Holidays can be a challenge at the best of times. When you're a single parent with young children, the responsibility is enormous.
It can be hard work entertaining children; I learned years ago that happy children meant I was in with a chance of a holiday! But what do you do when the children are old enough to go on their own holidays? The prospect of travelling alone for some can be offputting... Talking to a recently divorced Wikivorce colleague (and friend) we discussed the idea of a road trip somewhere. I'd never been on a road trip (unless you count a jaunt to Cornwall many moons ago) and loved the idea. I had some reservations about driving thousands of miles but there were many places I wanted to see. I raised the idea of driving the Pacific Coast Highway, something I had always wanted to do, and it seemed to be a winner. Sharing the driving makes a big trip manageable.
Deciding to start from Los Angeles, I set about looking for flights from Manchester. I really don't like flying out of Heathrow although they offered the only non-stop flight available. Virgin Atlantic offered a great price, but only fly out of London and they don't offer multi-city options. Since our plan was to pick up a car in LA and leave it in Seattle, multi-city flights were the only possibility for me. Lufthansa wanted me to fly via Munich, KLM via Amsterdam, Air France via Paris... there seems to be something disorienting about flying east to go west! So, I booked with American Airlines via Chicago - at least I was moving in the right direction! There are many ways to do a road trip, if you're on a tight budget there are lots of car rental companies offering great deals. Equally, accommodation prices along the route are wide-ranging and there is something to suit every pocket. We decided to stay in some higher end hotels since it was something of a trip of a lifetime and we both wanted to get the most out of the experience. With that in mind, and also thinking about the many hours we would spend in the car, we rented a Ford Mustang convertible for the trip. Not exactly back-packing, I agree, but then I don't exactly travel lightly!
I remembered the last time I had travelled to Los Angeles, we filled in a visa waiver card on the plane, so I didn't worry about visas. A last minute conversation with my well-travelled daughter had me searching online for visa regulations... to my horror, I discovered that the rules had changed and there is now an ESTA programme in place. Travellers now have to apply online 72 hours before travelling. I had 3 days left... Suitcase packed, visa panic over, I arrived at Manchester airport and ready for my big adventure; the lovely lady let me by-pass the enormous queue because I had thought to print off my boarding pass before leaving home! (Definitely recommended!)
The flight to Chicago, O'Hare, is just over 8 hours which, after my 22 hr flight to Australia at Easter, didn't seem too bad. I just had time for a sandwich and a glass of wine at O'Hare when it was time to leave for LA - another 3+ hrs. Having left Manchester at a respectable 10am, it was rather refreshing to arrive in Los Angeles at 5pm - much easier flying west. The temperature was in the high 80s and, knowing what Manchester can be like in rush hour traffic, I expected the worst. So I was pleasantly surprised that the traffic was no worse than back home. We had a portable GPS system for the car (we dubbed her 'Sheila', don't ask....!) so found the hotel quite easily. Sheila was to become in invaluable resource on this trip. We stayed for the first 2 nights at Hollywood's Andaz Hotel on Sunset Boulevard. Famous for its rock ‘n roll parties hosted by celebrities like The Rolling Stones, The Who and Led Zepplin, it's now a very sophisticated boutique hotel. We didn't travel very far for dinner the first evening, we dined at Asia de Cuba right across the road on Sunset Boulevard; an interesting mix of foods and very delicious. Travelling a little further the next evening, dining at Geoffrey's in Malibu: a lovely little restaurant overlooking the ocean. Both restaurants are to be highly recommended. Whilst in Los Angeles, we did follow something of a tourist trail: Beverly Hills, Wilshire, Rodeo Drive, the star studded sidewalk, Capitol Records... but I'd have to say, it's not the most interesting aspect of LA. Much more to my taste was Venice. I'd expected something a little sleazy so was delighted to find it very clean and relaxing; a great place to hang out for coffee. We also walked around the canals: very pretty.
We spent a couple of hours in the Getty centre while we were there, it's an amazing study in architecture, from the geometric lines of its buildings to the tranquility of its lush gardens. Before leaving Los Angeles, we realised we hadn't seen the Hollywood sign in the hills, which was curious since you can, allegedly, see it from anywhere! We went looking for it and eventually glimpsed it up a side street. My first comment was 'It's much smaller than I expected!' which led to a conversation about how Hollywood presents itself on the silver screen - larger than life. It typifies Hollywood... the real town, without its presentation, is a somewhat different place... but much more interesting. It was a little sad to leave Los Angeles, an exciting place... such evocative names like Sunset Strip... Hollywood and Vine... Santa Monica... but we had a whole road trip to do; an adventure to be had. So we turned the car northward, found route 101 and headed off to Santa Barbara. San Francisco was beckoning, my favourite city, and beyond that... Napa Valley... where they make wine...! Armed with maps (seven to be exact) and the beloved 'Sheila', we took a last look at LA and moved on. I was quickly coming to realise that there is little room for sentiment on a road trip... you have to keep moving... To be continued.