Monthly Archives: December 2015


Blogging our recent US trip day by day, a month after the event.

30th November – Costco, yarn, and bacon chocolate

PalmsA lazy, quiet day, winding down and packing against our flight to South Dakota on the next day, although acutely aware that it was snowing heavily there. Would we even reach Minneapolis, let alone Sioux Falls after that? But I mustn’t get ahead of myself – that is a story for tomorrow’s post.

Late afternoon we visited Costco, that warehouse of delights where we could have bought a giant can of beans and a canoe, should we have wanted. We didn’t want. I frantically took photographs of palm trees in the parking lot when I realised that pretty soon we would no longer be surrounded by them.

YarnAfterwards to a yarn shop which surprised me by being fascinating, all texture and colour; and Chuao chocolate where all manner of unusual chocolate bars were on sale – potato chip, bacon etc. I could swear I took a photo of the weird flavours, but apparently not.

Northward, lastly, to Carlsbad for a Mexican meal at Las Olas (‘the waves’), where the food and the laughter were outstanding. CarlsbadA splendid last evening with wonderful people. We’d had a great time with V&R, notwithstanding R’s forensic playing of “Yellow Car”, and V “talking to her pants”. She does like her margarita, that girl.



Blogging our recent US trip day by day, a month after the event.

29th November – return to San Diego Zoo.

RattlesnakeYou won’t be surprised if you’ve read the title that this day we returned to the zoo to cover ALL OF THE THINGS that we missed the other day. I tell you, this zoo is HUMUNGOUS. You really do need two full days – hell, three – to see everything.

Hunning birdFor me the highlights were the humming birds. Beautiful points of bright colour flitting about with blurred wings. Not only in the aviary, but in the wild too. In the aviary, however, they were far easier to watch.

Fennec FoxOther highlights – the underwater view of hippos, a snow leopard pacing above my head, a Fennec Fox that followed me around the edge of its cage, peering intently at me. I can only imagine I looked like its keeper. These are memories that will not soon fade.

Belly porkIn the evening to a restaurant called Urban Solace in downtown San Diego, and the biggest of thanks to V & R for the meal. I had a chicken stew that was indeed “like the warmest hug”, just as the flat-capped waiter had promised. Mary had frou-frou fancy-pants belly pork. Online friend Declan and OH (shamefully I can’t recall her name right at this moment. I’ll edit it in when it occurs to me) joined us, and a merry time was had.

ShipAfterwards we meandered through the night streets gazing at businesses and lights – a microbrewery where you could watch the brewing from the bar above caught my eye – and, leaving the Declans, took a drive down to the waterfront to see the big ships moored there – tall ships, a submarine, and a HUGE FUCKOFF aircraft carrier. Also a bloody awful statue, my photograph of which failed to take, so you’ll have to look it up yourselves.



Blogging our recent US trip day by day, a month after the event.

28th November – over mountains to desert. Also FREE CATS.

From the mountainTo the Sonoran Desert in Anza-Borrego National Park, via a drive through and over mountain roads, which insisted on flinging magnificent scenery at us throughout. We stopped briefly for photographs, and by Grabthar’s Hammer, it was COLD.

OasisDown in the desert, you won’t be amazed to hear, was quite the opposite. There was a small visitor’s centre by Borrego Springs which is where I learned that we were in Borrego Springs, then a short drive to the trailhead. There followed a long, hot, splendid hike through a slot canyon, over difficult, boulder-strewn, magnificent terrain that led to an oasis of palms – a cluster of shaggy palm trees rising up from a soggy spot on the otherwise dry desert.

The way back.A brief rest here, then we took an alternative route back to the car. The going was tough at times through a rocky landscape, and we really needed the water we’d lugged along. The trail doubled back often, and we sometimes lost it, but good company kept our spirits high, and we got back to the car just as darkness fell.

FREE CATSBuffalo burgers in Julian on the way back, where, passing through in the morning, we had seen someone with a cardboard box of kittens labelled “Free Cats”. One had escaped briefly as I passed, and I guarded the box while the owner retrieved the fugitive.

There were forecasts of a snowstorm for South Dakota set to coincide with our flight there in three days, which became one of those constant worries that you can’t do a thing about.



Blogging our recent US trip day by day, a month after the event.

27th November – Balboa Park

BuskerI had a lovely time photographing random passers-by as we wandered around Balboa Park, which is full of fascinating architecture, strewn with palm trees, every attractive corner apparently featuring its own talented busker. The photographs of the people will appear in a special section of my photography website, just as soon as I get around to revamping it.

El PradoBalboa Park is named after some Spanish seaman (stop it) and is described (by Wikipedia) as a “1,200-acre urban cultural park”. In addition to open space areas, natural vegetation zones, green belts, gardens and walking paths, it contains a shitload of museums (among which, I’ve just discovered, is a Model Railroad Museum – bit dischuffed to have missed that, but hey, we really wouldn’t have Triffidhad the time what with secretly photographing strangers), several theatres, recreational bits and not a few shops and restaurants.

