A Lottery Dream

Just recently some friends and I got talking about what we might spend our money on if we won the lottery and also about the things that we would like to do when we retire. I find it fascinating how different we are and what we think would make us happy if money was no object.

Some wanted new houses or very elaborate home improvements, some wanted to buy a fancy car. I don’t have particularly expensive tastes and I’ve never been a big fan of “things”. My house is somewhere that we live as a family, where people can come and feel comfortable. It does need some refurbishment, but it wouldn’t be anything particularly swanky or expensive,

I don’t particular wear a lot of jewellery and I’m not really into designer clothes. I do quite like a nice pair of shoes, but I’m not sure I’d spend my full pension or lottery win on shoes!

My ideal way to spend the money, would be to travel and see all those places that I’ve not been able to see, either due to lack of finances or lack of time. There’s lots of places in America that I’d still like to visit, Canada, Iceland, Switzerland, Lapland, in fact there is plenty of the world that I’ve not seen. A lot of the holidays that we have had have suited us as a family and it’s only been very recently that me and my husband have started to visit some of the places that we want to see, that the girls may not have been particularly interested in.

The other thing that I would love to do is to be able to book and see lots of different musical theatre shows, without having to worry about the cost. It would be lovely to travel to London, Broadway or Las Vegas to see different shows every few weeks. I am very lucky in that I do go to the theatre fairly often, but tend to book things that I’ve seen before, or that I have a pretty good idea that I am going to like. It would be wonderful to be able to book something without having to think about paying a lot of money for something that I end up not liking.

To be fair there are very few musical theatre shows that I haven’t enjoyed. Even those where I have thought it wasn’t my particular cup of tea, I’ve enjoyed watching just for the sheer spectacle, the costumes or just seeing the wonderful talent of the performers. I love a good show or a concert and I would certainly be able to fill my time with these things.

Who knows, I might even be wearing a new pair of shoes !!

 

 

California Dreaming (11)

So yesterday we began the last leg of our journey travelling to San Diego. Along the way we passed and stopped at some of the most beautiful beaches and coves that I have ever seen, Newport Beach, Balboa Beach and Laguna Beach.

We saw pelicans flying in formation, using the warm air currents to fly. they looked unreal, like remote controlled or CGI. It was an amazing site.

After we arrived at the Hotel in San Diego (The Hilton at Mission Beach), we spent the afternoon lazing by the big pool and reacharging our batteries for our last day in California.

In the evening we went out for Somthing to eat. It was the first time that we had had to drive to restaurants, but we found a nice Italian, Pomodoro Ristorante, where we had a lovely meal at a decent price.

San Diego

This morning we set off for a tour of USS Midway. this was something that my husband really wanted to do. Before we started the tour we had breakfast and walked along the bay. One of the loveliest sights I’ve seen was the statue of Embracing Peace, which is the iconic statue of the sailor kissing the nurse at the end of the war. It looks beautiful with the backdrop of the harbour.

I really enjoyed the tour of USS Midway as I did not really know what to expect. The ship is huge and it is really beyond my comprehension as to how it stays afloat, especially with all the aircraft, sailors, fuel and other supplies that it holds.

The tour is partly an audio tour, but is interspersed with ex midway sailors recounting their service on the ship and explaining how it all worked. It took us about 3 hours to do the full tour, but it was so interesting that it passed really quickly. Amazingly the lovely gentleman that did part of our tour originated from Wigglesworth in Yorkshire which is where our friends live.

Afterwards we walked to the Gaslamp District (via The Cheescake factory – because it would be rude not to). This wasn’t really what I expected as i thought it would be more of a pedstrian area and a little bit more old fashioned. It was really for me very much an area of bars and restaurants.

Old Town San Diego State Historic Park

What a little gem this place was. It was kind of a last minute decision to just go and have a look, as it was our last afternoon. This is a little village, which held some of the first settlers in california. It has really unusual shops, restauarants, a village sqaure and also a number of buildings which house museums. Unfortunately by the time we arrived the museums were ready for closing, so we didn’t get to see them all. It is free to visit and also free to park at the Trolley station just next door.

