Archive for July, 2009

Leaving town – heading east

Our goal today (Tuesday) was to go to Golden Gate Park and to use some of our ‘Muni’ credits. To do this we first needed to find out which routes went there (7, 71 and 5) and thus visited the California Welcome office at Pier 39. We used a mixture of Cable, Bus and Tram today – excellent.

However, the park was less than excellent. I’m sure it is much better than we experienced today but as the cloud didn’t lift and it was moderately cold and maps were scarce: we weren’t as enthralled as we perhaps should have been. We walked in from the children’s playground area of the park and it just seemed bit ‘dossy’. The hill opposite the merry-go-round was littered with men (mainly, I suspect, but didn’t check) sleeping with all their wordly goods. It was a little depressing. All big cities have their drop-outs and those here are not particularly threatening but they are both numerous and untalented.

By the time we reached the museums it was already 3.00pm and they (the science one anyway) closed at 5.00pm – so we decided not to pay the $25 entry for just two hours. Our fault entirely, but we gave it up as a bad job and came back to the hotel for a drink and to change for dinner.

Notes: There is just too much to do here in three days. San Francisco hasn’t eaten into my consciousness like Seattle did or my memory like the drive down did. Nevertheless, I do think that given more time it would grow on me. I don’t dislike the place – perhaps I dislike its touristy aspects more than I should – being one of that very crowd. I certainly think that if you want to get under the skin of San Francisco, you need to spend a week at least and possibly two! I’d come again. The jury’s out for Sharon.

An aspect I found irritating was that we had to carry so many types of clothing with us, to cope with the changing weather. The cloud drifted in and out of the Ocean all the time but in between and sometimes at the same time, the sun was ‘hot’. So on a morning we’d set off in jeans and fleece, replace these with shorts later in the day (stuffing jeans and fleece into backpack with raincoats on the day we went to Angel Island) and reverse the procedure for the evening – because when it was cold: it was cold!

Mind you – I did get to share another “pastrami on rye – loaded” today.

So did I enjoy San Francisco? – Yes. Did it match my preconceptions? – MMMmmm – not really.

We fly to Tallahassee tomorrow and then drive down to Eastpoint, which is near to Apalachicola on the Florida Gulf Coast. http://snipurl.com/o6rf6. I will pick up the story over the weekend, during which we will probably drive up to Alabama to visit Sharon’s parents.

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San Francisco

Sunday day 1 of 2 (this post)

We had a lie in today. This was the first day that I’ve not been up and about between 6.00am and 6.30am (work is so hard to shake off). We were going to pick up breakfast on the hoof anyway, so there was no real rush. We walked onto Fisherman’s Wharf, about five minutes away, and found a restaurant we fancied on Pier 39. Sharon had French toast with maple syrup and I had two poached eggs, bacon and home fries!! Which was very nice, but also very filling. Then we explored the various ‘Bay’ trips available to us. If we wished to extend our stay until 4th August (over a week away and therefore, which we can’t and won’t) we could take a trip to Alcatraz but as they are all booked up until then – we can’t. Even the ‘around Alcatraz and Angel Island’ trips were all booked up. Let that be a lesson to those coming here for the first time – book online and book early! We didn’t know to do that.

On our way back to the hotel, to access the free Internet in the lobby (which b.t.w. is EXCELLENT) we were passed by a tram that looked exactly like one of those that trip up and down Blackpool’s Golden Mile. MMmmm? Anyway, our Internet research came up with a ferry to Angel Island. Once there we hope to hire a bike for a couple of hours, buy a sandwich at the terminal and set off on our own. Or, take a tram ride on the Island. Whatever: we’re doing that on Monday.

We then walked around the wharfs to the financial district, had a beer on the edge of Union Square and then caught a cable car back to Fisherman’s Wharf. As luck had it, it was one of the famous cable cars that trip up and down the various San Francisco hills.

