Monday, September 15, 2008

Meatless Meatballs!

1824 pictures, 1756 miles, 345 redwood trees, 71.23 gallons of gas, 53 sequoias, 23 curses for left-driving Americans, 12 drive-in Starbucks americanos, 7 bagels with cream cheese, 2 major cities and 1 bear later, we are back in Belgium.

That is, not to forget 6265.13 air miles  and 1 extraordinary surprise party of course! Thanks Papa, Ann, Tom, Evi, Kris and all those present for making it such a success!

I’ve had quite some positive feedback about this blog. Some of you even asked me to keep on writing, or at least post an epilogue. I think I’ll try to do the former. However, as I prefer quality to quantity, let’s aim at one post per week.

For this week, I've been rummaging around a little in my 1800-plus pictures. Maybe soon to hit the market in Belgium: MEATLESS MEATBALLS!


Friday, September 5, 2008

Back to San Francisco along the West Coast

Thursday morning, August 28. Filip has left for Belgium, Evi and I are starting the last three-day episode of our trip, returning from LA to SF along the Pacific Coast. We will cover most of the distance on Highway 1, which is supposed to be one of America’s most scenic routes…

Our first stop is Santa Barbara: another cute coastal town with the inevitable pier. On this latter, we shared a very fine “Maine lobster”. Afterwards, we played a little with the digital camera, photographing the pelicans on the pier:


Yes, I know that these animals can carry nasty diseases and no, I am actually not even touching the bird! Take a closer look and convince yourself…

In the afternoon, we continued toward San Luis Obispo. This city has a vibrant college life, as it is home to “Cal Poly,” another one of University of California’s campuses. In the evening, we strolled a little on the local farmers’ market, had dinner there, and then returned to the hotel for a good night’s sleep:


The next day, we had our breakfast in Morro Bay, named after the “Morro Rock”. Or maybe the rock is named after the bay, whatever. Anyhow, Morro rock is an impressive block of granite smack in the middle of the bay:


After a good American breakfast—omelettes and bacon, French toast and free-refill coffee—we continued toward “Hearst Castle”. William Randolph Hearst was a media tycoon and must have been one of the richest men in the World around the end of the 19th century-beginning of the 20th century. He really lived the American Dream: his father came to California, discovered silver, invested the proceeds in huge amounts of land along the Pacific coast—where huge means HUGE: they own more than 100km of coast line, pretty much all you could see from up the hill is their property. Anyhow, son Hearst became a very successful media tycoon and set about building his mansion on the family grounds. This is the outdoor swimming pool…


while this is the castle’s main entrance:


I must admit that I was a bit skeptical at first about the whole “castle” thing. But we were very happy we made the visit in the end. It is an amazing piece of architecture, exaggerated in size but pretty elegant, completely designed by one of America’s most important architects of those days, surrounded by gorgeous gardens:


After our visit, we headed for the “Big Sur” region, which stretches along the coast and encompasses many state parks with redwood groves. Along the way, we encountered a couple of seals basking in the sun on the beach:


and we visited this beautiful bay with a waterfall falling right into the ocean—it is in the picture, but you have to look closely:


We then continued to Monterey, where we spent the night in the century-old “Monterey Hotel,” but only after Evi enjoyed another Maine lobster—making the most of the cheap dollar, you know… I settled for crab this time, because even with a cheap dollar, this kind of trips and all the shopping were starting to weigh heavily on my credit cards ;-).

The next day, we visited  the Monterey Aquarium. It features a three-storey high tank with, among others, huge tuna fishes and a small white shark. We couldn’t use the flash for photographing this tank though, so you get some jellyfish instead—they seemingly don’t mind being in the spotlights:


And I was allowed to use my flash on this creature, too:


At noon, we left Monterey for Santa Cruz . This is a surfer’s town with a less upscale, more laid-back  attitude than Monterey. It features a classical “boardwalk”: a collection of luna parks, a roller coaster, and some other attractions:


We then continued toward San José, more or less the capital of Silicon Valley. This is its oldest house, an adobe structure from in the early days of Spanish settlement:


and this is one of its newer buildings:


I think these might be the headquarters of Adobe, a giant computer firm, probably named after the type of house in the previous picture. These modern buildings now dominate the city’s streets. You immediately notice that this is a place where a lot of money is made. The streets are very clean and pleasant with cozy restaurants, and most remarkably: there are hardly any fast food chains present here!

Afterwards, we briefly passed by Palo Alto. The atmosphere is pretty similar to San José but the city seems somewhat smaller. After a quick visit to Stanford University’s campus—huge, expensive an pretty nice—we continued to Half Moon Bay where we had the best dinner of our holiday in the Mediterranean restaurant  “Café Gibraltar”.

Then we drove to the airport, slept in the car at the drop-off point until 5AM, and got our flight back to Belgium. All nice stories must come to an end…

Monday, September 1, 2008

Los Angeles

On Monday, August 25, we left Sequoia National Park after a refreshing swim in the hotel pool and headed for LA. We arrived there at about 5PM and immediately set off for Venice Beach. This beach is known for its many weirdos and quirks hanging around. One of them gave me the opportunity to feel what it’s like to have 2 pythons hanging around your neck—live pythons, that is:


Why “Venice Beach”? Because back in the days, someone got the idea of creating an American Venice here, complete with canals and all:


In the evening, we went to Santa Monica. This town is pretty cozy and an ideal place for some shopping, strolling around and easy dining. Which is exactly what we did…

On Tuesday, we first spent a couple of hours on the beach in Malibu. Where San Franciscans would hang around in the park on a lazy Sunday afternoon, the Angelinos flock to their beaches en masse. Understandable, as the city itself is a vast and amorphous grid of freeways without much charm. It is even strongly discouraged to loiter in downtown after dark, as it is not safe. Therefore, downtown was not on our to-do list…

Instead, we headed for the Getty Museum in the afternoon. This beautiful museum is a little over 10 years old. It presents a well-balanced collection of paintings, sculptures, photography and other arts in an amazing setting. The buildings itself are neat pieces of modern architecture:


surrounded by lively and colorful gardens:


The Getty Museum has a pretty impressive art collection. Evi had a ball imitating some of the more peculiar pieces…


After visiting the museum, we set off for Beverly Hills. A short ride through posh neighborhoods such as Bel Air proved a little disappointing: you can only guess what the impressive villas of the World’s most famous movie stars look like, as they are all quite keen on their privacy and shelter their properties well from any nosey tourists.

On Wednesday, we witnessed a horrible scene smack in the middle of LA:


No, seriously, this is the decor of the film “War of the Worlds,” which can still be seen in Universal Studios Hollywood, the so-called “LA’s Entertainment Capital.” Seeing the studios where some major Hollywood productions were/are being shot was impressive, but far more importantly: Evi and I got to meet Shrek in person!!!


Even Filip could not resist having a picture taken with one of Woody Woodpecker’s friends, though I had to insist a little…


It was already getting dark when we left Universal Studios. Anyhow, we couldn’t return to the hotel for dinner before making this last quick picture…


On Thursday morning I dropped Filip off at the airport for his return to Belgium. Evi and I set off for our last three days, returning from LA to San Francisco. As usual by now, you will get that part with a little delay…