Goodbye USA see you in Feb 2018
Having spent quite some time finally getting my blog up to date yesterday, by the time I got to Griffith Park it was 3:30 and I had no real energy to go climbing up the hill for the view, although I did have a bash. In total I did 11638 steps just 5 miles. But I really haven’t done enough walking this week at all. Partly because it’s not a particularly good area to be walking around and partly because I was chauffeured a lot by Elizabeth. Although Disney saw us achieve 6.8 miles in a day. So having decided to return from Griffith Park I thought I would go via MacArthur Park, made famous by Richard Harris a lifetime ago. I had bought a day card on the metro so I hopped off there and took an extremely small walk in the park which was just across the road. There were so many seagulls there, and to be honest the place smelled awful because of it. There were quite a few geese but not many humans. Altogether a complete disappointment so I left and thought I would get the bus back, even managed to work out which side of the road quite easily. It was a two bus journey, but I walked the second half and got a photo of my nearest healthy coffee shop on the way.
I had a quiet evening and was expecting a new guest to turn up at some point in the Air BNB. The landlord had gone away but he has everything set up very easily to let yourself in and info about where everything is readily available. I went to my room about 10 and eventually heard the new lodger moving around in his room. I was trying to settle down to sleep about 12 after I had checked into my flight when he started making a lot of noise coming downstairs twice to the bathroom like an elephant, clearing his throat constantly and then it sounded like he was reorganising the whole room. When I say reorganising it was almost as if furniture was being moved around. It then occurred to me I was sleeping in a strangers house, who wasn’t there, and another stranger was there too and for all I knew he could be an axe murderer. So it was two thirty in the morning before I got to sleep, I can get a bit silly sometimes I know, but when those sorts of thoughts come into your head it’s hard to shift them straight away.
Anyway I am safe and all packed the taxi is coming for me at 7:15 and I fly to Fiji at 11:30. Hopefully!
So just bring the old blog completely up to date, it’s a while since I have managed that. So below are my final photographs from the USA.
A couple more short anecdotes from my time here.
I had to go and change a ticket at the Greyhound Station. I had booked the wrong date for a trip on my next visit in February. Whilst I was there paying $20 for my mistake, a girl came up to the next till and said she had missed her bus what did she need to do. She was told all she had to do was pay $20 to change her ticket. I tried to remain calm having had to pay 150+ for a new ticket when the bus left without stopping for me in St George. So this morning I have written to the President of Greyhound to tell him exactly what I think of his service, which isn’t much. I imagine I won’t even get a response, but they simply cannot have one rule for one and another for another. Anyway I will let you know how I get on.
The other thing I wanted to tell you about was when I was in the garden the other day I spotted three humming birds and I spent the whole afternoon try8ng to photograph or video them. They were so beautiful with the dark green backs and long beaks, but so tiny too, and when they flew past you you heard a hum from them as they whizzed around.
That’s it signing off from the USA. See you in Fiji.
I spent the first day just settling in to my new abode, a lovely house Circa 1880. Small and very much a period property with many original features. There is an outside space too, with table and chairs and a seating area to lounge about in. I knew I was going to have a fair few hectic days ahead so decided not to do much exploration, just take it easy.
Home for the nextb10 days or so.
On Saturday I was meeting with an colleague from my past life, the one were I earned a living instead of swanning around the world. He was travelling through LA on the way back from Tahiti where he had been diving. Chris had promised me dinner and had let me know that we would be going to the rooftop bar of the Beverly Wilshire, dinner at the Ivy and after dinner drinks at the Beverly Hills Hotel. So I looked up rooftop bar and found it on Wilshire Boulevard which was walking distance for me. I though I would go and check it out and that would be my daily exercise, plus I needed to find breakfast.
Looking up the nearest coffee shop took me to a place which served healthy juices and healthy food. The only problem with that was you put your health at risk walking through the door. But I was desperate, so I ventured in got a coffee and a smoothie and left sharpish. I made my way down to Wilshire Boulevard, looking for this hotel with the rooftop pool. At the back of my mind I was worrying that it would be too high up for me to contemplate the thought of even getting into the lift. I read one review which said it has great views and isn’t by any means the highest building in LA. There are some pretty tall buildings Downtown believe me. I eventually reached it and all my worst fears where confirmed. The bar was on floor 73. Trying not to panic, I sent Chris a message saying that I was a little worried as I am not very good with heights. He was very calming, I had already decided that I was going to do this and he promised not to take me near the edge. About an hour later, he messaged me again to say he had got his hotels mixed up somehow, there is another Wilshire hotel on Wilshire Boulevard, which is where we were going. Panic over we were going to the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills and I wasn’t going to have to do 73 floors. It does just go to show though how easy it is to get mixed up with venues using the Internet. I was looking specifically for the roof top bar, so the other hotel didn’t even come up in my search, and somehow he had the same sort of issues.
Now that was finally sorted I got myself dressed up for the occasion and set off in my usual mode of transport, an Uber, and we had a great evening together. Drinks at the Beverly Wilshire was lovely the service was impeccable and on arrival at the Ivy we were given champagne. Dinner at the Ivy was needless to say great and we even had a pudding. We had off and on chats with the couple at our next table sparked by Chris’s choice of wine. They were celebrating their 10th anniversary. Then off to sit on the veranda of the Beverly Hills Hotel for after dinner drinks. Needless to say my head wasn’t at it best the next day, but I am behaving myself for the most part, so one day won’t hurt, will it? Thanks Mr Bruce for a great night out, as you said we certainly painted it red!
On the Sunday I was meeting with Elizabeth. The daughter of my cousin Brenda. Brenda is part of my Auntie Anna’s family. Anna my mother sister left Iceland over 50 years ago to come to the USA. I met Elizabeth for the first time when I visited St Louis earlier this year and we had agreed we must spend some time together when I arrived in California which is where she has been living for the past few years. Our first outing was to visit her apartment in Brea in Orange County followed by dinner and the we had tickets for the Improv Comedy club in Brea to see Jo Koy. A very funny comedian who is Filipino American, and who talks mainly about his relationship with his mother and his son. I have to admit whilst we were queuing up outside I did think that there were a lot of Asians in the queue, but once he started talking it became clear why, they were almost all Filipino. We had VIP tickets because that was all that was left when we booked it, which meant we were on the front row. As the only non Filipino on the front row, Elizabeth was sitting next to me at the table but that meant behind me, he used me a few times to explain certain customs and words. He has a show on Netflix, I would definitely recommend him, I just didn’t stop laughing the whole night. As VIPs we got to have our photograph taken with him, he is certainly the master of the selfie. Evidence below
The next day was Disneyland where there are two themed parks, Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park. It was so hot, 103 degrees and a Monday, so we didn’t think it would be too crowded, but it was still pretty busy and lots of children. I asked why they weren’t at school, apparently the school system is broken and lots of children are home schooled. They even have home school clubs in the park for children. We spent most of our time in the adventure park, and had fun riding in Cars for Cars and playing games in Toy Story amongst other things. Elizabeth did the roller coaster... guess why I didn't go on that then! We went for some dinner and then into the other park for a while. But moved back to the first park to watch the water show.
We had had a good day, talked a lot needless to say about life and everything else, laughed a lot. Then Elizabeth got a call from her mother to say her uncle, my cousin Emil had passed away in his sleep. Such a shock. In his fifties, no age. There was nothing either of us could do, but it was good to be together to get the news. The family was six children, they lost the eldest son Asgeir a few years ago and now Emil, the third child. That leaves Orn, Brenda, Peggy and John. Not unlike my family where we lost two sisters both in their early fifties. It’s hard to bear. Emil was also a comedian and quite famous has been very successful on Cruise ships over the last few years, he is known as The Fryman. I didn’t see him on my trip in Feb, and the last time I saw him he was a teenager. So I was looking forward to meeting him in the second leg of my US tour next Feb, alas not to be. He does have some clips on YouTube if you feel like a laugh.
Rest in Peace Emil Fry
Some photos of Disney which was decorated for Halloween. We didn’t take many photos that day, we were far too busy queuing and talking
The following day was a beach day, we had had two quite late nights so decided that we would go around lunchtime. Elizabeth was taking me to her favourite beach Corona Del Mar. It was peaceful and beautiful. However on the way there Brenda called us again with more sad news. Leroy Westlake, who had been my Aunt’s partner and Elizabeth’s surrogate grandfather had passed away that morning. Two in two days. How does that happen!
Rest in Peace - Leroy Westlake
My thoughts are very much with the Fry family at this very sad time.
The beach was lovely and the houses around it beautiful, there were no bars or shops it was just a beautiful place to be. There were a couple of beach volley ball courts, and there was a smaller one where a woman was teaching how to play the game. I found that really surprising at first, but thinking about it didn’t we have it in the 2012 games. So of course people are learning from professionals.
Wednesday the plan was to go the Farmers Market and the Grove shopping centre before heading to the theatre to see Cagney the Musical, James Cagney and tap dancing. His background had been in Music Hall before he got into the movies.
