Monday, June 30, 2008

Desert, desert and more desert - Sedona and Red Rocks

Driving up to the Grand Canyon, our first stop was Montezuma Castle. A cliff dwelling of ancient peoples, it was perched so high in the cliff that access has always been by ladder. Obviously the logistics of getting thousands of people daily (who all need paved trails, apparently) up that distance, and the importance of preserving the ruins, mean you can't see inside the ruins themselves, but the view is pretty cool. There is apparently 19th Century graffiti inside!

There were also the remains of an even larger dwelling next to it. You could see where other rooms had been made in the rock cliffs. On the bottom left of the photo, you can see one of the stones they used to grind corn. It even has demonstration corn!

There was a reason not to feed the squirrels!

Our second stop was to see the Red Rocks from a vista point in Oak Creek. They were absolutely spectacular....

(OK, doesn't look too red here...)

The middle rock is called Bell.

We then drove down a 5-mile winding, red dirt road to Red Rocks Crossing at the creek. The views along the way were incredible, and mostly private land.

The view was worth it though. The red dust was very fine, and stuck to everything. Our legs and the car were covered! Here are Cathedral Rocks, one of the most recognisable landmarks.

Brendan saw a very tiny frog at the creek - it was about 2cm long! At first he thought it was an insect, until it started hopping. There were lots of tiny fish in the water, which I thought might have been the tadpoles for the frog.

We then drove up to Sedona, and Red Rocks Park itself. We very gingerly drove along the second half of the road, which was dirt again. Sedona itself had cheap ($3.99/gal) petrol (California is at $4.80/gal - but one day that will probably be really cheap!), and was a resort town modelled on the old-fashioned cowboy look.

Red Rocks viewpoint from the park - how crazy cool is this?!

We headed into Williams, a town about an hour away from the Grand Canyon, and checked into our hotel. It was a historic motel along the old Route 66 (now the 40) and was, well, quaint. The floor in the hallway sagged at different angles. But the owner was nice. (Look at the mats for a clue.)

Finally, we drove up to the Grand Canyon to see the sunset! It was incredible beyond belief. It's pretty hard to describe the feeling of dangling your feet over that vast space. It's actually too big for the brain to process - on an intellectual level, you know it's big, but "grand" is an understatement. It was awesome. We walked around and found a spot to climb out on the rocks to take photos. The whole canyon is incredibly open, unlike most American parks - if you fall off, it's your own fault.

(Click on the photos to make them larger... then walk away and read a book while it loads... kidding!)

The other side. There are lots of tourists - can you see all the little figures? That's a viewing platform. We wanted some alone time, so we found a spot away from everyone else. We're standing on a long ridge similar to that one.

Off to Arizona!

But first, we had to check on our cars... sure enough, there was a tow notice on the Fat Kiwi. We had to call AAA to jump-start it, and found somewhere in South San Francisco to park it. I really hope it's OK, since Brendan realised later that he'd probably left his cellphone on the dashboard in plain view, in a slightly dingy area of town. At the airport, there was a huge line. We only just made our plane by one minute! And my expensive sunscreen was forgotten in Brendan's backpack when we checked in, and hence trashed due to US airline safety regulations. Sadness. The TSA agent didn't really want to throw it out, either.

Stepping out of the air-conditioned airport and onto Arizona soil was like walking into a hairdryer on full blast. 41 degrees C! We were very grateful for the car's air conditioning.

Maybe this picture will convey some of the heat....

The rental car happened to be a knock-off of a Chrysler PT Cruiser, which in our view is one of the ugliest cars imaginable. It was rather ironic! At least it didn't have wooden veneer panelling on the outside....

First stop, Baskin Robbins. Purpose: to eat the largest, most calorific milkshakes in America. Brendan and I had a competition to see if we could eat it all. (Videos were taken....) Brendan had the Heath Bar Shake, and I had the Chocolate Oreo Shake.

