I thought it was about time to put finger to keyboard and attempt to capture our travels from the UK to Marbella in southern Spain. We departed from our home to attend a board meeting at Network HQ in Edgeware some twenty nine miles from home and after having concluded the meeting we departed for Folkestone in Kent in our trusty, somewhat full Range Rover Vogue SE Auto.
It was a damp and drizzly day and more weather was to come later!
After one hundred and one miles we were on the train and had started our journey through the Eurotunnel.
We landed on the Continent and began our journey of one hundred and thirty-three miles to Rouen. The weather deteriorated quickly and we had an unpleasant drive in driving rain and gale force winds.
We eventually found our hotel which was not too easy as the Mercure Rouen Centre Cathedrale Hotel and its garage are situated in a pedestrianised area of this pretty cathedral town. Fortunately, the local police with their inimitable gallic charm escorted our car (blue lights flashing – see the video below) to the hotel. After a pretty difficult drive we were pleased to flop into bed and start our journey to Saint Jean du Luz the following morning.
Here’s three minutes and thirty-nine seconds of video highlights from Day 1.
Until our next episode of this gripping story…..Toodleloo!
I’ve not posted anything on this site for ages and as you know, dear reader, I normally write about business stuff but to see that sort of content, you now need to head over to theteamworksnews.com
I thought it would be good to share some photos (click on them to view full screen) that I’ve taken today while out for my afternoon walk. This is just some stuff and just for fun.
This Osprey was hunting and to watch the speed of the dive and capture was breathtaking.
Later on while on my way home I spotted this yacht that must have broken away from its mooring during one of the recent winter storms. A reminder of the power that mother nature has and should never be underestimated.
Strange to think that the winds that uprooted the yacht left these nuts attached to the tree above its new resting place!
My final pic of the day was this of the Ringling Bridge made possible by the vision of John and Mabel Ringling. This edifying structure connects Sarasota (seen in the distance) to St. Armands Circle but I will leave that story for another day!
The last day of my road trip was a six-hour journey home through pleasant scenery that I have already described in my “Day One” post. During the latter part of my journey I kept receiving a number of calls from my dearly beloved Diana (a.k.a. She Who Must Be Obeyed) as to what my estimated time of arrival would be and towards the end of the journey I deduced that something was going on. Well to my great delight on turning into Hyacinth Place I was greeted by a finishing line “Welcome Home Banner” and sign written road created by Miss Lindsay and cheered by the Hyacinth Place Welcome Home Committee and of course, She Who Must Be Obeyed! Having been duly de-briefed by the committee it was time to unpack the car have a good dinner and then time to reflect on my trip but first for the techies out there mileage covered today was 458.8 miles at an average speed of 66.7 mph and achieved a fuel economy of 23.1 mpg. The total mileage covered for the entire trip was 5,721 miles and my overall fuel economy was just over 20 mpg which was remarkable.
I have thoroughly enjoyed the entire trip and I’m going to reflect upon my entire journey over the next couple of days and, if I may, dear reader, I will publish my last post with my conclusions in a couple of days. So, until my next post, Toodleloo!
I’m on my way on my penultimate day leaving Slidell, Louisiana at 8.45 on a lovely sunny, blue skied morning and the temperature has already climbed to 76F (24.44C) and soon I join my old friend I-10 going east. About 45 minutes later I have crossed the state line into Mississippi and it must have been raining quite hard earlier on as the highway is pretty damp and spray is being kicked up by the vehicles ahead of me. However, the sky is clear and all is well as 75 miles later I cross over the Pascagoula river basin which is a large area that from the elevated highway spreads almost as far as the eye can see. To the south I can just see an industrial area of some kind with some shipping and to the north it’s swampland and near the horizon it appears to become forested. Eighty seven miles into my journey and I have left Mississippi and crossed into Alabama. One hundred and thirty miles and I see the impressive skyline of Mobile and shortly enjoy a view of the Battleship SS Alabama which I described earlier in my blog and you can view the photographs in my photostream on Flickr, please see the panel on the right hand side of this blog. Having passed Battleship Park I get a great view of the river flowing into the Gulf of Mexico which I did not see at the beginning of my journey as it can only be seen from this side of the highway! The Gulf is at peace, it’s an absolute flat calm without a ripple troubling the boaters out there enjoying the water. One hundred and fifty-four miles on and I have crossed the state line into Florida and I now recognise that this is my penultimate day of my road trip and I suddenly feel excited at the prospect of seeing Diana (a.k.a. She Who Must Be Obeyed) and arriving back in Lakewood Ranch tomorrow but now back on with the day. At Pensacola I leave the Interstate system and take the coastal road heading for todays destination of Panama City Beach. En route I pass through the small town of Gulf Breeze and I’m motoring on a two lane highway through the Naval Live Oak Reservation. This area was designated in 1828 by President Quincy Adams as the First Federal Tree Farm. This was an important area at that time as the Live Oak, which is a member of the beech family was used in the construction of tall ships. As many as two thousand Live Oaks were used to make one hull for a naval vessel! As I continue along US 98 the landscape becomes a strip development of hotels and shops with an occasional view of the gulf.
A little further on I leave US98 and cross over a causeway bridge to Navarre and having parked the car I pay the princely sum of $1 for the privilege of walking along the lengthy fishing pier that was constructed in 2010. As I commence my $1 walk I view from the pier on my right hand side a bunch of not very attractive high-rise condominiums and to my left a brilliant white busy beach filled with the Sunday afternoon crowd relaxing, taking some rays! This part of the Gulf of Mexico is fed by a current that brings a prolific quantity of nutrients which colours the water a lovely shade of green which gives rise to the nickname for this part of the coast as “The Emerald Coast”. The throng of anglers on the pier are having a very busy time as they haul in what almost seems to be one fish after another and as I walk towards the end of the pier I find myself dodging anglers making their casts. The flying rods seem to be landing fish with a resounding thump at my feet as I continue to tread delicately over the writhing fish before they are scooped up by the anglers, de-hooked and returned to the ocean deep. I have just encountered an angler who has just returned a 35 pound Redfish to the sea as it was too big to keep! The angler would only be permitted to keep his catch of this variety provided the fish weighed not less than 18 pounds and not more that 27 pounds so, over the side of the pier this one went. Well, that not strictly true. This huge fish was gently lowered in a net to the ocean beneath the pier and then released from its captivity and some people think this is fun! All in all I think my $1 fee was good value. However, if I had been a fisherman I would have had to have paid $2! A little further on I break for lunch at Beasley Park in Ocaloosee Island and sit in a pavilion overlooking the beach. Having enjoyed my lunch I continue my journey and arrive at my destination at Panama City Beach for the night and tomorrow I start my final day of my journey and I’m now looking forward to returning to my American home.
