Category Archives: holiday

Horses for Courses.

At the risk of this appearing to become a travel or holiday blog, I felt the need to relay a story of something that happened during our time on safari in the Masai Mara a couple of years ago. Fear not though, the topic for my next post is already starting to formulate in that cluttered area of my head known as ‘my brain’ and it has almost next to nothing to do with holidays. Ok maybe a bit but not much and only as a by the way.

Now I must warn you that I fancy myself as a bit of a raconteur, or as some people say about me, “a gobby old fart that likes to rabbit”. So I would suggest you go and make yourself a cup of tea and make yourself comfy before going any further. I will wander off topic, beat about the bush and use far too many words before I actually get to the point.

Ready? Good, then I will begin:

You can, if you really want to, take a walking safari. After all, ‘safari’ in Swahili means ‘journey’. However, the vast majority of safaris in East Africa are undertaken in a vehicle. The majority of those vehicles are either Toyota or Nissan mini buses or converted Toyota Land Cruisers or Land Rovers known as ‘Bakkies”. They look like this:

A safari minibus
(and a lion)

A bakkie.
(and a lion)

Now when PIL and I first went on safari for our honeymoon (and before we actually got married) back in 1992 we travelled across the Tsavo National Parks in a mini bus and it was ideal. We were with four other tourists, Paul and Mary a young couple that were to become the witnesses for our wedding in Fort Jesus and an older couple that we four youngsters referred to as Daktari because he wore the full blown safari outfit and his new wife we called the Black Widow because Daktari was her fourth husband, the other three having died! Our driver/guide was a bloke called Gerald and the lenses in his spectacles were about half an inch thick. They looked like a couple of beer bottle bottoms in a wire frame but my goodness that man could spot wildlife like a leopard lounging in a tree half a mile away! Anyway, the mini bus was ideal for purpose with plenty of seats and room for us all, holes in the roof so we could take photos from there as well as out of the windows and while it bounced about a bit (actually it bounced about a lot) it was spot on for our purposes. What must be remembered though was that apart from the holes in the roof, it was a pretty bog standard mini bus – front wheel drive, no up rated suspension and a run of the mill manual gearbox. Now in the Tsavo parks of which there are two – East and West. Tsavo East is about 13,700 square kilometres and Tsavo West is about 9,000, there are a multitude of bumpy tracks running through the bush. The A109 road and a railway divide the two and the park is named after the Tsavo River which runs through it. Despite the river and Mzima Springs, the national park is a semi arid area formerly known as the Taru Desert and has, in recent years, suffered from terrible droughts. We were there in February and day time temperatures were over 35C so our days there were hot, bumpy and very dusty. Mzima Springs is a magical place, wonderfully peaceful with just birdsong and hippos snuffling and the sound of water rushing over rocks. There is a structure there where you can go below the surface and watch the hippos swimming about. There’s a lot of hippos there and a shit load of crocodiles too! Horrible beasties that would eat you given half a chance. It was also the place where we ran into some of the most inconsiderate tourists ever. A bunch of Italians rocked up pretending to be Tarzan or Howler monkeys. The fact that Howler monkeys live in South America escaped their small minds. Their arrival cued the disappearance of the many types of birds there, the hippos disappeared and my faith in God disappeared when he refused to listen to my prayers that the crocs scoffed the noisy tourists. Anyhoo, the mini bus we were in and in which a great many other tourists were travelling about in were more than adequate.

Fast forward to 2018 and we’re in Kenya again on safari with the three grown up kids in tow. This time however, we’re in the Masai Mara to see the Great Migration where millions of wildebeest, zebra, gazelles and sundry other ruminates follow the rains to find fresh grazing to eat and to be prey for an assortment of meat eating predators such as lions, leopards, cheetah, wild dogs, hyenas, crocodiles and other sharp toothed carnivores. We stayed at Sala’s Camp on the Sand River close to the border with Tanzania. This time our mode of transport was a Toyota Bakkie and what a piece of kit it was. 4 Wheel Drive, low transfer gear box, beefed up suspension with miles of travel, plenty of space for the five of us plus Moses the driver and Robert the spotter. And it had a table and chairs and an entire kitchen with all the pots and pans, burners, cutlery and food needed to supply breakfast and lunch out on the plains. Idyllic just doesn’t cover it adequately. It was just beautiful. Our own little heaven on earth. This is our Bakkie when we stopped for breakfast early one morning.

