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    From San Francisco to Las Vegas: between advanced civilization and indomitable nature

    Who I am
    Lluis Enric Mayans

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    If what you are doing in the USA is what has the dignity of being called a trip and not a simple vacation, we certainly cannot limit ourselves to seeing the fascinating anthill of life in New York, believing that we have grasped something of this country as well. varied (see the first part of my travelogue: New York in 4 days).

    This desire to meet new things was the driving force behind the second part of our journey, which took us from the East Coast to the West Coast, from the metropolis to the California of immense natural parks, from the most advanced civilization to indomitable nature.

    Our itinerary therefore included a domestic flight from New York to San Francisco, where we would stay for three days, then rent a car and delve into the folds of the natural mosaic of California, until the overflowing Las Vegas.


    • September 18: Arrival at Market Street and the Westfield Commercial Center
    • 19 settembre: Chinatown, City Light Bookstore, Coit Tower, Pier 39, Golden Gate, Cable Car
    • September 20: where to eat and shop in San Francisco, Merced
    • 21 settembre:  Yosemite Park, Bodie, Mono Lake, Independence
    • 22 settembre: Death Valley, Ryholite Town, Bodie, Beatty
    • September 23: Las Vegas
      • Where to sleep in Las Vegas: tips on hotels and accommodations in the city

    September 18: Arrival at Market Street and the Westfield Commercial Center

    Internal flights, at least in our experience, are not exactly the emblem of comfort: thanks to the relative "slowness" of the flight, not to mention the further change in time zone, our I arrive in San Francisco it is quite turbulent and tiring. But it is the city itself that rewards us, immediately transmitting its new and bewitching atmosphere.

    From San Francisco airport to Market Street ̶ one of the most central streets in the city ̶ it takes just under an hour by Bart: you re-emerge in a large and labyrinthine shopping center, the Westfield: our first adventure in the West is to find the exit, loaded with suitcases. You can come back, in a moment of relaxation, to stroll along the endless corridors full of shops and climb the four floors of this shopping elite.

    Our hotel is not far from Union Square, the most famous square in San Francisco, not really beautiful, but an authentic crossroads of cultures and a magnet for bizarre characters. We arrive at the Taylor Hotel (615 Taylor Street, Union Square) ̶ not exactly the height of luxury (indeed ...), but cheap and in a good location, which is rare in the city ̶ and, after settling in, we take a short evening stroll, to taste for the first time the characteristic ups and downs of the streets of San Francisco, at least until the first fast food we meet and to which we give in from exhaustion.

    More tips on where to sleep in San Francisco

    19 settembre: Chinatown, City Light Bookstore, Coit Tower, Pier 39, Golden Gate, Cable Car

    Three days, alas, are not three clear days for us: for us September 19th, more than a tour, will be a tour de force!

    The first thing to do in San Francisco, after having a good breakfast (and using the lightning-fast wi-fi) from Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf (773 Market Street), you go to the San Francisco Visitor Information Center, where you can buy a pass for public transport according to your needs (an alternative? the passes for San Francisco), and get all the information on what the city has to offer.

    Our walk begins right from a very crowded Union Square, where we notice an infinite queue of people ̶ no less than an entire block crowded on the sidewalks, which intrigues us: yet no museum or anything interesting ... who remembered that just that day was the new iPhone out? In front of Apple store, we were also able to witness a peaceful demonstration against the tech giant: this is San Francisco!

    One of the most fascinating areas of the city is right Chinatown: a constellation of shops and mysterious little shops, alternating with more popular souvenir shops and disturbing butchers with meats hanging on the street. Here, unlike the neighborhood of the same name in New York, crossing the Dragon Gate it really feels like you are entering a small Asian cultural oasis in its own right.

    Leaving Grant Avenue, and heading towards the North Beach district, we could not fail to make a stop at the historic headquarters of the Beat Generation, that City Light Bookstore, bookshop-publishing house which was the scene of cultural battles and literary events, organized by the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. We'll see if you can resist the charm of this little character library, and leave without buying at least one volume of Allen Ginsberg or Jack Kerouac!

