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Travelblog Gone with the Wine

Travelblog and lifestyleblog. Life under the Californian sun - Gone with the Wine. Trips, food and wine from all over the world. Solo and family adventures.

Filtering by Category: PCH Bay Area

You Know You are in Silicon Valley when...

Paula Gaston

Silicon Valley is a very strange place to live and work at. Many things that in other places would be attractions, are here part of normal life and don't create any reactions in the locals. People from all over the world have immigrated here, and everyone is used to it. You might go to a party where you talk to someone, only to find out later that he was a multimillionaire. Then you will wonder how young that person was, or why he was wearing a sweater and crocs at a party. You might have friends working at Starbucks or as a CEO of an international company. Discussions might vary from latte flavours to how many patents does your friend have. Life in Silicon Valley is truly different!

Businessmen or investors are not the only ones traveling to Silicon Valley. Thousands of tourists visit the area every year, and line up at the Facebook sign to take a picture with it or hope to see the famous slides in the Google headquarters. But when you feel like all these things are part of normal life, you might have been living in Silicon Valley for too long. 

YOU KNOW YOU ARE IN SILICON VALLEY WHEN...

...ON YOUR WAY TO WORK YOU PASS BY COMPANIES LIKE GOOGLE OR APPLE, OR YOU ARE ON YOUR WAY TO ONE OF THEM.

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Unfortunately not everyone can walk in to these companies for a visit. You need to know someone who works there to get a campus tour. But you can always drive around and check out the campuses from outside. 

...YOU BUY VEGETABLES FROM THE FACEBOOK PARKING LOT.

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The Facebook parking lot is always busy, since every tourist wants to get their picture taken with the Facebook sign. Locals instead visit the parking lot on some weekends when Facebook organises it's Farmers Market, and buy fresh vegetables and baked goods.

...THe SELF DRIVING CAR IN THE EVENING COMMUTE IS A NORMAL SIGHT.

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Someone visiting might think they are dreaming when they see this but the locals are used to them. You can see all kinds of things in Silicon Valley traffic.

...WHEN YOU GET TO WORK IN THE MORNING, ALL THE CHARGING CABLES AT THE PARKING LOT ARE TAKEN BUT THE REST OF THE PARKING LOT IS EMPTY.

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Electric cars are popular in Silicon Valley and many companies or stores offer charging stations to their staff or customers.

...ALONG WItH SOCCER OR ART, YOUR KIDS CAN LEARN SOME CODING AT SUMMER CAMP. THERE WAS EVEN A CAMP ABOUT DOING YOUR OWN START UP.

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How many 5 year olds can code? 

...CONFERENCES CAN BE DONE EVEN ON BICYCLES.

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The conference bike is for seven people and while riding it, you can discuss some business. They do look kind of funny in the traffic.

...WHEN YOU ARE TOO BUSY TO GO TO A NAIL SALON, THE NAIL SALON WILL COME TO YOU.

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Many companies here expect you to work a lot and the work environment is done so, that you don't necessarily need to go home at all. They offer free food, drinks, gym with showers, swimming pools, game rooms or other entertainment, hair stylists, car servicing and of course a laundry mat.

...THE WORK DAYS ARE OFTEN VERY LONG BUT LUCKiLY YOU CAN TAKE A NAP DURING YOUR DAY. 

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Even though many companies offer different opportunities to do your hobbies or organise fun events, they still expect a lot from their employees. Many work long days and only have time to be at home briefly. At least you can have a moment of rest at work when needed. 

...EVEN THE ROAD SIGNS REMIND YOU NOT TO UPDATE YOUR FACEBOOK ALL THE TIME. 

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These signs might be needed in other places in the world too.

...SOME PARKING LOTS LOOK LIKE THIS: 

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For a few years now Tesla has been the hottest vehicle in Silicon Valley. The Tesla factory is close by where we live.

...NOBODY WEARS REGULAR GLASSES.

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"OK glass, take a picture!"

...EVEN THE BICYCLES HAVE CAMERAS.

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Don't be surprised if something like this comes across a Silicon Valley hiking trail. This is to capture streetview for Google Maps.

