Motorhome News from North America 7


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North America » United States » California » Arcata
March 31st 2006
Published: April 1st 2006EDIT THIS ENTRY

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San Francisco City Hall
Motorhome News from North America 7

San Francisco.
March 17th - 27th 2006

Where’s Winnie?

And so we came to San Francisco, where it’s easy to get lost in the crowd - where you can truly be whatever you want to be, and nobody cares. And we did it again; despite what it said in the good travel book, the St Patrick’s Day parade was last week! “Never mind, there’s a parade or a protest for something every weekend,” our neighbour on the campsite assured us. This weeks’ noisy affair out front of City Hall was mostly about ‘Our troops out of Iraq’ and the double-act of the century, Bush and Blair. OK, some of the protesters were leftovers from the last ‘Ban the Bomb’ march, but there were also young moms and dads with their kids waving ‘Stop the War’ on Pooh-Bear banners. We shared a table over lunch with Mary Jane, a lady from Massachusetts, who told us the protest hit the world news. Did you see us on the tele?

It’s OK to talk to yourself in San Francisco, be stoned at three in the afternoon, sing as though nobody’s listening, dress in drag, skate-board down the sidewalk, take tea in the Garden Court of the Sheraton Palace, ogle at the globe in the atrium of the Hyatt Regency, sail your yacht across the Bay or hang on to the rail on the cable-car as it speeds down Powell Street. There’s a house at the top of the hill on the market for a new record $65m, a handful of down-and-outs on the sidewalk, the Golden Gate Bridge still looks good in its red-oxide primer, the seafood at Cioppino’s on the Wharf is exceptional and the chocolates at Ghirardelli’s, truly scrumptious - we managed three free samples by going in and out of different doors and then into the coffee shop for a mid-morning break. The Fisherman’s Wharf I remember from 1986 is no longer there; or if it is, it's changed beyond my memory and we didn’t find it! Alcatraz Island has floated a bit nearer, or so it seemed, so maybe the memory has gone or just faded with time. You know you are getting old-er when you forget things - or a young lady gives up her seat for you on the bus. Yes, it happened in San Francisco, but I
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The Golden Gate
don’t feel bad about it.

It’s the stunning architecture that makes this city so special. Lively rows of pastel timbered Victorian houses rise and dive on steep inclines chasing clanging tramcars, high-rise hotels and banks crowd the sky-line, Chinese shops cram hectic narrow streets with colourful lanterns, chirping crickets and carved ivory, and stately houses of quaintly English origin crown the hills. San Francisco is a neat and compact city, bordered by water and green rolling hills where suburbia nestles peacefully, hidden in verdant valleys away from the bustle of tourists and conference-goers.

Californian’s like to believe they lead the world, or so we’ve been told. On the campsites they’re all up bright-and-early in the morning trying to keep pace with the rest of the USA, taking their coffee mug for a walk, holding the dog’s lead and pooper bag in the other hand, riding their bikes on the cycle track in all the latest gear, or jogging in the park in their vests and gloves. The fact is, they’re already four hours behind New Yorkers - and eight hours behind most of Europe. The British have done a full day’s work before California gets out of bed!
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Looking out towards Alcatras
For all of that, we have been made to feel very welcome here in California, with friendly greetings and big smiles from everyone. ‘Where are you guys from?’ they all ask whenever we engage in conversation - with our ‘quaint’ accent. A surprising number have visited the UK - Whitby and Weymouth, London and Liverpool, Amersham and Andover - and we get the full family history. ‘Grandma sold the farm in Surrey,’ ‘Mother came to Massachusetts when she was six years old,’ and, best of all - ‘Oliver Cromwell gave some land to my ancestors’- believe that one if you will.

