Wednesday, March 27, 2002

There's Snow In Them There Mountains

Where did our early Spring go? The doona was cleaned and put away, the fire logs were stored in the garage and then, suddenly, Winter's back and it's freezing again. Last week I was driving south. It was such a clear day I could see the mountains on the other side of the Bay and there was snow on the peaks! During our stay in the USA we seem to have experienced San Francisco's weather at its worst. In December we had three times the average rainfall for the month, and in January we shivered through one of the coldest San Francisco days ever. On this same day, snow fell at Mount Tamalpais (2571 feet, or about 800m above sea level), Petaluma and Napa Valley - all only about an hour's drive north of San Francisco. Even the dispatcher recording traffic incidents for the California Highway Patrol seemed surprised. One incident was titled online as "It's snowing in the Napa!".

Earthquake

On Tuesday 19th March at 11:35pm we experienced an earthquake that measured 3.3 on the Richter Scale. Pets, Tony and the rest of the world - fine; me - shaken. It doesn't help when your husband has been checking the local quake map regularly and reporting that "There's been a lot of seismic activity around here lately" or "Did you know there was a 2 point something earthquake close to us last week and we didn't even feel it".

We were typing away (preparing the last web update) when there was a loud boom and the house shook. Tony immediately checked the quake map and the information was up a minute later (very impressive reaction). The earthquake originated about 6km from Millbrae (We're about 1-2 km from the outskirts of Millbrae) and it was classified as a minor earthquake. These minor earthquakes must be commonplace - there was no report on it at all in the local news the following day and the pets slept through it. I just hope we don't experience an earthquake that measures higher than that.

Mitzi's Fan Club

Mitzi is winning hearts all over the place. Last week she travelled to the vet on two consecutive days. The staff know us well - we've been in and out with both Astra and Mitzi since December. Astra continually meows in the waiting room and fights with the vet. Mitzi, on the other hand, sits patiently on Tony's lap, sometimes decides to lie down and snooze, lets the vet treat her without complaining - everyone loves her and comments on how cute she looks.

For some reason, Tony has started carrying Mitzi between the car and the vet's. When we stopped at the nearby boarding kennels to book the pets in, he had Mitzi in his arms. Given this evidence, the owner has decided that Mitzi will get a special double-sized kennel, one that is up high so she can look down with disdain at the bigger dogs, and that the staff will give her lots of cuddles so she knows she's still special. Mitzi is not going to want to leave.

Ready To Go

Well, the pets are all settled and our trip home is booked. The coach tour we wanted to do was booked out so now we are going to travel down the coast via train and bus. We booked everything over the Internet and got some great deals - for example, the hotel in Hawaii was offering special prices over the Internet that meant we paid about half what we budgeted for and about one-third of the hotel's standard rate. Home is in sight - we're definitely leaving 12th April and will be back in Sydney on the 18th May.

Life in the U.S. - Part 2

This blog contains observations on the following:

Annoying Machines

Machines are wonderful things. Washing machines, dryers and dishwashers do all those manual chores and, if you're lucky, tell you when they have finished. Irons turn themselves off when you leave them on, kettles turn off when the water boils and timers tell you when your cooking is done.

However, our microwave and car are just a little overly helpful.

Our microwave issues a long beeeeeeep when it's finished. If you don't remove your dish immediately, the microwave gives you a 'beep beep' every minute after it finishes. If I'm busy doing something else, I'm forever telling the microwave "All right, all right - just a minute" - as if the microwave understands. At least if I ignore it for long enough the beeping stops.

I'm the first to agree that I need the car to warn me if I leave the lights on. But I don't need to be warned if I forget to put my selt belt on - I'm only backing out of the drive. And the warning might not necessarily relate to one thing - it could be one or many things such as not putting on my seat belt, forgetting to release the hand brake or keeping the lights on. Every time it beeps I have to go through a mental checklist to try and figure out what I'm forgetting. Usually I assume it's the seat belt and just continue backing out the drive.

