Month: March 2015

San Fran to Portland, and the trees in-between.

freeway 101 sign

It didn’t take long after crossing the Golden Gate Bridge to hit highway and countryside (in unison). Alas, between one mother and one small person, the need to take toilet stops is ever-present. I was surprised to find how difficult it proved to locate a toilet sometimes – we stopped at a group of shops but found no public options. A kind waiter in the restaurant allowed us to use the bathroom, despite the large “no public restrooms” sign posted in the window (a common sight on our trip). It was also a pleasant surprise to find some tiny houses moored in the nearby water.

 

floating houses santa rosa

 

The first night on the road approached and we spent it at a ‘rest stop’. It was incredibly well appointed with large clean toilets, lots of car parks and lush green space to run around on or picnic in. It also had an on-site ranger patrolling the place. We couldn’t believe it, after having come from staying in Australian ‘rest stops’ which were more like code for ‘patch-of-dirt-on side-of-road’ – and where you were lucky if you weren’t kicked out after night hours struck. To be fair we did also stay at an Australian rest stop that provided a toilet and parking space, but it was a stark contrast to this. Indeed this was an example of how much America is geared up for driving holidays. And to boot, petrol was incredibly cheap at the time – about $2USD/gallon. Thats around 70 cents Australian per litre – certainly no discouragement there.

Back on the road again, we followed highway 101 Northward. Our first planned destination of the trip was the Redwoods but we stopped in at a number of the small towns along the way, like Garberville which had an interesting alternative vibe to it. It also had a frozen yogurt place that made the waffle cones right there in front of you – customising the level of crunchy vs chewy quality if you had such a degree of preference. Yes, we quality tested them. Not bad.

collage yoghurt at garberville

 

Next we made a beeline for the toilet in little Miranda, which incidentally, wound up being the worst we encountered. Nevertheless, undeterred Michael found a dinky little booth serving organic coffee and baked items while I wandered up the road to a woodworking shop.

collage woodwork shop miranda CA

After striking up a conversation, we discovered Mr Korbly had been in business 45 years. After unwittingly learning from one of the great woodworkers of his time, he used his skills to steadily build a livelihood. Deceptively, what looked like an inconspicuous, small operation was actually home to the much sought after skills and products of Korbly and his team. So much so that they now took orders 5 years in advance, turned down hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of work a year and have regularly serviced clients such as Dianna Ross and Clint Eastwood. Wow.

It was really interesting to hear him espouse the lessons which were seeming repetitively clear of good operations and good lives: start young, do what you love, don’t get into debt, work hard and don’t compromise on what is important to you.

Oh, and he just happened to have been eating a local and organic diet for the last 45 years. Not in a ‘rebellion to the food industry’ kind of way but rather the old-fashioned, ‘this is just how we do it in the country’ scenario. He mentioned this point like it was nothing but it struck me as something perhaps not many people can claim anymore – a healthy, chemical and processed free diet for over 4 decades. I suspect it contributed a lot to this man’s vigour and health – we were astounded to learn he was much, much older than we had guessed, and evidently he was only just starting to slow down. Mind you, it often happens this way in the country, something in the air perhaps… Regardless, it was an honour to meet and chat with him.

Onwards and we came to the start of the Redwoods – which is not ‘one place’ per se but more like a series of preserved areas in state, national and private parks/landholdings. We tried to stop in at the ‘drive-thru tree’ – the one you can literally squeeze a car through. However I had seen a sedan scrape through within a whisker on youtube so didn’t hold high hopes for our people-mover. It was also shut and so we could neither try the car, nor see it. So the challenge was not taken up!

collage redwood signs

We moved on and hit ‘The Avenue of Giants’ and Humboldt Redwoods State Park. We didn’t do any official hiking or such but instead stopped off in random places, strolling in and out of the groves – there are so many interesting things to see at each turn. We walked a small loop track in one area and crossed a creek on a fallen trunk at another.

emma mic loop walk redwoods

 

girl in the forest fallen tree creek crossing 2

 

The experience was something else. An immediate sense of wonder and calm washed over me.

