Southern California - Tennis, Jay Leno, Good Food!

Trip Start Jan 04, 2011
Trip End Mar 23, 2011

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

After 79 days of visiting incredibly beautiful places, meeting very special people and gathering life-long memories, I cannot believe it has all come to an end.  The last 5 days of our trip around the Pacific was spent in one of my favorite parts of the U.S. - southern California.  If it wasn't for the threat of earthquakes, landslides, forest fires or race riots, this place would be THE place to live.  If I had to pick a specific spot I would want to live in it would have to be Santa Monica.  This seaside community feels very livable - beautiful architecture, lots of greenery, great restaurants, shops and bars, very walkable, easy access to anywhere (great expressways, close to LAX) and last but not least a nice wide clean beach with spectacular views of the coastline and mountains.  Somehow I get the feeling none of this comes at a cheap price.  So what if I have to live in a basement broom-closet?! Seriously though, it seemed each time we had to pick a place to eat, shop or go for a walk, more often than not, it was Santa Monica.

 Our first couple of days in southern California were spent in the desert.  Saturday was a day at the Indian Wells tennis tournament watching the men's semi-finals.  We were very lucky to see the 4 most recent Grand Slam champions battle it out in the semis.  It was perfect weather for tennis watching.  Temps in the low 70s (22C), no wind and mostly sunny.  Definitely a rowdier crowd than we get in Montreal or even Miami.  From the crowd reaction, it appeared to be pulling for Nadal over Del Potro and Federer over Djokovic. At least the crowd came away half happy :-)  

 On Sunday, given the LA basin was suppose to be socked by a rain/wind storm and the desert would only get it late Sunday evening, we decided to take the scenic route back to LA, spending more time in the desert, viewing the desert wildflowers in bloom.  Not only was it the first time that I saw snow on the peaks of the southern California mountains, but it was the first time I saw green hillsides here!  Come to think of it, this was the first time in 6 visits to southern Cali that I'd experienced rain here.  And boy did we get it!  On our drive back to LA Sunday evening, we encountered the heavy rains of the storm.  A storm which caused flooding on freeways, in underpasses and in the valleys.  Thankfully we got to our hotel without much trouble, but it was a close one as the freeway just north of our hotel had 5 feet of water in the 2 rightmost lanes!!  Another destination, another natural disaster averted.

 Our hotel was very conveniently located just off the freeway, straddling the Brentwood/Bel Air border.  Just a 5 minute drive away from Santa Monica, Westwood Village, Beverly Hills.  10-15 minutes from West Hollywood, Hollywood, downtown LA, Venice Beach.  Other than Santa Monica, we spent a good amount of time in West Hollywood.  Another great neighbourhood for spending your leisure time.  Definitely a place that embodies the fundamental values California is famous for...  vanity, materialism, narcissism.

 On Monday we did something quintessentially LA - we went to a recording of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.  After spending an hour at the end of a long line, we were seated in the very first row of the studio!!  When Jay Leno came came out at the start of the show, I got to run up to the edge of the stage and  I actually high-fived him!  At this point I had already deemed the outing a success, but what-the-heck, decided to stay for the rest... He didn't have any big-name guests, but I did know one of them - Lisa Lampanelli (aka "the queen of mean").  She was very funny.  What's not to like about a comic that insults Hollywood's endless parade of self-absorbed celebrities for a living??  The first guest on stage was Zachary Levi.  Didn't know him.  He's an actor on a show called Chuck.  Seemed like a nice guy (for a celebrity).  

 One of the things I enjoyed most in southern Cali is going for dinner.  My experiences here have confirmed my suspicions about dining in the U.S.  - if one is willing to pay ($$$$), one can eat as well, if not better, than anywhere else in the world (except Italy of course!.. and maybe France).  On a couple of occasions, we went for breakfast/brunch to one of my favorite breakfast spots on the planet - The Urth Caffe.  Thankfully this place doesn't have a location in Ottawa, or I'd go broke.  Not the cheapest spot for breakie, but the food and ingredients are of the highest quality!  As for dinner,  our last night was spent at Cecconi's.  A restaurant originating from London, that just opened up in West Hollywood a little over a year ago.  It was one of the best, if not THE best dinner of our entire trip.  Again, thank God this joint doesn't have a location in Ottawa! Phew!  Every single morsel of food we downed at Cecconi's was to-die-for!  Right from the variety of artisanal breads brought to your table upon seating, to the I-want-one-of-everything dessert menu.  It's not common that I walk into a restaurant and can gladly order any one of the dishes on the menu, but somehow this place achieved the impossible!  

 Back in Ottawa now.  It's bloody cold, but it's sunny and I don't have to wear winter boots (just some snow piles left in the shady areas).  Off to Lauderdale on Monday for 9 days.  Can't wait to have some home-cooked meals.  Have to say, I never once did get home-sick during the 79 day trip, but if there was one thing that I did get tired of, it was eating out.  Don't get me wrong, we almost always ate well, just nothing like being able to cook your own meals. 

 This trip was everything I had hoped it would be and more.  We were very fortunate to be able to do what we have done.  It was not a cheap trip, but one that has opened up my eyes to so many new experiences and will definitely provide a lifetime of incredible memories.   20 of 21 flights were on-time (of course Chicago O'Hare couldn't handle three drops of rain which caused 2 hour delays!).  Nearly 3 months travelling and neither one of us had as much as a sniffle.  We met and spent time with so many incredibly nice friends/family.  It will be tough to get back to the routine of daily life, but then-again, I still have some time before that happens ;-)
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