Melbourne!

We arrived in Melbourne on Sunday afternoon and flew out early on Wednesday morning. Just two and a half days there, but it was awesome. What a great city! It felt very much like London, probably due to the grey skies, chilly temperatures and drizzle that we had on and off for our stay, but it also had a hip edge like Portland. So I kind of loved it from the start!

Because this is still a running blog at heart, let me talk first about running in Melbourne. The best-known place to run is called the Tan Track and it’s a 2.3 mile loop of soft gravel which winds its way round the Botanical Gardens with only one road crossing. I headed there on our first morning and not even the rain could dampen my enthusiasm. Melbourne was packed with runners on the Southbank along the Yarra river and round the Tan and it was pretty awesome. There is one short section on pavement and one significant hill (if you’re going clockwise) but otherwise it’s fairly flat. I spotted one bathroom and not many other opportunities if nature called, so beware. I ran it on both mornings, the second morning I ran two laps, and I really really enjoyed it! I’ve not run much lately and it made me super-happy to get some miles into my legs!

IMG_2942

Soft surface, markers every 0.5km and lit at night!

IMG_2935

Yarra sunrise

On the Sunday we explored the lovely Botanical Gardens before going to our apartment. We’d rented a little place off Spencer St and we loved it. I love the countryside but I also really love big cities with big tall buildings, so it thrilled my heart to see shiny skyscrapers from where I lay in bed.

IMG_2941

Seriously, isn’t this where Danaerys sits to rule in Meereen?

IMG_2910

Botanical Gardens

Traveling with the 7-year-old Dude and the Husband’s son, Big Brother, who is 13 AND with us on a budget meant that we didn’t do the whole hipster coffee shop/cocktail bar/chic gallery thing which Melbourne does seem to excel at. That would be fun! Instead, we did some fantastic family friendly stuff. On Monday we went to the excellent Scienceworks museum. I’m not science-y but we all really enjoyed our hours there.

IMG_2965

IMG_3002

They had this cool thing where you could race Cathy Freeman. She won…

We then did a tour of the Melbourne Cricket Ground as the Husband is a big fan…

IMG_3035

IMG_3041

Testing out the home team urinal

IMG_3050

Press conference

…and in the evening we splashed out and went up the Skydeck, the 88-floor tower with spectacular views over the city!

IMG_3056

IMG_3066

Monday had been pretty spendy, so on Tuesday, we went for an urban hike at Yarra Bend Park. There I discovered some great paved trails, primarily the Capital City Trail which runs nearly 30km around Melbourne. It seemed like it would be a great place to do a long run bearing in mind it’s pretty flat, paved and has loos fairly frequently. It also seemed pretty safe…the whole of Melbourne felt very safe actually, we all noted how safe we felt at all times of day and night at least in the city centre area where we were staying. Our 5km hike there was pretty if not spectacular but it had great views over downtown Melbourne.

IMG_3088

IMG_3091

Capital City Trail

IMG_3096

Well this made my day…

IMG_3101

We then explored the hip district of Fitzroy and finished off our day with the excellent Melbourne Museum which we all really enjoyed and would recommend!

IMG_3104

IMG_3131

Taxidermy coat of arms!

I really liked Melbourne. It had a great feel to it as I’ve said, a real European/PNW vibe. It was safe and clean, there was loads to do especially if you’re kid-free and blessed with great weather. It felt like a really livable city. If we hadn’t just bought a house in the UK, eh? Although spiders…

On Wednesday, we were up early and got on our plane to Brisbane…but that’s a story for another blog post.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sydney to Melbourne

It has been quite the week. On Tuesday we left our lives as Californians and flew to Sydney. The last week in California was rough…my beloved cat flew to the UK to spend the summer with his grandparents, I left my first teaching job and, with it, the children I adored. There was a final dawn run in the redwoods and there were many many goodbyes to friends. We packed up our entire apartment and loaded it onto a truck for shipping.  It was exhausting and draining physically and emotionally. Whilst I reminded myself every day that it wasn’t like I was in Syria, that these were first world problems, it was still a tough week.

I’ve mentioned before that I was reluctant to spend this summer traveling, that I would rather have gone straight back to the UK. Well, six days into our trip I freely admit that I was wrong and the Husband was right because it’s been wonderful so far.

Cue the much happier blogger you usually know and love.

We flew all day Tuesday – SF to Honolulu to Sydney. We got a surprise upgrade for the long flight between Hawaii and Australia, which was such a treat. We somehow lost Wednesday on the flight.  I have no idea how that happened, but the Husband’s lovely son, Big Brother, arrived on Thursday morning to spend the entire trip with us. He’s 13, he’s awesome and the Dude thinks he is the coolest thing ever!!

We headed straight up to the mountains, to the Blue Mountains about an hour outside Sydney. We were all shattered from our flights so we kept things easy but the views were so spectacular that no photo will do them justice. We hiked a short way along the ridge from Govett’s Leap – we had the trails basically to ourselves, it was so empty and the views were crazy!

IMG_2768IMG_2770

Then we did the touristy thing at Echo Point for the Three Sisters. You can see why all the tourists flock there, it’s spectacular.

IMG_2799

On Friday, we drove 4 hours down the coast towards Melbourne. We stopped outside Nowra and hiked in a park called Bomaderry Creek. Hugely different to the Blue Mountains. Those vast views were replaced with trails winding through dense forest, and under overhanging cliffs. The signposting could have been better (!) but it was a great 3 mile hike!

IMG_2807

IMG_2810

IMG_2818

IMG_2820

This hike required a ladder over a massive boulder

On Saturday, we did parkrun at Batemans Bay. This was Big Brother’s first ever 5k. I ended up running with the Dude, the Husband ran with Big Brother who very sensibly walk-ran it. It was a lovely course along the waterfront on a cool morning, and the best thing was watching Big Brother totally smoke his dad with his final sprint!! It was the race’s first birthday so there was cake. I got rumbled with the cake!

