Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Rancho Olompali State Park

On one afternoon during the aging conference in Novato Tracy, Lev and I went for a short hike in the nearby Rancho Olompali SP.

Highlight of this trip was a following conversation:

L: What I like the most about you Tracy is that even though I am sometimes trying to rub you the wrong way, you still never get annoyed with me.
T: Well, I never get angry with people I work with...
L: You just get even ;-)

Here are few pics that Tracy sent to me today:

Look at this mushroom!

What does he see there?

On the trail...

Buena Vista:

Monday, January 28, 2008

Murphy's law in action

When do you get a flat tyre? On the day that you are actually in hurry and wanted to be at work early.

Where do you get a flat tyre? Precisely in the middle of the way between your home and work, and where there is absolutely no public transport available that would bring you to either of them, of course.

Looking for positive aspects of that: I will finally have a chance to repair a tyre myself!

Murphy's law

Africa 2006 - posts outline

More than a year passed since I came back from my wonderful two-month long holidays in Africa (Kenya, Uganda, Namibia and South Africa) and I virtually made no progress in documenting that trip in reasonable form. I am afraid that the more I will postpone writing about it the more difficult it will become as my memories will fade away. Thus, I have decided to come up with the outline for the posts dealing with this subject, hoping that it will help me to start working on this project.

Here is the outline of the posts that I plan to write in near future:

1: the plan, the compromise (written)
2: arrival in Nairobi (in progress)
3: trip to Kitale
4: Mt Elgon NP - Kenyan part
5: getting out of Suam
6: hiking on Mt Elgon
7: public transport in Uganda
8: Kampala
9: Volcano NP
10: Masai Mara NP
11: corruption in Kenya (written)
12: roads in Kenya (written)
13: Masai invasion (written)
14: A night at the Masai village (in progress)
15: Tsavo NP
16: At the beach
17: Coral Reef
18: Low tide
19: Hell's Gate Gorge
20: On the way to Namibia
21: Desert plants
22: Fish River Canyon
23: Windhoek
24: Etosha NP
25: hiking up Brandberg
26: rock paintings on Brandberg
27: Namibian road signs
28: Burnt Mountain
29: Organ pipes
30: rock engravings at Twyfelfontain
31: petrified forest
32: Himba vs Herero
33: visit at Himba village
34: Epupa waterfall
35: Kunene River
36: Ovambo bars
37: visit at Ovambo village
38: on the road
39: Skeleton Coast NP
40: Skeleton Coast NP - plants
41: Skeleton Coast NP - dunes
42: Skeleton Coast NP - shipwrecks and other wrecks
43: sea lions' colony at Cape Cross
44: Swakopmund
45: flamingos
46: salt factory
47: Moon landscape
48: Welwitschia mirabilis
49: Dunes and Sossusvlei
50: dead camel thorn trees at Dead Vlei
51: hiking on Drakensberg
52: East African food (in progress)
53: East African police and tourists
54: Ugandan hospitality
55: white-black conflict in South Africa and Namibia

Hmm, it seems that even if I would be writing one post a day (which is probably not feasible), it still would take me around 2 months to finish this project. So I guess realistically I can expect to have it finished in half a year or so. Well, better that than nothing.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Santa Helena Ranch - March

Mike's family owns a beautiful house (ranch) in Santa Helena, the heart of Napa Valley. Mike, Lev and I went there for one of the weekends in March. It was an absolutely great trip, both very eventful and relaxing at the same time. All of us had a wonderful time there and we all agreed that everything about this weekend was perfect. Throughout the weekend we had great food (mostly thanks to Lev's great cooking skills), great wine and good conversations over variety of subjects. Moreover, in the evenings we either watched Monty Python's Flying Circus or played games (Modern Art, Scrabble).

On one day we went for a longer hike in the nearby hills (The Palisades? have to check on that one with Mike). During this hike I learned how to recognize poison oak and the reasons for avoiding it... something most Europeans are not aware of at all.

On the second day of our stay at the ranch, we visited Terra Valentine Winery, where we got a private wine tasting. Afterwards we got a private tour through Casa Valentine, a house of the owners of Terra Valentine, as one of Mike's friends (Rori) was taking care of it in their absence. That was a very interesting experience - we got to see how our lives could have looked like, if we had been extremely rich :)

Few pics:

View from Mike's family house to their vineyard:

Breakfast on the fresh air:

Still bare brunches of vines:

View to the village from Floral Springs vineyard:

Hiking the palisades:

On the top:

View to the valley from the top:

Terra Valentine Winery:

Outside Terra Valentine:

Rori, Lev and I in front of Casa Valentine:

Me with Casa Valentine in the background:

Santa Helena Ranch - June

Also my second visit to Mike's family ranch was very eventful and relaxing at the same time. This time we were not alone there, but there was also one of Mike's uncles and his daughter.