Our Bakkie

Breakfast on the Mara with our bakkie kitted out with all the necessities

Moses and Robert prepare breakfast

Greg and I at peace with the world.

Our bakkie. A superb piece of kit.

Ed, Greg and Robert looking out for wildlife from the top of our bakkie

We had already seen lions, elephants and giraffe along with buffalo,

zebra and wildebeest. We would see much more during the day:

It was while we were here that we came across the new kids on the block as far as loud, irritating tourists were concerned – the Chinese. There is nothing wrong with the Chinese per se but as tourists they are bloody awful. It seems that they turn up in their hundreds, almost as if several 747 Jumbo jets land at Nairobi airport from China, they all pile into dozens of mini buses and fuck off on safari! And every one of them has a selfie stick. I know where I would like to put them! And they don’t stop talking. You would happily be looking at a leopard chewing on a gazelle in a tree

when you would hear a murmuring in the distance that gets increasingly louder and suddenly, over the brow of a nearby hill, 30 mini buses full of Chinese tourists all nattering away to each other and waving their bloody selfie sticks would appear. They would cajole their driver to get closer and closer until a) you can’t see anything and b) the leopard thinks “Fuck this, I’m off” and clears off somewhere quieter.

Whereupon the Chinese all bugger off to ruin the peace and quiet of someone else’s safari.

We covered a great many miles in our bakkie. We crossed rivers and streams, bumped over bumps, cleared new paths through long grass, drove through thick gooey mud and only got stuck once. Moses engaged the low ratios and off we went again. Much wetter in the Mara than it is in Tsavo so we were glad to be travelling in a vehicle suited to the conditions.

A few days into our safari we came across a couple of lionesses with some young cubs. This is them:

They were on little islands of dry ground surrounded by boggy ground. Moses got as close as he dared without getting stuck as even 4x4s can get stuck. As ever, as we took photos and enjoyed the sight of the cubs playing, a murmuring was heard in the distance and all of a sudden, a shed load of Toyota mini buses filled with chattering Chinese waving their selfie sticks about appeared and promptly started to surround the area where the lions were. One, possibly pressured by his clients, ventured closer than he should of and as you’d expect, got stuck. No amount of wheel spinning was going to get it out. The Chinese in the other mini buses took their photos and, waving their selfie sticks in the air, fucked off somewhere else. We drove away in the opposite direction.

A couple of hours later we passed by the little islands in the swamp and that minibus with its occupants was still there, still spinning its wheels and the lionesses were prowling around. We drove on towards Salas Camp, our evening meal and a few gin and tonics

 

and as we disappeared over the horizon, Robert called out to Moses;

“They’re still there.”

“Hmmmm”, said Moses and, as we bumped along the track in our bakkie at 15kph in 2nd gear, Moses turned to us and said;

“Looks like the lions are having Chinese for dinner tonight.”

Have a tremendous day wherever you are.

More Dick soon.

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Meribel 2019/2020. Part Trois.

Well, it’s over. We’re back home.

It really was a fantastic holiday and once again PIL excelled herself. The chalet we stayed in was fantastic with tons of space, we each had our own bedroom although PIL and CJ shared. The views across the valley to the mountains were superb and the food and drink we had was first class. Our thanks go out to the staff from Purple Ski who looked after us – Althea, Dane and Ryan looked after us extremely well although I have a bone to pick with Dane who cooked up such delicious food.

Ryan, Dane and Althea. Our thanks to all three of you for ensuring we had a great time and taking such good care of us.

During the week we stayed I put on 3 kilos of weight! Bugger me, that’s a shed load of visits to the gym, a place I’ve failed to go to for several years now. I was a bit of a chubby boy before we went and now I’m a right porker! It was worth it though. Ryan fixed up the boys with massages to ease their aches and pains and sorted Eds knee out with some K taping.

