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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Week 5: Muir Woods, day 6

We had heard that the Farmer's market at the Ferry Building downtown was worth a visit so we took one last bus ride into town. We were not disappointed. Tables filled with fresh produce allowing passersby to sample their fare were a delight to both the eye and the palette. We found a stall offering a delicious Mexican twist on breakfast and enjoyed sharing this amazing plate of food outside by the water. From there we took our first drive across the Golden Gate. It's really quite a thrill. The vista point on the north side of the bridge is the perfect stopping point for beautiful photographs. My parents have a classic photo of my brother and I in the very same spot that Doug and I took this one last week. It is such a lovely place with the city gleaming in the distance. It as hard to let go of the beautiful views of both the bridge and the city. But the wonder of the towering redwoods awaited us in Muir Woods.I don't really know what to say about these woods. I'm very thankful that they exist and that there are beautiful walkways and paths that one can wander through in order to enjoy the wonder of these majestic creations. It was wonderful to stroll these woods, quiet our thoughts and just enjoy a day filled with a pace that was totally different than city sight seeing.The woods allowed me some time to reflect on this great week that Doug and I were so privileged to share. California is a lovely and vast place, full of resources and beauty. We cannot understand why the economy here is so strapped. What is happening to cause such a debt? How can a place so full of resources struggle to thrive financially?
I really loved the diversity of San Francisco and the whole feel of that city. It felt like a friendly place, not threatening, warm, inviting. We stayed at an old Travellodge near the Golden Gate bridge. An Indian family was running it and they could not have been nicer. I was happy we gave up more luxury accommodation to support a family that is struggling to make ends meet. They spoke of how they were seeking to stay afloat, keep their long-term employees employed and offer good, modest service to those not wanting to pay extra for parking, internet access, and other extras. One of the draws of the hotel was the free parking option as hotels near Fisherman's Wharf were charging $45.00 per day extra to park. Internet access was also free and efficient and the hotel was right on a major bus line that took us everywhere we wanted to go. It was fun to ride to bus, to sit with the locals and get a feel for what it's like to live and move in San Francisco.
Crossing the bridge into Marin County was such a beautiful experience but the wealth needed to live in that area is a bit staggering. Even so, the lovely and amazing Muir Woods is accessible to all. I think if I lived in that area, I would find myself returning to this place of beauty over and over again.This is one tree taken with two photos. They really are regal, majestic creatures.

Muir woods marked the official end of our California coastal driving adventure. From there we took the most expedient route to highway 5 and began our journey back down the state. Even so, it was a clear day and so the views across the bay were pretty spectacular. As we passed through Berkeley and Oakland with San Francisco still in view to the right, I found myself straining to catch every last view of the area that I could. I was so happy that Doug finally had the chance to see this amazing area and I was so glad that he loved it as much as I do.
The drive home was actually quite wonderful. Highway 5 is lined with thousands of apricot trees and they were all in bloom. What a spectacular sight that was...it was simply breathtaking. You hear that this drive is quite boring, but we didn't find that to be the case. It was soothing and easy and we enjoyed seeing the heart of California after enjoying the amazing coastline.
We stayed in a tiny little town called Santa Nella where just a few more than 100 people live and work. It was nice to relax and unwind after a day that had been filled with the amazing beauty of the California Redwood trees.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Week 5: Alcatraz, Day 5

