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May 2017


The day I met General Eisenhower (the tree that is)

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Today I met General Eisenhower (the tree that is)





Today I was allowed to borrow the pick up from the family I am staying with, they are very kind people and they have allowed me to use the pick up to explore the area so I set off with a view to having a quick drive around and visiting Healdsburg, famous for its Plaza which is full of wine tasting rooms, fancy clothes shops, bag shops, shoe shops and jewellery shops, with a few art galleries thrown in for good measure, all very tastefully done.




First I set off into the hills to try and drive to the top so I could look back down over the valley and revel in its splendour.  I kept going up and up and I eventually arrived at this carpark with a hotel looking building, which looked closed, but obviously in use because it was so well kept and outside in the carpark there was a sign in front of the biggest Redwood I have seen so far, it read “General of the Army, EISENHOWER TREE, dedicated 1972”.




It was massive, my mouth just hung open in awe while I gawped at its enormity, it was so big it had a tunnel going through it; I went around it taking photos and found a way in.  The inside of the bark looked like it had been on fire at some point and the space created within its base could hold about 10 to 15 people quite comfortably.  I walked around and around it just saying wow, omg so many times, it was just amazing.  Needless to say I took loads of photos but they don’t do it justice, it was so big you just couldn’t get it all in the pictures.




I took one photo with the pick-up at the base just to compare the sheer size, I tried hugging it but it was just too wide so I hugged a part of it.



While I was nosing around a lady came out and asked me what I was doing, I told her I was visiting and looking for a place at the summit, she explained the only place I could reach the summit and see the valley below meant  going on a mile hike, which I tried to do, but there were no clear route markers and I didn’t want to get lost, there was no one else about so I gave it a miss this time, you just can’t climb them all, LOL.



While I was talking to the lady she explained to me that General Eisenhower (the tree) had been struck by lightning many years ago which was what set it alight and the damage was pretty extensive but apparently the trees surrounding the general help to keep him alive.  You could literally have a party inside the tree! I just loved it, I could have moved in!! LOL!!



After taking one last look at the general, I had to leave, I couldn’t just keep staring at him all day, lol so I went back into Healdsburg, parked up and went for a wander, there are loads of giant Redwoods growing in the middle of the town too, so I took some more pics.



There are many wineries with tasting rooms attached within the town centre, with many advertising food and wine pairings, I have to say the only food and wine pairing that suits me is any type of food with any type of wine #Commonasmuck #heathen #noclue.  Anyway the same hangover you get no matter how long you discuss the flavour, bouquet etc. or how much you pay, compared to a cheap bottle of Woodman from Trader Joe’s so I declined the tasting rooms, plus I was driving!!


I visited the Paul Madher gallery which is the largest in Healdsburg and also the largest in California, north of LA.  I also met the man himself, Paul Madher, we discussed his moss wall which was the largest moss wall in California (I’m sure it’s the only one too) and we discussed the homeless project he has on at the moment in the gallery, one of the artists displaying their art has made a movable pod possibly for a homeless person to sleep in and Paul told me it can be pulled along by a bicycle which gave me food for thought.  I have always wanted to cycle across the USA and towing my own little home would be ideal, put it on the backburner for another day!!!


The art gallery is very big and very museum like with plenty of art on display from about 50 different artists, I nearly bought the oil painting of large roses, it was only $88,000.00 yes that’s 88 thousand dollars!!!!


redwoodI left Paul watering his moss wall which he needs to do regularly apparently.  I’m sure he does very well in Healdsburg there seems to be a lot of people enjoying the ambience and the wine, but the moss wall is NOT for sale, shame!!!


I took a drive after visiting the gallery,  along route 128 just to see some of the countryside, there are some spectacular views around here and magnificent mountains.  It reminds me very much of home at the moment with its green rolling hills and lovely trees everywhere but very soon the green will start to look parched as the sun beats down and dries up all the greenery.  Some of the hills were already looking beige rather than green and it’s only the start of the hot weather with eighty degree sunshine planned for the weekend, a mini heatwave, oh well, I don’t mind the hot weather even if all the farmers do, but apparently it’s good for the grapes too, makes them sweeter!!




Ex con at Alcatraz

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You can’t just go to Alcatraz when you fancy, there is a ticket system and you need to apply, there are only a certain amount of tickets sold per day so the best thing to do once you get to San Francisco is go online and book your tickets through the official Alcatraz Company, which I did.  I booked to take little Finbarr as I was looking after him for the day, he has been many times before but always enjoys going there.



