A Travellerspoint blog

Day 18

Carried Away in San Francisco

all seasons in one day 14 °C
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Blog warning.. This post will be huge compared the any of our previous ones, so you've been warned!

The saying goes something like "saving the best for last", well today we did exactly that. Today was our last full day in San Francisco and also the US. For this trip anyway. To celebrate our respective birthdays this month, my Mum and I went on a 5 hour tour with the wonderful ladies from Carried Away. I had decided some months ago that wanted to go on a more intimate tour of the diverse districts in the city and experience the different atmospheres and cuisines. So the sights and bites tour it was.

Mum had a knee replacement operation earlier this year and walking up and down stairs or the hills of San Francisco all day wasn't an option. With Carried Away, they have a little groovy car that is comfy, has cool moon roofs and can access all the narrower and steeper streets of the city that your legs or other tour buses can't get too. It's also private and you get to choose what you want to do. If your not sure what it is you would like to see, Diann and Vikki will make suggestions and tailor a itinerary to suit your tastes or desires.

Or first stop was the nearby Chinatown. Carried Away took us to the community areas rather than the tourist haunts. We saw a florist getting ready for a Chinese funeral (huge beautiful wreaths), the Fortune Cookie Factory where you pay 50c to take a photo but get a delicious fresh and warm sample to eat, past the schools, shops and bakeries that the locals use to shop daily. During our visit we came upon a Chinese funeral procession that was lead by a small brass band and a small convoy of cars that threw paper out the window. Diann went and got some lovely steam bun samples for us to eat at the Good Mang Kok Bakery. They were delicious and a 100% on anything I had eaten back home.

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We moved onto the neighbouring Little Italy (North Beach) and got out of the car to stroll around. From Washington Square we moved to explore the shops, deli's and cafes that line the streets and love the corner locations. He we saw the San Fran locals line up for an egg bunch sometimes for up to 90 minutes. Lining up for tables in this city seems compulsory and they are very patient at doing it. They also line up at the very famous bakeries and deli's for the delicious products. Diann went to the 100 yr old Liguria Bakery that only bakes a certain amount of focaccia everyday. When they sell out they close. We missed out by a couple of people.

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The Molinari Delicatessen is amazing. Established in 1876, the walls are lined with pasta, olive oils, cheeses and salami's of every variety. The smell engulfs you as you walk through the door. The locals take a number from the little red dispenser on the counter and line up. Those who come for a sandwich go the the bread bin and select a baguette. The gents behind the counter then slice you chosen salami etc, directly onto your bread roll. And the serving is huge. I watched a gent get his sandwich made, then got sucked into watching a few more customers. The deli is famous for having the best salami and for sending some to the Pope.

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We wandered across the road and up to the next street corner to Caffe Trieste. This is a famous cafe for the creative clientele that have sat and enjoyed the espresso(they have their own brand) and worked on their craft. Some of the walls are lined with photo's of these people such as Francis Ford Coppola whom like to sit and write scripts there. He has a home down the street. The decor is the same as it was in the 1950's and now looks very worn in and comfortable. A mural on the back wall dated 1957 looks fabulous and the original phone booth is still in place, except now it is the home of an ATM. The coffee is fabulous and is only surpassed by the macho mustache on one of the barrista's. It was here that we got to try some of the smooth but tasty salami from Molinari. I bet the Pope waits for it to arrive every year, because I would!

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Across the corner we were taken to a bespoke shop called Al's Attire (drapers, clothiers, hatters & bootmen. At Al's Attire you can have a coat (fabric or leather), hat or shoes handmade in whatever fabric you desire. You get to choose your buttons the type of seams, right down to the personalised label. This is a shop that everyone would be fascinated by and I just wished I lived in a climate that could justify having a coat made just to my desires. The fact that I didn't purchase anything here was more about being overwhelmed by the choices rather than self control. That self control totally evapourated at a nearby store where I purchased a lithograph of the Golden Gate Bridge. Can't wait to get it home and hang it on the wall.