We spent a couple of hours wandering round, looking at the lovely buildings. the people who work there dress in costume and there was even a Sherriff watching over everything.

We rounded off our day by eating at The Cosmopolitan hotel. This has an old fashioned sallon at the front and through the back, a courtyard where food is served. The food was excellent (as were the cocktails). This was a really lovely end to our last full day in california.

 

California Dreaming (10)

Well today has been a real eye opener. I’ve seen some things I never expected to see. I also was surprised by some of the most famous Los Angeles sights, unfortunately not always in a good way.

Los Angeles sight seeing

Today we took a tour of the city with Surf City Tours who are based in Santa Monica. I have to say that the service that they provided was excellent. Our guide Garrett was excellent, both in his knowledge and his manner. The tour was on a small open sided covered bus with only six of us, so felt very personal. I would recommend them to anyone who wants to visit the city.

Our first part of the tour was around the areas where the stars live and fiming locations, with our guide pointing out various houses along the way and giving various funny stories.

Our first stop was The Grove and Farmers Market, which is a very pretty area, with a lovely garden area, high street shops and then the Farmers Market, which housed food of every description.

We then moved on to the Hollywood sign. Now this was the first surprise, that you can’t actually get anywhere near it. Maybe that was quite naive of me. However we went to a great viewing point, where you could see the city in all its glory and also take photos with the Hollywood sign in the background.

Our next stop was the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Now again I  may have been a bit naive but I expected this to be a very glamorous area, as you see it on the TV. It was actually (no offence) quite dirty, very busy and at the side of a main road. It’s also crowded with people trying to sell you cd’s, beggars and people dressed up wanting you to pay them to take a photo. The best part was seeing the hand and footprints outside the Chinese theatre. The whole thing was very interesting, but not at all what I expected.

On the other hand, our next stop lived up to expectations, Rodeo Drive. Very exclusive shops, fancy cars, very clean and well kept. We walked down the street, but didn’t go in any of the shops or make any purchases.

Santa Monica Pier

After the tour we walked along the pier at Santa Monica. This was the kind of thing that you expect of a pier and we even had a ride on the Ferris wheel, well because you just have to.

Venice Beach/Muscle Beach

We had read the guide books and knew that this would be a “diverse” place, but nothing could have prepared us for this. There were craft stalls, which were genuinely pretty, but these were interspersed with bizarre characters, selling odd bits or simply asking for your money.

It felt as if you needed to hold on to your bag/wallet/camera at all times. I expected bohemian or even gothic, but this was something else. Many of the people appeared to be homeless, have mental health issues, drugs/alcohol problems or all of them.

Muscle Beach was a fenced in area housing an outside gym. There were no bronzed gods, no roller skating beach babes and no feeling of health and outdoor life.

We walked back to the car as quickly as possible. I’ve worked in some scary places in my time, but this beat them all hands down.

I know that tourists will continue to visit, just as we did, but if I could give any advice to anyone travelling I would say give it a miss. That’s the only place I would say this about in the whole of our travels here in California.

 

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We’ve had a great day today at Universal Studios in Los Angeles today. We arrived as the park opened and left as it was closing (we like to get our money’s worth, after all we’re Yorkshire folk)

First stop Hogwarts

As we had tickets that allowed us into the park an hour early, when only The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter is open, that gave us a chance to have a look around and ride on the Forbidden Journey. This was so much fun and we had a great laugh.

We then went on the Studio Tour, which is a 45 minute visit around the lots where filming has taken place for some many films in the past. We also got to see some of the sets and special effects.

Next was a ride on the Simpsons and a visit to the stunt show Waterworld.  Again both were really impressive

Bravery in the Walking Dead

Although I am the only one in our group who watches The Walking Dead, I persuaded everyone else to go with me. I had scared myself half to death before I even got in there!

Basically you walk through a building which has been taken over by the dead. Much of it is animated, but there are also live actors who jump out at you or reach to grab you as you go past.

Needless to say I gripped my husband’s hand and screamed my head off all the way round. Our friends were behind, but the funniest thing was when I turned round, a total stranger who had gone in on her own was clinging on to them for dear life!

