Golden Gate Park, Mission Dolores and North Beach …

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We were in no hurry to get up early today as the previous couple of days had been rather busy.  We sauntered off in the morning sun for breakfast at Cafe de la Presse as we had so enjoyed our first visit there – the French Toast was delicious!

 

Having bought a few things during our stay we needed another bag so we headed back into Chinatown and I found the delightful Old St Mary’s Church on the way … as luck would have it, a quintet was playing in front of the altar -who would have thought?

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The church interior was understated but impressive

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A beautiful stained glass window

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The gallery

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The plaque outside

With our large market bags in hand we returned to the hotel to freshen up then took an Uber to the massive Golden Gate Park. It is too big to cram into a couple of hours so we stayed at the town end and went in search of The Japanese Tea Garden. It is pristine, calm and rather beautiful and was the highlight of our visit to the Park.

 

The Shakespeare Garden, in complete contrast was a disappointment – it was sparsely planted, the lawns needed mowing, and the plants needed tending.

 

On leaving Mr Shakespeare we continued on to a large open space opposite the De Young Fine Arts Museum where the fountains were putting on a nice display.

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The fountain was playing – the De Young Fine Arts Museum is in the distance

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Water lilies outside the De Young Fine Arts building

We had to venture quite a bit further to get to the Conservatory of Flowers, which again was a little disappointing although the building housing the plants is stunning. The plants inside are mainly tropical and not too many were in bloom, so it was quite a quick visit and we were glad we had come on day when entry was free.

 

Uber took us back on to our next port of call – Mission Dolores and that was really worthwhile.  The old Mission survived the 1906 earthquake, but the Basilica had to be rebuilt.

 

Uber took us back the hotel where we decided we needed to get a taste of Italy at North Beach, so off we went in the Uber again, starting first at City Lights Bookstore – what a great place that is – a bookstore founded by the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. It is rather a rabbit warren, which makes it fun to be in and the sense of history is real.

 

Beside the bookstore is Vesuvio Cafe, a favourite haunt of the Beat Generation – poets and musicians alike. We turned up at Happy Hour – a busy time but it was fun to people watch…

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The side wall of the cafe

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Happy Hour!

Next we set off to check out the plethora of Italian restaurants and settled on Calzone’s – a great choice. It was relaxed, colourful and the food was excellent.

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Calzone’s

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A beautiful pale beets salad

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Saints Peter and Paul Church – the steps feature in the wedding photos of Marilyn Monroe and Joe Dimaggio

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We loved the outdoor tables – they reminded us of ones we saw on the Amalfi Coast

Since we had been tempted to share a slice of Creme Brulee cheesecake, we decided to walk back to the hotel, via Chinatown… it was the close of another perfect day in San Francisco and our final night in this beautiful city – tomorrow we fly home….

And our next adventure? New York and Washington D.C. in December …..

 

Alcatraz – a brilliant tour of ‘The Rock’…

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We had heard many wonderful reports about the tour of Alcatraz so had booked online well in advance to ensure our place. We set off full of anticipation on yet another beautiful morning down to Pier 33 to catch the 10.00 ferry.  The organisation of the tours from beginning to end seemed to be faultless, starting from the boarding process, where orderly lines form according to the time of departure.

The trip across to Alcatraz takes a mere 15 minutes and on a clear day such as we had, affords wonderful views back to the city.

Disembarking from the ferry was done in an orderly manner and we were soon standing on the dock of Alcatraz – to me it felt quite surreal. With each arrival a well-informed volunteer informs visitors of the strictly enforced policies on the island – no food, no alcohol, and no smoking except in one tiny area at far end of the dock.

Armed with all the necessary information, we set off up the hill towards the prison and were met with a profusion of beautiful flowers:

As we wound our way towards the area the audioguide tour would begin, several people stood gazing up at a stand of large eucalypts, and a couple were armed with binoculars and telescopic lenses. It transpired that a family of blue heron were nesting in the trees and the young herons were in full view preening themselves. Their appearance was all the more exciting for avid bird-watchers as the previous year the adult herons had abandoned their young. Thankfully this year they remained:

We passed the very tiny morgue as we continued on our way – it was quite eerie but that is par for the course for much of the tour as we found out once entering the prison and receiving our headphones. The soundtrack is brilliant – it features the voices of both former guards and prisoners alike, who provide accounts of prison life, and escape attempts. It is utterly fascinating and combined with the fact you are actually standing in the chilly, unwelcoming prison they are talking about, it is quite confronting.

