shewhomust: (bibendum)
There've been several times in the last few days when I almost posted something here: but what would I post about? The fall-out from the election, the post-election campaigning, has been even more depressing than the election itself, and I'm torn between having altogether too much to say about it, and not wanting to talk about it at all. There is a dentistry crisis: everyone's teeth are fine, thanks, but we are growing weary of the administrative ineptitude of our dentist. This is pretty much resolved, but I'm not in the mood to talk about it. We go on holiday the day after tomorrow (tomorrow, now, due to this post being longer than intended!), and that's a good and happy thing, but also a stressful one: so much still to prepare, I should be ironing, cleaning my boots, checking the weather forecast (which is not so good) instead of dilly dallying on LJ...

So here's a post about last summer in California, behind a cut, because long, and photos! )

The post should end there, but I can resist adding that my notes for the following day begin: "Everyone wants to ask about the Scotland independence vote." Next time you hear from me - internet access permitting - I'll be in a Scotland that's just had another interesting vote. What goes around comes around.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Our first visit to California had been in April. Returning in late summer, driving the same highways, I was disconcerted by the complete change in the vegetation. It can't really have been the total transformation it seemed, I must partly just have been noticing different things. The dense carpet of ice plants, whose neon pink daisies had fascinated me in the spring had not really vanished, but it took me a while to spot their darkened leaves. Everwhere was golden tawny grass, and where had those trees come from? Suddenly I was seeing big, impressive trees: they couldn't have sprung up while we were away.

Then we took the road to Amador County, Gold Rush country, and there's gold in them there hills... The default terrain is gentle curves and folds, covered with golden grass, like the flanks of giant sleeping teddy bears. The most scenic section, early on, was spiked by the occasional dark green tree. Later, on route 49. the hills grew steeper, and the pattern changed. [ profile] durham_rambler made the usual offer: "If there's anywhere you want to stop for a photo-opportunity, just say, and I'll explain why it's impossible." So I have no golden landscapes. Here's a picture from the town of Volcano:

Later, setting off to retrace our route to Sunnyvale, there was thunder and rain - strange, warm rain. The golden fields were luminous under the darkened sky, which evolved into a lingering sunset: a single skeletal tree in a field of gold; a big red sun; a tree on the horizon echoing the shape of a fringed and tattered cloud outlined in light.

But that was later. First we explored Amador County...
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Our friend A. takes the New Yorker, and when she comes across something that she thinks might interest us she rips out a handful of pages and sends them, through the post. Because you can still do this. The most recent of these was this article about the Wayback Machine, the archive of the internet. Which is interesting for what it says about archiving, and link rot, and content drift, but also answers a question I had never thought to ask: where is the Wayback Machine? Its physical presence is not in some anonymous server farm on an industrial estate somewhere, but in a neoclassical building ("We bought it because it matched our logo") in San Francisco's Presidio. If we'd known it was there, we could have paid it a visit on the day we were in San Francisco last autumn. [ profile] desperance, why didn't you tell us? Oh, well, next time. And looking up the location I discovered that the Presidio also has three pieces by Andy Goldsworthy. That, too, next time...

Instead we drove into the city, straight up Highway 1, past the rows of little box houses, all the same size and basic shape, all different pastel shades and every one different in the details - I never get tired of looking at them - and into Golden Gate Park. The Japanese garden was cool and green and full of French people. I asked [ profile] desperance, how big is the garden? and he told me "It's like your intestines: they occupy a small space, but they go on for miles," This is true. We lunched at the Tea House, and drank different kinds of tea. Japanese pancakes turned out to be drop scones, and the ice cream cabinet was decorated with a cute octopus. The Buddha ignored us benignly:

Back at the car park, there was a flurry of little birds underfoot: about the size of starlings, soft grey all over with iridescent blue-green tails and sharp little beaks.

