Day 1 in Review (or an attempt, anyway)

Day 1 in Review (or an attempt, anyway)

Where do I start???

My day started with the trek through Chinatown, where I was afraid I’d become a jaded traveler. 🙁 I’m sorry, but I swear that every Chinatown I’ve been through–Montreal, Toronto, Chicago, New York–is the same, dirty and filled with shops carrying the same junk. They just fail to impress me. 🙁 So, other than stopping for post cards and a gift for Neil, I went through the neighbourhood very quickly.

Breakfast took a surprising amount of time to find, so I grabbed a Starbucks soy latte upon exiting Chinatown, using a gift card Neil gave me. I eventually made it back to where I arrived last night, Market and Powell, and found Mel’s Diner on 4th Street where I had a breakfast of more coffee and some pancakes.

Replete, I ambled down 4th Avenue towards the Caltrain when I noticed the most bizarre plant I’ve ever seen. It took me a second to realise that I should perhaps be looking up. Yes, drum roll please, this plant was my very first sighting of a palm tree in its natural habitat!!!!!
(sorry, but I can’t get Blogger to recognize that I rotated the image!)

I was able to get such a nice clear picture of my first palm tree because a very helpful man moved people aside, helpfully telling them to ‘please back away and let the tourist take a picture of the tree.’ I’m not laughing. Really.

I got to the Caltrain station a full two hours after I’d left Neil’s and had just enough time to buy a ticket, wonder if the gold coins marked 1USD I got as change from the machine were legit, and get some ‘just in case’ literature (ie. a magazine), and it was time for the 10:37 train to leave.

The ride through Silicon Valley was most pleasant and I couldn’t help but note two things, one mundane, one not so much. The first was the xeriscaping, something I’m not used to seeing. The second was that, holy smoke, not everyone lives in hostile natural environment where the climate is an enemy.

Upon arriving in Mountainview, I took Neil’s advice and hailed a cab. At Google, a security guard told me to go to building 43 (‘hook a right up the stairs, then turn right at the dinosaur’). From there, a receptionist was able to call Neil for me.

He took me on a short tour of the amazing complex and then we had lunch. I couldn’t believe the amount of food there was to choose from and it’s all FREE. After witnessing first hand all the perks at Google, I informed Neil that I’m going to send him a resume and he better pass it around the office!

After lunch, we snagged free Google bikes to roam a little farther. I hadn’t been on a bike in five years, and I’d never ridden in a skirt, so it’s there that I realised that the adage is true–once you learn, you never forget! That was a lot of fun.

Neil then gave me directions back to the train station and I decided to hike. Unfortunately, I missed the train by less than a minute, so I had to wait a half hour for the next one.

I made it back to San Francisco for quarter to 4 and, since the California Science Academy and Steinhardt Aquarium were on the way ‘home’, near 4th on Howard, I decided to stop and see if the whole thing could be viewed in the hour I had before closing time. Yes!

This was so much fun and included a touching pool. Most amusing moment: when I asked if I could touch something at the way bottom of the pool and was told: “Gee, no one’s ever asked, but okay, if you’re feeling brave. But we wouldn’t.” (I put my hand down.) “Okay, that’s sad. A tourist is more brave than we are.” *ggl* My favourite part until then was the tiny crab climbing over my hand, but things were about to get better. I found… The snake exhibit! There was a beautiful python, a green snake (my absolute favourite kind of snake, and, yes, that’s its common name), and…. an anaconda!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I don’t think I’ve ever seen an anaconda before! It’s absolutely gorgeous–black with a uniquely shaped head. At one point, it moved around a bit and its gaze seemed to fall on me. It stuck out its tongue and I mimicked it. We then had a brief tongue sticking out contest. A guy behind me suddenly spoke up and said: “You’re not imagining it; it’s tracking you. I’m just waiting for it to pounce at you and bounce off the glass.”

An hour was more than enough time to see everything, so I went back up to Market and Powell, planning to meander my way home. I have a long list of things to do each day in SF and my list for today was done (!), so I decided to hop on the cable car that turns at Powell and spend the rest of the day wandering aimlessly in the general vicinity of home.

