A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Johnash

The planning is almost as good as the going... no it's not!

Many backroads lead to nowhere in particular

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Yes, we're off to the USA again in May. We hope you'll be able to follow us when we depart Bag End in about 3 weeks time. All thanks to our volunteer house/cat-sitters, Brenda and Jean & Dave. Thank you so much, guys!

This trip has no particular theme but includes three big roadtrips. These journeys are about what we really like doing. Choosing a road and travelling it. It's not the getting there, it's the going. Just drive!

(If you don't know this track, please play it. It's the inspiration for this trip. To view in a separate window, press the "PLAY" symbol in the middle of the box, then click on the YouTube logo, bottom right of the window. Or just Play it while you read on further. There's more music to accompany this Blog at the bottom of this page to get in the mood).

We always have a "landmark city" on our itinerary and this time it's Los Angeles. Looking forward to the old MGM (now Sony) studios there.

Then it's a drive across Southern California to Las Vegas (hooray)....

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View this route on GoogleMaps

and then, off the beaten track, following old bits of Route 66 into Arizona and on to Flagstaff,

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View route on GoogleMaps

then, through some beautiful country round Sedona, finishing at Phoenix.

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View this route on GoogleMaps

After a short flight to Kansas City, we drive on a collection of empty Kansas roads through nothing in particular but following the route of the "Pikes Peakers": gold prospectors leaving the Midwest to find a fortune in the Colorado Mountains. On the way we call into Marshall Dillon's home town of Dodge City. Eventually we end up in Denver Colorado via a railroad trip up Royal Gorge, the place where Doc Holliday met his maker and then Buffalo Bill's grave. This route was inspired by an article in True West Magazine.

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View this route on GoogleMaps

Finally, after another short hop, from Denver to El Paso, it's a drive through West Texas, along the Mexican Border and the Rio Grande, through the little visited Big Bend National Park, ending this trip in Fort Worth. Yahoo!

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View this route on GoogleMaps

We hope you will join us on this exciting journey.

Your comments are always welcome, nay, vital when the incentive to type this blog is not always there! Thanks in advance.

Gee pardners, we can't wait!

Posted by Johnash 03:53 Archived in Spain Tagged planning_trip Comments (31)

Barajas Airport

Where are the planes?

sunny 31 °C

We’re on the train having enjoyed an excellent hot breakfast served at our “Preferente” seat by a bevy of RENFE staff and all included in our fare, (discounted 40% thanks to our “Tarjetas Dorada” or Old Codgers’ cards). Shades of good old British Railways 1st Class restaurant car, but with Hispanic style. Scrambled eggs with mushrooms, butifarra sausage and a fresh tomato sauce with some lovely fresh bread rolls, croissant, a choice of butter & jam or virgin oil & tomates, fresh juice and coffee. Absolutely delicious.

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Before the stately arrival of our train, Murcia station was bustling with excited passengers travelling to Madrid or, on the other platform, to Valencia, Barcelona & Montpellier in France, mixed with bored commuters from Alicante, Cartagena and Lorca. The obligatory pair of nuns was waiting impatiently for the Madrid train, inexplicably attended to by a couple of dishy young men managing their vast amounts of luggage.

Our perfect train journey was marred somewhat by the arrival in the seat in front of a young man who boarded at Cieza. Shaven and tattooed head and T Shirt bearing the word “Vengeance” or similar did not bode well. Fears were confirmed when his mobile phone started twanging and clanking every 22.5 seconds, whether he was using it or not, all the way to Madrid. Why do these annoying people always have to sit in front of US?

John plugged his headphones into his laptop but, at last, the most annoying mobile phone in the world stopped emitting noises. Maybe we are out of range?

Now in Hilton, Madrid Airport. A top notch hotel at an affordable price, with a AAA discount code, thanks to our membership of the Royal Automovil Club de España. Plus, Bob’s Hilton gold card brings us a room upgrade to “Executive Floor” with free snacks, drinks etc etc in the young executives’ lounge, plus free internet plus free breakfast in the restaurant. All for the cost of a nice, pleading Email to Hilton HQ!

We’ve now been travelling to the US since 1981 and so we are beginning to get the hang of all the wrangles and wrinkles available for those cheeky enough to ask for them. I’m guessing that the freebies for this one night’s stay is worth in excess of 50€.

We were not going to pay Hilton prices for dinner, however. So nice young Tomas on Reception drew us a map to show where we could find some local cafeterias for a Menu del Dia. The map took us in to Madrid suburbia and a subway station but no sign of a café. A local, after some skilled questioning, revealed we were actually standing right outside one, though it was hidden in amongst some suburban trees.

