Amazing, fantastic, wow …..omg

Wednesday 5th June 2013

We had looked at various maps the night before and were certain of what we wanted to achieve. Today we would visit some vine yards  (vin yids) then head on further up to the see the giant redwoods. We were up and out a little earlier today, it was about 10am when we left the hotel , driving north on route 101. Actually why don’t we drive up to the top of the avenue of the giants then visit a winery or two on the way back? Good idea.

Armed with a variety of maps on different scales plus the sat nav we continued along the freeway through Sonoma wine country.  Through Santa Rosa, Windsor, Healdsburg, Geyserville and then Cloverdale, by now we were starting to get hungry as we had missed breakfast. We decided to stop at the next McDonald’s for a late egg mcmuffin. We pulled off the 101 at Ukiah, where we sat outside to eat our cheeseburgers. The temperature had already climbed from 66° up to a very warm 80°.IMG_0412

Across the road from the car park/parking lot, there was a new hotel (it looked like it had only recently been completed) with some interesting wood sculptures .  I was  just preparing to take a photograph from my seat in the car (we had put the roof down now) when a truck pulled up and parked right in my way. But I did manage to take this photo. I set the sat nav for Phillipsville which is near the start of the Avenue of the Giants.

We stopped at a small place called Miranda for lunch which was exquisite. Again we sat out in the sun (we are only in the country for 2 weeks so we are making the most of it while we can). Once again when our food arrived it was far too much for us to eat.

pasta at Miranda

By this time the temperature had soared to 90°. Before we left I grabbed yet another map from the visitors information rack. This one being ‘Color coded self –guided driving tours’ . I worked out that we could follow the road we were on until it rejoined the 101 then make our way to Fortuna before following the blue road west towards the coast. Down to Petrolia then back east towards the 101 and back home again. We were in no hurry so it didn’t matter how late we got back to the hotel.

By the time we reached Red Crest (still on the Avenue of the giants) one of us was desperate for a comfort break. Another photo opportunity beside the immortal tree.  This was also where we did the tourist bit buying postcards, and a few other bits, a t-shirt for Owl and a bag for me (both depicting a shot of the giant redwoods).  As we drove off the heat was still going up, 98° although the shade from the trees made it bearable.

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It wasn’t long before we were out of the trees and to our dismay the temperature was going down. By the time we reached the turn off for the road to Fortuna we were so cold we had to stop to put sweaters on.  We were amazed when we reached the town, this was nearer to our image of a typical old American town than anything we had seen yet.

We couldn’t not stop to take a few photos.

IMG_0696IMG_0698IMG_0699 Setting off again we managed to miss the turning and found ourselves going around in a big circle around some farmland. Ending back where we had started. This was when we discovered the turning on to a narrow steep twisting road. Sat Nav proudly announced that we should follow Wild Cat Road for 14 miles. If we had known at that point what lay ahead I doubt we would have even started out. As I said the road was narrow, steep and twisting. We went higher and higher into the low cloud that nestled among the trees on either side of this crumbling track. We had gone about four miles twisting this way and that way getting higher and higher, occasion the road dipped lower but not for long before we came across another vehicle.

We had begun to emerge from the trees by the time we noticed the 4 x 4 catching up with us. There was nowhere for us to go to get out of the way, I wouldn’t let Owl go any faster. As far as I was concerned we were hurtling along far too fast for the road especially as we never knew what was around the next corner. Finally we had left the tight turns and heavily wooded slopes behind, opening up before us  gentler slopes with fields of cattle. Farm buildings huddled together.

IMG_0701 We caught up with a family car that was travelling as cautiously as we would have done had I been driving. Owl was becoming frustrated not being able to pass the family car whilst having the 4 x 4 trying not to become part of our boot/trunk. Luckily the family car was able to pull in beside a farm gate. Once we had passed the family car we were able to progress at a speed more agreeable to Owl until we found somewhere that allowed us to let the 4 x 4 pass us. Gradually we were making our way downwards around sweeping bends. (A relief after so many miles of tight turns and steep slopes).

