Category: Travel


Chris and Sue renew their vows

On October 9, 1984, Depeche Mode played in Gloucester, UK on their ‘Some Great Reward’ tour. Chris and I met in Bristol, waiting for a coach to the venue.

Fast forward exactly one year, and we got married in Bristol. Over the next 28 years we emigrated to Brisbane, settled there, and had our family. On our 28th wedding anniversary we happened to be in Vegas, so of course we arranged to renew our vows while in town. Because that’s what you do in Vegas.

The usual choice is a wedding with an Elvis impersonator, but we wanted to be different, so we arranged to hire a trike and go through the Little White Wedding Chapel’s drive through ‘tunnel of love’.

At about 9.00 am, we took a taxi down to Eagle Riders to pick up our Harley trike, their office wasn’t far from The Palms, so it only cost about $10.00 to get there. We decided while at the desk doing the paperwork, that we’d better have a GPS fitted, so we had to wait while they installed it for us. No worries, we had allocated plenty of time.

We got to the chapel early, and because it was a slow day for them they did us a little before our 11.00 am slot.

It was so good, cheesy but lovely, and perfect for us.

We wore jeans and our new Depeche Mode T-shirts to remember what brought us together, and my bouquet was a single red rose, a common symbol of the band thanks to their album, Violator.

violator rose     my rose  the tunneltrike wedding

Our gushy pastor was really welcoming and nice, the ceremony only took a few minutes, but it seemed longer at the time. I nearly lost it near the beginning, when I was suddenly overwhelmed by what we were doing. It was all recorded on to DVD, and when the ceremony was over we had our official photos taken. I didn’t have an official photographer the first time around, so I found this bit really good fun.

We gave the pastor the recommended $40.00 donation in an envelope, and Chris gave a $20.00 tip to the photographer because he was so lovely. We were out of there with a DVD of the ceremony and a CD of the photos by 11.15 am. Brilliant.

done it

After the ceremony we rode off towards Red Rock Canyon. Thanks to the Federal Government shut down, we knew we could not go on the scenic drive through the park, but we went for the scenery along the normal road.

Red rocks

red rocks road

The guy at the Eagle Riders counter had recommended Bonnie Springs Ranch to us for lunch. It was a great little place, quirky and very friendly.

the ranch

They were decorating it ready for Halloween activities starting from October 10. They had a ‘cowboy town’ and petting zoo there, and some other things, but we had very little money left, and it looked like it might rain soon, so we just had lunch there, then headed back to Eagle Riders to give back the trike.

They were quite surprised to see us back so early, we could have returned the trike at 6.00 pm, or even kept it overnight and got it back before 9.00 am tomorrow, but we had done what we wanted to do with it, and it was getting quite cold now, and by cold I mean below today’s high of 24 degrees C.

The other reason was that the Harley trike was uncomfortable for Chris to ride. I was OK on the back, but Chris was not used to the upright position compared to our Panther Trike at home. His short legs were not suited to that style and in his words, gave him a “sore leg and a dead ass.” Charming.

Eagle Riders gave us a lift in the courtesy bus back to The Palms, but as usual, nothing is really free, there was a tip jar prominently positioned on the dashboard, so a few dollars went in there. Still, it saved us walking for half an hour.

We got back to our room for the last time and sorted out our boarding passes on one of the hotel’s complimentary computers and printers, and packed our cases ready for tomorrow.

Our USA adventure was over. We had a nice soak in a hot bath and relaxed for the rest of the day. Everything after that is censored. :p

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Our Grand Adventure started outside our hotel at 6.25 am when Kevin, our driver and guide for the day picked us up in the mini-van. There were four people in the van already; in the first row, a young couple from England, and behind them a middle-aged couple from Minnesota. We got in the third row and went to pick up the fourth couple from another hotel. This last couple on the bus were a retired/semi-retired couple from Florida. The woman, whose name I never got, basically talked to us all day, she was a lovely, lively lady, and by the end of the day she was practically inviting us to stay at their house should we ever visit America again.

Our guide, Kevin, was very good, he told us lots of facts and stories about the land as he drove through the different areas. The first stop was for breakfast at McDonalds in Boulder. The cost of breakfast was included in the price of the tour and went on Kevin’s tab.

After breakfast our next stop was at the Joshua Tree forest for a leg stretch and photos.

Joshua tree

Then we drove on an unsealed section of road. I think they were grading it or something at one point as we were delayed for a while.

At the end of the road, Kevin parked the van and we all got on the shuttle coach to the gift shop. We hadn’t budgeted for any souveniers, so we just used the rest room and had a look around the shop for the 15 minutes we had there before boarding another coach for the West Rim.

The West Rim was packed! People were so near the edge, it was scary. I went nowhere near the edge, it wouldn’t take much for me to get knocked off accidentally.

The packed edge

Kevin looked after everyone’s bags, and we all got in the queue for the Skywalk. We took about 20 minutes to get to the front of the queue, then we had to put disposable covers over our shoes so we wouldn’t scratch the surface. Mobile phones and cameras were not allowed on the Skywalk. They had professional photographers there, and you could buy the prints in the gift shop on the way out. We weren’t going to buy a photo but when we saw it we couldn’t resist buying one, and we put it on the credit card. Naughty.

The Skywalk was freaky. The edge was opaque and that was where most people walked, holding the reassuring rail as they walked around the loop. I couldn’t walk across the see-through bit until quite near the end, by which time I had come to trust that I was not going to fall through it.

After the Skywalk, we went to have our picnic lunch, that Kevin had in his backpack. We had ordered our sandwiches in advance when we booked the tour. I had a veggie one, and Chris had a beef and salad one. We all sat together at the picnic table where Kevin had guarded our bags. With our sandwiches we also shared grapes, crackers, and orange coloured cheese, and washed it all down with bottles of cold water.

After lunch Kevin took us around the American Indian village, showing us examples of different homes and sweat lodges. One of them had a very peculiar smell in it, someone had just smoked pot in there.

American Indian structure

Kevin also showed us the bushes that are hallucinogenic when you chew enough of the leaves. Only one person was game enough to try a bit, the lady from Florida of course.

After our wander through the different American Indian dwellings, we all followed Kevin up to the highest point. It was not a difficult climb but there was one point where I had to bounce a couple of times to jump up onto a rock. Kevin asked if I was doing OK, I said, “yes, climbing is fine, it’s edges I don’t do.”

It was a good feeling at the top, and although there were still lots of people around, it was amazing to be there.

The top

Kevin was brilliant at taking lots of photos for everybody on the tour, and some for other people too. We had allocated a $20.00 tip for him from our budget. He was worth every cent, he knew all the best places for photos.

Sue saving Chris

Living on the edge

On our way back down from the highest point, Kevin showed us Guano Point, and told us all about us about bat shit, that ironically was not boring.

When we had finished at the Grand Canyon, Kevin gave us the option of visiting the Cowboy/Indian village here on the reserve, or going to the Hoover Dam. We all chose the dam, we’d seen a natural wonder, now it was time for a man-made one.

The dam was huge and Kevin told us a few facts about it, like the white marking around the edge being deposits from the high water mark, and the line of buoys being the top of the torpedo net. The bridge we were stood on cost $250 million!

bridge on the hoover dam

We drove down under the bridge to have a closer look at the dam itself, and so we could see the bridge from a distance, which was cool in more ways than one. By this time it was late in the afternoon, the sun was going down and the wind picking up.

the dam

We got back in the van and crossed over the dam once more, and the state line between Nevada and Arizona. Soon our grand adventure would be over.

The drive back did not seem long. We had a stop at the Fabulous Las Vegas sign, where we saw at least three brides and bridal parties waiting in line for photos. Kevin took all ours slightly to the side of the sign so we wouldn’t have a long wait for an ‘under the sign’ photo.

Vegas sign

And that was it, our grand adventure was over, and Kevin took us all back to out hotels. It was a lovely day out and we’d been looked after well.

Tomorrow we would have another adventure, we would be renewing our vows on a trike at a drive-through wedding chapel: as you do.

Chris and Sue Buy a Suitcase

After the high of the Depeche Mode concert and a very late night, we had a long lie in this morning.

We Skyped Mum and our friend Marc in the UK who was online at the same time.

Our plan for the day was to go to the cheaper end of the Strip to buy a new suitcase, and to go to Fremont Street, the ‘old’ Vegas this evening.

We took the hotel’s courtesy bus to the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, then we bought a 24 hour Deuce bus pass for $8.00. These buses travel up and down the Strip 24 hours a day seven days a week, so we could use it to get to Fremont Street later.

We didn’t spend long on the Strip, we just took the bus down to the cheaper end of the Strip and bought a case the same size as the one we killed trying to walk to our hotel on our first day here. The new case cost us $50.00 plus taxes: money we didn’t really have to spare.

We took the Deuce bus back to Caesars Palace to wait for the courtesy bus back to our hotel. Well, our driver was anything but courteous. We were curtly told that we could not bring our ‘luggage’ on board the bus. “But it’s empty, we just bought it”, we said. But that didn’t matter. No explanation, just “you can’t bring that on here Sir”. So we had to fork out for a taxi… Bummer, another $10.00 or so that we didn’t anticipate. The money allocated to the USA part of our trip was running out faster that we thought it would. How depressing.

