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Sunday, April 12, 2015


We started our Easter weekend earlier than expected.  I knew that we were going to have to be at the airport before the crack of dawn on Friday, as Samantha had booked a very early flight, so that we could enjoy the most of our vacation, but it turned out we were going even earlier!  The cost of the car in the package was rather high, so we decided to book the vehicle separately.  Samantha enlisted Dana's help to do so on the Monday before the weekend, and it then became obvious why the price was so exorbitant.  When Samantha booked the holiday, she had used last year's calendar!  Upon further inspection, we found that were leaving at the crack of dawn on Thursday.  I invite you to sit back and enjoy, as like my vacation, this post is going to be ever so slightly longer than originally anticipated!

My plans had to be brought forward by twenty four hours, and my usual angst before a flight was now intensified, if that is possible, as I had a day less to get myself organised.  However, I rose to the challenge and by Wednesday morning, I was packed and my electronics were charging, ready for the journey.  With dinner prepared, cooked and eaten, I settled down and tried to unwind.  At 11pm, I realised that I had no idea how to get from the destination airport to the hotel, and opened my laptop to look at a map.  It was then that I realised that the hotel that I had been scrutinising was not the hotel where we would be staying!  I finally dropped off to sleep around 2am. 

The alarm went off at 4:15am and Samantha called to say that she was outside, and could I please unlock the door and let her in!  Dana drove us to the airport, and we negotiated security and bought a cup of coffee and a muffin for the first leg of the journey to Los Angeles, which proved to be very uneventful.  We boarded the flight and sat in our bulkhead seats, marvelling at the fact that we had more leg room than those in the rear seats of the first class cabin.  Our second flight, although uneventful, was a little more stressful.  I had taken the time to check out the plane earlier in the week, and knew that I would have to travel in the 'puddle jumper'.  I walked quickly down the winding sloped walkway, and waited for the crew to let us know that the plane was ready to board.  As I ascended up the stairs, a ground crew member was coming down, and I turned to walk back down.  For a  few seconds, Samantha wondered if she was going to have a problem getting her mother to board the propeller operated plane, and continued to film the moment.  Sending half the video to everyone, up to the point where I retreated, was considered to be amusing, but the flurry of replies she received showed that most people lacked faith in me actually boarding the twenty six seater plane, despite my having travelled on one half the size two years ago! 

The twenty minute flight was not particularly harrowing, however the breeze that blew coming in to land was enough to make the plane tip from side to side when came into land, and I felt a little queasy as we touched down at Carlsbad McClellan Palomar airport.  Eventually, we deplaned and walked across the runway and out of a side gate, which led us to the car-hire offices and the baggage collection.  Samantha decided to wait for the bags as I entered the facility to claim our car.  The representative was busy with a prospective customer, and due to the size of the office, this one person constituted a queue, and I chose to stand outside with Samantha and wait for our case.  We watched the ground staff load my case and a few others onto the motorised cart, and then drive about fifty feet, before disappearing around the other side of the wall next to where we were standing.  Two metal shutters were lifted, and the bags were placed on the sloped brick wall, which connected to a concrete ledge.  Samantha commented that we should get the bags quickly in case they 'went round again'.  The half a dozen suitcases sat neatly on the ledge while the half a dozen passengers claimed them in a very orderly fashion!

The car-hire representative offered me several extra options including additional insurance, an upgrade to a 'decent size car', and a few other non-enticing proposals, all of which I refused.  A ford fiesta sounded like a pretty good deal to me, and despite being 'tiny'' in the opinion of the manager, was slightly larger than the car which I currently own and drive on a regular basis. I signed the papers, sealed the deal, and the car was not delivered, but instead we had to walk much further than the baggage handlers had to drive, before we could acquire our four wheel chariot!  The dents and scratches were abundant, but the young man in charge of cleaning and detailing assured us that they were of no consequence, and if we made a note of them, we would not be held responsible.  Samantha took her trusty phone out of her pocket and took photographs of the offending areas, and showed me how the clever little android added the dates and times of the photo, so that we could no be accused of mistreating the 'tiny' vehicle.  Soon, after a couple of coughs and splutters from our battered fiesta, we were on our way towards San Diego and the Double Tree Hotel.