I started to get excited though when I caught my first glimpse of the sea.IMG_0700I was looking forward to being able to stop, as I am sure Owl was after his tiring time behind the wheel. Still we continued to drive but now we had the Pacific ocean on our right.IMG_0703 I find it odd that nowhere along our tortuous route were there any view points. Nowhere to stop and admire the view.  Now that we were on the flat there were pull out places, each with prominent signs stating ‘No parking at any time’.IMG_0709A few miles later and we were back on the ever steeper slopes the trees becoming thicker again. I still can’t believe that we saw such stunning views and yet there was no place to stop and admire. Any photos I wanted to take were taken on the move. It took us an age to make it all the way back to route 101. When we did there was still 4 hours of driving to get back to our hotel.

Those mountain roads were very scary in places but we are so glad we did it. The views we saw were so special we wouldn’t have missed it for anything. If we had know before we set out what we were putting ourselves through we wouldn’t have done it.

It is a good thing that we didn’t know.

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Meeting Texas

Tuesday 4th June 2013

After a good night’s sleep we lazed in bed watching tv, before wandering off to find the local shops. It was time to begin a bit of retail therapy. First stop was Payless shoe store, I needed new sandals and some flat shoes for anytime we might go walking. Owl needed some lighter shoes than the boots he had brought with him. He loves his Caterpillar Boots but it was just too hot to wear them all the time. I had to check with the sales lady which sizes we were looking for. Something I should have done back home before we flew out.  I settled on a pair of striped slip-ons and Owl got some canvas Oxfords.

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Next stop Ross Stores where I bought some black sandals and Owl bought some shorts and t-shirts. After this we just had a mooch around for a while before heading back to our hotel to await our lunch guests. By the time they arrived it was about 2pm but it didn’t take long for the four of us to pile into the mustang with the roof down and head into downtown Petaluma to Missy M’s favourite place to eat,  McNear’s . Today was the day fathers dread.

Meeting the boyfriend for the first time. Missy M and Texas have been together for 3 years but this was the first time Owl got to meet Texas. He seems to be a very confident and pleasant young man. The two young people obviously care about each other. Conversation between the four of us flowed easily. The food was very nice and very plentiful. Owl, Missy M and I all chose taco salad I have never seen such a huge taco shell.

IMG_0680We realised once our food was in front of us that we really should have shared.

After we had all filled our bellies as much as we wanted to we had a walk up and down the street window shopping. We had of course to enter those dens of iniquity that lure our men folk through their doors. A couple of music shops. Here are a few of the guitars we saw there.

IMG_0683  Missy M and I both loved the pink oneIMG_0682this one I took through the window so it hasn’t come out too well but the design was very pretty.

IMG_0681 Owl particularly liked this upside down guitar.

Texas had to be somewhere else so we drove back to the hotel where we said our goodbyes and that was the last we saw of Texas during our trip.

Moving on to Patagonia

Monday 3rd June 2013

We had only booked 3 nights at our hotel  before we flew out to California. We wanted to have the freedom to move around during our stay if we so wanted. My step children’s step father had helpfully drawn up a list of hotels for us to look at in a nearby town.  So as Monday morning dawned we managed to get ourselves not only out of bed but packed and checked out of the hotel by 9.30am

We decided to have breakfast at McDonalds, so I set the Sat Nav to find the nearest  Macky D’s which turned out to be on the far side of town. I had my first taste of Blueberry and pomegranate smoothie which was delicious.

It was still fairly early so we decided to just follow the road to see where it went. We were due to meet up with Missy M later in the day. We drove for miles along the same road following hills and valleys. After some time I plugged in the Sat Nav for directions to the town of Novato where we would meet up with Missy M. Owl couldn’t believe it when he saw a sign for Laurel Canyon (not the one in Los Angeles). In a previous era of his life he had owned the album Blues from Laurel Canyon by John Mayall. I had better not tell him that this was not The Laurel Canyon, but hey it is still in California.

Reaching a modest shopping centre we called Missy M who knew exactly where we were and joined us a few minutes later. It was then decided that she would show us the local beach. I assumed that this beach would be on the edge of San Pablo Bay, but it did seem to be taking us much longer to get there than we had expected.  45 minutes later we arrived at Bolinas, we parked just a short distance from the beach itself. Missy M told us that it was a popular beach for surfing. Whilst there we watched a couple of fishermen with their rods set up near the slipway.IMG_0674

Not long after we arrived we watched as one of the men reeled in his catch. A sting ray, while one man held onto his rod the other unhooked the fish. He tried to put it back into the sea but the waves brought it back. The three of us watched in horror as the poor creature lay flapping helplessly at the edge of the water. The ebbing tide not managing to take it back to sea. We knew that before long it would die. Sadly there was nothing we could do.IMG_0675

Driving back from the beach we discussed the list of hotels that Missy M’s step father had kindly printed out for us. We were moving on to a nearby town which Owl just could not get his mind around the name of, he kept referring to the town of Petaluma as Patagonia. It begins with a P but there the similarity ends.

