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Frecko clan in America

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This is the Frecko clan. Mama Frecko. Bambino Frecko. And Papa Frecko.
MF, BF and PF.
This is us on the road in the Blue Mountains in NSW Australia.
In deep disguise. While the Blue Mountains are, in and of themselves, interesting enough, we will be hitting a much longer road.
Around the world.
Come with us....

The Frecko clan


Week ending 29.2.4

The usual preparations.
Tickets. Vaccinations. Reservations with the family. Handy to have relatives in major destinations around the world. California. France. Cambodia.
We left on Thursday afternoon, 26th February and arrived Thursday morning, 26th February in Los Angeles. Time is not the only thing that seems to be out of joint. The ocean is on the western side of the city and not the eastern, which is what we are used to in NSW.
House numbering appears at first to be random. Sometimes they jump in multiples of 4, but then leave out 50 or 60. Sometimes they go up by twos or tens. It is no wonder house numbers run into the thousands.
The light switches go up for on and down for off. Why is this?
The cars are on the other side of the road. They are huge, on average. And there are too many of them. And despite having seating for up to 5 people in most of them, people mostly prefer to drive alone. And fast. One can but wonder where they are all going?

Another miracle over. That vast tonnes of steel, plastic, fuel and flesh can fly 12,000 km through the sky 11 km above the sea for 13 hours at up to 1,050 km/hr and not fall into the sea.
The plane was fine. After all, someone has to sit in the back row. Though not all the passesngers were fine. Four girls in their early twenties, dreadlocks, groovy and hip, pressing the airline staff for too much alcohol and then complaining about the service when they were refused service, and threatening to give the airline a bad name and they had flown on better....
Clearly the staff had seated them at the wrong end of the plane - they thought they were in first class.

It is one thing not to adopt the metric system, as have most countries in the world. But to not adopt the decimal system is another thing!
Yes, the price is for a gallon of gasoline, that is petrol for most of us.

gasoline prices in tenths


Week ending 7.3.4

Hit the road today with the international driving licence (license) and Mama and Bambino Frecko and Marla who has a month off from school. And the road we hit was the Pacific Coast Highway - Highway 1.
We went down to the coast from our hidey in Santa Ana, hitting it at Newport, then south through Laguna Beach and down to San Juan Capistrano. We went down to see the Mission San Juan Capistrano, founded in 1776. Very old and very interesting and very well done. The whole job might have been more interesting through the centuries if it had not been for the 1812 earthquake. We saw how the soldiers lived, the kitchens, the smelter, the gardens and the bells. Two of the biggest bells fell in the quake of 1812 and were never any good again with cracks, and were only duplicated from the original moulds in 2000. The same shaker tore down half of the church and it was never rebuilt either, though it is undergoing restoration at the moment. No wonder the missionaries must have lost heart. All that work and then to sit with the ruins of it for a century or two.
This mission was the first in California to make wine. What a tradition that started!


Californian beaches! Is that what everyone dreams about? Another stretch of sand beside a big pool of salt water really. It might be spectacular for someone not from Australia - where the beaches are better.
Laguna Beach, in the south of Orange County and home to expensive homes - primarily because of ocean views.
But sit and watch the sea for a while and imbibe its rhythms. You can feel why the houses are more expensive, who wouldn't want to live there? Thousands of seagulls cannot be wrong.

bird sea watchers

Laguna Beach, and typical tourists! They feel they have to leave their mark behind for posterity! In this case, they will get all the posterity they deserve.
There is that little woolly sheep that has been following us around. Who is he?

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Freckoclan on the beach

If you are staying in Orange County, what can you do as a tourist with an eleven year old but go to Disneyland? Along with what seemed like the other hundred thousand tourists in Orange County on Saturday.
While it is harder to imagine the world through the eyes of an eleven year old, one thing I do remember is that children usually quickly see through things. So, it surprises me that they don't find the whole realm of Disneyland tacky. Is it because there are so many others oohing and aahing, or the music, the enforced cleanliness, the novelty? The sanitised reality?
Do people believe they get a taste of the real thing without the risk?
Maybe there is too much cynic in me, for what I see are the turnstiles ticking over. That click is the lasting impression.



