But the boys went on twice! They loved it. I hung out with Tigger, Pooh Bear and Eeyore.

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Dinner in main street, then time to head back to the hotel for s’mores and a cuppa beside the fire. The boys and Michael had a game of table tennis, large chess, bean bag toss and a giant shuffle board style game.

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Alex - wearing Josh's new slippers!

Tomorrow we have a Disney Magic Morning, an early morning entry then we are heading to California adventure park for the highlight rides, and hopefully an afternoon of some down time – we may head back for the pixar parade, depending on how we feel tomorrow.
Goodnight all!

Posted by Auggiesfamily 22:03 Comments (4)

Day 24 - Anaheim

sunny 29 °C
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We woke and left early (for us) to arrive at Disneyland 1hour before opening time for our magic morning. As parking didn't open until 9am, (perhaps Disneyland could have thought this through better) it was more like magic half hour! But as Lachlan pointed out everything happens for a reason - and he was very right. Magic morning was included in the 4 day pass or if you stay in a Disneyland resort. It allows you to go into Main Street and they have characters walking around and also open a section for early rides- this was tomorrowland. We had been there for rides, so decided to have a character buffet breakfast! With much eye rolling from the teens, they agreed the food was better here so we sat! Although it was costly, the food was great - omelettes made to order, Mickey Mouse waffles, bacon etc etc. We started with food and there was the characters walking around some of the tables. There was pooh bear, tigger, Minnie, Peter Pan, the boys were hoping like crazy they wouldn't come near them....... There was a little 3 yr old boy sitting at the table beside us so when the characters visited him, they of course visited us. What was great was that the boys relaxed and went with it....... Their mother has taught them manners....... So they couldn't do anything else. In the end the characters were playing with it a little, you can see the hug pooh gave the boys while they went to get more breakfast, Peter Pan was mocking Josh, by pulling faces, he was also taking drink bottles of another boy similar age to Lachie and hiding it........ It really was fun and playful and a great start to the morning. There was that Disney magic again!

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We finished off rides at Disneyland, on recommendation from some people around the camp fire last night, we made sure we dropped into those. Our definite favourites at Disneyland were Indiana jones, space mountain, splash mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean and Star Wars.

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It was time to head to California Adventure park, now while this was another theme park, it is a beautiful park, very well set out like Disneyland, and clean! But what they have done from the movie 'Cars' is ahhmaazing! They have a whole street set out like the animated movie. Flo's Diner, Luigi's where they change the tyres, maters - towing, I said to Michael that I want to live there! It is exact and so fabulous! I had been told this by friends and others I've met, along with the recommendation not to miss the cars ride 'radiator springs' we were warned to get a fast pass ASAP. So when we arrived (12pm) we went to the fast pass line for this ride and the time slot was for 6.20pm! An attendant mentioned that she heard the ride had smaller wait times if we wanted to line up. So we headed over........and the ride was having technical difficulties and was temporarily closed - oh no! We were already missing world of colour as they were making adjustments to that......not this too. Well we found out wait times for all the big rides the boys wanted to go on were down at 15/20 minutes so went to the twilight zone tower of terror, California screaming (roller coaster), grizzley river run (water rapids and there is a drop in this one, it is over fast but not pleasant if you're like me and don't like them!), Ferris wheel (which was sadistic...... Will explain why.......) and along the way kept checking in with radiator springs ride. Still not, still not..... As we were walking past cars land again I asked one of the many staff placed to answer queries at the corner and she said it was now open. By the time we walked down the street the wait was an hour....... So we went in the single rider line (30 minutes wait) where as a single rider they top up the ride by placing you in the empty seat, so if you are happy to be split up then this is a much faster way to get on. Well you guys weren't kidding, this was my favourite ride of both parks...... Perhaps of all time. What a clever ride, it feels like a car race in radiator springs, you actually race another car full of riders....... It takes corners, goes fast, but no scary dips etc..... Just the right amount of awesome! So yes...... Do not miss this ride - and get you fast pass early, or single ride it, you may just end up racing someone in your group -as we did- anyway.

