Our Last San Diego Visitor

My biggest worry going into this trip was leaving my family and friends behind. It’s now 4 months into our travels and we’ve had a total of 17 visitors. That’s 4 visitors per month. Not bad, eh? Constantly seeing the people I love has made the transition to this foreign city very smooth. It’s also better enabled me to enjoy this life changing experience.

Our previous visitors traveled from Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and California. Today, our visitor comes from the Big Apple. Fabianna will be landing at the San Diego Airport in mere moments.

I drive around the small airport a few times, waiting her call. The familiar sound of my generic Apple iPhone ringtone blasts through the phone speaker. “I’m here! Yay!” says the enthusiastic voice of my old friend. I spot a tall, thin figure glistening in the afternoon sun. She carries a designer suitcase, wears fashionable boots, and rocks an ombre hairstyle. No doubt it’s Fabianna. We exchange hugs before hopping in the car and heading back to my apartment.

Despite being on vacation, Fab has some work to do today. She’s from NYC, after all. This allows me to catch up on some shut-eye after a hectic birthday weekend. Hours later, I’m awake and Fab is still working. Once ready to adventure, my friend sets her work status to “away” and hops in the car with me towards Cowle’s Mountain.

Although this is my 3rd time hiking this mountain, the experience is yet to get old. Being with a friend I haven’t seen in a year doesn’t hurt either. After a mile and a half hike, Fab and I take a seat in a secluded spot atop the mountain. With a hectic and stressful work schedule in NYC, Fabianna greatly enjoys this moment of fresh air and nature. However, she is unable to full withdraw from social media and soon takes out her phone and clicks the Snapchat app. We smile as the camera shutter snaps the first selfie of the trip. The first of many.

The hike down flies by as Fabianna and I catch up on the past year of our lives. Before picking up Misha from work, we stop by Trader Joe’s and buy orange chicken and fried rice; a meal we often consumed in college. As we near Misha’s office, I am engulfed with excitement as Misha and Fabianna are about to meet for the first time (well, excluding the time they chatted on Facetime for a split second). Ironically, I miss their first encounter, as I ran into the office to fill up my water bottle.

Back at the apartment Fabianna and I begin planning our next few days. Clearly displeased with my current itinerary consisting of “Friday – Padres Game” followed by a bunch of blank rows, Fabianna takes over the job. If I hadn’t known what a master planner my friend was before, I sure do now. Within minutes Fabianna has sorted through countless Groupon and Living Social offers and Googled every restaurant in the metropolitan San Diego area. My previously bare itinerary is now an ornately formatted, Arial font, size 10, boxed, bordered and color-coded masterpiece. Let the fun begin.

Upon awakening Friday morning we head straight to the well-known and highly recommended Richard Walker’s Pancake House. The line is out the door, as usual, but as we’re a party of 2, our wait is a mere 10 minutes. Fabianna and I order coffee and pigs in a car (sausage wrapped in pancakes).

We then head to the zoo. This is my 3rd time here and I feel like I know this place like the back of my hand. I weave Fabianna through the gems of this ginormous place, including the baby gorilla and orangutan stops. Fabianna, a lover of plants, is more mesmerized with the diversity of florae than the wildlife. She stops to take a picture of every succulent we pass.

Among many other things, the San Diego Zoo is famous for their pandas. Unfortunately, the wait is always extremely long and I’m yet to see these endangered species. Today, however, Fabianna and I decide to endure the 45 minute wait. The sight of the two pandas is genuinely enjoyable. They sit there, fat and content, chomping on bamboo. Seemingly, this is all they do. I’m surprised to learn that these cuddly creatures eat about 30 pounds of bamboo a day.

By mid-afternoon we leave the zoo and head back to my apartment. Tonight we’re going to my first Padres game. That’s the San Diego Padres – San Diego’s baseball team. Fabianna and I dress up and head to the stadium an hour before the first pitch. We locate a rooftop bar beside the stadium, Rare Form, and make our way up the stairs for the pre-game happy-hour. This place is truly amazing. Not only are the cushions comfy and the inexpensive drinks delicious, but we can literally see into the stadium. This is arguably the best view in the house. While Fab and I are sipping on our Pina Coladas and enjoying each other’s company, Misha arrives at the bar. Soon after, we head down to the Petco Park entrance. No offense to my fellow Braves fans, but Petco is a step up from Turner Field. The food and beer selection here is unlike any sports stadium I’ve been to. We order brats and Italian sausages along with craft beer before heading to our seats in the nose bleed section. From the comfort of our seats we are exposed to the gorgeous downtown skyline.

