Archive for the ‘California Dreamin’’ Category

There be guns after all!

Monday, September 25th, 2006

An acquaintance of mine, Peter (www.jurankaimages.com), was reading my California blog and came to the post about gun shops. He tells me that they in fact DO exist and he was in one outside LA. To hear it told, it was like a big Shopper’s Drug Mart, except the walls were lined with glass cases of rifles, and the counter display cases were filled with hand guns and ammunition.

Rats, and I missed it!

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Excuse me, Officer…Where are the gun shops??

Monday, August 21st, 2006

Well, I didn’t say it, but I thought about it in jest…

Again we are back to considering Canadian perceptions of the US…

From TV (particularly), news, and the like, one often sees the US with gun (and liquor) shops on every corner, dispensing 9mm hand guns to all and sundry. One of my thoughts on visiting the US this time was, just out of curiousity, to visit a gun shop and see one of these places .

Well, perceptions lie again! No such luck to my astonishment…

In all the driving in cities and country, on small and large thoroughfairs, I did not see a sinlge ‘gun’ or even sports shop – nor a liquor store for that matter. Amazing, actually.

Granted, I didn’t look in the yellow pages to see if they were sequestored in some out of the way place – didn’t want to see them THAT badly.

But it did put to rest yet another stereotypical thought of the US and its people.

Since stereotypes go both ways, no wonder they marvel that there are no igloos in Ottawa when they come up here…

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Travelling – the Communications Rule of Engagement…

Saturday, August 5th, 2006

So what has been learned from the travel part? Quite a number of things about hotel and equipment requirements to allow you to be flexible as you go, and yet relaxed – concentrating on the trip and not the arrangements.

In order to travel flexibly and change arrangements efficiently (without stress and a huge phone bill) you must be able to access planning resources and advice easily. Many venues require net access to make efficient tour-time reservations and/or buy tickets at a discount (eg. Hearst Castle and Warner Brothers Studio). You get less service and it is more time consuming without net access.

An online device (with both wired and wireless connectivity) is an ABSOLUTE necessity. Some nay-sayers will suggest that this is just to avoid tech withdrawal? Wrong! To easily check out, arrange and especially change places to stay and attractions to visit you need net access. It can be a laptop, or possibly even better, a palm with a portable keyboard. I don’t care if you have to leave your underwear behind to fit it in – TAKE THE LAPTOP!

With wireless access the actual hotel equipment set-up isn’t a big deal, since as often as not there are open networks visible with better signals than the hotel router. Also, don’t forget a patch cable for when the room has a router but no cable! That way you can also have solid access if the wireless is overloaded.

In Ottawa we often hear that we are so much better wired that most other places in North America. Believe it! I was amazed how even the big hotels were full of legacy equipment, with little or no apparent support. I never came across even a single LCD display in any hotel, even at the front desk. They were legacy, legacy, legacy.

Many hotels advertise net access with a big flourish, but in reality we found they were mostly only wireless (supply your own machine), and often spotty at that (poor access point planning). If they did have lobby equipment it was expensive to access (only in three hotels were guest access machines). With your own access device you can dynamically re-plan and be flexible – and much more relaxed. The majority of people I saw using lobby access devices were try to get tickets, tour slots or hotels info.

So no matter what anyone says to encourage you to leave it at home, INGORE THEM and TAKE YOUR ACCESS DEVICE!

Lastly, and it should go without saying, is Cel access with a roaming plan. We saved both hassle and time being able to call attractions and hotels for confirmations and quick directions. Not to mention checking back home. A very inexpensive one month block of LDX time covered it all easily. And signal strength, even on the most remote coastal beach, was better than it is in Ottawa!

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The end of a great trip!

Saturday, August 5th, 2006

It has been a great adventure. We have seen wonderful things and had a good time together.

California was all that was hoped and even a few surprises!

Now to adjust to Eastern time…

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What have you got to declare?

Saturday, August 5th, 2006

Despite earlier delays, we landed in Ottawa only about 15 minutes after the scheduled time.

And, by the way, “don’t touch your cel phone!” – the customs officer barked rudely in an unfriendly manner as we approached. Only in Canada…

At Ottawa Customs we observed a similar staffing contrast to the US. US border (including the US Immigration clearance in Ottawa by US officials) services were well staffed, friendly and quick. Here in Ottawa, at our newly built airport terminal, Customs and Immigration was badly understaffed and only marginally polite. We had heard the same from other travelers earlier in the summer, and it was confirmed.

How was it different from the US? You were welcomed politely into the US, but treated as a returning peasant to Canada, one who should be grateful to be allowed in when returning to their own country. Just an example that we, as Canadians, will put up with just about anything from ‘officials’ – guff that many other nationals would never tolerate in their countries.

However, we were home.