My handwritten map was very efficient, but unnecessary, as the voice activated telephone was plugged into the car's radio system, and an English accent gave us instructions for our route.  We checked in, were offered, and given the complimentary cookies that have become synonymous with the hotel chain, and drove around to our 'apartment' building, where we found a very pleasant first floor room with a balcony.  Samantha returned to the car to retrieve the luggage, and once a modicum of unpacking was achieved, we ventured back around the hotel complex to the lobby, and were told where the nicest nearest beach could be located.  Our vacation had officially begun!

We found Del Mar beach without a problem.  Parking was a little less easy, but we eventually followed a sign which indicated there would be a space available to leave the multi-dented and scratched little fiesta.  A change machine provided us with the quarters needed to feed the hungry meters, and we walked three short blocks to the front!  The choice of restaurants was not prolific, but fish and chips was on the menu of the establishment that looked as if it would be the best option.  We were seated in the corner, which was perfect, as the wall next to which we sat, separated the restaurant from the beach.  The food was delicious and rather too plentiful, but we enjoyed the view.  Upon her return from a lengthy afternoon siesta, (or so we assumed, due to the length of time she was on the 'missing list',) our waitress presented us with the check and I left the amount for the meal, together with a tip that reflected my thoughts as to her level of service, which was rather inflated considering that she all she did was take our order and give us the bill!  The meal was delivered by another member of staff.

Walking along the shore is always a delight, and we spent about an hour and a half surfing the waves as they crashed against the sand.  Our surfing was more in the line of letting the last ripples of water touch our toes, rather than wading into the ocean, waist deep, and waiting for a decent wave to cruise us back to the beach.  However, we were at the seaside and that was enough to put a big smile on our faces!  After about three hours, we returned to our hire car, and drove back to the hotel.  We parked and once again, walked the rather convoluted pathway to the lobby.  Samantha attempted to purchase a soda from the gift shop, but the receptionist was rather reluctant to let her buy it, without charging it to our room, and asked for our number.  We did not wish this service, and she suggested that we go to the machine, which was situated just outside of the lobby area, where she could find a soda for half the price.  This we did.  When we returned, we asked if there was anywhere in the hotel that had Wi-Fi service that we could access on our respective computers.  The receptionist told us that this was available in our rooms.  "What is your room number?", she asked again.  I said that I did not wish to purchase the service, and would use the 'Business Center' facilities instead.  The receptionist appeared to be a little less than satisfied with our option, and rolled her eyes.  We checked emails, loaded up social media, (I wished to check all the pictures Samantha had added of me during the day!)and then walked out of the back of the lobby, and into the recreational area, where we sat with our feet in the whirlpool for about half an hour.  The original intent of our trip had been to visit LEGOLAND, but we decided that perhaps Easter was not the best time to do so, and there was a lot more on offer within the area.  I mused at asking whether the receptionist would be able to recommend a good winery for us to visit, and wondered what her reaction would be.  Samantha responded immediately, "She will probably ask for our room number!"  I did approach the desk once more, and was greeted with a less than congenial, "What do you want now?"  Her colleague was a little shocked and she attempted to allow a smile to cross her pursed lips.  Wineries, it would appear, were about an hour's drive from the hotel, and there was not much information they could give, other than direct us to the 'Business Center' to collect leaflets, which we already had in our possession.  Once we returned to our room, I called the 'Whale Watching' tour operator and spoke to their very nice operator about booking a couple of tickets.  It appeared that, due to the less than calm conditions, the tours over the last couple of days had been cancelled, but she recommended I call at 8am to see if they were going to recommence.  This should have been a warning!

Dinner was discussed, but as we had a very early start, a late lunch, and were two hours behind Austin time, by 9:30pm, we drifted into a very sound slumber, and the next thing I knew, the sun was shining through the thin curtain which I had left un-draped, and it was a very healthy 6am!  We rose, got ready for our day, and headed out towards the 'downtown' area for breakfast. The café that we had seen advertised on the small map that we had picked up from the airport, was very busy.  Our little battered fiesta did not like mornings.  However, after a few hops, skips and jumps, it roared (quite literally, turning heads as it went) along the highway!  At 8am, we arrived at our destination and joined the small queue, but as we were a party of two, we were seated within a few minutes. We watched the queue grow, and were quite satisfied that this was the 'place to eat'.  I attempted to call the tour people, but had to leave a message for a 'call back', as the recording said they were very busy.  By the time we had eaten breakfast and returned to the car, the queue was about half a reasonable sized block long, and more people were heading in the direction of the café. 

