Monday, June 30, 2008

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Yosimite National Park

When I was a kid, we never had holidays until I reached the grand old age of 7. My dad didnt drive a car until then, only a bike and sidecar (that often broke down or ran out of petrol while we were out). Then my dad bullied the driving instructor into passing him, and bought a Bedford dormobile van.

From then on holidays were spent on my aunts farm in Norfolk (which in those days with no M25 to slow you up and the M2 newly built, was a good 4-5 hour journey away, or touring. How I hated touring. Stuck in the back of that caravan fighting with my brother and borred half to death. Plus my dad was never too keen on comfort stops, eating out, or just stopping the bloody thing for longer than it took to fill up the tank with petrol again. Or at least thats how it seemed to me as a child, I dont suppose it was like that at all, but I admit, I still dont like touring holidays.

All of which is why I would have been quite happy to stop now and spend a few days doing nothing. However, after our complimentary breakfast and a quick email to Laura, we were back on the road and heading for Yosimite. We decided to cut across country instead of taking the main international highways. I have to say, it was by far the most interesting part of our journey, with ever changing scenery, starting off in the misty and cloudy mountains, then through the pass, followed by burnt brown grass and rolling hills bathed in sun.

These very quickly gave way to very flat farming land and finally villages would appear out of the miles and miles of cherry orchards lining the road.

A dead straight road that seemed to go on and on into the distance.

The we reached Yosemite, where the road was flanked by mountain cliffs on one side (complete with the 'beware falling stones' signs, this photo shows where the road had been completely wiped out and we had to cross the river to use the temp road while they built another new bit),

and the boiling bubbling river on the other side.

20 miles of this took us nearly an hour to cover as the speed limit was very low and the road literally hugged the river so took several twists and turns. It was all very beautiful and we were lucky to visit when the rivers were so full, while the ice caps on the mountain tops melted.

We stopped at a huge restaurant and motel called Cedar Lodge for lunch, there were only customers in this warehouse sized cafe,

and the barman was so friendly and funny. He recommended the home made crisps which Martin had, I stuck to traditional chips I am afraid, but they were wonderful, even better than Martin's home made chips and that is really saying something.

Each table had one of these!!

Scrapdolly had told me that she had stayed at Yosiimite View Lodge, and had really rated it, but when I looked on-line before we left, it had been fully booked for the whole of June. I still pointed it out to Martin as we passed though. On a whim he turned the car round and went back to see if they had any rooms. Yes they did, and at a not too bad price either. With three pools and who knows how many spa's, a shop, and from our balcony a view of the mountains, river and one of the swimming pool what more could we ask.

Martin promptly fell asleep.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Playing lots of catch up (plus more road trip!)

Gosh lots to add...

It was the 18th birthday celebration of my cousin's youngest boy so mum, dad and I drove up to Dartford as (unusually) we had been invited to the family get together. The girls had been invited but Kelly was busy decorating and Laura was at cricket.

Anyway I had a lovely time chatting to my two cousins, Terry and Gary. Gary is researching the family tree on my mum/aunt's side. He had been to visit a Medium and as he was leaving he mentioned that he had come to a dead end with the search, having discovered that my Great Grandfather had written and sung popular music way back in the 1800's. 'You will go to a big library and find it there, but more importantly you will find the book' she told him. Well he knew nothing of a book, but his search took him to the British Library where he found several sheet music copies of great grandad's songs, and also a copy of an almanak GGD had written and published. Turned out he had published it for 5 years, and Gary has since discovered another 3 issues still exist.

We come from a fairly talented bunch of artistes, because alongside GGD, my grandad was a talented violinist, ventriliquist and cartoonist. He had written/drawn 6 books of his life in the Navy from boy to man through the second world war. These he bequithed to Gary but Gary has now loaned them to me. Yippee, been wanting to get my hands on these for like ever!

Did you know that my nan's sister's daughters were also well known as The Beverley Sisters? And still on that side of the family, my mum's cousin's son went to Kings School on a saxaphone scholorship? Which is probably why both Gary and Terry plus Terry's son were able to give us all a jamming session on their guitars?

Guess its why Laura can write poems and Kelly can draw, and why I enjoy crafting.

Sunday ....

We had missed out on Father's day last week because dad had had to run Kelly and Ollie to Gatwick and Martin had had to work. So we had a bbq to cover it this weekend instead. It was rather windy, I had done the food from scratch rather than go shopping so there wasnt as many usual goodies (although there was still heaps to eat and lots left over) but I think we all had a pleasant time. Bailey dog enjoyed himself anyways.

