Blog

4
June

Timeless Texas

Fly Drive Holidays in USA

TEXAS

 

Explore the big, bold state of Texas which is “like a whole other country”. Friendly locals and
A diverse range of scenery makes this a destination with a difference. Glorious stretches of beach,
Exciting cities brimming with culture and nightlife, music venues, cowboys and rodeos make The Lone Star State an amazing part of the USA.

Hamster cottage travel gives you a taste of what’s on offer.


Beaches
There are more than 624 miles of coastline arching southward from the Louisiana border to the Mexican border near Brownsville. The warm water of the Gulf attracts visitors who want to swim, fish, sail, sunbathe, build sand castles, surf or just take a relaxing stroll on the beach.
Galveston Island offers 32 miles of beach and also is a treasure trove of things historically Texan. The historic downtown offers antique shops and live entertainment in old venues and, of course, is immortalised in song.  Corpus Christi Marina hosts a regatta from where colourful sailboats can be seen and from Harbour Bridge there are fantastic city views that reveal glistening waterways that sparkle at sunset.
For a truly out-of-this world experience, visit NASA Space centre in Houston and have some fun learning about the nation's space program.
San Antonio and the Alamo
The Paseo del Rio, better known as the River Walk, is fascinating. Beside the meandering San Antonio River, stone pathways connect shops, restaurants, hotels and museums with a blend of historic and modern architecture.  An ambient walk through these historic streets will encounter beautifully preserved 18th century Spanish colonial missions and museums. In the 18th century, the Spanish church established five Catholic missions along the San Antonio River, primarily to extend its dominion northward from Mexico, but also to convert the native population. What remains of the largest concentration of missions in North America provides an interesting look into Texas' history.
 
Rio Grande Valley
The Rio Grande Valley, on the southernmost tip of Texas, is a semi-tropical paradise that borders Mexico and includes the Gulf Coast shores. Palm trees and orchards of citrus trees line the roads. Luscious, locally grown citrus fruit and vegetables are readily available at roadside stands, including juicy red Valley grapefruits and sweet Texas Vidalia onions. Big Bend National Park encompasses more than 800,000 acres in southwest Texas. For more than 1,000 miles, the Rio Grande forms the international boundary between Mexico and the United States; Big Bend National Park administers approximately one-quarter of that boundary. Big Bend is famous for its natural resources and spectacular geology. The park is home to more than 1,200 species of plants (including approximately 60 cacti species), 11 species of amphibians, 56 species of reptiles, 40 species of fish, 75 species of mammals, 450 species of birds, and about 3,600 species of  insects. The park boasts more types of birds, bats, and cacti than any other national park in the United States.
 
                                     Timeless Texas

If you’ve ever wanted to visit the Deep South and the American Southwest, but don’t have time to do both trips – go to Texas.  There, you’ll find both.  Even though it is often associated solely with the cowboys and red dust of Southwestern deserts, Texas is filled with diverse landscapes that resemble both the American South and the Southwest.  In fact, less than 10% of the land is desert.  Traveling from east to west, you’ll see terrain that ranges from Southern coastal swamps and piney woods similar to South Carolina, to rolling plains and rugged hills more like Arizona.  In the far Southwest, the desert and mountains are home to Big Bend National Park. 
Cultural diversity also reigns in Texas, which has been ruled by a multitude of different countries.  Spain was the first European country to claim it as a part of vast holdings in the Southwest.  Mexico controlled Texas when it wrenched independence from the Spanish.  France even had a short-lived colony here before Texas won its independence from Mexico and became an independent Republic.  In 1845, Texas was annexed to the United States as the 28th state, but by 1861 it had declared its secession to join the Confederate States of America.  And just when things were settling down, oil was discovered in the Lone Star State in 1901 and the rest, as they say, is history. 

