Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Santa Barbara

Our last two stops before heading home were Santa Barbara and Marina Del Rey - polar opposites!! Santa Barbara was beautiful. We could walk from our inn to the beach and beyond to the pier. The buildings were low-rise, adobe-style, with palm trees everywhere. No one had built on the beach side of the road, so there were beautiful views of the sea, a sense of open, uncluttered space, and a certain tranquility that comes from harmonious city planning. Thank you St. Barbara!!

We could also walk from the pier right up to the shops on the main street, which were very festive. The only flaw was the interstate highway that might have cut the town off from the beach, had someone not built an underpass. Somehow, no one had considered keeping the old road as it was - a two lane passageway and building the annoying freeway somewhere less annoying - alas!!

Still with all the beauty around - flowers, flowers and more flowers, trees, sunshine and architecture, that blends into the scene, rather than "screams" to be noticed, Santa Barbara is a jewel of a city. Its mission is one of the larger ones in the area and a beauty as well. The grounds are gorgeous with, quiet cloisters, cobbled work areas and a garden path that is edged by the stations of the cross - harmony in nature creating harmony in the soul.

On the other hand, Marina Del Rey is basically a series of marinas flanked by high rises and edged by asphalt. We set out to walk to the pier only to lose our way in a wasteland of parking lots, storage areas and weedy fields. It was typical of the LA area, though - poor planning, car dominant, and not a sidewalk in sight - so sad. There was no need to leave our hotel. There was no place to go. Fortunately we were flying home the next day!!

The picture above? The best of Marina Del Rey - sail boats, shakers of old salts and a sunset.

Have a great day

Monday, September 12, 2016

On a Mission....

We ended our trip to San Francisco with a drive along Highway 1 to LA. We took our time and stayed at a few pretty places along the way. Carmel was our first stop. Again, years ago, we stayed here for an overnight. It's hard to resist streets of lovely boutiques, great restaurants and quaint inns, all leading down to the sea. This time, however, we decided to visit the mission.

Sometime in the 1700s, Spain sent missionaries to California, to establish churches for the purpose of converting the indigenous people to Christianity. Today there are twenty-one missions in California. Many are still operating as Catholic churches, some house elementary schools, others sponsor retreats and still others, preserve what was, in museums.

One could easily make a holiday of a week or two simply by visiting all 21 missions. We missed the original mission in San Francisco - this, of course means, we have to make another trip!! However, in case we may not get the chance, Carmel made up for it. Gorgeous gardens, adobe cloisters and a beautiful church, captured a time that, unfortunately, has passed. Still on a lovely sunny day, with a warm breeze, one can imagine the peace, harmony and order of a congregation dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of colonial life.

Never underestimate the power of the spirit, housed in the relics of the past - it lives and leaves its mark on the souls of the passersby - we are all one!!

Our next stop was San Luis Obispo. I chose it because it sounded like an interesting place. "Sound" being the operative word - Never travel with a linguist - they will take you to places you wish you had never heard of. Actually, over the years the name SLO - San Luis Obispo has come up on my radar too many times - articles in newspapers, magazines, the odd broadcast or podcast has mentioned its quadrants. I had to go there.

Well, "tick," I don't have to go there again. My husband took to calling it San Luis Abysmal. Well it really wasn't that bad. It was just a very typical west coast city. You needed a car. The shops all closed at 6:00pm. There were a few restaurants, more bars than you would care to count, and the mission was a "drive past." Sorry there were no gardens, it was in a nicely treed neighbourhood, but there really was no sense of history. There was something too suburban about it.

The nicest thing about SLO was where we stayed. It was a converted motel that looked like a slice of Provence!! It was called the Le Petit Soleil and was the one piece of magic in a rather mundane urbanscape. I have been to Provence, many times and I swear that this was the closest place, in North America, to Arles or Avignon, that I have seen. All the signage was French, the decor was influenced by various French artists and the courtyard was an oasis of potted plants, armoires, bistro tables and cobblestones. The fact that no one said "Bon Jour" or the staff struggled with basic French pronunciation could be overlooked. They may have been taken for students studying in France!!

More on our last two stops - next post.

Have an amazing day!!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Sunny Sonoma.....

No trip to San Francisco is complete without a side trip to the wine valleys. Years ago we spent a week or so travelling through both the Sonoma and Napa valleys, staying at lovely inns, buying lunches from famous delis and picnicking in vineyards, with a bottle of wine. Decadence, thy name maybe, California.

