01 September 2011

White Dove

When your three-week vacation in California scores a near-perfect 10 in all categories, it can be a bit disconcerting for life as you knew it to get back to "normal".

Imagine now the effects of a longer stay.

I've heard numerous stories of French businessmen and women who felt they had been unmercifully yanked back to France after working for two or three years in the U.S., only to find themselves in a deep state of confusion. Not only did they have to re-adapt to their native homeland, they weren't totally sure they wanted to be back.

For them, the casualness of the lifestyle had taken root. Everything was less compact, they found, more expansive, as if they'd just taken off a pair of shoes two sizes too small.

Never mind that the food doesn't taste the same — driving to your favorite fast-food restaurant in a large comfortable car (automatic transmission) on wide open avenues with automatic windows and finding free, easy parking is well worth it. And there's no need to worry about putting on weight. To help you make the healthy choice, all chain restaurants in California are now required by law to display the calorie count of each menu item.

Then there's the seductive convenience factor — stores and gyms open 24 hours a day, drive-through fast food and banking, Netflix (DVDs that come to your house by post, and now video streaming 24/7), electric clothes dryers, automatic ice cube makers. The list goes on. Bill Bryson puts his own spin on American convenience in this article.

For these expats, there were also welcome changes in clothing (more casual), convivial relations with neighbors, and perhaps most importantly, they felt less time was wasted on worrying about the company hierarchy and job titles than working together to get the job done.

The bug had bitten. Hard.

I understand completely. Perhaps too well. Three weeks might not seem long enough to "slip" back to the other side for good, but it does take a mental effort — not to mention a robust fight with jet lag — to come back. And then the surprise: Oh, yeah, this feels good too. Like riding a bike.

This dove "visited" me late one afternoon by the pool a few days
before we flew back to France.

Whereas one place resonates naturally by right of birth, the other feels comfortable out of habit, and repetition. Over time the two begin to blend, and though you may develop a preference for, say, crème brûlée over frozen yoghurt, pretty soon you're dreaming of a country that combines the best of both worlds. Something my wife and I often talk about but have yet to find.

Until then, perhaps the best strategy is to make peace with both.

Legos & Aircraft Carriers

Legoland, California
A fun way to spend a day with your kids is to visit Legoland, located just 30 minutes north of San Diego in the seaside village of Carlsbad, California.

There are more than 60 rides, shows and attractions to explore, including a water park (great for those hot, summer days), the Sea Life Carlsbad Aquarium, plus plenty of eating and shopping opportunities throughout an expansive 128 acres.

Legoland entrance.

Bison Lego, façon Chia Pet.

Entrance to the Land of Adventure.

Spectators and riders aim their water canons at each other
on the popular ride "Splash Battle".

Miniland USA is said to be the heart of Legoland California. 20 million Lego bricks were used to reconstruct the instantly recognizable architecture from seven well-known American places: Las Vegas, New England Harbor, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco, Southern California and Washington, D.C.

Entering Miniland USA.

The Hollywood Bowl.

Hillside homes, San Francisco.

San Francisco skyline.

Street scene, Los Angeles.

New Orleans at Mardi Gras.

Les Vegas.

Washington, D.C.

Consult the schedule here for Legoland's opening days and hours.

USS Midway
The USS Midway is an aircraft carrier that was commissioned in 1945 and served in the U.S. Navy until the liberation of Kuwait in 1991. For the first 10 years of its life it was the largest ship in the world.

Today the Midway is docked in San Diego harbor as a naval aviation museum with more than 60 exhibits and 27 restored aircraft. It's a fascinating museum that has, since its opening in 2004, welcomed more than 5 million visitors.

Some Midway facts:

  • 1,001 feet long
  • 4.02 acre flight deck
  • 4,500 crew members, including 225 cooks, 200 pilots, 5 physicians and 3 dentists
  • 10 tons of food were served daily, including 3,000 potatoes and 1,000 loaves of bread

Boarding the USS Midway.

Exploring the planes on the flight deck.

Climbing up to tour the bridge in the island.

Three sets of steep, narrow stairs and you're almost there.

View from the bridge. The aircraft carrier in the foreground is the USS Carl Vinson, recently returned from duty in the Gulf.  This was the ship that launched Osama bin Laden to his grave in May of this year.

The underside of an F/A-18 Hornet.

An F-14 Tomcat.

The rear of an F-14.

F-14 face on.

The War Room, where battle plans for the first Gulf War were hashed out.

The USS Carl Vinson.

The USS Midway Museum is open everyday from 10am to 5pm, except Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

General admission for adults is $18, $10 for retired military and kids (6-17). Those 5 and under enter free of charge.

Balboa Park
On our last day in San Diego, we breezed through Balboa Park, an expansive open-air part of town that's home to many museums, performing art venues and magnificent gardens, including the San Diego Zoo.

The grounds of Balboa Park are open 24 hours a day. Opening hours for the museums and other attractions vary, so be sure to consult the Balboa Park website here before you go.

This Fountain sits just opposite the entrance to the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center.

Alcazar Garden.

San Diego Garden Botanical Foundation.