On one of the days we all went for a hike to "Old Man" (see photos below), after which we had a dinner at Armadillo's, a very good Mexican restaurant in St Helena. After coming back home we played a game of Bocce, and later in the evening also "The Great Dalmuti" and "Unexploded cow". Both of these card games are lots of fun to play, especially when you want to warm up the party.

Lev, Mike and I also went for a short wine expedition to "Wine Garage" and "Enoteca" in Calistoga where I again bought too many bottles of wine - I have to finally figure out where to store them properly!

Here are few photos from this trip:

The ranch - a front view:

On our hike we met "an old man":

On one of the afternoons guys were playing in the swimming pool. In the background you can see Mike's family's vineyard (notice that now wine branches are not bare anymore):

Bocce - focused Lev throwing a ball:

The aim of Bocce is to bring (throw) your ball closer to palini (small white ball) than balls of opposing team (one team has blue and the other pink balls). Look how close once I managed to throw my ball!:

Here Mike is judging the distance between the balls of different teams and palini:

Muir Woods O1/08

Yesterday Andrzej and I went hiking in Muir Woods. Initially we planed to hike up Mt Diabolo, but we were not sure how feasible that would be as there were again heavy rains passing through SF Bay area. So we decided to go for easy Muir Woods hike instead. At least we were lucky with weather - it was not raining at all yesterday, and occasionally even sun managed to get to us through the clouds. Also, there were not that many tourists on hiking trails that day, as they were all probably worried that weather might turn bad any moment.

We started our hike at Muir Woods Visitor Center from where we took Ben Johnson Trail to Dipsea Trail, which led us back to the parking lot. Or so we thought. We were so close to our car, we could almost see it, but we could not reach it as we were separated from it by a stream, which after all this rain was much deeper than it used to be... So we ended up retracing our steps back all the way back to visitors center.. . - maybe it was not very exciting, but at least it was a good work out for my leg muscles :)

Where everything started:

After the rain colors are amazingly intense:

Everything is so wet:

Mushrooms are growing:

Streams are full of water:

Redwoods are truly red:

And still huge!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Los Angeles - Getty Museum

At the end of June last year I went for a conference to Los Angeles, which was taking place at UCLA campus. Taking advantage of occasional free afternoons I went to visit Getty Museum (together with Lev) and Santa Monica (alone).

Both Lev and I were truly impressed with the collection and architecture of the Getty Center. As you can see at the photos below, the Getty is extremely aesthetically pleasing to the eye, and in a way it makes you feel as if you would be sightseeing ancient Greek or Roman buildings. Also their exhibits, even though limited in size, were first class. For example one room was dedicated solely to Manet's Bar at the Folies-Bergère. To help visitors understand the perspective from which this picture was painted, on the opposite wall from the painting a mirror has been installed, giving you a chance to try to solve the visual and psychological ambiguities of Manet's painting.
Another great exhibition that we saw there was called "Medieval Beasts" and it featured a diverse assortment of beasts from the manuscripts published in Middle Ages. It was amazing to realize that only five centuries ago people widely believed that such fantastic animals lived in the world around them. But then again, also today people believe in strange things...

The Getty:

One of the exhibitions that I liked was entitled "Medieval Beasts":

Downtown LA as seen from The Getty:

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) campus:

Crowded Santa Monica Beach:

Entertainment complex at Santa Monica Beach:

Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall:

Los Angeles City Hall:

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Lodi ZinFest

Last year in May, dudes (Mike and Lev) took me to Lodi ZinFest, an annual Zinfandel festival. It was a very nice and relaxing day trip during which I had much too much wine :)

If I remember correctly during that day we visited 4 or 5 wineries (the ones that I remember and would recommend you to visit were: Michael-David Winery, Jessie's Grove Winery, M2 Wines). Each of these wineries was completely different in style: some were bigger than others, some were more commercial and some had more home touch to them. Still, at each of them there were not that many tourists and (as a result of that I guess) at almost each of them we had a chance to talk with the owners and get a lot of information about wine making process.

Here are few pics.

Mike and Lev at Jessie's Grove winery:

One of the wines that we tasted:

Intro to wine making:

Wine fermentors and storage barrels:

Mike and I at Lodi Lake: