Jul 21, 2008

Leaving L.A.

As announced, I had great plans to go to San Diego from L.A. and see the "far south" of California. But, on a whim, and reasoning that living it up was justified in case the earth was about to implode due to the upcoming creation of a giant black hole on the Franco-Swiss border, I went to Las Vegas instead. Driving up in style in a little sporty convertible (in real life, those things make your hair very messy), I then spent hours hiking up and down The Strip in million-degree weather (so THAT's where all the heat is!) before splashing out on a very nice late dinner back at the Palazzo and playing Roulette (I won $30, which made my night). The next day it was time to drive back to L.A. in time to catch Mozart at the Hollywood Bowl, a wonderful contrast to the sinful kitch of Vegas. My final day in California left some time for hanging out with friend and baby, strolling along Venice Beach and Rodeo Drive and catching a glimpse of the Hollywood Sign. I even dipped a toe in the Pacific. The Pacific is cold (well, not everywhere, obviously) and I'm looking forward to going back to the balmy Mediterranean in a few weeks!

So for now it's bye bye from Paris (the real one), where I will be doing very little besides an occasional catch-up with INSEAD before driving south for wedding, family and bubble madness.

Jul 20, 2008

'Til the Sun Comes Up on the Santa Monica Blvd

No, I have no fallen off the edge of the planet. Although I very nearly fell of the edge of a cliff. (j/k) After my brief foray into Yosemite I fancy myself a bit of hair-raising mountain road driving expert. I've calculated that altogether, I must have covered at least 400km of these hairpin turns and trust me, after hours of freeway driving in very hot weather followed by over 2hrs of those turns, it does take a massive exercise of willpower to not simply let yourself drive straight off into the void. Luckily, my willpower is strong, and I was able to enjoy a day's hiking among the peaks and forests of an unbelievably crowded but stunning park. Fortunately, if you're bold and go off the beaten path, you do manage to find some of the peace and quiet that goes so much better with hiking.

Then came the not-so-scenic, welcome to middle America, two-day drive south through central California back to LA (more specifically, Orange County) and civilization. My plans for the next few days here read like a laundry list from movie-famous sets. Already checked off are Laguna Beach (very pretty, despite the - you guessed it - fog; euphemistically coined "marine layer", apparently) and Santa Monica, where I enjoyed a fun night of beach-partying and art installations at a new "nuits-blanches"-like festival called Glow. Still to go, San Diego, Beverly Hills, the Hollywood sign, the Chinese Theatre, and whatever else I can think of to wallow fully in silly-tourist-bliss. Including the mall.

Jul 16, 2008

On the Road Again

Very shortly, I will be packing up my increasingly full bags once more and heading away from the coast to Yosemite National Park. In the meantime, here are a few pictures of what I've seen so far in this "Golden State"...

Hearst Castle:

San Luis Obispo Mission:

Sea otter in Monterey:

Driving over the Golden Gate:

The Police!

Jul 14, 2008

Wine, Hills and the Police

After a nice visit to the Monterey Aquarium - the sea otters were fun, although as a whole the aquarium pales in comparison to the one in Sydney - I had a leisurely drive to Pebble Beach: the famous "17 mile drive". I appreciated the occasional breaks in the fog to let in the sunshine, and the sea looked beautiful, but this is first and foremost a golfer's paradise. My parents would have been in heaven, but I got bored. Then it was time for lunch in Carmel (cute but a bit too Disneyland-like for me) before the last stretch of road to San Francisco.

I didn't get much time to see San Francisco (but plenty of time to screech like a little girl while driving up and down those crazy hills) before my friends and I headed off to wine country in Sonoma (which meant driving over the Golden Gate Bridge, how cool is that!!!!!!) Sonoma was lovely, warm, sunny and quaint, and much wine was had by all. After a very relaxing weekend, we came back yesterday afternoon for a visit of the new house my friend and her husband just bought in the city (it seems everyone - but me - is growing up so fast...)