By the time we came our we were all a little hoarse and slightly hysterical.

Rides and characters galore

The rest of the afternoon was spent travelling on the other rides, including Despicable Me, The Mummy, Transformers and Jurassic Park. It would be hard to say which was my favourite as I enjoyed them all.

Around the park we also met a number of characters, which all added to the fun of the day.  We also visited the special effects show.

All in all we had a great day. We didn’t reallly have to queue for anything and we got to do and see everything that we wanted to.

At the end for the day we drove back to the hotel, showered and then went down for pizza, sitting outside by one of the fire pits. A perfect end to a perfect day

California Dreaming (8)

Yesterday we had a slightly lazier day in Santa Barbara. In the morning we went for a walk into town, called for some breakfast and then climbed to the top of the Courthouse Tower to look at the amazing view over the city. The rest of the day was spent relaxing by the pool in the glorious sunshine. I’m the one in the shade reading as I burn too quickly sitting out in the sun. However it was lovely to be out in the warm sunshine, having an occasional dip in the pool.

In the evening we something to eat and then a walk on the pier. We then had a coffee sitting on the balcony before another good nights sleep.

A long day’s drive

Today we set off on the long drive South towards Los Angeles. Some of it was really pretty, especially Paradise Cove where we stopped off for brunch at the beach restaurant. Because it was Sunday and such a hot day the coast road was extremely busy and we struggled to find anywhere else to park on the beaches on the way, so we continued our journey and will hopefully get chance to drive back and see some of the things we have missed.

I definitely underestimated just how big Los Angeles is and how much of a drive there would be to the places that we want to visit, compared to the drives that we have already done. A lot of the outskirts of Los Angeles away from the beaches is very industrial, so not very scenic.

We are staying at the Regency Hyatt at Huntington Beach which is a huge hotel, situated just across from the beach. The rooms are beautiful and luckily we are staying for three nights.

We’ve got a busy couple if days ahead, so it’s out for tea and then an early night as we have to be up early tomorrow to travel to Universal Studios. Can’t wait!

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The wind had really dropped this morning, making the day feel much hotter. We had a relaxing start to the morning by sitting outside for breakfast in the sunshine. After checking out of the hotel, we then drove inland to Solvang.

Solvang

This a beautiful little town which was founded by the Danes in 1911. It is like stepping back in time into a little Danish village with quaint shops, lovely bakeries and coffee houses and a windmill scattered here and there. I expected it to be a small square or a couple of rows of houses, but it is actually much bigger than that and it quite a large town in its own right.

We spent the morning ambling round the town and looking in the shops. Of course calling for a Danish pastry was a must, although I couldn’t manage to eat one, I am told they were delicious.

Santa Barbara

Our stopover for the next two nights was The Harbor View Inn at Santa Barbara. The weather had certainly improved as we have travelled south and it was now 82 degrees! It was still a little breezy, but actually  that’s quite nice as otherwise it may be too hot.

The hotel is beautiful, overlooking the sea, with a lovely pool and garden.

We spent the afternoon lounging by the pool as our rooms weren’t ready when we arrived. We then sat on the balcony overlooking the pool before getting showered and changed ready to go out for tea

Santa Barbara is much livelier than many of the beach towns that we have visited so far. It has a massive beach area and pier. The town is up the hill away from the beach and as it was Friday night the bars and restaurants were a hive of activity. There was music coming from a lot of the bars which gave it a real holiday atmosphere. We ate at Casa Blanca Mexican restaurant, sitting outside as it was so warm. The young lady who served us was so friendly and helpful and the food was excellent.

And so ends another great day in California.

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It’s certainly true what they say, that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. The motel (Sands by the Sea) at San Simeon was actually really comfortable, the food was good in the adjacent restaurant and I had a really good nights sleep. Unfortunately I have now picked up the cold that our friends have had over the last week, which is not great when you’re on holiday.

Hearst Castle

William Randolph Hearst was in the movie and newspaper industry and was worth millions upon millions of dollars. As a young boy he visited Europe with his mother and was fascinated with the history, architecture and art. About 50 years later he built a “ranch” on the hillside overlooking the bay of San Simeon, which he loved. He bought sculptures, tapestries and furniture. What he could not buy he had made. It took over 20 years and when he died it still wasn’t completed.

