Steph and I took a short drive down to Monterey to do a scuba trip there. The Pier is a fun place to dive as you never know what you’ll find and this time was especially interesting. We saw a crab wearing a beanie hat. The crab was a Sheep Crab or Spider Crab depending on how you want to call it. The hat was decently stuck to it, and it was happy with the hat. The video below is from one of the other groups that was there that day, and we got a screenshot in case the video goes down (like what happened with the urchin smashing).
Steph and I joined a large group for their yearly Vegas trip. This is the third time I’ve joined this group in Vegas, and I think it was my favorite trip. Steph and I flew out Friday afternoon and got to Vegas in the early evening.
Steph had booked a couples massage for us at the Korean spa that Debby likes. I had a really good massage with intense pressure. Steph said she didn’t get as deep a massage as she would have liked, but overall the spa was nice.
We met up with much of the rest of the group at a Cornish pasty shop. They were just finishing up so we had dinner as just the two of us. The veggie pasties were very good. We then joined them at the Velveteen Rabbit, which was a cute bar. They started turning up the music so we decided to leave. We went to a nearby beer focussed bar, and Steph and I decided to head to the hotel for some sleep.
Saturday morning I met up with, Myk, a colleague and we had breakfast at Bruxies, then walked the strip for a bit.
I then joined Steph and we went to the Shark Reef aquarium with Paul and Yutong. It was much better than expected, but our expectations were pretty low. They had a large variety of sharks, and a small variety of other things.
Saturday evening Steph and I went to the Zumanity show. It was an enjoyable performance, although not as good as any of the other Cirque shows I’ve seen. It was the perfect show for Valentines weekend I would say.
Sunday morning we went to Dig This. Steph and I got to crush a car using one of the large excavators. Then we got to play with the small excavators and dig a hole. They were fun to use and the power of the machines was impressive.
After Dig This we went to do two escape rooms at Escapology, Mansion Murder and Under Pressure. We got stalled at a few of the puzzles, but overcame that decently quickly. We escaped each room with about 20 minutes to spare.
Our flight was delayed so we had a bit of time to go to dinner with Adam and Tina. The food at the place we chose wasn’t great. They specialized in steak, so I guess that was good, but their veggie dishes left something to be desired. We got to the airport a little early, but the plane boarded before the delay suggested so that was a good thing. We got home to find the kitties timed feeders hadn’t worked, so they were so hungry. I felt bad for the kitties, so we gave them lots of attention and food.
Ricardo came to Redwood City for tennis this Sunday. We headed to the nearby court and found it empty. It was cloudy at first, so no major advantage based on sun. Unfortunately the sun came out as we were switching sides. This made it a little harder to play, but I still got him on both sets we played. We were noticeably better this time, with fewer double faults, better ball placement, and better hits. I think Ricardo has the better ball placement, but I have him beat on energy and speed. We are still decently matched at this point.
Afterwards we tried to go to Broadway Masala, but they weren’t open yet, so we dropped by Crouching Tiger and I introduced him to the magic chili tofu and ma po tofu. They were both amazingly delicious.
Adam organized a backpacking trip over new years to Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley National Park. Tina wasn’t sure about the difficulty and Steph didn’t have the PTO so it was just Adam and myself.
I started by walking to Caltrain, and taking that to San Jose where the Amtrak also stops. I got there about 45 minutes early to find Adam there as well. The train was running about 45 minutes behind so we had a good bit of time to kill.
When the train got in we headed to the back car on the top level where our seats were assigned. We ate a late lunch from our stores and then got a seat in the observation car. The landscape was gorgeous and we got to see a great sunset. We played a few card games in the observation car until they closed it down. We made it to LA but not Union station, someone had been hot by the train in front of us so we were stopped. The train sat at Van Nuys for 30 minutes with no estimate for when we would get moving again. Once the initial surge for rideshare died down we grabbed a car to the apartment we were renting. I grabbed the couch and passed out.
We had breakfast nearby the next day before heading to Union Station. We grabbed the rental car and found out that the coastal starlight had made it into Union station at 1:30am the night before. We had left it for the rideshare at 9:20 and were at the apartment by 9:50.
We headed out of LA, passing a number of wind farms and made it to Joshua Tree around noon.