This time we had just a day, so we had to be organized -
1. We rented a car - very easy and quite cheap!!
2. We got out of San Francisco - not so easy!
3. We got lost - very easy - do it all the time!
4. We back tracked to the road my husband said we should have taken and I said, "Don't be silly. Sonoma will be signed posted." - not!
5. We found Sonoma - finally.

Sonoma is a beautiful place. It has the last mission in California, San Francisco Solano and it has a wonderful square at its centre, surrounded by hundreds of shops, delis, and cafes. We bought sandwiches at the same deli we had visited over thirty years ago and we got directions to the first winery, we had ever been to, in California, Buena Vista.

The winery, itself had made some changes, but not enough to make it unrecognizable and the picnic area was still there. We bought a bottle of Rose´, after tasting a few and ate our delicious sandwiches, on a sun-dappled patio - perfection. With nothing left to eat or drink, we sussed out another winery, a difficult task, as there are over 100 in the area, and arrived at the Berziger Family Winery, just as a tour was starting.

I baulked a little at the $25.00 per person cost for the tour, but since it was almost a private tour - there was just another couple, from New Zealand, on it, I gave in and was so glad I did. Berziger is a very unique winery in many ways. First, unlike many vineyards that are laid out in flat fields, the Berziger estate is set on several significant hills, which makes it incredibly picturesque. Secondly, the vineyard uses not just organic farming methods, but an earlier form of agriculture known as, bio-dynamic farming.  Companion planting is one principle we saw in use. There were rows of olive trees between the vines, and borders of brilliant flowers, to attract the bees, throughout the farm.

All the weeding is done by sheep, which are kept on the premises, along with a herd of Scottish cattle, for fertilizer. Our tractor drawn carriage, stopped occasionally at fields, here and there, for us to sample wine, from those particular grapes and we ended our trip by inspecting a cave that had been hollowed out of a small mountain to house and age the wine, without refrigeration. Care had been taken in every step of the wine making process to ensure that resources were used frugally, nothing was contaminated with chemicals, and the wine, of course, was perfect!

After the tour, we spent some time in the tasting room, sipping wine and discussing, John Steinbeck, who wrote extensively about the Salinas valley to the south.

A literary end to a literally perfect day.

Have a good one!!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Sunny Sausalito....

I mentioned in an earlier post about biking across the Golden Gate bridge and coasting into sunny Sausalito - made even sunnier with lunch and a tasting tray of local beers.

My husband not only bought the lunch, he also bought tickets to return to San Francisco by ferry, bikes and all. Apparently, there is a package tourists can buy, that rents you a bicycle to bike over the bridge and sells you a return ticket, to bring both you and your bike back, by ferry. What could be easier!

Hence, pictures of the bridge from the ferry, as we sailed once more into the cloud of SF and "good-bye" to a brighter and warmer view of the city, from our perch in Sausalito. Sigh!

All things considered, I'm glad I didn't have to cycle back over the bridge at the end of the day, after a few beers. However, seas and docks, being what they are, meant that we boarded the ferry very easily over ramps to a large room where we parked our bikes and sat or went upstairs for a better view of the crossing.

Disembarking was not as easy. We had to leave the ferry from an upper deck, which meant, we had to carry our bikes up seven or eight stairs, before reaching the exit - ugh. Fortunately, there was a gutter for the bike, at the side of the stairs and a very strong seaman to give you and your bike a lift halfway up. The rest was, literally, up to you! I'm never sure what I'm capable of until, I'm forced to do it. "Tick," made it!!

Have a wonderful day!!

Thursday, September 08, 2016

A window on a Monday

OK, it's Thursday, but I promised you a poem from Aimless Love by Billy Collins and here it is. It's longer than most poems I read, but it says so much about the everyday - Not just every Monday

Life through the slats

Monday - Billy Collins

The birds are in their trees
toast is in the toaster,
and the poets are at their windows.

They are at their windows
in every section of the tangerine of earth-
the Chinese poets looking up at the moon,
the American poets gazing out
at the pink and blue ribbons of sunrise

The clerks are at their desks,
the miners are down in their mines,
and the poets are looking out their windows
maybe with a cigarette, a cup of tea,
and maybe a flannel shirt or bathrobe is involved.

The proofreaders are playing the ping-pong
game of proofreading,
glancing back and forth from page to page,
the chefs are dicing celery and potatoes,
and the poets are at their windows
because it is their job for which
they are paid nothing every Friday afternoon.

