A Travellerspoint blog

The last blog

Returning to San Francisco and our final days

sunny

After a brilliant week spent in Vancouver - a huge thanks to our marvelous hosts and apologies for eating you out of pickles - we reluctantly boarded the bus to Seattle and embarked on our massive journey back to San Francisco. San Francisco was to be our last stop of the big tour and we were sad to be leaving Canada. Tom had also feared that Katie might have shredded the passports in a bid to keep us there, but this was not so and we made it over the border in once piece.

Before boarding the train in Seattle we decided to get some sandwiches so that we didn't have to purchase expensive microwave pizzas from the buffet car to keep us going on the train. Now, what is it with Americans and sandwiches? They love putting huge amounts of ham slices and fake cheese on them. It takes about 20 minutes to peal of half it so that it is edible. I will give them credit for their excellent array of condiments, but they need to sort the cheese situation out. I would kind of understand putting cheese on everything if it was nice cheese, and indeed this is how Tom lives normally, but the cheese is nasty. Rant over.

The train ride went smoothly and we managed to get some sleep which was great. The only thing of note was that we saw a drunk man getting thrown off the train in the middle of absolutely nowhere because he had been caught smoking. All terribly dramatic, with passengers really enjoying the show.

We arrived into San Francisco in the morning and after a hearty breakfast at a classic American diner, we headed out to the shops around Union Square to pick up a few bits and pieces. Once the shopping was completed we caught a cable car across town and up and down perilously steep hills. Exciting stuff, particularly for Tom had a standing spot hanging on to the outside. We got off by the sea and wondered about for a while before visiting the "crookedest street" and enjoying the views.

We had arranged to stay with our friend Ali's brother (Andy) that night and we spent an enjoyable evening with him and his girlfriend Emily. Andy also felt similar frustrations about the ham in sandwiches.

So here we are on our last day, trying to ram everything back into our bags and get everything sorted for the flight back. Our plane leaves at 7:05pm tonight and we arrive at 5am our time, which is 1pm UK time on Saturday. We can't believe it's the end of the trip and although we are looking forward to seeing everybody again there is a large part of us that wants more time; we didn't even touch Africa, South America or New Zealand. So (unrealistic) plans are afoot for the next trip: Tom and Katie's World Tour II: Return to the Southern Hemisphere. Watch this space. Over and out.

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Posted by tomkat2010 15.04.2011 15:01 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Vancouver

sunny

Before I forget, we were told by someone in Vancouver that Monterey was also the place where they filmed 'The Bench' scene in Forrest Gump. In retrospect this explains the presence of Bubba Gump's restaurant, but as we didn't know at the time we sadly missed an excellent Tom with box of chocolates photo opportunity. Never mind. Next time.

After brekkie today we set off with Aileen for a spot of snow-shoeing. I can't tell you how excited Katie was about this, and for good reason, because it is great fun. In fact, probably the most fun you can have on snow going up hill.

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Snow-shoeing is the modern day equivalent of strapping tennis rackets to your feet. We tooled up and set off up Dog Mountain - Aileen's local snow-shoeing haunt. We walked along a trail that took us through a pine forest on snow around 20ft deep. Apparently you can do the same walk in the summer on the ground and you can see the snow-shoe trail markers nailed to trees 25ft above your head.

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We stopped for a snack atop the Black Dog next to a fern no bigger than your average christmas tree, but which in actual fact was probably the very tip of an enourmous pine buried in the snow. Anyway, a break in the clouds gave us a georgous view over the inlet to downtown Vancouver.

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In the evening we went along to see Uncle Stuart's choir, the Capilano University Choral Ensemble, perform Vivaldi's Gloria. The main event was preceded by a few more modern pieces including an excellent interpretation of Toto's Africa. A masterpiece I have to say. Thoroughly enjoyed the show.

On Sunday we went to meet the younger two of Katie's cousins, David and Graham, for breakfast before heading to the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. David taught us how to get the bus for free - Reid through and through.

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(Left to Right: Katie, David, Graham, Bunch of Grapes)

The museum of Anthropology is based in the UBC campus. The builiding is held together with authentic first nation house poles - as well as concrete. The museum focuses on the first nation peoples of Canada so there are a lot of totem poles which are very beautiful and detailed as we found out during the free tour, which was considerably less boring than the first talk we went to about a Canadian artist. The museum is laid out very well and we learnt a heck of a lot about first nation people and the Kwakwaka'wakw tribe (they were our favourite due to their name and their poles were the coolest). Enough of this educational stuff- time for cocktails and more Honeyman eating!

