Is Storm Caroline really a supernatural event?

Storm Caroline is threatening to bring the first significant snowfall tomorrow, 8th December, to my home since March 2013. I know almost to the exact date, because it happened exactly a week after Sarah and I moved into our home in the Welsh countryside. It is a matter of coincidence (not divine intervention) that my good friend Caroline passed away after a long battle with cancer seven years ago in 2010 on the 8th December. It was the day before what would have been her 50th birthday. Caroline loved the snow. She more than loved it – it was a matter of extreme excitement each time we had a decent settling of the white stuff. It even snowed during her funeral – perfect timing.

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Our last snowfall viewed from our house in March 2013

It was just a couple of weeks after her passing that we had a heavy snowfall at our previous home in Newport. First thing in the morning, before I’d left the bedroom, I heard a noise outside that sounded like a jingling of bells. I joked to Sarah, “I bet that’s Caroline telling us about the snow!” I then joked even further and said loudly, “Caroline, if that’s you, show us a sign!”

About ten minutes later, as I tried to exit the bedroom, I couldn’t open the door. The handle mechanism had broken. It took twenty minutes before we were able to get out of the room after Sarah’s daughter forced it open from the outside. There are some who would say that it was Caroline doing her thing from “the other side”. I’d love to think that it was. However, I’m also well aware of the fact that it easy to believe what you want to believe when you should be just accepting the inevitability of coincidences occurring. It is a mathematical certainty that coincidences will happen. If there were never any coincidences, that in itself, would be a coincidence of unimaginable proportions.

It was well into Caroline’s four year cancer battle that I suffered my brain haemorrhage. It was an odd turnaround of events for her to be visiting me in hospital. But when she could, she’d do her best to come to see me, taking me for walks around the hospital grounds. It was only a few months after our snowfall in March 2013 that Sarah, herself, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had six doses of chemotherapy, and on each occasion I bought her a “chemo present.” On one occasion, in November 2013, I bought us a joint present – a pair of sledges to use in the nearby fields in our new home for when it next snowed. It didn’t snow that winter. It didn’t matter – we had other things on our minds. It didn’t snow the following year, or the next year, or the next.

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Sarah’s wishful thinking (get that chemo wig!)…

 

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… and the reality at the bottom of the garden

So now, here we are, four years since we bought our, as yet, unused sledges, waiting for Storm Caroline to arrive and bring us the snow that has been forecast in about seven hours’ time. Caroline loved (or loves) the snow. She knows how eager we are to walk over to the fields to use our sledges for the first time. She knows that we’ll know that she is behind the whole weather system making its way down from the Arctic. However, deep down, I know that it’s just a coincidence.

Or is it?

 

We’ve had an incredible roller coaster ride in recent years. I’ve told our story in my book I’M NEVER ILL (A journey through brain surgery and beyond…). Since our illnesses, we have become USA road trippers and lindy hop dancers. We are now living more full and active lives than we ever had done before. We are very lucky people.

Book promotion video

Paperback available from Amazon (or direct from me if you live in the UK) for £7.99

Ebook available from Amazon for £1.99

Available in all major currencies worldwide. Visit our website http://www.markdpritchard.com for details.

 

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The story behind the song “Down by the Pool” at the Calpe Swing Fiesta.

It was some time after Gary Boon started playing my song Sugar Push Blues at some of his dances that our dancing friends Geoff and Helen suggested that I should write a song for Calpe. In October 2016, Bic and Simone Graham staged the first ever Calpe Swing Fiesta on the Costa del Sol, Spain. The weeklong event attracted swing dance teachers from all over the world. Sarah and I were only able to attend for the first three days because of working commitments. However, our stay at the Diamanté Beach Hotel where the whole spectacle took place was such a blast that to miss out on the whole week in October 2017 was simply not an option.

Without undermining any of the teachers – we learnt so much from them all – the star attraction (apart from Bic and Simone) was teacher and possibly the coolest lindy hop and swing dancer around, Ryan Francois. Sarah never lets me forget that she had the privilege of dancing with him once; she even has a photo of them both in action on the dance floor hung up on the wall in our home. My own dance teacher calls him God. Professional teacher, dancer and recent choreographer for BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing, Ryan Francois’ teaching style and personality had us all flocking to his lessons. He and his partner Genia, who he refers to as G (I stole a lovely dance from her on the last night), were a perfect double act and we were all able to take so much from their classes.

