Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Train Delay!

It was time to say goodbye to the beautiful Yosemite National Park. Another day of travelling ... by bus to Merced Amtrak Station, by train to Emeryville Amtrak Station, and by bus again back to downtown San Francisco. We were due back at our hotel by 4pm. Not too bad, as we could bring our dirty clothes to the laundromat for washing, eat our dinner, collect the clothes.

All went all, till we were almost at our destination, Emeryville Amtrak Station. The train suddenly pulled to a stop! A girl two seats away from us started screaming!

"I saw him! He must be knocked down by the train!"

We were not sure what exactly happened. The announcement came, a long while later, informing us that an accident had happened, and that the train would be delayed. The girl screamed again, upon hearing the announcement.

"I'm right! I knew there was a man there! Oh my god, he's dead!"

The electrical power was switched off. There was no air conditioning. People were walking about, looking out of the train window. There were policemen standing near the train tracks. There were police talking photographs. The ambulance had arrived. There was a car near the crossing section of the train tracks and road. We were held up for almost two hours! The mother of the girl was unhappy that such an accident happened, and she called AMTRAK to complain about the delay, as well as how traumatized her daughter was after witnessing the accident. Well, the customer service at Amtrak gave her a refund, for the delay. After the call to AMTRAK, the lady told everyone on the train, that we should call AMTRAK to get a refund, for the delay. Which we did, the next day =)

It was a painful wait ... waiting for announcements, waiting for the train to move. We were finally informed that the driver who tried to beat the train lights was not in a life-threatening situation, although his car was smashed badly. We still had to continue waiting, as train traffic that day was pretty heavy. SIGH. Luckily, we were given free bottles of water and some snacks. We were very tired from yesterday's hiking, and hungry.

A simple day of travelling turned nightmare .... we were too tired to dream that night ....

Monday, July 13, 2009

Yosemite National Park Day 2

Today, we are going to take a look at ourselves at Mirror Lake, then follow the Mist Trail to Vernal Fall to cool off!

After having eaten very little yesterday, we decided to have a good breakfast since we were going to have a long day ahead of us. The following greeted us as we made our way into the cafe! Black Bears!

"Gor Gor, let's fight the bear!" Grrrhhh!!!

Squirrels, big and small ... they are everywhere!
After breakfast, the boys stayed outside the cafe for a while, "playing" with the squirrels. There was a big family of squirrels in the lawn outside the cafe, looking for leftover food as their breakfast.

It's amazing how a good night's sleep worked wonders for the little ones. They were so energetic, even though they woke at 6.30am! Although the morning air was chilly, the hot chocolate/coffee and muffins kept us warm. Now they were more willing to pose for photographs, and were running and making funny faces.

Darling son KW even had a try on our DSLR camera! We took a long time to walk a 100 metres ... we were always stopping to admire the scenery, and to take photographs.

The walking trail to Mirror Lake was closed, due to a recent rock slide.
We walked along the bike path instead.

We barely walked for 10 minutes when we saw this house .... it's a toilet! Just right, as both the boys needed to use the toilet, which was good, as we wouldn't want them to be needing one when we reached the lake.

We saw two deers along the way to the Lake. They were tame, and not afraid of people. They did eye us with suspicion. The kids got a chance to be real close to them! This was better than bringing the kids to the zoo.

It was a pleasant walk to Mirror Lake. It was cool. There was no heat and humidity to tire us out. We took our time to walk, and read the information boards.

Not much water in the lake, as it was a hot summer. But we could still see our reflection .. It would have been a lovely sight in Spring, when the melted snow flowed down to the lake.

It was almost time for lunch when we made our way out of Mirror Lake.
We brought bagels and peanut butter jam, as well as apples with us. We had a quick bite and continue to our next destination .... Vernal Falls. We were not sure if the kids could make it there, as it would take 2-3 hours to and fro. But the boys were full of energy after lunch, despite an uphill climb! Our little darling started off running, but eventually, walked by dragging his feet. Our big darling was faster than his little brother, and most of the time, he just lie against the rock to rest while waiting =)

Scenery as we climbed up the cemented, winding path to Vernal Falls Bridge.

