January 15, 2013
Tom and I spent Christmas in the UK. I fully intended to write every day while we were away but most of the time I was driving and the rest of the time we spent with family.
We took a week long road trip while we were there and Tom saw some parts of England he had never seen before. On the first day of our road trip, we drove from Reading to Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire. Unfortunately the palace itself was closed but we took a walk around the large lake. That evening we stayed at the Falklands Arms, which was built in the 16th century, and is situated in the quaint village of Great Tew. The next day we drove up to Nottingham. We tried very hard to make our way on the back roads but somehow each road seemed to lead to the M1. In the end we just took the M1 north because we were wasting so much time. There is not too much to say about Nottingham because once we found a hotel we didn’t stir outside the front door until the next morning.
On Wednesday we drove to Pickering in Yorkshire for a brief stop before driving over the North Yorkshire Moors – a remote and wild area – to Kirkby Mills where we stayed one night at Brickfields Farm Bed & Breakfast. This was the best B&B we have ever stayed in – the room was wonderful and the breakfast was to die for. Our journey on Thursday took us through Thirsk to Ripon and then on to Skipton. Here we stayed in a B&B within walking distance of the town center. It was pouring rain but that didn’t stop us taking the walk and enjoying a pint at the Woolly Sheep Inn.
We loved Liverpool
The next day we made our way from Yorkshire to Lancashire. We headed to Southport where my daughter and son-in-law now live. Before going to see them in the evening, we set out to find our B&B in Scarisbrick where we would be staying for the next two nights. The landlady at the B&B had given me instructions but we found ourselves lost in a remote area where the only roads were muddy tracks with huge potholes filled with water. It took us half an hour to find the right road before eventually finding our way to the B&B.
Saturday Lizzie and Ric took us to Liverpool for the day. We had particularly requested to visit there because we’d heard there was so much to see and, of course, it is the home of The Beatles. We spent a marvellous day looking at old docks, the refurbished Albert Dock, St. George’s Hall, the Cavern Club, Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields and John Lennon’s house and – the cherry on the top – Eleanor Rigby’s grave.
On the Sunday we began to make our way further south but first we had to visit the historic city of Chester. I spent some time in Chester when I was a child because an aunt of mine lived there. The city is very old and has hardly changed since I was last there in the 1970′s. It is possible to walk all round the city up on the city walls, which were built by the Romans 2,000 years ago. It has a nice shopping center which was heaving with Christmas shoppers when we visited.
Chester. We could have spent a couple days here. An amazing city.
That evening we spent in Hereford. Once again, we didn’t have any time to explore the area and next morning we were up bright and early to make our way back to Reading. The UK had an awful lot of rain while we were there and the south west was particularly affected. As we traveled from Hereford to the M4 around the Gloucester area we could see all the fields were under water and only the hedges round the edges could be seen. When we arrived that night at our hotel in Winnersh, the car park was completely flooded and we had to park in a temporary car park.
All in all, we had a wonderful Christmas and enjoyed two Christmas dinners – one in Southport and one in Winnersh. Even though we experienced a lot of rain, it in no way dampened our spirits or hampered our travels. Although Tom has now seen some new areas, there is still so much for him to see. So far we have not touched Scotland or Ireland and both are high on our list.
January 15 2013 | Further Afield and Special Places | 1 Comment »
October 27, 2012
Pescadero State Beach
This morning we overslept and didn’t get away as early we wanted to. The drive over the Santa Cruz mountains was as beautiful as ever. Our destination today is Pescadero State Beach. In November, 2009 we did a post on some of San Mateo beaches between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay and said in it that Pescadero State Beach deserved a post all to itself. In January 2010 we wrote a post on the northern part of Pescadero State Beach so today was the day we decided to do the rest. The sun was shining brightly when we left San Jose but we hit fog as we descended from the summit of the Santa Cruz Mountains. We stopped at a great little place in Santa Cruz for breakfast.
Click on the photos for a larger version.
Driving north up Highway 1 towards Half Moon Bay, we were in fog most of the way. We couldn’t even see Pigeon Point Lighthouse when we drove past. Of course we wondered whether we would see anything at all when we got to Pescadero beach but we were optimistic. The further north we drove the lighter the fog became. As we passed Bean Hollow Beach we actually saw not only the ocean but patches of blue sky.
There are three car parks at Pescadero State Beach along the mile long, sandy beach and we parked in the southernmost one, which is right opposite the turnoff to Pescadero. It was still a bit foggy but looked to be clearing up. We walked down some steps onto a small peninsula. The tide was high and the water was choppy. Looking south I spotted a couple of surfers out on the ocean and I stopped to watch them for a while. They managed to catch a few big waves and they made the most of them, weaving and turning until the energy of the wave died down. Then they were off again, paddling to get back to catch the next big one. I thought about something Tom told me only this morning about great white sharks and the fact that at this time of the year they congregate between Monterey Bay and Bodega Bay, so I hoped there were none nearby for the surfers sake.
Pescadero State Beach
I looked to the north and down onto a sandy beach. I noticed more steps leading down to the beach and off I went exploring. Beaches always fascinate me because there is so much to see – shells, different colored stones, driftwood and washed up vegetation. On this beach were balancing stones and dried seaweed with looked as though they had been laid out in spiral designs but they may well have been washed up the beach like that. There were no washed up logs or a convenient rock to sit on so I stood contentedly on the beach and watched the waves break and the surf wash in. I walked back up the beach to the bluffs. Here there were huge rocks embedded in soil and further along the sandstone rocks looked as if they had been sculptured. One such sculpture looked just like a human head, with the brow and nose clearly defined (see below).
Flock of sanderlings at Pescadero State Beach
I rounded a small headland to another beach and spotted a gull pecking at something on the beach. Originally I thought it was a crab which he was trying to get into but when the gull gave up and walked away, I noticed that it was a rather plump starfish. It wasn’t moving at all but I gently moved it with my foot to the edge of the surf just in case it was playing dead. Further along the beach I came across a flock of sanderlings. These birds are a pleasure to watch as they race down the beach chasing the outgoing surf and then racing back back when the surf comes. They looked like a group of little children playing a game on the beach and having fun. I even imagined them whooping for joy as they managed to avoid getting their feet wet. But of course they are not playing because every so often they paused to dig for food in the sand. Suddenly they took off all at once and weaved and turned in the air before landing again on the beach further up and resuming their manic dashing around. We reached another small headland but the tide was too high to carry on so we turned back. I checked to see if the starfish was still on the beach but it had disappeared. I like to think the tide had come in and it had managed to get back to safety.
