Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Cruising down the California Coast

Jim and I, on something of a whim, took a Princess Cruise down the California Coast, round trip from/to San Francisco.  It was just a week long and the combination of a reasonable price and being able to get there by just taking Bart, the Bay Area's public transit system, and then walking a a short distance to the cruise ship terminal, made it irresistible.

We like going on cruises but usually take cruises to places that we can't easily visit on our own. We made an exception to this "rule" with the California Coastal cruise; we already were familiar with all but one of the ports.


One of our traditions upon embarking on the ship, before we set sail, is to go up to the poolside deck and have a hot dog and french fries...not very fancy, for sure, but certainly tasty. Many people immediately head to the buffet dining room and have a large "feast," but, for us, that hot dog and fries is our perfect way to start a cruise vacation and still leave plenty of appetite for a nice dinner that evening.

Before we could set sail, we had our safety drill.  Fortunately, this was the only time we needed the life vests.

It was after sunset by the time we were underway. Sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge was a special thrill.


In Santa Barbara, I took a half day excursion to Montecito to see where the rich and famous live.

And then, I spent the rest of the day walking in the downtown area, mainly on State Street in downtown.  Before heading up to the historic and high-end shopping part of downtown State Street, I stopped for lunch at Metropulos, a gourmet market and sandwich shop, in the Funk Zone, a section of town near Sterns Wharf and the Visitors Center that the L.A. Times recently described as the "happening" part of Santa Barbara.  The Funk Zone has industrial origins, but is currently populated by breweries, wine-tasting rooms, art galleries, shops, musical venues, and more. Metropulos has been in its location for over 11 years, long before the Funk Zone's name existed.  Most of the customers having lunch were young local business people; the vibe was much like that in San Francisco's SOMA district during San Francisco's first dot-com boom...very energized. And, my Pastrami Reuben sandwich was yummy.


For our Los Angeles stop, we docked in Long Beach.  We were across from the Queen Mary, which is now permanently docked here and open to the public as a hotel, restaurant and shopping area, and museum.

We had no time for the Queen Mary because we spent most of the day at the Getty Museum.


Our bus to the Getty made a short stop in Beverly Hills, just enough time for a quick walk on and around Rodeo Drive.


The Getty is high up on a hill, overlooking the 405 Freeway in one direction and out as far as Santa Catalina in another.  It has very scenic setting.

My main activity at the Getty was to take a guided tour of its impressive gardens.  Jim spent his time in the galleries looking at the diverse art collection which is housed in multiple buildings and galleries.



In San Diego, we woke up to a view of the Midway docked next to us.  And we bid it farewell at dusk, as we sailed away

We spent this entire day at Balboa Park, in its museums and park areas.


We both visited the Air and Space Museum.


 I also went to the Mingei International Museum, a museum dedicated to crafts. Its current "Art in the Americas" exhibit has examples of crafts from each of our 50 states. I was delighted to find a beautiful pottery plate by Maria Martinez, of the San Ildefonso Pueblo until her 1980 death,  as the representative work from the state of New Mexico.

It was the Niki de Saint Phalle large ceramic sculptures that initially lured me to the Mingei over Balboa Park's many other museums. I'm a longtime fan of her work but did not know until seeing her works here that she lived her last years (1992 - 2002) in nearby La Jolla.


Our final stop was in Ensenada in Baja California, Mexico.  Ensenada is a "typical" border town in Mexico.  I went into town and wandered around its six blocks of shops to get a feel for the town and to buy a few pieces of jewelry at a shop recommended by our ship's Shopping Host.


Life on a cruise ship is always fun. To me, it's kind of a combination of being at summer camp and being in a luxury hotel.  One can fill one's days with classes, live shows, bingo, art auctions, working out in the gym, or just sitting in a quiet spot reading a good book.

I always find a few fun classes to attend. This time it was Origami and Napkin Folding. I pretty much failed Origami (fortunately there are no grades given) but did well with my Napkin Folding.

One of our favorite shows on the Princess ships is the one in which the executive chef and maitre d' do a cooking demonstration. This show usually takes place on the last day at sea.  It is a totally lighthearted event where the two of them face off in making a few dishes.

The above picture of the two of them making Tiramisu.

We met nice people, especially Sue and Jack who don't live too far from us when we are home. One night we dined with them in the ship's specialty steak restaurant and, on another night, we joined them in the pizza restaurant.

As always, we ate well and enjoyed the variety of food and dining venues. Jim especially enjoyed the chocolate-themed desserts that were featured in the dining room. As you can see, they are as pretty as they are tasty.


 Life is easy and as relaxing or busy as your want to make it on a cruise ship.

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