Gung Hei Fat Choy! Year of the Dragon

Buckingham – Today is the first day of the year of the Dragon, it’s still raining this morning and I have to wake Mark up to go out.   Lisa came to bed late so there is absolutely no chance that we will disturb her and we leave her snoring in bed.

Janie has the coffee on when we return and they wait for their spouses to get up before we all have breakfast.

Salsa and I have a few stare offs, we agree to become acquaintances and I even allow her to share my car on the way to the dog park.   This time the park is next to Google HQ in Mountain View – with the money that they have you would have thought that they could afford just a few blades of grass, and it is so, so small.   I have a disagreement with a Boxer so am sin binned for a while, I just can’t help it with that breed as they did attack me when I was young, perhaps that’s why the tip of my right ear is missing.

To celebrate the New Year they go off for a Chinese dinner and apparently, have a ‘bill fight’ – an often seen scene in a Chinese restaurant where people fight to pay for the bill by grabbing each other.   Janie of course wins without a doubt.   (and in England, Mark says the complete opposite happens: people fight to avoid the bill).    They bring some doggie bags back and I never understand why do they call the left overs ‘doggie bags’  because I never seem to benefit from them.

We have an addition tonight, Janie and Rex’s son Kevin comes home from L.A..   Since Mark and Lisa told me to guard the house, I do my best by barking at who appears to live in this house but we quickly become friends.

I can not believe they’re all in the kitchen eating again: cheese cake for dessert.  I hear this is what people do during Chinese New Year, a lot of eating although Salsa and I are not allowed to participate in this marathon binge eating practise.

A Rainy day in San Francisco

Buckingham – we run around the very nice neighbourhood of Los Altos Hills before anyone else in the house rises, returning home for breakfast before leaving for Dim Sum with Marie, Sam (Lisa’s cousin) and Ethan, the little 2 1/2.   It’s Chinese New Years Eve and a Sunday so the restaurant is ‘jam-packed’.   For a change on the trip it is raining today.

We walk lunch off on the headland to the south of the Golden Gate Bridge with Zoe (my golden retriever friend) and then hurry home to meet with Helena and Patrick (Lisa’s ex-colleague’s sister and husband) who provide valuable information about potentially the next leg of the trip – from here north up to Washington State.

We celebrate the coming of the year of the Dragon at home with Janie, Rex and Salsa, (a Chiweiner is a cross between a Chihuahua and a Dachshund) unfortunately the San Francisco 49ers fail to overcome the New York Giants and so don’t make it to the Superbowl, a far cry from Mark’s first visit to SF when he arrived in the city in time to see the locals win the 1982 Super Bowl in SF.   The human dinner at Janie and Rex’s is as usual a delectable delight.  The aroma is foreign but spectacular so I hang around in the kitchen to examine the new smells but the most I get is a piece of bread whilst they have local Dungeness crabs which apparently is in season and delicious.  Salsa is slowly getting used to me and no longer follows me around.  We co-exist and only occasionally growl at each other in crossing.   I’m giving her space now even though she is only 1/5 my size because after all, I am a guest.

It is raining very heavily outside so I turn in early whilst they carry on chatting.   Perhaps ‘the sun will come out tomorrow’.

Swanky Santa Barbara and wine country

Buckingham – nowhere to really run or walk at the hotel this morning so we just do the perimeter until I do what I need to do.

We leave relatively late and head up the coast to Santa Barbara, an easy 40 minute drive – what a nice place!   We go to the Santa Barbara Mission (one of the 10 missions founded by the Spanish Franciscans.  It was established on the Feast of St. Barbara on 4 December, 1786)   at the top of town and then head down State street  and Mark finds Chef’s Shell, a nice café,  for breakfast.   What can be better than an outside restaurant that serves crab cake benedict for breakfast in the sun watching life go by?

If we could afford it Santa Barbara would be a nice place to live, but as you might expect house prices here are at a premium, perhaps a repeat of the 1925 earthquake would solve that and then we could move in.   Mark and Lisa climb the tower of the Courthouse, one of the grandest examples of Spanish colonial revival architecture that was rebuilt after the original Greek revival adobe structure was destroyed in the  earthquake.  This is one the first of the steel framed buildings and it is modelled after the Moorish style in Andalusia.  It is asymmetrical,  and today it no longer houses a prison. They reach the top of the fourth floor to take in the expanse of wealth in the town while I make the most of the great lawn laid out around it.  Why do I get the feeling that this is the last of the pleasant sun that we will be experiencing for a while?