At the end of one of their classes, he said to us all:

“Bic and Simone have put on a great event that deserves to go on and on, and it brings nice people.”

I made a note of that, and asked him later if I could quote him. He said, “Yes, of course. I said it and I meant it.” The words, “…brings nice people,” reflect the essence of our whole dancing community. Some people don’t like the word “nice”. They say it makes people sound boring. However, I like it and I’m not afraid to use it to describe people, as people can be nice while also possessing a whole lot of other interesting and fascinating talents and attributes.

The holiday brought lindy hop dancers from beginners right the way through to experts together for one almighty party. Lessons, dances, great food, excursions, new friendships, rekindled old ones, sun, sea, sand, music, Buck’s Fizz at breakfast, poolside parties, a hilarious water polo competition, blow-up flamingos and a little sleep from time to time – with the option, of course, to opt out for a little more sleep if necessary. One of our friends said that it was the best holiday he’d ever had. Despite a few hitches such as a speaker blowing up, cancelled inward flights due to industrial action from French air traffic control and Bic’s brief spell of hospitalisation, Bic and Simone kept the show going seamlessly and without any obvious fuss.

Only a few weeks before the holiday, I managed to complete the task of composing and recording the song that Geoff and Helen put me up to, calling it Down by the Pool, for The Calpe Swing Fiesta 2017. I needed some reassurance that it was ok. Sarah, Geoff and Helen all loved it and suggested that I should send it to Bic and Simone. Simone suggested that before I put it out on YouTube and social media etc., we should “debut” it at a poolside dance.

Debut of my song Down by the Pool, filmed with dancers at the poolside

Having had the thrill of seeing everyone dance to it (even Ryan!), it’s now time for me to get it out there for other people to hear. It was received much better than I could have dreamt of, if I’m honest. To add to the fun, some of us created new lyrics to reflect the events of this superb holiday, the unmissable Calpe Swing Fiesta. Bic and Simone gave me the opportunity to perform it live – it’s such a long time since I’ve done anything like that. It was a real thrill for me. They are such fantastic people and great sports. They are brilliant teachers and dancers. They are superb organisers. They are the perfect ambassadors for our incredible, inclusive dancing community. They’re nice too!

My live performance of Down by the Pool, with altered lyrics and a sneaky little dance with Simone. Bic comes in later

Sarah and I put our deposit down for next year’s Calpe Swing Fiesta before we left, as did many others. As Ryan says – It deserves to go on and on.

Thank you Bic, Simone and all the amazing teachers (Sarah was mesmerised by Hector’s bottom!). Thank you to the Diamanté Hotel for providing a perfect setting. Thank you to our friends old and new from our wonderful dancing community.

We’ll be back.

If you’re not a dancer, go onto YouTube to find out more about Bic and Simone, Ryan Francois, lindy hop and swing dance. If you like what you see, why not look out for lessons in your area?

*Since I wrote this blog, Sarah has managed to have another dance with Ryan  at a different event. I’m sure she’ll remind from time to time!*

 

Please also check our website http://www.markdpritchard.com, which gives details of how to purchase my book I’M NEVER ILL (A journey through brain surgery and beyond…). It tells the story of how I survived a brain haemorrhage in 2009, and how my wife, Sarah, beat breast cancer four years later. It was these illnesses that inspired us to take up Lindy Hop dancing in 2014. The paperback retails at £7.99 on Amazon, while the e-book is only £1.99. It is also available in all major currencies.

Here is my book promotional video:

 

 

How to save money when shopping: The “NO” list.

In our marriage, there is no doubt as to which of us is the most organised. It’s a source of amusement amongst our friends and family, especially those in our dancing world where we have so many events lined up. Associated with these events are many other things, such as what outfits we’ll be wearing depending upon the theme of the occasion. Sometimes it’s a yellow theme or a red theme, or then there may be a film star theme. To be honest, I can’t keep up with it all.

