Thursday, December 31, 2009

Lakers Game up the Pacific Coast Hwy

The drive between San Diego and Los Angeles takes you along one of the most historic routes in the country. You can take the 4oo+ mile, scenic Pacific Coast Highway (US-101 & California State Route 1) all the way to LA and up the coast to Monterey, CA. Voted one of the best sites to see in the state, the PCH boasts breathtaking views of California coastline. It's marked with wooded hillsides and powerful surf crashing into the rocky cliffs.


After a drive up the PCH there's no more California way to end your day than a Los Angeles Lakers game! The defending champs played at home last week and one of our family Christmas presents was tickets to the game. It was great seeing the Staples Center, one of the most famous venues in the country, in person.
(camera phone pics, sorry)
After all of the hype surrounding the team it's always fun to see some of the best players in the country battle it out on the court.

Found a few little tastes of home in Southern California!

(Hot dog stand in the Staples Center, apparently they like to "Let the Big Dawg Eat" in LA too!)

(An Old Navy store outside of San Diego had this Georgia shirt for sale. I almost bought it just to support the Bulldog Nation!)

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas in Paradise!

My aunt from the Windy City, which is covered in snow right now, poised a question the other day that got me thinking: "What does Christmas look like in paradise?!"

Truthfully winter in San Diego looks exactly the same as it does anywhere else. The biggest difference is that you can walk around in shorts and a t-shirt during the day! Besides the 65 degree sunny weather the California Christmas it is not unlike any other season.

Coming from the Bible Belt, it's not unusual to see every house on a street deck out from driveway to rooftop in decorations and lights carefully and beautifully executed. In San Diego the lights seem to be thrown on the houses in a very hasty Cali fashion. Something else I noticed is that none of the houses here are symmetrical! Every house has an weird, uneven shape and no two are alike. So most of the sloppy lights look odd either way!

But no matter your location, Christmas is what you make of it. It's not about lights on houses, presents under trees, or a reef on the door. Christmas is about time spent fellowshiping with family, friends, and Christ.

It is Christmas in the heart that puts Christmas in the air. ~W.T. Ellis

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Pomp & (Wintery) Circumstance in the Carolinas

On the eve of one of the biggest storms to hit the east coast in a long time my cousin and I made a risky trip northbound for our cousins graduation from North Carolina State University. After going back and forth all day with wether or not to brave the weather we finally decided to be adventurous and departed ATL around 9pm. Following some research of radar weather maps and some clever navigating we successfully avoided the brunt of the tempest.

Since we arrived in Raleigh at 3:30am we were justifiably a little late to the ceremony that began at 9am at the Wolfpack's basketball arena. Nobel Prize winner and NC State alumnus, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri was slated to be the keynote speaker but fell ill at the last minute. The Chancellor, who was blinged out like T-Pain (see below), said a few words instead.

(The Chancellors chain looked like some of the bling that rapper, T-pain wore in this music video.)

After the ceremony and convocation ceremony for the College of Design my cousin took us on a short tour of the campus and we posed for dozens of the traditional graduation groups photos.

Coming from warm Georgia I spent the entire time hoping to see some snow that was promised by every weatherman on the east coast. Unfortunately I left a little disappointed on the snow front but overall it was great to see my cousin become an alumnus.

(Fun Fact: the Bell Tower @ NC State doesn't actually have a bell inside. It's just a recording played over a speaker system.)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

SoCal: Tuition Protests & Tom Cruise

On campus at UCLA I got a taste of some of protests against the University of California tuition increases. We passed many of the buildings involved in the sit-ins some of which had signs posted in the windows.

("Freeze The Fees")

Back in San Diego we toured the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum. This massive ship houses 25 restored naval aircrafts and scores of flight simulators. The self guided audio tour takes you through the life of a naval sea man inside the ship.

To anyone familiar with the movie Top Gun seeing the sights and sounds of San Diego will bring back some familiar memories. With most of the scenes of the movie filmed in this region it is easy to be taken back into the 1986 movie. Walking through the deck of the aircraft carrier it is to see yourself on the silver screen with "Maverick" and "Goose!"

