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Rich men's houses [May. 10th, 2013|10:57 pm]

Visiting Cragside at the weekend, I thought of Hearst Castle; though when we visited Hearst Castle, just over a year ago, I thought of Lord Armstrong's other residence, Bamburgh Castle. I have many photos of Hearst Castle, and no notes, so this will be mainly a picture post - which is fine, because you have to see it to believe it:

'The Ranch'

More under the cutCollapse )
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Let other pens dwell on broken light fittings [Mar. 7th, 2013|10:13 pm]
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It's been an odd, disjointed sort of day, with trivial things refusing to work out as they should - as a result of which I am sitting at my desk in the half-light, on not my preferred desk chair. So this won't be a long post, and it won't be about today - time to cheer myself up with some of last year's California sunshine.

From Monterey we drove south along the coast to San Simeon, where we spent the night at a hotel right on the coast. We watched the sun set into the ocean in the classic fashion and then ate in the restaurant - about which I can remember nothing but the child wearing a hat in the shape of a pizza (isn't the internet a wonderful place? here it is!).

Morning was whale patrol time. On the way down to breakfast, durham_rambler saw a possible spout.

Before we drove away, we paid one last visit to our lookout oint, and arrived just in time to see a long line of pelicans fly past and resolve into a V-shaped skein - but no whales. "Never mind," I said. "I'd rather have the pelicans." " - And here they are again," said durham_rambler . Even so, I wasn't quick enough with the camera, so here are some we saw later:

Pelican flypast

Then we drove off to Hearst Castle - more about that when I have sorted through the many, many photos I took there.
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Pictures from an aquarium [Feb. 8th, 2013|09:59 pm]
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Something more cheerful than my last post: continuing our travels in California last spring. It wouldn't have occurred to me to visit an aquarium, but the one in Monterey was enthusiastically recommended to us by a variety of people, none of whom are hardened aquarium visitors. So we booked ourselves an overnight in Monterey, at the Clarion Hotel, up a long hill from the waterfront but very comfortable, with swimming pool. They offered a two day ticket to the aquarium for the price of a single day, and armed with this we split our visit in two, with a preliminary sortie in the late afternoon, and a more thorough exploration the following morning - a very successful strategy. And did we see anything? Yes, wonderful things:


- which is why most of this post is pictures.Collapse )
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Santa Cruz revisited [Feb. 2nd, 2013|10:51 pm]
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At last the snow has all gone, and today was bright and sunny and very cold. I'm thinking back to last spring in California: time to resume the much delayed travelogue. After our day in Santa Cruz, we left Sunnyvale to explore a little further afield - and our first stop was Santa Cruz. I wanted to visit the Bonny Doon winery - indeed, this had been a major incentive to visit California. Plan A had been to visit as my birthday treat, and maybe even eat at their Cigare Volant, but we were too early in the season, it didn't work out (and now it seems it never will, as the restaurant has closed).

Once upon a time, I suppose, you could taste Bonny Doon at the winery itself, but now they are located on a commercial estate, tucked in behind the ethical supermarket near the lighthouse. We arrived in Santa Cruz early, before the tasting rooms were open, and had time to walk down to the ocean, to discover that the lighthouse was a surfing museum, and to explore the supermarket thoroughly, before getting down to serious business.

DecantingWe stepped inside a vast hangar, the space broken up by screens, small tables and a long bar, with the iconic 'cigare volant' suspended above us: "That," said durham_rambler , "is what I call steampunk."

There was a choice of tasting menus, and we opted for the "reserve flight", the more expensive wines, on the basis that this was how we got to taste wines which were otherwise out of our reach. They were delicious, and I don't know why I don't have tasting notes - except that we were enjoying the wine, and talking about it to our nice server. I love Bonny Doon's presentation, their beautiful labels and their bad puns - reassuring to be reminded that they make delicious wines as well.

