Blackpool in the sunshine
Is a bit how I looked upon Santa Cruz as we drove into the city. It wasn’t what I had imagined and it was certainly a lot different than Monterey and Carmel. There was little sign of irrigation along the ‘sidewalks’ and I couldn’t see any art galleries or shops in downtown.
I had read a little about it’s counterculture, so I decided to try and see past the rough exterior. We decided to park at our hotel and walk down onto the front as it was too early to check in. I was desperate for the toilet at this point and so we asked at our reception if we could use the restroom. The guy informed us they didn’t have a public one but we could use one of the rooms. Well, my heart sank when I saw the state of it. Grim was not the word. Laura tried to convince me it was a disabled room. This made me feel worse. Why, just because you are disabled should you have to have a room like that?
My despair continued as we walked around the beach area. It really wasn’t what I expected and it did remind me of Blackpool the more we walked. Laura tried to reassure me, said it was a hip university town but I couldn’t shake off the thought of spending four nights in that room.
We decided to go and check in. Laura promised me she would ask to see the room before we paid and would demand a better one if it didn’t meet my standards. I must admit she was very patient. However, I am fussy when it comes to staying places. Not overly bothered about much so long as things are clean.
Laura and I famously (nearly) stayed in the world’s most horrific bed and breakfast with our friends, Fran and Iain. Laura and I had scoured the Internet for accommodation to celebrate her friend’s 30th birthday. We had booked this B&B based on a picture of an outside table and chair, Lord only knows why. It was awful when we got there, absolute filth. From the outside it looked like a house I would never want to enter let alone a bed and breakfast I would want to sleep in. We didn’t stay long, we literally ran off! We have learnt from this error since and now we always, always read reviews from Tripadvisor.
Thankfully the room at the hotel in Santa Cruz was one of many that had been renovated. It was very modern, wooden flooring, huge flat screen TV and fridge/microwave and I agreed to stay!
Laura loves the beach. I love the pool. We decided to compromise on a 50/50 split for our days n Santa Cruz. As it was the weekend then the beach was buzzing with activity. Lots of beach volleyball going on, families on days out, surfing and huge sandcastle building. Some people were taking shovels to the beach in order to construct their castles, clearly it’s a serious business.
In the afternoons we transferred to the pool back at our hotel. On the way we called into a small Mexican eatery. On our first day in Santa Cruz I vowed to Laura I would not eat there (I will put this down to my poor frame of mind at the start of the trip) because it was really, really good. Very cheap and you can get just quick food like some nachos with Mexican beans on top.
The pool at the hotel is not big and this brings on the debate about children abroad. I have no problem with kids having fun when they are on holiday and being playful in the water, but I fear it comes a little out of hand when there is literally waves of water engulfing the sides of the sunbathing area. When they got out water pistols I had to give them one of my ‘looks’. Their mothers were there but didn’t share our concern. The only thing they were concerned about was drinking their Corona Extra. Laura felt I was overreacting, I am not so sure.
This was a Lonely Planet recommendation (shock!) but one that took us to the other end of town, past the fun fair that is permanantely on the beach. Laura asked if I wanted to go on the Big Dipper. My answer, in short, no. They promote it on the fact it is the oldest wooden roller coaster in the world or something, I wouldn’t go anywhere near it. Especially considering it was so close to the ocean!
Now, in Hearst Castle, they wouldn’t let you touch any of the marble sculptures or fountains that were outside the house, in Santa Cruz they allow you to walk on a train track! It was like a scene from that film, Stand By Me. There was a walk way alongside the track which I decided to walk on, some people were taking their kids down the centre of the track in the middle of the bridge! Unbelievable. I kept saying loudly, ‘they wouldn’t allow this in England, health and safety, health and safety!’
The woman on the reception at our hotel didn’t recommend walking to the Engfer Pizza place. She said we would definitely need to drive as it was so far away. It took us 40 minutes on foot! Laura was fuming, ‘Americans! Don’t walk anywhere. This was less than two miles!’
Engfer Pizza was in an old warehouse that was originally called Engfer Works. It was on a street called Seabright and clearly housed a lot of the university students. It looked young and there were a couple of bars around as well as some Internet cafes.
