Monday, October 26, 2015

USGP at Circuit of the Americas

Our big reason for being in the Austin area is to watch the Formula 1 Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas (COTAS). Formula 1 is the BIG world championship car race series that travels the world. It’s the biggest, most expensive, most glamorous series of races ever seen. A single year of racing can cost over 50 million dollars. Movie stars, Kings and Queens, Sports and Music stars are just part of the crowd. The worlds highest paid sports person was the Formula 1 World Champion.



We love formula 1. When we gave up cable TV in San Diego we joined a formula 1 fan club so we could watch the TV broadcasts at Henry’s Pub in the Gaslamp District.

The US Grand Prix has been held at many venues over the years. Watkins Glen and Long Beach spring to mind. Modern tracks are specially built to hold the races in order to meet the strict safety requirements. COTAS was built about 5 years ago.

Watching last year’s USGP on TV we realized 2 things. That the 2015 event was going to be on our wedding anniversary and that we’d be on the road doing our full time RV trip.

We called the ticket office and made reservations.

They offered us a package deal in which we could stay at the hotel on the circuit for 3 nights have dinner with the drivers, sit in the VIP grandstand and a whole bunch of stuff. Perfect. Except it would be $3000 dollars a ticket. Yes you read it right THREE THOUSAND A TICKET!

Having got back to reality we worked out that we could camp at the circuit (dry camp only), sit on the grass and watch the races for only $400! Well it was going to be our anniversary so we treated ourselves. Then we got an e-mail that Elton John was going to be putting on a concert exclusively at the circuit after the race and it was included in the admission. 
Cool we like Sir Elton.

We dropped by the track to scout out the gates etc., before we headed over to San Antonio. Everything looked good and straightforward.
On the day before we were due to go there we got an e-mail from them saying that due to forecasts of rain we could get in at 8am instead of noon.

The day came and we woke up to RAIN! We got lost, missed the turn, had to argue with them that we weren’t going to park the rig on a steep slope and eventually got a fairly level spot. And it had stopped raining.




But not for long.

Friday morning we woke up to steady but persistent rain.
They say that Eskimo’s have 100 different words to describe snow. Well us Brits have a few words to describe rain! One of my favorite lines to spin in the US is to sit or stand outside in some really miserable weather and say to my US friends “This is just like a pleasant summers day in England”.

Well there were LOTS of Brits here this weekend and a Brit won the event! Maybe all those damp, soggy souls just attracted rain?

I know when our friends Doug. Lyn and Daniel came to San Diego earlier this year we had the wettest July in history, Other British friends and relatives seem to bring the same results. When we live in San Diego and no Brit friends are close by? A 10 year drought!

I’m just saying, not blaming OK??

So we went to watch the races. Except the races, the practice sessions, everything was rained out on Friday and most of Saturday. So we sat in the rig and watched replays of previous races on the big Jumbotron screen inside the track and used binoculars to read the titles!



Sunday morning it was still raining but by 2pm when the big race started it had just about dried out and being Formula 1 they actually race in the rain, so sat on our camp chairs and watched out favorite driver Lewis Hamilton win the race. By doing so he also locked up the 2015 World Drivers


It's not easy taking pictures of cars going 200 MPH on a dark rainy day!!
Championship for the 2nd straight year.
And afterwards we drank beer and wine and watched Elton John perform. COOL!!

Monday came and it was time to see if we could get out after so much rain. We watched on Saturday as many cars were pulled out by pickup trucks, the grass parking area had turned into a swamp.

A dry night and some sun might have improved things we hoped. I walked around and although the ground was more solid it didn’t feel that good. As soon as I tried to move the rig it just spun the tires and dug in. Mercifully the organizers of the event had laid on a tractor to pull people out and they got us out easily. A couple of big 40’ diesel pushers were in solid though. They then called a big truck towing machine in. That got one of the rigs out but the other one was pulling the tow truck in with it instead of coming out.


We left before we saw if they eventually succeeded and stopped on the way the San Antonio to empty the tanks at Camping World.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

More Texas

We’ll be back again and then we’ll camp in the town and not near Austin which is a 90 minute drive each way.

Time to visit Austin. We’ve heard a lot about the city thru our research into the US Grand Prix. The Grand Prix (GP) is our reason for coming here. (see next week’s blog).


The LBJ Library had a Beatles touring exhibit.

Austin is the State Capitol of Texas. Famous for food and music (Austin City Limits?). It sounded like a nice place to explore. The Capitol building is very impressive and we wandered the visitor center and the Capitol for nearly an hour before walking down Congress to the river. We walked for nearly 3 hours exploring the side streets and especially 6th Street where the music and nightlife happen.





