Posts Tagged With: USA

Travel Books- Big Sur by Jack Karouac

Big Sur is a stretch of California’s coast between Carmel and San Simeon. Driving along the State Route 1, known for winding turns, seaside cliffs and views of the often-misty coastline is quite captivating. I visited California in 2014, on a long awaited trip to the USA.  Part of the plan was always to drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco along the coast, stopping off at a few little towns along the way like San Simeon and Monterey.

Monterey has literary fame as it was once a major player in the ‘canning’ industry (canning fish), and written about by Steinbeck.  Now it’s holiday town, full of gift shops, restaurants, and people jogging along the beach.  I loved Monterey.  I didn’t care so much for ‘Of Mice and Men’ by Steinbeck though!

Before we went to America, a friend lent me Big Sur by Jack Kerouac, mainly for his description of the terrifying bridge high up over the water.  Well, in the end it was dark when we drove through much of it, and I never got around to reading the book.  Well actually, I tried but got bored quite quickly.  But it was on my to-read pile so I tried it again…I was right the first time!

books2Kerouac’s stream of consciousness style was hard to follow at times (especially as his consciousness was drunk most of the time).  Tired of his Beat fame following the success of ‘On The Road’, he decides to spend a quiet six weeks in his friend’s cabin in Big Sur.  Things don’t go to plan right from the start, as he fails to secretly return to San Fransisco as he ends up loudly announcing his arrival and going on a bender.  His self-destructive nature is, I suppose, what makes him interesting to people, I found it tiresome.

He does spend three quiet weeks alone in the cabin, feeding squirrels and writing boring poetry about the sea.  But the isolation offers him too much time to think and he starts to crack.  He heads back to the ‘gooky city’, meeting his friends again and heading out on another bender.  He gets word from his mother than his cat has died, a cat that he strongly associates with his late brother and he is plunge into a fresh depression.

He ends up heading back to the cabin but this times with friends and their kids.  Before they have to leave for a children’s play which Kerouac gets them thrown out of for being drunk.  But his friend Cody doesn’t mind and takes him to meet his mistress.  Which brings me to the misogynistic undertones running through the book.

…beautiful blonde wife of his in her tight blue jeans that makes Dave say ‘Yum yum’…

The book was written in 1963 and so is a product of it’s time, sure I get that. But all the men have mistresses, and share their women about.  Cody encourages some young idiot to join him wife on the beach, much to her general irritation about having men and sex forced on her.  There are a few nice stories about dancing girls.  I just felt a wave of sadness for the women in this book, stuck in marriages to drunken, idiot, philanderers.

Anyway, Kerouac meets Billie (the mistress) and they have an immediate mutual attraction, although he finds her equally fascinating and boring it would seem.  He spends the days sitting in her arm chair smoking and drinking while she is at work, and they spend the nights having sex.  She has a young son who occasionally wanders into the bedroom and she thinks it’s fine for him to watch.  Karouac, to his sort of credit, is a bit creeped out by this, but goes along with it anyway.  Later on, they go back to the cabin and the poor child tries to pull his mother of Kerouac so she takes him outside and beats him.  Good, cheerful, stuff.  She also has a delightful friend, who creeps onto little girls and threatens to kid nap them.

Basically, I would just really hate to be stuck in a lift with any of them…I was very curious as to how much of this actually happened.  Like, really, how messed up is the little kid in the book now, and does he enjoy reading about he flaky mum’s affair with Jack Kerouac? A quick google tells em the names were changed, but it also tells me the characters real names so screw you anonymity!  I assume he took some liberties with the truth as this is a ‘fictionalised autobiography’.  I don’t think Beat literature is for me.

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Washington DC- The Botanical Garden

Day 51


On a whim we popped into the Botanical Garden in Washington DC.  We are strolling past the Capitol Building and wandered in.  It’s free admission, and not huge so it was a fun 30min detour.


Some of the areas were closed when we were there, I think they were refurbishing bits.  Inside the Conservatory there are different areas for the different climates, like the tropics, desert, and Mediterranean.  There is also a section for medicinal plants, endangered plants, and a primeval garden recreating the Jurassic era (complete with little dinosaurs).usa2

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Washington DC- The Library of Congress

The Library of Congress in Washington DC was founded in 1800.  The terrible British burned the building in 1814, and destroyed 3,000 volumes.  Those rotters.  But the following year Congress approved the purchase of Thomas Jefferson’s personal library.  The LOC is the largest library in the world with more than 164 million items.


We went for a visit, but didn’t bother with a tour and just wandered around with a info leaflet.  It’s the interior decor and murals that are particularly impressive.  Along the ornate staircases in the Great Hall there are figures of little boys, or ‘putti’.  The represent the various occupations and pursuits of contemporary American life (that’s contemporary to 1897 when the building was completed).  Above it depicts a farmer, bacchanalian, hunter, and mechanic which is an interesting mix.


