NorCal, take 2

I once called Oakland home, for a short time while studying abroad at UC Berkeley back in 2009. Places and people change over the years, but it still feels a bit like home when you know where to go and who to see. I visited Maya again, and this time her shrunken belly had turned into a breast-feeding, squinty-eyed baby named Chloe. Her dog Duke was the same old, happy to snuggle away any attention he still got in Chloe’s presence. Their orange and lemon trees were creaking under the weight of fresh citrus, so missing out on freshly juiced lemonade was’t an option.

the best way to wine taste Sonoma – by pedal bike

The weather was slightly warmer, and the surroundings more green, but northern California seems to be constantly in a state of transition from spring to summer. When the fog rolls in, you have no idea what season it is, but you’re still sure of where you are. Driving 20 minutes east into the hills slaps dry, desert heat straight into your face, and you wonder how the state is ever going to recover from a water shortage with all those millions of people living in a tiny bay.

the vineyard of bubbles, Gloria Ferrer in Sonoma Valley

This time around, the focus was food and wine. Chef Thrainn from Iceland was in, and we had our fill of Moroccan inspired cuisine at Mourad in San Francisco. We carried on to Sonoma, where our dinner at the Girl & Fig kept our bellies fed and finally filled with something other than wine. We spent a day wine tasting in Napa as well, where we lunched at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon (The French Laundry was too daunting). We rounded off our wining and dining with some craft beers at Faction Brewing and some hard spirits at Hangar 1 vodka, both located on Alameda island in converted WW2 hangars.

Hangar 1 distillery bar, Runway Spirits

Our last meal was at Bird Dog in Palo Alto, a modern, Asian fusion bistro style restaurant, with another couchsurfer and one my oldest friends from UBC days. We boarded our Wow air flight back to Reykjavik 2kgs heavier, and the sight of Keflavik in a dismal, rainy grey made me want to turn right back around to sunny California.

Advertisements

San Francisco and the East Bay

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.

img_7254

a morning run by the water to the ferry building

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 decided to bounce around for a week and play a good tourist.

IMG_6764

Chez Mike and Maya and their four-legged friends

It´s getting rare to sleep on couches anymore, because my friends are all grown up, figuring life out with their families and homes with guest bedrooms. Our conversations revolved around pregnancies, children, remodelling, 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 expectant-mother yoga, bake and cook a ton and I squeezed a whole lot of lemons and oranges into delicious, fresh, vitamin-C rich juice.

IMG_6742

every respectable home garden in California has a citrus tree

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 the cutest little bilingual toddler I know – I totally understand the desire to make another one. We spent day on the beach flying the biggest, highest kite I´ve ever flown, and when everyone was busy working, I took a brewery tour on a pedal pike around San Leandro and Alameda, finally figuring out that I may be allergic to hops, not anything flour or gluten related.

IMG_6782

Stefan flying his kite on 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. Our 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, which made way to an art-deco room that looked like a movie set, but was authentically original, complete with its pre-Vegas Chahuli chandelier.

IMG_6785

Mike, Duke and Maya

My main goals in California were to eat plenty of In n Out, animal style, and shop at all or any Trader Joes that I saw. We hiked thru some red woods and poison ivy, discovered that the Oakland Zoo is not pet-friendly (strange, no?), and I assisted in a photo shoot with two Jess´s for maternity wear being modelled 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’ll never be pregnant, since everyone else seems to do it so well – I’ve got no chance handle it as gracefully.

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.

img_6788

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.

img_6764

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.

img_6771

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.

img_6782

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.

img_6785

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.

