Last day : Lodi to San Francisco

Poppy has a sleep over last night so Jordan took her for a walk to get our coffee ! Great start to the last day.

Lisa went to work a little bit later to make the most of Poppy time and to farewell me.

Right on 10am John , Jordan and I set off for San Francisco. It’s a beautiful warm, blue day and they are taking me all the way to San Francisco. About 1.5 hrs with some great signs along the way.

It was an interesting drive past vineyards and into the delta area where we sang the song ‘ drove my chevi to the levy but the levy was dry ‘

There are a number of levy here which cater for the farms in the area. Many crops are grown here.

I could sing my way around America!

‘Are you going to San Francisco….’

‘Do you know the way to San Jose….’

Visiting any area of America produces the opportunity to sing about it!

We arrived via the rather beautiful Bay Bridge. It was replaced after an earthquake brought down part of the old bridge.

It has a great approach and is a rather lovely structure.

We arrived into SF and drove along the Embarcadero………

past all the rejuvenated piers until we reached pier 39.

We parked the car and walked out on pier to Scomos. It’s an old restaurant – like bring on a ship. I had a great shrimp salad. And a glass of Rose!

Last time I’ll see Jordan before baby M arrives!

The day was perfect so we walked along the water. I admired the people swimming! It would be just a little chilly!

Then John took me on a tour. Of course the famous zig zag Lombard St featured.

The views down Lombard St.

We arrived at Grove St at a rather small hotel, one block from the painted ladies of Alamo Park. John and Jordan helped me in and then it was goodbye. Next time I see my daughter in law will be with a baby in her arms.

As the weather was so lovely I headed straight out. Up the hill to Alamo Park and the infamous Painted Ladies. SF style houses painted different colours.

My hotel is just down the street to the left.

I then walked …… and walked……. past some great houses.

Past public buildings

City Hall
Love the circular rooms
Mosaics
Opera & Ballet Theatre
Great street art.

Until I had passed numerous homeless people to reach Union Square where I had stayed years ago.

By now I was quite exhausted so had a cup of tea! Watched the passing parade and caught an Uber back to the Grove Inn.

I refreshed in my little room and went to the Alamo Square Seafood Grill. What a find. It was a little FRENCH ! place and I had the best fish fish! Grilled blackened snapper with delicious veg. And a glass of Chardonnay.

In & Out in Lodi.

I’ve been told by many people to experience the taste sensations of the local burger place. Or is that palace?

Recently, Qantas, our Australian airline, wrote that when in LA one shouldn’t miss out on visiting an In & Out Burger.
Started in 1948 it is basically the same today. Read about it here :

https://www.in-n-out.com/mobile/history.aspx


I was told it was better than McDonalds!So today John , his mother Ann and I visited an In & Out. Jordan was working from home so passed. Perhaps avoiding a burger !

My first impressions. Bright, clean, with the feel of an American diner – what I think is a diner!

I went for the basic cheeseburger. And we shared the ‘animal fries’ what are these! No not fries in the shape of an animal. They are fries topped – or loaded with cheese and a chopped onion.

We helped ourselves to the drinks while waiting for our number to be called.

I checked out the kitchen where the staff, all looking very neat and tidy we busy freshly chopping potatoes for the fries and serving at the take away windows.

John collecting our order

We settled into booth. And checked out the food. Neatly wrapped burgers.

Well presented cheeseburger!

It wasn’t too big so I really enjoyed it.

We cruised around the big streets of Lodi past other drive in shopping areas and made another stop at My Yoghurt. Yum!

The owners are neighbours of John & Lisa. In fact they seem to know someone every time we go out. Lodi isn’t that big.

I stopped in at Ann’s place to look at her garden. She a keen potter- taking cuttings and successfully nurturing them ! She’s a loving grandma to Jordan as was reflected in the present from her grandchildren on her 80 birthday. Take a read of this ….

We picked up Poppy, John & Lisa’s 2 year old granddaughter, and went for a walk to the beach. I really love this community private park and river beach.

Poppy is gorgeous and much loved by all the Donati family. My grandson will be born into a loving family, so I couldn’t be happier.

Lisa cooked a lovely family meal for my last night. Thank you John & Lisa for making me part of your family.