“Where are you going on the weekend, Mark – Gloucester or Abergavenny?” they’d often ask.

“You’re asking the wrong person,” I reply. They give me a knowing smile.

My memory isn’t the best, so it’s just as well Sarah keeps on top of these things. Then they’ll come up with, “Did you have a good time on Saturday night?” My eyes turn thoughtfully up to the ceiling as I attempt to roll back the days, trying to remember exactly where it was and who I danced with, and if I even went anywhere and danced with anyone. When I’m pensive, may face sometimes appears to be angry or, at least, disapproving. I can’t help it and it often gives people a false impression. “Was it that bad?” they ask, before I get chance to reply.

“No, no… it’s coming back. Yeah, it was really good. I remember now.” They’re getting used to me now. I can’t help it. It’s just how it is, and it adds to the humour in our social life. I’m not self-conscious about it – it is what it is.

Our book: I’M NEVER ILL Go to http://www.markdpritchard.com

 

Food wastage

There is one area of our lives, however, where I have had to help Sarah with organisation. When we first met, just under six months before my brain haemorrhage, I noticed how much food wastage there was in her fridge. At the end of the week, before it was time for her next shopping trip, there would be at least £5 worth of food to be thrown away due to it being past the “use by” date. She would buy too much, and often buy things that she already had and didn’t need. I began to think about how many times I’m in a supermarket and have to ask myself whether or not I need, for example, tomatoes. I’m not sure, so I buy some anyway, only to find that when I get home I already have a week’s supply of them left over from last week.

So I devised a plan. It is a really simple idea. It’s so simple that I’m amazed that I’ve never heard of it before. I often mention it to people and they respond with surprise. “That’s a good idea,” they say, “I’d never even thought of doing that.” I know of some people who have now introduced this into their weekly shopping routine. We call it the “NO” List. Aside from a list of things that we need, we compile a list of things that we don’t need. I look in the fridge and see that we have plenty of tomatoes and that they are still firm, so they go on the list. I just noticed that we have enough leeks, parsnips and carrots to last next week, so I’ve put those on the list. The biggest crime is to let an expensive joint of meat go past its “use by” date. I always keep an eye on those. We’ve got ten eggs – that’ll be enough. And so it goes on.

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I create my “No” list on my mobile phone

We’ve discussed our shopping methods, and this has now become a part of the system. If we forget to buy something, we can always pick it up another time when one of us is passing a shop. However, if we buy too much, we could be losing out in the long run. We are generally a lot more organised regarding shopping now. Sarah is very much into meal planning for the week, and we buy things specifically for set meals on set days, depending on how much time we are likely to have on each day. If we have a dance lesson night, we need something quicker than on a night where we have no plans. We both like the meals from Joe Wicks (The Body Coach). We have a number of his Lean in 15 cookbooks. It’s great, healthy food.

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We use Joe Wicks’ recipe books regularly

Sarah tells me, “I don’t want my cancer to come back, and I watched you nearly die in front of me once before so I’m not going to let that happen again.” Well, we can’t live forever of course, but we are trying to stretch it out for as long as we can. We keep dancing, too. It’s great exercise, great fun and will hopefully help us to live long, active lives. We’re going to a dance tonight, too. I can’t remember where though. Hang on, I’ll just go and ask the wife…

Slideshow put to one of my musical recordings

 

We love to share our story. My book I’M NEVER ILL (A journey through brain surgery and beyond…) is available on Amazon as an e-book for £1.99 and as a paperback for £7.99. If you live in the UK, contact me directly and I’ll cover postage costs for the paperback. It has mostly 5* reviews. I don’t have a publisher behind me, so I use blogs like these to market my book.

 

Please visit my website www.markdpritchard.com

 

California Road Trip – Reflections and Lessons Learnt

“I wonder what memories and stories we’ll create over the next two weeks,” I said to Sarah on our flight to San Francisco. Each road trip begins as a blank piece of paper, waiting to be written on, drawn over and coloured in. Each one ends with a catalogue of memories and albums, providing us with entertainment for years after. They have become more than just holidays. Each one becomes its very own complete short story that has unfolded in front of our own eyes. Each one has become a learning experience that enables us to improve upon our journey next time.

