“I love the mountains,” she slurred as she tried to look me in the eyes. She’d been pretty once, in a long-forgotten time. But time had not been good to her; and the wrinkles were proof. Her face reflected a life that was difficult.
This past week I was feeling restless, so I packed a small suitcase, grabbed the dog, and headed South to San Diego. After much searching and comparing online, I ended up at Hotel Indigo in the Gaslamp Quarter. My main reason behind choosing this hotel is because they are so dog-friendly. Many hotels claim to be dog-friendly, but will charge a deposit, a daily fee, and usually impose a bunch of rules on the owner (no dogs in the restaurants, no leaving the dog alone in the room, etc.). This is more dog-tolerant than dog-friendly.
Two hours later I pulled up to the valet, handed him my keys, and was on my way to check in. The hotel is 12 stories, and I ended up on the 8th floor, with a decent view of Petco Park. In addition, I was placed in a handicapped-accessible (ADA) room – more square footage for me. I arrived rather late, so after making sure Crissy had food and water, I changed, and headed out to grab some food.
After walking around for a bit, I found all the bars had stopped serving food. After asking around at a few local bars, everyone seemed to have the same place in mind as a recommendation – a local restaurant two blocks away called Bubs. The security guard who checked my ID confirmed they were the only place for several blocks still open for food. I was instructed to grab a seat anywhere I liked, so I walked to the back, grabbed a booth, and checked out the menu. After looking at the menu, I realized I arrived on “Wing Wednesday” – 50¢ wings. Cecily was my server, a petite, pixie-ish girl with killer tattoos and an even prettier face. I asked her what her recommendations were for beer, and she recommended a local brewery called Acoustic Ales. I ordered their Honey Nut Brown Ale (6.25%), and wow, was it amazing! Their website describes the beer as such: “Honey roasted peanut and fresh coffee aromas arise from the glass of this deliciously balanced brown ale. Dark chocolate, hints of vanilla and nutty undertones are evident mid-palate, while roasted coffee beans round out the finish.”
Of course, I ordered wings, 5 Buffalo, and 5 Archie. Their “Archie” sauce is pretty much a house specialty – a combination of their buffalo sauce and honey mustard. The wings were delicious and very filling. I also ordered a basket of fries, and were happy to see they were using crinkle-cut fries – something you don’t see too often in restaurants anymore. My second beer was also from a San Diego Brewery, Ballast Point. On tap, Bubs had their Sculpin IPA. This was no ordinary IPA however. Ballast Point hops the beer at five separate stages, resulting in a gold-medal winning IPA, with hints of “apricot, peach, mango, and lemon flavors” while still packing a bit of a bite. All you need to know is it’s a great beer!
Thursday morning I slept in most of the day, watched TV, and ate junk food. My bed was so large and comfortable and had so many pillows, I never wanted to leave – save for a few trips to the 9th floor rooftop terrace to walk Crissy. Friday morning I checked out, and was greeted with an amazing surprise – my entire stay at the Hotel Indigo had been comped by management because I had not been given the room I had booked, and due to an unfortunate incident with the fire alarms Thursday morning. Needless to say, I was quite happy!
To celebrate, I headed to the best breakfast/lunch/brunch spot in San Diego – The Mission Restaurant. Founded in 1997 by San Diego restaurateurs Fay Nakanishi, Deborah Helm and Thomas Fitzpatrick, The Mission specializes in simple, healthy, tasty food with a “whimsical edge” and a focus on artful presentation at an affordable price. The menu includes everything from classic pancakes and sandwiches to modern Chino-Latino cuisine, sure to satisfy everyone’s appetite. For me, as always, I chose the Roast Beef Hash & Eggs: Grilled Meyer’s Ranch Natural beef, horseradish cream (yum!), rosemary potatoes, grilled rosemary bread and scrambled eggs. Add two slices of smoked applewood bacon, a cup of coffee, and a glass of champagne, and well, you have a breakfast fit for a king.
All in all, a wonderful few days away from home – filled with nothing but rest, relaxation, and eating (and a few ill-timed fire alarms).
After finally going to the California DMV and taking my written test, and becoming “legal” to drive in California (after living here almost 8 years!), I decided a roadtrip was in order and headed out to Palm Springs, because what better place for someone with an adversity to heat to go than the desert? I packed a small suitcase, grabbed the camera and Crissy and headed out.
I ended up at The Saguaro, a Joie de Vivre hotel. I have stayed at the one in Scottsdale, Arizona and loved the experience, so I thought I would give this place a try. I was not disappointed. Like its sister location in Scottsdale, this hotel is painted in bright oranges, lime greens, yellows, and pinks. Palm trees adorn the property, and the hotel boasts the largest pool in Palm Springs. When I walked in, people were playing table tennis, upbeat music was pumping through the speakers and beautiful people were everywhere.
