Sunday, September 7, 2014

Oh, Canada!

Early this summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to Montréal, QC, Canada for a business conference to attend board meetings, classes, and to take a certification exam (Note: I passed! Woot!). Although I have been to the west coast of Canada in the past, this was my first trip to the French-speaking province, and I couldn't be more excited to go! As an added bonus, my friends that live in northeast area of Québec were able to clear their schedules so I could see them while I was there. Woohoo!

One fun thing I discovered about Montréal after arriving is that Cirque du Soleil started and is based there. I've seen several shows through the years, and thought it was very neat to see its home base (if you're in town, go see it - tickets available here). To honor this famed troupe, our conference hosts hired several of the performers to entertain us at the welcoming reception. It was SO COOL! I honestly didn't think they could top it the next night...

Boy, was I wrong! On arrival to the second night's reception, we were greeted by a horse drawn wagon! This beautiful creature transported us up Mount Royal to Mount Royal Chalet, site of the best views in the city. I'm not kidding….

The view from the door of Mount Royal Chalet

Evening and night views from Mount Royal (excuse the blurry picture - my iPhone is good, but not that good)

This beautiful venue hosted our jazz-themed reception, complete with an open bar, living statues, and an amazing jazz band. It was awesome, and was a great surprise! (I was in Montréal during Jazz Fest, but was unable to attend the events - this almost made up for it.) Experiencing the Chalet itself was pretty amazing too - I loved the squirrel carvings in the rafters! It felt like a Disney set :)

While I was impressed with the amazing events the conference had planned, I decided to opt out of them for my last day in Montréal. Why, you ask? Because my amazing friend, Caroline, and her hubby came down to hang out with me before I left for home! Yay!

Caroline and I met because of our mutual love of SouthLAnd and Michael Cudlitz, but she quickly became one of my closest friends and confidants. Sadly, our distance has made it near impossible to see each other so I was very excited that she was able to come down to see me! Caroline proved to be a fantastic tour guide, taking me to see three sites I had been wanting to see during my stay.

Our first stop was at Pointe-à-Callière Museum, a historical and archaeological museum located in the heart of Vieux-Montréal (Old Montréal). This amazing museum exhibits amazing archaeological finds from ever era of Montréal's history, dating back to pre-French Québec to modern times. 

The top of the Pointe-à-Callière Museum offers expansive views of the Port of Montréal and the St. Lawrence river. It also had several small scopes pointed at various architectural highlights along the banks of the St. Lawrence, giving the visitor an idea of what they are looking at while taking in the views. It was a great way to see more of the city, especially the Port and the surrounding areas.

While looking at the more recent artifacts, we came across these booklets and bottles. I just liked the look of them, so I took a picture to look at later. Caroline's hubby saw me, and told it me it was "the beer that kills." Curious, I asked what this meant. Apparently, Dow Brewery was founded in Montréal but quickly became the beer for people of Québec, dominating the market for nearly a century. Things continued to go well for Dow for many years until the mid-1960s when an outbreak of alcohol related illnesses hit the province. It was later revealed that these alcohol related illnesses and deaths were related to a cobalt salt that Dow used to increase the head (foam) of the beer. The scandal rocked the province, and the brewery would never recover. Molson, the "it" beer in Montréal, would eventually acquire the brand, producing the infamous brew until the late 1990s. As a beer drinker myself, it was a fascinating story. You can read more about it, and see some awesome pictures of the old brewery too, here

While we were touring the museum, we discovered that it was also hosting a special exhibit on Marco Polo! It was fascinating! It highlighted many artifacts from Marco Polo's journeys, and talked a lot about the history of the Silk Road and his influence on Christopher Columbus' adventure to the "New World." It was awesome! (Random Moment: While touring the museum, we randomly got on the topic of green chile and New Mexico. A gentleman overheard us, and asked if I was from New Mexico. Startled, I said that I was and asked if he was too. Turns out, the gentleman was visiting from my hometown! Such a small, small world we live in!)

