Monday, January 28, 2008

A Cornish weekend

An unexpected invite came our way last week, so we found ourselves driving down to Cornwall (again) on Saturday morning. This time, though, we headed along the GLORIOUS A30 from Exeter to Bodmin: What a road! It skirts the top of Dartmoor National Park and then drops down across Bodmin Moor, all of it wonderfully empty duel carriageway. Bliss! Perfect weather, too, with blue skies and sunshine all the way. Our destination was Fowey, a rather pretty fishing village at the end of some treacherous Cornish B roads. We only had time for a quick, calf-killing stroll down to and back up from the village, before afternoon tea, an inspirational speech from Tim Smit (founder of the Eden Project), and a good dinner, accompanied by a murder mystery game delivered in the broadest of Cornish accents. Git orf moi laaaand!

The next morning saw a sea mist roll in, but as we climbed out of Fowey, the sun came out again. Off to the Eden Project to gawk at this remarkable place.

Foggy morning:

Tropical biome:

The beautiful planting and pod-like biomes were wonderful, but best was seeing the before and after pics of this former clay pit. Hard to believe how much has been achieved here in the past 10 years -- well worth a visit if you're in the area.

Then, laden with cacti and clotted cream fudge and toffees, we set off once more for the A30/A303/A34 trip home (and the fly in the ointment that is trying to find a parking space around here on a Sunday evening; we've realized we're not so much buying a house but two parking spaces with a house attached). It's amazing how much you can achieve in 36 hours if you set your mind to it -- or, indeed, if someone organizes it all for you.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Road trip!

From Palm Springs, we had to head back to Las Vegas and our return flight to the grey and soggy UK. We decided to break the journey overnight, allowing us to a) sleep in at our lovely PS hotel, b) make the ever-vital trip to Best Buy in Palm Desert, and c) cross the empty Nevada desert without worrying about whether we were going to get to the airport in time. And boy, was it empty! I always thought Norfolk was remote -- particularly when driving up the A11 to Norwich in thick fog -- but Nevada is really empty. On the I-10, billboards proudly proclaimed the nearest McDonalds, just 60 miles away in Blythe. General Patton did desert training for US troops in WWII here. And on the 95, you really appreciate cruise control. Mile after mile of undulating straight road, stretching out to the horizon, broken only by weird plants and a rest stop with giant chickens on its roof.

Finding a place to stay mid-way between Palm Springs and Las Vegas? Not so easy. Blythe and Needles were both ... less than attractive. We opted in the end for Loughlin (pronounced LOFF-lin), a casino town on the Colorado River just inside Nevada. A woman at the Movie Colony Hotel had told us that it was what Vegas used ot be like -- "pure" gambling, dirt-cheap hotels, no pretensions. And she was right. We decided to stay at the Colorado Belle, a hotel shaped like a Mississippi paddle boat and a bargain at a mere 60 bucks (including tax) per night. Unlike in Vegas, we also got access to a gym and pool and had coffee-making facilities in our room. Best of all, it had both a micro-brewery and a Krispy Kreme doughnut concession in the hotel. Breakfast? Sorted! In preparation, we hit the gym shortly after arrival, then showered and changed, and wandering through the main casino. It was sparkly and noisy, just what I had been expecting of Vegas.

Not sure that it's necessarily worth making a 40-mile round-trip detour from the 95 (although the 163 to it was a great road), and it won't win any prizes for "most attractive city" but it was a good night and considerably more enjoyable than Vegas. Unpretentious, entertaining fun. Plus, sixty bucks! And doughnuts!!

I [heart] Palm Springs


1. Desert modern. THE architectural style of Palm Desert. All 1950s/60s simple lines, elevated roofs, supporting columns with fins, pools, and concrete decor. Of course, concrete boxes do look better against a bright blue sky and hot desert sun than it would in pouring rain (c.f. the 1950s brutal concrete of St Stephen's, Norwich). We didn't get to see as many of the houses as we would have liked, given that they're behind hedges or on private streets -- and we failed to get the right map until late on our only full day there -- but the commercial buildings we saw were wonderful. Even the Shell garage had an interesting roof. Depressingly, the real estate agents had several great -- and affordable, dammit! -- properties for sale, like this one. Want!

