Back to where we started

Lights, camera, action! You know you’re back in LA when you come across film crew and lights on every corner.

Filming all over the Huntington Library grounds, in the rose garden, on the patio of the gallery, in the sculptures garden. It is a beautiful setting for a period film. So lucky to have Sue take us here otherwise wouldn’t have known about the precious historical manuscript collection, wonderful gallery of portraits and other art including Renaissance and the tea room. The best tea we had in ages with a buffet and berry scones! Even a yummy takeaway scone bag.

Crew shooting around the Annenburg Photography Gallery in Westwood. It only had one exhibition on Beauty Culture, a smaller space than ACP and the critique was very LA style with lots of glossy mag shots of models and stars, very unlike the Love Me exhibition at the ACP.

You can see how Santa Monica and Venice Beach lends itself to being the outdoors playground of LA as it’s a very long and wide stretch of beach and bicycle path. Good for me walking off the burgers there. They love to exercise in public but on a bigger scale than Bondi and Manly put together. Liked the shopping in Santa Monica too. Film crew following a young man talking and walking down the mall there.

Lights and screaming crowd near California Pizza Kitchen, Westwood for the arrival of Justin Timberlake at the theatre but unfortunately Sue’s daughter missed her idol. The Sicilian thin crust pizza, Morrocan chicken salad and tiramisu were good for us though.

Thank you lovely Sue and family!

Goodbye Hollywood!

My favourite iPad Travel Apps

This trip was the first time I used the iPad. I love it for travelling, particularly for a road trip! Convenience, information and assistant all in one!

Google maps was good when I was online to download directions so then I could still use it offline.

USA navfree was the best map app that I could use offline, more convenient than Google maps, making it easy to find a simple street map of any town or city we found ourselves in; indicating where motels, restaurants, petrol stations etc are; and calculating routes; includes audio navigation when properly inputted.

TripAdvisor for hotels and sights reviews when online. Handy if you have a short time so you can pick out the best to see or for good preparation if you want to stay in town longer.

Free wi-fi finder not always used for that purpose only but also for finding where motels are offline if you get stuck. The number of hotels, restaurants etc also gives you an indication of how big the town is.

Tip Calculator was good at the beginning when we were just getting used to it.

Units used to convert miles to kms, Fahrenheit to Celsius when it was burning in our minds, clothes and shoe sizes.

Weather app to check what to wear and what to do.

iBooks/Kindle app made it easy to download topical books related to our travel such as “Women of the Beat Generation” by Brenda Wight when I was in San Francisco, “Lost on Route 66” by Eric Wilder when we were on the road.

iPuzzle HD useful for boring long plane trips.

Notes I used constantly to write thoughts, ideas and copy/paste information from the web to keep handy.

Blogsy was the best app to write my posts and upload to wordpress quickly and easily. I could write and edit offline, then publish when I found wifi.

I didn’t feel that it was a problem not to have 3G. It was very easy to find wifi in the USA in any town plus it was nice not to be online all of the time so I could focus on reading and writing or doing other activities instead.

From San Luis to the Grand Canyon

At the southern end of the Rocky Mountains driving through Wolf Creek Pass, through trees and more trees and snow, ravines rich with yellow trees, their rustling leaves looking like gold in the sun and a green green valley. Coming across the view of the San Luis Valley is absolutely beautiful. So pristine! It’s verdant fields, still lakes, grazing horses and log houses with smoking chimneys and a hike to Treasure Falls accompanied by a tiny striped chipmunk for part of the way was a lovely experience. Legend has it that Spanish explorers buried golden treasure nearby that was never found of course. This is the natural treasure! Hmmm… it’s also known as the Mysterious Valley.

Mesa Verde is fantastic! Arising out of the flat land is this magnificent orange coloured plataeu with cliff dwellings where the ancestors of the many groups of Indians lived until about 1300, about a century before Columbus, after which they disappeared. Now that is mysterious! What is left are stone walled homes, rooms plastered red and white inside, constructed in caves along cliffs facing the afternoon sun. Small villages pretty much well hidden from view. It took about 24 km driving uphill from the entrance to the visitor centre to see just a small part of this and if you are lucky you’ll see a grey coyote quickly but calmly crossing the road and deer bounding across the grasslands.