We describe the visit as having ‘seen’ the Redwoods, when in reality it would be more accurate to say we have ‘felt’ them. Wandering through the groves felt like walking with elders. It makes sense really – these living beings have been alive for hundreds of years – right there in the same place seeing change that encompassed indigenous habitation, invasion, settlement, wars, farming, houses, industry, television, man on the moon, logging, factory farming and a tech boom borne of the second biggest network going – the internet. I say second biggest because it seems to me that the world’s soils and ecosystems are the largest (have you ever seen the web of soil fungus going on?). As an aside there is some really interesting research and discoveries going on in this area – check out this BBC article.

Indeed we all loved it there amid the beautiful, amazing giants – what a way to invoke reverence.

mic mel emma hug tree redwoods emma hug tree redwoods
Perhaps, it was an apt time for me to ponder the ‘bigness’ of things in the States – in this case the trees, but also other things like bigger shops, bigger food, bigger roads…
Carrying on, we hit another example of the States’ driving culture – a sign that said “No services for 1/2 mile”. That’s less than a kilometre – as Australians we responded with hearty laughter. Coming from a country where interstate travel can involve large tracts of land and sparse towns, the prospect of notifying people they would have to travel less than a km without access to food, water or gas was nothing short of hilarious.
In the night we crossed the border from California into Oregon – woo! We planned a pit stop in the college town of Eugene. It was a nice feeling town, rich in the coffee shops and well-to-do looking people/students that were presumably attracted by/or a result of, the college. We met a homeless man who said if we picked 5 words, he could make a rap on the spot for us and we’d be “helping a homeless boy get by”. We had seen lots of homeless with cardboard signs detailing their plight or needs – this was a new one. Impressed by the man’s willingness to work for help, Michael quickly said yes to paying for a one-off spontaneous rap. Homeless or not, he was awesome – conjuring up a great rhyme about things coming in circles, like the seasons and “even though November brings cold it also brings warmth through the family”. His creativity was testament to his spirit.
We carried on watching the world blur by – which I love. Sometimes I am happiest just seeing what is, watching the landscape, buildings and people go past. I find it’s like meditating – resting yet absorbing your surroundings at the same time, and all while you are productively getting somewhere. It ticks a lot of boxes for someone who doesn’t like to be idle or sit still!
mic mel riverside
on road portland sign
Approaching night again, we found yet another wonderful spot hidden in a random unmarked path off the road. We had dinner here and carried on.
 mel and emma dinner by river and mountain
As we headed on, I considered one more musing which crystallised into thought – maybe it was all that forest air. There appeared to be a kind of common trait in the attitude of Americans. It was something I had perceived even back in Australia during conversations with American friends. There is some kind of inbuilt confidence they acquire here – a cultural normity where one is not afraid to say hello and express their opinions forthrightly, nor to contradict another, but in a way which gives space for everyone to own their views.
An interesting cultural mannerism – one that I would like to take a little of and add to my own…
Next stop, Portland!
forest dinner sunset

 

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Roadtrippin’ begins

 

drive blur

 

Today was the day to pick up our rental car so we bussed into downtown San Fran – bang on the right stop this time, woo! We were early and so took a walk down to the Ferry Building area. It was a bustling little place with the beautiful and historic Ferry Building itself, the nearby piers and trolley cars coming and going. There were also vendors setting up lots of stalls with tourist trinkety plus some decent photography.

 

collage ferry building

 

We also saw many homeless here – not unlike the rest of San Fran – it is very visible. It proved a good conversation starter though for the issue which Emma took in – I think perhaps realising for the first time that not all people have a house to sleep in.

After some more wandering we found the car hire office. We had booked it earlier in the year, while still in Australia. Initially it was looking to be a horrendously expensive exercise once you added milage and insurance to the price tags. We also investigated the “car moving” companies who get paid to move cars for dealers or the wealthy retired population that migrate south to Florida each winter. Seems like an ok deal for a traveller, very economical but you do give up some freedom in how long you can meander for.

