California, 2015

Every other year I like to take a trip on my birthday weekend, and this time around John lured me out to California so that he could show me some of his favourite places.

Thursday September 17, 2015

My flight wasn't until 6:30pm, so I packed up the last of my stuff and took my suitcase with me to work. I also left a note to myself to bring my sweater from work with me in case I got cold on the plane. I had a full day of work and ended up having to take a taxi to the airport. I wasn't checking my bag so I had some extra time to opt out from the security scan, and needed it, I had a long wait. I finally got through then ended up walking the wrong way down the terminal to find the place where I wanted to grab some dinner. I backtracked to UFood Grill, got something quick to go, and scarfed it down while waiting to board my flight. We were delayed ab it, we left after 8pm. I'd gone out to a friend's birthday dinner the night before and forgot to check in for my flight at the moment it became available, so ended up with a middle seat on my direct flight to SFO. It wasn't too bad, I was able to do some offline email answering on my phone and read a lot. I got up once to stretch my legs as well. They also gave us free DirectTV for the delay, but I think I mostly just used the music options on the entertainment system.

John's flight had arrived before mine though I was supposed to have landed first, and we just snuck in under the wire to get the car picked up via the Budget fastbreak (aka grab keys and go) at 11pm. John had made a reservation at the Naval Lodge at Moffett Field air base, within a short drive of the NASA Ames Research center that was going to be our first stop the next day, so we made the drive from SFO that night. We circled once, going too far onto the base for the lodge before coming back out to find it, but soon getting settled into the expansive room.

Friday September 18, 2015

The hotel had a minimal breakfast bar, we grabbed enough to fuel us to a full breakfast and got packed up and checked out. John was craving real Mexican food after being on the east coast too long, with an especial quest for fish tacos, so we settled on Fiesta del Mar. I had the enchilada de enjococado, it had a good sauce but the chicken was a bit dry. I really enjoyed the three dips that came with the chips though. We got it at around 11am, just beating the work lunchtime crowd that filled in around us. Lots of solid wood tables and an intriguing looking bar that I passed on for "sun not over the yard arm" reasons. :-) John had to step out to take some work calls, and I used some of that time to call my parents to wish them a happy anniversary, a bit easier this year since I was in the same time zone as they were. We made approximate plans for them to call me on my birthday in two days as well as a quick discussion about Christmas plans.

From there we went to the NASA Ames Visitor Center where I got to geek out hard core. :-) It's a freestanding tent like thing luckily with good air conditioning as it was pretty hot outside. I'd specifically said that I didn't want to go anywhere too hot for my birthday, and we ironically ended up in Northern California in the middle of a fairly brutal heat wave and a spate of wild fires. John had to take another work call, he ended up sitting on the bench outside enjoying the heat while I poked around inside enjoying the cool. :-) I took lots of pictures, but they kept it fairly dim in there to allow the projections and highlights to be seen. They had some rocks brought back from the moon, scale models of satellites, old space suits and lots and lots of stuff on Mars. I also spent a fair amount of time in the gift shop, grabbing some t-shirts and a new big mug for my morning tea drinking.

We wrapped up there and then hit up a Starbucks to grab some drinks, tea and water, for the drive to the USS Hornet in Alameda. I liked the neighbourhood it was in, but I like most areas that are by the water with nice views across the bay. There were a whole bunch of large naval reserve ships docked end on to the parking lot, we walked past a few of them to get to the dock with the Hornet, it was neat seeing them lined up. Up the gangplank and boarded, we had to get some guidance from the docents to figure out our visit, aircraft carriers are huge! There was a hangar below decks and elevators that would bring planes up and down from the top with the runway. I was delighted to learn that the USS Hornet had been the ship that picked up the returning astronauts after their journeys to the Moon, they had the first footprints on Earth painted on the deck between the capsule and the quarantine trailer. We managed to get on the last docent tour of the command tower, it was neat being so high up yet still on a ship. I was a bit dubious about the rear view mirror, but I think they said that it was to keep an eye on the planes approaching to land. We spent a fair amount of time below decks even with just going quickly through the extensive rooms with various exhibits from over the course of it's active life. I'd definitely go back, I don't think I saw even half of it, it was kind of confusing down there. I liked that they had a fairly large exhibit on women in the navy as well.

We were pretty hungry at this point, and had spotted an interesting looking restaurant as we were trying to find the parking lot, so we headed a few blocks over to Souly Vegan. I think it was order at the till and then sit to wait, I got a very filling couscous dish and a cucumber cooler with sochu. It was nice and relaxing and cool in there after being surrounded by so much metal and heat on the aircraft carrier.

I think we took a tour after food, going around John's childhood neighbourhood and checking out one of the elementary schools he'd attended.

