Saturday, 27 September 2014

Letters from America: USA diary 2014

I spent 9 days on holiday in San Francisco, Berkeley and Lake Tahoe in northern California, USA, visiting friends, eating the American way and watching sports. You can view the best of my photos from the trip in an annotated album on Facebook. You don't have to be logged in to see them.

Thursday 11 September 2014: Travel day
Early start at 03:30 to catch the 05:30 bus to Heathrow. Flight was delayed. Thought I might miss my connecting flight in Charlotte but it was OK in the end. Watched Draft Day and The Lego Movie on the transatlantic flight from Heathrow to Charlotte. Slept quite a bit. Pav was there in San Francisco to meet me. My bag didn't arrive. Probably due to the late arrival in Charlotte. We drove home in a Zipcar. Went out for dinner (burger, chips and Dr Pepper) at Garaje with Jay and Ninian, two of his colleagues. Had a really good sleep. I was exhausted.


Friday 12 September 2014: Day 1
Went for a grilled cheese breakfast with Pav at The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen. Walked to Blue Bottle Coffee for coffee and lemonade. Walked up some of the hills. Saw the street cable cars. Had lunch (chicken caesar salad and a shared cheesecake) at Cafe Divine near Washington Square Park. Walked through China Town. Had soft-serve vanilla ice-cream with gummy bears on top at the Ferry Building. Got an Uber back to Pav's place. Met Lucia, his wife, who was a bit grumpy at first because we kept her waiting. Went for dinner at a Thai restaurant called Basil (chicken satay skewers followed by beef stir-fry with rice).


Went to the LA Dodgers at San Francisco Giants baseball game at AT&T Park. Giants won 9-0. We missed a home run in the bottom of the 7th when we were going for hot cocoa. D'oh! It turned out none of us actually wanted to leave but we all did because we thought the other person wanted to.



Saturday 13 September 2014: Day 2
Walked to Pav's place. Lucia didn't join us for brunch at Stacks in Hayes Valley. Had macadamia nut and coconut pancakes with salted butter, maple syrup, bacon, orange juice and a smoothie. Such pancake. So bacon. Ate too much. Walked to the Caltrain station for the train to Stanford. Watched Army at Stanford. Stanford won 35-0. It was a lovely atmosphere - particularly all the tailgating and families. Lots of thoroughly decent people.


Had dinner at the Palo Alto Creamery Downtown (chicken and cheese enchilada and Dublin Dr Pepper - which is basically Dr Pepper but in a huge bottle - followed by a shared coconut milkshake). Felt bad about my greasy face and bad skin. Ate too much again. Bleugh. But started to feel a bit better after the milkshake, which really wasn't necessary. Walked around Palo Alto again then caught the slow train home. Spent the rest of the evening at the office.


Sunday 14 September 2014: Day 3
Walked to Pav's. Had breakfast at Arlequin. Had granola and juice because I feel bad about my food choices. Felt awkward and was quiet today. Walked around and saw the Painted Ladies (pastel-coloured Victorian houses that survived the fires and earthquakes), the hippy neighbourhood in Haight-Ashbury and Golden Gate Park.


Got a good view from up in the observation tower at the de Young art museum. Got an Uber to the train station. Went to Bears at 49ers alone at the new Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara. Long journey via Mountain View (home of Google). Great atmosphere in the first half. Stood in between fans who screamed while the Bears' offense was on the field. Nothing like the weak-ass atmosphere for the International Series games at Wembley. Niners were up 17-0 but lost 28-20 after 4 Kaepernick turnovers and 16 penalties. Even longer journey home.


Feel low in self-esteem but have figured out why: made to feel self-conscious about my bald patch when Pav mentioned it was red from the sun (have been wearing my Lake Erie Crushers baseball cap since); don't like having my picture taken when I feel disgusting from what I've been eating and with greasy, acned skin; I feel like a gooseberry; I feel like I've taken advantage of Pav's friendship for free accommodation; 4 sporting events is probably taking it too far; I don't feel I've got anything interesting to say when I feel like this. Been processing all this today with my time alone.


Monday 15 September 2014: Day 4
Breakfast alone at Café Centro (croissant, tea and a free cookie for checking in on Yelp). Borrowed Pav's fixie bike (really a single-speed) and cycled to and over the Golden Gate Bridge. Really enjoyed the exercise and it made me feel better.


Got the BART to Berkeley to spend a few days with Chad and his wife, Selena. Went for dinner at a Mexican place called La Mission on University Avenue. Chad gave me a tour of the UC Berkeley campus at dusk. I now realize that "Cal" and "Berkeley" are one and the same institution. Selena was home when we arrived. Spent the evening talking.


