Winter thou goest – Part I

Clearly my thoughts have evolved on this blog as to what I can do for you, what I can share to make your life more beautiful after you visit here, and am pleased to have settled on creating a travel sticky page for this website over the past year to go with each season. I have been lucky enough to travel all over the world and so consider myself a veteran. Ideally, I would have had this post up on December 22 of last year, but the holidays intervened and well, better late than clever, right? So, the title of this particular article seems especially apt.

Bay

Now, let’s remember that all of these recommendations are subjective and based on three key factors: where I’ve been, what I like, and iconoclasm. By the latter I mean, I am not going to recommend the predictable places that everyone thinks of for each season.  Most people’s favorite season is the spring. As you might guess, not mine! My absolute cherished time of year is and always has been the winter. For the first half of my life, I got to be in a four-season climate as my home base and so winter rolled around every twelve months and delivered my preferred weather, notably in Manhattan where I spent most of that time, with cold, clear, sunny, dry days and the occasional snowfall that draped the landscape in its magical glitter.

Mountain Home Inn II

However, here I am in one-season Southern California, where the temperature is hot or hottest and the skies are cloudless and blinding unremittingly.  So, when I tell you my recommendation, I am going to avoid my reflexive wish to suggest Banff or Quebec or St. Moritz. Or to my preferred beach resorts (the rare times I have gone to them of my own accord) like Montego Bay, Jamaica, or Nassau, or Fortaleza, Brazil. We are going to stay local and so, voilà, my choice: Oakland, California.

Oakland and the Bay Bridge

Whaaaaa? You are going to start to object and recommend that at least I switch this to San Francisco across the Bay Bridge. But, uh-uh.  Please do this. Forget about every single thing you have ever heard or thought about Oakland. I know the Bay area intimately (having lived in the East Bay and and visited friends and relatives who have lived there for decades) and SF is not where I want you to pin your protractor.  Put it right in the middle of the Elmwood section of Oakland in the up and coming East Bay and then draw a 50 mile (or 25 mile, depending on how much time you have) radius around it. That is where I would head if I wanted an exciting, rain-free, interesting and even exotic at times, winter getaway.

From Oakland, you are within biking, sailing, motoring, walking, boating distance of all the stellar things the lower end of Northern California has to offer.  And, you will be able to afford the hotel because you will not be staying in downtown San Francisco. It is mostly first-time visitors and businessmen on expense accounts who stay there anyway.

Oakland

Because the area is so vast and packed with things to do and places to see, I am going to divide this into two posts. First will be where to stay and eat. In a future sequel, I will remind you of the hundreds of museums, parks, beaches, theaters, aquaria, forests, and special features that the entire Bay area is known for, as well as a few words on shopping.  There is no better place to spend a week or a month, than this part of Northern California. You might not want to go home.

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First off. Where to stay.  I would suggest Elmwood via an AirBnB. Another good option is a VRBO (vacation rental by owner). Check out these videos on my link, strung back to back — there are several, all about the area and worth watching. Elmwood is just off College and above Telegraph Avenues, the main arteries through the best part of Oakland, near Berkeley. The homes in Elmwood are straight out of Nancy Drew or Father Knows Best. They are roomy, well-to-do Craftsman-style homes from the pre-WWII era. In fact, I cannot think of a better neighborhood in all of California, and I have been everywhere in the state in the 20+ years I have lived and visited it. If you stay there, you will be in walking distance of shops, eateries, poetry readings, concerts and lectures and all the marvellous perks for visitors to the UC Berkeley campus.

Elmwood II

If you are feeling really flush, you can stay at the Claremont Hotel in Claremont, between the Berkeley campus and Elmwood. You will get the full European spa hotel experience, but you will pay for it. It is an old East Bay institution, now owned by the Fairmont Group and they are the crème de la crème as far as hoteliers go.

The Claremont

My other two suggestions are my personal favorites. I have stayed at both hotels numerous times and would rave on about them if you and I had the time. The first is the Hotel Durant, as they style themselves, a ‘hip boutique hotel’.  It is old, maintained beautifully, immaculate and has impeccable service. Its breakfast library room and restaurant are first class. And, you can walk to the campus and transportation from the Durant, effortlessly. Take a virtual tour and you will get a sense of these two luxury hotels. Oh, and the Durant is affordable and they always find a way to give you discounts. I always request room 535/37 on the 5th floor, adjacent to the elevator. It is cheaper and amazingly quiet despite its location. Love the Durant!!

Hotel Durant

My last suggestion is the incredible, little known, beautiful, sprawling Woodfin now Hyatt House at the wharf in Emeryville.  You can get a view of the Bay and San Francisco from some of the rooms on higher floors. The rooms and suites (with bedrooms separated from the sitting area and full kitchen) are beautiful and reasonable — geared toward the business community and people relocating.  At the ground level, the Woodfin was planned to be in proximity to a sort of mini mall, old style with food, amenities and little shops. The food store delivers to the hotel. You can get pizza and Chinese takeout or sent to your room.  You can walk around the edge of the water and absorb the marine atmosphere. And, best of all, they allow pets!  We attended a wedding a few years ago in the area and brought both Psyche and Ollie with no problem. The Woodfin even put a mat and food and water in for Ollie. Can you imagine? All this in a beautiful place, with great parking (a big issue in the East Bay), at a rock bottom price. The Woodfin was sold to Hyatt and so I hope the new owners will keep all these wonderful features and pricing intact. Ssshhh. Keep this on the down low. I don’t want them to jack things up!

