Friday, 18 November 2011

Last few days

Topanga State Park
Our last trip into Topanga Canyon on the bikes for this year at least. Another lovely sunny day. The kids say you get bored of the weather being much the same, eventually! Lizzys made us a superb picnic of the previous night's meatloaf, grapes and nuts. We'd started to think about having to leave all the family behind very soon, and Ian wanted to see if we could smuggle Lily back home in the suitcase! Check out the photo!
A meal out with a group of their friends, including Lexie and John, and then our last night on Lily's bedroom! She's been sleeping with Mum and Dad, so I wouldn't blame them, if they were glad to see the back of us for a while!
The following morning we gave Lizzy a break and took little pickle for a spin around Balboa Park again. We're looking forward to taking her when she's a bit older, to the adventure playgrounds there. They're superb. Got some great video footage of Lily smiling and laughing at some of the moving objects on a mural.
Plenty of room!
She's not far off walking. She took two steps from mummy to the green dinosaur walker, which we bought her. She'll have changed so much when we visit next time, but at least we can keep up to date on Skype, and we're hoping that they'll be coming over to the UK in the first half of next year.
Burrito Babe

Frazier Park

Parker Mesa Lookout Santa Monica Hills
Ian wanted to check out the budget hotels called Super8, and we coincided it with a walk in Topanga Canyon Park. We'd had a downpour during the night, but today was looking promising. After a good walk, we drove to the Super8, but mmm, not sure we'd go back there. Not in a good location, and the worst thing is the rooms all look out over what proved to be a busy hotel car park, with residents coming and going until 4am! So had a really rubbish nights sleep, but at least we'd checked it out.
The following day was Lizzy's birthday. It was bright and clear, the best day. Blue sky and bright sunshine. We collected the family, Andrew having taken the day off, and set off for Frazier Park, about 80miles north of Andrew and Lizzys. They'd camped up there with John and Lexie some time ago, before Lily was born, and had been excited by being so far out in the wilderness. Only an hour and a half away and like a different world. 8500ft up, pine forests and trails in the Los Padres wilderness park. There were a few small hamlets and ranches but very quiet. With the few cold and wet days we'd had, came the added bonus of area near the summit of Mt Pinos being thick with snow. Whilst Lily slept soundly in the car, her parents and grandparents played in the snow and had fun! We'll have to come back another time when she's a bit older, so she can join in too!
A right pair of muppets!

Mt Pinos Frazier Park

Hollywood in 10 mins

Santa Barbara
Back to Andrew and Lizzys for a few days now, after a great few days further North. Reflecting on the journey back, we both agreed we'd go back to Santa Barbara again, because it's so close to the kids, and we'd really enjoyed our time there.
Lizzy had prepared a lovely cannelloni meal for us, and once Lily had gone to bed, we caught up on "Downton Abbey" and the next installment of "Homeland".
The following day, we caught the Metro bus and then underground to Hollywood. The kids had warned us that there wasn't much to see, but we wanted to see how quick it was to get into the city. And it was. A speedy efficient 45min trip for 5 dollars each. But not as speedy as our brief visit to Hollywood Boulevard, Walk of Fame, where we paused briefly to glance at some of the hundred or so stars on the pavement, with celebrities names. There were people having their photos taken pointing to their favourite "star", re-enacting poses with a pirate with a striking resemblance to Johnny Depp, and lots of souvenir shops! We'd expected this but didn't expect to see how down-market and scruffy the area was! We high-tailed outta there and got back to the flat in time to give the kids a break, and take Lily out for a stroll. Lizzy made us another great meal of my favourite "pulled pork", and we spent the night relaxing with the kids and playing with Lily. She's such a sweetheart, and she's not as wary of us now, even crying when we leave the room, so we're making the bond with her that I'd hoped for.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Onto Santa Barbara

