Monday, March 19, 2007

Vegas and a Big Ending

This one's for you, "Anonymous". Sorry to leave you hanging, guys. (Yes, we are home in CO safe and sound.)

The city of sin apparently doesn't believe in wireless Internet. The La Quinta Inn in Salt Lake has it, but the Luxor in Vegas? Nada. I guess people are too busy gambling to need Internet. People might cheat in the casinos? Who knows.

So I left you last Thursday the 15th as we were about to drive to Vegas. We made it! Hurray! A few things to note along the way:

*The San Luis Reservoir area is GORGEOUS. SO green and the water looked so inviting. If ever you want somewhere different to camp or drive through, look into it, just off of CA 152.
*We kept seeing signs for Bakersfield. That looked familiar and it was bugging me, so I called Mom up to see if maybe that's where she was born. Nope, she was born in San Bernardino, but my Aunt Marilyn used to live in Bakersfield so that's probably where I know it from. Sweet.
*We drove through Bakersfield. Not too much to note, another city in a bland landscape from the interstate's perspective, at least. Er, excuse me, the "freeway". Everything is a "freeway" in California it seems... not a highway, not an interstate... a freeway.
*We stopped at the cutest little fruit stand/orange grove area just out of Bakersfield. We got AMAZING Medjool dates from there, I never knew dates could taste like candy. We ate them as desserts for the rest of the trip.
*I kept seeing signs for "Calico Ghost Town" along I-15, and it was on my road atlas too. I absolutely insisted to Jim that we MUST stop because I'd never been to a really real ghost town before. [Picture me at age 5: Oh PLEASE Daddy, can we? Oh please, Daddy, oh please??] We pulled up to the entrance of the "park" at 5:05 and apparently they close everything down at 5 but you can stay until sunset, so we got out of paying since nobody was there to take our money. I'm glad we didn't pay, though, because it was just a restored version of what the town used to look like. Still cool, but during the day I guess it's filled with shops and reminds me of Silver Dollar City. Psh. Anyway the cemetery was cool. Old silver mining town that died when the silver market crashed.
*I watched and Jim listened to Superman Returns as the sun set. Video iPods rock.

You can sense that Vegas is coming hours before you get there. First it's all of the billboards on the interstate, then it's the mini-Vegas town as soon as you enter Nevada (from both ways)... then you come over a hill, and there it is in all of its shining energy-wasting glory. I went just last year on a roadtrip with friends, but the last time Jim went it was for his sister's wedding and he wasn't 21 yet then, so we wanted him to be able to "fully" experience it.

We entered the city just as the last scraps of light were dwindling from the sky, and they were quickly replaced with the brilliant sparkle of the casino lights. After a murderous attempt (and success) at finding parking (thank goodness it was free), we walked the TEN MINUTES to get from the car to check-in. TEN. Walking very fast. So we check in, throw the bags we had on us in the room, walk the ten minutes back to the car, grab the rest of our bags, and walk the ten minutes back to the room. By this point we're hungry, tired, achy, and in bad need of a shower.

Step One: Take a shower. Aaaaah, much better. But now it's already 9pm and there's still that hunger issue to deal with.

Step Two: Find Mexican restaurant in Luxor. Have amazing burrito. Make note of the fried ice cream for later, but too stuffed for now.

Step Three: Ignore aches and fatigue, we only have two nights in Vegas. Jim pops his first emergency Red Bull of the entire trip.

At about 10:30pm, we were ready to hit the town with a targeted bed time of 1am. (It's Vegas, it's a requirement to stay up late.) We stayed within the bounds of the Luxor and Mandalay Bay since they are connected and we each spent about $10 on nickel video poker and black jack.

Why they make checkout time in Vegas 11am as the standard is beyond me. It's VEGAS. Nobody goes to bed until at least 1am, usually between 2am-5am. But, we were forced to drag ourselves out of bed at 9:30 anyway, pack everything into the car, and have a scattered breakfast of leftovers and cereal bars in the parking lot.

Let me take a time out here to tell you of my disappointment in the Luxor. For those that have never been to Vegas, it's the casino that's shaped like a big black shiny glass pyramid. When I came here last year, I thought it was THE COOLEST and vowed that I would stay at least one night there the next time I came so that I could ride the "inclinators". The inclinators are like elevators that go diagonally up the sides of the pyramids, but you have to have a room key or it won't let you in them. We managed to sneak our way on for a few floors the last time, but this time I was determined to go to the top since it would be legal with a room key.

Well, wouldn't you know it, our room was only on the fourth floor and we didn't even need to go up the inclinators to get to it. Apparently since our room wasn't accessible by inclinator, our key didn't work in it either. No view. No inclinator. No free wireless... just a $150 room (on a cheap night) that happened to have some fake hieroglyphs on the dresser. What a rip off. So mad. If we had stayed for Friday night too, it would have been $250 just for Friday night (Vegas on a Friday night is ridiculously expensive). I'm glad we didn't. They were rude to us at check-in, too. Psh.

Check in time for our cheaper room at "America's Best Value Inn" wasn't until 3pm, so we left the car where it was and spent the next 4 hours between MGM and New York New York. Rode the roller coaster at NYNY, which was fun except the seat didn't jive with my body and it smashed my head around a bit. Jim was fine, except he realized halfway through that technically he's not supposed to ride roller coasters due to the disc he herniated last year. Oops, we'd both forgotten. But he kept his core tight and he fit better in the seats so he was fine, and I massaged his back later to hopefully make the muscles feel better. Other than that, we mostly walked around. We also bought tickets for the 7:30 showing of Zumanity, a Cirque du Soleil show... a compromise. We couldn't afford to see "O", the best one with water. Maybe next time.

