Veberöd Chronicles

(Very) sporadic insights into the life of a family in a small Southern Swedish town

Friday, July 21, 2006

Last day in California

Long Beach

Today we got up very late, understandably since we were still at Disneyland at 10pm last night. We drove down to Long Beach, browsed in a bookshop, spent a couple of hours on the beach then had dinner at a restaurant near the harbour in San Pedro. There's a restaurant and shopping "village" there called "Port o'Calls" but I'm not sure if this was part of it. The village was a bit upmarket but in the place we ate at there just seemed to be a lot of ordinary folks, mostly Mexicans, having a good time. Marjolein had a shrimp fajita (the fajita was actually two big slices of grilled flat bread) and I had a cold dish with oysters, squid and shrimps in tomato and fresh coriander sauce which I've unfortunately forgotten the name of. Then back to the hotel to pack the cases.

Thursday, July 20, 2006


Well we seem to have survived a day at Disneyland. We just had a ticket to a single theme park on a single day, so we had to pack a lot in!

What we liked:

The very high quality of all the attractions and rides

The organisation

The fireworks

On the phone in Toontown

What we didn't like

Incessantly being told what to do by recorded and real voices, especially when the instructions being given were just common sense.

Not knowing whether the personnel were being sincere when they asked us e.g. if we were enjoying ourselves. Probably not, but if they were it was kind of scary that they could be interested in so many of the people they met.

The sheer number of people there and hence

The waiting time for the attractions (90 minutes at worst, but we skipped that one)

The fact that the FastTrack system (which should give you a prebooked time for a ride so you don't have to wait in line) either didn't work or gave you a time seven hours later, and the fact that you could only use it once every two hours.

Overpriced food

However the three positive factors somehow mysteriously outweighed the five negative ones.

Saskia and Tigger

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Baker to Buena Park

Not a particularly interesting day. We drove from Baker to Buena Park, near Anaheim and Disneyland. To be honest I've had it up to here with the quality of American freeways. They are just abominable and the higher the speed limit it seems the worse the roads. They're just a patchwork of concrete and asphalt in random constellations and you get the impression that they have been repaired willy nilly and with no great skill. I wonder if this is because Americans want to have their automobile culture but no-one wants to pay for it with tax dollars?

We stopped off at Calico Ghost Town, which has preserved some original buildings and recreated some others from a mining town that had its heyday in the 1880s. We took lots of nice pictures of it but I managed to erase them all when fiddling with the camera later on.

In the evening we had a fabulous Korean barbecue at a restaurant in Buena Park called Suhra. I would recommend it to anyone!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Death Valley and the Mojave desert

Today we originally planned to drive down Highway 395 in the general direction of Los Angeles and see how far we got. We planned to take a detour from the highway that would take us to the edge of Death Valley National Park but not actually inside. However at the last minute we felt that if we had driven this far already we should go the whole way.

At Mammoth Lakes the landscape was mountainous but still with some greenery. As we travelled south we could observe it slowly transform into desert, which was quite something to see. Mountains on either side of the wide valley dominated the view. What was most impressive about some of them was the way the terrain sloped steadily upwards to a great height rather than having any steep precipices à la Norway or Scotland. It was strange to behold.

Down at Stovepipe Wells in the valley it was 118F (48°C) in the shade. There weren't many people about. A Park Ranger checked whether Saskia was wearing her seatbelt. Guess he didn't have anything much better to do. It was impossible really to be out of the car for more than 5-10 minutes at a time so we could only make a couple of stops. At Zabriskie Point we had wonderful views of rock formations and that was all we could manage. I tried to kneel down at one point and burned my knee. Marit is obsessed with picking up stones at the moment but she dropped the one from Zabriskie Point pretty swiftly.

View from Zabriskie Point

Beautiful place, but the idea of building a toilet block with open latrines in these temperatures, as shown on this picture, well... you can imagine...

The charming parking lot at Zabriskie Point

Tired and weary despite the excellent air conditioning in our car, we looked at a place called Topeca Hot Springs for accommodation, as it was underlined on our Rough Guide map, meaning that it had been recommended in the said Guide. For what it was recommended I couldn't possibly imagine, as there were a couple of RV parks and nothing else. Thus after a much longer drive than we had planned, through the Mojave Desert, we ended up in Baker, at the junction with the interstate to Las Vegas. We thought that it might be cooler here but it was actually hotter! When we arrived it was 123F (51°C) as measured on the largest thermometer in the world and as I write, at 11.30pm, it's still 107F (42°C). With a mild wind it's like walking in a hairdryer. Baker is a totally unremarkable place: a couple of motels and a few restaurants (and of course that thermometer). I can't imagine that it has any real population at all as we saw about 10 houses. We ate dinner at a restaurant called "The Mad Greek" - "Best Gyros in the USA!". Well it was about the worst Greek food I ever ate so I imagine that there must be at least 20 restaurants on Manhattan alone that have better gyros.