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That self control totally evapourated at a nearby store where I purchased a lithograph of the Golden Gate Bridge. Can't wait to get it home and hang it on the wall.

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Our next stop was Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill. This tower was built as a monument to the fire fighters of the city as a bequest of Lillie Hitchcock Coit. The tower resembles a fire hose nozzle. The views of the bay are sweeping.

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From here we moved onto Filbert Street. This street is a single staircase comprising of 383 steps. The residents here have to carry everything up or down. The homes are old and come from a time when the rich lived on the lower slopes so they didn't have to walk far and the workers further up the hill. There are lanes or in reality walkways where other homes move horizontally across the hillside. The stairs weave through a jungle of gardens. Lots of different types of plants and styles, and we even saw a banana plant. I wasn't expecting that. In this street people don't just live closely together they live on top of each other. It is quiet, with the exception of us tourists and highly sort after. I really liked it and would enjoy living there.

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We jumped back into the car and headed to the Presidio as I have never seen the cross section suspension cable from the Golden Gate Bridge at the bridge visitors centre. I had been dying to see it and it met all my expectations. Sure it's not everyone's cup of tea, but the bridge is such an icon and this just a gives a little insight into the engineering involved. Di and Vicki took us up to a new photo op where the bridge towers are in alignment. From there you can appreciate better the camber (curve of the deck) and the volume of traffic that travels over the bridge everyday.

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As we moved to Russian Hill the main attraction is the very steep streets and the fabulous local architecture. The Victorian houses are breath taking. While I am very much a fan of the classic Queenslander, these homes take it up a notch. From here we headed up to the poshest suburb in town, Pacific Heights. The houses here are gigantic and have sweeping views. Billionaires Row (because that is who lives and can afford to live their) was an eye opener. I will leave it to the photographs to provide you with the details, because I was gobsmacked. Being in a small car meant we could easily invade these cloisters and watch the gardeners, etc working on the perfect gardens.

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We continued looking at the houses as we made our way to The Castro. This would be the most famous of the neighbourhoods in the city. This was no more so than in the 60's and 70's during the heightened political activism and the LGBT Community. It was here that we tasted our next cuisine in Argentinian empanadas at El Porteno. Oh my! They were little parcels of heaven. El Porteno also brews boutique beers. This would be Paul's dream come true.

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Our final hour we drove around Liberty Hill, the Mission and Hayes Valley. Liberty Hill is full of the gorgeous Victorians that we have been adoring. Following the 1906 earthquake the neighbourhood was saved from fire, so today it contains examples of not only Victorian architecture but also Italianate, Stick and Queen Anne.

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Presently both the Mission and Hayes Valley seem to be going through an urban renewal not just in the transformation of living space, but also in the movement of other residents in what was traditionally a Latino area(s). Today it is full of all sorts of families and jam packed with restaurants. It was here that we tasted the most divine tacos ever. Nothing like the mass produced stuff we are used too. Very healthy and flavoursome. My favourite part was looking at all the murals that cover the entire neighbourhood, each with their own story.

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We had a jam packed day and one that will remain with us in our memories for quite some time. If your ever in San Francisco, give the ladies at Carried Away a call. You won't regret it. They were absolutely wonderful ambassadors of the city and great fun. Can't wait to do another tour with them. Thanks so much Diann and Vikki!

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Posted by petty1912 21:27 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Day 17

San Francisco

rain 14 °C
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Rain, rain, wind and more rain. We said farewell the wonderful blue clear skies today and plummeted to earth. Today was kids day. I had organised more than 6 months ago a trip on the San Francisco Fire Engine Tour. The tour/fire engine takes you for a drive around the city and across the Golden Gate Bridge while you dress up as a fireman. But as it is open air, it was cancelled due to the weather conditions. This was so disappointing, but what can you do.

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As it turns out it was kids day for us. Both the boys fell off the holiday wagon and hit the wall in tandem. They are tired of traveling and wanted to go home. There were two very sad faces that are missing their personal space and belongings. Pat said without skipping a beat that he wanted a day off to play in the hotel room and just stay inside. With the rain, it seemed like a really good idea and that is pretty much what he did.

