California Dreaming (8)

Yesterday we had a slightly lazier day in Santa Barbara. In the morning we went for a walk into town, called for some breakfast and then climbed to the top of the Courthouse Tower to look at the amazing view over the city. The rest of the day was spent relaxing by the pool in the glorious sunshine. I’m the one in the shade reading as I burn too quickly sitting out in the sun. However it was lovely to be out in the warm sunshine, having an occasional dip in the pool.

In the evening we something to eat and then a walk on the pier. We then had a coffee sitting on the balcony before another good nights sleep.

A long day’s drive

Today we set off on the long drive South towards Los Angeles. Some of it was really pretty, especially Paradise Cove where we stopped off for brunch at the beach restaurant. Because it was Sunday and such a hot day the coast road was extremely busy and we struggled to find anywhere else to park on the beaches on the way, so we continued our journey and will hopefully get chance to drive back and see some of the things we have missed.

I definitely underestimated just how big Los Angeles is and how much of a drive there would be to the places that we want to visit, compared to the drives that we have already done. A lot of the outskirts of Los Angeles away from the beaches is very industrial, so not very scenic.

We are staying at the Regency Hyatt at Huntington Beach which is a huge hotel, situated just across from the beach. The rooms are beautiful and luckily we are staying for three nights.

We’ve got a busy couple if days ahead, so it’s out for tea and then an early night as we have to be up early tomorrow to travel to Universal Studios. Can’t wait!

California Dreaming (7)

The wind had really dropped this morning, making the day feel much hotter. We had a relaxing start to the morning by sitting outside for breakfast in the sunshine. After checking out of the hotel, we then drove inland to Solvang.

Solvang

This a beautiful little town which was founded by the Danes in 1911. It is like stepping back in time into a little Danish village with quaint shops, lovely bakeries and coffee houses and a windmill scattered here and there. I expected it to be a small square or a couple of rows of houses, but it is actually much bigger than that and it quite a large town in its own right.

We spent the morning ambling round the town and looking in the shops. Of course calling for a Danish pastry was a must, although I couldn’t manage to eat one, I am told they were delicious.

Santa Barbara

Our stopover for the next two nights was The Harbor View Inn at Santa Barbara. The weather had certainly improved as we have travelled south and it was now 82 degrees! It was still a little breezy, but actually  that’s quite nice as otherwise it may be too hot.

The hotel is beautiful, overlooking the sea, with a lovely pool and garden.

We spent the afternoon lounging by the pool as our rooms weren’t ready when we arrived. We then sat on the balcony overlooking the pool before getting showered and changed ready to go out for tea

Santa Barbara is much livelier than many of the beach towns that we have visited so far. It has a massive beach area and pier. The town is up the hill away from the beach and as it was Friday night the bars and restaurants were a hive of activity. There was music coming from a lot of the bars which gave it a real holiday atmosphere. We ate at Casa Blanca Mexican restaurant, sitting outside as it was so warm. The young lady who served us was so friendly and helpful and the food was excellent.

And so ends another great day in California.

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It’s certainly true what they say, that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. The motel (Sands by the Sea) at San Simeon was actually really comfortable, the food was good in the adjacent restaurant and I had a really good nights sleep. Unfortunately I have now picked up the cold that our friends have had over the last week, which is not great when you’re on holiday.

Hearst Castle

William Randolph Hearst was in the movie and newspaper industry and was worth millions upon millions of dollars. As a young boy he visited Europe with his mother and was fascinated with the history, architecture and art. About 50 years later he built a “ranch” on the hillside overlooking the bay of San Simeon, which he loved. He bought sculptures, tapestries and furniture. What he could not buy he had made. It took over 20 years and when he died it still wasn’t completed.

The result of all this is what is now known as Hearst Castle. This is a rambling estate built atop a hill, with a 5 mile road that was built especially to reach it. It resembles a Mediterranean village with a castle at its centre and smaller cottages for visitors. It has an indoor and outdoor pool and is dripping in artwork. It was visited by the rich, famous and influential, by invitation only.