Finally, everyone who has driven in the American desert needs to have a "Lost Highway" shot so here is ours:

Part of the road to Baker

Monday, July 17, 2006


We drove down Highway 49 to Oakland and up Highway 41 to Yosemite. It wasn't so much of a detour as we feared, as the roads were much less winding just after Mariposa than they had been just before. We entered Yosemite through the south entrance and immediately drove up to Yosemite Valley. Once more we had an experience that was literally breathtaking, in that something catches in your throat when you see the view from the southern entrance of the valley. No matter how many times you may have seen it photographed (pace Ansel Adams and the 200 other people snapping it from where we stood) the experience of being there and seeing El Capitan, Half Dome and Sentinel Rock "in person" is just stupendous. Apparently the idea of starting the national parks of the US came from the writings of a Scot, John Muir. It's said that when he saw Yosemite Valley he shouted with joy, and you can understand how he felt! I guess he didn't have the benefits of an asphalt road or a 4x4 either.

View from southern entrance of Yosemite Valley In Yosemite Valley

From there we drove down to Yosemite Village near the end of the valley and had a pizza lunch, unfortunately wasting valuable time in which we could have been soaking in the scenery by waiting for the pizza. We continued up and over the only road east through the park, which winds up through many different kinds of mountain landscape. At first it reminded us of the Stockholm archipelago, with white rock smoothed by glaciers. Later in Tuolumne Meadows there were lush fields with huge rocks jutting abruptly out of them. Later still in Tioga Pass (almost 10 000 feet), which lies just northeast of the park, the landscape started to resemble Scotland and further still, on the way down the Tioga Pass, it became rocky scree:

The road down Tioga pass

This road may not seem steep on the picture but it was a 7% gradient for 6 miles and I could smell burning tyres when we stopped at the bottom, which I haven't experienced any time before now despite our many mountain drives!

We had stopped for a while at Tenaya Lake and got talking to a couple of people from LA who had a flat in Mammoth Lakes, which was our destination. They were packing up to leave and said "OK, now the Gourmet Gas Station?" I had to know what this was, and they explained that there was a Mobil petrol station just where this mountain road rejoins a freeway south (still at over 7000 feet!) which served quite high-class food. We decided to check it out and indeed there is a petrol station serving rack of lamb, filet mignon with giant shrimp, loin of elk and other delicacies! However we were not hungry enough to partake of these so we settled for an (admittedly enormous) portion of carrot cake. These kind people also took our photo at Tenaya Lake.

At Tenaya Lake, Yosemite

I'm not quite sure why Saskia has a plaster on her nose but I think she got bitten by something there. She doesn't believe us when we explain that plasters are for bleeding things and that they don't relieve pain. I guess the psychological factor is a big one.

Our hotel, Quality Inn at Mammoth Lakes, is comfortable. When we tried what we thought was the indoor pool it turned out to be a giant jacuzzi at something like 45°C! It was another hot day. Normally one would expect temperatures up in Yosemite to be lower than elsewhere but today they were 39°C or 102F. From the TV news I understand that the whole of California is experiencing a heatwave. In San Francisco public transport was free due to the "clean air day" policy that they have to encourage people to leave their cars at home.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Lake Tahoe to Mariposa

We had set ourselves the goal of driving from Lake Tahoe to somewhere near Yosemite National Park today. If we had all got up a bit earlier we would also have driven around the lake but we are late risers at the moment. We were originally thinking of Sonora as destination but went for Mariposa, quite a bit further south. This involved some strenuous driving near the end of the day (see below). First though we had to head over the state line into Nevada (part of South Lake Tahoe - the part where all the casinos are - is in Nevada). This took us over the mountains into a gorgeous valley of farmland on a high plain (admittedly not very fertile looking) surrounded on four sides by mountains. From there we had to head over the Carson Pass (8576 ft). Somewhere in there we had lunch at the Kirkwood Inn (est. 1864!) in Kirkwood (pop. 96) up in the mountains at almost 8000 feet. We just stopped there by chance (well it was also the first place for miles...) and it turned out to be great. To judge by the clientele it's a great Sunday meeting place for respectable bikers of a certain age (the soundtrack was all late '60s...) We could hear them meeting up and bidding each other adieu so it was clear they had biked in from different places.

