Celia Hart's blog about what's going on in and around her studio.
Art, printmaking, inspirations, gardening, vegetables, hens, landscapes, wild flowers, East Anglia, adventure, travel.

Thursday 27 October 2011

USA Road Trip: part 4 – San Francisco

We'd travelled along 450 miles of the wonderful, amazing, breathtaking Californian Pacific coast and look! there's the Golden Gate Bridge peeping over the San Francisco Friday evening traffic – we'd come to the end of the Road Trip.

But, we still had two full days left and we wanted to see as much of the city as we could cram in . . . we were staying at Fisherman's Wharf (and quite frankly a half hour of that was enough for me), spending a good part of a precious day doing Alcatraz didn't appeal to us, but this did – The Real SF Tour.

The brain child of Chris Courtney, this is a full day 'urban adventure', you need to wear comfy walking shoes and be fairly nimble and capable of negotiating flights of stairs and slopes up and down. We met Chris, and with four others jumped aboard the California Street cable car to start the tour . . . 

Chris gave a commentary throughout the day – never boring or too history orientated, full of interesting and practical information – but in fact, as Chris said, it's best when

the city speaks for itself . . .

You can see our route here; I was taking photos along the way and the slide show above shows them in order through the day. The music is 'Gold Dust Woman' by Fleetwood Mac from the album 'Rumours', chosen because a) I like it and have the original vinyl lp; and b) it was recorded just over the Golden Gate Bridge in Sausalito – an incidental fact Chris mentioned during the tour. 

If you're planning to visit San Francisco (or if you live nearby and want to know more about the different neighbourhoods) the The Real SF Tour is a great way to see the city and come away with a list of places to revisit, plus recommended restaurants, shops and neighbourhoods to fill a whole week. Don't be put off by the thought of walking all day (it's not that tough!) afterwards we still had enough energy to walk all the way back to our hotel at Fisherman's Wharf; we gave it 10/10 for a fantastic day exploring 'the real' San Francisco.

So, our last full day in San Francisco . . . lets start with breakfast in the Beach Street Grill, just along the road from our hotel – that will set us up for a day's cycling!

We hired our bikes at Anchorage Square and set of along the bay towards the Golden Gate Bridge, a nice level cycle way :-)

It then get's a tad harder work, you see the road over the bridge is a lot higher than the water! Phew!

The bridge is 1.7 miles wide and on one side there's a two way cycle lane, fenced off from the traffic; to be honest I was too busy looking at the the bridge structure or concentrating on not colliding with herds of lycra clad racing cyclists going in the opposite direction, to appreciate the views of the bay!

But, yay! I did it!

We continued down the very steep, busy road into the little town of Sausalito on the north side of the bay; at the bottom I quickly insisted that we got the ferry back (Fen girls aren't used to cycling up hills!).

So that was it – our big adventure was nearly over. We celebrated by having dinner at Greens, the iconic San Francisco vegetarian restaurant at Fort Mason. The food was very good as was the autumn cocktail (rum, apple and wheat beer); but I had enjoyed the meal we had at Plant, on Pier 3, even better – especially the apple, nutty, spicy, crumbly dessert with the almond milk ice-cream – heavenly!

We'll remember this USA Road Trip for a long long time.

Would we go back? Definitely!!!


Wednesday 26 October 2011

USA Road Trip: part 3 – Highway 1

The next part of our Road Trip was the main reason we planned this adventure – we'd been longing to drive along Highway 1 . . .

Probably the best ocean drive in the world

We had four days to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco, driving along the famous coastal highway, the Pacific Ocean would be on our left all the way, and it looked as if the weather was going to be perfect.

We decided to head for Pismo Bay and book into the Sea Gypsy Motel. In the morning we couldn't resist a walk on this glorious beach, before a hearty breakfast at Penny's All American Cafe.

A little detour south took us to Oso Flaco Beach, and a beautiful boardwalk over the lakes and dunes . . .

. . . which led to a vast sandy beach!

Our lunch stop was Morro Bay, a little fishing port dominated by the majestic Morro Rock . . .

Where would we stop tonight? Cambria looked interesting, the main part of the village was inland from the coast and was full of galleries, hotels and restaurants; but before we looked for a place to stay we decided to check out Moonstone Beach Drive – and we were so pleased we did! There were so many lovely inns and hotels, all with a view of the ocean :-)

I plumped for the Cambria Shores Inn because – well because it just looked really inviting, and it was! Soon afterwards we were enjoying the complimentary sparkling cider and nibbles as we sat back and watched the sun go down. Later we had a very nice meal at The Sow's Ear in Cambria village.