Luckily for us we eventually came across a couple of sites set up specifically for renting cars to foreigners. They act as a third party, offering deals on behalf of most providers and usually all the requirements are included – i.e. our’s included unlimited milage, all insurances and no fee for pick up at a ‘special’ place (like the airport). For some unknown reason, this ‘all-inclusive’ option for tourists is way cheaper than booking directly. So with all the fine print and finances agreed upon, we took the deal. When we got there it was as easy as present your printed third party voucher, sign the register and “here are your keys” – sweet!

And even sweeter was the unexpectedly fancy-pants example of a car we got – a minivan type vehicle: the Chrysler Town & Country. It was bright shiny new in flashy red with electric everything – windows, sliding doors and seats. It had fold-flat-in-the-floor capable seats and cup holders everywhere. Oh, and even usb and standard electrical outlet charging points – we could charge our phone and computer on the road. Whoa – it was all a bit much for us budget travellers to take in. It sure was appreciated though, particularly the flexibility and comfort as we were using this for part-time accommodation.

collage car

 

We discovered a Whole Foods Market was nearby (a very large organic/fair trade supermarket chain all over the US). We stopped in to stock up for the drive – and got lost in the world that is Whole. After the lengthy diversion we set off, dropping Michael in the absolute deep end of driving on the wrong side of the road amongst downtown traffic of a busy US city. But, as with most things, he took it in his stride and did a fantastic job.

Contrary to our map’s suggestion, we opted to exit the city via the Golden Gate Bridge – how could we not? It took us past the pier district which was alive and interesting. We could tell we were getting closer to the bridge by the proportionate increase in traffic congestion. But before long, there it was – a stunning red icon to drive along. While we missed out on a car park to stop and admire it better, driving through it was a picture to remember.


golden gate bridge

Now, we looked forward to some country driving en route to California’s famous elderly – the giant trees in the Redwood State and National Parks.

 

rainbow tunnel coastal road

Onto the trees!

 

STATES ahoy!

P1040970 small

 

