Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Road trip!

It's been a whirlwind week - I've been through four national parks, partied in Sin City for two days, and taken in the world's campest Easter Parade in the Castro District of San Francisco (trust me, you've never seen an Easter bonnet competition quite like it). And I've had an absolute blast throughout.

Our road trip started in Los Angeles a little over a week ago - 11 women and one man (one half of our honeymoon couple!) boarded a minivan at the airport and headed out to Joshua Tree National Park. We were incredibly lucky with the time of year - being spring, the trees were blooming. All these spiky arms were reaching for the sky, topped with white pinecone-like flowers (the trees are actually part of the lily family, hence the waxy flowers). I thought nothing would top Australia till I reached New Zealand, and then I thought nothing could impress me more... till I reached the States' desert landscapes. The vast rock formations, the lonely trees, the scuttling lizards and croaking birds - it was so beautiful, and so eerie.

And even this was as nothing compared to the Grand Canyon. I splashed out and took a helicopter ride, which was the best decision I've ever made - the first five minutes of the flight hugged the tops of serried ranks of pine trees, before bursting over the rim and revealing the Canyon in all its glory. It has to rank as the single most spectacular moment of my life - nothing can prepare you for how vast, how splendid it is, inhuman in its scale. We flew for 50 minutes and it felt like seconds - every moment we were seeing another amazing view: the Colorado River the size of a bootlace below us; being dwarfed as we flew below the rim; amazing rock formations in the shape of temples and animals; all the amazing colours... We ended the day watching the sun go down over the Canyon, the grey gradually leaching the reds out of the rocks in front of us. It was a truly magical day.

But the trip wasn't just about the glories of nature: the next day we hit Las Vegas, which has to be the most fun you can have with your clothes on (or even without). Regina (a 70-year-old Swiss grandmother, and an awesome travelling companion), Anna and Nikki and I hit the town together the first night, picking up margaritas (but sadly no men!) as we went. Every so often we'd have to stop and just laugh in disbelief and delight: it was all in the middle of the desert, for God's sake. My favourite was the Venetian - with a replica of St Mark's Square inside, plus a false ceiling that bathes the place in constant daylight, and canals with gondoliers plying tourists up and down... and it's all upstairs. But the boulevards of Paris (plus l'Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower), and the streets of New York, New York (Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, brownstones and the Brooklyn Bridge no less) were awesome too. And the lions - real lions - in the lobby of the MGM Grand were pretty cool, as were the old-school kitschy sword-and-sandals style of Caesar's Palace and the Luxor. I even went to a totally naff and over-the-top magician's show on the second night (Criss Angel - basically Paul Daniels with Gothic frills). It all tickled my sense of humour (and after all I love a bit of camp), and I am totally going back again - I'm not done with Sin City!

So what could follow that? Death Valley, of course, a vast plain of salt pans and churned up, baked earth. It had rained the previous day so there were flowers, but it was still an eerie landscape - beautiful, though. I'm definitely a deserts girl. Yosemite, where we went last, was also beautiful but didn't move me in the same way (perhaps because we have mountains and snow at home?). In fairness we weren't seeing it at its best; while spring is good in deserts, in Yosemite it just means that most of the tracks are closed off by snow and ice. The waterfalls were going great guns, though, and the lakes were at their best!

And now I'm having a few days of domesticity: I'm in San Francisco with Mel and Will (who have very kindly taken me into their home, and shown me Doctor Who specials - life doesn't get much better than that). After all my travels it's great to be in a real home again, and I'm loving being Aunty Abigail to two small children (both Sophia and Zach seem to like me, which is incredibly flattering!). But I did pop down to the Castro district yesterday, and I'm heading off to the hippie area of Haight-Ashbury in the next few days, so I haven't abandoned all my sightseeing. Stand by for a post on the Bay, and in the meantime, au revoir mes amis.

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