Days 39 - 42, California
We woke up early doors on Friday morning and after quickly packing we caught the tram to the airport to catch our domestic flight to San Francisco. The flight was delayed by an hour due to bad weather at our destination, forcing one of the runways to close. We were eventually on our way and landed without problems. We were staying with one of Dan's school friends and wife, James and Penny and James was kindly waiting for us to take us down to Los Gatos near San Jose.
We had a very peaceful afternoon once we got back to the house and met Penny and Matthew, who was shy for about 20 minutes before letting me play with his cars and then chase. They live in a lovely house in a (relatively) quiet neighbour on a hill, which boasts some fantastic views of the Silicon Valley. After a tour of the house and being shown to our very luxurious room we went into Los Gatos town for a little explore and had an early tea at a burger bar. Back at the house we struggled to stay awake, the last few late nights creeping up on us so we made our excuses and went to bed early.
On Saturday we all rose early to go to the beach at Santa Cruz and beat the rush. Summer days are very typical in Silicon Valley, they start off usually cool and misty but at some point the sun burns through and the rest of the day is brilliant sunshine and blue sky. This morning was definitely cold and very misty and we couldn't see San Jose or the other side of the valley at all. I hoped it was nicer in Santa Cruz and off we went in our fleeces.
We got to the beach after about 40 minutes in the car and parked without problem. We walked to the beach and found a spot and settled down. I looked around at what other families were doing and was quite surprised to see some groups with better camps than at Glastonbury! There were gazebos and picnic tables, lots of beach chairs and rugs and enough food to feed the entire beach.
We had a fun couple of hours playing in the sandn. We all played a part, the adults would make something and Matt Matt would destroy it, he was very good at it! Everyone went for a paddle but it was too cold to get any wetter and the sun stayed well and truly behind the clouds. My fleece stayed firmly on!
At lunch time we packed up and took everything back to the car and then walked down the pier in search of food. The clouds were finally starting to break and the sun started shining but a harsh wind remained. We found a nice place to eat and had a decent lunch and then we continued to walk to the end of the pier where the sea lions were making a lot of noise and had climbed onto the horizontal beams of the pier to sun themselves.
We walked back to the car and Penny kindly drove north to show us some of the beautiful California coastline. There were some stunning, secluded, quiet beaches along the way and spectacular cliffs. We stopped for an ice cream before turning back and heading back to Los Gatos. After tea we settled down for a lazy evening and watched the brilliant Return of the Jedi before turning in.
Sunday started with our first breakfast in a real life diner in town, very yummy it was too. We then took Matt to the park to play on the swings. This morning was much hotter and it was nice to stroll through the park for a while.
When we returned to the house Dan and I spent the majority of the afternoon on the laptop planning our South West Road Trip and looking at where to go and stay. We also did some blog but not enough.
We all went to San Jose to watch our first baseball game and it was lots of fun! I picked up the rules quite quickly which was surprising as the snippets we had seen previously on tv made the game look really complicated. It was an enjoyable evening, the only thing wrong was that the Giants lost, boooooo!
We were up before 7am on Monday morning to make the most of our day in San Francisco. James kindly gave us a lift to San Jose train station and we caught the commuter express train to our destination.
We arrived a little after 9am and it was freezing, even in my fleece and leggings I was cold. James had recommended a place to have breakfast so we walked into town and checked out Lori's another old fashioned American diner. This one had jukeboxes in the booths and some great memorbilia all around. Once we had eaten our fill we paid and continued on our way down Powell Street to where the cable car started. These cars were invented to help the residents climb the city's steep hills without injury and horses struggled when the cobbles became wet. We waited 45 minutes before finally boarding a car and off we went. It was very breezy onboard, Dan stood on the step and watched the city go by while I sat on the seat, and then we swapped places. It's a great way to get about and you get to see quite a chunk of the city as well. It was just like a roller coaster, dodging the people hanging off the cars coming the other way.
We got off before the end as we wanted to see Lombard Street, a very famous road in San Francisco. This is a very steep one way street with eight very tight hairpin bends, naming it one of the bendiest streets in the world. It also had some very pretty houses either side. Cars cannot exceed 5 mph down the red bricked lane. At a gradient of 27% we were very happy to be at the top and not the bottom and off we set with Dan snapping all the way (that's snapping on the camera, not snapping at me!)
At the bottom we made our way to the famous fisherman's wharf and bought tickets for our first cruise, which would take us under the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz. We had an hour to kill so we had a look at Pier 39 and took in the spectacular views of the Bay Bridge, and once again, about a billion sea lions sunning themselves on a floating dock. We grabbed a drink and then headed to the boat.
We managed to get seats on the upper deck we took in the wonderful views of the bay as we headed towards the bridge. We had timed the cruise just right as the mist around the bridge was lifting and we could finally see it in all it's glory. The sun came out to shine too. Just as well as it was bitterly cold on the deck with a harsh wind blowing.
The bridge is huge and it made a nice change to see it from the middle of the bay rather than from on top or a side view from the shore. It was awesome although I wouldn't call it golden, but having said that "rusty brown" doesn't have quite the same ring to it! (officially it is called International Orange).
