15 July 2014

Casa del Puente

View of Casa del Puente from the bridge
On the banks of the Rio Cuale, in the middle of Old Town Puerto Vallarta, sits the most wonderful little hotel.

Casa del Puente is not a typical hotel, but rather three spacious, fully equipped apartments. Recently, I was fortunate enough to stay there in the one bedroom apartment.

Living area - 1 bedroom apt
Upon arrival, my host Maria ushered me in to what I thought was the hotel reception area, only to find out it was actually my apartment. It is massive. The large living area is boarded on one side by a bank of windows looking out over the Rio Cuale. Built in seating areas, bedecked with colorful cushions, encircle the main room. Mexican furniture and decorative pieces adorn the entire area. The open kitchen on the left has everything you need to prepare a meal. How lovely it is to cut up fresh tropical fruit while gazing out at the trees along the river and the hills beyond.
River view

Reading partner by the window
The only problem I had with such a wonderful space, is that I could never decide where I should stretch out to read. I usually ended up on the built-in bench that ran along the windows, which enabled me to check on the wildlife.

Three steps up from the living area is the bedroom and bathroom. I went to sleep every night listening to the sounds of the rushing river, and every day sat in a chair by the window watching the iguanas in the trees and the egrets standing on rocks in the river.

New apt upstairs
There is a two bedroom apartment on the left, nestled in foliage and tranquility. Upstairs is the newest edition; a beautifully appointed apartment. As with the others, there are outside areas with chairs and tables. The view to the mountains is even better up top.

The location couldn’t be more perfect; everything is within walking distance - shops, restaurants, the beach, and bus stops.

Balcony view
In Casa del Puente you know you are in Mexico and feel like you are staying with friends. I look forward to my next visit to Puerto Vallarta and the beautiful little Hotel on the Bridge.

Contact Maria:
Upstairs apt deck
Phone: 011 52 (322) 22-20749
From the US, Call: (415) 513-5313
Toll Free: (888) 666-9540
Email: casadelpuente@yahoo.com

14 July 2014

After Thoughts

 I'm back home.They say there is a heat wave today. I'm not hot.......  It's very hard to believe that a few days ago I was really in Puerto Vallarta. Why is it that when you are in one country, the other seems to not really exist? I've always found this to be one of the oddest feelings when going from one place to another. 

A few more pictures of that land that right now seems like a distant memory:

There are three pelicans resting in these trees.

 I don't usually take pictures of food, but this little cafe was such an unexpected, delicious find, that I couldn't resist. 
Mi Cafe Deli, Francisco Madero #505, Old Town, PV
 I realized I had not been posting pictures of the streets or the sea. Maybe it's  because posted so many of them four years ago, and my brain was telling me I didn't need to put up any more. 

I can always look at another photo of the beach. 

This garrobo lizard climbed up to this resting spot below my window for three days in a row. He always looked a little wary, whereas the iguanas didn't pay much attention to me. 

10 July 2014

Time to Leave

It’s hard to believe that it is already my last night here. My body has just reached the I’m on vacation setting, and now it’s over. My Spanish needs another week to get into top form – I understand almost everything, but the responding part is a little on the slow side. I find myself halting mid-sentence a little too often for my liking. Not that anyone in Mexico ever cares if I trip over words or blurt something out in a completely different language. The first few days I was here, I found myself mentally constructing a sentence I would need starting with “I”. I ran through eu, toi, ani, before I finally got to yo. The brain is a funny thing; it searches for a different language and grabs whatever is available, be it Portuguese, Vietnamese, or Hebrew. I am sure words in all those languages have entered into my conversations here.

I was hoping to get a lot of writing done seeing as how I have a book and a novella in the works, but that didn’t happen. However, I know I will be returning to California with a relaxed mind and body, ready to jump on those projects.

I didn’t take all the beach walks that are my norm, or get back to the Vallarta Botanical Gardens, or go see how Elizabeth Taylor’s house is doing after I heard it had been renovated. And that’s ok. I did walk a lot, said hello to shopkeepers I had met four years ago, and even ran into a cat I had met last time I was here. (He lives in one of those shops.)