After our tour of the Pointe-à-Callière Museum, Caroline, her hubby, and I walked through Old Montréal (Vieux-Montréal) trying to decide on a spot for happy hour. This was a happy hour more than a year in the making - and it was amazing! The bar itself was really neat, and the drinks were pretty good too!

The next morning, Caroline and her hubby picked me up from my hotel to take me for our last adventure - to visit the Jardin Botanique et Biodôme de Montréal. Located in and around the Parc Olympique (host of the 1976 Olympics in Montréal), the Jardin is actually much older and much more famous that its Parc Olympique counterpart (its gleaming tower pictured above). The Parc Olympique tower was the centerpiece of the Olympics, and is the world's tallest inclined tower (165 feet; 45 degree angle). Visitors are transported to the top observation deck by a rare funicular, the only one in the world to travel along a curve. It's pretty impressive, and is visible from nearly every corner of the Jardin Botanique and Biodôme.

Our first stop was to the Biodôme, home to four unique ecosystem replicas, including an aquarium, rainforest, North American forest, and the local St Lawrence ecosystem. It was really nice meandering through the various ecosystems and learning more about the local environment, especially since it was all I got to see during my visit outside of the city itself. Fun Fact: The Biodôme is located in what used to be the velodrome, which was used during the 1976 Olympics for cycling events!

Our last stop was to the Jardin Botanique itself, which boasts over 20 gardens in a space of over 185 acres. The gardens were stunning - it's no wonder that it is largely considered to be one of the most important botanical gardens in the world. My favorites had to be the rose gardens, the Alpine garden (reminded me of home!), and the Japanese and Chinese gardens. There was a raw beauty to them that made them seem so much more authentic than other similar gardens I had visited recently. I enjoyed them a lot! If you're ever in the area, I highly recommend a visit. You can learn more about the Jardin Botanique and Biodôme, including directions and ticket information, here.

Alas, even the best of trips have to end and our short time together quickly passed. Caroline surprised me at the airport with a great variety of goodies, including delicious homemade maple candies, a Québec sun visor, a Québec coffee mug, two keychains, a pen, and a can of delicious Canadian Maple Syrup! It was such a lovely surprise - one I appreciated immensely. (Thank you, Caroline! It was wonderful seeing you!) I have lots more to share about my trip to visit our neighbors in the north, but this post is already long. So, I must bid you adieu!

Until next time…

--- Becks

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Blue Sky Day - Sunset

"Why not a door? Sometimes you get fixated on something, and you might not even get why. 
You open yourself up and go with the flow, wherever the universe takes you." - Jane Margolis

There are places that you will live during your lifetime that feel like home. They don't have to be home - they just feel like it. The neighborhoods in and around the University of New Mexico campus will always be that for me. I love the adobe buildings and their boldly painted doors. I love the crunch of the leaves scattered on the xeriscaped yards during the fall. I love smell of the fireplaces burning when the Indian Summer turns cold. It was the first place I ever lived that I had that feeling, and it's something I'll never forget. 

Houses were always a secondary character on Breaking Bad, something I really loved about the show. When Jesse Pinkman started apartment hunting in the second season of Breaking Bad, I immediately recognized the neighborhood. HOME! Or at least my version of it. When Jesse drove up to Jane's duplex, I immediately recognized it as being somewhere in the university area. So many of my friends lived in duplexes similar to the one on the show during school - there was simply no way it could be located elsewhere! The screenshots from the show above show it from different angles - the style so familiar and easily placed. 

