Well, actually, no, but they did film scenes for the movie in Palm Desert, CA, which I happen to tell you a little about in my We Ditched The Snow, Onward To Palm Springs! post on our visit earlier in this same trip.
Long Beach was the second stop on our winter escape from the 18 inches of snow we had to dig out of in Western North Carolina to get to the airport prior to our departure.
This was the view from our hotel window, we stayed at the Hotel Maya, a Hilton Doubletree. (We’re Hilton Honors members, I’ll give you the scoop on how to “work the points system” in a future post!)
THOSE CRAZY WINDMILLS!
As we drove away from the desert of Palm Springs, we began to see a proliferation of whirling behemoth 3-bladed windmills, some churning the air in a slow rotation caused by the unseen wind currents. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to which windmills were moving, as they seemed to be randomly rotating despite their individual locations between two converging mountain ranges.
What I really wanted to see, and quite frankly, expected to see, was the sight of the massive blades, hundreds of them, moving in unison like the mesmerizing sight of a group of synchronized swimmers cutting through the water with precision strokes… but alas, that’s not how it works.
Along the way we stopped for lunch at In & Out Burger, as we had multiple friends touting them as their favorite burgers – ever. B.T.F.A.P. (Watch for the first “Fabulous Burger War” post in my unending search for the “most fabulous burger”. I’ll be asking for your entry, there will be criteria to meet, I expect a bloodbath!)
THE QUEEN MARY – STILL A GRAND OLD DAME
We knew we had reached Long Beach when we approached the water and caught the magnificent sight that is the Queen Mary, permanently docked on the waterfront as a tourist attraction, event venue and hotel. That’s me with the pretty lady in the background.
When planning our trip, we decided that if we were going to enjoy the various tours, exhibits and ambiance anyway, that we should stay aboard for a night. Now, let me be perfectly clear, this is a very old vessel, and your cabin is small, and the bathroom was “interesting” to say the least. Using the toilet in the middle of the night was a real hoot!
Check out that great fan on the wall, which is no longer operational but as the plaque below it states, it’s the original from the ship’s launch. The room had an updated “air movement system” installed at a later date, you might be able to distinguish the holes on either side above the bed, they are pipes that can swivel to change direction of the air flow. Quite sophisticated for the time I think, but don’t know for sure. One of the port holes was functional and as it was December, we were able to keep it open to enjoy the cool evening air.
When you stay on board, you are able to purchase a combination ticket that includes all the guided tours and exhibits for one low price. We were able to enjoy two of the guided tours during our stay. The first was the Glory Days tour which really gave you a “feel” for what luxury transatlantic travel was all about. It was mesmerizing and chock-full of delightful anecdotes featuring colorful passengers of the day.
Having checked into our cabin prior to the tour, I just couldn’t figure out how these wealthy ladies, each bringing multiple trunks brimming with changes of clothing for every occasion, could take an extended journey under such conditions.
Well, the answer to that question, one I did indeed pose to our guide, is that a proper lady of the time never traveled alone, and as such, had her handmaid in the next cabin, which also housed her clothing, accessories, etc. The poor maid, she must have spent most of the journey ironing! This was my favorite of the two tours we took.
Needless to say, the Steam and Steel tour was right up H.H.’s (Hunky Husband) alley. We traveled into the bowels of the Queen Mary and got to see just how this mammoth ship got from one continent to another with such ease.
After taking the Glory Days tour, this one was a bit of a revelation as to just how large the difference there was between passenger and crew. Up on deck, luxury and etiquette held court for the privileged, while below men labored in 100-degree heat, balancing on narrow metal-slatted walkways positioned around the exterior walls above the massive equipment. We all looked at our footwear as the guide told us that only leather soled shoes could be worn by the workers, as rubber soles would melt.
H.H. and I marveled at the space needed to house the powerful engines, but sadly all of them had been removed upon the sale of the ship to Long Beach by Cunard, who was worried that the city might “flip” the ship. Cunard was not about to have to compete against her on the high seas. She was after all, “the grandest ocean liner ever built” at that time.
We were both disappointed that we never did get to see the Winston Churchill exhibit, as it was located at the other side of the ship’s complex, and the hours of operation didn’t mesh with our schedule. However, the Princess Diana exhibit was a fun look at her life and, of course, her obsession with her wardrobe. You can guess who was moving through the exhibit with lightning speed, but he really is a good sport and I didn’t torture him for too long!
