My son Tevis is spending 4.5 months in Southeast Asia on a backpacker’s holiday. He made all of his own travel arrangements. I was having difficulty finding flights from London to Florence and Venice to London. I sent Tev a WhatsApp message asking for advice.
When Tev worked at Google he used a travel hack that was first available to Google employees then to public. Go to Google.com/flights and then search for flights. It is an amazing summary of available flights without all the palaver you find on Travelocity and similar sites. I was able to fix my flights in no time.
I also rediscovered a copy of Smithsonian Journeys, a travel quarterly magazine, that I had saved. It appears to be a new venture. You can buy each issue for $13.99 but cannot subscribe yet. My copy is Fall 2015 and the theme is “The Inca Road.” All of the articles are about the history of the Inca empire and all sorts of interesting articles from Ecuador, Peru and Argentina. It is an interesting approach that plays to the Smithsonian’s strengths. Priced like a paperback, it is worth saving. They also have tours and other services.
I just discovered a local Jane Austen Reading Group at my local library. As I was leaving I mentioned that I would miss the next month as I will be in Italy and then spending a few days in London. One of the members recommended Walking Jane Austen’s London. Sometimes the best resources are found by word of mouth from other traveller’s.
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.
The 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!
We 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.
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.
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.
I 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.
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.
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.
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.
Dogs are also welcome at work 2 days a week. They even get their own id tags!
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.
I just met a couple of young women who are making their first trip to New Zealand next week. Their enthusiasm is wonderful; I can almost guarantee that they will have a trip of a lifetime. When I tell some people that I just got back from New Zealand they get a wistful look and say, “Someday.” Or “It’s so far.” Then they tell you they have gone to Europe countless times. Obviously the American lack of geographic knowledge is getting in the way. So here is a quick primer.
New Zealand is two islands–North Island and South Island–in the Pacific Ocean with the Tasman Sea between it and Australia. The most common mistake is to think New Zealand is Tasmania–the smaller island on the southern Australian coast. Or to think that there is little distance between Australia and New Zealand when it is another 5 hours of flying to get to Sydney. (In spite of this, it is worth the extra effort to visit Australia). The British refer to Australia and New Zealand as the antipodes–meaning the far opposite end of the world. Technically the Iberian Peninsula is the antipode of New Zealand. People feel a little less like they are at the end of the world with modern communication technology, but there is still a sense of isolation.
If you live in California the good news is the time required to fly to New Zealand is about the same as to London. Last time we flew from San Francisco to Auckland it took just over 11 hours. Usually it takes about 12 to fly out, and a little over 11 hours to fly back. Okay, so it is not a quick trip, but it is a heck of lot less painful than flying to Cambodia or South Africa. Plus Air New Zealand schedules their flights so you board, mess around watching videos and eating dinner, then turn out the lights and (hopefully) sleep for 6-8 hours. Then they bring up the cabin lights and you hear coffee being made in the galley kitchen. Stretch, eat breakfast and voila! You are at your destination. Or alternatively, watch a marathon of movies.
My friend UK Sarah has a much longer journey from England. She has to fly 24 hours either through Hong Kong or through California. We now have a tradition where she breaks her return journey to New Zealand in either San Francisco or Los Angeles and we play for 2-3 days in my home state before she finishes her flight home. I wish I could make that offer to all of you. Of course California welcomes all visitors even if my guest room is not available.
There is one go-to airline: Air New Zealand. It is not the only airline. Quantas also flies to New Zealand. Air New Zealand is a member of the Star Alliance for you point seeking travellers. Air NZ does not beat the Asian airlines for service to the individual flier; however, Air NZ comes out on top when you consider the terrific customer service on the website or on the phone, the humorous safety videos, the friendly staff at check in and on board the plane, the more than adequate in flight entertainment service, and free New Zealand wine.
The time difference also confuses people. I cannot claim to understand how the International Dateline works. Everytime I think I get it I look at the map with the crazy line and lose the thread again. I actually have two clocks in my house to keep track for Skype calls. If you are on Pacific Standard Time then today you are three hours ahead and a day behind. In other words, if it is 3:00 p.m. here on Monday, it is 12 noon on Tuesday in Auckland. It gets tricky because they are on opposite seasons and also practice Daylight Savings. New Zealand will “fall back” on April 6 and “spring forward” on September 28. While most parts of the US will spring forward on March 9 and fall back on November 2. If this is all too much math for your brain, there is always Google.
Once you get to New Zealand it is easy to fly from city to city via Air New Zealand or the Australian carrier Jet Star. Driving is an option; however the roads are not as fast as interstates in the USA and you have to weigh time and money. Also getting between North and South island is a challenge for people like me who get seasick in a bathtub. I have gone on road trips from Auckland, Christchurch and Dunedin and it is worth renting a car to see more of the countryside. They drive on the left (please do not say “the wrong side of the road”). I actually find it easier and inexplicably more intuitive to drive on the left. Automatic (non stick shift or manual) cars may be harder to come by in New Zealand.
If you take a deep breath when you arrive in Auckland, listen to the Maori greeting as you enter the terminal, and allow yourself to adjust to “middle earth” time, you will be richly rewarded.