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Greater Los Angeles, 2012
From Thursday, Jul. 12th, 2012 till Saturday, Jul. 21st, 2012
Comment by Nicholas Pisarro, Jr. on Jul. 23rd, 2012, modified Monday, Aug. 13th, 2012 at 12:39 AM
Click on the city names in the calendar to see our blog for the day.


Thursday, Jul. 12th, 2012 — Los Angeles & San Diego
Comment by Nicholas Pisarro, Jr. on Jul. 13th, 2012, modified Monday, Aug. 13th, 2012 at 12:44 AM

Photos!          Plants!

Our flight into LA was pleasant but then it took a couple of hours get our luggage and the car. We headed off to San Diego around 2:30 PM.

Hunger struck, so we pulled off the road in San Jaun Capistrano, home of the swallows and a famous Spanish mission, a lucky move. We ate in a great diner/hamburger place called Ruby’s Diner, recommended by a fellow walking down the street. We spent an hour at the mission, which is an AAA gem. It was quite beautiful and worth the visit.

The site includes gardens and fountains, mission architecture, The Serra Chapel, and The Great Stone Church. The site is the home of swallows that migrate from Goya, Argentina, as well as monarch butterflies and hummingbirds. We missed the swallows, but enjoyed seeing the others.

The Country Inn & Suites in Del Mar was a very attractive, nice find, forced on us because ComicCon (see Friday) had booked out all the rooms almost everywhere else. We heard no noise from traffic from our 7th floor room.

After consultation with Yelp and the hotel concierge, we drove to a mall 5 miles away to eat at Taverna Blu, a trendy Greek themed bar and lounge. Great food.
Friday, Jul. 13th, 2012 — San Diego
Comment by Nicholas Pisarro, Jr. on Jul. 13th, 2012, modified Monday, Jul. 23rd, 2012 at 5:11 AM
This morning after a 6 AM breakfast, it was off to the San Diego Zoo to get there when it opened at 9.

The day started cool and cloudy—not typical San Diego weather according to the instruction book!

Our fear was that because of the crush of people attending ComicCon 2012, the zoo would be mobbed, but it was quite the opposite. We quickly got the double decker bus tour for a survey, and then spent a few hours at ground level.

The zoo was magnificent beyond words. I shot around 200 images. We've been to the Bronx Zoo, but this was the Bronx Zoo three times over. We had never heard of, much less seen, many of the animals from Indonesia and other tropics, many critically endangered. I was fascinated by the orangutans, so human, yet so Sasquatch. Barbara loved the jaguar cubs.

We left to have a 1 PM lunch with Barbara’s junior high school friend, Holly and her husband Lee. We ate at the Karl Strauss Brewery Gardens near our hotel, evocative of a Japanese shrine rather than a German beer garden. I had the fish & chips and Barbara, tacos. Barbara and Holly revived memories from 50+ years ago!

Back to the hotel for a nap. We then headed down to Seaport Village on the shore in the heart of San Diego. We went there for a little food and to gawk at the 126,000 attendees of ComicCon, the largest convention of comic book and video game fans in U.S. Seaport Village, a food and shopping mall, was fun. Still full from lunch, we shared a lovely lemon chicken and Greek salad.

Then we walked over to the convention center to watch the exodus. Fortunately most of the massive crowd had exited to a square opposite the convention center, but it was still fascinating to see more geeks than at a computer conference. The age group was primarily 20s and 30s with an equal mix of gender. The range of dress was from subdued to outlandish costumes. I photographed a few.

We hit the freeway and got back to our hotel around 9.
Saturday, Jul. 14th, 2012 — San Diego
Comment by Nicholas Pisarro, Jr. on Jul. 15th, 2012, modified Monday, Jul. 23rd, 2012 at 5:15 AM
We arrived at the home of Barbara's high school friend Flo and her husband Bill, around 11:30 AM and met Flo's son, whom we last saw 35+ years ago, and his wife and child. Flo and Bill showed us their home in Del Mar, which was beautifully decorated with memorabilia from their travels. Then we went off to do some exploring.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve was our first stop. Flo and Bill are both docents there, so they knew every flower, tree and trail on the preserve. We walked on a fairly level path around the hill and went through three different micro climates, each with different flora. We had a spectacular view of the Del Mar Beach below.

Next we went to the famous Torrey Pines Gliderport where Bill likes to fly his model sailplanes. There we saw paragliders taking off and landing as well as gliding up and down the coast, taking advantage of the updrafts. Bill chatted with other model pilots about upcoming revisions to the property.

