In Which I See Whales And My Vitamin D Triples In One Week

Here’s the thing about Warsaw. There are many nice aspects to living there, and it is Europe after all, but winter is long. I am speaking as a veteran of seven Central European winters. Warsaw has a lot of winter. If you move to Warsaw, you need to know this. You need to plan for a break.

My current break was provided by my mother, who helpfully scheduled a knee replacement operation for late February. My presence in Nashville was requested during the recovery period. Fortunately, California is on the way to Tennessee from Europe. It is because I say it is! I made my now-annual trip to Palo Alto once again, to visit with my daughter and to soak up sunshine. Lots and lots of sunshine.

Warsaw to Palo Alto is a long trip. And I was on a fully loaded KLM flight with lots of kids. So, three movies, but no sleep for me. I picked up my rental car at San Francisco Airport, and thanks in part to to the loud Chinese-language AM radio that blew me half out of my seat when I started the car, I made it to Palo Alto. I fell asleep sitting in front of my laptop around 8 PM, but no one was watching so it doesn’t count. Did I mention that I am getting too old for this, er, stuff?

It was all worth it. I knew this as soon as I stepped out of the airport. I belong in the sun. I just do.

First on the agenda was a quick trip to Alcatraz. It’s kind of weird to tour a prison, but Alcatraz feels more like a medieval fortress than a modern jailhouse.

View from an Alcatraz cell window.
View from an Alcatraz cell window.

Normally, audio tours just annoy me, but this was a good one, including interviews with former prisoners, guards, and family members. It was a beautiful day in the Bay, and my daughter and I both thoroughly enjoyed the tour.

Inside a solitary confinement cell with dorky audio tour headphones.
Inside a solitary confinement cell with dorky audio tour headphones.

Later in the week, she had to work for a couple of days, so I took off to Monterey for a couple of nights. It was time to check whale-watching off the bucket list! And the Monterey Bay Aquarium. And beaches. (Cannery Row not so much. But it was OK.)

Monterey harbor.
Monterey harbor.
Sea birds on the beach.
Sea birds on the beach.

There was a storm the night before the whale-watching trip, so the seas were a bit rough. Luckily, I’m not one to get seasick. I actually thought the wild ride was kind of fun, and stayed on the upper deck to enjoy it. But at least half the people on the boat (and nearly all the kids) were sick over the rails down below. I felt bad for them, but I have to admit, it was pretty fun not to have to worry about seasick family members on the trip. Benefits of solo travel.

Sea lions in the harbor.
Sea lions in the harbor.

We saw grays and humpbacks, including one that surfaced right next to the boat in the harbor! Lots of seabirds and sea lions. And dolphins that played in our wake all the way back to post. It was awesome. I spent the rest of the afternoon walking on the beach and eating fish tacos. Pretty much a perfect day.

Dolphins playing in the wake of the tour boat.
Dolphins playing in the wake of the tour boat.

On the way back to Palo Alto, I stopped at the San Carlos Borroméo de Carmelo Mission. No trip is complete without a little history in my book.

The Mission courtyard.
The Mission courtyard.
Fountain in a corner of the courtyard.
Fountain in a corner of the courtyard. I think this is the original baptismal font from the mission church, recovered from the ruins.

The Carmel Mission, founded about 1770,  was one of the earliest Spanish missions in California, and the site of a regional basilica for some time. It’s been completely restored and is a real jewel of Spanish colonial architecture, surrounded by beautiful gardens.

Pretty corridor at the Mission.
Pretty corridor at the Mission.

The gift shop sells the usual Catholic tchotchkes, with a California twist: holy granola! Only $12.99 a package. I managed to resist, though I’ll admit to being tempted by the potential spiritual benefits that might convey from consuming said granola.

Holy granola.
Holy granola.

Who am I kidding: I didn’t need any holy granola! Spiritual benefits were conveyed by sunshine, fresh air, fish tacos and good wine. Cheaper than therapy and much more fun!

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