Saturday, 27 July 2013

Washington DC

The next leg of the tour took us to the east coast and the nations capital of Washington DC. This was a whole different ball game from Vegas. This was all about the history. Washington DC is easily recognisable on TV so to see all of those famous monuments, museums and government buildings with my own eyes was something I will never forget. Our hotel was located near to Pennsylvania Avenue, so we were close enough to classify the Obama family as neighbours...............and it was their gaff that we headed to first!

The White House. Whilst the house itself was an amazing sight, I couldn't help but admire the lawn.
How good would that surface be for a kickaround!
Say 'Cheese'!
The Washington Monument. It's currently under repair following storm damage.
The U.S. National World War II Memorial. This is dedicated to Americans who served in the armed forces and as civilians during World War II
The Memorial engraving.
An inscription from General Dwight D Eisenhower.
The Memorial Fountain, with the Lincoln Memorial in the distance.
The Lincoln Memorial.
The Abraham Lincoln Memorial statue
Posing with Honest Abe!
Your turn honey!
The view of the reflecting pool and Washington Monument from the Lincoln Memorial.
The reflecting pool was definitely longer than it looks!
I couldn't help myself!
The Martin Luther King Jr Memorial.
The Jefferson Monument.
Thomas Jefferson.
The infamous Ford's Theatre.
The Theatre was located just yards from our hotel. For those not familiar with its history, this is the place Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth on 14th April 1865.
After the shooting, the dying president was taken across the street to Petersen House. After being in a coma for nine hours, he succumbed to his wounds on April 15th.
The next day the plan was to head east along Pennsylvania Avenue to Capitol Hill.
This was taken in Freedom Plaza, which was just a short walk from The White House.
The Old Post Office Pavilion, located on Pennsylvania Avenue.
The view of Capitol Hill from The Old Post Office bell tower.
F.B.I. Headquarters
Agent Kermoury-Bish
F.B.I.'s Most Wanted!!
The National Archives Building.
This houses the original copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. We got to see them but no pictures were allowed in there. Security was very tight everywhere!
Eventually we made it to Capitol Hill!
Aicha was happy to pose as well!
The United States Capitol building. Home to the U.S. Congress
When wanting a photograph together, it was always better to ask another couple and return the favour.
I found they took more care over it!!
Directly behind the Capitol Building was The Library of Congress.
This is the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States and is one of the two largest libraries in the world, by shelf space and number of books.
The decor inside was amazing too!
You were not allowed to take pictures in the reading room but I took this anyway.
Movie buffs will recognise this room from the film National Treasure: Book of Secrets, as it where the book in question is secretly located!
After dinner that evening, we decided to take stroll back to The White House and Lincoln Memorial to get a glimpse of them under the night sky...............

The White House from North side.
The Eisenhower Executive Office Building. This is located next to The White House and is occupied by the White House Office of Administration.
The White House from the South side.
The Lincoln Memorial................we weren't the only ones visiting!
Honest Abe was still there.................he hadn't moved all day!
This was the spot (on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial) where Martin Luther King gave his famous 'I have a dream' speech during his March on Washington in 1963.
The next day we headed back down Pennsylvania Avenue to The Newseum, which is an interactive museum of news and journalism. This place was amazing! If you ever end up in Washington DC I recommend that you go there. It was so interesting, I could have literally spent all day there! They had exhibits on the F.B.I, the JFK assassination, the fall of the Berlin Wall as well as other topics including news history, the September 11 attacks, the First Amendment, world press freedom and the history of the Internet, TV and radio. They even had an exhibit where you could do your own news report in front of blue screen. It was pretty cool!

The entrance to The Newseum
A piece of The Berlin Wall.
It said 'Do Not Touch!'......................I chose to ignore that!
The twisted remains of the broadcast tower from the fallen World Trade Center site.
The view of Capitol Hill from the roof terrace of The Newseum.
When we eventually left the Newseum, we headed to Arlington National Cemetery, which is located directly across the Potomac River from the Lincoln Memorial. It is a military cemetery where casualties of U.S. conflicts and deceased veterans are laid to rest. The cemetery is also the location of the instantly recognisable Iwo Jima Memorial and the famous eternal flame, which is found at the gravesite of the late President John F. Kennedy. It felt only right that we should pay our respects..............

The Iwo Jima Memorial.
I had seen pictures of this statue many times, both on TV and in books, but it is much bigger than you think.
The John F Kennedy Eternal Flame. Everyone who was there was absolutely silent.
The only noise was coming from the cameras. It did feel a little inappropriate taking photographs of a gravesite though.
We had also planned to visit The Pentagon that day, but by late afternoon we were both feeling tired so we decided to head back to the hotel. We were leaving for New York the following day so we did not want to be too worn out! We did however get to see The Pentagon from a distance on the way to the airport so I guess I can still tick that box!

All in all, I really enjoyed Washington DC, particularly the historical aspects. One of the surprising things about it was that it was really hot and humid there. We walked everywhere and at times the heat was unbearable. It wasn't always sunny though. There were times when it rained but believe me it felt like a blessing!

Having seen photos and images on TV of Washington DC, it looks as if The White House, The Lincoln Memorial, The Washington Monument and Capitol Hill are close together but this is definitely an optical illusion. They are much further apart than you might think. Just walking from the Lincoln Memorial to The Washington Monument took 15 minutes! As it was all flat, the walking from place to place did not affect us as much as it did in San Francisco but the heat definitely took it out of us!

Next up was New York. I wonder what surprises that would bring.............?

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Las Vegas baby yeah!

