World’s Best Botanic Garden at Kew

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I wanted to save money on my last hotel night in London before I caught my flight home from Heathrow, and still be able to do something interesting. I love, love, love the Royal Botanic Garden. If it is not the best in the world, it is in the top three. It also is conveniently located to hotels and a subway station. So my plan was to take the train from Essex to London and the Tube to Kew Gardens, check in and spend the rest of the day in the gardens.

IMG_1807Whoopsie, no one told the London Underground and they decided to do maintenance and close the station at Kew Gardens on Sunday.

I could recount the perils I faced finding my way to Kew, instead I am going to recount the many kindnesses I received:

  • UK Sarah driving me to the train station and staying until the train arrived.
  • Woman offering me the tip about taking the train to Kew Bridge station and then catching a cab.
  • Security man allowing me through with my goofy train/underground ticket.
  • Young man who carried my 50 pound bag up the stairs at the Kew Bridge station.
  • Pub man in Kew calling a taxi for me.
  • Hotel reception that included carrying my bag up the stairs and setting up my fan on a 90+ degree day.

Was it worth all the trouble? Definitely yes. Just look at this beauty!

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The Royal Botanic Garden at Kew is constantly changing. It has been a few years since I last visited and it now has a Treetop Walk. I really enjoyed the experience of walking through the tops of trees with a bird or squirrel view. Please don’t make people who are afraid of heights go up. I saw people really suffering. It is not for everyone.

Another new feature is The Hive, a fascinating interactive experience to celebrate the role of honeybees in nature. I love bees and this was a joyful time for me.

It was a very hot day and I was already worn out from traveling all day. I found the gardens motivating me, still, some old men (one with a cane) were walking down the path faster than me. I stopped for an ice cream cone and it melted faster than I could keep licking and I used napkins to mop up my continuing mess. I tucked them in my bag because there wasn’t a trash can nearby. Later when I wiped sweat from my face, I must have spread chocolate all over my face! When I was on the treetops walk, a kind woman leaned over and whispered, “You have chocolate on your face.” I was chagrined but had to laugh. How long was I walking around with chocolate all over?

The Kew Gardens Hotel is a lovely, relaxed pub hotel. There is no A/C, but the fan did it’s work. The food was just okay but the environment was convivial and the staff super helpful. The journey to Heathrow Airport in the morning was a cinch. I hope I can return in a few years.

The Giant’s House Finally!

I have visited Akaroa three times and finally I was able to see The Giant’s House. It seems it is more famous with foreign visitors than with Kiwis. None of my friends from New Zealand–even those who love Akaroa–had heard of it. This sculpture garden is an eccentric treasure.

I admire people with vision who develop the skills to execute it so masterfully. I am such a gadfly in my interests, I cannot imagine sticking with a project 17 years, let alone staying with it still. Josie Martin combines her love of horticulture with her artistic expression through painting and mosaic sculptures to create a truly original garden on the hill.

Someone in the village told us that she offered to create mosaic sculptures for the town of Akaroa, but the town council said no. She turned the no into a Yes! Yes! Yes! The hours are limited because she manages it herself. On the day we visited we paid the artist $20 each to visit her garden and gallery. We could stay until closing. We made sure to return and thank Jose for the experience.

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One of several ceramic self-portraits of the artist in the gallery.

I am so glad I finally got to see the Giant’s House. Find out more at Trip Advisor. (#1 of 27 things to do in Akaroa.)

Rediscovering Santa Barbara, Part I

IMG_0219Santa Barbara is a great place to visit but because it is awkward to get there from Sacramento I had not visited in years. Until UK Sarah selected it as our destination for our US adventure this year. It was an absolute joy from the food to the lodging to the variety of activities available. Then this is always a beach if you just want to veg.

The hardest part was navigating to and from LAX for the all important pick up and drop off to Air New Zealand. LA traffic. Need I expound?

