44 hours without sleep and not impressed!
Friday 30th June
This morning we awoke in our rather cramped, dark and dirty hostel and declined our free breakfast of stale bread and warm butter and chose instead to wonder the streets of Hollywood. Unfortunately, as despite our best efforts, this involved doing all of the touristy things, like walking along the Hall of Fame and deciding whether the celebrity actually deserved any status. We also posed for photo's with the backdrop of 'HOLLYWOOD', which was slightly embarrassing though necessary. On the whole, Hollywood was a mess and we soon decided to hit the road and cruise around LA. We drove through Beverly Hills and stopped at Santa Monica beach for bit or rest and relaxation, which basically involved playing football and falling asleep.
The glitz and glamour of Hollywood.
After the beach we went to a lovely Italian restaurant for lunch and were aghast at the portions of the pizza! When we were on the beach Wayne had managed to fall asleep with his hand on his face, and as we travelled north on the illustrious 'Highway 1' towards San Simeon
we noticed a hand print over his face, which I found absolutely hilarious. By the time we had arrived in the tiny town of San Simeon, Wayne resembled a barber's pole and it was necessary to wear sunglasses when talking to him. Despite this the kind receptionist allowed to check in to the lodge, which was spacious and comfortable. We wandered out on the night time to one of the few restaurants open in this barren land, it was a Mexican, but nowhere near as nice as the previous night.
The unmistakable Hollywood.
Still exhausted from the recent moving, we had an early night.
Saturday 1st July
This morning we all woke early to watch the latest England game, this time against Portugal. After 90 uninspiring minutes, they played another 30, slightly more enjoyable minutes before taking it to penalties. With check-in time fast approaching and a free breakfast to annihilate, we carefully raced from the room to the pool/breakfast area during every interval to minimise stopping for food on the journey north. The game finally finished and after a heated debate about why England entered the World Cup in the first place we left the lodge and quickly visited it's stony, unpleasant, yet vaguely popular beach. When I say vaguely popular, I mean it had more than one other person, which for San Simeon is a record.
Enjoying a surprisingly quiet Hollywood...
We left the town, with the last vision being some tumbleweed in the rear-view mirror as we set off along the incredible winding, cliff-top roads of the 'Highway 1'. The views along this wonderful stretch of tarmac were breath-taking and were complimented by the 'Beach Boys', blasting away in the car. We stopped for gas at Gorda and were thoroughly impressed with the price of filling up the tank, despite the size of our vehicle. We continued the drive through the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. We eventually continued our travels and followed the signs to San Fransicso. A guide recommended a YHA, and when we eventually found the site on the impressively-named Fort Mason site we entered the hostel. We were met by a rude, abrupt and idiotic man at the reception who stated that the hostel was fully occupied to every question we threw at him.
The delightful Santa Monica Beach, California.
He was a most unhelpful, ignorant man that bore a striking resemblance to 'The Rainman'. We angrily left and I missed out on my opportunity of staying in Fort Mason. Nevertheless, we soldiered on and found a hostel in the heart of [er, the red light district of] town. We checked in, and were dealt with by a receptionist called Luke, who was a colossas of a being, who needed regular breaths during speech in order to prevent a stroke or cardiac arrest. Despite a few near-misses, he managed to find us some space in the popluar hostel and deliver his speech in full. We moved in the baggage and in doing so, I noticed Sam sitting at the computers. I was amazed to see him so soon after Australia and we soon caught up on the latest escapades over a few beers.
The wonderfully quaint and pleasant Santa Monica.
Carl, Wayne and I went for a nosey around town and managed to find the highly-regarded 'House of Nanking' Chinese restaurant. We asked our efficient waiter what they recommended, and were treated to a feast of plate after plate of wonderful food. We were stuffed when we left and thanked them enormously. The queue for the restaurant at this point was the length of the street. We returned to the hostel and had some beers and shot some pool with Sam. It was a really chilled out night and a good laugh.
Sunday 2nd July
This morning I moved rooms in the hostel as part of Luke's terms and conditions before going into town and hiring bikes at a shop called 'Blazing Saddles'! We decided on our route and started off going through town and continued along the harbour and piers.
The intriguing road signs for the journey ahead!
The trip continued over a gravel track along the harbour, at which point I decided to show off my two-wheeled skills by boasting about how far one could skid. On my first (and last) attempt, I managed to clutch the front brake instead of the rear, causing me to hurtle head-over-heels onto the gravel track, thus flinging the bike onto innocent passers by. In doing so I sustained deep cuts to the hand, a badly grazed leg and a very sore ankle, yet we were all unable to move due to a fit of hysteria. As my hands were now pouring of blood and i was covered in the chalk from the gravel, lying on the ground, I looked up to Wayne and Carl who were unable to help me up because of their state of delirium.
Approaching a summit on the amazing Highway 101.
I hobbled to my bruised and battered bike, with my helmet in a Captain Mainwaring-style slant and nodded gracefully to bystanders as I pushed the bike to a nearby cafe. This stop was completely unscheduled, but more necessary than ever before. I made a beeline for the washroom and made myself semi-presentable as I examined the true state of my person. I noticed that my jumper was ripped and my back and shoulder were grazed. I returned, had a much-needed coffee and fruit juice and continued the giggles with Wayne and Carl, who were both mocking my inability to pull a skid. I explained that it was right-hand drive over here and that the brakes were the wrong way round... they didn't bite! Despite my ailments we continued on to the Golden Gate bridge, a wonderful piece of engineering and architecture, that was a joy to ride across.
Non-stop scenery from LA to San Fransisco.
We went on through the unforgettable town of Sausalito
, which was an idllyic town, a truly incredible place. I fell in love with it and we stopped by for a milkshake in a trendy Italian cafe set in the centre of the quaint, yet busy prosperous area. We soldiered on, downhill for a stretch in the basking sun, through deserted football fields until we eventually got lost! After being advised by the friendly locals, we were back on track and headed towards Tiburon. We finally made it to the equally beautiful Tiburon, where we relaxed in the afternoon heat, rewarding ourselves with superb ice cream looking back over San Francisco
The streets of San Fransisco.
We boarded our ferry, taking us past Alcatraz and back to the city. We returned to the hostel and went out to a fabulous Italian restaurant on Union street, celebrating our epic day.
Monday 3rd July
During last nights dinner we asked Sam if he would like to join us on the next leg of the tour, to Yosemite National Park, a clear favourite for our trip. He duly accepted and therefore this morning all four of us set off in the GMC (which because of it's size and discourteous driver was now referred to as 'GMC - don't bother me') on the way to Yosemite. En route, we stopped for lunch where Carl and I opted for a Subway and Sam and Wayne elected to go for the healthy option (a Carl's Jr burger deal, which involved extra burgers for 99c).
