Friday, October 03, 2008

Collage from Catalina

The Boat

The Catalina Express is not as big as you'd think, and you can't really go on deck. But we didn't mind so much because--in honor of my hubby's Big Birthday--I'd booked The Captain's Lounge. We were kind of like celebrities--we had our own pre-board entrance, and were directed to a private "stateroom" just behind the ship's wheel. It had a TV, a really big couch, and a steward who poured mimosas for us. You'd think we'd be in awe of all this luxury, but on the way back, when the attendant said "You my lounge party?" and asked if we'd prefer champagne or sparkling cider, we said "Champagne!" and I added, "Oh, and can you bring orange juice? Thanks."

The Pueblo

I agonized for months over where to stay, partly because I'm a "How do the photos on the website look?" kind of girl, and they don't seem to care that much about websites over there. After some research of reviews, I finally settled on The Zane Grey Pueblo, and I totally scored. The Zane Grey was built in 1926 and is the former home of Western novelist Zane Grey (natch). It's also one of only two hotels (the other, The Inn of Mt. Ada, runs about $500 a night) perched high on the hillside with a sweeping ocean view. The Zane Grey, however, was a total deal, especially when I noticed most of the other places were smack-dab in the middle of town and hence, were probably quite noisy.

The Zane Grey is old, so I was expecting to rough it a bit, but nooooo. The rooms have a Southwest theme, and ours had a big (non-working) fireplace and two chairs overlooking the harbor and the Pacific beyond. The bed was super-comfy and, best of all, the closet contained a great, big noisy fan that we set up near the bed. This was key, because I often can't sleep in hotels due to the eerie quiet--at home we have all manner of white noise from fans and our Hepa filter. I slept so well! Oh, and I'd warned David there are no phones, clocks or TVs at the Zane Grey, and he'd have to go without internet. Imagine our surprise when the room came with free Wi-Fi! It may have been accidental, since our room was next to the office.

The Food

Of course I researched the hell out of the island's eating establishments, but I needn't have bothered. All the food seems to fall under the category of "fine." You can have any kind you want--Mexican, Chinese, Italian--as long as you don't want any complicated additives like flavor. Also, it didn't seem to agree with my tum all that well. The only part of me that was eager to get home was my stomach. I guess the highlight was The Pancake Cottage right before the return trip--David got some apple and raisin crepes that were light and airy, with smoking hot apple slices folded inside.

The Fish

Sunday morning we took a semi-submersible submarine (try saying that five times fast!) to "Lovers Cove" to look at the local fish. I am seriously claustrophobic, so I was a little nervous about being five feet under the water, even though David reassuringly explained that the set-up is no deeper than the Disneyland submarine ride. But as soon as we straddled our little seats inside the boat and I could see the silvery little fish under the pier, I was totally hooked. And that was nothing. Once the boat reached its destination, the captain threw a bunch of fish food all around us, and there was a crazy feeding frenzy, resulting in about eight thousand fish seeming to swim right up my nose. The most beautiful are the Garibaldi, bright orange semi-tropicals that are also the California State Fish (see, my blog is educational!) There was an awkward moment when one gentleman described their taste as "mushy" right after the captain had indicated it was 6 months to 5 years in the pen for catching one, but other than that, a sheer delight from beginning to end.

The Bus

Saturday afternoon we took The Skyline Drive Tour, which wends its way 10 miles into "the interior" of the island with a stop at Airport-in-the-Sky, a small private airport owned by the Wrigley family. We saw some stunning ocean and mountain vistas and some teeny-tiny bison at a great distance (there is a herd of 150 bison on the island due to a quest for "authenticity" during the filming of a Zane Grey movie nearly a century ago.) The tour was two hours, but it made me plenty grateful we hadn't opted for the four hour version, since I'd gotten my fill of the dusty and stifling (no A/C) bus by then. Part of the problem was that it wasn't a bus at all, but more of a Mac truck, with the accompanying noise level and lack of shocks. When that behemoth of a vehicle took hairpin turns on the narrow road with sheer drop-offs, I started wondering if I'm afraid of heights, too.

The Carts

Officially, there are no cars allowed on Catalina Island. Somehow, there are some cars anyway, but the majority of the traffic is comprised of golf carts, in all sizes and styles. David and I rented a golf cart twice--so fun did we find it--even though it was crazy-expensive by the hour. The first day, we rode up to the Wrigley Memorial, but the second day we spent most of the time tooling around Avalon, and saw some jaw-dropping views on a winding road above the sea. During the second run, I conquered my fear and tried driving, and though the carts don't go much above 20 miles for hour, it's still exhilarating, like riding a bike that is really, really easy to get uphill.

The Hills

Catalina has one major town, and it's filled with as much ice cream, fudge and ocean-themed tchotchkes as any tourist could desire. But the rest of the island (more than 70 square miles) is a protected nature conserve, so as soon as you climb the hill above the village of Avalon, it's just eucalyptus and sage. The island rises to over 2,000 feet above sea level, so the effect is quite dramatic. And the climb is, too--both evenings we chose to walk back to the Zane Grey after dinner, and though the distance is short as the crow flies, I was actually light-headed the first time.

We also visited the Wrigley Memorial (William Wrigley, the chewing gum magnate, owned 99 percent of the island at one time, and his family still retains the rights to much of the commercial development) and that was a long, dusty slope through a beautiful garden, followed by 103 steps to the top of the memorial (we only know that because a helpful lady coming down told us she counted.)

The View

I've mentioned our view from the room, but even more impressive was the view from the gorgeous balcony on the side of the Zane Grey. In the mornings, the hotel puts out the most adorably spartan breakfast you've ever seen: a coffee warmer, and little plastic baggies filled with two slices of wheat bread and a single packet of jam. And a toaster. Not sure if it was the ambiance or what, but that is the best toast I've ever had. It had little sunflower seeds inside, making it pleasantly chewy. We had brought a carton of juice with us, so we'd prepare our toast and then dine in awe high above the twinkling harbor, gleaming white yachts, and mountainous hillsides dotted with colorful homes. At night, we'd catch our breath on the same balcony after the long climb, and admire the stars and the lit-up town surrounding the moonlit water like a big, sparkling horseshoe.

The Vibe

David and I are vacation power-walkers. We get a bunch of maps and spend the day hoofing it from sight to sight. This pace suits us, generally, but it was a wicked treat to go somewhere where there's just not that much to do or that far to walk. One afternoon we spent at least an hour on a bench under a tree reading the entire Sunday paper. In the evenings, we watched Netflix videos on David's laptop in bed. Occasionally, we just found a spot to stare into the water, looking for flashes of orange. It might be the most relaxing vacation we've ever had.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like you two had a very lovely time. :)

Mary said...

Happy Birthday David!

Garibaldi are my all time favorite (to look at!) fish!

Glad that you had fun!



The Wades said...

We live in two completely different worlds. I know I've said it before, but I have to say it again. Whatever culture you have, I totally lack!

I love your pictures. You guys are so very cute! :) My fave is David and the view and one of the last of you looking in the water. Great stuff!

Glad you had a nice time.

DrSpouse said...

Gorgeous pictures, looks like a gorgeous place

(and I am perhaps in need of sleep as I originally thought "College from Catalina? that makes no sense"

DrSpouse said...

Thanks for your return comment - sorry to disappoint but I don't think the UK "dot" was me, as I've only started reading your blog since being over here!

Anonymous said...

Sounds fantastic! :) Lix