USA 2011

USA Trip 2011

One of the first things Tanya told me after we met is that she wants to go to Disney World. Well, the time has come (we wanted to do it last year this time but the FIFA world cup pushed airfare prices through the roof).

Tickets are booked, we’re flying out on the 15th of June and returning on the 9th of July. Our itinerary is explained in detail in the page linked at the top rightit’s password protected to foil stalkers or something.

Brief outline: San Diego, rent-a-car to Los Angeles and San Francisco, then fly to Las Vegas, rent-a-car to the Grand Canyon and up to Ogden and Yellowstone. Fly to New Orleans for a brief visit, then the dreaded Disney to extract what money we might have left from our pocketbooks.

We’ll be staying in hotels, with friends, and camping. We’ll be seeing museums and zoos and geysers and wildlife and cemeteries and talking meese. Jessica is hoping to meet up with a famous author whose work we might one day see on TV, but only if his crazy schedule coincides with ours. We’ll be blogging along the way, I have an EEE running puppee, Tanya has a Dell 910, Jessica has an Acer Aspire One (now running XP) and Tamsyn has an EEE running XP. Tanya has a new camera, and memsticks and CF cards are on order.

It’s going to be hectic.

Rental cars

When I was in Dallas in 2005 I saw the then new Mustang. When I started browsing rental cars (about two years ago, because we wanted to go last year already) I saw that Hertz offered the convertible Mustang, and I was in lust.

Hertz’ web site made it clear that I’d be lucky to actually get the Mustang, the convertible of choice was the Sebring. I booked one in any case. Well, the new line up is out, and I now have a booking for a Eclipse Spyder for the low price of $413… not bad, but while two adults and two kids will fit in the ‘stangI don’t think I can fit four people in an Eclipse Spyder. And because it’s now so much closer to the date, even a Camry will now cost me $860. Bastards.

Fox has a slightly tarnished reputation*, but… they also have the Mustang.

<– Is dit nie fokkin cool nie huh?


Decisions decisions… although trunk space is a concern.

Fox only has a few locations for returning the car — while I can drop of a Hertz rental in the middle of San Francisco I will have to drop the Fox rental at the airport. This is either a pain in the arse or a blessing — if I keep the car while we’re in San Francisco, I have to pay for parking ($20/24 hours), but we won’t need to pay for transport ($8/head Powell Street to SFO on BART, one way) to town after drop-off and back  to the airport when we leave — that more than breaks even IMO.

* Two stars on Yelp, while Avis and Hertz have three. National has five starts, but wants $1600 for the week.


Airlines in American are mercenary. And I say this with respect. They will sell you a cheap ticket and for that you get the flight and that’s it. If you want to take your luggage… …  that’s extra.

But it means I can save money by taking less luggage, and I’m cool with that.

Carry on (free)

Virgin (San Francisco to Las Vegas) : One bag (127cm H+W+D, 7kg) + one personal item (handbag, coat, camera, laptop)

Delta (Salt Lake City to New Orleans) : One bag (56 x 36 x 23 cm) + one personal item (purse, briefcase, camera bag, laptop)

AirTran (New Orleans to Atlanta to Orlando) : One bag (60 x 45 x 33 cm) + one personal item (43 x 30 x 21cm)


Virgin: 157cm H+W+D, 30kg, $25

Delta: 153cm H+W+D, 23kg, $25

AirTran: 155cm H+W+D, 50lbs (22.7kg), $20

So my current thinking is that we can get away with one carry-on each, and two checked bags, one of which will be a soft bag holding the camping gear that I bought online and had shipped to Los Angeles. Once we’re done camping it might pay to mail the camping stuff home separately… dunno.

Update 2011-05-14: We ended up buying three Roncato Runner 50cm Carry-On bags (in three different colours) from Luggage Warehouse. Inexpensive, smaller than the most restrictive dimensions (Delta), smooth wheels, not too bad zips. I’ll be carrying my Caterpillar notebook rucksack, and we have a few standard suitcases. I probably still need a soft bag for the camping gear, one that can go inside the main luggage when not used.

Last minute fun and games

Y’all might have noticed that we’re preparing for a 25 day trip to the USA. Today’s my first day of leave, we fly out tonight.

So this morning 08:30 my boss phones, tells me that a customer is having problems, and that I need to go visit them while I’m in Los Angeles (we’re there for two nights and one day, which is a Sunday) to see if I can help.

I’ve been plotting on Google Maps, and we need 5 1/2 hours to drive from the customer’s place to where we’re sleeping on Monday evening.

It’s going to have to be a brief visit…

San Diego

0600 and I couldn’t sleep any longer. Got the hairy eyeball from Tanya. Hey, it’s a new day filled with boundless possibilities!

Mission Valley Resort is great. Sure, it’s a bit run down and we have at least one blown light bulb and one mains outlet that’s not working, but there’s also a pretty good diner, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on tap, a store that sells everything including bubbly, wine and beer, a swimming pool, and free internet. A bargain at the price, recommended.

Landed in San Diego right on time. Found the Hertz shuttle, found that they had assigned an Eclipse Spyder. Cute car for two people with one set of clean underwear between them, but it’ll never take four people comfortably.

Asked about the Mustang (seeing how I phoned from SA, making sure they knew that’s my preference, they said our luggage would never fit (one not too big suitcase, four carry-ons). I figured it would, but also realised I still have to pick up two tents and a bunch of other stuph from Phillip. Settled on the Sebring. Which comes with satnav. At $12.99 a day. But the nice lady in the dashboard helped me find the hotel so we’re friends now.

