Posts Tagged ‘travel’

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class="post-8532 post type-post status-publish format-standard hentry category-local tag-comics tag-northbaytrip2019 tag-peanuts tag-photos tag-santa-rosa tag-travel">

The Peanuts statues of Santa Rosa

July 8th, 2019

Santa Rosa Peanuts characters
Santa Rosa Peanuts characters Santa Rosa Peantus characters Santa Rosa Peanuts characters Santa Rosa Peanuts characters

All over Santa Rosa’s downtown I stumbled across statues in the likeness of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts characters (Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, etc.) They’re all about the same height, but made from different materials and from different artists.

These were all commissioned after Schulz’s death in 2000, apparently because he didn’t like the idea of statues honoring his characters in his own hometown. Once he wasn’t around to say no anymore, I guess the statues were inevitable.

As I made my way to the Downtown Santa Rosa SMART station on my journey home, I couldn’t help but to notice a guy laying down a blanket to take a nap with his dog right next to the Charlie Brown and Snoopy statue.

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class="post-8528 post type-post status-publish format-standard hentry category-local tag-northbaytrip2019 tag-photos tag-public-art tag-santa-rosa tag-travel">

Cyclisk

July 8th, 2019

Cyclisk
 

Easily the strangest thing I saw on this trip was the “Cyclisk,” an obelisk made of around 340 damaged bicycles. It was created by Mark Grieve and Ilana Spector as a public art project for Santa Rosa.

Ironically the statue is next to a car dealer and a car wash, but Grieve says “The statement is up to the viewer.” I’d also point out there are no bike lanes anywhere near the statue, and the street it’s located is even missing a sidewalk just north of it. So the meaning seems pretty clear… or is it?

If the nearby streets were rearranged with complete streets in mind, it would give the statue a completely different meaning. Perhaps in that context it could be seen as a call to action in its current state.

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Luther Burbank Home and Gardens

July 7th, 2019

Luther Burbank Home and Gardens
Luther Burbank Home and Gardens Luther Burbank Home and Gardens
 

I arrived in Santa Rosa this afternoon and made a beeline for the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens. It’s the site of the home and a test garden of the wildly prolific horticulturist Luther Burbank. I bought a ticket for the hourly tour.

Although not a household name, Burbank invented a number of common foods you can find at your local grocery store including russet potatoes and various types of plums, as well as flowers including the Shasta daisy. One of his more out of the box ideas was to create a spineless cactus (no spikes) intended to be used as cattle feed in dry climates.

The tour goes through some of his failings, in particular not graduating medical school, not being taken seriously as a scientist in spite of his achievements, and not being granted patents due to laws at the time.

 
Luther Burbank Home and Gardens Luther Burbank Home and Gardens
 

Burbank was friends with some of his well known contemporaries including Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, and Stanford University president David Star Jordan. This is all glazed over in the tour, but with the benefit of hindsight some of these men have a seriously tarnished reputation, including perhaps Burbank himself.

After the tour I went poking around the gardens. The tour guide, apparently finished for the day, noticed me and pointed out something truly strange. Part of the garden is still devoted to scientific research and a Ph.D student from UC Davis grew two separate trees and grafted their branches together. I’m not sure what this means but if she’s successful we might have a new horticultural expert working in Burbank’s old test garden.
 

My recommendation: If any of this sounds interesting, the guided tour is only ten dollars. It takes about an hour, and you get to set foot in Burbank’s original home on the property (a second home has since been demolished.) The gardens are free to visit and a hot spot for wedding and quinceanera photo shoots.

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class="post-8521 post type-post status-publish format-standard hentry category-local tag-99-percent-invisible tag-northbaytrip2019 tag-petaluma tag-photos tag-travel tag-water">

Petaluma’s temperance fountain

July 7th, 2019

Abstinence fountain
 

I happened to walk by a stone drinking fountain in downtown Petaluma with a curious inscription on the side:

ERECTED 1891

TOTAL ABSTINENCE
IS THE WAY TO HANDLE
THE ALCOHOL PROBLEM

It seemed odd at first glance, I think mostly because the word “abstinence” is generally only used in modern American English by religious zealots peddling unscientific sex-ed material. But in this context the word is referring to abstaining from something else: drinking alcohol.

Yet again, the connection seems unclear: what does a drinking fountain have to do with avoiding alcohol?

An episode from the 99% Invisible podcast about the history of modern drinking fountains explains the connection — in fact this very fountain in Petaluma is mentioned at about 10 minutes into the episode.

