Friday, April 12, 2013

California Dreamin' - Part Three -Finale

(Day Six continued)

After Zuma Beach, and a lot of foot scraping, Heather, Rachel and I had lunch with Rachel Young- who readers of this blog might recognize as one of my housemates from Oxford.  The four of us had lunch, then we said goodbye to Heather.  Rachel drove us to Monrovia, California.  Of all the places we stayed on our trip, Monrovia was our favorite.  Rachel and I absolutely loved the small down, nestled at the base of mountains, just ten minutes from Pasadena.  It is the birthplace of our favorite grocery store (Trader Joe's), and a really nice place.  Rachel took us into town a bit, we went to a wine store, then returned home for dinner and a game of Settlers of Catan, which was fun.  I did feel a little outnumbered by Rachels, but I guess two Rachels are better than one.

Day Seven - Monrovia Canyon, Venice Beach, and Downtown Disney

On Friday morning, Rachel introduced Rachel and me to quinoa for breakfast- something we've now adopted at our home.  Then we drove a mile, to the entrance of Monrovia Canyon.

We spent about three hours hiking through the canyon, towards a waterfall and back, enjoying beautiful weather, wonderful scenery, and even interesting wildlife.  There were many lizards, and two snakes (I tried two take a picture of one of the snakes- it's labeled in the video- but I had no desire to photograph the rattler).  I loved seeing the mountains everywhere, as we walked through the canyon.  I was wearing pants, but felt immensely hot- it was our warmest weather for the trip.  After we left, I changed into shorts.

We then met Jacob- Rachel's husband- who had been away in Mexico the day before.  The four of us then drove past downtown LA, to Venice Beach.   Now in shorts, we all froze!  Venice was bitterly cold- the only truly unpleasant weather on our whole trip.

Venice Beach was a bit crazy as people say.  It was not Rachel or my favorite place.  We did like the residential section with canals, which is not far from the touristy area.  After the beach, Jacob drove us to Downtown Disney- which is a mall-like area right outside the entrance gate to Disneyland.  The shops are mostly Disney-themed, and it was fun to walk around.  Rachel and I bought our hosts dinner at the Jazz Cafe, then we all had dessert at the Rainforest Cafe.  I liked feeling like I was at Disneyland (we even saw the fireworks) without actually paying for the park.

Our Last Day - Huntington 

I need to pause my narration (which, incidentally, should be imagined being read in Morgan Freeman's voice) to mention the first picture in the video, which is a close-up on an In-and-Out bag.  In-and-Out is a fast food burger chain in California.  Normally such places wouldn't even get a second glance from me, especially considering how much delicious vegan food we had on our trip.  However, every single host we stayed with made a point of mentioning that I had to try an In-and-Out burger.  There's nothing there that Rachel can I eat, but on our last day, Rachel Young bought me an In-and-Out burger.  I ate it before we all had a picnic lunch outside of Huntington.  The burger was good, I admit.  I think the hype was rather amusing.

For our picnic, we opened the bottle of wine that Rachel and I had bought in Temecula- it was delicious.  We then went  inside the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens.  The Huntington is a massive library and art collection.  They actually house two of Rachel's favorite paintings Blue Boy and Pinkie, though we didn't realize that until the end.  There's also a vellum Gutenberg Bible and lots of other neat stuff- but we didn't see any of that.  We went for the 120-acres of carefully sculpted botanical gardens.  In size it is technically smaller than the National Arboretum- yet the Arboretum is mostly undeveloped or un-walkable.  As an entirely walking area- where every inch is part of a garden of some type- the place was the most impressive and enormous botanical gardens I've ever seen- and it was stunning.  We especially loved the Chinese and Japanese gardens.  All of the flowers- especially the wisteria- seemed to be in bloom.  We spent hours walking around, ending in the enormous desert garden, which felt like walking on another world.  The Huntington was one of our favorite places- and a wonderful way to end a wonderful vacation.  We drove to Pasadena for dinner, then in the parking lot outside Long Beach airport, finished the wine as we said goodbye.

We left California for now, vowing to return, since we had such an amazing trip and loved it there.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

California Dreamin' - Part Two

Day Four: LA at Night

After a final lunch and goodbye with Amy, Rachel and I boarded the Amtrak Surfliner towards Los Angeles.  We reached Chatsworth- where we met Rachel's oldest friend (from 2nd grade)- Heather.  Heather drove us to her house, informing us that Chatsworth is "the porn capital of the world" and that they have a group of Mexican drug lords on the nearby streets.  It was a very different feel from Irvine, which was a bit sleepy and mostly students or retirees.  We talked at Heather's house, meeting some of her five housemates, before her fiancee Jeff came home.  Rachel and I then took Heather and Jeff to dinner at Los Toros, a nearby Mexican restaurant with good food.  