Jane's Apartment
325 Terrace St SE
Albuquerque, NM

It came as no surprise at all when I looked up the Jane/Jesse duplex to find it just south of campus on Terrace St. The building was built in the early 1900s, and is part of a group of buildings rented out by called 325 Terrace  SE (which happens to be the exact address of Jane's apartment). The buildings have studio, one bedroom, and two bedroom apartments, along with at least one 3 bedroom, standalone house. Surprisingly, the Jane/Jesse building is on the corner of a fairly busy street… it would have been interesting to have seen them film here. From what I can tell, the actual interiors of these apartments were used on the show. I'm not sure what the going rent is for these buildings in particular, but similar one bedroom apartments in this neighborhood range around $550 - 700/month. Not bad, especially when you compare to similar homes in California! You can visit this location for yourself at 325 Terrace St SE in Albuquerque. Be mindful that these are private residences on a fairly busy street, and the surrounding streets are one way only - use caution and visit at your own risk. 

The last location for our do-it-yourself Breaking Bad tour was the Pinkman residence, at first owned by Jesse's parents and later owned by Jesse himself. This beautiful home was given the fictional address of 9809 Margo St, but a quick Google search will show you that Margo St doesn't exist - the closest to it would be Margo Rd in the somewhat rural South Valley. In reality, the Pinkman residence is located in the beautiful Huning Castle neighborhood, close to Old Town and Albuquerque Country Club near the heart of the city. 

Jesse's House
322 16th St SW
Albuquerque, NM

This is one of my favorite locations in Albuquerque for a variety of reasons. I like the older, established neighborhood because it's one of the few in Albuquerque to still have grass lawns and trees. It's near both Old Town and Downtown, which in turn are close to many of my favorite restaurants, stores, and museums. And I love the style of the homes around here - it's not a cookie cutter 'hood at all! As with the duplex, the Pinkman residence is a real private residence. The actual interiors were used in season 1, but the show was forced to rebuild the interiors on a soundstage after the home was sold in Season 2. You can stalk it at 322 16th St SW in Albuquerque, but again use manners and common sense when visiting. Stay off the lawns, out of the road, and definitely do not disturb the people that reside there. 

While you are in the area, feel free to visit some of my favorite spots! The Dog House mentioned in my last post is only a half mile away (easy walk), or you can pop over to Old Town for delicious New Mexican dining and shopping. The Albuquerque Zoo, Aquarium, and Biopark are also nearby and worth a stop while you're here. Heck, while you're in Albuquerque… stay for a while! There's a lot to love about my favorite city, and more to do there than you would think. Casinos, hiking, dining, museums - it's a cultural mecca that I wish more people would take advantage of. I make it a point to play tourist every time I go home for a visit (you can read about my visit last year here). If you do go, let me know what you think! And if you need suggestions, feel free to ask. : )

Hope you enjoyed the notes from our tour! Until next time…

--- Becks

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Blue Sky Day - Part Two

"I hide in plain sight, same as you." - Gus Fring

As I mentioned in my last post, one of the things I loved most about Breaking Bad (beyond the amazing cast and superb storytelling) was spotting so many of my favorite haunts and neighborhoods in and around Albuquerque. It was like being home, even though I lived in Texas and California while the show aired. My favorite locations were primarily located in the University, Downtown, and Old Town areas of Albuquerque, so that's where we headed for the second leg of our tour. 

One of the most difficult characters for me to watch on the show had to be Wendy. I've had the misfortune of seeing a few people I know succumb to meth and other drug addictions, and her depiction of the same made my stomach turn. It was far - too - real! (Note: Julia Minesci deserved an award for playing Wendy. I'm always impressed when character actors can hold their own against heavy weights like Aaron Paul and Dean Norris.) That being said, I did hope that people that watched the show would see her character, believe it, and not make similar choices. Probably the best scene that depicted the sadness of Wendy's plight had to be the montage above. 

Wendy appeared to live at the Crossroads Motel during her three season appearance on the show (screenshot above from the show). The motel is often referred to as the Crystal Palace throughout its run on Breaking Bad, referring to its popularity with junkies in the Albuquerque area. Funny enough, some fan sites thought this was not a real motel, or that it was a shuttered motel used only for the filming. I drove by the motel often during college (it's right down the street from UNM, at the corner of the I-25 frontage road and Central Ave), so I knew it was a real motel back then at the very least. I was curious to see if it was still operating, so it became our next stop on the tour.

