Thursday, 29 April 2010

Tales of the City

Today was Rebecca's formal introduction to the best city in the USA. We managed to dodge the (heavy) rain showers as we caught the bus in, and then planned our day over a cup of Blue Bottle coffee.

First came the Nordstrom Mall, and the Crumpler store where Becs picked up a case for her camera at a frankly unbelievable price. We took in Macy's, where customer service was less than stellar, and moved on to Vietnamese sandwiches for lunch before a wander around Chinatown.

But where was the free alcohol today? Well may you ask! The answer is the Haas Wine Club. Andy Peay from Peay Vineyards brought along a large selection of his bottles. More interestingly, he brought along some herbs, spices, fruits, minerals, etc. We had to taste each wine and compare it directly to the smell and taste that we might associate it with.

It was an amazing exercise. Sauvignon Blanc had pear, pancetta and ginger. Pinot Noir evoked butter, fig, and vanilla. I could go on but, honestly, after the fourth glass I'd forgotten we were meant to be only smelling the dark chocolate and started eating it. Time to polish off the bottle of Chardonnay we snuck home with...

The best cappuccino in the world...?

Hard to argue with (and the half-eaten biscotti).

The iPad, and extreme meta-blogging madness.

Becs shops Chinatown.

Later, at Haas, with Andy Peay.

The fruity table.

Three very attentive ladies...waiting for their wine.

Mmmm! Hints of pepper and nutmeg. And glue.

Becs fully embraces the Berkeley lifestyle.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

JB and Bud

I'm sure they've missed me at the Jelly Belly factory. Why else were all the staff smiling today? I was pleased to introduce Becs to one of NorCal's most important places, assuring her that if she missed anything I had the tour memorised. We got to try their new honey bean, as well as being shown around by a girl called Cricket (not after the sport - I did ask).

Then it was time to try something new! Quite a rarity for a seasoned tour guide such as myself. The Budweiser factory is a few short minutes from Jelly Belly but has always been shut when we've been past. Today there was no such problem.

The tour was not exactly in-depth. The factory is mostly empty space where they've removed old bottling equipment, and the whole process is so automated (1600 bottles a minute) that humans are a rarity. They are proud of their environmental record - over 99% of waste recycled, and five cans recycled for every four produced (how does that work?)

We were soon in the tasting room, and then came the sampling...American style. Two bottles of beer (or glasses of draft) each, unlimited pretzels, and 'special' samplings of their 8% blueberry beer. As this all happened at around 11am, things got messy quite quickly.

We found ourselves talking to some Californians, whose sons had flown to London that morning. When we left, an hour and five beers later, the mother hugged us and said how glad she was to have met nice English people as it made her feel much happier about her children being away. Always good to fly the flag.

And Budweiser? Well, the whole experience left me remembering why American beer is like making love in a canoe. The answer is far too rude to write on this blog.

Back into the belly.

Conforming to all health and safety guidelines in our natty hats.

Becs samples canned dog food (new this year, along with centipede).

Much tastier!

On to the Bud factory, where beer is made by robots.

The hat says 'Bud girl' rather than 'Bad girl', but after a few beers who can say which is more appropriate?

Lots of empties.

Imagine how big the bottle was!

Each vat holds 500,000 bottles' worth!

If only I could figure out how to get it flowing...

Becs, pretzels, and our first free 'samples'.

How the world looked a little later on.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Striking campus

You always know the least about the places you live closest to. In our apartment I'm still not 100% sure where we keep the vacuum. So I decided to avoid the same problem with UC Berkeley by taking a campus tour with Becs today.

It was an eye-opener! Did you know we have a (dead) Tyrannosaurus Rex inside one of the buildings? That the library has a book that's bound in human skin (post-mortem, by the request of the skin's owner)? That tour guides are specially trained to walk backwards for the duration of the tour? That our squirrels are ranked top in the nation, beating Stanford?

Our guide, Jackie, was particularly bouncy and overjoyed that there were only six of us with her today, as we could go to much more interesting places than usual. The walkabout was ostensibly for applicants - there were two additional, very crowded tours for admitted students. Becs asked several questions about life in California. Are we convincing her?

Tigger-like Jackie bounces backwards.

One of the 17 on-campus bear statues.

Here's the T-Rex!

And the most important stop on our tour: Haas.

Looking up at the campanile.

And looking down (the bars are for Bec's safety).

The midday carillon concert. The sheet music described the tempo as "relentless."

The instrument.

Not really appreciating it.


Getting into the Berkeley state of mind.

More in Marin

It was a gorgeous day today, so we took full advantage and headed to Marin to take in the beauty of nature etc. We got to the top of Mt. Tamalpais and down to Muir Beach. Then we gave Becs her real introduction to California with a late lunch at In'n'Out...

Up at the top.

The sweep of the Bay.

When Becs stands on top of a mountain, she's almost as tall as Hannah and me.

The Pacific - still there.

Cousins together.

A new career! How many burgers are you allowed to eat per shift?

And I could make customers like this happy!

Big bridge.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

New arrival

Hannah's cousin Rebecca has arrived with us for a week's holiday. She's brought the good weather (but thankfully no volcanic ash). She also brought a food package with some very tasty treats. When people asked me about her when I said she was coming to stay, I described her as "like Hannah, but a bit younger and blonde". As you can imagine, there's a long queue of people waiting to meet her...

Becs, on holiday, already with a couple of beers like the good British girl she is.

Food package. Yep, you're seeing that right - Marmite cereal bars!

And this is the real thing.

Reviewing the latest family photos. "So Hannah, this is your brother..."

Finally, some quality journalism in America.


Sunday, 18 April 2010

National Parkers

It's only taken 12 months, but we finally found a weekend when we could go camping with the Parkers!

We returned once more to Samuel P. Taylor Park (a convenient 45 minutes drive away) where we nestled our tents amongst the redwoods, got the fire going, and gorged ourselves on s'mores.

I learned a bit more about Mr Samuel P. Taylor this trip, who turns out to have been a canny businessman. He started by selling bacon and eggs to tourists on the beach, saved up enough to buy some redwood forest, started a paper mill, found gold, started recycling, and built the West Coast's first fish ladder. Wikipedia concurs, so it must be true.

All this was gleaned on an historical hike on the first evening, so we spent the second day on the beach to recover. The highlight for me was getting to watch Disney's The Princess and The Frog on the Parker's in-car DVD player. We came back to the campsite via a Point Reyes oyster shack and then, sadly, Loren, Tamara, Evie and Lyla had to head home. Hannah and I consoled ourselves with a second night under canvas...and a million more toasted marshmallows.

The palace.

The servants' quarters. We swapped, of course!

Evie is all set up and ready to camp.


My cub scout backwoodsman badge comes in handy, with a little help.

Chef Hannah, branded.

Loren demonstrates the perfect s'more (the process took 20-30 minutes, involved sacrificing a Graham'll have to ask him).

A more traditional approach, a la mode Davies.

Princesses together.

With the kids in bed, Tamara roasts her 20th marshmallow.

Saturday morning. What could all the excitement be about?

Here we go! Loren's perfect pancakes.

Who needs a portable DVD player when you've got bubbles?

Down on the beach.

Sandy, soaking, very happy.

The many faces of Evie Parker. Watch for her name on an Oscar ballot in a few years.

The girls chill. Although that is a management book that Hannah's reading...

Marshall's, at Point Reyes.

One for our Mums.

Back at the camp, after the Parkers head home. Quiet :(

Wow - a camp fire with wi-fi! These Americans, what will they think of next?!