Monday day 2 of 2 (this post)

Today we solved the problem of the Blackpool tram, sort of; came to terms with the transport system and took a picnic on Angel Island.

Apparently, the trams that transverse The Embarcadero (what I’d yesterday called the wharfs) are vintage trams from around the world. It may be more complicated than that but I read something like that in a guide pamphlet. This pamphlet from www.baycityguide.com has been the best guide we’ve had. It has useful and (just) readable maps and brief suggestions on what to do and where to go to do it. It made the bigger guide ‘book’ much easier to navigate and understand (see notes tomorrow).

The guide pamphlet also told us where to buy ‘Muni’ Passports (Muni being the Municipal Transport Authority). A 3-day passport cost us just $18 each and can be used any amount of times. A tram ride costs $5 each way. So maybe tomorrow we’ll trip out somewhere.

We had a light breakfast at Boudin’s this morning before boarding the 9.45am ferry to Angel Island. The island is one of California’s threatened state parks (cuts are planned due to a huge budget deficit here in the world’s 10th largest economy) and was once the Ellis Island of the west. All early immigrants had to pass through here. The ferry costs $15 return. Once there, we hired two bikes, bought a sandwich and some crisps and set off on our trip around the perimeter road. This is only five miles and even with lots of stops (for views, for rests and for hills) can easily be done in the two hours we allowed ourselves. Bike hire = $10 per hour.

When we’d done cycling, we had our picnic on a table by the dock, sitting in the lovely sunshine and making friends with a seagull. The ferry returns at 2.00pm or 3.45pm. We caught the earlier one and caught a cable car into the city.

Food

We pottered around here for a while before having a beer and then walking up into China town for our evening meal. This was an experience. We missed Lilian’s advice and guidence so much. We’d decided to just walk into any restaurant and ‘go for it’. But we’d taken our English experience of Chinese food with us. Sharon ordered Roast Duck and steamed rice whilst I, being the more adventurous, ordered Rice Chicken Porridge and BBQ pork and duck over rice. MMmm, yummy. The porridge was quite tasty but the chicken was mostly bits of skin. Never mind. The main meats were as described but had been chopped on the bone. Sharon could hardly face hers, (but she did) and I ended up with sticky, greasy fingers and used about 20 napkins in the process. And all for $21! bargain. Last night we had take-away pizza.

The Roller Coaster

(Saturday)

Well, if yesterday was all I hoped the journey would be – today was more than that. Much more.

However, before I progress I must introduce Geoffrey.

Geoffrey, is Sharon’s name for our TomTom SatNav, which we bought with both French (used at Easter) and American maps. He has been our guide all the way down to San Francisco. When I say ‘guide’ I have to qualify that by saying the US Highway 101 runs all the way from Astoria, the first town in Oregon to goodness knows where – probably San Diego on the Mexican border, but certainly all the way to San Francisco and for us, as far as the airport, where we had to drop the car. Those of you that know me will also know of my deep mistrust of SatNavs and that where possible I prefer to rely entirely on map reading skills. However, there is a dearth of maps over here and those I was able to buy were very small scale.

Geoffrey therefore, won his first gold star from me for taking us across from Olympia in Washington State to Aberdeen and then over the delta to Astoria – a more relaxing route than I would have chosen with the maps at hand. He and I have a wary distrust for each other but generally, I can say that he has been indispensable – especially in navigating us through the horrendous traffic and traffic system in San Francisco. However, he blotted his copy book big time today (but then had the nerve to blame me(!))

We had set our route to San Francisco to be via Mendocino, so that he would choose the coastal route and sure enough, when we got to the appropriate junction he took us off on the twenty-two mile helter-skelter ride to the coast. What a ride! The entire trip to Fort Bragg was a nerve wracking, teeth clenching, (buttock clenching!) slalom-like journey up and down the heavily wooded mountains that separated the freeway from the coast. The road is often narrow (very) and entirely unsuitable for RVs, but every so often we would turn a blind bend, very often hairpin, to meet one of these huge beasts coming the other way. This inevitably led to sphincter tightening veers to the right where a yawning abyss might wait for us (luckily the car stuck to the tarmac and didn’t lurch into the darkness). For once, compulsory speed limits on these bends were spot on, one even getting down to a suggested ten miles an hour. But the scenery (what I could see of it between my narrowed eyes and what Sharon saw whenever she opened hers) was stunning and well worth the frayed nerves.

