Monday, February 20, 2017

California Part 6 - on to San Francisco!

We had a great shopping Saturday at Fairfield - trawled through the mall over the road from our hotel (which was next to the freeway) ... sounds hideous but it was great. We did a couple of loads of washing in the guest laundry and realised we were going to have to buy another bag. Despite deliberately packing light and leaving a half empty suitcase! Clearly not light enough. We went off to Vacaville Premium Outlets to clean up on the stuff we ran out of time to get in Gilroy, then left about 3 to drive into San Francisco. Normally only an hour's drive but it took us nearly two - a combination of bad weather and the women's march closing some of the main streets in town. And over another enormous bridge - the Oakland bridge. Gulp. And then on to our Airbnb apartment in NoPa, about 4 km west of the CBD.



It's the one third from the intersection - beige with the bay windows. The one-bedroom apartment was down the bottom out the back with a window onto the garden (patch of grass) and it was excellent - so nice to stop and spread yourself out for a few days, and have a kitchen. Not that I was anywhere near sick of eating out! But three meals a day in restaurants is not good for the waistline or the wallet, so we bought some cereal and settled in. It took us an hour to get around the supermarket. Strange things everywhere.



The next day I woke up with a headache and general grumpiness (first time in the holiday, so not a bad average) and the weather was windy and cloudy and murky. We didn't really know what to do with ourselves (the pressure! San Francisco! everybody's favourite city!) but eventually we got our shoes on and just walked out the door, which is often the best way to get some perspective. We walked through San Francisco uni and admired the view.



This is me in the beanie and gloves I nearly didn't pack. I could have done with less t-shirts and more coats .... although I may have bought a fair bit of warm weather gear. So cheap! Then we walked into Golden Gate Park and walked around before having an excellent Japanese lunch. Which all made me feel much better.



The weather was really crapping out though, so we decided to go to the Museum of Modern Art for the rest of the afternoon. Lots of people had had the same idea, but it was still awesome. Really really awesome. After two hours I'd seen about a quarter of it, and loved everything. I downloaded the app which has little two-minute spiels on various things - it tracks your location so you can look at it, see what they can tell you about things in the room you're in, pick whatever interests you, and find out more. Brilliant.



I took lots of photos of artworks and things that caught my eye but the highlight was probably the pop art. Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein and lots of others I'd never heard of. It is completely part of our cultural frame of reference but I had never seen lots altogether and understood where they were coming from. And got up real close to see those dots. Fascinating. There were the white canvases too, and the plain black ones. And the art work that's just a fluorescent tube. Hmmmm.



We had a great day but didn't really see San Francisco at its lovely best ... but it was only the first day there.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

California - Part 5 - the trees! the trees!

So today we went and visited with the redwoods. We took hundreds of photos - and none of them give any sense just how goddamn big the trees are, and how lovely it is underneath them. The weather was drizzly, but not too bad, and the trees dripped, and the ground was green and soft, and there was no-one else there at all. It was just magic. Here is a typical shot of me trying to give a sense of scale. Doesn't really work!

 

We drove down the Avenue of the Giants in Humboldt State Park (or most of it, it was closed in one point with a tree down across the road) and stopped to do some walks into groves and also at the very informative visitors centre. It was a bit damp and miserable to do any longer hikes, but we felt we got a pretty good sense of it. It only takes a few hundred metres in from the road and you feel completely in the forest, especially when there is no-one else around. It's very silent. Here's a picture of where one of the trees had fallen over - landed on another tree already on the ground (at the far left of the picture) so split under its own weight.
 

Perfectly normal thing for a tree to do, but check out the scale! (Scale point is one Australian man approximately five feet ten inches tall).
 

Later in the day the weather crapped out so we went back into Eureka which was a very pleasant surprise - lots more cool Victorian buildings and a historical area with many excellent second hand bookshops. We were glad we went up there - it hadn't registered on any of the tourist guides but well worth a stop. 

