Sunday, January 6, 2013

Christmas in California

After running ourselves ragged last Christmas with a 3-week, bi-coastal, multi-city visit to the US, we decided to keep things simple this year.  We flew to San Francisco to spend two weeks in the Bay Area with family and friends.  Although Josh prefers to be knee-deep in snow at this time of year, he had little objection to some rest & relaxation in sunny California after a very hectic (not to mention, cold, dark, and rainy) autumn in London.
On the beach near Point Lobos in December
Our first stop: Palo Alto, where we spent a few days with Josh's Aunt Kris and had a wonderful family dinner with his cousins and their families and my mother and uncle.
 We brought along some Christmas crackers to make it a proper holiday celebration.
Next: Monterey!  We had rented a house in nearby Pacific Grove with my mom, sister, and uncle so we could all spend Christmas together in a beautiful place with lots of fun things to do.  We were a little surprised when we pulled up in front of the house.  How could this tiny place be the same house in the photos we saw online?
Our rental house
Like the Tardis, the house turned out to be much bigger on the inside than it looked on the outside.  The newly-remodeled, 3,000-square-foot house had 4 bedrooms, 3.5 bathrooms, a huge gourmet kitchen, and two living rooms.  It was absolutely perfect!  Well, there was one, teeny, tiny little thing that seemed a bit odd.  The owners of the house appear to have a Winnie-the-Pooh fetish, which was mercifully contained in one large cabinet between the powder room and the laundry room.
The "Pooh Cabinet"
That's a lot of Pooh!
We didn't have a Christmas tree, so Santa left all our gifts under the strange monolithic floor lamp/sculpture in the corner of the living room.
It's no tree, but it has lights...
 And our stockings were hung by the chimney fireplace with care (and hooks).
Christmas stockings for each of us, plus a spare.
Despite everyone claiming they weren't going to give anyone gifts this year, we each ended up with a nice pile of presents to open, which we did right after a hearty breakfast of waffles, bacon, and fruit salad.
Armand, Karen, Josh, Naina, and Sonia
 Poor Josh was all tuckered out after opening his presents.  Or maybe it was the jet lag catching up with him.  That 8-hour time difference between California and London is a challenge to adjust to!

After all the excitement of our Christmas Eve whale-watching tour and Christmas Day, we were eager for another adventure.  We hopped in the car and took a scenic drive along the coast.

Josh gets all Indiana Jones with the kelp
And then went to see The Hobbit at the local movie theater.  In the evening, we met a family friend for dinner at a Mexican restaurant in "downtown" Pacific Grove.
Holiday lights in Pacific Grove
Our house also happened to be a block away from the local "Candy Cane Lane," where all the houses were festooned with lights and festive displays, so we made sure to take a detour on our way home.

On our last day, we took a quick trip to Carmel, where we spent a couple hours window shopping and eating lunch before heading north.
How Santa gets around in Carmel
None of us really wanted to leave, but someone else had the house rented for the rest of 2012, so it was time to go.  We made one last stop at the beach on our way back.
Josh stares forlornly out to sea, again
Next stop: Berkeley, where we stayed with my sister, Sonia.  She lives in a great neighborhood where you can walk to all sorts of shops and restaurants and there's a supermarket across the street, so she doesn't have a car.  Normally, that's not an issue, but she enlisted Josh's help to retrieve a beautiful rocking chair she had bought from a furniture store a couple blocks away.
Sherpa Josh
We took BART into San Francisco one day to check out the post-Christmas sales.  The Macy's in Union Square had their windows decorated with animatronic kids and their pet cats and dogs skating around a Christmas tree.
Macy's window
In the smaller windows, they had ACTUAL kittens and puppies that were up for adoption.  So cute!
Yes, even I am posting cat photos on the Internet.
Outside, volunteers from the ASPCA were collecting donations.  Brilliant!  Inside, Josh scored a nice winter coat that was originally $250 for $80 and I paid $35 for a $90 Ralph Lauren sweater - in a Petite size with sleeves just the right length!  Trust me, you can't find bargains like that in London, let alone Petite sizes for short people like me.

