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Just Driving in 2014

Plans progress for the next trip - you lucky bloggers!

Bag End, May 2013 (updated below)

Staring out of the window at Bag End Travel Bureau, the thoughts are travelling ahead to May 2014. All being well, we should, by then, have our feet in a big SUV or under a booth table in a diner or, filling up with gas, again!

We thought our loyal fans who kindly follow our "Just Driving" exploits would like to know that, in 11 or so months from now, their insomnia problems and eating disorders will be at an end, at least for a month. Arthur (the bear)'s Blog will be back again by popular demand (well, there was one Email from someone called [email protected]).

Why are we so premature in planning this trip? Well, as before, we have acquired the miles we need for award flights and/or upgrades on American Airlines. As soon as the flights become available, we have to book them in order to try and get the awards: these days, there are so few of them.

Of course, before we book the flights, we need to know where the heck we're goin'!

Again the theme will be "Just Drive". I have searched and searched, and simply cannot find a better track than this to set us off on our adventure... I really have searched! (Any ideas for a new theme, please? You have eleven months to find it!)

The main drive, and this is the most ambitious drive we've tackled, bar none, follows Highway 395. South-North; it's a sort of empty Route 66. It used to start in San Diego, now it begins in the Los Angeles outskirts and runs along the edge of the Sierra Nevada, then into Nevada, across Oregon and Washington all the way to the Canadian border.

When we stumbled across Highway 395 we took to it straight away. It visits many places we have not been to before, yet, will also take us to places we went to in the early days (1982/3), and always planned to visit again. It almost seems too perfect to be true. But it's not (too perfect) and it is (true).

We are going to divert into Death Valley (for the first time) and Las Vegas (far from a first, of course), then back on track, to Lake Tahoe, eventually crossing into Canada, where we plan to follow part of the Crowsnest Highway (Highway 3) from British Columbia into Alberta, dropping back down into Montana, USA, where we would pick up a flight to Chicago for our next far-from epic drive.


This can be viewed in detail here on Google Maps which says this drive is 2,414 miles.

After a rest in one of our favourite cities, Chicago, we´ll pick up another car and drive part of the "Great River Road", following the banks of the Mississippi River in Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin. Quite a short drive stopping at various riverside towns, entering Minnesota near the headwaters and finishing in Minneapolis, another city we wanted to re-visit after a brief stop there in 1996.



Then we hope to fly to Tuscon Arizona, and revisit Tombstone to repeat a memorable breakfast we once had there.

Welcome to Tombstone, 1937, FSA-500.jpg

On through Organ Pipe National Monument to follow a route we first did in 1983 to San Diego, Southern California. Finally we would return to Los Angeles for the return journey to Spain.


Update: July 2013

Since writing the above, we have learned that our beloved lady cat, Sofi, has feline leukemia (following several attacks by a feral cat during the Winter & Spring). However, life goes on and we plan to continue with our trip. We are determined that Sofi will enjoy however many years, months or days she has remaining. At the moment, she is full of beans and quite a lot of food!

So.....the flights are booked. All award flights and first/business class seats secured. Hooray!

Still lots to plan, cars and hotels to book and research to be done. The problem with doing all this research these days is, by the time we get there, it's all forgotten. What's forgotten?

Please watch this space!

Posted by Johnash 05:14 Archived in Spain Tagged preview trip 2014 2013 Comments (0)

..Heads Carolina, Tails California...

Mazarron, Spain: 6th April 2014

Where? It don't matter, as long as we're goin' somewhere together.......
I've got a quarter. Heads, Carolina tails, California.

You may have found yourself at this page having been rudely signed up for our next USA Blog. So if you've nothing better to do, here is a bit of an introduction to our next USA trip, which starts off on April 29th. Won't be long now. Always a last minute rush to get things done, despite having been planning this trip for a year now!

Having searched for an alternative to our theme tune from last trip, (Just Drive by Alistair Griffin), I'd almost given up when, driving back from town, this came on the car radio:-

You may get an advert; wait for a couple of seconds then skip the ad! Also, ignore any rude comments about your PC being slow.
But, if you don't see this video in your browser, please let me know, and try another - eg Chrome - or go to the video here

We didn't quite toss a coin, but the cornerstone drive on this month-long trip was based on a letter to the New York Times read on our last trip. The reader's letter sang the praises of US Highway 395. It's quite famous in California where it skirts the desert around Death Valley, follows the edge of the Sierra Nevada (which we drove, without knowing it, on our first trip in 1981) then on past lake Tahoe, and into the wilds of Oregon and Washington backwaters, until it eventually ends at the Canadian border.

