Merica!!!!

Hi everyone. After a long break I’m back! After my trip to Marbella in Spain and to Lisbon, I headed back to the Alps for another 5 weeks of skiing, this time in Tignes, France. Once again I was lucky to have quite a bit of fresh snow as I arrived, especially since there wasn’t another big storm until the last week. I stayed in a really nice apartment with an amazing view of the mountains conveniently located right near two chairlifts (see below for the link), and was joined at various times by my friends Dave and Ronel & Nick, as well as by Anne in my final week. I also bumped into someone I used to work with (Deon and Chrisna) and had a good time showing them around. Tignes has a huge varied skiing area which is linked to nearby Val d’Isere, and is high enough to mean that even when there isn’t a lot of fresh snow there is still a lot of skiing to do (most of the resort is above 2000m). It also doesn’t have the same level of Après Ski craziness as St Anton, but there are still some nice places to head to after a day on the slopes (The Marmot Arms in Tignes Le Lac was my favourite). It also has my favourite fondue restaurant of all time – Le Ferme des Tres Capucines (best to make a reservation several days in advance). Unfortunately I didn’t get to ski with Anne very much, as I put my back out, and was confined to the couch. I seem to be recovering well, so it shouldn’t affect the rest of my travels. Here are a few photos from Tignes:

The view from my apartment in Tignes
The view down Tignes Valley
Amazing clouds over Tignes
Dave enjoying the view from the top of the glacier
Me and Dave
Deon and Chrisna enjoying some Apres Ski on the slopes
A cheesy raclette feast!
Me, Ronel and Nick before several rounds to crocodile shots
Me and Nick after several rounds of crocodile shots

 

A game of rugby on the snow!!

After Tignes I headed back to Johannesburg for a few days to catch up with friends and family and to head to the Drakensberg for my friends Mackers’ and Tam’s wedding, which, as expected, was a blast. An 18 hour flight to Washington DC was exactly what I needed to let my liver recover after the massive party we had. Washington DC was my first stop in my 2 week trip to the U.S. before I head south to Central America for 8 weeks. DC was quite different from all the other U.S. cities I’ve been to, and almost feels like a European city. This is partly because all the buildings are relatively low (usually not more than 4 or 5 stories) due to a city law restricting the height of buildings to the width of the street (including pavements) plus 20%, making the city feel very spacious. It is also a really good city for walking, with nice wide pavements, lots of pedestrian crossings and relatively small distances between the major sites, especially along the National Mall. I also found the city to be quite young and relaxed, especially in and around Columbia Heights (where I stayed), quite different from how you would expect a city of lawyers to be. There are lots of bars and restaurants around, especially in the area around U street and 14th. To try keep costs under control (accommodation is extremely expensive) I stayed in a nice AirBnB apartment in Columbia Heights, close to the metro and buses and a short walk from some good restaurants and bars. As with most U.S. cities, Uber and Lyft are great ways of getting around if public transport isn’t convenient.

Mackers’ and Tam’s wedding
The White House and some cherry blossoms
The Korean War memorial

 

Cherry blossoms on the National Mall
The Earth Day concert on the Mall
Craft beer tasting

The National Mall is the highlight of any trip to DC, as it contains most of the famous memorials and (mostly free) museums. My favourite museum in DC (and probably ever) is the Air and Space Museum on the National Mall. For anyone with even the slightest interest in historic airplanes and space craft this museum is probably worth the price of the plane ticket to DC. It has almost every important craft in aviation history including the Wright brothers’ first aeroplane to the Spirit of St Louis, Chuck Yager’s plane used to break the sound barrier, the SpaceShipOne plane which was the first manned private space flight, various U.S. and Russian space craft, various missiles and rockets, prototypes of the different Mars landers, to name but a few. There is a second part of the museum near Dulles International Airport (which I didn’t get to visit) which has some of the bigger planes such as a space shuttle, a Concorde and a Lockheed SR71 blackbird, all of which I’d already seen when I visited New York last year. Here are some photos from the museum:

Some U.S. And Soviet missiles and rockets

 

The world’s first aeroplane
The Spirit of St Louis and SpaceShipOne

The next best museum I visited was the harrowing Holocaust Museum (also on the National Mall). This comprehensive museum is very well set out and really captures the horror of the holocaust, and especially emphasises individual stories that consent lay keep the experience very personal. The number of people visiting the main exhibition is limited, so best to try pre-book the free tickets on the Internet.