Despite the fact I keep telling myself I must not buy anything because I haven’t got room in my luggage I will record here the purchases I have made this week.
I got a free t shirt at the Jo Koy gig, VIP gift, so I paid for that as part of my ticket. I think that’s ok because I didn’t know I was going to get that.
I bought a mini mouse t shirt and some new flip flops at Disney. I did throw my old flip flops away! I managed to stop myself buying some Minnie Mouse Ears, even though I really wanted them, God knows why!
At the farmers market I escaped with some hand cream and a couple of cards. Phew.
Oh I better admit here I bought a t shirt at the Grand Canyon as well. That’s three t shirts. I have thrown one away so I am in a plus 2 situation at the moment.
The Cagney musical was in a very old theatre In North Hollywood called the El Portal. It was performed on the Debbie Reynolds stage. The theatre was I have to say very down at heel, it’s always such a shame to see theatres in a poor state of repair. At first I though we were going to be the youngest members of the audience, we had arrived quite early after our one hour journey to do nine miles and were having a drink in the bar so we were people watching for quite a while. Clearly a lot of people knew each otherand we were in the minority I.e under the age of seventy. The show had had a successful run off Broadway, but I don’t think it quite made it onto Broadway itself. It was a great show, told his story really well, amazing tap dancing throughout and singing too. We both thoroughly enjoyed the show as did the whole audience and they got a much deserved standing ovation.
The drive home took a mere 20 minutes. No traffic! And so we parted company until next time, thanks again to you Elizabeth for taking me to some of your favourite places in LA.
The next two days were quiet days for me. Spent sunbathing outside on the deck, doing my chores and just resting. I have to remember I am allowed days where I don’t do much, it is a holiday after all. So I am trying to learn to put the “I am not doing anything and wasting my time“, guilt away.
On Saturday I went out on the sightseeing bus, there are actually four routes in Los Angeles but I primarily wanted to do two, Downtown And Hollywood because I had seen quite a bit of the other areas during my first week. I always find these sightseeing tours are a great way to learn about the city you are in and get some perspective on the city as a whole and how it fits together. A throughly enjoyable day, always fun trying to take photographs from the top of an open top double decker bus. Particularly fun driving on the freeway on such a form of transport. Hair going everywhere, make sure you have all your papers etc in your bag or else they going flying off never to be seen again.
So I saw Chinatown in its full glory, Japan town and Korea town.
I also saw the little square I sat in on my first day full of life again as they were celebrating the day of the dead.
The skyscrapers seen from different parts of the city are amazing as long as you don’t have to go up in them! And the iconic buildings that exist, including and amazing LAPD building, the department which looks after all transportation, roads, rail etc., in an amazing building which is described as looking unfinished because their job is never done. The Los Angeles Times building and many old theatres. There is an amazing mixture of old and new as a city I just love it.
The comic con was on and people were dressed up as everything you could imagine, but it was impossible to take any photographs.
In Hollywood I saw the stars names in the pavement, but it was completely mad there so many people that again impossible to take photographs even though I was on the ground so to speak. I did manage to get a snap of the Hollywood sign though from the bus as it stopped momentarily at a bus stop. Couldn’t come home without one of those now could I? I also saw Paarmount Studios which is built on the site of the old RKO studios. One of my photographs has the globe from RKO still on the building, I think it’s the only remaining part of the old studio.
I had seen quite a lot of homeless people and walked past one of their encampments going into town one day, but on the bus I was surprised by just how many I saw. Some of them have tents, and some of them make shelters out of blankets and shopping trolleys against the railings. It’s just so bloody awful that we have so many homeless people in this world, and I know I am stating the obvious, but it kind of puts all my stupid problems into perspective.
On the way back into town it got quite chilly and I wasn’t really prepared for that. I saw a road closed and emergency vehicles in the road. There lying in the middle of the road was clearly someone who had just lost their life, covered head to toe in a sheet. The third time this week that we death had shown itself to me.
I decided it was getting too dark to walk back to the house, it’s not the nicest of walks and I wouldn’t feel too safe in near darkness, so Uber it was, but first I popped into a restaurant and bar for a bite to eat as I was quite chilly. I broke my diet rules and had some pasta, seafood linguine and a couple of glasses of wine. It was just what I needed. There were a couple of young men sitting at the bar chatting and videoing their conversation on their phone which was on a tripod. Eventually we had a little chat and I asked them what they were doing and they said they were doing a web cast of their night out. So I was inadvertently web casted ... umm oh well.
Home to bed. Another rest day and now today is my last full day in the USA until my return next February. So the plan is to go to Griffiths Park. Speak later.
So it’s been a week since I arrived, Sunday morning I alighted from the train feeling pretty ok, and found my way through Union Station to the baggage claim area, found my bag and went to the clerk and asked if I could leave it for the day together with my rucksack, sure but I will have to charge you $5 for the rucksack, deal I said. Last time I left a suitcase in left luggage at King Cross it cost me, well CGI, £13. So it seems like a bargain to me, no charge for the baggage which was checked. I could have checked my rucksack to, but I am a bit paranoid about losing luggage... so I had kept it with me. I never used to be paranoid until I travelled to St Louis in Feb, for five days, and my luggage finally arrived on day three. I was attending a funeral so needed to buy clothes, underwear, toiletries but also my jewellery was in the suitcase. Some precious lessons learnt that trip.
My first view of Los Angeles coming in on the train and the bandstand.
Free of luggage I wandered around the station which is very palatial, well preserved, built in 1939 and I was a little awe struck to be honest. I was sitting outside for a while with a coffee, and then took off for a little explore. I found a lovely square to sit in with a bandstand. There were some men moving all the benches around in the square, putting them into rows. After a while I decided to go and have a look in the Chinese American Museum which was a stones throw away. It was a gem for two reasons. Firstly it had the history of the Chinese people immigrating to the US, lots of interesting facts. There were periods when no women were allowed in and at one point only 4.6% of the Chinese population in Los Angeles were women. Secondly there was an exhibition on called LA/LA. Los Angeles and Latin America. I enjoyed that enormously and in particular there was a film on which was about Jamaica, and Jamaicans, and the fact that many of them have a very mixed heritage but they all live as one. One of the Directors was also interviewing and dancing in the film. I just enjoyed the whole thing so much. Another thing I learnt was that the Chinatown area, which is where I was, was knocked down to build both the Union Station and the freeway in front of it, which obviously had a huge impact on the Chinese community.
I came back outside and heard music coming from the square I was sitting in earlier, needless to say after all the bench moving earlier I had to go and investigate and discovered live music and dancing. So I took a seat for a while and watched the proceedings. It was clearly a regular event because men were approaching women to dance and no words were exchanged. There was one women in particular who was dancing and looked exactly like Edith Summers from Newcastle, even down to the way she wore her hair. I have checked with Edith, she said she was definitely at home. I started to think about food at this point so wandered off in search of something that wasn’t Mexican. I stumbled across a church, full to the brim and some sort of church gala going on outside it also heaving. Well it was Sunday but we don’t see that often in the U.K. these days.
Finally I circled back to Union station and went into a bar/restaurant there and had a lovely Caesar salad and couple of glasses of wine. There was a baseball match on, the Dodgers were playing. Just in case you don’t know that’s the Los Angeles team. So the station and the bar I was in started to fill up with Dodgers, luckily I was wearing blue so didn’t look too out of place. Then the time had come to reclaim my luggage and find an Uber to take me to my home for their next five nights.
I had split my stay into two locations, I wanted to be near the beach for part of my stay, so was staying in West Los Angeles not far from Santa Monica. The second part of my stay was more Downtown Los Angeles, because I was trying to find somewhere nearer to where my cousin’s daughter Elizabeth lived. More of that later.
So I arrived at my first place and was greeted by the owner. She showed me my room which was very big with its own bathroom. The first thing I had to do was sleep, I think I had done very well to keep going considering I had slept so little on the train. After a nap she suggested I could find some food in Sawtelle street which apparently has some of the best Asian restaurants in LA. So off I trotted and eventually found a place that wasn’t heaving got some food and brought it back. Well tried to, I had inadvertently turned left two roads too soon, and after walking up and down a couple of times trying to find 11570 I realised I wasn’t in the right street. That will teach me not to wear my glasses at night! Finally back in the place I ate my food and went to bed again almost immediately.
The next morning I went and did a bit of shopping, I saw a sign for Starbucks and thought oh good I can get breakfast there. It was in the building where there was a supermarket, I walked all the way around the supermarket just to discover it was by the front door. Breakfast purchased I sat outside in the sun to partake and I was joined by an old dear done up to the nines, a bit like me I suppose only older. She carefully laid out newspaper on the table and the seat and then sat down and had a cold coffee, one of those Starbucks ones you buy in a bottle and some food, but she was messing about for ages organising herself her bags her paper. I was exhausted just watching her. Then off to do my shopping in a different supermarket around the corner.