Week ending 14.3.4

America still uses the imperial system for measurement. Pounds, miles, feet and inches. Packaging reflects this, so that when you buy milk, you can buy a gallon container. Ever see a nine year old wrestle with a full gallon milk container to splash a bit on their sugar-enhanced cereal? It weighs 4.5 kilograms. Butter comes in 5 pound tubs, ie over 2 kgs. Things are available in sizes big, bigger and by the truck.
People are encouraged to purchase in larger sizes to 'save money.' But so commonly, they end up purchasing food in bigger amounts than they can consume while the food is fresh. So, much of it is thrown out. Where is the economy in this? Who is really losing?
But, let's face it, you have to like miles. When you are travelling anywhere, to have covered a hundred miles is something. Just as it is to walk a mile.


America sure has a car culture. And while the volume of cars, the fuel consumption and the idle use of them can be criticised, one thing you have to give them is that they understand the car very well.
Car parks are enormous. While the shops are big, the car spaces match them, and a space can usually be found, though it may be a long walk away. Some car parks are so big, that to visit shops at both ends, it would be tempting to drive between them.
At intersections, there is nearly always a left turn lane, if not two, and the left turn goes first at most light (signal) changes. Compare this to a right turn lane for right-hand-drive roads. As well, at most of these intersections, it is possible to do a U-turn. In fact, it is encouraged. This usually only works were there are 3 lanes wide in one direction, but these are common, as are four and five lanes.
In other words, there are lots of lanes for lots of traffic. Lots of bypasses, freeways, flyovers. But look at LA, or Orange County at peak hour, and you have what the Americans call traffic. Or, really, too much traffic.
Los Angeles will soon become the western equivalent of the traffic-choked cities of Asia, though I have to admit, it will still be a bit of time before it is a Bangkok.
With the attachment to cars, the love for them and having too much money on your hands, you do see some strange things. Trendy at the moment are the 4 by 4 utes or pickups that stand extra tall, add the fat tyres (tires) and you have that ute-on-steroids look. These are everywhere, and you know one is behind you at the lights (signals) because all you can see in the mirror is the bottom of his bumper (fender). A new low in this type of vehicle is the black pickup on steroids with low-profile tyres (tires). About a 24 inch rim, a couple of inches of rubber, and no way is this machine going off the the bitumen.
The other car trend, which I am sure will one day soon lead to spontaneous manslaughter, is the fitting of 500,000 watt base speakers in vehicles, so you can hear them coming from about a mile and half with a thumpa-thumpa, THUMPA-THUMPA, THUMPA-THUMPA, THUMPA-THUMPA (you get the idea).
Back to lanes on freeways. The widest I drove on was eight lanes wide in one direction! This is in San Francisco. Can there be a wider one?

Freeway 101 flyover
Car park

Left turn lanes

Still on cars. Speed limits are posted fairly prominently as one changes between freeways, highways, secondary roads and urban areas. Freeways are usually 65 miles per hour.
But one thing that is universal is that no-one keeps to them. In the Los Angeles area nearly everyone drives about 15 miles per hour over the limit. In San Francisco it is about 10 over. Thus it is, if you drive at the speed limit, you are the slowest vehicle on the road. Which didn't worry us. We weren't going to exceed the limit.
What the roads need, is a genuine slow lane.
But, apparently Californians have a reputation for speed on the road. It is easy to see how they earnt it.
The other thing to be said about roads - particularly in the rural areas - is how clean they are (see photo). Very rare to find trash on the side of the road.

Littering fine

A reasonable proportion of vehicles on the road are new cars. Apart from the numbers of American made jobs, Mercedes, BMW and Jaguar clearly love the American market.
What a lot of people have purchases are the big pickups. The sort of F250 look. This is a ridiculous development.
Firstly, 90% of people don't carry anything in the back, and they are always spotlessly clean. Clearly they are not work vehicles but status symbols.
Secondly, they are bastards in traffic because you can't see past them. You cannot see if there is cross traffic at intersections if there is one of these monsters parked near the corner.
Thirdly, they clearly guzzle gas. Eight miles to the gallon for a family vehicle?
And fourthly, they do not fit in the garages! Most garages built even ten years ago are sized for medium to large cars, usually two. Now only one vehicle fits in. This leaves most driveways with 2 to 3 vehicles in each one. And, often as not, another parked in the street.
The neighbour to this house has five vehicles in his driveway. And his garage door was open last week and there is another one in there. Six.

Got a stepladder?

Another aspect of the car culture is the ability to do things from the driver's seat. Thus we have the drive-through (drive thru) fast-food outlet. But over here is also the drive thru pharmacy and the drive thru bank. Cars already have DVD players and TVs in them. If only they could develop the drive thru house, we wouldn't have to get out of the driver's seat at all!


