I don't think this will come as a surprise to anyone, but I truly believe that travel is a powerful thing. Even if it's traveling to a place we've been before, or somewhere entirely new, it puts us in elements that are out of our norm. It opens up our senses and engages our brain in a way that the everyday (no matter how fulfilling or stressful) doesn't.
I was fortunate enough to travel to San Diego for a conference, and have my schedule work out to add an extra 1.5 days, just for me. Now, if you've read my previous blog post, you'll likely understand why this was pretty damn exciting for me. While I am a very social person, I'm also an only child, used to entertaining myself and maneuvering through life as a single being. I'm also a wife that's been strong for a long, long time. A solo #selfcare day (as I so aptly named it on Facebook) was likely as good for me as a spa weekend with the "girls" is for a mom of 3 boys.
I started my day early with some tea and breakfast in the room. I had looked up a few things to do and decided to squeeze three big ticket items into one. As I'
ve been quoted before 1) you can sleep when you're dead and 2) if it's walkable, I'll do it. My goal was to hit up the Little Italy Mercado Farmers Market (one of the TOP rated in San Diego), the Spanish Village Artists lofts in Balboa Park, and a trek through the San Diego Zoo.
The market was simply incredible. Filled with produce, plants, and innovative foods, I was literally shaking
with excitement and trying to take photos without looking like a tourist. The boulevard was full of sites and smells along with a crisp ocean breeze. In the sun, my cheeks warmed. In the shade, my nose got the chill of October in the PNW. Slowly but surely it warmed up, but not before I enjoyed the most delicious avocado toast (lightly flavored lemon bread, smashed avo, rock salt and pepper with a bit of chilli flakes added in). I purchased a beautiful bracelet who's beads are the color of the pacific, along with a mountain goat hair shawl. After perusing through and politely asking to photograph goods (for research sake!) I started the trek back to my hotel. 1 mile - worth the $6 I'd save in Uber fees.
I then headed out to the Spanish Village Artists studios in the heart of Balboa Park. The park itself is the Central Park of San Diego. With over 1200 acres of trails, museums, entertainment centers and the zoo, it's an incredible feat and nearly overwhelming. The Spanish Village is a glorious little town within the park that makes you feel like you're transported to a sunny stuccoed villa in the heart of Mexico. Colorful bricks pave the way to huts, caves and working studios for over 40 artists. Handmade signs invite you to look at their wares, or watch them work. There are glass blowing demos, metalsmiths and quilters deftly working away the sunny afternoon. David's Coffee has a food-cart style coffee truck in the central area where you can order up a Mocha + PB frappuccino and sit under a palapa to enjoy the afternoon.
As much as I wanted to bring home a little bit of everything, I decided against it and just enjoyed the quiet surroundings while slurping my frosty beverage. The sun was out in full force and warming up nicely
It was time to move towards the infamous San Diego Zoo. A short walk, for someone prepared with their ticket. Sadly, I had made a pitstop at my room to drop off the farmers market finds, and also left my Zoo ticket. Uber to the rescue! A quick top of the phone and my driver was there in minutes. He quickly taught me how to "add a stop" so I could easily run up to my room, grab said ticket and have a guaranteed ride waiting for me. This quick aside gave me serious appreciation for technology while traveling. In no time I was back at the entry gate of the San Diego Zoo.
Now, I'll be doing a separate post about travelling, about being American and about the complete breakdown of our society when it comes to being in places with crowds, but I did expect a busy day given it's the first nice day in a string of "cold" and rainy weather for SoCalifornians. I decided against a paper map for the time being, allowing me to just wander the paths. If I decided on something specific to see, I'd hit up one of the numerous directories, or friendly volunteers. I started towards the paths less taken, bird aviaries and small mammals. The aviaries are always a fun place, especially somewhere like the San Diego Zoo. They're open air, walk-through exhibits where the birds are free flying and you are fair game when it comes to bomb dropping. Yep, in my first aviary, while looking at some gorgeous varietals of African pigeons (who seemed to REALLY like the camera) I got shit on. I was literally zooming in for that perfect shot when a glop of exotic bird poo dropped on to my screen (and hand). I pride myself on having done some really gross jobs, so this wasn't so bad. I simply used my zoo ticket to whip up the mess, and moved along. I feel like that has to be lucky right?
