Friday, 21 December 2012

SCHOLARSHIP DAY 113: Exploring Santa Barbara

Ironically, a solitary traveller, such as myself, takes part in more acts of sharing on their long and winding excursion than most, so it's perhaps no surprise that gastronomy is sometimes substandard, and that perhaps through the early hours of the morning, he or she is required to make a mad dash from their dormitory to the bathroom to relieve the necessary. Such was the case at 3:40am this morning.

I awoke, understandably but regrettably later than I expected, on a perfect day, without any meteorological misery, (people reading in the UK at the moment couldn't possibly empathise.) From the rooftop balcony, I enjoyed four thick complimentary pancakes and emerged out of the hostel shortly afterwards to explore what Santa Barbara had in store for me. It has not ceased to amaze me all day the fact that I can say it's the 20th December and I was only wearing one layer, together in one accurate sentence. My plan to head south progressively throughout the winter is becoming extremely gratifying, and California is certainly living up to its reputation. The hostel, by the way, resides along an accessible street not too far from centrality, bordered with a string of fast food eateries, (that slightly raises their class a touch though) and some rather arresting multi-trunk trees. Needless to say, still in a flourish.

Without a pre-arranged route, I set to saunter aimlessly again through the streets of Santa Barbara, interlacing myself around the neighbourhoods, blending graciously with the community, exploiting the advantages of such a beautiful day. Now, I have travelled extensively through some of the most aesthetically amiable districts on this trip, but nothing matches up to Santa Barbara. Here's a city that grows lime in their front gardens, and effectively uses the outstretched palms as a form of deckchair shading. It's a city that demonstrates genuine pride in their community. It's an American city, but suggestively Spanish, from the mundane road sign to the quaint housing; all of it ensures Santa Barbara enchants the traveller.

I continued a fanciful amble, directionless but extremely pleasurable, when I happened at the Santa Barbara Courthouse, and as usually is the case in these situations, I had stumbled upon a real gem. As I paused, please pause with me and take this moment to consider your nearest courthouse. Architecturally, may I suggest it's undoubtedly inferior. Can I even go to such lengths as to propose it's interior is not accessible without processing the most vigorous security protocol, and if by chance you are allowed to delve inside its body, you aren't likely to be able to stroll to its rooftop and survey a 360 degree view? Therefore, can I recommend a visit to the Santa Barbara Courthouse, where everything I've just outlined is not just possible all year round, but both free and extremely enjoyable.

I constituted through the entrance, admiring the wooden sash windows, and the intricate patterning on the stone archway, which may not sound a feast of adventure, but it's difficult not to absorb it all. It may not showcase the most ancient artifact Santa Barbara has to offer, but as I took up a flight of steps, I couldn't but wonder agape at just how remarkable a simple Courthouse could be.

Still, no Spanish pattern, no garnished tapestry, no resplendence could excite the imagination more than the viewing tower, where I found myself now, after a long invigorating climb, through heavy wooden doors with cast iron handles. The views offered great diversity. To the northeast, Rattlesnake Canyon Park, residency for a hundred or so small one storey buildings, caught the eye. To the south, a strip of golden West Beach that meets eternally with the Pacific warmed the heart. And then a plentiful supply of the most ornate architecture formed the downtown district, though in comparison to what I've seen on my west coast adventure, it's hardly the hub of entrepreneurial activity.

From every possible vantage point, Santa Barbara was becoming engulfed with Palm Trees; I half expected to witness houses being enshrouded by towering trunks, and people to be wrapped in leaves like sausage rolls. I stumbled upon a couple who requested me to take a photo of them, and it transpired throughout a lengthy conversation, that the gentleman used to teach Geography in Lincolnshire. He looked like a former Geography teacher too; you could just imagine him in tweed, as this group are so often discriminated.

