Week Off Work

Pumpkins

It’s the last day of an action-packed and wonderful week off work, details below.
Thanks to Holly for being as snap-happy as me and letting me borrow some of her shots!

Weekend

After chaos and project “restructuring” in the office, leaving everyone miserable, dejected and wondering if they will soon need to find another job, taking a week’s holiday was a wonderful escape. Steve’s sister Holly came out to visit us, landing on the Friday, so we had an excuse to be real tourists for seven days and we loved it. Also, Steve and I have now been together for a whole year – a year! Since it was a trip out to California in the first place that brought us together it seems kind of appropriate to be here again now.

Holly seemed surprisingly lively when she arrived, even though she had been awake for something like 30 hours… I am usually a zombie by the time the plane lands when travelling out to the US. On the Saturday we left Steve at home and went out to explore the shops, resulting in us spending about 4 hours trying on incredible dresses in one of the amazing dress shops they have out here. There is nothing like this back in England – they sell disney-style fairy-tale dresses by the dozen. Two of which happily went to us.

On the Sunday we took a trip to the Mystery Spot where the laws of gravity are slightly out (we weren’t overly convinced about this), and then headed down to the boardwalk at Santa Cruz. We tested out the rollercoaster (v good) and on the way home acquired a big pumpkin. We have plans for a large halloween lantern and pumpkin pie…

Monday-Wednesday

Yosemite

Yosemite National Park – we finally made it. This place is as incredible as every description of it you will hear. The valley itself is an impressive hideaway between enormous granite walls. It’s peaceful, beautiful, and at this time of year, cold. We shivered in our little wooden cabin for two nights and wore ourselves out on the trails in the day. I don’t think Steve and Holly will ever forgive me for making both of them climb to the top of Sentinel Dome (8117ft). I’m not sure I can forgive myself for deciding to climb to the top of Vernal Falls (644 steps).

Yosemite Sentinel Dome

We saw a wolf cross the road on the day we left – the first time I have ever seen a wolf in the wild, but despite bear warnings everywhere, the bears all remained hidden. For an excellent site on what to really expect from Yosemite and the real truth on the trails and accommodation on offer, visit www.yosemitefun.com, maintained by a chap called Phil Hawkins and supplemented by lots of photos and comments from Yosemite visitors.

Mono Lake

We left Yosemite and drove even further east past Mono Lake, which is just about the most beautiful blue I have ever seen (the photos were shot from the car window and do not represent how amazing it was), and on to the ghost town of Bodie, which was a spooky, frozen-in-time, old American town in the middle of nowhere. After a whirlwind exploration of Bodie we endured a seven hour drive back to the west coast – covering almost the entire width of California (about 270 miles), in one go.

Bodie

Bodie

Thursday-Saturday

In complete contrast to the previous few days we headed up to San Franciso to see the Golden Gate Bridge, admire the barking sealions and explore Alcatraz.

San Francisco Sealions

San Francisco Streets

I swear it’s true – we saw Pierce Brosnan on Alcatraz. He was taking the tour with his wife (I assume?) and a bodyguard dressed in black. A famous person being a tourist – amazing! We also drove up and down the steep and movie-famous streets (Bullitt, The Rock). A gradient of 31.5 in a car feels like you are driving down the side of a cliff, and the novelty for me still hasn’t worn off. San Francisco is really a beautiful city.

Golden Gate Bridge

Holly flew back to the UK on Friday morning with ambitious plans to be awake enough to go to a party on Saturday night, so we’ve been lazing around at home for the last couple of days, waiting for our muscles to stop aching and catching up on laundry, food shopping and Half Life.

Weekend

On Saturday night we went to see the San Jose Earthquakes play at the Spartan Stadium. Unlike football in England the game here is much more family oriented with lots of children and mums attending, as well as all the male supporters. They tied 2-2 with Real Salt Lake, ending the season with an undefeated home record (go Earthquakes go!). Now, I have to say it, but although the game was great fun to watch, the standard of football wasn’t as good as it is on English teams. It’s the third football match I’ve been to in my life and I couldn’t help thinking that one of our teams from home would wipe the floor with these guys. We oohed and aahed and cheered them on anyway, and even bought supporters’ shirts/jumpers, mainly because it was so cold in the open air, but it felt good to be wearing the team colour anyway.

Well, after all that, it’s now Sunday, running around having fun goes back on pause, and it’s off to the slave-house again tomorrow (boo).

Thunderstorm

We’ve just had four massively loud claps of thunder. The roof vibrated so much I thought someone on the next floor up had dropped a printer or something (even though we’re in a single storey office). After the second conference-room-vibrating event we all went outside to see what was happening. Giant raindrops started falling out of the sky and lightning preceded more car-alarm-generating, near-miss-bombing, the-world-is-ending, I-think-my-ears-have-burst, thunder.

And then it all stopped. And when I came back into the office one of my computers was dead. :-( Poor thing.

Earthquake

Despite having spent the best part of this year in California so far, I have never felt even the tiniest hint of an earthquake.

UNTIL NOW!

On Saturday night, just after midnight, the earth actually moved. We were at home playing Half Life in a darkened flat and we’d been killing dodgy looking monsters of science gone wrong for a while when all of a sudden everything just seemed to… move!

At first I thought I’d been playing Half Life too long, but then another tremor happened – and this time there was no mistaking it. The flat actually wobbled. For what can have lasted no more than a second, the apartment we live in felt like it was made of balsa wood. We went straight to the internet to check the earthquake monitor:

http://quake.usgs.gov/recenteqs/Quakes/nc40179382.htm (update: data for old quakes has been removed, and the site restructured).