2. The aerial tramway. Now, I'm no fan of cable cars -- and indeed spent one memorable trip up a mountain huddled in the bottom of a cable car to the bemusement of the French and Swiss folks with us -- so I was a little surprised to find myself reading out the description of PS's "revolving tramway" to PJ and suggesting that we have a go on it. And while most of the journey was fine, the bit where we went over the support towers was most unpleasant. But, there's something quite impressive about climbing from the desert floor to alpine meadows carpeted with snow in just 10 minutes.

3. Lots of restaurants. Seriously, lots and lots of restaurants. Would it be sushi? South-western? The hamburger joint? Upmarket French cuisine? Etc etc? No, it was fish and chips at the fishmarket -- darn good fish and chips. You can take the boy out of England ...

4. A really wonderful hotel. We're not the most sociable people, but free booze certainly encourages us to talk to others; we are English, after all. The Movie Colony Hotel provided sake martinis and wine at 5.30 in the evening around the fire pit, and as a result, we chatted to lovely people from Orange County, Chicago, Vancouver, British Columbia ... and even acknowledged them at the free breakfast buffet the following morning. The hotel was also beautifully designed and had an excellent, under-utilized jacuzzi. It is very pleasant to sit out in a jacuzzi at 9.30 pm in early January and watch the stars through hot steam. Highly recommended.

5. A walkable downtown and uptown heritage area. LA was impressive, but it was nice to get out of the car and just walk around. You see so much more and it feels so much healthier (highly calorific Jamba Juice consumption notwithstanding).

We are very tempted by the prospect of wintering in Palm Springs from December this year. It will all depend on whether we have a house here and cats.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Can you guess where we are now?

Hint: There's a clue in the picture.


This is LA

We left the secondhand smoke of Vegas behind and hit the I-15 to LA. Long straight roads over the mountains, a quick refreshment break at a truck stop outside Victorville, and then I took the wheel of the car to drive the remaining 100 miles to Cheviot Hills. Driving on the freeways around LA is scary. In the UK, it's illegal to "under-take" -- not so in the US. Nope, you can cut across multiple lanes, scream up the inside lane and pull in front without indicating, and you can do this while taking a call on your cell and drinking a coffee. Madness -- or, perhaps, a way of weeding out the weaker/stupider members of society.

However, the hideous journey was worth it. Not only did we stay in a beautiful house with lovely people and one of the best dogs ever, but the weather was gorgeous and we had a fab meal at Providence. No celebrity sightings unfortunately, but a good time nonetheless. I'm beginning to understand why people leave the UK in the winter; sunshine and blue skies in January are very welcome.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Vegas by day

What happens in Vegas ...

Las Vegas. Gambling mecca, environmental nightmare, and home to one of my favorite TV shows. So far, however, we've encountered no dead bodies or arterial spray, just plenty of secondhand smoke. It's not as glitzy as I'd imagined; sure, the Venetian and Caesars Palace (no apostrophe!) are impressive, and the neon is great, but the actual casinos seem rather secondary to the shopping and entertainment options here. Many of them are half-empty, even on a Saturday afternoon, and there's no clink clink clink of coins pouring out -- most now are video slot machines that take credit cards or dollar bills. It's rather sad.

Disappointingly, the TV channels in our hotel room are failing to show "all CSI all the time!" We did come across an intriguingly liberal documentary about mob involvement with Las Vegas (and, by extension, Cuba and the Kennedys), shown most surprisingly on the Tourism channel. However, somebody must have been monitoring the viewership and realized that we were actually watching it, and so swiftly pulled it and replaced it with a tedious rundown of the subpar "entertainment" shows available in the various casinos. Damn!

High point: having lunch at El Sombrero, a Mexican restaurant downtown recommended by Lonely Planet.
Low point: trying to get a non-turkey/chicken/beef sandwich. What's wrong with tuna or cheese?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Start the year as you mean to go on

With the charity cook book's Crunchie bar dessert -- the simplest pudding in the world.* And damn tasty at that.

*If you don't count eating condensed milk from the tin with a spoon.

Bah Humbug

Q: How can you tell if your sat-nav's not up to date?
A: Let it guide you across Sheffield city centre at night as you travel from restaurant-free Doncaster. If it keeps trying to take you down roads reserved for trams, it's time to pay for an upgrade (apparently).

Q: How can you tell if your favorite mixing bowl has a hairline crack across the bottom?
A: Try pickling some red cabbage in it, prior to creating a lovely warm cabbage salad, and watch it leak bright red cabbage-y vinegar all over the worksurface and floor.

Christmas has been SUCH fun!