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So the sadistic Ferris wheel - as mentioned from Santa Monica, I do not like Ferris wheels, so did not go on this, the boys did though. The ride has the Ferris wheel cars going around as normal, but if you look closely at my photos, the Ferris wheel car is on an oval loop, so as the wheel goes around the cars slide along the loop and rock and hang out the side of the wheel. Just watching it made me squirm, of course the too cool for school teens said it 'got boring after a while'. Also to our friend Ian, the boys and Michael 100% agree with your claim that California screaming is an awesome roller coaster - I think you said the best you have been on. They loved it and were lucky enough to go on twice...... I got in trouble because the boys wanted another turn and I was not waiting for one more ride on ANYTHING after 3 days of theme parks!
Lastly, one of the attendants suggested soaring over California, a simulated hang gliding ride, this was great and very cleverly done - so this is a definite if you go......

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Following the last of our theme park days, I paid a visit to a few outlet stores, there was a SAKS, not worth a visit, I bought a handful of things, more for the kids and Mike than me..... And this was from Calvin Klein. There was not much in the way of big savings, Camarillo definitely the best so far!

Posted by Auggiesfamily 01:18 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Day 25 - Anaheim/Vegas

Road trip!

sunny 20 °C
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So after packing and a few games in the games room (gotta keep those teens happy!) air hockey being our family game....... Since they were preschoolers if we are at a hotel with a games room, this is our game of choice. We hit the road for our stay at Vegas. I was told the drive was long, and it was 5 hours with and hour stop, but it didn't feel like it took forever. It was an interesting drive, but it was the same same same the whole way...... Not much variety, it was however exciting to be driving to Vegas from LA.

Check out the many freeways below.

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We stopped at a 50's diner called 'Peggy Sue's diner' it was very cute, and had a lot of memorabilia, I of course was in my element! It was in a place called 'ghost town' the photos will show you why.

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Following this as the sun began to set behind us, the moon began to rise in front of us over the mountains. Now, capturing this on our phones (cuz someone left the fancy camera at home!) doesn't do what we witnessed justice. The moon was huge, the landscape was breathtaking and the colours of the sky were amazing. The teens were even happy to be woken to see this majestic sight that nature had put on for us tonight! How fortunate we were to be part of this miracle and watch it happen.

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Then we began seeing neon lights amongst nothingness in the distance - a false alarm (an outlet mall with a roller coaster!) then what couldn't be mistaken for Vegas, Time square lights multiplied by 100! This place is crazy, and so we discovered last night, you need never leave a casino to get to where you need to be, walkways, footbridges and trams from one place to the other. We have yet to step outdoors....... But that is the plan today!

New York, New York, Paris, the bellagio, MGM, mini cities all in one building.

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We checked into our Vegas Penthouse, on the 29th floor of the MGM signature apartments, they really are 2 interconnecting fancy suite, mirror images of each other, there is a main entrance that can be closed off so that we can leave access from one to the other. TV in the bathroom, spa bath,balcony to give me a heart attack! You know standard fancy suite.

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After settling we booked our shows with the concierge, Michael Jackson tonight, David Copperfield tomorrow and off we went to explore vegas - or should I say smoke filled casinos on our way to the show. The boys were horrified that their favourite movies were turned into slot machines (or pokies as we call them).

OH MY GOODNESS tonight we saw 'Cirque Du Soleil - Michael Jackson One' - it was THE best show I have ever seen and considering my Nan took me to every show known to man from when I was a little girl, that is saying something!!

It was such an amazing way to share the stories of his songs and aspects of his life through song, dance and acrobatics - done with such acknowledgement of his success and respect for him, it was fabulous. It had the Aussie girl who was supposed to play the guitar at his last concert tour and the young girl who would have been singing with him, they both featured in the movie 'This is it' about his last tour plans..... Tonight, Just when you thought it couldn't get better it did - they even had a hologram of him dancing with them on stage it was so awesome. There was no doubt many a tear shed tonight for that very talented artist. It helps to be a fan of Michael Jackson, but isn't necessary. It was just am amazingly put together show!

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Memorabilia on loan from Michael Jackson's estate
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So glad we went to see it!

Off to start day 2 in Vegas!

Posted by Auggiesfamily 01:48 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Day 26 - Las Vegas

Shhhhh!

sunny 20 °C
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WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS ...................

