Tag Archives: California

Wells Fargo History Museum at San Francisco

While reading Warren Buffett’s 2013 letter to the Shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway a few days ago, I was reminded of the Wells Fargo bank and its History Museum at San Francisco, that we visited during our honeymoon last year.

As we could learn in the museum the history of the bank is very much linked to the expansion of the nation to the West in the XIX century, the discovery of gold in California, and mail and express services.

Both founders, Wells and Fargo, were prominent figures in the express services (what now would be UPS or FedEx). They had already formed American Express, and wanted to expand to the West, however most directors doubted about the idea, and Wells and Fargo decided to start that venture in 1852 independently, with the aim of providing express and banking services in California.

After a bank run in 1855, Wells Fargo emerged as a sound, dependable bank practically without competition in California. The fate of the West expansion was since linked to the bank, which provided not only banking and express services, all types of other services of transportation, communications, the iconic stagecoach service, the Pony Express, etc.

Thus, the visit of the bank’s museum becomes a discovery of some of the details and processes that helped and fueled the expansion to and development of the West coast.

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The museum is located besides the HQ of the bank at Montgomery Street, the entrance is free and I do recommend the visit.

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Bay to Breakers

While reading the tourist guide about California in preparation of our honeymoon, Luca discovered the race “Bay to Breakers” in San Francisco. We checked the website, the dates, we saw it was going to take place during our stay and so I subscribed to it.

For those who haven’t heard about it, Bay to Breakers is more than just a race. It is a city event. A party that has been going in San Francisco since it was first celebrated in the year 1912, partly to boost the city’s morale after 1906 earthquake. This year they celebrated 102nd edition. Bay to Breakers obtained the Guinness World Record as the largest footrace in 1986 with over 110,000 runners, while today they count with between 60 to 80 thousands. Another fun fact: it is the longest consecutively race in the world (not having changed length nor course along these 100 years).

The race is a kind of carnival, very much like the San Silvestre Vallecana in Madrid in New Year’s Eve. It goes from one side of San Francisco, Embarcadero (in Howard street), to the other by the Pacific Ocean, after 12 kilometres (see the map here, PDF).

The atmosphere was great, despite of the bombing in the Boston marathon having taken place just a month beforehand, for which we observed a minute of silence prior to the race in memory of the victims.

Most of the participants were wearing some costumes, perhaps more than in the San Silvestre in Madrid, as the weather is milder at this time of the year.

Not knowing the circuit nor the streets, my intention was just to run the 12 kilometres in less than 1 hour, that was the time I had indicated in order to start from one of the front corrals. In the end, I felt quite good running, even during the climb up in Hayes Street Hill I kept up running (I only needed to make a quick stop by some urinary at the 4 km :-)).

Bay to Breakers circuit.

Bay to Breakers circuit.

The views of the race were especially good at the beginning while running along the civic center area, where most of the cheering crowd was, and then at the Golden Gate Park, which was also the longest part of the race. However, in the final kilometres there weren’t many people cheering, which is the only weak point that I see of this race in the comparison to the San Silvestre Vallecana in Madrid.

Having pushed hard in the last 4 kilometres where the profile was descending to the sea-shore, finishing with a sprint after a turn by the Dutch mills of the park, I finished in 58 minutes, two minutes below my initial target. A very good experience for my first race in the USA.

Finishing.

Finishing. 

One final fun fact: at some points in the race I encountered groups of runners that were somehow chained to one another. I found it strange but not so much, as I have seen runners pulling a chariot, dressing in all kinds of costumes in coordination with other runners, etc. Only after having finished, I learnt that these were centipedes!

There is a special classification for centipedes, which are teams of 13 runners attached to one another. In fact the record of the Centipedes category (LinkedIn 2012) is 36’44”, which is over 1 minute faster than the best ever women time and way faster than I would ever dream to accomplish!

P.S.: For the San Silvestre team: shall we go for centipede team next time?

