Posts Tagged With: California

A Foggy Visit To San Francisco

If you’re still with me (I don’t think I’ve ever covered a trip in as much detail), you’ve finally made it to the last post! Our final destination, the shining gem of California’s Golden Coast – San Francisco. Unfortunately for us though, there wasn’t really anything shiny about it. After the beautiful weather in Oregon, the sun deserted us and we spent three days on San Francisco’s foggy shore.

In hopes that the sun would peak its way out, we made the mistake of wearing shorts and t-shirt on our first day in the city and experienced a windy, cold tour of the city and crossing of the Golden Gate Bridge. But we’re all troopers and after a quick stop back to our hostel to change into some warmer clothes, we made the most of our short time in San Francisco. We took a whirlwind bus tour of the city, jumping off at San Francisco’s more popular attractions: the ever busy Fisherman’s Wharf, the steep, winding Lombard Street, and of course, Pier 39, home to hundreds of noisy and entertaining sea lions! We also stopped at the Golden Gate Vista in hopes of catching a glimpse of the bright arches of one of the world’s most famous suspension bridges, but they were sadly hidden in the fog and we had to settle for just a glimpse of the bottom.

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While there’s lots to see in the city, the highlight of our time in San Francisco ended up being a visit to the infamous Alcatraz prison (surely this place must have been JK Rowlings inspiration for Azkaban?). In case you don’t know, Alcatraz is a former federal prison located on an island in the middle of San Francisco Bay. Often referred to as “The Rock”, it was open from 1933 to 1963 and housed some of America’s most notorious criminals. Due to the harsh environment in which the prison was located and the high operating costs, it was eventually closed and now operates as a tourist attraction and national park. We took a boat across the windy bay and did an audio tour of the Alcatraz cell house.

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I have to give props to the makers of the audio tour because it was one of the best audio tours I’ve ever taken. The tour featured testimonies from several previous guards and inmates and provided a detailed history of the cellhouse and its famous prisoners and escapes. Our favourite tale of escape was that of several inmates who collected various tools (mostly spoons) and over the course of who knows how long, chipped away at the concrete around the air vent in their cells until they were large enough to crawl through. They made makeshift vents out of cardboard and other materials to hide the damage to the wall, and they created fake heads out of clay to put in their beds during the night of their escape to fools the guards. The inmates eventually escaped from their cells to a long utility corridor between the walls, where they climbed up the pipes and onto the roof. From there, they escaped on a life raft they made out of rain jackets! The prisoners were never found – it’s very unlikely that the raft or their bodies would not have been found if they had drowned – so it’s pretty likely that they successfully escaped!

To our surprise, when we finished the tour and were perusing the bookstore, we discovered that an actual former inmate of Alcatraz, William Baker, was on site promoting and signing his new book on his time in Alcatraz! Gill and Mel both purchased a copy and had the somewhat surreal experience of smiling and posing for a picture with Mr. Baker. I didn’t read the book myself, but if you’re wondering, I’ve been informed by Gill that Mr. Baker originally went to prison for car theft. If he’d done the time he was sentenced for, he would have been out of prison in 4 years, but after multiple escape attempts he was eventually transferred to Alcatraz and ended up spending the majority of his life (he was only released in 2011 and is in his 80’s) in prison.

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Lucky for us, our visit to Alcatraz ended up being a huge pick-me-up after a slightly disappointing, and very cold morning. I would definitely recommend a visit if you’re ever in San Francisco, just make sure to get your tickets a few months in advance or you’ll have no hope of going. Since you have to take a boat there, there’s only a limited number of tickets.

Sadly, Mel was only able to spend one day with us in San Francisco and then had to jet off to attend a wedding. We were sad to see her go, but enjoyed a beautiful trip to Napa Valley on our second day! It was another foggy start to the day, but as soon as we left the Bay area behind us, the sun came out and the day quickly brightened up! Napa Valley is California’s premier wine region and was incredibly beautiful. We started off with a drive through the Sonoma Region and over the course of the day visited three wineries. The first two were small boutique wineries that produce a few thousand bottles of wine per year, which are only sold at their winery. The last winery produces several million bottles per year and we thought it was nice to have the contrast of visiting both types. We had an enjoyable afternoon tasting the different wines and being taught much more than I ever needed to know about how to properly open and drink wine!

