General George S Patton Memorial Museum Chiriaco Summit CA

I’m not one for guns. I’ve no great interest in tanks. But I will admit to a certain fascination with war. Travelling east on the I-10 from Palm Desert on our way to Williams AZ, we stopped off at Chiriaco Summit for breakfast and noticed that the truck stop is also home to the General Patton Memorial Museum. The gas station, the restaurant, and the museum are a family business and have been owned and operated by the Chiriaco family since 1933 (the museum opened in 1988).

Chiriaco Summit

Alabama-man Joe Chiriaco visited CA in 1927 to see his state team play Stanford in the Rose Bowl. He fell in love with California and stayed. I can only imagine that telegram to his mother. When his job as a water surveyor with the LA Bureau of Water and Power sent him to the desert – to Shaver Summit – he fell in love, again. He quit his job and bought the site which is now known as Chiriaco Summit. With his ear to the ground, Chiriaco paid attention to whispers about a new road to be laid between Indio and Phoenix. He started building. The gas station and general store opened 15 August 1933. A year later, Chiriaco fell in love for the third time and married Ruth Bergseid, a Norwegian nurse from Minnesota who had also come East to work at the hospital in Indio. Business boomed. Roads meant cars and trucks and cars and trucks meant drivers who need refuelling along with their vehicles.

In early 1992, under the command of General George S. Patton, the Desert Training Center (DTC) was established at Camp Young, right by Joe’s place. And when the troops descended, his was the only place they could go off base. Years later, Margit Chiriaco Rusche would work with the Bureau of Land Management to establish the General Patton Memorial Museum, which first opened its doors in 1988.

General Patton Memorial Museum

The wealth of information on display brings to life the career of the General and the sheer scale of the desert training that he initiated in preparation for a heads-on with Rommel in the African Desert.  In the 26-minute video shown, one of the former soldiers told of how they graduated from big tents to pup tents to hard ground. Life wasn’t easy but to a man, when they got to where they were going, they were glad of their training.

General Patton Memorial Museum Chiriaco Summit CA

General Patton Memorial Museum Chiriaco Summit CA

General Patton Memorial Museum Chiriaco Summit CA

General Patton Memorial Museum Chiriaco Summit CA

The Matzner tank pavilion is home to lots of stuff including a 2.5 ton Japanese Cadillac and an M60 turret. One of the tanks is set up so that you can climb up and sit inside. All I could think of were sitting ducks – way too small an enclosure for my liking. Out in the tank yard, other tanks on show include the almost mass-produced Sherman tank, the most popular model of  WWII. It was pouring rain. The red soil had turned to mud. But I hadn’t come this far not to have a look around. Mind you, not on a good day could I tell one tank from the other but they were quite the sight to behold.

General Patton Memorial Museum Chiriaco Summit CA

The documentary video shown in the General Patton Memorial Museum had mentioned two altars at Camp Iron Mountain, one Protestant, the other Catholic. Men of the cloth of each persuasion would say mass, outdoors, for the troops. The altars still stand but given the unseasonable rain, we thought it best not to try – even though part of me really wanted to see the reality this replica is based on. Next time, I’ll come in April.

General Patton Memorial Museum Chiriaco Summit CA

The area covered by the DTC is massive.

The War Department utilized over 18,000 square miles of desolate land in southeastern California and western Arizona where it trained over a half million soldiers on desert warfare tactics and survival in extreme conditions. For two years, 13 infantry divisions and 7 armored divisions marched and drove over the vast desert landscape. This massive training ground consisted of 13 divisional camps and numerous railroad sidings, ammunition dumps, hospitals, airfields and quartermaster depots. By May 1943, the German Afrika Korps had been defeated and desert training was no longer a necessity. However, training lasted for another year until it was officially closed in April, 1944.

Perhaps most fascinating for me was that I hadn’t realised that General Patton died in a car crash or that there were whispers of suspicion around his death. Military historian Robert Shipman, in his 2008 book Target Patton, claims that Old Blood and Guts (Patton) was assassinated on the order of General ‘Wild Bill’ Donovan. Mad. Second in the line of fascinations is that all this is so recent. People alive still remember training here. And locals, like Madison Payne, are still driving the same truck they were back then.

