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We're in Vegas. Not only did I survive the helicopter ride, I loved it. I have to say that during the hour while we waited for our flight, my knees were shaking so much that I thought I might pass out. Mädi suggested that we get a drink and I had a quick beer. That seemed to help a lot, but I have to admit, the first 30-45 seconds after the helicopter lifted off the ground, I was close to tears. Then I relaxed. It was amazing! We flew for close to an hour, over Bryce Canyon and two other canyons that you can't get to by car. We flew so close to the edge of the rocks that I felt like we were scuba diving over a coral reef. (You'll have to look for photos on a future photo page.) If I ever have a chance to take a helicopter ride again, I will instantly say 'YES!'
After spending so much time with the incredible views and the peace you get from being surrounded by nature, I have to say that Vegas was a bit of a shock on my system. This is our third night here and we leave tomorrow morning. It was of course the first time for Mädi and Margrit, so they're in awe. But for me, it's my fifth time and I'm a little bit tired of it. It just seems like the biggest tourist trap in the world. Everyone seems to be looking for your last dollar and everywhere you look, people are hoping to become the next millionaire. So sad. And everyone talks about how cheap it is here. I'm wondering where they go and what they do. Our hotel, the Excalibur, was only $69 per night for our first two nights, but $159 for tonight because it's the weekend. We have to pay a daily fee for local calls and 1-800 numbers cost $1 for the first 30 minutes and 10 cents a minute after that. Since I'm used to using my calling card with a 'free' toll-free number, I was a bit annoyed by the fact that the hotel could charge us and make us pay for something that's always been free.
And we don't have a coffee maker in our room. Even the cheapest of motels in the US have that. We need to get dressed and go downstairs to buy our morning coffee. I'm sure this is an attempt to get us to put our extra quarters in the slot machines next to the fast food joint where we can buy our coffee. Let me just say that I'm happy to be leaving tomorrow and I won't be hurrying back.
Tomorrow we head for San Diego where we'll spend three nights. We'll celebrate the fourth of July there.
Tuesday, July 6, 2004
I mentioned in the last entry that we went on a helicopter ride. For those who paid for Mädi's ride, I wanted to add a photo of her in the helicopter...
and one photo that I took from the helicopter of the canyon we flew to after seeing Bryce...
After our three and a half days of crowds and noise in Las Vegas, we took Sunday as a day for relaxing in San Diego. We did laundry, played cards by the pool, cooked our dinner on the grill and walked across the street to watch the 4th of July fireworks on the bay...
Yesterday, Monday, we planned to go to Tijuana, Mexico by riding the trolley car. But first we needed to drive to Best Buy to pick up a few things we needed for our cameras. We were a bit shocked to find that our car was no longer in the hotel parking lot. We were informed by the front desk that our car had been towed. Apparently, they have so little space for parking at this hotel (Residence Inn by Marriot in San Diego) that you need to put a pass in your window. When we had checked into the hotel, we had given our license plate number and were informed that we needed to pay $8 per day for parking. We agreed. However, the men who checked us in did not give us this little yellow pass or even mention it. Now, we were being told by the Assistant General Manager that someone could take us to our car, but we would have to pay $156 to get it out of the lot. We were also told that towing company had said that our car had no license plates when they 'found' it. After asking the manager to call the police, he double checked and found that there had been an 'informational' mistake. Yes, our car did have plates on it. To make a long story short, after two hours of explaining our point, arguing, pleading and standing at the front desk and staring as they checked other guests in, we were told that they agreed that they had made a mistake, would pay the fee and that they were sorry. We were also told that it was the first time a car was ever towed from their lot. As of yesterday, there are notices taped to every entrance of the hotel informing people that they need a pass in their windshield.
We decided that everything had been going so well on our trip that we had been due some kind of misfortune. We were not going to let a few lost hours affect our day. We made our way to Tijuana by trolley. Mädi and Margrit had never had a margarita and didn't even know what it was. We found out that it was '2 for 1' when they brought our order. Here they are with their first sip of a margarita in Mexico...
At first, they thought they were sour, but they ended up finishing theirs before I finished mine. Because I'm very found of Mexican food, I had been looking forward to a meal in Tijuana. After trying our appetizers, we decided to skip dinner. Not only was it what I would call 'convenience store' food, but I had remembered Tijuana as having inexpensive food and drinks. For three relatively small margaritas (I know you see six, but it was 2for1), nachos with cheese wiz, and two soggy tortillas with cheese, we paid $29 plus a tip. (the service was very friendly) Here's a photo of our food...
