mandag 28. september 2015

The last week

Day 22 – Chicago

We drove in to downtown Chicago from a suburb an hour north, and parked at the hotel, at a walking distance from the most busy areas of Chicago. From there we walked down to Millennium park to see the famous Cloud Gate, and walked around in the park for a bit. Afterwards we took a bus to Lincoln park where we found the Chicago history museum. We joined a very interesting tour presenting the beginning of Chicago as a town, the origins of the name, and of course the fire, the rebuilding, world fairs and racial confrontations. We spent about three hours at the museum and I could easily have spent another three, if we didn't start to get hungry or have anything else to see.
We took the bus back to the shopping area, and had real Chicago style pizza for a late lunch. Then we went shopping on Michigan avenue, without much to show for it afterwards, some bath cubes from Lush and some candy. After check-in and some rest at the hotel we were still not really hungry after lunch, so we had some real Chicago milkshake for dinner. I had another dip into US specialities and had cotton candy milkshake! It really tasted of cotton candy, I don't see how they make it. I also had a fudge milkshake. Since the milkshakes actually came in small sizes (microscopic sizes in US terms) I decided to have two. 

Day 23 – Chicago – Elkhart

In the morning Tollef went for a run to the waterfront while I slept in. When he came back we got some breakfast, and headed east to Amish Country and Elkhart. The original plan was to go straight to Detroit from Chicago, but then we realised we were going through Amish Country on the way and decided to take some time here. We will be following a Heritage Trail from Elkhart, ending up in Shipshewana, where there is supposed to be a lot of Amish stores and a museum.

Day 24 Elkhart – Shipshewana – Toledo – Detroit

Today was the first day we went really off our planned track, and took some back roads. We decided to do the first half of the Heritage Trail, an audio-guided (driving our car, yes) tour through the Amish Country. Starting out in Elkhart, we got some information about the town we saw the previous day. Then we followed some back roads to the towns of Bristol and Middlebury, while getting some stories and information about sights that we passed. We decided not to stop everywhere, as that would have taken too much of the day.
In Shipshewana we parked and had decided to walk through the town and back. We saw the famous flea-market, a huge stall marked with food stalls, home made furniture and other hand crafted things, clothing, hardware, pet supplies, as well as the usual Chinese cheap stall goods, and a camel you could feed carrots. We walked around for a bit and had a raspberry pie before we walked on.
On the road there were several Amish buggies passing, and there were Amish people everywhere, as well as other local people (a lot of them probably Mennonites, much like Amish but less strict) and of course a lot of tourists. Because the Amish don't like to be photographed I took very few photos in Shipshewana.
After a bit of shopping we visited the Menno-hof museum, learning about the history and beliefs of the Mennonites and Amish peoples, and their lives in Amish country. It was very interesting and I learned a lot. I also realised that I believe in a lot of the same things that the Amish do, even if I lead a very different kind of life. On our way back to the car we stopped for lunch in a small shopping centre, and I got some gifts in their large store, as well as an Amish-style bonnet for myself.

Out of Shipshewana we decided to take a small detour just to get through Ohio and put one more state on the list – a 5 minute detour. And then we chose another scenic route to go past some nice little lakes with a lot of holiday houses along the beach, and really nice and clear water. In Toledo we stopped for milkshake. I just couldn't forget the cotton candy milkshake from Chicago, and we found a Cold Stone Creamery close to the road in Toledo. From there we turned north, and, not for the first time, wove our way through miles and miles of roadwork for the last bit in to Detroit.

Day 25 – Detroit – Niagara Falls

After two nights of bad sleep, I didn't feel very well when I woke up. Possibly also because my body and mind both realise that we are nearing the end of our trip, and is full with impressions, driving, museums, history, eating out and everything else. We are staying at least two nights in Niagara Falls, just to take it easy and relax, apart from a trip out to see the Falls, of course.

Before leaving Detroit we drove around parts of the city and saw some of the empty, neglected buildings that are left several places. Then we drove through the tunnel and came up in Canada. Not very different from the other side of the border, of course, but still very nice. Tollef drove to Niagara so I got some sleep.