Hyatt House

OK, so now you have a jumping off place to stay. You want to get out and start seeing, doing, shopping and eating, right? Let me start with the restaurants and other eateries in the East Bay. You will be happy to hear that you are in the midst of what could modestly be called The gourmet ghetto of the Western United States.  In every direction for miles and miles are incredible elegant inexpensive (as well as costly, if that is your thing) places to get every cuisine on earth. It would take a year of blog posts to cover San Francisco, Sausalito, Monterey, Carmel, San Jose, Walnut Grove, Montclair, Rockridge, Marin, Solano and greater Oakland/Berkeley itself just to give you ideas of where to go. And a lot of boutique shopping flanks these restaurants, conveniently.

Vics III

Instead, I will list my personal favorites, which are ethnic, clean (spotlessly so), serving delicious, homemade exquisite food at prices you can afford. They cover: Greek, Indian, Mexican, Israeli, Chinese, Italian, Cambodian and Ethiopian super stars. This is where the locals who know the food scene eat, so you can throw away Zagats and forget about Yelp.  I will start with the most popular of them, La Méditerranée on College Avenue near the main hub of Ashby serving Greek/Middle Eastern food that is so delicious, you will want to order another meal or two to take home. You will definitely want to go back, but don’t give in to the temptation as you will need to visit the others before you go. I promise you, whatever Middle Eastern dish you have ever had, it is twice as good here. Trust me — in fact, I have eaten at every one of these places I am recommending at least half a dozen times.

La Mediteranee

Being a college town, there are no end of Indian restaurants to try. But, if you want the kind of food they eat in India, you have to try the hole in the wall, Vik’s on Fourth Street near the Berkeley campus.  It is cafeteria style, no atmosphere (other than brains and politics at every table, if you can hear it amid the din), cheap and delicious, authentic, aromatic Indian food from every part of India. There is a grocery section so you can buy things to take home. Believe me, you will walk out of there with bags of food — so be prepared and bring your totes.

Viks IV

Mexican restaurants are usually two to a block in California. But Cancun on Shattuck — one of the main drags in Berkeley — is special. It is more a take out place than eat in, but you can do that too. Believe me, the cognoscenti in the area come here for authentic, inexpensive, perfectly cooked to order quality Mexican food, Cancun-style. The Saldanas are the family that own Cancun and a farm that supplies tis organic, natural products. Farmers and cooks, isn’t that what we would dream of? Having the farmer feed us. Healthy food, expertly prepared as you watch, delicious and fresh. What more would you want? It’s as close as you will come to Mexico in Northern California, in my opinion. From farm to table, what more could you ask?

Ordinarily, who would advise anyone to seek out Israeli food? After all, it is enough like — forgive me, all my Jewish friends — Middle Eastern food that you might think you could just eat at La Méditerranée and get the experience of the region you crave. Well, this is no ordinary town and Holy Land is no run of the mill restaurant. Don’t expect it to be particularly remarkable in appearance. It is clean and pleasant. But! The menu is the thing.  If you have never had Israeli cous cous, this is the place to get your initiation. It is fragrant, fluffy, perfectly seasoned and divine. Try the latkes and the Israeli pickles and olives.  They have shifted to include the non-Jewish foods of the region as well but you will be able to sample some of Israel’s best dishes, including hummus (pronounced hoo-muss by natives) and other kosher dishes including some that are vegan.

Holy Land

Most of us have had Chinese food from humdrum restaurants all our lives. If you live in NY or SF or Chicago or LA, you have likely had some unusual and very good Chinese meals. But, Oakland has, in my experience, one of the very best.  Shen Hua, is a beautifully simple, classic Northern Chinese noodle house, upscale and not inexpensive, but worth every penny.  Conveniently located right on College Avenue in Elmwood, it will be steps from your AirBnB. You will want to take home the leftovers, believe me.  There are rarely Chinese restaurants that could be termed elegant in every respect. This is one!

Shen Hua

While you are in an Asian food mood, you simply have to try the homey but sophisticated Cambodian menu at Battambang on Broadway in downtown Oakland. It is similar to Thai food but a bit more complex, heartier and with banana leaves. Think Siam-meets-Puerto Rico :-D Delicious, whether you are a carnivore or a vegan as I am — a really unusual menu in a family-run establishment that prepares each dish fresh when you order and serves it in a warm and friendly manner.

