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Letter 5 (page 3)

Trip to California

We took a trip to California over Christmas-New Year as there is lots to see and Lan has "friends and relations" (do you remember Rabbit from Winnie the Pooh?) there. It is 1600 km from here to Los Angeles and I was surprised how easily we made it in two days. Interstate-70 through Utah is quite lonely (although some of the scenery is spectacular) and there is one section where it is 106 miles between petrol stations!

The speed limit on the main highways is 65 mph (105km/h), up from 55 mph (90 km/h) some years ago when Americans worried about fuel usage and Arab oil boycotts. The Federal government has recently allowed the states to set their own limits and some, including Colorado, are likely to raise it to 75 mph (120 km/h). In fact, wild-west-Montana, now has no daytime speed limit at all. As a spokesman for the Montana State Dept of Transportation put it, "The basic rule is drive at a 'reasonable and prudent' speed; our roads aren't designed for much past 100 mph anyway"(!)

On a long trip you often eat and drink in the car. It seems that the number of cup holders in a car is a big selling point among Americans. Perhaps its because their cars already have everything else they need and they need something to judge the good and the bad apart. Lan has now caught on and deemed our car sub-standard as she claims it has none. I don't believe that’s true. If I'm driving by myself, there is one (the hand not on the wheel) and if she is in the car, there are three of them for just two people.

In Nevada I was confused when I pulled into a gas (petrol - it’s a liquid) station and a sign at the pump said "Pay first". How could I pay when I did not know how much it was going to cost? I went inside and I was told that I had to guess how much I needed. If I didn't need that much, I could come inside and get change. There is no problem if you pay by credit card as you can "pay at the pump". I told the attendant that she should tell her manager that I thought it was a stupid system and she said you can't trust anyone anymore so they have to.

LA can be a frightening place, even in a moving car. In fact, especially in a moving car! I remember being on a crowded 65mph urban freeway with some drivers wanting to do 75 mph and it was 7 lanes wide in our direction. I wondered what would happen if I broke down in one of the center lanes. There is no way they could get back to the outside breakdown lane and no way of walking out to get help.

We saw the old cruise liner the Queen Mary which is permanently docked at Long Beach. The vessel was impressive. Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose (a wooden seaplane bigger than a 747) is under the dome adjacent to the ship but it is no longer open for viewing and in any case we ran out of time

We went to Universal Studios (see evidence) because everyone says it is so good. However, after we had paid $6 for parking, we discovered that it costs $33 to get in! Each! $72 (Aus$100) for 2 seemed like a rip-off so we elected to cut our losses and go elsewhere. Lan had been before anyway and I wasn't particularly interested. Children 12 or under cost a parent $25 each, so a family of four has to spend $122 just to get in and then they are a captive market at all the expensive food outlets.

Hollywood is nearby so we searched for the stars in the pavement (Lan has found James Dean). I was surprised how tacky and run-down Hollywood Blvd is. There were so many stars that they were devalued I thought. Even Ronald Reagan had one (and Lassie).

From there we took a drive along Sunset Blvd and Rodeo Drive and up the hill to see where the stars supposedly live. Some of the houses did have nice views of the city and the ocean. We drove on to Santa Monica (the beach) and touched the ocean. We had not seen the ocean since we arrived in America, so it was reassuring to find it was still there.

I had intended to drive along the famous coast road all the way to San Francisco but we were behind schedule so we took the freeway straight to Santa Barbara. As you may know, California was settled (or conquered depending on your point of view) by the Spanish. They built 21 missions up the coast, each a day’s horse ride apart. Mission Santa Barbara is supposed to be one of the biggest and best preserved (not damaged by earthquakes) and it was interesting to see because of its historical significance. In California, there is also Santa Anna, Santa Clara, Santa Maria but there is no Santa Claus.

The next day, we visited Solvang, a town that was settled by the Danish and the town has become a little piece of Europe. Nice.

Monteray has a world famous aquarium but I thought the one in Darling Harbour was worth more oohs and ahhhs. In Darling Harbour, you walk in a glass tunnel so the fish tank is all around and above you. To be fair though, Monteray has many tanks and therefore more variety. Also, rather than being a commercial venture, it is run as a non-profit institution like a museum. When we were there, they had an exhibit on poisonous things in the ocean and most of them came from Australia.

We missed the most spectacular section of the coastline but I did not realise until it was too late. We did see some giant redwoods. The tallest was 329 feet (100m)! We didn't see General Sherman, the really big one, (not as tall but much fatter) as it is in another park.

We stayed with a friend of Lan’s in Sacramento, the state capital. The next day it was overcast but not actually raining and we drove back to SF and parked on a really steep hill which scared Lan. Fortunately, it was nose-to-kerb so it was quite safe once you were in. We visited the cable car museum and took a ride into town and back through Chinatown.

We saw the Golden Gate Park which has a Japanese section which had some nice features like the bridge (see photo below) but it a) cost $2.50 to get in and b) was not as good as the one in Auburn.

From there we went to see the Golden Gate Bridge (see photo next page) before returning home. I thought the two bridges to Oakland were just as impressive but I couldn't stop thinking about earthquakes as we crossed. You may remember that a section of the Oakland bridge collapsed in the moderate quake they had a few years ago.

That was basically the end of the sightseeing trip. Then we drove home. No less than 6 people expressed concern that we would make it in a Hyundai.

Highway US50 is the most direct route to Denver and it is really lonely through Nevada and Utah. It seemed that we could go 20-30 minutes before seeing another car which we found unsettling. On New Years Day we had to drive 700 miles which we managed though the last 200 were difficult because it was snowing. My biggest fear though was that heavy snow would close the mountain pass at 11 000 ft on I-70 and we would have to take the long southern route home. Fortunately it was still open though trucks had to put chains on. (I have never heard of any requirement for cars to have chains, even in ski country.)

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