Las Vegas to Los Angeles – End of the Road

Leaving Las Vegas we had a feeling that the previous two days had been kind of wasted. It’s not that Vegas is bad, it just doesn’t naturally form part of a Route 66 experience in our minds. It sits in a different type of holiday. We stopped for obligatory photos by the famous Las Vegas sign, fuelled up and obtained our ‘lunch-on-the-go’ from Whole Foods (http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/lvb). We bought four outstanding Whoopie Cream Pies here – so named because you can’t help saying ‘whoopie’ when you eat them.

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Vegas to LA is a long trek and mostly on the Interstate through the desert. The temperature got up to 89 degrees in the Mojave desert and we stopped to visit a former silver mind ghost town called Calico which has been turned into a tourist attraction. (http://cms.sbcounty.gov/parks/Parks/CalicoGhostTown.aspx) The power was out in Calico so they waived the $8 entry fee. It was hot, very hot for a ginger from the North of Scotland! Only one place to go…

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We didn’t waste too much time here as we knew LA would be a challenge to get to during daylight. Here is the last mile or so set to BB King’s Back in LA. Should be part of Hazard Perception Test.

Our first night in LA was a walk to Hollywood Boulevard and back. Not realising just how big LA is we took most of the evening to do it. Finding a decent place to eat was also a challenge but we got fed at Pollo Loco (http://www.elpolloloco.com/).

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Another fast-food Mexican place. Still too many beans on the plate but apparently Brad Pitt worked at one of these in LA (not the one we used). It certainly tasted ‘Brad Pitt’.

Breakfast next day was skipped as we had a Paramount Studio tour booked early.

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Look at the star I spotted there!

The tour was the ‘VIP’ version which mean’t we enjoyed access to the movie archive area (the highlight of the whole thing) and got a ‘posh’ lunch in the Executive Club where ‘we might bump into anyone’. We bumped into no-one at all even though our guide kept saying ‘omigod – did you see who that was?’ Unfortunately we knew none of the stars there that day.

Lunch was not great despite the alleged ‘poshness’ of the whole affair. The cafe next door had better grub and anyone who knows me knows that I know the difference between posh food and ‘small’ food. The soup starter was poorly made but tasty as was the pasta dish I chose.

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My good lady enjoyed the waiter’s description of her meal. He certainly made it sound a lot more than what it was. Burger and chips on a nice plate.

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I was amused as our guide clearly thought we had never eaten in a decent restaurant before and she suggested we ’embrace the moment’ and ‘choose something we wouldn’t normally eat’. With a choice of burger and chips, pasta and fish tacos that was going to be difficult. I felt like suggesting we choose to eat in the cafe.

Anyway, I am being unfair to the tour which was terrific overall. How could you not fail to be impressed by seeing such treasures as these?

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Forrest Gump’s running shoes and hat (still covered in mud). Me – impressed. Wife – impressed.

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Archive of every film made by Paramount. Me – impressed. Wife – impressed.

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Costume worn by Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls. Me – impressed. Wife – unimpressed.

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Lingerie worn by Pricilla Presley in Naked Gun – Smell of Fear. Me – impressed. Wife – disgusted.

You can’t please everyone.

After the tour we walked back up to Hollywood Boulevard to visit the Walk of Fame and to see the hand prints outside the Chinese theatre. This is good fun and we enjoyed measuring our own hands against those of our favourites.

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This is me with Mel Brooks who inspired the long train video posted in a previous blog entry.

I will not show you Will Smith’s feet. Needless to say my size tens don’t fill his prints!

Our evening meal was another mistake. We walked past some wonderful restaurants and landed in a burger joint called Jack in the Box (http://www.jackinthebox.com/)

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It was average. I think we were sick of burgers by this time (there was more to come though!). We ought to have tried harder.

Next day was our last day in LA and the last of our holiday. We got off to a flying start by skipping breakfast again and taking the Metro to Hollywood for the sightseeing bus tour. This was pretty good value to be honest as we got to cover the city in a few hours and had the sights pointed out to us. Better than trying to work it all out for ourselves when the most mundane of locations turn out to be significant in the history of film and music.

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Whisky a Go Go. (http://www.whiskyagogo.com/site/) where everyone who is anyone in the music industry played at one point.

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Building used in Die Hard as the Nakatomi Tower.

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Room at the Dunes Hotel where there no flippin’ internet access so it took me until today to write this blog.

There are hundreds of others and it makes a fairly dull looking city much more interesting.

There is a strong sense of the rich and poor divide in LA as you see beggars sleeping beside their carts on the street and then look up to see the vast mansions on the Hollywood Hills. It’s not something you can ignore.

As part of our tour we took in the Santa Monica Pier which marked the end of our Route 66 journey.

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We messed about on the beach for a while and walked up and down the pier ‘people watching’ and enjoying the sun.

