Las Vegas - Grand Canyon

The highlight of our stay in Las Vegas was definitely the helicopter tour to Grand Canyon! We had planned to take the bus or rent a car again, but we questioned whether it was worth it when we realized that we would spend twelve hours travelling through the desert back and forth, just for a few hours by the canyon. Going by helicopter seemed way too expensive, but we decided that if we at least won half of the money (since we were going to Las Vegas...) we would take the helicopter. And won we did! Also, we were very lucky that there were two places left since the helicopters are usually booked a week or more in advance! Instead of travelling for six hours we arrived in only 45 minutes, we flew over Las Vegas, the Hoover Dam, the west rim and landed in the canyon where we got picnic and champagne. We were also picked up and dropped off by limousine. In retrospect, we felt stupid for even hesitating, win or not - it was worth every penny! It must be experienced to understand how awesome it is, but the pictures still say a lot.

This post ends the story of our U.S. trip (four months later) because shortly after we were once again in the air, on our way home to Sweden. New York, San Francisco, Highway 1, Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon in one month is definitely among the best we've ever done! There is so much to experience that even month felt like just tasting. And it really opened our appetite for similar trips in other parts of the world. If you ever feel like doing something like that, start to save money, plan the trip and go, it's really worth it!

The city of Sin

Las Vegas. Our final destination on our trip through U.S. was a city we couldn't miss since we were "in the neighbourhood". Unfortunately, we weren't the ultimate Las Vegas visitors. After a month of travelling, we were very exhausted and to go to Vegas without partying almost feels like a sin, but we really lacked the energy. The desert heat didn't make it easier. Luckily we could see most of what's worth seeing in a short time since all the famous hotels and casinos are located along one street, the Las Vegas Strip.

Las Vegas is pretty much like I had imagined. Slot machines, neon lights, drunk people everywhere and a lot of tackyness. Even the airport is tacky, it's carpeted and there's slot machines everywhere. It feels like something you have to see, but a few days is more than enough.

For each city we visited, we worked our way up in housing standards. From a small room with a few square meters in New York City to Las Vegas, in a room as big as an apartment. And yet the room in New York was more expensive, which says a lot about how cheap it is with hotels in LV. The room was, as everything else, a bit tacky with carpeted floors, red leather furniture and a TV in every room (including the bathroom (!)), But we didn't complain...

... Especially not when the bed was the softest we've ever slept in and we had a jacuzzi right next to it. It's Las Vegas...

Our hotel was connected to the Miracle Mile Shops. The shopping mall has, in true Vegas spirit, a fake sky. A lot of places in Vegas are designed so it doesn't matter whether it is day or night. The important thing is that you are wasting money all the time.

Planet Hollywood Casino is also connected to the Miracle Mile Shops. You can just go in and go through all casinos as you want (but you have to show ID when playing) and the casinos are located everywhere. After three days in Vegas I never wanted to see a slot machine again.

... Except this one in Caesars Palace's casino, which has to be the best slot machine ever! You could play together and choose the different characters in Sex and the City! Even I would throw my money at this. Luckily there was always a group of women filling the seats.

As you may know, most hotels have different themes, like Caesars Palace, New York, Paris, The Venetian and so on, and around them there are entire environments constructed. At times it was impressive, but mostly it just felt... fake. But A for effort. We may also have been difficult to impresse after everything we had seen and done.

The fountain show outside the Bellagio was definitely one of the highlights. Every half an hour it goes off to the beat of the music. Very beautiful!

Nighttime is Vegastime, during the day we just tried to survive the heat. We were there in August and I don't even exaggerate when I say that it felt like 50 degrees when you stood on the street. The only thing we could do was to lie in the pool. 

We didn't do some things that I had wished, like booking a really good show in advance, try the attractions on top of the Stratosphere and go to Las Vegas Premium Outlets, but as I said, we really lacked the energy. After everything we've seen in a month, we also felt that it didn't matter as much if we spent half a day in bed with Chinese food and sitcoms. We did however do something that was absolutely the best thing we did during our stay in Las Vegas, which I'll write about in the next post!

Embarcadero to Balboa

My boyfriend and I decided to explore Downtown properly when the others started their studies. We had mostly been there nighttime and on the beaches at daytime. Now we could explore it at our own pace, which was a bit more difficult when we were five. I didn't know as much about San Diego as previous cities during our USA trip, but there is a lot to see and do in San Diego too!

