Thursday, 5 December 2013

Travels in the US - Part 3 of 3 - San Francisco

Another 4 hour flight over Arizona and New Mexico brought us to San Francisco and its scary airport..the runway starts just a few meters from the water's edge or so it seems. There were serious doubts that our two suitacases would arrive with us as the Austin Airport ground staff had taken an agonisingly long time to search our suitcases, because they happened to be locked. Some search equipment was faulty and we had to go to the far end of the airport for the search. Then a very stressed out baggage handler seemed to think that there was not enough time to get the cases to the other end where our plane awaited.

San Francisco
(more photos via link at the end of this post)

Anyhow, despite Marisol's apprehension and the strong probablity against a convenient outcome, the suitcases appeared on the carousel, where our friend Jerry had agreed to meet us. It transpired that Marisol had her unique effect on all of the electronics as Jerry's car keys and his gadget for toll payments both failed. But nothing that a combination of IT knowhow could not fix!

Cable car and Lombard Street
(more photos via link at the end of this post)

We were soon driving down the usual maze of US highways in this quaint (manual) VW, which Jerry has lovingly owned through his postings at Washington, Frankfurt and now San Francisco. After a brief rest stop at Jerry and Margarita's home we headed straight across the Golden Gate bridge for a lunch across the bay in a small town called Tiburon. Later we drove around the famous undulating hillside roads in SF, with Jerry urging his car through traffic, as we drove around the more famous sites. This included Lombard street and its snaking section down a hill, with a million Japanese tourists, and finally parked near the Coit tower. In the fading light while we walked down the hill at Coit, Jerry's VW began to spew smoke from the engine, and appeared to be on fire! Oh dear, too much action for the poor car for one day. We patched up the car as best, and made it home to call it a day (a long day which had begun at about 4am in Austin!)

Coit Tower
(more photos via link at the end of this post)

Over the next week we had relentless tourist action, as Jerry and Margarita showed us everything there is to see around the SF and the bay area. We drove through Sausalito to Tiburon on day one, then later in the week we drove to Palo Alto and to the hallowed grounds of Stanford. On another day we were invited to Jerry's daughter Carolina's home in Mill Valley, where Marisol took my photo in front of Avatar's Punjabi Burritos, which later led our friend Loli to comment that this perhaps referred to a Donkey curry! We also spent some time with Andres, the elder brother of Carolina who also lives in SF just down the road from his parents.

(more photos via link at the end of this post)

There were further excursions to the stunning Muir Woods, which is the last remaining forest of the famous Redwood trees. A magical place which we did not want to leave. A wrong turn of the GPS had given us a fantastic tour of the surrounding area with its spectacular scenery of mountains and the Pacific and an extra twenty miles to our route! We approached the Muir from the far side and we did not see the famous trees, which are generally more than 100 meters tall, untill we were within the car park!

Muir Woods
(more photos via link at the end of this post)

We could not really come this far and not include a trip to the Napa Valley to taste some wines, and we picked one winery with a beautiful castle, suggested by those in the know. The drive through the valley was nothing short of spectacular, but the wines at this winery turned out to be average, for us honed on the Rioja wines. The winery specialised in Italian grapes and just like in Australia, we found the wines overpriced. The barman who attended to us was rude, and at one point when he ignored my request to not serve the last few drops of a bottle to me, I tipped the contents of my glass into the sink. He was loudly angry with me and proceeded to treat us badly while trying to chat up some ladies who were also trying out the same wines.

We left but as I was leaving I let him know that we found him very rude, which led to further loud outbursts from the man, an arrogant Italian. As we were making our way out the manager approached us and asked what the commotion had been about. We apologised for having made the fuss, but explained how we had been treated. The manager was very apologetic for the behaviour of their staff and immediately offered to refund all costs (which we duly accepted). Generally we found people to be utterly polite and this was definitely an exception.

De Young Museum
(more photos via link at the end of this post)

In between there was enough time to walk around SF, China Town, the famous Fisherman's Wharf, the Painted Ladies (some brightly painted town houses), and a visit to the De Young Museum of Modern Art. This turned out to be a delightful building (Herzog and de Meuron) with some excellent exhibitions, including one of recent works of David Hockney some of which we had seen already in London and Bilbao. Here we found that the most recent work in the show had only been completed a month before, perhaps a few days before the exhibition opened. It was a rainy day and it was lovely to be indoors at this beautiful space set in wonderful park grounds. 

And we noticed that just down the road from Jerry's place a huge set of tents housed a Cirque de Soleil show. So we made our arrangements and one evening walked over to see the performance. We were not disappointed, it lived up to its reputation. It was called Amaluna.

(more photos via link at the end of this post)

Not to be missed, we managed to squeeze in a visit to UC Berkeley campus just hours before catching our ten hour flight to London and on to Bilbao and home. This brought back memories of the heady days of student unrest in the sixties and the seventies, Haight Ashbury, Kerouac and Ginsburg. Alas the Haight Ashbury district of SF is a shadow of its past and how I saw it the first time I was in SF about thirty years ago.

