Monthly Archives: May 2014

What the hell am I doing ……. In LA?

So this morning we left the small, calm, serene Santa Barbara and set off on the last leg of our coastal road trip with a relatively short hop across to Malibu to have a good old nosey at how the other half live in the posh houses.  Both the landscape and the architecture are stunning.  On the left of the highway there are spectacular mountains as far as the eye can see. To the right are all the individual houses which jut right out over the ocean and the crashing waves below.  They look amazing, although I still wouldn’t like having to drive my car directly onto the very busy Highway 1 so I happily passed on the idea of buying one of these.

A few miles further on and soon all tranquility was left behind as we entered the craziness that is the LA road system.  Although used to the standard madness of American motorways now, this was one step even further into insanity.  We had a sat nav, a paper map and written directions and we just about survived the long and arduous journey across to Hollywood and Highland.  After the obligatory potter up and down the Walk of Fame (with Kate Winslet and Kermit the Frog among my favourite stars) we had a look at the famous foot and handprints, where I discovered that I have the same size feet as Frank Sinatra but Judy Garland had tiny little trotters.  We then embarked upon a lightning tour of the other sights of Hollywood and Beverly Hills, including the Hollywood sign, shopping on Rodeo Drive, Iron Man’s house and the Playboy Mansion.  All the predictable stuff that you have to do when you get to this town.  Oh and Angelina Jolie was in town for the world premiere of Maleficent which just made the place that tiny bit busier and crazier.

We arrived at our hotel late and in the dark and it looked a little bit Bates Motel from the outside, but appearances were totally deceptive as it has been recently refurbished and is absolutely lovely inside. So I think it’s time I take advantage of the comfy bed and catch some zzzzs before tomorrow’s adventures commence.

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On the Road Again

So on day three of our road trip we took a detour mainly inland and swapped the ocean views for some mountainous vistas.  It made a nice change as we got to see some different American landscapes which were still spectacular (I think I’m using that word far too much but I just can’t help it).  It was a relatively short jaunt today from Morro Bay to Santa Barbara, taking in a couple of little detours on the way. 

We had been a little apprehensive about tonight’s hotel; after all, so far this week they’ve been getting progressively higher quality for less money and this run surely has to end.  We’d booked this one in advance and knew we were getting an absolute bargain but wondered exactly what we would be getting for our money when paying about a tenth of the usual going rate at this hotel. Well, we needn’t have worried.  We have an oceanfront two bedroom suite with posh toiletries and a fabulously comfy bed (or two).  I’m starting to wonder if we have accidentally done some kind of deal with the devil.  Okay, so we can’t see the sea from our windows, but it’s dark now anyway, and our overall costs are doubled by the price of overnight parking, but that’s really not an issue.

So all this chattering on and I haven’t even mentioned Santa Barbara itself yet.  It’s quite a bit bigger than our last two destinations but still feels quite cosy.  We took a spin along the boardwalk on a couple of the hotel’s bikes (those strange cruiser things that are like comfortable armchairs with no proper brakes to speak of, just the bizarre mechanism where you have to pedal backwards to stop, which is not always particularly reassuring or effective when you’re freewheeling down an unexpectedly steep hill).  Safely back on our own feet again, we walked through the main street and through a farmers’ market with the most amazingly scented fruit you can imagine.  We ended the day with dinner at the end of the pier watching the seals and pelicans playing in the Pacific as the sun set over the mountains.  Another distinctly average day then.

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To Morro, to Morro, we’re going to Morro

So I really would have been happy to stay in Monterey forever, however in the end I reluctantly got into the convertible for another drive along stunning coastline in the sunshine. Sigh.

The coastline from Monterey to Morro Bay along Highway 1 is utterly amazing.  With a capital UTTERLY.  We thought yesterday’s scenery was pretty, but this was on another level.  We started with a leisurely drive around Pacific Grove on the outskirts of Monterey, where I chose the clifftop house I shall live in once I’ve decided which of my dream jobs to accept in the town. From there it was a simple hundred and something mile drive down the Pacific Coast Highway to our next destination.  Well, not quite so simple.  The spectacular drive involves lots of twists and turns and dramatic climbs and drops (and you really want to obey those speed limit signs; they really know what they’re talking about). It’s so worth the change of underwear at the end though.  This really is the drive that you imagine when you think of cruising across America with the top down.

