Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Second Anniversary in Los Angeles
(Malibu and Pasadena)

For our Second Wedding Anniversary, Tori and I decided to visit Los Angeles where she lived for so many years after High School so she could show me her favorite haunts. On Thursday, we left work early for our drive up to Malibu. Since traffic was decent, we made it all the way to Pacific Palisades before we stopped for dinner at Taste at the Palisades. Our next stop was The Malibu Motel right on the Pacific Coast Highway where we would stay for one night. The roadside motel was in the middle of being renovated so we had a room that looked brand new. In the morning, we walked up the hillside path behind the motel to check out the ocean view before driving up the coast to eat breakfast at the Marmalade Cafe. (I loved their Eggs Benedict with Biscuits!)

After breakfast, we continued our drive up the PCH where we stopped at the Malibu Bluffs Park across the highway from Pepperdine University. After we messed around in the playground and Tori accidentally soaked her bottom on a park bench covered with dew, we explored the nature trails along the bluffs overlooking the expensive beach houses of Malibu Road.

Leaving the bluffs, we turned inland and drove up into the Solstice Canyon Park located within the Santa Monica Mountains. Parking our car in the convenient lot, we went for a short hike along the Solstice Canyon Trail. Since Friday was the actual day of our anniversary we kept an eye out for a good location to recreate the scene from our reception where the entire wedding party hung upside down from a tree branch. In a small ravine besides the 3 mile loop trail, we found the perfect spot.

Driving past Point Dume, we reached the large sandy stretch of Zuma Beach. On a cloudy winter weekday, the beach was pretty empty except for giant flocks of seagulls that I chased across the sand. After a nice walk along the beach, we continued up the coast as Tori pointed out all the places she used to visit.

Just beyond the northern border of Mailbu, we reached Leo Carrillo State Beach at noon. It's a picturesque spot with rocky tide pools and a lifeguard tower atop the bluff. A photo shoot with models and a classic car was occurring on the access road as we explored the inlets along the cliff.

Driving back through Malibu, we visited the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine in Pacific Palisades. While Tori lived in Los Angeles, she worked at the SRF Headquarters and she wanted to show me some of the temple locations. It reminded me a lot of the meditation gardens at the Encinitas SRF Retreat except that it surrounded a natural spring-fed lake accidentally created from earth-moving activities in 1927 that diverted the flow of water. The circular trail around Lake Santa Ynez crosses paths with the World Peace Memorial holding Mahatma Gandhi's ashes, the houseboat of the original property owner and an authentic reproduction of a 16th-century Dutch windmill. Before we left, Tori meditated in the windmill's chapel and we visited the small museum detailing the history of Paramahansa Yogananda's life.

Since we had 2pm ticket reservations for the Getty Villa, we left Lake Shrine for the nearby museum. While the newer Getty Center in Brentwood holds most of the trust's art, the villa location focuses on ancient Greece, Rome, and Etruria. After passing though the new Entry Pavilion, we headed South past the 500-seat Classical Theater to enter the villa through the Outer Peristyle, the largest garden in a complex inspired by a private house in the ancient Roman city of Herculaneum. The 220-foot reflecting pool (empty to conserve water during the state's drought) was surrounded by replica statues of the ones found at the original Villa dei Papiri.

After visiting the TimeScape room to learn the timeline of these three ancient cultures, we crossed through the Inner Peristyle Courtyard to visit the East Garden, a more intimate location that had the only fountains containing water. The wall fountain is a replica of the one I saw in Pompeii back in 2011. We then began working our way though the numerous galleries on the first floor where we encountered the museum's most treasured piece, a statue of Hercules called the Lansdowne Herakles. My favorite statue was the metal Infant Dionysus, or Bacchus, the God of Wine.

The Villa collection has 44,000 Greek, Roman, and Etruscan antiquities dating from 6,500 BC to 400 AD. Each of the galleries had their own themes like Gods and Goddesses, Mythological Heroes, Monsters and Minor Deities, Athletes and Competition or Women and Children in Antiquity. Tori really enjoyed the ancient jewelry pieces on the second floor. Before we left, I posed with the Bust of Emperor Commodus, son of the famous Marcus Aurelius. He was portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix as the villain in the movie, Gladiator, which displayed his passion for gladiatorial combat. He was finally assassinated, strangled in the bath by his wrestling partner.