Jim started to get a little testy. I finally drug it out of him that he was disappointed that if you're not ready to spend a lot of money, all there is to do in Vegas is walk around. This is true, unfortunately. The roller coaster rides alone were $12 each. The next time we come back, it will probably only be because we are going specifically to see "O", which only shows in Vegas and does not tour. I was sad that he was disappointed, so we were in a bit of a sour mood for an hour or so. Part of that may have been the fatigue too.

Around 3 we headed back to the car and got ready for a 1 mile drive that was supposed to take 10 minutes. Well, we ended up missing a turn and caught in one-way traffic with no turn offs in construction that went way past where we needed to go. It took us an hour and we drove two miles to get somewhere a mile away. UUUUGGGGH.

But we checked in, and oh how glorious it was to have a parking spot four feet from the door of our room! We got our bags in the room in no time and promptly proceeded to take a nap before we had to get ready for our show. We woke up in much better moods. Just like 2 year olds. Haha.

Next time, I'm totally just staying in a cheap motel. They're nothing fancy, but I'm no snob. The rooms were outdated and had 10 layers of paint, sure, but the beds were clean, the A/C was working, the water was running, and we got our very own parking spot right in front of the door. Only $100 (cheap for Vegas) on a Friday night as opposed to $250+ everywhere else. And once we did get ready, it was only a 10 minute walk to New York New York where Zumanity was showing. Totally the way to go, in hindsight we should have just stayed there both nights. I'm not there for the hotel room, anyway.

Zumanity. It is marketed as "The sensual side of Cirque du Soleil" for "Guests of the age 18 or over". So you can guess at the content. Overall it wasn't bad, in fact it was funny... just not what I would call "Cirque du Soleil". It wasn't that I wished I hadn't gone, we enjoyed the show... but I feel no need to go back again and it won't be on the top of my recommendation list, let's put it that way. We should have seen Ka, another cirque show (I think there are around 5 in vegas), instead. Jim and I had already seen Mystere, O was too expensive, and Love sounds cheesey (a Beetle's themed Cirque show? Who knows how that would go...).

After the show was our much anticipated dinner out. We'd been making ourselves eat our roadtrip food from the grocery store all day (aside from some pretzel sticks from NYNY), so a sit-down meal after the show was just what the doctor ordered. The plan was to go to Paris and try to find a good French meal. Well, that place was too expensive (we were willing to spend a bit, but $45 a plate is too much for me my friends)... so we found a Provencial French dinner... which is mostly northern Italian. Close enough. It was delicious and there were live performers. We got a crepe suzette to go, and ate it at Caesar's Palace out on the benches after watching the Bellagio's water show.

We had done quite a bit of walking to get everywhere we had gone, and by the time we got back to the motel my feet were KILLING me. I don't recall them ever being in that much pain (must have been the shoes, dressing up and walking don't mix, how girls walk in heels is beyond me)... I was convinced that the entire pads of my feet must be bruised if that was even possible. It was to the point that I literally ran the last block because it hurt less to run than walk, go figure. Walking into that room with the blast of cool air was one of the most relieving feelings ever. And that was a "rough" time for me, we have it so good in this country.

We got up just in time for check out (wanted to be well rested for the last leg of the journey) and went to the nearby Coco's Bakery for breakfast. It's like an IHOP near as I can tell. The food was delicious and cheap, but apparently this is what makes them popular and all told took us another hour. But, I had promised Jim that we could have a real breakfast this day for once :)

Add that to losing an hour with the time change, and technically we didn't leave until 1pm mountain time. Fast forward 8 hours through the desert. Nothing exciting to note here... the drive between Vegas and Grand Junction is *almost* as boring as driving through Kansas. ALMOST. 9pm MST in Grand Junction, and I see a Chick-Fil-A sign. We had told ourselves we could get chicken (expecting a KFC) to add to road trip food for dinner since the last of our ham had spoiled. Well, they hid the chick-fil-a... and all told between getting gas, a quick 10 minute trip to Kohl's, and finding the chicken took another hour. Ugh, so our ETA changed from midnight to 1am. (The Kohl's run, for the curious, was for Martha's birthday. I had picked up a pretty fish necklace charm in China Town for her present, but needed a chain for it, so I found a good one there at not-california-or-vegas prices. Her b-day was technically the day we drove back but the party was the next day, Sunday, which I was to attend and didn't want to have to go shopping the morning of.)

The western slope portion of I-70 is one of the best stretches of mountain road I've seen... clearly marked with bordering-on-gorgeous rest areas. The eastern slope? Not so much! We struggled to find even a line, much like the western slope portion of I-80 that Jim hated on the way through California to Scott's.

We made it home at 1:30am, sorted the mail, loved the "neglected" children (dogs and bunny), unpacked a bit... and went to bed at 3am. I got up around 11 and left for Lulu's (Martha's) party at 1 (she turned 7!)... and Jim was still sleeping. Dad would be proud... I convinced Jake to play Simon Says with the girls! That's what every dad should do at his daughter's birthday party, right? I got back from the party, and Jim was napping. So I took a nap too. From 4 to 7. I got up and made dinner, at which point Jim was finally able to tell me that he wasn't feeling well. We pumped him full of liquids, chicken, airborne and cold meds and he was perky again within the hour. Did some cleaning since the dogs brought in half the yard with them while we were gone, took care of business stuff that piled up while we were gone, then attempted to get Jim to bed at a decent time to start his new job!