Having dropped Missy M off back at her car we took the back road to Petaluma. We were planning to book into Step dad (SD)’s recommendation Hotel Petaluma. Using Sat Nav we found the road where this hotel was situated. The entrance was a little on the shy side, hiding among nail bars etc. Opening the door we stepped into what appeared to be a an office with the dated appearance of a throw back to the 1920’s. I have just looked up the history and indeed the hotel does date back to the late 1920s.

There was a jovial silver surfer (older gentleman) sat behind a huge desk who when asked about booking a room said he had to phone someone. He then proceeded to speak to a woman on a mobile (cell phone) which he then passed to Owl. The woman told Owl she would be there in 20 minutes to show us a room. Having been on the road for hours I was by this time desperate and asked if there was a restroom I could use. I was directed to a door at the end of the office. It was like going into a cupboard under the stairs. It took me a while to find the light switch as it as covered in the same ancient wallpaper as the walls.

We made our excuses and left. Owl has since described Hotel Petaluma as having the appearance of ‘The Addams Family House’. Next we thought we would try our luck at the local Best Western. Half an hour later we were unpacking our luggage at the Best Western. The very helpful receptionist told us that they had an agreement with the local diner for 20% discount for BW guests.

We were made very welcome by the staff at Pepper’s restaurant. For dinner that evening Owl wanted a bowl of soup but was astounded when he was offered either a sandwich or salad to go with it. Finally he agreed to have a salad, expecting a small side salad. Nope he got enough salad to feed a family. My chili n’ cheese potato was the biggest potato I have ever had, it too was served with enough salad for a family.

Needless to say we didn’t go to bed hungry that night.

Muscle with a grin

Sunday 2nd June 2013

Sunday started bright, sunny and warm. We were both in good spirits. Owl was feeling stronger almost back to his usual self. The only down for me was when I looked in the mirror and saw the black bags under my eyes. The bruises from my fall on Friday were making themselves obvious. I had been sleeping with a cold flannel draped across my face in the hope of lowering the swelling. Oh well if bruising was the only price I had to pay for examining the airport floor with my nose then I was getting away with it lightly. My left hand was still and is still painful but I don’t think I broke anything so I am relieved about that.

After a drink and a snack that we had bought from the gas/petrol station the night before, Owl called a cab to take us to the local bus station. We were informed that our bus would be here in a few minutes. An hour later it arrived, sitting on a wall in the bus station for an hour in the middle of a hot Sunday, I was beginning to gain a little redness on my shoulders. Our bus took a circuitous route calling in at places with names like Larkspur landing (I would like to go back there to investigate more one day.)

Mid afternoon we were dropped off at the airport and told that we needed to catch the skytrain. What a great way to get around the airport. The last stop was the Car Rental area. Luckily for us there was no queue at the desk we needed. We (by that I mean Owl) explained that we should have picked up our rental car on Friday but had not been able to hence why we were there now. ‘Not a problem, as it happens we can offer you an upgrade if you are interested.’ Of course Owl was very interested especially when he was offered Mustang convertible. The grin on Owl’s face was as wide as the Channel Tunnel. I think all his Christmases had come at once.

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The only query we had before we drove away……how to take the roof down. All it took was two clips and a button. With hired Sat Nav in hand (boy are we glad we asked for one of those!) we set off back through San Francisco, over the Golden Gate Bridge along Route 101 ending up in San Rafael, stopping at the pizza parlour to show off the car to Missy M.

After having more pizza we headed back for our third and final night in our San Rafael hotel. We still didn’t know where we would be staying next but we were armed with a list of hotels to visit, but that is another story.

 

Crocs in hoodies

Saturday June 1st 2013

Did I tell you that we had pizza for dinner after arriving at our Travelodge in San Rafael. Missy M works part time for one of the pizza outlets nearby. We only wanted a medium as we were not really hungry but knew we must eat. We were presented with the biggest pizza either of us had ever had, one slice each was enough but cold pizza in the middle of the night and again for breakfast late morning was still not going to make a dent in it.