Monday... Trevor was home from his heart repa
ir op so we went over to see how he was doing and to catch up finally on how Joey is doing. It would seem that Jo didnt fall off her horse, her horse lost his footing and they both fell over. What Jo ended up with was very bad whiplash on her brain, and nearly 3 months in a coma. Now she has been 5 weeks in a special neuralogical hospital and is making amazing progress, surprising her doctors and therapists with her determination. Thankfully all her brain functions are still there, but the coma has left her with very wasted muscles and these have to be built up again while her brain has to be taught how to communicate with those muscles again. A long painful process for a very brave young lady.

So back to California.

After our stop over at Santa Barbara I had thought we would head straight up to San Francisco, spend some time there and then go on to Yosimite, but Martin thought to go towards Yosimite, stopping a night at San Jose. But before hitting the famous I-1 coast road we needed to fuel up on gas and coffee, as well as get out some more cash. Would you believe just how difficult it was to find an ATM machine? It took us nearly half an hour of walking after our Starbucks.

Finding the start of the I-1 wasnt difficult.

We took a small comfort stop in a small hick town where a really friendly lady in the cafe told us how lucky we were to be going along the beautiful coast road. Excited about the adventure ahead of us, we set off again. The start of the journey was quite beautiful and the roads were good.

There was a
proper coast road, much like we were used to on the South East coast of England and we were really enjoying ourselves. We saw a sign for the Elephant seal colony were not prepared for the amazing sight when we stopped.

They were as far as the eye can see, and taking absolutely no notice of the tourists who had stopped to take their photos. No so the little squirrel/rat type critters who were all over the carpark begging for food. These little guys just would not leave you alone. I took this photo to show just how tame they were, I think they are Californian ground squirrels, and have to say I wasnt too keen on the way they got so close, in packs, hunting for food. In fact I admit I panicked a bit and made Martin chase them off, and was quick to get back in the car. Good instincts because apparently their fleas can carry some pretty nasty diseases. Back on the road, and although I had been looking forward to some stunning scenery I was rather dissappointed.

The road narrowed to one lane and soon hugged the side of the cliffs.

Which would have been fairly pretty but for two things, (1) I was too short to see properly over the crash barrier, and secondly we had been really spoilt for good sea/cliff hugging views in Maderia which I thought were far better than the ones we were seeing.

Poor Martin couldnt see them at all so he must have been fed up as the driving was not easy, all twists and turns. It was hot too and our car had no air con (something I thought came as standard in american cars.) I admit it was a long and somewhat boring journey.

I was glad when we finally reached Montery for lunch. Montery seemed huge, and full of nothing. Lots of museums, art houses, roads with little or no direction (we drove round one part three times) so we abandoned the car to see if we could find a place to eat on foot. Little joy until we walked all the way back the way we had come and eventually found the peir. This was were all the cafes and restaurants were, although it did seem they were only serving fish and chips or clam chowder in a bread bowl. The whole place was rather depressing so we soon munched our food and got back onto the open road.

Finally around 5 oclock we joined the I-101 and soon found ourselves in a bit of a spaghetti of internation roads heading north, either to San Francisco or San Jose. Guess who (despite his navigator telling him he was wrong) took the lane to SF rather than SJ? And like all men he has a huge phobia about retracing steps, convinced the road he is on will eventually take him where he wants it to. Of course when we found ourselves heading deep into the residentual area I finally put my foot down and made him turn around.

Karen (Scrapdolly) had told me that when they visit California they usually stay in the Great Western Hotels, and as it got later and later, with no seemingly main place or hotels in sight, a tightness of chest feeling was gripping me again. Whose silly idea had it been to come out here with no beds booked? (Actually it was the travel agents but who was counting?) We stopped to fill up with petrol and Martin was just about to ask the proprietor where the motels were when he spotted, immediately across the road, none other than a Great Western. Within minutes we were parked in their carpark, booked in and relaxing in the spa. Not only that there was free internet access, and I could email home.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Santa Barbara

Today I needed some painting therapy. I had applied for a job in a school I have been doing regular supply work at but had failed to be shortlisted even though they were looking for 3 staff members and I thought I had many of the skills they wanted. The head did call me into her office and was really nice telling me in person but she didnt really say why I hadnt been shortlisted so not really helpful feedback. Anyway this morning I saw on the net that they had re-advertised the foundation stage post which was the one I was trying for. Very odd since I had been told she had been unindated with applications.

So back to my painting therapy. I had discovered that cuprinol do heritage colours in their paint range a couple of years back and had chosen a lovely pastel green to do the table and bench with. So I thought maybe I would carry on and match all the garden woodwork. The trellis was half blue and half brown so deffo needed some unity, But I could only do the parts where the clematis wasnt growing, the rest will have to wait until it has been cut back. The shed just needs painting badly anyway so I made a start but ran out of paint. So now both are only half done.

