Sunday, March 25, 2012

March of Colour

Sun, glorious sun!
     Who can remember a spring so early, so warm, so full of colour and sound?  We have had Snowdrops, Aconites, Crocuses, Scilla, Cyclamen, Anemones, Hellebores, Daffodils, Jeffersonia, Tulips and Daffodils and the month isn't even over!  The Heath out front is bursting forth in purple intensity and has been a veritable swarm of teetotaler bees intent on binge-drinking after a long, dry spell.

     Early in the still-dark mornings, on the way to the bus, I hear the haunting chirpings of robins on the make.  Afternoons, I have seen devoted Cardinal pairs call to one another throughout the highways of tree branches and stop for a quick dip in the already-teeming pond.  Eric, the Red Squirrel, who stands guard over the compost pile in the back yard, spends many a day chasing much-larger squirrels away from his domain, noisily scolding them.

Aconites appearing

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Last day

KH goes wading
     It's our last day and we all sleep in until 9:30, get showered, changed, packed, load up the car and go to the Boulevard Restaurant for a big brunch.  It's a popular destination and is packed out and we wait for a table for 20 minutes, but it is well worth it.  We then head down the coast to Pacifica and stop at two places along the way to see the surf and the surfers, who look like a school of penguins in their black wetsuits.  The water is very rough and I admire the bravery of anyone willing to set foot in it.
Surf's up!
     We then drove through Half Moon Bay and then to the airport to say our goodbyes to our wonderful hosts/friends.  We try to check in at the United airlines desk only to be told we need to be at the Air Canada desk, where we discover our flight has been delayed 5 1/2 hours!  I check my suitcase and we get back on the BART to Powell Street for a last look around the city, a bite to eat and to waste some time.  Ironically, we bump into TH, who wonders what the hell we are doing downtown!  We stopped at Cafe Mason for a very disappointing dinner then head back to airport, go through security and get the all-important Duty-free Scotch, wait in the lounge and finally catch our flight home.

Homeward bound

UC Berkeley and an Urban Hike - Day 5

UC Berkeley
     KH and TH were up earlier than usual and we got up, had our usual treats from Nora's  and I chatted with CT to make plans for later.  We boarded the BART and this time went all the way to the Downtown Berkeley stop, going through Oakland which looked quite industrial.  It was a quaint downtown and after buying some loaded up bagels, we walked onto the campus and sat in the shade of the clock tower and ate.  It was great seeing all of the different styles of buildings and the students all looked so young (were we that young once?!).  We made our way up a winding road past the Amphitheatre and the Stadium which were both being made earthquake-proof.  It was hot and took us quite a bit of effort, but we finally made it to the Botanical Gardens.  The cashier informed us we could have taken a bus up the long, winding hill for $1 - doh!  The gardens were divided into continents and had many, winding paths to explore.  Saw lots of birds and lizards too.  Interestingly, the newts were mating and laying eggs in the Japanese pond.
A less slimy Gingrich
     There were a few indoor gardens as well - Tropical House, Arid House and Orchid, Fern and Carnivorous Plant House.  Many of the different Rhododendrons were in bloom in the Asia section and were fabulous in colour and scent.  My favourite part was the Southern Africa garden which had many succulents in bloom.

Succulent Geometry
Sunny Blooms
     We took a bumpy bus ride back down the hill to the campus and walked along Shattuck Street to where the restaurants were (including Chez Panisse!).  We lunched at Poulet which had simple but tasty and healthy food.  Downtown Berkeley had some interesting architecture.  We got back on the BART and stopped at Powell Street to go into the mall to buy some chocolates from Cocoa Bella for our hosts, then got back on and went to Civic Centre and took the Muni across to Castro, coming out (no pun intended) right where the big rainbow flag was!  We stopped in a local bar and had some beer and chatted with the locals - again, very friendly and welcoming.  We met up with CT and his 6 month old, W, and went on a hilly, sometimes gruelling, urban hike through the city, making our way up steep streets and stairs and ending up at Kite Hill, Twin Peaks, Tank Hill, the centre of the city and Corona Heights.  The views were extraordinary but my feet were killing me at this point.