Sadly, when we reached the coast the mist cooled the day right down and prevented us from seeing what we’d come this way to see. We stopped at Fort Bragg for a short while and completely missed Mendocino as the route took us away from the coast for a while. There were signs but it was too early for lunch and we kept on driving, hoping that by the time we did want to stop the misty would have risen. As the weather warmed and the mist did indeed rise Sharon was happily filming the beautiful river when we realised that there shouldn’t be a river there at all, it should be Ocean! When we checked the minuscule map, we realised that Geoffrey had begun to take us back to the inland 101 freeway. He’d done the ‘via Mendocino’ bit and thought sod it, it’s too cold down here I’m off back inland where it’s getting on 93f!!!!!! We noticed too late and so fell foul of the old SatNav trick of it (the SatNav) thinking it knows best. We were furious but there was little we could do – given the time we had left to us.

We stopped for a late lunch at Cloverdale. We were both fed and watered for less than $10 and were happy bunnies again. For the first time I had been able to ask for ‘pastrami on rye, loaded, hold the onions’ (was it Kojak that used to have that?) And it was delicious.

From Santa Rosa onwards the freeway was horrendous. Even the Golden Gate Bridge, which we had to drive over, was almost hidden from us by the mist that (beautifully) hung over the mountains and rolled in from the Ocean.

Tonight’s dinner was a take away from Boudin’s on the wharf. We each had a bread roll filled with chilli (for Sharon) and Chowder (for me) brought them back to our room and devoured them.  Lovely.

The Giant Redwoods

Friday

Breakfast at the B&B was once again excellent. One huge and very tasty sausage (plus half of Sharon’s) with three slices of French toast (I only managed two) with a compote of apple and maple syrup. Accompanied with yogurt and fresh blueberries. Mmmm.

After this morning’s breakfast we set off for California.

We will be staying at an Inn close to or in the Giant Redwood forest – somewhere called Garberville. It’s a longer trip but apparently the roads are less windy (winding?) and there are no more turn offs to the east, so we should make good time. As always, I’d prefer to be there by 4.00pm so we can see the place we’re visiting.

Well we’re here now and I can honestly say that this day’s trip has been the one I’d thought the trip would be. The views have been spectacular, it’s hard to say it but because the road stayed close to the Ocean for half the route and in the Redwood Forest for most of the other half, it was better in some ways that the trip though Oregon. It was a breathtaking journey. We travelled through bright sunshine to the California border and then through sea mist and cloud for over half the remaining journey. The temperature gauge in the car was up and down all the time 54f one minute then 64f, back again, then 72f, back to 63f then finally (I couldn’t believe it until we got out of the car at Benbow Inn) 92f!

Our room has a balcony overlooking the restaurant terrace and (a short distance away) a river. It is shaded with oak trees covered in Spanish moss – all in all quite tranquil. We have free sherry in the room too – but given the price (which has been hidden from me), so it should be. I believe we are eating on the terrace ce soir, so that’ll be another spanking!

I continue to be unimpressed with hotel Internet connectivity. I’ve just spent 1.5 hours trying to post yesterday’s notes. I managed to save the words but then it wouldn’t save the picture, the tags or the categories. I also think that WordPress have a lot to answer for, as it was their php script that wouldn’t load. However, if the connection had been 20:20 – it would have been fine. Grrrr. I’ll try in the morning. (It’s 7.00am Saturday morning now and I’ve been uploading since 6.30am.) Grrrr.

