Friday, February 22, 2008

Los Angeles

Time passed, and I didn't blog for a while. This is also where I stopped writing my diary on holiday so detail may be a bit sketchy. On the up side it has given all readers a chance to catch up on all posts and from now on they shouldn't be too substantial. So here's LA.

Kate and I arrived after a bus journey of about five hours. I seem to remember it raining on the journey. We left the Greyhound station and were met by a guy offering us a taxi. He seemed genuine asking his "employees" if they'd take us to our destination. In fact he asked four of them but they were too busy smoking and none of them knew where this big hotel in downtown LA was. Before he could ask anyone else, we hopped into a car saying taxi on it and he shouted "You pay $30 now and we only charge $20". In actual fact the charge was $8.25 and this was to set a precedent for our time in LA.

We got to the Ritz Milner hotel and were greeted by the very nice, large, and camp receptionist who gave us a lowdown on what to expect for our stay. We didn't fancy going out after a long day so went to the "Backdoor Pub" in the hotel. There were only two other people in and the bar closed at 9:30 so not the best pub ever. We crashed for the night soon after.

Friday 1st February - I had a waffle (from the waffle machine), a juice (from the juice machine) and a yoghurt (from a pot) for breakfast in the breakfast bar in the hotel. We then went to Universal Studios which was like a Theme Park and like Granada Studios but bigger. Before going in, two women approached us saying they had a spare ticket as their friend from the military couldn't come so they gave it us for a discount price. What the bitches failed to tell us was that there was a fingerprint scanner at the ticket gate which somehow showed the ticket had already been used by someone else. It's a good job we didn't bump into them inside the park or they would have met with some Toph and Kate whoop ass!

We went on a tour seeing film sets from The Grinch and Jaws, cars from The Fast And The Furious, houses from Desperate Housewives to name but a few things. We then went on a few rides and exhibits including Backdraft, Shrek 4D, Jurassic Park, and the impressive Waterworld show where we got quite wet. Finally we saw some famous animals from the movies including loads from Evan Almighty (some film about an ark or something like that in the bible). I think we went to Hollywood in the evening and watched a film called The Bucket List (two weeks before release in the UK) at the Chinese Theatre.

Saturday 2nd February - We got to the breakfast bar at 9:32 to be rudely told it was closed as it was after 9:30. We told the nice large camp guy on reception who took pity on us and gave us a restaurant list and advised we went to Hollywood. After he'd told us this he then remembered there was "an iHop across the road who deal in breakfast and a Subway just next door." Bless him! Anyway we went to Hollywood and had a tour of LA stopping in Beverly Hills to see if we could see any stars. We saw a few more beggars in Hollywood and one in Beverly Hills. We wandered down Rodeo Drive and Sunset Boulevard and I got a pretty good picture of the sign (see pic).

I think we went for a wander Downtown after that but there wasn't much there so we went back and spent the evening in Hollywood. On our way back to the hotel we got stopped by a man who had "just come out of jail but don't worry i'm not going to hit you" and needed some money for the underground. No problem this time as I had my day pass Underground ticket so just gave him that. He didn't look impressed but thanked me anyway. Ha. Toph & Kate 2, Scamming bastards 1 :-) It was a fairly early night as we were travelling again in the morning.

Sunday 3rd February - We got to the breakfast bar at 6:34 (it opened at 6:30) and I had a yoghurt (from a pot) as the waffle machine and the juice machine were not yet switched on by the grumpy woman who wouldn't let us in the day before. Even when we left at 6:45 they were still not on. Dock this woman some pay I tells ya. We were going to tell our friend on reception but it was old, large guy who was asleep so he was no help. We then headed off for for San Francisco. We were going to drive up the coast but there had been mud slides blocking the road and rail lines (just like in Brighouse!). So we took an Amtrak bus to Bakersfield then a train to Emeryville and another bus to San Francisco.

To sum up Los Angeles, I thought it was an experience I was happy to have had having seen the sights but I didn't really feel safe on the streets and now i've seen everything, it's not a place i'd particularly want to go back to.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Las Vegas Part Five - Grand Canyon To Leaving

... Wednesday 30th January - I met Angela, Simon, Ann, Kevin, Trish and Kate in the hotel lobby at just before 7am and then headed outside to meet our tour guide for the day "Cowboy Dave". He was full of stories on our way to the Grand Canyon. He was also into falconry and loved telling us all about his Goshawk, Suzanna and about the snakes, turtles and other strange animals he has.

We then arrived at the Hoover Dam to see it. It's an amazing feat of engineering. It also stands on the state line of Nevada and Arizona where the time difference is ne hour. Oddly, if you keep going South West to California, the time changes back. Anyway, then we continued down a rough road to The Joshua Tree National Park, named so as it's full of Joshua Trees.

