My Observations on America.

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Manhattan at Sunset

I must confess I love America and Americans. One cannot making sweeping statements about America, it is like 5 or 6 different countries rolled into one. People who make these statements are totally ignorant I have to say! East is different from the South and both are different from the North  or West- then there is Hawaii and Alaska! Where else in the world do you find supermarkets called Piggly Wiggly… seriously!

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Supermarket with the greatest name ever! 

From my perspective and I have not seen it all. Christmas is a wonderful time to visit New York but rather cold to do the Grand Canyon .I get annoyed when people say they hate America and the only place they have visited is LAX International Airport!  (until recently one of the worst terminals on the planet) Recently a doctor friend of mine told me he had never wanted to visit the USA, suddenly his daughter heads of to study there and so he visited and fell in love with the place!! He has been twice in 12 months. So many people have no idea what an amazing and beautiful country awaits them. I lived there as a 22 year old, I have visited about 20 times in the past 15 years and I plan to return many more times. Yes partly because I have a son there but also because it such a great destination. Great skiing, amazing shopping, golf courses to die for ( I almost wished I played) , The US Open, the New York Marathon and so many great events to make this a bucket list favourite.

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New Yorkers are busy, use public transport extensively, they love the New York Yankees winning or loosing,  travel out interstate,they  love good food (street stalls selling pretzels and burnt chestnutsare debataebale as good food!) and they love good coffee, they support and love the Arts.

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Then there is California…casual, informal, sun loving, political and a touch of  ‘if you’ve got it flaunt it‘ attitude. Money talks and earthquakes are seldom mentioned! They too love their sport. ‘The Giants’ are their Gods!

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The Getty – Los Angeles

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Los Angeles Architecture by Frank Gehry

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Death Valley California

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Joshua Tree, California 20051210-CRW_7389-Edit

Rock Formations in California

In The South they drive everywhere, travel less, pray more, no coffee culture, they like the refined things in life, high tea, fine china, traditions and it is a place where little girls wear smocked dresses and large hair bows and little boys say ‘yes Mam or yes Sir’.They love fishing, hunting and shooting and of course baseball !

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The Appelachians in the Fall

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A large hair bow on a sweet young girl.

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High tea with Cup Cakes

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Stately home  ‘Mocking Bird Hill‘ in Marietta, Georgia.

This home is always painted either pink or gray, see link above for more detail.

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The Minehaha Falls in Georgia.

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Many parts of America have beautiful Autumn or Fall colours.

I am about to visit Alaska and I expect it to be different again! Hawaii is as we all know fun loving, great surf, great golf, numerous shops and great food, touristy with a capital T.

20110101-LMC-2437St Louis in the Mid West still has ‘Coaching’, America is a land of surprises.

I’ve blogged about Atlanta’s Fox Theatre, Family visits to Georgia, and  California’s Hearst Castle and coastline. I did a blog on San Francisco too, but none of those explain the diversity and magic of visiting.  One other blog too on taking children beyond Disneyland, checkout the blog links in blue. The Grand Canyon is spectacular by any ones standards…a joy to visit and nearby is the crazy but entertaining city of Las Vegas. Architecture to die for, shows like “O”, cars, food and fashion to inspire you. Then there are the National Parks: spectacular:  Arches, Yosemite, Monument Valley, Yellowstone, Death Valley etc.

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Vegas Fountain detail

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From Vegas to Monument Valley and The Grand Canyon.20091112-IMG_7689-Edit20091109-_MG_9531

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Antelope Canyon

Recently  I was in upstate Georgia, beautiful forests, lakes and waterfalls. Stunning homes and an area well worth a visit especially to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. I can’t tell you all the exciting corners of the USA, I haven’t been to them all, but I know you won’t be disappointed if you go stateside for a vacation.(I don’t mean Disneyland either).

Most cities have world class fine dining restaurants, but don’t overlook the Beef ribs, the shrimps and the wonderful wine and cheese. Napa Valley is waiting to show off its wines to you and Philadelphia and the Amish produce some great cheese. Introduce yourself to smokey flavours, beans prepared so many different ways, pulled pork or beef, hot dogs and of course burgers. They have great Ice cream too, try the Moose Tracks sometime!

American menus often have a health guide next to menu items. I like this idea… Low calorie/ gluten free or hot n spicy very helpful.

Very few American homes have heated towel  rails. This is because they heat their homes more than we do in winter. Many run their homes at a year round temperature of 73F or 23C – Underfloor heating is common. Consequently you need to layer as inside is like Summer when it’s snowing outside.  Is electricity cheaper there?  It must be!

I also notice very few bathrooms have showers on hoses, they have one rose shower heads. I prefer the option of a detachable shower head !  Interesting how cultures differ often on the small things! And yes it is true the water runs out the plug hole anti clockwise! Hurricanes rotate the opposite way in the Northern Hemisphere  too.

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Arizona has a charm of it’s own

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The American people I meet through contacts are fabulous, genuine, generous, interesting people. The American people I meet on the airlines are a mixture but mostly they are stressed, doeur , loud, unfriendly and unhelpful. Don’t judge a country by it’s airline staff I say!!

