Golden Gate Park


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On Friday I had planned to visit Chinatown in San Francisco with Lina (I mostly meet up with her since she is the only other person I know who has Fridays off – I sometimes feel unsociable when I have to turn people down because I work weekends), however she contracted tonsillitis so had to stay home. Rather than cancel my plans altogether, I decided to take the train to San Francisco by myself and visit the beautiful Golden Gate Park. Although it was a little lonely taking a day trip by myself (I do enjoy going out by myself and having time to think, but sometimes you just need the company of good friends and I would have loved Jenny and Beth to have accompanied me), I had a nice time and absorbed the beautiful sights.

When I arrived in San Francisco I knew I had to find the N Muni which would take me to the park. Sign posts aren’t very clear so I walked the wrong way at first but soon found the stop. Then I asked a guy on the platform how to pay. He was very helpful and said you pay at the front of the train; he asked me where I was going and directed me to the correct platform. The Muni is the Metro of San Francisco. It costs $2.25 per ride no matter where you are going. You feed your money into a machine and the driver gives you a ticket. You have to have the exact money as no change is given – I imagine this can be an inconvenience at times but I had plenty of change and managed to get rid of the pennies I had accumulated. However, I counted my pennies carefully and am positive that the machine count is inaccurate as I had to put in an extra few cents. I decided I much preferred the Muni to the bus I took back to the train station on my last trip into the city, which seemed to take forever. It was quick and not too crowded.

It’s always a challenge going to new places without the GPS working on my phone, although fortunately I can still view the map without internet access. But I navigated the park fairly easily and there were park maps at intervals. I headed for the Conservatory of Flowers first but when I got there I discovered that it was closed for maintenance that week only! How disappointing. So I headed over to the De Young Museum of Art. I first took the elevator to the observation deck – definitely worth a visit. You can see across San Francisco, even catching a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge. Then I looked around the free parts of the museum before heading to the café for a lunch of tomato soup and a chocolate muffin with apple juice. The museum cost $26 and I just thought it was too expensive when you can enter the National Gallery in London for free!

After the museum, I went to the Japanese Tea Gardens which cost $8 to enter. The gardens are really beautiful and I enjoyed seeing the unusual trees, beautiful architecture and the gigantic Koi carp.  There was a cute little Japanese gift store which I adored. A tiny woman said she loved my jumper – “It is so cute and soft and a gentle colour” she said. I was fascinated by the tea pots and cups, as well as the gorgeous chop sticks. I bought some special hand-make chop sticks as a present for someone special, and a small leaf-shaped chop-stick holder. They had some nice paper crane earrings but they cost nearly $30 which I thought was expensive for what they were.

I was then tempted to visit the Botanical Gardens ($7) but I didn’t see anything spectacular when looking through the fence so decided against it since I was not convinced it could top the Japanese Gardens, but it leaves me somewhere to visit next time. I was also a bit miffed that you had to pay for everything, but on reflection I realise it is normal, the gardens aren’t expensive, and they need to be maintained. There is really a lot to do and visit in the park and I definitely will go back and see all that it offers, including the conservatory which I missed out on. Instead, I went to Stow lake but I don’t think I really walked far enough to see its true beauty and will have to go back to find Strawberry Hill and its waterfall in the centre of Stow lake. Time was getting on and I decided to make my way back to the Muni – my stomach was feeling upset (likely from the apple juice at lunch) and I just could not walk further with the thought of having to walk back.

Fortunately, I felt better by the time I got on the Muni to Powell Street (where they turn the cable cars – close to Union Square and Macy’s). I enjoyed looking around the stores and bought myself a face mask from Lush (the tiniest Lush store I’ve ever been in). It smells like mint and has made my face feel so soft. Also, speaking of Lush, I have been loving the shampoo bar my gorgeous friend Jenny sent me. I then spent about an hour in the Disney store! Since I was there so long, I decided to get some Easter presents for the kids, but couldn’t resist giving them to them when I got home so they are very early Easter presents. I really need to stop spending money and save up for when I come home, but it’s harder than you would think, especially since I have a week off soon when I can go on holiday.

