They came to Pacifica this past weekend and brought Hwy One to a jammed up stop and wait. They parked on the streets all the way up the hill to our place, and clogged the neighborhoods within a half mile of Pacifica State Beach. My son stopped by, and was not heading home unless he wanted to spend an hour in stop-and-go traffic.
We lathered on sunscreen and walked to the beach where we witnessed dog after dog leading their owners away from the beach. We chatted up a couple with a pair of retrievers in tow, who said the tandem contest was about to start so we hustled. Thirty people stood in line for the restrooms, hundreds stood on the sand watching the last of the entries paddling out. It was a guy with a blue mohawk riding a large board with a small dog on the nose. The dog had great balance, sticky feet that did not let go, and the surfer dude with blue hair knew what he was doing.
We wandered the crowd, rapt with attention for these last two rides, and seemed pretty darn well behaved. We got a couple of shots of the surfing duo then headed to the Pedro Point shopping complex to see if the new Cafe, Soul Grind, was open and it was. This was day one, and they were swamped, but it’s a great space, a cool owner, Jimmy, and has views of the ocean. AND they are going to roast their own coffee. Can’t wait to sip a double espresso in front of the fireplace while coffee roasts in the back and rain coats the parking lot outside.
I’ve started a short story asking where are the black surfers, and there they were among a line of yellow boards, yellow jerseys, learning the ropes. The story is morphing into an old white guy getting schooled by a young black girl with powers beyond his grasp.
I think it was spawned from working with Mat Johnson at the Napa Valley Writer’s Conference last week. A man with a black mom and white dad, Mat’s spent a bit of time bumping up against, and flowing to the other side of the divide that we’ve created. More in another article.
It was Sunday late morning when Donna returned from yoga. “How about a trip to Santa Cruz and do a little paddling?” I asked, and Donna was game. She made us lunch to go and I outfitted the car with racks and gear. In an hour we were on the road south, through Half Moon Bay, on down to Santa Cruz and eventually New Brighton beach.
We stopped at the Swanton Berry Farm, not the one near Año Nuevo State Marine Reserve where you can pick berries, but a little complex on the east side of Hwy One a bit north of the little town of Davenport. Swanton has it all. Restrooms, hot coffee, berry pies, cobblers, and some serious chocolate. Payment is on the honor system, with a cash drawer sitting out to make change, plus an iPad for card transactions. The coffee was great, the chocolate truffles were rich and dark. We saved the pie for later.
We took the 41st Avenue exit and drove to the end for a restroom pit stop and a quick peek at the Hook, but for me, it was a chance to see if Sharks and Privates were breaking and they were. We tried to snag a parking spot in Capitola, but no game, no spots, wall to wall packed.
We pulled into New Brighton and showed them our annual Calif State Park Pass and in we went. An hour later we were warming up on the beach. Could have been the south of France, except it was sand, not rocks. We warmed up with plenty of shoulder stretching and then I fired up the GoPro and walked to the water. In two feet of water I just stepped on the board, then landed the other foot, but the water retreated, and the look on my face was pure surprise as I sailed over the nose and nearly collided with Donna. We laughed it off and had a ball. Donna saw a shark just a few minutes into our paddle. She paddled all the way to O’Neill’s house near Pleasure Point, then turned around and fetched me on the return. It was a calm paddle back, gliding over smooth water and emerald-green kelp.
After showers and warm clothes we drove into Santa Cruz and ate on a bench in the park across from Mission Santa Cruz. And that’s where we ate the berry pie.
Bruges is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s old with so much new. We found the town pronounced and spelled several different ways. Bruges, like rouge with a B in front is how most tourists pronounced the quaint Belgian city, but the locals called it Brugggghhh, like starting to say blue in french, but then moving the G sound to the back of the throat and kind of squeezing the finish. I never got it right.
One of my friends at the San Francisco Writers Studio told me about Bruges. “It’s ok if you like medieval towns,” she’d said. “What with cobble stone streets, canals, quaint cafes, and boutique clothing stores,” and we did like all of that.
The trip from Amsterdam to Bruges was relaxing, if a bit underwhelming, until we got off the train in Antwerp. I remember being stunned to a stand still looking up at the massive train station clock. It had been decorated to fill the entire end of the station. It didn’t seem real. We both took photos hoping to capture the elegance of the structure. We probably have 15 images, none show the full grandeur. But our commuter train to Bruges was late so we got to sit in the station, sip coffee, and watch people coming and going in the afternoon glow. We’ve since watched Hugo, to visit that feeling again. There’s something about a train station.
The train to Bruges moved along at a snail’s pace, past Ghent and several other small towns. Medieval architecture sprung from the skyline, like pillars of inspiration.
