Meet me in St Louis

We spent an enjoyable afternoon checking out the St Louis zoo. I love the markings on this duck.

We spent an enjoyable afternoon checking out the St Louis zoo. I love the markings on this duck.

Okay, okay, I realise that has to be one of the most over-used titles for travel blogs referring to this part of the world, but I just can’t help myself sometimes. And as you will guess, we are now in St Louis and we did indeed meet someone here – our friend Ting.

While we were travelling on Thursday, it sometimes felt like we wouldn’t be meeting anyone anywhere. We seemed to alternate rushing frantically – to and through airports – with stagnating in long queues: freeway traffic jams, check-in queues, runway queues. Then there was the occasional panic about lost passports, lost wallets and potentially delayed luggage, but it was all okay in the end.

We arrived (with our luggage), met Ting & her flatmate Chia-An, checked in to a reasonably comfortable and surprisingly quiet airport hotel, & had an enormous meal in a diner just like they have in the movies! ActionMan’s eyes, as usual, were bigger than his stomach, although, to be fair, they hadn’t fed us on the plane. He had the full bacon & eggs, pancakes & maple syrup deal plus fries smothered in cheese and crispy bacon, all washed down with an endless cup of lemonade (and a stomach ache to follow …). I had a BLT & “thinly sliced” turkey sandwich. Yes, it was thinly sliced but there were so many thin slices it seemed to hardly matter. It was delicious tho.

But enough of now. I realise I’ve been a bit slack in updating the blog this past week, which is ironic considering I had far better internet access then than I do now. So this is the LA catch up. It’s a bit long, and I apologise in advance as I haven’t time to fully spell check.

We had a relatively quiet time in LA. My niece Cathe has twin 6 year olds and a toddler, & it really didn’t make sense to be out & about every day. But we were there mainly to see the family, so we weren’t too bothered. ActionMan was happy as long as he got his daily dose of his currently favourite online game, and we both enjoyed just hanging around, chatting, eating, playing and swimming.

We did have two big excursions tho, after “The Getty”. The first was a day at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, or Ren Faire, as people called it, which was a big festival over by the Santa Fe dam near Pasadena. I had always imagined Pasadena to be somewhere remote in the desert, and perhaps it once was, but it only took us about an hour to get there.

I loved the Faire. People wore all kinds of (sometimes loose interpretations of) period costume, from washerwomen to the Queen, to swordsmen to John Smith & Pocahontas to a Drag Queen to a man with cat’s eye contact lenses and a woman in a fur bikini. Mostly it was Tudor style – bustiers & codpieces & more sunburned bosoms on display than on Xmas day at Bondi Beach.

Dragon swingThere was all kinds of more-or-less renaissance related paraphernalia on sale. Flower garlands, costumes, assorted weaponry, pottery, leather accessories, jewellery. Performances ranged from folk ballads, medieval/renaissance instruments (I’m sure I heard a dulcimer) and bawdy plays to (the ubiquitous at festivals) belly dancing. Even the food stalls and games were themed, such as the giant dragon swing (see picture) that was totally man-powered. ActionMan had a go with a crossbow, but he could also have tried fencing, javelin throwing or regular archery. Or betting on racing tortoises, but I’m not convinced that was really authentic.

All the stall holders and many passers-by spoke in appropriately archaic language, all sprinkled with “milady’s” and “milord’s”. However I did think that the buxom wench who admiringly said to ActionMan “Thou hast a very long sword my lord”, was taking it a bit far (give him time to grow up, woman!).

I think he missed the innuendo, because in fact he was at that moment carrying a very long sword – a claymore, actually – that he had won through a just and challenging quest: to climb to the top of the hardest section of a climbing wall, and upon succeeding, to dip his hand into a bowl of mysterious tokens.  The stallholder reckoned he gave about 12 away each year, so ActionMan did well.

The very long sword has been left in LA for now, while we figure out how to get it back home. Cathe, whose youthful frolics with The Society for Creative Anachronism have left her with assorted uncommon wisdom, has promised to keep it oiled for ActionMan in the meantime.  she also treated us to some fairly graphic stories of how such a weapon would have been used, and the lethal potential of even the blunted sword that ActionMan won. I’m not sure I want it back in Oz really  ….