Ah well, I’m only here once and may as well make the most of it.

Sour Cream


sour cream

This family love sour cream (possibly a Russian thing?). They have it with everything – pancakes, soup, meat etc. I hate sour cream. Fortunately, they put it on separately so I don’t have to have it. We also have soup every day for lunch. I am getting sick of soup. I miss sandwiches and beans on toast. That is all.

Making Mistakes


Google

When coming to a new place and starting a new job, anyone is bound to make some mistakes. I have already mentioned that I have made some driving errors since I’ve been here – I am so lucky not to have had an accident! Being in a house filled with Russian speakers and getting used to a different way of life comes with challenges. At one point I made delicious Yorkshire Puddings and the oil spilled over the tray and burned onto the bottom of the oven. I had to clean it off but did not know where the cleaning stuff was. Anya had put oven cleaner on so I took some kitchen roll and started to wipe it – I only really succeeded in wiping away the oven cleaner. Of course, at home I would use a scourer to remove the burnt on bits and I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me to ask what to use – shyness or embarrassment? Anyway, Anya saw me using the paper towel and said she’d have to teach me to clean. I was so embarrassed and assured her I can, in fact, clean but she wasn’t convinced. She gave me a kitchen sponge and I got to work, eventually getting it spotless after what felt like half an hour of scrubbing (I will definitely be putting down foil or a tray under my Yorkshire Puddings next time!). This is just one example of the domestic mistakes and misunderstandings I have had with the family.

Last Friday (my day off) I had a lovely lunch with my friend Lina at the California Pizza Kitchen. We both had spaghetti Bolognese and we got a free dessert of chocolate suffle. Then we went on an adventure to Google. I had images of amazing and wonderful things – primary colours, statues, bikes, self-driving cars, robots, interactive technology and detailed maps of the campus in hologram. We came to where the Sat Nav led us, and as the sign said Google we thought, “Phew, we made it – let’s have fun”. We were a bit sceptical and thought we had arrived at the back as we only saw some small brown buildings. The colourful Google bikes were there and coloured chairs but not much else. We decided to ask but no one really knew where the cool areas were so we drove around. It turned out that the Google buildings span the whole length of Amphitheatre Way (a pretty long road) so we were driving and stopping for a while. We eventually came to some nicer-looking buildings with glass fronts and it looked like we would finally be successful in finding the parts of Google captured in the movie The Internship (if you haven’t seen it, it’s a good watch). Indeed, we did come across a T-Rex skeleton and the Android building which were cool and saw the Google sign. They also have their own volley ball court and gym, and there is free food for employees. But we were really not amazed and felt like we had wasted our time – we clearly needed a guide. I was also shocked that there were no campus maps to aid us since Google has become a tourist attraction – really they should cash in on tours but I guess to them it’s just where they work.

During this time I noticed that my host mum, Anya had called me 7 times and texted, however I had not heard my phone (I later discovered that the volume had been turned down, probably in my bag). She seemed angry and wanted to know where Daniel’s swimming things were. I tried to call back but she couldn’t talk so I texted her where they were and said sorry for not answering. She answered that she didn’t accept me not answering. She had been worried about me. I felt terrible! I didn’t see her that night and ended up just crying all night because I was so worried that I had upset her. It turned out alright and we put it behind us after I explained and apologised the next day. I really want her and Ilya to be happy with me and feel that I am doing a good job. But I make mistakes all of the time and feel I come across as dumb (though I think that’s my own perception rather than what they think). I also let Elizabeth play on the tall slide in the next door neighbour’s yard which was apparently prohibited by Anya because it was dangerous. But, I didn’t know so it’s all good and I had kept Elizabeth safe. Both of the children have improved since I came in regards to English, however, and so I must be dong something right!

