Sunday, 30th September: New Forest Walk in Memory of Rosemary

Having recently arrived back from our adventure to America, we popping over to Whitefield Moor, Bransgore in the New Forest for a walk to raise funds for the Association with dogs and teddy bears welcome, too!

Here’s a photo of the early arrivals on what turned out to be a lovely Autumn morning, sunny with a chilly wind.

We had a lovely walk by the stream, meeting a mother and daughter who knew someone with MND, Lucy’s MND t-shirt caught their eye and started chatting.

After the walk we enjoyed a cup of tea and a delicious piece of cake. We didn’t have a large turnout but we hope to make it an annual event in September and will see if we can make it bigger next year.  We made £50, which we put on the just giving page and we have now passed £5,000 raised to date. Yay!

Tuesday, Last Day of our Trip

Today is packing up day.  We’re sorry to say goodbye to Bear Lodge but it’s time to end our holiday.  We had a clear up and put all the bags back in to our car, which had done a sterling job.  Duncan had enjoyed driving a car with automatic transmission and all the mod cons plus he’d got used to driving on the wrong side of the road (!).

The roads didn’t seem to be in any better condition than ours, which was surprising, but we got back to San Francisco in good time on the freeway, which eventually took us on a long bridge back over San Francisco Bay.  Needless to say there were roadworks and diversions but we managed to find the multi-story car park and check the car in – it’s much quicker to drop off than pick up.  A quick glance at the car, fuel and mileage and that’s that.  They don’t want to inspect the car for minor scratche, etc like they do over here. As long as it goes they’re happy.

We then caught the skytrain to the International terminal for our Virgin Atlantic flight back.  The bags were a tad heavier with all our souvenirs but they were still below the maximum 23kg allowed.  We had time for a sit down while we waited to board and an hour or so later they were calling all passengers to board.

Both flights were on the Virgin Atlantic Dreamliner 787 planes were the quietest I have been on.  We were well fed and watered and we had been so busy during our holiday that I fell asleep for a few hours during the night flight, so it didn’t seem too long.  After our flight, we passed through Heathrow without a hitch and caught our National Express coach home, where we enjoyed a rapturous welcome from the dogs!

We bought the tickets for this trip in the Wave 105 charity auction for Cash for Kids, so I’m pleased we had a good holiday while trying to raise awareness of MND/ALS and funds for the MND Association (parachute jump) and also helping Cash for Kids at the same time.

A jolly good time was had by all.

 

Monday, Day Trip to Yosemite

We had an early start today as we wanted to get to Yosemite National Park before the first tour at 10.00.  It was about an hour’s drive away but we hadn’t anticipated the delays due to road works, which put us behind schedule.  Nevertheless we finally arrived, found a place to park and made our way through the village to the Hotel where they took the bookings for the tours.  We decided on a two hour tour of the valley floor at 11 o’clock.  This was definitely a good choice as we had an open air vehicle to sit on while Kylie, our ranger guide, gave us a talk on the history and geology of the park.

 

The running commentary was fascinating, telling us about the original inhabitants of the valley, who called it the Ahwahnee or ‘place of the gaping mouth’.  The Ahwahneechee people were thought to be called the ‘Yosemites’ or ‘grizzly bear’ by the white miners and soldiers of the Mariposa Batallion.  Typically, the natives were either killed, starved to death or moved elsewhere over later years.  The park eventually came under federal control.  On 30th June 1864 Abraham Lincoln gave ‘The Yosemite Grant’ to California as a state park for “public use, resort and recreation”.

Forty-eight Non-Indian people visited Yosemite Valley in 1855, including San Francisco writer James Mason Hutchings and artist Thomas Ayres. The subsequent article and illustrations created tourist interest in Yosemite and eventually led to its protection.

How times have changed!  The article and illustrations created tourist interest in Yosemite and eventually led to its protection.