We took the grand tour, which covers the downstairs of the main house. Our guide was informative, not only about the building and its history, but also about Mr Hearst himself, who was a quiet man influencing politics and policies from the background. One of the really interesting things was the fact that his chief architect was a woman, Julia Morgan, who was way ahead of her time in her achievements.

Included in the tour was a 40 minute film which told of Hearst’s background, his determined father and his forward thinking mother. It told how Hearst, despite his fortune was a philanthropist and wanted the house that he built to be seen by the people as a museum of architecture.

It is certainly an impressive place. Afterwards we were allowed to wander the gardens and see the indoor pool before getting the bus back down the road to the visitor centre. It was definitely a worthwhile visit, helped immensely by the helpful and informative staff and the lovely sunny day.

A scenic coastal drive

Our journey then took us southwards down the coast, calling off to see a colony of elephant seals, sunbathing on the beach. I have never seen or expected to see so many seals in one place. What a site! We watched them for ages before continuing our journey.

We also called at Moonstone Bay, at the bar and grill, for some lunch. This was recommended by a member of staff at the castle. Lunch was beautiful, as was the view across the bay.

We drove through Cayucos, another beautiful town, before viewing Morro Rock from the bay. Although it was warm it was really windy in the bay, so we took some photos and continued our journey.

Pismo Beach

Our overnight stay was at Ocean View Hotel at Pismo Beach. What a beautiful hotel, in its own grounds, overlooking the sea. It was not lavish like the Fairmont and Monterey Plaza, but was pretty and practical with a stunning view over the beach. The grounds had BBQ’s , fire pits and tables where families could sit out and play and cook their own food. It had a lovely atmosphere.

We walked along the extremely flat beach to the pier and then back, just as the tide was coming in. I had a very brief paddle in the sea as the water was freezing. The wind was blowing the sand like some kind of mist across the beach, but not up in the air, which something I’ve never seen before.

For our evening we went to The Cool Cat diner, which was a traditional American Diner. The food was great and the staff were friendly and helpful.

We then went back to the hotel and sat by one of the fire pits before going to bed.

California dreaming (5)

Another superb day in California. The day initially seemed quite grey and cloudy, but very warm. However the clouds soon started to lift and it was a beautifully sunny day.

We drove from the hotel around a small part of the coast which was amazingly pretty. We stopped at a few viewpoints to take photos, including lovers point, prior to joining Seventeen Mile Drive.

Seventeen Mile Drive

What an exceptionally picturesque place to visit. You pay 10 dollars per vehicle to enter the scenic drive and are given a map showing all the scenic and historic points. It’s so easy to find your way around as it is so well laid out and sign posted. Everything is so pristine and well kept.

There are some absolutely stunning views and again we were able to see lots of different animals and birds in our journey. There are lots of information boards which tell you everything you need to know about what you can see.

At the end of the drive is Pebble Beach Golf Resort, where we stopped off for lunch at The Bench restaurant. The food as always was amazing and as a bonus, you receive a 10 dollar refund on your food, giving you the money back that you paid as an entrance fee.

It took all morning to do the drive, but I’ve never been happier to spend well over two hours to travel 17 miles.

Carmel

After lunch we drove to the very quaint and picturesque town of Carmel. We wandered around a few of the many shops. They are really unusual shops with some really classy items on sale. The town is really interesting to wander round and it makes a change to seeing the usual touristy things on sale.

After a spot of retail therapy, we embarked on our long journey southwards to San Simeon.

We are staying in a motel on the coast (Sands by the sea), which is completely different to the hotel we left behind in Monterey. It is comfortable and tidy, but has no airs and graces. Perhaps we’ve become a bit spoiled by the lovely hotels we’ve stayed at so far!

Heres to a good nights sleep, ready for another busy day tomorrow.

 

California Dreaming (4)

The only word that I can use to describe today is WOW!!

Drive to the Big Sur

Before we arrived in California we knew that parts of the Pacific Highway were closed due to damage caused by the rain over the winter. Today we set off towards the Big Sur, knowing that we would have to drive back as there is no longer a through road. It was definitely worth it. There were so many beautiful places to stop and take photos along the way, I almost lost count.

