OK, proper holiday days from now on (although some of them will still be mainly getting from A to B).
Day Three - San Diego
A whole day of seeing the sights - and what a beautiful city to see them in. Early starts (well, earlier than we might have chosen when being on holiday) were to be a feature of the trip, and we were on the bus by 0830 with a local guide in tow as well as Alex for a look around San Diego and over to Coronado where you can look back on the downtown area. In my mind San Diego is most famous for the Comic Convention which now covers anything Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror not just inky pages, and we did see the Convention Centre but there is a lot more on offer. For instance I hadn't realised how big a naval presence there was, parts of the historic Downtown are wonderfully Art Deco and the "Old Town" area was gorgeous. A touch of the Old West (down to a genuine Stagecoach in the Wells Fargo museum and chaps with big fat cigars on the porch of a tobacconist). We ended that part of the tour there and had lunch at a place called O'Hungry's - good food at excellent prices, and thousands of dollars (and other notes) signed and stuck on the walls. Given that Alex and Art went straight in there when we reached the Old Town we reckoned it would be reasonable, and thoroughly enjoyed it, as did a few others from our bus. And especially when an entire coach load of Chinese tourists arrived for their lunch and basically took the joint over. Luckily we had been served by then... One of our rules for eating away from home is to try and work out where the locals go, and failing that to at least see what the guide/driver do as they always know good spots.
San Diego as seen from Coronado
When we were looking at things to do on the holiday, we did consider spending the afternoon of this day at the Zoo. But it would really have needed a full day to even begin to do justice to the amount of things on offer there (Pandas will just have to wait for another time, or a trip to Scotchland) so we took up the optional harbour cruise offer instead. And were really glad that we did. Two hours on the water which reinforced the naval presence (the tour guide for that was ex-navy himself and knew every vessel we passed from Aircraft Carriers down to the tiniest of Tugs and Submarines). We also got to see pelicans in the wild as well as a bunch of sea lions just hanging around the wharves.
The rest of the afternoon we spent hanging about the Embarcadero area, looking in shops, eating ice creams and ship-watching. I would have liked to visit the USS Midway (aircraft carrier turned museum complete with planes) or the other ships in the maritime museum collection, but there wasn't time and we were all beginning to flag a little from the time difference. There was a bit of grumbling among the group about having too much time to wait for our transfer back to the hotel, but nobody went as far as to get a bus or taxi earlier. And actually the enforced hanging around gave us a chance to properly meet folks and get to know each other - which I am sure helped with the overall enjoyment in later days.
For dinner that night Alex arranged to take us up to the Homestyle Buffet restaurant, which did exactly what it said on the door and had a hundred or so dishes to choose from. All very tasty (Joan adored the coconut cream pie).
Day Four - San Diego to Scottsdale
Time to leave the coast for now and head inland and into the desert. Our first stop was Palm Springs which, frankly, didn't live up to expectations and was generally regarded by all our fellow travellers as a wasted opportunity. According to Art it added about an hour and a half of driving rather than taking a more direct line to Scottsdale which, when added to the time spent in Palm Springs would perhaps have been more enjoyable if we had blasted through to Scottsdale and got there three or four hours earlier.
One trouble with an organised tour such as this is not getting long enough in some places. You are always on a fixed schedule with hotels expecting arrivals at certain times, restrictions on driver hours enforcing breaks and so forth. So we only had an hour and a half to explore the city and that wasn't enough to give us a particularly good impression. Certainly I failed to see what has attracted the stars out from LA for all these years. OK, it is in the desert so nice and warm, but then so are many other places about the same distance away. The main street was mainly places to eat and souvenir type shops which again didn't inspire us as a destination to linger in. Again, this could be linked to the short time available as there were a couple of museums and galleries in sight, but no time to appreciate them properly. If we'd had a full day, or even an afternoon in town we could have had a good look around some of the cultural bits and perhaps got a better impression. As it was we had a short wander up and down the road, looked at a few t-shirts and then had an early lunch.
We had hoped to perhaps get a sandwich or something to eat on the coach while the journey continued, giving us more time to look around, but after about 40 minutes we hadn't found a single vendor of takeaway food of any description so plumped for Ruby's Diner and a sit down meal (again Art and Alex had headed in there, so we knew the food would be OK). And mine certainly was - I'm a sucker for an all-day breakfast anyway, but this one was particularly tasty! Joan had a veggie sandwich which started out OK, but she wasn't sure on the second half - something tasting old/rotten and so it was left unfinished. I'm not sure anything was really inedible or if it was just unusual flavours, but there you go.
The rest of the afternoon was spent trundling through the desert, with just a break at a truck stop to break up the monotony. All of which meant we didn't arrive at Scottsdale until after five, which was a real pity.
We had a couple of nights there back in 2006 and were quite looking forward to revisiting the Old Town. Especially as this time our hotel was literally across the road from it, rather than needing a bus journey. However by the time we arrived exhaustion had set in, and by the time we were ready to go out the shops were all shutting. As a result we just joined a couple of our new friends and ate in the hotel. Nice food and excellent laughs, but a shame and not what we had wanted from the day.
Day Five – Scottsdale to Flagstaff
Now that really doesn't do justice to the day as a description! This was a day re-visiting old haunts for Joan and I and as such was a blast. The morning stop was spent in Sedona. We only had an hour and a half or so in town this time around, so no chance to reprise the jeep tour into the desert we took back in 2006, but it is such a lovely little community that being limited to the town centre hardly mattered. A chance to see the red rocks again was tonic for the soul, and a bit of shopping went down well too.
We had expected a diversion next, as the road through Oak Creek Canyon had suffered a landslide earlier in the year and was closed for repairs. But much to our joy it had been re-opened the day before our arrival, so we were able to head north that way after all. It is a lovely drive which we had done southbound previously, so it was nice to see in the other direction. Beautiful wooded hillsides and some great rock formations. We then pressed on north, through Flagstaff and various bits of forest (spotting a couple of deer and an Elk as we did so) and on to the Grand Canyon.
Having done the helicopter flight experience last time, we decided to stay on the ground this time, but have more time at the rim to explore and eat ice cream. It was a glorious afternoon and we had a great time wandering along a bit, looking over the edge and browsing the native artefacts in the Hopi House store. It is a bit of a cliché, but the place really is staggeringly beautiful and just huge. I have been to Niagara Falls four or five times now but it still catches the heart and takes the breath away on each visit, and I suspect the Canyon is the same. I’d love to spend a night or two up there one day, just to see it in the dawn and dusk, and maybe catch a sunset over the edge. Many photos were taken that day it has to be said (including the Grand Canyon Railway and several buses, but then it wouldn't be me without them).
Canyon, Grand variety
Our hotel in Flagstaff was also somewhere we had stayed before, which was nice. We had a drink with a couple of ladies from Norwich (and they asked to see my ID, which I decided to take as a compliment at age 43) then went down to the Galaxy Diner for dinner. OK, so we had done a diner the day before in Palm Springs, but we had enjoyed this one last time and it is ON route 66 so was a bit of an essential visit. Lovely food to round off a great day (a burger in sourdough toast for me, with proper cherry coke featuring your actual cherries).