For the techies out there mileage covered today was 290.1 at an average of 46.4 mpg and achieved 22.2 mpg.
This morning I had a lazy lie in followed by a run and now at 9:45 I have left Slidell and on my way to New Orleans and the temperature is already 83F (28.33C).I enter New Orleans by crossing a very long bridge over Lake Portrain and stopped at The Basin Street Visitor Information Centre and as my time is limited I had a chat with a very nice lady who gave me the essential list to see and I managed to do most of it!
I have taken quite a lot of photographs today so below is just a sample and the rest can be viewed by clicking on “More Photos” in the Flickr panel on the right hand side.
My first stop is to walk across the street to the St. Louis Cemetery which was certainly unusual and I was particularly struck by a pyramid shaped tomb which was greatly admired! I returned to my car and drove through part of the French Quarter and parked down by the river.
It’s now really very hot as I start my walk through the French Quarter which has an interesting architecture and is full of bars, restaurants, tourist shops etc. However, this generally very attractive place is marred by an all pervading offensive odor of rotting waste which made me feel very queasy. The people who were eating and drinking there must have a stronger stomach than me! I made it back to the river in time to take a two hour cruise on the steam boat Natches that had a live Jazz band where I had an adequate lunch. The cruise took us down through the port of New Orleans which, according to the narrator was the largest in the world in terms of tonnage, Amsterdam in Holland being number 2 and New York number 3. It was certainly an industrial area but I’m not convinced that his figures may be entirely accurate. In any event it was a pleasant respite being able to sit in the shade with a glass of iced tea as the industrial scene slipped by. It was an interesting experience and not at all what I had expected.
Having left the ferry it was the end of my day in New Orleans and I decided to return to my hotel in Slidell rather than spend the evening in New Orleans in order to be away from the smell of the French Quarter.
For the techies out there mileage today was 67.9 miles at an average speed of 31.6 mph and achieved 21.3 mpg.
Today was my second longest drive of the trip and unfortunately, the most uneventful. I left Dallas just after 9 am with the temperature at 73F in heavy traffic. After 175 miles I’ve crossed over from Texas to Louisiana and shortly afterwards I stop at a Louisiana rest area and information centre. Louisiana takes tourism seriously and every centre I’ve visited has been well presented with helpful staff and always free, freshly brewed, excellent coffee. This state is much greener that the parts of Texas that I’ve driven through and much prettier. For a more detailed description of this part of my route please refer to my earlier post “Houston, We have a problem!” Finally I reached my destination Slidell after a very long drive. At the hotel I decided to dine at the restaurant next door but we had a power outage that affected the entire block. So, by accident I ended up dining at The Texas Roadhouse. I sat at the bar having walked across thousands of peanut shells on the floor and was greeted by Steve the barman who must have been an ex marine. He was certainly built like one and at the end of every sentence, conducted at parade ground volume he would finish off with a very loud “Yes Suh!” However, my steak was excellent and the sweet potato stuffed with cinnamon butter and then covered in melted roasted marshmallows (Steve’s recommendation) was indescribable and I left the restaurant several pounds heavier.
For the techies out there the mileage covered today was 541.8 at an average of 62.9 mph and achieved 23.7mpg.
Today has been one of my best drives of this road trip so far! Probably because very little of it was on the Interstate network and I saw some interesting stuff and met some fascinating people.
My day started late as I had a bit of a lazy lie in bed and did not leave the hotel until 09:50. My first stop was just four miles away at The Cadillac Ranch in Potter County, Texas. This is a public art installation and sculpture in Amarillo, Texas, U.S. It was created in 1974 by Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez and Doug Michels, who were a part of the art group Ant Farm, and it consists of what were (when originally installed during 1974) either older running used or junk Cadillac automobiles, representing a number of evolutions of the car line (most notably the birth and death of the defining feature of mid twentieth century Cadillacs; the tail fin) from 1949 to 1963, half-buried nose-first in the ground, at an angle corresponding to that of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. I lifted this information from the font of all knowledge “Wikipedia” and I have my doubts as to the accuracy of the angle that these cars have been buried. However, I took several photographs of this installation and you can see some of them below and others on my Flickr photo stream. Just click on the “More Photos” link in the Flickr panel on the right hand side of this blog. You would really help me dear reader if you would leave your comment on the Flickr site as to which of these Cadillac photos you like as I’m having a tough time picking just one!
Forty minutes later and I’m now on route for Dallas having thoroughly enjoyed walking around the graffiteed Cadillacs and on the slip road at 10:45 I saw a puppy dog standing over a lawn sprinkler cooling off and then nonchalantly walking off with a good shake. Thirty miles later and I have left the I-40 east and joined the US 287 South in the direction of Fort Worth. On either side of this dual split highway lies rolling green pastureland as far as the eye can see with an occasional small herd of cattle doing what comes naturally. Later the pasturelands change to newly planted very well irrigated wheat fields.
I decided to have a walk around a very small town named Claude and spotted a beautiful library building almost opposite which could only be described as a somewhat decrepit city hall. I noticed that discreetly tucked in the corner of the library was a portable barbecue, see if you can spot in the photograph and it made me wonder what the librarian was having for lunch! Leaving Claude the scenery changed as the landscape to my north became dotted with giant rolls of hay and to my south ploughed land planted and irrigated by those long metal structures that remind me of a wing from an ancient biplane.
Ninety miles into my journey I stopped at the Donley County Safety Rest Area to answer the call of nature and afterwards I walked around the information centre which was very well laid out and presented. You can see a couple of pictures of the interior of this information centre on my Flickr photostream.