A highlight of this trip was getting two adjustments by the best chiropractor I have ever known. Dr. Lenny Sugerman is so much more than just a chiro. He is thorough and gentle, and takes as much time as needed to evaluate, and then work on your body. It’s depressing to know that I have not been able to find someone even close to his ability in my area. It’s not like I can fly to Puerto Vallarta every month or so for an adjustment.

Another fantastic outcome of my short visit was all those close encounters with the iguanas. One was right on the outside ledge of my window the other day. As I mentioned previously, their eyes are so human that I just know they can understand me. And when I try to talk to them, I swear they can understand me – that is until I realize I am most likely scaring the crap out of the poor guys, and I back away.

Right now I’m trying to get my body to memorize what it feels like to feel warm like a lizard in hopes that I might be able to recreate the feeling when I get back into the cold fog that awaits me tomorrow night.

09 July 2014

A Walk on the Beach

I've been in Puerto Vallarta for over a week and only have a few days left, yet today was the first day I went for a walk on the beach. My general routine when living in close proximity to the ocean, is to take an early morning walk every single day. It hasn't worked out that way until today.

Strolling along the sand, gazing up at the sea birds, and watching the sun rise has to be the best tonic for anything at ails a body. It’s a combination of the rhythm of the waves along the shore, the smell of salty sea air, and the ability to forget that civilization even exists. One with nature.  

I love watching the pelicans swoop in for a fresh fish breakfast. They seem to stay in groups and hover around wherever there are schools of fish, or fisherman with bait. There are also these large, black birds that take head-first dives into the water to scoop up a meal. It is thrilling to watch.

A few old guys were out fishing with nets and rods. I’d guess they were of retirement age, but am fairly sure that fishing had been their livelihood. One doesn’t learn how to repair a fishing net, or throw one out onto the sea, if it is just a hobby.

Sitting in the sand on the shore, warm sun and blue skies above, you might never know that last night another tropical thunderstorm rolled through the city. It was wonderful! Maybe if you were outside and dodging lightning bolts it would be a different story. But being inside looking out through a bank of windows at the wind bending the palm trees and the sound of torrential rain, is simply magnificent. It’s also nice knowing that the storm will pass through quickly, the skies will dry up, and in morning it will be sunny again.

Still trying to make use of every last minute I have here, the day is already planned. In a few hours I’ll head down to the beach cafĂ© to watch Argentina x Holland in the World Cup semi-final. After yesterday’s disastrous game between Brazil and Germany, I’m hoping this will be more of an exciting, close match.

I would always have come back down to Puerto Vallarta, but I especially did so at this time to watch the World Cup in a Latin country where I thought it would be great fun. It’s not 

as big of an event as I thought it would be. A few days I wanted to simply watch the games on the TV here, but they were not broadcast. As far as I can figure out, the World Cup is not shown on basic, Mexican TV stations. A step up to cable gives you CNN, (and not CNN International), and periodic news stations from New York, but no World Cup. A step up from that – (maybe satellite?) and you get Sky Sports, which has the World Cup contract. This is very strange. Granted, this is the first that the World Cup has been shown extensively in the US – even broadcasting games on regular networks.
But  even in 1982, pre-cable/satellite, I was able to watch the games on a Spanish language network, even if it was a little fuzzy.  I’ve never heard of another country that did not broadcast the Cup on stations that were available to everyone. All is well, though – I have gotten my fill of games both watching in the US and here. I’m already planning where I’ll be for the 2018 World Cup.


04 July 2014

The Sun Came Out and The Iguanas Came Down

Yesterday afternoon I saw blue skies for the first time since landing in Puerto Vallarta five days ago. For someone who lives by/and for the laws of the sun, it was certainly a welcome sight.

The first, tiniest speck of sunlight in the early morning sky is why I get out of bed. My brain functions best in bright sunlight and my body only works to its fullest when it’s hot.  I have often wondered if I might be part lizard. Perhaps that is why I so adore iguanas and their relatives.