Our lunch was a final burger, and a good one this time.

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The only way to get this burger is to go to Pier Burger at Santa Monica (http://www.pierburger.com/). They don’t do it anywhere else. We were glad we made the journey. It was terrific.

Our last action before leaving the pier was to obtain an entirely authentic and completely official certificate marking the completion of our journey. It was not in any way a tourist gimmick but a reward for the effort we had put in getting here. The fact that it was sold to us by a bloke in a stall on Santa Monica Pier did not in any way take the shine off it. It was signed and will take pride of place in our home (probably in a cupboard or drawer).

He also gave us an excellent recommendation for dinner in LA.

Cliftons (http://www.cliftonsla.com/) is a buffet style eatery and what you get on the plate does not look as good as it tastes.

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It looks god-awful in fact.

This was turkey, gravy (the white stuff), cranberry sauce, stuffing and mash. It tasted fantastic and was a much needed change from fast food. We were burgered out.

And so all that was left or our Route 66 adventure was the travelling home. Up at 5 a.m. to drive to the airport and endure the two flights home (one five hours and one six). With plenty to read and the films (on the international leg) this was not as much trouble as it would seem. I saw three good movies including the new Vacation movie which was fun to see after doing a similar journey.

We reflected on the trip and agreed that this was a great way to fill a two week holiday. We could have gone to one place and explored it in more depth, but we are the kind of people that enjoy quick fixes and get bored easily. Some of it was too quick, we needed more time in places like St Louis and less in places like Vegas. We enjoyed the driving though. The feeling of travelling through so much of America and seeing so much is worth it. The people were mostly wonderfully friendly and welcoming, in a genuine way. The driving is not difficult until you get into the cities and even then it is no worse than visiting a strange UK city. Overall I would recommend this trip to anyone who likes to explore, enjoys dipping into local culture and who loves big scenery and, more to the point, big food.

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Embarrassing Silence

Please bear with me for the final leg of the holiday. We have reached the end and have done all the eating and taken all the pictures to prove it. Unfortunately the Dunes Inn, Los Angeles provides internet access on an ad hoc basis and there is no way to upload pics.

The last update will be here by this weekend. Loads of great food and adventures to come including Paramount Studio tour, Santa Monica beach (hundreds of birds sunbathing) and some crazy driving into Downtown LA.

Williams, AZ to Las Vegas

The last few days have been a real challenge for eating due to the activities we have been taking part in. We did two different trips to the Grand Canyon making it seem a bit little silly for me to provide an update without giving the full picture.

Our first morning in Williams was early as we were due to board the Grand Canyon Railroad, a sixty odd mile journey through the local countryside where it was claimed we would enjoy views of the wildlife and forests of Arizona. It was an entertaining enough journey, but that had everything to do with a girl called Amber Rose, two musicians and a band of cowboys – and nothing to do with the countryside.

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Amber Rose was a local girl who’s job involves preventing us from realising that the long train journey to the Canyon is grim beyond belief. If she hadn’t kept us amused with jokes and other entertainments at suitable times we would have been wondering why we didn’t take the car. As it is I think perhaps the car might well have been a better option. Still we got ‘robbed’ of our tips on the way back and met some very nice people on the train.

Lunch was crisps and an ice cream!

There was no time for lunch – the South Rim of the Grand Canyon is completely breathtaking. I am not going to bore you with too many pictures, everyone knows what the Grand Canyon looks like. But these ones I loved.

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I also did a panorama to try and give some sense of the scale.

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You will probably have to come over to really understand.

Dinner was more dire than I care to describe. The hotel provided all meals but their chef had walked out so they were getting the janitor to rustle up whatever he had found left in the fridge. This evening he found some rice which he stir-fried with an instant chicken soup packet (I think). It was served with some god awful Chinese won ton type things from the supermarket that should only take a few seconds to cook but had clearly been left in the hotplate since lunchtime. We ate the lot – we were that hungry.

Next morning we started with a plate of oatmeal (underdone porridge) and coffee. Then it was off for ‘gas’ to start the journey to Vegas. We intended driving straight through for lunch on the Strip but decided to pay a visit to Hoover Dam on the way as the need to let off water became unbearable. As it would eventually transpire, this was a good decision and we got to see the dam close up – drove over it even!

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It is impressive but I reckon Laggan Dam is just as impressive to be honest. The fact that it has featured in so many films made it more interesting than the size of it.

Now into Vegas.

Here is our last few hundred yards as we come up to our hotel in Vegas, the Luxor which is shaped like a Pyramid. Some good views of other casinos on the strip as we turn left.

Lunch on the Strip was Shake Shack (it was easy). Two burgers, fries and drinks for $16 and it tasted great. No complaints.

Someone told me ‘Vegas is Vegas’ before I came here. You can’t really say much more about it. Judge it or don’t judge it – you won’t change anything about it.

