Saturday, 23 April 2016

Santa Barbara, California

Santa Barbara Pier 
For the second morning in a row I started the day with a run up San Vicente Boulevard. Essentially in the middle of a dual carriageway, but this being California it was a lot more glamorous than trying to run on the A34 in the UK. It was much quieter on my second morning without the running clubs to keep me company.

Back in the hotel we checked out, leaving our bags in reception to come back and pick up later with the hire car.

We strolled across town to the hotel where housed the hire car location. On the way I realised that I was actually quite nervous at the prospect of driving in America. A strange car in a strange country. (Driving only three or four times a year I've realised I find driving a more and more alien experience these days.)

My nerves meant that I'd carefully plotted our route onto the Pacific Coast Highway that we'd take all the way up to Santa Barbara and we were quickly onto Route 1 and heading through Malibu and out of the city.

The coast road was definitely more scenic, if slower, than taking the in land motorway. Around Oxnard we passed huge fields growing strawberries. Must be back breaking work to pick those huge fields of fruit!
The lobster roll from the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company
We arrived in Santa Barbara in mid afternoon, parked the car and went to explore. With the sun slowly sinking in the sky we walked out onto the pier taking a look in a couple of the tourist shops and watched people fishing at the end of the pier for a while.

I was in need of some lunch so we decided to stop at the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company who have a small shack towards the end of the pier. We wrote our names on the list outside the door and luckily didn't have to wait too long before we were shown to a table outside, result!

I ordered the lobster roll. It was on my wish list to have a lobster roll while we were in America and sitting by the sea seemed like a good moment. The lobster roll was excellent. It had lots of lobster, wasn't overwhelmed with mayonnaise and nicely seasoned with chopped cornichons. I definitely could have eaten a second.
Fried calamari and scallops
Becks ordered the fried calamari and scallops which was also pretty good. The scallops were quite a bit smaller than the ones we get in the UK, but they were a lot cheaper and seemed to be more plentiful.

After lunch we went for a walk along the beach and sat on the sand for a while to take in the views. We'd noticed on the drive up that there seemed to be a lot of small oil rigs quite close to shore along the coast and we could see a few more for the beach.

With the sun setting and our parking we'd paid for about to expire we headed back to the car and drove inland to our next overnight stay in Solvang.
Sunset in Santa Barbara

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Santa Monica - it started at Swingers

Outside Swingers diner 
I started the morning by heading out for the run. I thought it would be nice to run along the beach but it turns out that the Palisade Park runs out after a couple of kilometers. I spotted quite a few runners from a local club who were all heading north east along San Vincente Boulevard so I decided to tag along with them. The run was along a ten meter wide strip of grass that served as the divider between the lanes of traffic. To say you were running along a strip of grass in the middle of the road doesn't sound very exciting, but it was actually a pretty nice run as there was virtually no traffic and the houses on either side of the road were pretty attractive. The only downsides were the lack of water fountains and bathroom facilities.

After a shower back in the hotel, we thought we'd start our final full day in Santa Monica with a visit to the farmers market and hope to pick up some breakfast while we were there. Californian farmers markets have a reputation for being amazing but I was struggling to see what all the fuss was about. Perhaps I was in the wrong frame of mind as I was looking for stalls to sell be breakfast rather than fresh produce to take home and cook with, but it all seemed very expensive and a bit niche.

Turning in land we started drifting a few backstreets looking for somewhere to have breakfast and we ended up close to Pono burger, where we'd eaten on the first day, and couldn't resist the colourful Swingers diner.
Inside the diner
The diner had quite a retro feel inside and we ordered the classic mix of pancakes, scrambled eggs and bacon. In a desperate attempt to increase our intake of fresh fruit and vegetables we ordered a fruit cup on the side. It felt like a good idea at the time, but simply added to the enormous volume of food we consumed!
After breakfast we headed back towards the beach and our first stop was the camera obscura. The camera clearly isn't a major tourist attraction and we eventually work out that you have to go into the attached Art Hub and ask at reception to borrow the key and then you get let yourself into the camera which is located at the top of the building. We only stayed inside the camera for a few minutes, but it was fun to look at the view from the 1950s camera.

