Home again

October 24th, 2006 , 17:05

We made it home. Back to boring blogs now. The flight was long. Very long. Joe slept and I read. Now feeling very tired and ready to go to bed but going to try to wait for another hour or two before going to sleep. Otherwise I’ll just be awake too early!

Got to the airport in plenty of time and checked in. Had a look around the shops then through security and more shops. Had margaritas while waiting for the flight. So nothing much.

Last Day

October 23rd, 2006 , 22:03

Well, it’s the last day and we’re all packed and waiting for the airport shuttle. Really don’t want to leave the sunshine and warm weather.

Got up this morning and did the last bit of packing. Then sorted the room and left the bags for a last wander into San Francisco. It was foggy and chilly but a nice walk. We strolled along the waterfront again looking out where the bridge and Alcatraz should have been, but we couldn’t see them. That was ok as we got to finally see the real fog over the bay. We stopped at In n Out Burger for, well, for a burger. That’s all they do. Which was fine. The on to Pier 39 for a last stroll and look at the sea lions. As we walked the fog was lifting and the sun came out. By the time we started heading back to the hotel the sun was out and it was warming up. A last stop at Girarbelli for a coffee (well a mocha and chocolate shake) and then back to the hotel.

Now just waiting for the shuttle. Ho hum.

Sorry for the F in fog

October 23rd, 2006 , 2:23

Or Carl Sandburg was right.

THE fog comes
on little cat feet.
 
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.


We decided today we’d walk to the Golden Gate Bridge so we headed out in bright sunlight and warm weather. Walked along the waterfront watching people play in the surf. I think everyone in San Francisco owns a dog and they were all out playing fetch in the water. But looking up at the bridge we could see the fog rolling in. But it would lurk around the bridge then head back out then lurk around the bridge again.

It was a nice walk along the water front and we stopped by the visitor centre for the marine sanctuary where we spoke to the woman running the shop. Turns out she’s also a diver so we got tips for the next visit – January and February is baby season. So we’ll have to come then and see the baby otters and elephant seals.

By the time we got to the bridge the fog was really rolling in and we couldn’t see Alcatraz or San Francisco! It was also windy and quite chilly. But a neat walk up to the bridge and along the bridge to the first tower. Couldn’t come all this way and not at least set foot on the bridge!

As we walked back the fog kept coming in. We stopped for an early dinner (very good food at Fuzio, and we got it right; one starter between the two of us and a main meal each. We even had room for pudding.) and when we finished and came out the sun was starting to go down and the fog moved in. It comes in along the bay and hills first so they were quite foggy. Listening to the fog horn as well.

We’ll have an early evening, pack our bags, and be ready for tomorrow. Joe is watching more US football but may switch to the baseball as the World Series is playing.

Lazy Day

October 22nd, 2006 , 5:18

We have learned that the only way to get to our hotel is uphill. So after two days of lots of walking mainly up and down hills we decided to have an easy day. Up a bit later with a long, slow start to the day; we then walked slowly along the water and stopped by the shopping areas. Didn’t really do much more than that. Looked at shops and wandered slowly. I did some wine tasting and by mid-afternoon we were back in the room for a couple of hours. Joe watched football while I read. Then out again but a bit too late for the sunset. Still got some photos of the bridge, Alcatraz and the city lit up. The off for a Peruvian dinner. So a lazy sort of day.

Escape from Alcatraz

October 21st, 2006 , 5:47

After waking up and having breakfast we headed out to find the San Francisco Greenpeace office. Joe had done a search the night before and a Google map check of the location and we worked out which bus to take and where to go. Or so we thought. We found the bus and rode it to where the map search said we should find the road. We walked and checked all the side streets and nothing. So we finally stopped and asked some workmen where the road was. Turns out it’s way out of town no where near where we were. Stupid map.

So we got back on the bus and headed back to Fisherman’s Wharf and the aquarium. The aquarium was nifty but I think Joe got bored. Emphasis was on conservation which was nice and there was lots to see. We also had lunch on the Wharf but again made the mistake of thinking an appetiser wasn’t a full meal – I had to leave most of my main course as it was simply too much food.