As Tori and I prepared to leave at sunset, we exited through the Herb Garden which specializes in growing plants used by the Ancient Romans. For the rest of weekend we would be staying at the Sheridan in Pasadena, but we were stopping for diner at Tori's favorite restaurant on the way. Since it was Friday evening, we experienced first-hand the city's horrible traffic as we made our way downtown to El Cholo, the oldest Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles. (1923) It was in a rough neighborhood so I am glad they had valet parking. I ordered their original dish, the Sonora Style Enchilada while Tori had the Crabmeat Enchilada. Tori was so happy!

It was only 8pm by the time we arrived at the Sheridan in Old Pasadena, but we had such a busy day that we just relaxed in our room for the rest of the night instead of going back out to explore. Saturday morning, after walking over to the Europane bakery for breakfast we boarded the Gold Line Metro towards Downtown. On the way, we disembarked at the Chinatown station to walk around for an hour checking out the shops. I looked for a good straw hat to replace the one I destroyed last year at Burning Man but I couldn't find one I liked.

Downtown, the sun finally broke out through the clouds as we exited the metro station at Pershing Square. Tori led me over to the Biltmore Hilton where the founder of Self-Realization Fellowship passed away in 1952 attending a banquet for the visiting Indian Ambassador. Even though I had never visited the hotel before, it felt very familiar from its many appearances in films like "Ghostbusters", "Beverly Hills Cop" and "Splash". Continuing on, we entered the Los Angeles Library that Tori used to frequently visit when she lived here. I really enjoyed gazing down into the towering atrium containing four levels of descending escalators.

Next, Tori wanted to take me to the Westin Bonaventure Hotel. I know it mostly from "True Lies" where Schwarzenegger rode a horse up one of the glass elevators, but it has been in many other films as well. The giant concrete lobby, filled with fountains and shops looks like the interior of a futuristic city. We went for a ride on a few of the circular elevators that travel up the exterior of the 33 story building to check out the surrounding views. SRF holds their week-long Convocation at the Bonaventure every year so Tori calculates that she has spent at least a full year of her life inside this hotel.

Before taking the Metro back to Pasadena, we visited the Grand Central Market across the street from the Angels Flight Funicular. When it first opened in 1917, the market contained grocers, butchers and fishmongers but now it is mostly filled with trendy food stalls serving all types of cuisine. Eggslut, like several other popular eateries, had a long line backed up along the corridor. I wish we were hungry when we arrived at 3pm because I would have like to try one of the vendors. Maybe next time!

After resting back at the hotel, we went out to eat. Since "The Big Bang Theory" plays non-stop on TBS, the sitcom tends to be our background program at home and we had a strong urge to eat at the Cheesecake Factory while we were in Pasadena. We had a long wait before we got a table in the crowded restaurant. The menu is so huge that it took awhile to narrow down what we wanted to eat. For desert, we shared a slice of cheesecake, the Adams Peanut Butter Cup Fudge Ripple. Afterwards, we walked around and explored Old Town. I enjoyed the mixture of backstreets and alleys filled with restaurants and shops.

Sunday morning, Tori suggested an unusual spot for breakfast, a cafe inside the Bristol Farms supermarket. It was a favorite spot of hers in South Pasadena when she lived nearby on Mount Washington. We arrived just in time to get a table before a long line formed behind us. After eating, we went for a long walk as Tori showed me her favorite places in town, including the Payke Gymnastics Academy where she taught part-time as a coach. Around 1pm, we drove up the narrow winding streets of Mount Washington to visit Mother Center, the SRF Headquarters where Tori worked for many years. Before being purchased by Yogananda, the headquarters began life as a 1909 hotel connected by an incline railway to the bottom of the small mountain. Tori gave me a tour of the grounds and the surrounding gardens, pointing out her former office sitting above the old machine room of the dismantled railroad. The hilltop neighborhood felt a world apart from the rest of the bustling city below.

Driving back to Pasadena, I got to experience one of the extremely short on-ramps of the 110 Freeway. Sitting at the stop sign, I waited for my turn to accelerate zero to sixty from a dead stop. It was Restaurant Week in Los Angeles so we decided to go to POP Champagne for dinner and order from their Special Event Menu. Tori loved the Truffle Mac 'n' Cheese with crispy oyster mushrooms as well her main entree, the Champagne Chicken. For desert, I ordered one of their signature Soufflés du Jour, White Chocolate with a Berry Sauce. Everything was tasty, but it was almost too much food. We were stuffed.

Since we had Monday off as well, we slept in before checking out. After a stop for coffee at Europane, we drove home at 11am, missing all the commuter traffic. It was a great anniversary weekend.

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