On the Road again, USA Road Trip, part three.

Leaving the glitz of Las vegas behind, we now had a new plan, as we were ahead of schedule due to the snowfall in and around the Grand canyon. So where to go and what to do next. I had seen a programme on TV about one of the Californian Mission towns, San Luis Obispo, but himself seemed less than keen, until Yosemite came into the equation. The national park more or less on our route, home to El Capitain and the giant Sequoias.

Below is the view of Las Vegas with some Retirement homes in the foreground.

We set our from Las vegas, for the 300 mile trip to Bakersfield, our destination for the night. We travelled along Interstate 15, which went through the Mojave National Preserve ( ie read desert). The Alternative route was to go via Death Valley, which is much slower and although we were not in a hurry, it was a lot slower, and besides we have driven that route once before. About 60 miles or so into our journey, and remember this is desert, it looked like a mirage upon the horizon, the closer we got the more bizarre it appeared, and there on the State line, were Gas stations, Amusement parks and yes more Casinos!

Here  are views of the desert, which includes casinos on the State Line, a Solar Panel Farm ( presumably with Chinese Solar Panels, an aeroplane graveyard, an isolated community and a lone cow!

Travelling this route apart from desert and more desert, we were on the lookout for somewhere to stop and have a coffee, preferably not a Starbucks, but at this point anything might do.And there it was a BillBoard or two. Billboards are everywhere in the USA, even in the desert, if you have seen the movie Three Billboards outside Ebbing Missouri, then you will understand. Our first sign of such a Bill Board, was ” Peggy Sues Diner, 75 Miles ahead, or Big Fat Greek Diner, 65 Miles ahead!. We came upon these diners, literally i the middle of nowhere, we did not stop.

Finally we came to Bairstow, a one eyed town, or so we thought. I do it an injustice, according to Wikepedia, it has a population of 22,00, came to promince because of gold and silver, there is an army training ground nearby, a huge train depot and 20000, tourists on tour buses. What do they do there? I ask myself, there wasn’t any to make me linger ! It has about a dozen fast food outlets, including a Starbucks, which we did not see and a Jack in the Box!! I have never been in a jack in the Box, before and not sure I will again. A fish burger and an Iced Tea and we were ready to move on.

And move on we did, to Bakersfield California, Dwight Yokem once had a hit song about Bakersfield, not sure I remember it though !

Road Trip USA, Part 2, Grand Canyon and Beyond!

We woke this morning to a heavy snow fall ( Bathroom even colder at -16 C outside) but our thoughts were on where we were heading next. Monument Valley, an area in Navajo country in Utah. Monument Valley is a bit like Sedona, towering red sandstone structures, all typical of Cowboy Movies. But alas it was not to be. There are two possible short cut routes from the Grand Canyon National Park, but not that day, too much snow. After a quick telephone call to our lodge in Monument Valley, they confirmed our fears, no, not possible today. Even so, it took us 3 hours to drive over packed snow on a direct road to reach Flagstaff ( 80 miles away) We had the foresight to re-book our Flagstaff hotel, and just as well we did, Swirling snow and ice meant that even the mall was shut!! And it seemed like there was no room at the Inn, ( well we had ours). The only other time I had found a shopping mall to be closed, was in San Marcos Texas, Winter 1998. An ice storm hit Texas, my girlfriend  ( visiting from Belgium) and I were en route to an outlet mall, driving from Houston to San Marcos, about  4 hour drive. As we headed down I 10, it started to rain and it quickly turned to ice. If you ever see signs saying “BEWARE OF ICE ON BRIDGES” take careful note! The average Texan seemed to ignore this warning, hit the bridge at full speed, spin around and oops, crash. There were at least a couple of thousand crashes that evening, in and around San Antonio and San Marcus, the roads and streets were a sheet of ice. I’ve  just looked up the traffic reports for Texas 2016 and is makes for scary reading, 265,000 injuries in traffic accidents, 1 crash every 57 seconds! And we thought a road trip a good idea!

Back to Flagstaff, our hotel a new Courtyard by Marriott was across the parking lot from an Italian restaurant, which as you can imagine proved to be very popular that night. We staggered across the ice and propped ourselves up at the bar ( always entertaining) and had dinner, perfectly adequate, and perfectly nondescript, but I seem to remember the wine being drinkable. Unfortunately, the hotel had no dining facilities, which meant a trip to the closed mall,  for breakfast, where there was a Denny’s, and yes, it was open ( open 24 hours). Denny’s proved to be the cause of our only “Domestic” during our three-week trip. And so it was Denny’s for breakfast! Willowy brunette comments that himself has no right to be a slim man as in reality, he is a bit, of a gannet!