It was a wonderful trip, and we saw and did great things, but our own beds looked mighty good! And our beloved Moxy was as glad to see us as we were to see him…

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Escape from Alcatraz (or thereabouts)…

Saturday, August 5th, 2006

If you are going to have immigration problems in todays post 9/11 environment, it is going to be in getting into the US, right? Coming back home should be a breeze, right? Think again…the reality is the opposite.

As documented may posts ago, clearing US immigration to enter the US was painless and fast. The immigration officer even gave us great advice for touring the San Diego Zoo that turned out to be perfect. He also advised us on things to avoid. He was great!

To leave SF, first we had to find the airport in one-way street and unmarked highway SF. Contrary to what you might think, driving in LA was the easiest of all. San Diego had been no big deal either. SF was another story. Unlike my wife, I have no hesitation in driving anywhere, under any conditions, but SF was particularly ‘challenging’. The entire downtown is one way streets that make Ottawa’s one way streets seem infrequent. Virtually EVERY street is one way. For a native SF driver this is likely no big deal, but for the tourist it is a challenge. Combine that with less than great road makings on the freeways, and it took a while to find the Budget Rental Car drop-off at the airport.

Figuring that we were home free now, we innocently proceeded to the United Airlines check in with plenty of time to spare before our 11.30pm departure time. We were getting pretty tired though after a long day touring the city.

Then, at check-in, came the surprise. The automated check-in for Linda and I was trivial, but it rejected Lynette as requiring ‘individual checkin’. Off to the manual check-in line.

They looked at our ID, etc., but the system still wouldn’t co-operate. Wierd, they puzzled. After the clerk made a couple of calls it turns out that it is the CANADIAN system that is the problem. You can enter the US with ID and birth certificate no sweat (in fact even a baptismal certificate is good enough for US immigration). Try to get back into your own country, however, and the Canadian system wants a passport to clear you for a boarding pass at the US departure point. They don’t advertise this, they just do it summarily. I could say impolite things about our government, but you get the idea. I could also complain to External Affairs, but that would be as useful as banging my head on the wall – as you, my faithful reader, likely already understand.

After some hassling by a wonderfully helpful United Airline clerk, the boarding passes were issued manually. She had at least assured us that we would be going despite this silliness.

So our family joke is that our teen daughter is the suspected security risk 🙂

The incoming flight was delayed in Denver and arrived late, but we finally got in the air just after midnight (3am after we dutifully changed out watches to Eastern time). I am beginning to think that today no flight leaves on time.

We were a little worried about our short connection in Washington, but when that flight was also late we had lots of time.

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A big day of sightseeing in SF to finish

Friday, August 4th, 2006

After a very leisurely start at the Courtyard Marriott (it was nice for the last day, even it we got a surprise when parking was$47US a day). We checked out to park near the SF Cable Car line terminal until it was time to go to the SF Airport in the evening.

AtCableCarWe visited a great Music store where Lynette picked up hard-to-get sheet music. The Cable Car ride through older SF, up and down the steep streets, and ending at the harbour area was great. It really gave you the feel of classic SF. At the harbour we went to a Teddy Bear factory for a tour and made two bears. Then wandered the piers and harbour shops, picking up an SF shirt for our house/Moxy sitter Andrew. We had a great lunch at a bakery and saw many great shops, busters (sadly, though, no jugglers) on Pier 39, plus a fine view of Alcatraz Island . It was a very full day to finish the trip.

We took the other cable car route back to the car, seeing more of classic SF, and staggered into the municipal parking garage (where I noted that they charge $375US for monthly parking).

We picked up some dinner and headed to the Airport, figuring to drop the car and relax there for a timely checking at United.

Little did we know…

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Earthquake!

Thursday, August 3rd, 2006

So we were sitting in the hotel room (on the 15th floor I should add, since I became momentarily more aware of that), eating the food that we had picked up, and enjoying the view, when the floor starts to tremble. Then everything started to shake a bit in a deep, rumbly way. Very wierd.

We were in the largest SF earthquake in quite a few years, magnitude 4.4.

It wasn’t reall scary, just strange, and was over quite quickly but it was surely another event for the trip. It made the TV news that evening in California.

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A taste of normal SF climate

Thursday, August 3rd, 2006

As we enter SF, there is a big mist hanging over the Coastal side of the city. We had a great look at the Golden Gate Bridge but it was cold and blustery – apparently normal for SF. The most interesting part was the change across the city. They do two weather reports and forcasts – one for the coastal side, the other for the inland side about 10 miles away. There is a consistent 15 or more degree F different. Also, one cloudy, the other sunny, consistently.

For example, on our last day the forcast for the coastal side was 63-65F and cloudy, while the inland forcast (only a couple of miles across town remember) was for 82-85F and sunny.

It was really amazing and I wouldn’t have believed such a consistent difference.

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Into San Francisco…

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2006

After a lesiurely start and breakfast (gotta love the Travel Lodge), we were off to SF and into the last 2 days in California. Hard to believe but we are running down and it will also be good to go home in a day or two.

