USA - September 2010


This is the diary of a 14-day trip to the USA which started on 4 September 2010 and ended on 17 September 2010.  The main purpose was to meet up with Jane's colleagues who worked in IBM's International Operations Support Center around the year 2000. The reunion was to take place in Santa Fe from 12 September to 16 September. Before that we travelled to San Francisco and visited Yosemite Park before flying to Albequerque, New Mexico.
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Briefly, here's how we spent each day:

4 SeptemberHome to San Francisco
5 SeptemberSan Francisco - City Tour
6 SeptemberSan Francisco - Botanical Gardens
7 SeptemberSan Francisco to Yosemite
8 SeptemberYosemite Valley
9 SeptemberYosemite - Bass Lake
10 SeptemberYosemite to San Jose
11 SeptemberSan Jose to Santa Fe
12 SeptemberSanta Fe - Fiesta Procession
13 SeptemberSanta Fe - Walking Tour
14 SeptemberSanta Fe - North East Countryside
15 SeptemberSanta Fe - Museums
16 SeptemberSanta Fe to Home

SummaryNext day Saturday, 4th September - Home to San Francisco

We leave home by taxi at 8am and arrived early at Heathrow at 9.30. As we are flying business class we make the most of the lounge and have some breakfast. The flight is 11 hours long and we settle into our nice fully reclining seats with our paper, books, BA in flight entertainment program and Jane with her Iphone games. Lunch was excellent and Jane makes a great exception and drinks 3 glasses of Merlot which helps her sleep for several hours. We arrive on time at San Francisco airport and get a taxi into town. Our hotel is the ABVI (Americas best value inns(more...)) in O’Farrell street. A little shabby but it is OK for 3 nights. The room is very clean with a lovely big bed. We decide to go out and walk to Fishermans Wharf as it will do us good. The weather is sunny so off we go. Very soon we realise that the mist coming in from the sea and the accompanying wind is quite cold but as we are walking up and down very steep hills it is OK. Jane had no idea SF was so hilly. We are walking along Jones Street but do a diversion at Lombard Street to see this amazing wiggly street. We continue down hill to Fishermans Wharf. On the way we stop at a corner café/bar where Jane has an iced coffee and Graham has a bottle of Big Daddy Speakeasy beer. The wind is really blowing hard and it is very cold. The many shops and restaurants selling Dungeness crab are a sight to behold. People are just standing in the path way eating the food. It is wonderful. As it is so cold we decide to go to a restaurant, Tarantinos, where we have a lovely view of the harbour. Clam Chowder warms us up a little followed by sharing a crab. We decide to go to the cable car starting point and get one back to Union Square. The queue is very long and we are told it will be about a forty five minutes wait. Graham queues and Jane walks or rather runs off to a shop to buy 2 fleeces for $21. The cable car is very crowded and we start to warm up. At Union square we alight and make our way to the Apple store with the view to buying Jane an iPad but she decides she cannot really justify spending all that money on something she does not know what to use it for. We walk back to the hotel and go to bed about 9.30pm (5.30am in the UK).

Previous DaySummaryNext day Sunday 5th September - San Francisco - City Tour

We both sleep very badly throughout the night which is no surprise given the time differences. Reading the small print we find our grotty small hotel gives coffee and muffins for a LITE breakfast. We walk to Union Square and get on one of the city tour hop on and off buses. For 2 hours we travel around the area seeing all the sites including the City Hall, Golden Gate bridge , Botanical Gardens , Japanese Gardens, Kezar Sports Stadium, cathedral, the 6 Spanish painted ladies in Alamo Square and many other places. We alight at Fisherman's Wharf and wander along the front taking better photographs of Alcatraz, visiting a kite shop and wondering who buys them all. We go to Pier 39 which is famous for sea lions. This pier has many quirky shops for example a magnet shop, a Lefty shop and odd Cooky shops. There is a magnificent fruit stall. The eating establishments are many and varied. We decide to eat at the Fish bar and both have clam chowder again followed by mahimahi which was wonderful. We hop back on the bus and carry on round the route to Union Square passing the TransAmerica building. Visiting Macys for Men we manage to get a pair of new black replacement shoes for Graham. There are many more people about today than Saturday, maybe it is because it is a little warmer. Feeling tired we go back to the hotel for a little shuteye. Around 7pm, wandering along Market Street we come across a Chinese restaurant which looked good and is good. We eat authentic Chinese dim sum including cooked oysters and soft shelled crab. Reading her mail Jane discovers that the United airways flights she has booked to get us from Albequerque to Denver have been changed and will not now get us to Denver in time for the BA flight. Without panicking too much she phones UA reservations up and finds that there is one earlier flight and there will be no cost to change (flights were booked using air miles) as it is their fault. Much relieved she rejoins Graham in the room to go to bed. We have a shuttle bus booked from Albequerque to Santa Fe and return and these now have to have their timings altered but that can wait till tomorrow.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Monday 6th September - San Francisco - Botanical Gardens