Today, the state has more Fortune 500 companies than any other state, and its economy has diversified significantly.  A number of world-class museums have emerged and renowned cultural performances are regular events.  It will be especially fun to enjoy the food, music and festivals that come with the different cultures. Austin’s musical heritage is incredibly diverse, from blues, country and zydeco to classic and modern rock.  Texas celebrates its heritage in small towns and authentic historic districts that have been carefully restored.  And, like so many things in Texas, Big Bend National Park is one of a kind and larger than life.  Don’t miss it!    
Day One: Dallas
The motto of Dallas, “Live Large. Think Big!,” is quite fitting for a city that has had some of the most dramatic ups and downs anywhere in America  It is a young city, founded nearly 200 years after East Coast cities, and systematically laid out as a commercial venture.  What founder John Neely Bryan didn’t know when he wandered into the area in 1839 was that the largest oil deposit known on earth at the time was located about 100 miles from Dallas.  With the discovery of oil and the development of the oil drilling industry in central Texas, the first Neiman Marcus department store, the Dallas Opera
And Ballet and other world-renown attractions sprung up in this urban centre. Today, Dallas has the largest urban cultural district in the world, comprising the Dallas Museum of Art, the Crow Collection of Asian Art, Nasher Sculpture Centre, the Meyerson Symphony Centre, Annette Strauss Artist Square, among many others.  The museum district features nearly a dozen world-class facilities. A convenient light rail system runs between downtown Dallas and the museum district, as well as between Dallas and neighbouring Fort Worth.
Accommodations: Omni Dallas

Day Two: Dallas
You also can visit old Dallas in Old City Park.  And, if you’re a fan of the famous television show Dallas, there’s Southfork Ranch.  One of the most visited locations is the Sixth Floor Museum, the book depository from which Lee Harvey Oswald made more infamous history. 
While in Dallas, we highly recommend you take the time to visit Fort Worth, an easy journey from downtown on the light rail. As the city’s motto boasts, Fort Worth offers an incredible diversity of attractions, “From Cowboys to Culture.”  Relive history at the famous Fort Worth Stockyards, take in a race at the Texas Motor Speedway, or visit the Fort Worth Zoo.  Take in the world-class museums in the city’s Cultural District, or take advantage of a multitude of fabulous shopping opportunities.  No matter what you decide to do, you’ll be glad you did!
Accommodations: Omni Dallas

Day Three: Houston and Galveston
On your way between Dallas and Houston, a drive through Tyler introduces you to the Old South, Texas style.  Dewberry Plantation, Roseland Plantation and the Goodman Museum all display the grand finery of the bygone era of hoopskirts and luxurious hospitality.  By contrast, the exceptional Cherokee Trace Drive in Safari Park takes you through 300 acres of lush, piney East Texas forest populated by hundreds of exotic animals thriving in open habitats.  Perhaps most intriguing is the Tyler Rose Museum, which illustrates that Texas is more than oil wells and cacti! Smith County produces one-fifth of all commercial rose bushes in the US, giving the city of Tyler the moniker “Rose Capital of the Nation.” The Texas Rose Festival takes place here each autumn.
Once you reach Houston, you’ll quickly recognize that this city is also “larger than life.”  Even though Dallas is usually equated with the oil industry, oil was discovered in Beaumont, near Houston, in 1901. The oil boom and bust transformed Houston from a cotton exporter and railroad depot to a sophisticated, sprawling city that now ranks as the country’s fourth largest metropolitan area. 

Two of the top 10 attractions in Houston are the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences and the Menil Collection.  They say if it’s in natural history, it’s likely represented at the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences. The Menil Collection, housed in specifically commissioned steel and cypress building, is one of the greatest private art collections in the US, featuring modern, tribal, ethnic, and surreal art, along with antiques, a Rothko Chapel, and a Byzantine Museum. 
Accommodations: Omni Houston
Day Four: Houston and Galveston
If neither of these strikes your fancy, there are hundreds of other things to see and do. If your interest is history, the San Jacinto Battleground State Park is the very place where Texas gained its independence from Mexico in 1836, when General Sam Houston finally defeated General Santa Ana (and we all thought it was at the Alamo!).

