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Laura in CA

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Laura in CA last won the day on February 12 2014

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About Laura in CA

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  1. The Oakland Amtrak station (at Jack London Square) is also an easy walk from the BART station – just a few blocks. We've done the walk lugging a small suitcase each.
  2. We've done the Coast Starlight 3 times recently, twice from Oakland and once from LA. I guess we've always gone north, and flown home from Seattle. The most spectacular scenery is definitely on the LA-to-San Luis Obispo (roughly) part. After that it goes inland. It's still pretty, but except for seeing Mount Shasta (around 6–7am northbound), which is beautiful and snowy, it's not "coast" and just normal farmland, hills, rivers, mountains, etc. Very pretty but not spectacular. We've had both a roomette (perfect for one person; cramped for two!) and a sleeping cabin. Even the roomette gets you the first-class perks available to sleeper-car passengers, although since they discontinued the parlour car (waah!), and with it the park ranger talks, wine tastings, movie room, etc. last year, there are fewer "perks" and personally I think I'd be fine in just a seat (which is cheap), especially as a young person. (I've taken the Greyhound bus from SF to Washington State and to New York, and the train is much nicer!) The annoying thing is that even for a first-class (business class?) seat, you don't get a reserved seat, so you should board ASAP and head for the seat you want (aisle, window, quiet car, etc.). ETA: I'm not sure about seat assignments .. this was just hearsay. We've always gotten at least a roomette b/c the trip is 24+ hours and hey, we're old! I haven't read all the replies, but just in case no one mentioned it, prices go up (for the rooms, at least) as the trip gets closer. Also, Amtrak is notorious for delays (although we had no problems the 3 trips we took recently), b/c they have to give freight trains priority, so he should have a Plan B in case he arrives several hours late. (I just took the TGV last week and oh my, we were going 200 mph. So nice!)
  3. My husband learned that stretch at Fleet Feet and swears by it! He's fine when he does that (and wears good shoes).
  4. Four years ago we did a river cruise with Grand Circle with my parents (who paid). There were wonderful things about it and some things that made me want to SCREAM lol. The fact that it was "free" made it all right. Our main frustrations were mainly a result of the age of the other passengers (99% were old and although active, slooow) and the usual inherent disadvantages of any kind of group activity, even when the groups are small, as on a river cruise (my husband and I usually travel independently). But the scenery (Budapest to the Black Sea) was amazing, the crew and staff were excellent, and they had interesting programs and tours lined up each day – almost too many. And it was a nice way to spend time with my parents and not have to deal with transportation and packing and unpacking – you just stay in your cabin for the whole trip. We've done long-distance train trips in North America and in Europe and would choose that – or a quick trip to Europe – over a river cruise (although we are still tempted by the glossy brochures!). We just got back from 12 days in France (Paris and Dijon) and are talking about going back this fall. Jet lag can be brutal but just follow the advice here. We were fine this trip. We also did a week in Louisiana and Mississippi 4 weeks ago and it was also fantastic. I guess we love to travel. We enjoy hiking and culture; a beach would not interest us (I guess we have them here in CA anyway 😄). In France we did museums but also lots and lots of outdoorsy things, such as walking along the Canal Saint-Martin; walking the entire High Line (Coulée Verte/Promenade Plantée) several times; spending hours in a boat on the Seine; I took a ballet class (in French 😉); outdoor farmers' markets; etc. ETA: just saw a PP. I've also been mulling over Mackinac Island – it looks so idyllic! I've been urging a friend of mine who wants to travel to just DO it. Even if it's just a weekend in London or Paris, it will get their feet wet and be a memorable experience. Happy anniversary!
  5. Haha, I've taken photos of our car at the airport! And we've had some bad experiences returning cars. At Heathrow last September we got gouged something like £500 for a microscopic scratch. A photo wouldn't have helped there, unless we'd taken close-ups of all the bumpers, I guess. Luckily this was a work trip so my husband's company paid most of it. And returning a car at Edinburgh train station last July, we left it there around 11:30am since we had a 12:00 train back to London. They said they'd process it right away. Well, it wasn't checked in until 18:00 so we were charged an extra day. 🤯😡 Some places really take advantage of tourists who are in a hurry to catch a plane or train ...
  6. Wow, that's CRAZY!
  7. and yes, get a small car. There was a thread in the Rick Steves forums in which someone was talking about rental car width in MILLIMETERS. LOL we don't do that in the States. In the UK and on the Continent we always get the smallest car we can, and usually stick shift (cheaper, and more exciting!). Sooo much easier to park, and to navigate narrow streets with cars parked half on the sidewalk/half in the street (!). And the streets are narrow to start with. And there are lots of cyclists. Oh, here's the thread – including this quote: "It was bigger than I wanted, at 2009 mm wide including mirrors".
  8. Thank you for the heads-up. We flew back from Mexico last summer and I had bought a few bars of chocolate, which I didn't declare. A VERY grumpy customs guy at PHX yelled at me and said chocolate needed to be declared and I should be "honest" next time. 😱
