The Bay, a home away from home

I took a sketchy craigslist rideshare from Hollywood to San Francisco, and only realized half way that the couple driving me were on their way to the Iceland vs. Mexico soccer game in San Jose. I nearly blew my plans to join them, but had a special invite to a ´play´ party that I couldn´t miss.

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San Fran´s cable cars

I based myself in San Francisco for the weekend, the city itself, which is rare for my bay visits. I studied at Berkeley, once lived in Oakland, and usually stayed with friends in Walnut Creek or Danville. Now a handful of UBC friends live in San Fran, Alameda and San Leandro, so that’s where I bounced around for a week.

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my adopted family and hounds for the week

It´s getting rare to sleep on couches anymore, because my friends are all grown up, figuring life out with their families and houses with guest bedrooms. Our conversations revolved around pregnancies, children, home remodeling, gardening and the bowel movements of pets. I became a live-in au pair for Maya, whose 34 week belly made her less inclined to do house chores or walk the dog. We did manage to do some pregnant yoga, bake and cook a ton and I squeezed a whole lot of lemons and oranges into delicious, fresh, vitamin C rich juice.

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at the Stefan/Mane/Isabelle household for brunch

My friends Stefan and Mane bought a house in Alameda, where they´re waiting for their second miracle to enter the world. Their first daughter Isabelle is quite possibly the cutest kid I´ve seen – I totally understand the desire to make another one. We spent day on the beach flying the biggest, highest kite I´ve flown, and when everyone was busy working, We ate Ethiopian food in Berkeley for Maya´s mother´s birthday and drank patio beers at MadOak on the first hot, summer night of the year. I took a brewery tour on a pedal bike around Alameda, finally figuring out that I may be allergic to hops, not anything flour or gluten related.

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flying kites at Alameda beach

I reconnected with a couchsurfer I met traveling in Albania in 2016, first for coffee and an overpriced kimchi croissant (only in Frisco), and a night out in the city. A friend Billy was throwing a party to celebrate his self-proclaimed entry into a degenerate lifestyle, after quitting his cush job at Google and buying twenty people food and drinks at a speak easy bar called Bourbon & something. We had the ´Russel Room,´ hidden behind a rotating wall disguised as a bookshelf on one side, and a cigar cupboard on the other, and made way to an art-deco room that looked like a movie set, but was clearly authentically original, complete with its pre-Vegas Chihuly chandelier.

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Easter Sunday hike

My main goals in California were to eat plenty of In n Out, animal style, and shop at all or any Trader Joe´s that I saw. We hiked thru some red woods and poison ivy, discovered that the Oakland Zoo is not pet-friendly, and I assisted in a photo shoot with two Jess´s for maternity wear being modeled by Maya. Ironically enough the photographer Jess was also pregnant, and I started to wonder how much exposure I could have to pregnant women before being bit by the mommy gene. Fortunately for me, I´m now even more positive I never want to be pregnant, since everyone else seems to do it so much better than I ever could.

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The OC and LA

I´ve been to LA a handful of times, and the city is always as big and intimidating as the last time. Within LA county, there´s so many neighbourhoods to visit and experience, and getting between them is hell, especially with the added charm of LA traffic.

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O´Venice, in light of St. Patty´s day

My week was based around visiting some familiar faces. I spent my first two nights in Venice, hanging out with Jake and his pregnant girlfriend and co. I met Jake in Iceland years ago when he was working on a film with Baltasar Kormakur, and we met up in LA once since. I met his friend Peter Harding again, a documentary film maker, for cappuccinos on the beach. Its some of the most decent coffee I´ve ever had in America, from a café called Menottis, and in the evening they´ve got live jazz downstairs at Townhouse to jive to.

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the Orange County Coast

My friend Luke, who I know through a mutual UBC friend, works in music and came to Iceland for Airwaves in 2013, trading an all-access VIP pass for rights to my couch. That’s a solid start to any friendship. This time around I got to surf his couch, with his dog that just got diagnosed with terminal testicular cancer. It was a bummer, so finding our temporary happy place watching Superorganism at the Echo where he books shows was in order. A friend from the WFR course also joined, and we after partied with a guy whose name I cant remember, but his look was unforgettable: he had visibly time traveled to the present from the 1960´s.

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the Surfliner, the train with a view between LA and the OC

Conrad, an American raised in Iceland that I met tango dancing in San Francisco nearly ten years ago lives in San Celemente. I took the train up through Orange County after finally getting my first glimpse of real Californian sunshine. People were out surfing, jogging in their Lululemon get-ups head to toe, and I finally got my first tan of the year. Conrad and I went tango dancing in LA, and drove back to San Celemente late that night with the top down on his BMW convertible, with the heat and music blasting. I cant think of a better way to stargaze.

