Friday, June 27, 2008

Gee but it's great to be back home

From Sacramento we drove to Las Vegas in two days, stopping in the town of Visalia, CA for the night at a Super 8 motel. After desert, mountains, vineyards and coasts it was to drive through almost Dutch-looking flat areas with lots of agriculture and livestock. Not the most inspiring of drives, but the last stretch through Mojave Desert was more interesting fortunately with as eyecatcher the massive windmill park on tops of the mountains surrounding the Tehachapi pass.
Our last days in the States we were back where we started, Las Vegas. We took it easy to prepare for our trip out, doing some shopping and having an evening stroll over Las Vegas Blvd. The flight back was as tiring as it always is, and this flight we were treated to some of the staples of bad trips: an infant in the seats next to us crying for about 4.5 hours and Marja's bag found missing at Schiphol. Turned out that because of a TSA inspection her bag had remained in Atlanta, fortunately it was delivered to our home the same evening.

Shiphol and the Netherlands looked more or less unchanged to our eyes, it will take some time to get readjusted to the cold, the prices and the people again though.
Still, always nice to sleep in your own bed again and with the cats brought back from their holiday home none the worse for wear and the first battle against jetlag won on points we're all set for a return to normality.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

If you watch this you can't unwatch it

For anyone interested how a Las Vegas wedding looks like, this was ours....

A Capital time

The last two days we spent at Tom's house in Sacramento, CA.
I've known Tom for about 3 years now, he used to be Derrick's neighbour in Sac and we hit it off well. Two years ago he was traveling Europe and Marja and me spent some pleasant evenings with him in Amsterdam.
The first day we arrived in the evening, travelling from San Francisco to Sacramento would normally take about 2 hours but we got into very heavy traffic everywhere we could so we drove it in about 4.5 hours. We went out for some drinks and burgers in the bars around Tom's house.

Yesterday we explored Old Town Sacramento. The city gets put down by most everyone, not least by those currently inhibiting it, but it really is a nice city to visit. The Old Town is a nice area where a few blocks still look like they would have in the 1900s, with some interesting shops and services.
Just strolling around the area was very pleasant, Sacramento is a bit too hot this time of year but there was plenty of shade in the covered boardwalks there.
We finished the day with a quiet evening at home, with some movies and drinks.

Our flight back will be in 3 days in the wee hours already so today we'll set off to slowly make our way back to Las Vegas.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Scaling new Haights

Two days we spent walking around San Francisco taking in the sights and enjoying the city.
Alcatraz was certainly a very fun tip, we didn't know what to expect, it was very enjoyable. We were lucky to have a very bright day and the cruise to the Rock gave us a very nice view of the Bay area. Alcatraz itself is very well preserved all things considering and seeing what conditions were like for the erstwhile inmates.

Yesterday we walked Haight street, a famous San Francisco landmark. Last time I was there I walked it from the bottom upwards, this time we were smart n taking a bus to the top and walk the street from there. Some interesting clothes shops and outright weird books shops were there to be seen and we had a good time.

Today we're heading to Sacramento to visit our friend Tom that lives there.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A new home base

We arrived safely in San Francisco, specifically Redwood City on Monday where we'll stay this week at Derrick's place.
Yesterday we took the Caltrain to San Francisco, and had a pleasant walk through Market Street and Union Square. Highlight was our spending spree at Rasputin, 5 stores of CD's, DVD's and clothing.

Today we'll go do the real tourist thing with a visit to Pier 33 and a trip to Alcatraz.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Another City of Lights

Ah...LA. There's nothing like that place in the world, and all things considered I guess that's a good thing. I insisted we stopped here despite everyone and their donkey advising us against it as I felt any impression Marja would get of California or, indeed, the UsA would be incomplete without experiencing LA.

We had spent the night in Palmdale, CA, a very leisurely prosperous town just an hour's drive from LA, and made our way into The Pride of Southern California in the early afternoon. From a previous visit I knew where to park strategically to partake in the one thing I feel everybody should do at least once: walk Hollywood Boulevard. The weather was nice, the 26C was giving us a breather from the 35C+ temperatures we've been having since setting down in the country, and the Boulevard was as expected: slightly run-down, lots of tourists and more or less the same trinkets and t-shirts sold in dozens of shops. Still, seeing the stars in the pavement is always nice, most of the celebrety impersonators were at least trying their best and it proved to be an enjoyable walk. The only activity we did was walk around Ripley's Believe it or Not museum which was certainly worth the time invested.

We took the US-101 out as we were planning to take the coastal route to San Fransisco and as luck would have it we got a first-hand experience of the thing that LA is perhaps most known for: Confusing freeway exits, overabundance of traffic and a traffic jam or two. If they have traffic like that at 5pm on a Sunday I really, really don't want to be in a car there on a weekday.

We stopped for dinner at Santa Barbara, I always wondered what that place would be like and as it bears the name of one of my dear sisters we figured it would do as well as any place for a stop. Exactly the type of people you see in Amsterdam on the PC Hooftstraat were present there: Slightly too loud in dress and manners, making their way smugly past pompous buildings and overpriced restaurants. That said, we had a decent enough meal there though did not feel compelled to linger or, for that matter, ever return there.

