Saturday, January 31, 2015

USA Road Trip

Eve and I left Wellington on Boxing Day for three weeks' holiday in the US. Starting in San Francisco we visited a number of national parks, as well as Las Vagas and Los Angeles before returning to San Francisco up the Pacific Highway. The following provides a record of our journey...

December 26th December 2014

Today’s the day we begin our trip, after a low key Christmas Day shared with Siobhan. A quick flight to Auckland connects us with Air New Zealand NZ8 departing on time at 7.30 PM. We are seated in the centre block about midway down the aircraft which works out well as the passenger on Eve’s left finds another seat elsewhere. The 12 hour flight passes uneventfully with sufficient time for me to view all but one of the second series of “The Vikings”.

We land at San Francisco’s SFO airport on time and transition through customs with only a slight delay, and customs officers who are polite and friendly unlike previous visits some years ago when fortress America was in full swing. Bag collection is no problem, Eve hunts down information about the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system and we head for the train station where we encounter the first obstacle of actually coaxing tickets from the automatic machines. Once I figure out the process (Hint: follow the instructions exactly), we are through the turnstiles and onto the train.

Which is where we encounter eye-watering levels of stench, comprising a combination of body, urine and other odours all emanating from what appears to be a pile of garbage halfway down the carriage but subsequently proves to be a homeless man who successfully commandeers half of the available space. This proved to be a introduction to one of San Francisco’s less appealing characteristics – homeless people are everywhere, downtown as well as on the waterfront and in the parks.

We have two options to get to our hotel, the Steinhart near the corner of Sutter and Hyde Streets, getting off the BART at either the Civic Centre or Powell Street. We opt for Civic Centre and immediately find ourselves in the grimy, rundown Tenderloin district where the homeless and dispossessed are abundant and on their home turf. We trundle our suitcases along Hyde Street past groups of men who eye us as we pass. A woman with Tourettes passes us with a cackling scream and a young man wanders across the intersection without a care of the passing traffic. However, no one pays us any more than cursory attention and we continue our long march across nine blocks to finally reach Sutter Street where our hotel awaits.

The Steinhart is an old world hotel in the finest sense, with a faded charm and a classic lattice work lift. We check in and make it to our room by midday, pleased to find it has a small kitchen and study in addition to the main lounge area. We are perplexed about the lack of a bed, until we realise it’s embedded in the wall – known apparently as a Murphy bed for whatever reason. A quick test demonstrates it will be more than fit for purpose and we congratulate each other on a safe arrival. 

FullSizeRender.jpgWe subscribe to the idea that one adapts to the local time as quickly as possible so after a short rest, we are out the door and continue up Hyde Street sans our baggage. The weather is fine and neither hot nor cold, calm and a clear sky. San Francisco is rightly regarded for its hills and we continue to climb for another fifteen blocks and then happen on a scene of total confusion, pedestrians and traffic all mixed up together, with a traffic cop vainly trying to establish some order. This is the famous Lombard Street, renowned for its steepness and tight curves between Hyde and Leavenworth Streets. Everyone is taking selfies or joining a slow procession of cars down the street. We pass on by, think about catching a cable car but opt to keep walking once it becomes obvious that each is loaded to the gunnels.

In any case another six blocks later we arrive at the Hyde Street cable car terminal and see a queue stretching around the corner for at least 200 yards. We opt to keep walking in the direction of Pier 39, along the Embarcadero and pass Boudin’s Bakery where we watch the bakers preparing batches of various specialty breads. IMG_1370.JPGBoudin claim rights to the original San Francisco sourdough with a starter that has been in continuous use for 150 years. We continue out along Pier 39 to view of seals – as usual, smelly and idle, lying around on wooden platforms sunning themselves. Seals are pretty much the same everywhere so we continue around the Pier, and decide that we have done enough to ensure a good night’s sleep. A taxi is hailed and it’s back to the Steinhart, after some difficulty explaining where we want to go. Sutter is pronounced with “u” as in “up”, and we make our first concession to American pronunciation.


