Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Holiday 2014 part one

Ah, I seem not to have posted since February.  Time to make up for that...

Where does the time go?  It is now over a month since we started our holiday and I really want to write it up while things are still fairly fresh in the memory, but already feel that the details are slipping away.

As followers on flickr, twitter or instagram should have been able to work out, we took another trip to the USA this year.  Like the 2006 excursion (was it really that long ago?!) we travelled with Titan, doing their "California and  the Golden West" tour, the details of which we will get to below.  We did look around at other tour operators doing similar routes, as Titan are expensive, but when you add in the door-to door travel, hotel porterage, numbers of included versus optional excursions etc plus the level of quality and enjoyment we had last time it just made perfect sense to go with them again.

So, travel we did - 2700+ miles in a big loop.  Starting and ending at Los Angeles international we took in San Diego, Palm Springs, Scottsdale, Sedona, The Grand Canyon, Flagstaff, Williams, Las Vegas, Visalia, Yosemite, Modesto, San Francisco, Monterrey, Carmel, Cambria, Solvang and Santa Barbara before returning to LA to see Anaheim and Hollywood among others.  Some real beauty in there - particularly the Grand Canyon and amongst the redwoods in Yosemite and Big Sur - but also bits of San Francisco are a pure joy and the Pacific Coast Highway was delightful.

I did think about just bunging up a list of good and bad but want to try to write a bit more of a proper travelogue, so here we go.

Day one - Home to Heathrow.
Rather than getting up at Stupid O'clock we decided to go down to Heathrow the night before and Titan offered a deal at the Park Inn which seemed OK, and so it was.  That meant we got a leisurly morning to finish off packing (I never did understand people who pack their cases weeks before going away - surely that just generates creases in the clothes) and a drive down off-peak which I must confess I slept through most of.  Nobody extra to collect on the way either, which was nice.  I can't say the hotel was anything spectacular but it did the job.  We also discovered we had forgotten to pack toothpaste, but that was the only omission from the luggage and easily rectified.  Nice pizza from a place over the road and a good sleep.

Day two - Heathrow to San Diego
While we were having dinner the night before, the hotel filled up with Chinese school kids.  At least six-coaches worth.  That made breakfast an interestingly multi-cultural experience but by 8 we were in a small minibus with the others from our trip who had also elected to stop over, shuttling across the road to Terminal 3.

At this point we got a pleasant surprise.  Unfortunately not a flight upgrade, but the Tour Manager.  Alex Cussins was the guy who had guided us around Texas eight years ago, and here he was again to mange this journey.  Obviously we recognised him, but more surprisingly he remembered us too.  Now he does at least one tour a month and they run between 30 and 40 people on average so he has seen at least 3,800 folks since last time.  Maybe we made more of an impression than we thought, but either way that's good people skills.  This time the group was 37 people - mostly couples but one or two groups of friends, one each of mother/son and mother/daughter combos and a few singletons. All seemed friendly enough on first encounter and I think it is fair to say we got on great throughout the following travels.

Not having flown Virgin before, we were a bit disappointed by the on-board service.  OK, so we had chosen a two-seat at the back so as to get a window (and no stranger) but it really did feel like we were the last in line.  Oddly when we went BA to Toronto last year in roughly the same seats we got served first - funny how the same thing can be different, if you catch my drift.  So they'd run out of the meals we wanted by the time they got to us, and generally the crew seemed a bit bored by the time they reached us on each visit.  And yes, I slept through a good chunk of the flight (there's a theme developing here).

10½ hours later we were queueing to be let in to the USA.  It seemed to take forever for the immigration lines to wiggle their way to the desks, and while we were waiting spotted Verne (mini-me) Troyer who had obviously been up the front of our plane (or even upstairs).  Surrounded by hangers-on who looked like they would happily do a but of body-guarding should the need arise.  He'd not been in London for long as he was posting pics of being searched on the way out of LA only 3 days before...  Anyway, the paperwork was all in order so they let us in and the holiday proper could begin.

With a 3½ hour coach trip.  To be fair that was an hour or more longer than expected due to hideous traffic but still not the best way to first experience California.  Of course the whole holiday was one big coach trip so an extra hour didn't really make much difference in the long term - especially as it was a comfortable coach and Art an excellent driver who would prove a fount of knowledge and good humour throughout the rest of the trip.  A few interesting sights on the drive down to San Diego - Military training grounds, a Nuclear power station with suggestively shaped domes, our first look at the Pacific but the end result was well worth it.

Our base for the first two nights was the Sheraton Hotel and Marina, and it was really rather good.  Lovely room, fab views over said marina, nice food and free wi-fi in the lobby if not the rooms.  But the real appreciation of that was for later after we had a bite to eat and much needed sleep...

Oh, it seems Flickr doesn't want to link to Blogger any more, so click the link above to see the photos!

To be continued.

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