Friday, October 26, 2012

The Netherlands - 2012


Although Diane and I have been to Amsterdam on a number of trips, when you’re in a city with someone who lives there, you have an opportunity to see a place from a different perspective.

After Meredith picked us up at Schiphol, we went to her flat, just south of the city center. Her place is on the second floor, on a quiet street, across from a shuttered church and next to a small elementary school. Elliot was not home. He happened to be in Portland on business and wasn‘t getting home for a few days.

After we settled in we decided to immediately set off on bikes to see the sights around her neighborhood. After all, the weather was warm and sunny. There was no time to waste.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Lake Tahoe

October 2012

The initial intent on the Lake Tahoe trip was for an all-girl week-long stay, which was purchased at a fund raiser for Big Brother/Big Sister last year. But as it turned out, it ended up being just Claire and Larry, and Diane and I in a large and magnificent home at the lake.

Tahoe is a seven hour drive from Pismo Beach. I had hoped for our accommodations to be a lake-front home, but alas - that was too much to hope for. Darn! Regardless, the home did not to disappoint. With a sparse view of the lake, it did provide a fabulous “great” room upstairs, Jacuzzi on the deck and an air hockey table that Larry and I made use of almost each night.

Home Sweet Home

On the first day, we all took a hike to the small but very beautiful Lake Eagle. The hike had a few short steep climbs but overall was a short and easy hike with a very rewarding view of a lake. We should have brought a picnic lunch!

The trail to Eagle Lake

Eagle Lake

The following day I went off on my own and took a great bike ride along the Truckee River. The natural setting was astonishing. The only problem I encountered were the nasty bumps on the bike trail. One of them nearly threw me off my bike. You really have to keep an eye on the road and hold on to the handlebars with both hands. The bumps can be pretty jarring!

On one of the other days, while Diane and Claire were off to Incline Village, Larry and I took a fabulous hike at Alpine Meadows to an area called the Five Lakes. It had a steep initial ascent. But after that, it flattened out to a comfortable hike. Larry and I readily found the first lake. But the other four lakes alluded us for a while. Eventually, we found them all, though.

On our hike to the Five Lakes

View along our hike

First of the Five Lakes we found.

One of the other (five) lakes.

One of the evenings we were there, we went to a fund raiser for the business community King’s Beach. The event had a number of restaurants, wineries and breweries that participated. The evening turned out to be a good one, in that we had lots of delicious food and drinks and even won a small raffle prize to boot!

On our last full day, Claire’s niece, Erika and  her husband, Trey came over. During the day, we took a hike along one of the many ridge walks. Later on that day, we visited a local area where they were having Oktober Fest. We had a beer and enjoyed the activities. 

One of the concoctions we devised for our evening meal.

Group hike up the Lake Tahoe trail that ventures around the lake.

Oktober Fest in town

Afterwards, Erika and Trey cooked us a superb meal for our last evening in Lake Tahoe. The entire evening turned out to be a pleasure with lots of good food, wine, air hockey and good conversation.  

Friday, October 5, 2012

Camping at Big Sur and a Wild Animal Adventure

Around this time of year our friends, Mike and Venessa, pack up their Coleman camping trailer and head  for Pfeiffer Big Sur. This time, Diane and I joined them in their annual event. We packed up the truck with our meager camping gear and headed north on Highway 1.  

Venessa and Diane relaxing at our camp site.
The Pfeiffer campground is huge and has a variety of  natural settings. Our campground was sunny with oak trees and what looked like Douglas Firs. On the dangerous side, there was plenty of that nasty poison oak surrounding the campsite.

Mike in front of their Coleman camper
During the three days we spent camping we kept busy with hikes, bike rides, evening camp fires and a trip into Carmel for dinner. One of the ways we amused ourselves around the camp site was by observing (and keeping an eye on) the aggressive squirrels and the Steller's Jays. Both of these animals appear to be a fixture at these campgrounds and are very comfortable around the campers. Likewise, they are very opportunistic and are quick to abscond with unattended food items.

A walk around the campground.

A hike to the falls.
This fellow made off with a peach probably 3x his weight.
After the fun-filled three days at Pfeiffer, Diane and I went on a separate adventure to Vision Quest Ranch, a wild animal sanctuary in Monterey where they also offer an unusual B&B. The facility has a variety of wild animals who have been "retired" from the film industry and from private collections, as well as animals they themselves have bred from birth. There are elephants, water buffaloes, ostriches, zebras, a camel, tigers, lions, a bear, a hyena and many more.

