Sunday, 23 October 2011

Part 1: Avalon, Santa Catalina Island, Southern California

After all these years of being a California resident, I was finally going to visit Avalon, Santa Catalina Island, which is just 22 miles away from the Los Angeles and Orange County coast line. Also referred to as Catalina Island, it is a rocky-mountain island located south west of Los Angeles. It is part of the Channel Islands of California, one of eight, that falls under the jurisdiction of Los Angeles County. With a population of close to 4000, it is administered by the Catalina Island Conservancy. It remains to be privately owned by the Wrigley family.

I am going, primarily, to be refreshed and  nourished in mind, body, and spirit, away from the urban lifestyle.
With a good, adventurous, fun-seeking friend  who came along with me, we headed to the Balboa Pavilion in Newport Beach,...
to take the California Flyer for Avalon. 

We stood in a long queue composed of couples, families, and groups of friends, going as daytrippers, overnighters, or midweekers, in search of something new,  perhaps, even something adventurous. It was a gloomy, fall day. It was a cold morning. On a clear day, Catalina can be seen from Newport Beach. But not this day as the cloud cover was thick. But no one seemed deterred. We were all on time to take the 9:00 morning schedule to Avalon. We boarded the biggest catamaran I have ever seen, and soon we were on our way. The boat ride was a bit choppy, which was expected as we were going against the current.
Alas, we made it to the boat landing in Avalon Bay, in 70 minutes, and we had arrived in Avalon, Santa Catalina Island. 

Avalon is the most developed city in the island, and is a resort destination for visitors and cruise ships.   The waterfront is a very picturesque landscape of buildings that house lodging and retail facilities, with a few streets going inland.
What a pretty sight! It reminded us of Santa Margarita and Portofino, in Italy

Upon disembarking, we walked a few steps to figure out what to do. We were greeted by taxi cabs, waiting on the curb. But we thought we would asked, first, about our hotel's location, and it turned out that it was just going to be a five-minute walk. Along with the other visitors and regular commuters, we walked along the sidewalk that brought us straight to the waterfront road.

On Crescent St., where we had turned right, we began to admire the architectural styles, the influences, the quaint shops, the pier, and some local arts and crafts. Finally, we found the Pavilion Hotel, which we were calling "our home" for the next three days.
The Pavilion Hotel is centrally located on 513 Crescent Avenue. After being welcomed and processed to be registered guests, we were excited to see what our room was going to be like.
We took the walkway around the well-manicured, landscaped courtyard...
and found our room number. We had our own outdoor sitting area that was partially made private by the plants planted in front of our patio.
Here it is! It was a good size room for two people. As for the amenities provided, we had WIFI, a flatscreen, HD television, and air conditioning in the room. 

Included in the room package was a complimentary continental breakfast: 
a variety of cut-up fresh fruits; bagels, croissants, pastry breads, with peanut butter, cream cheese, butter balls and a fruit jam to add to the baked goods; In another table - a cereal set-up to pair with yogurt or milk; pitchers of juice and water; and a coffee bar for that serving of Starbuck's coffee.
 We had breakfast with a view, each morning, just bringing small food servings at a time and watching over our plates, or the flying creatures would join us, uninvited.

We figured that walking was the best way to get to know the town. We started on a leisurely walk to get an overview of this place. Looking for things that were local...

I was attracted to this corner stall, right at the entrance to the pier. Tiles are a prominent decorative item here - in the storefronts, the steps, fountains, and other things like a retaining wall. 

The Silver Canyon Tile Co. started out as a ceramic shop, producing wheel-thrown potteries, in 1988. Founded by Robin Cassidy, the line of products was expanded to go into the reproduction of paver tiles that were used in Catalina Island in the 1920s to the 1930s. Many of their designs - in the historical Catalina patterns and other original designs, were used in the 1999 restoration of downtown Avalon. These tiles have a three-dimensional surface and come in bright colors and distinct patterns. The company also produces bas-relief murals and custom-made productions for their clientele, some of which we will see as we continue our walk.

To eat or to tour? That was the question. On the pier, we were eyeing the fish and chips place at the far end, for our lunch. But we went, instead, to the tourism office and asked for recommendations for places to visit. 

