Our trip to California was rather impromptu. With Veterans Day being on a Friday, we (mistakenly as it so happens) assumed that most offices would be closed, as was the courthouse, and most would take advantage of a long weekend. Unfortunately, Dana's 'In-box' proved otherwise, but it was too late. We were in the Sunshine state, and miles away from the office.
Things slowed down by early afternoon on Thursday and we left for the airport at around four o'clock. Our flight was on time, and we experienced the rare luxury of a straight through journey to LAX. With a slightly bumpy flight behind us, we found the shuttle to the car hire center, and were offered a free upgrade to a four wheel drive, which we graciously, and as time would tell, sensibly accepted. We drove through downtown LA, followed the excellent directions given by the car hire personnel and the maps, albeit not quite to scale, were very good, and within twenty minutes we were on the road that was the main route to our Inn.
Driving up mountainous road are not my favourite pastime; driving up mountainous roads in the dark is higher on the 'dislike' scale. It would appear that everyone using this 'one up, one down' lane helter skelter, was familiar with the terrain, and cars were zooming past us on hairpin bends, as if they knew who would be coming down, and when. Eventually, we came to the turn off, as predicted, and then turned left again, and came to the 'end of the council maintained' road. As all instructions had been so good up until now, we thought that perhaps the Inn was, indeed, off the beaten track, and at the top of the unmaintained road stood two houses, one pink and one white, with a large sign, 'Topanga Canyon Inn'. Unfortunately, the entrance was not as large, and we could not see a 'reception'. We turned onto the dirt track at the side of the building and in front of the car stood a man, walking his wolf. Dana stopped the car as the man came towards us. I think that one of the worst decisions ever made by vehicle designers was to put control buttons, to all electronics, by the driver. As I desperately attempted to lock the door, my window slowly opened. All I could say was, 'Ahhhhhh'. We were going to die in our upgraded car, right next to the beautiful Inn. Fortunately, the wolf was not hungry. His owner did not know how to get into the Inn. The only saving grace was that it was the beginning of November, and there were no stables! Dana thanked him for his time, and I said 'Ahhhhhhh'.
Eventually, we took the metaphorical bull by the horn, and got out of the car. There were two main doors, which had doorbells, but no one came to our call. Of course, being just slightly lower than K2, phone signals were intermittent, but we did manage to get through to the owner, twice, which alerted him to the fact we had arrived. The Inn was as pretty inside, as it was out. We had a fabulous room, and although the downstairs area was what was known as 'common' area, we were the only residents on the ground floor of the Casa Rosa. Our bathroom was not en-suite, but just next to our room. It suddenly occurred to me that if someone was to check in during our stay, we may have to share! Horror of horrors! I just didn't have enough wet-wipes to clean each time I used the facilities. However, it did appear that the 'other' room on our floor did actually have an en-suite, so two packs were sufficient for the weekend!
We hooked up the laptop, checked emails, of which Dana had several, (even though it was 10pm and most of Texas was two hours ahead!) and I said goodnight to Samantha, via the trustee Facebook site. Despite the uneventful journey, we did collapse into bed and slept soundly until about 3am. The combination of gaining an hour the previous weekend, and gaining another two, had obviously played havoc with our internal time clocks, but a few hours of dozing certainly proved beneficial, and at around 7am we decided to take a cup of coffee into the lounge area, which was bathed in brilliant sunshine. We had two hours to kill before breakfast, which would be served at 9am, and we did not have miles and miles to cover; Los Angeles was our destination and we were going to stay within the area and enjoy a restful weekend.
Breakfast was with our upstairs neighbours, and our hostess, who moved to the US from Russia when it was still the Soviet Union, and one of her five children joined us. With the diversity of cultures, our conversation was very lively; our neighbours were originally from Ohio, but now lived in San Jose, although his mother was from the Bronx, where he had grown up. After nearly three hours of life stories, we decided it was time to get on with our day. Samantha was quite relieved to hear from me, as telephonic connection was regained as we travelled down the mountain, wondering how even I had managed to talk for three hours solid, knowing that I do not relish sitting around when there is so much to see. I explained that this was not the case, and I had allowed others to have their turn on the soapbox. I am not sure she was convinced!
