Monthly Archives: November 2012

Old Man Patterson had a Farm…

After spending a long Saturday in the big city, I decided that Sunday needed to involve some fresh air and a bit of a walk.

I couldn’t be bothered getting in the car to go anywhere, and I already explored some of the nearest wildlife refuge whilst running, so the only alternative was Ardenwood Historic Farm, which is just the other side of the busy junction nearest the hotel.

After taking my life in my hands to negotiate the slightly-incomprehensible American pedestrian crossing system, I was on a nice quiet road through open fields of cabbages for the walk in to the farm. Apart from Mission Hills being very obvious in the background, I could have been in the English countryside.

I saw this little guy hopping around one of the trees. He wouldn’t quite keep still enough, close enough, for long enough to get a decent photo, but at least it was good enough to identify him later as one of the subspecies of Western Scrub Jay (not a Blue Jay, as I originally thought).

I also saw this slightly bigger bird, much further away. Some kind of buzzard, but I think buzzards in California tend to be Turkey Vultures, and this one looks like he’s got a feathered head… points awarded to the first person with an accurate identification.

One member of the local wildlife was much more photogenic, and seemed to be happy enough to pose while I got some decent pictures. I’m fairly sure he’s a Fox Squirrel, but I’m happy to be corrected if someone know better.

The farm was originally owned by a “forty-niner” who didn’t find gold in the hills, but made money from agriculture instead. It was passed down the family until being handed over to the City of Fremont in the 1970s, and is now operated as a working example of a turn-of-the-century farm.

The main farmhouse, which started life as something quite small, but had three different extensions added.

The farm has a collection of old tractors, the better examples being kept as a proper exhibit, the others being left to look unloved under a cover outside, where I found this Caterpillar with what I think is a Prairie Dog who’d made his home underneath. Cat… dog… see what I did there?

There are several animals on the farm, including chickens, goats, sheep… and cows. Of course, I had to have a photo of at least one cow, or I’d never be forgiven… (If you don’t understand why, don’t worry about it: it’s a family thing.)

This building is known as the Tankhouse. The top is a water tank, filled by a wind-powered well, and the two floors below it were used as a house.

The farm has a working railway, which you can ride on in some open carriages, giving a great view of the area of eucalyptus trees where tens of thousands of monarch butterflies come to spend the winter.

After all this walking around, and a run round the nature reserve, then a swim in the hotel pool and an all-too-brief lounge in the spa, I’d managed to work up a bit of an appetite… a good job too, as we decided on the Texas Roadhouse for dinner. You might not believe it, but we really tried not to order too much. The photos here only show the main course (yes, that’s steak and ribs on my plate, and a rather large beer next to it) and the dessert (Big Ol’ Brownie, and that’s pretty accurate). They don’t show the bottomless bucket of shell-on peanuts that are left on the table, the unlimited supply of bread, the combo starter that we shared, the rather large bowl of salad that was included… just when I thought I’d got rid of my “rice baby” bump after China, I think what I’ve got now can only be described as a “too-much-food bump”. I think I’ve put on a stone since I got here. December may need to involve a diet.

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Posted by on Sunday 25 November 2012 in California


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The Streets of San Francisco

Saturday was scheduled for our somewhat-postponed trip to San Francisco, now that we’d realised that you really did need to buy tickets in advance for Alcatraz, even out of season.

This has turned out to be a bit longer than I expected, so if you just want the executive summary, it goes like this: train, Alcatraz, beer, rain, food, Lombard Street, beer, beer, rain, wine, train, beer.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on Wednesday 21 November 2012 in California


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Geek Tour

After a big day out on Saturday, we didn’t want to go to far on Sunday. We needed to get lunch somewhere, so decided to pop across to Palo Alto, just on the other side of the Bay.

Palo Alto pretty much defines Silicon Valley, with most of the big Internet-related companies having at least an office there, if not their main headquarters. The first place you see once you get to the west side of the bridge is the big thumbs-up ‘Like’ sign outside facebook’s HQ.

Palo Alto seems to be much more civilised than the Newark and Fremont area on the west side of the Bay; it even has proper streets with shops and restaurants on them, rather than being a load of strip malls joined up with dual carriageways.

After a brief visit to the Apple store, where I was given some misinformation by one of the lower-ranked droids, we picked up some lunch from a fancy French-style pastry shop called Paris Baguette, then tried to decide where to eat it. Since I knew we weren’t far from Moffet Field, I thought it might be worth heading over there to see if NASA had a visitors centre, and we could perhaps get a closer look at Hangar One.

