20
Feb 18

Santa Barbra – London

20 February 187 miles (total 1,295 miles) 14°C 8:30am

Nice breakfast in Pismo, and just driving down to LA with a small stop in Santa Barbara. Arrived at Gatwick in time (the next day tho), and couple hours later reunited with Lily finally!


19
Feb 18

Morro Bay – Pismo Beach (via Big Sur)

19 February 152 miles (1,108 miles total) 5°C 7am

Early start as usual, early morning stroll in the marina front, fresh and beautiful – OTTERS! We did not even know they live here, so it was a nice (cute!) surprise seeing these little furry buggers frolic in the water. Plus also one hummingbird. All that before breakfast. Breakfast at The Coffee Pot – massive pancakes and bottomless coffee, just like we like it; great way to start the day.

Hummingbird

Drove over to Piedras Blancas for the main attraction of the day, elephant seals observation spot. Excellent season as they come to the beaches to breed before leaving in March. The beaches were jam-packed with the massive yet adorable beasts, and we spent a lot of time just admiring their beach life.

A lone Elephant Seal

The beach littered with seals!

Gina and the seals!

Iest and a seal

The lighthouse was closed and so was a good chunk of Highway 1 up to Big Sur due to last year’s mudslide, but we made it as far north on the coast as we could, enjoying the sun, ocean and fresh air. Had a traditional Olallieberry pie in Cambria, pleasant little coastal town, where we also bought a couple of bottles of local wines for home.

Ragged Point, Big Sur

Turkey Vulture

Oystercachers

Afterwards we took a stroll on the beach of San Simeon, which was not only beautiful but also had loads of oystercatchers. We made one last stop by the seals before driving down to Pismo Beach for our last night in sunny California. Our hotel was very nice and after checking out a couple of places in town we ended up in the hotel restaurant for a nice seafood dinner.

Gina & the San Simeon pier

San Simeon

Gina admiring the seals


18
Feb 18

Death Valley – Morro Bay

18 February 401 miles (956 miles total) 8°C 7am

Driving day! Needed to get from the Valley back to the coast – not many stops on the way, and the scenery nice but not spectacular and also not much diverse. Still in Death Valley we stopped by Mesquite flat sand dunes, bathed in soft morning light – Star Wars Tatoonie unmistakably, with the Panamint Ridge on the horizon! Drove through Stovepipe Wells again on the way out and had a last look back at the Valley from Father Crowley Vista.

Gina chillin at Mesquite sand dunes

Morning at Mesquite sand dunes

Father Crawley vista

Even out of Death Valley the scenery did not change for quite a while, very dry and desert-y. We soon had a great view of the Yosemite Ridge on the horizon, with all the snow-covered peaks. Lunch at a Mexican place in California City, very filling. Afterwards it was just driving all the way, through agri lands and rolling hills, progressively less dry and yellow and more lush and green. We reached our motel in Morro Bay at about 5pm – and finally took showers, first ones since Palm Springs! Felt great. Found a nice seafood place on tripadvisor, but still were so full that we decided to give dinner a miss and make a space for a nice breakfast tomorrow.


17
Feb 18

Death Valley

17 February 105 miles (total: 555 miles) 8°C 6:30am

Zabriskie Point

Creeping sun

Creeping sun

Super early morning, rushed out to catch the sunrise at the Zabriskie Point – we were by no means the only ones with this idea but it was still a very nice experience.

Gina at Zabriskie Point

Iest at Zabriskie Point

Afterwards we headed back to Furnace and managed to snatch an early spot in a beautiful tent-only camp (Texas Spring) from someone who’s just left. There was a lot of competition, that’s for sure. Amazing views. After breakfast it was still nice and early morning and we headed to the Golden Canyon for a nice hike before it got too hot. We chose a nice walk to the Red Cathedral combined with the Gower Gulch loop, and it got us to some pretty magnificent viewpoints. Not many people around either.

