Aug 14

California Highlights Part 7 – Los Angeles

This morning we had breakfast at the hotel and headed to LA. It was about a 2 hour drive to LA and then we got the option of doing a walking tour of LA (we were trying it out and if it was good Contiki might add it to the list of optionals). It was was, good info. I had been to LA and the Hollywood Walk of Fame area before, but I did learn a bunch of new stuff. We saw the theaters and the Hollywood Sign then it was back on the bus and off to Venice Beach.

At Venice Beach we saw a glass walker and I got to help with his show. Let me tell you, the plastic lobster freaked me out for some reason, almost as bad as the guy walking on the glass. Venice was interesting, muscle beach and rollerblading guy with the guitar. But we had a nice lunch.

After Venice Beach we dropped a couple people off at LAX since this was the end of the tour. The rest of us headed down to our hotel in Anaheim. We all settled in to our rooms and went to dinner then the hotel bar for drinks. We had a lot of fun together for our last night, it was sad saying our last goodbyes and reminiscing about the trip.

The next morning I was up early and off to the airport to fly home…

Aug 14

Update on fall travel

I’ve been meaning to post this, but my job has been very demanding of my time lately, hopefully next week will be better. But here is an update on my fall travel.

I have all my hotels booked, I even have two booked in Knoxville. I’m debating staying at the downtown Holiday Inn or an independent downtown hotel – the hotel St. Oliver. While it’s budget, it seems quirky and to have personality. It’s also cheaper, and in a good location (I think). I haven’t made the decision officially, but I have some time. I am leaning toward the St. Oliver.

I’ve also got a car rental secured, unfortunately it’s much more expensive then I thought. I’m playing around on priceline though trying to find something cheaper, but I doubt I’ll save much money, but I’ll keep trying.

Aug 12

California Highlights Part 6 San Fran to Santa Barbara

This morning we boarded the bus and headed down to Santa Barbara. We arrived in Santa Barbara in the early afternoon and walked around Sterns Warf and some of the stores on State Street. I wasn’t overly impressed with Santa Barbara, not much there and kinda expensive.

After Sterns Warf we went to the hotel, which was very nice and a bunch of us went in the hot tub to chill out for a bit. We had dinner at the hotel and then we headed out to some bar in Santa Barbara where we played pool, danced and generally had a good time. The bar closed at 2am so at 1:30 they had last call and at 1:45 told everyone to get the fuck out, it was great! We call cabs to get back to the hotel and hung out in someone’s room for a while talking. We had found out earlier that 2 people on our tour were actually Tour Managers in Europe with Contiki so I got a couple tips from them for future trips.

Aug 10

California Highlights Part 5 – More San Fran

The first thing we had to do this morning was say goodbye to the those who had done the LA to the Bay tour, this was the end of their tour. Then we were off to breakfast (the best breakfast of the tour) at Pier 39 and then take the 9am ferry to Alcatraz. After breakfast we had some time to goof off and take some silly picture.

At Alcatraz we did one of those tours where you rent the headphones and it tells you stuff, I found this whole thing exciting since I was interested in prisons when I was in college. This was a highlight of my trip. We also went on part of a live tour of the underground that the Military had used before it was a Federal Prison.

After Alcatraz we went over to the Ghirardelli factory shopping center thing, which was very nice. After that I was starving so my group broke off and I went off with the kookie guy from Vegas for lunch. We ended up at some quaint little restaurant where the guy working their thought we were a couple, then thought we were with a church group, then that we were gay. It was an interesting lunch. Then we headed up to Lombard Street where we ran into other people from the tour, it’s amazing how small a city becomes when you’re on a tour. At this point I went back to sightseeing with my regular group and we headed off to Chinatown on the cable cars. It was a nice ride through the city. After Chinatown we saw some other stuff, Coit Tower, Washington Church (I think that’s the name), and the Trans American Pyramid.

After touring the city we went back to the hotel to chill a bit then went to dinner with a bunch of people, after wandering a bit we finally found a place to eat. After dinner some went in the hotel hot tub and there was a room party where I heard some guy in the hotel had been arrested while someone on the tour was on the phone with his mother in Australia. Good times had by all!

Aug 07

California Highlights Part 4 – San Fran

We were up early for breakfast and the drive to San Francisco. All I really remember about the drive to San Fran was watching The Rock in honor of our visit to San Fran. Once in town we were dropped off at Pier 39 to get lunch and walk around a bit. Finding something for lunch was tough since I’m not much of a fish eater, I eventually broke down and had some fried shrimps. We also did some shopping and I bought an awesome shirt to wear to dinner that night.

After we were picked up from Pier 39 we were taken on a city tour. We went to our hotel then and were given some time to chill out before going to the optional dinner in Chinatown. I went out with a couple people around San Fran in our free time, we saw their City Hall which was a nice building. Then we went back and got ready for dinner. On the way to dinner we took a cable car into Chinatown. The dinner was ok, I distinctly remember someone at my table insulting the staff by refusing the soup, apparently that’s not appropriate. It turned into an amusing cultural exchange.

After dinner we all went to a bar not too far from Chinatown. After that I went home in a cab with a couple people and the rest went to a club.

Aug 05

California Highlights Part 3 – Yosemite

After breakfast we were off to beautiful Yosemite National Park for some hiking. Hiking? I thought this was a vacation? A couple of us decided to do the Upper Yosemite Fall Trail hike to Columbia Rock, but ended up going almost to the top of Upper Yosemite Fall…

As we got close to the top A.J. (my roommate) and I decided to head back down as it was getting late and we were getting tired. We ran into Bon (our very cool driver) on the way down and finished hiking down with her. By the time we got down we only had time for a quick snack, which sucked since we were hungry. We we got back to the Chalets a couple people did laundry and a couple of us headed to the hot tub, it was the only water sports we could do since it was winter, but it was nice to relax.

