Tuesday 13 October 2015

Road Trip Diary: Charming Carmel

Day 55
San Francisco to Carmel
Saturday 27th June 2015

After 3 days of San Fran life, we couldn't wait for some peaceful time away from the hustle and bustle of the city and it's streets.

We only spent one night in Carmel on our last visit so this time we booked two nights in Carmel-by-the-Sea and two nights in Carmel Valley, a 25 minute drive from the coast. We decided to split our time because Carmel (the coast one) is beautiful but quite small. Spending 4 nights there would be a bit much so we decided to go inland.

Carmel-by-the-Sea is a funny place, full of vacationing rich Americans meandering around quaint fairytale cottages, shops filled with designer junk and a hundred galleries flogging very average-looking art. The only thing that most people know about Carmel is that Clint Eastwood was the Mayor for a while and this odd little fact still draws a lot of people to the town. He's the ex-owner of the Hog's Breath Inn, a pub & restaurant decked out in wooden mock-tudor style decor. It feels a bit down-at-heel considering it's posh neighbours, but serves decent drinks and has a great outdoor terrace.
Carmel is chilled but touristy, fellow Americans love the chocolate box cottages and scenery and it has some great bars and restaurants.

Before our dinner that evening we visited the Cypress Inn, a beautiful hotel and bar co-owned by none other than the inimitable Doris Day. We drank a couple of expensive cocktails in their garden and lazed in the sun for half an hour before heading off for food.

I will tell you now, if you EVER visit Carmel (either Valley or By-The-Sea) the best place for dinner is Dametra Cafe and Tripadvisor and it's thousands of reviews agree with me. The food is Greek, the music is live and loud and interactive and the ambience is warm, hugely friendly and just thinking about the whole thing almost brings a tear to my eye. We experienced it four years ago without making a reservation, where we just managed to get a table. Four years later and the place is a lot more popular so I was so relieved to have made a reservation a few days before. If you're going to go, my only advice would be to book as soon as you can and order the moussaka, you will not regret it and you will cry thinking about it a few months later.

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Day 56
Sunday 28th June 2015

Too much red wine and one of the most beautiful spots in coastal California? Oops.
We drove over to Point Lobos feeling a bit delicate but the fresh air and the views soon perked us up.
The car park area was full as we got there a little after midday so we parked along the road with loads of other people and walked treacherously past the traffic to the entrance- at least we saved the $10 parking fee! Top tip: get there early! 

Point Lobos is essentially a rocky outcrop, surrounded by a forest and even though it was quite overcast when we visited, it was stunning. The colours and patterns in the rock, the hundreds of seals and otters we spotted and the views from the cliffs were all pure magic and very soothing for a couple of hungover idiots.

We headed back after a picnic lunch in the forest and grabbed some ludicrously good salted caramel ice cream from the Carmel Bakery - with scoops so big we had to ask for bowls and spoons - and watched the sun set over the fairytale rooftops from our balcony.

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Day 57
Monday 29th June 2015

Monterey Bay Aquarium is not cheap but it is worth it. Sadly, because it's so popular, discount codes (like I mentioned in my last post) are hard to find so we paid full price but not once whilst we were there did I regret the $40 we each spent on tickets.
It's huge so make you sure allocate at least half a day to it, if not a whole day so you have time to wander the shops and the wharf.
We spent most of our time lurking around the sea otter tank because sea otters are my spirit animal. I'd be perfectly content lying on my back in the sea, whacking shellfish against a rock all day and holding hands with my fellow furry friends to make sure we didn't float too far from each other. They are incredibly beautiful creatures, elegant, dexterous and very playful. We'd seen them as tiny specks of fur out at sea along our coastal drives but seeing them up close was fantastic. Ed managed to sneak off and buy my birthday card from the gift shop and at the end of August, after being home for just over a month, he surprised me with a 'There are plenty of fish in the sea, but I otter be with you' card which made my heart melt and ache to be back there.

After some lunch at a forgettable tourist restaurant in the wharf, we left Monterey and the Aquarium to head inland to Carmel Valley and to a hotel I'd been really looking forward to, the retro Blue Sky Lodge. As we pulled up I spotted that the pool was empty and being repaired and the whole place looked a lot more tired than in their photos - pretty disappointing. The check-in staff didn't seem to care much so we asked for our money back and hopped back in the car and onto Expedia to see if there was anything else available in the area. It was late in the afternoon, it was over thirty degrees and we just wanted a bed to crash onto and a pool to cool off in. Luckily, we spotted the Country Garden Inn just down the road and pulled off to see if they had any vacancies. I'm not sure if it was our charming British accents or the wad of dollars in my hand but the proprietress gave us a big suite with a discount which ended up being cheaper than the previous motel. Big win.

