Day 1 ~ San Francisco
After an early morning start and a trip to the airport, our flight to Newark Airport left on time and arrived 45 minutes early. It was just as well as the queues to get into the country were rather long. The flight itself was very good and I managed to see a couple of good movies. We had a quick bite to eat and a coffee whilst waiting for our next flight. All the flights to San Francisco were delayed due to bad weather there which meant a 5-hour delay for us.
Eventually, we arrived in the USA Hostel at 10 o’clock, we checked in and dropped off our luggage before heading to the Owl Tree, a local bar for a couple of well-earned beers, this quickly became our local bar. It certainly had been a long and tiring day starting with a 06:30 trip to the airport and finishing at midnight in San Francisco at midnight (plus an eight hour time difference). Unlike the one we stayed in Reykjavik, this hostel was very good, well laid out, very clean and in a reasonably central location.
This was quite a busy day, after a good breakfast, we made good use of our Big Bus tickets and toured the city on the bus and on foot. Most of the time we were trying to keep out of the heavy rain. The poor weather spoiled things slightly but didn’t hold us back and we managed to go over the Golden Gate Bridge, ride on a cable car, visit Chinatown, we even spent some time in Madame Tussauds, (mainly to get out of the heavy rain, I think we both really enjoyed it though). We then waited around, to finish off the day with a night tour of the city. A Thai meal in iThai, a restaurant across the road from the hostel ended a good interesting day.
We were up and out fairly early, the weather turned out nice so we took a trip to Haight Ashbury to photograph the street art and had a coffee at Coffee Cantata, a fairly laid back cafe. Back on the bus, we then headed to Sausalito and enjoyed a stroll around the town before having a nice lunch in Angelinos’s, a shore-front restaurant. The trip to Sausalito took longer than expected so after returning across the Golden Gate Bridge, we took a taxi to Pier 33 for our trip to Alcatraz Island, We both really enjoyed our trip to the Island and it was interesting to see the cells the prisoners lived in and the limited facilities they had, it was also interesting to hear the stories of the escape attempts made over the years.
Returning from the Island, we had a beer in the Queen’s Louisiana Po-Boy Cafe at the ferry terminal when we came off the boat. We then waited in the long queue for a cable car back to the hostel, this time we had a meal in Borobudur, a nearby Indonesian restaurant before bed. We found all of the trips we made today interesting and worthwhile, another good day and this time with nice weather.
Today, unfortunately, it was bucketing down just when we decided to walk around the Mission District for my street art photographs. Being adventurous we jumped on one of the local buses but chickened out when I thought that we had gone too far, it was just the opposite which meant that we had a wee bit of walking to get to where we wanted to go. Despite all the walking in the rain, it was worth our while as there certainly was plenty to see. We discovered a bar called the Homestead, unfortunately, it was closed so we had to rely on having only one umbrella during our wanders. We had lunch and a beer in Pop’s Bar on 24th Street, a great little place full of character, a cool DJ and a toilet covered in graffiti. Jim has the patience of a saint allowing me to drag him around all these places in the pouring rain. Another bus took us back into town we returned to the hostel to dry off and to change out of our saturated clothes. I’ll add the photographs of the street art we found here in the street art section, as I will for all street art we found in the USA.
Once dried off we headed back into town for dinner in a good Thai restaurant called Osha on Geary Street before stopping off for a couple of beers in the Owl Tree before calling it a day.
A leisurely start to the day, we took an Uber up to the Cable Car Museum for an enjoyable visit, before heading to Chinatown for our food tour, we had a bit of time before it started so we just wandered around taking in the sights of the area.
The food crawl was very interesting, taking in Chinatown and Little Italy. Mina, our guide was very enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the area and the food we were given, in Chinatown we had the curious “dragon’s beard” candy that was quite unique, Freshly brewed boba milk tea from Steap, a craft cocktail-inspired boba bar, we were given a fortune cookie from the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, the last handmade fortune cookie in San Francisco, we sampled traditional dumplings and tea from Hang Ha, the first dim sum restaurant in America, we then moved on to Little Italy where we had a glass of wine and a Pizza made in a wood-burning oven imported from Naples, in Cafe Zoetrope, in the iconic Francis Ford Coppola Sentinel Building, we finished off with hand-stuffed cannoli from a sidewalk bakery on Little Italy’s main corridor, I enjoyed most of it, only really disliking the teas, but I don’t think Jim was too impressed by the Dim Sums or the Boba Tea. A video from a previous tour can be seen on their Facebook page here.