Before I left Howard street, I noticed something, and snapped a pic for Neil who laughed even harder than me. I present: How to Not Lock Your Bicycle:The cable car ride was amazing. Our driver, Jack, was absolutely hysterical and a crackerjack at customer service, favouring ‘tourists’ over ‘locals’, and dealing super well with an extraordinarily bitchy local woman. I rode the cable car right to the end at Fisherman’s Wharf, leaving my stomach somewhere across town as we zipped up and down breathtaking hills! Let me just say that driving a cable car looks like a lot of work! I have pictures of the cable car and Jack; I’ll upload them later since Blogger takes forever to upload and I’m beat.

Things were closing up at Fisherman’s Wharf, so I didn’t stick around. I hadn’t planned on staying long anyway. Neil’s place is near the water, so I figured that I could take a long cable car ride, then make my way home from the Wharf. At the Maritime Store, I picked up some reproductions of gold rush era documents that I’ll frame and hang in my study. I then decided to scout for dinner and found a Mexican place that looked promising. However, something told me to not eat just yet, so I left and stumbled on a pastel artist with absolutely gorgeous drawings of famous San Francisco landmarks. I immediately fell in love with one of Alcatraz, done in muted greys and purples and asked him, casually, how much they were. 20$, as it turns out, which was amazing value considering that they’re matted. But I was feeling cheap and would have paid 15$, not 20$. So, I walked off, slowly, sending out ‘I’m open to bargaining, but I don’t want to insult you’ vibes. Well, the man called me back and said that I could have my pick of any one for 15$! I’m very happy; this is the sort of souvenir that lasts a lifetime. I’ll have the picture framed when I get home and hang it in my bathroom since the colours will be perfect for it.

By this point, I was famished, so I decided to head home to drop off stuff and get more money, then focus on dinner. I determined based on the water’s positioning where home would be, roughly, and headed off. Sure enough, I came across a street I recognized, and then home was a mere three blocks away. I’ve got such a good sense of direction! 🙂

For dinner, I still craved Mexican, and I found little place with really good food and even better prices (10 bucks got me out of there stuffed and included beer), then I found a market where I picked up breakfast and snack items. I was beat by this point and planned to go straight home and crash, but I found a bookstore on the way back and decided to browse.

I’ve been looking for a certain book since the summer of ’05 and have looked for it in used bookstores in Gatineau, Ottawa, Wisconsin, Winnipeg, and Maine. I can’t believe how impossible it’s been to find. So, imagine my delight in finding it here, in San Francisco! The book? A hard cover copy of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind.

I got home at about 8:20 and Neil followed just after. We settled down to watch an ep of Firefly, got in our giggling for the day, and then he went off to bed since he has an early morning tomorrow (cycling to Google–60km!).

It’s been a rich, full day. I’m wiped and off to shower and then sleep the sleep of the dead–and content!

I’m Here!

Quick post from my first morning in California!

My first thought upon setting foot into the Californian outdoors was so strong I actually said it out loud: “Bloody HELL! It’s FREEZING!” Boy am I glad I packed long skirts, long-sleeved tee-shirts, and cardigans! LOL

From San Francisco airport, it was a long walk and a short Skytrain trip to the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station, which took me downtown in about a half hour. There, I knew that the only way I was getting to Neil’s was by taxi, so I made my way to the surface. For a moment, I thought I was at Montreal’s Berri station because there were so many panhandlers waiting to help travelers with doors, stairs, and directions. The one who got my suitcase up the steep stairs got 50 cents, the one who pointed out where to find a taxi got 25 cents, and the one who just begged got nada.

My taxi driver was great, getting me to Neil’s in what felt like the shortest way possible, and helping me with my luggage (he got a nice tip).

San Francisco, well, what I’ve seen of it, is GORGEOUS! I love how almost all buildings have bay windows. I thought that the terrain would be like Montreal, also a city built on hills, and it is, but a Sims City version of Montreal where the hills have been pulled up and up and up…. Going down Neil’s street, I had to tell the driver to slow down because I’d left my heart up two blocks back!

Neil’s apartment fits in with my stereotype of a ‘typical’ San Fran building–a gorgeous old Victorian with bright airy rooms. He even has a garage, which gives me a place to park my rental car when I get it at the end of the week and opens up some options for me as to when I’m leaving for Vegas.

This morning, I’m taking the CALTRAIN to Mountainview to visit Google headquarters and meet Neil for lunch. I’m aiming to take the 11 o’clock train and walking to the station. Neil mapped out a trek for me that’ll take me though Chinatown so I can kill two birds with one stone.

I’m off to find breakfast. Photos will follow later!