At lower altitudes once more we turned into what appeared to be rolling farmland, although what could be farmed in those temperatures besides cattle I can't imagine. We passed through an old mining town called Angels Camp. This is the home of the annual frog jumping competition, in homage to the (apparently) well-known Mark Twain story "The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County", set here. The temperature was 105F and we had to seek refuge in air-conditioned stores.

Storefront in Angel's Camp

The final stretch of the road towards Mariposa was very winding and tiring after a day with so much driving. On this photo you can just see the beginning of the road in the top centre and also a few of the bends that we had to negotiate:

Highway 49 near Mariposa

On arriving in Mariposa we discovered that the direct road (Highway 140) to Yosemite had been blocked by a major rockslide since March and that it was still active, i.e. rocks are still falling. It seems that at one point they feared that it was going to block the Merced river and flood places round about. Due to this we will have to make a large detour tomorrow of at least 50 miles and we are a bit afraid that the roads will be like the one pictured above.

At least the motel was worth driving for. The Mariposa Lodge was a very pleasant place which, even if it had the obligatory large asphalt parking lots, was also decked out with a gazebo and lots of borders.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Vacaville to Lake Tahoe

We had not originally planned to visit Lake Tahoe but we recalculated how many days we had left and came to the conclusion that it was worth a shot, at least if we aimed for the southern end.

The area around Sacramento was not particularly interesting but we stopped and did some outlet shopping in Folsom. The countryside approaching Lake Tahoe was much more alpine and there was a steep winding road into the town of South Lake Tahoe itself. Traffic there was awful, apparently due to some celebrity golf championship. It was also difficult to find reasonably priced accommodation but we got lucky with a place called Alder Inn. At first they said they had no rooms free but eventually agreed to give us one room if we would wait for the owner to wash the carpet. In the end he showed us the room and we thought the carpet was OK as it was so we got the room with a discount. It was a nice friendly place, with some peculiarities. First we discovered five bottles of beer in the fridge that the previous occupant had left. Of course we didn't complain about this! Then late in the evening, while trying to find the switch for the air conditioning (it turned out there was none) I opened a grille in the wall and found a seemingly brand new Nokia 3G mobile phone hidden in there. At first we thought it must have been stolen but there were no accessories, e.g. a charger, with it. It was locked to the operator "3", who don't exist in the States, so we handed it in to the owner with a list of the countries where "3" operate and he thought it most likely belonged to some people from New Zealand who had occupied the room for two months! The owner said that people never come back to claim anything they left behind, not surprisingly really.

We had dinner at a burger joint on the obligatory long ugly commercial road into town. It had won "best burger in Tahoe" for many years. It was basically a shack with a few tables and a sit-out garden, but the burgers were good. Afterwards we were able to enjoy a beautiful sunset on the lake.

Lake Tahoe sunset

Friday, July 14, 2006

Just one of those days

Today we finally left San Francisco. originally we had only intended to spend four nights there but we discovered so many things to do that we booked another two nights at the same hotel. I even got an invitation from a company whose equipment we use at work to visit their head offices in South San Francisco, but the invitation came last night and we really wanted to get moving. We drove north on the Golden Gate Bridge towards Sonoma Valley. We stopped off in Sonoma for lunch. It might have been nice to do a tour of a few wineries but given that I was driving and for the sake of the kids we limited ourselves to a small tasking at the Sonoma Cheese Factory (where they make Sonoma Jack, on the offchance that you've heard of that). We got to taste 4 different Sonoma Valley wines and bought one bottle of Syrah. Afterwards we did drive past the Ravenswood winery afterwards and took a snap of the sign and some of their vines, as we have enjoyed their wines on several occasions previously. (The first time was with dinner in a restaurant in upstate New York, in the Hudson Valley I think, in 1997 or 1998...)

Next we headed over the mountains to Calistoga to see Old Faithful. No, not the one in Yellowstone National Park which features in Bugs Bunny and Donald Duck cartoons, but an eponymous geyser just outside this small town in the north of Napa Valley. The geyser itself was actually quite impressive but the owner (of the land I guess) had grafted on a load of incongruous "attractions" in order to justify the $8 admission fee, such as "fainting goats" (apparently they have a genetic defect that makes their muscles contract when they get scared and sometimes they fall over), four-horned goats and llamas. No comment... The temperatures this little bit inland are around 37°C (98F) which makes any direct sun unbearable. The forecast for tomorrow is up to 39°C (102F)


We headed down Napa Valley to have dinner in Napa. At least that was the plan. Saskia threw a tantrum because we wouldn't let her have a balloon. It was in fact the second tantrum of the day and one of a daily series this holiday. Our patience was completely at an end and we just left town for our motel in Vacaville (Where?! Indeed...) The place is a bit shabby but only costs $70 a night.

