Wednesday, August 8

San Diego

They say it's easy to fall in love with San Diego. I believe it. The three days that Garry and I spent here were magic. The harbour was stunning, the weather warm and the food was easily the best we've encountered in America. There are now two cities in the USA I'm willing to live in; San Francisco and San Diego.

We flew in late on Thursday evening. It wasn't until the following morning that we gained a true sense of San Diego's majestic location. We started our day wandering through Horton Plaza. We'd expected to discover an open, tree-clad European plaza. Instead we found ourselves lost in Westfield Mall. The bewildering maze of mezzanine levels, ramps and stairwells wouldn't have been out of place in an Esher sketch.

We swiftly abandoned the mall and headed for the harbour. We stopped for lunch at Seaport Village, a faux seaside township by the water's edge. Our alfresco table over looking the harbour was an ideal spot to soak up the sun and few crisp Californian wines. In the distance we could see the nation's newest aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Regan, in port. Numerous other naval vessels of all shapes and sizes came and went over the course of an hour.

From lunch a short stroll along the waterfront lunch found us at the steps of the USS Midway. For more than 47 years this aircraft carrier led the US Pacific Fleet into war. I still recall watching CNN footage of cruise missles being launched from its deck during Operation Desert Storm. Since retirement the ship has been converted into a floating museum.

We spent more than four hours exploring Midway's interior, touring the control tower and striding the length of its expansive deck. Access is granted to all areas including the brig and a fascinating array of naval aircraft. Everything about this ship is big. It's 1001 feet long. It's flight deck covers more than four acres. It was home to 4,500 people at any one time.

Later that evening we headed out from our hotel to explore the Gaslight Quarter. This 16-block area of the central city is designated a National Historic District. Twenty-five years ago it was a derelict and ramshackle zone. Today the area is alive with bars, restaurants and lively crowds. We stopped for dinner at a wonderful Italian restaurant. Our table on the sidewalk afforded a view of the weekend party scene. I enjoyed a veal dish with flavours unlike any meal we'd had since arriving in the USA. Why is it so hard to get a good meal in America?

We spent our second day in town at SeaWorld, home to Shamu the killer whale. In recent times, Shamu has become the city's unofficial mascot. Out day was filled wandering from stage show to show watching performing sea lions, dolphins, pilot whales and of course, killer whales. Without a doubt, watching Shamu leap into the air, somersault and splash back into the pool was the day's highlight. I also fell in love with the polar bears and magical white Beluga whales.

Our final day in town was spent with animals of a different kind. We made our way through Balboa Park to San Diego's famous zoo. It's easy to see why this facility has the reputation it does. More than 3000 animals are exhibited in a tranquail series of landscaped canyons. The variety of wildlife on display is among the most varied of any zoo worldwide.

We fell in love with the pandas, two of whom were enjoying a lunch of fresh cut bamboo as we passed by. The koalas looked at home in their trees and once again I was mesmerised by the polar bears. The zoo even has its own kiwi house. However, we couldn't find them despite an extensive search from every vantage point. Soon after encountering the local Indian rhino it was time for us to go. Our communter flight to Los Angeles couldn't wait.

It was at this point that our travel adventures really began. First, we discovered that flights to LA leave from a terminal other than that listed on our printed itinerary. Our shuttle bus driver made it clear he wasn't happy taking a detour to drop us off.

Second, Garry was told that his luggage could not be checked through to Sydney, despite the fact that Qantas had contacted the previous day to reassure him he's have no problem making his connection in Auckland. After some debate we finally convinced the Qantas agent to check his luggage through to Australia. Ironically, Garry's luggage didn't make back with him and he spent his first day Down Under hounding Qantas.

We then discovered the business lounge was closed in LA; then finally, much to Garry's disgust, our aircraft was substituted at the last minute for one without Skybeds. Hats off to Qantas though. The Customer Service Manager onboard took pity on us and offered $A200 in duty-free vouchers. We later received complimentary vouchers for meals at two of London's top boutique hotels and another A$600 in Qantas travel vouchers. Wel done Qantas. You've secured our loyalty for another year.

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