It was our last trip on the Amtrak trains, and one we had been looking forward to, as we knew some of it hugged the dramatic coastline of the West Coast of America, The Pacific Ocean! We couldn’t believe that we had made it to the west coast, over 3000 miles from New York where we had started, and over 5000 miles away from London!
It was a long journey lasting over 11 hours, but we spent some time in the observation lounge watching the ever changing coastline- we even saw a school of dolphins swimming just off the shore.
Lunch and Dinner was taken on the train, and we disembarked around 21:30 at Oaklands, just outside of San Fransisco.
We were up early the next day as we were off on a guided coach tour of San Fransisco, which was fabulous, it took in all the sights, including the famous Lombard Street (a very steep and windy picturesque road), The Palace of Arts, The Golden Gate Bridge and even a fine view of the city from Twin Peaks. Our guide was really knowledgable and we thoroughly enjoyed the morning. We were dropped off at Fishermans Wharf, a lively area by the sea at lunch time, and along with our friends, Steve and Arlene, we popped for a swift beer followed by some local crab for lunch. It was a lovely spot, and we even saw the famous San Fransisco sea lions.
Later that afternoon we visited the infamous Alcatraz. We had booked our tickets well in advance, and a good job too, as it was totally sold out for the time we were there. It was an incredible trip- what an interesting place to visit. The old prison has been left as it was when it was in use- the cells are all available to view and the audio tour was fascinating, telling tales of prisoners who had been held at Alcatraz and also those who escaped.
That evening we joined Steve and Arlene on a trip into Chinatown for dinner. We travelled on the famous San Fransisco “Cable Cars”- interesting, as we all thought they were going to be up high in the air, but in fact they are little wooden boxes that travel on the middle of the road- more like trams come to think about it. They are fascinating to ride on, even a little scary actually, they whiz up and down the hills and the braking system is nothing other than a wooden block that traps under the wheel!! Also, the health and safety regs obviously aren’t a priority over there as there was nothing to prevent you hanging out of the side as the carriage was hurtling up or down the hill!
Next day was a free day, and our last free day in San Fransisco. We were up fairly early and got the metro bus down to Golden Gate park. We enjoyed a visit to The Japanese Tea Gardens, then had a pleasant walk through the park, and onto Haight Steet, famous in its day for the “hippy” part of town. In fact, back in The Summer of Love, this was where the hippy subculture began. Nowadays, traces of these hippy days are still evident, the street hosts independent stores, restaurants, book stores, smoke shops, and even a naked man with nothing other than a sock on his you know what! We enjoyed a nice Thai meal before carrying on. This section of town was home to some of our favourite bits of architecture in the whole city. Beautiful wooden townhouses, with turrets and bags of style.
Once back at the hotel, it was time to say farewell to the rest of our tour group, including the tour manager. They were all flying back to England Monday afternoon, but Keith and I were staying on for an extra couple of nights as we had booked an extension to Yosemite National Park. There were a couple of hiccups on this final chapter of our journey, but I won’t discuss them online yet as its currently under investigation. Despite the hiccups, we were pleased to take in Yosemite, its a breathtakingly beautiful part of the world.
There is an excellent free shuttle which operates around the National Park making it accessible without the huge hikes, however there are plenty of trails for different abilities. We did a short walk on our first afternoon taking in Yosemite Falls, which sadly had dried up as California is in the middle of a 3 year drought. Still the glacier cliff face was amazing, and the tall trees were HUGE!
Next day we did the trail up to Vernon Falls- around a 3 mile circular trail which went quite steep! Still, it was worth it as we found some water in the waterfall. The views are just beautiful.
Soon, it was time for our transfer back to San Fransisco for our final night before our flight home. We were feeling sad that our adventure was over, but satisfied and in awe of the places that we had travelled to. It had been our first experience on an organised tour, and we absolutely LOVED it. Having a tour manager with us throughout was a luxury, he took the stress and the thinking out of every aspect, meaning we could relax and just enjoy. For anyone thinking of exploring USA, we would highly recommend Great Rail USA Coast to Coast. All the Americans that we met on our journey were impressed with the itinerary, several saying that we were seeing more of America than 80% of Americans. It was extremely well organised and our tour manager, John Levick was a true pro. He stayed calm no matter what, was informative, friendly and totally in control. He took care of our cases, our tickets, everything. All we had to do was turn up on time and follow like sheep!
Seriously, if you fancy taking a trip of a lifetime, without the hassle of driving (I still cannot get my head around HOW BIG America is!!!) this tour is for you.