In Niagara we had booked a motel quite close to the river. We checked in, and went to a nearby pizza place for dinner. On our way back to the motel we walked by the river and got our first glimpse of the falls, but decided to leave it to tomorrow, since it started to get dark. I suppose we will try to see the sunset tomorrow.

Day 26 – Niagara Falls

To save us some walking de decided to rent a tandem bike to get around to see the Niagara Falls. First, we walked by a spa on our way, planning an afternoon treat for me. Despite quite updated websites they were closed down. Then we walked to the bike rental and got our bike. Riding tandem felt a bit wobbly from the start, but worked out ok. We went down to the Queen Victoria Park and saw the rapids before the falls, and then turned north along the river, getting soaked trying to get a photo of the falls. Then we continued north to the Whirlpool bridge, and then back to downtown. There we dropped by a hotel spa and booked an appointment for me, before delivering the bike and heading back to the hotel for a short rest.
In the afternoon I spent one hour being scrubbed and massage, incredibly relaxing. Tollef met me after the spa, and we went to a nearby American-Italian restaurant for dinner. When we were finished, it was still an hour until sunset, and the sky was clouded, so we just decided to call it a day.

Day 27 – Niagara Falls – Nyack

The easiest way to get from to motel to the mall across the road? Driving, of course!
In the morning, I had a short shopping stop at PetSmart, a chain supermarket for pet supplies. Then we drove across the Rainbow bridge from the Canada side and back to the US. We made a short trip to Goat's Island to see the Niagara from the US side, and then headed south. We weren't quite sure about the plan for the last few days, but at our lunch stop in Bath we decided to stay in Nyack for the last two nights, about an hour from the airport.
Arriving at the motel in the evening, the first thing that met us was four or five police cars surrounding a car and some people. I am still not sure what was happening, but they were gone after we checked in and got our luggage from the car. That is, after changing our room, because the first room we got smelled of smoke.
We thought to go to have some dinner in the mall across the road – apparantly one of the largest malls in the US. The road was very busy and had no pedestrian crossing that I could see in any direction, so we ended up taking the car for the few hundred metres across the road and to one of the main entrances. Taking the same way out after dinner we discovered that we were not allowed to turn left, and ended up driving a mile away to be able to make a u-turn back to the motel. 

Day 28 – Last whole day!

We drove half an hour to the nearby town Port Chester for breakfast and to actually touch the Atlantic ocean. Wow, here we are!
Then we drove north through Hudson Valley, and went for a nice two-hour hike there. It was quite steep in parts, and I am afraid I will feel the result tomorrow. Back in Nyack we had dinner on a brewpub in town, and did some foodshopping before going back to the motel for a shower and a quiet evening.

Day 29 – Nyack – Newark

We got up, finished packing, and drove across the street for some shopping. I didn't really find much, but got a new dog toy and a new blouse. Something for myself, for a change. After a quick lunch, consisting of milkshake, we headed south for the airport, with just a quick detour via a Cracker Barrel store store to buy some last minute gifts.
I'm happy we were early at the airport, as SAS had managed to mess up my upgrade, so it took a bit of time to solve that. Then we settled in the lounge to have some food and wait for our flight back home. Tomorrow morning I will wake up in Norway!

The End

Wow. It's been a great trip, but I am also glad to be home. A month away is a long time, I kind of have gotten used to it, but it will still be nice to get back to everything familiar, and get some routine again. Doing something different, going somewhere new every day, is tiring after a while. We have had surprisingly good luck with most of the motels, nice weather almost all the time, except for one single day of heavy rain, no troubles with illness or anything else.
I have learned so much more about the USA, about the history, cultures, the food, and the land itself. In some ways, it is everything you have seen on TV, and then it is so much more. In many ways the Americans are just like the average Norwegian, they get up in the morning, drive to work, have dinner with the family and spend the evening before the TV. But also there are a larger variety of people, a lot of poorer people than you will find in Norway, a lot of rich people, people of so many different cultures and backgrounds, and a different history. There is a lot of beautiful nature and a lot of fascinating places. I still prefer my own little country, but I do see why people love the different parts of the USA.

The last week we only drove about 1760 km in 18 hours. That is a total of about 8780 km in about 89 hours, pluss in-town driving, navigation to motels, eatingplaces, sights etc. We've been via 18 different states (some more than others).

søndag 20. september 2015

Week 3 - We are closing in!

