May 172014
 

It was time to get on the road so we picked up a rental car in San Francisco. It always (twice now) takes an hour to do this in America. Everything was pre booked so you would expect to simply hand over the cash, sign your life away and be given the keys. Oh no. Throw in two bumbling rental agents and a handful of tourists who appeared not to have driven before, let alone rented a car, and you have Fawlty Towers Car Hire. “I didn’t come to America to drive a Korean piece of crap,” huffed the angry Jeremy Clarkson twin, “I have been waiting 45 minutes!” That’s because the Germans in front of you had to run every clause of the rental agreement past their solicitor before signing. Meanwhile agent 2 started pointing out the features of the tenth vehicle available to the younger couple he was also “helping.” Twin was then told his Kia wasn’t yet ready so he’d have to keep waiting. You can imagine his reaction to this news. Having sought legal advice, the Germans came back to the counter, signed the forms then proceeded to ask a multitude of questions relating to the operation of a motor vehicle. Some time later they were ready to go. “One more question,” he asked, holding a standard set of keys, “how does it turn on?”

We eventually were served and driving out of the parking lot within minutes.

We hit the road (on the wrong side), drove through the rolling hills that were currently very brown except for the pistachio and almond orchards, arriving at Poppy Hill B&B about 4pm. We relaxed before heading back to Mariposa for dinner at Savoury’s restaurant. We discovered in our time that all the “good” restaurants in the area must have updated their menu and decor in the early 90s and never looked back (or forwards). Still it was nice enough after a long day.

Anyway this was supposed to be a post about Yosemite National Park…

A glorious morning and we headed into Yosemite Valley to explore. It isn’t quite peak season but it was still very busy. The drive in is beautiful and the first sight of El Capitan granite cliff is awe inspiring.
We spent the morning on the Mist Trail up to Vernal Fall. The trail was wide and paved for much of the hike but quite steep and hard on the legs. Once you reached the rocks below the falls the path turned quite slippery and rocky so we didn’t make it all the way to the top.

El Capitan

El Capitan

After a picnic lunch we visited Mirror Lake (more of a pond really) and then drove out of the valley and all the way up to Glacier Point that not only has the most spectacular view of the surrounding mountains but also down to the valley. You could see the campgrounds between the pine trees and the river winding through the middle of the valley.
We were thoroughly exhausted that night!

We had an easier day the following day and visited the giant redwoods (sequoia) at Mariposa Grove.

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Alcatraz Island

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May 142014
 

The infamous prison island is a short ferry ride from SF pier. We lined up for the 10am departure, it was already hot – someone had fainted, with many other tourists. Remarkably the crowds seemed to disperse on the island even though hundreds more would arrive every half hour. From the ferry there were excellent views of the bay and bridges.

Golden Gate bridge and Alcatraz

Golden Gate bridge and Alcatraz

In brief, Alcatraz was originally a fort, built before the American civil war. It then became a military prison, with large numbers of inmates during the Spanish-American war. From 1934 until 1963 it was the federal prison for the worst of the worst.

Many of the ancillary buildings were destroyed in fires

Many of the ancillary buildings were destroyed in fires

In the main prison we listened to an audio tour, which detailed some of the elaborate escape attempts – while some escapees were never found, it is hard to see anyone surviving the cold waters and strong currents in the SF bay.

One of the cells. There are 3 levels. With some exceptions there was quite a bit of natural light in the prison cells.

One of the cells. There are 3 levels. With some exceptions there was quite a bit of natural light in the prison cells.

Beautiful gardens at Alcatraz

Beautiful gardens at Alcatraz

San Francisco

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May 132014
 

Arrived safe but tired after direct flight to LA then onto SF. A very warm welcome from Joe and Kate, who live in the Mission District, then amazing pizza for lunch(?) at Arizmendi Bakery.

On Tuesday we caught the BART to Embarcadero (the pier) where you could see the Bay Bridge. Nice warm day, high 20s, locals are complaining of heat wave. Tomorrow is predicted to reach 32!

Bay Bridge

Bay Bridge

Off then to ride a cable car, still manually operated up and down the steep streets since the 1870s. It took us to Fisherman’s Wharf where we got our first view of the Golden Gate Bridge. No fog today!

Cable cars!

Cable cars!

The architecture here is pretty diverse but there are lots of Victorian style houses. The Painted Ladies are across from Alamo Square – there are six but two are under restoration.

The painted ladies.

The painted ladies.

Narrow gaps between houses.

Narrow gaps between houses.