Eclipse Trip 4: San Francisco

Thursday

For my final breakfast on board I opt for the signature dish of French Toast, which is rather good.  I spend most of the morning in the Sightseer Lounge, while we glide through canyons and along the Colorado River.  Here, people messing about on the river greet the train in their own special fashion, earning it the nickname “Moon River”.

There’s a 10 minute stop at Reno.  We reckoned that was so that couples who had been together 24/7 from Chicago could get a quickie divorce.   For lunch I tried the veggie burger, which was rather tasty.

We arrived at Emeryville, a transport hub on the edge of  San Fran at 4, and didn’t have to wait too long for the bus transfer.  We alighted at the Financial District drop off point,  and took a  taxi to Bush St, where we were staying at the  Grant Hotel, just north of Union Square.

The room was a decent size, but had a potentially treacherous step up into the bathroom.  Causing me to call out “Step!!!!” anytime R went to the loo in the night.  Our first night’s aimless wandering took us to Chinatown where we enjoyed a rather large meal for 2 special.

The walk home was a bit trickier – whilst the city is still on a grid system, there’s no indication of where the really steep hills are.  But we found that the little Kwik-e-mart on the corner does booze.

Friday

The breakfast in hotel is very spartan. There’s no milk for tea, not even in wee plastic jiggers.  There are pastries and croissants, but no butter or jam.  Or cutlery.

I’d researched the various ho-ho bus options, and chose City Sightseeing, as it included a Sausolito tour across the Golden Gate, and an evening tour. (The other companies were offering guided walking tours, which after last night’s steep hills experience I wasn’t prepared to risk).

On our first circuit on the bus, we learned the reason for Crissy Field cancellation – an alt-right free speech rally, which of course prompted much outraged protest rallies to be arranged.  Trump you’ve gone too far this time, messing with a parkrunner’s tourism plans!  The bridge itself is shrouded in mist, and we learned that this month is known as “Fog-ust”.

At Pier 39 we were delighted to watch the sealions at play, and checked various transport details at the visitor centre.  Trams and buses $2.75, payable to driver, cable cars $7.  A MUNI pass is good if you’re there for a few days, but we’d already gone for a 2 day bus pass.  I had lunch of traditional clam chowder served  in a sourdough bowl overlooking the bay.

In the evening, we’d booked the “Alcataz by night” tour – these sell out months in advance, so it’s worth booking online beforehand.  There is no booze allowed to be sold on the boat out, and none on the island.  It is chilling, in every sense.  The island is cool and foggy, and the cells suitably spine-tingly.  We had an audio guided tour narrated by former inmates and warders, and learnt of the various escape attempts.

R had a hot dog on the boat home, while I was ready for a glass of vino, and I got some humous from the Kwik-e-mart for supper.

Saturday

No parkun, boooooooo!

We treated ourselves to a fantastic brunch in the little diner on the next corner.

We got back on our City Sightseeing Tour, which was a bit detoured by all the protest and counter-protest shenanigans, and to our dismay find that it isn’t doing the Sausolito Tour.

They could’ve said earlier!  And I should’ve read the reviews on Trip Advisor.  We got off instead at Golden Gate park in the midst of a marijuana festival.  We weren’t too clear where the boarding point is, as these bus tours aren’t allowed to have anything useful like signs, but we made it back to hotel.  We took tram back  to fishermans wharf, where we intended to take the night tour, only to find that we’d missed the last one.  Again, I’m appalled by the lack of communication.  We took the tram back to the hotel, and I had a really lovely sushi roll in the place next to the hotel.

Sunday

We’d booked a hire car from the place across the road from the hotel.  Not just any old hire car, a Ford Mustang convertible, which we’d had visions of driving down Highway 1 in by the ocean, warm breezes in our hair.  After the compulsory argument with the  Sat nav  we escaped the city’s gravitational pull, and got onto Highway 1.  Sadly, Fog-ust extends down the coast, and we saw precious little in the way of surf or beaches, nor could we put the roof of the car down.

We stopped at Half Moon Bay for brunch, where I had Califormia Bendict.  This means it had avocado in it.  On to Santa Cruz, where R was meeting a biking chum, who he’d only ever previously engaged with online.

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We came back to the city via the Big Basin redwoods which are stunning, though the  teeny winding roads were a bit hairy.  Having successfully returned the car before closing time, we had a fabulous  dinner in Del Populo of eggplant salad and pizza, chatting to UK tourists sitting beside us.

Monday

Crissy Field is not the easiest place to get to, so we took an Uber to get there so I could do a freedom parkrun.

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It’s always hard running solo,  and I had to conjure up imaginary cheering marshalls.  There were still some chalk markings visible,  left by counter proterstors.

It’s compulsory to take a cable car ride, but these can be hard to actually board as they are always full.

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Most people queue at the end points and no-one gets off, so it’s pointless waiting at any other stop.

At Fisherman’s Wharf we had lunch at Cioppino’s – scampi aurora and a free cup of clam chowder.   We enjoyed a potter around the Musee Mechanique, where I got a mechanical fortune teller to tell me my fate.  I have have set myself rather a high goal, apparently, which I will surely reach!