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Our last day in San Francisco was a bit of a freebie. We were originally going to spend our last day in Santa Cruz, but because we had to switch up the order of the trip when we missed Yosemite, we ended up having an extra day. We started the morning off right with a delicious Sunday brunch from the Cheesecake Factory, did a little shopping, and then split up for the afternoon. Karen spent the afternoon doing some shopping and exploring around Union Square, Gill made a visit to a childhood icon of hers, the ‘Full House’ house, and I walked through the city up to Coit Tower where I finally caught a full view of the Golden Gate Bridge! It was a more relaxing day and the sun finally came out for our last few hours in the city.

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That pretty much sums up our trip of America’s West Coast. We returned to Vancouver just over a week ago and Gill stuck around for a few extra days. Karen won’t be going back to Newfoundland at all though as she’s been accepted to study law at UBC, so you might be hearing more about her in my future exploits! I hope you enjoyed taking this journey with us – it was the trip of a lifetime for us and I loved sharing it!

Much Love,
Maria

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California Dreamin’

We crossed the border into California last Tuesday morning – unfortunately it was around this point that we hit a few bits of bad luck. It seems you can’t win with weather in California and it switched from sweltering (35+) to cold and thunderstorms. We drove down the eastern side of California, passing briefly into the sunny desert landscapes of Nevada. After passing through Reno we swung back into California to visit South Lake Tahoe.

Lake Tahoe is a huge alpine lake, in the summer it’s a popular beach destination and in the winter it’s popular for skiing! Our morning in Tahoe started off promising; we got up early to enjoy the sun and myself and Melissa rented a paddle boat while Gill and Karen lounged on the beach. The lake is surrounded by mountains and the water is so clear and beautiful. We couldn’t help but hop out of the boat for a dip! We managed to fit in a fantastic brunch at IHOP as well, but after that things started to turn sour.

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The clouds and thunderstorms rolled in and we discovered that our next destination, the beautiful Yosemite National Park, was being ravaged by wildfires. We spent a good part of the afternoon trying to get a hold of our hotel to find out what was going on – it turns out we could still make it down to Yosemite Valley, but a lot of highways were closed and the extra time added to the journey in and out of the park meant that we would barely have any time there (it was also very smoky in the valley). So we decided to skip Yosemite. This was a hard hit for me since it was the part of the trip I was most looking forward to, but things can’t always go as planned and I think we made the right decision to skip it.

In lieu of Yosemite, we went to Santa Cruz! We decided to leave the rainy weather in Tahoe behind and took off for the sunny west coast. Santa Cruz is a beach town about an hour outside of San Francisco. The main attraction is the beach and boardwalk, which if you ask me, is a brilliant combination! You can lounge on the golden sand and swim in the pacific, or you can take in all of the thrill rides along the boardwalk at the back of the beach! On windy days, you’ll find the town crawling with surfers.

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Mel and Karen opted to soak in the sun on the beach, but Gill and I broke up the day with several rides on the boardwalk! Our favorites were a wooden roller coast, this drop ride called double shot that threw you up in the air and let you freefall back down, and of course, a theme park classic, the swings! The view from the air was fantastic and we had a great afternoon trying different rides, going for a dip in the ocean, and sampling different treats from the boardwalk (dippin dots was a popular one). We finished the visit with a little shopping on the boardwalk, grabbed some slushies, and then took off for our final destination, San Francisco.

Unfortunately, we had another bit of bad luck when we arrived in San Francisco – our hostel lost our reservation and we were forced to split up one night and then double bunk another. But we ended up getting one night free, which made up for our loss by skipping Yosemite (gotta look on the bright side). We’ve actually finished the trip now (I’m writing to you from back in Vancouver), but I’ve got one more post coming for you about the three days we spent in San Francisco. So stick around for one last entry! Gill’s vlog for this portion of the trip isn’t ready yet, but as soon as it is, I’ll post it at the bottom of this blog!

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California Here We Come

After a shocking four month blogging absence, I’m stretching out my fingers and dusting off my keyboard just in time to take you with me on my highlight trip of the year – a 10 day road trip down the American West Coast with my 3 absolute best friends in the world! Though my lack of blogging might have you believe otherwise, it’s actually been a very eventful spring. I’ve already made one trip down to Washington State with my sister, celebrated Canada Day in the Capital with my family, and caught up with my friends in St. John’s, but now it’s time for the big trip!