First we crossed Coronado bridge to Coronado to check out the view. Half the island is filled with luxurious houses, while the rest is still a military base. I understand that San Diego has been historically important and still is for the United States Navy, but come on, such a central location, surrounded by water that can be seen from all sides? *hurts my architectural eye*. Anyway, it was cloudy so we turned back to Downtown pretty quickly.

We walked along the Embarcadero, harbor area, where you will find the USS Midway in the middle of everything, an aircraft carrier that is now a museum. History is always interesting so we made a visit. It is crazy big and it's crazy what people build for war.

The best part of the whole visit was the flight simulator! You sit two and two, one being the pilot and other trying to shoot down the other planes on the screen. We were being thrown around in all directions because my boyfriend is such a sucky pilot (sorry babe). It really felt like we fell. I thought I would feel ill but I cried with laughter when we hung upside down, while my boyfriend came out all green in the face, haha.

Up on the huge deck, there were a lot of combat airplanes  and helicopters, and some of them you got to fly. Just kidding. You got to sit.

Afterwards we went to a mall in the middle of Downtown that looked like a fun house with all the walkways and stairs in pastel colors. Nordstrom and Macy's lies in each end. In other words, you can spend quite a lot of time here. We stayed for a few hours and ate at...

... Panda Express! Open restaurants in Sweden, NOW! Their orange chicken must be among the most delicious I've tasted of "asian food". My life will not be complete until McDonald's cookies and Panda Express come to Sweden.

We stayed in the shopping center a little longer than planned and arrived quite late to Balboa Park which was a shame as it's a huge beautiful park right in town, with a lot we didn't have enough time to see. We really wanted to visit San Diego Zoo, which is also located there, before it closed. Foolishly we didn't realize it would be dark before closing, but we made a visit anyways with a guided tour and we saw all sorts of animals. Elephants, giraffes, polar bears, koalas, pandas - you name it. And many animals were more active during the evening (as consolation). The few pictures I took was poor, however.

We ended the visit with a cable car ride over the zoo. I believe we were among the last to leave the park.

Point Loma

Point Loma is a peninsula that separates San Diego from the Pacific Ocean and a historically important place. They say it was here where the first Europeans in the area arrived. There's a monument, a visitor center, a famous lighthouse and whale lookout (they are unfortunately most likely to see in January and February). However, we were most impressed by the environment and the view - ocean as far as the eye can see. A little further north are the Sunset Cliffs where a lot of young people gathered to jump from the cliffs. We couldn't help but join the crowd.

San Diego Nightlife

If you're gonna party American style you can't do it without the red cups! Unfortunately, we weren't on a typical American college party but I still have a few years before I get too old to cross that of my checklist. We atleast got to pre-party with some nice Americans... which later turned out to be not so nice. And we tried out San Diego's nightlife... which turned out freakin' awesome! I don't know if it was because it was summer, but the Gaslamp Quarter in Downtown was really packed with young people the whole evening, and everything at street level seemed to be either clubs or bars. We tried a few places during the nights we went out, don't really remember what they were called and didn't take as much photos as usual, but I have a few to post!

Disneyland & California Adventure

Before we left L.A. we made a stop in Disneyland! How many of you have dreamed about this your whole childhood? And how many of you got to go there? None of us did anyway. Now we finally got the chance to live our lost childhood dream. The amusement park is actually two parks, Disneyland and California Adventure, and you need to buy tickets to both and then run between the parks. So unnecessary. Although on the other hand, it felt like you had twice as much to choose from.

I have a fear of roller coasters, which was the reason why we didn't go to Six Flags. But of course, this roller coaster (with a loop) had to be the first thing we tried. Afterwards I always realize that it wasn't so bad, but until that I die inside a few times. Therefore, I thought we should try something "less thrilling" afterwards, like the ferris wheel. Except it wasn't less thrilling. Mickey's Fun Wheel is a bit different than the usual ferris wheel. It looks pretty harmless, I even had to nag the other daredevils who complained about how boring it would be. Well...

