California · California · Laguna Beach · Travelling · USA

Days 46 to 53 – Laguna Beach and Southern California

Day 46 – Hawaii to Laguna Beach

After ten days in the beautiful islands of Hawaii, I headed to Kona ‘International’ airport to fly east to California. First a quick word on the airport…..quite the weirdest international airport I have ever flown from! It is ‘international’ due to the one flight a day to Japan. The entire airport is a series of sheds joined together. I was surprised there weren’t chickens running around departures. Hilarious.

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Anyway, after five hours in the air, I touched down at LAX. The landing was amazing as we came into land during a fantastic sunset and had the best views I have even had across LA. My best girl Liz was there to greet me and whisk me south back to Orange County and my second home, Laguna Beach.

Day 47 – Laguna Beach

So I am staying here with Liz for three weeks. As many people who know me may recall, I have been here a few times! I regard it as my second home, so after seven weeks on the road, it is fabulous to be able to unpack my suitcase and chill for a while. After a morning spent nattering and catching up, we headed down to the beach and caught up with some good friends. West Street Beach in Laguna is a glorious stretch of ocean. I jumped in the sea, and whilst not quite as warm as Hawaii, it was great to be back! I also caught up with my friends Jody and Damien. Damien has been unwell and it was so nice to see him looking much improved and to see Jody’s ever smiling face too!

We ended the day with dinner at a favourite dining spot called ‘La Sirena’, which does fantastic Mexican food. It has been so lovely slipping back into familiar routine with good friends.

Day 48/49 – Hanging out

Combining these two days as haven’t done very much! Liz worked all day Monday so I was flying solo again. I did some exploring in Laguna to what had changed. Mainly a few new houses being built and unfortunately a few businesses gone under too. I think the shop rents here are very expensive and some local businesses can’t afford the rents. Quite a common story.

There is a great library-run bookshop I always visit, to look for bargains. Partly because I think it is the shop that someone recently bought a first edition book that appeared on the Antiques Roadshow and sold for £100,000s! So I intend to find such a book myself. Still looking…

Also been hanging out at the beach and swimming, though the water here is very different to Hawaii and the waves are a lot bigger with additional rip-tides so I have to be careful. It is now in full summer mode here so it is very busy. However where I am staying is up in the hills so it is nice and cool and devoid of tourists!

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Haven’t done much else! Mainly reading and swimming in my hammock. it is a hard life. No, it is.

Days 50/51 – Drag shows and Independence Day

Wednesday’s highlight was going to the weekly drag show! I never really see much drag at home but seem to much prefer it here. Was a great show with five performers, my favourites being Wilhelmina Caviar and April Showers! Everyone here lip-syncs whereas UK performers tend to sing live.e14e4537-fb7e-4bdc-b6a6-e3bac5b3c5cb

Wilhelmina Caviar, April Showers, Nomi B

I also walked up to the the gorgeous Heisler Park. Considering the value of land around here, it is is nice that there are still some great sports on the coastline to sit and admire the view. There is also a 9/11 memorial in the park that I always find very moving to see, as it is a part of the girder of one of the towers.

Heisler Park, Laguna Beach
The 9/11 memorial in Heisler Park, Laguna Beach

Thursday was Independence Day. I had often heard that it was a big holiday where everyone goes to the beach, well at least here in California that is, and they weren’t wrong! The photo below shows the volume of people down on the sand! However, the day started with a jolt and I experienced my first earthquake. Was a pretty surreal experience, we were sitting outside on a wooden deck, on stilts, overlooking a canyon and the ground started shaking! Not the safest place to be perhaps! The house shook side to side for about 6-8 seconds. The epicentre was up in rural California, east of LA, so even though it was a 6.4 magnitude it wasn’t felt particularly strongly here.

After that, I slipped into my stars and stripes vest and headed down to West Street Beach with Liz. After finding a small square inch of sand, we settled down for the day with our towels and picnic. We must’ve appeared very amateur compared to others who had bought huge tent constructions, sound systems, cool-boxes, you name it!

West Street Beach on the 4th July

The waves were huge so unfortunately I could not swim. However because quite a few people were drinking, lots of people did attempt to go into the water, and that caused many headaches for the lifeguards, who had to keep stopping people from going in. In fact one person got into trouble and a helicopter had to land on the beach to rescue them.

In the evening we went to see some more drag and watched the fireworks on the beach. In the US, every city has their own display, and they all coincide at 9PM. Sitting on the beach, looking up and down the coast, you can see multiple displays at once which was pretty cool. There is certainly a huge amount of patriotism here, way more than you would ever see in Europe. At times it does seem pretty OTT, but it is very much in the American psyche that they are the best country in the world and that they should celebrate its, which I guess isn’t such a bad thing. It certainly was an experience to witness it!

Days 52/53 – more earthquakes, a trip to San Clemente and art

Friday I jumped on the bus with the other losers and dropouts (who doesn’t have a car right?) and headed south down the coast to the small town of San Clemente. It is similar to Laguna, a nice seaside town, with a pier, lots of surfing and local shops. As rubbish as the public transport system here is, at least it is cheaper, it was $2.00 for a 45 minute journey on the bus, at home it is about £5 for a return to town.