Jim got to his new job just fine and had a fairly normal yet uneventful first day. He seems pretty neutral about it at this point. I nannied today so I didn't get to see him much, but from what I can tell he likes it okay. I think we'll be able to tell more when there's less signing of papers and more actual job, so we'll let you know in a couple weeks. He has orientation tomorrow at the Denver Tech Center, so he went to bed extra early so he can get up at 5:45am, yech.

So anyway, not a very exciting "Big Ending", anonymous... I'm sorry :) We were a little late in posting due to exhaustion... and lack of enthusiasm. Hehe. Thanks for reading all, I'm still checking for comments and *maybe* we might get around to posting a few pictures one of these days. Hehe, you know us, but don't lose hope either!

Sarah and New Job Jimmy

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Missions Complete

It seems to be the case with me that when I have the most to say, I'm too tired to say it all. Today was a full day and I am a VERY content but tired pup pup.

We were able to catch the early baby bullet train again this morning. We didn't have time for breakfast before we left, so we ate our pears from the market yesterday on the train... they weren't nearly as good as the samples. In fact, they were pretty bland. Blah. We ate them anyway, but we were still hungry.

We took the bus straight to Chinatown in the morning, one of the goals I'd formulated in my head. I just wanted to poke around and compare it to the ones in New York and Hawaii (and actual China and Hong Kong, haha). Jim also wanted to go. Since we were hungry, it didn't take much to convince us to walk into one of the millions of Dim Sum restaurants we found. We finally picked a hole in the wall that had locals eating at it, which is always a good sign. Neither of us had ever had dim sum, so it was a good place for a first experience... not fancy, but it was delicious. We spent the whole morning shopping and walking around China Town (I thinkI like the one in NYC a teeny bit better), then we were off to the top of Telegraph Hill to get a view from Coit Tower.

We walked up some REALLY steep hills (the ones in the movies LoL) to get up to the highest point in the bay (I think) and see the view from Coit Tower. It was $4.00 a person to get to the tippy top, which is a rip off, but I was glad we went up there even so. It was a beautiful view. When we'd had our fill, we went on a mission to find Japan Town before we got too hungry for lunch.

It's hard to find Japan Town when you haven't had a chance to look up where it is. Eventually we found it on a transit map at a bus station, in teeny tiny writing. We waited forever for the right bus (okay 20 minutes), but then it didn't take too long to get there once we got going in the right direction.

We found the perfect sushi place for a first experience. So much to write about it, but long story short the sushi chef is in the middle of an oval bar area, and put sushi plates on little boats going around on water around the bar. You just take off whatever you want as it comes along, and the plates are color coded by price so they just add up your plates at the end to charge you. Tea is included at no extra cost, and it was yummy tea. Same with the wasabi, soy, and ginger (yes I tried it all). The sushi was great, I really like it. Yummy, now I want more. Haha. They were reasonably priced, too... Jim and I gorged for $20 for the two of us. My favorite was the bbq squid wrapped around a california roll. Sounds weird but it was super yummy. (Scott's Chris (not to be confused with my brother), you totally have to go there. It's so cool. I already told Scott to take you there. He knows where to go.)

After poking around Japan Town (it's pretty small) we made our way back to Fisherman's Wharf to try to find the boat tour guy. It was 3:45 by this point, and we didn't find the guy from yesterday, but just then another boat was pulling up to let a group of people disembark, offering the same tour for the same price. We bought tickets at 4:00 when they were done unloading, and they told us we would leave at 4:30. This would be perfect, since it was an hour tour, to catch the last baby bullet train at 6:33. haha.

Needless to say they pretty much kept the boat in the bay as long as it took to get a full boat load of passengers on it. We took off at 4:55. Grr.

Once we got going, though, it was beautiful. They took us under the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz, and the guy was really knowledgeable and told us a lot of things we didn't already know (and was really funny about it), so it was well worth the $10. Plus since we were the first ones to buy tickets we got to sit in the front, which Mom and Dan know is my FAVORITE part of the boat, so we got the sea spray in our faces and everything else. Yay! It was chilly, but we were prepared with sweatshirts, so we were fine.

Of course by the time we finally made our way back to the Cal Train station we missed the 6:33 by 5 minutes... but turns out we were just in time to get good seats on the 6:56, which I had somehow missed (I thought the next was at 7:20). Still, by the time Jim and I ran to the store to stock up on more food for the last leg of the road trip, ran to Kinkos to fax one last form for his new job, and scrounged up dinner and now I tried to write this quickly (me? concise? haha)... it's really late. We wanted to get up at 6:30 but I don't think that's happening. Oh well... no big. We'll be alright.

Off to bed with us!
Me (and us)
(We've all pretty much figured out by now that if there's going to be a Sarah and Jim blog, Sarah has to write it. That's okay though, Jim is tracking the receipts and budget so it's a fair trade ;o) )

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

We Escaped from the Rock

And it was very difficult and extremely dangerous. Haha just kidding.