It was far from boring, HAHA. This is my precious viedo that I will always look at when I need a good laugh. Erna and Alex cried in fear and I probably also would have, if we weren't laughing our asses off at them. Best. Ride. Ever.

There were lots of other fun rides, and they are all so incredibly well made, in every detail. Almost all of them had different themes and settings from the Disney films. I mostly thought of how incredible this is for children. We looked for all "thrill rides". Unfortunately, many of them were out of order when we were there, which sucked, to say the least. But of those who worked you have to try Space Mountain (a roller coaster in the dark!), Hollywood Tower and the Indiana Jones ride. 

In the evening when we were out of energy, we went back to the car and drove down to San Diego, our final destination in California.

Universal Studios Hollywood

A visit to Universal Studios is a must when you're in Hollywood! It is both an amusement park and a huge film studio where all sorts of movies and series have been filmed. Since this is one of Los Angeles's most visited attractions, you should get here as early as possible in the morning.

The first thing we did was to take the Studio Tour that which takes you around all studios and environments where various scenes has been filmed. The different environments are everything from city to the Wild West, European village and jungle. In all cars there are screens where you can hear the guide talk while they show clips from movies where these different environments have been used. It really looks different in the movies!

We made several stops where we got to experience some really cool stuff, like when we wen into this tunnel with 3D glasses, while a huge cinema screen that went all the way around us showed how king kong and dinosaurs attacked us, and the ground beneath moved so that everything felt so real. When the car "fell" from a cliff in the jungle, it really felt like we fell. Oh, it's hard to explain but it was so awesome!!! You must experience it yourselves! We also went into a fake subway station with an earthquake simulator, where the ground collapsed and a truck fell down next to us, a train crashed in front of us and the station was flooded by water. Hollywood...

In addition to that, we saw a lot of other environments from, for example, Desperate Housewives, Jurassic Park, The Grinch, and even this plane crash. They bought an entire aircraft, and spent even more money on destroying it, in order to film one scene. It's incredible how they build entire environments for single scenes and then demolish them to build new ones. Can you imagine how much money there is in the movie industry?

After the Studio Tour, which lasted about an hour, we took the Simpsons ride, which was also super cool! It's also very difficult to explain in words, you simple have to experience it. Beware of the longest queue ever, though. We were there early and even then we stood in line for an hour for a ride that lasted for not more than ten minutes.

On the lower section of the park we found, among else, the Mummy ride and yet another Jurassic Park setting with a typical water attraction where you can expect to get wet, especially if your name is Jasmin and you sit at the far end. My butt got so wet that I had to go into the restroom afterwards and bend over in front of the hand dryer to dry my shorts while people laughed at me. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do to.

We went to the Flintstones to eat... That moment when you get a half chicken and the largest potato you've ever seen on a plate...

We also saw some shows about moviemaking, including Waterworld with a lot of explosions, burning stuntmen, etc. Here you can also expect to get wet if you sit at the front in the audience.

Our little crew, happy and satisfyed!

Santa Monica Beach

Let's go to the beach, beach, we thought when we woke up to the sunny and hot L.A. We put on our bikinis and drove to Santa Monica, only to be met by that damn Pacific FOG again! It's amazing how half an our from the coast can differ so much when it comes to the weather. The fog makes it several degrees colder and we all had to run into H&M to buy sweaters.

Luckily the day wasn't ruined since Santa Monica had a lot of fun activities to offer, including a visit to the famous pier with the amusement park that you have seen so many times on tv. We tried a few rides and arcade games to warm up for upcoming theme park visits.

Few beaches are as fun to hang out at as Santa Monica Beach, even when it's not sunny. I have never been at a beach with so much activity. There was a part where people were only doing acrobatics and some form of yoga, where they balanced on each other in lots of cool poses. There were also a lot of frames with rings, ropes, swings, balance ropes, etc. We felt like kids in a large outdoor gymnasium. Besides that, a lot of people are also skating and biking on the incredible long and wide beach. People were so relaxed and it really came off on os. If I would visit L.A. again, I would definitely like to live in Santa Monica or Venice.

Last, but not least, I must not forget to mention... Baywatch!