Today we are going to Sea World and then moving on to Orange County, where we'll stay for five nights. I'll write more from there.
Sunday, July 11th, 2004
Today is an anniversary for me and Herbert. It's been five years since our first date. I'm a little sad that I'm not with him today. I also wasn't with him on his birthday, July 1st, and won't be with him on my birthday, the 21st. Of course I knew this when I made the plan for this trip, but it's still not easy being away from him on special days. And he's going to leave for Asia on the 14th of July and won't be back until five days after I get back to Oberwil. I guess that's just our life. We'll have to celebrate all three days in August.
Today the ladies and I are taking one of our 'low-key' relaxing days. We'll spend the afternoon on the beach and the evening playing cards. Right now, Mädi and Margrit are at the hotel pool so I have a little time to update this journal.
On our last day in San Diego, we visited Sea World. I hadn't been there for almost twenty years and was looking forward to it. I was a little concerned that Mädi and Margrit wouldn't enjoy it because I didn't think that they were 'into' animals. Herbert had recommended that they see it and I trusted him. We all ended up loving it.
The killer whale and the dolphin shows are wonderful. It's mind-boggling for me when I try to understand these animals and how their minds work. They're simply amazing. Here's a photo of one of the trainers on the nose of Shamu...
Although the animals are definately the stars of the show, the trainers at the dolphin show threw in quite a bit of humor. They had a four-year-old boy that they had picked from the audience to help them. At different points during the show, they also involved his dad, who was quite a clumsy guy.Towards the end of the show, they posed the little boy feeding a dolphin so that the dad could take a photo. He stood on a rock bridge with his wife and a helper. Within seconds, he had fallen over the edge of the bridge into the pool with the dolphins and two small killer whales. I felt guilty taking the following photo, as if I was staring at a deadly car accident...
After a few minutes of panic on the trainers part, the man tried to swim away from the whale and the whale pushed him through the water with his nose on the man's feet. I knew instantly that the 'dad' was really a trainer. I was surprised though to hear the comments of the people around me. They didn't seem to get the joke and were horrified by the whole thing. In the end, everyone laughed.
We saw almost everything at the park, including the river raft ride, where we were soaked with water, and the 4-dimensional show about a haunted light house. It was my first time to sit in a show like that. If you also haven't seen one, I'll briefly explain. The three-dimensional thing is achieved by wearing special glasses. That's old technology. But, the 4th dimension was new to me. If one of the actors spits out towards the audience, you feel the water sprayed in your face. If rats are running around, you 'feel' them as air rushes by your legs. It was a lot of fun and not scary at all. Here's Mädi and Margrit with their 3-D glasses on...
After a full day at Sea World, we drove up to Santa Ana, where we've been ever since. We had lunch the first day with my friend's Ken and Cheryl. We've gotten some shopping done and watched the sunset over the ocean from the roof-top restaurant at the end of the Newport Beach pier.
On Thursday evening, we went to the Marine Room Tavern in Laguna Beach to listen to the band 'The Missiles of October' with my friend Ken. The Missiles are a great local band that I had first heard with Ken and Cheryl almost ten years ago. They play almost every Thursday evening and Sunday afternoons. Whenever Herbert and I are in Southern California, we always go to listen at least once and we usually go with Ken. This particular time, I was disappointed when we heard that Paul, the lead singer, was out of town. We stayed a few hours anyway and listened. The replacement singer wasn't bad, but he wasn't Paul.
Well, I need to go. I'll finish catching up later.
There are two long days of driving that were planned for this five and a half week tour of the US. Today is one of them. We're driving from Reno, Nevada to Salt Lake City, Utah - 540 miles. It's a pretty straight road and Mädi is driving, which gives me time to try and catch up on this journal.
The last time I wrote, I had to leave quickly. My friend Ken had called and asked me to meet him for a beer at one of his local bars. He was even willing to pay for a taxi so that I wouldn't have to drink and drive. I hadn't had much of an opportunity to spend time with him and was in a bit of a need for some English-only conversation. The ladies were content to stay at the hotel pool and encouraged me to go, so I went. Here's a picture of Ken at 'his' bar...
We had a great time and after I got home ( a little later than I had planned) I was ready to go back to speaking Swiss German.