Unfortunately, “due to the unique way in which NASA is funded”, there is a visitors centre, but it’s not very big, and you certainly can’t get very close to Hangar One as a regular visitor. You get a much better view from the freeway, but you’re not allowed to stop there, so I had to content myself with wandering around near Moffet Rail Station (the best place we could find to park), and taking photos through the barbed wire fence like some kind of industrial spy.

As we were in the right sort of area, we thought we might as well continue doing some geek-style train-spotting. Next stop, then: Apple’s headquarters, at One Infinite Loop (geek humour). This was smaller, duller and  more corporate than we expected, but apparently they’re building some kind of new spaceship-style offices at a much larger site nearby.

After Apple, the only place we could go had to be Google. After a few missed turns, we eventually found some of the interesting bits of the (huge) Google campus. First interesting sight was the conference bike; I hope whoever’s steering doesn’t have to take minutes too! The appropriately-coloured Google bikes were parked all over the place, for employees to use to get between different parts of the campus. Then we spotted one of the most photo-worthy areas, the building where Android is “developed”, with models outside representing each release, each of which is code-named after a sweet or dessert: Cupcake, Donut (not in these pictures), Eclair, Froyo (frozen yoghurt, hidden behind Cupcake), Gingerbread (same barber as me), Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich, and Jelly Bean.

We thought about stopping at facebook for a photo on our way back to the hotel, but our mutual decision was ‘meh’. Although we did wonder if it would be possible to turn their thumbs-up sign upside-down…

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Posted by on Wednesday 14 November 2012 in California


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Miles from Monterey

We’d originally thought about going to Alcatraz on Saturday, but it turns out that all those stories about the cruise tickets selling out in advance are true, even when it’s not peak season. (We’ve learnt our lesson, and already have our tickets booked for next weekend.)

So, the back-up plan was to head to Monterey, and see the aquarium, Cannery Row, and Fisherman’s Wharf.

However, the first order of the day was to stop at the Alamo depot at San Jose Airport, and exchange our hire car. The Dodge Avenger that we’d got originally had developed an intermittent fault with the left indicators (or turn signals, as they call them over here). Every so often it would start flashing twice as fast as it should (as if it had an old-fashioned relay and a bulb had gone), and the rear light cluster would flash in odd patterns. Sometimes there was a beep from the dashboard too, just in case we hadn’t noticed the problem.

A call to Alamo’s 1-800 number (unfortunately, not free from a UK mobile), and they were happy for us to exchange it at our convenience. We drove in to the depot, got a receipt, got offered a choice of new car, and drove out in an almost brand-new Chevrolet Impala. Much nicer to drive than the old one: not so much wallow from the suspension, a more direct feel to the steering, and over twice the power. Must behave ourselves, I think the CHiPs are quite strict…

An easy, scenic drive down to Monterey, and we managed to get parked just off the famous Cannery Row without realising it to start with. Conveniently, the Aquarium is at one end of this, in one of the old cannery building, and the first thing you see when you go in is an exhibit of old boilers and machinery from one of the canneries.

I’ll let the rest of the pictures speak for themselves, rather than trying to give a guided tour of the whole aquarium, which must be the biggest and best I’ve ever been in. But I guess their location does give them something of an advantage over Whitley Bay Sealife Centre…

[I took loads more photos than this, but the camera doesn’t really do justice to most of the exhibits; dark, blurry photos of fish-shaped objects aren’t particularly interesting.]

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Posted by on Tuesday 13 November 2012 in California


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We were planning on going for a curry tonight, and had decided to go to an Indian restaurant near the hotel that seemed to have some of the best reviews in Newark, but once we got there we discovered that it didn’t serve alcohol. Friday night, curry, without beer? It just didn’t seem right.

So we decided to have a walk to a part of Newark we hadn’t visited before, on the hope that one of the restaurants we’d found on the Internet turned out to be OK.

We found the pizza place first. It had a cheesy name (‘Love At First Slice‘), and looked a bit basic (you place your order at a hatch, then take your number and your beer and find a table), but the pizzas sounded nice, they had draught beer, and it looked like a band was just getting set up, so we decided to give it a go.

Probably should have taken the photo before we got carried away with eating…

To make the most of our expenses, we got one XL pizza, two pitchers of beer, and a plate of jalapeño poppers to share as a starter. We probably could have done without the poppers, and a slightly-smaller pizza would almost certainly have been enough, but somehow it all got eaten, and the beer all got drunk (plus a bit more). The bands were pretty good, too. Late Night District were the support act: guitar, bass, drums, sort of alternative-rock, American-style punk rock. Brolly were the main act, a bit more polished, vaguely like Radiohead-ish: two guitars, bass and drums, plus assorted other instruments and percussion depending on the song.