Puerto Vallarta is filled with beautiful iguanas that don’t seem to be bothered by the traffic below or the houses next door to their trees. One only needs to look up in the trees that run along the Rio Cuale, right in the center of town, to catch a glimpse of these magnificent creatures.  If I search hard enough, (they are good at camouflage), I can usually see at least one in the tree outside my window. The best time to see them is when they slowly make their way down the tree to head for the river and get a drink of water.

I've seen yellow iguanas and green iguanas and a few bright green lizards of a different variety. I think one of them may have been about 5 feet long from head to tail. Although I have seen many, my camera does not have very much of a zoom on it and the photographs I took only are good if I enlarge them on my computer. What I needed was a close encounter with an iguana.

My friend is at the very top of the tree.
I remembered from the last time I was here that the trees next to one of the small bridges crossing the Rio Cuale had been a good place to spot the critters. I walked along the small street running along the river and was about to go up the steps to the bridge when I noticed a woman looking up in the trees. I followed her line of vision and saw a big iguana on the move. And then I saw another.

Quickly, I pulled out my camera and started taking pictures. They were still too far up in the tree, but they were moving around, not just sunning themselves.   Then I noticed the biggest guy was on the move down the tree, right in front of me. What a stroke of luck! He was going for a drink of water just when I got there.

I talked to him all the way down and told him what a beautiful iguana he was. The good thing about iguana wildlife photography is that they move very slowly - it gives one time to focus and reposition to get the best angle. When my buddy got about eye level with me he stopped, turned his head, and stared at me. I like to think he was saying hello.

I then went up to the bridge and found another one at the very top of a tree, drinking in the sun. They, like me, were very thankful for the clear blue skies. I took more pictures, but he really was too far away.

It wasn't until I got home and looked at the photos I had taken, that I realized that iguanas have people eyes. It was quite a shock. I now do know that I am part lizard – the proof is in the eyes.

01 July 2014

USA x Belgium

I actually made it to a Latin American country to watch the World Cup. Even though the plan for the past four years had been to go to Brazil, Mexico was not a bad alternative.

With the USA x Belgium match starting at 3:00 PM Puerto Vallarta time, I set out early enough to give myself time to cruise the Malecon in search of an exciting venue to view the game.

It wasn’t long before I noticed that there did not seem to be much in the way of crazy soccer fans on the streets or in the bars I passed. I assumed that since Mexico was now out of it all, the interest in the mundial might have lessened. But I did expect to see American fans, even though it is low tourist season here.

Once I reached the end of the rows of restaurants and bars along the Malecon, and not finding anything that looked even close to a hopping-mad football fest, I decided to head back to a bar I’d passed earlier. Murphy’s Irish Pub; they had to be watching the game there. Looking up from below at the second story establishment, I didn’t see too many folks inside, but thought I saw a TV with what looked to be a game. I checked my watch – the game had already started – so headed up the narrow staircase to find what awaited me.

The game was indeed playing on several large and small screens. Right at the front, just inside the balcony, sat a group of six young American women, eyes glued to the TV set. Wow – has the world changed! I felt so proud that a group of gals would come out to watch a football match. I said hello and grabbed a table behind them.

Murphy’s was by no means packed, but there was a decent enough crowd comprised of families and small groups of men. I ordered a glass of tonic water and tuned my brain into the game along with my compatriots.

Having watched all the previous matches in the company of myself, I truly enjoyed being able to whoop out loud along with the rest of the patrons – or in some cases, let out a loud ooooohhhh! It really is much more fun to be part of a crowd when watching a sporting event.

We all know how the game ended, but I must say that those last few minutes were a joy to watch, with the entire pub cheering on Team USA.

I do feel a bit disappointed in the less-than-crazy World Cup atmosphere that I’ve found here. I was thinking back to several World Cups ago when I was living in Kuala Lumpur. It was the best time ever! Maybe it was because the games were on in the late afternoon and evening, and all the bars and restaurants were packed for every game. And it’s not like Malaysia was even in the World Cup. For the final, my friends and I had to book a table in a make-shift, outdoor club, right next to the Twin Towers. It was total sports fan nirvana.