Had fun driving an automatic on the wrong side of the road at night after 27 hours in the air. Fortunately the other people on the road are good at avoiding collisions…

Had supper at the diner, a Reuben and SNPA for me, toasted cheese and fish and chips for Tanya, Tamsyn and Jessica. Slowly training Tanya to drink Cali chardonnay.

Tanya worked out she’d been without sleep for around 48 hours, so we hit the bed, hard.

So right now it’s around four in the afternoon back home, seven in the morning here, and we’re off to Balboa park.

Bunch of wuss-esses

Get all sunburnt and footsore at four in the afternoon. ‘cmon, the museums are open ’till five!

Balboa Park zoo is magnificent. Definitely worth it.

The Natural Sciences Museum is well thought out, well laid out, damn interesting, but IMO not that interesting. Kids enjoyed it, so hey.

Aerospace Museum is, like last time, great. This time they also have one of the Apollo crew capsules on display. Three people went to the moon and back in that thing. Dayumn. The rest of the NASA display is not worth the surcharge, I don’t think.

I was still game for a visit to the automotive museum, but the wuss-esses they were not. Headed to the car via the carousel which is fluppin gorgeous.

Hit the corner store for beer and bubbly. The beer is good :-)

Los Angeles

So guess who woke whom up *this* morning.

Bought a Samuel Adams variety pack and a sixpack Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, as well as a couple of bottles of Cali Sauvignon and a bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon and some red and sampled and sampled and sampled…

Air is incredibly dry, my sinuses are complaining.

Of course now our hosts want to feed us again.

Well, that was a bust

Yesterday we drove up from Los Angeles via the Big Sur. Gorgeous, stunning, indescribably wonderful views… hidden by a thick mist. They tell me I should come back in winter.

Nepenthe is high enough so that we could sit and drink a beer while enjoying the view of the cloud bank from above. (Excellent) beer at $8, (OK) wine at $12/glass. Didn’t stay for seconds.

Big Sur Campground is excellent. Recommended for a longer stay. We were in campsite #6, right next to the river, but if you do get the choice I’ go for site #8.

Went back to the Big Sur Bakery for supper and, as others have said, it’s good but pricey.

Struck camp this morning, got breakfast burritos at the Big Sur Deli, and continued to enjoy the mist-shrouded scenery.

The Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town is excellent, so it’s always a toss-up on whether any given aquarium is worth visiting (i.e. better than Two Oceans). The Monterey aquarium qualifies. It’s neatly build into what used to be the canning factory, and they are really capitalising on the whole John Steinbeck thing. It works, and they have sea otters. Neat. (We also said “hoezit” to the expat penguins, they just stood around looking bored).

It’s a long road so we were late (I’d aimed to get there at their 14:00 opening time) at the Pacific Pinball Museum, W000t. Lots of machines all set to “free”. Didn’t enjoy Electra as much as I’d wanted to, but I think Fireball (the first one) is a lot of fun. The Stern Orbitor 1 is amazing. Realised, once again, how much I like the old EM games. Pity they don’t have a Top Score, would love to see how a good one plays.

So then we headed up to Casa Loma Hotel, which we booked online via, only to find the place boarded up. Fsck. I’d been worried about this because they didn’t reply to an email last week and I’d only been able to reach an answering machine on their phone number… not find the place. It’s right next to a boarded up shop, and since they had not replied to my emails nor answered my phone calls, we assumed that they were in fact bust*.

Anyway, there are not that many problems that can’t be solved by applying the universal spanner, being… money. Found a parking spot (difficult), grabbed the Rough Guide, and started phoning (did I tell you that I bought a $9.99 cellphone at Best Buy?). Found a place on the other side of town (it’s right next to the zoo) at twice the price, but it’s beautiful in a fifties Art Deco meets Japan way and the WiFi is fast and free and there’s a Deli around the corner sells sarmies for supper and all kinds of beer so all is not too bad. Of course I had to extend the rental car by two days, which is not a bad thing ‘cos we can then drive to SFO instead of humping suitcases on a train… life is sooo easy if you fling gobs of cash at it.

Anchor Brewing Liberty Ale: excellent.

Anchor Steam Beer: Not bad at all, but I won’t take seconds.

Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Torpedo IPA: TBD Not bad at all.

Mad River Brewing Co. Steelhead Extra Pale Ale: Foamy light mouthfeel. Maybe a good breakfast drink, but I’ll pass.

Anchor Porter: TBD Bloody good.

* And of course, with us being a no-show, I now hafta pay them $110 cancellation fee.


Poppet* guided us to the airport, where there’s expensive burgers ($9.95, good though) and beer ($6, SNPA, very good).

There’s also 45 minutes free internet.

Spent yesterday touring the town, L Caravelle to Chinatown, walked down to the waterfront, had lunch, took photographs of Alcatraz and the sea lions, bought huge surprisingly nice strawberries with chocolate sauce for dipping, went to the Musee Mecanique which has gorgeous gorgeous player pianos, including a Wurlitzer I sooo WANT, stood in a one hour queue to get on the cable car back to Market street, and took the L Caravelle back home.

Drove into town early this morning, Poppet took us past the Golden Gate bridge, but we were in a hurry. Eventually found some parking, went back to Chinatown to find a handbag Jessica saw yesterday, and a bloody huge bag to stuff four sleeping bags and three pillows into.

Back to the bridge for photos, after eventually finding a parking spot. Then took the scenic route to the airport, where we had to spend $75 to get our three x luggage on the plane. Ah well.

Forgot to stick my swiss army knife in the check-in, so gave that to the baggage handler before security (rather him than TSA, I figure).

* The Hertz GPS navigator girlie, otherwise known as “I do what the voices in my dashboard tell me”.