Aviation Birds California San Francisco Travel

August 11, 2012 … swing low, sweet chariot

(This is the third of four written on the iPad while in various stages of being in transit, and only now being published with images. This one was written at San Francisco Airport on 9th August. Note the date discrepancy. Due to the international date line, we never had a 10th of August this year)

Though I am delighted to be home, I am always a little wistful when I leave the beautiful “City by the Bay”.

We awoke there yesterday morning (Thursday 9th, by our time), to the sound of jet engines, but outside our window, the vast silky harbour was quiet, with the very barest of ripples lapping at the sea wall by our room.
Golden morning at San Francisco Airport

The San Bruno Mountain State Park, the towers of San Francisco, and the Oakland Hills across the bay were all shrouded in localized sea mist.

Along the shoreline in Burlingame, sandpipers and plovers poked and prodded in the mud, seeking breakfast.

American Plover Sandpiper

What a great idea! Despite its modest facilities, our hotel offered a complimentary hot breakfast. As with some other foodstuffs explored on this trip, the notion of a turkey sausage eludes me. However, we found sufficient “safe” food to sustain the beginning of our last day.

Breakfasted and refreshed, we set out to fill in time before our departure, by going for a long walk (OK, a stroll with picture-taking opportunities) along the shoreline to the South. Birdlife was plentiful, though not hugely varied.

We went past the neatly trimmed lawns and decorative gardens of the big name hotels such as Hilton, Doubletree, Marriott, Crowne Plaza, Embassy Suites, until the path reached some sort of untidy  conclusion at a man-made tidal basin. There, an old and rather sad vessel called the Sherman was condemned to serve out its remaining days as a permanently moored restaurant.

Just as I was about to make disparaging comment about the condition of this former ferry, with its empty davits and trailing sun-bleached ropes, Mary grabbed my arm and pointed into the basin near the ship’s bow.Great Blue Heron

A great blue heron (Ardea herodias) was perched on a pontoon, and nearby on the handlebars of a moored Seadoo, was a snowy egret (Egretta thula) – just like our own “odd couple” at Petone, the kotuku and the white-faced heron.  Unlike our herons, the egret hunches its neck and you wouldn’t know until it walks or flies, that it has a long neck like others in the heron family.Snowy egretWe sat very still, and I kept taking pictures until a family drove up, with youngsters. Their noise and energy caused the two waders to flap languidly away in search of a more peaceful place.

We walked back to the hotel after a round trip of about two hours. Just as we reached the hotel, the heavy rumble of a 747 on finals made me look up. The big white koru on the blue tail stirred emotions, and we knew that this was the very aircraft on which we would travel later in the evening.ZK-SUH

With no car, and a 1pm limit to our arranged late checkout, we went for a leisurely lunch in the restaurant next door. Then it was the shuttle bus to the airport, where we spent most of the afternoon on the wrong side of security. I wish Air New Zealand would open their check in counters much earlier than 6:15pm as a courtesy to their customers.

There is no affordable place to leave bags prior to passing through security. Lockers are a thing of the past (what will thriller writers do now?) All left luggage goes through a security x-ray process and each suitcase costs USD$20. It’s no fun being held hostage by your own baggage.

While we waited, we were intrigued to see “mounted” officers of the SFPD patrolling the enormous extent of all the three terminals. I spoke to one of the officers and he was very willing to praise the merits of his mount. “You may run at 15 mph,” he said, “but you can’t keep it up for 10 hours like this can.”"mounted" police

Through security one last time with shoes and belts off, and all my worldly possessions in a plastic tray, and then another long wait in the glossy but not particularly comfortable International terminal. One last 12 hour flight to Auckland, one last hop to Wellington, and so this episode is posted from home.

Normal service should resume tomorrow.

Aviation Buffalo California San Francisco Travel Trees

August 9, 2012 – a stranger in a strange land

(This is the second of four written on the iPad while in various stages of being in transit, and only now being published with images. This one was written on 9th August)

Transitions are good when they are finally over.

Yesterday was a transition day. We checked out of our excellent accommodation in West Seneca (Buffalo), the Staybridge Suites hotel was the best hotel of our journey by far.

We braved the morning rush on I-90 and then highway 33 to get to the fine modern airport at Buffalo. Return of the rental car was quick and uneventful. I couldn’t help noticing, in contrast to the rapacious policies of NZ airports that the first two hours oif parking were free.