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San Francisco 

By sharing what we’ve learned, if other people want to do similar trips, they can take on board the information to use if they wish. So here is a list of things that we have learned from our 2017 California Road Trip and other trips. Some of it will relate just to our own personal preferences. Other bits will be genuine, sound advice that will help everyone embarking on our type of holiday.

1. The Tioga Pass. If you are doing a road trip around California taking in Yosemite National Park, do not underestimate the importance of the Tioga Pass. If you intend to approach Yosemite from the east and the Tioga Pass is closed, you will have a journey of at least five hours to get around to the nearest other entrance. Due to snow, the Tioga Pass is closed EVERY winter. There is no fixed annual date for when it reopens. Some years it reopens in the spring. This year, after one of the heaviest snowfalls on record, it didn’t open until June 29th. As we were staying at Mammoth Lakes to the east of Yosemite, if we had done our road trip at the beginning of June, we would’ve had serious problems.

 
2. If you are from a small island like the UK (as we are), no matter how much you think you have mastered the scale of the distances involved in getting from place to place in the USA, you will STILL underestimate it and leave yourself with more driving to do than you thought. It is a mathematical rule that can control you and make you constantly play “catch up” if you’re not wise to it. Except on the odd occasion, you don’t really want to be exceeding 200 miles per day. I usually find that 150 miles per day is a good enough distance which allow you to make progress while. giving you time to see places.

 
3. If you are road-tripping, NEVER let your petrol/diesel tank go UNDER half-full, and NEVER let your bladder go OVER half-full. You will not be able to achieve this all of the time, but if you set this as a target, it will help you enormously.

 
4. Yosemite Valley and Yosemite National Park are not the same thing. Our accommodation at Mammoth Lakes was only an hour’s drive from Yosemite National Park. It took a further hour and a half to get to Yosemite Valley itself which is deep within the national park. This was a miscalculation on our part, but not a problem as the scenery throughout was breathtaking. Yosemite Valley is crowded, and most places worth seeing involve some kind of hike. If you take children for a day trip, there will be tears. It is probably better to book a hotel in the valley for a few days at least. They get fully-booked very early and they are expensive so be warned and plan ahead. Staying in one of these, however, will save on the hours of travel to get there.

 
5. Death Valley is similar to Yosemite in that hotels in or nearby are expensive and get fully-booked early. If you stay at a hotel IN the valley during the summer months, you can expect temperatures to be +50C in the day time. If you book somewhere outside the valley and travel in, it is only likely to be around 40C. We love heat, and wouldn’t be deterred by 50C as long as we weren’t in it for too long, and if we go again we’ll try to stay at The Furnace Creek Hotel in the valley itself.

 
6. The Shady Lady Bed and Breakfast, Nevada. This where we stayed as a base for our Death Valley trip. Although it is over the border of California into Nevada, it is only just. People are put off going there for two reasons. Firstly it used to be a brothel and has retained its original name, decor and fittings. This is no more than a gimmick. Secondly, it comprises of a few mobile homes a bit like static caravans, isolated and miles from anywhere in the Nevada Desert. Don’t let this deter you. It is actually a FANTASTIC place to stay. If we are ever around the area again we will make a point of trying to book it. The owner, Paul, is an extremely pleasant and helpful fella who deserves the best reviews. It’s a MUST place to stay.

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The Shady Lady Bed and Breakfast 

 
7. Personally, I didn’t find Yosemite Valley as enjoyable as the surrounding Yosemite National Park. Outside the valley there are no crowds and the scenery is beautiful. If I ever went to the valley again I would insist on staying in a hotel inside, to make the days worthwhile, as I didn’t feel it was worth the combination of travel time and the crowds.

 
8. San Francisco can be cold in the summer. It wasn’t until a month or so before our holiday that we realised just how cold San Francisco is at summertime. While surrounding areas bake in the 30s/40s Celsius, the city doesn’t seem to get much above 20C and at night time a drop to 10C combined with the windchill factor means that most people require some warm clothing.

 
9. To us, San Francisco was not the city of love that we’d expected. It was no better than any other city. Maybe we missed something.