And so finally the saga of the suitacases. The travellers life is hard. We arrive at last (after 24 hours) at Bilbao, and were the only passengers whose luggage did not show up! While we wondered what to do with a sinking feeling, an airport worker walked up to us and asked "where have you come from". We revealed glumly that we had come from San Francisco. "Oh" she said "come with me". We rushed over to another carousel where luggage that needed to go through customs appeared and sure enough there they were!!!

Many thanks to Jerry and Margarita

A long and wonderful trip was at an end..and we proceeded to ride out the jet lag with smiles on our faces!
Click here to see more photos from San Francisco

Monday, 2 December 2013

Travels in the US Part 2 - Austin with Grandkids

A short flight took us on to Austin, with a lot of turbulence on the way. There was a half hour delay while we waited for the US Vice President to leave Austin, with the whole airport shut to normal flights. Fortunately he was delayed and they opened up the airport so we did not have to wait longer. Manjeet was waiting for us at the airport, and with our hire car we followed him home down a maze of highways. About half way the storm caught up with us and the visibility was so bad that we had to stop on one side of the highway, until we could see where we were going.
If it was not for the VP, we would have been home before the storm.

See more photos from Austin - link at the end of this post

We were soon home and began to enjoy our stay with Manjeet, Almu and our two grandchildren Manjeet Jr. and Nicolas. They are both at ages which have their different charms and it was great fun to watch and engage in conversation, play and laugh with them. Manjeet is almost three and talking in both English and Spanish and learning French. What is more he would often say 'That is not how you say that' if you repeated a French word that he had learnt.
Jito at school
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It was also hard work, and we realised that we no longer had the stamina to either play or look after them for long periods, as we may have done in our younger days with our own kids. Fortunately for us, both spent long hours at the nursery school that they attend, which gave us time to recover and go do some shopping and enjoy the Austin area, which is indeed very beautiful. Among all the lakes and rivers there were also lots of nice eating places and we did a lot eating too (it shows).

Canal walk at San Antonio
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Midway through our stay my birthday came around, and Manjeet and Almu took us down to San Antonio and treated us to a stay at a really great hotel. San Antonio was wonderful. They have managed to construct a canal all around the centre of the city and one can walk along the canal at a lower level than the street without having to tackle traffic and road crossings. The walk is full of restraurants and cafes plus entrances to large shopping malls.
Dancers at the Day of the Dead celebrations
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While we were out on the canal we noticed a commotion at one point and followed the people who were making a way to what turned out to be a market where thousands of people of Mexican origin were celebrating the day of the dead! There was music, dance, food and a market with stalls and where people were having their faces painted. Plus there were lots of little alters displaying the 'Day of the Dead' kind of materials in pseudo installations to remember loved ones departed. Since we had not been to one of these before this was quite interesting for us.
Marisol and a Day of the Dead display
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There were also a few sights to see, which included some old Spanish missions and the Alamo which was not as spectacular as we expected but historically significant as the famous battleground between the Mexicans and the Texans. Just down the road was a museum which had a roaring dinosaur on display, with which the boys were fascinated, but terrified at the same time. It was really funny to see their reactions to this mechanised display and we could hardly tear them away from this display. At one point I gave a jolt to Manjeet while he was watching the dino with his mouth open, and he nearly jumped out of his pants! Reminds me of my own uncle 'MamaJi' used to do the same to me.
We all really enjoyed San Antonio.
The San Juan mission in San Antonio
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The weather was altogether lovely and throughout the stay in Austin we used summer clothes and dreaded having to come back to northern Spain, which by all accounts was awash with rain and getting cold. There are a few shopping malls and two large Outlet malls, and we spent a lot of time (and money) at these locations making sure we had obtained everything on our long shopping lists..

Towards the end we returned the compliment, by letting Manjeet and Almu go off for a quiet couple of days, while we looked after the boys. This was a tricky operation as we had to figure all the details of a complete day and night. This involved a myriad of tasks not forgetting the drive to and from the schools. Fortunately we had a GPS (or two!) and with shrewd programming we made sure we could do the school trips without getting lost.
But the experience was nothing short of lovely but exhausting, and we were relieved to see Manjeet and Almu return and take up their parenting once more!
See more photos from Austin - link at the end of this post

There was also the day that Manjeet's school teacher invited me to go and read a story to the kids and the the 'trick or treat' expedition for the kids on Haloween night which turned out to be a lot of fun. At the reading I was really impressed by the attention span of these little kids while I read from 'But No Elephants' to them. They listened for 10 or 15 minutes and asked lots of questions! At Haloween we carried pumpkin baskets and enthused the kids into walking upto every doorway in the neighbourhood, then reminded them to say the words. That evening at home too they showed great interest in waiting for passers to come up to them and ask them for goodies, and they remained glued to the porch outside the house for a long time.
The trick or treat expedition
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On other occasions I accompanied Manjeet to his Tuesday football game where his team the 'Lentejas de Tejas' roughly translated 'Lentils of Texas', played their first game of the season and won comfortably. We met some of Manjeet's colleagues, Spaniards fortunate to have nice jobs overseas, and another couple with whom we had dinner, and who could have formed a United Nations with Manjeet and Almu, as they were from Serbia and Iran.
Nico and Jito
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By the time two weeks were over the kids had got used to seeing us everyday and we had grown accustomed to their company. So when the time came to take our leave it was hard, but we were also looking forward to our next port of call... 
San Francisco!

More photos from Austin