We set off on the coast road – what turns out to be the nicest drive of the entire trip so far – good surface, little truck stress with the shimmering sea reminding us that we need to find a house next to the water.   We reluctantly leave the coast as the 101 heads inland and goes higher and into the light rain, perhaps this would be a good place to do a complete volte face and go back south.  Instead we continue into wine country, our house for tonight is in the small town of Templeton.  Donna shows us around and we head off to a couple of wineries so that Mark can do some tastings and I wait patiently outside until Lisa charms the owners to let me in.   I walk into Rotta winery and I am sure there is a cat  (yes there was – but he didn’t see it).   We end up in the winery for a long while because Mark is  enjoying the hospitality of our hosts – and buys a bottle.  The 2 hostesses recommend them to the local McFee’s for dinner so they leave me in the car, but as usual they come back for me quickly.   We return to our huge rental house but the owner doesn’t turn on the heat.  It is very cold so we huddle around 2 portable heaters and I get busy blogging again.

Coast to coast – a reality

Buckingham – off to the dog park early this morning and once again I have it to myself. It is adjacent to an animal shelter so I helplessly listen to the pleas from inside from those less lucky than myself and have a great run round the park.

We check out of our lodging in Indio, Palm Desert as quietly as possible without meeting our hosts once again and get back on to Interstate 10 for what is most likely the final time.   As we near LA the road widens and the traffic gets madder, probably as bad as NYC.   We call into the California visitor centre and meet Ed, the sole employee who welcomes me in, regails us with the life stories of his four-legged friends, even gives us a souvenir Route 66 pen, and provides us with a useful shortcut that will see us into Hollywood without the traffic – apparently.

We travel down chaotic Hollywood Boulevard and then on to Rodeo Drive where I fail to receive any of the usual dalmatian accolades from the shoppers, even worse I am accused of being a Dachshund (sorry Fenway). We won’t be moving here!    The grand dames here are too busy reapplying their makeup and pretending they’re worth more than their plastic cards to notice me but I naturally come with fully lined mascara.

We accomplish a major milestone in our journey by reaching the Pacific at Santa Monica – we have achieved ‘Coast to coast’…

and have a celebratory lunch on pedestrianised 3rd street on an outside patio of an Italian restaurant, listening to the buskers; could get used to this.   We hop back into our car and return to Highway 1 to continue our trek north along the California coast trying to sight grey whales that are supposed to be abundant at this time of year – we see none.

Eventually we arrive in Ventura and head for the beach but unfortunately dogs aren’t allowed so we ask a local who directs us to a ‘cemetery’ where dogs can go wild.  We find it and I manage to play with a ridgeback bitch – my favourite.

They feed me in the car while they go for Thai food – apparently not that great and Mark finds a metal filing in the noodles.

Off to the La Quinta, the lodging for the night, as usual they are nice and we get upgraded to a suite.   We are getting to like this chain because they hosted the Great Dane ‘gentle giant’ dog show back in October and another dog show on Sunday but we will be gone by then.


California – the push for the far west

Buckingham – an exceptionally early morning walk to the lake to catch the sunrise  (we find out later in the day that we have gained another hour somewhere in the state of Arizona state which means we’re finally in the same time zone as destination: Vancouver).  We then say farewell to London Bridge and depart Lake Havasu City.  We head south along the lake and stop briefly at Parker Dam where the decision is made to gas up, wisely as it later transpires.

We cross the border into California, our final western state, this being the first border crossing where we are stopped and questioned about some disease carrying moth – we deny all knowledge.   What they don’t tell us is that the road south across the desert has nothing, no people, no animals and no gas stations – for well over 119 miles.   We are surprised that dried out corpses don’t litter the road after being stranded.   The road is amazing, dead straight for miles and miles and miles with the added fun of roller coaster dips that churn the stomach.  Thankfully Super 8 motels don’t do greasy breakfasts.

At last we re-join our faithful Interstate 10 which has served us well from Florida westwards and stop for a desperate pit stop (or shall i say pee stop for  Lisa and I)  at the first gas station, 2 hours and 18 minutes after leaving Parker Dam in Arizona.    Needless to say, the petrol price is higher than anywhere we have seen and they can justify it being so.   To our surprise, this in the middle of nowhere stop has a museum honouring General George Patton, this being where he established the tank training division in WW2.

We arrive at the host bed for the night and immediately go in search of the nearest dog park, which I have all to myself and the park has the first real grass since leaving home in Norwalk on 15 November.  Heaven!

We head west to Palm Springs and find another dog park where some kindly locals direct us to the ‘town center’.  Thank God for that otherwise we would have never found it… and Mark secretly thanks Lisa for asking because it’s not in our male genes to not know where we are.    Palm Canyon Drive  is a pleasant main strip lined with nice shops, restaurants and guess what?  palm tress, this being Palm Springs afterall.   We pick an outdoor restaurant for a very early dinner and I am allowed on the heated patio.

Back to Indio, Palm Desert, Lisa is happy again because this casita (little home) although small, is finished with TLC, a woman’s touch with silk sheets which Mark and I wouldn’t give two hoots about.