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.

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.

Hollywood (Hooray for it etc etc)

The journey to Los Angeles would be our last overnight trip by train and I didn’t sleep very well. I woke up at about 2am and just couldn’t get back to sleep, the rails were bouncy and I just couldn’t sleep with the movement of the train and therefore my bed.

On the way into the city the train tracks go alongside the Los Angeles River, you will have no doubt seen the concrete channel on which it flows in many films; a particularly famous scene from Grease was filmed somewhere along it.

When we arrived we headed out for a city tour which would include an hour’s stop before heading to our ‘hotel’ for the evening, The Queen Mary.

I didn’t take many pictures on the coach tour, it’s quite hard to get decent pictures on the move, especially in a city where sometimes you are only getting a glimpse down a street or between buildings.

We made a quick stop, although I’m not sure where it was to have a look at a mural, which when you look at it, contains pretty much every classic Hollywood actor and character.

It was a thrill to be in Los Angeles, the home of film making (or at least one of the many claimants). Passing buildings and streets I had seen in films or read about. Hollywood and Vine a particular note with the Capitol Building and the Taft Building where Chaplin supposedly wrote his films.

I knew we wouldn’t have a great deal of time in the city before heading out to Long Beach, so I tempered my expectations.

The coach stopped near to the Hollywood and Highland Complex, essentially a mall that is close to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and the location of the Kodak Theatre, where the Oscars take place.This is the entrance to Grauman’s, I could have got a better picture across the street but I didn’t cross and I don’t know why I didn’t! I’ll come back to what’s outside the theatre in a moment.

Once passed Grauman’s our short guided walking tour took us into the Hollywood and Highland complex which as I said above is essentially a mall. Once a year however it becomes the focus of the world when the Academy Award Ceremony takes place inside the once named Kodak Theatre now the Dolby Theatre. When the ceremony takes place the shops are hidden away behind makeshift walls to keep up the Hollywood glamor.

We walked up the steps, shallower than normal to enable ladies in ballgowns to step with ease.The brightly lit pillars on each side contain the name of each winner of the Best Picture Oscar from each year since they started in 1929. As you walk up the steps and turn around there are spaces for films well into the next 50 years.

We were taken out into the open space of the mall where there is a full size replica of a section of the film set from Intolerance, a sprawling silent epic filmed in 1916. The actual set was built about 3 miles to the east and stood for four years after filming before finally being torn down.

The original set must have been enormous! Anyone who played LA Noire will also recognise it as a mission takes place on the set.

As I knew we only had a short time in LA, there were two things I had hoped to see. The Hollywood Sign and the Chaplin Studios. Well I ticked off the sign as it was possible to see it from the walkways shown in the above photo, and as this was as close as we would be getting a lot of us took photo’s.The Chaplin Studios would be a challenge, I roughly knew where they were but didn’t know how far away in terms of distance. We were about to be let off the leash for an hour, so I asked our guide how long it would take me to get there, she replied if you run there and back you’ll do it in an hour. Not what I wanted to hear, the disappointment must have been written all over my face as she asked me how important it was to me. I explained I was a big Chaplin fan and it was pretty much the only thing I wanted to see, ‘leave it with me I’ll see what I can do’

With that we had an hour, and an hour in this part of town seemed like an age, there are lots of gaudy tourist shops and not a lot else.

The Hollywood & Highland complex is fairly new but in the 1920’s there was a hotel on the same site; The Hollywood Hotel.It was the place to be seen during the early days of movie making. Chaplin filmed scenes on the porch in his first feature length film; Tillie’s Punctured Romance with female stars of the day Mable Normand & Marie Dressler.

Opposite the complex is the El Capitan Theatre owned by the Walt Disney Company. I didn’t know it at the time I was there but it held the world premiere of Citizen Kane in 1941.As I whittled away our hour, I wandered back to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre to see the foot and hand prints of the many stars who have left their impressions over the years.

You could stand here all day taking photo’s!Star Wars

Jack Lemmon & Shirley MacLaine probably promoting ‘Irma La Deuce’ which was released that month.

