Location: Bath, England, USA
Well, I made it! The weather's terrible too...
Location: Big Sur, California, USA
One of the many things we hadnt got around to when twife came over was to drive to Big Sur, so I spent most of today south of Carmel on PCH doing just that. It is yet another spectacular area that resembles the North Cornwall coast we love so much, albeit with a number of sea otters floating in the kelp.
Again, I was stymied to a certain extent as the road hugs the coastline very closely and, with a 100 ft drop to the ocean on one side, gawping though the windscreen and taking your eyes off the road is unlikely to lead to a long life! A couple of plonkers (one in a Beamer, the other in a Corvette) were obviously racing each other in a Fast N Furious fashion and, as I turned off to let them go, they screamed past me at well over 100mph. Kids!
Still, there were more than enough pull-off areas where you could park up, and simply look and be amazed, which I did. Sadly, the weather closed in and, after a couple of hours, I decided that making the reverse drive with mist tumbling down the hillsides was possibly more trouble that its worth, so I turned around and headed back.
I did find the worlds worst radio station (and the only one that worked too, which was a little unnerving) and its playlist seemed to be unswervingly taken from the worst music imaginable: terrible country with awful lyrics (even worse than what is supposedly good country!) and a litany of caterwauling singer/songwriters. I never thought Id be grateful when the vacuous local station crackled back into life as I approached Carmel. And heres Leona Lewis! Again! .
Location: Carmel, California, USA
The drive from SB back up Hwy-1 took the best part five hours and although it is always a much easier trip than battling a similar distance in England would be, its a long time to drive!
Ive been a good boy as far as boozing this trip goes (honest!), but I did get one on me today. I plugged my new PSP in and settled down with a drip full of Heineken, which I enjoyed immensely. I sallied forth (Monty Python quote!) to the local (and very nice) BBQ restaurant and had a lovely pork chop (with loads of veg, natch!). I was also happy to discover that there was a micro-brewery on-site and, after having struck up a conversation with a young couple who had two small kids in tow, I ordered what the dad was drinking: a huge Stein full of the local brew.
I have to concede that, without my drinking trousers on, it was almost too much, but it was a lovely brew! I sort of floated back across the street to the hotel and crashed out. Im sure walls trembled as I kicked and snored the night away, but thats life!
Location: Santa Barbara, California, USA
I thought I would be able to make the 450 mile drive from SD back to Carmel in one day but, after my LA experience, I decided to stop off at SB one-more time (I know where everything is, which makes a huge difference when youre tired after a long and harrowing drive!).
Ive decided to come home a few days early too as exploring new places is far more fun with someone (well, with twife), so we plan to come back together when time (and money!) allows! Ill be home less than two weeks before I was originally anyway, so alls not lost.
Location: San Diego, California, USA
Theres a local train service called The Coaster that links several of the smaller coastal towns with Downtown SD and, with the sun cautiously reaching for his hat and just enough blue sky to make a Dutchman a pair of trousers, I caught the 10:38 from Carlsbad, which duly arrived in SD an hour later.
Twife had told me of a nightmare journey shes had from Harrogate back to Bath, courtesy of the UKs own failing rail system (it took her 14 hours to get home...), my trip was great and totally on time too. One female passenger sat behind me was having one of those overly loud Im on the Coaster! No, the COASTER!! mobile phone conversations that inevitably wound towards her love-life. He just calls me then doesnt show up. What a jerk!. Shaadup!
As an accomplished finger-map-traveller in my childhood, Id been wanting to visit San Diego for many years: its right in the bottom left-hand corner of the US, ysee, and until I found New Zealand elsewhere in the atlas, I couldnt imagine anywhere else further from home. Well, made sense to me!
I made for Horton Plaza, a cavernous shopping mall that proved as difficult to get out of as a lobster pot. As an example of how mad it was in there, some Israeli girl tried to sell me (ME!) a nail-polishing kit from her stall, and was well miffed that she didnt get her $11, even after shed shined and smoothed one of my bitten exhibits.
I grabbed some Japanese grub from one of the many outlets in the food court, and then managed to get myself a San Diego Chargers top (that had been on my shopping list) and a Sony PSP (that wasnt...oh well.). Its all open to the elements and I did have to keep popping in and out of shops to take advantage of the air-con inside. Can I help you, sir? No thanks, just sweating quietly...
I bought some socks from Macys (I totally rock, dont I?!) and was quickly hounded out of Just Lids, an overly pompous baseball cap shop that was full of small wannabe gangstas (known as Rampies in Birmingham and tw*ts everywhere else!).