The Golden Gate bridge.
The suspension of the GMC was truy tested over the following 100 miles. We found the hostel with relative ease and were impressed with the authenticity of the lodge. After arriving in the heat of the day we went to the advertised pool, which was a mission in itself, clambering through forestry and unfavourable terrain to get there, which in a pair of cheap flip-flops is agony. The resort was really in the middle of nowhere! We eventually got there to find it to be a freshwater hole in the ground, surrounded by rocks and a waterfall. We went in for a dip in the surprisingly cold water and chilled out for a while. I ventured a little further and when doing so the guys, who were all on land shouted 'snake, snake!' to which I just laughed and continued paddling before their shouts became more like shrieks.
Shortly after hurling myself off the bike, relieved to be alive!
I turned around to see a hooded snake about a foot away from me, swimming parallel to me... well, Ian Thorpe wouldn't have stood a chance! I flung myself away, watching the sharp and rugged ground as I reached the side of the pool. This provoked further laughter as I was left shaking in disbelief. We returned to the hostel and went to a nearby town called Mariposa for dinner. Sadly the restaurants were well out of our price range, so we returned to the lodge and had a wonderful steak. We played board games and drank the local tipple. As we returned to our dorm, we found that someone was sleeping in Wayne's bed, which was hilarious. It turned out that the beds had been mixed up!
Tuesday 4th July
Happy Independence Day! A well-planned itinerary ensured that we would celebrate this honoured public holiday with a trip around the most famous national park in America - Yosemite.
Riding over the bridge - a definite highlight!
The tour was organised and brilliantly guided by the hostel owner, Douggie. Our first stop was the giant Sequoia trees, which were very impressive. They were enormous and many had stood for hundreds of years. We were also given some rather obvious, yet useless information by a park ranger that hadn't been out much this millennium. Still, it did provide another laugh as we drove on to Half Dome, a peak at an altitude of 7,256ft that required a little bit of exercise to reach. The effort was mote than worth it with the incredible views of vast greenery, huge waterfalls, snow-capped mountains and stunning landscapes. We stayed to admire mother nature at her very best before we had probably the most scenic lunch I will ever have.
The superb Golden Gate bridge.
We were accompanied by a few squirrels, one of which befriended Wayne (someone had to) before we visited Glacier Point, which was sadly full of fat tourists, but equally necessary to capture some magnificent views. The next stop on this wonderful day was the Yosemite Falls, which is the tallest waterfall in the North America. The view from the valley, surrounded by giant Sequoias was unsurpassable. Another stop took us to the Sierra Nevada falls, which were also very impressive. We walked to the summit of this brilliant sight, which took a good 40 minutes, walking through the spray from the fall, admiring the kaleidoscopic rainbows emitted through the falls. The views from the pinnacle of the falls was truly memorable, even moreso because we were thoroughly soaked! We reluctantly returned to the valley floor, drove home (for some unexplicable reason, singing all the way) and attempted to get into the Mariposa fireworks display, but this had just finished.
The view from Tiberon to San Fransisco...
We returned to the hostel after the kitchen had closed but Douggie managed to pre-book steak's all round for us and we repaid him in beer to round of a simply incredible day.
Wednesday 5th July
This morning Sam left early as he had negotiated a trip back to San Francisco and Wayne Carl and I set off to Barstow, which was a stop-over en route to our next major city. En route to Barstow Wayne found out his degree results and had received a 2:1, which went down superbly with our latest Subway lunch. The original plan was to stay in a place called 'California City', but no-one had heard of this area and when we eventually stumbled on it, we realised how.
Posing for another photo after our mammoth bike ride!
It was the smallest hamlet in America - the lilliput of California, yet with a name that one would expect to carry a significant population, when in fact, it made San Simeon look like London. We abruptly decided against this barren land and after a quick check on the map, we headed to Barstow in the hope of some form of civilisation. This was much more habitable and we checked in to another Comfort Inn, which was very pleasant. We dined at a local Italian restaurant and had an early night.
Thursday 6th July
After another staple breakfast of muffins, orange juice and pastries we departred to the highly-anticipated of Las Vegas. We drove through the fantastic deserts of complete emptiness before embarking on the galmorous city in the middle of nowhere.
Another glimpse of the amazing suspension bridge.
As we cruised along the strip we noticed the thermometer (which had rarely fallen below 100C since we picked up the car) was now at 116C. It was blistering! We pulled up to the Golden Nugget hotel, which was just off the strip at Fremont Street. We checked in to this fabulous hotel and admired the luxury that we would spend two nights in. We walked around Vegas in the afternoon, which was quite a surreal experience - it was very quiet and hardly any shops were open at all. In the evening we hit the casinos, gambling only on the slots (any flirtation with the roulette wheel or craps tables would have had worse consequences than Enron). Wayne managed to win $30 and Carl and I bascially didn't. Undeterred, we went outside to watch the Fremont Street Experience, an hourly event that involved watching a light canopy - advertised as the largest TV screen in the world, and at a cost of $70m, I would imagine that it's the most expensive.
Alactraz; very, very popular with tourists!
The screen is huge - it occupies five blocks of an entire street and has a 550,000 watt sound system. Basically, its amazing. The show, which rotated each hour included anthems, fireworks, promotions and advertisements for America. The street was packed to watch this spectacle as everyone gawked upwards at the brilliant lights. There was a nice vibe about the area and this was also the case at dinner - an all-you-can-eat job in the hotel. We stuffed ourselves and hobbled back to the machines with little success!
Friday 7th July
This morning we awoke early... 5.15am to be precise! Which, when in Vegas is generally when people start thinking about going home, but no, we were getting up. More surprisingly, we weren't in bad moods or releuctant to get up, the reason being that the day trip today was to the Grand Canyon, a hugely anticipated part of the trip.
Chilling in the pool in Yosemite...
The journey there spanned four hours and the fellow daytrippers on the coach were obese, elderly Americans invariably called Frank and Susan. The torment of the ride was broken up with a brief stop at the impressive Hoover Dam and the hugely entertaining DVD 'Maverick', which was a much more welcoming sound than the sucking of boiled sweets that were unkindly echoing throughout the coach. We finally arrived at the Canyon, after briefly driving along the infamous Route 66 and walked to the face of the sotuh side. First impressions of this incredible feat were incomprehensible. We were in awe, yet unfazed by the gargantuan spectacle before our very eyes. This was the Grand Canyon! It cost us a fortune for this day trip, and this was it. Here, right in front of our noses and we were dumbstruck.
The very relaxing bug rustic resort in Yosemite.
