Although I love winter, I take a break from it almost every winter, planning a long weekend trip to somewhere with warmer weather. It’s lovely to wear sandals and sleeveless shirts for a few days, while there are still blizzards and ice, here in Edmonton. I especially like to go somewhere to run a race, during the winter months, and then I can do some sightseeing as well.
I’ve belonged to an online running group since 1997, and every year or 2, the group tries to meet somewhere to run a race and to meet face-to-face. This year, we met in San Diego, California. Since San Diego is only a few kilometres from the Mexican border, the climate is always warm there. When I travel, I usually make plans a long time in advance, so that I can save money on my trip. That way, I can travel more often. I was lucky to find return airfare for under $400, with Alaska/Horizon Airlines. I booked a bed at USA Hostels (http://www.usahostels.com/sandiego/), in the Gaslamp district of San Diego. I also arranged to rent a bicycle for my transportation during my visit with Stay Classy (http://stayclassybikes.com/index.php) rentals. The total cost of my accommodation and transportation within the city was a little more than $200. I also used the “trolley” system and busses in San Diego to go and meet my friends. The cost was only $5/day, and the service was very good, in the downtown area.
When I was all ready to leave Edmonton, I had a problem because my flight to Seattle was cancelled! At first, I was afraid that I’d be delayed quite badly. However, Alaska arranged for me to travel to San Diego with United Airlines, so I left Edmonton at midnight (instead of 6:30 pm) on Thursday night. I had a 4-hour layover in Houston, and then arrived in San Diego at 10:30 on Friday morning, instead of midnight on Thursday night. Houston was kind of frustrating, because it took an hour to go through customs, immigration, and travel screening. I ate a good breakfast at a diner in the airport, but then I spent an hour trying to find a WiFi signal. Finally, I had to sit outside an airline club, to use their signal. I only saw one payphone and one ATM machine in that airport, so it must be terribly frustrating for travellers who are arriving in the US from all over the world!
Once I arrived in San Diego, it only took me 20 minutes and $2.25 to take a public bus to my hostel. It was great to take a vacation without using a car or a taxi! The hostel allowed me to store my bags for the day, to drink tea or coffee and to use their WiFi, before checkin at 2 pm. I ate fish tacos right below the hostel, so I still had a wireless signal. Data charges are very expensive when you’re travelling in another country, so I was always looking for a signal! In the afternoon, I went to the race expo for the San Diego 1/2 Marathon. When there is a really big race like this one, there are usually many opportunities to buy clothes and equipment for running, so I picked up some things that aren’t available in Edmonton stores. I met quite a few of my friends there. In the evening, we all ate in an authentic Mexican restaurant in the Old Town area of San Diego. There was a mariachi band playing, and women were making real tortillas in the kitchen. My seafood salad was a little too similar to my fish tacos from lunch, and also, I shouldn’t have eaten the corn chips. I had a sore stomach when I went to bed.
On Saturday, I enjoyed exploring the area where my hostel was located. Many of the buildings in the Gaslamp District were built more than 100 years ago, and there were so many restaurants and bars, that all smelled fantastic. I met my friends for a picnic at the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot. This area is restricted to military personnel and their guests. Because one of our club members is a retired Marine Colonel, we were allowed to visit the marina on the base. It was a great location to visit with each other, and to enjoy the beautiful, sunny weather. It was necessary to wear sunscreen and sunglasses for my whole visit!
I went to bed and woke up quite early for my whole visit, since I had plans every morning. Most of the hostel guests were going out for “pub crawls” in the evening, and they complained about their terrible hangovers in the mornings. However, we didn’t seem to disturb each other’s sleep, since I never noticed my roommates coming and going, and they didn’t wake up when I left. There were privacy walls around the ends of our bunkbeds, which protected us from sound and light. My room was dark and an air conditioner ran through the night, so that made it very comfortable for sleep.