We both agreed that we would have been in heaven thirty years ago. It was Halloween and there were thousands of revellers all dressed up to party in the City. it was hard work for an old fogey like me. It is what it is, I can only agree with the assessment.

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Due to our hunger we felt entitled to go large on the burger eating and tried a place called Fat Burger (http://www.fatburger.com/). It’s a burger of epic proportions although not particularly cheap (in Las Vegas anyway). At $35 for two burgers, one fries and two drinks it was twice the cost of Shake Shack and probably not as much as twice as good. It was great though. Big, soft burger, great flavours and giant chips. Not as good as Caleco as found in St Louis.

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We walked the strip feeling older and older by the moment and got to bed before the clock struck midnight (I think it was about half nine). We had a very early start for part two of our Grand Canyon adventure.

0330 am

‘Woooo Woooo Woooo ….. this is an early warning alarm. The cause is being investigated and we will update you as soon as possible. Wooooo Woooo Woooo’ …. repeat ad infinitum.

Out of bed we got to the echoing sound of the Luxor’s alarm. Some drunken idiot? Still don’t know but they will know how disgusted I was tomorrow morning at check out. For half an hour it went on and then the pre-recorded reassurance message kicked in. ‘The incident has been resolved. We apologise for the inconvenience’. And yet on and on it went, stopped for a bit and then went on and on until we got up for our trip.

Quite why we decided to overpay for breakfast at the Starbucks in the hotel given the inconvenience we had suffered I don’t know. Oh yes I do….there isn’t a cheaper alternative!

Anyway…. the helicopter tour from Papillon Tours (http://www.papillon.com/) is partly amazing and partly … well more amusing than anything. Our tour was the full bhuna – over the Canyon, land on the bottom, boat ride on the Colorado, up to the Skywalk, ride back home. Wow!

Amazing bits – seeing my wife’s face when she was told she is riding up front beside the pilot.

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If she chews that lip any harder she will draw blood.

Flying over the Canyon and landing on the bottom was fantastic. Also amazing was when we took off the second time and, again, guess who had to ride up front.

Amusing was the ride on the Colorado River. Five minutes fast upriver then meander back to the start with photo opportunity at front of boat.

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Also amusing was the Skywalk. This is a glass floored platform sticking out of the rock. You walk round and get all scared that you might fall… yawn. Not if you have been up the Sears Tower in Chicago you don’t. You can step close to the edge of certain death if you really need an adrenaline rush. No health and safety at Grand Canyon.

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Amazing is that the cost of the photo they took of us on the Skywalk was included in the price of our ticket. That’s never happened anywhere before ever.

Amusing was the Hoover Dam flyover which never happened because someone in a micro-light was in the way! Lucky we went the day before then.

So my advice for future travellers. Go the South Rim by car and check out the amazing views from there. If you must do a helicopter tour, do that but don’t be sucked into river rides or walking on thick glass as added extras.

Some views.

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You will note one particularly stunning view there. The pizza from http://www.800degreespizza.com/

You go in and they make your pizza in front of you. They pop it in the over and give you a claim ticket. A few minutes later it is all yours. $35 was not too bad with two drinks. It was brilliant pizza and great to watch them flip the dough.

That was our final proper meal in Vegas. Lunch was provided ‘amusingly’ by Papillon tours who believe humans can survive on a stick of beef jerky and a bag of nuts for that meal. Tomorrow we hit the road for our final leg – Los Angeles and the end of Route 66 at Santa Monica.

We really must try better with our meals. We’ll soon be back home and where will the good food be then?

Holbrook to Williams, AZ

If you have seen the Mel Brooks Movie Spaceballs you can skip this section, if you haven’t you should see the opening sequence of the movie before continuing. It is available at…

If you didn’t find that funny I can do nothing for you.

Now to the day’s events.

I slept great but my dear lady didn’t enjoy the motel lifestyle. Pity because we are in another one right now. It was a bit noisy late and first thing this morning. I can sleep on a rock so it made no difference to me.

Breakfast was underwhelming but free with the room so no complaints. A bowl of cereal can’t really go wrong. The rain was pouring down so we had to dig out our coats and pinch ourselves several times to remind ourselves that we were close to the Arizona desert. I guess we brought the Scottish weather with us because there were times on the road when you could have been on the road to the Western Isles. The landscape was similar, if you ignored the red colour of the earth, and the rising mountains even had snow on them as we moved further west.

We immediately went out into downtown Holbrook to see if the petrified wood lying all over the place could be obtained at much lower prices than the gift shop in the park. Too right it can.

The owner of this little place told us she watched the polishing being done, realised she could do it just as well and opened a few months ago undercutting everyone else in the place. I hope her business will last long enough for you to drop in because she is giving it away compared to others in town.