I got back to the condominium, such a silly word what does it mean? “A building or complex of buildings containing a number of individually owned apartments or houses”. Block of flats then. Did a bit of writing with the intention of going to the Getty Museum in the afternoon. I decided it was time to get a move on looked it up and lo and behold it was closed on a Monday. Oh well I decided to get on with the writing and have an easy day instead.
So the next day I was up early and walked quite a way to catch the direct bus to the museum. There was an old guy at the bus stop and I asked him if I was standing on the correct side of the road to get to the Getty, and I was, miracles never cease to amaze me. We got chatting, well he did and was regaling me with all sorts of stories about Hollywood, Frank Sinatra and various presidents. It transpired he was living on the streets, and had at some point in his life checked himself into some sort of clinic. Eventually he got fed up of waiting for our very overdue bus and took himself off on another bus. I have to say though apart from his trolly of bags, we was clean and well dressed, so it made me wonder how he manages but it wouldn’t have been an appropriate conversation to have with him.
Not long after he departed the bus finally arrived, I think I had been waiting some 40 minutes so I was soon being transported to the wonders of the Getty Museum. When you arrive you make your way to a small tram service which takes you up the hill. The view going up the side of the hill was amazing, and then the view at the top was pretty spectacular too. The museum is made up of many buildings, all painted white and there are spaces in between to sit outside and eat and drink as well as a building which houses a cafe and a restaurant. There are also two gardens, one is a cactus garden on a little peninsula outside of one of the buildings, and the other is a garden which you walk down a zig zag path to get to the main part, it has water running down it and the centre piece is a maze which sits in water, very beautiful.
My first port of call was the Hockney exhibition, there were two which were celebrating his 80th birthday. The first was a photographic exhibition which was showing some of his pieces of the houses he lived in, in Los Angeles, taken by Polaroid and then all the polaroids where placed together, as a composite, “Jerry diving ..“ was one of them. Amazing pieces of work, shadows changing on one of them because of the time it took to take all the individual photographs. There was also one of his most famous pieces “Pearlblossom Highway” again a composite but this time of chromogenic prints. Apparently this piece was commissioned but then never taken, it’s a really big piece and until you see it in real life you can’t fully appreciate the work that has gone into it. His second exhibition was one of self portraits throughout his life, with four very large ones he completed in 2012 when he was 75. I have always been a fan of Mr Hockney so this was a real treat for me.
I also viewed the other exhibits in the photographic gallery, some really interesting pieces. I went into another of the galleries after a bite to eat, and found the most amazing array of French furniture. There was also a sculpture section which when you walk into the gallery you have the most amazing views of Los Angeles itself, breathtaking. From that gallery I was able to see the cactus garden which I decided would be a little to difficult for me to visit as it was very high and on a sort of peninsula.
But it was now time to make my way down to the main garden and the maze. A zig zag path took you down there, there were a lot of grasses which had been cut back for the season. There was a small waterfall type feature running through the centre down in to the maze, and beautiful planting once you got further down. A very peaceful and beautiful place to spend a little time, which I did.
Although I didn’t see all of the exhibits, I felt satisfied with what I had seen and made my way back to my abode.
The next day was a beach day, I had a couple of errands to run which I managed on the way to the bus, finding the bus stop on the right side of the road proved a little testing to say the least but I got there in the end. I asked a man and he actually checked on me a little while later, probably just at the point I realised I was on the wrong side of the road. I have to say I have found people really helpful in general in regards to public transport.
There was not a lot to report on my beach day. I had brunch, rented a chair and enjoyed the sun for a few hours. I was surprised on my way back to find a network of canals, likening Venice in London to Venice Beach in LA. A lovely peaceful day. I am told that Venice Beach has something of a reputation, particularly in the evenings and at weekends, so I think even though it was by luck I was there during the week, and my experience was of a lovely peaceful day. Oh yes there was one incident, as I was walking down the street to reach the part of the beach I wanted to go to, I almost got knocked for six by a man on his skateboard, he flew past me, how he missed me I do not know and that was enough excitement for me.
The next day I ventured into downtown, the most difficult part of the journey was crossing a main road to get to the bus stop, no crossing and a lot of traffic. This bus was a Rapid Bus, that meant it went on the Freeway into Downtown LA and it still cost next to nothing. Although I have to say I found the Freeway very bumpy. I discovered later that the roads are all in a terrible state, and as a result they are pretty horrible to ride on especially on a bus.
I was heading for the MOCA, Museum of Contemporary Art. And well worth a visit I have to say, I have a few photos below of some of the pieces I particularly enjoyed. The building itself is also a piece of art.
In the neighbourhood I discovered the Walt Disney Concert Hall which is a masterpiece in steel. I had a coffee outside and watched all the people turning up there for work that evening. It’s the home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and I was considering going to see them play but just decided that what they were playing I wouldn’t particularly enjoy and for 100$ it wasn’t worth it. But a week later I am still trying to decide whether or not I should go. Not that I find it difficult to make decisions!
So that brings us to Friday and my move to downtown, a different sort of space a room in a house built in the 1880s. But more of that in my next episode.
Well the day haven’t started well with breakfast, and I started to get a bit worried when no bus had arrived at 8:30, another couple turned up with their teenage daughter, we got chatting and they were doing a similar tour and their pickup time was 8:35 . Another 10 minutes had gone and I rang the number on my piece of paper. The man on the other end was very nice and said he would ring me back in a few minutes. The other couple also rang the number on their piece of paper and then we discovered we were both talking to the same man, no real surprise there. I had booked a North and South Rim tour, or so I thought. They weren’t sure what they had booked. So a bus arrived about 10 to 9 but he was only looking for three people, that was me out then. By this point I was thinking that I could have had another half an hour in bed. I rang the man again and he said I was booked on a different bus and should arrive any time now. The driver from the first bus came over to me and said he did have a spare seat on his bus if I wanted it, he was quite kind towards me actually which was nice, but I told him I was ok and my bus was on its way.
So two buses turn up and the driver of one approached me and asked me if I was Elisabet, yes I said, you are with me then, said he. The other bus emptied it’s passengers out and they joined my bus. The buses were small with room for 15 passengers. And we had about 6 spare seats. Our guide was a Hopi Indian and immediately started telling us all about their folklore and how it interacted with the area we were driving through. Our first stop was to be at the Sunset Crater National Park, but on route we stopped at Bonito Park for a quick photo opportunity.
Driving through the park it is full of black lava rock from the time of the eruption, it reminded me of course of the drive from Keflavik airport to Reykjavik in Iceland. We were able to get out and walk along a little area, among the rocks and there are plants growing out of all sorts of places.
We were then taken to a point were we could see the top of the crater which was called sunset because at sunset it shines bright red. We had to view it from the bus, which was a bit of an anti climax but it is what it is I suppose.
Our next stop was the Wupatki National Monument, where there are the remains of pueblos built by native Americans, there were basically three areas, the housing itself, a small arena where young adults were brought to be given their adult name and their purpose in life is given to them and then another smaller arena which would have been used for special ceremonies. Our guide said the purpose of this second arena was said to be for playing some sort of game with a basket attached to the wall, some kind of basket ball I think which ended in some sort of human sacrifice, the winner losing their life which seems a bit unfair! However he maintained that the walls were not high enough for it to have had that purpose, and that the were entrances to the North and South, and that East and West were looking out at pointers for special celebrations,occasions like the solstice and sunset. So the Hopi’s believe this was a place were special ceremonies would take place. All the buildings and rock were bright red, in contrast to the landscape of volcanic rock. Much like the Utah scenery. There were some stones in the building which were said to be for grinding the corn to make bread. The diet of these people was mainly corn but they had many varieties, referrred to by colour, blue corn being one of them. I bet you thought that was an interesting fact, I did look it up to make sure it was true.
After this we were driven towards the Grand Canyon with a stop for lunch at the Cameron Trading Post. I have to say I was a little worried about lunch, I was dreading the prospect of another burger. When I saw the lunch menu on the board in the doorway it looked like that was exactly what I was going to get, but when the menu arrived my eyes alighted in Navajo Beef Stew with Fry Bread. I have to say it was delicious, and although the fry bread was probably very bad for me I ate two thirds of that too, it was lovely. Real food for the first time in days. Lunch gave us a bit of time as a group to get to know each other, and It wasn’t long before I was being quizzed on Brexit, it seems to be a bit of a theme. I almost got myself into hot water countering about the shock of Trump getting the Presidency, I need to learn to keep my mouth shut, clearly. There was needless to say a huge shop you had to get through to get to the restaurant and we were twice given time to do some shopping. I was very good given my packing constraints and only bought some postcards and dried apricots, ritz crackers, cheese and gum! Just in case I didn’t get to eat again that day, and guess what I was right so my purchases came in very handy. By the way when I saw the postcards I realised how remiss I had been having promised to send lots of postcards, so I am now aiming to send one from each country, so if you receive one from me, you now know I am adjusting your expectations. I haven’t got time for postcards as well as all this writing.