From there, it was time to head into San Francisco proper to check into our next hotel, the Sheraton at Fisherman's Warf. We got there at around 9 or 10pm, I was tired and was napping my way across the bay bridge. I found some energy somewhere and we went out to walk Pier 39, going first along Pier 41, and hearing the sea lions fighting on the floating platform in the water. They were smelly too, lots of fish breath, but it was kept pretty dark in that area, only really illuminated by the flashes from tourist cameras. John also pointed out the building where his dad had worked. Most of the restaurants were closed or busy at this point, the open air market type place just had touristy knick knack stores open at this point, so we wandered out onto the streets. I was getting a bit hangry and as soon as we found a quiet seeming place, I said let's go. We ended up at a pub where I had spicy pulled chicken tacos and John had sliders. I stuck with water, but John took advantage of not having to drive any more and had a pineapple cocktail. The walk back to the hotel room was shorter without the detours. I had a quick wash the walking sweat off shower at around 1am.

Saturday September 19, 2015

I'd been feeling a bit sluggish despite all the walking (I had another obstacle course race coming up in a month), and we had a nice hotel gym available at the Sheraton, so the first order of business was a snack and then a workout. I showed John a weighted Russian twist that I usually do with kettlebells, he was sold on it as a new core exercise. Doing my obstacle course specific training in a hotel gym was a bit of a challenge, this workout called for quite a few farmer's carries and waiter walks, so I was moving around a lot. Luckily the other people in the gym weren't there long and were on specific machines, though one person did come in to check out the facilities I was able to walk around her. Not sure I quite got the prescribed distance in, but at least I did the workout while on vacation. :-)

A quick wash to clean up and then it was off to brunch at the Foreign Cinema. We took a cab there, it was a bit of a scary ride on the hilly streets, the driver was a bit impatient. The restaurant was in the back of a movie theatre, lots of memorabilia around, and in a light and airy room with a lovely courtyard just outside the floor to ceiling windows. It was a very popular place, I think we needed to have a reservation. It looked popular for parent brunches and large friend ones a well. I had a great cheese omelet, fresh grapefruit juice and a pot of loose leaf green tea. We shared a green tea creme brulee for dessert despite being almost stuffed already. I did the sneaky pay the bill while my dining partner was in the restroom thing and got scolded a bit for "ruining" the treat, but I'd had my debit card number stolen right before the trip and the new card hadn't had a chance to get to me before I'd left. I'd been relying on John for cash when I couldn't use my credit card and this seemed an ideal opportunity to pay him back, so :-P :-) . He snuck in sending me a postcard from the venue with a Wizard of Oz scene too. :-)

Back to the hotel via a more relaxed car ride and we decided to walk around Fisherman's Warf after checking out. It was too crowded at this point, mid afternoon on a Saturday, so we decided to get some snacks from the 7-11 to have a picnic in Golden Gate Park instead. That was also busy, it was a hot sunny day with lots of people still hanging around after a road race that they'd run earlier in the day, so we had to circle a bit for parking, then ended up on the street just outside of the park and walked in. We eventually settled on a bench by a nice flower garden, just outside a greenhouse, and with lots of other people picnicing and playing with their kids and dogs. We had a nice relaxed time hanging out and eating a bit, and then took a walk over to the pretty greenhouses only to find that they'd just closed a minute before we came up to them. Ah well, we were able to peer in a bit to see the riot of plants and then walk on through the park a bit more and then back to the car.

Next destination: Monterey. As we were starting the drive south along the coast, John asked if I had any interest in the Winchester Mystery House. I think I got it a bit mixed up with the House on the Rock, but it was still a place that I'd heard about and was interested in so we looked up the info and made a detour. We'd assumed that since we were going to arrive with more than an hour to go before it closed at 7 that we could get on the last tour of the day, but we found that they had already sent the last tour in 20 minutes ago. We asked nicely at the ticket desk and they were willing to take our money and send us in with a back up guide who was free then to catch us up to the tour. He didn't just rush us through the rooms to catch up to the last tour group, he gave us the quick spiel about each one so that by the time we caught up we knew what was going on. It was kind of spooky, the last Winchester who lived in there believed that all the victims of Winchester rifles over the years were going to haunt her unless she kept building in the house. It was huge and rambling (and some stairs led nowhere, there were secret passages, and tiny closets) and you weren't allowed to wander by yourself. They told us some ghost stories as well, and twice I swear I felt a breath on the back of my neck. John swears that there was a ghost in the window of one of the outside pictures that we were allowed to take (no photos allowed inside). It was fascinating to see how the owner's fascination with the number thirteen played out, the number appearing in flights of stairs, squares on the walls, windows in a room, squares on the ceilings. The tour was pretty expensive but we covered a lot of the house and got a lot of information, I'm glad I got to do it. They were closing up as we left so we only had a quick look through the gift shop, I wish I'd had a bit more time, they had a nice selection of spooky / gothy stuff available and some dark and sparkly clothes. We wandered the grounds for a little while taking pictures, I refuse to look at them too closely to see if I spot the ghostly figure. :-)

We were feeling peckish finally after the full brunch, and still had a bit of a drive to Monterey, so we stopped at Victor's Taqueria for another attempt at fish tacos and horchata. They finally had the milk drink that John had been asking for, so he was happy. :-) It was a bare bones take out place with some mis-matched tables for us to sit and eat at inside. I had a chicken enchilada that was okay, filling at least.