We eventually rolled into Morro Bay, past the imposing Morro Rock, and up to our hotel.  All our hotels have been booked online, unseen, lucky dip style.  So far, they have been getting cheaper but also progressively nicer.  Tonight’s hotel is nestled between a State Park and the beach and it’s adorable.  Let’s hope I haven’t now jinxed this run of luck as far as sleeping places are concerned.

We’ve had a lovely quiet afternoon and evening, pottering along the oceanfront and enjoying our first sunset on the West Coast with some good food and wine.  If Monterey hadn’t already stolen my heart then Morro Bay might have had a good chance but, alas, I am now destined to love another.  Tomorrow we venture further down the coast in search of more adventures.

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Santa Cruz you’re not that far…

… Unless it’s Memorial Day Weekend and the whole world has chosen to visit the beaches of the West Coast at the same time!  Can’t really complain though, as it’s not every day that I get chauffeur driven down the Pacific Coast Highway in a Mustang convertible.  However, the combination of heavy traffic and accidents along the route did serve to make it feel just like a Bank Holiday back in the UK.  We had a slow but actually very enjoyable pootle through Half Moon Bay and a host of charming tiny beaches and I got my first ever glimpse of the Pacific.  It was nice to have the excuse to potter at 20 mph along a lot of the scenic areas (and boy were there a lot).  We had planned to stop in Santa Cruz, home of The Lost Boys, for a spot of vampire hunting, but this being probably the busiest summer weekend in the American calendar, it was not to be.  We managed some very slow progress through the middle of the town and past the famous Boardwalk but walking would have been way quicker.  In fact, had I thought of it, I could easily have jumped out of the car and grabbed us a couple of ice creams before the car had moved about ten feet.  Every single car park was full to capacity so we did our sightseeing from the comfort of our four wheels.  I must say, my overriding impression of Santa Cruz is that it’s just like Southend on Sea but with better weather, and probably less jellied eels.

Not long after, however, we arrived in Monterey, which is one of the loveliest places I have ever visited. Put it this way, if the husband somehow drives off and forgets me in the morning, I’ll be a little miffed but I’ll get over it and live out my days here quite happily.  It’s a delightful small town but with all the things you need (independent coffee shop, bookshop etc) plus a nice little wharf/boardwalk area and some not too shabby weather to boot. Oh and it has three British pubs that I know of.  We only managed to make it into two of them because we got distracted by a bunch of really nice, funny, educated and generally very charming Americans who entertained us for the evening.  So here I find myself at the end of another fun-packed day of adventures and needing another good night’s sleep.  Tomorrow, we head to Morro (Bay).

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Welcome to The Rock

As I type this, I am sitting at a pavement café in the sunshine, sipping a pinot grigio and watching the world go by.  It’s a bit different from last night’s activity, when we took a trip across to Alcatraz Island.

We started the day on our feet and thankfully (miraculously) found some flat streets to explore.  Our search for breakfast got a little sidetracked and we ended up eating about three hours after setting out.  This is no doubt a testament to the multitude of things to do and see in this city.  Our aimless pootling took up most of the afternoon and I couldn’t really tell you what we actually did, but it was a lovely day.  The main event, however, was still to come.

Alcatraz has a long and varied history but it’s most famous for being a notorious prison.  We had a fascinating tour and many and varied talks about the island and its inmates.  At the end, as darkness fell, we were treated to “the sound of the slammer” as all the jail doors were automatically closed at once. We were asked to think about how that sound made us feel, and a lot of the other visitors expressed some horror and discomfort, but I was fine.  Clearly my conscience is a lot clearer than other people’s! The place did take on a much more sinister air when we were allowed to venture upstairs to the hospital area that’s normally out of bounds, and also when we found ourselves traipsing back downhill in the dark. Put it this way, I don’t think they have to worry about people missing the ferry home!

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If you’re going to San Francisco…

…. Then you might want to know it’s a tad hilly.  Built on 43 hills, in fact.  Which doesn’t really mean much until you’re walking or, even worse, cycling up (or down) one of them, and facing a row of five more equally steep ones ahead.

