California Parks #4 – Mount Tam

This week we explored the serpentine soils of Mt. Tam located north of the bay in Marin County. We hiked up to the serpentine area from one of the higher parking lots and learned a bunch of new plants. IMG_9091

The serpentine soil had a shiny blue-green color due to the extra heavy metals that were inside of it. It limits what plants can grow and causes these patches of shrubs amongst the douglas firs.

The native manzanita
The native manzanita

This beautiful manzanita is native to only this area of serpentine soil and found nowhere else! It pretty much dominated most of the serpentine areas.

View of the Golden Gate (sort of)
View of the Golden Gate (sort of)

Near the parking lot was this awesome view of the hills behind the Golden Gate Bridge that is kind of hidden in this picture. Highway 1 is to the right, the city is straight forward, and the bay is to the left of this area. So pretty!

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California Parks #3 – Sequoia National Park

My hiking and camping saga continues with a visit to Sequoia National Park. We spent the weekend there learning about trees and the different plant communities that make up this enormous park.

The lake at Potwisha
The lake at Potwisha

We set up camp at Potwisha which is one of the first campsites near the park entrance. It was surprisingly warm for being near the Sierra Mountains. We took a quick hike and went swimming in the river. The water was absolutely lovely except for the weird bugs that lived on the waterfall.

GIANT Sequoia
GIANT Sequoia

The next morning we headed up to visit the Giant Forest which contained so many giant sequoia trees. These things were huge and they looked like they were out of some cartoon or something. Later on we stopped by General Sherman, which is considered the largest single living organism on Earth!

Panther Gap
Panther Gap

After leaving the forest, we hiked up to Panther Gap and checked out the different trees along the way. At the top of the ridge there were boulders of granite that overlooked the valley below.

Bear!
Bear!

The last surprise on this trip was a black bear that happened to be rummaging around for food near the trail. It didn’t seem bothered by us at all and kind of just went along its business poking at the ground for something to eat. It got around 30 ft from us at times but didn’t get scared or anything at all. There were some people stopped by the side of the road on the way down looking at bears climbing trees. However, we were too late when we pulled over, and only saw them running away.

California Parks #2: Sunol Regional Wilderness

This week we went to a park that was part of the East Bay Regional Parks District located about 40 minutes from Berkeley. It was a drastically different landscape than what i was used to and most of the area looked like it hadn’t seen any moisture in years. There was no running water anywhere at the parking lot since all the pipes had been shut down because of the drought. There were a few giant water jugs for drinking water thankfully.

A bird!
A bird!

We saw a bunch of really neat birds including a golden eagle, turkey vultures, and a few woodpeckers hard at work. This one was chilling out on an oak tree covered in mistletoe.

A long way down
A long way down

Everywhere that was away from the creek was pretty parched. There was a green band running throughout a sea full of yellow grass.

Fire Hazard
Fire Hazard

The hiking trail was very different from what the website pictures showed because it’s the end of the dry season. The landscape was primarily covered in yellow grass and dotted with a few oak trees. Hopefully the rain comes back soon

California Parks #1: Van Damme State Park

I’m currently taking a class that takes me on a bunch of cool field trips around the state to some amazing natural areas. Last weekend we went up to Van Damme State Park on the Mendocino Coast.

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We learned a bunch of trees while hiking around the woods. Here’s an Abies grandis… I think…

The beach!
The beach!

I went swimming in the ocean for the first time in my four years here. It was so cold I basically went numb after a minute. I only lasted about 5 min in the water but some people swam all the way out to sea. The water was pretty sketchy as well and there was a dead seal washed up on the beach about 100 meters away. At least I can say that I got to go to the beach!

Banana slug moustache
Banana slug moustache

I saw these guys coming down from our hike up to the pygmy forest. Aren’t they so cute!

London Day 8 – This way to the Ministry of Magic

This was our last day in London and my last full day in the UK after two months. It was a really amazing experience to work and live abroad for a summer and I’m really grateful for this opportunity. 

We spent our last day on a tour scoping out more Harry Potter spots and going walking around the shopping districts before everything closed at 6. 

This way to the Ministry of Magic
This way to the Ministry of Magic

The Harry Potter walking tour we took went to a lot of major tourist places that were significant to the films as well as some more hidden areas around the city. In addition to the landmarks that the Death Eaters destroy, we saw 2 different entrances to both the Ministry of Magic and Diagon Alley which were used in various movies. This picture is where the telephone booth was located and the toilets are somewhere in the City of London near Leadenhall Market. 

Remy is going to Hogwarts too!
Remy is going to Hogwarts too!

The tour ended up at King’s Cross Station that has a fake Platform 9 3/4 for people to take pictures with. The queue was about 45 min long but I did eventually get to take my picture running into the wall. There were two little girls who brought their own stuffed animals to take with them to Hogwarts and they were so cute! There’s also a Harry Potter store nearby the wall with the cart that sells slightly different stuff than the store at the studio tour.  