The scenery going down was as breathtaking as it was from the summit, and as we got to the bottom, I could see the ocean. I have no idea why I get so excited when I see the sea, but it evoked the five year old within me that seems to appear every so often. As I screamed enthusiastically, Dana took charge of the map and attempted to find our route through Santa Monica. With drivers being focussed on their destination, Dana was constantly commenting on how discourteous they were. I reminded him that we were not in Texas, and the 'Stepford' attitude did not exist everywhere. Some people just drive, despite others on the road! (He would never survive in London.) We drove to Beverly Hills, and the famed Rodeo Drive. My lack of desire to window shop along this prestigious street, was probably just as well, as the parking was not particularly well sign posted. Our first actual stop was going to be a mission of mercy; we were going to find LA Ink! Anyone who knows my husband will see the funny side of him walking into a Tattoo shop. I know that body art is not limited to the young, but I felt positively ancient, as the entire population of the shop appeared to be under 25. There were no cubicles, and we were permitted to take photographs, as long as we did not use a flash, although the request to do so was looked upon as rather strange.
I must admit that I was quite relieved to be outside the shop, and back in the car. Dressed in a casual trouser suit, stetson and no artificial colouring on my exposed parts, I was considered rather out of place. We left the High Voltage area and headed to Hollywood. Having lunch at the Disney Studio Store and Soda Fountain seemed like the 'thing to do', in the first real home for Walt's famous rodent. Sharing a sandwich and ice-cream sundae was as near perfect as I could imagine, especially when I spotted Spiderman wandering through the crowd opposite, at Grauman's Chinese Theater. After being filled to the brim with chocolate fudge, and marshmallow sauce, we waddled across the road and searched the concrete slabs for the hand imprint of my heroine. As clear and perfect as she, Julie Andrew's hands, together with her signature, was near the front door of the complex. Whilst using up a lot of battery and digital memory taking pictures of fingerprints, I noticed out of the corner of my eye, a red furry being, standing at approximately five foot ten. Elmo was to the left of the building! Together with Darth Vadar, another Spiderman and a woman with a false pair of breasts, and large floppy ears (who I can only imagine was one of Hugh Heffner's playmates!), he strolled the pavement, as members of the public requested his presence in their pictures. I took my pictures from afar. As we were leaving the forecourt, Mr Vadar removed his mask, and far from collapsing from loss of whatever it is that the false head provides, he suggested that we were not being completely fair in our actions. He said that he didn't think we meant to be rude, but if we respected the artist, perhaps we should show our appreciation. Far be it from me to interpret the word, but dressing up in a pair of platform boots, cape and plastic hat, does not an artist make. Mr Vadar presumably reconsidered his evaluation, as I did not give him five dollars for far off photo of the Sesame Street character, who I suspect, was also someone dressed in a suit, but again, far be it for me to make such a statement!
Walking back to the car, we saw several more Spidermen sitting atop trash cans, and surprisingly enough, more black caped, masked men with thick soled shoes! Like Santa Claus, it would be impossible to find the original!
Fighting 'quiting time' traffic, we drove back through downtown LA, and back through Santa Monica, and turned to drive back up the mountain. Knowing the road conditions, and the suicidal tendencies of our fellow roadsters, made the journey to the Inn no less terrifying. After a cup of tea (you can take the girl out of England, but never England out of the girl!) we fell asleep, having had our fill of wonderland for one day!
The storm that hit during the night, and woke us with loud crashes of thunder and bright flashes of lightning, at around 4pm. There were eight for Breakfast Saturday morning, as another couple who had emigrated from Ohio to California, joined the 'lifetime' discussions, and our hostess was joined by her oldest daughter, who replaced her son for the weekend chores. Our trip down the wet mountain was somewhat more treacherous than previous rides, but the locals paid no heed to the weather conditions. The sign for Malibu did not evoke as much response in me as I had predicted. Although California had been a 'want' for so long, and Malibu just sounds so exotic, my appreciation of less 'commercialised' states has grown. I long to visit places like Wisconsin and Minnesota, Oregon and Idaho. Obviously LA is not the be all and end all of California, and there are many beautiful, less 'popular' places for tourists to visit, and one day, I hope to do just that, but for now, we were in the famous seaside resort. The houses in the cliffs looked suitably amazing, and the sea was full of surfers, as was also expected. Lunch was fish and chips in a delightful restaurant with no so delightful staff. Wanting a table by the window was really not convenient, but if we wanted to wait, we could probably be accommodated. With the huffing and puffing, and excessive frustrating sighs, I was not totally convinced we had not entered the overflow for the LA Asthma emergency room! The waiter was as non-committal as the hostess, and anything was too much trouble. Fortunately, the chef gave credit to the experience as the meal was delicious. The table behind sat three young girls with amnesia. Their memory as to when they last applied a coat of lipstick was sadly impaired, as a layer was applied after each of the total three bites they took, before complaining they were 'completely full'. Oh to be so disciplined!