CJ had a massage with a young lady whose name I completely forget (Sorry) and had her arm, leg and back sorted out. Althea made sure we wanted for nothing during our stay. She knew where everything was and made sure everything was available and she always had a smile on her face. She organised cake and balloons for Eds birthday which is next week and put champagne, wine, beers and glasses down by the hot tub as she knew the kids went straight there after a full day on the slopes.

Dane took the kids out on the slopes one morning when he was off duty and took them onto some incredible runs so they spent more time skiing and less time figuring out where to go and how to get there. Even he was amazed at the amount of energy those three have! Greg was particularly pleased with himself on this day as the boys have apps on their phones that recorded their speed. Greg achieved just over 59mph on one of the runs Dane took them too. Next time he wants to get to over 62mph as this equates to 100kph. Mad sod!

PIL and I had a productive time in the peace and quiet each day. I have a couple of things to finalise before I get my new project off the ground and I will have them sorted later today if all goes according to plan. If not, by tomorrow. We had a walk most days, just down the village for a poke around the shops and to look in the estate agents windows at all the lovely chalets for sale and to gasp at the prices! We returned home with a lot of catalogues and brochures!

Best of all though was spending time together as a family, eating fine food (and plenty of it!), drinking excellent wines, Althea sorted out a variety of pre dinner cocktails, generally having a great time talking, squabbling, playing Uno (I never did win although PIL is the reigning champion) and other games we discovered in the chalet and playing an app on Eds phone.

It was great time. We all enjoyed ourselves immensely. So much so that it gave us cause to discuss amongst ourselves how we holiday and whether we should change the way we do it. More on that soon.

Time to end this post now as I have stuff to do today, including hanging out the umpteenth load of laundry and putting the next one into our long suffering washing machine.

Have a great day wherever you are.

More Dick soon.

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Meribel 2019/2020.

So it’s now the evening of Thursday 2nd January 2020. Greg has control of the music via Sonos. So far we have experienced Swedish Heavy Metal and Mongolian Throat music. I do wonder about that boy sometimes! Eventually, suitable background music was selected. Not sure what it was but I seem to recall thinking it was Sade without Sade. Bear in mind that several glasses of wine had been consumed before we sat down to eat so everything was a bit vague. One of the pleasures of staying in a catered ski chalet is that it comes with staff. A bloke to drive you to the ski lifts who coincidentally was the sports massage therapist and K taping specialist, someone to tidy up after you and assist with serving of wine, beer and food and a chef who prepared breakfast and an evening meal. Our chef, Dane, is from that world renowned centre of culinary excellence – Sunderland. So in amongst the ‘Whey aye man’ and ‘Canny like’ coming from the kitchen area, (Yes I know that’s Geordie, but it’s close enough) Dane cooked up a veritable delight of food for us. Every evening we all ended up completely stuffed and with a fine selection of wines, slightly inebriated as well. On his day off, we made a reservation at one of the many restaurants in the area, Le Cèpe, and had a meal there. Le Cèpe specialises in, but not exclusively, meals with cèpes or porcini mushrooms that they forage for locally. I had a really rather nice scollop risotto with a substantial amount of assorted mushrooms. The rest of the tribe had a variety of mains, some with mushrooms and some without which is fortunate as both CJ and Greg don’t like them. Highlight of the meal however was not the dessert that CJ ordered. Unknown to us, the restaurants chef would appear to be heavily influenced by that Blumenthal bloke and she ended up with a nice dollop of mushroom ice cream! Not well received! I like mushrooms and I thought it was gross. Despite that, we had a very nice if expensive meal. It has to be said though that we all much prefer the grub back at the chalet.

The point of this holiday though is not so much about the food and drink although that does play a part, but in Ed, Greg and CJ disappearing each morning just after 9am when the lifts open, going up whichever mountain or area they have decided on, spend several hours skiing a variety of runs until they stop for a lunch time meal and drink at one of several mountain top bars and restaurants and then spend another few hours skiing down even more mountains before returning to the chalet just before dark and jumping in the hot tub before dinner. After eating we will continue with our leisure activities that I hope leads to a dramatic improvement in my ability to play Uno and maybe even winning a hand or two. Would help if the rules didn’t keep changing

PIL and I have spent our time doing stuff that is difficult to do in the course of our normal day to day activities. I have accomplished a lot towards my personal objectives for the next few years and the fruit of that labour will appear to the world very soon now. Just a couple of things to finish off which I will have completed this week. We have both had the opportunity to recharge our batteries  and to spend time with our three children laughing, playing, arguing and squabbling. I can’t think of a better way to spend the day.