World Cup apparent-lack-of-enthusiasm aside, it’s still fantastic to be in Puerto Vallarta, drinking in the heat, breathing in the humidity, and spending by days in happiness.

30 June 2014

Back in Puerto Vallarta

It’s been way too long, but I have finally made it back outside the confines of California and right into the heat of the tropics. Within minutes of arriving, I felt a huge rush of joy. I suppose it’s the combination of the climate - hot and muggy; the people – Mexican; and the grand adventure of it all.
Since the minute I stepped off the plane and asked the guy at the gate who won the Mexico/Netherlands match, it’s been a non-stop adventure of little bits of happiness, one after another. My Spanish is good enough to engage anyone in a conversation and believe me, I talk to everyone. Sometimes I stop and marvel at how this once, painfully shy little girl, turned into such a conversationalist. I chatted with the taxi driver who hopes to do a chef’s course. I talked to the gentleman selling crafts, the proceeds of which will go to help various charitable organizations. There were conversations with the folks at the produce market to make sure the tropical fruits I was buying were ready to eat. And the man on the park bench, five month old kitten at his side, who told me the kitty belonged to no one and I was welcome to take it home.  

I should back up and say that hearing the results of the World Cup match, in which Mexico lost, is not on the list of things to be happy about. One of the main reasons I am here is because I couldn’t bear watching another World Cup in the US. Having said that, I must say that I am thrilled to see the excitement that is ringing around Team USA and the World Cup 2014 in general. However, it’s never quite as crazy and wonderful as it is in the rest of the world. Now that Mexico is out of the running, I don’t know how the rest of the Cup will be commemorated, but I will find out.
It’s been four years since I was last in Puerto Vallarta and I’m interested to see what has changed and what has stayed the same. I easily found the produce market, the grilled chicken market, and the fresh tortilla factory. Sadly, the local, family owned Rizo supermarket is no longer around. There are plenty of mini-marts nearby where I can get yogurt and juice, and fresh fruits and vegetables are just up the street, but I really wish Rizo were there.

I had heard that the Malecon, the walkway along the beautiful Bay of Banderas, had been partly closed to traffic. That sounded like a fantastic idea, and today I was up early to take a walk along its length in the grey, morning light. I have no idea why, but it just felt wrong. All along the Malecon there are beautiful brass sculptures. I especially love the alien-creature looking ones. I have no idea why the lack of street, that is now a walkway, should change the feel of the artwork. Perhaps it is because there had been a one or two foot drop down to the street from the Malecon, and now it is all filled in. I felt like the sculptures couldn’t breathe.  Maybe it was the lack of sunshine. Maybe I just have to get used to it. Maybe I’ll figure out why it doesn’t look right.

Right now I am listening to birds chirp in the trees outside my windows. The geckos in my room are quiet for the moment, but they’ve been talking to me since I arrived.  I’ve seen white herons and iguanas, and a squirrel that has a monkey tail.  I’m keeping my eye out for parrots.
The smell of all those delicious fresh fruits – guava, passion fruit, pineapple and others, are beckoning me to dig in. Life is definitely good!

25 September 2013

America's Cup Final

Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, of course I was aware that the America’s Cup was taking place in town. But that was about it. I’ve always loved anything associated with the ocean and spent years fantasizing about traveling around the world on a boat.  But that lifestyle was not something that was ever in the budget. Also, I have always felt that yacht racing was a bit of a snooty sport and only for the really rich. Nevertheless, none of those anti-yachting sentiments mattered when I heard that Team America had come back from an 8 to 1 deficit to tie Team New Zealand, and it was down to a final race.

This afternoon, soon before the race started, I drove over to a lookout area in the Berkeley hills. One can always see the bay, provided that there is no fog, and the day was beautiful. I had no idea if I would actually be able to see the race boats from such a distance, and was quite surprised at their visibility even without my telephoto lens.

