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August 27, 2006

Exploration week

Grunderskolen SF'06

After a weekend of complete relaxing that let me get back on top after an intensive summer there was only this last week left of my stay in California. Since there was still plenty I had not gotten to see in the Bay area I made a decent attempt at stopping by quite a few of those I still had left. I was originally planning to do a longer trip as well since we had an entire week off, then either to L.A., Yosemite, Mexico or Canada, but circumstances forced me to abandon such plans so I ended up just driving around the Bay area instead.

Often visited by the girls are the Gilroy Premium Outlets shopping mall, so when Arthur suggested a trip to the Great Mall after Øystein and his buddies left on monday, I convinced him that we should go there instead. There were brand stores for everything from Armani and Hugo Boss, to Billabong, Banana Republic and Quicksilver, and even Jelly-Belly jelly beans! However the selection available in each of the stores were disappointing and we ended up buying almost nothing even after spending hours upon hours walking the entire immense mall area covering more than 3 mega sized blocks. Since it was getting late already we dropped by the all-american Applebees grill for a great dinner. I had a combined platter with both a house sirloin & a side of honey-grilled salmon, and both were excellent and there were lots of food! Despite that I just had to try their triple-chocolate meltdown pictured on a desserts specials card on the table... just heavenly but combined it was all a bit too much. Then when we had picked up the car and started heading home we almost drove into Bjørn. He and the others had just stopped by Gilroy on their way back from a weekend in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. It certainly is a small world :-)

As usual I spent the tuesday morning on Skype with my girlfriend Carina. Due to the time difference and me having had Tuesdays off all summer it has been a suitable arrangement. Afterwards I headed out again, this time alone, to check out the museum at NASAs Ames Research Center which is just up the road from Park Place. As there are two Ames-museums, one for NASA and another for the U.S. Air force, there was some initial confusion about where I was going and they let me into the base to drive around by myself, believing I was looking for the Air force museum. However that one was closed (which I knew) so I ended up driving over most of the base looking for the other one, which was actually located just outside the gates. I found it eventually, but it was in a tent and kinda small, so not very exiting despite a few good exhibits. The one at Cape Canaveral is heaps better, but at least I got to see the base itself from the inside :-) Afterwards I headed towards the Intel Computer History Museum, but it was more of a play-and-learn area for kids, so not very interesting for me and again with only a few good exhibits. At least both of them were free of charge. By now I was quickly running out of time, but with my trusty GPS guiding me I decided that I'd try to reach the U.S.S Hornet at Alameda Point before the closed for the day. It is a floating museum of a highly awarded WWII aircraft carrier that also took part in recovery of the Apollo missions, a truly immense sight even if it is just half the size of todays Nimitz class carriers. Since it was getting late I only made it in time to join the last guided tour of the command tower, but I got to walk around quite a bit on my own as well. When the ship closed at 5p.m I considered going into the city and visit the Norwegian Seamens church, but in the middle of rush hour and with the Oakland Bay Bridge partially closed, I decided that it would probably take too long to get there as they close at 6p.m, so instead I headed along the northern coast of the bay and got stuck in traffic there as well. Since I hadn't eaten yet I stopped by Denny's Diner for dinner on the way, and it was I good thing I did, for it took me almost 2 hours to drive back to Park Place because of the traffic and roadworks. Because of this I got so tired that I just spent the rest of the evening at home.

By now most of the people away on trips last weekend had returned, so we all just ended up laying around the pool area most of the day. Then that evening the girls were having a girls-only dinner at Cascals, where Dankert and I joined them a bit later on. There girls were not done chitchatting however, so Danker and I continued onwards to Molly Magees to have some beer and shoot some pool, and was joined there by the rest of the gang later on and stayed until quite late. It was sort of a goodbye party for most of us and the final time some of us would meet before going back to Norway.