One of the first places we stopped was Monastery Beach. The sky was so blue and the sun was shining. There were huge waves crashing into the beach. Just a little bit further down the beach we caught sight of a seal just making its way back into the water. This was just the start of some of the wonderful things we would see today.

Stopping further down the coast at several beautiful coves the views were fantastic.

We saw sea otters playing in the sea. We watched one using a stone to break clam shells and eat the contents!

Bixby Canyon Bridge

One of the most amazing sights along the Big Sur is the Bixby Canyon Bridge. It is an unbelievable feat of English jeering, but the fact that it is surrounded by stunning views makes it even better. We had to stop off here to take photos of such an iconic place and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

We then drove further south, calling at The River Inn for an amazing lunch. We then had to turn around and make our way back to Monterey as the road was closed yet a little way ahead.

Nature at its best

On returning to the Plaza, we walked along the beach front towards Fisherman’s Wharfe. There were a number of seals and sea otters playing in the sea and sunbathing on the rocks. It was great to see them in their natural habitat. Also along the rocks were some very large red star fish.

Walking back along the pier we saw what we thought was a seal on the beach. It then became clear that it was actually in distress. Luckily someone had called the local sea life rescue and after waiting anxiously for quite a while, they turned up to asepsis the animal. It was in fact a walrus pup that had been separated from its mother, but they soon sorted it out and sent it back on its way.

A relaxing spa afternoon

On returning to the hotel we went into the top floor to spend some time in the spa. This is open air, glass fronted, overlooking the sea. The hot tubs were wonderfully warm, the changing rooms were luxurious and there was an open fire to sit by just for relaxation.

To add to all this, whilst in the spa, looking out to sea we Were treated to seeing a peregrine falcon resting on the balcony below and a whale and some dolphins swimming past the hotel.  You really couldn’t make today any better.

After a lovely meal in the hotel restaurant and a cocktail by the fire pit, it’s time for bed, with dreams of a Suberb day and hopefully more to come.

California dreaming (3)

The third day dawned quite grey and misty. Our plan was to visit Muir Woods. After having breakfast, we collected our hire car. My husband offered to be the first driver, which was a very brave decision. Driving an unknown car up and down the hills of San Francisco to collect our cases from the hotel was no mean feat. However he did a great job and we drove across a very murky Golden Gate Bridge and along the road north.

Unfortunately by the time we had done the short drive to Muir Woods it was raining quite hard and was even foggier. We decided that we would not see very much and didn’t really think there would be much pleasure from wandering around in the rain so we decided to start heading on our route southwards.

Capitola Beach

A few weeks ago someone told us that a really good place to stop on route would be a small town called Capitola. As we arrived it had brightened up a little bit. We were so impressed by Capitola.

It is a small quaint town with a beautiful beach, some unusual shops and some very quirky and pretty beach houses. We had some lunch and a wander around, completing our visit by walking along the pier.

This was somewhere that we would have probably missed and just passed by if we had not known about it, so it was great to be given the heads-up and to see such a lovely place, before driving on to our destination for the night.

Monterey

Our stop over for the next two nights was Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa. What an absolutely stunning hotel. The rooms were enormous and the views from the patio area were out of this world.

After checking into our rooms, we went out for a walk along to Fisherman’s Wharfe. This was more how I’d imagined a wharfe to look rather than the busy and commercial Fisherman’s Wharfe in San Francisco. It was a combination of restaurants and shops, but not too touristy.

We had a beautiful meal at Domenicos on the Wharfe. This is mainly a seafood reastaraunt. The food was absolutely amazing. Afterwards we had a short walk back to the hotel, sat by the fire pit on the patio for a short while, before going to bed.

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Some more San Francisco sights

We took advantage of the bus tour again today and set off to ride to look at The Painted Ladies, which is a row of quaint looking houses painted in different colours They are very much the kind of houses you see in films and on TVs when you think of San Francisco.

