Sunday, June 07, 2015

Almost Like Being in England

Yesterday, I boarded a train and rode a couple of hours to have an adventure--one which involved gardens, Shakespeare, and tea. You could be forgiven for thinking I've gone back ten years to when I was still in England, but nope, here I am, in California. Nonetheless, it was a lovely day out.

The train system in California isn't anything like England--while the British complain about BritRail, it's still far more accessible and far-reaching than what we have here in our car-obsessed state. Still, at least we have something, and I used it once, at the end of 2013, to meet Summer before we departed for our road trip to San Diego, and found it to be a comfortable and efficient way to travel.

A week ago, Summer and I cooked up a plan to have tea in San Francisco this weekend. Having tried a lovely place in Noe Valley last fall, we were eager to try The Secret Garden, just south of Golden Gate Park. We made plans to meet at the Ikea in Emeryville, where I would leave my car in their massive garage, and Summer would drive us into the city. Then, mid-week, it occurred to me: why not take the train? I sent Summer a message asking if that would inconvenience her. "Not at all!" she replied, as the Emeryville train station is actually very near the Ikea, and probably easier to get in and out of with a car.

From a financial standpoint, taking the train ($32 each way) was more expensive than taking RoPro. I would have had to put about $40 worth of gas in her before leaving, and maybe used about $20-$30 of that getting to Emeryville and back. But in terms of peace of mind, the train was an absolute bargain. Interstate 80 is nasty on a good day. On weekends, with people trying to get in and out of the city, it's a nightmare. I've come to a standstill many a time in otherwise-sleepy parts of the valley, and I really, really don't like driving it. I just really like going to the bay area.

So, I took the train. And it was marvelous.

To start, the trains are very clean, even though they're pretty well-used. The train was not packed, but there were a fair amount of people boarding at every stop. I took the Capitol Corridor train, which runs from Auburn all the way to San Jose, stopping in Rocklin (where I got on board), Roseville, Sacramento, Davis, Fairfield/Suisun, Martinez, Richmond, Berkeley, and then Emeryville (before moving on to some stops in Oakland and then the South Bay/Silicon Valley stops). There are some lovely views of California farmland along the way, as well as some maybe not-so-lovely trips through the urban masses.

I left RoPro at the Rocklin station all day. I figure I saved
some wear and tear.

Waiting at the Rocklin Station.

Historic Roseville


Cows and wind turbines. And you thought California was
all beach.

Over the hills is Karl the Fog, waiting for me.

As we moved into the North Bay, the cargo ships and industry
were all over.

The Carquinez Straight has to bridges (one in each direction).
Another advantage of train travel: no bridge tolls!
My train arrived in Emeryville right on time, and Summer was waiting out front. We drove into the city from there, and found ourselves with a couple of hours to spare before our reservation time. We parked in Golden Gate Park and had a wander.

Intrigued by a sign for a "Shakespeare Garden," we happily set off to find it. Summer's first mistake was trusting my map-reading and navigational skills. My first mistake was believing that I have such skills. (Actually, I do, it's just when I get it wrong, I get it hilariously and hugely wrong.)

We set off down one of the many streets through the park, having looked at a map and determining that the Shakespeare Garden would be on our left, up a little bit.

And we walked.

A little more.


We found another map, and determined that we were, in fact, nowhere near the Shakespeare Garden. Forty-five minutes of walking had led us quite a bit beyond it, actually. We doubled back and tried again, figuring out that the garden was actually pretty close to the Academy of Arts and Sciences.

I took a few pictures along the way.

We walked to the Academy, figuring if we were near that, we'd be near the Shakespeare Garden. And we were. We just didn't know it. We walked in a large circle, seeing a small park to our right (guess what it was?), and came back to the main road, where a sign we had walked by an hour previously pointed out the pathway to...the Shakespeare Garden.

We both have FitBits now and we were both pleased with all the extra steps.

Having found the garden--finally--we had a peek inside. It was cute, but has definitely seen some better days, maintenance-wise.

"And though she be but little, she is fierce."

Our curiosity assuaged, we decided to go to the Japanese Tea Garden for a wander. Of course, it was Saturday, which means that half of San Francisco decided to go to the Japanese Tea Garden for a wander, but still, it's a pretty little garden, and fun to visit. Sadly, Karl the Fog made it difficult to get truly gorgeous pictures. In the sunshine, the reds and greens of the tea garden are magnificent.

Cute, but at $8.50 a pop for something that's smaller than the
pad of my

On a sunny day, the colors in this one would have popped.

Artsy shot of Summer.