Which window it hardly seems to matter
though many have a favorite,
for there is always something to see-
a bird grasping a thin branch,
the headlight of a taxi rounding a corner,
those two boys in wool caps angling across the street.

The fishermen bob in their boats,
the linemen climb their round poles,
the barbers wait by their mirrors and chairs,
and the poets continue to stare
at the cracked birdbath or a limb knocked down by the wind.

By now, it should go without saying
that what the oven is to the baker
and the berry-stained blouse to the dry cleaner,
so the window is to the poet.

Just think-
before the invention of the window,
the poets would have had to put on a jacket
and a winter hat to go outside
or remain indoors with only a wall to stare at.

And when I say a wall,
I do not mean a wall with striped wallpaper
and a sketch of a cow in a frame.

I mean a cold wall of fieldstones,
the wall of the medieval sonnet,
the original woman's heart of stone,
the stone caught in the throat of her poet-lover.

A many windowed world

I spend a lot of time looking out of and into windows. I wonder about the people who live beyond the windows I see, when I pass by and I wonder about the people who pass by my windows. The pictures are the views from various windows in the apartment we rented in San Francisco. It was in Chinatown and I wondered what aspect of their culture created these scenes from my window. Or was it just the close quartering of a big city, built precariously on, up and over mountains.

On the outside looking in

Have a poetic day!!

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

The first and maybe the last...highway!

One of our "must do's" after leaving San Francisco was to drive the Pacific Coast Highway. This is the iconic Highway 1. It actually begins somewhere in Washington State and travels down, on the very edge of the Coastal mountains, to somewhere south of the Big Sur, where it levels out and coasts, as it were, through, Ventura, Malibu and other surfing paradises to end up in the spread of LA.

I say that it maybe the last highway because of the breathtaking cliffs and the killer drops!! Careening around double or triple "S" turns, one has the feeling of an amusement park ride, which is self directed - go too close to the edge and you drop into the sea. Never do this with a suicidal maniac!!! My husband was driving. Fortunately, he is not a risk taker - well, he married me, but that's an aside.  I knew that I was in good hands, but I was on the edge of my seat, seat belts not withstanding, the entire time.

OK, we were the wimps. The deal is that you should actually drive this highway in a Mustang convertible, with overdrive. Many were, so much so, that I started to call it "Mustang Alley." We, however, had rented a sedate grey Nissan. This may have saved our lives. I couldn't imagine racing around those bends, at top speed, in a fiery red Mustang with attitude. I am not of the "you only live once group." There were, however, many, who were! They were the "cats," living out their nine lives!!

The drivers, though, were not the only risk takers. There were also the bikers - cyclists, not motorcyclists - who were peddling up and down, and in and out, these challenging curves, on a small slip of pavement, that framed the edge of an all too narrow two lane highway. The "tour de France" types, I knew were OK. They would make it. But I have to mention a family - mother, father and toddler (in a bike seat) struggling up significant inclines on a breath of pavement, that separated them from cars, which might have to move over, at any time, to give room to a huge RV coming the other way.

There are times like this, that I believe in God!!

I was also humbled by the cyclists who had "hand bicycles." That is, they were powering their bicycles with their hands, rather than their feet - an accommodation for amputees. They were a small group of male and female cyclists - young, fit and extremely courageous. When the wheels of a massive cement truck came within inches of a young woman in the group, I held my breath! Would that I could have been half as brave!!

Highway 1 is a different world. It is not for the faint of heart and it is there to show us what can be done, with a lot of motivation, a lot of courage and did I mention nerves of steel!!

Have thrilling day!!

Monday, September 05, 2016

Painted Ladies defined.....

This summer, we decided on a holiday to San Francisco, because my daughter wanted to go there. My husband and I had been before, but that was well over thirty years ago, so it was time for another visit. Usually when we travel in a group, each of us decides on one thing that we really want to see or do and we make that a priority on our "must see and do" list.

Hence, my husband got to see a baseball game. We biked across the Golden Gate bridge - my daughter's choice and I got to see the "painted ladies." I had always presumed that everyone knew what the painted ladies were. I know the term is often used to describe prostitutes, however, it was not these painted ladies that I wanted to see. My daughter, as it turned out, was not familiar with the term and thought that I was dragging them to see some obscure painting in a dull art gallery - boring. However, once we got to Alamo Square and she realized what the phrase actually meant, she laughed hysterically.