For me, the one thing that stands out about Alcatraz is that it was incredibly cold – it felt chilly and damp, despite the warm day outside, and as for the ‘recreation yard’, that left me beyond words – it is one of the coldest, windiest places I have ever ventured into – I had to retreat almost immediately. The mind boggles as to how prisoners withstood that on a daily basis.

One more chilling spot was solitary confinement. I couldn’t bring myself to go into a cell because frankly, combined with the realistic sound effects going on in the headphones it was just plain scary. How anyone survived long term in a solitary cell I have no idea:

I was much happier when the tour guided us to the library, a large sparsely furnished room, with just a few bookshelves, but it received a lot of light and to me it was the ‘best room in the house’ as it must have been for those prisoners who were afforded reading privileges:

Continuing on we saw the Administration block and Control Room, all the while being informed about the significance of each room and what happened there.

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The control room

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A visitation booth – austere from both sides.

The accounts of the Battle of Alcatraz was fascinating – here is constant reminder of how the uprising was crushed –

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Marks on the floor from the grenades dropped by the military

Escapes from Alcatraz were supposed to be impossible but the audio soundtrack did describe the escape of three prisoners  – they managed to dig through their cell walls and escape through a utility corridor – they were never found. Their clever plan included placing fake heads in their beds so it appeared they were in their cells …

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A gory-looking fake head – note the hole in the wall

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The utility tunnel

The tour ends in the large dining hall – small for the number of prisoners, who were allowed twenty minutes for each meal. Tear gas canisters line the walls…

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The dining hall

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A tear gas canister at the top on the wall

The concluding comments on the audio record the closure of the federal penitentiary on March 21, 1963 – by order of Robert Kennedy.  It is now managed by the National Park Service. The audioguide tour was very impressive – informative and so cleverly put together. I highly recommend  it!

We completed our time on The Rock with a visit to the New Industries building which housed  the laundry and now has the fascinating Leigh Wiener photographic exhibition depicting the closing day of the prison. We left much more aware of the fascinating history of Alactraz ….

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Loved the flowers on the island

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The model industries building – used as a laundry until the New Industries structure was built

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Inside the New Industries building (the laundry which now houses a Leigh Wiener photographic exhibition of the closing days of the prison

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Leigh Wiener photo of a heavily armed guard – two guns!

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The officers quarters…

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The water tower

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Leaving the Island – memories of our time there will linger

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Drawing further away…

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Lombard Street and Grace Cathedral …

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With the Golden Gate cycle tour ticked off our bucket list we proceeded to tick off a couple more – Lombard Street and Grace Cathedral (and a ride in the California Line Cable car). We have relied heavily on our map to get around, and thankfully Phil has the skills of a homing pigeon. If navigating the streets were left to me, we would be well lost!

The day remained warm and sunny as we set set of for Lombard Street, and we reached this famous attraction relatively quickly,  even though the slope is vertically challenging. In fact, every now and then I felt as if I may topple backwards!

As we we continued up to the famous switchback part the of the road (the last quarter mile or so), we could see many tourists milling around near the paths leading up the sides of the beautifully landscaped street. Signposts advised us we had arrived at Lombard Street homes and gardens, and asked tourists to respect the eye-catching Victorian properties.

Entrance to the quarter-Mile wiggly part of the street

We began walking up the footpath on the right hand side and vista before us was astonishing – beautifully-kept gardens run the length of this part of Lombard and the road snakes it’s way down in between them.

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Bougainvillea like San Francisco’s climate

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The gardens are bursting with hydrangeas

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A visitor on Lombard Street

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A bloke on Lombard Street

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A switchback

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That view!

