vrijdag 25 februari 2011

The Desert

After a night in Barstow ("Only when the Mojave desert freezes over will there be no beds left in Barstow", LP) and a Mexican breakfast (those refried beans and tortillas really keep you going), we headed out to the Mojave Desert Park Reserve.
Oooooh my God. I cannot describe. We took a wander up to the "singing dunes" at Kelso (when the sand from the dunes shift, it apparently hums! Not for us though, bummer) and were rewarded with the most spectacular view EVER.
That's all I'm sayin'. Daniel, you do it some justice baby!

donderdag 24 februari 2011

Our brush with fame

As we cruised down Highway 1, we noticed a change. It was subtle at first, just a shadow you saw slipping in and out of vision once in a while. Soon enough it was a blinding light cast from all directions. MONEY. Santa Barbara is full of it, and from there on it's a common denominator that follows right through Malibu, Beverly Hills and into Los Angeles. Yes, we saw big houses and swanky cars and people flashing their gold cards, but we also saw seedy parts of town that could best be described as definitely lacking in the green stuff. And that might be the beauty and the beast of LA and it's vicinity: you're either up or you're down. It certainly made for some memorable times.
Santa Barbara is a really pretty, clean, peaceful place with the Queen of the Missions (California has 21 missions in total running down the coast, but this is the only one still in possession of the Franciscan monks) on a hill overlooking the ocean and the city. Moving on we drove through Malibu, a pissing contest in square footage of housing on hills and beaches (but fabulous houses on beautiful hills and beaches) where the formidably rich and possibly famous live or rent a second (or 5th) home. Definite highlight was the 'thing' we can only describe as probably another human being jogging down the freeway: It was middle aged (but in denial), bleached blonde, very tanned, very lifted and botoxed, very skinny, and proudly sporting the largest silicone implants I had ever seen. What really got us though was what would have possessed this creature to jog down the highway when surrounded by other, more beautiful and quiet options. We can only assume it was actually an extra terrestrial who had misinterpreted what a jogging habitat should be. We were rudely awakened to the fact that we were probably the odd ones out when we drove through Beverly Hills. Most of what was driving the SUVs and Bentleys beside us resembled the jogger, and we were all slowly moving towards the Mother Ship: Rodeo Drive. As we passed parked BMWs and Range Rovers, we were suddenly cut off by paparazzi ambushing a starlet- how exciting! Our first star sighting! If only we could tell you who it was... Neither of us had ever seen her in our lives. Having gotten over that feverish moment, we were able to maneuver ourselves into a parking place and seamlessly slip into the steady flow of somebodies sauntering past Louis Vuitton, Prada, Versace and Tiffany's. Well, or so we thought until we were given the once over by a very tall, skinny, androgynous Rodeo-ite who was very visibly NOT impressed. Damn. 0-1 for LA.
We decided that if we stuck out like sore fingers anyway, we would make the most of it and go into full throttle tourist mode. We walked Hollywood Boulevard, we pointed at the names embedded in the sidewalk, we gawked at absolutely everything we passed, we debated taking a star tour. We watched the Oscars being set up, we walked the red carpet and took pictures of ourselves outside of the theater it would be held at. We pointed at the handprints and signatures of the stars of yesterday and today in concrete, and we laughed at Superman, Marilyn, ELvis and Micheal posing in front of the signatures. For a tip that is. We drove our car into the Hollywood Hills and pointed at Paris Hilton's house before getting lost in LA rush hour traffic on our way to spy on Halle Berry. We decided to call it a day. We cruised into the Alta Cienega Motel, where room #32 was Jim Morrison's digs for two years, and to our complete disbelief the room was available (I must stress how big of a Doors fan Daniel is... Like, BIG. Jim is a God big.). Daniel couldn't believe his luck, and as he bound up the stairs to the divine motel room, I guess neither could I. I mean, what are the odds that the room would be vacant? I thought maybe it was just a fabled place of pilgrimage, and that the Indian motel manager just used it as a gimic to have occupants in this complete dive once in a while. We opened the door and... Well, I cannot describe. But just by looking at the photos, you will be as convinced as I that I TOTALLY MISJUDGED Doors fans. Good Lord. Creepy does not cover it.
The next morning we left Jim, and though I felt as if I had joined a select group of people who had been blessed by time with the man himself, I cannot say I was sad to leave. Hurried would be more my feeling. I guess I am just not Doorsy enough for this shit. We mosied on through LA towards the Warner Bros. studios where we enjoyed a really awesome tour- not only did we get to sit in Central Perk (Friends for those who missed -or ignored- that decade), but we also saw the Batmobile, got sorted by the Harry Potter Sorting Hat, got up close and personal with one of the many wax Agent Smiths made to create an army in the Matrix Revolutions and we even spotted another star: Leonard from The Big Bang Theory (or David from Roseanne for us more retro types)! We also visited the Two and a Half Men set, nothing happening there that day. We later found out on tv that that may have been because the season has been discontinued after Charlie Sheen had a drunken rant on national television and called the producer all kinds of names. Ah, the rise and fall of Hollywood stars. And Charlie would know, he's been there enough times.
We did spend time on the outer edges of LA in the seedier but far more colorful parts of town like Santa Monica and Venice Beach, the latter by far taking home the cake. Besides Muscle Beach (where you could have found the Governator when he was but a bodybuilding Austrian), it is the home of many crazies and wannabe crazies, homeless, artists, tatooed and tatooer, pierced and piercer, sport fanatics and spectators, cursing old men playing racketball and cursing young men playing basketball. There is so much to stare at on Venice Beach that we were completely drained afterwards. It really is a sight worth seeing.
By the end of the Warner Bros. tour however we were more than finished with LA, although some would argue we didn't actually see any of the place. Oh well. What we did gather is that we are nowhere near self-absorbed enough to live our lives there happily, and that the endlessness of the city becoming city becoming city made us want to pace like a caged animal. Bring on the desert!