The result of all this is what is now known as Hearst Castle. This is a rambling estate built atop a hill, with a 5 mile road that was built especially to reach it. It resembles a Mediterranean village with a castle at its centre and smaller cottages for visitors. It has an indoor and outdoor pool and is dripping in artwork. It was visited by the rich, famous and influential, by invitation only.

We took the grand tour, which covers the downstairs of the main house. Our guide was informative, not only about the building and its history, but also about Mr Hearst himself, who was a quiet man influencing politics and policies from the background. One of the really interesting things was the fact that his chief architect was a woman, Julia Morgan, who was way ahead of her time in her achievements.

Included in the tour was a 40 minute film which told of Hearst’s background, his determined father and his forward thinking mother. It told how Hearst, despite his fortune was a philanthropist and wanted the house that he built to be seen by the people as a museum of architecture.

It is certainly an impressive place. Afterwards we were allowed to wander the gardens and see the indoor pool before getting the bus back down the road to the visitor centre. It was definitely a worthwhile visit, helped immensely by the helpful and informative staff and the lovely sunny day.

A scenic coastal drive

Our journey then took us southwards down the coast, calling off to see a colony of elephant seals, sunbathing on the beach. I have never seen or expected to see so many seals in one place. What a site! We watched them for ages before continuing our journey.

We also called at Moonstone Bay, at the bar and grill, for some lunch. This was recommended by a member of staff at the castle. Lunch was beautiful, as was the view across the bay.

We drove through Cayucos, another beautiful town, before viewing Morro Rock from the bay. Although it was warm it was really windy in the bay, so we took some photos and continued our journey.

Pismo Beach

Our overnight stay was at Ocean View Hotel at Pismo Beach. What a beautiful hotel, in its own grounds, overlooking the sea. It was not lavish like the Fairmont and Monterey Plaza, but was pretty and practical with a stunning view over the beach. The grounds had BBQ’s , fire pits and tables where families could sit out and play and cook their own food. It had a lovely atmosphere.

We walked along the extremely flat beach to the pier and then back, just as the tide was coming in. I had a very brief paddle in the sea as the water was freezing. The wind was blowing the sand like some kind of mist across the beach, but not up in the air, which something I’ve never seen before.

For our evening we went to The Cool Cat diner, which was a traditional American Diner. The food was great and the staff were friendly and helpful.

We then went back to the hotel and sat by one of the fire pits before going to bed.

California dreaming (5)

Another superb day in California. The day initially seemed quite grey and cloudy, but very warm. However the clouds soon started to lift and it was a beautifully sunny day.

We drove from the hotel around a small part of the coast which was amazingly pretty. We stopped at a few viewpoints to take photos, including lovers point, prior to joining Seventeen Mile Drive.

Seventeen Mile Drive

What an exceptionally picturesque place to visit. You pay 10 dollars per vehicle to enter the scenic drive and are given a map showing all the scenic and historic points. It’s so easy to find your way around as it is so well laid out and sign posted. Everything is so pristine and well kept.

There are some absolutely stunning views and again we were able to see lots of different animals and birds in our journey. There are lots of information boards which tell you everything you need to know about what you can see.

At the end of the drive is Pebble Beach Golf Resort, where we stopped off for lunch at The Bench restaurant. The food as always was amazing and as a bonus, you receive a 10 dollar refund on your food, giving you the money back that you paid as an entrance fee.

It took all morning to do the drive, but I’ve never been happier to spend well over two hours to travel 17 miles.

Carmel

After lunch we drove to the very quaint and picturesque town of Carmel. We wandered around a few of the many shops. They are really unusual shops with some really classy items on sale. The town is really interesting to wander round and it makes a change to seeing the usual touristy things on sale.

After a spot of retail therapy, we embarked on our long journey southwards to San Simeon.

We are staying in a motel on the coast (Sands by the sea), which is completely different to the hotel we left behind in Monterey. It is comfortable and tidy, but has no airs and graces. Perhaps we’ve become a bit spoiled by the lovely hotels we’ve stayed at so far!