There was a street food festival going on in Napa and it would have been good to taste some Napa wines to match the Sonoma ones from lunchtime, but alas it was not to be.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

47 Mile Drive, Berkeley and Isobune

Today we drove out over the Bay Bridge to Berkeley. Marjolein had been there before and wanted to show us the campus. We started out by doing part of the "47 Mile Drive", which is a scenic drive taking you through most of SF's most beautiful spots. Once again we were not disappointed, as we saw some stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge in the sea fog and made it up to Twin Peaks, which is one of SF's highest points and gives you the most unbelievable view of almost all of the city.

Golden Gate bridge in the sea mist Atop Twin Peaks

However we eventually gave up the 47 Mile Drive as it was badly signposted at several key points and we didn't have a detailed map. Originally we planned to carry on down to Palo Alto and Stanford University to meet up with Karl-Magnus again, but the traffic held us up quite a bit (and we got lost trying to find the freeway entrance) and we didn't make it to Stanford. Karl-Magnus had only slept a couple of hours the previous night so maybe this was just as well.

Back in SF we ate dinner at a "sushi boat" restaurant in the Japan Centre called Isobune, one of those where sushi floats around on a little river on small boats and you just take what you like. It had been recommended by a very talkative woman we met on the number 30 bus! Once again we seem to have found a restaurant where superlatives are used: it was one of the top 10 "speciality" restaurants in San Francisco and it was in fact America's first ever sushi boat restaurant. It was great fun but we ran into the same problem that we encountered at Yo! Sushi in London - the different coloured plates just stack up and you end up spending more than you planned. We polished off 19 plates of sushi and Saskia ate like there was no tomorrow.

At Isobune sushi restaurant

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Not finding Marjolein's hat and Karl-Magnus

Today we had to go downtown again to fetch Marjolein's hat, but it turned out that the hat the staff had locked in the safe yesterday was not hers, so the trip was wasted. Then we went to Chinatown for lunch in what our guidebook said was considered by many to be one of the US's finest budget Chinese restaurants, namely House of Nanking. Well I would have to agree. The food was utterly delicious and almost ridiculously cheap. For $12 I had five gigantic scallops on a skewer on circles of aubergine in a sauce with complex flavours. The staff were incredibly friendly (which is pretty much par for the course in California actually, even if I would say that SF people are a bit cooler) and the owner was photographed by a family who said they always ate there when they were in SF.

Sizzling scallops

After this I bought an adapter and polarizing filter for our camera in a shop full of smooth-talking Hispanic guys, one of whom tried to sell me a lens for $220: "It would cost you $1000 in Europe my friend!) and we headed down to Civic Centre to meet Karl-Magnus, my former Ph.D. student who is now in Roger Kornberg's group at Stanford. On the way I wished that we hadn't chosen Civic Centre as a meeting place, as some of the surrounding areas are pretty seedy, but Civic Centre itself was quite OK. We had an hour and a half together and we promised to take a trip out to Palo Alto and Stanford tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A boat trip

It was windy out there

Monday, July 10, 2006

Modern art and wool

SFMoMA entrance hall

Victorian house

Sunday, July 09, 2006

San Francisco: Exploratorium

Our first exploit in SF was to take Saskia to a hands-on science museum called Exploratorium. She loves a similar place in Copenhagen called Experimentarium which is clearly modelled on this place. It's housed in the Palace of Fine Arts, one of the few remaining buildings from an exposition in 1915 to celebrate the completion of the Panama canal. According to the brochure there are more than 600 experiments there. Even though we were there for more than 4 hours we can't have looked at more than a fraction of them. I recognised some of the exhibits from Experimentarium and some from the Natural History Museum in Stockholm, so clearly there is some kind of "factory" for interactive science exhibits somewhere!

Tornado exhibit at Exploratorium

A particularly spectacular exhibit was actually inside a huge hollow pillar in the colonnade outside, where you could make various frequencies by banging gongs, and by standing at different heights you could examine how they made standing waves in the column. I asked the staff there if it didn't drive them crazy but they said they only had to work there for half an hour at a time! In the grounds there was a lake where Saskia spotted some turtles swimming.