Missy M and Mr T picked us up early afternoon, we had intended to go to the airport to collect our hire car but neither of us were strong enough to drive yet. Missy M took us up to ‘The Heights’ where we had a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the bay beyond. Apparently we were lucky as we had such a clear view of the bridge. Very often it is shrouded in mist or at least the top of it is. (During our time there we crossed that bridge 7 times and it was clear for 6 of those 7 times).IMG_0605   IMG_0341

I did wonder why it is called the Golden Gate Bridge when it so clearly isn’t anything like golden in colour. Mr T informed us that it is called the Golden Gate Bridge because it was the gateway to the gold mining area to the north following the California gold rush. How true this is I have yet to check but it seems plausible to me. Once we had taken all the photos we wanted we set off again into San Francisco.

Once parked in the Fishermans Wharf area we hurried to the nearest clothing stall to buy hoodies to keep us warm once the temperatures took a dive. I really can’t believe that Owl voluntarily became a hoody wearer. I got one too, so did Missy M. We had intended to have either a late lunch or an early dinner but time was running out on us. We walked as fast as we could considering that Owl was still a bit shaky after yesterday. We decided to get a quick snack to keep us going and have dinner later. Boudin’s on Fishermans Wharf was our chosen destination for our snack. We found a table outside where we could people watch. Do you know how many people stop to take each other’s photo stood under the Fishermans Wharf sign on the corner of the street.

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Time was getting away from us so we finished our food as quickly as we could and set off to find a taxi cab. Hey that was not as easy as we had expected. We had walked several blocks before we managed to flag one down that was not already in use. The four of us piled in, the taxi turned the corner and 100m down the road joined the stationary traffic waiting to turn into The Embarcadero. Anxiously we kept an eye on the time, we knew we were cutting it fine. If we had all been fitter we would have got out and walked/run.

We heave a  collective sigh of relief when at last the taxi slides to a halt opposite our destination.  We take advantage of the stopped traffic to cross 6 lanes to pier 33. With just a couple of minutes to spare we joined the queue for the ferry.  We were on our way to fulfil one of Owl’s greatest wish list events. I am sure you all know about Alcatraz, well that is where we were going.

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It was a lovely sunny early evening, I took some lovely photos of the island as we circled around it. Once again Owl’s physical state was to our benefit (well mine and his that is). On arrival on the island those of us who were less mobile could take a tram ride up to the prison building instead of the steep walk that everyone else had to make. It was here that Mr T began to try his father and sister’s patience.  It didn’t bother me at all but his biological family found his constant disappearances somewhat trying. Mr T is very passionate about creating films and is constantly on the look out for locations and ideas for his films. We all collected our audio guides and set off following the route around the prison. We all started together but gradually began to take our own time going round. I continued to take copious amounts of photos (both family and location). Many of the photos of Missy M show her with her phone in her hand which we found amusing. We caught up with Mr T several times before he scooted off again. We were beginning to panic when there was no sign of him when we were heading back to the ferry for our trip back to mainland.

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By the time we returned to terra firma it was dark and getting late, Owl and I waited by the side of the road whilst his children (my step children) went off to collect Missy M’s car. Arriving back at the hotel the pair of us just about had the energy to eat half a slice of pizza before falling into bed.

It was lovely spending the time we did with the two young people who I am still getting used to as my step children.

Making an impression

Friday 31st May 2013

Finally after months of waiting and planning we were now on the plane heading west. This was to be my first long haul flight (10hrs). By the time we had been in the air for 6 hours I was beginning to feel that I had had enough now. I hadn’t bothered to watch the first in flight film, preferring to read my book instead. Lunch had been surprisingly tasty considering it’s uninteresting appearance. Luckily the plane was less than half full so the two of us had four seats to ourselves. That came in handy when we needed to spread out.  I seem to remember that we both managed to doze a little during the flight. I did watch one of the films though.

All was going reasonably well until approximately 2 hours before we were due to land. Owl began to feel unwell. I tried to coax him to eat as much as he could of the afternoon snack. He didn’t seem to be making any improvement. By the time we landed Owl was feeling very weak and shaky. We waited until the majority of our fellow travellers had alighted before making our slow progress through the plane and finally into the terminal.