Las Vegas was everything I expected and more. We stayed at the MGM Grand, which is located at the very end of the strip. Once we arrived I couldn't wait to go out exploring. Of all the hotels we were to stay at during our trip, this was the cheapest and also the biggest! The lobby on its own was the size of a supermarket! It had around 10 outdoor pools, 2 spas, 3 theaters, 2 night clubs, 19 restaurants and more shops than I could count! It also had a convention center and was home to the MGM Grand Garden Arena, where many of the worlds biggest boxing matches have taken place. It also houses the largest casino in Las Vegas, which sounds great but it took some time to navigate around!

Later on we took a stroll down the strip to get a glimpse of some of the other hotels. Directly opposite the MGM Grand were the hotels New York, New York and Excalibur. They had to be seen to be believed! 'Over the top' didn't seem to cut it.............

Welcome to the MGM Grand!
The Golden Lion of the MGM
The Excalibur looked more like Disneyland!
New York, New York
The Las Vegas Strip
Posing on the strip!
The Cola Cola Store
Back at the hotel we retired to The Rainforest Cafe where I enjoyed a nice refreshing cocktail!
Before we went to bed I suggested that we hit the roulette tables................and given that we had to walk past them to get to our room it would have been rude not to! It turned out to be a good decision in the end as I went on to win $80 dollars! Lovely jubbly!!

The next day we had tickets to travel to the south rim of Grand Canyon in the neighbouring state of Arizona. We had the option of taking a helicopter ride or coach journey, but as I don't like flying, we opted for the coach instead. The coach obviously took a lot longer to get there (4 hours each way to be precise) but it was a lot cheaper...................and besides, if we had gone by helicopter, we wouldn't have had the pleasure of meeting our coach driver 'Frosty'. This guy was a legend! He was a jolly fat guy who looked a bit like Father Christmas and sounded exactly like Ned Flanders from 'The Simpsons'! 

On the way to the canyon we were lucky enough to drive past the Hoover dam. This trip was all about ticking boxes and I got to tick 2 in one day! Ever since I was at school I've always been fascinated by it. As a piece of engineering it is a masterclass even by today's standards............which considering this monster was built in the 1930's is saying something! But building this masterpiece did come at a cost. During it's 5 year construction, a total of 96 men lost there lives. Can you imagine if that happened today.................

The Hoover Dam
Welcome to The Grand Canyon!
My first impression was...................WOW!!
When you are standing on the rim looking out over the canyon, it doesn't look real.
It feels like you are staring at a massive painting!
The was a 4,000 ft drop on the other side of the guard rail...................I held on extra tight!
The ledge on the left here has no guard rail. There were always people walking up to the edge to get a closer look.
I have a word for those people........................dickheads!!
I'm not very good with heights so I felt uncomfortable by the edge................even with the guard rail!
We then traveled to another area of the rim where we got even better views of the canyon!
Check out my fake smile! This area did not have a guard rail, just a small brick wall which I was 'brave' enough to sit on.
I remember saying to Aicha...............'just hurry up and take the photo'!!!
Aicha's fake smile was better than mine!!
This is what was waiting for you on the other side of the wall!
Despite being terrified, it was one of the best experiences I've ever had!
Check out that view!
After a long drive back to Las Vegas, we went back to the room where I enjoyed a few cold beers in my pants!
The next day we hooked up with my friend (and former colleague) Matt Wilson at the hotel pool. He was in Vegas with his girlfriend Hannah and it just so happens that Matt had booked the same hotel at the exact same time we were staying was pure coincidence honest! After a few frozen cocktails poolside, Aicha and I headed back down the strip to check out what the other hotels had to offer..............

The Stratosphere..............the views from the top were amazing!
The Venetian Hotel
The Gondolas of The Venetian
The ceiling in The Venetian lobby was more like the Sistine Chapel!
The Mirage Hotel
Caesars Palace needs no introduction!
The fountains of Caesars
The Paris Hotel...............complete with its own Eiffel Tower!
The Siren Ship outside The Treasure Island Hotel.
Every evening there was a performance where a group of seductive sirens face off against rival pirates. The girls go on to win by sinking the other pirate ship.................for real!
The world famous fountains of The Bellagio
Caesars Palace at dusk
Once we got back to the hotel I decided to hit the casino again. Feeling lucky after my triumph on the first night, I decided to try my hand this time at blackjack. Maybe it was beginners luck but within 10 minutes I had won $80! I should have quit when I was ahead as then managed to lose the lot on roulette!

The next day we had tickets to see the magician David Copperfield. I am not often impressed or amazed but his show was unbelievable.............literally! I have never seen anything like it! There were things happening before my eyes that seemed impossible. At one point he made a car appear on stage out of thin air! After the show we met up again with Matt & Hannah in the casino. After another win on the roulette we then took a cab to the 'Fremont Street Experience', which is a pedestrianized street attraction in downtown Las Vegas. Fremont Street was main hotel and casino area of Las Vegas before business moved to the strip. Today it's most famous for its LED display canopy, which runs above the street. Every hour from 7pm the casino and street lights are switched off and everyone below is treated to an awesome light show! 

Vegas wouldn't be Vegas without Elvis!
The Fremont Street Experience
Viva Las Vegas!
The light show.............accompanied by Queen's 'We Will Rock You'!
More lights, more Queen!
The Famous Golden Nugget Casino, where Matt and I tried to learn how to play craps.
I still don't understand!
The next day we left for Washington and I was really sad to be leaving Las Vegas. We had the best time there and I didn't lose any money! In fact I left around $150 up! We did so much and there were so many highlights. We didn't get to do or see everything so it feels like we still have some unfinished business there. I've made a promise to myself that I will go back one day.................hopefully more than once!

The place is mental!!