Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Fort Ross

Fort Ross, California
We had a great visit to Fort Ross, a California State Park. It was a fantastic experience and this is a good time to visit as Fort Ross is celebrating it’s bicentennial.
Main Gate- Sally Port
In June 1812, a crew of 95 Russians and 40 Aleut Indians began to work on a stockaded redwood fort, built on an elevated coastal plateau. The Russians built a permanent trading base at Fort Ross and a harbor at Bodega Bay from which the needs in Alaska could be supplied.
North Blockhouse
The Fort was a Russian-American Company settlement from 1812 to 1841. This commercial company chartered by Russia's tsarist government controlled all Russian exploration. 
The Russians had nothing but problems at the Fort. Excessive hunting led to the virtual disappearance of the sea otter and other fur-bearing animals, except gophers. The Aleuts had their own village outside the walls. The most pressing problem for the Russians was that they couldn’t grow enough food to feed themselves and their Native American helpers. Life was difficult on the windswept Pacific bluffs above the cove.
Original 1836 Rotchev House
After 1845, the fort area became the center of a large ranch, and the remaining buildings were used in various ways. The Call family purchased the fort and ranch in 1874. After the collapse of the Chapel of Fort Ross in the 1906 earthquake, the site was purchased by the California Historical Landmarks Committee of San Francisco and presented to the State of California in the same year. Restored in 1955-57, the stockade is built of hewn redwood timbers eight inches thick and 12 feet high. 
The Russian Orthodox Chapel, built about 1828, was reassembled about 1917, but extensive termite damage and the effects of the weather made it necessary to do considerable repairing of the building in 1955--57. There are two blockhouses, a seven sided one at the north comer and an eight sided one at the south. Cannon ports on each of the walls of the two stories of each blockhouse could cover the walls of the fort and the landing on the beach below. Both buildings have been restored.
Fort Ross Chapel
The name Ross is shortened from the word Rossia, which is the old name for Russia. Some say that it’s from Rus but who knows. It’s interesting that most California State Parks have signs in English and Spanish. At Fort Ross, they are in both English and Russian. We met some Russians there from Moscow who said they really enjoyed the old fort and it’s russian history.
Along with the chapel, the structure of most historical interest at Fort Ross is the Rotchev house, an existing building renovated about 1836 for Alexander Rotchev, the last manager of Fort Ross. It’s the only surviving original structure. Fort Ross was outfitted for war and it’s 41 cannons are thought to have been the cause for the Spanish to construct the San Francisco Presidio.
Fort Ross Cove
Fort Ross brings history to life. It's a peaceful place on a bluff above the Pacific.
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Sikh Wedding

The Sangeet, which happened on Tuesday, got us primed up for the main wedding event coming on Saturday. It was a wild outdoor evening party filled with song and dance. It stretched late into the night and there was PLENTY of food and drink. It was a fantastic, exotic occasion. Indians do know how to party.
The main wedding started on Saturday at 9:00. The first event was the Milni; a simple ceremony where both families and wedding parties exchange well wishes on meeting each other. This is followed by light snacks and tea before the religious ceremony begins. After the Milni, a breakfast was served. 
Along with Punjabi Dancers and singers we made a slow joyous procession to the Sikh temple where the wedding- the Ananad Karaj would be held. An elephant ridden by the groom, Gopi, led the procession. 
Meaning joyful union, the Ananad Karaj was held at11:00. Sikh weddings traditionally take place before 12:00. This Anand Karaj took place at the Sikh Temple called a Gurdwara. The Anand Karaj ceremony is a happy event in which families and friends from both sides are heavily involved.
We all made our way to the Temple and took our places seated on the floor to view the 
Laava, or four stanzas. The Lavvan are read and sung during the ceremony to formalize and sanctify the marriage. The bride follows her husband, while holding a piece of cloth, four times around the central alter. The guru whispers the four golden rules of married life in her ear as she follows her husband during each round. Anu, the bride was tearful as she saw her old life fade. It was a beautiful event.
Following the ceremony is a Langar or a formal lunch where the newly married couple sits for the first time as husband and wife to receive the families and all the wedding party. Traditionally, the Groom grows a beard until the marriage and the shaves it off after the wedding. Gopi was clean-shaven for the Langar.
Gopi and Anu - Bride and Groom
This was the end of the wedding for us so we headed back the Taj hotel to unwind and get ready for our trip back to California the next day. The trip back was quicker and went back to Delhi and stayed at the Trident hotel in Gurgaon near DEL. It is one of the nicest hotels in India and they upgraded us to a suite. At LHR we stayed at the 5-star Sofitel London Heathrow that was brand new, fresh, clean and very French . . . imagine a superb Brasserie Roux at the airport.
The trip to India to be part of our friend’s Sikh wedding was outstanding and it was something we’ll never forget.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Mud Run