On leaving the camera we headed south along the beach. Just beyond the pier was a sign for "The original muscle beach" and we sat on the wall for a while mesmerised by people 'slack lining'. The attached bungee cords between two metal posts and proceeded to perform all manner of tricks on them.
Slack lining
Watching the beginners who couldn't even balance on the bungee cord gave me an even greater appreciated for those people that could pull of tricks as they flew up into the air and back down again.

Breaking free from the hypnotic slack lining (and because I was a bit worried the back of my neck might burn if we sat there too long) we continued our walk south along the beach. It was an area with more hotels, than where we were staying north of the beach, and there were a lot more tourists like us milling about and enjoying the sunshine.

After a while we turned away from the beach and headed back into Santa Monica along Main St. Not quite the main artery that the name would suggest, but instead we passed allotments and small independent shops and cafés.
Santa Monica City Hall
Close to the pier we walked past the Art Deco City Hall and had a walk through Tongva Park. The park felt like it had been newly renovated and had a lovely series of little walks, attractive planting and even a lookout over the sea. It has been pretty well done for such a small space. We saw a wedding party having some photos taken in the park and I can see why you'd choose it as a location.

Back in the city we visited the mall for a look round a few of the shops / department stores. Our wallets were grateful that we bought very little.
On our way back to the hotel we stopped for a couple of sun downers on the roof of the Shangri La hotel which we'd head had great views of the sunset over the ocean. The bar was quite busy, but after a bit of loitering we managed to grab ourselves two seats on one of the sofas where we could enjoy our drinks and the view. As well as listen in to two couples nearby telling each other how they'd met.

For dinner we visited we visited Father's Office which is a burger joint (the third in three days, I'm liking the average) close to the restaurant we'd visited on the first night. The chef is apparently a celebrity having appeared on TV, although I'm suspecting it was an obscure cable show. The bar operates no reservations policy and you have to order and hope that a seat becomes available before your food arrived. It was feeling like more effort than it should be and I was tempted to go somewhere else, but we ordered a couple of beers and were able to get a couple seats. The bar was incredibly dark so I didn't even attempt to take any photos. I think I remember it being a pretty decent burger? (As reviews go, I'm sure you'll all agree they don't get much better than that.)

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Happy birthday to my blog: nine years old!

The last twelve months really have been amazing, with the highlight most definitely getting married to the wonderful Rebecca. An event which, incredibly, hasn't made it onto the blog. I blogged about our honeymoon and second wedding in New Zealand, but not our first wedding in the UK. It might get written about one day.

I posted fifty three times on the blog last year, only marginally less than the year before and quite a bit higher than the number of posts I thought I'd written if you had asked me before I'd looked it up. Posts are definitely getting much later after the event though and the blog is less of an immediate diary these days.

My most read posts of the year were:
1. Reading Economist for free on a Kindle - hopefully the Economist's lawyers will never read this one and come knocking on my door.
3. Project Sourdough Elusive Air Bubbles - I haven't posted about my bread making much recently, but still enjoy baking.
3. M&S charging VAT on overseas orders - consumer rights continues to get people excited.
4. Camel Hydrobak Review - runners of the world have come to read the post.
5. Polar M400 review - my thoughts on my new GPS watch.
6. Great Ocean Road Marathon Race Notes - great race although I think the distance is a bit suspect. 7. Best kebab in Istanbul - a couple of awesome kebabs from my visit to Istanbul.
8. Which the better airline Emirate or Virgin - The answer is Emirates
9. Restaurant Review: NOPI - one of my favourite meals since I've been back in London. I can't believe I still haven't been back
10. Galtaji Rajastan - I suspect this post made it back into the Top 10 as it Galtaji appeared in a BBC One show this year and there is very little else on the Internet about this place.