After a draining 2+hours walk, with many stops for drinks and snacks, we finally reached the Vernal Falls Bridge. There were so many people taking photographs at the bridge! As usual, we had to wait before we got a space for photo taking. Despite the place being crowded, we were glad to be there, as there were bathrooms and water fountains for us to refill our water bottles! The kids needed to go to the bathroom too! While resting, the boys ended up playing with the squirrels, trying to trick them with "fake" food. We had to get the boys to sit down to rest, to ensure they were ok before we continue our climb up to Vernal Fall. Actually, we were not sure if we could make it to the top of Vernal Falls. We all agreed that at any one point we could not go on anymore, we would just stop and go back down. We also needed to take note of the time, as we had consumed most of our food, and the idea of having to carry two boys downhill was an unpleasant thought.

This part of the climb was tougher! It was uphill climb. The stone steps were very narrow, slippery and wet. My old knees felt like they were going to give way any time! Darling son KW was suddenly energised when he saw these stone steps! He was hopping from step to step. We had to tell him to slow down and wait for us, and his little brother. He would sit at the side, and say hi to all those who passed him! We had to rest frequently ... this view of the waterfall was taken halfway up the hill!

After a short rest, we were ready to continue our climb ... the steps get more and more slippery and wet ... camera had to be kept as the thunderous splashing of the waterfall drew nearer.

Although we were very tired by then, we were very excited to see not one, but two rainbows! The photo-taking had to be quick as water splashed onto our camera .....

We were very near to the top of the waterfall! Probably another 400 metres ... uphill .... another half an hour, including resting?

We finally made it to the top of the waterfall!
Look at us ... all wet ... perspiration and water from the waterfall.

View of our trek from the top of the waterfall!
I couldn't believe that we had climbed that far!
The boys were very pleased with themselves, when we showed them how far we had walked. After a short rest, they started climbing up rocks and chasing squirrels!

Going down was a lot easier ... the hike took us close to 4 hours! We started after lunch, and by the time we reached the bus stop, it was almost time for dinner! We still had a little time to spare, so we let the boys watched the deer, spotted near our camp.

I didn't think we could do so much in a day! Never underestimate the abilities of children .... and I'm really proud of them! It was a tough day, but they didn't complain much about being tired while walking. They had their share of joy (and tiredness). As parents, we were happy to have their company, and complete the journey, to the top of the waterfall, with them.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Yosemite National Park Day 1

5.30am : Raise and shine!

Yes, we woke up at 5.30am!
The Amtrak bus taking us to Emeryville Train Station was scheduled at 6.50am, at the Shopping Centre. It was a 10-minute walk from our hotel to the bus stop. Our bags were packed the night before, and all we needed to do was to throw in miscellaneous stuff, like toiletries. The kids were cooperative, as they were excited about taking the train! We were at the bus stop by 6.30am, and the sky was bright and it felt like 730am. The air was chilly and we had to keep moving to fight the cold while waiting for the bus to arrive. The bus arrived early, and we were very happy to board the bus! It was a 20-minute ride to the train station. We didn't have to wait long for the train either.

Since the ride from Emeryville to Merced Train Station required three hours, we had breakfast on the train. Banana muffins from Walgreens. The train was very clean, and we could sit wherever we want. It was not too crowded as we boarded the train at its first stop. The kids were excited as we all sat at a table, facing each other while having our breakfast.

The elder boy loved looking at the scenery outside as the train moved along the coastal area, while the little boy was engaged in his favourite activity ... Sleep.

When we reached Merced, it was almost 10.45am. We still had to take a bus, scheduled at 11am, to get to Yosemite National Park, Curry Village. The bus ride would take about three hours. What did we do on the bus? We slept, except the little darling. Lunch was bananas and muesli bars on board the bus. It was almost 3 o'clock when we received our keys to the tent cabin at Curry Village.

The tent cabin was just pieces of wood put together, with a sheet of canvas over it. Two small windows and a door. Four metal-framed beds with filmsy bedsheets that refused to be tucked in, and flat pillows with a smell. It turned quite cold at night, so it was a good thing that thick blankets were provided. I brought blankets for the kids as I was worried they might get rashes from these dirty dusty blankets.

We read about blacks bears breaking doors of cars to get food stored in cars at the village, and we watched videos on YouTube, of black bears walking out of tent cabins, and rampaging the dustbins outside for food. Signs were displayed everything, informing us to keep our food in the special metal locker placed outside the tents. Things to keep in the locker? Not just food, but also water, toiletries (because of the perfumed scented) and wet tissues. The kids were worried about bumping into bears when we brought them to shower in the evening. Yes, no bathroom attached to the tent. The shared bathroom was a short distance away from our tent.

With such a huge park, how did we move around without a car?
The Valley Shuttle! See the map?