We met Katie's eldest cousin Jennifer, Husband Ewan and Aileen and Stuart for a lovely meal that night, which we started with Tom's first tasting of Clamato juice. For those who don't know, clamato juice is tomato juice mixed with clam juice - bit disgusting. Tom had it as part of a "Caesar" cocktail in honour of our good friend Andrea, whom Tom had not believed when she had told him of the existence of this drink. Apologies Andrea, we were ignorant but now we know. In America you can get clamato juice pre-mixed with beer. Enough said.

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The next day we rented bikes and cycled around Stanley Park in the sunshine. We saw more totem poles and a racoon amongst other foreigners and extortionately priced soft drinks. We then did some window shopping and headed back for a relaxing evening.

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Our final day (sob sob), and we decided to go for a walk as we realised that the next 24 hours would be spent seated on a train or a bus and thought it best to stretch our legs one last time. We started at deep cove and headed along the Baden Powell trail which takes you through woodland with some remarkable views.

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We were vigilant as a cougar (the animal, not a single woman over 40 who we understand can also be dangerous) had been spotted in the area the previous week. During the walk, Katie decided that she wasn't going home and had to be dragged along the path for a while - it was a miracle that we got back to the house! The new plan is to carry lots of mince through the border with America, explain that someone else gave it to us and then have to go back to Vancouver. We will let you know how it turns out. I am optimistic. Then you can all come and live with Katie's aunt and uncle and there will be crumble for everyone.

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Today we also learnt that Canada is claiming that cheese rolling and chasing is a traditional Canadian sport - pah! I think they will find that they have stolen that sport from Gloucester where they have been rolling cheese long before Canada existed. Fear not, the matter has been added to Tom's complaints letter list and will be dealt with asap.

I'll sign off with a couple of photos of our base for the last week or so, Aileen and Stuart's beautiful house in North Vancouver. The second pic is the view from our bederoom at the front of the house - not bad eh?

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ps FYI- there actually are cats in America. The streets are also filled with cheese, but it is not nice cheese.

Posted by tomkat2010 11.04.2011 22:11 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Whistler

snow

Aileen had very kindly arranged for us to stay in her friend's apartment in Greystone Lodge, Whistler. You may remember this as the place where the 2010 Winter Olympics took place.....

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.....then again you may not, as the UK only won one medal....in the women's luge (the one where you slide downhill feet first very very fast)

Wow! What a pad. It was a beautiful place, perfect location and came complete with rocking chair (awesome), indoor and outdoor hot tub. Here's the indoor:

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Naturally we sampled them both - views from both were excellent and when we got too hot indoors we would stand outside and rub snow on us to cool down. When I say "we" I really mean Katie, Tom just stood outside as he is not a hardy Scot and cries a bit when he gets cold (other Baughans can verify this).

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Anyway, the place was fantastic and very relaxing.

As we didn't have the time, money, necessary competency, clothes, equipment or insurance to ski or do anything too extreme, we headed up to the peaks of Whistler and Blackcombe mountain on the special Peak2Peak tour. As the name subtly suggests, this involves gondola rides up and down and then one across the peaks.

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The views were spectacular and we were lucky to have such a clear day.

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After a few hours wondering between the two peaks and having consumed several hot chocolates, at both ends of the gondola, we headed back down to the village to sample one of the lesser known Olympic sports, tubing.

Tubing is where you sit in a rubber ring and get chucked down a steep track- kind of like really fast sledging. It was great fun, and we soon discovered the "black" run which had a smoothish start before a blind summit and a plunge to the bottom. Add to this no control as to whether you are going forwards or backwards or spinning wildly. Great fun.

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Half way down the black run

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Arriving at the bottom...in reverse

Deciding it was time to go and warm up a bit in the hot tub we returned to the apartment, over-hearing several stories of bear sightings on the slopes and feeling jealous but prepared as we had read our "bear smart" information sheet, but not sure how scaring them with a human pyramid would work with just two of us....

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Whilst in the hot tub we got chatting to an American couple who later invited us to their apartment upstairs for a drink - very friendly of them and we enjoyed a nice evening.

Day 2 and we headed of for a walk around town and along one of the trekking paths before catching the bus back to Vancouver.

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Back in town we were met by Howard, one of Tom's mum's oldest friends who lives in the south of the city. He drove us out to a lovely fishing village on the southside for a delicious meal before dropping us off, close to midnight, back at Aileen's.

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Posted by tomkat2010 07.04.2011 20:23 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

San Francisco - Vancouver

Due North

Good Morning San Francisco. Good bye Hyundai. It is a little sad that we never really got round to naming our car properly - it just wasn't that kind of relationship. To put the cherry on the cake of this particular road trip, we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge (twice) before checking in our train luggage and handing our car back in Downtown. For the record: 1853 miles in ten days, not bad.

