A Quick Peek of Catalina Island

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While many Los Angelenos have heard of Catalina Island, many of them tell me they have never visited the little island that lies about one hour ferry ride off the southern coast of California. This time marks my third visit. I’ve flown over to it and had a bison burger for lunch; I’ve been dropped there by cruise ship, and kayaked around the harbor; and now, probably my favorite time, I took a ferry over and spent the day in the sleepy little town of Avalon. What is remarkable about the island, from what I could see, is that there isn’t a Starbucks or a McDonald’s to be found. It appeared to me that most of the restaurant’s and shops were locally owned. It’s a bit like being thrown back in time to the 1930s. Tiles were made right on the island and their use is evident in the walls, benches, walkways and architecture, staying true to the Art Deco time period. Truly, everything had the ambiance of a 1920s film. I had the strangest sensation of being in the middle of an Agatha Christie mystery just before the body is discovered.

The Catalina Casino is probably the most recognizable structure. Built in 1928 it contains a movie theater, a ballroom, and the island art and history museum. Although it is called a casino, taken from the Italian language, it is merely a place of gathering, and gambling doesn’t go on here.

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How in the World Did the Bison Get to Catalina Island in the First Place?

It is somewhat of a puzzle about the Catalina Island bison herds, since animals could only get to the island by swimming across the ocean, flying on wing, or floating over on the breeze. A little research shows that back in 1924 a silent picture was being made on the island, one of the Westerns by Zane Grey called The Vanishing American. Someone thought it a grand idea to include bison, it’s a cowboys and Indians type story after all, so they shipped fourteen of the woolly beasts to the island. You may look all you like but all the scenes in the film featuring the bison have been left on the editing room floor. And since it was too much trouble to haul back the herd they left them right there where they now number 150 head.

This short film clip looks nothing like the  Catalina Island I’ve seen. And sadly the bison are missing. So typical of Hollywood, but now for over eighty-two years the mighty bison has roamed the rocky terrain of Catalina Island, becoming something of a mascot.

And Speaking of Zane Grey

The famous author of adventure Westerns built a home on the island of Catalina. After his death the home was turned into a hotel The Zane Grey Pueblo Hotel, now permanently closed. Perhaps it will be turned into a museum of sorts?

There are some other famous movie star connections on Catalina Island namely, Marilyn Monroe lived there as a teenager while married to her next-door neighbor who was in the Merchant Marines at the time. The harbor at Avalon is the center of the mystery surrounding the drowning death of Natalie Wood.

But What Else?

All this aside, Catalina is lovely place to find peace and solitude on the beach. There’s plenty of fun things to do like snorkeling, diving, and fishing. But, if you aren’t into any of that the shops are cute, the restaurants all get great reviews on Yelp, and the views from the beach are exquisite. You can find a nice place to sit and have a drink and relax. Which is really what I was in search of on my visit to Catalina Island. Many people come and stay over for a night or two. Hotels are in abundance, so yes, I will be back a fourth time, and will probably stay awhile.

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Lazing Around on a Caribbean Cruise Vacation

I’ve been noticeably missing for most of December and if you really want to know what I’ve been up to well then here is visible proof. Paul and I went on a vacation to celebrate our 20-year-anniversary.

First we traveled to the north part of Florida to visit family. Then after a few days visiting and cooing over new babies and young ones we traveled to the south part of Florida. There I met up with my long-time friend Leigh. She is looking pretty good too!

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We went to the neatest estate in Miami. It is a museum now but once was known as Villa Vizcaya, a sprawling mansion built in 1916 fit for a king. I recommend it if you are in that part of the world and looking for something really amazing to do.

Then the cherry on top of our vacation was a cruise to the Caribbean. What was unusual about this cruise was that we traveled north first! Charleston, SC was our first stop and we stayed there three wonderful days. Besides touring Fort Moultrie (there is a very entertaining video to watch) and Fort Sumter, we saw gorgeous plantations and historic homes, and fit in some souvenir shopping.

Plantation, Charleston SC

We also took a day trip to Savannah, GA. Here I am standing next to a statue of Johnny Mercer, legendary songwriter.

