California 2014, Part 3 (Walking And Hiking)

I can’t believe it’s Thursday and our last day at the house already. Tomorrow we’ll move to Ocean Beach for the weekend. Time to wash laundry and blog.

On Monday I took a different route for my hike downtown, which was a bit better but not much. I decided that from now on I’d take the trolley and skip that part.

Anyway, I walked from Logan Heights to Petco Park and then into Gaslamp Quarter.

Gaslamp Quarter
Gaslamp Quarter

And then all the way up 5th to Balboa Park. Always be careful when I say that something’s in walking distance. Bring hiking shoes! 😉

There’s a 100 % vegan fast food joint called Evolution Fast Food on 5th/Quince where I had a wonderful mock chicken sandwich and a beet, carrot and orange juice for lunch. Look at the color!

Buffalo Chick'n Sandwich and beet, carrot, orange juice
Buffalo Chick’n Sandwich and beet, carrot, orange juice

They have outdoor seating, and I enjoyed the shady spot by the little fountain. :-)

Then on to Balboa Park.

Balboa Park
Balboa Park

As if I hadn’t walked enough already I hiked the Bridle trail where I took some close-up pictures of squirrels and lizards with my DSLR. I’ll post those as soon as I find the time to go through my photos.

Then I walked up to the fountain where I had a lemonade and listened to a jazz sax player while I waited for Eric. :-)

Old man plays saxophone in the park
Jazz saxophone guy

Not much has changed at Balboa Park since my last visit way back in 2001, except that there’s free wifi in the park now. Free wifi! Woohoo!

When Eric arrived from the conference we took another small walk through the Japanese garden, cactus garden and the Spanish village until sunset.

Sunset seen from Balboa Park
Sunset seen from Balboa Park

Then we walked all the way back to Gaslamp Quarter for a well deserved dinner at Gourmet India. There are plenty of vegan choices and we both went for the bindi masala and tandoori naan.

Bindi masala
Bindi masala

I liked that the okra wasn’t cooked all squishy like so often in Indian restaurants. It still had a little bite and hopefully some vitamins left. 😉

The restaurant shows Bollywood movies on the big screen (no sound, just captions) and with the check you get a complimentary Bombay Mix CD. Haven’t listened to it yet, but I bet it’s just my kind of music. Not. 😀

Gourmet India Bombay Mix CD
Gourmet India Bombay Mix CD

But a nice idea and a good way to remember the good time at their restaurant.

The original plan was to go to an Irish pub next to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, but when we left the restaurant we were already quite tired. No wonder if you take into account that it was already 5 a.m. back home in Germany.

So we only had a beer at the Hard Rock Café across the street. I was surprised that this Hard Rock Café actually played some hard rock. I can’t say the same thing about their locations in Berlin and Frankfurt.

They have some interesting memorabilia on display. I liked Chris Cornell’s guitar best. 😉

Chris Cornell’s guitar (broken)
Chris Cornell’s guitar

Service was a bit slow that day, but the manager made up for it by quickly switching his role to bartender, running super hero style around the bar to rescue his thirsty guests. 😀

A funny end of a really nice day. :-)

According to my UP band I made 27,314 steps that day. 😉

California 2014, Part 2 (Thinking And Wondering …)

The hike from Logan Heights to Seaport Village was quite an adventure. Lots of interesting sights, all the little houses, families BBQing, people smiling at me, dogs barking as I walked by – a hot and lazy Sunday.

At some point I had to cross the San Diego Freeway and entered a whole different world: homeless people living under the bridge in huge camps. The stench was appaling. And it only got worse from there. There were hundreds of them in the streets, so many that the city actually installed long rows of portable toilets. There were so many of them that they literally blocked the entire sidewalk and I had to walk on the road. There were people with missing limbs, one of them with no legs in a wheelchair, the wheelchair loaded with all of his possessions in plastic bags and a piece of cardboard attached to its back that said that he was a war vet.

