San Francisco

Like the song says, if you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear a flower in your hair. Another top tip would be to write down the name and address of the hotel you booked months ago on the Internet.

We were driving to Calgary airport today when Saira asked where we were staying in San Francisco. It was a good question, but unfortunately not one I could answer. Neither could Bec. Which was a shame because I'd booked and paid for it in advance but had no record of it anywhere.

My luddite wife writes everything down with a pen in a paper notebook. Despite being very last century, it's not a bad approach because it actually works pretty well. Generally I either commit information to my own 32Kb memory or store it electronically on one of the myriad gadgets hanging from my utility belt. Like Batman.

So the deal was Iíd paid for a hotel but didnít know where it was. I got that queasy feeling that Saira accurately calls 'bile rising'. I tried, unsuccessfully to implicate Bec in my poor handling of the situation. As ever she managed me beautifully by suggesting she was sure Iíd find a fix to the predicament Iíd got us into.

With some help from a cell phone, Saira's friend Tammy and her Internet connected PC I was able to retrieve the hotel details from my online account with Expedia. Spelling out the URL, then my username and password over a cellphone, to a Canadian, in a car full of screaming children was as error prone as it's possible to be. I was like Tony Hancock in 'The Radio Ham'. Anyway it was marginally quicker than visiting all of the hotels in San Fran to check if I'd made a reservation. So thanks to all involved. And yes, first thing tomorrow I'm off to buy a notebook and pen.

As a punishment for being such an idiot, I had privileges suspended and a trip to the Mountain Equipment Co-op store in downtown Calgary was removed from the itinerary. I deserved nothing less.

When we arrived at Calgary airport we thought we'd get rid of the bags by checking them in. Unfortunately, the moment we'd done that we were effectively on American soil, despite still being in Canada. So our plan of having a farewell lunch with the Reeds was thwarted. We had to hurriedly say goodbye to our hosts and pass through immigration.

It was an abrupt end to our visit. A real shame. Still, Lottie and George hugged, which was cute.

The flight itself was straightforward. Ben slept, Lottie fidgeted. We ate crisps in the shape of aeroplanes.

Two and a half hours later we landed in San Francisco. We did find the hotel and it's quite nice. Funny how things turn out huh?

May 31, 2005.

Over The Bridge

Ben woke at a quarter to five this morning and howled for a full two hours. He just seemed to want to get up and out. Eventually at seven o'clock I took him outside to play on the steps outside the hotel. Never mind a swimming pool or a playground, give him a pile of concrete steps, preferably where he can't reach the handrail, and he'll play for hours. Until he grazes his knees at least.

And whilst we're on the subject of 'owies' I remember that the number of scars you went back to school with in the autumn was a good barometer of how much fun you'd had in the holidays. Well if this still holds true Lottie and Ben are having a whale of a time.

We ate breakfast and then set out to Lombard Street and then on to Fishermanís Wharf where we hired bikes and a trailer. The trailer hooked up to the back of my bike so we could tow the children along. Once they were helmeted up and strapped in we set off along a coastal trail. The first hundred metres were fine, and I set off at quite a lick. We then encountered a slope of probably no more than one in five hundred and the bike almost came to a standstill. Pulling the little guys didn't seem to be the problem, as ever, it was the eighty pounds of 'just in case' items that were slowing me down. I knew I should have trained harder in Canmore.

Just as I'd got the hang of the bicycle juggernaut and picked up some speed again I misjudged the width of the trailer and clipped one of its wheels on a kerbstone as I was turning a corner. The bike started to handle erratically and then an awful scraping noise followed as the frame of the bike forced me to the floor. I'd flipped the trailer.

What followed was eerie silence. I had expected sustained wailing from the passengers, but there was nothing. Not a whisper. Bec was ahead in the distance. Boy, I thought I was toast.

I peered through the mesh of the buggy and saw two neatly stacked and grinning infants laid on their side. Lottie's first words to me were 'Steady on Dad'.

My wife said something similar.

We righted the trailer and continued up over the Golden Gate Bridge. It's an impressive piece of bridgery, if you're into that sort of thing. Despite the weather being scorchio downtown the bridge was shrouded in mist, so the views weren't spectacular. Nevertheless, it was a great venue for a bike ride.