Crossroads Motel
1001 Central Ave NE
Albuquerque, NM

I'm happy to report that the Crossroads Motel is still very much an active hotel, albeit a bit empty the day we stopped by. And contrary to college rumors and its appearance on the show, I've read that the show is a fine budget hotel, centrally located and less than $50/night (but check with them directly). They get a fair number of tourists stopping by to  take photos - while we didn't have any issues, I'd still recommend stopping by the office to say hello and let them know you're taking pictures before you start. I've read online that some of the employees are a little wary of unknown people stopping by to take photos, but are pretty accommodating if you go in to the office and ask first. You can visit the Crossroads Motel for yourself at 1001 Central Ave NE in Albuquerque. 

Our next stop was the location of Walt & Jesse's infamous showdown in episode 512, "Rabid Dog." I instantly recognized this location the moment it aired - Civic Plaza is a common gathering place in downtown Albuquerque, hosting festivals, concerts, and more. That said, I did chuckle a bit when the episode aired - I don't think I've ever seen vendors hanging out on the Plaza when an event wasn't also going on. Still, filming on this location had to be a beast - it's centrally located in downtown Albuquerque, with most of the city's major government buildings and hotels located within a two-block radius. I wasn't wrong - you can see a bit of what went into filming this via the AMC behind the scenes clip located here.

Civic Plaza
1 Civic Plaza NW
Albuquerque, NM

Without the trademark blue benches and nonexistent phone booths actually located in the park, my sister and I worried a bit that we wouldn't be able to pinpoint the exact locations where filming took place. We were wrong! The surrounding buildings gave us great insight to where to capture our reenactments, as demonstrated with both the Albuquerque Police Department behind Walt in the scene above, and the DoubleTree hotel behind Jesse in the scene below.

Civic Plaza is pretty "stalk" friendly, as far as filming locations go. We saw a lot of people doing the same thing we were while we were there, and even saw a group of 8 guys setting up to film something else from this very location. So cool! You can visit Civic Plaza at 1 Civic Plaza NW in Albuquerque. Warning: This area is under some pretty heavy construction, so parking is limited. You may be able to find parking behind the DoubleTree on 3rd St, but keep the construction situation in mind if you stalk this in the near future. (PS - A big THANK YOU to my beautiful sister for amusing her sister by reenacting Walt & Jesse's scenes!)

The last location of our Breaking Bad tour for tonight's post is one of my favorite hot dog stands in the world - the Dog House! Seriously - I probably ate a thousand of their chili dogs while I was in college, and I'm neither a chili or a hot dog fan. They're fantastic, but not for the faint of heart. This is seriously spicy (and delicious) stuff! It was a favorite for a lot of my guy friends back in the day, and continues to be a mainstay in the Albuquerque area. Definitely Yelp worthy - you can read the reviews here and decide for yourself! Anyway, I was SUPER stoked to see it featured early on in the series. It was the first location I saw and immediately exclaimed, "I've been there!" It actually appeared several times throughout the series - appearing in Seasons 1, 2, and 5.

The Dog House
1216 Central Ave
Albuquerque, NM

Somewhat unsurprisingly, my family has not enjoyed the yummy-deliciousness that is the Dog House in Old Town Albuquerque. When I told my sister we'd be going there, she actually didn't remember the iconic location upon first mention. Of course, she had also only seen the location on the show as it was filmed at night with all of its neon glory. Once we got there, however, she instantly recognized it as a favorite of Jesse's on the show. You too can enjoy Jesse's favorite hot dog joint next time you're in Albuquerque - just stop by the Dog House at 1216 Central Ave. Get the chili dog and a chocolate shake… you can thank me later ; )

Guess that'll do for tonight. More to come - I promise! (Seriously. Not kidding this time. Honestly!)

