Twenty thousand roads I went down, down, down. And they all led me straight back home to you

Gram Parsons.

What does that have to do with anything. Well, Caroline is the expert on all things musical and she tells me the story of Gram Parsons, singer songwriter, who used to venture into the Joshua Tree desert and just think (if you don’t know about this, then think of when Homer Simpson went into the desert and had the coyote talk to him). One time in 1973, Gram Parsons was staying at the Joshua Tree hotel when he passed away, suddenly, one evening. He was at the place of two of his greatest loves – the desert and hard drugs.

Anyway, some relative wanted his body back in Louisiana possibly in order to claim the inheritance. However, Gram Parsons’ manager and some friends knew that Gram’s wish was to be cremated and have his ashes scattered in the desert. So, they stole his coffin from the airport, drove out to a location in Joshua Tree – Cap Rock – and poured petrol over the coffin and lit a match. The police were on the trail and put a stop, not before some ashes got scattered. The rest was shipped back, there was no offence for stealing a body; however, they did get fined $750 for stealing the coffin.

So, part of our trip from the magnificent Palm Springs (where the rich and famous and movies stars used to holiday) was to take a drive out to the Joshua Tree National Park and desert. Not necessarily to pay homage but more to see the desert and the trees known as Joshua Trees. This was another of our tourist treks of great things to see and again well worth the visit.

We left in the morning to beat the heat, although it was only 22 it felt much hotter from the beating down sun. It’s cool because it’s on top of a mountain, down below it was over 30.

There are plenty of walks and great things to see. Kind of eerie and you could quite easily imagine why you would want to just come out and watch the stars and think of anything and listen to the voices. We went for one walk and after about five minutes there was nothing there but us and nature. It was quiet and beautiful. And hot, and I wish I’d taken some water. And we could see our car after turning each rock but maybe it was a mirage because it disappeared as quickly as we saw it.

There were also great views overlooking Palm Springs and the valley and the San Andreas Fault line. If you go to LA and are looking for something else other than Disneyland and Hollywood, take the trip out for a night or two at Palm Springs – easy freeway driving (or you can fly).

Here’s a collection of shots (we stayed at a real ‘cool’ hotel the Ace and could recommend).

The first album is of Palm Springs, which as well as being the home of the movie stars, is probably more known for its architecture; the second is the Joshua Tree National Park.

 

Backtrack – Keep Portland Weird

Seems like weeks ago when we were in Portland, which was where we started our driving trip, so I thought I better post some snaps and other such ramblings.

Portland was a pretty good place, easy to walk around, bike friendly (not that we went for that), good food, plenty of weirdos (some real weirdos, others on their way to the next G20), skateboards a plenty, a few beggars (some homeless, others very doubtful), trams, full of craft beers, not much hustle and bustle, pretty laid back (make that very laid back), polite, traffic but not like California traffic, food trucks, and best of all – tax free shopping. There are only four States that do not add tax to food, drink, shopping, etc. one of these is Oregon. The prices of the goods do not rise to compensate so it is a bargain place for buying and eating and drinking – woo-hoo!

The Vintage PlazaWe stayed at a nice hotel downtown – the Vintage Plaza, which is another Kimpton Hotel with the hosted wine hour – and because Portland is known as Brewvana there was also beer on tap – woo-hoo! Something some may find strange, nearly all USA hotels are pet friendly so here at the Kimpton they were most welcome with their own drink bowls during wine hour.

This was the one place where Caroline had mapped out several eating locations and we were not disappointed, eating at some really great places and also some snacks at some really great places, such as Voodoo Doughnuts. This place is a Portland legendary doughnut shop where people queue out the front to buy a doughnut – although many buy many and even many more. I liked the fat kid and his Mom in front of us who was going through the revolving glass display cabinet (we are talking multiple doughnuts here, not just your stock-standards) and I’ll have one of those and one of those and one of those and … you know the story. Then came Jim’s turn, but you can only eat so many doughnuts before feeling sickly ill so we went for a small selection – two of the classics the voodoo doughnut and the maple log and bacon. I tell you, maple syrup and bacon are a match made in heaven – maple icing and bacon and doughnut are what they eat in heaven.