Balboa Park with the ducks
We spent the next four days with the family, taking Lily for a spin around Balboa Park to stare at the ducks, the passers by, the trees etc! She does a lot of staring and "weighing things up"! We love it when she follows you to the loo/bedroom/kitchen, crawling all the way, and then peeping around the doorway, to see what you're up to. She's not walking yet, but has taken a few cautious steps, and she stands momentarily, when she's got her hands full, and is quite firm, so it looks like it won't be long before she's off!
We went to a Trader Joes, a bit like Chatsworth farm shop full of grumpy Americans, possibly because it was raining and chilly. In fact it bucket ted it down that weekend! On the way back, Lizzy was just warning us that they can't drive in the rain over here, possibly because it doesn't happen very often, and they're rubbish at stopping distances, drive too fast, don't indicate etc! Just as she'd finished this warning, the car behind us rammed into the back of us, with such a force that it left her licence plate fixed into the bumper of our rental car!
We packed again and set off north, to Santa Barbara. We spent our first two nights away in the Holiday Inn Express in Downtown, just off State St, and within a short walk of the sea-front. We arrived in time to walk to the end of Stearns Wharf and have, what turned out to be, the best seafood in town. We were both bowled over by this "crab shack". Superb fresh shellfish cooked right in front of us, whilst we sat having a beer and watching the skilled chefs at work. It was a bit chilly, but sunny, so the heat of the cookers made us feel cosy and warm. We loved it so much, we went back the following day, having watched what others were ordering and asking questions about the menu. Ian tried abalone, local delicacy, which he said tasted sweet and crab-like, and he said that the sauce was amazing. I had something called "cioppino", which seemed to be a favourite- a large bread roll, hollowed out and filled with clams, mussels, scallops and shrimp, cooked in a marinara sauce, topped with what seemed like half a crab, which I adventurously broke and poked which the various instruments I was given, but in the end came to the conclusion that it wasn't really worth the effort! But the rest of it was fantastic!
Santa Barbara
The whole eating experience in Santa Barbara was superb, with a sample dish at the Palace Grill, which did Martinis flavoured with marinating bell peppers, and the best mini-muffins, flavoured with rosemary, others with black molasses etc. I bought a recipe book from them to try out at home. Their blackened catfish was fantastic, and we both said we'd go again. Having spent a lot that day we said we'd do much cheaper the day after, and went to The Brewhouse, for beers and quesadillas, and for Ian, lamb burger and fries. Again great inexpensive food, sitting in a bar, surrounded by locals watching a soccer match. Great atmosphere, and would go again.
The main street, State St, is full of attractive shops, chafes, and bars on either side. Nice for browsing, but it seemed expensive and classy. The best experience on offer was an early morning trip to their famous court-house, which at 85ft high is one of the tallest buildings in the area, giving you amazing views over the city, out to the Pacific and the Channel Islands, the nearest and largest being Santa Cruz, and views up to the Santa Barbara hills. Absolutely beautiful. Hard to believe you are only less than two hours away from the concrete blocks of Northridge. The courthouse is surrounded by beautiful, lush gardens, set out in Spanish-Moorish style, as is the influence on the construction of the building itself. After the great earthquake of 1925, it was built over a steel frame, with concrete beams inside, painted and decorated as if wooden. The walls are hollow. The ceilings are stunningly painted in Moorish style, with massive wrought-iron chandeliers. Tiles from Tunisia and Spain add to the colour. A very helpful receptionist encouraged us to explore the second floor, where there are magnificent murals all around the court-room, depicting the history of the city, from the native Chumash tribes, to the Spanish, to becoming a Californian city. It is still an active courthouse, with business on-going, so you have to be mindful of this when exploring, but you are encouraged to wander. Michael Jackson appeared here, when he was accused of being over-fond of children!
Unusual Postbox?Where's the flap?
We cycled along the coast bike path, around to the marina, and it was lovely to see a coastal route without the usual shops, just natural beauty. Ian went for a cycle on the mountain road into the hills, with fabulous villas perched on the hillside overlooking the sea. After a walk in Rattlesnake Canyon, following a stream, we drove along the mountain road in search of a curious mailbox- a cyclist with a post box in his pants!
Then we were off on the drive up to Solvang, along the Camino Real historic road, which hugs the coast and then veers towards the Santa Ynez mountains, and the wine-growing areas of Santa Ynez, Santa Maria and Santa Rita. Solvang is a kitschy, faux-Danish, theme-parky kind of town, but to be fair to it, it is a relaxing, pretty, tree-lined town, only two hours away from the hub-bub and noise of Los Angeles. A completely different place with a feel of Europe, where you can buy Danish pastries and Danish products. It was founded in 1911 by Danish settlers, complete with windmills! Great wines include Pinot Noir and Syrah varietals. We went for a great meal of Tomatillo soup and Steak. We stayed at a comfortable hotel, the Wine Valley Inn. The weather was cold but sunny, almost down to freezing, the first night. Ian went on a 50mile cycle ride into Ballard Canyon and Foxen Canyon wine growing areas, and I visited a recommended patchwork fabric shop in Buellton. An indifferent pizza meal, and then back to the hotel for a glass of wine with a couple from Los Angeles, who worked in a prison! Interesting talking to them about state health care and abuses of the system! In bed for 9pm, having been up early again!
Santa Maria Valley