There now follows a shed load of photographs and short movie clips. I hope you enjoy them.

 

Have a lovely day wherever you may be.

More Dick soon.

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Skiing. Meribel 2019/20.

Happy New Year. I hope you had a fantastic Christmas and wishing you a happy, healthy and prosperous new year.

A short video clip. More to follow some time soon once we’ve sorted all the photos and video clips that Ed, Greg and CJ have on their phones.

Enjoy.

Have a lovely day wherever you may be.

More Dick soon.

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Oh Crap! We’re Going Skiing Again.

Oh yes! We are off skiing. We are going to Meribel again, part of the Three Valleys (Les Trois Vallées) ski area in the French Alps.

Meribel is the quintessential French ski village. Filled with honey hued log cabins and chalets, hotels, shops selling skis and all the paraphanelia that goes with skiing – the clothes, the hats, the boots and gloves. There are also several Pharmacies selling knee braces, bandages, muscle soothing unctions and pain killers for when you bust yourself up. (I am a frequent visitor to the Pharmacies and have several loyalty cards).

There are bars and restaurants in every road where you can eat the most superb food along with a huge selection of first class wines and beers.

We will be staying in a catered chalet again and if last year is anything to go by, it will be fantastic. Whether there will be a hot tub outside we will discover when we get there.

Ed, Greg and CJ will undoubtedly spend most of each day on the slopes. There are plenty of them. Meribel boasts a total of 76 runs comprising 8 Green; 36 Blue; 23 Red and 9 Black and with 50+ lifts getting up the mountains is easy as is access to the rest of the Three Valleys with over 300 runs covering over 600 kilometres. The scenery, as you would expect is truly magnificent and riding the lifts you are struck by the vistas and also the silence.

 

About to hit the slopes

Post lunch

PIL, who does not ski and has no interest in it, will spend her time drinking coffee, looking cool and vivacious and probably spend time doing whatever she does on her laptop (looking at French Chateaus is odds on favourite). This year I may well give skiing a miss. I have stuff to do on my laptop that will enable me to start a new venture in 2020 and pursue a couple of interests that I have. More on that soon. It must also be said that when it comes to skiing, I am rubbish.

I belong to an elite group of skiers that receive top class coaching teaching us every aspect of skiing right down to how to put your boots on properly. You get taught how to get on the lift and get off again, start off down the slope, how to turn and most importantly, how to stop. Yet despite all of this expert instruction, we remain utter crap. If there was a league table of the the worst skiers I may not top it but I’d definitely be in with a chance for a Champions League place! I am so bad that I don’t even fall over with any style. The GIFs aren’t of me but they do demonstrate how bloody awful I am:

Day 1

Day 3

Day 5

Day 7

Even a 2 year old crashes with more panache than I do:

Even a two year old crashes with far more style than me

Now I’ve never seen my kids crash while skiing. This is mainly due to only being skilled enough to manage the nursery slopes while they spend most of their time up on the Red and Black slopes. I’m sure though that when they do crash it’s epic:

An epic fail by a proper skier. The way it should be done.

I may just sort a day pass for the slopes and hire skis and the other kit and spend a morning out on the gentle slopes but I’ll make that decision when we’re there. More importantly, I will have time to devote some serious concentration on stuff I want to start next year. Time is something I don’t normally have much of due to work and other commitments so I need to make the most of it. Although Ed, Greg and CJ will be spending most of the daylight hours on the slopes, for PIL and I it will be an opportunity to spend quality time with the three of them, to sit together eating and drinking in the evening, playing cards, Scrabble and squabbling. Can’t wait.

I’ll let you know how it all goes once we get back.

In the meantime, have a great day wherever you may be.

More Dick soon.

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Aloha Hawaii. Holiday 2019 Pt 2.