The Tale of Two Breakfasts, a His and Hers!
The Tale of Two Breakfasts!img_2020After, this wonderful breakfast, and the to be avoided cup of stewed coffee, we set out on what would have been Route 66. It is for the most part no more, occasionally, one sees a sign” Historical Route 66 but we did not bother with a diversion, we were headed to Las Vegas. Actually, we had no intention of visiting Las Vegas, but it is convenient for the Hoover dam. The Grand Canyon, which is 277 miles long, has Lake Powell( named after a one-armed civil war veteran ) at one end and the Hoover Dam at the other along with Lake Mead. Both lakes are in fact reservoirs but serve as recreational areas.

Our sylph like blond, had recently spent a long weekend in Las Vegas, and had fun, but commented that ” one haemorrhages money” Still being very close, we had to at least see The Strip. It can be seen from miles away, after all it is in the middle of a dessert  surrounded by mountains.

We cruised the Strip, along with the rest of the world, the neon lights, the honking of vehicles and the crazy pedestrians, but we did not stop and were glad to escape back to our hotel and yet another Mexican restaurant.Tex-Mex, Arizona-Mex, or Nevada-Mex, they are all the same, not Mexican. One can decided before setting foot inside what to eat and it all comes with refried beans and Mexican rice. My order always “Hold the Beans and Rice”!IMG_2451

The following day, we took another “Pink Jeep” trip to the Hoover Dam, quiet amazing and well worth the visit. The nearby town of Boulder was built in 1931 to accommodate the workers ( 5, 000) of them who came to build the Dam. It was government-owned and run and as such they did not allow Alcohol, Gambling or Prostitution, all of this could be done in Las Vegas, a mere 23 miles away, which was run by the MOB. The Boulder Dam hotel has had many famous people stay, including Clark Gable, who stayed there whilst waiting news of his wife, Carole Lombard. She died in a plane crash on nearby Potosi mountain.

On our little tour, we met an older couple from Boston, who munched on their Doritos, in our Jeep, and bought more junk food at the way station. Unfortunately we were unable to descend to the generator room in the Hoover Dam, as 53 people were stuck in the lift !

I asked the aforementioned couple, what other plans they had whilst in the area ( meaning, really what else are you going to visit/see) I have to admit to being taken aback with the reply. ” Well tonight we will just stay and have the Buffett at the Biagio and last night we saw the volcano erupt at the Mirage !!! Umm is this where FAKE NEWS came from?

Kids and Pizza

Having just returned from USA road trip, we were faced with home as a building site. As always seems the case, builders are always behind schedule and true to form, ours are! The reason? Bad weather, but they are working inside! But such is life, and so moving swiftly on, our 3 ex-Mexican grandchildren came for the weekend. We had decided to take them out for breakfast on Saturday along with Aunty Snowpea, she who works for the Toothfairy, in a senior capacity ( So make sure it is a healthy one). After breakfast in a Notting Hill Cafe, we moved onto Cliveden, a former stately home on the Thames, in Buckinghamshire. Here we met, the lovely baby Amelia and her parents!


This was our first visit to the gardens here, although we have stayed in the hotel and eaten in the restaurant previously. It would appear that they hold several children inspired events during the course of the year, and this weekend was a murder mystery hunt, very well done and kept the older little ones gainfully occupied for several hours.

We had to return home well before dark, one could say that Baby Amelia, needed her tea, or that almost three year old Sam was restless! But no! It was himself and RUGBY! However, I had planned ahead ever so slightly and had made some dough for Pizza, before we left in the morning.

I much prefer fresh yeast to dried yeast, but oh where to find it! Gone are the days, when one could pop into the bakers and buy an ounce of fresh yeast. The smell was quiet amazing.

IMG_7370To make a couple of reasonable size pizzas you will need

  1. 2 packages of dried yeast
  2. pinch sugar
  3. 1 1/4 cup lukewarm water
  4. 1lb plain flour
  5. 1/4 cup olive oil
  6. 1 teaspoon salt

Sprinkle the sugar over the yeast and then stir in 1/4 cup water. Leave it until the yeast starts to bubble. Add this to the flour and salt mixture along with the rest of the water and the olive oil. Mix well, best done with hands, then knead and bash the dough around until it forms a smooth ball. Put back into the bowl and cover it with a damp cloth and leave to rise in a warm place, usually the kitchen will do, or an airing cupboard if your are lucky enough to have one ( what happened to airing cupboards?)