At 4pm we were still not too late for the lunchtime menu. For 10€ we got 3 courses, bread, drink and coffee. I had spinach with prawns and Bob an enormous tuna salad for starters
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and then hake “ventricles” or fish fingers, freshly made for John, Bob taking the pork chop for main course. An ice cream and a custard (natillas) rounded off an excellent meal. Chips nearly as good as our favourites in Mazarron.

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It was a hot walk back but worth the effort.

Our ultra modern room is best illustrated by the fact there is a glass basin in the divine bathroom. Sliding glass doors abound and Arthur will not stop playing with them, though there is little chance he will spend long behind the shower one.

A splendid hotel which gets excellent reviews at TripAdvisor.

Miami tomorrow!

Oh yes: no planes? We are only a couple of hundred metres from Barajas airport and it suddenly struck us we had not seen or heard any evidence of any aircraft whatsoever. We thought that maybe a sudden general strike had been called. But no, a glimpse from our window and we just caught a BA jet coming in to land. Phew!

Posted by Johnash 11:11 Archived in Spain Comments (19)

Salt On Your Cereal?

More time in the lounge than expected. A letter from Miami.

Velazquez Lounge, Terminal 4S, Barajas Airport, MADRID
08.34 Tuesday 15 May 2012

Selection of teas, coffees and stuff in our room. Best ever, "but no biscuits", says Arthur, rather predictably.
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We’ve cursed and sworn at Barajas airport before but we’ve always been in transit. Arriving in a comfortable hotel courtesy bus, checking in almost immediately (“AAPriority”) then through VIB (Very Important ArthurBear) security – where a poor, distraught Spanish couple who were clearly late for their flight were turned back to the non-VIP area, a bit unkind – and on to the shuttle train was all actually very pleasant. Not a word often used in relation to big airports.

Past some very expensive-looking shops and straight into the Iberia International Lounge which is all but empty and very nice indeed. Very large, very comfortable and loads to eat and drink. Bob is celebrating with a mini bottle of Champers.

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And exception to Bob's rule. There may be one more once we get onboard..

We are told our 11 o’clock American Airlines flight to Miami will be about 40 minutes late. It has had to stop in Portugal to let off a passenger who wanted to go to the beach, or some such story. Not a problem, as dear Maurice would say. Not in this luxury anyway. And as we have no connection to make until tomorrow morning, it is difficult for Bob to find a thing to worry about.

Before all this, back at the hotel, we were down for breakfast early, of course (Arthur likes his buffet breakfasts). One of the best breakfast selections we’ve ever seen. Could not be faulted. We looked on as a poor Latino couple searched frantically for a bag. It emerged they’d left it in the restaurant and when they came back for it, it had gone. It was obviously important, probably containing their passports and tickets etc. The police were arriving as we left in the courtesy bus, clutching our bags like they were about to be snatched from us!

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Only a small part of the breakfast selection at hotel.

Actually, there was one other problem at breakfast. On our table was a large sugar-type shaker. Bob had cereal and, before putting sugar on it, I amusingly said, “sure that’s not salt?” Bob took another look, having put some in his coffee before shaking it all over his fruit ‘n cereals. It was salt!

To summarise (this sounds like a history essay) we will be coming this way again, HP willing. Heathrow is now off our list. Update:- Flight now delayed 2 hours. Certainly "not a problem".

More of the Velazquez Lounge (operated by Iberia).
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We prepared this in Miami but due to Internet problems, it never got published. John started doing another page and then realised he'd already done this. More to follow soon. Thanks for the comments! Great stuff.

Posted by Johnash 17:42 Archived in Spain Comments (5)

Madrid to Santa Monica Pier

A Gastronomic Treat, or two

sunny 21 °C

It seems like several thousand miles ago since we were in Madrid. Hang on it was.

So here was Bob in the Iberia lounge in the Satellite terminal of Madrid airport. And we had more than 2 hours more in that lounge, down to the delay of the incoming flight which was diverted to the Azores when a passenger was taken ill. We got off about 2.5 hours late.

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But the excellent crew on our American Airlines 767 made up for it with really excellent service and food.

