Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Spring Break 2012 - Northern travels

A friend of mine, also a teacher, recently stated that she thought that there were 60 days in the month of March.  Perhaps the anxious anticipation makes it worse as I mentally cross off the days, hoping to survive, to make it, as I claw my way through the days until spring break.  This past Friday, att 2:30 on the dot, more or less, I happily gathered up all of my crap and by 2:40 or so had closed my classroom and office door and was almost home.  By 3:00, Michael and I had packed the car and were pulling away from the driveway, waving good-bye to the boys, Gus and Milo, as we headed north, anticipating a weekend full of food and fun and rain.  Yep, not the greatest forecast but what could we do?!  I was looking forward to the weekend, one that was blissfully free of plans in San Francisco, open to whatever whim came upon us!

We lucked out in terms of traffic, making it to Monterey, CA by 7:30 pm.  The quick trip up to the Central Coast offered the usual array of rolling hills, flecked with green and gold grass and wildflowers.  While these are the usual springtime views, I'll never tire them!  Crossing into the Monterey County border, I always feel that I've entered Steinbeck country.  Not that the landscape changes much, but the farm land is inescapable as we pass through King City, Soledad, Gonzalez and skirt along Salinas.  Then, the landscape changes with a sharp turn east to the Monterey Peninsula as the cypress trees emerge and the air smells like salt.  Thanks to the quick trip up, we were just able to take in the hills and trees in Monterey and arrived in time for dinner at an old favorite, the Monterey Fish House, where we stuffed ourselves full of food!  Not a bad start to the weekend.

We awakened Saturday morning to a gloomy but not YET rainy day.  Still, it was windy and cold, and Michael realized at that moment that he had forgotten his rain jacket.  We also did not seem to have an umbrella in the car despite being fully cognizant of the 110% chance of rain!  Obviously we were going to pay for our usual lack of planning (forgotten tent poles and rain fly at Wildflower last year...)!  At any rate, we enjoyed a lazy morning in the Monterey area before heading on to San Francisco.

By the time we started the drive north, the rain had started to fall, and it continued for the rest of the day, just a constant, steady stream.  Once in the city, we picked up two umbrellas and planned to sort of explore a part of the city that the rain would not affect: the Ferry Terminal!
It did not look like this, however, since the sun was not out.

Also, what seemed like a great idea - go to the Ferry Building since it's raining - turned out to be what every other person visiting San Francisco must have had in mind.  We're so smart and original!  Seriously, it was packed.  I had hoped to eat oysters and drink a beer at the Hog Island Oyster Company, but the line was about 30 or 40 people deep.  I ended up cursing for the entire hour that we were there, heaping blame on myself for the weather and for planning to come up this particular weekend!  As if I could control the weather...
Since oysters were out of the question, we settled for a latte and devised a rainy evening plan: a movie and dinner!
We went to a late afternoon showing of "The Artist".  Yes, it won an Academy, yes, tons of people gushed on and on about it, yes, it is a silent film of a sort.  And I loved it.  Call me clich√© and conventional, easily manipulated, that's fine, but I did find that this is, to me, a rare film that is truly delightful, in a fun, poignant and sometimes whimsical way.  It was the perfect rainy-day movie to enjoy and savor!  After the movie, we spent Saturday evening splitting pizza and beers at Little Star, probably our favorite pizza place ever!  We've had it several times as take-out, eating at some friends' place, but had never experienced the Little Star dine-in experience which was the perfect conclusion to our rainy day in the city.

Sunday deserves a separate post which will soon follow, but I will say that the weather cooperated, much to our surprise as we spent a good part of of the morning and afternoon in Marin.  As we returned to the city, the good weather continued to hold, and Michael suggested a quick stop: Fort Funston, also known as "Dog Heaven". Although we were canine-free, we enjoyed hiking down to the beach and then walking along a beautiful stretch of it.  

Once we had worn ourselves out with the walk back up from the beach, we were soon hungry for dinner at Zuni Cafe, one of those "landmark" San Francisco restaurants.  I had eaten there a few years ago for lunch, but this seemed like a great place to share a meal and experience with Michael.  I felt quite responsible for Michael's experience, but fortunately the great food and service exceeded any and all expectations that we had.  Again, we went to bed stuffed and content and wishing that we lived in San Francisco and envious of all those who did!

On Monday, we again drove north to Marin to Muir Woods, and the experience left the two of us even more envious of our Northern friends than our dinner on Sunday night.  While Southern CA offers a range of hikes, I felt such a sense of awe and total happiness as we made our way through the lush, dense forest, the trees dwarfing us as they created a canopy that we walked through until we were suddenly out of the forest and into the open, the green, rolling hills of Marin County all around us. The hike was only about two hours, but it felt as though we had been gone for days, alone on the trail, as we returned to our car, surprised to find the parking lot bustling with people heading in and out in a mundane sort of way.
Here I am on the trail:

Here's a slimy little friend we saw:

And here I am again - still on the trail:

As a final hoorah, we returned to the Ferry Terminal.  I was still on a quest for oysters and ate my fill this time - we split a half-dozen, and then I ordered another half-dozen.  Totally decadent, I know!  We also took in the great views of the Bay and snapped photos of the Bay Bridge.

By Monday night, we were plenty exhausted but very content from the day's excursion - and from the entire weekend in the city!  With much reluctance, we said our goodbyes to San Francisco and returned to the Southland.  However, we did bring a few reminders of San Francisco with us (donuts, macarons, soap, crackers, pizza, about half a chicken leftover from dinner, an open bottle of wine...).  I felt a bit like a gypsy, returning home with so many goods, but it is nice to bring some of Northern CA back home.

For me, this was one of the best travels/trips I've experienced recently (like 3-4 years?).  It left both of us feeling somewhat rested and rejuvenated as we seemed to strike the right balance between running around to do stuff and just relaxing.  Unlike our usual visits to the SF Bay area, we made only one social visit, and I think that we enjoyed sticking to our own schedule rather than having to keep an eye on the clock as we moved from one social visit to another.  One final thought - we stayed in a studio apartment in the Castro, and while I do like staying at a fine and fancy hotel, the apartment also felt more relaxing.  We had to deal with street parking, but that was never an issue and I'll take that to paying the big bucks for a parking structure anytime!  I think that the apartment made us feel as though we were almost a part of the fabric of the city because we stayed in a true neighborhood where "normal" people live day in and day out.  

We definitely left the city with pangs of envy and with a much lighter pocketbook!  We'll have to start saving soon for our  next trip north!


Kimra said...

Ugh, Saturday was some of the nastiest weather we've had all winter. Glad you had a good time despite it! And Zuni -- mmmmmm.

kilax said...

What an amazing trip! So happy it left you feeling relaxed!

Those woods are so so beautiful! That is the part of CA I want to see :)

Kristina said...

Yeah - Saturday was pretty bad but we survived and the weather actually cleared up for us. I was trying to prepare myself for two days of terrible weather, so I was happy that we only had one day. Lots of good eats in that city!

As much as I enjoy a lot about SoCal, I think that I would "fit in" better in the Bay area. Ah, well, one can dream. It's always awesome to visit, however!

ChezJulie said...

I'm so glad you posted this because I just booked a flight yesterday to go visit my best friend in Marin County! We're trying to decide whether to do a little overnight at Muir Beach or Napa or Calistoga. I've visited her 4 or 5 times before but a weekend in No. California is always a treat.