The other museum I visited was the Natural History Museum, which is also really good with a very comprehensive set of exhibits, but I didn’t spend too much time here as it is quite similar to other natural history museums I’ve been to. However, if you haven’t been to one before then this is definitely a great one to see.

I also spent half a day in Georgetown, an upmarket historic suburb of DC which is a bit touristy but is worth a trip out.  The highlights of Georgetown for me were the Dumbarton Oaks museum (free) and the Dumbarton Oaks gardens ($10). The museum is small but has a interesting collection of Byzantine and pre-Columbian art. The attached English country-style gardens are well worth the entrance fee and are a great place to spend a few hours of peace and quiet. Here are some photos:

One of the many tulips around the gardens

 

Another part of the gardens
More gardens

After 4 much-too-short days in DC I headed to Seattle and Tacoma to visit some of my family and to catch up with Ben And Ashley, a couple I met while trekking in the Himalayas.  My previous visit to these cities was quite a while ago and I didn’t get much time to see the sights, so it was nice to have a bit of extra time to explore, especially in Seattle. Other than catching up with friends and family, the main highlights for me where the Seattle Underground tour, the Seattle art museum and the Experience Music Project museum. The centre of Seattle is pretty compact and so it is quite easy to walk between these and the other main sights.

The Seattle Underground tour is a fascinating view into the early history of Seattle and in particular the parts of the city left underground when, after a huge fire at the end of the 19th century, the city was rebuilt with the new ground level one or two stories above the actual ground. The Art museum is quite different from other art museums I’ve been to in that I t doesn’t have any of the famous crowd pleasing pieces that you can find in art museums in some of the big cities, and so has rather focussed on having small exhibitions from various important periods of arts, including Ancient Greek and Roman art, the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods, pre-modern and modern art, and traditional African and Native American art. The museum is small enough to not be too overwhelming and to keep non-art buffs interested. The Experience Music Project (or EMP) is a dream come true for music and SciFi & fantasy movie nerds. The main exhibits I enjoyed were the history of Nirvana, including memorabilia such as the first guitar Kurt Cobain broke on stage, and the science fiction and fantasy movie sections, which have costumes and props from movies and TV shows such as Alien, Terminator, a Princess Pride, Highlander, Blade Runner and Game of Thrones. There was also a temporary exhibit of costumes from the different Star Wars movies, which was also really good. Here are some photos from my adventures on the streets of Seattle:

An underground ‘street’ in Seattle
Modern art in the art museum
Nigerian ceremonial masks and costumes in the art museum
The exterior of the EMP museum
The Princess Leia costume everyone remembers
David Bowie’s costume from Labyrinth
The Alien suit from the first Alien movie

After Seattle I headed down to San Francisco to meet up with Anne, who had managed to tack a short trip to the U.S. onto a business trip to Dubai. The first thing that hits you when you arrive n San Francisco s the smell of pot – it is openly smoked everywhere! There is also a more relaxed attitude to public drinking than I’ve seen elsewhere in the US, with people drinking openly in certain parks and even people selling whole coconuts and rum in the park. We’d been given some really good tips on places to eat and things to do from a friend-of-a-friend who lives in SF, and so we got to see and do some things that are a bit different from the usual tourist things. These included breakfast at Mission Beach Cafe, a trip to Mission Delores Park to join the locals chilling on a Sunday afternoon with some ice ream from the nearby Bi-Rite Creamery, delicious burritos from Taquerias El Farolito, and a walk around Buena Vista park. Of course we still did all the main activities (all worthwhile), such as walking over Golden Gate Bridge, visiting Alcatraz, doing a boat cruise around the bay (although we found a company that combines this with wine tasting, which was rather nice) and heading to the hippy area of Haight-Ashbury.  The food and drink scene in SF is really good and we weren’t disappointed with anything we had. A great way to get around SF when the walk is too far is to use Uber’s Uberpool option, especially if there are two of you. For a flat fee of $7 you can go anywhere in SF, for up to 2 people. You do need to be a bit flexible around time, as there is a chance that you’ll pick up other people along the route who may be dropped off first, but the speed and convenience compared to a $4.50 combined fare for two people on public transport makes it a no-brainer. We loved our 3 days in San Francisco, and felt it was a great place for a short city break before we headed to our final destination in the U.S.: Yosemite National Park.

