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A visit to San Diego

I just got back from a very nice trip to San Diego; granted, holiday vacation trips can make the places you visit seem wonderful as you are away from work and just concentrating on having a good time. San Diego is an interesting place with enormous contrasts and odd contradictions.

I arrived just before the worst/longest power outage that San Diego has ever had – the power was off for about nine hours. There were people stuck in lifts (elevators) for hours, there was no light at all in my hotel and the emergency lights were extinguished within the hour. The people of San Diego pulled together and I was given food, water, and advice.

I was shown to my room by torch (flashlight), reminiscent of some old movie where the guest is shown to his room by a candle lit by a shaking-handed butler. It was hot that day, which probably added to the power draw and the subsequent outage. The air conditioners were off and the humidity was high, creating a stifling condition on the sixth floor where I was lodged. Fortunately the power was restored and my exciting introduction came to an end.

The next day I toured the Maritime Museum which consists of several ships, an old Soviet submarine from the Cold War era, a hunter-killer class of diesel/electric design. A sardine can from Hell, I’d say, you couldn’t have paid me enough to live and work in those conditions. The American submarine was a slightly newer version and was fitted with all the modern conveniences absent from the Russian sub. It was a small sub, but in good shape and on the surface (forgive the pun) quite liveable.

There are also a tall-masted ship (the Star of India) which is a barque, a schooner (the Californian) and a smaller yacht, a small steamship and a huge ferry which also serves as the gift shop. Nearby is the USS Midway, a large aircraft carrier turned museum which has hours of fun hidden away inside and on the superstructure. I whiled away several hours wandering around this city of the sea, complete with its own laundry, airport, medical and dental units and a canteen complex to feed over 2,000 men.

I managed to make a fool of myself climbing in and out of numerous aircraft and trying out the simulators. I even persuaded the operator to let me go on one alone so no one could hear me swearing when I inadvertently tried to fly it upside-down.

I travelled over to the small island of Coronado (although really it’s a peninsula) and enjoyed a walk through the stately grounds of the Del Coronado Hotel, the beach front there is amazing. At sundown there were over eight weddings taking place on the beach by the sea and a lone piper skirling mournfully on the rocks while the sea crashed around them all. I’m sure the good food and alcohol helped to make it seem a bit more magical than it really was, but nevertheless it was enchanting.

Against my better judgement I was dragged to Sea World, an enormous zoo for fish and watery mammals. I liked the river raft adventure although getting soaked to the skin might be better left to the younger crowd. The dolphin show was interesting although I felt sorry for the poor creatures; they are well trained and well looked after but, as I said, it’s not my cup of tea. The sea-lion show was clever and the performing otter was delightful; again I felt they might have been better off in the wild, but there again at least they are working for their living.

The exhibits were good, but I was left with the enduring smell of penguin poo suffusing my sinuses and even after numerous shots of bourbon it still hasn’t gone.

I finished up with a trip to Balboa Park, site of the 1935 grand exhibition or exposition the California Pacific International Exposition. There is a museum of space, automobiles, art of numerous types and styles. Museum of man, museum of science (Reuben Fleet Museum of Science) and museum of natural science. There are exhibits of plants and insects and everything of interest to the inquisitive mind. There is even a central stage with an organ made in the 1930s which thunders out across the wide open spaces, the trees (balboas and pines) tremble like spindly aspen with the tones and reverberations of music splashing the leaves like a strong shower.

I dined and drank well enjoying seafood and wines; I left with my head full of new and old ideas, stimulated by the wonder of what man has created and impressed by man’s power. I was also struck by man’s fragility and the reliance on systems that can easily break, of infrastructure sorely in need of repair – but who wants to pay the taxes to fix it up? I was struck by the wealth and the poverty, multi-million dollar yachts moored side by side with homeless people clustering together along the wharf trying to keep warm. Hotel rooms costing $200 a night while outside people begged for a dollar for a coffee or some food.

I had a great time in San Diego and I’d certainly go there again. Next time I will take a torch just in case.

2 Responses to “A visit to San Diego”

  1. Dave McMahon

    Many thanks, Graeme – from your description it sounds like somewhere I’d love to visit if I ever make it to California!

    The Maritime Museum sounds particularly interesting. I see from the Wikipedia entry for it that the vessel used for HMS Surprise in the film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is usually based there too – did you get to see it?

  2. Graeme

    Yes I did see HMS Surprise, it’s a lot smaller than I thought it would be. One interesting thing there was the steering mechanism was rigged hydraulically to be steered from a deck below while the actor could be seen to handle the wheel above. The real helmsman watched where they were going on a small tv. Compared to the Star of India it was a much smaller brig (twin masted I thought) but was newer and much neater.

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