Big Sur: The iconic Roadtrip

Here´s the article i wrote for Travelicious about our Pacific Highway Roadtrip.

Hope you will enjoy it!

Big Sur: The iconic Roadtrip

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New Mexico: The Land of Enchantment

New Mexico is called the “Land of Enchantment” because of its beautiful scenery and rich history. New Mexico is among the richest places in the world when it comes to culture and tradition. There are more Native Americans and a higher percentage of Hispanics than any other state. The cultural heritage of modern New Mexico is unique among the fifty states.

Albuquerque is not State Capital, but is one of the largest and most important cities in New Mexico. We passed through Albuquerque last year on our Route 66 Roadtrip but didn’t have the time for a proper visit. So this time we wanted to make sure we would have time and we stayed for 3 nights.

Albuquerque is one of the fastest-growing high-tech centers in the U.S. Yet you rarely see skyscrapers here. Instead you will find small, dirt-walled houses everywhere. With flat roofs and round-edged walls, they are called adobe houses, and they are one of Albuquerque’s defining characteristics.

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Albuquerque Old Town was the first neighborhood in 1706, when a group of Spanish families settled there. They organized their new town in the traditional Spanish colonial way, with a central plaza and San Felipe de Neri Church.

 

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Old Town has a lot of small plazas and patios, full of shops and restaurants. It is usual to see strings of red chile pods hanging as decoration on the door of restaurants and shops and New Mexican homes. They are an iconic decoration in New Mexico, especially during the holidays serving as a symbol of “welcome”.

 

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Albuquerque is well known for a tv show named Breaking Bad, which is both filmed and set there. It tells the story of a high school chemistry teacher diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. Together with a student, he turns to a life of crime, producing and selling crystallized methamphetamine to secure his family’s financial future before he dies.

The Candy Lady is a candy store in Old Town and it was responsible for the creation of the “meth” prop used in Breaking Bad. The candy is a blue sugar rock candy, it is now sold at The Candy Lady as meth candy.

 

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Albuquerque is home to the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History. The museum is the place to learn the story of the Atomic Age, from early development and the Cold War to today.

We learned that in Los Alamos, New Mexico, was founded  a lab in 1943, where they started to build atomic bombs. Little boy and Fat Man were the names given to the ones that were dropped at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing at least 129000 people.

 

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The museum has other interesting exhibits, such as Nuclear Medicine, Nuclear Waste Transportation, Radiation 101 and some more. But the most popular is the Heritage Park.

Heritage Park is 9-acre outdoor exhibit complete with planes, rockets, missiles, cannons, and a nuclear submarine sail.

To be so close to those airplanes full of history is awesome!!

 

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New Mexico capital is Santa Fe – The City Different. Santa Fe was founded in 1610, and is known as the oldest state capital city in the United States and the oldest city in New Mexico.

Santa Fe is full of history and tradition. It is a very religious city and you can see that wherever you go.

Just like Old Town Albuquerque, Santa Fe is organized in the traditional Spanish colonial way, with a central plaza and a church. Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi is the mother church of Santa Fe and is a very beautiful place to visit.

 

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The plaza is surrounded by shops and restaurants and there are Native American descendants selling hand made art in the streets.

 

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There was another city i really wanted to visit in New Mexico but it wasn’t possible this time: Roswell.

But that´s ok because i know i´ll come back!

 

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“Touch the country [of New Mexico] and you will never be the same again.”

– DH Lawrence

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Los Angeles to Las Vegas: the heat of the desert

We had just arrived in LA from our Pacific Highway roadtrip and were ready for the next one. LA is a very big city, there are a lot of things to do. We’ve been in LA before, so this time we just did a couple of things we’ve missed before.

First place we went to was Santa Monica Pier. We spent a nice couple of hours there, contemplating the hundreds of people walking up and down the Pier. Watching from the top of the Pier, they looked like little ants walking around.

 

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The sun had set when we left to the apartment. We decided to have a good night sleep because next day was going to be the beginning of our next adventure.

We woke up early to go to the Hollywood Sign and take some pictures. As we approached the top of the Hill the access to the sign was closed, so we couldn’t go as near as we wanted. But we still took pretty nice shots!

 

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It was around 10am when we headed towards Las Vegas. Last time we took the I-15, like most of people do. You go through Mojave Desert and at some point you even cross with the legendary Route 66. But this time we decided to do things differently.

This time we wanted to visit the Death Valley National Park, so we took the CA-14 towards Ridgecrest.

 

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Ridgecrest is a small town where there is a Naval Base. Inside the Naval Base you can visit The Naval Museum of Armament & Technology, which preserves and interprets the history of Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake  and its heritage of advancing Naval aviation armament and technology.

We tried to visit but there are a few procedures you have to go through to go inside the base and we couldn’t spend that much time there.

 

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Death Valley National Park is part California, part Nevada. The Park doesn’t have barriers to get in but there is a fee you need to pay either at Furnace Creek Station or at automatic machines along the way.