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Manzanar War Relocation Center

During our honeymoon, on the way back from visiting Edwards AF Base, we decided on the spot not to take again highways 58 and 5 to San Francisco, but to go North by the Eastern part of Sierra Nevada and cross the whole of Yosemite National Park the following morning. With this new route we would drive more miles, give away a hotel reservation in Fresno but we were able to see the Red Rock Canyon State Park (famous for scenic rocky formations, featured in several films), Mount Whitney (with 4,421m the highest point of the Lower 48), Mono Lake (a terminal lake famous for its alkaline water) and Manzanar…

Manzanar War Relocation Center

Manzanar is the site where one of the concentration camps where thousands of Japanese and Americans with a Japanese origin were imprisoned during World War II. Manzanar is one black spot in the US history, let me quote from the Wikipedia:

Dr. James Hirabayashi, Professor Emeritus and former Dean of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University, wrote an article in 1994 in which he stated that he wonders why euphemistic terms used to describe camps such as Manzanar are still being used.

Let us review the main points of the debate. Over 120,000 residents of the U.S.A., two thirds of whom were American citizens, were incarcerated under armed guard. There were no crimes committed, no trials, and no convictions: the Japanese Americans were political incarcerees. To detain American citizens in a site under armed guard surely constitutes a “concentration camp.” But what were the terms used by the government officials who were involved in the process and who had to justify these actions? Raymond Okamura provides us with a detailed list of terms. Let’s consider three such euphemisms: “evacuation,” “relocation,” and “non-aliens.” Earthquake and flood victims are evacuated and relocated. The words refer to moving people in order to rescue and protect them from danger. The official government policy makers consistently used “evacuation” to refer to the forced removal of the Japanese Americans and the sites were called “relocation centers.” These are euphemisms (Webster: “the substitution of an inoffensive term for one considered offensively explicit”) as the terms do not imply forced removal nor incarceration in enclosures patrolled by armed guards. The masking was intentional.

I didn’t know about the imprisonment of Japanese Americans in American soil during the war until I came to Manzanar. During the same trip, we also had the chance to learn more about that topic in those times in Seattle at Pike Place Market, from where many Japanese Americans were first dispossessed from their shops and assets and then sent to concentration camps like Manzanar. 

After learning about this, I guess that the months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941) surely must have been very dramatic in the USA, and that political upheaval felt in DC must have been tremendous. Not only how to respond to that attack but to which extent were they safe in American soil, the suspicions or paranoia that people must have felt, the man haunts that must have happened, the incomprehension felt by those Americans…

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized the Secretary of War to designate military commanders to prescribe military areas and to exclude “any or all persons” from such areas. The order also authorized the construction of what would later be called “relocation centers” by the War Relocation Authority (WRA) to house those who were to be excluded. This order resulted in the forced relocation of over 120,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds of whom were native-born American citizens. 

Today is a National Historic Site that can be visited from dawn to sunset, on foot or by car, following a defined route which guides you through where the different parts of the camp were located, of which only a handful are standing or have been re-constructed.

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See also some pictures from the other spots that I mentioned we saw during that day:

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Sequoia National Park

When planning our honeymoon, with main destination California, it early became clear that other national parks were optional but the must visit would be the Sequoia National Park.

The schedule of the trip was tight and we were not up to long walks or hiking routes, however, with a good map and a car we could reach many of the sights in the west part of the park (be aware that within the park there are no gas stations, so you better fill up the tank beforehand).

We slept over at Montecito Sequoia Lodge and before breakfast I took the opportunity to run in the forest. It wasn’t a long run, just 8km, but it was wonderful though the climbing part was tough as I went up until Big Baldy (2,503m) where the 360º sights of snow-covered mountains and valleys were superb (it’s a pity that I did not take the photo camera for that morning run).

Run from Montecito Lodge to Big Baldy.

Run from Montecito Lodge to Big Baldy.

After breakfast, we spent the day driving through the park seeing most of the highlights of the park and dozens if not hundreds of sequoia trees. The biggest one is the General Sherman Tree, if not the oldest nor the tallest nor the widest (as there are other trees claiming those records).

General Sherman Tree.

General Sherman Tree.

It is the biggest by volume, with 1,487 cubic metres, with an estimated age between 2,300-2,700 years and about 1,900 metric tones of estimated mass (that is 10 times the weight of a blue whale or almost 200 times that of an elephant). You can see some explanation about the tree in the sign post from the park pictured below:

Sherman tree explanation.