I wanted to go somewhere where we could be tourists and see the Golden Gate bridge from below (instead of just driving over it), so we went to Baker Beach and walked on the hot sand towards the bridge. Allegedly, Baker Beach permits nude bathing, but there was not a lot of bathing going on: plenty of nude standing about hoping to get in people's tourist photographs, though.

We took the scenic route home, with a pause when we hit the coast, to watch the pelicans flying past, and then along Skyline. There was dinner with Yogis, and I don't remember why we were talking about Le Lorrain, but K. told us about the Claude glass or mirror. I hadn't met this before, and had heard the phrase 'black mirror' without recognising the device it describes. K. explains that it's because she comes from Maine that she pronounces it 'cloud mirror', which adds another level of richness to the mix.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
In Saturday's travel supplement, the Guardian's restaurant critic recommends where to eat in San Francisco. [ profile] desperance, your mission is to try all of these before our next visit. Brunch at Verbena is currently top of my list (they have, and I quote, an illuminated wooden pickle wall), but I await your report...

Across the bottom of the page, readers contribute additional recommendations. One of these is for Hamburgers, in Sausalito - "just across the street from the ferry terminal. It’s a tiny place with a line of lunch customers along the sidewalk..." This explains something. My notes from Sausalito (which will be a post of their own when they grow up, but not yet...) remark that the big queue (much longer than the one in the Guardian's photograph) along the street was not for the nice Mexican restaurant where we lunched, but for the burger joint next door. Apparently it's a thing.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
We dined inside a water tower; Mendocino is famous for its water towers, and Flow is located upstairs at the one on Main Street. We brought home with us the remains of a bottle of Atrea Old Soul Red, which is everything the website says.

[ profile] durham_rambler has found a weather forecast, and the rain may be easing off. But I won't tempt fate by saying so.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
We are in Mendocino, and it is raining.

As we set off from the Case Ranch Inn where we had spent a couple of nights, we noticed just a few drops of rain. "Good," we said, "California needs rain."

We followed the Russian River, a pretty drive through forests and vineyards, admiring the way the mist was descending gently over the trees. At Jenner, we had a hazy view of the river estuary as it emptied into the ocean, but from then on - and up - the fog grew denser. What must, to judge fo the gradients and the bends, have been one of the most spectacular sections of the Coastal Highway, had no view at all.

As we drove further north, the mist resolved into rain. At least this gave us slightly better visibility. We took a break at the wonderful Four-Eyed Frog bookshop, who gave us coffee, let us wander around adiring their display of banned books and their collection of frogs - and just may have sold us a book as well.

I was fascinated by the trees which seemed to have grown green beards, and eventually [ profile] durham_rambler found somewhere he coud pull off the road for long enough for me to photograph them:

There may be some raindrops on the lens. Lunch was fish and chips at Lighthouse Pointe, but we didn't make the detour to visit the lighthouse - it was still raining - and so we reached Mendocino. We are staying at the Hill House Inn, which apparently features heavily in Murder, She Wrote (because where else would you film a series set in New England but Mendocino?). We had time for a quick visit to the galleries - and another bookshop - before things closed at five. I liked the Highlight Gallery, a beautiful interior with some very nice things: a wonderful Noah's Ark (with the skunks in their own little boat) and Bonnie Belt's wave ceramics.

We weren't going to let the rain deter us from going out to look at the ocean:

But we didn't stay long, and, once again, raindrops on lens. But it's all good: California needs rain.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
While we were in Woburn, we received an e-mail from [ profile] desperance: "Just another data point," it said. "There's a supplement in the newspaper today about Amador, up in the Sierra Nevada. It's two and a half hours from Sunnyvale, according to the internets - and the Shenandoah Valley has forty-odd wineries, including some of the oldest Zin vines on the planet..." That'd be the San Jose Mercury's 'Eat-Drink-Play' supplement, and I'd link to it, but when I try to go there, I get adware, so take my word for it.