Originally it started in San Diego, southern California, but this southern section has now been consumed by Interstate. It now starts in the outskirts of Greater Los Angeles. We will pick it up right from the start and plan to drive almost every inch, diverting via Death Valley for a few days in Las Vegas (yeah!), up through Oregon and Washington then across the border, into Canada.

It's a sort of north-south Route 66 without the tourists, most of it linking many small towns. Seeking out small town America on deserted highways is what we like doing. It's the getting there that we really enjoy, especially on unexplored roads through unheard of towns.

After a drive along "Crows Nest Highway" through British Columbia and Alberta, we drop back down over the border to catch a flight out of Great Falls Montana, to start the next part of our adventure. More on that later. This drive is going to take up over half of the whole trip and GoogleMaps says will be some 2,696 miles long. Good job fuel is still cheaper there than here! Though I expect we will have some beast of an American car that just drinks gasoline. Never tried it myself, quite.

John has been working on our hotel destinations to get them loaded into TomTom for its trusty know-it-all LaurenLauren to direct us there. This process lead him to viewing the map showing all of our hotels, and this gives a quite a good overview of where we will be ending up on this trip.


From Miami, bottom right, to Castlegar, British Columbia, top left, the black stars show the location of our hotels.

So.. welcome to our new Blog and we do hope you too enjoy our journey which will also take in Chicago, the Great River Road, Minneapolis, Tucson, Tombstone and Great Organ Pipe park in Arizona, San Diego, then home from Los Angeles. We have a stopover in Miami on the way out and hope to make it for dinner in South Beach this time. But we'll take it as it comes.

See you'all later.
John, Bob, Stan & Arthur


No mention of food above, so, to make up for that, I thought I would include this:-

Apart from being able to choose your seat at the time of booking with American Airlines (unlike BA), there is now a new facility whereby you can chose your "entrée" as the Americans mis-name it, for your main meal on your flight. This saves the hassle of the item you fancy on the menu not being available because too many others have chosen it.

This is available 30 days before your flight, so we have already chosen our main courses for our flight from Madrid to Miami. Here are the options we have:-

Choose Your Entrée for this Flight


Rosemary Cumin Chicken - Grilled breast of chicken flavored with rosemary and cumin, served with spinach orecchiette pasta topped with creamy tomato sauce

Chateaubriand - Grilled fillet of beef topped with a green peppercorn sauce, offered with potatoes au gratin and sautéed mushrooms, leeks and onions

Buffalo Mozzarella Torteletti Pasta - With butternut squash cream sauce and spinach

Crab Cakes - With spicy hollandaise, warm cabage, sautéed greens and roasted potatoes

Which do you fancy? What did we choose?? Please leave a comment, just to get into the swing of things!

Posted by Johnash 02:23 Archived in Spain Comments (15)

...clickety clack

On our way, but with a hitch

sunny 23 °C

Monday 28th May 2014: Bag End.
The anthem that gets us in the mood for these trips is here.

Start it playing and read on! We are almost on our way!

But, a quick note before we start, to say "thank you" to Team Fuente Meca, without which this trip would not be possible. In particular, to Carol, who is in charge of Sofi and the house, and her back up crew, including Jean H, Terry & Vivienne, Ian, John & Antonia H, Mervyn and all in Fuente Meca, we are so grateful. Not forgetting the moral support team in UK, Dancing Jean, Dave and, of course, young Brenda. Thank you so much.

This is beginning to sound like a Oscars acceptance speech, getting us into the right mood for Hollywood! Can't get the tears working, though!

Also, when reflecting on the front porch before we left, we realised how very lucky we are to be able to make this trip. Others, through ill health or whatever, are not able to do so. So we really are grateful we can, and this Blog is dedicated to those who are unable, for whatever reason, to make their "trip of a lifetime".

Some of you may not know our fellow travellers, Stan & Arthur, who have been our companions for many years. Arthur is the "bon viveur" amongst us enjoying fine dining (Denny's Lumberjack Slam is a particular favourite) and is known for his political correctness. Not! Stan worries a lot and tries to keep Arthur and his various appetites under control (not possible). He enjoys taking in the scenery, especially the mountains, all of which Arthur finds boring.