I also did a bit of digi scrapping.

Road trip begins
Time for us to leave Vegas, we really enjoyed it but 3 days was just about right. We tanked up the car, stretched out the map to check out our route and set off - after the final obligatory buffet breakfast of course.

We were rather early taking off because at 5.30 am we had been woken up with a text message from home. Kelly had just heard she had got a new job. I am sure she had forgotten about the 8 hour time delay but good for her. Consequentally we were up and showered, breakfasted, packed and on the road by 9.30 am.

We had loo
ked at several routes which would hit the I-101 at various points but in the end we worked out we might as well retrace the route we had come by as it worked out the shortest. Again there is not much you can say about a straight road through the desert, except it was fairly easy driving and we arrived in Santa Barbara with only 2 comfort breaks by 4.15 pm!!

Santa Barbara looked so pretty, but we needed to find a place to lay our weary heads first so we stopped at the visitor centre to ask advice on a few choices. She was really helpful and gave us a huge map with hotels marked on it. We had asked for medium price range places, but Martin got chatting to her and was persuaded to try the one she worked in (presumably a second job) which was just up the road.

Which is why we ended up in a budget motel, the Pacific Ocean. It was clean, reasonably comfortable, but definately budget. It still had a bakerlight telephone for calling reception! After dropping off our cases ( it seemed odd not to be unpacking) we went for a bit of an explore and a drink on the seafront.

Of course Martin is hopeless at parking anywhere near were I would like to go so we ended up on the part of the beach nearly all the way out of town, pretty but probably not the best part to enjoy.

Then we went to downtown which we really liked. It was quite and full of a good mix of boutiques and trendy cafes, even a small Macy's Plus finally Martin got his sandals!!!! And despite the heavy police patrols, it felt really safe. We did see one guy being arrested and cuffed for Jay Walking (allegedly), but it didnt worry us enough to put us off having a small bite to eat.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Vegas by night

OK more of our road trip. Vegas Day 3

After another stuff your face silly buffet breakfast this time with chocolate coisants and muffins for Martin, we hit the pool to plan out the day. In fact most of this time was spent looking for the camera case which held all the spare memory cards. I was sure I had left it in the car, about a quater of a mile away in the multistory hotel car park. Off Mart trotted to empty the car and get it. He couldnt find it, so I went up to our room to look. No luck, but then I am still sure its in the car. Back to the pool to get the car keys and then hotfoot it back to the car. Of course it was man looking because within minutes I had discovered it under the back seat behind Martin's cigarette stash. HUH!

By now it was nearly 12 and we had promised ourselves a lesson on the craps tables. A
ll the casinos offer free lessons, well their not going to make much out of you if you cant actually play the tables are they. We reckoned we knew enough about blackjack and poker to follow the betting but the dice tables were a complete mystery.
The rules are pretty strict about cameras and phones etc so I had to box a bit clever getting pictures. Waste of time though. This dealer was so fast he was never more than a blur in all my attempts. Shame he was rather tasty in his flashy embroided gold waistcoat. There were still a long list of freebies to go look at in all the hotels we had missed before, but we had now got a better measure of the place and I refused to do as much walking, and I definately didnt want to be so worn out so I packed myself off for a lay down while Martin watched some tables. now he understood more about craps he could watch a game, and was very amused to see one poor sot loose $14000 in 10 mins!

We attempted to catch the monorail again. No luck still not working so we walked to the bus stop and bought an all day ticket so we could hop on and off at will. Our first visit was to The Belligreo but we couldnt see much in here to excite, so moved across to Ceasers Palace.

From the outside this doesnt look much, according to my list there was supposed to be a free show every 7 minutes, but mainly Martin wanted to go see where all the sporting events were held. The casino was huge, even for Vegas standards. We couldnt find any free shows although both Cher and Elton John were doing gigs we could have paid to go see had we wanted to. Then out of the back of the casino they have just build a giagantic new shopping mall, unseen from the front of the building as it stretched back away from the strip. The shops were way out of our league, Chanel, Versachi, etc but the decorations were something else. One Chinese guy asked Martin to take a photo of him with the horse as a backdrop.

He was a bit put out when I sauntered past and murmered to Mart to turn the camera around to fit it in. He was still peering at the result with some confussion when we walked off. I think he was wondering how he was going to sort that one out on his computer.

