Thursday, April 20, 2017

Clint Eastwood's footsteps in Carmel

Clint Eastwood's "Play Misty for me" was the movie which taught me about Carmel-by-the-sea. I must have seen it at least 20 years ago, but I still remember the rugged shoreline. Funny how small things are carried with you through all the years and finally, when planning a holiday, it comes back to you and you mark it in your itinerary.

And Monterey... Liisa Sorsa, my Finnish teacher in high school taught me to read literature. I read East of Eden, Winter of Discontent, The Grapes of Wrath, and of course the Monterey trilogy: Cannery Row, Tortilla Flat and Sweet Thursday. Even though Cannery Row is now only a tourist attraction, it still reminds me of the Steinbeck's novels.

Just before we left, Minna saw that there was a TV series on HBO called Big Little Lies. It takes place in Monterey so we watched the first six episodes as an appetizer. The series opening credit sequence shows The Bixby Bridge which is one of the landmarks in Big Sur.

And we weren't disappointed. We arrived at Carmel very late in the evening and there were no street lights so we didn't really know what to expect. But when the sun came up we noticed that it was a very beautiful small town with a lot of pine trees, art galleries and wine tasting rooms. And we set out to Wrath wines tasting room. It just has such a clever name and we had tasted Wrath on our previous trip two years ago.

The area has one of the most beatiful scenic routes we have ever driven. 17-Mile Drive curves around Pebble Beach. It is a toll-road but it is totally worth the money. Otherwise you would not see the Lonely cypress or the Ghost tree.

The next morning we drove to Big Sur. As the PCH was closed at we approached Big Sur from the north. Again, one of the most beautiful scenic drives.

And in Monterey, the best antiques store ever The Cannery Row Antique Mall

Friday, April 14, 2017

In the City of Angels

Two years ago we stepped off the plane at LAX and drove around LA, Santa Barbara and Las Vegas. This time our plan was to drive from LA to San Francisco through the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). After buying the dirt-cheap flights from SAS (€490 each) we realized through Minna's relatives in San Francisco that it would be impossible. One of my bucket list items was blocked by heavy rain which had caused several sections of the PCH to be damaged and they would not be fixed before Christmas. So we had to change our plans.

The first three days would be spent in Los Angeles shopping, watching ice hockey and sitting in traffic jams.

The accommodation:

Hotel Villa Delle Stelle right in the middle of Hollywood. Actually it wasn't really a traditional hotel but our room was called Urban Cottage. Just two blocks away from Hollywood Boulevard it was within walking distance from the Chinese Theater and the Church Of Scientology. It was surrounded by several studios. Caroline was really helpful and provided some wine and cheese as a welcome gift. The Urban Cottage was actually an apartment with a bedroom and kitchen/living room and another living room and two big-screen TVs.

The wheels:

European this time. I booked MB GLA (or similar) with €55/day, LDW and drop-off in San Francisco included. I got "similar": Volvo XC60 with rear camera and navigation.

The itinerary:

The first breakfast at the Farmers Market. Wide selection of establishments to choose your breakfast from.

The first late lunch at the Mission Cantina. On Tuesdays tacos $1 each and $5 Margaritas. Excellent and genuine tacos recommended by Carolina from Villa Delle Stelle. Just across the street from the hotel.

La Brea tar pits. Since I was young I have been fascinated by the La Brea tar pits. I think it was a Donald Duck magazine from which I learned about the pits. So there is a place in the middle of LA where the oil well is so close to the surface of the earth that it actually seeps through the lawn and from the pond to the surface. And what is even more fascinating is the fact that during thousands of years different animals have been stuck in the tar and died in the puddles of goo. Sabre tooth lions, mammoths and sloths have been dragged into the pools of tar and now they are being excavated from the pits and put on display.

Anaheim Ducks - Calgary Flames hockey match in Anaheim. The first playoffs game for Anaheim. The game was actually sold out but Ticketmaster had a system where the tickets could be resold. It was really easy to buy the tickets as the view from each seat in the Honda Center was shown as a picture on the website. You could see what would be your view to the rink. Also, the ticket prices started from $36 so it wasn't even very expensive. Especially when you consider that everyone got a Ducks shirt and a small towel. Nice. Out tickets were $70 each.