When the tour finished we ventured up the steep hill to the Coit Tower for some fantastic views of the city. The queue for the elevator to the top was too long for us so we gave it a miss and headed back down the hill. We wanted to see Lombard Street, the famous curvy street, we chickened out by taking a taxi to the top then walked down it. Once back in Columbus Avenue we stopped for a well-earned beer and ended up having a few more with a nice young couple visiting from England.
For dinner we eventually managed to get a seat in CoCo Bang, a Korean restaurant on Taylor Street, which was busy and queued out every other evening we tried to go, it was very good and well worth the wait. This was another busy but good day.
Day 6 ~ Las Vegas
Up and at’em early this morning to get to the airport in time for our flight to Vegas, unfortunately, due to being hustled by the crowd as I tried to enter the train, I missed it, leaving me on the platform and Jim on the train. When I did get to the airport and eventually met up with Jim we checked in only to find that we were 5 minutes late for our flight, luckily we were able to book onto the next flight an hour or so later.
Once in Vegas we grabbed an Uber to the hotel and checked into an ‘Ultra Chic’ room in Planet Hollywood, which was very nice indeed, but there was no kettle or tea making facilities of any kind! We then hit the Strip, both of us felt that it was as tacky and trashy as we had previously thought, but it certainly wasn’t cheap. We enjoyed seeing the sights and spent a bit of time having a meal and a few beers in the Rock Bar before hitting the sack for a well-earned rest.
We went out this morning, and after a breakfast in the aptly named Earl of Sandwich, had another stroll on the strip, this time on the other side, we marvelled at the opulence of Caesars Palace, with it’s Trevi Fountain and the Venetian with it’s Venice canals and St Marks Square, all across the road from the Eiffel Tower. After a quick lunch, we headed to the Palms resort to catch a glimpse of the Banksy there, I was doubly blessed as there is also a couple of pieces by one of my favourites, Vhils in the same place. We then went back to the hotel to recharge our batteries both physical and electrical before hitting the strip again.
We took a bus (The Deuce) downtown to Fremont Street to see the Viva Vision Light show and Zip line that Jim’s son-in-law, Dan, had told him about, we had a great time there, Fremont Street is a sort of down-market version of Vegas, with cheaper bars, meals, drinks and even the showgirls who parade around are not to the same standard. We enjoyed just sitting watching the world go by, there was a lot to amuse us, the beggars had some strange pitches, one guy with his ‘kick me in the nuts’ routine didn’t draw much of a crowd, a bit different from the guy dressed as a satyr who had all the ladies at his feet. We got the bus back (in the rain again!) and retired after another busy and fun-filled day.
Up with the lark this morning to enable us to get picked up for our trip to the West Rim of the Grand Canyon, with a stop off at the Hoover Dam first, the dam and the bridge we were on were very impressive, we could feel the heat rising as the morning progressed and looked forward to a brilliantly sunny day.
We thought we were very well prepared for the heat of the Arizona desert, with shorts, tee-shirts and plenty of sunscreen. Little did we expect what we got, freezing cold wind and pouring with rain, certainly not typical weather for the area, I had to buy a sweater in the visitor centre to keep a little bit warmer.
There was much confusion when we got there as Papillion the helicopter firm had difficulties getting their helicopters in and there was a shortage of staff due to sickness, this meant that our schedule was held up by about an hour or so. When we eventually took off, it was a great way to see the canyon, flying down from the rim to the floor, we then had a boat trip along the Colorado River before returning to the rim. Jumping on a shuttle bus run by the local Hualapai tribe, who own the land, we visited the Skywalk, a glass bridge suspended 4000ft above the Colorado River, a quick look around before going on another shuttle to Guano Point, a good viewpoint for the canyon and river, we had a belated lunch at this stop, but it was much too cold and wet to enjoy the scenery, so it was back to the visitor centre for our coach ride back to Vegas. The weather we experienced was unusual for the time of year, but we are glad it was not the next day when the forecast was for snow!