IMG_2854

18238046_1889961741271488_1939150178571541812_o

18320444_1889961097938219_3339033695475821955_o

18358695_1889959751271687_4819439075196101755_o

18278479_1889959604605035_3149625822097957779_o

Rumbled with cake.

There also happened to be a Kayaking Festival on in Batemans Bay the same morning. We’d registered the night before so after parkrun we wandered over. It was a really lovely community event, people were super-friendly. We got kitted out and reminded how to paddle and before we knew it we were out in our double-kayaks on the Clyde River where jellyfish floated around us. (Apparently they weren’t venomous). The 2km race was 4 laps around some buoys. It was awesome fun. I paddled with Big Brother, and the Husband and the Dude had their own boat. We were exhausted at the end (no upper body strength) but with salty faces and wet bottoms we were all triumphant!

IMG_2841

Bonfire at the Kayak Festival, the night before

IMG_2888

The victorious team!

IMG_2893

I love this photo so much

Today, Sunday, was not as much fun – there was a lot of driving but finally we arrived in Melbourne. I’ll blog about that next week, once we’ve explored more, but on first impressions I LOVE the place. It’s like London crossed with Portland and I can’t wait to explore in the morning. I’m also dying to do some running – I’ve barely run for two weeks now due to the whole moving/traveling thing and it’s starting to bug me!!

A few things we’ve noted so far.

  • We love the Aussie accent, it’s just so cheerful and informal and gorgeous!
  • The Aussies are super-friendly too! Everyone seems very laid-back and cheerful. We love this.
  • Everywhere is lovely and clean, for which this arachnophobe is very grateful. One spider sighting down…it was big but not heart-attack fodder so I’m okay.
  • On that note, I’ve been extremely nervous when hiking about 8-legged beasts but so far it’s been cool. Hiking trails are called ‘walking or running tracks’.
  • New South Wales is beautiful, incredibly green and rural. Australia feels a little like the UK – the architecture is often similar, the countryside has looked similar and many of the names of cities and towns are the same as in the UK. It feels like England on acid! Victoria, closer to Melbourne, is flatter and slightly dull, to be honest, but I know we’ve missed the ‘good bits’.
  • We’ve been driving the famous coast road and surprisingly it’s not been that coastal, it’s generally inland for the majority of the time. The best section is definitely Sydney to Eden – after that it got a bit boring (forest for HOURS) and then really nothing worth seeing for hundreds of miles. We wouldn’t recommend driving this stretch.
  • SO many people smoke here! I thought smoking had ceased around the world but apparently not! People also seem to drink quite a lot too!
  • The guys are either super-hot or ‘super-not’. There’s no in-between!!
  • Aussie hotels all have electric kettles which makes tea-making very easy. British people appreciate this very much after years of lukewarm tea made with coffee-maker warm water!
  • Every single little town has at least two awesome-looking cafes/bakeries/coffee shops. I literally try to spot them as we drive through. We are on a tight budget for this four-month trip so I’m not indulging and it’s KILLING ME!!!! I would love to sit, drink and eat in every single one of them!

We are in Melbourne for the next three nights and two days…and we are ready to explore!

IMG_2848

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Goodbye, gorgeous California

Tonight, we get on a plane and head off to Australia. We’ll hopefully be back in the US in a few weeks for the American section of our World Tour and we’ll even be back EVER SO BRIEFLY in SF, but to all intents and purposes, this is it. This is us leaving California and leaving our much-loved American life.

In January, we visited Fort Ross, an old Russian trading post up on the Sonoma Coast and I heard a quote that struck me so much I emailed the Visitor Centre asking them if they could send it to me. These are the words of Alexander Gavrilovitch Rotchev, the last manager of the Fort, before it was closed forever. He and his family loved their Californian life and as he prepared to return to Russia in 1841 he said this.

‘What an enchanting land is California!…I passed the best years of my life there, and I reverently carry the memory of those days in my soul’

I cannot think of a better way to say all that my heart feels right now.

SF mt tam

 

Goodbye,beautiful darling California. Thank you for everything.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Things I can’t wait to do when we move home

I had some comments on my last post (and emails from my mother) that implied I’d painted a grim picture of life in the UK. That honestly wasn’t my intention and I wholeheartedly apologize if that’s how it came off.

The last post was entirely about the things we love about our current home and that we’d miss when we moved back. I have noticed in the past that when I’m away from the UK I remember it differently to how it is in reality. I remember it as more grey, miserable and grumpy. So there’s always a lovely surprise at how green and beautiful the place is, how funny and down to earth the people are and how happy we are to be there. So, UK and UK people, I’m so sorry if I appeared to diss the place, that wasn’t the intention of my post AT ALL.

We are honestly super excited to be moving back. We are in the process of buying a house that we haven’t seen yet – we sent my parents to see it, as my mum is much more fastidious and I knew that if she liked it, we would too. The Husband won’t let me ‘announce’ it on social media until we’ve exchanged contracts and the purchase is definitely going through but we are fully intending to buy this place and we are honestly beside ourselves at living there!!! Can’t wait to be able to tell you more!

In the meantime, I thought that it would be fun to create a list of things I’m excited  about as regards moving home! It was pretty easy! Bearing in mind we’ll be on a much tighter budget, we won’t be doing all these things in the first few weeks but sooner or later, we’ll get there!

So…without further ado, this is what we’re excited about.

Our new lives!

  • Being near our families again!!!
  • Being near our friends again!!!
  • Our new house!
  • Our new garden!!!
  • Planting and growing our own redwood trees
  • Trying to grow vegetables for the first time
  • Growing some California poppies alongside their British cousins
  • The British sense of humour and camaraderie
  • Befriending newcomers and making them welcome
  • Befriending American expats and returning the favour
  • Getting involved politically
  • Finally having a garage!
  • Settling into our new church and getting involved
  • Meeting our neighbours and hopefully making some friends
parents family SFO

No more airport photos!!

