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San Diego: Balboa Park (Planes, trains and automobiles)

sunny 25 °C

I've been in cheap, no internet motels so there's been a bit of a posting delay: this one is courtesy of the main Tucson public library.

The first couple of days in San Diego, I pretty much did nothing of note. I wandered around the downtown and Gaslamp area, I jumped on a bus and went out to La Jolla, a long drawn out posh beach side suburb which had both a Bentley and a Maserati dealership. I had the best coffee of the trip so far there, at a place called Livingroom and (outside) was insulted by a fellow: he was lying on the footpath and took it amiss when I didn't want to shake his hand. It was a pleasant evening walk back as far as the next suburb, Pacific Beach. I noticed a burger joint called the Bareback Grill which claimed to be selling New Zealand burgers and 'wiches: not many items on the menu seemed particularly distinctive of New Zealand or even very common there (who has ever seen turkey chili?). Nearby, I saw the rather special looking Crystal Pier Hotel, which has built cottages all the way out the pier. I'd love to stay here.

My dining got even more random: I popped into a supermarket and was so taken with its chicken lime and cilantro soup and its roasted chicken than I got myself a bunch of takeaway food but had nowhere to dine and had to resort to a bus stop. I made up for it on my last night in San Diego, by going into a place that had been living in my imagination for a couple of days, Yardhouse - mainly because they claimed 170 beers on tap. I'll have to take their word for it, as I only had the two. The place was totally packed but they found space for me and I left very happy. I had thought it was a local institution, but have seen several of them as I have travelled. All in all, I really liked the feel of San Diego: unlike Honolulu, I was thinking I could cancel the rest of the trip and just hang out here.

The majority of my time was spent in Balboa Park, which I think is said to be the biggest urban park in the USA, although it is really a park of two halves because it is bisected by an Interstate. It is about 1200 acres, which were first set aside as parkland in 1868. In one of the halves, a fairly major group of museums (15 in all) was established more than 100 years ago, along with San Diego Museum of Art and the zoo. Here are some more or less random images from my wandering about:

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My first visit was a quick one, in which I explored the grounds and popped into the Timken Art Gallery: two weeks ago, the name Timken would have meant nothing to me, but my brothers had some mechanicing to do which involved a trip to Supercheap Autos to buy some Timken wheel bearings. This family endowed the gallery.

I went back the next day and, after a coffee at the rather mad Cafe Bassam (I don't think there was a square incho of wall, including in the bathrroms, that was not covered with artworks or memorabilia),

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spent it mainly at the Automotive Museum and the Air and Space one. I think that of all the cars they had, the one I wanted most was the 1930 Cadillac 452

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which had a massive 16 cylinder engine. The older 1913 30 also looked pretty good and was the first to abandon crank starting in favour of electric ignition:

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Back in the late 1940's, a fellow called Louie Mattar bought himself a 1948 Cadillac,

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but he wasn't your ordinary Caddy owner: he's described as somewhat obsessive, and gave it some modifications. In the engine area, for example, it could change its own oil when it was in motion. This came in handy, as he broke records for non-stop driving: he drove it from Alaska to Mexico City without stopping (had mobile refuelling in airfields) and did a round trip across America from San Diego to New York, again without ever stopping. He had other modifications: he installed running boards so he could walk around the car while it was moving, maybe to take a shower or get a drink from the external water fountain. A video showed him doing mechanical work on the engine and then changing a tyre, all without stopping the vehicle (there was an emergency wheel on the jack).

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He built everything in including the kitchen sink, along with a stove, washing machine TV, fridge, toilet and a wee bar and hookah pipe

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Something else which caught my attention was a video of the Plank Road of Imperial County. They wanted to build a road to connect San Diego to the East, but run into problems with some sand dunes between El Centro to Yuma. From 1915 to 1927, the solution was a road made from 13000 planks,

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running from Gray's Well for 6 1/2 miles. It was initially a single line, but rebuilt in 1916 with turnouts every 1000 feet. It was continually being buried under the sand and damaged by traffic - even so in 1924 the California Highway Commission thought it might double lane the plank road. Luckily sense prevailed and a normal asphalt road was built. This piece of road is in one of the hottest and driest parts of the USA (there are sand dunes covering an area of 40 x 12 miles) and thus was a very isolated and dangerous place, so people would die for want of water. Because I was intrigued and this is a full service sort of blog, I took a side trip to inspect the remains of this road:

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I was surprised that Frank Sinatra not only had an English car, but that it was an Austin

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I wonder how many know that Herbert Austin was an Australian shearing machine maker and, after moving to the UK, only made cars to keep the employees of his bicycle factory busy. Australians were given the blame for pick up trucks, which emulated the Ute. Some versions looked ridiculous

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but the pickups they had on display were beautiful (and made me wish I had a truck)

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The Air and Space Museum was a very busy place, stacked to the ceiling with various sorts of aircraft

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Some in particular interested me. This is a Fokker Dr 1, the type of plane flown by the infamous Red Baron

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This little Robinson R44 helicopter was surprisingly comfortable to sit in

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This plane just looked odd, very squat, all engine and yet quite pretty it is a Gee Bee R-1)

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This is the Lockheed Vega 58 used in the movie Amelia, and the model flown by Amelia Earhart in various flights and races across the USA and the Atlantic.

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It seems that early Pan Am planes are made out of corrugated iron.

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Oh, and the had the capsule from the Apollo 9 rocket - I had a hard time working out where the astronauts actually fitted in - they had these sort of canvas seats, but with low backs and nowhere for the lower halves of their legs. Maybe space flight really is just a big hoax.

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There were no actual trains in the museum, but there was a large space devoted to model trains - they had set up half a dozen different scenarios: some were very large, so much so that I couldn't get any sort of sensible shot, and some were incredibly detailed. My main concern was that there just wasn't enough train action.

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Walking home one night, I noticed that kennels seem to be a thing of the past, now it is all about spas and country clubs

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Posted by NZBarry 09:28 Archived in USA Tagged san diego

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