Category Archives: Travel

California Here We Come!

Dana Point Marina, California

Dana Point Marina, California

Over the holidays we went out to Southern California to visit my sister and her husband. A Vintage Year takes place in Santa Barbara and surrounding area, which is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to. With the amazing climate, you can be outdoors year round and not freeze your hiney off (unlike Montreal where it’s a high tomorrow of -20C). A little further south is the picturesque town of Laguna Beach, near where my sister lives. It was our home base and from there we branched out into nearby towns and cities to explore. The great thing about California is that it is so dense. There is so much to see in such a relatively small area. The drawback is that navigating the traffic will make you glad that everything is relatively close as it takes forever to get anywhere — especially during holiday time. Our favourite time to visit is during our March Break — the western schools are all still in session, so there are fewer crowds and lineups at theme parks. Plus, the weather is perfect for travelling.

Surfing in Long Beach

Surfing in Long Beach

The kids love visiting because they love California in general. Now, we’ve been there enough times that we now don’t bother the with theme parks having done all of them except for Knots Berry Farm and Warner Brothers Studios — but we’ll save those for a calmer time of year.

Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Pier

 

San Clemente Pier

  San Clemente Pier

 

This time, our boys tried surfing (two BIG thumbs up!), and we toured the Dolby Theatre, (formerly Kodak), where the Academy Awards are held.

We also did some old standbys such as the Santa Monica Pier, San Clemente Pier, Rodeo Drive and drove down to San Diego to visit and have lunch at the Hotel Del Coronado — quite possibly the most expensive sandwich I’ve ever had. I almost fainted when we got the bill.

Dolby Theatre. It's smaller than it looks on TV. Occ: 3400 people.

Dolby Theatre. It’s smaller than it looks on TV. Occ: 3400 people.

These are cronuts (I don't think I want to know the calorie count!)

These are cronuts (I don’t think I want to know the calorie count!)

 

Hotel del Coronado: where they filmed Some Like it Hot, (also home to a really expensive sandwich)

Hotel del Coronado: where they filmed Some Like it Hot, (also home to a really expensive sandwich)

 

 

 

 

One new-to-us “delicacy” our brother-in-law introduced us to was the Cronut. Has anyone ever tried that? Apparently it’s a cross between a croissant and a doughnut. One bite was enough to turn me cross-eyed from the sweetness, and wondering where the nearest defibrillator machine was.

We took many walks through the hillsides which offered great views of the ocean and some pretty spectacular homes. There was a vineyard on the side of a hill in a few of the larger homes. While good drainage is important, with the drought in California, these vines were looking pretty parched. Not sure about the quality of the grapes this year.

 

Vineyard in Southern California

Vineyard in Southern California

It was a lovely trip — it’s always great catching up with my sister — and we got lucky with the weather. We had one day of rain and the rest were all brilliantly sunny. Although it was a little on the cool side (3-17C) while we were there, Montreal was getting a dump of 40cm, so we weren’t complaining!

 

The Real Farm Shop

Chatsworth

Chatsworth

 

In A Vintage Year, Laura Walters yearns for running her own gourmet general store filled with local produce, meats, jams, jellies, preserves and nuts. She knows exactly what it will look like and where it will be positioned on the property, what they will sell and how wonderful it would be. Alas, her dreams are dashed about a quarter of the way the book, and she is truly crushed. While not quite as obsessed as Laura, I too had a dream for running a small, pretty little farm shop that carried local produce, etc.

Over the Christmas break, 1998-99, my husband and I were invited to a wedding outside of Sheffield, England. We took advantage of the kindness of friends and family, farmed out our two kids (the third not even a glimmer in our eyes at that point), and went on a much needed holiday to mid-England. We had a travel agent extraordinaire at the time – in the days when people used travel agents — who booked us into this lovely little B&B outside of Bakewell, close to where the wedding would be.

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On the property of Chatsworth, rear view of the Farm Shop?

When not attending the festivities or visiting with the bride and groom, we hiked through the Darbyshire Dales, enjoying the walks and the weather. On one of our walks, we discovered Chatsworth. While I had seen Pride and Prejudice on A&E a few years earlier, I didn’t know that Pemberly was actually Chatsworth — that is until we saw it. I recognized it immediately. We walked the grounds as I explained to my husband exactly what had transpired in the novel at Pemberly/Chatsworth….I think he might have tuned me out.

After the grounds, we drove around the vast estate and came upon the Chatsworth Farm Shop. I fell in love. I am an architecture buff at heart and this little farm shop was the cutest place I had ever seen. I wanted to live in the area just so I could visit it and buy my food from it every day. It stayed with me. I described it in the book the way I remember it, but memories change as did the Farm Shop. Old stone walls, blue door and shutters, waist-height windows flanking the entrance. From the website, it looks like it’s expanded somewhat.

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The grounds at Chatsworth

The Chatsworth Farm Shop stayed with me in my head and heart. I thought of opening my own in a small town outside the city…but I needed capital; oh and I’d have to uproot my family when my husband was the number one bread earner; oh, and I had no experience (but I do like to cook). So that didn’t happen.  Occasionally I’d pull out the old photo album and take a look at it and dream. And then I saw a way to finally use the place — I’d put it in a novel. In a way, I knew what Laura’s yearning for it was like, since I too, had yearned for it. My yearning, however, was not realistic and better belonged on paper.

If you ever get a chance to visit the Darbyshire Dales, Chatsworth is well worth a stop if you’re a history or architecture buff. The countryside is stunning, and the farm shop is wonderful.

 

Beautiful Puerto Rico

Entering Puerto Rico Harbour

Entering Puerto Rico Harbour

In December we took our kids on a cruise through the Caribbean to celebrate our anniversary. Our first stop was Puerto Rico. This above photo is entering the harbour at 7am. You dock at the pier by Old San Juan. It is a charming city and reminds me of the colonial Mexican villages I’ve been through.

Old Fort PR

Fort San Cristobal

Old Fort PR3

After touring the old forts, we stumbled on an old library that had a cafe with some of the best coffee I’ve ever had. Great photo opportunity too!

PuertoRico Library

Typical colonial street in Old San Juan

Typical colonial street in Old San Juan

 

Puerto Rico has so much to offer, I want to go back. From all the beach and water activities to the history of Old San Juan, as well as hiking through the rain forests, there is tons to do.