Monday, March 30, 2015

Europe here I come!

The blog posts are about to get a whole lot more interesting - or at least I think so. I could have written about all of the random touristy, the not at all touristy things that I did in San Francisco, and how I spent my days hour by hour but that's not really allllll that exciting so I've been fairly irregular about by recent additions and photos. However, after a long weekend in New York it's time to head to Paris!

As I mentioned in my last post I had a bit of anxiety about packing and what bag I was going to bring. What does one pack for two months? Known items on the itinerary are a marathon (in less than two weeks, yikes!), whatever my mother has planned in Paris, and a weekend of wine in Bordeaux. Other than that it's all up in the air.

Before I get to the back to vague yet potential details of Europe I'll pause for a note about New York. This was the third annual Carr/Stokes girls trip with my mom, sister, and nieces to New York to see a Broadway show. This time all three of the crazy little gals came and it was such fun. It was also Yatie's 7th birthday so we had to celebrate that everywhere we went. The girls are obsessed with taxis and especially mini-van ones - serious novelty for them. Because of flight delays I missed Friday evening burger eating and didn't get into Manhattan until after midnight. Saturday was spent at the American Girl store (stay very very far away if you haven't been and have young girls in your life!) having breakfast and then three new doll purchases later (Caroline, Grace, and Kaya if you must know the doll names) we went to see Aladdin. At breakfast it came to my attention that I happened to be dressed like on of the dolls! For some women in the store I'm sure they actually would have liked to have done this - definitely not on purpose on my part! As for the Aladdin show - it was fantastic. The Genie and Aladdin actors were fantastic and definitely made the show. I will say Jasmine and the other female characters were not overly impressive. But regardless, it was a wonderful afternoon. The costumes and sets were colorful and sparkly bringing the story to life. 

The haul

Now for the Europe talk. I'm heading out tomorrow night from New York to Paris. I'm hoping that I start feeling a whole lot better than I feel right now - I've had a bout of the flu or food poisoning or something for the last day so I haven't really left the hotel to do all of the various items I had hoped to do today in New York. I'll definitely be hoping to pass out on the plane! 

As much of a planner as I normally am I'm leaving most of the trip up in the air. I have a rough sense of what I'd like to do and see after the Marathon but I'm attempting to be flexible :) I have a return flight from London to San Francisco in June so that is the planned final destination... I'll wander around eating, drinking, and taking lots of pictures until then. With books about France and Italy and my laptop in hand the general itinerary is something like the following:

  • Paris & Paris Marathon (eeeek!)
  • Easter weekend trip to Bordeaux with Yvonne (yaay!)
  • Driving around France - Normandy, Mont Saint Michele, down to the south and potentially ending in Nice, totally vague I know
  • Malta or somewhere equally exotic sounding to me that I have to look it up on Maps to see where it even is
  • Italy for ~2 weeks
  • Southern Spain ~10 days
  • Dublin because I can't resist a few days in the Dubs
  • London

Let's hope I learn a little French over the next few weeks so I'm not totally clueless and a bad American traveler. I might just have to resort to Spanish.

I am quite excited about the strength of the dollar against the Euro these days. If it stays and even gets better I'll be one happy traveler. Before I left my apartment I did dig through my bags of random foreign currency and though it's mostly change I found a 20 Euro note, I was pretty stoked! One exciting moment during my packing.

Once I get to Paris and get settled in I'll try and have post flight post and then there should be lots of pictures and recaps to come. I'm hoping the travel will be uneventful and I've gotten all of the flight delays and illness out of the way this weekend. 

Europe here I come!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Farewell San Francisco, for now

I've been told it's been a while since my last post, and yep, that's true! Not totally sure why it's been so long other than I have been busying myself, took a few trips, and was waiting to consolidate a few things into one before writing another post. I didn't intend to go three weeks, but oh well. I started a post while I was sitting on the floor in the San Francisco airport waiting in line for my once cancelled and twice delayed flight to New York on Friday and didn't finish it so now I'll resume...

