It’s been June gloom for the last few weeks here in Santa Barbara, despite summer being just around the corner.But we know summer is here: School is out. UCSB undergrads are finishing up finals, deserting the bike trails and campus lawns and heading home; and the best small talk topics involve everyone’s upcoming vacation plans. Kierstin is done with her first year of teaching and now gets to enjoy her first summer vacation as a teacher after her hard work during the school year; she and her coworkers definitely deserve it. As a graduate student, I’ve spent the year with a light load of teaching, a couple of courses, and some research (which led to publications!)
Now, we look forward to trips and adventures throughout these next few months: back to the beautiful and quiet Lake Almanor our yearly trip with Kierstin’s family; our yearly camping trip, this time in the Yosemite Valley; and my upcoming trip to Tennessee and Chicago for what is basically nerd summer camp, and in between, summer evenings watching movies at the courthouse, or sunset runs along the beach, or hikes through the backcountry, or dining on good food and sipping local wine and beer in Santa Barbara, or whatever beckons and entices. But before all of those adventures, I’ll take some time for a quick update on spring 2016 in SB.
A Danish Town
There is not much that can beat an occasional splurge in the form of a weekend getaway. For Valentine’s Day, I booked us a trip so that we could experience Denmark. Windmills and old wooden buildings and horse-drawn carriages, sausages and gravies, apple strudels and fried sweet bread dripping with raspberry sauce, and clogged men and women in traditional garb; we saw it all. But it was not any farther than our own backyard, in Solvang, CA, where an ideal of old country Denmark is preserved by the locals.
I chose a weekend in March for our mini-vacation since it would be the same time as the local annual food and drink festival. We nabbed tickets early and spent that Saturday nibbling on sweet desserts and savory tastings while washing them down with generous pours of local wine and beer. The festival was extensive, and we had our fill of grilled sausage and aebleskiver (along with non-traditional samples of pizza and pho) and drank more than enough wine and beer – we didn’t even make it to every stop before we were done!
Simba came, too, since we found a hotel that was dog-friendly, and as it turned out, most of the wine and beer tasting venues were dog-friendly, too. He became a popular sight in Solvang. We would walk into a winery, and people would turn their heads, and their eyes would light up. “Simba!” They would shout. Kierstin and I didn’t even recognize Simba’s new admirers. We made sure not to let the popularity get to his head though.
Picnic Day 2016
One of our friends from Santa Barbara transferred to UC Davis, and she is just finishing her final year. We realized that she might be our last connection to Davis for a while, at least while we are young, and took her up on her offer when she invited us to her apartment for Picnic Day weekend. Picnic Day is a campus-wide community event where students and friends and families gather on and around campus and do all things picnic (in addition to the more rowdy partying that goes on.) UC Davis is my alma mater, and I had a few great Picnic Days, so I was looking forward to the rush of memories from my formative undergrad years.
We drove to Modesto from Santa Barbara the day before so that our Picnic Day experience wouldn’t be diluted with a long early morning drive. Davis from Modesto is a short jaunt compared to the long haul from Santa Barbara, so we were delighted to cruise up Highway 99 during the nostalgia-inducing trip. Sacramento came into view, and Kierstin half-jokingly suggested that we visit her old place in Midtown Sac. I was giddy to get to go to my old stomping grounds in Davis, and so I took her request more seriously than she might have intended. We took a quick detour and found ourselves in the City of Trees at her college home.
We were soon in Davis, and the festivities began quickly. The charcoal grill was lit and the smell of burning coals and propane filled the air. We were the first to claim our spot by the apartment pool and lounged around in lawn chairs while the fresh ground beef and thick spicy linguica sizzled on the grill. There was way too much food for all of us, and way too much drink for all of us, so we were more than satisfied. It was still April, but the sky over Davis was cloudless and the sun warmed up to the mid 80s. The pool was enticing but almost ice cold. Everyone was forced in eventually though; one person threw another in and others followed during the struggle. Kierstin was the fighter of the group but couldn’t overcome three people wrestling her into the pool. Once you’re in though, it’s not too bad.
By the time we were done, we had missed most of the campus events that happen early in the day, but we still decided to bike to the quad to see what we could find. Davis is known for its bikes, and Kierstin and I had strapped ours to the car for the trip from SB so that we could relive our college days of biking through the small town. We found our way through the downtown; familiar sights had me beaming and babbling excitedly about my favorite Davis memories. On campus, the Battle of the Bands, known for lasting late late into the night, was still going strong, and we laid in the grass and listened as Humboldt and Cal and Stanford and UC Davis (of course) and other visitors blared trumpets and banged drums and whistled into flutes through the evening.
