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.


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

Valued Volunteer Award for Make Friends with a Book

Volunteers’ Week takes place every year from 1 to 7 June, and for the past few years, The Volunteer Centre Sandwell has hosted an award ceremony at The Public in West Bromwich to recognise the contribution volunteers make across the borough.

This year, Make Friends with a Book was one of the projects nominated. I was so thrilled that this group had been invited to the awards ceremony because this was a group I had worked closely with between 2009 and 2011 when I was a Community Development Manager working on the Big Lottery Community Libraries Programme in Sandwell.

Part of my remit in this role was to recruit volunteers to support activities in the lovely new community rooms at Smethwick Library and the very first volunteer I took on supported Make Friends with a Book at Smethwick Library. She later went on to become a BUDS volunteer (who were also nominated for an award last week). When Make Friends with a Book started at Bleakhouse Library, I recruited two regular members of the group to become volunteers for that group too.

Make Friends with a Book facilitators are trained by The Reader Organisation who started the Get Into Reading Project in Liverpool. Novels, short stories and poems are read aloud, with breaks so the group can reflect on what they have heard.

The amazing thing about the Bleakhouse Library volunteers is this. Before becoming volunteers they visited the library, borrowed a book and then went home. After they started volunteering they began to think of other activities they would like to have at their library and got involved in making the decisions about what went on in their library. The initial volunteers recruited more volunteers. The designing and planning of the reading garden was all done by volunteers. Another volunteer runs a self help group for people suffering with arthritis. The Art Group is all volunteer led. Volunteering went viral.

Picture this. We are all chatting over a cuppa before we settle down to listen to Gina read this week’s short story, in comes Gill in gardening gloves with a trowel in her hand. She had been tidying up her raised bed. All the gardening volunteers have their own bed which they look after, as do children from the local school.

Now picture this. Make Friends with a Book hits Stratford! Group members,  family and friends, including the lovely volunteers from two Sandwell Libraries are pictured here, after enjoying The Tempest performed by the RSC at Stratford upon Avon in October 2012.

Make Friends with a Book at Stratford upon Avon

The volunteers who support Make Friends with a Book got the recognision they deserved on Friday, and carried away a Valued Volunteer award. I will admit to shedding a little tear of happiness that day. I was so proud of them, and proud be part of the team that brought shared reading to Sandwell.

Why did you Live Below the Line?

This week many of you reading this will have participated in Live Below the Line or know of someone who has. The challenge is to live on £1 per day for all food and drink. Some are living on nasty value sausages, cheap bread and forgoing tea and milk. Others, who are more used to eating well on a budget, have had a much more healthy and varied diet. Many are tweeting and blogging about it. Some are good, such as A Year Without Supermarkets and some are dire. I won’t name and shame them.

I am not participating. Not because I don’t care about those that have no choice to live on less than a quid a day, it is because I think the message about food poverty is being lost. There are millions in the world who live below the line every day including people in developed countries such as the USA and the UK. Thousands in the UK are now relying on food banks. Read how this happens to educated, hardworking people here.

I am already bored with reading tweets about how LBLers miss caffeine, withdrawal is kicking in or that going without butter is such a hardship. They chose to do this, for five days. Others have no choice and live like this for five weeks of five months. Most LBLers still have a roof over their head and can afford a smart phone that enables them to tweet every sip of water. What is more they are digitally engaged enough to know how to. People in poverty are often not digital natives. Yet when universal credit rolls out, applications have to be made on line. No job, no PC, where do you go to register then? Library, ah, the one that has been closed or has reduced hours because of budget cuts. Who is going to help you to register and claim?  Library staff? Those too have been reduced? Are you sure you want a complete stranger to see your personal financial information?

Great, raise money by living below the line. But get angry too.

Get angry about food poverty. When supermarkets throw food away and carrots are rejected for not being perfectly straight.

Get angry that over 400 people died in a fire in Bangladesh. A factory that makes cheap clothing so the all consuming First Worlders can have new top to go out in on Friday night. The people who died would be living below the line despite having jobs. They will have children who are now possibly orphans and homeless and hungry. That t shirt for a fiver costs more than those that died making it had to feed themselves on. How does that make you feel?

Get angry.

The Streets of ……

Wherever we were in USA we saw homeless people. A shelter for the homeless is on the tour bus route in San Francisco. This is where Will Smith filmed Happyness. That may have been fiction. But it is real.

Realty is that in SF, Santa Barbara and LA, I saw too many homeless people. I haven’t seen that anywhere else. On every street. Not sure why. And people just accept it. I overheard two teenagers discussing the pros and cons of being homeless in NY or Santa Cruz. Their view was that at least it’s warm in Santa Cruz. i.e. better. They thought that that’s was all that mattered. Being warm.