So we left the Andaz at stupid o’clock in the morning and went back to LAX where we checked in our luggage and went through the delight that is security in US airports. Actually, it wasn’t that bad although it would be better if the staff occasionally smiled. You feel you dare not crack a joke for fear of being escorted to a nearby room strip searched, anally probed and other such indignities. I’m sure there are some people that might enjoy such searches but I ain’t one of them. So it was keep schtum and carry on. Once through, it was a case of sitting about waiting for our flight to be called. I got my book out and continued to read. This years holiday reading material was a volume written by Mark Manson. Mark is a well known blogger, life style coach and general good egg apparently. The book I had was (and is) entitled “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. A counterintuitive approach to living a good life”. And what a jolly good read it was. I will undoubtedly read it again. There was some very good advise and excellent explanations as to what he is on about. Basically, he states that it’s not a case of not giving a fuck about anything at all – that’s being a psychopath. This is about being selective about what to give a fuck about.

It’s not about giving a fuck about everything your partner gives a fuck about; it’s about giving a fuck about your partner regardless of the fucks he or she gives.

Indeed.

Anyway, our flight was called so off we trundled down to the gate and took off on our 4 and a bit hour flight to the most isolated population center on the face of the earth.

We landed on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Oahu is the site of Honolulu, Waikiki beach, Pearl Harbour, the only royal palace in the United States, the site of the worlds largest wind generator (it wasn’t while Greg was there!) and for those of you who are surfer dudes, the place to find the Banzai Pipeline.

We were staying on the North Shore at the Turtle Bay resort and once again, PIL nailed it. It was lovely. Gorgeous rooms.

 

Pools, restaurants, shops, bars, a ranch where you could go horse riding and for Ed and Greg the absolute ultimate – a championship golf course designed by some bloke called Arnold Palmer. The beaches weren’t bad either.

 

It goes without saying that we all descended on the golf course so that Ed and Greg could play a round while PIL, CJ and I looked on in amusement. Actually in truth, PIL and I love watching our two sons playing golf together in an atmosphere of friendly rivalry. To do so meant that we had to learn yet another new language. Perhaps it’s to do with creating a mystique around it and all other sports. The first picture below is of the bane of Ed and Gregs life.

To you and me, it’s a ball but not in golf it’s not. In golf it’s called a “bastard”. We’ve heard it called other things, some of the terms used have shocked both PIL and I causing PIL to put her hands over CJs ears. We never knew they knew such words but we’ll stick with “bastard”. The object of golf, or so it seems, is to hit the bastard off a little thing the golfer pushes into the ground called a “tee”. It’s not shaped like a tee though. It looks vaguely like a miniature egg cup on a spike. The idea being to get the bastard down a small hole somewhere off in the distance.

The distance varies for each hole and you have to do this for EIGHTEEN different holes. Each individual hole has what is known as a “par” which is the number of strokes it takes to get from the teeing off position to the bastard going down the hole. Normally, it’s either 3 for a short hole, 4 for a slightly longer hole and 5 for a hole way off in the distance. Occasionally Greg or Ed will achieve par. Not very often, but sometimes. And when one of them does they are both ecstatic. Scoring the number of shots required to make the bastard disappear down the hole (whereupon you immediately take it out again!) is also odd. Golfers don’t use numbers. They use words like “par” or “birdies” or “eagles” or “bogies” or even “double bogies”. There’s probably a “vulture” and a “snot” in there somewhere but they must be for really low scores cos neither Greg or Ed have had a vulture or a snot. I think there’s an albatross in there somewhere as well.

The route from the tee to the hole is also fraught with danger. Along the way are “bunkers” which are just sand filled holes and “water features” that are really ponds and small lakes. The bastards that Ed and Greg use must be a special type because they seem to gravitate towards these hazards fairly regularly. The other thing that their bastards seem very fond of are areas known as “the rough”. You and I would call these areas “long grass”, “lots of bushes” and “trees”.

The boys seem to have bastards that have a particular attraction for these areas and it has to be said that sometimes, when the bastard lands in these areas, the language did get a bit ripe! The huge golf bastards shown below would be the boys ideal as it would make their life so much easier to find their bastards in amongst the “rough” but unfortunately, these ones are the domes from one of the radar stations dotted around protecting Pearl Harbour.

Irrespective of that, we all had a wonderful time on the course. The setting was glorious, the sun shone and it was just a joy for us all to wander around enjoying each others company.

