Last weekend we went to Warwick. Warwick is a town in Warwickshire to the north-west of London. We took the train from Marylebone Station. It’s about 1.5 hours on a direct train. Warwick played a sizable role in English history, though today its main claim to fame is Warwick Castle (pictured left). Another attraction is the Collegiate Church of St. Mary. It’s a very nice church, and if you brave the narrow winding stair up the tower, you are rewarded with a fantastic view of Warwick and the castle (see right).
I first visited Warwick with my friend (and boss at the time), Harold more than a decade ago. We had come to visit London to meet a potential customer as well as a software partner, a little company called Oregan Networks (my current employer). We extended the trip over the weekend so we could take in some of the sites. We ended up renting a car to drive through the countryside, visiting Oxford, the Cotswold, Stratford-on-Avon and Warwick. Pictures from Warwick on that trip can be found in the gallery.
The castle still looks the same, but it has changed. When I was there the first time, it was already owned by Madam Tussauds. It held a couple historical displays of armor (see left) and wax figures (which are still there). Now though, there are many more exhibits including a haunted dungeon and a Merlin attraction based on the BBC TV series. We decided not to go to either the dungeon or the Merlin exhibit having read less than compelling reviews. The castle is still one of the best I’ve been to. Two newer attractions which we did enjoy were the trebuchet demonstrations (especially the fireball in the evening) and the eagles and owls (see right).
The Warwick town center is not very large, nor was the Saturday market. We did stay at a nice bed and breakfast on the east side of town called the Agincourt Lodge. The rooms were nice, the breakfast delicious and the hosts are extremely helpful and friendly. I would definitely recommend the B&B. With all the new attractions, the price of the castle has gone up a lot (and not all worth it). However, we did stumble on to a good deal. We had decided to walk around the town on Saturday but still wanted to get in to the castle to see the evening fireball display. We knew a second day only costs a pound, but we didn’t know arriving an hour before closing would get us in for half price and still get the second day for a pound! We paid less 1 hour followed by 1 full day than we would have for 1 full day alone.
All in all, it was a nice weekend out. If you like castles, give Warwick a try. More photos from this trip in the gallery.
Last weekend was the official Chinese New Year celebration in London. We went to Trafalgar Square for the main celebration, but it was way to crowded. We couldn’t even get into the main square. We did visit with Peter Rabbit (it is the year of the rabbit after all) near the square (pictured on left). We ended up shuffling around Chinatown watching the lion dance bringing luck to all the restaurants. The lion would go from restaurant to restaurant stopping wherever they had hung a cabbage and red envelope. The lion would dance, eat the cabbage, take the red envelope and move to the next place.
The streets of Chinatown were nearly as packed as Trafalgar Square. It was especially difficult to get past a restaurant where a lion dance was in progress. We did run across another celebrity in Chinatown, Po - the Kung Fu Panda (pictured on right). Po was there to promote Kung Fu Panda 2. When we tired of the crowds (which didn’t take long for me) we headed to South Kensington for lunch at Whole Foods and hot chocolate at Hotel Chocolat.
We also finally visited the London Wetland Centre in Barnes. The Wetland Center used to be a big reservoir for London’s water supply, but is now managed by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust as a wildlife sanctuary. Most of the site is managed for wildfowl which use it for nesting, wintering, or as a food stop during migration. They also have a collection of endangered birds from around the world which serve as a safeguard from extinction. The WWT was established in 1946 by Sir Peter Scott. It’s located along the Thames one a few miles from Central London and less than a mile from my office. We started a one year membership at the Wetland Center, so I expect to be visiting more frequently. I guess it will be our proxy for Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge in the S. F. Bay area.
We watched the Superbowl last Sunday. It started at 11:30PM here and was broadcast on the BBC. We don’t have a TV at the moment, but the BBC also streamed it live through their iPlayer website. The broadcast of the game was the direct feed from Fox, so that was pretty normal. However, the commercial breaks were totally different. Basically, during the breaks the BBC cut to a studio in the UK where a British commentator reviewed the previous game segment with an American sports writer and an NFL player (Tiki Barber). It was weird not seeing the commercials, though we did watch them all on the Fox website a couple days later.They did broadcast the halftime show, though I wouldn’t have minded missing it.
