Planning a Trip

I’m unemployed and have been for 10 months now and I’m kind of enjoying it. It’s affording me the opportunity to travel if I so wish, and travel I have, just not as much as I envisaged this time a year ago.

The main reason for that is money, although I was given a redundancy payment, I know it won’t last forever, so I have been careful with it. The quicker it dwindles, the quicker I have to find a job. By my reckoning if I want to have ‘money for a rainy day’ I need to be looking for work from September onwards.

So before I rejoin the rat race, it’s time to plan another jaunt.

Last year I went camping for a few weeks through Somerset, Devon & Cornwall. I ended up at Sennen near to Land’s End for a few days. As is the thing to do at Land’s End I had my photo taken at the sign.DSC_0357Which prompted two things:
1. I got a haircut!
2. I resolved that I would journey to John O’Groats within a year.

Well that year will be up in a few months so the trip I’m planning is to drive to Scotland, taking in a few places along the way. I’ve been thinking about this trip on and off for a few months now. I thought about taking the sleeper train from London to Fort William and hiring a car but that seemed like an easy option. For a long time my plan was to drive from my home in Wales to Scotland but after a brief conversation with an old friend I’m now leaning towards doing the whole end-to-end trip instead, but over two weeks to spread out the miles, as I will be alone.

I only have a rough plan at the moment, and it is very rough but here it is. The trip will take place in early June.

Day 1 – Drive from Brecon to Falmouth
Day 2 – Stay in Falmouth. I visited last year for a few hours and I didn’t get to see Pendennis Castle or have a good look around, it’s a lovely place and only an hour from Land’s End. Rick Stein has a posh chippy there too.
Day 3 – Drive from Falmouth to Land’s End. Get my photo at the sign. Drive from Land’s End to Burnham-on-Sea and stay overnight at my Sisters home. I’ve not asked her if she’s reading this..erm Hi!
Day 4 – Drive Burnham-on-Sea to Kendal
Day 5 – Kendal to Keswick to Lockerbie to Fort William. The stop in Keswick is to see the Pencil Museum as featured in the British film ‘Sightseers’. Lockerbie is to see the memorial for the plane bombing victims, I saw the American memorial Cairn in Arlington Cemetery when I was in Washington D.C. last year.
Day 6 – Fort William to Drumnadrochit on Loch Ness.
Day 7 – Relax after all those miles! Maybe a trip on the Loch & the Culloden battlefield is close by.
Day 8 – Drumnadrochit to John O’Groats. Get a picture with the sign.
Day 9 – John O’Groats to Drumnadrochit

From there it gets a bit sketchy! I’ve been told to cross into England via Carter Bar and I would like to see Hadrian’s Wall, Thirsk (James Herriot), Harrogate (Where I was born), Crich Tramway Museum (Sightseers) & that may be more than enough, perhaps too much for one trip.

That’s where I’m at currently. I will continue to plan and assess and plan and tinker and plan some more through the next few weeks before I make a final decision as to what I’m going to do.

If you have any bright ideas let me know!

Last Day, Leather and a Long Flight Home

So it had arrived, the day of departure. We weren’t leaving until the afternoon so we still had a few hours to kill.

This was the view from my hotel room when I woke up, a bit misty or perhaps its fog.IMG_2006I headed for the Cable Car Museum, which was a short walk away. The museum itself is okay, it has the history behind the system but the most interesting part and the reason I went was this is where the cables all meet.

I have no pictures! but its pretty amazing to see the cables all at one spot, knowing they are pulling cars all over this area of the city.
Some others from the tour were also making use of their remaining time by visiting the museum.

On the walk back I got some pictures to try and show the angle of the streets; I’m not sure they tell the whole story.IMG_2007IMG_2013Near the hotel I finally captured a moving cable car.IMG_2015Once back at the hotel, there was just time to double and triple check the luggage before heading downstairs to gather with the rest of the group.

In my last post I mentioned the Folsom Street Fair and it’s leather clad devotees. When I got downstairs I regaled the group of my adventures across the city the previous night, the gig and the leather men on the bus.

As we headed towards the airport we went through the main part of the city, parallel to the streets that lead to Folsom Street. It was here that semi naked leather clad people started appearing, much to the amusement of the group, especially the ladies.

There were lots of men in leather and PVC, and some women too which appeased the husbands amongst the group! As we got closer to the area where the fair was taking place, the amount of clothing worn started to reduce dramatically. One guy was only wearing a hat, and everything was on show and swinging in the breeze.