Two tickets were purchased, and we queued for the boat to take us out past the confines of the harbour into the Pacific Ocean to see if we could espy the wildlife of the sea.  We had parked our battered fiesta (which did not like mid-mornings) in a car park.  $10 did not seem excessive for a whole day, and it gave us peace of mind, should we wish to stay longer in San Diego proper!  Most of the seats had been taken on the deck, and we sat on a bench in the shade, before Samantha cleverly surmised that we would be at the back of the boat, and thus I would have my back to the engine. This was not a very good idea, due to my tendency to suffer from motion sickness.  I had secured my bands around my wrist, and was quite certain that they would be effective.  We walked to the other end of the boat, and sat in the less occupied area at the bow.  I received my 'call back' from the company, which was now unnecessary as I was already on the boat!  I did thank them for the courtesy of keeping their promise.  Sitting at the front, my helpful daughter pointed out that this was where they stored the life jackets, should the need arise.  Various 'older' people, wearing official looking t-shirts and caps, were milling among the passengers.  They were from an organisation that (although I failed to catch the name) were all about the preservation of the sea creatures, and were onboard to give a 'talk' about what we had (hopefully) witnessed on our return journey. The engines started, and we headed out towards the wide blue yonder, taking in the sights of Coronado Island and various naval ships and smaller crafts.  I spotted a dolphin and a sea lion and was quite pleased that we had chosen this option over LEGOLAND.  Pretty soon, we were bouncing over the waves towards the schools of whales that were making their way up towards the coasts of Russia, before heading back down the coast of California, at the end of the year.  After about half an hour, Samantha saw several whales, several more dolphins, and an abundance of sea-lions.  I saw the weave on the carpet on the floor of the inner cabin of the boat!  As soon as I started to feel a little 'off colour', I had retreated back into the covered area and sat at a table.  However, sitting was not an option, and I knew that unless I laid myself down, I would probably lose consciousness and fall down, possibly blocking the doorway to the stairwell.

Samantha came inside to check on me at various intervals, and at one time offered to get me one of those little bags that can be found in the pocket on the seat of an aeroplane.  I did not answer.  I was too busy wondering how I was going to survive another three hours on the craft, and doubted that one sick passenger would be enough to 'about turn' and head back to shore.  I am not sure as to whether I fell asleep or merely 'passed out', as I do remember 'coming round'. Whispers could be heard, and although I could not yet lift my head, I felt slightly better.  I knew we were heading back to shore by the smoother ride, but had forgotten about the 'talk'.  "Don't move her We can set up around her", the very nice 'older' person told Samantha, who then very sarcastically added, "It is not often that you have a real live beached whale to show!"  (She is her mother's daughter!)  I lay with my back to a wall, trying not to draw too much attention to myself, but obviously a grown middle aged woman, curled up in the foetal position, on the floor, is a sight to be giggled at, especially if you are a pre-teen!  There were very many pre-teens on board, and all attended the talk! A very nice lady then offered me a 'Dramamine' tablet, which I took.  I do hope I was not offensive as I did not mean to be, when I said "I could have done with this three hours ago!" but she did not seem to take offence.  Samantha was slightly concerned about me taking drugs from a stranger, but I assured her that nothing could make me feel worse than I did, and I was almost one hundred percent sure that this woman, who was travelling with her husband and three young children, (giggling pre-teens) was not a pusher, and would not track me down once I was hooked. I am still not one hundred percent sure that this was not the case, but whatever she gave me, whether Dramamine or some other concoction, it did the trick!  During my 'confinement', my temperature had spiked, and I had poured half a bottle of water over my torso to reduce it, and as I was now feeling much better, I was aware that the temperature in the room was rather cool, and I was soaking wet, and shivering.  I retrieved my cardigan which I had used for a pillow, and used it as a blanket, until I was able to leave the floating vessel that had caused me so much misery!

Eventually, we deboated, declined the offer of purchasing our picture which had been taken before I looked like death warmed up and headed towards a rather nice hotel, where we used the facilities, freshened up and started to stroll along the beautiful harbour.  Outside the San Diego Courthouse, were a series of small pools, and water jets, which was a continuous source of fun for the children, whose parents had set up umbrellas and small tents to shelter their little ones from the sun, on the adjoining grass verge that separated the water from the pavement.  Kids and adults were splashing gleefully, whilst who knows what custodial sentences were being handed to those inside the sandy coloured building at the end of the block.  After dipping our toes in the refreshing water, I was feeling slightly peckish, so we stopped at a café and ordered a small Greek salad 'to go' and sat on the grass, on the opposite side of the road, in the shadow of the USS Midway, and watched the world go by.  A naval ship, complete with sailors standing around the deck railings, ready for their voyage to distant shores, past along the front of the harbour.  It was quite an awesome sight.  We walked for a couple of hours, and then returned to the car, before heading over the bridge to Coronado Island.

