Posted by: mrkinski | September 3, 2011

USA 2010

Well, I thought it was probably about time that I started using this blog – as it’s been lying dormant for two years. I planned to use my blog to write about holidays and other stuff that has happened in my life, either to me or my family, as often the small details get lost as the years roll by. I love looking at pictures we have taken, but its often difficult to remember what happened outside of the moment.

I had planned to write about our family holiday to the USA as soon as I got back, but of course, life and work took over, and over one year later, I’m having to dig deep and try and remember what we did and where we visited. So, here goes…

This was our 5th visit to the USA, but our first to the West Coast. We had previously visited Florida as well as a couple of 3 day breaks in New York (which is probably now my favourite city). We decided to have a two-centre holiday in 2010, with a week in Las Vegas and a week in LA. We flew out from Gatwick with Virgin Atlantic, who had a great selection of inflight entertainment, including The Disappearance of Alice Creed – which was a good low-budget but quality scripted UK film, & Hot Tub Time Machine – not so good but provided a few giggles & helped pass the time.

After a long flight (over 10 hours), we arrived at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas, and were soon all packed into our 7 seater mini van (the American driving experience is so much fun – bigger cars and calmer roads). We were staying in a villa in Silver Rain Avenue in Las Vegas, complete with swimming pool and loads of bedrooms. Although the villa was smaller than the ones we were used to in Florida, it was still a good size and with everything needed for a good stay, including wi-fi and a good selection of cable channels on the obligatory huge TV. For the first two nights, I suffered from bad jet-lag, and was getting up at about 4am, unable to sleep, with nothing to do but watch weird shopping channels as nothing else was on TV at that godforsaken hour. At one point, I swear I watched someone cooking something called “Angel hair” in a huge wok. I shit you not.

Another highlight (excuse the pun) were a couple of Eco-i-Lite’s scattered around the villa (cool gadgets that act as night-lights / torches). I was tempted to buy one, but knew I would have problems with them back in the UK. The villa was about 20 minutes drive from the main Vegas Strip – and we soon found a wonderful radio station called “The Groove” that played 70’s and 80’s funk (favourites included Strawberry Letter 23 by The Brothers Johnson, Outstanding by The Gap Band and Prince’s Erotic City). Not my usual musical cup-of-tea, but the songs sounded great cruising down the strip.

We visited most of the hotels / casinos in the strip, not to gamble, but to see the sights, the gondolas, caged tigers in hotel foyers and replicas of various landmarks. Tacky, yes, but no-one goes to Vegas for a classy holiday, surely. The weather was hotter than hot during our stay, so we were glad of the pool to jump back into in the evening. The picture on the left shows the temperature outside at 6pm – 115 degrees!

One night we drove to Old Town Las Vegas to see the Fremont Street Experience. On the way we drove past wedding chapels, decaying vacant lots and saw close-up the more seedy side of the city. Not the side of town to visit on foot at night, with sex in your face (walking down the street having call-girl cards given to you and your family is not really that subtle). At Fremont Street (the first paved street in Vegas in 1905, fact fans) we watched the show that played out on one of the World’s largest screens, with a musical history of the USA set to American Pie playing above everyone’s heads. We also saw a drug deal going down before the show – a real drug deal, not a street show! Viva Las Vegas indeed.

We ventured out of Vegas a few times. It was too expensive to get a helicopter trip over the Grand Canyon, so we drove to Hoover Dam. On the way back we stopped off at Boulder City, Nevada. With its picket fences, it looked like a town from 1950’s America. We called into a lovely antiques shop (8th & Pearl Antiques) where I could have spent so much money on the memorabilia from the 50’s and 60’s – as well as older stuff from the end of the 19th / beginning of the 20th century. Sadly I can’t find a website for this antiques store, as I’d love a virtual browse, our visit was too short. We also stopped for a drink in Boulder City, and drank the best cream soda known to man in a cafe opposite the antiques store.

We also visited Bonnie Springs Ranch, to see the Old Nevada Town, a replica of an 1880’s mining town. The journey to the ranch was wonderful, driving through the hills and seeing some of the real Nevada countryside.

After a week we all piled back in the car and set off on the long drive from Las Vegas to Anaheim, California. This was one of my favourite parts of the holiday, and was a nice way to spend my birthday.

The scenery on the drive was fascinating, and we drove for most of the day with the music blaring (plenty of classic rock!) soundtracking some lovely views, as we passed vast open spaces, abandoned towns and dust-devils in the far distance.

Just over the border in California, we visited Calico ghost town in San Bernardino County. Located in the Calico Mountains of the Mojave Desert region of Southern California, it was founded in 1881 as a silver mining town, and at its height had over 1000 residents. Today it has a few original buildings with the rest made up of replicas built on existing foundations. After a couple of hours spent in Calico, we finished off our journey to Anaheim, soon spotting the palm trees that are everywhere in LA.

Compared to our luxurious villa in Las Vegas, our home from home in LA was a real disappointment. Our budget for the second week did not stretch to a home with a pool, and we ended up having to compromise and the house (it was no villa) was drab, dated and stale. It had the lingering odour and decor of a poor quality care home. Anaheim is just over an hour outside of LA, and very close to Disneyland (about 15 minutes drive), but not quite the 5 minute walk our travel agent promised! So a disappointing start to the second week.

We ate out a lot, as there were plenty of places to eat (like the delicious Applebees). I can’t remember us cooking at all during the whole week.

We drove to LA just once, and as we got near to downtown LA, I’m sure we drove past the area where Falling Down was filmed (where William ‘D-Fens’ Foster gets out of his car and starts his violence spree).

We decided to do a mini-David Lynch pilgrimage, and visit the diner used in Mullholland Drive (the “monster” scene). Known as “Winkies” in the film, Caesar’s restaurant in Gardena, South Central LA between Hawthorne and Compton, served us a damn fine cup of coffee, and we spend half an hour chatting to the friendly waiter who informed us that lots of movies were filmed in Caesar’s (us – “really?”). They even served coffee in the same mugs as in Mullholland Drive, only a Lynch geek would notice that minor detail.

Whilst we were in LA, we decided to visit Hollywood, which was a big disappointment. It was run-down, dirty and pretty desperate. We also did the obligatory drive down Hollywood Boulevard, and viewed the stars in the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

As Disney freaks, we had to visit Disneyland, it would have been rude not to. The Californian Disneyland was much smaller than its Floridian cousin. Even the castle was tiny, but one definite improvement was the Tower of Terror, which we preferred to the Florida ride.

We visited a couple of beaches – my favourite was Dana Point, in Orange County. I know we went to at least one other beach, but for the life of me, I can’t remember it’s name. But it was sandy.  With sea.

I’m sure we all did much more, but the old grey matter isn’t what it once was, and I’ve clearly forgotten lots. It was a good holiday, but if we were ever to return to California, it would be do visit a different part of the state, such as San Francisco.

We are already planning our next holiday, a return to Florida. Note to self – make some notes this time.

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