To the beach!

We woke to clear blue skies this morning which Coll said was a marked contrast to yesterday morning when the sky was full of smoke and ash from a forest fire in nearby Santa Clarita. Some 20,000 acres of scrub have already been consumed and only a fraction of it is under control. It reminded me of covering forest fires for work years ago and meeting burned out residents who were about to start building again on the same plots of land. They seemed to take it in their stride.
Santa Monica beach was ten degrees cooler and we lugged boogie boards and towels and the makings of a picnic.

The surf was big and poundy and Tom was in the sea with a boogie board in an instant. 


Coll, who is a surfer, was the only one to really catch a good long ride but Tom and I tried until we could swallow no more seawater. Tom got a bit of a beating from one wave which drove the board against the rib he bruised in the airport yesterday. That incident was a classic comedy moment, if a painful one. He was walking along next to Philippa (who was in a moving walkway) and talking to her at the same time. He didn’t see the chest high metal post and walked right into it. Despite the pain, he could see the funny side and was alternately laughing and groaning. 
We had sandwiches and fruit on the beach, feeling sun-kissed and wind-blown. It was probably a good thing that we had to go and get the keys to our holiday house as the sun was fierce.
2187 Broadview Terrace is in the Hollywood Heights neighbourhood, just over the ridge from the Hollywood Bowl.
 It’s in a wonderfully higgledy-piggledy maze of narrow pathways which climb the steep slope and ours is one of four distinctive houses built in 1937 which look rather like part of the curving white superstructure of a classic ocean liner. As well as the steep pathways there is a magnificent elevator tower built in 1920 in the style of Bolognese campinale, with a pointed tile roof. It houses a rattling cage-elevator which is apparently the last of its kind in the city and can be repaired by only one company. It’s featured in at least three movies: Dead Again, The Long Goodbye and The High Window and it appears in a number of Hollywood novels too including a couple by Michael Connolly. The top of it is also bang smack opposite our roof terrace, with downtown LA sweeping out behind it. Immediately below us looks and feels like an Italian village; a jumble of small houses in warm pastel colours with thick roof tiles spilling down the hillside. Somewhere in here is Frank Lloyd Wright’s first project too. We shall go and look for it. 
As the sun became more golden, a brace of large Hawks circled the elevator tower. There are hummingbirds darting into the foliage too. Anna and Coll and the girls stayed for a barbecued supper as the sunlight faded and lights started winking on across the city.

Abientot Canada…

We started early on Saturday catching the 6am shuttle to the airport which, thanks to jet lag, didn’t really feel that early. The lady at reception said “oh you will miss breakfast – I will bag some for you” 😎
The advantage of flying to the US from Canada is that you get US Customs and Immigration out of the way before you leave. So no ninety minute wait in a shuffling queue at the other end. Don’t worry though, you won’t miss out on that warm US Border welcome!
Me “Good morning”
Him “Huh” (not looking at me, face like a wet weekend)
(Pause)
“Where you going”
“Los Angeles”
“Why”
“A two-week vacation”
“How long you been here”
“A day, day and a half.”
(Hostile glance)
“What do you do”
And on it went. Another lesson in making your nation as unattractive to visitors as you possibly can. It’s just so unnecessary. When he found out P and I work in television than he decided we were worth talking to but really, that shouldn’t be a factor in how you treat people…
After a second easy, comfortable flight with Westjet we were in the heavy heat of Los Angeles and picking up a convertible Mustang, as has become traditional…
Forty minutes later we were with Anna and Coll and Sadie and Twyla in South Pasadena. Minutes after that Tom, Anna, Philippa, Sadie and Twyla were in next door’s pool while Coll and I hid in the kitchen with beer. Their neighbourhood is just so easy-going and relaxed. In the evening we went to another neighbour’s house and their pool was also full of kids – soon joined by our three while the adults chatted around the garden as the light faded. Everyone was friendly and interesting. Yup, we could live here too…

