Travelling Hopefully

24 February 

After a day of doing a bit of work and watching the clock, finally it was time to collect Ruth from Long Buckby train station. She had her luggage with her and we drove down to our hotel near Heathrow. I’ve never known the M25 to be so quick, and we were congratulating ourselves on an easy journey. So, of course, at the M4 around Heathrow we were held up for some time due to a traffic accident. It was 8.30pm when we checked in and had a bar meal with a drink each. Then to bed.

25 February

Our alarms went off at 6am, and I was treated to the sound of Ruth groaning. We packed what little we’d unpacked and caught the Hotel Hoppa to Heathrow. Although it was only 7am, it seemed that the bus driver was already having a bad day. One of those who seemed to think that other drivers were there to upset her, and so we were treated to a running invective as we made our way to Terminal 5.

As ever, give yourself three hours to check in and within twenty minutes you’re through security and wondering what to do with all that free time. We had breakfast and caffeine before going to our plane. We were on of these huge Airbus A380s. And the ‘plane was a third empty. Ruth and I were in the upper cabin, behind first and business class. It felt rather cosy, and mostly comfortable—until the person in front tilted his or her seat back. I’d followed the trick of ordering a special meal. Special meals come first and are usually better quality. So, for the sake of this trip, Ruth and I were kosher. Our salt beef definitely looked nicer than the chicken or vegetarian curry on offer as the regular meal. Down side was that we couldn’t identify some of the extra bits with the meal, and as the writing was in Hebrew we were none the wiser!

The flight was 11 1/2 hours. I worked on my latest novel and did some reading. Ruth watched a movie and tried to get some sleep. 

At Los Angeles it actually took me longer to get through Immigration than Ruth. I lost my American passport about fifteen years ago and had to go to the American Embassy in London to get a new one. Unfortunately, every time  I enter the USA a note comes up about the lost passport, and I have to get additional clearance to enter the country. 

We wrestled our cases onto the shuttle to the car rental place, and managed to confirm our booking through a self-service kiosk. Our cases fill the small boot (trunk) and overflow onto the back seats. Oh, well, we didn’t want to hire a large car. I got to grips with directions out of LA, and Ruth got to grips with the car’s controls. Then I navigated and she drove us out to my father’s house. The journey which should have taken 90 minutes took 3 1/2 hours—stop/start traffic almost all the way.

So we arrived at the parental home at 7.30pm. My father, stepmother, stepmother’s sister, and my Uncle Fred were all there. A rather jolly evening which included a nice glass of red wine. And my Uncle Fred, who had heard that English people like whisky, had bought a bottle of single malt ‘to make you feel at home.’ Note: no one had told him about my favourite tipple, he just somehow knew! But then Uncle Fred and I have always had a bit of a special affinity for each other. Most of the Teichman family (with apologies to any who read this!) always seem so normal whereas I’m, well, not entirely normal. Uncle Fred has some of the same traits, which I have found rather reassuring.

Although we’d been up for over twenty-four hours I still stayed up to midnight to talk to family. Uncle Fred is currently staying with my father and stepmother, so Ruth had the remaining bedroom and I quite happily slept on the couch in the lounge. 

26 February

I slept well to start with, but by 5am my body was wondering why I wasn’t up (California is eight hours behind the UK). I got up at 6.45am when my father appeared in the kitchen. I had my first experience of something called ‘almond milk’ which is, yes, a milk substitute created out of almonds. The house is a dairy free zone. Breakfast was a lovely offering of berries (blue and rasp), pineapple, and sourdough bread. 

We left just after 9am. The drive to Anaheim was, thank goodness, much easier. We arrived at our hotel at 10.30am. They informed us that our room was ready for us. And they apologised. We had booked a double queen room, but none were available. So at no extra charge we’d been upgraded to a family suite. So we have two rooms with three queen sized beds! 

I’d chosen the hotel because it’s only a ten minute walk from the hotel to the entrance to Disneyland. So an hour later we were walking in! I think I even skipped several times. Our family used to visit Disneyland at least once a year when I was younger, and it’s been twenty years since I was last in the park. 

The day was sunny, warm (not hot), which might explain why there were more people there than I’d expected. But the wait for rides wasn’t too bad. I first took Ruth to the 'Tiki Room', which features realistic looking parrots who address you and flowers that sing. Ruth called it ‘surreal.’ Then we went on the 'Jungle Ride', in which you travel on a river boat and see realistic animals from various jungles. A live guide gives a running commentary.

I had booked us lunch at the Blue Bayou. The restaurant appears as if you are sitting outside in a calm New Orleans night. The first part of the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ ride goes past the diners. We both had steak in a green peppercorn and armagnac sauce. I washed it down with several mint juleps.

Then we went on my favourite ride, ‘The Pirates of the Caribbean.’ It’s been updated slightly to reflect the movie inspired by the ride. You ride a small boat which goes past various scenes, my favourite being the battle between a pirate ship and a fort. It’s hard to believe that you’re actually under cover on a ride.  Then on to ‘The Haunted Mansion’. You ride ‘doom buggies’ past various ghostly scenarios. 

