Around the World a Bit at a Time

Travels: Past, Present and Future

Archive for April, 2009

How We Escaped from Alcatraz

Posted by Leanne on April 30, 2009

We just got on the ferry.  It was easy.

After spending the day at Golden Gate Park, we got on our pre-booked ferry (apparently it’s very important to book early) to Alcatraz.

It was the first time I have ever been in prison and I was struck by how bleak the whole place was.  Not surprising perhaps, but haunting to stand inside a cell, or ‘the hole’ that had been inhabited by naughty men once upon a time.

Water Tower, Alcatraz Island

Water Tower, Alcatraz Island

The award winning (and deservedly so) audio commentry led us back to a time when the tiny cells were occupied so that, even though there were another hundred or so people moving around in the same space, they were blocked out by the ghosts of the past who lay on the narrow beds, maybe staring at the walls, or the bars, plotting their escapes. Or their next crime…

An Alcatraz Cell

An Alcatraz Cell


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I Like to Ride my Bicycle

Posted by Leanne on April 29, 2009

One thing I knew about San Francisco before I got there (and I didn’t know much.  I didn’t even know it was built on hills), was that it had a big red bridge that people can ride their bikes on.  So naturally that is what we spent the day doing.

After picking up a couple of nifty hybrid bikes at the shop we made our way to the bridge, which only differs from the other bridges you can see in San Francisco (as far as my amateur eye can tell) in that it is painted red…

Biking the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

Biking the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

An hour or 2 later we arrived in Sausalito, which was full of people eating giant burgers and burritos, but more importantly, giant ice-creams.  Natuarally we stopped for a piece of the giant food action, and sat munching through our take-away meal in the sunshine as fellow cyclists boarded the ferry back to North Beach.

Given the vast amounts of energy we consumed during our break, we decided that it was only right that we should cycle round to Tiburon, the next ferry port.

18 miles of pleasant (hilly) San Francisco suburbs later, we took the ferry back to the other side, as our hands started to glow red from over exposure to the sun and our legs looked forward to a few beers to aid their recovery.

Sunburnt hands

Sunburnt hands

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Cartoons, Sea Lion-ebrities, Arcades and Wicked

Posted by Leanne on April 28, 2009

It was actually quite nice to wake up with nothing inparticular to do, nor any idea of how we were going to fill the next few days.

After a leisurely breakfast we wandered down through Chinatown, amongst the Chinese population of San Francisco and hoards of homeless who were asking for change, or rummaging in bins, mostly being ignored, onto Union square where people in camping chairs were camped outside the Nike store, surely waiting for the moment when they could purchase their limited edition sneakers (trainers).  At the ticketmaster booth, we exchanged vast amounts of Monopoly money for tickets to see Wicked.

After spending a happy hour reading comics in the Cartoon Art Museum we joined the rest of our tourist kind in the delightfully quaint, but somewhat artificial (i.e. just for tourists) Fishermans’ Wharf where we saw the sea lion-ebrities of the bay.

Sea Lion-Ebrities at Pier 39, Fishermans' Wharf

Sea Lion-Ebrities at Pier 39, Fishermans' Wharf

After wandering aimlessly further down the pier, we happened upon the gem which is the Musee Mechanique, an arcade full of antique, but fully operational arcade games and machines where we armwrestled a superhero.  And lost.

Paul paid 25c to check out a lady at her dressing table.  Apparently it was pretty hot…

At the Musee Mechanique

At the Musee Mechanique

To finish the evening off, we joined San Francisco’s middle classes at the Orpheum theatre to see Wicked – a more traditional musical than Avenue  Q, but enjoyable non-the-less.

I wasn’t too keen on the pointless dragon, but the show itself, including the special effects was wicked!

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San Francisco

Posted by Leanne on April 27, 2009

Road Trip Day 11: Midpines – San Francisco

Miles Travelled: 168

As we drove over the Bay Bridge, we caught our first glimpse of the San Francisco skyline: a modest cluster of buildings that looked like they had been freshly constructed from lego.