We lunched at Bonny Doon on a selection of 'small plates': smoked fingerling potatoes smoked with aïoli; shredded pork with artichoke relish and steamed rolls (the rolls were good crusty white rolls, which wasn't as exciting as it had sounded, but the relish was delicious, the flesh of the artichoke lightly pickled - high risk, I thought, letting vinegar so near their wine, but it worked just fine - and the petals crisply fried). Our nice server said: "I'd like your opinion of this, if you wouldn't mind," and poured me a taste of the wine formerly known as Clos de Gilroy, which was both flattering and generous. We'd had Clos de Gilroy in the past, when the grapes really were sourced from Gilroy - which is no longer the caser, hence its name. It's a fruity grenache wine, and the truth is that it was rather overshadowed by the Rhône-style wines we'd been tasting.

Our mission accomplished, we set off south down Highway 1 (to which nothing compares except of course Iceland's Route 1).
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Lunch in Santa Cruz, day one. [Sep. 27th, 2012|10:37 pm]
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I liked Santa Cruz. I liked it so much that we went there twice, two days running. We hadn't intended to, but things we had planned didn't quite fit together. and in the end we made two separate trips: it was no hardship.

To the sea!

The first was my birthday excursion, and we were accompanied by desperance . One of the bits of plan that didn't work out was that we had hoped to see his friends Mike and Paula, formerly of London but now of Santa Cruz. That would have been a bonus, but I was quite happy to stroll through the sunshine and admire the shops and the murals. Then we found the Santa Cruz Bookshop, and I was more than happy: I found the books I hadn't been able to buy in Borderlands, and more besides.

Although Mike and Paula weren't able to join us for lunch, Mike recommended a restaurant: so we ate Middle Eastern in the courtyard at Laili (warning: slow-loading website plays music). We shared flatbread (which they called naan), dipping it in herbs, chopped vegetables, oil. My starter was the Silk Road plate: minty tzatziki, tabbouleh, hummus stained bright yellow with saffron and baba ghanoush (which was good, but not as good as that served at Dish'n'Dash across the road from our hotel. This was not automatically served with bread, but when we asked for bread it was supplied promptly. Since the spinach salad was my main course, I took the option of adding chicken, which was tasty but unnecessary: the pile of spinach leaves was already enlivened with slivers of pink pickled onion, candied walnuts and haloumi. Only durham_rambler was tempted by dessert, a cardamom-pistachio ice cream so thickly studded with pistachios that it was difficult to force a spoon through it (but we all managedm even desperance , who does not do ice cream). We drank white wine from Sarah's Vineyard, billed on the menu as grenache/viognier: this turned out to be there Côteaux de la Madonne. When we tasted it at the vineyard, I had thought that the viognier was masked by the marsanne and roussanne in the blend; here, served colder, the viognier was more apparent, but as it warmed up a more unctuous quality emerged, which was interesting, and I was very content with my choice.

The smarter part of Santa Cruz lies well back from the sea front. We walked (which was a mistake) to the sea, to the Boardwalk, which is seaside as Whitley Bay or Southend is seaside. But if you make your way along the Wharf (which is what I think of as the Pier) past the fish and chip shops and the gaudy souvenirs, down at the far end there's a patch of sea which is all splashing and thrashing and barking: and that's the sea lions, a great raft of them tumbling and jostling and generally having a rowdy good time. And just as I was explaining to desperance that while I was sorry that we hadn't been able to see Mike, actually, the sea lions were better, two pelicans flew past. So as far as I am concerned, the day was, in its unscheduled way, a success.
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Over the Golden Gate [Aug. 19th, 2012|10:39 pm]

We didn't go out walking today: the forecast was for torrential rain, so I spent the morning hacking a path through the garden (to the compost bin and beyond!), and felt justified when the torrents materialised as promised this afternoon. Fortunately, other Sundays are also available...