Until next time…

--- Becks

Monday, September 1, 2014

Blue Sky Day - Part One

"I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really… I was alive." - Walter White

If you've ever read this blog, you know that I am from New Mexico and went to college in Albuquerque. It was never my plan to end up there - I originally intended on going to school in the midwest. Alas, I ended up in Albuquerque, attending UNM, and had the best time of my life. Ever the gypsy, I knew I'd leave Albuquerque as soon as I graduated. And I leave I did… twice! Despite my wanderlust, however, nowhere I have lived thus far has felt as close to home as good ol' Albuquerque. 

Although I try to get back to New Mexico and Albuquerque as often as I can, I don't get to go as often as I would like. When the governor of New Mexico started advertising film tax credits as a way to boost the economy, I was both amused and excited… hoping that it might mean I would get to see my beloved city more often on TV and in movies. Sadly, most movies and shows filmed in the city use Albuquerque as a backdrop for other cities - rarely featuring the city as a character itself. When Breaking Bad aired, I was thrilled! Finally, a show based in Albuquerque! And it was fantastic television to boot!

Last month, I visited an exhibit at FIDM showing various television costumes from various Emmy nominated television series, including costumes from Breaking Bad. This gave me an idea - I would take my own Breaking Bad tour when I visited home over Labor Day! I convinced my mom and my sister to join in (my sister LOVES the show), and we scheduled a couple of hours to tour various spots before they left me in Albuquerque. I already knew most of the locations from recognition alone, and we filled in the blanks with the help of friends and Foursquare. What follows is the first half of our tour. 

While Albuquerque as a whole is definitely a major character, one cannot dismiss the importance that the White residence played in the show. This house, given the fictional address of 308 Negra Arroyo Lane, is a real home used in every single season of filming. So many pivotal scenes took place at this home - it's hard to pick a favorite. The screenshots above show the house through the years, including seasons 1, 3, and 5 respectively. Surprisingly, only the front and backyard ever make an appearance on the show. Despite looking incredibly realistic, the interior shots were not filmed on location - they were shot offsite on a soundstage. The owners have taken great pains to make sure people are aware of this - they've had quite a few classless looky-loos who have disrespected the property trying to get a sneak peek. 

Walter White's House
3828 Piermont Dr NE
Albuquerque, NM

While I knew it was located in the Northeast Heights, I was surprised to discover that it was in a neighborhood that I knew quite well. It's actually only a few short blocks away from my cousin, and less than 5 minutes slightly southwest of Saul Goodman's office. Thousands of fans have taken the trek to visit the iconic property, much to the annoyance of the owners and the neighbors. If you do decide to visit, be respectful of the private residence itself and the surrounding neighborhood. Don't block traffic or driveways, and definitely don't trespass, loiter, or vandalize the property (don't throw pizza on the roof!). You can visit the White Residence at 3828 Piermont Dr NE in Albuquerque. 

Saul Goodman's Office
9800 Montgomery Blvd NE
Albuquerque, NM

As I mentioned earlier, the White Residence is located less than 5 minutes from another famous location from the show - the offices of Saul Goodman! Saul's character was a riot, and appears to be based on a lawyer I remembered from my college days. (Yeah… not going to name him! But if you're from Albuquerque, you probably know who I'm talking about!) Hilariously enough, I did not recognize this location when I watched the show - my friend had to point it out. Why is that so funny? Because the strip mall is the site of a couple of my biggest college haunts! Haha! "Better Call Saul" has already started filming, but it doesn't appear that they are using this location for this prequel. Still, you can visit his former offices at 9800 Montgomery Blvd NE in Albuquerque.