FOOD

Well, I’m both pleased and disappointed with tonight’s fayre. As there is little other choice than eat ‘here’ or drive somewhere to eat – we chose ‘here’ – having driven quite enough for the day. 260 miles in this car, on these roads, with these speed limits (oh how I miss my cruise control) is really quite enough. The ‘famous’ (sic) restaurant serves up modern food based on classical European tastes. I had a strawberry salad with feta cheese (it was described much better than that but that’s what it was), which was delicious and Sharon had a plain salad with citrus dressing, which she says took her breath away (it was so sharp). We followed with Lamb for me, and Trout for Sharon.

The disappointing bit was similar to last night’s complaint – the accompaniments were poor.

Sharon’s was greasy and tasted of curry, mine was – well, disappointing. I understand minimalism but soggy AND minimalistic is just not good enough. The lamb was seasoned perfectly and tasted delicious and it was cooked well enough  (although I was offered medium-rare it was medium-well). But it had been inexpertly butchered and when I’m paying (literally) top-dollar, I expect food to be tasty (it was – very tasty) and both presented well (it wasn’t) and prepared well (it wasn’t). So – again, disappointed, but: if this meal had been served up in a good quality pub restaurant (I’m thinking of the Buck Inn in Reeth or the Sportsman at Greetland) at their sort of prices (and therefore my expectations), it would have been fine.

We arrive in San Francisco, all being well, tonight.

Onwards from Bandon

Written Friday (1 of 2)
We woke yesterday to a very overcast and cold day. We couldn’t decide what to do. First up though, we needed a fleece for Sharon; I had my waistcoat (yea!), so that we would be warm enough whatever we did. Then we called at the coffee shop for mediocre coffee and over an hour’s free Internet. What is it about coffee that makes it so hard to get a good one? I’d asked for their “…best coffee. I like strong coffee, probably dark roast – but flavour is of the essence,” and got their ‘whatever she called it’ best coffee that even with an extra shot in it lacked the depth of flavour that we both like. It was strong, but had no third dimension (hot, strong, flavour?) Perhaps I need to go on a coffee appreciation course, so that I can converse with ‘Baristas’ in a language they understand.

Anyway, as the coffee shop began to fill up with those wanting an early lunch (we didn’t – see previous post) we noticed that the cloud had lifted and that it was now sunny. Still very windy, but sunny. We set off for one of the many State Parks hereabouts: Floras Lake Park. We found the park easy enough and the lake, but it looked like it might be a trial of a pleasure to walk around the lake to see what Sharon had wanted to see – the volcanic headland at Blacklock Point.  So, following vague instructions from the guidebook, we drove further south to a non-descript airport just past Denmark and parked in an unmarked car park by the entrance.  On the map this area seems to be called Cape Blanco, but the guidebook had definitely suggested Blacklock Point. Outside the car park we picked up ‘trails’ for both Blacklock Point and Floras Lake and set off through the woodland. We walked for about two miles to the Point and it was wonderful. Because we were walking through woodland, it was sheltered from the wind, but the trails were open to the sky, so we got the sunshine. It was beautiful.

We met our first people when we reached the point itself. They had the one good spot, away from the biting wind but retaining all the magnificent views. Nevertheless we spent some time walking along the cliff edge (I did – Sharon kept away) and admiring the view. On our way back down the trail, we took a detour towards Flora Lake and looked at the Point from a different angle. All in all we walked about five miles, maybe six and had a delightful time. On the way back I saw my first live-in-the-wild snake. I’ve seen lots of snakes in my time but none of them in the wild. So how cool is that? It was about eighteen inches long, black with white and green or yellow stripes. I’ve no idea what kind it was.