Teams USA & New Zealand, Alcatraz, Golden Gate Bridge
A few other people had gathered on the hill to watch the event. One man had downloaded and app that broadcast the tack-by-tack play. Another woman, who obviously knew a lot about the sport, held binoculars up and gave us more detailed updates about what the boats were doing. We could all easily see the difference between the red and black sails, and I mistakenly told everyone that the red one was team USA. (Something in my mind assumed that New Zealand would always be all black.) But since I didn’t really know what the boats were doing other then sailing back and forth, it didn’t much matter to me.

When the man with the Cup app left, another woman, there with her two kids, logged on to twitter and gave us the updates. For about half an hour, our little group watched and commented on the race. What a lovely little outing!

I honestly didn’t care who won. And since Team America seems to be made up of quite a few men who didn’t have American accents, it seemed to matter even less. What I did love was standing in the warm sun, talking to a small group of people I’d never met in my life, and watching a world event on the San Francisco Bay. Simply outstanding!
The new span of the Bay Bridge. Race is off to the right.



08 December 2012

Goodbye Lonely Planet

Almost exactly three years ago, after writing and posting my travel stories for several years, I came across an item on LonelyPlanet.com stating they were looking for travel bloggers. At the time I was in Puerto Vallarta writing a daily column and quickly sent out an email to LP. A few days later, I was one of the new, “Lonely Planet Featured Bloggers”.  What a thrill that was! Even though my first three years of living in Vietnam had been prior to the start of the LP Blogsherpa program, now a much wider audience would have direct access to all those stories and others to come.

An email the other day informed all the Blogsherpa writers that sometime in December the program would be eliminated and our posts will disappear from the pages of LP.com. Now all those lovely tales from writers traveling and living in places far and near will no longer be available with just a click on a Lonely Planet destination page.
My story about Building a Boat in Mui Ne, won’t be found on the Vietnam pages.
The one about the Puerto Vallarta Botanical Garden will also disappear.

There are the stories from Hoi An.

And Ho Chi Minh City.

 And the one about the Golden Gate Bridge turning 75 this year.
I will miss my LP readers and miss the oportunity to share my stories with such a large audience.
Happy travel to all.

10 May 2012

The Golden Gate at 75

I grew up directly across the bay from the Golden Gate Bridge. On most days I could look out and see its vibrant orange towers spanning the entrance to the bay, yet I had never stepped foot on its hallowed concrete and metal. May 27th will mark the 75th anniversary of that glorious feat of engineering. The other day, not wanting to fight the massive crowds that are sure to be there for the celebration, I decided that it would be a good time to visit.

The weather was un-San Franciscanly hot; I knew that temps would hit close to 80 degrees. It rarely gets that warm in the middle of the summer, let alone in the spring. Accordingly, I set out in my lightest summer clothing.

Getting to San Francisco is a quick trip under the bay on BART, (our subway), but finding the right bus to get from downtown to the bridge was quite a task. I trekked up and down Market Street and then over to the Ferry Building in hopes of finding the correct bus stop. I had found bus route numbers on the internet, but where they stopped remained a mystery to me and everyone else I asked. By that time I found the correct corner, (30 or 40 minutes later), it was hot enough that I was actually getting a bit sweaty; rather unheard of in San Francisco, but very welcome.

The bus ride out to the bridge is not for the fainthearted. Going on Golden Gate Transit was supposedly faster than on the Muni bus lines, but I have my doubts. Yes, it took me to the bridge, but the driver had to take time to explain the bus options to every person, (mostly tourists), who got on. If you want to continue your trip to Sausalito, pay more now, then after you cross the bridge, take the ferry back. Or if you want to wait for Muni, it’s a dollar cheaper. I do applaud his willingness to help people out, but it added a ton of time to the trip. One would think that in San Francisco there should be a quick, downtown-to-Golden Gate shuttle, especially since they encourage you to use public transportation.

