Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Around Lake Tahoe in a day

So we woke up and drove back 100 km. Of course we had to see Emerald Bay which is one of the most beautiful spots on our journey. But first we had to buy some soda. Maybe I will try some bacon soda.

Also here, the bears had woken up already.

Emerald Bay is located in the southern end of the lake and the first lookout parking lot was still covered with snow so it was almost impossible to park. However, the best scenic spot is a bit further up right on top of the bay. This was a view worth driving to.

Driving further north we found some holiday villages where the cottages were still almost totally covered by snow. Apparently it wasn't the season yet. We drove up to Tahoe City and then we had to make a decision: take the small road along the lake shore to Kings Beach or drive inland route to Truckee. We chose inland route. Driving towards Truckee we noticed signs pointing to Squaw Valley, home of the 1960 olympics.

The main attractions of Truckee are the historic downtown and the Donner Party Memorial. A small but very interesting museum is built around the tragic story of the Donner_Party which was on its way to California but got stuck in snow here and resorted to cannibalism. It was really amazing what had happened here in the end of 1846. There was so much snow that it was impossible to continue and the party got stranded in what is now called the Donner Pass. The snow would have covered the base of the statue. Of the 87 members of the party, 48 survived to reach California, many of them having eaten the dead for survival.

Should've stayed in South Lake Tahoe

Reno is in decline. Is it because the Silicon Valley people are better in math than the Hollywood people? If I knew how Reno was, I would have saved 100 km drive and stayed in South Lake Tahoe. There are gambling opportunities across the street (and state line) so no need to drive further.

State Route 50 to South Lake Tahoe was just magnificent as you can see in the picture below taken in Twin Bridges.

Lot's of photo opportunities along the way and the final descent to South Lake Tahoe was the icing on the cake.

It was interesting how the California side had all the amenities except casinos and the Nevada side had... just casinos. The slopes were still in good shape and people took the lift right from the city center. But we had no time to stay so we continued towards Reno. We had booked a room for two nights in Eldorado Casino. The arrival at Reno wasn't even close to what we had experienced in Las Vegas two years ago.

The streets were pretty much empty, souvenir shops closed and some homeless people on the street. The clientele similar to Fremont Street in Vegas. By the way, there is nothing wrong with that. We will be staying on Fremont next time. But as said, we felt like going back to South Lake Tahoe. So first some slots and sleep and back on the road in the morning. We wanted to drive around the lake.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

5 routes to Reno

There are 5 routes to Reno from Yosemite. Tioga Pass Road being the most famous one. Caltrans website became very familiar to us as we constantly monitored which one of the four closed ones might open just for our trip. Tioga Pass was also the highest point so it was not likely to open during our visit. However, some of the others (State Routes 108, 4, and 88) had a good chance of being opened. Especially State Route 88 was just about to be opened. To our disappointment, even 88 was open for cars with snow chains only. As I had no clue of how the road conditions were, I didn't even try it as I thought we would be sent back. When we got to Reno we found out that it actually had been driveable without chains. So we took the route which had the lowest elevation, State route 50. Also State Route 50 was a California Scenic Byway. The scenic byways are a collection of scenic roads which used to be included in website. The funding for the website was discontinued by the US government so Scenic byways website continues the work but as an open source initiative.

Before we got to State Route 50 we drove past very beautiful California landscapes. We drove along State Route 49 through Jackson and many other old silver mining towns. Jackson had a very nice Antiques center as well. State Routes 49 and 50 are also part of the State Scenic Highway routes. I guess that's the official classification. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Tunnel view, Bridalveil Fall, Half Dome and El Capitan

The night was so cold that we had to keep the air conditioner warming the room all night. And it makes exactly the same amount of noise no matter if it's used for warming or cooling. Anyway, we were about to see the most magnificent sights today. The Tunnel View lookout has a view which is world famous. It was quite a good weather in Mariposa and at the national park entrance. The picture with the sign also shows our Swedish ride for the whole trip.

Of course we headed towards the Tunnel View first as it wasn't raining yet. The clouds hang low and hid part of the view. We felt a bit disappointed. So much that we also visited the Tunnel View in the afternoon again just to find out the the morning view was actually much better. The left picture is taken in the morning and the right one in the afternoon. The clouds really made the view very dramatic.

There is still a lot of snow in the park in April. This means that many of the popular sites like Tuolumne meadows and Glacier Point are inaccessible. It is really amazing to see the Yosemite valley in spring and still hard to imagine that there is a lot of snow further up in the park. The lack of snow in the valley meant that the bears had woken up already. No bags of chips or any other edibles were allowed to be stored inside the cars. Everything you had which might attract the bears was supposed to be stored inside sturdy metal boxes. Apparently the bears can enter locked cars.

The spring time meant also that all waterfalls were at their best:

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Mariposa gives me butterflies in the stomach

We had chosen Mariposa as our base for the trip to Yosemite. Mariposa is monarch butterfly in Spanish. It's only 47 minutes away from the National park. The hotel was booked for two nights to allow full day in the park. The weather didn't look so great so most likely no hiking tomorrow. We arrived quite late and most restaurants were closed already so we chose between a burger joint and a restaurant. The 1850 Restaurant carried a craft beer called Nukin Futz. Hah.

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

Then we headed towards Yosemite. This sign and the Scenic Drive sign became very familiar on the way:

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.

Before we headed north we went to do some shopping on Rodeo Drive.

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.