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AngelaLewis

excon

Ex con at Alcatraz

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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”.

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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!!!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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Antique Corker!

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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.

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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!

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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!

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Valentine’s Day in Paris

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balloons

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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

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Lovely little shops in Paris!

 

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Looks like it could be my shop!

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

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Francis Ford Coppola Winery

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Today we went to Francis Ford Coppola winery in Geyserville.  It was spectacular, he is the guy who directed the Godfather Trilogy films, amongst many other great films and his winery is massive and very much stands out amongst the great wineries of Sonoma County.  The vines cover many, many acres and on the bushes grow many, many different varieties of grapes.

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At the winery there is wine tasting and at this one you can actually stay for a holiday, there is a hotel attached, very smart hotel so it’s not within my budget but we went to taste some wine anyway.  There was some really expensive wine there but the way I look at it, no matter how much you spend the hangover is the same in the morning.

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The people I am staying with don’t drink so we didn’t taste many but we got to see the splendour and did the tour of the vineyard and cellar but there is also a shop where they sell many other products which complement the wine.  One of the best things about this winery is the museum dedicated to all the films Coppola has directed.

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There are many wines made at this winery and they include Archimedes, Eleanor, Francis Coppola Reserve, then there is the Storytellers range, Sofia, Directors cut, Director’s, Director’s great movies, Diamond Collection, Rosso and Bianco and Vortre Sante which are all collections of very fancy wines in very fancy bottles.

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When we visited it wasn’t very busy as it was a week day and the weather was not good, it was unusually raining, so we had the chance to have a good look around, it was a beautiful place and you could tell a lot of money had been spent there and was still being spent by many visitors.

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The wine Eleanor is a new wine made in honour of Francis’s wife whom he greatly admires and attributes with playing a huge part in his and the family’s success.  A lot of his wines have won many awards not least Eleanor which has won Gold for the Sommelier Challenge 2016.

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When I say a museum in honour of his films I mean the car that was in the film Tucker is on display, the desk that Corleone sat behind in the Godfather, the costumes from Dracula as well as lots of other memorabilia all take pride of place in the wine house and shop.  Also there is a large ship on the second floor, I’m not sure if it was from a film or if it is there for effect, either way it looks fab!

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There are also posters everywhere, pictures of Francis with famous stars of the movies and there is a big cabinet with all the Oscars won and academy awards.  It is a beautiful place where what’s on offer is more than just wine and it was great to see all the memorabilia while tasting the wine.  But at the end of the day my favourite was a bottle of Pinot Noir Cherry Blossom which we bought from Trader Joe for $3.99!!!!

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Sonoma County the wine region of North California

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The last couple of days have been wonderful, the weather not so much, but the people I am staying with treat me like family, they are such lovely people, two ex-doctors, the lady is very interested in natural health and treating the whole person, they are very interesting and have very interesting lives and families, I have spent a lot of time chatting to them both and we have a lot in common.

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On the first day I helped them weed the garden, they have a small vineyard and they told me the grapes pretty much look after themselves but they are landscaping and developing their garden all the time, they have plenty of fruit trees, a vegetable patch, lots of flowers etc., it is a wonderful home too with beautiful views.  Yesterday the weather was ok and very sunny in the afternoon, I had to take my cardigan off to weed it was so hot, the peace and tranquility is only spoilt by the odd appearance of a small plane flying into Healdsburg small airport nearby.

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The beauty of these warm countries is the extra special things that happen in nature, there were hummingbirds buzzing around the Montbretia, lizards scurrying along the vegetable patch and plenty of bees making honey.  The lemon tree outside my room is so full of lemons it looks like it will collapse under the strain.

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The lady of the house is very much into eating healthy foods and eating home cooked foods, she made a lovely Philipino curry with Quinoa for our meal today.

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During the afternoon the man of the house took me in the pickup to the lumber yard to fetch supplies for the landscapers doing the garden, it was a lovely spin into the town of Healdsburg where lots of Redwood trees grow along the roadside, not as big as the Giants but only because they are so young, but still very impressive.

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Today there was rain forecast so they took me to Santa Rosa to do some food shopping and told me to choose whatever I needed.  We went to Trader Joes, a huge health food shop, the variety of different health foods there is amazing, the juices alone are wonderful, so many different fruits and healthy organic fermented drinks too.  They stock everything you need for a healthy diet.  The lady told me that in California more-so than other parts of USA the people are very health conscious so Trader Joes is a busy supermarket.

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Bought the apple juice but not the Dorritos, how about the size of that pack? Enormous!!