Shops

  • Marks & Spencers
  • Waitrose
  • John Lewis
  • Farm Shops
  • The cafe that I have found online in our new town and am planning to adopt as my place due to its good veggie soups
  • Shopping at our local market
  • Go Outdoors
  • Corner shops!

Food

  • Good bread
  • Good cheese
  • Good sausages (for my boys)
  • Good bacon (ditto)
  • Good tea
  • Scones, jam and cream
  • Good curries
  • Yorkshire puddings
  • Really good pies
  • Our mums’ Sunday lunches
  • Crumpets

IMG_3093

Taking the Dude to Europe

  • Generally being just a 2 hour flight away from 30 different countries!
  • Speaking French and Italian again!
  • The Sound of Music tour in Salzburg
  • Switzerland
  • Skiing in France
  • Camping and cycling in Scandinavia
  • FINALLY visiting my dream town, Annecy
  • Greece, for the first time
  • Sicily!
  • Rome
  • La Coupole WW2 bunker, Normandy
Places that make my heart glad: Austria

This is a real place. Hallstadt.

Exploring the UK

  • Lots of camping!
  • Lots of cycling on quiet country roads
  • Running along canal towpaths
  • The Lake District
  • The Dales
  • The Peak District
  • Devon and Cornwall
  • The Scilly Islands
  • The Cotswolds
  • The Isle of Wight
  • Castles!
  • Joining the National Trust
  • Pub lunches
  • The Eden Project

Running 

  • Running on trails outside my new back door!
  • Joining my new running club
  • Wearing a club vest at a race
  • Exploring our new town on foot
  • Trail races
  • Going to Marathon Talk‘s Run Camp
  • Running on the South West Coast Path
  • parkrun tourism
  • Running/hiking the 250 mile Pennine Way
  • Hopefully meeting other local runners on social media
IMG_2458

Umm…this will be my daily running route come September!

Seeing

  • All the redwood trees in the UK listed on this website
  • Robins
  • Sheep!
  • Postboxes and telephone boxes
  • Old buildings
  • Cobbled streets!
  • Thatched cottages
  • Christmas markets
  • Seasons!!! Especially Autumn!
  • Pantomimes

IMG_2703

Not….

  • Being nervous about wild animals when running!
  • Worrying about school shootings
  • Worrying about earthquakes
  • Having to pay for healthcare
  • Living under the current delightful president

So much to get excited about!! We just need to get Charlie safely back tomorrow! Cross your paws, people!

Posted in Uncategorized | 16 Comments

How the Bay Area has changed me

Next week, we move away from the Bay Area after nearly 7 years of living here. I am dreading this week…I finish my college course, I say goodbye to my beloved preschoolers, my darling cat flies home alone, we have our leaving picnic and I have my final Sunday at the church I love. I honestly want this week to be over already.

Our Californian days have very definitely been the best years of our lives. They have also been an incredibly formative period and I thought it was worth documenting those changes. This may be slightly self-indulgent and naval-gazing but I’m in a reflective state of mind at the moment. Both reflective and slightly unhinged, let’s be honest. This is going to be a tough week!!

Anyway…this is how the Bay Area has changed me and my family.

I became a runner. I’d been a runner for an 18 month period in the UK but when we moved here, I was very much a cyclist at heart. Within days of moving here, I’d been inspired by the tanned, long-legged, swingy-pony-tailed girls I saw running around San Mateo and I wanted to run again. Since we’ve lived here, running has become my addiction of choice. It’s brought me so much joy, so much self-esteem and so many friends. I’m looking forward to cycling more on the quieter UK roads but I’m super-excited to become a UK runner and to check out the UK running scene for realz.

me

I became a trail runner. – In all my UK running, it never ever occurred to me to run off-road. Never. Weird. Especially because we were BIG hikers. But we moved here and at the time there were plenty of wonderful running blogs set here in the Bay Area and of course many of them were on trails. I was intrigued. So one fateful day, I persuaded my boys to go to Huddart Park and hike whilst I tried running. It was literally life-changing and the trail obsession began. When we move back to the UK, investigating and joining the UK trail community is something that is getting me really excited.

Marin Trails Me

Being outdoors became part of us. – I feel like we were fairly outdoorsy in the UK. We camped (which in the UK is a sign of being seriously tough). We hiked. We cycled everywhere. But the weather here is so wonderful that it became part of our identity as a family and I really hope we continue this in the UK. We’ll need some new gear (yay), we’ll need to toughen up our backbones and face the delightful British weather but I think that this is who our family is now, and that’s wonderful.

us hiking windy

I became a cook – Let’s not lie, I’m still far from a great cook. But when we moved here I was truly awful. But I discovered food blogs, I discovered new ingredients, I discovered a couple of good, simple cookbooks and worked my way quietly through them and bit by bit, I learned to cook. There are still some dishes that I present to my family with apologies and promises not to make them again (we still have to eat them) but those nights are few and far between. Also, our diet has completely changed. Thanks to blogs like 101cookbooks or Minimalist Baker, our style of eating is totally different to how it used to be and I’m determined not to give this up when we move home.

I became a vegetarian – (Actually, an occasional pescatarian). Vegetarianism in the UK is hard. It’s a very meat-and-carbs centred diet and previous to moving here, I had NO desire to give up meat. It wasn’t even an option. The Husband and I used to give thanks that we’d not married vegetarians. But here, so many people ARE veggie and most other people don’t blink if you present them with a vegetable main course so, bit by bit, my perceptions changed. It became attractive to me and one Lent, I gave meat up as a trial and I never looked back. The Husband, a confirmed carnivore, was more than willing to cut back drastically on his meat and he eats the veggie food I serve him willingly. I am DEFINITELY not going back on this!