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Sam and I took a stroll down to the Apple Store which is only 200m away from our hotel. We browsed all the gadgets and watched in on the workshops and one-on-one sessions they were holding for Apple users. It is a very cool and funky store, with almost as many staff (wearing red shirts) as customers. Just for your information, a new iPhone 5 is $799, just the same as Australia as the website lists. The Macs and other computers are a few hundred dollars cheaper, but the portable items are much the same.

I spent a few hours finishing my Christmas shopping and getting some souvenirs. Today was the last work day here before the two week holiday break. Shopping crowds were huge and chaotic traffic in the rain made getting around the city a pain. After quite a slow day we decided to hit a Loris Diner around the corner for dinner. Paul has become a lover of Southern Fried Chicken (which is mighty fine and the crispier the batter the better) and I discovered that potato skins over here are really potatoes cut in half and not the shriveled up things we get served up back home. My appetiser will feed me for 3 meals. Gotta love American servings. They did invent "supersize" after all.

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Tomorrow is girls and boys do your own thing day. The boys have a free day again, while Mum and I go on a personal city tour. Looking forward to exploring some precincts in more intimate detail. It will also be our last full day in the US. The weather be damned!

Posted by petty1912 01:02 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Day 16

Yosemite National Park

sunny 3 °C
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Today we left San Francisco early for a 4+ hour drive north east to one of the most famous National Parks in the world, Yosemite. While most find the thought of the drive a deterrent, we found it quite interesting in itself. The drive over the Diablo Range and the San Joaquin Valley took us through the rural heartland of northern California. First there were lots of cattle ranches then almond and pistachio farms and poultry farms.

The towns are all identified easily by their water towers with the town name painted on the side, just like in the movies. Houses are small and the pick-ups are big. Diners are dotted everywhere by the highway. Lots of Highway Patrol cars pulling up drivers. Just stay in the car and don't get out of the vehicle is really good advice to any foreign driver. The first thing you notice is the the rivers are small and very shallow due to dams and canals, and the country is pretty brown in colour. Recent rain has some areas looking very healthy with regrowth. It is the desert of sorts, so lush vegetation is not what you'll see here.

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It was a very clear and sunny day, so when we crossed over the Diablo Range you could see the snow covered Sierra Nevada on the horizon. As we drove the 150+ kilometres across the valley, these mountains loomed larger and larger. Once you reach them, you climb them for a brief period before the decent to the Yosemite valley floor.

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It is a beautiful drive. Lovely cypress, redwoods and granite formations greet you and tantilise you for what lies ahead. We had an hour to kill before our valley floor tour started. We had lunch at the Yosemite Lodge as Paul was keen to revisit the delicious chilli he ate when he was last here. The chilli was hot and warm, so it got the thumbs up.

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There was only 10 of us on the 2 pm NPS valley floor tour and unlike the warmer times of the year we were seated in an enclosed coach, not the open air buggies. The coach kept us very cosy and warm in the freezing conditions, but being enclosed meant you lost the feeling of being dwarfed by the huge cliffs and formations as you moved along the valley. Last time we were here we watched rock climbers scaling El Capitan while small crowds of people sat on fold up chairs in the meadow watching their every move. No climbers sighted today.

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Snow covered the valley floor. As we were taking a photo and watching Ribbon Falls, a large chunk of ice plummeted off the side near the top of the falls making a thunderous noise. It was quite amazing to be in the right place at the right time. The roads were very icy and we missed an accident by a few minutes when a car slid off the road into the table drain.

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While all of us adults were spellbound by the wondrous vistas, the boys just wanted to play in the snow. I asked Pat if he remembered anything or just the snow. He said he remembered a little, but mostly just the snow. The ice skating rink was open at Curry Village and people were enjoying skating beside the wonderful backdrop. Walkways were covered in snow and trails were mostly vacant. Very few people are here at present, making it a great time to enjoy the park virtually to yourself. We passed lots of photographers standing by their tripods setting up the perfect shot. They were particularly prolific as the sun disappeared and the colour of the sky and granite rock faces turned red and orange. I was mesmerised by the snow mist that began rising from the valley floor when the sun disappeared and the temperature dropped. The meadow looked eerily beautiful and the ice crystals on the grasses refroze.