You can get up close and personal with NASA at the Johnson Space Centre/Space Centre Houston, the actual home of most US astronauts.  Regular tram tours take you through a good deal of the working facility to observe payload bays, track live updates on current flights, touch space rocks and marvel at a full scale model of the space shuttle.  Relax after your visit on the Kemah Boardwalk right on Galveston Bay.  You can also visit Galveston Island off the coast.  The pyramids of magnificent Moody Gardens rise up on the western side of the island. Moody Mansion, completed in 1895, is the epitome of south Texas Victorian architecture and it, along with the nearby 1893 Bishop’s Palace, are two of a handful of historic structures that survived Galveston’s devastating 1900 hurricane. 
Accommodations: Omni Houston

Day Five: Corpus Christi 
Corpus Christi is situated on Corpus Christi Bay on the South Texas coast, and forms a protective gateway to Padre Island National Seashore.  The island’s 70 miles of white sandy beach makes it the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world. From Corpus Christi, you can take to the water yourself for fishing, jet skiing, kayaking, windsurfing or sailing.  Inland, attractions abound that explore coastal marine life, naval history, and South Texas ranching.  Not to be missed are the Texas State Aquarium, the Battleship Lexington, King Ranch and the National Museum of History and Science. 
Accommodations: George Blucher House Bed and Breakfast

Day Six: San Antonio
Founded in 1691, San Antonio (St. Anthony) is an old Spanish city.  By 1724 the fort and mission were moved to their current location.  In 1731, 16 families from the Canary Islands arrived to establish the first civil government in Texas.  After thriving as a Mexican capitol, the Battle of the Alamo took place in 1836.  After the Civil War, San Antonio prospered as the center of cattle culture.  Frederick Law Olmstead, the designer of New York City’s Central Park once described San Antonio as having a "jumble of races, costumes, languages, and buildings," which gave it a quality that only New Orleans could rival with "odd and antiquated foreignness."  By 1877, the first railroad arrived and San Antonio was no longer on the frontier.  It had begun to enter the mainstream of American society, where is solidly resides today.
Accommodations: Omni La Mansion Del Rio

Day Seven: San Antonio

Although the Alamo remains at the top of the list of San Antonio attractions, Riverwalk, the delightful public park lined with restaurants, clubs, hotels, galleries and museums that ambles along the riverfront below street level, ranks close behind.  You can spend countless hours strolling and dining amidst lush foliage in this tranquil environment, popping up now and again to explore different parts of the city. 
Missions San Jose, San Juan, Espada and Concepcion have all been preserved as landmarks and are open to the public as a part of San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.  Theme park lovers can play at SeaWorld San Antonio and Fiesta Texas, which boasts the only “floorless” roller coaster in the southwest.   You can also visit HemisFair Urban Park, Tower of the Americas and the San Antonio Zoo.  History lovers will enjoy the University Of Texas Institute Of Texan Cultures, and the King William Historic District. 
Accommodations: Omni La Mansion Del Rio
Day Eight: Big Bend National Park 
Locals say the mountain landscape at Big Bend National Park is as “big as a ten gallon hat.”  Named for the great curve of the Rio Grande River that rounds south Texas, the Big Bend area has changed little since the Spanish and Apache warriors quarreled over the land in the 19th century.  Gigantic boulders thrust skyward in the Chisos Mountains, the only mountain range in the US that is wholly contained within a National Park.    
Day Nine: Big Bend National Park
Big Bend Ranch State Park, the largest State Park in Texas, sits right next to Big Bend.  There’s over 300,000 acres of Chihuahuan Desert wilderness preserved as rugged, remote and unspoiled landscape.  The Park encompasses two mountain ranges with ancient extinct volcanoes, precipitous canyons and waterfalls.  Exploring here can be a true Western experience.  There are more than 60 miles of riding trails.  Guided tours are available in all parts of the Park offering equestrian tours, river rafting, mountain bike tours, campouts, nature and birding hikes and photography classes.  Raft trips on the Rio Grande River descend into Colorado Canyon. 
Accommodations: Sauceda Ranch House