We set off at 9am on the express bus downtown ready for our 11.30 sailing.  Finbarr wanted to call and see his dad on the way who works on the Wharf and he wanted to go and see the sea lions on Pier 39.  We had just enough time to do both and today the Sea Lions were very boisterous, jumping on and off the pontoons en masse.  I took more videos to send home for the grandkids.



We made our way to Pier 33 which is where the Alcatraz cruises go from and Finbarr was quite excited because they let us go in the front of the line because I had my crutch, it is very handy having this, I get to the front in the airport or on any transport queue, I might just keep it when my leg is fully better lol!



Our ferry took 15 minutes to get to Alcatraz which is much bigger than it seems as you approach, it is a fascinating place and I really enjoyed learning about how the convicts lived, only the very worst criminals were sent to Alcatraz, among the most famous is gangster Al “Scarface” Capone involved in the Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago, and murderer Robert “Birdman of Alcatraz” Stroud.



Alcatraz was a prison from 1934 to 1963 and although many attempts were made to escape the Rock as it was known when in use, no one was successful apart from maybe the three “dummy head” escapees who made it off the Rock but were never seen again, many think they perished at sea.  This story was immortalised in the film “Escape from Alcatraz” starring Clint Eastwood!  They took a whole year to prepare for this escape using spoon handles and old discarded blades to chip away at the wall vents and made the dummy heads from soap, toilet paper and their own cut off hair, the feat in itself was unbelievable because of the strict regime that existed at Alcatraz!




There were 36 prisoners who tried to escape the Rock over the years, 23 were recaptured, 6 were shot dead, 2 drowned and the other five were part of the same breakout in 1962 which included the Anglin Brothers, Allen West and Frank Morris.  Although West was initially involved he did not make it and ended up telling the wardens all about the plan in exchange for a pardon.



While you walk around the Island at your own pace there is an audio guide to listen to, you pick up the audio guide from the old showers the inmates used which is a large open trough with shower pipes spaced evenly along a long track, there used to by cubicles but due to frequent attacks they had to all shower in the open so the guards could see what was happening.



The cells are tiny and consist of a small toilet, small sink, a bed, and two foldable platforms at different heights to be used as a table and chair, some of the longer standing prisoners were allowed to use the library and read as many books as they liked , they were also allowed crafts like crocheting, and often crocheted blankets.



The prison blocks are three stories high and some are named after places in America, like Michigan Avenue, or Broadway while others were just called D block.  While the prisoners were locked up in their cells at night, sometimes when the wind was blowing in the right direction they could hear the parties taking place on the big boats in the marina and on the mainland.  Having to look out across the bay at the wonderful skyline of San Francisco must have been torment for them too, they were allowed out during the day in the recreation yard where they were constantly reminded of what they were missing!  But at least they had fantastic views!



We spent about three hours there listening to the stories and sitting out on the deck admiring the views of San Francisco, also while we were there an ex prisoner named Billy Baker otherwise known as #1259 was there signing copies of his book which tells the story of life on the Rock!


It sounded pretty horrendous living your life in this place which is how many ended their lives; I suppose they got what they deserved but omg it must have been hard.


The Governor and most of the guards also lived on the island and the children used to play on the open area at the front of the island, much has been done to enhance the island by introducing many plants there, you can walk around and look at the beautiful gardens.

livingaccommAfter it closed in 1963 it was taken over by American Indians who were protesting about their rights being taken from them, they are a self-governing tribe and wanted to keep things this way but the American Government wanted them to fall under government rule, their protest however was successful and after spending 18 months on the island they retreated to reservations back on the mainland.


It was a very interesting trip and somewhere I have always wanted to visit since seeing the films, “Birdman of Alcatraz” and “Escape from Alcatraz”.  It makes me want to watch them all over again.


After our trip we were back on the mainland by 3pm so we caught the bus to Coit Tower which is up on another hill in the middle of the city, inside there are fantastic murals by 25 of California’s leading artists of the 1930’s, some controversial depicting scenes from the Great Depression, landscapes, farm workers, industries, a stylish soiree and vibrant city life.  There was too much of a queue to go up the tower so we took some pictures as the views were pretty spectacular anyway, it is built on Telegraph hill.


After Coit Tower we took the bus to the Cable Car museum only to realise that we were too late and it closed at 5pm so we got off the bus and visited the most famous ice cream shop in San Francisco, (can’t remember the name of the place but it was on Union and Hyde, think it might have been Swensen) I had Strawberry Sorbet which was delicious and Finny had Choc chip ice cream which he enjoyed immensely.  We then caught the bus home after a very tiring but enjoyable day!



