Trains and boats and planes - and wagons

San Diego has a strong Mexican flavour to it, in part because it is so close to the border (a mere 17 miles), but also because it was home to the first Spanish settlement on the whole U.S. west coast. The original settlement area is now a quaint, jolly little tourist destination called "Old Town", which is a curious cross between colourful, musical Mexican restaurants and shops, and restored hotels, semi-original buildings and even a wagon museum hinting at the days of the wild west. Mr H and I had been before but on those occasions we'd pretty much headed straight to a restaurant, so this time we arrived mid-morning and took a look around.

old-town

old-town-buildings

old-town-hotel

old-town-mail-wagon

old-town-wagon-kids

We then headed into the main square for lunch, where Mr H and I were able to indulge in our favourite cocktail when in California: the margarita!

old-town-margaritas

Little Miss H always thinks these drinks look rather interesting, so fortunately we were able to distract her with some cranberry juice.

old-town-drinks

After lunch we headed back via Balboa Park, and this time we visited the San Diego Natural History Museum to see some more dinosaurs! Thankfully the T-Rex got the memo and was in the Christmas spirit.

San-Diego-theNat

The area dedicated to dinosaurs didn't seem that big at first, but as we walked around it and found more and more exhibits, many of them things the kids could touch, we soon realised we didn't need an abundance of skeletons like our chum above to make for a great dinosaur experience. Especially when we found one of Master H's favourites: the ankylosaurus!

San-Diego-theNat

San-Diego-theNat

One strategic rest day later we were ready to head to the water and visit the USS Midway Museum, a retired aircraft carrier that has now been turned into a museum. And what a museum it is: not only does it house restored aeroplanes and provide a rather surreal experience when one is up on the flight deck alongside them, but you can (and are encouraged to) climb down into the decks below and explore all the facets of this majestic working vessel, built to carry 4,500 people at a time.

USS-Midway

USS-Midway

Once we'd clambered aboard and rung the bell, we picked up a couple of self-guided audio tours and tried (quite fruitlessly) to listen to some information about the planes on display whilst our young charges climbed up into the open cockpits.

USS-Midway-bell

USS-Midway-cockpit

USS-Midway-cockpit

If you can't beat 'em...

USS-Midway-cockpit

For me however the experience got a whole lot more interesting once we went into the lower decks. The kids did a marvellous job of going up and down the ladders and stepping over doorframes - to them it was simply a very curious playground I suppose - and the whole place was very well set up, with waxworks and artefacts set up in some areas to show you what the place looked like with people working there.

USS-Midway-lower-decks

USS-Midway-lower-decks

USS-Midway-lower-decks

This made it so much more realistic for all of us, but for our little two especially, who happily obliged when we suggested they try the next room out for themselves.

USS-Midway-lower-decks

The physical nature of it all left the little legs quite exhausted (have the stroller at the ready for when you come out!), so afterwards we just walked a short distance to the famous Kansas City Barbeque, where the bar scenes in Top Gun were filmed. The service was cheery, the food reasonable and the nods to the movie were everywhere. Mr H was in his element!

Kansas-City-BBQ-piano

Kansas-City-BBQ-jukebox


The next day we took it easy, and met our lovely Californian friends Jasmine and Dave for lunch at Liberty Station, a set of repurposed barracks which is now home to plenty of restaurants. It also has a good kids' playground, and is right under the flight path. Needless to say we've been back again since!

Liberty-Station


The following day we kept quite low-key as well, and decided we'd ride the San Diego Trolley which is a bit like a light rail. It's only a few dollars and is a great source of amusement for the kiddies, plus it meant we could head back into the city without having to pay for parking so it seemed like a nice idea for a sunny Sunday afternoon.

San-Diego-Trolley

San-Diego-Trolley

San-Diego-Trolley

Thankfully this train experience was nothing like the one in L.A., but it was clearly frequented by many of San Diego's less fortunate people so we caught a glimpse of the sad side of the city. Homelessness, morbid obesity, general poverty - it's all there, as it is in any city I'm sure. I don't think San Diego is any different, other than the pace of life here casts a general spell which makes everyone that little bit less frenetic, so even the folks who are down on their luck lack any edge of aggression. They seem resigned to their fate; many are even quite cordial and cheery. I wish them well.

We went into downtown and took a walk round the old Gaslamp Quarter, one of the oldest parts of San Diego (after Old Town) which has now become a major tourist attraction in the way that all of these old-fashioned parts of town tend to do. We walked through the main streets, then out through downtown towards an area on the waterfront called Seaport Village where we had lunch and a gander at a few souvenir shops.

SD-Gaslamp

SD-Gaslamp

SD-Gaslamp

SD-Gaslamp

SD-Gaslamp

SD-Downtown

The final jaunt I shall tell you about in this transportation-themed post was our trip to San Diego Zoo (read to the end for the transport part). We went with Jasmine and Dave who are members, and as such they were only too happy to follow our well-practised technique of zig-zagging towards the next interesting animal on our favourites list. A highlight this time was seeing polar bears, though Master H quickly took more of an interest in the donations box which spinned the coins into a mesmerising vortex. Do you know the ones?

Anyway, I've all but stopped taking photos of our zoo trips as they really rarely turn out well, but here are a couple of monkeys I found swinging around.

SD-zoo

SD-Zoo

And here's Miss H practising her roar.

SD-Zoo

Our friend Dave got a couple of good shots though - first the Hart chaps sharing a smile as they watched the elephants:

SD-Zoo-elephants


Then he captured some seals popping up for air:

SD-Zoo-seal-heads


And what I did manage to snap fairly successfully was the fun we all had on the miniature train ride outside the zoo afterwards. (See the transportation link now?)

SD-Zoo-miniature-train

Approaching the tunnel...

SD-Zoo-miniature-train

In the tunnel!

SD-Zoo-miniature-train


Coming up... a California Christmas.

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