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No website or facebook page which is a shame because this must be the place to come. A genuine person working hard and charging realistic prices. She deserves to have social media likes. it’s called Petrified Wood Direct on Navajo Blvd, Holbrook. Looks like a shed from outside – google view here.

https://goo.gl/qou6dF

Our next stop was the Jackrabbit Trading Post and I finally got the picture I stole from the internet to start this blog off.

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The normally parched desert floor was thick with mud and my feet sank in a good few inches. The stuff was a nightmare to get off too. Lucky there were plenty puddles about. The car hire people will love me though.

The Jackrabbit trading post is another place where they sell petrified wood at much cheaper prices than the gift shop at the end of the national park. It has a lot of other gifts there but they are struggling due to Route 66 popularity being on the downturn. They are thinking of closing for the winter for the first time in 66 years! Seems a shame that this journey is talked about so often but is not often enough taken.

Now to the moment I prepared you for at the start. From the beginning of the trip we have been struck by how long the trains are. We passed this one on the left just after leaving Jackrabbit. The road is a bit rough so watch the bumps.

Next up was the huge hole in the ground near Winslow caused by a meteor about 38, 000 years ago. It was $18 each to get to see it! The hole in my pocket made me so disturbed I barely noticed the flippin’ thing!

I tried a panoramic picture to give you a better sense of the scale of it.

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It didn’t come out well but you get the idea.

It’s good to see this large hole, no doubt about that, but it ain’t $18 worth of good to see. There is a sneaky way round if you are willing to risk your transport in the dirt track. We weren’t and took the hit.

Into Flagstaff and their main shopping mall for lunch next up. We decided on Chinese for a change and were delighted with the offerings at the Flaming Wok.

http://www.flagstaffmall.com/Directory/Details/12905

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Hefty portions and free testers to help you decide what you want.  You pick rice or noodles and one, two or three entrees. We had two each and couldn’t finish it. $20 with a drink.

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It kind of spoiled our appetites for the rest of the day, and even after walking around Williams on arrival we could barely face the thought of dinner.

The shops in Williams are well worth a visit. The section on Route 66 has more gift shops than we have seen in one place yet and the prices are very good. You could easily do all your gift shopping here. We couldn’t resist buying a ‘slice of pie’ at the Pine Country Restaurant (http://pinecountryrestaurant.com) but kept it until we got back to the motel and had recovered a bit.

The motel provided a small dinner and we did partake of a small portion despite our lack of appetite. We were careful though and you can see why.

We have these to eat.

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One is Lemon Cheese, the other is Banana and Peanut Butter. What is left over is going to fill in that damn meteor crater.

Albuquerque to Holbrook, AZ

If yesterday fell short on the food front, today made up for it in spades. The scenery was also pretty exceptional.

Probably the poorest thing we ate today was at the Rio Grande Inn, Albuquerque – and it was very good.

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French toast with bacon and eggs, oatmeal (porridge to you and me) with syrup and toast. The coffee (as it has been since we arrived in the US) was excellent too. It all could have been warmer but that is nit-picking.

We headed into the Old Town, Albuquerque again this morning to catch up on gift buying and met a local Scottish lass in her 37th year as a resident of New Mexico. Her accent was as thick as ever it was but with a slight ‘elastic’ quality if that makes sense. Her ‘dinna ken’ was ‘dynna keyn’. Anyway she didna ken we were from Scotland and made the fatal American error of asking us if we were from England. Thank goodness her sweet shop was full of fascinating stuff for us to forgive her. Meeting her was good fun.

We had to make tracks again today as we had well over 200 miles to complete and our next stop was lunch at Gallup, NM. You can’t not stop at Gallup. It’s in the song for a start and, more to the point, it sounds like gallop (a thing horses do). It is also sounds a bit like scallop but virtually no other word at all. That makes it quite unique.

What also makes it quite unique is the fabulous Chili Factory (no website but see yelp.com for fairly accurate reviews). At first glance you think ‘chain restaurant’ and almost ignore it.

You must NEVER ignore the Chili Factory!

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Now we took a bit of a chance with this because I had almost vowed never to try Mexican again. I had made up my mind that I was an uncultured peasant who did not appreciate ‘mush’. But I think we wanted to give New Mexico a last chance before we headed into Arizona. It hadn’t lived up to its name so far and my expectations were pretty low.

It was brilliant.

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Don’t let the paper plates fool you. It was definitely set up like fast food (and it was fast), but it was fresh and tasted as I wanted it to. Full of flavour and fire. Chatting to the owner I learned about how she set the business up with her husband and had brought her own recipes to life in the small restaurant. We had to try dessert and were not disappointed.

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To the left the deep fried ice cream. To the right a portion of cinnamon coated Sopaipillas. Like light fluffy pillows, just air really (no calories I am certain). We added some of the ice cream with them to great effect.

Joyously happy we set off further down the road.

