Archives for the month of: November, 2012

From reading this blog you could reasonably expect that the whole of America is ugly and disgusting. There are enormous swathes of it that are, and because I’m a bit of a bastard I find it much easier to be disparaging about these bits rather than concentrate too much on the places in between that mean that I am actually having a remarkably good time on this trip and not just wasting a few months being angry at fat people.

However today I would like to pay tribute to the nice things that we saw on our drive from Las Vegas, through the Sequoia National Forest and up through California. Let’s look at some trees.

Not just any trees either, but really massive trees. In fact, this tree is the biggest known, living tree in the world.

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He is about a gazillion metres wide and ten gazillion metres tall.

There are lots of other very big trees in this forest.

Trees with crazy ass roots.

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Trees you can make friends with.

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Trees you can hide in.

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Trees you can drive through.

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And when you’ve had enough of trees you can climb to the top of a mountain and sit on a rock and forget that you’re in the filthiest, fattest, most warmongering, socio-economically deluded country in the world.

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Las Vegas is horrible. If you read my earlier blog about the cruise we went on, take all the disturbing, ugly, dementedly tacky shit from it and turn it up to ten, you get approximately nowhere near how awful this town is.

Despite knowing that it was full of hookers, off-duty naked British royals and couples getting drunkenly hitched, we had been duped, mostly by George Clooney being so bloody suave and handsome in Ocean’s Eleven, in to thinking that Vegas still retained some glitz, glamour and what a stuck up European like me might quietly describe as ‘class.’ We were wrong. While we had pressed our trousers and skirts in anticipation of partying with supermodels and formula one drivers, the rest of the town was content with rolling around on mobility scooters wearing their pyjamas, smoking cigarettes and clinging to plastic cups filled with a litre of strawberry daiquiri.

But we didn’t let this get us down. We embraced the shit out of it. Because if there’s one thing that Lovisa and I enjoy more than taking the piss out of everything that is wrong in the world, it’s being everything that is wrong in the world.

Here you can see we enjoyed a day out by the canal in Venice. And by “in Venice,” of course I mean “somewhere in the depths of an enormous hotel in the Nevada desert.”

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Culture, see?

Of course Vegas does have a culture of its own. It’s called getting off your tits and throwing all your money in a machine or on a table with the drunken belief that you might get some of it back.

We duly got ourselves some $2 margaritas and put these bad boys in to a slot machine.

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A combination of alcohol-induced faith, beginners luck and/or button-pushing/handle-pulling skills left us getting almost all the money back out of said machine. They say the house always wins but in this case it was clearly us as we wanted to have a genuine Las Vegas experience and losing $30 to a slot machine is surely the most authentically Vegas thing one can do. Perhaps we should have lost more, had our relationship break down, slept with a prostitute, become unemployed and started begging in the street with a sign claiming we were Vietnam War veterans, but we were just too awesome at pulling that handle.

The Grand Canyon is big. Anyone that has been there will you tell you that, and that it is so big that no pictures can do it justice and that it doesn’t matter how big you think it is going to be, it will always be bigger when you get there and it will take your breath away and blah, blah, blah. Basically, people give this place a build up almost as big as they want you to believe it is and so it would take a pretty remarkable feat of physical enormousness for it not to be a massive let down (but not that massive! Get it?!!)

So thank goodness it’s so bloody big then.

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Here, the peak in the middle with the Rice Krispie-ish looking rock on the top is over 5 miles away.

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To give a sense of perspective, you could fit all of the London Underground’s zone 1 in between where I stood, and that point which is only about halfway across the whole canyon.

So it’s big.

Which is good because you can pull heart attack inducing stunts like pretending to hang off the edge of a 1000 metre sheer drop.

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Also, if a child drops a toy there is a really small chance that he or she will ever find it again, meaning there is a much better chance that we could stumble upon it and take pictures of it.

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Big.

If you want to see more pictures and learn some Swedish while you’re at it, Lovisa did a blog post with lots more on it because she isn’t lazy like me. It’s here and it’s lovely.

While I have only just managed to post a blog entry about New Orleans (I actually wrote it two days ago but my iPad didn’t play ball when I tried to upload it first time and then I forgot about it because I’m busy, OK?) we actually left the Big Easy eight days ago, so I image you’re all thinking ‘just what have you been up to for over a week without keeping us updated you sod?’ Allow me to fill you in, with a new feature I’m calling:

Eight days condensed in to a few concise paragraphs that should only take about a minute to read

We went to Dallas. It was big and fairly ugly, like most of its inhabitants and its shopping mall Christmas tree.