Today is a holiday in the USA. It is Labor Day. After Breakfast we decide to walk to City Hall and catch the hop on/off bus there to take us to the Botanical gardens. We walk around the gardens but they are quite disappointing. They need lots of loving care and attention. We return to the bus stop via the De Young Museum which is currently housing a selection of Impressionist Art from the Musée d'Orsay. Back on the bus we travel to Fisherman's Wharf again as it is lunchtime. Cioppinos is where we choose to eat and order a seafood platter to share containing prawns, shrimp, crab, clams, mussels, lettuce and sauces. It is very nice and quite filling. We then walk all the way along the coast to Pier 39 again where we choose an ice cream and eat it whilst watching young children on a trampoline but strapped into a bungy type harness. A 3 year old little girl really enjoys it. We go back to the hop on/off bus and go to somewhere near the Cable Car Barn with only a few blocks of steep hills to walk up!! The museum is really interesting. There are now just 4 cable lines, all driven by engines at the museum. The cars grab the cables which are moving at a constant 9.5 miles per hour twenty four hours a day. These cable cars are fascinating and were saved from distinction in the late forties by the Cable Car Lady, Freda Klussman, who has given her name to a cable car turnaround. A walk back to the hotel takes us past Grace Cathedral, the Fairmont hotel and the Mark Hopkins hotel. These three buildings were not destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and still have their Victorian grandeur. We go to a local diner furnished in the style of the fifties. We have southern fried chicken with sweet potato chips.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Tuesday 7th September - San Francisco to Yosemite

We walk down the road to the car hire company and pick up a Ford Focus. Due to the one way streets it takes us nearly 45 minutes to get back to the hotel and load the car. We drive off over the Bay Bridge for about 200 miles to Oakhurst. We drive through some interesting countryside stopping at McDonalds at Livingstone for lunch. We see 2 kinds of windmills, one with towers quite different from our own, they look like pylons, the others have a solid tower but still different from ours. The land is very parched with yellowed grass everywhere. It is farmland and there are one or 2 bulls in the fields. We come to a fruit growing area with the following orchards marked with notices at the roadside: almonds, pistachios, peaches and dried plums. The ABVI hotel at Oakhurst (more...) is quite different from the previous one. It has a clean carpet in the public areas. There is a swimming pool. Breakfast is a continental one and the room is lovely and big with a fridge in it. We leave our luggage and drive to the southern Yosemite gate where we pay our park entrance of 20 USD. This ticket lasts for 7 days. We drive to the Mariposa Grove where a large collection of sequoias is. We walk for about 4 miles along sandy paths. We start at 5000 feet and walk up a further 400 feet. The trees are magnificent. We see Douglas squirrels (aka Chickerees), a noisy raven, a couple of chipmunks and several other walkers. We discover what a clothespin is. On leaving the park we go to a minimarket to buy some milk and bottles of water and take them back to the hotel. Off to dinner to a Steakhouse we had seen earlier. Graham has a very nice looking steak with a large sweet potato served with butter and brown sugar! Jane is not feeling too well and orders salmon but only manages to eat a small portion. We bring the rest back with us to eat for breakfast.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Wednesday 8th September - Yosemite Valley