     We ended up back at CT's and had some well-deserved beers.  His wife, L, came home and we caught up while we waited for KH and TH to arrive.  We ordered in lots of sushi rolls and sat down to a feast and talked about various people we knew in common.  It was then a short drive back to Daly City to tuck in for our last night.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Walking the town - Day 4

Mission Street
     We woke early, as usual, and had coffee and pastries from Nora's then headed back downtown on the BART, this time getting off at 26th and Mission, the Mexican part of town.  We were told by KH to eat at a nearby restaurant, but it wasn't open yet and we weren't hungry, so we continued on along Mission Street.  It's a bit rundown and there are many dilapidated movie theatres that now serve many other functions including one that had been gutted to make way for parking!  A shame really as the buildings are from another time and quite ornate.  We turned left on 16th and made our way to the Castro, passing a lovely church en route.

The Castro
     The Castro was full of beautiful shops and omnipresent rainbow flags of course.  We had brunch at the Cove on Castro and had a friendly, jovial (dare I say gay?) waiter!  The owner asked us where we were from and also demonstrated the San Francisco charm - warm and friendly.  From there, we walked up Castro and turned left on Haight and ended up at Haight-Ashbury which has undergone quite a bit of gentrification since the 60's.  We then went up to the Panhandle, a sliver of a park that was full of enormous Eucalyptus trees which had a very aromatic scent.  It was then a hop, skip and a jump to the Golden Gate Park, an incredibly beautiful oasis of plants, trees and animal life.  We saw the very modern de Young Museum but didn't have time to stop in.

Japanese Tea Garden
     Instead, we visited the Japanese Tea Garden and had a relaxing stroll around the grounds and even stopped for some tea and mochi.  I had an encounter with a very tame squirrel, who let me pet it!  It took quite a while, but we walked through the entire park and ended up at the Ocean!  It was warm, sunny and clear blue sky as far as the eye could see.  Our reward was to take off our shoes and walk into the water, which was absolutely freezing!  It was a good cool-off from all of the walking though.
Cold comfort
     We dried off and headed up Point Lobos Avenue to Cliff House and looked down to see the Seal Rocks and the ruins of the Sutro Baths.  We headed along to the end of the bus line and caught a bus that went along Geary Avenue past Japantown to Powell Street.  We dined at John's Grill, home of the Maltese Falcon (!), and had some very fresh seafood and incredible service.  It was then another cable car ride to Lombard to view the steep, one block section that contains eight hairpin turns!  There were some breathtaking views and gorgeous houses in the neighbourhood.  We walked down to the Wharf and got on a streetcar to the Ferry Building to look at the market inside and the night views from the pier.  It was then a quick walk up to the Embarcadero station and home for a well-deserved rest.

Sutro Baths

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Down by the water - Day 3

Fisherman's Wharf
  We arose early and headed downtown on the BART, getting off at Powell Street and had breakfast at Lori's Diner with a great view down on Powell Street.  We then got on the cable car and travelled up and down the steep hills to Fisherman's Wharf.

The Iconic Cable Car
     We walked along the shoreline, past the many Piers, then headed inland and up the 450 steps to the Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill.  It was a spectacular Art Deco building and had a fantastic panoramic view of the bay and the city.
Coit Tower
     We walked back down the steps (much easier!), saw and heard a humming bird and admired the wonderful gardens en route.  We had a tasty and filling lunch at Pier 23 Restaurant, then made our way over to Pier 33 to take the ferry over to Alcatraz.  It was quite creepy looking and reminded me of the opening scenes of Shutter Island (dun-DUUN!), but there was a beauty amongst all of the decay.

Alcatraz Silhouette
Alcatraz Garden
     We took the audio tour which was very informative and compelling.  Afterwards, we wandered around quieter parts of the island and discovered many succulents in flower growing on a sunny hillside.  It was then back on the ferry to the mainland.

