Sunday, August 31, 2008

Something smelly in the air

There is something in the air in Gilroy. For one, literally: just drive to Gilroy, and you can smell the garlic from miles away.  You start imagining shrimp in a garlic butter sauce, or a roasted pork shoulder stuffed with garlic. In July, Gilroy hosts the garlic festival. Typically on a hot summer day, this great festival has many open air cooking demonstrations, has many garlic products and has great food to taste. However, whoever thought that garlic beer was a good idea, or garlic ice cream, must have eaten one clove too many. (I've tasted both. The ice cream falls in the barf category.)

Similarly I thought Michael and Claudia Bonfante's idea to build a theme park based upon trees in Gilroy was wacky. Can you imagine in Belgium: an arboretum with roller coasters? Originally known as Bonfante Gardens, the theme park is now known as Gilroy Gardens. My kids has been there a few times as part of school excursions. During this labor day weekend, and with some free passes in hand, we made the 45 minutes drive south to visit the park. 

It is a great park for 3-9 year olds. The rides are gentle and the water plays are exactly what kids need on a warm summer day. We were informed and brought swim suites and towels.

The mixture of education and fun worked surprisingly well. Funky "circus" trees, flower gardens and a nice lake to pedlle on are very nice. The monorail through the hot house is perfect: great views and short enough.

What did not work for us? (1) The entrance fee is rather steep ($42 per adult). (2) One is not allowed to bring any food into the park. There is a picnic area before entering the park. (3) Efficiency : unlike Disneyland the lines are slow moving. 

We'll might  do it again near Christmas, especially since your entrance pass immediately can be exchanged for a year long pass. Great idea. 

Thus what's next? A garlic festival .. check .. a tree amusement park .. check .. a July Harley Davidson rally in nearby Hollister .. check. There is something in the air of Gilroy. 

Saturday, August 30, 2008

A festival without a theme

Bicycle trails are few in the south bay. We can only dream of a system, similar to the "crossings" (knooppunten) in Belgium. On labor day, my son and I hopped on our bikes for a ride to downtown along the Guadalupe River.

The Guadalupe river trail (wiki) is a 11-mile pedestrian and bicycle path in the city of San Jose, Ca. It starts near the San Jose airport and brings you straight to downtown San Jose and ends near the discovery museum.

Sadly signalization can be improved a bit. For one, the fish pointing left always point left. They are not an indication of the route. Secondly, you have to cross the river on several occasions if you do not want to dead end. At least with a dead end you can not get lost.
The trail is interesting as you get to observe the flood protection system of San Jose. The last time the river flooded big parts of San Jose was 1995, a couple of months before I arrived in San Jose.
The trail is a nice and safe sneak road into downtown. You pass along the headquarters of Adobe and end at the San Jose discovery museum on Woz way, named after Steve Wozniak, inventor of the Apple computer.

Labor day weekend in San Jose typically means the San Jose Tapestry Arts festival. Feel free to skip it. It lacks some sizzle and frankly a theme. Most festivals are artsy and have paintings, soaps and hats. You need a better theme to lure people in. Wine or beer festivals do the job. Or a fruit or vegetable. The Kendall Jackson tomato festival, the Watsonville strawberry festival, the Castroville artichoke festival or the Gilroy Garlic festival are examples. I do have a suspicion that all good fruits and vegetables have been taken: all Hayward could come up with was the Hayward zucchini festival. That leaves lifestyle as a theme, which San Francisco has a monopoly on: the Haight Ashbury street fair, the Folsom street fair or Castro street fair. Does mean that the only options were a geek themed festival or a festival with not really a theme? They might as well called it "surprise"-festival to get the crowds of free loaders. We caught the end of day one of the festival. It was very much dead, with only a few people strolling around. I must have missed the lunch time crowds.

On the way back, we passed by the Shark tank (officially called HP Pavilion) where the San Jose Sharks hockey team play. We continued to San Jose airport, currently under construction as another terminal is being added. And then headed for home (another 10-15 minutes).

This was the longest bicycle trip for my son. So his demand for double icecream desert was definitely granted. And for pappi too.

Monday, August 25, 2008

We are a Costco Nation

(Or for the Belgians reading this: We are a Makro Nation).

Last weekend, we celebrated my daughter's birthday in a nearby park. The public parks in California are wonderful. There are many parks, most of them are free and have new and safe play structures. John D. Morgan park in Campbell is a large park, with 3 soccer fields, 2 soft ball fields, two areas with play structures and lots of open space. One area includes a water play structure with fountains. Kids just love it. Since last year's birthday party was a success, we were planning for an encore.

The picnic benches around the water play structure are first come first serve. I had packed our station wagon the day before and woke up early to grab a space. Just like I did the year before. At 7:30am, I arrived at the park, only to find that all 13 spaces had been taken already. Ready for plan B: grab a bench and bring a fold up table or two to create an improvised birthday setup. As long as we are close to the water and sand, kids wouldn't mind. Another poor soul had arrived too late as well and was opting for a similar plan B. He had been there already since 6:10am. Either we were dealing with a bunch of owls or the others had cheated and claimed the spots the night before. Oh-well, the last thing you want to do is fight over a table in front of sugar happy kids.

I quickly set up shop on two borrowed tables and then waited for the rest of the family to arrive. It was very interesting to observe the larger parties set up camp. Literally. One family showed up with a large pickup and a mini van packed with stuff. First, the barbie hummer was unloaded to keep little Jasmine occupied. The first big canopy was setup for shade. Four large tables and matching chairs were unfolded. Another big canopy provided for even more shade. Next up: a 4-6 person tent. Three bags of coals - they must be planning a large barbecue. Honey, did you bring the extra barbecue? And to top it off, an inflatable basketball ring was set up. Luckily they brought a little four wheel cart, so it was easy to roll the ten bags of ice from the car to the coolers. The next hours they spent setting up the tables, hanging the balloons, preparing the food.

It's all the fault of Costco! Costco is the largest membership warehouse club chain in the world based on sales volume. At Costco you can buy cereal in 5kg boxes or olive oil in 5 liter jars. Cordless phones come in packages of 6, with an extra water proof one for the pool. All these party, backyard and pool supplies can be found at Costco at rather cheap prices and come in convenient fold up packaging. Outdoor pools are not 2mx2m: they are 4m x 6m with a built-in slide and obstacle course. It is just too much.

At the end of evening, we all had a great time. The food was great, the Thinkerbell cake a hit. The kids had a great time in the water, building castles in the sand and at the arts and craft table. And so did the other family I noticed. Luckily I didn't have to stay to see them clean up and pack it all up. Unless they were staying for a couple of days ... they sure had the equipment to do so.