It was just as well that the motion sickness had departed, as the bridge in itself brought forth another one of my antisocial phenomena, and despite the fact that I was in the driving seat, the fear of heights became rather obvious as the bridge sloped its way around the bay and onto the beautiful island.  We followed the instructions being emitted through the speakers, from the phone, and found the beach front.  Meters were available in various areas, but no empty spaces could be found.  Eventually we parked outside a house, and were told that this was perfectly acceptable, and there was no charge.  The extra quarters that we had purchased from the slot machine the previous day could be kept for another time.  Once again, we walked for a couple of hours, and enjoyed the view.  Oh I do like to be beside the seaside!  We climbed rocks (small rocks, very small rocks) and spotted crabs and mussels and various other salt water creatures, before deciding to return to the hotel.  There had been a small commotion by the beach, and the police were talking to a young woman with a dog.  The parking bays had been suspended, and we walked across the road to where we were parked.  As we unlocked the door, a large van pulled into the driveway of the house outside which we were parked.  With the engine still running, a rather frantic lady alighted and ran towards us.  Apparently the police had stopped her from parking at the 'pick up point', where she had agreed to meet her family, and she did not know what to do.  I am not sure whether my face expressed a look that said, 'and you expect me to do what?', but that is what I was thinking.  I was unsure as to why she was relaying this information to me, but she eventually continued by asking if we could watch her van while she ran across the street to reclaim her mother and child.  As she hobbled along the pavement, I began to giggle.  I looked for the cameras.  I was quite sure that the owner of the house was about to appear, scream at me to move the truck, as it was blocking their garage, and I was going to have to make a decision as to whether I should move the vehicle or suggest that they do the honours.  As I said to Samantha, "Do you think we will be on television", I thought of all those people who are secretly filmed and the things they say which are caught on the microphone. I realised that I was acting in the same way that they act, and started to laugh.  However, thankfully, we will not be stars of "You've been framed" or the American equivalent, as mother, grandma and child appeared in about five minutes, with mum thanking me profusely, grandma looking rather unimpressed, and a young boy, carrying a surfboard, with a look of complete apathy!  We jumped in the car and headed north!

The trip back to the hotel was not too long, and once again we visited the 'Business Center' before heading up to the room to get ready for our big night out!  We were going to a Casino for dinner, but had to visit Target on the way, so that Samantha could purchase a t-shirt and a hat.  Our plans for the following day would involve a lot of time in the sun, and the boat trip had left her somewhat 'wind' burnt.  We followed the route given by the phone and took the battered fiesta to the store.  Not only did our little vehicle not like mornings, it did not like evenings very much either.   Also it did not appear to like hills.  At least not very high hills, along very winding roads, which led up into the mountains, that were not very well lit.  It was probably a blessing that I could not see where I was driving, as the sheer drop (yes I did look at a map when I returned) was not helpful to the phobia!  Eventually, we reached the peak of the tor, parked the traumatized vehicle, entered the hotel, and walked past the gaming tables, and 'armless bandits', to the restaurant, and enjoyed a sumptuous meal.  After we had stuffed ourselves to bursting, we left without spending a cent, and drove downhill all the way back to our temporary home, discussing the plans for the next day.  Despite not being fond of a downhill journey, I surmised that this car was probably most apt, as it seemed to have more aversions than its driver!