My Youtube history makes for some interesting reading as I’ve searched for a video to give you dear reader, an opportunity to see what it’s like for yourself. Unfortunately the video wont play, it doesn’t appear to be age restricted as all the naughty bits are well pixilated. If I’m honest the video is quite tame compared to what we actually saw; but if you want to see it and more click below.

Click here for the video

The flight back was long, 10 and a half hours and I couldn’t get to sleep properly and only dozed a bit. I sat next to two young Americans who were interesting to talk to.

Back in Blighty, I rode the tube back to Paddington, before heading to my hotel in Waterloo. I wasn’t due to check in for another 2 hours but pleaded and must have looked tired enough for them to let me in early.  I literally crashed into bed and slept for a few hours.

I would have just stayed in bed if it wasn’t for the theatre tickets I had booked. It seemed like a great idea months before the trip but after the sleepless flight and only three hours sleep since we left San Francisco I was left ruing my purchase. At this point I had been nearly 24 hours without proper sleep.

The play I went to see was Hedda Gabler at the Old Vic. The star of the show was Sheridan Smith who is known in the UK as a comic actress, here playing the Hamlet of women’s roles. The performance was brilliant but I struggled to keep my eyes open, only just making it through. Once it finished I went straight back to bed, and as they say ‘was asleep before my head hit the pillow’.

An uneventful train journey back to Wales was followed by 45 minutes on a bus and then I was home.

Before we departed from the tour guide, the marvellous Roz who I have the utmost respect and admiration for, gave us an information sheet with various figures on it. I shall add them to my next post.

A Long Walk in San Francisco

I was determined to fill my last full day in San Francisco and the USA, so spent most of the 18 hours of the day on the go. This is going to be a long one, so bear with me!

Having had the briefest tastes of the Golden Gate Bridge I wanted to go back and have a better look. Before I went to bed, I researched the numerous bus routes in San Francisco to find the one that would take me near or better, over the bridge. As luck would have it there would be a bus just after 7am which stopped just down the block from the hotel.

So I was up early and ready for the day, and so were the workman doing whatever workman do, the issue for me was that they were working exactly where the bus should have stopped. So as I wandered down the street trying to work out where it would stop, it rolled straight passed me and back the way I came. I’d missed it!

As I trundled back to the hotel I re-assessed my plans for the day, perhaps I could get a later bus, or do something else instead but the thing was, I really wanted to go to the bridge. Outside the hotel were three taxis, who I haggled with in turn trying to see who would drive over the bridge, the sticking point was the toll they would have to pay on their way back. I can’t remember how much it cost me, let’s just say it was more than the bus.

I was dropped off on the north end of the bridge where the coach stopped the day before. DSC_0310I knew it was going to take a little while to walk across the bridge and I was fully prepared for it, or at least I thought I was. I’ve had an issue with heights for a long time, it’s not so much a fear of heights, rather a fear that I will throw myself off of a high structure. This isn’t a suicidal feeling more a ‘I wonder what it would be like’ feeling, I’ve written about this before. The French call it L’appel du vide or Call of the void.

I thought I had this feeling and the fear part in check, however they both came back not long into my walk across the bridge.

Walking across the bridge, you are over land for quite a way but still high up.DSC_0318 The day I walked across, there were a few other (more confident) walkers and lots of cyclists. The traffic moves across the bridge at a fair pace too.

Looking back towards Horseshoe Bay. It’s roughly at this point where I am only just about getting over the water.DSC_0329A long way down.DSC_0330This tanker gives an indication as to how wide this stretch of water is.DSC_0321A long way to go, the bridge is nearly two miles long. This photo is taken from the pathway that goes around the tower, what you can’t see and what happens in each of the photos whilst on the bridge, is my left hand gripping the railing. Yes, I couldn’t even stand there and take a photo. There are people walking, running and cycling passed me and I’m holding on to take a picture!DSC_0331This is the bridge patrol vehicle that travels up and down the walkway, as a sad reality of this bridge is that people commit suicide by jumping off into the water below.DSC_0339Dotted along the span are these signs.DSC_0353It may be crass but having an issue with heights, as I walked across what sprung to my mind was ‘how do people jump off, it’s so high up’ they must have an immense amount of courage to stand on the railing or on the wrong side of it before making that final step.

There is a film I watched a few years ago called ‘The Bridge‘ by filmmaker Eric Steel, who had cameras recording the bridge which captured people making their final leaps. The film talks to the families of those who have jumped and even a survivor, as people do occasionally survive the jump albeit with terrible injuries.

DSC_0340DSC_0363Alcatraz Island in the haze.DSC_0352I made gentle progress across, feeling happier as I got over halfway, there was a gentle breeze blowing that felt like a gale, and I shrank against the railing nearest the road whenever anyone had to come past me.