By chance, rather than design, our flight from Brisbane to San Francisco went through Honolulu. Oooh, we’re going to Hawaii!
Well, not really, but we were scheduled for a 6 hour layover. Surely long enough to duck out and see something nearby. We went outside, circled the terminals several times in an effort to find a bus that went into town. Nothing was really working and apparently we were all tired grumpy So with that, the new plan was to just wait for our next flight. We were clearly incapable of making it happen in our current states, but I was still bitterly disappointed. Begrudgingly I joined the others back in the terminal – where we all promptly fell asleep.
Some time later we woke up and wondered out through a different door to find a little courtyard and garden – perfect for streching out and letting Em have a run around. After recharging in the fresh air and sunlight we strolled over to the domestic terminal. Strangely, I found the surrounds and decor much more kitsch than I expected. A 70’s looking facade of browns, oranges and carved wood, . The culture of Hawaii seemed also characatured – it was also this way elsewhere in the USA. I would have liked to stay and experience some tradition of the islands.
em hawaii 2
Upon the next plane, we headed for San Fran(cisco). Getting in late at night, we had summoned the forethought and investment to book a hotel room close by for the night. Boy, was that a good plan. We landed, stumbled upon the free airport shuttle bus (which arrived within minutes), ate at the 24 hour restaurant attached to the hotel then crashed into bed. While Michael and I woke up at a sprightly 7am, we had to wake Emma because she was getting close to missing our checkout deadline of 12 noon! 11 hours of sleep for a child that has never, ever, been a long sleeper = great start. Despite the rest, our stomachs were still in a strange place – thus our lovechild of a breakfast was born – pancakes and fried rice (eaten separately, not together – just so you know).
Fueled up and ready to go, we began the first – of what would be many – adventures in negotiating the local transit systems. A bus took us into town where we tried to find the first of our American food and outdoor gear. After all that, the sun was threatening to set so we got onto finding the next bus to our next destination – an Air bnb room that would be our home for a few days while we explored San Fran. We had successfully identified on our tourist map where to pick up the bus – but I have to say the walk there was unnerving, which crossed through a few different neighbourhoods of downtown San Fran. It wasn’t the homeless – although we did see lots of them and of course seeing others in such a predicament calls into question your own comfort. It was more the array of shifty looking characters just hanging around on the street with apparently nothing better to do. Anyway we made it, albeit edgy and irritable with each other, only to find when we jumped off we miss calculated the stop – we still had a long walk ahead of us. Much whining later from Emma, and maybe me – ok mostly me – we found our way to a charmingly quiet friendly neighbourhood and main street. We followed the air bnb host’s instructions and hey presto, the door unlocked – woop! We had a home 🙂
After failing to recognise the coloured tape system inside the strangely empty but partially lived in house, we relocated to what seemed the right room. It was with relief too – this one had a real bed, rather than one of those double blow up mattresses which suddenly turn into a catapult every time someone gets on or off. For the couple of days we were there, we didn’t see anybody. It felt awkward and wasn’t what we had expected. I think we pictured hanging out with some locals who could tell us about town and share dinners with. Neverthless, it was a lovely room, clean and well located for us to explore. We checked out the local main street – Clement street in Inner Richmond – which was healthily populated with Asian nationals, resulting in a wonderful selection of food and little supermarket offerings. However we skipped those for the first nights dinner – ironically had at a place specialising in dessert: sandwiches and chilli at the ‘Toy Boat Dessert Cafe’ – they were good. Then for some unknown reason we forewent dessert there and ended up with donuts from an asian bakery.
Having selected a rental nearby Golden Gate Park, (in another freak stroke of forethought), we walked on down, coming in from what felt like the back entrance on the northern side. We marvelled at a public park big enough to contain roads. Not only did they service cars and the local buses, but there were lanes for runners too – ha! We wondered through some manicured lawns to find the Koret Children’s Quarter playground and carousel.. The day we picked happened to be thanksgiving and so lots of families were out playing. The carousel however was closed, but Emma didn’t dwell on that for long – relishing the chance to hop on a playground full of kids. She meandered through some beach shaped climbing items, the expansive playground and concrete slide – Michael had a go too of course.
After another wonder down Clement Street yielded some yummy dahl ingredients, we cooked them back in the home kitchen and prepared ourselves to leave the next day. We used our last foggy morning to head downtown and explore the pier and ferry building areas, taking in a great walk and sights.
pier edited
collage san fran 1
 san fran  bridge
Next, we would pick up a rental care and take off on a road trip through Northern California to Oregon (and back again)…
Bye for now San Fran – see you again soon 🙂

Bris-vegas (also sometimes referred to as Brisbane)

family river boats

 

As I look back on this last period of time before we left Oz, I am struck by how little I wrote in the way of diary entries. In fact, this one pretty much sums it up:

Sunday November 23, 2014 – Words are sticky and elusive right now. Heavy and too energy consuming.

I think I was suffering ‘catch-up’ from all the new places and people we had met – taking it all in still. That, and we were in a comfortable safe place to do so: spending our last few days in lovely Brisbane with Mum W, who flew all the way up from Adelaide to spend some more time with us before we left. Naw!

So here is a brief little ditty on our last days in Oz….

Started the week off by meeting Mum W – aka, Grandma – in Maleny. Some lunch and a mozy in the area was followed by a tour back at Crystal Waters. It was great to show just where we had been, what we had been doing and who with (sometimes it can all feel a bit surreal, doing things like this away from those you would normally share it with).

collage grandma arrives

 

After meeting and greeting with our hosts, Max & Trudi, we said our final goodbyes and headed down to Brissy town. While we were sad to leave a place we had settled so comfortably into, I think we all got a little bit excited seeing a big city again.

collage mic em apartment view

 