Battambang I

There are literally hundreds of Italian restaurants throughout the Bay area so you might wonder why I picked just one. Because, while you can get pasta almost anywhere, great pizza is more elusive. One place that never fails to serve and also deliver, is Lane Splitters, by far the best pizza in the greater Oakland vicinity.  The ambience is pure urban hipster black, white and gray. They serve fabulous, handmade pizzas and a variety of other things including lasagna and calzones.  Eat there or order for local delivery.

Lanesplitter

If you are a lover of the exotic, and complex flavors outside the pedestrian, you probably crave Ethiopian food the way I do. The East Bay is loaded with Ethiopian restaurants, but if you want to know where Ethiopians themselves eat, it is hands down, Addis on Telegraph.  The atmosphere is basic but it is clean, friendly, and bright, and most importantly, the food is out of this world.  If you have never had Ethiopian or Eritrean food before, Addis is the place to start. I just wish we had one in Valencia, anywhere near as fine as Addis.

Addis

There are just a few more things I want to recommend here in Part I.  First, you simply must take a trip to Mill Valley and stay at the Mountain Home at the top of Mt. Tamalpais.  If you can’t manage a stay, then at least have breakfast and watch the sun rise, or have a drink there at the end of the day. Romantic, with breathtaking views, you dine or sip overlooking the entire Bay area.  Mt. Tam is exquisite and well worth the trip. Nearby are vistas that you can’t find anywhere else in the San Francisco basin.

Finally, you cannot leave Oakland without visiting Berkeley Bowl. There is no way to describe this indoor fruit and vegetable bazaar.  You simply have to go.  It is the largest and most bountiful food store I have ever seen anywhere. Its proximity to the fruit basket of the world means items so unique and so varied, that you will be tempted to buy them just for their beauty and singularity.

Mountain Home InnNo matter where you land in Northern California, a trip to Berkeley Bowl is a must. It is 40,000 square feet of gourmet heaven at farmers market prices. Think of a Home Depot for chefs’ quality fresh foods. Cheeses, condiments, olives, fish, breads, pastries fruits, vegetables, coffees, the list goes on and on.  So popular in its 40 year history, that they opened a second one.  Go to the original on Shattuck and prepare to be astonished.  By the way, go early, be nimble (parking is difficult) and arrive hungry. Bring bags, you will want everything you see, trust me.

Berkeley Bowl mushrooms

While you are at it, if you are anywhere near the Berkeley campus, hit the Gourmet Ghetto area and make sure you visit Andronicos, the Rolls Royce of “supermarkets”, since 1929. One thing I love there are the full line of European D’Arbo syrups that can be used to flavor everything from ice creams to cakes to carbonated drinks, ala Alice’s Restaurant nearby. I ordered a case of them and especially like the Elderberry syrup. When you add carbonated water to it, it tastes like champagne!  More on Alice’s coming up in Part II.

Andronicos II

 

Next time: Part II: what to do and see when you are not eating or sleeping ;-D

Images: Public domain from travel sites, Chambers of Commerce and the establishments themselves

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(F)All in: NY

If there was ever a time to visit New York City, this is it.

CENTRAL_PARK__Autumn_Landscape_-_Manhattan_New_York_City_-_113010

Not only is Fall the prettiest time of the year in NY but there is a Mayoral race going on, so the city will be on its toes and putting all the bells and whistles out for the spotlight that this race will enjoy. If you can, visit NY right now. Bloomberg will get everything shipshape for this key election.

There are other reasons.  Having lived there for 25 years, this is the best season, in my opinion.  First of all, it is usually sunny, dry and cool, not yet cold.  There is less precipitation in the Fall and the winds are not unusually brisk, though they can be just active enough to put a sparkle of energy in the air.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

At some point, depending on the temperatures, the leaves will be turning.  Many people do not realize how many parks and how much landscaping the city has.  Everyone knows about Central Park, but there are so many others, like Battery Park, Union Square, Gramercy Park, just to name the most obvious ones.  If you do a little Googling, you will get a full list of the hidden pocket parks.  If you will be there for more than a few days, you may also want to head over to Brooklyn, which has gentrified considerably and rivals Manhattan in almost every significant way.  Another fabulous thing to do is take the Henry Hudson Parkway up along the river and go to Tarrytown and Hastings-on-Hudson, among many old Yankee villages and Washington Irving’s stomping grounds; all points north along the river are pure magic at this time of the year.

5182381381_12fe3c7af5 Henry Hudson Parkway

The most important decision you will make when coming to NYC is where to stay. My recommendation would be two hotels.  The first is my favorite and a secret that almost no one knows about.  This is the Hotel Wales at Madison and 92nd Street.  One of the prettiest, most convenient and safest, quietest neighborhoods in Manhattan is Carnegie Hill – the 90’s from Central Park to Lexington Avenue.  The Wales is right in the middle of it.  Built at the turn of the last century, when I stayed there it had elegant lobbies and rooms,  good restaurant and room service and not only was immaculate but enjoyed exceptional European-style service, including tea served on the roof terrace with a view of the park. Best of all, it is probably one of the most affordable hotels you will ever stay in (priced below some motels in the vicinity) and considering it is in Manhattan, in the best residential neighborhood, overlooking Central Park, the price is unbelievable.