When we got back to our room with the case we decided we’d had enough of slot machines, flashing lights and herds of people shuffling along footpaths, so we didn’t go to Fremont St after all. We had a nice quiet, cheap night in and went to bed early. Which was probably a wise thing to do, for tomorrow we had a very early start. We had to be ready and outside the hotel at 6.30 am as we were off to the Grand Canyon: and that was going to be awesome.

This morning Chris Skyped his brother, Den in the UK, then he picked up a large cup of tea from the café downstairs, and we stayed in our room until lunch time listening to Depeche Mode and catching up on my blog. Looking out of our 32nd floor window we could see the trucks and coaches lined up behind the hotel for tonight’s concert.

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For lunch we went downstairs to the eatery to buy McDonalds wraps, but we had a crazy woman in front of us who was obviously angling for a cheaper/free meal. She kept saying the meal deals and lists of food were confusing, and she banged on about it for ages. We ended up changing queues.

After lunch and our one dollar coffees, we played ‘spot the DM fan’. Anyone in black was of course a suspect, but some gave the game away by wearing band T Shirts.

We went back to our room to get ready for the concert and when we returned to the casino, there was no doubt about what was going on. Our game changed to ‘spot the non-DM fan’. The casino was engulfed by the black swarm.

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Another strange phenomenon in the casino, was the sudden appearance of floor mops leaning up against the slot machines, and people carrying them around. We traced the mops to a room just off the casino floor where people were queuing up for them. We asked the lady at the door what was going on, and she told us that the local, regular players often get sent a flyer or an email saying they can come and pick up a free gift, today’s gift was a mop.  How exciting.

We walked back through the casino and noticed an online, and recent real-life friend, Jennifer in the GA line with a friend so we stopped for a chat. When we left them, another person in the line stopped Chris to compliment him on his Mesh T Shirt, and they talked about Mesh for a while, the guy was so excited to see another Mesh fan.

The 24/7 Cafe was our next stop, we weren’t very hungry so we had a banana and nut muffin each, then went to the bar for a drink. When we booked our hotel room they threw in a $45.00 beverage credit, so we used $16.00 of that on a Malibu and pineapple for me and a Stella Artois for Chris.

Then we tried to work out how to play the slot machines: it took ages. First we figured out how to buy the ticket from the machine, then when we got the ticket we didn’t know how to play, so we just kept pressing ‘spin’. Our $2.00 gambling money lasted a few minutes, and when that was gone we walked away. We wondered how much money the locals wasted to get their ‘free’ mop.

Then, at last the doors opened at the Pearl Theater: concert time! We were in the back row, but that didn’t matter, the theatre is small, it holds only 2,000 – 2,500 people. This venue is the smallest on the arena tour and sold out in 30 seconds. We were very lucky to be here in our nosebleed seats.

Lead singer, Dave was extremely raunchy in this show. His mic stand is the envy of many a fan, and during Policy of Truth, it might as well have been a pole-dancing pole. Chris, said to me, “he’s probably just having a scratch… itchy balls.” Haha, way to ruin a moment.

Chris stood on his chair several times as we had no one behind us and a six-foot tall, six-foot wide person in front of us, (it’s always the way). Despite tiered seating, when you are only 5 ft tall, sometimes when everyone stands up, tiered seating is not steep enough. I was fine, I was on the end of the row and could look down the aisle.

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There was a guy a few seats down our row who was having a bit of a wild time. His shirt was off and his arms flailed about while he danced. The security guys came and checked on him twice, I assume to tell him to calm down. Chris had to get down off the chair when they turned up.

The set list this time was almost the same as the one we had in Santa Barbara. This time we did get Just Can’t Get Enough instead of Shake the Disease.

After the concert we went back upstairs to our room, but we didn’t stay there long. Hungry after dancing all night, we went downstairs to see what was still open. The answer was, not much. We found ourselves queuing at McDonalds again, then a random man asked if we’d like his wife’s roast beef roll as she couldn’t eat it and he didn’t want to waste it. So I had that and Chris had a fillet ‘o’ fish.

We went back through the casino and spotted Donell and Michele at the Central Bar. I have been online friends with them for years, and had finally met them both on this trip at previous concerts. We chatted with them until gone midnight, and then hugged goodbye, it might be the last time we see them in the flesh. I hope not, but realistically we can’t do a trip like this when DM tour every three to four years.

We were in bed ironically at 1.01 am, Chris was soon snoring, but I was wide awake on a concert high so I went on the internet for a while, and at around 2.30 am I finally went to sleep. Bye Depeche Mode, we’ll see you next time… maybe.

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Chris and Sue see a Show

We slept in again this morning, then at about 11.00 am we went downstairs for an early lunch at the Earl of Sandwich. We both got the chicken and salad wrap. We should have asked them to omit the balsamic vinaigrette dressing, Chris’ face was a picture. But worse than that, there was no hot tea available, so we had iced tea instead, except it wasn’t… it was room-temperature tea. Yuck. We added sugar but it was no better, in hindsight we should have added some ice cubes to it, but it didn’t occur to us at the time. Duh!

Then we checked out the hotel’s pool, it was a massive area, with lots of young people sunbathing on lounges, and the background music was all recent hip hop style stuff. Not really our cup of tea… much like this morning.

Back inside the casino, we tried to use the slot machines, but they didn’t take coins, only notes, or a purchased ticket. So our $2.39 of loose change stayed in Chris’ pocket.

After our failed attempt at gambling, we took the hotel’s free shuttle bus to the Strip. First we walked through Caesars to see the animatronic Greek statues, but the area was closed down for a new show in the works, so we went outside and walked along the front of the Bellagio. This time we were treated to three synchronised music and fountain displays as they run every 15 minutes on weekends. We haven’t seen the same display twice yet, there must be a lot of them.

We had decided that while in Vegas we should see a show, so we went to one of the Tix4tonight booths to choose one. Even at discounted prices we couldn’t justify watching any of the ‘big name’ shows, or the popular, expensive shows, like Jersey Boys, or the Cirque shows. So we decided that Vegas! The Show would be perfect, the cheaper GA tickets were only $52.00 each, and what better memories could we make than see a Vegas show, that was about Vegas?

We made our way back to Planet Hollywood as the show was at the Saxe Theater inside. Along the way we bought some water, and yogurt/fruit/muesli things as we weren’t really hungry for a proper meal. While at the cheaper end of the Strip, we also looked for a new suitcase. They are about $40.00 to $50.00 for a similar sized case to the one we killed walking to our hotel on our first day in Vegas.

As we walked through the Miracle Mile shops at Planet Hollywood, we noticed a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. The coffee smelled divine and I hadn’t had a latte in over two weeks so we splurged and had a regular (and by regular I mean huge) sized latte. Delicious.

We walked back to the Saxe Theater about 1 hour and 20 minutes before the show and a queue for general admission was already starting to form, so we joined it. We had a long wait, but it was worth it for us as a normal reserved seat was worth nearly double the price.

The show was great, and the dancers were all full of energy. There were two tap dancing guys, numerous dancing-girls and guys, impersonators singing old songs, even a comedy/bird tricks act, and a couple of amazing roller-skaters. The entertainment was loosely held together by a guy telling the story of ‘old’ Vegas from the Neon Museum. The ending was nostalgic and moved me to tears, but that’s not difficult, I cried during ET.

After the show we walked back along the Strip, towards the Bellagio to see some more fountain displays.

Vegas lights

Vegas lights

Vegas lights

This time the displays were lit with white lights under the water. Very pretty. Then we walked to the Mirage and its volcano show. We were there five minutes before it started so there was a large crowd gathered there and we were quite far back. Despite this we were near a speaker so the brilliant drum soundtrack was loud, and we could still feel the fire’s heat when the show was in full swing.

Mirage volcano

It was impressive but the Bellagio Fountains are still my favourite.

We wandered back down to the taxi/bus area under Caesars to catch a cab back to our hotel, just off the Strip. The fare cost a bit less than $10.00. A lot cheaper than what a new suitcase was going to cost us, isn’t hindsight great?

Chris and Sue Explore Las Vegas

Our first full day in Vegas! We slept in and got up at around 8.15 am. There is no free breakfast at this hotel so we went downstairs to check out our options. After two weeks of free continental breakfasts, Chris wanted a ‘proper breakfast’, meaning bacon and eggs, so we went to the Bistro Buffet with our newly acquired ‘Players Card’ to give us a couple of dollars off. (We picked up these cards yesterday for discounts within The Palms Casino, Chris gets even more discounts for being over 50!)

There was a huge range of food to choose from, but we could only fit so much in, so the blueberry pancakes had to stay where they were. Our cups of tea were delivered with some assembly required; two cups of hot water, two small teapots of hot water, two tea bags, two glasses of milk, and two packets of honey.

After our all-you-can-eat breakfast, and our do-it-yourself tea, we took the free shuttle bus from our hotel to Caesars Palace on the Las Vegas Strip. The bus ran every half an hour from 11.00 am, and the last bus back from Caesars was at 8.10 pm. We spent all day walking along the Strip, right up to about 6.45 pm when we got back to Caesars to catch the bus back to The Palms.

We saw lots of free attractions, starting with the Bellagio Gardens. They had it themed for autumn, with huge pumpkins grown specifically for the display. It was very impressive, a beautiful place.