We then circled Alcatraz which is only a few miles from both the bridge and the shore. It is said that nobody could escape due to the sharks and the freezing water. I could vouch for the water temperature but we didn't see any sharks. You can actually land on the island now and pariticpate in a tour if you won the lottery recently. We decided to pass on this opportunity, quite satisfied with what we could see from the Bay Cruise.
When we landed back on terra firma we decided to go and see the bridge properly so off we set. It wasn't that far, we could see it from the wharf, it was just around the corner. Five miles later, we finally arrived at the visitor's centre on the East side of the bridge. We were well and truly exhausted by this point but onwards we went, debating how far we should go before turning back. We staggered on to the famous landmark, refusing to look right so we could look back at the view of the city from a good central vista point. We came to the first tower and decided to round the corner and then look over our shoulders only to be confronted by a line of people wearing high visibility jackets informing us that they were sorry but unfortunately we were not able to go any further. Instantly I understood why so I didn't ask any further questions, I just stood to the right and turned back to look at an almighty view of the San Francisco skyline. It was truly magnificient. A couple of minutes later another lady tried to round the corner to be told by the officials that unfortunately she could go any further. "Why, what's happened?" she asked. "Nothing yet and we hope it stays that way" was the reply. I was correct, there was a jumper on the bridge, and not the cashmere type! So even if we did have enough energy to walk to the end off the bridge we couldn't as across the road the path is dedicated to bikers, with no pedestrians allowed. But, as I've already said we could see what we wanted to, and there was another lovely view of ALcatraz. We were also running out of time and we wanted to check out the Golden Gate Park as well before heading back to the station as it was now gone 4pm.
We set off back across the bridge to the visitor centre where we took some more comical photos, which was becoming a fun past time! I asked in the visitor centre how to get to the park and the shop assistant gave me strict instructions on which bus to catch and where to transfer. The good thing about busses here is that you can transfer and only pay once, like the tube at home, i.e. if you want to go somewhere but you will need to change buses you pay once (typically 2.25$) and obtain a transfer ticket, which you show on your next bus and you don't have to pay again. We at home would have to pay twice, especially if you live on a crappy bus route like we do!
Of course, things are never that simple are they? The first bus took us to where we wanted to go and we got off at the correct stop. We found the tranfer bus stop and instantly my internal sat nag kicked in and said "You're going the wrong way" but as a bus was waiting and we didn't have a lot of time left I ignored it and on we got. I looked at my map and I was right, we were travelling away from the park back into town. Dan and I discussed what to do as we still had the transfer tickets so we could get off if we wanted to but the jumper on the bridge had caused massive delays on the road and it was rather chaotic so we decided not to get off but to have a drink when we got back into town. it was the right decision, we barely had enough time to grab a cold beverage before it was time to walk the 20 minutes back to the commuter rail station and board the last express train back to San Jose.
When we arrived there were alot of teenage girls wearing outfits that seemed quite absurd to me (even when I was that age!) one girl was wearing a black mini skirt with a neon yellow lycra sports bra. I commented to Dan what was going through my mind (probably best I don't repeat it on here) and he informed me that the conductor had given instructions on how to get to the Lady Delusional, sorry, Lady Gaga concert just down the road. She was following us around, she performed at Madison Square Gardens while we were in NYC. Because of this James was delayed in an unusual traffic jam but he soon got through and we were back at the house in no time for a light dinner before bed after a long day.
On Tuesday morning James very kindly dropped us off in San and Jose and we went and toured the Winchester Mystery House. It was a very peculiar house that was never completed because Sarah Winchester, who was married to one of the company founders of the Winchester rifle, believed the spirits of all those killed by the gun, (an awful lot I imagine!!) would kill her if she finished it and so for nearly 38 years she kept adding to the original eight bedroomed house. It had stairs that literally climbed into the ceiling, a door on one of the floors that opened outside with a steep drop on the outside (titled the door to nowhere) and windows in the floor so she could spy on the staff.
The 1906 earthquake caused considerable damage to what was now a seven storey house, and caused the observatory tower to come crashing down. Mrs Winchester believed the earthquake wasthe work of the spirits who were trying to tell her she had spent too much money on the front of the house, which was nearing completeion. After having come structural repairs made she ordered the front 30 rooms to be boarded up and they remained that way until after her death.
This kept us entertained and we worked up quite an appetite. We left and went in search of food and after looking at menus to some very posh places that wanted minimum 20$ for a starter we ended up at good old reliable Subway.
After lunch we got a couple of bits which we needed and then we caught the bus to the airport to pick up our rental car for the next 10 days. The journey back to James and Penny's did nothing for my nerves. In Glacier we only had to deal with a couple of main roads, here we had to exit the car park straight onto the freeway and into five lanes of traffic! Dan managed superbly and we made it back to Los Gatos safely where we stopped to buy little thank you presents to the Blackwells for allowing us to stay.
We had a lovely last evening with yummy Carnitas, something we've never eaten before and they were delicious. We want to say once again a big thank you to James, Penny and Matt for allowing us to completely disrupt their routine and show us what Silicon Valley (and the Northern California Coast) had to offer. We hope to see you again in the not too distant future.