zondag 20 februari 2011

Highway 1

When shopping in America, there is really only one way. You drive. Not only do you drive TO the stores- you drive from one to the next, making sure your fat ass doesn’t have to get any unnecessary exercize. So when we left for our road trip the pissing rain was really only an excuse as we drove from Ross Dress for Less to Shoe Depot to Home Depot trying to find Daniel some Wellington boots (what they call rubber boots we found out, after many blank stares). The stores were all in close proximity to one another, but there were pedestrian-unfriendly things like 4 lane roads in between, and so we had to drive. It didn’t make shopping any easier (or fun, according to Daniel), but you don’t want to go camping in wet weather without something to keep your feet dry. I know this from experience. When we finally embarked on our road trip, the rain might have gotten even harder and the skies even greyer, but there was no way in hell either of us were going to have wet feet. This was but a slight consolation while picturing ourselves putting up a tent in the miserable weather.
After a slight faulty detour, we started down Highway 1, or the Pacific Highway. For those who don’t know, this is probably one of the most beautiful roads to drive in the world: it pretty much follows the coastline all the way down to Mexico. Driving it proves difficult, even perilous at times, as the scenery is so mindblowing that the driver often forgets to keep an eye on the road. Despite the nasty weather, we couldn’t have picked a more beautiful day to go: the skies were dramatic backdrops to cliffs, black rocks jutting out of the sea, yellow beaches, soft, rolling green hills and more severe snow-dusted mountains. As we drove into Big Sur, we were enveloped by tall, looming, dark forest and coasting along winding roads. It was wonderful. It quite suddenly got dark however, and we were not looking forward to putting up a tent (having never put up this tent) in the dark and the rain, and so for the sake of our relationship and the rest of mankind: thank god for motels. This did however end up being a hairy drive down Hwy 1 in the pitch dark (no street lights in Big Sur ladies and gentlemen), winding up and down bendy roads as we searched for a motel with room for two: it was a holiday weekend! 2 hours later and after a few hair raising moments (including big rocks littering the road and the one where we almost hit an owl as it dove for a mouse on the road in front of us- amazing to see but ooooooh mama, it was scary!) we finally hit a motel strip at San Simean and were able to bunk out in one of the last rooms available. Besides a liquor store, there was also karaoke with a Mexican Elvis happening just down the road- I mean, what more could you possibly want from life?
We woke to blue skies and sun and went and watched more elephant seals before going up to see Hearst Castle, one of the most jaw-dropping, amazing but utterly bizarre things I have ever seen in my life. If you ever want to see how you could spend your money if you were rich –and I mean ‘millions is small change’ rich- this is the place. Inspired by absolutely everything ever built in Europe ever, and bringing together antique Spanish ceilings, medieval Flemish tapestries, papal chairs, Persian rugs, Roman statues, Greek columns, Italian convent gates and every other form of decadent decoration you can think of. Even the most kitschy Italian would find this place the kingdom of kitsch. It was incredible.
Today we had our first real American breakfast in a diner. When asked how Daniel would like his eggs done, he surprised the waitress (her face read ‘Weird European’) by asking for the hard boiled. He then proceeded to get excited that there was ice cream on his American pancakes, only to be disgusted when I explained it was actually butter. A scoop of it. I guess with constant refills of coffee your metabolism should burn that off no problem (judging by the overweight family of six behind us though, that could be far-fetched). With sufficient sugar and caffeine in our system we buzzed down to San Luis Obispo, which was really nice. Our main reason however for going was to see the Madonna Inn, one of the wierd and wonderful and completely over-the-top Americanisms one can find here. Once you get past the neon pink sign, the inn stretches out over quite some buildings, all in some interpretation of large Austrian chalets. All the rooms have a different theme; think ‘Yosemite’, or ‘Caveman’ (really, the site is worth looking at- there’s pictures!) and range in size. We went to the coffeehouse, where the waitresses wear Austrian-style uniforms and the interior is something you thought only possible in your dreams. Kitschy dreams, that is. We ordered coffee and decided to share a piece of The World Famous Toffee Crunch Cake to complete the experience. Thank GOD we were sharing, for if you would like to know what the weight of your head is converted into sugar then this is the place. I am not kidding, the slice was bigger than the plate. I remember thinking it was no secret how Americans got so huge if they ate their body mass in sugar and fat every day before the sugar high got the better of me and my thoughts caramelized. God help us.

(double click the images to enlarge them!)