We have a visitor from Denmark at the moment. My mother has flown to the US and thus “threeonthego” has turned into “fouronthego” for a few weeks. She arrived shortly before Christmas, and will travel with us until early January. We have already had many great experiences together with her, and we still have some to come, before she heads back home. All three of us are excited that she wants to come all the way over to spend some time with us. Christmas just got a little more cozy and warm. Needless to say Anton is over the moon to have his grandmother on tour and he could not really understand that she was actually here, when we picked her up at the airport hotel where she spent her first night after the long flight over.
One of the most important points on our to-do list was “The Golden Gate Bridge”. Built in the years 1933-37 it is a gigantic monument stretching across the San Francisco Bay. A beautiful evidence that in spite of the hard times during the 1930´s, they did accomplish great things here. And judging from the overall condition of the bridge you would not think that it is almost 80 years old. A team of apprx 50 workers are working permanently on maintaining the construction. Painters, smiths etc. We did find small traces of rust here and there, but age and location considered it was nothing!
When standing on the bridge itself you can enjoy a stunning view over the bay area and downtown San Francisco. You will have to put up with a lot of noise from the thousands of cars that are crossing every day, 24 hours a day, all year round. The Golden Gate is a 6 lane highway with biking lanes and walkways on both sides. Around 105.000 vehicles daily, or apprx. 38,5 million per year are crossing. You really feel the weight of the traffic when you are standing on the bridge, looking out and down. This is not for anyone who is afraid of heights! We did not find it uncomfortable, but every time a large truck passed by behind us, we felt the “bump” and the movement of the steel.
Another highlight in San Francisco was the so called “Cable Cars”. They are also one of the true landmarks of the city. It is actually a type of tram, but instead of electricity it is driven by cables that are placed underground, driving/towing it forward. Inside the cars there is only a manual hand break, manned by a “Cable Car Driver”. The cars are partly open and we all sat outside on benches, sideways, feet pointed towards the traffic on both sides. No safety belts or bars to keep us in our seats. Of course there are bars to hold on to when the cars are moving, but if you do not keep a firm grip you might end up having a ride far more exciting than you intended! Having said that, the Cable Cars are really not moving very fast, so I guess the immediate danger is not that big. We let Anton sit on the benches outside with us, keeping him close with a firm grip. As we sat there we felt the winter chill and the massive number of cars passing by in high speed. At times I thought they were really close and really fast! Accidents do happen, but not as often as you would think. Our ride started at the bottom of California Street and went all the way up to the top of the line. Both on our way up and upon going back down we could enjoy the view from our seats. Like many other american cities San Francisco is built on the traditional “grid” with streets and avenues running perpendicular to each other. We could see straight across the city, all the way down to the harbour and even parts of the bay area from the higher points along the line. It was a great and exciting experience for us all. But not exactly cheap! A ONE WAY ticket was 6 dollars per adult! 12 dollars for a 30 minutes ride up and down the hill was slightly above what I find reasonable. This is public transportation! I am not surprised that most locals are using other means of transportation, leaving the Cable Cars to the tourists. Having said that, I still think it is a must do when in San Francisco!
