Yesterday I wrote a little about my recent Wedding. Today I wanted to write about our honeymoon, primarily these two posts are for my own memory, reminding me that the original thought behind starting a blog was that regardless of whether anyone else reads it, I can at least look back over my posts and be reminded of things I was doing, and what I thought about them.
Kat had never been to America, and we both liked the idea of going to San Francisco for our honeymoon. What with it being such a long way, I came up with the suggestion that we also spend some time in New York afterwards, to make the journey home slightly less crazy than the journey out. So the plan was formed that we went for a week in San Francisco, and 3 days in New York.
Flying. There is one part of flying that I like, and that's taking off. I guess on a clear day I'd add coming into land, for the interesting view. Other than that I hate flying, or rather, I hate waiting in airports, queueing, going through security, being sat around, sitting on planes waiting to take off, sitting on planes waiting for everyone in front to get off before you can move, waiting for baggage, sitting on long long long flights. Seriously, someone needs to figure out much faster ways to transport people places. On the way out we had about an hour taxi from our house to the airport, of course you have to be there 3 hours before your flight, then 8 hours of flying to Newark, through security, wait for baggage, back through security, then a further 2 hours waiting for the plane to SFO, which was about another 6 hours of flying. Since that was internal there was no security to go through when we landed, just a long wait for baggage, then about 30 minutes taxi to the hotel. All told I think we spent nearly 24 hours awake before we got to the hotel room.
The advantage of flying West is that we arrived very tired, at about 9pm, went to bed, slept for 12 hours and got up ready and raring to go the next morning. We stayed in the Westin St Francis on union square, a very big hotel (over a thousand rooms) and we room was very nice, not the nicest I've ever had, but still pretty decent.
I loved San Francisco, whilst we were there the weather was great, sunny every day, most days started fairly cool, and got hotter. Generally I'm less bothered about heat, so long as it's sunny. We got both. It is hilly (I know shocking) Whilst I *knew* that San Francisco is famed for hills, I don't think I'd connected quite how much up and down hills there would be to walk. And we did walk a lot, pretty much everywhere you go, you'll go up and down, and probably up again, some pretty steep hills. I guess this keeps the locals in pretty good shape. On our first day we walked through china town and little Italy, over to Lombard street for the famous wiggly bit, down to the sea front, all the way along to get tickets for Alcatraz at the peer, then up to Coit tower. And I do mean up. Up a stairway on the side of basically a cliff face, past houses!(how the hell do they move in, or get mail or anything?) Coit tower is basically the other side of a valley along Lombard st from the wiggly bit.
Whilst we walked along the front, some guy selling what I assume was time share, or maybe just apartments, tried to convince us to agree to go on an hour and a half visit to look at apartments, in exchange he could hook us up with Alcatraz tickets, which he assured us we would not be able to get that week as they'd be sold out, or at the least $100 each. But wouldn't you know it, we tried out luck anyway, and had zero problem getting tickets for the Thursday (which is when we'd planned to go) and they were just over $50 for our pair of tickets.
Having done lots of walking we decided to go catch our selves a cable car up to the cable car museum. It's called a museum, but it is also the functioning hub of the cable car system. 4 huge motors power 4 massive loops of steel cable at 9.5 mph under the streets of San Francisco along the 4 different cable car routes.
This was a cool place to go visit, both to see the workings behind the cable cars, and to read about the history. It's also free.
During our massive day one walk, we found one of the several 'bike the bridge' places and decided that we would go for it the next day.
The bike the bridge tour is basically you hire some bikes for the day, cycle along the coast to the Golden Gate Bridge. Then cycle across it, and on down the coast on the other side to Sausalito, a gorgeous little town on the bay. We ate there at a nice restaurant that was basically on a little pier, so right on the water.
From there we cycled up to a little bit of park land just in land, by another cute town. Before cycling along the coast line around the bay to Tiburon where we caught the ferry back to San Francisco. All of this was about 20 miles of cycling. We could have just stopped at Sausalito and got the ferry there, but we've done at least a reasonable amount on cycling in the recent past (until my bike was stolen) so we managed 20 miles ok. Plus it was spread out between about 10am and 4pm. Thinking back I should have switched on my n900 to track the trip with GPS. but I didn't think of it at the time. oh well. We walked back to the hotel from the bike place, having done all that cycling no problem, I found just up the last stretch of hill before the few blocks down hill to the hotel, I suddenly got massive pain in my ankle and knee joints on my right leg. Made it horrible to walk the last couple of blocks. Don't know what triggered it, I guess just over doing it. But it was basically fine the next day so fortunately didn't get in the way of more walking!
Kat wanted to go check out the more alternative areas of San Francisco, so we headed down Market Street to the mission district, then across to the Castro, before eventually getting to Golden Gate park. Written like that it seems like a tiny little trip, but it was probably about 4 miles of walking (to be fair mostly flat in that part of SF) in hot weather. We stopped to look in a few shops, had a drink outside a nice diner in the Castro. Generally got a feel of the flavour of the place. We had decided before going, that we would get one of the electric bus things back to the hotel ( I really like how much SF has embraced electric/low emission vehicles, from electric buses to the dozens of Toyota Prius' I saw both personally owned and running as taxi's) I think this was the first day we actually made it out for an evening meal, the first few days we basically just collapsed early and just grabbed snacks for the hotel room. But having made an effort not to get exhausted, we went out for a nice meal at a posh restaurant just up the street from our hotel.
