Images by John 'K'

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Category Archives: Travel

A weekend to remember…

I’m now faced with a dilemma – how do you describe an experience that was so awesome it is hard to describe? J This past weekend my wife took me away from things for what has to be the best birthday present and weekend experience I have had to date in my now 44 years of life.

 

We live in the San Francisco Bay area, and the Pacific coast is a relatively short drive away. As watchers of this blog will know, we make frequent trips to the coast, and have kept a watchful eye out for whales each time. We once spotted one way off in the distance by its tell-tale spout, but it was really way too far off to see anything. We’ve also seen a beached (and dead) whale on the shore, but never really got a good look at a live one.

 

So when asked what I’d like for my birthday this year, I threw a few random ideas out – motorcycling class (as I want at some stage to get back on 2 wheels here – used to ride ages ago), trip to Alcatraz (been here for nearly 3 years but never been on the island in that time), or a whale-watching trip (as it’s something we’ve both wanted to do but never gotten around to doing, as we’ve never had the forethought to book a trip in advance). Armed with those suggestions, I left her to it. Shortly afterwards she started asking questions that made it obvious which choice she’d opted for.

 

Sure enough, she’d picked the whale watching option. I was just expecting an overnight trip – get down to the area night before, get out on the boat, then come home, but I soon found she’d planned for a whole weekend, and we were also going to be doing some cycling while we were down there.

 

My first challenge was how to deal with the stuff I normally do at work on a Friday while at the same time travelling down to Monterey at a time that’d have us avoid the inevitable bad Friday afternoon traffic. I ended up working from home in the morning, loading up the car with the bikes at lunchtime, and attending 2 meetings remotely via phone from the car on the way down in the afternoon via Highway 17, the Santa Cruz Mountains, and south down Highway 1. Fortunately it all worked out just fine – both meetings went well, and we got to the B&B we were staying a bit before 5pm.

 

After checking in and unpacking, we decided to go for a walk down to the beach. We were staying in Pacific Grove, and the bed and breakfast was just 2 blocks up from the beach and park at Lovers Point. The weather was a little overcast, but it was warm (for the coast), and we had fun exploring the rock-pools there. After climbing round on the rocks and acting like a couple half our age, we headed back up the hill towards downtown and had dinner.

 

After a lovely meal, we came out to go home, to find it raining. Still in good spirits, we dived into a nearby chocolate shop (still open) and loaded up on supplies for the  rest of the weekend before walking back to the B&B in the rain doing Gene Kelley (“Singing in the Rain”) impressions in the gutter on the way. We got a relatively early night as we had to be up and out for the whale watching trip in the morning.

 

Saturday morning came with the sound of my alarm clock at 6:30. We got up, washed and dressed (warm) and popped downstairs for a lovely breakfast before driving to Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf where we were to catch the trip. We checked in on time, took a sea sickness tablet each (not taking any chances) and took in the lovely morning on the wharf while we waited to board the boat. After a short wait we hopped aboard, and took up position near the front.

 

We set sail on what looked to be a lovely smooth sea, however appearances can be very deceptive – a few minutes out and we started to pick up the waves being caused by the ocean swell and so began what was to be a rollercoaster ride that lasted nearly 5 hours – thank heavens for that tablet. J

 

We sailed out across the bay and toward the ocean. Along the way we passed through many moon jellies, just swimming along near the surface of the clear blue water. About 45 minutes into the journey some folks thought they saw something in the distance, and sure enough, 10 minutes later we were getting up close and personal with a pair of humpback whales.

 

These whales were just passing through, but took an interest in us and circled the boat a few times giving us a few photo opportunities before swimming off in to the distance. We’d seen this sort of encounter on the TV and in movies, but nothing had really prepared me for what it would be like being so close to these majestic beasts.

 

I would have been happy to have gone back at that stage, but the boat continued out, and we were soon in amongst literally hundreds of dolphins who were out feeding in the waters. Most stayed in the distance, however a number swam up to us and rode the bow waves giving us some impressive views of these wonderful animals.

 

After sailing around amongst the dolphins for about an hour, we started to head back, but before long we’d spotted another pair of humpbacks. These ones didn’t want to play with us, but we got as close as we could without bothering them and followed for a bit until the disappeared under the surface and left us.

 

We continued the journey back toward the shore again, only to find these same whales up ahead of us, toying with us. We got up close enough to get a look at them and then they swam off, so we continued our journey back through the moon jellies towards the harbour. We were out for nearly 5 hours all in all, and we were left with the memories (and photos) of an experience I’ll never forget.

 

After grabbing some lunch and spending some time exploring Fisherman’s Wharf, we headed back to Pacific Grove and the B&B where we caught our breath for a bit. Later that afternoon, we decided to watch the sunset over the ocean off the point at the aptly named Sunset Drive. We hopped on our bikes and cycled around the coastal road, stopping on the way to take in some of the beautiful scenery.