Hotel Wales

My other recommendation, if you have a bit more in your budget would be the Waldorf Astoria.  I have stayed in almost all the top, established luxury hotels in NY (the Plaza, Pierre,Carlyle).  My favorite is the Plaza but I have to say, for visitors, the location and beauty as well as history of the Waldorf would be my top recommendation.  All of these hotels are expensive, but you can get a deal at the Waldorf and stay in the hotel choice of kings and queens.  It is gorgeous, elegant and the service cannot be topped anywhere on this planet.  In the East 50’s you can walk in every direction to many of the best attractions in midtown.

Waldorf Astoria

If you are flying in to the NY area, use Newark International Airport instead of JFK or La Guardia.  Newark is the newest of the three, it is actually closer to Manhattan than JFK, far safer, and much less hectic.  You will get to the city in less time than if you choose JFK.  In every way, Newark is a pleasure.  In fact, I like it so much and consider it to be so much safer than most airports that even when I am heading to Boston or Philadelphia, I fly into Newark and then take the train or rent a car and drive to those two cities. (Boston’s Logan Airport is a pure nightmare – avoid it at all costs: unsafe, bird strikes, terrible facilities, short runways – it is notorious for its inferiority as far as airports go, just take my word for it).

Newark_airport_Term_C

I do not need to give you all kinds of tourist destinations as there are thousands of places you can find these things.  Let me instead recommend a strategy for ‘tackling’ NYC.

When I was in college, I had a boyfriend who worked in South America.  He would invite me down to visit and see the sights and so I made some friends amongst the very educated, sophisticated people I met there.  When a few of them came to visit in the City, I was excited to take them around.  They had been all over the world, in many European cities like London, Paris, Rome, Barcelona, Zurich, etc.  These were wealthy world travelers.  But!  When they got to Manhattan they were totally overwhelmed. The longstanding joke thereafter was that I could not get them to go above 34th Street (Macys).

NY has a palpable energy that makes some people thrive and others collapse.  I have always said it is far easier to live (if you can afford it these days with one bedroom apartments starting at $600K) and work there than to visit.  So how you approach the visit can be critical.

Rockefeller_Center_New_York_City

Knowing what I know now, I would not start people off downtown as I had done with my Latin American friends.  If you are staying at the Wales, start with the upper east side of the Central Park district and work your way down, day by day until you hit Rockefeller Center.  If you are staying at the Waldorf in mid town on the east side, start there, go to Rockefeller Plaza and work your way up Fifth Avenue your first day or days. In this area are also Radio City Music Hall on 6th Avenue and a lot of UN-frequented exotic ethnic restaurants, many of them with excellent costumed performances and shows during dinner, at no extra cost (a way to be entertained without high priced theater tickets).

The upper and middle parts of Manhattan, on the East Side are the easiest to absorb and get acclimated.  They are beautiful, loaded with attractions including museums and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the best shopping and restaurants, etc. And of course they are incredibly safe, as is all Manhattan now, thanks to the last two Mayors (Bloomberg and Giuliani).

Toward the second half of the trip or at least after you are used to being in Manhattan, head to the 42nd Street area, stopping in at the New York Public Library, the Empire State Building, the Upper West Side (don’t forget to go to the Museum of Natural History), Lincoln Center, Columbus Circle, down to Battery Park and the 9/11 Memorial, South Street Seaport and if you can, take the Brooklyn Bridge by car, cab or train to Brooklyn and eat at the River Cafe, especially at sunset, for the most spectacular view of Manhattan anyone could want and fabulous food.

1rivercafe

After that hit the Village (west side, Greenwich Village.  If you are adventuresome and like ethic food, go the the East Village or better yet, Queens, but the latter may be for the end of a trip, not the beginning!), Washington Square, Soho and Tribeca.  All of these areas are safe, loaded with personality and fabulous food and shops.  Usually though, they are not first on people’s lists.  I would avoid Chinatown and Little Italy unless you like Chinese food and getting down and basic.  You are likely to find better Italian food in other parts of the city, especially Brooklyn.  Think Moonstruck.  If you are looking for inexpensive theater tickets check to see what is playing at the Barrow Street Theater. (Unfortunately, the Sullivan Street Playhouse that was home to The Fantasticks for 42 years, closed in 2012.)

If you have time left over, go to Bloomingdales on Lexington, Chelsea Pier over on the West side at 23rd, Gramercy Park on the East side around 18th Street, and up to the Bronx Zoo, which is in my opinion, the best one on the East Coast and rivals the famed San Diego Zoo for its quality and scientifically designed attractions.

circleline

If it isn’t too cold, take the Circle Line, but be prepared for part of it to be a bit boring – I have taken it when showing guests around the city and I fall asleep as it heads up to West Point.  It is a three-hour trip, so take snacks because the last time I was there, the food on the boat was expensive junk.  If you do take the Circle Line, you will pass the big luxury liners, Chelsea Pier, Battery Park, a spectacular view of Wall Street, South Street Seaport and the Statue of Liberty, the UN, as well as the bridges on the East River abutting Queens.  You will see a lot that will help you determine whether or not you need to go to those individual attractions separately.