Over the past few weeks I've continued to eat, drink, and see some of the San Francisco sights, sat on the beach and enjoyed the sun and heat in Santa Monica, enjoyed relatively rain-free days in Seattle, and started to finally get organized for the second major adventure of this six months - Europe! And yes, for anyone following the coffee research that has continued as well.

Speaking of coffee I think I'm settling on lattes as a potential go-to drink but I'm fairly open to other options. Regular coffee, cappuccino, pour over iced coffee, almond milk latte, flat white, and a few others have been tasted as well.  I'm not sure I'm a fan of the foam on a cappuccino so just the straight milk addition in a latte is much better. With the warm temperatures in SF and Santa Monica I went after iced lattes for a few days, pretty good but usually massive.

On Wednesday I finally went to Sightglass in SOMA - raved about by many in SF and around the corner from my friend Andrea so I thought I needed to check it out. This place is definitely way too hipster for me and it felt a little like a factory but not in a cool industrial way - sweatshop was my first though when I saw people lined up just folding little bags of beans on one side of the place, but I get it that the feel is that they're processing the beans and everything right there. I will say though, the drink I had was really good. Best part about it... it was small :) I haven't a clue of everything that was in it but it was their cold brew with vanilla syrup, milk, fancy ice cubes, and likely a few other things.

I'll continue to taste as I make my way through Europe and see if anything changes and if I have any ability to detect differences between the countries. So far I don't think that I've created a new bad habit so that I'll take as a success.

Moving on from coffee I'll take the focus back on where I ventured over the last few weeks. I spent a fair bit of time in and around San Francisco doing thrilling things like going to the dentist, dealing with getting my taxes done, remembering to pay bills and attempting to set up automatic payments, running 20 miles, and not to mention House of Cards and a new recent addiction of The Great British Bakeoff. While not glued to my couch or dealing with annoying real-life items I did actually see some things!

I went to Filoli, an amazing house and gardens in Woodside, with Leslie-Ann and her new and adorable baby Izzy. We had a lovely wander through all of the blooming tulips, daffodils, and zillions of other flowers. Spring had definitely arrived at Filoli! The house that's part of the estate is beautiful as well - a bit Downton Abbey with the call system from various rooms visible in the kitchen. We followed it up with lunch at Woodside Bakery and Cafe which was an old favorite of mine from Stanford - still just as good with amazing bread these days! For lots of flower pictures check out the album here.

The California Academy of Sciences has been on my San Francisco list for many years. For some reason I'd never been so with a chance at free admission and not loads of people (other than school children) I took a mid-week trip out there. It was fantastic and I'll definitely go back. Even with lots of kids they're all short so even if they're pressed up against the glass I can see over them :) I found that it wasn't as massive as I thought it was going to be so it was much more manageable. My frame of reference of science museums is the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia which is enormous and has many different floors and areas. I spent maybe two hours at the Cal Academy and got to see most everything - I just didn't do the Planetarium or the earthquake simulation. The rain forest with all of the plants, birds, and butterflies was amazing, and then I loved all of the underwater aquarium sections. Lots of pictures are here.

Some time off wouldn't be complete without a trip to Santa Monica. I picked a fantastic weekend to head down there - well fantastic in my mind, but probably not for those who were running the LA Marathon on the Sunday that I was there, because it was ridiculously hot. By chance of luck my mom also happened to be there for the weekend. This was the first time that I'd been down there and actually laid out on the beach and thought that going in the water might be a good idea (I made it mid-shin deep and that was it, definitely still too cold for me). I finally made my way to Manhattan Beach on the Friday I was there while Amy had to work and loved it. For fear of burning myself to a crisp, not wanting to just lay there and sweat all afternoon, and not get stuck in loads of traffic getting back up to Santa Monica I only stayed a few hours but thoroughly enjoyed it. I felt a selfie on the beach was a must...