Once back in Vegas we changed clothes then went out for a meal and a stroll along the strip to see the water show at the Bellagio before a late night beer before bed.
Check out time today was 10 o’clock in the evening, so we sorted out our packing then checked out, leaving our luggage at the hotel. We then took the bus back downtown to Fremont Street where we watched the street entertainers and had lunch before returning on the bus to the end of the strip to take a look at some of the casinos and resorts we hadn’t yet seen. We decided to finish off our trip to Vegas by going on the Zipline at the Linq, it was great fun and we are both glad we did it, thankfully, they didn’t make us wear the purple bodysuits shown in this video.
We returned to the hotel to collect our luggage then took an Uber to the airport. Checking in was easy and straight forward and the flight left on schedule.
We both thought that we enjoyed our time in Vegas despite the changeable weather, it was indeed tacky, trashy, flashy but not cheap, our main reason for visiting was to see the Grand Canyon and our visit there also didn’t disappoint. The weather was dreadful, the organisation of the helicopter flights left a lot to be desired meaning we had limited time to see the other part of our tour, but what we did see as spectacular and well worth the visit.
Day 10 ~ New York
New York. We arrived early in the morning and took a shuttle bus into the city and took a short walk to our hotel, The Edison, an old Art Deco city hotel right next to Times Square. The hotel was quite nice, Jim called it retro, with a series of really good murals in the lobby, we didn’t find all the staff very helpful.
We were early enough to start our travels around the city on a tourist bus seeing many of the famous sights. A young couple we had met while in San Francisco, had recommended Jimmy’s Corner, a dive bar and we happened upon it and had a nice pint there taking in all the boxing memorabilia. At night we visited Grand Central Station before finding the Nintendo store for Jim before a meal and a couple of beers at what became a regular haunt of ours, Sean’s Bar, before heading back to the hotel. This had been a very long, tiring and interesting day. It was Memorial Weekend while we were there and the USS New York was in town so the city was full of sailors and Marines, it was interesting to see Marines in full uniform with rifles and bayonets marching through the street alongside youths protesting about climate change.
A leisurely start to the day with breakfast at Carve, the local corner deli, before heading off on the bus to Central Park, where we enjoyed a stroll through the park in the nice sunshine, for a change. We then boarded the tour bus to take the Harlem tour, the tour guide on this leg wasn’t so good, telling stories about himself rather than the area, but the tour of the area was very interesting, allowing us see the famous Apollo Theatre, I think we were surprised that the area was quite gentrified and not the ghetto we were expecting. Back in Midtown, we went back to the Nintendo store and discovered a Lego store nearby, these both really pleased Jim and he bought some bits for his grandson Jack (and himself). As this was Memorial Weekend and the Navy was in town, the area around the store at the Rockefeller Centre was very busy with a concert in honour of the military. The area around 8th Avenue near our hotel was also very lively as there was a street market happening with stalls, food carts and bands.
Tonight we went out on a night tour, which took us across the Manhattan Bridge into Brooklyn with a quick tour round there before crossing back again, it was nice to see the Empire State Building illuminated in red, blue and white for Memorial Weekend. The tour was very good and gave us a view of the city and the Brooklyn Bridge all lit up. We both thought that this was one of the better tours, mainly due to the guide, although it was difficult to get some good photographs due to the motion of the bus.
After breakfast, we jumped on the bus to Battery Park to take a daytime tour through Brooklyn, while we were waiting we did a couple of touristy things by having ice cream before a ride on the Seaglass Carousel, both of which we really enjoyed. The Brooklyn tour was interesting, but a bit weird as the guide, Benny Fingers, talked a lot about the gangsters of the area.