My next port of call was just down the road at Memphis, Texas not too be confused with the one in Tennessee! I was walking around the red pavered road taking some pictures of this small pretty town and I noticed a bumper sticker “I STOP FOR QUAIL”. Now that’s not the sort of thing you see in England every day and I stopped to photograph it. Just at that moment the lady owner of the vehicle popped out of a shop and spoke with me. This charming lady of indeterminate years invited me in to see her art collection that was being hung in preparation for a sale at the weekend. While viewing this most attractive collection of western paintings (some were better than others) another lady entered the emporium and was introduced to me. This lady became very excited upon meeting me and it’s fair to say that it’s not that often I have that affect upon members of the opposite sex! However, when this lady invited me to come with her next door to sign her visitors book I understood that it was in her capacity as the office manager of the Memphis Chamber of Commerce. We had a pleasant conversation while I duly signed her book and Susan McQueen, for that is her name, told me that she would relay our meeting to the members of the chamber at the next meeting. I don’t think an awful lot goes on in this pretty little town but in listening to Susan’s enthusiasm I’m sure things will change. As an example there is a very pretty historical hotel which is currently being refurbished so perhaps that town in Tennessee may have to rely a little more than just Elvis to remain the one that everybody remembers!
Leaving Memphis I noticed that it was 102F (38.89C) and was soon on my journey with fields of ploughed red earth either side of the highway which soon gives way to fields of golden wheat which is very picturesque. I stopped for lunch at The Dairy Queen in Childress (population 6,109) and suffered a near edible grilled sandwich of the famous rubber chicken variety.
After 166 miles on I stopped at Hardman County Safety Rest Area for a quick break and was comforted to note that this particular rest area boasted a tornado shelter which was about the size of a large utility room in a modern home. I suppose that if one of those frightening phenomena are bearing down upon you it doesn’t matter how cosy it would get in the shelter! Thirty miles later and I drive through a small town called Vernon. This must have been a massive seed producing area as within the town there is a huge factory reminiscent of a Lancashire cotton mill that was called the Crown Seed Company. Massive towers, broken windows, rusting machinery and a general air of dilapidation.
After 238 miles I’m now approaching Wichita Falls and I have joined the I-44 west and the skyline of this sizable town is ahead of me. The Interstate system took me over and through Wichita Falls and I am now traveling along US 82 East. Just over 330 miles into my drive and I have joined TX114 which will take me into Dallas which is about 40 miles away. This last piece of my journey is conducted in rush hour traffic and I’m pleased when I arrive at my hotel and I promise myself a soak in the bath!
For the techies among you the mileage covered today was 371.2 at an average speed of 59.4 mph and achieved 23.9 mpg.
Well did you sing the title? Originally recorded by Tony Christi, and then by Sir Tom Jones latterly by Peter Kaye and now you! Now that I’ve planted that seed I bet that tune will be rattling around your head for the rest of the day! I left Gallup just after 9am (Mountain Standard Time) and Gallup is not the sort of place one would wish to stay in for any length of time so I’m pleased to be on my journey. My journey today takes me east along I-40 and fortunately it runs parallel to or near to historic route 66 and I’m able to divert from one to the other as the mood takes me. Route 66 is a simple highway, one lane in each direction and therefore, is a lot slower than the modern Interstate system but on the Interstate you just don’t see as much stuff. Fortunately, route 66 carries very little traffic and that allows you to stop and stare.
My route starts on the I-40 and having left Gallup I’m soon barreling along through the Rockies and the scenery is dramatic. Red sandstone bluffs on either side of me with a prairie in between and its easy to imagine this as cowboy country. Soon I see a sign for The Continental Divide and decide to investigate. I pull off route 66 at the sign and take in the view and if you have a look at the photographs below and also by clicking on “more photos” in the Flickr panel on the right hand side, you will see the divide. I’m facing north so the rain that falls to my right (east) will drain towards the Atlantic and that which falls on my left goes west towards the Pacific. This is a first for me as I don’t think I have ever straddled a continental divide before.
Seventy miles on the landscape has become dominated by limestone rather than sandstone and I’ve passed a number of farmsteads but the land is so poor I have no idea how they make their living. Having travelled about 100 miles on a mixture of both highways I leave the I-40 again for the 66 to investigate a small town called Old Laguna. This tiny ramshackle town is comprised mainly of adobe style dwellings and would appear to be populated by native Americans, have a look at the photograph below and on my Flickr photo stream.
After journeying for 200 miles I stopped at a rest station and look back west and its obvious that I have now left the Rockies and I’m traveling through pastureland of a sort as it appears to be very dry. Later I stopped at the world famous “Clines Corners” although I must admit until now I had never heard of it and having replenished the tank in my Corvette and my inner tank with a 6 inch Subway I had a look around their world famous store full of moccasins, boots and other stuff that I didn’t know that I needed and still don’t!
Shortly after leaving Clines Corners the scenery changed to Pine forrest and 88 miles further on I’m surrounded by red stone bluffs and I’ve seen a sign for Lake Conchas state park. It was 24 miles off my route but I decided to go and have a look and turned on the 66 and was confronted with a derelict filling station (see the picture below) and I’m now heading north on a deserted road. Soon I reach Lake Conchas which must have been made by building a dam and there is no one around but there is signs of boating, marina storage etc. The lake is pretty low and I’m feel that I’m at a fairly decent altitude but the whole place is deserted and very windy. I leave Lake Conchas traveling east on NM 104. I have descended from Lake Concas and reached a village called Tucari which is at an elevation of 4000 feet.
Back on the I-40 east and having journeyed for 399 miles I have left New Mexico and entered Texas and changed time zones from Mountain Standard Time to Central Time. Finally I reach my hotel in Amarillo feeling a little weary but pleased with the experiences of the day!
For the techies out there. Mileage covered today was 458.3 at an average speed of 64.4 mph and achieved 24.3 mpg.