A1A Carwash (Have an A-1 Day!)
9516 Snow Heights Circle
Albuquerque, NM

Our last stop in the Northeast Heights was just a bit further down the road, and was something I instantly recognized when I saw it on the show. Standing in for the A1A Carwash, the Octopus Carwash chain has been an Albuquerque staple for over 45 years. Sadly, the family owning the chain recently sold to Mister Car Wash. Although they were confident that Mister Car Wash would keep the "look" of the place intact, Mister Car Wash itself was recently sold to a private equity firm leaving the future of this location rather uncertain. So… stalk it while you can! Visit A1A Carwash in person at 9516 Snow Heights Circle in Albuquerque.

Well, that's it for now! I'll try to blog about the rest tomorrow : ) 

Until next time…

--- Becks

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Falling Petals

"No two persons ever read the same book." -- Edmund Wilson

Hello, my lovelies. It has been far, far too long since I have maintained this little blog of mine. I have lots of pictures to share, but haven't been able to yet find the story to share with them. I promise to do so soon. Just need to find the patience to organize the pictures, watermark them, and upload them on to this blog. In the meantime, I have been reading… A LOT. 

I have always been a big reader, but it seems that I've been on a real kick with it lately. I normally average about one book per month, but I have been tearing through two or three each month since January. Even weirder? I'm reading books that I have already read. With so many splendid writers and new books out there to discover, you would think I would read those… but nooooo. Instead, I have been pouring over my old favorites, highlighting my favorite quotes and dog-earing my favorite chapters. One would think that I have been studying for some unknown test - as if I were about to be thrust back into school, being challenged by my professors and peers to look at the books differently… to see something I missed the first time around. It is so odd!

Interestingly, I have noticed nuances in these books that I had unconsciously passed over during my initial reading. My favorites do not appear to have much in common on the surface, but as I read over them again I have found some common threads… LOVE! HAPPINESS! LIFE! Now, not so much love in a romantic sense, but more like love as a matter of being. Love is such a weird thing, and we love things and people in such different ways. For example, the love I have for my family is different than the love I have for my friends, yet what I feel for both I still call "love" just the same. It's a very beautiful, complicated, and sometimes terrifying thing. I took a few of my favorite quotes from these books to show you what I mean. 

Frankenstein - Mary Shelley 
My heart was fashioned to be susceptible of love and sympathy, and when wrenched by misery to vice and hatred, it did not endure the violence of the change without torture such as you cannot even imagine. 

The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway
"It's funny," I said. "It's very funny. And it's a lot of fun, too, to be in love."
"Do you think so?" her eyes looked flat again.
"I don't mean fun that way. In a way it's an enjoyable feeling."
"No," she said. "I think it's hell on earth."

The Art of Racing in the Rain - Garth Stein
My soul has learned what it came to learn, and all other things are just things. We can't have everything we want. Sometimes, we simply have to believe.

Invisible Monsters - Chuck Palahniuk
There's that fallen heart feeling that you rushed right through the moments where you should've been paying attention. 
Well, get used to that feeling. That's how your whole life will feel some day. 
This is all practice. None of this matters. We're just warming up. 

Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.

It's interesting that such a thread of themes has come to mind to me when I have been so busy with work. Usually one to call and check in with loved ones often, I have lately resigned myself to only calling a very small chosen few… mostly just to let them know I am alive. Alas, these books have provided much respite during such a stressful time. Honestly, revisiting these books has been like visiting home. I am such a nerd - I really need to get out more. Anyway, if you haven't read some of the above, I highly recommend them. Now, if you'll excuse me… I am about to re-read another favorite. Cheers!

Until next time ---

--- Becks

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Hey, hey - It's Your Birthday!

"You say it's your birthday… " -- The Beatles

Before I kick off this blog post, I have to wish my friend AG the happiest of birthdays! I met up with AG in downtown LA yesterday to help her celebrate the occasion, and we had a blast! Our first stop was somewhere we both had really wanted to go - The Grammy Museum in LA Live. The Grammy Museum is fairly young, having been around only since 2008. It is committed to preserving and showcasing the works and history of Grammy winners. On display are exhibits dedicated to nearly every genre - my favorites being the ones dedicated to hip-hop, Latin music, opera, and pop music. Our favorites had to be the tribute to Michael Jackson and the Ringo Starr exhibit. To see such iconic pieces of music history is amazing! Sadly, they don't allow pictures in the museum. The only photo op was on the first floor where you can pretend to be the famous Beatle - guess you'll have to go and see it yourself!

