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Sunday 1 January 2017

Christmas in San Francisco

One last Christmas post to finish the year...

The week before Christmas the girls were on Winter break from school, so we decided to take advantage of their free time and get into the Christmas spirit by heading into the city to visit a few of our favorite festive places. 

Our first destination of the day was the Fairmont Hotel and the giant gingerbread house. To get there we caught the cable car up California Street. We don't take the cable car all that often, but when we do we almost always take the California Street line. It's just as fun as taking the more popular Powell Street lines, but without the huge lines of tourists. We always get an outside seat (or inside if we want) and the views up and down California Street are pretty amazing. That's one hell of a steep street! I always feel like the California Street line is almost like a local secret! It's definitely not as well known with tourists and, even better, the conductor usually doesn't charge up when he sees me holding out our Clipper cards to pay fare. Shh... 

This was actually the first time that I have ever stood on the outside of the cable car. In the past five years I've always either had a baby/toddler strapped to me or I've been pregnant! Mathilde is now big enough to sit with her sisters while I stood on the side. She was pretty freaked out that I wouldn't make it on the cable car after taking these pictures though! We were at the start of the line and passengers were still getting on so I knew I had plenty of time. While Mathilde was scared that the cable car would take off without me, Lola was worried that I'd fall off the side while it was moving! These kids - they don't have much confidence in me, do they? Ava also stood on the outside most of the way up the hill, and Lola gave it a quick try for the first time too, but got scared and sat back down.    

We hopped off the cable car at the top of the hill and made our way across the street to the Fairmont Hotel. The entire lobby of the hotel is stunningly beautiful, with the giant Christmas tree, giant gingerbread house and the ornate decor, but the revolving door at the entrance was what captivated the girls! You just know they took it for a few spins!

The gingerbread house and Christmas tree were stunning, as usual. This year we visited on a week day rather than a weekend so it wasn't as busy as our last few visits, however as it was fairly late in the month, the gingerbread house had already lost much of the candy on the accessible lower sections due to inquisitive little visitors! The gingerbread tiles themselves had also been picked at quite a bit, revealing the structure underneath, but it was still incredibly impressive none the less. Mathilde was excited to watch the model train chuff along its track through the house, and all three girls enjoyed looking at all the little details in the displays.

The Christmas tree in the Fairmont lobby is always one of my favorites. It's huge and so ornately decorated in beautiful blue and gold tones. Even without the giant gingerbread house as the main attraction I think we would still make the effort to visit the Fairmont just for this view from the staircase. 

The girls enjoyed visiting the Fairmont but they were pretty happy to be back outside in the sunshine again. We always walk down Mason Street towards Union Square after visiting the Fairmont, and Ava and Lola can't get enough of the steep, steep walk. Mathilde walked down the hill for the first time this year too (she's usually in a stroller or carrier) and she took every chance she got to run off ahead of me at full speed. How she didn't fall flat on her face is beyond me! Oh, and the other reason the girls were happy to be back outside? Pokemon Go! Who else has kids obsessed with catching Pokemons?   

At the bottom of the hill we headed one block over and found ourselves at Union Square. Our next destination was yet another hotel; this time the Westin St Francis with its sugar castle gracing the lobby. But first, we had to stop to catch a few more Pokemons outside - and pose for photos with the Victoria's Secret window, which Lola and Mathilde thought was hilarious!  

This year's sugar castle at the Westin was just as lovely as previous castles. The lobby was pretty quiet so we were able to get up nice and close for a good look. The girls loved the colorful base. The castle was definitely brighter than previous castles we've seen here. Oh, and I have no idea what Mathilde is doing in the photo below! Being a toddler, I guess.

Speaking of previous castles, another castle, which looked quite like the castle from 2013 (which you can see here) was set up in the corner. This was the first time that we've seen two castles on display at the Westin. Most visitors seemed to ignore it over in the corner - apart from that one person below who checked it out at exactly the same time as the girls, who then refused to have another photo after she'd moved! Oh, and once again, Mathilde's being a toddler...

Gingerbread houses and sugar castles are all well and good, but the main reason for our visit to the city was up next: visiting Santa at Macy's! We've never been to see Santa this late in December before so for the first time ever we had to wait in a line for a while. We've always lucked out and never had more than one or two families in front of us, but this time we had about a twenty minute wait. I'm not complaining though as it was still short compared to the hour and a half that we used to spend standing in line to see Santa at the Magic Cave back home in Australia!

The girls were happy to see Santa, even though they look a little uncomfortable in the photos. Ava asked Santa for a plush Pikachu and a Cozmo robot, Lola asked for a Zoomer Hedgiez and a plush Pikachu, and Mathilde gave her standard answer that she has been practicing on everyone: "a big girl digger and two red dinodoors". Usually Santa gives the girls Santaland badges which they put on their Christmas stockings when we get home, but as we visited late in the month this year they were all out. If anyone has three that they don't want, let me know!

After visiting Santa we made our way to the special Santa mail box and posted the letters that the girls had written earlier in the month. I know it seems kind of redundant to post letters right after chatting to Santa, but the girls have been keen to send them and it's one of our traditions. We then purchased a few new ornaments before making our way outside to check out Macy's Christmas windows.

This year's main window display featured Santa's workshop, with an elf manning Santa's computerized system, another holding the "good list", and the jolly fat man himself, all surrounded by toys, gifts and dogs. The other windows featured real dogs and cats as part of the SPCA's annual adoption promotion. The girls loved checking out the kittens and puppies, but it was so busy that I hung back a little and didn't get any pictures. We then grabbed hot dogs from a street vendor before heading to our last destination. 

Our last stop for the day was the Westfield shopping centre on Market Street. In past years there has been a beautiful light display projected onto the inside of the dome at the top. The girls have always enjoyed seeing it so we took the elevator to the top floor. Were we in for a surprise! The light display wasn't there this year, but in its place was something just as magical. Suspended from the domed ceiling hung a huge, upside down Christmas tree adorned with thousands of twinkling lights! Ok, so it wasn't actually a real Christmas tree (you can see that it's hollow in the pictures) but it really was incredibly impressive - but also too big to fit into one shot!

The girls were amazed by the display, but something else caught their attention: Pepper, Westfield's friendly robot! Yes, shopping centres have robots now! After watching a few other people interact and play games with Pepper the girls had their turn. They played a few memory games with Pepper, did a little dancing, and then posed for photos. Ok, so I have no idea what their poses are supposed to be in that shot! Lola was happy but decided to pose with terrible posture making her look dejected, and Mathilde went for laying on the ground again (despite her protests that she wasn't tired). At least Ava tried to pose like the robot!

We took one last look at the suspended Christmas tree and the other trees set up nearby for Santa photos, then made our way downstairs to the Bart station in the basement to head home. 

I love taking the girls into the city at this time of year. Berkeley isn't particularly festive at Christmas time, apart from a few places such as the Fourth Street shopping area and the Tilden Park carousel, so it was nice to get out and feel a little Christmas spirit in the city. Unfortunately Lola came down with a mystery virus the following evening and spent the lead up to Christmas sick (before passing it on to Kim and I) so we didn't get to do anything else festive before the big day. The outdoor ice skating rinks in both San Francisco and Alameda are set up for another week or two into the new year so we might take the girls skating at some point, but apart from that, all of the Winter holiday festivities are over for another year.

Now on to 2017!

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