We also stopped by the Contemporary Jewish Museum to see an exhibit of artwork by Ezra Jack Keats, who wrote and illustrated several children's books back in the 1960's.  They were the first books to feature African American children as primary characters, and my sister and I fondly remember reading "The Snowy Day" over and over when we were children.  We were probably just as fascinated by the illustrations as by the concept of having a snowy day, since it never snowed in central California, where we grew up.

When we got back to Berkeley, we made a quick stop on swanky Fourth Street, which has even more shops and restaurants now than the last time I was in town.  I think they may have gone a little overboard with their Christmas lights...
Holiday light overload on Fourth St in Berkeley
Then we met my friends Kristen & Tom for dinner at a Mexican restaurant.  (Have I mentioned it's hard to get good Mexican food in London?) They had recently moved from DC to the East Bay, so it was nice to see them on the West Coast.

The weather was lovely the next day, so we went for a walk in the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden with Sonia and her friends Kirsten & Chuck.
Aloe in bloom
No partridge, just a pear tree
Fantastic view of the Golden Gate Bridge
Josh, Chuck, Kirsten, and Sonia strike a pose
Our final stop: Woodside (in the hills above Palo Alto), to ring in the New Year with our friends Esther & Karl.  Despite still being a bit jet-lagged, we managed to stay up until midnight, and had a nice dinner with Karl's family.  The next day we watched the Rose Parade and the Rose Bowl, in which Stanford played the University of Wisconsin.  Since Esther and I went to Berkeley together (and elementary school, middle school, and high school!), we mainly watching to root against Stanford and to see if we could spot her younger sister in the crowd.  She went to Stanford as an undergrad and U. Wisconsin for grad school, so she managed to get tickets to watch her two schools battle it out in person.

Karl's 15-year-old nephew amused himself by trying to stump Esther and me with brain teasers, with very little success.  Strange kid.  I'm sure he'll go far... unless he's up against me and Esther.

On our last day in California, Esther invited us to come by her office for lunch on our way to SFO.  She works at Google, so we couldn't pass up that opportunity!
The Google campus (or "Googleplex") is like a fantasy workplace dreamed up by a group of college kids.  It consists of a collection of buildings scattered over several acres among small parks, fountains, sports fields, and even a swimming pool.  Brightly colored bicycles (like the one behind us in the photo above) can be used to get from one part of the campus to another.  More than a dozen cafeterias serve breakfast, lunch and dinner (free!) and office kitchens are stocked with soft drinks, snacks, fruit, and cereal.  There are laundry facilities and a gym, and Esther tells me you can get your hair cut or your dry cleaning done on site as well.  With the price of real estate in the Bay Area, I wouldn't be surprised if some of the employees just lived on campus.

We had lunch with Esther and her sister and brother-in-law (who had just flown back from LA after attending the Rose Bowl) in one of the larger cafeterias.  We had a variety of options, including Chinese, Mexican, sushi, burgers, a salad bar, and an assortment of desserts.  And the food was pretty good, too!
Yes, a lava-lamp Menorah in the cafeteria
We didn't have time for a proper tour, since we had to get to the airport, but I manged to snap a photo of one of the more unusual sights on campus as we were heading back to our car.
T rex vs lawn flamingos
Yes, that's a life-size sculpture of a T rex skeleton apparently under attack by a flock of lawn flamingos.  All I can say is the people who work at Google -- most of whom looked like they were straight out of college or grad school -- are in for a big shock if they ever leave the company to go work somewhere else!  The Discovery Channel always seemed like a really cool place to work -- we had a T rex in the lobby -- but perk-wise, it was nowhere near the level of Google.

We bid our reluctant farewells to Esther, fantasyland, and California, and headed to the San Francisco airport for our flight back to London.  We had a wonderful time visiting with family and friends, enjoying the beautiful weather and scenery, and eating all our favorite foods.  And while there was a part of me looking forward to being back in our own home, I think I left my heart in San Francisco yet again...


  1. Pooh, Mexican food, whale watching, sales, Google.....what an amazing 3 weeks! I am glad you are back!

  2. the goblet on the crate represents "this way up" so the contents dont spill


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