I met a couple in Reykjavik last autumn who lived in Pasadena, and I met the woman for happy hour in North Hollywood. She´s a dog rescuer by day and got bit by one of her rescue animals, but even with a bandaged hand and her private car full of dogs, she glowed.

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the City of Angels wouldn´t have been much without these darlings

The reunion I cherished the most was meeting Moira, 12 years after we circumnavigated the world together on with Semester at Sea. She was happily married, living in Hollywood with the perfect husband and two cuddly dogs, in a picture-perfect home with their one and a half year old bundle of joy named Dempsey. I can´t believe how its possible to still relate to one another, and keep up with these people, half way around the world, from the many walks in life we´ve had to where we are now, all in different stages. I definitely have to thank social media for allowing it, but your people are always your people, despite how much or quickly the time goes by.

Marin County, California

sunset at bolinas beach

sunset at bolinas beach

If you cross the Golden Gate Bridge, just north of San Francisco you will find Marin County, a beautiful, sparcely populated oasis of redwoods, beach and countryside. I roadtripped with a friend north up the 101, and then went west towards Muir Beach, until finally driving along the coast up to Stinson Beach. The drive over the hills was a little trecherous, speckled with road-side grazing deer, but the small, single lane highway made it seem like we were miles and miles away from the city when we were really only about a 30 min drive away.

Once we arrived at Stinson, we tipped our hats to the (amazingly) good weather by heading straight to the beach, where kids were still swimming and surfers still catching waves, despite it being late October. There was barely a breeze, and luckily enough no fog either. We ate lunch at a locally run, organic, open-air cafe before heading out for some surf. We drove around Bolinas Lagoon to the north side of Bolinas Bay where the town, Bolinas is actually situated. We rented boards and wetsuits and spent the next 3 hours riding waves without ever feeling cold.

We welcomed the evening by settling on the beach ontop a sleeping bag we took from the Bolinas “free box,” a place where you leave or take what you dont need or have. We stayed there throughout one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen, and on through to the darkest point of night where the only light you could see was the distant city glow of San Francisco, still within eyesight but definitely out of mind.

The following day we drove through Samuel P. Taylor Park, home to some enormous redwoods, and all the way to Pt. Reyes Lighthouse which sits at the end of Drakes Bay in Pt. Reyes National Seashore Park. Enroute we stopped in some tiny, historic towns like Pt. Reyes Station, Inverness and Olema, and dipped our toes in the sandy beaches of Drakes Beach and North Beach.

It was the perfect getaway out of the city, only a short drive away, with enough natural beauty, solitude and quietude to make us totally forget about the stresses awaiting our return home to the huslte and bustle of the bay.

Sonoma & Napa Valley Wine Tasting

the oldest wooden structure situated at Green Strings farm, with a healthy field of grape vines growing behind

the oldest wooden structure situated at Green Strings farm, with a healthy field of grape vines growing behind

Many know the Northern California region is quite famous for its wineries, so going wine tasting in the Sonoma and Napa Valley regions seemed like a necessary trip to take while living in California. It’s only about an hour’s drive north from San Fransisco, and I’ve been told there are about 400 wineries in the entire region, ranging from small, 10 acre family run farms, to hundred-acre, major distributing wineries like Sebastiani.

A friend visiting from out of town and myself spent a couple days in the area, starting at Green Strings Farm, an all-organic, sustainable, grape and produce growing farm near Petaluma. It was the most beautiful, idyllic, relaxing country landscape, nestled near the Sonoma hills, with some of the best tasting food I have had in a long time.

The following day we weaved our way through a few Sonoma Valley vineyards, visiting some of the oldest wineries in the USA including Bartholomew Park Winery, Gundlach Bundschu, and Buena Vista winery. They all cost between $5 – $10 for a tasting flight, specializing mostly in red wines except for a few chardonnays, gewurztraminers and white rosés.

We carried over to the Napa Valley, driving north along the Silverado trail, famous for its back to back wineries. We visited some modest wineries, like Judd’s Hill that specilizes in private sales, and built up to the more extravegant, $15 – $25 per tasting flight wineries like Darioush, Black Stallion and Signorello.