General Patton Memorial Museum Chiriaco Summit CA

I missed out on the Remembrance Walls at the General Patton Memorial Museum (an excuse to go back). But we were already two hours behind schedule and the rain was showing no sign of easing. Museums like these make road trips in the USA one of the best ways to travel. The freedom to explore is something not to be taken for granted. But never once, had you asked me what I’d be doing on Valentine’s Day, would I have said – ogling tanks in the Colorado Desert.  The museum is open seven days a week 9 am to 4.30 pm (except for Christmas and Thanksgiving). Admission is $10 ($8 for seniors). Count on losing a couple of hours here (especially if it’s not raining). Well worth stopping or detouring for.

It’s been five years since I was last in the Colorado Desert. [Confession: I had been referring to it as the California Desert (as it’s in CA) but actually the Coachella Valley sits in the northern end of the Colorado Desert, near the lower reaches of the Colorado River.] Back in the day, the valley was a sea and when the first settlers appeared, they found seashells. As the story goes, Conchilla (Spanish for little shell) became Coachella, perhaps because of someone’s bad handwriting. The state highway 111 runs right through, a retail corridor linking Indio, La Quinta, Indian Wells, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, and Cathedral City. We drove it a number of times travelling between friends in Palm Desert and friends in Palm Springs and everything seems to run together. It’s hard to tell when one city stops and the next one begins.

Palm Desert, with its high-end shops on El Paseo, seems a little more upmarket than its sister, Palm Springs. Both though, cater for the more mature resident or tourist. I felt younger than usual. I was amused to see that shoppers on El Paseo can flag down a courtesy golf cart to get from A to B. Downtown Palm Springs offers more in the line of tourist-focused art galleries, general souvenir-type stores, and eateries. It’s far more alive and opens much later.

Shopping in Palm Springs vanity plates

Shopping in Palm Springs - Palm Canyon Drive

Sony Bono statue Palm Springs

1930s water bowl for dogs in Palm Springs

Has it changed in the five years since I was last here? Well, it still has its fair share of vanity plates that make the slow driving fun. The statue of Marilyn has gone but the one of Sonny Bono is still there.  And just about the only cigarettes I saw this time were in this 1930s doggie dish. Annoying that it’s being used as an ashtry.

Shopping for a slice of social history

On the advice of her hairstylist, a man who knows his stuff, the lovely DLW took us to the Sunny Dunes Antique Mall on 507 E Sunny Dunes Rd. It’s heaven on earth for serious shoppers and browsers alike. About 30 vendors have sections in which they sell their wares. Each takes it in turn once a month to run the cash desk. It’s all high tech. You can pick your bits from anywhere and everywhere and bring them to the check out by the front door. There, the codes will tell the prices and discounts. We made out like bandits. But were I living locally or if I had a bigger luggage allowance or if I could have driven home, I’d have done a lot of damage.

Shopping in Palm Springs Sunny Dunes Antiques Mall

Shopping in Palm Springs Sunny Dunes Antiques Mall

Shopping in Palm Springs Sunny Dunes Antiques Mall

Shopping in Palm Springs Sunny Dunes Antiques Mall

Shopping in Palm Springs Sunny Dunes Antiques Mall

It was a trip down memory lane. The Kenwood mixer, the old tin buckets, the leather jackets, the comics, the jewellery. All of it recognisable. All of it once treasured. I spotted a mink stole for $135, perhaps evidence of how out of fashion fur is in the USA. I’ll admit to being tempted, more for the images it evoked that the stole itself. We passed a good hour there, if not more. And I could have stayed longer, but I was upsetting myself thinking about what I couldn’t take home.

These sorts of places are repositories of social history. They’re like windows to a bygone era. They say so much about the movement of peoples (just check where the glass and crockery come from), about pop culture (posters, books, records), about style (clothes, photos, pictures). If you’re in Palm Springs, treat yourself. They’re open 10 am to 5 pm every day except for Christmas and Thanksgiving. Holiday hours may vary.

Sunny Dunes Antique Mall Palm Springs CA

Watching live crab at Redondo Pier CA

Way back when I moved to California, I remember feeling cheated. In my head, I was moving to Los Angeles, but my address said Torrance. I wasn’t living in LA. I was living in a city some 12 miles south of it. Granted, that city was in LA county, but that didn’t appear on my address.

Revisiting Torrance CA

I spent a month there in 1990 and came back again for another six months later that year. It felt like I was there for years, but doing the math a few lifetimes later, seven months was all I had. I worked at an Irish pub on the corner of Western and Del Amo, Friday nights from 10 pm till closing and then occasionally covering other shifts for other bartenders as needed. It was quite the education. I remember running after my first customer to give him back the change he’d left on the counter. The whole tipping thing had eluded me. I’d soon catch on, though. I made a mess of pouring my first few pints of Black and Tans (half Guinness half lager), and some random guy at the bar benefitted from my mistakes. I met lots of people – Irish and American and Australian – and some 25+ years later, I’m still in touch with a few of them.