This will be one of those days that will be inevitably etched in my mind. After bidding a fond farewell to my lovely wife, Diana a.k.a. She Who Must Be Obeyed. I took my leave of the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas and set forth for Gallup in New Mexico via The South Rim of The Grand Canyon in Arizona. My journey started eastwards on the I-215 under bright overcast conditions and having reached Boulder City and turning right onto the I-93 near The Hoover Dam I observed spectacular red rock scenery. Suddenly having gone around a fairly decent bend in the road an impressive vista of Lake Mead hove into view (for pictures please see my previous post “A Dam’ Fine Excursion) and having covered just over 34 miles I have left Nevada and entered Arizona. After a total of 46 miles I stopped at a scenic overview on the Nevada Highway and enjoyed a wondrous view of the Colorado River (see picture below). I stopped to fill the Corvette up at Kingman just before turning east on the I-40 at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and opposite the filling station stood a rather rickety gaming establishment which I was reliably informed by the filling station cashier “Wuz where all them big guns hung aat”.
After about 150 miles I’m on a high plateau in the Rockies and the excellent scenery that is rolling by the window is a mixture of pasture land, forested areas, scrub and some horse country. The plateau descends into a tiny town on route 66 called Ashfork and I decided to visit the museum. The museum is free and I am encouraged by a member of staff who outnumber the visitor (me) by 4 to 1 and I peruse the exhibits which were of interest. I particularly enjoyed the fire engine and for this and other photographs please click on “More Photos” in the Flickr panel on the right hand side of this blog and then navigate to day 14. After leaving Ashfork and nearing the turn off for the road which will lead me to the South Rim of The Grand Canyon the scenery changes and becomes reminiscent of the Alpine scenery one would find in the Austrian Tyrol on a summers day. At 221 miles I have turned north onto AZ 64 and am headed up to The Grand Canyon. The road steadily climbs and the road runs through a pine forest and the aroma is gorgeous. I’m beginning to hum snatches from Elgar’s Variations, it’s just that sort of road.
Finally I arrive at the entrance to the park and I notice that the entry fee is $25. So, I reach for my wallet and get out the plastic and my Florida driving license for photo ID. The very nice park ranger makes the assumption that I’m a 63 year old Floridian and therefore I just pay $10 entry fee and receive a pass that now entitles me to free entry to all the national parks in the USA for life and that also covers anyone (up to three people) in my car! What a bargain! I commence my 13 mile journey along the South Rim and to say that it’s spectacular is an understatement. It takes me more than two hours to cover this paltry distance and I wish that I had much more time to spend in this beautiful place.It is indeed, one of the wonders of the world and if you can’t get there soon, then please have a look at all the photographs that I have taken on Day 14 of my Flickr photo stream. I have to say that I think my photographs are pretty good and please leave some comments on them and be sure to tell me which one you think is the best one. I’m having a very tough time trying to make the choice!
All too soon I leave The Grand Canyon and at mile 309 I’m driving south-east on my way to Flagstaff and then onto Gallup. At mile 343 I’m on the US 89 and I’m skirting The Painted Desert and once more I wish I had time to stop and stare. I reach Flagstaff after a total of 389 miles and pick up the I-40 east towards Gallup and I’m at an elevation of 6000 feet and that’s after I have descended from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon! I continue my downward journey and after another 35 miles I’ve dropped a further 1000 feet and I’m in Geronimo country. I’m about 80 miles west of Gallup and the scenery puts me straight into a cowboy movie. You expect to see teeming herds of Buffalo and hordes of native Americans between the flat topped eroded mesa’s on either side of the roadway and that big band theme tune from “The Big Country” is rattling around in my head followed by the whistling “The Good, The Bad & The Ugly”. I’m now off the I-40 and on historic route 66 as the sun is setting behind my left shoulder and I begin to feel like a High Plains Drifter. Oh! very cherooted Clint Eastwood indeed, as I leave Arizona and enter New Mexico. At long last I arrive at my hotel in Gallup which is a town that you would just spend one night in because you’re too tired to travel any further. Tomorrow I’m going to get my kicks on route 66!
For the techies amongst you the mileage covered was 559.5 at an average speed of 61.2 mph and I achieved 23.7 mpg.
Today is our last full day at The Bellagio and Diana, a.k.a. She Who Must Be Obeyed, and I have throughly enjoyed our time here. We spent the day relaxing around the Cypress Pool (very large sumptuous sun loungers) and had a quiet dinner together. Tomorrow, Tuesday May 1, Diana flies to Miami and then drives to Lakewood Ranch near Sarasota in south-west Florida while I start my 2500 mile return car journey. My first stop will be Gallup in New Mexico after visiting The South Rim of The Grand Canyon in Arizona.
Today Diana (a.k.a. She Who Must Be Obeyed) and I had a very pleasant 30 mile drive to Red Rock Canyon and then followed a scenic loop of some 13 miles around the canyon. The colours are fabulous and as the name implies there is an abundance of red sandstone rock over limestone. The Keystone Thrust Fault is, on which this Canyon is part of, like the famous San Andreas Fault (a break between two major rock bodies along which the break is vertical) the Keystone is horizontal. It began as gray limestone layers were pushed east during the end of the age of dinosaurs and ultimately “ramped” up through Jurassic Aztec Sandstone. Estimates of total eastward movement along this fault are as high as 40 miles. No, I haven’t overnight become a geologist but gleaned this information from their web site http://www.redrockcanyonlv.org . However, the photographs are mine and please view the entire shoot by clicking on the Flickr link in the right hand panel of this blog and select the road trip day 11 set. This was a great day out and we thoroughly enjoyed the scenery.
Upon our return to the Bellagio Hotel I took the opportunity to stand, stare and gawp at the marvelous fountain show that take place at the front of the hotel every day from 4.30 pm until midnight at 15 minute intervals. You will have to imagine the most effective syncopated fountain, light and music show which was beautiful to perceive. Have a look at the photographs on my Flickr site.
To round off the day we attended our group dinner at Le Cirque restaurant and later we retired to bed happy, tired and overfed!
We’re off with the group to a tour of The Hoover Dam. A monumental project that was finished in 1938 two years ahead of time and beneath budget!! Where have we gone wrong?
The coach ride out was through pleasant scenery and then upon arrival the coach and the assembled company was subjected to security which has only to be expected in today’s age. In a few minutes we were whisked down into the depths of The Hoover Dam where we were treated to an overview by the dam’ tour guide, Eric. While in this chamber we could feel the floor vibrate from the flow of water through one of the tunnels beneath, at an impressive speed likened to the emptying of 144 Olympic size swimming pools every minute! One side of the dam is in Nebraska and the other in Arizona and on each side, buried in the structure of the dam, lies nine monstrous turbines which generates electricity for well over a million homes in the area.