Out the back of Ceasers and on to TI. According to m
y AA guide book ( a book I will be singing the praises of later) the TI used to be Treasure Island but they are trying for a more sophistocated image now so its TI and the Pirate show 3 times a day at the front of the hotel has now become The Sirens. We had a quick walk through and then joined the throng outside waiting for the free showing. It was hardly breezy at all but in times of high winds they have to cancel the show. Well guess what? They cancelled the show.

It took ages to fight our way out of the crowd and cr
oss to the Venitian to watch the gondilers on the river outside the hotel.

And while crossing the bridge I spotted a bride being serenaded on one of them (alas no photo though).

I was getting tired and thirsty by now so we crossed back to the TI and went into the jungle bar for a drink. Now we did get a treat. There were hardly any people in the bar but the three bar men were apparently pro-cocktail shaker waiters, one even held the world championship and pretty soon they were s
howing off their skills in a mini competition between the three of them. Some pretty fancy stuff and it certainly cured our aches and pains (mind that could also have been the freebie tasters of cocktails or the huge measures of beer we were drinking).

We then went across to the Mirage hoping to see the dolphins in their foyer but this was no longer free, but $15 dollars per person but at least I got my ride on the monorail.

It was getting dark now and I had wanted to see Vegas by night.
We hopped on a bus and headed downtown. American's on busses are sooo funny. They sit down and immediately start talking to who ever is next to them. They always seem to want to know what state they are from and then they throw up a current affairs topic. Since they were in the throws of the preliminaries for the election that caused quite a bit of debate, but no matter where we went or who we eave dropped on, they all wanted to moan about the price of gas! It had shot up from the £2.50 a gallon we had been paying in October when we visited Florida to just over £4 a gallon. I know to Americans it was a serious matter as their economy is very gasoline driven we be had to chuckle since we worked out we are paying over £6 a gallon over here.

Anyway downtown is the end of the line for the bus.

This side of the strip was pretty seedy looking and by downtown I felt terrified as I walked from the down bus stop to the up bus stop. It was the first and only time I have not felt anything but safe in USA and so it was a quick snap of the camera and straight back on the bus again. I understand from my dad we missed all the best bits but even Martin felt a bit worried and he is an East End lad!

By now the second showing of the Sirens was about to start so back we went. I am not sure why we bothered. The acting was really naff and the songs pretty awful. I guess if you were a bloke the gyrating half naked women were worth a look but we were a long way back and Martin didnt seem that impressed. Even the special effects and fireworks seemed pretty tame.

This was made up for by the second showing of the beautiful dancing fountains who this time were performing to lights and to Singing in the Rain.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Another cold

I can't believe it but I have come down with another cold. I only had one 3 weeks ago and that one laid me pretty low, now I am feeling like death warmed up again.

I spent most of yesterday catching up some in my garden. Friday I pressure hosed the patio to get rid of the moss and weeds, and sorted out all the flower pots. Then yesterday I emptied the greenhous, planted up all the seedlings, and then filled the floor of the greenhouse with tomato plants and mel

on plants. I have to wait for DH to have a free day now to take the staging out so they have enough light to grow by.

Kelly and Ollie came by for lunch. They are going off to Ireland today to stay with Ollie's dad for half a week, so had bought Martin his tradional toberone down for Father's Day.

And Trevor had his heart operation on Wednesday and Jan has texted to say the hospital are pleased with him. My lot laughed and said thats unusual because normally no one is which was a bit harsh.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Free sights in Vegas

As well as being able to walk through corridors to each hotel, some of them run a monorail between sister companys and we wanted to try out the one between ours and Excalibur. Unfortunately it wasnt running so we had to take the moving pavements and then walk through the cassino. The Excalibur is more family orientated, there were children everywhere. We were glad to finally reach the street door and head for New York New York

This was supposed to house a full scale mock up of New York but when we went inside the casino was so huge and dark it was difficult to see it had been themed. From ouside it looked fantastic and it also had a rolla-coasta ride wrapped around it which had riders screaming for most of the night.

From there we moved on to MGM Grand where there were two live lions housed in the foyer. I was totally facinated. It didnt seem cruel as the lions were totally oblivious to onlookers

and were having such fun with their trainers (who were not just standing there but actually playing with them.

Look at the bond and trust between these two!

On that side of the road was also the fairly newly opened Planet Hollywood Mall so we got a bit sidetracked in there for an hour or so just wondering around. Gosh there was just so much distance to walk. By now my legs were really aching. Martin, used to 18 hole rounds of golf twice a week was fine but the most walking I ever do is from one end of a classroom to the other - yes I admit, I am totally unfit.

We stopped for a beer which apparently do not come in large or small, pints or half pints but a one-size-fits-all which was a size that didnt fit me as it was too big. Martin ended up with half of mine too.