I felt terrible. Not that I was scared, everyone was peaceful, no one talked to me, except one guy who told me not to be scared, and I replied that I wasn’t. Not scared. I was shocked.

We have homeless people in Germany, but not at that scale. How can so many people end up in the street? And in such a poor condition? Are there no shelters where they can get food and a shower? No social workers who look after them?

Pondering these questions I arrived in shiny happy people Seaport Village where I met Eric to watch the sunset by the Pier Café.

view of sunset by the Pier Café
Just after sunset by the Pier Café

From a German perspective, Seaport Village is an odd place. Here you have a festive little tourist spot with Mexican music, margaritas and little gift shops. People walk their dogs, or jog, or have a quick bite at one of the many eateries. And when the sun sets, time stands still for a few minutes and everyone enjoys the view: sunset over Coronado Island. The military base. Huge military ships among harbor tour boats. Helicopters returning to their base. Aaaah, sunset!

Again I thought about the homeless people. The war vet in the wheelchair. In a society that’s rooted in the belief that guns and war are an answer, where a military base is in the heart of the city and the army is omnipresent – how come that the veterans aren’t taken better care of? I thought of Forrest Gump and Lt. Dan and their shrimp farm and how they bought Apple stock … and then the sun was gone and we took a taxi to Station Tavern & Burgers.

The taxi driver asked us what we do for a living, and quickly got us into a conversation about programming. And then suddenly – I couldn’t believe  it and had to snap a picture to prove it to myself – he breaks out his laptop and shows us some code he’s written! He kept showing us stuff while driving. It was totally unreal.

taxi driver’s laptop
Taxi driver’s laptop

On any other day, if that had happened to me in Germany I would have reported that guy. But after everything I’ve seen that day the absolutely last thing I wanted was to be responsible for someone to lose their job. So I let Eric do the small talk and quietly crossed fingers that we make it to the Tavern in one piece.

At the Tavern we had what has to be the best vegan burger in the world. They have two vegan burgers to choose from and we went for the Black Bean Burger and added jalapeños and avocado. It was absolutely delicious and it’s no wonder they sold over 12,000 of it in their first year. Yummy. I hope we can go there again while we’re here. :-)

black bean burger

Back home, I fell asleep early. What an odd day …

Well, time to leave the house for more adventures! My next post will be happier, so check back! :-)

California 2014, Part 1 (With Pictures!)

What’s not to love about California? The last time I was here was in May 2011 and I didn’t think I’d get here so soon again. But, ta-daaa!

Eric started to work for the w3c in December, and as part of his assignment he’s attending CSUN – a huge accessibility conference in San Diego – next week. Essentially this means that he’s working while I get to hang out in San Diego. No fair! 😉

After CSUN we’re going to add a few vacation days in San Diego, Palm Springs and L.A. As it’s my first time in California as a vegan, I thought this would be a great opportunity to revive this blog.

So, let me recap the first days:

Our trip began at Düsseldorf airport (DUS) with the slowest check-in ever. It wasn’t American Airline’s fault, they had trouble with their computers. Honestly, I don’t mind computer issues on Earth – as long as the ones up in the air do their job. Which they did. (Author typing this serves as living proof.)

Security reminded me of how much geekery I’m lugging around when they asked me to list all my electronic devices. Laptop, DSLR camera (New!), mobile phone, portable charger, noise-cancelling headphones, Kindle, Jawbone UP … did I forget anything? Made me feel like Borg. 😀

The vegan special meals on the plane were a mixed experience. The meals tasted ok, we had pasta with tomato sauce, salad and fruit for lunch and a bowl of beans and rice for dinner.

pasta and salad

The dessert cookies that came with dinner contained honey though, and none of the snacks served in between were vegan.  So, while we did get vegan food, we also had to check the ingredients of everything to decide what to eat and what not. There’s room for improvement, but at least they don’t let you starve.