I’m not sure how, but I think I ate about two-thirds of that pizza. I really should know better by now.

Monterey tomorrow. That’s the plan, anyway…

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Posted by on Friday 9 November 2012 in California


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Perfect Blue Buildings

(OK, the buildings aren’t blue, and the song’s lyrics aren’t relevant to the content of this post, but I was trying to find a California song title and was getting bored of looking…)

A quick look at the place we’re working in. I can only take pictures of the outside, because some companies aren’t too keen on photos being taken inside, in case you accidentally capture something on a whiteboard that could be useful to a competitor.

Apparently these buildings used to belong to Sun Microsystems. Most of the interior is much as you’d imagine a Silicon Valley office to be:

  • most of the desks are in cubicles. I can see three other desks from mine, if I turn around. If I lean back in my chair I can just catch a glimpse of people walking past;
  • free tea and coffee (a selection of each); free snacks (pretzels, cookies, cereal bars, noodles, etc.); free soft drinks;
  • some “interesting” furniture… or perhaps it’s an art installation. This office has some benches that look like they’re made of cardboard versions of those expanding tissue Christmas decorations that everybody used to have;
  • social area, with pool table, table tennis, and air hockey. I haven’t dared try this yet, too much danger of broken windows;
  • unusual names for meeting rooms. This being a company that deals with catastrophe insurance, the meeting rooms have names like Peril, Catastrophe, Earthquake, Liquefaction, Epicenter… best of all, Godzilla!

The last photo is nothing to do with the offices, it’s just a photo of this evening’s starter to show the sort of food that we’re having to suffer. I hope you all feel sorry for us.

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Posted by on Thursday 8 November 2012 in California


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Alice’s Restaurant

(Another song title, of course.)

The original plan for today was to head down to Monterey, go to the aquarium, then have a wander around and see what else there was to do while we were down there. However, with the Bay Area currently having a bit of a mini heat wave, we decided that today was too nice to waste being indoors for a long time.

After looking at the map and getting a suggestion from a local on Twitter, we decided on the following plan: head west to the famous Alice’s Restaurant for a bite to eat, then keep going west to pick up the Pacific Coastal Highway and find some beaches.

Rather than going directly across the Bay on Dumbarton Bridge, we decided to be cheapskates and avoid paying the toll by going the long way round the bottom of the Bay. This gave us a chance for some geeky name-spotting: Dell, TiVo, IBM, Polycom, Microsoft, and the famous Hangar One, amongst others; although we managed to completely miss Google.

We turned off the freeway and headed towards Skyline Boulevard and the hills. As we were passing and had plenty of time, we took a little detour through part of Stanford University’s campus, which looked very impressive. And very expensive.

The drive up into the hills was one of the windiest roads I’ve ever been up, and it’s definitely up. The speed limit on the east side is just 35mph, but there’s not much room for error on some of the corners.

Alice’s Restaurant seems to be the Californian equivalent of the Hartside Cafe, but with better food, nicer weather, and not such a good view because it’s surrounded by trees. Lots of interesting cars and bikes were parked outside, including a matt black and carbon fibre GT-R next to an old Ford Mustang, which made an interesting contrast. Of course, there were lots of Harleys, as well as many European and Japanese bikes. Big adventure bikes such as BMWs, KTMs and Ducati Multistradas seemed to feature quite strongly, but also an assortment of sportbikes. There was the most basic Monster that I’ve ever seen, that had even done away with its clutch and timing belt covers, and also an S4R in Il Tricolore colours that I’m sure Mrs E would have liked…

After having a spot of early lunch in the restaurant, a quick stroll round the tourist-tat-shops, and buying an obligatory T-shirt, we kept heading west towards the coast, downhill this time, but still with the road winding its way down through the trees and eventually into more open rugged land. We spotted the Pacific Ocean as soon as we reach the Pacific Coastal Highway, and mutually decided that we should stop at the first place we could to admire the view, as it was just breathtaking.

After standing around on a precarious cliff edge for a few minutes, taking photos and saying ‘Wow,’ we decided to keep heading south to find a beach we could actually get on. We saw lots of beaches, most with a few but not many people on, but there weren’t many people in the water at all. We decided to stop at one that had a few cars parked near, and when we walked onto the beach we found out why there weren’t many people swimming: the warning signs advised of cold water, rip tides, undercurrents, sharks, etc., etc. … didn’t sound like much fun.

