California 2017 Post #1 – Bay Area & South

My intention was to write a blog during our trip to California – and share it with my friends and family in real time. Well, the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray, and I am finally jotting down a few notes after landing back in Calgary. I’m still getting the hang of photo placement, so I’ll apologize up front for the occasional awkward formatting.


March 7: We’re on the plane and finally arriving in California after all those months of waiting and planning! We were surprised to see so many mountains as we flew close to L.A., the city that goes on forever (and our transfer point) – and then, of course, the ocean . . .






The first view of LAX was futuristically modern – and then truly Californian: Where but in California would you get stands of fresh fruit in an airport? The buzz of throngs of passengers in the building was intense and very different from Canadian airports. It had a kind of a European liveliness  which I didn’t expect in uber-America.


At Oakland Airport, we rented a car from a really friendly Latino guy who, once informed that the strange language which we were speaking was Ukrainian, told us about a series called Magnificent Century, which he enjoyed on U.S. Netflix. It was about Roxolana, wife of Sulejman. I had never heard of it, but checked it out when I got home, and it is indeed available on Netflix Canada.  Binge watching, here I come!

We drove into San Francisco as the sun was going down  and the GPS on my ageing IPhone got us over the Bay Bridge (no, not the Golden Gate) and off exit 2b to the Whitmore Hotel, an ornate turn of the century building (with a very cold foyer), which was on a stretch of Market St. away from the elegant core.  The wood paneled and mirrored doors of the elevator let us out onto a floor with seemingly endless hallways, but we were glad to make the trek and finally collapse in our room.  A big thankee to whomever invented rolling suitcases !

March 8: On Wednesday morning, after introducing Jurko to the Starbucks morning queuing and ordering ritual which is shared by Canada and the U.S., we embarked on a day of sight-seeing in San Francisco, which included riding a lot of clanging cable cars, lunching on the wharf, going down Lombard, the ‘crookedest street in the world’ and taking a windy $15 boat ride around the bay and under the Golden Gate bridge. Alas, my ageing IPhone didn’t last past noon, so I have no pictures of some of these things. I was troubled by the fact that I wouldn’t be able to document my travels, as if lack of documentation somehow made the experience itself less valid. A symptom of the social media whirl, which I constantly pooh-pooh? Maybe, but it would have been nice to have a picture of us going under the GG Bridge.

We bought a one-day pass at City Hall, which gave us unlimited riding privileges on all of the city’s transit: streetcars, cable cars, and buses. The cable cars of San Fran are an institution, climbing up hilly streets and then plunging down them as tourists and locals hang on in the open cars.

The Mason-Powell line had mostly tourists. We were lucky to get outside seats on the cable cars – and, on one ride, an outgoing driver with a loud announcer’s voice and a great sense of humour, who pretended to have a hard time chugging up the hills. It was very disconcerting that the cable cars stop in the middle of an intersection, leaving you uncertainly facing traffic for a couple of minutes.
The California line had mostly locals, including a lovely Japanese lady who gave me advice as to which luxury hotels were worth a visit and which rooftop bars were too expensive (we went anyway). As we rode along the hilly streets, I photographed people on other cable cars, who were in turn photographing me . . . As we discussed with Dartsia later, we don’t realize that, without knowing it, we are all probably somewhere in the background in photos people’s mantels and computers around the world. Weird.

 San Francisco is full of lovely, lovely buildings – large, small and in-between, many with beautiful unexpected detail reflecting the architectural values of a by-gone era.  I could have spent a week just investigating the architecture (Jurko, probably not so much . . .). Many of my shots of friezes and other ornate details were taken from a moving vehicle, so don’t look great, but here are a few pix.   

One particular building that we happened upon as we were driving around in the Marina district looking for a place to eat, was the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, “a monumental structure originally constructed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in order to exhibit works of art presented there”. (Wikipedia) They just don’t build buildings like that any more. What a treat to come around a corner and be greeted with this!

In the plaza across from City Hall, we encountered strange chopped-off trees, which we later found out were pruned sycamores. They were the first of a whole parade of Californian trees and other vegetation which we marveled at – and couldn’t identify, but enjoyed nonetheless. If only there were an app for identifying vegetation . . .March 9: Wanting to leave quickly for our drive down the California coast, we made the mistake of having breakfast at the corner Burger King. Expecting a generic mediocre fast food experience, I was surprised by the true inedibility of the hash browns and undrinkability of the coffee. We were also struck by the sparse clientele – and the fact that the bright blue of my jacket really stuck out among the bunches of dark-clothed patrons huddled in the restaurant – seemingly all street people and other down-and-outers. The staff were exceptionally patient in serving  the varied needs of the customers, some of whom were in wheelchairs, had trouble finding sufficient money or deciding what to order.  Quite a different breakfast experience from the upscale Starbucks one of the previous morning.

The start of our drive down the coast was foggy – though still lovely – but as the fog cleared we were treated to some great vistas, including weird sand and rock formations at Bean Hollow State Beach just outside of Petaluna.

We continued on to Santa Cruz, which has a funky, laid back vibe, with a lovely motley assortment of cheery beach-type cottages, impressive Victorians and tropical coloured mission-type houses. We drove the beach strip, as well as the UC Santa Cruz campus, a perplexing place where brutalist concrete hulks disrupt the beautiful natural setting and where a centre of campus – and many students – were seemingly nowhere to be found.



Carmel was a bit of a disappointment – the town a tad too sanitized for my taste, although the beach was lovely, if cool.  Lunch at the  Mediterranean Restaurant (yes, that’s the name) turned out to be great food in a lovely setting. Jurko had calamari and I had ravioli in a scrumptious light creamy reddish sauce. 
From Carmel we turned back northward. Our destination: La Honda, a little hamlet snuggled in the redwood forest just west of Palo Alto, where we were to be initiated into the grand AirBnB experience.  Not having done much research in regards to geography, we were surprised when we found ourselves driving winding roads which climbed through the Santa Cruz mountains. The scenery was breathtaking (not only because it was lovely, but because Jurko really had to pay attention, since the sun was starting to set). We arrived at La Honda in the dark – and would not have made it in if not for the trusty GPS (an all-around godsend!), since we couldn’t even see the driveway in the pitch black.

The pictures really don’t convey the wonder — seeing gigantic tree trunks just outside your window and being surrounded forest that reaches to the sky. Although we weren’t able to see it in the evening, we spent some time in the morning just enjoying the peaceful greenness of it all.

March 10 – On Friday we drove to Palo Alto and picked up Dartsia at Stanford, where she had been attending a two-day pow-wow for shortlisted grad students: a grand orientation and mutual sizing-up between profs and potential plebes. Dartsia was revved, having had two days of activities which tickled her brain in a setting both lovely and, as it turns out, powerfully encouraging.  Her enthusiasm bubbled out when she described her visit and the university.  It was great to see her so happy! (A few days later she was offered a place at Stanford and she accepted, so come September she will be starting five years of (very) well-funded studies in the Department of Slavic Studies.  She is so thrilled and we are so proud!)

Dartsia showed us around campus, first setting out the Stanford Prime Directive: bicycles rule here and ALWAYS have right of way. We took care to jump out of the way when two-wheelers approached.

The architecture of the campus is beautiful: a  mélange of architectural styles united by the common element of tan walls and red roofs throughout.  I took (too) many pictures, but am only including a couple here.

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