Then it was off to Point Loma, founded by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542, which separates San Diego from the Pacific Ocean. On it was the Old Point Loma Lighthouse with a spectacular view of city all the way down to Mexico—on a clear day that is. There was a military reservation, pillboxes from World War II, an army radio station, a whale watch lookout and trails around the point.
The geography dates back to the Cretaceous.

We went back to Flo and Bill's where we enjoyed wine and cheese while we all shared travel stories and photos.

In the evening we went to the Poseidon Restaurant on the Del Mar shore, open to the beach and sea breezes. Our waiter shared fishing stories with Bill as they are both avid deep sea fishermen. Bill had a sea bass, appropriately enough, and the rest of us had encrusted Ahi Tuna, all cooked to high end perfection.

Then we drove up El Camino Real, seeing various beach towns along the way. After that, it was back to Flo and Bill's where we saw their freezer full of blue fin tuna, caught by Bill and the envy of any fisherman.
Sunday, Jul. 15th, 2012 — Santa Barbara
Comment by Nicholas Pisarro, Jr. on Jul. 17th, 2012, modified Monday, Jul. 23rd, 2012 at 5:21 AM
We hit the freeway. At around 9:45 AM we were off to Santa Barbara, via 6 to 8 lanes of freeway and Los Angeles traffic. The GPS routed us around much of it, but we still encountered a few hiccups. We arrived at Harold and Judy's around 1:30 PM.

Harold and Judy welcomed us and we met their grandson Landon, a delightful child who sensed that Barbara is a kid person. Landon engaged her in air hockey and lots of word games that he made up.

After lunch and a tour of the grounds and house, we headed of to Santa Barbara's Stearns Wharf, one of the oldest working wooden wharfs in California, to enjoy some ice cream. Harold showed us around for bit. Then Harold dropped off Judy and Barbara at home while he and Nick drove Landon back to meet up with Landon's dad.

Nick and Harold went along back roads, seeing orchards, nursery farms, forests and mountains.

Meanwhile, Judy had prepared artichokes that would be part of a delicious dinner, and Harold then grilled filet mignon and corn courtesy Costco. We spent the evening outdoors enjoying the cool weather and views of the mountains while chatting and munching on berries. We fell asleep instantly.
Monday, Jul. 16th, 2012 — Santa Barbara
Comment by Nicholas Pisarro, Jr. on Jul. 17th, 2012, modified Monday, Jul. 30th, 2012 at 3:42 AM
We got up for a leisurely breakfast. Harold took us to the Summerland Beach for a long walk by the sea. We admired the cliffs and vistas on our walk and greeted the dogs and their owners that we passed along the way.

We headed back to the house for bagels and lox for lunch and a little respite. In the afternoon, we went for drive around Montecito on our way to downtown Santa Barbara, admiring views and driveways of estates.

Downtown, we visited the Santa Barbara County Courthouse. The courthouse, an AAA gem, was certainly deserving the designation. The grand archways of mission architecture, decorated with Tunisian tile were jaw dropping and reminded us of Spain. A courtroom had 20 foot ceilings and vast murals depicting the founding of California and Santa Barbara. We climbed the clock tower. Inside were the clockworks, surrounded by a mural of scientists, like Einstein, who expanded our knowledge of time. At the top was were views of Santa Barbara, the Pacific Ocean the Channel Islands, and mountains and cliffs to the north. Nick was reminded of Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak from Vertigo.

We visited art galleries near the courthouse, where Judy eyed more art for their house. We stopped at the public library where we saw more murals and art exhibits. We noted that Santa Barbara is one of those cities that has a look and beauty all its own. A lot of effort goes into preserving Santa Barbara's character. We stopped at a doctor's complex that had trees, sculptures and fountains, creating a peaceful atmosphere, not just sterile buildings.

At 5, we headed out for dinner at the Boathouse Restaurant on the beach. A "hopping" place, people were streaming in after a day at the beach or office. We felt lucky to get a nice outdoor table that had a view of the surfers enjoying the waves. We shared an appetizer of shrimp and scallops in a wine cream sauce on crispy polenta. Barbara had that and the Ahi tuna over vegetable salad as her main course, Nick had cioppino—Italian fish stew invented in San Francisco. Harold had sea bass and Judy, a hamburger. All were exceptional. Time was running short before our main event for the evening.

