clearlakemike's wunderblog

My Mum's California Diary

By: clearlakemike, 3:27 PM GMT on July 08, 2006

DAY ONE

Kay arrived in San Francisco with a very nice but heavy suitcase. The gate agent in Orlando earlier in the morning of Kay’s adventure was in a good mood on this very early morning at Orlando and waived here overweight luggage fee. During the flight out her seatmate, a nice young girl traveling back from visiting her father, helped her find her seat . The seat was uncomfortable, the two men sitting nearby kept getting up. The flight attendant put Kay in a more comfortable seat and it happened that the same young girl was sitting next to her now. After the leg cramps started Kay decided to stand in the galley and chat with the friendly flight attendants.

Her very heavy bag arrived safely, as did Kay, and after we pulled and pulled that heavy suitcase through the crowded terminal and home we caught the cable car and went to San Francisco’s Chinatown and started eating. The first course, a very hot and sour, and very good soup, to warm up on a cool, summer San Francisco day. Kay washed down the Garlic chicken with a cold Chinese beer.

We walked and walked and walked and walked through Chinatown and then Chinatown turned in San Francisco’s Little Italy neighborhood, North Beach. When we could walk no more we took the cable car up and down the steep hills of the city and got back in the car. Driving up and down and up and down the steep City streets , by the mansions in Pacific Heights, we saw a cruise ship going out to sea down beneath the city in the sparkling blue San Francisco Bay. We came to the crest of one very steep street and Kay screamed as we teetered over the edge and started the terrifying descent. We drove over the Golden Gate bridge to the Marin side and for a few very windy minutes admired the view of the Bay and the city skyline.

The foggy morning had turned into a beautiful, bright blue afternoon as we drove up higher and higher into the nearby headlands across the Bay and looked at the spectacular view below of the bridge, the bay and the city. We drove down out of the headlands to the beach and then over to a warm late afternoon in Sausalito, protected from the cool ocean air by the mountains and nestled on the hills facing the bay and the city. After all that excitement we were ready to eat again. The dinner, sitting by the window with a great view at Scoma’s, was delicious. The Petrale Sole melted in our mouths as we gazed at the sailboats out on the bay.

After the delicious dinner we drove to Coit Tower and took the elevator to the top of the tower and watched the sun set out on the Pacific while the city lights came on. Kay told the man who sold the tickets she was cold and he asked “where are you from?” After Kay told him, he said, Ahh yes, humid, humid. The man told her that he was used to the cool air and wore short sleeve shirts all year. After a spectacular drive to Twin Peaks and the city lights view high above San Francisco, we called it a day. Kay slept and slept and slept. She had been awake for almost 24 hours.


DAY TWO

After a good nights sleep, Kay had a very good appetite and ate a Belgian Waffle with lots of very fresh fruit and a healthy heap of whipped cream. We loaded the heavy suitcase into the car and drove out to the beautiful Napa Valley “wine country”. Away from the coast the warm breezes and bright sun shone on the valley full of vineyards and reminded Kay of her trip to Italy. She took lots of pictures of the beautiful roses at the Mondavi Winery and we drove up to the end of the valley. At the Greystone Culinary Academy in St. Helena Kay ordered Kabash squash with Tortellini and I ordered Alaskan halibut. Kay called the waiter over for the first of what seemed like 30 times and told him the biscotti was burned. He graciously brought back a plate full of more burned biscotti. The student chef we decided was getting an “F” on biscotti that day. But the rest of the meal was delicious. After two glasses of wine we ordered crème brule and it was the biggest we ever saw! It was enough to feed four people. But we managed, just the two of us, to eat almost all of it because it was so good.

After zig zagging through the mountain roads and almost getting car sick we finally got up into the top of the mountains and to Clear Lake. Guy greeted us at Clear Lake and start showing Kay too many slides of our recent trip to Oregon and putting ideas into her head and she said, “We are going up there too, aren’t we?” And Mike said “We are???”


DAY THREE


This is NOT Palm Springs. But it is almost as hot. But it is a dry heat and comfortable and after a big Mexican lunch we were ready for a siesta. We did walk around Lakeport and Kelseyville’s old historic blocks and drove through the walnut and pear orchards. We stopped to admire a beautiful saddle with a turquoise seat and silver medallions at the local feed store. A man on his tractor came down the street as we drove off. This is the country.

Towards sunset we drove off to the casino and enjoyed a nice dinner. Kay ate grilled marinated chicken and Guy and Mike had the Friday night all you can eat prime rib special. The food was good. After dinner Kay played what seemed like an hour on a few five dollar bills, Guy won about $45 and Mike just kept losing money as he always does when he goes to the casino. He rubbed Guy’s nose for good luck but it wasn’t working last night so he watched Kay and Guy play.