And although it took forever for the bus to get to the bridge, and I was wondering why in the heck I had thought this would be a good idea, all bad thoughts were quickly forgotten as soon as I gazed onto that magnificent structure. It truly is breathtaking.

How wonderful! The Golden Gate Bridge on a splendid day! But then I stepped off the bus and swore; it was freezing! It doesn’t matter how many weather reports one checks, it will always be cold on the bridge with that wind blowing in from the ocean. Then again, that meant that there was no cloud cover and I had picture perfect views of the bridge.

Stepping onto the walkway I tried to avoid the bicycles flying by on my left. I shivered and knew I had keep my head down, battle the chill and get to the first tower of the bridge before stopping, in hopes that I would find shelter from the frigid gusts. Wind whipped through my thin cotton shirt and I gave up on trying to wear the hat I had brought. Once at the first bridge tower, I moved into a protected section and again felt the glorious heat of the day.

It really was a magnificent day and I thought about the men who had built this structure when the weather was never this good and the winds were often much stronger. How did they do it? And that was back in 1937!

What really struck me was that the width of this great structure appeared so small when you are actually standing on it. I could have leaned out and touched cars going by; there just isn’t that much space between the walkway and road. And if there’d even been a small break in the traffic, I am sure I could have run across to the other side. And speaking of safety issues, there aren’t any suicide barriers on the bridge. It wouldn’t be difficult to take a swan dive into the waters below.

Although the bridge is only 1.7 miles, this was not the day I would walk the entire length. It had taken too long to get there and although I could practically see my house as I stood on the bridge and looked over to the east bay hills, I knew it would be an arduous return trip. That and a bum knee sealed the deal as I trudged back to try and find a bus stop. Again, there was no clear indication of how to return to the city center so I just followed other tourists and/or flagged down a passing bus. I seriously considered hitch-hiking but just at that point the correct bus pulled up.

From where I am now sitting in my living room, I can almost see the Golden Gate. (If just a few trees were cut down, I could see it.) Now when I look at it I see it in a different, eye-level perspective, and recall what it felt like to walk her mighty span. It took me a few years to get there and I am so glad I finally did it.


07 March 2012

Why Can't I Sell My Books?

Why can’t I sell any of my books? They’re original, interesting, people like them, and I get great reviews. But I can’t seem to get my writing noticed.
I don’t need to be on the New York Times Best-Sellers list. I don’t need to become fabulously wealthy. I just need about $1000 a month. I really don’t think I am expecting too much.

Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve had stories running around in my head. All the ordinary places and situations I’d encounter seemed like they could have had a much more interesting storyline. Nevertheless, it was only much later in life that I started to put down in words my alternative view of what could be.

As much as I loved inventing people and placing them in whatever universe I chose, I knew writing could not be a career. I was a Flower Child of the 60’s; I needed to save the world. I became an educator, and that is how I have spent my life until about a year ago.

I did really love teaching and probably still do. But I can no longer tolerate all the negatives that go along with the profession. I just want to be happy, and writing makes me happier than anything in whole wide world.

My “professional” writing career started with the advent of the blog. Suddenly, I could tell stories about the people and places I encountered while working and traveling overseas. I added beautiful pictures onto a readymade template and voila, I was a published author. It was a joy to know that anyone in the world could read my words. Now that my name was out there, it gave me new hope that I could succeed as a novelist. I continued to work on my book projects.

My travel writing took a further leap forward when I became a Lonely Planet featured blogger. This lead to writing a few shoe reviews. And last fall I had an article published in a Vietnamese, English language magazine. Aside from a few pairs of shoes, I was not paid for my writing. Still, it made me happy.

I thought my dreams had been answered when print-on-demand, self-publishing, became a viable alternative to stacks of rejection letters. Finally, for a few hundred dollars, I could have copies of my murder mystery in book form, rather than as stack of photo-copied sheets. I eagerly awaited the arrival of the first batch of Murder, Jaz, & Tel Aviv, completely thrilled with my story, my cover, and the back blurb. I was sure I would be able to at least make back my investment. If everyone I knew in my life bought just one copy, and then told just one friend about it, I’d be on the road to a real career as a writer. That did not work out as planned.

