Week 19, 20 Monterey and Los Angeles California

We caught the Amtrak overnight train from Portland to Salinas which was a good experience. Like everything in USA it’s big , it’s a double decker with an observation car, dining car , sleepers but we chose coach and it was perfectly adequate with reclining seats and we slept quite well. But the railways appear out dated to us, manual systems , old stations , late trains which travel at a leisurely pace, which is great for sight seeing and have long stops at stations. We nearly didn’t get out at Salinas because we thought that the train had stopped at a signal and had a mad scramble out of the train before it restarted. But it was nice to feel the warm sunshine after the cold of Portland.
Our journey was not without drama as somehow Patrick managed to drop Carol’s passport on the floor and only discovered this when we were checking in to the hotel. After a number of phone calls and some tense hours we learned that the passport was found and returned to Salinas station the next day where they picked it up.
Monterey is a small fishing village with a lot of charm and one of the nicest places we have visited .We spent time strolling around the beach front and harbour and enjoying the ambience. A perfect place to retire except for the high cost of living. There are numerous medical facilities to cater for the retirees but Carol had a difficult time trying to renew her script for her medication and suffice to say expensive. USA has the highest medical costs in the world, another reason to think carefully about living there.

We took a bus to Carmel , a very exclusive town with a beautiful beach next to Pebble Beach golf course. Cannery Row , where John Steinbeck wrote the book is another attraction but not much remains of those days and now it’s full of tourist shops, restaurants and up market hotels.
We had two days of rain which cramped our style somewhat but we were able to sort ourselves out and generally observe life. Its noticeable that everywhere in USA that white , well kept men and women take what we would consider to be mundane jobs , supermarket check out clerks , cleaners, bus drivers etc.. and do it cheerfully and give good service. Drivers are careful, courteous particularly in relation to pedestrians. Around the bus station are all types of eccentric people , unfortunately mainly the dropouts of society . There is a noticeable gap between the haves and the not haves.
I also took a trip whale watching and saw grey whales , sea lions, sea otters , pelicans and lots of sea birds. The harbour area is infested with jelly fish.

We travelled by bus to Santa Barbara and then were delayed for over an hour there waiting for the train which was delayed due to the previous week’s mud slide which had killed twenty people in the area.. The train eventually took us to Union Station Los Angeles and then we caught a bus to the airport through ten lane highways at walking pace due to the worst traffic I’ve ever seen. I cant help wondering why USA has such a love affair with the motor car and has allowed its public transport system to deteriorate to such an extent.

We had a homestay in a family home in Playa del Rey , near to the beach and unfortunately a bit too near to the airport. By now the weather was warm and sunny and we took a  ride on rickety bikes to Venice Beach which  appears to cater to two types, the well heeled with beautiful condominiums and the less fortunate with tacky shops. Hundreds of people were exercising in the sunny weather, running, walking and cycling and everything in between. USA is energetic, exuberant, easy to engage and fun loving. The next day we took a ride in the opposite direction, South , and had a coffee at  the big .surfing area Manhattan Beach .

So our USA visit was at an end. Thank you to Carol and Patrick’s relatives and friends for a wonderful stay. A trip across USA would be a great adventure one day.

Week 18 Portland Oregan

We flew Air Alaska to Portland and were impressed with the automated check in; simple , quick ,efficient and the result was that two girls checked in the whole flight with no fuss whilst American Airlines had long queues . Compare SAA, masses of people doing nothing. It was cold with snow on the ground and icy roads. The weather here reminds me so much of UK, cold ,grey, rainy and people hunkering down in their houses. We stayed with Davey, Patrick’s son and his wife Robin and they tell you nothing ever happens here. There was a lock down in the area whilst heavily armed police searched for an armed fugitive. You weren’t allowed to leave your houses. He was found two blocks away in a house after a gun was fired. Anyway we had ten guns in the house for protection. Then when we drove out of the house there was a body in the road and crashed cars from an accident and police , fire brigade and ambulances were chasing about with sirens blaring. Nearby is Mount St Helens which blew up spectacularly about ten years . Its OK we are told , it only erupts every 100 years but there was some activity whilst we were there. We took a drive in Dawie’s huge truck along the Colombia River in cold , icy conditions and had lunch at a complex converted from a poor house with bars, a spa, vineyard, theatre , all set in a pretty garden.
We took the train into Portland, a nice city with few high rises and many older preserved buildings. Lots of pubs and restaurants and we ate cheaply at a series of stalls in a square. We also visited a huge thriving book store. There were  a lot of down and outs and some punk kids on the train. The racial profile is very diverse , Chinese, Mexican and whites proliferate and not many black people. Many cute wooden houses , conspicuously without fences and mixed areas but distressingly a lot of homeless people are evident., some very down and out.

A visit to Walmart is a good way to pass the time. as we were checking out an announcement was made, ” Would the jewel thief please return the jewels ” . Some of the      characters you see there are off the wall. The lady in front of us was buying next Christmas’s presents at a knock down rate. One evening we went to the local pub and gaming house, won $40 and paid for our dinner. Americans are friendly and gregarious and a lot of fun..


Week 17 San Francisco

With all the restrictions, checking in at airports nowadays is a nerve wracking affair. Our flight to San Francisco from Kuala Lumpur was via Shanghai with another airline which was not affiliated and to change planes we had to collect our bags and pass through immigration to change terminals. In order to do that we had to have a transit visa for China. We had 5 hours to do this, ample time you would think. On arrival we were shepherded to a queue for transit visas with one officer going through the laborious procedure of finger prints , photos etc. and invariably there were problem travellers. An hour and a half later we got our visas. From there we picked up our bags and checked in for the San Francisco flight. The clerk took ages correlating our passport and visas and waivers and announced one digit was wrong on Patrick’s visa waiver . Patrick went to the Business Centre and after having to pay with cash and sorting out the Chinese computer reapplied for his waiver. normally its a 72 hour wait and we decided that Carol and I would travel and Patrick would join us later. With heavy hearts we just made the check in, were the last in the queue and the flight was closing when Patrick appeared with a big smile on his face as his waiver miraculously came through. We made the plane by the skin of our teeth.
What to say about USA. Well driving around San Francisco is like being part of a movie set , it all looks so familiar. It’s cold but we wrapped up well. The family we stayed with are warm, friendly, loud and generous. Chrissie’s parents moved out of their home to accommodate us ; how many people would do that for a bunch of strangers? The extended family also entertained us for a wonderful Italian meal, Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas day lunch. How’s that for hospitality!
They are also pretty well off, live in well appointed houses and drive nice cars. But it’s not all like that , nearby there’s trailer homes and quite a lot of homeless people living in tents or doorways. We went to Napa Valley for wine tasting and bought some wine at $45 a bottle, toured San Francisco ; walked to Union Square, went down Lombard Street , the steepest hill in the city, Saw the Museum of Fine Arts, and had a drink in Sausalito by the sea. We ran around a lake on one beautiful clear sunny day. USA is the ultimate consumer society , the choice of goods is enormous. Its amazing how one passes from one area to another , we walked through Chinatown and passed into the Italian quarter from one street to the next.