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Hydrangea heaven

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The homes on the street are quite something too

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Coit Tower in the distance from the top of Lombard Street switchbacks

You could never get sick of the view

For us, the best part of conquering the steep walk, apart from the sweeping views of the city it afforded, was that we got to go down the other side and that was a rather pretty stroll in itself.

Our plan was to continue on to California Street to grab a ride on the cable car en route to Grace Cathedral and we managed to find our way to a stop, but disappointingly, this part of the route was not running the cable car and a shuttle bus was substituted instead. As it happened there was no driver on the bus so we decide to walk … and it was certainly worth the trek.

Grace Cathedral in Nob Hill is a magnifcent edifice – modelled on Notre Dame in Paris among others, it is much admired for its beautiful stained glass. We arrived to find the Gothic-style church almost empty so we took our time to admire the interior which is quite breathtaking, though for me a sense of history was lacking. The construction began in 1928, so the lack of ambience was not surprising. Nevertheless, it was an experience to cherish.

After our long day which included walking and cycling, an Uber ride was called for to return to the hotel, whereupon we set off to meet friends at Kin Khao Thai restaurant for dinner.

A quick word about the food – we have found the choice and quality of the huge variety of cuisines on offer to be amazing. We have had Italian, French, Spanish, Chinese and Thai meals and have enjoyed them all – with exception of one on our first day which was average. One last thing – with the exchange rate as it currently is, eating out is proving to be very expensive here.

 

Riding the Cable car!

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After Alcatraz we trekked off to the Ferry Building to eat at Hog Island Oyster Co. – it came highly recommended and when we got there we could see why – it must be the most popular eatery in the Ferry Building Marketplace! The queue was long and we were hungry so we headed off to good old Peets for coffee before looking for another place to eat. We decided to go back to Pier 39 taking  a wander through the bustling Marketplace as we headed there – the artisan foods and goods on display there make for a colourful and enticing sight.

At Pier 39 we chose to eat at a place called Wipeout Bar and Grill – very casual and tasty food – the decor was interesting too:

Having sorted the hunger pangs we set off to Fisherman’s Wharf to find the Cable Car terminus – it was packed, and we had an hour’s wait to board standing in the hot sun. A musician was playing great music under the trees and while Phil waited I set off to take a photo of a tall ship I had seen on our bus trip:

It was quite fascinating watching the gripman turn each car as it came to the end of the route.

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The turning circle

When it came to our turn to board we managed to grab the outside seats we wanted so Phil could stand and I could sit and take photos… the ride was quite thrilling, especially the downhill route! It was totally worth the wait and it makes it even more fun if the driver is vocal as our one was – she wasn’t standing any nonsense and had the hangers-on like Phil pulling their butts in each time a cable car passed us on the left.

On arrival at the terminus, I did a little solo shopping while Phil returned to the hotel. We had heard a lot about a place called The Cheesecake Factory in the Macy’s Building by Union Square and decided to brave it for dinner – it was an interesting experience. It is enormous and from the people milling around at the desk we could see there would be a wait, but only 10 minutes after we received the pager we were seated in a relatively quite spot. Initially I thought the whole place would be pandemonium looking a the crowded reception area but we actually had a very pleasant and quite tasty meal. It must be said though, as is so often the case in the USA, the meals were ENORMOUS!

 

San Francisco – a sunny day, Sausalito and the Golden Gate Bridge…

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We have become real Uber fans – it is such a quick and easy way to get around in a city you don’t know and it is surprisingly cheap. For today’s much anticipated  trip we had to be at the Bay City Bike depot at an appointed time so Uber made sense. After arriving a little early and checking in, we became part of a wonderful international mix of people, from Germany, England, Taiwan, USA and of course New Zealand.  A bike mechanic was on site to set us all up and we had time to get used to our assigned cycles before our tour guide Gabe introduced himself, and advised us of the tour rules and safety policies. At the appointed time our diverse bunch was let loose on the streets of San Francisco.

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Cyclists are well catered for here, with numerous cycle paths, so personally I felt safe and comfortable on the bike – I look forward to the time that cyclists are so well catered for in Auckland (though admittedly it is improving).