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Portland is also known as Bridgetown. There is a river through the city (the Willamette River) – a bit like Melbourne. But at least in Portland they have more than one bridge. The city is also quite old – or it has that appearance – and the bits we were in seemed very safe. Although the old town where the doughnuts were may be a bit dodgy at times because that’s where all the missions for the homeless were. they also have a great garden along the river and running/walking tracks. Here’s a few shots of Portland –

Did I mention that Portland is the home of the food truck? These are just making a good start in Melbourne but in Portland they are everywhere; however, I don’t know if they classify as a truck because many in the downtown  area are permanent fixtures in a parking lot rather than a truck that can drive from place to place. The other interesting thing with the food trucks is that there is no seating, like you might find in Austin, but there is a park or somewhere to sit in the close proximity. So, as well as eating some fine dining we also had to make room for a food truck. I went for the BBQ and Caroline went for something healthy. There is so much variety that you could have something different every day and not have the same thing for a few months. For instance, in the location we went to there are 52 trucks.

I said Portland was bike friendly – they have had number plates (for cars) dedicated to bikes. And there are bike racks and bike lanes, and like many of the cities, bike racks on the front of the buses.

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With the food trucks and fine dining we also went to a great place for breakfast – The Original.  In fact, we went there twice because first time round Jim went for the stock-standard and Caroline had some interesting polenta cakes and honey-maple bacon –

carolines Jims

But what drew us back was not just the good food but Jim saw the Elvis Sighting on the menu and couldn’t resist – french toast, bananas, roasted peanuts and bacon – mmmmm Elvis

And just because I have uploaded them, here are a few more random shots from Portland. More catch-up when I get around to it. Off to San Francisco for the NFL tomorrow (Saturday).

No Longer Highway 101: Day 4

Monday and we are well away from Highway 101, in fact we probably won’t be hitting Highway 101 again so this could be the last time you see that in the title but as I like consistency, I will probably leave it … or I could change it.

Doesn’t really matter, Day 4 of our drive, which is no longer on the coast, started in Redding, travelling down the I5 (a major north/south freeway) then turning off towards Napa Valley before settling in Sonoma for the night.

Being mostly on the freeway this was a pretty unexciting drive and then we hit Napa Valley, which was pretty much under road repair everywhere. Better mention there were no breakfast incidents, no kids touching all the biscuits and coughing over the scrambled eggs or old people cutting into the toaster line.

This part of the I5 was easy driving, passing orchard after orchard after orchard, until we hit olive grove after olive grove then more orchards. We stopped at Napa for lunch at the Bounty Hunter Wine Bar & Smokin’ BBQ. A BBQ wine bar that matched wine with the BBQ. The food was okay, I actually enjoyed my shrimp and clam chowder but the ribs were nothing special. Then we went for a bit of a walk. This place was quiet and full of botox blondes – there was a table at the bar that could have come straight from the Real Housewives of Napa, with their husbands who were kind of like construction workers or maybe they were the ones who sold trailers to those who would not fit in Napa, i.e. drink their wine from a cask. Another funny thing here, in a town that is wine Caroline had a lovely red from New Zealand – go figure? (she made up for it over dinner with a Sonoma wine)

We walked around the area known as Riverfront, that was pretty much deserted, many vacant shops and empty restaurants and resembling a Disneyland kind of wonder world. No doubt, it is buzzing at other times than a Monday afternoon. However, the weather was excellent – beautiful sunshine, about 23 with no fog. Had a look at the weather reports and snow is expected in Spokane where the dog conference was – would we hit snow on Day 5 – you will have to keep checking in.

However, we then arrived in Sonoma, which reminded us of a lovely country town in Victoria. The character was so different and we nestled into our very nice B&B with such a cute (?) name – the Cinnamon Bear. We went for a drive around the valley (and not being a wine drinker and being a dedicated driver and there is not much point in buying wine unless you ship it back) we never hit a winery but we did go to the Lagunitas Brewery in Petaluma (about half an hour from Sonoma and through multiple four-way Stop signs, which when you get used to them work quite well) just to buy some stuff (I have had this beer in Melbourne and love their dog logo … and their beer is pretty good too).

Excellent pizza at The Red Grape followed by very pretty chocolate cake. And we would definitely return to this area to hit the wineries – just needs more than an overnighter.

Day 5 and we head off to Yosemite – and wait until you hear the stories of that drive. Also, more pictures for this post will come later as up here in Yosemite the internet is like Commodore 64 speed, so check back again.

Along the I5 between Redding & Napa

Along the I5 between Redding & Napa

 

Highway 101: Day 3

Back on the road after a wonderful night at Gold Beach. As mentioned, the breakfast was an experience. Hotels with complimentary breakfast attract either business people, travellers like us or folks or have no time to catch their breakfast. Unfortunately we were caught up in the latter. But the breakfast was okay and it does make for an interesting morning.