Check-in was a breeze and I found my basic city-view room had been upgraded to a mountain-view room. Yay me. My view ended up still being a parking lot, but hey, mountains, right? In five minutes I was in my room, and after dropping off my luggage, I headed back to the lobby to hit up the bar for Taco Tuesday.
The onsite bar, El Jefe, is the brainchild of James Beard-winner Jose Garces and celebrates the cuisine of Mexico City with dishes such as ceviche, pork belly posole, and of course, tacos. The bar boasts over 100 types of tequila.
I started my meal with an El Santo Gimlet – tequila, lime juice and cilantro. The cocktail was crisp, clean, and refreshing without an overbearing tequila taste. For food, I started with the Queso Fundido which came with tortillas, chips, and salsa. After enjoying my appetizer it was time for the main course – tacos! They were $2 for the Carnitas and Chicken, and $3 for the fish. I ordered two carnitas tacos and one chicken taco.
The carnitas tacos came with smoky black beans and pineapple-habanero salsa while the chicken taco was served with chicken ropa vieja, queso fresco, crema, and topped with thinly shaved radishes. (Actually, come to think of it, the carnitas were garnished with radishes as well.) In a word, magnificent. So good, I repeated my same order. Total cost was forty dollars and change. Not too bad. I would definitely come here again, even if it wasn’t Taco Tuesday.
Day 3 – Cruise Embarkation – Oslo, Norway
Saturday morning – had a wonderful sleep last night in Oslo, at the Thon Hotel Astoria after meeting with some of my CruiseCritic.com friends for drinks in Aker Brygge. I woke up and enjoyed an amazing breakfast, smorgasbord as the Scandinavians would say. For those of you unfamiliar with smorgasbord, it is a Scandinavian tradition of mixed cheeses, coldcuts, fruit, breads, and nuts and raisins. Occasionally, there will also be the “odd” hot foods such as meatballs and sausages. Today’s smorgasbord included all of that, with the addition of pate, herring, and scrambled eggs with cheese. I ate everything but the pate and herring. I haven’t decided if I’m going to give that a try yet, although, as I will be staying in Stockholm after the cruise, I may have to be adventurous.
After breakfast, I went back to my room to finish packing and catch up on some conversations online while I still had Internet. It’s a weird feeling to be disconnected from all electronic communication while on the ship, but at the same time, perhaps it’s a good thing – to focus on the here and now, instead of being connected electronically back home. It is holiday, after all.
This may sound crazy, but I was very excited today because it started to rain – living in Southern California, I do not see rain that often – in fact, it has been a few months since I had seen rain! After waiting out the rain, I went down to reception, and had them call me a taxi. Fifteen minutes (and 300 Kroner [with tip]) later), I was at the Filipstad Pier. I’m sure I overpaid, but whatever, I’m on vacation, and I wasn’t about to walk to the port from my hotel. Twenty minutes later, I was onboard my cruise ship.
Funny story: I almost got denied entry onto the cruise ship!! Apparently, I had a screwdriver in my laptop bag. I made it through the USA TSA checkpoints (which, are by far, the most innane and bullyish I’ve experience so far), UK security, and Norwegian security, but apparently, it raised concern with the security unit for Royal Caribbean International. So I stood there for 10 minutes, waiting for a supervisor. I told them repeatedly, “you can have this, I don’t need it,” but they made me wait. Thankfully, I was able to board the ship, and I kept the screwdriver.
Once on board, I had to wait a few hours until my stateroom was ready. I explored the ship, and started taking pictures while there were still no people around. It was nice, I was one of the first people on the ship, so it was an interesting experience to walk the ship and only see crew members.
One thing learned real fast: my choice to not drink on ship quickly went out the window! It’s vacation after all, and I’m going to enjoy myself. I met up with more people from Cruisecritics.com in the Schooner Bar and enjoyed some drinks – I had a Peroni beer, and an Old Fashioned, and a Glenlivet 12 year scotch. Later, I had a Carlsburg beer. I liked the Carlsburg, but prefered the Peroni. Vacation!
Sail away was approximately 4:45 PM after our mandatory muster (long story short – in case of a Titanic like sinking, women and children first, put on a lifejacket, and hope for the best – that was the unspoken jist of things). Seeing the ship pull away from port, and passing by all the islands in the fjords was breathtaking. As expensive as Norway is, the beauty makes up for it.
Dinner was Prime Rib, cooked Medium, with a baked potatoes and vegetables, paired with a glass of New Zealand Syrah. The meat was good, although the steak knife I was given was a bit dull, and it took quite a bit to cut through some of the fatty parts.
I spent most of the day walking the ship, and staying on deck watching the scenery. A quick nap due to the alcohol, and then a mile jog on the deck 10 and I went back to exploring. The ship is a bit small, but it’s nice – you see the same people.