DAY FOUR

We drove over to the Mendocino Coast and Hwy 20, which twists and turns for the last 33 miles over the canyons of the coastal range. Mum was holding on for dear life and trying to keep her equilibrium. I let the cars pass by, when I could, instead of squealing through the hairpin turns as I usually do. Still it was quite a ride for her as she is used to the flat straight roads in Florida. We arrived in Mendocino in good shape and everyone had a good appetitive for lunch despite the drive over. Mendocino has quite a collection of very good places to eat and this time we dined on Quiche, Guy had the most delicious looking cheeseburger and I had the petrale sole again, which was piled onto a nice heap of mash potatoes, fresh corn and greens. The food was very good and the view of the brilliant flowers in the garden was very refreshing.

Little did we know that we would soon be going to experience the "Mendocino coast version of the Blair Witch Project", getting lost through the towering grasses and wildflowers on the headlands. But first we walked off lunch poking our heads into the art galleries and enjoying the beautiful headland views. The morning fog had burned back while we were eating and the sun revealed the brilliant colors of the headland wildflowers, the beautiful blues in the ocean and the freshly painted Victorians stood against a brilliant blue sky. We looked at a restored 1850’s cottage that is for sale but after I told Mum that the San Andreas fault was offshore she decided against it. I think she would have also needed to experience a sudden boom in Florida real estate prices as a cottage in Mendocino will really set you back.

We ventured up the coast a bit to Fort Bragg and met up with Wunderground photographer, Feather3 and her son. Feather and her son were wonderful and a lot of fun to hang out with at Glass Beach. Feather really knows the wildflowers, which are in abundance and variety, above the beach on the headlands. Feather's beautiful gallery is a documentary of the many wildflowers that thrive along the Mendocino coast. I learned a lot about the flora. My mother, Kay, very much enjoyed the waves crashing against the rocky beaches, something she doesn’t see in Florida.

After the beach and flora tour, we decided to venture out up on headlands and take a “short cut” back to the car. It started out ok, but soon we were in wildflowers, blackberry bushes and grasses that were over 6’ feet high! Snowy just plopped down and would not go any further. I began to think of the Blair Witch Project and was wondering if we were ever going to get out of there. But we did and the fields of grasses there are really amazing. The coast at high summer is beautiful and is an amazing ecosystem of plant life despite the fact that it has not rained in months. The morning and evening fog provides these plants with just enough moisture and water to flourish.

Feather demonstrated for me how to sample the most fragrant scented gum at the base of the flowers of the the Lone Coast Gum Plant. Doing a little further investigation myself I learned that it has historically been used for medicinal purposes. On a hike once through the Indian Canyons in the Coachella Valley I had a guide who made us aware of how native people in California used many of these wild plants for medicine and also to groom themselves, as well as food. The Mendocino Coast was inhabited by the Pomo Indians during the summer in this part of California.

PS...Kay loves her rosebuds!!! Thank you, Feather!!!!


THE WHIRLWIND TOUR - Day One

After relaxing and enjoying a spectacular summer Sunday out on the lake we started the week with the first leg of our circle around Northern and Central California’s famous places. We began the tour with an afternoon at beautiful Carmel. The cool summer fog had an all day grip on the Monterey Peninsula and Carmel. Cool enough to enjoy a delicious lunch near a blazing fireplace in one of Carmel’s cozy grills. After warming up on clam chowder and a great lunch we walked and poked our heads into some of Carmel’s upscale shops and enjoyed all the charming craftsman homes and buildings.

After lunch, a drive along the beach road and more spectacular homes along a beautiful coast and white sand beaches. Continuing on the world famous 17 mile drive in Pebble Beach was wonderful even in the fog. The Lone Cypress was the reward at the end of the drive. The Lone Cypress has been a solitary sentinel standing out on the rocky shores of Pebble Beach for about 250 years. We ended up our day with a tour of Monterey and watched the sea otters playing in the waters off the beach. Before calling it a day, we ate dinner at a local Japanese restaurant and enjoyed the tasty tempura and sushi.


THE WHIRLWIND TOUR - BIG SUR

One of my favorite places in the world I have seen, and a coast I never tire of visiting, is Big Sur. This amazing, spectacular stretch of California’s coastline is a land and seascape drama of mountains descending directly into the blue Pacific Ocean. California Highway One, an engineering marvel, is the route and world famous drive along Big Sur that begins south of Carmel from the north. The serpentine coast highway winds in and out of steep canyons, crosses over magnificent bridges, hugs the rugged cliffs and meanders through the marine terraces of Big Sur for about 80 miles. My mother had not seen this coast in over a quarter of a century and it was one of the highlights of her recent trip to Northern California.