In the evening it was back to wine and cheese in Victorian splendour (fellow guests tonight included a woman from MY HOME TOWN IN NZ, honestly what is the point of travelling) and deciding what to do the next day, which was one of the days we'd left free without booking any accommodation or anything. The weather was supposed to be bad again ... more trees? wine tasting in the Napa valley? explore some scenery on minor roads? do a big drive to Sacramento? After a bit of pondering we realised that actually we wanted to do more shopping, and booked a hotel in Fairfield for more mall and outlet trawling. We can drink wine any time ... and we do.


On the way down to Fairfield we stopped at the drive-through redwood tree at Leggett. It was bucketing down rain but we got the obligatory photos. Did we drive our car through the tree? No, we did not. It was a rental car. We looked at the size of the hole, and the size of the car, and thought about it ... and decided not to. We walked through instead.


Our drive took us through the Napa Valley which was extremely beautiful, even in the rain. Clearly a lot of money around, but it was pretty busy even on a rainy Friday in January so we were happy with our decision not to stop. And of course it was the Presidential inauguration. We had wondered if it would register at all, but it didn't. Nobody mentioned it or seemed to notice. I think the general mood in California was summed up by the local paper in Eureka.



So on a very USA day - presidential inauguration? such ceremony? seems strange to me, a big fuss for a politician - we ended on the most USA note we could. By having a burger and a beer, in a mall, in front of Macy's. It was awesome.

 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

California Part 4 - Santa Rosa to Ferndale

So today was the day that the weather truly crapped out - wind, rain and cold. When we stopped for morning tea in Boonville it was 6 degrees and rainy. But it didn't matter because it was mostly a driving day ... although it did make the driving a bit hairy. We still felt we'd missed out on the spectacular central California coast, so we decided to leave the main highway and take the road out to Mendocino. Which is apparently beautiful and a holiday destination! 


Perhaps not so much on the day we were there. It was scenic, but stark. We stopped and had lunch in a very warm and pleasant cafe that welcomed refugees, and vegans. We are neither, but appreciate the gesture. 


The road into Mendocino had been reasonably windy and narrow, but the road north back to the highway was terrifying! I thought something named Highway 1 would be quite a serious road, but no. Apparently they number them in chronological rather than priority order. Luckily there was almost no other traffic, but the road was littered with trees and debris, and there is a definite lack of commitment to safety rails. When you drive on the wrong side of the road there is quite a strong temptation to go too far from the middle and end up on the shoulder ... and this road had no shoulder. Just air. I was a passenger, and mostly closed my eyes. We made it. 


This is a clean up crew with a tree that had come down over the road. It was massive! Some of the trees were huge. We were very excited to rejoin the 101 (the Redwood Highway! Woohoo!) and start seeing the enormous trees by the side of the road. Even though we were only a couple of hundred miles north of San Francisco it started to feel really remote, and gave us a sense of the scale of the place. We weren't even at the top of California, and then two more whole States before Canada, which is a completely country ... seriously it felt like we were in Alaska already. Wildnerness.


Which made it very pleasant to arrive in Ferndale, to the Gingerbread Mansion Inn, which was truly awesome. I have never seen such a ridiculously over the top Victoriana-stuffed house in my entire life. It was magic. They still had it decorated for Christmas and it was hysterical. Ferndale is completely packed full of these Victorian houses - it's like it got built, then everyone left, then came back ten years ago and did it all up. This is the house over the road from the Gingerbread, which presumably someone just lives in. The whole town was like it.



We arrived in time to take a walk around town in the daylight and take in the sights. It's flat, with wide streets, and rainy ... it reminded me of a posher Waihi. For those who know Waihi. Afterwards I sat by the fire with the local paper ....


And then it was time for social hour - where the guests congregate for wine and cheese and pleasant conversation. This happened at a couple of places we stayed and I really like it - broke up our own company a bit and you never know who you're going to meet. And pretty  much our only chance to chat to actual Americans while in America! Lovely. They didn't mention kangaroos and we didn't mention Trump.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Escaping the heat

We went down the coast for the weekend to escape the crazy heat wave. After a hot week it just got ridiculous on Friday so I left early to pick the boys up (very hot, tired and cranky boys) and head down to the sea. This was the temperature according to the car as we drove out of town.