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We then went to Costco, a warehouse bulk buying type of shop, my hosts pay for membership cards to enable them to use this shop and while we were there they got me a cash card for petrol when I hire my car in the next couple of weeks.

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They say everything is bigger in the USA!!

We went home and had a lovely lunch of fresh chicken, kale salad with pumpkin seeds and cranberries and sauerkraut bought from the supermarket with delicious apple juice, called cider over here.

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Massive muffins!!

Next the man of the house took me to the wineries in the area where all the tourists go for wine-tasting.  See the next installment for the amazing photos of these fantastic wineries.

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The sign on my bedroom door!!! LOL!!

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Flying to San Francisco

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I had a bit of a panic the day before my flight to San Francisco, I logged into British Airways website to check in online but when I tried to enter my details I was informed, for the first time, that I needed an ESTA to travel to USA? What the hell is one of those I thought?  So of course I googled it and sure enough I did need one.

An ESTA is Electronic System for Travel Authorisation which is needed to travel to the USA under the Visa Waiver Programme VWP.  When I read this I had a bit of a meltdown, I looked on the BA site and there was a link to apply for one so I did it immediately not knowing how long it takes, there was a problem with the site and it wouldn’t accept payment, I tried a few times and it just wouldn’t accept, so I tried ringing BA and basically they told me there was nothing they could do, I had to sort It out myself, I tried again to make payment and this time it was accepted, I paid 14 dollars and they told me that the decision on whether my application had been successful or not would be made in the next 72 hours and I was supposed to be flying in 17 hours.

I had to sort food out for my kids as they were all coming for tea to wish me bon voyage, so I got on with the cooking and we all had tea and I checked the website again later and by this time it was about 6pm and I had been accepted, panic over I could fly to the USA after all PHHHeeeewww!!!!!

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That night I didn’t sleep much, went to bed about 9ish was up by 1.30am ready to drive to Manchester airport.  I left at 2.15am and arrived at the car drop off point at 5.45 am which is not bad, the best thing about driving through the night is the little traffic there is on the road.  I caught the shuttle to Terminal 1 dropped my bag off and awaited my first flight of the day with Aer Lingus to Dublin.

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First flight done, lovely hour or so spent in Dublin airport which is another lovely airport, it’s a good job I love airports and planes, it was an epic day today.  I was then fast tracked because of my crutch onto the next flight of the day from Dublin to Heathrow this time on a BA plane, again seated in the middle seat, which I hate, but due to me checking in late online all the window seats were gone! Gutted!! Anyway it was another pleasant flight.

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But the piece de resistance was the next flight, from Heathrow to San Francisco on the Airbus380, a massive double decker plane.  It was huge; I loved it so much I just had to ask if I could see the cockpit.  As I was at the boarding gate I asked the stewardess if I could visit the cockpit and she looked at me as if I was mad and laughed and said “no we don’t do that kind of thing”.  I was first on the plane, I was allowed to board early because of my crutch so I asked the steward named Ian who was greeting me onto the plane and he phoned the pilot who agreed, so I went to the cockpit, it was amazing to see all the controls, talk to the three pilots who talked me through the control panel and had some photos with me. One pilot showed me their sleeping quarters and where they eat their food.  It was amazing to think that this tiny space controlled such a massive machine.  I was awestruck, so excited I could hardly speak, needless to say it made my day very special and the best flight I have been on, it was even better then when I flew business class home from Thailand on Thai Air and that was pretty spectacular.

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I went to my seat and settled in, again I didn’t have a window seat but at least I had an aisle seat, I was in the middle bank of four seats and I was on the one aisle end, a lovely couple from Idaho sat next to me and I made friends with them on the way, Karen and Derek, we exchanged details and they invited me to Idaho the next time I am in the states, it turns out that they like to travel like me, on a budget, using couchsurfing and Airbnb.  I got on really well with Karen and we chatted a lot during the 11 hour flight, I also watched Absolutely Fabulous film and it was Absolutely Fabulous, so funny, I loved it.  I also started watching Australia but there wasn’t enough time to watch it all.

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The stewards on the flight were wonderful, especially Ian and Karl, they were very friendly and gave me plenty of wine lol.  I managed to make the shuttle bus which was leaving for Santa Rosa at 6.30pm to meet with the lovely people I am staying with in May in Sonoma County, the wine region.  The shuttle bus had to go over the Golden Gate Bridge on highway 101 to reach Santa Rosa so I got my first glimpse of the bridge, Alcatraz and Sausalito.

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I met a lady on the bus who had just had some bad news, she had just arrived at the airport for her flight when she had a phone call to tell her of a death in the family so she had to get back on the shuttle and go back home, she pointed out some sights to me as we drove to Santa Rosa.