A nice place, but just as we got burned out on National Parks a month ago, now were getting burned out on cities! We’re also getting “Hitch Itch” again (see http://banbrv.blogspot.com/2014/12/scratch-it-where-it-itches.html), and starting to think about packing up and heading to San Antonio at the end of the week.

We have a “Thousand Trails” (TT) membership that we bought cheap o Craigslist. TT is very much like timeshares in that you get the high pressure sales pitch and pay way over the top for what you get, but you can buy “Used” memberships and transfer them to your name. Which is what we did a couple of years ago. You have to pay annual dues but you get 30 days per year free camping and it’s only $3 a day after that so if you camp a lot it can be worthwhile. Most TT parks are very well equipped if not all that well maintained.




We found the TT resort at Lake Medina in Lakeland TX about 40 miles north of San Antonio and decided to use the last of our free days there.
This place like the timeshare near Austin is over run with deer, getting quite blasé about them now. 



This resort is on a lake too Lake Medina, the place is pretty but pretty run down. The activities center is well looked after but the roads are terrible and the other building falling into disrepair. There’s a great big pool that’s in good shape. With the weather in the 90’s we took advantage of that and the hot tub attached that isn’t in quite as good shape.



My new 2 wheel transport

We explored the River Walk in San Antonio and loved the atmosphere of the city. We'll be back to explore more.




Of course in San Antonio you have to visit the Alamo.

In a flurry of activity we planned the next couple of months one evening. (No TV!). On Wednesday we will leave here and go to Austin where we’ll stay in an RV park, empty the black and grey tanks, fill the water tanks, stock up with beer and wine before we go to the race track for the USGP. 

We will camp on the track until the next Monday, then go back to San Antonio and stay 2 nights at the Elks Lodge there while we see more of the city. Then we’ll move back to the TT resort for 3 days to use up our free nights for this year. Our friend Jesse lives in El Paso and we have to pass thru there to get to Arizona. We planned 4 days to get there. Then we want to be in Yuma for Thanksgiving and we’ll probably stop in at Casa Grande (See http://banbrv.blogspot.com/2014/12/we-wish-you-merry-christmas.html) for a week or so on the way. After thanksgiving we’ll be back in Casa Grande for the winter.


We’re buzzing with anticipation especially about the Grand Prix.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Texas

It’s a Brit thing. And no photography allowed in there either.

Lubbock.
We’ve been watching the temperatures in Texas as we headed south. 90’s every day. Our friends Scott and Suzanne left Texas because it was too hot and humid.

Humid it is, Hot it’s not. 101% humidity equals rain, and it’s rained for the last 3 days. The temperature hasn’t been above 70. Lubbock!

After 4 nights we decided we’d had enough of Lubbock. San Angelo was halfway to Austin and had some interesting stuff like a railroad museum and several breweries. Having weighed the cultural advantages of San Angelo we hit the road

The RV Park in San Angelo was on a nice Lake and so quiet, such a change from the train whistles in Lubbock. 


We had a few thunderstorms but only at night, which let us wander the old downtown area of San Angelo in pleasant conditions. 







We went into a really cool store that was more like a Hollywood movie set than a store. 






Fort Concho was good too and to cap it all there were 2 nice brew pubs.





3 days and we moved on again, we had reservations at a timeshare resort near Austin.  (See http://banbrv.blogspot.com/2015/10/timeshares-good-and-bad.html for a timeshare lecture!).

We had points with RCI we hadn’t used and wouldn’t be able to use after we stopped our current membership, so we found a resort near Austin and got a week there. 
Our plan is to empty the fridge and freezer in the RV, defrost them and clean them out. Catch up on some maintenance in the rig, launder everything while we use the resort’s beds, bedding, kitchen etc., etc., then set off in the rig again for several more months.

The resort is called “The Shores at Lake Travis” being a timeshare it isn’t on the shores of anything! It’s a fairly strenuous (For us old farts) walk up and down a steep path. And the place is pretty run down too but they have room for the RV, will accept our mail and they are fairly close to Austin.

The resort is in the “Texas Hills” very pretty country with tight winding roads. It’s a famous deer hunting area and it’s easy to see why. It’s overrun with them, they will almost feed out of your hand here. Bucks that would look good on the wall on the east coast are commonplace.