We stopped by the visitor center and got the advice to do the planned loop the other way as the planned direction had us sleeping in mountain lion territory. We headed out along the California Riding and Hiking Trail until it started getting dark around 4:30pm. For the first third of the day we had small piles of snow and mush on the trail, but as we got higher the trail turned to ankle deep, then shin deep snow. We had another person’s footsteps to follow so we couldn’t get lost. At close to dark we headed up a small gully to find a spot to camp. We packed down the snow and set up the tents. It was getting a lot colder than we had budgeted for so we got into the tents as quickly as possible. It was a miserably cold 16 hours until sunlight in the morning, but 16 hours of half good rest almost makes for a full night of rest. Thankfully our water didn’t freeze alp the way and we were able to hike to the nearby service road to continue. We had to forge our own way through the snow for about a half mile, which got tiring. We did spot a great story written in the snow of a bobcat chasing a rabbit. I’m pretty sure the rabbit was able to hide in a bush and got away.
We went up the road for some much needed easy hiking before reaching the trail to Eureka Peak. We went up to the peak and got a lovely view.
We headed down the other side and got right back into some shin deep snow. We went down a solid white Black Rock Canyon Trail, which eventually lightened up to ankle deep snow with some tracks to follow. We made it back to the trailhead and relaxed a bit at the visitor center. The hike was about 11.5 miles, at least 8 of which were through snow.
We filled up on water and went into town for a texmex lunch. Afterwards we stopped by the grocery store for frozen dinner and breakfast as the next hotel had a small kitchen. It turned out that the hotel was an RV, and surprisingly nice. They also had a hot spring that we took good advantage of.
We got a good night’s rest and struck out for Death Valley the following morning. A short stop at the visitor center and we headed into the wilderness along a poorly maintained “road.” After a few miles of really rough driving we pulled the car over and started the hike. The first seven or so miles were along the “road.” Then we got to the actual trail. At first it was easy to follow as it went along a small streambed. We camped on a small plateau next to the streambed the first night, and got another 14 hours in the tent. This time it was much warmer if not wholly warm.
The next morning we continued down the rivulet. We passed the cottonwood spring and emerged into a large valley that was ruled by a herd of wild horses. They were right along the trail and didn’t like us getting near. The valley was wide open so we snuck around them. After a small mistep following horse paths instead of human paths we found a great lunch spot. We took a longer break before heading to the highest point along the trail. We made the summit in good time, then continued down the other side. We missed a turn, as did a number of people before us. We followed the tracks of someone into a hard to pass valley before deciding we needed to find the trail again. It was getting late so we hiked to a nearby mountain peak and camped for the night, this time only 12 hours.
In the morning the trail was close, and we scuttled down the slope to it. We made our way through the gorgeous Marble Canyon.
We got to the road and had about 4 miles left to the car. We dropped our packs there and decided to drive back for the rest. We got to the car and found the drive back to be more perilous than expected. I got out to grab the bags and Adam turned around. We stopped of for a somewhat civilizing lunch in Stovepipe Wells before heading to the Luxor.
We got into Vegas around 6pm and grabbed an easy dinner at the Public House. I had a pretty decent impossible burger. We relaxed for the evening and did a four seasons breakfast the next morning. After turning in the rental car we had an easy time at the airport before getting home.
George invited me to join him on a Lick Observatory event through Google. I hadn’t been there before and was excited when we got there to learn that they are working on two of the most interesting problems in astronomy; exoplanets and supernovas. The exoplanet work they are doing is amazing, as they are focusing on the spectral shift method. They survey large amounts of the sky looking at stars and galaxies for long time series. We got to look through two of the telescopes. One looked at a binary star while another looked at a globular cluster. I appreciate George taking me on such an interesting adventure.
Adam and I met in SF at my office and then headed to dinner at Delarosa. It was tasty food, but nothing special. We headed back and got things sorted so Adam could take the kayaks to his hotel room near the pier. I slept in the office on the futon, and it was a pretty good night’s sleep. I didn’t realize it at the time, but when things fell over at 10:30pm it was a small earthquake.
The next morning we got up dark and early. I walked my gear over to Adam’s hotel and we headed down to pier 1 1/2, where we had left off the previous trip. We each had small issues with our Oru’s. I had folded mine poorly the previous time and bent the front bulkhead. Luckily it wasn’t a terribly important part as long as we kept to moderately calm waters.