After stopping for photo opportunities at the Aquatic Park and a bit of a history lesson from Gabe, we set off to tackle the first hill of our ride taking us up to view Fort Mason Center below. At the top of the hill you can see what is now a cultural hub (galleries, theatres etc) converted from the original old piers and warehouses.

IMG_9221The ride down the other side was a breeze but a little further on we unwittingly managed to ride right on to the course for the huge international Escape from Alcatraz triathlon along Marina Green -so that was an interesting experience! Marshalls  were yelling at us to get off the race course so with Gabe leading the way, we managed to get out on to the road.   The triathalon swim begins at Alcatraz which is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation area – which also takes in the Presidio and Golden Gate Park.

Riding on through this upmarket area we moved on to The Palace of Fine Arts, an eye-catching domed rotunda, which stands in a pristine setting complete with a small lake and the odd swan. This amazing structure opened in 1915 as part of the Panama Pacific International Expositon in order to show the world that San Francisco had risen again after the 1906 earthquake.

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The Palace of Fine Arts rotunda

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The little lake complete with swan

Having taken in a little bit more cultural history courtesy of Gabe, we had to brave heading out back to the main route towards the entrance to the Bridge, where we cycled over Chrissy Field, which runs between Marina Green and Fort Point, passing many of the slower athletes who were still completing the triathlon. Thankfully we stopped for 15 minutes at the aptly named Warming Hut where refreshements can be bought – a nice scone for us, and coffee that was too hot to drink…

After one last hill, we arrived at the meeting point where Gabe gathered us all together to advise of the protocol for cyclists on the Bridge – it was so exciting as we headed towards it… and quick as a flash we were finally on it … magic, and much warmer than we had expected it to be. In 1.7 miles the ride was complete and it felt amazing!

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A selfie midway over the bridge

On the other side, we gathered together again for high fives, advice on what to do in Sausalito and information on the return ferry which some of would take, while others cycled back.

Once we hit the road to Sausalito and climbed another hill, it was time to stop and remove layers of clothing – the microclimate there means it can be up to 15 degrees warmer and this was certainly true today.  The ride into town was pleasant and it was obvious that Sausalito is an affluent town, with beautiful homes and a very pleasant environment for shopping and eating. We had a ferry to catch so we nipped into Napa Valley Burger Factory and had a very tasty meal, (bunless burger for me), before we stood in the hot sun waiting to board the ferry back to Pier 1.

It is hard to describe the exhilaration we felt having cycled over this famous iconic ediface – needless to say we were very happy and a little tired as we relaxed on the ferry ride back. We rode back along the Embarcadero to Fisherman’s Wharf to return the bikes, with our sights firmly set on walking the famous Lombard Street and finding Grace Cathedral…..

San Francisco – first impressions…

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Impession #1: The homeless population of this city appears to be huge – for whatever reason, there are homeless people everywhere – asking you for money as you walk by, congregating around busy shops like Walgreen’s, Target and local pharmacies, sleeping in doorways or on sidewalks, parks or squares, and sadly, rummaging in trash cans. Many seem to be under the influence of drugs or have an intellectual disability so that they display strange behaviours, often talking to themselves or yelling out torrents of abuse. I find this very sad and confronting as surely many have been reduced to their current circumstance through no fault of their own – nevertheless it is rather frightening if they lunge at you with flailing arms and whacking you as happened to Phil today when we set off in the warm sun for breakfast at the Iconic Dotties.

Impression 2 #: The weather it seems can be very changeable and with rather chilly winds, especially in open spaces and on those wonderful hilly streets. This was true of our first day but today was quite different – sunshine-filled and very warm – perfect weather for our Big Bus hop-on hop-off tour which took several hours and went over the Golden Gate Bridge and back.