A nice touch, I thought, were the strategically placed telephones offering counselling along its length. They obviously want to reduce the number of jumpers. I didn't pick up the handset, but I was curious as to how the person at the other end might answer. I just hope they've not implemented an automated call handling system.

In the afternoon we wandered through Chinatown and then splashed out in the pool back at the hotel.

It was tough trying to compress a tour of a whole city into a single day, and I'm sure we've not even scratched the surface. Still, we had a fun day out.

June 01, 2005.

Half Moon Bay

Today was one of those days that I thought we would have from time to time on this trip. Ben slept in until a relatively respectable zero six hundred hours but this just made him extra mischievous.

We were checking out of our swanky hotel this morning and taking a car down Highway One along the coast. Therefore all of our belongings that had been exploded across the room had to be repacked. We have learned from bitter experience that a one year old and a four year old aren't a great help when it comes to packing up. Actually, thirty-five year olds aren't much help either, so the three of us were sent to play by the pool.

I'm sure by now you're thinking, 'I bet one of them fell in, hell no, I bet it was him'. Well, sorry to disappoint, you can all stop that thigh slapping right now. Uncharacteristically, we all stayed dry although I did think a poolside calamity would have made for an excellent journal entry.

At breakfast Ben decorated his vest with fruits of the forest berries. It looked like one of those garments a smug looking housewife gives to Danny Baker on those Daz adverts. Where was that soap lovin' C-list curley haired cockney when I needed him?

It was before nine oíclock and Ben already looked like he'd been shipwrecked for weeks. I knew a gong show was on the cards.

After breakfast we headed downtown to pick up the hire car. The walk was probably only half a mile but it was one of those excruciating expeditions where ones' offspring need attention, servicing or beating every two or three yards.

First we stopped for a drink. Then we discovered we didnít have anything to drink. Then we stopped to apply sun cream. Then Ben started to cry. Then Lottie needed to take her vest off. Then we stopped to buy a drink. Then we had to try another shop because the first one didnít have the water bottles with the right spouts. Then Ben wanted something to eat. Then Lottie wanted to go on my shoulders. Then Ben wanted to be up there too.

I turned around and saw the hotel less than two hundred feet away. Then I looked for a streetcar to throw myself under.

Eventually we got to the hire car place. I offered to leave the children as collateral against the car but they insisted on a credit card imprint. I'd opted for a 'midsize' rather than 'economy' this time, which meant we didnít have to shoehorn the buggy into the glove box.

So look at me, in my Hyundai midsize, downtown in San Francisco. And that's exactly what all the other drivers did, disbelievingly as I then drove the car off the pavement perpendicular to all the other cars, crossing four lanes of traffic so that I could make a right turn. It was a move so jaw-droppingly audacious that the other drivers just let me go. At one stage I did wonder just how many dollars my collision damage waiver was good for.

We arrived back at the hotel to pick up our bags and then headed out to the Golden Gate Park. Bec navigated exceptionally well and we got there easily. We bought a park map and headed off to a playground. For a few seconds we were ahead on points.

Everything was going to plan. Until Lottie announced she needed the toilet. So she and I traipsed halfway across the park to find the facilities. And then when we got there she failed to deliver.

So we returned to the playground to find Bec and Ben hungry for lunch. Lulled into a false sense of security by Central Park we were sure that we would be able find food in a park of this size, so we followed directions to a snack bar in the Japanese gardens. When we got there, a country mile later, the only snacks on offer were fortune cookies washed down with a thimble full of green tea. By this stage I was ready to napalm the bonsai.

We'd foolishly decided not to take the stroller with us so we were carrying one child each. Ben was doing the nodding dog thing and very soon fell asleep. We managed to make it to an ice-cream stall and bought a selection of frozen and salted snacks.

Armed with our meagre and largely nutrition-free picnic I lay down on the grass with Ben asleep in my arms. A few seconds later a rotary sprinkler gushed from behind a hedge soaking me and waking Ben in the process. Oh how we laughed.

By the time we had Ben in the car he was wide-awake. Two minutes later Lottie was sound asleep. Ben was crying, no-one had eaten properly, the children's sleep was totally out of kilter and we had to navigate our way out of an unfamiliar town in an unfamiliar car on the wrong side of the road.

As chance would have it, we stumbled across Highway One easily. Forget GPS, all you need is a wife with a good sense of direction. Oh and masses of patience.