Day Ten: Big Bend National Park
Also off the beaten path out here are cool places like Marfa, where Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean filmed the epic movie Giant in the El Paisano Hotel, and mysterious strange glowing “ghost lights” show up in the sky.  The 74-mile Davis Mountain Scenic Loop gives you a birds-eye view of the wide open, rugged country where water and a lot of gumption are needed to survive.  The half-day, 31-mile Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive takes in some of Big Bend’s most striking scenery.  Both are part of a truly unique Texas journey.     
Accommodations: Sanuceda Ranch House
Day Eleven: Texas Hill Country  
In amazing contrast Big Bend, the crystal streams lined with beautiful cypress trees, and acres of Texas bluebonnets that rise out of the dusty desert in Texas Hill Country seem like a mirage.  Add to the beauty the fact that visitors are always greeted with a friendly “howdy” and you’ll know you’ve reached Hill Country.   
Accommodations: Magnolia House Bed and Breakfast

Day Twelve: Texas Hill Country
The 25 counties that make up this semi-arid region look more like Tuscany or Provence than the Lone Star State. The German town of Fredericksburg and the elusive Chanas Indians were once kings of the Hills.  Rock walls and stone buildings, rivers, peaches, and towns with unusual names give way to winding roads, winding rivers, wildflowers, forts and ghost towns. There’s always an awareness that West Texas is just over the horizon, and that the apparition could disappear just as quickly as it appeared. Nearly five million visitors come here every year and no wonder.  Great history, great culture and great food, all surrounded with marvelous scenic beauty makes for a wonderful combination. 
Accommodations: Magnolia House Bed and Breakfast
Day Thirteen: Austin
Have you ever been to a city where the top 10 things to do include watching thousands of bats take to the night sky, admiring countless species of wildflowers, visiting the state capitol and a Presidential library, and relaxing by a constantly flowing spring?  Oh, and choosing from more than 200 live music venues every night? Welcome to Austin, the most unique of Texas cities.  Legends run big in Texas and Austin is no exception.  The seat of Texas government since the days of the Alamo, the state capitol building stands higher than the US Capitol.  It is surrounded by no less than nine historic districts.
Accommodations: Omni Austin

Day Fourteen: Austin
At the Lyndon Johnson Presidential Library, you can experience life as it played out on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.  The wildflowers bloom at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Centre.  Barton Springs Pool flows at a constant 68 degrees.  And the bats?  They’re a nightly spectacle when more than 1.5 million depart from beneath the Congress Street Bridge at sunset. And, of course, there are hundreds of clubs in which to listen to live music of every genre every night, along with world-famous annual music festivals – the most famous of which is Austin City Limits, named for the recording studio of the same name.  Visit the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum to learn the myths, legends and facts about Austin’s musical heritage through one million items illustrating the state’s history.
Accommodations: Omni Austin

Day Fifteen: Dallas
Spend one more day savoring all you’ve seen and exploring Dallas for one more day before heading home. 
Accommodations: Omni Dallas

Day Sixteen: Depart

20
Mar

A Classic New England Fly Drive

The Complete States of New England
A Timeless Tailor Made Fly Drive Holiday to New England, USA



14 night price from £1328 pp

A round trip fly drive holiday from the gateway city of Boston. This New England flydrive holiday touches the distinct and diverse states that make New England so special.

From the Historic cobbled streets of the Back Bay area of Boston follow the coast into Maine dotted by lighthouses and pretty villages.   Stay in quaint inns that reflect the maritime history. Many were once home to sea farers and are listed on the national historic register.
Head inland to New Hampshire where you will pass sweeping farmland, white steepled churches and distinctive covered bridges that are quintesssentially New England. The White Mountains near the towns of North Conway and Jackson blaze in colour during "Fall" but year round they provide a wealth of activities from rail journeys to hiking. Stay in the village of Stowe, set at the base of Mt Mansfield with striking views and outdoor adventure for all the family.