Having regained the surface and with the sun beating down upon collective bodies it was time for a stroll across the top of the dam. It was a pleasure to see a number of Morgan Sports cars roll by in convoy particularly as they are one of the last British hand made sports cars still in production!
Now it was time for lunch aboard a paddle steamer, The Dessert Princess, while we cruised Lake Mead which is the largest man made lake in the USA with a coast line of over 550 miles!
All too soon it was back on the coach and back to Vegas stopping at a chocolate factory that manufactured M&M’s. Having whizzed through the factory and dutifully munched my free sample I was able to spend some happy minutes in the Cactus Garden photographing some of the more unusual species.
On the way to our hotel we stopped at the famous Las Vegas sign and were able to get a group photograph underneath this illustrious structure. Back at the hotel there was just time for a quick shower and change and then we attended our gala dinner where a good time was had by all.
To see all the photographs that were taken on this day and some of them are really cool, just click on the Flickr link in the right hand side of this blog.
Many apologies for not posting my travel blog, in the last few days but it’s been so busy here in Las Vegas. So, let’s get down to the nitty gritty.
I awoke reasonably early on Thursday morning and decided that I needed to take advantage of this superb hotel’s (The Bellagio) gymnasium. On the way to the gym I had to walk through the Casino and I quickly found out that wherever you went in this hotel you had to walk through the Casino! To see folk playing cards, slot machines etc before seven o’clock in the morning was surreal but each to his (or her) own! Having pounded the treadmill for the regulatory forty-five minutes I was on my way back to our room through the Casino, of course, and I saw a gentleman playing cards wearing his gym kit. I couldn’t decide whether he was on the way to, or returning from, the gym or perhaps he was conducting a subterfuge in an attempt to fool his wife!
On retuning to the room my good lady wife, Diana, a.k.a. She Who Must Be Obeyed, was awake and ready for breakfast so a quick shower and being dutifully clothed by She Who Must Be Obeyed we broke bread.
Our first adventure was to visit a pawn shop. Not just any pawn shop but a very famous one. In case you have missed it there’s a TV show broadcast on the History Channel in the USA and in the UK that Diana and I have enjoyed entitled “Pawn Stars”. It’s a bit like The Antique’s Road Show but the valuers have the physique and dress sense of ex wrestlers but nonetheless we found the show to be fascinating & hugely entertaining. After carefully parking the Corvette in the shops car park we found ourselves standing in line awaiting to gain admission to the holy shrine of second hand bric a brac which was duly patrolled by a “doorman” who had the size and physique of a mature silver back orangutan. We were shocked when the said orangutan pulled us out of the line and with great deference and in soft spoken tones enquired whether we would like to enter the emporium immediately. We, of course, responded in the most positive and enthusiastic way, after all it’s not often that a giant of a man asks us to do his bidding! Entering the store came as a surprise and we were a little disappointed by the interior of the emporium as it was somewhat smaller than we expected and the articles on display could have done with a flick over with a feather duster but then we reminded ourselves that after all we were in a pawn shop!
Suddenly, a young man, artistically dressed in jeans, shirt, a small hat and sporting a careless cravat around his neck enquired of us whether we would like to appear on the TV show? She Who Must Be Obeyed immediately grasped the opportunity as en exercise in self promotion and agreed with alacrity. We were duly ushered to the back of the shop and the store was cleared of lesser mortals who were not required for this most important episode of this venerable artistic entertainment. The cravatted artistic young man then briefed the willing future international TV stars as to their duties and asked if there were any questions. Silence reigned and then She Who Must Be Obeyed arose to her full and not inconsiderable height and enquired in a stentorian voice “What are the rates of pay?” The now flustered young man being unsure how to handle such a formidable negotiator quickly capitulated under the withering stare of S.W.M.B.O. Filming commenced and afterwards we were informed that the episode will be broadcast sometime during the next two months in the USA and at some point in time the UK! So, dear reader, my advice would be to set your DVR to record the entire series of this illustrious episode. We retuned to our hotel bathed in the light of our new found international stardom.
After morning coffee we were strolling around the beautiful swimming pool when we were hailed by our good friends Stephan and Georgia Longworth. The four of us have a love of classic cars and we had learned that there was an exhibition of them at The Imperial Hotel just down the “strip” and we gathered ourselves and took a short taxi ride to the said establishment. On our way to the exhibition, the largest in the world, housed on the fifth floor, and through the Casino we encountered and were entertained by legendary stars Tina Turner, Rod Stewart, and somebody called Prince who when not performing acted as croupiers! You can see their photographs and pictures of the day by clicking on “More Photos” in the Flickr panel on the right hand side of this blithering blog. Finally we gained access to this astonishing collection of machinery and stared in awe at a variety of vehicles some of them with impressive histories. Among them vehicles that had been owned, driven or used by President Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Bing Crosby and other notables. Most of the assembled vehicles on display were for sale and the total value exceeded two and a half million dollars! I took some photographs of the ones that caught my eye and you van view them together with a brief description on my Flickr site by clicking on “More Photos” in the panel on the right hand side.
Later that day we enjoyed a delightful dinner with our group at the renowned Strip House Steak Restaurant in the Planet Hollywood resort. After dinner Dr. Couchman and I were enjoying an excellent cup of coffee while Diana, encouraged by Katie Ostro enjoyed a free makeover and then on to an excellent variety show “Vegas” where we were treated to some fabulous dancing, singing and magic. This was not a show that would have ordinarily appealed to me but I really enjoyed it!
On the way back to our hotel I had a brief encounter with a lovely showgirl but I did remember the advice that I received from my son Matthew, “Dad, if a girl talks to you in Vegas, she’s working!”. At the end of our first day in Vegas, Diana and I retired to bed happy and knackered!
I was up early this morning and out running just after 6 am and did my 3.2 miles. While I was out pounding the pavement I observed a youth of school age meandering along and when he reached the stop light he pushed the button in order to change the lights so that he could cross the road. However, on this long straight road there was no traffic in sight and the youth waited patiently for the light to change. Obviously, this young man has been so well trained that his decision powers will not stand in him good stead in later life!