Thanks everyone for posting! Feels more like a conversation that way :o) Yes, climb in the ball pit... love you all... this blog should provide a few good tips for a trip out here and others we can tell you at the next bbq... Scott says thanks for the virtual hugs from Mom and Zoey, and yes brudder a BBQ would be good (and wtf is ftw?).

We caught the Cal Train early this morning, navigated our way on the street cars up the Embarcadero, and managed to get to the place to get Alcatraz tickets. All told took about two hours from Sunnyvale.

Between streetcar transfers, we stumbled upon a farmer's market on the street and managed to get some nice looking pears and oranges. Score, one goal accomplished without even trying!

When we got to Pier 33 to buy the tickets to Alcatraz (which is now a national park), there were protestors outside. I guess the union workers lost the contract to run the ferrys to the island to another company, so they're protesting and have been for a year or something like that. I kind of feel bad for them, but the reason we're here is because Jim lost his job... anyway. So we bought our tickets anyway for the next available ferry, which was at 12:45. It was 10:15, so we had some time to kill.

We walked our way down the rest of Embarcadero to Fisherman's Wharf. The last time I was here on my 9 hour layover tour two years ago, this was a completely different world since it was 5am then and nobody was awake yet (and nothing was open). After some meandering and pictures, it was 11:00 and places were finally open for lunch. My 7am Cheerios had already worn off, so we stopped at Alioto's (I think) for an early lunch. This place was supposedly the first fish stand (now restaurant) on the wharf and has been in business since the 1930s. Eating up in the high-class dining room (which had a great view of the bridge and the bay) was a trip, I felt like I'd stepped right into the 1950s, and suddenly I felt out of place in my capris... I needed a dress, and a hairdo that involved hairspray. I had fish, and it was great. Jim had some scallop pasta thingy that he kept raving about. And the San Francisco Sourdough rolls were great as always.

We walked back to Pier 33 just in time to get in line for our ferry to Alcatraz. Couldn't have timed it better. We even got seats on the top part, hurray! As soon as we got onto the bay, things got windy and it felt about 10 degrees cooler. I was glad I had my jacket, but poor Jim was cold. (How's that for role reversal?)

A sign greeted us on the island, saying that if we helped any prisoners escape we'd be subject to imprisonment. I got a little worried. ;o)

They had signs for audio tours all over, but I never feel like they're worth the extra money (especially on top of $21 tickets), so Jim and I spent about an hour wandering around the island watching a free video they had playing and giving ourselves a tour and taking pictures. There is a beautiful view of all of the bay from the island, and tons of birds and plants (all plants on the island have a historical timeline to them... as people brought them to the island).

Alcatraz Island was discovered in the 1700s and named for all of the birds that called it their home. In the 1800s (civil war era) it was turned into a military base to defend the bay, because at that time whoever controlled San Francisco controlled the world. They built a fortress on it. In the early 1900s they built on top of the fortress (or was it citadel?) to make a military prison. Then it was converted to the federal penitentiary it is famous for in the 1930s. Characters such as Al Capone served time there. It operated until the early 1960s, when the last prisoners were escorted out (was it March 21, 1963?) because the island was too expensive to maintain, it was falling into disrepair (lots of wind and the sea air taking a toll), and prison views were changing from punishment to rehabilitation (go the 60s). Then American Indians took it over in demonstrations from 1969 to 1971 (look it up, a lot to explain). Later in the 70s it became the national park that it is today. That's my brief history from memory, but it's interesting so look it up. You can use Scott's Company's website and it will do a great job ;o)

Anyway, while reading all of the plaques and wandering around the island, etc., we noticed that almost everyone had the audio tours. Why was everyone paying for this? This was unusual. Our wanderings eventually accidentally took us to the audio tour pickup, where we figured it out: turns out the audio tours are included in our tickets. Why isn't this advertised more clearly? We debated for a while, but since we were already there and they were free, I decided we should go ahead and get them. Worst case scenario, I could fast forward through it and just give it back.

It ended up being really good, and in the end the way we did it worked out for the best. Some of the places Jim and I found on our own were not on the audio tour... and we hadn't found some places that were on the audio tour. Plus, it would have been difficult to take pictures while on the audio tour anyway. Tour complete (too much to explain, you'll just have to go to Alcatraz yourself), we made our way back to the ferry and were back on the Embarcadero at around 4:30.

Tips for Alcatraz:
-bring a jacket
-bring water and a snack (even having eaten just before, we ate granola bars on the ferry back)
-wear comfy shoes
-just get the audio tour since it's included
-explore the island without the audio too
-plan at least 4 hours for it, if you take your time
-don't buy tickets online (they're $10 more contrary to what they claim, I thought that might be the case so I'm glad we didn't) and just buy them at the pier, but get there as early as possible... they were sold out for the day by noon.

We were hungry again by the time we got back (hey, it had been over 5 hours)... and we had walked by a delicious smelling bakery on the way back from Fisherman's Wharf earlier that day... so we decided to head back there to get the "world famous" clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. Mmmmm it was soooo good. The San Francisco valley has a very unique strain of yeast, which is what makes San Francisco sourdough so amazing. And the soup was great too. Apparently this is a very popular and famous bakery that's been around since the 1800s called Boudin. Definitely worth the look around. We'd have done the tour of their very own museum except they don't run on Tuesdays, maybe tomorrow.