The Berkshires are a stunning collection of villages where in summer you will find almost endless festivals, pretty scenic drives and charming B&Bs and Inns. As well as beautiful landscapes this part of New England is a treasure trove of museums and culture with a museum for just about everybody toddlers and adults alike. A highlight is the Hancock Shaker Village to learn about the way of life of these peaceful people.

Soak up the maritime history of Connecticut and stay in Mystic, home of the Museum of America and the sea, which depicts the history of seafaring. Experience early American charm and beauty at Olde Mistick Village. Linger in more than 60 quaint shoppes in a colonial New England style setting, which feature many unique items only found here. Sample delicious seafood freshly caught in the many restaurants. 

Continue a drive along the coast to Rhode Island staying in Newport, with its elegant summers homes, some of which can be seen as you drive Millionaires Row. Take one of the many whale watching trips to see these magnificent creatures migrating. 

Enroute to Cape Cod's Hyannis visit Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower  II, an expert replica of the ship that brought the pilgrims to the New World. Hyannis was the summer home of the Kennedy's and boasts spectacular sandy beaches, seafood and is where you will find a ferry to take you to the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.

27
Nov

Oregon Uncovered

A Classic Fly Drive from Seattle to San Francisco

cost from £1735 per person based on 2 travelling.

Cascades and Coasts

Land into the Emerald City of Seattle with its stunning waterfront which gazes over the crystal clear waters of Puget Sound. This is America’s last big city before you cross to the Canadian border into British Columbia. Sample coffee that the city is renowned for and stroll the streets paying a visit to Pikes Place Market where you will find glorious displays of fresh produce.

Collect a car and drive to the snow-capped peaks of Mt Rainier. Blanketed in wild flowers during spring the area provides picturesque hiking trails where clear blue skies, white tipped mountains and vivid green rolling hills make a breathtaking sight. Drive to the rugged coast staying in charming towns with their lighthouses perched on dramatic coastlines. Fresh seafood is on the menu in most restaurants where you can dine looking out as the sun sets on the craggy rocks. Inland you will find Oregon’s crown jewel Crater lake National Park with aquamarine waters fringed by thick green forests. For fans of the great outdoors Oregon has it all from great hiking and biking trails and plenty of outdoor adventure. Spend a couple of nights near Rogue River where there are plenty of activities. For the less energetic relax amongst the amazing scenery strolling through historic towns full of antique shops and art galleries. There are also plenty of vineyards nearby with excellent wines to sample.  

Cross the border into Northern California and see the gigantic redwoods before following the rugged coastline calling on Fort Bragg and the famous Skunk Train. Stay overnight at Point Reyes National Seashore home to windswept and unspoiled beaches and a haven for wildlife from whales to starfish. Finally return your rental vehicle in San Francisco and spend the final two nights exploring the iconic city on foot. Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Union Square and Fisherman’s Wharf are just a few of the famous attractions.

Seattle 2 nights,  Mt Rainier 2 nights,  Mt Hood 2 nights , Newport 1 night, Coos Bay 1 night,Crater lake National Park 3 nights, Grants Pass 2 nights, Eureka 2 nights, Fort Bragg 1 night, Point Reyes National Seashore 1 night, San Francisco 2 nights


 

14
Sept

October Staffordshire Life Travel Article

Beautiful B.C and Alberta

Western Canada is an example of Mother Nature’s finest pieces of work. A glittering display of glaciers and majestic mountain views greets you. Every hue of green is on display from the aquamarine lakes to the dense emerald forests. Meadows decorated with wildflowers and acres of vineyards wait to be explored. The Okanagan Valley provides an abundance of produce including fantastic wineries and a warm climate where beaches surround lakes and water sports are a popular pastime.