We also went on the ‘Thunder Mountain Railroad,’ which is a roller coaster going past Wild West settings. And, of course, we visited ‘It’s a Small World’ which I feel must be endured by anyone new to all things Disney. Small dolls dressed in the costumes of various countries sing, over and over again, ‘It’s a small world after all’ will you drift past on a boat. When my family went to Disney we never took this ride, so my sister and I were convinced there was something just a bit scary or scandalous about it. When we were old enough for the parents to let us go around the park on our own, we headed for the ride, breaths thoroughly bated. Only to realise, by the end, that perhaps our parents hadn’t taken us on the ride because it is, quite frankly, very twee!

The longest queue we endured was for ‘Space Mountain.’ About forty-five minutes. This is an indoor roller coaster with stars swizzling around as you go through the sharp curves. I always leave the ride feeling somewhat underwhelmed. 

The park was going to shut at 8pm, and we had about ninety minutes. I bought a ‘Haunted Mansion’ version of ‘The Game of Life’ (which might mean very little to my British audience). Then we managed to visit four rides before the park closed. ‘The Pirates of the Caribbean’ (we got the front seats! I was thrilled!), ‘The Haunted Mansion’ (no queue, we walked right in), the ‘Thunder Mountain Railroad’ (ten minute wait), and the ‘Jungle Ride’ which again we simply walked on. Of course it was dark by now, so for the last right the various animals were lit up. 

Then back to the hotel. It’s great that we didn’t have to get into the car and drive anywhere. 

27 February

There seems to be a tradition I’m doomed to keep, namely to have a cold whilst on holiday. So I woke up around 5am coughing and head aching (which was unfair as I’d not had any alcohol yesterday at all). I was supposed to do some of the driving today, but in view of aching head Ruth said she’d do all the driving.

After a couple of doses of one of my favourite drugs, ibuprofen (the other two are alcohol and caffeine; what one won’t cure the other will) my head and throat settled from very painful to somewhat painful. We set off around 9am. Our destination was Santa Barbara. I pleased Ruth by directing us on the freeway which runs through Hollywood. She visited LA for a week about eight years ago and she recognised a number of landmarks. 

We had grey skies over LA, but as we headed for the coast the weather brightened. We stopped for a break at a Wendy’s where our two travelling companions, Giles and Gunther, joined us. 

We reached Santa Barbara around noon. Our first stop was the old Mission. Spanish Catholics set up missions across California, and a number still exist. This particular mission is still occupied by Franciscans although we didn’t see any monks. We walked around the grounds. Ruth watched a video and I stalked bees with my macro lens. (It’s amazing how I don’t notice cold symptoms when doing photography.) 

Afterwards we drove to downtown Santa Barbara and walked around the historic section. This was Ruth’s first real experience of four way intersections, and I talked her through a number of them. It doesn’t help when I’m teaching her ‘Californian driving as per the law’ and other drivers feel free to follow ‘Californian driving as practiced by real Californians.’ This particularly applies to speed limits on the freeways, when we keep to the legal limit and find all other traffic speeding past us.

As we continued up along the coast, the winds picked up. We turned inland on the 101. Our destination was Buellton. One of my memories of family holidays is that we often headed up to Oregon (visiting family members along the way), and we’d stop at a restaurant called ‘Pea Soup Andersen’s’ for lunch. So when I planned the trip I booked us into the hotel next door. We arrived around 5pm. Ruth went for a walk and ended up at a supermarket. I stayed in the hotel room to cough and to work on photos. Then in the evening we ate at the restaurant. Ruth bravely ate some of the split pea soup, which she decided was 'better than mouldy pond water.'  

The evening had cooled down during dinner, so we headed back to our hotel room. I trained Ruth on the use of the Californian map book (how junctions work with US freeways) and then we settled into looking at photos etc. 

28 February

Slept better overnight, waking only to cough a few times. The hotel offered breakfast, which was the usual hot drink with toast or cupcake or pastry. After breakfast Ruth and I decided to check what type of fuel the car needed, since we were planning to fill up. There was nothing on or in the car to tell us, not even on the fuel cap. The paperwork gave us no clue. I went to the front desk to ask about ‘phoning the car rental company. The receptionist assured me that we would have a petrol car. Plus diesel pumps were a different size than those of petrol so we wouldn’t be able to use the wrong fuel anyway.

When we tried to fill up we had another obstacle. In order to pay at the pump with a credit card, we had to put in a zip code. Presumably to match the address of the card, but zip codes and British post codes are very different from each other. I had to go into the shop and leave my credit card behind before we could fill up. I also find it strange that the USA hasn’t gone on to chip and pin.

Our first stop was Solvang. This town was founded by Danish settlers and looks a bit, well, interesting. Some might even say twee. Ruth found stamps for her postcards, and we wandered the shopping area. We had an ice cream. Then, about 20 minutes later, the temperature cooled and we had some rain.

I drove us out of Solvang and we continued on the 101 North. More rain, but then it passed over and we had sunshine again. We had decided to try to fit in a vineyard, and one was just off the freeway—Laetitia. I wine tasted, Ruth only had sips of mine as she was taking over the driving. The vineyard specialises in pinot noir, both in red wines and in sparkling. We bought a bottle of pinot noir. We took a short walk to enjoy views over the vineyard. Then we had a picnic lunch and I stalked a lizard with my camera.

It seemed a shame to be near the coast and not to visit a beach, so Pismo State Beach was graced with our presence. The sand was soft underfoot, and the temperature pleasant. But more rain clouds looked to be threatening in the distance. 