Impression 3#: San Francisco architecture is utterly amazing – I have found myself looking skyward so often at the old edifaces, rebuilt using bricks from buildings destroyed in the 1906 earthquake; wonderful pastel-coloured wooden homes sit elegantly on pristine streets, boasting ornate exteriors -many with impressive domes or turrets; and stunning modern architecture, looms high above the sidewalks – it is quite mesmerising. Here are just a few examples as seen from the bus or on our walks – more will follow later as we walk through different areas:

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The Transamerica Pyramid dominates the skyline

Impression #4: Street art and sophisticated art galleries abound. Our tour guide told us that murals often pop up overnight. This wonderful mosaic piece is on a wall near Alamo Square:

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A mural in Chinatown

 Impression #5: San Francisco is a vibrant and colourful city with well developed areas for use by locals and tourists alike – an example is the bustling and colourful Pier 39. We were rather taken with it – there are many places to eat, plus entertainment for young and old.  We hopped off the bus here and had lunch at Fog Island Fish House – it was our chance to try the famous chowder in a bread bowl (no need to do it again though) and we found the vocal and smelly sunbathing seals rather amusing – they certainly are an attraction as is the view directly across to Alcatraz from the end of the pier.

The walk to Fisherman’s Wharf saw me run out of both camera and phone battery. On our return to base there was a chance to nab some Nike bargains in Macy’s and we completed our evening with a walk to Chinatown for a light dinner at Sam Wo’s – delicious authentic food!

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More of our adventures follow tomorrow….

Carmel-by-the-Sea to San Francisco

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After a very average breakfast in the Green Lantern’s  rather dated dining room,  we took another quick walk to the bleak and windy beach then on up to the town to grab a coffee. I have worked out that asking for a double shot cappuccino (no chocolate or cinnamon thanks ), equates best to a flat white at home – but I still can’t get enthusiastic about drinking my coffee from cardboard cups….

The beach still looked bleak in the morning

Once back at the Green Lantern, we packed the car and set off for San Francisco. We had become well used to the portable GPS Roger and Frances had kindly lent us, and we set off via the famed Seventeen Mile Drive.

Back on the freeway, we headed for Monterey to get petrol and have lunch at Fishermans’s Wharf. I have to admit we did confuse the GPS lady a bit as we were not sure where we were heading, but she got us there in the end..

Having filled the tank and our tummies, we set off of for San Francisco and to be honest it was a fairly easy drive, even when we got to the busy airport environs. We found the Enterprise drop off point at the Rentals terminal, called an Uber and set off for Hotel Adagio, one of the Marriott Autograph Collection hotels.

I was very proud of Phil getting us all the way here safely, but I think we made a pretty good team, with the help of the portable Garmin GPS. The air was chilly when we arrived, but it was great to see the sun. After settling into to our comfortable room, we enjoyed drinks at the Adagio’s happy hour, nipped out to buy a couple of long sleeved tops in case the cold weather stayed, and had dinner at Tratto, a local Italian – Phil’s meal was a delicious vegetarian cannelloni, mine was chicken served on some sort of tasteless mash – not so good…. but the ambience was fine and it warmed me up.

Next post – first impressions of this pretty city…

Santa Barbara to Carmel-by-the-Sea

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We were very surprised this morning when we woke up to find it was raining in Santa Barbara. We had a wonderful sleep in an extremely comfortable bed and had thought we would take walk in the early morning sun – that was not to be so we nipped across the road to Joe’s Cafe for breakfast – it is a  great diner with a 90 year long history. We are both enjoying the way Americans love to celebrate and remember their history with photo-covered walls. I felt the need to try some pancakes – good choice – decadent but delicious.

A short stack of pancakes – glad I didn’t get the long stack!

We managed to get in a walk post-brekkie in very light drizzle. Santa Barbara seems such a sleepy town – very few people about even at 11am, and all the homeless folk we saw yesterday had disappeared.

Phil finds a friend

A lifelike statue

Jacaranda threes thrive here

Once we checked out, we began the long drive to Carmel-by-the-Sea. We had intended to do the entire coastal route but part of the road is closed requiring an inland detour. We encountered all sorts of weather beginning in thick fog as we drove through a mountain pass, followed by strong winds as we drove via fertile valleys, and finally sunshine as we neared the coast again.

Mist, which got thicker and thicker – we could barely see until we began the descent

Fertile valley

Finally some sun

Finding our accommodation in Carmel-by-the-Sea was easy. The Green Lantern is a quaint cluster of cottages – 770 steps from the beach – yes really. We are in Walnut cottage – very cute and cosy and we rather like it.

