In the winter of 2000, my sister was nicely shacked up in Santa Barbara, California, on an exchange year with university. Being faced with the propect of yet another blurry NYE out in rainy Newcastle, I packed up and headed to join her in the sunshine.
You see, California is still hot and sunny- English late spring- in December.
People tend to think of California in relation to its famous cities. Having stopped in LA, and found its brown cloud most unappealing, we headed out into the country. And further into the country. The kind of country where tumbleweed goes rolling across the track. And old men in check shirts and cowboy hats sit at the diner with stacks of grits. Seriously.
The few people out in the desert towns were very friendly and interested in where we came from. Maybe they don't get too many tourists out there. It was certainly a far cry from the cities and the interstates. We goggled at huge cacti and went swimming in hot springs; the novelty of bikinis in December was hard to shake off!
We took a plane up the coast to San Francisco. This is one of my favourite cities in the world. Laid-back, cosmopolitan but quirky, with more than a bit of left-over Sumer of Love to it, we wished our 3 days had been 3 weeks. The blocks were all built on hills, so we got a good bit of excersise! Alison and I were chuffed to find a hidden music shop selling all kinds of instruments from bongos to harps.
To get a fuller picture, we decided to spend NYE in Palm Springs. It's touted as a resort for the rich, the famous and their caddies, but we didn't find it too overwhelming at all. I lived in fear of my first ever dry new year, being as I was only 20, but my mum (having giggled in a most un-mum-like way when asked for her ID) managed to bust me in to a bar just before midnight. Better than that was lying outside in the hot tub watching the stars as cars crawled by, hooting in the new year.
At the end of the round trip, we took a spin to Santa Monica, the boulevard and the beach. Apparently they think it's ok to rollerblade in Lycra in public areas there. We spent our last night in LA, stumbling across a beautiful Chinese restaurant in an ugly warehouse in Inglewood. Maybe there's more to California than meets the eye.