For dinner, we drove to the local Safeway and bought fresh baguettes, tomatoes, cheese, pickles, chocolate and wine and sat outside our room in the warm evening sun playing cards and drinking until the moon and the bats came out to play.

Day 58
Tuesday 30th June 2015
We rose early to take advantage of the buffet breakfast and realised that we had the pool all to ourselves so made the most of it by spending the majority of the day lounging next to it. Carmel Valley is a beautiful place, full of wineries and rolling, parched hills. It's quiet and has a subdued community feel but decent restaurants are only a short walk away so it almost feels like one big resort.

We peeled ourselves from our sun-loungers just long enough to find some lunch and explore the main shopping area where, somehow, I managed to find a hidden thrift store with vintage treasures and we grabbed lunch at a grocery shop where the checkout guy though we were French, much to our amusement. Americans are funny.
After all that excitement we headed back to the sanctuary of the pool where we napped and read and ate for the next few hours. A holiday within a holiday.

The Inn offered free wine and evening snacks every night so we wandered up to reception and had a chat with the hotel owners about where to eat that evening, drank a couple of glasses of free local wine and browsed the menus for some restaurants- such a good idea to promote nearby businesses.
After recommendations from both the owners and another vacationing couple, we decided on Café Rustica. It was brilliant - not too expensive and with a huge open kitchen and traditional stone pizza oven that churned out fresh pizzas at a rate of knots. It was packed so we were lucky to get a table and it just showed how popular it was with the local community to be that busy on a Tuesday evening! We walked back along Highway 1 feeling full to the brim, a little tipsy and excited for our drive to San Luis Obispo and the legendary pink and resplendent Madonna Inn.

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Wednesday 2 September 2015

Top Dollar: 10 money saving tips for a USA Roadtrip


I'm not ashamed to admit it that I like saving money. Prior to our road trip and privately to myself, I decided I would be content with spending up to $500 over our budget. Taking into consideration the length of our trip and that the budget might be needed to cover any number of eventualities, I thought this was reasonable but I still loathed the thought of over spending. After getting home and doing the math, I was a very happy bunny to learn that we actually managed to come under budget by nearly $700 (around £450) so wanted to share some of the ways we managed to do it.

Our daily joint budget was $80 per day including all food and drink, but not gas or lodgings. That's around £26 per person for three meals and all activities each day - sounds pretty tight for a holiday doesn't it? We definitely didn't see this as a budget trip and we wanted to have some great experiences, luxe meals and boozy nights so this was a tall order but with a bit of help from the internet and a little ingenuity we gained some excellent tips for saving money whilst travelling the States. 

1) Store Card stock up
For lunches, we usually bought food from the big supermarkets you find littered along the roads- Safeway (known as Vons in California), Ralphs, Trader Joes, Rays Food Place etc. A few days into the trip, I was getting a bit frustrated at all the signs for 20% on lunch and deli food and selected toiletries for loyalty/store card holders so I sheepishly asked one of the cashiers if we would be eligible as non-US residents. She cheerily handed me one, explaining I didn't need to send off the application form and, instead, just swipe the card at the checkout. This seemed to be the same story in each shop we requested one. They aren't quite the same as the schemes in the UK - most of them will give you up front discounts instead of points - but this is so much better for travellers who won't be around to long enough to clock up a worthwhile amount of points.
Also, for the days we were staying in self-catering Airbnbs and apartments, we stocked up on wine and beer from these stores as the savings were pretty huge - around 30% off bottles of spirits and a few dollars off six packs of beer.

2) Stay loyal
As soon as you start planning your trip, sign up for all of the newsletters and loyalty schemes you can find for the big hotel and motel chains - Motel 6, Holiday Inn, Days Inn, Knights Inn, Best Western, Doubletree Hilton, Marriott, Comfort Inn etc. You'll hear about discounts and special offers for free nights in time to see if they'll suit your dates of travel. 