Moving along I hit up a few more aviaries, and then ventured into the Outrageous Outback. I'm not sure the new Koalas got the memo, since every single one of the 10+ bears were cuddled into the tops of their trees napping. Signs state that they do this for upwards of 22 hours a day. Being cute takes a lot of work apparently, and they were just as adorable all snuggled up in full view of passers by. The random paw or back leg sticking out only added to the cuteness factor. Along the path from there were African bears, a Snow Leopard as well as a variety of bears that were hiding from the hot sun. I happened upon the Otter area just in time to see a trainer throw out some treats for her to find. She hopped, danced and swam around to find the treats.
Africa Rocks was next. Baboons, mischievous monkeys and gorgeous birds of prey delighted in the
dessert-like backdrop. Slowly but surely, we were lead into the Elephant Experience. I unknowingly timed this just right to see several trainers along the path working on sensory training exercises with 3 of the regal beasts. I am always in awe and also heartbroken when I see these creatures up close. I'm not sure we're deserving of their company, nor have we ever fully understood how much these animals know. Mary, the eldest elephant of about 4 at the zoo, was busy getting her exercise with foot raises and posing. The trainer was very forgiving and also gentle. He wasn't making a show of it for spectators, you could tell it was likely for Mary's benefit. She eagerly asked for treats with minimal efforts, which I loved. Moving along, Tembo was also entertaining with walking and posing. She was just as impressive. One more elephant was on show, and as I slowly watched them go through motions, my heart filled and broke at the same time. Just being in their presence is majestic. As I meandered the path towards the exit, I saw the "waiting area" and stopped to read signs. They explained how this area was for inspecting the elephants and also where they're held while the keepers tend their habitats. I happened to see a few of the "trainers" that had been up near the entrance making their way to this area. I patiently waited only to see Mary, Tembo and Shaba as they were led into the pens. It's pretty incredible to watch them go through their habits and know where to go.
Onwards to more animals! Lions, tigers and, well, no bears as noted earlier. I really found that patience is
virtue when exploring such a big (and busy) zoo. Sit and wait for a few moments, and you're sure to see something move, or get a better opportunity to capture the personality of the animal in its habitat. Despite the rudeness of people, the majority of them don't have the virtue of patience so wait a few moments and they move along. I was able to see hippos cuddling underwater, penguins diving, and lemurs "meditating." I stumbled on the Giraffe enclosure and got close-up views of the entire family feeding. The zoo is an absolutely beautiful place and around just about every corner is a guide or volunteer willing to help direct you. Likewise, you won't ever starve or have to wait long for a restroom - cafes, snacks, ice cream carts and the like abound inside the zoo.
I must have walked past the Panda Trek 25 times throughout the afternoon. Each time, the line seemed just
as long. There was no "fast-pass" option and no zoo official there telling you how long the wait was. Having looked at most everything else I wanted to see, I decided to go for it. Within a few minutes, you enter into a more quiet section, surrounded by 8 different species of bamboo. While you wait, you get to see the nearly-as-cute-as-the-black-and-white-bear, the Red Panda. He put on a fun show gathering branches, munching them, and then napping in between. Another bend and around a few more corners and we go the first glimpse of Bai Yun, the solo panda. She was leisurely lying back and stripping bamboo. She reminded me of myself, during one of the recent snow days when I decided my priority to be Netflix and chill. It was delightfully quiet in Bai Yun's area, and we were afforded close up views of her. I got some great pics and went on my way.