In other news, I’m heading to South America on a business trip later today. I’ll be flying to Santiago, Chile (via Madrid), where I’ll spend a little over a week working with a colleague testing our product and preparing for a customer presentation. At the beginning of the following week, we’ll be stopping in Sao Paulo, Brazil for a similar reason. After a few days in Sao Paulo, we’ll head back to London. I’ll try to make a post form the road if I get a chance. This will be my first trip to South America, which is pretty exciting, but I’d rather be going with Mary.
You can always see where I am by checking the “Where Am I Now?” panel on the right side of my blog. It’s using Google Latitude and should be reasonably up to date, at least at a city level. I will warn you that it does occasionally report me in San Jose, CA when I’m really in my flat because Google still seems to think my wifi router lives in San Jose.
Mary and I went to Florida March 6-17.the main reason for the trip was to attend Mike and Melanie’s wedding in Gainesville on March 14. We decided to head down a week early to visit with Family.
The day after we arrived, we took a walk on the beach, then headed to Gumbo Limbo Environmental Complex in Boca Raton. Gumbo Limbo is on a strip of land between the ocean and Lake Wyman. They have a boardwalk through the mangrove with an observation tower (see picture on left). They also have a marine turtle conservation program. They had a lot of turtles in their facility earlier this year due to the cold spell in the area. when the water gets too cold, the turtles can go into shock and drown. The center rescues the turtles and nurses them back to health, releasing them when the waters warm up again. There are more photos in the Gumbo Limbo gallery.
My niece Molly and her friend Jen arrived on Monday. They immediately started on Spring Break when we got back to Joe’s place and met up with his crew. Despite the evening festivities, on Tuesday, Mike, Molly, Jen, Mary and I went to Everglades National Park. We entered the park near Homestead and stopped at the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center. Next, we did a couple short hikes in the Royal Palm area: the Gumbo Limbo and the Anhinga Trails. We saw a lot of gators (right) and birds.
We drove all the way out to the Flamingo Visitor Center, stopping at a number of short trails along the way. Near Flamingo, we saw a lot of osprey, including the one on the left. There were 3 or 4 nests visible from the visitor center. After lunch, we started back out of the park.
On our way out of the park, we stopped at the Mahogany Hammock for another short loop. At the trailhead, there were signs about some resident barred owls. When we were on the loop, we heard there were some owlets, and managed to find them (pictured on right)! It was really cool seeing the pair of young owls. There are more pictures of the owls ans other critters in the Everglades gallery. On the way back to Joe and Mike’s place, we stopped to visit Joan, Andy and Carlos. We enjoyed the visit, including a nice dinner and way too much pie!
The rest of the week was fairly quiet. On Friday, we spent most of the day driving up to Gainesville, with a short stop in Orlando to pick up Maggie. The three days in Gainesville were a lot of fun. It was great catching up with all the family, and Mike and Melanie’s wedding on Pi Day (3.14) was very nice.
While we were in Gainesville, I had a chance to meet up with my friend Dori and her husband Frank. They took us to an great coffee shop (Volta) and showed us around Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. We saw a ton of gators on the La Chua Trail (picture on left). We ended up visiting the park each morning we were in Gainesville. While visiting the south end of the park, near the visitor center, we found a pair of bald eagles with a nest (picture on right). There are more pictures posted in the Paynes Prairie gallery.
Mark and Jane headed to South Florida after the wedding. We got to spend a couple more days with them before we flew home. Mike took us out on the Intracoastal (picture on left) one day looking for manatee. We didn’t manage to find any.
Mark, Jane, Mary and I went to lunch at My Big Fat Greek Restaurant after boating. Wouldn’t you know, there was a manatee in the canal next to their deck! It was resting when we arrived, but even after it woke up a bit, it didn’t do much (picture on right). Even without the manatee sighting, we all enjoyed the restaurant, including the Greek coffee. There are more pictures from the days events in the South Florida Gallery.