Christmas was spent in Silicon Valley. We did think of booking a hotel in downtown San Francisco, but as we would be needing a small kitchenette, prices would be way above our budget. We skipped those initial plans. Also, when staying in the city centre you really should take advantage of all the great offers (culturally) that the city has to offer. Traveling with a 3 year old child we would not be able to do that. All we needed was a roof over our heads, and a place to spend some quality time together as a family. At a reasonable price. We found what we were looking for in Sunnyvale. Just 40 minutes south of San Francisco. We had 2 suites, so that my mother could go to her own place and we could have our own time when needed. And we could go visit each other. The perfect combination. Plus they both had kitchenettes making it possible for us to cook some light meals. The more “heavy” Christmas dishes were “cancelled” this year! :-)
We really did not want to cook on the 24th of December. So we went to a nice restaurant in nearby Mountain View, recommended by our local friend Thomas. It was an american “Steakhouse” and they served some of the best steaks we have had in a very long time! It was quite a highpoint and an absolute perfect Christmas dinner for us. We went back to the hotel early to have a bit of danish/german Christmas for ourselves. We had decorated our own little plastic tree with coloured LED lights and kitschy ornaments. And without Antons knowledge we had been able to place all the presents around it before we left for dinner. Upon our return we let him open the door. We had told him that IF the lights on the tree were on, we would know that Santa Claus had been there (or in german the “Christkind” which is actually not exactly the same thing, but it doesn’t really matter for him!) and presents would have been delivered! In the days prior to Christmas Evening Anton had had some difficulties “adjusting” to the concept of us advising Santa Claus about his wishes but not making the final decisions. In his world we should rather just walk into a store a collect whatever he wanted. Patiently we kept repeating that Santa would decide what he would bring, and ONLY if Anton had been nice would he get anything at all! We had also told him that most likely Santa would be too busy to hang around and wait for our return, so Anton would have to sort the presents and hand them to us by turn. It took him about 5 minutes to rip off the paper of all the presents and then it was time to play with all the wonderful new toys. Fortunately such a little boy is happy with just little things, and he does not care about how much or little it costs. We got him toys related to his little universe, such as planes from the “Planes” movie, cars from “Cars” and he was happy. The good thing about celebrating Christmas in the US is that toys are so much cheaper than they are elsewhere. About one-third of what we would have had to pay in Australia or New Zealand! Great! Furthermore, the number of gifts were kept to a minimum. We are still traveling with backpacks, so everything will HAVE to fit into a very crammed space. For a child less is more anyway, as long as he gets things that he really wants. So Anton was a very happy boy that evening! The “Santa Claus concept” and his influence on the presents may take some getting used to though! But Christmas as such is definitely a concept worth keeping!
Christmas Day his grandmother had a well deserved break, after our morning trip to Half Moon Bay by the Pacific Coast. We wanted to see some of the local surfers, that had chosen to spend a part of their Christmas on their board in the water. (25th of December is THE main Christmas celebration day over here). The Pacific Ocean was beautiful and we had some fun for a while filling Anton’s new airplanes with sand. It didn’t matter! They survived!
In the afternoon we were invited to visit some local, english friends that we know from Alexandra’s sister in London. Or rather, we were invited to come home to some of their friends. So we drove from Sunnyvale to San Rafael, a northern suburb to San Francisco, to have a wonderful afternoon with them all. Filled with great food, wine, drinks, and even english “Christmas Pudding” - which was a pleasant surprise. I have never tried it, but have heard that it can be somewhat “special” to foreigners. It was great! 10 adults and 8 children in total. Most of them englishmen now living here. And the three of us. It was obvious that a lot of work, heart and passion had been put into making this day special for all of us. The food, the decorations... Anton had a lot of children to play with even though he was the youngest of them all. But they were really good to him and made sure that he had a lot of fun. All three of us really enjoyed this day. The only accident happened when Anton stepped on the cover of the small hot pool in the garden, and went all the way through. We were constantly observing him, but lost focus for just a second. Anton LOVES water and he DOES know how to respect it, but curious as he is, this just became too much of a temptation. Alexandra actually saw it coming half a second before it happened and shouted to him to back off from the edge. Too late! Soaked in water up to his belly! It only took 5 seconds and he did not even get scared. Quickly we got all of his wet clothes off and found the extra set in the car (thank God we had brought an extra set with us!). The clothes were quickly dried and the games in the garden (and around the pool) continued with no further incidents! It is a good thing that the San Francisco winter is not as cold as a danish or german winter. Then the situation would have been much more serious. Later in the afternoon Anton was fishing up a football from the water, but he made sure to not fall into the water. He had learned a lesson!
Thank you Andrew and Kate for having us all. Thank you Jo and Mike for bringing us along. And thank you Denny, Kim and Richard, plus all kids for making the day special! We hope to see you again either here or in Europe some time in a not too distant future!