New-York-Greenwich-Village-Washington-Arch

Do this and you will get a real flavor for the city. If you can, give yourself a week.  You can do much of what I listed in three full days (with travel days on either side). Take it from a native, even in two weeks, you won’t see it all but if you go now, I promise you, you will have a spectacular experience.

Images: holidayforce.com,theweblicist.com,flickriver.com,virtualtourist.com,panoramio.com,commons.wikimedia.org,virtualtourist.com,restaurantsinyc.com,viator.com,fodors.com

POST A DAY 2013

Winter thou goest – Part II

By now, you’ve rested and eaten and are ready to get out and start exploring.  Well, you’ve come to the very best place to do that on the West Coast (maybe the world, LOL?).

The challenge in California has always been, not what to do, but what not to do. This is especially true of the northern half of the state, because it is gifted with every feature that attracts visitors and home buyers, both. It boasts mountains with world class skiing and snowboarding in winter, lakes for boating, shorelines with miles of glittering clean water and pale, windswept sands, forests with some of the worlds oldest and most magnificent trees and farmland enriched by year round growing seasons and good soil.  The fruit and vegetable capital of the world is in Central and Northern California. In turn, this bounty supplies farmer’s markets and dining establishments like no other place I have ever been, save the Amazon basin.

So, my task here is to tell you how to plan your visit to take advantage of these treasures without running yourselves ragged, trying to do it all.  If you have a few days, a week, two weeks, a month or a season, you will be able to see more and more of what NoCal has to offer. Since I started you in Oakland, because it is a microcosm of the best of California in one small area, I suggest you envision your visit in radiating concentric circles out from that starting point.  If you choose instead to jump to another area for a day, the wonderful thing is, there are many to choose from.  You could go to the fairy tale coastal town of Carmel, and then visit Half Moon Bay in one direction and the stunning Monterey Peninsula in another. If you want to drive up to Lake Tahoe, you can visit the seafood lover’s dream, quaint Sausalito and Marin County and its affluent neighborhoods on the way there or back. You can drive to the Redwoods and see the perfectly preserved early Victorian town of Eureka while you are there.  And Oregon and its miles of forests and streams will be in proximity.

But, if you choose to stay within a day’s driving distance of Oakland, or just to walk around the neighboring villages, as they are referred to, to Oakland itself, you will still have a varied, exciting, relaxing and memorable experience. You don’t need to go far — you are truly in a visitor’s wonderland right there in the East Bay.

Let me also recommend several ways to get here. I would skip flying into San Francisco’s airport, SFO. It is a hassle in many ways, including getting a rental car, which takes an inordinate amount of precious time.  Choose Oakland Airport instead. It is clean, modern and less known, hence fewer complications, both when arriving and leaving and renting a car. If you didn’t even want to rent a vehicle, you can take BART, the rapid transit system from Oakland Airport right into the heart of town.  The entire metropolitan area of San Francisco and the East Bay are served by  clean and efficient trains.

If you are driving up from Southern California, you have two choices: the scenic route along the Pacific or the more efficient Interstate 5 through the desert.  In winter, the 5 is a breeze. You can make the trip door to door in 6 hours from Downtown Los Angeles, for example.

Hugging the coast via El Camino Réal, the 101/1, will take about 9 hours but you could stop over in beautiful Big Sur.

If you do, stay at the Ventana Inn and enjoy a hot tub soak under the stars, overlooking the sea. It is magical and they not only have beautiful rooms, but exquisite food as well. In fact, it is perfect for honeymooners.

While you are there, why not check out Esalen Institute and take a class? That route takes you through picture perfect Carmel, too. You can also take the Amtrak Metroliner Coast Starlight along this same route. Beautiful, quiet, and relaxing. Leave in the evening to arrive next morning in San Francisco and then take BART to Oakland.

One thing I love about Oakland, is its close proximity via a long shoreline to downtown San Francisco.  If you can, take the Ferry at Jack London Square to the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market on the other side.  The views along the way are stunning and when you land, you will be in one of the premiere gourmet food spots on earth.  The SFFM is a permanent installation with restaurants, snack bars, fresh produce and gourmet specialty food stalls and right near transportation into Downtown SF.  One thing to do is find a honey or jam stand featuring locally produced condiments, in the nearby fruit basket of eastern and central California. You can do the Market in a morning and return to Oakland for something else in the afternoon. Or stay and visit Ghiradelli Square and the Embarcadero district of San Francisco, have dinner there and watch the sunset, then take the last ferry back to Oakland at night. Check the schedules.