On our last night, we went to watch Nick play baseball (pictures in the gallery). We had a nice dinner at Joe’s place. In the morning we all went to Shoney’s for brunch, then Mark and Jane took us to the airport. Overall it was a great trip. We really enjoyed the wedding and seeing everyone. Where’s the next reunion?
When my niece, Maggie, finished up her summer job at Glacier National Park, she decided to make her way to California. She would be driving from Northern Montana over to Portland, OR then down the coast to Southern California. I decided to take a few days off and join her for part of the drive, so on September 30, 2009, I flew up to Portland to drive the Oregon Coast, Crater Lake National Park and the Redwoods of California.
Day 1: Portland to Tillamook (September 30, 2009)
I had a 7am flight from San Jose to Portland to meet up with Maggie. I took a quick photo of San Francisco when we flew by (see left). The flight landed in Portland around 8:45am. Maggie and her friend Dan picked me up. We grabbed some breakfast at a nice diner in Portland, hit up the local REI for a couple items Maggie needed, then hit the road. We weren’t in Portland very long, otherwise I would have liked to catch up with my friend Darren.
Rather than head straight for the coast, we decided to head Northwest to Astoria, OR and the mouth of the Columbia River. About half of the drive to Astoria was actually in Washington. On our way through Astoria, we picked up some food, stopped for a view of the Astoria Bridge (on right) then headed to the fort Stevens State Park at the Northwest tip of Oregon. We walked along the Columbia River for a bit and took in some ocean views. We ended up having lunch at Coffenbury Lake in the park.
Further down the coast we stopped at Ecola State Park. Here we saw some of the rocky beaches the Oregon Coast is famous for, including Cannon Beach (left). There are lots of great views like that all along the coast. We stopped occasionally to take in a few. It was getting dark as we neared Tillamook. Rather than drive the rest of the coast in the dark, we decided to stop for the night even though we were really less than 2 hours from Portland. Besides, we were both interested in stopping at the Tillamook Cheese Factory.
We had been using Google Latitude on my iPhone so a few people could track our progress. The main problem with the app on the iPhone is that it only updates our location when I run it (it doesn’t work in the background). So we could only post updates when we stopped somewhere with a good data signal. The other problem was that from time to time Latitude would report that we were somewhere near Eugene even though we were not.
Day 2: Tillamook to Crater Lake (October 1, 2o09)
In the morning we stopped at the Tillamook Cheese Factory for a self-guided tour. The tour consists of a couple views over the top of the factory floor. Seeing 40 pound blocks of cheddar rolling along the conveyor belts was a sight to see. We sampled a few different versions of the cheddar at various stages of aging. The un-aged curds were actually pretty good. We also tried some Tillamook ice cream. It was quite a breakfast.
After the cheese factory we hit the road. Our first stop was Cape Meares to see the lighthouse (left). It was still a bit overcast and chilly, so we didn’t stay long. We were off of US-101 for a while driving along the coast. It was slow going, but views were amazing. We reconnected with the Oregon Coast Highway (US-101) somewhere around Cloverdale.
The highway winds along the coast, sometimes away from the ocean, and sometimes right along the cliffs. A ways down the coast we stopped at Yaquina Head. By now the sun was shining. The Yaquina Head Lighthouse (right) was the nicest one we saw along the coast, maybe because it’s one of the tallest. The views from Yaquina Head are pretty amazing as well (left).
We made a few more stops along the coast, including the Sea Lion Caves (though we didn’t go in since the sea lions were all out on the beaches). After that, we cut inland to head for Crater Lakes National Park. We took the Umpqua Highway, which is a beautiful drive along the Umpqua River. There’s an elk reserve along the way where we stopped for a few photos. As the sun was setting we hit I-5 and continued East toward the park. By the time we climbed up to Diamond Lake just outside the park, the temperatures had dipped down to freezing. Fortunately we managed to get a room at the Diamond Lake Resort where we were quite comfortable. We would worry about the temperatures tomorrow.
There are additional pictures from the Oregon Coast in the gallery.
Day 3: Crater Lake (October 2, 2009)
It was still freezing when we got up in the morning. We bundled up in our warmest clothes and headed into the park.We entered the park at the north entrance (stopping at the park sign for a photo of course). We passed through the Pumice Desert, left over from the eruptions eons ago. Our first view of the lake was at Merriam Point. The icy wind blasted us as we viewed the dark and moody waters of Crater Lake. We drove along the West Rim Drive to the Rim Village. There were icicles on the eaves of the information pavilion near the village (left).
We continued our drive around the Rim Road, stopping for stupendous views like Cloudcap. Near the northern rim, we hiked down the crater wall to the lakeside below. There’s a boat launch there (right) and we were able to touch the clear blue waters. The hike is about a mile with an 800 foot descent. We managed to work up a sweat on the climb back up despite the temperature.
We finished driving around the rim and ended up back at the Crater Lake Lodge. From the lodge we hiked up the 8,054 foot Garfield Peak. The hike is about about 1.3 miles each way with a climb of about 1200 feet. We had a small snowball fight along the way. The views are beautiful from the top (left). There were only a few other groups on the trail. On the way down a golden eagle soared right over our heads. Pretty cool.
After the hike we stopped at the gift shop then headed for California. The drive from the park out the south entrance to I-5 was quite scenic. From I-5 we hopped on US-199 heading southwest. We crossed into California after dark. Even in the dark Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park was impressive. It was a nice preview for the following day. We ended up in Crescent City for the night.
In the morning we stopped at the redwood visitor center in Crescent City. From there we decided to continue south on US-101, stopping for pictures but not bothering with any long hike. We figured we would push all the way to San Jose. We drove through the Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park admiring the trees from the comfort of the car. Our first stop was an overlook for the Klamath River (left).
South of the river we passed through Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. We stopped for a short walk through the Lady Bird Johnson Grove in Redwood National Park. Here we managed to get up close and personal with the redwoods (right). The loop through the grove is only about a mile. It was colder than we expected, so we walked through a little quicker than we had wanted to. There are more pictures from the grove in my Redwood National Park gallery.
We passed through Eureka, then on to Humboldt Redwoods State Park. In Humboldt we got off US-101 and drove along the Avenue of the Giants. This is a really great drive through the redwoods. There are tons of huge trees and views of the Eel River. Of the 180 redwoods over 350 feet, 150 of them are in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. There’s a video of part of the drive below.
After Humboldt, we pressed on to San Jose. We made it there shortly after 9pm, in time to have dinner at home with Mary. I had a great time with Maggie, but I was glad to be home. Maybe we’ll get another chance for a road trip. Hopefully next time Mary and Molly will be able to join us!
Mary and I made our annual pilgrimage to Sequoia National Park on September 26-27. This year we were joined by our good friend Kevin. We were planning to backpack to Jennie Lake in the Sequoia National Forest, but found out on arrival that it was opening weekend for hunting season. Not wanting any part of the hunting frenzy, we decided to switch to a trail inside the National Park. We ended up deciding on the Lakes Trail.
Note: In a totally boneheaded move, I managed to set my camera to its lowest resolution (640×480). I was so disappointed when I got home, but I’m trying to put that behind me now. In any case, the full set of (small) photos are in my Sequoia - September 2009 Gallery.
Day 1: Lakes Trail to Emerald Lake (September 26, 2009)
With or plan changes, we didn’t get on the trail until after noon. It would be 5 miles and 2000 feet to Emerald Lake. The first mile or so is along a moraine at the end of the Tokopah Valley. It’s an unrelenting 3.2 mile climb to the Watchtower. This part of the hike is mostly forested. There are some views across the valley from the ridge of the moraine, but these disappear as the trail angles away for a time. After a sweaty climb, we reached the Watchtower with incredible views up the Tokopah Valley (left). We stopped here for lunch and posed for pictures (Kevin on the right).