What at first seemed like 4 weeks of endless opportunities is getting towards and end. In a few days we will be touching the east coast, hopefully have a couple of days left over to relax without any driving before the flight back home. 

Day 15

New states, new opportunities. We left New Orleans on a lovely Sunday morning with the sun shining from blue skies. After an hour we arrived at Honey Island Swamp Tours, and spent the next two hours photographing and watching dragonflies, alligators, owls, heron, ibis, turtles and snakes in the swamps. The guide was really great!
After lunch we drove north to Memphis, a rather uneventful drive with trees blocking any potential view from the road for most of the way. Tomorrow we have a date with Elvis! (well, not really, but I guess we'll see a bit of him anyway).

Day 16

Elvis wasn't at home, and Graceland not that interesting from the outside. So we went up north of the city to see the Underground Railroad Museum. It was a lot smaller than I expected, but very interesting, even if the tour guide could use some more training. I learned a lot about the slave trade and the slaves' means of communicating and escaping.
We drove to the city centre for lunch, and walked down Beale Street, where we had milkshake and nachos. We also walked down to see the Mississippi river, before taking off further inland towards Nashville. In Nashville we had dinner at a very nice brew-pub, the food was really good if not quite authentic (we had shepherd's pie). When we arrived at the motel it appeared I had booked for the wrong days, but we were lucky and got the last room they had available.

We've been quite lucky with most of our motels so far, only one night with a bad squeaky bed, else we have had mostly spacious rooms with comfortable beds.

Day 17 Nashville

Nashville started with pancakes for breakfast at IHOP (International House of Pancakes) before we went to see The Hermitage, general Andrew Jacksons plantation. The plantation tour was very interesting and informative, and we learned a lot about both general Jackson and his life, and also about plantation life and politics and the beginning of the United States.
We were not very hungry yet at lunchtime, so we dropped by a Walmart to buy water and some light lunch and headed back to the motel for some rest. In the evening we went down to Nashville city centre, and walked along Broadway, visiting a huge candy shop, and passing loads of bars with live music. Unfortunately the famous Bluebird café was fully booked for tonight.

Day 18 – 19 The Appalachians

From Nashville we drove east, into the Appalachian mountains, to visit a friend of Tollef. He lives in a house far up in the mountains away from everything else, without water and only solar power for electricity. We had a nice dinner, and sat outside listening to all the forest sounds and looked at the stars after dark. Before bedtime I also got to learn a new board game, a Carcassonne variety called Discovery. It is getting colder as we get further north, and the evening was quite chilly. I hope it will not get too cold as we get to Chicago and Detroit.

In the morning, we went to a nearby place and had biscuits for lunch. On the way back, our host had recommended a hike from the road and back to his place, «probably a mile or two, maybe a bit more». «A bit more» was a severe understatement. We walked about 5 km (3 miles) over several steep hills, a total of 340 metres elevation. Also, there was no marked track and we didn't have a map, only a gps with the general direction. We walked through a lot of growth with thorny bushes, so that my arms and legs got all scratched up. I was quite exhausted when we finally found the cabin, and had some rest before we left for Lexington.

Day 20 - Kentucky Horse Park

I thought we had more then enough time, arriving at Kentucky Horse Park only two hours after opening time. Well, we left ten minutes before closing time. They have an interesting program, and it is a large area to walk about. We came just in time for the first breed presentation, with five different horses being presented in an arena, working out to music. After the presentation we got to meet the riders and horses close-up, which was really nice. We walked through the «breed barn» and saw and read about the other breeds represented there. Unfortunately there were few European breeds at all, and the Icelandic horse apparently did not come in from the field today.
We also saw the «big barn» where the draft horses lived, and later got a short trolley tour in a large trolley pulled by two Belgian draft horses. We visited the Hall of Champions that has a handful of retired race horses that has done really well, and there was also a barn for police horses, mostly mixes of draft horses and some lighter breed.