I will learn a lot here I think. Making mistakes is part of learning and so I will be so much improved when I come home.

P.S. I also don’t think that I have mentioned that there are squirrels everywhere here – I love seeing them playing in the garden and glimpsing them when I walk and drive. There are black ones which are native to this area (there is a conspiracy that they are a result of Stanford experiments but who knows). I love squirrels.

Waiting

Woodside

So I just about had the longest day of my life. It seems that anything to do with the government here involves extremely long lines and extremely long waits with apparently no concern that people’s whole days are wasted waiting for something which will take 5 minutes when they get to the front. Everything involves a long queue, taking a number and then waiting for that number to be called and then going to a very official-looking window. It took me 6 hours to get my visa from the American Embassy  – there were 2 queues outside the building, then security, then a room filled with chairs where you are given a number, then a window, then more waiting for your number to be called, then another window. This should have prepared me for what to expect when I got here but I still cannot get over the absurdity of it all. Anyway, so today I went to the DMV to apply for a driver’s licence and take the written test – something which should have taken no more than an hour. I had an appointment at 12:30 and thought I would have plenty of time to pick up Daniel from school at 3:00. I would have made an earlier appointment but none were available. Of course, here you cannot simply apply online or in the mail and there is only one office nearby, which is quite small and deals with all driving issues, including renewing a licence, taking written and practical tests, changing vehicle registration etc. This in itself seems ludicrous to me.

I arrived at 10am thinking arriving early would give me an advantage queue-wise. However, I soon discovered that this was a foolish hope as I had to wait outside until my appointment time. In the mean time I could have been at the front of the none-appointment line at least 2 times in the time I waited (although I may have had to wait longer when I got a number). 12:20 came and went and people whose appointments were at 11:40 still hadn’t been called inside. My back was aching and I was starting to get anxious that I wouldn’t be on time for Daniel. I eventually got to the front of the queue by 1:00 and got my number: D099. I sat next to a woman who didn’t have an appointment and had been sat with her number for over 3.5 hours! We discussed the absurdity and disorganisation of the establishment and how the number system seemed unfair as people were called before others who had been waiting for hours. There was no apparent logic.

It got to 2:15 and I would have to leave at about 2:30 to make it on time for Daniel. My number was called and I went up but I only had 10 minutes before I had to leave. I handed my application over and paid the $33 I needed to pay and waited impatiently while the woman slowly typed and photocopied. I said I had to leave and she made me an appointment for the end of February (frustratingly the earliest available – would have gone back the next day to get it out of the way) so I could come back for the test. It was 2:35 and I had to get a photograph taken before I could leave – annoyingly meaning I had to wait in another queue. So I went over, looking at my watch and thinking that I am definitely going to be late. There was only one boy in front who let me go ahead because he could see I needed to get away. However, at this station there were two members of staff who were dealing with test takers, whose line was longer (another example of bad organisation and lack of staff). I waited and watched as the woman went to check up on some of the test takers and took her time. Fortunately, when she did come back she served me, probably seeing my constant time observing and near-exploding countenance. I stood for the photo, had my finger print taken (again) and then ran out as fast as I could.

I was so frustrated that I had spent the whole day there and yet had not achieved my goal of taking the written test. I had no time to dwell on this misfortune though as I only ad 15 mins to complete a 30 min journey. I was, of course, caught at every red light and arrived 15 mins late for Daniel. I panicked when I did not see him outside, and then again when a woman said he had not signed in to after care. The head teacher said he had seen him in the yard with the other kids an he was soon found, much to my relief.

What a day! Oh the misery of knowing I have to go back there again twice – for the written and practical tests. Wish me luck!!!

