Whole New Visitor Complex at Huntington Library and Gardens

The new cafe at Huntington Gardens has great outdoor seating.

The new cafe at Huntington Gardens has great outdoor seating.

We were meeting a friend at the new cafe in the Huntington Library and gardens in Pasadena. Jen is a member so we got to be guests. Sweet. I was here 2 years ago with UK Sarah and I was not expecting such a transformation. There is an amazing new visitor complex with a series of outdoor rooms that are a great showcase of what you can do in a dry climate without sacrificing grace and beauty.

inspiration gardenThe cafe reminded us of the Google cafes–even the dish collection system. I chose the teriyaki chicken stir fry. Connie and Jen chose the salads with pizza. It was 96 degrees outside so we ate in the cafe. We still had great views.

Jen had to go prep for a dinner party so we strolled through the gardens to the Library. I have always prioritized the gardens and so this was the first time I enjoyed the rare book collection, including the Magna Carta. It also helped that it is beautifully air conditioned!

Huntington LibraryWe also checked out the house with the Huntington’s art collection. As always it skews toward romantic French furnishings. I love the collection of Gainsborough portraits. Again, hooray for air conditioning.

We continued our stroll through gardens and we found some shady paths back to the gift shop. I am a connoisseur of museum gift shops and this one ranks up there with the NY Botanical Gardens or Buckingham Palace. That is, two thumbs up.

Another plus, they do not charge for parking and they have a small cafe right by the exit so we could grab some mini scones and cold water on our way out.

Other notes on our stay in Los Angeles

My friend Connie and I are in Los Angeles to celebrate Christie’s milestone: completing a masters degree! We flew into Burbank airport from SFO and SMF. It is one of the I have not been to Burbank airport in a while and I was delighted to see they replaced the stairs with a ramp. So while you still exit the plane outside it is a lot easier to handle my carry-ons.

Gusto steak tastes amazing.

Gusto steak tastes amazing.

We are staying at the hip and chic Elan Hotel in the Fairfax district near the Beverly Center. Our friend Jen recommended the restaurant Gusto. The Italian food was the best I have eaten in a very long time. The steak was amazing. Oh, did I mention that it was not steak we ordered. Our next-table-neighbors shared their food and we shared ours so we got more tastes! The 16 oz steak special was intimidating so Connie and I went for the Mary’s chicken and cappeccelli. We were completely full but I never say no to pie. The coconut gelato pie on a bed of chocolate sauce was perfect.

Pie so good we tasted it before the photo!

Pie so good we tasted it before the photo!

We went with our new friends Steve and Jodi to find a nightcap. We checked out several places on 3rd Street. Several places were serving dinner in their bars. We even crashed a grand opening party at Matiere, a hip men’s clothing store. Jodi talked her way into gift bags for all, but we moved on to Goldies and finally found space at the bar. Our adorable bartender from Melbourne made tasty cocktails. Connie said her martini was excellent.

Time to go back to The Elan and our quiet room for some good sleep.

Million Spokes: RAGBRAI the Movie

A Million Spokes DVDI am writing a guide for riding your first RAGBRAI so I am doing more research. I found a terrific movie, A Million Spokes, that follows a half dozen riders and tells their stories over the 7 day course, plus short profiles of lots of other participants–riders and townspeople. I was teary-eyed over and over again. Please watch it and tell me if you teared up too and if you have ridden RAGBRAI. I also laughed, winced and grimaced. I plan to use this video to recruit/educate potential team members for next year, so I would love to hear your thoughts. Note: I only found the DVD at Amazon–not available on Netflix, iTunes or Google Play.

RumbleYellI read Rumble Yell over the weekend. It is a memoir of Brian David Bruns first and only RAGBRAI ride. He is a travel writer by trade and does a fine job of telling his story. It is a quick read and gives you a taste of what your experience might be from the perspective of a small team that used an RV for their support vehicle. He emphasizes the characters you will meet on RAGBRAI and how a team may bond over the seven days.

RAGBRAI Karras

Dumbest book title goes to RAGBRAI: Everyone Pronounces it Wrong. The author John Karras co-founded RAGBRAI and this is a history of how RAGBRAI became the biggest, longest, oldest bike ride in America (when you factor in all three).  By the way, it is pronounced Rag-Bri (long i), not Rag-bray. Think “i” for Iowa.