Halfway There!

And through the night, behind the wheel, the mileage clicking west,
I’ll think upon Mackenzie, David Thompson, and the rest,
Who cracked the mountain ramparts and did show a path for me,
To race the roaring Fraser to the sea.

This is what I had in mind this morning as we broke through the Rockies to find the glorious Fraser leading us to the airport. *awed*

(it’s a day for being welcomed by Frasers, obviously!)

Posting from YVR (free wi-fi, woohoo!) where I should no longer be. Unfortunately, the SF plane is broken, so our flight has been delayed an hour and a half. As long as I get there tonight, I refuse to be irked!

The day has been going well. Taking the bus was a good idea; I got to the airport in Ottawa in exactly one hour door to door and saved 27$.

US customs sucks, but what else is new? At least, I wasn’t searched, although I did have to schlepp through the security area in my bare feet (I need a shower!) and got to stand spread eagle as I was wanded over and over and over and over again and practically had to show my beeping bra strap to the attendant before she’d let me leave. LOL

Geeze, I just realised it’s 6 o’clock home time and I’ve been up for over thirteen hours! It’s no wonder I’m wiped!

I’ve been careful about food and keeping myself hydrated, eating regular small meals like tuna salad on the flight over and vegetarian udong here at the airport. I was glad I forgot to request a veggie sandwich for my flight over because I found that my tuna salad with crackers, carrots & dip, and chocolate bar were much better value for the prepaid 5$ voucher I’d bought. For one thing, I felt that I was enjoying a complete meal.

I bought myself a snack for the SF flight, but the more this flight is delayed, the more I think that I should go get something more substantial since I hadn’t planned on having dinner till I get to Neil’s…. Now, I’m thinking of revising that plan. 🙂

Let me end with this: I LOVE TRAVELING! *bounce, bounce, bounce*

Feeling Welcome

Feeling Welcome

in San Francisco, and I’m not even there yet. Neil just sent me details for how to get onto his computer and how to log on to the wireless network with my laptop. So, I can definitely be expected to post a few times from there! The following week, though, will depend on how compatible Blogger is with my laptop’s archaïc (and unupgradeable) browsers.

Packing is so much work now that I’m more style-conscious, WAH! I left for a MONTH in Scotland with a fraction of what I currently have in this suitcase… and I’m not done packing yet! What’s not helping is that I have to pack for four climates (home, SF, Vegas, LA) . But it looks like the suitcase will close without a) my having to ‘expand it’ or b) sit on it (or c) expand it AND sit on it), and I’ll have room left for ‘extras’ I’ll pick up along the way, so it’s all good. For carry on, I have a little matching bag which will hold my paperwork, notebook and pen, books, magazines, food supplies, and other sundries, and into which I’ll stuff my purse since my laptop doesn’t fit in it. Hopefully stuffing one bag into another will get me around the two article limit for carry on luggage…. I am proud that I’m not using the third suitcase in my set, a ‘carry on’ size. Next trip! 🙂

I’ve decided to try the bus to get to the airport this time to save 30$ (bus is 3$). So Tuesday 6AM will find me schlepping my luggage for two blocks to the Térrasses de la Chaudière where I’ll catch the 8 to Lebreton Flats, where I should have more than enough time (I hope) to catch a 97 that’ll get me to the airport for seven (it better). My plane technically leaves at 8:20.

The Plan

I am about to embark on the most structured trip I’ve ever taken, even more so than my month in Scotland in that I have actually made reservations. My fixed itinerary is such:

June 19th: depart Ottawa in early AM to arrive in San Francisco by dinnertime, with a four hour layover in Vancouver
June 20th to June 23rd (inclusive): explore San Francisco, with a trip to Alcatraz booked for the 23rd
June 24th: drive to Las Vegas by way of Sacramento and Reno, to arrive sometime in the early evening at the Gold Coast Hotel and Casino
June 25th: spending the morning on a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon, with a flyover the Strip upon returning to Vegas

Then things get fuzzy. I’m not sure if I’m leaving Las Vegas the 26th or 27th, but I’ll spend the second half of the week in Los Angeles, concentrating on Hollywood. Depending on how late in the week I arrive there, I’m hoping to have time for a day trip to Tijuana, Mexico. Whatever I do, I must be back in San Francisco by June 30th.

July 1st: depart SF mid-day to arrive in Ottawa very late after a 1.75 hour layover in Calgary.