Well that can only be described as the best holiday ever.
From renewing our wedding vows in Vegas to standing at the gates of the Playboy mansion in LA, it had some surreal moments and highly memorable ones too. Moments that will never be forgotten.
The arrival at San Francisco airport after an 11 hour flight
Arriving in San Francisco there was a limo waiting for us that I'd booked as a surprise for Shella. The look on the face of Shella when the man at the airport held up the sign 'Storey' was a picture.
We stayed at the Westin St Francis hotel on Union square - the most central location you could get in the city. Apparently the Queen once stayed here and you could see why. Very much in the mould of the Waldorf Hotel in New York (where we've stayed too!).
San Francisco is arguably one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It has real character about it. It is however very cold when you'd expect it to be warm in July.
And what a better way of seeing the city than on an open top tour bus with a brummie conductor! Not being the biggest of cities we managed to see most of it in one day.
This place has legs - it's Haight Ashbury
We'd only been on the bus 5 minutes when the biggest bee you've ever seen buzzed around Shella. She managed to brush it off and it was then that we noticed it had its baby on its back! Very bizarre. As the bus filled up the bee continued to be a pest and it then decided to land on a ladies back who was next to us. I kept telling Shella to tell the woman as it crawled further up her back but by the time we mulled over telling her it was too late, it was now in her hair. It was too late to tell her as if we told her she would have thrown it over our way. It was a waiting game until she realised or it flew away. Suddenly she realised. A quick turn of her head got the bee in her face and a quick swipe of her hand and she managed to throw the bee onto Shella. Chaos descended. The baby bee was at the back of the bus and the large one was having a fit on the floor by us. Luckily we were off at the next stop but an amusing moment.
One of the places we got off the bus at was was Haight Ashbury. The district is famous for its role as a centre of the 1960s hippie movement and well worth a visit. We had lunch there and it was amusing to see so far away from home a sign above the bar in the pub saying 'Liverpool supporters welcome'.
Riding the Golden Gate bridge to Sausalito
Before the honeymoon we'd been researching tours and things to do and a definite one we'd decided on was to hire bikes and ride over the Golden Gate bridge. It's definitely a great way of seeing the bridge and over the other side we visited a small town called Sausalito which is well worth a visit if you are in the area. In total we rode 16 miles that day.
A quick shower back at the hotel and we were straight out again in the taxi heading for Alcatraz. I insisted that we must go past the house where they filmed Mrs Doubtfire much to the annoyance of Shella and the confusion of the taxi driver. So off we went for an early evening visit to Alcatraz. It was in fact the last tour of the day, which included lockdown, although we never saw any keys being jangled in locks. Still it was a great tour with some amazing views of the city and bridge on the way back.
Only in Vegas, the beautiful Venetian hotel
The following day it was time to move on and head to Las Vegas. We had both been before about 5 years ago so we knew what to expect. What we didn't expect was the heat - 105 degrees fahrenheit and fairly unbearable. Luckily though 90 percent of the time you are in air conditioned hotels, in fact you could quite easily spend a holiday there without seeing the outside world.
We stayed at The Venetian hotel. It's basically an Italian themed hotel emulating Venice. Quite stunning. All rooms are suites so the size of our room was without doubt the biggest I've ever (and ever will) stay at. Within an hour of getting to the hotel we went to the Concierge to ask for free tickets to the hotel's nightclub, Tao. We played the honeymoon card and that evening we were ushered through about 5 separate queues and straight into the club. At one point we did look at getting a table in the club but the cheapest you could pay was $200 for a bottle of Vodka, we decided against it. Just off the dancefloor there were random girls in baths with flowers covering up their boobies. Let's get things straight, this was definitely no Porthouse club in Winchester.
The next day we wandered round the hotel (which you could quite easily spend the whole day looking round) and found the gondola rides. We chose the inside gondola ride and easily had the loudest singing gondolier. Everyone looked at us going down the canal whilst he was singing.
Now why couldn't we do this in Sparsholt church?
Whilst still on a high it was then we decided it would be a good idea to renew our wedding vows in Vegas as we'd been married exactly one week. The first place that sprung to mind was The Little White Wedding Chapel which is the scene of many celebrity weddings. Most notably and recently Britney Spears but also Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, Joan Collins just to name a few.
