Strolling Through San Francisco

Sometimes it’s worthwhile to take stock of your past to get some perspective on your present. I recently had a chance to do that when I visited the San Francisco Bay Area and immersed myself in what I used to think of as my other life but what I now realize is really my old life.

Andi cable car

I moved to the Bay Area in 1982, when I was 22 years old. Fresh out of college, I bought a one-way ticket from Philadelphia to San Francisco. I didn’t have a job, a place to live, or any friends in the area, but I didn’t care. With a duffel bag full of clothes in one hand and my guitar in the other, I boarded a plane and never looked back. It was the first of my many great adventures.

Over time, I found a series of jobs, made lots of friends, and fell in love and got married. I lived in four different towns in the East Bay – Albany, Berkeley, El Cerrito, and Richmond – and frequently commuted into San Francisco to work and play. I lived in the Bay Area for 13 years and enjoyed every second of my time there.

I go back periodically to catch up with my friends and touch base with my past. Although it’s been more than 20 years since I left the Bay Area, I marvel at how easy it is for me to slip back into my old life. I just pick up where I left off with my friends and carry on as though I’d never been gone. When I remarked to my friend Paula how comfortable I feel every time I return despite the passage of time, she said, “That’s because your spirit still lives here.”

During this most recent visit, I spent a lot of time wandering through my past. One afternoon, my friend David and I had lunch at one of my favorite eateries – Nation’s Giant Burgers in El Cerrito. Then we took a stroll through Albany, where we both had once lived. As we walked, we played the “Do you remember…?” game, recalling favorite neighborhood haunts along the way that have long since been replaced by new businesses over the years.

Paula and I spent a delightful afternoon poking around 4th Street and Solano Avenue in Berkeley, engaging in “retail therapy” and catching up on our lives. Paula and I first met when we sang together in a choir at the Albany School for the Blind. She sat down next to me at rehearsal one night and introduced herself, and we started talking. It’s now 34 years later, and we haven’t run out of things to talk about.

Andi and Paula

One of the nicest days was spent with Perry, my ex-husband. Perry and I both moved from Philadelphia to the East Bay in 1982. Although we’d grown up less than a mile apart in Philly, we didn’t meet each other until we both got to California. We were the most casual of friends for about a year. Then we fell in love and spent the next 10 years together.

Although we got divorced in 1994, and Perry has since remarried, we parted amicably and have remained very close. On this particular visit, Perry and I set out on a walk through San Francisco that was reminiscent of the many walks we took through the City in our youth. We started downtown, then walked all through Chinatown and North Beach until we reached Fisherman’s Wharf.

The Wharf has always held great meaning for both of us because it’s where we each got our start. Perry came out to San Francisco in April of 1982. He spent a week at a youth hostel near Fisherman’s Wharf, then set out on a two-month backpacking trip through the Sierras before making his way to Berkeley.

I fell in love with San Francisco in 1980, when my family took a trip there, and we stayed in a hotel at Fisherman’s Wharf. When I saw all the creative, artsy people selling their wares along the Wharf, I knew that at long last, I had found the place I belonged. It would just be a matter of time before I got there myself, which I did in June of 1982.

During this most recent visit, once Perry and I reached the Wharf, we sat in the amphitheater in Aquatic Park looking out at the San Francisco Bay. We started reminiscing about the separate journeys that had led us to this spot and eventually to each other.

Aquatic Park

We talked about our early days in the Bay Area when we each struggled to settle in, find employment, and build a life. I’d started out doing public relations work for a hospital in Oakland, then went on to start a freelance writing business, teach high school, and do PR work for nonprofit organizations and local universities. Eventually I went off to graduate school and landed at Cal State Fullerton in Southern California.

Perry started taking computer classes at Vista Community College in Berkeley in the early 1980s, when no one really had a clue what computers could do. He ultimately parlayed what he learned at Vista into a successful career as a computer trainer and programmer with the Environmental Protection Agency, where he’s worked for the last 25+ years.