The Duke had small feet. That’s my foot and I take a UK 7

Marion Davies, I don’t know her films but she has a connection to Charlie Chaplin. As dramatised in the excellent ‘The Cat’s Meow’, she was aboard the boat of her lover William Randolph Hurst along with Chaplin and many other guests when a film producer Thomas H. Ince was taken ill. The official cause of death is heart failure, the scandal and conjecture is that Hurst shot Ince thinking he was Chaplin, who he suspected was having an affair with Marion. These impressions were taken a little shy of 5 years later.

Jimmy Stewart, one of my all time favourite actors. Again he may be promoting a film, ‘Call Northside 777’ was released in the same month. Later in the year he would star in ‘Rope’ directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

This is just a small selection of the who’s who of Hollywood and film making that have made an impression of some kind outside the theatre. To get the full picture head over the the official Grauman’s Chinese Theatre website.

Hollywood is famous for lots of things, of the touristy things I haven’t mentioned is the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The area we were in had a lot of stars, it’s a novelty at first as you try to see who you are walking over and then that quickly fades as there are too many people about, and they are either getting in your way or you are getting in theirs. I took one photo.Stan Laurel, the slimmer English half of Laurel and Hardy. Hmm how many Chaplin connections can I put in one post. Stan Laurel was part of the Fred Karno troupe at the same time as Chaplin and was even his understudy for a time.

Before getting back on the coach I joined a few of our group in a cafe for a quick bite to eat and a drink, I sat down and had a look around, then I spied some posters on the back wall, the cafe had been used as a location for the Clint Eastwood film ‘Million Dollar Baby’.

Back on the coach, I still didn’t know if I would get to see the Chaplin Studios, and then the coach made a left onto La Brea Avenue and my heart rate very nearly went through the roof, as it is on La Brea Avenue that Chaplin in 1917 started construction on the Charlie Chaplin Studios.

The coach stopped briefly, La Brea was very busy, so we could get some photo’s, I snapped a few, not great photos but I was trying to take it all in. I was there, just a few hundred feet away Chaplin had created some of cinemas finest films; The Kid, The Gold Rush, Modern Times, The Great Dictator and my personal favourite City Lights.

The end to that film is perhaps my favourite ending ever, obvious spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen it.

That was filmed outdoors on the backlot 250 feet from where I was sitting, and I knew it, I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited in my whole life. I perhaps shouldn’t admit that but it was amazing to be there, somewhere I’ve thought about visiting for years, the only downside was that I was in a coach and couldn’t get out and just look at the buildings, peek through the gate and sit on the steps that lead to his office. I’ve said this many times in the course of writing this blog but I will definitely go back to LA if only to have a close up look at the studios.

These are the steps to Chaplin’s office on the corner of La Brea & De Longpre (La Brea is in the background) and he used them as part of the film ‘A Day’s Pleasure. The coach went around the corner a bit quicker than I had anticipated so I was a bit slow with my camera! As the film opens his movie family come out of the door and into a waiting car, as seen in the clip below.

It’s quite amazing to think how much LA has changed in less than 100 years. The area where the studios were built was orange and lemon groves. Chaplin documented the building of the studios in ‘How To Make Movies’, the start of the clip below shows the groves and where the studio was built. The car that appears at 1:15 follows the route our coach took, Chaplin gets out and goes into his office. Although for completeness I should point out that the studios were moved/re-built 15 feet to the right some years later to accommodate the widening of La Brea.

The coach continued through Beverly Hills and out towards Long Beach where the Queen Mary is situated.

As we meandered through this humongous city, places were pointed out to us, most obviously had a film or TV connection, again I didn’t take a lot of pictures as I was trying to just take it all in.

The Viper Room; once part owned by Johnny Depp and where River Phoenix died in 1993.

LA City Hall; fans of Eddie Murphy may sort of recognise this view. This building was the location for the Police Headquarters in Beverly Hills Cop, although this is the northern frontage and the film was shot on the west side. It looks similar though!

Self explanatory!