Our complaints department has recently received several messages from readers wanting news of Winnie, our motorhome, on the grounds that there have been no pictures on the blog to date. The Editor apologises profusely for the oversight and offers a few snaps herewith along with a brief report of current affairs of a motoring nature. The V10 continues to climb anything we throw at it, the heating system is truly wonderful, the slide-out gives us the luxury of extra living space and the shower works fine - so we’re mobile, warm, comfortable and clean! Whilst the central heating
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The words are not invented yet
comes on for a while each morning and we do all our cooking and water heating by gas, we have only used about twenty gallons of LPG in ten weeks - at around $2.00 a US gallon. Since our affair with extremely hot weather in Arizona we’ve not needed the air conditioning or the generator to charge our batteries. (The genny has only done some 25 hours since new) It’s useful when on a site without electricity for a few days: to use the microwave to heat up cold coffee or defrost the chicken, but we manage to charge camera batteries and run the PC with the help of an inverter purchased from Radio Shack for a few dollars.

Summer may follow this rainy Californian spring eventually and we’ll then get the chance to try the outside shower and entertainment centre at the beach! The clock struck 25,000 miles last week and we celebrated with a full service check at the local Ford dealer in lovely Half Moon Bay whilst we tried out the full-works breakfast at the local café and sent the last blog by Wi-fi from the library. Looking for records and tips from others travelling across the USA at the library, we asked Google to search for ‘Motorhoming in North America’ and at the top of the list was,…..wait for it……… ‘Motorhome News from North America’ - featuring Janice and David! We had read all that before.

Winnie took us north from the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin County, a land of fairy tale round-topped hills, of wild flowers, pretty towns and contented cattle, to the giant redwoods of Muir Woods and along the route of the San Andreas fault to Point Reyes Peninsula, now 18ft further west since the 1906 earthquake, we're told. Point Reyes juts into the sea in the manner of Portland Bill, on narrow farmland roads to remote sandy beaches stretching to a horizon lost in the spray of rolling waves. California poppies cover the dunes in great swathes beyond Abbott’s Lagoon; and we are left to dream of the spectacle in a few weeks when they come into full bloom along this scintillating stretch of beach. Sunshine followed us from San Francisco as the calendar turned to spring, for two days of fabulous walking, birding and whale watching along this lovely lonely coast.

We camped for two nights amongst the giant redwoods of Samuel P Taylor State Park a few miles inland. The Park’s redwoods are as high as the sky - we walked in the morning under the vast canopy of trees beside tumbling streams in a deep green haven of delicate ferns and moss, bedraggled lichen, like an old man’s beard, hanging from tanbark oak, maple trees and hazel bursting into bud, fallen bay-leaves underfoot and huckleberry and thimbleberry, leopard lilies, trilliums and dusty blue forget-me-nots lurking in the shady undergrowth.

Vultures follow us wherever we go, circling overhead like guardian angels. (that’s positive thinking!) Along with red-tailed hawks there is always one above the horizon somewhere and sleeping whilst sunbathing is not to be recommended. Many resident birds are pairing up for their summer duties; red-winged blackbirds are showing off their epaulets whilst singing a disjointed mimic of a squeaky door, male California quails on little clockwork legs are rounding up their harems - and we saw a pair of white-tailed kites tumbling together in a romantic aerial dance. The subject of savannah sparrows and spring antics came up in conversation with a lady ornithologist met at Chimney Rock on Drakes Bay. “Did you see them mating?” she asked. “We thought that was what they were doing,” I replied. “But we’re English you know - we looked the other way.” Another Englishman, Francis Drake, is said to have landed here back in 1579 when he likened the chalk cliffs of the bay to the white cliffs of Dover. As we all know, there are no bluebirds in England and my logic suggests these must be the white cliffs that Vera Lynn sang about.

Four-way stops are a feature of grid roadways throughout the United States, often popping up in the most surprising of places. Every vehicle must come to a complete halt before taking its turn to move forwards. It does work, it certainly slows the traffic and, so far, politeness and patience have prevailed. I can see how confusing our roundabouts must seem to some US visitors, but they wouldn’t work here. Policing is very visible, with Police and Sheriff vehicles everywhere, in addition to the numerous Park Rangers in Boy Scout’s hats in their big 4 X 4’s. Whilst it’s often rather damp, it is warm enough for Traffic Cops to be in ‘shirt-sleeve order’, here already, riding their standard issue black Harley Davidsons in smartly pressed short-sleeved blue shirts. We feel pretty safe under the stewardship of Arnold Schwarzenegger, California’s Governor. He hasn’t made himself known to us as yet, but he’ll doubtless surprise us before we leave the State in a few days time.

