Archive for August, 2006

Canada

August 21, 2006

After San Francisco we flew up to Vancouver, Canada. In Vancouver we made a stop at the Visitor Centre, to get the standard maps and brochures on attractions in the area, and when we asked how hot it gets during the day, we were told that “it can get quite warm, up to 22C or 23C”. The lady was very serious that this was quite hot, we had a good laugh when we got outside, we were still used to the hot desert weather of Las Vegas, at 38C – 40C, so low 20’s was cold for us.
 
Vancouver was really great, we walked along the main shopping area of Robson St and when we stepped out to casually cross the street at the quiet end, once the cars had passed, not at a corner, or a pedestrian crossing, we found that the cars actually stopped for us and let us cross. This was the complete opposite to everywhere else we have travelled so far – in China, even at pedestrian crossings you have to run, or the cars will hit you, in Japan, you get safety in numbers crossing the street, but don’t try it when you don’t have right of way, in LA it wasn’t too bad, as long as you crossed at pedestrian lights but in Boston, even when we were crossing the street with a crowd of people when we had right of way, we still got tooted and almost run over! Yes, Vancouver certainly seemed a lot more peaceful and laid back.
 
While in Vancouver we went to the Capilano Suspension Bridge – a suspension bridge above the Capilano River, it’s 137m from one end to the other. It was a nice walk across the bridge and through the rainforest on the other sides, we even got to see a couple of squirrels – when there weren’t any screaming 3 year olds chasing after them! From Capilano we went up to Grouse Mountain and saw a couple of Black Bears. It was a little bit cold at the top of the mountain and I was grateful that I had my jumper with me, unlike two girls we saw on the mountain who looked like they had hiked to the top of the mountain wearing a singlet and short shorts. They were shivering in the line waiting for the gondola down the mountain.
 
When we got down from Grouse Mountain we headed to Stanley Park and hired some bikes to ride around the park. The ride around the park was about 10km and it was a nice way to spend an afternoon. On our last day in Vancouver, I got Marc’s conjunctivitis :-(, so we didn’t do too much. We just went down to the Gastown area in the afternoon to see the quirky steam powered clock let off some steam.
 
Next stop, Calgary. We spent an afternoon in Calgary, just looking around the shops in the city. From Calgary, we drove to Banff and Lake Louise for the day. Lake Louise was stunning. We first saw the lake from the Lake Louise Gondola. A gondola ride to the top of a mountain that overlooks the lake in the distance. From the top of this mountain we could see some of the snow capped Rocky Mountain Range, the view was spectacular. When we got back down from the mountain and over to Lake Louise we were amazed at the colour of the lake, it was a beautiful teal colour and the mountain backdrop to the lake was amazing; I took a lot of photos.
 
When we had finished walking around Lake Louise we decided to go and have a look at another lake in the area, Lake Moraine. It was just another lake really, but what made the trip out there worthwhile was Marc’s determination to climb a small mound. This mound looked climbable, for sure, the only challenge was that to get to the mound he would have to cross part of the lake – by using floating logs as stepping stones. I did try to tell him that it wasn’t really a good idea, but when my back was turned, off he went. About 3 seconds later I heard a splash as Marc fell off a log and into the icy water (water temperature was less than 10�C). Luckily for him, he only got one leg wet (and one shoe saturated), and after that he gave up on trying to go climbing. I laughed… alot… 🙂
 
From Lake Louise we drove up to Edmonton and spent a day at West Edmonton Mall. Before we got there, we knew that the mall had an indoor water park, indoor amusement park with rollercoaster, ice rink, minigolf, and of course, shops, but the bonus was finding the Casino! This meant Marc had something to do while I went off shopping. While it was a novelty that the shopping centre had a roller coaster and water park, the shopping wasn’t really all that great.
 
After Edmonton, we flew to Toronto. Our first impression of Toronto wasn’t that great. We went for a walk along the main street, but it was really noisy. There was a small park area with a very loud protest going on and straight across the road from that was a guy making the most horrible noise on drums and not 10 metres from him was a small group of people attempting to play music. Things got better when we drove out to Niagara Falls for the day. It was a beautiful morning, great for seeing the falls. We went on the Maid of the Mist boat which drives past the American Falls and right into the horseshoe falls. The view from the boat was amazing. We got a bit wet from the horseshoe falls, but it didn’t matter, it was hot enough to dry off pretty quickly. We also went on a helicopter ride over the falls. The flight only went for about 20min, but it was definitely worth it. Flying over the falls was great, I got some great photos! In the afternoon it rained so we did the Journey Behind the Falls. This was not what we expected. It was basically just a lookout beside the Falls and a couple of porthole views in behind them. But, we did it, and it meant that we saw the Falls from all possible angles. Once the rain cleared we saw a rainbow emerge over the falls, it was a great way to end the day.