It wasn't possible to quantify such distances. Rather than jump in delight at this natural wonder, we just looked and moved around to see if shapes changed - they didn't. The trouble was it was big. So big that the human eye is incapable of measuring such a scale. It is unfortunate that man becomes defunct in circumstances such as these. It was like looking at a postcard or a picture. It was two-dimensional, yet we were standing on the edge of miles and miles of rock formations. Yosemite was much closer and had trees and waterfalls as reference points that could be used to measure distance, but the sun-scorched Arizona plains meant that any vegetation was too small to identify from our vantage point. If I was told that the other side of the canyon was one mile away, I would believe it.
The incredible Sequoia's covering the National Park.
If I was told it was 10, 20, 30, 40 or 50 mile, I would also believe it. As far as the eye can see, there was a massive void, a huge emptyness that cannot be summised in words. And so, despite my desperate attempts to convince myself that it was magnificent, memorable and hair-raising, the Grand Canyon will always be a void, an emptyness for me. We sat for some two hours, staring into space, a large, lifeless space and returned to the coach a little dejected, but with ice cream. We had dinner en route back to hotel and headed back to Vegas after narrowly missing a very serious thunder storm. Driving through Vegas was spectacular, watching the illuminations of all of the hotels, learning about the superb pyrotechnics and electrical wizardry that makes Vegas so brilliant.
The usual supsects... Carl, Me, Wayne and Sam.
We changed and hit the casino's. Within five minutes I was up $50 and loving it! Wayne and I then hit the bars and clubs, which was quite an experience. We checked in at 3.40am.
Saturday 8th July
Viva Las Vegas, we were off this morning and bid a very fond farewell to the amazing Vegas. A huge drive to Richfield was on the cards today, which had no appeal, but was an unnecessary stop in order to make our way onwards. We briefly stopped in Walmart, which was enormous and had the most random shopping expedition ever. Carl bought a sewing kit, for the hole in his bag, I bought some comfortable, yet unstylish sandals for my battered feet and Wayne bought some Spongebob Squarepants boxer shorts. Bloody English! We checked in to an all-too-familiar motel and went to the only restaurant that appeared open in this non-descript hamlet.
The largest tree in the world...
The restaurant for this evening was JB's. If you're wondering why this gets special mention, it is mainly because it is, with out any shadow of doubt the worst establishment ever created. It was of course a chain, which was of no surprise and contained about 3 staff, the oldest of whom was about 12. I ordered salmon and Wayne and Carl both ordered steak. Before that, we had some delightful salad, which consisted of yellow lettuce and an assortment of calorie-fuelled dressings. Then, the highlight of the evening... the mains. The guys' steaks were two beef burgers with an onion gravy, accompanied by microwaved vegetables with a delicious plastic smell. This came with a chainsaw for the burgers and asphalt for some seasoning. As for my gastronomic embarrasment, my poor salmon had been subjected to the microwave as well.
A scale of the giant sequioa's.
It required pneumatic fire equipment to separate the 'flakes' and a jetspray to blast off the scum that had accumulated on the flesh. As for the freshness, I very much doubt if this salmon saw in the millennium and would hazard a guess that in it's lifetime it probably didn't swim an inch. The meal was a disaster. The vegetables were ugly and tasteless. A quick glimpse in the kitchen showed a wall of microwaves. Ramsay would have strapped the place with dynamite and blew the place up. I was tempted myself. We left, still very hungry and thoroughly disgusted with the awful, awful JB's.
Sunday 9th July
The culinary farce of Richfield continued with a foul breakfast of dry pastries and antique muffins. We checked out and left Richfield without any tastebuds and the inability to produce saliva and proceeded to drive through Utah, where we stopped for food, which was yet another blow for the gut.
Tough terrain, but spectacular views.
We did stop for a Starbucks and Carl made a terrible mistake of ordering a tea. This ever-so simple task was over-complicated to the point of vomiting when the waitress put the teabag into the hot water and set the stop watch. She explained that it took exactly four minutes for the teabag to diffuse optimally, thus creating a standardised cup of tea. With this obscene gesture of ignorance on the part of Starbucks resulted in me walking away before murder was committed. Queue a rant: What is the world coming to when people aren't trusted to make a cup of tea? Starbucks clearly has no respect for its' employees if they think they are incapable of making a simple cup of tea. Why not stir the bag, or squeeze it to speed up the process?! Has the world gone mad? No, it's just McDonaldisation striking again, in the aorta of society.
More sensational views over Yosemite.
Carl finally received his lukewarm tea, after 4.00.13. Don't worry, we didn't tell the supervisor it was served 13 milliseconds too late... Anyway, we continued our drive to Breckenridge. This wonderful ski resort was exceptionally pretty and quiet, but out of season, it was rather depressing and mainly shut down. We agreed to drive a bit further and go to Denver a day earlier than planned. We arrived late and eventually found a motel near the centre. The downside of which was that it was in an exceptionally dodgy area and was designed for long-haul drivers. The nicotine-filled corriders, unfitted carpets and off-white walls testified to the years of neglect of the lowly motel. Muffled noises down the corridor and the fact that everyone wore their baseball caps backwards further intensified our concern.
Amazing waterfalls in Yosemite.
We played it safe and ordered a takeaway pizza and had an early night.
Monday 10th July
This morning we made a swift exit from the motel and visited the Denver Bronco's stadium. The 76,000-seater stadium is a feature of the skyline and is a very impressive structure. We went in to see if they operated any tours and found that this only happened Tuesday to Friday. Wonderful! We settled for a quick look around the pitchside, which was very kind of the ground staff. Go Bronco's! We went into Denver city centre and mooched around. We briefly visited the US Mint, but were told that no tours operated on Monday's. This was the same story at the Denver Art Museum. Mental note: don't go to Denver on a Monday, because it is closed! We parked up and explored 16th Street.
Picturesque views in Yosemite.
We had a lovely meal, sitting outside of a pleasant and trendy restaurant, watching the world go by. Denver has such a European feel to it, very modern, pleasant and vibrant. It is a very nice city, with a lot of charm and appeal. We went to a park in the city and played frisbee and sunbathed before going to an ultra-trendy cafe and diving into ice cream and drinks. In the evening, we checked into another motel, closer to the city centre and much more friendly in the daylight than last night's unpleasantness. With an exhausting day behind us, we settled for a local diner nearby for dinner. We got chatting to our waitress and her husband, which was pretty interesting. We also discovered the reason's behind the expectations of tipping. The waitress basically worked for $2.
A stunning waterfall surrounded by greenery.
10 an hour and therefore almost completely depended on tips for income (which, were subject to tax)! This was quite a shock to us, as although we had tipped generously throughout, we had no idea the extent to which tipping was needed.