We found the hostel easily and I had taken care to draw a map of where the Hertz office, and a gast station were in relation to the hostel meaning that nothing could go wrong…

'Excellent' map of San Francisco

'Excellent' map of San Francisco

…1.5 hours of driving up and down steep streets, trying to work out how to get to the street we were looking for via the tangled sloping one way streets we found the Hertz office where we obtained directions to one of the elusive gas stations which I was beginning to doubt existed. 2 hours later the car was full of fuel and we said our goodbyes in a multistory carpark on Fishermans’ Wharf before venturing out into the windy streets of San Francisco. And I thought that Chicago was meant to be the windy city.

On every street we saw signs telling us that there was no parking, no stopping, no skating, no cycling, no skateboarding, no smoking, no drinking, no sleeping, no camping, no dumping, no littering…

In spite of this, it still managed to send out a welcoming and friendly vibe as we walked down the clean streets looking out for things to do for the rest of the week.

Later, a bartender told us that San Francisco is the most ‘European’ city you can find in the states. I looked forward to exploring more to see if she was right.

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Giant Sequoias of Yosemite

Posted by Leanne on April 26, 2009

On our second and final day in the park, we drove a little further (and higher) to the Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias where we got to walk through some snow and see some giant trees, some of which were 3000 years old. They were big and tall and leafy, except for the dead ones, which were horizontal and unleafy.

At my request, Paul made a rubbish snowman:

Miniature Snowman

Miniature Snowman

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Vernal Falls

Posted by Leanne on April 25, 2009

As we drove into Yosemite country the previous day, it became obvious that we had left the desert behind us. For one thing it was raining, but mainly, the scenery started to change from arid sandy rocks, to green vine-covered flatlands, and finally into the big lumps of conifer and sequoia covered granite , host to coursing waterfalls and varied wldlife that is Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite is more how I imagnine National Parks to be. Green. Squirrelly. Bursting with life. You even had to look quite hard to find a list of ways in which you could die in the park!

Since the light rain of the previous day had cleared up, and the park wasn’t yet fully open for summer (no exciting activities to partake in), we decided to spend the day exploring along some of the more popular trails in the park.

The first was Vernal Falls: A 3 mile uphill climb, quite warm to begin with, but as you climb higher, the waterfall spray soaks through your clothes and the vegetation in the area adds to the chilly feeling with it’s icicle covered leaves. Climb about 1000 more slippery, narrow steps and eventually you emerge into the sunlight at the top of the falls, where you can look down on tonnes of water roaring over the edge of the cliff face falling 317ft to the river below.

It was crowded up there, but relaxing enough to lie back and wait for the sun to gently dry us, and our clothes off while I closed my eyes and listened to the sounds around me. The chatter of the people around, and the constant roar of the water reminded me a bit of being on an aeroplane. I only hope that when I lie back in my seat on the flight home, the chatter of people around me and the constant roar of the engines will remind me of lying in the sun on a rock in Yoesmite National Park…

Vernal Falls, Yosemite National Park

Vernal Falls, Yosemite National Park

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Rustic Lodging in Yosemite

Posted by Leanne on April 24, 2009

Road Trip day 9: Bakersfield – Midpines – Yosemite – Midpines

Miles Travelled: 230

I can’t say I learned much about Bakersfield while I was there, but I was pleased to find that we weren’t charged for the international call I made in order to cancel my debit card. Whether that was intentional or not, I couldn’t say…

Our accommodation for the next 3 nights was to be in an ‘unheated tent cabin (with real beds!)’ at the Yosemite Bug in Midpines. It seemed like a really good (and cheap) idea when we booked it whilst sheltering from the 25C heat in Grand Canyon.

When we checked in, the receptionist enquired “Do you guys have sleeping bags with you?”, and then in response to our “No”:

“You’ll probably be OK – it’s just been a little cold lately.”