It’s Jane’s birthday. She opens some birthday cards and presents and phones the children to hear the amassed choir singing Happy Birthday. After eating the left-over salmon we fill up with gas (3 USD a gallon) and drive towards the southern gate of Yosemite park. After returning to pick up the forgotten camera we make our way to the narrow gauge railway of the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine railroad and discover the train departs in 10 minutes. We clamber aboard and sit in the open air carriages on lengths of logs hewn into seats. We chug down a hill amongst the pines for a couple of miles on the way down we stop and there is a ‘blow out’, quite impressive amount of steam is created. We stop at a picnic area where the train refills with water. It crawls back up the incline blowing steam in all directions and arrives back at the station. We decline to buy souvenirs or a warm drink. It is cold, 58F. We drive through the park gates and make our way North to the Yosemite Valley . It is a long 20 mile journey some of it on unmade roads (no pavement as they say here). Eventually we reach the deep valley with granite cliff sides. It is magnificent. We stop to admire the Bridalveil Falls which are probably more dramatic in the rainy season. We make our way to the Curry Village and have burritos and ice cream. There are no curries. It is the name of the founder. We go to the Visitor Centre and wander around the museum. We walk to the Yosemite Falls and find there is only a dribble. We do see a Stellar Jay in all its glory but it flies off before it can have its photo taken. The Robin is more obliging. We stop to wonder at some nut cases climbing El Capitan, a very tall sheer rock cliff. We drive out of the park west to Mariposa. On the way the ‘Low Tire Pressure’ light comes on so we pull into a garage and blow up a tyre which was indeed low but not flat. We make our way back to Oakhurst. Our evening meal, at the birthday girl’s request, is a rib-eye steak at the same place as last night, but we get 10% off for our second visit and the birthday girl has a Cosmopolitan to celebrate and at the end of the meal gets a piece of chocolate cake with a candle to take home for breakfast.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Thursday September 9th - Yosemite - Bass Lake

We have decided to go and visit Bass Lake this morning. At the information centre we obtain a map of the area. We drive round the northern shore at first and see some lovely houses. It is not possible to drive all the way round so we continue on the road to North Forks and then find the 222 road to take us back to the south side of the lake. We stop once we get to the lake and take a short walk before sitting and watching a couple of ladies launch their boat. It would appear that the Bass Lake boats are very popular. The design is used on most of the boats around the lake. An oblong boat which would seat about 8 people is floating on 2 metal feet, so it is like a catamaran. People are allowed to drive up to what are called day stops and they can launch their boats, firstly filling in a form and putting 3 USD in the envelope with the form into a post box. We drive back to the main road and on to Wawona in the park. It’s only 4 miles in from the gate. There is an historic area showing some of the buildings as they used to be in the late 1800s. There’s a shop but nowhere to eat. We walk around the historic area and then a short way on the road before we decide to return to Oakhurst to have some lunch. We stop a Ciccos Italian restaurant and have a lovely lunch, Graham has a chicken tomato pasta dish and Jane a large prawn tomato pasta in a cream sauce. We go back to the hotel and Graham stays to rest while Jane goes shopping to a supermarket and a book shop. She manages to spend some money but not on anything exciting. We walk to find somewhere to eat. Choosing the local Chinese restaurant we order a one course meal. The owners are from China and we practise our Chinese. They want us to come back. The food is very good but far too much and we leave a lot.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Friday September 10th - Yosemite to San Jose