My first view of Golden Gate Bridge
Sailing under the bridge on our booze cruise
Even the ceiling is tie-die…
On the bridge

 

Burrito!!
Chilling in the park like a local
Arriving at Alcatraz
The cells in Alcatraz

Yosemite is a place I’ve been wanting to visit ever since I was a kid, and there is always a risk that it doesn’t live up to expectations. This was definitely not the case for Yosemite, which is one of the most spectacular natural settings I’ve been to. The park is an easy 3 to 3 1/2 hour drive from San Francisco, and to get the most out of the park it is nice to have a car. We stay a few miles outside of the park at a fantastic Bed and Breakfast, the Blackberry Inn (see the link below) which meant a 45 – 70 minute drive to the main hiking areas in the park, something which wasn’t an issue as the drives are very beautiful. You can stay at places in the park itself, including camping, simple self catering huts and a few hotels, but these are quite a bit more expensive and get booked up really early on. You will still need to do a fair bit of driving if you go for this option. Back to the park itself, the main Yosemite Valley is a deep and narrow u-shaped valley formed by glaciers over 2 million years ago. It is surrounded by sheer granite cliffs, waterfalls and rounded granite domes, and covered in a carpet of huge ancient pine trees and meadows. There are also several small and medium groves of giant sequoias (redwoods) that you can visit. Besides marvelling at the spectacular views there are many hikes you can do to different waterfalls and viewpoints varying in length from less than a kilometer to full day or multi-day hikes, and in steepness from almost flat to near vertical. There is also some rock climbing, including the famous El Capitan. For our first day we visited the Bridalveil and Yosemite waterfalls (both a short easy hike), and the Vernal and Nevada waterfalls, a quite strenuous 15km or so round trip which includes 800m of ascent and descent and some amazing views. For the second day we did a short 5km round trip hike to the Merced grove of giant sequoias, a group of a around 20 trees which we had all to ourselves, and then a fairly strenuous 10km hike to Taft Point, Glacier Point and Sentinel Dome, all of which give spectacular views of the whole Yosemite Valley and the surrounding mountains. We were quite lucky to be able to do the hike around Glacier Point, as the road to the trailhead and the trails themselves are normally closed at this time of the year due to snow, only typically opening in late May. However due to the drought in California, it was open much earlier than normal. We also didn’t have the usual crowds associated with Yosemite because of coming so early in spring. If you are visiting San Francisco then you really should try to get in a trip to Yosemite – it is really worth it.

Down in the valley

 

Everywhere you go the views are amazing
On the way down from Nevada Falls
Yosemite Falls
Giant sequoias are LARGE
… And very tall
The obligatory selfie looking down the valley from tunnel view
And here’s the unobscured view
From Taft point looking down into the valley
A beautiful view of Half Dome
A final view of the valley towards El Capitan

Anne has how headed back to complete her business trip and I’m about to start my Central American leg, with Belize being my first stop, where I’m hoping to get some scuba diving in. Now that I’m back on the road and moving around, the blogs will be coming out regularly again.

Links:

Apartment in Tignes: http://www.homeaway.co.uk/p6654857

AirBnB apartment in Washington DC: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/4596410?euid=4910fcd0-0abd-244e-1ec6-7a8506d2953c

Accommodation near Yosemite: http://www.blackberry-inn.com

 

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One thought on “Merica!!!!

  1. Dave, you’ve been away from home for too long if you can’t tell the difference between a hippo and a croc! 😉

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