Tuesday 11th July
This morning we left Denver in good time for our internal flight to Houston, Texas and drove the short distance from our hotel to the airport. In this brief spell of time, we managed to crack our windscreen from a stone that had been thrown up by the vehicle in front of us. We were about ten minutes from handing the car in to Alamo when this had happened, so it was met with a lot of panicking and barmy suggestions of how to cover up the minor crack. In the end, done the sensible thing by leaving the car before they could intergate us.
A beautiful valley in the heart of Yosemite.
We checked in at the airport with our flight details and were told that our flight had been cancelled and that our ticket (for UA1184) was now for Minneapolis. After consulting a map, and realising that this was nowhere near where we wanted to be, the clerk explained that we could be moved to another flight, leaving for Houston in 30 minutes. We therefore legged it through the massive queue in customs (most of which had to be done in bare foot...) and continued the sprint, in flip-flops to Gate 568596 in true 'Home Alone' style. We arrived only to be told that there was no space on the flight and that we would have to find another plane. We found the United Airlines helpdesk and explained the situation to the pleasant staff. We were told that UA had informed our travel agent some time ago about the change in flight details.
A birdseye view over the national park.
Nevertheless, they were very sympathetic and gave us all $50 vouchers. Whilst UA were searching for other flights, I phoned our dumbass of a travel agent and vented my frustation on them. We were put through to a fool named Scott, who gave himself some fancy job title like 'Senior Aeronautical Analyst'. I quizzed him on why he failed to inform us on the flight change and he gave me a story about how he emailed everyone, but was unable to ensure that everyone got the message. For this half-assed excuse he got a verbal drumming (the night before we had watched Gordon Ramsay's Hell's Kitchen USA, so finding insults wasn't difficult). If his job was to annoy customers and refuse any responsibility, then he was a genius and deserved a medal for his abilities. In truth, he was a prat, a useless imbecile incapable of anything.
Loving the views and the glorious day.
I completely flipped on the phone and delivered probably my most offensive speech to date. Whilst on the phone I asked if our other flight (from Chicago to New York) was still effective and he assured me that it was. I gave him our mobile numbers and various emails and asked him to let us know immediately if there was any flight changes. I hung up mid-flow when I found out we were on standby for another flight on the other side of the airport. Another 'Home Alone' style dash to the gate and we found out that we had just missed boarding. This was met with a scream reminiscent of that made when in Bangkok airport. The next flight we could get was a few hours later, which meant that we'd be arriving in Houston later than expected. We waited around Denver airport and I was livid.
Another trigger-happy picture of the landscape.
I don't think I can remember a time when I've been more angry. In Bangkok, it was more scared, fuelled with adrenaline. This time it was sheer anger and frustation. We finally boarded a flight to Houston on the third attempt and I ended up sitting next to an Indian gentleman who must have been the only person I have ever met to read the in-flight magazine cover to cover. He had the most annoying habit of turning over the corner of each page that he found useful, so that by the end of the flight the magazine was twice it's original thickness. As soon as we landed he phoned his business partner and read each page out over the phone to him, despite being told not to use phones until stationary. It was the longest taxi ever to the terminal and after being familiarised with every advert in the magazine I was ready for a large beer or two.
How cool are we?!
This quota was extended when it took an eternity to find Carl's baggage. We finally arrived at the airport in Houston and went straight to Alamo to pick up our car. The clerk behind the counter was the largest being we had ever seen. We were aware that Houston was officially the fattest state in America, but he was enormous. Wayne placed our confirmation details on the counter, only for the industrial-sized fan to blow it on the floor. This meant that the guy had to get up and bend down to pick it up. It was like watching the discovery channel - I was convinced he was going to do a forward roll and we all looked in horror as he somehow reached the floor and picked up the paper. We were relieved to have an upgrade again, although this time, we had the choice of the entire forecourt.
Anyone for rafting?! Some rapids in Yosemite.
We went for the largest one, only to find that a GMC was also there. Nevertheless, we drove off in our seven-seater Dodge Caravan, which was huge! We drove to our hotel (which was a bit too close to an airbase), where Carl found that his sun tan lotion had leaked all over his bag with a note saying 'Bag internally expected by US Customs'! We went out and found a really good restaurant called BJ's (not to be confused with the horrendous JB's) where we enjoyed the Texan portions, including a monster of a chocolate brownie for dessert. This was most necessary after such a mammoth day!
Wednesday 12th July
This morning we got up bright and early for our visit to Nasa Headquarters in Houston.
A rather action-packed shot of the waterfall in Yosemite.
On route, we found it apt to play Elton John's 'Rocket man',
but after listening to it 50 times in the past few weeks, we couldn't wait to get out of the car. We had missed the early morning VIP tour, so instead mixed with the other rednecks and walked around the very impressive and all-too-American base. The guided tour was narrated by George Bush Sr and John Glenn via audio tape and we watched historical video's by JFK and others. We roamed around, looking at replica atrifacts of Appollo missions, which was very educational. Other interesting areas were the replica rockets, the astronaut training centre and the awesome life-size rocket, which was enormous. All in all, it was a very interesting day and we avoided the intense Texan sun most of the time.
A view from a summit of one of Yosemite's many waterfalls.
We left Houston and drove through Galveston to Beaumont where we found the ever-faithful Motel 6. Unfortuately, whilst getting out of the car I realised that I had trodden on chewing gum at some point during the day and the car (which we had for less than 24 hours) was now caked in gum. After an eventful clean-up operation involving ice cubes, elbow grease and excessive cursing, the gum still didn't budge, so we put a mat over it and went for dinner to the International House of Pancakes... never again!
Thursday 13th July
This morning we left Beaumont, which forgive me, wasn't the most exciting place in the world. We left early in the morning and set off for New Orleans. On the way we stopped at a place called 'Orange Town' or something to that effect, which really was in the middle of nowhere.
Back on the road, this time en route to Nevada.
Our accents drew much attention, but not enough to warrant a free Subway despite my best efforts. I consoled Wayne on not paying the extra 20 cents for an upgrade to a supersize Coke, which was essentially 48oz and required considerable strength and concentration to steady it into the car and stuck it in the well-placed cup holder only inches away from me. Oh, you gotta love the American cars! Wayne managed to pull out of the car park and around a corner at such a speed so that the the vat of Coke was flung into the air, and despite my heroic lunge to catch it, the back of the car was soon swimming in Coke. Sadly, the back of the car contained all of our clothes and bags and as we had just joined another huge highway, it would be some time before we could stop again.
The memorable giant screen on Freemont Street.