Perry

Perry and I spent nearly two hours sitting and talking about both the past and the present. We recalled some of the people we’d met along the way who had helped and mentored us. We marveled at the things we’ve done – together and separately – in all the years we’ve known each other. Perry then told me about his first week in California back in 1982, when he’d sat in this very same amphitheater in Aquatic Park, gazing at the water and wondering what his life had in store for him.

I patted him on the arm and said, “You’ve certainly come a long way.” He smiled at me and replied, “You too, Professor.”

 

 

 

Theme Park Fun

People often ask me why I like theme parks so much. What is it, they imply, that motivates a middle-aged, professional woman to spend her leisure time in an artificial environment designed primarily for children? I can answer the question in two words: pure joy.

When I walk through the gates of an amusement or theme park, my face lights up with glee. I feel almost giddy. My heartbeat accelerates as I anticipate the hours of fun that await me. It is like no other feeling in the world.

A day at a theme park is an adventure unto itself. Who will I meet? What will I see? What will I ride? Where will I eat?

For me, a theme park is also a place to de-stress, to forget my troubles du jour. I simply suspend my disbelief and immerse myself in a fantasy world where my biggest worry is how long the wait might be for my favorite ride.

Andi at DCA2.cropped

Whenever I go to an amusement or theme park, what I do there often depends on the park itself. If I’ve never been to the park before, I try to absorb as many attractions as possible – rides, shows, shops, etc. But, I also thoroughly enjoy the theme park experience – just walking around, soaking in the ambiance of the environment, and reveling in the process of living in another world for a few hours.

People watching is one of my favorite theme park activities. At Disneyland, where I have an annual pass, sometimes I’ll just go to the park for lunch. I’ll buy a grilled cheese sandwich at my favorite restaurant, the Jolly Holiday Café. Then I’ll get a seat at a table overlooking Main Street and sit and watch people go by for an hour or so. Sometimes when I’m finished, I’ll sit and write for awhile. (I wrote most of this blog post, for example, on the back of a paper bag while sitting at the Jolly Holiday Café.)

People I’ve met in Southern California have told me they “grew up” at Disneyland. Their moms would drop them off in the morning, and they’d run around the park all day. It was their local playground, back in the days when a day at Disneyland was convenient and cheap entertainment. (No longer!)

I grew up on the East Coast. My childhood park was a small, old-time amusement park at Cottman Avenue and the Boulevard in Northeast Philadelphia. Its official name was Playland. We simply called it, The Amusement Park.

As a child, I could never get enough of it. My brother and I would beg our parents to take us there, even if just for a few hours. Since money was always tight in our household, the visits were infrequent. But, when we did get to go, it was a thrilling experience.

I have distinct memories of some of the rides – the Whip, the Scrambler, the Salt and Pepper Shaker, and my personal favorite, the Tilt-a-Whirl. But, the jewel of The Amusement Park was a giant sliding board, where guests sat parallel to each other and went whizzing down the slide while sitting on burlap sacks to give them traction.

gravitslide

A few weeks ago I visited the new Skyslide at the US Bank building in Los Angeles. As I was positioning myself at the top of the Skyslide, I suddenly had a flashback to sitting at the top of that giant slide from my childhood, getting ready to push off and race to the bottom.

As a grownup, I’ve been fortunate to visit some very special amusement and theme parks around the world. Perhaps the most special was my visit to Bakken with my mother in 2006. Built in 1593 and located just outside Copenhagen in Denmark, Bakken is the oldest amusement park in the world still in operation. Even though the park’s attractions have kept up with the times, I was able to get a real sense of what Bakken must have been like in its early days when it was just a simple medieval pleasure garden, the foundation of the modern-day amusement park.

One of my favorite park visits was to the Idlewild Amusement Park in Ligonier, PA, hometown of children’s TV legend Fred Rogers. That park featured a replica of the Neighborhood of Make Believe from his show, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, complete with a real-life, full-size trolley. While riding the trolley, I got to see some of the well-known characters from the show like X the Owl, Daniel Tiger, and Lady Elaine Fairchilde. As a kid, I dreamed about riding Mr. Rogers’ trolley into the Neighborhood of Make Believe. As an adult, I was utterly enchanted by the experience.