Everything was going fine, until about 2 hours later.... I was pretty sick, in the mall. So much that store assistants asked me if I was OK. Brendan thinks it's hilarious. It was... for him. Although he was nice enough to buy me bread to eat, but I was too sick to eat it. Luckily I eventually felt better.

Second stop, find sunhats. You really need them when you go outside for any length of time in Arizona. We couldn't find any suitable shops. So we headed to the largest mall in Arizona, Scottsdale's Fashion Square. It was reasonably small by California standards, I thought. Probably around the size of San Jose's Valley Fair. It had a nice fountain. It's apparently one of the largest in the SouthWest of America, but Brendan and I weren't that impressed. We have "mall-bias". Or something. Maybe we just didn't see all of it.

Finally, we headed up to Tempe to visit a friend, Kristin, from New Zealand. It was great to see her and her partner, Gene, and to hang out with them for an evening at their house in Phoenix. They're both very interesting and talented people, and we had a great time. They've just returned from Wellington, where Kristin was teaching at uni, so it was nice to talk about familiar things.

They also had a lovely pool, an absolute must over here in the heat! We went swimming....

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Fat Kiwi Progress

Today Brendan and I laboured long and hard stripping off the carpet in the front seat area of the van, along with the rubber steps on the doors. We tried using straight mineral spirits on the rubber cement under the carpet, but it just wouldn't budge. So we had to try and scrape it off with a wire brush. Very slow going. One half of the passenger side has been done - it took me ages!

We then drove up to somewhere around Marin County and got petrol. We stopped for icecream next to the Frank Lloyd Wright Civic Center building, which is extremely long and bizarre. From space it looks like a robot spider leg.

Brendan found the biggest can of Rockstar energy drink ever! I had a giant Trumpet-style icecream, which in America is called a Drumstick.

Once we got back into San Francisco, we spent ages driving around SoMa (South of Market) trying to remember where we'd seen the car-wash place. Finally we found it right opposite Costco, one of our local supermarkets. I knew we'd seen it somewhere obvious.....

We vacuumed the van so it's nice now. It feels less grimy. I still want to spray it with the strongest sanitising chemicals available, though. The carpet is really disgusting.

Lastly, we painted the wooden part of the floor with nice shiny decking paint.

I persuaded Brendan to drive me out to the Broadway Tunnel, so we could see some street art created recently using soap and a high-powered water blaster to blast away the dirt. The image is surprisingly detailed.

Exploring SF's Civic Center

Last night Brendan and I went down to the Civic Center, which is the main City Hall and government buildings area. We took the tripod to take some night photos as well.

We had dinner at Naan and Curry, a local Indian restaurant chain. It was sooooo good!

The site of the recent controversial gay marriage protests. I drove past on that day, and was horrified at the hate expressed by some of the protesters.

A man reading on the theatre balcony. The building was hosting a ballet performance.

Brendan walking by a statue of Abraham Lincoln, whom it seems Americans consider a minor god.

It was the end of the Juneteenth Festival, which celebrates the end of slavery in the States. There wasn't really much to see, though, save for a Starbucks-themed van and some empty marquees.

One of the final shots of the night.... When I manage to make all of the shots into a video, I will post it here.

Friday, June 20, 2008

David Beckham was here... and I was not

This post is just to state my jealousy that my colleague got a photo with David Beckham at Union Square, and I was working. Humph. Last time Beckham was in NZ, I was not. How does this happen? Guess I'll have to wait til he comes back to London sometime. Maybe Geoff will take us to Real Madrid game. Or something.

The moon!

Last night was the night before the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. Today it is extremely hot, which I partly blame on the Solstice. I love the hot weather, so only Brendan and the rest of San Francisco is complaining! It's actually 91* F right now, and it's 7pm. Love it.

Last night the moon was extra-big, a special optical illusion. So we went and took some pictures around our house....

When photo-monsters attack!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Fat Kiwi is blue.... and Chinatown contains strange things

Today we finished painting the last of the Fat Kiwi, just before the last cans of spraypaint ran out.

Here we are:

So now the doors are on, the door handles are on, and the doors and the rest of the cabin are painted. Happiness.