We reached Morro Bay around 4pm. After checking into our hotel we went for a walk along the seafront. Morro Bay is perhaps best known for a Morro Rock, a volcanic plug which is out in the bay. We admired a pelican (the first Ruth had ever seen in the wild), seals swimming nearby, and a sea otter floating in the distance. We looked in some shops before stopping at a brew pub. We each had samples of four beers as well as dinner. I can highly recommend parmesan and garlic fries, though not if you want to be popular with vampires or fellow humans. 

1 March

Terrible night. My head and neck ached and I felt hot, which meant I kept checking for a fever which I didn’t have. I wondered if the cold were settling in for a long spell.

The hotel’s free breakfast was offered in a small room just a little way from ours. As I walked down for some essential caffeine I saw that the morning light was hitting Morro Rock quite well. So, as ever, the demands of art take over. I fetched my camera and headed across the road. I also saw two sea otters, which made me realise I should have brought out the entire backpack instead of just camera with one lens.

Ruth drove the first part of the journey. We headed off for Hearst Castle. William Randolph Hearst, who built upon the family fortune in mining interests by building up a newspaper business, decided to built ‘a little something’ on the top of the hill of his family’s cattle ranch. At one time the house hosted parties which included movies stars and politicians. The movie ‘Citizen Kane’ is supposedly based on the life of Hearst, and he did his best to suppress the film. 

We went on two tours, that of the main rooms and the main bedrooms. Last time I was at the Castle you had to come down (by bus) between each tour. But times have changed. Not only do you stay up between tours, you are actually allowed to remain at the Castle until closing time. Regular buses take you back down again. 

This did mean a change to the tour. Again, when I’ve been in the past the tour included outdoor areas such as the pool (sadly empty of water). But after a short pause outside we were straight in. The rooms were darker than I remembered and—although I know this might sound odd—smaller. The second tour had fewer people (probably because we were going through smaller rooms). Fellow tour members seemed very interested in the bathrooms for some reason. 

What is amazing about the Castle is that it was built to house what Hearst collected. And rather than picking something compact like stamps, he decided to buy whole ceilings from European mansions. And then his architect would have to find a way to build a room which could house said ceiling. At one point he did fall into financial difficulties and various plans were never carried out.

Back at the visitor centre we had a quick snack lunch and used the toilets one last time. Due to the severe drought in California, the flush toilets in the visitor centre are shut. Everyone has to use chemical toilets lined up outside, and less we think about the state of said toilets the better.

By this time I was actually beginning to rediscover my perk. So I drove for a couple of hours on Highway 1. You can buy t-shirts declaring ‘I survived the Pacific Coast Highway 1.’ Yes, it is a bit twisty, and perhaps if I’d only ever driven the wide lanes of Southern California roads maybe it would have concerned me. But I have driven on single lane roads with passing places around islands and highlands of Scotland. Then there were the dirt roads with sheep hazards and snow in Iceland. When we swapped drivers Ruth was equally unfazed. 

We had bits of rain, most confusingly when the skies overhead were blue. The wind must have blown the raindrops across from the hill hugging clouds. We found the art gallery I remember visiting as a child and I fell in love with a paperweight which seemed to have a glass jellyfish floating inside. But I couldn’t justify spending $500.00 on it. Ruth loved a sculpture of a herd of elephants, but at $11,000 it too remained behind.

At Big Sur we stopped for a loo break and to look back at the coast. We also stopped to look at the Bixby Creek Bridge. When it was built in 1932 it was the world’s largest single-arch span bridge at 260 feet tall and 700 feet long. 

We made our way into Monterey and, with surprisingly little difficulty, found the youth hostel. We’re staying here for two nights, in a private room with one double bed and two bunk beds. We dumped our stuff and went shopping for our evening meals. As we bought pasta and a sauce, Ruth remembered that she’d seen a notice that the hostel kitchen didn’t have a hob. I replied that surely any kitchen must have a hob?

When we returned we did discover a lack of hob. Instead you plug in a sort of electrically powered pot in which you do your cooking. Never seen anything like it. We managed to make our pasta, and had a side salad each. Then it was back to our room to do our usual evening activities, me on photos and blog, Ruth making notes about her photos.

2 March

Finally a good night’s sleep!

Often with colds there seems to be a day per ache. So I’ve had the Day of the Aching Head, the Day of the Aching Throat, and the thrilling double bill of The Day of the Aching Head and Aching Throat. Today it was the Day of the Nose. And we needn’t elaborate on what that means.

As we were eating breakfast the heavens opened and rain drummed on roof and windows. ‘Well,’ said Ruth, ‘we’ve been so lucky with the weather so far.’ ‘Lucky?’ I retorted. ‘This is California. I expect sunshine.’ Except, of course, the severe drought means that many prayers must be going up for rain. It’s just selfish tourists who want more sunshine.

We still headed off for the 17 mile drive. This is a route which takes you around part of the Monterey Peninsula, past sandy beaches, golf courses, and very expensive homes. At our first stop, Spanish Bay, I stalked various birds with camera and big lens. At one point I came across a flock of some type of sandpipers. They were sleeping, one foot up and heads tucked under wings. Of course I disturbed them. We also came across a dying seal. There was a traffic cone near him, so obviously some authority was aware of the situation. 