The ceilings and walls were all covered in depictions of the arts and sciences. The lady in red (bottom right) is a mural representing understanding.   The lass in the blue represents understanding.  Above the Main Reading Room is a Government mural (top right), which reads ‘A government of the people, by the people, for the people’.

In the Main Reading Room (below) there are eight giant marble columns supporting 10ft high figures representing: religion, commerce, history, art, philosophy, poetry, law, and science.  But, unless you’re an official library person, you can’t actually go in the Main Reading Room and just have to look at it through glass from a balcony above.



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Virginia- Air and Space Museum

Whilst in Washington DC, boyfriend suggested we ‘pop’ across to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Virginia.  ‘Popping’ turned out to be about an hour on a train and 30 mins on a bus but anyway…


There is already a Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington DC which is also worth a visit.  But they had so many flying machines they to build another one, and the Washington Mall was getting a little crowded.  Anyway, the Udvar-Hazy centre is basically in the middle of nowhere next to the Dulles airport.  Since it was a 3hr round trip we didn’t actually have much time to spend in the museum.  There is a lot to see, mainly planes in two large aircraft hangars.  There is also an IMAX theatre and an observation tower. We didn’t do either of those, so I can’t report back.  We did peak into the Restoration Hangar where they do restoration one I assume, although no one was working in there at that moment.



I had some issues with the white washing of any negative elements of aviation.  Each plane had a little plaque usually with minimal information, but some gave a little more of the history.  None of them really suggested anything bad had ever happened.  Included the Enola Gay from which the an Atomic Bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, killing about 70,000-80,000 people.

One of the main reasons that we went there was to see the Space Shuttle, Discovery. According to boyfriend, who knows these things, there was a controversial launch when the government put too much pressure on them to launch before they were ready.

usa1My major annoyance was the lack of places to eat.  The only place in the Museum was a McDonald’s, which did not have any vegetarian options!  Or any options for any other special diet.  So I ate fries and a cookie and felt sick.  You are not allowed to take food inside (not at all, so you would have to eat it before you go in).  If you drive there I guess you can drive somewhere to buy food but that breaks up the visit.


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Washington DC- Georgetown


We left the Mall and headed out to Georgetown, the university suburb or Washington DC.  We tried to walk along the Potomac but the route turned out to be less than inspiring and our path along the the river was blocked at one point due to construction work.  Also one of us (erm me) really needed to go to the toilet…So we headed into town and stopped at the first place we saw pretty much!  It was Los Cuates, a decent Mexican place with massive portion sizes!

After lunch we wandered around the town a little in the sunshine, and it’s very charming.  They have the lovely, colourful townhouses, and sweet independent shops.  I found a tea and spice shop where I got some loose leaf tea.

Day 62


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New York- Places to Eat

Argo Tea Cafe

It’s a tea place- duh! We went for breakfast here on our first day in New York (I got croissants and straight up green tea).  When we came back to New York to fly home we stopped off for an afternoon drink and I got hot apple cider (in USA cider is non-alcoholic unless specified).  All the drinks can be hot or cold, and they also sell lose leaf tea.

They have some seasonal tea that you can sample as well.  I tried to the iced strawberry green tea which was rather nice.  I wanted to buy a bottle of it but we were heading to the airport and I wouldn’t be able to take it through security.  These are the type of places I wish we had in the UK.


Argo Tea Cafe                                                                                  Hangawi


I had never eaten Korean food before, and this was a veggie Korean place next door to our hotel.  On entry we were asked to remove our shoes, as that’s Korean style.  The staff were very friendly. We ate at lunchtime and still spent about $60!  I had a jasmine green tea, and I got a tofu soup, with rice cakes.  I was expecting the rice cakes to be the crunchy kind but they were gelatinous white blobs in the soup.  They didn’t taste like much so I’m not complaining. Boyfriend got a spicy,  We also got given some kimchee which is unpleasant fermented cabbage.

Pronto Pizza

We tried Famous Original Ray’s Pizza, but the staff was so rude to boyfriend we left.  So we wandered in the rain for a few blocks and found Pronto Pizza.  It’s another pizza place where you buy by the slice for $3, although the slices are the size of a small house.  Inside it’s not very exciting, the staff were not native Americans, or Italians but they obviously knew how to make pizza.

It’s simple, cheap, and yummy.  It was very good.

Day 3

Pronto Pizza                                                                   Andrew’s Coffee Shop

Andrew’s Coffee Shop

We went here for breakfast on Sunday morning, around 9:30am and there was a queue. I don’t know if that’s just a Sunday thing but I took it as a good sign.