Forty five degrees! That is just insanely hot - and after the week we'd had, every brick in Canberra (and there are plenty) was radiating its own stored hotness. No, no, no. When we arrived at the beach house it was 26 degrees and overcast. And the next day got up to 30 degrees (ooooo, warm) so we jumped into the sea and had beautiful swims. And then a cool change came through in the evening and it rained! We were watching the heatwaves and fires on the news with some sympathy... but like it was in a foreign country and we were glad we didn't live there.


There was a purpsoe to the weekend though; lifting the pavers in the garage so the third bedroom extension can start. This is the before shot! Not very exciting. The builder reckons he can fit us in later in the month so we're doing some prep work. I figured out there were 495 concrete pavers to be lifted, and we can carry two a time, so the boys and I must have done at least 80 "squat, pick up pavers, carry fifteen metres, squat, lower pavers, repeat" which might explain why my bum and arm muscles feel like they do today. My husband was levering them out of the gound - some concrete but not too much, so no power tools required. Just unskilled labour.

I also sacked the most useless real estate agency in the world - Fraser Gray, if you're looking for someone, look somewhere else. They didn't manage to get a tenant for even one night for the entire four weeks we were away. In the hottest January on record. I am angry because they told me they were going to take photos and advertise it on their website. But they didn't, because "it costs them $200 and it wasn't worth it". Fine, but I wouldn't have signed a contract with them if they had said they wouldn't put it on the website. In fact, I would probably have paid the $200 if they'd let me know. So they lied, and I'm out of pocket. I am thinking about taking it further ... I will keep you posted. At least now the contract is cancelled and I have my keys back, so if we are thinking of trying again in the future we can try somewhere else. Anywhere else.
 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

California - Part 3 - Monterey to Santa Rosa

We stayed at a slightly peculiar place in Pacific Grove - older style sort-of motel units which had mixed reviews; everyone agreed it was outdated but then opinion was divided as to whether it was wonderfully salt-of-the-earth-solid or terribly seen-better-days-sad. We stayed two nights and the first night was the latter and the second was the former because we shifted to an upstairs room and could no longer hear the person above us flushing, or opening a drawer. Problem solved! I love Tripadvisor and read all the reviews and write them too - there is no hiding from the wrath of the pissed off customer. Hah.



At least the accommodation was walking distance from Asilomar Beach. Which even from our very high antipodean standard of beaches was absolutely gorgeous ... and looked incredibly dangerous. Lots of warning signs including one about mountain lions! It said "do not let your children wander unattended after dark". Good god.



In the morning we drove into Monterey; my husband went to the aquarium which he enjoyed very much although it was Martin Luther King Day and the schools were closed, so it was full of screaming kiddies. He took lots of gorgeous photos of backlit jellyfish! Stunning in a still photo; he said it was incredible when they were moving.



I'm not a great fan of aquariums (too enclosed, too many people, and really, fish, meh) so I did the self-guided Monterey Historical Walk which was great. A little pamphlet to tell me what I was looking at and three inch dots inset into the pavement to tell me that I was going in the right direction! Love it. This is a whalebone pavement from back in the whaling days. I am from whaling parts of the world but I have never seen a whalebone pavement. I got chatting with a nice older lady who could tell I was a tourist and pointed things out to me which was very nice ... and she just loved Australia and had been there four times - Tasmania, Northern Territory, Uluru, Great Barrier Reef. All places that I have NEVER BEEN so didn't I feel like an idiot travelling to California without doing some Australian things first. There's a lesson there, but I think it might be don't talk to random people in the street.

Then we went around to Carmel-by-the-Sea, which started life as an artists colony (subsidised land if you built your own house and supported each others exhibitions) and is now a tiny little town of 4000 extremely rich people who refuse to have street lights, gutters, house numbers or riff raff. The shops were very posh and the beach was absolutely gorgeous. Middle of January and people were sitting in shirt sleeves on the sand having a lovely time. That is Pebble Beach golf course on the headland. They charge you money just to have a look. We didn't.



We liked it a lot but is clearly crazy town. They love dogs and everyone just takes them into the shops. We stopped at a shopping centre on our way out and I was reaching into a bottom shelf at the pharmacy and came eye-to-eye with a Jack Russell. We walked past a coffee shop / wine tasting place and a guy was tasting wines with his standard poodle. Dogs in the bookshop! Strange, very strange.