American/Russian life

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Sorry for not posting for ages! I haven’t felt like I’ve had much to say, but I guess I have experienced some things worth mentioning. First I should mention New Year. I had the evening off, which was nice, and I decided to go out for a meal with a coup20141231_201635le of other au pairs: Abril and Lina. We went into Downtown Palo Alto. By this time the family had gotten me a car to use (silver BMW!); it’s very sporty and is manual so I had to take time getting used to the gear stick being on the right hand side. Driving here is pretty simple, though I have forgotten once to stay on the right and turned into the left lane when taking a right turn. Fortunately, I didn’t have an accident! Fingers crossed I won’t in the future. Something else I am finding it difficult to remember is that pedestrians can use the crossing even when the light is green for cars to take a turn so I have almost killed a couple of people – oops!! I also sometimes forget that I can turn right on a red light but that’s not much of a problem.

On New Year’s eve night, however,  I took Ilya’s car since his was most convenient to get off the drive. It also has a GPS, unlike mine. I drove to Lina’s house to pick up Lina and Abril and then drove us to downtown. We went to La Strada Italian restaurant in Palo Alto. Despite booking, we ended up having so sit outside (we were a little late due to Abril arriving at the house late). There were heaters, but I was still freezing in my coat (it’s pretty cold here on mornings and at night).  We had a lovely waiter though, and he gave us free drinks. All of us chose pizza (I seem to choose pizza whenever I can at restaurants!). It was super delicious. We had fun despite the cold and soon finished, then headed to the Cheesecake Factory for dessert. I chose the Chocolate Millionaire cheesecake – it was so good but I had to save some for the next day because it was too big. After this yummy dessert we took a walk along the street and soon were serenaded by a beautiful voice. We stood to watch a busker who really should be famous because he was excellent. I took the others home after this and went home myself. It was before midnight and I was surprised that the family were just on the first course of their dinner and they had guests over. I sat with them and chatted with the man next to me. Most of what is said goes over my head because it is either said in Russian or is about politics, but I joined in as best I could. Everyone kissed each other and drank champagne at midnight. I then partook in the delicious desserts that they had – what a fatty!! I was eating left-over cake for days after as well!

While on the subject of food I will provide a list of some of the things I have eaten here:

Beef tongue: softer than beef but tastes the same

Buffalo: had a vinegar taste, probably more from how it was cooked than the meat

Kasha: rice porridge (I think) – I put lots of syrup on to make it sweet

Buckwheat: I avoid this at all times as it makes me want to throw up

Beetroot covering seabass (can’t remember the name but it’s a traditional Russian dish)

And much more!

I have spent my last couple of days off going out by myself. I have fallen in love with Abercrombie and Fitch and their winter sale and got some clothes there at a bargain price. I also visited the Californian Pizza Kitchen which did not disappoint. My most interesting trip was to San Francisco. I took the CalTrain. It was interesting because it is a double-decker train. I sat upstairs so I could look at the beautiful scenery on the way. I arrived in San Francisco and walked to Union Square where all of the beautiful shops are. After some browsing I took a tram to Fisherman’s Wharf. It took an hour to get on the tram as there were so many people. I was frustrated as there was no sense of speed and often people would wait for the next tram instead of getting on the one that was there. But I made a friend and so had someone to chat to while I waited. Fisherman’s Wharf is so beautiful. I went to the maritime museum and looked at the ships and the views. I also visited Ghiradelli Square but didn’t get any chocolate because the queue was too long. I went for some ice-cream from another place instead. I had lunch at InNOut Burger. At fast food restaurants here you get a ticket when you order and wait for your number to be called. They are very crowded and not really worth it. I thought food would be huge here but fast food is just as small as in the UK. There are a lot of art shops and galleries along the street so I spent my time browsing and looking at beautiful things. I refused to wait for the tram back so I caught a bus (attached to overhead lines) for $2. It took a long time to get back to the train station and I had to give up my seat for an older person when about 100 Chinese people got on. I got to the station safely and was in time for a return train that was just about to leave.

Please keep me in your thoughts as you are in mine.