(USS Midway flight deck)

"It Never Rains In Southern California"

On my first visit to southern California in July I failed to realize the beauty of the climate here. In the middle of summer the temperature tops out at around 80 degrees (which is cold for a Georgia boy). But in the middle of November the temperature tops out at around 80 degrees! Which is amazing coming from Georgia! The other beautiful thing about the weather here is it never rains! In the four months my family has lived here it here "it has maybe rained 3 or 4 times"

On day 1 of this trip to San Diego I decided to journey with my brother through the hills of California near our home on bicycle. Not having ridden a bike for years I struggled up and downs the hills and valleys of southern Cali. Thoroughly tired and sore I was ready to head home.

Day 2 started off early with a voyage north to Los Angelos! We went on college tours of some of the best schools this region has to offer. The first tour was of the University of Southern California. Living on the east coast all you hear of USC is Trojan Football but the school as a lot to offer outside of the football field.

(USC Library)

Next stop was the University of California-Los Angelos. This week was an interesting time to visit both institutions because the inter-city rivals play in their most anticipated game of the season on Saturday. In preparation for the big USC-UCLA football game both schools took careful measure to protect the statues of their mascots from the other.

At USC a group of students known as Trojan Knights wraps Tommy Trojan in duct tape and bubble wrap and guards him 24 hours a day for the week prior to the game. UCLA takes a different approach by just installing a tarp that is dead-bolted in place. But both schools are buzzing with the excitement of the upcoming game. I don't think you could have picked a better time to visit these institutions with each school overflowing with school pride!

(UCLA campus)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Any true fan of the Bulldog Nation knows that the annual trip to see the Dawgs play in Jacksonville is a must! With a 'new breed of bulldog ready to take the field of battle' the bulldog faithful all rally in Jacksonville for the big game. The fact that the Florida Gators are the #1 team in the nation did not seem to keep any dawg fans at home. There was a strong showing of Red & Black crossing the state line for the big game.

According to the very credible source of Wikipedia: tailgating is "a social event held on and around the open tailgate of a vehicle." Normally, I am not able to tailgate because I work with the UGA Football team for home games. So I was excited about getting the opportunity to socialize with other fans prior to kickoff. For this game I was able to take tailgating to a whole new level. Tailgating in parking lots is old news, everyone who's anyone is now tailgating on yachts!

The actual football game may have had an undesirable outcome for the bulldogs but I did not let that sour my day. Good people, great food, and beautiful scenery on an amazing boat can always help relieve the pain from a loss. It's better to be a Georgia Bulldog after a loss than to support any other team! Go Dawgs!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

San Diego: Better Late Than Never

It's a few months after my initial visit to the west coast and I am just now getting around finishing up my last blog post. But better late than never, right?

Coming from the humid, Georgia summer one thing that shocked me was the moderate climate in San Diego. In the middle of the summer the temperature on beach in the early evening was cold enough that everyone on the beach was wearing hoodies and huddling around bonfires! Definitely wasn't expecting that...
(Mission Beach)

San Diego is home to Balboa Park, the nation's largest urban cultural park. The 1200 acre park houses 15 museums, renowned performing arts venues, theaters, shops, restaurants, gorgeous gardens, and the world famous San Diego Zoo.
(Botanical building)

Being the history nerd that I am and having volunteered for three years at the Fernbank Museum of Natural History I had to check out San Diego's Natural History Museum for a comparison. The main attraction at the museum was definitely the Bodies exhibit temporarily on display. It gave a fascinating in-depth look into the marvels of the human body and all of its systems. The permanent exhibits in the museum were slightly sub par with what I was familiar with from Fernbank, but they were still definitely worth a look.
(S.D. Natural History Museum)

With my first southern California adventure wrapped up, I look forward to being able to visit my family here for some time. The scenery in the region is gorgeous with huge canyons and towering mountains in the distance. The people all seem nice and welcoming and there is a sense of happiness in the air.

Monday, August 3, 2009

San Diego: Beaches, Babes and New Homes

After living in the same home for 12 years I expected moving clear across the country into a new house to be a little bit of an adjustment for me. But after checking out the new place and seeing all of the sights and sounds of San Diego I'm starting to feel right at home.

(The new house in SD!)
(View from the back porch. Looking down into a canyon right in our backyard and mountains in the distance.)

With the promise from our new neighbors of seeing the "most beautiful girls in southern California" we made our way to the beach! After a late start and running a few errands we did not actually get to the beach until early evening which is normally fine in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. However in San Diego that was a mistake.