We also visited Chinatown this morning, so I could buy cherries (currently in seaon and the focus of some sort of frenzy every day at the grocery stores in Chinatown. At 59-89c per pound, compared to the usual price of $2-$4 per pound in the supermarkets, I guess I can see why). The shopkeeper at each store (usually an old lady) stands, unpeturbed, in the middle of the mass of hands grabbing at cherries, dealing out large handfuls into a bag for you. She will never let you pick your own; possibly to avoid all the old ladies "cherry-picking" the best ones only. I see them doing it. Or possibly just since I'm an intruder in this strange world, and apparently she thinks I don't know any better.

We visited lots of really interesting shops. I got yelled at by the shopkeepers in most of them for taking pictures of the live and not-so-live animals.... I am so glad I'm a vegetarian, it still makes me sad to see it all.

This was a very angry turtle. It had a strange pointed snout, webbed feet and large claws. It looked up at me both entreatingly and menacing as it tried to climb out of its bucket.

The fish on the far right, closest to the man's gloved hand, was just out of the water. It flapped around. People were choosing which one they wanted.

Brendan bought eggs at a small shop called "Neverending Quail" behind the fish shop. It mostly consisted of a whole lot of chickens and quail in cages in a small room, with a tiny area for the shopkeeper to stand in front to sell the eggs, and enough space for two people to stand in line. The room also included a very angry, quacking duck in a small cage.

The chickens looked curiously at me. The quail were unimpressed, mostly since I stuck a bright camera flash in their faces. Sorry, little quail.

I think these ones were Californian female quail.

As we were leaving, I found the frogs (and was severely yelled at, but not in English - maybe they thought I was from PETA):

Yesterday and today the North Beach Festival has been pumping out loud music and loud drunk boys, essentially a wine and food festival. Apparently it's the oldest street festival in the US, and includes pizza tossing.

I checked out the aftermath last night in North Beach, but there wasn't really much to see beside drunk yuppies, girls in tiny dresses and heels on a freezing cold day, and empty white tents along the street. The traffic was atrocious though, worse than Monday-morning levels! I walked home from North Beach rather than endure bumper-to-bumper traffic on the bus for the length of Chinatown.

Today we watched many people try to park in the too-small parking space in front of the Fat Kiwi. (We did tell them not to park there - we're not sadistic.) Yesterday Brendan saw two tickets and one tow happen on that spot!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Fie Dorra Haircu

Coming back from Walgreens a few days ago (I was buying diet coke, it was on special) I walked past what seems to be the cheapest hair salon in Chinatown. In the window, in large red letters, a sign reads:

$5 理发

As a general rule, the smaller the English writing is compared to the Chinese writing, the cheaper the shop will be. The shops with no English writing at all probably have the best prices anywhere in San Francisco, but you would be hard pressed to identify what exactly you are buying.

Enticed by the prospect of a haircut for the price of a coffee, I came back two days later. The entire thing lasted about 10 minutes and was the most terrifying and bewildering time I've ever spent in a hairdressers. And I'm pretty terrified and bewildered any time I get my haircut.

Generally when I get my haircut the hairdresser hovers appraisingly around my head for several minutes asking me questions I don't have good answers for. Mr $5's pre-cut chat consisted of pointing at the side of my head and asking "Numma Two?" before turning on the clippers and starting to shave while I attempted to respond.

For 5 minutes we pointed at different parts of my head and yelled numbers at each other while he manuvered the clippers and scissors. Then he said "OK, Good, Sank You.", sprayed water on my hair and took the apron off me.

Amazingly, it didn't actually look too bad. Not quite what I had planned, but certainly not terrible.

When I paid him, I left a $2 tip, which I thought was appropriate based on the other hairdressers I'd visited. Apparently I may as well have got down on my knees and proclaimed him Lord of the Barbers. Grinning widely he said "Oooh, you like, you like!" and then, pointing at both our heads "We have the same. Our haircuts the same." That was a little worrying. His hair was thinning, combed over, and held in place with more mousse than a Canadian forest.