The day was hot and we started in the rose garden. I’m not normally a fan of the rose, but this was quite pretty, quite smelly (in the over-perfumed bathroom way of roses), and there was a triffid between it and the road.

1910 carouselAcross a narrow bridge we were drawn by the sound of fairground music to a carousel, housed in a shed. It’s been operating since 1910, brightly painted animals bouncing up and down as they whizz round. Apparently, if you catch a brass ring from a special dispenser, you get a free ride (note the sign in the photo).

Wombats in the Botanical HouseBehatted against the blazing late November sun (I know!), we meandered into the wide, palmed central thoroughfare of the park, El Prado, a long, wide promenade and boulevard. It was lined with impressive buildings, most of them museums. I particularly enjoyed the wood-lath lattice of the botanical garden, fronted by a pleasant pond and a very good Spanish guitar player. Excellent buskers were everywhere. V told us that the buildings were built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, though some have disintegrated and been rebuilt as exact replicas, because the original buildings were mostly plaster-of-Paris and chicken wire.

Hipster sausageWe ate huge hipster sausages at a caff called Panama 66, gazing past bright green grass and portable toilets at the beautiful California Bell Tower, which contains a construction of bells called a carillon, which strikes the quarter-hours and is loud enough to be heard all over the park. Sodding thing.

The GlobeOh, and there’s also a replica of The Globe theatre, which this day was showing ‘The Grinch Who Stole Christmas’. I wonder what the Bard would have made of that? I’ve also just found a reminder in my diary here about going back for a San Diego baseball cap that I’d seen in a shop near La Cuenta, but hadn’t had the cash at the time to buy. I never did go back in the end. That baseball cap is a metaphor for life in many ways. And in a million other ways, it’s not.



Blogging our recent US trip day by day, a month after the event.

26th November – Thanksgiving Day

CrochetThere’s Crotchet on the left, Rob’s cokatiel. He has a merry whistle which cheered our morning. Grinding coffee beans, V warned us to guard our ears against ‘the loudest noise imaginable’, which was followed by a gentle rrrrrrrrrrr. Americans, eh?

Respectful Thanksgiving hatWe had a quiet day, followed by Thanksgiving dinner with V’s parents, where we had a lovely evening and a wonderful meal. No potatoes, but there were candied yams (I think!). I enjoyed seeing photographs of a young V on the walls.

ModelsRolf, V’s dad, showed us his remarkable collection of model trains, and ran a small layout for a short time.



Blogging our recent US trip day by day, a month after the event.

25th November – San Diego Safari Park

Safari ParkYes, you heard. San Diego Safari Park! What an enormous, stunning place. Sprawling exhibits, few fences, and photo ops galore. Such a splendid adventure on a fine, sunny, Californian day to meander the well-kept pathways, admiring all manner of beastie. And the landscape in which it sits, oh! Rising mountains lift the horizon, hawks soar against the blue sky.

CaracalThere was a huge hot-air balloon, tethered on this day due to what felt at ground level like no more than a light breeze. And a splendid safari “tram” ride (in reality, a brightly painted truck pulling two trailers) that took us in and amongst animals of the plains. We spent the day walking amongst the animals, and taking several hundred photos.

Feeding the lorikeets was an amazing experience. The brightly coloured birds landed on us often; the feeling of being groomed by one will stay with me forever. And then, of course, it pooped down my face. As they do.

lorikeetsIn the evening to a typical diner where I ordered chocolate malt (superb) and, yes I know, fish and chips. The waiter was concerned that I understood that they filleted the fish “in the English style with skin left on one side”. The fish was, as it turned out, excellent, with real chips (not fries), but sadly coleslaw instead of mushy peas.



Blogging our recent US trip day by day, a month after the event.

24th November – La Cuenta

BrekkieHad a breakfast of cheese butty, nana,* and a Reese’s Cup (mmm sweet peanut butter) while watching Bury lose to Scunthorpe in a different world – a colder world, a greyer world – through the medium of Twitter. Slightly surreal feeling.

Fire stationIt was a work day for V and R so we had a relaxed day walking round the neighbourhood. US mailboxes are fascinating for a start. I enjoyed the personalisation that many people had applied to their own particular box on a stick. I also liked the fire station on La Cuenta, which for some reason looked particularly American to my eyes.

Canyon viewWe spent a long time at the end of the road gazing out across the canyon there, at lots of fascinatingly constructed houses, and blue hills in the far distance. A sign at the top of the canyon path told us “Hey, come on down and take a look. There might be rattlesnakes and shizz, and unexploded bombs from when the army were here, but never mind, eh?” I paraphrase.

