Images by John 'K'

Life as seen through my lens…

Category Archives: Travel

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
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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….

Exploring the wilderness.

Just off Calaveras Road (see last blog entry) is the Sunol Regional Wilderness Park. Having spotted the entrance to the park while driving the road recently, I decided to take my wife there to kick off our somewhat belated new years resolution to go on regular weekend hikes. We’d had an earlier attempt at this while on our Pacific Coast drive in February, but hadn’t kept it up.
 
So we headed out in my little commute car (go-kart on steroids), and I started by taking her on the Calaveras Road drive itself. Unlike the times I’d driven it during the week, this time we encountered many modes of transport coming the other way – cars, motorbikes, cyclists – all out enjoying the lovely weekend we had. Many twisty miles later we turned onto the approach road to the park. After paying for entry (we really will have to look to get park membership if we’re going to do this regularly), we found our parking spot and started to head out to what we thought would be a nice introductionary hike in the park. After a couple of false starts picking up the start of the trail (my fault – never have a man do the map reading if there’s a woman who can do it for you!), we headed off up the Indian Joe Creek trail.
 
What we didn’t realise is that it was all up-hill. Ugh. A mile and a half of up-hill hike later, with encounters with lizards, frogs, butterflies and an occasional hiker with dog, we decided enough was enough, so we stopped at an interesting rock formation, had a little climb, sat and had a drink and a snack and just took in the view for a few minutes before we started back down towards the car.
 
It’s funny how even though you think you’re making good progress uphill, the downhill stretch is always quicker – perhaps because we didn’t keep stopping to look at everything that moved, and perhaps because we didn’t end up detouring off part way along because someone (NOT me this time) thought the trail went off to the left whereas it continued up the hill in front of us!, but whatever the reasons, we god down in about half the time.
 
While walking, we met a couple who had obviously been to this park a few times, and who pointed out that there were many more scenic trails, including one that takes in a waterfall. There’s also a section on one of the trails called ‘Little Yosemite’ so will be interesting to see how it compares with the real thing, so we’ll be back there again for sure. Just need to sort out that park membership first.
 
….and to whoever it was who left the plastic lizard on the rocks in the middle of the trail, thanks for giving us a laugh half way up the hill!
 
There are a few pictures in my photo album section.

A slight detour…

My drive between home and the office involves 25 or so miles on 2 freeways, some busy streets, and some lovely scenery, but at times it gets really busy (especially on a Friday). When I first started doing this commute, I researched some alternate routes for when the freeways get really bad. I can drive between home and the office without touching a freeway; it adds an extra 5 miles and 15 minutes to the journey, but when the freeways are bad it can result in an actual journey saving of up to 45 minutes. The thing is though it’s a slow boring drive through a big chunk of one of the towns between home and the office.
 
When I researched the alternates, I noted another road that could be used, however feedback from some folks who know the area led me to believe it was really not a viable alternative – it’s a slow windy road that hugs the side of the mountains, and for a lot of its length is single lane with passing points. So I discounted this as an option.
 
18 months on, I found myself with a really bad Friday drive home, no time pressures to be home quickly, and I felt like exploring a bit, so I decided to abandon the usual non-freeway route home and try this other drive that for the past 18 months I’d considered was not a viable commute route home. It was a lovely sunny day, and I really didn’t want to be bored from the usual non-freeway route or frustrated with the freeway traffic, so I headed for the unknown 3rd option.
 
Well it was amazing. This road was like some of the little windy country lanes found in the less well developed countryside areas in England (the sort of roads I used to love cycling and then later motorcycling on back when I was younger and still in the UK), but with two differences. 1) the drivers you do run into on this road are a lot more courteous than the typical car driver you run into on the little country lanes in England, and 2) the scenery was stunning.
 
The left hand side of the road (as you drive from the office to my home) needs no barrier, as it’s up against the side of the eastern foothills for the Diablo mountain range. The right hand side has occasional barriers, and a spectacular view down into a valley, and for a good length looks down onto a reservoir.
 
The road swings around many hairpin bends and winds through the foothills, and I found myself at almost every turn looking at a wonderful and new image of the countryside that had for the past 18 months been hiding quietly behind those foothills as I drove past on the freeway. Because I was so busy taking in the scenery and enjoying the challenge of driving the road, I lost track of time, so when I popped out at the other end back onto some more familiar roads, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it hadn’t taken me any longer than driving my usual non-freeway route. It also didn’t really register until later that along the whole drive I hadn’t encountered a single vehicle coming the other way.
 