View of the field from our bungalow's porch.
We checked in, got our key and headed off to our bungalow (a combination wood frame and canvas structure). Looking from our bungalow, we could see the elephants, a zebra, an ostrich and a couple of water buffalo graze in the field below us  - it felt as if we were in the Serengeti (only we didn‘t have to fly for 16 hours and suffer going through TSA security screening).

During our brief stay at the ranch we had the opportunity to feed some of the wild cats and elephants. In the latter part of the afternoon, some of the staff came by our bungalow first with a baboon and then with an animal related to a sloth. With each animal, they explained in detail their habits, personalities and idiosyncrasies. The staff seemed very knowledgeable and caring.

One of the staff came by with a young baboon.

The zebra and "Butch", the elephant are best buddies.

During the night, we could hear the roar of the lion, as he signaled other lions in the area that this was his domain. Also, other animals made their presence known during the night, but we could not place the types of animals.

Jacob is the undisputed king at the ranch. His roar can be heard 5 miles away.

These big cats eat about 12 lbs of meat per day. They only get fed 6 days a week, though.

We got real close to the elephants and were given the opportunity to feed them.

The zebra now thinks he's one of the elephants.

In the morning, breakfast was brought to our bungalow with an elephant in tow. We waited on the front porch of our bungalow and at 9:30 a.m. two staff and Marika, the elephant, came by. At that point we were able to feed Marika pieces of apple and carrots.

Feeding Marika at our bungalow.

Later that morning, we had a very informative tour of the facility, which included seeing most of their animals. After the tour, it was time to go home. Luckily, it was a quick two-and-a-half hour drive away.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Two Road Trips and a Paragliding Adventure

September 2012 - Three In One

Summer's end is approaching and I've been remiss in keeping up with my blog lately. It’s time to catch up on some kronic travel postings of two summer road trips and an exciting day of paragliding in Santa Barbara.

First the Northwest Road Trip

While Diane went to volunteer at the International AIDS Conference in Washington D.C., I decided to take a trip up north  After staying overnight with my friend Lou, in Sunnyvale, I headed north towards Interstate 5 and made it as far as Canyonville, Oregon. The campground I stayed at was right along the Umpqua River (as was my campsite). A lush green setting although there was a little roadway noise. But that was all offset by the refreshing swim in the river after the day’s long drive.

The following day I drove through Portland, Oregon with a brief stop in Beaverton. This is where the Nike Headquarters is located. I stopped in to see what its campus was like because Elliot is now gainfully employed by Nike Europe and I wanted to give him a report of the “mothership”. From all appearances it looks like a very cool place to work.

Nike Headquarters and field

Banners of athletes along Nike campus walkway

The VW van that Nike founder drove to sell first shoes.

After the quick stop, I made it all the way to Port Townsend, to Tom and Diana’s house. It was good to see them after a prolonged absence. It was a thrill to see all the wild life that came around their property. Deer nonchalantly traipsed through their front and back yards, squirrels were making themselves at home on their arbor, rabbits hopped along and grazed in the yard, an eagle was perched on a nearby a tree and even a weasel showed its head a few times (to Diana’s disgust - they have a tendency to destroy their chickens and not even eat them).

Downtown Port Townsend

It was good to see Port Townsend again. The town has an old, artsy and maritime feel to it. It has several well preserved large buildings as well as many Victorian homes. Tom told me that in the 1800‘s, it was speculated that the town was going to become the largest seaport on the west coast. But those ideas never came to fruition because the railroad never made it past Seattle.

Port Townsend harbor view

Tom and I in town garden

Sailboat anchored in harbor

Deer family passing through Tom and Diana's backyard

One evening, Diana cooked a fabulous Bouillabaisse with a heap of fresh muscles. The sad part of it was that Diana didn’t even partake in the meal - she doesn’t care for fish! On the bright side, this presented Tom and I the opportunity to gorge ourselves - which we managed to do without hesitation.
On another day there, Tom and I drove to Siquem and then on to Port Angeles, where a festival and market was taking place. Music, lots of tasty food and an impressive array of sand castle building was in progress.

Festival in Port Angeles

Sand castle building

Dinner at Tom and Diana's

On Sunday, I set up a reunion with an old high school buddy - Dan Jacobs in Seattle. I drove to Kingston, then took the ferry (as a walk on) over to Edmonds, just north of Seattle. There Dan picked me up in his car and drove us to the Freemont, a funky area of Seattle that reminded me of Berkeley or the Mission District in San Francisco. As we reminisced Dan and I concluded that we hadn’t seen each other in over forty two years.