Our flight back to San Francisco was a two-hop journey via Cleveland Ohio. The first leg was on a Dash 8, but that was only 50 minutes or so.  It was amusing to me, that United think the Dash 8 is too small to allow actual carry on bags. They let you check in with them and then take them off you on the ramp. They do give them back when you get off.  The journey from Buffalo to Cleveland was low enough to give a good view of the freeways and interchanges that characterise travel across this vast land. You have to wonder at the strange diversions and kinks that occur on otherwise flat terrain. Southbound freeway kinks somewhere between Buffalo and Cleveland

Our only experience of Cleveland was United’s departure lounge.

The next leg was on a B737-800. Why do people choose window seats if they want the blind shut all the way? Grrr. He opened it at my (polite) request on the final approach over the San Mateo bridge.

San Francisco was brilliantly clear, but a modest 65 deg F or so. Just a beautiful day! An early walk along the waterfront produced some interesting plant life including this cheerful specimen . yes a pohutukawa, Metrosideros excelsa in full bloom. I know there are more than 50 varieties of Metrosideros, but there is a lot of evidence for genuine pohutukawa being introduced around San Francisco.Pohutukawa in Burlingame, CA

Our hotel was at the harbour’s edge in Burlingame, close enough to the airport that we could see the markings and registration on every incoming aircraft. Of course, that means we were close enough to hear them too. But for an aerophile like me, this was magic. Emirates B777-31H

In the haze just ahead of Emirates’ beautiful B777 is Candlestick Park. The needle atop the second skyscraper from the left is the tip of the TransAmerica Pyramid. Just amazing to me, was the seemingly endless stream of aircraft arriving and departing. Four concurrently active runways makes for some interesting juxtapositions.  The long lens got a good workout. Delta B737-800 and British Airways B747-400

We needed some shopping, so set out to walk to the Safeway on El Camino Real, but found what we needed in Burlingame’s Broadway, about 40 minutes away. The return walk was along a pretty path beside the harbour with good views of both shore birds and air traffic.

And thus ended the last day of our most enjoyable trip. Today we are on our way home.

The vagaries of air travel and the international date line mean that, for us, there will be no Friday the 10th of August.

See you on Saturday.

California San Francisco Travel Weather

July 12, 2012 … last day in the foggy city by the bay

Well I gave her another chance and she let me down … again.

The weather was fine and clear, warm even, until we got to Sausalito and saw the tendrils of fog creeping in around Mt Tamalpais and through the Golden Gate. Aaaaagh!  Oh well, off to Golden Gate park.

We walked around Lake Stow until we reached the beautiful Japanese Garden. What a wonderful place. Japanese Garden in Golden Gate parkWe enjoyed tea and some light food there before moving on to the arboretum. Hummingbirds are magical little creatures but always moved on before I could get my camera anywhere near them. Ah well, it was a pleasure just to see them.

We paused to look at the truly stunning Catholic Cathedral on Geary Street. The vast interior space is balanced on four interior pillars, and the geometry of the roof defies description. Inside the light is lovely and the organ is a work of art without a note needing to be played.

The magnificent suspended roof in St Mary's Cathedral, San Francisco

The organ in St Mary's Cathedral, San Francisco

On downtown to a different kind of temple. Lefty O’Douls Irish pub where we grabbed lunch and a glass of wine. That was the best Reuben sandwich I have ever had. Lefty O’Doul was an American born baseball player, and though the pub has a vague Irish look and feel, and sells stout by the pint, most of its food is pure California, and language you are most likely to hear from the staff is Spanish.  I recommend it anyway.

The less said about the turkeys who ran the bus tours to the Golden Gate bridge, the better. Despite their shortcomings, Mary and I enjoyed our walk across the bridge in the fog. I was stunned to see that from the road side of the towers they were almost invisible even while standing at their base. On the Eastern side, downwind, they were clear and bright, and you could see the fog divided by the structure.

Fog-bound Golden GateFog divided by the bridge

I also liked the booming of the fog horns, and looked over the side just in time to see a kite surfer dicing with death. 

We were very late back to Santa Rosa, and we move to Colorado tomorrow. I am glad to hear that the fire in Waldo canyon is contained.

You will note that this has (for the time being) become more of a travelogue than a photographic journal. Normal service will resume eventually.