Tuesday, 16 June 2009

California - Day Three, part one

Another early start. We packed our bags and left the hotel in the fresh clear sunny morning and walked a block to the car hire place, trundling our cases behind us. This was the bit N was looking forward to, getting the car and heading out onto the open road.

We had booked a car in advance, which we thought was a reasonable size but was still within our budget (which wasn't much). From the pictures on the website this car looked way bigger than either of our little cars at home so we were pretty happy with our choice. Talking to the man at the desk you would think that we had ordered a mini to transport seven people. He looked at us, then at our luggage (two cases and two handluggage) and shook his head. You'll never fit it in the trunk he said. Hmmm we were a little bit suspicious. You need to upgrade to a bigger car he said - the suspicion grew. We'll be fine we said. No you wont he said. Stand off. How much is the bigger car N said. $5 a day he said. Okay I have to admit this changed things a little. This didn't seem like a lot of money as we were only hiring the car for a week and shared between two it would only come to $20. Plus this was the bit N was really looking forward to and surely it would be more pleasureable in a better car? So we upgraded (suckers!)

While N was sorting out the paperwork I nipped accross to Starbucks and picked up a couple of coffees, orange juices and bran muffins and made my way to the car lot. I almost dropped my bag of goodies when I saw the beast we had been assigned. Our car was officially gargantuan. I have never seen a car so big. Enough room for our luggage? You could have happily fitted all of Imelda Marcos's shoes in the trunk. It was twice as wide as anything I'd ever driven before. And we had to drive this thing out of the car lot and through the streets of SF. And this is us, used to the smallest cars imaginable. Oh. my. god.

Strapped into the car with what seemed like a mile separating us we started to laugh with nervous hysteria. Luckily N was driving first off and we plunged into the city's quiet streets thankful that we had made an early start. This thing was so wide that the car literally took up the whole lane and every time a similarly wide-loaded car passed by I winced imagining the wing mirors flying off. Soon N got the feel for it and we decided to cross the Golden Gate Bridge. Across the other side we found a little park and a bench where we had our picnic breakfast looking across to the city. This was it. After breakfast we would get back into the vanilla beast, drive back across the bridge and set off on our adventure...

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

California - day two

Plagued by crazy jet lag, we woke up on Easter Sunday at about 5.30 in the morning totally and utterly wide awake. My lovely sister had given me an Easter gift bag to pack in my case - we opened it up to find: two little tubes of Cadburys mini eggs (yum), a cd of The Beach Boys to play in the rental car and a card version of Monopoly! What a lovely sister I have. Feasting on a pre breakfast of two mini eggs each we dug out the guide book and planned our day.

Forty five minutes later we deemed it just about okay to get up and out. Our fist stop was to be Dottie's True Blue Cafe as it had been recommended as a top breakfast eatery and it was only a few blocks over from the hotel. It was pretty quiet on the streets but as we neared Dottie's it was clear that we were entering a bit of a dodgy neighbourhood and I have to say, although quite travel hardy we did both start to feel a little threatened by some of the people, a couple of whom started to follow us... eek. We found Dotties but blimey! there was already a queue outside. This was our one and only day in SF and we didn't want to spend it in a queue however lovely the food so we decided to forgo breakfast and get walking. We walked for about an hour and it was lovely - up hills and down hills passing by beautiful colourful buildings as we meandered our way down to the sea front.
We hit Washington Square to find a beautiful green space filled with people doing their morning Tai Chi exercise. We stopped and observed them for a little while envying their amazing composure and aura of calm and the bells of St Peter and Paul church started to chime for the morning Easter Service.
Not lingering too long we climbed Telegraph Hill to the top of Coit Tower and beautiful views of San Francisco.