After viewing the houses we got back on the bus and took another trip across a very windy Golden Gate Bridge. It’s hard to describe how impressive the bridge is until you see it, or just how cold you can feel, even on a fairly warm day.

We then wandered around Pier 39 and has some lunch before taking our trip to Alcatraz.

Alcatraz – impressive and thought provoking

In order to get to Alcatraz you have to take a ferry. Now anyone who knows me will tell you that I am not a fan of boats, particularly when the sea is so choppy.  However I really wanted to see Alcatraz and the ferry journey is only about 15 minutes.

From a distance Alcatraz appears to be a small building on top of a hill on a small island. When you actually arrive there you realise how huge it is.

The pre recorded walking tour is done in a way that tells the history of the prison in an interesting way. It certainly makes you think about the people that were placed in there. It’s quite an eerie place and it helps you to imagine what it would have been like when it was a prison which housed what were seen as the most dangerous criminals of America.

One other important thing that I learned was the occupation of Alcatraz by the Native  Americans after it was closed down as a prison. Although the attempts to make it into a heritage centre and university didn’t quite happen, I understand from the visit that it certainly made America reconsider their actions against the Native Americans, which could have only been a good thing.

I really enjoyed the visit and it is certainly worthwhile booking if you ever get chance to visit San Francisco.

Cable car journey

Our last event of the day was to take a Cable car back up to the hotel. There were two reasons for this. One was that we were all exhausted and the second was that we just couldn’t leave San Francisco without travelling on the Cable car at least once.

It was only a short journey and of course we had to do it standing and holding on, not sitting down. What a great end to a busy couple of days!

California Dreaming (1)

A long journey but worth it

After many months of planning we arrived safely in San Francisco at about 5pm local time, which was 3am British time. We were all feeling a little weary, but once we’d got to the hotel and checked in we decided to keep going until a “normal” bedtime.

Our first venture out was to Fisherman’s Wharf (all down hill). We had a wander round, then called at Boudin for something to eat. I had soup in a roll (soup and a roll will never be the same again). By this time we had reached our tiredness limit and walked back up to he hotel. Obviously this was all up hill, and boy are they big hills! However we made it all the way back, with a slight detour due to tiredness and poor map reading skills.

We were staying at the Fairmont, which is quite a swanky hotel. It is a bit old-worldly and reminds me of the hotels you see in black and white films. After a lovely warm shower, I got into what felt like the worlds comfiest bed and slept until 6am

Big bus tour, micro climate and lovely food

Our first day started with the sun shining and with a walk in the opposite direction towards Union Square, calling in for breakfast at The Cable Car Cafe. The food was great. I had scrambled eggs, potatoes and toast and a lovely cup of tea.

Our next stop was to pick up The Big Bus Tour at Union Square. The tour took about 2 1/2 hours and covers a large area of San Francisco with a pre recorded commentary. There was so much to see. Of course we sat on the open top of the bus. It was initially warm but going overGolden Gate Bridge the wind picked up and it was decidedly chilly. However we braved it and it was worth it to see all the amazing sites on offer.

There are some very pretty areas and some interesting sites Golden Gate Park, Golden Gate Bridge and the hippy area are great to see.

However, here like most major cities there is a massive divide between the rich and poor. The many homeless wander pushing their trollies but not really bothering anyone. It certainly makes you appreciate how lucky you are.

Another hilly walk

After the bus tour we alked along pier 39, which was bustling with people and the sun was out. There are some great quirky shops and eateries and a combination of tempting smells.

The seals that lay in the sun at pier 39 are amusing to watch. I knew that they had seals there, but didn’t appreciate how many there would be.

Our next stop was another walk to the top of Lombard Street which then leads to the curviest steepest street you will ever see. It’s great for a photo opportunity and to watch the drivers making their way down the hill slowly. I for one was glad that I was walking down not driving.

At this point hunger was calling and we stopped at a lovely bar called Jack’s Cannery Bar. Sitting out in the sunshine having a cold drink and a crab salad chatting and a thing the world go by- You can’t beat it!