When you are ready to make your pizzas, knead the dough again ( normally called “Knocking back”), if it is a bit sticky, sprinkle some flour on top. I usually precook my pizza bases, just beacause I do not like Soggy Bottoms! So I roll out the dough, to fit my pan ( and I have to admit to having disposed of my pizza pans, so we had rectangular ones. I pre bake at 450 F/230 C or gas mark 8 for about 7 mins.

For my toppings, I start by cheating. I take a can of chopped tomatoes, give it a whizz in a lender, add 1/4 cup oilve oil and some oregano and a clove of garic and a squirt of tomato puree. Spread this over the pizza base and then add the toppings you like. The best cheese to use is cooking Mozzarella, it is dry,  and can be grated or cut into chunks.

The classic plain pizza is  margherita, which is cheese and tomatoes and basil. Legend has it that in 1889, a baker by the name of Rafaelle Esposito made this type of pizza for Queen Marherita of Savoy, which she liked as it represented the colours of the Italain flag ! Although those were the most preferred, today there are  at least 33 different types of Pizza, ranging from New York style to Californian, to Sicilian to Turkish, to Greek to Mexican to thick to thin and everything in between.IMG_0150

My ex Mexicans have their favourites, Tess with pepperoni or saucisson, and not too much cheese, Alfie with ham and not peperoni and Sam, took what he could get. Me ?I love it with mushrooms, himself spicy hot. In France  to be found almost on every mountain street corner, a Pizza Hut, not as we know it in the city but a real wooden hut, where madame churns out made to order pizzas on a nightly basis. Stop on by and she will give you a glass of Vin rouge whilst you wait. On the other hand ( and I am not really a pizza fan) the best I have ever had was in New York, last January on our girls weekend.IMG_0149

Road Trip USA style!(Phoenix to the Grand Canyon)

We have spent the last two weeks cruising The Southwest USA. We started out in Phoenix and have ended up in San Francisco, with a couple of enforced detours along the way.

Road trip? Yes we did them when we lived in Texas, but this seems different. One trip, for the sheer hell of it was to drive from Houston Texas to Copper Mountain , Colorado. After 12 hours of driving we were still in Texas ! Our return route took us due east with the disappearing Rockies in the rear view mirror! The only things we saw were, a grain silo, a Sears catalogue store, a Dairy Queen and the odd isolated farm house or trailer. Another trip we did, I say we, I mean the Moms did, whilst the Dads flew, was to drive from Houston to Orlando, two Moms and five kids !

The one thing I had forgotten about the USA is that it is possible to eat 24 hours a day, even on a road trip like ours, but it is food like going to a gas station, fill up and move on! There is a plethora of eateries, even in the most obscure locations. Denny’s, ( most are open 24 hours, ) Macdonalds, Jack in the Box, IHOP, ( International House of Pancakes) Taco Bell, Long John Silvers, Dunkin Doughnuts, Popeyes, Pizza Hut and of course always a Starbucks ( I dislike Starbucks, but the USA have never fallen out of love with them), KFC, Subway, Sonic ( drive through burgers, eat them in your car !) Wendy’s, Luby’s ( where the old people stand in line at 4pm to get a cheap dinner) Dominos Pizza, Hooters ( where the waitresses all have to wear Hot Pants)Super Duper Burgers, Arby’s, Burger King, Dairy Queen ( where Anna Nicole Smith once worked, before she was a blond, before she was a model, before she married J Howard Marshal a billionaire,) or one of my favourites, ( by name that is ) is Freddy’s Frozen custard and burgers! What is that about?In fact there are over 250 national fast food outlets, so almost one on every street corner.

In Sedona, and you have to go, if ever you are in Arizona, a beautiful area surrounded by the nostalgic amazing red rocks. Very much native American country, many ancient historical ancient artefacts and wall art, you only have to look!

Dining out was a bit more of a challenge and ended up in a Mexican ( well, Mexican by USA standards) and as we went there twice, obviously it was not that bad! We did find an independent eatery for breakfast and I actually had my favourite, avocado on toast with an egg! This was a one off as two weeks on the treat has not been repeated! Himself? Chilaquiles, again, but said they were good! Not like our hotel, which was fine, spacious clean and comfortable, but dining, a small not very clean dining area, which doubled up as a restaurant at night. Breakfast was included, so all the world and his wife, descended upon it as if it were the last supper! This we avoided ( hence the double up on the Mexican! )

From Sedona, we travelled north to the Grand Canyon , which is 83 miles north of Flagstaff ( Route 66, from Flagstaff Arizona, don’t forget Winona). We had reservations at El Tovare, the place to stay in the National Park. It was built in 1905 and is grand in style. There are three lodges run by the same company, but I think they need someone to give them a kick, Blue Angel, had a no reservation Restaurant, Thunder lodge had apparently been recently renovated and El Tovare, had a rather cavernous Restaurant.

