Driving into Los Angeles on a rainy Friday afternoon was perhaps not the most auspicious start to our visit. It is not long before you are confronted by just how big the city is, and how confusing driving around it can be. One wrong turn and our much trusted advisor, our GPS, is left in a state of recalculation, while we are stuck on yet another freeway.
Our explorations led us all over the city. From a rain drenched Santa Monica, up to the Griffith Observatory to check out the view, and some lovely wanderings through Pasadena and Long Beach. The latter two, with the benefit of sunshine, were definitely personal highlights of the Los Angeles area.
The real Orange County
Leaving Los Angeles behind, we continued driving south. As a big fan of The OC many moons ago, I was particularly keen to check out Newport Beach. The area is stunning, and the houses were massive, the streets filled with expensive cars, and to top it off we found the most fantastic lemonade at one of the local shops.
From the Newport Beach pier
California here we come, right back where we started from…
From Newport, we headed through Laguna Beach (the houses were even bigger) and then on to the I5 into San Diego. We booked an Air B’n’B for a week in San Diego, relishing the chance for a break as we prepare for the next stage of our trip.
Our introduction to America started on the steep streets of San Francisco. The sun was shining as we picked up our rental car at the airport, then drove towards the city. With accommodation pre-booked, we could find our feet quickly and start exploring. I rediscovered my appreciation of Blue Moon, and the city welcomed us. A fabulous beginning. Sleep came easily that night, and the next day we started exploring early. Then we were stopped in our tracks – food poisoning. The details are painful, but we were out of action for the next 36 hours… Unfortunately this included missing our pre-booked tickets to Alcatraz!
But slowly we came right, and it was back to exploring. San Francisco is an interesting city. I have met so many people who really love it, and I can see the appeal. I love a city where walking is the norm, and good food is everywhere. However, I have been able to visit a couple of times, and really would not rush to return. For me, there is something missing in the city. That special feeling that around every corner, there is an opportunity for something new and exciting. I do not feel that in San Francisco… Mind you, a bout of food poisoning can hamper one’s views slightly. We did get to explore the Bay Area a little bit, taking our trusty rental car out to see the sights (and drive over the mighty bridge). It is beautiful in the sunshine, and a nice introduction to America.
Travelling south on the PCH
Now, I grew up with the Californian movie ideal. Central to this was an awful lot of sunshine. Unfortunately, someone forgot to pass on this memo and our drive down one of the most beautiful roads in America was somewhat hampered by a rather impressive amount of rain. Therefore, our planned two night trip south ended up being only one, with some extra time added to Los Angeles. However, despite the cold and the rain, we still got to see the beauty of the region. As Ashby got used to driving on the wrong side of the road, we followed the coast along cliff faces, through farmland, and amongst towns. On our overnight stay, we found a spot on a forest road in the Big Sur region to test out the car for sleeping. It was comfortable enough, but a tent is in order for our next stage through the national parks.
The second day was annoyingly wet, and we ended up just pushing through to Los Angeles. Thankfully, I think the really beautiful stuff was enjoyed on the first day.
Colour bursts through the city. It is hidden around corners, brightening walls and walkways. Between the grey of rubble and steel, new life is evident throughout.
There is no hiding the dramatic consequences of a multitude of earthquakes hitting Christchurch. Nearly five years on, the city still has the open wounds. Where buildings once stood, gaping holes are now blocks of rubble to navigate. The roads can be challenging to navigate with roadworks and traffic cones aplenty. On first glance, the city is scarred.
But by lifting one’s gaze just a smidge, it becomes clear that to write off this city is too simplistic. It is a city in a state of beautiful evolution. A giant art gallery of street art, peppered with exciting, new food options. The Avon River still gracefully snakes through the city centre, and new steel structures continue to grow out of the footprint of what has gone before. Wandering the central city, there is a life to Christchurch that is extraordinary. Observing a city evolving like this is a special moment; it will never again look quite like it does today. Tomorrow, there will be a little more built, it will grow and settle into itself once again. Eventually, this evolution will reach its natural end. It will become the new normal and people will tell stories of this time of change.
The earthquakes of 2011 destroyed a city, but the people of Christchurch have led that in a new direction. One of New Zealand’s largest cities, it is becoming a vibrant and exciting city – one I am proud to call my hometown.