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My fascination with all things Disney has led me on a quest to visit all 12 Disney theme parks around the globe, including the newest one, Shanghai Disneyland, which I got to see last month. In pursuing this quest, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed exploring the various features the different parks have to offer and seeing how the Disney brand translates to other cultures.

As much as I relish my visits to amusement and theme parks, I do realize they are not for everyone. But for me, they provide countless hours of entertainment, thrills, pleasure, and fun. And when I’m done for the day, I always leave with a warm, fuzzy feeling inside my chest and a great big smile of satisfaction on my face.

The Joys of Solo Travel

Many people can’t fathom the idea of traveling solo, especially to a foreign destination. For me, it is a routine part of my life. I am often at my happiest when venturing off into the unknown to explore, discover, and experience the wonders a new destination or culture has to offer.

While traveling by myself can sometimes be a bit daunting, the personal feeling of satisfaction I get from the challenge of the adventure is absolutely exhilarating. My travels have taken me all over the world, to nearly 50 countries and 45 U.S. states.

Not every trip is a completely solo journey. Sometimes I sign on for an escorted bus tour or a cruise where my lodging and transportation are provided. These options give me an opportunity to meet other travelers from all over the globe. But, I also thoroughly enjoy heading to a destination by myself and having the pleasure and the adventure of discovering what it has to offer.

My latest trip has taken me to Shanghai. I was here once before in 2005 with a tour group, under the watch of a tour leader who never let us out of her sight. This time I’m here on my own, free to wander as I please and maneuver my way around the city.

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I’m a great believer that if I can figure out the public transit system, I’m gold. Then I can get anywhere I want. I generally try and book a hotel that is close to a train station or subway line, so I can get around easily and safely.

I don’t like riding in taxis, even in the U.S. So, I spend a lot of time riding the subway and even city buses. Sometimes I’ll get on a bus just to see where it goes. In many cases – as in Shanghai – I may be the only non-local rider in a subway car packed with people. This often prompts many stares in my direction. I just take it in stride.

Eating can sometimes be a challenge when I’m in unfamiliar territory. In Shanghai, for example, I’m not always sure what I’m ordering since I can’t speak or read Chinese, and most people I’ve encountered don’t speak English. As a result, I’ve ended up with some interesting things to eat. I love shopping mall food courts. They offer a variety of choices, and I can usually see what I’m ordering.

I try very hard to resist American fast food restaurants when I travel. But, sometimes I will break down and venture into a McDonalds or KFC just for the comfort of something familiar. And, sometimes I find it easier to skip a meal altogether and just eat grab-and-go snacks instead. Not the healthiest of choices, I know.

I’m always amazed by my behavior when I travel by myself. At home I can be fairly reserved and standoffish when it comes to meeting new people or talking to strangers. When I travel, I’m much more likely to come out of my shell and become more extroverted.

On the first morning of my trip, for example, a man sitting alone at the table next to me at breakfast struck up a conversation. Instead of politely deflecting him as I might have done at home, I starting chatting with him. He turned out to be a fascinating guy, born in the U.S., and raised in Asia. We spent the next 45 minutes animatedly talking about Asian culture and American politics.

A few days later while waiting to board a hop-on-hop-off bus for a tour of Shanghai, I initiated a conversation with another tourist waiting for the same bus. Turned out he and his friend were in town for the same reason I was. We hit it off and ended up riding the bus around town together for the next few hours.

No solo journey is complete without its complications. Consequently, every trip is likely to come with at least one meltdown, usually fairly early in the journey when I’m still feeling a little unsteady and emotionally vulnerable.

This time I melted down on my third day in Shanghai. Ironically, the meltdown happened when the cell phone I never wanted in the first place lost its connection to the local service provider, leaving me with no cell phone service or Internet access whatsoever. After fiddling with the phone for almost an hour without success, I had a fairly typical reaction. I started sobbing. While sitting on a bench in a shopping mall. In broad daylight. Ah, well.

Eventually, I got it resolved and was able to calm down and get on with my day. I’m traveling for two more weeks, so I’m sure there’s at least one more meltdown in my future before the journey’s end.