As Carl and Wayne were in the front seats, it was up to me to salvage any wreckage in the back. This wasn't helped by my uncontrollable fit of laughter that only intensified as Wayne and Carl were ridiculing me for going supersize and not holding onto the huge cup. Carl's bag took the brunt of the damage, as well as the air-conditioning unit, which was covered in Coke. Several hours later, we rolled up to New Orleans in the world's most untidy and absorbant car. We soon found out that there were no cheap motels or hostels in New Orleans and after bartering with the hotellier, we managed to get a considerable reduction in price. It was still expensive, but it was luxurious and bang in the city centre. We dumped our bags, got changed and went for a wonder through town in search of the infamous shrimps and jazz that I'd been looking forward to for so long.
Our rather luxurious hotel in Vegas...
Our first restaurant was very pleasant and very busy and I dived into crawfish ettouffe, which was very interesting; very tasty fish with a typical southern spice. We went on to a jazz bar, but this was more rock than jazz. Nevertheless after a few beers, no one was arguing and we just chilled, soaking up the carnival atmosphere of the club. We headed back through the slightly dangerous streets to our very comfortable hotel.
Friday 14th July
The first plan of the day was quashed when we heard that the swamp tours were not on today. As per usual, we had picked on of the few days that the tour did not run and instead opted to see a bit more of the city. It was a damp day and it drizzled throughout the morning.
Hoover Dam, en route to the Canyon.
We stopped at a cafe for lunch, where I had the long-awaited gumbo. I had always wanted to try the dish in it's authenticity after watching the chef Keith Floyd cook it once on TV. In reality, it was distinctly average, but worth a go anyway. We had a drink nearby and chatted to an Irish bar owner who had lost so much in the hurricane. The city was clearly far from getting over such an ordeal and it was apparent everywhere that the city was a former shadow of it's former self. We boarded a boat called Steamboat Willy that took us up the Mississippi river, which was a great way to unwind and take in the city with it's local beer. From the river, it was possible to see the trail of destruction that Hurricane Katrina left behind less than 12 months ago.
A spectacular view over the canyon.
It was hard to imagine such a big city ever getting over such a thing, which is a terrible shame considering the wonderful charm of New Orleans. In the evening, we went to a very popular and classy oyster bar, but resisted them and enjoyed some other delicious seafood instead. We chilled out for the rest of the evening at an open-air jazz cafe, which was very pleasant.
Saturday 15th July
This morning we woke up and decided to go to Florida. Why not?! We did have an agenda, but the night beforehand, we looked at our rather stringent agenda and decided to move on from New Orleans. After consulting the map, we realised how close Florida was and before long we were heading for the seaside resort of Pensacola.
Impressed with the unbelievable size of the canyon.
We drove through four states to get to our destination (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida). I celebrated this feat by getting a much-needed haircut in Alabama, which was a particularly random thing to do, especially as it was a woman's hairdresser's and I came out like Halle Berry... Anyway, back on the road to Florida, we finally found a street full of motels and we stopped at our second home, Motel 6. This was slightly more expensive than anticipated and no negotiations were available as there was a Blue Angels air show in Pensacola and everywhere was fully booked (well, er, apart from Motel 6...). We reluctantly paid the extra and cursed at the Blue Devils before dumping the stuff and heading down to the beach. Pensacola beach is a superb drive, and the beach itself is idyllic - it was packed with families and friends, playing frisbee and soaking up the early-evening sun.
The sun-scorched trees don't have much chance in this heat...
We sunbathed for a while, before going into the water. This was very warm, as the Pensacola beach is in the Gulf of Mexico and is very pleasant indeed. It was very pleasant indeed until the waves attacked my sore legs (which had still not begun to heal from the insect bites in Fiji). I left the water with fresh wounds, which were now irritated with the salt water and decided to play it safe by chilling in the sun instead. As the crowds descended, we played some frisbee, which certainly needs some practice and one lapse in concentration, I caught the frisbee full in the hand, which opened up the once-healing wounds sustained from the San Fransisco bike accident. I decided to call it a day and hobbled back to the car like a war victim. We were met by the worrying sight that our car had sunk into the sand we had parked on.
Another glimpse into the canyon...
Only a few cars were now around as it was getting rather dark and after intial observations it looked as if we were beached. We attempted moving, but only sank further. It was then that the Deputy Sherriff of Pensacola pulled up and confirmed that we were definitely stuck, to which I replied in the most sarcastic voice ever 'Do you think?!' Please understand that was certainly not the intention - I seriously thought we would be ok with a few more revs, but the way it came out couldn't have been any worse. Wayne and Carl both scowled at me to shut up before we all get hauled into jail. We declined the Deputy Sherriff's kind offer of a tow and instead used the mats inside the car as traction devices under the wheels. This didn't work and before long the car mats were buried well under the car.
The unfathomable distance over the canyon.
Another kind passer-by stopped and offered us some help. This time we gratefully accepted it as it was getting seriously dark now and before long we were on the tarmac again. The only thing left was to dig out the car mats and thank the driver. All along, the Deputy Sherriff was parked nearby watching what was going on. He must have been peeved that we turned down his help and accepted someone else's, so it may be a while before we visit Pensacola beach again! Exhausted and shell-shocked, we drove back and got changed for the evening. We had a meal at Ruby Tuesday's, which was surprisingly nice - I opted for the Bison burger (yes, you read it correctly). We got chatting to the waiter, who was incredulously bored with singing 'Happy Birthday' to what seemed like the entire population of Pensacola.
A major storm brewing in Nevada...
He was interested about travelling to England, so after a few lessons on beer, football and thre 'real' England, he was so impressed that he gave us a free chocolate brownie. A great end to a thoroughly eventful day.
Sunday 16th July
This morning was it was very damp and rainy. Carl wasn't feeling well, and my hand was particularly painful after the frisbee incident. After the recent hectic schedule, we decided to effectively write today off. With terrible weather looming, a seaside resort in Florida isn't the best place to be. We stayed in doors mainly, ordering pizza's and sorting out some much-needed domestics. As the day progressed, Carl was feeling worse and so it was decided that the best course of action would be to go to hospital.
Back on the open road through Nevada and Utah.
We arrived at the Sacred Heart hospital at 8.15pm and did not get seen to until well after midnight, despite Carl throwing up in the waiting room. If you think the NHS is bad, think again... When Carl was eventually seen to, Wayne and I grabbed some dinner, which resulted in almost submitting myself into the hospital as well. After numerous tests, the diagnosis was mild gastroenteritis, which required one-and-a-half bags of glucose. Carl wanted the other half bag for a souvenir, but the staff were reluctant. We returned to the motel at 4am, absolutely exhausted.
Monday 17th July
This morning we woke up, checked out and drove to Montgomery, Alabama. We were all thoroughly exhausted with yesterday's ER and after a typical southern lunch at a gastropub, we walked through the deserted streets of Montgomery.
The very pleasant Denver.