Cowboy Dave then entertained us with his story of how his girlfriend thought they should spend more time together. He went to see blind opera singer Andrea Bocelli with her and then he took her deer hunting. He told her she had to be camouflage and quiet. She turned up in a bright yellow jump suit and kept piping up "Cowboy Dave, when are we going to see a dear?" "We won't if you keep making noise" he replied. They then saw one and she said "Awww isn't it cute? What do we do now?" "Erm shoot it!" he replied. "You can't shoot it!" she said loudly frightening the deer making it run. No deer were caught that day! Maybe there's some things couples shouldn't do together!

We were then told how the Indians, whose land the Grand Canyon is on charge more and more for tourists to enter their land. They've also built a Skywalk which looks over the Canyon. However it's not the Grand Canyon - it's the one next to it therefore being a major marketing con. We soon arrived at a cowboy ranch and waited around a bit.

After an hour or so we went via horse and carriage to a helicopter. It was very cold and windy. Kate and I got the front seat with the pilot which meant we had a good view. We flew into the Canyon, down, up, and out again. The flight lasted about 20 minutes and was another first for me. There seem to be a lot of those recently! It was an amazing experience which i'd recommend to anyone and definitely something everyone should do at least once in their lifetime.

After the short carriage ride back, we were treated to a gunfight and then at lunch, serenaded by Casey Adams a country singer who makes up random lyrics! It was then time to head back to Vegas.

Cowboy Dave then told us his theory of how to stop the war in Iraq. He feels that the people there will be more scared of pigs than bombs as they hate anything to do with pigs. Therefore if USA threaten to drop pigs on them instead of bombs, then they would stop all their bombing and everything would be sorted. Could a hillbilly make a late run to be the next President?!

We then stopped off at Dolan Springs chocolate factory. A far cry from Cadbury's, this was a static caravan almost in the middle of the desert. We had a free complimentary chocolate rattlesnake egg*. Near the end of our trip, we saw the sign. Awesome! We thanked Cowboy Dave for an entertaining day and got back to the hotel in early evening.

For our final Vegas meal Kate and I decided to go to Dick's Last Resort which was a seriously crazy eatery in Excalibur. It's a fun place. The waiters put hats on people's heads with writing on such as "I'm like a turtle. Everytime i'm on my back, I scream" or for me, simply "Mr Bean" (you may have seen the picture. If not and you'd like to, then I may send it you). Napkins are thrown all over the floor too just for the sake of it! It was a fun if weird experience but once again fitted in well with the Vegas experience. I also had my 3rd and final yard of strawberry margherita here.

We then headed back to the bar but I decided to play some poker. I came 2nd out of 6 and finally made some profit. Woohoo! Soon after I went to bed, quite exhausted.

Thursday 31st January - We met everyone in the bar at about 10:30 to say goodbyes. It was quite sad seeing the group go from 28 to 2 but the week in Vegas was over and it was time for Kate and I to go on our week long American adventure which started with us taking a taxi to the Greyhound (like National Express) Bus Station and getting our 3:00 bus to Los Angeles...

* Rattlesnakes don't actually lay eggs - they were chocolate covered grapes!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Las Vegas Part Four - Between Wedding and Grand Canyon

... The wedding was a short affair. The minister (controversially in my opinion) said to the best man referring to the five bridesmaids "You're outnumbered there but that's how i like it!" Then the ceremony took place and photos were taken and in under half an hour we were back in the bar at Giorgio's in Mandalay Bay Hotel where the reception was held. The best man's speech was nice and just about audible! There was a free bar for a while so we drank more. It was a really nice and happy occasion for all. I drank some more and gambled a little then I had another yard of frozen strawberry margherita. At this point I took $40 on a poker table with me and lost $35 in the first hand so I felt it wise to put another $50 down. This lasted about 10 minutes and I was not to hit the tables again! I should know better than to drink and gamble! Farewells were said to those leaving on Tuesday and Kate and I were the last to bed at 2am!

Tuesday 29th January - I felt fine in the morning so Kate and I went to the Bellagio for Brunch. This was awesome! All other all you can eat places had symmetrical sides with the same food on either side but here there were different foods. Being an all you can eat buffet I had 3 main courses and 3 desserts! I had ham, salami, salmon, tomato, trout, more salmon, shrimp, margherita pizza, two types of pasta, pepperoni pizza, beef, lamb, potatoes, mushrooms and more tomato. I had to take a five minute break before chocolate caramel cake, chocolate fudge cake and a chocolate chip cookie. This was the best meal ever and I didn't eat again for 27 hours!