I captured a few more shots on my own camera, and made for the street again. It was just past noon. I sauntered along once more, passing more exquisite adornments so generously provided by the Spanish. My nostrils caught the sweet aroma of oranges, and I began to fantasise myself sitting outside sipping on a fresh orange juice in a way that might ultimately be a precursor to an afternoon siesta. But as I made my way down State Street, I realised this proposition might be a little too large to achieve. This is no criticism to Santa Barbara, (or perhaps it is, I don't know) but there just didn't seem any eatery establishment between fast food and haut cuisine. I passed restaurant after restaurant, eyeing the menus that rested proudly on stands outside, inhaling exotic fragrances, parading through a cloud of aromas from dining far past what my wallet could afford. And yet, nothing that would offer me just a seat and an orange juice. After some time, I entered a bistro, hesitating over my choice, but they had an orange juice for $3.00 and I guessed any business, is good business. I found a sundrenched wooden woven seat, glanced over to the waiter who immediately ran to my attention, grasping a leather coated menu, and I feared the worst. "What can I get you Sir to start?" That's always a bad sign, when a waiter uses the phrase "to start" because he is most likely expecting a prolonged and detailed list of some of his finest fare. "Just an orange juice, please," I requested, and as I had expected, he gave a small but evident frown as he realised he wasn't dealing with his usual class of customer. "Would you like some time to browse the menu?" he asked, expecting me to change my mind, possibly slip a suit on, and order the lobster and sirloin or a triple expresso with extra cream; the kind of cuisine that only a select few can enjoy without worrying desperately about what the bill will present afterwards. I neglected the menu once more, and he proceeded to process the orange juice. When he brought it back, he once again asked if I wanted to spy the menu; what I suspect is that he thought I was going to use the orange juice as an aperitif to work up an appetite for a substantial starter and a hearty mains. I turned it down again. Within a few more sips, a different waiter came out, greeted me in the way waiters always do- a conserved smile and a short nod of the head- and similarly confirmed that I didn't wish a small peek at their offerings. I finished my orange juice, settled what probably was their smallest bill ever, and I departed, perhaps slightly in shame.

To raise spirits, I headed to the harbour. What a simply wonderful area this is, and to think such beauty is generated simply from a mere group of boats and the peaceful lapping of water. (And I suppose a sunny day contributes to the whole atmosphere.) The boats were aligned ceremoniously, making for a great photo, and I cheerfully walked passed their owners, most often or not tailing trolleys and trailers with nothing on. I had always thought a fisherman's lifestyle as a very unpredictable way of living, never knowing if you're going to obtain a fine catch or subject yourself to another meal at a local fast food outlet. But those conceptions began to fade away as I gazed at the mariner, and caught glimpses of these people living an extremely relaxed way of life. Just like any other American, in this regard.

I was beginning to feel a little thirsty and so made the necessary purchase, and needless to say that I only took a few sips of this almighty bottle and already felt refreshed. Such is the way. I decided to relax for a bit, in a siesta-like way, and found myself an agreeable log, washed ashore no less, to perch on and relished an hour of sun-drenched reading. A slight breeze but nothing piercing. A couple of sailing boats passed, and a few kayakers, but apart from that, it really did feel like the city was taking a siesta.

After soaking up the first chapter or so of my latest reading material, so generously offered by John Steinbeck and his Travels with Charlie, I made tracks across the white sandy beach, and retreated back to terra firma. The Sun was beginning to set, but to no surprise as the shortest day of the year is in fact tomorrow. I suddenly heard loud shouting from across the car park, and in my curiosity, I approached. It transpired to be an outdoor swimming pool, and a squad training session was in place; the shouting coming complimentary of the instructor, who would so periodically bark at the incoming swimmers that they were too late, and needed to get a move on. Oh, how I miss my days at squad training. Or do I? To tell you the truth, I'm not convinced either way.

The western strip of beach makes for a lovely spot for almost anything. There's plenty of space from cherishing a small picnic, to holding a large scale soccer match. Joggers can take a small narrow strip from it to do what their name implies (although the ones I noticed today were punctuating their journey with brief lapses of push ups and sit ups) and there's also room for nature. All in all, a fine place. And the best thing? It isn't bombarded with beach side restaurants and cafes, spurting out loud anthems from their 'Beach Disco Album' 5CD set, which I have encountered so much through my life thus far.

With the Sun providing us with news of a steady departure, a curry sauce red tan bordering the horizon, I spent the last half an hour of daylight walking to the end of the pier, where the best views would be accessed. It's a long pier, no longer than Brighton's, but perhaps a little less adventurous with building. Here, there's a modest selection of restaurants but nothing to fret about if you're not one for making quick dining choices. Quite a few 'sunset' enthusiasts were already at the end, setting up tripods and positioning their cameras, preparing ultimately for that one perfect shot. I find it hard to believe that it takes all of this thorough preparation; I'm pleased with my snaps nonetheless.

And with that, I made my steady hostel-bound journey, sauntering under the moonlight, wandering through the twilight in this another scholarship highlight.

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