Fortunately, it was a 4 bed tent cabin that we had booked for ourselves, so we were able to pilfer the blankets from the spare beds to huddle under, so apart from the (slightly exaggerated) 1/2 mile distance from the bathroom, it wasn’t too bad! I knew there was a reason I’d been carrying round a travel towel and torch (flashlight). At some point the fluffy toweled, hotel/motel dream had to end!

Queenie in Yosemite National Park, California

Queenie in Yosemite National Park, California

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Leaving Las Vegas

Posted by Leanne on April 23, 2009

Road trip day 8: Las Vegas to Death Valley, to Bakersfield

Miles Travelled: 395

Paul didn’t seem to like Las Vegas all that much so it was lucky for me that we were only staying the one night. Personally, I think that if he had won $12 on the slots, he would have liked it a whole lot more…

That day we were heading into California, towards Yosemite National Park – the long way round as the simplest route was still closed for winter.

Our route took us through Death Valley National Park where we were treated to even more signs than there were in the Grand Canyon about the many ways in which we could die if we went for a 3 mile stroll in the park.

As we entered the valley in our air-conditioned oasis, our only indication of the famed high temperatures outside was the car’s thermometer which rapidly crept up from 70 – 103F as we descended into the valley.

Paul described the arid and desolate surroundings as being a ‘National Park in progress’ – “They’ve put all the hills in, but haven’t got round to adding any trees or plants.”

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park

It was 7:30pm by the time we arrived in Bakersfield, and having driven for almost 400 miles that day, it was time to find somewhere to stay. When we parked up at the Rhodeway Inn, I discovered that my drivers licence and debit card were missing, presumed lost at a gas station in Tehachapi. The credit card was still there, proving that I wasn’t a complete loser and the silver lining? I now knew what to spend my Vegas ‘fortune’ on: 1/3 of a replacement licence!

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How to Make a 1200% Profit in Vegas

Posted by Leanne on April 22, 2009

Road trip day 7: Grand Canyon Village – Las Vegas

Miles travelled: 290

The Strip, Las Vegas

The Strip, Las Vegas

How to make a 1200% profit in Las Vegas

Step 1: Insert $1 into one of the slot machines (choose one with as few buttons on it as possible)

Step 2: Press one of the buttons (preferably the flashing one)

Step 3: Repeat step 2

Step 4: Watch the machine give you some money and then press the ‘Cash out’ button.  The machine will dispense a voucher for $4.80

Step 5: Find a different machine, this time with more buttons and insert voucher

Step 6: Press a button

Step 8: Observe for approx. 5 minutes while the machine does it’s own thing

Step 9: Press the ‘Cash Out’ button to receive a $12.20 voucher

Winning Ticket, Las vegas

Winning Ticket, Las vegas

(then do it a bit more until you end up with $13.75 and withdraw it from the payout machine)

Step 10: Laugh at Paul for wasting his money on the slots and not getting anything out of them.

Then it’s bed time

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Cedar Ridge

Posted by Leanne on April 21, 2009

Just to be on the safe side, we drove to Yavapai Point at 5:30am to make sure we saw the sun rise and made it just in time to see the big ball of fire float up above the canyon plateau while we took more pictures of rocks and ate our breakfast (pot noodle).

Sunrise at Yavapai Point, Grand Canyon

Sunrise at Yavapai Point, Grand Canyon

Today there was no time to recover from the early start as the plan was to hike to Cedar ridge: a 3 mile round trip, descending about 1000ft into the canyon.  The posters around the park recommend that if you don’t want to die, you should take 2 litres of water and 2 sandwiches with you.  They also said that it would take an hour to get down and 2-3 hours to get back up.

We got there in 45 minutes, at 7:45am and snacked on trail mix before heading back for the ‘difficult’ uphill.

At 8am most of the trail was still in the shade which might have contributed to the fact that it was REALLY EASY and only took 1 hour to get back to the start.  This meant that by 9am we had finished the day’s planned activity, so went back to the lodge to do what normal people do on holiday: REST!

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