Sunday, February 19, 2017

Our First California Mission

For our February surprise date, I took Mary to Mission San Gabriel Arcangel, just down the road from us in Claremont.  San Gabriel was the fourth mission (out of 21) established in Alta California (the present state of California, as compared to Baja California in Mexico) in 1771.  I thought it would be interesting because, well, history is interesting! and because we were going to a talk a few days later on how the mission system had a devastating impact on the native populations in the region.

Facade of the Mission

The complex was impressive, with a large church, graveyard, winery, museum, and relics from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  In fact, Mission San Gabriel is the oldest brick and mortar building in Southern California.  The whole mission system was part of an effort by the Spanish to take over the land, and to convert the indigenous populations to Catholicism.  Diseases brought by the Spanish, unhealthy conditions maintained within the missions, and military adventures to subdue tribes resulted in the demographic and cultural collapse of native Californians.  The lead friar in that effort was Junipero Serra, an incredibly controversial figure whose canonization in 2015 set off a lot of protests, especially here in Los Angeles.  But, he is highly celebrated in the mission itself.

Junipero Serra

The stewards of the mission, though, are certainly aware of the ramifications of its history.  They note that the Spanish buried over 6,000 Tongva people in the mission over the course of its sixty-year history.  The grounds also contain a traditional Tongva hut, which would have housed many of the converts even on the mission grounds.

The mission also contains a number of fruit trees, as well as a grapevine that was planted in the eighteenth century.

After we left the mission, we walked around the area, and found a cool art supply store with an impressive mural depicting the colonial-era mission:

Finally, we wrapped up our Spanish-colonial explorations with a pretty cliche lunch: we ate Vietnamese bahn mi sandwiches at a nearby strip mall.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A visit to California!

Last weekend Brian flew out from Denver for a quick weekend visit. After picking him up at the airport Dan and Brian headed out to Joshua Tree National Park where they camped out for the night and did a lot of hiking.
Dan enjoying Joshua Tree 
Brian trying to find his Spirit Joshua Tree

 The next day after more hiking they headed into Palm Springs for lunch and Dan tried a date shake - I'll have to go back so I can try one - Palm Springs is famous for their date shakes. We had a low key night in with dinner and a movie.

On Sunday after a trip to the Farmer's Market with our friends we headed to the coast. We ate lunch at a restaurant with an ocean view then explored the Laguna Beach tidepools where we saw marine life.
Brian and Dan exploring the Laguna Beach tidepools

Look, Dad, we finally spotted a whale!

Beautiful Laguna coastline
We had a great time visiting with Brian over the weekend and look forward to welcoming more visitors later this spring!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Epic SoCal Weekend

Last weekend Dan and I really wanted to grab the Southern California life by the horns. So on Saturday morning we headed to the coast to Newport Beach to take a whale watching boat trip. We had a great time heading out into the Pacific and cruising along the coast. Watching whales? Not-so-much. But we did see lots of cute sea lions:

We also saw a dolphin and had a wonderful cruise along the coast of Newport Beach and Laguna Beach.
Snow capped Mt Baldy in the distance
We also saw where Gilligan's Island was filmed. Who knew that all that time they were just stuck in the Newport Beach Harbor?!?!

Location where the Gilligan's Island crew was shipwrecked
 At the end of the ride we were given a coupon to come back again for only $7 - so we'll be going back for another cruise at the end of March with Dan McG and his crew and hope to see whales!

After our lovely boat cruise we took a quick drive to Costa Mesa where we made our way to the Noguchi Garden. A tucked away park among the skyscrapers that was designed by the famous Japanese-American landscape artist and sculptor, Isamu Noguchi.

We enjoyed a quiet picnic in the park before heading back to Claremont and an anxiously awaiting Annie Pup for a good long afternoon stroll in the Saturday sun.

Zen urban park

Annie enjoying a warm sunny afternoon in the backyard
On day 2 of our epic SoCal weekend we braved the crowds and met up with David, Gabrielle, Noah, and Owen at Disneyland!

Owen and Uncle Dan

Uncle Dan and Noah pretending to be scared by a tiger in the treehouse

A parade down Main Street in front of the Castle

It was a very California weekend and we enjoyed doing the "touristy" things :).

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Jolly Old England

After a great trip to Iceland we flew to England and headed to Winchester to visit with the Meikles. We enjoyed a nice walk through Winchester along the river, beside the cathedral, and through the shopping district.

The River Itchin on a foggy day in Winchester

Aunt Wini and Mary along the River
 While on our walk Wini guided us to an adorable tiny old church that is in the bridge section over a small road:

When we were at the Winchester Cathedral Dan recalled the gravestone of Thomas Thetcher the poor man who died from drinking warm beer. We recreated the shot of Dan beside his tombstone.
Dan in 2016

Dan in 2005
We had a fantastic meal at the Scarffs house complete with Christmas crackers, a rousing present exchange game, trifle for dessert, and a game of Harry's hat game (played by the Harry himself!)