 

 

Sometimes you had to settle in for a long wait

The kids also played tennis on one of several courts on the resort. PIL and I didn’t indulge but we went along to watch and act as umpires. Ed was wearing his sliders so just indulged in a knock about while Greg and CJ played a one set match. It was too hot to play more.

As in indication of the heat, the air conditioning in our room was set at 70F and it felt like a fridge when we walked into the room.

Most of all though we did that family thing we do. We slobbed around by the pool, drank and had far too much to eat.

 

Every evening we, like most of the resort guests, went and watched the sun go down. It was always spectacular and I make no excuses for the number of photographs we took. Every second of every sunset was different. The colours changed constantly and the way the skies altered throughout each setting was just amazing to watch.

We walked along the beach and poked about on the movie set when they weren’t filming (or looking). It seems Disney were filming a Christmas movie for release this year I think. Some famous actors were banging about and staying at the resort but I have no idea who most of them are. I did recognise one but not got a clue as to his name. No doubt CJ will remind me. Every now and again, each of us would wander off for a few minutes alone, to collect our thoughts and spend awhile losing ourselves. We were staying in a place where you could that.

 

 

Every afternoon at around the same time, turtles would appear just off the beach. Possibly to feed, I’m not sure. Their arrival could have had something to do with the tides but the tides in Hawaii are minuscule, a couple of feet at most. There are reasons for this but primarily there are points in the middle of oceans where tides are much smaller. These points are called amphidromes. Hawaii is near the center of the Pacific and only a few hundred miles from one of the amphidromes, hence not much in the way of tides. Whether the turtles were feeding or not I’m not sure but they did seem to be, coming right up to the solidified lava rock that formed a sea wall on stretches of the beach and poking about in all the nooks and crannies.

The sea itself was wonderfully clear and I have to say that on the parts of the beach we wandered along, there was a noticeable absence of any type of plastic. It was the same at Santa Monica and Venice beaches where the beaches themselves were clear of any plastic or litter of any kind. It was only beyond the beach at Venice that litter could be found. In recent years we have travelled to beaches in the Caribbean (Antigua) and the Indian Ocean (Mauritius and Kenya) and we found plastic litter dotted about but there was none to be seen in Hawaii. There may have been elsewhere on the island but we never left the resort so I couldn’t say.

 

Unfortunately, the time came when we had to leave and return home. As ever, we all wished we could stay but it as not to be. We gathered our belongings and went back to Honolulu International airport, went through a check with the Hawaiian Agriculture Department, checked in our luggage, went through security without a problem and flew to San Francisco where after a few hours of waiting (and going through security again) we got on our flight back to Heathrow. We turned left again as we entered the aircraft and took up residence in our lovely seats, drank drink and stuffed our faces with pleasant food. As time went on we all turned our seats into beds (press a button and hey presto!), had a nice sleep before arriving back in England and facing a 3 hour journey via the M25 before getting home.

Once again, PIL had sorted us all out with an absolutely superb holiday. Everything she had arranged was simply first class and leaves all of us wondering  how to follow that? No doubt she will and we are all eternally grateful to her for putting our holiday together.Where to next? We shall see.

Have a wonderful time wherever you may be.

More Dick soon.

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Holiday. Summer 2019

Hello. It’s been a while since my last post. Over a year in fact but I’m back now.

Our holiday this year was later in the summer than usual as Greg graduated from the University of Leeds in July and we weren’t going to miss that.

This year, we started our holiday in Los Angeles. A place we had never been to before. We were staying for a few days before continuing our adventure in Hawaii. We’d not been there either. So, full of excitement and anticipation we left for Heathrow.

We checked in our luggage and got our boarding passes, went through security with no issues and headed straight to the Virgin lounge where we indulged in good food, fine wines and cold beers.

It was while we were here that my brain had one of its primeval, fight or flight moments. The eye is drawn to movement, especially when seen out of the corner of the eye. You know the kind of thing, “Predator, food or safe?”

I noticed a movement out of the corner of my eye. My brain instantly and correctly saw this as my own reflection and of no danger whatsoever. It also, incorrectly, identified me as this:

 

Me according to my brain!