Finally we were off to the Grand Canyon. I mentioned earlier that I had booked a tour which was supposed to be the North and South rim, it had become clear by now that wasn’t going to happen as it was early afternoon, but I decided just to make the best of it. It was another 40 minute drive to get to to Grand Canyon Park, once in the Park quite a long way to go, but there were some great sights as we kept climbing to get there. Finally we arrived and clambered out of the bus, a short walk and there is was. A huge chasm, rock of many shades, indescribable really. I will just have to let the photographs do the talking, I was so glad I had decided to add this into my itinerary pretty much at the last minute. There are birds of prey circling the canyon at the edges and then flying straight down, a wondrous sight indeed. They have managed to save the Condor here, it was almost extinct. After an hour or so of freedom we were taken to a few different viewing points and then to the village, and given an hour and a half there. The village has accommodation and restaurants and of course shops. I did buy myself a t-shirt, I know I shouldn’t have but you only live once. There are more amazing views here and some walks down into the canyon itself. When I got back to the bus, we had 3 new people we had to deliver back to Flagstaff, that upset the apple art a bit, taking other people’s seats, very amusing. A good hour and a half home, and as I suspected I was too shattered to go out anywhere, so straight to bed with ritz crackers for me.
I know there are a lot of photographs, but it gives you an idea of the whole size, and the beauty. I was desperately trying to take a selfie with the Canyon in the background, I failed miserably so I thought I would share with you the out takes.
The following day I spent resting after the arduous journey to Flagstaff and the full day tour, I was in quite bad shape. I took a walk into town about lunch time, found an Italian and had a Lasagne with Ice cream to follow and a couple of glasses of wine, then back to my executive suite, catching up on my blog.
After a good sleep, I was feeling more refreshed, and as I was leaving on the train at about 9pm, I was all packed and checked out at 11 with my luggage safely locked away in reception. I went downtown and found a restaurant to sit outside in and ordered a coffee whilst I perused the menu. I have to say I am not a great lover of Mexican food and it isn’t a great lover of me either, so I decide to take what looked like a healthy and safe option. Blackened Tuna and a salad of green vegetables with walnuts. The salad of green vegetables turned out to be a plate of lettuce, and although the tuna was cooked to my liking quite rare in the middle it still seems to be dry. Anyway another glass of wine solved the problem and I sat and wrote for an hour or so. I then treated myself to a pudding, which was called a sundae but basically a brownie with ice cream on top, it was very good, and I am not complaining about it, but I have to say the dining experience did not live up to my expectations at all!
I decided I better move on from there and found a square to sit in for a while, it was really hot and eventually I had to run for cover again, so I went into another place and order a drink and at about 5pm I ordered some dinner. It was the dinner of the day Coq au Vin with garlic mash potatoes and mushrooms and onions. I was really looking forward to this after my lunchtime lettuce with dry tuna. But first of all I had to laugh when the waiter pronounced it coq au veen, and then I thought to myself well mushrooms and onions are part of the recipe so shouldn’t really be described as an addition. It arrived and I was told the plate was hot, it was but funnily enough the food wasn’t as hot as the plate. Then I tried the mash and all I could taste was garlic, so much garlic. So the chicken was ok but the mushrooms and onions were completely inedible, I have no idea how they managed to massacre them so well.
Right enough is enough I thought. It was about six pm, I walked back to the hotel and ordered a Lyft to take me back downtown to the station. I arrived in the waiting room and was helped though the process of checking in by a seasoned train traveller. When I checked my bag in I was asked to remove any food or drugs, so I had to take out my supply of omeprozale, glucosamine and well woman night, exciting life I lead. The helpful lady provided me with a bag I could put it all in. The station waiting room filled up slowly, and conversations hummed. Eventually our delayed train arrived and we were sent to the appropriate end of the platform where we had our tickets checked and were given a hand written slip with our seat number on. There was a woman in her seventies who was worrying about getting up the stairs, downstairs was full, I said I would help her. A man put her bag on the train, which is very high up to start with. They put a step there to help you get on and she actually fell on to the train, what a mess, she could barely get back up on her feet but didn’t want any help. She was able to leave her luggage down there and I made my way up and found her seat for her and handed her the cushions and ticket. She was really stressed out by the whole thing as you can imagine. I then had to wake someone up so that I could get into my seat. The guard announced it was time to go to sleep and lights were out. I think I finally dropped off at 1am, and spent most of the night waking up and sleeping. However there was a lot of room and it was very comfortable, especially in comparison to the bus. They actually come and wake you up if you have to get off in the night. I would definitely use the train again. By the time we reached our destination it had been travelling for three days, it’s staggering how big this country is and how long it takes to get anywhere, which of course is why most people fly. So I will leave you here as I pull into my last stop of my first tour of the USA on this adventure, Los Angeles. But just before I go I have to say I don’t think I would ever want to go to Flagstaff again!
This journey started at 6:30 am with a Lyft to Denver Greyhound station. The half hour journey took an hour because of rush hour and an accident on the highway, but I had factored that in to my time line. I arrived at the Denver station about 7:30 and it seemed even more down at heel than when I arrived a week or so before. I had had all sorts of plans about using public transport, but bags and the generally cheap cost of Uber and Lyft changed my view, anything for an easy life.
There were people asleep and the station was quite busy. The ticket says you have to check your luggage, but there was no sign as to where you were supposed to do that, so I opted not to bother as I hadn’t had to do it on the journey here. The driver arrived to get us loaded and I was one of the first ones on, so got a pick of seats. I chose to sit near the front again, but this time I had a window seat.
We were 20 minutes late setting off because of computer problems, the driver had gone off to log in at about 8, and then a couple arrived really late so their luggage had to be loaded on too. This gave me something to worry about because I had a connection in Albuquerque. So I was tracking both buses throughout the day. Eventually it became apparent that the second bus was running an hour and a half late, so I was able to stop worrying about spending the night in Albuquerque and missing my tour the next day, there is no slack in this project plan!
At one point we had a 15 minute stop and were told by the driver if we ordered food in Wendy’s to get it to go. When he was setting off 15 minutes later he said is everyone here, and someone shouted out that there was a couple missing. one kind soul ran in and found them eating in at Wendy’s. Some people never listen, they were lucky not to be left behind.
We finally got to Albuquerque at about 5pm just ten minutes late in the end, and the second bus arrived in about half an hour later and they turned it around pretty quickly so although I feared we wouldn’t get there until midnight it was around 10:30pm, but I hadn’t taken into account we were moving out of mountain time and into Pacific time i.e. back an hour. I have to say I had coped reasonably well for the longest part of the journey but the last five hours were hard. Oh and I got told off for not having my bag checked in when I was putting it on the new bus, so they gave me a manual check in ticket, naughty girl! I have to admit I preferred taking it off the bus and putting it on the next because at least you know it’s with you. If I had checked it in who knows what might have happened to it. There was a young woman in the bus with a very small baby on the phone about a piece of luggage she had lost.
Food was hard during the day, Sam had given me some snacks and an apple, and I had had breakfast before I left, but I was forced into a Wendy’s chicken burger for lunch, which really wasn’t well cooked, and at Albuquerque the choice was also extremely limited so a cheese burger for dinner. So although it wasn’t good, I felt I hadn’t eaten too badly, at least I didn’t buy loads of bad snacks. I had weighed myself on the Sunday and was pleased I had lost a pound, which is the plan a pound a week. I have to admit I though it was a bit of a miracle because quite a lot of wine had been drunk. So I am still determined to keep up the walking and healthy eating, but one day with a couple of bad choices is ok, when that’s all there is!
I finally arrived at Flagstaff and had to get a cab to the hotel because there was a railway line and a highway between me and it, oh well, that 5 minute walk didn’t happen.
My Lyft arrived pretty promptly and within five minutes I was in my motel reception. Standing there with my three bags the woman said to me “to get to your room go up this flight of steps and then up this flight of steps” I just looked at her in horror, tired and ready for bed, and said “not with all this, any other way I can get there?” “oh you can walk up the slope then” which was basically the road to the top line of accommodation. Phew, but that hill was steep, I certainly burnt a few calories carting all my stuff up there! The room said outside it was an Executive suite, not sure what kind of executives they have in Arizona, but at least the bed was comfortable.
Up early the following day for the inclusive breakfast, that didn’t take long, won’t bother with that again, and then down to reception at 8:20 to wait for my 8:25 pick up for my Grand Canyon tour.
Some photgraphs above of the journey above. The thing the struck me most was the constant view of the mountains, I had been told that they run all the way down the country from Canada to Mexico. The other thing that struck me about the journey was that the landscape just changed immediately we got to New Mexico, it suddenly got much greener. I will leave you know as I think the Grand Canyon needs a whole section to itself.