As we approached the park you start to feel the heat. It is a desert after all.

 

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Our first stop was at a point we don’t even know the name. There were only 2 cars stopped there plus our. It was an overwhelming feeling. We felt as if we were inside a painting. Unfortunately the pictures do not do justice to the sight.

 

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During our day at Death Valley we visited places like Panamint Springs, Stovepipe Wells and Furnace Creek.

 

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One of the places we really enjoyed to visit was Badwater Basin.

It is “the lowest Point in North America, with an elevation of 282 ft below sea level. At Badwater, significant rainstorms flood the valley bottom periodically, covering the salt pan with a thin sheet of standing water. Each newly-formed lake does not last long though, because the 1.9 inches of average rainfall is overwhelmed by a 150 inches annual evaporation rate.”

It was awesome to take a walk 282 ft below sea level, on a salt boardwalk, but make sure you wear a cap and some sunscreen.

 

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Just above Badwater Basin is Dante’s View, at nearly 5500ft above sea level. It is considered one of the best spots for amazing photos in Death Valley. On a clear day you can see both the lowest and the highest points in the contiguous United States from there.

 

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In  my opinion seems like Death Valley is a little underrated. People tend to compare it to Grand Canyon because they are both not far from Las Vegas (Death Valley is 140 miles away and Grand Canyon is 275 miles). We’ve been in both and in my opinion, because they are completely different, you can’t choose one over the other.

When we booked our trip, we were looking for a place to spend the night inside the Death Valley. There are only a few, and because of that they are not exactly cheap :/

So we decided to stay in a small town called Pahrump. It is less than 30 miles from the border and the hotel we stayed in was much cheaper and pretty nice.

Next day we drove straight to Las Vegas for a whole new adventure …

… Someone got married 😉

 

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San Francisco and Alcatraz

Elvas, Portugal.

6.15AM (in Portugal) and we were on our way to Badajoz to catch a train to Madrid.Suddenly, I remembered that time in Spain is one hour ahead of Portugal and we froze.After months planning this trip, how could have we forgotten something as simple as the one hour time difference between Portugal and Spain? We missed our train.

Well, the good thing was that our flight was booked for the next day and we still had an option:  the bus! Personally I don´t really like to travel by bus. It normally makes me feel sick, but I had no other option.So, we went to the bus station, bought 2 tickets to Madrid and we spent the next 6 hours on a bus!!

Not the best way to start our trip for the next 25 days.

 

Eventually we arrived in Madrid, at a bus station we hadn´t even heard of before. After we figured out how to get from there to Atocha, we stored our luggage and went for a nice afternoon in Madrid.

But we’ll save that Madrid afternoon adventure for another post.

 

We had two flights booked for the next day. Madrid to New York and New York to San Francisco, both booked with Delta Airlines.

We had had a very good experience with Delta before, but we’re going to save that for another post as well.

After a long trip all we wanted was a good nights’ sleep.

It was almost 9PM local time when we arrived, so we called an Uber to take us to the hostel.

When we arrived at the hostel, getting out of the car, we left our camera on the back seat.

 

Again, not the best way to start a 25 day trip.

 

We called the driver right away (it seems that there is an option for that, in case you lose something) and he still had the camera in the back seat. We got sooooo lucky.

The first reason, being he had driven a couple of passengers after us and no one had noticed the black backpack on the floor at the back of car (or they were too afraid to take it).

Second reason, because we had a very honest driver. He could have just said he didn’t find anything and kept it and we would never have known.

He was already home when we talked to him and he came all the way to our hostel to give it back to us. We were really thankful for our driver that day. We gave him  5* Star reviews on Uber and a big tip! 🙂

We had a good nights’ sleep after all and the bed we slept in at the Hi Hostel San Francisco City Center was especially good, it was amazing. One of the best we had for the whole trip.

 

Day 1:

 

There are no words to describe how excited we were to go to Alcatraz.

We had booked the first cruise in the morning, we wanted to be able to see the whole Island without bumping into people everywhere (just like we did when we left) and we wanted to spend the rest of the day exploring San Francisco.

 

The Alcatraz Cruise is the only way to get to the Island. You can buy tickets on the desk but it is really hard to get them. The best way to make sure you get your ticket is to book it in advance on the website.

The boat ride is very nice. You can take photos of the San Francisco skyline.

 

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If you are lucky, you can have amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Oakland Bay Bridge. We weren’t that lucky because it was a bit foggy, but we still got some pretty good shots.

 

As you approach the Island you start feeling like you are going back in time. It’s almost unbelievable to think that there were actual prisoners on the Island, serving their time.

When we got off the Cruise boat  there was a ranger gathering people together for a briefing. She explained how to get around the Island, the do’s and don’ts and she made a funny quiz about the Island with the visitors.

After the briefing you are on our own.

We’ve decided to watch the movie they show every half an hour, before heading to the prison itself. It’s very interesting and it helps you understand the history of the Island.

 

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Then we went on our way to the top of the Island. It is quite a climb, but as you get higher, the views over San Francisco and the bay get even more beautiful.