General Sherman tree explanation.

There are many other stunning sequoia trees living or fallen, that make the visit to the park special, even if at the end of the day you end up not deviating the sight from the road to see one more sequoia.

Apart from the trees, there are many other worthy things to do or to see, including the stunning views from Moro Rock, or the different meadows you could walk by.

Enjoy some other pictures we took at the park:

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P.S.: By the way, Luca had just learn before this trip that you need not to go to California to see sequoia trees, but that in the region of Cantabria (Spain) you can see them as well! At the Monte Cabezón.

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Bubba Gump Shrimp Company

If in a previous post I described the feast of garlic we had in The Stinking Rose, now I will tell you about the shrimp feast we had in Bubba Gump Shrimp Company restaurant.

The restaurant is part of a franchise with about 40 restaurants in the world, half of them in the USA and the other half overseas (for the readers of the blog living close to one of them, this post will be nothing surprising).

If you were wondering: yes, the restaurants are named after the movie Forrest Gump. We learnt from the Wikipedia that just one year after the release of the movie, the idea came up and the licensing and setting up such a restaurant chain began.

When I saw the movie I didn’t particularly like it very much. I thought it was too much of it. But then after some years I caught some sympathy for the character of Forrest because of being yelled “Run Forrest” at some times by someone thinking very funny of himself when you passed-by running and he was drinking some beer with his friends.

So, during the last trip to California I didn’t hesitate in trying out one of these restaurants, and we visited the one at Pier 39 in San Francisco. I loved the experience! (No need to say that I have always loved shrimps…)

Before entering the restaurant the chances are that you may take some picture as the one below (this one is from the Universal Studios restaurant, though):

Bench alike the bus stop of the movie Forrest Gump.

Bench alike the bus stop of the movie Forrest Gump.

The restaurant is fully decorated with images and memorabilia from the movie. I had not watched the movie in years, but it was nice to be reminded of it in that way. Catching up passages when seeing pictures, reading catchy sentences…

Some of those catchy phrases have turned into very useful things. E.g., in some restaurants it’s hard to catch the eye of an elusive waiter, no matter whether you want to order, to pay, or to ask anything. If they want to, the waiters will manage to avoid making eye-contact with you. In Bubba Gump restaurants this stress is eliminated by the introduction of two signs with the texts “Stop Forrest Sop”, to call for the waiter, and “Run Forrest Run”, to let him know you are OK.

"Stop Forrest Stop" signpost to call for a waiter.

“Stop Forrest Stop” signpost to call for a waiter.

Shrimp feast at Bubba Gump restaurant.

Shrimp feast at Bubba Gump restaurant.

Another thing that we kind of liked was the small quiz presented to us by the restaurant manager: she asked some 5 questions about the movie for us to earn the already ordered meal! (I think we failed the test, but they allowed us to eat anyway :-)).

Finally, I admire the fact of having built up a whole franchise based just in a passage from a movie. You may think of the many movies with which you could try that (e.g. a “007 Martini Bar” where all cocktails from James Bond movies are prepared and the place is decorated with memorabilia from the movies) but then I cannot recall having seen such opportunities being chased.

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San Diego Marathon

“The next time you’re in the USA, run a marathon there”. Those were the words from by brother Jaime after he took part in Chicago marathon in 2011.

It has taken me 2 years to go back there. This time for my honeymoon. This did not stop me to follow the advice. I went through a website with all the marathons in California and found that San Diego Rock’n’Roll marathon was taking place on the very last day of the trip. Perfect! That way the muscle soreness of the following days would not interrupt the tourism activities.

June 2nd, the day of the race was only one month and a half after March 17th, when we ran Rome marathon, thus I did not follow any special training plan for this marathon. I just tried to keep the form with which I arrived to Rome by running often, though I didn’t do any series session and only one long run… I paid for that.

The atmosphere was very good but only in some neighbourhoods, in others not so many people cheering the runners. Along the road 163, during the steepest (up to 6% along 1km) and longest (about 4km) climb there was almost nobody. Even if the overall profile is a descent I found the course quite tough. The times of the first 3 runners seem to say the same (2h15 for the winner, 20 minutes more for the second…). The other thing that I didn’t like much was the solid or the lack of abundant and varied solid supplies along the course. I thus only relied on my 3 energetic gels and drinks.

