Cardiff to Sacramento

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Although it sounds miles away from Cardiff (another capital city in another country!?!), Heathrow is actually only a two hour drive from where I live. Even at peak times, the M4 is never anywhere as crazy as the M25 (otherwise known as the London orbital car park). Unfortunately, although getting to Heathrow is easy, you have to tack an extra hour on to your journey to find the long stay car park. I swear if you follow the road signs you double back on yourself at least twice and end up somewhere close to the motorway exit you just came off.

Note to car battery – please, please do not die during the four weeks you are parked at Heathrow airport.

When did the Virgin Atlantic check-in procedure suddenly get more complicated than your passport application? I love flying with Virgin (especially if the option is them or British Airways, who I only fly with when walking is my only other viable choice), but having to give them my mum’s contact details and a brief summary of my planned trip seems a bit extreme just to board a plane.

My early morning start was soon forgotten when I popped into Pret for breakfast. Oh my god I love those guys! Soya milk decaf latte, gluten-free and vegan porridge (yes!!!), fresh fruit salad and a protein salad. What a great healthy meal to start my trip.

If only my plane food had been as successful as my breakfast. I’d contacted Virgin Atlantic via email the previous week and asked if they could provide me with a vegan and gluten-free meal. They’d replied no, I had to choose one or the other. I chose the vegan option in the hope that there would be something I could eat. Other than the fruit snack, there wasn’t. It was all pasta, sandwiches and wraps. I’d taken my own food on board, so I didn’t go hungry. And the cabin crew were very understanding, giving more of the things I could eat and even offering to make me a jacket potato. I was annoyed when one of them told me you can pre-order a bespoke meal, so if anyone finds themselves in the same situation I’d recommend pushing the subject with customer services before you travel. And take some food with you just in case.

When I was at school, we used to argue with our maths teacher that the subject was useless. On the off chance that he might be reading this, I’d like to apologise. I have found a genuine use for GCSE maths – trying to buy a ticket for the BART in San Francisco. The Bay Area Transit is a great mode of transport, but I don’t remember it being so weird to use. Never before have I seen a ticket machine where you have to find the fare you need from a list, put in what money you have and then subtract off what you don’t need. But hey, as the lady next to me who was also having trouble with the machine pointed out, people from San Francisco probably find the London Underground strange.

I caught the BART to Oakland, and then dashed through the city (as much as I could dash with 2 backpacks on) to the Greyhound station. Oakland looks nice, I’d like to go back some time and see it properly.

The Greyhound I travelled on from Oakland to Sacramento has the slipperiest seats I have ever been on. I’m glad I’ve been keeping up with pilates training recently because it took all my core strength just to stay on the damn thing. I also heard the funniest introduction ever from a bus driver – ‘I don’t like to be called Driver, Miss or Ma’am. My name is Nesha, if you can’t remember that then just walk up to the front of the bus and start talking.’

We pulled into Sacramento on one of the hottest days of the year. I decided to power through and walk to my hostel, which in hindsight probably wasn’t a good idea. Don’t listen to the directions on Hostelling International’s website. They are for the old Greyhound station, which was really close to the hostel. The new station is miles away. After sweating out what felt like half my body weight, I arrived at my first proper bed and vowed to take a cab back to the bus station when I left Sacramento.

One of the reasons I love staying in hostels is that each one is unique. Sacramento HI is housed in a beautiful (rumoured to be haunted) old mansion house. It is an incredible building to stay in, made all the nicer by the super friendly, welcoming staff. Plus, they have free use of towels, great kitchen facilities and cheap laundry facilities.

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Useful Info:

BART San Francisco airport to Oakland: $8.95

Greyhound Oakland to Sacramento: from $7.00

Dorm beds at HI Sacramento: from around $30 per night

Travel theme: Texture

Ailsa’s travel theme on Where’s my backpack this week is Texture http://by151w.bay151.mail.live.com/default.aspx#!/mail/InboxLight.aspx?n=1777109588!n=160854699&fid=1&fav=1&mid=a4a9c237-fe43-11e1-a84a-00215ad8572c&fv=1

I had to think about this one for a minute, then I remembered the photos I took at the salt basins in Death Valley. After travelling through the desert for so long, it was like suddenly finding yourself in an alien environment. In a wierd way, it felt like coming home for me because walking on the salt floor was almost like walking on fresh snow where I used to live in the Alps. The only difference was the unbelievably high temperatures and the fact I was wearing shorts and a vest top rather than 3 layers of ski gear. As I walked further out into the salt basin, I realised that I had to be incredibly careful. The deeper the salt formations became, the sharper they were. One false move, and I could suffer a nasty cut. The textures were so fascinating that I got down as low as possible (and as carefully as possible) to take some close-up shots. It really was like looking through the lense at another planet.

Photographs only give you the visual, though. What you can’t see in my photos are the tastes and the sounds. If you run your finger along the ground and then lick it, the taste is bizarre. It’s exactly what you would expect and so much more, all at the same time. If you stand still, you can hear the salt crackling under your feet.