The old Looneys bar in Torrance CA

The old Looneys bar in Torrance CA

We stopped by to see the old place. It changed hands after the sudden demise of the legendary Tubbs (a man who made 6’2″ look like 7’3″) back in 1998 and morphed into Paddy O’s, which fell in the wake of rising rents. I’d last been there, I think, in 1991 and yet it seemed like yesterday.

I’m spending this weekend back in Torrance with the inimitable JNP and his lovely wife SRP. Driving over to Torrance from the airport, I searched in vain for something I recognised, someplace that looked familiar. I drew a blank. I remembered, though, about the carpool lane where cars with two or more people get to drive a little faster. That helped. But I was blown away by the number of driver-only cars on the road and their lack of willingness to let you into their lane. I was distracted by the vanity plates and had to turn off the radio in case I missed my off-ramp. I’d forgotten how much attention it takes to drive the LA freeways and for the first time recognised why automatics might be better than stick-shifts.

I had a list of things I wanted to do – have an In ‘n’ Out burger, have a carne asada burrito (and we did at La Capilla – don’t miss it), and do the milk dud/malteser comparison check, just to make sure I remembered that maltesers are better. I also wanted to check out Walmart, Target, and RiteAid. And if I could fit in a few cemeteries, so much the better.

Redondo Pier

Riding the waves at Redondo pier near Torrance CA

Redondo pier near Torrance CA

Redondo pier near Torrance CA

Redondo pier near Torrance CA

LA is having unseasonably cold weather and when I’m tired, the cold seems to take up residence in my bones. While I was well wrapped up, others walking the pier at Redondo Beach were in their shorts and t-shirts. It was a glorious day, perfect for some of Kincaid’s legendary clam chowder. The sea lions were bellyaching about the cold, too, much to the delight of the visiting toddlers. The fishermen were holding their own, despite the dire warnings posted about not eating the local catch. And the sea was a brilliant blue, not something I’d ever connected in my LA memory.

Fishing from Redondo Pier

Bait shop at Redondo Pier near Torrance CA

Fish cleaning station Redondo Pier near Torrance CA

Fishing from Redondo Pier near Torrance CA

Fishing from Redondo Pier near Torrance CA

Fish warning at Redondo Pier near Torrance CA

It’s a lovely part of LA county… beautiful on a sunny day. Revisiting Torrance CA, I’ve readjusted my LA memory bank to include the sea. And next time might just be tempted to rent a rod and try my luck.



Cappy got to us. We caved. Before heading cross country to Alajuela (with its fabulous cathedral) where we’d spend our last night in Costa Rica, we took him up on his offer. We had nearly three hours on the water. We caught a needle-nose but it got away. We went snorkelling but didn’t see any […]

Pacific coast beach in Costa Rica

The west coast fights back. Costa Rica has its say. Irish woman proven wrong. Pick your headline. I am suitably chastened.  I said I was singularly unimpressed with the beaches on the Pacific side of Costa Rica. And while I’d still take the Caribbean, given the choice, the west coast has proven me wrong. Read more

Blue Bottle and Blue Water

Mr Frommer (or whoever penned his guide to Costa Rica) describes the hike into the Rio Celeste as ‘an easy trail’ that could be jogged in 1 hour or ‘strolled’ in 3 or 4. We honed in on the words ‘easy’ and ‘strolled’  and adding these to the description of the Río Celeste as one of ‘Costa Rica’s best-kept secrets’, we were sold. We should have sought a second opinion. Read more

Earlier this week, I caught myself disparaging the Pacific Ocean and its beaches, saying in the same breath how much I preferred the waters and sands of the Caribbean. I had to slap myself silly to get my head back into reality. There’ll be a time I’ll be damn glad to be on a beach, any beach, regardless of its parent. But this week, I’m being choosy. I am singularly unimpressed with the beaches on the Pacific side of Costa Rica. And with the water. Give me the Caribbean side any day. Read more

I bought a piece of art today because it made me cry. Titled Grasses in the Night,  it’s a monotype by Costa Rican artist Lorena Villalobos. In it I see human frailty (the delicate grasses) and our inability to see the danger around us (the darkness). News of the Manchester terrorist attack has hit me hard. Never before, in my lifetime, has the value of human life been so low. When a young man can take the life of an 8-year-old child and believe he is on the side of righteousness, then we are all reduced to blades of grass in the night, grass that can be trampled on by unseen feet, when least expected.

