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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Out and about in San Francisco...

The first day in SF we walked downtown to catch the cable car only to find that most of the network is closed for maintenance. There are shuttle buses which connect to the one route still operating. So we rode the bus up the hills to Lombard St and then caught the cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf. This is a huge area on the waterfront. It’s full of shops, restaurants and tour operators etc.

The view from the park near Hyde st,Wharf

The 1 cable car route still working at the moment
While DH went into a nearby camera shop, I walked around the park and wharf area of Hyde St Wharf. From there you get a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge, as well as other features of the beautiful bay. DH ended up buying his dream telescopic lens which he’s had lots of fun using since then. We were checking in with Grays Tours about a tour we’d booked in Australia as well as looking at booking some more tours. That first day we ended up travelling by bus, cable car, tram and light rail, all using our $26 transport pass which is valid for a week. We had 3 rides on the cable car so that was $15 already!  Just near where the shuttlebus met the cable car is a street called Lombard St. This is a long, steep street like a lot of SF streets, but this one is special! It has at one end a zig-zag one way configuration for cars to drive down. The curves of this zig zag are bordered by low, beautifully clipped hedges. Tourists were swarming around taking pictures just like DH and I were doing. (see previous post)
Before we went back to our hotel, we (see previous post) caught buses which took us over the other big bridge here, Bay Bridge, which is double decker and very very long! It took a lot of walking to find the bus stop for these buses as there is a lot of construction going on regarding bus stations and interchanges.  We went to this place called Treasure Island and took lots of photos looking back to the city.
That night we set the alarm for 6 am so that we were ready to be picked up from the hotel for a tour we’d Muir Wood and Sausalita.

We got to the wharf very early and saw this worker cleaning the rubbish bins with a high pressure hose

The seagulls here seem to be larger than the ones at home. When they are swimming they look like a small duck!

Rainbow Tunnel on the way to Muir Wood

One of the large redwood trees in Muir Wood

The creek in Muir Wood

The road into Muir Wood is winding and quite high! The area is very lush!
We headed over the Golden Gate Bridge, which our guide told us is painted international orange and it gets its name from the Golden Gate Strait which it spans. He also said that the bridge has lane dividers which are moved into place by people dragging the dividers behind utes/pickups! (most of us have bridges and highways that use those red/green symbols above the lanes!) Our guide also commented that the bridge’s pedestrian walkway is the No 1 suicide spot in the US. I don’t know if he was joking or not but he said that there has been a proposal to put a net under this walkway but that no-one has said what would happen to people caught in this net????
To get to Muir Wood which is to the north of San Francisco, we travelled into Marin County.  Our driver/guide, Rich, told us that this county is very expensive real estate and is home to a number of celebrities, such as Andre Agassi & Steffi Graf, Sean Penn, George Lucas and Robert Redford. Muir Wood is a National Park which has the large and very tall, sequoia redwood trees. DH and I enjoyed our walk through the wood/park but I was disappointed that I couldn’t spend more time in the gift shop because it had beautiful quality items and I could only have a quick look before we had to head back to the bus. However we had enough time to admire these tall beauties and to reflect on the history of this area and some amazing people who ‘were ahead of their time’! In the early 1900s timber companies were moving further afield to find forests to fell redwood trees to provide timber for homes of that time which were mainly built of timber. The Conservation Movement was in its infancy and 2 supporters were William Kent and his wife, Elizabeth. The Kents were concerned about losing this forest to the timber company and fought to save it. Eventually in 1905 they bought the 400 acres for $45000 to protect it and donated it to the state. In 1908, President Roosevelt legislated for the land to be protected as a National Monument. The President wanted the area to be called after its benefactors but the Kents insisted it be named in honour John Muir, a writer and philosopher and a founding father of the conservation movement.
After Muir Wood we headed to Sausalita, a charming beachside area. We walked to the waterfront from the bus park and looked back at the city. We the walked up to the shops and had an icecream which was yummy! Then a quick look in some shops and then it was time to board the bus. We came back to the Pier with the tour bus and then we decided to catch a light rail train to the ferry building which is further along the seafront and catch the ferry back to Sausalita. This time, we had a leisurely late lunch (3.30) looking out over the sea. Then we had an equally leisurely walk around the shops. DH had seen something in the morning that he thought he’d buy for one of the girls and then in the afternoon, he bought it!

