Well, the NAHQ conference agenda for today looked light, so I decided to skip the sessions altogether and see the sights.
Let me begin by noting that San Diego is a little slice of heaven. The weather has been “absolutely fabulous” and the people are friendly and relaxed. I notice a conspicuous lack of “West Michigan chic” — as in, perfect young women and chisled young men perpetually dressed as if they’ve just stepped out of an A&F spread.
I started my adventures at the San Diego Zoo. What a treat! The zoo was fairly deserted, this being a Tuesday in September and all, so there was no mad rush of people to deal with. Except for omnipresent sailors of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy, replete in dress whites. A cultural exchange, perhaps? But if they had American minders, they blended into the civilian population transparently. I only saw a single USN officer in his whites — a lieutenant commander, I believe — and that was that.
Anyway, the zoo was loads of fun. A nice selection of rare or endangered species, with landscaping that completely added to the experience. Highlights: Being about two inches away from a curious viper, seeing the baby giraffes up close, watching Siberian lynxs fighting, walking through the rain-forest aviary, and observing the sleeping giant pandas.
After the zoo, which was my only intended destination, I decided to go exploring. And I’m glad I did — I haven’t had so much fun in ages. No itinerary, no sense of where I was … just exploration, with a new delight around every corner. I ended up in a place called Balboa Park, which was (as far as I can tell) the site of the World’s Fair in 1916. The city has kept up the park, stuffing it with museums and gardens and attractions of all types. I have never seen something as packed with fun things yet as spacious and visually appealing as this place.
First stop in Balboa Park was the Botanical Garden — several thousand square feet of various flora from around the world. The Garden was at the end of a giant lily pond, which attracted artists who sketched the lilies and the koi. Next was the San Diego Museum of Art, which packed a ton of great galleries in a relatively small space. In addition to a great selection of art, sculpture and artifacts from Persia and the Far East, there were a number of signficant paintings on display, including Bouquet (Matisse), Penitent St. Peter (El Greco), Holy Family with St. Francis (Rubens), Portrait of Marquis de Sofraga (de Goya), and Queen Henrietta Maria (Van Dyck). Admission was free on Tuesday.
After SDMA, off to the San Diego Museum of Man, which was a museum focused on human culture, especially indigineous culture in the region. Again, admission was free on Tuesday. Next stop was the Alcazar Garden, an outdoor garden with flowers and paved walks and fountains. Lovely.
My last stop before returning to the hotel was the San Diego Air and Space Museum. Again, well done with a number of artifacts, such as the Red Baron’s medals and authentic and replica aircraft from the early days of aviation. Plus, the capsule from Apollo 9.
Seven hours, one zoo, two gardens, and three museums later, my feet are tired but my spirit is bouyant. Next stop … dinner on the bay.