We pulled off the highway at one point and John found parking near a Best Buy and guided me in. After a bit of wandering around the store John found what he was looking for, and, as I'd begun to suspect, it was my official birthday present that I'd asked him to please give to me in person rather than having it shipped to my house where I'd open it without him. :-) I walked out the happy owner of a new Fitbit activity monitor and was able to get the charger cable to work in the car so that I could get it set up to start wearing it. John may have lived to regret getting me one as I started to get a tiny bit obsessive over wearing it and hitting my step goals. :-) From there we drove on to the naval lodge in Monterey and got checked in there.

It was already dark by the time we arrived, but I was in the mood to wander a bit and to find a nice cocktail to round off the day. It was much nicer for me with the sun down as well, not quite so hot anyway. We walked through the downtown that was starting to come alive for Saturday night and first checked out My Attic 1937 which had sounded perfect on a paper, a decadent lounge in an old building with craft cocktails. Unfortunately in person it had more of a meat market vibe and the cocktails were just bad. I tried a smash and didn't like it, they had a shift change and confusion over who our server was (I think John had to go up to the bar to order) and then I had a bad mojito and gave up at that point on that venue. There was another supposedly good bar a couple of blocks away, Restaurant 1833 so we walked over to check it out. The cocktail menu looked great and the vibe was much more elegant inside (also an old building but they'd kept the cozy warmth in the renovations) so we grabbed a high table to have a nightcap there. Such a good choice, there were jazz festival players and formal uniform wearing military personelle there and my Allen's Passenger cocktail was perfect. I'd definitely go back. We walked back to our lodgings, getting there at just before 1am.

Sunday September 20, 2015

Yay, my actual birthday. :-) Though I didn't get to sleep in, waking up at 8am for the minimal lobby breakfast - a can of orange juice, an oatmeal bar and some Lipton's tea. We could hear a Filipino family in the room next door to us as we ate at the table in our suite's dining area. I took a nice indulgent bath and then we went out for our real breakfast at around 11am.

We went back downtown to the Old Monterey Cafe and only had a short wait before being seated. It was hopping, and no wonder, the food was delicious. I had a spinach, avocado and sun dried tomato omelet the the best hash browns ever (I never finish them, I did this time!), and John went with the huevos rancheros. It was all so good, we lingered a bit over coffee and tea and then reluctantly left to do the touristing stuff on the agenda.

First up was the famous 17 Mile Drive along Pebble Beach. It was a gorgeous day, and I'd specifically not looked up anything about it so I got to see everything fresh. There were beautiful expansive views with waves crashing on the rocks and a colony of seals and sea lions on one small island just off the shore. There were lots of very fat squirrels too, apparently people have been ignoring the don't feed the animals signs for a very long time! I think I made John stop the car at each and every scenic overlook (we got an annotated map when we paid our entrance fee to the park) so that I could get out and walk around and take pictures. :-) The very old cypress trees were fascinating, I'd never really seen that species, being more used to the cedars further north up the Pacific coast. The contrast between the pristine ocean, the hordes of tourists (lots of buses) on the road, and the huge mansions behind privacy fences was interesting to see.

From there, we drove to Mission San Carlos Borromeo del rio Carmelo, generally known as Mission Carmel. Just as we'd bought our entry tickets in the gift shop and were about to begin wandering around the grounds, my parents called to wish me a happy birthday. I stepped out into the parking lot and tried to find some shade beneath a flowering tree to chat with them for a bit, and then headed back in. It was hot without the ocean right there to provide a cooling breeze, so I tried to stick to the nice cool buildings. There was a tour group getting a talk in the main church, I eavesdropped on it a bit while looking at the religious iconography, their stations of the cross were fairly basic but drew the eye. After the many stops along the drive and wandering around the grounds of the mission, I was ready for an air conditioned sit down break with some refreshments so we went into downtown Carmel to a light and airy coffee shop for a short break. I had a good iced tea and a stale cheesecake there, but mostly appreciated the chance to sit quietly for a bit. We browsed around the shops for a little while before heading back to the lodge to change - we'd double checked with them that it would be okay to do that, since we'd checked out and were going back to SF after dinner in the area that evening. No problems, though it turned out that there was just one unisex bathroom in the lobby, so we had to take turns changing into our nice dinner clothes. I went with the dress that I'd bought for the Alaskan cruise, the sleeveless but full skirted configuration worked well, and I was able to top it with a scarf against the cooling evening. I also wore my new lower heel Fluevog shoes, but ended up giving myself some blisters as I wore them without socks.