I figure there must be a reason for this and that is the way American Airlines are structured. Every flight is oversold, every other passenger is demanding, they have not even a second of downtime during their working day and frankly they don’t enjoy what they do. I have no idea how to solve it, I suspect the airlines don’t want to solve it.  Sad really.

So when travelling book the most expensive class ticket your budget runs too, get to the airport early and relax…it will take time! However the last few times I have got through customs in 20 minutes at LAX😀But more importantly just go… you will love it. Consider some train travel for a relaxing journey.

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Train from Manhattan to Philadelphia

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Hearst Castle – highlight of California visit.

Hearst Castle highlight of California visit.

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Late in May I visited California; the entire state has a serious water shortage.  So it was no surprise that restaurants had signs on tables reading “if you want water please ask”. However I also saw  people hosing their gardens despite regulations, so some folk don’t care! What was a surprise was arriving at the famous Hearst Castle to be greeted by a row of chemical porta a loos outside the entranceway!!

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imageThe interior of the Castle is full of gems like this one.

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One of many inlaid tiles.

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The above fabric adorns a large 3 seater couch.

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Evidently Sir Randolph insisted on leaving condiments in their bottles on the table because the castle was his escape from the formality of the San Francisco social scene!
I had always wanted to visit this castle ever since I lived I the USA as a 22 year old. The family I nannied for back then knew the Hearst Family and so the drama surrounding Patti Hearst was a daily topic.
So here I was 40 plus years later visiting the Hearst Estate. You need to pre book a time to visit and there is a selection of tours so don’t just turn up or you might be disappointed.
We were poured onto several  buses for the 20 minute ride through beautiful farmland. There are cattle and believe it or not zebras roaming in the fields. In 1919 Sir Randolph Hearst the publishing magnate started the original castle on his ‘ enchanted hill’. He also purchased exotic animals which later on when times became tough he had to sell. Fortunately the zebras survived the cull and add some colour to the sunburnt brown fields.

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Zebras and cattle  roaming the coast near San Simeon

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I was very keen to see the two swimming pools so I was a tad disappointed that the outdoor Neptune Pool was empty. The pool was leaking gallons of water daily , most unacceptable in the current water crisis. However the indoor Roman pool (25 metre or 81 feet) was for me the highlight of the trip. It is O.T.T. by anyone’s standards and the Murano glass tile work is quite remarkable, of which there are over 1 million tiles, some have gold leaf inside the tiles. Imagine swimming in this pool after a hot summer Californian day, sipping a little champagne perhaps.

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But I digress, the castle is well maintained and despite some scaffolding I could enjoy the gargoyles and intricate decorations on the exterior. The interior has some magnificent rooms and the 16th century tapestries are stunning. There are two Egyptian statues 3,000 years old and others undated. The billiard room is impressive but no way we’re we allowed to ‘break’ the perfectly placed balls. Hearst had exquisite taste and employed the best workmen to complete the castle. The tiles, the wooden painted ceilings, the magnificent double mantled fireplaces , the wrought iron doors, the list goes on. The esplanade through the grounds is planted with azalea, Palm, citrus and boxwood. The tennis courts surrounded by high concrete walls struck me as an extremely claustrophobic setting knowing temperatures can reach 100 degrees F. If you get an opportunity to visit jump at it, I have visited many castles in Europe and France but the setting of Hearst Castle makes this rather special.The setting atop the hill has sweeping views out to the coast although in June the notorious summer fog hangs along the coast.

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All tours are guided, some are wheel chair accessible. They disallow any food and chewing gum is a “no no”. Bottled water is allowed. Tours start at 8.15 and in summer they run evening tours. There is a movie on the construction if you have time to enjoy.
After leaving the castle down on the highway is San Simeon wharf and several beaches; these are covered like carpet with large lazy elephant seals. These beaches are well worth a stop as these huge creatures flip sand over themselves to cool down and generally give a new meaning to blobbing! Every so often a couple have a bit of a fight and one or two go for a swim.image

Globules of oil washed up near San Simeon

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Ground Squirrel

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Stags on the coast near Cambria

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The entire coast has amazing marine life. South of San Simeon near Morro Rock the sea otters play in the estuary. We saw about a dozen sea otters frolicking about including two babies, they look like fur balls! It was a little distressing to see some oil on their coats from the recent big oil spill off the Santa Barbara coast.

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Sea Otters and babies near Morro Rock

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 Elephant Seals at San Simeonimage

The American Bald Eagle

While there we spotted a bald eagle, this was exciting as they are rarely seen this far south. The eagle was chased away by two angry seagulls. The Californian coast is famous for Santa Barbara and Carmel etc but heading inland one drives through beautiful farmland, vineyards, rolling hills and charming little cafes.

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So next time you are heading to California consider driving up the coast for a beautiful excursion from Los Angeles or down the coast from San Francisco; you won’t be disappointed I promise.