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Outside, the Bellagio Fountain displays were wonderful, the music was so moving I cried a bit: bloody hormones. We plan to come back one evening to see them lit up at night.

Bellagio Fountains

There were the usual characters wanting a few dollars from people for photo opportunities, including the very odd combination of Freddy Krueger standing opposite Mickey and Minnie Mouse. There was a Homer Simpson, drunkenly lounging on a wall, and a Hangover guy with a plastic tiger, he was a big hit with the crowd.

On a few of the bridges over the Strip there were buskers and people illegally selling bottled water from Eskies for a ‘donation’ of a dollar. There were also some people who were obviously homeless and asking for money. But on top of all these usual suspects, we had a new group of people to contend with… these mostly short, darker skinned people, were all dressed in the same baggy T-shirts with “GIRLS” and phone numbers printed on them. It was obvious what they were pushing, flicking business cards towards everyone who passed them, there seemed to be no discrimination. Potentially everyone was given the opportunity to sin in Sin City.

We criss-crossed these bridges over the Strip many times, ducking in and out of the air-conditioned Casinos. We saw the gondolas inside The Venetian, the medieval themed Excalibur, and probably about a million slot machines.

The Wildlife Habitat at The Flamingo was nice, a little oasis away from the crowds. The big Japanese Koi Carp were beautiful.

Japanese Koi Carp

We ended up down at the ‘cheaper’ end of the Strip with all the souvenir/T-shirt shops, and went into McDonalds for a $1.00 coffee. Don’t worry, we are not turning our backs on tea, it’s just that the coffee was cheap.

This area of the Strip is also home to the Harley Davidson Cafe, Planet Hollywood, and the Miracle Mile Shops.

Outside the Harley Davidson Cafe

Late in the afternoon we started to walk back to the Caesars Palace area of the Strip again, and all their ‘higher end’ shops, like Jimmy Choo and Tiffany’s. There weren’t many people in these shops, it was mostly only the shop assistants, how can they afford to stay open?

Caesars Palace is massive, it is easy to get lost in there, we took a few wrong turns before we found our shuttle bus stop, even though we took a photo of the entrance when we came in this morning.

Caesars Palace

When we got back to The Palms we were starving as we hadn’t had lunch, so we went back to the Buffet Bistro for our dinner, it was a bit more expensive than we expected, then we realised why, it was a seafood buffet that night. It cost  $44.00 including 18% gratuity and tax. At this bistro, the price included beer and wine so we had a Chardonnay with our meal. Oh yes, we were living the high life.

Chris and Sue and the Wonky Wheel

Thursday morning, Vegas day! We were up before 6.00 am, and had our usual continental breakfast at 6.30 am, then walked down to the JW Marriott by 7.05 am to catch our 7.30 am coach to Vegas. While waiting we noticed that a lot of people ride their bicycles on the footpaths here. I don’t blame them, I wouldn’t want to be in this traffic in a car, never mind on a bike.

The coach finally showed up at 8.00 am due to a couple of no-shows and bad traffic, we got to the interchange at Anaheim and frantically changed coaches to go to Vegas. We also had to pay another $2.00 per person fuel surcharge. Nothing is ever the price you expect here, there’s nearly always some extra charge or other, and taxes, and tips to take into account.

Our bus was number 222, and our attendant Marley was funny, informative, and helpful. She had a slow awkward delivery, like Josie Long and Hannah Gadsby combined, if they were talking about mountain passes, desert, Joshua Trees, and mysterious ninja donkeys.

The trip was good, a lot less stressful than if we’d driven ourselves, frankly we couldn’t face doing that after our driving experiences so far.

When we got to Vegas our luck ran out. We decided to save the taxi fare and do the half hour walk to our hotel off the strip. Not a good idea as it turned out. We were about ten minutes away from The Palms Casino when the wheel on our largest case collapsed. It was 31 degrees today and the surrounding of the wheel had actually melted, rendering the wheel useless. We balanced the case on another smaller case, but that made it very top-heavy, and difficult to pull.

Chris being chivalrous wouldn’t let me try to pull it, so I took the two smaller cases. But soon he’d had enough. He looked about ready to collapse. He stopped at the corner of the block The Palms was situated on, and I went to get help with the cases. I walked right through the building and out the other side before finding a manned desk under the second tower, The Palms Place. A nice man there could see I was a damsel in distress, and got a car and took me to pick up Chris and the cases. He drove us back to The Palms Casino and got our cases on a trolley for the bell boy to take away. We were so relieved.

We went inside and checked in at the reception desk, it was on our left, behind the main entrance doors. In my haste to find help I had walked straight past it beforehand. I put it down to being temporarily dazzled by the hundreds of flashing slot machines right in front of the main doors.

We walked through the casino area to the eatery and got a Hawaiian toasted sandwich and a juice from the Earl of Sandwich, before heading up to our room on level 32. We phoned for our luggage to be delivered to the room and then unpacked and settled in for the night.

Wonky wheel

When we checked out the bathroom… the bath had jets! Fancy!

Palms bathroom

The rest of the room was nice, except there were no tea making facilities, nothing, not even a coffee machine! The minibar had weight sensitive shelves, so we didn’t dare open the door in case we accidentally moved something and got charged for it.

The Palms room

After our adventures getting here we were happy to just relax while Vegas partied on around us. But by mid-evening our tea addiction got the better of us and we went downstairs to the 24/7 Cafe. Our teas cost $4.00 each! This would be an expensive week.

Our last day in LA started with a curve-ball from Grand-Adventures.com. We had an email telling us that our Grand Canyon Sunset tour was canceled because the South Rim had been closed down by the Federal Government. Now, because of right-wing Government nut jobs we had to change our plans. Either we go to the more touristy West Rim, or get our money back and find something else to do. The West Rim was still open as it is run by the native American Indians, (the Hualapai Tribe), so it doesn’t come under National Parks.

From what I have read, the West Rim is not as wide or deep as the South Rim of the canyon, it does have the Skywalk, and it is closer to Vegas, but we were still disappointed that the tour we booked could not go ahead. We decided to move the date of our tour from the 5th to the 8th October in the hope that things might change by the time we are due to go.

We had a late breakfast downstairs, then went out for a wander around the local Downtown LA area. Luckily for us it hasn’t rained since we arrived in the USA. We walked through the jewellery district, with the sun shining through the shop windows onto the sparkley diamonds. Then we found a farmers market open at Pershing Square, there were lots of food and drink stalls, fresh fruit and veg, nuts and dried fruit. This was all set up around a huge water feature in the park. It was nice.

After our walk we went back to the hotel to finish our washing so we’d have all our clothes clean for our week in Vegas. We also Face-Timed Sarah, it seems the cats are missing us and they are pestering her for attention. Nice.

Our evening meal was at the Corner Bakery, we both had chicken and bacon carbonara, it was very rich and cheesy with spicy breadcrumbs on top. It was so rich and there was such a lot of it, I was afraid I might get indigestion, but thankfully I didn’t.

Back in our hotel room we packed our bags with our freshly laundered clothes and I updated the blog, (sorry it’s so far behind). We went to bed early because we had an early start the next day, for Thursday we’d be off on our next adventure: Vegas!

Today was the second day of our 48 hour Hop-on Hop-off bus pass, so we walked down to the invisible purple line bus stop across the road from the Grammy Museum, (no really… there is no sign there), and rode to Mann’s Chinese Theater to change buses to the red line like we did yesterday. This time we rode downstairs, so we were out of the wind on the 101.

Today’s collection of characters at Mann’s Chinese Theater included; Jack Sparrow, Spiderman, Darth Vader, a Stormtrooper, and Chewbacca. Also; Charlie Chaplin, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, and an excellent Transformer. Add to them all the tourists taking photos of the famous hand prints in the foot path, some noisy buskers, multiple CD pushers, and people wanting you to go on their tours, and it was sensory overload. We pretty much went straight to the red line bus so we could get out of there as quickly as possible.

Our destination today was the Petersen Motor Museum, to look at the history of cars and their impact on LA, and to just admire the pretty, shiny cars. We got off the bus at the LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art), and walked to the Petersen Motor Museum from there. Showing our bus ticket gave us a two for one deal at this motor museum, so we both got in for $15.00. Bargain. We were in there for nearly two hours.

Petersen Motor Museum

I really liked the way the first floor was set out in streetscapes as if you were walking along a road with the cars set out in chronological order along the way. And being in LA, we could not go without a couple of recognisable characters added into the display.

Laurel and Hardy

Upstairs, we saw lots of hot rods and custom cars and a few ‘celebrity’ cars. Cars either previously owned by celebrities, or famous cars like the Batmobile, or cars from famous movies. There were also sections on the evolution of motorbikes, alternative power cars, an exhibition on the rise and decline of car fins, and one on pickups, or as Aussies would say, ‘Utes’. We took a lot of photos.

On our way out of the museum we spied a very 50s looking diner called Johnny Rockets. It was fitted out in red decor with a black and white tiled floor, and little jukeboxes in the booths. We were going to have a banana from this morning’s breakfast for our lunch, but after nine days of continental breakfasts, Chris and I were both craving bacon, so we decided to forgo the fruit for bacon, lettuce and tomato toasted sandwiches. They came with unlimited salad and chips, but there was no need for either of us to go back for seconds. I couldn’t even finish my chips, or should I say, ‘fries’.