The colonnades at the Palace of Fine Arts

We decided to leave the car at the hotel and take public transport, since the latter is so well developed in SF, in stark contrast to so many other American cities. We'll see in due course whether this was a wise decision...

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Santa Cruz and the Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Today we drove up from Monterey to San Francisco via Santa Cruz. We wanted to see the famous Boardwalk, one of the oldest amusement parks in the US. It was Saturday and the area around the boardwalk doesn't have very wide streets, so the traffic was a bit of a nightmare, but luckily we arrived around 11am and missed the real crowds. The only problem was getting out of town again. I went with Saskia on some sort of flying contraption that dives very steeply and Marjolein went on a couple of much less stressful rides! We had a sandwich lunch on the pavement next to the car.

On a ride at Santa Cruz boardwalk

After Santa Cruz we drove up into the hills in search of big trees. We found them in the Big Basin Redwoods State Park, which we found by driving via Ben Lomond! Despite being so high up it was extremely warm and humid and Saskia was in lazy mode, so we didn't get to walk around much. A bit of a shame as it was a beautiful place and the smell of redwoods is something special. We kept pace with a large Indian family, all traditionally dressed except for one man who I guessed was a software engineer from Silicon Valley entertaining his relatives from back home. The drive back down was on a very narrow winding road and seemed to take forever. Luckily there was almost no traffic in the other direction.

In the forest at Big Basin

Eventually we found the freeway to San Francisco and the hotel, Chelsea Motor Inn in the Marina District, was easy to drive to. The next morning we discovered that in three directions out of four from the corner it stands on we could have walked to a multitude of interesting restaurants, but for some reason we happened to choose the fourth direction and trudged for miles before taking the first place that came along, a rather indifferent diner at Ghirardelli Square.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Rock pools and Dennis the Menace


17 Mile Drive

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Saskia in a wave Jellyfish at Monterey Bay Aquarium

Today we finally had a lie in (until 9am, if that counts) and then after a late breakfast (pancakes, French toast and eggs Benedict) we visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is supposed to be one of the best in the world. It definitely lived up to our expectations. From the tank with giant kelp swaying gently in an artificial current, through the huge assortment of anemones to the touch pools and the kids scuba diving in the rock pools, it was quite an experience. Afterwards we walked up and down Cannery Row, the old sardine packing area written about by John Steinbeck (another one to read when we get home...)

In the evening we had dinner at the Koto Japanese restaurant. No frills decor but they did have a real live Japanese chef. For the first time ever we thought that the quality of the ingredients might merit ordering sashimi and we were not disappointed! I had never really understood how important freshness is until we tasted the tuna and the salmon, which just melted in the mouth. The latter probably better than anything we ever had in Sweden! The chef was a jolly type who had been in the US since the 1970s and who threatened to assault his assistant with a daikon radish if he didn't behave.

Monterey is quite a lot colder than LA. Difficult to tell but it's probably only in the low 20s. Wish I'd brought more socks. Apart from Cannery Row and Fisherman's Wharf downtown Monterey is not particularly interesting.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Big Sur

Today we drove up from Santa Barbara via San Simeon (where we glimpsed the immense Hearst Castle up on a hill) through the Big Sur to Monterey. The guide book said that Big Sur leaves visitors grasping for adjectives to describe its beauty, and this is no exaggeration. It's probably one of the most beautiful places we have ever been, and that includes Scotland and Norway! Narrow (for the US, that is) roads wind up and down craggy outcrops and in and out of deep bays. The flora are also incredible. There were long stretches of bright carpets of ground cover plants in a multitude of colours on either side of the road. The Pacific also had constantly shifting shades of blue.

Well I'll have to leave it at that, because as the book says, words fail to do it justice. I hope a picture will do better.

We had dinner at a fish restaurant on Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey. Marjolein had crab cakes (she likes to compare the quality of crab cakes when we're in the US) and I had a combination of three grilled fishes. Delicious.

Today's accommodation: EconoLodge Monterey Fairgrounds.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Santa Barbara on the 4th of July

At the moment we're staying in a small town (3500 inhabitants) called Buellton, up in the hills above Santa Barbara. Despite having only 3/4 of the population of Veberöd, it seems to take up at least twice the area, in true American style. Enormous signs on the freeway point out that Buellton is the home of split pea soup, and indeed our motel is called "Andersens Pea Soup". Nice place with a pool in the interior courtyard. Now the point of staying here was not Buellton itself (apologies to the inhabitants) but rather that it was only 3 miles from Solvang, a village founded by Danish immigrants in the 1920s. We were curious to see what this could be like. Well, it was borderline kitsch but nevertheless fairly tasteful. Naturally there was a big bust of Hans Christian Andersen in the main square. We snapped a few curious signs and would like to share the Hamlet Motel with you.