Anyway, I read the supplement. I was pretty much hooked at "hundred-year-old zinfandels" (though the cool kids seem to be moving into barbera), but wine-and-food destination among the Gold Rush towns - that's irresistible. Which is how I come to be writing this on my patio at the Sutter Creek Inn, under the grape arbour. (Ours is the Cellar Room, if you wondered, but don't be put off by the name).

By the time we were installed last night, it was five o'clock: we'd stopped a couple of times en route, and reception was slightly chaotic - we had trouble finding anyone to book us in (it's all twisty garden paths and rustic outbuildings), and then the person we found denied being the housekeeper, and wanted us to be an Irish couple he was expecting... But by five we were ready to go and taste at the only one of the town's nine wineries that we expected still to be open.

Immediately across the road, though, Driven Cellars (who aren't on that list) still had the 'Open' sign up, and made us very welcome, even though it became apparent that they simply hadn't had a chance to take down the signs. The 'driven' name comes from the patriarch's collection of defunct automobiles, and the bright, sunny showroom was decorated with one or two dramatic pieces: a rust-red petrol pump, a radiator grille. It's clearly a family affair, and the woman who served us was relaxed and frindly, assuring us that our late arrival was no problem, and that she thought they should shift their opening times an hour later, anyway. She was dismissive about their white wines, and assured us throughout the tasting that her favourite of the wines was the last one we would taste, the primitivo - and we agreed with her. I was pleased to have tasted zinfandel from hundred-year-old vines, but we bought a bottle of the primitivo.

Back across the road, the doors were still open at Scott Harvey, where they were having a 'Locals' Night'. "Are you local?" asked our server; "Say yes." So we said that we were indeed local, from just two doors down the street, and proceeded to taste our way through a succession of delicious wines. Scott Harvey trained in Germany, and knows that it is possible to make white wine with subtlety and elegance, even in the California climate. His Jana sauvignon blanc (Jana is his wife, and her name goes on the wines made with grapes from Napa) has just a touch of riesling, and lots of rounded fruit - I would not have identified the main grape as sauvignon, there was none of the green vegetable acidity I associate with that grape. Premier Beso is a blend of grapes from Amador (chardonnay, riesling and something called symphony). We also tasted three zinfandels: a 'Jana' old vine, fresh and fruity, a J&S Reserve, spicy and beautifully structured, and a Mountain Selection, big and soft, and I'd probably have liked it better if I hadn't been knocked out by the previous wine. (Our server then produced a barbera, so we could see why people were moving towards this grape, and it was very persuasive. It's not that I don't like barbera, just that in California I want to drink California wines, but the barbera was excellent).

If I were permanently local, I'd be buying these by the case, especially at Local's Night prices, but as it was we restricted ourselves to a couple of bottles. [ profile] desperance, if you're reading, the Premier Beso is recommended with cheese, so if we're doing that cheese crawl...

By now it was eat or fall over, so we went to the Hotel Sutter and ate their signature dish of brussels sprouts frizzler with bacon and served with a lemony mayonnaise (which they call aïoli, but isn't). Back home, we listened to Scotland deciding not to leave the UK, which is good news for the UK, I think, though not necessarily for Scotland. There was a very high turn-out, which suggests that low polls demonstrate that voters are apathetic, not from original sin, but about the choices they are being offered.

Breakfast in ten minutes. Time to go!