Tomatoes vegetables market

I became a preschool teacher. – When we moved here, I was on maternity leave from an office job working in marketing for a BIG company. Whilst I enjoyed my role and LOVED my colleagues, I knew that this didn’t make my heart happy, but I was trapped by the great wages and the perks. After five very happy years of mothering, I was ready to go back to work when the Dude started school. Two interviews later, I knew I wasn’t going back into the office. So I finally fulfilled a life-long secret hankering to teach. I went back to college a few days before my 40th birthday and nine months later I started teaching preschool. It has without doubt been the very best change to my life that California has given me. There’s such peace in finally doing the job God made me to do – and I’m grateful that the Husband earns enough for me to be able to do it, as you don’t teach preschool for the money. I won’t be teaching immediately in the UK – I want to settle the Dude into his new life for a few months – but come January 2018, I’m back in the classroom doing the job I love.

I became closer to God. – When we moved here, my life-long faith was a little fragile. I’d wandered away from God in my 20s and was just in the process of building my faith up again. This move has been amazing for my faith. I found the very best church in the world, full of lovely people who don’t judge but just welcome and love. It shaped me and built me up. Being a Christian in the UK is pretty tough – as a country, it’s very anti-faith, anti-God – and it will be a shock after the acceptance I’ve found here, but I’m ready to represent when we get back.

I became a leftie – Politically, I’ve always been pretty central, maybe slightly right of centre. But when you live in America if you believe in free healthcare for all, in a woman’s right to choose and in gun-control you’re pretty much socialist. I’ve been surrounded here by wonderful liberal friends who have made me think hard about what I believe politically. I don’t agree with them on all things but I’m definitely more passionate about political things than I was and I’m definitely a Guardian reader these days. I’ve been reluctant to get too much into the political situation here  in the US. I’m a guest here and I have not been comfortable criticizing TOO MUCH the country that has welcomed me. Once we get back, I feel much more empowered to get politically involved, particularly given the delights of Brexit. So, my future MP, get ready for this California Leftie arriving on your doorstep with banana bread and lots to talk about.

I became a blogger. – D’oh. Here we are. This blog has also been one of the best things I did in California because I met you guys. And I’m so grateful.

I became nicer. – In the UK, we’re much more guarded towards people we don’t know. We hunt in packs, outsiders are not welcome until we know them well or unless we’re all drunk together. I think I was always the outlier, I’ve always been friendlier and more welcoming than the average Brit, but within a week of living here, I realized that I wasn’t as welcoming as I liked to think. I’m planning to take that wonderful California attitude of welcome back to the UK.

I became more sober – Talking of alcohol…we drink too much in the UK. We don’t drink anywhere near as much in the US. It was quite a shock when I arrived. Whilst I still love wine, the Husband and I are nervous of returning to the British drinking culture – I know I can be easily swayed so I need to be wary.

me danville wine

We became more American – we’re so Californian now. We give high-fives, we use words like ‘dude’, we stay inside if it’s cloudy, we only camp if it’s sunny, we hate sarcasm and teasing because it offends people…we’re in for a shock.

The Husband became #Ironballz – Triathlon is now a thing in our family. Ironman is now a thing in our family. I’m working on the Husband to do Ironman Austria because it looks wonderful and because we get another cat if he does.

rich husband ironman vine man

We have a cat – Best. Gift. Ever.

Charlie

Totally gratuitous photo of my favourite ginger

We raised a Californian – We brought a fat British baby with us. We take home a tall, lanky Californian with an impeccable British accent. One thing I’m grateful for is the wonderful childhood the Golden State has given him. Endless sunshine. Swimming on hot days in icy snow-melt rivers. Cycling on warm evenings on pelican-studded trails by the water. Holding injured hummingbirds in his hands. Kissing agapanthus flowers and hiking through redwoods. I’m also grateful that he’s had a childhood with such diversity. In his class of 24, he’s one of 3 caucasian kids. This won’t be the case in rural England. I hope his nonchalant approach to diversity remains.

dude hiking edgewood

Seriously! Preschoolers are the best!

So there we go…lots of changes.Lots of things to be grateful for and lots of things to be careful don’t get rubbed away by the grey skies, grumpy people and excellent sausages.

One more week. Let’s do this.

Posted in Uncategorized | 25 Comments

My Bay Area recommendations

Several times now, British friends who are coming to the Bay Area have asked me for my recommendations of places to go, places to eat and things to do. I LOVE helping people plan trips so I’m only too happy to write LONG emails listing things I think they’d like. Then it occurred to me that this would make a great blog post and then, in the future, I could just email them this link with a few modifications.

Bear in mind I wrote this in April 2017 – things change. Cafes and restaurants go out of business. New things open, some things close. But hopefully this is useful stuff if you’re coming to the Bay Area!

For running recommendations, click HERE. 

San Francisco

My favourite thing to do with visitors is to rent bikes and cycle along the waterfront to the Golden Gate Bridge, over the bridge, down to Sausalito and get the ferry back. It’s about 11 miles, it’s pretty flat (although there are a few hills, I can’t lie). But the views are amazing. DO take layers – the bridge is ALWAYS freezing but people NEVER realise it and so they have a miserable experience. Also be sure to check ferry times in advance and get there in plenty of time at weekends and on holidays. Half way round, just under the bridge is my favourite cafe, the Warming Hut. Amazing views, excellent coffee, good cake a wonderful gift shop and nice (hot) hipster guys. Rent bikes with ‘Bike the Bridge’.

Babby's Bridge Fog Cycling

Hmmm…fog

Sausalito is lovely, I love to wander around and people-watch. There is excellent ice-cream (Lappert’s) and one of my fave restaurants (Salito’s) is on the waterfront there. It’s not too expensive and you can have a glass of wine on the water.

Golden Gate Park is good for a day. The California Academy of Sciences is excellent (good cafe) and worth the entrance fee. At Stow  Lake you can rent rowing boats and pedalo boats which is nice on a sunny day. Also good pierogis at the cafe. Further down the park is a field of bison and where the park meets the ocean is a lovely cafe/restaurant called the Beach Chalet. In the park, the best playground is the Koret’s Children’s Corner which is a great play park if you have kids.