By 8.45 am I was on the road having had an enjoyable evening at The Papago Inn, Scottsdale, AZ. It’s already 74F and overcast. My journey took me on US93 through Joshua Tree Parkway. A very enjoyable twisty, mountainous road with very unusual boulder formations and after 185 miles I joined the I 40. At 276 miles I had crossed the border from Arizona into Nevada. This whole stretch of the I 40 in both states was besieged with radar speed traps awaiting the unsuspecting motorist.
I arrived at The Bellagio Hotel in Las vegas and was duly greeted by my good lady wife, Diana, a.k.a. She Who Must Be Obeyed and my car was emptied of luggage and duly whisked away before I could note today’s running statistics.
Having unpacked my bags in our very nice room Diana and I had a leisurely stroll and did a little light shopping! Light, in so far as the purchases did not weigh very much but quite heavy in other respects but when She Who Must Be Obeyed decides upon an article then my wallet seems to lose all sense of reason!
Tomorrow we have plans to visit somewhere famous but very unique!
I awoke this morning refreshed after a very good nights’ sleep at the Hampton Inn in Las Cruces, so much so that I did not start my journey until 9.20. The sun was up, the sky was blue and the traffic was light but all of a sudden, 20 miles on and I’m in a slow moving line of vehicles and to my amazement we are all being inspected by the US border patrol. Somehow, I was able to convince the very nice officer that I was not an illegal immigrant but an honest, legal alien with a B1/B2 Visa in good order. Somewhat ironic as in today’s newspaper (USA Today) one of the lead stories on the front page is that more Mexicans are leaving the USA than are entering it!
The landscape is becoming more and more arid as I travel west on this high plateaux ringed by majestic but near barren mountains. I pass several large bright yellow signs warning me to be aware of possible dust storms and not to stop in travels lanes and that visibility could be reduced to zero!
Sixty-seven miles into my journey and I have just gone past a stationary Union Pacific locomotive looking like its been abandoned by the side of the road and just six miles later I overtake a person on a push bike! I have to say person because the human figure was shrouded in a voluminous yellow garment and the head was similarly covered with a helmet while the face of the mystery rider was obscured by a mask. I suspect this protective clothing may have been in place not just for protection from the sun that by now is beating down fiercely upon the highway but perhaps as a precaution agains a sudden dust storm! This human form was certainly a change from the more usual figure clad in Spandex which can, upon occasion, be quite revolting and surely should only be worn at private parties but I digress.
I shifted time zones yet again and I’m now in Mountain Standard Time which means as I write this it’s 10:30 pm here in Scottsdale, Arizona; 12:30 am in Huston Texas, 01:30 am in Florida and 6.30 am in the UK. If I’m feeling evil enough when I have finished this post I might just start telephoning a few people in the UK to make sure they are up and working!
Meanwhile, 140 miles into today’s journey and I have crossed the state line into Arizona. This is the centennial year of Arizona. On February 14, 1912, after nearly 49 years as a U.S. territory and thousands of years as a sacred home to indigenous peoples, Arizona became the 48th and last of the contiguous states to enter the Union of the United States of America.
The landscape becomes increasingly arid and large cacti are now a prominent feature of the roadside vegetation.
I decided to take a break and do a little shopping in Tucson (I needed some clean socks before I meet my dear wife, Diana, a.k.a. She Who Must Be Obeyed tomorrow in Las Vegas) and while in the mall I met a lady that I haven’t seen for eighteen years! Bonnie Allen and her husband Rod were part of a business that Diana (S.W.M.B.O.) and I pioneered in the UK. We had a ten minute catch up and went our separate ways, Bonnie back to her retail managerial position and me back to the Corvette!
Three hundred and forty six miles into my journey and I espy traveling in the opposite direction on the railway track adjacent to the highway a colossus of a freight train. This behemoth was double stacked with containers and seemed to slither like a serpent for a considerable period of time. It was interesting to note that each container had painted on its side the words “China Shipping” which may be indicative of some of our western economic challenges.
Finally I have arrived at my hotel in Scottsdale and I’m looking forward to my journey tomorrow to Las Vegas and willingly subjecting myself to She Who Must Be Obeyed.
For the techies out there the mileage covered today was 414 miles at an average speed of 68.4 mph and achieved 18.5 mpg.
My journey today was interesting to say the least! I left my hotel at 8 am and 47 miles later I was still traveling on the Interstate through the suburban sprawl of Houston TX. I know that one of the nicknames for this city is Space Town because of its history with NASA but why oh why are all the houses made out of ticky tacky and they all look the same?
Ten miles later on I have started to run into open countryside. The six lane highway (each side) has been reduced to three and now to two and I’m motoring along through pleasant pastureland with the occasional forested area populated with a mixture of evergreen and deciduous trees. The latter’s grey skeletal structure can be clearly seen against the clear blue sky. The roadside and quite a lot of the pastureland is covered in wild flowers and the bright yellow, blue and magenta blooms are gently waving as I zoom past.
I see a Denny’s restaurant up ahead and my body tells me it’s time for breakfast. As Denny’s go this is a quite a large one and the car park is quite full of a variety of cars, large motor cycles (mainly Harley Davidsons) and clumps of what looks like Hells Angels or clones of the Hairy Biker chefs as per the TV show. I fall into step behind two of the aforesaid Bikers and as we got to the restaurant (that’s how Denny’s see their food operation) my biking neighbours throw open the entrance doors and with the utmost respect invite me into the eatery. It’s now obvious to me that a Corvette owner in the order of petrol heads is at a higher level than a hairy biker! Being a Sunday morning, Denny’s was busy. Apart from the biker crowd, there were the folk who had been gospel singing at the church that morning and of course there was a plethora of gentlemen wearing their ten gallon hats while eating!
Soon, San Antonio was in sight and having checked in at my hotel I walked down Crockett Street to Riverwalk. This most attractive area is beneath street level and is protected by a series of flood gates. There are lots of people promenading alongside the river which is a type of green in colour. The best way I can liken this shade would be the green you see in old stained glass windows. I decided to have lunch in the Cafe Ole and enjoyed a Fajitas Chicken Salad.
