Sunday, April 17, 2016

Crowdless and sewerless, an Imperial Beach masterpiece

We had been warned that during heavy rains the nearby Tijuana River can send raw sewage into the ocean near Imperial Beach and, even though we had no intentions of actually getting into the water, that can give one pause when planning a vacation.

Undaunted and willing to tempt the fates, we book 10 nights at the Imperial Beach Club, a condo development that abuts the beach to the west and a lovely city park to the south. A short walk or shorter drive away, we could go to the Tijuana Estuary and gaze across the swampy acreage to Tijuana proper, so close were we to the Mexican border.

We've stayed in San Diego-area surfer towns before -- we love Ocean Beach, on the other side of Coronado Island from Imperial Beach, but I convinced a wary but ever-trusting Kathleen to give Imperial Beach a shot. We hit the lottery, as several weeks before our trip El Nino did bring Tijuana Sewage into the ocean near IB and the beaches were closed for several days. Only weeks after we left, a sand bar in the river actually diverted the selfsame nasty water onto the very streets of IB, leaving dead and dying tiger sharks lying about. During our visit, however, no such catastrophes befell us.

In fact, we couldn't possibly have had a lovelier time, if for no other reason than our objectives were modest: Get some sun, walk on the sand, listen to the ocean, eat some good food, and turn the stress level as close to zero as possible. All missions were accomplished, and then some.

IB has a checkered past, but the citizens have cleaned the place up, though not so much as to spoil its funky nature. It was spring break, but the beach was scarcely used. Just one afternoon at Mission Beach walking among the partying college flesh was enough for us.

Our third-floor condo was spacious and clean, if dated (mid-80s, perhaps), which had a 180-degree view of beach and park. The routine went something like this: Get up whenever, take a cup of coffee to the veranda and watch the nice morning lunatic down in the park yell at his imaginary adversary for an hour or so, get another cup of coffee, sit in the sun long enough for white legs and face to begin turning pinkish, step down to the taco vender for a bit of lunch (or the pizza dude next door), return to the condo and then contemplate whether to attempt any actual physical activity for the afternoon. This occasionally led to a visit to the estuary for photos and walking Charlie, a walk to the pier for photos and exercise, a visit to the southernmost outlet mall in all of California, and one excursion to Coronado for fancier Mexican food. Otherwise, the activity usually involved a nap and beer, not necessarily in that order.

There is a very fancy Marriott property on the south side of the city park, and three times we dined there at sunset, resulting in photos like the one above, very nice food and a big tab. There are nearly no tchotchke shops in IB, only mostly small restaurants and quiet neighbors. Perhaps the proximity to Tijuana scares off the gringos, which is perfectly fine with me.

We'll go again and perhaps wander a bit more next time, since Coronado is 15 minutes away and downtown only 30. We always like to stop to eat at George's on the Cove, so that might make our next itinerary.

Previous excursions to places never before visited haven't ended so well (see elsewhere in this blog), so Kathleen was happy I hadn't bombed again. The price was right, the location was right, the weather was right, and the sewage held off until after we left. What more could one ask for?

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A cigar review, complete with a pretty good smoke ring

This is lifted from my Facebook page.

Illusione Ultra box press, Cigar Aficionado's No. 6 cigar for 2015. Nearly perfect. Big white smoke, perfect draw, smooth but full. Ninety minutes of bliss. ‪#‎cigarnarcisism‬ Allen Schubert
Roger Plothow And Smokin' by Boston just came on the Pod. Big karma.
Roger Plothow Perfect burn, long ash flower.
LikeReply1April 3 at 1:54pm
Roger Plothow G' bless Nicaragua.
LikeReply1April 3 at 2:01pm
Roger Plothow Burn became uneven but self-corrected. Fascinating, yes?
Roger Plothow Like a lot of big cigars, required a light touch-up toward the end. Roger's Rating: 9.5.
LikeReply1April 3 at 3:03pm
Roger Plothow And a nice smoke ring to finish.
Gary Steele art.
Roger Plothow
Write a reply...
Roger Plothow Almost got a toothpick to finish it, but don't want to seem obsessive.
Allen Schubert Mmmmmmmmmm
Roger Plothow Highly recommended, hard to find. About $9 each by the box.
LikeReply1April 3 at 6:41pm
Tim Ford Where are they?
Roger Plothow I buy Illusione cigars at Fumare in Reno, which is owned by the guy who created Illusione. You can get a limited selection from various online vendors like Cigars International. The only place I found the Ultra box press was at the Reno store.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The lost hot dog