Early morning beachcombing :-) I think that's one our favourite things to do, and Moonstone Beach was perfect . . . misty and beautiful; we even found some Moonstones!

On the road again, and the mist had quickly disappeared – mid-morning and already it was sunny and very hot. Our first stop was at the Elephant Seal Rookery at Piedros Blancas.

The cliffs were getting higher and the views bigger and more spectacular with every twist and turn of the road.

When we checked out of the Cambria Shores Inn, we were given a tip for where to stop for lunch, Nepenthe . . . Wow! And the shop is pretty good too! (The knitters/stitchers reading this may want to click here

And afterwards another tip-off about a stunning place just a few miles north . . . Pfeiffer Beach – I think this is one of the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen . . .

The sun was high in the sky and it was very hot, so we climbed high up into the cool pine forest and watched the ocean crashing onto the beach far below . . .

By evening we'd reached Monteray and decided to stay there for a couple of nights, so we could explore around the Monteray Bay area before driving the final stretch of the route San Francisco.

We discovered the lovely village of Pacific Grove, here's the Art Deco department store (now an antique emporium, and great to mooch around) and there in the stained glass is a clue of one of the attractions nearby . . .

Monarch Grove Butterfly Sanctury . . . high up in the leaves of the Eucalyptus trees, can you see them?

Monarch Butterflies! Waiting for the sun to warm their wings.

There's something else Monteray is, or rather was, famous for – canned sardines.

Have you read 'Cannery Row' by John Steinbeck? I'd forgotten that it all happened here in Monteray . . . and Cannery Row is still there, but teeming with tourists and lots of shopping opportunities. There are still fish in Cannery Row and they are in a canning factory – but one that has been trasformed into one of the most spectacular aquariums anywhere in the world, Monteray Bay Aquarium. A cool and beautiful retreat from the heat and crowds outside.

Vast seawater tanks are home to whole communities of fishes, even large shoals of fish, stunning!

There were kelp forests and reefs, rock pools and waves; penguins, shoreline birds and sea otters; but my favourite were the jellyfish!



Next, the end of our adventure . . . Part 4 – San Francisco (the city speaks for itself)

Saturday 22 October 2011

USA Road Trip: part 2 – L. A.

Part 1 of our holiday had passed without a hitch – thanks to months of planning by Cliff. We left Flagstaff and hopped on a small plane to Phoenix and from there flew to Los Angeles; we had been rather overwhelmed with options of where to stay in such an urban sprawl, but in the end I had chosen The Farmer's Daughter in West Hollywood – here's a clue why, this is the bedroom wallpaper!

It was while checking in to the hotel that I discovered that my small handbag and it's very crucial contents were missing . . . probably still in the taxi that had brought us from the airport. This was not a good moment. Cliff had every right to be very cross and I felt like collapsing into a sobbing heap on the floor – but we both quickly realised that wouldn't achieve much!

A departure from the script

Our plans for the evening and foreseeable future were put aside and we concentrated on blocking bank cards and my iPhone; and finding out how and where to get the paperwork for me to get home. The hotel staff were really helpful, we could use the computer and printer in the lobby as much as we liked and there were unlimited supplies of pink lemonade and freshly baked cookies; but despite everyone's efforts by the next morning it looked as if my bag and it's contents would never be seen again.

Instead of seeing the highlights of tinsel town, we were scurrying around making phone calls and catching taxis; road signs caught my eye . . . Santa Monica Boulevard . . . Beverley Hills . . . but I had no time to take photos, we had to get things sorted out fast. I hadn't expected to see the interior of an LAPD station – thankfully it was a place of calm efficiency and Officer Taylor issued me with the necessary paperwork to take to the British Consulate.

In case you're ever in the same unfortunate situation, I recommend completely ignoring the British Consulate's answer-phone message which tells you to leave your name and contact number and wait to be called back and then make an appointment to come to see them. We decided to go straight over to Santa Monica, where we walked into the British Consulate office and asked for help. I was expecting to spend the rest of the day sitting on a plastic chair in a waiting room – but no! A lovely helpful woman immediately got on the case and advised us to pop out for lunch and then come back and see her colleague who would issue me with an emergency passport.