Tuesday 16 September 2014: Day 5
Got up quite early. Had breakfast in a cafe in Berkeley (savoury brioche bun and orange juice). Hired a car from Avis. Chad refused the SUV we were offered for a smaller Toyota. Chad drove Selena and me to Muir Woods where we walked amongst the giant redwoods and hiked up to the top of the canopy. I left my iPhone in the car accidentally and therefore didn't take any photographs, but I don't mind because I was able to experience it more with my own eyes instead of the viewfinder. Besides, Chad and Selena were taking pictures that I might see someday. Then went for a swim at Muir Beach. My first swim in the Pacific Ocean. Got overwhelmed by a surprisingly big wave that temporarily drowned me. My experience in Rio helped me here: I didn't panic but kept paddling and held my breath until the wave had passed and I could swim and find my feet.


Ended the day with dinner at Napa Valley Burger Co and a Lappert's coconut ice-cream in Sausalito. Pretty tired when we got back. In bed now at 21:22.


Wednesday 17 September 2014: Day 6
Lazy morning lying in bed listening to NFL podcasts. Left the house alone at midday. Walked to Saul's deli for pastrami on rye - recommended by Chad - a New York Jewish classic. Walked up to see the Cal football stadium then on up to the Botanical Garden.


Got dinner on the way home at Cheese Board Pizza, a workers' co-operative that only makes once kind of pizza per day. I got a whole pizza (with two free slices) so that I could share it with Chad and Selena. Met Chad at his house then went to the O.co Coliseum to see the Texas Rangers at the Oakland A's. Oakland pitched 8 scoreless innings and were 1 up before giving up 6 runs in the 9th. We had great seats. Enjoyed the game.



Thursday 18 September 2014: Day 7
Met Megan Furman for breakfast. Had a waffle at the Guerilla Café. Then she gave me a tour of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology where she studies. Tried to help her with her broken laptop. She looked lovely.
Met Pav and Lucia for lunch. Ate at the Crepevine. Drove to Lake Tahoe. There's a forest fire (called the King Fire) 50 miles away. The area is covered in smoke, which may spoil the views tomorrow.


Stocked up on pro-things at a local convenience store, then had chicken wings, a meaty pizza and lemonade for dinner at Basecamp Pizza in Heavenly Village. Annoying loud music from some guy playing guitar along to his backing track. I wish he'd stayed in his bedroom and left us in peace.


Friday 19 September 2014: Day 8
Went to Emerald Bay at the south end of Lake Tahoe. Hiked along to the north-west edge of the bay and back. Had a swim from the beach at Vikingsholm.


Went for late lunch / dinner at the Blue Angel Café. Watched the sunset at Zephyr Cove, where I had another swim and was in the water when the sun went down.


Bought more pro-things from Safeway. Had hot chocolate, Pop Tarts and cookies back at the cabin. Planning to watch the sunrise with Pav tomorrow morning.


Saturday 20 September 2014: Day 9
Woke up at 05:30 to watch the sunrise at Meeks Bay with Pav. It was lovely. Had a swim shortly after the sun was up. Blissful.


Went in the hot tub back at the cabin. Had breakfast in the cabin and packed up.
Went up the gondola at Heavenly Mountain Ski Resort. Nice views and it was interesting to see a ski resort in summer without any snow.


Had lunch at an American diner called Red Hut Cafe. Not the healthiest meal but tasty (rösti made from hashbrowns, bacon and cheese and a bottomless Dr Pepper). The soda containers were huge - just like some of the customers.
Drove back from Lake Tahoe via Berkeley to drop off Chad's keys that I forgot to give him back. Got some cookies and tea at the Teacake Bake Shop (which doesn't actually sell English-style teacakes). Dropped Lucia back at their apartment then Pav took me back to the office. Said goodbye with - I think - 4 hugs.
Did some laundry and packed my bags, ready for an early start and a full day of travel home tomorrow.


Sunday 21 September 2014: Travel day
Left the office at about 08:10 and walked to Montgomery BART station on 2nd and Market. Got the train to the airport. Had my second breakfast (chicken caesar sandwich, fries and juice) in the departure lounge. Left on time. Read The Book Thief and slept on the flight to Philly. Caught the end of the Denver at Seattle game in the departure lounge: Seattle field goal; Denver touchdown drive and 2-point conversion from a drive that started with 0:59 remaining and no timeouts (vintage Peyton Manning); Seattle touchdown drive in overtime to win it. Had dinner (sad fried chicken strips and fries with dip and a lemonade) in an unfriendly Irish bar in the departure called Jack Duggan's Pub and watched the beginning of Sunday Night Football (Pittsburgh at Carolina). Flight to London. Finished The Book Thief (a remnant from my last holiday in Rio: it was recommended by Emma Reading) and watched a bad movie called Neighbors. Had the whole middle row to myself so stretched out and slept.


Monday 22 September 2014: Travel day

Arrived at Heathrow and got an earlier bus home at 10:10. Walked home from Gloucester Green bus station. Unpacked soon after getting home (unusual for me). Backed up my iPhone 4S and updated to iOS 8. Late lunch. Watched Jacksonville at Washington and fell asleep on my bed after 16:00 with my black cat Milly on my chest. Woke around 20:00. Had dinner. Now in bed at 01:30. Back to work tomorrow.

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