A look into Fort Point which looks better than it did at the end of ‘Point Blank (1967)’ starring Lee Marvin, I’ve also read that it features in Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’ but I’ve not seen that – which is remiss of me as a film fan, for Christmas I bought myself the recently released Hitchcock collection, so I can rectify that soon.

DSC_0365Safely on the other side and terra firma. It took me about 45 minutes to walk from end to end.DSC_0372The man who built the bridge; Joesph B. Strauss.

DSC_0375 DSC_0376On this side of the bridge there are several hands on bits for you to play with. They show how the bridge works in different weather conditions, I think there were also examples of the different designs that were considered at the time.DSC_0379Getting up and out early, meant I hadn’t had any breakfast so I considered getting the bus back into the city but thought better of it and just kept walking.DSC_0385I walked along a path that followed the shoreline and ended up at the Warming Hut Cafe. I had a pain au chocolat and a hot chocolate. I sat in the cafe but the view just outside was pretty much the photo below, not a bad place for breakfast.

DSC_0395There was a Park Ranger along with lots of others on a wharf just to the right of this picture. Most were fishing but the Ranger was catching rather large Dungeness crabs with a line for a talk to some youngsters later in the day.

Fed and watered I carried on down the shoreline path. There were lots of people about now, running with and without dogs, walking with and without dogs, cycling with or without dogs, you get the idea. The weather was lovely just warm enough even though it wasn’t much passed 9am. I have to say, there were a lot of attractive women bouncing towards me or away from me in tight running gear, which made the walk even more pleasant.

Of course walking here you can always see the bridge, I stopped and had another look at it and saw the cloud closing in. I was thankful for two reasons; 1. I could get a cool picture of the bridge & 2. I wasn’t on the bridge in the cloud!


Walking along I came to a sandy beach that was mainly full of dogs and their owners, I’m a little wary of dogs but I wanted a rest and to take in the scenery.

I approached the waters edge and decided to have a paddle. When we had our initial tour by coach, the tour guide reiterated something I was already aware of and that is the water is very cold here. With that in mind in gingerly stepped forward.

My feet were in that water for perhaps a minute and they were numb it was that cold. Which made me think back to the three guys who escaped from Alcatraz and supposedly swam or used an improvised boat to reach the mainland; well if they did and didn’t freeze to death in the process good on ’em.

When my feet felt like they belonged to me again, I carried on and I reached the Marina and Marina Park Green, a thin patch of green space along the waters edge. The houses that overlook the bay are really nice.

DSC_0414A San Francisco fire engine was parked up, I’m not sure why but the fireman with it put up the ladder and climbed it.DSC_0419DSC_0420If you’ve read everything I’ve written about this trip you’ll know that I was told to do random things; I played chess in New York and in San Francisco I played football or soccer as it is known here.

After taking photos of the fire engine I turned my attention to what was happening on the green, which wasn’t a lot. The only thing happening was six guys playing football. So I stood and watched, the price of being a football fan is that you will watch football anywhere regardless of the level being played. So I watched for about 10 minutes, as I was about to leave another player turned up, during a break in play asked if he could join in and he did. So now it’s 3 against 4 and I’m itching to play just to even it up.

Holding me back was my lack of fitness, the fact I’d walk nearly 4 miles and I didn’t know really how much further I had to walk and that I had on walking shoes that aren’t really meant for football. But I ignored all that and as the players stopped for a water break I wandered over and asked if I could play. I was welcomed into the fray and played for about 30 minutes which was just about all my dodgy fitness could manage.

I’m not a brilliant football player and the guys I played with were good, the only downside was a few of them were quite serious about it, and it only seemed to be a morning knockabout, which was another reason I cut short my participation. That and I nearly broke a someones forearm….with my face. Having played football with soldiers for 14 years, you learn to hit or get hit. The ball was near our goal, one of my teammates attacked it as did one of the opposition, and I came in from the side and took them both out, receiving a forearm across the face in the process, it didn’t hurt but the guy who hit me was howling in pain. All good fun though.

Here’s where I played football, which considering I’ve only played in a gym or football fields around Brecon and Crickhowell, ranks as the nicest and most picturesque place I’ve played, especially as it’s in sight of the bridge.

I left they guys to continue their game and headed onwards towards the city centre.

Looking down Filmore Street.DSC_0425I walked through a park which I’ve just found out is called Fort Mason Green, a really nice space but not enough shade for me to stop. It was getting a lot warmer now, having played football probably didn’t help my temperature either.