Before long we ran into a traffic jam. This wasn't right. The wind should have been blowing through my hair, Bruce Springsteen should have been on the radio. Instead we were stationary, in a stuffy car, with two crabby children. We even had a kit-kat busy digesting itself in the wrapper on the dashboard. We could have gone to Bridlington for this.

I'd read in a book of 'one hundred things to do before you die' that driving along California's Highway One was right up there in the list. At this point I'd happily have added it to my list of one hundred things I'd be rather dead than doing.

Once we were through the jam things started looking up. We drove through a nice looking place called Half Moon Bay, and so stopped and booked into a motel. We walked to the beach and ran around with the children. This is how I'd imagined it to be, and it all started to fall into place.

We walked into town and ate pizza. The kids, having eaten virtually nothing all day, scoffed the lot. And so by seven oíclock they were tucked up in bed, leaving me to muse on the dayís events.

Tomorrow, I think we shall surf.

June 02, 2005.

Santa Cruz Is Not That Far

We started the day at a leisurely pace, waking up at seven oíclock. The extra sleep seemed to have perked Ben up a little as he seemed to start the day in an unusually jolly mood. It didn't last.

Breakfast was included with the accommodation so we reverted to form and shovelled as many calories into the children as they could possibly stand. On this trip you're never quite certain where the next meal is coming from. The children are learning this too, and between them consumed eight bowls of cereal this morning.

Lottie lightened the proceedings by asking in a loud voice how babies got out of mummies tummies. We told her straight. She nearly choked on her Cheerios. As did the other breakfast guests.

After the biology class we checked out and headed south to Santa Cruz. The coastline was impressive, although most of the beaches were deserted. I'd imagined row after row of surf shacks and baywatch life guardettes and felt a little bit cheated.

My navigator was spot on as always. This feat is most impressive as all we've got to go off is an AA style guide for the area that I found in a dustbin in San Francisco a couple of days ago. The moment we get lost I'll happily splash out on a road atlas. Until then it's an unnecessary luxury.

Once we reached Santa Cruz we parked up and headed to the Boardwalk. It's almost identical to Blackpool's pleasure beach, it's just that the weather's better and as a consequence it seems you don't have to be drunk to endure the outing.

We bought tickets for the children's rides. Lottie was happy with that, but Ben seemed to want only to climb on rides with names like 'extreme pressure disco explosion six thousand'. Fortunately he consistently failed to meet the height requirement, so we avoided the inevitable vomiting and carnage that would have ensued.

Once all our ride tokens were spent we picnicked in the car park then headed off down to Monterey. The drive between these two places was not as as impressive as I'd hoped and I was surprised to find Monterey a largish town. So we drove on without stopping, onto Seventeen Mile Drive. This takes a coastal route and is particularly spectacular. Again, we didn't stop, but this time as we didn't want to wake the children who, as usual, were enjoying the splendid scenery with their eyes shut.

We chose to end the day's driving in Carmel. This is a very exclusive looking resort full of galleries and fine clothes shops. We're totally out of our depth and our price bracket here.

We played on the beach, which has fine white sand and watched the surfers hurl themselves into the waves. I had a cursory glance for a place where I might have hired a board myself but was quietly relieved when I couldnít find one. Wrong type of surf I told the children.

We ate dinner in the only restaurant in town that offered an early bird menu. Oh how their eyes lit up when we walked in with our two little sand urchins. Although we didnít properly trash the place, it's my bet that they'll never get the wax crayon off those mirrored walls.

So we plan to hang around here for the next day or so, or until the council move us on. Or at least until one of us works up the courage to catch some surf.

June 03, 2005.

Big Sur

After a soggy but free breakfast in our hotel we packed up the car and drove down to Big Sur. I'd read in guidebooks that this was one of the most scenic sections of California's Highway One. And it was. Itís a very windy and often precipitous road carved into the headland.

The edge was slightly taken off the beauty as Bec and I were just waiting for the 'Mummy I've got a headache' comment from the back row, which is usually a precursor to a vigorous bout of travel sickness. Luckily we were spared the soggy breakfast a second time.

We stopped by an information point where rangers suggested we go to the Pfeiffer Burns Park where we could see a sixty-foot waterfall cascade onto a beach. It sounded great, so we drove the additional eleven miles south to find it.

When we got there, it was pleasant enough, but actual access to the beach was restricted. All you could do was look at it from a gantry. Which is pretty frustrating if you're the proud owner of a new bucket and spade set that you're itching to get dirty.