Grasses in the Night – Lorena Villalobos

I came across this piece in the Hidden Garden Art Gallery, the largest of its kind in Costa Rica. Located about 3 miles from the Liberia International Airport on the road to the coast (between Payless Car Rental and the German Bakery), the gallery consists of 15 rooms (about 3500 square feet of wall space) with more than 400 pieces from over 60 national and international artists on display. Most are original pieces but there are some giclée prints, too. While some of the featured artists now live abroad, everything on show was created in country.

As I moved from room to room, I racked up quite a sizeable spend in my head. It was such a pleasant change from the sameness that pervades the tourist offer in Costa Rica and indeed many other countries, what I like to call the MTs (empties) – made for tourists. It’s an amazing space. Some of the rooms have wide open windows looking out on to the gardens. And despite the heat, there’s an airiness that lends itself to a leisurely browse.

Hernan Pérez

Sophie Aymon

Rebeca Alvarado Soto

David Villalobos

I was particularly taken with this wooden carving – Paso al Futuro (Step to the future) and wished I had an unlimited budget and a private plane to fly it, and everything else I’d picked out, home.

I got chatting with the owners, Chicagoans Greg and Charlene Golojuch. The pair had always planned to retire to Costa Rica but when redundancy forced their hand about six years ahead of schedule back in 2008, they took the plunge armed with little more than high-school Spanish and the determination to make good the change. Greg set up shop in a room at what is now their gallery. He was approached by Argentinian-born artist Carlos Hiller with a view to representing him. Hiller’s underwater work is on permanent exhibition in the gallery and the artist himself occasionally paints in public, using his art to create social change.

Hiller then introduced another artist to the Golojuchs, and, as luck would have it, another couple of rooms in the building became available. And then a few more. The recession had hit and businesses were downsizing or folding, freeing up space. Call it luck or happenstance, the Golojuchs recognised the gift of opportunity and took it. Introductions and approaches were made to other artists and now the variety of what’s on show speaks for itself.

I was impressed to see original work by Otto Apuy, the artist responsible for the mosaic church in Cañas. Exhibited both nationally and internationally in museums, Hidden Garden is the first gallery to carry his work permanently. Word has it that Apuy started painting when he was two years old. He’d put a chicken’s foot into a pot of paint and then make imprints on the wall. Some 60 years later, his body of work that embraces multimedia and has been exhibited nationally and internationally has earned him the moniker Renaissance Man.

Susan Adams is another artist I recognised from my time Stateside. Back in 1995, Adams received an unexpected invitation to a private showing of the Monet exhibit at the Chicago Art Institute. She was so inspired that she quit her job and moved to Costa Rica where she’s spent the last 20+ years painting. If more people did rather than simply think about doing, how much happier the world would be.

Perhaps what sets the Hidden Garden apart from other galleries I’ve visited around the world is its lack of pretentiousness. The Golojuchs speak fondly of the artists they show and talk animatedly about their work and the stories behind their creations. There’s no falsity, no self-promotion, no BS. Instead, there’s an aura of sincerity, an air of respect, and a genuine appreciation for the art in their care and the artists who have created it.

The gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am till 4pm. If you’re in the vicinity, it’s worth stopping by. And if you’re not, it’s worth a detour.

Featured image: Cocina Duty / oil on canvas by Russell Chauncey.

I have no meas on money. It’s there to facilitate day-to-day living. I don’t aspire to great riches or a six-figure bank account (they’re easy enough to come by in Hungary, given the high denominations of the bank notes). But I loathe waste and while I might spend hundreds of thousands (of forints) on a rug, I balk at spending 700 on a coffee. But the older I get, the wiser I get. I’m finally beginning to realise the value of money.

View from the balcony

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I learned a valuable lesson a few years ago from my good friend GM. Cut your losses. If you’ve paid to see a movie that turns out to be complete shite, leave. Write off the money and save your time.

We woke to dark clouds and thunder. It had been a stormy night, knocking out the electricity and playing symphonies on the tin roof of the cabin. We had one more night to spend in Puerto Viejo, all paid for. But why waste a day when we had a mammoth cross-country journey facing us on Sunday. So we packed and left, hitting the road about 7.30am for what Google promised to be a 5 hr 25 min journey over to Lake Arenal. A quick check online and we’d booked a room at the fabulous Ceiba Tree Lodge. All sorted. Read more