We got in and had a bit of a run in with a tug pushing a barge that wanted to get into a dock we were near. We got out of the way fast once a security boat came over and told us that’s what it wanted. We were just trying to stay still and be predictable. We left the SF coast shortly after that and made our way to Alcatraz.
It was neat to see Alcatraz from the water, and the whole way out we were at the 0 tidal flow time. This made for some very smooth water. Things started to pick up a bit more as we paddled from Alcatraz to Angel Island. The current was clearly starting to flow into the bay, and as we rounded the last point on Angel Island some strong eddies caught us and we had to fight them to get to the shore.
Once on shore we scouted out our campsite, which was slightly up a cliff from the beach. It was nicely sized and up the hill from there were the remnants of the Civil War base. We dropped our stuff off at camp in the raccoon proof bins, then headed to the ferry port. We grabbed a quick lunch at the cafe, and found out there would be a tour of the island happening in less than an hour. We waited around for that and hopped on when it started. The tour was interesting as we drove past the four military bases on the island: Civil War, WWI & WWII, Cold War, and Southeast Asia conflicts. There was also the Chinese internment camp for the Chinese Exclusion Act. Most things were close because it was a Tuesday so we didn’t get to go into any of the museums.
After getting back to the ferry area we hiked to the peak. We saw a ton of deer, vultures, and views of the bay. After the hike we ended back up at camp. I communicated with work for a bit and Adam read. I then walked around the Civil War base, and it strangely serene being there alone. I watched the sunset and enjoyed the peace of the place.
Adam had gotten cold before I got back so he got in his tent and was hanging out in there. I set up my sleeping bag on top of a table to keep it from getting dusty. I slept under the stars that night and saw some amazing shooting stars and counted satellites.
We slept in a bit the next morning and headed out at the low tide point to avoid tidal flows. As we rounded the point to head north we saw some of the rare bay porpoises. I wasn’t able to get a picture as they came up and dove quickly. We paddled up the western side of the bay from there. Adam’s hip was hurting from being stationary and not having stretched before getting in the kayak, but he pushed onward until we passed San Quentin and the Richmond bridge. We pulled out at the Gun and Rod club dock and got a ride back to the city so I could follow up with all the work things that had happened.
Steph and I joined my parents on a trip to Glacier National Park. We only really had one item planned out beforehand, a rafting float, but we still got to see plenty of the gorgeous landscape in and around the park. We took a ski lift up to the summit of Big Mountain outside the park. There was a trail leading from the summit to the bottom of the ski lift, so my mom, Steph, and I hiked down while my dad enjoyed the top. We ate a few of the huckleberries that were growing along the side of the trail, and they were pretty tasty.
We stayed in Grouse Mountain Lodge in Whitefish and it was a very nice building. We wish we had remembered our bathing suits so that we could have enjoyed the hottub.
We went a little ways into the park and did the Cherry Creek trail and the Trail Through the Ceders loop.
The rafting float was very calm, as it was the lowest time of year for the stream. We had to get out and walk next to the raft for a bit, which was a nice change of pace. The float was very pretty, and the guide was great at giving good information about why the mountains had tree mohawks.
After Barcelona we headed to Lisbon, Portugal as a part 2 to the Iberian trip. Ricardo and Irene headed to France, so we were on our own for this portion.
Sunday morning we got to the airport, got checked in and through security and sat down for a breakfast. Time went quickly and we almost missed our time for getting on the plane. They had closed the doors, but opened it back up for us and some others who had a late connection.
We got to Lisbon and had a nice pick up from the airport to take us to our Airbnb in the older part of the city, Alfama. We decided to try to bike to Belem, which would have been nice if we weren’t way up a hill that didn’t have straight streets or lots of room and was mostly stairs to get down to the boardwalk the quick way. We left the bikes and decided to walk. I enjoyed the walk, but Steph was starting to have her feet hurt by the time we made it to Belem about an hour and a half later. We got the famous egg tarts and shared a half dozen. We noticed on the walk that there was a Banksy exhibition and made a note to come back, as they were about to close by the time we saw it. We took the bus back to the touristy street and had some ginjinha and gelato.