A day in Vancouver

Our plan for spending 36 hours in Vancouver had been helpfully charted by the New York Times in an article entitled “36 hours in Vancouver”. First though we had to get to Vancouver and thanks to my over-excited-but-not-careful-enough map-reading our hotel wasn’t the three blocks from the metro station I thought was but in fact a couple of miles. So hurray for the excellent Citymapper app which found a bus route to the metro. And double hurray for the lovely bus driver who was waiting at the stop in her empty bus and asked us where we were going and then gave us free tickets to get there; “we sometimes do this for the tourists” she said with a smile. 😎<<
, to the next bus stop where it was a seven minute non-stop zoom to the metro where cheap day-passes would cover every other journey we made today – including on the ferry. 😎ncouver has long been one of our "we could live here" cities, with its broad and busy waterfront and jagged mountain peaks looming up in the background. Who wouldn't like living somewhere where you can watch float planes taking off and landing all day; bouncing over the waves towards or from some pristine wilderness. Our first stop though was the commuter ferry across to North Vancouver under steely skies which obscured the tops of the surrounding peaks.
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iv>p> the spit by the harbour in Vancouver is an attraction Tom had seen an advert for on the metro. “Flyover Canada” is a virtual reality tour of Canada’s hilights and it was astonishing. First though came a funny safety video in which the Canadians poke fun at themselves by having all of their national stereotypes represented; so the ice-hockey player with no front teeth is asked to stow his stick, and the lumberjack in a checked red shirt is told he can leave at this point if he thinks he might be scared 😎. Then, you are belted into a row of seats with a barrier in front of you and a huge curved screen beyond, but when the lights go out, the barrier flips down and the seats move forward into an open space in which the screen is above and below you as well as ahead of you. You then “fly” at low level over the Rockies and Niagara Falls, up rivers and over prairie. The seats bank and dip and it is so realistic we all got vertigo as the “flight” took us over the edge of a mountain top. When you move through cloud, you get a mist of water in the face which is rather refreshing…

er lunch at a funky sandwich shop serving a choice of exactly four different sandwiches, we walked to a bike rental place at the edge of Stanley Park. Everyone else was doing the same thing but the smiling staff had devised an efficient system which ensured no-one waited and everyone got what they wanted 😎. Minutes later we were pedalling around the edge of the Stanley Park peninsula, past beaches and bays striped with huge bleached tree-trunks which had drifted away from the loggers and come to rest on the shore.

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;>v>It was a grand ride in the late afternoon sunshine; Tom  launching himself furiously down the bike path all knees and elbows, trying to go as fast as he could.
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;>v>After a circuit of about 10k we gave the bikes back and found a harbour-side bar to cool down with something cold while we watched the float-planes.
as at a Japanese canteen (Guu) I’d read about which doesn’t serve the usual sushi but all sorts of weird and wonderful dishes such as chicken knees and sea urchin. The seats, tables, walls and floor are all plain wood and the lighting is dim. It feels like old Kyoto and all the staff greet everyone with bursts of shouted Japanese, which takes you a bit by surprise. All the orders are shouted too and the whole place has a noisy energy about it which is truly infectious. Tom was approximating the Japanese greetings with gusto even though we had no idea what they were on about. The food was “Japanese tapas” and quite extraordinary with straw mushrooms blended with pickles, melting cubes of curried beef (delicious), sea urchin with seaweed wafers (like a creamy mouthful of the sea, and somewhat overpowering) and delicate sashimi. P and I tried samples of six different kinds of saki and Tom wet his lips on all of them to give us his expert opinion. Which frankly, was no less expert than ours…
fed up and agreeably drunk we staggered out amid a final friendly hail of Japanese greetings 😎 and found our way back to Riverport via metro and buses and with the helpful prompting of Citymapper. What a terrific day.

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Coast and Mountains – LA and the Rockies

Vancouver airport says a lot about Canada. It is an airy, welcoming space with carved wood and pastel stone. There are water features and sculptures and a sense of cool serenity. There is pride without the boorish machismo that so often goes with it. When you get to immigration the lady behind the desk smiles and chats a bit and welcomes you in. Imagine that! A border control person who actually seems glad you’ve decided to cross their border. In fact the whole 36 hours we spent in Vancouver were punctuated with moments like this – moments which seem to add to the sum total of what Canada is all about. For ease of recognition I will mark them thus 😎
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The Holiday Inn Riverport is twenty minutes further from Vancouver than the airport is; an inconvenient fact redeemed by others: it is cheap, it has a free airport shuttle and a pool, and breakfast is included. We found supper at the Old Spaghetti House nearby and pretended very hard that it really was eight in the evening and not the four in the morning our heads thought it was. Tom was especially keen on telling us how late it actually was over our protestations: “no but it really is”. The polite hostess had asked us to wait for ten minutes before going to our table to let the waitresses catch up. But after noticing our accents she said “you know what, I can seat you now – come on out” 😎
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iv>div>Supper was mostly pasta, and terrific and came of course with salad and bread and that sweet whipped butter which says you are in North America. I found that a pint of wheaty beer went a long way to shutting my brain up about that whole four am thing.

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iv>div>Afterwards we found the riverfront and walked along it for a while as the sun drifted lower. A seal swam doggishly in the middle of the channel before vanishing; container ships sent waves slapping against the bank.

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