Tag Archives: United States

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.

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Posted by on Wednesday 21 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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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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Lane indiscipline

[Some time after the previous post…]

Getting away from Newcastle took a little longer than I expected: Air France “lost” a plane somewhere (or that’s what seemed to have happened), and we ended up leaving Newcastle about an hour and 40 minutes later than scheduled. All credit to the Air France pilot though: he didn’t skimp on the Jet A, and got us in to Paris Charles de Gaulle just 30 minutes later than scheduled. I think he must have taken a shortcut somewhere.

This left just about the right amount of time in Paris for a leisurely beer (0.5l of Affligem for €7.10; it was worth it at the time) and a triangular ciabatta-type thing before boarding was announced. As I got to the front of the queue, I discovered that for the first time ever I’d got an upgrade; woo-hoo! Only to “Voyageur” class, but that’s a lot better than sitting in cattle class in the back.

The seat-back entertainment system didn’t work properly, but with it being a night flight (notionally, at least), I wasn’t that bothered. Between my Kindle, a couple of meals, and trying to get some sleep, there wasn’t that much spare time to occupy.

We arrived at Beijing airport almost precisely on schedule, and I quickly found my way to passport control. I expected this to be quite scary, like getting in to the USA just with shorter security guards, but it was all very smooth and pleasant and over quite quickly. Of course, having got through security quickly, my bag seemed to be the last one off, but that’s just typical.

I’d been warned to expect crowds of people when exiting the Arrivals area, and thought it might be hard to spot the driver who’d been sent for me, but it wasn’t busy at all, and I spotted him quite easily… and quickly discovered that we had a mutual lack of comprehension of each other’s native language. There wasn’t going to be much conversation on the 3 hour drive, especially as my head hadn’t quite caught up with my body.

The first fifteen minutes lulled me into a false sense of security. Everybody seemed to be driving quite sensibly, sticking to their lanes; perhaps not indicating as often as they should, but definitely and clearly avoiding each other. Then we found a traffic jam, apparently caused by a truck and a car having stopped in the middle of the road after hitting each other…

Any notion of a “3 lane carriageway” disappeared completely. If there was a gap wide enough to fit half a car in, somebody would squeeze their car into it, and everybody would shuffle over to make room. And although the cars were about eight-abreast, they weren’t all moving in the same direction; most were moving diagonally, towards what they thought was the quickest way through, but it all seemed to work quite efficiently. Certainly better than the very British idea of getting into a single file queue as soon as possible!

There wasn’t really much scenery to see on the journey, which was broken only by a quick stop to use the “facilities” at a service area. Most of the road had trees along the side, with big advertising boards (mostly for rice wine) on posts rising above them. There was a little bit more to see as we passed Tang Shan, some industrial areas and hilly terrain, but it was starting to get dark and misty by then.

As we turned off the main road and into Qinhuangdao, we went through some kind of junction that seemed more like the road had been started from each end and hadn’t quite met properly in the middle, with sand bags and temporary barriers to guide you the right way. Apparently it’s been like that for over a year.

I got to the hotel just as the bus was leaving to take all the teachers (apart from Clare) to KTV for the evening, where we joined them after I’d had a quick shower and we’d grabbed a quick-but-expensive (£11!) meal in the hotel restaurant. By the time we got there, some of them seemed to be ever-so-slightly tipsy… can’t have been the beer, which was only about 3%, but judging by the waving and shouting as they were getting on the bus, I think a few had been getting a bit of a head-start on the drinking before leaving the hotel…

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Posted by on Friday 3 August 2012 in China


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