Rock face at Pescadero State Beach
We discovered another stairway which led back to a different section of the car park. I had visions of having to walk along Highway 1 to get round the headland but then I noticed a pathway leading across the top of the bluffs. It was an unusual path and, for some it reason, reminded me of the yellow brick road from the Wizard of Oz. The path twisted and turned and at one point ran alongside the road. A group of cyclists passed and most of them smiled and several of them even called out a greeting. They looked as though they weren’t out just for a ride because they had packed saddle bags so obviously they were travelling some way down the coast. The path took us to the northern end of the car park.
Here we found some more steps down to beach. A group of California Gulls were gathered on the beach a short distance away but amongst them were a few different gulls. They were darker in color and had red bills. I had no idea what they were but later discovered they were Heermann’s Gulls. In the distance, on another headland, I spotted a bench. Most of you know by now how I am drawn to benches, especially benches with a view, so I naturally made a beeline for it. This was a rather peculiar bench as it was quite high. When I sat on it my feet hardly touched the ground and I have long legs. It was a nice bench to sit on though and it gave me an opportunity to try and catch up with my note taking but there was a problem. The fog had almost gone and the sun was shining brightly which made it difficult to see the the screen on my iPad. I was distracted from my efforts to write by voices. Tom was chatting away to a man, who then came to join me at the bench. It turned out he was another expat from the UK. He was born and raised in Lyme Regis, which is on the south coast. He now lives in Vancouver and the last couple of years he has spent his vacations exploring Highway 1. On this trip he is concentrating on the section from Monterey to San Francisco, which to my mind is the best section. On his next trip he will do the section north of San Francisco.
Lone fisherman at Pescadero State Beach
Once again I found some steps down the the beach. It was here I discovered how fragile the California coast is. All you need to do is to pick up a piece which has broken off and see how easy it is to crumble between your fingers. The constant pounding of the ocean against the sandstone bluffs must be like a battering ram. No wonder there are frequent landslides along Highway 1.
Decorating this section of the beach were a lot of logs and other pieces of driftwood. A couple of wigwams had been built out of the driftwood. It must be a lot of fun, especially with a large family, to build some sort of structure on the beach and then play imaginary games.
Once again we were thwarted from walking further along the beach by a headland which jutted out into the ocean so we retreated to the steps. We walked to the end of the carpar and found a trail leading to the north but it didn’t take us very far. Our way was blocked by a fairly wide river. This is where the Butano Creek and the Pescadero Creek flow into the ocean and where we were prevented from exploring the southern part of the beach in 2010. The only way across is to go back to the road and walk over the bridge. As it was lunchtime, we decided to walk back to our car and drive into Pescadero.
Always have to vist the goats and buy some cheese at Harley Farms just outside of Pescadero
Between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Beach there are not too many restaurants but in Pescadero there is a gem. Duartes Tavern is certainly the best place to eat on this stretch of the coast but, be warned, it is very popular and waiting times, especially on a sunny Saturday lunchtime, can be long. We struck lucky this day as we only had to wait twenty minutes due to the fact that we didn’t mind eating at the counter. I had a bowl of their Cream of Artichoke Soup and Tom had Chilled Artichoke Hearts with an Aioli Sauce. Both dishes were wonderful. We both finished up with a slice of their signature dessert - Olallieberry Pie and Ice Cream – which is to die for. We didn’t like to hang around too long because we knew there were lots of hungry people waiting, so we paid the bill and left.
But there was one more place to stop at and that was to vist the goats at Harley Farms. We call in here every time we come to Pescadero because it is such a neat place. You can walk down and watch the goats out in the field. It is always fun in the springtime when there are lots of frisky little kids to keep you amused. Of course we also have to pay a visit to the shop where all their cheeses are not only on display but can be sampled as well. This time we bought some feta cheese and some chocolate made with goats milk. Then it was time to make our way home going by the scenic route to 280 via La Honda. It was the end of another perfect day.
October 27 2012 | Special Places | 2 Comments »
October 6, 2012
The Walnut Avenue Cafe in Santa Cruz, California
The Walnut Avenue Cafe is in the heart of downtown Santa Cruz. On Sundays it opens at 8 am and we were outside with half a dozen other hungry customers just before 8 waiting for it to open. Outside there are a few tables with bright red and white plastic tablecloths under red umbrellas. The doors opened just after 8 and we all trooped inside. Normally you have to wait to be seated but we could all sit where we wanted to. We chose a booth and almost immediately a menu was brought to us.
Tom was served his coffee almost before we opened our menus. He took a sip and immedieately proclaimed that it was good. When I opened the menu, the first thing that lept out at me was the fact that not only did they offer oatmeal but it was homemade steel-cut oatmeal – definitely my sort of place. It came with bananas, walnuts and raisins for $5.95. Tom couldn’t decide between French toast or a Benedict. In the end he plumped for the Blackened Ahi Benedict for $10.95. We gave our order to the server, Michelle, who was excellent because she was friendly, helpful and efficient.
The Walnut Avenue Cafe is well laid out with both booths and tables. The interior is bright and cheerful which is helped by the original paintings hanging on the walls. They were all very colorful. The one right next to my shoulder was done by Cale Broz and depicted a table, chairs, vase and pears; the main colors being red, orange and yellow. All the paintings nearby were painted by different people.
We didn’t have long to wait for our food and were impressed with the presentation. Really enjoyed my oatmeal. The only criticism I would make is that it could have been a bit hotter. Tom’s Blakened Ahi Benedict was really good. When I asked him at the end what he thought he just smacked and lips and smiled. I might just add that he had three cups of coffee because it was so good.
The final test is always the restroom. There were two unisex restrooms with a small lobby outside. The actual restroom was perfectly adequate but the one I used didn’t have anything of particular interest to mention. There was, though, a large colorful poster in the lobby of two Mexican ladies washing their hair in a bucket of water in front of huge sunflowers. It was called Des Mujeres and the artist was Simon Silva.