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If you are ever in California, Yosemite is a must see. Beautiful vistas are universally enjoyed by all people and Yosemite is jam packed with them. I am already thinking of my next trip back and what trails I am going to walk. It's that kind of place!

Posted by petty1912 23:58 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Day 15

Sights of San Francisco and Alcatraz

sunny 12 °C
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I think I've mentioned it before that I love this city. It is my favourite travel destination. This is the city where my husband proposed, and earlier this year we celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary. Today we get to show our young boys some of the amazing sights, smells and sounds that we enjoyed. Our travel agent suggested the company called Urban Safari. I Googled it and found it interesting. I told Paul about the distinctive bus and the pith helmets and he just looked at me as if to say I had no chance of him wearing the hat. Yeah, well I showed him!

We where picked up by our very likeable and bubbly guide Eric and the very witty and friendly driver Mfalme. Within moments of entering the bus everyone had their helmets on and the very vibrant animal print blankets draped on themselves. It was a very cool day and we were sitting on an open air bus. Great viewing from every seat and very comfortable. A bit of trivia for you. Mfalme has been growing his dreadlocks for 32 years. They are amazing in the flesh.

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I won't go into detail about all the sights as you can get an idea from our photo's and the website. The part that made it a stand out was that we were entertained by Eric and Mfalme the entire journey. Eric greeted us by our first names and as we drove around to pick up other people at their hotels he would get us to greet them, wave to the locals or lead us singing Tony Bennett songs. It sounds corny, but it was fun. Our tour consisted of 95% Aussies, with just 3 people from Santa Cruz feeling overwhelmed by "our" collective casualness. We also caught up with the family from Cairns who were on another Urban Safari bus.

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During the tour I really enjoyed sitting at Fort Point and watching the mad Golden Gate surfers stalk their 30 second buzz early in the morning. It was cold and those nutters were all enjoying the great weather. Sam got very engrossed in all the factual information and has been giving us Jeopardy type pop quizzes ever since.

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It was a very enjoyable 4 hours and I highly recommend it to anyone thinking of going with them. Yes it is pricey, but you are paying for the intimacy and playfulness that the bigger companies can't or don't provide. I would definitely go on an Urban Safari tour again.

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In the afternoon we hopped on the ferry to Alcatraz Island. Today the island is managed by the National Parks Service. It is a very popular attraction, so in the peak season it is advised to book ahead. We had a great 3 plus hours on the island. We all (including Patrick aged 6) did the audio tour which is excellent. We wandered the halls and explored the yards and older buildings. Of course I sat by the lighthouse for awhile to enjoy the view of it and that of downtown San Francisco which is just over a mile away.

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The NPS guides there will tell you that the myths of harshness and violence of "The Rock" have been greatly exaggerated. While that maybe the case, seeing the surrounds and hearing the stories of the inmates a makes you appreciate why they wanted to escape. It also made you realise why this island was such a good place to house these men. You could easily spend an entire day here, though most only manage half that just like us.

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After a great day taking hundreds of photo's, we caught a trolley tram home rather than walk up the hill. I would like a few of these trams in Townsville. I think they would catch on with the locals real fast. After a quiet birthday dinner we turned in for an early night. We have a big drive ahead tomorrow, but we are very much looking forward to visiting a very special place.

PS. I try to post lots of photo's and not just those featured on the daily page, so make sure to check them all out.

Posted by petty1912 23:31 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Day 14

Muir Woods and Sausilito

sunny 13 °C
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Today was the most beautiful day "weather wise" that I have ever spent in San Francisco. The sun was shining and the sky was clear and very blue. Not any cloud overhead and no fog. It was very cool and tonight will be the coolest evening this winter so far at 4 degrees celsius.

