Thanks again for all of you who showed up to my talk. It was great fun being able to present to such a nice bunch of people.
Reddit Secret Santa is annual exchange of gifts by random strangers of the internet. You sign up in November, get matched against someone and got to send him/her a gift. Obviously a bit of internet stalking is required to see what your target is interested in (sometimes they givr you clues). As much as creepy it sounds (stalking part) it is a lot of fun. And my SS did his research:
All of the gifts are spot on. The book will get read on the plan to Prague tomorrow, frame will be put on my work desk for sure. One can never have enough pullovers socks or mugs either. Defo taking them this years winter climbing.
Thanks again Secret Santa.
A bit of a delay in uploading these – I’ve been very busy and just didn’t have time.
Anyway – below is the link to the last 2 days of our USA trip. Some Vegas photos (above view from our 55th floor at the Trump Tower), skydiving photos. and footage from a helicopter trip to the west rim of Grand Canyon.
This way or another – I still have loads of video material to edit and upload – so stay tuned!
Day 13&14 – Vegas <–CLICK!
… is a shit hole. Nothing to do there until you are with a local who knows where to go and what to do.
I’m happy we stayed there for 2 days only. We’ve visited Universal Studios (which was pretty good and can recommend it). Also made it to the Automobile Museum (great collection of some awesome cars), and as probably everyone – climb it to the Hollywood sign – nothing special tbh, but since there was nothing to do…
anyway – photos are here:
Anyway, we are all back in Dublin now. Holidays are over and I wish we could have stayed there for one more week to actually rest and relax… Oh well.
Anyway – I still have few more photos from Vegas (to which we returned from LA) – I’ll upload these later. There are some good ones from skydiving (video is below) – Also we’ve taken that helicopter tour to Grand Canyon (west rim this time) that we had to cancelled 2 weeks ago. West rim isn’t as impressive as the south one, but the helicopter compensated. ;]
The highlight of our San Francisco visit was the Alcatraz tour. For sure. No doubt about it.
I’d highly recommend reading up on it as it has some great story behind: Comprehensive info is provided on wikipedia.
The tour was so really well organized, intense (in good meaning of this word) and… felt real and authentic. But lets start from the beginning:
There is only one company that you can book Alcatraz tour through – The http://www.alcatrazcruises.com/ – all the other ones will take you around the Alcataraz island – but you wont be able to see the actual prison.
I highly recommend taking the earliest possible tour and booking as early as possible to avoid situation when all the slots are sold out – and they sell real quick – and that what almost happened to us – we’ve waited too long and went online to book just 2 days before the day we wanted to go on – and all of regular tours were sold out – the only availble tickets were for Alcatraz+Angel Island combo which was twice as much (over 50$) and took half a day.
We showed up on the day at Pier 33 around 8am – grabbed something to eat across the road (there is no food on the island – only on the ferry, but it is seriously overpriced – as one can expect) – and around 9am started queuing to get admitted on the boat.
Everything was nicely organized – no confusion where to queue etc etc. (again – buy your tickets online – the card on tickets booth informed that all tours were sold out for 3 days!).
Anyway. It’s taken maybe 20 min to get to the island – and at the very beginning – a nice surprise: once a month one of the former guards of Alcatraz (actually the youngest one to ever work there) was visiting the prison and was signing his book. He gave a quick greeting speech and invited everyone to ask as many questions as they liked – he was available to talk to in the gift shop at the end of the tour. Today this gentleman is 85 years old, suffered a stroke couple of years ago – but is back to on The Rock to talk to people. A truly amazing personality. I was lucky enough to be able to talk to him for couple of minutes while he was signing the book we purchased. BTW: his name is Frank Heaney and parts of his book are available here. Oh, and he’s from Berkeley (we actually stayed in the hotel there!) and is of Irish heritage – both of his parents came to the USA around 1915 and 1920 from Northern Ireland. Frank immediately smiled when I told him where I lived. He said: “ah, the Old Country… I wish my health allowed me to go back there one more time!” 🙂
But coming back to the tour – once the orientation speech finished we were asked to go up to the cell house, collect our audio self-tour mp3 players and just follow the instructions. And that was the best thing ever. The audio tour was just amazing. Really well done – not only everyone could explore the walls of the prison at their own pace, but the recording was prepared in such a way that you could really feel the magic of the place. It professionally guided you through all the rooms and parts of this place in a very VERY interesting way. It wasn’t the usual – “go here, go there, this is that, and this is it” but instead it gave you the true experience of how the prison worked, it had not only the insides on the daily routines, but examples on some real life situation that took place during the over 30 years while Alcatraz served as the maximum security penitentiary.
By the way – did you know that no prisoner was ever admitted to Alcatraz directly, nor no prisoner was ever released from Alcatraz – they all had been transferred from or to other prisons. The used to say there:”“If you break the rules, you go to prison. If you break the prison rules, you go to Alcatraz”.
This way or another – it takes around 2h to complete the tour – if you have just the basic ticket – you can hang out there for as long as you want until the last boat leave the island (I think it was around 6pm) – we had the Angel Island add on and had to board another boat there. I want say much about it as it was rather boring. Basically they put you on bus-type of thing and rode around the island explaining it’s history etc etc. Don’t get me wrong – Angel Island is a beautiful place and has really rich history behind – however after seeing Alcatraz – it was just tough to top it.
Anyway – that’s it I guess – All the Alcatraz photos are HERE. 🙂 ENjoy!
PS. The day after our trip there I’ve watched the “Escape from Alcatraz” a 1979 classic with Clint Eastwood. I remember seeing it as a teenager, but only after being there now I could really enjoy and ‘feel’ the film (with one little remark (it was also mentioned by Frank Heaney: the characters in the movie are shown in positive light, where the truth was – they were in Alcatraz for a reason… – but oh well, that’s Hollywod…)
We didn’t have much time to spare in San Fran – only 2 before heading to Los Angeles (where we are at now).