All the pizzas were cooked from fresh and they had a massive selection of drinks. I’ve discovered that even in coffee houses, the majority serve alcohol. Laura and I had the speciality ‘No Name’ pizza which is, in effect, a huge amount of salad cooked on garlic bread. It was by far the best pizza we had ever eaten. The woman behind the counter said that they got a lot of people on the back of the Lonely Planet and that ‘she was beginning to love that book’. She also said that more often than not, people returned the following day. We thought about it, but Laura wanted a Thai, so we didn’t and bizarrely it was closed on Mondays!
Olympics and karaoke
The Olympics have been tricky to follow at times. I know all about Team USA but have had to rely on Facebook and emails from my Dad to find out what Team GB had won. You can get the BBC website over here but it has lots of adverts on it. We called into a bar one night that was showing the Olympics and more specifically, the diving.
Well, what an emotional night it turned out to be. Firstly, there was a down syndrome girl singing Lady Gaga on the karaoke and then there was the roller coaster of Tom Daley on the 10m platform. In between all of this they showed us Mo Farrah win his second gold medal, I was a mess upon our departure!
Is the name of the wheat beer we drink in one of our favourite haunts back home, the Glebe in Stoke. As its an American beer then it is widely available over here. They serve it the proper way as well, with a slice of orange in it. Delicious.
So, previously I had mentioned the children playing in the pool and their mothers drinking Corona Extra with not a care in the world.
Fast forward a day and Laura and I were drinking the Corona Extra with them, eating fresh watermelon and in the pool with the kids getting splashed. I really shouldn’t judge people based on first meeting. They were really nice and amazed at our travels around California.
It took about 20 minutes before they asked us about Kate Middleton, which I thought for Americans, was quite a long time! I say Americans, they originally came from Mexico. They loved our English accents, especially when we said the word ‘mum’. They thought it was fab that I worked in an all boys school that looked like Hogwarts. Yosemite was a favourite place of theirs and they, along with many others, have said we will love it. What did surprise me with the Mexicans was that they live about half an hour away from San Francisco and up until recently, one of them had only just driven across the Golden Gate Bridge. Her sisters were amazed, ‘what? Are you kidding me?!’ they asked her, but she swore it was true.
You sound so sexy!
In England they have Challenge 25, where if you look under that age then you have to produce ID. It’s the same in the States but it’s like Challenge 30, so we have to produce our driving licences all the time. Which makes us feel quite young.
We were in a liquor store (we honestly haven’t spent the entire holiday drinking) and we bought a drink. We had been to the beach and we didn’t have our ID with us when they asked. The lady asked Laura our ages and Laura replied ‘I am 31 and she’s 30’, well she made her repeat it three times claiming that she loved her accent and that ‘you sound so sexy’. It made us laugh!
Seals and dolphins
Again on the beach in Santa Cruz we saw lots of seals, swimming really close to the shore. The highlight was the pair of dolphins that were swimming in the bay just a few metres away from where some of the children were playing. The kids were screaming with delight, so were their parents for that matter.
I woke up one morning, when it was still quite dark and decided to check the iPad for emails and news. I put on my glasses, or so I thought. After about ten minutes I noticed Laura looking at me a little oddly.
“Oh, I see what you’ve done now.” she said. I wondered if Laura thought I had slept in my glasses. Then she burst out laughing because clearly I had no idea what she was on about. I touched my glasses and thought to myself that they did feel a little bigger than usual. For the past ten minutes I had been wearing my sunglasses, in the dark with no idea! Laura thought this was hilarious and so did I, I didn’t even notice any difference in terms of visibility!
There is a huge amusement arcade along the famous Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. The Americans love this. Lots of games to play like pinball, air hockey and racing games. Very similar to our amusement arcades only of course in America, they are much better value for money. Four tokens costs you $1 and when one of the machines swallowed our tokens I turned around and there was an assistant ready to open up the machine and sort out the situation. You definitely wouldn’t get that service in England. If it swallows your money then you probably have to leave your name and address and wait until someone from the machine company comes around and empties it, which could be weeks or months.
All in all, I ended up loving Santa Cruz. A little like Blackpool in many cases, but it makes you think how good Blackpool could be if it did have the year round weather.