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John had the beef...
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and Bob had the chicken...
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On these smaller planes, they hand out Samsung tablet PCs along with the usual Bose noise-cancelling headphones to access the entertainment system. Not allowed to keep them though.
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During the afternoon, we were forced to eat a pizza each.
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Despite the threat of tropical storms, these were further up the coast and we had a clear view of Miami beach.
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When we made our reservations, there was an offer to try a new service offered by the airline. Called 5 Star service, you're met off the plane by an airline rep who puts you on a cart, where a nice young Hispanic is waiting to....
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... drive you to Immigration. There the rep whisks you through the shortest queue then on to baggage claim, through customs and out to your hotel courtesy bus. For Miami, which is renowned for being chaotic, this was a dream (come true). The driver was not allowed to go all the way.... but he went as far as he dare (yep, we had to walk a little).

We had a bit of a wait for the bus, but, pretty soon, we were settling in to a nice room at our Miami airport hotel.
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Next morning, when the 5 star service continued, our driver was a different shape, size.... and gender
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but very helpful, nevertheless.

Onboard the 777 to Los Angeles, there was breakfast to come
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John's skillet
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and Bob's cereal
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Very good!

It was cloudy as we went up the Gulf coast but cleared in time for a great view of the Grand Canyon.
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No hassle picking up our rental car, a big red Nissan Pathfinder. At the gate, the attendant was very happy to take my International Drivers Permit. (Those in the know about John losing his Driving Licence will wish to note). Pulling out into the swirling LA traffic was pretty nerve-racking but we soon calmed down and began to enjoy being part of the tide of cars that flows round this massive metropolis.
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Found our hotel in Santa Monica but had to wait an hour or so before our room was ready. It was rather like the previous day, waiting for our flight but this time, no free food and drinks!
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As mentioned, soon after we go into our room, there was a knock at the door and two huge slices of chocolate cake appeared and under them, a small Hispanic waiter. It had leaked out that it was someone's birthday sometime this year!
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It's only a 10 minutes stroll down to the Pacific Ocean and Santa Monica pier, full of America's finest.
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The pier also marks the end of that most famous of all American roads (a section of whcih we will be travelling later in this trip).
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Incidentally, apart from the traffic, it just like being at home, if only because most people both here in LA and even more so in Miami, are speaking Spanish!

More soon, amigos.

Posted by Johnash 20:37 Archived in USA Comments (10)

Ready for my close-up Mr De Mille

The Ghosts of MGM

sunny 22 °C

Friday 18 May. Rm 734, Santa Monica Doubletree Hotel

Yesterday saw one has to be one of the highlights of this trip - a walking tour of Sony Pictures Studios. Just 10 of us on the tour conducted by a short but loud Jewish lady - a big fan of the movies.

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Somehow Sony does not sound as romantic as Paramount or Warner Brothers etc. BUT, when it was formed, Sony bought Columbia Pictures along with Tristar and took the new company to the old MGM studios in Culver City.

Walking the alleys between the sound stages and studios was incredible, thinking of all the famous feet that had walked there before. We saw a sound dubbing studio, the 2nd biggest sound stage in the world, where Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers made their magic and Busby Berkeley made the campest movies ever. We saw the iconic Irving Thalberg building,
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the offices of MGM's young production prodigy, as well as the bungalow Louis B Mayer used as his private dining room.

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We saw the warehouse where the huge backdrops are stored then climbed up 7 flights of stairs to the top to watch the artists painting new backdrops. We mixed with production crew and artists (but did not see any stars we recognized). We stood on the set of the archetypal American quiz show, Jeopardy.

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WOW! Fabulous.

We then got the car out of the massive studio underground car park (no charge and virtually no security!) and did a meandering drive round the houses of the stars in Beverly Hills, turning right and left as we fancied and wondering at the massive houses and the even more massive bad taste. We cruised up Sunset and down Hollywood Blvds. Saw the beautiful people and many more bag ladies and gentlemen. Greater Los Angeles must have many thousands of destitutes on its streets. Many more than we can recall. Guess that's America!

We did see Elton John driving up Sunset in an old BMW. Well I think it was him. Pretty sure, actually.

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Our car, parked in a side street in West Hollywood:-
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No food pictures tonight - just to give your gastric juices a chance to recover. But, as mentioned we got free coconut shrimp (John) and southern fried chicken at Bubba Gumps' on Santa Monica Pier.

Today we had another great day round downtown LA and up Hippy Canyon. Read all about it later!

(For the record, Sunset Boulevard was not made at MGM Studios. Couldn't think of another, appropriate quote!).

Posted by Johnash 20:22 Archived in USA Tagged los_angeles mgm sony_studios columbia_studios Comments (6)

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