Last weekend we went to Yosemite, for some hiking. Also some waiting in line in the car for ages to get in. It was going to be a very hot weekend after a hot week. I had been busy doing soccer tryouts every day, and it happened that our long planned weekend away in Yosemite coincided with picking the squad. Thankfully we got it done, with a fair bit of text and email back and forth between me and my assistant coach, who did all the legwork while I was gone. We had planned to go to Yosemite a while ago, because you need to make reservations these days, to limit the crowds. Plus we were staying at the Yosemite Lodge, which needs to be booked well in advance. It takes a long time to get to Yosemite, it’s full of long twisty roads, so we decided to stay the night before in Sonora, a historic town in the foothills of the Sierras. I had never been to Sonora; I didn’t really know anything about it, if I’m honest. so it was a pleasant surprise to find such an old town. It seemed very much like the sort of town that would spring up in the hills during the Gold Rush, you remember that, where they rushed with all the gold. Side note, I use to the think that Ian Rush was a historical time when people would go to Wales or somewhere and dig up nuggets of Ian, etc and so on. So I imagined Sonora as the classic frontier town, and since there were several bail bonds offices and criminal lawyers and courthouses and saloons, this was obviously true and this Burnt Oak lad was now in Cowboy Land. Sonora was in fact founded during the Gold Rush by Mexican miners from the Sonora region, and the town and area have been the backdrop for many films and TV shows, like the A-Team, Little House on the Prairie, and even Back to the Future III. On our evening stroll after dinner we passed by a few different bars, now that the CDC have said people can eat and drink inside no problem, masks were generally off and people were reveling. I didn’t go and revel anywhere, but if I did, I’d love to have entered with my mask on, and a cowboy hat, and have everyone stop talking as I stood in the doorway and walked slowly up to the bar. We stayed at the historic Sonora Inn, which we was once the Victoria Hotel (1895) before being remodeled in the Spanish style in the 1930s as the Sonora Inn. I drew in the bedroom after dinner (below), and down in the lobby there was an antique wall telephone like you would see in old Bugs Bunny cartoons or something. The woman at the front desk told us about the history, and we asked if it were haunted. “Yeah, it is, she said tentatively, as if to say “no it isn’t but I’ll say it is”, or maybe it was so haunted she didn’t want to reveal in case the ghosts caused trouble, I don’t know. I have an over-active imagination about ghosts and cowboys. Apparently though there were old tunnels underneath that connected to all the old buildings in town, and if they aren’t haunted then well I don’t know what is. For dinner, we ate at a pasta place (it is a shame that the chef did not also have imagination) and walked about the town. Outside one bar, a well-oiled man with a thick American accent heard my accent and called out to us, asking where I’m from. I told him, and it seemed he knew his England, and had gone to school in Cornwall. We didn’t stop to chat more, but we referred to him afterwards as the Cornish Cowboy, or the Pirate of Penzance, or the Bodmin Bronco, or Texas Truro, again the imagination running away with me like a stage coach pulled into a canyon by a pack of crazy mules. It would be nice to go there for longer and explore a bit more (if my cowboy obsessed mind could handle the excitement), but we only had the evening, and so I got up early next morning before breakfast to do some drawing (“I do my sketchin’ before breakfast…”), before we set off for Yosemite. Yee hah, varmints.
We spent a couple of days in Coronado, San Diego, at the amazing Hotel Del Coronado (commonly known just as the “Del”). We stayed pretty socially distanced – we got a fantastic room that opened right out to the ocean, with a firepit for toasting marshmallows (we made delicious s’mores). It was a once in a lifetime type of hotel room, not huge, but pretty spectacular. Coronado is pretty spectacular. The weather was beautiful (February and in the high 70s), the sunsets incredible. I didn’t draw much; we relaxed, had cocktails, looked at the sea. I did do a little sketching – I went out to the beach and looked back, and did a quick sketch which I added to later, of the Del itself. It’s a historic building (the movie Some Like It Hot was filmed here), and one that my wife has wanted to stay in all her life. This was her birthday trip and we all enjoyed it here. The Pacific Ocean was cold but we still splashed our feet in it. The sand itself glistened with a strange metallic golden sheen, I think there must be a lot of shiny minerals in this particular sand. It was also full of these strange little round objects I had never seen before, but that my son told me are ‘sand dollars’. Beautiful, delicate little things, so I drew a few of them. Apparently there are legends about these things, also called sea biscuits, that they are the currency of mermaids or from the lost city of Atlantis, I mean they might be I suppose.