About an hour south of the Bay area lies Santa Cruz, a small beach-town with a famous classic boardwalk/amusement park. Most of the others have been there several times this summer while I've been doing other things, but I couldn't leave without even going there once, so on Thursday I headed south to spend a day on the beach. On the way there I also stopped by 'The Mystery Spot' where "unexplained" physical phenomena make balls roll uphill and people slant on level ground. In reality it is just an optical illusion of course, created by building a slanting house on a very steep hillside, but the effect is quite cool and ingeniously created, and especially fun for kids I'd imagine.
Afterwards I headed straight down to the beach to work on my tan before returning to Norway, and when the sun started weakening in the afternoon got up and walked a bit along the boardwalk were I had dinner and tried some of the varous snacks they were selling, including some really good cinnamon roasted pecan nuts and frozen chocolate covered bananas. It was all awfully overpriced of course, but I just had to try it once...
On my way back to Mountain View I got a call from Gloria who had some extra tickets to a circus show in the San Jose HP Pavillion stadium. Since I didn't have any plans I thought that would be cool, so I just stopped by Park Place shortly before picking up Eivind and Gloria and going to see the Ringling Bros. "greatest show on earth". It was nothing of the kind of course, mostly just a bland and uninteresting show performed with american bravour, at least until the finale where they had a dozen guys on motorbikes driving at the same time inside a quite small round steel cage... it was truly amazing how they managed that! (See
this bad video that I shot with my mobile phone)
On our way out some Mexican tried an insurance scam on us, making a ruckus and claiming that our car-doors had scratched his car, pointing to what was a pair of barely visible marks in the dirt on his doors. After figuring out what he was on about (luckily both Eivind and Gloria speaks Spanish) we ignored him and just drove away as he wrote down our license plate number, calling it a night as soon as we got home.

After catching a few hours by the pool first thing in the morning and stopping by Bjørn to say goodbye before he left, I drove down to San Jose to visit the Winchester Mystery House that Øystein and I drove past with Armin during our first week in SF. The house is a large 160-room mansion constructed continuously for 34 years by the crazy widow Mrs. Winchester with the money she inherited from her husbands firearms-industry. While the tours were expensive and the house are in somewhat bad shape, it is a really amazing place, but the super-sized souvenir-shoppe and especially the well kept gardens make it worth the trip by themselves. Then just as I was leaving the house I noticed that the Santana Row shopping mall was just across the street, so I decided to check it out as well as I haven't been there during the day before. It wasn't really all that much interesting there, mostly ladies shoppes, but I ended up buying another Oakley t-shirt there anyway, after all it will be a while until I get a chance to get any more of them for a decent price. Then I headed north along the bay and stopped by the Stanford Shopping Mall which I hadn't been to yet either. It on the other hand was pretty good, with lots of gadget-stores like Oregon Scientific and the Discovery Channel store, as well as several candy shops and of course lots of clothing and apparel stores. I bought a t-shirt here too, this time from Abercrombie & Fitch, as well as some gifts for the people back home before continuing over to the Searchforce offices for a last visit to say the final goodbyes and play a few more rounds of foozball. I ended up hanging around the offices for a few hours until just before it got dark so I could head up to Skyline Boulevard and get a panorama view of the bay area by night, but it turned out to be all foggy and impossible to see anything from up there. Instead I headed back to downtown San Mateo where I had dinner at the L&L Hawaiian BBQ fast-food joint, and afterwards I found myself a nice cafè/winebar on B Street where I had a cup of hot chocolate before heading back to Park Place for the night.

Another day, another morning by the pool. And today it came time to find a ComCast-office and pay the final bill and cancel our cable and broadband subscriptions. When all such practical details had been handled I headed back out to Stanford to get some extra video of the campus area there, and discovered that there were an outdoors art and wine festival going on all along University Drive in Palo Alto. They had lots of cool things there so I ended up spending several hours walking and looking around, but due to the problems of getting stuff home in one piece I eventually decided against buying anything. That most things were quite expensive as well also helped reach that conclusion... Afterwards I took the I-280 straight into San Francisco to finally visit the Norwegian Seamens church. There I met Lisbeth, our program coordinator from Innovation Norway, and also several other of the people working there. When they closed down at 6p.m I headed down to Union Square, the main shopping area in downtown SF, to purchase a few more gifts and visited both and NikeTown and several other clothing stores. I also had dinner at a thai resturant there before going home. When I got to Park Place some of the others wanted to see a movie, so we ended up making it just in time to see "John Tucker Must Die" at the Redwood City Century cinema which was the nearest place that movie was still showing. Thank god for TomTom or we wouldn't have made it at all, and even if the movie wasn't all that good it was at least entertaining and a nice way to round off this evening before heading to bed.

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