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Simon's California Dream

I'm spending three months driving up and down the Pacific Coast Highway in California, feeling the wind in what remains of my hair and having a right good time!

Diary Entries

Friday, 30 May 2008

Location: Bath, England, USA

Well, I made it! The weather's terrible too...

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Location: Big Sur, California, USA

One of the many things we hadn’t got around to when t’wife 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 it’s worth, so I turned around and headed back.

I did find the world’s 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 I’d be grateful when the vacuous local station crackled back into life as I approached Carmel. “And here’s Leona Lewis! Again!” .

Monday, 26 May 2008

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, it’s a long time to drive!

I’ve 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. I’m sure walls trembled as I kicked and snored the night away, but that’s life!

Sunday, 25 May 2008

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 you’re tired after a long and harrowing drive!).

I’ve decided to come home a few days early too as exploring new places is far more fun with someone (well, with t’wife), so we plan to come back together when time (and money!) allows! I’ll be home less than two weeks before I was originally anyway, so all’s not lost.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Location: San Diego, California, USA

There’s 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.

T’wife had told me of a nightmare journey she’s had from Harrogate back to Bath, courtesy of the UK’s 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 “I’m on the Coaster! No, the COASTER!!” mobile phone conversations that inevitably wound towards her love-life. “He just calls me then doesn’t show up. What a jerk!”. Shaadup!

As an accomplished finger-map-traveller in my childhood, I’d been wanting to visit San Diego for many years: it’s right in the bottom left-hand corner of the US, y’see, and until I found New Zealand elsewhere in the atlas, I couldn’t 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 didn’t get her $11, even after she’d 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 wasn’t...oh well.). It’s 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 Macy’s (I totally rock, don’t 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 (it’s 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. It’s an aircraft carrier that acts as a sort of floating museum and even my overly active use of adjectives can’t capture its immense nature: t’was a big ‘un!

I loved San Diego almost as much as San Fran, and, in the words of the Governor: I’ll be back.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Location: Carlsbad, California, USA

I haven’t had the chance to get up to much the last few days as it’s been cold and rainy. Dang it...

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

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 you’d 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. Let’s 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.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Location: San Diego, California, USA

A trip especially with t’wife 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. I’m 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!!!” It’s the gorilla enclosure, dill hole. He he!

It’s 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 (I’ll 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. “I’m getting too fat for this. Hey, are you from Australia?”

Pulled! Oh, hang on...

Monday, 19 May 2008

Location: Los Angeles, California, USA

If you thought that this was a road day like any other, you’d be mistaken for today, the route from SB to Carlsbad takes me through Los Angeles. I’ve 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.

It’s 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 you’ve been fixed so stoically on the back of a house-sized SUV just in front of you that you’ve come up to your exit and you’re over by the central barrier: in those situations there’s 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 Majesty’s 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 didn’t 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.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Location: Santa Barbara, California, USA

I’ve come back to Santa Barbara for the next few days on my way further Dahn Sarf. Off to Carlsbad on the 19th...

Friday, 16 May 2008

Location: Soquel, California, USA

Now with photos!

I’ve managed to add a couple of small albums but, as this part of the site seems a tad wobbly, I haven’t 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.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

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...

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Location: Monterey, California, USA

The other ambition was to take advantage of the Bay’s impressive selection of Whale Watching excursions, so we made a (very) early start and, after booking online, arrived for the 9am jaunt.

Even though I’d 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.

There’s always a risk with these sorts of adventures as there’s no promise whatsoever that you’ll see so much as a fin. We’d 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 hadn’t 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: nature’s 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 we’ve ever spent!

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Location: Monterey, California, USA

One of Anja’s 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 didn’t 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 facility’s 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 didn’t seem that impressed that I’d seen one in Carmel…oh well!

Another HUGE tank displays a kelp forest and, as the water is pumped in directly from the ocean, it was a very realistic showpiece. There’s 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 there’s even a number of African penguins there too. Anja didn’t 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…

Monday, 12 May 2008

Location: Soquel/Carmel, California, USA

We’d 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 t’wife gets cold when sat in a volcano, any joy was scoured away by the wind. We didn’t see any sea creatures, so we decided to head back to Soquel and relax in Wal and Jayne’s lovely house.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

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 (t’wife’s 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’…t’wife, of course, thought it was great! I wonder if they’ve got down yet?

We trudged back to the car, which we’d already packed up, and settled down for the three hour drive overland to Santa Cruz, where we’ll be staying at Wal and Jayne’s house while they’re 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!

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Recent Messages

From Kimbob
Your photos of Yosemite Park are ace - it looks amazing! Alcatraz, not so much... Glad you made it back in one piece!
Response: Thanks Kimmer! Yosemite was truly amazing! So was Alcatraz, but for different reasons...!
From Jimmer
I saw car in exactly that shade of gode in Odd Down the other day. It was an old Mustang though ('65/'66).

You should be driving one of they!
Response: I got cut up by a monster Corvettethe other day: cool cars!
From Keith
Surely a career as a sort of 'reverse' Bill Bryson awaits (maybe without the beard though).