We are big fans of walking around cities because it’s good for you, it’s usually quicker (and obviously a lot cheaper) than using public transport, and you get to see a lot more of the world around you than you would from behind glass in a small metal box.  And San Francisco bills itself as a pedestrian-friendly city.  However, even we have limits. In this case, we’d still like the full use of our limbs by the end of the trip.

So we started our first morning in the city by hopping on one of the historic streetcars, and boy were we glad we did.  We only wanted to travel about one mile but with the vastly steep gradient it seemed to be about the same vertical distance as it was horizontal. It’s possible to ride on the outside of a streetcar while just hanging onto a not-very-sturdy-looking pole, but you do have to listen very closely to the conductor chappy who will shout commands at you to ensure you don’t make an unscheduled and ungainly dismount as the streetcar hurtles around a sharp bend or otherwise lose any of your extremities when it squeezes between two parked vehicles.  Several times I looked up to see a large coach about two inches from my face.  The most impressive thing about the streetcar, however, or the scariest, is that as you are hurtling down a 40% gradient you realize that the only thing actually slowing you down and stopping you from crashing is essentially a man holding onto a large stick jammed into the driving mechanism.  So you’re essentially riding in a giant go cart on some of the steepest roads in the country.

Not content with just one adrenaline-fueled ride for the day, we then decided to rent bikes and see the city on two wheels.  Now I can speed along quite happily on a spin bike that’s fixed down, I’m not quite so proficient on a real bike.  So I’m pleased to say that I managed to ride right through the city centre quite happily and without incident.  I even managed to navigate at the same time as the husband had temporarily (I hope) completely lost his sense of direction.  We covered a substantial chunk of the city’s various neighborhoods before venturing across the Golden Gate Bridge.  It is every bit as spectacular as you’d expect, and every bit as busy.  There are plenty of places to get great views of it, and, most importantly, there was no sign of a rampaging Godzilla.

Once on the other side of the bridge, we cycled into Sausalito which is utterly charming and reminiscent of an Italian coastal village (not that I have been to Italy, but that’s what it looks like on telly). It’s also incredibly posh and expensive and apparently the home of George Lucas.  After a small potter about, we treated ourselves to a rather nice free ice cream then got the ferry back across the bay for food, drink and a rather well earned rest.

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A Room of One’s Own

We arrived in San Francisco in the dead of night and managed to locate our hotel. It’s much like the one I remember staying in when we went to New York almost a decade ago when we had less money and lower standards i.e. somewhat basic and compact but right in the heart of the city.  The thing is, when I say “compact”, I realize that my frame of reference has become vastly americanised over the past two years, because this room is about the size of the average British bedroom and the bed is about the size of the average British bed too.  After two years of oversized everything, it’s a shock to see something “normal” again.

The bathroom is a feat of minimalist design, I have to say.  It’s perfect if you are the kind of person who likes to take a shower while sitting on the toilet, talking to someone sitting on the bed and also keeping an eye on the front door at the same time.

But, as I say, it’s right in the heart of the city, just off Union Square, which you can’t beat really.  The husband did notice a few ladies, ahem, “working” outside last night (actually, it was perhaps more concerning that he recognized them so easily – should I be having words with him?).  We are about to head out now into the morning to see what this city has to offer us in the daylight hours.

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Still running…

Just a little update – so far this year I have run 335km, which is as far as from home to Washington DC! And astonishingly 104km of that was during the last 30 days! Time for a short rest I think!!

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The Doors – Independence Day

 

 

So after a nail-biting wait (we don’t get much excitement round these parts) the neighbours have finally changed their door decoration.  The bad news is, it will be the same now until after 4th July so I have aaaages to wait for another new one (yes I am THAT impatient).  The good news, however, is that it’s a really spectacular homage to Independence Day (for Brit readers, I’m talking about the day that Americans celebrate leaving British rule, not the day the aliens blew up the White House, although the 1996 film is actually the first result that comes up if you Google it).  I think this door neatly encapsulates, in miniature form, the kind of celebrations and decorations that we can expect in seven weeks’ time.  Americans are incredibly patriotic and proud, and we Brits could do with adopting a little more of this positive attitude.  Anyway, enough of this idle chitchat – have a look at this!

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