So, come with us - John, Bob Stan & Arthur - on this adventure, which started in 1981 when, without realising it, we did travel a chunk of US Highway 395. And we are revisiting a couple of the places where we stayed on that memorable trip. (Can just about remember it!). There have been 12 more trips since then so we are, indeed, very lucky. Not that everyone would want to come here 13 times! We find somewhere different each time and revisit some favourites.

Tuesday 29 April 2014: Somewhere between Cieza and Albacete on RENFE Madrid train


Disaster! The Spanish government have been holding up the British model for running the railways as an example to be followed. (Are they mad? Yes!) And it’s started. No breakfast served at your seat anymore. Disaster!

It was one of the highlights at the beginning of our last trip. Really civilised and a very satisfying breakfast. A nice and extremely polite young man did come round with a trolley but we had to pay for this:-


Oh, calamity, Bishop! We are next to the buffet car and breakfast is available there but a civilised rail journey has become a not-so civilised one. And we paid 13.75€ each for this journey (single, First Class to Madrid!!) But that’s another story. Most people here would have paid considerably more. And we have all been deprived of our nice breakfast. Progress! (We did get free newspapers and a pair of headphones to watch the onscreen TV programmes.)

AND they closed the cafeteria at Totana station. Not that we had to travel that way today thanks to the kindness of Jean and Vivienne who provided transportation direct to Murcia Carmen station. All for the price of a coffee.


John drove in the end but Vivienne did ride shotgun while Jean held the TomTom. Not that it did us much good as, once again, John missed the turning for the station. It’s an odd junction with a policeman standing in the way. TomTom did get us out of it and, without a single swear word being uttered, we arrived safely at Murcia station.


Pleased to see the obligatory nun was travelling but this time did not seem to have a team of cute baggage handlers in attendance. Cut backs there, too, no doubt. Maybe they are in Rome being made saints?


Anyway, we are now speeding through the empty countryside of Murcia and Castilla-La Mancha and should arrive in Madrid at 2.16, a 4 hour 40 minute journey. Without breakfast! Herumph.

We bought a breakfast/lunch from the buffet car and it was good. We shared a jamon y Camembert bocadillo and vegetal y queso toasted sandwich, two cokes, a bag of crisps and a KitKat. Not bad at all.

We have just stopped at La Roda and the nice young attendant rushed across the platform to hug his chum on the train going the other way, giving him a nice peck on the cheek at the same time. Can't seem to remember anything like that happening at Finsbury Park!


Posted by Johnash 03:35 Archived in Spain Tagged spain madrid usa rail roadtrip renfe 2014 cutbacks Comments (10)

Taxi driver: "I heard that...que?"

not THIS hotel.. THAT hotel!!

semi-overcast 32 °C

Wednesday 30th April: Adolfo Suarez Madrid-Barajas Airport, IBERIA Lounge

Yes, the freshly renamed Madrid Airport has new signs going up everywhere. (Rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? Renamed in honour of the recently-deceased first PM post-Franco who was instrumental, with Juan Carlos, in establishing the current democracy/monarchy).

From the train, we were surprised to see that there was still snow on the mountains north of the capital:-


We arrived early at Chamartin station. If you ever come to Madrid by train and don't need to make a particular connection at Atocha, Chamartin is much more tranquil and organised than Atocha which is big and chaotic with platforms and facilities scattered all over the shop. At Chamartin you come up the escalator from the platforms, which are all next to each other, and there there are shops restaurants and taxis. It is also possible to get a train direct to the airport.

There were at least 4 restaurants offering a Menu del Dia from 10€ to 12.50€. If you ever wondered what office/shop workers did with themselves during Siesta, it seems that many of them come to Chamartin for a Menu and spend the time sorting out the problems of the World, and Spain!

No rush, so we decided to have our lunch there and then. A good Menu for 12.50€ and Stan was excited to see we had a good view over the platforms while Arthur mispronounced the destinations. ("Burgess, Stan, Cordobermann, Stan, Mal-Lager, Stan..." etc).


