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.

Exploring Lodi

Today we were going to explore the local area. Both near and the not so near.

It started with a walk to the coffee shop with Jordan and her lovely friend Stephanie. We got halfway there and I tripped over! Skinned my hands and knee so headed back home for first aid.

When I’d recovered and the girls had delivered my coffee, we headed to ‘the beach’ . It’s an area of the river which belongs to a community of local house owners. 160 local owners can choose to become members of the cooperative. It’s a part of the river , some sand and parkland. The co operative look after it and get to use it for daily activities or family / friends parties.

Entrance to the private park / beach.

It’s so beautiful. Lots of parkland , a bbq area, picnic tables, a volleyball court, and a sandy beach leading into the river water . What a lovely community idea.

The volleyball court
John, Jordan & Stephanie in beautiful weather

We headed back to the house to meet Lisa, who had gone to work for a few hours ( it’s a public holiday here – Presidents Day).

And so, off to explore Lodi and the surrounding wine area. First stop

Wine & Roses. This winery/restaurant/hotel/spa /wedding venue and cafe is where Jordan worked just after university. She had met Rob in Barcelona , came home to complete her degree at Santa Barbara, worked in marketing at this lovely hotel winery before leaving to head back to Barcelona to be with Rob. The rest is history!

Entrance to Wine & 🌹 Roses

We explored the hotel and restaurant and had lunch in the cafe, stopping for a chat with the resident bird.

Rudy

We continued on and headed east out of town past many vineyards with some hundred year old vines.

We stopped at Bokisch. This is influenced by Spanish wine making techniques – the owner is Spanish. The wines are very good and the Tempranillo is quite delicious.

Rolling hills of vineyards

We met Alicia, the wine maker, a really lovely woman who has been making wines for about 12 year’s – winning lots of medals for her delicious wines.

I bought a bottle or two for you Steve! And then we headed towards Lodi town and stopping in at McCays for another tasting. John is a member of their wine club – just like the last winery. It gives a number of free wine tastings each year. Lucky me!

Cheers from McCays

The weather was still unseasonably warm so we strolled down School St – the Main Street of Lodi.

Such a lovely afternoon.

The evening finished at a Mexican restaurant. Beer and tacos. A great evening.

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

Preparing for a baby shower. American style

Feeling refreshed after a lovely long sleep I heard chatter in the family area at around 6.30. Jordan and her parents were up drinking tea and catching up.

I went back to sleep!

By 8 am I was ready for a walk and coffee. We walked through the quiet streets of Lodi towards a cute little coffee shop.

The houses are mostly low ranch style with nice gardens and the occasional American flag.

The Donati’s have lived in their comfortable house for about 32years and it’s a lovely big family place with a beautiful pool out the back.

John & Lisa outside their house

We called into Jordan grandmas house after coffee. Everything is nice and close here and nice and flat for walking.

Lisa has a list of little jobs to do that would have me exploring Lodi and nearby Stockton as we prepared for the baby shower. Jordan was off to a bridal shower with her friends.

Jordan in her way to her friend’s bridal shower

First stop for us was The Hobby Lobby! A giant craft type place filled with everything needed for setting up your arts & crafts. We bought a selection of glass vases for the white flowers we got later at Costco ( along with a Speedo swimsuit!). We also got ribbons.

Then it was the party place for baby shower napkins, table decorations, a banner and other bits and pieces. As we queued up a lady commented on my lipstick colour! She was very impressed I had come all the way from Australia for a baby shower.

Little blue bundtinis

Then to Stockton for the bundtini – little decorated cakes. we couldn’t but look at Flair a ladies boutique owned by godmother. I bought a lovely shirt. Not there – at another store Lisa likes.

Back home for crab salad lunch , flower arrangements decorating and family gathering before heading to a family style brewery. It was perfect for pizza, beer and games for the kids.

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

Cooking up a Storm in Galle

Our usual delicious breakfast on the terrace. How will I cope when I get home?

Following breakfast we walked around the quiet streets of Galle Fort. It’s really suffering from a lack of tourists due to the bomb attacks in Colombo earlier in the year. It’s such a shame. They rely on tourists here. Please come back tourists!

By now it was super steamy and we were heading to the markets. Into tuk tuks and out into the traffic.