Everybody comes to Hollywood

Los Angeles. Just driving into LA, on Hollywood Boulevard, feels awesome. It's just like in New York, you are amazed by being at a place that you have seen, heard and read about so many times, and suddenly you are there, experiencing it, and it looks as expected but still totally different. Otherwise, Los Angeles is not my favorite city of the ones we have visited. Sure, I haven't given it a fair chance in such a short time, but I missed the freedom of touristing without a car. Distances are huge and trying to get around without a car in LA is like walking in any other city without shoes - you can try but you will pretty soon realize that it is troublesome. However, the city has a lot fun to offer.

The best part of it was that we could experience all the fun with my dear Erna and her friend Alex who came from San Diego the day after our arrival! It had been maybe twelve days since we last saw eachother in Sweden... but still - REUNION!

The first thing we did was of course to check out the Hollywood Walk of Fame with all the stars - the only place where it's better to walk around on foot. We could also walk to this from our hotel since we stayed close. Note to self: Make sure that the names of the stars are visible in the photos next time.

When we felt done, and sweaty (did I mention it's hot?), we went back to get the car. I googled "best spot to see the Hollywood sign" and found a blog that posted the exact address which I then typed in the GPS. The "standard" view points are from very far away and we wanted to get as close as possible to this unapproachable sign.

This is my favorite picture from LA, I laugh out loud every time I see it! We tried to take the best picture ever with the timer but failed hard! Try to make the perfect lift in a few seconds... We realized that he was too heavy for us girls so we tried a different way...

... and it turned out like this, HAHA. I can't. We really suck! And the guy in the background is the icing on the cake! I wanted to continue trying to get the perfect picture but the others looked like they wanted to kill me in that heat, so we gave up. Buh.

We continued to Beverly Hills and Bel Air to spy on celebrities. Rather, celebrity houses. Even more accurately, a glimpse of celebrity house, since they all insist on having gates and walls. As much as you get fascinated by all luxury homes and expensive cars you also get mad. Money really grows on trees here.

We didn't feel like going on a guided tour, instead we bought a map of the area where all the celebs houses are marked and went hunting. Celebrities spotted: 0. I know, it sounds incredibly ridiculous and had someone told me "we went stalking", my reaction would have been "dude... come on?", but you really do get starstruck just by getting a glimpse of this world and actually knowing that here lives celebrity X. Maybe we didn't get to see very much of the houses but we had a lot of fun! The picture is of that little you can see through the gates of Michael Jackson's old place.

We stayed at the Days Inn on Sunset Boulevard that runs parallel to Hollywood Boulevard (I can recommend it if you have a car since there is a garage under the hotel). After a day's sightseeing, we could chill by the pool. It doesn't get more Californian than this.

Where the sun always shines

After spending the night in San Simeon, we continued to drive south towards Los Angeles. The stunning Highway 1 environment subsided after San Simeon, so we didn't stop as much as before. However, we made a little longer stop in Santa Barbara to eat (one of the tastiest pizzas I have ever eaten), check out the beach and take a walk on the pier. Now it really felt like the California we get to see on tv.


I thought I liked cookies, those ordinary cookies from our local store, until I tasted cookies from the American McDonalds. Three irresistible, soft cookies for $1. Why, WHY, aren't they sold in Sweden!? Maybe it's for my best that they don't have any here since I ate several daily.

And this is how it looked, the closer we got to L.A. Welcome to the city of cars!

Driving down Highway 1

Our last morning in San Francisco, we went to the airport to pick up our rental car and start driving south along the Californian coast. I understand why Highway 1 is seen as one of the world's most beautiful roads, the environment is absolutely incredible! The road is designed so you can park beside it any time, very apt since you want to stop every ten meters because the view just gets better and better.

After a lot of touristing by fot in big cities, with blisters on our feet, it was such a liberating feeling to drive your own car and enjoy the nature. Later, we missed te walking in cities, but we'll get to that. You always need a bit of variety and this was a completely new experience in that big country.

We stopped as soon as we saw a beach. Breathtaking, I know. We took off our shoes and ran and jumped around in the sand for what seemed like hours. We also dipped our toes in the icy Pacific. It felt so strange watching the horizon and realizing that there is nothing else than ocean all the way to Japan and my beloved Tokyo, and now I have been from one "world's end" to the other.