 

After arriving at the top of the hill you are at the prison entrance. Once you’re inside you are told to go to a room where you can get your audio guide. The room you are in used to be a common shower area for the prisoners, and it still has the showers hanging from the ceiling.

And then you head upstairs where all the fun begins 🙂 🙂

 

 

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The audio tour is very comprehensive. It tells you where to go and explains very clearly what you are looking at.

The prison is one of those places that makes you feel both excited and a little uncomfortable at the same time.

It is an historic place, full of amazing stories, some of them even inspired movies.

But the cells are so small, that it almost makes you feel bad imagining someone living there.

 

The tour is amazing. You get to go inside one of the cells, you can walk around the area which used to be the library and if you are able to climb all those steps (I don’t know exactly how many but they are very hard to climb), you can go to the recreation area where the inmates used to exercise and play games.

The Island is so near, yet so far from the City. The inmates used to say that some nights they could hear the sound of music and people chatting coming from the city, and that just made them feel even worse.

 

The Island is very beautiful, with unique flora and fauna. It is very well maintained by the work that the fantastic volunteers do every day.

Overall Alcatraz is a very fascinating place to visit, especially if you like standing in a place full of history, has happened.

 

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Around 1PM we took our Cruise boat back to San Francisco and started exploring 🙂

 

As we only had that day and the next morning to be in San Francisco, we had planned in advance what to see.

 

Alcatraz Cruises are located on Pier 33, so we walked towards Pier 39, a must see in the city.

Pier 39 is one of those places you could just stay and spend the entire afternoon. There’s so much you can do, and there are a lot of shops, restaurants and cafes.

You can also visit the Aquarium of the Bay and enjoy a ride on San Francisco Carousel.

But the most extraordinary thing to see at Pier 39 is the Sea Lion Colony. There are no words to describe this sight, Just take a look at the pictures.

 

Pier 39

A MA ZING!!!!

 

After that amazing sight we went on our way towards Fisherman’s Wharf, where you can have the most amazing crab cakes.

And then the hard work began.

San Francisco is a very hilly city, so, if you are not in shape, it is going to be bad.

We wanted to walk to Lombard Street and we did, but we almost died!  Every step we took we almost died it was so painful.  Even if you are in shape, I can tell you it will be a hard climb.

But the pain was worth it. As you climb higher, the sights are more beautiful. You can see the Bay and Alcatraz and if you take Hide Street like we did you can also see the Golden Gate Bridge.

San Francisco

 

Lombard Street is known as “The Crookedest Street in the World”. It’s very beautiful with lots of gardens, but it’s hard to take nice pictures. You won’t be able to see the curves very well in the photo.

Lombard Street

We walked down the street but I am sure that driving it, is way more fun.

 

As I said before, walking in San Francisco is hard. The streets are very steep and it might help out to look a bit further ahead to see if the next street is easier to climb.

 

We headed to Chinatown. We’ve been in a few Chinatowns before and we can say that San Francisco’s is our favorite so far. It’s very well organized, clean and neat. The fruit and vegetables look very good, you just feel like eating some.

There is a little place called Golden Gate Fortune Cookies. It’s a very tiny factory where they make plain and chocolate fortune cookies. And they let you take a photo for 50c.

San Francisco’s Chinatown has a very beautiful main entrance, it’s called Dragons Gate and it’s located on Bush St.

Chinatown

That was where we ended our visit to Chinatown. And pretty much where we ended our day.

We still wanted to visit the Painted Ladies so we walked to Market St to get the bus. But the sun had already set, we would have needed to take the bus there and back and we were really really tired.

So we just bought some sushi and walked back to the hostel.

(By the way, the sushi was so awful that we ended up buying ramen at the bodega next door to the hostel).

 

Day 2:

 

We checked out of the hostel and headed to the car rental to get our car.

We decided to see the Painted Ladies straight away. Honestly we only took some pictures and left. It’s not exactly our kind of thing to spend a lot of time with.

Then we went to Fort Point to get a nice view of the most iconic bridge in the world: The Golden Gate Bridge.

This is where opinions diverge.

We come from a country with amazing bridges, and amazing views beyond the bridges.

Even though the Golden Gate Bridge is a very beautiful and an iconic bridge, it’s just not exactly what we were expecting. We took very nice photos, and climbed up to the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center. It’s unbelievable the amount of people there. People come from all over the world to see THE Bridge.

We took some nice pictures and we were very glad that we had been to see it in person, but I’m afraid whilst the rest of the world might like it,  it just wasn’t for us.

Golden Gate Bridge

 

For those curious about the bridges in our country, here are a couple of photos. Maybe it will inspire you to come and visit us.

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I love skylines and open views so we had a little detour just before we leave for our Pacific Coast road trip.

Twin Peaks. That’s one of those places completely underrated in our opinion. It’s difficult to get there if you don’t have a car, but it is soooo worth it.  The view from the top is breathtaking.

Twin Peaks

And finally we were ready for our road trip…

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