  

Some interesting facts we learned:

  • Yosemite National Park covers an area of nearly 1,200 square miles and has over 3.5 million tourists a year.
  • The tallest waterfall in North America is located here called Yosemite Falls with a 2,425ft drop (which had dried up when we went as it does in the summer)
  • There is another called Bridalveil Falls at 617ft where the spray is blown in the wind and looks like a bridal veil
  • There are 300-500 black bears living in the park.  The mother bear is fast asleep in hibernation when her baby is born.
  • There is a nearly 3,000-foot granite wall known as El Capitan, see below. On 3rd June 2017 renowned rock climber Alex Honnold became the first person to scale free solo (without ropes or safety gear). He ascended the peak in 3 hours, 56 minutes without using ropes or other safety gear. It was first climbed in 1958 and those first climbers needed 47 days (over an 18-month period) to complete their goal. These days, the fastest climbers can ascend it in less than 2.5 hours!
  • The specks you can see in the photos were climbers on the near vertical ascent when we were there.

 

  • there is a granite formation called Half Dome that rises 5,000ft above the valley floor. That’s it in the background of the picture below – it’s quite an awesome sight!

 

After our tour we decided to take an hour’s drive round to Glacier Point, a famous viewpoint at Yosemite where you can look down over the valley and where the above photo was taken.  It is accessed via roads that wind round the mountain but I’m rather uncomfortable with sheer drops at the side, with no barriers!  It was worth making the trip, though, as the views were spectacular.

After our long day at Yosemite, Helen and Duncan decided to go a two hour trek before driving home, but I was tired and rested my paws in the car while looking at the view.

Yosemite was definitely a highlight on which to finish our tour.

 

 

Saturday: Bear Heaven at Bear Lodge, Mariposa

Well, it was dark by the time we arrived at our last property, which was a real treat for me as it was called Bear Lodge and was full of bears – ornaments, lights, pictures, condiments holder…. it was bear heaven!  The pictures below are just a small sample of the bears there.

Again we had time for a film before retiring for the night and we were up early to make our way to the outskirts of Yosemite, where we were going on the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad – a steam railway which took you on a ride through the old logging country.  As you know, I do love a steam train!  It was a nice gentle ride with commentary explaining about the history of the site.  They also had a lovely gift shop (more souvenirs bought!) and a place to order a quick snack (another hot dog) before making our way to our next activity – a trail ride.

The horse riding centre, the Yosemite Trails Saddle and Sleigh Company was just under 10 minutes up the road, along a gravel trail.  They’re never very well signposted so we are often left wondering if we’re on the right track.  We given a friendly welcome and signed the necessary disclaimer forms before chosing a bandana for the dusty trails and being given the necessary safety hat.  When the whole group had arrived we were then taken round to the mounting blocks to be given our mounts.  I was with Isabel on a skewbald American Quarter Horse mare called Hubert – who is a she not a he as you would expect.

We were given instruction on how to ride cowboy style, which is totally different to the English style of riding.  Luckily the horses are well trained and know to follow one another, which is just a well because we nearly all beginners.  The trails wend their way up and down the river canyon and travers Rainer Creek a number of times.  It’s a good job that they are so sure footed because there are some big stones and boulders on the sandy trails.  It was very picturesque scenery and the two hours went very quickly.  Everyone was given help to dismount and Isabel was walking like John Wayne for a bit!  I think we were all a bit saddle sore by the end of it!

We all had a good time though and thanks to Larry and his team for giving us a great experience.

Thursday, Leaving San Francisco for Aptos, Santa Cruz

Today we bid farewell to the Motel Capri, load all the bags and suitcases and catch an early bus to O’Farrell Street to pick up our hire car.  This should be an experience as it’s Duncan’s first time driving in the USA and the first time driving an automatic.  We managed to catch the wrong bus, which took us most of the way there but then changed to a different direction, so we got off and walked the rest of the way.  The rental office was packed and it took us and hour and a quarter before it was our turn to register and sign the forms.   We then made our way to the fourth floor to pick up our Toyota Corolla.  Once we’d loaded the car and worked out how to work the controls we rather gingerly made our way out of the garage and through the busy streets of San Francisco to Twin Peaks to take one last view of the city.

