You’d think after 5 years living in Europe, a trip back to California would not hold as much of a sense of utter relief as it did the first 2 years. But, well, it still does. As soon as we board that jumbo, my coat goes in the carry-on bag, not to be seen again for at least 2 weeks. About halfway over the Atlantic, I stop speaking any German with the flight attendants. A good hour from landing, the sunglasses go on my head and the socks come off. When those wheels touch the ground, a decidedly non-European “dude, that’s AWESOME!” slips out of my mouth, and I wonder how long before I can sink that first chip into a bowl of guacamole”¦
This trip, a slight deviation from the above program, took place when we decided to buy “real”, fully-booked tickets (Soenke had gone on “˜standby’ strike) – this time, Hamburg to London via Lufthansa (so I could stop speaking German a lot earlier..), and Air New Zealand from London to LA. Mind you, these were cattle-class tickets, at about 3 times what we pay for business class standby tickets. I began seriously doubting the wisdom of our decision as we continued farther and farther back in the Air New Zealand plane “¦ past the red-carpeted first class stairs”¦ past luxurious business class with its champagne-sipping passengers”¦ even past premium economy class with attractively upholstered seats and precious extra inches of legroom”¦ all the way back to “really cheapo class”, which pretty much involved 20 rows of beach chairs, a vending machine, and a couple of porto-potties.
I had actually never sat this far back in a jumbo, and was somewhat interested in the peculiar configuration of toilets at the very aft of the airplane, which I proceeded to explore during the pre-flight preparations. My interest was, unfortunately, short-lived – interrupted by our new cabinmate: a seedy-looking criminal being extradited to the US – in handcuffs – firmly escorted to his seat a few rows behind us by two heavily-armed air marshals. All this may not have captured too much attention except for the fact that said man was frothing at the mouth and screaming what surely were foreign obscenities at the top of his lungs. As I blinked in disbelief (and wondered how expensive it would REALLY be to upgrade us into champagne-class”¦), Soenke calmly began inserting his earplugs and commented “oh, they do this all the time – they yell, hoping the captain will kick them off the plane. He’s harmless and he’ll settle down as soon as we take off.” And, God bless him, he was totally right. Within an hour after takeoff, seedy-criminal was sipping English breakfast tea with his pinky in the air, chatting pleasantly with the flight attendants.
Super-cheapo-criminal-class notwithstanding, the next 10 hours represented the most pleasurable and relaxing transatlantic flight our Sophie-inclusive family has ever had – with toddler watching her beloved Cars movie on not one, but TWO adjacent in-seat video screens for most of these 10 hours, and me watching just about every other in-seat movie in unprecedented, uninterrupted peace and quiet (and yes, I KNOW that a respectable lady should in NO case watch such a lowbrow movie as “˜Bachelor Party'”¦ much less LAUGH and SNORT during said film”¦ but”¦ < < insert valid + believable excuse here.... >> )
Fast forward to 4am next morning – jet lag day #1, Soenke & Sophie happily ensconced on Lazy-boy with chips & guac in progress. I have trained them well.
As usual, our Cali visits consist of a blur of nephews, rowdy BBQs, and serious shopping expeditions, punctuated by fish taco outings and a heck of a lot of sunshine. However, this month brought an extra special twist to our usual March sunshine program: cousin Steve, with his totally cool convertible jeep, was road-tripping his way down the Pacific coast to hook up with the So Cal Crawfords. That up’d the ante, and therefore we (well, someone) organized ever more elaborate outings, including aquarium tours, bi-plane rides, and even a visit to the hallowed LEGOLAND.
As always, the photos tell the best story:
Day #1 Jet Lag: early AM Guac party:
Legoland.. I can’t BELIEVE how expensive this place is, but the kids (ahem, and my sister-in-law..) went gaga for it:
Bro + #5 son Levi shake it up:
Nephews Drew & Chase hang with Aunt Sis (me):
My favorite spot, with Mom, under the portico with climbing, lavender-flowered vines:
Post Lego-land search for suitable grub…. through typically Californian beach town at sunset:
Ka-ching! We know the good stuff when we see it:
10,000 calories of pure Mexican pleasure:
How to top Legoland? Maybe with a visit to the Long Beach aquarium…
En route, Sophie channels her inner California girl:
Now these are some FISH:
Yeah, that’s my daughter petting a manta ray (clearly a violation of mommy-approved protocol):
But wait, do my eyes DECEIVE me? Or is that an Easter Island head I see?
Forget about the fish, this is Big News. The placard said it was gifted from the people of Rapa Nui (aka Easter Island) to the Long Beach aquarium. How do I sign up for that gifting program???????!!!
Took awhile for that thrill to sink in (ended up being an inspiration – surely a sign from God Himself – to go ahead & book my 2010 Easter Island trip! which I did…!)
The next day, we decide to do some aquarium comparison and head down to the San Pedro Aquarium (free). Clearly a bit more budget-strapped, but we had a blast. I don’t know who took all the good photos – it sure wasn’t me – we were with my entire family, including cousin Steve.
Sophie seemed to like these fish the best (go figure)..
The best aquarium experience EVER was a fascinating little outdoor seminar describing the rare nighttime grunion run, which occurs once a year on California beaches. We were totally excited to hatch our own grunions in this very jar! (ok, so we had to give them back afterwards…):
Later that evening, I got my first ride in Steve’s awesome JEEP! the ultimate antidote to any mid-life crisis (ahem, not that my cousin Steve is anywhere NEAR the age of mid-life crisis 😉 ) :
Next day, a special outing to Brackett Field, a small-plane airport and primo picnic area near my bro’s house. Big thrill, there was also an airplane show & biplane rides that day!
Nephew Channing is ready for action:
Off go Channing + cousin Steve (while my sis-in-law crosses herself and prays a lot..)
Steve has the appropriate post-flight pilot strut (although he didn’t fly, of course, he IS a honest-to-goodness pilot..)
AND NOW, SOENKE/SOPHIE/I HEAD OFF TO ARIZONA:
Sophie picked out our rental car:
First stop out of Phoenix, our favorite Starbucks at this exit (love that streetname!), with the tattooed/pierced barrister that always remembers us:
And then, our favorite, dangerous-critter-full rest stop:
Final destination, SEDONA. Can never get enough:
This year, Sophie takes an interest in some “hiking”:
Who knew anthills could be so fascinating (this is just one of dozens we closely examined together):
En route back to civilization, we are not ones to snub our noses at a good, old-fashioned Starbucks drive-through:
A final night in Phoenix before looping back through LA – en route to Hamburg – finds us in the newly-renovated, VERY funky Clarendon Hotel. We decided it was just a little too cool for us (although, the rooftop bar with flamenco dancing was a nice touch). Wish I had a photo of the pool & lobby to prove my point:
Back in Hamburg, here is a true photo of Extreme Jet Lag: