Friday, December 19, 2014

San Francisco: "Walt's Trains" exhibit at The Walt Disney Family Museum


The Walt Disney Family Museum

Walt Disney with Santa

"Tootle" book cover
You can purchase this in the gift shop.
A special exhibition, “Walt’s Trains,” is currently running at The Walt Disney Family Museum.  Using, vintage photographs, video, and artifacts, it explores the maestro’s interest in trains.  Several model trains chug through the exhibit as well.  The show is located in a separate building behind the main museum, which is a bit closer to the spectacular view here of the Golden Gate Bridge.

view of Golden Gate Bridge from restroom at The Walt Disney Museum in San Francisco
In fact, I was surprised and pleased to be able to enjoy a loo with a view—I could see the two orange towers from the women's restroom!  The train show runs through February 9, 2015. Admission is included with museum ticket.

More things to do in San Francisco

Way more things to do in San Francisco.

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two top images courtesy of venue; third image ©2014 Carole Terwilliger Meyers 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Greater East Bay: Danville, Blackhawk Plaza and Blackhawk Automotive Museum

Blackhawk Plaza  3380 Blackhawk Plaza Circle.  M-Sat 10-8, Sun 11-6.  Landscaped with manmade rivers and waterfalls, this exclusive shopping center provides a soothing atmosphere in which to shop.

fresh berry cheesecake in Draeger's Market at Blackhawk Plaza in Danville, California
Though the exclusive market that once serenaded its customers with shopping music played live on a grand piano is gone (posh Draeger’s Market has replaced it), exclusive shops here provide a glimpse into the lifestyle of the area's wealthy residents. 

●Blackhawk Grille  (925) 736-HAWK.  L-D daily, Sat-Sun Br.  Reservations suggested.  At this elegant spot a pianist sometimes entertains.  Refined salads and trendy pizzas share the menu with fresh fish entrees and a hamburger.
The Little Pear  (925) 736-4800.  B-L-D daily.  No reservations.  Expect informal dining and big portions of well-priced polished comfort food--the Rodzilla burger, deep-fried artichoke hearts with aioli, plus salads and sandwiches.  Both sweet and savory crepes are also available. 

exterior of Blackhawk Automotive Museum at Blackhawk Plaza in Danville, California
Blackhawk Automotive Museum  3700 Blackhawk Plaza Circle, at one end of Blackhawk Plaza, (925) 736-2277.  W-Sun 10-6.  $8, students & 65+ $5, under 6 free.  Now an official venue for the Smithsonian Institution, this stunning museum building is constructed with plenty of gleaming glass and polished granite.  Really two museums combined into one,  this automotive museum provides a complete history of automotive design along with a display of approximately 90 classic and rare automobiles dating from the late 1890s into the 1980s.  Especially impressive are the huge, shining Bugattis and Duesenbergs.  An Automotive Art exhibit displays 110 years of automotive fine art dating back to the mid-1800s. 

More things to do in Danville.

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images © 2014 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Monday, December 15, 2014

Best Christmas Lights and Sights in San Francisco Area

I’ve always enjoyed all the wonderful Christmas sights and events in the Bay Area and have written about them since my very first book, which was actually a booklet, titled “Getting in the Spirit:  A Guide to Bay Area Christmas Events.”  I've added a page at my website that is inspired by this interest and by my appearance on John Hamilton’s On-The-Go talk show on KGO on December 14, 2014.  Here are some of the best San Francisco Bay Area Christmas lights, sights, and events.  Get on out there and enjoy them!

2-story gingerbread house at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco

image © 2014 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Friday, December 12, 2014

San Francisco: Alcatraz Island, @LARGE, Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz


@LARGE, Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz 
     Artist Ai Weiwei is a political prisoner under house arrest in Beijing.  Because he is not permitted to travel outside China, he helped install this extraordinary exhibit from there.  He says, “When you constrain freedom, freedom will take flight and land on a windowsill.”   In this case it landed on our windowsill at Alcatraz.  The exhibit is installed in parts of the former prison that have never before been open to visitors.  By demand of the artist, there is no additional charge to see this show.  However, a guided tour is an additional $20 fee and is available only on the first trip of the day at 8:45 a.m.  These reserved tickets are not available through Alcatraz Cruises; reservation information.  The show runs through April 26, 2015. 

These are the exhibit sites:
Building 64, at the landing. 
View an introductory video about the exhibition and also some video works by Ai Weiwei. 

1.  New Industries Building
Inmates who had earned the privilege were permitted to work here for money or to earn time off of their sentence.  

dragon at Ai Weiwei exhibit at Alacatraz in San Francisco
With Wind:  This airy exhibit centers on a traditional Chinese dragon kite made from kites.  The dragon’s face has Twitter-bird eyes and @aiww eyebrows.

overview of Trace Lego work at Ai Weiwei exhibit at Alacatraz in San Francisco

closeup of Edward Snowden portrait in Trace Lego work at Ai Weiwei exhibit at Alacatraz in San Francisco
Trace:  Constructed by volunteers from more than one million LEGO bricks and resembling needlepoint, these portraits depict more than 175 political prisoners from around the world.

closeup of Tan Zuoren portrait in Tace Lego work at Ai Weiwei exhibit at Alacatraz in San Francisco
While here, select one person.  Then look him up in the book provided, read his story, and remember his name for later.  My person was Tan Zuoren.  His biography reads, “Convicted of subversion of state power, Tan is a writer and activist who had published articles online about the repression of the 1987 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protest, and investigated the deaths of thousands of children when their schools collapsed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.  In 2009 he was sentenced to five years in prison.  He was released in March 2014.”

fuzzy view from Gun Gallery of Tace Lego work at Ai Weiwei exhibit at Alacatraz in San FranciscoRefraction:  A separate entrance leads into the narrow Gun Gallery section, where a large sculpture depicts a bird’s wing in which the feathers represent Tibetan solar cookers.

2.  Cellhouse—A Block
This is the only remaining section of the original military prison constructed in the early 1900s.  The Birdman of Alcatraz, Robert Stroud, was moved permanently to a cell here because of his disruptive behavior.

Stay Tuned cell at Ai Weiwei exhibit at Alacatraz in San Francisco
 Stay Tuned:  This audio installation occurs inside twelve cells.  It uses sound in the form of music, poetry, and spoken words—all from people who have been detained as political prisoners because of their creative expression of their beliefs.

Arya Aramnejad:  This Iranian singer performs “Ali Barkhiz” (“Ali, Rise”).

Pussy Riot:  The Russian feminist punk rock group performs "Virgin Mary, Put Putin Away (Punk Prayer)."

3.  Cellhouse—Hospital
Illumination:  In two psychiatric observation rooms you’ll hear the sound of Tibetan and Native American chanting, drawing connections between China and the U.S.

Blossom at Ai Weiwei exhibit at Alacatraz in San Francisco

Blossom at Ai Weiwei exhibit at Alacatraz in San Francisco

Blossom at Ai Weiwei exhibit at Alacatraz in San Francisco
Blossom:  Porcelain toilets, sinks, and bathtubs hold fragile, beautiful porcelain castings of flowers. 

4.  Cellhouse—Dining Hall

writing table in Yours Truly at Ai Weiwei exhibit at Alacatraz in San Francisco
Yours Truly:  Here you can write a postcard to your selected prisoner.  Look him up in the books to determine which postcard picture you will find his mailing information on, secure a postcard, and write a message with words of hope.

mail bin in Yours Truly at Ai Weiwei exhibit at Alacatraz in San Francisco
When you are done, place it in the mail bin and it will be mailed.  Free WiFi is also available here--a first on Alcatraz--so that you can post your experience to social media.  Use #AiWeiWeiAlcatraz. 

●The free exhibit brochure provides many insights, as does this webpage
●“Ai Weiwei:  Never Sorry” is an informative documentary about the artist and is worth seeing before your visit.

Every wonder why they call it the slammer? 

More about Alcatraz.

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images and videos © 2014 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

San Francisco: Cafe Dolci

Cafe Dolci  740 Market St./3rd St., Financial District, (415) 392-9222.  M-F 7-4; $.  Cash only.

line at entrance to Cafe Dolci in San Francisco
This literal hole-in-the wall has no seating, either indoors or out.  It is grab-and-go.  However, the made-to-order banh mi sandwiches are delicious, inexpensive, and fast.  A trio of fresh shrimp spring rolls stuffed into a soft wrapper with mint, lettuce, and noodles include a peanut dipping sauce.  Combo #8 with ham and pate is made with crunchy bread and packed with pickled veggies.  Pate, soy sauce, and cilantro are optional.

counter at Cafe Dolci in San Francisco
Shumai dumplings and barbecue buns dim sum are also available. 

Cafe Dolci on Urbanspoon

More things to do in San Francisco. 

Way more things to do in San Francisco. 

Travel articles to inspire and help you plan some spectacular getaways.   
images ©2014 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Friday, December 5, 2014

San Francisco: SFO

Emirates flight attendants
a slew of spiffy stews
Emirates is now flying a daily non-stop from San Francisco SFO to Dubai using the huge double-decker Airbus A380, which is the world's largest passenger aircraft.  

economy section on Emirates A380
The entire lower deck is devoted to 399 seats in economy service, and the entire upper deck is divided between 76 business-class seats with lie-flat beds and 14 first-class suites with private cubicles.  

shower cubicle on Emirates A380
If you are able to snag one of those top-level seats, you will also have access to two lounges and--are you ready for this?--a shower cubicle!  Someone asked me if I would take a shower there.  I replied a resounding YES!, absolutely!, simply because I could not pass up the opportunity to say I had done so.  Techies are going to like features such as the 1,800 world-wide entertainment channels available on demand as well as Wi-Fi and satellite telephone service.  

irst class seat on Emirates A380
Having flown Emirates Business Class a few years ago on its Boeing 777, I can attest to the luxury, comfort, and food.  I would love to fly this airline again if only for the memorable Indian black pepper chicken entree that still causes me to salivate when I think about it.  

customer John Briggs in Business Class on Emirates A380 aircraft
customer John Briggs enjoys Business Class on an A380 flying from Bangkok to Hong Kong

Things to do in San Francisco.

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Travel articles to inspire and help you plan some spectacular getaways.   

top 4 images ©2014 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

bottom image ©2014 Jeff Feiffer

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

San Francisco: Le P’tit Laurent

Le P’tit Laurent  699 Chenery St./Diamond St., in Glen Park (Monterey exit off Hwy. 280), (415) 334-3235.  D daily, SunBr; $$.  It’s hard to beat Sunday brunch here in this often-sunny neighborhood business enclave.

interior of Le P’tit Laurent in San Francisco
Cozy bistro decor in this cheery French restaurant includes Venetian plaster walls, a pressed-tin ceiling, a 1940s art deco-style wood bar with seating, and classic French advertising posters adorning the walls.  Some banquette seating is available, but I fell in love with our small table positioned next to a half-open Dutch door that let in revitalizing air.