All packed and ready to go we get in the car and the ‘Low Tire Pressure message comes on again. Quick decision making and we drive to the Tire repair shack in the village. They are very helpful if not friendly and very quickly remove the tyre, find out where the puncture is (a very very thin nail, more like big pin) and repair it. It costs 15USD. All ready to go now and feeling much happier we drive for 3 hours through different countryside, through only two large towns, Madera, and Los Banos. There are lots of fruit orchards and vineyards. We stop for lunch at a McDonalds – again, but it is really lovely. We pass a huge reservoir set in the hills between Los Banos and Gilroy. On arriving at the outskirts of San Jose we find our way to the Winchester Mystery House (more...). Mrs Sarah Winchester (4ft 10 inches tall) lost her baby daughter when she was only 6 weeks old and 5 years later her husband died of TB. He was the 2nd President of the Winchester Rifles company. Soon after he died his mother died too and Sarah got a lot more money. She believed the spirits told her that the death of her baby and her husband were because all her money came from rifles shooting people and that she must build and build. She bought an eight roomed farmhouse that was not completed and she started to build. The house now has 160 rooms often with bizarre features including doors and windows opening onto blank walls. Wonderful Tiffany stained glass windows, a staircase from floor to ceiling – very odd. The front doors cost 300USD and were made in Europe, they were constructed in 1906. The glass work is fantastic but the doors have never been used. She was a triskaidekaphiliac (look that up in a dictionary but it may be a neologism). There are thirteen bathrooms each with thirteen windows and drainage holes with thirteen compartments. After 3 hours of sightseeing we leave and drive for a while looking for somewhere to spend the night. The Alameda Motel is found so here we are spending our last evening in California. It has a double bed in the kitchen and a single bed in the television room and a separate bathroom. It is clean and has wifi. Dinner is taken at a nearby Mexican fast food place. We each eat a large spicy chicken burrito.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Saturday September 11th - San Jose to Santa Fe

As we don’t have to be at the airport until about noon we potter around in our motel room until 9.30am. We have about 37 miles to go to San Francisco airport and Graham thinks it will take us about 1 hour. Jane wants to find a Citibank to get some dollars out so Graham looks it up on his iPhone and we pack the car and set off. We pass the Citibank and Graham quickly stops but unfortunately clips the curb which is rather high. The ‘Low Tire Pressure’ message is displayed. Oops we have a puncture. Amazingly Graham manages to loosen the nuts and replace the wheel with the spare. Unfortunately the spare is only a smallish temporary tyre with a maximum speed of 50 mph allowed. Jane gets some money out and we set off at a sedate pace. Graham is a little concerned and wants to find a ‘Tire repair centre’. Of course we have no idea where to go so Jane convinces him to drive slowly up the freeway to the airport. We are both so relieved when we see a sign 2 miles to the airport and we drive straight to the car return place, fill in a form about the ‘accident’ wait while they check our petrol which we have not filled up and the girl misreads the dial which show only one quarter used – she read it as 1 quarter left and charged us 79 USD for 10 gallons of petrol. Graham is quick to notice this and she does it again and corrects it and doesn’t charge us anything at all. A little train takes us around the airport to the terminal for United Airlines and we go through customs and security arriving at the check in desk 1 hour before take off. Just opposite us there are some food stalls and we buy some sushi to eat and a beer for Graham and a large iced coffee latte for Jane. The flight to Albuquerque takes just over 2 hours and is very good. The plane takes only 50 passengers. We are in the front row. As usual Jane had checked in the day before on line and used the mobile phone option for the boarding pass as we had no printer. This was fine until we tried to go through security when the wifi signal stopped for us and the phone no longer showed the picture so we went back and printed out the boarding pass! We passed over snow-clad mountain tops and lots of desert and mesas (mountains with their tops shaved off). On arrival on time at Albuquerque airport we wait for 45 minutes for the shuttle bus to Santa Fe. The journey is very interesting with little hills with green bushes and also larger hills with flat tops called mesas. All the time we can see the mountains in the distance. We arrive at the Hotel St Francis (more...) about 7.30pm to find a note saying dinner is booked for 8pm so we change and go out to the restaurant. Lovely place, lovely food. There are 5 of us and the meal cost us 150USD. This is going to be a very expensive week. The hotel is also expensive but the bed is lovely and the air-conditioning excellent and quiet.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Sunday September 12th - Santa Fe - Fiesta Procession