On the way to san Diego we did stop at one historic Mission, the Mission San Juan Capistrano. It’s pretty big with a lot to see; it’s pretty expensive too, and cost almost $40 for the three of us to go in. I had to get at least one sketch. Much of the older parts are just rubble, destroyed by an earthquake not that long after it was founded (they must have known even then not to rebuild those bits, so they could charge people a lot to have a look at them years later). Still, these historic places need a lot of upkeep and we want them to be open for us to see and learn from, so it’s worth it I suppose. I had been reading a Bill Bryson book on this trip, and he regularly infuriated me whenever he would turn up at a museum he had taken a while to get to, then baulked at a small entrance fee and refused to go in, before going off to a cafe to complain about their sandwich prices and moan at serving staff for not understanding punctuation, or something. Seriously, Bryson.
And juts to bring us up to speed, here are the rest of my Maui sketches. This one above was done in the historic town of Lahaina, on the northwest edge of Maui. Maui seems like two different islands joined at the hip. There were some interesting old buildings here, and we stopped into Duke’s for a Lava Pie because Lava Pie is most delicious. In the Lahaina Banyan Court square there was this enormous old tree, I couldn’t not at least try to draw it. It is the oldest living tree in Maui, and the largest Banyan tree in Hawaii (and in my opinion, the world). It was there sprawling all over the place like a big sprawly thing, providing loads of lovely shade for all the little chickens running around it.
So New Year’s Eve was pretty great, we were on the beach watching a massive fireworks display shot from a flotilla ships just off the coast. It was as if the sky was celebrating a fantastic new year that was going to be brilliant from start to finish, the best ever year ever, or something. Twenty Twenty! Two thousand and actual twenty!
Well it started well, on Maui. So, our hotel – the Grand Wailea – was amazing. The statue below was in it. The beach was amazing, especially the sunsets.
On New Year’s Day 2020 we got up, went into the ocean and looked forward to an unforgettable year. This was the first sketch I did in the year, of the gardens in the resort. It was very peaceful. That evening we went to a luau, a traditional music and food celebration. I enjoyed drinking the Blue Hawaii and Mai Tais.
Next day we drove down to another beach a little further south, Makena Beach. Another stunning place looking out to the small volcanic crater island of Molokini and the sparsely populated and hard to pronounce Kaho’olawe, which is the smallest of the eight main islands of Hawaii.
So, this was all I sketched. Apart from a couple I drew on my iPad when we landed on Maui. We spent about an hour and a half sitting in the car hire place where the line went extremely slowly. Really ridiculously slowly. Like, don’t bother renting from them again slowly. Still, I had time to draw this guy wearing a shirt covered in pictures of what I think were fried eggs and bits of spinach.
I know this isn’t much of a travelogue i should probably have had lots of interesting anecdotes and maybe even reviewed the Ululani shave ice (it was ok, I preferred Tobi’s), but we were on vacation, dudes, so all you get are these sketches and this one last photo. It was at the luau, where they were cooking a pig in a traditional way, and then taking the cooked pig out and showing it to everyone before carving it up and eating it (I don’t eat pork but I enjoyed the ceremonious occasion; poor piggy though). One of the best things I ate in Maui though was actually a vegan Beyond Burger from the Bistro Molokini restaurant.
Yep, Hawaii was pretty special.
I went back to London at the end of November / start of December for a short week, and managed to get in a couple of sketches while I was at it. Above is the view looking down Haymarket. It was a bright day. I really enjoy looking up in London, seeing what’s at rooftop level. Years ago I used to tourguide down this street, on the upper deck of an open-top bus, pointing out this, talking about that. That was twenty years ago now, how things have changed. These rooftops have not changed much. Another thing that hasn’t changed much, Phantom of the Opera is still playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre, which is on the right there, at the corner of Charles II Street. I went to see it once, I knew someone who worked for the show who got me a ticket, and I had to enter right as it was beginning, so it was dark as I went to my seat, which was in the front row, where people have long legs that I can trip over, and I tripped over and onto my head, and nearly fell into the musicians. Fun times, always the cool cat I was. Bit of a silly story though, Phantom of the Opera, at least the bits where Jar-Jar was messing around. Lightsabre fighting was amazing though. Wow that was twenty years ago, I remember it so well.