Hamlet motel, Solvang

On the 4th of July we headed down to Santa Barbara to see the SB Mission and witness the Independence Day parade. To tell the truth I was a bit nervous about the latter as I wasn't sure how American patriotism might manifest itself on such a day in these post-9/11 times. In the end it was no big deal (see later). The Mission is the oldest in California and a very atmospheric place. Sorry for the dearth of further detail here, but when you have to keep an eye on two boisterous kids it's hard to pay attention to anything enought to get more than superficial detail.

Santa Barbara Mission

Marit at Santa Barbara Mission

So the Independence Day parade. I was impressed by the fact that the first out were the Santa Barbara Scottish Society and their pipe band. The military aspects were also fairly low key and there were a reassuring number of people with "Troops out of Iraq now" stickers and placards. Maybe that's just Santa Barbara for you. I have the impression it's a fairly liberal place. Saskia loved the way every second float or so would have someone throwing out sweets. She managed to amass more than 40.

Scots - first in the 4th of July parade!

We hung around for the fireworks display at 9pm and were not disappointed. Tens of thousands of people crowded down on the pier but we kept to the back reaches of the crowd, mainly to make a swift exit when it was over, as we had an hour's drive back to Buellton. Met a couple of guys from Nevada who had come to California to cool down. Apparently back home it had been over 114F, or 43°C.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Ventura revisited

Street music

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Griffith Park and Old Pasadena

The merry-go-round in Griffith Park

Today's escapade involved driving to Griffith Park, but the damn thing is so big it was difficult to find. Try to find it yourself and you might understand this paradox. Anyway we had a tour along Mulholland Drive. Any of the houses there would do me just fine. Saskia threw a tantrum when she couldn't have ice cream after two rides on the Park's 1905 merry-go-round, we decided to return to Old Pasadena. There we had brunch at the Twin Palms restaurant. Sitting there listening to live New Orleans jazz, eating good food and having endless ice tea refills, I could imagine living in California for a while. But then I thought about dental plans, college fees and property prices and decided to put it off until near retirement.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Saskia's 15 minutes of fame in Hollywood

Quite an unexpected thing happened today. We booked tickets to see the Disney/Pixar film "Cars" at the El Capitan cinema on Hollywood Boulevard (just opposite the Kodak Theatre where we had earlier in the day been "moved on" due to the arrival of a minor Japanese film star on the red carpet, dressed in a ball gown at 10 in the morning...) The El Capitan is a restored 1920s cinema where Disney often premieres its new films. Now movies shown at the El Capitan have several peculiarities. First there is a glitzy organ prelude on the world's flashiest Wurlitzer organ featuring a dazzling pot-pourri of Disney themes. A true end-of-the-pier experience (not that I ever had one of those). Then the guy disappears into the floor with his organ (sadly it doesn't revolve and he doesn't look like Terry Jones from Monty Python) and we are treated to a live stage show (!) before the film begins. Bright lights, loud music and two fast talking cheerleader style comperes.

This time since the theme of the film was race cars they had a real pit stop team on stage changing and refuelling one in 15 seconds. This was followed by a competition in which 6 members of the audience were picked to compete against each other in two teams. Saskia put up her hand to to volunteer and was picked! We were nervous that she wouldn't understand the instructions or be struck with stage-fright but no, her role in pushing a big racing tyre across the stage was the key to her team's victory.

So we entered the cinema as humble tourists and left as the proud parents of a new Hollywood star, owner of a "Cars" world premiere baseball cap and a pair of kid-size mechanics gloves! And the film was pretty good too. Now if only we hadn't left the camera in the car...

The result

Earlier in the day we had visited the La Brea tar pits (smelly but otherwise not so exciting) and LACMA, but Saskia found the museum boring (well we were at the Getty Center yesterday) and we had to cut it a bit short. We managed to take in an exhibition of David Hockney's portraits, which was very interesting. We lost one of Marit's sandals so we had to take a drive "around the block" (i.e. a 20 minute car ride) to get a new pair at a shopping mall in West Hollywood. Maps are deceptive here - everything is ten times further away than you think and nothing, just nothing is within walking distance of anything else.