Look who had been hiding in my luggage, my friend Mandy, the MND bear – cheeky monkey!

What a view!

After a short pitstop to admire the view, we then piled back in to the car for the drive to our next property – a private Airbnb place in the mountains outside Aptos.  We stopped at a diner on the way for a typical American burger and found it was getting dark by the time we got there.  The rounds were very narrow, winding their way around the mountain and we hadn’t remembered to download the directions while we had been on the wi-fi earlier.  It’s always better to trust their owner’s directions that the satnav!  We ended up on the wrong road but managed to sort it out using the offline google maps we had downloaded.  The property was a real find – on top of the hill with a lovely view.  It had been built by the owner in 16 acres of woodland with its own lemon grove that they planted.  We really enjoyed sitting on the balcony watching the sunset and sunrise, plus we saw various birds and wildlife, including our first chipmunks – they’re noisy little blighters!

After watching a film and a good night’s sleep it was time to get up ready for the challenge of the holiday for Helen and Duncan – a parachute jump from 14,000 feet at Skydive Surf City, Santa Cruz.  Isabel wasn’t brave enough for that one, so we sat and watched from near the landing area.  Donations welcome on my fundraising page for the MND Association: www.justgiving.com/RosieBear

Well, that was thoroughly exciting – I was more nervous than they were!  The instructors were very experienced having jumped some 18,000 jumps before, that’s a lot!  Having used so much adrenaline we went back to the house to cook up a large pizza in celebration.  We only had the two nights here, so there wasn’t a lot of time to enjoy the peace and quiet, which was a shame, so it was time to pack up again but we had one last treat on the way out – a visit to The Boardwalk, Santa Cruz, which is an old fashioned amusement park with roller coasters, rides and fairground attractions.  This was more for Helen and Duncan than myself.  I’m quite a staid old bear – a merry-go-round is quite enough for me!

As you can see it was a busy place, popular with families and they managed to while away the hours enjoying the rides, not to mention the food.  I did enjoy a hotdog and a the churro, which is a bit like a long sugary doughnut without the jam.  I had a browse through the gift shops and added a few items to my souvenir box, some of which will appear on eBay later to raise extra funds for the MND Associaton.

By the end of the afternoon they had gone on most of the rides and we got ready for the drive to our last property in Mariposa, near Yosemite.

 

 

Wednesday, Napa Valley Wine Train

Today’s an exciting one, we’re up early to catch a San Francisco Ferry from the Ferry Building to Vallejo.  Here we pick up a Platypus Tours minibus to take us an hour up the road to the station where we catch the Napa Valley Wine Train, restored with period carriages where fine dining meals are served while you travel slowly to your chosen winery tour(s).

Basically, it’s an excuse to be treated like royalty while enjoying delicious food and wines and lovely views to boot! 🙂

We sat in the beautiful lounge at the station while they loaded everyone aboard (there are a number of different tours to chose from with different meal options) and then you have your photo taken on the way in (to pick up on your return) and are welcomed aboard with a glass of sparkling wine.

As we made our way along the hour’s drive to our winery we were served the first two courses along with your choice of wine. The chefs and waiting staff do an amazing job delivering fine dining in such a small space, it was delicious.

After an house that seemed to speed by, we arrived at the award winning Grgich Hills Estate and we’re introduced to Toni, our very informative guide for the tour.  She took us round the winery, letting us taste the grapes and explaining how they know when they are ready for harvest and what grapes make the different wines they produce.

We also had different samples to try, starting with their Chardonnay.  I need to refine my palatte, I think.  I’m not a huge wine drinker but I could taste differences in the wines she gave us.  I prefer a sweet wine and Toni was kind enough to give us a sample of that too.