Golden Loop trailhead

Hiking through the canyons

Iest & his hat

Gina’s bicep

Us overlooking the canyon

Hiking to the highest point

The viewpoint at the top

Afterwards, the top afternoon heat, we went for the Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America (some 86m below sea level). Top tourist spot but nice salt plains and an unearthly feel to the place.

Gina at Badwater Basin

Badwater Basin salt plains

On the way back we swung by a ‘natural bridge’ spot which was not really worth it tbh. Then we went once more to the visitor centre in Furnace Creek, to watch the half hour film on the history and geology of Death Valley, before heading for dinner all the way to Stovepipe Wells. Nice place and a first glimpse of data connection after like three days (since Palm Springs). We got some firewood and beer for the evening, although must be said I retired to my sleeping bag fairly soon, leaving Iest with the fire and all the stars.


16
Feb 18

Joshua Tree – Death Valley

204 miles (total: 450 miles) 3°C 7am

Iestyn jumped out of bed at 6am because he was too cold, and gave me no choice than to follow suit, even though I was nice and snug in mine. It was super cold but nice sunrise and there were rabbits hopping around the campsite. In no time we were cruising away from Joshua Tree. This was not very smart though because Iestyn wanted to find a place for breakfast somewhere on the way despite the fact that the best place would have been Joshua Tree village itself (I even had a place circled for that purpose in my guide).

Roads for days!

Mojave National Preserve

Scenery was amazing though, even before entering Mojave National Preserve. Short stop in Amboy ghost town on Route 66, with famous(-ish) Roy’s motel. In Mojave we stopped over at the Kelso dunes, and at Kelso proper.

Kelso Dunes

Kelso Dunes

Had lunch at a Greek place in Baker, and then continued our scenic drive up towards Death Valley with a short break for gas and terrible coffee at Shoshone village. We arrived at Furnace Creek in late afternoon – too late for one of the nice camps given that it is three-day weekend and prime season on the Valley. Had to settle for the Sunset camp among RVs but was not actually so terrible. Air was balmy, sun was setting, and we just about managed to make the Artist scenic drive at the best light of the day. Dinner at a local joint in Furnace Creek, not much choice of places, the saloon we were going for does not exist any more.


15
Feb 18

Palm Springs – Joshua Tree National Park

141 miles (total: 246 miles) 11°C 7am

The advantage of a westward jetlag is that you wake up real early to make the most of the day, and so I did. Proper Americana breakfast in our hotel (thick and sweet waffles) and then to Ralph’s supermarket to stock up on supplies for our trip. Fresh and super sunny, it’s only 7:45 and we’re already on our way out of town.

Nice desert views already along the way. Listening to the American roadtrip playlist Iest picked, was not perfect but had some classics. Missed the Joshua Tree National Park visitor centre, and arrived to the entrance unprepared but managed to wing it. First point of interest – Keys view (1581m) with breathtaking panorama over the Coachella valley. In addition, our first encounters with wildlife – antelope ground squirrels, and tiny zebratail lizard.  

Entering Joshua Tree

Cochella Valley

Antelope Ground Squirrel

Afterwards, still pretty much early morning, we went for a nice loop hike on the Lost Horse Mine trail. Real desert & Joshua tree experience with added thrill of an authentic Old West silver and gold mine remains (operational until 1931). Spent some nice three hours on the trail, and got some spectacular views towards the other side of the valley too. Next stop, Cholla Cactus garden. It must be said that this, while very pretty, is a bit of a misnomer – it is not really so much fo a cactus garden as it is a cactus field, given that there is only one kind of cactus growing there but there is a lot of it. We enjoyed the walk though, it is a pretty place.

Gina at the Lost Horse trailhead

On the Trail!

Spectacular views!

Gina at the Cactus garden

By now I was a bit sleepy, but valiantly made it to see another nice spot – the Barker Dam (real bit of water, with actual ducks and a few other birds, originally built for cattle and mining use), and the Wonderland of rocks (nice rock formations, but really they are all over the park).  Afterwards it really was time to find our campsite at Black Rock, which turned out to be nice with some amazing views. It was getting proper cold in the evening, so we pitched the tent and drove to the village to get something to eat. Eventually we even managed to start the fire and got to admire all the stars in the clear sky.