By this time, it was time to start wandering back out of the park. We had just enough time to walk up a block or two to explore the neighborhood, but our hungry tummies and our reservation time were looming.

The Mucky Duck. I had my duck with me but he didn't get
any pics yesterday.

Finally, it was time for tea.

Summer and I have been to a few tea places together, and are determined to try new ones as we find them. It's always fun to try a new place, as you never know what kind of decor and atmosphere they will have.

The Secret Garden was certainly pleasing to look at, though it was more brightly-lit than most tea places we've visited, where lower lighting seems to invite relaxation and conversation. Obviously, we didn't let the lighting stop us, but it was something we both noticed and remarked on.

The service, too, left a little something missing. It was friendly enough, though there wasn't a tremendous amount of it. This can be very nice, not having someone interrupt every few minutes. My biggest complaint, however, was the time difference between my food being served, and Summer's.

Summer ordered a gluten-free version of the tea, and this, of course, required some modifications. When my food came out, I refrained from starting to eat, figuring it would only be a moment before they came back with Summer's. When her food didn't immediately materialize, she encouraged me to start my sandwiches.

And oh, they were good sandwiches.

Still, I ate about three or four of them--and this was taking dainty, cut-up bites of them, slowly, and drinking at least half a cup of tea between each sandwich--before Summer's food came, a good ten minutes, or more, after mine. That's just not good planning and service.

The food was amazing. The sandwiches included a cranberry-orange cream cheese, egg and chive, curried chicken with raisins, apple with vanilla cream cheese, and tomato with pesto. They were presented beautifully, as were the desserts and fruit. The scone had swirls of cinnamon through it, and was fresh and soft, served with clotted cream and strawberry preserves.

You can see the tomato pesto, and the one front and center is
the cranberry-orange.

A lemon tart with mint, a small key lime pie bite, two tiny
cookies, and fruit. There is a drizzle of chocolate on the plate.

The best part of any tea--the scone. 

A quick shot I took before we left.

We had a lovely time, and spent a good hour slowly eating every bite and drinking every drop of tea. Summer had a roobios tea, while I had a "Lemon Splash" black tea that was less sour lemon and more lemon meringue. We were pleased with our fare but again, felt that the service and ambiance were lacking compared to other places we've been.

Completely full, we were ready to head back to the car, and drive around the city a little. We made our way down towards Ocean Beach, which was packed despite the fog and wind (there were lots of kites in the air), and made a quick detour to a viewing point I suddenly recalled.

The Golden Gate Bridge is in this picture. Look under the
tree branches.

You can just make out the Golden Gate.

Looking out to sea. Karl is in town!

At this point, we had to cross the city, so we found ourselves on Geary, which goes from one end to the other. I took a few random snaps with my phone along the way.

Just before we got on the Bay Bridge, I remembered the Belmont Stakes and American Pharoah's (oh, it pains me to misspell it!) quest for a Triple Crown, and tuned into a live feed on an NBC Sports app I have on my phone. The race ran basically as we crossed the bridge, and I kept a running commentary as I stared at my phone and Summer drove: "Oh, my God, he's leading early. That's scary. He could get tired and lose."

"Oh my God, Summer, he's still leading. They're in the final turn and no one can pass him yet. Oh, my God."

"Oh, my GOD, Summer, he's going to do it! I think he's going to do it!! GO, you beautiful boy! GO!!"


I wasn't too loud--after all, traffic on the bridge is horrendous and Summer had to concentrate, but the commentary is pretty much all true.

I continued watching the immediate post-race celebrations while Summer steered us into a shopping center in Emeryville. We popped into a few stores and Target (we always end up at Target).

The current Peanuts stuff at Target is killing me. KILLING me.

Summer has requested this pinata for her 40th birthday in a few
By the time we left Target, it was time for me to get to the station. I had enough time to walk around the block, and to sit and wait. My train arrived right at 6:33, and I was off, back to the Sacramento Valley. I had a small dinner on the train, then settled in to re-watch the Belmont and enjoy watching the world go by. I had a book with me, but I couldn't focus on reading it.

Now arriving...the conductor, at every stop, would say, "All
aboard!" which made me smile.

Early evening in the north bay.

Leaving the bay, entering the valley.

Getting close to home.

It's impossible to get a good sunset shot with an iPhone
through a train window, while moving, but I tried.

I arrived at the Rocklin station just before 9:00, to find RoPro waiting with a few drops on her--it may have rained a bit while I was gone. I snapped a pic of her with the train and then eagerly set off on the ten-minute drive home.

It was a marvelous day, and not having to drive made it even more so. Another fun adventure with Summer in the books!

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