FOOD

We went for dinner at the Wild Rose. We’d tried going last night but it was full. Tonight wasn’t so different, but we had a reservation. The menu is classy – the type of food we like, yet the restaurant is unpretentious. Two chefs: she in the kitchen, he doing food service. My choice narrowed down to Scallops or Quail for starter and Halibut; Crab Ravioli or Scallops for main. Obviously one Scallop dish would cancel the other but after talking to ‘he’ I went for Scallops and Halibut. Sharon had the Quail (stuffed with all sorts of lovely things) and followed that with Gnocchi Marinara. My Scallop was delightfully cooked and presented. The Halibut was juicy and tasty but a little light on accompaniment. It had said ‘served with a fried risotto cake and fresh seasonal vegetable’ and had been one of my deciding factors. But the fresh vegetable was a disk of fried courgette/marrow (too big for one, too small for the other) and the risotto cake was thinner than a hash brown and no rice could be discerned. So, although the fish was amongst the best I’ve eaten, the supporting act was poor. All in all though – the tastiest meal I’ve eaten over here.

The Oregon Trail

This bit covers two days, as we have had intermittent or no Internet en route.

Today (– well obviously not, but bear with me…), Tuesday, we packed our bags and set off on our road trip from Seattle to San Francisco.

We’d bought return tickets with Grayline http://graylineofseattle.com The ‘Downtown Airporter’, when we arrived at the airport (Sea-Tac) so all we had to do was wait outside our hotel to be picked up. As we were staying at one of the named ‘stop’ hotels (there are about 10 downtown @ $11 each way or $18 return) this was easy. If we’d been staying at one somewhere else we would have been re-picked-up and taken there for an extra charge. A taxi costs $32 – one way.

Our hire car turned out to be a Chevrolet PT Cruiser, which is fine except it wallows on bends, has no whoomph and no gear stick! It’s a really cool gray colour though. There is something about an automatic that makes you lazy – or perhaps it’s just me and Sharon. We found it really hard to keep the car in a straight line and were always scaring each other to death with the closeness we were driving to the kerb.

Apart from the car, a delightful pizza at lunchtime somewhere un-remember-able and a cooler coastline, there’s nothing else to report today. Once we got off I5 south of Tacoma, the journey was pleasant. We’re staying in Manzanita, just about 30 miles into Oregon and the scenery is just changing for the better.  The whole journey from Seattle via Aberdeen and Astoria was around 210 miles.

Wednesday
Well, as I was about to upload yesterday’s drivel, the Internet packed up (I think I must have overloaded it with my pictures to Flickr). We stayed at a bed and breakfast place called ‘Zen Garden’. It was about 1.5 miles from the small town centre and we walked there on the beach, which is beautiful. We’d only set off to look at the Ocean, but after ending up in the town itself, we gave it a coat of looking at and stayed for dinner. The town itself had a lot more going for it than Bandon, where we’re staying tonight (Wednesday)

We arrived in the town of Bandon about 5.45pm but all the shops were closing and most of the restaurants seemed to close at 7.00pm or 8.00pm, which seemed really strange, especially for such a prominent town on such a popular tourist route. The one restaurant we’d had recommended was full – no space at the inn! But we’re here tomorrow too – so we’ll see what happens then. {Late news – our B&B owner has booked us places for tonight – Thursday}

Manzanita to Brandon
The drive down took from 9.30am and we arrived at 4.30pm – seven hours to do about 220 miles. Highway 101 is the artery that serves the Oregon coast and for most of its way it is a pleasant trip, but some bits of it are ugly and today there were mile upon mile of road works. We’ve been unfortunate to have had an overcast day today – no rain, but dull – so some of the beautiful scenery was not evident, but that we did manage to see was breathtaking. The road to Florence is close to the Ocean but then, until Bandon is mainly inland as it passes huge tracts of dune.

We’re staying at another bed and breakfast: The Bandon Ocean Guest House http://www.beach-street.com/, which is fabulously placed. Because of a cancellation, we were offered a choice of rooms – so we’re in one with a bed the size of a football pitch and a view (and balcony) you wouldn’t believe. We’re in ‘The Donegal Room’. Fingers crossed, the sun will reappear tomorrow and it will be bliss.