We had a walk up and down the beach, watching the very impressive waves come crashing in, and the pelicans gliding just above them with any apparently effort. They were right about the water being cold: the surfers didn’t just have wetsuits on, they had hats, gloves and socks too. Even the surfers at Whitley Bay don’t generally bother with that!

We decided to head further down the PCH to see what else we could see. Just north of Santa Cruz, we went to have a look at Natural Bridges State Beach, although these days there’s just one Natural Bridge, the outer and inner arches having collapsed.

We were going to have a look at the lighthouse located to the east, but as we drove towards it we found that we were being detoured away from where we wanted to be: apparently the O’Neill Cold Water Classic surfing championship has just started this weekend, and the place was heaving. We thought we’d managed to be very lucky and find a free parking space, until we were chased out of a church car park by a pastor who was obviously having a bad day!

Giving up on watching the surf championships, we decided to head in to Santa Cruz itself and see if we could have a look at the pier we’d seen. Which turned out to be Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, with cars parked all along its length. We settled instead for stroll along the boardwalk, and decided that it was all very much like Blackpool really.

As we wanted to make sure we got something to eat, and we have to go to work tomorrow (shame!), we took the more direct route back to Newark; ‘direct’ being the Santa Cruz highway, another road where they seem to have squeezed in as many bends as possible into a short stretch of road.

Amazingly, we don’t seem to have got sunburnt. Must try harder next weekend!

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Posted by on Sunday 4 November 2012 in California


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Welcome to the Hotel California

(Yes, yes, I know the title’s a bit obvious, but it had to be done. I’m sure there’ll be plenty of other cheesy song references to come in the next four weeks.)

After a couple of slightly delayed flights, we made it to California, picked up a car, and drove to the hotel. It seems that the admin staff had done a good job of the bookings, because there were none of the slightly-anticipated extra charges that we thought we might get with the car, although we did get asked if a mid-sized car would be big enough for the two of us. We didn’t realise that the American definition of “mid-size” means a Dodge Avengeralthough there’s plenty of space, it’s not as beefy as it looks. It must just have the two-litre petrol engine, because the automatic gearbox drops down a gear on a slight incline on the freeway, and drops down two if you actually want to accelerate. You just need a bit of a lack of mechanical sympathy, and it seems to go OK.

It felt a bit unwieldy getting out of the car park, and getting to the main road was a bit unnerving due to the poor road markings and lack of decent lighting, but we made it to the hotel without hitting anything, which is always a good start. We were offered a choice of first floor (i.e. ground floor, really) or sixth (fifth) for our rooms, and went for the top floor for the peace and quiet. The drawback of this is the world’s slowest elevator… of course, this being America, the stairs are a bit of an afterthought for emergencies only, so we’ll just have to be patient.

The room/suite isn’t too bad, despite it looking like it’s time-travelled from the 80’s, even though the hotel was only built in 2002.

You enter the suite via the study. Desk, chair, lamp, phone. What else would you expect?


Next is the kitchen, with a decent-sized fridge-freezer, two ring hob, sink, dishwasher, coffee maker, table and chairs, and a 1400W microwave oven! I don’t suppose I can use it to cook pizza, which is a shame, but I can produce industrial quantities of popcorn…


The lounge has a two-seater sofa-bed, armchair, coffee table, and the first of two big LCD TVs. You can probably see from the carpet and the suite why it looks like it’s left over from 1980-something.




The bedroom has a very soft double bed, with far too many pillows. Not a brilliant night’s sleep last night, but I suspect a lot of that was due to my internal body-clock being completed confused.


Just off the bedroom is the washbasin and wardrobe, with a separate door to the bath and toilet. The thing that looks like another door on the far right of the picture is just the reflection of the bathroom door in the mirror-fronted wardrobe.


The view’s not too bad, although this panorama doesn’t really do it justice as I had to shoot through the glass of the bedroom windows, slightly towards the sun, and the haze is obscuring the nice view of Mission Hills in the distance.

I had a nice pre-breakfast run this morning, down to Don Edwards Wildlife Refuge and back. A bit of a change from Tyne Riverside Country Park!

Now it’s about time we went out to explore the local area and find some lunch… more later…

… or there would be, if we hadn’t spelt all afternoon driving around all afternoon for the sake of saving the company 10 or 20 dollars on a mobile hotspot. More another day, I think…

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Posted by on Sunday 4 November 2012 in California


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