Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A and B came to town.

A few weeks ago I packed my bags, caught the gold line metro to Union
station, and jumped on an Amtrak train to San Jose - it apparently
knew the way. I have travelled in trains in many countries, but never
in the US (over long distances) so this was something new. I wasn't
sure what to expect - most people said that the trains were okay, but
a few had pointed out that they were slower than buses (!) and quite
noisy and bumpy or something. Well I have no idea what trains they
were accustomed to, because I soon settled back in air conditioned
comfort as the train worked its way up the coast, past a number of oil
rigs, spectacular scenery, and about half a dozen prisons.

In under 8 hours, we had arrived at San Jose station, where my friend
D was waiting. We drove via a diner (at which the usual offering was
duly consumed) to D's new place in Sunnyvale, a short commute to his
current work with some company in 'the valley'. Like myself, D is an
Australian expat making his way in the big scary US of A, so we (as
usual) had plenty to chat about! I spent the evening on an air
mattress, and in the morning, woke, packed, and headed off to a nearby
eatery for breakfast. Walking in the front door, I was only slightly
surprised to see my friend J (who studies NLP at Berkeley) and my
parents A and B (because A + B = C) sitting at a table. My mother A in
particular seemed quite excited to see me, and soon we were seated,
eating American hash browns and bacon and other good things, catching
up on news, discussing the latest in information technology, and the
somewhat peculiar sport of ultra marathon running.

After breakfast D took off to work, we dropped J at a caltrain station
so he could head back to Palo Alto, and A, B, and C headed off into
the sunset.

Well, almost. It was only 10am, but we were in a hurry! We drove
swiftly to Santa Cruz, met some family friends (I was able to finally
deliver a few things I'd brought across in September!), and then
proceeded to drive down the coast, stopping in Carmel and a few other
nice seaside towns. Land slips meant we had to cut inland, coming back
out at Cambria. We checked into a hotel, then drove up the Big Sur
highway towards another land slide, admiring the incredible scenery
along the way. I thought it compared well to the Amalfi coast, and the
Chuisky Trakt, both of which feature similar winding roads perched
precariously on cliffs above crashing water. I saw the car of "Goanna
Tracks", some Australian 4WDers who wrote a very useful account of
their trip along the Kolyma highway about a year before I went. A was
a little nervous at times, and not just because B wasn't always sure
which side of the road to drive on...

In due course we turned back, greeted some seals, and drove up to
Hearst Castle for an evening tour. Hearst Castle is worthy of another
blog update in its entirety. Instead, check out the photos!
The story goes that Hearst got really rich running a newspaper and
decided to funnel his money into building a huge house with which to
entertain guests and live well near San Simeon. So he did. After he
died it made its way to becoming publicly accessible, so we can enjoy
its rather extraordinary features. The floor plan of the main house,
for instance, is quite haphazard since room dimensions were dictated
by the sizes of the various decorated ceilings he had purchased from
Europe. Eventually we finished the tour, had dinner at a local
restaurant/karaoke bar, and retired for the evening. I spent several
hours writing up a report on the mechanics of river incision, for a
purpose that will be revealed shortly!

The next day, we checked out and drove down highway 1 via several
lovely volcanoes in the surf to Santa Monica, then to the Getty
museum. By this stage we were running a bit late for the evening's
adventures, so we had to see all the nice stuff in the Getty (and
there is quite a bit) in about an hour. Back on campus I swiftly
changed and got ready for the chamber singers concert that evening. A
and B turned up and quite enjoyed the proceedings - madrigals in
French, Italian, English, and German. Dinner at Wokcano was followed
by a quick trip to the top of Lake St to look at the view over LA at
night, and we retired for the night.

Next morning we met for breakfast, then drove up to Eaton canyon, and
with about 1000 other people walked up the waterfall. I went largely
barefoot (it was a nice day), which was interesting. It's not every
day your feet get to savour the texture of the surface of the earth,
after all. Italian sandwiches were procured, and we spent a few hours
at the Huntington looking at nice old books, gizmos, art, and plants.
The Huntington is a pretty extraordinary place - well worth a visit if
you're ever in the area. Soon enough it was time to propel A and B
back onto the perilous freeways for their last trip to the airport.
Soon after they were airborne and in Australia, and I was back at
work, with only 4 days to catch up!

As for mechanics of river incision, all will be revealed in the next

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