In Bruges we found the bus to our AirBnB and sat for the 10 minute ride to our new hood. It was a quiet little street, with several homes sporting sculpted gardens. Our place came with two bikes that we rode into town for groceries and dinner. We rode home in the dark, feeling alive and quite free.
In Bruges, we walked down narrow streets, and from time to time could see the spires of one of several church steeples. We managed a stop at each.
There’s something about these old churches. Structures that are built over centuries, over generations. Who had the original concept? How did it change as time changed, as wars were fought, as sons died, as children became adults, and they too died.
Someone suggested that we see the Colin Ferrell movie In Bruges. I’d tried it some years back and didn’t make it very far. I found Ferrell’s constant negativity hard to swallow, but in the movie’s defense, the photography is stunning. There are shots from the water, from towers. It’s really a great overview of the city. And there’s a seriously twisted relationship between Ferrell and the guy who played Mad-Eye Moody in Harry Potter movies.
What I didn’t see was the well-developed retail scene. As we approached the city our first day we saw shoppers carrying bags from the well-known shops you might see in San Francisco, Milan, or Rome. There were great little cafes, cobble-stone streets plazas, bicycles nestled in ivy. Reflections in the water,and church towers framed by a maddening sky.
We had a snack at the Pigeon House. Great little stop for local color. They honor the pigeons who race from as far away as Spain, all the way back to Belgium. The bird is stamped into chocolate medallions.
Speaking of which, Belgian waffles. We only had one, but what a treat. We sat in the back of a little cafe, watched what a nearby table was eating and ordered what they had, one waffle with creme fresh and dark chocolate. The waffle was large but light. We filled a corner with cream and another with chocolate. We took our time. We shared. Donna took her spoon, and with the delicacy of a fine surgeon poured a teaspoon full of chocolate and ate it in one bite.
I gotta say that the town held me from the first steps. Narrow streets, cool old doors, and canals.
One afternoon we were drawn to a bridge by a sound that I couldn’t place. It was musical, like a steel drum, but nuanced with a humming sound. We came across this troubadour playing a Hang Pan and blowing into a diggerydo. He provided a sound that seemed both primitive and contemporary all at once. Since our return we hear Hangman on our streaming stations just about every day.
I could go on and on about Bruges, but our next stop is Paris. So you gotta move on.
San Francisco’s Ocean beach can be a beast. Even when it’s small and the tide is out, thin waves lay corduroy to the horizon. The place looks harmless, until you paddle out to find a little four foot face that pounds you down and holds you gasping. Now add size, say 15-20 feet, and an incoming tide, that moves water like converging rivers. The rip tide runs parallel to the shore, and has enough teeth to take you south, in a hurry. Toss in twenty-one of the finest Stand Up Paddle Board athletes and what a visual feast for the men, women, and children, all snug and warm on the beach watching. What a feast for the ocean. I’ll take these guys and grind them into so much sand. I’ll swallow them whole and spit them into a sand bar down the coast.
It was a water start, along side two US Coast Guard rescue craft, practicing their skills in thick, lumpy water. The Red Bull horn blew the paddle boarders into action. They road rolling waves on 11-12 foot boards, hit the shore running around two flags stuck in the sand, and turned to challenge the ocean. They were supposed to paddle back out, around a set of buoys, and back to shore. They were supposed to do this twice, then paddle around lands end, under the gate, and into St. Francis Yacht club. Not all of them made it past the ocean’s big fist.
Denmark’s Casper Steinfath, not only made it through, but ran away with first place and made it look pretty darn easy. Check out the video.
My wife and I get a lot of mileage out of our vacations. From pre-trip planning to the embrace of each city as we’d get to explore them, and then basking in the memories through photos and story telling after we’re home and back to business.
This year, as part of our pre-trip planning, we dove into WordPress Reader posts every morning, before going to work. We continued looking at Reader posts during the trip. We discovered things like the giant wooden sculptures outside Copenhagen, or how best to get to Chatres to visit their famous cathedral.
We booked all our rentals through AirBnB and enjoyed getting acquainted with each city through their photos, maps, descriptions, and tenant critiques. The units got smaller as we headed south. The Paris apartment was very small but what it lacked in size made up for in efficiency, proximity to services and the metro.
I’d say the world is a better place than it was 10 years ago though there is strife, in our own back yard. But we found plenty of heart, plenty of light. Now Anaïs Nin might disagree, since she did not like this image displayed in the Irving Penn exhibit in the Grand Palais, but I found the photo engaging, personal, and it was my favorite.
But how on earth did we get to Irving Penn? We stumbled upon him in Paris, the same way we found ourselves in Chartres, laughed with Chinese tourists in Amsterdam, and got a museum recommendation from an Iranian in Copenhagen. Our guides were out there and we kept running into them.
Even in Paris, where it’s big and fast, guides would materialize with a regularity that we started to expect. Paris was the only destination where we saw signs of terrorism. Not terrorists, per se, but the vestiges of anti-terror. Police patrol in groups of four, machine guns at the ready and no-nonsense looks.
