Friday, October 30, 2009

Gavin Newsom Withdraws as Candidate for California Governor

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has withdrawn from the race for governor of California. His official statement follows:

It is with great regret I announce today that I am withdrawing from the race for governor of California. With a young family and responsibilities at city hall, I have found it impossible to commit the time required to complete this effort the way it needs to — and should be — done.

This is not an easy decision. But it is one made with the best intentions for my wife, my daughter, the residents of the city and county of San Francisco, and California Democrats.

When I embarked on this campaign in April, my goal was to engage thousands and thousands of Californians dedicated to reforming our broken system and bringing change to Sacramento.

I would like to thank those supporters, volunteers, and donors who have worked so hard on my behalf. I have been humbled by their support and am indebted to their efforts. They represent the spirit of change and determination essential to putting California back on the right track.

I will continue to fight for change and the causes and issues for which I care deeply — universal health care, a cleaner environment and a green economy for our families, better education for our children, and, of course, equal rights under the law for all citizens.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Happy 25th Birthday to the Monterey Bay Aquarium

The Monterey Bay Aquarium turns 25 today. The aquarium ha welcomed over 46 million visitors in their 25 years of operation. They have also distributed over 32 million Seafood Watch guides in the ten years since it was created. The aquarium is routinely ranked as the No. 1 aquarium in the country.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is the only institution to successfully exhibit great white sharks and has also been a pioneer of jellyfish exhibits inspiring other similar exhibits around the world. In fact, the new jellyfish exhibit at the Newport Aquarium (KY) in the Greater Cincinnati area looks quite like the Monterey Bay Aquarium's past exhibit "Jellies: Living Art" (now an online only exhibit.)

The aquarium website features an interactive timeline of major milestones from inspiration, to construction to the present day.

So wish the Monterey Bay Aquarium a Happy 25th Birthday, and, if you are a Monterey County resident, you can come and celebrate free of charge (you'll just need to bring proof of residence.) The aquarium will also have a special feeding at the Kelp Forest exhibit at 11:30 a.m. According to the aquarium's Sea Notes blog: "rumor has it, the fish are getting a special birthday cake, and there’s definitely human cake for the first 2,500 guests. We hope you can join us, in person or online."

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Destination Deviation: Charleston, South Carolina - Part V

Like both Monterey and San Francisco, Charleston is home to restaurants serving fresh local seafood. Just as in both of those cities there are good places to go and bad places to go. One of the places I would not recommend is the Noisy Oyster on Market at East Bay. While the restaurant looked enticing, with its large open windows and kitschy fishing decor, the food was not as good. All of the fish served on the menu was on the Seafood Watch "avoid" list. I guess the local catches are not necessarily the best option. Also, the restaurant didn't really have any vegetarian choices.

The Noisy Oyster interior.

On the other hand, I definitely recommend Slightly North of Broad (SNOB). This restaurant is on of Charleston's best. It was so good, I ate there twice. They had the best vegetable plate I've ever had and the items on the plate were all prepared perfectly. The restaurant is located on East Bay just down from Market Street and is one of many dining choices in that area. The SNOB building has a nice ambiance as it is located in a 19th century brick warehouse. The restaurant features an open kitchen with a large chef's table located right outside of the kitchen Slightly North of Broad uses fresh local ingredients and is a modern twist on traditional Low Country cooking. The BF had the prime rib dinner special on Tuesday and said it was the best prime rib he'd ever had. The second time we ate there he had the rack of lamb and, once again, said it was the best ever.

The BEST veggie plate ever!

One of the other restaurants I ate at was T-Bonz Gill & Grill on N. Market Street. It is part of a small regional chain, which I didn't know at the time. The food was decent, but the building it was located in was even better, being an old brick building with open beams.

The East Bay Deli (on East Bay) is in a little strip mall, so is definitely away from the typical tourist stops in Charleston; however, it is definitely worth the visit. I had a fantastic veggie wrap sandwich as they have a very vegetarian-friendly menu. Judging by the lunch crowd, it is a popular spot with the locals.

Unfortunately, I did not have enough time to try any of the other great restaurants in Charleston, but two locals recommended Basil as the best Thai restaurant in Charleston. I only wish I had been able to eat there.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Destination Deviation: Charleston, South Carolina - Part IV

Charleston, like Monterey, has an aquarium. While nothing can compare to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the South Carolina Aquarium is a nice aquarium to visit and has a lot of activities for kids. After all, what aquarium isn't nice that contains otters? The South Carolina is home to a couple of super cute river otters.

There is a salt marsh exhibit with free roaming birds. The little duck in the picture below was trooping around on the exhibit walkway. I was attacked by her from behind. She came up and nipped my leg...I was quite startled. So, if you're going to the South Carolina Aquarium, make sure you watch out for the attack duck. ;-)

I was luck enough to see feeding time in the octopus tank. When the octopus gets food, he turns a red color. It was quite interesting to see. What was even more interesting was to see the flounders in the same tank and what voracious eaters they were.