After a day back in San Francisco I headed for one (likely) last hurrah in Seattle with my friend Lizzie as she finishes up her PhD there and will hopefully find her way back to the Bay Area. We spent our time eating, drinking, and checking out some touristy items that neither of us had done. One day we checked out the Seattle Underground (slightly bizarre but really quite interesting historically) and headed under the water looking at all of the fish and creatures at the Seattle aquarium. A hike followed by Din Tai Fung and lots of episodes of the Great British Bakeoff made up another. The last Din Tai Fung I went to was in Hong Kong so it was my first US experience - people are obsessed with this place! We stuffed our faces very successfully. We hoped to see the tulip blooms north of Seattle but we were a little early so I had to settle for checking out the flowers in Pikes Place Market - a favorite always. Pictures are here.

Following Seattle I was back to San Francisco for a week before heading off for good - well two months worth of good. I crammed a few things in during this last week and also spent much of it debating what I was going to pack for two months and what sized luggage would be appropriate. As good of a packer as I can be I didn't think that I could get everything I wanted into my normal carry-on bag :)

While not having anxiety about packing I finally made it to the Cable Car Museum (awesome for a quick stop in and free), caught the High Style fashion exhibit at the Legion of Honor (beautiful dresses and clothes and a museum I hadn't been to before), got some runs in (including a 20 miler over the Golden Gate Bridge and back to satisfy my need for running the bridge and feel slightly more prepared for this marathon), overly enjoyed an amazing fried chicken sandwich and strawberry shortcake at Bake Sale Betty in Oakland (A-Mazing and totally worth the drive, I might even wait in the normal weekend line for this), and got some French wine tips along with a few bottles of wine at Kermit Lynch (a wine importer in Berkeley). The list of San Francisco and area things to do is still really long but I'm feeling relatively accomplished in what I did get around to doing. When I'm back in June I'll have to see about ticking a few more off! There's an album of random SF things that didn't have enough pictures to make their own album so some of these are in there. Check it out here.

Cable Car Museum - the actual cables that run the 4 lines

Saying good bye and good night to San Francisco & the Bridge
With the time between major adventures nearly wrapped up the European plans are starting to take shape. The bags are packed, since I had to get to New York first, so hopefully I got most of what I'll need til June in. For now I'm headed out to the chilly streets to New York now to see what the city's got for me today! I'll share the NYC weekend re-cap and Europe plans soon. Stay tuned for two months in Europe that are sure to make you jealous :)

Monday, March 9, 2015

Sun lovin' San Francisco

Another week passes by and I don't even feel like I've blinked. I knew March was going to come quickly and now I realize it's going to pass just as fast. Gotta get on my European planning but pretty lazy about it these days. I started writing this on Friday afternoon and had some save issues so I had to write much of it over and then just general procrastination on finishing it didn't help... finally done now.

The weather in San Francisco has been ridiculous. If the east coast is getting hammered and crushed with abnormal freezing temperatures and snow San Francisco is the complete opposite but certainly at an extreme too. The drought continues and it's been beautifully sunny and 60+ every single day. Perfect for wandering around San Francisco and surrounding areas. I was hoping to pop up to Tahoe for some mid-week skiing at some point, but not sure that will happen or be worth it.

If you're wondering the coffee research continues and as I write this I'm having my first iced coffee - to be specific it's an iced pour over. I'm feeling quite fancy. Have I ruined the purity of it by dumping sugar and a splash of milk?? I have not a clue, but it tastes a little better now :) I think I'm leaning towards latte as the winner, but I have more to try so I won't give the full verdict yet. I can say though, the caffeine gives my head the same slightly not all there head feeling that I get after wine or a cocktail. Not sure that's supposed to happen!