Baby Shower Fun

An early start for a fun set up.

Beautiful food

flowers ✔️ glasses ✔️napkins ✔️ plates✔️champagne chilled ✔️bibs, singlets, fabric pens✔️ balloons ✔️bundini✔️ quiche✔️

The girls arrived. The champagne popped and the chatter began.

Traditions in countries differ in the way people celebrate the mother to be.

Perhaps readers have some traditions they have ….. please share in the comments at the end of this post.

All the girls arrived. Neighbours popped by and beautifully wrapped presents gifted to Jordan for her baby.

Guests were invited to design a bib, singlet or little baby suit. The ideas were terrific.

Even little guests had a design in mind.
Mine said Surfer Dad, Surfer Boy.

The food was delicious and the few baby games we played were lots of fun.

A great gift from Claire in Australia
Absolutely glowing.
Surrounded by love and presents.
My beautiful daughter in law

Travel: has its ups and downs

Receiving the invitation to Jordan’s baby shower at the end of January started me thinking!

Why not surprise Jordan by arriving for her baby shower?

Rob and Jordan live in New York but the baby shower was to be in Lodi, north California.

I checked…… I could get a points flight. Done – booked.

Flight day arrived ( Lisa and John were in on the secret and ready to meet me in San Francisco)

Arriving at the airport nice and early I tried to check in. No!

Qantas had no record of my ESTA. ( Despite having seen it was valid until March)

So no check in!

I had to apply for a new ESTA and rebook on a flight the next day. Only problem. It was out of Sydney.

Long story short. I flew to Sydney and onto a 6pm flight. Luckily I still was able to get a whole row of seats to myself ( thank you Pat)

Jordan’s dad picked me up at and we drove to Lodi. It’s a small place about two hours east of San Fran. In a wine region.

Passing through Stockton we collected crabs for dinner and headed home to surprise Jordan.

The reaction was amazing. I walked into the house. Jordan was on the phone with Rob( who was back in NY) and screamed and started sobbing! I think it was a joyful sob!

Rob was just as surprised – but with out the sobbing. Then asked why I hadn’t told him, as he would have come across from NY!

We had a big, happy, family night with crab, salad and lovely local wine. From Ann ( Jordan’s grandma down to Poppy aged 2 ) it was a fun night. My jet lag was non existent. When surrounded by happiness it’s hard to be jet lagged.

But finally into bed

On Safari in Yala

A 5.30 start for our safari. We gathered for tea in the dark and then down to the lagoon where our safari trucks were waiting.

All aboard the trucks and off we went

The early morning light was beautiful. Serene and soft.

Down the main drive of Cinnamon Wild and along the dusty red road to the National Parks ticket office : that’s when we noticed the number of other safari trucks!

A herd of trucks? A flock of trucks? More a convoy.

First thing we spied was the peacock. Gorgeous turquoise fan tail. We loved it. But I must say, by the end of the day it was ……. get out of the way bird we have bigger things to see! Poor thing.

We were searching for the elusive leopard. Would we see it?

We saw deer, warthogs, buffalo, birds, and the amazing elephant. But no leopard.

We even saw several crocodiles. But no leopard.

We stopped at the beach which was where the tsunami hit. There is a memorial there outlining what happened. It’s hard to believe the devastation it caused. 47 lives were lost just near where we were. Strangely, no animals died. They sensed it and had moved away.

It’s sad to see where it happened. We stood on the beach and remembered.

Then it was back into the truck and off again. The search was reaching a climax. We only had an hour of our safari left.

Unfortunately we returned happy with our adventure but felt we needed more – so 6 of us decided to go on the afternoon safari. Yesterday they saw the leopard in the afternoon. Would we?

We were dusty and tired but after a swim were ready for the Christmas cake adventure. The chefs were around the pool using 30kg of fruit to make an elephant shape. Why ?

It’s something they do every year with guests. They make the shape of an elephant out of fruit and nuts. Add the alcohol then get the guests to don plastic gloves and mix it. They put it away for 1 month then bake several large cakes for Christmas.

It was so much fun!

I had an hour to rest and prepare for safari number 2!

At 2.30 the keen leopard hunters: Carmel, Peter, Marcelle, Jill, Steve and myself headed out again!