I always enjoy the jellies. There was a small jelly display at the aquarium, but it can't compare to the exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. However, I always enjoy watching jellies as there is something very peaceful in their motions.

The South Carolina Aquarium is home to a turtle hospital as part of its Sea Turtle Rescue Program. There was a tank in one of the exhibits which had some adorable baby sea turtles, but they moved so quickly it was difficult to get a picture of them that wasn't blurry. In the Great Ocean Tank you can see an adult see turtle. The Aquarium's Great Ocean Tank is the largest exhibit in the aquarium and can be seen on both floors; it is the tallest tank in North America at 42 feet high.

The Aquarium recently opened the Penguin Planet exhibit, but I was not very impressed by it. I only saw three penguins (there's apparently four) and the display and the penguins appeared quite filthy.

All-in-all the the South Carolina Aquarium was a pretty nice aquarium...not as large, of course, as the aquarium in Monterey, but definitely worth going to.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Destination Deviation: Charleston, South Carolina - Part III

Middleton Place's remaining structure was restored and used as a home.

There are many interesting places to visit in the Charleston area. Choosing what to do is only a matter or interests, time, and money. The Charleston area is home to many plantations and historic homes. Some of the places you can visit in the historic district are the Aiken-Rhett House and the Nathaniel Russell House, both of these houses are run by the Historic Charleston Foundation. You can purchase tickets individually or you can purchase a combo ticket for a discount. Also in the historic district are the Heyward-Washington House and the Joseph Manigault House, which are operated by the Charleston Museum. For these places, you can purchase individual tickets or combo tickets to two or all three sites. I have been to all of these places in the past and they are definitely worth visiting. Another historic home in Charleston that you can visit is the Edmonston-Alston House, which is run by the Middleton Place Foundation.

The dining room at Middleton Place

Middleton Place bedroom dressed for summer usage.

Charleston being in the South, there are penty of former plantations in the area to visit. Some of those are Boone Hall Plantation located in Mt. Pleasant and Cypress Gardens in Moncks Corner. There are also the plantations located inthe West Ashley area along Ashley River Road: Drayton Hall, Magnolia Plantation, and Middleton Place. Each of these historic plantations have something different to offer the visitor. I've been to all of them at some point, except for Drayton Hall. Drayton Hall is run by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and is an original structure that has been preserved, but not restored. On this visit to Charleston, I chose to go to the Middleton Place Plantation. There are several activities and tours that you can take, each coming with a cost, but you can purchase a combo ticket for a discount. The rather hefty $25 admission fee only gets you into the grounds, which are quite extensive with 65 acres of formal landscaped gardens; there is a Garden Overview Tour and an African American Focus tour which is included. You need to purchase a ticket for the guided house tour and there is also a carriage tour (separate cost) which takes you through the area where rice used to be planted, as well as a bamboo forest. The carriage tour is a good starting point for your exploration of Middleton Place as you get an overview of the plantation's history and the history of the Middleton family. The house tour provides you a glimpse into the various Middleton family generations, as well as a taste of the opulence in which the wealthy plantation owners lived. You can spend a couple of hours or all day at Middleton Place. They even have a restaurant on site which is open for lunch or dinner.

The Ravenal Bridge opened in 2005

Dolphins rule Charleston Harbor

Also in the Charleston area is the USS Yorktown, a decommissioned naval aircraft carrier located at Patriot's Point in Mt. Pleasant. Mt. Pleasant is located across the Cooper River from Charleston and Patriot's Point is the first exit off of the Arthur Ravenal Jr. Bridge. At Patriot's Point you can visit the USS Yorktown; the Congressional Medal of Honor Museum, located on the Yorktown; and the USS Clamagore, a decommissioned submarine used during the Cold War. At Patriot's Point you can also board a boat for a tour of Charleston Harbor or for the ride over to Ft. Sumter. SpiritLine Cruises is the official concessionaire of Ft. Sumter for public transportation to the historic fort located in Charleston Harbor. They also have a boarding point for both tours at the Aquarium Wharf. The Charleston Harbor tour is about an hour and a half long round trip from either departure point. I happened to get on at Patriot's Point, which is a good place to go from as they have a $3 flat rate for parking with the lot being open from 8:30
AM to 7 PM.

The last official duty of the USS Yorktown was to bring in the Apollo 8 astronauts and capsule.

Ft. Sumter sits at the opening of Charleston Harbor

Besides visiting Ft. Sumter, which is only accessible by boat, you can also visit Ft. Moultrie, which is located on Sullivan's Island and accessible from Mt. Pleasant. Ft. Moultrie was used in both the American Revolutionary and Civil wars. It was "modernized" in the late 1800's and was lastly an important part of coastal defence during World War II. The fort was used by the Army for 171 years as an important part of the coastal defence system. It was turned over to the National Park Service in 1960.

My favorite beach in Charleston is Folly Beach. There is plenty of public access to this beautiful beach at the "Edge of America." The Folly Beach Fishing Pier is very popular with fisherman and is the second longest pier on the east coast.