There were 4 maybe 5 guys playing a game here, I don’t know what it was but they appeared to be in two teams, and stood around a net or elasticated surface, they threw a ball down onto it and had to use their hands to knock it back down again until it was missed. I don’t know what it was called, the only thing I could think of was American Handball which is normally played against a wall and as they didn’t have a wall they used the net or whatever it was they had to bounce the ball off of.

DSC_0430Writing this months after the event, I was going to write ‘from here I went down Van Ness Avenue’ but because I took some photos of buildings around here I can correctly type; from here I went down Polk Street.

This building on the corner of Bay & Polk (or Polk & Bay I’m not sure which way around it goes!) caught my eye because of the fire escapes which are painted the same colour as the building.DSC_0431Of course once I’d seen one, I saw many.DSC_0434 DSC_0435For those that know San Francisco, or want to look it up, I walked from Bay Street all the way to California Street. I walked down this street for lunch, which I’ve remembered I had at the New Village Cafe which was a cafe recommended for our group to use, as it was good, cheap and just around the corner from the hotel. On they way, about a block from the cafe I went passed a place called Good Vibrations which is also the Antique Vibrator Museum. I didn’t go in but if I’m ever back in San Francisco I may do so, just for fun.

Once I had lunch I found a cable car to take me into the shopping area, which as I was now feeling a little tired, just kind of passed me by as I just wandered around. I wasn’t looking for anything and only went just to say I had. I missed a cable car to take me back up the hill, so walked up the steepest paved street I’ve ever walked up and caught another car back to the top of California Street and collapsed back into my hotel room for a well earned sit down….and the day wasn’t over yet.

Before coming to the US I’d made tentative plans to go to a bar and see a band, the lead singer of whom I used to listen to in a previous band. Up till that day I still wasn’t sure if I was going to go, but it would have been an opportunity missed. So I once again got familiar with the bus schedules and once again I was lucky to find that bus went from near the hotel, and I didn’t miss it this time.

I wont recount that part of the evening as I’ve already posted a very fawning account here. I’ll just add that I wrote it at nearly 2am, I’d had a few drinks and my alcohol tolerance is very low.

It’s not that far from the mark though, I really enjoyed the evening, getting to see, hear and meet Emily was a thrill and seeing Go Betty Go whose album has been played a lot since I returned was also a highlight.

Before the bands played I met some Americans in the bar. I was there early as I knew the bar sold food. I sat down and it was just like those bars you seen in films, long and with a mirror behind. I ordered a coke and a burger which was really really good. Already sat at the bar were three youngish people (I found out later they were 25 to early 30’s). They were slowly getting drunk and chatting to the barman. Someone mentioned music and Green Day, being a fan I listened in without looking at them. One of the guys said he likes the new Green Day stuff but as a fan of Dookie his teenage self wants to kick his ass, I found this funny because it’s true, I laughed and agreed with him and the ice was broken.

As I finished my burger and they realised I was British they joined me and we chatted about all things American and British; particularly guns. As we are now unfortunately familiar due to the recent events in Newtown CT, a lot of Americans own and bear arms. It was no different with these three people. They were San Francisco natives but two of them, a married couple, live in Arizona, and the husband has a gun collection, ranging from pistols up to automatic weapons. We went back and forth in a lighthearted manner about gun control and ‘did they really need them?’, what they found intriguing was the fact that British police don’t routinely carry guns, but as I said to them, they have no need to do that…yet.

As they were all ready a little tipsy, some drinks came my way. Those that are familiar with my drinking habits know that I rarely drink and it’s even rarer for me to actually buy a drink! Although that has changed, on a recent night out I went out with £80 and came back with £5.

Anyway, I kept dashing to and from the bar to check if the band I was waiting for had started. I told my new friends that I would be back later, but they had planes to catch in the morning so I wasn’t sure how long they would be staying. My intention had been to see the band I came to see and then leave but I ended up staying for the whole show. So when I got back into the bar, they had all ready left, and I felt a bit bad for not buying them a drink.

I’m going to flash forward a bit now to early November. As I felt bad for not buying a few drinks, or even saying good bye to the three very nice Americans, I did they only thing I could do, which was track them down on the internet! I could only remember one first name, that of the wife and what she did for a living, which is a specialised type of work for a specific multinational company. So I was able to get a message to her via LinkedIn, firstly to apologise for not buying a drink and secondly to thank her, her husband and brother for their hospitality and kindness, and to say that if they are ever in the UK, to let me know and I’ll return the favor.

Now back to September – Music finished and a little tipsy, I made my way to the bus stop. My sense of direction let me down a bit and I made a very wide circle around different blocks to eventually find it. The music level had left me a bit deaf, and the alcohol in need of the toilet. I was picking the bus up at the bus station, so made my way inside, only to make a very comic about face as their was a line of very burly and scary looking Police inside. I wandered around the outside to see if there was another way in, alas there was not. So I went back and as people were just walking in and passed the Police, I did too. I was now quite desperate and was looking for a sign that would indicate I had found the right place but I could see no sign, only more Police.