A show I saw considerably recentlyer was Hamilton, which we saw right here in London two years ago, and then again in San Francisco last year. This is the Victoria Palace Theatre in Victoria, with Little Ben in the foreground. I drew this after leaving my Gatwick Express train and before jumping onto the Tube, that;s right, I arrive and immediately start sketching in the rain. Well I knew my wife would like this, she is a big fan of Hamilton the musical. I loved it too, especially the bit with the racecars, but I was sure Vettel would challenge him to a duel at the end, but he crashed out in the 46th lap after making another avoidable mistake. I have a really good memory for theatre stuff, it must be my degree in drama.
I didn’t draw much on this short London trip. It was really just to see the family, I just felt the need to come over there (maybe I had a feeling that 2020 would see us all stuck at home and unable to get across the Atlantic), catch up with some friends, and that’s it really. I bought a bunch of mince pies for christmas, a nice store assistant in Tesco Borehamwood showed me how to find all the boxes that had sell-by dates later than December 24, they were hidden deep. I was taking all my mince pies and yule logs and British festive foods with me to Hawaii for our Christmas vacation. But then it was time to go home, and sat on the plane I could tell was going to go home with a cold, just a feeling in my throat, back in the days when we just trusted our immense immune systems to do their job because that cold was probably just a cold, no worries. (It was, though I also picked up some bad nasal infection). I managed another sketch on the plane though, this time with the iPad, while Big Tex next to me planted his massive elbows on the armrest and beyond like it was manifest destiny. There was no social distancing in coach. It was another time, back in the 2010s.
One more thing, one more trip back in time. I flew to London via Las Vegas, as it was the easiest route, but it meant I had to stay the night. It has been many years since I was in Vegas, so this one night away was going to be a bit of a time-travel trip, and so I chose to stay at the Luxor, which is the hotel we stayed at before our wedding way back in the mid 2000s. We still lived in London them, so the Luxor felt big and glamourous and futuristic. Yeah not so much this time. I checked in fairly late, the desk woman barely saying a single thing to me as she snatched my credit card and scornfully slammed it back, “welcome to Vegas, now f*%koff to wherever”. Nice to feel like a valued customer, not even telling me how to find my room in this ridiculous headache of a shopping mall. The room was dark and a bit grubby, peeling wallpaper that certainly has not had an upgrade since we were here in 2004. I walked about the casino, a depressing experience, unsure of what the time really was, and went to find some food, which I found, and didn’t enjoy. This is one of the older casinos, of course, but I’m just so not used to Vegas any more. Worst of all though was the smoke, hanging over everything like a plague-ridden miasma. This is definitely something I don’t miss, choking in other people’s fumes, irritating my nose, throat, eyes, soaking into my clothes, in a huge concrete pyramid. That gave me a headache more than the flashing Wheel of Fortune machines. Still this is a trip back in time. I contemplated walking over to New York New York where I remember having a fun evening with friends at the Five Nine Irishmen bar or whatever it’s called, when my mate Simon had the worst Guinness he ever drank, but instead I stopped for a couple of drinks at the bar in the centre of the Luxor, and drew what I could see amid the colourful 70s style haze. I listened to people talk, it seemed to be a mix of locals hanging out there rather than tourists, and the cocktail I had was nice, and the barstaff pleasant. I went to bed and got a good night’s sleep before the flight to London in the morning, though my own airways couldn’t wait to get out of the building.
