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Holiday of a Lifetime, USA April 2012
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Our trip to San Francisco, Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon had been many months in the planning but the time had finally arrived. We were flying from Manchester to London Gatwick on the 9th and then the trans-atlantic trip was the following day from Heathrow. We stayed overnight in the Sofitel which is attached to Heathrow Terminal 5. A superb hotel and one of the nicest we've ever stayed in. Our 10½ hour flight was a bit of a nightmare as our part of the cabin was shared with a school party of about 40 teenagers. There were four teachers looking after them. They weren't behaving badly as such but were very boisterous and noisy. And the teenagers weren't much better either!
Anyway, we got there unscathed and had a fantastic time as you can see below.
Pod at HeathrowCastroCastro Cinema
Darryl using Heathrow's 'pod' system between the terminal building and the two car parks. We didn't actually have a car parked there but it didn't stop us trying them out. Three times actually. They are automatic and press a button to tell them which destination you want and they set off and take you there. When we got to SF one of the first places we went was to Castro, the original gay area of SF from the days when being gay was deemed to be offensive to the general population. This is the flag at the top of Castro, now proudly flown. And the cinema bearing the same name
Hand Job anyoneCoit Tower desciptionCoit Tower
We just couldn't resist this picture of a quite imaginative business name for a manicurist Coit Tower was built on Telegraph Hill, one of the highest points in the city, following a bequest from a lady who had been saved from death by SF's fire-fighters. And she seemed to have a 'thing' for fireman after that! And this is what was built in her memory - said to look like the business end of a fireman's hose.
SF Fire TruckGolden Gate BridgeGG Bridge from Marin County side
And SF's finest seemed to have a thing for us too as they were always turning up wherever we were. I think it was Darryl they were following! No visit to SF can go by without a visit to it's most famous landmark, the Golden Gate Bridge and, though we've been before, we've never walked across it. So this time we determined we would walk over and back. This is what it looks like from the far end - the Marin County end of the bridge. In the middle you get blown sideways but, at either end, it's relatively calm.
The Painted LadiesShipwreckSFPD attend
The Painted Ladies, as they are known, are one of SF's other tourist 'must sees' that we had never been to. They are a row of houses which escaped the 1906 earthquake but, for a major tourist attraction, are in need of a bit of TLC There is a small beach near to Fisherman's Wharf and, one day walking past we noticed a bit of commotion. It seems that a maritime training school yacht had broken free and beached itself and the pupils were trying to re-float it Until, that is, the San Francisco Police Department turn up to stop them - it actually was getting a bit dangerous, I must admit but how they managed in the end we shall never know as we had to leave them to it.
Las VegasView to the ground floorNight time from our room
The next day we flew off to Las Vegas and we'd booked what turned out to be a pretty spectacular hotel suite. This is the view from our bedroom on the 26th floor (of 38) And this is the view looking straight down; it gives you an idea how high we actualy were. This is the view that we got from the lounge at night. In the distance is McCarran Airport, the International Airport for Las Vegas and virtually in the city center.
View from the top of the hotelThe StripBellagio Fountains
Here's the view from the rooftop pool and bar area of the hotel we were staying in. Our first foray onto the strip and we came across the Statue of Liberty. Such as good scale model it is that the US Post Office inadvertently included a picture of it on one of their stamps thinking it was the real New York version. That evening we walked up to the Bellagio Hotel where fountains display themselves set to a different musical theme each 15 minutes at night (30 during the day) and are, quite simply, stunning. The display is free and can be watched from the wide pavement on The Strip.
Caesars PalaceCaesars FountainsEiffel Tower, Vegas style
Not only is Caesars Palace a large hotel and casino, it is also an upmarket shopping mall. This shows the ceiling and the curved escalators. It's worth a visit just to look around. Another of the famous sights of The Strip and frequently photographed, are the these three fountains outside of Caesars Palace Just up the Strip from the Statue of Liberty is the Eiffel Tower and Paris. Honestly.
Inside the VenetianFlight to Grand CanyonThe two of us
And another resort is the Venetian with gondolas going up and down outside and under the bridges. This is the main entrance. And so to the highlight of our trip, the Grand Canyon. We'd hired a light aircraft to take us to the Grand Canyon rather than sweat it out on a tour bus. It also meant we could get to the canyon ahead of the bulk of the tourists and see more in our own time rather than with the hoards. And here's the two of us posing in front of said aircraft! There was just the two of us plus the pilot which meant we got personal service and expert commentary on the way. Plus it was fascinating listening to the pilot and air traffic control as we all shared a common channel on the headsets.