Solo travel can certainly be challenging, there’s no doubt about it. But, seeing first-hand the wonders of the world and knowing I am able to see them despite the challenges gives me a tremendous sense of accomplishment.

Yesterday, for example, I made my way to the Shanghai waterfront. Although I’d been there a few days earlier in the rain, this time the sun was shining gloriously. It was late afternoon, and there was a slight, refreshing breeze.

I sat on the steps near the promenade and just stared at the beautiful Pudong skyline glistening in the sun for almost an hour. It was magical. I felt so lucky to be here. And, when I was done, I got up and headed to the nearest subway station to maneuver my way through the rush hour crowds and see what interesting things I could find to eat for dinner.

Santa Monica

As most people know, I can never resist a good adventure, especially one that involves public transit. This weekend I had the opportunity to make my way from my neighborhood in Orange County to downtown Santa Monica just by riding the train.

Santa Monica is a beach community perched on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. It is known for its amusement pier, scenic views, and pedestrian shopping street. It also denotes the end point of what was once the Main Street of America – Route 66.

Route 66

Generally, a trip to Santa Monica from my house involves multiple freeways and the hassle of driving in circles and looking for a place to park once I get there. But, last week the Los Angeles transit system – aka Metro – extended one of its subway lines from downtown L.A. out to Santa Monica, making the trip a lot more appealing. I’d been eager to try it out since it opened, and when I woke up this morning, I decided today was the day.

I began my journey on the Metrolink commuter train, which runs from Buena Park, where I live, to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. From there, I hopped on the Metro Red Line subway for a short five-minute ride to the 7th Street station. Transferred to the Blue Line train – this one above ground – for a scenic ride across Los Angeles. Forty-five minutes later, I got off that train and voilà – there was the Pacific Ocean. I was in Santa Monica. It was great!

My first stop was Palisades Park, where I paused to look at the plaque denoting the end of Route 66 near the intersection of Ocean Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard. In its heyday, Route 66 ran across seven states from Chicago to Los Angeles. (A sign indicating the starting point is on Adams Street near Wabash Avenue, across from the Art Institute of Chicago.)

From there, I walked down to the Santa Monica Pier. The Pier is known for its seaside amusement park, Pacific Park, which features rides, games, fast-food stands, and a magnificent view of the Pacific Ocean. It was preceded in the 1920s by an earlier attraction called the Pleasure Pier, and later by Pacific Ocean Park, which was located in Santa Monica until the late 1960s.

Santa Monica pier sign

Of course, I had to ride the carousel while I was there. This particular carousel was built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company in 1922, and was moved to the Santa Monica Pier in 1947. I also put a dollar in a machine to have my fortune told by Zoltar, the mechanical seer. He predicted, “A new turn of events will soon come about.” Sounds good to me!

After soaking up the sun on the Pier for a bit, I walked over to Santa Monica Place, an upscale shopping mall featuring an array of specialty stores. I bought some pasta and sat outside and ate it while gazing at – you guessed it – the Pacific Ocean. Can’t do that at the Buena Park Mall!

Santa Monica beach

From there, I strolled down the 3rd Street Promenade, a pedestrian-only street filled with chain stores and restaurants. A variety of street performers show off their talents by entertaining passers-by. I saw singers, a clown, several balloon artists, and my personal favorite – a puppeteer dangling a belly-dancer marionette in front of a mesmerized crowd.

Eventually, I made my way to the Barnes and Noble bookstore café at the end of the Promenade, where I met up with my friends Carol and Philippe. They live in nearby Venice Beach, and they were tickled to have me in their neighborhood since I so rarely get up that way.

When we finished catching up over a spot of tea, they went on their way, and I made my way back to the Metro station. Got on the Blue Line, transferred to the Red Line, hopped on the Metrolink, and made it home in time for dinner feeling happy, relaxed, and grateful for not having to drive.

Fun in the sun in Santa Monica, all courtesy of Metro.

 

 

 

 

California Screamin’

I’ve always been a great believer in the importance of taking risks in life. I’m a big risk taker myself and am often the one encouraging others to stray from their comfort zones to try something out of the ordinary, even if it feels slightly unsettling.