We only had one essential visit today (near our destination) but we were so struck by the scenery that we dropped off a few times for photos. This short video shows us approaching Lupton, AZ where there are a series of Native Navajo Trading Posts. The rock behind them was used for the film Grapes of Wrath in the 1940s.

It’s a pretty dramatic rock, with so many ledges and outcrops you can easily get carried away making up stories in your head about cowboys and Indians fighting over something or other.

Another stop along the way is the highest point on Route 66 where it is declared everything West flows to the Pacific and everything East to the Atlantic. It feels more significant somehow than the halfway point. Maybe it is the sense of it being ‘downhill from here’ or just that the guide book suddenly has fewer pages left to go than we have already read.

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The intended stop was the Petrified Forest near Holbrook and it was both a beautiful place and one full of mystery. It had a alien-like feel to it.

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The main event of the national park is a vast collection of ‘petrified tree trunks’ littered about the place. The trees were of a crystal like quality but still retaining their appearance as wood. Quite bizarre.

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Which of these looks the most petrified?

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Anyway, the cost of entry to the 28 mile route through the national park is $20 and you really believe it is probably worth it to preserve these amazing objects and to gain exclusive access to such a marvel of nature.

However once you get out of the park and head into Holbrook it turns out the damn things are everywhere!

Every second shop in Holbrook sells bits of these things polished and made into trinkets. The logs are used to mark the perimeter of car parks for heaven’s sake. They sell for hundreds of dollars in the gift shop at the end of the park but they line the streets of Holbrook for any Tom, Dick or Harry to snaffle. The lesson is – if you want to support the national park and see some incredible scenery, pay the $20. If you just want to see the petrified wood, go to Holbrook.

We parked up at our hotel and quickly found out it was a ‘motel’. Not the class of establishment we have enjoyed up to now and we can hear every word out neighbours are saying. Dinner was the best treat of the day – and quite possibly the week.

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The Mesa Italiana (yelp.com again if interested) is just a block from our motel and we were delighted to find it so close. Especially as it is so good.

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Salad and garlic bread with plenty water on the table before you even start eating. Juice top ups come free.

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The Salmon Alfredo with Penne was magic. No cheap creamy sauce here, this was made with full cream, garlic and went down an absolute treat.

Same feelings expressed for the Chicken Cannelloni

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The service was great too. We were offered more bread whenever it went down, topped up water and juice was quick too. We had a slice of cheesecake to finish.

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Forty two dollars the lot!

We tipped well – it was worth it. Finished off a great section of the trip. Wasn’t expecting much of this part but it turned out to be a real treat.

Oklahoma City to Albuquerque (via Amarillo)

If Oklahoma City favours Cowboys and gives a little sympathy to the plight of the Native Americans, by the time you get to Albuquerque the switch has been fully made. In the middle is Amarillo which seems to be a bit of both.

The trading posts (gift shops) move focus from big hats and various objects made out of old guns and dead creatures to shops full of native crafts. The people are massively welcoming wherever you are.

They are also a bit heavy on the old religion though…

They say the Bible Belt stretches from the East Coast along the Southern States into New Mexico (just) and that has been pretty evident. Crosses abound in the shops with various designs and ‘y’all have a nice day’ comments are just waiting for a ‘jesus loves y’all’ coming back.

I’m not that religious but if you take a look at what happened to us entering Albuquerque you will see why tonight I am kneeling for prayers before bedtime. (look out for the moment I see the light and the object on the hill-side to the right as we go under the bridge).

But getting back to Oklahoma and that trip to Amarillo (Me: ‘Is this the way?’ Wife: ‘Sweet Maria!’). We left the city early after a Walmart special and lost an hour calling for help after our cash card was rejected by the supermarket. Apparently Walmart don’t do cash cards. It was another long trek to Amarillo but we got some great stops in.

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The Route 66 National Museum is not well documented as a must-see but we reckoned it was terrific. It costs $10 but that gives you access to the Route 66 museum and three or four other small museums in Elk City. There are areas celebrating local heroes from rodeo, Miss America 1981! and a massive barn full of farming relics.

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If you need a seat there are plenty.

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The Route 66 museum is a bit theme park like but there are cars you can sit in an pretend you are at the drive-in.

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Just keep your hands to yourself!

We then ploughed on (ahem) the town of Erick where we ate our Walmart Rolls and took snaps of other old relics.

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It was a sad place really. This old gas station was totally abandoned and simply used as a tourist stop off.

Amarillo was our next stop and we took to the trail behind our hotel to run a 5k just to make us feel as if we were deserving of our dinner. We had plans for a Big Texan!

The receptionist looked slightly confused when we asked if there was anywhere we could walk about in town (this was before we decided on a run). The cities in this part of America are so widely spread about and devoid of side walks you really have to take the car everywhere. I suppose with so much space available it never made sense to Americans to build close to one another.

