Following our theme park-related fun in Anaheim and friendly frolic in Fresno, we made our way north to the wonderful city of San Francisco. We would spend the best part of a week here as we celebrated our first overseas Christmas with my cousin Catherine, her husband Owen, and their baby boy Dylan. The time spent with the family was truly precious. We played with little Dylan everyday and were blown away by his cuteness and smarts - he's 2 years old and he can spell just about anything! We also gave Catherine and Owen some rare hubby and wife time before the arrival of their second little bub in 2015. Jess was in her element as we took on as many babysitting and cooking duties as Catherine and Owen would allow. Jess even made her famous gnocchi in butter and sage sauce - she makes it from scratch and each gnocchi is stuffed with prosciutto.
Our Christmas Day was not quite the White Christmas that all the shopping centre carols CDs had been promising but it was certainly much cooler than were used to in Australia. We had a lovely day with the family and helped Dylan master his new toy kitchen set, as he took delight in making us felt pizzas and pasta all day long. To add an extra special touch, Catherine and Owen gave us our first personalised Christmas stockings. Christmas stockings are a big deal in the USA and I now understand why - the bigger and more stretchable your stocking is, the more goodies you need to fill it!
On the tourist front, we didn't do a whole lot in San Francisco. We spent a day walking through the famous Haight-Ashbury district, which is like Brunswick St on steroids and with less self-righteous eco-hipster types (just your run of the mill hipster weirdos here!). I also tested the limits of Jess' love for me as I spent 2 hours in a gigantic record store. I managed to come home with an awesome coffee table book on hair metal, two vintage Iron Maiden records and one slightly-annoyed, but nevertheless supportive, girlfriend. Sadly, our fantastic luck as tourists would run a little dry on our next activity.
The infamous Alcatraz prison is synonymous with San Fran and is an absolute must-see for any tourist visiting the Bay Area. I had visited "The Rock" on my previous US trip and it was a rather simple affair - we just turned up on the day, bought tickets and boarded one of the many ferries. This time around? Different story. It turns out the many ferries offering trips to Alcatraz have been condensed into just one service. And you need to book tickets weeks in advance. The next available tickets were for January 5 (when we would be long gone from San Fran).
However, all was not lost. The ticket vendor told us about a cheeky way to get same day tickets. All we had to do was come to the pier "before 7:00 am" and there would be 35 tickets available for purchase. The day after Christmas we eagerly arrived at the pier at 6:00 am only to be confronted by a queue some 150 people long! We weren't going to Alcatraz on this holiday. As a small consolation, we took advantage of our early wake up and photographed a glorious sunrise over the bay before heading into the city for some retail therapy.
If the disappointment of missing out on Alcatraz had Jess feeling a little flat, it wouldn't be for long. Unbeknownst to her, her brother Peter and I had been planning a surprise for her since June. Her brother, Peter would be flying in to San Fran to surprise her and spend a week travelling with us, before heading off to Vegas to meet up with some mates. Planning this surprise was no easy feat. I spent every waking minute with Jess and it was near impossible to find time for a quick chat with Pete to fine tune our plans. Our accommodation was often very small and the only privacy afforded to us was the humble toilet seat or, if we were lucky, the lock of a bathroom door. Needless to say, Jess was really starting to worry about my frequent and lengthy "bowel movements" and my strange habit of taking my phone with me while I showered ;-)
After months of plotting and planning, Peter flew in to San Fran and waited at a nearby Laundromat. All I had to do was walk past with Jess and he would pull off the big surprise. As we exited our apartment Jessica shrieked "Look. Peter's here!" I turned around to find a Mazda exactly the same at Peter's parked in front of our apartment. Talk about the mother of coincidences! Little did Jess know how prophetic her seemingly harmless joke would turn out to be.
As we turned the corner to the Laundromat, Peter hopped into view and wished Jess a Merry Christmas. She stood there stunned and in tears as Pete and I rejoiced in the triumphant feeling of having pulled off the mother of all surprises. That moment, when Jess realised that her trip of a lifetime had just gotten 1000 times better than she ever dreamed it could, is something that I will cherish forever. I'm sure Jess and Pete will cherish it too. Once again, our time in San Fran confirmed what we had learned at every stage of this trip: places are nice but it's the people who make life what it is.
Now there were three of us. And we were ready for our next stop: Lake Tahoe