We headed back to the hotel to get our jackets and drop off stuff before heading out for our evening tour of Alcatraz. Got to where we thought we left and turns out it was further down. Made it in good time and got our tickets and joined the queue to board the boat. Got to the island about quarter to 5 and had a guided tour up to the cell block. Alcatraz is highly recommended – the audio guide is very good, the views are wonderful, the island history is interesting, and the island itself is nice to wander around. The evening tour is nice, though not as much time to wander around; however, you do get a spectacular sunset under the Golden Gate Bridge. We hope the photos turn out. [editorial note: you get the spectacular sunset if you have a wonderful day like we had. No Mark Twain jokes about coldest winters; we’ve had bright blue skies, sunshine, and warmth. So the sunset was wonderful.]

Back to the hotel yet again to drop stuff off and then to Joe’s favourite sports bar for a small dinner. [Joe: They know what a burger with a fried egg on it is! And the beer is good. Highly recommend Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.] [Kathleen: the wine is pretty bad however.] After dinner we tried to stand up and neither of us could move. Stiff legs and sore feet so not sure what we’ll do tomorrow!

Sports

October 20th, 2006 , 5:12

This has been a bit of a sports holiday as well. First there was the Eagles game which was interesting. There has also been the build up to the World Series, with the Detroit Tigers playing the NY Yankees and the St Louis Cardinals playing the NY Mets. So Joe has been following that as well.

So tonight we go for a Japanese meal and end up at the sports bar next door watching the 7th and final game between the Cardinals and Mets; with very loud Cardinals fans next to us. This game is tied until the final inning when the Cardinals get a couple of runs ahead. The Mets end up with a person on every base, but two outs. It was a bit exciting in the bar and when the Cardinals won, well, it went a bit crazy. So now it’s the Cardinals vs the Tigers for the World Series and Joe is wondering if he can stay and watch it.

I might be ready to go home.

San Francisco

October 20th, 2006 , 0:44

Right, the California Zephyr was a bit over 4 hours late. So we packed our stuff, checked our little roomette, and made sure we were ready to leave. The train stops in Emeryville and you then get a coach over to San Francisco – our driver told us that in the 4 years he’s worked for Amtrak the California Zephyr has never been on time. Must be some sort of record – latest running train ever? The Friday before the train got in at 4am. So nearly 5 hours isn’t too bad all things considered.

We drove into San Francisco over the Bay Bridge with the city spread out all lit up. Quite a view coming in. We got off the bus at Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf and then got a taxi which took us to the wrong end of the street our hotel is on! But we got sorted out and found the hotel which is quite nice. It’s an old building that has been restored but still has period details. So nice rooms with floral wallpaper and wooden bed.

Got our bags dropped off at the room and headed out to find food. Everything closes early – it was about 10pm and we were having trouble finding some place that was still serving. Ended up having sandwiches at Extreme Pizza (yea, yea, should have had pizza, but we were tired). I made up for the lack of veggies in my meals by having a all veg sandwich which was marvy. Then back to the hotel and to bed.

Slept in (well a bit) and then took long showers and had a slow breakfast in the room. Joe ended up chatting with people as we were checking various things online (where to go, the weather, things like that). Turns out we’re having wonderful weather – bright blue sky, not a cloud in it, and warm. Lovely, but when you start climbing the hills it’s hard work. We decided to walk. So I let Joe lead. He took us up Lombard Street. Yes, up. Definitely up. Straight up. And then back down again. Then up. And stairs. There are stairs to get from one street to another. My legs and feet will never forgive me.

We ended up by the harbour (finally because that’s a bit flatter) and the piers. Walked along the water looking out at Alcatraz and all the boats and sea lions. Pier 39 is fun and we walked along the shops, had a coffee and watched people. Just generally bimbled along. Then headed toward Chinatown, via Coit Tower. That has lovely views and Joe took a load of photos. Down loads of steps to Grant Avenue and into Chinatown. We pretty much just walked Grant Avenue looking in shop windows and Joe chose a fast food Chinese restaurant for lunch.

We then had a slow walk back to our hotel, through Chinatown (off the main road), back up far too many steps, and along Union Street.

The architecture here is wonderful with some beautiful homes with great views. The views over the bay almost make all the steps worth it. The cable cars are nifty, but packed full of people so we haven’t tried riding one yet. But we’re suppose to have nice weather all weekend – so lots of walking (as I said, my legs will never forgive me!)