When we arrived at the beach at around 6pm it was packed. People were everywhere laying out, surfing, and just playing in the water. Being a somewhat overcast day I expected the water to be a little cold, but it was absolutely freezing! The water was frigid and once you got out of the water the air around you was arctic. Needless to say I didn't stay in the water very long. But once I dried off and put on some clothes on I realized that most San Diegans were better prepared than me. Everyone at the beach was wearing hoodies and they started to huddle around bonfires. My first experience in the Pacific Ocean might have been a little more enjoyable if I had adequately prepared, to say the least.

(Overcast day at the beach.)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

San Diego: Day 1 & 2

With my family making a big move from Snellville, GA ("Where Everybody's Somebody") to southern California, I had to personally check out where they will be residing.

In this economy you have to save money where everywhere you can. So I decided to use a student ticket to get to San Diego on the AirtranU program. You fly at a very reduced price if you don't mind flying standby. After getting to the airport at 8am trying to get a flight to San Diego that was severely overbooked, I ended up on a flight to Los Angelos.

Arriving at LAX International Airport I stepped foot for the first time in California. My Cali adventure got underway by splitting a rent-a-car with another traveller from my flight. Also on her way to San Diego she missed her flight so we both went to LA. With the GPS in the windshield, windows down, and radio up, we took our little PT Cruiser south of LA into the heart of southern California.

With my new friend, a probation officer from Lawerenceville, GA at the wheel we travelled through some scenic California neighborhoods. Any fans of MTV reality shows would love this drive through the Hills, Laguna Beach, and Newport Beach. The picturesque Spanish style homes made this drive quite enjoyable.

My first full day of San Diego started off with a walk down the harbor in the downtown region. We then embarked on a double-decker bus tour of the city with a great view from the front of the bus.

We toured through most of the highlights of the city including the historic Gaslamp Quarter Historic District, the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum, and Balboa Park. Balboa Park, one of the country's largest city parks, houses a number of museums, restaurants, gardens, and the San Diego Zoo. I look forward to spending the next few days exploring the park and some of the other aspects of San Diego.
(Statue in Balboa Park)

For any fans of Top Gun, I was challenged to find the place that the bar scene from the movie was shot at (Shout out to my boss, Eric Johnson! Thanks EJ!). They actually had pretty good BBQ too.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Trinidad & Tobago: DAY 5 & 6


In Trinidad everyone works hard. People always seem busy with their day-to-day hustle and bustle. Tobago is a place to play!

At 6am on DAY 5 the ferry departed from Port of Spain and set sail for Tobago. The two hour trip to Tobago is a great way to catch more of a glimpse of the coastline. For the most part the boat ride is smooth sailing, but the last 20 min. of the journey was the first time I've ever experienced sea sickness. I was able to keep it under control but there was a few not so lucky guest that regurgitated their breakfast.

(Ferry docked in Tobago)

Once on dry land in Tobago all of the sickness subsided. Tobago is a magical place. Much smaller than its political counterpart, Tobago thrives on tourism. After a quick bite to eat at a local shop we started our day of touring the island. Traveling around the entire island only takes about 2 hours so we rented a car and made our way around the loop of Tobago.

Known for its pristine beaches and expansive rain forests, Tobago boasts the oldest protected forests in the western hemisphere. It has turned into a hot spot for eco-tourism, and although touring the rain forests was tempting with only a short time to spend on the island we decided to just be beach bums. Driving around from beach to beach we spent the day in Tobago enjoying the scenery, eating in local restaurants and cooling off in the water. My favorite was the picture perfect beach in the seaside village of Castara on the northern shore of the island. All of the beaches in Tobago had a relaxed and inviting atmosphere and were surprisingly empty. Although this is the slow season, apparently the beaches are normally like this. Tobago also lacks massive hotel chains dominating the skyline. The hotels on the island are smaller and seem to blend seamlessly with the natural environment of the country. This is one gem of the Caribbean that has yet to be discovered by the masses.

(Beach in Castara.**My Favorite picture of the trip**)

(Sign overlooking Englishman's Bay.)

