Western United States - August 2003

Washington DC - Las Vegas - Seattle - Pacific Highway 101 - San Francisco

(This page is still under construction)

Top Tip #1 - If you ever get offered it, volunteer to get "bumped" onto a later flight (especially with Virgin Atlantic.)  We did this coming home from New York with some friends in 2002 and Virgin gave us free return tickets to anywhere they fly direct to around the world within 18 months issue.  Hmmm - should we go to Johannesburg...or Tokyo...or Beijing...?  Somehow Las Vegas beckoned and when we found out we could fly out and back from different airports at no extra cost, we tagged a couple of other places on to the holiday as well.

We had a joyous arrival at Washington - 1 1/2 hours queuing to get through customs as Dulles computer systems had crashed.  No refreshments, no mobile phones allowed (so no phoning Rory's brother to tell him what was going on) and no announcements from the airport administration.  At least the Americans were having to queue as well, sop we didn't suffer alone.  We have yet to arrive and DC without some hold-up somewhere before we can leave the airport. This was a one-nighter to stop and see Rory's new nephew - the very cute Jason, and the chance for me to get mauled by mosquitoes, before we were put on an early plane to Las Vegas via Phoenix. The flight across the USA was about 4 hours, and very interesting.  America is big.  Very big.  Most of it seems to be fields, very long straight roads, and funny crop circle things.

Phoenix looks very nice - basically a big flat plain surrounded by mountains.  I can now tell what a city of about 3 million people looks like as you fly over the whole thing as you come in to land. We had a quick stop there and then on to another plane to Las Vegas

Funny American crop circle things.


Viva Las Vegas

Las Vegas is a law unto itself.  It hits you as you come into land at McCarran Airport - a line of buildings that look totally out of place with each other.  A pyramid built next to a fantasy castle, next to a scaled down replica of the New York City skyline.  Further down the road are a half scale Eiffel Tower, a set of Venetian canals complete with singing gondoliers, and a full-on circus tent complete with performers.



Cathers' Top Vegas Tips:

1. Carry a roll of $1 bills around.  They're really handy for tipping.

2.Las Vegas is v.v. hot in summer - so use the covered walkways and monorails between hotels where you can. Everywhere is air-conditioned.

3. If your gambling, drinks are free - a waitress comes round every so often. We found the way to get the most free drinks most often is to sit at the bar and play one of the 25c poker machines embedded into the bar.  Look like you're concentrating (i.e. take a long time to get through your $10) and in the meantime drink your way through $25 of cocktails!

4. There is a HUGE amount to do that does not involve gambling. www.lasvegas.com and www.vegas.com will both give you loads of ideas for things to do. 

5. If you do want to gamble but don't want to spend a fortune, we spent most of time time on 5c (3p) machines.

6. You can wander in and out of all of the hotels & casinos.  They are all themed, all incredibly different, and all have lots of things to do. e.g. our hotel, the Luxor, had 2 IMAX cinemas, a spa, a Tutankhamen exhibition, an amusement arcade, about 10 restaurants, 2 shows, 4 swimming pools and a night club.  That's just 1 hotel. About the only thing you can't do is use the pools at the other hotels.

7. It's well worth booking a trip to the Grand Canyon or Hoover Dam.  It is also much cheaper to do it before you go.  We booked our trip with Look Tours - we were pleased with the service. There are a number of companies offering similar trips as well.


The Grand Caynon is REALLY big...

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I cannot begin to say how much this photo does not do the Grand Canyon any sort of justice. No video camera, digital camera with panoramic setting, or any other camera (even an IMAX presentation) has the same effect as seeing it with your own eyes.


Sleepy in Seattle

And so we arrived, after a another 2 hour flight, in Seattle, home of the Mariners' Baseball team, Grunge, the Space Needle, Microsoft, "Coffee"TM and Frasier. It's a bit of an odd place.

We went for a walk on our first night to find the most homeless people I've ever seen in one place, hanging out on street corners in the middle of town. I was really suprised as it felt much more obvious than the number of homeless people you might see in London or New York. I'm sure the people weren't dangerous, but it was a bit unexpected.

The Space Needle is very tall and does look a bit like someone's spinning a UFO on the top of a very long pole. It has an excellent view from the top, on a good day (if it's not raining) you can see Mount Ranier.

Driving the Pacific Highway 101 - 1200 miles in 3 days!


This was our route along Pacific Highway 101.  You can click on it for a bigger view.

Our first stop was Mount St. Helens.


Crater Lake

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