As we left the fog shrouded Monterey Peninsula and Carmel the fog began to burn off and revealed the beautiful blues in the ocean, the bright yellow wildflowers, green California oaks and the gold and tan grasses of the arid landscape. We enjoyed a wonderful day driving down Hwy One, in and out of the steep canyons, along beautiful seaside cattle ranches, lighthouses and beaches. It is a long twisting drive but well worth the effort. We stopped at Nepenthe for lunch, a beautiful open air restaurant perched high above the Pacific with a sweeping view of the coast. Lots of photo ops along the way as we headed south towards San Simeon and California’s rural and beautiful Central Coast.

The following day we took a tour of Hearst Castle on a bright, beautiful sunny morning. Hearst Castle was the amazing dream of William Randolph Hearst, publishing mogul and scion of the Hearst fortune and his amazing architect, a female pioneer in an almost exclusively male occupation during her era, Julia Morgan. The two of them built this amazing “castle” high on the hills overlooking the Pacific above the Central California coast ranchlands. My mother had never seen “the Castle” before and enjoyed the tour very much. After our tour we headed inland for a long drive across California’s vast San Joaquin Valley, past miles and miles of tomato fields towards the Sierras and Yosemite National Park. We made it to the famous “Tunnel View” viewpoint just in time for the sunset glow on the granite walls of Yosemite Valley. It was a great end to a wonderful and fun day.


THE WHIRLWIND TOUR - YOSEMITE

Yosemite is spectacular anytime but seeing it for the first time is a breathtaking experience. My mother had never had a chance to get up to the Sierras during her years of business travel to California, many years ago, and was very excited to have an opportunity finally to get to see Yosemite Valley and its glacier sculpted granite walls and waterfalls. As we entered the park on a warm summer evening we stopped and took a break from the car after the long drive through the Central Valley and walked around the Giant Sequoia Groves near the southern entrance of the park. A very beautiful place to walk around as the late afternoon sun filtered through the massive trees. Kay seemed spellbound by the giant trees and wandered off into the groves. Tired from driving all afternoon I was content to view them from a split rail fence nearby. I have walked through the groves numerous times and it is something that you should try and do at least once when you are there. The Mariposa Grove in Yosemite NP is one of the preserved groves of these unique trees, found only naturally in the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California. They are the largest trees on earth (in volume) and also very beautiful. A challenge to photograph too as they are so large and tall. Kay was perplexed on how to shoot them and I told her to shoot the massive trunks and interesting bark or try and shoot up towards the tops. Anyway, it is like a “religious experience” walking among these giants. They are like a natural cathedral.

Driving through the park we came across a manmade wonder, $4/gal gas! Had never seen that before. Glad I stopped and filled up earlier down in the other Valley and didn’t need to buy any. The following morning we drove up to Glacier Point and viewed the valley floor from the bird’s eye view 3,200 feet above at the edge of a vertigo inducing sheer cliff. You can see the Merced river snaking its way through valley floor as it begins its journey down through the canyons towards the San Joaquin irrigation aqueducts and the vast fields of crops. We just stood there in the warm sun with everyone else (always a lot of people up there on a summer day) and someone offered to take our “obligatory goofy tourist” photo with this beautiful scene behind us. An older man with a nice southern accent stopped me to admire my hat, a classic California lifeguard hat with a wide brim. He said his hat didn’t have as a wide a brim.

After dodging cars that have trouble staying on their side of the yellow line on the winding road we made it back down to the Valley floor stopping to look at the fresh green alpine meadows filled with wildflowers. We spent the rest of the afternoon driving around the valley stopping to look at meadows and gazing up at the waterfalls and famous domes, monoliths and towering cliffs that have inspired generations of visitors.

Updated: 8:19 PM GMT on August 08, 2006

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Oregon Coast 101

By: clearlakemike, 9:58 PM GMT on July 02, 2006

Continuing on out of a foggy morning along the northern California coast we entered the beautiful state of Oregon.

The fog burned off in the mid morning sun and revealed the spectacular southern Oregon coastline. Our journey up Hwy 101 along the rugged Oregon coast was wonderful.

Beautiful rocky coastline, fantastic lighthouses, amazing and endless strecthes of huge sand dunes. Crossing over the beautiful bridges built in the early 20th century, we admired the unique bridge architecture of that period as we crossed over dramatic river gorges on these engineering marvels.

Updated: 11:52 PM GMT on July 04, 2006

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