The Gang after Dinner
 After a terrific two days at Wini and Alan's house we took the train into London where Dan had booked a stay in Kew for 2 weeks for research. We went to the Hampstead Heath Park on the top of the hill to see the fireworks on New Year's Eve which was a lot of fun. On New Year's Day we went to the Tate Modern Museum where we saw all sorts of cool art.
Ancient City made out of Couscous

Dan alongside a massive spider

View of London from the Tate Modern
 It was a wonderful trip!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Into the Glacier

We had a few free days to explore Reykjavik  and on one of those days we went to the Saga Museum where we learned all about the Icelandic Sagas (and played dress up).
A Viking and Polar Bear Encounter

Just your average Icelandic Couple

Mary in front of the Icelandic Saga Museum
 As we were wandering along downtown we came across some creatures in the snow:
Snowman with his Snowdog

Adorable Downtown Reykjavik with Iceland's tallest Church, Hallgrimskirkja, in the distance 
 The next day we took a trip out into the countryside again where we WENT INSIDE A GLACIER!!!

Falls that we stopped at en route to the Glacier

This former UN Military Vehicle was our super Truck that took us out to the Glacier

 We put crampons on our boots and had a glacier tour guide who took us through the ice caves.

We even walked over a crevass on a rickety bridge!

A Crevass

Dan enjoys the Ice Throne in the Glacier
 A couple evenings that we were in Reykjavik we went to shows downtown in their performance Hall. We went to an Icelandic Comedy show called "How to Become Icelandic in 60 Minutes" which had some very funny observations about Icelandic traditions and sayings. We took one "thetta reddast" home with us. This means "It'll all work out in the end". Very "hakuna matata" of them! Another show that we enjoyed was the Pearls of Iceland show that had Icelandic songs, narrated in English and sung in Icelandic. The musicians were very talented and the songs were quite beautiful.

Harpa, the Beautiful Performance Hall
 One day we took an elevator to the top of Iceland's tallest church, Hallgrimskirkja.

 While we were queuing up to get on the elevator the organist was doing some rehearsing so we got to hear some lovely music as we passed the time.

Inside the Church

View from the Top

After a great trip to Iceland we headed off to another island . . . England . . .

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Gleðileg Jól (Merry Christmas) from Iceland

Happy New Year Readers!

Icelandic Countryside
Dan and I traveled to Reykjavik for Christmas and to London and Winchester for New Years. It was an amazing trip and we are so grateful we were able to enjoy such a fun adventure together.

Icelanders are very into the Christmas spirit and have 13 Yule Lads that are goblins who come down from the Mountains in the 13 days preceding Christmas and leave presents in the children's shoes (if they're good or rotten potatoes if they're not). The Yule Lads themselves are a bit mischievous and have funny names such as: sausage-stealer, window-peeper and the one who arrived the same day as us:

Ketrokur or Meat-Hook who steals meat with his hook
They were hiding all throughout the city and at night you could see them lit up on the sides of buildings. In the photo below if you look closely you might see one of them hanging from the side of a building.

Can you find the hiding Yule Lad?
After arriving in Iceland we thought it would be a great idea to go for a dip at the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is a giant geo-thermal hot springs where they give you complimentary mud mask facials with the mud from the springs. It was beautiful - we were there for sunset so we got to experience the Lagoon in the dark too which was surreal and quite peaceful. After returning from the hot springs we walked through the city and got to enjoy the special parade down the main street where people walk with candles in celebration and anticipation of Christmas Eve celebrations the next day. Another tradition they have on the 23rd is to eat and cook very stinky putrefied skata (a fish related to shark). We could smell this wafting out of some of the restaurants - we did not partake!

Dan in front of the Blue Lagoon

We stayed at a cozy apartment in downtown Reykjavik that was on the main street and walking distance to museums, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and shopping. On Christmas Eve we took a Golden Circle Bus tour through the beautiful countryside. Our first stop was to see the original Geysir where the word "geyser" comes from. This particular geysir has been dormant for a while but when it goes off it shoots about 300 feet in the air. There is a nearby smaller geyser that goes off every 5-7 minutes. Dan shot a video of it here:

It was beautiful while we were at the geysers as the sun was just coming up for the day.

Sunrise around 11:00 am in wintry Iceland

The Original Geysir
 After the visit to the geysers we got back on the coach and took a ride to the majestic Gullfoss waterfull where we did some hiking and enjoyed the views.

Gullfoss Waterfall
There is a stone statue dedicated to a woman, Sigríður Tómasdóttir, who fought to preserve the natural waterfall and its beauty at a time when they were trying to exploit the natural resource.

We capped off our Golden Circle tour with a trip to Thingvellir National Park to see the Mid-Atlantic Ridge where you can see where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are drifting apart. We did a nice bit of exploring there and enjoyed the beautiful wintry scenery

Hiking along the Tectonic Plates
While we rode along in our bus we saw lots of Icelandic horses out in the countryside. The Icelandic horses are special because they have five natural gaits, whereas most horses only have three or four, The Icelandic horse's unique gait is called "Tölt," which is very smooth - so much so that it's said that you can hold a glass of wine on the horse without spilling. Pretty cool :).

As we headed back into the city our lovely tour guide led the bus in a carol of Silent Night as Christmas Eve is the very special night in Iceland. Their tradition is they all eat dinner at 6 pm when the church bells toll and then open presents after their feasts. We exchanged our stocking stuffers after we ate our meal that night too.