Back on the street we were hardly even starting in on the list, but really didnt want to do much more walking, so we crossed the road to the Bellegrio to watch the dancing waterfalls dancing to Swan Lake.

This had taken up most of the afternoon and early evening. We caught the bus back for $2 each. After a bit of a look round the casino in the Luxor and a short go on the one armed bandits Winning the grand totall of $1.5 (having spent $3 to accumulate it), I collapsed in bed with my book while Martin went back to watch the tables.

Some scrapping

Finally felt like scrapping last night. I made one digi LO for this weeks UKS challenge and started a paper one encouraged by my AL 2008 calender (will upload that one when I have finished it). This is the digi one.

This weeks challenge - pink, picture of my childhood, metal (ring holding heart on) strips of ribbons)
Used a quick page from Simply sweet designs. Heart clip is from Fraisinette of Digi Scrapbook-, journal tag is from Frauisy by Coco and co.

Journaling reads My Childhood The photo below says everything about my childhood. We were on our first ever holiday in our Dorma campavan together as a family, me with Fred Bear who went everywhere with me, being with my dad, my hero, younger brother in tow. And its true, you do remember ever day being filled with sunshine. We had that campavan for a lot of years. We we in it, in Wales, when the storms were so strong it was blowing caravans off cliffs, we were in it when my brother had his first ever proper epileptic fit, we spent many years in it parked on the drive of my aunt's farm. It was a sad day when we had to give it up least until our first Pontin's holiday!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Bank account suffers

Today I have had to go shift money from one account to another as our bank account has taken a bit of a battering from our holiday. We didnt really do much shopping and the hotels were relatively cheap, just it came to more than our poor bank account could cope with when we should have been messing about with our savings. So the morning has been spent writing cheques and visiting various banks/building societies to sort it all out and put everything in the right place. Gosh its not easy coming back from holiday is it.

I also had to get a bit of food in as it
s over 4 weeks since I did a proper grocery shop. Wow! I cant believe how much the prices have gone up since we went away. Gessh!

Anyway back to the fun.

Vegas Day 2

Up bright and early to have a Starbuck coffee before exploring. Strangely there are connecting corridors with moving pavements that will take you to the neighbouring hotels. How odd. This is part of the way into The Excalibur

First though, we wanted to try the breakfast buffet in our own hotel. To be honest we thought the breakfast buffets were way better than the evening b
uffets (cheaper too) so we were soon tucking into a full english preceeded by a huge bowl of fresh fruit for me, cereal for Mart, and followed by pancake and coollied strawberries plus (cos I am greedy) an apple crepe. All came with bottomless coffee, and squeezed orange juice cups. Yummmmm.

And all for little more than a fiver each!

I know we shouldnt have after all that food but we were eager to try out one of the three swimming pools we had glimpsed the day before as we had trundled our suitcases through the grounds from the car. So back to our room to grap our cosies and reading books and off we we set.

How dissappointed were we? And how typical our holiday luck (Yes Boo meet the Griswalds again). The three swimming pools were actually only two as the larger deeper one went under the walkway and had looked like two pools, but this one had, during the night, been drained and was now void of crystal clear blue water. Instead it was full of Portugese men in hard hats busy drilling holes into the concrete.

This left us with the children's pool which was only 3 foot deep and rather small.

Still there were plenty of chairs and the weather was unusally warm for that time of year. We settled down to read.

At lunch time we thought to go exploring a bit further afield so we started on our walk through all the hotels to see all the 'free' exhibitions. I had got a list of what was available for nothing in each hotel off the net before we went, and we wanted to see everything.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Still only day 2

The Luxor is huge, and built as a giant pyramid. We were offered the first floor - the rooms literally open onto the casino floor, or the 30th.

We took the 30th and I am so glad we did as this was the view from our side of the hotel.

And at night!

We later went to look out from the 23rd floor where the corridor windows look down onto the gallary floor and reception on the inside. You look through a floor to ceiling window and it made me feel quite giddy.

Sorry about the quality - my camera just will not do good indoor shots.

Anyway it was time to go look at the town properly so we took a stroll along the street.

I was facinated by the escalators to get over the road.

We had only walked past two hotels when someone handed us a 'bogof' dinner buffet at the Monte Carlo. All you can stuff in your face for $20.49, about £11. So choice made we didnt hesitate to go eat our fill.

So only day 2 and we had been through an 11 hour plane journey, had no sleep all night due to the I-405 right outside our window, travelled 272 miles across the desert in an american automatic, and stuffed ourselves silly at the buffet. No wonder that despite the Las Vegas playground just outside our hotel door, we collapsed into bed at only 10 O'clock that evening.