Navajo Reservation settlements surrounded by an amazing moony landscape with all shaped small and giant rocks jutting out of the sand en route to our next destination. Most houses are simple structures. Red Mesa is a new housing development all with red roofs. Tuba is one of the biggest towns where a Navajo festival was being held. We spoke to a Navajo woman at Elephant Feet Rock. She was warm, open and friendly telling us she was a 47 year old with 10 children, the youngest being only 2. We answered her inquisitive questions about ourselves and Australia. She proudly explained that they pay no rent for their land, it’s theirs even though the government wants to buy it sometimes. I bought a hairclip with cedar beads as they are meant to protect me on our journey she said.

We arrived into the South Rim of the Grand Canyon from the east, the altitude increasing. The first look out stop gave us a first taste of its magnificence and a close up of its textured cliff faces. You could hear water falling somewhere and see the brown Colorado River. Every look out view was even more impressive and even more massive. Staying here gave us an appreciation of how ancient, grand and powerful the earth is to have carved out these rocky canyons over long gone layers of sea, lagoons, marshes trapped in the rocks. The craggy fault line near the village visible from the top where you can do the Bright Angel Trail, partly walked, as it’s way way long down to the bottom. Black ravens and crows flying but endangered condors not to be seen anywhere. Only talked about by the ranger. We were lucky to get a cabin at Maswik Lodge. The Grand Canyon Village is full of hotels, a rail track, cabins and campgrounds. It has it’s own history. Americans are well-organised in hotelling villages in national parks. Hotels in a national park is definately a bit odd for us though. We were impressed with their environmental outlook including refilling bottles with fresh spring water from taps around the village.

On the way back to LA and off the I-40 again we passed along the Colorado River further south through Lake Havasu City. What a funny place in the desert this is! Mike described it as “It’s like a beach in the desert but in London. They’re confused.” Some rich dude bought the 1831 London Bridge, brought it here, assembled it in the sand and then dug out a canal around it. Then they developed this city in about the 1960’s. Another theme park! This time with English pubs and red telephone boxes and one eucalpytus tree, all in the middle of the desert! We wondered at the logic of building this as a holiday destination in the burning heat, building and maintaining green golf lawns with palm trees surrounded by rocks and sand! People will go anywhere for a holiday home!

Nearly at LA again where we’ll spend the last couple of days with my Beverly Hills cousin before departing for home. Most people in the America we saw out here in the south west live simple, hard working lives trying to make ends meet in a complicated world full of oddities, historical anomalies, injustices and differences believing in whatever keeps them going, imagining what could be real. Beverly Hills is TV world for most I guess. California very different indeed.

Memphis Moods


helpful and friendly
musical and energetic
bored and disinterested
laid back
hot and tired
colourful and entertaining.

The many moods we discovered in Memphis. Interesting considering that our first impression came from the giant pyramid building approaching from the freeway crossing the Mississippi which was strange indeed.

Later on the way to Beale St from our motel outside of downtown we stopped in an eatery to get a cool drink. We got stared at a bit, maybe for being the only white people there or maybe for our accent, but they left us alone and we didn’t feel uncomfortable. It was all interesting to us!

In Beale St. we noticed all the bright neon colourful signs straight away – Blues Cafe, BB Kings Blues Club, Black Diamond, Pig on Beale Pork with an attitude, Ground Zero Blues Club. The lovely old red Daisy with its arched entrance. The New Daisy across from it. Blues sounding out from the bars along the street as athletic young African-Americans flipped down the street, young and old women dressed in yellow, pink and blues, all the colours of the rainbow, some men in baggy suits and hats. In fact I love the way they get dressed up here! They look relaxed, beautiful and smart. We relaxed with the locals listening to the blues, watching those classic passionate moves as they played.