Before we get too much farther along and stray into San Francisco (especially since it is easy to find information as to what the main attractions of the city are in so many other places and we have limited space here), I want to be sure I give you places to visit in Oakland proper and its environs.  Oakland is the third largest city in California but is small enough to boast a variety of unique neighborhoods. The areas listed below are known by name as villages, each with a different character and filled with shops, restaurants, landmarks, period residences, and

walking routes of interest: * Piedmont Avenue * Temescal * Rockridge * Grand Avenue and Lakeside Drive * Jack London Square and the Oakland Waterfront * Downtown Oakland. While you are at it, why not take a swim in Lake Temescal? Or stroll around Lake Merritt and view its bird sanctuary?

For transportation getting around town without taking a car, check into the BART system and the AC Transit system. And, of course, there is always Uber. So whether walking, bussing, training, driving, or Ubering, this concentrated yet expansive area is totally accessible, almost around the clock.

Another area immediately adjacent to Oakland and well worth visiting is Berkeley.  The University of California Berkeley’s 1200 acre campus itself is studded with rolling hills, gardens, forests and park-like lawns. The original layout and architecture are the work of renowned academic architect Frederick Law Olmstead who designed other elegant campuses in the 1880s. There are paths on which to stroll, the beautiful library that is open to sit and read awhile and soak up the classic atmosphere and all kinds of great places to pick up bargains and have coffee that ring the campus.

Once you are in the Berkeley campus area, you are in walking distance to special spots, for shopping and just absorbing the famous Berkeley environment. There are cafes and clubs for music at night and independent bookstores. Throughout the East Bay, mom and pop establishments take precedence and you are harder put to find a universally frowned upon chain store.

Right nearby are more villages and venues for being entertained. You may want to check out each, for its particular features: Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film ArchiveU.C. Museum of Paleontology * U.C. Botanical Garden * Tilden Park * Lawrence Hall of Science * Takara Sake * Pyramid Alehouse (I think the one in Berkeley is closed, so try the one in nearby Walnut Creek) *Scharffenberger Chocolate (the Scharffenbergers are friends of and were business associates of my late father-in-law) * Berkeley Bowl *Gourmet Ghetto * Fourth Street * Solano Avenue * Westbrae and Northbrae * San Pablo* Telegraph Avenue. Go to the links and scroll all the way down each page for an annotated list of restaurants to shopping to sightseeing points of interest.  When you are on Telegraph — the main drag in Berkeley — check out Kathmandu Imports for the most gorgeous colored hand woven garments and articles made from Tibetan and Nepalese fabrics.  I typically buy scarves for gifts there and people drool over them. Don’t go by the website, which is strangely unappealing and limited. Just go there and you will see what I mean.

Let me say a few special words about the Gourmet Ghetto. I gave you the link so you could see the best aspects of it yourself.  But there are two places you simply must not miss: The Cheese Board and Chez Panisse.

The latter, first.  Alice Waters, owner of Chez Panisse, was the original instigator of the gourmet revolution of the 1960s that started right here, just a few steps from the Berkeley Campus. Alice later went on to advocate what is commonly called now “slow food” which is opposed to the fast food junkaholism that has dominated the post WWII eating economy.  Waters grew the fresh foods in her Berkeley area garden and cooked them in her restaurants, the recipes for many of which appeared in her cookbooks.  I have been to Chez Panisse several times. There is typically a long wait to get an advanced reservation and can be a harried experience once you arrive and have to wait anyway. The food is good, maybe even great. For the price, the wait, and the hype, I will let you decide if you should do it, just once or skip it. But, it is truly a one of a kind event.  The menu changes every single day, depending on what is fresh and local that morning.  The quality of the place has remained stable over decades.  If nothing else, take a selfie in front of it!

The Cheese Board has similar issues.  First of all, there is a long line to even get in the door, and then a long wait to choose from a stupefying array of the most exotic and exquisite cheeses and breads you have ever had.  I would do it, if I were you. It is well worth it.  Pick up their bread making book while you are at it.  Try the cheese breads among others. Sigh, just talking about this makes me want to jump in the car and head north right this minute.

Two other places you really should go while in that Berkeley campus area are Masse’s pastries – OMG, I won’t tell you why. Just go and you will know. And, of course, the first, the original and best Peet’s Coffee.  The finest coffee sold in this country started right here in Berkeley.

One more recommendation for the ladies here is one of my favorite clothing stores, ever, Earthly Goods in Berkeley on Vine Street. Wonderful, classic but up to date clothes for virtually any body type, shoes and accessories, a bit costly but with great sales.  Check it out.

Once you feel you have exhausted all of Oakland’s riches, you know you are right in the center of an area so loaded with attractions that I would have to devote another series of posts to cover them all (which I might do in the future). But, here is a short list of some of them  — among them ones I mentioned at the top of this post and in Part I, starting with the Monterey Aquarium, a must-see if you are traveling with children.  Redwood Empire * Sierra Mountains * Sonoma County * Lake Tahoe * Carmel * Big Sur * Marin County *Monterey * Sausalito * Muir Woods * Yosemite * Napa Valley * Mount Tamalpais * Palo Alto and Stanford University.