At the end of our visit we saw both the American Saddlebred Museum, and the Museum of the Horse. The first one was a bit confusing and, of course, only focused on the American Saddlebred horse, the general horse museum was very good, with a special exhibit about Arabians at the end.
There was a lot of interesting things to see, and I am sure we could have spent another day walking around the grounds, watching the horses in the fields and the jumping contests going on right then. In the end, it was enough walking for a day, and we got to see and learn a lot about horses.
We were not too late back at the hotel, so I got to try out the pool before the sun set completely. It was chilly, but nice to have a quick evening bath.

Day 21 - Chicago!

New car, new state, new opportunities. The car has been asking for an oil change for the last day or so. With a rental car you just don't fix the problem yourself, you get to the nearest office and get a new car. This car was larger, more space for the luggage in the trunk, and better interior, but the one we left had a more powerful engine and was far more comfortable to drive. At least we have only one week left, and no long stretches to go anyway.
Today was the last long stretch, going from Lexington to north of Chicago. The drivers seem to be more reckless the further east and north we get. The first few days people were good on the road, traffic flowed easily about the speed limits. From Texas, people started to drive more aggressively. Even the trailers, that get repeated messages about no passing and staying in the right lane, rushes past and of course causes problems. The speeding seems to have increased the further north we have come from Louisiana, and more cars and trailers passing at high speed. We also see several cars that have been stopped by the police every day. At least the drivers still are good at allowing space for changing lanes and getting onto roads, and there's no honking horns or flashing lights.

One week left. 24 hours and 2421 km this week. I think we're through 11 states so far.

søndag 13. september 2015

Week 2 - halfway there!

We're halfway there! What has at times seemed like an endless trip is actually more than half over. I have been thinking that maybe four weeks is too long to be away, but the remaining two weeks don't seem that long either. Most of the big "must sees" are now past us, and we have a slightly more flexible schedule from day to day.

Day 8 Tucson – Las Cruces – Alamogordo

The desert museum was nice, but I was disappointed with the facilities for the animals, as usual. The aviaries were fairly ok, but the otters, bighorns, most of the cats and canines had way too small areas to move on. The roadrunner was clearly uncomfortable with his space. One should think that a museum at the edge of the desert had some space to take from. Apparently though, most of the animals in the park are rescues, and maybe not used to or able to deal with larger areas. I don't know.

On Sunday morning we had a nice breakfast at a coffee house, before heading towards Las Cruces. The area was greener than most of the places we have been through so far, but apart from that it was quite similar, and we drove through miles and miles of wide open spaces. Arriving in New Mexico, we needed to turn the clock an hour forward.

In Las Cruces we visited the New Mexico Ranch and Farm Heritage Museum. Unfortunately we came in a bit late, so the animal barns were closed, but the animals had pens that were half in the barn and half in the outside, so we got to see most of them. There were different kinds of sheep and goats, a couple of donkeys, horses, ponies, and loads of different types of cattle. I was surprised, I thought the Angus beef cattle looked quite different.
There was also a blacksmith, and a dairy barn with demonstrations of milking and old time milking equipment, and a greenhouse. Inside, there was one exhibition about cowboys and one about New Mexico history and daily life. There was also an exhibition of some horse photographs that were very nice.

Leaving at closing time, we crossed yet another mountain range and drove past the White Sands National Park on our way to Alamogordo, were we had booked for the night.

Day 9 Alamogordo – Abilene

Texas – wide open spaces, and then, even more wide open spaces!
Our first stop for today was Hubbard’s Museum of the American West, in Ruidoso Downs. Originally a museum about horses, it had 8 large horse statues of 7 different breeds outside the museum, with description of the breeds and their origin. Inside, they had several different types of wagons also with descriptions, an exhibition of native art, western saddles, and an exhibition about, and with a lot of items from the museum's founder, Anne Straddling. Definitely the best museum so far!

Next on our plan was to get as far towards Houston as possible. We crossed plains, plains, and then even more plains. After crossing the state line to Texas, there was a lot of metal gates with ranch names along the road, marking the way to the different ranches. And of course a lot of small towns along the way. We crossed the White Sands, and stopped to take photos of the sunset over the dunes before finding our lodging for the night.