Nudist at Baker Beach

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To the West of Golden Gate Bridge is a fantastic Beach called Baker Beach, the place I am staying is on 16th Avenue which runs all the way to the Presideo park one way and all the way to the Golden Gate park the other, Baker beach lies below the Presideo which runs from the top of the hill to the beach.  I wanted to take a walk to the beach with my camera and Finbarr told me the best way to go, which was through the forest of Pines, cypresses and Eucalyptus trees down the meandering path to the western end of the beach.   The weather wasn’t very good, with an overcast sky and sporadic drizzle but I love beaches in bad weather, they tend to be less crowded.



I set off with my picnic lunch and it was a lovely walk with many different species of flower along the way, many I have not seen before.  On the beach I found the most artistic looking driftwood on which to sit, this must be the best beach I have ever been to for driftwood, there was lots of it, definitely worth collecting for craft projects.  There was stacks built up in some areas and different shaped logs on which to sit, I found a lovely spot and got comfortable, took my camera out to capture the waves crashing on the shore, the little children splashing in the waves, happy couples walking along, people with their dogs and lots of seagulls, plenty of photograph material, but first I asked a lady with her children to take a picture of me on my huge piece of driftwood, as soon as I handed her the camera, the batteries died so my thoughts of spending the afternoon taking photos was spoiled by my not checking the camera before I left the house.  Luckily I still had my iphone camera.


I sat for a while eating my picnic and watching everyone else on the beach have fun, there weren’t many people, a mother with her two children, a young couple, hand in hand, further along the beach toward the Golden Gate Bridge I could see more people walking with their dogs or children.  At times like this I like to do my Mindfulness, I try to absorb the moment by smelling the sea air, listening to the birds call and the children laughing, watching the birds soar above the waves and hover in the wind, feeling the sand and sea beneath my feet, all while tasting my wine I had brought on the picnic.  I very often think of my children and how they would have loved to be here when they were young, playing in the sand and running on the beach.  Everywhere I go I am reminded of my children, by seeing other children, often wishing I had that time again.



I absorbed everything I could about this moment and it will remain in my memory forever, while I sat there watching the waves crash on the beach I was reminded that the same thing happens on the beach at home, the same sounds, sights etc., but when I look to my right there is the Golden Gate bridge standing tall, dominating the skyline, such an iconic piece of San Francisco.  So even though I could just as well be at home, I’m not, I’m in Fantastic San Francisco.



I remembered today that my favourite band, “Journey” is from San Francisco and the song called “Lights” is about the city.  I had it on my iTunes along with an eclectic mix of Motown artists such as Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye, English singer Paloma Faith and Caro Emerald and also Barbara Streisand.  The beach was so quiet I could sing along while I listened to my iPod.  It was lovely there, so peaceful.




After listening to quite a few songs watching the waves and the birds I wanted to walk towards the Golden Gate bridge to take some pictures of the bridge from near the rocks, I made my way over along the shore dodging the waves washing up on the shore, as I approached the far end I could see a man in the corner with what looked like no clothes on, I looked away as I didn’t want to stare, but he got up and started approaching me and by this time there were a couple of other people who had obviously seen him because they looked at me and we laughed.  The naked man made his way to the sea and walked back again right in front of us, it was obvious he wanted someone to take his picture, so I obliged, lol, I tried not to let him see, but he turned as I took the photo and I got the full frontal! It turns out, when I got back, I mentioned this and apparently this part of the beach is known as a nudist beach, so wish I had known before I went there! Lol


After this incident I quickly turned back and started my climb back up through the forest to the top of the cliff to start my walk back home, there were more lovely views which I stopped to take photos of! The trees are magnificent and very many of them have been uprooted in the storms, also over the years the barks have become twisted and gnarled and as many people who know me, know I love trees, in any shape or form but the more artistic the better, so these trees just fitted perfectly with my idea of lush trees! That being, they have obviously been around for many years, they have grown despite the elements and their shape is very often determined by the way the wind blows.



The Presideo in San Francisco was a military base established by the Spanish from 1812 until 1997.  At the top of the cliff there are stone fortification gun installations, built during the war called Battery Chamberlin’s, which are closed off but still visible today on the walk to Marshall Beach!  When the Presideo was decommissioned as an army base by the US army it became part of the “Golden Gate National Recreation Area”.




Ferrari Carano Winery

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Today we went to the Ferrari Carano Winery, in Dry Creek Valley, talk about opulence! The gardens alone were magnificent.  The wines were expensive and the house was immense! But it was fabulous.  It’s obvious if you live in California, wine is the business to be in!! Money, money, money!!!