The rain came and went, but the grey clouds mostly stayed. We stopped at the various viewpoints to admire the bird colonies on the rocky outcroppings. I admired the Snowy Egrets—they have alternating stripes of yellow and black going up their long legs, as if they had decided to wear fancy socks at work. Pelicans flew past in formation, and cormorants guarded the crests of rocks.

Lunch was held British style. We sat in the car whilst it rained and ate while watching the sea. Later we came across a colony of seals. However a high chain-linked fence had been put up to keep humans at bay, which also made taking photos difficult. 

A little later Ruth asked if I’d take over the driving. I asked why, and it appeared that she wanted to ‘ogle’ the large houses. I did think that this was a poor reason to swap drivers, but I agreed. She made it up to me later, after we’d swapped back. I saw a doe near the side of the road, so Ruth turned around for me. I grabbed camera and left the car. There was actually a small herd, and we all seemed a bit startled to see each other.

Afterwards we returned to the youth hostel. Much to Ruth’s delight we took time for a cup of tea before heading out again. What did disturb her was the packed of Goldfish crackers which we had purchased the day before. ‘The crackers have names,’ she pointed out. On the side of the packet three different fish shaped crackers are shown, and each does indeed have a name. ‘How can I eat crackers which have been given names?’ She settled on Wheat Thins as a guilt free alternative.

The hostel is only a short distance from Cannery Row. At one point Monterey made many wealthy on the back of catching and canning sardines. Sadly the fish stocks collapsed—all the warnings of local scientists that the rate of fishing was unsustainable were ignored. The buildings have now been converted to shops, hotels, and restaurants. We continued past to Fishermen’s Wharf. A few more seals were lazing around near one of the beaches. 

I had suggested to Ruth that we should have a Mexican meal at some point. So we stopped at a Mexican restaurant on the way back. Much to our delight we sat at a window with wonderful views across the bay. And from my seat I could see that cormorants sat on the roof. The restaurant was in one of the converted cannery buildings. We ordered a beer each and were stunned by the quantity and the size of the glass!

Then back to the hostel to plan tomorrow’s drive.

3 March

Fortunately The Day of the Nose did not have the sequel, The Night: The Nose Strikes Back. So I slept well, though I did have strange dreams about telepathic macaws with special educational needs. Don’t ask.

A sunny day, which meant that California felt more like what I expected. We had thought to visit the Boardwalk at Santa Cruz, and we were at the city in good time. However we could find no signs, and after a half hour of being lost driving we decided to go on. So we continued north on the Highway 1. This was less dramatic than on the Pacific Coast Highway. In fact we were taken through a swathe of agricultural area, including a nine mile corridor which instructed us to put on our car lights. But then never told us when to turn them off again. So we had to make our own decision.

Around lunchtime we saw Pigeon Point Lighthouse in the distance. I had hoped that we could stay the night there (it’s a youth hostel) but I had been told that all the beds were booked for a school party. We took photos from the roadside, and then at the lighthouse. I was pleased to see Red-winged blackbirds again after so many years. However the Starlings made their presence felt. One tree was full of singing birds, quite extraordinary. You couldn’t see the birds, so it was as if the tree itself were singing.

We admired the lighthouse from various angles and then had a picnic lunch. The Starlings hovered hopefully and I rewarded the more patient ones. They wanted crackers but turned their beaks up at pieces of fruit and salad. Can’t please everyone…

We continued north. There are a number of state beaches, but most require a $10.00 parking fee which, if you’re only stopping for a few minutes, seems a bit much. We did pay to stop at Half Moon Bay beach. It was very windy, and I put on a light jacket as we walked down to the sands. I photographed a surfer who seemed to be getting nowhere with the waves and Ruth photographed seagulls.

Our goal was to stop at Land’s End Lookout (which makes me think of Cornwall). We got lost a few times and then worked our way back. At the visitor centre we had a hot drink before taking the walk to the viewpoint. And there it was, the Golden Gate Bridge. Although I’ve seen it a number of times never had I done so from this angle, so it was new to me as well. Ruth was thrilled. We indulged our cameras for quite some time.

Then we tried to find our way over the bridge. We didn’t get the signs I was hoping for (‘Whacking big bridge, turn left to cross’) so we ended up driving through quite a bit of San Francisco. The traffic was lighter and easier to manage than I would have expected. Eventually we were on the road to the bridge.

As we started the crossing I asked Ruth (who was driving) ‘You’re crossing the bridge. Are you excited yet?’ To which Ruth replied (who was concentrating very hard on driving) ‘At this moment, I’m more concerned about the amount of traffic there is. I’ll be excited when I get to the other side.’ So I took photos through the windscreen of the historic moment.

On the other side we went past our off ramp, but we worked our way back. We stopped at a couple of viewpoints for photos before heading over the Marin headlands to the youth hostel. The road was a bit wiggly and single lane—but one way, so that made it easier. (I’ve driven on similar roads in Scotland, but although only one lane these were two way with pull outs to let other traffic by). We reached the youth hostel when it was still daylight.

The Marin Headlands Youth Hostel is in old government buildings. We’re staying in the annex, and old wooden structured building which Ruth wants to buy and renovate. Our private room is spacious with a double and a single bed. Very comfortable, and a bit too warm. After cooking our dinner (on a gas hob!) we’ve settled into our room for the night.