ETA: that of the red wines we bought and took back to Sunnyvale for actual drinking, it was the Driven primitivo which really stood out. I hadn't expected that.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
We are arrived chez [ profile] weegoddess and J., fed, slept and caffeinated and reconnected to the networks which we had lost while in transit. All is well. The journey was - well, it was a journey, as they are. But that's another post. This is the post I was writing last time I was online, two days ago now, on the Edinburgh train, starting as the train was sitting on Newcastle station, where we were joined by survivors of the day's Great North Run. I'd thought I would be able to finish and upload it that evening, but was defeated by the hotel's very slow internet. The plan had been that one last post would complete the story of our previous trip to the States, before our next had quite, quite begun. Will the circle be unbroken? As it turns out, yes - indeed, so unbroken that the ends overlap, but here's that post, anyway:

What to do on our last day in California? Something special enough not to leave us wishing we'd made a different choice, because there's no saying 'never mind, we'll do that tomorrow', but something within easy reach of home base: tomorrow would be a long day, and besides, we had a dinner date with [ profile] desperance and [ profile] klwilliams. Luckily, [ profile] sbisson had at some point recommended a visit to the Lick Oservatory on Mount Hamilton: we would do that.

For a start, it's a fine drive up. I remember a sequence of views over the Bay Area, but my notes are all about the wild flowers: there are no pictures, because the prettiest ones grow on the rockiest slopes, above the steepest bends over the sheerest drops. "Tell me when you want to stop for a photo opportunity," says [ profile] durham_rambler, and I'll tell you why I can't." There were the red ones, the ones that might be wallflowers, the ones that probably aren't, the purple buttons and more red one.

Then there were the trees: the very delicate conifers with the enormous cones; and the ones with a growth of something that looked like mistletoe, sometimes a loose tangle on frail lichened branches, sometimes a dark mass, teardrop-shaped like a swarm of bees among the green leaves; and the one with pink leaves - or flowers - or catkins.

So we would have thought the drive worthwhile if there had been nothing to do at the top but admire the view. In fact, although the place seemed deserted, there was an interesting display in the secondary space (I don't seem to have noted any of the names and facts; I am a bad reporter), and we nosed around the complex and admired the white buildings and the blue sky. But just as we were about to say 'well, that was fun,' and go home, [ profile] durham_rambler saw a lady about to enter the building, and since he has no shame he asked her "Is the Observatory open to visitors today?" (which it quite obviously wasn't). And since she was a kind person with an evident zeal for teaching (she turned out to be Mrs Lotus Baker, pictured here among the former staff of the Observtory) almost a soon as she had said no, it wasn't, she invited us in and showed us around anyway.

So here is the great telescope, discoverer of several moons of Jupiter, in all the panelled glory of its nineteenth century gallery - a suitably steampunk note to round off a steampunk wedding adventure.

After which we came down the mountain and landed in a thrift shop in Alum Rock: where I bought a book with Maurice Sendak illustrations, one of Ann Cleeves's early mysteries (which I read on the flight home) and Carson McCullers The Member of the Wedding (because [ profile] klwilliams had been telling me what a good and important book it is. A good haul, and followed by a good dinner with good friends (at an Afghan restaurant, as I recall), a good end to our trip.

And now, here we are again...
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Continuing my attempt to complete writing up our last visit to the States before we set off on the next one, I was encouraged by finding the notebook: no, I don't write these posts completely from memory, I have a notebook and a camera.

The notebook tells me that we spent St. George's day in San Francisco, but all it has to say about it is that Russian Hill smells of jasmine, and that a sudden thicket of rosemary comes as a relief. So this will be a picture-heavy post. Think of it as a sequence of postcards. Behind a cut, because pictures. And heavy. )
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Cayucos was the most southerly point of our trip; after our day in Paso Robles, it was time to head north again, back to Sunnyvale. Back up route 101, which doesn't sound very romantic, but turns out to be El Camino Real, the Royal Road along which the Spanish missionaries settled California, building a chain of missions from San Diego in the south to Sonoma in the north (according to Wikipedia: who also provide this rather pleasing map). I'm a sucker for historic routes, roads with names, so this made me happy.