At Big Sur we drove in to a forest and suddenly we were in the middle of huge tree trunks in a large camping area. We never explored it properly but we visited a typical american camping house to eat something in their restaurant. You have to take the opportunity to eat when you find food since there is really not much along the road, neither gas stations nor restaurants.

The sunset over the Pacific Ocean was also breathtaking. But I recommend watching it from where you've booked your motel. We had wrongly calculated the time. Although we had a lot of time to drive, we also made a lot and long pauses, and for some reason we thought of miles as kilometers, until we realized that it was almost twice as far.

This meant that the sun set 1-2 hours before we arrived, which in turn meant that we had to drive in the dark, where the car lights and reflections along the way is the only thing you see, and we had to drive really slowly. NOT FUN when you know there is a steep slope right next to you and the road only gets curvier and curvier. As if it wasn't enough, the fog came over the land like a tsunami. Do you see that thing that looks like a wave in the picture? It's the freakin' fog! In the end we drove 20km/h in darkness and fog until we arrived at our accommodation in San Simeon. Lesson learned.

If you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair

After the visit to Alcatraz, we spent the last day by just walking around in San Francisco. We saw Lombard Street among else - the world's crookedest street that most of you have probably seen. So beautiful, both the view and the decoration. How often is a street a tourist attraction?

At Lombard Street, we jumped on a tram for the first time! We had heard, and seen, that the waiting time in line for these is over one hour! Absolutely crazy since it was so easy to just jump on it when it stopped on the street. We were probably just lucky that there was no ticket control at the time. It was, however, a great experience to hang on to the tram while going up and down hill, it felt a bit like being in a movie!

Afterwards we walked around Union Square and went shopping a little. I couldn't understand that we walked down the same street as when we arrived to SF, when it was so gray, cold and depressing. This was a completely different city, a sunny day with a lot of people. And by now I had already fallen in love with it. The next day, however, it was time to leave San Francisco for a new destination.

Break the rules and you go to prison, break the prison rules and you go to Alcatraz

Our last day in San Francisco began with a visit to one of the world's most famous, former, prisons - Alcatraz. That is also something I would recommend if you're staying in SF, especially if you're familiar with the movie or stories from Alcatraz. It's a very interesting and terrifying experience at the same time when you imagine what it was like there only 50 years ago.

On the island you can walk around as you want and in the prison you can go on a self-guided tour with headphones and a media player - a very good thing since you can walk at your own pace, and the tour narrators actually were the prisoners and prison guards. We even got to see pictures of all the people they talked about. In the background you could hear sound effects and such to make the experience as real as possible. 

One of the prisoners said that the worst thing was the view of San Francisco and that it reminded you of what you had lost, every day.

You've all seen the movie "Escape from Alcatraz" with Clint Eastwood, right? It's based on a real escape, and perhaps the only successful. Here you got to see the real fake head in Frank Morris' cell and the holes they crawled through! In the picture below you can also see the passage behind the cells. From there they climbed three floors up to the roof where they built a raft. It's amazing how they managed to do all that.

Since we brought a computer with us to the U.S., we made it a thing to download movies that was set in the city we stayed in, and watch them before bedtime. That evening we downloaded Escape from Alcatraz, of course, and it was a completely different experience to watch it after being there. And after all we have heard and seen, both during the visit and on documentaries, and the fact that their bodies were never found, I am completely convinced that the three escapees survived, despite the icy cold water, and lived the rest of their lifes somewhere in South America.

Golden Gate Bridge

The best experience in San Francisco was to bike along the coast and across the mighty Golden Gate. We rented bikes at Fisherman's Wharf and rode along harbors, parks and beaches until we arrived to the bridge. We got a map with suggested bike routes so it wasn't hard to find, we just went ahead and enjoyed the ride. And stopped all the time to take new photos the closer we got to the bridge.

The bridge is 2150 meters long so cycling is preferable, rather than walking, but in any case it's a great experience because it is so much bigger and cooler in real life than you'd imagined. You've seen it so many times in the media and suddenly you're biking across one of the world's most famous landmarks.

Once across the bridge, there is a lookout point just to the right where most people stop to take pictures. We were not satisfied with that, though, since we, thanks to my Google-research, knew that we could get up to the Marin Headlands for an even more amazing view. To get up there, however, was not easy. The bike path ended and for some parts of the road we had to go out in the terrifying U.S. traffic, it got really scary a couple of times...