Two Weddings and a lot of planes

My first friend as a freshman in university was my next door neighbour Maya. Then I lived with her in they bay when I went to Berkeley for grad school. Now, 10 years later, I watched her get married to her longtime boyfriend Mike. Their wedding was in the hills of Lafayette, a beautiful wooded hillside with an open-air ceremony. The bridesmaids wore different shades of pink and Maya shone in her off-white gown. There were 6 groomsmen to her 4 bridesmaids, a friend of theirs was their photographer, another friend of hers officiated, and that friend’s husband DJ’d, so it was all a very friendly event. Other friends from UBC came too, and we danced the night away to some ridiculously bad rap and pop music from the early 2000’s.

the UBC reunion of Maya and her lady friends

the UBC reunion of Maya and her lady friends

Its wierd how I can refer to different decades and Im only 27… amazing how time flies, and people are all growing up and settling down. This was one of 3 weddings I attended in 6 weeks, and I had to leave Maya’s wedding bright and early the next day to attend a wedding in Hawai’i. We were 35 friends and family, not only invited to a destination wedding on Maui at one of the most famous wedding venues in ‘Merica, but also to a week-long vacation with the bride at groom at our very own hotel. We stayed at Mama’s Fish house, apparently one of the top 3 restaurants in ‘Merica, and rented out all the cottages around it, with our own beach, BBQ’s, patios and hammocks to cook our own delicious food. I didn’t bite for the $50-$75 chance to try eating at Mama’s, but I did get my fill of sand and surf, and hiking and roadtripping around the island. The famous road to Hana was filled with waterfalls and freshwater pools, but the road from Hana was more exciting, with unkept gravel roads clinging to the side of sea cliffs and a desolate no-mans land of dried up praries and homeless horses.

our topless roadtrip car

our topless roadtrip car

I know the groom Kyle from Semester at Sea. We were next door neighbours and shared a paper-thin wall we used to talk to eachother through. We also conquered Korcula island in Croatia together as novice backpackers, but left with a few sea urchin needles in our feet. Another friend of a friend from Semester at Sea, Orion, lives on Maui, and he took me up to watch the sunrise from the top of Halekala crater. At more than 10,000feet/3,000m, its the tallest peak on Maui, and the crater sits above the clouds, so we watched the sun light up the whole sky before it broke through the cloud line and rose as it probably rises every day in heaven.

Halekala sunrise

Halekala sunrise

Kyle and Kali’s wedding was also a little slice of heaven. It was held at an old sugar mill called the Haiku Mill, and only our party of 35 got to call the place our own for a few hours. We were served on by probably half as many staff, engineering cocktails with succulent plants frozen in ice to cool us down. The ceremony was short and sweet, the cocktail hour was nearly 2 hours, and then dinner was just a slight delay to the dancing night we were all so looking forward to. Even though the dance floor was made of red bricks, we shook it hard, and sweat poured so heavily from every square inch of our bodies that we had a hard time gripping onto our fancy cocktail glasses and lost a few of those to the bricks.

the bridesmaids and co.

the bridesmaids and co.

Our last day together in paradise was spent trying to finish all the food and alcohol 35 people had over-bought for the week. I invited Orion and his girlfriend over to help us, and after probably a dozen beer, they were a little intoxicated. That wouldn’t normally have been a problem, except that they were running a 42km marathon the next day at 5 am, so I saw them off the finish line, hungover or drunk, Im not sure, then drove myself to the airport to hop on another jet plane.

City hopping in ‘Merica

I love being Canadian because they basically treat us as Americans when we fly into their horribly unorganized airports. I don’t need to fill out some I-94 form or ESTA waiver and I can stay up to 3 months without any hassle. I still get fingerprinted everytime, and  from time to time, asked for proof of departure, but I can always just say Im driving to Canada after and then I dont need to show any flight booking. And I learned never to have an e-ticket or electronic boarding pass, since you’re not allowed to use your phone in any customs hall, even if its to show your flight out of the US.

Me and Clio at Minnehaha Falls

Me and Clio at Minnehaha Falls

After some 10 weeks straight of horse back riding in the Icelandic highlands, summer finally met me in Minneapolis. Its a direct 6 hour flight from Iceland, over Greenland and northern Canada, that plops you right int he middle of a thousand lakes. There are lakes everywhere, which makes it a very green and bike friendly state, but like Iceland, the summers are short and most things are dead, frozen and/or snow covered for more than half the year. I’d been twice in the winter to visit my best friend Clio, and this was the first time I had seen the city in bloom, and it made a much better impression on my summer-seeking soul. Of course we rode bikes, and swam in lakes, and then we satisfied my culture side with some visits to the strange-looking Wesiman Art museum, the Walker Art Center Sculpture garden, and the fancy schmancy Nordic inspired  restaurant Bachelor Farm.