I asked one of them where the toilets were and he told me three times, remember I’m deaf, before pointing to a door about 20 feet straight in front of me. He didn’t look happy, but I was relieved…in more ways than one.

The bus journey back was uneventful, that is unless you call men dressed in a lot of leather getting on the bus an event. Well that’s what happened and no one batted an eyelid, this is San Francisco after all. I got talking to a man not dressed in leather; in hindsight I think he was chatting me up, but hey ho I’ll take the compliment. He told me that there was a leather and fetish thing on that weekend called the ‘Folsom Street Fair’. A lot of people would be attending, not just gay people but straights who like to go down and photograph all the naked people walking about.

As he spoke I was thinking that had we been in the city one more day I would have gone for a look; as luck would have it, if you can call it that, I and the rest of the tour group would get a close up look before leaving the city.

I made it back to the hotel sometime after 1am and before 2am, which is when I wrote my original blog post before crashing out.

My American adventure was nearly at and end.

Lou Valagran – Photo update

I wrote back in August about I trip I went on to the South of France. You can read that here.

At the time I wrote the post, I only had my photos, which didn’t feature me that much. Now all the photos taken have been collated and sent out.

I looked at them at the Youth Club with some of those young people who were on the trip, at home I had a better look through and didn’t see too many of me; which I wasn’t upset about as I don’t photograph very well! So knowing I wanted to update my original post, I looked through them again last night, and found myself in more pictures than I had done before, which was nice. For obvious reasons I can’t post a lot of them due to the young people being the main focus of the pictures.

The one’s I can are below.

This was taken on taken during the first day and it probably isn’t too long after we capsized. The two youngsters in my canoe had a tendency to take their paddles out of the water at critical moments, which they have done here, so I’m probably barking at them “paddle, paddle, paddle”DSCF9659Also on the first day, at a break possibly for lunch. I’ve no idea what I’m saying, although they had all been told to get out of the water, which is most likely what the PGL staff member on the right is saying too. That or I am telling them all what a good job they were doing – you decide.DSCF9644The second day, and the second leap from height into the water. I was trying to be different and spin myself around, at the same time playing for time and working up the courage to jump! Hence the looks of amusement from the three guys behind me.

DSCF9744About to hit!!DSCF9745Hopefully the trip will be on again next year, and hopefully I will be lucky enough to be asked to go. Then I can go down the river with the confidence that I’ve done it once, and can do it again!

San Francisco Days

DSC_0285We had arrived in San Francisco in the dark and we awoke to find a lovely morning with blue skies and sunshine. On our way up the coast, the forecast had been for some chilly temperatures but thankfully it wasn’t too bad. Only getting chilly when there was a breeze.

As is customary when we arrived in a new city, we boarded a coach and had a comprehensive tour. San Francisco was one of the places that I was looking forward to visiting. I knew we would be going to Alcatraz as part of the tour and there were a few things I wanted to do whilst in the city.

It wasn’t an expansive list; see the Golden Gate Bridge closeup, walk down Lombard Street, see the sea lions at Pier 39 & ride a cable car. I managed 3 out of 4.

Being a film fan the impression I had was of cars flying through the air and down hills. I always thought that was a little bit of camera trickery, making the angle of the hills a little steeper, well it’s no trick, the hills really are that steep.

Our coach kept mostly to the flat parts of the city, only venturing down hill when necessary, and going down hill in San Francisco in a coach is an experience.

My plan for the day was as follows: Coach tour, Alcatraz before walking to Lombard Street. Thankfully for my legs the coach stopped at Lombard Street a.k.a the most crooked street in the world.

I’ve seen pictures of this street, even gone down it via Google Streetview and it was something to see. There were a lot of tourists around here, it’s a definite must see if you visit. The one thing that is difficult to do, is photograph it, I was trying to stand in the road and get a similar angle to the Google car but there were a lot of cars coming down.

This is how it looks on Google Maps:

Now these weren’t locals driving down the road, I doubt many do, these were all tourists. Many had a front seat passenger filming their descent – much like this.

DSC_0208The tour moved on, we walked down the hill to the waiting coach. The tour guide pointed out some tourists walking up the hill (not fun) and said it’s always best to get a tour guide who knows the city as they make you walk down and not up.

We traveled along the famous Haight Street and passed the cross street of Haight-Ashbury the centre of hippy culture in the late 1960’s. The plan was to continue on to the Castro District one of the first gay neighborhoods and where Harvey Milk had his headquarters. That was the plan and as they say about the best laid plans of mice and men…they go awry.