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The room is cosy and inviting

Walnut cottage – our door is lower left

Having dumped all our bags in the cottage, we set off in search of the bar recommended by the receptionist for pre-dinner drinks. Mulligan’s is full of Irish memorabilia and several television screens were playing local sports games – ice hockey and baseball in the main. The place is quirky and fun and the meals looked good but we set off to find a European  bistro called La Bicyclette…it was a great choice – quite expensive but the food was outstanding.

Pre-dinner drinks

Window boxes outside Mulligans

Sign outside Mulligans

An obligatory bike I suppose

Tin goats in La Bicyclette window

Our delicious mains at La Bicyclette

We made off towards the beach after dinner hoping to see the sunset, but alas there was too much cloud, so here I sit recording our day instead. We have enjoyed what we have seen in Carmel so far – there are classy shops, delightful eateries,interesting architecture and pretty gardens. It feels calm and relaxing …. tomorrow we head off for San Francisco.

Pretty house near The Green Lantern

Santa Barbara Sojourn

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We left our dear friends the Poultons at midday today to embark on a new adventure -driving to San Francisco via Santa Barbara and Carmel-by-the-Sea. We picked up the car at noon feeling good about what lies ahead. It is a while since Phil had driven in the States although he has done plenty in Europe so he feels comfortable driving on the left.

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Frances kindly lent us a portable GPS and once Roger had led us to the easiest route to get on the freeway we were off – in no time we were in Malibu having a well-deserved coffee and a bite to eat. Phil and I seem to be a good team on the road so let’s hope it continues.

By chance there was a Lululemon shop near the cafe, so I went in looking for bargains – none to be had but the shop girls suggested a quick detour to Camarillo Outlets would turn up bargains in their store. Much to my surprise Phil was happy to detour and in 15 minutes or so we were outside the store. Camarillo outlets is an enormous complex – there is no way you can do it justice in a day let alone an hour. However, we managed a couple of purchases in Lululemon, did some damage for Phil in Banana Republic and best of all, he finally got his sunnies – Emporio Armani at a crazy price – he looks pretty smooth in then I must say.

We managed to find our way back to the freeway and in what seemed a very quick ride we hit Santa Barbara. Tuesday is market day here but luckily we were aware of this and managed to find our way to to the hotel’s valet parking. F16007B0-D5AA-4162-97FA-E03FD5FE2D47.jpeg

We are delighted with the hotel and our room – the hotel has the elegance of bygone days when the rich and famous came to stay here – now they take in yokels like us!

We explored the area down by the water before dinner and we agreed this is a very pretty town but we are very surprised by the large number of homeless people in the area. It is hard not to to feel sad for them and guilty for being us …

Our day as completed perfectly with dinner at The Palace Grill – a wonderful place serving southern-style food and southern ambience to boot –  we loved it. The first thing that caught my eye was a starter called Gumbo Ya Ya – so we shared a bowl and it was blimmin’ delicious – as was the entire meal.

We are tucked up in our cosy room now, resting up before our day day on the road – heading for Carmel-by-the-Sea….

 

Chilling in Manhattan Beach …

On return to Manhattan Beach at the Poulton’s, we settled in and decided to head for our customary walk to the beach. It was lovely to have the sun warming our bones! Dinner with Frances, Roger and Catherine turned into a hilarious trip down memory lane – I certainly heard some hairy tales about my husband and his childhood (he lived next door to The Casey family for many years)….

The following day we took an early morning walk along the Hermosa beachfront and back, had a coffee at Bonaparte’s, then meandered through the colourful Fiesta stalls set up in the side streets. Lunch was at our fave True Food Kitchen (yes we are doing a lot of eating!), followed by a visit to Target for Olly – including shopping by FaceTime. Later we had a drink with Margaret and Steve who called in on their way to LAX airport. We managed some good trip planning for 2019 too – it is starting to shape up well as is the trip to New York in December with Rog and Frances.  Tomorrow we drive off in search of San Francisco …