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........................................STAYS IN VEGAS

Posted by Auggiesfamily 23:49 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Day 27 Vegas and Grand Canyon

sunny -10 °C
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We packed up and left our beautiful apartments at MGM grand signature apartments. If ever you are looking for accommodation attached to but out of a casino, this is the place. There was complimentary valet parking, wifi, a concierge desk that were extremely helpful and a Starbucks onsite. (I booked mine through airbnb)

There were pools, and access to MGM resort pools also, although we didn't have the time to enjoy them and it was the wrong season. To be honest, we would have enjoyed longer time in Vegas and yes, I am surprised by this reflection myself, I didn't think I would like Vegas. Many people who have been here have said 2 nights is more than enough, and have highlighted things about Vegas that aren't so great, but there is more to Vegas than this......

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Yes Vegas is a big desert that has a city sitting on it, it is in the middle of nowhere, so it seems. It is a city of gambling, girls, drinking and people trying to sell you something (mostly girls) on each corner. We saw poker machines in 7 eleven, in the airport, in petrol stations and there are parts of these city that are a little seedy - you wouldn't walk those parts alone at night (but then almost every city has areas like these). However, it also has history and interesting things to see and do. There are grand casinos (each one bigger and grander than the next), they have there own theme and highlight, the gondolas at the Venetian, the roller coasters at New York, New York, the pyramid and sphinx at the Luxor. There are also restaurants, the Vegas sign, the neon sign museum, or graveyard as they call it - and this sounds like an interesting place, I am disappointed to have not had the time to explore here! The history on Fremont st is supposed to be great, the shows, we saw two (David Copperfield being the second- see below) but 'pink' is there at the end of the month, there is a rat pack show, as well as other well known singers and artists including comedians (Brad Garrett - the big brother from 'Everybody Loves Raymond' has a comedy club in Vegas). The 'Bellagio' fountain was magic to see, the erupting volcano at the Mirage , there are flamingos to see in a natural reserve inside 'the flamingo' casino - we missed these also, as you can enter before sunset, and we found out about them after dark.

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There is a shark experience at Mandalay bay, and many fancy and famous restaurants and chefs - we went to one of a chef - (Michael Mina ) who is well known for his fancy restaurants over the US. He opened a 'pub' to tap into a different market, his food has a slightly unusual edge to it. My goodness, the boys had free soda refills all night, the biggest nachos platter you have seen and Michael and I shared a rack of the most amazing ribs I have eaten (yes even better than my recipe) with 'kaleslaw' and Mexican beans.

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Finally, there is shopping, which we didn't have time to do, but I have heard the outlets here are pretty good, they are however, some distance away from the 'main' part of Vegas.
So if you haven't been and are planning a trip to Vegas, perhaps allow another day or two than we did to see the other parts of Vegas, I imagine too much time might be a bit extreme, but there really are more things to do and see than girls, drink and gambling....... of course if that's your thing......enjoy that too!

About David Cooperfield - we enjoyed his show, he was interesting and very clever with his illusions and was entertaining, however, we have also seen the illusionists - and they were much more entertaining and left you in awe and wonder in a more dramatic way. In hindsight, perhaps I would have chosen a different show to see. But it was a good show....... After cirque de soleil - Michael Jackson 'one', perhaps anything would have paled in comparison!

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Our trip to the Grand Canyon.......- so there are easier options to get to the canyon, helicopter tours, there is a Grand Canyon airport, so maybe flying is also an option. But for us, we have always wanted to drive it and see the roads and desert in the USA. It is a long way, 4.5 hours, adding in pitstops and food stops, and that increases it by an hour, so yes it's long! But I am glad we did it, we did get to turn off and drive on Route 66 for a few meters..... We also saw the changing terrain of the US desert.

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It did remind me a little of the movie 'Cars' mountains with dirt, then with grassy tufts, then Rocky Mountains, then as we got closer to the Grand Canyon national park, there was Forrest with deer and elk.

We also got to drive through where Hoover Dam is, this is a pretty outlook, and the other little towns very very small.

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We made a stop in a place called Chloride and this had a population of 3-400, it was very interesting to see....... These smaller towns put the initial of the town in white on the mountains so it can be seen from a distance.

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The surroundings on the drive to Grand Canyon change more than from LA to Vegas, that drive is one long freeway the whole way, so could probably be skipped and a flight instead may be a time saver, there really isn't much to see.