I have a friend who has a homeless man who lives on her doorstep. Her children step over him to get into their home. They don’t ignore him, they have tried to help him. But…. Well maybe my friend will comment.

Happy Hollywood Halloween









West Hollywood Halloween Carnaval

Welcome to the Hotel California


We are actually in the Coral Sands Motel just off Hollywood and Western. Been here longer than planned due to a little issue with QANTAS.

We have checked out twice, but as the song Hotel California goes, you can never leave.

I booked this motel because it was cheap and got reasonable ratings on Trip Advisor. I suspect that it once rented rooms by the hour, based on strategically placed mirrors and information issued about charging for additional guests but the clientele now are travellers, couples, friends, of all ages, from all over the world. We have a jacuzzi and a pool. It’s clean and comfortable.

We booked for 3 nights, will be here for 6 nights in total. We could have moved to a better motel as QANTAS will pick up expenses for the additional nights. We have stayed because every member of staff have been so caring and helpful. Bon, who checked us in on the first night, a Filipino who has been in LA of 18 years, is so lovely and kind. Brian offered to drive to the airport to meet Phil who had to return the hire car on the 29th. He has even suggested places to visit on our extended stay. Griffith Observatory

He gave me tissues and water when it all got too much. Checked the status of the QANTAS dispute, provided details of a taxi firm, all beyond the call of duty.

To sum up our experience here, we have had Five Star treatment form a two star motel. It’s a bit tatty, the walk to the main part of Hollywood Boulevard isn’t brilliant, but now we are used to the area, have realised that the metro is clean, safe and cheap, we have a great supermarket on our doorstep, a Starbucks, loads of very cheap Thai restaurants, but best of all great diner across the street. More on that and other great breakfasts in America, to come!

I really would rather be in my camper in NZ right now, however now I know I’m on a flight there soon, I’m going to make to most of the extended stay in the USA, by checking out what is supposed to be the most spectacular Halloween parade in West Hollywood. Watch this space.

The Big Sur


The Big Sur is probably one of the most famous drives in the world and deservedly so. It is simply spectacular. We set off from Monterey on Saturday morning with San Simeon, the first town at the end of the drive, as our destination.

We were lucky with the weather as the sea mist had threatened to obscure the coast, but the check out guy at Trader Joes had promised us good weather for our drive. He kept his promise.

We started our journey via Pacific Grove driving past Cannery Row on the way. If you ever visit Monterey, I recommend that you stay around here or Pacific Grove as it there is so much more to see and do here, than in Monterey itself.

The coast here is stunning. All the houses and trees have been bleached by the sun and sea water, the light is fantastic. I just wished we had more time so that I could go sit on the beach, listening to the sea, with a good book to accompany me. The previous day we had done the 17 Mile Drive and visited Carmel where houses start at around 4 million dollars. It was all very beautiful but somehow it was as if the rich had tried to tame this wild coast so they could wear their designer clothes and high heels, whereas the cost demanded shorts, sturdy shoes and a warm jacket. Surf board optional.

So, The Big Sur! It is 90 miles from Carmel to San Simeon, yet you need to allow 4 hours to drive it, because it hugs the coast and you just have to stop at almost every Vista Point to, well admire the vista!

It was a Saturday so we were accompanied on the journey by charity car clubs and Harley Davidsons, all there for the ride of their life. At one stop we passed a peaceful protest linked to the Occupy protests in many cities, with a live rock band playing, protesters waving the American flag, placard proclaiming ‘stop corrupt greed’ in another there was a string quartet playing, but mostly each laybye was another photo opportunity and a chance to be amazed by the scenery.

We had planned to stop for lunch at Nepenthe but so had everyone else on the road so gave the best burger on the Big Sur a miss and stopped instead at Cafe del Moro above a gallery featuring works by Henry Miller. There was a choice of panini or panini for lunch, so we shared a 10 dollar toasted sandwich. The views were great though. It was a day that the Lotus and Ferrari drivers came out to play and the cafes balcony was a good place to watch them, I almost thought I might see Jeremy Clarkson in a Prius , James May in a camper and Richard Hammond in a Smart Car.

We made another stop at Lucia Lodge a hotel in such a spectacular setting and one, if I ever have the good fortune to do this drive again, I would try and stay at. We lingered over tea, debated with the staff and other guests as to whether it was a fox or a bob cat we had glimpsed below and met Martin and Sandy, from Germany, who were asking for advice for somewhere to stay that night.