...Not to mention the uphill. I gave up after a few meters, and dragged the bike the rest of the way up while I cried "wait ... wait ..." like a fat kiddo /the girl who made a generous donation to Fitness24 by buying a gym membership but not going to the gym for six months.

But it was so worth it! The view was amazing and we stayed up there a long time and just enjoyed everything... and gambled with life by taking a lot of acrobatic pictures near the cliff... Until we got very hungry. Note to self: Never forget food.
Since we stayed up there for a while we had time to see the famous fog slowly sweep over the city. Half of the bridge and the city just disappears in the fog! Coming from the other side at the time, that is, from San Francisco, you don't even see that there is a bridge there. The interesting thing was that it was still sunny and hot on this side.

That might explains all the summer houses on this side. The hills protect this area from wind and it was probably ten degrees warmer here than in San Francisco. A very nice little place! We biked to the small town center and took the ferry back to San Francisco - really apt since we would never ever have made it the whole way back on bikes.

Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39

The second day in San Francisco we also visited Fisherman's Wharf and the popular Pier 39. Cute, colorful and touristy! But despite the big croud of tourists it was really delightful to walk among all boats, small shops and restaurants... and arcades a la American style, which I eventually had to drag my boyfriend out from. And not to forget one of the main tourist attractions - the seals!


The City of Love and Peace

San Francisco. The city with lots of hills, trams and houses with bay windows. We had heard many good things about this town, and although they were true, that wasn't our first impression. After a six-hour-long trip from New York we had traveled another three hours "back" in time, and fifteen degrees cooler on the thermometer. It was colder than Sweden. The first thing we did when we got off the train from the airport was to run into McDonald's, and the first thing we saw was a lot of homeless people walking around in the area. It felt far from the city of love and peace.

We stayed in a hotel near the gate to Chinatown, right next to the financial district. Good location since it's really in the middle of the city and you can walk to almost everything, but I was not very fond of the Chinatown. Especially not when we arrive exhausted and want nothing else than to sleep, but there's a chinese man in street corner, playing an instrument with only two strings for SEVERAL HOURS. Our window had absolutely no isolation which means that we heard everything from outside and it was just as cold inside as outside. I got into a mini-depression that day. It was hard to leave New York, where we had already gotten some routines, a sense of security and favourite places, to arrive at a new city that doesn't live up to the expectations right away, and where you're also freezing your but off. In addition to that, we were undescribably tired after all the walking in NY, I can't explain how much my legs and feet ached. For the first time ever, we slept a whole day while on vacation, and it was so worth it .

But new day, new beginning! The next day was a bit warmer and the sun came out after the morning mist. We finally left the hotel to explore San Francisco, and the impressions got better and better. Not that the Chinese enviroment wasn't cool, we checked out that area too, but it didn't feel like being in the U.S. It's the largest Chinatown (except in NY) outside Asia!

Jeans and sweaters felt quite strange after the sultry heat in New York. But since it was neither cold nor hot it was a pleasant weather for tourists. When the fog swept over the city it became much colder though. San Francisco has a very special climate since it's surrounded by water on three sides, and apparently it tends to be colder in August than in September and October due to the fog and the cold winds. So much for California heat...

The city is also famous for being built on hills. Even if you have read about it and seen pictures of it, you still get surprised at how steep the streets actually are. Especially when you have to WALK all the way up! However, you can avoid the worst hills just by walking around them, hehe. Lucky for them all their cars are automatic.

Something else very characteristic of San Francisco are the houses with bay windows a la "Full House". Sorry for nerdy architect talk, but I thought it was very interesting how most buildings adhere to certain parameters, like the same number of floors and bay windows, but vary infinitely in the design, which still makes the city vibrant and interesting. And there are lots of modern interpretations of these bay window that follows below:

Fun, huh? I photographed lots of buildings, but this is enough for now. The second day we also visited Fisherman's Wharf (which I'll write about later) and took a hop-on-hop-off bus tour which was the stupidest thing to do at 4-5 pm when the fog and the winds sweeps over the city. It blew so hard when we drove towards the Golden Gate that I had to duck under the seat.

Luckily we had the funniest, Irish, guide that made the tour worth while. He deserves a final picture here!

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