Lego bus stop outside of Hamley's
Lego bus stop outside of Hamleys

After attempting to go to Hogwarts, we headed down to Oxford Street to get some shopping in before we left. We went to Selfridge’s that looked nothing like the PBS show about the department store as well as Hamleys which is a giant toy store located along Regent Street. The store was packed with families looking for toys and the aisles were full of employees demonstrating toys. I wish I knew about this place earlier!

Last dinner!
Last dinner!

For the last dinner we headed back to South Kensington and had pasta at a restaurant called Loves by the museums. Each table had a tablet to order your meal from and it even allowed you to choose between al dente and soft pasta. It wasn’t exactly British but it was a good way to finish off my two months in the UK!

 

London Day 7 – A trip down Abbey Road and Harry Potter Land!

I’m a huge Harry Potter fan so one of the things I knew I needed to do was to visit the Harry Potter studio tour in Leavesden. It was definitely worth it and pretty much exceeded all of my expectations! We changed our date about a month before so we got an evening ticket but we ended up staying almost till closing. Since we went so late, we visited some of the museums in the South Kensington area, went to the Borough Market, and walked across the famous Abbey Road.  

 

macaron meringue from the Borough Market
macaron meringue from the Borough Market

After museum hopping we went to the Borough Market for lunch. It was really really crowded but the food was worth it. I had a halloumi veggie burger as well that was pretty tasty. I had been wanting to buy one of these for a while because they looked so cool and I discovered that it’s pretty much a puff of crunchy sugar. Not too sure what else I was expecting. 

Everyone trying to cross Abbey Road
Everyone trying to cross Abbey Road

Abbey Road is located a few blocks from the exit to St. John’s Wood. The street crossing was crowded with tourists like us trying to take pictures walking across the street as cars angrily honked at everyone trying to cross. It was probably the only spot that we visited that hadn’t really been capitalized on by companies looking to make money and it was refreshing and fun to visit. The studios are located across the street and are covered in Beatles themed graffiti. The signs that say “Abbey Road” are kind of hard to find. I’m guessing it’s because so many people have tried to steal them. If you look high up (like almost to the second story) on the surrounding buildings you’ll be sure to spot one. 

Diagon Alley!
Diagon Alley!

The Harry Potter studio tour was probably the highlight of my entire trip! If you go be sure to book months in advance especially for weekends because they sell out fast! It was really nice that they controlled the amount of people they let in so there weren’t suffocating crowds everywhere. The first part of the tour takes you through some sets, props, and costumes used in the making of the movies and the second part leads you through the creature shop and right down the real Diagon Alley! It was really impressive to see everything up close and in real life. A lot of things that looked computer generated were actually real like the door to the Chamber of Secrets and the door to Bellatrix’s Gringotts vault. 

HOGWARTS
HOGWARTS

The last surprise is the real Hogwarts itself! They used a model for all the external shots so there’s a giant room that houses the entire school! It was really cool to see it in person and it was extremely breathtaking and beautiful. Pictures really don’t do it justice. You need to come see it for yourself.

London Day 6 – Day Trip

On Friday we took a day trip out west to see a few famous landmarks outside of London. We visited Winsdor Castle, the Roman Baths, and Stonehenge with a tour. These places were pretty far apart so most of the day was spent riding in a bus.

Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle

We started off the morning at Windsor Castle which was about a 45 minute drive outside of London. Because it’s the residence of the queen, the only areas open are the estate rooms, doll house, painting gallery, and the church. The rooms were ornately decorated like how you’d expect a castle to be but apparently it was originally built more for defense than for luxury living. We didn’t have much time here so we just saw the estate rooms and left.

The Roman Baths and Bath Abbey
The Roman Baths and Bath Abbey

After we drove about two hours to Bath. The city was really lovely and I kind of regretted not going by myself earlier since it’s not too far from Oxford. All the buildings are historic and crafted out of limestone (I think) so the entire town has this sort of ancient feel to it. We spent all our time at the Roman Baths Museum and it was a lot bigger than I thought it would be. The audio guide also had an additional Bill Bryson commentary track which I listened to instead of the regular one. Over the past few weeks, he has become one of my favorite authors and I’m currently trying to read through most of his books. If you visit be sure to try the water at the end!

Stonehenge
Stonehenge

Our last stop before heading back to London was the mysterious Stonehenge. It was pretty interesting to see it in person and up close because it really makes you wonder why and how it was built. The historians think it’s part of some type of burial ground but it must’ve taken some kind of massive effort to complete it. This place was also really nice because of the fact that it wasn’t suffocatingly swarming with people. The open areas surrounding it made Stonehenge a really nice place to visit.

London? Day 5 – Return to Oxford

I went back to Oxford to show my parents around town and visit the Mini factory. I finally got to go to some of the places that I hadn’t been to yet too. We started off at ChristChurch College, climbed up to the cupola at the Sheldonian, and visited New College. After we went to the Mini Factory for a tour of their production facilities and had dinner at Eagle and Child. 