From the Petersen Motor Museum, we walked about 15 minutes down Wilshire Boulevard to find Whimsic Alley, a great little shop selling Harry Potter and Dr Who stuff, and other similar things. It is set out to look like Diagon Alley, and it’s delightful to wander through. Unfortunately for them we were only window shopping, but there was a lovely velvet, burgundy cape in there for $45.00, I would have bought it in a heartbeat, if our budget weren’t so tight.

After Whimsic Alley we headed back towards the bus stop at the LACMA, stopping at the La Brea Tar Pits to look at the bubbles of methane gas rising to the surface of the tar/water lakes. There was a museum here too, full of the fossils found in the pits, but visiting wasn’t really an option due to lack of time and money, so we moved on through the grounds of the LACMA back to the bus stop, looking at the sculptures and the street lamp display along the way.

Streetlamps

The red line bus picked us up from here and took us back to the Mann’s Chinese Theater Interchange, but this time we got off one stop early to walk along the Walk of Fame. The nearer we got to the theatre, the more people there were. And, many restaurants along the way had people out the front touting for business, trying to entice us in with their special offers and ‘happy hours’. But we had a purple line bus to catch at 5.00 pm, and if we missed it we’d have to wait until 6.30 pm for the next (and last) one of the day, so we were not stopping anywhere.

Once on the bus we went upstairs, as the sun was not so hot at that time of day. After studying the bus map we realised that if we got off at the first stop, (only an hour away), we would only have a short walk to our Downtown hotel, instead of  doing two hours of a two and a half hour loop. So that’s exactly what we did.

On our walk back to the hotel, we stopped in at Ralph’s Supermarket for some washing powder and tea bags, and got some extra quarters in our change from the cashier. For tonight, with an extra hour up our sleeves, we decided to start washing our dirty laundry. Exciting stuff.

Both the washer and dryer took five quarters each and we had nearly all our laundry washed and dried by nearly 8.30 pm. The guest laundry was in the hotel’s dingy basement, but we were happy there was one available, as we were dangerously close to running out of undies.

The rest of the night was spent in our hotel room updating Facebook photos, general web-surfing, and chatting to Sarah online. Bed time was at 2.00 am, but that didn’t matter as Los Angeles is huge and overwhelming, and after all our activities lately we decided that tomorrow would be a recovery day. Yes, tomorrow we would have a lie-in.

Today we had a quick breakfast downstairs before scarpering with some fruit and cans of juice stuffed in my backpack, and caught the Starline Hop-on Hop-off bus opposite the Grammys Museum down the road from our hotel. We bought two 48 hour passes, and got free tickets to Madame Tussauds, Hollywood. I thought this would be good fun. And it was.

It was a double-decker, open top bus, so we put on our sunnies and sunscreen and went upstairs. The hats were a waste of time, it was really windy on the 101.

We got off at Mann’s Chinese Theater, the interchange of the purple and red bus loops. It was packed. So many people were just milling around and taking photos, some were on a mission trying to get from one place to another without being harassed by tour vendors, or blokes trying to get you to listen to their music and buy their CDs.

There were also people dressed as TV and film characters in the hope that you’d want to have your photo taken with them for a couple of dollars. We saw a two Jack Sparrows, a Darth Vader, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, and loads of other characters: crazy. I couldn’t stay here long, it did my head in.

Madame Tussaud’s was great though, they didn’t let too many through at a time, so we didn’t feel crowded or rushed. There were three official photo opportunities inside with photos that we could buy at the end if we wanted to, and we weren’t going to but they turned out really well so we splurged on them seeing as we hadn’t paid to get in. It cost $35.00 for four prints, and digital copies of all the official photos, (there were a few different poses at each of the three photo stops.)

All the rest of the venue was open to whatever you wanted to do, the only stipulation is that you don’t touch the faces. It takes about 800 hours to make each figure, so you wouldn’t want to break one.

We took loads of great photos, this is just a tiny sample of the photos we took.

Psycho

The Godfather

And here are a couple of the green-screen official photos.

Hollywood sign

Jurassic Park

After Madame Tussaud’s we got on the red loop of the Starline bus tour and did the whole loop without getting off. We just listened to the commentary. Much of it was along the lines of, “coming up on your left/right is such and such, where Thingamabob was filmed, and straight ahead is where Thingamajig Studios used to be”. There was some up to date information, but a lot of references were made to the past glories of the Hollywood film industry, right back to the 1920s silent era. One of the more recent things pointed out, was the restaurant advertised by a then unknown actor in a chicken suit, that man was Brad Pitt. That made me laugh.

We got back to Mann’s Chinese Theater and to avoid the throng, we quickly changed buses back onto the purple route to go back to our hotel. There we updated Facebook with lots of Madame Tussaud’s pictures. It was a really good day.

Chris and Sue see Depeche Mode in LA

This was a lazy Sunday, except for the Depeche Mode concert in the evening.

We awoke at 7.00 am but didn’t go down to breakfast until 9.00 am. We Skyped Mum in the morning, which was nice, and luckily the connection was good, it’s been a bit hit-and-miss at this hotel. Sometimes we had to pretend to be a guest at the hotel next door. Shhhh!

We have two sinks in our hotel here in LA, one next to the coffee machine near the door, and one in the bathroom. So we filled up the spare sink with ice and use it as our fridge to keep milk cold for our tea. Necessity is the mother of invention.

I spent the afternoon updating my blog and before we knew it, it was time to get ready for the concert. We walked out the door at 6.30 pm but couldn’t decide on what to have for dinner, and ended up at Ralph’s (supermarket) with a sandwich and a pumpkin latte. It was our first ever pumpkin latte, we liked it!

Going into the Staples Center, my belt set off the detector, so I had to have a wand waved over me to check for concealed weapons. We walked into the venue at the end of the Crystal Castles set then had to wait ages for Depeche Mode to come on stage.

We were much further away than at Santa Barbara, but that was expected in a venue that holds 20,000.

DM at the Staples Center

My online friends were in VIP seats in the front row. This was out of our budget, but we still really enjoyed the concert. The set list had a few different songs to the ones we had in Santa Barbara, with songs sung by Martin all different. (Higher Love, Judas, A Question of Lust, and Condemnation.) We also got John the Revelator, and Behind the Wheel, and in the encore, Just Can’t Get Enough, with a false start that was funny.

The atmosphere was awesome, even in the huge venue. We were side on the stage about half way up and three-quarters of the way back, the two women next to me, on the end of the row seemed to be either sitting down or away from their seats for a lot of the concert, so I had an unobstructed view. When they were there I was less fortunate. One woman had massive boobs, just at my eye height. No, I didn’t swap seats with Chris.

After the gig we walked back to the hotel, only about 10 minutes away, and soon the tight black jeans were off, the air-con was on, and we had a cold cider each from the sink. What an excellent day.

Chris and Sue on Melrose Avenue

We had a good night’s sleep again last night and went down to breakfast at about 8.00am. We were spoiled for choice at our Santa Barbara Hotel, we have about half the choice here, but it’s free so we filled up. Everything in the continental breakfast is so sweet though, and no black tea? We had the choice of coffee, Earl Grey or green tea so we brought our English Breakfast teabags with us from our room. We’ve been making tea in the coffee maker again, it’s a filter type machine this time so we don’t have to mess about with pods.

We had a tour of street art today with my online Depeche Mode fan friend, Donell. She came to collect us in her Mini Cooper, black of course. We went to Melrose Avenue, it was pretty hot, about 31 degrees C, and it was very quiet, and we soon realised why: the shops here do not open until 11.00 am or noon! We thought that was quite odd. We wandered down the road looking in the windows at all the quirky fashions and kept our eyes open for graffiti along the way. Some of it was quite elaborate, and sometimes it wasn’t.

LA Street Art

Stop making stupid people famous

On the way back down the other side of the road, we ventured down some of the parallel streets to look at more street art, we even bumped into a few artists from Michigan doing their thing. It was interesting to watch.

Soon it was time for something to drink, so despite the heat we stopped in at Sweet Lady Jane for a cup of tea, we blame tea addiction on our English upbringing. We weren’t planning on having anything to eat, but it all looked really good, so we all had something from the cake display.

Us outside Sweet Lady Jane

Then we walked back to Donell’s apartment for a quick wee stop, or as the Americans say, to visit the restroom, or the bathroom. Donell was not keen on us taking the scary public transport back to our hotel, so she dropped us back at about 1.45 pm. It was good to catch up with her, I haven’t had any instances of online friends being anything other than lovely people who in real life are just as I expect. I’ve been quite lucky there I think.

This afternoon we went to The Pantry, a 24 hour breakfast place not far from our hotel that has been open since 1924, literally, there are no locks on the doors, it never closes. It was our first meal in the USA that was much too big for us, and we left with about a third of the meal still on our plates. Stepping outside we were immediately confronted with homeless people who can’t afford a meal, and we felt guilty about the wasted food.

With our bellies full and wrestling with our guilty conscience we walked down to the Staples Center to watch all the Depeche Mode fans going in to tonight’s concert. It took ages to fill as the venue takes about 20,000 people. We will be there to see them tomorrow. Tonight we bought our shirts that we will wear when we renew our vows in Vegas.

wedding outfits

For readers who don’t know, Chris and I met waiting for a coach to a Depeche Mode concert in 1984, and married one year later. This year, three days after seeing Depeche Mode in Vegas, we will be renewing our vows on our 28th wedding anniversary. After all, it’s Vegas, and weddings are what you do in Vegas… so with our wedding outfits sorted, we went back to our hotel and put up street art photos on Facebook and watched Big Bang Theory on TV… yes again… well, it’s familiar, and although it’s only been a week, we miss familiar things.