After soon discovering that the area was indeed this boring, we decided to stay somewhere else in the evening. In the mean time, we visited the Rosa L. Parks museum, which was really interesting and informative. We dismissed the idea of the Hank Williams museum and left town, heading to Birmingham. We found a... motel 6 and relaxed for a while before eventually finding a diner for some food. I was only peckish, but Wayne actually asked for the biggest thing on the menu and proceeded munch on that for most of the evening. We headed back to the hotel after a pleasant and relaxing day.
Tuesday 18th July
This morning we set off for another 'key city' that we were very much looking forward to - Memphis. On the way, we stopped off at Tupelo, where Elvis (hereafter, the 'King') was born.
The majestic city hall of Denver.
We visited the house he grew up in and learnt about his humble background before going to Johnny's diner, which the King used to visit regularly when he went home. As expected, it was a grease pit visited only by locals and people who should know better. We all ordered something different but seemed to get the same calorie-packed, deep-fried meat in a bun. We continued our quest to get to a size zero by pigging out on some delicious ice cream, but driving around in the scorching Southern heat with an ice cream is impossible, so we had to pull over to complete the feast! We finally arrived at the motel in Memphis and returned the Dodge Caravan, which now had remnants of chewing gum on the floor, covered by a very sandy mat and an aroma of Coke every time the air con was on.
Invesco Field - home of the Denver Bronco's.
Whilst we were there, we picked up our car for the last leg of the journey - the awful PT crusier, which I instantly took a dislike too due to the it's hearse-like features and was tiny compared to the previous juggernauts. In the evening, we got picked up in a rather embarrassing pink limo and were chauffered to Marlowe's restaurant - rumoured to have the best ribs in Memphis. When in Rome! We obliged to the menu and feasted on delicious pork ribs and beer and had a very enjoyable night before being driven back to the motel in style!
Wednesday 19th July
This morning we woke up to find that Carl had been up all night feeling ill and the symptoms were similar to the other day. He therefore preferred to stay in during the day and if things got worse, he'd call Wayne and I.
GMC - don't bother me! Our farewell to our much loved and sweet-filled car.
We bid farewell to call, kept the mobile handy and went to Graceland - Elvis' magnificent home. As expected, it was incredibly busy, with queues forming to get into other queues. We walked through the downstairs of the house, which was superbly decorated and pakced with memorablia before leaving and walking through the collection of records he made over the years. The hall was amazing and put into context how big he actually was, and is to this very day. Included in the museum, covering the chronology of his life was the monumental year of 1956 when Elvis released two albums and six hit singles. The roll of honours was endless and very impressive. We also visited his final resting place, which many had paid their respects to over the past 29 years.
NASA Headquarters, Houston, TX.
The finale of the tour was a look at his two private jets that he used for touring. It was the ultimate status symbol of a superstar and they were decorated in true Elvis style, with no expense or flamboyance spared. In the gift shop, we deliberated over buying a limited edition Elvis No.1 disc, but decided against it based on the size of it and also the hefty price tag! We returned to the motel in the afternoon and Carl was feeling a little better and had some food. We lazed by the pool for a while and got ready to go out. Carl wasn't up for going out in the evening, so Wayne and I left had headed to downtown Memphis. We stopped for a beer at an open-air bar and listened to some great live jazz and rock music. One of the band was a double for Ricky Tomlinson, who coincidentally played the banjo, so a photo was taken to confirm our suspicions! We dined at an Isaac Hayes restaurant, which was very quiet, but very good indeed.
A replica of a rocket currently used.
Memphis has such a friendly atmosphere and great homely feel. We left and went back to the car to find that it had been crashed into, and through some detective work, we reached the conclusion that the donut who crashed into us had the ignorance to park next to us. We took some photo's of the incident for insurance purposes and alerted the nearby police officer, who would make Chief Wiggum look like Poirot. He wrote something in his notebook (probably a shopping list) and drove off. We got back into the car, after kicking the incriminating car numerous times and returned to car rental depot to explain the situation. (From the three cars we rented so far, I think I'm safe to say that our names have been blacklisted by Alamo now indefinately). The suggested we either continue in the hearse or change to another car - the choice was obvious and we were upgraded to a sporty little number in no time! Of course, all of this was unknown to Carl!
Thursday 20th July
After last night's drama, we decided it would be best not to say anything to Carl and instead capitalise on the situation by winding him up.
The training base in NASA.
Carl was feeling much better in the morning and as we were leaving the motel, Carl went to load up the car. Obviously the PT Cruiser wasn't there and after much panic and a fake call to the insurance company (who failed to cough up), Carl was almost ill again, before we casually walked up to the new car and started loading it up! Carl fell for it brilliantly and even claimed seeing a PT Cruiser driving off last night! What's more, the whole thing was recorded on Wayne's phone, which was played repeatedly throughout the day. This cheered us all up for the long drive ahead, which went through Arkansas and Missouri towards St. Louis. This in itself was a bad idea as the day before the city had been rocked by a hurricane and Carl and Wayne wanted to divert to another city.
How's that for an exhaust?!
I saw it more as an adventure and also was interested in the city. Upon arrival, we were welcomed by carnage. Every hotel was packed with evacuees and homeless people. The only room available was the honeymoon suite at the Holiday Inn for $150! The shame of it was too much, so we declined and left. Time was getting on, and without power for miles, we were driving in the darkness, being chased by another storm that was brewing. To make matters even better, we were rapidly short of gas and due to the power cuts, all gas stations we visited were either closed or out of gas. We soldiered on, with the dashboard now flashing at an alarming rate and the storm getting particularly ferocious. Carl and Wayne were not impressed with my decision to go to St.
Having a go on a shuttle simulator...
Louis and now we were almost of gas, in the middle of nowhere, late at night, with a storm approaching. Nevertheless, I found the whole thing exciting, but the other two did not appreciate this observation and I was told to shut up immediately. Somehow we made it to a gas station, that had been hit by the hurricane and were grateful to fill the tank up despite the extortionate prices! We stopped for dinner in another small town, which again was fully occupied by families that had escaped St. Louis, before continuing north to Springfield. We eventually stopped and found a motel, which had vacancies. If we had any energy left, we would no doubt have done a victory dance around the reception area, but alas, we were exhausted and in need of sleep desperately.
We tried to hire this one from NASA, but to no avail!