Day 10 – 12, Abilene – Houston

On Tuesday we drove down to Houston to visit Tollef's aunt who lives there. The landscape became significantly greener, and when I though to myself, “I could really like this part of the country”, I realised it looks a lot like some parts of England. After arriving in Houston we had dinner, and a nice walk around the neighbourhood before dark.

On Wednesday I slept in, and had a really late and lazy morning. Then we headed out for the Natural Science Museum to see the Butterfly centre, which was really nice. The informative part of the centre included a lot of facts about different insects and creepy stuff you might not want to know, but the butterfly garden was very beautiful.
Afterwards we dropped by two game stores in the area, and had lunch, before we found the National Buffalo Soldier Museum. We seemed to be the only visitors there at the time, so we got a private tour with a quite strange guide. He knew a lot of funny stuff, but apparently hadn't read all the exhibit information and couldn't really answer any of our questions. The tour was very interesting at least.

On Thursday we had another easy day. The main mission for the day was to get postcard stamps, which we have failed to do so far. The post office didn't actually have postcard stamps, but we got normal stamps with the combined correct value, at least. On our way home we dropped by the Cavender's boot store, a western shop that has a huge selection of boots, in addition to hats, shirts, and I suppose, most things western. Nice, but a bit expensive. It was very well that we didn't plan a lot of outings today, as it rained heavily large parts of the day.

In the afternoon we were picked up by a friend of Tollef's aunt and went to the ballet. It was my first time at a real ballet, apart from London musicals and ballet school performances. It was very classic, and a nice experience.

Day 13 Houston – New Orleans

During our last night in Houston we had a quite heavy thunderstorm. Both Tollef and I woke up in the middle of the night because of the lightning and thunder nearby. It probably didn't last for very long, although it felt like hours when we were trying to sleep again. In the morning it still rained heavily, and continued to do so for much of the trip to New Orleans.

In New Orleans we were pleasantly surprised with our lodgings, including breakfast (not stated when I booked the hotel) and very good service from the staff. We caught a bus down to the French Quarter and went to a brew pub with nice jazz music, and I had alligator sandwich for dinner! After dinner we dropped by the next door sweetshop for dessert, and a souvenir shop where I found a couple of things I had been looking for. Then we went on to Bourbon street, and walked along the whole way. It was fascinating, noisy, colourful, entertaining and sad. It looked a lot like a combination of party places in the southern Europe and a jazz festival. There's a lot of alcohol and deals on drinks and huge beers, a lot of street artists, live music, cheap food, drunk people, poor people, sex clubs, souvenir shops. Should be experienced, once is enough.

Day 14 New Orleans

New Orleans appeared to be everything I hoped for – and more. It is like a never ending jazz festival, music everywhere, parades, street artists and colourful people. We started out walking to the French Quarter and the Market street. Along the road there was a lot of small, New Orleans style houses in all colours. Some very run down, but pretty anyway. Some of the houses must be very old, and not much changed, at least on the outside. The French Market was full of stalls, mostly the normal stuff you get at stalls everywhere, t-shirts, toys, jewels, cheap clothing and various things not necessarily of good quality. The Farmer's market was more interesting, with local food (I so regret not having a corn cob) and cooking classes.

We walked on towards the Jackson Square, and decided not to take part in the seemingly endless queue to the famous Café du Monde. Instead we sat down for a few minutes, watching the horse-drawn (or rather, mule-drawn) carriages across the street, before crossing the square and visiting the cathedral. The cathedral was nice, although not very special compared to many we have seen before. Afterwards we spent some time looking for lunch, and ended up in a nice café where we had local food.

After lunch we visited the New Orleans Historical Collection, which had a special exhibit about politician and governor Hugh Long, and a permanent display about the history of Louisiana and New Orleans. We visited a couple of souvenir shops and sat for a while in the park, before returning to the hotel for some rest before dinner. I also got around to buy a few things for family at home. No rain today, and weather looks even better for tomorrow, although the temperatures are down to about 25 degrees Celsius now. As long as it don't go much lower I will be happy.

