Karen Storm and her granddaughter Maggie, winners of the Year of the Grandparent Video Contest, had such an amazing time on their San Francisco Grandparent Adventure this summer that they wanted to share some of their favorite memories with the Road Scholar community. 


1 | The year of the earthquake and fire: 1906

Karen and Maggie: One of the first things that we learned about from Julie and Jerry, our Road Scholar Group Leaders, was the San Francisco earthquake and fire. This topic came up again and again, and it was evident that this tragedy is part of the collective memory of the city and that it still shapes the city in many ways. In Chinatown, we saw pictures of how the entire area was wiped out, with people walking about stunned by what had occurred, looking for family who were missing and homes that had been obliterated. We heard stories about both racism and industriousness as the city rebuilt. Before the earthquake, San Francisco had been a classic boom town, with helter-skelter development. After, the city was rebuilt more thoughtfully and with room for the coming population boom.

Views of the city and its magnificence are available from almost any place you visit in San Francisco, whether taking the ferry to Alcatraz or walking across the Golden Gate Bridge. These views attest to the spirit that rebuilt the city after the earthquakes of 1906 and 1989. Our favorite view was from our room with bright sunshine in the morning and lights of the hillside in the evening.


2 | Seeing the Golden Gate Bridge in person for the first time

Maggie: When I saw the Golden Gate Bridge in real life for the first time, my Grandma Karen and I had walked down to Ghirardelli Square, hoping to buy chocolate for my parents. When we got to the Square, we looked at a few of the booths set up for a local festival, walked inside Ghirardelli, then headed into a grassy area down a slight hill from the Square. As I was looking around, taking in my new surroundings, I turned toward the Bay and realized I was looking right at the Golden Gate Bridge. I got so excited that I whipped out my phone and instantly started snapping photos of it.
I know that I will always remember this moment because seeing something so iconic that I had only ever seen on TV or in photos before, in real life, is quite a fantastic experience. The next day, I saw the bridge in another light, up close. First in Golden Gate Park, then while walking across it. Although I admit that walking across the bridge wasn’t my favorite (because of the cars whizzing by, the bridge vibrating under my hand while it rested on the railing and the height of the bridge), it was still an incredible experience. As I walked, I thought about the talk given the night before by an expert on the bridge and about the things we learned from Julie and Jerry, our Road Scholar group leaders. I was struck by how many others have walked across it since its opening.


3 | Having sundaes for dinner

Maggie: After a long, but fun, day exploring the city -- going to the Maritime museum, exploring an old ferry and lumber carrying ship and spending an afternoon at Alcatraz -- we returned to the mainland completely wiped, hungry and tired. So, what could be more perfect when you are hungry and tired than Ghirardelli sundaes for dinner? Julie and Jerry advised us to take the F-line Heritage Streetcar, something we had already wanted to do. Standing at the stop, we met a family from Cloquet, Minnesota. (Small world, as we hail from the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.) Once we got to Ghirardelli, we purchased chocolate for our families, then sat down to enjoy our delectable sundaes. I had hot fudge and brownie, and my Grandma Karen had hot fudge and marshmallow. Can you imagine a better dinner?

To continue our adventure, we decided to take the bus back to our hotel, instead of walking. We waited and waited and waited on the corner for bus number 47. We saw many pass us going the other way, but none going our direction. It was starting to get dark, and the wind off the bay was chilly, even to Minnesotans. Suddenly, while Grandma Karen pondered what to do, a cab stopped at the corner, and I said, “let’s take it," so we did. While riding in the cab, we worried about how much it would cost. Much to our surprise, it was less than $10, and we were back warm and safe in about 10 minutes, after nearly an hour of waiting. It was quite the adventure!


4 | Alcatraz

Karen: The night before our visit to Alcatraz, we heard a speaker talk about famous prisoners and escapes from Alcatraz. Julie and Jerry also gave us some background as we prepared for the visit. Even though I experienced these opportunities to learn about Alcatraz, the visit was a complete surprise to me; it challenged my assumptions about seeing popular sites. I’d been to San Francisco many times, usually for conferences, and I’d avoided taking the ferry to Alcatraz because I believed it would be some touristy extravaganza with greatly exaggerated stories of escapes, information only about legendary prisoners, etc. I was surprised to find that the visit was nothing of the sort. First, the island itself is quite lovely, abounding in both wildflowers and gardens planted by wardens’ families, and also home to many birds. Second, when I entered the prison, it felt hallowed — a part of history not only of prisons themselves but also of incarceration in the United States. We obtained headsets and listened closely as we visited the various points of interest. Although famous events were featured, other, more mundane information about prison life was also highlighted. We also learned about working at the prison, a side we rarely consider. Frankly, I was awed by the experience, and I am pleased that Alcatraz has been preserved for us to step back in history and learn. 


5 | Muir Woods

Karen and Maggie: Muir Woods was a marvel — a stunning natural forest on the outskirts of an internationally famous city. Our bus took us on the winding and somewhat precarious road into the park. I (Karen) was hanging on the entire drive, wishing I could be at the controls. Once there, we walked with an instructor who provided us with a brief introduction to, and history of, the woods. We then had time to explore some of the various paths on our own. Giant trees immediately shaded us and created a lush-smelling atmosphere of quiet. We ambled, trying to capture the magnitude of the forest in pictures and realizing that that’s quite impossible. A picture was basically useless in portraying the trees, and even a video still doesn’t enable you to understand how colossal these trees really are. You have to be there.

After our walk, we browsed in the gift shop, which had many artifacts from the forest and region. How fortunate we were to experience this forest. It is a towering reminder of how valuable it is when people work together to preserve our natural heritage.

One more…

But what about the Painted Ladies? They were not on our itinerary, but on our last day, we searched them out by bus and marveled at their intricacy of paint and design. We both loved them, and they were a fitting end to a wonderful week!


And this blog would not be complete without a shout out to our Road Scholar Group Leaders, Julie and Jerry. Talk about ready, willing and able! We were up and off every morning fully prepared for the day’s activities. If we had a question, they were knowledgeable and quick to fill us in, all the while making it interesting. They truly love the city, and that came through — which helped us appreciate the world city that San Francisco is. Thanks, Julie and Jerry!


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About the Authors:

Karen Storm is a retired college professor and researcher, who, in her spare time, loves to write, take her grandchildren places, and ride her bicycle. Maggie Fields will be a high school freshman this fall. She loves reading, piano and violin, tennis, babysitting, hanging out with her friends and traveling. She lives with her mom, dad and black lab named Jessie.


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