It’s the second game of the year for the home-town Padres and they come out victorious. Brandon Morrow pitches his way to a 1-0 victory over the in-state rival, San Francisco Giants. We stay a bit after the game to watch the fireworks show before heading to the streets below. Unlike many big-city downtown areas, San Diego has a lively nightlife. The 3 of us head to a rowdy bar named Bub’s at the Ballpark, where we meet up with our friends Patrick, Ainsley, Matt and Shane. We celebrate the win and enjoy some more beer. As the clock hits 1 a.m. we decide it’s time to call it a night.

I wake up excited for the day to come. Today Fab and I are going whale and dolphin watching. This is something I would never in my wildest dreams have thought of. But thanks to Fab’s incredible research skills, we got 2 cheap tickets to this awesome event. By 9 a.m. Misha drops us off at the San Diego Harbor where we aboard the Hornblower cruise ship. The ship is packed with tourists and volunteers. Volunteers share information about the creatures we’re about to see. As we depart from the harbor I point out the massive sea lions sun bathing on the docks. One brave sea lion follows the ship and splashes in the wake. We pass Point Loma, where Misha and I had been two months ago, before sailing another hour into the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Here we spot at least 300 dolphins. It’s mind-boggling how many dolphins are around us. These beautiful mammals jump joyfully and glide through the water. They turn on their sides in mid-air before plopping against the endless blue. Upon closer look, Fabianna and I spot baby dolphins swimming with their mothers.

After two hours, the captain announces that it’s time to return home. To our discontent, we’re still to see any whales. Before starting the motors, the captain agrees to wait 10 more minutes in the unlikely hope of spotting these ocean monsters. One of the workers speaks over the intercom, asking everyone aboard to make deep whale sounds. Fabianna and I laugh as the entire boat, us included, calls out, “ooooo ahhh ooooo uhhhh oooo ahh.” Suddenly, one of the tourists on the boat yells out, “whale.” Everyone rushes over to where the man stands and looks towards the water. The whale is not to be seen. We continue our desperation whale calls until a huge chunk of mass emerges from the water. A spout of water shoots out of the enormous blowhole, elevating yards into the air. The volunteers explain that this is a Finback Whale, the 2nd largest whale known to man.

The two hour journey back is relaxing as was sip on Mimosas and learn whale facts from the volunteers. Before returning to civilization, Fab and I check out the whale artifact presentation. We’re the only ones in attendance.

Since my birthday lasts a month. Misha takes Fabianna and me to dinner at a Russian restaurant in North Park, Pomegranate. In the 20 months Misha and I have been dating, this is our first time at a Russian restaurant. Although excited, I can’t imagine the food here will compare to Misha’s mom’s scrumptious cooking. Misha drops Fabianna and I off and heads to find parking. Fabianna and I are greeted by Demetri, the owner of the restaurant. We seem to make a good impression as Demetri offers to be our server. Misha soon arrives to the table and helps select our meals for the evening. We order golubtsi, chakhokhbili and chakapuli. If you don’t know what these foods are look them up. And then find a place that makes them. Because they are to die for. As we finish our meal I can tell I’ll soon be developing cravings for Russian food.

After dinner, Misha and I do our best to introduce Fabianna to North Park. Our first stop is a bar called Hamilton’s Tavern. This bar, known for its absurdly massive beer selection, has a ceiling covered with beer taps. While sipping on our drinks, I try to get Fabianna to talk to a handsome guy playing billiards. Being the outgoing girl she is, Fabianna agrees and sparks a conversation with him. She comes back shortly after with the unfortunate news that this man is gay. At least we tried.

Next stop is Bar Pink, which is ironically a gay bar. The interior is decorated with pink elephants and martini glasses while the DJ plays hits from the 60s. The 3 of us snag a pool table and play a couple of rounds, Fabianna impressing most. As with most bars in North Park, we’re surrounded by scraggly hipsters.