When I first planned this trip and then decided as I had resigned that I could stay on longer, my first thought was to go and see my old friends Ira and Sam. I have known them since the mid 80’s when they came to England to help manage a printing franchise. Barry Cooper was the man in my life at the time and he reported into Ira. Ira turned up in his cowboy boots and Stetson, I seem to remember he had a few issues getting into the country, probably sparked by the way he was dressed! Ira and Barry hit it off immediately and the four of us travelled quite a lot for business, it’s probably hard to imagine but in those days I was playing the role of a corporate wife as well as working in my first IT job for the London Borough of Hackney. We had a lot of fun together, and because Barry was the sort of person who liked to travel, go places, do things and was extremely well travelled there was always something on the agenda for us. I remember the four of us being in Edinburg together hosting a business dinner and Ira making a speech and being completely unable to pronounce Edinburgh, everyone was laughing at his attempts, yes there was more than one. We also went to France and stayed in a Gite together, and to Portugal and Venice. I have very fond memories of those times. I have visited Ira and Sam three times since then, once in San Fransisco, twice in Los Angeles, and the last time I took Ásgeir who was only three months old at the time.
So when I decided I must seem them, after all it’s been 26 years, I sent Ira a message and and email but heard nothing back which was unusual. Eventually I decided to use snail mail, and included in the letter my email address and telephone number. I got an email reply shortly after that saying that they had moved from Boulder but that the new occupant of their old house wasn’t sure where to. On the very same day I saw a posting on Facebook by their daughter in law, Lily, with pictures of both Sam and Ira, so I quickly friend requested her and sent her a message saying I was trying to get in touch. She responded immediately and then put me in touch with Sam, and to cut a long story short, well not that long really, Sam invited me to stay. Sam told me then that Ira had been unwell over the past few years. Once I had arrived on their doorstep it became clear how unwell Ira was, but he was so pleased to see me and asked immediately after Ásgeir. It transpired that Ira had had a major a heart bypass in 2008, I think. But he has since suffered multiple small strokes, and one significant stroke, He is also suffering from a form of dementia. I asked Sam prior to writing this is it was ok to talk about Ira’s health and she was more than happy for me to do so, she said it wasn’t widely known and let’s face it it’s never an easy conversation to have.
One of their daughters, Kelly, lives nearby with her husband Rick, and on the Sunday we were out walking, she asked me if I was shocked to see how he was, and I said I was, but there was something in the photographs I saw on Facebook which told me he wasn’t the old Ira. Kelly said she felt it was serendipity that brought me there at that time, and I truly believe it was.
Sam and I were immediately on the same page, like the last 26 years simply hadn’t happened, it was so good, there was a huge amount of catching up to do, and even in a week we could not cover it all. I had my own quarters in the basement, and the use of a car if I wanted to go off exploring, but to be honest once I had arrived I just wanted to spend as much time as possible with the two of them.
The days were easy, we went for a walk in the morning and early lunch, which Ira got up for and early dinner which Ira got up for. Conversation was limited with him, and he generally went back to bed after food, but occasionally got confused especially when we had something on the agenda. We went out for a walk one morning and Sam rang him to check he was ok, and he said he was up and ready to go out, we thought that meant he wanted to go on his motorised scooter for a walk with us, so we rushed back. But we couldn’t find him in the house anywhere, I looked in the garage to see if his scooter was there, and it was. Then Sam rang him, he was sitting in the car, in the garage, and I hadn’t seen him, ready to go to Kelly and Rick’s for dinner. So we had to get him out and explain that we weren’t going until 5 pm. After that little episode I made sure they were both set up with Find Friends in their phones. Having seen my father suffer with Alzheimer’s and my sister Laura lose her life to a brain tumour, I have experienced these things before, but it doesn’t stop you feeling an overwhelming sorrow at the loss of someone who is still alive, but no longer the person you knew. Having said that we did still manage to have a bit of a laugh together, there were occasional glimpses of the old Ira, giving me the eye when I said something to him that was a bit cheeky, or when I was telling him off.
One of the things they remember about our time together in the UK was that Barry always used to say to me “Is that right Di?” I have absolutely no recollection of this, but they both said it happened all the time. But it has become a well know phrase or saying in their household and even their children know what it means. I thought that was so funny, that it had stayed with them all these years.
Sam was an artist long before I knew her and when they moved from California to Colorado her dry period ended and she started painting again, the house is full of her beautiful paintings, she told me there was one of me in Ira’s office, and my goodness I recognised it immediately, I have the photograph, a back view of the three of us walking in Venice. There is a photograph of it below together with another which was inspired by a bridge in France, near where we stayed, and my favourite piece of hers, which hung over the mantlepiece.
The estate they live on is specifically for Seniors, in English speak that’s old age pensioners. I do prefer the Senior badge I have to say. There are no children living there and there are miles and miles of walks and a fantastic club house with an indoor and outdoor swimming pool, gym, meeting rooms and planned activities throughout the day. There is no reason to be lonely or inactive in this place and the landscaping is wonderful, all with the backdrop of the Rockies, which were of course covered in snow. One of the things I noticed in Denver was also apparent here, lots and lots of butterflies. There is also a lot of water there in the form of man made lakes and so not too surprisingly there is a flock of geese and of course lots of ducks. There is also a nearby airstrip and small planes were flying past the window of the house going in to the strip to practice landing and take offs all the time. I didn’t manage to snap one to show how close to the house they seemed but did try and capture some of them when we were out walking. Apparently lots of hot air balloons fly over there too. But I wasn’t fortunate enough to see one. We put that down to the fact that there was a hot air balloon festival in Albuquerque, a fact that was confirmed later in the week by a woman I met who was from Albuquerque!
I have to say I was extremely taken by the place and felt I could happily live there, but it’s a long way from my boys, although I am sure they would love to visit and go skiing. Broomfield is also very high up, a mile, so I was having more of an issue with the altitude than I did in Utah.
The best part of the week though was spending time with Sam, talking about life and all that good stuff, reminiscing, talking about the future, including me coming back to visit and her coming to England. We took a little trip to Boulder, where they used to live and I posted a parcel homemade containing walking shoes and some clothes I decided I didn’t need. It cost a fortune, but I needed to lighten the load. We also went for a pedicure, American style, a huge room with special pedicure and manicure stations. I went a bit mad and had paraffin wax on my feet and some salt stuff on my legs and chose a vibrant pink for my toe nails because I was moving to sunnier parts of the country and the world.
Some photographs from Boulder below, it is a beautiful place, a University town, lots of lovely shopping, but I have no room!
Sam told me a lot about Ira in his younger days too, I only ever knew him as a lawyer and business man. Apparently he was a playwright and had his plays produced for television. He also appeared in commercials advertising American Express or Diners club, can’t remember which, which is where Sam first saw him. He is a prolific author of books about business and the law, if you look him up on Google and there is huge list. He was being a little talkative one day and said he wanted to go and teach the law, but we reminded him he is retired now, I think if he wasn’t ill he would still be working in some way.
Amazingly they have been together for fifty years, yes 50, a complete lifetime. It’s food for thought though that sometimes we bump in to people in one element of their life and have no idea who they were, or where they have come from. It applies to us all in so many ways. Me I am the little girl who sat quietly at the back of the class, but I have been a corporate wife, I left school at 16, owned my own business for 9 years and built a successful career in IT even within the limitations of the world we live in, been a mother and a wife, a Chair of Governors at a local school and a Church Treasurer. I digress but it was great to have conversations about their earlier lives and life together, something I suppose I am more interested in and give more thought to today, than I did when I was in my thirties. Life moves on and we all grow and change.
We were invited to Kelly and Rick’s for dinner on Saturday, they live on a similar estate across the highway, get me with my American words, but that estate is for families with the same sort of facilities the seniors have, a big club house and lots of activities. Needless to say both houses were beautiful and spacious, unlike the boxes most of us have to live in in the UK.
When Kelly and I were talking about her job, she said that the company she works for had just been bought by and English company and the CEO and various Directors had just been to visit. She mentioned that the CEO was a member of the House of Lords, oh said I what is his name? Stephen Carter, was the reply, what a small world, when I was working on a contract to bring all the various telecommunications agencies together into the newly formed Ofcom, Office of Communications, he was the Chief Executive of Ofcom. He has of course gone on to bigger things since then, working at one point as a government advisor, which got him his new standing in the society in which we live. I looked him up just to check, and there he was, just looking a little older!
Some more photographs of the beautiful surroundings
I am not a political animal, but having spent a week with my friends, I did watch more of the news than I would normally and certainly more than I have since arriving here. Needless to say President Trump takes up a lot of airtime, yawn, it’s unbelievable in my view that he is still the President. When I was in St Louis my family were saying that he would be impeached soon, that was February. Sam told me that the Supreme Court needs to rule on some things, I should say I am eating lunch and am on my third glass of wine whilst writing this, so I can’t quite remember what they have to decide on, but I know that there is a question mark about many things including the way the Russians were able to influence the election. However there is a question mark about the judges impartiality since the election, that the cards may have been stacked in such a way to stop them making the right decision, the decision that people believe they should make, which I am told could throw the USA into an even worse state of chaos than it currently is.