Back at the hotel, I set out for a shopping foray to Trader Joes, several blocks up Hyde and am impressed with the store and its range of food and wine, along with the usual household products, all sustainable and organic. Its hugely popular in California and we continue to patronise it when we find them later in our travels. Tonight it’s a fresh NY style pizza from a shop just up from the hotel teamed with a Napa Valley verdehlo from Trader Joes.


Saturday 27th December 2014.


We are booked into the Steinhart until New Years’ day so there’s no need to fret about accommodation or hire car rental or even our future moves for the time being. Our next port of call will be two days in Yosemite National Park, after which we need to plan the rest of the trip.


Eve goes scouting for her morning coffee fix and finds a place just across the street run by two Vietnamese women. In the course of conversation they mention a bus that only runs on the weekend and travels over the Golden Gate bridge and up into the Marin County park area. We file this away for tomorrow’s exploration and head off towards the downtown area.


Today the weather is more of the same – sunny and calm, topping out around 72ºF with a cloudless blue sky. We walk down Sutter Street and stop to admire a fabulous art deco building at 450 Sutter Street, designed and built in 1929. We sneak inside and find the ceiling in the foyer is just as amazing as the outside.


We end up at the visitor centre and purchase 7-day MUNI passes that give us access to all the buses and the cable cars, but not BART. Next port of call is an AT&T office to purchase a SIM card for my old iPhone 4S which I’ve bought along as well as my iPhone 6. This proves to be a great combination as we use the local SIM data connection to fuel Google Maps for just about everything we do – walking and driving.


We decide to return to the Embarcadero area again, and work out the ‘F’ Market and Wharves street car system that runs along Market Street around to almost meet up with the Powell-Mason street car. Our MUNI tickets work on this so, we wait at the Powell and Fifth Street station. And wait, and wait... no ‘F’ street cars going our way, but plenty coming back. Eventually we give up and walk down to the ferry terminal and along the Embarcadero we didn’t cover yesterday. The wharf area is crowded with streams of holiday makers going in both directions.


Because we have made a late start today, we finally end up back at Boudins around 2.00 PM and queue up like good tourists for their signature chowder in a sourdough bun. It’s relatively cheap and extremely tasty, and the throughput of the place is staggering. We purchase a sourdough batard and wander back the way we have come, eventually catching another street car back to 5th and Powell and then a bus back along Sutter to the Steinhart. It’s an early night as we replenish our energy levels for a bigger day tomorrow.


Sunday 29th December 2014


We do breakfast and make it to the 76x bus stop with time to spare. This is a good time to plug a must-have application for your Smartphone called “Tripgo”. Tripgo works in conjunction with Google Maps. It lists all the ways of getting to your nominated destination including public transport. Just selection “Application” on Maps and if Tripgo is loaded you get a list of available options – buses, trains, taxis etc. The information appears to be up to date and gives current fares and times as well.

We end up using Tripgo in conjunction with Maps a lot.


There’s no indication of where to get off on the Marin side, and the bus driver isn’t helpful. We converse with another passenger who turns out to be an Aussie living in San Francisco for more than 10 years who is a mine of information about both the local attractions as well as what to see during our wider travels. He suggests day trips from Las Vagas to both Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon in addition to the Grand Canyon which gives us a focus for planning the rest of our time.


We cross the Golden Gate Bridge and walk up a steepish access road to Hawk Hill, the highest point on Marin Headland with fabulous views over the bridge, bay and city behind. The weather is a little cooler and there is some haze, but we can see clear to East Bay and Oakland, as well as a fair way north up a rugged coastline.