Our final verdict – The Walnut Avenue Cafe is another gem in Santa Cruz and it will be added to our places to visit again there, along with Cafe Brasil and Zachary’s. We can certainly recommend it.
The Walnut Avenue Cafe
106 Walnut Avenue
Santa Cruz, Ca 95060
October 06 2012 | Breakfast Log | 2 Comments »
September 29, 2012
The Sutro Baths ruins with the Cliff House in the background
Our trip today is to Lands End, which is the western edge of San Francisco at the entrance to San Francisco Bay. On our way north we could see a huge band of fog covering San Francisco so we wandered just how much visibility there would be. We stopped at Peet’s on Geary for a hot drink and a morsel to eat.
Click on the photos for larger versions.
Just after 8 we were parked by the new lookout and visitors center at Lands End. We knew it wouldn’t be open at that time so decided to call in after our hike. From the car park there are a number of trails but before setting off to walk the Lands End Trail we investigated the ruins of the Sutro Baths. Built by Adolph Sutro and opened in 1896, the baths were a huge success. There were seven swimming pools – one large freshwater pool and six smaller salt water pools of varying temperatures. The salt water was pumped straight from the ocean. It was a huge construction which could accommodate 10,000 bathers and it also had a viewing area which could seat 3,700. But it was more than just a place for folks to swim. There were a number of other attractions to amuse visitors which included a host of antiques, collections and oddities to look at. Sadly the Sutro Baths were destroyed by a fire in 1966. Several attempts were made to rebuild the baths, but without success.
The Sutro Baths ruins and the Pacific Ocean
To get to the ruins we walked down a long, very steep, recently built, stairway. As we descended, we could see the extent of the Sutro Baths and they must have been huge. Built mostly of concrete and wood, only a few concrete foundation walls remain and some of them look quite dangerous. Part of the large pool remains but now it is not very deep. Weeds and algae proliferate there. Gulls use it now to bath in. It is hard to imagine what it looked like in its heyday. The baths were right on the edge of the ocean and just beyond them is a small beach where several fishermen, or rather anglers because one of them was a women, were standing knee deep in the water with large fishing rods.
At the end of the pathway, a tunnel through the rock beckoned us. Of course we ventured through although we could see that the path didn’t go anywhere because a rope, strung across the entrance, prevented us going any further. We looked down on a mass of huge boulders which obviously used to be part of the path. Amongst the rubble we could see twisted railroad tracks.
We walked back through the tunnel and started to climb back up. Instead of returning to the steep stairway we turned left onto the Sutro Baths Upper Trail as it seemed the less steep option plus the fact that it hugs the coast and we would have more camera opportunities. On both sides of the trail ferns were growing, which is not unusual, but these not only had lots of bright green new growth but stalks with little buds on them. On some the ferns, the buds had opened up as small white flowers which is something I had never seen before.
The Point Bonita lighthouse across the Golden Gate from Lands End
We came to a lookout point where we could see the Point Bonita Lighthouse across the Golden Gate. The water was a bit choppy and we stood and watched the water crash every now and again against the rocks and cascade into what looked like one of the smaller pools of the Sutro Baths. The remains of concrete walls and old rusty water pipes could be seen.
The trail continued higher up a wooden stairway with glimpses down to water and rocks below. The rock here is mudstone and in places parts of it are soft and could be crumbled by hand. It looks very much like shale but, no matter how hard I looked, I could not see any sign of fossils though at one point I could see a couple of broken white lines which could have been part of a fish skeleton.
The trail we were on joined up with the Coastal Trail. We turned left and continued walking along the edge of the bay. There were a lot of information boards on the first part of the trail and I learnt lots of interesting facts, e.g the local Yekuma tribe, which were part of the Ohlone Nation, camped here in the summer months; details of the many shipwrecks just offshore from where we stood and that part of the engines from a couple of the wrecks could be seen at low tide; the railroad track which Adolph Sutro built and the trains he ran from San Francisco to his baths so working class San Franciscans could reach them; the streetcar which replaced the steam train and the fact that part of the Coastal Trail is along the very same route as both the steam train and the streetcar, etc.
The Golden Gate Bridge on a typical summer morning.
We took a rest at a lookout overlooking Mile End rock. Back in the late 19th century a lighthouse had been built on top of the rock. The lighthouse was replaced by an automated light in 1966 and a heliport pad built. Why a helicopter would want to land on such a tiny rock in such an exposed place is a mystery to me. Up to this point, the trail had been fairly level and easy to walk on but then it changed. Instead of a paved surface it became gravel and in places rocky. There were also several flights of steps up and down and some of them were not only steep but long.
Whenever I got ahead of Tom, because he had stopped to take photos, I looked for somewhere to sit, either on a convenient bench or rock, to wait for him. I took those opportunities to get out my iPad and write but the views were distracting. It is always captivating to sit and look at the scenery out over the bay to the Marin Headlands beyond but people watching is also time consuming. At one of these rest points, a flight of stairs opposite led down to a beach. When Tom caught up with me he decided to go down the steps and I set off to join him after about ten minutes. I climbed down about 50 steps and met Tom coming up. He said there were an awful lot of steps and he never got to the end, so neither of us got to see the beach. Next time we will be prepared and will make time to go and have a look.
This trail is very popular and in some places the trail becomes narrow and you can get stuck behind a group of slow moving people who are busy chatting away to each other. It is good though to see so many people out enjoying a pleasant walk, especially the families with young children.
From the trail we could see Baker Beach with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. The upper towers of the bridge were still shrouded in fog but it was a wonderful sight. The Lincoln Park Golf Course was right behind us. The Lands End Trail ended nearby and we found ourselves on El Camino de Mar. We could have turned round and walked back the way we came but decided to go a different way. Instead, we climbed up El Camino de Mar walking alongside part of the golf course. We stopped at a memorial written in different languages. There were a couple of seats so we took another break. I spotted a raccoon some off which was busy snuffling the ground. It stopped and looked at me and then it started trotting towards us. At first I was not too bothered as it was about 30 feet away but it kept coming. I pointed it out to Tom and he thought it prudent to move on. Just as well we did because when I looked back he was at the bench where we had been sitting with his front paws up on the bench and he was still looking at us. I guess he is used to folks feeding him but we are not that stupid.