The flight was really smooth and quiet. The group of partying students behind us fell asleep collectively after the plane had run out of complimentary beer.

Two hour layover in Chicago sounded like plenty of time, but again everything went so slow that this was barely enough. Oh, by the way: for a layover in Chicago make sure you have a window seat on the left. I thought the view was spectacular! The great lakes were still partly frozen, and then the skyline – wow!

Chicago skyline seen from plane
Landing in Chicago

If you’re hungry at Chicago O’Hare, check out CIBO Express at Terminal 3 (I believe there’s another one at Terminal 2.) They have vegan Soul Gourmet sandwiches which are good, albeit a bit on the pricey side. They also have salads, kale chips and other vegan snacks.

We arrived 30 minutes early in L.A., only to wait 30 minutes at the baggage claim. The baggage crew was obviously not ready for our flight yet. :-)

We stayed for one night in Manhattan Beach and had dinner at Rice, where we had what has to be the best vegan sushi in the world! Step aside, plain old avocado roll and take a look at this:

vegan sushi rolls
Vegan sushi rolls at Rice, Manhattan Beach, CA

These rolls were works of art, with tempeh, hot chili sauce and and brown rice. All in all we tried three different rolls – the one in the picture, one with eggplant and one with tofu – and all of them were awesome. I was surprised at how good the brown rice worked for sushi. At $12 per 8 pieces and with a quality like this, and all organic and GMO free, there was nothing to complain about. Their Miso soup was good, too.

The restaurant is a bit hard to find, it doesn’t really look like a restaurant from the outside, but it’s definitely worth the effort. The place was packed, better make a reservation.

The next day began with  a chili for brunch at Le Pain Quotidien. They had a lot of other vegan choices. The tofu scramble sounded great, too.

bowl of chili with guac
Bowl of chili with guac

After that we took a walk on the beach before we picked up our rental car.

Manhattan Beach with pier and cyclist
Manhattan Beach

We took the Pacific Coast Highway to San Diego. In Long Beach we stopped by at Veggie Grill for dinner. Veggie Grill is a 100% vegan fast food chain. I had a very refreshing kale salad with blackened fake chicken and Eric a fake chicken burger. Both were really good.

kale salad
Kale salad with blackened chickin’

Following the coastline further South we looked for a good spot to watch the sunset and were so lucky to find Ruby’s Shake Shack above Crystal Cove Beach. Don’t plan to eat there if you’re vegan, but it’s a really good spot to watch the sunset. It’s not a secret, so better arrive early to find a seat. 😉

Crystal Cove sunset

A little further South we discovered Laguna Beach, a beautiful village with interesting architecture that we’ll surely visit some other time. It was dark and we were tired, so we just took the 5 to San Diego, shopped for some groceries at Whole Foods (awesome choice of vegan cheese, mock meat etc.) and proceeded to our destination, a beautiful small house we rented via airbnb.

We have the entire house to ourselves, including the yard with orange, lemon and avocado trees. At 60 € per night it’s a real bargain and much cheaper than any (roachless!) hotel. :-)

The kitchen

A couple of Coronas with lime and a movie concluded our first day in San Diego.

Today, Eric’s out to meet his new colleagues face to face for the first time, while I’m hanging out around the house, unpacking our stuff and blogging. I haven’t adapted to the hot weather yet, and today it’s extra hot. Even the locals are sweating.

Oh, and for breakfast we had Kite Hill cheese for the first time! It’s a nut milk based vegan cheese that comes in three varieties. I really enjoyed both that we bought. The White Alder reminded me of a cheese I had years ago in France, before I went vegan. Kinda pricey, so maybe only for special occasions, but yummy! Available at Whole Foods. :-)

Kite Hill cheeses
Breakfast with Kite Hill cheese and Earth Balance butter

OK, time to walk down to the harbor to see the sunset. More in a few days!