After we finished eating we looked around the bakery shop for a while, but after a few minutes my wrists started itching like mad. Jim thought I was going crazy, because it was driving me nuts so I was acting nuts too. It was so itchy I couldn't ignore it, and eventually had to find a nearby table to set my bag on so I could check it out. I pulled up my sleeves to discover that I had hives on my wrists, weird! I have no idea what caused it. As far as they found when they tested me I'm not allergic to food, so all I can figure is that since I'm allergic to so many molds maybe there was a weird one in the air or on Alcatraz or something, I have no idea. It could be anything really. It was even more strange because the intense itching started subsiding in 15 minutes, then I washed my hands (took me that long to find a place), then it subsided some more but we stopped at a nearby Walgreens and I took some Benadryl anyway. I'm fine now, but I'll talk to the allergenist when I get home... and tomorrow I'll have Benadryl and Hydrocortizone cream riding in my bag with me. I guess from now on I should just take those with me everywhere, dammit, even more to carry around.

Jim and I spent the rest of the afternoon/evening wandering around the shops on Fisherman's Wharf and getting a sweatshirt for Jim because 1) he was cold and 2) he only owns one other sweatshirt anyway, so he could use it.

I thought the Cal Train ran every half hour, but turns out after 6:00ish it's only every hour, so by the time we walked/transferred our way to the train station, we arrived at 7:25 to have just missed the 7:20 train.

So to kill the hour until the 8:25 train, we found a nearby Starbucks in a Safeway and sipped our coffee in the station. The trains are pretty nice so the ride back was pleasant. Our feet and backs really hurt, and turns out these shoes I got in Reno are actually probably a half size too small so my toes were really crowded all day (and one of my toenails was digging into another toe all day, that explains the pain). Scott's complex has a hot tub, so we all went out to that for a while (man, it was boiling, though) and now it's time for bed.

Tomorrow we're going back into the city, the only remaining big mission being Sushi (i.e. Japan Town... San Fran not San Jose). We also saw a guy giving bay tours for $10 on the wharf, so we might try to find him (you know how I love boats). We might try to do the bakery museum tomorrow... and we're going to try to buy a loaf from them so it's fresh for the trip to Vegas just before we head back. It's just going to be another nice day, but this time we'll head back earlier.

Love and hugs to all... I'm beat :)

Monday, March 12, 2007

Googlie-Oooglie Oogle Goo

So, what is up with only Chris posting a comment? Thanks, Chris!... but as far as I know you're the only one reading! I guess I don't need to post any more, just e-mail Chris ;o) Mom? Dad? Marge? Anyone?

Anyway, before we went to bed last night Jim and I decided that we were really tired from four straight days of driving and camping, and that one day of rest wouldn't be so bad. It is a vacation, after all, and we didn't have any huge plans that we HAD to keep up with. And we do have 3 days here and only 2 days worth of things to do, really. So we didn't set the alarm.

When we woke up, we spent altogether too long deciding what to do with the day, since we were scheduled to come see Scott at Google at 6:00pm, and it's an hour and a half-ish each way to the city. We figured that it wouldn't be worth the travel time to only have a few hours in San Francisco, when tomorrow we can have a full morning, afternoon and evening.

Since one of my goals was to see an orchard, I looked long and hard and tried to find one advertised. I don't think they exist, at least not anywhere near and not at this time of year. Damn the off season. Sad day. I tried!

Then we thought we'd see the Winchester Mystery House which is supposed to be the big attraction in these parts, but a bit of searching for reviews told me that it was too expensive and boring unless you were with little kids or high schoolers. Didn't sound like that would be worth our time. So we went to Target and got a map of the area and just started driving.

So, we eventually ended up in downtown San Jose. I thought there might be some cool things to do there. Not so much. We drove through "Japan Town", which seemed to consist of a few rundown sushi places that didn't really look open (still saving that for actual San Francisco)... and not much else. Actual downtown had an art museum, but Jim and I are kind of done with art museums for a while. The Metropolitain Museum of Art in NYC was great, and I don't think this would have lived up to that. We have one in Denver anyway. So we ended up grabbing a quick bite to eat at a burger joint and shared a malt. We walked around for a bit. And then we got bored.

We decided to make our new mission to find Jim a new pair of sunglasses, and some shorts because he didn't pack any and it was HOT for jeans out today, and it's supposed to be hotter in Vegas. We ended up at some mall called "The Great Mall of the Bay Area" or something like that, but mission accomplished: $14 shorts, $12 sunglasses, and a bonus $11 nice button up work shirt that was on huge clearance. Go super shopping.

Now for the highlight of the day: Gooooooogle! Scott wasn't kidding, this felt more like a college campus than a corporate office. The grounds are beautiful and people were playing soccer and frisbee on the park as we walked up to Googleplex (there isn't enough parking, the one downside). To sign in, we typed our names into a computer and out spat sticker badges for us to wear that said Google Visitor, with our names, locations, and our host's name (Scott).

The rumors are true: you can wear whatever you want and you can bring your dog. I saw two dogs, and lots of kids. Apparently Google has its own preschool, they leased a nearby elementary school that would have otherwise been abandoned. [If Jim were ever to decide he did want to apply at Google, I'd try to teach in it haha.]