FriendsIn the evening to a Himalayan restaurant to meet long-time US friends Kim and Tom, who put up with us in Erie last year. They were visiting their daughter Emily, who lives in San Diego, for Thanksgiving, together with Jay and Dana. The food was excellent, and the service a bit monkeybonkers, and the samosas were ENORMOUS. No, bigger than you’re thinking. HUGE. It was good to catch up with lovely old friends again, a thing I thought would never happen.

* Oxford comma ahoy!



Blogging our recent US trip day by day, a month after the event.

23rd November – San Diego Zoo

Neighbourhood signI had problems topping up the cash-card we were using, but an eventual chat with a lovely lass from the Co-op Bank sorted me out and reassured me greatly. That done, Valerie took Mary and I for a lovely, lovely, LOVELY day at the incredible San Diego Zoo.

EEK!The weather was average – which for California means sunny and hot – so we bought big hats for the delicate ladies at the shop. A l–o–n-g day, too, and yet we still only covered half the vast stretching acreage of the place. KoalaI’ll never stop thanking V and R for showing us such a place. Of course, there are loads of photographs of the animals, but you don’t want to read a blog that simply lists all the creatures we saw. There’s a link at the foot of this post where you can see many, many photos, the best of which were taken by Mary.

Ladies who humI will tell you of the two women I met in one of the many aviaries. They stood at one end, humming lightly. They told me that the Capuchinbird made such a sound to call to others of its kind. The solitary example kept here had recently lost its mate, and they were calling it to them. It duly came, and perched while they hummed to it, cocking a bright eye.

HighOther highlights included a sprawling, large-bollocked kangaroo, baby capybaras, reindeer, and a high cable-car ride which offered stonking views over the zoo and nearby Balboa Park.



Blogging our recent US trip day by day, a month after the event.

22nd November – Torrey Pines & Point Loma

HatsBex left early for her flight back to SF. Bye Bex, I loved meeting you and watching you spin x We four went walking up on Torrey Pines bluffs, which boasts some magnificent views, but by Grabthar’s Hammer, it was hotter than a whorehouse on nickel night. Big floppy hats required all round, daft as they looked. My legs got an airing. Sorry, Valerie and Rob.

San DiegoThe blazing sun did make for attractive shots of the Pacific shore, however, so we’ll forgive it, eh? And apparently back home it was freezing and pissing it down. Yay California!

CabrilloThence up to Point Loma where there was, thank sweet baby cheeses, a cool, cool breeze. Up there is the Cabrillo Monument, which commemorates the landing of Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo at San Diego Bay on September 28, 1542, apparently bringing with him a huge pole against which to stand dramatically. This event marked the first time that a European expedition had set foot on what later became the West Coast of the United States. Not sure what you can actually do with that information, but still. Edumacation. There’s also a lighthouse, built in 1855 and now used as a museum.

The views up here were even more breath-taking, although it was hard to encompass the magnificent sweep of San Diego below in a single shot. Here’s a bit of a try though…

San Diego panorama

Way down there, tiny and red, you MIGHT be able to make out the Hotel del Coronado, where we had lunch on our first full day. Berta'sProbably not though. This evening we ate at a Latin American restaurant, Berta’s, which weas cosy and pleasant. We drank sangria, which I’ve never had before and probably never will again, though it was OK. I had, I think, a splendid curry. A Latin American curry.



Blogging our recent US trip day by day, a month after the event.

21st November – Jellyfish and Beer Floats

San Diego AquariumSaturday began with a 7:30 awakening to the realisation that the Bury match against Burton was well under way back home, in cold, dark drizzle. I took my breakfast and coffee into the back garden to sit in the morning sun while my favourites won 1-0 on the other side of the planet. An odd feeling.

Rob took Mary, Bex and I to the San Diego aquarium. From the sunlit whales leaping joyously outside – no no, not real ones, these were sculptures – to the half-lit exhibits inside, the whole place is a delight. The first creature that we saw was an extremely active octopus; a big ‘un an’all, curling and winding under blue light and suckering the glass. I wonder if I should make my joke that octopuses really should have eight-tacles? Better not, eh?

IMG_20151121_144641609The jellyfish were hypnotic, and shone in their empty blue world as they circled lazily, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarding this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely they drew their plans against us. Oh wait, no, that’s Martians, not jellyfish.

Kelp tankAfter some wow-ing and ooh-ing and goshing at various unusual exhibits, the like of which I’ve never seen in British aquaria (grammar), we discovered a HUGE kelp tank, busy with bright fish, in front of which stood a small boy, enraptured by the bright kaleidoscope of colour ever-evolving before his wide eyes.

Beer floatValerie and Rob had arranged a small gathering of friends for the evening, both new and old, and we had the most brilliant time. Valerie’s brother turned up wearing one of Kit’s T-shirts, which immediately endeared him to me. The conversation flowed like wine, and vice versa. Actually not vice versa, since what flowed was mostly not wine but gin and Lagavulin and beer floats. Yes, you heard right – BEER FLOATS. Rich, thick, chocolatey stout with honking great dods of ice cream dropped into it. It was BLOODY GREAT.


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