Monday we went back to the Banksy exhibition in the morning and really enjoyed it. The exhibit wasn’t by Banksy, but about him and featured a good bit of his work and explanations of what they represented and were about. We then took the tram to the top of the hill where we were staying and to the Castillo de George. We hung out at a cafe overlooking the city before having dinner at Cantio do Aviles, which was good.
Tuesday we were supposed to have a cooking class, but after getting to the local market and waiting for an hour we decided the guide was a no show, so we went to the aquarium instead. This was nice and we got to relax and look at fish for a while. The aquarium also had puffins, penguins, and otters to round out their sea life offering. The puffins were adorable, and the otters are always fun to watch. They also had a fascinating exhibit on display of sea creatures made from fishing hooks.
We went to a nearby vegetarian restaurant for lunch, Ohana. It was really tasty food, and if this place were near our house I would be going there all the time. They even had a green smoothie with added turmeric. We then headed to the 24 de Abril bridge for an evening cruise. We took the trolley, and didn’t count on the main coastal street not being crossable by pedestrians. After we made it over a pedestrian bridge some ways away we made it just in time to get on the boat. The cruise was very nice, and relaxing. They gave us a bit of history of the buildings visible from the water.
After the cruise we went to an area called LX Factory, which was a gorgeous hidden gem. We stumbled on it while trying to get to the boat. This is an artist community with a touristy main street with lots of restaurants. I really liked the feel of the area and would recommend a visit.
Wednesday we spent the morning just relaxing at a cafe before lunch at AO26, a vegan restaurant. The vegan cheese was some of the best we’ve had. They also had a soup we had all the time on the trip (and before the trip with Adam) a strawberry gaspacho. We walked over to the Elevador de Santa Justa, and had a great view from the top. We walked along the ridge and took the stairs down to a small shop Ginjinha de Carmo to have the ginjinha in a chocolate cup. It was delicious and unique. We headed to the airport after a mixup with luggage that got sorted quickly. We got back to Barcelona and spend the night at the airport hotel there.
Thursday we got on our flight back to the US. We were connecting through Philadelphia, but the Philadelphia to SFO flight was cancelled once we got there. We were given a hotel room and got a nice dinner at a tasty Thai place. Friday we had time to kill so we got a nice veggie brunch and then went to see Toy Story 4. The flight back in the evening was thankfully uneventful and we even got back a little ahead of schedule.
Lisbon was a great city, and we could have spent a few more days there with things still to see. We were slowing down at this point in the trip as well, so we weren’t trying to pack in all the things like we could have. I enjoyed the relaxing parts just as much as the interesting ones.
Steph and I decided to do a trip to Europe with Ricardo and Irene, some friends we met through Michael Kehoe. We talked through a lot of the options and based on deals we found decided to do Barcelona together.
Our original flight Monday morning got cancelled and we got moved to one 8 hours later. We got the info when we woke up on Monday. I got some work in before we had to head to the airport. This was nice and bad, as it meant we lost most of a day in Barcelona, but I got time to put my work in a good position before leaving.
We also had our flight plan changed from a layover in the US to a layover in Madrid, meaning we had an 11 hour flight from SFO to Madrid. This was preferred by me, and we had a nice seat layout with Steph in the window and myself in the aisle. I have to say travelling with the switch was amazing. I played a ton of games, and Steph and I were even able to play some multiplayer on it while on the planes. This is something I recommend to anyone travelling together. I will have to get a good set of earbuds to share the audio for next time.
We got to Madrid and made the transfer without issues. I still find it annoying to have to go through customs, then back through security, but can understand why countries want it that way. I was surprised by how easy it was to get through the EU customs. We then got to Barcelona and took a taxi to the hotel, which was a quick. We had originally planned to do a spa on Tuesday, but that got pushed back due to the delay. We were still able to do our dinner plans at 7 Portes, where they had good traditional paella. After dinner we took a walk around the port and then headed into the Gothic Quarter. We found an alley to grab drinks in and had a relaxing evening absorbing the ambiance of the old city.
On Wednesday I headed off to the Sagrada Familia after breakfast, with Steph going to Park Guell. Both are by Gaudi, but they have very different feels. I really enjoyed the Sagrada Familia and the part that Steph had complained about, long lines, wasn’t an issue with the time slot method with reservations. I just showed up when my time slot was, and walked right in. I loved the columns and how they split at odd angles as they made their way to the ceiling. It was a gorgeous church.