All in all, a fun romp through history and the glamorous past. If you decide on a visit to the Queen Mary, make sure you allow a full day to enjoy all it has to offer. (TrueConfessionTime – We didn’t actually use the shower on board, flushing the toilet in the middle of the night with that 18″ high pedal was enough of a trip to the past for us, thank you, no thank you!)
OUR LONG BEACH CURIOSITY TREASURE HUNT
While on the Queen Mary I picked up a city tourist guide and found a section on some of the cool things in Long Beach that don’t meet tourist attraction standards, but that the city is proud to boast about anyway. You’ll get used to this quirky trait possessed by both of the Traveling Wolves as you get to know us better, but we took that statement as a challenge.
A GREAT ENTRY FOR THE “FABULOUS BURGER WAR”
So, the next afternoon, we reveled in juicy (read greasy), perfectly cooked and garnished burgers that we scarfed down at a picnic table set up next to a little red and white shack, in the nonexistent parking lot of a gas station, in the middle of town, … (let me catch my breath), across from the strip center selling vacuums and tattoos, my seat nestled next to the pump dispensing gas to the MAC tools truck, while I feasted on the all at once crispy, yet fluffy fries that accompanied our beefy towers of bliss. Whew! Yes, Dave’s Burgers was a definite entry in the Fabulous Burger War, despite there being no Dave in sight, only 2 young Asian gals working the grill.
LONG BEACH THUMS OIL ISLANDS
The first “not-as-famous” item on our list were the THUMS oil islands located just off Long Beach. I never really gave any thought to oil drilling off of California, so this took me by surprise.
The THUMS oil consortium (Texaco, Humble, Union, Mobil & Shell) won the bid to lease the oil fields and drill in the San Pedro Bay off of Long Beach and Signal Hill, where a huge oil deposit is located. They practically gave up the farm in their negotiations, ultimately giving up the majority of their expected profits to the state of California and Long Beach.
Unfortunately for THUMS, Long Beach also slipped a “beautification” clause into the deal which required the consortium to devise a way to not only make the business profitable, but would also require it to make the operation virtually silent and invisible to the residents along the waterfront.
Hence the creation of the “oil island”. They built four platforms and designed them to look like tropical islands, including palm trees and “futuristic” looking buildings (for the mid-60’s anyway). What’s really cool is that the “buildings” are merely facades to hide machinery and block noise from traveling to the shore. What a concept, huh?
WYLAND WHALING WALL
Next on our list was the Wyland Whaling Wall mural on the side of the Long Beach Arena, which measures in at an astounding 116,000 square feet and has earned a spot in the Guinness Book of Records.
It was really quite magnificent, conjuring up the powerfully massive scale of the ocean and its elegant inhabitants. Robert Wyland, an eco-activist and artist has painted whale murals all around the world, this particular one being the 33rd in a series of 100 walls. His mission is to educate the world about the ocean’s role in our environment and does so by donating his services, the labor and supplies necessary to complete a mural in any given city.
Wyland dubbed this particular project “Planet Ocean”. Our pic was taken in the afternoon, but when the wall is lit up at night, I bet that it is really fabulous.
NEWTON P. RUMMOND “SKINNY HOUSE”
This little yellow-stucco house in the Rose Park neighborhood has not only made it into the Guinness Book of World Records, but also has an entry in Ripley’s Believe It or Not as the skinniest house in the United States.
So the story goes like this…
Rummond had acquired the lot as repayment of a $100 loan and built the 860 sq. ft. house in response to a bet that he could not build a habitable home on the 10 ft. x 50 ft. piece of land. As the pic shows, the house has not been well maintained, though because it enjoys historical landmark status, I know that renovations and repairs are heavily monitored and need to be approved by various government and historical entities. In other words, even if it was allowed, it would cost a bundle. May someday it will get a facelift, we all deserve a makeover now and again.
THE WALTER PYRAMID
Our last stop that afternoon was at The Walter Pyramid, which is a 4000-seat, indoor multi-purpose arena on the campus of Long Beach State University.
Having only seen one pyramid so far in our lives, a recently discovered one (about 18 years ago) in Mexico while on a Caribbean cruise excursion, we found this metal monster to be the highlight of our hunt.
It opened in 1994 as The Pyramid, but was renamed in 2005 in honor of a huge donation to the university by Mike and Arline Walter. Each side of the perimeter measures 345 feet, making it one of only three mathematically true pyramid-style buildings in the U.S. (the others being the Luxor Las Vegas and the Bass Pro Pyramid in Memphis, TN)
As you can see in the pic, the exterior is covered in a dark-blue corrugated aluminum and rises 18 stories above the Long Beach skyline. That was really something!