    Continuing ours walking itinerary, we entered the North Hill neighborhood: while “climbing” the steep climbs of this sparkling area of ​​San Francisco, don't forget to turn around, and look at the beautiful panorama that this small “urban valley” offers you. Along the way, where you will notice numerous music shops and vintage boutiques, it is already possible to see the Coit Tower soar over the city. From this hill you can see all of San Francisco with your eyes: a great place to take pictures, even to that speck in the sea that, yes, it is Alcatraz! You can also climb the tower, but not before taking a look at the 30s wall paintings decorating its base.

    If climbing was an effort, however rewarded by the panorama of the Coit Tower, it will be even more pleasant to go down towards the sea, to visit the famous Pier 39. The coast north of San Francisco is jagged by a long series of piers, the most famous of which is number 39: here you can eat crab and shrimp soup in a bowl of bread, at the restaurant Hook and Cook (learn more in our article on the Clam Chowder); stroll among the stalls and shops accompanied by the bellowing of lazy sea lions beached on rafts, a few meters from the pier. And in the distance, but not too much, the terrible island of Alcatraz.

    After the food stop, we take the bus that will take us to the Golden Gate Bridge, the glowing, very long suspension bridge over the Pacific Ocean, a destination for engineering lovers and lovers of history, cinema and literature. Not so pleasant was our quick visit to the Golden Gate Park, the exploration of which took perhaps more time than we could then devote.

    Our afternoon visit to San Francisco resumes right from Mason Street, where one of the three lines of the historic and unmissable Cable Car. Take a ride (you qualify if you grab your public transit pass) and enjoy the grumpy train drivers as they carry their antiquated touring wagon up and down the San Francisco hills, scolding passengers for leaning too far along the way and vigorously ringing the bell to avoid SUV accidents.

    This intense day in San Francisco  ̶ that more or less allows you to get to know it all in a perhaps superficial, but certainly memorable way ̶ will test you, but maybe you will also be able to take a night tour, perhaps in a pub near Union Square, where there is that lively atmosphere that , when you are on the road along California or Arizona, you will rarely find in the most uninhabited villages. Ergo, enjoy it while you can!

    Heading to San Francisco? You discover...
    • the best areas to find accommodation
    • how to get around the city
    • where and how to rent a car
    • how to visit Alcatraz
    • the main things to see

    September 20: where to eat and shop in San Francisco, Merced

    After a day and a half in San Francisco, it's time to leave. In the early afternoon we will pick up our car at Hertz, a stone's throw from our hotel. So, we have a morning to enjoy San Francisco as a casual tourist.

    We have breakfast in the spectacular Lori's Diner, (336 Mason Street, EDIT: closed today) a 50s-style venue, and then we head to the Westfield shopping center, but we are attracted, on the way, to an incredible cd and dvd store, called Rasputin Music Shop (69 Powell Street, EDIT: alas, this too closed). An endless paradise on four floors for all the most demanding cinephiles and music lovers, where all musical and cinematographic genres can be found; many goodies at a good price and excellent used: a must!

    In the afternoon, bags on our backs, we go to take our Cadillac, with which we immerse ourselves in traffic to say goodbye to San Francisco and head towards the town of Merced, the pit stop before starting our on the road.

    21 settembre:  Yosemite Park, Bodie, Mono Lake, Independence

    From Merced to the entrance to the Yosemite Park there is a distance of about 80 miles: the advice is to leave early, to be able to see as much of the park as possible. In this period, we had a particular misfortune: we had chosen to take a short walk to see the Yosemite Falls, but we could not remember that between August and September they are relentlessly dry.

    We took the opportunity for a walk in the woods, in almost direct contact with the fauna, which showed itself at ease with man. The most imposing granite massifs stand out above the heads of the beholder or photographer: one for all, El Capitan. The landscape, for those wishing to make a synthesis of it without much geographic-geological accuracy, may recall that of the Dolomites, but the effect is unique, and unrepeatable, like any natural element in this part of the world.

    Time is running out: we decide to head towards our next destination, the ghost-town Bodie. To get out of Yosemite Park, you can take the Tioga Road, which offers sumptuous views, such as the one over Tenaya Lake or Olmster Point (cover up!), passing through dense forests of redwoods. After the route of the Tioga Road, you will arrive on monkey lake, an indescribable natural spectacle, as indescribable is the hamburger that you can taste at Whoa Nellie Deli, (22 Vista Point Road), at a petrol station. There is no way too long, if you can stop and eat a real, mammoth hamburger and fries.

