Wednesday 5 March 2014

California: Day Two - Berkley, Albany and Chico

On Wednesday morning we allowed ourselves to sleep in a little bit, but still not having completely adapted to the time change we were awake pretty early for vacation standards – by 8:00am. It didn’t take long to pack up so by 9:00am were loading up the car ready to head north. We stopped at a Walgreens to get a few car snacks and drinks, and then drove to Lombard Street. This is a famous street that is super steep - so much so you can only drive down it. It is also the street where Robin Williams has a house. 

The bottom of Lombard 
View from the top of Lombard
Afterward we headed for the Oakland-Bay Bridge. We were heading to Chico (which is in northern California) to spend a few days with Brian’s mother. As it is only around 3-3.5 hours from San Francisco to Chico, Brian planned the day so I could see some of the Bay area.

After crossing the bridge we first stopped in Emeryville, where the first thing we did was find a Peet’s coffee. Brian is a total coffee addict – which is hilarious since coffee is something I hardly ever drink. I am much more a tea/hot chocolate person, and the few times I do have something caffeinated it’s a fancy Starbucks drink that I modify so it hardly tastes like coffee! Peets is a mainly west coast chain, and is one of Brains favorite coffee places. For Christmas’s it’s the coffee he requests his brother to send as a gift. I tried a few different things there, but I am much more of a Starbucks person (they are much more non-coffee drinker friendly).
Starbucks vs Peets!
Brian’s stepfather used to live in Emeryville, so it was an area he used to know – but in the 16 years that have passed since Brian lived in the area a lot had changed. The town has been built up a lot, and has a street of fancy high end stores, and restaurants. The really cool market he remembered had also changed a bit, and what used to be like the St. Lawrence market in Toronto had become more like the food court of the Pickering Flea Market. We didn’t stay long – he showed me where his mom used to work, and his stepfather’s old house. Then we drove into Albany, where Brian had lived. Brian grew up in Maryland, but after his parents divorce moved to California with his mom and siblings. Brian was 16 at the time, and by 18 was back on the east coast for University.

Albany is a small town beside Berkeley that reminded me a lot of Port Hope. It’s a cute town with a main street lined with shops and restaurants. We drove by the high school he had attended – which had been torn down and rebuilt after he graduated. He showed me where he used to live, as well as the insane route he would run as part of his cross country training. The route was full of these insane, steep hills that looked exhausting to walk, let alone run. He showed me places he had hung out with friends, and we stopped at one of them – a burrito place – for lunch. It wasn’t as amazing as he remembered, but it was good.
Albany is not very smoker-friendly 
After seeing Albany, we drove into Berkeley and around the university campus and grounds. We parked in the downtown area and spent some time wandering around. We found this wonderful little bookstore tucked away – called Friends of Berkeley Library. Their books were great quality with low prices. I don’t tend to be a used bookstore person, but this place was somewhere I would shop often if I lived in the area. I bought one of the Post Secret books, and Brian bought about 10 Sci-Fi/Fantasy books. All of it came to $15.00! What a bargain.
Brian's favorite house - very cool!
We went into a few local shops before making our way onto the campus. What a difference from where I went to school. UTSC was a great school, but it is very much a commuter campus, and to be completely honest, it is ugly. Berkeley however, is the type of university you see on TV/Movies. The large open quad area, booths set up for different causes and organizations, boards covered with different posters advertising accommodations, books, jobs, etc.  The buildings are older but in great condition, and only a few blocks away the fraternity’s line the streets. Maybe the main UofT campus in downtown Toronto, would be similar to this – but my university experience was nothing like this campus! (I’d never trade my experience though – I loved my time at UTSC, even those days when rain would seep through the humanities building and I’d have to step around buckets collecting water!)

As we were leaving the campus we stopped for a few minutes to listen to some of the school’s concert band playing music from the Disney movie Frozen – they were fantastic! And I walked away with “Let’s build a snowman” stuck in my head for days.

The drive up to Chico was uneventful. We stopped a few times for coffee breaks and to get some photos. We drove through Davis, and I was tempted to visit the store where Megan works. Megan is someone I know from the same online community I met Brian through, and was there when he and I first met in person all those years ago. I don’t really talk to many people from there anymore – life takes people in different directions, and friendships change. If I had known our route was going through Davis I would have gotten in touch, but we had initially planned to go up through Napa and do the Bay Area the following week. I also didn’t know if she was working, and would have felt awkward just showing up at her work like a creepy stalker person.

On our way into Chico I made Brian stop at a Lavender Ranch. Lavender is one of my favorite scents, and it was cool to see it being grown. The attached store had an incredible array of homemade products using locally grown lavender – soaps, creams, oils, even lavender to cook with. I bought some cream and body wash, and would have bought a lot more if I hadn’t foreseen problems getting it all home without incident.

We arrived at Brian’s mom’s house just after she got home from work. We visited for a bit, and then went over to the adult-facility that his step-grandmother lives at. We didn’t stay too long, and promised to return the following day. We returned to Brian’s mom’s house and had a nice dinner catching up. The time change started to catch up with us at this point, so it was another early evening.

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