So we took the bus to Yosemite Village, and went to the Visitor Information Centre. Although the sky darkened at 830pm, we didn't want to spend too much time walking, as the kids were quite hungry, and tired from half a day of travelling on train and buses. We decided to do a short hike ... hike to Lower Yosemite Falls.

We had a fun time walking to the waterfalls.

The lower Falls was filled with people when we reached. People slashing in water, people sitting on rocks, people standing on rocks, people with cameras, and people posing for the cameras. We had to wait before we could find a spot to sit/stand to pose for a picture!

It didn't look like there were a lot of people from the photographs, right? That's the power of zoom lens! And think out of the box ... squad below a rock, bend if you need ... all for the sack of taking a nice photograph =)

The boys were hungry and were happy to sit down at the waterfall to have a bite. Now that they had their break and snacks, we were able to walk through the woods again at a leisurely pace. The boys actually stopped to read the information boards, played with squirrels, and looked at the funny hollow trunks lying around.

We took the bus back to the Visitor Centre, and had our dinner there ... Pizza and Caesar Salad. I guessed not having eaten vegetables for a few days, the body yearned for vegetables. The boys were no fan of vegetables, but they polished off the plate of salad.

After dinner, we headed back to Camp Curry. Had an early night, and all ready for our adventure the following day!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

San Francisco - Golden Gate Bridge, Ferry Terminal

We woke up to a cold, foggy morning. Our last day in San Francisco. 

So far, we had been seeing the Golden Gate Bridge, from a distance ... from Coit Tower, from Fisherman's Wharf, but not up close and personal. We missed the chance to visit the last two days when the weather was good, with clear blue sky. 

It was about 10am when we reached the Golden Gate Park. Not many people around. It was really windy and chilly. Hubby dear said he saw more of the bridge today, as compared to the last time he visited. But he would have seen the whole bridge if we had visited yesterday! 

The kids were more interested in the telescope than the bridge itself. But there was nothing to see, except for a patch of whiteness when you looked through the telescope. As usual, they looked for their own entertainment while we were busy taking photographs. They found a statue and a huge cable sample! 

A huge cable with many smaller cables inside. It was interesting learning how these cables can hold up the bridge. Let's push to see if it moves? 

Since it was a Saturday, we thought it would be nice to drop by the Farmer's Market at Ferry Terminal, and to grab some lunch. The crowd was unbearable to us, and there was long queues for toilets and food. We decided to go back to Union Square. 

We were glad the crowd were at the Ferry Terminal, and the Street Car was quite empty when we boarded. 

I was glad I spotted this Thai Restaurant at Hotel Union as we made our way back to Hotel Stratford! We could do a Take-Out! The kids were really tired by then, and were happy when I said we could eat in our room. Yummy duck rice, sausage fried rice, soup noodles ... Drool ...

Hubby dear arranged to meet his former students, who were now studying/working doing in Stanford. I was glad the kids had a good rest before we met up with Pauline and Lin Tin. The boys were not really interested in the cartoons at the Cartoon Museum, our meet-up venue. Our generation would probably appreciate the cartoons more. They were however, happy, as they received a little present .. rocks sample. They also got a treat of cookies! That's how they were occupied, while we talked over a cup of coffee. It was a pity we didn't take any photographs with Pauline and Lin Tin. We were too exhausted to remember.

We would be leaving San Francisco for Yosemite National Park tomorrow. We had to finish packing before going to bed, as we had to check out by 6.30am the next day. 

Till then, sweet dreams! 

Friday, July 10, 2009

San Franisco - Lombard Street, Golden Gate Park, Pier 39

Rise and shine, it's LAUNDRY time!
Yes, we found a coin-operated laundry near our hotel, about three streets away, which was about a 10-minute walk. Hubby dear brought the clothes over after breakfast, while the kids watched TV in the hotel room. No complaints from the kids when it was time for us to walk to the laundromat to dry the clothes, since they rested the whole morning. The shop reminded me of the episode where Mr Bean was doing his laundry in a coin-operated laundromat! While waiting for the clothes to dry, we had an early lunch at the shop next to the laundromat ... Spicy Mongolian Beef Rice, Fried Chicken (Western) and Fish and Chips. Yummy! 

What's the next stop after taking the clothes back to the hotel?
We took a bus to Lombard Street! The most crooked street in San Francisco!

It was a long uphill walk before we even catch a glimpse of the famous street! The boys were full of energy at the start, running up. Barely a couple of minutes, the little one sat down and said "I'm hungry!" As we rested, many cars past us .. all going up the road, then go down the zig-zag street! We were rewarded with a great view of the city when we finally reached the top!

