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Beyond the Pale - A 'pale' is a fencepost. The English Pale was a boundary in Ireland marking out the part of Ireland under direct English rule circa 1450 (which included Dublin and environs). Those that lived 'beyond the pale', outside of English rule, were considered out of control and uncivilised. You decide...

Thursday, December 13, 2012

San Diego - You Stay Classy


GASLAMPS, GORILLAS AND OTHER HAUNTS


San Diego is a lot of things – it’s the oldest city in California, it’s considered one of the most chilled out cities in the States, and it’s where one of the funniest movies of all time was set – Anchorman.

It was the perfect spot for a pre Christmas, post Thanksgiving, mid Sentence get away.
In the time it took the kettle to boil I had snagged us a deal for a mystery hotel on www.hotwire.com . I should point out it actually takes quite a while to boil a kettle in the US. I’m not an electrician or a sparky or a firework or whatever the hell that all means, but I *think* it has something do to with the electrical current - the electricity supplied to a US house is 110 volts whereas in the UK and Ireland it’s 240 volts.  Why is it different? I don’t know/care. I think the US consider their voltage safer.


Nice hotel, bell hop didn't say much
The ‘mystery’ hotel turned out to be the Westgate hotel which was grand, sort of an American take on what an old classical French hotel might be like. It is super close to the Gaslamp district and that’s where everyone said to make a beeline for, so we did. If you like busy bars, bustling restaurants and ‘characters’ on the street you’ll like the Gaslamp strip. We settled on a restaurant called Searsucker that was run by a chap who was a runner up on TV’s Top Chef (?? I assume it’s like Masterchef!). The steak tartare and seared tuna was devine. The eating experience was helped by the fact the waitress really knew her stuff and was on her game.

Bish-bash-bosh, on to a bar.

We had a drink in the Old Spaghetti Factory (cos I liked the name), it’s the kind of place you might have a naff office party in (although, aren’t all office parties naff by definition). If you grew up in Dublin, think Chicago Pizza Pie Factory. We did however discover a great bar on the street called the Hopping Pig. It had lots of micro brews, all with macabre names, it evoked a New York East Village dive bar kinda feel. There was exposed brick work, hipsters talking about indie folk rooms, and light filaments hanging from the ceiling trapped in jam jars. 

Attractive!
It was my kinda bar but as it turns out it was shielding us from the mardi gras atmosphere that was unfolding outside. After midnight the clubbers suffocate the gaslamp and it becomes Magaluf, it’s all ansa-ansa-dush-dush music, girls in skimpy outfits falling down the street, leary lads shouting and having clumsy fights. I couldn’t wait to scurry back to my hotel.

Jesus wept
In the third world you queue to get a bag of rice to feed a family of ten, meanwhile, back in the first world you line up for a brunch you’ll never finish. Hash House a Go Go in the Hilcrest neighbourhood is one of these such places. The portions are GARGANTUAN, truly, truly, obscene, but it is tasty and gives you the all American experience.

For the Mexican-American experience we mingled among an Our Lady of Guadalupe procession (for twas "Guadalupe Day"!). Lots of people dressed up, carrying religious placards, following behind decorative pick up trucks.

In their Sunday best
The walk brought us right up to the superb Balboa Park. It’s a great place for a run, in fact, I think everyone we encountered there was either running or walking a dog.

So I run to the flag and back, yeah
The park is home to a plethora of museums, so we dipped into the Museum of Man. I love museums, history and man, so I was in my element! There was even a braille type writer you could use, Dom became mildly obsessed with it and produced all sorts of business cards for himself, and me, and this blog, all in braille. Clearly he imagines my blog will have a huge following in the blind community (he mightn’t be far off).

We skipped across the road to an exhibition on torture, in short, medieval people didn’t take any cr@p.  Dom insisted, much to his own amusement, on showing me a chair that was designed for cantankerous women; they would be strapped into the chair, suspended over water and plunged repeatedly into the cold water until they stopped complaining.  Clearly a man came up with that one, top tip, if your girlfriend is cantankerous get her some flowers and look like you’re listening to whatever she’s banging on about, don’t stick her in chair and chuck her in the river... you thought she was cantankerous  before you produced the chair?!

When you visit San Diego everyone says you HAVE to go to the Zoo it’s world famous. It was good, it was fun, I even had a staring competition with a gorilla. I let him win, I’m nice like that.

We jumped in a cab and headed to the Old Town area for dinner. If you like your Mexican food, this is the place for you, I couldn’t see a restaurant that wasn’t Mexican and the competition drives the prices down to super cheap.  It’s also a nice quaint spot to walk around. We literally stumbled across a haunted house and off on the tour we went. It’s called the Whaley House where a pioneer, Thomas Whaley, and his family lived and is the exact spot where “Yankee Jim swung for his crimes”.  The tour guide brings you around the house dressed up as a Victorian pioneer. She was hilarious, which is probably not indicative of how woman behaved at the time, but we agreed afterwards her smart remarks and sassy humour totally made the tour.

I did learn a few interesting things; Victorians would put coat after coat after coat of lacquer on a carpet to turn it into a hard linoleum type mat. As the guide said herself ‘they had bad taste even then’. People were shorter in the 1800s the average height being 5 ft 3. Speaking of short, the average Christmas tree was no bigger than 3 feet and it was decorated with live candles!

After the haunted house, Dom managed to cajole me into the Old Town Saloon and over to the pool table. I’m relatively lousy, with flashes of brilliance -and I can sorta play  pool too ;op

They say you can’t go to San Diego without visiting the beach. I’m gonna be honest, I thought San Diego would be more like a small beachy town, but it’s a big kick ass city, we had to get taxi to the beach! Ocean beach is worth the cab fare, very cool. 

Aside from the beach and the zoo, the other thing you HAVE to do in San Diego is go to Sea World. Oh, by the way, don’t try and walk to it from Ocean Beach, you will end up sprinting across motorways while screaming (em, I saw someone do it).

Amazing shot of random guys head (some dancing fish in background)
Sea World, like the zoo, is grand, it’s good, it’s fun. The highlight is to catch one of the cirque du soleil style shows where the dolphins launch themselves out of the water and knock five shades out of the Russia state ballet’s version of the Nutcracker. These mammals can throw some seriously graceful shapes. We lost our marbles on a rollercoaster and sank in a flood of water on the rapids. If you think of it, bring a change of clothes, otherwise, like me, you’ll be forced to buy a gorgeous Sea World jumper and pants combo (I didn’t buy Sea World pants, I just wanted to get my American on and say that word, ha!).

The best thing about San Diego (which no one ever mentions) is to take a walk along the Embarcadero as the sun sets. There are some nice posh looking restaurants with incredible views. It was on one of these strolls that I found my favourite part of the city – Seaport Village. It was ‘established’ in 1989 (or something super recent) and is a collection of quaint little businesses linked by cobbled streets and drooping trees, framed by a view of the sea. You can browse through a little book store which will sell you a little coffee and you can walk across a little bridge and slip into a little curiosity shop out the back door and buy a little ice cream. It was so cute, I loved it and I wasn’t the only one, there were familys gathered around a clown, teenagers huddled around the shoreline, old folks gabbing about the old days, and tourists capturing it all on camera.

 San Diego...I might just be back :o)

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