We got a cab to Downtown Vegas to the chapel. The Downtown area is much sleezier that the main strip. Full of closed down chapels and strip joints. After eventually forcing ourselves to walk in the door we were met by the biggest bunch of hillbillies you've ever seen. Mullets, funny voices, the lot. And the bride...well you've never seen anything like it - she was no spring chicken. We were next after them and the vicar handed me an envelope before we went in which I was supposed to put a tip in. Everyone in America wants a tip, from the bellboy for simply blowing a whistle to call a cab to the vicar for simply doing his job. The suggested tip to put in the envelope was $40-$60 dollars. This was on top of the $100 dollars we'd already paid to renew our vows. I can remember walking down the aisle with the tip envelope in my hand. Very romantic. I think I put $10 dollars in and even that was generous I thought. As we didn't have a witness we had to have the 85 year old organist to step in playing Elvis' Love Me Tender as we walked down the aisle and we even had to tip her. All very bizarre and surreal.
Skydiving in Vegas...AWESOME!
After a quick bite to eat we decided to take a wander round the Forum shops at Caesers Palace. Of all the people we could see, we didn't expect to bump into snooker player Steve Davis. He looked like a proper tourist. Big chunky baseball cap that looked too big for him, nerdy shorts with pulled up white socks. He walked past us whistling away, probably off to top up his tan.
The following day we went indoor skydiving. Something we've wanted to do for ages. You'll never get us up in a plane so this was ideal. You spend half an hour watching a training video and learning the how to skydive, then you get given the gear you have to wear, then you spend about 15 minutes giving it a go. Normally the instructor will keep hold of you so you can get used to it but our instructor let go of me and I shot up about 25 foot in the air to the ceiling. It was like the scene from Willy Wonky when Charlie and Grandad drink the Lemonade and float to the ceiling. I thought I was going to have to burp to come backdown.
Carmen Electra in the Crazy Horse Paris
show with stars covering her assets
You can't go to Vegas without seeing a show and when we found out the Crazy Horse Paris show at the MGM Grand had Carmen Electra guest starring in it we had to go. The show itself was amazing - naked ladies done in a tasteful manner. Carmen came on stage a few times but I didn't expect her to come on at the end starkers! Unfortunately no cameras were allowed but it was a great show and to see Carmens norks in the flesh was unforgettable!
And so we we moved on, to Los Angeles. We were staying at the Mondrian hotel on Sunset Strip. When the taxi driver dropped us off I can remember asking the porter if we were at the right hotel because it was so exclusive that it didn't have a name on the building. As we were on honeymoon we were upgraded to a suite on the 20th floor overlooking the whole of LA. It was unbelievable. The room was amazing and the views just topped it off. The hotel is supposed to be a bit of a celebrity hangout especially in the Skybar which is the hotel's bar overlooking the city. We went there a couple of times but didn't see any celebs, probably because it was so dark in there.
Following in the, er, footsteps of George Michael
On day one we decided to get our bearings so walked along Sunset Strip towards Beverly Hills. The size of some of the houses were the biggest I've ever seen. We must have walked about two miles along Sunset Strip and suddenly came across the Will Rogers Memorial Park which is where George Michael was caught in the toilets for 'lewd conduct' a few years ago. We couldn't help but take a look at the 'scene of the crime'. No sign of George now but interesting all the same.
We managed to find our way to Rodeo Drive, the famous exclusive shopping area of LA. After stumbling into Guess and spending yet more money on clothes we kept walking, past the hotel where they filmed Pretty Woman and back to our hotel.
On the second day in LA we had two tours booked, one that took us on a tour of the whole city and a movie stars homes tour. The tour of LA was good for people like us that only had 3 days there. I guess the highlight was the Hollywood walk of fame and the Kodak theatre where they hold the Oscars. At the time when Michael Jackson had only died two weeks earlier it was interesting to see his star covered in flowers and Farrah Fawcitt who died on the same day as Jacko having no flowers.
The Playboy Mansion - everyones dream!
After the tour of LA we went on the movie stars homes tour. This was arguably the best two hours of the whole honeymoon. Absolutely facinating. It's hard to remember everyones houses we went to but we drove to Beverly Hills and visited the house where they filmed The Osbournes, Michael Jackson's rented house where he died, Jennifer Aniston's house, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes' house, just to name a few, but the highlight had to be when we stopped at The Playboy Mansion. The drivers on these tours aren't supposed to let anyone out of the tour cars but as we were on honeymoon he stopped and we all got out for a photo outside the gates.
On the way back he took us past The Ivy restaurant to show us celebrity hangouts. Opposite The Ivy there was papparazi snapping someone inside a woman's clothes shop. The driver (his name was Brian) stopped and let us out again so we walked into the shop and it was Kate Beckinsale wandering round the aisles.
