550 Geary St.
San Francisco CA 94102
Yosemite National Park
Outside USA: (406) 862-8190
SAN FRANCISCO - Seeing a beautiful old friend through new eyes is a wonderful experience.
Last month when a British school chum decided to make her first trip to the United States, I knew that we would have to spend a weekend in the most beautiful city in the world.
I met Leila Gibbs at the San Francisco Airport on a Friday evening. Her flight was late, of course, but we jumped in the car and headed up to The City right away, eager not to miss a thing.
We wanted to see as much as we could over the course of the weekend - jet-lagged or not -- before coming up to Davis. After a few days in Davis, Leila would take a solo trip to Yosemite, Palm Springs, and San Diego before returning to England.
We stayed at the Adagio Hotel in the heart of SF and had absolutely no complaints about the comfortable rooms and helpful staff. Tourists do get a shock, I think, when they figure out that "downtown" SF means you might be on the edge of the Tenderloin but Leila was unfazed and the panhandlers kept their distance.
"It's like this in London, too," she said.
This British guest loved the hills, the ocean, the Golden Gate Bridge. We visited the regular tourist locations including Fisherman's Wharf, Golden Gate Park and the Palace of the Legion of Honor.
Like every English person I ever met, Leila thrives in the sunshine. Provide a sunny day, and life is good. And the weather gods cooperated.
But I think I'll give Tadich's restaurant a pass next time I'm down in the The City. There's always a long wait, even at 8:30 p.m. on a Friday night, and I don't like being made to feel that the self-important waiters are doing me a favor.
When we finally ordered, the waiter was surprised that I was surprised that the famous seafood restaurant was out of crab cakes.
"What do you think everyone is here for?" the waiter asked me by way of explanation for the shortage.
If everyone was there for crab cakes, then they shouldn't have run out, right? Oh, never mind. Leila was too jet-lagged to care anyway.
The best thing about Tadich's was taking the cable car back up California Street in the refreshing cool of the night.
It takes more than a grumpy waiter to spoil a weekend in San Francisco, and Leila was delighted with all we saw, including "Mama Mia" at the Golden Gate Theater and the Art Deco exhibit at the Legion of Honor.
Soon enough, however, we had to return to Davis. I'm happy to say that Leila appreciated the beauty of this university town and enjoyed walking in the Arboretum immensely, but she also wanted to see some grander sights.
"I was determined to prove to my American hostess that a trip to Yosemite National Park could easily be accomplished using public transport," said Leila later. "I am happy to say that this proved not only possible, but very straightforward and affordable."
The only accommodation left in the valley itself at short notice was a tent cabin in Curry Village.
"I booked two nights at $69.30 per night including tax -- not that cheap, but Yosemite's amazing scenery offers a premium that one can hardly grumble at," she said.
"Arranging the travel part of the trip was a doddle (that's English for a cinch)," she added. "All I had to do was go to the Davis station and the ticket seller did the rest. I was getting to Yosemite by bus/train/bus in that order, all courtesy of Amtrak, at what was to me the remarkably low price of $70 round trip."
I tried to tell her that her experience with Amtrak is not the norm, but she would not be dissuaded. She adores Amtrak.
"I have to say that I am now an Amtrak devotee," said Leila.
"I was impressed with the trains, the staff, the coffee and the very efficient way the train and bus portions of the journey were co-ordinated, so if the train was delayed (which it was on the return journey) the bus was still waiting patiently for its Amtrak passengers when they arrive," she added.
"I particularly liked the system of fixing a ticket with each passenger's destination above their seat so that if they fall asleep they are in no danger of missing their station - the ticket inspector comes along the train checking destinations before each stop and waking people up," said Leila.
Well, as I said, this is a woman whose day is made if the sun is shining.
And fortunately the sun was shining in Yosemite.
"The excellent free shuttle buses are a great way to get around the valley from one location to another. They run throughout the day from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. at 15-minute intervals (and even more frequently in high season) covering the circuit of 21 stops in around an hour," she said. "Since they go in both directions, by dint of a little planning and judicious bus-hopping one can easily get to and from the lodges, Yosemite Village, various camp sites and starting points for some of the trails and save one's energy for the hiking."
Leila said her journey time from Davis to Yosemite was a little less than five hours each way.
"That's not much of an effort to experience the wonders of Yosemite's amazing granite walls, waterfalls and wildlife," she said.
But on a practical note, she offers this advice:
And what about the rest of her trip to Palm Springs and San Diego?
"Brilliant," she said.
Of course, it was sunny throughout Southern California.
Now she is home again in Reading, England, and complaining mightily.
"It's cold and rainy," she said.
--Reach Elisabeth Sherwin at email@example.com
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Leila Gibbs posing at Mirror Lake in Yosemite National Park.
This photo is from "Brit captivated by sunny SF, Yosemite," Elisabeth Sherwin's 05/2004 Travel Log column.
Photos provided by Leila Gibbs;
Scans by G.Richard Yamagata, PhD.
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