We hadn’t realised how long Graceland would take. Five hours later we finished the Gracelands house tour with excellent audio information along the way and five other exhibitions and museums on Elvis clothes, cars, planes etc. I have to admit I was moved when I saw his grave. After all I had been that girl child watching Elvis Sunday matinees in the seventies era and remember the day he died. Didn’t like all the commercialisation! Souvenir shops with bored, young sales ladies who were short and unfriendly with us.

The funniest, quirkiest thing we saw in the very crowded Peabody Hotel were the  Peabody Ducks waddling into the lift! See It reminded me of the description of the ground floor of a hotel as a public square in “What I saw in America” by Chesterton.

The most serious thing were the local news reports. Video footage of police beating up an African-American was under investigation. A robbery and a shooting.

Little Rock Reunion

Another reunion at Little Rock! We enjoyed Turkish food and hospitality with wonderful Erol and Dilek. It was so lovely to see them happy with their little one and starting a new life in the suburbs there. So nice to eat from proper plates too! In the south food was served from take-away plates and cups in every cafe and restaurant we went to.

Little Rock was a welcome relief from desert country! It was green, full of trees, warm and sunny during the day and cool in the evenings. It’s a great walking city with trails along the beautiful Arkansas River and across bridges. People are friendly. Lots of galleries and museums there. We saw exhibitions on ‘Gone with the Wind’, the civil war and the Osage, Caddo and Quapaw people. I had never heard of the 1830’s tragic, horrific Trail of Tears before. It gave a good historical context of the area. Quote from one of the exhibitions “As agriculture grew, so did the need for slave labour.” Interesting wording?

We were impressed with the Mosaic Templars, an African-American fraternal organisation. Their informative exhibition gave us a picture of their history from slavery to the rise of the vibrant “Little Rocks Harlem”. The Hall of Fame included famous African-Americans from Arkansas. President Clinton was the only Caucasian honorary member!

Fort Worth Friend

Saddles and SaddlesWhite Elephant Saloon


White Elephant Saloon

Stockyards, rodeos and cowboys is what you think of when you come here. Yes you do find cowboys on horses as well as cowboys on motorcycles trotting and throttling in the street in front of the White Elephant Saloon but we discovered another side of Fort Worth too.

After a very long time, I’ve finally seen my friend Gretchen in her home town. She has a big heart! She took us on a foodie tour at Central Market one of the biggest and best supermarkets we had ever seen, stocked with great quantities of cheese, wine etc from all over the world. We ate throughout the tour, sampling many delights such as chilli chocolate and vegan tofu noodles. We also tried several restaurants with Gretchen and her wonderful foodie friends. Tex-Mex and fajitas at a Mexican restaurant, chicken fried steak with gravy at Texas Grill, which is a typically Texan dish, and beyti at Istanbul Grill for the nostalgia. We had fun reminiscing!

We came across country music wherever we went as the Fort Worth Songwriters Festival was on. Yodelling as well. Very entertaining!

Like a rhinestone cowgirl! Never realised how popular, glamorous and strong cowgirls were in their heyday until we went to the Cowgirl Museum which included hats and outfits with shiny rhinestones, saddles, boots and more country songs. The Amon Carter Museum of American Art had an impressive permanent exhibition on early frontier paintings of the west. Recommend seeing both if you come this way.

The best quote Gretchen told us. The first thing a Southern woman thinks of when she wakes up -“Are you going to be a weaner or a hot dog!”

Ride on!

Route 66 New Mexico

James Dean Mural, Blue Swallow Motel, New Mexico

Wind Turbine Blade, 150 foot long!

“We are the people of this land.
We were created out of the forces
of earth and sky, the stars and water.
We must make sure the balance
of the earth be kept.
There is no other way.
We must struggle for our lives.
We must take great care with each other.
We must share our concern with each other.
Nothing is separate from us.
We are all one body of people.”
Simon Ortiz, Continuance
Native Indian poet

I found this beautiful poem at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Centre, run by the Indian people of the pueblos. It’s a wonderful exhibition explaining the 19 pueblos (villages) and that it was interestingly a matriarchal culture. When the Spanish Catholics came they freely adopted a saint for each village while still keeping their own religion but they were persecuted for it and exploited for their labour. This version of their history rings truer to me.