4 March

After a little more time to admire both the building and the setting of our overnight accommodation, we packed up and left the Marin Headlands. Another bright sunny day. This seems to throw Ruth, who will say the night before, ‘We’ll have to see what the weather is like.’ I simply expect the weather to be nice. 

We took it in turns to drive to Sacramento. My childhood family vacations had never included the state’s capital city. In fact, I’ve only been to Sacramento once before, which was the last time I was in California. My high school friend Pam moved to the area, and I recalled stopping by Old Sacramento on the way to visit her (twenty years ago!). So that is where I planned to take Ruth. Unlike Santa Cruz we found the signage to Old Sacramento very clear. We were a bit more confused about finding the parking, but after a couple of false starts we were able to abandon the car in a multi-story.

Old Sacramento is intriguing because all the old buildings (which feel like a movie set for a Western) crouch near the modern skyscrapers like ancient parents grumbling about the way their children have outgrown them. Various shops, restaurants, and museums occupy the buildings and we had a good wander before going into the California State Railroad Museum. We spent several hours looking at the locomotives and reading all about the history of the railroads in the USA. The focus was on the people who helped to build and to maintain the system, with emphasis placed on the ethnic minorities who contributed so much to the development of the railroads. 

Afterwards we headed off to meet up with Pam. We parked outside her house just before 5pm and had the evening together. I destroyed her never before used (and never to be again) corkscrew trying to open a bottle of pinot noir. The conversation was wide-ranging and we tried to not to talk about ‘Doctor Who’ too much (Pam and I are fans, Ruth isn’t). 

5 March

After a lovely and leisurely breakfast we said our goodbyes to Pam and headed off. Our goal was Mendocino, but we were happy to take some time on the drive. The landscapes of California are quite varied. We passed by farming country (I’m convinced we saw almond trees, particularly as bee hives were scattered near the trees) into the hills. 

The rental car has a digital display showing you how many miles you can drive before needing petrol. So when we passed a gas station with the sign stating '40 miles to next gas station’ and our digital display promised us 92 miles we decided to drive on. But, of course, the car display could only be based on average driving conditions. And we were suddenly on twisty roads leading up and down hills. The amount of miles left started to drop dramatically. The display started to flash at 45 miles. And then, at around 35 miles left, suddenly the display changed to four dashes and a petrol pump sign. No indication of how much we had left!

By this time I was sweating a bit. I coasted down hill as much as possible. We turned off to the nearest large town, and it was with a great sense of relief that I pulled into a gas station and we filled up. Not again, we’ve promised ourselves!

So with much better heart we drove around Clearwater Lake and then Jackson State Forest. We were intrigued by the mixture of farms and trees. I saw a Texas Longhorn which pleased me greatly. Then we were back down to the coast, with only a short drive south to get to Mendocino.

We actually drove and around a curve of coastline. If you drive down a minor road and stop, you can then see the town perched on the headlands. Ruth found a wallet, and the driver’s license inside gave a Mendocino PO box address. So we decided we’d take it back to town and find an appropriate civic authority to reunite the wallet with the owner.

My note about our reservations for the night sadly did not include the street address. As Mendocino is very small we did try just driving and looking for a sign. After a few minutes of this we stopped by the shops, and I went into one to ask for help. The women there pulled out their smart ‘phones to look it up on-line. One said, ‘Oh, what a great place! It’s a historic landmark, but it’s in Philadelphia?’ My response was, ‘I certainly hope isn't, it’s a long way to drive.’ Then her colleague located the street address for us. We had actually driven past the inn, but there’s only a small sigh on the door so we’d missed it. 

Our room consists of a sitting room, a kitchen, and a bedroom. Ruth is having the bed, which is so tall that a set of steps rest against the side of the bed! I’m going to be on the sofa. We brought in our cases and wandered through the town in the sunshine. 

At the post office we spoke to the officials about the wallet. The first woman looked at the driver’s license and said, ‘Oh, yes, we know him!’ And the other chimed in, ‘I know his parents.’ We were assured that the wallet would be delivered to the parental address. Good deed done!

We had dinner at pub with numerous beers on tap. I had a stout which was matured (so I was told) in oak barrels which had held bourbon. It was very nice. The pub allows you to split a main course between two people, so that’s what we did. And good thing, too, as the amount even split between two seemed rather excessive.

A lovely sunset was painting the sky as we left the pub. We walked through town to take some photos, then dropped into a grocery store for supplies. Then back to our room to catch up on photos. 

6 March

A good breakfast offering at the inn. Fruit and home made lemon and ginger scones. Then we made our way up the coast. The inn owner had told us to keep an eye out for Grey whales making their way along the coast. I did see a glimpse of what I thought was a whale flume and body, but I wouldn’t want to stake one of my parrot’s eggs on it.

We also passed over the third roundabout of the trip. I never recall roundabouts in California during my previous visits. It just feels a bit wrong to encounter them now. Perhaps they were erected just to make us feel a bit more at home?

We then cut inland and drove windy roads through the forest. At one point we had wait twenty minutes at some road works, with the traffic slowly piling up behind us. Then we were free to go onto Highway 101. Our goal was Humboldt redwood forest. I remember how much I loved the big trees as a child, and Ruth had read about the Redwoods at school when she was young and wanted to see them. 