Sunday is our last day together. We spend the morning shopping along Prospect Street and sunbathing on the beach. Deciding to get some physical activity in and sweat out the toxins we accumulated the past few nights, we then head to Torrey Pines State Reserve for a leisurely hike. As the sun begins to set we head back to the apartment and cook dinner. Another scrumptious meal. The night is bittersweet as I chat and watch TV with one of my best friends, all the while knowing she is leaving the next morning. Fabianna is one of the funniest people I know and she constantly brings a smile to my face. It may be a while until I see her again and I’ll surely miss her.

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Love in San Diego

The weeks have been flying by. Has it really already been a month since we moved here? Misha and I are now both employed and are very grateful for the financial stability. I balance 3 jobs and work nearly full time. Well, when I chose to. I do have the option of taking the occasional day off, without repercussion.

On Mondays and Tuesdays I babysit for an 8 week old, 2 year old, and 4 year old. These toddlers are about the same amount of years apart as my 2 brothers, Pierce and Hugh, and me. Undeniably, I haven’t given my parents enough credit for raising us. By the end of the 8 hours, I am fully drained. This gig teaches me that raising 3 young children is often more arduous than a full time job as a Special Ed teacher.

On Monday and Wednesday evenings I tutor a hilarious 11-year old boy, and self proclaimed “Boss,” named Anthony. I got this engagement through Misha, who was about to tutor this boy himself, until he got a full time job and realized I’d probably do a better job tutoring than him. Anthony is learning 5th grade math, which is awfully more complex than it was in my day.

And lastly, Wednesday through Friday I substitute teach. While commuting the 30 miles to North County isn’t the most pleasant activity at 7 in the morning, I appreciate the opportunity to experience San Diego County schools. Solana Beach and Del Mar school districts have an extensive allocation of resources along with a small teacher-student ratio, making for a pleasant teaching experience. It no longer surprises me to find the teachers here carrying an endlessly content expression on their faces.

Friday, February 13 rolls around and I’m counting down the seconds until the weekend of love ahead. But first, Misha takes the car to LA to see his friend, Alex, who is in town for the weekend, leaving me stranded in North Park for the day. This calls for a girl’s night. I invite Ainsley over. We feast on my mom and my signature recipe, an enticing shrimp pasta and feta cheese dish, and crack open a bottle of wine. Or maybe two. We flick on the TV and fall into a trance watching trash television – some show about hookers and strippers. The show ends and Ainsley and I transition to some much needed girl talk. I’m beyond happy to have met Ainsley. Although Misha fulfills most of my needs, it’s refreshing to have a girl-friend I can vent to and relate to. And she’s only a twenty minute drive away!

I am sound asleep when I hear the bedroom door slowly creek open. My biological clock tells me it’s the middle of the night and Misha isn’t supposed to be home until tomorrow morning. I open my eyes to the sight of my boyfriend attempting to stealthily slide into bed without awakening me. Upon seeing me awake, Misha proceeds to disclose that his surprise plans for Valentine’s Day entail an early morning and he wanted to make sure he was home on time. Feeling blessed to have such a dedicated boyfriend, I fall back asleep and dream of what the next day will hold.

I wake up to the smell of Misha’s scrumptious signature breakfast: bacon, sunny-side-up eggs and toast. After loading our bodies with fuel for the day, we hop in the car to go to, well, I don’t know. Misha loves to be unpredictable on special occasions and this Valentine’s Day is no exception. We pull into a parking spot by one of the many stunning beaches in San Diego. As we walk along the coast, the sun glistens on my face and I soak in the salty breeze. A quarter mile into our walk, I notice a sign reading Torrey Pines State Reserve. Torrey Pines has been highly recommended to us by locals. The area is acclaimed for its spectacular golf course, hiking trails and stunning beach views from atop the coastal cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Entering the reserve, we follow the lofty paved road towards the main hiking trails. We proceed to take the Beach Trail which leads us up towards a sensational view of water and city and then down to the shore. Having limited rainfall, the scenery is a drastic change from what I’m used to, in Atlanta. The dry dirt trail is surrounded by the rare and exquisite Torrey Pine trees, a plant community of sage shrubs, ferns, and cacti, and erect cliffs overpassing the endless ocean. The dirt ends and the sand begins. We kick off our shoes and feel the icy water touch our toes. We loop back along the shore until reaching our car, parked beside Life Guard Tower # 4. “Our Valentine’s Day adventure has just begun,” Misha announces.

