Jamie – 25 December 2011
Merry Christmas everyone (although for most reading this posting it is already late Boxing day). In LA however we still have a few hours of the day itself.
Right from the early days of planning our trip Bec had wanted to spend Christmas Day at Disneyland, the so-called “happiest place of Earth”. This sounded excellent and the children and I were very supportive, but I wondered what it would be like to have a Christmas without our traditional setting and in particular, away from family. Family has always been central to our Christmas celebrations and as much as we five would have each other, I harboured a small concern that the day would not feel quite right.
As it turned out I needn’t have worried – family came to the rescue. My first cousin Anna Roberts (née Ackland) lives with her beautiful family – husband Andy and children Chloe and Sam – in Monterey, a stunning coastal town just two hours south of San Francisco. We were always going to be dropping in on our way driving down to LA, but Anna and Andy generously offered to have us all stay for the 22nd and 23rd of December – and of course insisted that we have a Christmas dinner with all the trimmings while we were there. Like us, the rest of their family are on the other side of the world.
The Roberts recently moved into a lovely four bedroom house in the intriguingly named street “Deer Stalker Path”. We saw neither deers nor stalkers while we were there. A better name would have been “Christmas Decoration Boulevard” as almost every house is adorned with hundreds of festive multicoloured lights and many went a lot further – you could almost feel the drain on the grid as the sun set and the rainbows of colour came alive. The children loved the walk we did after our big Christmas feast. A number of houses had a mechanical Santa – one waving from the chimney, another peeping from his sleigh in the front garden.
On Friday I took our children and Chloe to the Monterey Aquarium (more on that later) while Andy went to work and Bec and Anna spent a day in the kitchen. They had huge success – we had a whole roast turkey, a large leg of ham, roast potatoes, peas, gravy, and a real Tasmanian plum pud – thanks to my aunt Cate, Anna’s mother – that had a few years of age on it and tasted fantastic. I even chipped in with a batch of hard sauce – equal parts butter and icing sugar, whipped to a cream with a few healthy dashes of brandy before being chilled. Bec had the children make personalised placemats for everyone, and the table was a work of art with candles, crackers and bowls of toffee. As far as Christmases went it was as good as any of the last 43 I have attended.
Monterey’s aquarium is a must see for anyone visiting. Rather than looking into tanks you walk through or under most due to some brilliantly engineered glass tunnels and walls. There is nothing like being nose to nose with a Leopard Shark, Sea Turtle or 5,000 anchovies. I’ve eaten thousands of the later in my life but never realised how beautiful they are in real life as they swim past in a vast glittering school of silver. Many of the tanks are enormous – the largest holds 3.8 million litres of water which is 100 times larger than our pool at home. We definitely got more than we paid for when a real grey whale swam past the aquarium while we were there. It was about 100 metres off-shore and we had some great views of its pectoral fin as it moved onto its side to scoop the shallow sea bed for food with its wide mouth. It helped having an actual whale expert standing next to me as we watched in awe.
My favourite exhibit was the jellyfish – graceful, dancing drifters that pulse and glow, flash colorful lights and often pack a powerful sting. They were particularly photogenic inside their dark room, lit up with lights from below.
Early Saturday (Christmas Eve) we said our sad goodbye’s to the Roberts and set off on the fastest route to Los Angeles – about 5.5 hours. This is one of the world’s premier coastal drives but sadly we had to stick to the inland road to make our appointed drop-off time for the car. In any event both Bec and I had driven the coastal LA-SF drive before and this is one of those things that the children will just have to do themselves one day. As it turned out they slept a lot of the drive anyway so we didn’t feel too bad. The inland drive may have lacked sea-lions and a rugged coastal view however it did have its own beauty about it in a “Nullabor Highway” kind of way. Long straight roads punctuated every 100 metres by another telegraph pole, until you get near to LA when the landscape becomes decidedly more mountainous and houses more frequent. Alamo gave us an early Christmas present by halving our car rental bill – a totally unexpected but much appreciated gesture. We then checked into the Disney Hotel late afternoon, our home for the next four days, and began exploring the shops and restaurants of “Downtown Disney”.
Today started a little after seven, which for three children under ten in the same room on Christmas Day ranks as a royal sleep-in. Santa had left some very modest sacks at the end of the children’s beds which surprised them no end but again proved that he really does know everything. Have you been good? What did you ask for? Where will you be on the night? He is not to be underestimated.
The rest of the day was spent in Disneyland. We half wondered if the park would be quiet. No such luck – it turns out Christmas Day is one of the three busiest days of the year, alongside July 4th and New Years Day. Most rides had a wait time of an hour or so but park management did pull out all the stops – there was a special Christmas Day parade, and the decorations were spectacular, particularly when the sun went down. We commuted on the Monorail which left next to our hotel and took us directly to the centre of the park – we even managed to score a ride in the driver’s compartment.
Notwithstanding the crowds, everyone (staff and patrons alike) was in good cheer and throwing the season’s greetings around. I learnt early that park staff may only say “Happy Holidays” for fear of offending non-christians which is a bit too politically correct for me. I said Merry Christmas to everyone, which apparently did then permit a staff-member to respond with the same in return.
The day finished with fireworks, literally. Our room on the 11th floor looks directly over the park and at 8.30pm the Magic Castle was awash in coloured flashes accompanied by loud booms, which in Room 2925 translated to lots of oohs and aahs.
It has been a great day. Merry Christmas everyone.