Electric Kettles

In America there are lots of whiz-bang gadgets for the kitchen but the hardest to find is an electric kettle. Most Americans use a kettle that sits on the stove, or they boil water in the microwave.

The only electric kettle we could buy cost us $US 10, approximately $A 20. I know I shouldn't do straight comparisons between products but it just so happens we bought a $A 20 kettle when we moved to Melbourne. Here's how our kettles compare.

Australia US

Capacity

1.7 litres

4 quarts - approximately 1 litre

Design

Tall, urn-like kettle that sits on a base plate to which the cord is attached. The urn can be lifted away from the base plate for pouring.

Traditional round kettle with the cord attached. The cord cannot be detached from the kettle.

Filling the Kettle

Kettle is filled through the spout.
A gauge on the side of the kettle shows how much water is in the kettle.

Kettle is filled through the spout.
A small piece of jutting plastic inside the spout is the "full" mark.

When the water is boiled ...

Kettle automatically shuts off.
It doesn't have a whistle so there is no warning.

Kettle whistles.
It automatically shuts off when the kettle boils dry but you have to endure a lot of whistling before it does.


Our little American kettle has served us well but I'm looking forward to returning to an Australian one.

Public Transport

One of the first things we did when we arrived in the U.S. was buy a car. However, being such a small and densely populated area, the Peninsula has a pretty good public transport system. I've really enjoyed taking the public transport - you get to see areas of the city you would otherwise never see.

We are very well-located for public transport. The local CalTrain station is 20 minutes' walk from us. We can ride the Caltrain north to San Francisco or south to San Jose. From the station we can also catch a SamTrans route 292 bus into San Francisco.

Alternatively, we can walk a block to the El Camino Real and catch a 390 or 391 SamTrans bus to the Colma or Daly City BART stations. The BART system is a rapid transport system - similar in style to the monorail - and covers San Francisco and the East Bay.

The CalTrain stations remind me of country stations - the platforms are level with the rails and you need to climb up the stairs into the carriages. The trains themselves remind me of European intercity trains. Some carriages have restrooms, others are luggage or bike cars. The passenger carriages have two levels. On the first level there are rows of two seats on either side of the aisle. On the second level there are two rows of single seats - almost looking like oversized luggage racks. Conductors walk through the carriages checking and selling tickets, reaching up to check tickets for passengers on the second level.

You need plenty of time if you are taking the SamTrans 292 into San Francisco. The route continually criss-crosses the main highway - the 101 - taking you past the airport hotels along the Bay, past the San Francisco airport complex, past outlying suburbs along the bay shore, and past the Mission District and into San Francisco.

Routes 390 and 391 take us along the El Camino Real, through Colma - the city of cemeteries - and to Colma or Daly City BART station. Colma is fascinating - different gravestones on either side of the road, large, ornate buildings, stone masons and florists near the cemetery entrances.

In contrast to riding the buses, there is not much to see on the BART as most of it is underground. At times it is so fast that my ears pop, most noticeably when we go under the Bay. Coming above ground in the East Bay you get great views of the Bay Bridge, San Francisco and Sather Tower at Berkeley.

During morning and afternoon peak hours the SamTrans 391 travels into San Francisco. The most memorable trip was a ride home on the 391. What made it memorable was our driver and a bus stop on top of a hill.

I could have sworn our Asian driver had obtained his driving license in Nepal! Throughout the whole journey he continually honked the horn - just 2 short honks. The honks seem to have many meanings, some of which were:

  • I'm pulling into the bus stop now.
  • I'm pulling out from the bus stop.
  • I'm about to turn left.
  • Look out I'm about to stop.
  • Hurry up, you're blocking my route, get out of the way.
  • Hi fellow bus driver.
  • Hi friend walking down the street.

In Daly City there is a bus stop at a shopping centre called 'Top Of The Hill'. From here I could see the Pacific Ocean. The sun had set below the horizon, the clouds were tinged with pink and all the way to the shore there was block upon block of white matchbox houses. A view I definitely wouldn't see if I was driving!

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