Another shot of The Golden Gate Bridge from along the Coastal Trail
At the top of the hill we turned onto 34th Avenue and walked passed the Palace of the Legion of Honor. This grand building was a gift to the city by the sugar magnate Adolph Spreckels and his wife Alma. It is a purpose-built museum and the design was copied from the Legion of Honor building in France. For nearly 100 years it has exhibited fine art and now hosts many exhibitions. I have not been been inside but it is on my list of places to visit. The building sits atop the headlands and is a well known landmark. We walked past the museum gazing into the courtyard and carried on down 34th Avenue with the golf course on both sides of the road.
At the junction with Clement Street, we debated whether to carry onto Geary or walk down Clement. We decided on the later because it would be quieter. The Lincoln Golf Couse clubhouse is on the corner and as we walked down Clement we were still aware of the golf course on our right because several times golf balls came flying into the street. It must be hazardous living so close to a golf course.
The housese on Clement were interesting to walk by. Even though it was a quiet Sunday lunchtime lots seemed to be going on. Some people were working on their cars or doing work around their yards. One house was being painted and we watched nervously as a man standing on a scaffold was precariously painting the side of the house. Several folks spoke to us as we walked by and lots more smiled. It seems a friendly neighborhood.
At the end of Clement,we arrived back at the car park and decided it was nearly time to get something to eat. Before we did so though, we went to have a look round the new Lands End Visitor Center. It is a very green building using natural sunshine to heat the building and harnessing the wind to cool it. Outside it has been beautifully landscaped not only with stone sculptures of lions but benches made out of recyled cedar wood and plants that are not only native but actually germinated at the nearby nursery at the Presidio from seeds found onsite. Inside it was filled with visitors either buying a snack, checking out the books etc for sale or perusing information about the area. They had some interesting paddle boards giving lots of information not only of the Sutro Baths but the general area, including the nearby Cliff House, as well. The highlight though, were the old Edison films being screened showing the glory days of the Sutro baths and Adolph Surto’s steam train.
We rounded off the day by having lunch at the Seal Rock Inn Cafe at the junction of Point Lobus Avenue and 48th Avenue. Afterwards we drove home at the end of another perfect day.
September 29 2012 | Special Places | No Comments »
September 19, 2012
Garrapata State Park along Highway 1
We were on the road before six to drive to Big Sur. The reason we were heading to Big Sur is because we read an article in the September/October edition of ‘Via’ called ‘The Secrets of Big Sur’ by Jennifer Reese. It has been quite some time since we had taken a drive down this very scenic route on Highway 1 and decided it was about time we went there again. I remember the first time I drove through Big Sur and thought it was just a lovely drive with wonderful views of the stunning North California coast but there was nowhere really to stop and explore. Now I know differently and realize that there are so many places to visit. We have been to Point Lobos State Reserve, Pfeiffer Beach to name two and we were going to investigate a couple more on this trip.
When we left San Jose it was dark and there were no clouds. Stars were twinkling in the sky and the slightly less than full moon was shining above us. At the San Juan Bautista exit off 101 we ran into fog so we missed the sun rising. The fog remained with us all the way to Monterey and only started to lift when we hit the outskirts of Carmel.
Our chosen breakfast spot was the Wagon Wheel Coffee Shop on Carmel Valley Road, see previous post. The fog disappeared just as we reached the turn off for the Wagon Wheel and the sun came out for us.
It was round about 8 o’clock we crossed the Carmel Bridge and had officially entered Big Sur. Before long we could see the ocean and the coastline was clear. A few miles offshore though, a huge fog bank lurked but we kept our fingers crossed that it would wait out there until after lunch. It was the perfect day for a drive down Highway 1. I was armed with a list of all the interesting places along Big Sur and their nearest milepost to make them easier to find.
White egret perched on a kelp bed at Garrapata State Par
We parked in a turnout near Garrapata State Park and took a walk down towards the beach. At first the trail was steep but leveled off a bit further down. There were several little trails branching off along the way but nothing was signposted so I guess they must be unofficial paths. We could hear the raucous sound of sea lions and I thought they were down on the beach but the nearer to the beach we went, they still sounded the same distance away. I then realized they must have gathered on a couple of rocky outcrops about half a mile offshore. We wandered around the trails for about half an hour, stopping now and again to peer down at little inaccessible beaches and inlets at the bottom of craggy cliffs. The kelp beds were abundant but I didn’t spot any sea otters. We did see though, not only a snowy white egret perched on the kelp keenly watching for passing fish but also a blue heron. That is the first time I had ever seen those birds on the ocean. It was really quiet and peaceful with not another human being in sight.
Back on the road again I saw a sign which told us that there would be curves for the next 64 miles. Yep, that’s Big Sur for you. Soon we were crossing the most photographed bridge on Highway 1 – Bixby Creek Bridge (see photograph at the very top of this page). Already there were a few tourists parked up and taking photos. Both Tom and I always hold our breath as we cross this bridge as we don’t like to think about how high up we are.
Our next stop was just south of the Big Sur Lighthouse. We were heading for Andrew Molera State Park but parked in a turnout about a quarter of a mile before the park. Once before I had ventured a little way down this path but today we planned to go further. At the entrance to the path there is a sign saying there is a primitive camp site and I wandered what exactly that meant. The pathway starts off as a grass track through a pasture and then we entered a wood. In front of us was an old, fenced off cabin with an information board outside from which we learned that this is the oldest structure in Big Sur. It was built by George Austin in 1861 for Captain J.R.B Cooper and is now known as the Cooper Cabin. Over the 150 years since the cabin was built, all of the shingles on the outside have been replaced but the rest is more or less as it has always been.
Some deer on the trail down to the beach at Andrew Molera State Park
We continued on our hike by going down some steps to join the Beach Headlands Trail but there was no sign to tell us that – I just happened to have a map I’d printed the night before. The trail became wider and we left the trees behind us. The only people we saw on this part of the walk were a father and his two sons walking back from the beach with their surf boards. The sun was shining and we wished we had not brought our sweatshirts with us. The path narrowed slightly and became a little sheltered from the wind. We walked around a corner and Tom suddenly stopped because just ahead of us were a doe and her 6 month old youngster. They stopped and stared at us for a couple of minutes before walking towards us and then turning off into the bushes at the side of the path. Silently they disappeared and were seen no more.
