Coalinga to San Francisco
Woke up really early on the 14th and packed the car, then went in for breakfast. I was really excited to find they had real cereal and milk! It's been a good 6 weeks since I had something wet for breakfast and I wolfed down two bowls full. Read the local newspaper which was very narrow and quite tall. Lead story was about all the destruction that the previous days storm had wrecked, including a death on the I5 not long after we'd driven past there! Other big story was that Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governator of California, had introduced legislation requiring an ignition-linked breathalyzer in certain counties for DUI offenders.
After breakfast we jumped on the road and headed a short distance up the '5. Turned off at the San Luis Reservoir and headed down towards the coast. Much smaller roads here. All along the '5 we'd seen signs labelling the land a "congress created dust bowl"; did a bit of reading and turns out they've lost their subsidized water here and the land is reverting to desert. But then, not far back we'd passed orchard after orchard, so go figure. When we passed the San Luis Reservoir we could see how far down it was; easily 10 or 15m below normal.
And then after a bit more driving we suddenly entered a valley with some of the most intense agriculture I've ever seen. Water was everywhere; obviously not desert here. The road was just a small highway much like you'd find here in NZ, but the fields came right up to the road edge and there wasn't even a fence or ditch between the crops and the road. Would seem that land is so valuable here that they can't waste space on a fence. Was quite weird seeing lettuce fields growing within feet of the road.
As we drove through there were grain elevators everywhere and lots of people out harvesting crops.
Bit more driving and started seeing the turn off for Freedom; looked funny seeing big signs saying Freedom, thatta way. After a bit more driving we turned and started heading up the coast on California Highway #1. Drove through Santa Cruz and then we were on the coast! Saw a turn off for Bonny Doon, so had to take a photo, and ran up the sand dune to see the surf and took a photo of that too.
Drove up the coast in the gray weather and stopped a bit further up at another rest area. Here a school group was visiting.
The view up the coast was fantastic with lots of wild surf and clouds of haze & rain. Really brought back memories of NZ. By now we didn't have too long to get to San Fran before I had to return the car, and while the GPS was saying we'd get there in heaps of time I was a little sceptical because I still couldn't see anything looking like a city. The road signs however were saying only 20 miles to San Fran, so the concrete had to start somewhere soon, right?!
Drove on for a bit and just when I thought we must've taken a wrong turn somewhere the concrete started. Before long we were on a triple deck 4 lane freeway heading right for the heart of San Fran. Within minutes we were in the heart of San Fran and getting funnelled onto 6th street, then across Market St and now we were only a few blocks from Bush St. All happened very quickly. Filled up the car and returned the car.
The guy in the rental garage asked me what I thought of it… hmm! Felt like kicking the thing. Four tanks of petrol in 2 days?! Come on! Went up stairs to settle the bill and spent a long time talking to the guy and managed to get a whole $35 discount for enduring a week in the worst car I've ever had to drive. Gee thanks.
Lugged our gear back to Hotel des Arts, but our room wasn't quite ready so we went and amused ourselves in Chinatown for a bit. Some of the shops were so densely packed with junk I couldn't get down some of the isles with my backpack on! Then we had a fruit smoothy (they don't do malts in San Fran, they're so much more sophisticated than that!)
Went back and room was ready so we went in and flopped. Turns out our room was PINK this time. Like REALLY pink. As in, we got out of the lift and knew straight away which was our room because we had the only pink door in the hallway. Inside it was… interesting…
Definitely a room with a difference! I loved it actually, despite being pink which being a guy I'm naturally allergic to.
Went out for dinner and had some pizza, then wandered back to Chinatown looking for presents for Ange's relatives. Found some funny (read: dodgy) postcards for Dad; naturally Ange hassled me about that, wanted to know who they were really for! Went back eventually and went to sleep.
San Fran day 2
Had a hard time sleeping; San Fran is pretty muggy when it wants to be. And noisy! Trains I can handle, even the piercing blast of an SD70ACe outside the front door. But here in the heart of the city there are sirens all night long, the roar of air conditioning units, and car horns all the time . San Franciscans love their horns, which is surprising since out in the real West people seem almost afraid to use them.
Went and had breakfast, no milk and cereal here :-( Went back to the room and planned our day. Decided to go for a walk and find a train shop. Was a fair distance, but it wasn't too bad walking; we're probably used to life above 5,000 ft now! Eventually got there and had to press a door bell and wait for the door to be opened. Huh!? Went inside and found the N gauge section… lots of stuff, but all buried away inside locked display cabinets. He had hundreds and hundreds of wagons, but absolutely no way of seeing them! Sigh… their layout was a little shopper hostile. I was eyeing up some carriages and asked if I could take them out of their box and the guy looked at me like I'd just spoken Martian to him!
I left the shop with a bag full of stuff though, so wasn't all in vain. Wandered back and had some lunch on the way, then went to Chinatown to buy an overflow-bag for me. Found one, had some dinner then on the way back heard lots of sirens and saw some fire trucks, so followed the noises and ended up at Union Square, which is the focal point of downtown SF. Looked around and turned out the top floor of Tiffany's (jewellers) was on fire! So we stood and watched with half of SF and saw heaps of fire trucks roar in. The sirens here are weird, more like an air-raid siren. Watched for a good couple of hours and then headed back. Spent several hours trying to squeeze everything in, then it was off to bed.