We went through Century City which is a hub for movie, TV and music offices. This picture is looking into the 20th Century Fox studios from West Pico Bulevard.

I was looking at a list of some of the things filmed on the lot and wow!
Young Frankenstein, X-Files, Arrested Development, Prison Break, The Black Swan, The King & I, Starsky & Hutch, Bones, South Pacific, The Sound of Music, Charlie’s Angels, Dynasty, NYPD Blue, Moonlighting, Bones, The Seven Year Itch, House, Nine to Five, Die Hard, Speed, Minority Report, Edward Scissorhands, Fight Club, War of the Worlds, Doogie Howser, Dharma & Greg, Planet of the Apes, The Fall Guy and How I Met Your Mother.

And that was Hollywood and the very briefest of tours, next stop the Queen Mary!

Taking It Easy in Flagstaff

When I was looking at the trip itinerary, I had always marked this down as a day where I would do very little.

The company offered an optional trip out to see the Montezuma Castle and some other sights but I’d figured I would have seen enough by this point. At Grand Junction our tour guide Ros had asked me if I was planning on going to the castle; I explained that I wasn’t and I had always planned it that way.

It turned out that none of our group decided to take the trip to the castle, preferring instead to relax by the swimming pool or go into Flagstaff.

I had to make a quick shopping trip before I could relax. My plan was to travel light and I’d bought a bag that was big enough to do that, however I had bought a few things by this point and my bag was at it’s limit; I was now taking my rucksack + one other bag onto the coach each day. So I caught the bus out to the local mall and went suitcase shopping.
The Flagstaff Mall and it’s rather nice setting. This was my first ever American Mall, and as I expected it was very much like UK shopping centres; yes I know we borrowed the concept.

Once I’d made my purchase I went back to the hotel and got into the swimming pool and other than a break for lunch, I stayed there for most of the day.

I took these photos the next day on my way to breakfast.

In the evening we all went over to Black Bart’s Steakhouse. I’d looked it up and I knew there would be music on offer, I just wasn’t prepared for what was about to happen.

We were ushered in as a group and sat on two long tables. There was a stage and a pianist. He began playing and all of a sudden the waiting staff started to sing as they were going about their jobs. Some would go to the stage and continue the song as the others delivered food or drinks.

The singing continued for the 2 and a bit hours we were there, with each staff member taking their turn up on stage, with the occasional group song thrown in.The songs were all show tunes and everyone (me included) joined in and sang along. The singing was supposed to stop at 9pm but because we had all been joining in, they carried on for a little bit longer.

For my meal I had a steak which was lovely and although I was pretty much full, I listened to the desert menu; which included deep fried ice cream.

It was very sweet but also very very nice!

Here’s a short example of the singing.

A New City and a New Sport

We traveled from New York to Washington D.C. by regional Amtrak train. It would be the first and last WiFi on a train that we would experience in the USA. When we go onto the larger cross country trains, we were disappointed that there was no WiFi connection at all…the internet is very addictive!
The train took us passed some cities that I’m only familiar with from film and TV; Philadelphia and Baltimore. Fans of The Wire were a little excited as we pulled into Baltimore Station.As we left the city, we passed streets and houses that were straight out of the TV programme.

The journey took just under four hours and we arrived to be taken straight on a tour of the city. Our driver/guide was excellent and he took us to the main sights; Capitol Building, White House, Jefferson, FDR, Dr King & Lincoln Memorials. At the time we did wonder why he had taken us to them as they seemed close to our hotel but in reality they were a bit of a walk.

The weather was hotter in Washington D.C. than it was in New York but without the humidity.

Me at the Jefferson Memorial with the Washington Monument behind.The Jefferson MemorialThomas Jefferson……who could do with a dust.The White HouseDr. Martin Luther KingOne of the group wondered whether it was a little ironic that he had been carved in white granite.

FDRHis very famous quotation.A busy Lincoln Memorial – I resolved to come back again when it was quieter.

As there was WiFi on the train, I was able to prepare on the journey and look up some things to do in the evening. Prior to the trip I’d hoped to get to a few sporting events, but I was usually a day or so early or late in most cases.