After a while we found ourselves walking beside the Big Sur River. It looked cool and inviting as it meandered along. Before long the path ended at the top of a small, sandy beach and the river flowed into the ocean. The only way to get to the main beach, where we could see some people sitting and quite a few surfers out on the ocean, was to cross the river but there was no bridge. It wasn’t very deep but quite wide and I could have done it as I had my walking boots on but Tom only had tennies on. One alternative was to take our shoes and socks off and wade across but there was a third option. Not too far back up the trail there had been a signpost to the Headlands Trail and I could see from the map that it would get us to the other side of the beach though not actually to the beach. I could see a bench on the far side and it looked very inviting, so back we went to take the side trail.
Pelicans gliding up the coast
It was a fairly steep climb up a wooden stairway but we were entertained along the way by numerous lizards which darted off as we approached. If they had remained perfectly still, we would not even have seen them. The trail lead us down more steps and onto to path to the tip of the point and the bench. It was so nice to sit on that bench looking across at the beach and watching the surfers patiently waiting for the next big swell. I have a few favorite benches I like to sit on overlooking the ocean and this one has now joined the list. For half an hour we sat there enjoying ourselves and relaxing. Occasionally a line of pelicans would suddenly surprise us by appearing right under our noses. Just before we left the bench to climb back up to the headlands, half a dozen horses and their riders appeared on the beach – where they came from we have no idea.
Back in the car and still traveling south on Highway 1, our next stop was the Big Sur Bakery and Restaurant. By the time we arrived, it was nearly 12 noon and finding a car parking space proved to be a bit of a challenge. Fortunately they have an overfill car park and we found a place there. We followed a short part back to the bakery. I was really looking forward to a cool drink and a pastry of some sort but we were to be disappointed. A line spilled out of the door so we couldn’t even get inside. I did manage to have a quick look inside but there didn’t seem to be many bakery items on display. In fact it looked more like a bar. There was a printed notice saying that tickets were on sale for a BBQ which was to be held there at noon so I guessed the line was to buy tickets for that. We decided that perhaps this was not the best day to stop here so that will have to be put on the list for our next visit.
Instead we drove a few miles down the road to Nepenthe which is always worth a visit anyway. Here they have a restaurant on the top level with marvelous views down the coast and on the middle level the Cafe Kevah which has a lighter menu and the same view as above. Tom had an ice tea and I had a hot chocolate and we shared a pastry. Unfortunately the fog had rolled in so the views were not spectacular at all but it was nice to sit under an umbrella and chat about everything we had seen and done that day. And then it was time to drive home at the end of another perfect day.
September 19 2012 | Special Places | No Comments »
September 12, 2012
The Wagon Wheel Coffee Shop in Carmel Valley
We were heading out for a day trip to Big Sur and decided to stop for breakfast before we crossed the Carmel River Bridge. The Wagon Wheel Coffee Shop is roughly three and a half miles from Highway 1 so a wee bit out of the way but we thought we would give it a try. It is situated in a small shopping center, which is similar to the Barnyard Shopping Viallage on the corner of Highway 1 and Carmel Valley Road, but on a much smaller scale. Just look out for the green awning with a wagon wheel on it.
The Wagon Wheel is a rustic little place with plenty of parking outside. It was not very busy at all, in fact there were just two customers sitting at the counter. It opens at 6.30 in the morning and we arrived just after 7. We chose a table by the window and we were warmed by the early morning sun. It had been foggy in Monterey but here it was bright and clear. When the sun rose a bit higher it hit Tom right in the eye but immediately the server came over and dropped the blind. Our server was bright and cheerful and she soon took our order and gave Tom his coffee. Tom ordered one of the specials – Polish sausage and eggs for $9.50. As oatmeal was on offer, that is what I chose but instead of the regular oatmeal I went for the slightly dearer option – slow toasted, thick cut oatmeal. I also had a choice of a small or large portion s as I was hungry, I went for the larger size ($7.25). It included toast, so I chose the whole wheat.
It’s not called the Wagon Wheel for nothing because everything screams ‘cowboy’ at you as soon as you enter. The walls are covered in photographs of cowboys and horses and all sorts of tack hang from the rafters. Of course there are horseshoes on the walls. Even the mugs are decorated with cowboy hats, spurs etc.
My oatmeal came in a large, round, deep bowl on an oval plate, which had the same decoration round the edge as the mugs. The toast was on plate with the bowl. The sugar came in a pottery bowl but the milk jug was extraordinary. It was made out of white china and in the shape of a cow. It wasn’t immediately clear as to where the milk came out. At first Tom thought it was the rear end but I noticed the tail was curled, so obviously the milk came out of the mouth. The oatmeal was very tasty and hot – just how I like it. Tom enjoyed his spicy Polish sausage but wasn’t too impressed with the coffee as he likes it strong and bold.
The restroom is outside, up a couple of steps. The key hangs just to the left of the door as you go out. The light didn’t work, which didn’t bother me as it was wasn’t too dark inside but might be a problem when the sun isn’t shining. There were two stalls inside, which I found unusual. The same cowboy theme from the cafe is extended to the restroom. On the wall were two wanted posters, one for Butch Cassidy and the other for the Sundance Kid. By the sink was an old sign showing charges to use soap, towel, water, etc. The total cost for using everything came to a few cents. A saucy photo of a lady getting out of a hip bath hung near the door and last, but not least, a sign advising you to squat when wearing spurs. The restroom facilities were clean and acceptable.
Overall we would recommend the Wagon Wheel Coffee Shop as a very pleasant little place to stop for breakfast if you are in the area.
The Wagon Wheel Coffee Shop
7156 Carmel Valley Rd
Carmel, CA 93923
September 12 2012 | Breakfast Log | No Comments »
September 5, 2012
Both Oracle boats warming up for their match race.
Tom and I wanted to see the sixth and final day of the first round of the America’s Cup World Series in San Francisco, so we set out very early on Sunday morning. We were expecting fog in the city but it was a beautiful, sunny day.