We all know that the fast-food franchise is all-American. But in comparison to the Australian outlets, the Los Angeles establishments are very drab.
There may be two things that account for this. The first relates to the age of the buildings. Clearly McDonalds and Burger Kings of America were built quite a long time ago. They have 1980s and 1990s interiors. Heck, some of them may even be 1970s!
Other countries have newer franchises, newer buildings and, I have to say, they are streets ahead of their olde American counterparts.
Otherwise, it may be staffing. The policy in Australia, at least, is to have very young (and cheap to employ) staff. Clearly, that is not the policy in this part of America at least.


Having seen some television in the two weeks I have been in California, I am surprised at the quality of the news and sports announcers. They all seem to be lacking something, as I have not seen one of them get through a bulletin of any sort without some sort of mistake. The sportscasters are the worst. And with a lot of news stories coming in live from mobile units, the coordination tends to be very poor.
Every household I have been into has the television on. Even if the volume is very loud, no-one seems to notice. It gives the constant impression that something is always happening. If you finish a job, the television is there to fill your idle moments. You are never alone. Is that what it is all about? Companionship?
Or is it that we as humans are in need of constant stimulation? Or distracted by it? And by that same token, it provides an excuse to not think for oneself.


I just like this picture.It is taken at Sunset Beach near Huntington Beach and shows the towers used by beach life guards.
And the sun is, of course, setting.

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Sunset Beach

Hollywood. The Boulevard. The Walk of Fame, and all that. Have a look at Big Al and Little Henry for the details.
Another American street with a fancy footpath. But, for all that a novel idea that works well.
Those palm tree, they are literally everywhere.

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So here is the Frecko clan on the Bouldevard.
It is the touristy thing to do, after all.

Frecko clan stars

And Hollywood Boulevard is where you meet all the weirdos.
No comment on which one of the three is the weirdest.

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Red eyes

The Disney Californian Adventure, which is another money spinner for Disney, separate from Disneyland, but since we got the two for the price of one, having Californian cousins, why not go?
This is the film backlot theme, showing wonderfully the facade of it all as the clouded blue sky abruptly finishes, somewhat short of the real sky above it.

CA film backlot

In other words, another series of thrill-packed rides to suck all the kids in, and the parents have to go along to look after them....
Which they do in their tens of thousands. Every day.

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CA sunwheel


Week ending 21.3.4

Started out for San Francisco on Highway 101, known as the Ventura Highway.
Now, that sounds familiar....

Ventura highway

Then hit California Highway 1 north for San Francisco. Fog along the coast for much of the way, and I mean fog that lasts all day! But it is only over the sea and beach, and quickly disperses inland.
One minute you are walking along the beach and nearly freezing, rugging up against the dampness at 10 degrees C, the next you are 50 metres inland peeling off all your external layers in temperatures of at least 25 degrees C.
While not unpleasant, it does detract from the view.

Beach fog

The journey vehicle. Big enough. Just a little higher for viewing and seating for seven, so plenty of room for us and all our gear.
Oh, and the journey companions, MF & BF.

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Journey machine to SF

Near Lompoc on Highway 1 is the Mission La Purisima Concepcion. Fully restored in the 1930s, it shows very well what the place would have been like during the 1800s. They had an example of each type of room furnished with authenitic materials, just as the building structure was authentically reproduced.
Following the depression in the 1930s, the president at that time instituted a work program for the unemployed which had them working on cultural projects for low wages. Significant work for local communities was achieved during this program, at places all across California, and the other states.
Things like that don't seem to happen anymore.

Mission Purisima

Morro Bay and its significant claim to fame being a remnant volcanic plug. The plug, better known as Morro Rock, sits one side of a creek mouth which drains a huge estuary. The other side of the mouth is the end of a four-mile sand spit.
Very interesting, as is the natural history museum designed as hands-on for kids built on the side of the estuary and near a local blue heron rookery.

Morro rock fog

Yes, even Morro Rock is not immune from the coastal fog. Actually a very pretty site. And sight.
Also a fishing town, but I do not know how the fishermen deal with the fogs. I suppose now they have UPS systems and radar, but what did they do before?

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Morro fog

This is the seaward side of Morro Rock, facing a long stretch of beach with very optimistic surfers, some inquisitive ground sqirrels, and a couple of seagulls.
At the end is another, smaller rock sticking up out of the sea. Now, look at is closely.
Does it or does it not look like a head to you? Well, it does to me.
And yet this apparent appearance is not advertised or hinted at by the citizens of Morro Bay. Surely, it would be a drawcard. Should I tell them about it?

Morro rock face

The squirrel. The seagull. The beach.
Oh yes, and the fog.

