Saturday, February 21, 2009

Say Hello, Say Hello to Hollywood

Just recently, I had the pleasure of paying a long overdue visit to a friend from home that has resided in Los Angeles for the past 5+ years. My main concern in taking the journey was transportation. Although I do have a car here with me in San Diego, I'm not the most comfortable driver. So, I decided to look into train options. 

For anyone traveling from San Diego to Los Angeles or vice versa, I would highly recommend Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner service. Especially if you'd rather eat feces than sit in traffic (sorry for the graphic, but I know you know the feeling) or anticipate some sort of hangover on at least one leg of your trip. Allowing someone else to focus on the driving is always best in this scenario.  In my opinion, it is a logical and affordable alternative to driving.  Of course prices are subject to change, but when I rode, it was $29 each way.  I would have spent at least that amount on gas each way.. I'm assuming.. as well as an unquantifiable amount on stress and anxiety.  It makes quite a few stops, but still gets you to LA in about 2 and 1/2 hours.  Plus, it offers alcoholic beverages, snacks, sandwiches, and stunning coastal views for much of the ride.  If you hit the nail on the head, then you'll have the pleasure of riding under the leadership of a hilarious conductor.  This helped to cure my hangover on the way home.  Well, that and Dominos.

Anyway, my friend lives in West Hollywood.  I was sort of mesmerized by just the idea of being in LA as I'd never been.. we could have stayed in her apartment the entire time and I still would have been star-struck.  My one touristy request was to see the Hollywood sign.. I mean, why not?

Hollywood SignWhat?  You can't see it?  It's close to the top of the hill - almost blends in with the clouds.  We took the photo from Mulholland Drive.  Weather wasn't the best that weekend, but I was quite intrigued by the clouds.  It doesn't take much..

Downtown LA from Mulholland Drive
If you've never been to the Los Angeles area, then I would highly recommend brunch at Hamburger Mary's.  While it's not unique to Los Angeles, the mimosas, Bloody Marys, atmosphere, and wait staff were top-notch.  I'd also suggest a stroll along Venice Beach.  They've both changed my life forever.  You'll understand once you've experienced for yourself.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Quest for the Kasbah by Richard Bangs

I recently had the pleasure of reading Quest for the Kasbah by Richard Bangs.  As I became lost in the Moroccan adventure of the first few chapters, I could have sworn that I, myself, had written parts of this journey.  Although no two trips are ever identical, it seems as though we might have come quite close.

Bangs describes a remarkable journey juxtaposing past and present day lifestyles as well as Morocco and the western world.  As the true definition of a melting pot, Morocco blends languages, people, and nationalities to boast the epitome of a deeply rooted culture.  Through his insightful journey, Bangs has set his ultimate goal as creating a modern day definition of the word, 'kasbah'.  

Formerly known as a safe haven for all types of people, the kasbah was a place where people could meet, talk, exchange ideas, share traits and treats, and form true connections with actual strangers.  He raises the over-arching question of how technology in the western world has impaired our abilities to form bonds with distant people.  Virtually anywhere, we can access the virtual world.  We've transcended into digital nomads that define a different, and perhaps less intriguing and respected, way of adventure.  Internet connections, cell phones, digital cameras, and other advanced forms of technology have enabled us to grasp and share information with ease.  Conversely, they've also allowed us to alienate ourselves from a life and a world that offers tremendous adventure.

Just last weekend, I was on a train from San Diego to Los Angeles to visit a friend, and nearly everyone around me was either speaking on a cell phone, engrossed in a dvd by way of a computer, or intensely listening to an ipod.. myself included.  These should be opportunities that afford us the chance of creating an everlasting bond with a stranger.  Although the development of media communications has provided us with the opportunity to make our worlds larger, it has also detrimentally affected the way that we personally interact with one another.

Throughout his journey, Bangs is able to recount sensory experiences from his trip.  He vividly depicts the environment, scenery, culture and pride of Morocco and its inhabitants.  While technology is accessible in this country, it is not the way of life.  Most of Morocco's inhabitants have chosen to live the way their ancestors did 800 years ago.  For them, simplicity, consistency, adventure, family, friends, and love define a fulfilling way of life.  Taking each day as it comes and relishing in all that it has to offer represents what is important to these people.  

During our trip to Morocco, I remember our guide, Driss, preaching to us about how Americans rarely seize an opportunity impulsively.  We're so focused on saving and planning that we often let experiences slip by us unnoticed.  I undoubtedly owe part of my decision to move to the west coast to Driss and his wisdom.

By the end of his journey, Bangs comes to understand the kasbah as a secure place that welcomes with open arms the cultures and ways of different groups of people.  It is still a melting pot.  It is still a place where all people can come to share ideas and celebrate the interconnectedness of man.

Quest for the Kasbah by Richard Bangs was published by Open Road Publishing, a leading travel guide publisher based in Cold Spring Harbor, New York.  An enlightening journey of intertwining life lessons, Bangs's expedition is a must-read for anyone with a passion for adventure, history, and culture.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Scotch or Whiskey or Both?

Ahhh Scotland land of Loch Ness, William Wallace, deep fried Mars bars, haggis, beautiful scenery, and DO NOT forget the Scotch Whiskey. Taking a bus tour to the Northern most parts of Scotland in February may not be the logical choice for a vacation, but I would beg to differ. Not only does the more extreme  (and cold) weather keep many tourists away - I mean come on, seeing sites without stumbling over fellow tourists is a dream - but the rain and wind seem to be practically ingrained in the Scottish culture. Shouldn't it be the goal of all true travelers to find those destinations that aren't overrun by tourists? If only for one season of the year.

We dropped into Edinburgh, Scotland mid-afternoon and had a few hours to explore the city before most of the museums and (non-pub related) sites closed. First top was a pub fairly close to Edinburgh Castle for some of the LEGIT best fish & chips I have ever had in my entire existence as a human being...I'm by no means a connoisseur, but 5 months in Ireland taught me a thing or two. We spent the remainder of the afternoon trying to hit up the major tourist spots in Edinburgh, which for us ended up being a two block radius - damn you draft beer, and your delicious, delicious draftiness!

Edinburgh Castle:

I would say this is a MUST see for anyone with even a small amount of time - if castles aren't your thing, just go for the view.

The Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre:

(That would be me flaunting my newly earned Scotch Heritage Certificate)

Okay, I totes admit it, the beers at lunch may have pushed us in this direction. While I definitely wouldn't say it is a must see for those with a small amount of time it was amusing, informative, free sample offering, and certificate giving. The staff seemed knowledgeable, and patient enough to attempt to teach 3 young women the difference between varieties of Scotch. They didn't even laugh when we pretended to judge the quality - "hmmmm, I think this has a peaty taste." Did I mention there is a barrel ride?

Our youth hostel, Castle Rock Hostel, was cheap, centrally located, gracious enough to allow us back in after our "whiskey sampling", and had a rather humorous way of naming beds in the dormitory.
(*I am convinced they are psychic too - ha).