The gist of it is this: back in the day water wasn’t always safe to drink due to bacteria, so many people stuck with alcohol. Once modern science made water reliably safe to drink, the temperance movement promoted the use of drinking water as an alternative to alcohol.

Obviously people still drink alcohol today, but thanks to plentiful clean water (well, in most places) we don’t have to choose between feeling thirsty and feeling tipsy.

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Lagunitas Brewing Company tour

July 6th, 2019

Lagunitas Brewing Company tour
Lagunitas Brewing Company tour Lagunitas Brewing Company tour
 

Today I took a tour of the Lagunitas Brewing operation in Petaluma. The facility was largely built before they sold themselves to Heineken, and still operates independently. Tickets for the tour are free and (if you’re over 21) include a free beer.

The tour focuses very little on brewing and much more of the stories behind the company. Which is fine with me, every brewery essentially does the same thing at some level. Back when I used to brew beer at home I covered the process here.

Some highlights from the Lagunitas tour stories:

  • Founder Tony Magee was an unsuccessful musician from Chicago who moved to California and started brewing “house beers” for local bars, eventually launching his own brand.
  • An early version of the brewery was in a much smaller town that (unbeknownst to the company) had a communal septic tank instead of a proper sewage system. Let’s just say you don’t want to trap yeast with human waste in a closed environment.
  • The state had the brewery shut down for a few weeks after catching employees smoking marijuana at a company party. Lagunitas responded by issuing a beer to commemorate the occasion when they reopened, the Undercover Investigation Shut-down Ale.

I’ve left out many details, and there are many more stories on the tour. Depending on the tour guide you might get a different set of stories entirely.
 

My recommendation: Anyone who enjoys Lagunitas’ beer or is curious about this quirky brewing company would probably enjoy the tour. Their taproom and beer garden with live music and food is just outside the brewing facility. One caveat is it’s only accessible by car; I think I spent around $30 total getting to and from the brewery from downtown Petaluma via Lyft.

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Marin County Civic Center

July 6th, 2019

Marin Civic Center Marin Civic Center
Exterior of the building
 

The more I’ve seen of Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs, the more I’m convinced he was an interior designer at heart who happened to get tasked with architecture. His interiors are always unique and playful, but the exteriors are almost offensively boring.

It’s certainly true of the Marin County Civic Center. From the outside it mostly looks like a big mess of arches, as though a bridge builder lost his or her mind.

 
Marin Civic Center Marin Civic Center
Marin Civic Center Marin Civic Center
Interiors
 

Stepping inside though it’s a completely different story; while it certainly has some of the look of a mid-century government building, the giant skylights and lush indoor gardens give off relaxing vibe. Pretty much the opposite of what most of us have come to expect from our interactions with government offices and courthouses.

I should point out that part of the secret to the building’s success is how well it’s maintained. It’d be much cheaper to let entropy take its toll and allow the gardens die or turn into weeds. Instead they’re watered, pruned, etc.

A number of tourists were wandering around in there snapping photos just as I was. Not much was going on since it was the day after July 4th, and the county fair was in full swing outside.

 
Marin Civic Center
 

On my way out I walked through a gallery of painted portraits for sale. I recognized a couple of the people, but this one in particular seemed appropriate as he’s one of the more famous people in Marin County: George Lucas.

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class="post-8487 post type-post status-publish format-standard hentry category-local tag-museums tag-northbaytrip2019 tag-photos tag-san-rafael tag-travel">

Museum of International Propaganda

July 6th, 2019

Museum of International Propaganda
Museum of International Propaganda Museum of International Propaganda Museum of International Propaganda Museum of International Propaganda
 

My last stop in downtown San Rafael was a tiny museum with an unusual premise: the Museum of International Propaganda.

Housed in a former shoe store, each section of the museum is devoted to a certain type of propaganda. Examples include leader worship, promoting the military, and demonizing a perceived enemy.

It seemed to me a prevailing theme was the truth didn’t matter, as long as it got the message across. Are the farms failing? Start a rumor of an American covert operation! Is the leader of the country a war criminal? Here’s a photo of him smiling with some children!

One of the most surprising artifacts in the museum is a watch, part of a limited series given out to soldiers who participated in the Tiananmen Square massacre.

At the end of the main gallery, it switches to parodies of propaganda:

 
Museum of International Propaganda
 

It’s interesting how the same imagery used to control the populace can be flipped on its head, now mocking the same authority it was once used to prop up.

The last area of the museum is a temporary gallery; it’s worth pointing out here the museum has only been around a couple years so temporary is relative. Right now it’s mostly about propaganda from the last presidential election to present day.
 

