Sunday, June 29, 2014

California Farewell

Sunday is our last day in California. It has been a fast week and we've seen a lot. We had time Sunday morning after breakfast to take a narrated sightseeing cruise around Long Beach harbor. We saw some interesting things including sea lions resting on a buoy and The Queen Mary. After the cruise we started out for the airport but stopped for one more unique California experience called In N Out Burger. Kyle said it was pretty good food. I was amazed how busy they were at 2:30 in the afternoon. So now we're at the LA airport waiting for our flight home. It's been a fun trip but I'm looking forward to my own bed. 

Hooray for Hollywood

Saturday we went to the California Science Center. We started with a 3D IMAX movie about the space shuttle and the Hubble space telescope. Next we toured some of the Science Center exhibits, and finally made it in to see the Endeavor space shuttle. It was awesome to get so close to an actual space shuttle. Some science center guides were there to answer questions and had samples of the space shuttle's outer materials that you could feel and touch. It was a fascinating experience.

Space Shuttle
We grabbed some lunch at a nearby McDonalds, and then headed to the Griffith Observatory. I had read that there was a shuttle bus from the Griffith observatory that would take you really close to the Hollywood Sign for pictures, and while that was true it turned out you needed to purchase tickets online at least 3 days in advance, so we didn't get to experience that. However the view of the sign from the Griffith observatory is better than any from down in Hollywood itself which is where we went next.
Griffith Observatory
Hollywood Sign
We drove to Hollywood and then along Holllywood Boulevard. We parked near the Chinese Theater and looked at all the famous hand and footprints.We walked along the Walk of Fame among crowds of tourists and buskers. Some were quite entertaining. After an ice cream snack at the Ghirardelli store we did a little more window shopping at the Hollywood Boulevard shops, and then headed to our hotel in Long Beach. The evening wrapped up with a late dinner at the nearby Parker's Lighthouse restaurant.
Hollywood Boulevard

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Ships Ahoy

Friday we left our Imperial Beach resort hotel for Los Angeles. On the way we stopped and toured the USS Midway aircraft carrier in San Diego. It was an interesting tour. We got to go all over the ship with a self guided audio tour and saw how the sailors and aviators lived and worked on the ship. The most interesting part was going out on the flight deck where planes once actually landed and took off, and up into the control tower where the entire operation was commanded.

USS Midway
Flight Deck and Control Tower
When we finished our tour we drove to La Jolla to get a look at the famous surfing beach there. We saw a few surfers but mostly a crowded but beautiful soft sand beach. We didn't stay long because we still had a couple of hours to drive to LA. After getting checked in we finished the day with dinner at an Olive Garden.
La Jolla beach
La Jolla Surfer

Friday, June 27, 2014

Surf's Up

We took a break from sightseeing Thursday and decided to just enjoy some relaxation at the Marriott Pier South resort hotel. We started the day with a nice outdoor breakfast with views of the ocean and the relaxing sound of waves. Later on we signed Kyle up for some surfing lessons. Starting with some classroom instruction on the beach and quickly moving into the water, Kyle stood up on his first wave. He had quite a few good rides all the way in to the beach and a couple of gnarly wipeouts. After the lesson was over, Kyle was allowed to keep the board and wetsuit until he was tired of practicing on his own. We set up some beach chairs and a sun umbrella to relax and watch. When Kyle finally ran out of surfing energy we all retired to the pool deck where Kyle enjoyed the heated pool and we enjoyed some chilled drinks.

Breakfast Al Fresco
Surfing safety school
Shootin' the curl
Falling with style
Chill time

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Travel Day

Wednesday we slept in past the Fairfield's breakfast buffet time, so we had breakfast at a nearby IHOP. I haven't been to one in a long time, and confess I ordered too much food. :)  After checkout we started the drive to our next stop. The drive was uneventful until we approached Los Angeles where the traffic backed up. We were stuck in slow traffic much of the rest of the drive. Finally we arrived at our hotel in Imperial Beach south of San Diego. It is a pleasant resort town and we have a great room on the waterfront at Marriott's Pier South hotel. We had dinner in the hotel restaurant where Kyle tried some pork & bison meatballs. Next time he's sticking with a hamburger. ;)

Hotel waterfront view

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Big Rocks and Big Trees

We had pleasantly warm temperatures today for our visit to Yosemite National Park. Our first stop was the Half Dome Overlook. Next we went to see Bridal Veil Falls.  The falls' source must be dryer than normal. The water coming over the edge was barely enough to make it to the bottom. Most of the waterfall was caught up in the wind and blown into a mist. It was still an impressive sight though.