Heres to a good nights sleep, ready for another busy day tomorrow.

 

California Dreaming (4)

The only word that I can use to describe today is WOW!!

Drive to the Big Sur

Before we arrived in California we knew that parts of the Pacific Highway were closed due to damage caused by the rain over the winter. Today we set off towards the Big Sur, knowing that we would have to drive back as there is no longer a through road. It was definitely worth it. There were so many beautiful places to stop and take photos along the way, I almost lost count.

One of the first places we stopped was Monastery Beach. The sky was so blue and the sun was shining. There were huge waves crashing into the beach. Just a little bit further down the beach we caught sight of a seal just making its way back into the water. This was just the start of some of the wonderful things we would see today.

Stopping further down the coast at several beautiful coves the views were fantastic.

We saw sea otters playing in the sea. We watched one using a stone to break clam shells and eat the contents!

Bixby Canyon Bridge

One of the most amazing sights along the Big Sur is the Bixby Canyon Bridge. It is an unbelievable feat of English jeering, but the fact that it is surrounded by stunning views makes it even better. We had to stop off here to take photos of such an iconic place and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

We then drove further south, calling at The River Inn for an amazing lunch. We then had to turn around and make our way back to Monterey as the road was closed yet a little way ahead.

Nature at its best

On returning to the Plaza, we walked along the beach front towards Fisherman’s Wharfe. There were a number of seals and sea otters playing in the sea and sunbathing on the rocks. It was great to see them in their natural habitat. Also along the rocks were some very large red star fish.

Walking back along the pier we saw what we thought was a seal on the beach. It then became clear that it was actually in distress. Luckily someone had called the local sea life rescue and after waiting anxiously for quite a while, they turned up to asepsis the animal. It was in fact a walrus pup that had been separated from its mother, but they soon sorted it out and sent it back on its way.

A relaxing spa afternoon

On returning to the hotel we went into the top floor to spend some time in the spa. This is open air, glass fronted, overlooking the sea. The hot tubs were wonderfully warm, the changing rooms were luxurious and there was an open fire to sit by just for relaxation.

To add to all this, whilst in the spa, looking out to sea we Were treated to seeing a peregrine falcon resting on the balcony below and a whale and some dolphins swimming past the hotel.  You really couldn’t make today any better.

After a lovely meal in the hotel restaurant and a cocktail by the fire pit, it’s time for bed, with dreams of a Suberb day and hopefully more to come.

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The third day dawned quite grey and misty. Our plan was to visit Muir Woods. After having breakfast, we collected our hire car. My husband offered to be the first driver, which was a very brave decision. Driving an unknown car up and down the hills of San Francisco to collect our cases from the hotel was no mean feat. However he did a great job and we drove across a very murky Golden Gate Bridge and along the road north.

Unfortunately by the time we had done the short drive to Muir Woods it was raining quite hard and was even foggier. We decided that we would not see very much and didn’t really think there would be much pleasure from wandering around in the rain so we decided to start heading on our route southwards.

Capitola Beach

A few weeks ago someone told us that a really good place to stop on route would be a small town called Capitola. As we arrived it had brightened up a little bit. We were so impressed by Capitola.

It is a small quaint town with a beautiful beach, some unusual shops and some very quirky and pretty beach houses. We had some lunch and a wander around, completing our visit by walking along the pier.

This was somewhere that we would have probably missed and just passed by if we had not known about it, so it was great to be given the heads-up and to see such a lovely place, before driving on to our destination for the night.

Monterey

Our stop over for the next two nights was Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa. What an absolutely stunning hotel. The rooms were enormous and the views from the patio area were out of this world.

After checking into our rooms, we went out for a walk along to Fisherman’s Wharfe. This was more how I’d imagined a wharfe to look rather than the busy and commercial Fisherman’s Wharfe in San Francisco. It was a combination of restaurants and shops, but not too touristy.

We had a beautiful meal at Domenicos on the Wharfe. This is mainly a seafood reastaraunt. The food was absolutely amazing. Afterwards we had a short walk back to the hotel, sat by the fire pit on the patio for a short while, before going to bed.