Chris and Sue have a day off

After our early night on Thursday, we awoke in our LA hotel room at 7.00 am. A proper night’s sleep at last!

We decided that Friday would be a day of rest. We had fitted a lot into our Santa Barbara stay, and LA seemed busy enough without us, so we spent the morning researching what we wanted to do while in LA and Vegas. We decided that the Starline Hop-on Hop-off Double Decker City Tour unlimited 48 hour pass was the way to go, as we’d been told that public transport is scary. Madame Tussaud’s is a freebie with a 48 hour bus ticket, and there were a few two for one offers, and discounted tickets to other attractions, so we will be able to see a lot without spending a lot.

After a lot more research, we also decided that we’d rather see the South Rim rather than the West Rim of the Grand Canyon when we get to Las Vegas. It is wider, deeper and less touristy. However it’s further away, so it will be a very long day. We found Grand-Adventure.com seemed to do a good deal, not the height of luxury, but nice personal service, not a big coach company.

We had ditched the idea of driving from LA to Las Vegas as we’d had enough of driving here. So we went down to the hotel lobby and used the guest computer and printer to book a coach to Vegas for October 3. No more stressful driving on the wrong side of the road for us!

Then we ventured out of the hotel to find the venue for tomorrow night. The Staples Centre was less than ten minutes walk, down the road and around the corner. Easy. We also found the JW Marriot Hotel on the way, it will be our pick-up point for the bus trip to Las Vegas.

On the way back we found a Ralph’s Supermarket, where we picked up a pack of four ciders, a couple of rolls and a chicken caesar salad for nearly $20.00. Dinner sorted… well almost. We didn’t have a bottle opener and the ciders were not twist top. So we made another trip to Ralph’s for a bottle opener. We put ice from one of the hotel’s ice machines in the sink to keep things cold as the room doesn’t have a fridge.

Our coffee machine at this hotel is a normal filter type machine so we just put a couple of tea bags in there and we are sorted for tea as well.

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The wi-fi here at the hotel has been a bit iffy, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t we try the TV, but it’s not great, we usually end up watching Big Bang Theory on TBS. Another thing we’ve noticed is that the adverts for medications seem to list every single side effect, they really make you not want to buy the product… very strange.

On Saturday my online friend, Donell is picking us up for a morning sightseeing down Melrose Avenue. I am looking forward to meeting her, I’ve known her since around 2006-8. We are going to look at street art, so that should be something different.

Chris and Sue drive to LA

Well so much for our body clocks being on Californian time, we both awoke at 3.00 am. I managed to sleep a little afterwards, but Chris didn’t. We went for breakfast at 7.15 am then went back to the room to pack and load up the car for the drive to LA.

We decided to go to LA via Malibu and Santa Monica, along the coast road, rather than the 101, thinking it might be less stressful. We set the GPS for ‘least use of freeways’ and it led us a merry dance through the countryside before getting on the Pacific Coast Highway.

It was quite scenic going through the countryside, and there were not many cars, but it was still a bit tricky. The Pacific Coast Highway, or PCH as the locals say, was busier, but probably easier for us than the 101.

PCH

Our Neverlost GPS then took us to a driveway of a place in Malibu where we obviously couldn’t park. So we moved on, stopped at the nearest place where we could safely park and reprogrammed the GPS to go to Santa Monica.

At Santa Monica there was plenty of parking, we paid $12.00 and parked in the car park right next to the pier. It  was here that I emptied the contents of my backpack into the passenger seat, swearing that my sunglasses were in there somewhere, I was sure of it… They were on my head of course.

We had a quick look at some of the pier, then we went to the Will Powers plaque, and the end of Route 66.

Will Powers Plaque

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Then we walked along Muscle Beach, there weren’t many muscles there, just a lot of sand and a bike path/walkway running through the middle of the beach. Weird.

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Then we walked back to the pier for a proper nosey around. We stayed in Santa Monica for a bit over one and a half hours then got into the car for the last leg of the journey.

The drive from here to the Hertz depot in LA was particularly painful. We were meant to fill up the tank with petrol before returning the car, but all the petrol stations we passed were on the other side of the road, and every intersection was a ‘no U turn’. We ended up at the Hertz depot with half a tank of petrol and having to pay $59.00 for them to fill it up, the price of a full tank plus some. To be frank, although we knew this was a rip-off, we didn’t care. We were glad to see the back of the car. We’ve also decided there will be no more driving here. We’re going to arrange for a coach to take us from LA to Vegas next week.

After we paid Hertz we took a taxi to our hotel in LA, this ride cost almost another $56.00. This was turning out to be an expensive day.

However, we did have a win with our hotel. Everything I’ve read and heard about the Ritz Milner led me to believe our room would be tiny. It wasn’t. Our room is refurbished and they’ve obviously knocked two rooms into one. It’s going to be a very comfortable stay here in LA after all. We booked this hotel because it was cheap and close to the Staples Centre, the venue for our second Depeche Mode show on Sunday night.

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After all our expenses today we opted for a cheap and cheerful dinner of a shared Subway foot-long. And tonight we arranged to meet a Depeche Mode fan friend of mine, Donell. She’s going to show us around Melrose Avenue street art on Saturday.

This was a long day with an early start so exhausted, we fell into bed at 10.30 pm.

Chris and Sue on a Hot Rod Limo Ride

This morning we were up at 8.15 am. That’s late for Chris. It was another hot sunny day in Santa Barbara. Chris and I slept really well last night, our body clocks are now on California time. We went for a very leisurely breakfast at 9.00 am until 10.00 am, then went back to the room and Skyped Mum for a while.

While I was chatting to Mum on Skype, Chris went to reception to book tickets for a hop-on-hop-off bus tour. Instead of coming back with online printed tickets, he came back with a brochure for Hot Rod Limos. He hadn’t got as far as reception as parked outside our room was a bright yellow car, and like a magpie drawn to a shiny thing, he swooped in to have a look. Well, that was it, our plans changed in an instant, and instead of busing it we were going in style, Californian style. I hastily ended my conversation with Mum, the connection was a bit iffy anyway, grabbed our sunscreen, sunnies and water bottles and we were off.Hot Rod Limo

It was a one hour tour for $25.00 a head, we were the only passengers. It was brilliant. Our driver, India, played 40s and 50s music, and some Beach Boys, and a few more recent songs, but mostly old stuff. It was like being on the trike as we were in the open air, and lots of people stopped and waved. She showed us the Moreton Bay FIg Tree that we saw yesterday, the Mission, East Beach, the night club area, the laundry that is not really a laundry, the little group of shops handy for the local celebrities, etc. She told us the history of the area, and facts about the architecture, and while we were at The Mission she told us about Juana Maria, stranded on an island for 18 years. It was all very interesting and fun.

Me at The Mission

After the bright, brash tour of this morning we went for a much quieter experience this afternoon. We took the 50c shuttle bus up to the main shops on State Street then walked to the Courthouse to have a look inside the building and around the gardens.  It’s free to go in and wander around, as long as you are quiet near the court rooms..

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It was a wonderful place to explore, inside and out and has great views from the tower.

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Then, somewhere on State Street we had soup and half a sandwich for our dinner, and took the shuttle bus back down the Stern’s Wharf, and walked back to the hotel. By this time our feet were aching as we’d walked miles over the last three days. Back at our hotel room, we updated our Facebook photos, and had an early night at 9.00 pm. We were knackered.

Tomorrow would be the dreaded drive back to LA. The stuff of nightmares.

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Chris and Sue at Santa Barbara Zoo

Our slumber was cut short at 4.00 am by our daughter, Sarah, texting from Australia. After only a couple of hours sleep, I was wide awake so we Skyped home at around 6.00 am USA time. It was good to check in with Steven and Sarah at home and know that everything was alright.

At 7.00 am we dressed and went to the buffet breakfast to fill up for the day. I don’t normally do breakfast, but here it’s complimentary and therefore the most important meal of the day. If we fill up here, that’s less we have to buy later, and more in our budget for fun stuff. Besides, we had a lot of walking to do today.

After a large and leisurely breakfast and three cups of tea, we wandered along the sea front, turned left at Stern’s Wharf, walked under the 101 and up the hill along the main shopping area of Santa Barbara, State Street. It’s all very pretty Spanish style architecture, with lots of greenery around. The photo below is the beginning of the walk near Sterns Wharf.

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We did a detour off to the right to find the cop shop and after being told the review of our parking fine would take a month to finalise, we decided to just pay the $58 fine and not have it hanging over our heads for our stay in the USA.

Then we walked through the residential area to the Santa Barbara Bowl, the venue for tomorrow night’s Depeche Mode concert. There were lots of huge trees on the streets, the pavements were all over the place because of the roots. There were also signs everywhere telling people they could not park between certain hours on certain days because that’s when the street sweeper comes through.

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We couldn’t collect our tickets, as they are only available from 90 minutes before the concert. So we walked back down the hill towards the Pacific, stopping on the way to get a USA SIM card for Chris’ phone.