In most areas of my life, I follow my own advice when it comes to taking risks. There are a few exceptions where I have fallen down on the job – most notably when it comes to love, money, and roller coasters.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I do like roller coasters. But, I’ve always drawn the line when it came to riding a roller coaster that would turn me upside down. The prospect of dangling in the air head first, held on by a flimsy metal restraint that could come apart at any moment and send me plunging to the ground…well, I couldn’t even fathom the thought.

Until today.

This afternoon as I was walking around Disney’s California Adventure, I suddenly decided it was time to take the risk and try to overcome my fear of the upside-down roller coaster. I resolved to brave the California Screamin’ coaster that dominates the park’s skyline. I’d watched people fly around the track on that coaster many times, but I’d never had the slightest inkling of a desire to try it myself.

Before I could let the voice of reason in my head talk me out of it, I found myself standing in line, waiting to board. The line was short, and in less than 10 minutes I was standing on the edge of the platform, ready for the next string of coaster cars to arrive.

As I waited, I began to shake. I questioned my sanity and wondered if perhaps risk taking was really overrated after all. I worried that the jolt of the ride would cause the contents of my handbag to spill onto innocent bystanders below. I hoped I wouldn’t throw up or collapse onto the sidewalk when the ride was over.

Then the cars pulled up, and I got in. There was no turning back. I stashed my handbag on the floor firmly between my feet. Down came the restraint. And, off I went…like a rocket.

The California Screamin’ coaster is known for its kick-ass start. It takes off from the base at a speed of 55 miles per hour. Then it races uphill and turns, twists, spins, and whirls its giddy riders as it roars around the track and heads toward the upside-down loop.

As the coaster raced along, I tried not to hyperventilate. I gripped the handrails like they were a lifeline, hoping with all my heart the restraint wouldn’t suddenly pop open and send me on a downward spiral. I heard sounds coming out of my mouth that sounded like a dog in heat.

California Screamin' 1

I confess I did close my eyes several times as the coaster bolted up and down the track. As we neared the loop, I squeezed them as tightly as I possibly could. But then, halfway through, I opened them because I wanted to see what it felt like to be out of my comfort zone as I was dangling upside down in mid-air. Oddly enough, it almost felt like we were taking the loop in slow motion. It was surreal.

After the loop, the coaster took a few more thrusts, jolts, and turns and eventually made its way back to the boarding platform. The adventure was over. I had survived.

When the ride ended, I got up, climbed out of the car, and staggered down the stairs. My body was still shaking. I was dizzy. Tears were seeping from the corners of my eyes. But, much to my surprise, I didn’t collapse into a quivering mass onto the sidewalk. And, I didn’t throw up.

Instead, I did what any self-respecting risk taker should do. I got back in line and went on the ride again. And this time, I kept my eyes open all the way.

 

Fun with Friends in Fresno

I consider myself very fortunate to have the most wonderful group of friends. My life is continually enriched by the assortment of people whose lives have touched mine. Through their love and support, they have helped me become the person I am today.

Some friends have been there to cheer me on through life’s triumphs. Others have held my hand through the most trying times in my life. Each one adds a dimension of richness to my life that I cherish with all my heart.

This past weekend I had a chance to get together in Fresno with two individuals who have been my best pals for the last 25 years – Liz Glover and David Gin. Although we are as different as three people can possibly be, we have managed to sustain a friendship that has overcome our differences in age, personality, and, location.

ALD1

We met in the early 1990s when we all worked for Golden Gate University in San Francisco. We had the opportunity to work on a project together and realized there was something special about the dynamics of our relationship. We’ve been the best of friends ever since.

Through the years, Liz, David, and I have come to know every aspect of each other’s lives. We’ve shared stories about our families, our adventures, and our hopes and dreams. If any one of us were ever in trouble and needed help, the other two would be there in a heartbeat.

We’ve also had more fun than we could possibly stand over the years. We’ve gone on road trips, casino runs, shopping sprees, and quests for the perfect donut. We’ve ushered in many a new year together. We’ve talked until the wee hours of the morning and made each other laugh until our sides hurt.