And so, on to Amsterdam. Due to the heat-related travel chaos I arrived later than I’d hoped (but still, I was lucky to make it), and so I missed the opening ceremony of the 10th Urban Sketching Symposium. This annual event started in Portland in 2010, and I’ve gone to many of them since. Boy how they’ve grown. I arrived in Amsterdam, waded through the crowds at Centraal (I’ve never been a fan of that station, and it’s just how I remember it), and checked in to my hotel, a spectacular historic building called the Scheepvaarthuis, now the Grand Amrâth Hotel. This might have been my favourite thing about Amsterdam, and in fact many other sketchers would come to draw the building. I didn’t stop too long though as I wanted to go and meet up with the other sketchers that I know. There were a LOT of sketchers milling around. I found many of my old Urban Sketchers pals who I met at the first symposium, and some went off to eat while I went off to sketch with Matt Brehm and Lapin, because you have to draw before you can eat. We drew the scene above. It was my first time in Amsterdam in 20 years, and I remember it as somewhere I always wanted to go back and sketch, but was not a fan of the crowds. These crooked buildings are just the thing to get me started though, and I like those girders that stick out at the top which are used as a pulley to bring things up to the higher floors of those narrow houses. After this, the three of us headed down to Amstelhoeck, which was where many urban sketchers would be gathering each night for a drink and draw, and we had much merriment, always nice to hang out with those lads. I’ll add in my people sketching in a later post.
So here is my hotel, the Grand Amrâth. I spent a lot of time online looking for the right hotel. Everything was pricey, and I knew that I could stay further out and save some money, because the public transport is so good in Amsterdam and well connected, and I could even ride a bike around (spoiler alert, I never ended up riding a bike in Amsterdam, despite being a cyclist in America’s self-styled ‘biking capital’ Davis, I wasn’t brave enough!). But I also wanted to be in short walking distance from the symposium, without having to pass through too many crowds. I wanted somewhere with character rather somewhere bland and corporate, or meagre and depressing. Having stayed at an ok place in Porto which ended up being up a really steep hill and was modern having little character, I wanted to choose a bit more wisely this time. I found a decently priced room at this place, the Grand Amrâth, about the same price as many of the other dingier looking places, and chose it because the building looked like a haunted castle. In fact some of the reviews said it actually was haunted. So when I showed up and saw that it was in fact a five star hotel I was surprised. The place is an architectural wonder. The Scheepvaarthuis (“Shipping House”) was built in the early part of the twentieth century, and was the ornate headquarters of several shipping comanies. Architecturally speaking it is perhaps the finest example of the ‘Amsterdam School’ (and I say this knowing full well I don’t know any other examples). I enjoyed the elaborate stained glass windows, as well as the decorative ironwork, but also the entertaining moustachioed statues, one of which looked a bit like my sketching friend Arnaud de Meyer (he pointed it out, that it was the most accurate drawing I have done of him). Have a butcher’s at all of this though. I would definitely stay here again, if only for the sketching opportunities.
Other sketchers came out to sketch here too at various points, such as Lapin, Arnaud de Meyer, Martine Kervagoret and of course Gerard Michel (click on the links to see their sketches of the building). Plus many more. However I am really glad that I stayed here during the heatwave. My room (which was very nice, and always well-stocked with a free mini-bar, always lots of nice cold water and Diet Coke to come back to every night) had good air-conditioning, unlike a lot of the hotel rooms in the city. From stories other sketchers and tourists were telling me, apparently a lot of them were breaking down, meaning it was very difficult for people to sleep in their intensely hot rooms, to the point that people were sleeping in the cooler hallways. Thankfully I did not experience that here. There was also a nice indoor pool in the basement that I definitely took advantage of when the intense heat got too much for me (and boy did it, it melted my mind). I never ate at the restaurant, but I did eat an ‘Uitsmijter’ (a Dutch dish, three fried eggs with cheese on thick bread) at the small bar, also having a nice cocktail there. Look at the building at night, below, one side facing a quiet canal shrouded in total darkness. It’s one of the most spectacular places I’ve ever stayed in. I was looking for character, I found a whole Pirandelli. I would come back to Amsterdam just to stay here.
As I say, it was very hot. Below is an unrelated picture of a mn pressing a button at a crosswalk, which is a diagram you see on the pole, showing you how to press the button in case the ehat has melted your mind so you might forget. Next to that, a photo of a Mango flavoured Fanta. Mango Fanta is delicious. They do a whole spectrum of flavours of Fanta in the Netherlands (though what I drank most were the delicious fresh juices you get everywhere, so good), but the fancy flavors are expensive. I think this can was like 3.50 Euros, just for a can of soda. When the man in the shop opposite the hotel told me the price, my eyes popped out and I was like, no way dude, that’s a lot for a can of drink. I’m thinking, tourist shop, silly prices. So I went next door, where the price was exactly the same, and so I thought oh well, that’s what it costs, I’m thirsty. But as I walked past the other shop I hid my drink, the walk of shame. It was worth it though, best Fanta ever.