Walk on Hollywood Hills: Recommended by Caroline from the hotel, we stepped off the beaten track and tried to find the hidden stairs of Hollywood. We managed to find only one flight of stairs but it was worth it. Nice views to the Hollywood sign and possibility to see how people lived on the Hills.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Taksi is Taksi and petrol station is a rack of Absolut Vodka bottles

If Seminyak is more refined than Kuta beach, I cannot imagine what Kuta beach is like. Two days in Bali and I am not thrilled yet. Practically no sidewalks, every empty taxi honks the horn and the sand on the beach is brown.
I am not sure if this is cheap either. Anyway, 30 degrees of hotness and very good food. I knew I would not be disappointed for the food. There is only one brand of beer which is reasonable priced and even that one is 1.40€ a bottle. Anyway, 30 degrees of hotness and very good food.

The Swedes did win the petrol business in Indonesia. Petrol is sold in units of Absolute Vodka bottles. I cannot imagine what would happen, if one of the bottles fell off the rack next to the guy who's smoking a cigarette. 

In the afternoon one taxi honked its horn and we took off with it. Tanah Lot is a famous temple and return trip cost 21€. Actually, it would have been a bit cheaper according to the meter but we had agreed the price at departure.

And this is where we are staying

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

What could have been the end of a lovely relationship

Our flight was due in the evening so we were supposed to be at LAX around 19:00. 500 km drive from Las Vegas to LAX should not be a problem. So we thought. We took our time to wake up and pack our bags as we thought that the boring drive through the desert would be... boring. We didn't have breakfast as we planned to stop somewhere.

We stopped at the Nevada-California border to have breakfast at the Whiskey Pete's Casino. Maybe some last rounds of slot machines.

We took off and everything went smoothly until this here. Just as the highway started rise towards to mountains, all three lanes stopped. We would spend the next 2 hours driving the 10 km stretch up the slope. Tensions in the car started rising but neither one of us started the blame game. We knew that it would cost us another set of one-way-tickets if we missed our plane. When we reached the top of the pass, we saw that a truck load had been fallen over on the road. And right when we reached the site of the accident, the traffic started moving again. If we'd make it to Los Angeles in time, we would be there just in time for the rush hour. Of course hopefully driving against the traffic. We couldn't afford to miss any exit. And then we missed an exit and had to take a 10 km reroute.

Diamond lane to the rescue: Car pool lanes were mostly empty as people drive usually alone. We had to google how many people are needed in the car to be allowed to drive the diamond lane. It only required 2 persons so we were OK to take the empty lane while all the individual drivers were stuck in traffic.

Two more things to do before the airport: fill the tank and return the car to the rental lot which would be somewhere near the LAX but a bus ride away anyway. I decided to skip the gas station and pay whatever it costs to return the car with an empty tank. Luckily the guy who handled the paperwork at the rental return was kind enough to mark the tank fuller than it actually was. I gave him ten bucks.

During the 7-hour ride from Vegas to LAX neither one of us blamed the other for any delay. There were several occasions where either Minna or I could have said something about being late or missing the exit but we kept our cool and didin't start a fight in the middle of the drive. This was really a proof of the strength of our relationship. And we caught our flight eventually so the fight would have been premature anyway. We didn't manage to send the post cards though. There just wasn't enough time to find a mail box.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

It really is a god damn dam

There are several day trips available from Las Vegas. The grandest of them all is of course the Grand Canyon. However, in order to see it properly you will either have to rent a helicopter from Vegas or stay overnight closer to the canyon. As Las Vegas was just a side step on our trip to LA, we wanted to give Grand Canyon the time it deserves, sometime later. So it was either Death Valley or the Hoover Dam. I remember when I had a summer job in the US, some of my fellow summer workers got a job in Death Valley while I lived and worked in the Boston area. Even Boston was hot enough during the summer. Hoover Dam was closer so we drove there.

To our surprise there were two things there which were amazing: the dam itself as well as the bridge. In the movies you usually see people driving across the dam itself but actually the highway doesn't run on top of the dam but there is a huge bridge next to the dam. Mike O'Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge clearance is 270 m. So you could almost fit the Eiffel Tower between the bridge and the Lake Mead.