Hawk Hill was developed as the site for two massive 16” naval guns to defend the entrance to San Francisco Bay during the Second World War. The foundations for the guns were laid and their barrels forged and transported to the site. In the event, as the war turned against the Japanese after 1943, the development was shelved. The gun barrels were stored in tunnels adjacent to the mountings until the early 1950’s when they were cut up for scrap. Now the foundations remain as well as excellent access roads and paths all over the headland.


Hawk Hill is also aptly named due to the number of hawks, raptors, eagles, buzzards etc that soar on the updrafts from the bay below. They are present in greatest numbers during May – December, so there weren’t so many around today but judging by the indicative wingspan models some of these birds are big.


We walk back down Conzelman Road to where we left the bus and continue walking down towards the bridge. There’s a large viewing area close to the north end tower and we can walk out to get a closer perspective of the bridge and its access structure.

It’s easy to forget this is the depths of winter in FullSizeRender.jpgthe USA, with sunny skies and light winds. However, the sun’s position way to the south does become an issue when taking photographs and later when driving when it seems to be always in your eyes.


IMG_1540.JPGWe continue down to the bridge itself and find a cycleway that leads to Sausalito, some three miles to the east, under the bridge and around the coast.


We are well into our stride by now and enjoy the undulating route past various settlements until we reach Sausalito itself.


Alcatraz.jpgWhich looks a lot like Wellington – houses up the side of hills, a well-developed town centre facing onto the bay. House prices are astronomical even by Auckland standards, but it would be an easy commute by ferry into the city, or even by car. It’s lunch time, followed by a short wait for the ferry and then back via Alcatraz Island with a chance to get close enough to satisfy any desire to visit the prison itself.


Back at the Embarcadero we wander through the Farmer’s market that is in full swing in the Ferry Building Marketplace. Lots of food and drink, organic vegetables, breads etc. We purchase organic Italian sausages laced with fennel for dinner and manage to catch an elusive “F” line street car back to the city centre and another bus up Sutter Street and home.


This was a really nice day in all respects. Weather was perfect and we were able to get out of the city and enjoy time on our feet and on the water.


Monday 30th December


GG2.jpgToday is another exploring sort of day where we plan to visit some of the city’s landmarks including walking the Golden Gate Bridge and venturing into several public parks. Before we start out, I wander down to the Alamo Car Rental office a few blocks away in Bush Street. There’s a queue already at 9.00 AM but eventually I get served and book a mid-size auto, something like a Toyota Corolla for pickup on 1 January.


We aren’t rushing anywhere and its mid-morning before we catch a Number 10 Bus near the corner of Van Ness Avenue and Sutter Street. It’s about 20 minutes on Route 101 to Vista Point on the northern end of the bridge, where we alight and join a vast crowd all with the same intention of walking, jogging or cycling back to the city side. There’s a corresponding mass of people doing the same thing from the other end, so it is pretty congested especially as everyone with a selfie stick is determined to record their progress every 10 yards or so.


Nevertheless it’s generally good humoured and everyone is happy to share the available space on the walkway. The art deco features of the bridge are very impressive up close and the view from the bridge deck is great. Viewranger tells me it’s about 3.6 Km long and 63 metres above the water at its highest point.


Reaching the city end leaves us with an appetite and a desire for something Mexican for lunch. There’s a recommended restaurant in the Marina District that’s a short bus trip away so we are quickly in the queue at Tacolicious. We were quickly seated and fresh taco chips and guacamole, and a draft Dos Equis and crisp Sonoma verdelho were soon at hand. A selection of tacos including Guajillo braised beef short rib, carnitas, fish and chicken mole were ordered and leisurely dealt to, aided by a fine range of dipping sauces of varying intensity. An excellent repast at a thumbs-up location.


PL3.jpgIt’s after three PM so the consensus is to head for Alamo Square to view SF’s famous painted ladies, houses built in the Victorian and Edwardian style between 1849 and 1915. Many were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, others were subsequently pulled down or extensively ‘modernised’. Remaining examples began to be repainted in their original bright colours in the 1970s. The row of houses in Steiner Street opposite Alamo Park in the Haight-Ashbury area was built between 1892 – 96 and captures the design and features of a distinctive San Francisco style.