What a day it was; it made us realise this really was the heart of everything. That evening we went shopping back to somewhere we had stopped off at on the city tour and bought a few more things. Ed Hardy clothes had become a winner for us on the honeymoon so we found the flagship store in Melrose Avenue and bought a few more things. Even when I bought a couple of t-shirts I was sidetracked with other items on the rail. By the time I walked outside Shella had only been outside 30 seconds but she was being chatted up by a middle aged yank. Maybe he was just being friendly, we'll never know. As we walked along the street my eye was caught by more clothes in the shop next door. Suddenly it felt like someone had punched me in the face. I was stunned. I looked up only to realise that I had walked straight into a bus stop post that was in the middle of the pavement. Shella pissed herself and two girls in a hairdressers were giggling whilst I was still trying to work out what had happened. Why put a sign in the middle of the pavement? Only in America.
Donny Tourette - Legend!
That evening we went for a bite to eat and then went to a bar called The Saddle Ranch. It's where they've filmed Sex in the City and Girls of the Playboy Mansion. Quite lively and even had a Buckin Bronco. On the walk back to the hotel we both saw someone we recognised, Donny Tourette from the band Towers of London and also ex Big Brother. He's quite a recognisable chap and I persuaded Shella to approach him as I thought he would be a bit miserable to me but he was a top bloke, really sound and chatty. He was obvously chuffed we had gone up to him so many miles away from the UK. He was a bit coy about what hotel he was staying in. Seemed like he was slumming it a bit. He said he was filming for VH1 and after filming they were all due to be upgraded. Put it this way, we didn't see him in the Skybar that evening!
The following day we headed to the airport. We thought the celeb spotting was over but there was one more to see - Kelsey Grammer, ex Frasier and Cheers. He seemed nice too, shaking hands with everyone as he boarded a plane to New York.
The Moana Surfrider in Hawaii
And so to Hawaii. We stayed at the Moana Surfrider Hotel, the oldest hotel in Waikiki. It was beautiful. A bottle of Champers was in the fridge on our arrival which lasted about 10 minutes.
Waikiki was fairly built up with hotels and is adjacent to Honolulu which is the 11th largest city in the USA but we headed on a couple of tours whilst there so managed to see how beautiful the island is.
By the first day Shella had developed a strange obsession for the local food/drink/gift stores called ABC. They have them across the US but in Waikiki they are everywhere. Selling everything from fridge magnets (right up our street), naked calendars, sandwiches and souvenir dusters. What we didn't expect was that to buy alcohol you needed to look 40! I couldn't believe it when we went to buy our usual 6 pack of Bud Lite Lime and the shop assistant pointing up to a sign saying if you didn't look 40 you would be required to show ID. Strange but true. The passport was taken everywhere after that. We were rather terrified by the fact that we didn't always have to show it.
The Pearl Harbour memorial
We mixed our 5 days in Hawaii with a couple of days on the beach. Shella and I can't sit still for too long nowadays and it really was scorching so we broke up the sunbathing one day with a trip to the largest shopping centre in Hawaii, the Ala Moana. We'd only planned a couple of hours there but like most of the shopping centres in the USA it was so big it took the whole day to look around.
Our first tour was to go to Pearl Harbour, scene of the 1941 bombing by the Japs on the US naval base. It was fascinating to see a brief film, then head out by boat to the site of where the USS Arizona was bombed and where it still lays clearly visible and yet still over 1000 men lie entombed inside it. Beads of oil still rise up to the surface from the sunken ship which were visible.
After the tour we went to the Punchbowl National Cemetery where over 13,000 men and women who died in World War II are laid to rest. It even included Hawaii's first astronaut Ellison Onizuka who died in the 1986 Space Shuttle disaster.
Who's this lovely couple enjoying the Hawaiian sunshine?
The following day we went on our second tour which went up the coast taking in some amazing scenery and also plenty of locations where they filmed Magnum, including his house which our tour guide was very proud to point out. We also passed the beach where they filmed 'From Here to Eternity'. I've never seen it myself. Although we did see some turtles swimming in it. After that we headed through the rainforest and back to Honolulu and other various sights before getting back to Waikiki.
After spending time on the beach we'd seen people, good and bad, surfing so decided we must set aside time to do it ourselves. Both Shella and I had done it before but decided on a lesson anyway to break us in.