At this point of the day, I was at 20K+ steps and starting to slow my roll. I'd probably spent less than 10 minutes since 8a sitting so started towards the exit. There was still shopping to do! As I headed out, up hills, more stairs, and through exhibits that were starting to quiet down, I felt thankful for getting a day to spend amongst the animals (the ones behind cages were nice too.) I got to the main zoo entrance about 40 minutes before closing. In the shop, I saw two of the cutest things. 1) a sloth sweatshirt, and 2) a rhino cup that stated "Save the Chubby Unicorns." Rhinos? Sloths? Had I really been that oblivious to have not seen them? I still had 35 minutes, so headed BACK into the park to find a guide to direct me. I walk fast, I could squeeze these last two in. Finally, I tracked one down by a "Kangaroo Bus Stop." She advised me that the zoo no longer had Rhinos (I gave a bit of thanks for this in that I wasn't completely daft in missing a HUGE animal like the Rhino) but that she was heading out on the last bus route which would put me right next to the sloth. I didn't have a ticket, but she let me on anyways. I got to have a grand finale tour around the entire park on a beautiful double-decker bus. At stop #3, the bus let me off. I had 15 minutes before the zoo closed at 5, and the walk back from this far section was likely 15 for a proper amble. Challenge accepted! I booked it to the sloth territory, catching a few more glimpses of Tembe, Mary and the other elephants, only to find the sloth tucked nicely into his den, with a heat lamp. Standard. I said hello, and goodbye and stared the fast-walk back to the entrance. 7 minutes later, there I was! I purchased my sloth sweatshirt and a reusable canteen with a fun elephant graphic, and headed to the exit.
Feeling a bit wasteful of my excessive Uber trips from earlier, I decided to hoof it the 1.1 miles back to the resort. I stopped along the way to enjoy the incredible sights - cherry blossoms, sunset, and even the interstate under a suspension bridge at the edge of the park. I can tell you by the time I got back to my room, I was ravenous. Remember, my last meal was avocado toast and a PB frapp...5+ hours ago. I already knew where I wanted to go - Little Italy! Pizza or pasta was what I craved, along with some table wine.
San Diego has this fantastic service in the downtown area called "Free Ride." It's essentially like Uber, where you set your pick up and drop off locations, and a car picks you up. This was my first time using it, and I can tell you that this is next level. It's not just a "car" that comes to get you, it's a glorified golf cart, painted turquoise with ads all over it. This is how they pay for the limited service. On weekdays, it runs 7a-9p. On weekends like tonight, they run until 12a. How cool is that? I had my driver give me a few suggestions on "best value Italian" and ended up in the long line for Fillippi's. Thankfully, once you're in line, you're in queue for a table as Fillippi's has NEVER taken reservations since opening in the early 1950's. The line (roughly 40 minutes) snakes through a true Italian deli shoppe complete with about 200 types of olive oils, pastas, deli meats, dried fish, cheese and more. My stomach growled with each step towards my awaiting table. Finally, I was seated at a red plastic booth, complete with the vinyl red checkered tablecloth. The menu on the wall is deceiving, as it's from the "good old days" when pizza was $1.25 for a medium and table wine was .30 for a "large." I settled on "mamma's Lasagne" with an extra meatball, and a glass of Lambrusco. Within minutes I had a heaping pile of pasta and sauce, and - what I'd consider a small juice glass - of wine. The nostalgia of this place was just what I wanted. By the time the waiter brought me some bread to soak up the sauce, I was all but done with the plate. It was just what I needed. I paid quickly so that I could open up the table for the still-waiting line out the door.
On my way to a non-busy corner (Little Italy is THE place to be on a Saturday night it seems) I decided to try for a to-go dessert that would survive my Free Ride home (i.e. not ice cream or melty things.) iDessert to the rescue! This bright, minimalist shop was inviting with its meringue displays. I entered and was quickly greeted with a menu. The host informed me that I would order on the iPads and pick up at the counter. All items were customizable. Now, this place deserves more attention than I could give it - the specialty is a "steaming" bowl of gelato, topped with fruit, whipped cream and a meringue "crack top" and a syrup/sauce infused syringe to add flavor. Truly incredible in it's presentation, even locals were taking SnapChats as they were handed bowls of goodness for pickup. Thankfully for me, they also did crepes. I opted for the Nutella + Butterfinger crepe which was ready in moments. I grabbed mine to-go and hopped on the Free Ride app. In less than 10 minutes I had a pick up from the glorious golf cart, and was back to my room in 20 minutes - I opted to share the ride with a couple that was exploring too.
Looking at my FitBit now, I've managed 25K steps, 11.1 mies, 32 floors and 9 of 9 hours for being active. To say I'm exhausted is an understatement. But, my mind is full. My heart is full. I really do feel that days like today are the tank-filling moments we need to rejuvenate our excitement for life. I have a full 3 days ahead of me learning about markets, and I know I'll love every second of that too - but I'm beyond thankful for the opportunity to take a day and explore a new place and just be one and with myself.