So now I have two days to explore San Francisco. Sadly, the beautiful, fogless blue skies of yesterday have disappeared to make way for - you guessed it - fog, but it's for the best, as hiking up those hills can be hot and tiring work! And tonight I'm in for a treat, as we have VIP tickets to the Police concert. I will try to provide a detailed update before Wednesday, when I will hug my friends goodbye and take to the road again in my white Chevy Cobalt, to take in the breathless views and yet more hiking (though slightly less urban this time) in Yosemite.

And for my family and friends back home, un très joyeux 14 juillet!

Jul 10, 2008

No Sur

As if the fog situation wasn't upsetting enough, I actually ended up being thwarted entirely in my effort to drive up the Pacific Coast Highway, through Big Sur, by a large and unfortunately placed wildfire which meant the Highway was closed. I did manage to go up far enough to see Hearst Castle (a comical monstrosity, apparently intended to look "Mediterranean") as well as a colony of seals (or sea lions, I can't remember), before resigning myself to driving up the much less attractive (but sunny) Highway 101 to Monterey. Tomorrow, the plan is to take in the aquarium, Pebble Beach and Carmel before looping back up to San Francisco where friends await. Hopefully there are no fires there.

Jul 9, 2008

P6: Coastal meanderings

So, that's it, INSEAD is officially over. There were many tears (not all mine), which I guess is a good thing as it goes to show what a fabulous year we all had; the best year of our lives... so far (dixit Miss H). Anyways, I may come back in a later post to sum up the year, but for now it's time to move on... to California!

Indeed, a couple days after graduation I jetted off to LA to visit friends and this "golden state" which I had yet to experience. And now here I am, after having spent a day with friends and baby, and a day driving up my first leg of the coast, in San Luis Obispo. I left Orange County rather late in the morning, so as to avoid the traffic (which worked), stopped for a leg-stretch in Malibu (very disappointing as nothing to see: more on this problem later) and lunch on the wharf in Santa Barbara. The drive on Highway 154 right after lunch, through the mountains, was by far the best part of the day (I had actually intended to continue on Highway 1 but my rather flaky GPS decided otherwise). Unfortunately, I couldn't find a place to stop and take a picture of the magnificent view, so you'll just have to take my word for it. I coasted into SLO in the middle of the afternoon, leaving plenty of time for a wander through this picturesque town (with its 18th century mission) and a glass of wine (Californian, I'm afraid) on a garden patio. Tomorrow, the plan is to get back onto the Highway 1 (aka Pacific Coast Highway) and take the scenic route up to Monterey. However, my expectations are rather low as to how scenic it will really be...

As someone recently explained to me, the French love to discourse on topics about which they actually know very little, so in that spirit, here are a few things I have discovered in my very short time in California, in no particular order:

- It is very very foggy on the coast. Once you get a mile or so inland, it's beautiful and sunny, but along the scenic coast line you can see diddly squat, making it less than scenic... A bit of a shame...

- It is also not as warm in California as I expected. While it's nice and warm in the sun during the day, evenings get quite cool and if stuck in the fog/wind/both, it can be positively chilly.

- There are more kinds of fast food here than elements on Mendeleev's table, which is not good for my waistline. Also, you can "drive thru" basically anything, including Starbucks. In my opinion, drive-through coffee is blasphemy, but maybe that's just me being all French and closed-minded.

- It is stupid not to be able to smoke on an outdoors patio, and amusing that the staff don't see the irony in asking you to "step outside" to indulge your dirty habit on the sidewalk (but without your glass of wine, of course, as alcohol cannot be consumed outside the premises).

- Driving an automatic is a very good thing 95% of the time. It is not such a good thing a) during the first five minutes when you realize (with a shock) that the car will move on its own without you putting your foot anywhere near the gas pedal and b) when driving up or down a mountain, where being able to shift gears would definitely make life easier.

Well, it is now 8pm here, and 5am at home, and I'm still not over my jet lag, so I think I'll pop the TV on and fall asleep over some commercials, before setting off on Leg 2 of my mini road-trip. I will try to keep you updated on my adventures; after all, it's like going back to my blogging roots as a travel blogger (for those of you that are curious about my first blogging experiment, if you ask me nicely or are very good at google search, you may just find it...) Picture are unlikely to make it online before I return, though.