Dan and I at lunch

A wonderful string instrument store

A view of Seattle

Dan and I reminisced about the past, of playing guitar together, learning House of the Rising Sun when it came out, and we filled in some of the blanks in all those missing years. It was a better reunion than the one high school reunion I went to decades ago.  

After lots of catching up, a Greek lunch and a walk along a street market, Dan drove me back to catch the ferry to Kingston. All in all, a pretty good day.

Leaving Edmonds on the ferry

On Monday, I left Tom and Diana’s home for Buckley, to visit with my old tennis partner Richard and his wife Barbara. Not long after arriving, Richard and I were on the tennis court. It was like old times  - we were making each other run back and forth. There was no mercy for the senior citizens.

Richard and I at his bouse

Afterwards, we played horseshoes, in Richard’s backyard. To my surprise, I discovered that horseshoes was not as easy at it looked. I also found out the meaning of the saying “Close only counts in horseshoes.” Unfortunately, most of my tosses, weren’t even close.

The following day Richard and I played a little more tennis, but it wasn’t easy - our bodies were not agreeing with the activity. After a while we gave up and went home to have lunch, after which I got back in the car and started my drive southward.


Just south of Canon Beach

 Depoe Bay

 Depoe Bay

Bandor, Oregon

Eel River at  Richardson’s Grove campground

One of the giants at Richardson’s Grove

It was late afternoon by the time I arrived in Cannon Beach, OR, a place Diane and I remember fondly. It still seemed much the same as I remembered it. As I drove around, I noticed a private campground nestled adjacent to Highway 1. I got lucky - they happened to have one remaining camp site available. In the evening I took a stroll to town and along the beach. It was a short distance from the camp ground.

The drive along the Pacific coast the following day was unbelievably spectacular. The weather was agreeable and the scenery could hardly have been better. One of the small towns I decided to stop in was Depoe Bay, OR. Not much of a place really, but it was known for its small harbor with a very narrow entrance. Its main claim to fame is from the movie “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest”. It is to this harbor that Jack Nicholson takes his bus load of people. I stayed long enough to watch a couple of fishing boats navigate the narrow channel into the inner harbor. I’m sure it’s only doable in good weather.

At the end of the day, I was in Bandon, OR, a place where Diane and I had camped near years ago. The old town of Bandon was picturesque but consisted mostly of restaurants and some bars. I camped in the same campground we had camped at years ago.

From Bandon, the drive continued to be beautiful. I drove past Gold Beach, Arcada, Eureka and drove through the Avenue of the Giants, a narrow road, lined with majestic and incredibly tall redwoods along the Eel River. Near the end of it, I found a campground called Richardson’s Grove, where I got a site among these giants.

The campsite was within walking distance of the Eel River. It had a great swimming hole and after getting settled, I immediately went to the spot and took a refreshing dip.

The following day, it was a long drive home but not overly so. It was good be home again.

A Day of Paragliding at Elings Park, Santa Barbara

Paragliding ground school 

On a day that Diane had a work commitment in Santa Barbara, I took the opportunity to tag along and attend a one day introductory class to paragliding at Elings Park in Santa Barbara. After the crew of Eagle Paragliding got there, the first order of business was to sign away my life on a number of pages of legalese disclaimers. This was understandable - indeed there was an element of risk involved.

With five students and four instructors, it was like having private lessons. After a couple of hours of explaining paragliding basics, taking us through the flight preparation and making sure we thoroughly understood the things NOT to do,  they took us to a spot on the hill where there was a decent yet gentle drop off. Well, at this point you hope you paid attention to the most critical stuff they taught you!

My first flight was probably one of the most terrifying things I've ever done in my life. At the time, it did occur to me that I could just walk away right then and there and life would still go on. But I quickly decided against that alternative after I saw one of the ladies in the class prepare to go.

Taking off on one of the flights at Elings

Soon, my instructor Bruce was asking me, “Okay George - are you ready?”. Well, no backing out now, I thought. Bruce motioned me to start running towards him. Above me I soon felt the wing filling with air. With the wing now full and right above me, I struggled to make much headway. Quickly I could feel the ground begin to move away from my feet. It was an incredible sensation.