When you walk into Scott's building, there is a constant feed that shows the queries that are being pumped into Google at any given moment, in any given language. Some of them are kind of funny... one that I remember is "tvs comin soon". There is also a map of the world that shows you how many queries per second in what languages (color coded) are coming through in all over the globe, which was fun. Lots from everywhere except for Africa, which aside from South Africa and Egypt was pretty much black (nothing). It's quite the trip. Apparently Google also has its own rocket which is hanging in one of the buildings, and a dinosaur skeleton out in the courtyard.

I saw a girl wearing a Google shirt (many others would follow), and assuming I'd have to pay for one I asked Scott where I could get one. He said that sometimes they stock a cabinet with free ones, but that it's at sphorradic times and people literally camp out so that they can nab a shirt. We checked just in case but yep, nada... and I guess it was too late to buy one. Oh well, next time.

Everything in the food areas is free to take... Superfood Juice drinks, teas, espresso, gum, candies, snacks, water... you just open the doors and take it. The offices are sort of like tents inside with clear walls so that there is as much natural light as possible. Everyone has two 24" widescreen monitors and they're free to decorate their space as they like. There is a ball pit (no joke, like the little kid kind), a pool table, game machines, marker boards, continuous swimming pools, a fitness center, a tennis team, workout clubs, dance lessons... it's pretty ridiculous. Oh, yeah, and I guess they have enough employees from Japan that it justifies having the toilets with the warmed seats and water sprayers/dryers. Yessss.

We went to get dinner. There are at least five "restaurants" all over and they're all really nice. The one we went to was the mecca of food from all over the world... Indian, Italian, and I don't even remember what else because that's what I ate. Other places inlude the Pacific Cafe, a vegetarian one, and others. It's super nice and the food is very good. Apparently Scott has already been a victim of the "Google 15" and I can see why. They serve 3 meals a day. We took our food to the outdoor courtyard which was nicely shaded by all of the buildings and google theme-colored umbrellas, while many of Scott's new coworker friends came to join us. I only had a bite, but over time the dessert would simply kill me.

We left at around 8:15 and the place was still hopping with employees, something you don't see many places. I guess happy, well-fed, healthy and entertained employees are productive employees. The founders seem very young and cool. I can see them sitting around saying, "Yeah man, and our company should totally have a pool table and free food everywhere." "Yeah, dude, and espresso machines. That would be pretty sweet." It's very laid back.

It's a great environment now, but Jim and I are wondering if Google will be able to sustain this lifestyle past the next four years and if it will be able to survive its competitors. Yahoo and MSN would love to make Google dead, now. So wish Google luck. We'll just have to wait and see. Also, it seems that since many employees do not come in until around 9 or 10:00... many don't leave until pretty late. We asked around and many of them said they put in around 12 hour days. They were happy to do so, but if you had a family it makes me wonder if you would ever *really* see them. Many Google employees seem to be young and single, adding to the college feeling.

And now we're hoping to process pictures. Then it's early to bed so we can make the most of our day on the bay tomorrow.

Sarah and Awake Jim!

Back from the Giants

Once again, we're really tired! This will be another quick post, but we are back at Scott's place safe and sound.

The redwoods were amazing and we had a great trip. It was eventful in the right ways and uneventful in the ways we'd like it to be as well. The only negative thing that happened is that Jim lost his sunglasses somewhere by the largest redwoods in Rockefeller forest, but there were plenty of fabulous things to outweigh that and they're an item that is easily replaced.

The "champion" tree is 362 feet tall. We got our picture with it, and as you'd expect it won't do it justice. After a while, though, you can't tell which ones are taller because they're all so tall that you can't see the tops of them.

The canopy of the trees is tall enough and thick enough that it locks in the moisture and keeps the sun out, so that it's always shady, humid, and cool. It was very comfortable but at the same time I had very unruly hair ;o) There was also quite a bit of condensation on the tent, and toilet paper becomes something more like a wet wipe. It is green everywhere, though, and since the trees need so much water (they don't have a tap root, all shallow roots and absorb moisture from the air) they're all right next to a beautiful blue river.

Scott is off to work at Google in the morning, and we're going to take the Cal Train into San Francisco and then go wherever the wind takes us. We want to find good sushi for lunch so our adventures may lead us to Japan Town at some point, and we want to see Alcatraz island one of these days. Other goals for the city include going on the water (the ferry to Alcatraz may cure this), crossing the Golden Gate Bridge just because I can, going to Pier 39, and a few other things I'm too tired to remember so I guess they aren't big goals. A few goals for California in general include finding an orchard so I can walk among orange trees and getting some fresh foods at a farmer's market, namely avacados and citrus.

Time for sleep so we aren't huge bums tomorrow :)

Sarah and (too tired to blog) Jim

Saturday, March 10, 2007

We're off to see the Redwoods!

This is Scott, making a guest appearance to bring you this important message: we're off to see the Redwoods, bye!

Safe in Sunnyvale

Just a quick post since we're really tired and we need to get up early to get to the redwoods!

A quick recap:

-stray kitties outside the hotel are cute
-stopped so Jim could see the Great Salt Lake
-stopped to make our salads at a rest stop and it turned out to be the Bonneville Salt Flats (beautiful, actually)
-Northern Nevada is beautiful. Very hilly and mountainous, not what I was expecting
-Good weather
-We got much better gas mileage since there wasn't much wind and California was all downhill
-Took ourselves on a tour of Reno. I got my shoes, and we got to see "the strip". It's cute.
-It was dark, but it was a trip to see a ski resort and then palm trees an hour later
-Scott's place is very new and nice. He says we're allowed to go into Google, I'm psyched!