We love new adventures, sites and challenges and we embarked on one that's quite different than our usual food and travel. We did a Mud Run! It took place at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma County, California on a beautiful Saturday morning.
After taking up running again after a many year hiatus, it has been fun to stay motivated by signing up for road races around the Bay Area to always have a goal and keep us challenged. When looking for a race to do in May we found the Mud Run and signed up. Then realized what we had done.

Many races have funny names like “Turkey Trot” or “Bay Blast” so at first didn’t quite make the connection. Then we did some research. “Yikes! A MUD RUN? Click here for more info.

Undeterred, we made it to the raceway Saturday morning. We stood in line and got t-shirts, bandanas and a  timing chip, which you turn in for a free beer after the race, then climbed to the top of the hill to watch the first wave of runners. The race is run in waves with starts every half hour of about 200 runners.
The set of obstacles we saw was daunting enough but when we saw the first runner come over the hill navigate the ropes and wall climb and then run down to the final mud obstacle we really knew we were in for it! Undeterred, we made it to the starting line for our start. At the start  we were reminded that this wasn’t a race but a challenge. No penalties for skipping obstacles, and though the race is timed, the time is for you, there are no winners or losers here.
We started, ran, walked climbed, waddled, crawled and slithered through the 5K course. Had a great time. We were kids again! 

The sense of camaraderie among the participants is also a wonderful thing. We chatted, laughed and helped each other through the obstacles along the way. When we finally came to the final pool of mud we swam through laughing and feeling great!
We hosed off at the water truck, which sprayed water over the crowd of runners. Here we also felt a wonderful sense of camaraderie with the other participants. Nothing like getting muddy and then taking a community cold shower with 100 other people!
We finished our adventure by heading to one of our favorites. The Fremont Diner. The oyster Po’boy  with a beer was  perfect. 
Shower time …

Why don't you join me on September  23rd, 2012, at the MudMan run put on by the United States Coast Guard in Petaluma, Click here for info  

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

SFO to LHR- on the road to London

The Gherkin up the Thames from the Isle of Dogs
We were lucky enough to be invited to Chandigarh, India for a Punjabi friend’s Sikh wedding. We traveled through London and New Delhi to arrive in Chandigarh, north of Delhi.

We left SFO in Virgin business class at 16:30 for our trip across the pole to London. After a comfortable and somewhat luxurious flight –Clubhouse with limo service, seats that folded into flat beds, GOOD airline food, etcetera, etcetera- we arrived in London at 10:30 the next morning rested with zero jet lag. Nice way to travel.

Virgin Clubhouse
We had a couple of days layover in London and thought we’d do something a little different. Instead of staying in central London, we stayed out on Canary Wharf in the old East-End. You know, the East-End, where everyone speaks cockney and ‘enery ‘iggins lives down the street. At least they used too. After being bombed out in WW II, the old dock areas have been renovated into modern hotels, restaurants, and flats used by the new London geeks that are running the city’s computers. They don’t speak cockney. But there were a few older folks around who still speak a bit of the old dialect and they told us stories about the Three Penny Opera types that used live on the Isle of Dogs. 

India Quay
Took the tube across the Thames to see the Greenwich Royal Observatory. Made sure I reset my watch to Greenwich Mean Time standing on the Prime Meridian. Time has been measured from there since 1884.
The flight to New Delhi was at 22:00 and it took two hours to get to Heathrow. We took surface streets past the Tower of London, Big Ben, Buckingham palace, all the London Greats. Rush hour traffic was brutal on M4 as we got near LHR.  Once there, the driver drove through the dedicated Virgin Check-in and within five minutes we were having martinis in the Clubhouse. Cool… even made the comp haircut appointments at Virgin’s Bumble and Bumble. Another Martini and New Delhi here we come.