After lunch I left Riverwalk and perambulated along Alamo Street to The Alamo. I was very surprised to see how small this original Spanish mission was. Unfortunately, photography is not permitted within The Alamo shrine which is dedicated to the 189 men who lost their lives against a huge force on March 6 1836. We, of course have been indoctrinated by the movies and television as to why this battle was fought and it is true that the Texians were determined at first to be a separate governed state from the central government of Mexico but as the campaign progressed the goals changed and the Texians wanted to become an independent country. The movies have made the names Bowie, Crockett and Travis famous and Santa Ann infamous. Having listened to an excellent audio tour and studied the exhibits I was puzzled why the action was fought in the first place by the defenders of The Alamo rather than a strategic withdrawal followed by a guerrilla campaign. I was fortunate to meet one of the museums military historians, Jeffrey Passmore, and had a fascinating conversation with him. Although there is no doubt of the courage that was displayed by the volunteer garrison force their demise was due to a mixture of politics, ill-health, misinformation, and lack of experienced military command and most importantly, lack of manpower to remove the canon but I don’t have the time or space to write about it here!
Later that day I did the tourist bit and took one of the guided tours onboard one of the boats that plies up and down the San Antonio river and canal system which was most enjoyable. Towards the end of the day I ventured up The Tower of The Americas in Hemisfair Park (built for The World Trade Fair that was held here some years ago) and viewed San Antonio bathed in golden light as the sun sank beneath the horizon. Then it was back to Riverwalk for dinner at The Republic of Texas restaurant where I enjoyed a T-bone steak slathered with cheese and salsa, served with rice, beans and guacamole. Delicious!
For the techies among you the mileage covered today was 226.5 mles at an average of 67.2 mph and achieved 21.5 mpg.
Up with the larks this morning, well not exactly but I was out and did a 3.26 mile run on a cinder track which I’ve never done before. While doing my thing the sun was rising in the blue, cloudless sky I observed a group of about half a dozen ladies of indeterminate age but not of indeterminate size lying prostrate on some rubber mats. Had I stumbled upon some peculiar Texian cult? Then the leader of the group started barking orders in a shrill high pitched voice cajoling her disciples to rise and exercise vigorously. As I crunched around the cinder track the air was permeated by ever increasing commands from the sergeant major like trainer. What a way to start the day! Having completed my run I was off to the hotel for a shower and a Western Omelette, not at the same time I hasten to add.
Breakfast completed I was off to the Johnson Space Centre on NASA Parkway. This is a working NASA facility and employs over 10,000 people just on this site alone. The exhibit was a worthwhile experience and very different to the NASA visitor centre at Space Kennedy Centre in Florida which in my humble opinion is better organized. However, it was still worth doing and I particularly enjoyed the Astronaut Training area and the very impressive Saturn Five Exhibit. You can see titled photographs of these exhibits and more on my Flickr site, just click on the link on the right hand side of this blog.
Lunch was a desultory affair of a very well chilled Turkey sandwich. It was so cold I swear it must have been made on the dark side of the moon by an alien life force which summed up most of the counter staff.
I decided to have a wander through downtown Houston and journeyed to The Galleria Shopping Centre. The shopping centre was an upscale affair with all the designer names one would expect, Jimmy Choo, Salvatore Bergammo, Prada etc and the largest Chanel store I have ever seen! It was quite incongruous that one could shop for something exquisite while watching hordes of young people hurtling at speed on an ice rink directly below you. I decided that I had enough of the city, which is very functional but in my opinion is a soulless sprawl of a conglomerate of buildings thrown together by someone who was learning to play SIM City and I decided to drive down to the seaside at Galveston.
Galveston is quaint. It reminded me very much of Victorian Blackpool in Lancashire with a similar range of shops, an unprepossessing beach but populated by a Spanish speaking people with exactly the same type of manners as their Lancastrian cousins. Hell bent on not giving you any service.
Now don’t get me wrong I have had an enjoyable day and have been fascinated by the people that I have interacted with. However, should, for any strange reason, the Houston city fathers read this I would like to offer them some advice. Import some nice people from Alabama or Mississippi or Louisiana or Florida. Alternatively, you could blow the whole damn place up, appoint a sensible architect and re-populate the area!
Tomorrow I am visiting a city who’s reputation is a little more cultured!
For the techie people out there I have covered today 138.4 miles at an average speed of 38.4 mph with an average consumption of 21.8 mpg.
Well not exactly but more of that later. I awoke this morning bright and early and had a short run (nearly two miles) around Battleship Park in Mobile, Alabama. A lovely way to start the day, the sun was up and after showering I enjoyed a some Eggs Benedict and off in the car with my destination being Houston.
Just twenty-nine miles later I crossed over the state line from Alabama to Mississippi. Almost immediately the scenery changed from the majestic oaks of Alabama to that of a wetlands area similar to the Everglades in Florida but not as flat!
I decided to take a break at about 100 miles of driving and at 104 miles I found myself at The NASA facility in Hancock County. So, I thought that I would take a look. I was exceptionally disappointed, not because of the quality of the exhibit but because I was denied entry to the tour because I did not have my UK passport with me! I have never been asked for it at Space Kennedy Centre in Florida and I telephoned and checked with the NASA facility in Houston and they do not require me to show my passport. Bizarre! Oh, well!
Just down the road I stopped at a road side rest area and it was one of the finest buildings I have seen. It was just like an antebellum house, beautifully presented. Have a look at the photograph at the end of this post.
Fourteen miles later and I’ve crossed the state line into Louisiana. The countryside has changed again to a vast collection of swamp like waterways. If you have ever watched Swamp People on the History Channel you will get the idea. Having gone through Baton Rouge I went over an incredibly long piece of suspended roadway above the Atchafalaya river basin (the largest river basin in the USA covering nearly a million acres) and stopped at its visitor centre. This looks like a fascinating area and one that I would like to spend some time in at some point in the near future to view the enormous array of wildlife.
After traveling a total of 280 miles the swampland completely disappears and becomes cultivated farmland which extends a considerable distance. Eighty miles further on and I have started to run into some ominous looking very dark clouds. Seven miles further on and I cross the state line into Texas. Traveling on the Interstate through Beaumont you can smell the petrochemical plants as well as see them. It’s an alien, industrial, ugly landscape.Having left the city limits it started to lightly rain. By 4.15 pm the sky is nearly black and I have seen forked lightning on the horizon.
