Summer started, so we did what we do best, we travelled. Andrew did some traveling, Mel did some more.
We strategically booked our visit to Belgium mid July, when there happens to be the best city festival in the world in Ghent, the Gentse Feesten.
Our two week holiday was well spent partying at the Feesten, eating lots of Belgian food and meeting up with our friends and family. Although the weather was typically Belgian, unpredictable and wet, we had a fantastic time. But after two weeks we started to miss our fluffy four-legged friend (and maybe also the reliable sunny Californian weather) so we were happy to go back home to Mountain View.
End of vacation for Andrew, start of a whole month of exploring California for Melanie. Not having a working permit yet does have its perks ;-)
Saturday, 4th of august 2012, the day the city of San Francisco got woken up by a series of squeaking laughter and fantastically colorful sights. The DK-club had hit American soil to get this party started! Translation: Melanie’s 4 gorgeous girlfriends arrived for a 2 week visit to California!
We saw so much in just 2 weeks so it is very difficult to fit it all in one blogpost. But I’ll try… Let me start by saying we had THE BEST TIME! Five girls driving across California in a fancy black Chevy with temperatures rising up to 127 Fahrenheit, must have been one hell of a sight. The only thing, or better the only one that made the trip a little less perfect is the travel agency that booked our hotels and arranged our tour. Read more on that later…
Saturday 4 & Sunday 5: Mountain View City
We arrived with the airport shuttle in Mountain View in the late afternoon and explored my hometown. As the centrum of my hometown is only one street, the exploring was done in 20 minutes and we quickly ended up in the Irish pub where my friends fueled me with the latest gossip. Later on we had delicious tapas and paella in our local Spanish restaurant, Cascal. But after a long flight, the girls’s energy level was running low, so we called it an early night.
Sunday morning, rested but with a mild jet lag, we visited the Stanford University Campus. After strolling around for a while we decided to go up the Hoover tower where you have a panoramic view of the campus.
Apart from the nice view we also learned something new, namely that President Hoover did a lot of good stuff for Belgium during WW1. The museum on the floor level of the tower explains the history of the Belgian food relief plan and is full with gifts from Belgium to Herbert Hoover. Although I think he would have been happier with a lot of chocolate and beer than with ugly carpets and vases.
In the afternoon we had a sunny BBQ in our backyard and were accompanied by two other Belgian girls, Paulien and Stephanie, their American friend, our American neighbor and off course Pieter and Katie. Now it was the Belgians feeding the Americans ;-)
Monday 6 & Tuesday 7: San Francisco
Monday morning, we and our oversized luggage took the Caltrain to San Fran. After checking in at the Whitcomb hotel on Market Street (good hotel, dodgy location), we had some hours to kill before we would do the Alcatraz Tour. So we did what any sensible girl in a city would do, we shopped. Some hours and many Victoria’s secret purchases later we boarded the ferry that took us to the prison island of Alcatraz. Although I must say that the night tour I did with my parents in April was creepier and more spectacular than the day tour, it was still a fun experience. Barbara however did have some struggles with her audio guide so there was a slight moment of panic when we couldn’t find her anymore… Luckily the group got reunited before the ferry took us back to main land.
We then did the obligatory visit to Pier 39 where the sea lions were as smelly and lazy as ever. With tired legs we dragged ourselves up the hill to Little Italy where we had a super yummy dinner at an Italian restaurant called Calzones.
The next day had some more sightseeing in store for us. After a small argument with a very annoying bus ticket salesman, we hopped on the hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus that drove around the city whilst a witty guide told us all the inside scoops about the windy city. And windy it was, especially whilst driving over the Golden Gate Bridge. The rest of the day was spent on, guess what, shopping of course!