Friday 21st July
This morning we all had a thoroughly-deserved lie in and set off on the final car journey of the trip. Through heavy traffic, endless congestion and a smear of fuel left in the tank, we made our way to Chicago. We drove straight to Alamo, almost pushing the car to the depot as the fuel light had been on for a considerably long time. This was however a notable achievement - we managed to return the car without any damage at all - our record to date was appalling to be blunt (car 1 - chipped windscreen, car 2 - chewing gum/sand/aroma of coke, car 3 - crashed). We hastily left the garage before a door fell off or the fuel tank blew up and caught a train to the city centre. Unfortunately, the ticket vending mahcines in the train stations do not give change, leaving Carl slightly narked at paying $10 for a $3 ride! Nevertheless, we made our way to the loud, bustling and very charming city of Chicago and checked into the hostel.
Enjoying an open air jazz session in New Orleans.
Throughout my travels, I made a conscious effort to use the internet to find out if there were any events or concerts at my forthcoming destinations, so when I searched for Chicago during July, I found that the city was hosting the Gay Games VII. For three straight guys only in town for a few days, this wasn't the best news and upon arrival we realised the true scale of the event. Most hostels were fully booked and charging top-end prices. Restaurants were also very busy, which proved annoying. We dined at a very scenic restaurant on overlooking the Chicago skyline, sitting outside on a cool and refreshing night. Sadly, the service was awful and three hungry Novacastrians were unimpressed with the long wait for our food.
The cruise along the Mississippi onboard the infamous Steamboat Willie!
After dinner we returned to the hostel and played ping pong and table football until we were suitably exhausted.
Saturday 22nd July
This morning Carl and I woke up and went downstairs for a walking tour of Chicago. Wayne stayed in his bed because he is bone idle. The tour was really interesting and covered the architecture, commerce and arts of Chicago. The city has such a good feel about it and we were keen to explore the it. We had inquired about baseball tickets to see the White Sox, but unfortunately it was a sell out, so we chose to spend the rest of the day walking around the city. First of all, we phoned Chicago O'Hare airport to confirm our flight status for tomorrow's flight to New York.
The Rosa Parks museum, Alabama.
We were shocked but not surprised to discover that Scott 'the dumbass' had failed to notify us that the flight had been completely changed, despite our specific request to contact us directly as a matter of urgency if this had changed. His negligence for the second time in a eleven days was the final straw and we vowed never to deal with www.unitedstates.biz
ever again. It is the terribly organised and has atrocious customer service. I contemplated on phoning them to let them know that one of the flights had changed, but thought better of it and decided to make the most of the beautiful weather and walk around Chicago. We walked along the very pleasant Lake Michigan, all the way along to Navy Pier, where we enjoyed some delicious Haagen Dazs ice cream amidst the busy crowds walking along the pier.
Elvis' birthplace, Tupelo.
We continued our extensive walk through the many streets of Chicago and eventually returned to the hostel. In the evening, we missed the fireworks to signal the end of the Gay Games and just snacked on food due to our earlier nibbles.
Sunday 23rd July
This morning we got the train to the airport and then caught our flight to Philadelphia. Yes, you read that right. Rather than flying direct to New York, as originally planned, we were flying to Philly and then transferring to a connecting flight to New York. This shows the extent to the latest balls-up by Scott 'the dumbass'. Our two-hour wait in Philadelphia was long enough for me to catch Tiger Woods winning The Open in sunny old England, which pleased me and the hundreds of Americans gathered around the plasma TV in the terminal.
Elvis' front room!
We finally boarded our 40-seater jet, which was very comfortable. We were scattered around the plane and Wayne was seated at the back of the plane, next to the toilet, which was apparently blocked and stinking the back of the plane out. I sat content at the front, oblivious to the aromatic stench that was brewing a few seats back. Our first sight of New York was a magnificent view over Manhattan, and it was then when I realised how huge and dominant this city actually was. We touched down, collected our baggage and caught a very overcrowded bus to the outskirts of the city. We then caught another bus to take us to Times Square, where our pre-booked hostel was ideally located. The hostel was very 'compact' and was run by Japanese who only had a brief understanding of the English language.
A classic Elvis mobile...
We immediately dumped our bags, got changed and headed out of the hostel, straight into the thick of this amazing city. We dined at a nearby Mexican restaurant, which was very nice, but were alarmed at the rather generous tip that the restaurant had included on our behalf! We paid the bill and left to explore Times Square and nearby.
Monday 24th July
This morning we wondered towards Central Park, but on the way stumbled across the CBS studio where the 'Late Show with David Letterman' is filmed. The queues outside were huge, so we lingered around and spoke to the producers about getting tickets. Before long we had put our names down, explaining that we came all the way from England to see our bestest buddy, ol' Dave.
Our carriage awaits to Marlowe's restaurant...
The only contact number we had was for the hostel we were staying at, which they thankfully did not phone, as the Japanese hostel owner wouldn't have had a clue what was going on! We continued our walk up Broadway and walked along Central Park South until we reached The Plaza. Sadly, it was going through a major rennovation until the Fall of 2007, which was a shame as we had planned to have at least breakfast there. Instead we walked across into the enormous Central Park and sunbathed in the glorious baking sun. We walked all the way back to Times Square, once again admiring it's liveliness and energy before heading back to the hostel to get ready for this evenings entertainment. One of the key things I was looking forward to when coming to America was the fact that we had pre-booked superb seats at Madison Square Gardens to see an NBA match.
Living the celebrity lifestyle in memorable Memphis!
Wayne was in charge of the booking and one of the first things he said when I met with them in LA was that the tickets were indeed WNBA and we were seeing women's basketball. Now don't get me wrong, I have nothing against that, but the prospect of seeing NBA is considerably more exciting for me than WNBA. Nevertheless, the night was going to be amazing as we were going to possibly the most famous arena in the world, watching sport. It was the New York Liberty vs. Conneticut Sun and it was a thoroughly enjoyable match. Of course, we pigged out of popcorn and gummi bears and Wayne got his photo taken with the mascot... the usual stuff before the match began. As the TV camera's constantly showed the fans on the huge screens above, we managed to get our 5 seconds of fame as the camera went straight on us and we jumped around like lunatics.
The King and I...
NY lost 71-89, but it was a great experience in a truly brilliant arena. We spent the rest of the night walking aimlessly through the labyrinth of streets and finally had something to eat, before heading back to the hostel.
Tuesday 25th July
This morning we woke up with the usual wonderful energy that you have when you're staying in a big city. The itinerary was packed, and started with a brisk walk to the Rockafeller Center. We had been advised to see New York from this vista as opposed to the Empire State building and we were not disappointed. The 360 degree views of New York were superb. Central Park was very close and only then could you see how big it actually was. The morning was slightly hazy, so visibility wasn't perfect, but we were undeterred as there was still so much to look at including the Empire State building and the Chrysler building to name just a couple.
Elvis' living room.