Architecturally, both Alburqueque and Santa Fe feature adobe style buildings in the centre of town as well as for their homes. Santa Fe also seems to be the centre of the Indian jewellery shops for hundreds of tourists. Turquoise is a spiritually precious stone for the Indians and they’ve be mining it for thousands of years. I’ve never seen so much turquoise jewellery in my life!

As we browsed through the streets, we saw that posters of “Wanted Billy the Kid” are still around reminding us of our friend, Mark, whose great-uncle put an end to the western tale. We could imagine sheriffs and cowboys riding across this great scrubby, rocky expanse. It must have been pretty tough! Even by car I’m finding it a little tough!

Weaving in and out of highway 40 and Route 66 we came across a great, retro motel in Tucumcari. The Blue Swallow Motel (, originally built in the late 1930’s, with a fab retro neon sign, original garages next to each room and lovely owners, Kevin and Nancy. Always interesting and inspiring to meet and see how people have changed their lives. They took over the motel after having lost their jobs in Michigan. Kevin said that a lot of Australians have passed through recently. Not surprising!

Of course midway between Los Angeles and Chicago we had to have breakfast at the Route 66 MidPoint Cafe at Adrian in the County of Oldham, our first stop in Texas and it’s solar capital. The time zone changed once again, an hour ahead! We only just figured this out after crossing two states on Californian time!

Route 66 Arizona

1950s Diner, Route 66

Truxton Town, Arizona

Long, hot desert roads!

In the desert it’s about the destination, not the journey! Those welcome oasis stops! A stop at Barstow, ex-mining town, described as “right in the middle of everywhere” in their travel magazine probably because of the intersection of highways in the middle of nowhere. It was strange like being in the wild west except there are big neon signs everywhere.

A cold drink at Needles where the Colorado River runs through, a bite at Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner at Kingsman where the route is at it’s best, a browse through Hackberry General Store and Peach Springs, each time reading a short story from “Lost on Route 66” by Eric Wilder depicting some of the folks who live by the route.

“Route 66 was special from the start—it had a number and was never meant to follow the linear tradition; its raison d’être was to imbue the backwoods with life, and marry the Great Outside with rural communities. On paper, the label U.S. 66 meant the Chicago to Los Angeles route. Off the record, people understood that along the way, it would link the main streets of towns, cities and villages. Apart from being a magnet for tourists, the route was a boon to truckers because it bypassed the treacherous Rocky Mountain passes and followed a southern route that was passable all year round.” Tanja Cilia

There’s always a Route 66 Diner, motel, shop or cafe somewhere. Some old towns like Winslow (Think Eagles song ‘Take it easy’) look dead as highway 40 bypasses it. Faded signs everywhere.

I feel that Route 66 is more about stories and a fading history than anything else.

We’ve also passed through the lands of the Hualapi, Apache and Navajo people who have souvenir shops along 40. Mike bought me a pair of earings from a lady who may be possibly Hualapi as it was at a rest stop near Needles.

Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks

Down pour at Vernal Falls

Forest Fire Fighter

Cat at Sequoia National Park

Steep, winding mountain road drives!

So next we were ready to check out Yosemite after our stay at the historic Hotel Charlotte in Groveland. Hotel Charlotte was founded by an Italian lady, Charlotte De Ferrari, who migrated there during the bustling Gold Rush days, and who apparently still roams about the hotel. Now owned by warm, down to earth Lyn and her husband and their piano playing dog Goose who is also the honorary Mayor. We loved it there but luckily we didn’t meet Charlotte.

As we arrived into Yosemite Valley we were immediately struck by the stunning vista of the valley, Merced river and rock formations of the Cathedral and Half Dome. We were surrounded by incredible sheer granite faces, water falling off into rivers weighed with more rocks and boulders! We hiked to Vernal Falls but got caught for nearly 2 hours because of the rain and hail and we got separated and had to wait a long time for the shuttle bus too! People were soaked through, pet dogs wet, children crying! We were cold. This set our plans back!