Glad its fun. May I recommend a beer on your return and a browse through the photo album?
Response: What, Bry Billson...? I will take you up on that sterling recommendation, sirrah!
From mum
reading this on kate's computer. No broadband, so v. slow. Glad you and Anja had such a wonderful time. R.D and I are going back home via eurostar tomorrow. Talk to you soon. I'm 68 today!!! much love from us all, mum
Response: Happy Birthday! Hope you got your card! x
From Kimbob
Sounds like you're having an ace time. All this talk of italian food and cheesecake is making me hungry!
Response: It's difficult to walk it off, I must say...!
From Tom Jones
Have you met Van Halen yet.
I love Van Halen…
Response: That's not unusual...
From val, ros and tom
Hi Simon, just had roast lamb cooked by Tom, after playing piano duets with ros. About to introduce Ros to the music of amy winehouse. lots of love val.
Response: Hey! Hope you're well! Ms Winehouse? No, no, no... xx
From Joe
It's good to see you're having a good time, and you have your priorities right. There's been a hell of a lot more about your culinary antics than your six-stringed desires.
Oh, and seething with envy at the Tommy Aldridge spotting. He's been touring with Lizzy, dontchaknow...
Anyway, I hope it all goes well for you. Bring me back a Les Paul ;)
Response: And he played with Ozzy. And Whitesnake! And loads more! A major thrill! A Les Paul? Sure...
From Marky Mark
Howdy partner, just googled Goleta beach OMG (thats oh my god in text speak by the way). Can't remember Cali lookng that good! Mind you it was winter and I was hanging with a crazy guy from Denvar and a mexican…
Nursing hangover at the mo, popped out to watch Vampire Weekend last night (mediocha, epiphone casino playing new york punk pop etc). Which brings me to the question… where are all your hangovers?????

Response: It sure is a purdy place! I don't have hangovers 'cos I'm a professional...!
From Bert
If you get a chance you gotta try the '6 dollar burger' at 'Carls Jr.' BLOODY OARSOME!!!
Response: There's one on 'my' road! They do low carb options and a premium salad menu. It's like having no-alcohol lager...
From mum
It's a very vivid picture you paint. Wish I was with you for the sun and sea. Not so sure about your room neighbours or the black flies. Daniel was pleased about the Villa match too. When's Anja joining you? Much love, mum
She's here from May 6th
From Sah
The blog's brrrrilliant, Simon. You've painted some very good mental pictures. Not mental as in mentalist. Mental as in of the ment... Aaaaanyway...
So glad you're having a good time.
Do they not sell camera leads in that Hamerica then?
Response: Hey! I never thought to actually buy some leads here...Gawd!
From t'wife
In-N-Out Burger? & so it begins.....!!!
Response: And that's what happened: in, and then out! You'll see when you come over...
From Badger Madge
Did someone say Badger? xx
Response: I believe so...!
From Marky Mark
I like to think of the baby Jesus as a litte kind of mischevious badger…
Response: And that's why you're not allowed anything sharp in your cell.
From t'wife
I see you are trying to disguise your eating cheeseburgers, fries & onion rings with witty anecdotes about sour dough bread & root beer! I'm not fooled for an instant... xxx
Response: Scurrilous lies...
From Loops & the B Team
You jammy git - nice one on on having the time of your life. I should do a blog about Small Heath, though it probably wouldn't be as funny. There'd be be more chavs though ......
Response: Played for and got...
From Rob
Glad to see that you are still enjoying yourself. If you get a minute can you nip over to the Napa Valley and tell them to get bottling up for when i'm over in June.

Response: There was something on the news that you were coming over. I think they've heard that it was you and I who drank four bottles of red in one afternoon. 'Napa Wine Lake Set to Reduce'!
From t'wife
I don't know what I find more entertaining - your blog or these messages!! And you know you're just jealous of Aragorn... my future husband... now, where does he live again??? tee hee!
Response: He's married to Steven Tyler, isn't he?
From Bert
'ere... lets have some pics eh?
Response: I've left the camera leads at home... ;-o I will once t'wife brings 'em out.
From Alex Bradley
COOL go you livin the dream in america you diary entries are very entertaining. Lots a love Alex Olly Lisa Maddie
Rosco and peanut
Response: Li'l Al! I try my best...
From Saz & Mike

Fab reading about your Californian Adventures ! Just in case you haven't seen your email - we got tickets for Mr Setzer and pals ... something to look forward to when you get back ! xxx
Hola! Great news about Setzer too!
From Anja
Seriously stop watching the bloomin telly & get out there... How's the LOTR trilogy going??? Ha ha! Well, tis snowing again here so hope the sun is shining on you! PUT THE DONUTS DOWN...!!! hugs & kisses, your wife, who's now stuck in the ruddy UK, wishing she was in Africa, looking forward to her stateside trip... oh where is the sun???
Response: The sun's over here, dear. Mmmmm...donuts...
From Jimmer
Goden Monkey eh? Is it better than my old silver one? Sound like you are having a hoot!
Response: It's bigger, but not quite as...well, simian...
From Bert
ere... when you get to SF there's a great cd shoppe called 'Amoeba Records' it's on Haight/Ashbury - loadsa cool shops and eateries thereabouts too. ooh and if you head back 'into town' (i.e. towards the bottom of the hill) there's a great pub 'Mad Dog on the Fog' a few blocks down - run by a (brummie ex-pat) Villa fan - if you need a bit of a Premiership fix. An pint a o' London Pride, natch. (Shocking WC's tho')
Response: You had me at "ere"...