In the afternoon we queued up to get tickets for some shows before going to the 'Late Show with David Letterman'. Earlier in the day we phoned and found out that not only had we got tickets, but we had been given golden priority seats by the producers! We queued intently to get in and we then ushered to our seats, which were four rows from the front! The whole experience was fantastic - the compere, the lights, the atmosphere and of course, Mr. Letterman! Having not watched the show much, I wasn't aware how funny he actually was, but rest assured he is funny. The guest star was Greg Kinnear and he was talking about his forthcoming film 'Little Miss Sunshine'. There was also a random guy on from some local zoo, who brought a snake onto the set and talked about it for a while.
The whole show was thoroughly entertaining and very memorable. We then had a very quick dinner and then rushed off to the final installment of today's thrills... an off-Broadway play called Altar Boyz, which, although desperately controversial, was hilarious. We left and had another early night ready for another day's adventures!
Wednesday 26th July
This morning was another early start, where we went to watch baseball. The game in question was the NY Mets vs. Chicago Cubs at the Shea stadium. The sun was beating down on us as we enjoyed three hours of great entertainment. Planes were passing overhead as the runway for La Guardia airport was very nearby, which also provided some entertainment when there was little activity on the field.
Elvis' living room.
The seats we had were superb and very close to the action. We dined on nachos and hot dogs, which probably wasn't the best idea I've ever had! The game was very low scoring and after nine innings, it was 0-0, which wasn't ideal for our first game. Fortunately, the game went into the 10th innings for a sudden death finale and the Mets clinched it, much to the fans delight. We travelled back to the hostel, excited with the result, but crippled with stomach ache and moved our bags from the dependable hostel to the Pennsylvania Hotel, where Carl and Wayne were staying for their last two nights. In the evening we got our gladrags on and went out to watch the Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast. The whole show was thoroughly entertaining and we were very impressed with the work that went into producing such a show.
The thoroughly entertaining Beale Street in downtown Memphis.
We left, had some dinner and had yet another early night!
Thursday 27th July
This morning I bid farewell to Carl and Wayne who were to spend one more night in New York. My travels were taking me to Boston, so I caught the pre-booked and incredibly cheap coach from Chinatown, NY to South Station, Boston. It only took four hours, which was most impressive. I then got the subway to a hostel, which was a little pricey, but very central. The hostel had only been open a few months and a new manager had been appointed. After 30 minutes the manager started cracking on to me, which would be great, but sadly this person was male, fat and bald, not my usual type! In order to escape I got talking to some other guys in the hostel and went for dinner with them to the nearby pub.
Elvis' rather psychedelic pool room.
Yes, you read it right. Finally, in the USA I had managed to find a pub! I was delirious. Then I found out that the whole street had pubs on... I nearly fainted with joy! We had went out for dinner, but several beers later and good live music that followed meant we were out all night! A great start to Boston...
Friday 28th July
This morning I had a lovely lie in and then went to Little Italy for some lunch, which was very pleasant, before walking around the incomparable Boston. I wondered through the infamous Boston Common and up to the delightfully expensive shopping district, with streets lined with boutiques and other fashionable outlets. The whole atmosphere of Boston reminded me of England. Street names were very conservative and rational.
Elvis' jungle-themed lounge.
Despite it's outrageously large share of US franchises, there remained a lot of traditional and independent stores and the people were very friendly indeed. I continued my mammoth trek up to the stadium of the Boston Red Sox and would have loved to watch the game, but found out that tickets were particularly expensive due to the city's love of sport - another tradition synonymous with that of England. I came back to downtown Boston, enjoyed another few cold beers, despite a thunderous storm and checked in for an early night, desperately wanting to avoid the increasingly annoying George, the big gay manager.
Saturday 29th July
This morning I woke up fully refreshed and eager to explore an area slightly outisde of Boston; Harvard.
Elvis' very decorated walls of hits.
Being a universally-renowned student insititution, I was keen to look around and see what American education had to offer. Needless to say I was in awe of the splendid monuments that house the nations finest university. The grandeur and size of the university was most notable, as was the surpsingly relaxed feel around the campus. It was a Saturday and during the summer semester, so it wasn't at the height of activity, but it was still buzzing with energy and joy that fills most city's with many students. A quick informal tour of the traditions, tribulations and tonics of student life in Harvard was revealed in all it's glory, which brought a flood of memories back to the surface. I meandered back into the town centre of Cambridge (another classic example of how English this place actually was) and was first struck with rows upon rows of tables occupied by budding chess champions.
The shrine of Elvis number one's and costumes.
Queues were forming to challenge the champion, with both old and new friends embracing each other before their ever-so-serious game began and any kind of mercy was soon lost as they hastily moved the pawns around the board without detracting their eyes off the board until the game was won and they were the best of friends yet again. This was most entertaining for a passer-by and I continued my stroll around Cambridge until I found a nice park to crash out in for a while. I was amazed to then find someone walk past me with a Newcastle United shirt on with 'Emre' printed on the back. This completed my transformation from America to England in one day and I slowly made my way back to Boston is the baking heat that had been relentless all day.
Outside the magnificent Graceland...
I came to the hostel, made irritating small talk with curious George and escaped to the bar underneath the hostel and enjoyed a U2 cover band until I was ready to drop.
Sunday 30th July
This morning I very casually went to Boston Common, which was typically hot but as pleasant as ever and enjoyed a Hispanic baseball competition for youngsters in the area. It grew a lot of attention and was very entertaining before I went to the 'Cheers' bar, which I had been looking forward to for ages! Boston has two 'Cheers' bars - one is of the outside and is instantly recognisable, whereas the other (some 1km away) is an exact replica of the bar itself. Therefore, in order to sample the true 'Cheers' experience, I found it both fitting and necessary to visit both establishments.
Another one of Elvis' brilliant cars.
The first 'Cheers' bar was situated near Boston Common and was very popular with locals and tourists alike. It is exactly the same as the sitcom until you open the door and the layout is completely different. Nevertheless, the beer is as delicious as expected! After this enjoyable experience, I walked across town to the repica of 'Cheers' and was amazed to find that only one seat remained in the whole bar, and it was that of Norm's! It was the classic position such that the barman can slide the beer along the bar and it would abruptly stop just in front of the welcoming Norm. I decided against asking the barman to replicate this dream and instead ordered a cheeseburger, which was equally satisfying. After the afternoon tipple I wandered back to the memorable Boston Common and sat on a hill, overlooking the growing crowds that had gathered to watch an open-air theatre production of Shakespeare's 'Taming of the Shrew'.
Thunderbirds or Elvis?
.. well, what else would you expect in Boston! The freshness of the cooling summer air, the glistening sunset and the remarkably attentive crowd will be a longing memory of the unforgettable Boston. I reluctantly withdrew from the Common, walked back to my hostel, told George that I thought he was a big fat weirdo and left for the train station for my final country of the tour... Canada.