The day1 photos (main San Francisco attractions – Golden Gate bridge the Coit Tower etc etc) – are HERE.
One thing to note – it was very foggy at the bridge – but absolutely sunny and clear in the city. Weird is that place ;]
Part 2 of San Francisco is mainly the Alcatraz (absolutely the best tour I’ve ever been on) with couple of hours on Angel Island (not that nice). These photos are pending ‘Monika’s stamp of approval’ and will be uploaded shortly.
As I mentioned before – while I type these words we are in LA. In short – Los Angeles IS a shit hole. There is nothing nice about the city. It’s loud, crowded, busy and dirty. The only good thing about the city is… the mexican food (or at least the soup that we got served for dinner in our Hotel).
After arriving here yesterday we went to Universal Studios up in Hollywood. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to spend nearly $80 for a ticket, but eventually we all did – and was not disappointment. The place is a mixture of a theme park with some educational values (interesting live performance/show on special effects, or even the Studio Tour gave really cool behind the stage point of view).
Overall we spent there whole day – 10am to 5pm and really enjoyed it. Photos are still sitting on the SD card of my camera and I’ll upload them shortly.
Tomorrow the girls are planning to see some LA landmarks, and on Wednesday we are leaving back to Las Vegas (which for the girls will mean shopping – and for me – gambling :>).
We had to leave Mammoth lakes only after being there for 2 nights, but oh well – that’s how this traveling trips are – can’t stay for too long in one place. Anyway – our next destination was beautiful and supposedly foggy San Fransisco. BUT on the way in there was a planned stop in Yosemite National Park.
When you have only couple of hours to spare and want to visit a park that covers over 3000 square km it can be quite challenging. That’s why we’ve decided to rent bicycles and follow a 11km tour designed by the park rangers that would get an average traveler just couple of hours to see what’s there to see :).
It was the best idea ever as the weather was great, the route was very easy – and we managed to see a lot – from some fantastic cliffs, river, lakes and waterfalls through all sorts of wildlife – different types of squirrels and even encountered a coyote – he just crossed the road just in front of us – like it was his home (well perhaps it was and we were intruding 😉 . I have him on the go-pro video – but wont post it here yet – as I don’t really have time to edit all of the video material I’ve gathered. As a matter of fact I’ve recorded most of the Yosemite bike trip on the Go-Pro attached to my bike – and it will make quite a nice movie once properly edited (and hopefully will compensate for not to many photos from that day – as you can imagine it’s quite difficult to operate a camera while cycling 😉
Anyway – photos will have to be enough for now – so here they are!
That was yesterday – Today we spent our very first day in San Fransisco after arriving here yesterday evening – it was a long and very tiring drive through the mountains. Still totally worth it!
I’ll probably will upload San Fransisco photos one we’ll arrive to Los Angeles so stay tuned!
Sierra Nevada is a truly fantastic place. No words can’t describe the region and I only wish we had more time to stick around here.
Mammoth Lakes a village by the feet of majestic Mammoth Mountain (peak at over 3200m with some patches of snow still out there!) is the place of our stop for last 2 days. Wall climbing, mountain biking, downhill, hiking, fishing are just few of many, many things you can do during the summer season – in the winter this place turns into 100% ski resort – with never ending snow supply (they say that it gets over 10meters of snow a year) – season is very long – starts in October – ending in May or even June.
Anyway, because the really short period of time we had to our disposal here our options were limited. First we’ve taken a ride to the top of the Mammoth Mountain – it took 7min 1 way in a really cool gondola – after returning from there we’ve driven the National Park to hike over to Devils Postpile and Rainbow Falls.
The Postpile looks very similar to Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, but it doesn’t mean it’s less impressive. The Rainbow Falls was just 2.5miles hike away through the remains of the forest that got burned down in the 1992 wildfire disaster. I think it was the biggest waterfall I’ve ever seen. The post on site said that the falls takes its name from the fact that when the sun is high on the sky on a clear day you can observe fantastic rainbow down by the falls – a phenomenon we were lucky to capture on few photos :).
As usual the photos are available here.
Tomorrow we are leaving Mammoth Lakes – going north to Yosemite Park – few activities planned for there – and then on the afternoon we’ll be heading west to San Fransisco.
Your first hours in Las Vegas are like entering another world, where the religion is luck, the language is money and the time is measured by revolutions of the roulette wheel. And even though because we stayed off the Strip I didn’t really fill the full magic of it yet it was still pretty amazing place!
We made it there last Friday. Our team of Monika, my sister Magda, her husband Piotr and their friend Marzena.
Some photos and short descriptions below:
Day 1&2 – Las Vegas – didn’t really go to any casinos at this point (we’ll be back at the end of next week for it ;)- just visited New York New York and rode their roller coaster and checked out the Luxor.
Day3 – Zion National Park – totally unplanned – with a day to spare and just 2.5 drive seemed like a nice place to visit – and it was.
Day 4 – Hover Dam and Grand Canyon – disappointed… 5h drive – just to find out that our previously booked helicopter tour got cancelled due to bad weather. and it was really bad. rain, thunderstorms and all of that…
Day 5 – Death Valley – after leaving Las Vegas we headed towards San Fransisco – stopping in Mammoth Lake for 2 nights. Visited Death Valley National Park – absolutely amazing place. Over 40C outside, sand dunes, stones, mountains, and flats. Dried river and lake. can’t really describe it…
Today we’ll be visiting the surroundings of Mammoth Lake – tomorrow going to Yosemite National Park and then through the mountains to San Fransisco.