See Part I: Where to stay and eat when you are not shopping or sightseeing ;-D

Images: Oakland and its environs in the Public domain from travel sites, Chambers of Commerce and the establishments themselves

 

 

 

 

 

Hostel California

I did not want to write about this at all. I had next week’s post (wait for it) in progress. And then Glenn Frey died. It was just impossible to ignore his passing and write an anodyne post in a time when two other  performers I cared about passed away as well.

Old Pasadena January 2016

It seems my California entertainment community is just plain getting old. Not that 67, 69 and 70 are old. Not any more. Seventy is the new fifty, as far as I am concerned.  So, what happened? Now, you and I are both thinking that we cannot extrapolate to anything greater than three freak co-incidents. We shouldn’t run away with this and see anything larger at work here. Yet … it did start the wheels of my imagination spinning.

Is it the storied 60s, 70s, 80s debauchery catching up with these guys? Does their exceptional genius and high-powered career simply burn them out? I am beginning to feel like California is becoming a place talent comes to, well, marinate in excess and the temptation of easy living, and then simply drain their energies away. Alice Bailey, the infamous Theosophist warned of the perils of what she called glamour — the material world. I have said it before, Los Angeles is seductive.  You arrive and you never leave. There is something so prophetic about that song. Just the first few bars of it and I am right there, back in the witchy womanish dark syrup that is Hollywood.

You simply cannot escape it. Even my husband’s business largely depends on the entertainment industry. The buildings he saves and restores are often funded by the studios or the stars, for one or another purpose.

Most of these guys are not from here.  They come, like so many fresh-faced talented ingenues, from every place else. But when they get here, they are drawn like flies to the honey pot. It’s just yea-close, that success, that heady promise of being forever young and lovely, and loved.

Pasadena Village Life January 2016

Would I deny Glenn Frey the phenomenal impact he had? Those lines he wrote: “… it’s a girl my lord, in a flatbed Ford, slowin’ down to take a look at me”. Haven’t every one of us memorized every single syllable and doesn’t the imagery in those songs become etched into our subconscious? Is there anything more vivid than arch lines those rockers pulled right out of the Akashic ethers and set to music at a pace that got us up off our feet to simply throw our hands up in the air and shout for a soaring joy? With that music we were airborne. Pure LA sound.

And while I am at it, may I just say, what strikes me as well, as I consider this somber and more occult side of California, and Los Angeles in particular, is the fact that we are about to celebrate the Oscars and once again, underwrite — however unwittingly — the industry’s overt hostility to people of color. It is remarkable in its asynchrony with the times in which we are living and the movement toward more diversity, representation and celebration of this salmagundi that is the urban megalopolis. The other brooding secret of Hollywood is #OscarsSoWhite. Just as police forces should reflect the community they serve, so should our film enterprise.

No, we don’t have the opioid addiction of heroin to deal with here. We have something far more potent. We have the den of pleasure, and ease, and beauty and sex that flows out of Hollywood like a fragrant lava that just envelopes everyone and thing in its path. You just don’t come here to work or live and expect that it will not consume you.

So if you have any serious living to do, better get on with it before you come. Come here when you are ready to go no where else.

Union Street Pasadena January 1 2016

Goodbye Glenn-Frey. And take it easy.

Images: Chez BeBe assets: Pasadena – taken with my cell phone on January 1

 

Sunning up roses

This year is off to a great start. So, I thought I would reflect that in the name of the post and the pictures — all taken at the Rose Parade for the 137th Tournament of Roses, in Pasadena.  It seemed that whenever I went to Pasadena to take pictures in the past few years, it was overcast.  Not this year and not this particular day.  It was the perfect time (morning) and light for photography. Tell me what you think.

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Also, for some reason, I had a huge spike in visits to this blog yesterday — out of the blue. And, in just these first two weeks of 2016, I have welcomed to this community a bunch of new members.  I have no idea why, other than some obscure exogenous factor, but thank you and welcome.

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So, what’s new with us here? For one thing, we upgraded our security and phone systems again and now have a sophisticated array that should keep our synapses firing while we learn how to use everything and not trigger it ourselves, LOL. We also put a new BluRay system on the TV that comes bundled with all sorts of streaming programming like Vudu and Hulu and Netflix, etc.  We finally have our home and garden just the way we want them.

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Now, what will I do with my non-working time? Clean, of course. Shop, but not for clothes. I am embarrassed to say that this past year I added so many new things that I literally and I mean it this time, have not an inch of space left for any new items. Haven’t even worn a lot of the purchases and most still have the tags on them. So, Basta, per un po ‘. I am also working on recording my own vocals to make MP3s for the video slideshows I produce for family and friends, so that is something exciting to look forward to.

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I was so sad that David Bowie left us. One never realizes how influential one of these icons is, until they are gone. Never a huge fan of the music, per se, but liked his kitchy creativity and overall evolutions.  Seemed like a good man, too. And now Alan Rickman. Both so young.