 
10. Alcatraz Island. Sarah loved it. She’s always wanted to go there and it was a holiday highlight for her. For me, it has never called me. If it doesn’t call you, like me, it probably won’t be a highlight. I’d rather have been doing other things. If you want to go there, you need to book tickets well in advance.

 
11. Sequoia National Park is a very nice place, but not good for a day trip. Again the distances involved to get there and travel within it, for us, were not justified.

 
12. We journeyed from Death Valley to Baker as a way of avoiding harder routes in order to make quick progress. We don’t know if it was quicker or not, but by sheer accident it took us through the breathtaking Mojave Desert. It was a real treat – the surprise of the holiday.

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The Mojave Desert

 
13. Mono Lake and Mammoth Mountain were real highlights for both of us. We went to the top of the mountain in a gondola (like a cable car). Mono Lake is such a calm and peaceful place with very unusual features. Visit them if you can.

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Mono Lake

 
14. On reflection, it would have been a better plan to have flown in to Las Vegas and made it a one-way trip to San Francisco, flying back from there. One-way trips do incur extra car hire charges for the return of the vehicle. It would probably have added $200 to $300 to the car hire bill, but we would have done fewer miles. Las Vegas isn’t far from Death Valley, so that would have been our first place to visit.

 
15. If you are from the UK and used to driving a car with a manual gearbox, the transition to both driving on the right and driving an automatic will handicap you as a driver initially. You need to be aware of this and make allowances. If you can, practise for some time in the car rental parking area. If you pick your car up from an airport, the chances are that you will be thrust into high-speed and busy traffic conditions almost immediately. It’s not as easy as some people might say and you’ll really need to concentrate. You wouldn’t want to ruin your holiday before it’s even started.

 
16. When you pick up your car, you will have the option of hiring a SatNav (they call it GPS in the USA). Get one and use it. Trust me.

 

This was our third US road trip. It’s only because we have both been seriously ill that we have decided to live for the moment when we can. Each one gets better because they take practice and confidence to gain full benefit. There is so much more that we would love to share, but this is just a blog – not a book. Despite the hours of planning we put into our road trips, there are some things that can’t be controlled. I told Sarah before this holiday that I wouldn’t be coming home until I’d seen a bear. I didn’t see one. As I am writing this, we are somewhere over Canada on the flight home.

 

Please visit our website http://www.markdpritchard.com for details of our book, I’M NEVER ILL (A journey through brain surgery and beyond…).

California Road Trip Day 13 – The Bridges around the Bay and the Return of the Car.

Handing the car back at the rental drop off point at the airport is never a disappointment. There are always question marks hanging over your head when you do a road trip. There is always something that could go wrong even at the last moment. On the contrary, it’s a “high five” moment of victory, a sense of achievement, having came, seen and conquered.

It was 3.30pm when we handed the keys over, but not before one last throw of the dice, with a mini road trip clockwise over the bridges around San Francisco Bay, beginning with the Golden Gate and ending with the Bay Bridge. It was a perfect end to our amazing holiday. A brief visit to Twin Peaks for a view of the city we’ll leave behind and a walk around Golden Gate Park sealed the deal.

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Approaching the Bay Bridge ftom the east

Road trip over. We didn’t find San Francisco as magical a place as people say. We didn’t feel the love. It, to us, was just like any other city, and not as enjoyable as some. We preferred Miami at the end of last year’s Florida road trip. Maybe we missed something.

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One last look at San Francisco from Twin Peaks

Maybe we’re just road trippers at heart, and to be in a city after experiencing some exquisite scenery in the deserts and forests will mean that a stay in the city at the end of a road trip will always be a bit of an anti-climax.

We’ve just checked in to the Bay Landing Hotel at San Francisco airport. Time for a late afternoon sleep before heading out for one last evening meal.