After the meal, Jeff drove us through Topanga canyon so we could look out over the valley at night.  We drove to the Pacific, and stopped at Santa Monica Pier- which has a small Coney Island-style amusement park.  The park and pier were lit up, but it was growing very cold.  We wandered the pier, looking at the lights and sights, while sipping hot chocolate.  Suddenly a voice calls out my name, and I spin around.  It was John- one of the teachers I worked with last year while I was student teaching.  That was a very strange coincidence- though he had moved to LA last year.  After the pier closed, Jeff continued his driving tour, taking us through Beverly Hills and Hollywood- which were cool at night.  Hollywood (and LA in general) was far more spread out than I'd ever imagined it.  In East-coast cities everything is compact.  Sunset Blvd has a section with billboards and lights that feels a lot like Times Square- but it covers about 15 solid blocks- while Times Square is only two.  In many respects Los Angeles felt like a single thing, and more like a series of small cities and  suburbs all strung together.  We felt this way even more by the end of the trip.  By the end of the driving tour, both Rachel and I had fallen asleep in the car, so Heather and Jeff just drove us back to their place.  

Day Five: Hollywood

Can't go to the LA area and not see Hollywood, right?  The above pic is a photo I took- I just added the framing to make it more "glamorous".  Rachel and I woke on Wednesday morning and Heather took us to the Orange Line- it's part of the LA Metro, but is a busway- a road that only the bus travels on.  We took the busway to the real subway, then went to Hollywood and Highland- right in the heart of the touristy area- though the actual films and TV are mostly made in Burbank and Studio City (we passed many of the studios later on our trip- though we did not actually visit any).  We walked the "Walk of Fame"- looking at the stars left for celebrities, and enjoying the sights.  We had lunch at a Vegan House, including vegan desserts we later found in the grocery store.  We then walked back, stopping for ice cream sodas at the Disney Soda Fountain Store.  We crossed the street to Grauman's Chinese Theatre, where all the Hollywood movies premiere, and where the Oscars are held.  Iron Man 3 was actually premiering there the following day- so we were glad to go when the area was open and we could see the foot and handprints.  We then went to the nearby open-air mall, where Rachel and Heather shopped for a long time.  They continued their shopping in another mall (Rachel often complains that she misses shopping with girls, so I indulged her on this trip)- and we ended at Follow Your Heart- which makes some of Rachel's favorite vegan products.  We ended the evening by watching Wreck-it Ralph, which we enjoyed a lot.  That was also when my camera filled up with no more space- luckily Heather burned the photos to CD for me, so I was able to keep shooting the next day.  

Day Six: Zuma Beach 

On Thursday, March 28th, Rachel and I had breakfast with Heather for the last time.  Then Heather drove us through Topanga Canyon (where we'd driven at night two days prior) during the day, stopping once to look at the views.  We then drove to the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) which runs right along the coastline from San Diego all the way to Washington State.  We passed through Malibu, ogling the cliff-side mansions, then went to Zuma Beach.  Heather, who works from time to time as a photographer, used my camera to do an "engagement shoot" at the beach.  Rachel and I walked around, discovering that I have a very hard time opening my eyes in sunlight.  We plan to use some of the photos in an engagement book, which guests will sign at the wedding.  We also were looking for photos for a "save the date".  As we were shooting, we noticed something oozing from the sand, and being carried in from the water.  It was tar!  All three of us ended up with a lot of tar on our feet, which we could not get off.  One of the people at the beach said the best way to remove tar is actually mayonnaise.  After Zuma, we drove back through the mountains, and Heather stopped at a drive through for mayo and napkins.  We drove to the restaurant where we were meeting my friend Rachel Y.  I texted Rachel from the lot, letting her know that we were currently stuck in the parking lot covering our feet and hands in mayo, and then scrubbing with the napkins.  When we went into the restaurant, we laughed, saying we'd hug later, since the three of us smelled of tar and mayo.  Still, our time at the beach was well worth it, and our time with Heather was unforgettable.

With Rachel, we were about to start the third and final leg of our trip...
To be concluded....          

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)...