We were advised of a ‘trail’ behind the hotel and after being told to ‘be careful’ we decided running would be the best option. It was a dusty old trail alongside the highway and we did an out and back in a little too much heat than we are comfortable with. Still, it was about the food.

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I’m afraid the pictures of our dinner at http://bigtexan.com/ don’t show it in the best light. But then I don’t think the Big Texan performed at their best that night either. The waiter was a charming fellow but he really had no idea who had ordered what and we waited a long time to receive our order, not all that hot, and with added sides he obviously couldn’t find customers for. He just gave them to us to make up for the delay. Despite being a ‘warm’ meal it was both massive and delicious. My steak was 12oz Ribeye with mac-n-cheese and baked potato side. My good lady had a pile of fries covered in other food. It was about $50 with unlimited drinks. They do a free limo service to the hotel but we skipped that.

Amarillo doesn’t offer up much unless you drive a good bit. The Cadillac Ranch is a hoot though.

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Someone buried these into the mud and called it art.

Everyone who ever visited brought spray paint and made it art.

Poor me – I arrived with no spray paint.

A young lad who had more spray paint than any boy ought to have offered me some.

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I got my picture taken as part of a creative work I call ‘Young American Boy is My Hero’.

Amarillo was done. Bed beckoned and the road led next to Albuquerque.

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Oh yes! The wife had her hair done there.

In the morning we made home made waffles again (this time cinnamon) at the hotel.

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Our first stop was in a place called Tucumari where we gawped merrily at a huge variety of roadside signs (one of the best towns on the road for this) and had ‘his and hers’ ice cream at the Cornerstone Deli where we also obtained sandwiches for lunch later on.

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In Adrian we reached the mid point of our journey!

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And promptly hit the road for the New Mexico border trading post known as Russell’s Truck and Travel Center.  http://www.russellsttc.com/

Well none of our guide books told us about this place. Russell (whoever he is) has the most incredible collections of classic American cars anywhere – in mint condition. His museum is free.

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And if you think the bodywork on that looks amazing….

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He has other memorabilia dotted around the free museum and everything is as good as the day it was bought. He must have spent an age and a fortune putting it together. This place is petrol-head heaven.

Our sandwiches were eaten in the parking lot and they were pretty average in terms of taste. They looked the part.

As we headed into New Mexico the landscape started to change quite rapidly. Gone were the green pasture lands, corn fields and cattle ranches. We now had vast open plains of brown with bushes dotted throughout. The landscape started to rise and became rocky and rugged the closer we got.

What a welcome we got from the natives!

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Review video above for accompanying music.

On arrival we headed straight to the Old Town which is about a square mile of quaint little shops and restaurants full of crafts and tourist gifts. A Mexican and Native American influence makes it quite a fascinating place and the whole city reeks of Breaking Bad scenery. If you are a fan, it is great to see.

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This was dinner venue http://www.churchstreetcafe.com/

We were advised by a friendly local that this was true Mexican food.

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Now this place is charming, friendly and probably authentic. But it tasted pretty poor to me.

I expected fire, I expected flavour I couldn’t deny, I expected a difficult time in the toilet.

I got …. well mush if the only word I have for it. Apparently the chicken Burrito (left) was very nice but the mush surrounding it remained on the plate throughout. The Pork Tamale (right) was mush and about a quarter of it remained along with the other mush surrounding it.

It wasn’t even spicy mush.

As a quaint and traditional extra we were presented with two Sopapillas with honey at no extra charge. These are triangular doughnut thingys which are served after the meal. These were delicious.

At $40 for mush and two delicious Sopapillas, drinks of course, it was not quite what I hoped for. Maybe we chose badly, maybe I don’t understand authentic, maybe it was just bad.

Now there were some wonderful people we chatted to who knew a wealth about the local culture. Equally there was a lot of tat on sale at hugely over-inflated prices.

But I’m not so sure everything in the Old Town area of Albuquerque was totally genuine. The cacti didn’t even have any prickles.

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Oh well. Still having a great time and Arizona awaits tomorrow.

Springfield, MO to Oklahoma City

As suspected, there were going to be days when all we really did was drive long distance. If you really want to know what that is like on Route 66 have two minutes of our four and a half hours today. Enjoy and see you in two minutes – or ten seconds if you get bored.

Breakfast and lunch were again sourced from Walmart for eating on the road. I’ll not trouble you with the roll filled with pre-made salad but the Pecan pie is worth a look. All 500 calories of it.

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The most notable things about driving through Missouri and Oklahoma are the number of Pick-Ups on the Road and the number of RVs. Sometimes both at the same time!

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Yes, that was a tow. Take the RV on holiday, make sure you have the Pick-Up for day trips and, of course, you need a couple of off-road buggies for the kids. I wonder where they keep the boat.

I can confirm you can’t get them in your shopping basket.

