travel

Yosemite/Ashland

On the way to Yosemite we stopped in Fresno so we could tell our friend Erin (who grew up there) that we did. We didn't get to see that much - I mean that both figuratively and literally as we experienced the phenomenon of Californian smog for the first time. It had rained a bit just before we got to LA so it was pretty clear the whole time we were there, but I was surprised to see it so far away from LA and I couldn't really believe my eyes. I had to google it to make sure it wasn't just dust - it was quite an irritating grey haze made worse by the small gradient of blue sky at the very top of the horizon. We stopped for ice cream and then a coffee at a place called  Kuppa Joy - we thought it was just a small town roaster that might be quite cool. Once we were inside it was hard to miss the giant white throne in the cafe to represent 'King Jesus'. A Christian Coffee house - that's new for us! 

The next big city we were passing through was Sacramento. So we thought it would be a good time to listen to Last podcast on the Left's episode on the Vampire Killer of Sacramento. This was a great, bad idea. Now, as much as we love all things American, the cities themselves were somewhat of a downer (except for NYC). Too many potholed roads, concrete, trash and just a general low-grade feeling of broken-ness. Sacramento was surprisingly cool and we had great sandwiches at Dad's sandwich shop. It had that friendly neighbourhood feel that we thought was a bit lacking in LA. We saw a big political demonstration at the Capital building - the election was only a day away at this point and there were lots of Trump/Pence signs along the highway, 'Ranchers for Trump' and all that. As we drove through, it was clear that everywhere outside of the larger cities, even in the 'blue states', there was a lot of Trump support - at least in sign form... 

Yosemite was beautiful and smelled absolutely magical. We stayed at the fairly new Rushcreek lodge, which was had quite a hip fit-out and was great value. If I could only stay in 'lodges' for the rest of my life I'd be totally happy. The staff were nice if a little vague but I took that for just teething problems. Like all hotels we stayed in during the trip, the rooms had plenty of space and big comfy beds. Hardly any of them had kettles which was weird, just those stupid coffee pod machines. The food situation was getting a little dire around here though. The lodge's 'general store' had lots of trendy trail mix and sandwiches but no fresh fruit or veg (and no way for us to cook them anyway).

We ordered heaps of veg for dinner from the lodge restaurant and while it was pretty good grub, it was all deep fried and/or had sweet chilli sauce on it. The next night we REALLY needed some fresh food so we went to the park general store but the line was insanely long and we ran out of patience for the first and only time on our trip. (Stefan stared at the slow checkout staff so hard their heads almost burst into flames.)

We had 2 nights all up and I don't think it was quite enough to really get up amongst nature in the way we wanted to. The other thing we weren't prepared for was that it would be so busy. It's not like an Australian National Park where you might go for hours (or days) without seeing anyone. We were told by a ranger that it was unusually quiet but still the place was packed full of people. Would hate to think how annoying we'd find the crowds in Summer. But all that whinging aside I would 100% recommend visiting - it was truly beautiful and we would have booked an extra night if if we could've.

We armed ourselves with rocks and pinecones in case we saw a cougar but with all the people there was NO CHANCE a big cat would be that stupid. We saw some deer, countless squirrels, some FANCY squirrels called Chicarees and I'm pretty sure I saw a Blue Jay. Not too shabby.

We had a planned stop in a small town called Ashland in Orgeon. We knew we'd need to stop and I picked the prettiest town that was sorta halfway not far from the Californian border. It was pretty idyllic. It had so much of what I am into, pretty parks, craft stores, a handmade chocolate store, organic co-op, esoteric bookshop and lots of holistic massage places. We stayed at the Ashland Springs Hotel which was gorgeous and the restaurant was probably the best fine dining experience we had in America (not that we really did much fine dining). We got chatting to a nice guy dining next to us (worried about Trump but convinced he could never win-sorry dude!). All the food was seasonal and local and our server was super nice and gave us his special recipe for hot buttered rum. So good.

Oh and on the way we had a wee bit of car trouble (not in the right gear down a very steep hill) and so many nice Americans pulled over to help including the local sheriff lady who gave us a kind but stern talking to about following the road signs.

LA to Portland via the I-5 #1

Good friends had told us what a feast for the eyes the Madonna Inn was prior to our trip and I nearly booked a night online when we were doing all our planning but found the choice of 'themed rooms' much too overwhelming, so we left it up to fate and didn't end up booking it 'till the night before. We forfeited another night in LA to get there. No regrets!

Stef did a great job of driving and I did a great job of road trip DJ and chief bird/critter spotter. As we did when we went to NYC a few years ago - we found the most popular Hip Hop radio station and blasted it in-between my West Coast road trip playlist. What does one generally listen to when driving out of LA? Lots of Fleetwood Mac, Bill Callahan, Elliott Smith and Madonna. Madonna doesn't really fit but also ALWAYS fits! Then it was Drake, Yeezy, Schoolboy Q, Kendrick Lamar, Beyonce on repeat basically. 

 SO...the Madonna Inn - a place with themed rooms has a lot of great camp value obviously (which I live for) but I was surprised by how beautifully maintained everything was - this love and care prevents me from using the words 'gaudy' and 'tacky' to describe it - it had a lot of charm. We stayed in the 'Old Fashioned Room' which was comfy and quaint (as it should be) - our friends tell us the Caveman Room is also a quality dwelling. 

Everything is pink and all the glasses in the tea and dining rooms are heavy coloured glass goblets. The service is full-on 'good old fashioned American 'thank you m'aam and sir' which was a change from the friendly but cool and casual LA vibe. The dining room was a pink masterpiece with a ceiling festooned with gold cherubs overhead. The main dining room was essentially a steak house serving simple (but great) food. 

The people watching was excellent too - the two older, very well put together cowboys dressed head-to-toe in black and the smartest bolo ties had me searching high and low for my own for the rest of the trip. There was a live band playing stuff like 'La Bamba' and a middle aged couple in matching outfits took the dancing VERY seriously. 100% would stay again.

In the morning, as we checked out, Stef was defeated by a cartoonishly large stack of pancakes but we rallied impressively to tear through an enormous, pink slice of champagne cake for, what they call in America, "breakfast dessert".

(We don't think "breakfast dessert" is an official thing, but, well, this cake you guys, it was calling our names.)

Thanks Madonna Inn! You're a charmer!

Pink champagne cake for 'breakfast dessert'

Bali Beauty Pt. 1

I have just come home from a surprisingly spiritual, inspirational time in Bali. Don't get me wrong - I thought I was going for a super relaxing holiday and yoga retreat - soaking up the sunshine and doing some vinyasas. I was not expecting to be so emotionally challenged, to meet such amazing women and to be so entranced by the beauty of the people, culture, environment, food and ritual of Ubud.

I was so distracted by the beautiful offerings and shrines that walking 30mins down the road took me at least an hour. Even the rubbish bags looked beautiful to me. I was told that black and white are Balinese colours representing good and evil and they are very present everywhere you go. The offerings on the ground keep the evil spirits out (cause they live on the ground) while the ones placed higher are for the good ones. I never worked out what/who the ones on poles and drainpipes were for. Beautiful craftsmanship seems very much part of the culture - at least in the parts of Ubud where I stayed. There were critters all over (squirrels/frogs/mice/birds) and everywhere smelled of incense, smoke, and rice.