Vancouver is ranked as one of the most popular cities to live in the world and it’s not hard to understand why. A laid back lifestyle combined with a wealth of outdoor adventure this is a great city for families. Weekends see strolls around Granville Island with its market selling delicious fresh produce. Have a leisurely coffee watching the street performers followed by an afternoon kayaking around the beautiful harbour. You may catch sightings of huge starfish in the crystal clear waters and harbour seals frolicking. The green oasis of Stanley Park is well worth a visit and shop until you drop on Robson Street.

Vancouver Island is idyllic and a short ferry ride from Vancouver will take you to the charming city of Victoria located on the southern tip. With a resident pod of orca whales the waters provide excellent opportunities to see these remarkable creatures from zodiac boats up close. Many trips leave from the pretty harbour which is dominated by the Empress Hotel where afternoon tea is served in typical English tradition. Drive to Parksville where stunning beaches glow under amazing sunsets. The rugged west coast is a perfect to glimpse whales gliding through the pristine waters from the shoreline. Kayak trips may reward you with the glimpse of otters and bears fishing for the abundant salmon on land. Campbell River is the gateway to Knight Inlet where bears congregate to gorge on pink rivers bursting with migrating salmon. May brings mothers with cubs feasting on this fantastic phenomenon and throughout the year the sightings will make once in a lifetime memories. Vancouver coast is a serene landscape of lonely beaches and fabulous sunsets. Desolation Sound and Powell River have stunning lodges and retreats for relaxing and recreation.

Take the ferry through the waters of Puget Sound from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert which is rich with sightings of whales and the stunning coast. The VIA rail journey The Skeena departs from Prince Rupert which lasts two days with a stopover in Prince George. This journey takes in beautiful scenery and a wealth of wildlife sightings. Ending in Jasper you can spend some time relaxing amongst spectacular alpine scenery in one of the many lodges. For the more energetic there is a host of outdoor activities from hiking to mountain biking. The wildlife is incredible and sightings are plentiful

One of the most beautiful drives in the world is the Icefield Parkway. This highway will astound you with a series of views that will leave you speechless. Surrounded by glorious mountains that reach up to clear blue skies the road runs from Banff to Jasper. The Columbia Icefield lies beneath snow-capped mountains with its crowning glory the Athabasca Glacier. Take a tundra buggy ride to walk on this amazing natural wonder. 

As Canada is so stunning next month I will continue the experience from an arrival into Banff to continue the journey into the Kootenays and Waterton National Park bordering the USA. Glacial lakes and huge sparkling waterfalls beckon beneath huge wide open skies.

The way of life, the friendly people, the stunning landscapes and delicious cuisine make Canada a destination on most people’s wish list. You will not be disappointed. It is, in my opinion, heaven on earth.

Emma Wilkinson

3
Aug

Staffordshire Life September Travel Section

Route 66 September Staffordshire Life

Price from £1587 per person for 14 nights based on 2 sharing

If you are looking for the ultimate road trip this is it. Route 66 evokes a romantic nostalgia in everyone and is the definition of the USA’s love for the freedom of the open road. No other road trip has been so revered in literature, music and film. Iconic road signs, quirky monuments and neon lit kitsch shops and diners are some of the many fascinating highlights you will encounter en- route. The landscape is diverse and so is the culture from the sprawling cites of culture and industry to small sleepy cowboy towns this route showcases the very essence of America.

The old road exists only in some places due to wear and tear but even so to travel along the mystical highway is an experience like no other. As well as unique diners, antique shops and tacky memorabilia you will meet a myriad of characters straight from films that will tell tales of past travellers. The route is well trodden and has seen a whole host of interesting events. No better description of the arduous, original journey taken during the depression is better described than by John Steinbeck in the Grapes of Wrath.