THE GONDOLAS OF NAPLES (YEAH, IN CALIFORNIA)
No, we didn’t leave Long Beach, well I guess we kind of did…
Naples is a neighborhood of Long Beach, built on three islands located in Alamitos Bay. The islands are divided by canals which open into the bay, making the area accessible by water. An Italianate theme permeates the “island” architecture and layout.
The development was originally built back in 1903 with a vision of gondoliers propelling their crafts as if in the waters of the Adriatic, under the azure skies of Italy. After the 1933 earthquake, the islands were completely rebuilt and restored to their original glory.
In 1982 the dream of gondolas silently gliding along the Naples canals came true. Since we visited in December, our ride included the seasonal treat of the holiday light tradition that the island neighborhood participates in with great fervor. At the beginning of December, the islands hold their annual Christmas Boat Parade that boasts dozens of festively decorated small crafts.
Our ride was in a genuine gondola in which we were provided blankets if needed and a bucket of ice that held our potent potable. It was chilly, but still very romantic. Our gondolier was a sweet young man that knew just when to engage with us, regaling us with all the relevant facts and answering our questions, and just when to give us a little privacy to enjoy the ride and fabulously decorated houses.
We got a kick out of the fact that several of the houses were decorated in blue, white and silver to celebrate Hanukkah. Hanukkah Harry was in on the fun, perched on a chair, in the top floor window of one of the houses, dressed in royal blue velvet and white fur. (He’s the Jewish equivalent to Santa, kind of, well not really)
THE TREK TO SHORELINE VILLAGE
H.H. and I had been taking pics of this really cool looking round building across the water from the Hotel Maya, had watched countless pedestrians crossing the bridge to the other side. Q: Why did the Traveling Wolves cross the bridge? A: To check out that round building on the other side, of course!
The Shoreline Village turned out to be a great complex to eat, shop, bowl (yes, a miniature bowling alley!) and eat some more.
But I’m getting ahead of myself – H.H. would say I’d been remiss if I didn’t confess to you, what turned out to be, a long journey when hoofing it. Why is it that things always seem so close when you’re looking across a narrow body of water?
Anyway, we crossed the bridge, which held two lanes of auto traffic and a shared bike/pedestrian path. Look out for those bikes though, they move just as fast as the cars! I spotted a glistening white sidewalk winding its way through startingly colorful flower beds punctuated with lush plantings of bushes and trees unfamiliar to me. I thought it would be romantic to hold hands walking along the pristine path. Much to H.H.’s chagrin, it actually went in the other direction and we ended up in an adjacent neighborhood quite a ways from the village. So much for romance, huh? Good thing we’ve been married 37 years, and he knows my sense of direction is not to be trusted. His bad!
WE MADE IT!
So, after a protracted trip, we finally landed at the Shoreline Village and we were simply ravenous! As we had 7pm reservations at a great Lebanese restaurant that I was reviewing for you, we went looking for a light offering to hold us until dinner.
We checked out all the choices from seafood, steak, Irish fare, BBQ and Cajun. H.H. thought a spicy snack with a cold drink would (as he and I are fond of saying), “hit the spot and rub it out”, so we chose Louisiana Charlie’s. We decided to dine al fresco since our son had informed us that morning, we had another 9 inches of snow drop at our house since we’d been gone. Yep, a table with a view, please!
One look at the menu, and H.H. and I knew we had to share the Gumbo Fries, a delectable mound that starts with Cajun fries topped with jack and cheddar cheese, then large amounts of their steaming rich gumbo are ladled over top. The gumbo was generously spiked with whole shrimp and thick slices of rosy andouille sausage that, combined with the dark roux-based sauce made the overall flavor profile of the dish outstanding. When it arrived heaped upon a large round pizza pan, H.H. picked up his phone and cancelled our dinner reservations… no way would we be able to face the large multi-course Lebanese feast we had planned.
This scenario is a frequent one for the Traveling Wolves and we call it “flex plan”. We adore planning fabulous trips filled with exciting things to do and eat. We don’t overdo our schedule, as we like time to chill too. Stuff happens to derail your plans or you find you would rather just spend the afternoon people watching at the café where you had lunch. Life is too short to live by a schedule while on vacation.
Oh, I forgot to tell you, the fries were fabulous and we spent about an hour laughing, talking and slowly made them all disappear! (we skipped dinner!)
We left Long Beach by ferry to spend a few days on Catalina Island… you can check out the post here. Catalina Island in December, Absolutely Fabulous Darling!
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