At sunset we went down to the John Denver memorial where his plane crashed in the sea. Not that we are great John Denver fans but we were going past and so we stopped to look at the plaque and admire the wonderful sunset. As an east coast person I think the sun comes up over the sea, not goes down. It seemed odd.



The next day we threw culture and history out the window and drove ourselves to Gilroy Premium Outlets for some serious shopping. It was awesome - all the nice shops and just so goddam cheap! We tried not to go crazy, but it was hard. We both got good hiking shoes, which we needed ... and heaps of other stuff, that maybe weren't essential. And we had In-n-Out burger for lunch!!! I had heard of it, so we had to have it, and it was yummy.

The only bad part was leaving Gilroy at 3.30 to go to Santa Rosa, on the other side of San Francisco, through the 7.5 million people who apparently live in the greater Bay area, and who had all decided to leave work early that day. Scary scary stuff. We were able to use the car pool lane for quite a lot of it because we had two people in the car, but it still took over three hours to go 130 miles. And I hadn't realised the Richmond bridge was quite so high - I am normally OK with bridges but it was a bit petrifying. We had carefully googled the toll roads to see how to pay ... they really really want you to get an electronic pass and the entire website is what you can do with your e-pass and what you can't do without one to the point where we were utterly confused and really quite worried ... so of course when we get there we drive up, no queues, give $5 to the nice lady and continue on our way like every other damn toll road in the world. Talk about overthinking.

Eventually we got to our hotel in Santa Rosa - the Lonely Planet sniffily described it as "comfortable, but business class generic" which made Brad and I instantly book it. And we didn't get in the car again, drinks in the bar and dinner in the restaurant. Not an intrepid traveller evening.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

California Part 2 - Hearst Castle OMFG



We really liked Paso Robles. It had a cool little town centre, with some galleries and lots of wine tastings and people who clearly enjoyed living there. It wasn't too busy or too touristy or too glossy; just interesting. Our accommodation was a bit retro though. Quite comfortable, but a bit of a classic motel.



We woke up to fog and below zero temperatures that then burned off into a glorious winter's day. We spent the morning wandering around the town, including an incursion into the Historical Society where we got waylaid by some very enthusiastic volunteers.  I trekked my way across the railway lines to a local quilt shop but it was closed! I had more luck with the bookstore. Then off we drove back down to the coast to go to Hearst Castle.



They said it would blow our minds, and it did. What an extraordinary building (or set of buildings) full of such astonishing things! If you are in Europe and you like something old, then buy it and ship it back. Ceilings, doors, tapestries, furniture, paintings, frescoes, statues .... where does rescuing end and pillaging begin? Not a question our tour guide could answer.



But what really blew us away was the setting. It was a perfect clear sunny day - the views were glorious. I would have built my house there too, and never left. What a wonderful spot. I would perhaps have built something a bit smaller, and with more windows ... but we're so glad we went. Mind blown.



We then spent the night in Cambria, just south of Hearst Castle, in a cool old inn building. Cambria is a quite hilarious little town with antique shops and bakeries .... ageing hippies, artisanal sourdough types and a good bar where everyone was watching an american football game. They were taking it very seriously  - Brad could explain the rules to me thanks to his high school exchange year in Ohio back when dinosaurs roamed the earth - but it seemed (and still does) like a very peculiar sport. Beer was good though.



Our next stop was Monterey, and we had planned to drive up the Big Sur road - up the coast on Highway 1 - but the road was closed due to a slip. So back we got onto Highway 101 inland and back through Paso Robles to do a hike in Pinnacles National Park. I'm sure it wasn't as pretty as the coast road but still interesting - through lots of agricultural land and stopping for lunch in King City which doesn't have a lot going for it ... except we had yet another amazing lunch! The food was generally awesome.