Outside it’s not particularly glamorous and inside the orange/beige decor had been jazzed up with Easter bunnies.  It was only a few minutes before we were seated by a friendly waitress. New York service staff are never gonna be the chatty types especially on a busy day but she was polite and helpful.  I got a green tea, oatmeal, and a croissant.  Boyfriend got an omelette, but in America omelettes come with potatoes and toast.  It tasted good, it wasn’t cheap but didn’t break the bank.

Umi Sushi

Umi Sushi was boyfriend’s find, when I was feeling rough and we needed somewhere to eat nearby.  It was pretty small, more like someones living room (although I think there were more seats in the back).  It’s a sushi place so there weren’t tonnes of veggie options but I got a decent vegetable tempura and green tea (do you see a theme in my drink choices?).  Boyfriend got a fairly huge plate of Sashimi.

Day 22

Umi Sushi


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USA Trip Prep

So, our USA trip is fast approaching and I thought I’d fill you in on where I’m with my preparations. Also I can use this to figure out what I still have left to do.  I work shifts so I have sort of more time to get stuff done, but sort of less (it’s what happens when you don’t have regular days off like week ends but you do get the odd week day off to go shopping).

We leave at the end of March and will have an annoying trip from home to Manchester Airport, before we even get on a plane to go to New York.  So we obviously have our tickets by now but we’ll need to check in and I need to get boyfriend to print them at work.  Along with that we need print out our train tickets, to get from New York to San Francisco.

I’m not totally crazy, and I haven’t started packing yet but I will soon start planning my outfits.  I do this with plenty of time so I can make sure everything is washed before I need to pack it.  I used to live in a house share and I couldn’t rely on the washing machine being free so I had to give myself an extra week.  I now have a house (technically it’s boyfriend house but still) and a tumble dryer so that makes life easier.  I do want to buy a new suitcase.  My one is really heavy, it’s pink which is the reason I bought it (!), but a pain to drag around.

I’m going to get some little toiletries, boyfriend tells me not to because I can use the hotel ones, but in Italy the hotels only had shampoo and not conditioner which was annoying.  I need to get my dollars (exchange rate sucks right now), and I’ll need some little snacks for the airport.  But I shouldn’t need to get to much more.


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ESTA Visa Waiver for USA

Well we mulled over our America trip a little after Donald Trump took over like some mad travel agent and enacted his crazy travel ban.  Boyfriend and I were not going to be affected directly, but it was quite off putting. We were also concerned about extra queues, more security checks, and protests.  But I wanted to go somewhere special for my birthday so boyfriend relented and has given his permission!

Being from the UK we can take advantage of the ESTA Visa Waiver scheme.  It costs $14 each, and they do a little background check on you and make sure you’re planning terrorist crimes and other mischief.  In fact one of the questions directly asks you if you’re planning terrorism or genocide.  Boyfriend asked why they would leave that question in there as it’s so dumb, but it’s clearly there to amuse you 45hrs into a 47hr long application.

Ok, that’s a little exaggeration.  But its does take a while, and you have to do a separate application for each traveler although you can pay for them altogether.  Obviously, you have to provide your name, address, nationality, and passport details.  But also you employer and their address, your parents names, and an emergency contact (with their email address).   You also need the address of where you’re staying in the US so you have to book your accommodation first, which is a bit annoying because if they reject your application you can’t travel and probably can’t get your hotel money back.  The it asks the silly questions about whether you’re going to commit genocide or if you have yellow fever. The for some reason you have to put your name, dob, and passport number in again.  And then you send it off and wait for them to tell you if you’re allowed in the country.

So we did ours on Sunday and are still waiting, but it’s only Tuesday (for me…I schedule posts).  They aim for 72hrs so hopefully we’ll know soon if we’re going to America or if we’ve wasted loads of money…

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New Year, New Travel Plans

Ok, so we don’t really have any plans as such…but my birthday is in April and it is the big 3-0 so I wanted to go away for it.  I haven’t really been away for my birthday the past few years, apart from travelling to and from Glasgow as my little niece’s birthday is only 4 days before mine.  But this year I want to have a special trip for my birthday, and April is a nice time to travel.  The weather is getting better (erm in the Northern hem anyway) and it’s much cheaper than a summer hol (erm as long as you miss the Easter hols). Continue reading

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Death Valley Vs Yosemite

I loved Yosemite and Death Valley, they’re both huge National Parks, with lots to see, so I thought I’d do a comparison post with some of their key differences.

Firstly the weather!  We visited both parks in April only a few days apart but the temperature was so different you feel like your in another country.  In Yosemite we could only visit Yosemite Valley in the centre of the park as they don’t start clearing the snow from the main road through the park until mid-April.  There were still mounds of snow on the side of the road as we drove through, but it was actually a really nice sunny day about (20 Celsius/ 68 Fahrenheit I’m guessing). Death Valley, however, was at least 38 Celsius/ 102 Fahrenheit.  Definitely no snow!

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