Even though Pat and I have lived in rented apartments for four years, only since March have we begun moving frequently. We are still, I have come to realize, in learning mode.
Our apartment in Marin County sits twenty minutes from the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco, thirty minutes from the Pacific Coast and Point Reyes, and forty five minutes from the wine regions of Sonoma and Napa. What better location to figure out how long it takes to fully appreciate a large and diverse place? For the last month, outside of my four-day writing conference, we have attacked it all—settling into a rhythm where we explore one area each day. We try to mix exploration with the mundane, maintaining a tempo where we don’t feel overwhelmed. I think we have found a balance.
So far, we have driven to San Francisco twice (Dinner with friends, Coit Tower, Haight Ashbury, Lombard street and Chinatown), and I have planned one day next week where we will will cross the bay by ferry to the pier and then boat out to Alcatraz Island.
Frequently, we have driven to Point Reyes stopping at Muir Woods to hike in the giant redwood forest or at one of the many remote beaches dotted with fishermen. One day, we drove the US Highway 1 coast north and ate fresh oysters by the bay. The next we dined wharf-side in Sausalito.
Several days, we tasted wine at vineyards that ranged from garages to castles from Marin through Sonoma and onto Napa Valley. While in Sonoma, we hiked the grounds near Jack London’s ruined home which is now within a State Park.
Those of you following the northern California wild fires realize we have not seen a drop of rain, and the days have been hot for this area. This year, no one understands Mark Twain’s quip, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”
One evening we walked around Berkley and then ate at Chez Panisse fulfilling a long held dream to eat at Alice Water’s restaurant. As I pulled out my phone to take a photo of the menu, I saw a notice a flash on my screen that an editor from the writing conference wanted to publish a piece I had written. Last week, it went live in the mobile magazine, Tales to Go (sorry, I think you have to buy the magazine to read the article). With the 50 bucks I made, I paid for half of the dinner (excluding the tip!).
I wrote it as a lark and was surprised by the reaction it received. Just as I reach the point where I considered giving up on writing, something happened to spur me on. I am now focused on long form travel and pitching various venues (But I do hope to update this blog weekly!) And I am learning to accept that writing has to be an internally driven endeavor.
So back to the topic–what have we learned this month from our stay.
- A month is adequate to explore even a place as diverse and large as the San Francisco Bay Area, but it leaves me with little time to write. We need to intermix one month trips with longer duration stays where we settle in. Soon we will spend nearly three months in Northern Michigan near Pat’s family. This will give me a nice break to catch up on my writing as will three months in Guatemala this winter.
- Suburban life is challenging. One night Pat climbed into bed, looked at his iPhone, and said, “I walked 600 steps today.” In Paris, we averaged over 10,000 each day. We need to figure out how to fit more exercise into our routine, part of which might mean we avoid suburban locations and pay more to stay in the city center. We have both concluded we are city people. However, a rural location like the southern coast of Ireland could work also! (Watch this space….) It’s specifically the uninteresting sprawl of suburbia I need to avoid.
- Our apartment has a skeletal kitchen with no oven or stove top. Eating out, for lots of reasons from high cost to poor health consequences to inconvenience, doesn’t work—even in a place like California renowned for its cuisine. A fully decked out kitchen is a must moving forward.
Bottom line, the cheapest apartment isn’t always the best bargain—cooking and walkability will be a focus.
- Lastly, I learned why I don’t generally drink northern Californian wines even though my European friends rave about them. One night in a San Francisco restaurant, I asked the waiter for a wine recommendation, “I like a big red.” He suggested a wine which cost 25 dollars a glass (a glass!!). “Maybe something about half that big,” I countered. I paid 18 dollars for my dinner. Hungary, where reds are drinkable and cheap, has ruined me for expensive wines.
Once we leave, I’ll revert to ten buck-a-bottle Bordeaux. Until then, I just sold an article which will pay for two glasses of a great local wine. It’s a start, right?
September 5th we leave for Philadelphia. After a few days there, we will head down to Charlottesville, Virginia where we will rent a car to use for the next several months—North Carolina, Northern Michigan, and back to Charlottesville. I’ll keep in touch.
Categories: The United States