 

We got to our vantage point about 20 minutes before sunset, and set up to watch one of nature’s spectacles. The sunset was beautiful, and having recharged our spirits with the sights, we headed back to the B&B, stashed the bikes, and headed off for a wonderful meal before going to bed, exhausted but happy after a wonderful day.

 

Sunday after breakfast we decided to cycle the trail that goes from Pacific Grove, following close to the coast through Monterey, Seaside, and into Sand City. Not having cycled for a while, we didn’t want to push things too much, but a lot of the track is flat, so we cycled until we started to hit the dunes on the other side of Sand City. We jokingly referred to this as our “4 city whirlwind cycle tour”. After a few stops to take in the views and some pictures, we turned back and spent some time in Monterey taking in the sights, sounds, and experiences of the “Seafood and Music Festival” that coincidentally was running that weekend. After some shopping, food, drink, and music, we hopped back on the bikes and cycled back to the B&B to load up the car and head back for home. We cycled about 25 miles in those 2 days and thoroughly enjoyed it. On the way back we stopped at the outlet mall at Gilroy for a little shopping before getting back home late afternoon on Sunday.

 

It was a wonderful weekend. Some of it planned, some of it we just did on the whim of the moment, but it was all fun, and an experience I’ll never forget.

 

To my darling wife who organised all of this for me, I say “thank you” with all my heart.

 

A small selection from the nearly 400 photos we took over the weekend can be found here…

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Happy Birthday to my wonderful wife:)

Friday was my wife’s birthday, and as things have been somewhat crazy for us over the past few weeks, I decided to take her away from it all for the week. Back in February we had visited a lovely place up the northern California Pacific coast called Howard Creek Ranch and we fell in love with the place. I couldn’t think of anywhere better to get away from it all at, so a few weeks ago I booked a room and started to count down the days to the trip.
 
We set off Friday afternoon for the 6 hour drive north, stopped at a lovely Italian restaurant in Cloverdale on the way, and got to the ranch a little before 11pm. It had been a long day so we settled down for the night.
 
The following day we woke, had a magnificent farmhouse breakfast, and then went for a walk on the beach – there’s easy access from the ranch to a stretch of beach, and we killed about an hour and a half on the sand. We then decided to hop in the car and drive north up 101 past Leggett with nothing planned – we were going to play it by ear. We stopped for a hike at the first park we came across (Standish-Hickey State Recreational Area) where we spent a couple of hours hiking up the side of the Eel River before hunger got the better of us, so we headed up 101 to Garberville where we had a very late lunch.
 
After eating we started back for the ranch, stopping at a few gift stores on the way. As it was a while before sunset, we went to our room to recuperate a little, then headed for the beech to watch the sun go down over the Pacific ocean. The pacific sunsets are always beautiful, and even with a partial covering of fog this was no different. After the sun had well and truly disappeared, we headed back to the farmhouse for supper and bed.
 
The following morning, we had breakfast, and reluctantly checked out, knowing we’d be heading back home. We drove back down Highway 1, stopping for lunch and a trip to the beach at Jenner. We continued south on highway 1 until we passed through Tomales, then headed inland through Petaluma and back home via 101 and 580, reaching home about 8 hours after we had set off.
 
I had a wonderful time and I think my wife did too. 🙂 We had lovely scenery, wonderful food, and I was alone with the love of my life for a weekend with no interruptions (there’s next to no cell phone coverage up where we were), no distractions, and no children. This was our second visit to the ranch, and I’m sure we’ll be back again!
 
There are some photos from the trip in my albums.

A day at the seaside…

Funny – I always thought a day at the seaside on a national holiday was a British thing, but the need to flock to the coast on our free time seems a part of the human condition wherever they are found. This past weekend was the Memorial Day weekend her in the USA, and faced with a long weekend, many Americans decided to pack up for the weekend and head for the lakes and the mountains for some rest, relaxation, and recreation. As I headed home from work on the Friday before the weekend, it was clear that many folks were heading away – the freeways were packed with trucks and SUVs towing trailers with all sorts of recreational hardware, there were cars and minivans loaded with people and assorted vacation paraphernalia, and the usually busy drive home was a nightmare.
 
We hadn’t planned to go away this weekend – one of my daughters has recently started a part time job that has her working the weekend, and she’s already booked up a chunk of vacation time for our trip back to the UK in August, so going away for the weekend as a family was not an option. She did however have the Monday off. As such, we took things easy on Saturday and Sunday, mixing some driving lesson time with my youngest daughter, with shopping, with some late mornings (don’t get to lay in too often nowadays), and with a big BBQ on Sunday.
 