The seaside is the seaside, the world over, and although there are some beaches which cause a sharp intake of breath, a pier with a fairground, to me, is the epitome of good fun. Although I am not one to take part in such frivolity, I do enjoy watching others subject themselves to whiplash, and the like. My obsession for Candy Floss (cotton candy) is a constant source of amusement to Dana, and I managed to convince him that there is no law, at least in Texas and California, that disallows the ingestion of spun sugar by anyone over ten. Although I believe myself to be constantly at the age of 12, my outward appearance contradicts the fact, and the vendor did, indeed, chuckle when I said, 'a stick' rather than, 'a bag', when asked, 'what do you want?'
Finally, with enough sea air in our lungs, and with the clouds threatening to burst, once again, we strolled, barefoot along the sand, to the car, and once again, climbed the front face of the Eiger. However, the walk, and the atmosphere had given us an appetite, and we ventured down, half way, to Topagna Village, in search of a recommended restaurant. Unfortunately, we could not find the hidden venue, and stopped outside a Bistro to ask directions. Fortunately, we were given directions, but perhaps more so, were told that the Bistro was, in fact, a much better choice. We decided that a local recommendation was preferable to the Internet, and entered the quaint establishment. Needing to use the facilities, I was given a key, on a spoon (?) and told that the restroom was, 'outside, a few stores down, there is an opening. It's on the left'. Without my phone (which probably would have been useless), I walked about fifty yards, turned down the dark external corridor, and saw 'Women' ,to the left. Uncomfortable as I was entering, I was in no position to leave at that point, but once the task was completed, I ran full speed, back to the restaurant. The meal was as bad as the lavatory experience, and we decided the locals either had no taste buds, or just didn't like foreigners! Indigestion set in shortly before bedtime, and the thought of another wonderful country breakfast far from pleasant.
Six thirty, Sunday morning, brought sunshine and a fresh new day. The previous evenings experience was put firmly behind us, and I went out on to the balcony to see the sunrise. I ran back to the room to get my camera, and Dana decided to join me in a walk up to the top of the hill. Bravely, I ascended to the top of the mountain, taking pictures as day broke over the surrounding summits. Coming down was slightly more difficult, but I kept my balance, which was more than I did later in the day. We enjoyed another long breakfast, with two new couples, and met the remainder of our hostess's children. 'Were you in the war?', one asked Dana, as he had mentioned he was ex military. 'Only we have had some old men here before, and they fought in the war'. Holding back the sniggers, I looked at Dana, who replied, graciously, that he was 'not THAT old', and had not actually been in active combat. Fascinated, however, the boys continued to quiz him on his time in the Army, and he left two young lads very content.
We left the Inn and ventured on our last tour for this journey. Up another winding road, we travelled to the Griffith Observatory to get the best view of the sign...the Hollywood letters that stand on yet another cliff. We ascended to the roof and I stood, back to the wall, unable to move. My inability to put one foot in front of the other set in, as I noticed one part of the roof was 'not supported'.
This completely irrational fear is unexplainable, and I inched my way to the the edge of the building, so I could at least get a photo of the sign between my fingers. Attempting to overcome the fear is very important to me, but not always possible. I was once again, very brave, and despite all odds, I managed not only a picture, but to descend to ground level!
We lunched at a hotel, paying as much for the parking as we did for the meal, and returned the car, before heading for the airport. Our gracious bus driver slowed down so that we could take a picture of the LAX sign (oh I know, I am such a tourist), and we made our way to security, where efficiency was halted as a lady with excessive metal embellishment on her blouse, caused the scanner to continually buzz. This coupled with her husband's insistence that 'a hat belongs on a man's head, and that is where it is gonna stay', caused a slight delay in us getting to our gate, but we had plenty of time. We were eighth and tenth on the upgrade list, but as there are only six seats in first class, the likelihood of thirteen people not turning up for the flight was rather slim, and we were fortunate enough to have 'plus' seating.
We left Austin airport at 12.05am, and Samantha told Dana, 'I was here yesterday'. He failed to realise that 'yesterday' was six minutes earlier, which amused her even more. Home before 12.30, we headed to bed, exhausted, but very content. With twenty six states under my belt, I am now on the downward stretch, which I hope is less traumatic than the mountain pass travelled over the last three days. Thanksgiving is now around the corner, and Christmas is looming. Who knows what will constitute....another story.