Thank you to everyone who stopped by to read the blog during the past year.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Tai Won Mein, Catford

Salt and pepper squid
On Saturday afternoon we were definitely beginning to suffer from a bit of cabin fever having spent most of the day inside after an early morning run and a few local errands. We knew we should get out of the house but were completely indecisive over whether to head out for dinner or a quick drink. We flipped a coin. We called a couple of different restaurants to make bookings (they were both fully booked). We ended up on a bus to Catford.

Our target, if we didn't change our minds on the way, was Tai Won Mein, a cheap and cheerful Chinese restaurant that we'd seen had a few good reviews online.
Roast duck Ho Fun 
The restaurant is organised with long tables and benches. We grabbed a couple of spots, made our choices from the menus on the tables and then headed up to the counter to order. We could see dishes at other tables, and that they were all ENORMOUS but with everything under £7 (and quite a lot under £6) we still couldn't stop ourselves ordering three different dishes.

My favourite dish was the salt and pepper squid. The tender pieces of squid were covered in a light batter and weren't at all greasy. I was a little addicted to the deep fried spring onion and green chilli that had been sprinkled over the top.
House special udon soup
The seafood house special udon soup was a little difficult to share, and coming out last also meant it got the least attention from our increasingly full stomachs. However, the broth was tasty and we both thought the broth would be a good warming dish to have to yourself on another visit (although possibly not the seafood monster).

Dinner for the both of us was less the £20, including Chinese tea. A bargain.

Tai Won Mein
90-92 Rushey Green,
Tai Won Mein Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, 3 April 2016

An afternoon in Crystal Palace and a re-visit to 161 Food + Drink in Kirkdale

Eggs and beans at 161 Food + Drink, Kirkdale 
On Good Friday we took advantage of the early spring sunshine and spent the afternoon exploring Crystal Palace. A slightly random choice, but it is one of the parks that we've been vaguely wanting to visit for a while and it turned out to be a rather lovely afternoon.

We started by catching the train to Sydenham for lunch at 161 Food + Drink in Kirkdale that we have visited before. A small little café / coffee shop it has a nice atmosphere and tasty food for a light lunch (although having done a 17km that morning I wasn't sure that a light lunch was what I was looking for!).
Dinosaurs in Crystal Palace Park
After lunch we walked across to Crystal Palace park for a look round. To the best of my knowledge, I've only visited the park once before, on an early morning run three years ago. I was a bit fearful of getting lost at the time and I now realise that I only saw around half the park on my previous visit.

The playgrounds were very busy and one of the first things that struck me was a huge diversity of languages that we heard. English was very much in a minority. It made me realise in Brockley, only a short distance away, we hear comparatively few other languages.

We started with a walk round the lower half of the park which was dominated by families and the dinosaurs.
Escaping the crowds we walked up to the top of the park and the half that I hadn't visited before. Overlooked by the transmitter, there were two giant terraces which I presume is whether the 'crystal palace' was originally built. The faux classical stone work dividing the two terraces is in a poor state of repair and lots of it was fenced off preventing you from getting too close.

We also found the sphinx that is going to be incorporated into the stained glass design on our new front door.
Leaving the park we headed to Crystal Palace Antiques for a look round and to see if we could find anything for the new house. Thankfully there wasn't too much that we wanted to buy. We did see a couple of clocks that we liked and rather than making a rash purchase decided to go and have a drink (and in my case a second lunch to mull it over). Checking out one of the clocks on the internet we discovered that we could buy it more cheaply online so didn't return to the antiques centre. Another example of the internet killing the high street!

On the way home we caught a bus which had a broken card reader so I got to travel for free. A winning end to a rather pleasant afternoon in the spring sunshine.

Monday, 28 March 2016

In-N-Out burger and Stan's Donuts, Westwood, LA

In-N-Out Burger, Westwood 
On our way home from the Getty Museum we had to change buses in Westwood, which my research had discovered contained an In-N-Out burger. We weren't going anywhere else for dinner!