Phainopepla at Barker Damn

A Black Phoebe at the damn

Camping under the stars


14
Feb 18

London – L.A. – Palm Springs

14 February 123 miles (total: 123 miles)

Early morning travel from LB to Gatwick with too much spare time, but one cannot rely on the trains in this country to run on time (or at all); missing Lily intensely. Flight was long but ok actually, sat by the window, watched stuff on tv, read a bit, and there we were, descending over a massive urban sprawl of sunny LA. Flew through the customs no probs, and Iestyn was already waiting for me at arrivals. LA was all fresh and sunny but we had no intentions to see more of it (well, Iest already did in the previous days, and I did years before), so just took the rental car (with some disorganisation hiccups eating into our time) and were on our way out. Nice car though, KIA Sportage, Iestyn’s first automatic, learned to love it pretty fast.
Drove through some unsavoury LA hoods to 60 East to Palm Springs. I was holding up pretty well, considering the long flight and 8hrs time difference but towards the end of the drive I was already dozing off.
Palm Springs was off season, so was very quiet (more like Calm Springs, amirite?) even on Valentine’s night. The evening was balmy, we checked into our nice hotel and went out for a mexican dinner with live music (not mexican). Fast asleep before Family Guy’s Valentine’s day episode was over (well, before the first scene was over, really).


13
Feb 18

California Trip!

Stafford, Steve, Iest & Andrew

Iestyn was nominated for a VES award for his great work on an animation of a dog-slash-killing machine kind of robot, which was great, and so he was going to L.A. for the ceremony. I thought it might be a good opportunity to have a little break from the dreary London winter, and it would be a nice time to go see the California deserts before they get too hot, and also maybe the elephant seals breeding on the coast. So without much planning i booked my tickets and off I went.


26
Mar 17

Amsterdam

Thursday 23 March
I got a trip to Amsterdam for my b’day, which was cool, and finally the day came for us to get up at an ungodly hour and haul our bags to the airport. Based on previous experience, we did not rely on the trains as they are pretty much more on strike than working, and took Terrell up there with us, which was probably the less stressful choice.

The flight was very short, but we did manage to strike a conversation with an Amsterdam local, and a world-class barista at that, so we had a list of hipster coffee houses to visit while we’re there.

Amsterdam was super sunny when we arrived, and was to stay that way for the four days of our trip. I think last time I saw four days of sun in a row it was in Cambodia. We took the train to town and the tram to our awesome B&B and it all took almost not time at all. Our place was a great studio flat on the top floor of the De Pijp swanky district and we were very happy with it. It also had a cat-view (to the balcony across the street). We could not admire it for too long, as we had timed tickets to the Anne Frank’s house, so we had to run. We really enjoyed the exhibition, as much as one can ‘enjoy’ it, and we learned a lot.

Amsterdam

After Anne Frank’s house we had shockingly good lunch in Singel 404, and went on for the truly unmissable Amst stuff – museum of all cat art. They had live cats living in as well. The house was beautiful on its own and all the cat paintings, sketches, sculptures, photos, posters and kitsch made it all the better.

Iest shocked at Singel

Cat Cabinet

Afterwards, due to a haircutting accident of the day before (in London), I had to find a hairdresser’s to make me feel human again, and Iest went to one of the coffee places on his list. After successful missions on both sides we spent the rest of the evening having a nice dusky stroll along the canals.

Evening Amst

Friday 24 March
We had to get up reasonably early as our tickets to Van Gogh museum were also timed, and we chose an early-ish time to avoid the most of the crowds. We didn’t mind too much as it was sunny and all nice and fresh. For breakfast, we ticked off another coffee place, Coffee & Coconuts, a bit too hipstery and pretentious for me (but at this point I did not know yet what was coming the next day, compared to which C&C was your old run-of the-mill, casual, shabby, a bit mundane, and slightly boring greasy spoon).

Van Gogh museum was great and we learned a lot again, even about the unfortunate ear incident. We really liked the exhibitions.