Weather forecast was for rain so we were delighted when the sky was cloudy but clearer than it had been the day before! Our plans were to head to Alcatraz and in all of the other times I've been to San Francisco, I had never been and it was likely the one major thing that Doug wanted to experience. I just found out that one of my good friend's who grew up in Oakland has never been! Half of the thrill are the views that you experience from the island so we were so grateful that it was not foggy! We had made the decision to get on the 9.00 cruise to avoid the crowds. As the boat pulled away from the city, it was rather breathtaking seeing the city sprawl out before us. The views of the Golden Gate and Bay bridges were also fantastic and it was so thrilling to be out on the water. As we approached Alcatraz, it was hard to imagine what it must've been like to arrive as a prisoner to this isolated, barren place. After a brief orientation you are free to pick up your headphones and begin your guided tour. Actual guides and prisoners were the narrators and it was really well done. Isolation is the word that rang in my head. Stark, inhospitable, lonely, hopeless. The recreational yard was really small, but even so they had figured out how to play baseball. Only a few games were approved, cribbage being one of them. Cribbage is one of my favorite card games and the game Doug and I always play with my folks. It was strange thinking about trying to pass time in this remote island prison.
The tour is really well done and it was a very good experience. The views from the prison were simply breathtaking. The contrast of the prison fence with the Golden Gate bridge gleaming in the distance was poignant. To be imprisoned in such a remote place while one of the world's greatest cities showed its face around every corner would certainly be a bit demoralizing. I definitely want to see Clint Eastwood in Escape from Alcatraz now that I've seen the real deal.After we returned from the island, we went to Chinatown and had a huge, good lunch from a restaurant that had been recommended to us. We were super tired after that so decided to take an afternoon nap and enjoy the city by night.
We didn't have any other big agenda for what to see so we jumped on the Hyde/Powell streetcar, again, riding standing up on the floor boards and enjoyed this great up and down ride across town. Riding the street car was definitely one of my favorite things in San Francisco. We wandered around Union Square and visited the biggest DSW shoe store I've ever seen in my life! We ended up at Fisherman's Wharf where I indulged in a crab cake and some french fries. Perhaps it was the setting, but it was quite delicious! We stumbled upon an old museum that housed arcade games from a time gone by. For a dime or a quarter you could get these old machines going and play baseball, test your strength or see a funny movie. It was actually a really great sight, free, right on the water and gave us a real glimpse into what the boardwalk of San Francisco was likely like in another era.
The weather held up and we enjoyed beautiful night views of the harbor, Alcatraz, and the city. We had had 2 wonderful days in San Francisco and after visiting the Farmer's Market on Saturday morning, we were scheduled to head for the woods...Muir Woods.

Week 5: San Francisco, Day 4

Woke up to foggy San Francisco! We took the bus down to Fisherman's Wharf to prepare for our tour in a vintage car with Mr. Toad's Tours.The weather report was for 69 F and sunny so we put on shorts, grabbed a sweater and headed downtown for our tour with Mr. Toad's Tours. The tour was great but the weather didn't follow the forecast and instead hovered around 51 F and freezing. Good thing there were blankets in our car but it was a chilling ride through a beautiful city. We did enjoy seeing the sights of San Fran from our vintage vehicle. I was especially blown away by Pacific Heights and loved seeing the gorgeous Victorian houses. This is the house from the movie, Mrs. Doubtfire.

Our tour guide had great insider information and it was a treat to get such an up-close look at the city. Fog shrouded the city views all morning but at least the bottom of the Golden Gate was visible! Here we are in blanket skirts trying to stay warm!

We enjoyed a stop in China town to see how fortune cookies were made and ate the most incredible pot stickers we've ever had. We drove by beautiful Golden Gate park and found our way to the "Painted Ladies", a row of 6 Victorians that a man built for his daughters so that they would continue to live nearby!
It was a great taste of the city and gave us a good idea of where to spend more time. We enjoyed a classic lunch of clam chowder in a Boudin Bakery Sourdough bread bowl. Yum!

After a dash back to the hotel to put on winter clothing, we decided to take a ride out to the Castro area of town. This is where Harvey Milk began his journey towards becoming mayor of San Francisco and fighting for the rights of gay people. His former camera shop is now a beautiful interior design store but this mural on the wall is a memorial to Milk's presence in this part of the city. The only disappointment was my losing my brand new transportation card after only using it for one ride!
In the meantime, we replaced my card, took a fun and thrilling cable car ride, stopped at the top of Lombard street and took in the breathtaking view of the city with Coit tower gleaming in the background, headed back to China town to try and get some more pot stickers but the little place was closed, and eventually found our way to Ghiradelli square where we indulged in amazing hot fudge sundaes!We were delighted with our first day in this amazing city. We loved the diversity of the neighborhoods, the ease of public transport and the wonderful sights and sounds of a bustling, beautiful city.
Tomorrow we'd head to Alcatraz.