It will seem sad and pathetic that in the midst of such a glut of joyous period authenticity we should resort to fish & chips for lunch, but I was seized with a sudden anxiety that we wouldn’t get to eat them again until September, and it was too much to bear. ActionMan didn’t think much of them, but the fish was white & succulent, and the batter, which is after all the most important bit, was thick and crispy, so I was happy.

It was, at any rate, better fare than he had to suffer two days later at California Adventure Park (the thrill-seeking younger sibling and next door neighbour of Disneyland). I still wish I’d taken a pic of the enormous but barely edible burger that he heroically tackled. My chicken sandwich wasn’t too bad – perhaps I’m more easily pleased – but we both agreed that the next time we had the choice of Mexican or burgers, we’d opt for Mexican.

I suspect that when we went hunting for burgers, he was in the same state I was in over the fish & chips. Cultural food panic. He has since had a much nicer build-your-own burger at a cafe at Cathe’s local mall. Altho we were both bemused to discover that “chilli” is a fairly mild meat & tomato sauce like we would put on tacos, not a hot sauce or garnish as you’d expect in Australia. Verdict: you can find a good burger in the US. (I know that must sound terribly arrogant & dismissive considering the US is virtually synonymous with burgers, but we Aussies are very particular about our burgers too).

Anyway – back to fantasy worlds. California Adventure Park & Disneyland. Of course we had fun. How could you not? You’d have to be far more deeply and miserably cynical than I am. Also, we went during the week & it wasn’t a peak time so the crowds and queues weren’t too bad. I pushed the boundaries of my comfort zone & went on everything except the giant roller coaster – and that was only because of circumstances at the time.  I even went on the rides that drop you at speed from a great height, so all my friends should feel very proud of me.

We’d been to Disneyland before when Actionman was seven, & I thought then, and still think that it is quite a bizarre experience to be so thoroughly immersed in fantasy. It’s kind of wonderful and horrifying at the same time. The spectacle, the enthusiasm,  the escapism, the apple pie-ness of it, the themed garbage bins, the unreality overdose … Well, I just abandoned myself to enjoying it all.

ActionMan’s favourite ride was the giant roller coaster, and I think mine was the haunted lift  in the Hollywood Hotel (a lift & drop ride that we went on twice), but I was also very impressed by “Soar over California”, which simulates a helicopter ride over California landmarks, complete with lurches and swoops and the scent of oranges.

Most Disney rides are simply roller coasters – the variety is not in the type of ride but in the theme -ghosts, pirates, space, alpine yetis, Indiana Jones, views over Disneyland. That’s not to say they aren’t fun. And the attention to detail is entertaining. The entries to rides are built long to accommodate the monstrous queues, and thoroughly themed to keep you amused on the wait. Waiting for the Indiana Jones ride you pass along a winding trail through jungle, caves, ancient temples and abandoned mines.

My award for the most absurd ride goes to Splash Mountain. I’m not sure if it’s intentional, but the experience of abruptly plunging down waterfalls and then gently swaying through caves full of B’rer Bear & B’rer Rabbit singing cheerful ditties (zippidy doo-dah …), then turning the corner to another plunge … was surreal, to say the least. Or perhaps it was just that it was nearly our last ride on a very long day.

Tired but happy, the revellers trudged towards the exit …

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3 thoughts on “Meet me in St Louis

  1. Yay Disneyland! I still haven’t been to the California Adventure Park, but it sounds fun. Seems like your stay in California was a good one.

    About the chilli thing – anything you buy at a chain restaurant in the US – especially in a mall – is likely to be a watered-down version of the “real thing”. They keep it bland so that it can appeal to more people. Real chilli *is* a mixture of meat, tomato based stuff, and often beans (depends who you ask) as you experienced, but always very hot & full of taste. However you’re right that it’s not a sauce or a garnish here in the US – it’s the main course, along with some cornbread on the side. 🙂 “Chilli sauce” will often be a basic hot sauce, though.

  2. Thanks for the info on chilli, it’s a pity we didn’t get a chance to try it as you describe. I’m still mystified as to why it should be a side dish with a burger. We did notice the general blandness of food descrbed as spicy, tho. It takes a lot of heat to impress AM.

    We did have a good time in LA but are now In germany – I’m still trying to catch up with my posts, I got behind due to wireless problems in our St Louis hotel.

  3. My (very) limited experience of American chilli was one bowl that had no significant heat that I recall, but did have lots of flavour. That was in a mall carpark, but not,as far as I know, a chain.

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