Greg Borzo authored RAGBRAI America’s Favorite Bicycle Ride. This book features lots and lots of photographs. It is the most Insight-like guide–more essence of the ride than practical guide.

RAGBRAI BorzoRAGBRAI is also featured in Ian Dille’s The Cyclist’s Bucket List.  It is one of 33 rides listed in the United States. It gets a whopping three pages of prose and no photos. Most of the other rides are longer on photos and shorter on prose. Just a taster though, no real information on how to participate.

The good news is my RAGBRAI Virgin book idea is going to fill a niche currently not fulfilled in the marketplace. Now I just have to write it.

Google: How Do I Visit Google Headquarters?

Google headquartersI have visited the Google headquarters in Mountain View several times because I know some Googlers. At last, you can visit Google without a Googler guide. They have opened a new visitor center in the Googleplex at 1600 Amphitheater Parkway, Mountain View so everyone can visit. Google has also opened a cool park across the street that is closed to the public during the week (Googlers only) and open to the public on the weekends. There is also a gift shop with everything branded Google.

Google provides alternative transportation: bikes for around the Google campus and buses for the employee commute.

Google provides alternative transportation: bikes for around the Google campus and buses for the employee commute.

You may be wondering why anyone would want to visit Google Headquarters. It is fascinating and could be a model for the corporate workplace of the future. While it is not a destination in itself, it makes a fun stop for a day in Palo Alto or San Jose.

Garden furniture provides an alternative meeting or workspace next to the raised garden beds.

Garden furniture provides an alternative meeting or workspace next to the raised garden beds.

My Googler friend met us at Building 43 to sign in and get our name badges. On our way from our street parking we passed the brightly colored Google bikes. These are provided to employees so they can grab a bike and go to other buildings on campus.

Charlie's Cafe is home to all employee meetings although with over 50,000 employees most people participate remotely.

Google auditorium in Charlie’s Cafe is home to all employee meetings although with over 50,000 employees most people participate remotely.

We were able to see the main campus gym, swimming pool, volleyball courts, and laundry facilities. The aim is to make it easy for employees to maintain balance in their life and hence increase their productivity. There is also a lot of free food and beverages available–either from small kitchens in each building or in the dozens of restaurants.

Cafe named for first

Cafe named for first “Google dog”.

Dogs are also welcome at work 2 days a week. They even get their own id tags!

Need to

Need to “hangout” on Google without taking up an entire conference room? Step into this modern phone booth.

The campus atmosphere is casual and collaborative. Of course it is wired for technology, but the most thought has been put into providing a variety of spaces for people to connect.  Check it out.

Road Trip: Amy’s Drive Thru

Love the garden on the roof. Drip irrigation is drought friendly and the living roof should aid energy conservation.

Love the garden on the roof. Drip irrigation is drought friendly and the living roof should aid energy conservation.

UK Sarah sent me a Facebook post about Amy’s Drive Thru. I was delighted to learn this new vegetarian fast-food restaurant was located in Rohnert Park because I could combine it with a visit to my Auntie J.

Auntie knew exactly where it was located–conveniently off 101 near the new casino :(, Costco :), and an In-N-Out (what is symbol for irony?). We pulled in at about 1:00 p.m. and the tables were full, there was a healthy drive-thru line of cars and the parking lot was full. For the next 1.5 hours there was a steady line of customers and cars. It has only been open a few weeks but the popularity appears to be growing. The restaurant itself has a garden on the roof and beautiful landscaping.

Earth friendly packagingWe took a few minutes to decide between the Amy veggie burger, the various macaroni and cheese options, burritos, pizza and brown rice bowl. There are non-dairy shakes and no-brand soft drinks. Auntie ordered the Amy veggie burger. I ordered the Broccoli Cheddar Mac. We split french fries with organic ketchup. We both had ice tea and added water to this very steep brew.

The packaging is very earth-friendly without falling apart. We had choices to recycle most of the cartons and utensils. But then there was only landfill left. We thought there would be a compost option. Still a marked step up from any fast food establishments in NorCal. It is also priced as cheap eats but not as inexpensive as McDonalds or Taco Bell; however, very affordable for the quality of food.

Broccoli Cheddar MacWe sat at an outside picnic table and enjoyed talking to the other guests, including Nancy who is a big fan of Amy’s Drive Thru. This was her fourth visit and she returned to satisfy her craving for the veggie burger on a gluten free bun.