Eggs Benedict at Le P’tit Laurent in San Francisco
My selection from the brunch menu was a no brainer—eggs Benedict--here served with French fries and a refreshing small salad.  My husband opted for a vegetarian omelette.  And, but of course, French toast, mussels, and escargots are also options.  We shared a basket of three pastries and finished that as well as most of the complimentary bread basket filled with warm baguette slices—especially delicious topped with butter and cherry jam.  The bottomless Mimosa added some lovely color to the table and cheer to the conversation.  When I expressed disappointment that my cafe au lait was served in a regular cappucino cup, I was informed that this is a bow to disinterest on the part of most customers for the larger handless bowl that is classic in France.  It was too late for me, but if you would like one just request it when you order.  It was obvious everyone was enjoying themselves because festive chatter alsmost drowned out the atmospheric French background music.  Dinner brings on a country-style French menu that might include sautéed sweetbreads with walnut crust and mushroom coulis, steamed mussels with white wine and garlic, lapin façon Normande (rabbit Normandy with fingerling potatoes), le cassoulet Toulousain maison (housemade cassoulet of duck leg confit, pork, and Toulouse sausage with beans), and fall-off-the-bone-tender lamb shank braised for 6 hours and served with French green beans and lamb jus.  Desserts might include tarte tatin et glace vanille (warm apple tart with vanilla ice cream) or pain perdu et glace caramel (caramelized French toast with caramel ice cream).  A special $27 three-course Neighborhood Menu is available Sunday through Thursday and includes soup or salad, entrée, and dessert.

Le P'tit Laurent on Urbanspoon

Bird & Beckett bookstore in San Francisco
After, we browsed the Bird & Beckett bookstore a few doors down, then headed up Diamond Street to wind our way up and over Twin Peaks and on down to Market Street, which is quite a scenic drive during daylight hours.  Alternatively, the free Alemany Flea Market that operates on Sundays from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. is just a few freeway exits away. 

More things to do in San Francisco. 

Way more things to do in San Francisco. 

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images ©2014 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

80 North: Richmond, Huong Tra

Huong Tra  12221 San Pablo Ave. #8/after MacDonald Ave., (510) 234-7428.  L-D M-Sat; $.  No reservations.

interior of Huong Tra in Richmond, California
Located in a strip mall, this is a small place that serves up large portions at bargain-basement prices and usually has a wait line.  Tabletops are polished granite, chopsiticks and forks are wrapped up neatly in a napkin, and beer glasses are chilled.

crispy prawns at Huong Tra in Richmond, California
Sure things on the extensive menu include the Vietnamese crispy pork-and-shrimp pancake with fresh herbs, the spicy chicken rice plate, and the crispy prawns served atop a sort of onion-ginger salad.  Additional popular dishes include shrimp fried rice, lemon-beef salad with minced peanuts, and a cubed beef rice plate that is a version of shaken beef (bo luc lac).  Rice plates and vermicelli bowls are generally good, as are shrimp dishes and Vietnamese sandwiches.  Drinks include a good Thai iced tea, iced coffee, and boba smoothies.

Huong Tra Restaurant & Deli on Urbanspoon

More things to do in Richmond. 

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images ©2014 Carole Terwilliger Meyers 

Friday, November 21, 2014

101 South: Palo Alto, The Beam Store

The Beam Store  425 University Ave., (855) 200-2326 (BEAM).  Taylor is a face in a Roomba-like robot who chats with me from upstate New York.  He is the host in this unmanned Beam store, which has been open just two weeks and is the first remotely staffed store in the world!  Apparently Beam can beam you around the world for the price of a car.  I suspect you are probably first hearing this here!?  If I received one as a gift, I think I would save it until I find/select my new cat and then I would use it to keep in touch with my kitty when I am traveling.  Or maybe I would dress it up in one of my outfits and give it to my grandkids to have video chats with me--I could follow them around and we could keep talking.  What would YOU do with it?

More things to do in Palo Alto. 
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video ©2014 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Highway 49--Gold Rush Country: Rough and Ready

Rough and Ready  5 miles from Grass Valley.  

blacksmith building in Rough and Ready, California
In 1850, about 3,000 people lived here.  A proposed government mining tax got townspeople angry enough to vote to secede from the Union.  They named their town for the 12th President, Zachary Taylor, who was nicknamed “Old Rough & Ready.”  The new republic lasted just three months.

firehouse in Rough and Ready, California
A Secession Days Celebration occurs on the last Sunday in June and includes a pancake breakfast at the firehouse.   

Things to do in nearby Grass Valley.
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images ©2014 Carole Terwilliger Meyers