Our mission for today was to find tea bags, we had kept our one and only tea pod from the coffee machine last night, so we could trick the machine into giving us hot water. We found a shopping complex with a Trader Joes and a Rite Aid so we bought some English Breakfast Tea, snacks and Tylenol. All the essentials.

Our next stop was the Santa Barbara Zoo. It’s only a small zoo so we knew we could walk around it quite easily. It was great. Our first stop was to feed the giraffes. It only cost an extra $6.00, and it was something we’d never done before.

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After that we just meandered around, looking at all the birds and animals, and some creepy crawlies too. It was a warm day of around 30 degrees so we took our time with plenty of stops in shady places, and drank all our bottled water.

There was a train ride around the complex which we took as well, the driver was quite good fun, but I noticed Chris was closing his eyes once or twice. Time to head back to the hotel for a nanna nap! Our zoo visit wasn’t rushed, we saw all we wanted from around 11.00 am to 2.30 pm. We left and made our way back along the sea front to our hotel for a shower and a snooze.

In the evening, we decided we’d go out to dinner on State Street, and we ended up in Joe’s Cafe, it was very nice. As soon as we sat down we were given two glasses of water, then soon after that, complimentary bread, crackers, butter and salsa. We ordered pork chop, mash and veggies for Chris and I had the pasta with chicken. Both meals were delicious and just the right size. We had a glass of wine too, so we were really pushing the boat out. And yet the bill was only about $45 all up. We thought that was a good value dinner with great service, so we paid $50 and didn’t ask for change.

Right next door to Joe’s Cafe is the Old Kings Head pub. If you are a Depeche Mode fan, you will know of this place. If you are not, it’s an English pub, and Martin Gore sometimes DJs here for charity. Martin lives in Santa Barbara so effectively, this is his local English pub. A magnet for DM fans, so of course we went in.

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As we walked in I spotted a couple of familiar faces, but seeing as I’d only ever seen photos online before, I wasn’t too sure… Chris bought himself a Heineken and I had a Baileys on ice. The bartender just kept pouring, I reckon it was a triple. We walked down towards the booths and sat down in the first booth. I kept looking at the familiar faces at the bar. Eventually I had to go and ask, “are you Jennifer, and Michele?”. Yes they were. We chatted for ages, it was a bit surreal, but fun. Soon, after some texts by Michele, other fans started turning up, and the place got very loud, DM songs started to play on the jukebox. Eventually we had to call it a night. The others partied on for a long time, but this tired, still jet-lagged couple had to go to sleep. We walked back to our hotel and were in bed by midnight. So rock ‘n’ roll.

Well, after two years of saving and planning we finally boarded the plane for our very long flight to the USA. The flight itself (QANTAS) was fine, there was a short delay in boarding because they had to fix the loo, which made us laugh. The meals were good, and flight attendants were surprisingly ‘real’ and by that I mean not unrealistically ‘plastic’ looking. In fact quite a few of them were older gentlemen, who seemed close to retirement age. They were fab: they always managed to put a smile on my face.
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However, from when the plane landed things just seemed to fall apart a bit. Firstly we were told that our luggage would be at carousel five: it wasn’t. We waited and waited and eventually realised the luggage was on carousel six. Chris was starting to panic, thinking our luggage had been lost. Anyway, with our luggage in tow, we made our way to the Hertz shuttle bus, we had just missed one bus and had to wait about 10-15 minutes until the next. At Hertz I waited AGES while Chris sorted everything out at the counter. There were so many extra things to organise; insurances, personal liability, GPS, etc. Then we got in the car. This was the beginning of a whole new nightmare. Well, it probably wasn’t, but it felt like it after 12.5 hours on a plane, and facing the fact that crossing the international date line meant we had to relive Sunday all over again. Perhaps I should have tried to sleep instead of watching episodes of  “An Idiot Abroad” and “The Internship” on the plane.

Firstly we had to figure out how to use the GPS, it was something called a Neverlost. Haha, we managed to get lost quite easily. After we programmed the GPS, and after taking a couple of wrong turns due to turning before we were supposed to, (we soon learned to wait for the ‘ding-dong’ sound before doing the next manoeuvre,) we finally got to Santa Barbara.

We turned a corner in Santa Barbara, and we saw the name of our hotel, on the building on the corner. At last! The stressful drive was over! Chris parked across the street in front of the building, and we both went to find the entrance and where to park. We soon realised that the hotel was sprawled all along this section of the road and we were nowhere near the entrance, but in the couple of minutes it took to realise that and walk back to the car, we got a parking ticket from a lady in a little three-wheeled vehicle. We were parked on a red kerb, we didn’t know that was for emergency vehicles only, we only saw a sign that said “No RVs”. The lady explained that we needed to go to the police station within 30 days, and we could apply for a review form if we wanted, they often let off tourists for this kind of thing. She was really nice about it. We moved the car to the back of the hotel and went to reception, it would cost $18 a day to park the car. Blimey. By this stage we were so tired we didn’t care. It was cheaper than the $58 parking fine.

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It was hot and sunny, the beach was right across the road from the hotel, I knew I should be out exploring and happy to start my holiday, but it was also way past my bed time in Australia, we’d had a very stressful drive on the wrong side of the road from LA to Santa Barbara, got lost, and got a parking fine. All I wanted to do was have a sleep and start the day again. So we took a glass of water from the hotel lobby and went into one of the beautiful gardens in the hotel grounds and waited for our room to become available.

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After a while, the sofa in the lobby looked more inviting than the garden, so we trundled our belongings into the lobby, slumped onto one of the sofas and with our eyes barely staying open, we waited for the room to be cleaned. Check in time was 4.00 pm, but they took pity on the poor British sounding Aussies who had been awake for over 24 hours, and they let us in around 1.00 pm or 2.00 pm I think. The king size bed was high and wide and very inviting, and I collapsed onto it and slept until about 7.00 pm.

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That evening we watched a marathon of “Big Bang Theory” on TBS, something familiar at last! We had been well fed on the plane, but now it was time to eat again, I knew I couldn’t sleep again tonight if I was hungry, and the mini-bar and basket of goodies in the room was way too expensive. $6 for a muesli bar, $10 for water! The coffee machine was a pod type machine, $2 per pod, there was only one tea pod. We shared a cup: we were desperate.

Anyway, a quick look on Google told us that there was a pizza place down the road, open until midnight. So we went for a walk, and shared a very nice thin crust BBQ chicken pizza at Rusty’s Pizza Parlour. After that, we went for a walk up Stern’s Wharf and then back to the hotel. Chris managed to sleep from about 12.30  am, and I nodded off around 2.00 am.  This was literally the longest day of my life. Tomorrow’s mission, is to find the concert venue and the police station, and most important of all, buy teabags.

On Friday morning we left Edinburgh at 8.30 am to make our way to Northampton. The A407 is a lovely bit of road.

Part of the A407 scenery. Would be lovely on a trike.

We stopped off at Gretna Green Services where Chris went in search of a pastie and came back grinning like a naughty school boy. He hadn’t found a pastie, but he had found sweets. “Car lollies” he proclaimed proudly.

Then we got to the M6 and the scenery got a bit boring and I started to doze off. The journey was longer than the Google Maps lie of six hours, as bad traffic caused us to travel only 16 miles in nearly two hours. We finally got to Den and Sam’s place in Northampton at just gone 6.00 pm. We had a nice time catching up with them and had an early’ish night for a change.

Saturday morning we left Northampton at 8.30am and got to Henley-On-Thames at not long past 10.00am. This was far too early, so we ate the sandwiches Den made us then queued until midday. We bought a souvenier program for seven quid, then went straight to the only stage and made sure we were near the front for Haircut 100 as they were the third act on. But again we had to wait. The acts didn’t start until 2pm. So Chris went and got some noodles for lunch. Then it rained into our noodle boxes, and during most of he first two acts; The Real Thing and Hue and Cry.

Haircut 100 brought the sun with them, with their songs Blue Hat for a Blue Day and their closing song, Fantastic Day. Apart from a bit of feedback at the beginning of Whistle Down the Wind, their set was lovely.

Nick Heyward on stage with Haircut 100

After Haircut 100 we went for a walk around, away from the main stage, and got some afternoon tea. We could hear the sets by Billy Ocean, Fiction Factory and some of Katrina of Katrina and the Waves. We bought two three-legged stools for five quid each so we could rest our feet, then we went back into the crowd at the main stage half way through Katrina’s set. This time we got about half way through the crowd as I couldn’t face being so hemmed in again.

We got The Original Bucks Fizz, who finished with Making Your Mind Up, and ABC, who really rocked the crowd and finished with The Look Of Love. Then there was Bananarama, who were better than I thought they would be, Howard Jones who was brilliant as always, Village People, who performed with backing tracks instead of the band that others had used. And lastly Holly Johnson who sang some Frankie Goes to Hollywood songs and some of his solo songs. He sang Relax of course, everyone was waiting for it and we thought it was last song. But then he sang The Power Of Love, “a song he’d rather be remembered for”, he said. And it was amazing. Then we got some fireworks to end the shows for the night.

We picked our way through the litter to the food outlets and bought pancakes with sugar and lemon, then spent three-quarters of an hour in the car trying to get out of the field so we could get back to our Travelodge in Maidenhead.