The Tour Plaza, located between Catalina and Sumner streets - this is where you can get ticketed for your reservations, or, also buy your tickets for any tours you want to take. There are, also, other places where tour tickets can be purchased from.

For several of the tour packages offered, this is where the assembly is for a bus pick-up.

These vintage-looking buses are about 50 years old. These are used to shuttle the visitors to and from the various tourist sights and activities. Among the things to do in Avalon are a couple of scenic tours on land, boat trips and mini cruises, walking tours, and adventurous tours for the young and the old. There is something for everyone and the most thrilling can be when you dare to do something you have never done before.

For our itinerary, we opted to have the following tours/activities:
1. Visit the Wrigley Memorial, on our own.
2. Zipline Eco Tour
3. East End Tour
4. Play Mini Golf, at our own time.
5. To walk and explore during our free time. 

Continuing our walk, back on Crescent Road...
the sun finally peeked in at about noontime. We found this time of the year - off season, so perfect to be walking around. It went from chilly temperatures to a pleasant low 70s. In the spring and summer, this place is bustling with tourists.
This round-about at Wrigley Plaza is one place where the use of the Catalina tile pavers was attractively employed.

This island has quite an interesting history. It goes back to 7000 years ago when it was inhabited by several tribes, from the Pimungans to different groups of native Americans. The Europeans came to her shores under the explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo on October 7, 1542, and he claimed the island for the Spanish king, after peacefully making contact with the local people, who were allowed to continue living in the island. He named it "San Salvador" (Holy Redeemer). An Agustinian friar offered a thanksgiving mass, then.

A second expedition arrived on November 24, 1602 under the command of Sebastian Viscaino. He did not know about Cabrillo's previous expedition that had already claimed this territory. He renamed the island to "Santa Catalina Island," in honor of Saint Catherine, whose feast day was on the day after they landed here. 
We decided to turn into one of the streets  in search of Beacon St. The homes are priced at one million and up. Rentals go at $1,700 and up per week, depending on the season. There is hardly any garden space and the garage allotment is for a go cart.
This is the church on the island that was named after St. Catharine of Alexandria, on 800 Beacon Street, just two blocks away from Crescent St. This  parish was established in 1902.
This ceramic wall relief, on the church 's exterior wall, depicts the arrival of the Spanish expedition under Sebastian Viscaino and the thanksgiving mass that was offered, celebrated by three Discalced Carmelite priests who were traveling with Viscaino. 

One morning, we attended mass to give our thanksgiving for the chance to visit this island.
 St. Catharine as portrayed in this modern stain glass window. The leaves from the plant next to the window - on the outside, add to the design and texture of this art work.

According to the legendary tales about St. Catharine of Alexandria, she was martyred  in Egypt around 300 A.D. She was only 18 years old when she converted to Christianity, after receiving a vision. She debated with philosophers, which brought about their conversion and the conversion of some 200 soldiers. She was deemed as the wisest woman in Alexandria. This is what brought about her martyrdom.

She is the patroness of philosophers, millers, secretaries, and women in search of a husband. She is a highly venerated saint n the Greek Orthodox Catholic Church and her remains are buried in the grounds of St. Catherine's Monastery, at the foot of Mount Sinai, in the Egyptian desert.

The day was almost over, and our afternoon was spent walking to and visiting the Wrigley Memorial. After a light dinner, we decided to turn in to recover for the next day's scheduled activities: a big day for two adventurous tours. 
We passed the fire pit next to the hotel's courtyard. This tour group was having a good time.

I made it a point to get up early the next day, to catch the sunrise , but these were what I saw when I ventured out at 5:30 in the morning.
The pier
The boat landing
The boats on Avalon Bay
In place of a light tower is a traffic light for incoming vessels.
I walked all the way to the boat landing. This was the view of the town at about past 6:00 in the morning.
I walked back to the waterfront road. Traffic is minimal on the city streets. The golf cart is the common means of transportation. They are available for rent by the hour.
The Mediterranean Café...with a wine bar, espresso bar, beer bar, a pastry and sweets bar
A store specializing in glass art

I verified the time for the sunrise, and I was told that it was "delayed" due to the thick marine layer. Back in the hotel, we got ready for an early breakfast. It was going to be a big day for us as we were daring and raring to go ziplining, inspite of our fear of heights! Watch us...soon!!!

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