The evening event was a concert called Opera Scenes at the Music Academy of the West. Attended by a diverse intellectual crowd, they were complete scenes from famous and lesser known operas, acted and sung by students attending the Academy. All were superbly performed.
Tuesday, Jul. 17th, 2012 — Santa Barbara
Comment by Nicholas Pisarro, Jr. on Jul. 18th, 2012, modified Monday, Jul. 30th, 2012 at 3:44 AM
After a leisurely breakfast, Harold suggested we go for a hike in the mountains behind Montecito, so off we went. The trail went through a lush forest up the mountain. It was an enjoyable climb on the dusty trail. As we climbed we could look down on the dry riverbed below us and up at the approaching summit. We ran across a lot of fellow climbers and a camp group. We didn't want to wear ourselves out, so after 40 minutes up we turned around and came back down in time for lunch.

In the afternoon, we headed out for more activities. After a drive around the Santa Barbara hills, witnessing the scars of the forest fires a few years back, we visited the Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens, which Harold & Judy had never seen before. We only made a cursory visit to the section on native plants and the little redwood forest, planted 80 years ago, but we did have a great time in the museum gift shop. Judy bought a couple of unique handcrafted bowls and a couple of plants. Barbara bought an unusual set of earrings and a matching necklace, made with ocean polished stones from California. We both got a free book about another Santa Barbara garden with our purchases.

For dinner we ate at Via Vai a very authentic Italian restaurant run by Italians. We could hear Italian coming out of the kitchen. We had some unusual dishes, a whole bibb lettuce as an appetizer, liver and onions with balsamic vinegar, sausage and polenta. Judy had penne bolognese and Harold had mussels. No room for desert.

A sunset cruise was next on the schedule that departed from the Stearns Wharf where we went a couple of days before. It was on a cabin cruiser with about 40 passengers, and a rocky departure. It was a spectacularly clear night and we could see details on the Channel Islands, 22 miles offshore. The captain pointed out billionaire homes along the coast. We went into the "harbor" marina. where the captain pointed out notable sea craft. All in all a pleasant journey on a calm night at sea.

Not done we went back the ranch for a dip in the hot tub and a discussion of the world's problems—on into the night. Another excellent full day.
Wednesday, Jul. 18th, 2012 — Santa Barbara
Comment by Nicholas Pisarro, Jr. on Jul. 19th, 2012, modified Monday, Jul. 30th, 2012 at 3:52 AM
Nick awoke punctually at 5 AM to an absolutely spectacular clear sunny morning, the nicest of our trip.

After breakfast, our first stop was a visit to Old Mission Santa Barbara, “The Queen of the Missions”. (Each mission has a “something” of the missions tagline.) Since it was a working monastery long after the mission at San Juan Capistrano, it felt more 19th century than 17th & 18th. We enjoyed the visit, especially the actual artifacts used by the friars and the natives. Much of the original living quarters were on display.

We went to a favorite lunch spot of Harold and Judy's, Jeannine's. Eating outside, Barbara and I shared a salad with mesquite smoked chicken and a turkey sandwich with cranberries. Both were exceptionally moist and delicious, since the meats were cooked on the premises. As we waited for our lunch, a perfectly restored car pulled into spot across from us. It was a 1940 Mercury that once belonged to Clark Gable. The car attracted much attention from us as well as every passerby who sauntered down the sidewalk.

From there, it was off to an appointment with a docent at Lotusland, the personal gardens of Ganna Walska an opera star and socialite who accumulated six husbands and great fortune as well. She used it to build an botanical garden of unparalleled beauty for her own use and well as a gift to the public. It consists of a number of individual gardens, each devoted to a plant order—often with mass plantings of hundreds of the same species. This created vast vistas of texture and color overwhelming the eye. The collection of cycads, is second largest collection in the world. Other sections were devoted to "blue" plants, bromeliads, agaves, and two cactus gardens. The formal gardens included Japanese, topiary, roses, and others. None of us had seen such a lush rose garden anywhere—an unparalleled mass of blooms, grown without commercial fertilizers.

In the evening we headed off to Santa Barbara proper to Ca'Dario, a first class Italian restaurant. The food was excellent all around. Nick had grouper with lemon, garlic and capers, Barbara, seafood risotto cooked to perfection, Harold had bronzino, with complex spices, and Judy, seafood in brodo. For desert we shared berries in puff pastry. All the sauces were outstanding.

Back at Harold's, we watched a movie titled Margaret, about a really mixed up teenager.
Thursday, Jul. 19th, 2012 — Los Angeles
Comment by Nicholas Pisarro, Jr. on Jul. 21st, 2012, modified Monday, Jul. 30th, 2012 at 3:56 AM
We said our goodbyes to Harold and Judy and left around 10:30 AM. We arrived at our hotel in L.A. around noon. We walked a few blocks to the LA Farmer's Market, full of food, knick-knack stalls and lunch spots.