Stow Lake

Stow Lake on a sunnier day than today

Ocean Beach is beautiful but LETHAL. DO NOT let your kids in the water there, people are killed all the time. I don’t let my son play in the ocean at all, the coastline is really dangerous. But the beach is pretty to play on. Further north, if you have a car, is Baker Beach which is also really lovely, it has amazing beach views of the bridge so it gives the best photo opps in the city, I think.

Alcatraz is good and kids should enjoy it. If you want to do it, book it NOW…it books up solidly the whole summer.

Th Exploratorium science museum is on the Embarcadero (waterfront) and it’s excellent. Not cheap but really good. I’m not even science-y and I like it.

There’s a parkrun on Crissy Field near the bridge at 9am on a Saturday. Coffee and doughnuts afterwards.

parkrun me sf GGB

You too can look like death in your parkrun photos with a view

Get a car, drive over the bridge and head up Hawk Hill for the very best views of the bridge, they’re amazing! Come off at Alexander Ave, turn left back under the 101, take the first right and start climbing. That whole area, the Marin headlands  is gorgeous and excellent for hiking and good views!

Golden Gate Bridge GGB

Yep!

 

SGA trails headlands GGB

SCA trail in the Marin headlands

In the Marin Headlands is the Nike Missile Site! Check opening times before you go but it’s REALLY good! Gives you the cold war shivers!

IMG_1463

Also north of the bridge, in Marin County, is Muir Woods where there’s a forest of redwood trees. Redwood trees are my obsession here, they’re the most amazing, tall, beautiful trees in the world. I love them. I recommend visiting and I recommend the cheese/onion scones at the cafe. If you have a car, I actually prefer the redwoods in Huddart Park, 20 miles south of the city in Woodside. MUCH quieter, you have them to yourselves, and you can eat at my favourite restaurant, Alice’s, at the junction of 84 and Skyline!!

redwoods

There are some lovely parks in the city. I like Dolores Park in the Mission (the parking is a shocker, though). The views are amazing and the play park is the best in the city. There are some excellent cafes nearby…the Dolores Park Cafe on the bottom corner is really nice and just round the corner is Tartine, a bakery which does the best croissants/almond croissants/pastries in the city. Also nearby is Bi-Rite ice-cream which people love. My fave ice-cream place is Smitten – their ice-cream is some of the best I’ve ever had, they have four locations around the city so google which is the closest. You shouldn’t leave SF without having Smitten.

People love Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s a total tourist trap (kind of like Leicester Square where no local actually goes) but people do love it. The Ghiradelli Chocolate factory is well worth a visit, their sundaes are enormous. Nearby is the Buena Vista Cafe and they do amazing Irish Coffees as well as good brunch food.

Teens will prob like the Go Car rental which I have always wanted to do, but it’s too grown up for my little one.

Also on the Embarcadero is the Ferry Building, which I love. It’s a lovely old building filled with nice food stores and cafes. You’ll like it!! There’s good coffee there (Blue Bottle coffee). The line takes FOREVER but the coffee is good.

SF Ferry Building

The Ferry Building

The best hiking (and trail running) is on Mt Tamalpais (Mt Tam) in Marin County. You can drive to the top and the views are amazing. The best hikes (IMHO) start from Pantoll Ranger Station – Steep Ravine is my favourite trail but it’s called Steep for a reason.

steep ravine trails tam

My favourite beach is Stinson Beach which is also up on Mt Tam. It’s a long drive but totally worth it. The beach is lovely, the ocean is FAIRLY safe as long as you’re careful and we’ve had great days out there.

IMG_1326

Teens might like Dogpatch Boulders to do some rock climbing. There’s good ice cream next door at Mr & Mrs Miscellaneous.

We really like Half Moon Bay, about 20 miles down the coast from SF. Just north, at Moss Beach Harbor, is a fantastic locals-only beach off West Point Ave which is totally safe for the kids as it’s on the harbor so there are no waves. You can kayak there or SUP and there are plenty of places to eat nearby. Downtown HMB is lovely – very sweet. DO NOT go to the British pub – it’s rubbish and they do bangers & mash with packeted potato! Sam’s Chowder House, near the harbor, is wonderful – it’s a little pricey and there are super-long queues at the weekend but it’s great.

Half Moon Bay HMB Fog

An old photo but I never get tired of this view!

My favourite museum is in Oakland – the Oakland Museum of California. It’s wonderful!

In terms of sports, it’s worth seeing a baseball or football game if you’ve not done that before. We really loved watching the San Jose Sharks ice-hockey too.

Things to bear in mind:

  • I think SF is very safe but be careful as ever. One particularly dodgy area is the junction of 6th and Market and around there, plus the whole Tenderloin area. Steer clear.
  • Bring all the layers. You NEVER know what it will be like and the climate changes dramatically around the city.
  • This sounds petty but don’t call it San Fran. It really bugs locals. Call it San Francisco, SF or ‘the city’ Don’t call it Frisco.
  • Download Uber or Lyft and use them a lot. But you’ll need a car seat for your little one! The law is tight on this one. Or rent a car.
  • Parking is a shocker but driving is easy. I think drivers are more generous than in the UK.
  • I’ve mentioned a lot of my favourite cafes and restaurants. They’re all kid friendly. I’d recommend downloading the YELP app – people basically yelp anything they’re looking for, and I’d trust their cafe recommendations etc. A few more places I love are:

– the Stable Cafe in the Mission. Excellent brunch. EXCELLENT cafe au lait.

– I like Absinthe Bistro in Hayes Valley (basically downtown). It’s a little fancy (date night?) but lovely and there’s a Smitten ice-cream opposite for dessert.

– There’s an amazing second-hand book shop in the top left corner of the city, called Green Apple Books. If you like books, it’s worth the drive out there and there are excellent eateries around the shop!

– We love Live Sushi in Potrero Hill – great sushi, reasonable prices. Follow this up with cocktails at Epic Steakhouse or Waterfront Bar on the Embarcadero for great Bay Bridge views.