Our next stop was pier 33 where we grabbed a bite to eat before lining up for the boat to Alcatraz. In the queue amazingly we bumped into one of N's friends from London! We all sat on the boat together catching up as we crossed the sparkling sea to Alcatraz. 
What can I say about Alcatraz? It was fascinatingly beautiful and yet dark and ugly. The escape stories were fascinating and yet chilling. The audio tour was highly evocative and really gave you a sense of what it must have been like. We listened rapt to the escape stories and at certain points were almost gunning for the fleeing prisoners (but then remembered that these were some of the most dangerous criminals of their day!)  This is the outside of Alcatraz - look how pretty it is:

The beautiful view of SF from The Rock:

Back on the mainland, and feeling a mite peckish we took a taxi over to the other side of SF to Louis Diner at Point Lobos. An unassuming little diner, this place was a gem. Perched overlooking the Pacific with windows all around it has spectacular views and delicious toasted sandwiches. yum. We took a postprandial stroll down towards the huge Ocean Beach, nestled our toes in California Sand and indulged in a little bit of people watching. Next we walked the length of Golden Gate Park where loads of people had gathered for Easter Barbeques and teas.

We also espied bison and visited the Japanese tea garden before walking out of the other end of the park, along the Panhandle to Alamo Square. Sitting on the hill in Alamo Square, drink in hand, surrounded by beautiful wooden 'gingerbread' houses we admitted defeat. Our feet and jet-lagged bodies would take us no further. Ah the relief of finding a taxi! Ah the relief of sitting down! Ah the relief of a lovely shower! And then we were in a taxi again and on our way down to the waterfront to Green's restaurant - a bit of a sacrifice for N as it is a vegetarian place. But oh my goodness absolutely delicious food. And what a view we had from our table!

Monday, 8 June 2009

A very lucky girl!

Wednesday was my birthday! The big 29, heralding the last year of my twenties! It has been the most lovely week. I had the day off work on Wednesday and my sister took me to a spa where we had lunch and facials and I fell asleep on a lounger next to the pool (old age - see - afternoon naps already!!). The spa is right on the waterfront in Cardiff so we finished off our day of indulgence with a bag of hot salty, vinegary chips overlooking the bay - delish and then headed to the theatre.

On Friday I took a train to the big smoke and N and I spent the evening eating dinner on our laps whilst watching a French film called Paris which I adored. I can definitely recommend it. Directed by Cedric Klapisch, it tells the stories of a series of individuals- an aging university professor, street market vendors, a bourgeois boulangerie proprietor, a fashionista, social workers and poor immigrants whose lives all weave together in Paris. The lynch pin which connects these disparate individuals together is Pierre, a moulin rouge dancer with a life threatening heart condition who is waiting in his fifth floor apartment for a heart transplant. Unable to venture forth from the building and beset by melancholy he entertains himself by observing the lives of the individuals below him from his balcony. It really is a thought provoking, excellent film with a fantastic cast.

On Saturday N had planned a day of treats and which began with a bus to Notting Hill and a stroll through the streets to Westbourne Park. Along the way we marveled at the beautiful building which houses Beach Blanket Babylon and its fab decor and we popped into Melt to feast our eyes and our noses with the scrumptious sights and smells of their beautiful chocolate. Yumm. Passing along and nosying into a few galleries we came to our destination: The Ledbury, where N had booked us in for lunch. We had a vegetarian tasting menu which was absolutely delish - we were there for 3.5 hours just eating tasty morsels of deliciousness. It was heaven not a mushroom risotto dish in sight! My favourite was the miso glazed aubergine - I could have ordered a whole plateful. Each course was served with a different wine, oh the loveliness of it! Only just able to walk we stumbled out of the restaurant and took a postprandial walk along Portabello Road back to Notting Hill where we jumped on a tube and headed for Embankment and Festival Hall. N had booked us to see Kodo - a group of Japanese Taiko drummers. They were phenomenal: such strength and the music had such power it was absolutely awe inspiring with 14 drummers on the stage at one time. We rounded the evening off with a sneaky drink at the Buddha Bar and then we were ready to head home and sleep off the day's excess!

So this is it. The last year of my twenties! I'm on a mission to make it a particularly good year!