We stopped for the night at a Motel 6 in Buellton, CA, a small community serving as a haven for fastfood chains, motel chains and gas stations.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The journey goes on

After Kingman we set out over the Historic route 66 towards the Grand Canyon Caverns. In spite of what the name implies said caverns are not in fact part of the Grand Canyon, but the air in the caverns flows in from the Grand Canyon, 75 miles through rock.
The caverns and route came highly recommended by a retired miner hanging around a general store in the middle of nowhere a few miles outside of Kingman, and I was glad we visited. The tour of the caverns was very enjoyable, and the whole place breathed a kind of old-fashioned tourism you'll only find in the UsA.

We spent the night in the outskirts of Flagstaff, AZ. We weren't really up to exploring much of this little city save a meal at Granny's Closet. The food there was quite nice, though the staff was a bit flustered having an invasion of half the city in their sportsbar for the NBA finals match.

Today we went to the Grand Canyon. It's a cliche that you cannot adequately describe the experience to someone that hasn't been there, and I will not attempt to do so. Suffice to say we enjoyed ourselves immensely. Apart from the magnificent views the area with traditional Native American crafts and dance demonstrations was very worthwhile.

On our way out we briefly stopped at Bedrock City. Yes, I kid you not, a Flintstones-themed camping with a life-sized replica of Bedrock City. We passed on the experience itself but had an excellent lunch (Dino-dog) at Fred's Diner (where the coffee is 5 cents. Now that's staying true to the back in time theme of the region!)

Tonight we're staying at a motel in Needles, CA. This is one of those little places that looks like a dump at first sight, and turns out to be an awful backwards dump when you get to know it. They haven't even bothered to install traffic lights, and the state of most of the motels would bring a tear to an eye with most property developers. If it weren't for a steady trickle of travelers on Historic Route 66 that runs past it I'm betting the place would have turned ghost town ages ago. It works as an overnight place in any case, we found a decent hotel and will head out to LA tomorrow.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The first pics!

There you have it, first picture of the happy day, made just after the ceremony.
The squinting is because of the sun :-P
(And no - I don't have the secret recipe)

Large size image here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Big Day

Well, yesterday was The Big Day.
After struggling a bit with the white tux I rented which was a worse fit than in the rental shop me and Marja got all ready for the ceremony. Respecting tradition I had not seen her dress before that moment, it really suited her magnificently. Our witness Derrick came over to our room and presented us with some excellent Whiskey to celebrate the imminent events.
At 6pm we were picked up by a white limo at our hotel and driven to the chapel. Inside it looked much as you would expect it to, it did the job just right. It was a bit odd to be there with so few people, but we knew that many were with us in thought. Just before the ceremony started Derrick played us some video messages made by friends, and my family had sent a rose with message to us. These gestures meant a lot to us.

The ceremony felt pretty unreal, the words were quite similar to those seen and heard in a million American movies and series, but when you're participating in them they do get a whole different meaning. Apart from the mechanical aspect of a Las Vegas wedding the personal touches by the minister were quite touching. I felt happy and proud to finish off the ceremony a wife the richer, it was a unique experience.
After being driven back by the limo Derrick treated us to a very nice meal at The Steakhouse at Camelot in Excalibur, 20oz Bone-In N.Y. Steak for me and Derrick and the 14oz N.Y. Steak for Marja paired with a very nice Mirassou Merlot.
We celebrated the rest of the evening in several of the bars in Excalibur and The Luxor.

Derrick made a lot of pictures, he was driving back home on Wednesday, as soon as he's able to he'll provide us with some pictures to post here. The official photographs will be ordered soon. Hopefully I'll have an update soon to show them here.

Today we took it easy after the preceding hectic days, driving out of Las Vegas around 1pm to Hoover dam, and stopping for the day in Kingman, Arizona.
Tomorrow we plan to take part of the Historic Route 66 to the Grand Canyon.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Viva Las Vegas

After quite an arduous trip we made it to Las Vegas. The trip was long, and the experience was not helped by the fact that on 12 seats in our plane the personal entertainment system didn't work, including ours. The delta cabin crew was not very helpful or understanding and seemed not to go out of their way to fix it, it remained broken for the whole trip. Lack of entertainment on a 9-hour flight is not something I would recommend to anyone.

Anyways, we made it in the end, got ourselves a free upgrade from a helful guy at the rental place - we're driving a big black SUV around :-)
Las Vegas is like it's always been I guess - sensory overload of images and sounds. Things do change slowly though, last time I was there you could walk directly on the strip, now there's an intricate system of bridges and walkways for pedestrians which makes navigating the strip an adventure in itself.

We got our Marriage licence very speedily, we had done the neccesary paperwork at home so we were in and out the office in under 10 minutes. With a tux rented we're all set now for today's events :-)

Friday, June 6, 2008

The eve of a journey

In just two days me and Marja will fly to Las Vegas, and will get married there Tuesday the 10th of June, 6:30 pm local time.
we have chosen Graceland Chappel as the venue for our wedding, and will stay in the Luxor hotel. On Wednesday we'll be embarking on our honeymoon which will take us roughly past Grand Canyon, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Yosemite park. We'll take our sweet time traveling and hope to see a lot of the sights of Nevada, Arizona and California.
I'll keep any interested readers updated through this blog.