...YOUR WORK PLACE HAS A "BRING YOUR TOY TO WORK" -DAY AND YOUR COLLEAGUE BRINGS HIS HELICOPTER.

This is a true story, even though I don't have pictures to prove it!

 

Back to Alcatraz Island

Paula Gaston

It's been ten years since I last sailed on San Francisco Bay to Alcatraz Island. Last weekend I was finally able to visit Alcatraz again when my husband's family was visiting us, and their wish was to see Alcatraz. On this exceptionally rainy spring, we were lucky and got to enjoy the warm spring weather.

Alcatraz Island aka The Rock, is located in San Francisco Bay, right by the city of San Francisco. Originally the island was used as an army base, and California's first lighthouse was built there. After Alcatraz served as a location for a military prison, a federal penitentiary was built in 1934. Alcatraz had a reputation of being a tough place, and prisoners who caused problems in other prisons were moved there. One of the most infamous prisoners must of been Al Capone, who was a known gangster. Other prisoners were for example Alvin "Creepy" Karpis and Robert Franklin Stroud aka " the Birdman of Alcatraz". He got this nickname because in the previous prison he was in, he was raising birds and made several studies about them. When he was moved to Alcatraz, they would not allow him to raise birds anymore. Actually, the whole island has gotten it's name after the birds nesting there. The Spanish word "Alcatraz" means pelican.

Since it was extremely expensive to maintain Alcatraz, and people believed it also contaminated the environment, the prison finally closed in 1963. In 1969 some American Indian activists took over the island. Their purpose was to raise awareness of how the American Indians were being treated in the United States. They occupied the island for almost two years and at the same time, destroyed many of the buildings there. Some of the graffiti's they made can still be seen at Alcatraz today.   

Many remember Alcatraz for it's famous escape attempt which is also the storyline in the movie "Escape from Alcatraz". The star of the movie was Clint Eastwood, and it premiered in 1979. It tells the story of three prisoners who managed to escape from the island. They dug through the wall around the grille in their cells with a spoon and some other self made tools, until they were able to access the ventilation shaft. They also left some hand made dummies in their beds so that it would seem like someone was fast asleep. They left the island with a raft they made out of rain coats. No one knows for sure what happened to them. The water in the bay is very cold and the currents are dangerous. Even though it looks like that San Francisco is so close, it is actually far away from the island. Most people think that they drowned, but there are also many theories of how they survived and where they are now. If they did survive, they would be over 80 years old today.

Today Alcatraz Island is part of the National Park System. To visit, you will have to hop on a ferry which takes about 15 minutes to get there. Inside the prison you can do an audio tour which makes visiting there easy and flexible. You can also walk around outside and enjoy the view of the city of San Francisco. We were also able to meet a former inmate, William Baker, in the Alcatraz book store. He had come over to promote his book which talks about his time at the island. 

If you plan to visit Alcatraz, you should remember that they don't sell any food there. If you want to bring something over, you will have to eat it by the dock. There is a cafeteria at the pier where the ferry leaves and also on the ferry itself. Alcatraz Island is also accessible to people with disabilities. Visiting the prison with small children is a little bit more challenging because the audio tour is not very entertaining for kids. Some parts of the prison might also seem scary. We had our four year old with us who was a little anxious to get out of the prison but we did ok. After the audio tour we went outside to see the birds and she loved it. Kids under 4 years old visit Alcatraz for free. 

I would recommend to book your tickets as early as possible because Alcatraz is one of the most popular attractions in San Francisco, if not the most popular. It is easier to get them during the winter and during the week. The official ticket sales goes through Alcatraz Cruises. We took the 12:30 pm ferry to the island, and we were ready to return to the city sometime before 4 pm. When booking your tickets they will want to know at which time you will depart, but you can return with any available ferry. However, I would recommend not to wait for the last one, since it often gets very crowded. The ferry to Alcatraz departs from Pier 33. 

Visiting the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco

Paula Gaston

We already visited The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco few months ago. For some reason I have been waiting to write about it for a while even though it has been in my mind many times. Here are some of our experiences at this great little museum which is located right by the Golden Gate Bridge. 