Our driver took to the challenge with a keenness we admired. He was determined. So for 4 hours we searched.

We lurked in dusty roads. We hid behind trees! We waited.

Then we saw not a leopard but a charging male elephant.

There was a truck a hundred metres ahead of us. They must have had food on board. The elephant came out of the bush and bumped up against the truck he poked his trunk and tusk into the truck!

We backed up. The man in the checked shirt nearly burst out of the back of the truck.

He had another go. The truck rocked. Would it tip over? Fortunately not.

He headed back into the bush.

Such excitement!

We continued our search when our driver got a call. There was one nearby. We raced there. There were other trucks ahead of us. The leopard was in a tree. We waited for our turn to draw level, when he left the tree and disappeared into the bush. Such disappointment.

We searched for another hour but no luck! We did see a mother elephant and her baby.

And a jackal.

We headed back to our resort.

In time to shower off the dust and dress for dinner.

The girls certainly polish up well!

We shared our story of the search for the leopard over drink – which we had to have in a cabin, as the resort wasn’t serving alcohol due to it being poya – full moon.

We found the rules for elephants at the resort.

Read it!

The last two lines are hysterical.

The Long & Winding Road to Yala

I woke to mist and low clouds. This place is amazing.

By the time we had a leisurely breakfast the sun was out , the cloud had lifted and it was beautiful.

Onto the bus for a long trip towards the south coast.

We’re headed for Yala National Park one of the largest parks in Sri Lanka. It is home to the leopard.

The main road down had suffered some landslides in the rain so we had to take a more minor road.

Our driver is a legend! He drove under hard conditions with buses and trucks, cars and tuks all forced to fight for right of way. Lots of backing up to let someone pass.

The advantage of the back road was that the scenery and local life was right up close. We passed done rubber plantations and amazing bee hives high up in trees.

We also passed some amazing waterfalls. After the heavy rain last night they were falling at full pelt.

The second one was higher and more spectacular and even a local monkey looked impressed.

Continuing on the driver looked for a suitable place to stop for our Remembrance Day service. This day at 11am on the 11th Nov Australians stop to remember those who have fought and lost their lives in conflict.

We found the perfect spot. A grove of yellow cassias trees. All green and gold , the Australian colours. Steve led the Remembrance with the poem ‘In Flanders Fields’. Very poignant.

The road continued and Jill started her Name that Tune game. She had lots of songs on her phone. But just the first few bars. They were all 70’s songs and we had to name them. We took awhile to warm up but were soon ‘in the groove’ and singing and naming those tunes! Kath was a bit of a star.

Nature called and we had to have a toilet stop in the next town. All our driver could find was a small supermarket which had one loo at the back.

It took that long for us all to go! So whilst waiting we bought some goodies for a bus lunch. We didn’t want to stop and waste time. So everyone went round and chose something for our bus picnic. There was all manner of junk food! Chips, chocolate, biscuits and cheese ( not so bad!) but the best was the big bag of cones and two tubs of ice cream. Chocolate and vanilla. Rob and Pam set up shop on the bus and Jill was the Uber of ice cream!

What a treat. We were told not to eat the cone so we could have seconds!

The fun and games continued until we turned off for Cinnamon Wild at Yala.

It’s set back from the beach but has a lagoon complete with crocodiles.

Driving into the resort we passed monkeys, warthogs, water buffalo and watched out for elephants.

The resort buildings are beautiful.

Our jungle cabin is lovely.

We are warned not to walk to, or from, the cabin after dark. Exciting.

We enjoyed a quick swim before drinks and dinner. The buffet was just great. So many choices.

We are off on safari tomorrow so an early night. Four of us girls walked back with a staff member who scanned the bush for animals. Then said ‘do you want up see the lagoon!’ We walked to the lagoon and he shone the torch around and we saw two crocodiles! Only about 100 metres from us.

A quick walk back to the cabins for an early night before our 5 am start tomorrow.

A Garden Walk

I opted out of the trek this morning. My poor knee wasn’t feeling great.

So the team left very early and I went for a more sedate walk through the hotel gardens and the Victoria Park gardens nearby.

Follow my trail.

Past the fountain to the children’s playground

Good morning to hotel staff and past the sculptured hedges.