Our backgrounds and personalities are quite different. Liz is 12 years older and David is two years younger than I am. Liz grew up in central California, coming from a family that settled in the state in the 1800s. David is first-generation Chinese American, raised in the heart of San Francisco. I’m an East Coast transplant who moved to California in 1982 and never looked back.

David is the ultimate planner, whereas Liz prefers to take life as it comes. Liz is a homebody, happy to stay in one place. I’m the restless adventurer, always on the move and returning to regale the other two with tales of my travels. Though our personalities are vastly different, we share many interests and core values, which is what has made our friendship work so well.

Liz and David.jpg

While our bond has spanned more than two decades, we only lived in the same vicinity for a few short years. I was the first to break up the group when I left California in 1995 to pursue my academic aspirations. Still, we managed to sustain our friendship, as I returned to the San Francisco Bay Area to visit them on a regular basis.

Then four years ago, Liz moved to the Fresno area to look after her aging mother. With the three of us in different locations, our get-togethers are less frequent now, but in many ways even more precious because of that. We meet when and where we can, and we always manage to have the time of our lives.

Among my best memories is a road trip we took many years ago to celebrate one of our birthdays. I remember cruising up Highway 101 in Northern California with the two of them – talking, laughing, singing along with the radio, and feeling like the luckiest person on the planet to be in such good company. I recall thinking, “Hold onto this moment. It doesn’t get much better than this.”

Fun with friends. It really doesn’t.

The Los Angeles Zoo

Some people dream of visiting baseball stadiums all over the country. Others want to ride as many roller coasters as humanly possible. For me, it’s all about zoos. I am what is known as a “zoo aficionado.” I have visited more than 30 zoos around the globe, including some that consistently rank among the world’s best.

Zebra 1

As a kid, I made frequent trips with my family to the Philadelphia Zoo, the oldest public zoo in the United States. (http://www.philadelphiazoo.org/) As a 19-year-old, I even competed in the Miss American Aardvark contest at the Philadelphia Zoo – a crazy story unto itself.

When I was in college, I scored a plum internship working in the public relations department of the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. – to this day, one of the most fun jobs I’ve ever had. (https://nationalzoo.si.edu/) I got to write a feature story about the zoo’s giant pandas, Hsing-Hsing and Ling-Ling, which was syndicated all over the country. And, I helped organize “Panda Information Day,” an event celebrating the 10-year anniversary of said pandas’ residence at the zoo.

Once I grew up and had the time and the means to travel, I made it a point to try and visit as many zoos as I could. My travels have taken me to zoos in San Diego, London, Singapore, Beijing, Switzerland, and Belgium, among others.

My most recent zoo adventure took me to the Los Angeles Zoo in Griffith Park, one I hadn’t visited in more than 25 years despite its relative proximity to my own backyard. (http://www.lazoo.org/) The present version of the Los Angeles Zoo dates back to the 1950s. It’s a large, sprawling, not particularly well-designed zoo. It’s built on a hillside and requires a lot of walking to see all the exhibits. So, I definitely got a good workout as I maneuvered my way around the facility.

The zoo has a wide assortment of animals. It includes special features like the Rainforest of the Americas and an Australian species exhibit, which included several koalas.

Koala

Compared to other zoos I’ve visited, I wouldn’t rank it among my top 10. But, I had the privilege of visiting on a glorious Southern California weather day when the temperature was just perfect for wandering around outdoors. That alone made it worth the trip.

One of the reasons I enjoy zoos so much is because at my core, I am an observer. I love to sit in a corner and watch the interactions of those around me. A zoo provides a perfect opportunity to observe all different kinds of creatures as they go about their day – eating, playing, and interacting with each other and with the humans intently watching them.

Whenever I go to a zoo, I also enjoy taking pictures of animals. Unfortunately, despite many years of practice, I’m really not very good at it. Nevertheless, that doesn’t stop me from trying.

