California Dreaming – San Francisco

I left my heart in San Francisco.

I left my heart in San Francisco

I left my heart in San Francisco

San Francisco was the first place I visited on the Round the World trip with my husband in 2011. We just fell in love and didn’t want to leave.

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We loved the trams.

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We loved the cars. The San Remo Hotel had its own special car that it sometimes uses to meet people from the airport.

Then there is Lombard Street.

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The quirky San Francisco.

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The darker side of Alcatraz. I would recommend you go as early as possible to avoid the crowds.

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And the food, oh the food.

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The Golden Gate. Yes the weather is that changeable. Hot and sunny one day and cold and misty the next. And they say Melbourne has four seasons in one day.

The food did I mention the food.

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And naan and curry to make us feel at home. San Francisco. I love you.

California Dreaming – Happy Birthday John Steinbeck

As we headed south toward Monterey on our Californian road trip, we noticed how the landscape seemed to suddenly change. We were driving across a vast dark, almost menacing plain, which was such a contrast to the colourful pumpkin patch

Pumpkin Patch

Pumpkin Patch

rolling hills and vales we had driven through earlier that day. 

Fields around Salinas

Fields around Salinas

Once settled in Monterey we sifted through the leaflets in the motel reception for ideas of what to do in the surrounding area. We thought we would only be staying one night and move on south after visiting Carmel (Phil was convinced we would bump into Clint) but that was not to be. There was so much to do in the area.

I discovered we were not far from where Steinbeck was born and raised and, having recently read Of Mice and Men with my Make Friends with a Book group, I was keen to visit.

We headed back to Salinas, a town surrounded by the dark and never-ending fertile plains we had driven across the day before.IMG_1741

And immediately I understood how this landscape would have influenced Steinbeck’s writing. There were people still toiling in the fields and digging up vegetables by hand just as George and Lennie had. This was a farming system that seemed very labour intensive.

Steinbeck was no stranger to such work himself, he worked on the farms in his summer holidays. I am sure he met people then who would become the basis of some of his characters.

I cannot say I liked Salinas. It was a featureless town built on a grid. The car park was full of big station wagons with number plates like this. IMG_1696It was a gritty place with gritty people. A real contrast after San Francisco with its hills and Bay Area. Yet near to the National Steinbeck Center art was fighting back.

And I discovered that in addition to the gritty novels that he wrote Steinbeck was famous for, he was also a traveller. He had lived in England for a while and had also been on his own road trip of America, documented in the book Travels with Charley. IMG_1710He had a pretty cool vehicle to travel in.

We had lunch in his former home, which I wrote about in this post Lunch with Steinbeck Dinner with Forrest.

The National Steinbeck Center is definitely worth a visit. I just wished I could share the experience with my friends at Bleakhouse Library who I had shared Of Mice and Men with in my Make Friends with a Book group.

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And I definitely agree with this.IMG_1703

Happy birthday John Steinbeck. 112 on February 23rd 2014.

I have just discovered that in two days time it is your birthday, whilst looking up the links for this post. Synchronicity, perhaps?  The Celestine Prophesy, which helped me understand this concept is also about travelling. And it has just occurred to me that I will be looking at camper vans on your birthday. Not planned, only because I have won free tickets to the Caravan and Camping Show. Perhaps it is meant to be? So, that like you, I can go on another road trip. 

California Dreaming – sunshine, seals and death in Santa Cruz

IMG_1677We were searching for the motel we had booked in Santa Cruz and were totally lost. It was called The Bay Front InnIMG_1623which ought to have been clue but we couldn’t find the bay. We were in the middle of residential housing, no map, no Sat Nav just a name of the motel. That is how we pretty much planned our road trip in California.

Then I saw this.

If you are lost ask an librarian

If you are lost ask a librarian

Ask a librarian!

What a lovely guy, not only did he give me directions to the motel, being a friendly Californian (is there any other type?) he also recommended somewhere to eat too.

Santa Cruz pier

Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf

The restaurant he had told us about Oliatas was on the wharf and the food was amazing.

There were lots of birdsIMG_1605and a great vantage point to view Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz boardwalk

Santa Cruz boardwalk

We noticed people staring down under the pier and, being curious, went to see what they all found so fascinating.

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A dorm for seals.

The next day, we took a walk along the cliffs where there were some pretty amazing houses, including this one. I am not quite sure if having a replica of your house, in your house, isn’t a bit spooky though.

Then we saw this.

I have written about meeting the guy who drives around Santa Cruz before in Life Begins after Normal. I wished we could have stuck around longer and got to know him better, as he was a fascinating person. But other events took over the day.

While we were chatting to campervan man a woman ran over and screamed at us to help her. She had returned from her run to find her partner slumped in the drivers seat and apparently unconscious. Campervan man was the calmest there, made the phone call to the emergency services, organised people to get the man out of the car while another guy did CPR. We were helpless except to comfort the poor lady. Of course he was dead, I think we all knew that.

I am sure and hope it was quick and painless. And this was the last thing he saw.IMG_1662

Once the emergency services arrived we went around the surf museum and we spoke with another couple who had also been involved there and had been the last to see him alive. We were all a bit shocked about everything we had seen. To say that we were subdued is a understatement and I don’t really remember much about the museum except that it was in a lighthouse. IMG_1658

Before we left Santa Cruz we went down to a beach side cafe for lunch, reflected on what had happened and realised how lucky we were, and that life is indeed short. Which is why we were making this trip.

Campervan man drove past and honked his horn and we waved.

He says he wants to be president one day. I would love to see that! Mind you right now, I reckon he needs to come over to the UK and take over our government. Life may be a bit more fun then!

Have you been to Santa Cruz and have you met the campervan man?

California Dreaming – Pismo Beach

Pismo Beach, another great town we discovered driving to LA.

Sums up the laid back Pismo Beach vibe for me

Sums up the laid back Pismo Beach vibe for me

Again somewhere I had never heard of. Yet it seems to be mentioned in quite a lot in Hollywood films.

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According to this article

The city has received a substantial number of mentions in popular culture, including the films The Big Lebowski and Clueless and the animated series FuturamaRobot Chicken, and The Critic.

In Ali Baba BunnyBugs Bunny and his traveling companion Daffy Duck emerge from a burrow, believing they have arrived at Pismo Beach “and all the clams we can eat”.

In the 1969 TV movie Dragnet 1966, Bill Gannon retires to Pismo Beach due to poor health. After eight months and three weeks of eating Pismo Beach clam chowder, Bill’s health returns, his teeth stop falling out and he is able to be reinstated with the LAPD. Explaining to Joe Friday the reason for his restored health he states, “The clams, Joe. The clams.”

Bugs Bunny also loves the clams and longs to get to Pismo Beach in the film Ali Baba Bunny. You can see it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSzTDK5TAfY

Cute Houses

Handed down generation to generation these houses are so tiny

While we were taking photos of the cutest houses we got chatting to a lovely lady who lived there (the Californians love chatting to any one with an English accent). She recommended us to have lunch at the famous Splash Cafe. Apparently the stars flock there. We didn’t see any though. Like Bugs Bunny I want to go there again, and taste the clam chowder again.

Always a queue at Splash Cafe

Always a queue at Splash Cafe

California Dreaming – Morro Bay

Wished we had been able to spend longer in Morro Bay. It was a quirky little town that I had never heard of, yet guessing from the number of motels this is a buzzing place in the summer.

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From our room we had a view of Morro Rock. The bay is home to so much wild life and there are so many cool vintage cars here. And the people seemd so very friendly too.

Yes, like many places on the route from San Francisco, I wish we had lingered longer.