Over the last week I knocked a few items off the 'tourist list' and am feeling very accomplished :) Following my trip to Alcatraz I hit up the Point Reyes Lighthouse, wandered the beach at Fort Funston (thanks Candace and Skittles!), discovered that San Francisco has free walking tours, hiked to Alamere Falls near my favorite little beach town of Bolinas, and listened to the Wave Organ down in the Marina. Oh, and of course did a few runs, found a fantastic new masseuse to work out some serious hip and leg tightness, and enjoyed free corporate lunches. 

The Point Reyes Lighthouse and surrounding areas were beautiful as always. The drive through the Point Reyes park out to the lighthouse, and really to any of the places there, is filled with rolling hills, grazing cattle, elk, deer, and then all of a sudden you catch the ocean views. If you want to see the lighthouse it is only open Friday to Monday and I highly recommend Friday or Monday so that it's not crazy crowded. In addition to the lighthouse I checked out Chimney Rock beach lookout area because I heard from the Ranger that the Elephant seals were on the beach there breeding. Nothing like seeing massive elephant seals (we're talking like 4-5k lbs for the males) and then pups (300 lbs at birth) just lounging on the beach. All of the pictures are here

300+ stairs down to the lighthouse

Elephant seals lounging on the beach
Monday I found that San Francisco has a variety of free walking tours through different neighborhoods of the city led by San Francisco City Guides. With nothing on the agenda for the day I thought I'd check out the Chinatown one since I don't know much about it. The tour itself was pretty good, nothing to be wild about, but it did occupy two hours of my morning and I learned a few things. We went into the fortune cookie factory which I'd been to before but it came at just the right time because I was starving so I took advantage of the samples they offer from the cookies that didn't quite make the cut. Another stop was the Tin How Buddhist temple up on the fourth floor of a seemingly normal nondescript building. The inside of the temple was very small but definitely photo worthy, sadly no photos were allowed. It was recently featured in Sunset magazine so you can check it out here.

Next adventure was a hike to Alamere Falls near Bolinas and Point Reyes. It's an uncommon Tidefall where the waterfall itself ends directly into the ocean. Pretty neat to wander or sit on the beach just at the bottom of this waterfall that comes from the cliff above. I headed up for the hike with my friend and fellow person of leisure Greg and we successfully navigated the 9 miles or so. The hike itself is not very difficult, we only didn't know where to go once and it was about 20 feet from the start of the trail. The only tricky part of the hike is when you get to the end and need to navigate down the unstable and slippery sand/rock to the beach. Other than that it's relatively flat and a nice trail. Along the way there are two lakes. One has a rope swing that we could see from the distance - definitely want to head back for a swing off that when the weather is warmer! The best part of the hike was that we started relatively early so there were no other people for most of the time that we were at the end and on the beach. We did run into one seal sunbathing on the sand and some folks horseback riding. I'm sure it gets quite crowded on the weekends so we were lucky. Greg thought I was crazy with my phone, camera, and GoPro but check out the pictures here.

One slightly obscure and random item on my San Francisco list was the Wave Organ down off a jetty in the Marina. This is an installation initially created for the Exploratorium science museum and consists of pipes in the water with one end out on the land so that you can listen to the sounds of the water as it rushes and and out of the pipes. The stone used to build the installation is from an old cemetery in Lauren Heights. Listening was a little awkward as I stuck my head against these large pipes but I could hear some of it. Apparently the best time is high tide which if I read the tide chart correctly was when I was there, but who knows! Even if the sounds were a little underwhelming the 360 degree views of the bridge, Alcatraz and then back to the city were pretty fantastic. The sun was shining so I took advantage and sat for a while because there were only a few other people around.

Enjoying the sun was certainly the theme of the week and weekend! The weather got progressively warmer so Friday, Saturday, and Sunday consisted of a lot of outdoor time eating, drinking, and hanging with friends. Running 16 miles on Saturday wasn't even too bad because the views from Mill Valley to Tiburon were fantastic! The sun looks like it's going to continue for most of the coming week, we'll see! Might get a little rain Wednesday but perhaps I'll finally hit up a museum if that's the case.