The markets weren’t that big but it was still hard to decide what we wanted.

We thought the hotel would send a guide with us but it was really us and a tuk tuk driver ! We decided to get vegetables we liked – all types. Little cauliflowers, eggplant, snake beans, pumpkins, okra, and assorted other greens.

 

Into the spice shop.

Back into our tuk tuk for a visit to the outdoor fish markets near the waterfront. We wished we knew what we were doing!

We thought of consulting with the fish stall cat……..

But in the end made a decision and bought fresh looking prawns and tuna.

Back into the tuk tuks to give our produce to chef Poorna and get ready for our cooking class.

It was great fun.

Chef was great – teaching us knife skills and explaining each step as we cooked up each vegetable into what ended up as a beautiful feast.

We stirred and watched and in the end found it wasn’t too difficult!

The tuna looked and tasted amazing. Chef cut it in strips and seasoned each side with Pepper, salt and lime pressing it in and standing for a minute before lightly pan frying it.

We sat and ate the food for lunch – voting on our favourites. I loved the eggplant curry and the snake bean salad.

Then it was time to say goodbye. To Helen & Mike heading off to Italy, Kay and Trevor to India.

And Marcelle back to Colombo.

That left 12 of us to explore Galle town and stop for a beautiful passionfruit Mojito at Tequila Mockingbird – a rather fun play on words!

Our last dinner in Galle was a celebration of marriages! It was our 44th wedding anniversary so everyone was asked to tell how they met and became engaged!

Heading for Galle: Along the Tsunami coast

The day was warm as we walked to breakfast past the lagoon with the crocodiles. I check them out every time I pass by!

Our last morning in the wild!

Leopard lady Marcelle, our Australian /Sri Lankan, arrived back from her third safari absolutely jubilant. She had finally spotted a leopard. Her guide was the same we had the day before and was determined she would see it. And she did.

We set off along the dusty road back to the main road to Yala where we were to pick up Hema our guide. He has to find his own accommodation in town.

“Good morning ladies and gentlemen” he started “I’ve missed you”. And we’d missed him. He is a gentleman himself.

The drive today is quite different to the days in the hilly areas around Kandy and Ella. It’s very lush and green lots if palm trees and rice paddy fields.

The trip was a little slow as we started to see the effect of the coming elections on Saturday, as we passed through the bigger towns.

A comfort stop by a beach was welcome. The coffee was good and the beach lovely. This place was devastated by the tsunami in 2004. It’s hard to imagine the wall of water that hit the area crushing everything in the it’s path.

A little further on at Dickwella we stopped at a centre for lace making. This is a regional craft. This centre, supported by Marcelle our Australian – Sri Lankan , has women who were previously living on the streets and has taught them this dying craft. The woman now do lace making on site.

It’s fascinating to watch.

The ladies in our group were more than happy to support the centre by buying some of the lovely products. I bought a toy (each for Oliver and our next Bub) and a nightie and wrap.

On we went along the coast. It looks so calm and lovely. The devastation has past. The buildings are reappearing – some right on the beach which was against regulations. But as usual money talks and the building rise.

We came to the first of the political rallies. The maroon-capped people trying to win the election on Saturday. They must be sponsored by the party. There were hundreds assembled and buses lined up as far as we could see.

It made our progress to Galle very slow.

We decided not to stop for lunch. Once again we enjoyed a bus picnic.

It was interesting to look out the window at the sea, the people, the traffic, the colours, and food stalls selling everything – including big fish stalls.

The stick fishermen made us stop. It’s an method of fishing not really practised now but it makes a good photo.

Carmel paid for the photos.

Eventually we made it to Galle. Though the traffic of the Green Party rally.

Our new hotel The Heritage Galle is charming. Open verandahs , flowering plants, wonderful plantation chairs, lovely rooms with a huge bed. Another feature we love a big long bench for all suitcases.

Having worked up a thirst we walked past multiple jewellery shops towards the ramparts of this old fort town.

Climbing the stairs of the Ramparts Hotel we were greeted by beautiful views and a stunning red sunset.

A few drinks later we walked to a very nice restaurant with a charming Serbian man as our host. He was very modern in appearance with short pants and no socks and glasses which a John describes as ‘square peg, round hole’

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.