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We went to El Paso. It was dark and fairly murdery. I had ‘chicken’ enchiladas, the filling of which had the exact same distinct flavour, texture and look of tinned tuna. I literally would have been better off with an Old El Paso dinner kit from Morrisons.

We stopped at a motel that was completely murdery. Here is the view from our poolside room.

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We somehow found ourselves staying for two nights in an incredibly beautiful, upscale golf resort in Phoenix, Arizona. Forgot my clubs but did manage to spend several hours by the pool.

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Then we drove, through the desert, past cacti, round sandstone, up mountains and through valleys.

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(Photograph in black and white to cover up the hideous clashing colours of my clothes, not to make the picture appear moody and emotional)

Finally we arrived in Flagstaff, AZ. It’s a boring university town with nothing really going for it. Except that it is next door to the biggest and best thing I’ve ever seen. More to come.

As much as me and Lovisa enjoyed taking the bus with the weird (by weird I mean completely insane) and wonderful (and by wonderful I mean completely charmless and definitely not wonderful) folks of the south eastern states, to do the meat of the America sandwich, we decided to treat ourselves to a car.

We got given a fancy ass Dodge thing by the rental car guy, loaded her up and set sail towards the west.

After a night in a decidedly no frills motel in Tallahassee, we arrived at our first stop; bloody lovely New Orleans.

I didn’t really know much about New Orleans before we got there, but for some reason I had convinced Lovisa that I was super keen to go there and was therefore delighted that it turned out to be an incredibly beautiful and interesting city.

There are of course enormous areas that were devastated by Hurricane Katrina and a great deal of the city is still in need of cleaning up, seven years on. It’s a shit and sorry state of affairs and someone in government is clearly doing a horrible job of budgeting the rebuilding process because a city of this size, history and importance deserves much better.

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But let us not dwell on the sadness of the place, and instead let’s talk about how the really good bits somehow managed to avoid all the terribleness. The French Quarter is pretty, has amazing street music and excellent restaurants.

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The buildings aren’t French at all, the Spanish rebuilt this part of town when it burned down in the 18th century (New Orleans gets its fair share of the shit that happens when people say shit happens, right?). Whoever made them, they did a lovely job. If you want a tour of them, you can go by donkey and cart.

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A donkey won’t take you out to the next neighbourhood, Merigny, which is a shame because its mental and well good. Look at the local cafĂ©/guesthouse/laundrette.

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That really is a laundrette.

In Orlando it is actively encouraged that every man, woman and child should eat ‘turkey’ legs (they actually have the appearance, flavour and grotesque size of a pig’s leg, but they market them as turkey and it feels less gross that way so I’m happy to be taken in and believe what they say). I’d not heard of it before but it is clearly a local thing because there were t shirts everywhere with turkey legs on them and no shortage of turkey leg sellers around the theme parks. Not wanting to miss out on local tradition, we got involved.

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Ridiculous, delicious, Florida.

And so to Orlando. For beauty, history and natural splendour, Orlando can surely only be beaten by one place; everywhere. There was more organic matter on our cruise ship, growing in the creases and belly folds of our fellow guests, than there is in the whole of Orlando. What there is in Orlando though, is mile after mile of carefully manicured fakery, so perfectly constructed so as to make you feel as though you are actually in a sort of weird paradise, a magical place, where dreams really do come true. Disney World baby.

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The Wizarding World of Harry Potter baby.

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A Dr Seuss themed, insane acid trip theme park. Baby.

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Definitely my favourite fake and over made up thing in Orlando right now though, is my sister, Annabelle. Jokes. Sort of. But seriously, for two weeks only, a small part of my family were/are in town. This is me and Annabelle feeling exactly as excited as we were 20 years ago, last time we were about to get on Splash Mountain.

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And here you can see my little nephew King Charles, all the way from the 17th century.

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In all seriousness though, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Annabelle, Bill, Georgina, Michael and of course Robyn for letting us stay with them. Y’all are the best, and I only hope that the tears have dried and the good times have started again since we left you.