I had a quick traipse to the Gaslamp District, but found it to be a tad seedy (there was a street jazz festival taking place too: $48 entry! Ha!), so instead went down to the harbour. As today was the start of Memorial Day weekend (its like our Remembrance Sunday) the two ships in dock the USS Ronald Reagan and USS Midway were decked out in all their Stars N Stripes glory. There was also a huge sculpture of a navy guy snogging his girl that towered thirty feet above my head, but the Midway was truly awe-inspiring. Its an aircraft carrier that acts as a sort of floating museum and even my overly active use of adjectives cant capture its immense nature: twas a big un!
I loved San Diego almost as much as San Fran, and, in the words of the Governor: Ill be back.
Location: Carlsbad, California, USA
I havent had the chance to get up to much the last few days as its been cold and rainy. Dang it...
Location: San Diego, California, USA
Part two of my Animal Adventure was to visit San Diego Wildlife Park, an area north of the city that in theory at least had been designed to resemble the East African plains. In other words, the main vegetarian mammals youd associate with that part of the world are let loose together in one giant open-air grassy field and, natch, you have to pay extra to go on the back of a bus to get close.
Having seen the real thing up close, I deferred to more excitable seventh graders, no doubt on a huge sugar high, who screeched with joy as a white rhino vacated its substantial bowels, as they tend to do when they know they have an audience. Lets face it; such a spectacle is never not funny (right, Al...?), but I did think that Cody et al would literally laugh themselves to death! The Joy of Poop!
With everything so far away, it all got a bit boring after a while, so I drove back to Carlsbad and spent the afternoon on the beach.
Location: San Diego, California, USA
A trip especially with twife in mind: a jaunt to San Diego Zoo. I managed to miss the exit off the freeway and subsequently got rather confused in a fiendish one-way system before getting back on the motorway to try again.
The Zoo occupies many acres in the centre of the city and was busy busy busy when I got there around 11am. Im all for spreading the joys of nature to the younger generation, but my enjoyment was tempered somewhat by the myriad omnipresent gaggles of screeching kids. Still, as least they were getting into it! Cody! CODY! A gorilla!! A GORILLA!!! Its the gorilla enclosure, dill hole. He he!
Its a huge place there are even moving staircases in case the thought of walking up a gentle hill to see Polar Bear Plunge is too much for the nacho-munching masses: in case you were worried, I made it up the short slope... Still, the polar bears were great fun (Ill pop a picture up in a bit), and the pandas, for which the zoo is most famous, were quite something.
I did feel that some of the cages were overly small (the jaguar was not impressed, I can tell you!) but I did have a nice time just pottering in the warm sunshine.
Once I'd driven back late afternoon, I went for a customary stroll along Carlsbad beach, and was approached by a rather large surfer who asked me to zip him up in his wetsuit. Im getting too fat for this. Hey, are you from Australia?
Pulled! Oh, hang on...
Location: Los Angeles, California, USA
If you thought that this was a road day like any other, youd be mistaken for today, the route from SB to Carlsbad takes me through Los Angeles. Ive experienced the scariest drives Europe has to offer (Paris Peripherique on a Saturday and Central Berlin at rush hour driving a punk band to a squat gig in the old behind the wall part of the city, not to mention roads on hillsides in the Greek Pelion in the dark...) but nothing can really compare as the ultimate diving test most of us will have the opportunity to try;the Hwy-1, Hwy-405 & I-5 journey I did.
Its not overly dangerous, in all honesty, but the sheer concentration you have to keep up as cars swing in front of you from both sides is draining. Five lanes in each direction whipping along as you pass some of the most iconic names in modern culture (Exit Sunset Blvd for Hollywood and so on) and continue to try to find a remotely listenable radio station. The best treat, of course, is that youve been fixed so stoically on the back of a house-sized SUV just in front of you that youve come up to your exit and youre over by the central barrier: in those situations theres nothing for it but to hold you nose and do what that locals do...swing right across those five lanes. Of course, being a citizen of Her Majestys Sceptred Isle, I do it with a rather sheepish sorry wave: the locals do similar manoeuvres with a phone in one hand and a Big Gulp in the other!
Still, made it Carlsbad, which lies just off I-5 about 35 miles north of San Diego, a typical beach town boasting shops full of knick-knacks and the usual plethora of fast food places. There was even a genuine British store, with the window full of tea pots (!) and deer stalkers...I didnt dare go in. Hey, are you from England Have you met the Queen? etc.
I had a walk along the beautiful beach but it got too hot for me after my exertions behind the wheel and I bought a Carls Jnr burger and crashed out.
Location: Santa Barbara, California, USA
Ive come back to Santa Barbara for the next few days on my way further Dahn Sarf. Off to Carlsbad on the 19th...
Location: Soquel, California, USA
Now with photos!