Our last stop before sunset was where I spent a lot of leisure time while in Davis: the Village Homes. Inside Village Homes is a massive greenbelt where pristine lawns and parks are dispersed between tightly packed homes and community gardens, all connected by small streets named after Lord of the Rings characters and places. The place can feel like a real fantasyland, especially on misty nights when the smells of families cooking delicious dinners fill the air and the night sky is shrouded by the overgrown shrubbery and trees. Kierstin and I used to spend hours there since it was just across the street from my old house, and the lawns were perfect for letting Simba off of his leash to run around. It was just as I remembered it. I was an Aggie undergrad again, playing catch on the manicured lawn and taking breaks to sip beer as the sun fell beyond the horizon. The night bookended my Davis past nicely; we ate at Sophia’s Thai Kitchen, one of the very first restaurants that I had dinner at when I first moved to Davis.
Biking through San Francisco
I’ve written before about my two-wheeled adventures in SF, and it’s always an incredible experience to see the city by bike. I often visit Berkeley and Stanford to perform experiments at the two synchrotrons up there, and so when I had a visit to Stanford that was only two days after a visit to Berkeley, I started planning a way to make the most of my time in between. Daniel, my friend from elementary school, just finished up at UC Berkeley, and so I suggested to him that we bike around SF and across the Golden Gate. He one-upped my suggestion and proposed finding some SF happening to attend as well. An International Film Festival was in town during the weekend that I would be visiting, and we bought two tickets to a Turkish film. We didn’t know much about the movie, but the venue sounded amazing: a full restaurant/theater all rolled into one, and we learned later that we made the right choice.
I arrived in Berkley and grinded through long hours on the X-ray beam. I am always excited to work at the beamline; the massive X-ray source is a testament to years and years of scientific progress, and I’m in control of a piece of this multimillion dollar instrument – not to mention the thrill when great data is spit out by the computer. In between my experiments at Berkeley, I ran into one of my German collaborators. I traveled to Munich to work at a synchrotron in Germany last year, and now he was in Berkeley working on our synchrotron. Nostalgia again fueled good feelings, and we exchanged life updates. The morning after my experiment time was finished, Daniel, his friend Jayce, and I grabbed our bikes and rode the first leg of our journey from Berkeley to the ferry station in Oakland.
The ferry took us across the bay, under the cold steel of the Bay Bridge, old on one side and newly constructed on the other. It arrived just past Pier 39 and found ourselves at one of my favorite lesser known attractions, Musée Mécanique, an old arcade museum that has video games to antiquity and newer ones, too. Ghirardelli Square was our next stop, where we split a hot fudge sundae, with thick globs of melted chocolate hot enough to burn the roof of your mouth, but sweet relief came from the frozen vanilla ice cream that followed. A good chunk of time was spent searching for a bike store, since one of my brakes was not working, and while we were riding around, I ran into a friend from Modesto who now lives in SF. Given that the city has a population approaching 1 million (and definitely a few million live in the surrounding areas), it was a “small world” moment when we ran into each other.
The Golden Gate Bridge was our next destination. After many detours and alternate routes, stopping at the Palace of Fine Arts, riding along Crissy Airfield and through the trails around the Presidio, and finding a bike warehouse to fix my brakes, we finally got there. The weather that day was fortunate; lots of sun and not much wind, so the ride across and back was easy. Orange cables rose and fell up and down the towers as we rode along the bridge. Endless ocean sparkling from the reflection and scattering of the setting sun bordered us on one side while sailors in the bay, Alcatraz and Treasure Island, and the East Bay bordered us on the other. It was a quick trip but an experience that I’m glad to say I’ve done. On our way back, we made a quick stop at Fort Point to check out the view of the bridge from the military stronghold. We had to leave quickly though, as we barely had enough time to make it for our movie.
I think we biked about 30 miles that day through the hilly streets of San Francisco, but our longest leg was from Fort Point to the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in the Mission District, just over 9 miles. We chose to ride along the Embarcadero, which extended the route even further but let us avoid major hills. The clock was ticking; the movie was about to start; and as the way things normally would go, we hit just about every red light going up Howard. The wide SF street just wasn’t timed for bike traffic. But eventually, after the stop and go ride, we were at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. We were hungry. We were thirsty. But the movie hadn’t begun yet. We were among the last ticketholders to arrive, with only one set of three seats left in the first row.
The dine-in theater was unlike any dinner and movie experience I had ever had. There were only about four rows of seats but for good reason. Each cushioned seat reclined comfortably, and a side-table was shared by every two seats. The kicker was that we wrote our dinner orders on a slip of paper, placed it on a stand on our side-table, and were promptly (and quietly) served food while the movie played. The movie was a strange psychological thriller in Turkish, good enough on its own, but the venue just sent the whole night over the top. Afterwards, we ended up at a dark bar and played card games before catching BART home. It was 12 great hours in the city by the bay.
I don’t want to make this post too long so I’ll post the rest of our springtime fun next week.