Another week gone. Another 23 hours and 2350 km on the road. Some more places added to the map in the first post. 

lørdag 5. september 2015

Coast to coast in the US - week 1

Tollef wanted to drive across the US, and we have been planning this trip more or less since the last time we were both here. It's never been one of my dreams, but it is undeniable that the trip will offer a huge variety of nature, culture, sights and experiences. Tollef went ahead to San Francisco to work there for a few days, while I came a few days later, having a couple of days to catch up with jetlag after the trip, before hitting the road. We have a rough plan of the route, with some time to make detours if we feel like it, and exactly four weeks to make it from San Francisco to Newark.

Day 1 - Yosemite, crossing the Sierra Nevada

Finally, our first day on the road, after a couple of quiet days in San Francisco. Still a bit jet-lagged, I got up as early at 7, and had a quick breakfast before we headed out to get the car.

The area around San Francisco and Oakland is extremely dry now, everything brown and dried up except for agricultural areas. Along rivers and dams we could see the markings of the normal waterlevel, so much higher up than the actual waterline. The trip to the mountains seemed to last forever through this dry landscape. Finally we headed up the long, winding road up to Yosemite. It can't quite compete with our Trollstigen in Norway, but whoever has been there will have an idea of the feeling of our ascent. Not far into the forest we sighted a lot of burned areas with black, deadened trees. Forest fires occur regularly, and there is a lot of information about current fires and what to do if you see one. Impressively enough the ash keeps a lot of nutrition for the earth, so the grass grows quite quickly back in these areas after a fire.

After a while we entered more rocky areas. We made a short stop at the visitor centre to eat a late lunch, and then headed to the Dog Lake parking area. From there we walked a rather steep path, first to the Lembert Dome and then on to Dog Lake, about 2700 metres above sea level. Everything was dry, but slightly greener than the burned out areas. On our way to the Dome we met a deer grazing along the track, and she didn't seem to mind us at all. On the walk we also saw some birds and some funny squirrels, quite different from the ones we have in Norway.

The nature was very pretty, but not all that different from certain areas at home. After a few hours we were back at the parking lot, and drove the last 30 minutes to Lee Vining, a small town about 2000 metres above sea level. With a population of 398 it's a rather small town by the Mono Lake, but still has several motels and eating places. We had dinner at a nearby diner called Nicely's, and it was just that, really nice. Good food, American portions.

Tomorrow we are heading up to ghost town Bodie to look around, before we head the long way south through Death Valley and to Las Vegas. Vegas, here we come!

Day 2 – Bodie – Death Valley – Las Vegas

This morning we headed north for Bodie, stopping for some scenic photos of Mono Lake on our way. The road to Bodie was also steep and winding, as the town lies about 2500 metres above sea level.

I am not sure what I expected, but I was a bit disappointed by the ghost town. It didn't feel quite real to me, like actual people had lived there. But there was a lot of interesting houses and a few stories. We walked around taking photos for about an hour, and then started on the long drive to Vegas through Death Valley.

The road south is lined with the Sierra Nevada on one side, and some parts have mountains on both sides of the road, everything surrounded by rock desert. On the road south of Yosemite the Sierras look incredibly high and impassable. Turning off towards Death Valley, we crossed a small mountain range and a smaller desert valley, before entering the real thing. Apart from the temperature, Death Valley is a lot of dry rock, mostly. We stopped for ice cream in Stovepipe Wells (which lies at sea level), and took some photos of the nice sand dunes there. The temperature was about 47 degrees Celsius. Really hot, but actually not too unbearable as long as there was a small breeze in the air and very dry. We continued on through rock desert and salt fields, through the lowest level of 87 metres below sea level. Crossing another mountain range, I will really enjoy a couple of days without any steep and winding roads!

Coming down the mountains towards Las Vegas was a huge contrast to the endless mountains and rock desert. Lights for miles in all direction, and the area of higher buildings and even more lights was easily detected from a distance. We made our way to the Monte Carlo hotel, and had a quick shower before heading out to look at the circus. Not unexpectedly, Las Vegas was an overwhelming amount of lights, noise and people. It is really not that unlike the party boats between Norway and Denmark, a lot of entertainment, alcohol and shopping, just a lot more of it, and a lot of casinos on the top. We skipped the casinos for the first night, and had a nice dinner before we went to see the fountain show at the Bellagio hotel. My expectations were probably a bit too high, it was not fantastic, but really nice watching in the night.