We had less than 200 miles to go, so there was time to make a stop en route and look around: we'd barely set out before we came to San Miguel, with its mission of San Miguel Arcangel. Where else? We must have approached from the wrong side, because we parked by a high wall, with no obvious entry point, and at first thought we would see no more than the wall, the surrounding spiky plants, all dominated by a bell tower - which turned out not to be as historic as all that, built in memory of a former superior of the mission killed in the second world war... Still, we said, might as well complete the circuit, and had almost closed the loop when we came to the gate:

It's one of those magical gateways: passing through it changes your whole perspective on the world: inside is a garden with a fountain, and waterlilies in bloom, a museum, a church, and we took our time admiring them all. I loved the details of life at the mission, and I loved, too, the many-coloured paintwork of the church. The interior frescoes are original, and it seemed impossible that the delicate work could have survived from when the church was first built in - when was it? - ah, yes, 1821. Not so impossible, then. I continually stub my toe on how comparatively recent California's historic buildings are, even the earliest of them - and this one had a simplicity which could have been much older.

A cluster of restaurants line the road beyond the mission, and we walked up and down it, scrutinising each in turn, before settling for The Country Diner: tiny, brightly coloured, friendly. Having established that we were English, the owner told us all about some previous English customers (as far as I can recall, a school trip from one of the public schools*).

Back on the highway, and an easy, if not very interesting drive through the agricultural flatlands. Further north the terrain became more hilly, and we made a couple of brief stops. The first was a rather splendid rest area, with an information board explaining about the local ecology: purple needlegrass, it said, is the Official California State Grass, and the saber-tooth cat (smilodon californicus) is the Official State Fossil. The second was just an excuse to look at the scenery, and to boggle at the pine cones fallen by the road side - one was larger than a pineapple.

And back to our hotel in Sunnyvale, still on the Camino - and here's how I know:

ETA: Having found the relevant notebook, I can confirm that it was Oakham School.
shewhomust: (mamoulian)
  • Premysl Fojtu Photography posts photos from Orkney on FaceBook.

  • 'Enterprise Magazine': the car hire company encourages you to drive to places worth seeing with View Finders: here's somewhere to visit in San Francisco.

  • The Guardian had a supplement about Georgia: one of those paid-for sections which try to look like editorial, but are really advertising. I regard them with deep suspicion, and throw them away unread. This one had an ad on the back page for the Georgian national tourist office. We spent a few days in Georgia thirty years ago, and I have good memories of it, but so much has happened since then, it hadn't occurred to me it was somewhere you could still visit. Perhaps it isn't, I wouldn't take the word of an advertorial supplement for it. Still, pretty pictures. And more on Pinterest.

  • What we dug up on our summer holiday: a gold hair ornament from the copper age (I hadn't met the term 'copper age' before)

  • Megapenguin fossils!
shewhomust: (dandelion)
It's been an odd, disjointed sort of day, with trivial things refusing to work out as they should - as a result of which I am sitting at my desk in the half-light, on not my preferred desk chair. So this won't be a long post, and it won't be about today - time to cheer myself up with some of last year's California sunshine.

From Monterey we drove south along the coast to San Simeon, where we spent the night at a hotel right on the coast. We watched the sun set into the ocean in the classic fashion and then ate in the restaurant - about which I can remember nothing but the child wearing a hat in the shape of a pizza (isn't the internet a wonderful place? here it is!).

Morning was whale patrol time. On the way down to breakfast, [ profile] durham_rambler saw a possible spout.

Before we drove away, we paid one last visit to our lookout oint, and arrived just in time to see a long line of pelicans fly past and resolve into a V-shaped skein - but no whales. "Never mind," I said. "I'd rather have the pelicans." " - And here they are again," said [ profile] durham_rambler. Even so, I wasn't quick enough with the camera, so here are some we saw later:

Pelican flypast

Then we drove off to Hearst Castle - more about that when I have sorted through the many, many photos I took there.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
Something more cheerful than my last post: continuing our travels in California last spring. It wouldn't have occurred to me to visit an aquarium, but the one in Monterey was enthusiastically recommended to us by a variety of people, none of whom are hardened aquarium visitors. So we booked ourselves an overnight in Monterey, at the Clarion Hotel, up a long hill from the waterfront but very comfortable, with swimming pool. They offered a two day ticket to the aquarium for the price of a single day, and armed with this we split our visit in two, with a preliminary sortie in the late afternoon, and a more thorough exploration the following morning - a very successful strategy. And did we see anything? Yes, wonderful things:


- which is why most of this post is pictures. )
shewhomust: (dandelion)
At last the snow has all gone, and today was bright and sunny and very cold. I'm thinking back to last spring in California: time to resume the much delayed travelogue. After our day in Santa Cruz, we left Sunnyvale to explore a little further afield - and our first stop was Santa Cruz. I wanted to visit the Bonny Doon winery - indeed, this had been a major incentive to visit California. Plan A had been to visit as my birthday treat, and maybe even eat at their Cigare Volant, but we were too early in the season, it didn't work out (and now it seems it never will, as the restaurant has closed).

Once upon a time, I suppose, you could taste Bonny Doon at the winery itself, but now they are located on a commercial estate, tucked in behind the ethical supermarket near the lighthouse. We arrived in Santa Cruz early, before the tasting rooms were open, and had time to walk down to the ocean, to discover that the lighthouse was a surfing museum, and to explore the supermarket thoroughly, before getting down to serious business.

DecantingWe stepped inside a vast hangar, the space broken up by screens, small tables and a long bar, with the iconic 'cigare volant' suspended above us: "That," said [ profile] durham_rambler, "is what I call steampunk."

There was a choice of tasting menus, and we opted for the "reserve flight", the more expensive wines, on the basis that this was how we got to taste wines which were otherwise out of our reach. They were delicious, and I don't know why I don't have tasting notes - except that we were enjoying the wine, and talking about it to our nice server. I love Bonny Doon's presentation, their beautiful labels and their bad puns - reassuring to be reminded that they make delicious wines as well.

We lunched at Bonny Doon on a selection of 'small plates': smoked fingerling potatoes smoked with aïoli; shredded pork with artichoke relish and steamed rolls (the rolls were good crusty white rolls, which wasn't as exciting as it had sounded, but the relish was delicious, the flesh of the artichoke lightly pickled - high risk, I thought, letting vinegar so near their wine, but it worked just fine - and the petals crisply fried). Our nice server said: "I'd like your opinion of this, if you wouldn't mind," and poured me a taste of the wine formerly known as Clos de Gilroy, which was both flattering and generous. We'd had Clos de Gilroy in the past, when the grapes really were sourced from Gilroy - which is no longer the caser, hence its name. It's a fruity grenache wine, and the truth is that it was rather overshadowed by the Rhône-style wines we'd been tasting.

Our mission accomplished, we set off south down Highway 1 (to which nothing compares except of course Iceland's Route 1).
shewhomust: (bibendum)
I liked Santa Cruz. I liked it so much that we went there twice, two days running. We hadn't intended to, but things we had planned didn't quite fit together. and in the end we made two separate trips: it was no hardship.

To the sea!

The first was my birthday excursion, and we were accompanied by [ profile] desperance. One of the bits of plan that didn't work out was that we had hoped to see his friends Mike and Paula, formerly of London but now of Santa Cruz. That would have been a bonus, but I was quite happy to stroll through the sunshine and admire the shops and the murals. Then we found the Santa Cruz Bookshop, and I was more than happy: I found the books I hadn't been able to buy in Borderlands, and more besides.