The Hoover Dam is so famous that ticking it off from the bucket list while in Vegas is worth the 50 km drive.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Breaking the Las Vegas rule

I am going to be the first one in human history to break the famous "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas"-rule. The following really happened in Vegas:

My must-sees in Vegas are:

and last but not least:
The first experience is of course the Arrival. Ours was like this:

Accommodation: We chose to stay in the MGM Grand. We booked the room from and it cost 63 €/night. A bargain compared to LA. A small drawback was the resort fee which didn't mention but apparently is standard practice even if booked from elsewhere. The room didn't have a view to the Strip but who cares. Also free parking was available.

The gamble: Slots everywhere. Mostly table games had a minimum bet of $10 or even more. If you had a black jack or a roulette with less than $10 minimum, the table was "automatic" without a live dealer. We played slot machines. The sound was hypnotic. Whenever you won, you just couldn't stop playing because of the ring. The drinks were free as long as you sat by a machine. While I was away getting my membership card, Minna hit the jackpot. With a 1 cent bet, it wasn't really a lot of money but it was a lot of ringing.

Neon museum is also called the Neon Boneyard. It's the place where the neon signs go to die. Or actually to get refurbished and their stories told. Book your slot beforehand and remember that the tours fill up very quickly. You will need to attend a tour as the guest are constantly supervised and cannot explore the museum on their own. This is really a must-see as it has some of the signs of long gone casinos and landmarks.

The show: We tried to book seats for O Cirque du Soleil through the internet but for some reason the transaction didn't go through. So we had to walk to Bellagio to find out that the show was fully booked. However, if you will wait in line 1 hour before the show, there may be some leftover seats. The thing is: you don't know which seats you're going to get and especially how much they are. Or you will end up queueing for an hour and the show is sold out anyway and you just spent an hour in the queue for nothing. As we wanted to get the show-box ticked as soon as possible, we waited in line and got quite good and reasonably-priced tickets, if you can call them reasonably-priced in the first place as they are always very expensive.

The buffet: Based on a thorough investigation on the Internet, we chose The Bacchanal at Ceasars Palace with a wine package. We soon realized that we could have left out the wine package as there was so much to eat that drinking wine at the same time would be too much. Even eating was too much. Stone crabs, sushi, shrimps, jumbo shrimps, meats, pizza, you name it. Come dessert and you will feel sick.

The silver ball: I knew there had to be pinball arcade in Las Vegas and really there was a good one: The Pinball Hall of Fame. Lots of games, lots of modified games (for example Scared Stiff with colored animations as opposed to my original orange-colored animations) and lots of rare games. Even Space Mission which I had played last time in Pekan Baari when I was 10 years old. And of course Kiss (Bally)

On the way to the city which made Hangovers totally acceptable

I have always wanted to go to Vegas. Not only to gamble (mainly because Minna doesn't let me) but to see the atmosphere but also the Stratosphere. The drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas was absolutely boring. However, worth to do at least once.

The distance is about 450 km. We stopped twice. The first stop was in Calico Ghost Town which was kind of a disappointment. It wasn't actually a Ghost Town, just a tourist attraction. You basically had to pay an entrance fee to a streetful of shops where you could by some tourist junk. 

The next stop was right after the border of Nevada. Primm Outlets. It was a mini-Las Vegas with gambling, shopping and rides for families whose children have turned their parents crazy so that their dad doesn't want to drive any further. Only 72 km to go.

Saturday, April 04, 2015


Breakfast at the Farmers Market and then off to see the stars and sights. Farmers market was an excellent place for street food. We chose hot dogs.

First up the hill to the Griffith Observatory in the footsteps of James Dean and Natalie Wood. The Griffith Park is the best location for the pictures of Hollywood sign. It is still not very close to the sign though but a long lense will make it look closer.

And a fellow tourist offered his help and took a picture of both of us, just like Natalie and James.

The afternoon was spent by walking over the stars of Hollywood Boulevard and driving the famous Mulholland Drive with a Homes of the Stars map.
View from Mulholland Drive