3) Cash back, cash out
We found Expedia to consistently have the best rates and discount codes but also the best cash back rate with Quidco. We secured 12% cash back (the % varies from week to week) on nearly all of our hotel bookings. I received my first £60 payment a few days ago (with another £20 still to come) so it can take up to 8-12 weeks to come through but after a holiday is always when you need an extra bit of cash. Quidco is one of my all time favourite money-saving websites and I use it as my homepage for online shopping. I've clocked up nearly £200 in cash back in the last year alone! With Expedia you're also able to claim Nectar points on all bookings, so I also managed to rack up around £40 worth of points alongside the cash back!

4) Be creative with 'breakfast'
This might be a controversial one and is somewhat frowned upon but I thought I'd throw it out there anyway. Buffet breakfasts in decent hotels are plentiful so make the most of them. I'm not saying fill your boots with cereal and mini pots of jam, but pre-packaged bagels, muffins and fruit make for a great on-the-road lunch when there aren't many other (attractive) options. If you don't feel comfortable taking anything, just eat as much as you can to keep you going until dinner time!

5) Have Uber fun
In the bigger cities when most money saving opportunities are fewer and further between, saving money on nights out is actually easier. Sign up for Uber (the taxi service) whilst you're out there and if you're using another mobile number (see my next point) you can sign up twice (or once more if you're already signed up in the UK). Doing this means you can effectively refer yourself and everyone else you're travelling with to exploit the referral bonuses plus the free first rides you'll get if you're a new user. The free first rides in the US are also of a higher value, for us it was up to $20. If you sign up using my promo code fviuy you'll get £10 credit (FYI, so will I!) and then you'll be able to start earning referral credit too. For nights out we found this invaluable and didn't end up spending any money on taxis as we managed to keep all the rides within the credit we'd earned.

6) Three to talk
This was my favourite discovery, all thanks to a tip-off from my brother who used it whilst in Berlin. If you're planning on visiting for longer than a couple of weeks, we found the best deal on mobile minutes and internet was from Three. Request a free SIM from their website, activate it and top it up with £20. With this you buy a £20 All-in-One bundle which will give you 300 minutes, 3000 texts and all-you-can-eat data which will last for 30 days. You can then use this existing data abroad thanks to their Feel at Home policy. Sadly they have put the price up slightly as it was £15 when we used it but considering some of the other networks charge £5 per day to use your existing data abroad, it's a bargain. You will need to have an unlocked phone however, so this could cost you an extra £10-20 depending on your network.

7) Extra credit
For longer trips, it's worth taking out a specialist credit card. I'm not your financial advisor so don't make any decisions based on my situation, but we signed up for the Halifax Clarity card which we read about on Money Saving Expert. I won't go in to it too much here but they're obviously only for people who are good at money management as they will need promptly paying off weekly/monthly. The card saved us a lot in transaction and conversion fees but if the credit card isn't for you, the link above has a very handy list of the best other debit/credit cards to use abroad. Just as a side hint, I would highly recommend taking a credit card with you to the USA. Most hotels and motels will ask you for one on check in for incidentals and to secure the room against. Some will now take debit cards, but they will 'ring-fence' an amount of money just in case which can take up to 10 working days to be released- not ideal if your card is your only source of money!

8) America The Cheap
If you're planning on visiting a fair few National Parks, do a bit of research and find out how much each one is. If the total comes to over $80 or if you plan on visiting the same one more than once, you're probably better off buying an America The Beautiful pass. They're available at the entrance of most of the NP's and they allow you entrance into all of them for one year. It doesn't cover Navajo Nation or other Native American governed reservations like Monument Valley as they are looked after and managed separately. The usual cost for each National Park daily entrance fee is $20-25 so you could save if you're visiting any more than 4 or 5.

9) Buddy up
Ed's favourite website whilst we were in the US was Gas Buddy. Type in a city or zip code and it will find you the cheapest gas price in the area. Not that we actually needed to save money on petrol. We budgeted £1000 for gas but realised soon in to the trip that this was a vast overestimate because, compared to us unlucky Brits, gas prices in the US are almost half what they are here. We clocked up nearly 7,000 miles and in total spent just $535 (£350) on gas. Madness.

10) Use your head
Just because you're on holiday doesn't mean you can't do what you normally do. Before I book tickets for any attractions or events, I always search for discount codes or offers online that might make them a bit cheaper. San Diego Zoo is an expensive day out at $48 a ticket, but I knew it would be worth it and that we didn't want to miss out. After a couple of minutes looking online, I found a 10% code here (still valid!). Also, sign up for Groupon and Living Social whilst you're out there or change your location if you're already signed up. When you get to a city or area, have a look to see if there any are deals nearby which could come in handy. We found drinks offers for nights out and some great local dinner deals.