Although Mike and Paula weren't able to join us for lunch, Mike recommended a restaurant: so we ate Middle Eastern in the courtyard at Laili (warning: slow-loading website plays music). We shared flatbread (which they called naan), dipping it in herbs, chopped vegetables, oil. My starter was the Silk Road plate: minty tzatziki, tabbouleh, hummus stained bright yellow with saffron and baba ghanoush (which was good, but not as good as that served at Dish'n'Dash across the road from our hotel. This was not automatically served with bread, but when we asked for bread it was supplied promptly. Since the spinach salad was my main course, I took the option of adding chicken, which was tasty but unnecessary: the pile of spinach leaves was already enlivened with slivers of pink pickled onion, candied walnuts and haloumi. Only [ profile] durham_rambler was tempted by dessert, a cardamom-pistachio ice cream so thickly studded with pistachios that it was difficult to force a spoon through it (but we all managedm even [ profile] desperance, who does not do ice cream). We drank white wine from Sarah's Vineyard, billed on the menu as grenache/viognier: this turned out to be there Côteaux de la Madonne. When we tasted it at the vineyard, I had thought that the viognier was masked by the marsanne and roussanne in the blend; here, served colder, the viognier was more apparent, but as it warmed up a more unctuous quality emerged, which was interesting, and I was very content with my choice.

The smarter part of Santa Cruz lies well back from the sea front. We walked (which was a mistake) to the sea, to the Boardwalk, which is seaside as Whitley Bay or Southend is seaside. But if you make your way along the Wharf (which is what I think of as the Pier) past the fish and chip shops and the gaudy souvenirs, down at the far end there's a patch of sea which is all splashing and thrashing and barking: and that's the sea lions, a great raft of them tumbling and jostling and generally having a rowdy good time. And just as I was explaining to [ profile] desperance that while I was sorry that we hadn't been able to see Mike, actually, the sea lions were better, two pelicans flew past. So as far as I am concerned, the day was, in its unscheduled way, a success.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
When I was little, both my parents were teachers. In those days, teachers weren't as well paid as they are now, but they were free to enjoy the long holidays without preofessional commitments. So as soon as the summer term ended, they would fill the car with children and camping equipment and head for the cross-channel ferry. Those were the holidays which shaped my understanding of the word: it's a long time since I've been camping, but I still assume that a holiday is as leisurely as I can make it, and the further I travel, the longer I want to spend at my destination. In theory I know that the speed and relative cheapness of air travel makes short breaks in distant places available, especially to people who are richer in money than in time, but applications of this take me by surprise every time. Which is a long run up to saying that I was surprised how many people, when we told them we were going to California, did not say "Oh, wow, California!" but "Oh, San Francisco is my favourite city." Surprised how many people had been there, and surprised at the extent to which it is All About The City.

Not that we didn't want to visit San Francisco, of course. And the day after we visited Gilroy, we left the car at the train station and took the Caltrain into town. The city welcomes you with a huge and very stylish mural, just before you arrive: there's a picture of it here and another here, though I can't find any information about it.

We had two aims for our first day in town; the first was to walk about and orient ourselves, the second was to visit Borderlands bookshop. I may have been unduly influenced by the guidebook which talked about the smallness and compactness of the city, but we found a tourist office which provided us with a sheaf of suggested walks, and wandered along quite happily, looking at interesting buildings where people we'd never heard of had done things, and enjoying the sunshine - it had been raining earlier in the week, but Thursday morning was bright. It was fine enough for us to lunch outdoors, in a café whose tables spread across Maiden Lane; I had a Greek salad and observed that in San Francisco even the olives were stoned (so I must have been in a silly, holiday mood).

Dolores Park

Getting to Borderlands took longer than I had expected, and I was disappointed that they didn't have either of the books I had promised myself I would buy there. No big deal: these were books I had held off ordering from Amazon for the sheer pleasure of shopping for them in a bookshop I'd heard so much about, I managed to find something else I wanted, the staff chatted very pleasantly about why they didn't have my books (I suspect that YA fantasy doesn't qualify), and I found the books in the Santa Cruz bookshop a few days later. And the trip was worth it if only because the bus dropped us at the bottom of Dolores Park, and we climbed up to this magical view at the top (why yes, it was by now beginning to drizzle).