Anyway, here's the final result. It's a little more "square" than I would usually have it. Tina says it looks like I'm in the army. But overall it was a well spent $5.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Fat Kiwi: Painting 90% finished!!

After a marathon two days of painting, and about 20 cans of spraypaint later....

From this.... (approx midday Sunday)

To this! (Approx 4.30pm Sunday)

We're really happy. Now, all we have to do is figure out how to hook up the electrical and plumbing systems... and find suitable hangers for the curtains. It's a bit crazy really. We leave on our road trip in about 43 days!

Fat Kiwi Progress

Today was spent procuring paint, taping paper everywhere, and inhaling paint fumes through masks which made us look like Darth Vader. We're very pleased with the progress though. The Fat Kiwi has been at the mechanic's for a very long time, getting a complete tune-up.

What you see here is the panels with the cupboard doors removed, and blue or white paint applied. It already looks so much lighter and cleaner.

And, we made a trip to various supermarkets beforehand, and bought Patriotic Cookies. Brendan had been craving sugar cookies all week, so there we go. Except the ones in his cravings were pink, not white with stars on them, so he felt they didn't taste quite as good.

These cookies are the equivalent of doughnuts on the "bad-for-you-and-hence-only-occasionally-eaten" scale. They really are quite disgustingly sickly and bland, and yet you can't stop eating them.....

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Invisible Bike LOLCat!

Today Brendan took me here:

It's down the road from our house. Love it.

(If this doesn't make sense to you, don't worry. It's an internet joke.)

Monday, June 02, 2008

Driveways of the rich and famous

The other weekend, we were in LA. Unbeknownst to us, apparently half our friends were as well.

We decided to take the scenic route down to LA, along the coastline of Highway 1. Last time we went, it was extremely foggy, and we couldn't see anything. This time, the cliffs of Big Sur and other gorgeous State and National parks were easily visible. Here is the same vista a year ago....

The same view a bit farther out on the ledge of the cliff:

OK, far too many pictures there. You get the idea. Click on the pictures to make them larger.

On the way, we stopped off at Hearst Castle. We missed out on the last tour of the day by about 5 minutes, which was disappointing, but I still managed to get a photo through the telephoto viewing lens.

Then we grabbed snacks at the nearby beach.... Hearst Castle is right above where Brendan's head is in the photo.

The next day, we went and hung around Hollywood for a bit.

Graumann's Chinese Theatre. This is the place with all the handprints and footprints in it.

There were lots of street performers whom you could get your phto taken with, for a tip. Here's Dumbledore from Harry Potter.

Ida was stalked by scientologists. Brendan and I were very suspicious of the 'free stress tests' they were offering.

Then we stuffed ourselves at Johnny Rockets (on the second level on the right of the photo above). The sign below the clock in the photo says "Christina eats here".

We jumped in the rental car to stalk the driveways of the rich and famous, and try to recreate for Ida the tour we did the year before. This time we were actually able to see the Playboy mansion.

This is Julie Andrews' house:

As we were driving back to our hotel, we decided to drive back through downtown LA. It's actually really dodgy and empty, with shady men standing on street corners. I think we also drove through the edge of a dangerous area, since downtown LA is right next to Compton, Inglewood and all these other places glorified in rap music.

I took this picture, and jumped back in the car.

We had the misfortune to visit Disneyland on the Monday, which was Memorial Day. This is the national holiday which marks the beginning of summer, and is one of the busiest days of the year for Disneyland. Luckily for us, we left Ida in Disneyland and only went to California adventure park, which was relatively empty.

The Hollywood Tower of Terror was a ride which dropped you several times over a few metres each time. It was pretty fun.

We especially enjoyed the Grizzly Rafting ride, which made extremely sure every member of the party climbed off the ride soaked.

The only unfortunate thing was that we waited in line 30 minutes for the roller coaster, and were about 10 minutes away from getting on the ride when it broke! We were very disappointed.

We bought some candy floss.... this is in the Bug's Life kiddie playground....