Continued 2/3 of the way to Miami:-

Outside the station, hoards of taxis were waiting and the one at the head of the queue had a nice large boot (we have suffered before from drivers slamming boot lids down on cases which won't fit). John wondered why a bevy of other taxi drivers were shouting what sounded like the wrong hotel name to our driver, so we told him "'ilton Barajas", several times, ensuring he understood with a nod, smile and big grin. We got concerned when we went sailing past the Hilton and down some side streets around the airport, eventually pulling up outside the Hotel Osso, or something like that. Aah... that's what those men were shouting at our driver. A lot more shouting ensued between us and our driver and we assumed he had got rather angry with us and our pronunciation.

After much more misunderstanding, he drove us to the Hilton and it was then that we realised that the poor guy was profoundly deaf and that was why they had all be shouting the wrong hotel name at him at the station. Far from ripping us off, this lovely man deducted 2€ from our fare.

It was good to be back at the Hilton here. A really nice, modern hotel but with old fashioned standards and generous policies. Bob's Hilton Diamond card had, as ever, expired just prior to our trip. Pleading to "Hilton Honors" for another Gold card fell on deaf ears. But we found a wrinkle whereby Bob got a year's Gold status by signing up for premium membership of some online frequent travellers site.


The cost of getting Bob's card was $45 and we have already got that back from "freebies" on our first night here. The stay had been paid for anyway with Hilton points from our last trip (as will be our stay here on the way home), but with Bob's Gold card we got free Wifi (15€?), room upgrade to "Executive Floor" where the "Executive Lounge" provided free “Executive” drinks and food (saving us a few Euros in soft drinks), plus free breakfast, which has to rank as one of the best… to you 28€ (so our 2 free breakfasts more than covered the cost of getting the card). Smashing hotel, smashing staff, smashing food. Shame it's not nearer the centre of Madrid or at least nearer a Metro station.

Health warning: If all our food pictures make you nauseous or hungry, please skip through the rest of this! However, we can guarantee no flash photography.


A painless trip on the hotel shuttle bus, check in and security in the priority lines then shuttle-train to the T4 Satellite terminal soon saw us in the enormous and truly great Iberia Velazquez Lounge.

Bob managed a celebratory glass of bubbly


but the only food we could force down was a cooling tub of


…a comfortable and enjoyable hour or so before the flight was being called.

We were amongst the first to “board” when business class was called, but we were sent down the left side of the airbridge and were waiting for a security door to be opened. Meanwhile, other passengers started to board down the right sight and straight on the plane. “Serves us right for travelling business class” some wag (called John) quipped. Which. surprisingly caused a smile from many trapped in the line!

Soon in our seats, though, and a "pre-departure beverage" (another fizzy for Bob, OJ for John) before we are over the mountains, which is the last of the ground or ocean we have seen as most of the Atlantic has thick cloud cover. (Just looked out of the window and it’s clearing). Hopefully the terrible tornados and storms in USA will not affect our flight to LA tomorrow.


Though we have all of this space, the junk you get given soon fills it up and things start disappearing into the workings of the “lie flat” seats. We have quilt, pillow, noise-cancelling headphones, a Samsung tablet each for the films and other entertainment, which have to be handed back, I’m afraid, amenity bag (mask, moisturisers and other merry c..p), newspapers, magazines, bottles of water etc.

Meanwhile, John’s own tablet disappeared down the back of a slot and we feared it would never be seen again, though it was eventually retrieved by scrabbling on the floor and messing about with the seat controls. However, we then managed to crush John’s shoes under Bob’s motorised foot rest. The woes of “Executive” travel.



No idea what the young woman in front thought John was up to. She is about 25 and her companion about 75. He looks like an ex- Central American dictator with a comb-over that starts at the nape of his neck. Luckily cannot see it from here. It would have put us of our food.

We digress. Onto the more important matters in hand:-


Excellent smoked salmon with blinis, and leaves with fresh, non-chewy asparagus and mozzarella cheese balls. The mustard dressing was hhhot. One criticism, the butter was rock hard. Aaaaahh!

For those of you who chose the fish cakes, you made the right decision. Bob said they were delicious.


John’s Chateaubriand was good but not great. Rather than the expected juicy steak it was more a couple of very tender pieces of beef. The potatoes au gratin were more like a tortilla.


John was wrongly given the chicken at first but maybe he should have kept it rather than hand it back for the beef.