As always when I recount my stories from the sketching symposium it might take a few posts, but I’ll try to mix them up a bit. I sketched a lot in Amsterdam, but because of the heat destroying me I always felt like I could not sketch enough. The symposia always feel like a big competition to draw the most, when that’s never really the point of them, it’s about spending time with other sketching friends, learning from each other, seeing and experiencing the world. Matt Brehm said on this trip, “It’s ok not to draw.” All that said, I really did draw a lot…
And now for the final part of our recent trip to Europe. I was determined that we’d visit a historic castle, something we don’t have many of here in California (sorry Mr Hearst, Mr Disney, but those ain’t castles). So we hit the motorway (thanks to my mum for driving us) up to Warwick, in central England. I had been there a few years ago, and knew it was a pretty great sight. Warwick Castle is a little theme-y (being owned by Merlin Entertainment now) but as it has a Horrible Histories maze and some fun jousting entertainment that doesn’t matter. Actually, we missed the jousting as it’s not every day (though I did see some four years ago, and it was fun). Warwick Castle is in a beautiful location on the banks of the Avon river, and a historically significant geopolitical spot, being in the middle of the country and therefore an important stronghold for the balance of power. The Earl of Warwick in the late middle ages was known as the ‘Kingmaker’, not without exaggeration. The site of Warwick Castle was founded as a ‘burh’ by the formidable Anglo-Saxon lady Æthelflæd, ruler of Mercia (also ‘Ethelfelda’). She fought against the invading Danes and the Welsh, she was also a daughter of Alfred the Great, and in fact there was a re-enactment of her funeral in June 2018 in nearby Gloucester. When William the Conqueror invaded in 1066, the Normans built a motte-and-bailey castle here on ‘Ethelfleda’s Mound’, and Warwick Castle was subsequently built up over the next few centuries by later lords and earls. The first Earl of Warwick was Henry de Beaumont, from 1088, and the 16th Earl, Richard Neville (who gained the title through marriage to Anne de Beauchamp) was the famed Warwick the Kingmaker, who rose to prominence during the Wars of the Roses before dying at the Battle of Barnet in 1471. There’s a lot more history too, but I was interested in the old armoury. The suit of armour below is actually a child’s armour, likely for ornamental purposes. I sketched the castle above while taking a break with my son, who didn’t want to walk around the dungeons.
We didn’t stay in Warwick, though I’d love to sketch that old city some day. Instead, we stayed the night in Stratford upon Avon at a place called Alveston Manor, a large country house converted into a hotel just a short walk from central Stratford. It was lovely, and I love drawing buildings like that. Stratford is Shakespeare’s town, and they do not ever let you forget it here. We did walk up to see Shakespeare’s birthplace, and walk along the Avon, and I had a huge knickerbocker glory (with extra chocolate) at a local pub. So good.
In the evening after watching France knock Belgium out of the World Cup, I walked down to the riverside as the last mid-summer light faded away, and sketched the bridge below. This was around 9:30pm at night. I decided to walk across the other bridge to get back to the hotel, whcih was a mistake. It was a logn bridge along a road with a fairly narrow path for pedestrians, and lots of cobwebs. During the day the cobwebs were quaint. In the evening they were covered with thousands of busy, chubby spiders, loving their little legs and spinning and completely freaking me out. They weren’t dangerous, unlike the ones in my Davis back yard right now, but so many of them moving all around me was pretty much the creepiest thing ever. I ran as quickly as I could, but it was a long bridge. Yeah, I’m not into spiders.