Amtrak

October 19th, 2006 , 7:13

Monday
Woke up early and after coffee started to pack. Got everything into the two bags (who got all this crap?) and was ready to go quite early. So sat and talked with Karen.

We got to the Metra train station early in plenty of time for the train we needed and rode into Chicago to get our Amtrak tickets and get sorted. Had a lunch, sort of Chinese Cajin, at Union Station before going to the first class lounge to wait for our train (can you believe we’re traveling first class? Neither can we.) We got lead to the train from the lounge.

Our little roomette is, well, little. It’s two seats facing each other and there are roomettes either side of the central corridor. If you ever decide to do this trip, and are in a roomette (we aren’t sure about the bedrooms), we recommend packing a small day sack for the three days and checking your larger bags. There is luggage storage in the carriage but it’s by the door and I’m not sure how well attended it is. We’ve managed to fit in our two rucksacks but it’s a bit of a juggle. At night the two seats fold down to form one bed (a mattress even gets put on them) and the other bed drops down from the top. The seats are comfortable and as we’re on the top deck we have as good a view of the scenery as the lounge car. We have coffee and water in our carriage and a very nice attendant. It’s just freezing cold and the heating in the roomette doesn’t seem to be working.

We leave Chicago station and guess what our very first stop was? The very same Metra station we’d left from that morning. So Karen you were right, we probably could have caught the train there!

We mainly sat in our little room and watched the scenery go by. Lots and lots of corn fields and little farm houses. The Mississippi River was lovely although it was rainy and cloudy as we went over it. In fact it was rainy and cloudy the entire day.

Dinner was by reservation and being in a sleeping car our dinner is included. It wasn’t the finest of cuisine but it was good. Then to bed.

Tuesday
It was freezing while trying to sleep. It is probably the coldest train I have ever been on and, yes, even Joe thinks it’s too cold. [Joe: not too cold, I’ve been on colder.] He even got out of the top bunk, where the cold air was blowing on him, to crawl into the bottom bunk with me. Not enough room really but it was warmer that way. The toilet is the only warm space and I’m very tempted to sleep in there tonight!

We stopped in Denver quite early so have an hour here. Was hoping to find a wireless signal but no such luck so everyone will just have to wait for the update. That is if we don’t freeze to death first!

Joe: I popped out of the train and walked down the platform to the station. Poked my head out of the station onto the main street. Nothing amazing to see from there.

Later Tuesday:
Left Denver in grey overcast weather and started the climb into the Colorado Rockies. Joe and I headed for the lounge car for the view. Lovely climb though the dim light and grey clouds meant we couldn’t see much. We went up into the clouds and it started to snow. Blowing horizontal snow. So really couldn’t see far at all; but it was pretty, rocks covered in snow and the river. Through loads of tunnels and finally to the Moffat Tunnel, 6.2 miles and about 15 minutes to go through. Went into the tunnel with clouds and fog and snow and came out the other end into bright sunshine – everyone in the lounge car clapped. Went through Winter Park and stopped in Fraser. Beautiful weather and great views of the Rockies. Following the Colorado River for about 200 miles now and I’m typing while enjoying the view.

Actually we were following the Fraser River. Stopped in Granby and now we’re going to follow the Colorado into Utah. Have a while between stops now and are losing the sun. Still have some blue sky but also have a lot of clouds. Hopefully we won’t go back to a dreary sort of day.

No such luck. Got gradually more clouded until it started raining. But we still saw lots. I’ll let you fill in loads of boring descriptions of lovely mountain scenery. The scenery also changed from granite grey stone to the red and pink stone. Very pretty. We even saw some wildlife – lots of ducks and deer, some buffalo (which probably weren’t wild actually) and lots of birds, some of which may have been bald eagles. Joe was in photo heaven though I don’t think he actually got much. We also saw lots of farms including horses, cows, and llamas!

When the rain really started we left the lounge car and sat in our room for a while. Ended up taking a nap. The train stopped for a while due to a broken signal. It was quite funny to us as the car attendant went through the carriage explaining what that meant; we also got the conductor on the PA system explaining what a broken signal was (‘like a broken traffic light’). When our attendant asked if we knew what it meant we just laughed – how often am I late because of broken signals?!