Anyway the main reason I mention this is that the Weinstein scandal broke at the time I was there too and there seems to be the possibility of a shift in terms of women speaking out for themselves about the sexist society we live in. This is a subject which is close to my heart, and I will talk about it from my perspective later. There was a woman presenter talking about how widely known the Weinstein problem was, and how it was used in comedies and even mentioned in an Oscar presentation, she showed clips of both. She had two younger women on the show, not that age has anything to do with it, talking about how difficult it was in the USA to fight sexism and not just in the arts but in all walks of life. I couldn’t agree more. They were also taking about the President, and what hope is there when there are recordings of him talking about how he behaves towards women and that is just accepted as ok behaviour. From my perspective it was a real joy to hear this being discussed so comprehensively on National TV, but do I hold out hope things will change, I doubt it will happen in my lifetime, but anything I can do to make a difference for future generations of women I will.
Changing the subject we had snow one day, photographs below are of the evening prior and the day itself.
So I had a wonderful week all in all, tinged with a little sadness, but it just goes to show, that some friends are truly friends for life, thank you Sam and Ira, Kelly and Rick, for your hospitality and look forward to seeing you again next year.
A few final photographs including planes, snow and Ira and Sam. Love you both.
Off to the next part of the adventure. See you in Flagstaff if I survive the bus journey!
Early start to the day, woke up at 3 and decided I may as well get up, and get ready to go, I checked the progress of the bus on my handy greyhound app only to discover it was already an hour late. But the app also said there was a second bus running, but they couldn’t track that one as well, so I decided to go to the bus stop anyway in case the second bus came early.
Then there was the Las Vegas news, I got a message from Tayla saying she was glad I wasn’t still in LV and I thought what is she talking about, so looked up the news and read about the shootings. I was of course horrified and to think we had only been there eight days ago.
I left the hotel just after 4 am and walked across the road to the gas station where the bus stop was. A lady approached me and told me that the bus was cancelled, I said I had looked at it’s progress and it was on its way albeit about an hour late, but there was a second bus coming too. She asked me where I was going and I said Denver, and then she said it was the Los Angeles bus which was cancelled. She suggested that I wait inside the gas station shop as there had been a pervert in a yellow car coming in and out of the petrol station for the last week or so. So I followed her advice, got myself a coffee and some fruit and protein for breakfast and hung out by the door, constantly checking for the progress of the bus.
Eventually the bus was a few minutes away, and the timetable suggested a 5 minute stop, I was keeping a close eye on the timetable because I had to get out there with all my bags, the next thing I knew the bus had pulled in, and just drove straight out again, I ran out to try and stop it, but it was already across the road. Brilliant start to the day! Waited for an hour and still missed the bus! Still the app said there was another bus coming, so I rang the customer service number, to ask if there was another bus. What a palaver that was! I found myself getting more and more frustrated, when I finally got through to a human being, I was told, you have missed the bus, so you have to buy another ticket, the customer services woman on the end of the phone couldn’t tell me if there was another bus on its way, and said I had to wait 24 hours for the bus to reach its destination to confirm whether or not it had stopped at my stop. The next bus was at 5pm and triple the price I had originally paid, oh well it’s only money. We went around in circles for a while and eventually I decided I better go back to the hotel, instead of standing in the gas station forecourt trying to sort this out, so I thanked her for her help, no not really, and trundled back to the hotel. The girl on reception was great and instantly offered me my room key back and even extended my stay for a couple more hours at no extra charge.
I booked myself another ticket and got it printed out, and then went for some breakfast. The breakfast room had an air of sadness to it, the television was blaring with the news of the shooting, and everyone was silently eating and watching. The early reports were of far fewer deaths and casualties, of course as the day went on the full picture was slowly revealed, so sad for all those families to have to deal with such loss. It just seems never ending to me, the work we live in at the moment is one act of terro after another, and this was an act of terrorism, it was one of the reasons I was feeling nervous about travelling. Anyway this isn’t the place to dwell on the plight of the world.
Back to my room I rang customer services again and after much discussion they finally agreed to refund the cost of my original ticket, a small result, but I have to say I was very unimpressed with the way in which they handled the situation, it was like I was talking a completely different language, or they simply were not listening to a word I said.
I went back to bed to try and sleep, I managed half an hour, that was a big help! Eventually I left my bags at reception and went for a walk to find food and a belt, my jeans were falling down, after my weight loss, after that successful mission I went back to the bus stop at the appointed time, even though this bus was also running an hour late, and sat on a rock and waited until it arrived. I was eventually joined by another traveller. The bus arrived, the driver got off and said to me, “what do you want”, to go to Denver was the only suitable response I could come up with. So he took my ticket, loaded my bag and I got on. There were only a few seats left, and some people had bags on seats, so I had to ask someone to move there stuff so I could sit down.
So finally on my way some 12 hours late, I had also contacted my air bnb host to let her know of my disastrous start to the day, and she very kindly said that she would give me some money back as I would only be in Denver for one night. We had daylight for a while but not for long, the stops were not too frequent, and sometimes we were allowed 15/20 minutes to get off and go to the service station for food etc. Sometimes it was a 5 minute smoke break. I am sure the driver was talking to himself most of the time, and he kept brushing his teeth whilst driving.
We had a change of driver about midnight, and I must say I felt much better with the second driver, and a managed to fall asleep, so I slept on and off until about 5 or 6 am, when I noticed a car overtake us covered in white stuff! Could that be snow? My suspicions were soon confirmed, it was difficult to see outside, but eventually it became clear, there was thick covering of snow, and as the light came we were treated to some beautiful scenes, I took a few photos, but at speed so not brilliant. A small aside, my friend Maggie gave me a scarf for my travels, and had drawn some pictures of all the possible things I could use it for, well I used it as blanket over my legs Maggie, it was perfect, so thank you again.
Finally coming down into Denver, the snow disappeared and we hit the morning rush hour, seems like a while since I have been in one of those traffic jams. Unloaded into the Denver Greyhound Station, a very sad place, I went to the cafe for some breakfast, nothing much available that I wanted so made do with a coffee and a cookie. Then I ordered myself a Lyft, thought I would give them a chance for a change, and made my way to my accommodation. I had a bit of a rest and my landlady turned up for a short while, then I had a walk to the local supermarket and got some lunch and breakfast for the morning. Before I knew what was what, it was time to go out and meet a colleague from 20 years ago for dinner. Montse and I worked together at Daiwa, a Japanese Finance House in the city when I doing a maternity cover for my good friend Wilma. She has been living in Denver for quite a few years now, and really likes it. We had a great dinner and then she took me back to my accommodation, were I was greeted by Sarah, the daughter of my landlady. Sarah and I had a lively conversation for half an hour or so and then I went to bed. I slept better than I have slept in a long time.
The next morning I walked into the city centre, I must say I was quite taken with Denver’s tree lined streets and the sun was shining which always helps. I was making my way to the Denver Art museum, my time here had been cut so short by the stupid bus incident so I was determined to go and see something of the city. I had to walk through a park area and I was surprised to see many people living and sleeping rough there. It is commonplace in the UK but this was the first I had seen in the USA, and I was quite shocked that it was the park they were sleeping out in. I don’t really know why I was so shocked, I suppose because of the surroundings.
The Art museum was fabulous, two modern buildings, linked by a walkway, with art works outside, even the litter bin outside was a work of art. There were some cool seats, in a long line, which you could lounge in and they swung in twos, very cute and clever.
I was able to see quite a lot of the exhibits, but the one I enjoyed the most was Stampede, animals in art, it had a lot of humour and also some really beautiful pieces. There was a bit about clothing made from animal skins, which is an example of how wide the brief was, overall a wonderful place to go, I wish I had had more time.
I had to dash off to another part of the city for an appointment I had made and was running a bit late, so good old uber helped me out there, and then I caught the bus back but missed the connecting bus, so took the opportunity to walk through the suburbs back to my digs to pick up my cases and take me on to Broomfield to see my very good friends Ira and Sam. I really wish I had had the other day, but hey ho, what I saw of Denver I really liked. Next stop Broomfield.
That evening we were having dinner outside in the sunshine and one of the Movara people came up to us and asked us if we were going to do the 5k or 10k race the next day, free T shirts were in the lobby. We had seen this advertised on the notice board all week but both agreed we weren't really interested. Somehow we were persuaded that we should do it…not quite sure how that happened. So Elisabet put her name down for the 10k, and I put mine down for the 5k. I knew, and so did Elisabet, that I had walked 11k the day before, but to be honest there were so many competitive people I just didn't want to come in last, that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. So we went to get our T shirts and numbers, all very serious. The following day we set off at the usual 8am hike time, and we had to walk to the start of the race which wasn't exactly on the doorstep, and then when everyone was gathered together they rang the starting cow bell.