Surely, my paranormal romance, The Curse Breaker of Cairo, would propel me into the ranks of self-employed author. This time there were even more ways to market myself. Following the advice of other independent authors, I joined twitter, (not that I really get it), and I contacted numerous paranormal romance sites. I sent out a bunch of books to folks who were interested in reading and reviewing both of my works. I did a giveaway on GoodReads and was ecstatic when over 1000 people entered the contest. I eagerly sent out ten books to the winners and waited by my laptop to read their ratings and reviews. Out of all the many books I have given away over the past seven or eight months, only two people have written reviews.

I’ve contacted local, independent bookstores and several agreed to take a few copies. I went by a Barnes and Noble and pitched my book to the head buyer. Although she was quite impressed with my product and was sure it would sell, they were not able to carry print-on-demand books. And last week I sat outside a coffee shop in a trendy neighborhood shopping area, box of books and sign by my side, hoping to get a few sales. Only one person even talked to me.

So what do I do world? I worry that my travel writing has fallen by the wayside since I have been stuck in the US for nearly a year. Then again, that shouldn’t bother me since it never did generate any money and really hasn’t furthered my writing career. In fact, more people are now accessing my blog for the photos than the writing. Should I switch to photography? I keep writing, of course, but soon that will not be enough. Working full time on stories and marketing sounds noble, but it doesn’t pay the bills.

I will try to continue to believe in the stories I invent and in my ability to carry readers away to a world outside of their own. I will persevere in my marketing tactics even if they often seem pointless. I will flood the universe with positive thoughts and visions of my books on shelves throughout the land. I haven’t yet given up.


12 July 2011

Best Urban Park

It has to be the most beautiful urban park in the San Francisco bay area; Mountain View Cemetery, situated in Oakland California.

My days of cruising cemeteries in the US for the sheer macabre value of it all ended back in high school. I have visited ones overseas for their historical significance, but never saw much reason to drop by their more modern counterparts in the US. But when I had a third relative interred at the park, I took a more careful look.

How could I have missed such a glorious setting with its 226 acres of winding roads, beautifully arranged tree lined streets and sparkling fountains? It is a landscaped wonder designed by Fredrick Law Olsen, (he of Central Park fame), and dates back to 1863.

“Olmsted took a unique approach to Mountain View Cemetery. His park cemetery integrated the Parisian grand monuments and broad avenues. Olmsted also drew on a popular philosophy of the times, American Transcendentalism, to help shape his vision of the cemetery.” (mountainview cemetery.org)

One honestly feels as if they were in some European grand garden, transported back to a time when it was only man and nature. Situated on rolling hills, with what feels like miles and miles of small roads branching off of the main, fountain lined artery, it is a perfect spot for communing with nature.

On any given day you will find joggers, ladies pushing strollers, people walking their dogs, artists sketching or painting, and even children from a local day care having a picnic.

Many famous Californians are buried there. Charles Crocker’s massive tomb sits on Millionaires row, which, but the way, is where I would like to build a small cottage. Walking by his final resting spot you’d think you were on a lovely, narrow city street, surrounded by greenery, where cars have been banned. In front of you lies a spectacular view of the San Francisco Bay. Looking either to the left or right, you see nothing but green rolling hills, trees, and your peacefully resting neighbors.

Every time I go I find some place new to explore; some other bit of historical interest. There is the Civil War Veterans area, ringed by cannon balls of the era. There are beautiful chapels, amazingly elaborate crypts from a bygone era, and an overall peacefulness that belies the fact that you are actually in Oakland, CA.

It is easy to explore either with a map provided by Sunset View or just by turning up a road that looks interesting. (you can drive to most places, or park your car and walk.) Guided tours are offered twice a month.

For me it has become a place to get away from the commotion of the city; a place to clear my head, drink in nature, and maybe even commune with some souls from the past.