We thought we could go to the Rijks museum right after as they are conveniently located next to each other, but by this time it was really full of school classes and tourists, and we decided to rather go tomorrow early in the morning again, and instead went to the foodhall for some nice lunch.

Gina at the Van Gough atrium

Pretty Begijnhof

We then went back to the city centre as we wanted to visit the Royal Palace but that was closed for some fancy royal visit, so we went a class down and headed to the redlight district. That was pretty disheartening overall, and we headed out again as soon as we could. We found some solace in the Begijnhof, which was like the opposite in spirit – quiet, transcendent, and pure. Topped it up with a tea and cake, some more canals (starting to look all the same to me tbh), and had a nice dinner at the Thai place on our street.

Saturday 25 March
Woken up to an escaped parrot on the tree in front of our window, which was kind of cool but i hope he found a way home.
Rijks museum in the morning. All the Rembrandt Night Watch, and all the other highlights we had a handy list of, plus the great library.

Rijks library

Gina & Rembrandt’s ‘Night Watch’

Afterwards we went to Back to Black, another coffee place on Iest’s list, I liked this one too, as they were selling canvas shopping bags with a nice ‘Only cats can judge me’ design, which i got as a b-day present from Amst.

Back to Black

Then we thought it was a great time to take a nice boat ride through the canals and hear a bit of the history and all, and in principle it was a great idea. In practice, the boat was nice and comfy and gently rocking and the narration in the headphones so soothing, so I slept through most of it. I think Iest had a good time tho.

Iest having a good time

On the river

In the evening, after a quick nap an a re-charge, we headed back out to the centre to see the streets at night, and for a bite to eat. After much debating, we settled for a fantastic cheese board, with some bread!

Wine and cheese board

Sunday 26 March
For b-fast we went to the Scandinavian Embassy and words fail me in trying to convey how pretentious this place was. Iest loved it of course, he even got another cup of the sour brew to go. Whatevs, we try to cater the trip to all cognitive abilities. We then dedicated the morning to a nice stroll in the Vondel park, observing loads of birds and trying to find Picasso’s fish-bird which we probably in the end did or maybe it was some kind of rubbish heap.

Heron ?

Birdfish

We also went to an unfashionable part of the town to take a pic of a windmill/brewery, just so that we can tick all the boxes, and that was about it, we started to wrap our trip up.

Altogether we had a great time in Amsterdam, and really enjoyed our little break; should do this more often!


07
Feb 17

Norfolk

Grey and cold February, with nothing to look forward to until like the Easter (oên bachs!). We decided to pass some of that greyness in Norfolk, see if we can still find the seals on the beaches, and see some National Trust places as well. Our expectations were not high for anything, as February is after the seal pupping season, and NT estates are actually closed Jan+Feb, so you can only really see the gardens.

Sunday 5.2.
Started off reasonably early from our place, weather not too shabby even if bitingly cold.
Our first stop was at the Anglesey Abbey, where the spectacular gardens were busy with the snowdrop season. The Abbey is a Jacobean-style house with gardens and a working watermill – Lord Fairhaven, wanting to inspire and surprise visitors, created a spectacular garden with planting for all seasons and a cosy house in which to entertain. Insides of the house were closed for visitors, but we did have fun in the gardens and the Lode Mill.

