Just a girl rambling around the globe and writing about it.

Musings from around the block and farther.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Riding the Rails, SoCal Style

The long and winding tracks...

For years, I've wanted to ride the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner from LA to San Diego, but there's never been a reason. With three kids, strollers, car seats, luggage, frequent snack and potty breaks, weird schedules, etc., it seemed as though taking my well-stocked Suburban (our family "train") was a better choice. Now that the girls are older (ages 8 to 12), our traveling has changed to include other options.

For example, Raf has been wanting/needing some time alone to surf, sit on the waves and not talk (a rare thing in our household). When we discussed taking our kids to San Diego for Thanksgiving, it made perfect sense for him to go a day ahead with his truck and get some well-deserved surfing in.

"And," I mentioned casually, "the girls and I can take the train down and meet you..."

Waiting for our train
This turned out to be much, much easier than I expected. For one thing, with a AAA discount, the fares were super reasonable - I bought the e-tickets online for about $100 for the four of us (as I understood it - and I could be wrong - I had to buy an adult ticket for my oldest child because you can only purchase 2 child fares with 1 adult). This is about the same price as a tank and a half of gas for my Suburban, so I felt like it was a great deal. I printed out our ticket and tucked it in my purse with my wallet and was good to go. 

The train station in Ventura County was super clean, with lots of safe, free parking (but no restrooms). Our train was running about 10 minutes behind, but it was a beautiful, sunny morning on a holiday week, so everyone at the platform was in pretty decent spirits. When the train arrived, the conductor greeted us cheerfully and directed us to a 4-seater area right at the top of the stairs. The next time I go, I'll be sure to grab a seat on the EAST/NORTH side of the train in Ventura County because, after the train links up to the other cars at Union Station, it goes BACKWARDS out of L.A. and then you'll wind up on the WEST side (make sense?). 

And then, my friends, you'll have a perfect view of the gorgeous beach real estate of South Orange County, including my favorite beach town of all time: San Clemente. Surfers, swimmers, beachcombers, families BBQ-ing and picnicking under the pier-adjacent palapas... It was the next best thing to being right there on the beach... 

And all without the stress of traffic and driving. I read my Kindle, laughed with the girls, and just stared out the window. I drive so much, I'd all but forgotten the simple joys of just watching the world go by as a passenger.

I lived in Italy as a teenager and train travel is a way of life there. But in our car-obsessed society, I found a joy in traveling on the Pacific Surfliner that reminded me of the glee of riding on "California Soaring" at Disney's California Adventure. It celebrates the beauty and scenery of our state.  Truly, there is no place like home, and the Pacific Surfliner is the train equivalent of Dorothy's sparkling ruby slippers.

My girls crowding the window to take pictures of surfers at Trestles.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Pixie Delights in Ojai

image from ojaipixies.com

My favorite scent in the whole world is citrus.  I'm a rabid fan of orange blossoms, but I am also partial to the fresh sugar-citrus smell of Meyer lemon rinds, the green-grass fragrance of lemon leaves, the tart kiss of a satsuma. Blood oranges, lemonade, greyhound cocktails, lemon squares, lime-laden mojitos... I love 'em all. 

It follows, then, that one of my very most favorite places in the entire world is Ojai, just 45 minutes north of my house. Not only is it beautiful, but the valley is full of citrus trees.  Driving along Ojai Avenue, past the pin dot of the main drag, Libbey Park and the arcade, the streets become tiny thoroughfares, winding travelers through a fairy land of Pixie tangerine trees.  

The famous Ojai "pink moment"
I wanted to jump out of the car, run through the trees wildly, throw a picnic blanket on the rough ground and eat as many tangerines as I could pick with my bare hands, standing on tippy toes to reach as high up in the trees as possible.  And when I sated my citrus cravings - for the moment - I would lie on the blanket and fall asleep under the green canopy of glossy leaves, my chin and arms sticky with tangerine juice, my lap overflowing with discarded peels. 

They call Ojai "Shangri-La"... and I'm a believer.

For the record, we stayed at Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, which is a magical dream of luxury and quiet.  We ate rich Italian food at Boccali's - ask for Starlet when you go, she's a doll of a waitress.  And if you're lucky enough to find yourself with time on your hands, I'd recommend a reflective hike at Meditation Mount, on the far east side of the valley, preferably at sunset so that you can witness the majesty of the famous Ojai "pink moment." Then cap off the day with a kuyam treatment at Ojai Valley Spa.  Bliss.