The museum tells the story of Walt Disney all the way from a young man to the famous illustrator, animator and entrepreneur. At the same time the visitor will learn how the different Disney characters were born, and how the cartoons developed into the form we see them today. Walt Disney has been a great influencer of the enterntainment industry, and he has gotten 26 Academy Awards which is more than anyone else. He started his career by working on a school magazine a cartoonist, but in 1919 he decided to drop out of school and become an artist. He worked for many different companies before starting his own business together with his friend. The first Disney character he created was Alice's Wonderland, but before finding success the company filed for bankruptcy. In 1926 Walt decided to move to Hollywood to promote his career as a movie director, and started a new business with his brother; Walt Disney Studios. The first Alice movie was published. 

Alice's Wonderland was a great success, and Walt Disney was asked to design a show with the main character as a rabbit. That is how Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was born. Oswald didn't get very popular but Disney already had a new plan. Together with his friend Ub Iwerks he developed Mickey Mouse. Even though the movie companies were not very interested in Mickey Mouse at first, it become a huge success after being the first cartoon with a sound track. Disney's business expanded and he kept developing new characters. He also made new movies like The Three Little Pigs, Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Bambi and Dumbo. Walt Disney's career was sky rocketing. 

During World War II Disney made many other types of movies but then went back to making cartoons and released Cinderella. In the 1950's he started multiple TV shows and a Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California. In 1966 he was planning on opening another theme park in Florida, but he unexpectedly died of lung cancer and the plan was forgotten for years. Before his death he released his most successful movie yet; Mary Poppins

Mickey Mouse after Walt Disney's death

Mickey Mouse after Walt Disney's death

The legacy of Walt Disney is still living strongly. The Walt Disney Company has been concentrating on the movie business, TV shows, theme parks and its resorts. They work in 40 different countries, have many many stores and even 11 theme parks. The headquarters is located in Burbank California, very close to Hollywood. Mickey Mouse is the main character and the mascot of the company. 

This museum, which is located at the Presidio in San Francisco, is not huge. We walked through it in a couple of hours, even though I can see people staying longer to watch many of the old films they show. Especially kids like to sit down to watch the cartoons every once in a while. The cafeteria downstairs sells some light lunch so we had some coffee and sandwiches before leaving. And don't forget to check the amazing view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the other side of the building! 

 

Eugene O'Neill's Tao House in California

Paula Gaston

Yesterday I visited Eugene O'Neill's house in Danville, California. My friend and I had a plan to go for a little hike on the hills around the house as well, but the last bus coming back from the house was suddenly cancelled. We did get some sandwiches to go though, at least we could sit down in the house's garden and enjoy the spring day. 

WHO WAS EUGENE O'NEILL?

Eugene O'Neill is the only American playwright to have won the Nobel Prize for Literature. He has also won the Pulitzer Prize 4 times. The most known of his plays are The Iceman Cometh, Long Day's Journey into Night, Desire Under the Elms, Mourning Becomes Elektra and A Moon for the Misbegotten. Some of these plays have also been filmed as movies and even composed into an opera. Big names like Sophia Loren and Jack Nicholson have acted in these plays or movies. 

O'Neill was born in 1888 in New York. He started writing in 1913 when he was recovering from tuberculosis. During his life, he got married three times and he had three kids. His daughter, Oona O'Neill was known as the fourth and last wife of Charlie Chaplin. Eugene O'Neill's third wife, Charlotta Monterey was from San Francisco which is the reason they returned to California in 1937. O'Neill wrote his last plays in Danville, California, before he lost his ability to write due to Parkinson's disease. He died in 1953 in the Sheraton Hotel of Boston, and after that it was discovered that he didn't have Parkinson's, but in fact a rare, genetic neurological disease. His wife Charlotta published O'Neill's last play; "Long Day's Journey into Night" in 1956, and it is said to be the best of his plays. 