Johnny Mercer Statue, Ellis Square, Savannah, GA

After that we headed south (for real this time) to Haiti, Dominican Republic and Bahamas. Along the way we entered the Bermuda Triangle and watched a Meteor Shower. Amazing!

We leave 2013 with this relaxing picture in mind:

Bahama Beach

Bordellos and Biker Bars: A One-Night Stay in Copperopolis, California, U.S.A

Ever spend the night in a bordello? I did. Paul and I were heading to Copperopolis, California for a bicycle race  and we needed a cheap place to spend the night. I should have known I was in trouble when Paul came into the bedroom and said, “Are you up for an adventure? I found a place to stay but I can tell you right now it’s gonna be kinda funky.”

My curiosity was aroused now, “Yeah, I’m up for it, what did you find?”

“It’s called The Old Corner Saloon. It used to be a brothel in the 1860s.” He had a smirk on his face.

“How in the world did you find this..er..brothel?”

“It’s not used as a brothel now, but I found it on the internet.”

Where else, I thought, would he find such a place.”Okay. I’m up for an adventure. How much is it.”

“It’s fifty bucks.”

“That sounds pretty good. Why do you ask if I’m up for an adventure, what’s wrong with it?”

“Here’s the weird part. There are only three bedrooms and they all share the same bathroom.”

“What?!” I said starting to protest. I did the the “Europe thing” already and while it was fun, I didn’t want to make a habit of shared bathrooms.

Cutting me off before I could say “Heck No!” he said, “No one else has booked a room. I checked. It would only be us.”

Well, that information made it seem better. We would have it all to ourselves and maybe I could pretend it was a suite, I do have an active imagination. I could feel myself beginning to capitulate. Besides, I didn’t really want to spend a lot of money on a room. We were trying to economize on everything, including the length of our vacations.

This overnight 1800s saloon stay seemed kind of fun in a way. It reminded me of my father who had a secret fantasy of being an old western cowboy. When I was eighteen, my family took a vacation to Rapid City, Wyoming. (My little brother, who was eight at the time kept calling it “rabbit city” and wanted to know where all the rabbits were).

My dad booked us into a mid-1800s era hotel, and, it too, was above an old historic saloon. The walls were yellowing. The ceiling was peeling with brown, water stained rings here and there. The beds, which were two twin size mattresses supported by white wrought iron bed frames, were just plain awful. Real bouncy and sagging in the middle. But, somehow the memory of it was pleasing to me. I’m sure my mother was horrified, which might explain her subsequent disappearances from future “adventure” trips with my father.

But that wasn’t the only time we stayed in a unique hotel. Even before that particular trip, when I was thirteen, I had gone with my father to Idaho. He found the most run-down bare bones hotel in the whole town of Soda Springs. The room had tall ceilings and an adjacent bathroom with only a sink and toilet. To take a shower involved going down into the dark, dingy basement where there were locker room type showers. They were all exposed so that there was no privacy whatsoever. My father had to accompany me down there as a bodyguard and I had to take my shower in my bathing suit. Adding further discomfort was the fact that the showers only had cold running water! Clearly, I was no stranger to “adventurous” type trips.

The Old Corner Saloon

We arrived around 10:30 that night, and indeed it looked just like you would imagine an old-time saloon would look like. The building was two stories high with worn, faded wood siding. Looking up at the gabled windows I saw three individual air conditioners hanging outside each room. Downstairs, a large covered wooden porch with a wooden railing spanned the length of the building. The steps leading up into the bar were worn but seemed sturdy.

As we entered through the doors the first thing I saw were mounted deer heads high up on the walls. Some looked like they actually were alive in 1862, but now have balding and scraggly looking hides, poor things. In the entrance, or barroom, the high ceiling was covered with trucker baseball caps lined up in neat rows. Posters litter the walls with dance announcements from the forties and fifties (I guess we’re a little late for those events). The second room off the bar housed two billiard tables which were occupied by two sets of scruffy-looking players.

The proprietress breathed a sigh of relief when she saw us and said, “You’re here for the rooms?”

We nodded, speechless by all the local flavor surrounding us.