So I love you all and never fear, we are safe and sound and content.

Sarah and (almost sleeping) Jim

Friday, March 9, 2007

California here we come

It's 9:42am, and had I not tried to start the computer to tell you we were leaving on time, we'd be leaving on time. :)

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Does Jesus know he's such a commodity?

We're safe and sound in Salt Lake City. Our tummies are full. Jim's back (although stiff) survived round one, however I did have to massage his shoulder a little bit :)

In usual Sarah and Jim style, we were a little overly optimistic about our departure time. I guess that's why I padded the travel times (a lot), so it's alright. While we *did* get up early like we wanted to (6am), yesterday's getting ready activities just took too long. By the time we were done doing car maintenance, signing and copying jim's new job forms, finishing laundry, updating the itinerary and getting maps ready, getting food ready (our goal is to eat out as little as possible, if we save enough out of the budget we can go see a Cirque show in Vegas!), running to the bank and post office, getting everything to go so that Brandon could watch the animals... it was midnight and time to go to bed, without having packed yet. We didn't want a repeat of the last trip, where we only got 3 hours of sleep and Jim was super cranky pants (and I cried because I get emotional).

I'm proud to say we were both rested well enough that we did perfectly fine in the mad rush to get everything packed in the morning. Finding our camping stuff was an adventure... but a mere four and a half hours later (10:30) we were ready to go. Oy. By the time we got to Longmont and I waited for my shots (it's busier later in the morning) and stopped at Walgreens for the few things we forgot... we didn't officially hit the road until 12:30. I had wanted it to be 9:30.

The good news? The car was pleased to serve us without error thus far. We ended up taking Jim's car instead of mine, so we could go faster. We only took one break the whole way there to fuel up (etc) and make some sandwiches, so we made it to the salt lake exit in 6.5 hours.

All the way through Wyoming and Utah I saw tons of "Jesus" paraphernalia. "JESUS is the answer" bumper stickers. "ESCAPE. Jesus Christ." billboards (It had the temple on it, but it looked like an ad for Disney Land or something). "I (heart) JESUS". There were more. I don't remember. It makes me wonder how Jesus feels about being slapped across bumper stickers and billboards. Tacky. But you can go to your local gas station and buy yourself some Jesus. I wonder if that makes you holier than me, having a Jesus bumper sticker. Too bad I doubt the profits go to charity.

Things were flying. I always think of wind when I think of Wyoming, and today was no exception. First it was the Flying J (ironic, yes, I know) truck flobbling on the road, then the cardboard that flew out of the truck in front of us and smacked the bumper enough to make a giant thud and scratch the clear coat. There was a weird patch of low-lying clouds that produced rain/snow/sleet with lots of wind... but it was eerily quite beautiful as the rest of the day had been sunny and even through this cloud the sun was poking through... it was bright. It was beautiful, and only lasted 10 or 15 minutes. The rest of the trip was sunny skies with lots of puffy clouds (and more wind).

Anyway, I was trying to stay hopeful most of the trip but gave up about 5:00 and called Uncle Blake's number. Nathan (the youngest) answered, and told me Blake was at work but gave me Reanna. So I apologized and said that I thought we'd be there around 7:30 instead of 6:30.

We hit the exit ramp at 7:00, so I thought we were golden. The plan was to check into the hotel so we were sure to have our key if they closed, then to drive to Uncle Blake's a mere 10 minutes away. Never fear, it can never be that easy... Mapquest to the rescue.

I'm not even going to tell you how many streets were named differently than Mapquest said, how many times it wasn't lit enough that we could read it, or how many times we turned around. Then we finally saw the La Quinta sign, then spent another 20 minutes trying to get to it... one of those deals. We finally got there, checked in, found Uncle Blake's house by 7:45... and it turns out it's right by where we turned off of the interstate. 40 minutes. We could have been there 40 minutes before. Grr.

Well, turns out that "work" for Uncle Blake is in Europe starting today, so he wasn't there ;o) Maybe the next time! I did get to spend time with Aunt Reanna, Aunt Teresa, Tim, Tyler, and Missy. Nathan made a few appearances. Yes, they've all grown and are ridiculously tall. I told Tim that the last time I saw him he was in Kindergarten, and he said that all he remembered from Kindergarten was that backpack! Haha, that's hilarious, because all I remember about him is how much he LOVED that backpack and refused to take it off. Anyway, I thought Tawny would be there but it must not have worked out, and Christina sent me a text and said she was going to try to come but never made it. Oh well, it was a nice dinner. We did lots of catching up, but I feel like we must have done most of the talking. They were too good at asking questions! I'm really glad we did it, though, and I hope that they'll want to see us again. And yes, I tried to convince all of the kids to go on Semester at Sea. Hey, Aunt Reanna brought it up!

So we made it back to La Quinta with no problems because I think we have the area memorized now, we just had to figure it out first. Haha. We are safe and we love you.

Tomorrow will be smoother, as it's midnight now and we're going to bed. Wake up time is 8am so we'll get full rest, there's a continental breakfast, then we'll head out. I had also forgotten about the time change (to our advantage) on the way to California, so we should make pretty good time. If there's enough time, I want to see if I can't pick up a new pair of tennis shoes in Reno... I figured out that all of mine are dead when I tried to pack. The newest ones are three or four years old, and have worked at kiddie kandids, done yard work, gone around the world, around central america, on three road trips and to New York twice... it's time.