And so we drove all the way back to where we were staying in Carmel where there was a perfectly good beach just down the road.

The conclusion we've come to is that California has so many beaches that you've got to really search hard to find the good ones. Once you've found a good one it's best not to try and find a better one or you'll spend the whole day in the car.

It wasn't the best day for the children, and I was frustrated that Iíd not delivered the perfect tour of Central California, so we ended the day in a downbeat and cranky mood.

After an exceptionally good dinner at a scruffy looking restaurant I set out to look for a call box to book some accommodation for tomorrow night. Given that everyone now has cell phones, call boxes are thin on the ground. This, coupled with the fact that Carmel doesn't have any streetlights meant it was almost an abortive hunt in the dark. I did find a phone eventually, miles away from our hotel and made a reservation. Unsurprisingly, on my way home I discovered another payphone just yards from where Iíd set off.

California isn't working out as either of us had expected. For the moment, that's all part of the adventure.

June 04, 2005.


Today was a milestone in our bigtrip. We had our first complaint. At about a quarter to nine this morning a fellow hotel guest hollered at me to keep my children under control. Apparently the noise they were making had woken her up. It was fair to say they had a spring in their step, but the fuss she was trying to cause was disproportionate.

Tip for middle-aged ladies; brush your hair before you open the doorway to abuse your neighbours. You look a real state.

Anyway, quarter to nine. I ask you. She should have been thankful she'd not met us in New York. When I reported the incident to Bec, she was keen to go and find this lady to set the record straight. I was rather keener not to spend the rest of our trip budget on a bail bond, so I talked her out of it.

Following the minor fracas we drove down to the beach to watch the annual surfabout contest in Carmel. It was an open competition, so in an Eddie the Eagle style I could have entered as a wildcard for a few brief seconds before being swept on a rip tide towards Nagasaki.

The competition was fun to watch. The surf was up to about three metres high, and all of the competitors looked like they knew what they were doing. I wore a Hawaiian print hat and looked desperately like I was trying to fit in to a culture way beyond my reach. It was the bucket and spade set that really set us apart from the assembled bohemian masses. Still it was a good vibe and we dug it. Awesome man.

In my own mind I'd created a vision of the place that hadn't really been delivered. I really thought everyone in California wandered round with a surfboard and that it was sunny all the time. Well today we'd got the surfers, but we were sat on the beach in down jackets. It was like childhood holidays spent on the beach in Llandudno. Every day I'd go to the beach wearing my trunks my wellies and my paisley print anorak with the hood drawstring pulled so tight that it used to chaff my chin.

About midday we headed out of Carmel and ate a sandwich lunch in the car. Hire cars, don't you love them? I just hope the family who get our car next aren't Jewish. There's enough pork product down the back of those seats to open a kebab shop.

With the children asleep we drove out to Salinas. Birthplace of John Steinbeck. No wonder he turned to writing, there's nothing else there apart from a twenty-four hour martial arts place. Which is handy if you fancy a spot of light kung fu at four in the morning.

We continued on through Monterey and stopped at a Dennis the Menace playground. Just a point of order here, it wasn't the real Dennis, but rather a softer, almost unrecognisable North American variant.

Nevertheless, there was a full size, decommissioned stream locomotive to climb all over. It was the most dangerous playground item I'd ever seen, and as a consequence it was swarming with children. Lottie and I climbed onto its roof and no one batted an eyelid.

We ended the day at Fisherman's Wharf where we saw real crabs, lobsters and otters. The otters were in the sea; the crustaceans were ready to be boiled alive. Still, it was cheaper than buying a ticket for the zoo.

We're staying in a place called Seaside tonight. It's erm, by the sea. Tomorrow evening we fly out to New Zealand. More later if I can work out this International Date Line nonsense.

June 05, 2005.

Last Day Of Summer

Well it's our last day of summer for a few weeks at least. We're currently back at San Francisco airport waiting for our flight to Auckland.

We've had fun today; we spent the morning in the pool and the afternoon on Cannerey Row in Monterey. We then drove back up to the airport.

A short post this evening, I'm sure you're all too busy watching Big Brother to follow our journal now anyway.

Expect a hiatus in the entries over the next day or so as we cross the date line. The time stamps at the bottom of each post are in BST anyway, so we should go from being behind you to ahead. I think.

June 06, 2005.