– There are some great shopping/cafe/people-watching areas I’d recommend. 1) Union St between Octavia & Pierce, 2) Fillmore St between Clay and Bush and 3) Hayes St between Gough and Webster. Fantastic parts of the city!

Away from the city…

Personally I’d always recommend Lake Tahoe, which is my favourite place!  4-5 hours away from SF, it’s the most gorgeous place. Skiing in winter, hiking or cycling in the summer plus kayaking, SUP-ing, hanging out..it’s wonderful. I prefer the north shore – I love Tahoe City and Rosie’s Cafe! My favourite town in the whole of California is Truckee, just north of the lake. I’d move there forever if I could.

tahoe

Santa Barbara is wonderful. It’s a good 5 hour drive without stops but it’s a lovely lovely city. If you go there, I can recommend a very good airbnb with a cat.

santa barbara palm

Yosemite is also wonderful but in a different way. If you go and can’t get lodging in the valley, stay in Groveland or Mariposa.

Yosemite

This place is incredible.

People rave about Monterey, it doesn’t rock my world but I may be wrong. It’s about 2 hours away. There’s an excellent aquarium (one of the best) and the coast road is pretty but I’m more a mountain girl than an ocean girl so I’m biased. South of Monterey is Big Sur which is a wonderful coast road – do stop at Nepenthe restaurant. There’s an expensive part but also a very reasonable cafe part with a terrace with the best view!

Nepenthe Big Sur

The view from the Nepenthe terrace is pretty wonderful

Also consider the Russian River – about 2 hour north of SF. Drive up the 101 to Santa Rosa then turn left and stay in Guerneville. We discovered this area last year and we love it. Kayaking, hiking in redwoods (running!), gorgeous coastline (Bodega Bay, Point Reyes) and nice wineries. We went back about 5 times in one year.

kayaking russian river

Wine Country is lovely but not ideal with kids. My favourite wineries are in Napa – we love Artesa to start with – buy a glass of sparkles to drink on the terrace. We like Frog’s Leap for the lovely garden and the lazy cat, and Sterling for the cable-car ride up to the winery and the incredible views from the terrace.

So there you go…our favourite things after 7 happy years of living here!!! Hope this is helpful.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

The Ultimate San Francisco Bike Ride

A few Sundays ago, I did something I’d never done before…I bunked off church. I’ve missed church many times in the past but always for planned events or reasons. However this particular weekend, the Dude had a sleepover until 5pm on Sunday afternoon and so I bunked off church and went cycling with the Husband. It felt naughty and awesome.

Our route was a ride I’d wanted to do ever since we moved here but had never got round to doing. It’s amazing how a deadline can motivate you to do stuff you’ve meant to do for ages! We loaded the bikes into my much-loved Honda Fit (does anyone want to buy it?) and drove into the city, parking at the little car park on Lincoln Avenue, near the bridge.

It’s a classic SF route. Over the Golden Gate Bridge to the Headlands. Up Hawk Hill, down the drop-off and back round the loop, finishing with a trip back over the bridge. That loop is about 15 miles, more or less. We considered continuing on to Sausalito or Tiburon but the bike ride was the day after the Husband did his Spartan race and he was still rather ‘sore’ post-battle.

IMG_1981

The ride was gorgeous. It’s always wonderful to cycle over the bridge, dodging the tourists. I was nervous about the climb – the bottom section of Hawk Hill is steep and I was worried I’d be so slow that, clipped in, I’d just keel over…but I didn’t fall. We worked steadily and without too much trouble reached the top and the views made it all worth it.

IMG_1964

We’re going up there!

IMG_1980

At the top

The road then narrows to a one-way street and drops precipitously over the side. It’s steep, winding and honestly looks like you’re dropping off the edge of the world. I freaked out, stopped, unclipped and walked my bike shamelessly for half a mile or so until the gradient became less terrifying. A cyclist flew past me and asked if I was okay. ‘Yes, just scared.’ I yelled back. ‘Me too’, he told me, which I appreciated even if he was whizzing fearlessly into the distance.

IMG_1982

See the road snaking down the hill? It was scarier than it looks!

Back on flatter roads, we bowled along happily for the next few miles until the detour climb back up to Conzelman Road. The climb was solid but not brutal and before long we were whizzing back down Hawk Hill, stopping at the wonderful lookout point for photos.

IMG_1976

Beardy Wierdy, happy me, Karl the Fog

The fog was rolling in now and the Husband’s Spartan-trashed legs were aching, so we cycled back over the bridge. It was freezing in that deathlike Karl the Fog way but before long we were back at the car.

Clearly this isn’t an epic tale of endurance and fortitude – it’s a tale of a delightful ride on an iconic SF route. I’m so glad we did it before we left. A week or so later, Lexi Miller, who make the most wonderful cycling clothes that I can’t afford, did a 4-minute video of one of their ladies cycling the same route. It’s inspiring (even if she didn’t have to walk the scary bit) so get your cup of tea and have a watch! I know I’ll be watching it when we’re back in the UK and getting all homesick for the city by the bay.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Aroo aroo aroo

Last Saturday, I went to spectate my first Spartan race. I didn’t race it – obstacle racing is not my thing – but my boys did and it was fascinating!! Like a whole new world.

First up, Spartan San Jose is nowhere near San Jose – it’s in the middle of the Central Valley in this crazy place called Diablo Grande. Basically you take the motorway out to Tracy, head south for a bit and then turn onto this road which winds its way through emerald green canyons for 20 minutes with NOTHING out there at all and you end up in this brand new golf-resort town miles from anywhere. It was bizarre. Parking took a long time and cost $10 but eventually we were parked up and walked the 15 minute walk to the race venue. Glad we allowed plenty of time for getting there!)

Spartan races are not cheap. I think the Husband paid about $150 for his 8 mile race. I don’t remember what we paid for the Dude’s race but I do know that because HE raced, I got in for free – otherwise spectators have to pay $20 which is pretty scandalous, AND spectators have to sign a waiver so I suspect the fee is for insurance purposes.