And that's it! Ten of our top tips for saving money on your next USA road trip. If you have any others to add, feel free to share them in the comments below.


Friday 21 August 2015

Road Trip Diary: San Francisco

Day 52
Sacramento to San Francisco
Wednesday 24th June 2015

We were excited to escape the heat of built-up Sacramento for the cool, misty bay awaiting us but apparently it didn't want to let us go without a fight. On our way out of the city, I asked Ed to stop at a local Goodwill and, as if the car sensed Ed's disapproval, a warning light sprung up on the dashboard. After much grappling with the manual we discovered it meant some sort of electrical failing and it recommended we to take it to the nearest dealer. After a quick change at the local Alamo, we were now onto our fourth (and I’m pleased to say final!) car.

On the approach to San Francisco, we stopped off at the Golden Gate Bridge, heaving with tourists. We drove up to recreation area to get some better views and were SO thankful that it was a totally clear afternoon with not a cloud in the sky. Last time we were here, we could barely see the tops of the bridge so this was a real treat. It’s an obvious tip, but to have the best chance of seeing the bridge, aim to arrive in the afternoon after the fog has had a chance to clear!


The drive across into San Francisco was fantastic and we made it to the Haight district to find our Airbnb for the next three nights. After a bit of paranoia about finding a space in a city known for its notoriously difficult street parking, we somehow found one a couple of blocks away within the first ten minutes of looking and after the deciphering the restriction signs, left it there for the next 3 days.

The Airbnb was a traditional Queen Anne Victorian home, just a few minutes from the Haight-Ashbury junction. San Francisco is not a cheap city, but you should know that already. We couldn’t find a single affordable hotel in the Haight neighbourhood that we were set on staying within walking distance of. Luckily we spotted a modest but beautiful room in this huge converted house, complete with bay window and high ceilings, but it was the location that clinched the deal.

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That evening we went out for some drinks and food at a couple of hilariously pretentious bars on Haight Street, which I liked but Ed took an instant dislike to.
Sparrow Bar was cute but they’d run out of draught beer and the staff were a bit odd, The Alembic which made incredible cocktails but was quite expensive and then Magnolia Pub and Brewery for some decent English-style draught beer and a couple of burgers. After so much cheap booze on this trip, the prices in San Fran came as a bit of a shock!
Though these places had come highly recommended via the internet, we much preferred the dive bars that we spent the rest our booze money in for the next couple of nights - chilled, cheap and cheerful!

Day 53
San Francisco
Thursday 25th June 2015

The Haight Street Market is a local institution which opened in 1981 and has a great selection of fresh food, full meals and a deli, plus a great coffee place just inside the doors with fresh croissants. There are some tables on the street so you can eat your breakfast and people watch for an hour or so, which is exactly what we did each morning.

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We last visited to San Francisco in 2011 and had ticked off many of the sights then including Alcatraz, so even though it was brilliant we decided to give it a miss this trip. We wanted to have a casual walk around the city, seeing things we hadn’t seen last time. We grabbed the bus downtown and decided to head to City Lights, the well-known Beat Generation bookshop and then walked to down to the bay, past Fishermans Wharf (we learnt our lesson last time with this place - not that pleasant, too touristy) and headed to the little beach near Ghiradelli Square for some ice cream. We decided we couldn’t miss the chance to go on the cable cars again even if we had ridden them a few years ago, so queued up for an hour or so and when it was our turn to board, realised we were going to be hanging off the side which was amazing fun.
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Back in Union Square we did a bit of shopping and then remembered one of the bars I had read about would be opening soon. We climbed up to the Fairmont Hotel within which is hidden the Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar. It’s hard to describe this adequately because it was so bloody amazing and one of my favourite places in San Fran, but it’s basically a Tiki bar with a huge pool in the middle and where every half hour or so, thunder sounds and ‘rain’ pours down around the pool. The best thing about it was the happy hour. When we arrived at 4.59pm there was already a medium sized queue forming, waiting for the room to open. I had no idea it was so popular until slightly after 6pm when we were happily seated and I looked out the door to see a huge line of people still waiting to be seated. They had a brilliant happy hour menu, with large cocktail bowls for around $15 for two people and an all-you-can-eat Asian buffet for $10/person. Perfect kitschy fun after a long day on your feet, but be sure to get there early! Happy hour is from 5pm-7pm.