Course of San Diego marathon as recorded by my Garmin.

Course of San Diego marathon as recorded by my Garmin.

San Diego marathon profile.

San Diego marathon profile.

At 5:30am, before departing.

At 5:30am, before departing.

I went quite well at the expected pace (below 5’20” / km) for the first 28 kilometres, then I started to miss endurance and right afterwards the long climb “killed” me. I, however, did not stop and kept running up, if very slow (most of the runners in my time -between 3h45 and 4h- where walking during those kms). I’ve gone through much tougher situations in the last years, thus I only thought “well, slow the rhythm and the climb will finish at some point, keep up”.

Running at some point of San Diego marathon.

Running at some point of San Diego marathon.

In the end I finished in some 3h56’19” as clocked by the official chip (see the report of the race as recorded by my Garmin here). I was happy enough with the result and with having finished the second marathon in the year, another sub-4-hour marathon (the 4th in a row under 4h) and the 9th overall.

San Diego marathon finisher diploma.

San Diego marathon finisher diploma.

San Diego marathon medal.

San Diego marathon medal.

9 marathons!

9 marathons!

Enjoying the feat.

Enjoying the feat (behind me: San Diego Padres baseball stadium).

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Air Force Flight Test Center Museum at Edwards AF Base

During the recent honeymoon trip to the USA, Luca and I managed to visit 5 aerospace museums, 3 airplane assembly lines, 2 US air force bases and 1 space observatory… be sure some of the coming posts will be related to that side of the trip.

Air Force Flight Test Center Museum at Edwards AF Base

Since we were going to visit California and we would be around the desert of Mojave I thought that we could make a detour to visit Edwards Air Force Base, where the Flight Test Center of the USAF is located.

The Flight Test Center has got a museum which is open to the public, for which identification is needed and no carry on items able to take pictures of videos are permitted. The museum is free and opens 5 days a week. On top of that there is a monthly guided visit of the air base, flight line included. This tour is offered only once a month and you have to subscribe with some time in advance.

Several dozens of aircraft have first flown at Edwards and that, together with Rogers dry lake is what makes the place so special.

First Flights Wall at Edwards AFB (public domain image).

Some very famous flights at Edwards: the Bell XS-1 which first reached the speed of sound with “Chuck” Yeager at the controls, the test campaigns of the YC-130 (Hercules), C-17 Globemaster III (and the prototype YC-15 from which it got many features), testing of the Space Shuttle, testing of today’s state of the art fighters F-22 and F-35… take a look at the wall to get an idea.

Rogers Dry Lake is by itself a national historic landmark. The lake formed thousands of years ago, and today it’s mostly dry along the year and the strength of the ground permits it to have several unpaved very long runways in its lakebed. The longest one being over 12 kilometers long. It also has the world’s greatest compass rose marked into the lake to help flight test pilots guide themselves. It was there, in the lake, where the now retired Space Shuttle would land in its return from space.

Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards (public domain image).

The exhibit at the museum displays a replica of the XS-1, the first 2 F-22 prototypes, an exhibit about the formation of the lake, the history of the base, some remarkable test pilots, etc. The outdoors display has as a highlight a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird (a classic in US aviation museums).

Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird at Edwards (public domain image).

The area of the base is of 1,200 km2 (this is about 1/7th of the region of Madrid). The visit to it, museum included, lasts about 3 hours. There are veterans offering explanations at the museum and at one restoration hangar within the base. Our guided tour was led by a young aerial photographer, Jet Set  (what a name! :-)), who made if very enjoyable.

Along the flight line of the base, for the pleasure of European-based spotters (who don’t have the chance to see them often), were some test F-35s, F-22s, C-17s, Global Hawks, F-16s, etc. Apart from some aircraft flying around. I, however, missed seeing the B-2 that was somewhere “hidden” in the base (next time!).

Edwards AF Base entrance.

Edwards AF Base entrance.

Rosamond Dry Lake (a lake close to Rogers Dry Lake).

Rosamond Dry Lake (a lake close to Rogers Dry Lake).

YC-15

YC-15.

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