We hadn’t known what to expect of the Yosemite Village and found it strange to have hotels, shuttle buses, camps with permanent tents, restaurants, screenings and thousands of tourists, even a wedding party, in such a beautiful place! So organised, crowded and booked out on account of the late summer and free entrance for the National Park Lands Day on the Saturday 24th Sept. So in the end it was a shame that we didn’t do it enough justice, didn’t feel what Ansel Adams must have felt, because we had to get outta of there. Thank God we don’t have anything like that at home. When is it ever the low season here?

We liked Sequoia a lot more, the woody smell and amazing tall trees that tell a story. It has only a few lodges and campgrounds spread along the Generals Highway. We felt relaxed and tranquil in the forest until we saw a juvenile black bear cross right in front of us! He just ignored everyone, rambled uphill to climb a tree right to the tip and have a look around.

Thank you San Francisco!

Thank you San Francisco
Four Barrels Cafe – San Francisco

Bicycle Couriers of San FranciscoFour Barrels Cafe - San FranciscoSan Francisco Truck

FedExSan Francisco TruckSan Francisco Truck

San Francisco Truck

San Francisco is cool!

Counter-culture city, first the Beats, then hippies and now the gay community and greenies.

Our first trips were to the tourist hotspots, Chinatown, the Wharf with the view of Treasure Island, the Crookedest street in the world, Little Italy in Columbus Ave. Chinatown looked familiar but bigger! In Little Italy, the baked penne, artichoke, Calabrese pasta dish was really satisfying! Had been craving a good pasta for ages, let me tell you! Mario’s Bohemian cafe where the Beats hung out was too popular so we went to Cafe Trieste on Vallejo instead. This was a cool cafe. Good coffee. A young Italian couple in the corner smooching. Writers on their laptops at the back. A bearded artist with his sketch pad and pencil sitting along the wall. Mike snapping and I’m writing this post via Blogsy.

The Beat Museum, near Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Bookstore, was worth going through for the historical context of the area, as the prelude to the sixties, as well as for the Beat lore. Poor Kerouac didn’t quite last as long as the other Beats as he suffered from a terrible depression and alcoholism. Sadly, neither did his daughter. Apparently, the movie “On the Road” will be released next year. It’s inspired me to read “Women of the Beat Generation” by Brenda Knight which I downloaded from iBooks.

In the financial district we saw a few people holding up signs to drivers to honk if they support the cause against Wall St because they just lost their jobs. So what is the rest of San Francisco like, outside the centre?

In the Latino area of Mission, a friendly local took us to Fourbarrel Cafe. You could smell the coffee approaching it and see hip, young things with their bikes and take-away outside. Inside, more hip, young things in a big, warehouse type room. One wall lined with toothy hog heads. At last! Their cappuccino is like how we might find it in Sydney.The orange, ginger doughnut was scrumptious too. The toilet floor had a nature fresco painted on it. Walking along Valencia st, we browsed in and out of second hand and thrift shops selling clothes and furniture. One big one at the corner of Clarion Lane which has two grafitti murals. Mohamed Bouazizi on one side and the other side reads “There are more Africans in the US prison system today than were slaves in 1850.”

In 24th Street Castro we bought a book in Pheonix Books and bought food from the wonderfully stocked and cheap salad bar at Whole Foods Market for a picnic in Dolores park where local girls and guys and gays were sunbaking and walking their dogs. So nice to sit in the sun after the foggy mornings! Mike was impressed with the cyclists. I was impressed with their legs. They sure must have good legs, for cycling and walking up hills!

This whole area looks well to do. I did hear somewhere that hippies basically came from middle class comfortable families. The vibe in Haight St was a little strange and unfriendly as it looked more like a museum to the sixties with tour buses up and down the road, a mixture of cheap and expensive shops. Just trying too hard to be the same, we thought. You can see where the flower power generation hung out at the Victoria etc but Mission remains our favourite. Interestingly, we did talk to an activist campaigning against ‘hate groups’. Apparently, they have increased even in the Bay Area! I can’t imagine even intolerant and prejudiced people back home organising themselves into a group in order to hate something. It is bizzare to me but there seems to be a lot of it in this country. That’s why they need counter-culture!