Part of the street scene in Sausalito

On Wednesday we did 2 tours that we had booked in Brisbane, ages ago. Firstly in the morning, we did the City Tour which in reality seemed to be totally different from what we had booked. It was only for an hour instead of the 2 hours we expected and it was just in the downtown area, not further afield such as under the Golden Gate Bridge as we thought. Perhaps we misread the details or maybe Grays here is not as good as in Australia. Remember our Grand Canyon Tour which was supposed to include Hoover Dam????  We drove through a bumber of neighbourhoods, including the reclaimed area of North Beach (originally this area was in the bay!), Pacific Heights and Nob Hill, and yes that is where the rich and famous live along with Pacific Heights!
Anyway, one good thing came from doing the city tour and that was we found that public transport went to Coit that is what we did!
One of the many stores in China Town

One of the mansions we saw on the city tour

Coit Tower

One of the views from Coit Tower
This structure is built on Telegraph Hill and was commissioned by the heiress, Lillie Hancock Coit in the 1930s to honour the firefighters of the time, many who lost their lives in the great earthquake of 1906 which triggered serious fires. In those days the fire brigade was made up of volunteers, most of which were wealthy people. This tower is very tall and features quite a few murals which depict scenes of everyday life of those times. DH and I took photos from the street level and then we paid $5 and took the lift and stairs to the top. If I thought the view downstairs was impressive...well from the top of the tower, it was amazing!! We spent quite a while just looking and taking photos and in DH’s case, video footage
Then it was back to the waterfront to catch our boat for our trip to Alcatraz. This island has been a civil war fort, a military prison as well as being the ‘most notorious federal penitentiaries in US history’. The island closed as a prison in the 1960s and then for a while it was taken over by Native Americans who wanted to highlight their plight of being forced off their lands and sent to reservations. It is now a part of the National Parks system. We were told that the walk uphill to the cellblock where the tour starts is equal to walking up a 13 storey building. I’m stubborn, I wouldn’t use the little shuttle so my calf muscles ‘were screaming’ by the end of the day but my iron levels must be still good as I didn’t get puffed much more than someone else my age!!!
Before we went up to the old cellblock, we stopped in the little theatre and watched a video presentation which is meant to provide an orientation for the visitor. As part of our ticket, they provided an audio presentation, similar to what we had in Europe and UK. (the photo at the top of my blog page shows me listening to the audio presentation at Stonehenge.) The audio presentation featured not only a narrator but also wove in dialogue from previous prisoners and former officers. It was very well done and the 45 minutes was enthralling!

 Today we went for a ride on the Metro (train) under the bay (in a tunnel of course! Lol) to Oakland. We got off in the downtown area and walked around...and then I saw a Dress Barn. I found some nice summer tops in there and I will need them as the weather is really warming up now. The tops here in the US tend to have quite a nice cut and fit so I convinced myself it wouldn’t hurt to take some home!
Then we came back to SF and walked down to Chinatown. It is huge! Chinatown here covers 7 streets and 4 large city blocks. Our main objective was to get another case in which to put our shopping; most of it is gifts but I’ve bought ‘blender’ fabrics at various places for a fellow blogger who is sewing together quilt blocks donated for victims of natural disasters in 3 countries. We found a cheap large bag and also had a Chinese meal in one of the larger restaurants.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Some things in San Francisco that have seemed amazing to this ‘gal from Australia’...

Firstly our amazing old hotel with its old world charm, wooden panelling and an antique lift! (the sign warns us that it is an antique and no more than 4 people at a time!)

The building which is second on the right is the Hotel California
The amazing complex of piers on the waterfront; these structures appear to go on for ‘miles’! They are very old but many have received new leases of life after remodelling!