I'm doing my best to keep this journal up to date as we go, but there's one thing I've left out - Disneyland. Honestly, it wasn't really the best time for the three of us. After two rides - both of which involved films in English - Mädi let me know that she was disappointed in the park. She had been expecting at least ten roller coasters and had discovered that there was an 80 minute wait for the one that was there. She also commented that it wasn't so interesting when everything was in English (and Spanish). She was frustrated that we had paid $50 each to get in to a park that seemed to be for children only. When I had originally asked if she wanted Disneyland included in the trip plan, I had made the false assumption that she knew what it was. Let me just say that it was a bit uncomfortable for a while as we searched through the never-ending crowds for something to do that would be worth $50 dollars. By evening, the situation improved because the light show on the river, with it's firework finale, was enjoyable for all of us.
And I had at least one other fun moment that day. Mädi, Margrit and I had been standing in line to ride the 'It's a Small World' ride. To our left was an empty line that made a u-turn next to where we were standing. A Disney tour guide was leading two men and two ladies down that lane. One of the men was making the turn and walked straight towards me. Since he was only about two feet away, I knew in an instant that I knew him, but it took me a second to figure out where I 'knew' him from. I knew him from my child hood TV. It was Art Linkletter. (If you don't know who he is, then either you're not an American or you're much younger than I am.) I said, 'hey!', and I didn't say it in a way that says hello. I said it more like, 'Hey! I just figured something out!' He gave me a big friendly smile, the same one I loved to see on TV when a was a little girl. So, I guess it's not just kids that say the darnest things.
Now I'm going to take a second to give my opinion on Disneyland. I have been there at five times in my life and I think I'm done. If you have children, I can understand how you could enjoy it. But, as an adult, I have to say that I tend to agree with Mädi's comments. Fifty bucks is a lot of money to pay when you have to fight crowds on the walk ways and the rides have unbelievably long lines. The ones with bearable waiting times are the old ones. For me, 'It's a Small World' has some value in the respect that it brought back nice memories of riding with my family as a young girl and thoughts of a simpler time. But for someone like Mädi, it's just an archaic, boring ride. This is the comupter-age and so many of us have become accustomed to higher level of technology.
There has to be something that Disney could do to make it more enjoyable. They could sell a cheaper ticket for those who only want to see the park and not ride. Or sell a basic entrance fee and let us pay for the rides we want to ride on. Maybe then the lines wouldn't be so long. My guess is that nothing will ever change. The number of people that pay that fifty bucks every day is a good sign to Disney that most people don't care.
I have to say that Disney has tried something new. It's called Fast track, or something like that. If you come to a ride that has a long waiting line, you can insert your entrance ticket into a machine that gives you a return time. During that thirty minute window of time, you can come and go directly to the head of the line. To us, that sounded like a great idea. We wanted to ride on Splash Mountain and the wait was about one and a half hours. We looked at the info for the fast track. It said that if you chose fast track and stamped your ticket, the return time was between 11:35 and 12:00. At the time that we were reading it, it was 4:20 in the afternoon. We made the mistake of thinking that they hadn't updated the sign with the times. We stamped our tickets. The time given was 11:35-12:00PM. Huh? Over seven hours wait? And we can come back at the end of the day when the park is closing and no one will even be on the rides? I don't think so. To make matters worse, our little stamp told us that we had to wait another two hours before we could use our fast track option on any other rides. I tried to talk to one of the workers, he just pointed up to the same time sign that we had seen. I tried to explain that it didn't even say AM or PM. He just shrugged and turned away. It was a great experience for us. (I know you can't hear it, but I said that sarcastically.)
Let's move on because, thankfully, we were able to.
On our way our of the Los Angeles area, we stopped in Hollywood for nine and a half minutes so that the ladies could say they had been there. Here they are standing in front of Mann's Chinese Theater...
We stayed in the Hollywood area but moved onto Universal Studios. After our Disneyland experience, I was a bit nervous about what Universal would have to offer. We had bought our tickets already because it was cheaper to pay for it when we paid for Sea World in San Diego. It ended up being worth it and we got our fill of rides and studio tours. If you've never been there, and find yourself there in the future, don't miss the Back to the Future ride. Unbelievable. I screamed, I laughed. If we'd had the time, I would have ridden it over and over.
The next day we went to Hearst Castle by San Simeon, California. We took the basic tour and saw the film. Here's a photo of the outdoor pool...
Not only is the castle impressive, but the history of how William R. Hearst managed to have it built was very interesting. I had been there as a young girl, but had forgotten most of it. The ladies also enjoyed it.
After leaving Heart Castle, we drove to Montery and had dinner. We continued our drive up scenic Pacific Coast Highway to Watsonville where we had a quiet evening of playing Jass.
My computer has just informed me that I'm out of battery power. I'll have to finish catching up tomorrow.
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