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I was picked up from Santa Rosa by the lovely people I am staying with and taken to their home, which is a lovely house in the middle of the wine country, the names of the streets are Chablis lane, Reisling road etc. It’s a beautiful area and they live in a beautiful house.  I have my own little flat in the basement with doors out onto the garden.  I had a small meal when I arrived then went to bed as I was exhausted it has been a very tiring but wonderful day.  Meeting fabulous people, going wonderful places and that plane!! JUST WOW!!!!

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alcatrazfrombusNot a very good picture but that is Alcatraz in San Francisco bay at dusk taken through the bus window!

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Another blurry bus window pic but this is Sausalito where I’m going to cycle to, the houses here are all floating houses built on the water.

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Do you know the way to San Jose??? La la la la la!!  The mad road system coming out of the airport, worse than Spaghetti junction!

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On the shuttle bus to Santa Rosa!

 

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Paris

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En route to Paris

Paris has been my favourite city for as long as I can remember,  my first visit was with my school, on a flying French trip to Paris and the Loire Valley.  We visited on a coach in 1974.  I went to an all girl grammar school,  so our trip was a 52 seater coach full of an equal amount of prepubescent girls and a few teachers,  who came along to try and keep us in order which they never quite managed.

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I have traveled to Paris by many means including flying, driving, by train, and coach, I have even cycled to Paris from London many times, each time has added to my growing love of this wonderful city and all things French! Oooh LA LA!!!

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This time is no different, I am staying in a different area to where I normally stay and I’m staying in hostels to help my money last longer.  I have always wanted to do the proper backpacker thing i.e. staying in hostels with a little  couchsurfing, while sourcing the cheapest way to get from a to b and carrying as little as possible, so this trip is all about that! I must say I think I prefer staying in nice hotels and taking taxis but I am determined to do this.

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My first night I am sharing a room with a young guy from South Korea, he wakes a lot in the night and makes weird noises, I’m not getting the best sleep so far! Lol I suppose it could be worse!  The hostel is nice and clean, has lots of amenities here including free WiFi in all areas and a kitchen to cook your own food! Thankfully there is also a lift, as my room is on the fourth floor.

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Today I set off toward Gare due Nord, near where I’m staying, it’s quite a central station toward the North of the city centre, I wanted to visit as many monuments as I could without going in or climbing to the top.  I have climbed to the top of the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe many times before so don’t feel as if I have missed out! It’s pretty difficult while traveling with one crutch anyway!  Coping with all the steps on the Metro has proven exhausting today!  I got back to the hostel about 7pm totally worn out but have seen so much today!

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I bought an all day ticket in order for me to see as much as I could which cost me 7€ 30c, first stop was the centre Pompidou, which houses the largest collection of modern art in the whole of Europe.  I’m not sure why I have never been before? Probably because I was with others who did not want to go, anyway I managed to see it again from the outside only which in itself is a spectacle.  It is called the inside out building because of its design, all the pipework is on the outside and painted in primary colours! It still looked as spectacular as I remembered it when we drove past on our quick tour of Paris with the school.  This time I intended to go in but there was such a huge queue I decided to go for a walk to Notre Dam which I could see up the road.

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I took the scenic route near the river and came upon a temporary sports village, the kind that is erected overnight for marathon type events and disappears just as quick, anyway it turns out I was there for the Crystal run a 10 k run which goes along either side of the Seine,  starting up near the Eiffel Tower and finishing near Notre Dame.  I stayed around here for a while enjoying the atmosphere, everyone was really excited, it was a huge event with many many marshalls all wearing branded clothing, sponsored by the coconut water company cocoloco! They were handing out coconut water all over the place,  there was hot food being prepared at the finish line, with loud music blasting from the sound system while everyone did their stretches.  It was great to feel the vibe, I have missed it since I stopped running!  I watched them all start then walked over Pont Neuf trying to find the Metro so I could make my way to the Eiffel Tower which, by now I could make out in the misty distance!

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I got off the Metro with a little way to walk to the Tower and on the way I found a quirky, arty photography shop, very risque but fun and some great photographers work inside, I could have spent the day there!

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I love the Eiffel Tower with it’s imposing stature so very regal and majestic!  I have climbed it before with my children carrying a pram/buggy in one hand and baby/child in the other,  I had no urge to climb it today with my one crutch!  So I just looked at it in awe, although also with some disappointment due to the whole surrounding area,  which surrounds the base, being fenced off!  The last time I came people were able to stroll under the tower and gaze upward into its central structure, in wonder at such a huge feat of engineering, but now there are fences and gates for entry only if you are climbing to the top, there is talk of building a perspex wall around it but I think there might be quite a bit of local opposition to this.  Apparently it is because of the terrorist threat that Parisiennes feel they need to increase the security around the most iconic sites.  Today at some of the other monuments armed police quietly patrolled while armed soldiers were also on standby.