LHR to DEL- on the road to Delhi

The Red Fort/ Lal Quila- Shahjahanabad

Around 21:00, after the haircut, dinner and martinis at the Virgin Clubhouse, boarding commenced for the plane to New Delhi. Immediately the lovely Virgin FA’s made the beds and we slept until arriving in DEL at 11:00 the next day.

Aman Living Room
Plunge pool
After we collected our bags, the driver was there to meet us with an Ambassador for the transfer to our hotel. We had reservations for the opening of the Aman New Delhi in the Lodhi district. Great location. 

Aman hotels are based on service and luxury, so when we were upgraded to an Aman suite with a plunge pool, we happily accepted. The room  was brand new, shiny, roomy and comfortable.

The  Singapore based Aman Group has resorts around the world. We have stayed at many Amans and it was exciting to stay at their first city hotel. It was urbane and built with an architectural design that was both contemporary and very inviting.

Chandi Chowk
The day we arrived in Delhi was Diwali, an important Indian holiday. It’s known as the Festival of Lights, and is an important five-day festival for Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs. That night we met some friends who were also going to the Chandigarh wedding and together we experienced Diwali ceremonies performed by  Hindu priests that night as the sky filled with fireworks. It was a very exotic evening in Delhi, India.

There was a lot to do to get ready for the wedding involving saris and wedding coats from an Indian tailor. The best place for tailors is Chandi Chowk, an area in Shahjahanabad or Old Delhi. It was exciting that after shopping was over, we had lunch at Karim’s, a historic mughal restaurant in Old Delhi whose family has cooked royal food for the kings in Delhi over many generations.

Before leaving Delhi, the ladies on the trip had to get their Mehendi, which are elaborate designs, painted on the hands with henna. The intricate designs are usually only done on the hands for wedding guests, while the bride has henna on both hands and feet.

Houses in Old Delhi
The next day we had a 13:50 Jet Airways flight to Chandigarh. The flight only took an hour; so we had plenty of time to get there for the Sangeet, the first of the pre-wedding parties . . .

DEL to IXC- Chandigarh

Chandigarh Main Square - Sector 17
We arrived in Chandigarh around 14:35, just allowing us enough time to check into the Taj and make the Sangeet across town. Between the Sangeet and the wedding itself, we had a few days of free time to explore the unique city of Chandigarh before the wedding. Architecturally, it's the said to be the most modern and beautiful of Indian cities.

The city of Chandigarh was planned and designed by Swiss born architect Le Corbusier and was begun soon after Pakistan was partitioned from India in1947. 

Pakistan was ceded the larger western part of the state of Punjab including capital of Lahore. That left the Indian Punjab state without an administrative, commercial, or cultural capital. Chandigarh was then built to provide a needed capital for the Indian states of Punjab and the new Hindi speaking state of Haryana. The city was built on an ancient Harappan site whose culture had dominated the Indian subcontinent from 2500 BCE to 1600 BCE.

Chandigarh’s street plan is divided into 46 rectangular sectors and in1969, while digging for a shopping center in sector 17, a Harappan cemetery was unearthed. Remains include painted pottery, terracotta figurines, beads, toys and other ancient things. These objects make Chandigarh's museum one of the best in India. 

Another place to see is Nek Chand’s Rock Garden. Nek Chand Saini, a self taught artist built a rock garden in Chandigarh made of collected materials from demolition sites around the city. His work was illegal, built in a protected gorge and was kept secret for eighteen years before discovery by authorities. The garden was in serious danger of being demolished, but he was able to get public opinion on his side, and in 1976 the park was inaugurated as a public space. 

It's unbelievable, all these fantastic statues and designs that were created using cast off items from broken plates and dishes to old plastic electronic parts and wires. Concrete, shells, what have you. We just wandered through this wonderland for hours being totally surprized around every bend.  We got there early so it wasn't that too crowded but when we left around 13:00, the crowds were arriving. It's worth a trip from Delhi to see Nek Chandi's and his guest artist's work.  

The garden is visited by over five thousand people daily, with a total of more than twelve million visitors since its inception. Nek Chand’s Rock Garden is truly a sight to behold.

After spending time seeing Chandigarh it’s time to start getting ready for the Sikh wedding . . .