With several hours to burn we hit the shops, wondered the streets and stopped in for a beer or two at The Rogue. Katie is not a fan of beer:

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As darkness fell we tottered on down to the dockside and ambled along the piers to find our bus to the station. We boarded at Oakland and set off, on time, for our epic 22hr journey north to Seattle. We managed to catch a bit of sleep and after a breakfast of flapjack and microwave pizza headed to the lounge car which has a glass viewing gallery on the top deck.

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Shortly after crossing the state line between California and Oregon we picked up three volunteers from the museum service, Bob, Richard and Dave. This trio provided live commentary on the surrounding countryside, wildlife and local history as we crossed the state from south to north, enlightening us with facts such as: "We are now passing a water tower on our left, there used to be three three water towers" and "If you look out of the train on our right we will shortly be passing a big rock" (Thanks Dick). In all fairness they were great fun and offered a fab service that killed a few hours.

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On our right we have a volcano....

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On our left we have some trees (and 'Root Beer' falls if you look closely!)...

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On our right again we have snow...

Finally, 23 hours later we pulled in to Seattle, glad we had chosen to stay the night and not endure another four hours on the bus to Vancouver.

After a pleasant though short sleep, and feeling suitably grungy from 8 hours in Seattle, we headed back to the station for our final journey up to Vancouver on Amtrak Cascades. Again a beautiful train ride up the coast which we did our best to appreciate despite being absolutely knackered.

Mid-morning in the pouring rain we rolled into Pacific Central and were greeted by Aileen and Stuart, Katie's Aunt and Uncle. They took us to their beautiful house in North Vancouver which overlooks a big stretch of water to the forests beyond. Apparently the odd Orca can be spotted now and again. Katie got hugely excited about the news that Bears often come into the back garden to steal the raspberries. We haven't seen any yet but fingers crossed.

Next day Aileen took us to a local park where the star attraction is a massive 'Temple of Doom' style suspension bridge:

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It was high:

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We then spent the afternoon in Downtown Vancouver shopping for belts and other exciting things like that...

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Tomorrow we head off for a couple of days to a little town called Whistler where the Winter Olympics were held a few months back...

Posted by tomkat2010 07.04.2011 11:37 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Monterey - San Francisco

The blogfest continues

sunny

Four blogs in 1 hour and you're thirsty for more? Ok then....

Monterey is famous for 1) John Steinbeck whose book Cannery Row was based on the old dockside canneries here and 2) Robert Louis Stephenson who based the landscape of his book Treasure Island on the local coastline. Today the primary attraction is the Aquarium, our third of the tour. I'd rate it at No 1, but Katie thinks Underwaterworld in Australia pipped it to the post. The jellyfish were the highlight. See the pics.

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In the afternoon we headed south a little to Point Lobos State Reserve. A lovely little national park where trails take you out on to the headland to watch the crashing waves and spot for Sea Otters (x4) Dolphins (x20+) and Seals.

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The Park Ranger kindly lent us a pair of binoculars in return for our car keys. At least we assumed it was the Park Ranger - half way round the trail it occurred to me it could be a nice little scam. It wasn't thankfully. We also got to stroke a otters fur. Apparently they have over a million hairs per square inch. An otter has more hair in its right nostril than you have on the whole of your body. Fact.

We finished the day driving south down the Big Sur road to Rocky Point, a cafe set atop rocks looking out over the Pacific. We watched the sunset (into cloud not the sea) and drove back to Monterey, again too late for any restaurants to be open - 08:30 or something ridiculous - so we stopped for pizza and sushi.

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The last whole day of our short but long road trip and the final stint up the coast to San Francisco. But before we get to that, we were all aboard the Sea Wolf II for a spot of Whale Watching.

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Yep, this time of year around 2000 grey whales are heading back up north from the warm waters and mating season in Mexico - like Spring Break for whales. We chugged out of the marina past a couple of playful sea otters and a cacophony of seals.

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Once on the open sea we soon came across a huge school of dolphin up close to the boat. Fantastic. The highlight of the trip I reckon.

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But we did not go home whale-less. Towards the end of the trip a spout was spotted off the starboard bow and so we sped over to find a couple of greys pottering about working out how to negotiate a particularly deep sea trench. Not the most spectacular of nature's sights, basically a couple of grey blobs popping up, blowing some air and disappearing (see below). But hey, seeing a couple of whales live in the wild goes down as a very special experience that we were lucky to have.

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So we waved goodbye to Monterey and took a beautiful coastal drive up past Santa Cruz and on to Pacifica, the last town before you hit San Francisco proper. We stopped in at a local Mexican Restaurant to tick another box - when in California, eat Mexican. As Pacifica didn't offer anywhere cheap, we plodded on and found a no frills motel not too far from San Francisco airport. We dumped bags, grabbed a beer and watched the end of When Harry met Sally.

Posted by tomkat2010 01.04.2011 10:42 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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