Basically this race was all up hill outwards and all down hill coming back on the same route. The fast walkers were soon off in the distance, and I managed to keep a steady pace going up hill, walking alone mainly. I had the choice at the 5k turnaround point to carry on and do the 10k but decided that I would stick to my guns on the 5k, only two people had passed me going back, both men, and I didn't really have any idea where anyone else was, so I thought I had a chance to come in third. So I set off down the hill, and as I turned the corner I knew I was in with a chance of doing it in less than an hour, so pushed myself to get through the finish line. I did it, third place in 58 minutes and some seconds, I was really pleased with that as a result, and again thought I should do this more often, 5 and 10k races. So that's the third new activity I have added to my list. My husband sent me a message when he saw the post on Facebook saying how well I had done especially at that altitude. But the real bonus of doing the 5k was I could go back and finish off writing about Las Vegas and get it posted. There was no time during the week, up until that point, when I had the energy, time and wherewithal to actually write. I must also mention here that Elisabet came second in the 10k, she is amazing.
So we finally arrive at day 6 more commonly known as Saturday, this was slightly different in format, we had no stretch and we had to nominate to do a particular walk, or we could pay extra to go and hike in the Zion National Park. The two walks on offer were the West Canyon and Stop Sign. Stop sign is a long walk with a very steep hill for quite a distance of the latter part of the hike, you finish when you reach the Stop Sign, surprisingly. We had pulled out of that earlier in the week after Elisabet's issues with the altitude as. So we went back to West Canyon. It was another glorious day, and we set off, there were four of us again, but we all went off at our own pace from the start this time. I managed to get a couple of amazing panoramic shots on the walk this time, having finally figured out how to do it properly. At one point a bird of prey soared over my head, I stopped to watch for a few moments, and he started to hover, having seen his prey. I was torn, I wanted to watch, but he was a little too far in the distance, but I also wanted to do a good distance today. I didn't think I would make it to the end, if you remember this is the one where you have to turn around at 9:30, but I wanted to see if I could improve on my distance from Wednesday.
I remembered to bring my headphones with me this time and was listening to the Eric Clapton collection whilst I walked. Last year I was off work for a few months after quite a major operation and I started walking after that, on a daily basis, I managed to get up to five miles walking across fields and onto a sort of rough road towards another village nearby. I really enjoy that feeling of freedom, just you and the road, especially when the sun is shining, and you are listening to some music, no stress, pressure, allowing your thoughts to roam, making sense of life. On this hike I really felt at one with the world and at peace. I passed the point I had turned at on Wednesday and carried on for quite a while. On the way back Elisabet passed me much earlier than she did on the Wednesday, and she said afterwards that she couldn't believe how far I had got, she thought I was probably about 15 minutes from the end, which would have been just over a km as I was averaging just over 11 minutes a km. I had walked 11.7 km which is 7.27 mile in old money! I have to say I was very pleased with that performance. That was the last of my hikes in the mountains in Utah, and I enjoyed it enormously. I know I will be doing a lot of walking on the rest of this trip, and I think this experience has put me in the right frame of mind for that. Make sure you click on the photos below to get the real panoramic view.
So the rest of the day was really a more slimmed down version of the week day, with a final workout in the gym and a final stretch. Many people were going home on Saturday and early Sunday, including Elisabet who had to leave at 03:15 for her minibus to Las Vegas to fly home. We had had a wonderful time together, two very different experiences, we both felt invigorated to carry on with what was next and continue the good work we had started, both losing weight and inches. I feel sure our Mothers, Greta and Helga would have been looking down on us pleased and happy to see us together.
The experience really put me into the mindset for the next part of my journey, and for my adventure as a whole. Feeling relaxed and happy. My next stop was St George and the Comfort Inn, ready to catch my Greyhound bus to Denver at 04:30. I left Movara at around 1 pm and got checked in to my hotel, went out to explore, and make sure the bus stop was where I though it was, and it was literally just across the road, perfect. I found a restaurant around the corner and had a lovely piece of trout with sweet potatoes and vegetables, and a couple of glasses of wine, and watched the sunset, went back to the hotel to try and have an early night, ready for my early start.
Well after the events of day two it was decided that Elisabet would do a hike called West Canyon, which is a walk through Snow Canyon with some small slopes but no climbing. I decided to go with her. It was a special day too, Elisabet’s birthday, there was going to be no cake, even more reason to be together, if I could keep up with her, which I knew was unlikely, but we would share the experience.
There were four of us altogether doing the hike, and the setting was very beautiful, Snow Canyon has both white and red rock, and the landscape changes all the time as you make your way down the road. The guides don't escort you on this hike, the objective is to get to the end which is a hut with no road beyond its about 7 kilometres there. So you are sent on your way and told to turn around at 9:30 and make your way back for the bus. We started out as a foursome, chatting about the landscape, children and life. Elisabet and I were always being asked questions about Iceland, good job I had the expert with me, I learnt a lot from her. Eventually we pulled away from the other two and then Elisabet said to me do you mind if I go on, which of course I knew was inevitable and didn't mind one bit.
I walked alone at a good pace stopping occasionally to take a photograph, occasionally a bike rider or runner would pass me or be returning in the opposite direction. There was always a good morning and a smile. It was an absolutely wonderful experience walking through that canyon, alone with my thoughts only for company. I felt very spiritual again, I felt as though both of my sisters were with me somehow, floating along in the air beside me, urging me on. As you walk through the canyon it's like the back canopy of a stage setting just keeps changing, unfolding, I can't think of any other way I can describe it. There are small areas of plants, and I came across a patch of large cacti. I saw a Hare running across the gravel track. There were these pipes sticking up out of the ground alongside the track which were gurgling. What I hadn't noticed until I came back was there was a large covered reservoir just at the beginning of the walk. The sun was shining and all was good with the world. I managed to walk 5.5 Km by 9:30 and I was really pleased with that, now I had to get back. I met the two younger women who still haven't turned around a few minutes later, but still carried on alone, just me and the canyon. I was almost back at the van when Elisabet caught up with me, she had made it right to the end, but I was very pleased with my 11 km, it was the longest walk I had done in a long time.
On day four otherwise known as Thursday, some people were going kayaking instead of hiking, and we had spoken to the manager of the resort the night before about the hikes the following day, because by this time Elisabet had developed something of a cough as well, and so we wanted to know where we were going. Elisabet was very disappointed that she wasn't able to join in with the more advanced hikes, and I can certainly empathise with that, she had been looking forward to that part of the experience so much. Anyway we were told that there were two hikes happening the next day, ravine 1 and ravine 3, and we were going to do the first one. So we set off in a different direction this time through a little town called Santa Clara. A lot of the houses and businesses had wooden decorated cows outside, and I asked what that was about, It had recently been Swiss Day, when they commemorate the fact that a lot of the settlers in the town came from Switzerland. I managed to snap a few cows whilst driving back through, not really doing them justice, but you get the idea.
We arrived at the ravine and the other three went off with their guide and our guide led us up a hill for quite a while, he then took us down a little into the desert and we walked through the desert for some time, the conversation was varied and interesting, from Iceland, England, how the Mormons were run out of so many cities before they settled here. He showed us a plant which was used to make Morman tea and both he and Elisabet were chewing on it for a while. We talked about snakes and how expensive it is to get treated for a rattle snake bite, but we were ok because it was too cold for them to be out at the moment, phew. He told us a story about seeing a baby rattlesnake in the pathway in the spring when he was out hiking with his wife. He covered it with sand to warm it up and then poured some water on it to get it moving, and eventually it went back into the vegetation and out of harms way. Apparently the young ones are the most dangerous in terms of the venom they pump into you because they don't know how to control the amount yet, whereas older snakes only use enough venom to provide a warning… nice !
He also told us a story about a coyote and a goat they spotted on a hike once, they had passed a farm and were on a trail when they heard a goat bleating when they got closer the saw a goat cornered by a coyote which ran away when all the people appeared, they then realised that the goat had bite marks and blood on its head, so had a lucky escape, and they led it back to safety at the farm. I haven't seen one yet, but there are apparently plenty about where I am now too. When we were going to breakfast one morning Elisabet said she thought the noise we could hear was coyotes, howling in the mountains.
Whilst walking in the desert our guide got a call on his radio form the other guide asking where we where. His party had reached the highest point which was on a mountain alongside us. They were trying to see us, and we looked up and we could see them, there was a lot of frantic waving on our part until they spotted us in the middle of the desert. Even though it's the desert we are on a well marked trail and there was a significant amount of vegetation.
So it was time for us to turnaround and make out way through the ravine, I am not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn't what I got! The ravine wasn't too bad to start with, but it soon became and interesting exercise in how to get past the huge boulders which were in our way. Sometimes we could just squeeze through, other times we had to clamber and climb over the rocks to find a way to the other side, there was a point when I though what happens if we can't get through, but of course our guide was extremely experienced, and in his 70’s I believe, and he always found a way and gave me a helping hand when I needed it. My biggest problem was that one of my knees is not properly supported by the muscles in my leg, the result of being knocked down by a motor bike in London a few years ago. It was only when I started to train with Thomas that it started causing me problems. I finally got a diagnosis on it this year and am working to build up the muscles, earlier in the week I could hardly bend it enough to clamber down the rocks, or to sit on one to do a small jump, but I found it was getting much easier by the time I was doing this hike, even though some of the climbing down was really quite difficult. Eventually we made it out of the more difficult area of the ravine and back to the bus for the daily lecture and lunch.