Sculpture garden selfie infront of the spoon

Sculpture garden selfie infront of the spoon

I had $900 in American Airlines vouchers to try to use up, so I hopped over to Seattle for a short visit. I can count the number of hours I was there on my fingers and toes, but it was still worth the visit to see my photographer friend Mike Reiter settled into his new home and peek into his working life at corporate giant Amazon. Apparently everyone takes their dog and bikes to work, so Seattle is also a hipster-lifestyle friendly place, but Oakland-native Mike Reiter is anything but hipster. But the Chocolate factory and whiskey distillery that he lives between makes up for it, since he gets to wake up every morning to the sweet smell of chocolatey whiskey. He was proud to show me Pike Place market in downtown Seattle, but I’m not sure I fully appreciated the highlights: men throwing fish and a long line up outside the first ever Starbucks.

boating on the Delta

boating on the Delta

My next destination was San Francisco and the east Bay, back to the hills I used to live in 5 years ago. It was crazy to come into this highway congested bay and see two road-kill deer on the side of the road, but just behind the hills are huge forests and parks with lots of open space for wildlife. There’s a severe draught going on, but in the valleys behind the bay theres a series of canals called the Delta where boaters take their little yachts for joy rides. My friend had a little speed boat we took out to soak up some sun, and water, and I finally got that sun-kissed bronze glow on my skin that my body’s been missing in Iceland.

San Francisco's Best Neighbourhoods

San Francisco is actually quite a dense, little city, locked in on 3 sides by water and only 47 square miles with 815,000 people (almost three times the population of the entire country of Iceland – fun fact). There are lots of great little neighbourhoods that are only separated by a few meters; its amazing how seamlessly Chinatown turns into trendy North Beach.

the view of San Francisco from the Berkeley Hills

Nob Hill (which is barely different to Russian Hill only a few blocks north of it, the other half of the twin peak hill) and the Mission are probably the best neighbourhoods to live in as a young professional or (not broke) student. They’re mostly residential areas, but still within walking distance to anything you’d need.

Market Street east to Pier 1 is a great little area, where the main shopping drag of the city cuts right through the finance/business district, street vendors sell lots of pretty things, Bart stations are all around, and the waterfront facing Treasure Island offers great views of the Bay Bridge and the East Bay. Once you hit the first ferry terminal, you walk north all the way to Pier 39, where another great neighbourhood awaits.

Walking out from Pier 5 with a view of the Central Business District

Fishermans Wharf is a super touristy area, starting at Pier 39 where a huge outdoor mall basically sits out on the water, and a great view of Alcatraz can be seen once you reach the end of the wharf. Stinky sea lions bathe out near the boats parked in the marina, and all the shops on Embarcadero sell more or less the same things. The crab stands offer amazing seafood eats for cheap – be sure to try clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. And if its a hot day or you want to work off those creamy calories, go for a swim at the beach at the end of Embarcadero.

the little beach at the end of Embarcadero, with Coit Tower in the background

the little beach at the end of Embarcadero, with Coit Tower in the background

Chinatown is one of the funnest neighbourhoods to get lost in, mostly because you can actually get lost – street signs and shop fronts are all in Chinese and the only thing you can really read are prices of things. Its amazing how many people don’t even speak english, so you can’t ask what the sign says or directions to where you’re trying to go. But if you let your senses guide you, you’re sure to get some delicious, cheap (maybe unidentifiable) food, buy anything you could imagine at a fresh seafood store (in some cases, still alive), and the dollar-store-like shops sell everything from swords to kimonos and violins to teacup sets, all for really reasonable prices.