Another cheap fill of petrol, pumped and cleaned by the young lad who did a good job. We were away early as we had a long drive and there was no reason to linger over breakfast. The highway south was a good drive and we checked in to several turn-outs for a look at the view.

Then we crossed the border from Oregon to California. You could feel you had actually entered somewhere new (or different. or old?)- a bit like crossing from Victoria into NSW on the old Hume. The roads needed more work, there were hitchhikers everywhere that all seemed to be heading to a G20 demonstration and wondered why no-one was stopping.

The coastal towns were older and mostly bigger, the traffic busier and faster, and the lunch stop was McDonalds in Eureka – this was on our original plans for a stop and quite pleasing we changed. But, maybe there were some good parts (unlikely).

Forgot to mention we also gained an hour as daylight saving ended so we could head away earlier than usual, which would be valuable as the next leg was one hell of a leg.

Before we reached Eureka we did have the tacky tourist stop at The Trees of Mystery. Going into the forest and seeing the size of the trees (200ft or more and some you could drive a car through – we did not bother going to where you can drive through the tree) and a ride in the Gondola for a magnificent view and the customary souvenir shop at the end (the only thing missing was the photo of your visit – very common in USA tacky-tourism; on a previous trip we got kicked back in the line for photos at Empire State Building as we had no intention of buying them but that doesn’t matter, you still have to have it taken). The Trees of Mystery have been around for a very long time and you could tell and as the trees are over 600 years old or more, will probably be around for many more years to come.

After Eureka we doubled back to the Highway 299 to head inland to Redding, which would be a nice stop-over and would make our day 4 to Sonoma an easy drive. This drive was one hell of a drive, windy (as in lots of bends), long, a bit of traffic every now and again, a few bridges under repair, and long, and did I say windy and steep (over 3000ft). But we made it, with one bit of excitement when we were coming through a nice little town, which name escapes me, but it was that nice there were bigfoot museums and shops (this is bigfoot country) but a deer also walked across the road in the centre of the downtown.

As mentioned, a rest at Hampton Inn in Redding (this was a busy place) and dinner at the Cattlemen’s where the steaks were excellent – as is the norm in USA. And we had complimentary breakfast so what would be in store for us on Day 4?

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Highway 101: Day 2

Just finished day three of our drive and we are off the coast and inland – one hell of drive through the mountains but more about that in the Day 3 blog because this is the Day 2 blog.

End of Day 1 and we camped for the night at The Timbers Motel in Eugene. This is an old, original kind of motel on the outskirts, next to the Greyhound Bus Station but it was good enough for sleeping and it was close to a brewery bar (Falling Sky – excellent beer and I had pasta bolognaise and it was outstanding), Starbucks and the Saturday morning farmers market. And easy to get to and get out of in the car.

Day 2 was not going to be a long drive but we had to head back to the coast on a different route and this was also the first day we hit rain, which the locals tell us is very unusual (unusual that there has been no rain, not unusual that there was rain). Apparently the weather has been great for this time of the year and we aren’t complaining. No need for petrol and the toilet stop was at Deans Creek Elk Viewing Area – a stop-off on the side of the road (Highway 38) where the elk live. At least we waited until there were toilets with a door as we counted about five or so folks that had to park on the side of the road – this is either what you do in this neck of the woods or maybe it has something to do with the amount of coffee people drink. Most places the small coffee is 120z and they go up from there – 12 oz is 350mil – most people go for the 18oz, which is half a litre. And I say it again, no wonder you gotta pee in this town.

Anyways, the elk were good, although they were off in the distance. Then back towards the coast, which we picked up in Reedsport. This area is the sand dune area of the coast; however, you can’t really see them without taking a few detours and we were not inclined, just in case we got caught short.

So we kept heading south through some tiny and at times rather uninspiring towns until we stopped at Coos Bay for an excellent sub. Then on to Gold Beach where we stayed for the night at the Gold Beach Resort. Not the kind of resort as we know it but have a look at the views and this place fronted the beach and no doubt in summer would be a busy place. We ate at one of the local Italian restaurants not opened for long and it was excellent – the Mangia Buff. This is the second time we have found excellent Italian in the most unlikely of places (many years ago when we drove route 66 we found an Italian restaurant in the middle of the desert that was outstanding). It was a family run restaurant, with family employees and they were so accommodating, we even had free ice-cream and more importantly free bourbon – woo hoo!

Breakfast was one of those interesting times where I think we were the only ones who did not live in a trailer and do not have to catch our food – but that is Day 3, so more to follow. Here’s some photos …

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Jacques’ back in Canada

Okay, so we left Canada a little while back – actually I’ve lost track of time but I think it was a week . . . or was it? But it doesn’t matter because I’m on holidays – woo-hoo!