We saw lots of tat shops on the way back with plenty of rude T-Shirts shamelessly being sold on the street reephasising my belief that Vegas is no place for children, in fact given the number of times I was ID'd anyone under 21. In the evening 12 of us went to the Stratosphere to see the American Legends show. Elvis, Tim McGraw, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears and Michael Jackson were billed but Britney was ill and replaced by Rod Stewart. He had dancers though so I wasn't too disappointed as they were very pretty! The most memorable bit was probably Michael Jackson's dancing which was ace! We (6 of us) then went to the top of the 110 floor Stratosphere and Kate went on a ride at the top. Too scary for me! Then, without going to the bar, we went to bed ready for an early start in the morning...

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Las Vegas Part Three - Between Fire And Wedding

... Mid Friday afternoon and we couldn't do anything in the hotel without our luggage so Kate and I went for a wander round some hotels and casinos down The Strip including Caesar's Palace with an impressive gambling area and nice ceilings and New York New York with lots of New York landmarks in it. I went to bed at 11:00 after another really long day but some stayed up til 7am for the second morning running. Hardcore!

Saturday 26th January - I had the all you can eat buffet breakfast at Luxor which was good but not as good as some others. I was with Kevin (Kate's step-brother who was getting married), Kerry (his fiancee), Claire, Catherine (Kate's step-sisters) and Trish (a cousin) as Kate was not feeling so well after the night before. She was fine for the afternoon though so we walked the length of The Strip via the Venetian Hotel where gondolas were sailing on a canal on the second floor. Vegas is a crazy place! The other end of The Strip is a little more seedy and we finished our trip at The Stratosphere.

As the wedding had now been postponed until Monday, the stag night had been postponed until Sunday, so we went to Old Las Vegas town at Fremont St and saw an impressive light show. I also had the first of my yard of frozen strawberry margherita. Mmmmm. It was a bit friendlier and had more locals there but also seemed more dangerous. I went to bed about 2am then it pissed it down and my roof leaked big style in two places. So much so it had filled a waste bin by 6:45am. Luckily the rain soon stopped but i didn't get much sleep.

Sunday 27th January - I stayed in the hotel most of the day until the stag do in the evening which was well organised at the last minute by Mark (friend) as Martin (Kate's sister and best man) was not well and very tired. First we (being 14 guys this time) went to Caesar's Palace for a quiet drink.

Then we went to Coyote Ugly in New York New York. It's like the film where bar girls dance on the bar but somehow felt better than Jumpin Jaks! It was an American lass's 24th birthday so she got up on stage (bar) for a free short (ok four or five free shorts) poured down her throat. She wasn't a small girl and when trying to get up from her kneeling position, couldn't take her own weight and fell ungracefully head first off the bar. The whole place was in stitches for about 20 seconds as it was one of the funniest things ever. However it soon became clear she was quite hurt. Six extra security staff were drafted in to take pictures of the scene and to ensure she got attention and after she was wheeled off in a wheelchair the floor was swiftly mopped where her had had hit it. I imagine she just had a very sore neck and an even sorer head and hope she's ok. No doubt she'll get a compensation pay off - after all it is America!

Next we went to The Hard Rock Hotel. This was a nice bar which appeared to be full of the girls that the Mexicans from Part One were selling. They were all over, being very nice and chatty but most wanting cash for any "service" they may provide to you. We passed on this and returned to the hotel bar for a drink or two and I was one of the last to bed at 2:30.

Monday 28th January - I was hungover. I made it up for brunch late morning in the Pyramid Cafe in Luxor then went back to bed. Feeling a bit better, we met in the bar (again) for pre wedding drinks. This was to be my first non alcoholic drink of the holiday in the bar. We then headed upstairs to the Wedding Chapel where (unsurprisingly) the wedding took place...

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Las Vegas Part Two - The Monte Carlo Hotel Fire

..."Wa Wa Wa (alarm) and a slightly muffled announcement" and panic from all the waiters then back to normal. This turned out to be a fire alarm and the muffled announcement said "We have an incident under investigation" (you know like when a car jumps the start in F1). The waiters then came back in and decided to usher out everyone in the restaurant. Kate, Trish and I went out the an office behind the kitchen and stood at the side of the side road at the side of the hotel to see plumes of black smoke coming from the hotel. Oh it was a fire alarm then, and indeed it was a real fire!

Soon we had to make our way onto The Strip and then onto the median and then onto the other side of the road. Gradually members of our party got out and joined us more out of luck than judgement as flames could be seen rising from above the building. At this time some of our party (the 7am ers) were still in bed on the 20th floor and only told to get out by people ringing them from England saying the hotel was on fire watching it on Sky News!

When everyone was out and the flames had begun to die down I started to regret not having my phone or my camera on me so the picture is just a picture of the hotel a few days after. There's plenty pictures and videos on Google/(maybe Facebook)/YouTube if you want proper footage.