The coach driver turned right onto Masonic Avenue and that’s where we stopped for the best part of an hour. Unfortunately for the driver where a drain was situated had created a drop by the kerb and the back of the bus got stuck.

IMG_1986I didn’t take any photos to spare the blushes of the driver, that is until a transport authority vehicle arrived, it’s the milk float looking thing.

The unscheduled stop meant we were able to grab a coffee and a bite to eat at the People’s Cafe, a very trendy hangout. I think the regulars were a little bemused as 35 tourists bundled in.

As I was enjoying my coffee and muffin one of the ladies from the group came over and said “have you seen that woman dancing in the window”, I looked out and across the street but couldn’t see anyone. “Over there, she’s dressed in white”, and with that I saw her. Well I’ve never seen anything like it, so I went over and had a better look.

IMG_1985I wasn’t the only one looking, most of the men in the group made their way across to have a gander. The photo doesn’t do her justice, so here is some video.

The first voice is our tour guide, the woman is Sue one of our group, the next is Ernie who is Sues hubby and finally with “That’s just bizarre” is me. At the end of the clip there is a man walking from right to left and that is Tony from Cardiff.

Oddly no one went into the shop, so I did. It was a very hippy trippy shop, lots of tie die stuff. I had a chat with the dancer, whose name I can’t remember (next time I go away I’m writing this stuff down as it happens). I asked her how long she had to dance for, she told me that she dances for as long as she wants, she chooses the clothes and the music. Seemed like a good deal to me.
IMG_1991bEventually a tow truck arrived and wow what a vehicle. Not like the puny ones you see over here. I didn’t get a photo but Sue who was also on the tour has kindly let me use one she (or Don) took.

tow truckIt made short work of the problem and had the coach free in no time. The city tour was cut short as we had to get to the Alcatraz Ferry, which we made with minutes to spare.

Once on the ferry I made my way to the front to get some pictures of the island as we approached, and also a quick snippet of video. You may want to turn your sound down, as the only thing you will hear is the wind.

As we got closer it was easy to see that the island isn’t that big and it’s a long way from the main land; so could those three prisoners who escaped in 1962, as seen in Escape from Alcatraz, really have made back to the main land…hmm I’m not sure.DSC_0228DSC_0247DSC_0244The island has been used as a lighthouse base, a military fortification, a military prison and most famously a federal prison from 1933 to 1963. In 1969 the island was occupied by a large group of ingenious Americans and there are hints to there occupation around the site.

This sign is located at the dock.DSC_0259The easiest way to find out about the history is to take an audio guide, which is narrated by former guards and prisoners. Alcatraz is a very busy place, so there’s a fair bit of jostling to actually see inside the cells, or the information boards. I went around the Island & Prison with my two fellow single travelers; Peter & Pauline.

DSC_0265DSC_0273DSC_0290Eventually the tour takes you outside into the exercise yard. A lot of visitors just stood at the top of the steps leading down into the yard, but I went and had a look around.DSC_0277It was incredibly windy as I walked across the yard to the one doorway that leads to another part of the island. The wind was so strong that I had to fight my way back across to the steps. Quite cool to think that Al Capone probably sat on these steps.

As we made our way to the obligatory shop I wondered about all the films shot here, and that there hadn’t been a mention of them, other than the real life escape as portrayed in the Clint Eastwood film ‘Escape from Alcatraz’. So I was happy to find a section of the shop that had film posters displayed.DSC_0293I bought some souvenirs here and a book all about films based on the Alcatraz legend.

Before I left I got a photo taken with the Dragon.DSC_0305Alcatraz is certainly a must see if you visit San Francisco, and I would certainly visit again as the National Park Service have guided tours, which I’m sure would be very interesting.

Once back on the mainland we decided to try and find some food, as I started to type this sentence I couldn’t remember where we ate but memory is a wonderful thing and it has just come back to me!!

So we wandered along passed Pier 39 which is full of restaurants and shops but they were all pretty full so we kept on going, and going and going, until we spotted a cable car stop. In the morning we were all advised to buy a pass that would enable us to jump on and off the cars during our stay, so we got into the queue and waited, and waited, and waited until finally it was our turn to board. They don’t move fast that’s for sure.IMG_1996We went as far as we could before we got off to walk to the next stop that would enable us to get back to the hotel. As far as I could tell there is no defined timetable for the cars, they just appear when they like. So we sat at the stop for a while before riding the car west up California Street. Peter and Pauline sensibly sat inside the car, while I rode the outside, which was an experience. Standing there hanging onto the rail as we went up and down the inclines, with cars alongside that were so close I could have just put my feet on them was amazing. I only did it the once though.