It seems, in order to entice tourists to stop, many gift shops have some unusual tree-related curiosity to advertise. These are usually declared to be ‘World famous’ (although most people have never heard of them). So we stopped at the ‘Famous One Log House’ to visit the gift shop, get a hot drink, and then go inside the log house. Which is a small house built inside a log of Redwood. It used to travel across the USA but is now permanently parked near some gift shops.

We then went on to the ‘Avenue of the Giants.’ This is a stretch of road which goes through Redwood forest with plenty of places to park and crane one’s neck looking at the tops of the tall trees. We found a small snack place for lunch. Ruth had her first ever corn dog and said, ‘Well, I’d have that again, but not that pea soup.’ I seem to have caused emotional damage with the split pea soup incident…

At one wood shop, as I was admiring the large coffee tables made from slabs of Redwood (expensive to buy, even more expensive to ship to the UK), Ruth called me over to a window. I was able to confirm that, yes, the small bird bumping her beak against the glass was a hummingbird. Ruth had never seen one before and I was very pleased that she now had. I was even more pleased when the shop owner proved to be good at capture and release of small birds. I used to catch and release hummingbirds from my childhood home, but it’s been a little while since I’ve had to exercise that specialised skill. 

We found one of the ‘drive-thru’ trees and Ruth was given the honour of trying it out. She protested at the spelling, and was slightly nervous at the narrowness of the trunk, but car made it safely through (thru?) to the other side. 

We managed to get into the visitors’ center before it shut at 4pm. Then we meandered a bit further. The road shortly afterwards was shut. We’d been told that a big storm went through the area a few weeks ago, knocking down a number of trees and causing closures whilst these were cleared. So we turned around and made our way back, again stopping to look around. I was glad to finally use the travel tripod which I had brought with me.

As the sun went down behind the hills we pulled into our motor inn. I would describe it as quirky. We have a balcony, so we sat outside until it became too cold to do so.

7 March

A very early rise—5.30am! We stumbled around to get hot caffeine down our necks and some of the stuff we had in our room for breakfast. Sadly there was no hot water, so no showers! This did mean we were packed and out of the door by 6.45am.

The drive down to Napa Valley was easy and far too photogenic. Fog had come up overnight to cling to hillsides and trees. At various times we were above fog filled valleys, and I longed to get out for some photography. But we were on a schedule. Many month ago I’d arranged that we’d meet up with my cousin Michael (son of my father’s older brother) and his wife Janelle. Michael is six years older than me. We did stop for a comfort break and I found a drawing of a TARDIS amongst other graffiti in the public toilet. I was also amazed at the strange alcoholic offerings at gas station.

We arrived at their home near Napa around 11.30am. I haven’t seen them for twenty years, and I had forgotten how tall Michael is (6 foot 2 inches!). It always amuses me how he has to bend nearly in half to give me a hug. We took all our stuff into their large house and had some time to relax.

Michael had booked us into two wineries he likes. The first tasting session was at The Hess Collection. The tasting area is indoors and you are surrounded by the owner’s collection of modern art. There were some Francis Bacon works, which pleased me. Other installations, such as a troop of headless mummies, left me wondering whether I’d have nightmares. Or perhaps I was in some sort of ‘Doctor Who’ adventure. 

Afterwards we had lunch. I adore BBQ beef ribs, and never seem to find them anywhere. So when I saw them on the menu, of course I had to eat them. First time in over twenty years. At least they lowered the blood alcohol level.

Our second tasting was at the Round Pond Vineyard. We sat outside on a terrace in warm sunshine and sipped lovely wines. Janelle loved Ruth and my accents and shot some video on her iPhone. They also seemed to enjoy the Ruth and Chrys double-act. I apologised for my cough (still left from my cold) and said that maybe I could start a plague that they’d name ‘The Chrys Plague’ (since no one would bother with my surname). Or maybe I could just change my name to ‘Black Death’ and I could claim to be the source of an earlier plague.

We had some time at their house before going to an eating place in Napa. Many small establishments were set up around a central seating area. You could pick from a variety of food styles and then meet up with your friends in the seating area. Ruth and I just had salads after our large lunches.

Back at the house Michael showed me his collection of wine—over 600 bottles laid down in a temperature controlled cabinet. It’s not often that I have wine cellar envy! We stayed up late drinking a lovely Pinot Noir and chatting.

8 March

The clocks went forward in the USA, so when I got up at 7,30am it still felt a bit early. Michael and Janelle’s kitchen has a coffee maker built into a cabinet, so at least I was able to access caffeine. I spent a little while packing. We were due to return the rental car that evening so everything needed to be transportable in our cases. 

We had a leisurely breakfast. Michael made oatmeal pancakes and he also stir-fried chicken sausages with peppers. Around 9.30am we continued our drive south.

Our next stop was in Sunnyvale to see my cousin Tim (son of Uncle Fred, my father’s younger brother) and his family. I can’t even remember when I last saw Tim, and I’d never met his wife or daughters. We arrived around noon and had a couple of hours together. They gave us lunch and we admired Tim’s handiwork in the garage he’s converting to a bedroom annex. Uncle Fred is a builder so it seems to run in the blood. I amused his daughters by recounting the ways in which Tim tried to kill me when we were children. The sandpit incident, the swimming pool incident… Tim denied all knowledge of these, so the scars obviously run only across my heart. We’re only two months apart in age (he’s the slightly older one). I did tell him that it’s only karma. I picked on Heidi, my younger sister, so him picking on me was God making sure I knew what it felt like!