“Thank you!” she said. Now that can mean a few different things. Either she was really happy to see us because she could go home, or have a drink, or do whatever it was she was waiting on us to do. Or she just couldn’t believe we actually showed up for the room. I picked the first option because I didn’t want to think we made a mistake coming to this establishment. Although, I can’t help feeling this place is a little bit rougher of an environment than I’m used to. I noticed black t-shirts and banners pinned to the walls, splashed in bold white letters the slogan: “I’m an a**h*** … I didn’t look further to complete the sentence, but I figured this must be the bar mantra or something because several of the staff were wearing them.

I decided while Paul was arranging payment with the lady bartender I would look around my new home for the night. I spied another room, just behind the pool room, that closely resembled a library. This place was redeemable after all. Two tall bookcases held a myriad of paperbacks. Above one of the bookcases a handwritten sign stating “book exchange”. This room was set up with a clean dining room size table, surrounded by comfortable looking chairs for reading enjoyment. This is the only room in the saloon I remotely liked.

We were handed two keys, one for the outside door leading up to the bedrooms above us and one for the room. As we ascended the carpeted stairs the temperature became noticeably warmer by degrees. The long narrow hallway seemed slanted, as if the building were slightly tipped sideways. We both kind of laughed at that. The hallway reminded me of that dream dance scene in the musical Oklahoma, and I said so to Paul. He nodded his head in agreement, but I could tell he didn’t know what I was talking about. He just let me talk. We located our room, the last one on the left, next to the bathroom. Upon entering we encountered a strange musty smell, like old carpet that had gotten wet. I regretted not bringing my aromatherapy candle. I marched directly  to the air conditioner and turned the dial to high speed. We plopped our few belongings down, then Paul ran downstairs to bring up his bicycle from the car. I decided to be brave and investigate the bathroom.

Surprisingly it appeared neat, clean, and cute. I noticed the absence of  any kind of fusty smell like in the bedroom. It was a good size room with a big enclosed shower. All things considered, it looked fairly new. The red wallpapered walls, white chair rail, and white fluted trim around the one tiny curtained window, lent an air of old-country charm. And like all old, crooked buildings, there was a certain trick to getting the door to latch closed in the door jamb properly. It took a few tries but soon I figured out the secret trick to locking the door.

Once settled we went down to the bar for a drink. We each ordered a beer, which was served in 16 ounce red plastic Solo cups, and had a bag of chips and pretzels. It looked like the bar was closing soon, and the people playing billiards finished their games. One guy tried try to interact with us and when that went nowhere he flirted with the the female bartender. He was getting a little too frisky with her, so she said in a warning tone, “I’m fifty years old, so…”

“I thought you were thirty. You’re hot!”  he replied.

She laughed but I could tell she wanted him to get lost. He definitely had too much to drink. He tried to get us to play billiards but when we declined he tried another tactic and bragged about being a marine and his illustrious military career. Exit stage left. We said goodnight, took our drinks and headed upstairs to our smelly room.

With the air conditioner on the smell wasn’t obvious. I relaxed and checked out the room. Next to the window was a fake corner fireplace with a new t.v. mounted on the mantle. The lady proprietor gave us this room because as she said, “it has the biggest t.v.” it even included satellite channels. On the opposite wall was a large rectangular folding table and perched on top a stainless steel portable refrigerator. I opened it up and discovered somebody had left us a beer and a half empty bottle of Clamato juice.

We settled down for the night and once I replaced the large, hard  marshmallow pillow with the down filled one inside the pillow sham, I fell instantly asleep. Although, I have to confess, my dreams were plagued by a lonesome cowboy creeping up the stairs in search of his soiled dove.

The Biker Bar

The night was quiet, not even a car drove by, but my sleep was interrupted by Paul, who woke up  at the “butt crack of dawn” (to quote Bethenny Frankel)  in order to get ready for his race. Soon he disappeared allowing me to go back to sleep in peace. A short time later, my sleep was again interrupted by a small tremor in the building, followed by the racket of someone fumbling at the door trying to get the key to turn. That someone turned out to be Paul. Apparently he had gone out in search of breakfast but nothing was open so he came back empty handed.