We were staying at the Holiday Inn Golden Gateway on Van Ness, so the cable car was handy as it stopped at the top of California which is a street leading onto Van Ness. The following evening would be our last in the States, and the tour guide had arranged for a meal at Grubstake one block down from the hotel. I wouldn’t make that as I had other plans, and as it was close we decided to check it out on this evening instead.

The family that run it is from Portugal so the food is very good. I had an everything omelette which contains the following: 3 large egg omelette with cheese, vegetables, mushrooms, ham, bacon, sour cream, spinach & sausage. Plus home fries and toast.

I managed the majority of the omelette and some of the fries, this being the States the portion size was large, but it was amazingly tasty.

Food done, it was time to chill out and I think I went to bed early! But not before planning the start to the next morning.

LA to San Francisco aka A Very Long Day

Another brief stay in another city was at an end. Our next and final destination was San Francisco but that would mean a whole day on the train.
The journey was supposed to take around 10 hours but ended up being over 12. The flight back to the UK would only take 10 and a half!

Thankfully Amtrak trains are very comfortable and unlike British trains, you have to have a ticket to get on, so no overcrowding.

Although we had been in LA for a day and had technically gone Coast to Coast the day before, it was only once we’d glimpsed the Pacific Ocean from the train that we all realised we had done it.

DSC_0111DSC_0118DSC_0121Me at a stop in Santa Barbara – it was extremely hot there.DSC_0131

DSC_0146Another brief stop and leg stretch at San Luis Obispo. This gives a sense of just how big the Amtrak trains are.DSC_0168

Looking down the track, if you zoom in (or get really close to the screen) you can see the front of the train in the distance – and that’s not really the front, there is another engine out of the shot!!DSC_0171

Looking down at the Highway.DSC_0181DSC_0189Despite the trip taking 12 hours, it was a good trip. The scenery was really interesting. At one point we passed a NASA facility and could see rockets and other space related equipment. It was also quite nice just to sit, look out of the window, listen to some music and relax, as there hadn’t been a great deal of relaxing on this trip, at least not by me.

We arrived in San Francisco after dark, and the train station is located in Oakland, so we had to drive over the Bay Bridge which gave us a great view of the city all lit up, and in the distance we could just make out the lights of the Golden Gate Bridge, but more on that another time.

The Queen Mary

A little while later we found ourselves in Long Beach and within sight of the Queen Mary.

A few of the group made the obvious comparison with the Titanic, we would find out later that the Queen Mary is in fact larger than the Titanic. The Queen Mary is longer by nearly 140 feet, and a mere 6 feet taller.

The Queen Mary first sailed in 1936, She was a troop ship in WW2 before returning to handling fee paying passengers. She retired in 1967 and was permanently moored in Long Beach, opening to tourists in 1971.

Once on board we were given the keys to our cabins, and we all experienced the maze like structure of the passenger decks. The corridors all look the same and it’s a little confusing to find your way about, as if you take a wrong turn you end up in another corridor that is decorated and looks exactly like the one you have just come from.

Later in the afternoon we would be having a tour by the ‘Captain’ of the ship, this left a little time to explore Long Beach itself. On our way in I had spotted a few shops to have a look at; cheap jeans and a sports shop come to mind as I type this.

So a few brave souls went to the bus stop to catch the bus into the shopping district of Long Beach. The bus route was rather interesting as it skirted the are we wanted but never seemed to get close enough for us to get off, just as we thought we would be heading back to the Queen Mary, the bus went where we wanted to go.

I went off on my own to have a look at the shops, which turned out to be a bust, the cheap jeans were cheap but the shop owner looked proper dodgy and I had to bluff my way out of the shop as he stood in my way!! I had just enough time to grab a sandwich at a 7-11 before getting the bus back, or so I thought.

I knew the route back would be equally circuitous as the journey in but I didn’t reckon on the driver, who seemed unaware of traffic signals – green means you can go! He sat at one set of lights letting the light cycle from green back to red and then green before he went. The route takes in the aquarium at which point the driver decided this would be a great point to have a toilet break. I actually shouted at him “where are you going??” he replied “toilet break, you going to the Queen Mary?” with that he got off, thankfully he didn’t have to stay long and we were on our way.

The tour was due to start at 2pm and I felt like a character in a film, you know the one, he’s dashing across the city to make his appointment and just makes it. I got into the lobby with a minute to spare. As I arrived the Captain started his spiel.Our tour was just for the group, I don’t think the public get this particular tour. We seemed to go in lot’s of places that he had to unlock before we went in.