Misty Bridal Veil
We continued through the valley and stopped to gaze in awe at the majestic size of El Capitan. We looked for climbers but couldn't see any. However, a park guide later assured me that there were plenty of them up there.  They're just so tiny compared to the huge rock face. We also got a good look from the valley floor at the upper Yosemite Falls which were running quite strong compared to the Bridal Veil falls.
Valley Floor & Upper Yosemite Falls
We had lunch at the Yosemite Village Grill, then walked the 1 mile trail loop to see the lower Yosemite Falls. The lower falls descend into an out of view basin that is surrounded by a large field of huge boulders. There were many people climbing on the rocks to get closer to the falls, and Kyle was itching to join them. There were no "Stay Off the Rocks" signs so we presumed it was acceptable  and allowed him to do so.  He seemed to really enjoy his adventure and came back safely with lots of pictures.
Kyle on the Rocks
Our last stop in Yosemite was Tunnel View which offers a panoramic look at El Capitan, Half Dome, Bridal Veil Falls, and the tree covered valley floor all at once. It is a popular spot to stop and take a family picture.
Tunnel View Panorama
From there we drove to the Mariposa Grove to see the Giant Sequoia trees. It was getting late and we debated whether to stop to see the trees, but we're glad we did. The redwoods at Muir Woods were impressive for their amazing height, but the sequoias are huge in both height and girth. It's difficult to believe that a living plant can get that big. The most impressive tree we saw was named Grizzly Giant with a 34 foot diameter at the base.
Grizzly Giant
It was getting dark as we left the Mariposa Grove and we had to go a couple of hours yet to get to our hotel for the night. We stopped on the way for dinner at an Applebee's, and got checked in to our room quite late. Fortunately, Wednesday is planned to be simply a driving day so there's no hurry to get up and moving in the morning. Next stop, San Diego.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

San Francisco Day 3

We saw a lot of San Francisco on foot Sunday. Today we had a chance to see the city from another point of view. We booked a tour with San Francisco Helicopters which has an excellent rating on TripAdvisor. They picked us up in a shuttle van and drove us to the heliport where we boarded the helicopter. The flight seeing tour took us all around the city of San Francisco and the pilot pointed out all the interesting sights, including many we had seen the day before. The highlight of the ride was when we dipped in altitude and flew right under the Golden Gate Bridge, then swooped up, turned, and flew over the top. It was an awesome way to cap off our San Francisco visit.

San Francisco Helicopters
After being shuttled back, we retrieved our car and headed south for a scenic drive along California highway 1. We stopped to have a look at the Pigeon Point lighthouse and then drove back north to Half Moon Bay for dinner at the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company restaurant.  Finally we headed west to Modesto which is where we are staying before touring Yosemite National Park on Tuesday. The weather in Modesto is quite warm which is a welcome change from the cool to cold temperatures we were experiencing in San Francisco. We're expecting a hot day in Yosemite tomorrow.
Pigeon Point Lighthouse

Monday, June 23, 2014

San Francisco Day 2

Sunday started with breakfast in the hotel. The Marriott Courtyard has a small cafe with breakfast items for sale. The choices were limited but the food was pretty good. Our touring started with a cable car ride from The Fisherman's Wharf area to Union Square. The ride was quite a thrill as we got to stand on the side boards and hang on.

Cable Car Riders
From Union Square we walked to Chinatown and popped in and out of some of the shops there. We travelled the entire length of Chinatown and then debated whether to take a bus to the Coit Tower which was our next destination. 

Chinatown Gate
We skipped the bus and walked all the way up Telegraph Hill. Kyle's endless energy had him running uphill ahead of us while we took the occasional breather. Then he'd come back down and run ahead again when we'd start back up. At the Coit Tower we rode the elevator to the top and enjoyed a 360° view of San Francisco.

Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill
On leaving the tower we again decided to enjoy the city on foot and walked all the way down to The Embarcadero and Pier 39. At Pier 39 we did some more window shopping with a stop for a snack at a crêperie. We looked for the famous sea lions but there were none there (except one). A sign said they were all honeymooning in Mexico.

