Tomorrow is the big day, the first day of work, the first truly non-education, 9-5 job I’ve ever had in my life. Although this is undoubtedly a good and very adult step (high time I join the real world) I feel like a high school student about to start school after the summer break. Even the strange turn of the weather–it’s now hot and humid, especially in my third-floor apartment–has conspired to take me back in time to those late August southwestern Pennsylvania nights when I would stare at the bright red numbers on my electric clock and, with only the sounds of chirping crickets and the occasional train whistle interrupting the rural hush, wonder what would be in store for me come the morning. Now, just like back then, I have baby butterflies in my stomach and, while I know that I have to get up bright and early tomorrow morning, I’m not at all interested in going to bed. It’s as if I’ve stubbornly decided to hold onto my freedom for as long as I can. 

To that end, I’ve spent the past few days cooking like I might never cook again (we could also call this proactive blogger behavior since I now have no less than five recipes to tell you about), reading, watching the World Cup, walking the dog and reminiscing about a summer that isn’t even halfway over. If I had to pinpoint the highlight from my short-lived summer, it would unquestionably be the trip the Greek and I took to Southern California in late June. Everything about this trip offered the best of the season, from the necessary lush and balmy weather to a feeling of freedom and spontaneity.

While our final destination was Pasadena, where we would be attending the baby shower of a dear friend, we had also decided to make the most of our trip, driving along the coast and spending a night in Santa Barbara. Because of our route on the way down, we ended up stopping in San Luis Obispo for a coffee break. Let me just say that this was the best possible coffee and leg-stretching break that we could have hoped for. Although San Luis Obispo is a stunning town (the rolling hills, the sea air  and the misty sunsets all reminded me of Greece) with its own tourist-worthy Mission, it has absolutely no ego. Instead, it’s the epitome of a friendly and quaint small town. Because it was a Thursday night, we got to experience its many charms firsthand at one of the most amazing farmers’ markets I’ve ever been to (I mean no disrespect to Berkeley or Oakland, but the vastness of this market, as well as its status as a real community event, puts ours to shame).

The many offerings of the market were not only gorgeous examples of California’s bounty, but also so reasonably priced that it made me sad that we were two people just visiting and without a refrigerator or stove. That said, we still did quite well for two people on the road. At the Greek’s urging, we ended up having dinner at a few different food stands at the market (he made a beeline for the tri-tip, while I waited in a very long line for roasted corn that was more than worth it) and, afterwards, beckoned by a combination of their fragrance and obvious perfection, we bought a crate of Blenheim apricots and strawberries, as well as a boysenberry crumble pie for breakfast in Santa Barbara. 

When we finally made it to Santa Barbara, we were delighted to find that the Airbnb we had chosen was as nice as we had hoped. It was just a room in a house, but everything about it was bright, welcoming and colorful. There were a lot of nice touches: freshly cut flowers in the bedroom, two outdoor patios and the breeze from open windows. The breakfast nook, however, was my favorite; there was something about the aqua table, white chairs and peachy-orange dishes that appealed to me. Not to mention the fact that I finally got to eat a slice of that buttery berry pie (it tasted even better than it looked).

From that point on, we pretty much stayed in motion. We stopped at the Old Mission Santa Barbara and took a tour; although it was my second time in Santa Barbara, it was my first visit to the Mission. It was the perfect day for a visit, too; the sky was deep blue and generally clear, and though hot, the weather still managed to be pleasant and mild. I enjoyed touring the grounds and seeing the unusual vibrancy of the altar and the Spanish and Mexican artwork, but but these places also always remind me of how much has been lost: lives, knowledge, artifacts, simplicity…I found it so strange that when I took a few photos in the courtyard outside the mausoleum with my cellphone, a window popped up to ask if I wanted to join the Mausoleum Network. Or that we couldn’t go in to see the church until a funeral service had ended. As soon as the body was carried out, we were ushered in. Both reminded me that even in holy places, there is no escaping either modernity or the capitalist drive to constantly move forward.

I was able to leave these thoughts behind once we got to the beach. There it was just blue skies, swaying palm trees and endless swaths of burning hot sand. I will also confess a sin: experiencing dog-withdrawal since Elektra stayed with a neighbor in Berkeley, I allowed another dog, a beautiful golden blonde beach beauty named Nayla who had just finished a swim, to cuddle up next to me on my blanket. In my defense, the Greek enjoyed Nayla’s company too.