    Skirting the bluish-gray waters of Mono Lake, quilted by volcanic sediments of the rarest forms, we arrive at bodie, an authentic pearl: a perfectly preserved ghost town from the early 900s, when it was abandoned. For many lovers of Sergio Leone's westerns, this could be a dream come true!

    We arrive very tired in Independence, where the Courthouse Motel, one of the most comfortable we have encountered on American roads. Independence is just one of the small towns that meet in the Eastern Sierra, so if you can't find accommodation here, don't despair: both at the link just indicated and in this article you will find other possible options for staying overnight towards Death Valley.

    22 settembre: Death Valley, Ryholite Town, Bodie, Beatty

    Independence may not be Washington, but you can have fun comparing the venue Inyo County Courthouse with the White House: they are not that different, without prejudice to the obvious and due proportions! Don't forget to have a gargantuan breakfast at Jenny's Cafe, a family-run place where you do not die of hunger, but rather of cold, since there are fans at maximum speed even though it is not hot at all.

    Death Valley: Artist’s Palette

    Our next stop challenges all kinds of expectations and clichés: that fearsome desert that is there Death Valley, which in our imagination is teeming with skulls of animals and condors. The truth is that this natural park is a place of lethal charm, in many ways and very realistically speaking. We arrive at the entrance to the desert at noon, and it is already 109 ° fahrenheit (about 39 ° centigrade), with the sun blazing. We shoot almost the whole Death Valley in the car, with air conditioning and several liters of ice water.

    However, the heat does not prevent us from experiencing a completely new landscape variety to our eyes: the African deserts, the Golden Canyon, the walls frescoed by the nature of the Artist's palette, the depression of the pelvis of bath water (86 meters below sea level, a surreal expanse of salt) and, last but not least, the spectacle of Zabriskie Point, which inspired Antonioni's film. Leaving the park (or fleeing? In the meantime we have entered Nevada!), You can meet Rhyolite Town, another ghost town, decidedly less attractive than Bodie, but still nice, for a little break in front of a small house made entirely of glass bottles.

    We will sleep at the Portal Motel of Beatty, a real treat, the last bastion before Death Valley for those coming from Las Vegas; an oasis of salvation for those who have just left it, where you can breathe an enthralling, truly American old-style air, beyond any easy stereotype. In this regard, dinner in the characteristic is recommended Sourdrough Saloon, even just to enjoy the beer served in the iced mug.

    All accommodations available in Beatty

    Other options for overnight stays in the Death Valley area

    September 23: Las Vegas

    After a good breakfast ̶ very cheap ̶ on the de tables Mel's Diner, we are ready to leave for Las Vegas. We will only spend a day there and, in retrospect, it can only appear to be a good choice. The city of excesses, the city of vice rises, perhaps symbolically, in the middle of the desert: we arrive after lunch at our hotel-castle, the famous Excalibur, just one of the many, immoderate, bright hotels of the famous Las Vegas Strip.

    • Where to sleep in Las Vegas: tips on hotels and accommodations in the city

    Strolling along this long busy road means plunging into a whirlwind of madness on the verge of socio-anthropological pathology: fun, but also a little disturbing. Reconstructions of Venice, Ancient Rome, Paris, the Pyramids, all to cover the substance that animates this city: the lust of the game, the game of lust, the vice within the walls of a building with kitsch architecture. The show is magnetic even if it does not manage to hide the double bottom of artificiality, of slightly awkward showmanship.

    Heading to Vegas? You discover...
    • The best areas to sleep
    • The best themed hotels in the city
    • Where and how to rent a car
    • The main things to see
    • How to get to the national parks

    It is difficult to refrain from making even a single bet on roulette (it went very well for us, even if only playing once!), Just as it is difficult to walk the entire Strip: the distances are only apparently short. If you have a car, it is advisable to drive it from top to bottom - even several times - to have a view similar to a cinematic roundup, which is the most comfortable and fun. Otherwise, the monorail can be used.

    Finally, if you want to dine in a place that preserves the effervescence of the big city, but frees you from the bombardment of lights and noises of the Strip, we recommend that you go to eat at Firefly (3824 Paradise Road), and order a paella with a liter of sangria. It will make you appear Las Vegas, the Sin City of the desert, even more crazy than it is!


    Read on

    • From Las Vegas to Monument Valley: itinerary between Utah and Arizona

    Did you miss the first episode of this travelogue?

    • New York in 4 days: the metropolis of American desire
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