It was real mini-quake – about 10 miles from where we live and 3.1 on the scale, yay!

Long time no post

Pinnacles National Park

Haven’t posted in over six weeks – shameful! So here’s the lowdown on what’s kept me so busy…

The Yosemite trip has been temporarily postponed – work pressures at the time (specifically, the day we were due to drive there) meant we couldn’t get away for the whole weekend, so it’s back on the list of things to do. Instead we wandered down to see the Pinnacles National Monument, which is a lot closer to where we’re living, and did a couple of walks around the park. It was a mere 104° in the shade that day, so walking around felt a bit surreal and left us with comically red faces. There are lots of pics (as usual), including one of what looks like not a lot… but bear with me, if you look closely you might actually be able to see the Striped Racer (Whipsnake) that we stumbled across, dangling in a bush:

California whipsnake

The following day we ended up going to the annual Salinas Rodeo, just because it happened to be on that weekend and we were passing through the town. It’s not the kind of thing I think either of us would ever have made a point of going to, but we spent most of the day there and it was like being transported to another world – excellent fun and no fatalities or gored cowboys either.

Salinas Rodeo

Since then we have spent just under four weeks in lovely England, living out of various parents houses, including two weeks off work (woo hoo!), most of which was spent in a tent in Cornwall and Devon. Cornwall included a long-awaited visit to the Eden Project, a wind farm (I just love turbines), Goonhilly Earth Station and an amazing Owl Sanctuary, all in weather that varied from thunder and lightening with downpours, to scorching, sunburning heat. Ah, how I’ve missed England.

Eden Project Faye at Eden Project

After months of consideration, deliberation and procrastination, I’ve finally taken the plunge and properly upgraded my camera to a wonderful, wonderful Panasonic Lumix FZ5 (highly recommended on the web, by Andy at work, and my Dad, huzzah! – read an in-depth review here. I’ve taken lots and lots of pics, mostly experimenting with all the settings, so won’t bore you with all of them, but instead have added the better ones from our hols to the site.

We arrived back in California yesterday, and it’s back to work tomorrow, so normal service should now be resumed. Phew!

Driving in California

After dealing with more than the average amount of imbeciles on the road today while driving to work, I thought I’d add some observances about the traffic and general behaviour on the road out here, which never ceases to amaze me. I’m sure there are good drivers out here (like there are, in fact, a lot of idiots on the road in England), but still…

In England the speed limit on the motorway is 70mph max.
In California the speed limit on the freeway is 70mph max.

In England, if you are on the motorway and want to change lanes, you look in the mirror, wait until there’s a gap, indicate and then change lanes.
In California, if you are on the freeway and want to change lanes, you just drive your car straight into desired lane as soon as the thought pops into your head.

In England, if you want to move to the right, you indicate right.
In California, if you want to move to the right, you can indicate left or right.

In England, when you’ve finished your manoeuvre, it’s second nature to turn off your indicator.
In California, when you’ve finished your manoeuvre, it’s so unusual to have used an indicator in the first place that you end up leaving it on, so it will be ready for use next time.

In England, if someone is indicating, they are usually going to turn, or change lanes.
In California, if someone is indicating, they’ve left their indicator on from the one and only time it was used in the last month.

In England, you have roundabouts.
In California, you have four way junctions with no traffic lights, and take it in turns to cross, without indicating, in order of who arrived first.

In England, if you want to turn right off a main road, you either use a filter lane, or the traffic waits behind you until you can make the turn.
In California, if you want to turn left off a main road, you use a specially built filter lane so you don’t have to remember to use your indicators. This single lane caters for traffic going in both directions.

In England you can’t go through a red light. Ever.
In California you can turn right through a red light, unless there’s a postage stamp sized sign saying you can’t on a lamppost on the other side of the 5 lane highway. Even if there is a sign, you can still turn right if you want to as long as the police aren’t looking. There’s no need to worry about other cars.

In England, even on the busiest commuter mornings, someone will let you out if the road is busy.
In California no one ever lets you out, not even in a car park, and waiting for a gap in traffic adds approximately three hours to your morning journey to work.

In England, if you are a pedestrian you stay out of the way of cars, or you will get run over.
In California you always have to give way to pedestrians, no matter where you are, and once you’ve given way, pedestrians like to walk extra slowly in front of you, to give you maximum time to admire their physique.

In England, using your mobile phone while driving is against the law, which for the most part is obeyed.
In California, using your cell phone while driving is considered essential for the correct operation of the engine.

In England you get onto the motorway using an entry slip road. If you leave the motorway, you use an exit slip road.
In California, to save space they build just one slip road at each junction. If you want to leave the freeway, you have to slow down in front of the traffic that’s speeding up and trying to get on. No indication is required, as it’s obvious by psychic thought transmission which drivers are joining, which drivers are leaving, and which drivers are just in the lane because they haven’t realised they shouldn’t be.

In England, if you don’t start driving the instant the lights go green, you get beeped at.
In California, the light changing green means you can go. If you want to. Or you could wait for the next one.

In England, at it’s best, traffic is courteous, harmonious and a pleasure to drive in.
In California, at it’s best, traffic is calm and steady, roads are spacious and the sun is shining.
In India, if you’re killed in a taxi overtaking three articulated lorries on a single carriageway by on oncoming bus, it’s because Jesus wanted it that way.

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