We've obviously missed our calling - we should be rockstars!

After our tour of the Grammy Museum, I convinced AG she should join me to tour my favorite museum in all of LA - the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Design & Marketing! I've blogged about my love for FIDM before (see here and here) - their museum is fashion perfection! From the paper wigs on their mannequins to the amazing range of cultural and historical pieces, FIDM has something for the fashionista in all of us. My two favorite exhibits each year have to be their Annual Art of Motion Picture Costume Design exhibits in the spring and their Annual Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design exhibits in the fall. Like the Grammy Museum, FIDM's Museum does not allow photography in the museum. I know - it's really sad. But you can check out pictures of their current exhibit on their blog here and here!

Free goodies from FIDM!

What FIDM lacks in the photo department, they make up for in the exhibit guides. Visitors to FIDM's 22nd Annual Art in Motion Picture Costume Design exhibit are gifted two "For Your Consideration" books and a comprehensive guide to all of the costumes on display in the museum. The two FYC books alone are worth going to the exhibit for!

The costume page from Twelve Years a Slave

The FYC book from Twelve Years a Slave is a beautiful picture book, highlighting all aspects of the film. How they ever got Lupita Nyong'o to look less than perfect is beyond me - she is spectacularly beautiful. The gorgeous pictures in the book make me want to see the movie again (Hint: If you haven't seen it yet, you should.)

Colin Farrell - swoon!

The FYC from Walt Disney's Saving Mr. Banks is stunning! The pictures are high quality, and while parts focus on the FYC aspects Disney & Co want you to look at, the rest focus on the movie and the story itself. I honestly think people would buy this book if Disney sold it. 

Tidbits of Mary Poppins history from the Disney Vault

The costume design...

… and reality!

We had both worked up an appetite exploring the Grammy Museum and FIDM, so we decided to head over to one of my favorite recent discoveries in LA - Bottega Louie! AG introduced me to Bottega Louie earlier this year when we stopped in for some macarons and snacks after a day of shopping in Santa Monica. This place is AMAZING! The desserts are not only beautiful - they're delicious! And now that I've finally had a meal there, I can confirm the rest of their food is just as good too. It's definitely on the top of my list for my adventures in downtown LA!

The macaron window display and a sampling of the desserts at Bottega Louie

While we were walking back to my car, AG confessed that despite living in Hollywood, she had never been to many of my favorite touristy spots in LA. I mentioned a couple of them on a blogpost a while back - most of which I discovered through one of my favorite blogs, I figured what better way to remedy that than to show her a few before I brought her home! So off we went, visiting both the Universal Studios overlook, Hollywood Sign, and Priscilla's Coffee Shop in one swift swoop!

Overlooking the War of the Worlds set at Universal

I had an absolute blast celebrating AG's birthday in LA. I truly hope she did too. LA has quickly become my favorite home away from home, and I'm so grateful I've moved to California to experience it. 

Until next time…

--- Becks

Thursday, January 2, 2014

By Land and By Sea

Last fall, I received an unexpected call from my best friend advising that she would be working in the bay area for a couple of weeks. My best friend and I have not resided in the same state for eight years - she currently resides in Denver. When I left New Mexico in 2005, we made a vow that we would try to visit one another at least once a year. We've done pretty well - she's visited me in Houston, I've visited her in New Mexico and Colorado, and we've gone on vacations to Orlando, Los Angeles, Scottsdale, and Las Vegas through the years. I was worried, however, that 2013 was going to pass without our annual visit, so I was elated to hear she would be in California!