Vineyard in Santa Ynez Valley
The following morning was fine but chilly at about 8deg! We cycled along the vineyard route on the Santa Rosa road, past farms and several vineyards, for about 18 miles in total. The scenery was bleached and dry, and the sky was grey, so we didn't see what is described in the guide as the most stunning route in the area, at its best. Better to come back on a sunny Spring day and repeat it. There's an attractive RV park nearby, and the patchwork shop's really close, so we'll be returning!
Just one thing- we're both finding cycling on borrowed mountain bikes really difficult. They're great for dirt roads and rough terrain, but heavy-duty burdens on roads! Can't wait to get back on our road bikes!

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Reunion with family

Feeding Time
After what seemed like a long and unfortunately delayed flight, we finally arrived back in LA. Immediately Ian was driving around like he lived here, and when we got to their larger two-bedroomed apartment, we were met by Lizzy and Andrew and a bemused little Lily. She didn't cry, as we feared, but spent a long time weighing us up, with a serious little expression! She continued to do this in the days to come, but gradually got used to us, laughing and smiling, especially when we imitated her blowing raspberries, or "singing".

Never too young to start!
The next few days we spent getting to know our granddaughter, and spending time with Lizzy, whilst Andrew was at work. We had a cycle in the Santa Monica Hills, and jogged around Balboa Park, went up to Babies R Us, and bought a Xmas present for Lily- a walk-behind dinosaur, that later converts to a trike. With flashing lights and songs when she pushes buttons, this proved to be a hit. Earlier Lizzy had bought a terrific wooden toy, with a myriad of push, pull, twist, bang, bits that Lily found fascinating, so she had plenty of things to explore with little fingers and big movements!

P***ed already!
She is adorable, but I've forgotten how tiring babies are, and so four days later we were ready to relax for a few days in Palm Springs, our favourite place in the desert. We love it there. The light, the sunshine, the stark landscape and the great food. First night, starving, we went to La Cazuela for brilliant Mexican food. Great Chinese food at Mings, and tried a new place for us- Tootsies. Have to say here that the pulled pork Texas Tacos were amazing, so much so we went for lunch the following day. Superb!
Isn't she sweet?
Cactus Trail Santa Rosa Mts
Not bad for a budget hotel.
We're staying in an inexpensive Holiday Inn Express in Cathedral City, which is a great place to stay, with great breakfasts and very friendly staff. We did a couple of four to five hour walks, from the tramway station to the summit of Mt Jacinto, and an even more interesting walk into the wilderness of the Santa Rosa mountains. The latter was fascinating for flora, cacti, prickly pear, beavers tail, chollas, ocotillo, to name but a fraction, and fabulous yuccas with towering flower spikes. Up and down through gullies and washes, to spots with amazing names like Horsethief Creek, where there are the remains of a manzanilla wood chaparral, where the cowboys used to corral the horses, and then on to Cactus Spring. A very tiring but interesting walk, which we've made a note to do in the Spring when the cacti will be in flower. Walking up the wash, you half expect to come across a cowboy on horseback, or a Cahuilla Indian, who were the original people of this area. It might look like a desolate desert but it's teeming with plant life, and near the creeks, with still had running water in them at the end of Summer, you can see brightly coloured blue winged birds.
Spitting image of who?

We're off to Wangs in the Desert tonight, which does beautiful Chinese food in beautiful surroundings, and then back to the family tomorrow. We stay with them for three nights and then off to Santa Barbara for four nights. Looking forward to squeezing Lily again.