The walk was fabulous - another gorgeous day and we did a gentle two-hour walk on a well-marked track through some stunning terrain. The rocks were great. There were sets of truly insane climbers that you would see as a pinpoint against the skyline in some completely impossible place. The track we were on came back through some caves ... which turned out to be real caves (no light at all, and scrambling through enclosed spaces) which I cowardly vetoed. Just too claustrophobic for that, and it was such a nice day. Why be under metres of rock? that could fall on you? Blahhh.

We were thinking about stopping at Salinas but by then it was getting late so we just drove on to Monterey ... or Pacific Grove actually ... to check in and head out again for an excellent Mexican meal. Did I mention the food? On our holiday? The food was great.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

California - Part 1 - Santa Monica to Paso Robles

So here we go on my "what I did on my holidays" essay .... mainly so I can re-live it all through the photos. Still hot here, although the first week of school went well for both of them. But were we all tired by Friday night. Soooo tired. Much better to think about the holiday!



This is Santa Monica where we spent our first night. The trip from our house to the hotel was 22 hours - mostly the 14 hour flight from Melbourne to LA but also a less than glorious two hours to get through customs in the US ... we had electronic visas of course but it was still very inefficient and disorganised. Everyone had said that it would be, so we weren't surprised, but still a pain. But all was forgiven and forgotten when we got in a taxi, hit the freeway, and saw the Hollywood sign!!! Yay!!!!



We poked around Santa Monica that afternoon - went along the pier of course in the evening - it was a bit cold and rainy but still lots of lights and things to see. Mostly people getting stoned - the smell of marijuana smoke is probably one of the most pervasive memories I'll have of California. No wonder they were all so relaxed.

Then after a wonderful night's sleep in our ridiculously expensive but quite comfortable hotel it was time to be brave and pick up the hire car! Driving, on the wrong side of the road, into the unknown. We were both terrified, but we did it, followed the instructions on Google Maps (best thing ever, downloaded the maps each night) and navigated onto the LA freeways.  I did the white knuckle death grip of the steering wheel and stuck firmly to the middle lane with everyone whooshing past me doing the crazy merge of death. Although, as it turns out, a rainy Thursday midday in January is probably a pretty good time to start your freeway experience - not that much traffic and very easy to find our way north to Santa Barbara. We thought a short trip was best to start with!



And Santa Barbara is beautiful! I thought it would be from reputation - but I hadn't expected such a lovely setting in the hills and such a pretty waterfront. I can see why it would be a popular holiday spot. Everything looked very upmarket which was great for us - walking around and finding good spots to eat. Although we also found a Macys which was closing down and taking half off the entire store so that took a happy hour too.



The next day we got a bit of culture on and took a tour of the Courthouse with a knowledgeable and extremely chatty docent ... as they all were. I suppose you have to be both knowledgeable and chatty to do it. I hadn't realised that Santa Barbara was so new - destroyed by an earthquake in the 1930s and they decided to rebuild in this Spanish mission style. So the Courthouse is less than a hundred years old but looks back to a style much older.

Brad and I were laughing at the architecture because we both grew up in seaside towns that always aspired to be a bit Californian - and every dodgy motel, public swimming pool and 70s mansion had this mission style with roughed up concrete and completely pointless arches and mock roof tiles and wrought iron gates. We had no idea that it could be anything other than completely hideous! Seeing the reality after decades of imitations was quite bizarre. It looks MUCH better in Santa Barbara.



After the courthouse we hit the road again to go to a real Spanish mission - La Purisima near Lompoc. It was founded in 1787 and used for about 100 years before falling into disrepair, then rebuilt as close as possible in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps - one of those employment creation things apparently. I never knew! Brad nodded wisely to all of this but I am ignorant of most American history and was constantly surprised by what California had been through over the centuries.

The mission was fascinating, and completely empty like most of the touristy things we did. January is an excellent time to visit. Missions are truly horrible stories of conquest, forced religion, destruction of culture, disease and depravation ... but that's history for you. On the plus side, they had a loom! I could recognise all the parts although it would be a bugger to work with. Nearly as basic as mine.



We ended the day in Paso Robles, which is agricultural, mostly wineries. We had an excellent wine tasting in the middle of town then wandered into the frosty night to find somewhere cheerful to eat something. Ended up in an excellent pizza place with plenty of others enjoying a Friday night!