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Beach sentinels

Further up the Pacific Coast Highway we have Hearst Castle. Built by a man with more money than any one person should ever have.
On a spot high above the sea in a fairly inaccessible spot, a man builds a palace with treasures from Europe.
In fact, he builds something that aspires to be like the palaces of Europe.
It makes you wonder what individual relative wealth existed when a lot of those palaces in Europe were constructed all those years ago.

Hearst Castle fogged

Neptune pool. Hearst castle. Built by William Randoph Hearst.
Didn't do too badly did he?

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Neptune pool

Marble statues everywhere. Here, in front of La Casa Grande. One part of the 'castle.'
Inside this building is an elaborate drawing room, dining room, games rooms and an olde world cinema. Extraordinary.
While the 'castle' itself now belongs to the state of California, the surrounding thousands and thousands of acres still belongs to the Heart Corporation and is run as a ranch. It was an eerie site on the return bus journey from 500 metres above sea level back down to the beach to see a small mob of cows and a cowboy on his horse emerge out of the fog. Yes it was clear on top, but the fog persisted to about 300 metres most of the day.
And not just here either, there still seems to be a preponderance of horses used for stock work across the countryside that we saw. No motorbikes, no four-wheelers. Lots of horse places for breaking, riding, breeding. Apparently it is still the west.

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Hearst Castle Casa Grande

Don't like the Neptune pool? Try the indoor pool downstairs under the tennis court.
Tile mosaics.
The statues.
The atmosphere.

Castle indoor pool

More of the subterranean swimming facility.

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Hearst Castle indoor pool

Big Sur coastline. Rugged. Rough. The road an engineering feat.
Another aspect to the 'big' that is American.
My recommendation is that if you like looking at the view, don't drive - be a passenger. If you want to see the best views from the road do the trip from north to south as this puts you in the outside lane and a bit closer to the edge. But if you are a driver just a little wary of heights do it south to north as you will feel a bit more secure on the inside lane.
Either way, there are plenty of places to stop and admire an admittedly wonderful view.

Big Sur coastline

See that road cut into the cliff?
How do they do that?

Big Sur road

Happy to be here?
Strectching to the clifftop?
Over the moon?

Taller than that mountain

Elephant seals on the beach just north of San Simeon. They stay there all year. Year in and year out.
They are cumbersome and awkward out of the water, looking completely out of place on the sand.
However, "like an elephant seal out of water" does not have the same ring about it as the duck.

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Elephant seals

Snoozin' and cruisin'.
Clearly these animals have a very high degree of body fat. On them it looks comfortable. On some of the people on the street, the same thing cannot be said. Being overweight is one thing, but to be obese is something hard to understand, yet it can be understood how it might come about. But to live it, that is hard. Lard would be hard.

Seal snooze

This rusted sign reminds me of the corrosive action of Coke on a can. Just leave one in the cupboard for a few months and see what it does to the metal.
Leave it a little bit longer, and it corrodes through and the contents leak out the bottom.

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Rusty coke sign

One of the disadvantages of my youth is that I did not study history, although I am very glad to have studied the alternative at Bowral High School, which was geography. Most of my history I have learnt on the road.
Thus it is that I have learnt a couple of things already about America.
Perhaps most surprising to me, is the Mexican connection for this area of America. Given that all of California and a few other south-west states actually were part of Mexico until 1850 when annexed (if that is the right word) by the US.
This is evident in the flavour (flavor) of the place names. Thus San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Juan Capistrano, San Jose etc.
In fact, some of these are abbreviations. Thus, Los Angeles is really El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles de Porciúnicula, as named in 1781. I can sort of understand why they abbreviate it.

At the side here is a gratuitous picture of the new craze in windsurfing, or is it windsailing, or even windkiting? In any case, it is popular with the San Francisco set.

wind sailing?

Coffee shops, in California at least, are really coffee lounges. Because lounging is what the customers tend to do. Ordering a coffee is not arduous, but finding a free table is. There are usually students with papers and laptops spread across a table that would seat 3 people, and you can see that they drained the dregs of their paper cup quite a while ago, but it seems they have a sort of 'unspoken' right to remain there.
And very few seem concerned that you might be waiting. Don't they have houses to go to?
This brings me around to queues. While the British may have invented the queue, the Americans seem to have perfected it. In two ways. Places like Disneyland and the amusement parks have huge crowds and they can put up railing and fencing to accommodate a queue of 500 people is such a way as to make it seem you are always making progress. They augment this with a 'fast pass' system, which makes it feel like you are bypassing the system. In other words, what they appear to be able to do is take the feeling of waiting out of queueing.
Secondly, people are accustomed to queueing, and expect it for popular destinations. Thus, in San Francisco on a Sunday morning, the popular shops for brunch have long queues out front. To get into the popular places yourself, queueing is all part of the process. And the queue, while not actually animated, doesn't look bored either. There is an air of anticipation to it. This, the British do not achieve. And those people already in the breakfast venue are really taking their time. Because they queued for a while too, and they are in no hurry to leave. They feel a 'right' to be there.