Gosh, there were so many tourists there! And beautiful houses, with lovely flowers, sat by the sides of the hilly zig-zag street. 

Family photographs at the start of the slope, and at the bottom of the slope!

Since we were near Fisherman's Wharf, we decided to talk a slow walk to the cable car boarding station, to board the cable car back to Union Square. Thank goodness it was a downhill walk! This time, we managed to grab seats at the open side of the cable car, instead of the inside. 

The little one was tired out by all the walking and running. The rocking cable car was like a rocking bed to him .... zzz ..... 

Hubby dear got to stand at the side of the cable car ... What a thrilling ride for him! Backpacks were not allowed on the backs of those passengers standing at the side of the cable car. Why? As cable cars passing each other run very close to each other, and with a backpack, you may be pulled off by bags/hands of other passengers in the other cable car! Interesting! 

Where to next when we reach Union Square?
We decided to reward the boys for walking the slopes to Lombard Street ... to the children's playground at the Golden Gate Park! It was quite a long ride to get there, and again, the little one dozed off ... zzz ... 

The boys were like monkeys unleashed when we reached the playground! 
It was a huge playground that could accommodate children of all ages! From toddlers who just learn to crawl/walk, to teenagers. Most of the bigger kids were found climbing this pyramid structure. It was KW's favourite too! 

The little one loved the slides, the slopes, and the swinging tyre hanging near the pyramid structure. He had a great time going down slides of different heights! 

Even adults loved going down this long cement "slide"!
Take a cardboard, sit on it, and slide!
I had fun watching them slide down =)

It was almost time for dinner when we decided to leave the park.
Instead of going back to Union Square, we went to Pier 39.
The kids were excited they saw the "shark-exhibition" outside the aquarium. 

They got even more excited when they saw a statue of Spongebob!

After a while, it started to get cold and windy. The kids were tired and hungry. Most of the "nice to eat in" restaurants were crowded and at least a 20-minute wait for a table. We settled for "fast-food" instead ... clam-chowder in a bread bowl. Surprisingly, it was very filling. The first picture below showed our lunch, and the other three, our dinner =)

I felt like I was on the amazing race, having covered so many places in a short day! When we asked the boys which place they like best for the day, the answer was "The Playground! That was the best playground!".

Thursday, July 9, 2009

San Francisco - Exploratorium

The kids were tired out on the first day, and they didn't sleep well and enough. They woke up at 630am! That's 8.30am Madison Time.

It was a morning with clear sky. A good day to visit the Golden Gate Bridge!
However, with the kids not getting enough sleep, we thought we had better visit the Exploratorium, which was on our to-do list. With activities to engage them, they would probably forget their tiredness?

We went for a cable car ride since we were too early for the Exploratorium.

We were impressed with how the cable car was turned around.

The Powell and Hyde Line brought us to the Fisherman's Wharf, and from there, we could take a bus to the Exploratorium. How did know what bus to take? Well, we obtained a bus guide from the Visitor Centre the day before! We were glad we had the 7-day passport. Each cable car ride cost $5! The ride was fun, but not worth the money without the pass. The kids didn't quite enjoy the "windy" walk along Fisherman's Wharf and kept asking "When are we going the Exploratorium?".

The Palace of Fine Arts : Just beside the Exploratorium. Lovely pond. Lovely architecture. We had a snack here, under the warm sun, watching the ducks, before entering the Exploratorium.

The Exploratorium : The men in the family, big and little, fell in love at once with this place! The kids were suddenly awake, and full of energy.

So much to do, so little time. Though we spent 5 hours at this place, there were some sections which we didn't explore. I was exhausted from the long hours of walking and standing. 

The boys (old and young) deep in concentration =)

Plenty of activities to keep the kids engaged.

Hands-on FUN!

Look at my sand-drawing! Ooo-hooo!

Bubble-Fun! Is my head in the bubble?

Is the toilet bowl clean? Let's check the water =p

After a fun but exhausting day at the Exploratorium, I was actually amazed that somehow, we managed to find our way to Japantown! As usual, we had problem locating the bus stop when leaving the Exploratorium.
See the tiny words 'Bus Stop' on the pole?

We had a great dinner at a Japanese restaurant: Sashimi, sushi, miso soup noddles, yakitori, etc. Yummy! Thanks to dear hubby who suggested this restaurant. We found a shop similar to Daiso near the restaurant. We walked out of the shop with soup bowls and packets of Japanese biscuits.

Great fun, good food!
Sweet dreams =)

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