My sleep was further disturbed by his getting ready for the race. He applied spray-on sunscreen and it filled the room with a sweet beach scent with notes of alcohol. Although slightly annoying, it acted as more of a room freshener, masking that old sour air in the room. Above all I wish he would quit jiggling the bed, but then I realized he was merely walking around the room and it was this which had caused the bed to wiggle. Finally he left, locking the door behind him. The whole building, apparently, was sensitive to movement. I guess that’s how the bandits back in the day knew the Law was coming for them. They felt the vibration and were out the window before the sheriff even reached the room. Well, that was how I imagined it at 5:45 a.m.

Paul returned to the room one more time, again preceded by that gentle shaking of the building. It was this shaking that actually woke me, alerting me that Paul would soon be fumbling at the keyhole in the doorknob. I wished he would just go to his bike race!

After awhile it was peaceful, no movement, no jiggly bed, or shaking building, and I fell asleep. That is until the distant sound of rumbling motorcycles disturbed my dreams. At first it was one, then two. The riders pulled up, shut off their motors and begin talking and laughing loudly. The conversation was bent towards their trip and how it went, and so forth. Soon, a few more motorbikes joined the group and before long the motorcycles kept growing in number and loudness. What the heck was going on down there? I peeked out the window to the street below. To my astonishment there were at least a hundred motorcycles parked in front of the saloon, their chrome sparkling in the sun. Motorcycles lined up to my car and overflowed around it. This was a biker hangout!

I got ready as soon as I could and went downstairs to my car. I gently opened the downstairs door to the porch and was met by the curious stares of some of the bikers drinking a “cold one”. My main concern was to get my car out onto the street without knocking over a member of the Hell’s Angels precious hog. I eased out of my parking spot, thankfully without incident, and headed to the Copperopolis town square.

I waited around at the race site wondering how I would tell Paul what was waiting for us back at the saloon.

Lunch

After we got back to the saloon, we passed the bikers on the porch on our way to the side door entrance to the upstairs rooms. Paul and his bike got some minor attention. After Paul showered we gathered our belongings and left The Old Corner Saloon.

At lunch, Paul was so thirsty the server had to make repeated trips to keep his ice tea glass full. “I’m sorry,” Paul said, “I drink so much! Too bad you don’t have bigger glasses.”

The server pointed at the owner of the restaurant and said, “You can blame him, he picked these glasses.”

Curious, the owner came over to our table, “What am I blamed for?” he asked.

“He’s a camel, and your glasses are too small for him,” I said.

“On your way out of town I know a watering hole right down the way I can recommend!” the restaurant owner said.

“I know it, we stayed there last night,” Paul said.

The owner, the server and a local customer who overheard our conversation, looked at us in amazement. The customer beamed and said, “I never knew anyone who stayed there! How was it?”

“It was great!” We said in unison.

http://oldcorner.com/

My Husbands Challenge: Travel Carry-On Baggage Only for International Vacation

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The challenge is on. My dear husband is forcing strongly persuading me to travel carry-on for our two week vacation to Ireland.

“All you need is a couple pairs of pants and some shirts and your good to go,” he said.

Was he kidding? Two pairs of pants for two weeks? And as a woman of a certain age my cosmetics, wrinkle creams, and day and night moisturizer alone would fill up a 20-inch carry on bag.

“Two pairs of pants may work for you but what about the rest of it?” I said. “You have nothing to do. You don’t wear make-up, you don’t hardly have any hair (he began premature balding at the ripe old age of twenty-seven) and my hair is long and requires special product to straighten and tame. What are we in our twenties and we’re backpacking through Europe? Nah Uh. Not gonna happen.”

“Why don’t you at least try it? Look, do you want to pay $50 each way for your suitcase? That’s gonna be a $100, think of all the things you can buy with $100,” he said.

Oh, the money button. To be honest he had a point, but I wasn’t giving in… just yet.

“Are you sure we don’t get a least one free checked bag?” I asked.

“Yeah, pretty sure,” he said.

“Well I don’t think you’ve researched it. Let’s do that first, then I’ll think about it. But you want me to be like some hippie: ‘free yourself from the burden of luggage, man.'”

“Yeah,” he grooved.

“Don’t let the luggage bring you down, man,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said.

I don’t know if I can do this, but it might be fun to try.

That’s all I have to say, what about you? Any travel challenges you had deal with? I’d love to hear your travel tips.