Then we drove off to the Winchester Mystery House. The heir to the Winchester Rifle fortune was told by a medium that the spirits of all those killed by the Winchester Rifle were trying to attack her, and the only way to be safe was to keep building on her house. So the house is large, with confusing passages and doors which lead to nowhere. We took two tours, one of the main house and another ‘behind the scenes’. The latter shows you outbuildings and takes you into the large basement. No photography is permitted inside the house. 

We finished our tours around 5.30pm. Time to drop off the rental car. The drop off point, at San Francisco International Airport, was helpfully listed on the highway. What delayed us was finding a gas station to fill up the tank. The cost was 50 cents more per gallon than we’d paid anywhere else on this holiday, but I guess that was predictable. At the drop off we hauled out our stuff and received the note confirming that the car was in good order. As we wheeled our bags again I think I might have bent the front license plate...

We took the Airtrain into the airport. I’d pre-booked a shuttle to take us from the airport to our youth hostel and we found the company with only minor trial and error. It was good to be taken directly to our accommodation rather than having to work out public transport.

Our youth hostel is in the historic Fort Mason area. We’re in a nice private room. Two single beds, four lockers, space under the beds for our luggage. There is a cafe which serves beer and wine plus cheap meals. There are three school groups in, which makes the kitchen area lively, but we don’t hear them in our room. It’s also good to be spending four nights in one place. The only down point was that the bar closed eight minutes before I got to them. A beer less night!

9 March

We allowed ourselves a lie in until 7.30am. Breakfast is included, and was very good. A piece of fruit, unlimited hot drinks and orange juice, bagel or toast, and oatmeal. 

We were out the door by 9.15am. Wild parrots live in this area, a flock of Cherry-headed conures. I heard them as we walked out but couldn’t see them. 

First sight to visit was Lombard Street, a very crooked street down which many tourists drive. It’s hard to take a photograph to capture the twistiness. I feel sorry for the residents because so many cars go down it (and tourists stop along the path to take their photos). Even one of the cable cars stops at the top.

San Francisco is a very hilly city. We did more up and down before stopping for a coffee at Washington Square Park. This is when I discovered that the city has put free wifi into its parks. So I was able to take photos on my iPhone during the day to upload to Facebook. Upon such little things does one rely for joy. 

We visited the church of St Peter and St Paul nearby. Nice inside, beautiful front. Up the hill to Coit Tower. We listened to children play in school yard partway up, and stopped for many photos looking back down the way we’d come. At Coit Tower we paid to take the lift to the top. The city stretched out below us. We also spent some time at the entrance admiring the many murals on the walls.

The walk down Telegraph Hill was lovely. Many steps leading past gardens and houses. Telegraph Hill is supposed a place to see wild parrots. I kept hoping to see them, but no such luck. Didn’t even hear them. I complained about this, even as I had about the lack of beer last night. So Ruth finally responded, ‘I think you’d be happy anywhere so long as there’s beer and parrots.’

We were now at the waterfront. Our feet were tired and our stomachs rumbling, so we went to the Ferry Building for lunch. The building was full of small food shops, some far too tempting. I’d never tasted lemon olive oil before, and one chocolate store had free roasted cocoa pods to sample. We ate lunch at a Japanese food outlet. We discussed having an ice cream. I said that I’d have one for my sore throat, and to make it really medicinal it should be one which contained whisky. So when I saw that the ice cream stand was offering a flavour called ‘Secret Breakfast: Bourbon and cornflakes’ I knew that God had answered my prayer.

Although the day was sunny (and quite warm) we were cast into shadow as we walked through the financial district. The various buildings towered overhead, a great steel and glass contrast to the Redwoods we’d admired only days ago. We walked up to Union Square which, to our sorrow, was covered by a huge tent for some product launch. So we caught a cable car back down to Fishermen’s Wharf. Once there we visited Ghirardelli Square before separating. I walked along the beach front, taking photos of an egret, and then we met up whilst admiring the evening light behind the Golden Gate Bridge.

After a simple evening meal we had drinks in the hostel cafe. Then off to work on photos and to bed.

10 March

Another early morning. Our alarms went off at 6.15am. I actually woke at 6am because it sounded as if the people above us were moving furniture. Some sort of fog horn went off throughout the night—well, it was going when I woke up a couple of times. 

We grabbed a quick breakfast and were out of the hostel at 7.30am. We were due to catch the first boat over to Alcatraz, which would leave Pier 33 at 8.45am. We actually arrived at 8am so had plenty of time to stand in the queue waiting to board. Once on board we treated ourselves to some caffeine.

The day had dawned grey and foggy and this was to the be case for the remainder of the day. We couldn’t see the city from ‘the Rock’, so we were glad that we’d gone up Coit Tower yesterday. Grey days are actually better for photographing buildings (no contrast between light and shadow) and, of course, that’s what we were going to be doing.

Once ashore we did the obligatory tourist thing of posing by the Alcatraz sign before watching a short film about the history of the place. Park rangers offer various talks during the day, and we joined a guided tour which concentrated on the early history of the island (when it was fortified to defend the city, and then when it was a military prison). I was amazed by all the bird and plant life. Seagulls were numerous, but we also saw a female hummingbird and a Black-crowned night heron. 