Around 6 pm we could pick up our rental car at the Alamo car rental place in the middle of the city. I forgot 1 thing in our hotel room, 1 very important thing you need to drive in a city like SF where you can never ever turn left, my GPS. To cut a long story short, we ended up driving from the one side of the city to the other side (twice), passing our hotel several times but not being able to locate the hotel’s parking. So, frustrated and slightly panicked I parked the car on a bicycle lane across from our hotel, not to the joy of the bicyclists, and Sophie and Laetitia jumped out off the car to go and beg/bribe someone in the hotel to park our car for us. That plan failed but in the mean time, with the help of the eagle eyes of Barb and Amelie that spotted the entrance of the parking and a lot of words of encouragement, we successfully (and illegally) crossed the street and got our car safely in the (very expensive) parking of the hotel. Exhausted and not very willing to drive again that day, we decided to walk to South of Market and found a super trendy bar, AQ, where we had a glass of wine, or two, maybe three. We all slept very well that night.
Wednesday 8: Yosemite & Mammoth Lakes
After puzzling 5 oversized suitcases + hand luggage in our black shiny Chevy, we hit the road and drove all the way to Yosemite (joozemajt) National Park. We only had a few hours to visit the park, so it was mostly sightseeing from inside the car. But for El Capitan, we made an exception. It is unthinkable how Tom Waes managed to climb this 100% vertical rock, really, the last thing on my mind when seeing the rock was to climb it. We also stopped at a lookout point where you had an amazing view of the Dome and we had a photo moment.
The sun was all ready going down when we arrived at our hotel in Mammoth Lakes, but it was still light enough to see the beautiful scenery, the pretty dangerous looking fire not so far from the hotel and the ski lift next to the hotel.
Apparently Mammoth Lakes is a ski resort during winter and not the tackiest one neither. Our hotel room, or lets call it luxury apartment, was stunning, with king size beds, 2 bathrooms and a fully equipped kitchen. This off course put our hopes up for the rest of the hotels on our trip, but you’ll find out later that unfortunately this was the best hotel by far, not even comparable with the ones that had yet to come. We enjoyed some healthy and not so healthy tapas for dinner and talked till the late night hours.
Thursday 9: Death Valley & Beaty
Death Valley equals hot. To give an example, around 10 am we picked up some food in the supermarket for lunch, when we had our lunch 2 hours later, the cheese was looking like fondue. Well, to be fair, when we entered Death Valley National Park the temperature was still acceptable, a cool 100 Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) with a refreshing wind. The further we drove in the park, the higher the temperature rose. The maximum our car temperature meter recorded was 127 Fahrenheit, which equals an intolerable 53 Celsius. It literally felt like you put yourself in a hot air oven. My feet got burned from standing outside the car for 5 minutes. The stunning scenery was worth the sweating and baking though. We even saw a jet fighter flying through the narrow canyons. We also saw one crazy old dude running on the main road, he made us feel like a bunch of wussies in our AC car with our tomato red faces.
Around 3 pm we arrived at our next overnight stop, the city/town/street of Beaty. What can I say,… What was our travel agent thinking when she decided to put us in Beaty??? We are 5 young girls, not 5 hill billy’s with a passion for guns, gambling and morning booze (well maybe the booze thing she got right). Anyhow, we checked in our charming (feel the sarcasm?) room at Motel 6 and wondered what we could do the next 8 hours in a hotel without a pool when it is 50 Celsius outside. Thank god for the casino next to our hotel where we could use the pool and thank god for the candy shop next to it that sold liquor, chips and subway sandwiches. So all in all, we made it a fun afternoon filled with gossip, beer and a fun question game.
Friday 10: Las Vegas
Woop Woop the party train is moving! Vegas baby! Despite the super hot temperatures (expected when you go to the desert in summer), Las Vegas was great!! We stayed at the Stratosphere hotel and from there we walked to the other side of the Strip. It took us a few hours because of the many pit stops. We had yummy sushi at the Fashion Show Mall, saw a naked mermaid, had cocktails at the Rhumbar, visited Venice and Paris, bought a supply of M&M’s and had fun with the street “artists”.
In the evening we felt extra special as we were approached by men that put us on the guest list for night clubs. That feeling quickly changed when we saw that they approached every girl in Las Vegas and had to stand in line to get into the Bank night club. But we had a fun night out and we seemed to be the only girls in the club that hadn’t forgotten to put on their skirts.