I did my best to support Owl plus carry both mine and his hand luggage. These travellators are a huge relief in this situation. However we had just come to the end of one of these moving walkways when Owl felt his legs give way under him. I had a hold of both his arms and managed to lower him slowly to his knees. It was then that a fellow passenger leapt out of the wheelchair she was being pushed in so that the staff who had rushed to our help could hoist Owl into the now vacant chair.

The previous occupant of the chair continued on her way with the help of a walking stick.(I do believe another chair was brought for her in the next few minutes). The airport employee who had been pushing her chair ran off ahead calling out that he would be back. I loaded our bags onto the back of the chair and began to push. True to his word the employee, came running back to take over pushing Owl along the corridor until we came upon another wheelchair which along with its occupant had been left against the side of the long, long corridor. Our saintly helper took off at a fast pace with the other chair before parking it further up the corridor and running back to us. So we made progress along the seemingly never ending walk to passport check, playing leapfrog (with these two wheelchairs). I had to almost run to have any chance of keeping up with Owl in his chair.

I was just preparing myself mentally for the long wait to get through customs when our chair was once again snatched from my hands and pushed to the very front of the queue. After a very short wait (only 2 or 3 minutes) we were ushered forward to have our passports checked and stamped. Next I was faced with collecting our suitcases from baggage retrieval which I did but how to push a wheelchair and pull along two wheeled suitcases?

Perhaps I could hook the two handles of the cases onto the chair handles? Hmm no that didn’t work. I tried to push the chair with the cases hooked over my arms. That didn’t work either. Owl suggested that I get a trolley for the cases which I did but how do I push a chair and a trolley? I couldn’t play leap frog as I couldn’t leave the cases unattended.  I was just going through all the possible ways of managing this, I couldn’t come up with a solution when I was rescued by our saintly helper again who took control pushing the wheelchair through arrivals and parking Owl next to a row of seats a few feet from arrivals gate G.

By now Owl was in need of the washroom(restroom). Oh no another problem that I couldn’t overcome on my own. Never mind it was by this time 13.47 in San Francisco and Owl’s children Missy M and Mr T were due to arrive to meet us between 14.00 and 14.30. Once they arrived we would have to ask Mr T to take his father to the restroom. We waited patiently (what else could we do) for my new step children to arrive. (Before you start to worry these ’children’ are 16 and 18). We sent messages by text and skype to let them know that we had already gone through Arrivals. After a while I wandered through the Arrivals Hall to see if I could spot any familiar faces. I couldn’t but I did check that the flight information board did say that our flight would be at Gate G. Returning to Owl we continued to wait. We waited, then we waited some more. Now and again I would say, could that be Mr T. The answer was always no. Time trickled by, still no sign of the much awaited teens. If they were going to be late why hadn’t they called or sent a message. We had no idea from which direction they would be entering the Hall.

After two hours Owl was becoming quite distressed, I decided to take another walk through the (mostly empty) hall, when I reached gate A I saw a young lady who could be Miss M. I called her name, it was her. The two of them had been waiting since 14.15 at the wrong gate. They had been about 200 feet away from us for nearly 2 hours!!  From where they were standing they had been hidden from our view by a pillar of all things.

I led the two of them back towards their father explaining that unfortunately he was feeling poorly and was in a wheelchair. They were both very good about this.  After visiting the (much needed by all of us )restrooms we were making our way back through the arrivals hall towards the car park.  For some inexplicable reason I decided to throw myself on the floor. Throughout my life I have learnt to live with the embarrassment of falling over when my ankle turns over. I always land on my hands and knees.

Not this time though, I could feel myself go and there was not a thing I could do about it. I felt the tip of my nose hit the marble floor, followed by my forehead, my glasses smacked against my nose before skidding off across the floor just out of my reach. When I looked up Mr T was bending over me, and an elderly couple had rushed over. I felt hands under my arms hoisting me up, I was led to a nearby seat. I gingerly put my hand up to my face expecting blood. There was none, my nose was numb, my right knee was cut, my left foot felt bruised and my left hand was incredibly painful.  At first I was afraid that I may have broken my hand and or my nose. After a few minutes I began to feel a little steadier. Missy M drove us all to the motel we had booked for our first few nights. Neither Owl nor I were in any fit state to drive so our hire car would have to wait.

Well with Owl falling ill, my falling over and the kids waiting 2oofeet away for 2 hours maybe that was three things that had gone wrong and the rest of our trip would be problem free.

But what an impression to make meeting my stepchildren for the first time.