This was in the plan from the word go, when Elisabet and I met in St Louis in February she told me she had been to this place in Utah six years ago, and how amazing it was to walk in the red mountains, freeing, beautiful and a good place for the soul. At the time she went it was licensed by The Biggest Loser, but they have since parted company. We decided it would be good for both of us to go together, and once I decided to retire it would then be a springboard on to the next part of my journey.
I must say that I was quite wary when the time came, the unknown and all that, was I up to it, could I cope with hours of exercise every day. Elisabet said to me on Sunday morning, ‘You're quiet’. A sure sign I have things on my mind. The pictures below show the changing landscape as we move through the mountains, taken from inside the mini bus.
We were up early, packed and an early breakfast at Denny’s, and an Uber to the airport, we had certainly had a lot of fun in Vegas, was this going to be as much fun? Well I can tell you one thing, by the time I started writing this it was eight days later, I haven't had time to write in the whole week apart from one hour I clawed back for myself on Friday, after the 5k race, when I was able to finish the Vegas chapter of my story. As I am writing this it's a very sad day in Vegas, after the biggest mass shooting in the US, the latest count I saw was 58 dead and 518 injured, horrific, and to think it's only eight days since I was there. At breakfast in my hotel this morning the mood was very somber and the news has, needless to say, been one long bulletin on the situation. I was so happy whilst I was there, it is such a place of fun, and I am sure it will take some time for the people and the community itself to recover, it's so sad how one individual for whatever reason, can destroy so many people's lives in a matter of minutes. Anyway, I am not going to say anymore on that subject for the moment.
On to the fat farm… that's what I have been calling it until I got there. We had to make our way back to the airport and from there got the St George shuttle. The ride was amazing, desert and then a road which had been carved out of the rock which was absolutely fabulous to drive through, it must have been an engineering feat to build One of our guides later in the week said they used to have to drive for miles around until that road was built. The location of the resort is phenomenal, and all the buildings are set around the swimming pool, every window, every vista has a backdrop of the beautiful red mountains. Breathtaking. The place was called the Movara Fitness resort, it had in the past been affiliated with 'The Biggest Loser', but is now independent and slightly less strict.
On arrival we were weighed in… and given lots of info about our bodies, so I have a lot of muscle, I have to thank my wonderful personal trainer for that, thanks Thomas. But I also have a lot of body fat to lose, no news there then, that's why I was there! Dinner on Sunday was at 5:30. As it was every day in fact, and there wasn't much, salad, a main on a tiny plate and a minute pudding. 1200 calories a day plus 2 snacks. Amazingly I wasn't hungry but when you first see what you get you think you are not going to survive. By the end of the week I didn't even want a salad at every meal and wasn't that hungry, so clearly my stomach has shrunk, which suits me.
Each day followed the same pattern, up at 6, stretch at 6:30 for 30 minutes and breakfast at 7, breakfast was a menu option meal and was probably the best meal of the day. At 8 you had to be ready to go out for a hike, which meant having your water supply sorted, your feet covered in a cream so that your socks and shoes didn't rub, layers of clothing, ready to remove top layers as it heated up, not that it was that cold at 8am. Meet at the front to find which bus you were going on. One the first day all the newbies went off together to work out their abilities. We did a lot of uphill that day, certainly got the heart rate going, well mine anyway, some were able to go so fast I was staggered. Elisabet was one of the fast ones I have to say, I was amazed at the speed with which she could walk and climb. I wasn't the last, but I wasn't fast. I had taken my Nordic poles with my but they were quite difficult on the terrain at times. We reached the target point of the hike and then came back a different way and even though we had climbed a lot we still seemed to be going up a lot to get down, yes I know seemed crazy to me too. Anyway I made it that was the main thing, I was quite relieved, but then I found out all the fast hikers had gone on somewhere else, so that made me feel a little pathetic. The guides were great and not at all judgemental if you have a problem they help you, and they encourage but also recognise if you have reached your limit. The views up in the mountains were just amazing, I keep using that word, I will have to think of some others to describe them.
When we return to base, as week one people we have to attend a lecture, then lunch, salad soup and a main. Then another lecture after lunch and then three 45 minute exercise classes in a row, with a much needed 15 minute break in between and class. The last class was a choice of pool exercises or stretch. On the first day I opted for stretch because I was being nervous about being a non swimmer in the pool. But after day one I did the pool every day, and it was glorious outside in the sunshine, and nothing hurt until you got out, then everything hurt every day. Then the highlight of the day dinner with a tiny pudding, and another lecture.
It was a hard regime, and by 8pm we were both in bed and usually asleep by 9:30. It was lights out at 10pm and then up again at six. My whole body ached and after every exercise event, when you sat down, it was the standing up that was difficult, people walking very strangely because their legs no longer function. Someone named it the Movara walk after the centre. I can report though that my feet were holding up very well after all the issues I had had in the first couple of weeks.
The 45 sessions were a variety of cardio and strength, weights, HIIT, dance and of course circuits. I managed well in most of them and enjoyed nearly all of them. I even managed to do a bit of running to various rocks and signs outside the building in the circuits. Don't laugh, it must have been a sight is all I can say. But once again I must thank Thomas Dawkins for all the training we did together, because of the huge variety of things we did, I was really able to cope quite well.
The pool was really interesting for me. I am a non swimmer ever since the woman who tried to teach me in secondary school, Leigh Girls Grammer School, used to wave a big stick at us, I haven't forgotten and have never learnt to swim as a result. I did have some lessons once and managed a width without drowning. Over the past few years when I go to Reykjavik I have been going to the old pool in the centre just behind Hallgrímskirkja, Sundhöll Reykjvikur on Barónsstígur. I love it for lots of reasons, because it's old and it has two lovely hotspots and a steam room outside, but it also has a children's swimming pool and I have managed to learn to float in there. By holding onto the rail I can float successfully for quite a while and I can now even let go of the rail. I have yet to learn to put my feet down whilst not holding on, then I think I will feel safer and be able to float more confidently. I think that is the place I will be able to learn to swim, but we will see.
Anyway I only digress because it shows my level of incompetence in the water. However doing the water aerobics I was perfectly able to do everything except the swimming, which there wasn't much of, what's more I enjoyed it enormously and so have decided it's something I need to take up and I am going to work on my confidence in the water whilst I am away, you never know what may come out of it as I would dearly love to be able to swim. So water added to my exercise agenda.
One of the other things we did was boxing, which I have done with Thomas a few times and always enjoy, but never worked in a class scenario and it was so much fun, another exercise class to add to the agenda.
When I saw how many lectures there were I was a bit non plussed especially as some of them clashed with some classes I would have liked to take like Pilates and Barre. But I have to admit they were really good, they weren't just about diet, but a wide range of topics, including why we over eat and how the brain works discussing topics such as anxiety and depression, how they can become cyclical and how we can lift ourselves out of these cycles. I know why I overeat and possibly, clears throat, over drink too, being honest, all those empty calories. But actually what I learnt has really helped me put it into perspective. Also I learnt how to plan to lose weight. So I have a plan, but the great news for me was that whilst I was there I lost 7.3 lbs and 9 inches off my vital statistics which is not bad for a week and a good kickstart to the next year.
So that's enough of the exercise classes, lectures and diet talk. I really wanted to say a bit about the hikes which were also quite life changing for me.
I talked about the day one hike earlier, day two I was put in the beginners group, phew is all I could say! Even intermediate seemed too hard to me. We were taken to a couple of places of interest on the way, one of which was a small canyon named after a young woman called Jenny who was inspired by the Snow Canyon State Park, very beautiful and almost spiritual.
We then went on and starting climbing up and clambering through some gaps, eventually out guides decided to take us up to Piano Rock. They pointed out this tiny grand piano looking structure on the top of a mountain. I said how do we get up there? Oh it's ok I was told, we follow that line and then we go up the side there and once we are on top it's easy! Ha ha
Well I made it most of the way, but when it came to the going up the side bit, I was suddenly overwhelmed by just how high up I was already and I not being very good with heights as I mentioned earlier, i realised there was no way on earth I could go any higher. The guides were great. They got everyone else up, which was no mean feat, and then one of them came back and took me down another way. I have to admit whilst sitting there alone, I became very tearful, disappointed in myself that I was too afraid, but I also knew it wasn't just the getting up there, I would also be afraid when up there. So I was safely returned to the van and we went to pick up people in a couple of places. We had a good chat on the way down and of course they have seen it all so I didn't feel quite so stupid. I don't think I am going to conquer my fear of heights at the age of 64 somehow, but I was pleased with what I did achieve in the climb. The photographs below show our progress through the hike, view them from the bottom up.