We had dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe on Pier 39, then returned to our hotel nearby. But we didn't stay in long. Shortly we headed out for another cable car ride to the section of Lombard street known as the crookedest street in the world. We got off at the top of the crooked street and walked to the bottom. From there we returned on foot to our hotel for the night. Tomorrow is mostly a travel day on the way to Yosemite.

Crookedest Street
By the way, all the sightseeing on foot has been great for my walking challenge. In the past two days I've logged over 29,000 steps.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

California With Kyle

Day one actually began Friday evening. Ginette dropped us off at the airport where we smoothly cleared security and headed to the United club to wait for our 8:45 flight. Kyle seemed to enjoy the snacks and beverages, but mostly the free WiFi. Boarding for our flight was delayed a little, and take off was also slightly delayed so we didn't get into the air until about 45 minutes after our scheduled departure. We knew this was a late and long flight so we used miles to treat Kyle (and ourselves;) to some extra first class comfort.

After arriving at SFO we collected our bags and the rental car and found our way to the hotel by about 1 AM pacific time. We were a bit hungry so in recognition of pizza Friday tradition we had one delivered to the hotel room. With full stomachs and weary heads we quickly crashed to sleep.

Saturday began with breakfast in the hotel restaurant where we could watch planes land and take off while we ate. After checking out of the hotel we drove across the Golden Gate bridge and stopped at Vista Point for some nice views and pictures of the bridge. We walked across the bridge to the halfway point and then back. Next we drove up into the Marin Headlands where we got some nice views of the bridge and bay from a high scenic overlook. We continued on all the way to the Point Bonita lighthouse before returning to Highway 101.

We proceeded up 101 to the Muir Woods National Monument where it was a challenge to find a parking place but we were fortunate to get a good spot as someone pulled out to leave. The hike through Muir Woods is peaceful and awe inspiring. The trees are so tall they seem too lean into each other when you look straight up to the tops. Besides the trees we encountered some interesting wildlife including an owl and a California slug.

We drove back to San Francisco crossing the Golden Gate bridge again and checked into our hotel in the Fisherman's Wharf area. There was time to walk to the nearby Ghirardelli Square and sample some free chocolate before finishing up our day with dinner at an area Mexican restaurant.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Walking Challenge - Week 3

Here's a quick Walking Challenge update for week 3. The first place team, Pacers, already completed the challenge! Team 14, my team moved up into 6th place but my personal step total dropped to 24th place so no top twenty this week. I'm travelling next week so I probably wont be setting any walking distance records then either.

click for full size view

Monday, June 16, 2014

Walking Challenge Week 2

Click for a larger view
Here's a quick update on the results for week 2 of my Walking Challenge. Our team name is the Walkabouts, but for some reason we're still listed as Team 14. Unfortunately, my team slipped from 3rd to 7th place even though I increased my week 2 steps by more than 10,000 over week 1. I did improve my personal ranking, moving up from 29th to 22nd place in total steps walked. My personal challenge is to get on the Top Twenty list.

Thursday, June 12, 2014


The FIFAWorld Cup kicked off today with the host country and favorite Brazil winning the first match. I understand a little better what's going on this time since I spent some time learning about the World Cup back in 2010. McDonald's is a big sponsor and is promoting the games with a free smartphone app that lets you play an augmented reality soccer game when you scan special fry boxes. I tried the app and found it entertaining.

Soccer scoring is straightforward 1 point for each goal unlike basketball or American football. Thinking about the scoring for games like that (tennis anyone?) made me liken them to the fictional game of Quidditch, where teams score 10 points for throwing a quaffle through a hoop, but catching the snitch awards 150 points and all but guarantees a win. I tried to think of a real sport with a similar rule, and the closest thing I could think of is professional boxing, where contestants are awarded points for the number of punches they score on their opponent, but a knockout punch guarantees a win.

There is a humorous Harry Potter fan fiction called Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality and in chapter 7, Harry discusses the ridiculousness of the snitch in Quidditch. Here's an excerpt:

“So let me get this straight,” Harry said as it seemed that Ron’s explanation (with associated hand gestures) was winding down. “Catching the Snitch is worth one hundred and fifty points?”

“Yeah -”

“How many ten-point goals does one side usually score not counting the Snitch?”