Snowdrops

Lode Mill

Anglesey Abbey

Anglesey Abbey

Pretty place, but we have a busy programme for the day, so off we head towards Oxburgh Hall. Zooming along on the A10, we saw a spectacular cathedral on the horizon, and decided to make an impromptu stopover – in Ely. On our clever devices we learned that the Ely cathedral is an Anglican cathedral with origins in AD 672 when St Etheldreda built an abbey church. The present building dates back to 1083, and cathedral status was granted it in 1109. Architecturally it is outstanding both for its scale and stylistic details. Having been built in a monumental Romanesque style, the galilee porch, lady chapel and choir were rebuilt in an exuberant Decorated Gothic. Its most famous feature however is the central octagonal tower. That was all very interesting, but we still didn’t know how to pronounce Ely – my guess was that it’s pronounced like Eli [Cash] from the Royal Tennenbaums, but we had to know for sure! No better person to ask than the visitor info guy in the cathedral itself, so Iest went for it and asked him how to pronounce the name of the village. The poor guy’s eyebrows were raised so high they almost fell off his face and in a stiff yet high-pitched voice he repeated ‘Village?!’ – so, for next times we know that once you get yourself a cathedral, that apparently makes you a city, no matter how small. But, we also learned they pronounce it [ee-ly], as in the fish, eel, which they used to have plenty of or something. We quickly checked out Oliver Cromwell’s house too, and went back on track with our plan for Oxburgh Hall.

Canon Gins!

Ely Cathedral

Oxburgh Hall is a 15th-century moated manor house Built in 1482 by the Catholic Bedingfeld family. The interiors were also still closed for the winter, but we enjoyed the moat with its swans, and the surrounding gardens. I got a small pot with a chopped off chunk of one of the plants, so if it survives, we’ll have a nice Oxburgh plant on the balcony to remember. By now we were really hungry and so we walked over to the nearby pub for a proper Sunday roast.

Oxburgh Hall, moat and swans!

Oxburgh Hall

Monday 6.2.

Our nice hotel

It was the hunt for the seals mostly (ultimately unsuccessful tho), exploring the coast and beaches, and a couple of NT estates.
First, we made it to the Titchwell RSPB reserve, which was awesome. Full of knowledge on the winter migratory birds to see from last night’s Country File programme we watched, we went straight in the marshes. The reserve has both freshwater marshes and sea beaches, and birds really abound. The weather was sunny and we had a blast.

Water Rail

Unknown

Unknown

Unknown

Unknown

Unknown

Redshank

Then we swung by the Brancaster beach, endless golden beach, and also an NT place.

Brancaster beach

Gina on the beach

We had high hopes for the Blakeney nature reserve with respect to the seals, but we were not lucky. The local seals were gone and the boat trip to see them off the coast was already gone for the day. We tried an adjacent beach at Cley by the Sea, but to no avail. There was really not much else to do, so we had lunch at the Dunn Cow, and pressed onto another closed NT estate at Felbrigg, one of the most elegant country houses in East Anglia, and also Blickling estate.

Felbrigg

Blickling Estate

Afterwards we were quite tired for the day, so we found a great little place for tea & cakes, and then headed to our hotel. We decided to live a little, so we went to the hotel bar in the evening, which had a nice fire going, and only two other people in it, so we had a nice cup of tea there as well.

Tuesday 7.2.
The day for exploring Norwich on our way home. It was cold and drizzly, but the building still looked quite spectacular. The cathedral was begun in 1096 and constructed out of flint and mortar and faced with a cream-coloured Caen limestone. The cathedral was completed in 1145 with the Norman tower still seen today topped with a wooden spire covered with lead. Norwich Cathedral has the second largest cloisters in England, only outsized by Salisbury Cathedral (where we were in January anyway). The cathedral spire, measuring 96m, is the second tallest (yeah, also Salisbury takes the cake).

Inside Norwich cathedral

Norwich cathedral

We were not really so keen on visiting the Norwich castle, which is a bit boxy, even though It was founded in the aftermath of the Norman conquest of England when William the Conqueror (1066–1087) ordered its construction because he wished to have a fortified place in the important city of Norwich.

Norwich castle

Instead, we decided to drive up to Horsey beach to see if we could still be lucky with the seals. And lucky we were! In a rainy weather and rough sea, we found a whole nice colony of seals, casually chillin on the beach. We were super excited, and spent a lot of time with them, and got really close too. It was the perfect cherry on top of our Norfolk trip, and we were ready to go home. (A couple days later it was reported that £50 million worth of cocaine was found washed up on a beach in Norfolk, so I guess we could have been even luckier, but still, the seals were cute!)

Gina and the seals

Iest & seals

A happy, chilled seal

A dramatic seal