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I took plenty of photos of the tower then made my way back to another Metro station when I came across a fantastically green garden walled building!  It was Patrick Blanc’s vertical garden, a concept which is being realised in many major cities throughout the world! It’s quite amazing to see bushes growing within the greenery and very difficult to prune, I should imagine.

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My next Metro journey took me to my favourite monument in Paris, the magnificent Arc de Triomphe which is at the Western end of the splendid Champs Elysées and houses the tomb of the unknown soldier from World War 1 and where the Memorial flame burns.  I love it because it is so iconic and stands majestically on the hill, you can see it for miles around, the carvings around its arches are depictions of war scenes from French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, as well as the well known Marseilliasse also known as the Departure of the Volunteers of 1792.  The names of 660 generals are inscribed on the inner arch walls.  You can climb to the top of this monument too and there is a fantastic view of Paris from the top!  One of my favourite things to do here is drive around the Arch, it stands proudly at the intersection of about twelve roads and they all merge onto this roundabout in a mish mash of traffic with no rules, your insurance won’ t cover you if you regularly drive in this place, there is about 12 lanes of traffic with no designated road markings, that’s all you need to do is look ahead and don’t hit any cars, no lookng behind, if they hit you it’s their problem.

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My final stop for the day was Sacre Couer and Montmartre, the artist district of wonderful Paris.  The Sacre Couer Basilica is The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, a Roman Catholic church and it’s perched on top of an even bigger hill than the Arc de Triomphe, there are 300 steps, needless to say I definitely didn’ t climb this one, I will need to make another visit one day when my leg is fully recovered.

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What an eventful day, totally exhausted and need my sleep now, I will be looking for buses to Epernay tomorrow and trips to Mont St Michel and I definitely want to go back to the Pompidou centre and take a look inside.

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Cavelodge Spectator

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Cavelodge spectator

My days at Cavelodge have been spent observing or spectating, whatever you might call it, by that I mean I have had a lovely time watching others having a lovely time.

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Due to my fall on day 2 of arriving at Cavelodge I have spent most days in the communal area watching the world go by, I sit and listen to the cicadas, Geckos, frogs and the bells around the cows necks, as well as the many insect and bird sounds of the jungle.  I watch the many different coloured butterflies flutter around, the peace and tranquility sometimes spoiled only by new arrivals, checking in, or ordering food.

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The hospital where they treated my knee!

Cavelodge is where all travellers stay at some point, they come for a day to try one of the fantastic trips to the caves, waterfalls or simply the magnificent sunrise trip but end up spending much longer, the ambience, the jungle, the general feeling of the place is magical you just have to stay longer.

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The food is cooked freshly from locally grown vegetables and locally reared animals, the fruits are plenty and tantalizingly delicious, the people are warm and friendly and welcoming, you can’t help but want to stay and enjoy the atmosphere.

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Tom Ka soup made with chicken, vegetables and coconut milk with lemon grass and other herbs and spices locally grown.

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img_8009Growing outside my room and found in my soup, known as “rat shit chillies” they blow your head off!!!!!!!!

It is simply built, on stilts in the jungle,  out of teak , bamboo and leaves, the only entertainment is what you make yourselves, I have met some wonderful people from Belgium, Yorkshire, Surrey, USA, Canada, Netherlands and many other places and spent many hours chatting or enjoying music or listening to their tales of their day’s adventures.

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I have heard about the birds that come to the cave every night, swifts in their thousands swooping into the cave entrance for the evening, I can only imagine because I have not seen them but the photos look fab, I have listened to tales of leeches at the waterfalls and enjoyed looking at the photos again, in all it hasn’t been so bad not being able to experience it all for myself, I had the next best thing, excited traveller stories and of course I can plan my next trip back here knowing all the exciting things I will do.

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Everything is just more colourful here, the tribal people’s clothes, the flowers, the buildings and even the insects and fungi are colourful. Thailand is an amazing country which I have had the good fortune to spend some time in, next time it will be longer.

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The tribal people we have met have been so warm and welcoming, the friends I am with have been as good as family to me during this lazy time sitting around, we have played games (discovered a new favourite “Cards Against Humanity”), eaten together, shared wine, shared stories, shared the delicious fruit longan, made tons and tons of way markers for the fantastic Ultra Marathon and generally had fun with craft ideas for the tribal school children.