I’ve taken a few “road trips” with my friends over the years – Northern Bay Sands, White Hills, Bell Island – but they’ve always been within several hours driving distance of St. John’s, so this year we decided to step it up a notch or two and try to tackle a greater part of the West Coast! Something about the exciting combination of ocean, mountains, and gigantic trees seems to call people to Vancouver and lucky for me, this time it’s my 3 best friends! They all arrived this week and after spending a few days in Vancouver, we’ll be taking off this weekend for San Francisco. Along the way, the amazing list of attractions we’ll be hitting include Seattle, Portland, Lake Tahoe, Yosemite National Park, San Francisco, and Santa Cruz!

There will be lots of time spent on the road and I’d love to take you along for the ride! I want to inject a little more life into my blog and I love the excitement of discovering new places; my goal is to post several times throughout the trip. So let me introduce you to the real stars of the show, the lively cast of characters who will be joining me on this adventure! I’ve been friends with this gang of hooligans since 1998 and my life would be so boring without them. Growing up we’ve spent many a summer on the infamous Jasper Street, eaten way too much pizza, starred in a number of our own films, laughed, cried, fought, and consumed our weight in slushies and skittles. We’re the craziest group of individuals, but you’ll never find a more loyal group of friends. So without further ado, the heroes of my story:

To start us off, there’s Melissa – our driver, music enthusiast, and social media guru. Apparently the rest of us are still babies and Mel is the only one who can rent a car without having to pay outrageous “young driver” fees, so thank you Melissa for being born in the 80’s! Along with age comes wisdom and for many years Mel has been educating us all on music, celebrities, and popular culture; without her I would know nothing about celebrity gossip, pub trivia, or Kathy Dunderdale’s twitter account. She’s our social media expert and I expect she’ll be tweeting and instagramming and snapchatting (and whatever else is popular these days) every moment of the trip! She’s one of the wittiest people I know, so follow along her social media for a guaranteed laugh (#biffleroadtrip). She’s also our token hipster and our adventures in Seattle and Portland (hipster capital of North America) are all thanks to her!

Next in the lineup is Gill, known by one name and one name only – The Chosen One. The Gods have always favoured her and for reasons we can’t explain, things always work out for her. We’re depending on her for good luck, sunny weather, and for a free upgrade at the car rental place. Gill makes her own rules and she’ll call you out when she thinks you’re wrong. She played zero role in the trip planning phase, but she’s always up for adventure and we’re counting on her to keep us all entertained on the long stretches of road! She is our trip dramatist, Mariah Carrey impersonator, prankster extraordinaire, and game lover. The name of the game of the trip is Dutch Blitz and she’s got the title of Champion in mind. So don’t mess with Gill and don’t mess with us, because you don’t want Gill coming after you. However, in the excitement, she has decided to take on the role of our trip vlogger, so stay tuned for those which we’ll also be sharing on my blog.

And then there’s Karen, our happy-go-lucky, common-sense wielding, keeper of the peace. Without Karen we’d never get anywhere, ever. The rest of us will mull over a problem for 10 minutes, decide there’s no solution, and then Karen will pop in and solve it for us in 30 seconds! Karen goes with the flow and her calm and loving nature keeps the rest of our crazy at bay. But don’t be fooled, I’ve gone on many a childhood trip with this girl and she can scheme just as much as the rest of us (and do it better). She’ll always join you in whatever shenanigans or ‘fun’ new idea you dream up. She’s got logic on her side though, so you’d better watch out when you break out the games. She’s surprisingly not great at Dutch Blitz (we think the element of speed works against this thorough thinker) but we’re also bringing Catan along and we suspect she’ll be the ultimate strategist!

And lastly there’s me, I’m bestowing upon myself the title of Trip Captain, known as a sunscreen enthusiast, owner of bad hats, and Blitz Superstar. I’m just saying it, without me this trip wouldn’t be possible. I am the planning goddess, but fortunately I have my biffles to keep me humble, which they’ll do when we hit the first snag on the road. Despite my trip planning skills, I generally have no idea what’s going on and find myself at the receiving end of a lot of jokes. But I’m good natured and I’ll go along with the jokes because we all know that the group is lost without me. I’m a resident of Biffle HQ, founder of the legendary Pizza Fridays, owner of our mascot Sammy, and a believer that old dogs are just as cute as puppies! I love my friends more than anything and I can’t wait to go on this adventure with them!

Peace out,

Maria

Categories: American Road Trip, Life in British Columbia, My Newfoundland Roots | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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