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I took a quick visit to the Giardhelli chocolate shop.  We took the  cable car back down Powell, and opted for dinner at the pizza place across the road.  These served very odd antipasto, and an even odder carafe of wine which was only a fiver.

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Tuesday

On our last day, we had brunch at Lori’s Diner, which was really cute, with a vintage car as part of the décor.  R bid farewell to the super-duper Apple store, and we took a taxi out to the airport.  Our tickets said Terminal TI, which we read as “one” but really it was “I for International”.  Aer Lingus were as efficient and pleasant as I’ve always found them to be, and we had a hassle free journey home, even managing some sleep on the plane.

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I would go back to San Fran: as a bridge aficionado, it was disappointing not to see the Golden Gate, and of course I shall have to do Crissy Field properly!

Even Tony Bennett left his heart here.

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Eclipse Trip 3: Grand Junction

If it’s Tuesday this must be Denver.

 

After the very late boarding of the train in Lincoln, I woke in need of a decent breakfast, and joined the queue of people waiting to be put on a list.  It’s amusing to be seated with total strangers, and to compare plans and journeys so far.  My breakfast companion was a woman who lived in Glenwood Springs, and had travelled on this train many times.  We went for the creole eggs meal, which was tasty, though I wasn’t so keen on the grits.

There was a fair bit of shifting and shuffling at Denver.  I learned later that this is a switchover point for the track providers from BNSF to UP.  We were still running a couple of hours later, although there is a planned stop of 1 hour here, which was reduced to 15 minutes.

Coming out of the Mile High city, and the scenery really starts to get interesting.  To climb up into the mountains, the train takes a number of S bends, and the view back down over Denver was impressive.  We then began to travel though a series of tunnels, including the famous 6 mile long Moffat Tunnel, and the views each time we emerged were stunning.

Conversations with fellow passengers centered around the eclipse. For many, it had been their first experience, and I was impressing people with “it’s my 3rd total, plus a failed attempt to see an annular in Iceland” story, until I met someone for whom it was his 15th eclipse. He and his party had been so concerned by the clouds in Nebraska that they’d hired a plane to take them above.  And they were already planning the next trip to Chile in 2019.  I’m not sure I’ll make that one, though there’s one visible in Spain in 2026 (on Jemima’s birthday!) that might be in my plans.

There’s not too much that a train can do to catch up on lost time.  We were growing concerned about making our next stop in Grand Junction.  The timetabled arrival was 4.30, and we were due to pick up a hire car.  The hire car place closed at 6, and from what I could gather we were running about 2 hours behind schedule.  There’s no wifi on the train, and travelling through these remote regions a phone signal is not always guaranteed either.  When we did get a signal, we couldn’t work out what the USA access code was.  in the end, our wonderful steward Ralph lent us his phone to make the call, and Enterprise GJ were themselves monitoring the eta of the train, which they could see as 5.33.  I guess this is a situation they are all too familiar with!

We were met at the station and taken to the Enterprise offices not too far away, and a very smooth and swift handover process followed (complete with the compulsory oh wow, one day I hope to visit Ireland!).  I drove to our hotel, the Palamino Motel, where we checked in to a large room complete with fridge.  The receptionist recommended the Mexican restaurant a few doors down, and indeed the food was excellent, though far too much.  I saved some prawns, rice and avocado for lunch the next day, making use of our room’s refrigerator.

Getting back to the land of wifi, I checked on Facebook, and to my utter devastation learned that Crissy Field parkrun in San Francisco is cancelled this week.  Having been planning this whole trip for well over a year, and started a project to spell the word DANCER with my summer holiday parkruns, this was a huge disappointment.  But hey, these things happen, and I could still complete my spelling with a bit of rearranging.

Grand Junction is in a very fertile part of Colorado, famous for its fruit (especially peaches) and wine.  Our morning plan was to drive around Colorado National monument, which is a stunning scenic drive with lots of views of canyons and gorges and balancing stones.

 

After a bit of compulsory arguing with the sat nav, we got there, and the radio played Sweet Home Alabama to complete the idyllic picture.

We had our lunch at the Visitor Centre, where I loved seeing the bright blue colours of a pinyin jay.

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We left the hire car back in the early afternoon, dropped our bags at the station, and had a little explore of the town centre.  It’s definitely got a hippy vibe to it, with lots of street art and interesting shops.  We called into a café so I could try some local wine, which I have to say was delicious.  I’m not sure if it’s possible to obtain Colorado wine back home, but I’m going to try!

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The train was only 20 minutes late today, and around 5 pm we boarded along with about 30 others.

I’d been concerned about the train’s dinner reservations issue, as these are given out before 4 pm each day, but had been assured that our cabin steward would sort us out. I was less than impressed by the dining car staff, who said they’d squeeze us in somewhere, which meant it was 8.45 before they were hustling us into place, clearly while trying to get us out as quickly as they could.  We were supposed to get a side salad, which was not offered, and a dessert, which I had to prompt them about.  I do apologise to the people we were sharing a table with, for I was not very good company that evening.  They’d ordered a baked potato, were served mash instead with no explanation or apology. But we were charmed by John in the Lower Lounge of the sightseer, who was terrific company, and worked out how to make Roger a special vodka diet coke.

Back to my ironing board bed for the last night on board.