I hate my brain. For a start my belly button is an innee not an outtee!

Our flight was called and we wandered off to the gate to board. Which prompts the question of why is your boarding gate a million miles away? It is always a 15 to 20 minute walk.

We boarded the aircraft and turned left whereupon we were offered a choice between champagne or orange juice. Determined to get our moneys worth, we had champagne. We found our seats and settled down for a 10 hour flight. I can tell you now that flying business, or “Upper” as Virgin call it is no hardship at all, even for 10 hours. Your own seat that turns into a bed, plenty of leg room, more privacy, better food and movies and plenty to drink as long as you’re not stupid about it. There’s a bar if you fancy propping it up or you can have drinks brought to your seat. Fantastic!

We landed at LAX and prepared to face US Immigration.

Which turned out not to be as bad as expected. While not exactly sailing through, it didn’t take long and the staff were reasonably good humoured. What happened next however, was a bit of a problem. Our instruction were to leave the Terminal, find the black and white ‘Super Shuttle’ lollipop, announce ourselves to the member of staff there and 15 to 30 minutes later we would be on our way to our hotel. We did all that and then after about 20 minutes asked when our shuttle would arrive. We’d seen half a dozen come and go with a single person or a couple getting in. Turns out we’d been cancelled! The guy tried to resolve the issue and judging by the look on his face he was dealing with an imbecile. Eventually, after being cancelled several times, including one as our shuttle bus pulled up that caused some mutterings among us, we got on board our bus that we shared with another pair of people. We pulled into the traffic and believe me when I say traffic outside the LAX terminals is horrendous. I’m not sure how many lanes there are – 6 possibly 8, but it crawls along and every lane is absolutely heaving with cars, trucks, vans, lorries, motorcycles and buses.

Finally, we arrived at our hotel, the Andaz in West Hollywood. It was on the famous Sunset Strip, part of Sunset Boulevard and what an hotel it was. PIL nailed this. It was lovely.

We were welcomed by the staff, offered complimentary wine, that we gratefully accepted and wandered up to our rooms which were very plush.

Turns out the Andaz has quite a rock n roll history. Little Richard lived there for about 20 years. When The Doors were the house band at Whiskey a Go Go, which is a hundred yards down the road from the hotel, Jim Morrison lived there until he got chucked out for dangling off his balcony by his finger tips. Axel Rose set off the fire alarms when he decided to have a barbecue on his balcony. The two Keiths, Richards and Moon are alleged to have lobbed their TVs out of the windows of their rooms. Richard Cole, Led Zeppelins manager used to ride his motor bike in the corridors. Robert Plant, the vocalist from Led Zeppelin is also said to have screamed from his balcony, “I am a golden god”, which probably explains why they only played stadiums as they were the only venues with room for his ego!

Those days are long gone now but there are a few hints about its history dotted around.

Some of the art in the hotel lobby

The following morning after a wonderful breakfast, we all headed off in an uber to Santa Monica beach. Los Angeles covers a huge area and it took a while to get there but it was worth it. The beach is brilliant and the pier is really nice. I never realised that the famous Route 66 ended at the pier (or started depending on your viewpoint). They were filming an episode of a tv programme (911?) on the pier but it didn’t interfere with us or anyone else enjoying themselves there. We meandered up and down the pier, popped into a few shops and cafes, took photographs and generally made like tourists. We walked on the beach or rather we tippy toed across it going “ooh aah ooh aah ooh aah” ‘cos the sand was bloody hot. The sea looked very inviting but I couldn’t help but think ‘shark’ and so we decided against a swim. We figured out that Venice Beach was just down the beach aways and within walking distance, so off we went, looking forward to seeing all the cool hipsters gliding about on roller skates and skate boards. Instead we found a bit of a dump! Lots of homeless people lying under tents made from sheets of plastic, litter, tatty shops selling tatty goods. I think that’s what surprised us. We’d seen some homeless people at Santa Monica but there seemed to be an awful lot centred on Venice Beach. It was not really what we expected, especially in California. We’d all seen plenty of homeless people begging in London and some in Canterbury but the sense of despair we felt here and the numbers we saw was quite depressing. Despite this, we had an excellent time at the beach both of which were spotlessly clean.