Reading each of the little signs along the way.

To the one under our top floor corner room.

I followed the track down out of the hotel to the Victoria Park gardens which at 7.30 only had workers in there. It was a quiet oasis.

The children’s garden

Then out and around the town before heading back to the hotel, spotting Mike and John other non trekkers.

Breakfast was wonderful. I shared it with Mark, who also didn’t walk due to an ankle injury.

I’m now waiting for the walkers to return. I know I’ll be sorry when they tell me about their adventures.

On the road to Kandy

Yoga at 6.30 is always a good idea in a foreign place. It wakes you up and gives you the chance to have a good stretch.

Yesterday afternoon I swam about a kilometre in the beautiful pool which got rid of some soreness from the climb up Sigiriya yesterday.

The grounds of the hotel were lovely and quiet as I walked to the padi museum for yoga. Staff we’re sweeping and raking to make the grounds look even more pristine than they are already.

Turns out the teacher was my lovely massage therapist from yesterday.

Pam, Kathy, Jill and myself lined up on our pink mats and bent and stretched ourselves into a sweat. It felt good.

Then off to pack up before breakfast. I’ll miss this lovely hotel as we leave this morning for Kandy. On the map it doesn’t look far but will take some time. The roads are narrow and slow and we have two stops planned.

I love looking at the jungle so close to the road and the houses perched in amongst the trees.

The first stop is at the Regent 6 Herb and Spice Farm. An absolutely hysterical guy took us around the garden telling us about the plants and what they could do for us. Apparently they can cure everything. We were given a bit of a massage and it was fun to see everyone getting into the spirit of it. I did buy some massage oil for my sore swollen knee and some sandlewood oil for my face. Let’s hope it works!

Funny experience but if you go you shouldn’t feel pressured to buy. It is overpriced!

We moved onto the Matale Heritage Centre just outside of Matale. It’s a craft centre that draws on the traditions of the area and produces beautiful batik and embroidery.

We had to leave the bus on the roadside and get tuk tuks up to the centre. It’s in a jungle with trees full of monkeys!

We arrived for lunch which local woman had prepared for us. Really lovely local Sri Lankan dishes – mostly vegetable.

There were beautiful batik table clothes and napkins and the walls of the house were painted in rich colours and patterns.

The ladies who prepared the beautiful lunch explained each dish – all very traditional.

After lunch we went to watch the ladies painting the batik.

The work involved de-starching the cloth to setting out the design, waxing, dying, and removal of the wax for a second colour by boiling off the wax, repeating this process several times over…..’

We saw the house of the batik artist who is quite famous here. She had worked with Geoffrey Bawa. Her name is Ena de Silva and she died in 2015 though her designs are still being recreated. The ladies were working on a commission for a big hotel in Galle. The designs are beautiful.

Read about Ena here. She is like the Sri Lankan version of Australia’s Margaret Olley.

http://www.sundaytimes.lk/110724/Plus/plus_01.html

It’s wonderful to know the traditional crafts of this country are still being created.

This lady took us to the little shop and we bought a few things including a beautiful hand stitched elephants for my grandchildren.

We moved on to Kandy about 40 km distance away but it was slow going. We arrived at our hotel Radh at around 5pm. It’s new and about a block back from the lake and the Temple of the Tooth.

We had our own Melbourne Cup sweep so watched the race on the hotel’s large screen. It was rather fitting that our driver and our security guard won second and third place. They won a nice amount of money and were thrilled.

We walked to the lovely old Queens Hotel and sat by the pool for a drink, paid for by our first place cup winner John.

We finished the night with a lovely light dinner – after our feast at lunch it was all that was needed.

On the road to Sigiriya

An early morning swim set me up for the day. It was quiet by the pool as the waves crashed against the the rocks below.

Breakfast on the terrace was relaxed and fun with our group coming together to plan the day ahead. Eating egg hopper with curry and dahl certainly lines the stomach.

We even had breakfast entertainment provided. A man in uniform had a slingshot and was shooting stones at the local crows. Quite a sight !

The bus with our guide Hema arrived on time at 9.45 and we headed off. Today we head to Sigiriya Rock. The ancient rock is probably the most visited site in Sri Lanka and tomorrow some of us are climbing. It has something like 12,000 to climb to reach the top where there are the remains of the palace.