This picture shows the shopping area, which is pretty much as it was in the 1930’s. The shops sell souvenirs, kick knacks etc and some clothing. Originally in this area was the ship library. At the end of the corridor on the right is the bar area.

This is the original mural above the bar, I didn’t get a shot of this room but it has been used in lots of films, as have many of the larger spaces on the ship.

Films & TV programmes shot on location here include: The Aviator, LA Confidential, Pearl Harbor, Batman Forever, Murder She Wrote, The Poseidon Adventure, Chaplin & Charlie’s Angels.

This was a ballroom type space that is used for conferences and other gatherings.

I think this is a metal engraving and is in the same room as the picture above (it’s at my back in that picture). The squares you can see are for used for film projection, and are original.One of the promenade decks, as soon as we stepped out images from the Titanic flooded my brain. You can just imagine wealthy Edwardians promenading down a space like this – not on this ship of course but you get the idea.There are lots of pictures of former guests on the ship; this is Buster Keaton and the consensus was that the lady is Lucille Ball. Buster around this age did appear in an episode of I Love Lucy and was a keen supporter of Lucille in her early career. I’m a big fan of Buster so I had to take a picture of the picture!

Another grand space and another grand piece of artwork, this time a useful one. Each day guests were able to track their progress across the Atlantic as staff moved an ship shaped indicator across the map.When the guided tour finished, the Captain said that we should also check out the engine room which a lot of the group did. However I was now feeling quite tired after my less than stellar nights sleep (I’d been awake since about 2am on the train), so as people went left to the engines I turned right and headed to my cabin.

My plan was to dump my camera, chill out for a few minutes and then explore the ship – my body had other ideas and I woke up about 3 hours later!

Feeling a bit more alive I finally went exploring.

Firstly here is my cabin
The series of bars you can see in the third picture were originally used to tie down your cases. You can imagine on a sea crossing, you wouldn’t really want your cases loose in the cabin.

Queen Mary – For those not up on their Royal lineage; Queen Mary was the Grandmother of our current Queen, Elizabeth II.
A seemingly never ending corridor.
On the sides of the corridor you can see a white rail. These are the original rails from the ship, although they weren’t installed at the time of the first crossing. On the tour the Captain told us that during the first crossing there were many injuries as people were knocked into the walls or fell over due to the swell of the sea. What he didn’t tell us and I’ve found out since, is that there was no carpet as there is today, the floor was tiled.

This is the travel bureau laid out and looking as it did in the 1930’s. Passengers could come here and get travel advice for their destinations or even book another holiday.The RMS Queen Mary is permanently docked in Long Beach, here is the wall that keeps the tide out.The lifeboats, although these aren’t the original one boats, they were removed when the ship was docked here.Same goes for the funnels, the boilers were removed during the renovations in the early 1970’s, to get them out the funnels were dismantled. They collapsed and had to be replaced with aluminum copies.

A game of Shuffle Board anyone?

It’s possible to walk around most of the ship, and a lot of it is laid out like a museum. This is the Bridge, in this area are the sleeping quarters of the Captain and officers, which are cleverly shown by the use of cutaway walls.

I explored pretty much all that was possible to see, even venturing down into the hospital section, which was a little creepy as I descended down the steps into a section of the ship that was deserted!

Pelicans!As I was getting to the end of my exploring I heard an engine and looked out to see a seaplane getting ready to take off.So that was my tour done. Oddly I felt more alone here than I had during the whole trip. I’d spent three days on my own in New York but that hadn’t bothered me, having bonded with some of the group and now being on my own for looking back was only a few hours, I suddenly felt as if I was totally alone. With hindsight I think it was tiredness more than anything else.

In the evening I went to eat and was prepared to do so on my own but I spotted one of the couples from the trip. I went over to join them but they were just finishing, so I made my excuses but they told me to sit as they would also appreciate the company. They were only going to head back to their cabin, so we spent an hour having a good chat, which cheered me up.

After the meal we went our separate ways and I amused myself by trying to find the quickest route back to my cabin – can you tell I was a bit bored?

Well it took a few takes but I eventually got it, you can see how a like each corridor looks, and as a bonus there is a quick tour of the cabin.

Our brief stay in Los Angeles & Long Beach would be over in the morning. It was hard to get a sense of the city in such a short time, mainly as we didn’t really get out and explore it. We had a similar amount of time in Chicago but as we could get out I was able to see the city. LA is somewhere I would like to comeback to, if only to do a studio tour.

The following day we would be traveling up the coast to San Francisco, it was a journey that should have taken most of the day and ended up taking longer that it would for us to fly back to the UK.