On the way up the coast above monterey there had been a slide that took out the road, so we had to detour inland a bit to the main highway. Once in SF we did a bit of touring before heading to the Courtyard Marriott.

We found Lombard Street and drove through all the flower filled switch-back. The actual incline of the street is VERY streep. It was fun. Then I went over block and down Filbert Street, the steepest street in SF. It is so steep a drop that when you come to the stop at the top you can’t see the road. It drops away under your front end at about 45 degrees down. Driving down it is quite an experience and you better have perfect brakes and transmission. The girl ahead of us choked at the top. She backed up (on the one way street) and won’t go down. It was lots of fun! I did it twice…

We then went over to the Coitt Tower on Telegraph Hill, a neat high point for viewing.

After that, off to find the hotel in a horror story of one way streets in downtown SF, and to find some simple food to eat.

After dinner we visited the main downtown mall, built in a smallish square block but with circular escalator to allow five stories of shops. Lynette has wanted to shop there.

Another exciting tour (and tiring) day. More sights of SF tomorrow.

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Expensive gas but little effect…

Monday, July 31st, 2006

Gas is expensive everywhere but like most I thought that Ottawa was worse, until I went to California. Gas in the main centers is between $3.21 and $3.50 a US gallon. On the Coastal highway between San Simeon and Monterey I paid as much as $4.99 US a gallon.

That works out to 1.03 CDN a litre in the main centers and 1.49 CDN a litre on the coast. So it is roughly equal to Ottawa in the city and very high on the coastal highway.

Interestingly, in Canada the high prices have resulted in a lot of small cars. Not so in the US. There were few small cars, and no really small cars. Lots and lots of mega-sized, gas guzzling SUV’s though.

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A comfortable and well equiped hotel without a big bill

Monday, July 31st, 2006

Our place for the next two nights is the Travel Lodge in Monterey. It is great proof that there are lots of excellent places with the right facilities but not the mega-costs. The room was well appointed, clean and quite. It had a fridge and microwave as well. There was wireless net access and two machines in a separate lobby area, all for no extra cost. The complimentary breakfast was fine, although not up to the same level as the place in Lompoc a few days before.

All in all, a good stay and great value.

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An Aquarium that matched the San Diego Zoo

Monday, July 31st, 2006

seaottersThe Monterey Bay Aquarium (www.mbayaq.org) is world famous. I remember my visit from 20 years ago as exceptional and it has not changed. The Star Trek movie where they rescue the whales was filmed there and it is neat to recognize all the scenery as an added extra.

Wonderful living displays in tanks up to 1 million gallons, in a working seaquarium. We saw feeding time activity for various species and even got to touch a Manta Ray (like wet velvet).

A great 6 hours. We could have done more but our feet gave out.

Then we took the scenic 17 mile drive through the Pebble Beach and other golf clubs area on the beach. Incredibly fine, white sand beaches and shore, backed by the golf courses and stunning sea front homes. At one beach we saw the sea otters playing and feeding in the wild, just after seeing them close at the Aquarium. Similarly Harbour Seals.

Finished a great day but finding some dinner and back to the hotel (and a little internet)…

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On to Monterey!

Monday, July 31st, 2006

Having done this drive myself about 20 years ago, I looked forward to the hop from San Simeon to Monterey as the most spectacular scenery. I was not disappointed!

CarmelCalThis is the quintessential California surfing coast: sand and rock scapes, wildlife, surfers, blue skies combined with fine mists. It has it all. Wonderful.

We followed Highway #1 up, with the first stop being Carmel-by-the-Sea. It is partially famous because Clint Eastwood was the mayor for a while a few years back.

Carmel is a trendy and VERY expensive town, with the center 10 square blocks of so filled with shops and art galleries, literally side by side. An incredible number of quality, eclectic little places on beautifully kept heritage streets. The surrounding area is qaint residentials, with a small two story home on a 50×80 lot selling for 1.5 to 3.5 million US (yes, that is million). One place we say was listed at $15M. Incredible, but lovely to walk and drive through.

Many unusual specialty shops. Lynette bought a lovely music box shaped as a guitar.

We had an enjoyable afternoon wandering about. When is came time to eat we wisely consult and elderly local, who directed us to a quaint grocery that make lunches for a fraction of the cost at the adjacent trendy places. Once again, encountering the locals is the best move, and the most fun.

We ended by seeing Carmel beach, and then heading out for our hotel that night in Monterey, just a couple of miles up the highway.

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All hotels are not created equally…

Monday, July 31st, 2006

As stated before and reinforced almost every night, a hotel checklist of necessary features is needed to research acceptable places that meet ones needs. This list must have things that are required to support normal functioning (eg, hassle free eating, internet access).

You may ask if the need for Internet Access if just hi-tech withdrawl. Absolutely not! Virtually all planning for the subsequent day and especially any support research for itinerary changes, tickets, etc., require the use of the Internet. Even buying tickets to attractions at the best price makes it a necessity.

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