Thursday, April 4, 2013

California Dreamin' - Part One


Spring Break this year arrived the last week of March.  I've had a very difficult year at work, so the relief was greatly appreciated.  Rachel and I had long been planning a trip to California.  However, "planning" is not a good word to describe our trip.  We arranged our flights, and knew we'd stay with three friends.  I am entering each portion of the trip as three separate blogs.  Beyond those plans, we had nothing planned at all- no idea what to expect.  Neither of us had ever been to California.  Although I've left the States many times, inside the country, I've never been west of Buffalo!  The trip ended up being amazing- definitely one of Rachel and my best trips together, and overall a wonderful and truly unforgettable experience!

Day One: San Juan Capistrano

Rachel and I woke very early in the morning for a 5 am flight to Long Beach.  The plane flew over some stunning scenery- including the Grand Canyon- which I tried to photograph from the air.  We arrived in California later that morning and immediately felt welcome- it was warm, sunny, and the entire airport was outdoors- even the baggage claim.  We met Rachel's friend Amy, who drove us to her home in Irvine.  

After a great vegan lunch (our first of many vegan meals- something Rachel and I loved about Southern CA was it's friendliness to her diet) we went with Amy and her friends Nico and Nancy to San Juan Capistrano, a Spanish mission and historic site.  We went with the intention of seeing the mission itself, but accidentally went on Swallow's Day- the day when the entire town holds a fair and large celebration to mark the annual return of cliff swallows- small birds that migrate 6,000 miles to Argentina every winter, and return to the mission every spring.  We did a walking tour of the mission, which was beautiful.  After walking around, we went to the fair and town.  It was wacky to see so much celebration over some small birds (which we're not sure we ever saw- though we did see the nests) but still fun.  We went home and all learned a great card game called "Bang!"

Day Two: Temecula

Interestingly, the whole week we were in CA it was very cool every morning, but then got rapidly warmer.  By about 9 am, it was warm enough to ditch the coats and go in short sleeves, and by noon it was usually in the 70s.  I hadn't known that most of the flora in the area is not native- it was planted in a desert, which is irrigated from many sources as far away as the Colorado River.  Still, natural or not, the area is stunningly beautiful and very nice to be outside in.

We woke up on Sunday, walked around the park near Amy's house, then met her and her boyfriend Jacob for lunch.  They then drove us to the vineyards of Temecula valley, about 90 minutes inland, past some great mountain scenery.  We went to two wineries: Mount Palomar and Calloway.  Altogether, Rachel and I each tried 20 wines (we split 10 tastings).  We liked the scenery and estate better at Mt Palomar, but enjoyed the wine more at Calloway- and ended up buying a Zinfindel that we'd later drink on our last night in CA.

That evening, Amy took us to an Iranian grocery store with a hot bar for dinner.  We had sangak- a huge Iranian flatbread that fed six people- plus some great Indian and Thai food.  We then played Bang! the rest of the night.

Day Three: Laguna

Amy had class on Monday morning, so Rachel and I relaxed a bit.  Then she came home and drove us to Laguna Beach.  Laguna is an artists' colony, sort of like the colony Rachel and I had our first date at (Torpedo Factory), although much, much bigger, and located between the mountains and the beach.  We walked around the town a bit, buying art from an artist originally from the DC area.  We went to the beach and waded in the Pacific.  The water felt weird-  it was full of seaweed and kelp.  There was also tons of plant life on the beach- far more than I've ever seen at an Atlantic beach.  I think they comb the water closer to summer, but even in March there were people wading and surfing.

After a leisurely time at Laguna, Amy took Rachel shopping for a couple hours.  The malls are all outdoor, and the one we visited even had a Ferris wheel and carousel.  We ended our evening by taking Amy to a dinner of her choice (something we did with each host group), and she chose a vegan place with great food.  I am an omnivore, but tried a "vegan bacon cheeseburger" - I know how it sounds, but it was fantastic- tasted absolutely wonderful.  Of course, I'm still not giving up real bacon.  :-)

Tuesday morning was our final time with Amy.  After her class, we went to a sandwich place, then boarded a train north....
(to be continued)...  

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