  9. Houses are certainly "staged" in our area to obtain the maximum selling price, but – and this is heartening since I dread doing that and our house has that "lived-in" look 😂 (luckily we aren't planning to sell, ever!) – in our crazy area many houses sell within a few days, so staging is not an absolute necessity. Even in the 1990s, the house we bought (and still live in) was on the market for only 4 hours (one afternoon). The people living in it had 3 kids, including a baby, and the house was full of their stuff (and a dog). This house in Oakland (my son used to run by it) was on the market for $400k last year and became a meme for insane Bay Area real estate prices – I just checked it out and oh my gosh it sold for $686k and is now valued at $795k (location, location ...). Obviously it was valuable only for the land and location. https://www.zillow.com/homes/for_sale/1091-Alcatraz-Ave-Oakland,-CA,-94608_rb/ Anyway, not trying to brag! haha. And my house looks a little nicer than this one. It's a big, big problem here (the sky-high housing prices), driving many people out of state who would prefer to stay, or giving others monster commutes (and clogging the freeways) b/c property IS affordable an hour or two to the east of the Bay Area.
  10. Definitely check out grocery stores. It's fun to see how people in other countries shop (mustard in metal tubes? 🤔; leeks very common; different types and colors of cheeses!), plus there's a good variety of items that make good souvenirs/gifts, and DON'T cost an arm and a leg as at tourist sights. I dearly wanted Christmas tree ornaments, too, but even in Oxford at Christmastime all I could find were either super expensive (like £12+ ($16) each), or just generic Christmas-y. I found that reusable (jute) shopping bags were very popular gifts and I love seeing these bags being used around town 🙂. AND the most expensive one cost ~$5 at Waitrose. In the pic below (yay, I did a photo! I didn't mean it to be so large, though ...) all the bags are from Waitrose except the lifeboat one (from a lifeboat station in Cornwall) and the bored-looking rabbit (from a bookstore in Romania), which my kids think is HILARIOUS. ETA: I use these bags all the time (I use different ones for each activity, such as music, the library, or the gym) and they are a lovely reminder of our trips each time. And the smaller ones are just as handy and easier to bring back. And 2 years ago I did find wonderful, affordable Christmas-tree ornaments at Marks & Spencer, of British icons such as red phone booths and red pillar (mail)boxes – but none were to be found last Christmas ...
  11. I second In Bruges, Roman Holiday, and Hot Fuzz, and got lots of ideas from the PPs. The “classics” for us include any Marx Bros. film The Awful Truth High Noon It Happened One Night Master and Commander Bend It Like Beckham Glory Waking Ned Devine Cold Comfort Farm A Room with a View adding: Gosford Park, Stagecoach (1939), Strictly Ballroom, Le Dîner de Cons (French, 1998), Le Magnifique (French, 1973), Henry V (Branagh), Back to the Future, Chariots of Fire, Arsenic and Old Lace, Gran Torino .... Oh, do NOT miss the Ealing Studios classics "Ladykillers" (1955) and "Kind Hearts and Coronets" (1949)
  12. I second (third) Rick Steves – his website has free videos (all of his TV shows, in fact, plus talks he and his sidekicks have given) on sights, packing, etc. Loads of information. And the Rick Steves travel forums are very helpful. Many first-time travelers post there with basic questions. In London (we've been 7 times in the last 3 years lol) we always try to do a London Walk. They are always fantastic, informative, and entertaining. A great value at, I think, £10. One of our recent walks was in the Rotherhithe neighborhood (I think it was the Brunel walk; we went by the Mayflower pub – if you pop your head in you'll see a poster showing the original Pilgrims on the ship and who was left after the first year) and one of the people on the walk was a native Londoner who was intending to do all the walks (over a period of years) to learn more about her city. The walks are nice b/c you just show up, so you can decide at the last minute based on the weather, your energy level, your location, etc. You can also slip quietly away if 2 hours of sights and information is too long when you're jet-lagged 🙂 @saw – please compliment your son on his website! I am definitely interested in seeing where the Liberty Bell was cast (not least b/c I've done some tower-bell ringing in England!); unfortunately there may be plans to turn it into a boutique hotel (!). I didn't notice Benjamin Franklin's house on his list ... And St Dunstan-in-the-West has some information posted about people from the church who settled in the American colonies; Lord Baltimore is buried there. Might be worth checking out! And we have been in London several times around Christmastime and were intrigued by the Christmas carol services at All Hallows by the Tower (what an evocative name!) but haven't been yet (too much else going on!). I will have to go sometime. Soror, you will have a wonderful time! I also recommend packing light. We look for light, unbreakable souvenirs and gifts. Some of the most popular have been CDs of music from churches (like St Bride's in London; Oxford churches; etc.) for people who like that sort of thing; key chains w/iconic local things such as Eiffel tower or Paddington bear (they were easier to find and cheaper than Christmas-tree ornaments, which is what I wanted to find); small children's books; posters or prints from museums; handmade soaps (from Dartmoor), etc. Oh, and from England – tea, of course. Because people all have different tastes in tea, I've gotten a nice selection (from Waitrose or Sainsbury's; places like Kew Gardens have their own brands, too, sometimes available in the grocery stores as well) and I made a "tea-of-the-month club" where I gave people a few tea bags of a certain kind every month – Twinings Earl Grey, Taylors/Kew Gardens organic Rose Lemonade, Clipper Snore & Peace 😊, teapigs super fruit, etc. Oh, funky pencils or magnets from the British Library or British Museum are affordable and fun. I will be in Paris in May and not sure what I'll bring back ...
  13. OP says both have to be in the same hobby. I picture something like, for example, open-ocean sailing – need more than one person, and not safe for just one person. Or ballroom dance. Or along similar lines, a hobby that is just really time-consuming to the exclusion of joint activities. I'm interested in the responses as well. No advice, b/c I am fortunate that my husband still likes to hike and travel (my favorites; although I could go – and have – with friends); I bike and do music (I play in several groups) without him, and he is supportive and accommodating. (He has even become the unofficial videographer for some of my music groups.) But who knows ... people change ... (And I would be thrilled if he would bike with me ... but I don't technically need a companion.)
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