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We arrived in Oklahoma City at around two thirty giving us just enough time to visit the National Cowboy and Western Museum (http://nationalcowboymuseum.org/)

This marvellous place (if you like the Western Genre) is full of art by artists focussing on the Western theme but also contains one of the best collections of Western Movie antiques and curiosities in the world. You can’t help but love being three feet away from Rooster Cogburn’s wardrobe (including hat and eye patch)!

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… and what about Gene Autry’s guitar?

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There’s no doubt the museum has some amazing paintings and art work by some extremely talented artists, but a man of fairly basic culture such as I really only cares about seeing things like the gun used to charge down Ned Pepper’s gang while the Duke held his reins between his teeth.

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Or getting his picture taken next to a raging bull at the rodeo.

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If you don’t believe that bull is real let me remind you of a previous blog entry when I tamed New York’s finest bovine.

https://alastairgarrow.wordpress.com/2013/09/24/a-big-load-of-bull/

I guess we should move to the food now….

Dinner was eaten at the Wedge (http://www.thewedgeokc.com/) – yelp.com reckoned it was the second best (but closest) pizza to be had in the city. It was indeed the second best to any pizza I’ve eaten.

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Trust me it looks a lot better than it tasted. In fact it didn’t really taste of anything other than garlic. To be fair the pizza dough was excellent but there was no sauce. Those tomato slices provided the tomato ingredient. It was sorely missing some Italian seasoning and, while it improved a little when I added some salt, you can’t really enhance a flavour that doesn’t exist to start with.

It was as if someone went to Italy and learned how to make perfect dough but missed the class when they taught how to make the sauce. Without the sauce it’s just cheese on toast!

$30 was decent value with two drinks and a salad but we came away with no lasting impression of the place. It’s a shame, it was quirky and the service was good. The wood-fired oven looked impressive. Once they learn to make sauce it will be amazing I am sure.

So we have entered the state of Oklahoma, our third state of the trip. Kansas slipped by us as we cheated on the interstate to make up time. Local accents have gained a certain Southern twang and the days have stretched half an hour. The weather is bright and warm.

The food is the only downturn in our fortunes and I am hopeful for vast improvements tomorrow. it’s another long one though. The road to Amarillo.

Will I sing it?

The hell I won’t.

St Louis to Springfield, MO

An important point about Route 66 – unless you have a month to do it and you do it in the summer months when the days are long, it takes some planning.

Having meandered along the route stopping off at everything for a while it becomes obvious that the day is passing very quickly and the road to the next stop is still several hours away. You have to choose what you really want to see and do and what can just be skipped.

For example do you really need to see a big chair?

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It’s totally brilliant. It just makes you smile for no good reason at all.

It has no meaning whatsoever other than to make you divert a little from your trip and lure you into a souvenir shop to waste money on daft Route 66 memorabilia. Which we did.

That is half the joy or course. What does it mean to travel Route 66 anyway? It’s a journey of discovery, but mainly to discover the many creative ways people have come up with to sell you fast food or badges you don’t really need. What kind of discovery is that?

But then today we came across something much more than just a gimmick. The Meramec Caverns http://www.americascave.com/ are situated near Stanton, Missouri and represent a genuine marvel of nature. The caves are 14 miles long and are filled with Stalactites and Stalagmites at various stages of development. Some are reckoned to be millions of years old, some a few hundred. The scale and beauty of the place is amazing.

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They have done some clever lighting in the caverns to jazz things up although I don’t think it really needed this. The other-worldliness of the place is just as obvious without it.

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They have also put together a story about Jesse James using the caves as a hideout and built in some nonsense such as this.

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The tour was an hour long for $21. It wasn’t grudged but knowing that the money goes into private hands (the landowner pockets it) is a bit of a sickener. It’s a place that should belong to the country if you ask me.

After being here we were pushed to get to Springfield, MO before dark and did in fact have to drive through the city in darkness (something I wanted to avoid if possible). It also mean’t that food had to be whatever was closest.

Hold on! I never mentioned breakfast or lunch. Oh yes! They didn’t happen.

Well that’s not quite true. We went to a food mart, bought some cereal and milk and a couple of apple pastries for breakfast. Then we had an enormous ice cream at the caverns for lunch. There just wasn’t enough time in the day.

Dinner was at Houlihans, an American chain restaurant which was the only thing in walking distance of our hotel. It turned out to be pretty good though. For me…

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The one above was a pathetic chicken wrap with half a packet of nachos thrown on the side. The one below was a rather delicious roast beef sandwich with gravy, creamed horseradish and green beans. I got lucky with the menu I guess. $30 – wouldn’t make a point of going here again unless similarly trapped at a hotel with this restaurant and only this restaurant nearby.

So the highlight of our day to this point was a smelly old cave that Jesse James may or may not have hid in (I’m being harsh – I did enjoy it… I would have loved it free though).