Tonight we had to make our own dinners, which meant going to the grocery store to get something to make in the kitchen, unless you wanted to spend a lot of money at the restaurant in the chalet village. We bought some microwave type stuff and ate in the Chalet.

After dinner we went to a room party at one of the Chalets.

Aug 03

California Highlights part 2

I was up around 6am to get ready and get to the Hotel where the tour would leave. When I arrived I found out I was early. I had to wait a bit to meet the Tour Manager, Dan, who sent me with coupons to get some breakfast. After breakfast I got on the bus and met Ty, who was still drunk from the night before and a couple other people. Apparently a bunch of people had stayed out all night, so I knew this was going to be a good tour!

Las Vegas was the end of the tour for those doing Western Highlights, and the beginning for those of us doing the California Highlights. In honor of us everyone had to do introductions then Dan played the day song – Around the World by Red Hot Chili Peppers. While we were on our way to Yosemite I got to see the worlds largest thermometer and windmills designed to generate electricity, which I think look kinda cool. After 2 or so hours of driving we had our first stop at an outlet center, I did some shopping (bought some sandals) and had lunch at In N Out Burger, a good opportunity to get to know people on the tour.

After that we were back on the bus and on the way to Yosemite. Our hotel for the next two nights would be Chalets on Bass Lake. The Chalets were cool, each had a kitchen and living room on the main floor, an upstairs loft and downstairs was a bedroom with two beds and a bathroom. The only drawback was that there was 4 to a Chalet so you had to juggle 4 people into the bathroom in the morning to get ready.

When we got in we had dinner at the hotel, another opportunity to get to know people. After dinner we hit the bar for drinks.

Jul 31

Going back in time – California Highlights

I currently have a website that I had posted travelblogs about my past contiki trips. This winter I have to renew the domain name and extend my service for the webspace. For a variety or reasons I don’t think I’m going to do that. However, there is tons of information that I spent a LOT of time on in the past writing up. I’ve decided that I’m going to add those blogs here as a place to store them for posterity and enjoyment. I’m going to start with my California Highlights trip – Las Vegas, Yosemite, San Fran, Santa Barbara and LA. This is the shortest travelogue with the least depth, but my notes from the trip were lacking so it was the best I could do when I was writing it 3 years later.

So here will be my first post from the that trip….

Prior to my tour I had a day in Vegas, this was pretty cool since it was my first time in Vegas. Too bad I was alone. I flew in around 10am and quickly made my way to the MGM Grand. I had decided to stay at a big Vegas casino since it was my first time there. The MGM Grand was very nice and HUGE. After checking in I explored the MGM Grand, figured out that the hotel where the tour left from was too far to walk, and headed to see Mandalay Bay, Luxor, Excalibur, and New York New York. Mandalay Bay was nice, but I ended up walking forever to NOT see the beach or go in the shark reef, then had to walk back. I thought Luxor and New York New York were great themes. I took the roller coaster at New York New York, it was around $15 and only worth it since I wouldn’t have to do it again, ever. I’ve been on much better roller coasters. I had trouble getting out of Excalibur, which was annoying.

After that I took a nap since I had a cold and I had been up early in the morning. When I got up I trekked up the other end of the strip. I stopped in Bellagio, very nice! I stopped to watch the water show, which was neat. Then I took the tram between Mirage and TI (Treasure Island). Then I had dinner at TI and watched the pirate show which was entertaining. After that I headed back to the MGM Grand, finally getting to see the Volcano at Mirage. My last stop was a slot machine at the MGM Grand where I made $20! I was in bed around midnight.

Jul 30

The London Eye

When I was in London I decided I wanted to ride the London Eye. Most of the reason I wanted to ride was that I had heard so much about it that I simply got curious, I do love a good view of a city though.

When I had booked my return plane ticket from London I choose to fly in the evening so that I would have some time during the day to continue exploring the city. But during my trip I had made some plans to go to the airport with a Contiki tour mate, but we were going to go after checkout time and end up stuck at Heathrow for hours. I got some inspiration from some other tour mates and reverted to my original plan and decide to do the London Eye. The London Eye is pretty darn big and moves pretty darn slow, but gives a fantastic view of the city.

I’m not going to really recommend the Eye though. It’s overpriced ($25-$30 then, 17 pounds now), yea it’s cool and I’m sure it’s expensive to run, but it was too much money for an overhead view of the city. I was lonely, you’re stuck in the pod for the half hour that it takes to go around and since I was alone it was lonely and boring – too much time around strangers and without friends. Finally, the wait, even with an appointment time the wait was too long, a half hour wait on line then half hour to go around. It was just too much money and took too long for what you ultimately got – a view of the city.

Jul 29

Booked my flight

I’ve booked my flights to Knoxville and Pittsburgh! Well that’s one less thing to worry about. Now I’m working on hotel rooms and rental cars. any suggestions?

For my first night since I’m getting in around 9:30-10:00 I’m going to stay at a hotel airport so that I can save a day of the rental car and the drama of trying to find my hotel in the dark. I’ll probably stay a night in Pigeon Forge near Dollywood and the Zorb place, then my last 2 nights I didn’t figure out yet. I’m considering staying downtown, but the hotel prices are a little higher then I really want to spend. I would rather spend money on fun activities then on a hotel.