Once back in Battery Park we walked along the old harbour area to pier 16 to take the Circle Line Statue Cruise out to the Statue of Liberty, this was great fun. Coming off the cruise we stopped off for a beer, I emailed Graeme telling him of the improvement in the weather, only to find as we left the bar that the heavens opened and we got caught in a massive downpour. We sheltered in the Oculus at the new World Trade Centre before finding a bus to take us back uptown.
Tonight we went to Rudy’s Bar and Grill hoping to get a few drinks and a meal, unfortunately, due to Memorial weekend it was mobbed so after finishing off a jug of beer we headed Yum Yum Too, a nearby Thai restaurant for a really nice meal before heading back to the hotel for a wee rest. Later that night we visited the viewing platform of the Empire State Building to see the city illuminated, it was great fun picking out the many buildings we had seen at ground level.
Today we had pre-booked a food tour of Greenwich Village so we took the underground to where it was due to start, we were a bit early but we managed to find a local park where we were able to sit and watch a little league softball game in progress, I managed to get some good street art photographs in the nearby school, it was so relaxing and a great way to spend the morning, I found some really good street art in the area as a bonus.
Our food tour was great fun, we visited many interesting places in the village. We started by having a Chocolate Chip Cookie at Milk & Cookies before sampling the Pizza at Joe’s, Olive Oil & Balsamic at O & Co, Esquites at Tacombi, Meatballs & Sauce in Pesce Pasta, an Eggplant Rollatini, a type of Cannoli at Rafele’s, with a little cheesecake thrown in, then on to some rather nice doughnuts at the Doughnut Project, before returning to Murrays Cheese Bar for some fine cheeses, the tour was finished off with Cannolis at Pasticceria Rocco. This was a great tour of the area and Robin S, our guide made sure we all had a great time.
We then took a walk along W14th street towards the High Line, hoping to find the Banksy there, we were out of luck as it had been removed shortly after it’s installation, reaching the High Line, we spent the rest of the afternoon ambling along its length, stopping off frequently to rest our weary legs, Jim even managed 40 winks at one point while I went down to 10th Avenue to photograph a nice piece by Kobra.
Once back in the hotel we stopped for a wee rest before heading out for dinner in Yama Ramen, a Japanese Restaurant and a couple of drinks in Sean’s before returning home.
Today we ventured over the Williamsburg Bridge to Brooklyn, again the Banksy’s in the area have been taken down/away, we were directed by a couple of local cops to the Bushwick Collective, off Jefferson Street, where we saw some good street art in the area, (these can be seen in the Street Art Around the World section of the site). After a nice lunch in the Sea Wolf bar/diner, we headed back uptown to see if there were any decent shows available, we had looked regularly, but there had been none that took our fancy so after a wee rest at the hotel, we went to the top of the Rockefeller Tower for some sightseeing before visiting Sean’s for the last time for a meal and a few drinks before heading home. This was another busy, varied and enjoyable day.
The last day of our trip, after packing we went to the corner deli for breakfast before returning to the hotel to check out. As we had a lot of time before our flight home, we left our luggage at the hotel and went for a wander, we decided that we didn’t have enough time to visit one of the museums and do them justice, so we went along to 3rd Avenue to photograph some more pieces by Brazilian artist Kobra, one of Albert Einstein on a bike and another by a NYFD fireman. We then headed to Central Park and had an adventure finding Sheep Meadows and the Dakota Hotel and the John Lennon inspired Strawberry Fields.
Returning to the city centre we revisited Rudy’s Bar & Grill on 9th Avenue to enjoy a $10 jug of beer and a free hot dog, this was a really cool place to visit, a real dive bar full of character. Collecting our luggage we then headed to the Port Authority Building and made our way to the airport and checked in for our flight back home to Glasgow, which again due to bad weather was delayed for about 3 hours, the flight when we got away was very good, luckily for us there was a couple of empty seats which meant that we could sit together rather in the different places allocated to us. We made good time on the flight and arrived only about 2 hours late to a damp and soggy Glasgow.
Trip over we both decided that we had had a great time despite the poor weather at times and that we both had many memorable moments.