In New York I contemplated going to the New York Giants opening NFL game but it would have cost me over $300, so I was hoping to make a sporting event in Washington D.C. As luck would have it the baseball team was playing that evening.

The Washington Nationals play in Major League Baseball (MLB) and at the time of writing are leading the standings. When I went to the game they had won five on the trot, a streak that would end with my visit.

I’d never seen a baseball game but it was something new and also something to do! We got to the hotel just after 5:30pm and the game was due to start at 7:00pm. So I grabbed my bags from the coach, dropped them in my room and headed to the bus.

Washington D.C. has a very good bus service called the ‘Circulator’ which has several routes across the city for only $1 a trip. I first went to the wrong stop before being directed by a couple of friendly youths to a stop across the other side of Union Station, I knew when I was at the right stop because there were several people wearing red shirts; the colour the Nationals wear. Coincidentally I was wearing a red t-shirt, I’d just grabbed the first clean one in my case.

On the bus I struck up a conversation with a woman who had lived in several places across the US but had made Washington D.C. her home. As went through the various suburbs She gave me a guided tour and potted history of her adopted city.

I was traveling to the game without a ticket but I’d read on the internet that it would be possible to get one at the box office. On the way to the stadium there were a few touts selling tickets, which made me wonder if I would be able to get a ticket after all, but those fears were unfounded as there was a long line at the box office. This being my first game I spent a bit more and got a mid price ticket for $68, which gave me a seat in the lower tier and in front of 1st base.

The bus was a little late due to roadworks in the city, so I missed the opening pitch. I think the roadworks must have delayed a lot of people, because there must have been at least a thousand still trying to get in.

I had a great view of the game and stadium.The big news that evening was that Washington Nationals lead pitcher Stephen Strasburg would be pitching his last innings at home. It turned out to be his last innings of the season, as he was ‘shut down’ the following day by Nationals manager Davey Johnson.

I of course, had no idea who Strasburg was. I was told at the bus stop that he had had arm surgery and the team were limiting the time he spent on the pitchers mound. When I got to the stadium I expected to see an aging player, instead I found out that Strasburg is a 24 year old who was the number one draft pick in 2009.

Strasburg pitching

My seat was one in from the end of a row, the guy sat to my right looked a bit fierce, so I sat in silence taking it all in. After a couple of innings it wasn’t going well for Strasburg & the Nationals, and my neighbour exclaimed “they just ain’t hitting it tonight!”, I replied “I’ve no idea, this is my first ever game”, and for the next three hours Mark was my guide to the sport of rounders…sorry baseball. We spoke about the US, the UK, various sports and all points in between.

The experience in the stadium is very different to that of a UK football stadium. In the UK there is lots of chanting and songs, here there was the occasional handclap and quick snippets of pop songs played over the sound system, that were sung by the crowd. The most intriguing of which was A-Ha’s Take on Me, which the crowd continued to sing even when it was turned off.

I’ve seen many films which have baseball as a theme, so I was familiar with most aspects of the game and some of the terminology. A phrase I had heard before was ‘the seventh inning stretch’ however I didn’t actually know what it was.

At the seventh inning I found out. It turns out it’s not a technical game related term but rather an opportunity for the fans to stand up and have a stretch, as they’ve been sat down for so long. Hence ‘Seventh inning stretch’. It’s at this time that the crowd all sing ‘Take me out to the ballgame’ which I joined in with.

Here’s and example of the 7th inning stretch

Something else that happens at Nationals games, although I’m not sure how often, is the Presidential Race. Where four people dressed as Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln & Roosevelt race, for what reason I am unsure!

By the power of youtube, here is the very race that I saw

My view of the finishMark had to leave at the end of the 9th inning, the game was tied and about to go into extra innings.The Americans do like a winner! From how I saw it the Nationals had a great opportunity to win the game. They had the bases loaded and just needed a great hit to get all their guys home and win, but it just wasn’t to be.

On the way out I bought a cheap Washington Nationals Cap (which I’m yet to wear) and I had a new team to follow.