San Francisco bay from the north with the Golden Gate bridge on the right and Alcatraz Island on the left (in the distance)

San Francisco has some wonderfully steep streets. You go down with your foot firmly on the brake pedal, flatten out at the first cross street, then dive again, flatten out etc. This feels like a real roller coaster at even slow speeds. Just make sure you leave enough braking distance at the bottom!

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Sloping parking

Golden Gate bridge in the sunshine! But that was to change later...
Why is it that an object, built for its functionality, that is to get people across a stretch of water, becomes a tourist attraction?

Frecko clan at Golden Gate

Muir Woods, just north of San Francisco down a particularly steep and winding road where the recommended corner speed went down to 10 mph and allowing a contrast with Australian roads that would have had guard rails all along the outside edge of the road, but here - nothing. One wrong move and you are down the slope. And down and down. Not for the vertigo-susceptible drivers.
Muir Woods, a magnificent stand of redwood trees only just saved from the logging companies of old. It does make one pause to consider what used to be found along this part of the coastal hills.
Muir Woods, with redwoods that are the world's tallest tree. Trees that put a crick in your neck because you cannot stop yourself from the gander all the way to the top.

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Gentle giants

When you do look up, this is what you see. Away in the distant sky a sprout of leaves from the crown of the tree.
Altogether magnificent.

Redwood tops

Golden Gate bridge succumbing to the rolling fog. A fog that is cold, very damp and moving fast. It is very surprising, standing on the hillside to feel it roll over you and you begin to appreciate the name.

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rolling fog - gold gate

Wait a couple of minutes and this is what you get. Or, rather, what you don't get, because the bridge just dissolves away.
If you look carefully, you may see the two towers of this mechanical device for crossing over a body of water.

Where is that bridge?

Just like this picture.

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gold gate in fog


Week ending 28.3.4

After some journeying through the southern borders of gold county, inland at four to five thousand feet, we headed on down to Yosemite, not sure if the snow was still on the roads. But we had had a couple of very warm weeks, and all was clear. The highest point we crossed was 6,200 ft near the park and there was a lot of snow still under the trees but driving was no problem.

Yosemite entrance

You know you are in Yosemite Valley when you can see 'El Capitan,' this huge slab-sided monolith, rise up in front of you. And I don't mean throught the trees, I mean over the trees.

See that little dark fringe on top of the mountain? They are full grown pine trees.

El capitan

We took the walk up to the Mirror Lake, which faces the tallest cliff face known as Half Dome. Opposite is this small rock by comparison, called North Dome.

I did not notice the small cloud at the time, only after downloading the ones and zeroes.

Again, that is a full grown pine forest on the side of that rock.

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Little cloud

This is MF & BF on the trail back from Mirror Lake.

I put the trees in to show how big the mountain is, and I put the mountain in to show how tall the trees are. But they seem to cancel each other out.

So, for a bit of perspective, MF & BF are true to scale.

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Tree trails

This view presented itself on the way out.

Vertically first. The walls of the valley are glacial. The valley floor is more recently sedimentary as the riverbank shows. In March, the snow is melting so there is plenty of water over all the falls and plenty in the river. The air is cool, but not cold. A perfect time of year to see Yosemite.

The scenery is stunning. And no matter how hard and long one describes it, it is a visual experience, then it becomes a visceral one. Words do not do it justice.

Amd then you can photograph it. But this serves merely to reduce it all, and again one fails to translate the grandeur.

Yosemite profile

Then, just turn the camera for the horizontal.

The waterfall. The jagged glacial rock. The forest of pines. The snow-capped peaks, peaking from cloud. A very beautiful place.

Happy valley

On the way down the mountains after leaving Yosemite we passed a very unusual sign.

I knew we must have been seriously lost.

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Sydney 500

But we eventually made it back to our Los Angeles hangout.

A total round trip of 1,354 miles. Maybe not as many as John Steinbeck with Charley, but of its own significance.

1354 miles

The journey continues into April in California. Click the link to the right --> --> -->

Week ending 4.4.4

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