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Las Vegas, Santa Barbara and San Francisco

August 21, 2006

So, moving from LA now, our next stop was Las Vegas. In Vegas, Marc got conjunctivitis. It cost us a US$200 house call to confirm that diagnosis! But Marc couldn’t let conjunctivitis get in the way of playing Texas Hold’em Poker. On his first sitting he managed to win about US$200 playing $1-$2 no-limit. The second sitting was even more profitable, with a US$400 winning. But we didn’t have it for long 🙂 the winnings paid for tickets to the shows. We saw two Cirque de Soleil shows – Ka and ‘O’. Ka was amazing, the whole stage moved up and down and rotated from horizontal to vertical and around in circles. The set was unbelievable. ‘O’ was even better! The stage for ‘O’ moves around and sinks to reveal a pool of water, where most of the performance takes place. There is a lot of diving and acrobatic stunts which were amazing. We also saw Jay Leno do a stand up comedy show, the night had us laughing before the show even started as after we had taken our seats in the theatre and got comfortable, in came the people in the three seats in front of us, and choosing to sit directly in front of me was a a lady with the biggest hair ever. When she sat down she blocked the entire stage from my view, I swear her head was at least 3 times bigger than the people sitting next to her. I couldn’t help but laugh and the people next to us and behind us were all laughing as well. The last show we saw was Lance Burton, a magician. This was pretty lame, but Marc wanted to see a magician! I think I actually slept through some of the show… so I don’t really have much more to say about that.
 
While in Vegas we went on a day trip to the Grand Canyon. We visited the West Rim of the Canyon, in the Hualapai Indian Reservation. This area of the canyon has Eagle Point, a part of the canyon that forms the shape of an eagle with outstretched wings. There are no barriers along the edge of the canyon, so you can walk right up to the edge, if you want. The view here was quite spectacular. From Eagle Point we went over to Guano Point for lunch, where you can eat lunch outside on the edge of the canyon, again the views along the canyon were great. The only downside to the tour was our bus driver, who felt the need to stop every hour for 10-15 mins to smoke 2 or 3 cigarettes.
 
From Las Vegas, we flew back to LA and then drove up the west coast to San Francisco. We stopped at Santa Barbara for a couple of nights on the way, which was really nice. We didn’t do much in Santa Barbara, just spent most of the time relaxing. From Santa Barbera, it took about 6 hours to drive up to San Francisco. San Francisco was really cold, it was summer, but it felt a bit like winter in Sydney. We spent an afternoon on a segway tour around Fisherman’s Wharf; riding segways was a lot of fun and we saw Alcatraz off in the distance. Unfortunately all the ferry’s over to the island were booked out, so we didn’t get over there to see the prison. The change in weather caught up with us the next day when we both got a pretty bad cold and spent the whole day asleep. And sadly, that’s how our time in San Francisco ended, we didn’t see much of it at all.

Los Angeles

August 21, 2006

Ok, So it’s time I updated you all on everything we’ve been up to since arriving in the USA. I know, it’s been a long time coming. I’ve got about 6 weeks to write about, so I’m going to do this in a couple of parts.
-Amanda

Ok, So it’s time I updated you all on everything we’ve been up to since arriving in the USA. I know, it’s been a long time coming. I’ve got about 6 weeks to write about, so I’m going to do this in a couple of parts.
 
We arrived in LA, gaining a day from crossing the International Date Line, but getting our first real dose of jet lag! We went for a wander down Rodeo Drive, it’s a nice road for window shopping and watching a lot of people crowd around a store front for a glimpse of some celebrity (Michael Bolton???) rumoured to be inside, but it’s not really the place to buy stuff… unless you’re a celeb! All the shops had tough looking security guards with dark sunglasses just inside their doors, keeping a close eye on all the non-celebs in the store who were, like me, just looking, not buying.
 
