The US is A O.K.

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We took the Dolarian (car from Back to the Future if you don’t know!) and magically went back in time on our flight from Sydney to Los Angeles. We took off at 17:00 on Thursday 2nd January 2014 and landed at 09:00 on Thursday 2nd January 2014, despite being on a 13 hour flight. We finally made it through the ridiculous grilling the immigration US guys give you and went to pick up our Ford Focus for our 4 day stint in California. For me it was like driving a work hire car but with much more beautiful scenery than Keele and Northampton. We had decided we both didn’t really like LA that much the last time we’d been, so we picked San Diego (“it means a Whale’s Vagina.” – Anchorman, Ron Burgandy) as our home for three nights and jumped on the 7 lane Freeway South. Nowadays I drive an awful lot and consider myself a pretty competent driver but driving in America is just a bit nuts. You have to stop at every crossroads in town and never really know who’s right of way it is and you can turn right at red lights as long as you aren’t going to kill anyone crossing the road. When we got to San Diego we had the fun of trying to find somewhere to park in this busy old city. Our hostel said there was some free residential parking about 10 blocks away so we dumped our bags and drove over to 14th Street. One thing that always surprises me about the States is the huge number of homeless people (hobos) and where we parked our car seemed to be where they were all spending the night. Oh well it was a hire car and I was insured!!

I’m a huge fan of America and a trip to their supermarkets is so much more interesting than to our Sainsbury’s on Clapham High Street. It is a country of such huge extremes; there is such a huge range of crap food available and lots of obese people and yet there is so much stuff available if you want to live healthily. So after overindulging like the rest of the world during Christmas and New Year we decided to eat well for a couple of days. Jet lag got the better of us the first night so we didn’t get up to much.

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On the second day we pulled ourselves out of bed and went exploring the awesome place. What we have realised now is that cities based on water are generally much more beautiful and San Diego has a great feel about it. There’s tons of shopping to be had and thankfully the fact that our 2 (no longer 8) bags were full to the brim we mostly window shopped. That afternoon I went to a world famous gym called Crossfit Invictus and saw just how passionate the Americans can be about fitness. They were a really great club and the people were super friendly, thankfully I held my own amongst them.

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Our third day was action packed compared to the first two. I snook off early to Invictus again and then met Eccles at the street market in the Little Italy district. Now Caroline has dragged me along to a market in pretty much every country we’ve been to and normally I’m interested for about five minutes, however this one was really different as the over the top Americans couldn’t have been happier to hand out free samples of everything which was great news for two hungry and thirsty travellers. From what I can remember we either sampled or brought the following: blood oranges, green tomatoes, super green vitality drink, cashew nut brittle, peanut butter (not the allergic Caroline), seven different flavours of beef jerky, about 15 different hot sauces, a coconut milk cappuccino, mama’s special recipe cookies and cream cheesecake, the freshest orange juice and more than 15 different types of hummus. After our free feast we headed off to the Old Town of San Diego, which is a mixture of real and recreated buildings from the late 1800’s when SD was a vital port for USA. It was quite a cool little place and was very much like walking around the American Adventure, only this one used to be real! The undoubted highlight if the place was when I discovered a shop that only sold Root Beer and Jerky. Two of my very favourite things in the world. I spent a good 20 minutes picking out two very rare and special root beers that I know my brother and mate, Oli would have been insanely jealous about.

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Next stop on the SD tour was to Mission Beach to see the hostel Banana Bungalows where Caroline (big head) Eccles and Claire (new mother) Lewin had stayed 8 years ago. It’s a very nice beach with a beautiful pier and is a picture postcard of America with loads of surfers and everyone playing volleyball. Our final stop was to a small town on the outskirts called La Jolla to hopefully catch a Californian sunset. We managed to find what seemed to be the only parking space in the town and wandered down to a jetty where loads of people were. To our surprise it was overlooking a beach that had about 100 seals of all ages on it. Without doubt the cutest ones were the little pups with their smiley dog faces. We sat on a bench and were lucky enough to get another beautiful sunset to add to the collection we’ve already got from the last six months.

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We had saved ourselves for a big meal and were very keen to find an amazing ribs and wings place. After a bit of research we found a place called the Kansas City BBQ House. This place had an added bonus that instantly drew us to it. It was used as the location for the ‘sleazy bar’ where Maverick (Tom Cruise) and Goose did their rendition of Great Balls of Fire in one if the best films ever, Top Gun. The ribs there didn’t disappoint and the bar man / owner who had been there during the filming gave us a great, super quick talk about where and how things were filmed 25 years ago and even pointed out the piano they used, which of course we had a photo at. After that we wandered around trying to find a decent bar and struggled for a while until we saw a Piano Duel Bar. Having been to one before in Las Vegas I knew they were a great laugh and that Caroline would love it. If you’ve never heard of one before they are basically a huge bar with a stage on the front with two grand pianos on them, two super talented artists (usually a man v a woman) will them play songs requested by the audience and turn them into a kind of battle of the sexes. Not only does this get the atmosphere really revved up but they also change the lyrics to most songs to something either rude, hilarious or both. The first guy and the woman who played were sensational and knew pretty much every song requested. The next couple were average so we were delighted when the first two finished of the night. The crowd interaction is what really helps make it and they often get people on stage to embarrass them. As the night was coming to an end I sneakily put in a request on a little piece of paper and slipped it to the guy with $20 attached. A few minutes later it started….. BAH, BAH, BAH….SWEET CAROLINE. Needless to say I was in the good books with Eccles. The guy did a fantastic rendition and the crowd all sang along!!

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Our last proper day in the States was spent driving up North on the Pacific Highway 1 and taking in all it’s beauty, stopping at various places along the way. We had our little packed lunch on a lovely little beach with a railway track behind it, it was stunning.

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We decided to spend our last night in Laguna Beach which is a gorgeous as it looks on TV and we bowed out in style with a lovely greasy burger at a Ruby’s Dinner I had been to with Will (bro) and Ben (mate) back in 2005! Just to make us worse about the unhealthy eating we thought it was too far to walk and that we should drive. It wasn’t until turning right and instantly seeing Ruby’s we realised a 50 second drive was perhaps a bit lazy. Ho hum….. ‘When in Rome..’

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It had only been a short stay in USA but it was a great one and we were really glad we had decided against just staying in LA. Next stop was Mexico and South America to go back to the kind of travelling where you really feel like a stranger in someone else’s country. It promised to be exciting

A few extra pictures are available. If you want to see them click here.

Happy New Year everyone. Vamanos.

Tommy and Ecco
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