One thing I’ve noticed about Norway – it seems the sun never sets – in fact, what started out as a cold, cloudy, and rainy day, turned into a beautiful day filled with sunshine later in the evening!
Tomorrow is Copenhagen!
Day 2 is officially over, and I can now say I’ve officially been to Europe! All I can say is I love it over here. It’s surreal however, to not be the primary, dominant spoken language – everything is in Norwegian first. The country is beautiful – my ride in to Oslo on the train from Gardermoen International Airport was fantastic – green, rolling plush hills and with the occasional farmhouses dotted the countryside.
Immigration into Norway was a breeze – there was no long queue as there was in London (I only waited 20 minutes, but the line was huge!). There were two agents in the booth – and I spent less than 3 minutes talking with one of them. An observation about the gates in London Heathrow Airport – they only open approximately 45 minutes before the plane takes off – something completely different than in the States.
Oslo is a beautiful city – a collection of Old World architecture – cobblestone roads, and castles, mixed with modern buildings, such as the Oslo Opera House make for a very diverse cityscape. And the people here – just as beautiful – I can’t believe how fit most people are, and not to mention people here know how to dress!! I love the United States, but if you’re a male the states with an eye towards fashion, people stereotype you. In Europe, it’s just called being normal.
I spent most of my day at Aker Brygge, a popular meeting place for shopping, dining, and entertainment. Aker Brygge is west of Pipervika, an arm of the Oslo Fjord, on the former ship yard of Akers Mekaniske Verksted, which was shut down in 1982. Before the shipyard was established there in 1854, the area was known as Holmen. It was an old yard where some industrial corporations established, and a suburban establishment grew in the early 19th century.
It was wonderful to just sit on the boardwalk, and watch the many boats come in and out of the harbor, and people watch. I ate at McDonalds (it is expensive here in Oslo; McDonalds here has a “double Big Mac mean” which is two Big Macs, fries, and a drink. It cost me NOK 130, which equates to: $21.90 USD. I could never live in Oslo, not with those costs!
At 5:00 PM CEST, I met up with Bente and her son (I don’t remember his name), and Tom and Inge from the Cruise Critic forum I’ve been on for the past few months. We have been writing back and forth, discussing the upcoming cruise, and it was great to finally meet “in real life”. Bente and her son live in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Tom & Inge are from Florida – but have lived all over the world. It was inspiring to hear the many stories of their travels, from Budapest to Bangkok, and Monaco to Malaysia – they have been all over the world, and offered one piece of advice: “When you decide you want to visit someplace, do it – don’t put it off, just go.”
We ate a restaurant called Lekter’n which is situated at the very heart of Aker Brygge, and has a fantastic view overlooking the Oslo fjord and Akershus fortress. It’s the perfect place for relaxing in the sun, eating, drinking and daydreaming. With over 1100 seats, sunbeds and bar stools it is by far Oslo’s most visited summer restaurant. Their menu is influenced by proximity to the sea. Pictures can be found here: http://iloveosl.com/lektern (not my photos).
On draft, they only had a local beer called Ringnes Fatøl which has a deep golden colour. The Fatøl has a harmonious, rounded flavour with a subdued bitterness and a balanced, classic character. Easy to drink, and served cold, so I was happy, as I’ve heard horror stories of beers served warm in Europe. I think I’ll experience that in Germany. Warm beer, really? Anyway, I digress.
In a few hours, I’ll experience my first Scandinavian breakfast and will hail my first taxi in Europe to take me to Filipstad Terminal to board my cruise ship. I am aiming to get to the Terminal around 11:00 AM, and I already have all my documentation printed, and then will meet up with more friends in the Schooner Bar at 2:30, and watch the ship sail away from Oslo, and meander its way through the various fjords, then it will be off to explore my home for 5 days, and time to set sail for Copenhagen.
Well, I am now officially a World Traveler, although, I guess because I’ve been to Canadia (yes, I spelled that correctly), and Mexico, I already hold that title, but everything seems much more official, now that I have crossed the Atlantic. It’s a bit surreal – I’m in another country, halfway around the world. It’s 3:34 in the morning BST, and I’ve just had my first cup of coffee. Losing 8 hours was a bit of a shock to my system, but I’m going to get used to early mornings and coffee, I think.
A few thoughts on International travel so far.
* Flying economy sucks. I felt like a sardine in my seat for 10 1/2 hours. I thought it would be fun and novel to fly so long. That wore off after 2 hours.
* English mustard is actually dijon mustard.
* They serve peas with everything it seems.
I’m proud of myself for navigating my way here to England, and to and from London Heathrow Airport. Although the first part was easy – LAX to London. Now, in a few minutes, I’ll be navigating myself from London Heathrow Airport to Oslo, Norway, and I’ll officially be in Europe.
I’m looking forward to meeting up with mates in Aker Brygge today at the Eternal Flame for beers. I will try and update more later once I am settled in my hotel.