Adios Alcatraz
From there, we worked our way inland along Stockton Street to Washington Square and the large, spanish cathedral,  then through Little Italy and Chinatown and caught the cable car back downtown.

     We ended up at Bar Norcini just in time for happy hour so indulged ourselves with Proseco, antipasti, a 3-cheese plate (locally made and very tasty) and some Chianti.  Happy hour indeed!  Then, it was time to do some shopping at H+M and Club Monaco where we both got some great deals (happy hour continues!).  After spending a busy, productive day in the city, we headed back to the apartment to wash up then crash.

Happy Hour!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Lookouts, Muir Woods and the Napa Valley - Day 2

The perfect Danish!
     We woke early the next day and stopped in at Nora's Bakery around the corner for coffee, just-out-of-the-oven croissants and picture-perfect danishes.  The four of us then drove to the bay area, across the Golden Gate Bridge and stopped at three different lookouts to enjoy the view - breathtaking!

The Golden Gate Bridge
     We then drove to Muir Woods and went for a long hike through groves of colossal Redwoods and other spring flowers including masses of Trilliums (memories of Ontario).

Muir Woods
      We went along a trail by the river on the way back and then hopped in the car and headed to the Napa Valley.  We had a fantastic lunch at the Culinary Institute of America (the "other" C.I.A.) which included some tasting glasses of wine.  When in Rome...!  I had grilled sardines on fingerling potatoes on a bed of frisee for a starter then roast pork on polenta - heaven!

     We visited two other wineries - Beringer and Franciscan Estates and had more wine tastings - we even bought a bottle of 2010 Red Moscato to bring home.  We headed back to San Francisco and walked around the downtown core again, stopping for Sushi at Sushi Rocks for Bento-style dinners.  It was then a quick hop on the BART and back to Daly City for more R and R.

Strange bird

I left my heart in San Francisco - Day 1

Union Square
     For CC's upcoming 50th birthday, I took him to San Francisco to visit some friends and as a mini spring getaway.  We left early last Monday morning, arriving in SF around noon and returned early yesterday morning due to our flight being delayed - more on that later.  We were met at the airport (SFO) by my old lab-mate, KH, who gave us cards for the transit system, BART, and we took our luggage back to her apartment in Daly City (just south of SF), then went back into the city centre at Powell Street.

SF Downtown
     We had lunch at a Japanese Ramen noodle house, Katana-ya, which was very tasty and filling.  From there, it was off to the SFMOMA to see Mark Bradford's large, colourful collage-paintings, Rineke Dykstra's powerful photographs, 20th century works etc.

SF Fountain
     We then walked through a park and stopped at Beard Papa's Cream Puffs for a sumptuous snack/reward and tea/coffee at Peet's, a local chain.  We then window shopped at Westfield San Francisco Centre and I bought a couple of shirts at Desigual on Powell Street.  KH then took us through the Tenderloin district, which is a very down and out part of the city, then down to Market Street where TH picked us up and took us to Emmy's Spaghetti Shack on Virginia Avenue for dinner and a chance to warm up and rest our weary feet.  It was then back to the apartment to settle in for the night.

City Hall

Sunday, March 04, 2012


Aconites or Squirrel food?
     So, it's early March, and even though there is a little bit of snow on the ground still, we haven't had much of a winter.  CC forced various bulbs for our enjoyment and I think I like the Narcissi and the unusual Grape Hyacinths the best.  All the Amaryllises looked the same - they're kind of the prostitutes of the bulb world - big, bright and showy!  What has been the most amazing thing though is that we spotted some Snowdrops (the flowers not the precipitation) in the garden last weekend and earlier this week I saw the above Aconites.  They are right next to the house and get full sun until the mid-afternoon and really are a breath of fresh air.  We planted 1200 bulbs this past fall and it appears the $@%^#@# squirrels are enjoying some of them as a tasty spring treat.  Hmmm, squirrel pie, another tasty spring treat?  Mmmm, this one has a hint of tulip with an undertone of hyacinth.

Grape Hyacinth