It took us a little over 3 hours to drive north from our breakfast stop in Santa Monica. We were not in a hurry and the views are at times lovely. We were there before fire season thankfully. The sky was gray in the morning followed by a lovely blue in the afternoon. The temperature was perfect for walking in the botanic gardens and cycling along the waterfront.

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We stayed at the Harbor House Inn conveniently located with bicycles for guests.

We stayed at the Harbor House Inn and found it easy to walk almost everywhere we wanted to go or to use the guest cycles to pedal to the downtown shopping or along the shore. The first night we walked to the harbor and enjoyed amazing chowder and seafood at Brophy’s. The next morning we walked around the corner to the only remaining (and original) Sambo’s restaurant. I have so many memories of breakfast and lunch with my grandparents Olson at the Santa Rosa Sambos. I had to relive this experience. Nothing, and I mean nothing, has changed… menu, decor, and politically incorrect name.

On our first full day we checked out the Old Mission Santa Barbara somewhat of a misnomer since it is still an active Catholic church. It is a great way to get grounded in the history of Santa Barbara.

After a refreshing break at the Daily Grind, we visited the beautiful Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. The warm afternoon had us seeking the shadier walks and moving just a little slower. There is an interesting early water irrigation system and some beautiful old trees.

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You may also reach Santa Barbara by train. One of the other group of guests at our Inn had walked a couple of blocks from the train station with their luggage. Almost everything is walkable or biking distance from the Inn so it makes a completely viable car-free option.

Longwood Gardens Photos Tell the Story

I have met avid gardeners while visiting other famous gardens and seminars and they always gush about Longwood Gardens. I have finally made it to see it in person. Wow. It is amazing. The conservatory is incredible. The photos will do a better job of telling the story. Take a peek.

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Longwood Gardens opens everyday at 9:00 a.m. and August 3 will stay open for extended evening hours for a celebration they call Nightscape.

We dedicated about 4 hours to see the gardens and Pierre DuPont’s house.

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All along the way we saw the healthiest specimens of flowers, trees, shrubs, with an emphasis on native plants. The regular summer rain and humidity produce gardens I could never replicate in California.

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All along the way the staff members and volunteers did their best to enhance our experience with information and help. How do you maintain a 300 acre garden, conservatory and historic buildings? With 400 employees, 700 volunteers and student interns.

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The Italian Water Gardens have a timed fountain display. It was very soothing to watch. There are so many fountains, including a gigantic display under reconstruction in front of th Conservatory.

We stopped at the Terrace Cafe for a light lunch and a cool drink. My food was disappointing. I barely at the everything cookie. Yes, I didn’t eat the cookie. The pita chips with hummus tasted stale. Plus it is expensive. You cannot bring anything besides water so sometimes you just have to eat at the cafe. There are more upscale restaurant options too.

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Pierre DuPont’s weekend home was lovely and full of interesting historical information about the property. It allowed a peek into DuPont’s impressive life–he was CEO simultaneously for DuPont and General Motors.

This part of Delaware is beautiful and I can see why so many people choose an Inn or Garden for their wedding.

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Children were really enjoying the Conservatory’s children’s garden.

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This Conservatory is vast.

The parking is free and admission is $20 per adult. Our Brandywine Treasure Trail Passport included Longwood. The gift shop is excellent so save some time to shop.

 

Find Your Van Gogh

“Last year Dave planted a field of sunflowers. His neighbors thought he was crazy. No money in sunflowers. When they asked him why he would do something so foolhardy he replied, ‘Because I can’t afford a Van Gogh.”

Kevin Kling, The dog says how. p. 45

To help you find your Van Gogh: Reprinted from Bay Delta Tourist blog, June 25, 2016

Do you love fields of sunflowers to photograph or to admire? Well you are sure to find satisfaction on your Sunday drive if you first consult the blog at VisitYolo.com. They update the Yolo Sunflower Map weekly.

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If you see fields that are not listed, contact them so they can share your sightings with other sunflower enthusiasts.

VisitYolo’s website has a wealth of information about the attractions of places in Yolo including Winters, Davis and Woodland.

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.

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.

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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.