A sign marking the start of Route 66 can be found on Michigan Ave, Chicago. The windy city is bursting with culture from museums to the stunning architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. Skyscrapers soar high above Lake Michigan as yachts glide lazily by. The lush scenery of Illinois is dotted with remote farms and peaceful villages including Springfield, the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln. The “Gateway To The West” St Louis is framed by the soaring steel gateway arch monument. Here the road passes over a great expanse of the Mississippi River. Visit the eerie underground world of the Meramec caverns and view the stunning Ozark Mountains that rise above. Passing through Kansas the route enters the land of vast plains and cowboys Oklahoma. The original boomtown is marred only by the bombings that occurred in ’95 and a beautiful memorial stands testament to the tragedy.

You now cross into Amarillo Texas where memorabilia is everywhere. Take the challenge at steakhouses that offer you a free meal if you finish the 72lb steak. No mean feat. This is where you will find the bizarre monument Cadillac Ranch which is ten brightly painted cars lined up with their noses in the sand. Texas’s sweeping plains give way to the mysterious Land of Enchantment, New Mexico. The colourful rocks glow in the beautifully lit landscapes in rich hues of red and brown. Visit historic Santa Fe with its old missions and Spanish and Mexican heritage. Charming Albuquerque Old Town is blessed with beautiful Spanish architecture, many quaint shops and a fantastic choice of restaurants.

The warm red vistas continue into Arizona with its fantastically named Painted Desert and Petrified National Forest. Arizona Is home to the jaw dropping wonder the Grand Canyon. This natural phenomenon is a staggering epic natural sculpture carved over time by the Colorado River.

Leave Route 66 momentarily to pay a visit to the manmade playground of Las Vegas. A gaudy glittering oasis of neon lights jam packed with casinos, huge themed hotels, upmarket shops and shows galore. Love it or loathe it Vegas does not like to be ignored.

Finally legendary Route 66 appears to be swallowed up by the vast metropolis of Los Angeles. Its ending is marked by a modest sign on Santa Monica Pier gazing out to the Pacific Ocean. You will have completed the greatest drive in USA, The Mother Road, the backbone of America, the amazing Route 66. 

Next month I will leave USA and head for Canada and the stunning national parks of Alberta and British Columbia.

12
July

California Dreaming Staffordshire Life August

California Dreaming


Cost from £1195 per person including flights, accommodation and car hire based on 2 sharing.


There is no describing the sheer exhilaration of driving down California’s stunning Highway 1 in a Mustang with the wind in your hair, the sun on your face and some fantastic tunes for company. Start your journey in stunning San Francisco with the iconic and gloriously copper coloured Golden Gate Bridge framing the beautiful bay. Choose to base yourself in bustling Union Square where you are close to the famous cable cars that glide effortlessly around the hilly streets to upmarket Nob Hill with fantastic vistas. An alternative is Fishermans Wharf, right on the bay which gazes out to infamous Alcatraz Island (the prison on the rock) which is a must for any visitor. For wine lovers and foodies a trip to the sweeping valleys of Napa and Sonoma is a must. Take a tour of the vineyards which offer up the most sumptuous fresh produce and delicious wines.
Collect your car from downtown San Francisco and descend Highway 1 which hugs the Pacific coast and its craggy cliffs dotted with friendly Californian towns and villages. You may wish to detour inland where your reward is the jaw dropping landscapes of Yosemite National Park. Truly breathtaking and a world away from tinsel town this natural beauty will bring a tear to your eye. Waterfalls plunge from soaring cliffs that often create the most vibrant rainbows. Yosemite will stay with you long after you have left it.
Enjoy a few nights watching the Californian sunsets from the pretty towns of Monterey and Carmel by the Sea. Stroll through the streets of Cannery Row – the setting for John Steinbeck’s novel and a poignant reminder of the humble roots that California has. A world famous Aquarium and an amazing choice of restaurants bursting with succulent seafood will make you wish to linger but your next leg of the drive is arguably the best.
The Big Sur or 17 mile drive as it is known is a superb drive. Not for the faint hearted the descent will navigate a series of hairpin bends and hills that follow a craggy coastline of cliffs and rocky outcrops. For your bravery expect sweeping seascapes of the Pacific Ocean and memories that will last a lifetime. Stop often to appreciate this road trip and do not forget your camera.
Break your journey in the Spanish influenced town of Santa Barbara. Red roofs and missions give way to the Santa Ynez Valley offering a landscape of grooved vineyards dotted with restaurants and wineries. This is the heart of the Californian Riviera and the southern Californian sunshine beats down on miles and miles of glorious sandy beaches.
L.A has sprawling suburbs and streets that feel strangely surreal and familiar. Families may plump for Anaheim where affordability and easy access to Disneyland and the gorgeous beaches of Orange County are perfect. Sophistication and the home of the modern day film star sums up Santa Monica. The iconic carousel adorns the pier that is home to a maze of restaurants and attractions from a trapeze school to an Aquarium. Visit Hollywood marked by its unmistakable sign located in the hills. To quote the closing lines from a famous film based here….”Welcome to Hollywood! What’s your dream?” This is Los Angeles, land of dreams for many. Early settlers flocked here from the East coast to look for the gold at the end of the rainbow.
Next month we will feature one of the most iconic road trips in the world that ends on Santa Monica pier with a modest sign marking the spot. The Mother Road - Route 66.