Day 54
San Francisco
Friday 26th June 2015

Today was the first day of the whole trip that we both felt pretty crap. Either the cocktails the night before had been stronger than previously thought or spending a month and a half on the road was finally taking its toll on us. I was so lethargic and my motivation was below zero, so only when we heard the amazing news that the US Supreme Court had legalised same-sex marriage did we even feel like crawling out of bed. What a place to hear the news! It’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life, the whole city seemed to buzz with happiness.

We walked over to see the Painted Ladies - a famous row of Victorian-era pastel houses with a view of the whole city behind them but were sad to see one of them was covered in scaffolding. They still looked pretty so we snapped some photos and walked back to Haight Street to spend some time looking in all of the vintage and thrift shops. I actually took a load of my own things to Buffalo Exchange as I was getting a bit fed up with some of the clothes I'd bought out with me and I ended up getting about $40 in exchange credit - another great idea if you're doing a long trip and fancy some new pieces! 
As for recommendations, both Wasteland and Held Over were the best we visited with huge selections and pretty cheap prices, Relic was full of beautiful hand-picked, really special items at a higher price point but still affordable.

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Still feeling a bit rubbish we decided to head back for a nap and then popped out later for some food and drinks to take back to the room. I'm still full of regret for spending our last night in San Francisco curled up in bed watching Netflix but what the body craves, the body gets and we wanted to be fully refreshed for our drive to Carmel the following day...


Wednesday 19 August 2015

After the Adventure: 10 positive actions to ease you back into daily life


In a few days it will be a month since we flew back to the UK, leaving the sunshine and dust and our surreal bubble in America behind us. To say the past few weeks have been a whirlwind would be an understatement. To fill you in, if you aren't familiar with our situation, we bought and exchanged on a house in March 2015, stayed in our London flat until we finished work at the end of April, moved all of our worldly possessions into the new house and then, a week later, jetted off for three months to the west coast of the USA for the biggest trip of our lives.

Our first week back, the last of our sabbatical, was spent covered in paint and in a state of constant mess. My wonderful family had painted the dining room whilst we were away but there was still an epic amount to do, so we rolled up our sleeves and threw ourselves into the work, jet lag and all. I'll talk about the house in future posts as, of course it is the Home in Home & Highways, but for now we still have six or seven travel blog posts to publish, everything from San Francisco (coming in the next couple of days) to San Diego and the magical desert between.

The inevitable lows of returning to normal life have hit us hard. We are both (sadly) back at work now, so coming to terms with the daily commute, grey skies and lack of In-N-Out Burger has been a struggle.  We decided to put together a list of positive actions for getting back into the swing of post-adventure life for those of you who, like us, just want to hotfoot it on the next flight out of here.

1) Sharing is caring
One of the things we've found most therapeutic since coming home is sharing our stories but, big disclaimer here, nobody likes hearing other peoples endless travel tales and those 'had to be there' anecdotes- it can be pretty dull. However, most of our family and friends followed our journey and asked to see our favourite photos and share our highlights. Reliving your favourite moments will allow the trip to sink in and properly cement itself in your mind if you've been on the road for weeks.

2) Relax
We didn't have baths in a lot of the motels we stayed in and there is NOTHING like coming home to your own creature comforts. If you can, exploit the things you've missed whilst travelling. Take an hour long bath with a good book and music playing with no risk of annoying fellow travellers or hosts and revel in using all the products you couldn't fit in your toiletry bag.

3) Remedy your routine
Yes, the whole point of your trip was to get away from the chores and humdrum of daily life but, hopefully, you've returned from your travels reinvigorated. Taking back control of your routine and assessing what works and what doesn't with fresh eyes will empower you to eliminate some or all of the bad habits you might have fallen into prior to take off.

4) Do your favourite things.
There are always things to be missed on a long holiday. I missed my family, my friends, good strong tea (and a kettle!), fish and chips, a haircut and colour, the British news, Sainsbury's food shops and cuddles with my best friends daughter Molly. Since being back I've made time to enjoy nearly all of these and I appreciate each one so much more since coming home.

5) Play your soundtrack
We've been listening to our road trip playlist a lot since coming home. At first it made me sad as I couldn't stop thinking about being back on the open road but I realised this can only be a good thing. It's helped us to remember silly conversations and funny, weird stories all linked with a particular song that were too 'small' to write down. It's these forgotten moments and the accompanying soundtrack that fill in the gaps on a trip and will stick with you for years.

