A Travellerspoint blog

May 2010

Leaving (or trying to) Las Vegas

Here I am sitting writing the latest episode of my blog, at McLaren Airport in Las Vegas (not quite gambling capital of the world – Macau in the Philippines lays claim to that title). I`m sure the margaritas there are not up to those here in "Sin City" though... and they don`t have The Strip either do they (well not the kind you can cruise down in a limo anyway - more of that later).

I`ve been here to celebrate the 50th birthday of one of my best mates, Karen, who is visiting me in San Francisco with another good friend, Ronelle. Arriving on Saturday after an hour`s flight from San Fran, there was no confusing where we`d landed - we found ourselves sitting opposite our first huge bank of slot machines, in the arrivals lounge - waiting for Karen`s old school friend, Wendy, who was flying in from Calgary (Yay! here come the (old) girls!).

Watching the huge advertising screens, we quickly worked out that this was where all those pop “stars” of the 70s and 80s wound up! Matt Goss (remember Bros? “When Will I Be Famous?" No? – well apparently he is the “leader of the New Rat Pack” , known to his fans -or should that be “fan” - across the world as “The Voice”) – and there was I thinking he was a washed up, one-hit wonder ... Cue upcoming gigs by those monsters of 80s power ballads: Styx and REO Speedwagon, Queensryche, Foreigner and Pat Benetar, along with Herman`s Hermits with Peter Noone, Don McLean, ZZ Top, Huey Lewis, Blondie and the B52s, Level 42, Cyndi Lauper, Jerry Lee Lewis (blimey, thought those great balls had been extinguished years ago!), to name but a few. There`s a future for all those X Factor and Britain`s got Talent finalists after all – although not quite sure if Las Vegas is quite ready yet for a be-sequinned Susan Boyle. Liberace would be turning in his grave.

The taxi ride from the airport proved a moving experience in more ways than one. Chatting to the driver, I established that he was Cambodian, and explaining that I had visited his country last year, he divulged his fascinating and tragic life story. He was around my age, and had lived through and survived the Killing Fields era in the 70`s. Having lost his entire family to the Khmer Rouge`s brutal regime, through starvation or murder, he managed to flee to Thailand by foot (avoiding the major roads for fear of capture), it must have taken months. He lived off whatever he could scavenge – even eating the huge centipedes found in the jungle. Once across the Thai border, he spent months in refugee camps where he witnessed appalling treatment by the Thais – torture and rape were commonplace. At least his story had a happy ending - he sought asylum in the States and has lived here since – educating himself and learning English. Listening to this story, while riding in his cab through the hedonistic capital of the US, felt very strange and humbling. Nonetheless, what a great tribute to a very brave man and a country which certainly has it`s faults, but which took him in and gave him his life and freedom. He got a big tip.

Settled into our corner suite at the Trump Hotel, we hit the town and so begun a great weekend of good fun, good friends, good food and good frozen margaritas. As they say “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”, but highlights were... strutting our funky stuff at the 80`s disco at Caesars Palace, watching Karen`s face when the limo turned up to pick us up for a champagne-fuelled trip along The Strip, the very hot waiter in the Indian, the amazing Bellagio Fountains, and last night`s drunken but hilarious attempts to catch a moth that was terrorising Ronelle in the bedroom.

And in case you were wondering, I only put $1 in the slots, and won nothing, so I won`t be completing my trip in First Class. I`m glad I didn`t bet on the estimated departure time of this plane though – it`s already been delayed 2 hours and counting . Ah well, back soon to (not so) sunny San Francisco....

Next episode: The Prodigal arrives for a visit....

Las Vegas Sign

Las Vegas Sign


The Venetian

The Venetian


The Bellagio Fountains

The Bellagio Fountains


The Bellagio Fountains (at night!)

The Bellagio Fountains (at night!)


Flat on my back by the pool!

Flat on my back by the pool!


Well gone here...as if you couldn`t tell...

Well gone here...as if you couldn`t tell...


Planet Hollywood

Planet Hollywood


The Four Queens

The Four Queens


Birthday Girl

Birthday Girl


Caesars Divas

Caesars Divas


Karen`s Limo

Karen`s Limo

Posted by kathystravels 16:00 Archived in USA Comments (0)

San Fran Pt 2 - Settling In

Almost at the end of my first month here. I do feel like I`ve been here months rather than weeks. I catch glimpses of myself as I walk past shop windows and keep trying to work out if I look like a local or a tourist. People keep asking me for directions or where the nearest Bank of America is, so I guess I`m beginning to blend in! Can`t bring myself to start walking along the road talking to myself though, which would really complete the transformation. Maybe I should get myself a supermarket trolley??

I`ve started the intense physical training required for the rest of my round the world trip – I was persuaded to go to Pilates AND kickboxing in the same week. So I can now defend myself if I get mugged, as well as keeping my body in perfect alignment. My body is now defending itself from me and is refusing to do anymore exercise for at least 2 weeks.

The Spanish lessons are going "muy bueno". Our teacher is a very cute Spanish guy called (I kid you not) “Nacho”. Yes, cheesy jokes on a postcard.... I try to do some homework in my lunch breaks at the very pretty Yerba Buena Gardens across the road from the office. It`s kind of nice to have such a lovely environment where you can sit and have your lunch and watch the world go by, in the midst of an urban landscape. I`ve been very fortunate with the weather – although it`s much cooler than I imagined it would be, it seems to be the reverse of London, in that we get the best weather at the weekends.