We arrive at our next destination, Torrey Pines Glider Port, 15 minutes later. The scenery is similar to the State Reserve, with steep cliffs overlooking the ocean, but this time we are surrounded by thrill-seeking paragliders. The cliffs, ocean and a sky full of hanging individuals make for a peculiarly beautiful scene. We park the car and head towards the stairs leading down to Black’s Beach. “We’re not going there yet,” Misha says, veering to the left, away from the commonly traversed route. We approach a sign that says “Keep Out, Unstable Cliffs” attached to a chain linked fence blocking any further proceedings. Yellow diamond signs paint stick figures slipping off a cliff while loose rocks tumble below them. “We’re going this way,” Misha says pointing to a thin trail circling the outer left pole of the fence. “Is this legal? Is it safe?” I ask, worrying per usual. “I wouldn’t take you on here if it wasn’t,” Misha lies. So we go. We walk about a half mile along the frighteningly thin, yet relatively simple trail, leading to a renowned overlook. And boy, was it worth it. While Misha adventures to the very tippy toppy edge of the cliff, I stay back on flatter ground. Even here the view is as awe-inspiring as anything I’ve seen in this gorgeous city. Before me is blue. Just blue. A massive encompassing of sparkling water. And behind me grows a green and brown valley of shrubs, accommodating two mansions built almost entirely of glass. I peer down to Black’s Beach, seeming over a mile away. The appealing water reels us in. We head back along the narrow cliff towards the steps which lead us down to the sand and water. We carefully descend the large stone and wooden steps for 20 minutes, avoiding loose rocks and missteps. My calves burning, we reach the bottom. I waste no time finding a spot to plop down on my towel and pull out our packed lunch of grilled Rueben sandwiches. Before taking my first bite, I do a double take of the male figures moseying down the beach. It doesn’t take me long to comprehend that we’re on a nude beach. After a few minutes of acclimating, the innumerable amounts of nude older men no longer faze me. The flies, on the other hand, do. Shortly after we feast and catch a few final glimpses of unappealing male (and one female) genitalia, we head back up the daunting hill. Feeling instantly breathless, I motivate myself by thinking of what a great workout ascending 300 steps is.

Misha and I end our Valentine’s day with a home cooked meal. Steak, potatoes, asparagus and red wine is on the menu. Oh, and of course Misha and my absolute favorite dessert, Trader Joe’s Sublime chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwiches. Although Valentine’s Day is over, the adventures are only half over.

On Sunday we continue the trend of exploring recommended attractions in San Diego. Having been given so many suggestions, we often wonder whether 3 and a half months is even close to enough time to see it all. Around noon we head to Point Loma, a hilly peninsula that separates the San Diego Bay from the Pacific Ocean. Locals describe this place as “where California began.” We park and head into the Cabrillo National Monument museum. Climbing out of his boat and onto shore in 1542, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo stepped into history as the first European to set foot on what is now the West Coast of the United States. Having gotten our fill of history, we step outside the museum to admire a massive statue of Cabrillo, himself. He stands tall and overlooks the bay filled with sailboats and a seaside community. Misha and I let our legs hang over the bordering wall and cherish this magnificent view.

A mile walk down from the Cabrillo National Monument are the Point Loma tide pools. The road leading from the monument reminds me of a blue diamond ski slope. We easily coast down the paved road, knowing the way back up will be much more challenging. Now at sea level, we look atop the hill we just conquered and spot the Cabrillo National Monument and Old Point Loma lighthouse looking down at us. Misha climbs over the rocks and explores the tide pools eagerly searching for crabs and octopuses in the shallow water. I plant myself on a tilted rock set perfectly for a back rest and examine the daredevil children jumping from one mossy rock to the next. Frowning from not having found any sea life, Misha joins me and again we take a moment to be fully present with our surroundings. I take my mind away from the stress of money, work and uncertainty, and focus on what I came here to do: leave my comfort zone, open my mind and fulfill this segment of my life with long lasting memories and experiences.