We then met up with the rest of the party (about 30 of us) outside a Mexican restaurant/bar named La Salsa (not a strip club).We went inside to see our hotel burning on 2 tv news channels so had a drink and watched it. We met a man at the bar who was about to check out but had his luggage on the 5th floor and was unable to retrieve it. He would miss his flight out of town but hopefully he got home ok eventually. The ticker on the bottom of the screen informed us that we should make our way to the MGM Grand hotel down the road to register our names and get ourselves into a new hotel.

After a bit of waiting around and viewing the impressive arena where Ricky Hatton lost his recent fight we were transferred to Luxor, a pyramid shaped Egyptian themed hotel. This was to be where 28 of the 32 of the party would stay for the rest of the holiday. We were allowed back in to collect our luggage at 9pm the same night but had to be escorted to our rooms by members of staff.

It turns out that the fire was caused by Welders installing a new window cleaning system on the room had dropped hot ash which set fire to the foam facia of the hotel which burned. There was minimal damage to the inside and only floors 27 to 32 were affected. No one in our party had any damage to luggage as we were all lower down. The hotel is to partly reopen on 15th February and open up to floor 26 i think it is a week later. 13 people had smoke related injuries but without the amazing work of the Clark County Fire Department it could have been a lot worse. I do feel the evacuation procedure left something to be desired with the alarm not staying on permanently, cleaners thinking it was a drill, poker players continuing playing until they saw it burning on tv, and lifts still being available for use. However they were evacuating from the top down as this was where the most danger was and everything ended up fine in the end so I guess alls well that ends well.

It was sad to have to leave there after only 24 hours but the holiday went on...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Las Vegas Part One - Pre Fire

It's going to have to be diary style again I think. It'll probably start quite detailed and get less and less so but i'll see how it goes.

Wednesday 23rd January - Work was odd. There were floods in Brighouse so the roads were busy and I had to go to Sowerby Bridge but halfway there the client rung to cancel then they emailed me all their queries which took most of my day to solve anyway. I left about 4 o'clock and Kate and I got the train to Manchester Airport from Huddersfield at about 7:15. I got to meet Kate's family who seemed a lively bunch, but very nice and welcoming towards me. It was then early to bed due to getting up before 6am for the flight.

Thursday 24th January - This would be my first ever flight so I was quite apprehensive about the whole thing. It was also to be a long day - 32 hours in total as we had to do 8 hours twice due to the time difference. We checked in at 6:45 and set off at 9:05 and landed in Vegas at 11:45 their time. The flight was a bit boring to be honest after 3 hours had passed and I didn't mind it so at last that's another life experience out of the way. I wonder why they don't just fly directly there rather than going through Greenland and Canada. It would be much quicker point to point! The in flight entertainment broke halfway there not helping my boredom but i did get to watch Ratatouille which was quite funny.

We got the Monte Carlo Hotel at 1:00 but couldn't check in until 3:00 so we took our first of many trips to the bar we were able to pour our own beer out of a "7 pinter" which was quite cool. Then we checked in, the room was nice. We had a meal in the bar afterwards. The first thing I noticed was that the portions were rather large!

Most of us (there's about 25 of us when i talk about "us") went down The Strip (the main road in Las Vegas) and watched the spectacular Bellagio Fountains which were quite amazing, rivalling the Eiffel Tower belonging to Paris Hotel behind it. It was also my first experience of girl selling Mexican men on the side of the street with the "flick flick thrust" of their calling cards. There were lots of them of all agesfrom 8 to 60 I'd say. We then went to Planet Hollywood where loads of hot girls were as it was Miss America there on Saturday and they were just settling into the surroundings. They knew they were hot and weren't afraid to show it. I went to bed about about 11:00 but some others stayed up drinking until about 7am!

Friday 25th January - I got up at 8:30 and entered the 9:00 poker tournament in the Monte Carlo Poker Room. This was my first live game - another experience i'm no longer scared of - however it didn't go well as i had 7-3 on the big blind, flopped 2 pair, but someone had J-7 and he hit a J on the river. I had no further luck and finished 25th out of 26 at about 9:40. I then played on some slots and lost. I was on my way back up to my room to sulk for an hour or so and to get my jumper, camera and phone before learning to play craps at 11:00 but I only got as far as the lift where I met Kate and Trish so I joined them for breakfast. It was an all you can eat thing. It got to just after 11:00 and I had eaten all I could so we were just about to go for our craps lesson when...

Monday, February 11, 2008

Holiday Summary

Number of people asking if i was going to get married before i went = 12
Number of people asking me and Kate if we were married while there = 10
Number of people thinking i look like Mr Bean = 2
Number of photos taken by a Mexican who couldn't believe I looked so much like Mr Bean = 3
Number of hotel fires = 1
Number of weddings = 1
Number of times scammed = 1

Ha what a rubbish post but fear not as a more detailed version of events is on its way.