It’s hard to get a feel for that Watchtower when you’re at the top of it. After the Watchtower the Lakes Trail skirts along a cliff above the Tokopah Valley. Looking back you can see the Watchtower standing tall above the valley floor (left). I really enjoy this part of the trail and the incredible views. It helps that this section is a bit flatter as well. After one last climb we dropped down into the bowl containing Heather Lake.
Heather Lake (right) is a beautiful lake. It’s a popular destination for day hikers and fishermen, but there’s no camping along its shores. We pushed on crossing another small ridge to reach Emerald Lake and Aster Lake further below. While we trying to decide if we wanted to camp here for the night or continue to Pear Lake, we ran across the Pear Lake ranger, Crystal. She told us that Pear Lake was pretty much full, which settled things for us. In the end, there was only one other group camping at Emerald Lake, so we were in heaven.
Mary and I had been to Pear Lake a couple years prior (see my Lakes Trail blog from 2007). At the time we had thought Emerald Lake was a nicer destination than Pear Lake and had vowed to return ad camp there sometime. We were fulfilling that vow with only one reservation: we knew there were pikas at Pear Lake. We really like pikas and were sad to think we might not see our fuzzy little friends. As we started setting up camp in sate number 5, much to our happiness, we could hear the little squeaks of pikas all around us. After setting up our tents and filtering some water, we found a little pika no more than 100 yards for our site!
The three of us chatted and ate dinner as the sun set. This was Kevin’s first “real” backpacking adventure, and seemed to be enjoying it. While chatting, Kevin noticed a sound coming from our backpacks. Mary and I investigated, finding a little mouse chewing through a side pocked on my pack where I had inadvertently left some pretzels. We chased it away and put all the food in our bear canister. The weather was fairly mild for late September, so we were able to keep warm without a campfire. After dinner we had some chocolate cake that Mary made using Matthieu’s recipe. It was delicious. After enjoying the stars and conversation, we turned in for the night.
Day 2: Emerald Lake to Trailhead and the General Sherman Tree (September 27, 2009)
I was the first one to rise the following morning. My first order of business was to pick up where I left off with the pikas. I found two of them very near where I had watched them the previous evening. I watched them for quite a while. See the video above as well as another I posted on YouTube. There are more pictures in my Emerald Lake Pikas Gallery. They are so cute.After spending some time with the pikas, I visited the relatively pleasant solar composting toilet then started working on breakfast. After breakfast, Mary and Kevin filtered water while I explored the area a bit. Once the sun was fully up and the air warmed, the pikas stayed in their dens. I had to satisfy myself with the beautiful views of the lake and mountains (picture on right).
It was noon by the time we set off down the trail.I guess we were enjoying the lake so much we were reluctant to leave. We made it to Heather Lake pretty quickly, stopping briefly for some photos (Ed and Mary in photo on left). The hike out is primarily down hill and so it was much easier. It was a good thing since the day was warming up.
Kevin and I posed on the trail above the Tokopah Valley (right). A little further along we reached the Watchtower, once again stopping for lunch.Over lunch, we chatted with a Sequoia Park employee who was on his way up to take water samples in the Marble Fork. There certainly are worse places to call your office.
We made it back to the car around 3, and decided to visit the General Sherman Tree. The General Sherman parking area is a short drive from the trailhead. It’s a 1/4 mile walk from the parking area down to the tree. We were all feeling good now that we didn’t have our packs to lug around. The General Sherman Tree is at the edge of the Giant Forest where there are plenty of sequoias to see. The General Sherman Tree is the largest tree by volume in the world!
On our way back to the parking lot, we were treated to a surprise. No more than 30 yards of the trail was a black bear fattening up for the winter (see video below and photos in my Bears Gallery). We watched it forage for quite a while before returning to the car. We made a quick stop at the store at Lodgepole for drinks and a snack, then headed out of the park. On the drive back, we stopped in Fresno for dinner, dropped off Kevin in Livermore and made it home around 11:30. All in all, it was a great trip to Sequoia. Too bad summer is over!