Darryl in the helicopterColorado River from the HelicopterColorado River
Having arrived at the Grand Canyon we transferred to a helicopter for the flight down to the river. I had no idea until afterwards just how scared Darryl was at this point though , looking at this picture now I can see it in his expression. It was his first ever helicopter trip. And this is what it was all about, here we were at one minute a few feet above the ground and the next there was a drop of over 4000 feet below us. Words are not enough to describe this view or the sheer scale of what you can see. This is taken from the boat whilst we had a short trip up and then back down the river with the unbelievably high sides ot the canyon on either side. I cannot explain how insignificant you feel at the base of the canyon. Wonderful.
The river looking calmOn the boatUs two on the boat
Although the river looks quite calm it is moving at a fair speed. It actually excavates about an inch per year so, every year that goes by, the canyon effectively gets one inch deeper. But down here the only sound is the boat and the helicopters bringing more people to see the spectacular scenery and in between, peace. The boat captain took our photos - we were the only two on the boat, apart from him of course.
SkywalkCloser look at the SkywalkEagle Point
The Skywalk extends directly out over a drop of some 4000ft and has a glass walkway and was built by the Hualapai Tribal Nation who own the land to one side of the Canyon, the other side being a US National Park. All the tourist development is at the Hualapai side. Here is a closer look. We didn't bother with it as you're not allowed to take cameras and we'd already seen more than you could see from there when we went into the canyon but it may be worth doing if you're only able to visit the rim. Back at the top of the canyon at Eagle Point you get little idea of scale from this picture but huge is an understatement
Guano PointView across the canyonLake Mead
Guano Point is the next stop on the tourist trail around the rim. The points are connected by a free shuttle bus. This one is better as it is quiet and there is more room to walk around. The little ants you can see toward to top left of the picture are people - that gives you some idea of the scale of things around these parts! The Grand Canyon is about 277 miles long - on the usual tourist bit you see less than a tenth of it - and up to 18 miles wide. It also attains a depth of over 6000ft but, at the tourist accessible part it is a mere 4000ft deep - ¾ of a mile, vertical. On our flight back to Las Vegas the pilot took us over the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead which is the man-made lake that formed behind the dam. This is only a small part of the lake - it too is enormous
Hoover DamFlying into Las VegasAircraft in hanger
And this is what holds back the waters to provide electricity and power to the large cities around, including Las Vegas. On our return to Las Vegas we got a bird's eye view of downtown Las Vegas and the Strip. Ours was his only flight of the day so, when we got back to North LV airport, he parked it in the hanger. Here is the pilot, Dave, talking with the chauffeur before the latter took us back to our hotel.
Fremont Street ExperienceSouth StripJohnny Rockets
The Strip, which everyone thinks of as Las Vegas isn't even in the city of Las Vegas, it's in Clark County. This is Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas where it all started, the Golden Nuggett and the rest. Now billed as the Fremont Street Experience it has amazing light shows in the evening from millions of LED's contained in the overhead canopy which also acts as a sunscreen during the day. At the southern end of the Strip is the Mandalay Bay and Luxor, hence Cleopatra's Needle and, partly hidden by the overhead railway, the Sphynx. We often ate at Johnny Rockets, a retro-diner in the Flamingo. So you may wonder what this picture is all about. Well, they play 60's & 70's retro music and, on a certain cue the waiting staff go into the middle of the restaurant and do an 'impromptu' dance. So very Las Vegas.
Mirage Volcano
And just when you think you've seen everything, you go to see a volcano erupt at the Mirage. Every hour on the hour!

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Down to the River
Grand Canyon - Down to the river
On the River - Part 1
Grand Canyon - On the Colorado Part 1
On the River - Part 2
Grand Canyon - On the Colorado Part 2
  On the River - Part 3
Grand Canyon - On the Colorado Part 3
Back to the Rim
Grand Canyon - Back to the Rim
Bellagio Fountains
Las Vegas - Bellagio Fountains
Las Vegas Strip
Las Vegas - The Strip
The Mirage Volcano
Las Vegas - The Volcano at the Mirage
  Cable Car - California Line
San Francisco Cable Car - California Line
Cable Car - Powell Mason Line
San Francisco Cable Car - Powell-Mason Line

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