In time honored British tradition, we thought we’d head to the seaside for the holiday day itself, so Monday morning we packed up the car with a load of food and drink, and headed west. The original plan was to spend a bit of time either at Capitola or Santa Cruz, then head north up the coast a bit. It seemed however that a lot of the bay area folks had decided to do exactly the same thing, and the traffic heading for Santa Cruz and north up the coast was horrible, so we headed for Capitola and decided to spend the afternoon there.
 
Capitola was also heaving with people – I thought back to this quiet seaside town that I stumbled on one weekend a few years back while on a business trip to the bay area, and compared it to the busy seaside town that we were faced with – same place, but quiet? No way! Anyhow – after driving around for a bit trying to find somewhere to park, we pulled up, had something to eat, loaded up, and set off for the beach.
 
Inland in the bay area it gets lovely and warm in late May – on the coast however it’s a different story. I thought it was comfortable – not too hot, nice ocean breeze. The rest of the family however thought it was cold. It was OK in the sun, but there was a coastal fog that just wouldn’t completely clear. We found a nice spot on the lovely sandy beach, and took in the atmosphere – even with the less than ideal weather it was relaxing. My wife and I left the girls on the beach mat and went for a walk down the beach – had a paddle in the Pacific, and enjoyed the scenery and the company. A while later we regrouped and went for a stroll around the stores (with 3 women shopping just had to be on the agenda didn’t it!!).
 
All in all my wife and I thought it was a nice day out. Not so sure my girls were totally impressed with the day (no computers, too cold etc) but they didn’t complain (too much) and at least tried to act as a family.
 
As always – grabbed a few pics, a selection of which can be found here….. 🙂

A day at the aquarium.

A couple of years back, after being introduced to the place by a friend, I took out family membership at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and each year since then we have renewed that membership. Although it’s a bit of a drive, it has provided us and a steady stream of family and friends visiting us with many hours of enjoyment, and each time we’ve gone there something new has been added.
 
A few days ago we received a reminder of a members only event. The aquarium has been working on a major new exhibit about otters, and it opens to the general public on March 31, but as members we were invited to a preview opening. Judging by the interest shown by the members who turned up yesterday, I can only think this new exhibit will be a major success for them. We loved it, and the otters are soooooo cute!
 
If you’re within driving distance of Monterey, or visiting the area at any stage, make sure to visit the aquarium – it is well worth the money you’ll spend on the entrance fee!
 
As you are probably coming to expect with me by now, some pics are in my photo albums

They let me out!

Last week I had my first business trip away from the office in over 2 years! For the last few days of last week I had the pleasure of travelling on business to North Carolina to go meet a bunch of folks at our support and engineering centre in the Research Triangle Park near Raleigh, NC. I won’t go into details of the business side of the trip, but it was the first time in the nearly 8 years I’ve been with my current employer that I’d travelled to this site, and I can see now how we managed to get tagged as RTP’s number 1 place to work in 2006. The site is amazing – very ’employee-friendly’.
 
We flew out on the Wednesday – spent most of the day travelling. As there is no direct flight from the Bay Area to North Carolina, we ended up flying via Phoenix. We had a 45 minute stop-over – barely enough time to visit the rest rooms and go from one gate to another, so fortunately the flight wasn’t massively off-schedule.
 
I’d never been to Phoenix before, so was glad I’d managed to get into a window seat for the first part of the flight, and all I can say is the scenery was stunning. I tried to get a few photos of it as we flew in, but the window I was sat next to wasn’t particularly clean and only a few came out well.
 
North Carolina itself reminded me a lot of Belgium. The number and types of trees were very reminiscent of a number of family vacations we had been on in the forests of Belgium. The climate was pretty close too. The only real difference was the architecture, which is very ‘colonial’. It was rather odd seeing lots of bricks being used in the architecture after seeing predominantly wood-constructed properties in California.
 
Wednesday night we ate in an Indian restaurant relatively close to the hotel we were in. Nothing amazing, but it wasn’t bad either. Thursday night we ventured into the Chapel Hill area and ate at a small Italian restaurant called 411 (named after the street number of the building). The meal was lovely, and I’ll be sure to eat there the next time I go visiting our offices in North Carolina.
 
The weather was a stark reminder of why we chose to live in the part of California we are in. For the first 2 days it was sunny and warm, but also very humid and sticky, and then for the last day the heavens opened and we were faced with the sort of rain that makes it difficult to see more than about 10 feet in front of your windshield when driving.
 
The oddest thing about this trip for me (keeping in mind that I’ve flown rather a lot in my working life) was that this was the first trip I’ve taken by air where I have not had to produce my passport to be allowed to travel. Something about that just did not feel right….
 
Anyway – a few pics are up in amongst my photo albums….