Having not been to an obstacle course type race before, there were immediate notable differences from what I’m used to.  The bodies were SUPER different to running races. There were muscles everywhere, 6-packs everywhere, rippling quads everywhere! Many of the women wore a lot of make-up, most people had really made an effort to look good! Many people were clearly running in packs with matching outfits. Lots of people wore black, which appears to be ‘the Spartan look’. There were a lot of bare-chested gentlemen. It was notably more diverse than most of the running races I’ve been to, which was good to see.  Best of all, many of the men were wearing VERY tight lycra shorts or even tights…I saw more willy outlines in one morning than I have in years 🙂 So basically Spartan is full of taut, muscly eye-candy! I also got much more of a ‘testosterone-y’ vibe than I do in running races.

The race ran throughout the whole day, starting in waves of about 100 people every 15 minutes. The Husband’s race started at 9.15 – even with an early start it got hot towards the end, I can’t imagine starting my race in the afternoon! To get into the starting corral, you have to climb over a 5-ft wall..basically I couldn’t even have made it to the start line. The Husband lined up with the one person he knew running this. He had done very little training so was basically out for some fun.

IMG_1873

This is how I’d fail to even get to the start line!

The announcer then briefed the Spartans and then asked them ‘Spartans, what is your profession?’ to which they all shouted ‘Aroo, aroo, aroo’.  I have no idea what ‘aroo’ is and it makes no grammatical sense but I heard a lot of aroos throughout the morning. And before we knew it, they were off.

It’s not easy to spectate a Spartan race because its so spread out but Spartan did a decent job of enabling supporters to cheer on their people. The first obstacle is visible from the spectator area and then you can see your Spartan starting to climb the most enormous giant steep hill. Seriously, I’ve never seen a hill like it and according to the Husband it went on for miles – and they had to carry sandbags on their shoulders at the steepest part at the top.

Then at about mile 4, the racers loop back to the staging area and there are three obstacles we could watch. There was a giant wall that sloped away from the racers that they needed to climb over, then a massive A-frame with ropes and then finally a terrifying monkey bar set-up. Those monkey bars were super-high, wide apart and at different heights. We watched people doing it for ages, it was amazing, and we cheered the few that completed it! I was surprised at the lack of crowd support – people cheered on their own racers but the Dude and I cheered for anyone who completed the monkey bars, and we got some stranger looks!  If anyone fails an obstacle they have to do 25 burpees before they can move on.

IMG_1891

Oh a trail race, I could do that!

The Husband came through Mile 4 in over an hour and he looked exhausted!!! He managed the inverted wall and the A-frame but totally failed the monkey bars and had to do the burpees. We went over to cheer him on and he looked so exhausted and battered that I actually reminded him he could drop out now and come and get a sandwich. I wasn’t trying to discourage him, just remind him that he could legitimately stop this race if it was too awful and we’d still love him. But he shook his head and plodded away. I was actually quite concerned about him at this point.

IMG_1907

British Ninja Warrior

We got food from the food trucks (limited veggie options, no surprise) and went to watch the final three obstacles which are also near the staging area. There’s a spear toss into a hay-man, a rope-wall and then finally a mud-bath – you slip down a mud chute into revoltingly muddy water and then you have to duck right under some wooden planks to the other side. It looked horrible!

We waited for the Husband for a long time and he didn’t come…and we had to leave and go to the Dude’s kid race. This looked like much more fun – a half-mile of trails to run with some super-cool obstacles. The Dude was desperate to race and he absolutely crushed it, flying along and have a blast. He particularly loved the mud pits, throwing himself into the muddy water. I collected him at the end and he was glowing and wanted to race the next event in half an hour – apparently you can do as many kid races as you want, which makes it much better value.

IMG_1933

We found the Husband who had just finished – he was beaten to a pulp but smiling and rightfully proud of himself. He got to watch the Dude do his second race, over a mile, which he loved again! They both took advantage of the ‘shower’ area (hoses) to clean off the mud and put on clean clothes and then we crawled slowly back to the car to go home.

IMG_1943

This race brought it home to both the Husband and I that our fitness is kind of limited. We have decent cardio fitness but we have no upper body strength and I’ve become aware recently that I have no core strength either. It’s hard to muster up the drive to fix those weaknesses but it’s definitely worthwhile to have better all-round fitness. Something for us to think about.

It was a fascinating morning for me, spectating the Spartan Race. This is not a world I’ve ever been in before – I came to the conclusion that Spartan is basically CrossFit at the Races! It’s an entirely alien world to me and not one that attracts me at all but I am full of genuine admiration for the ladies and gentlemen who did today’s race! I could not have done this race, not at all, so I take my cap off to you. You’re all crazy but you’re crazy impressive!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

A last blast of cold air

Last week was Spring Break and we went up to the mountains. Our friends lent us their wonderful cabin to stay in, up in Arnold. We love it there! The weather wasn’t ideal – overcast and rainy, then snowy and then finally, on the very last day, sunshine! But we packed in some great stuff.

arnold reading

Like reading…

On Friday, it was raining pretty steadily. I logged a few wet miles running and then in the afternoon we went hiking along the Arnold Rim Trail. The ART is a 12-mile trail through the wilderness that snakes down the mountain to Avery. We planned a 5.5 mile loop to San Antonio Falls. We put on all our waterproof clothes and set out hiking.

I have to be honest, I am not comfortable in the wilderness but I know it’s good to be out of my comfort zone. As we hiked deeper and deeper into the forest, I tried not to think of Mama Bears who might be out of hibernation and looking for food for their babies. We whistled a lot, sang a lot and made a lot of noise. The trail was indeed beautiful – no real views except gorgeous trees everywhere. Our planned loop was curtailed when it became apparent that we needed to cross what is currently a fairly fast-flowing river so we retraced our steps back home and made it out of the forest with no ursine sightings. Only later did my husband tell me that he was pretty edgy too about bears and wished we’d had bear spray. That might have been wise!