The Eiffel Tower was completely fenced off. If you didn’t have a ticket and cleared security, you didn’t get in. At train stations, large parks, and Notre Dame we saw baret-clad police patrolling the grounds. In Chartres and other prime terrorist targets there were large stone slabs around the perimeter to prevent cars and trucks from getting too close.
I just love train stations like Amsterdam, Antwerp, Montparnasse and Gare de Lyon. The symmetry and size of the old stations is worth a coffee and a few photos. The vanishing lines, the repetition of simple themes to adorn large structures that house the likes of all electric trains that can travel 170 k/h. They leave the station, rolling smooth, gaining speed as the city shrinks from view, and accelerating to love-on-a-fast-train speed through the countryside.
I wasn’t prepared for Copenhagen, but I say that in a good way. I’d done research to find attractions like Tivolie Gardens, Nyhavn, and Paper Island for food choices galore. We walked through Nyhavn and it was a vibrating place with boats and outdoor cafes.
The day after we arrived we decided to let our senses guide us and what guides they were. We found photo ops everywhere, a metro system that connected us with lots of exploration, and a city that has made bike riding an art form. There may be more bikes in Amsterdam, but there are more bikes on the road in Copenhagen, and the bicyclists move along as a well-oiled machine.
I had issues with Musee D’Orsay. People with smart phones and cameras were getting selfies in front of Monet, Renoir, and Manet. But it’s still a feast for the senses with all those impressionist paintings in one place. I had an awakening there a few years back, when I started to cry and couldn’t stop. It started as I approached the Renior painting of Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette.
I started to get emotional, like the work meant more than paint on canvas or a name on the painting. I’d seen it in books during college, and never thought I’d see it in person. When I walked around the corner there was an enormous painting of a woman on the hill with a white flowing dress and parasol. It overwhelmed me, in a way that I could not then, and can’t quite now, explain. I’ve recounted the story of seeing this painting many times. When I entered the room this year, I found the painting smaller than I’d remembered and there were two, like it had been a study of the same woman in the same dress on the same hill and then I thought that there’s probably more to the story. BUT, this year, after looking over paintings, I was shocked to find that they were not Renoir paintings, but Monet. MONET.
We spent three weeks on this trip. A good amount of time to be gone without breaking the bank, or overdoing my capacity to play from late morning until ten or eleven at night. We walked between three and seven miles a day. We’d keep my injured knee happy with a stop for a coffee or a perusal in a charming shop; there were plenty of both.
In the countries we visited, Denmark, The Netherlands, Belgium, and France we felt a sense of unity; like we belonged to each in our own way. In each country I was mistaken for a local. And it was fun to fit in. But as with all our vacations, it came to a close, and we came home to jet lag, stacks of email, and colds. Tune in as I traverse those steps again, with photo and motion pictures. Let me make my vacation last a bit longer and perhaps give you a short one in your office or home.
My wife and I are fond of Tunnels. The last time we were here our 28 year old son, Matthew, was two. We remember him padding along the water’s edge with fins on his hands, a snorkel and mask on his face. He was blonde, tan, and ever so cute. He’s still cute. He’s still tan but the blonde is gone. If he was here, he’d be surfing Tunnels.
Yesterday we parked at Haena park and walked to Tunnels. We had two sessions and found sea turtles as the sun sank low in the sky. The water was an aqua marine color we hadn’t seen all week. Maybe due to the onslaught of trade winds that’s had the ocean choppy and rugged since the day we landed.
With just a few days left, we have more to pack in, including a hike out the Napali Coast, and another paddle boarding session at Hanalei. Check out the two minute video if your gills are dry.
There are roosters in Kauai. If you’ve been here since Hurricane Iniki hit in 1992, then you may know that it blasted the island with 170 mile per hour winds and did some $1.8 Billion in damage. I heard a stat yesterday from a Taro Farming Tour that the wind meter, mounted on the mountains above Hanalei Valley, broke off when the wind registered 200 mph.
Most locals agree that wild chickens proliferated after Iniki destroyed chicken coops, releasing domesticated hens, as well as roosters being bred for cockfighting.
The Roosters are bright and colorful. Startling in their beauty with iridescent feathers. They strut around town with the contenance of a king. They seem to sleep from 9 p.m. until 3 a.m. Other than those hours they are active with their loud cock-a-doodle-do. Some of them sound like rooster imitations; like me imitating a rooster.
While the NeNe is the state bird, the Rooser is clearly the most widely recognized. During a visit to Lydgate Beach Park we saw a new family of chickens. The chicks were fresh from the egg, tiny, and following mom in a nice neat line.
The birds have total range of the island. Restaurants, shops, parking lots. Check out the short video of Roosters on the prowl.