Wednesday, we had the only thing I planned specifically before we went. A wine tour of Napa Valley, for this we used Max Napa Tours This is literally a one man operation, he drives up to 6 people in his Ford explorer around some of the smaller, off the beaten path wineries. I have to say this was everything I hoped it would be, I had a really great time. In the end we shared the day with another couple, so it was just 4 of us being driven around amazing places. The weather was fantastic, the wine was great, and we certainly got to be a little off the main stream. Whilst the biggest place we went to had a fair turn over of groups, most of the places we visited had maybe 1 other group tasting at the same time. And the smallest place we went to was the terraces, Open only by appointment, and really not somewhere you would just happen upon if you didn't know it was there. This was a really cute little place, run by basically 1 guy how took us around the vineyard to see the different grapes growing. My only regret about the wine tour was not being able to buy more wine! In the end I bought 3 bottles, which we drank during the remainder of our Honeymoon. Max did a really good job, and I thought this was a great way to experience the Napa valley, with a) someone else driving, and b) some real local knowledge and contacts to pick the best places to wine taste, and also to have lunch.
Thursday we did Alcatraz, because basically you can't go to SFO and *not* visit Alcatraz, and it was fun. Again great weather made for some amazing views, and there is lots to see, and the audio tour was pretty good. We caught one of the park ranger talks on the escapes of Alcatraz which made a nice way to get more information, before we set off back for the main land.
On our last full day we took the recommendation of a friend who lived in the area for a while, and went to the exploratorium which was cool. The weather was probably the worst of the week, so it was fine to be indoors, and the exploratorium was so compelling that we spent about 5 hours wandering around playing with all the exhibits, until they closed and kicked everyone out. Kat and I are generally agreed that this kind of science museum, which is more about trying things and seeing things work, is much more interesting than just reading cards next to some bit of art, or historical artefact.
And that was it, a really packed week, and a great time. On Saturday we got the shuttle service to the airport, and off we went to New York. The taxi into Manhattan from Newark was $75! which was a little more than I hoped, but what with tolls and crossing state lines, that is just what it cost, and I tend to prefer direct taxi to longer but cheaper alternatives, particularly at the end of a long journey.
What to say about New York. It's big, it's much, much busier than San Francisco. The food was great. Whilst there we did some of the more obvious touristy things, we went to the 'top of the rock' top floor of the Rockafeller centre and got some great views around the city.
We went to the museum of modern art, as well as a quick trip to the Metropolitan museum of art. The former to see Starry Night, and the latter, mostly because it was free and to spot places from the Thomas Crown Affair (remake). Of course we went to see the statue of Liberty, though we chose to do so from the free Staton island ferry, rather than pay and queue to go see the statue up close. Again we did a lot of walking around, appreciating how flat New York is. For our last meal there, Kat took me to Churrascaria Plataforma, this was my one enduring memory of my first visit to New York, when I went to speak at a conference there several years ago. I'd talked about it enough that Kat decided to take me back there. It was just as good as I remember, a meat lovers dream restaurant. They do have an impressive salad bar, but the main deal is that you get a coaster, Red on one side, Green on the other. When the coaster shows green, servers arrive at your table with huge skewers of varying meats, and slice you off a little. they keep coming, and coming, until you can eat no more and have to admit defeat, turning the coaster to red. I ate a lot, probably the equivalent of several meals worth of amazing meats... prime rib, top rump, suckling pig, roast lamb, garlic steak, bacon wrapped pork fillet.... the list goes on. I will say that it was not cheap, lucky for me Kat was treating me ;-) But you certainly get a large array of very nice food.
Finally the time came to fly home, another long journey, but we did at least complete all of our various flights without delay or problem. The only minor event in our travels was the car from the hotel back to the airport. The doorman recommended a friends 'town car' service, rather than hail a taxi, it was $75 all in, so we knew the price was fair, so we went for it. All was fine, except in the queue for the holland tunnel some cheeky sod pushed in in front of our car. This annoyed the drive enough that he changed lanes, and rolled his window down, presumably intending to give an earful.Sadly he was so distracted that he drove into the car in front in the new lane. Not hard, but enough that he needed to pull over and exchange insurance details etc. This is not what we needed on a trip to the airport. Fortunately we had plenty of time, so it was no big deal. The taxi home from Heathrow was another great idea, I certainly would not have wanted to drive myself at that point. So it was good to be met by a driver and taken home.
All in all, I had a fantastic honeymoon, and I believe my new wife did also. America was an interesting place to visit, I found I kept forgetting that I was in a natively English speaking country. Weird I know, but I'm so used to travelling in Europe, and there was always a mix of languages around anyway, it was easy to imaging my self some where in Europe a lot of the time. The main things I didn't like.... the whole tipping thing, I guess it's just not very British. I hate the expectation of a tip for every damn thing. Just set the price to what you want to get paid! This goes for Taxes to. Odd coming from a country with 17.5% VAT (soon to be 20%!) complaining about 9.5% tax. but it's never included on the prices you are shown. It's always added at the till. That just really bugs me, I want the price I'm shown, to be the price I pay, no surprises, no expected 20% tip. The other thing that was just weird, the stalls in men's 'rest room' The partitions started too high off the ground, and stopped too low. It's like someone carefully figured out the minimum possible amount of material to still provide some privacy. I know it;s a cliché to point out the little differences, but it was one I noticed in every rest room. In the uk partitions start about 5 inches off the ground, and stop at about 7 foot high (comfortably above head height).
The main things I loved, the weather which was awesome the whole time, the food all of which was very good. The sights, particularly in San Francisco where hills provide many spectacular views. And of course, the company which was second to none ;-)