Emma Wilkinson

7
June

Staffordshire Life Column July 2012

NEW YORK CITY

I still remember my first dalliance with the USA and this passionate encounter started my love affair with North America. 

It was a girl’s weekend and there were six of us meeting up at Manchester airport for st Patricks day in the Big Apple in March 2000. The excitement was palpable and expectation was high. The hen had arranged a limousine transfer from the airport to our hotel with champagne on ice, a sex in the city style entrance to the one of the most energetic cities in the world. It all went to plan. Flight on time, bags not lost and transfers as booked. As we passed over the bridge it felt strangely like déjà vu as the icons of the USA were actually in front of us. The regal statue of liberty gazing serenely out to sea, a maternal guardian for the city that never sleeps and the we gazed at the skyline that only 18 months later would be dramatically and  painfully altered forever.

Midtown was the perfect base as location is everything in NYC. Times Square is a permanent neon lit metropolis with huge colourful electric billboards that change images frenetically. Our senses were bombarded by the smells of hot dog stands and incessant sounds of canary yellow cab’s horns and emergency service sirens racing frantically to their designations. Our pilgrimage to historical 5th Avenue and the familiar named department stores of Macy’s, Bloomingdales and Saks was rewarded with a succession of bargains and I would advise you to travel with plenty of room in your case as resisting temptation is futile.  

A melting pot of cultures and a racing vibrant energy that makes London look half asleep we explored the magic, slightly manic streets. Eccentricity is the norm here and it was no surprise to find myself chatting to a lady dressed as a hippy from the 70’s who was returning home from work with her pet rabbit on a lead. New York is cold in March, in fact it is freezing. Even the weather is extreme from bitterly cold winters to raging hot summers. A trip to the summit of the Empire States Building resulted in zero visibility due to the weather conditions so check beforehand before forking out. We just about made out the snowy silhouette of the skyline but the interior is just as impressive. The location to the films an Affair to Remember and Sleepless in Seattle it is easy to imagine this has been the rendezvous for many a romantic proposal. Central Park is an oasis amidst the high rise buildings and a retreat for the locals where recreation comes in the form of jogging, biking and simply taking a minutes peace from the hustle and bustle. Artists display their crafts which are available to buy and a relaxing way to see the whole park is by horse and carriage which in winter have cosy rugs to snuggle under.
 
We did go to the twin towers and we did ride the elevators to the windows of the world restaurant sipping long island ice tea. New York is a tough lady and my admiration for her puts it at the top of my most favourite destinations in the world. As the saying goes live in New York once but leave before it makes you hard. I say visit New York but leave before she captures your heart. Be warned, this seductive city is unforgettable. I fell head over heels.

When I returned to USA it was to the polar opposite of New York. The laid back sunny suburbs of Los Angeles beckoned as I excitedly checked in.


Emma Wilkinson