I was impressed not only by the performers today, but the people who made an effort and got dressed up. All that fluro, and all those characters. I suspect many of them were drunk. Personally I had a latte and nothing else, the less time spent in Festival portoloos the better. I only used them twice and both times I was thankful for Royal Britannia serviettes in my pocket because there was no loo paper. I saw one lady pull a loo roll from her bag, no doubt a seasoned festival-goer.

Even clowns get stressed and need a massage

Tomorrow we get to do it all again…

Scottish music, a familiar sound during the Edinburgh Festival.

After last night’s shenanigans I had a long lie-in before heading off to the souvenier shops for a last-minute shopping spree. After that we both had a massive cottage pie lunch at BHS. Honestly, the meals were so big they lasted us all day.

In the afternoon we went to the Pleasance Courtyard for Emily Watson-Howes’ show, Seminar. As we were waiting in the courtyard I spied Mark Watson for the second time during our stay here. At first he was talking to someone, then he was chatting on the phone, but I saw him a few minutes later all alone, so I seized the opportunity to have a quick chat… Yes I know, Chris calls me a stalker.

After our quick chat with Mark, we went and watched Emily’s show. At first I was a bit uneasy, but as I got to know the character, I enjoyed it more. Emily played a rather flawed self-help speaker called Kimberly Jane Feldhauseur, all professional at the beginning but gradually unravelling and becoming more unstable as the Seminar played out. The show was engaging and funny and different to the usual comedy.

After Seminar we did a bit more shopping and then we went back to the hotel room, where I caught up with Facebook, Twitter and my blog notes while Chris had a nanna nap watching Terry and June on the TV. Understandable.

We left our room quite late to watch our last show of the fringe, so by the time we got to the venue, the queue for The Boy With Tape on his Face was pretty long, and we ended up sitting three-quarters of the way back. This meant Chris felt quite safe as there’s quite a lot of audience participation in the Boy’s show and Chris is not one to join in: but the people who did join in were great. I was mesmerised by this show, how he can hold the attention of a room without uttering a single word for a whole hour is just amazing. So that was our last show of the Fringe. A good show to end on. More information on the Boy can be found on his website.

The next day we trudged down the 67 steps of our hotel, The York Place and walked along to Princes Street to catch the bus to our car. We had arranged to park in someone’s drive for five quid a day via parkatmyhouse.com, which is much better than nineteen quid a day in the car park near our hotel.

As we left Edinburgh we listed to David Tennant being interviewed on the radio. Listening to his Scottish accent and his choice of song, The Proclaimers, I’m on My Way. I realised how much I’d miss the place, and we hadn’t even left yet.

To be continued…

Chris and a cannon at Edinburgh Castle

On Tuesday we had a nice meal at Olly Bongo’s Cafe Bistro, a Turkish place with a warm and friendly atmosphere, a nice contrast to the busy, wet and cold street outside. It was a bit more expensive than most eateries we’ve been to, but it was a good meal and we wanted to be close to Udderbelly to minimise our time in the rain.

That night we had tickets to see Heath McIvor’s show, Randy is Sober. Randy is a purple puppet, we knew what to expect as we’d seen him before in Rickett’s Lane back home in Brisbane. It is a show so hilarious that we went to see it twice, so I didn’t book it for Edfringe. What I didn’t expect from Randy is Sober, was the fair amount of audience interaction we got. Just because his eyeballs aren’t real, don’t think Randy can’t interact with the audience. In fact I enjoyed those bits best, Heath has a very quick wit, or should I say Randy? Anyway the show was excellent and played to a full house.

Talking of full houses, Tim Minchin tweeted the other day for folks in Edinburgh to go and see Anyone for Tennis? This was very good publicity for them and ensured a well deserved full house for their next show. They rock very hard even when the audience is small like on the night we went to see them, so it’s nice to know they are playing to bigger crowds in their first Edfringe. I bumped into Doody and Jase in the street the other day, and they’re lovely guys.

Anyway, after Randy’s brilliant show we went to see The Horne Section, a shambolic (in a good way) show incorporating the jazz band Horne Section plus other guests, and a large spinning wheel to dictate the elements of the show. We got a game of Top Trumps between audience members, a hilarious Morris Dance by three of the band and then one of them was stripped, yes, all the way to a bare bottom. My favourite guest performer of the night was The Boy With Tape on his Face. We are seeing his full show tomorrow. There was also a funny and talented guitar player, Antonio Forcione, Swedish group Fork, and lastly poet, Tim Key.

Yesterday was quite sunny so we went to Edinburgh Castle and spent three hours wandering around with earphones and audio guides. As usual for Edinburgh there were many hills and steps.

Lang Stairs at Edinburgh Castle. 70 steps.

My overall impression of Edinburgh is oldness, comedy and steps, and to a slightly lesser extent, drizzle. We finished our castle visit with a latte in the coffee shop and by nearly 4.30pm we could see big grey clouds rolling in so we made our way back down the hill while ducking in and out of the many souvenier shops to find presents to take home and to drip dry all over shop floors.

Chris at Edinburgh Castle. Grey clouds coming.

We grabbed a delicious chicken and cheese melt from The Square, just around the corner from our hotel and took it back to our room to have with a cup of tea. Then we went set off into the night to see The Pajama Men’s show, In the Middle of No One.

We saw the Pajama Men’s show last year so we knew we’d probably spend most of the show watching a multitude of different characters played by two men in their pajamas, with only two chairs for props, and wondering what on earth was going on before everything tied up nicely at the end. The show did exactly that, again it was bewildering, funny, clever and silly at the same time. The stand out character for me was what I imagine to be an eagle type of bird with a very unusual cry.

After that, the night took an unexpected turn as we met up with some online forum friends for a drink at the Guilded Balloon. It was brilliant to meet the comedy fans I’ve got to know online for the past couple of years. After a pint and a half of cider and lots of comedy-talk some of us went to a one-off free Sammy J gig, which was also recorded for a DVD. Jase and Doody from AFT? were in the audience, along with lots of venue staff, and a few other people silly enough to still be up this late. We ended up walking back to our hotel room at 3.30 am. I was a very happy fangirl.

We climbed the 67 stairs to our room and eventually rolled into bed at 3.45am. This is exactly how I wanted Edinburgh to be: but not all the time, I’m too old to cope with this much awesomeness every night.

Today the forecast is for rain… all day. A good day to do the laundry and catch up on my blogging duties. This morning Chris and I trudged through the rain for about 25 minutes to Ace Cleaning Services to do our laundry, we had an early lunch at the very friendly and inexpensive Flip! café while our clothes were washed and dried a few doors down the road. We wimped out and took the bus back to our hotel for a very reasonable one pound 30 each.

The past few days have been a blur of Festival Fringe comedy shows and sight-seeing. Two days were spent just wandering around to get our bearings, but mostly getting lost. We were amazed by funny and talented street performers, while we dodged the drizzle and enthusiastic flyer-hander-outers, and spent a fair amount of time finding free toilets. Quite by accident we came across the Elephant House, place of Harry Potter’s birth, well, where JK Rowling wrote the first novels anyway. We had a cuppa in there, it was hot but the ambience was nice.

Tea at the Elephant House, a place full of elephant pictures and ornaments, wood panelling and mis-matched wooden tables and chairs.

By day three our feet were screaming for mercy, so we took three open top bus trips in a row to sight-see while sitting.

The Scott Monument. For 3 quid you can climb all 287 steps to the top, given our fitness level and sore feet, I think this will not be high on our agenda

We got off the Majestic Tour at the Royal Yacht Britannia for a tour of the yacht and afternoon tea.

Chris posing with a pretend pint on the Royal Yacht Britannia.

It felt a bit voyeuristic to be looking at the double bed that Charles and Di slept in, but it was a pretty interesting place to visit and my lemon drizzle cake and Earl Grey tea at the Royal Deck Tea Room was very swish.

Afternoon tea at the Royal Deck Tea Room

We went to the Military Tattoo on Saturday night, there was a little drizzle but it didn’t matter as we wore our shower proof jackets just in case. In fact we have been carrying them around all over Edinburgh and they’ve been very handy. The Tattoo was good, my favourites were the Band of the Royal Netherlands Army Mounted Regiments, they were on bicycles, very funny. They came back later without their bicycles and played something from Harry Potter too: excellent. The night ended with the Massed Pipes and Drums then spectacular fireworks. The DVD will be out in October so we will be ordering that online so we can relive the night.

Military Tattoo massed pipes and drums

On Sunday we spent a few hours wandering around the Scottish National Museum. It’s a massive and grand building. Chris was very happy to see a bubble car and I was amazed to see a ZX81 computer. I remember when they came out, they were 50 quid. There were lots of Christian religious artifacts, a fantastic collection of rocks and a huge amethyst geode. There were stuffed animals, including Dolly the sheep, and dinosaurs bones, fossils and Egyptian coffins, it was all very interesting.

Chris and a bubble car

The comedy shows so far have been extraordinary. I’ve already blogged about Sammy J’s show, Potentially, since then we’ve seen five more shows. Alex Horne’s, Seven Years in the Bathroom was very good, tightly scripted to keep up with the momentum of living a whole life in an hour, but it didn’t feel too rushed. Next up was Melbourne duo, Anyone For Tennis in Prepare to be Tuned. Doody and Jase sang beautiful harmonies about Margherita pizza, that time of month, and finding your one true love (among other things). They rocked very hard with their guitars for a tiny audience of about a dozen people. They so deserve a full house for their first Edinburgh Fringe.