In the evening I scored a free ticket to ‘The Pageant of the Masters’. I went last year and it was amazing so was glad to go again. The premise of the show is that famous paintings are recreated on stage using real people. It is difficult to explain and you can’t take photos, but it truly amazing how they present these paintings that look incredibly realistic. The theme was HG Wells’ ‘Time Machine’. A couple travel back through time using Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebook as a guide to visit paintings through history.

The evening however started with another earthquake! Still focussed up in rural California and this time a 7.1 magnitude quake. I was at the theatre at the time and you could see the lighting rigs shaking. Let’s hope that the end of them!

I also got some great shots of the local hummingbirds feeding at dusk. People put out sugar water for them and they go crazy for it!

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Saturday was art day. I realised I hadn’t been to a gallery in weeks! Withdrawal. There is a great gallery called the Laguna Art Museum here in town. Laguna is famous as an artists colony, dating back into the early twentieth century. Artists relocated here, predominantly from the east coast, to take advantage of the light and surroundings and to paint ‘plein air’ (outdoors). The ‘Laguna Beach Art Association’ was formed in 1918, with the art museum following in 1929.

The museum has a great collection of American impressionism, with William Wendt and Anna Hills two particular favourites. Both artists were instrumental in establishing the art colony and the museum.

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I then headed down to ‘Treasure Island’, perhaps not as exciting as it sounds however! There is a huge hotel here called The Montage, surrounded by public beach and gardens, which is Treasure Island. It’s a nice place to hang out, people watch and look across the Pacific.

My final thought for the day is fruit! Now I like a smoothie, as anyone who knows me will tell you. The fruit here in California is so amazing, and tastes so great in a smoothie. The grapefruit and oranges are so sweet, and luckily a friend of Liz and mine called Jody recently delivered a huge box of assorted goodies so we have been working our way through that!

Japan · Travelling

Days 30 to 35 – Hiroshima, Kobe and Osaka, Japan

Days 30 – Hiroshima

Hiroshima is known throughout the world as the first place to have an atomic bomb dropped on it. It happened on 6 August 1945, during WW2, and three days later the city of Nagasaki was also destroyed, leading to Japanese surrender to the Allies.

A few years after the event, the city debated how best to remember the visitors, and they decided to create the Hiroshima Peace Park, along with a museum dedicated to showing the world what happened. I visited the museum and it was as moving as you might expect. You walk through galleries showing the impact of the bomb, on the people and the city. Photographs taken during the event show groups of stunned people with all their clothes blown off and the skin scorched. Buildings blown away. Children’s toys scorched. Houses turned to rubble.

The most poignant artefacts are the things that were left behind. A child’s tricycle. School uniforms. Lunchboxes. All presented in the museum for us to remember the impact of what happened that day.

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By the end of 1945, due to either casualties on the day or people who died due to the effects of the bomb, it is estimated that 140,000 people died, with countless other families ripped apart and ruined.

I also learnt why Hiroshima and Nagasaki were chosen. It was because the American military were looking for sites that would have the biggest impact, where the blast would spread the widest and have the greatest casualties.

The museum is set in the grounds of what they call the ‘hypocenter’ which is the area directly below where the bomb exploded. There is one building now known as the A-bomb dome that remained standing and has been left as reminder of the horrors  of nuclear war.

Hiroshima is a fascinating place and a testament to the hours of war. Whilst it is not easy to see, I think if you visit Japan you should come here.

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Day 31 – Hiroshima

I visited a fantastic art gallery today, the first one in what feels like ages! I have been really unlucky as nearly all the galleries I wanted to see have been closed for one reason or another. I am always amazed how small regional galleries can have the most amazing permanent collections and the Hiroshima Museum of Art is no exception.

It contains works by Van Gogh, Chagall, Degas, Manet, Rousseau, Munch, Modigliani and Picasso to name just a few. If these works were in a major gallery you would queue to see them and be surrounded by crowds. Here I had them virtually to myself. Always check out local galleries where you travel, you never know what you may see! I also visited a second great art gallery in Hiroshima, with works by Dali as a highlight.

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In the afternoon I visited the rebuilt Hiroshima Castle. It was originally built in the 17thC but like everything else here was destroyed in 1945. It has been rebuilt with a museum inside, explaining the history of the castle. You can climb up to the 5th floor and enjoy views across the city. As you can see from the video it has been raining a lot today, in fact it has not stopped raining since I arrived! It is the rainy season after all.

Hiroshima Castle

Just to end I wanted to share this photo below which is a genius idea but which I have not seen anywhere else. Locakable umbrella holders. Loads of galleries, museums etc have them, to stop everything being dripped with water, you simply insert your umbrella and lock it, taking the key. Since the Uk is obviously the wettest country in the world, why don’t we have them!