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May I just insert a few words about the Dems and this election. Are these young’uns ignorant or what? There is no way this country is going to have any success with the pie in the sky, expensive fantasies promised by the New York liberal socialist Mr. Sanders. If the Democrats are foolish enough to nominate him, they will lose the election. He cannot enact his plans and ideas, no matter how sexy they are — if this congress thwarted the reasonable Mr. Obama, just imagine how they will burn Bernie. Idealism vs pragmatism is at stake here — not in all things, mind you — but in this particular instance. Be smart, progressives, elect the only choice we have who can actually win and/or keep the progress we have made. OK, that’s all I’m going to say on that. :-D

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For once, I don’t have much to report and since the only theme of this post is sunshine and new beginnings and creativity and fun, I will concentrate on sharing these photographs. I took hundreds, hauling three cameras with me that day and snapping shots amid the chaos of the crowds and the group we treated to Pasadena — 18 people in all. It was madness, but the good kind.

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Next week, I hope to have my winter travel post up. And after that, who knows. Let’s be serendipitous, shall we?

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And, once again, to all my new friends in this burgeoning community, please do comment, stop by to say hello. I always respond and I am grateful and honored to welcome every single one of you. Hugs!

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Images: Chez BeBe/ Pasadena Rose Parade floats

Contempkin village

Well, first, Happy New Year everyone!

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I meant to put something up sooner but last week was New Year’s day and we were off to the Rose Parade in Pasadena, where I took a lot of pictures, many of which are in progress on my Photostream right now.  Besides which, we had up to 15 guests staying at our modest abode over the holidays and every minute was pandemonium.  I won’t even go into it. Net-net, it was glorious and we had a ball but there were the usual mishaps: sick children, lost cell phones, missed deadlines, long lines to events, dinners out with Geoffrey and me falling asleep over our plates since we kept our up at 4 am schedule and had to party until late at night.

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It was great, thrilled that we had such a good time and glad it’s over. It has taken me all week to clean up my usually immaculate house and also juggle work that flooded in at the beginning of January for some reason.  I finally have a minute to post, hence these pictures which are perhaps a bit long in the tooth at this point, but were next in the hopper.  Next week, Rose Parade pictures, a bit more timely.

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Also, after months of bone dry heat, December ended bitter cold and January kicked off sunny, cold, then raining torrents. We took our chairs outside and sat in it just to get that old home feeling of normal precipitation, crazy as that sounds. You don’t know the downside of hot and dry until you have vacuumed and dusted a 3000 square foot house with animals, nearby freeway, and high desert particles blowing on fierce winds all the time.  Keeping this place clean is like painting the Golden Gate Bridge — it never ends.

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Oh, speaking of which, I have a winter travel post coming up to take the place of my Fall in NY sticky page. I am a bit behind the curve on that one, but it is on the docket.

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Back to the title of this post. Valencia is the original Potempkin Village — not what it seems or at least, it is what it seems and that in itself is the problem for some people, me being one of them. I have so resisted the manicured, low profile, monotony of this area for the whole time I have been here, that I made myself unhappy and restless when I might have simply chosen it as the neutral background against which to live my unique version of the California experience.

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It is all cast into high relief when visitors come. Many of them are from back East where life is far more complex, serious and perhaps pessimistic (realistic?) than it seems to be in the Golden State.  I can see the way my guests look when they step off the plane and contrast it with them stepping on it again to return home. They come heavy and leave light. I know I am not imagining it.

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Life is just easier here in California, simple as that. The weather is uniformly mild, food grows effortlessly and is abundant and relatively inexpensive, people just don’t talk about politics or frown on it, there are many places to go and have fun. Town after town has easily accessible attractions almost for free, whether it is the beaches or the parks or the zoos or the restaurants and theaters.  The state is one long megalopolis of high times and good living.  So, our guests dropped off their stuff and headed to the sand or snow, to surf and ski and sail. They hardly knew what to do first. Their enthusiasm is always contagious.

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My goal again this year is to shrug off the contempt I have felt for a life that doesn’t involve the same struggles I expect. To let people who have just never had a major setback be as indifferent to the causes of the world (many of them mine) as they like without me judging and rejecting them. The photography has helped and so has this blog because I realize more and more as I express my NY dissatisfactions with the easygoing natives here that perhaps just relaxing into good fortune and effortless happiness is better than battling for more awareness of those that don’t experience them.  After all, I could have chosen to live somewhere that needed my help instead of being surrounded by people who seem to need nothing at all, who have everything anyone could ask for. Why should I try to make them aware of what is simply not a factor in their glowing world? And, I hope this is not just ovine politesse, but sincere transformation of perspective. I am working on it!

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Meanwhile, you might see me kvetch from time to time here anyway, as the one place where I can at least raise my hand and say, “But, not everyone has it this good. Let’s remember them”. Hope you don’t mind!

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And, I will try to get around to your place and catch up. Forgive me for being MIA lately.  I should get back on track now.

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Next week, Pasadena — always a happy subject.

Images: Chez BeBe – my neighborhood: Valencia Heights

 

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