Links on this page: Oregon : Seattle : Bend : California : St Helens : San Francisco
In the early eighties, my first wife and I went to stay with some friends in Eugene for a few weeks. At the time, we had a couple of English Setters - later we bred them and our pack enlarged to four - and the friends were also setter-mad. We went to a couple of dog shows whilst we were out there.
The biggest culture shock was probably the food. Breakfast often comprised sweet waffles with bacon and maple syrup and a chicken dinner might be accompanied by strawberry jam. Portions were huge by British standards, especially in fast-food emporiums. I particularly enjoyed TGIF (Thank God it's Friday) and the Hard Rock cafe.
I was also struck by the number of American flags proudly on display in citizens' front gardens. In England, flags hanging outside usually herald an international football match.
We went to Seattle for a day, and on the journey, I was struck by how slowly everyone drove, with a largely-observed fifty-five mph speed limit. My memories of Seattle were of multi-lane overpasses and of drizzle.
We also drove to Bend a couple of times, and the views on the journey were spectacular.
We also went south to California, and one of the highlights of the trip was the magnificent redwoods - some of the biggest trees on the planet. We actually drove through one huge old tree. On the way through the forest, we popped into a shop where I saw a really nice wall water feature, featuring copper channels slowly channeling water down the wall. I still regret not buying it.
We travelled down the Big Sur coastal highway, with its superb views of the California coast. The sea looked wild and beautiful, but I gather the water temperature is always very low, so wet suits are advisable.
St Helens last erupted in 1980, creating the largest landslide in recorded history and killing fifty-seven people. The marks were still very much visible. The almost-lunar landscape reminded me of the Vestmann Islands off Iceland I had visited in 1970, again shortly after an eruption. Vegetation and animal life were just starting to return, but it will be many years until the scars heal.
I visited San Francisco in 1989. I only had eleven hours in transit, so determined to make the most of them.
The full journey? I went from London to Bangladesh for two weeks work, to Thailand for a week's holiday, transited Japan (but didn't have time to leave the airport), visited Miami for five hours, then went to San Francisco, and on to Ecuador for another two weeks work and back via Miami again. It's a hard life...
I took a taxi from the airport into town, and on the way saw collapsed bridges and freeways and Candlestick Park stadium, damaged by an earthquake that October. I also had my first view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
I wandered along the coastline and saw the famous wiggly road, also known as Lombard Street, which has featured in so many films, and the sea-lions which seemed to have taken over pier 37 at Fisherman's Wharf.
I took a tram over the switch-backed Nob Hill and stopped for a magnificent steak, accompanied by a glass of Californian red wine.I didn't have time to visit the brooding Alcatraz Island, the former federal prison, but still thought I'd spent my brief time pretty productively, as I took a taxi back to the airport, to continue my anti-clockwise global circumnavigation.
Twenty years later, I was asked to go to a conference in San Francisco, and jumped at the chance.
I was asked to attend it at the last minute, so to keep the cost of the flights down, I had to fly out via Minneapolis on North-Western (A330-300) and back via Amsterdam on KLM (MD-11).
The seats for the trans-Atlantic legs were vastly more comfortable than I remember from my previous travels in the eighties.
Minneapolis looked very cold, and I had a lot of time to spare as my connection was delayed due to torrential rain in San Francisco.
I got the BART train from the airport to the hotel.
I arrived at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco at 5 Embarcadero Center around midnight.
The room was large and comfortable, but I only slept for a couple of hours. This sleep-pattern was unfortunately the norm for the entire trip.
The journey to the conference was very short – just down ten floors in fact.
VSLive! 2009 was aimed at Visual Studio .NET developers, and I found it very interesting. I've already started reaping the benefits at work.
There were a lot of things to see and I took a few random snaps.
There were cablecar and streetcar rounds right by the hotel, and my colleague Spero and I tried to see as much of the city as possible after the sessions.
I went to Lombard Street by cablecar, then walked to Pier 37 at Fisherman's Wharf (very touristy) and took a streetcar back to the hotel.
Overall, we walked a lot, much to Spero's displeasure.
From the Embarcadero near the hotel, we could see the double-decker Bay Bridge, which I gather has six lanes on each deck.
I wanted to locate a copy of a game I discovered recently, Sorry! Sliders, so googled for local game shops. The nearest shop I found was Jeffrey's Toys, 685 Market St CA 94105. Amongst the toys, models and miniatures, there was a cornucopia of games, many of which were old favourites. I bought Sorry! Sliders and 10 Days in USA, but also saw Munchkin Quest. I've owned the Munchkin card game for years, and have enjoyed the few games I've played. Munchkin Quest was fifty dollars though (and heavy), so reluctantly left it (but see Pasteboard and Plastic VIII).
We had some interesting meals during the trip. The most notable were John's Grill, Lori's Diner and a Chinese restaurant, Hunan Home's Restaurant at 622 Jackson St.
On Monday we went to John's Grill, which has links with the Maltese Falcon.
I had a huge porterhouse steak and a nice glass of wine, preceded by their speciality cocktail, a "Bloody Brigid", which was named by the California Historical Society. It comprised sweet & sour, vodka, soda, special mix, lime and grenadine over crushed ice and I was given the glass as a souvenir. The meal was not cheap, but it was very good.
Lori's Diner was interesting too, and we went on Wednesday, combined with a shopping trip – window-shopping on my part, and serious shopping on Spero's.
I had a Big Bopper burger and an Oreo Cookie milkshake – very rich but not very diabetic-friendly.
The atmosphere was great – just like being in an episode of Friends or Happy Days.
On the way back, we saw a fire appliance attending what was luckily a false alarm, which with two people steering, was an amazing sight.
At Hunan Home's Restaurant, which we frequented on Tuesday and Friday, I particularly enjoyed the Chicken with Orange Peel with egg-fried rice and a glass of hot sake.
I was also fascinated with the marine tropical fish!
On Thursday, we ate at the hotel, and I had burger and chips with a nice glass of Michael Mondavi Chapel wine.
On Friday, we went on the Alcatraz night tour, which I pre-booked before leaving UK at £24.
We left from Pier 33 for the short crossing to Alcatraz Island, which we circled before disembarking.
The derelict buildings we saw from the boat set the tone for this moving and poignant experience.
After disembarking, we were ushered up the hill with an interesting commentary from the enthusiastic guide.
We were given a pair of headphones for the self-guided audio tour round the cells.
I particularly liked the talk about the escape in 1962, and the cell demonstration.
I found the hospital wing particularly moving.
The tour was very interesting, but the time rushed past, and I just had time during the tour to snap the sunset over Golden Gate Bridge (which I've never seen up close) before taking the boat back for the twelve-minute trip back to Pier 33.
We then walked to Hunan's for a meal and walked back to the hotel.
On Saturday, we wandered around Ferry Building Marketplace looking at the goods at the Farmer's Organic Market before having breakfast at the Market Bar – pancakes with bacon and maple syrup with cups of coffee.
I then had time for a quick glance at the San Francisco Railway Museum.
The museum was small and not really worth going out of your way for, but the web site is a mine of information.
I would have liked to visit the Cablecar Museum, but time did not permit, as I had to rush for the BART train, and a long trip home.
Here are a couple of useful links: The historic streetcars of the F-line fleet and The San Francisco Cable Car Website.
: : © Mike Bliss 2011