And that's what happened . . . we had a very tasty bento box at a delightful Japanese restaurant; returned to the British Consulate and hey presto . . . sorted!

As well as calmly getting my paperwork together, the Consulate staff recommended that we enjoyed the rest of the afternoon by hopping on a Blue Bus to the beach . . . what a very British idea!

After a stroll along Santa Monica Pier and eating an ice-cream we felt in a holiday mood and ready to enjoy the rest of our adventure.

Back on track

What do you do when you have a day to see a new city? A tour? We're not that keen on bus tours, so Cliff had hunted around and discovered a walking tour of Historic Downtown by the LA Conservancy. We met our guide, Stuart, and where taken on a fascinating tour of streets and buildings – stately beaux arts, moderne (art deco) and glass clad skyscrapers clustered around the small open space of Pershing Square. It was a very enjoyable wander through places we'd never have found by ourselves; afterwards we took Stuart's advice and went to Pete's Cafe & Bar for Mac'n'cheese – yum yum!

It was time to collect our hire car for the next stage of the Road Trip – I'm not sure how Cliff was feeling, but the traffic and roads we'd seen on our many taxi rides had scared me rigid!

But, with the help of the sat-nav we safely navigated our way along the Santa Monica Freeway and Highway 405 to The Getty Centre – this was high on my list of must-see places.

The art collection was all that can be expected with a limitless budget – everything is the very very best example of its genre – breathtaking! What's more, you can stand really close to the exhibits. The painting that blew me away wasn't Van Gogh's 'Irises' or Turner's 'Modern Rome' (of course they were stunning) but Mantegna's 'Adoration of the Magi' – it is indescribably beautiful.

There's another reason to visit the Getty Centre . . . the view!

And the gardens . . . I love the steel structures for the bougainvillea and the topiary maze over the pond.

Time to move on from L.A., we packed our bags for an early start and drove south down the Santa Ana; we were going have lunch with my godfather in San Clemente. He has lived in California since the early 1960s and I had only a vague memory of our last meeting when I was a teenager, so I was wondering how we'd get on. I needn't have worried at all, we had a lovely time together and lunch in the sunshine with a view of the ocean glittering in the distance.

After we'd said farewell, Cliff and I drove back north to Long Beach – our bed for the the night was in a cabin on the Queen Mary.

In the morning we explored the engine room and museum about the history of the ship from exclusive liner, serving as a troop ship in WWII and then as a cruise ship again. We probably nosed around rooms we weren't supposed to go into, but no-one told us off and we we had a great time promenading up and down the decks and endless corridors.

So, off we go on the road again – but first we had to make a detour back to the Farmer's Daughter Hotel  . . . you see, we'd had a message that my bag had been found! And when it was handed to me, I found that all the contents were there intact – yes, even the cash in my wallet!



Next . . . Part 3 – Highway 1 (Probably the best ocean drive in the world)

Thursday 20 October 2011

USA Road Trip: part 1 – Route 66

If you guessed that I wasn't lurking in my studio for all of the past month, you were right – Cliff and I have been on a big adventure to South-West USA. There's no time to write about everything we did (or show you all 750 photos) but I'll give you a taster of our 'Road Trip' . . .  here's part 1

From the ridiculous to the sublime

We began our trip in Las Vegas – it was very hot (98F at 9pm – now that is just wrong!) and how can I begin to describe it? It was mad, fake, over-the-top and it was fun mooching around casino after casino for a day. In the evening we drove over to Rio to see Penn & Teller do lots of weird trickery, but the highlight of the show for me was jazz pianist Mike Jones.  

So – time to hit the road and head off down Route 66 to Arizona . . .

An overnight stop in Williams and a lovely dinner at the Red Raven, listening to singer Kelly-Lynn; in fact it was such a relaxing place we stayed long after we finished our meal.

Our next stop was here . . .

Grand Canyon . . . words and photos just can't describe the moment you walk towards the rim and get your first sight over the edge.

The changing weather unfolds across the view – it's breathtaking!

The next morning we got up before dawn to watch the sun come up, transforming Grand Canyon yet again.

Time to move on . . . and head south through the big open country of North Arizona; I had no idea the views were going to be this spectacular!

With the desert behind us we were heading towards the San Francisco Peaks and the city of Flagstaff for a couple of nights at a very cosy B&B – thank you Lauren for looking after us so well and for recommending Josephine's, the food was absolutely delicious.


Part 2 – L.A. (A departure from the script) will follow soon.