Click on the photos for larger versions.
After our breakfast at Judy’s Cafe on Chestnut, we made our way to Crissy Field where we found a convenient parking place on Old Mason Street. From there we walked to the St Francis Yacht Club. The area surrounding the yacht club had been transformed due to the America’s Cup event. The car park we normally park in had been surrounded by crash barriers and was now reserved parking for VIPs. Huge trailers were parked behind the yatcht club and the pathway to the Wave Organ had been re-routed. We walked past the marina where there were several very large, expensive yachts moored. On the edge of the bay, temporary bleechers had been erected but access to them was only by ticket.
Another view of the the two Oracle boats.
We made our way to the end of the peninsula behind the yacht club. We knew this would be a prime place to get a good view of the racing and that a lot of folks would be coming. At 8.30 there were quite a few people already staking out their chosen spot for a grandstand view of the racing. As we walked toward the end, we met up with a couple from Novato named Sabrina and Dave. Together we walked and chatted until we had nearly reached the point. We then discovered that Dave was a working photographer. They have a company called Davrina International where they produce high quality photography and video, including HD and 3D. He set up his equipment which consisted of three cameras on top of a tripod, which are operated simultaneously for panoramic shots.
Tom and I had brought picnic chairs and we set them up with a view out over the bay. The sun was shining brightly but it was a bit breezy – it was breezy enough to tip the chairs over if we weren’t sitting in them or placed something heavy on them. We were glad we brought our sweatshirts. Just a few steps away was the Wave Organ. This is one of the less known attractions of San Francisco. Even Sabrina, who had always lived in the bay area, had never heard of it so I took her over to see it. It has been built out of salvaged stone from an old cemetery and consists of pipes which have been placed at different levels in the water with an open funnel at the top. There are lots of stone benches to sit on where you can place your ear against a funnel and hear gurgling noises from the pipes. It is at a slightly lower level than the rest of the peninsula and completely protected from the wind so it was the perfect place to sit and what made it even more thrilling was the fact that nine of the catamarans taking part in the racing were moored nearby at the entrance to the marina. They are actually called winged-sailed catamarans because the sails are rigid and looked like vertical airplane wings. This was my first view of the new AC45 racing catamarans.
Here’s the British boat. I’d be in big trouble with Margaret if I didn’t show this one.
There were just two races that day. The first was the Match Race Final which would be between the two Oracle boats. The second race would be the Fleet Racing Championship in which all eleven boats would take part. They looked so elegant as they bobbed and rocked on the water, tugging at their moorings almost as if they were eager to get out there and race. Roundabout there was a lot of action. Across on the mainland I could see the team work bases in the ‘Cup Village’ with the flag of each country flying over their booth. Fans were milling around over there and sitting on the edge of the wall to get their ringside seat of the action. I could hear music playing and every so often announcements were being made. Small, official craft were entering and leaving the marina, including VIP taxi boats. One of Larry Ellison’s luxury sailing yachts, Zenji, glided by and another one was moored out on the bay. Helicopters buzzed around overhead.
I went back to join Tom on the windy side and there were many more photographers gathering around us. It was a prime location to see all the action as the finish line is right at the end of the peninsula. Tom went back towards the yacht club to use the restroom but was met by a barricade. He was told that if he went past the crash barrier he would not be let back in. He was also told that everybody already on the peninsula would be cleared before the racing started and only media would be allowed through. No reason was given to him Tom about this decision. So he came back. We talked about going back and trying to find somewhere to sit before we were asked to leave but then decided to wait and see what happened. Other people came back with slightly different stories. Someone was told the reason why they were not letting anybody through was because a parachutist would be landing on the peninsula after the races. We spoke to some people who did manage to get through the barrier who were not media and they said they just walked though even though someone tried to stop them. They were San Franciscans and said that the area is a public open space and they had every right to be there.
A guy with a water-powered jet pack called a Jetlev
The wind slowly started to pick up and I became really cold. I kept trying to stay out of the wind by standing behind Tom but still I shivered. Every so often I would go and sit down in the Wave Organ where it was much warmer. I was sitting there when the crews were taken out to the boats and I watched them getting their boats ready for the racing day ahead. Later I saw them, one by one, untether their catamarans and move out to the bay and boy, didn’t they move fast. Now and again, further into the marina, a guy with a water-powered jet pack called a Jetlev was performing for the crowd. At first I had no idea what was causing him to be so high in the air but someone explained what it was and that they cost $100,000. That’s got to be a rich man’s plaything.
And they’re off!
The issue was finally resolved about whether or not they were going to move us, the non media fans, back behind the crash barrier and we were told that we could stay. Another crash barrier was placed near the wave organ and we all had to stay behind it. We were the lucky ones because a huge crowd had massed behind the crash barriers back at the yacht club. Apparently they wanted to keep the middle section of the peninsula clear because six parachutists were going to land after the racing had ended.
Oracle and Prada screaming towards the finish line. This was thrilling.
We watched the catamarans skimming, weaving and tacking out in the bay and were waiting for the first race to begin. At first we were not quite sure what was going to happen but there were plenty of people roundabout to explain things to us. The first race was at 11.45 when the two Oracle boats would be taking part in the Match Race Final. Someone explained the course to us and told us to keep an eye on one of the official boats out by the Golden Gate Bridge as it was at the starting line. Two minutes before the race, I could see a green and an orange light on the boat. One minute before the race there was just a green light and I saw the two Oracle boats moving towards the start line. The green light went out and I saw a puff of smoke and a second or two afterwards heard the sound of a gun and they were off. It was amazing to watch the pair of them maneuver around the markers and at one point they passed really close to where we were watching. Suddenly I didn’t feel so cold any more! The race took about 20 minutes and then they were heading to the finish line. They were not more than twenty feet away from us as Oracle Team Coutts narrowly beat their rival team mates.
