California & Vegas trip – days 1 & 2

28 Mar

Friday 15th March, 2013

We set off for Heathrow on the Oxford Airport bus mid-morning, and were enjoying a leisurely journey until we realized somewhere around Aston Rowant that I had forgotten to bring my paper counterpart driving license; essential for picking up our hire car on Monday in San Francisco. After a couple of panicked phone calls, my dear dad kindly suggested that he dash to our house, get the license and then send it by FedEx to our hotel. We were thereafter able to relax a little at the airport after a fairly stressful hour!

The Gods/Karma/whatever clearly decided we needed a pick-me-up, as when we checked in, British Airways informed us that we had been upgraded to business class gratis (woop!). So, after partaking of a glass of wine and some free sandwiches in the BA lounge, we boarded our 10 hour flight to SF and spread out in the plush surroundings of the Club World cabin. Having flown in first in Virgin, I have to say it didn’t quite compare, mostly because this particular plane was in need of a re-fit to update its decor, but it was still a much more enjoyable experience than economy, particularly regarding the food.

We landed in SF around 6.30pm local time and headed straight to our hotel, the kooky “Hotel Tomo” in SF’s small Japantown district. In the taxi on the ride in, we got some great views of SF Bay and the 49ers stadium. Exhausted after our day of stress and travel, we checked in and crashed out for the night.

Saturday 16th March 2013

The first order of the day was to find some breakfast. With the help of the Tripadvisor app, we scouted a place a few blocks down the street from our hotel called Sweet Maple Cafe. This turned out to be a fantastic choice, and at time of writing (in LA on day 13), we have not yet bettered the breakfasts we enjoyed here (yes, we went back two days later!). I wolfed down a plate of scrambled eggs mixed with sweet peppers and rib eye steak, with a ‘side’ of brioche French toast and maple syrup, while Laura enjoyed the classic eggs & bacon combo.

After breakfast we decided to head towards Golden Gate Park. At first we thought that “Golden Gate” meant that it was next to the bridge, but this is not the case! “Golden Gate” is the name given to the opening into SF Bay from the Pacific ocean – the eponymous bridge spans the Golden Gate, hence its name. The park was a leisurely 40 minute stroll from Japantown, and we saw some quite amazing houses on the way (as well as a street called Ellis!).

In the park itself, we weren’t long inside the walls before we spotted the first of several hummingbirds – a wonderful moment for us as animal-lovers. We walked around the park, taking in the outside of the tropical greenhouse and the inside of the Japanese tea garden, before rounding our activities out with a pedalo ride around Stow lake.

Next, we headed back towards downtown, and used the SF “Muni” trolley system for the first time. The driver was from the “takes no prisoners” school of thought and seemed to genuinely enjoy being angry and authoritarian towards the passengers (including us when we failed to somehow know that we shouldn’t give our fare to him, but rather insert it into the machine ourselves).

Once in downtown, we went into the Asian Art Museum, where we saw the fantastic Chinese terracotta army (and ate some sandwiches!). We finished our day off with a 1.5 mile walk back to our hotel, before going out for dinner (sushi at Kippu).