Golden GateThe day after the wedding, we followed the route recommended by klwilliams 's brother, straight up the freeway and over the Golden Gate. We stopped to admire the bridge, of course - who would believe we'd been to San Francisco if we didn't bring home photos? - but the city was celebrating the bridge's 75th birthday by surrounding it with roadworks and 'keep out' signs. Perhaps that's why, after a good look from each end of the bridge, I still felt only: "Well, yes, it's a bridge." Sorry about that.

We should probably have stopped in Sausalito, but we didn't. We'd barely set off again from the bridge, and by the time I'd registered that this was a very charming little town we were passing, we'd passed it. We'd stop at the next one... Only of course there wasn't a next one, there never is. There was, instead, a coastal drive with plenty of opportunities to stop and stroll and enjoy the view, none of which we took because we were by now in looking-for-lunch mode. I enjoyed the drive, but not as much as I should have, and it's my own fault.

Eventually we found lunch at the Parkview Café in Stinson Beach. There were moules frites for durham_rambler , so he was happy, and there were Dungeness crab cakes for me, made from local Dungeness crabs (from which I infer that that this is a variety of crab, rather than one imported from Kent - ah, yes, and in fact it comes from some other Dungeness altogether. Ah, well). After lunch we walked on the beach, and told each other that this really was the Pacific, and were impressed, and paddled in it briefly.

Further north, we crossed the Bay by the Richmond - San Rafael bridge; just before the bridge, a handy pull-in allowed us to admire the bridge itself, to identify the local wildlife, none of which we were seeing, and in my case to photograph without getting killed by traffic the brilliant purple flowers planted along the highway verges, with which I was becoming obsessed (it turns out to be the ice plant, or hottentot fig, and I kept trying to photograph it, without ever catching the vibrancy of the pink flowers against the carpet of fleshy green leaves).

We weren't quite ready to call it a day, and our map marked a 'Rosie the Riveter Memorial', which was intriguing. Richmond was the site of major shipyards during the war, and seems to have reconstituted itself as a National Historical Park to present its stories of the Home Front, with much emphasis on the the contributions of women workers (the term "Rosies" sounds patronising to me: one Rosie the Riveter is an inspiring symbol, but I'd rather real women's lives weren't overshadowed by that symbol. But that's secondary). The memorial is a structure in a park beside the marina, not a thing of beauty in itself but a framework for telling the story - this page gives quite a clear idea of it.

So that was Sunday, and Monday was washing day, and on Tuesday we went to Santa Cruz. In fact we went to Santa Cruz twice, but that's another story.
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But we are the history of computing! [Jul. 25th, 2012|10:04 pm]

After our long day in San Francisco, we felt we needed a gentle day to gather our strength for The Wedding; visiting the Computer History Museum in Mountain View would be fun, and we could check out the wedding venue (the Rengsdorff House, also in Mountain View) at the same time.

How to operate an IBM 360The Computer Museum has many wonderful things, including a real live (though not entirely authentic) Babbage Difference Engine, which we saw in operation, much handcranking setting all the pieces dancing through their sequence of steps. This was a thing to be marvelled at, but the real joys were more mundane: durham_rambler had to be forcibly separated from the IBM 360, but not before he had explained every stage of its working ("...and this is where the punch cards go..."); I was rather taken with the miniature model, doll's house furniture sized, made for IBM sales reps to show to potential purchasers. And they have a Minitel terminal, the first I'd ever seen, just three months before it became completely obsolete. Some thought had clearly gone into making it easy to use, even for people with no keyboard skills At All; the keyboard was neither QWERTY nor AZERTY, but in alphabetical order, which made me very happy.

As we were leaving the museum we received a text from D. asking why he couldn't see his website. Probably just one of those things, we thought, and went off to discover that the Rengsdorff House really was as easy to find as klwilliams had promised, and that we weren't too late for coffee in the little tea shop by the lake.