We ate at a charming little French bistro called Monsieur Marcel, where we shared a Nicoise salad unusual for it had ahi tuna instead of canned. They operated an international gourmet shop next store, which we perused. We wandered around the market and The Grove nearby with its high end shopping. We were not tempted.

Check in time at the hotel, so we did that and then Nick's Uncle Bob and Aunt Mary Jane picked us up and brought us to their apartment where we conversed over wine and cheese. We went out to one of their favorite Italian restaurants where we had chicken dishes instead of the seafood we'd been eating all week.

Friday, Jul. 20th, 2012 — Los Angeles
Comment by Nicholas Pisarro, Jr. on Jul. 21st, 2012, modified Monday, Jul. 30th, 2012 at 4:01 AM
Friday was a full day.

The breakfast place, part of the hotel, looked uninteresting, so we went back to the Farmer's Market hoping to find breakfast. Indeed we did. We shared a delicious spinach and cheese omelet. Afterwards Nick discovered all kinds of delectable and unhealthy breakfast choices he could have made at other stalls, like gooey buns, pies, and filled croissants, but we moved on.

We went on a great circle walk down Fairfax Avenue, to Wilshire Blvd. and "Miracle Mile" with museums and art galleries. We passed the famous La Brea Tar Pits, which had life size statues of mammoths, mastodons, and other creatures that fell victim to the tar in prehistoric times. We circled past Uncle Bob's apartment complex to our hotel which was right at the corner of the complex.

At lunch time, we were picked up promptly by Uncle Bob and Aunt Mary Jane who drove us around elegant Beverly Hills with its wide streets, populated by BMWs, high end cars and an occasional Bentley or two. Lunch as at Le Pain Quotidien which served, tartines, hot open faced Belgian sandwiches. Barbara had ricotta cheese topped with figs and Nick, tomatoes topped with goat cheese. Across the street was Sprinkles, a donut shop and a separate ice cream shop. We chose the ice cream.

We then drove around a bit more and Uncle Bob showed us around the grounds of the LACMA, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. A sculpture garden featured Rodin statues. The grandest sculpture however was Floating Rock, a hundred ton rock you would walk under and hope you didn't get crushed by it. A mother was posing a child as if she were holding up the rock with both hands. When asked to take one hand down, the kid said, "It's too heavy, Mom!"

After going back to Bob and Mary Jane's for a little respite, we then attended the Friday Outdoor Jazz Concert at LACMA, performed by a top saxophonist and his ensemble to a nice SRO crowd. Back to their apartment for a dinner of various cold salads, nicely spiced, and more conversation.
Saturday, Jul. 21st, 2012 — NYC (JFK)
Comment by Nicholas Pisarro, Jr. on Jul. 23rd, 2012, modified Monday, Jul. 30th, 2012 at 4:09 AM
Our final day in L.A. and our trip.

We haven't had heavy meals on the trip, but we've been eating three full meals a day, something we don't do at home. Our waistlines have not faired too well. Off we went at 8 AM to the Farmer’s Market for breatkfast with Nick looking for something sweet. Too early for that, so we shared a salmon crepe with a salad, not too bad health wise.

We had some time before a planned lunch at Barbara’s niece Debbie & Sean’s so we we stopped at the iconic Forest Lawn Cemetery, in Glendale. The museum there was quite interesting, but we seemed to have missed some of the more interesting grave sites that Nick saw when he visited it in 1969(!) or so. We drove around a bit, skirting some very large funeral processions, looking around. We did see a replica of Michelangelo’s David, carved from the same marble, and a few other interesting sculptures, including a replica of the Ghiberti Doors we saw in Florence and a replica at Vassar.

At Debbie and Sean's house in Sherman Oaks, we their three egg laying chickens, that wandered around like they owned the place. (Photos to come.) Sean showed us his practice studio (Man Cave), converted from the garage, and equipped with 3 Fender amplifiers. Debbie barbecued delicious swordfish and veggies as we relaxed and chatted.

Off to return the rental car, a Chevy Aveo. It is probably the worst car we've ever rented. Underpowered and flimsy, it just was not enough car to deal with the traffic and roads of the California freeways. The Ford Focus we rented in Sarasota was significantly nicer and the cost was one third the price.

Flying the red eye worked out well, except the passenger next to Nick had Bronchitis and coughed continuously. JFK is very quiet at 6:30 AM as is I-95 at seven.

We had a great trip. Thank you to all our friends along the way, who rolled out the red carpet wherever we went.