The painted ladies, of course, are the beautifully decorated houses dotted here and there all over SF. The classic collection, however, is this row of seven or eight houses neatly arranged on a street facing Alamo Square. They have been photographed many times and I just had to see them. They are the "stuff" of fairy tales - doll houses, in a way, framed in gingerbread, painted like candy and lovingly cared for. I know that a house itself doesn't always make for a happy home, but I wouldn't mind giving one of these a try :)

There were others too, all with the defining features of houses in SF - vibrant colours, bay windows and obvious fire escapes.

I also loved the striking murals on some of the inner city buildings - stunning architecture as a canvas for stunning art.  In fact, the city itself is an art gallery, with painted ladies a significant part of the collection!!

Have an awesome day.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

San Francisco and the vertical grid!!

I like cities with streets that form a grid. That is, the streets cross each other at right angles, so you have a very predictable lay out and getting lost can be easily corrected, if you know what I mean.

Lombard St
Toronto is based on a grid system and so is San Francisco. Unfortunately, for San Francisco the grid is vertical, rather than the expected horizontal. 

Yes, we did walk up and down a lot of streets, while on vacation here. However, I sighed a lot more. It's difficult to imagine, let alone actually walk, uphill at a 55ยบ angle for five or six blocks, before reaching the top and, of course, our destinations always seemed to be either at the top or just over the hill - go figure!!

Fortunately, public transit in SF is very accessible. We rode the iconic cable cars, whenever we could get on one, took trolley buses to out of the way places and caved to cabs only, when everything just got too much!!

Luckily, we had rented a small apartment in Chinatown, which not only came with transit passes, it also happened to be right on two cable car lines, one down to Fisherman's Wharf and the other to Market Street. It was a convenient location, even if we had to hang onto the outside of a cable car or two, because of the crowds. Once, though, we were able to ride one that was totally empty except for the driver and the ticket taker - bliss!!

If riding public transit is tricky in SF, renting a car and trying to get out of the city is even trickier. I'm glad my husband was driving, because I'm not sure I could have driven up or down any of those hills, being a passenger with vertigo was enough. Maybe that "laid back" attitude attributed to the locals has actually been cultivated as a result of the physical ups and downs of life, which has then conditioned them to deal with life's emotional roller coaster. Just a thought :)

In spite of its challenges, San Francisco is an amazing city. It could just be a little warmer and a little sunnier - wearing flowers in your hair is optional!!

Have an awesome day!!

Saturday, September 03, 2016

City Lights, a book store and a way of life

I do like bright lights and a big city. After all, I was born very close to the downtown area of Toronto and although you may be able to take the person out of the city, I don't think that you can ever take the city out of the person.

Perhaps this is why I gravitate towards crowds. Although, I'm not a gregarious person, I do like the hustle and bustle of crowded cafes, restaurants, streets, and shops. Give me the chaos of a market and I'm at home!!

Every once in a while, though, I like to retreat to a quiet book store, perhaps or leafy park. City Lights Book Store, in San Francisco, was one of these retreats. Jutting into the throng of Columbus Street, City Lights offered a hushed silence within a myriad of small rooms all insulated from the fray by walls of books. Co-founded by the poet, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and frequented by Ginsberg and Kerouac, to name a few, City Lights was the womb, so to speak, of the beat generation - poetry, its mother tongue and antiestablishment, its guiding philosophy. I went in to feed my soul!!

I bought "Aimless Love" by Billy Collins, a poet I read often and have even posted poems of his in this blog, from time to time. The title of the book, I thought, was appropriate, as a comment on the beat generation, which had rejected the establishment and created their own society based on Peace and Love.

Flower Power in San Francisco

Although the "summer of love" happened almost fifty years ago, there are still too many leftover hippies, remnants of the beat generation, sleeping in the streets of SF.  I saw them walking aimlessly though alleys or idling on street corners, wondering, perhaps, what has happened. These were the ones who believed that a person could live on love alone. That if they just thought Peace and Freedom, everything would work out. I know, though, looking into their faded eyes, their mangled grey beards and tattered clothing that everything has not worked out for them.

It's very sad to think that all their high hopes and lofty ideals have come to nothing. Unfortunately the freedom to just "be" is not "free." It comes at the price of discipline, focus, and a lot of hard work, directed towards a goal. Love, I think, should never be aimless - more on Billy Collins poems later.

Have a focused day!!