We get up and go down for breakfast which is not included in the price. We sit with Yaap and Roeline who are finishing theirs. Jane has a spicey omelette and Graham has granola with yoghurt and fruit. We leave the hotel and wander around the streets of Sante Fe city centre. Nearly all the buildings have an adobe style finish and are less than four storeys high. The streets are narrow. There are lots of art galleries. It is second only to New York in the number of art shops and galleries. We purchase some Christmas tree decorations. The plaza is packed with people as is the cathedral basilica of St Francis of Assisi. We hunt for a shop which sells fruit and fresh milk but find none. We ask a man chewing a peach and he tells us he grows them but the nearest place to buy fruit is a supermarket two miles away. We meet up with Jaap and Roeline at 12:30 and make our way to the plaza where we wait for the hysterical/historical procession to take place. We find a shady spot and stand and wait. A lot of state police and Santa Fe police ride their motorbikes and bicycles up and down the street to warm it up for the procession. Eventually the procession starts. There are floats carrying the fiesta queens. Some men on horseback dressed as they would have been 400 years ago. There are floats of volley ball teams, school bands, football teams, political party candidate floats, anti-abortion floats, various church floats. Many of the people surrounding the floats throw sweets to the onlookers. After float 87 has passed us we leave. Yaap and Roeline return to the hotel to meet the Kohlins we wander around the food stalls and opt for a tray of ribbon fries. They are made with a machine powered by a hand drill which forces a potato through a slicer which produces a continuous length of potato which is then deep-fried. We visit a bar where Jane has a large glass of milk which we are assured will be fresh and Graham has a beer. The milk is UHT which is made drinkable by adding Splenda. We return to the hotel and meet the other four. Bill and Joan Kohlins have flown in from Atlanta. The party is now complete. We return to our rooms to read. At 6:30 we all congregate in the lobby and Lynn leads us to the Gallistro Bistro where we have a meal. Afterwards Lynn drives us to Wholefoods where we buy fruit and milk. It is a vast store selling mainly fruit and veg and nuts. We buy a couple of pluots, a cross between a plum and an apricot. Lynn drops us off at our hotel and we retire to bed.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Monday September 13th - Santa Fe - Walking Tour

We have breakfast in bed, a cup of milk, a banana and a pluot – more like a plum than an apricot. We join the others in the lobby at 9:40 and join others for a walking tour of Sante Fe. As with any American tour the first thing for the guide to do is to ask everyone where they come from. Our guide is a retired park ranger who has a wife who was born in Bournemouth. He is called Ed Ortega. We walk to the plaza. All stalls have disappeared. Only the scaffolding of the band stand remains as evidence of the fiesta. Ed explains the history of Santa Fe which started in 1610 as a far outpost of the Spanish Empire based in Mexico. It was successful because the Europeans lived in harmony with the Pueblo Indians, those Indians who were non-nomadic and who lived in villages where they could improve their farms by using European farming methods and tools. Ed explains how all Spanish names ending in ‘es’ or ‘ez’ were once owned by a Jew, the ‘ez’ meaning that they came from the land of Zion. We walk by the Sante Fe Museum of Native Indian Art modelled on another Pueblo Revival building in San Diego. On the sidewalk are plaques marking the cultural heroes of Sante Fe. Artists are called ‘Painters’. Lew Wallace, the author of Ben Hur has a plaque. We walk by the museum of the History of Sante Fe admiring the work of the Indians who are allowed to sell their wares under the portico of the museum. Further along the street we stop in a courtyard of a very old hacienda. We cross the street and visit the cathedral built by French architects and Italian craftsmen in 1886. We walk up the street to see the oldest church in the USA – 1620 and the oldest house. The church of San Miguel is closed for lunch. It is 11:10am. We walk on to the State Capitol building and leave our guide. We walk around the inside of the State Capitol which is like wlaking around an art gallery. We have been told that the Senators and House of Representatives have full meetings only twice a year. We walk back down the street, part of the Sante Fe trail, and into the oldest church where the lunch break has finished. It is built in typical adobe style and is only 600 years younger than Westminster Abbey. We wander back to the hotel and the Cayote Restaurant where we have Mexican food for lunch. We split from the others and walk to the History Museum but are disappointed to find it is closed on Mondays, likewise the Art Museum. We return to our hotel room and have a siesta. Graham has a hair cut. Dinner is excellent and taken in the hotel restaurant. Graham’s card is not accepted. Jane has a sleepless night wondering why. Expensive calls in the morning will sort it out.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Tuesday 14th September - Santa Fe - North East Countryside