The gardens were really wonderful and by the age of some of the trees, they have obviously been around for a very long time.  There are 425 wineries in Sonoma County and Ferrari Carano is one of the most beautiful with its splendid gardens and over 4 acres of manicured grounds.  The grapevines cover 1500 acres of land and are all the eye can see for miles around.




The Winery is the dream of Don and Rhonda Carano and is one of the most prestigious in the whole of the wine region of California.  There is an outdoor terrace overlooking the vineyards with ornate trees and landscaped gardens, there is a wine shop which includes the wine tasting bar and the cellars where oak barrels are left to age. There is also a very expensive private collection which is viewing by appointment only and holds the most aged and expensive wines.




Don and Rhonda Carano have designed the gardens to ensure that there are always plants flowering all year round, there is a small Japanese garden where you can see the cork tree with a little note on how cork is harvested!  I was totally gobsmacked, I really hadn’t thought about how cork was produced and didn’t realise it was such a process! Amazing!




The shop sells lots of other products which complement the wines and of course some designer clothes and expensive gifts.  Some bottles of wine were $135 but that wasn’t the most expensive.




The main wines produced here are Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Meritage (Bordeaux), Merlot, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Port/Desert Wine, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Zinfandel and a few other lesser known grape names!


Antique Corker!


Today I tasted some grapes and learned that the grapes we buy from the shops to eat are nothing like the grapes used to make wine, which are much sweeter and smaller.  The people I am staying with grow grapes which they sell to the wineries and they grow Muscat, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.  The Muscat grapes were my favourite they have a very sweet scented taste, the others were just sweet but both were delicious, the lady I am staying with makes her own grape juice from what they don’t sell on and uses the grapes in deserts.



It won’t cost you a fortune to taste the wine at Ferrari Carano, even though this is a very prestigious wine tasting place, it can cost from as little as $10 for a taste of 5 speciality wines of choice and this is refunded if you spend $50 on wine purchases!  I love this area and this winery but I still think you don’t have to spend a fortune to enjoy a glass of wine!



rubtheboarsnoseforluck Rub his snout for good luck! The Wild boar who wrecked everything when the winery was being built who is said to still haunt the place!


Valentine’s Day in Paris

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It’s Valentine’s Day and I’m in Paris, on my own mind you but I’m in Paris nonetheless.  As mentioned before, Paris is my favourite city.  Today I decided to visit the love wall, which is a wall in the Montmartre area of Paris with “I Love You” written in every language on the wall, it is on the side of a building and very large with many visitors taking their photo while there, many romantic couples kissing and taking photos of themselves with the wall as the background.   It was a lovely place, I searched for the words I love you in English but, the Welsh version I found first, which said Te Caru, it should be Caru ti but I suppose it’s close enough.  I spent some time there sitting on the bench watching the children in the park and watching all the couples come and go, from the very young to the very old, lots of romantic couples. So it would seem that Romance is not dead after all.


I bought some lunch and decided to eat it in the park, I also bought a small glass of red wine in a plastic glass which I could recycle and use again.  I sat in the park attached to the church Sainte Trinite, went to see the stained glass windows but it was closed for renovation.  Watched the wino’s on the next bench drinking their stash and laughing and joking, obviously enjoying themselves, I wondered what the difference was between us, here we were, all just drinking wine in the park.  I did share some of my lunch with a homeless man, I offered him all I had left but he only took a little.


After lunch I went wandering and ended up in the designer district looking at John Galliano tartan trousers through the shop window with the assistant looking out at me almost laughing, it was a bit like the scene from Pretty Woman when the assistant thinks she can’t afford to buy the clothes! Lol!  Not interested in buying anyway, so I wandered on and found another church, took a look inside and they also had decorations for Valentine’s day, a big heart on the wall.  I did some meditation in the church as it was so peaceful.


I had walked quite a bit and I wanted a drink so decided I didn’t want to spend another 5 euros on coffee, found an American Diner selling a quarter carafe of vin rouge for 3 euros, much better, spent the afternoon there talking to lovely French people, my French is getting better, they couldn’t speak English at all and we managed a conversation.




It was dark by the time I came out of the American Diner so I made my way back to the hostel, I never managed to find some red roses that weren’t over-priced so never managed to give any out to random strangers, probably for the best lol! But I did give money to a Syrian refugee family! Valentine’s Day in Paris has been a good day!


The Chanel shop was being refurbished, so gutted I wanted to buy a classic Chanel piece!!


Lovely little shops in Paris!



Looks like it could be my shop!


Another monument which I can’t remember the name of!