Saturday, September 22, 2012

Jennifer's West Coast Trip: San Francisco

Sorry for the long pause. I know the suspense was killing you! I was battling a weird cold that kept sort of going away and coming back every couple of days. So, back to my trip....

The last place on our itinerary was San Francisco, California. We went there to attend a Tears for Fears (TFF) concert, which has sort of become an annual event for us since 2010. We flew from Seattle in the morning on the day before the concert so we could do a little sightseeing.

But first, let's talk about the weather. It was pretty cloudy, cool (cold, compared to Seattle and Vancouver), and foggy most of the time we were there, but I guess that's why they call it "Fog City" (among many other nicknames). Good thing we brought jackets! They must make a killing selling unsuspecting tourists San Francisco jackets and sweatshirts, so if you plan to go, even in the summer, take a jacket. Oh, and thanks a lot, fog, for ruining every chance we had to get decent photos of the Golden Gate Bridge (and by decent I mean you can tell that it's the Golden Gate Bridge without squinting or being told that's what you're looking at).

The best photo I got of the Golden Gate Bridge (taken from the Alcatraz ferry). Seriously.
Anyway. Maybe next time I can get closer to the bridge for some better shots. We wanted to go over that way, but we didn't have time.

We already had tickets for Alcatraz, because they can sell out weeks in advance, so that was first on our to-do list. Once we checked into our hotel, which was on the south side of town, we headed to Fisherman's Wharf and got on the ferry to travel about 1.25 miles across San Francisco Bay to Alcatraz Island. The island is now a national park site featuring what remains of the abandoned prison, early military fortifications, and the oldest operating lighthouse on the U.S. west coast.

Approaching Alcatraz Island
We spent a few hours on the island, touring the former penitentiary grounds. In the first photo below, you can see (from the top left to the bottom right) the lighthouse, the warden's house, the cellhouse (peeking out from behind the warden's house), the barracks/apartment building, the guard house (behind and to the right of the barracks/apartment building), the guard tower, and the dock.

Alcatraz Island
View approaching the dock

Alcatraz Island

Military chapel and guardhouse
Alcatraz Island
Gardens, power house, and view facing northwest
The 84-foot-tall lighthouse which replaced the original in 1909
Cell block
Inside a cell
Solitary confinement cells

There are many ornamental plant species on the island--remnants of gardens planted by inmates and correctional staff and families--which are now tended by volunteers.

Alcatraz Island plant
Alcatraz Island plant

Alcatraz Island plant

View of San Francisco from Alcatraz Island
After our tour of Alcatraz, we sailed back to Fisherman's Wharf and walked around and shopped since we were already there.

Fisherman's Wharf sign

Marina at Fisherman's Wharf, SF
Seals sunning themselves at Fisherman's Wharf
We ate dinner at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., since we seem to have also made a tradition out of that since we went to Chicago last year. And I had to have some of their bread pudding again.

We took a cable car ride from Ghirardelli Square to the transit station on our way back to our hotel. We actually took a few cable car rides, but they were all at night, so they weren't the best times for good photos. And they were super-crowded.

The next day (our final day together), we ate lunch at the Fog City Diner, which was more upscale than we expected it to be. Both the food and service were good.

Fog City Diner San Francisco

Then we took a streetcar (we did manage to get a shot of one of those) to Chinatown.

Streetcar in San Francisco
Somehow, we managed to completely miss the front entrance gate and area, which is probably where all of the photo opps are (we came through the opposite end of Chinatown...the part where Asian people are shopping). Oh well.

Somewhere in Chinatown, San Francisco
Chinatown San Francisco
Chinatown, SF
From there we scaled a few small mountains to get to the concert venue, Nob Hill Masonic Center. The TFF show was great, as usual. We love that they sound just as good live as they do on a recording. We also really enjoyed their opening act, Carina Round, who also sang backup vocals for them and signed a copy of her CD for Alexis after the show. I took some photos, but they all came out really blurry. I guess I was a little excited.

The next morning, we parted ways at the airport and both flew to our respective cities. There are tons of things we didn't have time to do in San Francisco (and Seattle and Vancouver), but we did what we could and had a great time. Well, that concludes this whirlwind West Coast trip series!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Jennifer's West Coast Trip: Seattle, Part 2

We drove back from Vancouver to Seattle the next morning. We got some shots of the border crossing, since we had to wait for a while.

When we got back to Seattle, we did some more sightseeing to get as much value out of our CityPasses as possible. But first, we had to visit a couple of unique landmarks that weren't in downtown Seattle. We found the Fremont Troll, an 18-foot tall concrete sculpture of a troll crushing a VW beetle. It was created in 1990 and situated under a bridge.