Elephant 1

While I was at the zoo, I also had a chance to ride the carousel, another one of my favorite past-times. This one had some unusual animals on it, including a ladybug, cricket, and owl. I went the more traditional route and opted to ride a zebra. He just seemed to call out my name, so I couldn’t turn him down.

Fun in the sun at the L.A. Zoo. Overall, a very nice day.

Andi on carousel.LA Zoo

Walt Disney Concert Hall

There’s something magical about seeing a live performance. Whether it’s a play, Broadway musical, or concert, having the opportunity to witness first-hand the power of the performers always fills me with a sense of awe.

Classical music performances in particular are fun to watch because of the different dynamics of all the players involved. There are the musicians, each immersed in coaxing out the most beautiful sounds from their instruments. There is the conductor, trying to harness the energy of the individual performers and blend them into a solitary sound. And, of course, there are the members of the audience, who get swept away in the cascade of musical notes and rhythms emanating from the stage.

I recently had a chance to see a performance by the Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra of Claude Debussy’s La Mer at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

concert hall

Debussy is one of my favorite composers. His music has an ethereal quality about it that almost feels like it is casting a spell. It’s the same feeling I get when looking at an Impressionist painting, seeing the way the colors meld into each other and come together to create something vibrant and mesmerizing.

Among my favorite Debussy pieces are Afternoon of a Faun, Clair De Lune, and Reverie. La Mer, on the other hand, is a piece I was less familiar with, which is what prompted me to attend the concert.

As a performance venue, the Walt Disney Concert Hall is absolutely magnificent. Although I had been inside the building a number of times to marvel at the innovative architecture, this was only the second time I had gone to see a performance there.

The venue itself has an interesting story behind it. Designed by architect Frank Gehry, the building was initially funded in 1987 by a $50 million donation from Lillian Disney, wife of Walt Disney. But, the construction got bogged down in the mid-1990s, so the concert hall didn’t actually open until 2003 – six years after Lillian Disney’s death.

Many would say it was well worth the wait. The exterior of the building is very striking – made of stainless steel and curved to look like the billowing sails of a ship. The inside of the building is quite attractive as well – it’s constructed of rich brown wood, which gives it a warm, homey feeling.

concert stage

Behind the stage is a massive pipe organ that fills the center of the back wall. The concert hall is famous for its outstanding acoustics. I was sitting on the 4th level and felt as though I were down on the ground floor.

One of the nicest features of the concert hall is its third-level Blue Ribbon Garden, which is also accessible to the public from the outside. In the center of the garden is a fountain Gehry created to honor the memory of Lillian Disney. Called “A Rose for Lilly,” the fountain is shaped like a flower and made of fragments of blue and white Delft porcelain tiles embedded into concrete. Someone must have had a REALLY good time smashing all those tiles!

Andi and fountain

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the Walt Disney Concert Hall, as well as the opportunity to sample another of Claude Debussy’s creations. I look forward to returning to immerse myself in the music, ambience, and fun the venue has to offer.

Old Towne Orange Flea Market

There’s an old saying that “One person’s trash is another person’s treasure.” I confess I am one of those “other” persons. One of my favorite past-times is browsing through thrift shops, antique and consignment stores, and flea markets looking for “finds.”

My house is filled with other people’s discards – knickknacks, stuffed toys, used media, and endless assortments of secondhand odds and ends I’ve picked up at various outlets over the years.

One of my favorite sources of secondhand stuff is Old Towne Orange, California, known as the “Antique Capital of Southern California.” The city’s main thoroughfares, Glassell and Chapman Streets, are lined with nearly 60 antique and consignment shops selling everything under the sun – heirloom jewelry, vintage clothing, antique toys, period furniture, and more.

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On the second Saturday of every month, the city of Orange also hosts an outdoor flea market, just a few blocks north of the town’s historic Plaza. (http://www.oldtownfleamarket.com/). I learned about the flea market a couple of years ago and now make regular pilgrimages there. I have my favorite stalls, and in the process, I’ve gotten to know some of the vendors who run them.

One vendor I’m very fond of sells an assortment of baseball memorabilia. Since I love baseball, I always make it a point to stop in to see what he’s got and to talk with him and his wife.