Some of the old pier buildings
The gorgeous, fat and indolent sea-lions that delight the crowds on Pier 39;  today though, some of the younger sea-lions started to play fight and push each other off the pontoon...much to the crowd’s amusement.

Another incident that took my breath away was the speed that an illegally parked car was removed...honestly it took about 30 seconds for the guy to back up, attach something to the offending car, hop back in his car and then...zoom he and the car were gone!

The hills!!! They are so steep and so long! One street has a ‘zig-zag’ affair that cars use to drive down the street.

This street had a series of curves to negotiate in a zig-zag fashion down the steep street. The curved route was edged with little clipped hedges

The old cable cars...they are hellishly uncomfortable if you aren’t lucky enough to get a seat but they handle those hills with ease and are so charming!

I love cats, but I also love dogs and the Californians love to take their dogs out and about with them! Even many of the homeless seem to have dogs and puppies with them.

This darling was down at Pier 39
Another thing in this lovely city that has made me smile are the tours that take people on segways rather than just walking. I saw a man commuting on one in the bicycle lane yesterday afternoon and boy was he building up speed! (A segway is described as a self balancing, two-wheeled, personal transporter)

Another delight in this city is the fact that there are lots of buildings which were built in the 1930-1950 still standing as well as more modern buildings. I find that very charming.

Both DH and I are fascinated by the bridges here in San Francisco. We’ve been across both the Bay Bridge (I think it may also be called the Oakland bridge) as well as the Golden gate Bridge, which is painted a colour known as International Orange, and the ‘golden gate’ refers to the Golden Gate Straits that it spans. They are very long bridges and the engineering is amazing!

Two of the bridges; top is Bay Bridge, lower is taken from the bus as we drove over the Golden Gate bridge

This is a photo of a banana slug. A little boy found one and showed us during our visit to Muir Wood! It was the biggest slug I'd ever seen.

Monday, March 28, 2011

We arrive in San Francisco...

On Sunday US time, DH and I left Monterey and headed towards San Francisco. Problems caused by bad weather meant that we were unable to go to Yosemite, so we were actually 2 days ahead of schedule for our arrival in SF.
I was sad to leave Monterey as the weather there had fined up and the beaches sure looked inviting, unlike when it had been pouring with rain. We chose to go most of the way on a smaller highway and it went through beautiful country. We passed through smaller towns such as Castroville,Watsonville and Gilroy. At first we drove through rich looking farming country with fields of vegie crops, then through undulating open country that was so green and the road also went through countryside which was covered with trees. Eventually we had to rejoin the bigger highway as we started to head for San Jose where we planned to have lunch.

The interesting vegetation growing on the sand dunes just outside Monterey

Farming country

A large rock near the highway

 San Jose is a large city and we drove around the industrial area first, then the commercial area where we saw the huge complex that is Silicon Valley. We saw that San Jose, like a number of other US cities, also has light rail. DH had despaired of finding somewhere to eat when we came upon a street which was teeming with people and this street had lots of places in which to eat. We finally chose one called Kapps and it turned out to be a lovely old-fashioned restaurant and bar with wood panelling everywhere. We had a burger each, but these were good! The gardens in this street were very pretty with lots of spring flowers in bloom. Many of the streets on San Jose were tree lined as well and I was quite impressed!

San Jose: The streets were lined with these trees which were covered in white blossoms

Part of the Silicon Valley Complex

Kapps, where we had lunch in San Jose

I loved the name of this restaurant

San Jose;The gardens in the street and footpaths were beautiful!
San Francisco is only 46 miles from San Jose, so it wasn’t long before we reached the outskirts of SF. At first we caught a quick glimpse of part of the bay in the distance. We were actually on a double-decker freeway as we came into the city! Then we came into the suburbs and saw some charming wooden houses that I remember seeing in movies and of course also in that old Karl Malden/Michael Douglas TV show, ‘Streets of San Francisco”! Some of the streets are unbelieveably steep. They are steeper than the ones in Rosalie and red Hill in Brisbane!