I`ve gotten into the habit of going out for very long walks each weekend. This way, I`ve explored some really interesting neighbourhoods and parts of the city that I might otherwise have missed. My first foray led me to Ocean Beach, a very large expanse of coast where the locals congregate to play beach games (well I think that`s what they were doing), barbecue, play music, fly kites (it`s very breezy). Sunbathing was definitely out of the question the day I visited! The next beach up the coast is Baker Beach, which apparently is a nudist beach. You`d have to be a very serious exhibitionist to take anything off in this weather. Unfortunately there does seem to be a quite a lot of those here...

Out of the breeze, the sunshine is glorious, and I`ve spent a couple very pleasant Saturday afternoons discovering Golden Gate Park, the largest man made park in the world. Haven`t made it around the Botonical Gardens or the Japanese Tea Gardens yet, but the Aids Memorial Grove is stunning (you really wouldn`t believe that you were in the middle of one of America`s major cities) and it really is a very peaceful and moving memorial.

My next outing was through the Haight (the neighbourhood which was the centre of the Hippy movement in the 60`s). It`s quirky shops and cafes (including what must be one of the biggest and coolest record shops in the world – Amoeba Records), along with the incredible graffiti which decorates the sides of the colourful Victorian houses and the parking lots give it so much character. Not to mention the real “characters” you come across on every street corner, selling everything from dodgy cigarettes to dodgy poems!

My third weekend was spent walking the length of the Embarcadero, the promenade that lines the harbour from The Ferry Building to Fisherman`s Wharf. Full of shops, restaurants and history, as well as the obligatory “crazies” including a guy dressed from head to toe in silver, cruising along in on his silver dream machine (see photo) playing Motown at full blast, and another who seemed intent on entertaining himself, by jumping out from behind his home made “bush” and scaring the tourists.

This weekend`s trip was a guided walking tour of the Castro , the centre of San Fran`s Gay District. Having recently seen the brilliant movie “Milk” starring Sean Penn, about the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in the US, it brought the area where he lived and worked to life. Apart from being an interesting and lively part of the city with a fascinating history, it houses a huge selection of stunning, Victorian and Edwardian houses, all painted in a rainbow of colours. It looked as though they had worked their way through the entire Dulux colour chart in one neighbourhood.

Other highlights of the last few weeks (there have been so many!) include finally going to see Vampire Weekend (one of my fav bands) play at the Fox Theatre in Oakland. What an amazing theatre – it`s beautifully restored 1930`s decor put me in mind of the old Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park – lavish frescos and lots of gold paint. VW were brilliant and exceeded my expectations. Hopefully, going to fit in another visit before I leave, to see Goldfrapp.

Last Friday `s obligatory visit to the stunning AT & T Park to see the San Francisco Giants play baseball was an interesting experience. Let me put it this way, the actual game was overshadowed firstly by the views – I`ve never been to a stadium with such an amazing outlook. 2 sides of the park overlook San Francisco Bay, and the sight of the boats, the bridge and the lights of Oakland and Berkeley as the sun went down was more memorable than the 9 blokes playing rounders could ever aspire to. And then when a fight broke out in the stand behind us, well it brought back warm memories of the North Bank, Upton Park...

Next on my list of must do`s include finding a decent Indian Restaurant (the one I found by Golden Gate Park run bizarrely by a guy from San Salvador was friendly but not overly authentic – masala burritos anyone??). I`ve also taken it upon myself to arrange site visits of all the top hotels in San Fran while I`m here (for research purposes of course). Looking forward to impending visits from my mates Karen and Ronelle, my number one son, and a trip to Vegas... watch this space.

Observations (and a really bad poem): “San Francisco, San Francisco – the city on the Bay Life is good, drinks are cheap, all the good looking men are gay....”

What I miss most about home Part 1: Shops: Marks and Spencer`s for sandwiches and knickers, Boots for cheap make up and drugs (obviously haven`t found the right dealer yet), Millets (you just can`t find a mosquito net or a sleeping bag liner in San Fran when you need one), Tesco Metro for everyday provisions and Clubcard points. At least there`s H & M (not to be confused with S & M, although this season`s rubber wear is quite stylish).

This is a place with one of the highest populations of homeless and hungry, yet has hardly any supermarkets but, go figure.....an art supply shop on almost every block??? If you`re going to live on the street and starve, why not do it through the medium of watercolour? Hmm.

And finally, an observation from your Fashion Correspondent: Talking of bums hanging out everywhere....what is it with this low slung baggy jean look here? One of the worse fashions ever, and so 2008. San Fran homies....get some skinny jeans, for heaven`s sake!

Yerba Buena Gardens

Yerba Buena Gardens


Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park


Funk Moped

Funk Moped


Vampire Weekend Oakland

Vampire Weekend Oakland


Giants Stadium

Giants Stadium


Tash, Steve and Me

Tash, Steve and Me


Tash Gets invited out clubbing

Tash Gets invited out clubbing


Harvey Milk Plaza, Castro

Harvey Milk Plaza, Castro


Views from the Castro

Views from the Castro


Haight

Haight


Sonoma Vineyard

Sonoma Vineyard


Ocean Beach

Ocean Beach


Streetcar Named D-Line

Streetcar Named D-Line


Fit Rollerblader

Fit Rollerblader


Golden Gate Bridge from the Presidio

Golden Gate Bridge from the Presidio

Posted by kathystravels 16:00 Archived in USA Comments (0)