6) Treasure your mementos
If you're anything like us, you've returned with a bag full of mementos and souvenirs from your time away. Make sure you don't stuff them into a drawer and forget about them- this will only make you feel guilty months down the line when their significance has evaporated. Spread them out on the floor one evening and organise them. Be serious about what you want to keep- do you really think you'll want to frame that ticket stub from a ten minute bus trip you took in Seattle? For the special pieces, frame them, scrapbook them or do like I do and keep them safe in a box to pour over and use at a later date.

7) Streamline your photos
We came back with over 10,000 photos which is not only ridiculous but also unmanageable. Will you ever show anyone that many photos? Will you even bother to look at them yourself if you've got thousands to wade through? The curse (and blessing I suppose) of digital photography is that there isn't a limit to how many we take. Firstly, delete all the blurry, accidental or duplicate shots. Then try and keep only one or two from each set or a couple from each 'event'. If you can't bear to delete any transfer them all to an external hard drive and categorise them by day or week. Have your favourites printed. They'll be much more of a joy to look through later on if they are organised.

8) Socialise
Don't mope around at home. Get back into your social groups, organise meet ups with friends, catch up on everything you've missed and do some of the sharing I mentioned in point 1. We felt a bit isolated when we came home but soon settled as we realised that everyone was the same and nothing had really changed.

9) Start something
Decorating the house kept our minds off the depressing fact that the trip we'd been planning for a year was over. Start a blog, sign up for a class, learn a language. If you just need a new obsession, start a series (or 9) on Netflix or start the first book in a trilogy. You need to love something as much as you loved planning and taking the trip. Or, alternatively...

10) Move onto the next
If all else fails and you just can't get through the day without daydreaming of beaches and desert and blue sky, the only thing guaranteed to make you feel better is to start planning your next trip. If your savings are back to zero, start organising ways to build them back up. Start researching (= spending endless hours on Pinterest) destinations, times of the year and attractions. Now that you've successfully planned and survived one trip, you are the best person to organise your next. Write down everything you loved and hated about the last one so even when you look back with rose-tinted glasses you'll have a list to remind you how much you loathe 6am wake-up calls, night flights etc.

I hope something on this list helps, whether you've been away for a couple of weeks and feel a bit blue or if it's your first time back on home turf for a year. There is nothing quite like the bump back down to earth you get after an adventure. Here's to the next!

P.S If you have any more tips for getting back to reality, feel free to share them in the comments below!


Saturday 18 July 2015

Road Trip Diary: Wine Country > Sacramento

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Day 46
Miranda to Vallejo
Thursday 18th June 2015

We entered a black hole of driving. Eight hours on the road with a couple spent on the winding, nausea-inducing California Route 1 north of Fort Bragg which forces you up hills at an excruciatingly slow place and then back down them on tight switchbacks which made me cling to the seat. We've got used to long car journeys now though and our playlists and snacks and regular drive-thru Starbucks trips keep us happy.

We had a brief reprieve from the car to stop at Glass Beach, it was quite out of our way but it has been on my to-see list for quite some time and it was very much worth the extra hour. Between the early 1900's and the late 1960's local residents, along with many other coastal communities, established a water dump site. It's a little bit hard to imagine people thinking it was ever a wise idea but they eventually realised it might be bad for the environment so they cleared away all the things that would degrade. The glass that had been dumped stayed however and over time it became smooth from the natural tumbling effect of the ocean and washed back up on the shores of the local beaches. Glass Beach is now a very busy tourist attraction and on the day we visited it was full of people, but you can see why. A beach with almost no visible sand, only the glistening white, brown and green pebbles of glass. Every handful was a kaleidoscope of colour. They recommend that you don't collect from this beach as they are worried about the glass diminishing over time but when we were there we saw a lot of people taking a few pieces. Also, get there early if you're planning on visiting, the crowds reach peak at lunchtime.

When we finally got to Vallejo, at 5pm, we were shattered. We only had the energy for dinner at an Olive Garden (sort of like Pizza Express but not as nice, FYI) and an extortionate drink at the hotel before crashing into bed.