La Jolla had only ever been heard, by me, in the lyrics of a song, until my parents had visited the area many years ago, and showed me photographs of the pretty coast.  To visit this amazing place seemed to be out of the realms of my imagination as a child, but the California coastline is truly beautiful.  Perhaps it is the waves crashing against the rocks that makes this area majestic in my eyes.  We parked our ailing steed, once again, in a residential area, and followed the instructions of a local couple to turn the wheels of the vehicle out, to avoid a ticket.  Unfortunately, the kayaking company which we first approached could not fit us into their schedule until their five o'clock session.  I had wanted to return to the hotel so that we could complete our 'check in' for the following day, at 6:30pm, which would assure us a decent seat on the return flight.  Samantha had insisted that this was possible to access from her phone, but the phobias were out in full force this weekend, and I did not want to leave anything to chance!  The second company approached were also heavily booked, and as we headed back along the path, we became a little despondent.  Suddenly we saw a sign, 'Kayak tours upstairs'.  The office did not look particularly inviting and we were a little unsure as to the 'safety' of taking a trip with this particular tour operator.  However, they were reasonably heavily booked, and this gave us a little encouragement.  They could let us have a 'tandem' at 2:40pm.  We agreed, paid for the tour, and left, after being advised to eat at least two hours before the journey!  I started to panic.  I asked several questions about motion sickness, despite being fairly proficient in a kayak under the instruction of my sister-in-law, Cindy, but this was on the Ocean and not on a lake.  I was advised that there should not be a problem but perhaps an investment in the all-inclusive Dramamine would be advisable.  Breakfast was eaten at a lovely café, where we secured a terrace area seat and we then walked for a couple of hours along the beach.  I had packed a towel to take for the day, and this proved to be a very good idea!  We sat for a while before heading back to a small store, where I purchased the wonder drug, and a t-shirt.  We changed clothes in a small hotel restroom, and as I would have no facial protection from the sun, I liberally applied sun tan cream and then took a plaster (bandaid) from my emergency first aid kit (thanks to SXSW) and put it across my nose. I cared not if I looked a little strange, I would rather be safe! 

We walked down to the sea shore, barefoot, with our life jackets and helmets secured firmly.  Before our instructor gave his 'speech', I listened to those given by the other two companies.  When our instructor started to talk, I was delighted that we had not been able to be booked in by the other establishments.  Our instructor appeared to be more proficient and more professional.  Samantha and I were about fourth to leave the beach, and paddled rather efficiently to the others who were waiting for the rest of the group.  Surprisingly enough, my phobias did not kick in.  I was not concerned that we were out of our depth in the Pacific Ocean, nor was I concerned that we were about a foot away from sealions, sunning themselves on the rocks, the same rocks that had destroyed ships in violent storms.  I was not concerned about the smell, (apparently they are known as the smelliest zip code in the USA,) nor did I fear going into the small cave that led to a cove inhabited by more sea lions.  I feared not the talk of earthquakes, the fact that we were on a 'seismic shelf', nor that the cliffs which we were facing were subject to landslides.  I enjoyed the kayaking!  Samantha, who had my phone in a waterproof sleeve, was clicking away at every opportunity and was shouting at me to "paddle, if you want me to take pictures!"  We paddled for an hour and a half, and both were probably most shocked at my lack of apprehension when we skimmed over the resident leopard sharks, whom apparently are quite tolerant of humans!  I wondered how long the bravery would last!  All good things must come to an end, and we had to paddle back to shore.  We were all lined up and told how best to negotiate the waves without capsizing.  "Well done, Tracie", came a recently familiar voice. Following the instructors explicit instructions, ours was the only boat not to capsize!  Samantha was rather pleased at our achievement.  I wondered how the familiar voiced gentleman remembered my name out of the whole group!  Could it be the previous bout of paranoia and all the questions prior to the trip?  Surely not! 

It had been a magnificent day so far, and our return to the hotel and subsequent securing of a couple of good seats on our inbound journey, made the day even better!  We changed into our swimwear and headed to the pool, where we spent half an hour in the hot tub.  Several people were already in the water and we chatted with some other guests, who had travelled from as near as Las Vegas, and as far as Australia!  We had planned to visit Little Italy for dinner, but decided that as our culinary preferences were rather simple, pasta wise, and as it was Saturday night in a very popular destination, we would be just as well served at the local Olive Garden, which was about five minutes along the road, and therefore, a five minute ride back to the hotel.  Dinner was delicious, and we treated ourselves to an ice-cream from the Baskin Robins shop opposite the restaurant, just because we were 'on holiday'!

Sunday morning started with a delightful breakfast after checking out from the hotel, and accepting another couple of cookies!  Our car appeared to be suffering from an asthma attack, but wheezed its way to Carlsbad beach.  We did not part with any of our quarters for the privilege of parking, and walked along the beautiful sand for about an hour before sitting down on the trustee beach towel, and watching the waves crash against the rocks.  Reluctantly, we said goodbye to the coast and made our way to the airport.  The trip home was not expected to be long, nor eventful.  However, after writing a saga, I think that perhaps the interesting events that occurred upon our way back to Austin would be best be served within.............. another story!

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