But back at our hotel we discovered that D.'s was not the only website with problems; a whole bunck of them displayed a blank front page, though the rest of the site was still there, as was the front page when you followed the links from within the site. This was a clue to what had gone wrong, and enabled us to fix it, a couple of hours work for both of us using my little laptop and durham_rambler 's Android phone, feeling simultaneously irritated at this tedious repair work and smug at the living in the future which enabled us to do it. Not to mention a little jittery about what had gone wrong (eventually we discovered that our hosting service had done something unwise in the course of an 'upgrade').

By the time the job was complete it was time - past time, in fact - to go and meet two more wedding guests from the Coast Starlight in San Jose, where naturally we got lost again. Fortunately the train was half an hour late, so that although A. and C. were not expecting us, we were able to intercept them and take them back to our (and their) hotel.

By which time we were due at the restaurant where the wedding party had been dining, to scoop up the groom and take him out for a stag night - a token visit to the pub which served us a very palatable stout and, for those of us who had missed dinner, a very welcome helping of tortilla chips and avocado dip. Honour satisfied, we called it a day: after all, we had to be up in the morning for the wedding breakfast, and bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the wedding itself.
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A day in the city [Jul. 19th, 2012|09:57 pm]
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When I was little, both my parents were teachers. In those days, teachers weren't as well paid as they are now, but they were free to enjoy the long holidays without preofessional commitments. So as soon as the summer term ended, they would fill the car with children and camping equipment and head for the cross-channel ferry. Those were the holidays which shaped my understanding of the word: it's a long time since I've been camping, but I still assume that a holiday is as leisurely as I can make it, and the further I travel, the longer I want to spend at my destination. In theory I know that the speed and relative cheapness of air travel makes short breaks in distant places available, especially to people who are richer in money than in time, but applications of this take me by surprise every time. Which is a long run up to saying that I was surprised how many people, when we told them we were going to California, did not say "Oh, wow, California!" but "Oh, San Francisco is my favourite city." Surprised how many people had been there, and surprised at the extent to which it is All About The City.

Not that we didn't want to visit San Francisco, of course. And the day after we visited Gilroy, we left the car at the train station and took the Caltrain into town. The city welcomes you with a huge and very stylish mural, just before you arrive: there's a picture of it here and another here, though I can't find any information about it.

We had two aims for our first day in town; the first was to walk about and orient ourselves, the second was to visit Borderlands bookshop. I may have been unduly influenced by the guidebook which talked about the smallness and compactness of the city, but we found a tourist office which provided us with a sheaf of suggested walks, and wandered along quite happily, looking at interesting buildings where people we'd never heard of had done things, and enjoying the sunshine - it had been raining earlier in the week, but Thursday morning was bright. It was fine enough for us to lunch outdoors, in a café whose tables spread across Maiden Lane; I had a Greek salad and observed that in San Francisco even the olives were stoned (so I must have been in a silly, holiday mood).

Dolores Park

Getting to Borderlands took longer than I had expected, and I was disappointed that they didn't have either of the books I had promised myself I would buy there. No big deal: these were books I had held off ordering from Amazon for the sheer pleasure of shopping for them in a bookshop I'd heard so much about, I managed to find something else I wanted, the staff chatted very pleasantly about why they didn't have my books (I suspect that YA fantasy doesn't qualify), and I found the books in the Santa Cruz bookshop a few days later. And the trip was worth it if only because the bus dropped us at the bottom of Dolores Park, and we climbed up to this magical view at the top (why yes, it was by now beginning to drizzle).

We shopped at the Ferry Building for a picnic supper; I may have gone a little crazy at the Cowgirl Creamery. From the train, we phoned desperance and klwilliams : "We have cheese -" "You have cheese? Come on over - we have wine!" frumpo and H. were there, and by now everyone was ready for a little cheese and wine - except H., who was asleep - and we nibbled and listened to the rain crashing down and the thunder rolling, and tried not to think about an outdoor wedding due to take place the day after tomorrow.