2 weeks later, and I found myself in similar circumstances, and this time I had my camera with me, so I took some pictures (see my photo albums). This time the road was a little busier; it seems that a few other people had decided to do the same thing as me, but even so the number of vehicles was very low, and they made no impact on the drive time for that part of the journey. This time I also had a close encounter with a deer (which decided to play chicken with me and which I missed by about a foot at most).
 
So I won’t be driving this road every day as when the freeway is flowing normally it is still the quickest way home, and I certainly won’t be driving this road when it is wet or icy as I can see it being very dangerous, but if it’s a nice day and the freeway is bad, or even if it is just a nice day and I’m not in a rush to get home, I can see myself driving this way home a lot more….

Presidents of the United States, I thank you… :)

This last weekend was the weekend after a mid-week Valentines Day, and also Presidents’ Day here in the United States of America. As such, I, like a lot of folks in America, planned for a long weekend away. As we didn’t do anything particularly special last year for Valentines Day, I’d booked a long weekend that would allow Jan and I to complete one of our goals to have driven the complete length of California’s Highway 1 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_State_Route_1). We’d driven the whole southern section of it and a short part of the northern section in previous vacations and trips, but the northern costal section between Bodega Bay and Leggett remained to be driven and we’d always wanted to finish that drive. Then around 2 weeks ago Jan and I had a big argument (the likes of which we hadn’t had for a while), so during the efforts to patch things up, we looked to use this weekend trip as a way we could strip away some of the pressures of life that had led us to have the argument, and rediscover the feelings we knew we still had for one another.

So.. Friday – we had a couple of friends to visit for the day. They were in the area for the long weekend to see the greater Bay area and San Francisco, and they popped in to see us on the Friday. We went down to Monterey Bay, spent ages in the aquarium, and then went to watch the sun set off the Pacific Grove coast. The weather was beautiful, and the sunset was spectacular. We then headed back home, grabbed the rest of the family, went for dinner, and sent our friends packing to their hotel with smiles on their faces ready for them to enjoy the rest of their weekend together in San Francisco.

Saturday we had a leisurely start, set off for our planned weekend away early in the afternoon, got to Bodega Bay late afternoon (despite the masses of traffic heading into San Francisco for the start of the Chinese New Year celebrations), got checked into the bed and breakfast (very quaint place – lots of art – see http://www.bodegabayinn.com/), then went to eat. There was a little place just over the road from the B&B, called the Seaweed Café (http://www.seaweedcafe.com/). From the name, and from outside appearances it looked nothing special; we expected it to be a typical coastal town café. We couldn’t have been more wrong. Inside was a beautiful, small, very exclusive restaurant, and we had a gorgeous meal, spent ages chatting with another couple on a similar weekend expedition who had also taken the chance and come in without a reservation (we were put on a shared table), and then headed to bed, well fed and happy.

Now the weekend weather forecasts for Sunday and Monday were predicting clouds and a 30-40% chance of rain, so when we woke to bright sunlight streaming through the skylights in the bedroom we were pleasantly surprised.  We got up, washed and dressed, had some breakfast (it was a B&B after all!) and started the drive up the coast along the stretch of Highway 1 that we hadn’t yet driven…. 7 hours and way too many stops to count later we made it to Sunday night’s destination – http://www.howardcreekranch.com/ – a virtual time-warp back around 100 years. The place is a converted ranch farm; with such a wonderful rustic peaceful feel that we really didn’t want to leave it. It was so secluded and quiet, and the folks who run the place are so friendly, that we just felt right at home there. So we popped back down the road to the nearest small town, grabbed some take-away food, took it back to the B&B, ate, and then strolled out to the beach to admire the beautifully clear night sky. I thought we had lovely night skies where we live, but this was just amazing – sooooo many stars…..

Anyway – an early night and relatively late beautiful sunny morning later (had to be up at 9am for breakfast though – that not to be missed; farmhouse cooking like I’d never had before), we somehow managed to drag ourselves away from the place (we’ll be back there for sure) and started the drive back to reality. We finished off the last 20 or so miles of the Shoreline Highway north to where it meets Highway 101, and then drove a very beautiful route back through redwood forests, across the north shore of Clear Lake, down through the Napa Valley, then back into the Bay Area and home, again with more stops than I can count.

On a personal level the trip seems to have done what it was intended to do; Jan and I seem so much closer as a result of this past weekend that it is like we’ve gone back in time 20 odd years. The girls didn’t let us down either, and we came back home to no dramas and nothing messed up. We managed to get a few ‘firsts’ in on the trip too – some I won’t go in to here, but it was funny seeing Jan’s reaction to her first time eating caviar at the restaurant on Saturday night, and I can’t remember who said it was, but 43 is NOT too old to be acting like teenagers in the back of a car! 😉

There is a collection of scenic pictures from this long weekend now added to my photo albums.