And we finally have heat! Don’t know what the attendant did, must have kicked it or hit it with a hammer, but it is finally warm! Hurray!

Even later:
Joe: More scenery. Saw the sun set over Utah and the mesa. Lovely colours and shapes. The lounge car attendant explained that the VCR was broken (for the second time) in his unique style by saying ‘The video tonight *was* going to be; did you get that *was*?’. So we watched the sun set in the west [Kathleen: be funny if it set in the east.] and got called to dinner about 7.45pm (for a half 7 reservation). [Please note, if you ride the train that the dinner reservation times are a suggestion only as they seem to be very short staffed.] Returned to the room to sleep – this time with heat. [Kathleen: yea boy! It’s warm!]

Wednesday
Slept better last night as it was warmer. Woke up quite early and opened the curtains to watch the stars; Joe came down and watched the sun rise with me. Very pretty, though overall Nevada is a bit flat and boring. The train is now running very late. As the rails are maintained by the freight companies the freight trains have right of way, so Amtrak is always running late. One person said it always runs between 2 and 7 hours late. Someone else said they send managers over to Europe to learn how to run the system. I guess they’ve been sending them to Britain.

And the train was only about 4 hours late into Emeryville!

Top tips for traveling Amtrak:
If you are traveling in a roomette pack a small bag for the three days and check larger luggage as the roomette is very small. Bedrooms are slightly larger and coach seats are large but there isn’t much storage at all there.
Breakfast gets crowded in the dining car. Joe and I would just get something from the cafe in the lounge car. If you really want a hot breakfast get to the dining car for the time they tell you the night before – there aren’t any dining call announcements for breakfast until the dining car is full.
Take snacks. The food on board is very expensive.
Don’t smoke. You can’t smoke on board the train and smoking stops are very infrequent. Combine this with the late running of the train and you’ll probably find yourself giving up smoking.
Take shoes that are easy to put on and off as you have to wear shoes all the time (except in your room or by your seat). Slippers are probably ideal.

Chicago Reprise

October 16th, 2006 , 0:25

Got the train into the city and made our way to the aquarium, walking through the parks. As we got close to the aquarium we saw the queue to get in was so long we decided to give it a miss. We decided to walk along the penusala towards the planetarium and saw some people fishing and catching some rather large fish. Then headed back into the city. Zigzagging around, taking photos and doing bits of shopping. We then got popcorn (Kathleen: caramel and caramel pecan) and headed back to the train. And that’s it.

Is this lower Waker Drive

October 15th, 2006 , 0:25

Right, got up early and on the road by half past 7. Not a bad a drive, the bit we thought was going to be bad and had taken us over an hour to get through on the way to Kentucky took us 20 minutes at a steady 30 to 40 mph this time. However, just short of the airport (where we were dropping off the car) we got stuck. Never did completely stop and sit thankfully, but did go very very slowly. Never did find out what caused the back up.

Managed to meet up with Dad and Eric and drove back the way we’d just come in to get to Eric and Karen’s house. Nice place in a really nice little village outside Chicago. As Eric drove us to the house we got taken around the town for a short tour. We visited for a bit before heading out to walk along the river side walk into town, stopping at places for drinks and window shopping. Nice relaxing evening watching baseball is the bar trying local beer and food. Joe is enjoying all the sports while I’m bored. So it goes.

Dad and Mary Anne were up early to catch their plane so they all went to the airport. When Karen and Eric got back we headed for the station to catch the train into Chicago. We have now walked quite a bit of downtown Chicago but still haven’t seen much of the city! Lovely architecture, fun parks, and quite a lot to take in. We just walked and looked at things; saw the parks and outdoor sculptures. Quite a lovely city. We went to the Hancock Centre, third tallest building in Chicago. The observation deck costs to go up but we headed for the Signature Bar where you get the view for the cost of an expensive drink. It was quite crowded but we finally got a seat right by the window; however they never came to take our order so after we had a good look at the view and Joe got a few photos we left. Realised we had only a few minutes to catch the next train and the one after that was 2 hours later so Eric grabbed a cab and off we went to Union Station.

Tonight is probably a quiet night in chilling and visiting. Tomorrow Joe and I brave the city on our own.