I decided to answer the call of nature and stopped at a road side rest area near Orange. Just as I was about to leave a family arrived in their open truck and started carrying in their golf apparel into the rest area building. They had heard a severe weather warning on the wireless, 60 mph winds, hail, thunder etc and it was about to arrive. I felt it prudent to wait with them and indeed the storm blew in with boiling clouds, strong winds, thunder, lightning and heavy rain but no hail stones. The good thing was that the storm washed all the bugs off the front of my Corvette! Soon, the rain had eased and I was able to continue my journey.
The last 45 minutes of my journey on T146 South, which is a regular four lane highway, was fairly difficult due to the levels of surface water and the quantity of traffic so, I was really pleased to arrive at my hotel. A quick wash & brush up and I walked across to a local restaurant and dined on stuffed Jalapeños and a platter of grilled mixed fish.
I’m looking forward to tomorrow and the forecast promises to be good. For the techies out there I have covered today 475.10 miles at an average speed of 63.4 mph and achieved an average of 22.3 mpg.
Day 2 of the road trip starts having stayed in North Tallahassee, Florida last night at La Quinta In which was clean and comfortable but does need refurbishing but it was as cheap as chips! Got going at 07.20 this morning in an overcast , drizzly morning. Thirty three minutes later I had a unique experience. I crossed from one time zone to another by car, so now I was traveling at about 40 minutes earlier than when I left! Very weird!
By now I was hungry and having gone past several breakfast places, thinking I’ll just go one more and then of course nothing for miles. So, I was grateful to get a large coffee and a sausage and egg McMuffin for the princely sum of $4.61 at the golden arches on the Marianna ramp on the I 10.
The landscape at this point became much more agricultural with undulating fields of haystacks with occasional herds of beef cattle. A little later on my attention was drawn to what appeared to be a fighter jet stuck onto a very large drain pipe. I pulled into the rest area at Santa Rosa County on mile marker 30 on the I 10 to investigate. Have a look at the picture below and on my Flickr photo stream (just hit the link in the right hand panel). Turned out to be a McDonnel Douglas A4 Skyhawk fighter jet that used to be in service in the seventies and used by The Blue Angel acrobatic team. Those that flew the aircraft referred to it as “Henemans Hot Rod” or “The Scooter” I thought it was a pretty impressive piece of sculpture to put in a car park miles from anywhere!
Two hundred miles later on the weather had dramatically improved for the better. Blue skies with white fleecy clouds. Gorgeous! Three miles on and I crossed the state line into Alabama (see photo below). There is an interesting stone laid beneath the flagstaff on the state line which is inscribed with “Alabama We Dare Defend Our Rights”.
Four miles later and I’m on the approach to Mobile, Alabama and crossing over a large expanse of water I get the first glimpse of the city’s skyline. I found Mobile to be a very interesting city with a delightful mix of modern architecture and a very pretty historic quarter which is composed of antebellum fine houses. You can see more pictures of this on my Flickr pages just click on the link at the right.
Having checked in at the Battleship Inn (excellent and good value) it was time to view the battleship USS Alabama which was absolutely fantastic. This ship is huge. Under battle conditions she weighed in at an impressive 45,000 tons, carried 2,500 men and had a maximum speed of 28 knots which is a little over 32 miles per hour. I have taken quite a lot of pictures of the interior and exterior of the ship and some other exhibits and you will find them on my Flickr photo stream (click the link in the right hand panel) and I have titled most of them so you will know what you’re looking at. Honestly, it is worth you taking five minutes to have a look at the sheer size and complexity of such a vast war machine.
Tonight having had Oysters Rockefeller (one of my favourites) followed by grilled flounder stuffed with shrimps and crab meat at The Captains Table (next door to my hotel) I took my trusty tripod and camera for one last picture of this illustrious retired battleship. Next time I do this I will wear trousers and socks. Those damned mosquitos got me!
Don’t forget to look at my photographs and feel free to comment on this blog or on the photographs on Flickr (by now you should know where the link is).
For the technically minded the mileage covered today was 253.6 at an average speed of 62.7 mph and achieved 20.4 mpg.
Today started off with a big surprise. As I opened the garage door I was met with a resounding cheer from the Hyacinth Place Send Off Committee. With grateful thanks to Anna who’s idea this was and for making the food and to Sara for providing the mega balloons and to Diana (a.k.a. She Who Must Be Obeyed) for opening the champagne! It’s amazing what that lot will do for a glass of champagne at 8.30 in the morning! Cy Bricker put his arm around me and said “I love you man and you’ve got your shirt on inside out!” Well I was up early! It was all a bit of a rush and I hardly had anytime to say a proper goodbye to “She Who Must Be Obeyed”. Finally I was on my way.
I had a very pleasant drive north on the I 75 with not too much traffic which became even easier when I started to go west on the I 10. The weather was perfect and I was enjoying the change of scenery as it became greener and undulating with a mixture of well forested areas and beef cattle fields. However, it was not to last as, the skies changed and I ran into very heavy rain. The Corvette took all this in its stride and the car felt planted and stable even going through quite deep surface water.
I had decided to spend the afternoon visiting the Tallahassee Natural Science Museum which is an open site of about 50 acres but unfortunately the rain had settled in for the afternoon. So, I took the opportunity of spending a happy couple of hours at The Tallahassee Automobile Museum which was well presented and has some fantastic vehicles including two ex movie Batmobiles!
Later on the weather had cleared and I had a drive around the city of Tallahassee which is the state capital of Florida. This is an eclectic mix of fine buildings and others!
This evening I dined upon Seafood Gumbo followed by Steak and Shrimp Sizzler with Louisiana sauce at Barnacle Bill’s. It was very good indeed but I’m glad that I treated the sauce with respect as it had a mighty “kick” to it! The only way I can liken the main course would be to a Spanish mixed paella with a kick!
For the technically minded of you out there, I have covered 369.3 miles at an average speed of 54.8 mph and achieved 20.7mpg.
I have posted a few photographs below but you can see all the photographs taken today by clicking on the “My Photo Stream” link in the right hand side panel of this blog.
Tomorrow the weather forecast promises to be good so I should have an excellent drive to my next destination where I will be visiting something quite unique!