Fremont Troll Seattle
The Fremont Troll
Then we walked not too far from there to the Fremont Rocket, a Fairchild C-119 tail boom modified to resemble a rocket.
Fremont Rocket Seattle
The Fremont Rocket
We then headed over to the Seattle Aquarium. We touched some sea stars, sea anemones, and sea urchins; saw the feeding of two giant Pacific octopuses (we got photos, but they came out really dark); and saw lots of fish, coral, and other sea creatures, as well as some birds.

Seattle Aquarium
Sea urchin
Seattle Aquarium giant clam
Giant clam
Seattle Aquarium lionfish
Seattle Aquarium coral
I think this is a Caulastrea species, a large polyp stony coral (whatever it is, it's photogenic!)
Sea otter--so cute!
Harbor seals sunning themselves
We actually walked through Pike Place Market both times we went into town. We saw lots of flowers, seafood, produce, and other items. We bought a couple of huge, very juicy peaches.

My mom would love the huge scallops!
Just across from the market is the original Starbucks store. We happened to be there when the line wasn't super long, so we got a couple of drinks there. Alexis was excited about it!

The original Starbucks store
Alexis happily holding her drink from the original Starbucks
Up next: San Francisco.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Jennifer's West Coast Trip: Vancouver, BC

So, I know I said there would be more from Seattle in this post, but it made more sense to continue in the order the actual events took place, so this post is going to be about our trip to Vancouver, British Columbia instead. We drove up from Seattle, WA for a day (and a night). I tried to get a photo of the Welcome to Canada/British Columbia/Vancouver/You Are Here sign, but there weren't many, and I had put my camera away by the time we saw one. Sigh. Anyway, the mountain views coming into Vancouver were nice.

We decided to check out the Capilano Suspension Bridge, since it seemed to be the most recommended tourist attraction. We got there around lunch time, so we ate at the Bridge House restaurant, just across the street from the bridge park.
Bridge House restaurant Vancouver BC
Bridge House restaurant near Capilano Suspension Bridge in Vancouver, BC
Alexis had a salmon sandwich with sweet potato fries (they called them "yam fries"), and I had buffalo shepherd's pie with a side salad. She got some good food photos on this trip. We were sitting next to the big front window, so the natural light helped.

Next, we went across the street to the bridge park.

When you first enter the 27-acre park, there is an area called Totem Park, which has several totem poles placed by local First Nations people in the 1930s.
Alexis looking pleased to be at the bottom of the totem pole
The 450-foot-long bridge was originally built 230 feet above the Capilano River in 1889 with hemp rope and cedar planks attached to Douglas-fir trees, but it is now constructed of pre-stressed wire cable attached to 118-ton anchors. Thankfully!
Capilano Suspension Bridge Vancouver BC
About to get on the bridge!
Capilano Suspension Bridge Vancouver BC
View from the bridge
Capilano Suspension Bridge Vancouver BC
Capilano River below the suspension bridge
Once we got to the other side, we went on the Treetops Adventure, which is a series of smaller suspension bridges through part of the rainforest, then we walked around the forest floor for a while.

Jennifer and Alexis somewhere amongst the treetops

Capilano Suspension Bridge Vancouver BC

Capilano Suspension Bridge Vancouver BC
View of Capilano Suspension Bridge from the forest floor
We also went on the Cliffwalk, which is a series of bridges and platforms on the face of a granite cliff along the river. It's only been open since June of 2011, so it's fairly new and allows you to see areas of the park you might not be able to see otherwise. And since it apparently didn't look scary enough, they added a glass floor platform.
Capilano Cliffwalk Vancouver BC
Capilano River Cliffwalk Vancouver BC
View of the Capilano River from the Cliffwalk
Alexis standing bravely on the glass floor platform (Jennifer did it, too)
Capilano Cliffwalk Vancouver BC
Mountain view from the Cliffwalk
We saw mostly trees and ferns, but we did see a few flowers that I had to take photos of as we approached the gift shop.
Capilano Vancouver BC

Capilano Vancouver BC

Capilano Vancouver BC

I almost never say this because I'm not much of a souvenir purchaser, but their gift shop was really nice and had a good variety. I bought Ed a Canadian tea sampler set and some salmon jerky. Oh, and they had lots of really thick fudge in several flavors. We got five pieces (all different flavors), and they were all good--and rich. Five pieces may have been a bit too much for two people, though.

After surviving the suspension bridge experience, we just drove through and walked around downtown Vancouver to check it out.

Vancouver BC

We liked how you can see the mountains from downtown
Back to Seattle next--for real this time!