We had a great drive to Vancouver, Washington where we spent three lovely days with an old school friend of Pete, Renaud, and his wife Eunice. Following the Columbia River, we passed wineries, windmills and trains, some with over 56 carriages and 3 engines. Oregon was vibrant, full of fall colours and green land. We were unaware that you are not allowed to pump your own gas in Oregon so Pete got a bit of a shock when he was stopped at the bowser!
It was really enjoyabe to catch up with Renaud and Eunice again and not only did we have a lot of fun and a lot of laughs, it was lovely just to be in one place for a few days and not have to get up each morning and drive. It was very relaxing. While Renaud and Pete stayed at home catching up, Eunice took Dawn and Courtney to Portland, Oregon for some shopping - their first bit of shopping since arrival
. Despite the rain, Portland had a vibrant feel with pretty neighbourhoods, good coffee and some zany characters and some excellent shopping along Mississippi Ave! Both Dawn and Courtney bought some lovely trinkets and jewellery. There is a small area of woods opposite Renaud and Eunice's house where Renaud took Pete and Courtney for a walk and spotted coyotes. We had no idea how close to residential areas they got.
It was disappointing to leave Vancouver as we were having a lovely visit, but it was time for us to move on and we followed the Oregon Coast south, watching the geese as they too flew south for the winter. The drive down the coast was rather disappointing as the fog and sea-mist prevented us from seeing anything at all of the rugged coast. We were barely able to see the road in front of us and it only cleared once we turned inland!
It wasn't much better as we crossed in to Northern California. Again, the fog prevented us from seeing much of the Northern Californian Coast. Even though the roads became extremely winding, they took us through some beautiful scenery and Redwood forest. The Avenue of the Giants is a scenic alternative to the highway with over 51,000 acres of redwood groves (not to mention the odd wild and woolley mountain man or two!)
. The towering trees made it dark in the forest and the roads were extremely winding but it was so peaceful and reminded us very much of something out of Hansel and Gretel or similar. On two occassions we drove through the middle of a massive redwood tree before following the narrow cascading cliffs of Highway 1 above the crashing surf. With no radio station, it was a long and tiring trip, made even more so when we made a mistake of thinking petrol could be bought at all the places marked on the map. It turned out not all of those places were towns and we turned around back to where we had come from and with 5 miles to spare in the tank, we found petrol. As if running low on fuel was not nerve-racking in itself, the roads were pitch-black, the fog was thick and we narrowly missed deer on the road. All fun and games!
Finally reaching Santa Rosa at 11pm, when we got up the next day there was nothing left to do but head towards Napa Valley! It didn't disappoint. Peeking through the fog, a patchwork of vineyards covers the Napa region and beautiful homes hug the sides of the hills.
Our trip to San Francisco continued as the first part of California; with fog and mist obscuring any view of the coast.San Francisco is a foggy city home to an eclectic mix of young professionals, old hippies, homeless and panhandlers, and of course tourists
. After a lunch of crab rolls and sourdough bread bowls of clam chowder, we braved the freezing temperatures on our first afternoon and boarded an open top hop-on-hop-off bus for a tour of the city. We passed Union Square and it's exclusive shops and department stores, and looked at the 'Painted Ladies' from Alamo Square. The Painted Ladies are a row of Victorian houses that are often seen in films and sitcoms such as Full House. In 1906 when an earthquake caused the gas pipes to explode and the city to catch fire, people stood at Alamo Square and watched San Francisco burn. Following on from Alamo Square, we went to Haight Ashbury (a neighbourhood still living like it did in the 60's with the smell of marijuana in the air and tie-dye walking down the streets), Panhandle Park that became a refuge for the homeless after the earthquake, and on to Golden Gate Park, which is even bigger than Central Park in New York. From there we had to hold on tight as we drove across the Golden Gate Bridge, scared we may blow out of the bus and right down in to the San Francisco Bay! As we were staying at Fishermans Wharf, we wandered around that area, looking at the souveniour stores before having a dinner of cioppinos.
The next morning, once again in the fog, we boarded the ferry for a place Al Capone once called home, Alcatraz. It was windy and foggy and a miserable place, but we had a fantastic and entertaining guide telling us the history of the place through being different characters
. Prison authorities claimed Alcatraz was inescapable and though people tried, it is unknown if anyone managed to escape alive. It soon became too expensive to house inmates on Alcatraz and after it was closed, Native American activists took it over to protest US occupation of native lands. The protest ended 19 months after it began when they were forced off the island. After escaping from Alcatraz and its fog, we headed to Pier 39 to watch the sea lions burp up their fresh fish dinners and then continued on for a ride on the cablecar. It was over an hour in line and the cold made it difficult to hang on to the side but it was a lot of fun. As we climbed up the steep hills and reached the point just before we flopped over the other side, we held on a little tighter and hoped the cable didn't snap! Then, over the ridge we went. The views were amazing and we enjoyed the rush of the wind in our hair as we sped down the other side, thinking we would scrape the sides of the other cablecars and cars coming the opposite way. Our last night in San Francisco we decided to head to North Beach for some Italian. Columbus St reminded us of Lygon St in Melbourne, just a bit smaller and not as loud. North Beach was made popular by writers Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
The morning we were due to leave, San Francisco was blanketed by heavy rain. We checked out of the hotel and took a drive around San Francisco, following parts of the Bullitt car chase sequence
. It took us around Russian and Nob Hills where the dizzying climbs leave you wondering how on earth locals manage to park their cars on some of these steep descents! We got to Filbert St, and although it is not the steepest street in the world, or even America, it still has a maximum gradient of 31.5% or 17 degrees and it sure did look steep and scary peering over the edge just at Pete headed down! Courtney then took the hire car down Lombard St, the crookedest street in America. In order to reduce the hill's natural 27% grade, 8 switchbacks were designed to allow vehicles and pedestrians to navigate the incline. The road passes beautiful houses and gardens and it was fun to both drive and walk it. Due to the unrelenting rain, we decided to head off down the coast towards Monterey and Carmel.Unfortuantely, the weather did not improve and once again, the visibility was so bad, we saw nothing. We checked in to a hotel in Monterey and as it was still pouring rain, we stayed inside and went and had wine and cheese in the lobby instead!
We all had a nice time in San Francisco but we never expected the fog and weather to be as bad as it was. Who would've thought the thick jackets we bought were more appropriate in California than in Montana! There is now only a week left of our roadtrip. Fingers crossed the weather improves!
Looking forward to seeing you all soon,
Courtney, Dawn and Pete