We eventually ended up in a fancy bar talking to a bachelor party. A few of the guys were from San Diego, the city we were going to visit 3 days later and they gave us some useful tips on what to visit there. But we first had two more stops planned out, and boy, were they stops…
Saturday 11: Needles
I can be very brief about Needles. Don’t go to Needles. Needless to go there. Beaty all over again but maybe even worse. On our way from Las Vegas to Needles we did have a very nice stop at the Hoover Dam. Pretty spectacular. And by crossing the Hoover Dam bridge we ended up visiting 3 states during our trip, California, Nevada and Arizona.
We also drove through Joshua Tree NP, a park that has a huge collection of different cactus species. The sign said “don’t touch the cactus”. Well, guess what we did…
Sunday 12: Palm Desert
Okay, so here is the thing. When you hear Palm Desert and Palm Springs, words like pool parties, fun and young people come to mind. Well, we figured out why Palm Springs is called Palm Spring, with the emphasize on Spring. Probably during Spring break this place is filled with young people, partying and having fun by the pool. Not in summer. No, in summer it is a dead city where old people come and enjoy the peace and quiet and have their hips replaced. That, and the fact that our hotel was located right beside the freeway and next to supermarkets and fuel stations, didn’t really make it what we had expected it to be. But at least we had a tasty gourmet burger in a place called Grill-a-burger (get it, g rilla) and our hotel had a nice pool.
Monday 13, Tuesday 14 & Wednesday 15: San Diego
San Diego on the other hand is a super fun city! Although our hotel didn’t have the best location (thanks again madam Valiez), we had a great time in San Diego. The Gas Lamp District was the place to be for shopping, having a drink on sunny terraces and enjoying good food. So you can imagine where we spend most of our the time.
San Diego also has beautiful beaches with good looking surfers. So of course you could also find us there. For some however, the outcome of a day at the beach was a painful sunburn and sand in places where it shouldn’t be. For me personally, the Balboa Park was the highlight of San Diego. The park has a Spanish flair to it and the buildings, museums and gardens are stunning.
Yes, I will definitely plan another visit with Andrew.
Thursday 16, Friday 17 & Saturday 18: LA
Unfortunately, this is where our trip ends. But first 3 days Los Angeles, the city of angels, movie stars and street walkers. After checking in to our hotel, which took us a while as we were put together in a room where 4 people could hardly fit in (we were 5), we took a stroll on the Walk of Fame where we hit the very touristy gift shops.
In the evening we had dinner and drinks with another Belgian couple and a Belgian “director” (who according to Barbara looked like the daughter of Matti in ‘aanrijding in Moscou’. His response: ‘da ne lelijke struik’) at a funky sushi restaurant at Venice Beach. The wine was fine and the bottles were definitely not too kline so we (except of Amé, who was our responsible young driver) went home a little bit tipsy.
Friday we visited Warner Brothers Studios, the Griffith Observatory, Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive. The WB Studios were great. We had a very enthusiastic guide who seemed to know every movie and TV series WB ever made and he told us a bunch of funny anecdotes. For example: When they were filming the kissing scene in Spiderman, Toby Maguire hanged upside down on a pole. In the scene rain is pouring down, and the raindrops fell in Toby’s nose which almost made him drown. The solution was to put wax in his nose so water couldn’t come in. This however made his voice sound like a duck and Kirsten Dunst couldn’t stop laughing. So they had to do a voice-over afterwards and apparently if you watch the scene you can see Kirsten giggling non-stop.
The Observatory was also fun, and it provided a great view of the Hollywood sign.
And yes, for those who are wondering about it, of course we drove to Astrid Bryan’s house! When we arrived there, a news van was parked in front of her house (apparently there had been a robbery at her neighbor’s house). When they saw us taking pictures of Astrid’s house they asked us if we were from Belgium. It resulted in the guy ringing her doorbell and we got a very quick hello-wave from her. We even got to hold the news crew’s microphone!
And then it was Saturday, the last day of our wonderful trip. After some last-minute shopping on Melrose Avenue, we had to say goodbye…
Thank you so much girls for this ameeejzing trip! Love you!