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We arrived at the Grand Canyon just as it was getting dark, so glimpsed the Canyon in the almost dark, settled ourselves in out log cabins (Bright Angel cabins http://www.grandcanyonlodges.com/lodging/bright-angel/) and headed for a hearty dinner. Now we weren't sure what to expect from our accommodation or food, there were mixed reviews, but being one of 2 places to stay overlooking the canyon on the south rim (and the other being closed for renovation when we booked) we were keen to find out. If you are looking for a luxury stay, this isn't for you, but we had a very comfortable log cabin, with bathrooms that were nice looking (they looked to have recently acquired new tiles). We are campers and have stayed in pretty dismal cabins before as well as tents, so we thought these were great. Their location is amazing, where can you look out your window and see such and amazing natural wonder?
If you want a bit fancier, the 'El tovar' is a very short walk away and was built in the early 1900's, so again, it isn't the 'park hyatt', but it is lovely and situated on the south rim also.

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Dinner at bright angel was as described above - hearty, the staff we're very friendly and the carrot cake for dessert was amazing. There were options of snack type food if you weren't too hungry, or you could indulge in a big American meal. Sharing meals in the US is a good choice as the servings are large and the food comes with fries, potatoes or a 'biscuit' which is what we would call a scone back home. Also breakfast's come mostly with a choice of pancakes, waffles, toast and most likely potatoes also. I will be very surprised if I do not come home heavier that when I left...... With no gym also, I would put money on it!

Tomorrow morning, Hubby and I are planning to get up early and see the morning light over their canyon change at sunrise.

Posted by Auggiesfamily 01:18 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Day 28 - Grand Canyon

sunny 6 °C
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Being able to step out your door and see the huge view of the Grand Canyon left us in awe, for a moment I did feel a little emotion at being able to stand in front of this sight.

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Hubby and I woke early to see the changing light over the canyon at sunrise, because we were on the south rim opposite the north rim, we couldn't see the sunrise unless we drove to another section. But when we had this spectacular view in front of us, it wasn't necessary?
So we stood in the cold and watched the moon over one side, with the purple and pink light in the sky. The purple gave way to pink and the shadows over the canyon began to change. We started to see some orange and sandy colours, some greens and blues and then the tips on the top of hue he peaks began to light up as the light touched them. When the light started to hit the peaks of the canyon we escaped the cold (and the teens- still drooling on their pillows) for a breakfast date in the El tovar dining room. Well it had a warm fire and was a nice elegant (in a log cabin type of way) place to dine. We had a table by the window, so were able to see the rest of the changing colours as the light hit the canyon and the sun continued to rise. We took the moody teens back some pancakes 'to go' and woke them for the day ahead.

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We went for a small hike down the canyon on recommendation from one of the staff, she said it is nice to see the canyon from lower down looking up as well as looking down into it. She was right it really gave you an interesting perspective...... And we went only a small way below the rim in comparison to the huge size of the whole depth. We found a spot where our voices echoed off the wall of the canyon and had some fun with that. As you will see by the photos the path was a little icy, we were fortunate that the weather was warmer than normal this time of year so that we could wander around easily. Teen1 took a tumble after cleverly having a 'look at me' moment...... He tried to slide his way along the ice - being silly and fell flat on his backside almost straight away - this provided some entertainment for the day!

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We also discovered that the temperature increases the deeper you go into the canyon, I summer it can get as high as 120 Fahrenheit. This is due to the elevation of the rim of the canyon being so high, above 5000ft.

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Following our hike, we went for a drive along the rim to some of the lookouts to see a different viewpoint and then had a relax for the afternoon before dinner at El tovar. You'll see the buildings on the rim in the photos below, that is where we stayed!
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We were impressed with breakfast so decided to have dinner their, it is interesting to watch the boys become more comfortable in a fancy restaurant, ordering, navigating which knife and fork to use, I feel proud of how they are growing up.....The tween still figuring this out, but the older two are definitely more experienced at this now. I have included a photo of dessert, check out this chocolate mousse taco

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Yes taco, it was yum, big but yum!

Home to bed for our big drive back to Vegas, then flight to Hawaii tomorrow!
By the way, if you are wondering about time needed for a visit to the Grand Canyon 2 nights at the Grand Canyon for a look around was enough, if you are interested in hiking and staying down in the canyon, a donkey ride for the day down into......or some time on the Colorado river, then definitely longer. It is a nice place to stop and relax also. There are day visits by helicopter, these would be interesting too, if you don't want to stay there, but we enjoyed having a bit more time to look around and stop a while.

Posted by Auggiesfamily 01:44 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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