Museum of International Propaganda Museum of International Propaganda
 

My recommendation: This is a very thought provoking museum, far more interesting than I would have expected. Definitely work a visit if you’re in the area and it happens to be open (the hours are very limited.) It’s free, though they do accept donations and ask you to sign the guestbook.

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class="post-8483 post type-post status-publish format-standard hentry category-local tag-1411 tag-northbaytrip2019 tag-photos tag-travel">

Louis Pasteur “420” statue

July 5th, 2019

Louis Pasteur "420" statue
 

When I got off the bus from the Larkspur Ferry Terminal, I discovered I was a short walk from the origin of a well known slang term: 420, the not-so-secret code for marijuana. I had to go see it for myself.

As Atlas Obscura explains this unusual statue of Louis Pasteur in front of San Rafael High School was a meeting point for a group of students in the early 1970’s. These students met at the statue at 4:20 PM after school to head out and smoke marijuana.

The term 420 was somehow picked up by the band The Grateful Dead and it spread from there.

This got me wondering about something: how many hippie types with “420” t-shirts and such are anti-vaxxers who drink unpasteurized milk?

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Mission San Rafael Arcangel

July 5th, 2019

Mission San Rafael Arcangel
 

For the Forth of July weekend, I decided to split the difference between a real vacation and a “staycation,” opting to explore several parts of the North Bay I’ve never or rarely been to in the past.

My first stop is in San Rafael, named after the second to last of the Spanish missions in California: Mission San Rafael Arcangel.

The above photo is the current incarnation of this mission. Nothing stands of the original structures. I’m not entirely clear why they built something that’s clearly an architectural mashup between a modern church and the style of an early 19th century mission, especially since it just comes across looking ridiculous. But that’s what you’ll find if you walk a couple blocks up from downtown San Rafael trying to find the mission the city was named after.

To be fair the history of the mission is clearly posted in the front plaza, you can read the official story if you zoom in on this photo:

 
Mission San Rafael Arcangel

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Riding Amtrak’s California Zephyr: Life on board the train

May 11th, 2019

Amtrak
 

I assume most people have never ridden the California Zephyr route — if they’ve ever been on Amtrak at all. This post is for those curious about what life is like aboard the train. It’s an important consideration since the entire route is a serious time commitment at around 52 hours.

From Chicago heading west the trains quickly became less crowded. The train was full in Chicago but had plenty of empty seats by the time we reached Omaha. Aside from April not being peak travel season, I suspect Amtrak is a more typical form of travel for those east of the Mississippi.

As for what to do on the train, I’d recommend downloading some TV shows or movies onto a laptop or tablet. Over the course of the trip I had enough time to read two books and start a third, but a few sections of the train track are too bumpy to make reading a pleasant experience.

Another thing to do is plan adventures your for your next destination — particularly when there’s wifi or at least cell service. I figured out details like how I was going to get around, booked tickets for tours and events, found unusual sights to see, etc. I wouldn’t recommend booking accommodations at the last minute though, nor anything that could sell out months in advance.

 
California Zephyr
Crossing the Mississippi River
 

The most obvious thing to do is look out the window. The lounge car is built specifically for this since the windows are very large and you can go downstairs to the cafe for drinks and snacks. But really there’s a good view from any upstairs window seat.

Occasionally we got an announcement about what we were seeing, such as when we went over the Mississippi River. For the most part when I was curious about what I was seeing I relied on Google Maps.

At least one group of people on each train I was on took a booth on the lounge car and passed the time with card games. A deck of playing cards can be purchased from the cafe.

 
California Zephyr
Coach legroom with my backpack
 

Even at its most packed the coach section is roomy, with big aisles and plenty of legroom. When the seat next to me was empty I’d often stretch out and use all the space, which felt surprisingly luxurious. In coach from what I understand you can switch seats whenever you like as long as you stay in the same car and move the destination card above the seat with you. Be warned that if you switch cars you could miss your stop — passengers are assigned cars by destination, and not all doors open at every stop!

I have less to say about my two nights on the sleeper cars because, well, I was asleep. Yes they’re a little cramped, though comfortable enough. In general I had no problems sleeping in a roomette aside from getting jolted awake a couple times. To reduce noise I brought along “Leight Sleeper” brand foam earplugs. The train announcements stop during the night so people can sleep without interruption, though the train whistle still goes off throughout the night for safety reasons.