Day 47
Friday 19th June 2015

One tip: don't come to Vallejo, we made the mistake so you don't have to. Unless you're into theme parks, because there was a massive Six Flags right next to our hotel and you could literally walk over the road to it. We made the decision to come here because: a) we originally had an Airbnb booked for Sonoma but it was tiny- everything in Wine Country is SO expensive - and it didn't have a pool and b) the temperature was forecast to hit 35C whilst we were there so we wanted a pool. We had a look on Expedia and the hotel we saw in Vallejo was only a little further out, nearer to Napa, with a gorgeous king size room, cheaper than the Airbnb and with a big pool. We didn't linger on the fact that the local area was a dump.

It wasn't a big deal and we spent our first day recovering from the driving by just slumping by the pool for most of the day, doing some much-needed laundry and eating dinner at a particularly shady branch of Denny's (top tip: if in doubt, order the veggie burger, this has saved me in many questionable establishments)

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Day 48
Saturday 20th June 2015

I can't quite get my head around Napa Valley. It's an incredibly beautiful place, all rolling hills and Tuscan-style buildings and along the main road there is just vineyard after vineyard, each one with a grand sounding name - Domaine Chandon, Chappellet, Castello di Amorosa etc etc. It was all a bit too much for us two whatever's-cheapest-in-Tesco tasters, so we googled for one with onsite food and picnic area for convenience and found V. Sattui.

It's set out around a big courtyard and gardens and inside a large stone building, I signed on for the six tastings for $15 whilst Ed stood nonchalantly by as the designated driver. That's the main thing I'm confused about - does everyone just drink and drive when they come here for their romantic weekends away? There were so many cars and everyone looked a bit sozzled. Even though it's only a relatively small amount of wine, I was certainly a little bit tipsy when I'd finished and declared their Riesling the best I'd ever tasted (read: the only one I'd ever tasted but man, it was good). We bought two bottles for our travels and $54 later (it isn't cheap this Napa wine) we headed to the busy gardens for some lunch. I'd definitely recommend Sattui, purely for the Deli and the weekend BBQ. The food was excellent and we sat on the lawn and ate our freshly grilled chicken and barbecued pork sandwiches.

We went back to the hotel and had another couple of hours by the quiet pool and then popped to the gas station across the road to buy dinner. I call it dinner but it was definitely the least nutritious meal we've had so far - instant noodles, Pringles, a shit ton of candy and some soda. We had a bed picnic and watched a film and it was glorious.

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Day 49, 50 and 51
Sunday 21st, Monday 22nd and Tuesday 23rd June 2015

Sacramento is the state capital, with it's glimmering golden landmark bridge, capitol building, old town and sadly, like many big U.S cities, a large homeless population.
We spent the first afternoon wandering downtown, spotting the street art, getting iced teas at Temple Coffee to keep us cool and relaxing at the motel pool when the heat became just too much.

Monday was much better, we felt refreshed and ready to explore so we headed to Old Sacramento. The motel  (not a recommendation by the way - terrible breakfast, even gave it my first ever bad review on Expedia) was in a great location only a five minutes from there. Old town is a neatly preserved historic state park which still operates like a normal part of the city with restaurants, shops and bars, only it's much prettier. We took photos of the shop fronts, the excellent typography on the railroad signs and the cute yellow school house.
We headed back there later on for dinner at Ten22, a mediocre affair with zero atmosphere, and then for a final few drinks at Back Door Lounge, a proper velvet-lined dive bar hidden away on Firehouse Alley. When we walked in it was almost totally empty and it stayed that way for most of the night. We sat at the bar and ended up chatting to a couple of locals for an hour whilst the bartender kept the cheap margaritas and beer flowing. We talked about all the weird and wonderful differences in language between England and the U.S, a popular topic of conversation for Americans who think the fact that we say 'brilliant' (everyone we have met has commented on this!) and courgette instead of zucchini is hilarious.

On Tuesday the weather was unbearably hot, almost 38 celsius, but we decided to persevere with our sight-seeing so we walked downtown to see the State Capitol building. Across the country, these buildings are strangely similar in style, there's even a funny Washington Post article about the few that don't fit in with the aesthetic here. We got talking to a guide who kindly offered to give us a personal off-plan tour of the rooms which was really fun and informative. It was a good way to pass a couple of hours and we headed back to the motel pool to soak up some more sun before heading off the next morning.

We still can't decide if we loved Sacramento or not. Not enough there to hold our interest really. I think we managed to see the main sights in three days so I can't say it's somewhere we'd plan to return to if we did the trip again, however, it's a great place to stop off for a couple of nights if you're doing a tour of California and I'd recommend it to other trippers!
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