Ive managed to add a couple of small albums but, as this part of the site seems a tad wobbly, I havent been able to upload any more pics. The ones that are here relate to earlier blogs, so please scroll back, revisit the desperately amusing prose, and sagely stroke your chin as you see what I was on about then.
Location: Soquel/SFO,California, USA
Drove t'wife bck to San Francisco airport...sniff. :-(
It tunred out to be a very hot day (88 in the end) which cheered us up no end: great to be stuck in a car for hours in that, especially as she'd frozen her fingers off at Carmel so recently...
Location: Monterey, California, USA
The other ambition was to take advantage of the Bays impressive selection of Whale Watching excursions, so we made a (very) early start and, after booking online, arrived for the 9am jaunt.
Even though Id taken two Sea legs tablets, I was glad the water was calm as I tend to get nauseous on a wet pavement and, after a short reading of the on-board rules, off we went out into the Bay.
Theres always a risk with these sorts of adventures as theres no promise whatsoever that youll see so much as a fin. Wed had a disappointing trip out into the Moray Firth a few year back, where we saw just two porpoises and I felt sick for the entire duration of the trip. Fortunately (you knew a happy ending was in sight!) we hadnt been out 30 minutes when the first of a succession of Humpback whales broke the surface. They tend to arch in and out of the water before fluking the pop-shot where just their tail breaks the surface in preparation for a deep dive, and we saw this on several occasions.
As we went further out we came across an entire pod of Orca (killer whales, in other words) snuffing out an unfortunate sea lion. The naturalist who was our on-board guide said that we were very lucky to see such behavior as the adults were teaching a calf how to hunt and feed. They were so close to the boat you could smell their breath as it was expelled through the blowholes: natures a wonderful thing!
Puke-wise, I felt fine throughout, but we were stood next to an older woman who was soon making those classic gulping noises. We packed her off to the back of the boat and the next time we saw her, she was shouting for Hughie over the side. Nice.
The trip lasted over four hours and we saw further numbers of Humpback plus the same pod of Orcas swimming off to find their next unsuspecting victim.
Awesome and the best $90 weve ever spent!
Location: Monterey, California, USA
One of Anjas lifetime ambitions was to visit the Monterey Aquarium and, after a 40 minute drive, we were hammering down the doors to get in!
As well as offering many eye-popping exhibits, the Aquarium has a rich history of conservation, and we were able to get onto a behind-the-scenes tour, which was very informative. We went with five other people who didnt seem overly interested, but descriptions on how the researchers study Great White Sharks was very engaging.
There are several huge tanks on display, one of which features a number of sea otters, the conservation of which is one of the facilitys specialties. We saw them at feeding time and loved seeing them gambol through the water and, after a chat with one of the keepers, we went out onto the deck to get some sun for a few minutes and take it all in. We even spotted a couple of otters out in the bay, thanks to the number of free telescopes: no wonder the keeper didnt seem that impressed that Id seen one in Carmel
Another HUGE tank displays a kelp forest and, as the water is pumped in directly from the ocean, it was a very realistic showpiece. Theres even an artificial tidal and wave system, and the animals and plants there flourish; it was a lovely experience to, again, just sit and watch!
There are jelly fish exhibits, coral reefs (reeves?) and touch pools, and theres even a number of African penguins there too. Anja didnt know any of them, so they must have been out of towners
Experiencing mild sensory overload, we drove back to Soquel with one ambition ticked off
Location: Soquel/Carmel, California, USA
Wed planned a number of things to do whist staying in Soquel and, as going to a beach rated very highly with a certain spouse (and why not?), so I took her back to Carmel hoping to share the wondrous sea otter sighting.
Although the weather was sunny, there was a stiff old breeze coming in off the Pacific and, as twife gets cold when sat in a volcano, any joy was scoured away by the wind. We didnt see any sea creatures, so we decided to head back to Soquel and relax in Wal and Jaynes lovely house.
Location: Yosemite, Calfiornia, USA
As today was a travel day (as they say in touring parlance), we placated ourselves with a lovely yomp through the woods to El Capitan bridge, which lies beneath one of the biggest peaks in the park.
We stood on the bridge with the rock towering over us and the deep river swirling under us, and we overheard a climbing spotter pointing out a number of tiny figures suspended on the rock face. With a pair of powerful binoculars (twifes African ones
) in hand we managed to spy them, just dangling there and, as I have a similar head for heights as does a mole, I was amazed that anyone would find doing such a thing in any way fun
twife, of course, thought it was great! I wonder if theyve got down yet?
We trudged back to the car, which wed already packed up, and settled down for the three hour drive overland to Santa Cruz, where well be staying at Wal and Jaynes house while theyre in their native South Africa.
If you've ever fancied Yosemite, just come and see it. It makes the wonderful Scottish Highlands resemble mere hillocks!