Six hour after leaving Carmel we left the Big Sur in search of our lodgings in San Simeon. We had glimpses of Hearst Castle towering above us, bathed in the last sun of the day. We followed the signs to San Simeon, found a beach and a wharf but no hotels. Back on the highway our new friends had sat nav and a phone so they tried to locate the hotel, we carried on along CA1 and then we saw not one but dozens of motels, lined up along the highway waiting to capture weary Big Sur survivors.


Lunch with Steinbeck, dinner with Forrest


On the drive down the coast from Santa Cruz to Monterey the scenery was stunning, most of the time. The last few miles, we headed inland along Highway 1 across flat, fertile plains, dedicated to agriculture. The fields were full of people hand picking artichokes and sprouts. We saw signs advertising kiwis and strawberries too. These fields stretched out as far as the eye could see, between the sea and the mountains. Despite the obvious fertility, there was something else, the vastness, the intense human labour. This was a place where people worked the land by hand. Unlike the vast corn fields, that glow in the sun, this was not a place of beauty.

I had not then made the link between this valley and John Steinbeck. He was born and raised in Salinas, the town sitting in the middle of this plain. He sometimes worked the land to earn some money as a teenager, but mom was a teacher and dad was in business, so they were comfortably off, as you can see from the house.

We visited the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas and had lunch in the family home, now a restaurant run by volunteers. having read Mice and Men recently, I knew immediately that this was the landscape that it had been set in. What surprised me, was how much he had written and the diversity of his work, he was even involved in a Rogers and Hammerstein musical Pipe Dream which flopped.

I was also interested to learn he and wife number three lived in Somerset for a short while and his best friend was a marine biologist Ed Rickettswho did some ground breaking work in the Californian coast.

What interested me the most was that in the sixties he took himself off in a camper van to tour the USA with his poodle, Charley as a companion. He documented this trip in a book called Travels with Charley. As someone who is currently on a mini road trip in the states and on the first stage of a round the world trip, this book is now on my must read list.

Bill Bryson has been my travel,writer of choice till now. I suspect that I will be adding Steinbeck to the list.

We ended a busy day at Cannery Row, just to neaten of the Steinbeck connection. Now a place dedicated to entertainment not the sardine industry, with upmarket shops jostling against tourist tack and high end restaurants next to family chain, it’s a good place for a Friday night dinner.


And because it was there, we could resist posing for these photos outside the place we ate.



Blog Action Day #BAD11

I am proud to take part in Blog</p><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>Action Day Oct 16, 2011

Blog Action Day 2011 is the day Phil and I start our round the world trip. The day started at 3am to get the National Express Coach to Heathrow at 4:30 am. The local high street was surprisingly busy with the kebab shops doing a roaring trade from the post Saturday night clubbers.

I noticed that half the food, so desperately ‘needed’ after 10 or so pints, had been thrown away, or more unpleasantly, thrown up, on the pavement. On a day that I am blogging on the subject of food, it brought it home to me how we, in the west can take food for granted.

On our travels we will visit the USA, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia and Thailand. As much as we will be enjoying new places, meeting new people, part of the fun for foodies like us is trying new food, and sharing meals with friends old and new. Our friends in Melbourne who we are house sitting for, plan a BBQ on our arrival to introduce us to their friends and neighbours. It’s what we do, gather people together, to share a meal. For some that shared meal will be very little.

I am writing this while enjoying my first meal of the day, at Heathrow T5 in Wagamamas. A curious east meets west breakfast with noodles, bacon, egg and cabbage, as airline food is so bad we like to fill up before we fly. We worry about getting hungry on the long flight. What do I know about hunger?

What we have just spent on food and drink, would I suspect feed a family for a week, or even a month in some parts of the world. What I have just eaten, could be all a family has in one day, or a week. This is just one food outlet at the airport. Gordon Ramsay‘s, plane food offers picnics at twelve quid. We are just two passengers passing through this airport today, buying food. How many meals will be consumed today here, how much food waste will there be? How many of them will know that I have sat here eating breakfast, blogging about food, on Blog Action Day?

Three days to go


Just doing last minute stuff before we finally set off on our travels. Like making bread and butter pudding, to use eggs and bread up. The chickens haven’t been laying too well, recently but this week Scary has given us two double yolked eggs. Our friends are looking after them while we are away, so they will have plenty of eggs.

I have also attempted to upload iOS 5 but can’t work out how, which given all the problems is probably just as well. I have my iPad as I need it, with pdf’s of travel documents on the bookshelves, my Facebook, twitter, TripAdvisor and various other apps installed. Not sure that at this stage want to risk losing them.

Transferred some more money, with the same palaver and got the dollars. Done more washing, yawn, now back to that ‘to do list’.