We met back at the hotel and walked a little down the street for a nice lunch at Madeleine Mon Amore. We walked down to the old city and had the spa treatment we had meant to do on Tuesday. It was relaxing, with Steph and I spending about an hour in the pools before our massage. We tried all the pools: hot, warm, bubbly, cold, and salty. The cold was very cold, as it has ice melting into it. Getting in gave a shortness of breath, and once returning to the hot pool caused a pleasant tingle all over. We had our massage in the warm pool, and it was different. The floating massage we had involved a neck pillow and pool noodle under the knees for floating support. Then the masseuse would pull and rub different parts of the body. This worked well for the feet, hands, arms, and head. It didn’t give them any leverage on the back, making that part of the massage not as good. I also didn’t like the feeling of my feet and hands being rubbed when they were so pruny.
After about 2 hours in the pools I was ready to get out. I left the others there and headed to a coffee shop to get dry and have a bit more caffeine. Ricardo joined me shortly thereafter and we had some good conversations. Both of us had or most traumatic experiences close to home, and were glad we had moved away. We wandered around the nearby park for a bit before the women joined us. We walked up to the Cristopher Columbus stature and the Arc de Triumph. Steph and I then headed back to the Gothic Quarter to wander around a bit more, and we found a vegetarian place on a little square. The food was decent, and I appreciated the conversation and feeling of being in the old square. We then wandered the quarter some more before finding a place serving churros and drinking chocolate for dessert, which was amazing.
I wasn’t able to sleep that night, which was a bit of a issue as we had scuba diving the next day. The place was about an hours drive outside of Barcelona on the Costa Brava. We ended up at the dive shop early enough to have a bit of a breakfast there. We geared up, which was a little disconcerting. Steph’s tank was having issues, and by the reactions of the staff that might have been common. I was also only given a pressure gauge, no depth gauge. We didn’t cover any profiles before the dive, so I was just trusting that we would be staying in limits, but based on max depth and time we weren’t even close to issues. I was still uncomfortable with it. We got to beach Badia de Tossa which was gorgeous. The castle and beach combo was so picturesque. The dives went off without too much going wrong. One of the people who tried to join us had a mask issue and wasn’t able to resolve it. This was probably for the best as he was super flaily, and then tried to come join us on his own once he had it fixed. We got to see more than I was expecting in terms of life. There were a lot of large schools of fish, and dozens of eels. We were able to see two octopi. The octopi were about the size of a basketball all together, which is bigger than the octopi I’ve seen before. I was impressed by the life and variety.
We got back and had a much needed nap, then headed to a nice dinner at Bistro Rastroterra.
Friday we had a tour to see the Spanish wine country. We got to the tour launching point early and grabbed a coffee before getting bussed to the first winery, Jean Leon. It was a pretty area, but the ego of the place was a bit much for me. The next winery, Familia Torres, was a much larger estate with a really well done tour. I enjoyed it much more. The third, Friexenet was a sparkling wine that is termed Cava for the region, much like Champagne is for the region in France. This was by far my favorite as they had an elaborate set of cellars, and the product was in my opinion the best of the grouping.
Dinner was at a place in Barcelona called Can Nico and it was the worst meal of the trip. The food wasn’t seasoned well and overcooked.
Saturday we relaxed fo the morning and then headed to a place near the hotel for lunch. In comparison dinner the night before Xorus was amazing. It was probably the best meal of the trip as the food was amazingly well seasoned and perfectly cooked. We split up after that with Steph and myself going to the Teleferic de Mon Juic. This was a gondola going up to a castle overlooking Barcelona. The ride was ok, but the views from the top were certainly worth it. We ended walking down from there through the Garden de Larybal to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. This was a massive museum that we could have spent all day in. We got to see some old Romanesque church frescoes as well as modern art, including a Picasso self portrait.
We met back up with Ricardo and Irene for dinner at Hissop. The tasting menu was amazing, and we had a great conversation about music and games over dinner. Afterwards we got lucky and found a tea that Steph’s mom had been asking for in the quick mart right outside the restaurant.
I really enjoyed Barcelona. The city has a great history, great food, and is very walkable and bikable. The tree lined streets with large pedestrian routes down the medians made it feel much more inviting as a city. I was especially happy to see that all those routes were very much in use. I would recommend a visit of a few days here.