EUGENE O'NEILL'S TAO HOUSE

Charlotta and Eugene O'Neill were very interested in Asian culture and art, and they built their house in Danville in the Tao style. Taoism is an Chinese religion or philosophy which emphasises nature's mysticism and living in harmony. They for example painted the ceiling dark blue to mimic the sky and the dark wooden floors symbolised the earth. By the staircase you will find Chinese guardian statues; lions, and the garden follows a zigzag pattern to scare away evil spirits. The O'Neills used most of Eugene's Nobel Prize money to build and decorate the house. 

The house is not huge, so you will most likely walk through it in half an hour. Only a fraction of the original furniture is still in the house. The backyard view down to Danville is amazing and you can best see it from the pool. In 1980 the Tao House was passed into the management of the National Park Service. For the national park visitors though, the house is located in a difficult location since it is part of a gated community. So you will not be able to drive to the house, instead you will need to use the shuttle service provided by the National Park Service. Usually, the shuttle from Danville city center runs three times a day to the Tao House and it is free of charge. The time tables can be found from here. Right in front of the house is a huge park with some steep hills, Las Trampas Regional Wilderness, so you can also hike or ride your horse to the house. If you want to visit without using the shuttle, don't forget to make a reservation so the rangers can come open the doors for you. There is also a little book store by the house where you can buy publications about Eugene O'Neill or the National Parks. 

The room has been decorated by following a picture once published in Life magazine. 

The room has been decorated by following a picture once published in Life magazine. 

Charlotta O'Neill bought this Louis Vuitton chest from Paris in 1931. I wonder what its value is today. 

Charlotta O'Neill bought this Louis Vuitton chest from Paris in 1931. I wonder what its value is today. 

The barn in front of the house often is a venue for different events, and even now there were kids rehearsing a play. If you walk further, you can find a grave of O'Neill's beloved dalmatian dog, Blemil, and you can read the Last Will that Eugene wrote for him. 

Next time we will definitely plan a hiking trip to these surroundings. This place is beautiful, and on a clear day you can see quite far from the hills. The trails double as cow paths, so don't forget to close the gates behind you. Even though we were not hiking this time, we still managed to see some deer, squirrels and many kinds of birds. What a fun day!

 

Niles Train of Lights - An American Holiday Tradition

Paula Gaston

Many Americans have a Christmas tradition that was not familiar to me; a train ride on a Christmas train. You can find them all over the country, and here in the San Francisco Bay Area alone there are at least seven different operators. In many cases, it is the railway museums who offer these rides with old vintage trains, but also some regular trains will decorate for a Christmas ride they will announce beforehand. We did a Christmas Train ride in the city of Fremont in California. 

Niles Canyon Railway operates on one of the first railroad tracks of California. Construction of the track was first started in 1865, and they were part of the First Transcontinental Railroad, otherwise known as the Pacific Railroad. During the year 1987 the tracks were repaired, and they started the historical train rides with both diesel and steam locomotives. The timetables and the calendar for this train can be found here.

The train left right before dawn around 4.30 pm, and rode slowly through Niles Canyon to Sunol, and back. We were able to see the canyon during the light and the train lights after it got dark, so this was a perfect time. Each car in the train is different, and the brochure we were given recommended walking through the whole train. We sat down inside a warm enclosed car, but every once in a while we walked outside to the open car to see the views. If you plan to do this train ride, don't forget to dress up warmly since after the sun goes down, it can get pretty chilly. 

Everyone in the train seemed to be in a Christmasy mood, and we got to listen to some traditional Christmas music. Many had brought a proper picnic with wine, but they also sold some hot apple cider, hot chocolate and cookies in the train. There was also a Santa Claus who was talking with kids and posing for pictures. Also the conductors were very nice and talked with passengers a lot. Announcements in the train were very funny, and told us about the history of the railroad, and the decorations. 

We enjoyed the Niles Train of Lights, and especially our little daughter had fun. This event was very well done. Even though the ride was sold out, we felt like boarding the train and parking worked very well. The train didn't feel crowded at all. No wonder that this Christmas train is so popular, and the tickets sell out in one day. 

This was our first time on a Christmas train, but perhaps we will make this our new holiday tradition!