While in the sleeper cars I always set an alarm on my phone to wake up in time. Conductors go around knock on doors to wake people up before their stop, though I wanted to wake up a little early for a shower and breakfast.

There was only one part of the trip where we were told not to move between cars; inside the Moffat Tunnel between Denver and Salt Lake City. It’s a long tunnel and the ventilation is bad, so if anyone opened the doors between cars it might fill up with diesel smoke.

Every few hours at a stop we’d be invited to exit the train for a “fresh air break,” which in practice was mostly a chance for smokers to take a quick cigarette break on the station platform. That said it’s a good chance to go stretch your legs and take photos.

In the cafe, nearly everything is prepackaged and the food is often microwavable (they work the microwave for you.) It’s somewhat overpriced and disappointingly is not open 24/7. You can allegedly order “meals” here but they’re ghastly smelling TV dinners. The worst thing I personally ate from the cafe was a bagel, a chewy mess.

 
Amtrak breakfast
Dining car early breakfast
 

The dining car is a step up from the cafe. It’s included if you’re in a sleeper (but bring cash for a tip) or as a paid option in coach. Not the most exciting menu, but it meets most diets. Unlike on an airline it’s served on plates with metal knives and forks. There’s even a tablecloth! Don’t get me wrong though, the food’s more like Applebee’s than a gourmet restaurant.

The worst item I tried on the menu were the salads, all of which came with wilted lettuce; they should have taken them off the menu. The best item was the baked potato side dish. The after dinner deserts were all fine, but I only ordered them so I’d have an excuse to stick around and chat.

All tables on the dining car are communal, which is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the ride. If you’re traveling as a couple or group you’ll get seated together, but those of us traveling alone could get seated anywhere. This is an underrated aspect of dining on Amtrak — meeting random people on the train. The conversation starters are obvious:

“So where are you going?”
“..and why Amtrak?”

A surprising number of my fellow passengers were just like me: those who’d never been on Amtrak before, but were curious to try it. It doesn’t bode well for Amtrak’s California Zephyr if most of the passengers are new rather than loyal riders. I’d expected the typical rider would be older men afraid of flying; yet I only met one passenger who fit that profile during the entire trip.

Another surprise was how many passengers were heading to San Francisco. I didn’t want to play tour guide since I was on vacation myself, but I did answer some basic questions. This worked out fine as nearly everyone had a concrete plan already. Mostly the SF-bound crowd only wanted to chat about their plans or to ask simple advice like where to find good coffee near their hotel.

The entire time I was in the dining cars I couldn’t help but to worry about my backpack, especially if it was in coach. In practice Amtrak seems relatively secure, though if they had private lockers it would have given me more peace of mind.

 
Amtrak
A scenic fresh air break
 

Tipping is an aspect of Amtrak I’m not sure I fully understand. It’s straightforward enough in the dining car if you treat it like any other restaurant. Still, what do you tip the conductors? They accept tips in cash when they greet you as you leave the train. It never felt mandatory to me in coach, but on the sleeper cars conductors do everything from making the beds to making coffee.

I’m not very good at remembering to carry cash so unfortunately I only tipped the second sleeper car conductor. I gave him $20. Was that the right amount? Hell if I know. Just because I’m American doesn’t mean I understand all of our tipping practices.

It’s worth pointing out that food on the dining cars — but not alcohol — is included in the price for sleeper passengers. You just write your car and room number down similar to how you’d bill something to your room at a hotel. However this doesn’t mean tips are included, and the only option is to tip in cash. This is a little confusing since you won’t see a bill, you’ll just have to remember the menu price of what you order and tip accordingly.

 
Amtrak
 

Conclusion

The big question is, would I do it again? The answer is yes and no. Yes, I’d consider riding Amtrak again, but not this route. Why? Three reasons. First, I’ve already done it, so if I took another Amtrak trip like this I’d go on a different route and visit new places. Second, my favorite stops by far on the trip were Chicago and Denver, and both of those are far away enough it’s faster and cheaper to fly.

The third reason I wouldn’t repeat this route is a personal one: of all the major stops for travelers on this Amtrak route, the last destination is where many are headed for their trip: San Francisco. As I went across the Bay Bridge on an Amtrak shuttle bus from Emeryville to San Francisco I couldn’t help to watch other passengers marvel at the city skyline and try to spot Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, etc.

Yet all I could think about was going back to work on Monday. I was the only passenger who left the bus at the first stop, the Temporary Transbay Terminal. Everyone else was headed to a hotel — where my vacation ended, theirs was just beginning. I couldn’t help but to feel jealous.