The burger joint was pretty packed on the Friday night with uni students and some very dressed up high school kids who looked like they might be on their way to some sort of school ball (or should that be a prom?).

Despite the presence of the secret menu, and the secret secret menu, we just ordered a pair of cheese burgers and fries from the regular menu and took a seat while we waited for our number to be called.
There is a lot of hype around In-N-Out's burgers and having now eaten one, I think that is pretty justified. They were good burgers. Style wise, they are quite a basic construction similar to other fast food outlets. This isn't an over engineered dude food burger.

The quality of the bun, patty, burger sauce and construction just moves them to the next level compared to every other mass produced burger. They are how you'd want every fast food burger to taste and at under $7 for the meal no more expensive. It was just a shame that this was my only In-N-Out experience of the holiday!
Peanut butter doughnut at Stan's
Walking away from In-N-Out we passed an independent burger joint just a few doors down that was also pretty busy. To be able to stay in business with such high quality competition next door I suspect that they might serve a pretty good burger as well. One for the next visit....

As we walked past Stan's Donut's I talked Becks into stopping for a quick dessert and we shared a peanut butter donghnut. It wasn't that great if I'm honest, but it is hard to be disappointed in any dinner that contains your first In-N-Out cheeseburger.....

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Getty Museum - impossible to visit by foot

Fox theatre - Westwood 
Having a day longer in LA than expected, we decided to add a visit the Getty Museum into our trip.

We had a lazy start to the morning and then caught the bus up to suburb of Westwood, where we'd planned to change onto a second bus for the Getty Museum. I was in need of some breakfast so before getting onto the next bus we decided to go in search of some food.

With the nearby University of California campus and some interesting art deco buildings (like the Fox theatre above) the suburb had something about it, although the café we chose for breakfast wasn't super exciting.
Becks outside the Getty Museum
Fortified with breakfast, rather than getting a second bus to the museum, we decided to strike out on foot. Our walk to the museum turned into a bit of a farce.

We saw a large green space on the map and thought we might be able to do about half the walk through a park. It turned out that the green space on the map was a military cemetery that was most definitely closed to the public, so we had to walk along the outside the cemetery instead.

We then cut through some pleasant back streets and onto Sunset Boulevard. Wouldn't it be amazing to walk along one of LAs most famous streets? It turns out that it's a very long road and we were at the rather drab tail end.....

At the end of Sunset Boulevard we had to cross a rather major intersection not really designed for pedestrians. Successfully negotiated, we reached what the map showed as the closest entrance to the museum, only to find that it was a goods and staff entrance only. We still had another mile to go before the visitor entrance!
Autumn leaves
Our joy slightly dented we set out again. The took a couple of residential streets parallel to the highway until they ran out around 600m from the museum entrance. I was tempted to see if we could walk up the grass verge of the dual carriage way, but there was no real verge to speak of. It seemed completely ludicrous, but defeated, we called a taxi to take us the final few hundred meters.

The taxi took ages to arrive as the driver got lost on the way. His satnav also wanted to take him to the goods / staff entrance that we'd been to earlier and he didn't seem to like my suggestion that he was going the wrong way.

Finally we made it to the museum. A simple walk had turned into a bit of an ordeal in a very pedestrian unfriendly city.
Sunset views from the Getty Museum
Despite the adventure in getting there, the Getty Museum was definitely worth the visit. With the sun setting we spent most of our time outside admiring the great architecture, gardens, views of the city and the golden sun setting over the ocean.

Once the sun had set we headed inside the galleries for a speedy look round before the museum shut. The museum is separated into different pavilions and we spent time enjoying a Japanese photography exhibition before speed walking round as much of the rest of the museum as we could before it closed.

Leaving the museum we took the bus back to Westwood with a few other staff and visitors. We new better than to try walking this time....