Our adventure today was to amble through the Muir Woods and discover the grandeur of the Sequoia sempervirens or Coastal redwoods as we know them. Since our trip to New Zealand in 2009, my boys have been fascinated with giant trees. Our visit to Tane Mahuta in the Northlands of New Zealand was really spiritual and not what we had expected. With the the growing excitement within the boys, we found ourselves very much looking forward to seeing them as well.

There was a mix up with the tour (same tour company as yesterday) and they forgot to pick us up even though we had reconfirmed our booking the day before for the second time. Thankfully they held the bus while we rushed in a cab to meet up with the other tour members. It turned out the the tour consisted of just one other family of six from Cairns, so off we went, eleven North Queenslanders to enjoy the day together.

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Our tour guide was a lovely bloke called Peter from Glasgow. Like Billy Connolly, he told good jokes and his accent made us all feel comfortable to those that we are/have been becoming accustomed to. With the wonderful weather, the drive was very scenic into Marin County and the Marin Headlands, next to where the woods are located. The road is steep and winding and we all got motion sickness on the trip, but it was worth it.

These coastal redwoods are only found in a narrow strip along the Pacific Coast of the state. They are related to the Giant Sequoias of Yosemite and Kings Canyon on the Sierra Nevada. The redwoods are taller in height (up to 379ft or 115.5m) compared to sequoias (311ft or 94.8m) but thinner around the girth (6.7m compared to 12.2m). If the snow isn't to heavy we may see the sequoias when we go to Yosemite. Tane Mahuta which is a kauri isn't as tall as the redwoods, but they like the sequoia are very wide across the girth.

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The first thing you notice when you enter the park is the tall trees with downward sloping branches and curved tips. Their bark is a very attractive red colour and is hardy in it's strength and feel to touch. With the sun out and Redwood Creek flowing beside the trails, it was very inviting to enter the forest and the dark areas under the canopy.

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There are lots of signs asking you to walk quietly and to be quiet while you are on the trail. Apparently there are lots of deer in the forest, but we didn't see any or any salmon that have been sighted in the creek recently. While there weren't many people in the woods when were were (under 50), some of us were louder than others. It took a little while to notice, but I didn't hear or see any birds. The redwood tree has a tannin which protects it from predation. Few to no insects, mean few to no birds. It was eerily quiet. Pat, in between looking at the trees was transfixed with the shamrock looking Redwood sorrel growing everywhere. Not content with the three leaves he went looking for a four leaf specimen.

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The trees and groves were spectacular. It is so special to have such a natural wonder preserved so close to such a large city and population such as San Francisco. It was very clean and tidy. We saw no rubbish or sign of abuse that was man made. It was nature at it's best. We thoroughly enjoyed our time there and in retrospect we would have liked to have spent the day and walked a lot further. The Hillside Trail was closed for maintenance, so we where pretty much confined to the Lower Creek and Ocean View Trails. If you are ever this way, the woods are a must see.

After a short 15 minute winding drive (yes we all felt sick again) we arrived in Sausilito. We tend to think of it as home to lots of house boats. While there are lots of houseboats there and they are very expensive. Still, I would love one! A majority of the residents commute to San Francisco, usually on the ferry across the bay. The town is very scenic and cosy reminding me a lot of Port Douglas, just without all the resorts.

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The waterfront is lined with pricey shops in older style architecture, but the atmosphere is relaxing and very calm. We needed a warm up after the forest hike, so we found a cafe, sat at a sidewalk table in the sun and watched the world go by. It was fabulous. Mum strolled the boutiques and brought herself some lovely earrings while I went shutter crazy.

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On the return drive home we stopped at a scenic lookout on the Marin Headland to view the Golden Gate Bridge and take some photo's. Given the fabulous weather we were guaranteed some amazing shots. It was a great day trip and well worth all the hassle.

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This is the second time I have done this tour and next time I come here, I am visiting the forest again for certain. I am already planning to plant a few more trees in my garden when I get home. I wonder why?

Posted by petty1912 22:46 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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