Our room in El Tovare was small, with a quaint old fashioned bathroom, WITHOUT heating ! Not even a heated towel rail! Consequently, we had to leave the bathroom door open to get it just a tiny bit warmer than freezing ( it was -16C outside,and no double glazing!) but this resulted in the Hot Air Heating system blasting very noisily all night long!

This was our third visit to the Grand Canyon, the first over 30 years ago, more recently about 20 years ago, when my son and I dared to take a small plane over the canyon and now, I quiet fancied the mule ride down into the canyon, having seen how sure footed they can be, after my trekking in the Himalayas, where donkeys trek up and down carrying everything, including the kitchen sink, a washing machine and refrigerator or two ! Himself declared, that there was a weight limit for the mules, and he was over it! We were saved from making any kind of decision ourselves, by heavy snowfall!

But back to the El Tovare, the Restaurant , large, for the most part gloomy unless one was lucky enough to sit in the windowed smaller room.

Usually in most American restaurants. One is greeted with “Hi! I’m John, Sara, Jane! And I’ll be your server tonight! Etc, this is mostly because, the wait staff depend heavily on tips, not sure if this is the case in El Tovare, because their lack of enthusiasm would not warrant too much of a tip. The restaurant was overseen by The Dragon Lady, reminiscent of such ladies from the Soviet era! ” Your reservation is for 9 ( but read behind this, it really means, I gave you a reservation for 9 and even though there are plenty of empty tables, for your audacity to come 15 minutes early, I will not seat you until 9 and on the gloomy part!)

So for that we had a very mediocre dinner, I chose the Salmon ( and here you have to think me Stupid! We are miles from Salmon producers). It was edible but everything I hate, smothered with this and smothered with that! Don’t take the Salmon ! Himself? Well he took the Australian Lamb! Equally a bit daft, a bit over cooked and not a lot more to say about it.

After a very noisy night with the heating system, a very chilly visit to the bathroom, Breakfast ! Or maybe not! A days calorie intake was available in all that was on the menu, completely mind blowing, but what was and still is even more amazing, is the amount of food that is not eaten, but then stuffed into a styrofoam box, and taken away, whole families, walking out, each clinging onto their box! What were they going to do with it? Congealed poached eggs, cold soggy pancakes! It blows my mind!

Himself took the Quesadillas, which should be made with flour tortillas, but Grand Canyon version was with corn, thick flabby and guess what covered with a Day Glo sauce! Ah well. At times he will eat anything! Me? I had a protein bar!

Moving swiftly along we took the tour around the rim of the Grand Canyon, along with 3 other intrepid souls, braving the elements and it was well worth it! Our moustachioed guide/ driver has once been a ?? In Houston Texas which gave another twist to his tales.

But let us move more swiftly onto Dinner and another Breakfast. For dinner and for breakfast we were allowed into the smaller nicer dining area, already a plus. Our waiter marginally happier than the ancient John of the previous evening. For the first time in our lives we Split a starter and a main course! Perfectly acceptable in the USA but we had never done it before! A salad big enough for 4, followed by a reasonable Weiner Schnitzel, perfectly, fine adequate. Breakfast? Ah, ah there was oatmeal on the menu ( porridge to you and me) probably the most expensive porridge ever served at $9.95, but it was oatmeal with berries. To give them their due, it was freshly made, I assume that as it took at least 15 minutes to come, longer than the fried eggs, or the pancakes, but when finally it did arrive, I said to the poor waitress, ” Berries? This is a joke” 15 of them and Just blueberries ( which by the way are very good for you, full of antioxidants) , she was a bit taken a back, but did go and bring a small bowl of blueberries for me! Another choice could have been the pastries? Maybe not !

End of this section, am I a bit negative? Maybe about the hotel or lodge as it is called in the Grand Canyon, but not about the Grand Canyon itself. It is awe inspiring and massive, 270 miles long, up to 2 miles and a mile deep, going from Lake Powell in the East To Lake Mead in the West. Imagine the first woman to navigate down this raging river, in her long skirt, it is almost mind blowing.