We took a side trip to Fredericksburg TX. LBJ’s family ranch in Johnson TX is now a national historic site and you pass thru there on the way. Fredericksburg itself was a German community in the 1800’s and retains its heritage. Being October when we visit October Fest is in full swing with arts and music everywhere.




We visited the Museum of the War in the Pacific. Why is it here and not somewhere like San Diego? Well Chester Nimitz the Naval Commander in the Pacific was born in Fredericksburg. 





This is a VERY impressive museum. It doesn’t look big on the outside but there is a sign at the desk saying it can take 3 ½ hours to walk around the exhibits, and it really can! Luckily the tickets are good for 48 hours so you can come back to finish it.

Naturally we tried some Jaeger Schnitzel and German beer while we were there, but we didn’t see 10% of the things we wanted t see. We’ll be back again and then we’ll camp in the town and not near Austin which is a 90 minute drive each way.

Timeshares the good and bad

An explanation of timeshares might be in order.

Timeshares were a big deal in the 80’s. All the used car salesmen that had been fired for lack of integrity got hired by the timeshare industry. Huge money was involved and resorts sprang up everywhere. It was a major pain visiting anywhere that there was a tourist attraction. You’d be mobbed by timeshare people offering free gifts if you sat in a 60 minute sales presentation.

In 1983 Barbara and I were living in New Orleans and got roped into a presentation in Abita Springs. Barbara fell in love with the place and I wasn’t so keen. The more I said no the lower the price dropped. Eventually we bought in. 

The price got real low when I said I’d pay cash.

We didn’t know anything about comparable prices, annual maintenance fees, trading weeks, red weeks, green weeks, points verses weeks memberships and a host of other related things.

But we were lucky, and we got luckier later. First they played up the maintenance fees were low.

Every resort makes money on maintenance fees. The initial sales price goes to the resort developers and sales people. Once the resort is sold out the only income they have is exchange fees, rentals and maintenance fees. Some resorts the fees are reasonable some are extortionate. At the time we bought ours the annual maintenance was $200 a year and even now 30 yrs., later it’s only $400 a year. A friend bought into a high end resort and the fees are $1500 and rising every year.

Next they played up that the resort was a year round destination and all the weeks were Red Weeks. At that time there were three levels, red, blue and yellow (I think). Red were easy to trade, blue less so and yellow impossible.

That brings up trading. There are some organizations that you can join. Interval International and RCI were the 2 back then. They act as a clearing house for timeshare resorts. You pay them an annual membership and that allows you to trade your week at your home resort for a week in any of thousands of other resorts around the world provided there is availability there and you trade for a week equivalent to your home resort. Effectively you can trade red for red, or blue for blue. What you can’t do is trade blue for red or yellow for blue or red, so having a red week in a resort in demand gets you a much better chance of an exchange. If you find an exchange you have to pay RCI etc., an exchange fee.

Weeks and Points. After the timeshare market became totally saturated and sales dropped, the industry had to come up with a way to regenerate sales so they invented “Points Resorts”. In high traffic tourist areas (Orlando etc.,) they began building high end resorts. To prevent people who owned at lesser resorts trading for weeks there, they came up with points. Instead of Red etc., the new system had “Trading Points” based on how fancy the resort was. With points you could trade one week at a very fancy resort for say 2 weeks at a less fancy resort. The beauty of this system was that it excluded all the previous timeshare resorts so if you wanted to play you had to buy another MUCH MORE EXPENSIVE timeshare.

One of the big players in timeshares is Fairfield Resorts. They came in and bought derelict resorts (Of which there were many after the bubble burst and there was no more money to make in sales). As they got bigger they saw a way to corner the market. They bought RCI who were the big exchange company and changed everyone’s resort trading power from weeks (Where you traded a week for a week) to their own new points system. Better yet they made the points decrease in value the closer you came to the actual week you owned, then they offered to make your “Points” come back again for a fee! Brilliant for them but a major thorn on the side for owners.

We discovered another timeshare trading organization DAE. People sick and tired of RCI had another way to go, the fees are lower, the points went away and there were just as many resorts to trade for.

HINTS FOR POTENTIAL TIMESHARE PURCHASERS:

Don’t fall for the timeshare sales pitches! They employ every dirty nasty high pressure sales tactic they can think of. They lie, cheat and steal and once they make the sales they are GONE. The sales people work only on commission and have no connection with the resort.

Timeshares are available USED. If you like a resort search on e-bay etc. for the resort and you can get the same unit for pennies on the dollar. Many, many buyers regret buying after a year or so and can’t get out of the cast iron contracts they’ve signed. That’s your opportunity to buy cheap.