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Time to go home

If you’ve enjoyed reading about our California road trip, why not read our book, I’M NEVER ILL (A journey through brain surgery and beyond…), which tells the story of the events that made us become US road trippers three years ago. Details can be found on our website http://www.markdpritchard.com

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California Road Trip Day 12 – Alcatraz and a Whale

“Could you take us to Pier 33, please?” I asked the cabbie parked at the kerbside. He gestured with his head to the back seat, saying nothing. As we got in and were putting on our seat belts I asked, “How are you this morning?” Again he said nothing. We certainly weren’t feeling any Summer of Love vibes here. The only tip he deserved was on anticipation and awareness of other road users. We arrived at 9.40am, in plenty of time for our 10.30am ferry departure for Alcatraz Island.

It was a very well organised trip, with an audio tour talking us through grim tales of escape attempts and bloodshed. There was free wifi throughout the island, so I suppose it couldn’t have been TOO bad for the inmates.

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A cell at Alcatraz 

In the afternoon we made our way by Muni back to the Golden Gate Bridge. We’d originally planned to cycle over it, but settled for doing it on foot. It gives great views of the city and of Alcatraz Island. Although my long distance eyesight is much better than Sarah’s, it was her, typically, who spotted a whale in the distance about to swim under the bridge. We were unable to get a photo, but it added to the thrill of the walk.

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San Francisco from the Golden Gate Bridge 

For the last two days, our car has been in a car park close to the hotel. It’s costing us $45 (about £35) per night. It’s expensive I suppose, but we have had little option. Tomorrow, we have to return the car by 8pm at the airport, close to the hotel we’ll be staying at on our last night before flying back to Manchester on Sunday. We took the car out this evening and drove over the Golden Gate Bridge to look at San Francisco at night from the other side at a place called Sausalito. We ate in a restaurant here with good views over the bay towards to illuminated city skyline.

Tomorrow I have one more mini road trip lined up for us on the way to the airport. It’s what our holiday is all about.

Please check our website http://www.markdpritchard.com

California Road Trip Day 11 – Golden Gate Bridge and West Coast Swing

“This breakfast is far more civilised than yesterday,” Sarah said.
“Where were we yesterday?” I asked.

That’s how confusing it can be on road trips sometimes.

After breakfast we spent a couple of hours on foot, visiting some famous local sights, such as Lombard Street, The Painted Ladies and Mrs Doubtfire’s house.

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Lombard Street

Later in the day we caused an argument on the bus. “I’ll tell you when to get off to catch the no. 28 for The Golden Gate Bridge,” said the bus driver.
“Thank you,” I said as I sat down. A woman who looked like Yoko Ono sitting opposite said, “I’LL tell you when to get off. He doesn’t know. He doesn’t explain it properly.”
“Oh ok,” I said.
The lady next to me said, “The driver will tell you.”
“No you listen to ME!” said Yoko, “You need to get off at Chestnut.”
“You need to get off at Lombard,” said the driver, “HERE!”
He was becoming angry with Yoko. As we were obediently (or disobediently in Yoko’s eyes) gerting off the bus, he yelled, “You only EVER listen to the bus driver. No one else!”
“Ok, thank you,” I said. “Have a nice day.”
“You too,” said the driver.
Yoko muttered something but I didn’t quite catch it. I think it was something like, “… got a ticket to ride.”

Today was warm and sunny, about 75C with a light wind. Perfect for viewing and taking pictures of the bridge. We began to make sense of the transport system, known as the Muni. San Francisco seemed, on the first day, a complicated and confusing network. But just like most things it became very easy.

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Golden Gate Bridge

At 4pm we arrived back at the hotel. We’ve holidayed hard over the last eleven days and it’s beginning to take its toll on us. We needed an afternoon sleep for an hour before setting out for an evening’s swing dancing at the 920 Special just a short distance away from our hotel. They hold a dance every Thursday evening, and Sarah (she’s on clothes) has packed our dancing shoes in anticipation of a little bit of lindy hop. We saw some wonderful, talented dancers at the 9.20 Special, staying until 11pm, throwing a few shapes ourselves. It’s good to meet lindy hoppers from around the world. It’s a great community and we all dance the same language, albeit with a few dialectic differences.

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Lindy hop dancing at the 9.20 Special 

Tomorrow, we have tickets to take a boat to Alcatraz Island. There really is no escape now (have I said that before?).