I found the Broccoli Cheddar Mac very rich and satisfying. The portion was normal size but small by fast food standards. The french fries were tasty and not at all greasy. Auntie is normally a dainty eater but she chowed down on her Amy’s burger. We would definitely go back and wish them success in this endeavor and in changing our expectations of fast food restaurants everywhere!

Turtle Tagging at Eco Beach Western Australia

Some of my best adventures have been volunteering for a cause I care about deeply (Habitat for Humanity) or penguin viewing. Catherine’s adventure combines her love for turtles and volunteering with Conservation Volunteers Australia. Thanks for the guest blog Catherine!

TravellinAussies

One of my favourite holiday/volunteering experiences was volunteering for a turtle tagging programme at Eco Beach Resort (about 180km south of Broome, Western Australia) with Conservation Volunteers Australia .

My friend, Alice, and I were met in Broome by Lauren and Anna, our guides, before joining the other volunteers on the road trip south to Eco Beach Resort.

The outdoor area overlooking the ocean at Eco Beach Resort The outdoor area overlooking the ocean at Eco Beach Resort

Alice and I chose the resort’s villa accommodation option. Some of the other volunteers chose the eco tent which, whilst fun, wasn’t airconditioned, so they found it hard to sleep during the day.

At our arrival briefing on Tuesday afternoon we were told the resort was closed until Thursday, which meant our group of eight volunteers and two guides had the whole resort to ourselves for a couple of days before an influx of guests arrived for the weekend.

We were divided…

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Art on View at Stanford University

Stanford University art galleryThe Cantor Art Museum at Stanford University is worth an hour or two if you visit campus in Palo Alto, California. In the midst of much construction you can find hourly parking nearby and visit the permanent collection and the special exhibits for free.

sculpture gardenIt is worth a stop just to see the paintings and information about the Stanford family history. Check out the borderline creepy painting of Leland Stanford Jr.’s birthday party.

There a large number of special exhibits. We saw the exhibit, 500 Years of Italian Master Drawings from the Princeton University Art Museum. I was hoping to see the special exhibit of sculptor Robert Arneson but it opened shortly after our visit.

Rodin's gatesThe Cantor has a wonderful collection of Rodin’s sculpture including an outdoor garden.

Stanford University art collectionYou can visit 6 days a week (closed Tuesdays). The museum opens at 11:00 each day and closes at 5, except Thursdays when it is open until 8 p.m.

Fun Day Out at Filoli

Filoli Garden HouseMy friend Sandy accompanied her young son to a summer school program at Stanford University and it gave us an opportunity to catch up. We met up in Palo Alto and drove 30 minutes north to the home and gardens at Filoli in Woodbridge.

One of two full size knot gardens at Filoli.

One of two full size knot gardens at Filoli.

These two volunteers are members of the local Bonsai club and maintain the bonsai knot garden.

These two volunteers are members of the local Bonsai club and maintain the bonsai knot garden.

Floli is a gracious estate. It was built by the Bourn family in the years after the great San Francisco earthquake and fire in 1906. The Bourn’s wealth came in part from the Empire Gold Mine in Grass Valley, California. The name of the estate is derived from the first two letters of the key words of the family credo: Fight for a just cause; Love your fellow man; Live a good life.

The Filoli grounds are full of organic inspired sculptures.

The Filoli grounds are full of organic inspired sculptures.

The gardens are among my favorite and this is the first time I have visited during the summer. Everything was lush and blooming. We enjoyed speaking with two volunteers shaping the miniature knot gardens.

Filoli home entranceThe home is decorated in a traditional (and stuffy) style. We did love the kitchen–especially the aqua cupboards. We also loved the sculpture scattered throughout the grounds and buildings.

Love the retro kitchen!

Love the retro kitchen!

‘There is a gift shop with nursery plants for sale and some interesting garden furniture.  We ate lunch at the Filoli Cafe. The sandwiches were fresh and delicious; however, there was entirely too much reliance on plastic containers. There are indoor and outdoor dining options.

Filoli gift shop and nursery

Filoli gift shop and nursery

Admission is $18 for an adult. Filoli is open Tuesday through Sunday, mid-February to late October. The hours may change and generally 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Filoli is located 86 Canada Road, Woodbridge, California.