A chilly evening tour

Our evening took us back on The Big Bus for the evening tour. It was breezy and cold, but we expected that so we’re well prepared. This tour took us over Bay Bridge to Treasure Island and around some of the sites that we had seen during the day.

It was quite good, but as it was still daylight we didn’t get to see the city at night with all the lovely twinkly lights like I thought we would. Perhaps I  underestimated how late it would be when it came dark.

Our day ended in Louie’s Diner near Union Square. We were going to go to The Cheescake Factory but it was packed. The Diner was a 50’s style, like you see in the films and the food was great, so not at all disappointed that we didn’t make the Cheescake Factory.

After a warm bath I got into bed feeling that I’d had a great day. I’d walked 30000 steps and the equivalent of 139 flights of stairs!

Oh and by the way one site I never expected to see on the bay – naked cyclists. A group of middle aged, pale men Apparently it’s legal in California as long as you are wearing one item of clothing. Which explains why one was wearing socks and one was wearing a mask. I didn’t look for long enough to see what the others were wearing!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally Fifty

 

So the party was last week, but on Wednesday I finally turned fifty this week. I can’t say that I really feel any different. I don’t look any different. The world is still turning, so I survived pretty well. When I started my blog in January, being fifty in April still seemed a long tome away, but now its here and yes I am 50!

The first Quarter

I feel that I have achieved quite a lot in the first quarter of this year and feel proud of myself. According to my Strava I have walked a total of 183 miles so far. I think that’s pretty good. I have lost almost 2 stones (1 stone 12 1/2 lbs to be precise). I have taken part in several park runs, including one in London, where I turned up on my own to run, without knowing anyone at all. I have completed a training qualification. Most of all, I have managed to write a blog each Sunday and find something interesting to put in it. All in all a pretty good start to the year.

Easter Sunday

Toady was Easter day, which has always been an important day in our family. This year was a bit different, as my eldest daughter did not come home from university and my youngest had been out with friends and stayed over, so we did not see her until lunchtime.

My husband and I went to church. Part of me feels that this is something that I do out of habit these days. I have always gone to church and would have said that I have a strong faith. However these days I find myself questioning quite a lot of things that I have always believed (Maybe that’s a conversation for another day). However, today I enjoyed the service and also socialising with members of the congregation afterwards.

After church we had family at our house for Sunday lunch. This consisted of my mum and dad, in laws, a lovely lady from church who is a really good friend of the family and my sister in laws mum. When our youngest daughter came home for lunch it reduced our average age to about 70! After spending last weekend with all the young people, it was certainly different to have the older generation with us this weekend, but it was really lovely to sit and chat and for them to catch up with each other too.

Looking Forward

So what’s next? Well later this week my husband and I are setting off on holiday with friends. We are driving the Pacific Coast Road, starting in San Francisco and ending in San Diego. Like my party, it has been a long time in planning. As I write I haven’t started packing yet. I’ve bought a new suitcase and a pair of trousers, so tomorrow I definitely need to get organised and start sorting put some clothes and packing.

It is the longest time that we will have been away without our girls. It’s not like we are abandoning them, they are old enough to be left at home, but it will seem strange to have a long holiday without them.

My intention is to write a blog more often over the next couple of weeks, hopefully updating on our travels in California. Again I don’t know whether anyone will read it, but it will be a record for me of what we did each day, the sights that we have seen and any other interesting snippets along the way.

Shortly after I return I will then be taking part in the moonwalk in London, so sitting down on holiday for two weeks is not an option. I will definitely need to keep up walking some distances whilst I am away.

So hopefully I will write later in the week and let you know about my travels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh What A Night!

I love it when a plan comes together

So after six months of planning this weekend was my fiftieth birthday party. I knew exactly how I wanted it to go. When people had asked me what I wanted for my birthday, there wasn’t anything that I wanted more than to have all my friends and family together in one place. It’s not that I wanted to be the centre of attention, or to show off, just to see everyone enjoying themselves, laughing, dancing and singing and to create the type of memories that money cannot buy.