Beware the maintenance fees. They make it sound totally minor but if you are paying $1500 a year for the unit whether you use it OR NOT. It becomes a major cost. If you decide to just stop paying them they will have debt collection agencies on you in a heartbeat. 

Believe me I tried it! 

If they let YOU off the hook the hundreds of equally dissatisfied owners will jump on it too and they’ll go bust overnight.

Beware financing a timeshare, they will gouge you with interest rates and if you buy and regret it you won’t be able to get out of it.

Use the power of exchange to visit other resorts. We’ve owned our home resort for 30 years and only been there once! We have been all over the US and even to Europe on exchanges. 
To us the value of timeshare has been in trading, not owning a particular resort. That means you can buy ANY timeshare and get the benefits. You don’t have to buy the high price flashy unit the sales guys are pitching. 

We bought a second unit at our home resort. A 2 bedroom, red week for $1000 and $300 a year maintenance just so we’d have another week to trade and/or share with family.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Santa Fe and Roswell

Waiting for Scott and Suzanne near the Railyards Plaza we got into conversation with Mike who was fascinated by our full time adventure and another half hour flew by.

We ate too much and walked too little this week thanks to finding lots of new friends. But we did find some nice places to eat.

We found some nice parts of Santa Fe like Canyon Road which is a quaint area of adobe buildings, art/craft stores and restaurants. El Farol Spanish restaurant was our favorite and that’s where we had lunch with Ed and Joan.

Another neat place about 30 or so miles south of town on Rt 14 is Madrid. For our European readers this isn’t pronounced the way it is over there. If you ever saw the movie Wild Hogs with Tim Allen you may have heard them pronounce it MAD-DRID. And by no coincidence: this is the little town (More a village) where they filmed part of the movie. Maggie’s diner is a real place, accept it’s not a dinner but a souvenir store that sells ridiculously overpriced T shirts. Or at least attempts to sell them. Everyone that went in while we were there came out without buying anything.


Everyone also said “I thought it was a diner”. To me the market would be for a diner, but maybe the owners know better? We liked the Historic Mine Tavern best!



And after 6 days here it was time to move on, we have to be near Austin for October 9th as we’ve decided to use up our last week of timeshare at a resort there, which will give us time to clean out the rig, defrost the fridge and live in a building for a week!

Passing thru Southern New Mexico one place stands out and draws you like a moth to a flame: Roswell.



I don’t know what I expected of this place. In my mind was a little cowboy town with a dirt street and aliens on the corner. So finding quite a large city with some interesting history apart from UFO’s was a pleasant surprise.
We did go and visit the UFO Museum however!!






The Roswell Elks Lodge is neat, you should visit if you pass thru here. Excellent RV facilities, and dinners Monday thru Saturday that are superb! They have their own swimming pool too and a casino! We happily got some darts practice in, as they have a room with 2 pool tables and 2 dart boards.



The Roswell Elks recommended the Carlsbad Elks for a stop to see the Cavern and we gladly followed their advice. Another great Lodge with it’s own casino. We arrived on Karaoke night, which didn’t sound too attractive. It wasn’t bad at all. Most of the performers were regulars apparently and did some good Country songs. We aren’t Country fans but we like Willie Nelson and his songs featured prominently so we were happy.

Carlsbad Caverns are well worth a visit, we chose to ride the elevator both way and it was still a 1 ½ hr walk around the main cave.




We had a “No Plan” thing going lately. We don’t decide where we’re going to be the next day until just before we go to bed. Makes things a surprise! We look for somewhere within about 150 miles of where we are. Next stop? 

Let’s look at the road atlas.

Lubbock Texas. Home of Buddy Holly, heck we can’t miss that LET’S GO.

First a tour of the Texas Air Museum. We got there early and were the only people there. The crew of volunteers came in and introduced themselves and we got a 1 on 1 personal tour of EVERYTHING. In and out of the planes, details of who donated what, how they traded this for that. I was so fascinated I forgot to take any pictures! 



After that the Buddy Holly Center was a bit of a letdown. The displays were virtually unreadable to our old eyes. Not much of a tribute to such a huge and short lived talent.

For my British readers the one weird exhibit was one of Buddy’s guitars. After his performance on the London Palladium he gave the guitar to DES O’CONNER. You Yanks won’t know what we’re talking about, but people of our age in UK will say “Get out of here DES O’CONNER!” It’s a Brit thing. And no photography allowed  in there either.

I checked how many miles we've traveled so far. My feeling was about 2500. WRONG we had 4005 miles when we left Roswell. We're having too much fun!!