San Fran Day 3
Our last day here!!! Another night of muggy sleeping. Had breakfast and packed the last few things away. Got our luggage stored and then headed for the MUNI station. Muni = light(ish) rail. Took me a good 5 minutes to remember how to use them; every transport system in SF has a different fare method. For the muni you must correct change, which means 8 quarters per person. So had to find a change machine and feed in lots of dollar bills.
Caught the Muni to the Caltrain depot, where we had to work out yet another ticketing system and find out which platform our train was on. Eventually worked all that out and we were off on our way to Silicon Valley! Yeah baby! An hour later we arrived at Mountain View where we hopped off and I tried to find out when the free shoreline shuttle would leave, but it didn't seem to run to any timetable… if it even ran at all. So caught a taxi. Got to our destination and the #**@@$^ driver kept our change. Lucky it was only 70c he kept.
Our destination? (Actually more my destination, Ange was just here because I couldn't find a creche for her). So my destination? The Computer History Museum ! Haha yes that's right. Lovely building, old SGI headquarters I believe. Went in and headed straight for Visual Storage. First thing they had were all the famous computers of the last few decades, like the original Apple Mac, Apollo work stations, a NeXT Cube, etc etc. Another cabinet had calculators… hmm, not quite what I was after. Ahaha… found the good stuff:
What I was really after was a machine of legend, and it took a little while to find it, but eventually I came across perhaps the most famous super computer of all time: the Cray 1. The Cray 1 was a really cool shape and boasted a built in bench seat around the base (which housed all the cooling and power supply equipment), and was one of those computers that got its own room complete with raised floor and attractive lighting. So to see one in the flesh was pretty cool, and certainly worth the hassle of getting there.
We didn't have long before we had to head back, but there was long enough to pose with one:
That's right they have more than one here! Inside is an absolute seething mass of wires, all hand wired, so each one is numbered. It's a wonder these things worked at all!
After that it was time to head back… being a 2 mile walk in the baking Californian sun (no SF fog here) we opted for a taxi… easier said than done. First we didn't see any for ages. Then one drove past but the turban wearing driver was too busy talking on his phone (no doubt plotting some domestic terrorism) to see us. #2 taxi didn't know where the train station was… what on earth?! Even I, Mr never-been-to-Silicon-Valley-before, could find it. I even offered to show him on my GPS but he wouldn't have a bar of it and roared off! Can you believe that?! #3 was better, he actually took us there, but he was one interesting character: he was speaking on a hidden phone (they love their wireless headsets here), and holding his cup of coffee, all the while trying to drive at right angles to the oncoming traffic. He went the long way, got us there late, kept the change again and made us miss our train. And get this: he was more expensive than our ride there, even though we'd walked halfway to the station by now!!! Grrr, won't be using American taxis again.
Got on the train, a nice new Bombardier/MPI one this time. Very swish inside. Roared back to SF, passing some interesting sights along the way:
My prize catch though was this:
Caught the Muni again back to the station after some confusion over which direction train we wanted. Back to SF we grabbed a sandwich on the way, then got our stuff at the hotel. Stacked the suitcases up and dragged them up Bush St. Eventually got to the station and into the lift. By now I was covered in sweat; even with wheels suitcases are a pig to move around. Yet more train tickets and we were on the BART off for the airport. Total paid for public transport today? $4 + $12 + $12 + $12 + $4 + $9 + $10 + $16.20 = $79.20!!! If we hadn't missed our train (grr) we would've saved $12. Expensive thing this travelling business.
Arrived at the airport and checked in with ample spare time. A few hours later we were comfortably nestled in at the back of the plane ready for our trip home. After taxing for minutes to the runway blast off happened and we were off home. Bye bye San Francisco, bye bye America. We could see the lights of SF in the distance for a while, but soon it was all dark all around us. We got our meals and then it was bed time. I was absolutely exhausted (that was the plan) but it still took ear plugs and a great deal of effort to fall asleep. Even then I had a dream about air planes! Slept well enough though and woke up for breakfast and then soon after we landed in Auckland just as the sun was rising.
Just before Auckland we could see the edge of the dawn above the clouds which was absolutely amazing; everything was pitch black except for a thin blaze of bright reds and oranges; was quite a view.
Landed in Auckland to rain and fog and not long afterwards we were squished into a 737 for Christchurch. High cloud the whole way until just out of Chch where we could see the Pegasus township through the clouds, then cows, then tarmac and bump, we're back in Chch.
MAF gave my tent a good going over, but at least here in NZ you know they're looking for bugs, unlike the US where they're probably busy looking for bombs, sigh. The sniffer dog was really cute but was going flat tack around the bags, must be very exciting for him :-)
And then that was it. I'm back in NZ. Back to reality! Bought a pizza-roll the way home and devoured it! Spent the day unpacking, then off to parents place for dinner and presents, which they all loved. So that's it for the updates, although there may be one more with highlights and my favourite photos.
Thanks America, you were fantastic!