We shopped at the Ferry Building for a picnic supper; I may have gone a little crazy at the Cowgirl Creamery. From the train, we phoned [ profile] desperance and [ profile] klwilliams: "We have cheese -" "You have cheese? Come on over - we have wine!" [ profile] frumpo and H. were there, and by now everyone was ready for a little cheese and wine - except H., who was asleep - and we nibbled and listened to the rain crashing down and the thunder rolling, and tried not to think about an outdoor wedding due to take place the day after tomorrow.

It was a truly exceptional thunderstorm - [ profile] athenais linked to this photo of lightning on the Golden Gate Bridge. But it was not so much an omen as one grand clearing of the air, because the next day and thoser that followed were bright and clean and sunny.

Pictures of San Francisco
shewhomust: (Default)
Cornwall is famous for - and rather smug about - the mildness of its climate, and I knew I would see plants there which won't grow here in the north-east. I was still disconcerted by the golden California poppies nodding over the wall of the garden at the end of our lane - and that the ice plants which carpet (and stabilise) the verges of California highways are known here as Hottentot fig, and regarded as an invasive nuisance.

Wall pennywortSome of the wild flowers were completely unfamiliar. I was particularly entranced by wall pennywort - also known, it says here, as Navelwort, Dimplewort, Maid-in-the-mist, Pennypies, Penny-grass, Venus'-navel, Wallwort - and took very many pictures of it, in all sizes from tiny to over a foot high. This one was taken at St. Mawes castle, and the circle in the stonework is sone three or four inches across.

However much you may think you are accustomed to the dawn chorus, it still comes as a surprise when the seagulls join in.
shewhomust: (puffin)
I blame [ profile] ursulav. She's home from a birding trip and she's seen huge numbers of birds, among the least interesting of which, mentioned only in passing, were rhino auklets. How could I not google something called a rhino auklet?

It turns out - you could see this coming - that the rhinoceros auklet (photo) is a kind of puffin. I already knew that the familiar Atlantic puffin, fratercula arctica, is not the only puffin. The internet is full of pictures of puffins with extravagant eyebrows or strange bulbous beaks, which are not just the funny looking kids (as we doctors call them) of the Atlantic puffin, they are different kinds of puffin entirely, tufted and horned varieties of puffin. But how does an auklet, even a rhino auklet, get to be a puffin? Shouldn't it be an auklet? Or indeed an auk?

The Wikipedia article on auks doesn't actually explain what is going on, but it does at least set the mystery out clearly: auklets and puffins are two tribes of the same subfamily of auks (the rhinos have simply moved in with the family next door). Auklets should not be confused with little auks (alarmingly cute little black and white numbers, whose Latin name is Alle Alle); nor indeed with Great Auks, which are extinct (we have seen the monument on Papa Westray to the Great Auk, but that's another story). Little and great auks are mixed up with the guillemots, which I am trying not to (not even the wonderful spectacled guillemot).

Dragging myself away from the guillemots, I fell among murrelets. The marbled murrelet nests up trees, if it can find them (though "ts habit of nesting in trees was suspected but not documented until a tree-climber found a chick in 1974 making it one of the last North American bird species to have its nest described.") The ancient murrelet is so called because its hair - I beg its pardon, its head feathers are streaked with white (photo: note the absence of long grey beard and glittering eye). It lays its eggs in burrows, but the young are taken out to sea within a few days of hatching. The ancient murrelet lives in the North Pacific, but in spring 1990 one was blown far enough off-course that it ended up on Lundy (Wikipedia repeats the story that the same bird returned to Lundy the following spring, but quite reasonably feels that citation is needed).

Meanwhile, in California,Ano Nuevo Island has become so eroded that rhino auklets which nest there risk their burrows crumbling away midseason. So conservationists have been installing artificial burrows - and since plastic isn't durable enough, they have involved ceramics students from the California College of the Arts (video).

Finally, just one more baby bird photo (no, I have no idea what it is).

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