With only 3 of us on the lesson, myself, Shella and a boy called Nick we were shown the basics. Our instuctor was hard to understand and was fairly strict so you felt you couldn't make any mistakes. We both picked it up fairly quickly though and after half an hour we were riding the waves. Maybe it had something to do with the fact we had 10 foot boards.
We enjoyed it so much we did it the following day although we picked smaller boards but without our instructor telling us when the wave was coming it was much harder.
That afternoon we headed to the airport for an 8 and a half hour flight to Chicago. Neither myself or Shella can sleep on a plane (maybe it's got something to do with flying cattle class) so the night flight seemed long but not helped by the fact that we were flying from west to east where the time difference is 6 hours ahead.
Don't jump! Shella decides enough is enough
after two weeks marriage by visiting Sears Tower
We arrived at Chicago airport at 5am absolutely shattered after flying from Hawaii at 3pm the day before. When we got to the hotel, the Sofitel Water Tower at 6am I didn't know what to do with myself. Dazed, irritable and just in desperate need for a bed. We tried to check in but they had a full hotel the previous night so they said they would try and get us a room for lunchtime (normal check in was 3pm). I decided to just fall asleep on the sofas in reception but Shella was having none of it. Before I knew it she dragged me onto a bus tour round the city, first stop, The Sears Tower. Now called the Willis Tower. Not being particularly fond of heights, I wasn't really too keen to go up 103 storeys, but I must've been weakened by my tiredness because all of a sudden I find myself at the top of the third tallest building in the world on the Skydeck. To top it all, they've just opened 'The Ledge', where you can actually walk 'in the sky' in a glass cube which sticks out of the side of the tower. Shella skipped onto the ledge without a care in the world but I was having none of it. I did manage to lie down on the ledge and look upwards, so Shella could take a picture of me, but that was my limit!
The stroll along Lake Michigan towards
the Navy Pier in the background
Chicago is an amazing, beautiful city. Very clean with some amazing architecture and such friendly people that were very proud of their city. By lunchtime we hopped off the bus to go back to our hotel and see if we could check in. They told us to come back in half an hour. Gutted. After having some nice soup in a fish restaurant opposite we went back, by now ready to drop and getting agitated. We returned to be told as an apology for waiting and as it was our honeymoon they were going to upgrade us to the best room they had right at the top on the 32nd floor. The room was fantastic. It was a suite and yet again massive. With hotel rooms on the honeymoon we'd been so spoilt. The views from the hotel across Chicago were amazing, almost as good as the Sears Tower.
By this time we were on a high and had a quick shower and went straight back out. We walked along Lake Michigan and past the man made beach towards the Navy Pier. This was definitely a tourist hotspot, a long pier with shops, bars and plenty of kids! There were some great views of Lake Michigan though.
Thanks for coming
- the hotel shows their appreciation
Although very tired we stayed out in Chicago until 9.30pm when we'd had our last meal at The Cheesecake Factory and headed back to the hotel. I think I worked out we'd stayed awake for about 37 hours. It was good going. When we got back to the room the hotel had written a lovely note to us thanking us for spending our honeymoon at their hotel and left us some water and three strawberries dipped in chocolate. A really nice touch.
The next day was the last of our honeymoon. We had a few hours left in Chicago so in typical Matt and Shella style we went shopping, spending more money in Abercrombie and North Face (buying his and hers jackets - now that's a sign of getting old!).
Whilst in airport waiting lounge I like to pass the time away by visiting the Gents (or Restrooms as the Yanks like to call it).
Sani Seat - everyones dream resting place before an 8 hour flight
The good thing about going to the lav in the States is they have those disposable sheets you can put round the loo seat. It saves so much time instead of having to line sheets of paper round the rim. Chicago airport went one better by having an automatic contraption where you pressed a button and the loo seat was wrapped in a clean cellophane cover. Sitting on it felt like wearing a nappy. What a great invention.
Our flight was at 5pm and we were delayed by an hour whilst inside the plane as Air Force One was landing with President Barack Obama on board. Well, Chicago is where he lives.
The 8 hour flight was spent reminiscing on what was the holiday of a lifetime. A special thanks to everyone that donated money into our honeymoon fund as a wedding present. It was spent wisely on city tours and activities we wanted to do.
Matt and Shella, Los Angeles, July 2009
And so here we are, almost a year to the day since the first blog was written. We are ending the series of Wedding Storey blogs. It's been quite a year and hopefully you have enjoyed reading our thoughts during the build up to the wedding.
This site will stay up for posterity, and of course any ideas future bride and grooms would like to get from it.
Matt and Shella