The tour inside the prison is by audio guide. I’m not always very keen on these because I find they have more information than I really want to listen to. This one, however, was very good. People who had lived or worked on Alcatraz had been interviewed and added their thoughts. These were not only guards and prisoners, but some of the children who had lived here (male guards who lived on the island brought their families over). We also heard about various escape efforts, and the narration drew your attention to the spots at which various events had occurred.

We didn’t leave the island until 2pm. Once back ashore we meandered along Fisherman’s Wharf, possibly the most touristy area of San Francisco. And we parted company. Ruth wanted to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, whereas I had no interest in doing so when it was so grey. So she went off to Bridge tramp, and I plunged into maritime history. The San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park Visitor Center had an interesting display about the story of the waterfront. I was intrigued to learn that many of the ships on which people sailed to reach California during the time of the Gold Rush were simply abandoned, and are now buried under the streets near the piers. 

The Maritime Museum has a number of historic ships docked nearby, and for the meagre sum of $5.00 you can visit them. The car ferry had old cars and trucks parked on board. The sailing ship was held captive by a number of school parties, and the children were having to work together to raise a small boat alongside. There were a number of swimmers in the water, and one was swimming near the boats. 

At the beach I tried some more unsuccessful bird stalking. It’s been the case all day that the moment my telephoto lens is on the camera, the bird flies away. I had a bit more luck near the youth hostel. I saw several crows chasing a Red-tailed hawk. He landed in the grass near me, and I took some photos with my compact camera. When he flew off and landed in a tree, I put long lens onto camera and waited for him to fly again. After about twenty minutes he did so, and I captured him in flight. He took refuge under the branches of another tree. 

I had a bit of a shock. After nearly two weeks of everyone assuming that I’m British (Americans hear only the English side of my accent), I found myself talking to someone who assumed that I was American. He was from Chester, and like most British people he hears the American side of my accent. 

I finally returned to the youth hostel. Ruth appeared some time later, having also bought the ingredients for our dinner, which we cooked ourselves tonight. Afterwards we discussed whether to have a drink in the hostel’s cafe. ‘Don’t tell anyone, Ruth,’ I said, ‘but I don’t actually feel like having a beer tonight.’ Then I realised it didn’t matter if she did tell anyone, as no doubt she would not be believed. I think I’m just too tired to think of beer hunting!

11 March

We had a leisurely start to the morning. Again we walked along the waterfront before catching a cable car from Fisherman’s Wharf. As we travelled the clouds cleared, giving us sunshine as we rode the cable car to the Cable Car Museum. 

The Museum is fascinating as you can view the engines and wheels which pull the cables. There are information panels which explain how the cable cars work as well as the history of the first cable cars. The cable car system was built to cope with the steep hills of San Francisco, and there used to be a much larger network. A number of San Francisco residents fought to preserve what there still is, as many in local government thought that cars and buses could replace the cable cars.

We walked on to Grace Cathedral. This large church, part of the Episcopal Church (Anglican church, so the same denomination as the Church of England) felt very European. Inside was dark with many stained glass windows. On the lower level were large paintings showing the history of the various churches which have stood on the site. We had a tea break in the small coffee shop before hitting the streets again.

Our next destination was the Haas-Lilienthal House. This was built in 1886 in what’s called ‘Queen Anne style’. We went on a guided tour of the downstairs public rooms (and servant rooms such as the kitchen) and the upstairs bedroom suite. The walls were dark wood, but the large windows let in a nice amount of light. The furnishings are originals and there were photos and details of the family members.

By this time we were somewhat hungry but determined to push on. We caught another cable car to take us to Chinatown. There we walked along one street to admire the buildings and the stores selling cheap souvenirs. We had thought to have a meal in a Chinese restaurant, but none of them seemed particularly appealing. So we continued walking, heading back to Fisherman’s Wharf.

In the Italian area we decided to have an Italian meal. We sat outside the restaurant and had a nice meal, only slightly affected by the woman at the table next to us who kept wanting to converse with us. When we finally stopped responding she then started to pick on the man at the table on her other side. 

At Fishermen’s Wharf we sat by the beach for awhile, taking in the sunshine and watching the swimmers braving the cold water. Finally we walked up to our hostel to relax for our final evening in California.

12 and 13 March

The day(s) of our return. Our flight wasn’t until 5.10pm, so we had a leisurely morning doing our packing (I’m pleased to report that everything fit into our cases!). The wild parrots greeted me noisily from the trees, and I saw some fly past. Good of them to see me off. 

We took a shuttle to the airport, and I breathed a sigh of relief when my check in bag weight 22.9 kilos (the limit being 23kg). After security Ruth had a cup of tea and a cookie, and I had a beer and a bag of crisps. Making up for the lack of beer the other evening…

Our ‘plane back was rather old, but we did our best to sleep, aided by a air hostess who insisted on giving us several bottles of wine. Ruth was confused by the fact that we’d leave on one day and arrive on the next. She’s used to short haul flights in which you leave and arrive on the same day. ‘It’s doing my head in,’ she complained.

Upon landing the next day we took time to ingest some caffeine before collecting the car. Ruth kept me awake so that I could drop her off at the train station before I drove myself home. Within a couple of hours my parrot was home, I’d taken in more coffee, and started the unpacking. California trip over!

No photos from today. What, do you really want to see the inside of a ‘plane?

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