Mercer-Williams House

Fountain in Forsythe Park

Charleston is within easy driving distance of Savannah, Georgia. If you have the time, definitely take a day trip (or even half a day, since it's so close) down to Savannah. Savannah is a beautiful old Southern city and quite similar to Charleston. Savannah was a planned city and is proliferated by 21 public squares (there were originally 24), which are surrounded by gorgeous old homes. Among the historic home you can visit are the Juliette Gordon Low birthplace (founder of the Girl Scouts) and the Mercer-Williams House (built for the great-grandfather of songwriter Johnny Mercer made famous by the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Savannah is situated on a river and cobblestoned River Street is home to many souvenir shops, hotels, restaurants, and more. I ate dinner at Huey's Southern Cafe on River Street which serves authentic New Orleans Creole and Cajun food. Huey's actually serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner and is situated as part of the River Street Inn. My meal at Huey's was the first time that I ever ate grits (a favorite dish in the South) and they were excellent!

Salmon, spinach and Parmesan garlic grits. Yum!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Destination Deviation: Charleston, South Carolina - Part II

In Charleston one of the best ways to get a little bit of history and a lay of the land is to take a carriage ride. There are a number of carriage tour companies to choose from. I went on the the Olde Towne Carriage Company tour. The carriage companies are located on streets surrounding the market. Olde Towne is located on Anson Street.

Larry the Belgian Draft Horse

The carriage companies in Charleston employ a lottery system for tour routes, so you never know which of the three tour routes you may go on. This system is in place so that the number of carriages on any given route is controlled so as to not interfere with auto traffic nor to endanger the horses and their cargo. The guides provide a general history of Charleston, as well as specific information about the buildings and other sights along your tour route.

The Old City Jail is said to be the most haunted building in Charleston.

The carriage companies are located on the streets near the market. While in the vicinity, definitely visit the old market. The market is filled on a daily basis with vendors selling a variety of wares. You can find sweetgrass baskets throughtout the market, as well as typical tourist souveniers, photography and other artwork, food items, and those items typically found in a flea market (pashminas, sunglasses, and more).

The area below the white paint in the above photo shows the high water mark from Hurricane Hugo in 1989. The coastal South Carolina area near Charleston is called the Low Country due to much of it being near or below sea level. The nearby tidal areas can often be under water at high tide. Due to the low land level, the market area is prone to flooding.

Besides carriage tours, there are a variety of companies that offer walking tours of Charleston. If you don't want to take a walking tour during the day, these same tour companies offer ghost tours in the evening as Charleston is supposed to be one of the most haunted cities in the U.S. I've been on ghost walks in Charleston twice, on this most recent visit I went on the Bulldog Tours' Charleston Ghost & Graveyard Tour. The tour guide takes you to some of the most haunted spots in Charleston, including a graveyard or two. Our guide, Anna, told some of the history of Charleston, as well as the stories behind the alleged hauntings on our tour stops. The tours are conducted in small groups and advance reservations are definitely recommended. While it was kind of creepy walking through a graveyard at night (after 9 PM), we did not see any ghosts, nor did I capture any with my camera.

Bulldog Tours is the only company that actually takes you on a tour of the Old City Jail. The Old City Jail is said to be the most haunted location in Charleston. Apparently there are only three tour guides who actually conduct this tour. I did not go on the jail tour (I'm kind of a wimp in that regard), but a couple who was on the graveyard tour with me said that the jail tour was much better and seemed to have some activity. They caught a number of orbs on their tour, especially around the gallows.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Destination Deviation: Charleston, South Carolina - Part I

Charleston, South Carolina is a historic town along the eastern coast of the state. It is a beautiful destination filled with tons of things to see and do. Charleston was founded in 1670, and contains many buildings that pre-date the American Revolutionary War. Charleston is very reminiscent of both Monterey and San Francisco, like both cities, Charleston is situated on a peninsula. The Charleston peninsula is formed by the confluence of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers; the two rivers come together to form Charleston Harbor (or, as Charlestonians like to say, the Atlantic Ocean.) Like San Francisco, there are many areas of Charleston that are built on fill. Also like San Francisco is the fact that Charleston fell victim to a large earthquake in 1886, 20 years before the Great Quake of 1906 hit San Francisco.

There are many things to do in Charleston. Within the town itself activities include walking the historic streets and sightseeing, taking a carriage tour, shopping in the historic market, visiting the South Carolina Aquarium, or visiting some of the historic house museums. One of the most authentic souvenirs of Charleston is the sweetgrass baskets, which you can purchase at the market and throughout the Charleston area. The basket making craft was brought to Mt. Pleasant, east of Charleston on the banks of the Cooper River, by African slaves. The sweetgrass baskets are made by hand in the traditional manner. Today, it is the oldest form of African art in the U.S.

The areas surrounding Charleston are home to many activities, including historic homes and plantations, beaches, golf courses, wildlife areas, and more. Choosing what to see and do is a difficult decision because there are so many choices. You are only limited in what you do by your budget and your time.

I will explore specific activities in Charleston in other posts.