Sarah (and an already sleeping Jimmy)

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Itinerary and Contact Info

This is our updated tentative itinerary (guaranteed to be modified):

Thursday, March 8th, 2007:
-7:30-8:00am: get out of the door
-8:30-9:30am: get allergy shots in Longmont
-9:30am: depart for Salt Lake City, UT
-5:30pm: estimated arrival in Salt Lake vicinity (530 mi, ~8 hours incl. stops)
-6:30pm: Dinner at Uncle Blake's
-11:30pm: bed time at the La Quinta Inn Layton
Uncle Blake
3360 N. 2550 E.
Layton, UT 84040
La Quinta Inn Salt Lake City Layton (Reservation under Jim Harris)
1965 North 1200 West
Layton, UT 84041

Friday, March 9th, 2007:
-7:30am: wake up
-8:30am: breakfast?
-9:30am: depart for Sunnyvale, CA (Scott's place)
-5:30pm: stop in Reno, NV for dinner and rest
-11:00pm: estimated arrival in Sunnyvale (783 mi, ~13.5 hours incl. stops)
-12:00pm: bed time
Scott Williams
730 E Evelyn Ave. apt. 216
Sunnyvale, CA 94086

Saturday, March 10th, 2007:
-8:00am: wake up/kidnap Scott
-9:00am: depart for Humboldt Redwoods State Park, CA
-2:30pm: arrive at Burlington Campground (269 mi, ~5.5 hours incl. stops)
-3:00pm: set up camp (spot #037BU)
-hiking and taking pictures
-6:12pm: watch the sun set
-whatever, i'm not telling you when we're eating dinner this night, it's camping!
Humboldt Redwoods State Park (Reservation under Sarah Cantrell)
P.O. Box 100
Weott, CA 95571

Sunday, March 11th, 2007:
-DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME! Lose one hour, do not pass go.
-7:27am: watch the sun rise
-breakfast, hiking and taking pictures
-12:00pm: check out time for campground
-we'll find something cool to do
-3:00pm: depart for Sunnyvale
-8:30pm: arrive Sunnyvale

Monday, March 12th, 2007:
-Spend the day around San Francisco.
-See Alcatraz?
-Eat sushi.
-Spend evening with Scott

Tuesday, March 13th, 2007:
-San Francisco
-Spend evening with Scott

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007:
-San Francisco OR Santa Cruz/Monterey if we are bored with SanFran.
-10:00pm: early bed time

Thursday, March 15th, 2007:
-6:00am: wake up
-6:30am: depart for Las Vegas, NV
-4:00pm: arrive in Las Vegas (542 mi, ~9.5 hours incl. stops)
-4:30pm: check into the Luxor on the strip
-Vegas stuff
Luxor Hotel & Casino (Reservation under Jim Harris)
3900 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, NV 89119

Friday, March 16th, 2007:
-Vegas Stuff
-Catch the light show downtown?
-Check into America's Best Value Inn--Las Vegas
America’s Best Value Inn—Las Vegas (Reservation under Sarah Cantrell)
167 East Tropicana Ave.
Las Vegas, NV US 89109-7306

Saturday, March 17th, 2007:
-9:00am: wake up
-10:00am: depart for Broomfield, CO
-9:00pm: arrive at home! (750 mi, ~11 hours including stops)

I'm not one to hold a clipboard with the checklist and keep times to a T, this is just a general structure. Things can and will change. Hurray!

HOW TO CONTACT US (and other important info.):
Sarah's Cell: 720.261.8237
Jim's Cell: 720.317.8850
Car: Green 1999 Acura Integra, Colorado #MBC6336 (as requested, mom)
Brandon Buck: 970.214.6339 (watching animals)
Jay : 720.284.1648 (neighbor)

Monday, March 5, 2007

Road Trip to California: 3/8-3/17

We're road trippin' to California.

Jim and I have been talking about doing a road trip all along the 101 on the west coast for a long time. When we found out that he was being laid off on March 7th, we thought that it would be the perfect time to do a road trip. While we've been considering this for some time, we couldn't make any solid plans because Jim got a great job offer (hurray!)... but without a confirmed start date. Would it be March 12th or March 19th? We didn't find out until last Friday, the 2nd, that we COULD take a road trip after all... he starts on the 19th!

I started planning our route as soon as I heard the word "go". We would head out of Denver to Salt lake, then up to Boise, up to Seattle or maybe even Vancouver, head down the 101 to Portland, along the California coast to San Francisco, then out to Vegas and back home. Just what I've always wanted to do... but wait a minute. That's over 60 hours of travel time in just over a week. We'd be pretty cranky... that trip needs at least two or three weeks. And we wanted to see Crater Lake in Oregon... that will be covered in snow this time of year. Scratch the 101, that will have to wait for another time. Hmm... what to do now?

We decided to still make San Francisco our destination... I only got to see it briefly on a layover (see Semester at Sea blog haha), we'd like some place that's a little springier, and my friend Scott just moved there. It's only a 4-5 hour drive to the Red Wood forest from there, something I've always wanted to see. We can stop to see my family in Utah on the way out, and stop in Vegas on the way back. Bingo.

And so it begins...

I mostly made this for the parents, so that you can keep track of us and won't have to worry so much. I figure that we can keep using this blog any time we travel... be it by car, plane, bus, whatever. Enjoy!