Please visit our website http://www.markdpritchard.com

California Road Trip Day 10 – San Francisco, Sea Lions and Tender Nob

At 10am we left Monterey behind us at a cloudy 65F, getting our first glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge 12.45pm. The temperature had risen to a very comfortable 75F, but it was 2.15pm before we were able to get out of the car to make the most of it. It was then that we arrived at the Marine’s Memorial Hotel, a short walk from Union Square, at an area called Tender Nob (“I wouldn’t like to live THERE!” says Sarah). It took us a whole hour and a half to decipher which of our SatNav’s directions to believe and which to dismiss because of one-way systems and road closures that it didn’t recognise. This, plus a complete gridlock in the city for a full 20 minutes.

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Approaching San Francisco

After checking in and handing the car keys in to a car park attendant who parked the car for us in a nearby car park, we wandered through Union Square to an information centre where we bought three-day city transport passes. Sarah has always wanted to ride up Powell Street on one of those cable cars that you’d see on TV’s The Streets of San Francisco. The bottom of Powell Street is close the hotel. It was worth the 50 minute wait for it to take us up over the hill, to the background noise of car horns and emergency sirens – just like on the TV, to Fisherman’s Wharf. It was here that we had our first glimpse of Alcatraz (we have tickets booked for the tour on Friday, so there’s no escape), and at the famous Pier 39 we watched the hilarious sea lions barking and fighting for space. In the distance, the Golden Gate Bridge faded in and out of sight as the fog drifted.

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Sea Lions at Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf

At Pier 39, we dined at a restaurant with a lovely view over the Bay towards The Bay Bridge before taking the cable car back to the hotel.

We now have to get our maps out and plan the next two days.

Visit our website http://www.markdpritchard.com

California Road Trip Day 9 – The Pacific Coast Highway and a Drop in Temperature

We left our hotel at Fresno at 10am and made our way west towards the coast. We passed the usual mountains and fruit farms (selling things at crazy prices such as six avocados for a dollar), watching the temperature slowly drop from somewhere in the 80s to a relatively chilly and cloudy 65F by the time we reached Monterey at 12.45pm.

Driving down the Pacific Coast Highway, we were unable to go beyond Big Sur because of landslides and damage to the road as a result of storms earlier in the year. The roads have been carved into the cliffs, winding sharply and overlooking sheer drops into the sea below, just like in the movies. We stopped for a coffee at Big Sur before swapping seats for Sarah to drive back up the coast road to Carmel.

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The Pacific Coast Highway 

We would have loved to explore Carmel further, but today was the day of a big car show. There was simply nowhere to park in the town. However, after giving up on the notion of getting a glimpse of resident Clint Eastwood (does he still live there?), we went to the beach and for the first time paddled in the Pacific Ocean. It was a good feeling.

There is a stretch of coast road between Carmel and Monterey called “17-mile Drive”. It’s a kind of national park that requires an entrance fee of $10.25. We drove to Monterey via this route, enjoying some great coastal views. One of the many places to see was an island called Bird Rock. Hundreds, possibly thousands of birds were gathered there about a quarter of a mile from the shore, close enough also to make out and hear the seals playing amongst them. Still without a proper camera, the zoom facility on my iPhone was insufficient to get a decent seal picture. Hopefully, that’ll change tomorrow when we reach San Francisco for the final leg of our holiday. Civilisation at last. Surely I’ll be able to find a camera shop there!

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The Pacific Ocean from 17-mile Drive

Using the SatNav (GPS if you’re from the USA), Sarah is now becoming an expert. In fact, she is becoming more than an expert. On one occasion, when the SatNav asserted, “TURN RIGHT NOW!” Sarah replied with, “Don’t listen to her. She’s confused. Go left here, then you’ll be right.” I LOVE clear directions.

Today was a much more enjoyable day than yesterday; a proper “road tripper’s” day. One thing that often irks us in America is that it can be difficult to find a restaurant other than a fast-food chain. Here, in Monterey, just a couple of hundred yards from our hotel we found a perfect Italian restaurant. So far, all of our evening meals have been either self-catered or fast-food places or similar. A very welcome change. Hopefully, in San Francisco for the last four days of this wonderful road trip, that will continue.

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