We really enjoyed the tour and also the lovely blue skies and hot weather of Napa Valley as it can get chilly in San Francisco with the early morning summer fog.

Soon it was time to reboard the train, this time in the lounge card for our sweet and coffee.  Our tub chairs swivelled round so you could enjoy the view on bath sides of the train.  How cool is that!

I could get used to such luxury!

On our arrival back at the station, we picked up our photos and browsed through the gift shop. I found a Napa Valley teddy bear who’s coming back to the UK with me, and had a stroll to the local market while we waited for the rest of the tours to return.  Then it was all aboard the minibus to drive to Vallejo to catch the ferry back to San Francisco.

We were all very glad to have picked this trip today, it was an amazing experience.

Tuesday, Ferry to Alcatraz

Today we caught a ferry from the famous Ferry terminal that has featured in films to one of San Francisco’s most famous tourist attractions, Alcatraz.

After an information and safety briefing we made our way in to watch a 15 minute film of the history of the island then we joined the long queue for the headsets and took the tour.  It was a very good audio guide which well and truly set the scene as you wandered through the prison

 

Oh no, what have I done now!

It was a surprise to find a garden on the island, which used to be a haven for the children of the families that lived there

They also had a previous inmate signing copies of his book. He also provided the voice for the commentary on the audio tour.

We then bought a couple of souvenirs on the way out and boarded the ferry for the trip back.

Alcatraz was definitely well worth a visit. I had watch some of the film’s it featured in The Birdman of Alcatraz and Escape from Alcatraz but I didn’t realise it was linked to American Indian occupation and protests regarding the loss of their lands.

 

Monday Afternoon Muis Woods and Sausalito

We boarded the Greyline coach for the tour and were pleased to see that we had a friendly and informative driver who also liked a joke. The journey took us over the famous San Francisco landmark, The Golden Gate Bridge, and on to Muir Woods, about an hour away.

This is a wood of redwood trees, but unlike our woods at home, there’s hardly any wildlife or birds. Apparently insects can’t live on the trees and therefore there are hardly any birds, although we did see a tiny little brown one about 2 inches big hopping among the undergrowth. Must Google that later.

We took a circular tour up to the 4th bridge then the high path back among the trees, it’s pretty spectacular and eerily quiet at the same time. They are extremely tall and straight, some here up to 1,000 years old but they can eventually get so tall the base can’t support the weight and they topple. The bark is very fire resistant, which is the reason they have lasted so long.

These were quite inaccessible, so survived the gold rush years when most were cut down for housing. One tree could make two houses so the driver told us. They tried replacing them with the quick growing eucalyptus trees but they were too fibrous to build with, but they do survive well in a drought.

Just one picture to post here as the rest are on my camera and will have to be posted later.

We continued on to Sausalito, where most of the shops were shutting but we managed to buy an ice cream and went to view the city from across the bay. It’s popular with cyclists who can cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge for the 8 mile trip to Sausalito and return with their bikes on the ferry.

Monday Morning Sightseeing in Union Square

Today we managed to get a ticket for a Greyline Tour of Muir Woods and Sausalito. Unfortunately they couldn’t fit us in until 3.00 so we decided to have a wander roynr Union Square, first stop the famous Macy’s store.

We took the elevator (I’m getting the hang of the lingo!) to the top and came across the Cheesecake Factory. Beautiful cakes in an even more beautiful setting.

We got some good pictures but couldn’t sample any as they weren’t open yet.

We carried on round the store and found them beginning to set us their Christmas store.  I even found some Macy’s teddy bear pals!

I didn’t have any spare pennies to spend but I did enjoy a good wander round the store.

Next we came across the Yerba Buena Gardens, a little oasis in the city with fountains and a waterfall

We had a nice pitstop for lunch and I tried Grandma Mary’s chicken soup – very tasty it was too. Just a small pot but very filling!

We carried on wandering around the Square and the nearby streets until it was time to catch our coach.