Day 3 – Las Vegas

A day (almost) without driving, and certainly without crossing any mountains! Waking up to a Las Vegas in daytime was definitely a very different world from the night time city. The building noises that started about 8 o'clock certainly didn't help.
After breakfast we walked to the neighbour hotel, New York, New York, to check out the chocolate store. It was nice, but not great, and the M&M World store just across the road was a lot better!
Seeing the queue for buying show tickets, and not finding any shows that was really tempting, we decided to skip the show and spend our time on the Strip and by the pool instead.
After visiting the chocolate stores we dropped by a casino, and I lost my first few dollars at gambling. Then we had a light smoothie lunch, and walked back to the hotel to spend a couple of hours resting by the hotel pool.

For the evening we had decided to visit downtown and the well known Fremont Street Experience, a four block arcade with casinos, entertainment and eating places. Not that unlike the Strip really, just more old fashioned and downsized. We took the car, driving by the Welcome to Vegas-sign that we missed last night, and cruised down the Strip to have a look at the rest of it without walking our feet off. On Fremont Street you can find the quite controversial Heart Attack Grill, strip clubs, casinos, zip-lining just underneath the roof, and of course your share of souvenir shops and street artists. Quite similar to the Strip in some ways, it was a lot nicer, some because of the pedestrian road with no cars and traffic noise, and also a roof that took some of the heat away, which also meant that the indoors were not so heavily air-conditioned. Very nice, when even in night time the temperature lies between 35-40 degrees Celsius.

I tried my luck again in the casino, and this time I won a few dollars before I decided to quit while on a winning streak. Having decided to “waste” a certain amount of money on gambling I made another round as we came back to the Monte Carlo that evening, and won another few. Maybe not rich, but I have at least come out of a casino with more money than I had before going in!

Day 4 Las Vegas – Hoover Dam – R66 – Flagstaff

The first stop of the day was the Hoover dam. Although it is “just a dam”, it is very impressive to look at. From the dam we drove south to Kingman and from there we took off on to Route 66. The places along the route was very varying, from a couple of run down buildings, to all out route 66-themed villages. We stopped in Peach Springs and had a really good lunch, and then in Seligman for photos of some of the old parts of the town.

After the Route 66 joined the highway we also entered the Kaibab National Forest, and there was a lot more vegetation and large forest areas. A very nice contrast to the dry desert-like areas we have passed through so far. We easily found our motel in Flagstaff for the night. I was a bit disappointed though, as the pool appeared to be a very small one (hardly qualified for a pool) and placed in the middle of the parking lot. No relaxing swim before bedtime.

Day 5 Grand Canyon – Desert View – Grand Canyon Village

The main reason for going to Flagstaff was of course to visit the Grand Canyon. We took the scenic route, going up to Cameron and drove along the South Rim, stopping first at the Desert View Tower. The tower was designed in 1932 by Mary Colter, and gives a great view of parts of the canyon. We also got the mandatory postcards, and a puzzle for me.
We made another stop at a scenic viewpoint, and had our lunch, donuts included, before driving to the Grand Canyon Village. Apart from the Rim itself, there is a lot of activity on the plateau. You can bicycle, ride or walk along the rim, and there is of course a selection of gift shops. At the village there is also a Hopi house that sells a lot of native art and craft products that are really nice.

Tollef walked along the Rim from the village to the visitor centre further up, while I drove back to the visitor centre and took the short walk out to the viewpoint there. The view is fantastic, and really hard to catch with a camera, but of course you have to try.

We were back at the motel not too late, which suited us fine. Both a bit tired after eventful days on the road, it is very nice to spend a quiet relaxing evening.

Day 6-7 Flagstaff – Tucson

From Flagstaff we went to Tucson to see a friend of Tollef, and stopped only once for scenic photos on the way, and once for lunch. We really needed a non-sightseeing day without loads of impressions.
On Saturday morning, Tollef and our host went to see the Titan Missile Museum, while I stayed back at the house to get some rest. After lunch we are heading out for an evening visit to the Desert Museum, when hopefully all the desert animals are up and awake.

For the first week we have covered about 2250 km (various stops and in-town driving not counted), assuming about 24 hours of driving time.