Vancouver was a great little city that reminded me very much of Sydney and Melbourne – and it was more than just because we both have colourful money with the Queen’s head. But it was clean and everyone was so polite and the food was good and there was plenty of things to do.

It was easy to get around downtown and we especially liked the cycling – as previously mentioned we had free use of bikes from our hotel which was in downtown across the road from the hospital but you wouldn’t have known it – The Burrard. Only gripe the rooms weren’t real big and as this was an old hotel that had been done-up and the doors leaked noise from anyone walking past.

Courtyard of the Burrard Hotel, Vancouver

Courtyard of the Burrard Hotel, Vancouver

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Note the bike lanes out the frontl

There’s quite a bit to do in Vancouver and we didn’t have time to see and do everything, especially with the day trip to Whistler but that was worth it. On a list of the top ten things to do in Vancouver we did two of them. But the bike ride around the sea wall was fun, even though we didn’t see everything there either, and we rode to the Amtrak and saw a bit of the downtown area by bike – even if we did get lost at one stage. There are plenty of different neighbourhoods, especially for dining and everything was within walking distance (or at least everything we saw).

Jimi Hendrix shrineI liked this tourist attraction – shrine to Jimi Hendrix as this was a cafe his grandmother used to run and young Jimmy sometimes used to call in. You need to read this link from tourism Vancouver to see how famous this little shack is/was.

Down by the harbour reminds me a bit of circular quay and docklands without the wind. Great place for wandering and enjoying the sunshine. This is also where the seas planes take-off and these are recommended – not by us as we didn’t go on them but our tour guide to Whistler said they were good fun and a great way to see things.

Anyway here are some more pictures (I haven’t titled them, maybe one day).

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Let’s Get These Ratings Finished: Dallas

To quote from that all-time classic The Blues Brothers – “Well, this is it?”

Not that far off twelve months ago we embarked on our bars, beers, music, food and BBQ tour (with the dog trainers conference thrown in for a reason for travelling). By stretching out these ratings it brings back the memories. And for the final memory we have Dallas – key things to know about Dallas: have a car and have some time to use it. We had neither but still enjoyed ourselves, especially as we scored yet another hotel upgrade.

Accommodation – we stayed at the very, very nice Magnolia downtown. Loved the complementary beer and cookies, hotel staff were friendly and accommodating – the shuttle was a bonus and took us beyond the limits because we asked nicely. Would recommend this hotel with a 4.5 out of 5.

Food – this was such a long time ago I don’t remember everything but I do remember the excellent Mexican at the Iron Cactus (see the earlier tequila post), and first night we ate at some pub around the corner – typical pub. We didn’t venture but what we had was enough for a 3 out of 5.

Activities – there was probably quite a lot we didn’t see but 100% for the sixth floor museum and the Dealey Plaza. And Caroline wanted me to mention how disappointed she was with Nieuman Marcus (means nothing to me but I’m sure it means plenty to others). We were restricted without transport but didn’t really find enough to get us over a 2 out of 5.

X Factor – in my notes I have written “dead downtown”, and it was surprisingly quiet. We never went to Fortworth as again we were relying on shanks’ pony so I am sure there is plenty more than we saw but I can only give a 2 out of 5.

So that’s it folks. The end of the ratings as after Dallas we flew to LA then home. One day I may tally the scores or if you are very bored then you can look back through the older posts and add them up yourself.

Nearly Finished the Ratings – Austin

Austin, Texas is one of our favourites – we’ve been there before and will be there again. Search and have a read of some of the earlier posts, but because I started this, turn the page for Austin ratings.

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I Should Never Have Started the Ratings: Lafayette

Okay, I’ve been a little slack of late but hey, at least I can strum a few chords on the guitar now, which is keeping my spare time occupied. I find it kind of relaxing and enjoyable – just like Lafayette.

We didn’t really know Lafayette but didn’t have the time to go to New Orleans  as we were making our way West (maybe if we hadn’t been there before we would have found the time). And one of the things we wanted to do this trip was to see the swamps. So, Lafayette it was.

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Are We There Yet? The Ratings – Natchez

I shouldn’t have started this but because I have, then I must finish – soon.

Anyways, we left Clarksdale (a day too early as there was a festival starting that afternoon but just no time), headed down Highway 61 for a coffee stop at Vicksburg then onto Natchez via the Natchez Park Traceway (I’ve put the turn-off on the map as a marker because we headed away from our route then back again).

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