But then came the marvellous redneck paradise of Missouri – Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World.

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This place is the Disney World of hunting, fishing, shooting and other such blood-lustiness. The number of pick-ups in the car park gives a strong indication of the target customer. It’s packed with all manner of killing devices from guns to fly swatters and the ancillary equipment needed for bloodsports – tents, boats, waders, mountain-man clothing, moonshine, Marlboro cigarettes and souvenir T-shirts. Well perhaps not the t-shirts.

The shop can best be described as the one place a man will willingly go to shop and not stand at the door holding two bags and wishing his wife would decide which (insert terrible swearword) pair of (insert alternative and equally dreadful curse) shoes she wants. She’s the one who would want to leave first!

Tomorrow we have around 300 miles to cover to Oklahoma City so I expect we will struggle for food stops again. This is not a sad fact of the holiday, it’s the best part. Route 66 is about the journey, not the stop-offs. They are just there for rest and sustenance.

You’ll just have to bear with us.

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Springfield to St Louis

Springfield is the home of Abe Lincoln. It’s where he bought the only home he ever owned and where he is buried. It’s a quaint place, pretty quiet but spread over quite a large area.

We set out early with a focus on breakfast (given we skipped dinner last night). Word amongst those in the Route 66 know suggested either Jungle Jim’s or Cozy Dogs (https://www.facebook.com/Jungle-Jims-Cafe-155419487819360/ – http://www.cozydogdrivein.com/) – needless to say we eventually tried them both.

It was no easy path to breakfast though. The dilemma began with the fact that parking had cost us $7 for 24 hours and we had a good few hours of that left to use. If we removed the car to go to the distant suburbs where these restaurants were located we would incur a second charge. It should tell a tale about my love of food versus my meanness that we stayed hungry so that we could keep our car parked at the hotel while visiting Lincoln’s House. I’m not food daft you know.

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This is Abe’s writing desk which is one of few original pieces in the house. This is the spot where the man who finally abolished slavery from the United States sat. He was a reluctant president we were told and he lived four years into his presidency before he was shot. It was a pretty inspiring place and you get a real sense of how much the people of the US respect him.
GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAThey revere him so much they have rubbed his nose down to the metal on this sculpture located in front of his tomb.

Apparently it is good luck to rub his nose and, to be fair, we had a go just in case it’s true.

I pretended to be interested in the tour for about another half an hour before the hunger pangs really started to take hold.

The car was removed from the parking lot and off to Jungle Jim’s we went.

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My breakfast was medium rare ribeye steak with hash browns and eggs ‘over easy’ while my good lady had her usual French Toast with maple syrup and whipped butter. With tea (‘not iced! You mean you want it hot?’) it cost us $30 with a decent tip and a baseball cap souvenir. It was good value but the food was nothing compared with what we had at Lou Mitchell’s. Lucky for us we only had to wait a couple of hours before going to Cozy Dog for our next meal (come on, we had to catch up from last night!)

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Cozy Dog offers corn dogs on a stick. I loved them but I was alone on that one. The well cooked fries were great and the little cafe is really great fun.

There’s so much love in a corn dog!

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And they have so much respect for a woman’s opinion.

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The bill was under $20 but what we ordered was really only a top up. I could probably have had four corn dogs with a proper hunger.

The long road to St Louis lay ahead and we really only stopped for an ice cream on the way at a modern roadside gas station. It is curious to consider that they might be the future locations of nostalgia in the way that these Route 66 icons have become.

St Louis is famed for its Arch marking the way west. The city is considered the gateway west and it is from here that the road turns that way. We’ve now passed through the whole of Illinois and crossed the Mississippi (correct spelling) to Missouri.

The arch is difficult to describe because I think you just have to stand near it to get any sense of the sheer scale of it and just how incredible the engineer must have been to build it. It defies description. I captured the first moment we saw it here

This is us coming off the interstate into the city and seeing the arch as we approached our hotel.

There’s a car that takes you to the top where you can look across the city and South or back across the state of Illinois. The murky Mississippi (right again) sits just under it. You have to lean over a window to see out.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThis is the bottom of one of the legs. It’s colossal.

But if you think that is colossal!

Check out the burger from http://www.calecos.com/ in Downtown St Louis.

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This burger is a final confirmation that St Louis is very easy to miss the importance of. You wouldn’t really think of a holiday here for any other reason than it being a part of Route 66. But consider this burger a damn good reason to make the journey. I once declared that I made the best burger in New York after much frustration at finding one. It was hiding in St Louis!

The meat was perfect, soft like the bun and char-grilled. I put Provelone Cheese, bacon and onion as extra toppings. We had soft rolls and butter as a free starter and two drinks for $30.

It completes a wonderful section of this trip and hopefully hints at how great things get as we venture West towards the Pacific. We have two hundred miles to go tomorrow but I feel well fuelled.