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Even though my time in Thailand has come to an untimely end, I have thoroughly enjoyed the company of the people and the ambience of Thailand and will definitely be coming back, wiser when it comes to choosing travel insurance, richer when it comes to having a safe buffer and more excited because now I know all there is to offer in just the few places I have been so far, I also know there is so much more to explore.

img_8025A darling little girl, daughter of Non, who works at the Lodge!

While at home I will be sorting my blog properly and doing my TEFL course so that when I come back it will be with better prospects and different expectations, hopefully with the promise of a job I will get paid for, teaching English to Thai children.  I also need to keep learning Thai although it seems the best saying you can learn is Mai Pen rai, meaning its ok, no problem, all will be well, which is how I am resigned to feeling at the moment.

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Chok, one of the sons of the staff, playing on the swing!

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Immobilised at Cavelodge

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Immobilised at Cavelodge

I had an unfortunate accident a couple of days ago, I was out walking with Kate and slipped awkward on the road and fell with a jolt, hitting my leg and knee, I went to the local hospital which was absolutely wonderful and they x-rayed my leg near the tibia and fibula and said they couldn’t see a fracture or anything to be concerned about, they bandaged it for me advised RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) and sent me on my way.

I was still feeling a lot of pain but thought it would die down by the morning, unfortunately it got worse in the night and my knee was very swollen in the morning, so Julie and Marcus who have been so wonderful to me since this happened took me back to the hospital in Soppong for them to x ray my knee, by this time the pain was tremendous, I couldn’t put any weight on it at all.

The hospital in Soppong mainly serves the tribal villages but they dealt with me very quickly, in fact they went out of their way to ensure my suffering was minimal.

I had another x-ray to check for dislocation but they couldn’t find anything apart from damaged ligaments.  Because of the huge swelling they gave me local anaesthetic and extracted quite a bit of blood from the knee, this relieved the pressure and pain immediately but I was also anaesthetised so couldn’t feel any pain, they bandaged my knee with huge pieces of wadding and added a plaster splint to keep my knee in the same position.

They gave me strong painkillers to go home with and told me to keep it elevated as much as I can and gave me some crutches to use so I don’t need to put my weight on it at all, they were so wonderful, showing me exactly how to use the crutches, giving me physio advice and having a general chat with me before I left.

Julie and Marcus stayed with me the whole time and their support was invaluable, they are like my second family and I am honoured to know them, I truly felt so supported, Julie speaks Thai so could converse with the doctors for me and Marcus carried my backpack everywhere and wheeled me in the wheelchair, they also drove me down from Cavelodge.

When I got back to Cavelodge, I went for a lie down because I hadn’t slept at all last night, and by the time I woke Julie and Marcus had arranged for me to have a better room which didn’t have so many steps and they moved me to it straight away.

I have never had such a bad injury before so have never had to rely on others, it is very frustrating but nothing is too much trouble for Julie, I feel so at home here, at times like this you really need your family and yearn for their touch and comfort, but Julie and Marcus were definitely the next best thing.

I feel truly honoured to have met these people I will be friends with them forever and all the staff at Cavelodge have gone out of their way to help me, these people have made a firm imprint on my life that will never shift.

Sadly it has curbed a lot of my plans for caving and hiking for the time being, I was hoping that by next week when I get the splint removed I will be recovering well and be able to consider at least kayaking through the caves, you can’t come to Cavelodge and not explore the caves.  Unfortunately I have learned today that it will take  a long time to recover from torn ligaments and I will need an MRI scan to determine the extent of injury, in certain circumstances they can do a minor operation to correct the ligaments, but it still takes months of recuperation.  Then to top it all, I fell off my crutches down the steps to my room and cut my arm and suffered more bruises!  OUCH!! LOL! It doesn’t rain but it pours.

There is so much to see apart from the caves here, but I will just have to change plans.   I will  get the chance to learn to speak Thai, it is a relatively easy language and I have already made a start; Kor kow pat sai gai sai pak noy ka which means can I have chicken and rice with vegetables please, my favourite dish here, they cook it fresh to order with vegetables they grow themselves.

For the time being I will do some blog posts on places I have been before with the children, friends and family members, as it’s a travel blog, it will be nice to reminisce anyway. Gutted, I can’t do much but that’s life I suppose, it could be worse!!!!

I am lying on my bed in my new room with the slatted windows open, with mosquito mesh to protect me, listening to the jungle sounds outside, if it wasn’t for the pain it would be bliss!!

I am in the process of negotiating with my insurance company on what is best for me to do!!!