This particular group of houses features regularly in TV and film, and often copied around the world, e.g. Oriental Bay in Wellington has its own “painted ladies” of roughly the same era and similarly coloured and cared for. The detail that has been incorporated into each house is fantastic. No doubt anyone purchasing one would be aware of the constant attention.


The sun is going down around five o’clock each evening so there’s just time to hop another bus and head for Golden Gate Park, San Francisco’s answer to Central Park in New York. It’s over 400 Hectares in area and houses various museums, academies and gardens as well as playing fields, running and cycling tracks and much more. We reach the park just on dusk so there’s not much time to explore, apart from the grounds of the Conservatory of Flowers – the conservatory itself is closed for renovation, but it’s pretty much an exact copy of Kew Gardens in London. Conservatory of Flowers.jpg


It’s too bad we are out of time to wander further but Golden Gate Park is definitely something to keep in mind for another time.


Tuesday 31st December


It’s New Years’ Eve and we determine that the place to be at midnight is on the Embarcadero. Whether we have the stamina to stay up that late remains to be seen.


CC1.jpgHowever, first we have to do the real touristy thing and take a cable car from Powell Street down to the Embarcadero and back. We arrive at the Powell Street terminus and join a queue that reaches half way up the opposite side of the street. It’s easy to stand in the sun and chat to others around us. Eve spots a makeup store that is highly rated by Siobhan so heads off towards it. There are several interactions with Siobhan in Wellington to get exactly what she wants, while I hold our position and edge towards the tram boarding area. Finally we get to the head of the queue and score outside seats to boot.


The tram ride itself is quite fun, especially when you are clinging on to the outside. Most of the action revolves around the antics of the brakeman and conductor, old hands at ensuring the tourists get their money’s worth. Their chat up lines are worthy of a TV show in themselves.


Once we get to the far terminus, there’s nothing else to do but to queue a wait for the next tram back again. Again, it’s easy to idle away the time and listen to the buskers who on the whole are pretty good... worth a couple of dollars in tips at least.


We have arranged to meet an old friend, Michael Bates who is going to show us around UC Berkeley. Michael was the Chief Toxicologist for the Ministry of Health back in the 90’s and took the opportunity to complete his PhD at Berkeley and is now Adjunct Professor, Epidemiology at the University’s School of Public Health. We catch the BART at Powell Street and alight at McArthur Station on the East Bay side – and immediately spot Michael who we haven’t seen for the best part of 20 years.


Berkeley is one of the flagship universities in the world, with 22 Nobel Prize winners and over 350 academic programmes. It was founded on gold rush money in 1869 with a charter to provide education for the new state of California’s citizens. Women were admitted the following year. As the founding institution of the University of California, Berkeley was the centre of ongoing debate as to what learning it should promote. It narrowly escaped being exclusively focused on “practical” education, with all elements of “classical” education being excluded. This still sounds familiar some 150 years later.


In the event, Berkeley has excelled in all branches of learning Notable achievements include the discovery of vitamin “E”, finding a lost Scarlatti opera, identification of the flu’ virus and drafting the nation’s no-fault divorce laws. It has been a hot bed of social activism, particularly during the Vietnam war and up to the present.


UCB3.jpgSo Berkeley is the epitome of what a real university should be, and our tour with Michael certainly proved the point. While his own facility building was rather run down and nondescript, the magnificent library and other faculties were outstanding examples of what a vision with lots of money can achieve. Many of the buildings were either planned or built by the Hearst family – not William Randolph (of which more, later) but his Mum and Dad.


There are still a number of the original buildings on campus, however a number were demolished during the 50’s and 60’s when student numbers soared. One I was particularly taken with was South Hall, the only survivor from the original campus and built in 1873. It was originally home to the University’s College of Agriculture, hence the sheaves of wheat and other pastoral products carved as escutcheons.


Coming back to the Nobel Prize winners, I was keen to see whether the story about Berkeley’s Nobel Laureates received a free parking space or if it was an urban legend. It turns out to be true, with eight Laureates currently in residence holding “NL” permits for use in designated “NL” parks.  It’s good to know that Fields Medal winners (mathematicians don’t get a crack at the Nobel, so the Fields is their top honour) are also allowed to use the “NL” spaces. Berkeley has three of these, including New Zealander Vaughn Jones.


Sather Gate previously marked the southern extent of the campus when it was designed by John Galen Howard in the original beaux-Arts style and completed in 1910. Originally it included eight panels of bas-relief figures: four nude men representing the disciplines of law, letters, medicine, and mining, and four nude women representing the disciplines of agriculture, architecture, art, and electricity. This proved too much for refined tastes in the 1930’s so that the male figures were removed. They were reinstated in 2009 when the gate was refurbished.


Christ the Light.jpgAfter an informed tour of the campus Michael drove us to downtown Berkeley where we walked around Lake Merritt, home to a wide variety of waterfowl and the Cathedral of Christ the Light built to replace  the St. Francis de Sales Cathedral, which was destroyed in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. It’s a stunning example of modern architecture. Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill who are big noises when it comes to buildings that make statements. It has a wooden/glass skin that simply floods the congregation with space and light. You don’t have to be a believer to appreciate this masterpiece.


Later we joined Michael and Janet for a marvellous meal, before returning to San Francisco via BART. Festivities were in full swing on the train which was packed to the gunnels with would-be revellers heading for the Embarcadero. Eve and I looked at each other and determined this would require a level of stamina beyond our reserves, so we walked back to the Steinhart and watched the world ring in 2015 on television, and hence to bed. 

31 jan 15 @ 2:38 pm          Comments

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ringing out 2011....

Today is 31st December 2011, for most of us a year of hanging on for the ride. We've made it to the end in good physical and financial health. Our children are well launched on their respective careers and both of us are fully engaged with work and business activities.

Normally we are on holiday at this time but have opted to stay in Wellington this year with plans to travel to several different locations in 2012.

31 dec 11 @ 6:01 pm          Comments

2015.01.01 | 2011.12.01

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 Ninety years young!

In 2010 our mother celebrated her 90th birthday. We assembled in Perth, Western Australia from all around the world to celebrate the arc of history that she and our father have lived through and played a part in through their lives.

Katherine Elizabeth Mooney was born in Calcutta, India in 1920. Her parents decided to move to Australia just prior to the onset of the great depression. Our parents met after the second world war, married and raised a family on a farm in South Western Australia.


The photo shows our parents and all six children all together for the first time since 1992.

Offroad running

Over the past decade I have found long distance running provides the perfect exercise. You can do it just about anywhere and any time, at your choice of pace and level of exertion. After five marathons (including London and New York) I found road running was becoming a bore. Furthermore it led to increased injuries due to the sameness of surface and repetitive action of feet, ankles, knees and hips.

Enter off roading. From a tentative start I have found off road running a natural transition from road running, with every step different and a whole new level of fitness being required. Initiatially I was less than enthusiastic about running up hills. However, over the past six months I have gained the fitness necessary to take on any hill, mountain or peak without fear.

The past year has been a good one as far as off road events in New Zealand are concerned. I have participated in The Goat (Whakapapa to Turoa); Tussock Traverse (Tokino to Chateau); Abel Tasman Classic from Awaroa to ... and the best one of all, the Kepler Challenge.

This is a 60Km offroader that is held annually in the first week of December, with approximately 400 participants. Whereas the winner generally breezes home in around five hours, I was much more stately, finishing in 10 hours 43. I wan't last but if I did it again I'd want to keep my time under 8 hours 30 minutes.