Sunday, July 20, 2008

Napa Valley to Golden Gate Park (Part II)

Ok, so my last post ended with us in Napa Valley, being disappointed that it was too windy for us to ride a hot air balloon. I'd post a photo of us standing by the balloon basket, looking disappointed, but we happen to look really bad just then (the day started at 5 a.m., after all). Instead, for your aesthetic enjoyment, I'll post this photo of what a partially filled hot air balloon looks like when it's too windy to take it up.

Also, just so you can get a feel for the size and weight of the basket, here's a little video showing what they had to do to get it back on the trailer for hauling around.




The whole operation was a big production, with all the people and equipment they have. I could see why it was so expensive to take a trip (the tickets were over $200 each). One of the pilots told us that the envelope (the fabric part) can cost $35,000. This company uses really heavy duty ones, that last only a year or two, because they take them up daily (except on windy days). Their biggest cost, though, is liability insurance. Not a single insurance company in the U.S. will cover them, so they get their coverage from Lloyd's of England.

We really enjoyed chatting with the pilots. One of them mentioned that they used to go to hot air balloon competitions, where they'd have contests to land in certain spots and so forth. But, because they flew every day and most the people they were competing against were hobbyists, they always won the contests, which didn't make them very popular and resulted in them being "uninvited". We also learned that they carry a bottle of champagne with them on each flight, so they can give it to the owner of the property where they land. They try to get the owner's permission in advance, but sometimes because of the weather or other conditions, they are running out of fuel and just have to land whereever they can, and then make friends afterwards!
We also enjoyed a conversation with the man who drove our shuttle van to and from the launch site. He had been an air traffic controller in the Newark New Jersey airport on September 11, 2001, and told us about his experiences that day. He now lived in California because he had met a woman on the internet and moved there to marry her. The two of them were older (he was in his 50's when they married), but they wanted to have kids, so they travelled to China and adopted two orphans. He said that the Chinese government mandates that you must take a tour of China before you can adopt an orphan from there, and that's what he and his wife did.

So anyway, even though we didn't get a hot air balloon ride, we were still glad we had gone to Napa Valley because it was such a beautiful place and we enjoyed meeting the hot air balloon people.

We then headed back into San Francisco. Our first stop was the Ferry Building, which had been a huge transportation hub before the bridges were built across the Bay. It's right near the Bay Bridge (here's a photo of the Bay Bridge from there).


Today there are still ferries coming in and out of the dock, but the building is now mainly a shopping center for foodies! We enjoyed all the free samples of various types of olive oils, chocolates, toffee, bread, cheeses, and so forth, and bought a few things for lunch (including sourdough bread and fancy cheese...you can't go to San Francisco without eating sourdough, right?!)

We then made our way to the Palace of Fine Arts, where ate our lunch and shared some with the birds. This is a place that had been built for a big world exposition in the early 1900's. The main dome is currently blocked off for remodelling and adding structural support. Even so, it was still a beautiful spot for lunch.



We then headed to the Golden Gate Park. I'd never been there before and was surprised at how wooded and untamed much of it was...I guess I was expecting something a little more manicured. There are manicured parts, of course, but much of it has the feel of a forested area.

One of the highlights there was visiting the Conservancy of Flowers.


They had a special butterflies exhibit where you walked into a room that was filled with colorful, beautiful butterflies flitting around along with all the plants.




The rooms were very humid, and were all kept at slightly different temperatures to accommodate the types of plants that were in each one. We tried to stay clear of their carnivorous plants (not that they could really eat us, although it reminded me of that "The Little Shop of Horrors" movie with the monster plant). We enjoyed seeing the plants with enormous leaves (like 3 feet across), and all the orchids. There was a Buddhist monk in his orange robes touring the exhibit the same time we did, which was kind of fun. There was also a guy sitting outside playing the drums, also something I don't see every day.



Next we headed to the Japanese tea gardens, also in the Golden Gate Park. The garden is filled with bonsai trees, waterfalls, ponds, bridges, and replicas of Japanese temples. It's a very peaceful place, and did remind me of the beautiful gardens I visited in Kyoto and Tokyo. Here's a shot of a temple with bonsai trees and waterfall in front.




I was amused to see this totally steep bridge in the Japanese tea garden.



The thing that amused me about it was that the steepness had no functional value, since it wasn't like something tall needed to float under it (especially since there was a surface level bridge right next to it). And, the steepness had a bit of a cost, as you can see the difficulty people had going over the bridge in the photo below.



But, maybe that's part of it's attraction...in a world full of practical, functional things (which I appreciate in my daily life), it can be a nice break to see something that exists solely for beauty, for whimsy, or for fun. That's the type of thing that's just right for vacations.

I've run out of time again today, so I'll tell you about the rest of our trip in a later post.

1 comment:

sillybobs said...

thanks for the photos and details! Looking forward to the next installment.