On Tuesday we saw three shows, our first was Chris Cox in Fatal Distraction. A mind-reader who confesses straight away that he can’t read minds, but it doesn’t matter a jot. By the end of the show, I’m sure everyone in the audience was amazed by what they’d just seen. During the show he’d recited a bit of Tim Minchin’s beat poem Storm for me, so I was a very happy fangirl. Next up we saw Asher Treleaven in Matador. We saw him last year in Secret Door so we knew we were in for a slick performance. This show tackled racism in a hilarious way, he’s quite a physical performer and my personal favourite was an impression of a squid. You had to be there. Lastly we saw The Hermitude of Angus, Ecstatic,  quite possibly the most physical and weirdest show of the Fringe. Think of Angus as Rowan Atkinson’s Mr Bean, but more socially inept and child-like, and wildly changing into other characters along the way. There’s a messy encounter with chocolate cake and some dancing too, this is a show that you think about for a long time after it’s over.

So that’s the story so far. It’s still raining outside but tonight we are seeing the purple puppet Randy in Randy is Sober and Alex Horne again, but this time with jazz comedy band, The Horne Section. Can’t wait.

Stats:

  • Kilometres traveled: 3,620
  • Litres of petrol: 371.49
  • Cost of petrol: $602.08
  • Lattes consumed: too many

Things I missed:

  • During the couple of times we were without it, I missed the Internet.
  • Our en-suite toilet: the cold walk to the toilets at midnight is not fun, although the night sky is lovely.
  • 2 ply toilet paper: it was always a nice surprise to get 2 ply loo paper at a public or campsite toilet.
  • Chris missed roast dinners.
  • The royal wedding. Although to tell the truth we missed that on purpose.

Things I didn’t miss:

  • Housework, particularly ironing, floor sweeping, and picking up bath towels.
  • Job hunting.

What we will do differently next time:

  • If going to a cold climate we will take a thicker duvet, a hot water bottle, and an electric blanket: I’m only half-joking.
  • If going to a cold climate, I won’t be so optimistic, I will take less summer clothing.
  • A slow cooker is a good idea, a few other campers had them, we could cook a roast in it.
  • Rig up something to strap wet stuff to the Teardrop chassis. Wet things stored on the bed while traveling is not a good idea.
  • Make sure we have enough coins for the washing machines and dryers.
  • Stock up on tea bags before we go. Items bought at campsite kiosks are expensive.
  • If time permits, spend more than one night at each place, especially if long distances are traveled between camps.

Consequences of holiday:

  • Food and drink: I gained half a kilo, Chris managed to lose a kilo. How on earth did that happen?
  • Leaving our son and daughter alone for two weeks: None, they didn’t starve and they managed perfectly well without us.
  • Leaving our cats alone with our son and daughter: None, they didn’t starve, and I don’t think they even noticed we were gone.
  • Furry tea bags in our tea-pot.
  • We are now broke.

It’ll be a while before we do another trip like this one, the next Easter Teardrop gathering is mooted to be in Forbes, and one day we’d like to go to Tasmania. But until then we will have to look forward to our next weekend trip in July. This time it will be in a B&B much closer to home. We are going to our second Abbey Medieval Tournament. Last year we went for one day and it wasn’t enough so this year we are going for the weekend. I will be joining in with the belly dancing again. Fun.

Saturday, 30th April, 2011. Glen Aplin to Capalaba via Boonah.

Kilometers traveled: 285

Weather: Warm in the sun, low 20’s. A couple of showers.

After our breakfast of jam on toast, we took the cover off the dome frame and draped it over the sunny end so it would dry before we packed it back in the Teardrop.

It didn’t take long to dry. We’re in QLD now, we had taken our jackets off by 8.00am.

As soon as the cover was dry, Chris packed it and all the other gear into the Teardrop. I let him do it, he knows where it all goes so there’s not too much weight on the tow ball. We don’t want any accidental wheelies.

We took one last walk down to the camp site’s river, then we went back to the trike and left for the Granite Belt Dairy for a spot of cheese tasting. When we got there we found they didn’t open until 10.00am, it was only about 9.30am but the door was open, so we popped in to ask if they were open yet. The owner very kindly set up early for us and we tried a few different cheeses, relishes, jams and chutneys. We ordered a couple of lattes to have in the courtyard and took some photos of their very furry dog.

Rex at the Cheese Shop

We left the shop with a couple of cheeses, a bottle of Summit wine, a jar of dried fig and apple chutney and a jar of lemon butter.

Our next stop was just after Warwick, where we did a bit of a detour to visit Mark at Travelbug Teardrop campers. He lives on a very rocky and bumpy dirt road, Chris drove the trike very slowly. Chris and Mark talked shop for a while, it’s good to compare different ideas incorporated into Teardrop campers. I like the idea of cup holders inside. We might put those in our Teardrop later as our shelf is always full of DVDs, laptop and iPhone chargers, and other assorted stuff like brochures and our torch for midnight walks to the toilet.

When we left Mark, we went home via Cunningham’s Gap and Boonah. The Gap would have been lovely if it wasn’t full of road works. The scenery is beautiful between Cunningham’s Gap and Boonah, you’ll have to take my word for it as I didn’t take any photos. We stopped at Boonah to have lunch at the Flavours Café, a bike friendly café that does lovely meals, this was our third visit, and as it was just before 2pm we were in time for the $10.00 lunch specials. We both had the Hawaiian wrap with salad. It was delicious. We also had another latte. Chris suggested putting a coffee machine in back of our Teardrop. I’m not entirely sure he was joking.

From Boonah we were going to go straight home, but we decided to stop in at Aussie Teardrop Campers to see Reiner and Sam, and return Reiner’s video camera so he could see all the Teardrops he missed at the Tawonga Teardrop Gathering. As soon as we arrived, it started to rain. We stayed and talked about traveling and Teardrops for about an hour, and soon it was time to do the last leg of our journey home: just as it started to rain again.

We arrived home just before dark, (around 5.00pm). The kids hadn’t missed us much, and the cats seemed indifferent, but the pool missed us, it’s gone a bit green.

And that’s it: the holiday is over. On the way home I did say to Chris, “we could stop somewhere else, you don’t have to be at work until Tuesday” but I think he thought I was joking… I’m not sure that I was.

Friday, 29th April, 2011 – Tamworth to Glen Aplin

Kilometres traveled: 363

Weather: Started sunny, but stayed cold and we had a few showers in NSW. It got a bit warmer by the time we got to QLD.

We left Tamworth 8.45ish so Chris could take a photo of DACAT at the Big Golden Guitar, and from there we set off for our next camp site at Glen Aplin. We had a lot of stops on this trip. Our first stop was at Moonbi Lookout.

Two big caravans had parked up there overnight, it was a pretty spot, but the toilet looked like a set for a horror movie. Rustic is an understatement: it was downright scary.

There were several more wee stops, (must be the cold weather and all the tea we drink). We were going to stop at the Celtic Festival in Glen Innes, but when we stopped there for petrol the wind was bitterly cold, so we decided to keep going. At about 2pm we stopped at Bluffs Rock for a cup of tea and the chicken sandwiches I prepared last night. Our Glen Aplin camp was less than an hour away.

At first I was very disappointed, with our Glen Aplin camp site, it looked like a caravan graveyard, where all the old caravans go to die. All our neighbouring caravans had broken and taped up windows, they were not a pretty sight. But we put up the dome and two side walls so we wouldn’t have to look at them, and because it looked like rain. We were right, it rained just after the dome went up.

Considering the run down state of the caravans, the amenities were good, they even had 2 ply loo paper! The loos and showers were all on river water, there were a couple of taps for drinking water, but everything else was river water.

I went to check out the unpowered camping area down at the Severn River, and it was lovely.

The owners were very helpful, and the on site security man was very friendly and talkative. In the end I was glad to be there, a good reminder not to always trust first impressions.

While I was taking photos down at the River, Chris was trying to get on the Internet.

Chris trying to get the Internet on my little computer, and looking up tomorrow's trip on the GPS.

It was frustratingly slow so he shut the computer down. We contemplated putting up the TV aerial so we could watch TV on the laptop, but we knew that the royal wedding would be all over it, so we opted for DVDs instead. I’m sure I’ll be able to see wedding highlights later on when I’m at home: if I wanted.

It was very cold tonight so we had a tinned and dinged meal, (two tins of braised beef and onions and a tin of peas, carrots and corn cooked in the microwave,) it made a sort of beef stew, it tasted pretty good. I suggested Chris enter it for next year’s Teardrop cook-off: he laughed. I don’t think he took it seriously, but if he serves up beef stew next year, check our rubbish bag for tins.

A couple of times during the evening, when walking to the amenities, I had to stop and marvel at the night sky. It is just amazing how the stars seem so bright out here away from city lights. I’m even more in awe of the night sky since visiting the Parkes Observatory this week.

Chris found my missing hairbrush in the top box of the trike today, it marks the return to civilisation, tomorrow we are going back home. We made plans for a couple of stops on the way, then went to bed and watched Danny Bhoy and Josh Thomas DVDs. Wedding? What wedding?