No complaints about the Ben and Jerry’s. This one is Bob’s with berry topping and chopped pecans


Served by the equally delicious Jacqueline


After a brief respite, during which John watched the excellent film “Nebraska”, we just had a mid-flight snack:-


And on the horizon is the threat of our pre-landing light meal of pizza or chicken. Help! It may be a heavy landing at Miami!

Hangon, the trolley is out again. Here we go…

STOP PRESS from Room 426, Hilton, Miami Airport

We made it to South Beach! Great.. Loved it. Wonderful, outrageous, camp. Another early start for flight to Los Angeles in the morning. Night night.
More soon.

Posted by Johnash 17:08 Archived in USA Tagged miami roadtrip hilton Comments (8)

Miami, such a beach

Some friendly women take John & Bob under their wings....

sunny 34 °C

Friday 2nd May: Room 1027, Doubletree Hotel, Culver City, CA

Well, we made it to Los Angeles yesterday lunchtime, though lunch was not on the agenda. Winding back to the flight in to Miami, we were left waiting for our pre-arrival snack, which was probably the nicest meal we were served. Cold chicken and posh-sounding salad. Served with a very more-ish "Lily O'Brien's Doubly Delicious Milk Chocolate Mousse with Caramel Sauce".



Yes, we did bounce along the runway a bit. And , completely out of character with Miami airport, taxied straight to a gate and off the plane in minutes.

We had again treated ourselves to the American Airlines "5 Star" service and we were whisked through Immigration and Customs embarrassingly quickly and found ourselves on the kerb waiting for the hotel courtesy bus within about 15 minutes of landing. The charming Lizzi from Puerto Rico (more Spanish heard the whole time in Miami than in Madrid!) was our escort (dare I say that?).


We were joined on the bus to the airport Hilton by an American Airlines Atlanta-based crew who had flown in from New York. We were immediately overwhelmed by a large female Flight Attendant who seemed to be very high on the AA coffee. She wanted us to share a taxi with them to South Beach and have a "great evening together". We are sure it would have been a gay old time but we politely declined. Here she is overwhelming the staff at the hotel reception desk. She was avery nice lady if a bit loud.


It was a day for meeting characters, including our taxi driver from the airport to South Beach (a $30 dollar ride). He was from Haiti via New York and had been in the US Marines. He told us all about his time in Spain translating for his Marine pals, about Brooklyn New York and, in the 25 minute ride, a great deal about Miami.


South Beach was wonderful. The buldings all pristine Art Deco hotels and apartment blocks. The people mostly young, stylish and camp. Many restaurants, all touting for business (in Spanish) as the main season is now over for Miami which is at its busiest in the Winter. Bob thought it felt like Havana might have done in its heyday even down to cigar/cigarette girls selling tobacco from a tray round the neck and the salsa music coming from every bar. Again, Spanish was the only language we heard.

Cocktails were served in glasses the size of large vases and seafood dishes in something that looked more like the vessel used for chocolate fountains.



And here is Versace's Mansion which his sister has just opened as a VERY up market restaurant. It was so expensive we could not even see over the chains barring the hoy poloy from the entrance. It appeared to have zero customers!


John took an interest in the planting in this bar so we stopped for a cranberry juice and a Corona for Bob (Mexican beer, not the limeade from the Corona Man) (wouldn't mind finding that under my palms!):-


We don't think we saw anyone famous with the possible exception of two of the Weather Girls, off to the beach for a bit of fitness training:-


Arthur is going to buy one of these:-


and Stan wouldn't mind one of these:-


Unsurpisingly, we did not have enough appetite for dinner. However, at checkin to the hotel, we had been offered coupons for breakfast. As we would be too early leaving to get breakfast, she kindly "traded" them for two coupons which gave us a drink and appetizer each when we got back to the hotel. John's very spicy seafood dip...


and Bob's artichoke and spinach dip..


both went down a treat. Just the job.

Will catch up with our trip into LA and a run down on how we spent the day (mainly in the most magnificent Huntington gardens near Pasadena, and the rest of the time in traffic!) hopefully, tomorrow when we set out on the first part of Highway 395. We will be stopping at Lone Pine, where we last stayed in 1981.

TIme for dinner.... Thank you for all you wonderful comments. They really do keep up our enthusiasm for the Blog so please keep them coming!


Posted by Johnash 18:08 Archived in USA Tagged beach south usa miami roadtrip american airlines Comments (9)

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