Not to mention the apartment we were lucky enough to stay in – lovely, and just a stroll away from the city centre. Turns out, it was New York-themed. How very appropriate to have a preview of the real thing we’d be seeing so soon.

collage brissy NY apartment

 

We spent the next few days relaxing and exploring around town. If Australian cities are your thing, or will be part of your next travel itinerary, Brissy is worth your time. It has a different vibe to Sydney or Melbourne – more relaxed and easy going (with better weather too – I reckon). As an Adelaidean, and Queenslander by birth, I think of Brisbane fondly – like a big sister to Adelaide. She is warm and fun, casual but cool. The usual city stuff like shopping, eating, museums, galleries, shows and social spots are all present and accounted for, in lovely sprawling landscaped style. Perfect for strolling – South Bank being a good example. I took the footbridge over there and admired the new ‘Brisbane’ installation.

brisbane sign

 

We also checked out the well stocked Queen Street Mall; a green and bustling Botanic Garden and playground, plus the three floor cushy and comfortable Brisbane Square Library.

brissy mall nightbrissy botanic peace garden brissy peace garden brissy playground library market

Interestingly, I took one door into the library and when I came out the other side, this second hand market had popped up in the square!

 

We also saw the first, of many on our trip, city bike rental scheme – nice!

collage city cycle 2 collage rental bike

 

I love the playful, colourful nature of Brisbane – they even give their electrical boxes the community artist treatment:

collage Brissy Painted Boxes

 

Of course, everyone loves a pool so we made good use of that – and the chance to chill out in our room.

collage brissy pool brissy office apartment room

 

Pop-quiz – name one of the bonuses of being with family when travelling.

Having someone to take photos of all three of us? Yes!

What’s another?

Date night – yes! Woo! And in some far off location from home – double woo!

Thanks to Grandma, Michael and I got to wonder the city in search of dinner and sights…

brissy sky bridge 1

 

brissy sculpture fox man

collage mic climb wall brissyAfter Michael got his fix of climbing for the day, we found our way to China Town down in the valley (Fortitude Valley), and had what was the top contender for ‘best meal we’ve ever stumbled across’Red Lotus offered Vietnamese dishes through the most outstanding example of an Asian, or any, menu I’ve seen – gorgeous delicious photos and fun descriptions, elaborate enough to really inform a Western audience. Some dishes even had their own story – like Duck Doggy Style. Yes that’s right, and we ordered it too. What? They’re just referring to duck cooked in the traditional way of dog meat – what did you think they meant?…..

Reading the menu became a fun activity all of it’s own!

By the way, I thought I didn’t like duck.

I was wrong.

So, so wrong….

collage date night 2

 

We wrapped up our last afternoon with a lovely meal up high in the middle of Queen Street Mall – at the recently reopened outdoor ‘Jimmy’s on the Mall‘.

em grandma mall dinner

 

 

brissy puzzle

On the day of departure, we completed a puzzle – both for fun and to check where we were going. Then, inevitably, it was time to pack up and ship out.  That was quickly followed by me upgrading our travel insurance in a flurry of last minute panic – if that’s not a window into my default nature I don’t know what is.

I love how laughable I am sometimes….

We checked out and made our way to the airport – having planned our flights out of the country and Grandma’s back to Adelaide within short timing of each other. But they were, of course, in different terminals – quite a foreign concept for us Adelaideans, where the air traffic fits happily in just one. So we negotiated the terminals and their connecting bus – complete with a bewildered driver who couldn’t seem to wrap his head around us paying to use the service – apparently it’s normally used by those with a free pass from Virgin Airlines. And so after the confusion cleared and all parties had checked in, there was precious little time to sit before Grandma departed.

farewell em grandma

 

I have to say, it was really nice to be able to say goodbye to Mum W before departing the country for a year. How grateful we were for that, and having had an opportunity for time together beforehand.

We continued back to the international terminal, via the same bewildered driver, and prepped ourselves to leave Australia behind……..

to the plane

 

So long – we’ll be seein’ ya!

xxx