One member of the Red Bull skydiving team
There was a short lull before the start of the second and last race of the day – the Fleet Racing Championship – in which all eleven boats took part. Watching them all make their way to the start line, trying hard not to get there before the gun went off, and then the jockeying for position as they made the first turn, was exciting. At times though it was confusing and they all seemed to go off in different directions and it was difficult to tell who was in the lead. We could hear some of the commentary from the mainland but not enough of it to really understand what was going on. I could tell though when the race was coming to an end because suddenly all the boats seemed to be heading towards us at an alarming speed. Tom had moved down to the spit of sand on the other side of the wave organ and I was standing on one of the high points of the wave organ. The Italian boat – Luna Rossa Piranha – was the first over the finish line with Oracle Team USA Spithill a couple of second behind them. Team Korea was third and the second Oracle boat was 5th. The British boat – JP Morgan Bar came in 6h. The overall winner of the series was the Oracle Team USA Spithill. Sadly the British boat came in 10th.
Everybody of course went wild and the celebrations began. We packed our stuff together and went to stand behind the crash barrier to wait for the parachutists to land. One of the event officials on the other side of the crash barrier was a Brit and he was chatting to us. He turned out to be another Hampshire Hog. Let me explain, anybody born in Hampshire is called a Hampshire Hog and he happened to be born and raised just a few miles from where I was born and raised, albeit forty or so years before him. Just after that someone spotted a little plane overhead and we saw first two parachutists jump, then another two and finally the last two. They twisted and turned with smoke trailing from their feet and came in to land one by one by skimming over our heads. They all landed very close to us – one of them was a girl – and we were able to chat to some of them as they bundled up their parachutes.
Here’s a cool video of the parachutists and the race.
After all that excitement, it was time to go home. We slowly made our way back to Crissy Field and to our car, amidst all the happy chattering crowd. It had been another perfect day.
September 05 2012 | Neighborhoods and Special Places | 2 Comments »
August 30, 2012
Judy’s Cafe in San Francisco’s Marina District
We were on our way to the Marina in San Francisco to watch the last day of racing in the first round of the America’s Cup World Series but needed breakfast beforehand. We found a nice little place on Chestnut Street in the Marina district called Judy’s Cafe. The cafe is one of several in an old art deco building and the sign on the canopy over the door looked as though it had been there for a long time. Outside there were lots of tables set out but when we arrived no one was sitting there.
Inside it looked tiny with just eight tables; seven tables for two and just one for four people. There were only a couple of tables occupied. We were shown to a table at the back and picked up the menu to check it out. Almost immediately a server came up and asked what we wanted to drink and reeled off a list of different drinks – fresh squeezed orange, grapefruit or carrot juice, tea, coffee, Bloody Mary or Mimosa. Tom ordered coffee and I chose the fresh squeezed orange juice. I just must mention that all the servers looked extremely smart with their white shirts and long green aprons and the two who came to our table were friendly and informative.
I took a quick look at the menu to see what was on offer but could not see oatmeal listed. The drinks were served and the server then told us about the specials, which all sounded good, and we both chose one of the specials. For Tom it was the capers, smoked salmon and Hollandaise sauce omelette and for me the crabmeat, spinach and Hollandaise sauce omelette. Tom also ordered a blueberry muffin and I chose the pumpkin bread.
Time to check out the interior before our food came. Classical music was playing in the background. The walls were covered with celebrity photos, some of which were signed. We sat right under a photo with two shots of Robin Williams – one as himself and the other as Mrs Doubtfire. Next to it was a picture of Dame Edna. Nearby I spotted a photo of Tony Bennett and one of Lily Tomlin plus some of people I have never heard of, like Jackie Mason and Bobby Slayton. Thank goodness Tom knew who they were!
The food when it arrived looked amazing. Both omlettes had a little bit of the inside on top so you could tell which was which. Both the muffin and pumpkin bread were warm. It looked like the omlette was placed on top of the filling because there was no bottom to it. There was a lot of filling though and it was very rich. I did find bits of shell in with the crabmeat but I guess it proved it was fresh. Tom remarked that his omlette was a bit salty. Although the presentation was good, neither of us were particularly impressed with the food.
I paid my visit to the restroom, which was upstairs, before we got the bill. As I walked up the stairs I couldn’t help noticing how dirty the carpet was. It was supposed to be brown but the middle of each step was black where so many people had trodden on it. There was more seating upstairs and here there were some bigger tables. Once again the carpet was supposed to be brown but the pathway to the restroom was a ribbon of black.
The restroom itselt was not very big and it struck me as being old fashioned. There was an unusual green plant on top of the cistern. The only decoration in the room was a large poster advertising the Ketia Gallery in New York which was dated 1982.
I met Tom outside where he was taking a photo and he told me how much the bill came to – over $40! His omlette was $14 and mine was $18. We didn’t think to ask the price when the server told us about the specials. Then came the real kicker – they only take cash. Fortunately Tom had the cash but before we went any further we had to find an ATM.
Our verdict – way too expensive and the food wasn’t that good to warrant it. Doubt we will be visiting Judy’s Cafe again.
2268 Chestnut St.
San Francisco, CA 94123
August 30 2012 | Breakfast Log | No Comments »
August 16, 2012
Vermont Street, the real crookedest street in San Francisco
After breakfast, before we headed back to Dogpatch, we decided to check out the crookedest street in the world. Most people think that Lombard Street, further to the west in San Francisco, has that title because it has one more turn but Vermont Street is shorter and steeper. It was further up Potrero Hill from where we had eaten breakfast at Plow. Because this section of Vermont Street is not so well known as Lombard Street, there were very few tourists. Like Lombard it is a down hill, one way drive and it was fun to negotiate the very sharp twists and turns. It is no where near as pretty as Lombard Street, with its brick pavement and nicely tended landscaping, but it has a charm all of its own. Once at the bottom we drove around the block and made our way back to the top where we parked the car. We then walked down the steep street on a stairway on the left. There were a few other people walking up and down the stairs but they were all locals walking their dogs. The area would be much quieter though if the 101 were not so close by. The constant noise of the fast moving traffic could be heard but not seen.
Another view of Vermont Street
Once at the bottom, I walked across the road and looked down on the 101 and then gazed south at the view of houses and roads spread out in front of me. In the near distance I could see some huge brick buildings and have found out since that they are part of the San Francisco General Hospital. Turning back to look upwards, I discovered another staircase to the left of Vermont St. Being curious, we decided to climb up it to see where it led. It skirted the side of the hill were native plants had been planted. At the top of the staircase, several trails led of in different directions, but we stuck to the one which led up the hill and ended up at the junction of San Bruno Avenue and 20th St.
