5:30am is not a natural hour to wake up in the morning. That being said, I woke up at 5:30am on the day of departure without the aid of alarm or man servant. I think I may have been a bit excited. We arrived at YYZ at 6:30am thinking we had given ourselves plenty of time to check in…hmm maybe should have thought that over a bit. For starters our flight was 30 minutes early, and Air Canada now uses these lovely “simple and quick” kiosks which no one is actually able to figure out how to use. A German man was screaming at his kiosk I thought he may stab someone in his frustration. We needed to hustle our bustle, which wasn’t easy as the line was rather slow and gargantuan at best. We finally got our ticket and lined up at customs to check our bags. Low and behold I find out I can’t bring my “present” on the flight. I bought a bottle of Canadian Vidal Icewine for my friend who is having me at her place for a three day visit in Oakland. In my head I was thinking “toss it or risk it”, I clearly risked it. (PS the lady said, “its just Icewine it may not be worth risking the limited liability on your backpack.” I responded “Icewine is fabulous, pack it up.”)
We made it to our terminal 10 minutes before boarding the small airbus flight to San Diego. I realized how much I hate to fly in the morning/day. I prefer to waste my time in the evenings when I nap, I got agitated, tried to sleep, complained about my sore hamstrings, basically flight diva 101. We ordered lunch on the plane (as they are no longer included, go figure) a Kelsey’s smoked turkey and pesto sandwich, Kit Kat and Sleeman’s Cream Ale. I peaked through the window near the end of our flight and could see the vast California desert bellow with huge mountains dotting the horizon. As we flew closer to our destination we flew right over mountains which created an interesting contrast; dry, hot desert and cold, snow peaked mountaintops.
As the plane landed on the tarmac I was nervous as hell. I was so petrified that my backpack wasn’t going to arrive, that my Icewine bottle had exploded and was dripping its essential juices on someone else’s luggage! I thought “God Bless Me” when we arrived at the turnstiles and all three pieces of our luggage were the first to come out! Finally I could relax, heading to the Hertz rental car we were minutes from starting our road trip! Or so we thought. It ended up taking an hour (in a long sweaty line) to get to the front of the line and select our car. The car we would be driving became somewhat of a mystery as it changed three times before we were given the keys. Started off with a Ford that looked vile and “eww”, then we asked about upgrading to a Red Mustang (but all they had was Mustang convertibles which we didn’t want). We ended up settling for a lovely white Mazda 6. When he asked “is this car alright” I asked “Is it cute?” I think the Hertz man thought I was kidding, as you all know, I wasn’t. We have both decided that the car is perfect with leather seats and easy to use GPS (which I am now an expert at operating!) Long gone are the irritating map road trips, thank goodness!
We drove out of the lot and headed to our hotel without much luck initially. The city has plenty of one way streets and our GPS continued to chirp “Calculating New Route.” We dropped our stuff off at the hotel and headed down to the water front and spent the next two hours on a Harbor Tour of San Diego. We passed under the Mission Bell Tower Bridge and heard a lot about the “Birthplace of California” (which I believe every city in California claims to be). San Diego was America’s head Navy Base during WWII after Pearl Harbor. The shores are full of huge aircraft carriers, nuclear submarine stations and helicopter pads. My father was in heaven I do believe (he spent a few years in the Canadian Air Forces). He also loves sailing aka Yachts and he was loving the incredibly expensive yachts sailing across the sunset filled sky. As our Ferry puttered back to port we glanced over at some lazy sea lions, Mexican beach and the hills of Tijuana.
We drove to the “Oldtown” where the streets smell of fresh tortillas (as they are grilled on the street for people to buy, sprinkled with Cinnamon and sugar). The architecture looks like something out of a Western cowboy film. We popped by my culinary tourism hot spots: Ice Cold Oldtown Root Beer is a cute little store that sells over 60 different Root Bears and Cream Sodas! I had my first Root Beer Float, I felt like I was in an Archie comic. We then walked into the historic part of town and visited a Candy Shop that hand rolls their own Salt Water Taffy and Caramels. We ate dinner at Casa Guadalajara which was the best Mexican restaurant I have ever been to in my entire life (perhaps the authenticity did the trick!) I ordered a La Nina Margarita (17.25 oz glass) a good fill of Tequila full of Sauza Commemorativo, Grand Marnier, Sweet and Sour premium and a splash of cranberry. We snacked on complementary freshly made nachos and spicy salsa infused with cilantro.