No visit to California can be complete without at least a taste of wine country and to put this right, we headed inland to take a look and a taste of course - southwards on the road through the wide Sonoma Valley, a twenty-mile stretch of small vineyards in a tranquil setting between shallow wooded hills. Where France, Spain and Italy would have vast mountainsides of vines, those here grow on the flat valley floor; drab vines right now in winter garb, laid out with military precision amongst bright mustard, another area speciality, and an eclectic mix of homesteads trying hard to look like - France, Italy and New England, the result of a complex weave of history. The road turns west for a few miles at the bottom into Napa Valley, the home of California’s superior wine producers; where grapes grow on neatly trimmed vines in the many small vineyards on the south - north valley. Agricultural land here is $1m an acre, but it does have what it takes to grow a few good grapes. On a damp morning unfit for walking, we stuck a few pins in the map and headed out for a day of ‘wine tasting’ (it’s what the tourists come here for), selecting just five to visit from the sixty or more in the valley. Any more than five would be termed a binge wouldn’t it? Unable to decide on a common theme ‘a la Europe’, the Napa’s produce Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Port, Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Chardonnay amongst others, all side-by-side! By sharing our ‘samples’ we managed to complete the circuit of wineries before we reached the driving limit. “Folie a Deux” was our most enjoyable tasting, with a full ‘flight’ of six samples from $18 - $50 a bottle. Others visited were Sutter Home, V. Sattui - with an incredible deli where we loaded up with European cheeses - Rutherford Hill, and Bellinger with its lovely ‘chateau’, where we bought the vineyard! One we missed was Louis M Martini, a very good friend of a friend of mine I think, but we now have wine enough for a few weeks.

A lazy sober afternoon found us window-shopping half way up the valley in downtown St Helena with its upscale shops full of fine wines at fine prices, adorable Italian china and glass, French couture aplenty to crease your credit card, classic-shoe shops for pointed feet, speciality olive oils to show off in the kitchen, realtors taking their cut, jewellers of course, galleries, numerous nail salons (what else does a lady in Napa do with her day?), antiques - and inviting restaurants galore. Something tells me we’re slowing down at last, but still not quite slow enough to join in the spas and mud baths for couples.

By all reports this winter has been exceptionally wet along the west coast - all the way up to British Columbia. The weather report in the local paper forecast showery weather for the next few days - and a few earth tremors. There was a tremor at 3am last Saturday morning apparently, but the earth didn’t move for us.

We hit the coast again at Bodega Bay where Hitchcock shot ‘The Birds’, moving slowly north in light rain to savour the deserted rocky beaches beside the undeveloped winding coastal road that San Franciscans have almost forgotten. Tiny towns passed in the blink of an eye, with their timbered shops, houses and inns, wherever driftwood-scattered coves of grey volcanic sand and black rocks provide access to the beach. There was a lost albatross in the surfing bay of Point Arena, and an osprey fishing at Greenwood State Beach in the pretty town of Elk, where white Arum lilies lined the damp gullies along the footpath. The osprey brought our count of North American bird species to 200! There’s another bird report on its way quite soon, I’m told.

The remote craggy coastline, the squeaky white lighthouses and the Victorian architecture of Mendocino further north have drawn the movie industry to this lovely coastline since the 1940’s. Films such as Johnny Belinda, James Dean’s, East of Eden, and The Russians are Coming, have been made along these idyllic rocky shores over the years. The quiet logging town of Mendocino declined around 1900 during the depression, and in the 1960’s the hippies moved in, bringing with them artistic flair and an air of peace. Their legacy lives on amongst the many craft shops, cafes, white picket fences and art galleries that make Mendocino a honey-pot for those tourists prepared to make the journey. Some day soon, California money will overtake this sleepy area, bringing with it the style and glamour of Carmel and Monterey. That will be sad. But we’ll be out of here long before that!


David and Janice. The grey-haired-nomads.

Next week will see us heading further north - through the big redwoods and into Oregon.



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