“Um, maybe fifteen or twenty in professional games -”

“That’s just wrong. That violates every possible rule of game design. Look, the rest of this game sounds like it might make sense, sort of, for a sport I mean, but you’re basically saying that catching the Snitch overwhelms almost any ordinary point spread. … It’s like someone took a real game and grafted on this pointless extra position so that you could be the Most Important Player without needing to really get involved or learn the rest of it. Who was the first Seeker, the King’s idiot son who wanted to play Quidditch but couldn’t understand the rules?” Actually, now that Harry thought about it, that seemed like a surprisingly good hypothesis. Put him on a broomstick and tell him to catch the shiny thing…

Ron’s face pulled into a scowl. “If you don’t like Quidditch, you don’t have to make fun of it!”

“If you can’t criticise, you can’t optimise. I’m suggesting how to improve the game. And it’s very simple. Get rid of the Snitch.”

A look of absolute horror was spreading over Ron’s face. “But, but if you get rid of the Snitch, how will anyone know when the game ends?”

“Buy… a… clock.”

Monday, June 9, 2014

Step Stats

I amped it up a little this week and managed to complete 68834 steps in my Walking Challenge. Last week I walked 58253 which put me at 29th place out of 72 participants and helped my team place 3rd out of 15 with 299,206 steps for the week. The top team walked 498,462 steps and is obviously training for a marathon. The bottom team totaled 191,481 steps.

I was surprised to discover that even on days I don't go for a walk I still log 3 - 5 thousand steps. Even my most sedentary days are still around 2000 steps. I'm tracking my steps using an iPhone app called 'Steps'. It uses the M7 coprocessor in the iPhone 5s to count my steps anytime I'm carrying my phone and seems pretty accurate.

I've got a trip coming up where I expect to be doing a lot of sightseeing. I'm curious to see how much walking I actually do while travelling.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Have Hat Will Travel

I didn't wear hats much in the past. However in the mid 1970's I was on a Florida vacation and bought a souvenir denim fishing hat, even tho I never go fishing either. I wore it during that vacation, and it soon became my 'vacation hat'. I would put it away after a trip and pull it out to wear on the next one. It eventually became so tattered and sweat stained that I was only allowed to wear it in the car.

Some time after buying my MR2, I made a driving trip to Niagara Falls and while there found a Niagara souvenir baseball style cap in colors that matched my car. I wore it during that trip and on the way home where I promptly lost it to the wind while driving with the top down. That problem has since been solved by my son who introduced me to cap keepers.

In the mid to late 2000's I got caught up in the Texas Holdem poker craze, and played enough online poker to earn myself a PokerStars cap. For a while this became my official driving hat. A hat with a bill or brim is particularly desirable in a convertible on sunny days.

Having become accustomed to wearing a cap, I started buying them as functional souvenirs of my travels. My first travel cap after the misfortunate Niagara cap was from Cabo San Lucas, and sadly I lost that one as well, tho not to the wind. I must have dropped it or left it somewhere because it just disappeared one day. However, I now have more than a dozen caps that I rotate wearing about once a week. Each one brings back memories of the location I purchased it from and some, like my Maui hat are extra special. A gallery of my collection of 'vacation hats' can be seen here.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Walk This Way

Last summer I engaged in a self motivated walking program to improve fitness and prepare for a lot of walking (and stair climbing as it turned out) that I expected to do during my sabbatical travels. Over the winter my walking slowed to a stop, partly due to the weather, and partly due to my dislike of treadmills. With the arrival of warmer weather I resumed my walks, but I struggle with staying motivated to get out and walk instead of parking myself in front of my computer.

Two weeks ago however, I decided to participate in a walking challenge proposed by the IT Fit Team at work. The idea is that 15 teams will do a virtual walk from Oakbrook to Washington DC between Memorial Day and Independence Day. That's 687 miles in 40 days. Fortunately I'm not expected to walk the entire distance. I'm a member of a 5 person relay team and each member will walk ⅕ of the distance or 137.4 miles. Since it is a virtual walk, we accomplish it by carrying a pedometer all day and recording our total steps each day. One mile is about 2000 steps, so I need to average 6870 steps a day to cover my share of the distance in 40 days.

The challenge began a week ago on Memorial Day. I spent the week before getting my walking legs in shape and reassuring myself that I could manage the daily pace. Today is the end of the first week of the challenge and I recorded 58,253 steps which is a little better than the average I need to maintain. I'll report my further progress next week and hope to have some data about the other teams' progress as well.