My father and I shared the Mucho Grande Combination. When the plate arrived we were shocked that this item was actually sold on the menu as a dinner for one, it was huge! American Obesity at its best. The platter was full of yummy goodness: carne a sada, chicken taco, cheese enchilada, tamale, chili relleno, served with guacamole, rice, beans and salsa fresca. We finished off dinner with a Mexican favorite: deep fried ice cream. My favorite memory will be staring at this androgynous Mexican couple. I think I stared at them for a good hour during dinner and by the time I left I still didn’t know the gender of either. As we left a Mariachi band started to sing throughout the restaurant and as we continued to walk back to the parking lot we heard the lovely harmony of Mariachi sidewalk. I got back to the hotel and realized I had burned my face pretty badly, I looked like an organic roma tomato (especially organic). I had a shower before bed and realized my dad “packs lightly” as the only shampoo he brought was the size of a nail polish container.
We were both up at 5:30am (and I do mean wide awake). I have to admit I was a bit timid about not being able to sleep due to his erroneous snoring issues. He did put in his snoring mouth guard and remarkably I slept rather well. I turned on the TV before we headed out and was a bit shocked by what I saw. An American charity asking for people to “donate to starving American children.” That was my first culture shock. I have never seen that in Canada ever. We do have those sorts of campaigns for children in the third world and my family has two cute little kids that we sponsor monthly. It was just shocking to see this ad airing on a television station in America, the wealthiest country in the world. It goes to show what Canada’s health-care, education and social systems offers its citizens! We were on the streets walking to Harborfront Drive at 6am. The city looked like a ghost town at this time of day. We clearly were the only tourists (yet alone locals) moving around the city at this time of day. San Diego harbor is beautiful, they have a lovely tradition of showcasing local sculptures along the walkways on the shore. By far my favorite aspect of San Diego is its cleanliness, Vancouver-like atmosphere and above all the most amazing modernist condo architecture. The Hyatt and Marriott on the shore were the largest hotels I have ever seen in my life: Gargantuan! The newly opened San Diego Convention Center is an art piece all on its own.
We walked all the way across town because I had researched “Richard Walkers Pancake House.” It is located in a very nice neighborhood that reminded me a lot of Yale Town in Vancouver. I ordered the restaurants signature dish “Apple Cinnamon Pancakes.” It took 20 minutes for them to make and by the time it got to my plate I realized I had chosen the golden ticket. It was the size of a deep dish pizza, full of fluffy air (which slowly collapsed at bit as it sat in front of me). The top was brown caramelized sugar and Cinnamon. As I ate the beast of a breakfast I realized that they made the pancake in a huge pan by slowly incorporating apple slices with pancake batter. It was the most spectacular breakfast I had ever had the pleasure of consuming. We checked out of the hotel and made our way to a grocery store. I have always said my favorite part about traveling is visiting farmers markets and grocery stores so I can get a glimpse at how locals eat. I was so jealous when I reached the liquor section of the store. I jotted down “Two Yellow Tale Chardonnay for $10.99 and a bottle of Rosemont Estate for $6.99! I’d be drunk daily with these prices!
Our final activity in San Diego was a visit to the world renowned San Diego Zoo located within Balboa Park. The park cost hundreds of millions of dollars to renovate and I can’t express the perfection of design and execution in written word. You’d have to see it for yourself! It is 934936843.67 times better than the Toronto Zoo (that is an exact figure of course). My favorite experiences: the cute little Chimps and Orangutans, Panda bamboo chomping and baby hippos. My dad and I entered through a caged door which read “do not let birds out, do not feed birds.” We walked into a room full of waterfalls, tropical trees and a flock of every kind of bird you can imagine. I saw a bird with a long beak and bright yellow head feathers so I thought I’d go and try and take a picture. The bird was about one foot tall. My dad and I walked past the bird to realize this winged animal was insane. It started a rampage and chased us. Nipping at our calf muscles with its beak. I screamed like a woman and was actually terrified. I almost cried. I was more terrified than if I had been chased by a lion, tiger or bear (oh my!) I ran back out the caged doors and the bird paced back and forth. I could hear my dad laughing (he ran the opposite direction and got free of the demon animal! As we exited the park I finally decided to ask why all of the American flags were at half mast. I walked up to a lady selling stuffed zoo animals, she looked about 20 something. Conversation was as follows “Why are the flags half mast?” She replies “I think it’s because of the high winds.” I retort (while trying my best not to laugh) “But there isn’t even a slight breeze, and aren’t flags meant to be, you know, active in the wind?” She finishes “It’s gotta be the high winds.” This is the moment in life I realized that some people are truly idiotic.
We opened up our sun roof and I pulled my shoes right off (as my toes were throbbing from being on my feet since 6am). We figured we had walked the distance of a marathon…exhausted is a good word to use at this part of the story.