2002 - Western USA
For 2002, Mandy wanted to go and visit her sister, who'd been living in San Francisco for some years. She and Lauren had visited them and I'd been over on business a couple of times, but this would be Ryan's first visit and our first holiday.
Getting flights in the summer holidays proved expensive and difficult, but I finally booked flights with Virgin Atlantic when my Brother in Law phoned to say that they would be coming home due to his (British) firm closing down the San Francisco office. If this wasn't bad enough, it also turned out that they were coming home whilst we were there, so our plans to stay the 2 weeks (with maybe a short visit to the Grand Canyon) with them needed revising.
To make matters even worse, I was made redundant just a week before we were due to fly, but with all the problems and expense, I was determined to enjoy the holiday...
Our flight to San Francisco was enjoyable, on Tinker Bell, a newly refurbished Virgin Boeing 747 and we arrived to find the weather sunny, but, if anything, slightly cooler than the English summer we'd left.
We picked up our hire car from the hire car centre. We'd booked a mid-size and were offered a full-size Dodge Intrepid for "JUST" $10 a day extra. As this equated to around £100 over the 14 days, I declined the offer and was pleasantly surprised to find a new silver Dodge Intrepid waiting for us when we collected our 'mid-size' - $140 upgrade for free - thanks very much!
The trip into San Francisco, past South San Francisco (proudly declaring itself "The Industrial City") and across the Golden Gate bridge was no worse (and a little better) than some times we've taken the trip and we arrived in San Rafael in the mid afternoon.
For the first couple of days we just stayed in San Rafael with Tammy (Mandy's sister), David (her husband) and their 3 kids (Thomas, Oliver and Francis). We arrived on Wednesday and did little on Thursday.
On Friday, after a little shopping, we took a trip to the nearby State Park of China Camp, where Chinese immigrants set up in the 1800s to catch prawns. This is a quiet spot on the inside of the bay and there's a small exhibition in one of the huts, which highlights the hardships they faced.
On Saturday, some friends of Tammy's and David's were throwing a going away party for them over in Sonoma (in the wine country). First, though, I took a trip with a fellow Marcos owner (who came and collected me in his smart 3 litre) to Alamo to see the one and only Marcos XP racer (which raced at Spa in 1968) - You can read about that trip here, if you're interested.
On returning from there, I joined the others high up in the California hills overlooking the Sonoma valley at the home of Tammy and David's friends. As the sun set over the valley, it wasn't hard to see the appeal of living in California, although it's not all as great as this part!
The following day, we visited some former colleagues on Treasure Island. This is a former Naval base (and parts still are as we found when we inadvertently drove through a checkpoint!), but Dave & Lynn had rented one of the houses whilst they were working there. They were having a going away party (as a result of the same office shutdown) and I met up with a number of former colleagues from both sides of theAtlanticc, who were there to set things in order before the company shut the offices down.
On the monday, we took a boat trip to San Francisco. We drove the short distance (a few miles) to Larkspur where we caught the catamaran across San Francisco bay into the city. On the way across we passed San Quentin (The Federal prison, still very much in use, as witnessed by the prisoners in the yard overlooking the bay), Angel Island, the once high security prison of Alcatraz, which is now a National Park and well worth a visit (we didn't visit this time, but we have in the past) and we moored up at the soon to be refurbished Pier 1.
We wandered up Market St to say hello to David and then hopped on a Cable Car for a few streets to walk through the Chinatown district.
After dragging around too many shops selling the same Chinese dresses (some, it has to be said, were lovely and Lauren decided to buy herself one) and junk like paper lanterns and cheap toys, we finally reached Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39, where we had a very poor lunch and Ryan and I sat for an hour or so, watching the famous Sealions, whilst Mandy and Lauren went shopping. When they returned Lauren and I took a ride on a simulator which simulates a rescue of some dinosaurs in 3D - I'm not a big fan of such rides normally, but this one was pretty good.
We took one of the smartly refurbished trams back along the harbour front and 35 minutes later were back at Larkspur courtesy of the speedy new catamarans now servicing this route.
All week, Mandy had been banging on about going to Muir Woods. This is a beautiful woodland of large Sequoias on the Marin headland. As it was so hot on the Tuesday, we decided to drive over there (only a few miles and just out of the city across the Golden Gate bridge). We'd been here once before, on our short trip to California, and I was quite worried about getting the big Intrepid down the tight, twisty road to the woods, but it turned out to be no problem and the road was nowhere as tight as I remembered it.
The woods were beautifully cool and we spent a couple of hours strolling along the marked paths. At one point we stopped and admired a deer which was eating just above the path. For a very modest entry fee, Muir Woods is well worth a visit if you're in San Francisco.
On the Wednesday, we had to leave. Someone had told us that there was a tall ships procession coming under the Golden Gate bridge from 12 noon, so we decided to combine watching a bit of this with a visit to Fort Point, which is right under the bridge.
Unfortunately, this location proved a problem, as the fort was closed for work on the bridge itself. It was open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, but we were out of luck.
As there's little else to see at Fort Point, other than the Fort (closed) and the view (which we'd seen), we decided to set off on our journey. Perhaps, we thought, we may even get to see a little of Yosemite that day...