(Steelpan drummers on the street in Tobago)

(View from the hotel room patio)

After two wonderful days on the island unfortunately we had to leave it's beautiful shores. Opting out of the boat trip back we decided to take a plane instead. The short 15 minute flight back to Trinidad was on a small, propeller plane my dad would refer to as a "crop duster." Back in Trinidad we made our way to the Caroni Swamp for a bird watching tour. The bird sanctuary here is home to flamingos, egrets, and the scarlet ibis. The highlight of the tour is the ibis' nesting ground on a small, isolated island. At dusk hundreds of the bright red birds descend on it to stay safe from predators throughout the night. We also saw multiple fish going airborne out of the water, a boa constrictor, and a spectacled caiman (similar to a gator, only smaller) on the prowl.

(Caroni Swamp)

(Caiman on the shore)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Trinidad & Tobago: DAY 3 & 4

DAY 3:
Sitting 1,000 ft above Port of Spain, Fort George was built by the British in 1804. Nestled high above the town the fort was used to monitor all advancements on the capital city. From the vantage point at Fort George you have an amazing birds-eye-view of all of Port of Spain. The beautiful view of the city and the conveniently placed picnic tables and decorative landscaping make it a favorite for locals wanting a small escape from city life. The only problem with the fort is the journey 1000ft up the mountain to reach it! The windy one-and-a-half lane road up the mountain with no guard rails (I repeat, no guard rails!) was treacherous and I probably wouldn't have made it safely without an experienced driver. But besides risking your immediate safety it's a great place!

(Cannons overlooking the city.)

After trekking down the side of the mountain we journeyed into Port of Spain to go on an impromptu tour. This was our first real day of going into the heart of the city and it is a very lively place, especially during lunch hour. I got a little taste of home from the pedestrians who blindly darted in front of oncoming traffic. It reminded me of UGA's campus, specifically the intersection of Baldwin St. and Sanford Dr. during class change. Once in the city we made a pit stop at Queen's Park Oval, the cricket stadium. With a capacity of 25,000 people it is the West Indies largest cricket grounds and is home to the Trinidad & Tobago cricket team. Our guide, with surprising ease, talked our way into the stadium although it was closed. It was eerie actually being inside the empty stadium after researching so much about the sport before the trip (see "Cricket" post).

(Queen's Park Oval)

DAY 4:
At the official halfway marker for the trip, today we ventured out of Port of Spain into the southwest region of the island. Our destination was San Fernando and it's premier attraction San Fernando Hill. Affectionately referred to as simply "The Hill" by locals, the limestone formation is the tallest point in the region. The Hill provides excellent views of the of south and central Trinidad, the Gulf Of Paria, and on a clear day, the coast of nearby Venezuela. Unfortunately today was slightly overcast and Venezuela was not visible but the Hill still offered a very commanding viewpoint. Being employed by the UGA Vistors Center, I was excited to learn that the Hill had its own "Visitor Centre." This pathetic excuse for a visitors center was disheartening. The entire building was empty. Not a single brochure, pamphlet, tour guide, information desk, NOTHING! The only thing their "Visitor Centre" offered was a flight of unmarked stairs that led to a look out point. Needless to say I was very disappointed but overall the Hill was still a powerful attraction.

(misleading "Visitors Centre" sign)

(EMPTY Visitors Centre!)

(View coming down from the Hill)

On the trip back to Port of Spain we were able to see some of the industry that keeps the island afloat financially. Unlike many of its neighbors in the Caribbean, tourism is not Trinidad's main source of revenue. The thriving oil and gas industries are the country's main source of income. We travelled through some of the oil fields and were able to see some of the oil refineries that support the area. We also saw Pitch Lake, the largest natural asphalt deposit in the world. "Discovered" by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1595 it has fascinated explorers, scientists, and tourists ever since. Now it provides a boost to the local economy through the exportation of the asphalt for road construction.

(Pitch Lake)

(Oil refinery)

To cap off the midway point in the trip we ate dinner at the marina. The restaurant was hidden away in a place that only locals and "yachtees" (yacht owners parked in the marina) knew about. The food was great, but the atmosphere was better. The patio sat on the water with the sights and sounds of the marina engulfing you. As the sun slowly faded away past the horizon, the mesmerizing sound of the waves slowly crashing into the shore was profoundly peaceful. A true Trinidadian way to end the day: Liming.