One of my favourites photos of all three kids

 

 

One of my favourites

We took in a walking, guided tour in Griffith Park where the Hollywood sign is although you can’t get too close to it simply because there aren’t any roads or paths the public can use that lead up to it or even get close. What we did get though was an excellent guided tour, magnificent views across Los Angeles and a bit dusty. Our guide told us about the wild life to be found in the park, mostly coyotes and a huge variety of birds. She forgot to mention the rattle snakes! Not that we saw any but it would of been nice to be aware of them. Not that I’m worried about snakes, I quite like them. Apparently during the course of our walk we bumped into the actress Andie MacDowell who was walking her dog. We went to the Observatory which was cool.

Note the warning sign!!

 

It goes without saying that we had a shopping trip to Rodeo Drive. CJ was in her element and led the rush to the Louis Vuitton shop. It has to be said that the attitude of the shop staff to 5 scruffy looking Brit tourists was first class and very welcoming. If we had gone into similar shops in London looking like we did, the staff would have been looking down their collective noses at us.

CJ leading the way straight to the Louis Vuitton store.

The other very important part of our trip to Rodeo Drive was that nearby was The Cheesecake Factory! Oh goodness me! What a wonderful place this is. We had been to one in Florida and didn’t want to miss out on another visit. The menu consisted of a list of two or three mains which were jolly nice if you like burgers and fries (which we do). The rest of the menu consists of a list of about 750 million different cheesecakes . Oh joy of joys. It’s not just a pokey little portion that you get in most places. What you get is a great big fuck off slab of cheesecake! Heaven! Plus, if you can’t finish it, which is highly likely unless you’re a fat bastard, they give you a doggy box to put the left overs in to take with you. Brilliant. Heart disease in a take away box.

Mostly though, we did what we love to do and are experts in – doing bugger all. The Andaz had a roof top pool and bar where we spent some considerable time lazing about and drinking and just chilling out in the sunshine. The view from there across LA was quite incredible if somewhat hazy sometimes.

The coolest and best looking woman in the whole of Los Angeles

Art work in the hotel car park

Apart from lazing about and drink superb Californian wines we also stuffed our faces with food. Simple stuff that as tourists we were duty bound to do. We went to an ‘In n Out’ which is similar to McDonalds except they make to order rather than having stuff sitting under a hot lamp. It was rammed solid, absolutely manic in there. We loved it but unfortunately for us we were behind a coach load of Chinese tourists. 32 of the buggers I think so we had a bit of a wait but we didn’t mind. It gave the boys a chance to grab a table outside and while it was nothing special it was an experience. (As a by the by, Chinese tourists are the worlds worst. They go everywhere in groups of a million, shouting and hollering and getting in the way of everyone else. They are a complete pain in the arse! They were a bloody nuisance in Kenya last year too)

We went to Wahlburgers which is owned by the famous acting family. We had a meal at the Riot House which is the Andaz restaurant. We also went to the Saddle Ranch Chop House which was an absolute blast. Saddle Ranch knows exactly what it is – a raucous cowboy themed place just a couple of doors down from the Andaz. We loved it! It’s even got a mechanical bull there. We didn’t attempt it as I could see me either breaking a limb or vomiting all over the place. Other people did though and it was brilliant. Green Day playing American Idiot on the tv screens, noise, laughter and just a heap of people having a great time. The ribs that Ed and I had looked like they had come from episode of the Flintstones! They were huge!

 

 

 

 

 

There was a huge array of restaurants in the immediate vicinity of the hotel. There was Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Italian, Vegan, posh and not so posh. Whatever you fancied, it was catered for. Thoroughly recommend West Hollywood for food.

Eventually though it was time to go. Our Super Shuttle to take us back to LAX was booked for 3.30 am and we decided to give it until 3.40 and if it hadn’t arrived we were getting an uber! As it happened, it arrived at 3.20 and shortly afterwards we were on our way to start the next part of our adventure in the most isolated population center on the face of the earth. 2,390 miles from California; 3,850 miles from Japan; 4,900 miles from China and 5,280 miles from the Philippines.

The story of that part of our adventure will be along shortly.

Have a brilliant day wherever you may be.

More Dick soon.

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