Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Here we are in Berkeley

Ah, jet lag! It is 3.38 AM Wednesday in Berkeley and I was unable to keep sleeping off my travel weariness, so I am eating cherries, drinking chamomile tea from a fine china mug, and looking over the East Bay towards San Francisco through the kitchen window in our rented Berkeley house. We arrived early this afternoon, driven expertly through light traffic from San Francisco airport by an Ethiopian taxi driver equipped with a large enough cab to fit our 5 suitcases and using the GPS on his phone to find a very direct route to our door. It looked like a great neighbourhood from the cab window: attractive individual houses, the hilliness encouraging some interesting architecture and making for wonderful streetscapes.

Sally and Monica, owners of this lovely house guarded by a Xi'an warrior, are shortly off on a sabbatical trip to Brussels, and were here to greet us and show us over the house, which is high up in the Berkeley Hills area. Like the apartment we love to rent in Coyoacan, it showcases the advantages of choosing to rent a place which is someone's home over living in commercially rented accommodation. Sally and Monica have done a much better job of clearing out space for our stuff than we have done for Rob, Kirsty and their kids, who are minding our house and pets while we are away. They have cleared several metres of shelf space for books in the study, emptied drawers, cupboards and wardrobes all over, and left us a nice starter supply of teas, herbs, spices, sauces and staples in the kitchen. The garden is in full bloom and the veggies are spectacular: we must eat an artichoke before the ants do, and there are plentiful yellow and red cherry tomatoes as well as ripening larger varieties, cucumbers, squash, beans, berries, eggplants, different types of basil, parsley and salad greens, peppers, potatoes, a tangerine tree, several not yet ripe apple trees ... and a wireless network for which we now know the password. I hope I remember how to blog - at least I am having less trouble inserting photos than I did on Barry's Mac last year in Mexico, though I have been less than careful about placing them.

Sally also drove us around some key routes, showing us more than we can possibly absorb in such a short time - best restaurants, take-aways, groceries, hairdressers, banks, etc. We are going to try and get by in California without a car, though we will be able to drive hers on occasion, and we'll look into the various zip car/smart car options in the area for special needs. So she showed us the best walking routes to the key shopping and eating areas, and to and from the Berkeley campus. Unfortunately I kept nodding off in the car, but with the aid of a local map and a bit of practice, I'm sure I'll learn how to get where I need and back again despite my notoriously poor sense of direction.

We had some of the garden produce for a snack lunch, with crackers and my own imported Vegemite and cups of tea once they left us to get settled, then Barry napped while I unpacked partially (I had intentionally prepacked one suitcase for our trip to NYC in a few days, and left most of this in place) then I had a very short nap. Around 6.30 PM we walked out the door and headed for the shops, Barry navigating, of course. Our first impressions from the cab ride were confirmed - the very individual styles of the houses and the gardens, where Obama placards sprout alongside apple and lemon trees and all kind of colourful and sweet-smelling flowers. It is pretty hilly, the steepest downhill streets hard on the knees and uphill great for the heart and glutes. We picked up a very few things from the supermarket, noticed the Jewish Community Center which I intend to explore for activities, and had supper at a deli where I had chopped liver and chicken soup with a huge matzo ball and Barry had a pastrami sandwich (really good pickles!)

Because of the hills, the views are gorgeous, and as we took a different route home through the sunset , we had a fabulously red sky, just the perfect start for what we expect will be a very interesting and pleasant 5 months. I have posted just a few of the gardens and houses I photographed on our second day here to give you an idea of the neighbourhood, hoping it will encourage you to visit us!

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