The bus trip was slow, the roads fairly narrow with the usual style of driving. Cars overtaking & lots of beeping feature. We passed paddi fields, business selling all manner of things, tuk tuks not yo mention trucks! We had a short stop to buy bags of local cashews. So tasty.

We reached Karunegala and Pinnawala Elephant refuge just before the daily wash began. We had time to see the elephants where they roam, before heading down to the river to watch the elephants enjoy a little freedom.

It is a refuge for elephants injured or orphaned. It started in 1982. There are varying reports that say it’s not humane to keep the elephants like this and that they are never released back into the wild. Yes, we did see some chained. They are apparently the males who can be hard to control. But the elephants we saw in the river seemed to be really enjoying their time playing and lying in the shallows.

We had lunch on a terrace overlooking the river while the elephants were relaxed and playing. It was beautiful to watch.

It will be interesting to compare with seeing elephants in their own environment in the national park in Yala when we get there.

We continued on after lunch for the final drive past Dambula to the hotel Aliya. The bus bar opened and rum & coke and G& Ts were served. There was a little singing and the boys down the back were relaxed and having fun. We arrived at Aliya. A truely beautiful place. Our welcome was warm and our welcome drink cold and yummy. The hotel has rooms set along pebbles paths, surrounded by trees which in time should grow and disguise the resort from above.

Our room is big and comfortable with lovely leaf designs on the bed. ‘Welcome’ it said and we did feel very welcome.

Dinner was a buffet. Full of tasty curries it was hard to know where to start. But we all finished with curds and treacle a local favourite.

Tomorrow we climb Sigiriya. I hope my knee holds up. Only about 1,000 stairs.

Cave Temple and Bawa

Breakfast hoppers are becoming a favourite with the whole group. If only the lady who makes them lived in Brisbane. She makes about 200 a day! And they are delicious.

After breakfast I wandered around the hotel taking photos. It’s a beautiful design with so many attractive features. Not a Geoffrey Bawa design but so lovely and in tune with the environment.

Into the bus and away we drove through lush countryside almost jungle like right to the road.

Arriving at the gates to the temple we were told the temples in the caves were once overgrown with jungle.

We climbed the hill to the entrance removed our shoes and tackled the hot cobble stones into the temple. Time for a group photo. The boys had to cover their legs with sarongs and the ladies their legs if wear shorts above the knee and shoulders if not wearing sleeves. We made a great looking group.

There was a series of caves, each with a reclining Buddha and a series of other Buddhas.

After visiting southern India early this year I was taken back to the temples we visited. This was different. Small caves where the Buddhas were carved from rock in the caves. The ceilings were painted and the Buddha reclining on a pillow of stone that looked like a fabric tapestry. Only it was painted stone. It was extraordinary.

We headed into Dambulla to visit the fruit and vegetable market. It is a wholesale market and distribution centre with every kind of vegetable you could imagine. Most grown locally.

There was the same kind of wheeling and dealing you would expect from any wholesale market place.

From the market we headed out to the Geoffrey Bawa designed Kandalama Hotel. It has won the ‘green’ award for design for many years. It blends into the jungle environment seamlessly.

There are huge areas with minimalist designed furniture and the hotel backs into the cliff behind looking out to the reservoir in front.

Lunch on the verandah was more western style and the beef was cold.

A traditionally dressed man took us on a tour it’s beautiful but expensive. I don’t think occupancy is very high so it must be struggling to run at a profit.

The pool areas were beautiful. One has the natural rock in the pool and tiles designed to compliment it. Stunning.

Following lunch we had 45 min drive back to our hotel and some swam in the pool while some had naps before we came together for drinks on the terrace near the pool.

Our third night in the dining area had some opting for the a la carte menu over the buffet.

Kathie and I had collected everyone’s list of favourite songs. I typed them up and has them printed.

We leave here in the morning and somewhere along the way we’ll have a competition to nominate who chose which songs ? Could be tricky.

I got to type the 17 lists of 5 songs and there are a few repeat.

Yoga at 6.30 tomorrow so off to sleep in the beautiful flower decorated bed.