Still playing catch-up with the older sketches, here are some I did while I was in Hawaii in November. What an incredible place. It was the first time I’d ever been to Hawaii, or to anywhere like that; it was, in the words of Samwise Gamgee, the furthest I’d ever been from home (home being Burnt Oak). For some reason it had never appealed, but for the life of me I cannot say what those reasons might have been because Hawaii is just so amazing. I think living in California it’s easy to feel a bit blase about Hawaii because it’s like, just over there a bit, and I’m not one of those people who likes sitting on the beach, but no, Hawaii really does feel like somewhere very far away and different. And so beautiful. And it turns out I love the beach! Well, I always love being by the ocean. The call of the sea. I’m not going to go on about it. Hawaii is just great. So, we stayed on O’ahu, at the Outrigger resort in Waikiki. The most incredible view, ever. In fact after this, what is there, really? It’s only downhill from here. Nothing is really going to live up to that view. And earlier in 2017 we stayed in Rome and had the most incredible view over the city (see my earlier post, ‘A Rome With A View‘). I am never going to match those views in 2018, wherever we end up visiting this year.
Now it wasn’t all getting up at 7am and swimming in the ocean and then spending the day at the pool and drinking cocktails overlooking the sunset. Actually, no I’m kidding, that is what it all was, and that was the BEST. I did pop out and sketch a Waikiki fire hydrant once though.
Oh I could not wait to Facetime family in England from that hotel room, with that ridiculously amazing view. The sketch above I never got around to colouring in.
Below is a sketch I did on the beach at Kailua, on the other side of the island. We had just spent much of the day at Koaloa Ranch, checking out where they filmed Lost and Jurassic World and stuff. We stopped in Kailua on the way back for some Shave Ice at Island Snow, which is where President Obama goes for Shave Ice when he is back in Hawaii. What is Shave Ice, you ask, and why is it not Shaved Ice? Aha, you will have to go to Hawaii to learn this secret!
Ok, this (below) is Shave Ice. It was really good! Better than expected. Like a tropical slush puppy. Mahalo!
I’ll post more sketches soon, but here is one last photo of the view from my hotel bedroom window. I must point out this was NOVEMBER. Aloha from Hawaii!
Here are the last few sketches from the vacation in San Diego. The last couple of days were spent at Legoland, with two nights at the Legoland Hotel. It was a lot fun. It was our third time there, but this time they had recently built Ninjago Land, which, if you’ve followed any of my Lego sketches, was always going to be a big hit with us. The Ninjago ride itself was fun, a bit like one of those ones where you have to blast targets, except with this you use your hands rather than blasters. I sketched this on the second day when the tiredness was sinking in, the rest of the family went to the hotel for a rest and I sketched in the park. I added colour later on when I was exhausted, as you can totally tell.
Above, a big robotic dinosaur, about fifteen or twenty feet high, I don’t know, I’m bad at judging height. Hundred feet maybe. We spent a lot of time in the pool areas, the water park, and no matter the sunscreen my head still got red. I think it left me a bit frazzled. So on the last day there, we spent time at the hotel pool and I for once did not get in, rather I sketched from the sidelines. And then, we flew back home to Davis. I like vacations.
The rain came down in San Francisco, but I took a bus up to the Haight. It has been years since I was in this part of San Francisco, and I had forgotten how many amazing old colourful buildings there are to sketch around here. And hippies too, can’t forget the hippies, there are still lots of hippies. I walked about looking for a good dry spot to sketch from, and settled on a spot across the street from the historic Red Victorian, an old hotel and arts cafe, and a mainstay of “Peace, Man” San Francisco. I’ve always liked this building. There is the Peaceful World Cafe, they hold Peaceful World Conversations, and there’s also a Living Peace Museum. I must say, stood sheltered form the rain as I was, I felt pretty peaceful sketching it too (apart from one odd ‘crunchy’ guy making incomprehensible comments every time he shuffled past, but you get that when you’re out and about). You can find out more about the Red Vic and its owner, founder and artist in residence Sami Sunchild here: http://www.redvic.com/. Oh and here’s the map from my sketchbook.
Last weekend, my wife and I stayed in San Francisco, at the Hyatt Regency by the Embarcadero. Can’t get enough San Francisco! The views from the Hyatt are exceptional. After a day walking around the Mission, we took a break at the hotel before dinner and I drew the view from the hallway window: the Ferry Building, with the Bay Bridge spanning eastwards. The Sun was going down, so the light was constantly changing. Below, a quick sketch of the room. Both drawn in the Stillman and Birn sketchbook.