Sunday, 27 February 2011

Exploring around LA

Eagle Rock Topanga Park
In the last few days, we've interspersed spending time with the family with exploring places on the door-step, which we've overlooked on previous visits. We've cycled in the hills above Topanga Canyon, with far-reaching, unspoilt views over the mountains in the distance, and the near Santa Monica hills. This is mountain bike country, with technically challenging routes, if you decide to go adventuring off the wider easier routes which snake all over the hillsides. We cycled on the Temescal Trail to The Hub and back to Eagle Rock. Very beautiful and very quiet. To get to it you have to drive through Topanga to Tippetts Ranch, one of several access points. Tippetts Ranch is like being back in the UK, green, rolling pastureland. The Ranger sold us a map of the trails and said that the scenery was very green at this time of year, and there would be a guided walk to discover native flora and fauna, on Sunday pm. I'm coming back for that.

Downtown LA from Observatory
Topanga has a bohemian, fading hippy community feel to it- houses in the canyon range from wooden shacks, caravans to impressive country homes with front porches. It was famous for being the place where Neil Young, The Byrds, Jim Morrison and Emmy Lou Harris used to hang out and jam together. Less happily, it was also the site of one of the brutal murders of the serial killer, Charles Manson.

When the weather deteriorated again, we went on separate trips to Balboa Park, Ian cycling around the 3 mile perimeter in laps, and me having a go at jogging around the shorter inner route, managing 3x 1mile laps. With heavy showers forecast the following day, we decided to reccy Griffith Park, out towards Hollywood. We set off early on Saturday, with fairly quiet freeways, but coming back, the traffic into Hollywood was backed up- 7 lane freeway at a standstill. You've really got to time your local trips carefully, and rush hour can be two to three hours long. Driving here is n't much fun. It's much better away from LA, in the wide open spaces.

Griffith Park would be a great place to visit with Lily, when she's about 4! The most remarkable thing about it is the location of this mountainous park, full of walking trails, with a 20mile cycle path around its perimeter, slap bang in the city of LA. There is a splendid observatory at the peak, with astounding views of the city skyscrapers and grid network of streets, and a close-up of the famous HOLLYWOOD sign.

Best angle apparently!
Inside the marble-halled observatory, there are informative displays about the planets, sun,stars and seasons. There is an impressive brass pendulum,designed by the Frenchman, Foucault, to demonstrate the movement of the Earth on its axis. As the Earth moves, during the course of several hours, the pendulum swings and knocks down pegs on a fixed board. We also watched a fun presentation in the planetarium, where you lay back on a comfy chair, staring up at the "sky" in a dark circular space, whilst constellations and planets moved into view and were discussed. (It is thought that icy comets flying through Space from distant galaxies, getting closer to the Sun, "evaporate" and when they collided with Earth, could have contributed to it becoming a watery planet). Another fact which surprised us was that a chart lighting up the chemical elements of stars, humans etc, showed that we shared the elements of stars, with a few extra, so that when "first nations", as Ray Mears refers to them, look up at the stars and believed that their ancestors were there, they were absolutely right.

Then a short trip to the Museum. Apart from from some vaguely interesting landscape paintings, there is an excellent display of native american crafts and basket-work.

Looking across to San Gabriel Mountains
What about Lily?!

She is beautiful. In the brief period we've been here, we've noticed her getting stronger, lifting her little head off your shoulder, wriggling about and then suddenly stopping to take in all your facial expressions and beginning to SMILE! A gorgeous little dimply smile, where her face lights up. It's like her gift to you- she doesn't have to do it, but she wants to! Lizzy says she's already knocking out one of her night-feeds, so they're getting a bit more sleep.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Meeting the "new addition" to the family!

We've been in the USA for nearly a week now, so it's high time I put font to blog!

After booking in at our extended stay hotel room,approx 10 minutes away from Andrew and Lizzy's Balboa appartment, we drove down to see our kids, and grandaughter, Lily, for the first time. She's absolutely delightful and beautiful, and new mum and dad are doing well also. Lizzy's mum was staying with them for a few more days, so we had a chance to catch up with her, before she went back to Saudi.

Over the next few days we tried to get the balance between cuddling Lily, helping in practical ways, and giving Andrew and Lizzy some much-needed space. Andrew was to be off work for two weeks, so there'd be plenty of time to catch up. In between helping with the cooking and cleaning, popping in at Fresh and Easy- US equivalent of Tescos, we've explored some of the cycle trails in the Santa Monica Hills- the West Ridge and, much more hilly and challenging, Sullivan Ridge- 18+ miles of mountain-biking trails.

As a family, we've been for a meal for Kriess' birthday, at Claim Jumpers, and met more great friends, Casey and Janine, Will, and Reuben, and ate "red velvet cake" with amazing frosting. We've had a lovely Spring walk in nearby Balboa Park, with landscaped gardens, cherry trees, pale pink and full of flower, man-made lake and waterfall. There's a cycle ride all away around the outside of 3 miles and a running and walking track, where Andrew and friends meet for a run most Sundays. We've also been for a walk with Lizzy and Lily, whilst Andrew ran on the West Ridge, looking down to Mulholland Drive and the splendid houses and swimming pools.

Today we've all been down to the seaside, to Santa Monica pier, and eaten at my favourite fish and chippy- Bubba Gumps. Lily excelled herself with letting her mummy eat something. She's an incredibly content, sleepy, calm baby. But she's only four weeks old and there's lots of time yet!

The appartment's OK but expensive for what it offers, but it does have a kitchen, with a very sensitive smoke alarm, which I set off when I made lasagne- so I won't be doing a massive fry-up. Guess I'll be doing what most people do around here- buying take-aways, or microwaving ready-cooked meals! We've taken turns at making meals, with Andrew making some amazing BBQs. The third night we had to ask to move to the top floor rooms, because we'd been awake most of the night, with what turned out to be a large family dog trotting up and down from about 2am to 6am! Anyway we're fine now and catching up on some sleep, but have found it's taken us about 3 days to fully come around from the jet lag.

The weather's been mixed, with heavy rain for two days after we arrived. The last couple of days have been much brighter and warmer, but the forecast isn't great for the weekend. But it's not really very important, at this stage, as we've come to spend time with the new family.

Just to finish, both of us are deighted with the new addition to the Webster clan. Lily is gorgeous, and the new parents are so proud. Andrew is a hands-on dad, changing nappies, burping, and bathing Lily in between playing his computer games! Lizzy is an adoring mum, very loving and calm, taking it all in her stride.