We went to Hollywood a couple of times – lots of people, but lots of fun. We got a CityPass which gave us entry into the Hollywood Wax Museum, a “Stars Homes” Bus Tour, a guided walk of “Hollywood Backstage” and a Kodak Theatre Tour. Ok, so I’ll start with the bad. The Hollywood Wax Museum is really bad! The wax statues don’t really resemble the stars at all, and it’s not just my bad eyes! In one room, there was a group of six other people staring at the statues just as clueless as me as to which stars they were supposed to be. The only one we all agreed on was Tom Cruise! So, if you are ever in Hollywood, you can give this museum a big miss, it’s not worth it at all. Thankfully, the rest of the tours on our CityPass were much better. The bus tour of the “Stars Homes” went through the streets of the Hollywood Hills and Beverly Hills, it was a lot of fun, but unfortunately we didn’t see any stars :-(. We did, however, see the outside of the fortress that is the home of Tom Cruise (and Katie Holmes), the blacked out windows of Lindsay Lohan’s 20-something floor apartment, a house Brad Pitt once owned, Dr Phil’s driveway and Sylvestor Stallone’s House. We also saw the Chicken Shop where Brad Pitt had his first job when he moved to Hollywood – standing outside on the corner dressed in a Chicken suit holding an advertising billboard for the shop! Ok, so the guys might not find that even remotely interesting, but the girls will, right girls….
 
The Hollywood Backstage guided walk, was fantastic! It was just a walk along Hollywood Boulevard, but it was great having someone point out where various scenes of movies had been filmed. We also went to the Chinese Theatre; this is the theatre where many movie premieres are held and where the stars’ hand and foot prints are in cement. They are fast running out of space for all of the hand and foot prints that they have, and so, sadly, once a celeb is not so famous, or not so popular, their concrete print is taken away and stored in the basement, ah, well, that is the harsh reality of fame. Our final tour was the tour of the Kodak Theatre – the home of the Oscar’s… and the American Idol Final. It was only a 30min tour, but it was still nice to see the inside of the Theatre, and hear how even celebrities won’t pay for alcohol! Apparently, on the night of the Oscar’s, the drinks are free… well, only until the ceremony starts, and after that, the celebs have to buy their own drinks. According to our tour guide this is a ploy to make sure that everyone is seated in time for the show to begin… and it works.
 
All this movie madness inspired us to go to Universal Studios Hollywood, in the hope of going on a tour of their “backlot” to see where movies and tv shows get made. Unfortunately, they don’t really do that. We were hoping for something better than MovieWorld on the Gold Coast seeing as they have filmed hundreds of movies and TV shows there, but it was no different. They have the “Universal Studios Tour”, but they really just treat it as another ride. Everything is staged, but we did see the famous Jaws and drove down a street with a set from “The War of the Worlds” but it wouldn’t surprise me if they moved the set there after filming just to have something else to show. All-in-all, Universal Studios wasn’t that impressive, just another theme park. We spent a bit extra on tickets and bought the “Front-of-Line” passes, which meant we didn’t have to line up for any rides or shows. If you do plan on visiting when the park is really busy (like in summer), I would definitely recommend this option, it saves a lot of time, and makes the day worthwhile, a lot of the rides, while good, aren’t worth waiting in line for hours for.
 
Ok, so let’s get to something that’s not about Hollywood. Santa Monica. Just a short taxi ride from Beverly Hills is Santa Monica (don’t even think about public transport in LA, it takes forever). We got there early in the morning and hired some bikes. The bike tracks along the beach were fantastic. We rode south from Santa Monica Beach to Venice Beach. We passed Muscle Beach (yes, the very beach where Arnie was discovered, ok, so it’s still a little bit Hollywood) and were lucky enough to pass by as a body building competition was in progress. At first we just heard and saw the crowd and weren’t exactly sure what was going on, until a rather buff and shiny gentlemen walked past in a hot pink G-string and we saw the warm-up pen, we couldn’t believe our luck!!! The crowd was pretty big, so we just took a few photos from the back.
 
For our last day in LA we thought we’d try a proper studio tour and went out to the Warner Bros Studios. The tour at these studios was fantastic! We actually got to drive around the backlot and see the real sets of shows that are still being produced. Some of the sets we saw were very generic, so they could be reused for movies and TV shows, others were more specific. For outdoor sets we saw the ambulance bay from ER, the grass park where Ross played rugby in Friends, the set of Gilmore Girls, including Luke’s Diner, and Kim’s Antiques and the Gotham City Police Station from Batman, the TV series. For indoor sets we saw the recreation of the Friends Central Perk set (they have moved the set to a more tourist friendly location), the set of The George Lopez Show and the Yale set from Gilmore Girls. Plus we saw the location of lots of other little scenes from many movies.

More USA Photos

August 21, 2006

We’ve uploaded some more USA photos to:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/23945442@N00/sets/72157594197256356/

We haven’t had time to name or label them, but hopefully you can work them out.

Some of the older China, Japan and USA photos aren’t online anymore as a free Flickr account only shows the last 200 uploaded. We’ll upgrade our Flickr account soon hopefully, but till then enjoy the photos.