Awake early Jane makes a couple of calls, one to the Magpie Hotel in Woburn to find out why they were contacting her only to be told that all was well and they would welcome us on Friday evening. The other was to Citibank to find our hotel bill had already gone through on authorisation and so no more money in the account. Jane solves this by transferring money around. Jane gets water on her Lumix camera and we think it is ruined but will wait and see. At 9.30 we all meet downstairs and Graham and Jane go in Lynn’s car and the other 4 are in Bill’s car. Jane borrows Lynn’s camera. We drive up into the mountains North East of Santa Fe stopping at various viewing spots and have a team photo taken at one. The landscape is very unusual for us and quite attractive. The terrain is described as semi-arid, high desert. There are a lot of juniper trees and yellow chamisa plants. We visit the mission church at Los Trampos but it is closed. We view the village of Truchas. When we get as far as we want to go we all turn round and on the way down we visit the Coop Gallery and Jane buys some cards. Further on down we stop at the church of La Sanctuaria at Chimayo to where pilgrims from Santa Fe walk on Good Fridays. We then eat at the Chimayo restaurant. We eat Mexican food, hot and spicy. We then drive to Lynn’s wonderful house in the mountains which she is in the process of selling. It has wonderful views. It was like something out of a very posh magazine. On the way back we stop at the Santa Cruz Lake overlook. We return to the hotel. Jane goes to a camera shop to see if they can determine what is wrong with it. We later walk to the Osteria restaurant where we eat good Italian food.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Wednesday 15th September - Santa Fe - Museums

We have a lie in and get up at 9:30am and walk to the History Museum of New Mexico which opens at 10am. We visit the room containing Core Exhibit 1 and browse through the history of the state. There are some fragments of early pottery and jewelry of about 1300 and then a lot of exhibits about the Spanish and their conquest of Mexico and their trips North to settle New Mexico which became a US state in 1912. There is a video which shows the test of the first atomic bomb at the Trinity Site, south of Albuquerque, now a glowing tourist site. The US army had commandeered a school at Los Alamos, 20 miles from Santa Fe, and built the secret town. Many of the workers lived in Sante Fe as they still do. We visit the two other sections of Core Exhibits and then go to the Palace of the Governors, the oldest public building in the USA, built in 1620 but renovated a twenty years ago. The next museum to visit is the Museum of Art where we are disappointed to find there is not much old Indian art or even early paintings but there was an exhibition of modern paintings and an exhibition of cowboy boots and pictures. We return to the hotel via a Haagen-Daz ice cream and meet the others. We have lunch at the Luminaria, close to the Loretto chapel. We walk to the Loretto Chapel and admire the miraculous staircase which climb up 21 feet without any central support. After the chapel we are driven by Bill and Joan to Museum Hill via Canyon Road and its numerous art galleries. Yapp and Roeline go with Lynn. At Museum Hill we visit the Museum of International Folk Art. The Girard room contains 100000 toys and similar artefacts collected by Mr Girard from countries all round the world. It is amazing. There are only two exhibits from Spain but a lot from Mexico where he took his wife for their honeymoon. Outside we walk to the centre of a flat brick labyrinth and witness the echo which occurs when you speak. It is very eerie. Apparently it is caused by the voice being bounced off the low surrounding wall. We return to our hotel and Bill drives the men out to the Albertson supermarket to buy a thank you bottle of wine for Lynn, some head-ache cures for Yaap and some bananas and milk for Jane. For dinner we dine in the Casa Sena courtyard. We start with a glass of bubbly sponsored by Lynn. Cicadas provide the background music. Yaap makes the presentation to Lynn and declares the reunion a success and suggests that we meet again in Austria in 2012.

Previous DaySummary Thursday 16th September - Santa Fe to Home

Jane meets Lynn at 9am and buys some chocolate from Lynn. The shuttle picks us up early and we make several stops to pick up more passengers and get to Albuquerque International Sunport at 11:15. We each have a Breakfast Sausage Wrap and board the flight to Denver at 1:13pm. We arrive in Denver an hour later. We are still at the same altitude as Denver calls itself the mile high city. We make our way to the club class lounge. The lady on the desk lives in Worcester, UK and was born in Malvern but has nothing else in common with Graham. We land at 12:30pm on Friday and are picked up by a Chases Taxis driver. We arrive home at 2:30pm, read the mail, listen to the phone messages, pack some clothes in two small suitcases and Graham drives to Woburn for Simon Smallwood's wedding on Saturday (more...).

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