Potrero Hill Community Garden
Off to the right, we spotted a gate with a sign next to it, so went to investigate. The sign informed us that beyond the unlocked gate was the Portrero Hill Community Garden and visitors were welcome. Of course we ventured inside and were suddenly transported into a different world. We wandered along litttle pathways between tiny fenced off plots where an amazing variety of plants were being cultivated. Every little garden was unique, some with their own little network of walkways between the plants. I can’t begin to list all the flowers, fruits and vegetables that were being grown but will mention a few – plump strawberries; juicy looking raspberries; beautiful dahlias and zinnias; grapes; tomatores; artichokes; herbs; rhubarb. The most amazing sight though was a small chicken run with four hens inside, all with different plummage, scratching around in the ground. This garden was such a wonderful place to find in the heart of San Francisco. I could have spent hours just exploring every little bit of it.
A gorgeous dahlia from the Potrero Hill Community Garden
We stopped and chatted to a lady gardener who was watering her plot where she grew three differnt types of grapes, tomatoes and potatoes. She was interesting to talk to and told us a little of the history and some of the problems the community garden has. It is in a very exposed position and water is probably the main problem. Some people have a drip system installed which is far more efficient than watering with a hose. I asked about the chickens and she said they had not been there long. Some folks were against the idea, being worried about coyotes, but those guys have always been regular night time visitors to the garden.
Once out of the gardens, we walked through McKinley Park, which is on the corner of 20th and Vermont. There were kids and their parents having fun in the fenced off childrens playground and family groups sitting on the grass having picnics. One family was busy blowing up something but I wasn’t sure whether it was some sort of bouncy castle, a huge kite or a tent. The sun had come out and everybody looked happy. Opposite the park, Tom pointed out a roof patio with a BBQ on the top of one of the houses and I peeped through a gate between two buildings at a beautiful courtyard with a fountain. Suddenly a huge boxer dog came rushing at the gate and slithered to a halt in front of me, spraying gravel everywhere, and barking his head off. He was certainly a good guard dog.
We took the scenic drive back to Dogpatch up and down some of very steep streets. My heart was in my mouth when we turned into some streets and suddenly the road disappeared for a few moments before the front wheels hit the pavement again and we plummeted down. At the start of some of the roads going uphill I knew what we were in for when I read signs saying ‘Sharp Crest Ahead’. At one point we saw the tip of the Sutro Tower standing above a fog bank. Tom wanted to stop and take a photo of it but it had disappeared by the time he found a suitable viewpoint where we could stop.
It was time to get our feet back on the ground so we made our way back to Dogpatch.
Vermont Street, the real crookedest street.
August 16 2012 | Neighborhoods and Special Places | 3 Comments »
August 6, 2012
Plow in San Francisco
It didn’t take us very long to drive from Dogpatch to Plow on 18th and Texas. Even though Plow had been open for less than half an hour, already there were people waiting outside. On the door is a notice saying that due to their modest size customers were asked to wait outside after giving their names. We left our name and a cheery server told us that we would have to wait 30-40 minutes. That was fine by us because we had already looked at the menu and were intrigued and excited by the offering.
Click on the photos for larger versions.
The amazing Noah Riley
Outside there were benches to sit on and they were very unusual. They were were just thick planks of polished wood, set into the wall and, because 18th Street is steep, the last bench looks much higher than the first, whereas they are all the same distance above the sidewalk. There were also places to sit around the trees at the edge of the road. Already there, were the couple with their baby we had met outside Just for You, over in Dogpatch, and we chatted while we waited. Their names were Christie and Chad Riley and their 10 month old son, Noah, who really is the best behaved and engaging baby I have ever met. Christie is finishing her residency as a pediatrician and Chad is a wonderful fashion and lifestyle photographer. Noah and Tom really hit it off when Tom waved at him and Noah immediately responded by waving back. Christie and Chad were amazed because it is the first time Noah had waved. He was already an expert at giving his Dad a high five though. In no time at all it seemed the young family were called in to their table and just a few minutes later it was our turn. Coincidently we were seated right next to Christie and Chad and had the great pleasure of carrying on our conversation with them again.
The inside of Plow is really small with seating for 25 at the most, at modern white formica topped tables and on bright blue steel chairs. At the counter, there is seating for six on steel stools in the same bright blue. On the walls were a couple of big pictures which I think were mounted on perspex (plexiglass in the US). One was of a red barn with a sea of white flowers in the foreground and the other of an under water seascape. On the far wall was a shelf with lots of books and bottles of preserves.
One of the best breakfasts we’ve had.
The menu is a joy just to read. Let me tell you the descriptions of a couple of the items and you can make up your own mind – lemon ricotta pancakes with Vermont maple syrup; Dungeness crab scramble; cider-brined pork chop + eggs; Fatted Calf blood sausage + eggs; fried egg sandwich. It was hard to choose but in the end Tom ordered the soft scrambled egg with oyster mushrooms, lamb quarter, goat cheese and crispy potatoes ($13) with a side of Nueske bacon ($5) and I plumped for the house made organic yogurt + granola, market fruit + Potrero Hill honey ($8.75). I had no idea what lamb quarter was so asked the server and she said it was ‘a sort of spinach’. Of course I looked it up when I got home and though it looks like spinach (and tastes like it too according to Tom), it is in fact a type of goosefoot or pigweed.
The food looked amazing when it was served. The blend of colors were awesome. And when it came to actually eating our breakfast, words fail me. Everything was perfect and I was really impressed with the very fresh raspberries and blueberries on the scrummy yogurt, granola and honey. Tom thought his was one of the best ever. Everything to perfection. Eggs smooth and silky and the potatoes crispy and delicious.
The restroom was situated behind a curtain and, like the rest of the restaurant, it was very pleasant. Of course there were pictures on the wall, of food this time. Like the pictures outside they were also mounted on perspex but much smaller.
All in all, the Plow is certainly somewhere we definitely plan on visiting again. Can’t wait to sample more of the dishes on the menu.
Plow in San Francisco
1299 18TH Street, San Francisco 94107
August 06 2012 | Breakfast Log | 3 Comments »
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