In addition to the amazing wines, wonderful weather, and scenic roadtrip, wine tasting Sonoma and Napa Valley served as the perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of the Bay area, so I would suggest to anyone planning a visit to San Fransisco, you should include a little wine tasting time in your itinerary.

California Dreaming is California Living

Our first dinner party at Maya's house

Our first dinner party at Maya's (2nd to left) house

Despite all my ranting about UC Berkeley in my previous blog, I am (otherwise) getting the most welcome arrival otherwise possible. I have a handful of really good friends that I have known for a long time living in the east bay area, and all of them have contributed to taking care of me and helping me out in ways I could never ask for.

After I first got out here with my family, I was very unprepared. I didn’t have housing or transportation lined up (UC students get free bus passes, but not UC exchange students – go figure), but my friend Misha happens to always have 1 to 4 extra cars lying around not being used, so I scored the jackpot with a little 1986 BMW 325. She’s not that pretty, but complete with leather seats, automatic windows and a sunroof, so the fact that she has no second gear isn’t a big deal. Misha also let me stay at his beautiful Danville home, complete with a pool in the backyard, until I found housing closer to Berkeley campus.

My quasi-roommate from first year university, Maya, who lives in a quaint neighbourhood called Montclair in the Oakland Hills, was my second saving grace. Her parents had moved to Tahoe for the season and she welcomed company in her family’s big, empty house that she was now living in alone. So, we are back to being roommates, with a much more upgraded living situation than Totem Park dorm rooms from UBC. We have a beautiful patio, a big, hilly backyard, and of course a hammock to do some productive reading on.

There are countless others who have facilitated my adjustment to a new city and a new campus; also mentionable is Michael, a friend who enjoys pianos almost as much as me, so when i discovered a free piano that I unfortunately found out would never make it up Maya’s 44 stairs, he took it to his house instead and swapped me loaning privileges to his electronic keyboard so I can still play music.

I should also mention my two supervisors at UC Berkeley; one from the tourism department, and the other from the Environmental Policy & Management dept, who are going to pretty much write my thesis for me, with all their knowledge, weekly meetings and directing me through the graduate academia world I feel so hopelessly lost in. Otherwise, I feel I’m finally fitting into place in my new sunny home of California. I’ve had my first few visitors come stay with me, and acted as the ‘local’ tour guide, so hopefully I’ll get to know this place as intimately as others from around here by the time I leave.

Roadtripping with the Hen House

The San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge peeping out from the fog typical of the bay area

The San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge peeping out from the fog typical of the bay area

I am moving to the east bay area in California to complete some courses at UC Berkeley, and my family decided to make a family vacation out of it by renting a Chrysler Impala, and shoving me, my 2 sisters, mother and ancient grandmother into it. Of course we came with all our luggage, my life in boxes, a cooler full of home cooked food, a rice cooker, and uncountable bottles of water. Yes, it was a tight fit.

The newest addition to our family is our GPS system, affectionately named Disa, and she told us where to go, how long it would take, and to “Drive Carefully” once in a random while. Sometimes she was wrong, and I’d have to override her instructions, and my mom would get totally distressed trying to figure out what direction she should take. My grandma was a skeptic, because during every long stretch of I-5 highway we drove and Disa had no turns to warn us about, she would ask something to the effect of “why isn’t this thing talking to us? She’s supposed to tell us where to go. Must be no good.” We did do things other than drive, but out of the whole weekend, we were stuffed like sardines in that car for the majority of the time, fighting over butt space in the backseat and reluctantly taking turns to sit in the middle. At one point, my sister spilled half a water bottle AT my face, like, almost bore out an eye socket with the spout of the open bottle, and that created quite an uproar since there was nowhere for me to turn to fix myself, nor for my sister to run.

We made it to California with a stop in some random highway side Motel 8, and stuffed all 5 of us in one room (poor Ruth got the floor), and mom decided to cook corned beef and rice for us at 11 pm with all the windows shut (so we couldnt get in trouble for cooking in the rooms) and thus we all ended up smelling like fried onions by the time we fell asleep. Once we got to the bay, we dropped off my grandma at family friend in Stockton, and took a couple days to explore Cal campus, San Francisco, Santa Cruz and the highway 1 along the west coast of norcal. We survived off the curry and rice from our cooler and In-n-Out burger, and made alot of stops to Target and WalMart to bargain hunt for miscellaneous, unneeded cheap stuff, what we Adals do best together. There was never a silent moment, and all-in-all a wonderful trip, but its nice to finally be settled in one place and able to hear myself think again 🙂

As alway, dohop.com is at your service offering cheap flights to California.