IMG_2223

IMG_2253FullSizeRender

On Saturday, we finally made it up to Bear Valley to cross-country ski. I did this for the first time a few weeks ago and LOVED it…this time I’d be taking my boys. The people at Bear Valley XC were super-kind and helpful and before long we were out on the pistes. The sky was grey but the overnight snowfall made it incredibly beautiful. We got into our groove fairly quickly and swooshed around the trails, before getting lunch and hot drinks in the gorgeous A-frame cabin. We headed out towards a meadow but the weather closed in quickly and we hightailed it out of there. Visibility got very poor and I was a little scared, got to be honest, (visions of the Donner party) but eventually we made it safely back to the trailhead. I really love cross-country skiing…it’s so peaceful and beautiful. The Husband liked it but his heart definitely belongs to downhill. The Dude adored it…he sang the whole way round and kept saying ‘This is awesome, Mummy’. I somehow seem to have unexpectedly got myself a ski-buddy!

FullSizeRender[1]

IMG_2263

IMG_2308

These were the rather terrifying conditions we nearly got lost in

And then, on Friday….there was a skiing miracle.

Not joking.

After 13 years of skiing…13 years of fear, frustration, rude words, tears and broken bones I FINALLY learned to do parallel turns. Now clearly most people learn this on day 3 of ski school in their very first week. However I have never ever been able to do it, despite weeks of ski-school, pizza-wedging my way down the slopes with screaming quads and little control. Before we left that morning, the Husband got me to watch a few videos and I learned two little nuggets that changed my world.

1 – I needed to start my turn much earlier than I was currently starting it. By the time I’d start turning, it was already too late.

2 – I needed to lean into the mountain as I turned.

It was a glorious day. I won’t ski in bad weather but Sunday was perfect. We set off on the green slopes. I started my turns early. I chanted ‘Lean IN to the mountain’ every single turn and somehow I was turning. I glanced down at my skis. Parallel. I turned again. Parallel. I’d done it.

IMG_2330

Blue skies and parallel turns!

I have NEVER enjoyed skiing as much in my entire life. My legs didn’t hurt, I wasn’t scared, it was like flying. I tested my new skills on harder greens. Yep, still parallel. So we went onto a blue and boom, I was still parallel! We did those runs over and over again but the mental difference was incredible. I flipping loved skiing! I was finally a skier.

IMG_2343

I know you might still be marveling that it took me 13 years to master something so basic and I know I’m making too much of this but seriously, I don’t care. I am thrilled and beside myself with pride and relief!  It’s ironic that skiing clicked for me on the very last day of our California skiing life. Skiing for Brits entails a flight to Europe, it’s not just a long drive in the car to Tahoe, so it’ll be harder to ski in the future but I am honestly stoked to finally be able to do this and to be able to test my skills in the Alps next winter.

Thanks, California for the unexpected winter gift!

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Review: Brooks LSD jacket

A few weeks ago, one Monday evening, I joined in a Twitter chat organised by Salty Running. It was my first time doing such a strange thing but it was fun. At the end of the chat session, there was a prize draw and somehow I won. NO idea how but clearly I was delighted. My prize was a running jacket – the Brooks LSD running jacket. LSD sounds like a…psychedelic (?) name for a jacket but alas it means Long Slow Distance.

I sent Salty Running my size, my preferred colour and my address and a few days later, my jacket arrived. Choosing a colour was fun. The LSD comes in various colours which range from slinky black to my beloved neon and a couple of truly dreadful options. After much indecision, I plumped for black. I could wear my GoVivo reflective vest over the top for night-time running but I’d still look ninja-esque the rest of the time.

I’ve worn it a number of times now so feel like I’m able to review it fairly.

Basically I REALLY like it.

IMG_1727

Kate Moss never gets photo-bombed!

It’s super-light. It weighs literally nothing. This makes it perfect for taking along on runs when the weather looks a bit iffy – when you think you might need an extra layer but aren’t entirely sure. This is so lightweight that taking it is a no-brainer.

Taking it along is very easy due to two things.

1 – It packs up into its own pocket and then zips into a tiny pouch.This is fun to do, I find this exciting every time I do it.

IMG_2146

Going, going…

IMG_2147

Gone!

Attached to the pouch is an elastic arm-band. You basically zip the jacket into its pocket, stick it on your upper arm and you’re good. The elastic is tight enough to not fall down my arm as I run. I haven’t even noticed it when I’ve run wearing it on my arm.

IMG_1565

It’s pretty snuggly. It’s excellently wind-proof and keeps me pretty toasty. This is a good thing at times (chilly mornings) but it can get a bit too heated on warmer occasions.

Brooks never claim the jacket’s waterproof – it says water ‘resistant’ and that’s pretty spot-on. It’s good against a shower or a sprinkle but when I wore it in a downpour on Mt Tam I was soaked to the skin and wishing I’d worn my actual water-proof jacket. My mistake.

IMG_1730

Not at all awkward…

This is a really versatile little jacket. Because it zips up so light and small, I carry it with me wherever I think I might need an extra layer. I’ve put it in my bag to wear to the cinema because I’m always cold in the cinema. I’ve stashed it in my back pocket on bike rides as a windproof layer. I slept in it when we went camping last weekend and it kept me warm. It even doubles up as a ball for bored kids on ferries.

IMG_2154

Spot the ball/LSD jacket

The black is flattering enough that I’d wear it in the city without flinching (although I’m not very cool, so bear that in mind). I’ve become VERY fond of my LSD.

me brooks lsd soul cycle

I know. I should be a model!

Clearly when you win stuff or get it for free you’re more inclined to like it but seriously, I like this lots. In all honesty, I don’t think I’d pay $100 for it but I’m a cheapskate runner and I find it hard to spend that much on anything except shoes.

All in all, this was a fantastic addition to my running (and general life) wardrobe. I think it will be incredibly useful once we move back to the UK.  Thanks Salty Running for picking me!

(Totally unsponsored blogpost. I wasn’t asked to write a review by Salty Running or Brooks when I won the jacket. I just like it.)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment