Saturday, 22 November 2014

Sunny California :-)

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Its been a week or two since we got back from the USA - and we're just starting to get back to normal. Jet lag is strange - you're tired when you should be awake and awake and starving hungry when you should be asleep. (Mainly at 4am :)

It's about time I caught up on some blogging though. Sorry it's taken so long - but my mum has been in hospital and we've been kept busy visiting her.

We had a lovely invitation to Claire and Jodi's wedding in Monterey - so we decided to make it our main holiday and spend a couple of weeks over there.

We were very excited when we arrived at Heathrow to catch our Virgin Atlantic flight to San Francisco. We'd stayed the Radisson Edwardian at the airport the night before - so that we wouldn't be late and stressed for our flight. Wasn't such a great idea as Nathan got food poisoning after the evening meal so didn't get much sleep! Luckily he was okay to fly though!

There had been a 3-day Dr Who convention going on Time of Angels - and we were convinced that we'd seen David Tennant in the foyer! Or a very good look-a-like :-)

Flying over Greenland

The flight was great - we hadn't been looking forward to 10 hours confined in a plane - but it went by so quickly. We had lots of leg room and the staff kept bringing round drinks and food and ice lollies - and I watched three whole films! N and I watched the Lego Movie (which we'd been meaning to do for a while as everyone kept telling us how good it was!( Trouble is we ended up singing "Everything is Awesome!" all week long.
I also watched Fault in Our Stars as I'd just read the book. It was wonderful - but a little heavy for a flight to the sun! Loved it though. Also enjoyed Belle - which I saw being filmed when I went for a weekend in Oxford with Janet a couple of years ago! Have a look at the original post here. That was really good too. It's pretty rare I ever sit down to watch a whole film - so to watch 3 in one go was quite a treat :-) Not like there's much else you can do!!

Lucky Nathan did survive 10 hours with no internet access - but it was a close thing :-)

Mel's shakes and malts

We had set off at 1pm in England and arrived in San Francisco at 4pm US time. It felt like midnight to us - but it was sunny and hot and very bright!
We got a "shared van"(arranged by an organised chap outside the airport) to our first hotel - the Cow Hollow Motor Hotel. Took a couple of hours through the city traffic and as our hotel was the last one the van was visiting! We were pretty exhausted by then - so just went across the road to Mel's Diner (famous for being featured in the film American Graffiti) and tried to eat something - despite being tired but not hungry. I had an excellent grilled turkey sandwich and sweet potato fries - which they kindly boxed up for me when I couldn't eat it! Although by 4am we were both wide awake and hungry - so finished it off then :-)

Our first day in San Francisco was our Alcatraz trip! We walked downtown - about 40 minutes- and discovered that SF is very hilly! Down by the waterfront we found the office to get our tickets and boarded the ferry for the 30 minute cruise across to The Rock.

The Rock

 It was around 11am and we thought we'd spend an hour or so over there then come back and get lunch. However when we got there and walked around - listening to the audio guide - it was so fascinating that stopped to read the many information plaques on the walls. The story of the one escape attempt was ingenious - and the toilet paper and soap heads then made were scarily realistic - they'd even used real hair.
Let me out!!

Three of them got into the service tunnel and up onto the roof and into the bay. No-one knows what happened to them - they are officially still being sought by the FBI. Most people think they drowned as the water was so cold and the currents so strong they cant have got far. But, who knows?

Ingenious escape attempt!

While we were in the shower block the guide told us that it was the only prison that insisted on hot showers - so the inmates wouldn't get used to cold water!

  We also stayed for a talk on Al Capone - one of the many colourful prisoners that had been held there. The lady lecturer told us the difference between a prison and a penitentiary - which is what Alcatraz actually was. No-one was sent to Alcatraz for the crimes they committed - they were only sent there if the normal prisons couldn't cope with them! If they were disruptive, violent or had tried to escape  they'd be sent to The Rock.

It must have been after 4.30pm when we got back and we hadn't even had lunch. We made up for it though - by trying one of the many family fish restaurants on the waterfront. We had been told we should try Scoma's - so we managed to find it and the food was fantastic! I loved the King salmon I had and N tried the fish mixed grill. They have their own "Fish Receiving Station" behind the restaurant - so everything is very fresh!
Learning to Segway :-)

The next day we had an appointment with a Segway! We'd booked a Segway tour of San Francisco - so turned up at the offices at 10am. I admit I was a little nervous as I've never tried a Segway before. I thought they might be a bit tricky to steer and slow down - and watching the safety video didn't do much to calm me down! However our guide Peter, soon put us at our ease when he took us into the showroom and put us through our paces to make sure we could get on and off safely, go forwards and backwards and stop! It turns out that it is really easy! You just shift your weight onto your toes and it takes you forward and rock back on your heels to slow down and stop. To turn you just pull the handlebars either left or right.
Great way to get around!

We were lucky, as there were no other customers booked in our slot - so we were getting a private tour! Peter took us out onto the road and over to a car park to practice a bit more - then we were off following him through traffic and up and down the hills of San Francisco. It was brilliant fun!! We were out for 2 and a half hours and he said we could go wherever we liked and he'd tell us all about the history of the city. He'd lived there for 24 years, so he knew a lot about it! From the Wild West days of the Gold rush, the catastrophic earthquake to the present day. He took us along the coastline, over to the Palace of Fine Arts and all over.

By the time we got back we were buzzing - wanted to get ourselves Segways - but sadly they are not allowed on either roads or pavements over here in the UK.

Clam Chowder in Boudin Sourdough.

We were hungry too - so following our friend Si and Heidi's recommendation we went to the Boudin Bakery for one of their famous sourdough loaves hollowed out and filed with clam chowder. It was really delicious and filling!

We also had to find a car to hire as we had to travel down the coast to Monterey the very next day. We were due there at 4pm for the wedding rehearsal! We found a car hire office and chose a compact car - but the helpful girl behind the counter told us not to book with her - it was much cheaper online! So that's what we did and picked up a Kia Soul the next morning at 9am. We had asked for it to be full of petrol when we picked it up - to minimise driving in the city! However - it was completely empty so we had to negotiate an extra bit of the city to get petrol. It is amazing though - less than $1 per gallon!! And yet they are complaining how much it costs!
Nathan with our Kia Soul in Monterey

Nathan did a brilliant job of driving us out of San Fran and onto the coastal highway that took us down to Monterey. The views of the cliffs and surf were amazing - though we didn't dare look for too long as we didn't want to get lost or go wrong. We took our time and got to The Jabberwock around 3pm.

We'd chosen this B&B after reading rave reviews on Trip Advisor - but it exceeded our expectations. It was so beautiful and quirky and original. A wonderful building with so many individual rooms. We were staying in the Brillig room - with a shower room made from old church doors . The owners Suzanne and Rick made us so welcome and gave us a tour and told us the history of the place. It used to be a convent at one time!
Our quirky B&B

Who is in residence today?

There was a lovely sun room where they held a soiree every evening with free local wines and home made hors d'oeuvres, where you could relax after your day, chat to other guests (we heard a lot of scary and fascinating animal stories!) and look at the menus from all the local restaurants before deciding where to go for diner that night. It was often dark and quite late before we went our to eat as it was so interesting to talk to the other people. There was a board on the wall where they wrote the names of all the guest and where they were from.

Breakfasts were amazing too. We all ate together at a big table and started off with the fantastic "JabberJuice" - a refreshing smoothie made by the chef full of oranges, pineapples, bananas, apples and coconut. A great start to the day! Then one day we had a savoury breakfast and the next one would be sweet. For example a ham and egg soufflĂ© with fruit  or French toast covered in berries - with sausage. They were all so tasty!
Jabberwock Breakfast - bread pudding, custard and sausage!

We made it down to the Monterey Plaza in time for the rehearsal and met some of the wedding party. We all learnt where to walk and where to sit and stand the next day. The staff at the hotel were very efficient and we were done in no time! Then Jodi had arranged for everyone to go into town to a place for drinks and food. It was called the Crown and Anchor and turned out to be an English pub!! Maybe he was feeling homesick :-)  It was actually very nice and we all enjoyed a few relaxing drinks (some more than others!) and various appetisers and snacks. We were loving the fried artichoke hearts which are served everywhere we've been so far.
The Groom and Nathan the night before the wedding!

It was nice to meet Claire's family and some of Jodi's ex-colleagues from London. It was a really fun night - and we got some sound business advice from the best man, Kristian. :-)

The next day, Friday 17th October, was the wedding day!! It wasn't until 4pm so we had time to explore Monterey for the morning before going back to the Jabberwock to get changed for the big event. It was so nice to wander down Cannery Row and see the statue to John Steinbeck and read all about the sardine canning industry that had grown up there. We even bought a copy of Cannery Row to read while we were actually there. I'd read it before - so Nathan started it first. 
Can you see me?

The wedding went really well! Nathan looked good in his Groomsman suit - an when he got to the hotel he met Jodi looking surprisingly cool. Until the Registrar asked for his fee of $100. Jodi had forgotten to bring the cash so Nathan and Jodi's mum managed to get $100 together to pay him so the wedding could go ahead! N won't let him forget that :-)  (Although it has been paid back now!)

I had to do the first reading and was quite nervous. I stood there in my pistachio dress and did my best - luckily didn't stumble over any of the words! A few people said afterwards that they loved it because of my accent - and asked if I watched Downton Abbey! :-)

Jodi, Claire and her parents

The Groomsmen

Claire looked absolutely beautiful and her dress was so gorgeous and showed off her lovely slender figure. All her bridesmaids had different floral dresses - it looked really effective.  I loved the ceremony too. Richard, the guy conducting it, had such a way with words.

He said something about them already being married in their hearts and souls so this was just the formal expression of their love. It was very moving. It was geld out on the terrace overlooking Monterey Bay - and the weather was perfect.

Then, there were lots of photos before we all moved indoors for the wedding meal. The next nerve=wracking part was where we each had to do a dance with our partner, whilst being introduced to all the other guests already seated. As I was a sponsor, my partner was Uncle Joe - another sponsor. We did our best - and looking back at the video now - it doesn't look to terrible! I think Nathan and his partner Ale did a better job :-)

The Bridesmaids
The tables were all named after places that were special to Claire and Jodi  (The Middletons as they're now known) and N and I were lucky enough to be on the top table with the bride and groom and parents.

The Speeches!
The food was delicious - with amazing lobster soup and fillet mignon. Then we danced the night away and ended the evening in the cocktail bar. It was a lovely wedding and we were so happy to have been invited. Thank-you, Claire and Jodi!

Fun at the photo booth!

Love their style at The Jabberwock!

We loved Monterey so much that we asked the Rick and Suzanne if we cold stay an extra night. We didn't want to only have one more day there after the wedding before heading back up to San Francisco.

Alice in Wonderland reminders everywhere!
They said yes - although we'd have to move rooms. They'd told us that thee was a family of five raccoons n their garden and I was just saying to Nathan that I hadn't seen any when he said - "Well come and look out of the window" and there were all five of them walking up the tree right outside our window!! They were huge too! In fact the next night we met one by the bins as we walked home from the Hawaiian restaurant after dinner.

Nice Jaccuzzi in the room :-)

We were surprised to find that the room we had to move into for our final night at Jabberwock was the bridal suite - complete with double Jacuzzi. Very nice :-)

We spent the next couple of days relaxing and soaking up the sun and sights in Monterey.
N makes  new friend in Monterey

He wanted to make sure I got his good side!

We went to the aquarium, which took most of the day! There was so much to see - we loved the many jellyfish and watching the sea otter feeding time.

Time for a paddle :-)

Also we walked on the beaches and round the coast and watched the amazing wildlife. There were so many sea lions just lying on rocks (and each other) all round the piers and seals in the harbour and so many sea birds. I loved watching the pelicans :-) We walked downtown and found a great microbrewery where we had lunch and sat outside and watched the world go by. It was so good to relax after the wedding!

Harbour Seals sunbathing

On the Forrest Gump bench.
Beautiful Monterey

On the Monday we had to head back to San Francisco and return the car. We hadn't booked anywhere for after the wedding as we wee not sure where we'd want to go next. However, the Segway tour of SF had showed us so many areas that we hadn't explored yet, we decided to spend our last few days back there. I wanted to go to Haight Ashbury to see the hippie district for a start and we hadn't yet been over the Golden Gate Bridge.

Over the Golden Gate Bridge on a tandem!

We've got to get up there!

We tackled the bridge the very next day! We thought we might cycle over it - and hen we got to the hire place they offered us a tandem - so we thought "Why not?"

The guy asked if we worked well as a team as it was vital for riding a tandem. We said that we were definitely a team! It took a little time to get used to pedalling together - but we soon got into it and set off for the bridge!

It was mainly cycle path along the way - but quite a few hills. It was brilliant to go over the bridge on a tandem - it meant that  we could stop and look at the views anytime! The bridge is 1.7 miles long so it was quite a way - then at the other side we had to cycle a few miles to Sausalito - a delightful little town on the other side.

We locked up the tandem, then had lunch there at the Napa Valley Burgers place.
Poshest burger ever!
The burgers were just superb - the nicest I've ever had!

The server was pretty cool too - he could welcome you and wish you "bon appetite" in any language!!

We taught him a bit of Stokie before we left. He had "Ey up, Duck!" written down on his notepad to try out on customers :-) By then we had cycled 8 miles so we decided to take advantage of the ferry tickets we'd been given with the bike! There were dozens of folks with bikes waiting for the ferry back to SF - but they got them all on - no problem!

View from the Bridge

Golden Gate at dusk

In the hippie district

We did a lot of walking the next day - over nine miles! We went to Haight Ashbury to see where the Summer of Love and the hippie movement started back in the sixties. It as where Janice Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and the Grateful Dead used to live and hang out. It is still a thriving area for music and alternative lifestyles. There are some wonderful costume and vintage clothes shops. One has clothes divided into decades - from the 1920s onwards - really fantastic outfits. 

Where the Summer of Love started.

There are so weird shops too - we went in one (where no photos were allowed) that sold strange artefacts like bones and two-headed stuffed pigeons. I wanted to get Laura a t-shirt reflecting the musical heritage and we wandered into a shop - where the designer of the iconic HA t-shirt worked. He took us through every aspect of the design and explained it all before he let us buy one! He seemed a little spaced-out but remembered all the sixties stars and what they got up to. :-0

We were even offered cannabis when we walked down the street! It was a very interesting day!

All aboard!
We also walked through the Castro District and the Mission District before ending up at the massive white County Hall. As we got back to our hotel on our last night there we realised that the massive building next to it was actually an I-Max cinema!

The actual cable!
So, we spend our last evening in there watching Dracula Untold before going to Mel's Dinner for a malt before bedtime. :-)

On our very last day - before we had to go to the airport, we managed to squeeze in a visit to the Cable Car Museum (we'd ridden then a couple of times and it was interesting to see how the whole system worked) and then a walk down the world's crookedest street. We'd had a wonderful ten days - but it was time to return home.