Looking down a hill towards the city of San Francisco

In the CBD not far from our hotel

The double decker freeway in SF

Looking towards the bay from the freeway
Then we had to turn on the Tom tom GPS to help us find Geary St where our hotel is situated. It is in the CBD (on a hill) and is called the ‘Hotel California’; it is old, quaint, convenient and famous for being immortalised in the song by the Eagles.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Our stay in Monterey...

It had been raining heavily when we arrived in Monterey but luckily on the next day the weather was much better with sunshine for most of the day and just a few showers. We started the day by going down to the Fisherman’s Wharf area and having a look around and taking photos. Before it started to rain, we had seen some seals ‘near the wharf and when they became aware of human presence, they started up a cacophony of ‘barking’, but they got no fish treats from us as we raced back to shelter!

These beautiful echiums at Fisherman's Wharf
We then drove to the Cannery Row district and because of the rain, got our wet weather gear out and I togged up with a rain poncho. Would you believe that within 5 minutes of all that effort, the rain stopped! So in perfect conditions we explored the Cannery Row area. Monterey Bay had always been a fishing community but during the depression canning sardines became ‘big business’ as it was a cheap nutritional food. The canning factories are gone but the buildings have been re-purposed into a variety of businesses and it is a charming area to stroll through. I found the gardens there delightful as well as the restored buildings and the wooden boardwalks.

A view of a number of -re-purposed buildings

Little workers cottages

The back of some of the buildings; the first building is a hotel

A statue/bust of John Steinbeck the author

A view of Cannery Row, not far from the carpark

The view out to sea from the boardwalk
The author, John Steinbeck was a resident of this area and where he got a lot of inspiration for his characters and plots. He is immortalised in this area, including in plaques, statues and building names. DH and I had lunch in an old building which is now called the ‘Brewhouse’. I decided to have cider with my lunch, but it soon became obvious that it was alcoholic cider...I had quite ‘heavy legs’ and a tired feeling for the rest of the afternoon. Lol
After that DH and I drove to the nearby town of Pacific Grove which is also full of gracious homes and public buildings. If you glanced down the side streets you caught a glimpse of the bay...just beautiful!

One of the beautiful buildings in Pacific Grove

A glimpse of the sea at Pacific Grove

We then embarked on the ’17 mile Coast drive’, which takes you along the coast and also at times, through forest. This area of the coast is home to 8 golf courses including the famous Pebble Beach Resort course which has hosted the US Open...Nirvana to DH! We saw some pretty wild seas on the coast that day. Then, on the same drive, we went past a Veterans’ Cemetery and saw a group of small deer grazing on the grass in the lawns! We stopped and took photos of that!
In this area are also some very impressive homes and I can imagine they would have impressive selling prices too!

Part of the coastline on the 17 mile drive which shows the wild seas of that day

Hard to see...but there is a row of golf buggies parked while the golfers take their shots. The course is so large that buggies are a necessity

We finished that outing with DH going into ‘The Lodge’ Resort Hotel and then going out to the links where his hero Tiger Woods ( L )had won a US Open and several tournaments as well. DH also bought a shirt and some presents for some of his golfing mates at the shops there.

The next day we went to Carmel, but alas it was raining quite heavily there that day. We walked around but only saw a very small part of the pretty little town. Still there is a good side to that...I didn’t spend very much money at all! I did hope to run into the former Mayor, Clint Eastwood’ but it wasn’t to be apparently! We warmed our chilled bodies at a lovely little coffee shop which was down a little alley and very popular. Unfortunately, because of the heavy rain, most of my photos weren't very good but I have a few.

A mosaic in a shop at Carmel

A beautiful sculpture at Carmel; she is holding a heart so maybe it's a valentine!

Outside the cafe where we had coffee, 2 dogs in raincoats waited patiently!

One of the beautiful homes of Carmel

Another view of outside the coffee shop!