Being that she was in California primarily for work, and I also work during the week, we knew we only had the weekend before she started and one weekend while she was here to get together and hang out. I drove to pick her up at the airport in Sacramento (long story - mishap with her travel arrangements left her stranded!), and we made our way to Fairfield to get her settled in to her hotel. We had planned to spend all day in San Francisco, but the delay set us back a bit so we made the most of the time we had.

After toiling about in the various gift shops near Pier 39, my best friend and I spied a fishing boat offering tours of the bay for $10. I had taken a similar tour a long time ago, and assured her we'd be ok. The one hour tour was cold, wet, and lots of fun! We sat with two girls visiting from Spain on holiday, and they were a hoot. They got a kick out of trying to translate our Spanglish into words and phrases they could understand.

One of the main highlights of the tour was going under the famed Golden Gate Bridge. This beautiful bridge is a favorite of mine, and it was a treat to take my best friend under it. The day had been fairly foggy, but luckily the fog momentarily dissipated while we went under it. Legend says that wishes made under this bridge come true - fingers crossed!

The boat captain made sure to point out many of the attractions as we boated around the bay, but the other highlight had to be when we went very near and around Alcatraz. For those unaware, Alcatraz (aka The Rock) is a famed, now defunct prison located a mile and a half from the city of San Francisco. Although left largely untouched by natives who occupied the bay area, the Spanish attempted to build it on when they first arrived. It later served as a military base/prison and a federal prison, for which it is most widely known. It is said that no prisoner ever successfully escaped the penitentiary, although many tried. Our tour guide said the sea surrounding the island is known for great white sharks, but we happily didn't see any that day. After our tour ended, I took her to quickly see a couple of my favorite San Francisco landmarks, including Lombard Street (the city's famed crooked street) and The Cliff House (for one of the best dinners I've had in a long time). 

After a very long day, I took my friend to her hotel in Fairfield and stayed the night with her there. My friend told me that Fairfield is known for being the home of the Jelly Belly factory, so I immediately made plans to hit that tour on my way home the next day. The Jelly Belly factory, formerly known as the Herman Goelitz Candy Company, was founded in 1869. Although famous today primarily for their Jelly Belly beans, the company didn't actually start making them until over 100 years later. 

The Jelly Belly tour gave a great overview of the history of the company, the popularity catapult that came from Ronald Reagan, and showed you how Jelly Bellies (and Jelly Belly art) is made. The tour is well done, and includes video of the factory at work in case you happen to go on an off day like I did. I won't spoil the surprises that await inside, but would wholeheartedly recommend it. The tour takes only 45 minutes, and is totally free. One recommendation - go early! I was among the first in line, but the wait when my tour ended was already at 30 minutes... and this was on a Sunday!

The following weekend, my best friend drove down to SoCal to visit me. It was nice showing her where I live and work, but we both knew we'd have more fun if we drove a little further down to LA. So... off we went! I gave her my "quickie" tour, taking her to see the Hollywood Sign, the Universal Studios Overlook, and around many of studios in Burbank. 

My personal favorite studio to stalk if you're not actually going to go in and take the tour is Warner Brothers Studio. You can see so much without going inside. My best friend and I totally started singing the Animaniacs song as soon as we saw the water tower. We're such dorks sometimes.

All that driving made us hungry, so stopped in for a bite for our favorite Mexican place - Don Antonios! We first discovered this restaurant while on vacation in Lala land back in 2007. I was a big fan of The Hills at the time, and had watched the stars of the show dine there on more than one occasion. Being that we both love Mexican food, but neither knew the city well during our visit - we decided to give it a try. It was love at first bite! 

Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and my best friend's temporary job in Fairfield came to an end. She flew back to Denver to go back to her home office the following weekend, and I've missed her ever since. We're both hoping she gets promoted to a position in the bay area soon, so perhaps more California adventures are in the works for the two of us in 2014. Only time will tell!

Until next time...

--- Becks