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A few people have mentioned to me that Miami isn’t up to much and I fear that they may have paid too much attention to Stephen Bloody Fry, a national treasure so highly treasured and implausibly intelligent, that you couldn’t possibly disagree with him, whether or not you’ve actually been to Miami.

Well Britain, and anyone else who holds this admittedly lovely man in too high esteem, you’ve been duped. Miami, or at least Miami Beach, is flipping wonderful.

As Fry says in the above video, the architecture really is deco, and it really is everywhere. I can’t remember having been anywhere else where one distinct architectural style was so prevalent and also so beautifully maintained. It does look like neapolitan ice cream, but last time I checked neapolitan ice cream was delicious and if you don’t want to stay in a hotel that looks like ice cream, you’re mental and your opinions are invalid.

He also seems awfully snooty about the palm trees that are all over the place, as though they give the place a tacky, faux-tropical appearance. Well Mr Stephen No Fun, it is tropical, Miami Beach used to be a coconut farm, and palm trees are perfectly good trees you old berk.

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Alright, so there is a fair bit of tacky, anti-Fry, youth oriented, party vibe around the city such as this ludicrously camp, ludicrously big, beer in an oversized cocktail glass.

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And everywhere you go for breakfast they play Maroon Five and Christina Aguilera really loudly.

But it really isn’t as shit as that makes it sound. It’s a good looking town and it made me and Lovisa feel really happy and tanned and good looking too. Plus, there’s wicked good wildlife at the beach.

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Six words I never imagined me being able to say, certainly not until well after my 70th birthday, but that I am now about to commit to the Internet and for the whole world to see; I have been on a cruise.

According to what I had read, heard, perceived and otherwise known, I was not going to enjoy a cruise. It is how old, lazy, fat people go on holiday, people who aren’t interested in seeing cities, people who don’t want to come in to contact with foreign cultures, people who want to smoke and play slot machines and get really drunk at tax free prices.

According to Lovisa there was going to be unlimited food and it was going to be hot. I was sold.

We spent 18 hours on a bus from Washington to get down to Cape Canaveral. This was something of an experience in itself. The further south you go down the coast, the fatter, smellier, poorer and weirder the people get. It’s a really good way to see how the greatest country in the world is such a socio-economic fuck up.

As soon as we arrived though, we were surrounded by over-fed, white, opulence; the American Dream. Actually it was the Carnival Dream, our home for the next 7 days.

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This boat’s interior was one of the most gaudy, hideous things I’ve ever seen, much less stayed in. This is the Dream Atrium that greets you when you step aboard.

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I was in Tokyo 6 months ago and New York a week before, and yet in 10 seconds on this ship I must have doubled my intake of fluorescent light for the year. To your average newly retired, obese Floridian however, this was a moment to savour, an opportunity to take in the beauty and magnificence of the boat, to admire its fixtures and fittings and above all else, to showcase what seems to be a national aversion to style and good taste.

Lovisa and I wasted no time with platitudes about the gold plated lift mechanisms and instead made our way to the lunch buffet.

Over the next few days, we dropped anchor in The Bahamas, St Thomas in The Virgin Islands and St Maarten. As I had assumed, many hundreds of enthusiastic drinkers and gamblers stayed on board, but what I hadn’t realised was the enormous benefit that this was to have to the ever so slightly more adventurous; the beaches were empty. Hundreds of meters of picture perfect white sand and turquoise water to be enjoyed by the two of us, and a very few other vaguely intrepid cruisers. (A quick note here on the verb ‘to cruise.’ It is very common for people, at least on this particular trip, to be regular cruise ship holidayers, and it is also very common for them to want to tell you all about how much they love cruise ships holidays. Therefore it is not uncommon to hear middle aged, right-wing, christian men saying things like “yeah, I’ve been cruising for 30 years,” or “sure, I’m a regular cruiser,” or “I’m pretty sure the reason my first wife left me was because I was so obsessed with cruising all the time!”)

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While I wouldn’t now consider myself a fully fledged cruise convert, I certainly enjoyed the Caribbean, I bloody loved the food, all of which was fantastic and non-stop, and I got more sunburnt than I knew it was possible to be and moaned about it for 3 days. That is to say, the weather was marvellous. We also got an extra day at sea thrown in so that we could sail around the hurricane currently battering the east coast of America which we didn’t want to be drowned by. Not all bad then.