Day 32 – Kobe

Today I headed east to the city of Kobe. Apparently it is famous for dead meat but I chose to ignore that and headed the wonderful Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art. As luck would have it there were having an Impressionism exhibition, I couldn’t believe my luck! I couldn’t take any photos but they had a wonderful exhibition including works from Monet, Picasso, Sisley and my new favourite artist, Maurice De Vlaminck. It is interesting how the collection came to be. The owner of gypsum production company, in the 1970s, decided to start collecting art so that his workers had a more pleasant environment to work in, and he amassed this amazing collection for them to enjoy. It now is touring Japan for us all to enjoy. What a wonderful employer.

The gallery also has a great permanent collection, including some Japanese impressionist paintings from the early 20thC, a movement I had not been aware of but which I loved! Particularly an artist called Heizo Kanayama.

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Outside the gallery there are also some great sculptures, including a big apple and a large girl!

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I then strolled along the harbour front to Meriken Park. Whilst parts of the walk were nice, Kobe is one of these cities that has dedicated itself to the car and sacrificed the pedestrian, building a monstrous two tier freeway going right through the harbour front.  It may have been built after the large earthquake that happened here in 1995. I only vaguely remember it but the monument in Meriken Park says that over 6,000 people died sadly. Meriken Park also contains the iconic Kobe Port Tower, shown below.

Day 33 – Osaka

A short hop east to the city of Osaka. Signs up everywhere warning people about security measures in place for the G20 summit next week, glad I am not here then! Plus I might accidentally see the Trump.

Osaka Castle

Weather is a lot nicer here, cooler and no rain. Headed out to Osaka Castle in the morning, along with every tourist in the city it would seem. Climbing eight floors to the top you get some great views across the city. Running out of steam I headed to the river and the lovely Nakanoshima Park, marooned in the middle of the river on an island and very peaceful. After nearly five weeks away, travelling around on trains, planes, buses, subways, taxis, by foot I am starting to flag a little! So I lay on a bench and looked at the clouds for an hour and it was great.

The Running Man

In the evening I headed south to Dotonoburi, a crazy, neon canal-side area of Osaka with shops and restaurants. There is a famous advertising sign called the running man that all the locals go crazy for and take endless selfies in front of. I don’t know why. There was also a man dressed as a wolf, dancing on the front of a boat to Michael Jackson songs, sailing up and down the canal. I don’t know why.

Day 34 – Osaka

A very lazy day today, feel like I am running out of energy! Plus it was super humid and that is the worst kind of weather. Anyway I spent the morning at the Apple store, trying to fix an issue with my MacBook, then wondered through the side streets of Osaka, visiting a few little community style temples that no tourists ever come too and it was great.

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I then headed back to to the riverside park I went to on my first day here and snoozed by the river. Lovely.

In the evening I sampled the local speciality which is called Okonomiyaki. It is a kind of vegetable based pancake, cooked in front of you on a hot-plate. The veggie option was cabbage, eggs, potato, cheese, with a mayonnaise topping with some other stuff I wasn’t sure of! But it was delicious.

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I then visited Osaka Tower and went up the tallest building in the city to see nighttime views across the city, a nice way to end my last evening here.

Osaka Tower

Day 35 – Osaka

Today is my last day in Japan, and in Asia. I have not visited Asia for quite some years. I think the last time I was here was way back in 2005. I really love the culture and people and energy of this continent, it is everything I wanted it to be. Challenging, awe-inspiring, welcoming and a world away from my everyday life.

I am heading off to Hawaii tonight, but I just wanted to end with some thoughts on my time in Japan.

Life in the land of the rising sun

  • Japan truly is the friendliest country in the world. It is also the politest and most orderly. Everything you have heard is true. I like and respect order and efficiency and this country has it in bucketloads!
  • The Japanese people have embraced technology, without forgetting their culture and history. Technology like robots, sushi conveyor belts and self parking car garages sit alongside Shinto temples, kimonos and origami. This seems to be true of both young and old.
  • There is a real respect for older people, which is great to see and sadly lacking in many countries.
  • It is the tidiest country with the fewest bins. They have hardly any public bins, yet the place is sparkling!
  • There is a strange attitude to smoking. There are loads of signs telling you that you can’t smoke in the street, and yet you can still smoke in bars and restaurants.
  • People cycle on the pavements more that then road and you just have to get out their way quickly it would seem!
  • The attitude to tattoos is similar to the UK in the 1950s. In my current hotel it says you can’t use the spa if you are drunk or have tattoos. They pretty much equate the two together. They seem to have a view that tattoo=criminal. As much as I obviously look like a Yakuza overlord,  I just used it anyway #rebel.
  • The trains. Oh the trains. Not ONE SINGLE TRAIN I used was even one minute late. I will leave that there for you to consider.
  • The Japan Rail Pass is a brilliant idea and a great cost-efficient way to get around. Highly recommended.
  • Plastic. The Japanese, and Korean, people love plastic and plastic bags. The UK is certainly way ahead in our environmental outlook that’s for sure.
  • My final note I am sure to be back here one day, there is so much more to see. Aloha, I’ll see you in Hawaii.