I returned to San Francisco barely two years after visiting the place as a backpacker, but this time as tourist with loads of money (relatively). I met with various friends who had come from Hong Kong and England, myself having flown in from Germany. And it was kind of creepy, because not much had changed in the place and it felt like I had only been there two days ago.---
I won't detail all the sites we visited as this is mainly a repeat of what I have written elsewhere. It was nice to stay in a hotel and be able to afford restaurants and stuff instead of the place I was at last time. The main thing this time was that me and two friends (Matt and Rog) did a skydive. I had never done this before and the experience was truly awesome.
We hired a car for the day to get to the airfield, which turned out to comprise of not much more than two port-a-cabins and tiny runway. After they had given us the briefing (including the Point Break spiel about who's going to take which parachute) I headed off to the plane, being first to jump. The plane was a tiny affair with one seat (for the pilot) and something resembling a door and I needed a lot of faith in my aeronautics degree to think this thing could fly. It took a good half hour to reach the jump height and with little further ado I was falling towards earth at what seemed like a million miles an hour. The feeling is simply incredible, something I have never experienced before and shall never forget.
After San Francisco, we headed on to Las Vegas driving through Yosemite National Park (very beautiful) and stopping off in a little town, staying in a hotel called Mountain View Lodge (or similar). We arrived at night, so quite why it was called this was unclear at the time. The next morning I went to the window, drew the curtains and wow, their they were, fantastic mountains right in front of us. So fantastic in fact, that I forgot to take a photo! After a nice big breakfast in the nearby diner, we continued our journey to Las Vegas.
We drove through Death Valley, one of the driest and hottest places on earth. So hot in fact that they advise you to turn off you air conditioning, so your car doesn't overheat. Only problem with this beeing, that you tend to quickly overheat yourself like this. But the name really is well chosen, for we didn't see many signs of life in Death Valley, apart from a few man made oases. The rest of the drive to Las Vegas was a pretty dull affair, the scenery beeing mainly mile after mile of desert.
The border between California and Arizona is noticeable only in the quality of the road. The road on the Californian side is OK, but as you cross into Arizona, so the road becomes brand new. I am told that Arizona does not have any taxes to speak of, but finances itself entirely through gambling - and the financing must be good judging by the state of their highways.
The final drive into Las Vegas is quite impressive, as you start seeing this huge sprawling city in the middle of the desert - quite why the first settlers chose to live here is a mystery to me, unless they were on the run...
Arriving in Las Vegas, we drove down The Strip and pulled into our hotel (Circus Circus). This is a huge affair (as are most Hotels in Las Vegas) full of casinos and one armed bandits and even included its own indoor fun park complete with Rollercoaster! After checking in we headed straight for the casinos and I was soon trying my luck at a Black Jack table.
The great thing about the casinos is that they are completely unpretentious (unlike in Europe) and have no dress code. As long as you're gambling they don't care - and even the drinks come free, although this is of course part of the ploy to keep you at the table and ensure you're so drunk you keep on loosing! Anyway, never really having gambled before, I 'suffered' from a severe bout of beginners luck. Basically I couldn't stop winning and was up about $100 by the end of the evening. Great I thought. For the next 2 days the gambling continued and I finally understood the meaning of luck. Whilst on the first night I couldn't loose even if I tried, the remaining two days saw me squirm in agony as everthing I did invariably ended up with me loosing money! Needless to say I was down by about $300 by the end of my stay in Las Vegas.
Las Vegas is of course also famous for the Strip, the mile long road along which all the big casinos are built. Each one of them is modelled on a different theme, enabling you to tour the world in about a day. Quite impressive they are too and there is plenty of entertainment, apart from gambling, to keep you occupied for a few days. However this all just a big and flash facade to the raison d'etre of Las Vegas - GAMBLING.
After Las Vegas we flew onto Los Angeles for a few days, a place I had already visited whilst backpacking, didn't particularly like then and still didn't particularly like this time - despite having some proper money and renting a car. We stayed in a flash hotel in Beverly Hills, which was nice as such, but I don't think I will ever be able to get to grips with the angelino way of life.