View from the Sheldonian Theater
View from the Sheldonian Theater

Due to all the graduations and ceremonies going on during the weekends I never had the chance to visit the Sheldonian Theater. It was smaller inside than what I pictured but the view from the cupola was fantastic. It was pretty much a 360 degree view of spires topping all of the campus buildings.  

Furry Car
Furry Car

After visiting some of the campus buildings, we took the bus down to the Oxford industrial park to the BMW Mini Factory. They had a showroom of various artistic takes on the car and the best one was this “Pet Mini” covered in cow fur. There was even an Olympics car and the car from Austin Powers. The factory was pretty neat and it was completely automated. There were robotic arms everywhere so it kind of looked like the rise of the machines or something. 

The Eagle and Child pub
The Eagle and Child pub

One of the places I had always wanted to go to but never did was this pub that was the favorite hang out of famous authors such as JR Tolkein and CS Lewis. The inside was pretty narrow and dark but full of history. All of the furniture looked like it was from a hundred years ago and the books and pictures lining the walls were antiques. It was probably the first pub I had been to that seemed like what I envisioned a pub to look like. The cider and veggie burger were delicious as well!

London Day 4 – Westminster to the West End

We continued our journey around London starting at Westminster Abbey then took a ferry to the lovely maritime town of Greenwich. From there, we took the rail to the Beatles store on Baker Street and continued on to the West End to see the Book of Mormon! 

Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey was probably the largest church I’ve ever seen and by far the most historic. It took me a little while to realize that the abbey is basically a giant crypt for England’s most illustrious people. There are effigies of deceased nobility everywhere and hundreds of stones on the ground that note the people buried underneath them. It was really weird to think that we were just walking over the graves of some of the greatest people in British history including Darwin. I’m not a huge fan of creepy things so I admittedly went through as fast as I could. 

The Cutty Sark
The Cutty Sark

After leaving the Abbey we took a ferry from Westminster Pier that stopped off at the Tower of London and Greenwich. Since we had already been to the Tower of London, we decided to take the boat all the way to the home of the Prime Meridian. Along the way, the captain made jokes and pointed out places of interest along the side of the river such as Ian McKellen’s house, some super expensive hotels, and a pub called the Mayflower which was actually the place from where the pilgrims set off to come to America. After landing in Greenwich, we were greeted by the Cutty Sark which was an old tea ship that used to sail around the world. 

The Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval Academy
The Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval Academy

The Old Royal Naval Academy in Greenwich has a beautiful painted hall and is free to enter. There are mirrors located along the center of the room that allow you to look up without straining your neck. There’s also papers with descriptions of who everyone is on the ceiling and on the far wall. I think the hall and the neighboring chapel are actually part of the University of Greenwich. After, we went to the covered market, got some really good teri salmon, and picnicked on the school grounds. 

The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales Theater
The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales Theater

We then took the tube up to Baker Street where there’s a Beatles shop as well as the Sherlock Holmes Museum. There was a super long line of middle schoolers in colorful jackets leading up to the museum so we didn’t have the chance go to in. After, we went to the West End which is the theater district to see The Book of Mormon. I think this was honestly the best and most ridiculous musical I’ve ever seen and it’s totally worth seeing. The theater was packed on a Wednesday evening and for good reason. 

London Day 3 – All Around Town

We got the London Pass so we decided to make the most of it and visit everything on the east side of London. We visited the Globe, hiked the Monument, saw the crown jewels at the Tower of London, went up Tower Bridge, then headed to the Transport Museum and the first Hard Rock Cafe. 

Shakespeare's Globe
Shakespeare’s Globe

We started off the morning at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater that was recently rebuilt. It was pretty cool to see a giant replica of an old style building that even had a thatched roof with sprinklers on it. There was also a exhibition inside that showed the process of making the Globe along with the costumes and set pieces the actors use.

View from The Monument
View from The Monument

After, we walked over to St. Paul’s Cathedral and then to the Monument that was created to commemorate the fire of 1666. We took the 300+ steps to the top and got a great view!

Commemorative poppies at the Tower of London
Commemorative poppies at the Tower of London

From the Monument we walked over to Tower Bridge where there is currently a display of poppies commemorating the centennial of the Great War. Inside we saw the crown jewels and other relics from medieval times. 

Scones at Patisserie Valerie
Scones at Patisserie Valerie

From the Tower of London, we took the tube to Covent Garden and went to the London Transport Museum that had a bunch of old buses and original subway cars. It was pretty neat to see how much transport around London has changed. After we went to Patisserie Valerie for scones and tea and they were the best scones I’ve had yet! 

We also went to the first Hard Rock Cafe and went down to the vault that had a collection of items from Queen, Jimi Hendrix, and the Beatles. One of the most interesting pieces was the letters signed by the four dividing their stocks after the break up.