Given my penchant for all things Disney, I’m always looking for interesting and unusual Disney collectibles and other treasures. On my visit to the flea market last month, I met a guy selling all kinds of Disney merchandise, including a large assortment of watches.

I’m an avid watch collector and have many Disney watches of my own, so I struck up a conversation with him about his collection. We proceeded to spend 20 minutes happily chatting about watches, watch batteries, and watch repair. Pretty heady stuff for a Saturday morning! I even bought a Mickey Mouse watch from him for $15.

The Old Towne Orange Flea Market is one of many flea markets in the Southern California area. The largest and most well known is in Pasadena, held every second Sunday of the month at the Rose Bowl (http://www.rgcshows.com/rosebowl.aspx). I’ve only been there once and was almost overwhelmed by how much there was to look at.

Flea markets are not unique to California. In 2014, the Huffington Post published a guide to “The Best Flea Markets in America.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/11/the-best-flea-markets-in-america_n_5571817.html) And, last year the Independent produced a list of the “10 Best Flea Markets Around the World.” (http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/10-best-flea-markets-around-the-world-10181106.html)

So, if you’re like me and can’t resist browsing through other people’s stuff, a visit to a local flea market can result in endless hours of fun…and perhaps a few great finds as well.

Walt Disney’s Barn

I love trains. There’s something so alluring about the idea of train travel and the promise of adventure that lies ahead.

For a good portion of my adult life, I’ve had trains close to my home. When I lived in El Cerrito in the San Francisco Bay Area, the tracks of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system – aka BART – ran right above my backyard. Trains would whiz by my house at regular intervals as they transported people to and from my favorite city.

Today I live next to railroad tracks frequented by Metrolink and Amtrak trains. From my bedroom window, I can wave at the passengers each morning as they head into Los Angeles on their daily commutes.

One of my favorite train-related sites in Southern California is Walt Disney’s Barn in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park. (http://www.carolwood.org/barn.html) Run by the Carolwood Foundation, Walt’s Barn is just that – a big red barn that once resided in Walt Disney’s backyard. He used the Barn as a workshop for the miniature railroad he built, which ran around his property in Holmby Hills. The Barn was relocated to Griffith Park in 1999, and today it is part of the Los Angeles Live Steamers Railroad Museum. (http://www.lals.org/)

Walt’s Barn is open to the public every third Sunday of the month. Inside the Barn there is an impressive display of miniature trains, train-related pictures, books, and magazines, and other assorted train paraphernalia. On the grounds there is also a railroad combine car that was originally part of the Retlaw 1 Disneyland train.

I first learned about Walt’s Barn and the Carolwood Foundation from one of the organization’s many volunteers, whom I met at Fullerton Railroad Days in 2014. He encouraged me to come up to the Barn to see it for myself. I made my first visit a few months later and became an instant fan.

Every December, the volunteers deck the Barn with boughs of holly to celebrate the holiday season. So, last weekend I drove up to Griffith Park for the Barn’s annual Christmas celebration. During this visit, I got to see a special exhibit called, “60 Years of Magical Railroading,” a tribute to the trains at Disneyland in honor of the park’s 60th anniversary. I also got to meet Santa Claus.

Walt's Barn

One of the highlights of visiting Walt’s Barn is the opportunity to ride the Travel Town miniature railroad, which is adjacent to the Barn and circles the property. (http://www.griffithparktrainrides.com/content/travel-town-railroad). This last visit was especially exciting since I got to ride on a train pulled by Thomas the Tank Engine.

I adore Thomas the Tank Engine. I’ve been a huge fan since discovering the PBS show that featured him, “Shining Time Station,” in the mid-1980s. Because of this infatuation with Thomas, I was just beside myself with glee when the opportunity arose not only to ride one of the miniature trains, but to ride the one that had Thomas as the engine. (The look on my face might give you a hint of how I felt about the whole thing!) It made for a perfect afternoon.

Andi and Thomas

If you like trains and want to get an up close and personal view of them, I highly recommend a visit to Walt’s Barn and Travel Town. It’s a fun place for kids, both big and small.