FOOD
I’m preparing this on Thursday and am not sure when I will be able to post again, so I will report upon the breakfast here at Bandon Ocean Guest House. Wonderful! It would have been VERY rude to photograph the fayre as we were sharing a table with two other guests. We were given an asparagus and rosemary fritatta with fried potatoes and bacon. Even these contained a little rosemary and other herbs from the garden. We also had strawberries, marinated in balsamic vinegar and layered with yogurt. Tea, selection of juices and toast with local preserves too. As I said: wonderful!

In Manzanita, Sharon had a Chilli Burger and I had a BLT with ‘Swiss’ in a Ciabatta bun. Both were ok, but nothing to write home about. With beers though, we didn’t really pay any less than we had the previous night in Seattle.

Zen Garden is quaint, to say the least, but the breakfast was superb. We had to make our choices the night before but that didn’t matter. Sharon had Blueberry Pancakes with Maple Syrup AND Bacon and Scrambled Eggs. I had Granola and fruit separate from my Bacon and Eggs but both were excellently cooked and available in small, medium or large portions (we both had small). The toast was home made bread, or as close to home made as you can get and the fruit we got as a starter included raspberries, banana, kiwi fruit, pineapple and blueberries. Lovely.

In Bandon, we had Thai. Two specials, tasty, ‘nuff said.

Hopefully I will get this up on the ‘net when we go into Bandon tomorrow (Thursday – now today) – if the ‘free WiFi’ coffee shop is open! It might be a day or so before we come back online – depends on Internet en route.

Lake Day


Day 6

Today, we plan to take a trip around the Pike Place area, visit the Aquarium and take a trip around the bay. Well, I’m not sure what they call it really. It’s called Puget Sound and from where we stand it looks like a lake – but the locals seem to call it a bay. We’ll be on the water – that’s all I know for sure. [I now know that the bay immediately off Seattle is called Elliot Bay, which is part of Puget Sound.]

The Aquarium was ok – plenty of fish and swimmy things to see and touch (if you are a kiddie). The boat ride was better – an hour of local history and geography input, whilst just sat taking in some rays. Fabulous.

For lunch we walked over town to the Elliot Bay Café, which we’re told, was inspiration for the coffee bar in ‘Frasier’. http://elliottbaycafe.com/ We weren’t over impressed.

We spent some time during the afternoon at Pike Place Market, which is a real draw for tourists. There are plenty of shops; both food and tat; and street artists. We were especially impressed with a Gospel choir – four blokes making quite a few of the viewers ‘rock and nod’ along with them.

FOOD

Last night we went to a local restaurant, which is (apparently – like everything over here) ‘famous’ for its food and hospitality. Von’s Roast House.

We both had salads. Once again Sharon had her favourite salmon and I had ‘pulled meat’ – mainly because I didn’t know what pulled meat was. In the end it was bbq’d shredded pork and quite sweet. What was the most interesting aspect of this was the way it was served. The waiter was too quick for me to capture on film, but the salad was assembled in a large glass stein, upturned and then allowed to fall onto the plate. In the glass it look magnificent, but on the plate it just looked like a large mixed (very mixed) salad. This place has all sorts of stuff stuck on the ceiling, representing local businesses and in the restaurant it had every wall (every inch of every wall) covered in beer pump clips (I’m sure they have a proper name but I can’t think what it might be) from all over the country and elsewhere. I saw two Newcastle Brown ones.

Tonight (Monday) we went out to eat in one of the many boutique brewery restaurants in Seattle. http://www.rockbottom.com/FoodMenu.php. This was a good choice – the food was good and (too) plentiful. To be fair, we’d have had enough to eat with just the starters – these people eat TOO MUCH. We had soft pretzels and blue cheese dip (Mmmm yummy) and guacamole and tortilla chips – thinking they would be ‘starters’ as advertised but … We both then had standard burgers – but I had to remove the bread and just eat the burger, which was perfect.

We set off again tomorrow, this time by car – a four day trip to San Francisco.