When we finally reached Pasadena, it was a lovely reunion with friends. We had a dinner of tasty Asian fusion on a street-side patio (excuse the constant talk about the weather, but to somebody who is used to muggy East Coast summers, this was nothing short of heavenly; trained by the Bay Area, I always had a sweater or scarf, but I didn’t need any of it. Not once!), complete with the kind of long meandering conversation that takes place when people haven’t seen each other for a long time: various conversational threads are begun, but not completed until the next morning or evening since it feels like there’s all the time in the world to work out the details. This was pretty much how the weekend went.  I’m sure there were important things that were abandoned and even more that was left unsaid due to a lack of time, but it was jubilant and that is precisely how reunions should be. 
The time went by quickly in Pasadena–too quickly, really. There was the shower–map-themed and elegant in a sun-kissed backyard–and endless games of hide-and-seek with the hostess of the shower’s adorable twin girls. For some reason, I was a big hit with them (it may have been my lavender sundress), but that’s not to say that there weren’t a few rough moments. One of them did such a good job at hiding during hide-and-seek that I couldn’t find her; when she eventually emerged from the back of a closet, she told me that she thought I had forgotten her. I quickly explained that she was just too good at the game and a true hide-and-seek champion; this prompted her twin to say she was the champion…Things were about to get ugly when the wisdom of a food blogger and sweet-toothed individual prevailed and I assured them that there was a chocolate cake waiting for all hide-and-seek champions in the kitchen. Let it be noted that even I, the designated hide-and-seek Loser (I even got a loser necklace), got to eat cake. Thank goodness, children can be merciful.
And then, after counting to a hundred no less than 15 times, there was pizza and a trip to Vromans, where the Greek bought me the second Tana French mystery, i.e. soon-to-be my BART book.
It was sad to leave Pasadena and our friends the next morning, but the weekend was pretty much over. We did have one more stop planned, though: Santa Monica. The Greek and I each had a mission; his was to swim in the Pacific, while mine was a less exercise-oriented and more palate-oriented mission: a trip to Huckleberry, a bakery and cafe that I follow on Instagram, which essentially means that I’m always hungry and sad that I don’t live closer to Santa Monica (fortunately, a Huckleberry bakery book will soon be published, which means that I can go to Santa Monica in my own home….It won’t be the same, though).

While I had been to Santa Monica before, I hadn’t really gotten to explore it during the day, which was a real loss. As phenomenal as the sunsets are, there is a lot of pretty, old architecture to see, as well as a lot of fun people watching to do on the beach. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to go on any rides at the Pier, but the Greek had his swim and I got my blueberry cornmeal cake and we were both content on the way home.

With this trip, I feel like we just touched the tip of the Southern California iceberg. There is still so much to see and do, things that we didn’t manage to cross off our lists on this trip. I think the Greek was smitten, though; he’s always said the Bay Area reminded him of home, but I think the trip south, largely because of the beaches, felt even more like Greece than either Berkeley or San Francisco does. As for me, I’m looking forward to my next vacation, wherever it shall be (I wouldn’t say no to Southern California, either.) But for now, I’m going to have to make myself content with daily trips to San Francisco and trips taken vicariously through novels. You’d better believe The Vacationers is on my list….
Speaking of which, a Google employee we met in Santa Monica told me that reading was a useless act, but I beg to differ (and I always will): through The Vacationers, I will travel to Mallorca this summer.  Given this small act of magic, how could reading ever be bad?

4 thoughts on “Lush and Balmy

  1. Yay! I am so excited to see the pictures from this trip! I am so glad you made a real vacation of it–it all sounds perfectly lovely. And I am also living vicariously through others' travels for now, but dreaming f taking the coastal train sometime with baby and grandparents along for a little adventure:) Good luck on your first day! Though I know you don't need luck. All you really need is a good book for BART, and I am glad you have one. Thank you again for coming! It was just glorious to see you! Too short, alas, but hopefully we will make it up to the Bay (with our new little addition!) sometime in the next year:)

  2. What a glorious vacation — you made me look at my home town (er, region) with new eyes. As for your first days of work — break a leg!

  3. Thank you! I'm only sorry that it's taken me this long to respond to your comment (I'm holding strange hours these days; I haven't consistently gotten up this early since high school. Since I'm not as young as I used to be, I'm also trying to go to bed by 10:30/11, which seems crazy!). Things have been so busy with the job, but the good news it that I like it and find it interesting. It's a really wonderful change and I'm learning a lot. Still, however, I look at these photos and I itch to get back on the road and have yet another adventure…The good news is that I'm thinking The Greek + Elektra + Big Sur + Me for Labor Day…Fingers crossed for that and for future trips on the coastal train–here or anywhere! x

  4. Thank you, Ann! I think the first day was successful, but now there are many more working days ahead of me…It's good, though; I like the job and that's important. 🙂

    As for your home region, it's gorgeous. It really did seem so lush to me! And I thought of an old post you had written about passion fruit when Kostas and I went into a market and found some; it seemed like such a treasure. We bought three back with us (sadly, too little for a batch of ice cream!) and enjoyed every bite!

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