We went down to Cannery Row, a bit early for our dinner reservation at 7pm, and browsed the shops. I fell in love with a a straw cloche and happily accepted it as a birthday present, adding it to my collection as a summer cloche option along with my wool winter and felt spring/fall ones. :-) We went past the car to put the hat away and then headed to the C Restaurant right on the water. I had a lovely About Thyme cocktail, an heirloom tomato and buratta salad and the salmon special, watching the sun set over the water. We shared a vahlrhona chocolate mousse for dessert and I popped over to the bar to ask the bartender if I could get an Aviation cocktail. After a brief mix up about Aviation gin, he was able to recall he'd made up many of them, and I got to sip it while sitting next to a fire pit outside while John drank his after dinner coffee. Bliss. :-)

The only problem then was that we had a 2 hour drive back to San Francisco. Luckily traffic wasn't too bad until we got close to the city, plus John had planned a stop to break the drive up. He pulled us off the highway and into the parking lot of a Fry's Electronics store. He'd mentioned wanting to show me one of these consumer electronics emporiums and I was suitably impressed. :-) I needed to get a larger memory card for my camera, so we made that our first quest in the huge space, finally resorting to asking a staff member where the camera stuff was. I was able to find a cheap card that would fit my camera and expand it's picture storage by an insane amount (I was still using a card from my previous camera that had a much smaller sensor so the old one was filling up quickly if I put the new camera in max pixels mode). We meandered around a bit more, and I was amused to spot some tiny two and three pound kettlebells near the checkout line. A friend of mine had had shoulder surgery recently and had been bemoaning how slowly he was being allowed to work back up to the heavy kettlebells that he'd shown me how to use - I kind of regret not getting one for him, but I'd have had to carry it in my shoulder bag and that would have resulted in my shoulder getting hurt!

We made it back to San Francisco proper by 11:30pm, though I think I dozed off a couple of times on the way while John drove and listened to his music. We got checked into the very nice room and John went off to self park the car. I was a tiny bit sad that we didn't get to stay in this room for more than 12 or so hours before the trip ended, but the vagaries of our moving around and seeing a lot meant that we didn't stay in one place very long on this trip.

Monday September 21, 2015

We headed over to Mo'z Cafe for our last breakfast in California. On our walk over there, we passed through crowds waiting for the doors of a mall to open, fairly obviously trying to get some shopping done before having to head to work. It was counter served at the cafe, with high ceilings and a chalkboard menu. It was warm in there and we had to be buzzed into the bathroom as a security measure, it had an odd vibe. I had a good salmon scramble, getting my last fix of Pacific salmon in, as well as some fresh orange juice (another California treat for me) and tea to fuel me for the long trip home. It was a bright and sunny day, though the heat wave was still going pretty strong.

From the cafe, we took an Uber over to Japantown after some debate as to what we wanted to do before having to head to the airport. It was hot enough (over 30 Celcius) that after looking at the tower and taking some snapshots in front of it, I pulled us into the mall area rather than wandering the streets in a wider area. We took advantage of the air conditioning in an anime / movie focussed store and I was happy to see that I recognised a fair number of titles through my Fantasia adventures. :-) A lot of the stores weren't open yet though, so we were mostly window shopping and after realising that we were retracing our steps a lot and not taking advantage of the open food court options (still full from breakfast), we decided to throw in the towel and head back to the hotel. We ended up in an Uber pool, sharing the ride with a woman on her laptop working along her way to a place near our hotel. We finished packing up and checked out, walking our suitcases over to the self park garage.

The parking situation was interesting, with a car elevator bringing the cars down on request. The tank needed to be filled up, but the first attempt at finding a gas station resulted in going past the $5 per gallon offerings and finding a place a little bit further from the car rental return. We took the airport shuttle to the departure areas, John jumping off first at terminal two and I went on to terminal three. I just had time to opt out of the scanner, find my gate, and get some yoghurt, a turkey sandwich and a bottle of water for the flight. John's flight back to the east coast was much later than mine (he was taking a red eye for the last leg), but he had some work to keep him occupied until his flight left. We spent some time texting each other from adjoining terminals. :-) I had a direct flight that was getting in just after 11pm, it was unexceptional and I took a cab home once I landed.

Back to my diary page.