I stumbled across a taqueria at a Valero in Redwood City that makes authentic Mexican hot dogs -- two pieces of bacon wrapped around the dog and grilled with onions, served with pico de gallo and topped by a grilled jalapeno. The car filled with California gas at $3.49 a gallon, I pulled onto the street and stopped a few blocks away at the spectacular K&L Wines, where a bottle of Islay single malt had my name on it. I figured I'd sit in the parking with Charlie and wolf down the hot dog when I realized that, yes, I had placed the hot dog on the top of the car before I left the gas station.

So, I had the bottle of single malt for lunch. Nah, just kidding. I bought the bottle and headed on down the road. I spotted a local bakery, bought a ham and cheese sandwich quite literally the size of a quarter-sheet cake (not kidding). Two-thirds of it remains in our hotel room.

The drive from Redwood City to the coast went through redwoods and eucalyptus trees, the air so thick with the smell of eucalyptus that I could taste it on my tongue. At last we arrived at the coast, and here this must be said -- the California coast is beautiful, but it can't hold a candle to the Oregon coast. Not. Even. Close.

Charlie and I got to Santa Cruz, which was bathed in sunshine but still marred by the boardwalk. Which reminds me -- I had originally booked a room for this trip at the Casablanca Inn in Santa Cruz. When we got there, with fog oozing through the open office, it was not exactly what we were expecting. Kathleen asked for a key to see the room and the look on her face when she came back made it clear we would be staying elsewhere. We ended up at a Marriott Courtyard in Milpitas.

What we learn -- for heaven's sake, don't put your hot dog on the roof of the car and pay attention to TripAdvisor when a lot people say a place is a scary, nasty, mildewed dump with a great location.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Just another day in The Park

People who live in San Francisco or New York refer to their hometown as "The City." Here, Yellowstone is just "The Park."

When we're not touring first-timers, we have the luxury of visiting The Park at our leisure. This year, between an overloaded work schedule and an ill-timed decision to finish my college degree, we had not found a day to go. Usually, we make three, four, even five trips a season. Yesterday was our first and probably only visit of 2014.

September is the best time to visit The Park. The leaves are turning and the rut is on. When we arrived at our favorite picnic spot in a meadow on the banks of the Madison River, we set up our camp chairs, brought out the sandwiches and wine, and just sat. In the distance we could here a bull elk bugling his challenge to other males looking to create a harem -- it echoed off the steep mountain walls, its source somewhere deep in the trees. That would have been enough to make it a worthwhile trip. He sounded perhaps a half-dozen times during our 90-minute lunch.

After lunch, we began a slow drive toward the Upper Geyser Basin, home to Old Faithful. Nearly there, I saw some movement out of the corner of my eye and saw the car in front of us pull over and stop. What I first thought was a bison turned out to be a lone male grizzly making his way along the Firehole River. Grab camera with the long lens, make sure the f-stop, exposure time and ASA settings are right, and start shooting. Soon, there was the predictable bear jam. As the griz got closer, nervous rangers finally shooed us back into our cars, but we had 30 minutes or so of rare bear-watching.

Next was a stop at the Old Faithful Inn for a little sip of something at the lounge. It was still early -- not yet 4 p.m. -- when we began to head back toward the west entrance. Again, just above the spot where the Firehole River descends into its eponymous canyon, I caught a flash of brown and saw a young but clearly fierce bull elk with a small harem on the other side of the river. We pulled over and by the time I walked back he had crossed to a small island, his harem waiting patiently on the other side. We all need some down time. He looked up when the bugle of a competing bull echoed through the area, but it wasn't close enough to cause any real concern. He went back to grazing and we headed on home.