On Sunday morning, I left the hostel before 6 am, and ate breakfast at an IHOP restaurant (International House of Pancakes). Most of the restaurants and bars were still cleaning up from the night before. I arrived early at the race start, and I was in the very last “wave” of runners and walkers in the race. We had a long wait to get to the starting line, but everyone was very cheerful. I could run for the first half of the race, but after that, we were in the open areas, with no shade or breeze, and the temperature was +26. After several weeks of -30C temperatures in Edmonton, this was very hard to get used to. I just kept on walking, but I wished that there was some extra sunscreen and some salt at the aid stations. Fortunately, I finished the race before they closed the finish line, and my time was better than any longer races that I did for the past 5 years, so I was happy about that. I was thirsty, but not so hungry after being out in the hot sun. In the evening, my friends and I ate a nice dinner in a brewery near their hotel.
Monday morning, I met the November Project (http://november-project.com/) exercise group for a 6:30 workout, running stairs. Well, actually, I walked the stairs, but I was happy that I could do that without too much trouble! It was really nice to join an exercise group so far from home. I met the very friendly leaders when they visited Edmonton in December. After breakfast (free every morning at the hostel), I rode my bicycle to the ferry for Coronado Island. It cost $8/return, to go over to the ocean area. I rode for a long way along the shore. There was a large military base on the island, so I couldn’t go to the ocean on a lot of the island, but near the Coronado Hotel, it was possible for me to get to the beach, and walk into the Pacific Ocean. It was lovely on the seashore. Finally, I rode back to the ferry and returned to San Diego. I had a small lunch from a supermarket, and I took a nap. In the evening, I was able to wash my laundry in the hostel (free laundry soap), so I wouldn’t have to worry about it as soon as I got home.
As you can see, I was very careful with money for most of my trip. However, while I was exploring the area downtown, I saw that there was a Nobu Restaurant https://www.noburestaurants.com/ I have often heard how fantastic these Japanese restaurants are. I also teach many cooks, especially many Japanese cooks, so I felt that it was important for me to experience this restaurant for myself. Since Mondays are usually the quietest day of the week in a restaurant, I hoped that I’d be able to get a spot. Since I arrived early, I had my choice of seats, and I decided to sit at the sushi bar, where I’d be able to watch the chefs preparing the sushi. I was introduced to Marco-San, my chef. He was very friendly and helpful, and I had a lot of opportunities to chat with him during my visit. The food was just amazing! My first course was a sushi roll with seared salmon and asparagus. After that, I ate beef skewers with a spicy sauce from Peru. Finally, I tried their Brussels sprouts with miso, slow baked in a clay dish. They were the best of all, with fantastic flavour! My only problem was that the quantity was enough for sharing, but I was eating alone! If you have a chance to eat at Nobu, I recommend that you try them out. It wasn’t a cheap meal, but it wasn’t terribly expensive either. The very pricey dishes on the menu were made with ingredients that are very hard to find in the US.
Before I went to San Diego, I wanted to visit Tijuana, Mexico on my trip, since I’ve never been to Mexico. Many people discouraged me from making this trip, but I was still quite interested. However, when I looked for more information on Trip Advisor (http://www.tripadvisor.ca/), I learned that there was a very long wait at the border, to return to the USA. Since I was leaving San Diego on Tuesday, I couldn’t afford to get stuck in Mexico when my flight was taking off! I decided to visit Balboa Park. The San Diego Zoo and Seaworld are both world-famous, but these are expensive attractions, and I can visit other zoos. Instead, I went to the Air & Space Museum, as well as the Art Gallery. To be honest, the Edmonton Aviation Museum is nearly as interesting as the one in San Diego, but with no spaceships. However, the Art Gallery was extremely impressive, and I was thrilled to see original art by Diego Rivera, Picasso, Georgia O’Keefe, and Claude Monet. The buildings in Balboa Park have a classic Spanish style, and the park area looks like a lovely place to spend a lot of time.
Finally, after my trip to the park, I stopped at Jack in the Box, an American fast food restaurant to buy “antenna balls”. For only $1 each, you can buy a very cute clown, which makes it extremely easy to find your car in a busy parking lot. Just stick it on the antenna of your car, and your car will stand out in a crowd. I arranged for my bike to be picked up, grabbed my bags from the hostel, and took the bus back to the airport very easily. The terminals for Alaska Airlines were quite small, at the San Diego and the Seattle airports. I had enough time to eat and check email in both airports. When I finally returned home around midnight on Tuesday, I felt like I had really had a nice, long vacation, in a beautiful place!