It was a truly exceptional thunderstorm - athenais linked to this photo of lightning on the Golden Gate Bridge. But it was not so much an omen as one grand clearing of the air, because the next day and thoser that followed were bright and clean and sunny.

Pictures of San Francisco
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Connected to Garlic City Café [May. 15th, 2012|10:13 pm]
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Garlic City mural

Meanwhile, back in California, we collected our hired car and went exploring: a gentle trip to start with, just as far as Gilroy.

Gilroy is the Garlic Capital of the World: it says so, right there on the wall, and there are allium-themed motifs on much of the street furniture. It wasn't Gilroy's fault that we had turned up in April, when the garlic is entirely inactive, in the slack time between tidying up from one garlic festival and starting to prepare for the next, when there is not so much as a haze of green in the garlic fields. It's still an attractive little town with some splendid old buildings ('old' in this context might mean 1905 - everything's relative), some pretty little houses, a fine variety of murals and a Carnegie library. By the time we'd had enough of these low-key delights, we were ready for lunch and the Garlic City café was calling.

Lunch began with the most wonderful garlic soup, a perfect balance of creamy and savoury with a distinct but not overpowering tang of garlic, We followed this with sandwiches, garlic chickrn for me, calamari steak for durham_rambler on the grouns that he'd never heard of calamari steak, and this was his chance to find out what it was. (The answer wasn't obvious from eating it, though further reseach indicates that it's just the body of the squid cut into steaks rather than into rings). Ever more intrepid, he followed this with the garlic ice cream. I had a spoonful to taste: it was exactly as advertised, a very good creamy ice cream inexplicably flavoured with garlic. Our friendly and efficient server was Karla with a K. At the table behind us, a group of Italians were discussing the dishes their mothers used to cook, and their attempts to replicate them.

The road out of town up into the hills brought us among the vines to Sarah's Vineyard, and we stopped for the first wine tasting of the trip. The five wines we tasted were the Clos de la Madonne (a Rhône-style white, marsanne/roussanne/viognier blend, well-chilled which accentuated the freshness but tempered the richness of the viognier and marsanne. Since I don't like the rather gluey quality of much marsanne, I enjoyed this, but it seemed a waste of viognier), a chardonnay, a pinot noir with a distinct flavour of cloves, the Clos de la Madonne red and a merlot. I enjoyed everything we tasted, not to mention the conversation, but we were disconcerted by the prices - and happy with the local style of paying for the tasting and therefore feeling no obligation to buy.

Then on into the hills, meaning - and completely faiing - to pick up Skyline Boulevard: you are in a maze of twisty mountain roads, all the same..., differentiated by a clearing full of fruit trees here, a pool of forget-mr-nots there. There were some magnificent trees, not all of them redwoods, and some striking houses, but mostly we concluded for the first but not the last time, that we fifn't know the way to San Jose - despite which, we did eventually make it back to Sunnyvale in time to dine en famille at Thai Basil.
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Outside, over there [May. 8th, 2012|07:02 pm]
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When he was only 39, and touring the UK to promote the publication here of Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak had a heart attack. He might have died then, but he was rushed to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead, and his life was saved (and that's why the QE Gateshead makes a cameo appearance in the skyline of the Night Kitchen).

By that measure, everything he has done since is a bonus. What's more, his health has long been poor. It shouldn't be a surprise that he has died, that there will be no more books (one posthumous publication, and that's it). No surprise, perhaps, but a real sense of loss.

On the first morning of our recent trip, I spent a happy half hour in the bookshop opposite our hotel in Chicago, and came out with a Sendak that was completely new to me (Bumble-Ardy, as it happens); on the last afternoon, in a thrift shop in Alum Rock, I pounced on a copy of I Saw Esau, his version of a collection of rhymes from the collection of Iona and Peter Opie. The last poem in that book is End of Term, and its last verse:
Np more things to bring us sorrow
Cos we won't be here tomorrow.
Alas, no.
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