At once it was totally frightening but exhilarating. Although not high in terms of flight, when I looked down I realized that from this height you don’t want to drop too quickly. But as I settled into the short flight and listened to Bruce’s calm instructions over the radio, I relaxed and began to enjoy the ride. With Bruce’s coaching, my approach and landing went fine. When I touched down, I turned around and collapsed the wing. I couldn't wait to get back up the hill to do it again.

For the remainder of the day, I made several more flights. What a fantastic experience. If you’ve ever thought of trying paragliding or some form of it, my recommendation is to “Just do it!”.

Here's a video Diane took of my last flight of the day.

Road Trip to Arizona and San Diego Area 

Near Sedona 

After a one night’s stop in Long Beach, to visit Diane’s mom (Skippy), we left the house at ten in morning, heading for Prescott, AZ. We used our new TomTom GPS to guide us to our destination. It came up with the most direct route until the last leg, when instead of taking us on a less direct, but straighter route, it took us on an extremely curvy road, one  that Ed and Frances had warned us not to take. Alas, we made it in spite of all the curves.

Our days with Ed and Frances went by quickly. We spent lots of time catching up with what all our families were up to, Ed and I took morning walks around the neighborhood and on an afternoon, Diane and I made an excursion to downtown Prescott.

On our last evening, we celebrated with powerful beer margaritas followed by barbecued  steaks. All-in-all a relaxing few days visiting old friends..

Next we drove to Sedona, less than two hours away, where we had a reservation at a campground in Oak Creek Canyon. After we arrived at the campground, we set up our tent and took a walk around the camp and along the creek. Later that evening, we were awakened by thunder and lightening and lots of rain. Luckily, the tent kept us dry.

Sedona red rock formations


View of Cathedral rock from downtown Sedona 

Our camp site at Oak Creek Canyon

The morning brought sun and after a leisurely breakfast, we drove into Sedona. The Sedona area is truly breathtaking. The spectacular red-rock mountains are visible from almost everywhere in town (even the wine bar).

After our visit to downtown we decided to take the advice of the visitor’s center and drove several of the scenic loops through the area. As one might expect, our journey took us to a winery. Page Springs Winery welcomed us. Their wine maker, Eric Glomski, focuses on Rhone varietals such as Syrah, Petite Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre. Our hostess started us on some whites, including Malvasia Bianca, Chardonay and a Viognier. From there we went to the Rhone wines. In addition, I tasted a Cabernet Franc. Their wines are by no means cheap, but I really found them to be well made wines, good acids and good structure.

After the tasting we each ordered a glass of wine and an artisan-styled pizza and sat on their deck overlooking the vineyard. What a way to end a day.

Fabulous pizza and excellent Phone wines at Page Springs Winery

Looking out over one of the vineyards

The following day we had a hot and long drive to Yuma, where we planned to spend the night at a local Howard Johnson. At one point, the temperature gauge in the car read 108F. Let’s see - the saying goes something like “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say it!”. Done!

After a quick breakfast, we headed out of town towards Del Mar, just north of San Diego. There we planned to meet our friend Ixchel and her daughters (Quinn and Devi). They were at an equestrian event to show their horses. Our friends Dave and Kristi were going to meet us there too.

Ixchel's daughters Quinn and Devi at the horse show

The ponies jumping (riders are 11 years old or younger)

Quinn and Devi gave out the ribbons

Quinn striking a pensive pose
One of the big horses maneuvering over a hurdle  

Eventually, we all met up as planned and watched riders and their horses strut their stuff. It was quite a sight watching the horses jump over the hurdles, sometimes dropping the top hurdle. Definitely an entertaining and educational event for Diane and I, since we know little about horses.      

We spent the next couple of days at Dave and Kristi’s home in Valley Center. Their house abuts a private airstrip, so Dave keeps both of his planes, there at his hangar. On one of the days, Dave took me up in the Citabria and once up, handed me the controls. Quite an experience.

Dave's Citabria in the foreground and his Cessna in the hangar
Relaxing by the pool

Merrick enjoying the poolside shade

Zeven training Dave to throw a ball at dog school

Kristi and Diane relaxing with eager students in the background

The last stop of our road trip took us to Bonita (San Diego), where our friends Walt and Lorraine live. We only stayed one night, but surely we packed two nights into that one evening - especially when it came to wine and tasting Scotch .

Great view of San Diego and Point Loma from Walt and Lorraine's home

Walter's very comfortable bar where we sampled a number of Scotch brands

In the kitchen at the Kraker's home is Bonita

We left the next day towards home with a one night stop in Long Beach to visit Diane's mom.

At Skippy's in Long Beach