Viva Las Vegas

I chose a Las Vegas theme for my party. Some people that know me well were a little surprised at this as I’m not really the bright lights, loud, brash and over the top type of person. Years ago I was the type of person who would have said that I wasn’t particularly bothered about travelling to the USA, but then we took our girls to Florida and all that changed. I loved the customer service, the attention to detail and the way that everything is just so much “bigger and better” than anywhere else. After this I was hooked and shortly afterwards visited Las Vegas for our wedding anniversary and I absolutely loved it! We returned again for our 25th Anniversary and it was just as magical the second time around.

I thin the reason that I love it some much is that it is just so not me. I love the countryside, walking, evenings in with friends, but there is also a side of me that loves a party and just having those moments where you can let your hair down and just be a little bit wild and slightly bonkers.

Worth the work

So I had a venue, got a DJ booked, I’d ordered a casino, arranged the catering and two ofmy eldest daughters lovely friends were coming to sing for me. I made table decorations, bunting and ordered sweets to make a candy buffet. I had decided on my playlist, which I have talked about on my blog previously.

I made my own invitations and sent them out, after writing, rewriting and writing again my guest list. There were loads more people I wanted to invite, but was limited for numbers. I managed to narrow it down to 120 people. I wanted the people there who had played a big part in my life and who would know how much that night meant to me.

Friday was spent with my youngest daughter making mountains of cupcakes. On Saturday the hairdresser did my hair at 930am. I was convinced that it would be a mess by the evening, but fate smiled on me, there was no wind, rain or drizzle and by evening it still looked the same.

My eldest daughter and her friends arrived safely and on time on the train from London. My youngest daughters friend came and did my makeup for me and we were ready to go.

At the venue, just before people arrived, I suddenly had that moment of doubt that it would all go horribly wrong and I started to panic. Everyone was telling me to calm down and that it would be fine. Once people started to arrive I started to calm down and enjoy myself. And boy did I enjoy myself!

It couldn’t have been better

The evening started with my daughter’s friends singing some swing songs. They were amazing! I haven’t named them on her, but hopefully with their permission I will share some of the video footage on a future blog. When the boys got me up to dance with them I was way out of my comfort zone, but I embraced it, went with it and actually enjoyed being the centre of attention. As a surprise for me my husband and eldest daughter sang a duet – Me and my shadow, which was so good.

 

Afterwards we had superb food and the casino was open. People were up dancing and we had table magic. My lovely brother in law took loads of photos.

I danced all night and I have blisters on my feet to prove it!

I didn’t drink too much. early in the evening my youngest daughter was trying to get me to drink jaeger bombs, but I wanted to enjoy the evening and still remember it in the morning! However she made me promise that at 1130pm I would drink a jaeger bomb, which I did! I think this was my first one ever and I quite enjoyed it.

I was so happy to see everyone enjoying themselves and I have to say that it was everything that I wanted it to be and more!

Sometimes you can plan things and they don’t end up being what you expected, or don’t make you as happy as you think they will, but on this occasion I was overwhelmed with how wonderful it felt to have such superb family and friends, who all joined in with the partying and many of whom embraced the theme by coming in fancy dress.

I hope that everyone enjoyed it as much as I did!

The morning after!

This isn’t a tale of regret or hangovers!

Sunday morning dawned and was a beautiful sunny day. We had not gone to bed until about 230am, but I was wide awake at 630am, I think it was all the sugar!

I sat out in the garden, in the sunshine, with a cup of tea and waited for everyone else to wake up. We had six of my eldest daughter’s friends staying over and also my youngest daughter’s best friend. It was so great to have a house full of young people again.

I cooked breakfast for everyone and we sat out in the garden most of the day, eating sweets and cupcakes. I also broke one of the golden rules of our family and opened all my presents, even though my birthday isn’t until later this week.

Later in the day we went to see my daughter and her friends off at the station and then went to my brother in laws house to look through all the photos, which were superb and will save those brilliant memories for me.

I have to say it has been the best birthday weekend ever. I feel so lucky to have all these wonderful people around me and want to thank each and everyone one of you who made this such a happy and memorable birthday!