New hat

I lost my hat on the train back from LA a few months ago. 🙁

In my defense, I don’t usually lose things. I was distracted by another train passenger being disruptive. He had had the police called on him for “acting threateningly” towards an Amtrak employee. I was eager to disembark.

Me in my old hat (source).

The new hat is distinctly less cool, and cost $8, twice as much as the old one. At least it has a wider brim!

I look like a gardener now. Picture is from an ocean-side hike in spring.

Furniture-moving trip

I recently took a trip to LA to pick up desk-bed parts. It was a success!

My original plan was to have a friend drive the furniture up for me, but I couldn’t find a willing driver (and car rentals got complicated). Instead, I used uShip! uShip is an online bid-based marketplace for shipping items (especially large, unpackable, awkwardly-shaped items, like motorcycles and furniture).

When shipping something through uShip, you start by making a “shipment” on the website. You enter details about the items (size, weight, number), where you’re going from/to, and when you need the items by. uShip automatically generates an expected price based on the information, so you have an idea of what you’re going to pay. Once you publicly list the shipment (at least 2 weeks before the intended move, please!), movers start bidding on it. You can accept any bid at any time, at which point you should contact the mover directly to iron out pickup/dropoff details.

Pros:

  • uShip provides a money-back guarantee, where you don’t pay the mover until you get your items. uShip holds the money until then. If anything goes wrong with the move, you can contact uShip for help.
  • The auction-based format of uShip helps get you a lower price, both because of mover-mover competition and because movers can combine shipments to the same destination.
  • I didn’t have to drive anywhere.
  • I didn’t have to pack anything (unlike using Fedex, e.g.). The movers provided all of the padding material (nothing disposable!) and loaded all of the items.
  • Items can be delivered to someone else, so I didn’t need to be at both ends of the shipment.

Cons

  • I paid $320 to the movers ($25 fee to uShip), $130 more than uShip originally predicted (and J accidentally tipped 40% upon delivery…). I do think that it was a good value, considering that I didn’t have to drive and a new bunk bed of questionable quality costs around $900.
  • It was scary to use uShip for the first time D:

My experience was excellent, although it heavily depends on which mover you use (reviews are provided on the website). The movers I worked with were very organized and fast! The furniture was delivered the same day as pickup. The movers even helped carry it up to a second floor apartment. I would use uShip again, and would generally recommend it if you are moving a small number of items (i.e. not a whole house of furniture).

Bunk-bed and desk parts, half-shelf, dresser, and a stand mixer (in the suitcase) to be moved.

 

Smaller-than-expected van, although big enough to hold a motorcycle!

By the way, I took Megabus to LA ($37), and BoltBus back ($23). I did not take any overnight buses, due to the last miserable experience. The bus rides were fine by day, since I didn’t need to sleep. They were much cheaper than flights (would’ve been $150 each way), and cheaper and faster than the train (would’ve been $80 each way, since the cheapest tier of ticket was sold out). A friend in the area housed and fed me 🙂

Trip to alma mater in LA

The weekend after going to Sacramento (so about 3 months ago now), J and I visited our undergraduate institution outside of Los Angeles, ’cause our old dorm was having its big annual party! Woo!

We took an overnight BoltBus to get from San Jose (Diridon Station) to LA (Union Station). It was cheap at $25/person, but I would never do it again.

Pros:

  • It was overnight, so that we didn’t waste a day on traveling. Amtrak only has a daytime train between LA and the Bay Area.
  • Going overnight also decreases the chances of running into traffic.
  • It was cheap (half the cost of Amtrak, half to 1/8 the cost of a flight).
  • Lower emissions than a plane.
  • The stop in San Jose was relatively easy for us to get to.
  • There was a bathroom on board!

Cons:

  • It was overnight, so we needed to sleep to have a good next day.
  • The seats are uncomfortable and cramped -> it was hard to sleep.
  • The bus driver talked inappropriately loudly for the time of night. Pretty sure he was the only one fully awake.
  • Intermittent stops were accompanied by bright lights and loud announcements, thus disturbing our sleep.

Yeah… Only take an overnight bus if you’re a heavy sleeper and don’t mind cramped chairs. We were super tired when we got to LA. We made a multitude of plans to find a nice place to nap, but never actually succeeded in any of them 🙁 Overall, Amtrak is a nicer experience.

We stayed with the lovely T for the duration of our trip. Thanks!

We visited Grist & Toll, an urban flour mill located in Pasadena. Who knows how long it’s been there! I’ve been missing out for years D:

The front of the mill. It looks pretty desolate. We initially thought we were in the wrong place because of the industrial vibe the complex gave off. Notice the big garage door for delivery trucks. By the way, that’s a date palm shadow.

Grist & Toll specializes in heirloom and locally-grown varieties of wheat and other grains (einkorn, oats, barley, rye, teff, and sesame, I think).
Cornmeal, too. There was a big quilt hung up in the store. You can see it here against the wall. Of course I asked about it! It turns out the owners know someone with a quilt collection, so the store gets a rotating selection of historical quilts. This particular one was from the late 1800s; the cashier even read us a blurb on it!

J and I got one bag of bread flour (and one as a gift for our host, T!) and one bag of general purpose flour grown by Mai Nyugen, a farmer who tries to be super environmentally friendly. For example, most (all?) of her field work is done using horses(!) and she doesn’t irrigate. Of course, the flour is super expensive (~$35/5 lbs flour).

We had dinner at the acclaimed Chengdu Taste, supposedly the best Szechuan restaurant outside of Szechuan Province, China. Unfortunately, we accidentally went with some friends who don’t particularly like spicy food… I think there was a miscommunication somewhere.

Double-fried green beans.
Cumin beef.
Mapo tofu.

And we went to the dorm party!!

And a few straggler happenings:

The dorm now has fancy recycling bins from Terracycle! Okay, I don’t think anyone is using them, but the intent is good. I may take my dental care waste back there to recycle it.

Recycling paid for by Colgate! This is a form of extended producer responsibility that would help build the cost of disposal into the price of a product.

The communal projector is falling apart.

Seriously, I think it’s weight is being supported by copious amounts of duct tape.

The university recently switched to different dorm furniture, casting off the old (which was much beloved!). When we were visiting, I scrounged around for bunk-bed parts. I got enough for 1 bunk bed (so spots for 2 beds, or a bed and a desk) and 1 table, plus extras for future repairs. Now I just have to figure out how to get them to the Bay Area!! I’m hoping USHIP works out.

Overnight bus with beds!

Air travel is fast, but frustrating (I dislike the security checks + lack of leg room) and is particularly bad for the environment when traveling short distances. Because of this, I like to take alternative modes of transportation when possible. The train is nice 🙂 but can be slow and doesn’t offer a lot of different departure times; traditional long-distance buses (Megabus, Greyhound, BoltBus) can be just as cramped as planes.

However, there is an alternative! Cabin (previously SleepBus) is a bus service between LA and San Francisco that has beds on board, much like the Knight Bus in Harry Potter. The trip is about 7 hours overnight, just about the perfect length for this kind of venture. One-way tickets are $85-$120, so 4-5 times more expensive than other buses and 2 times more expensive than Amtrak for the same trip. Flight costs vary a lot (I just saw $29-$200), but are comparable on average or at the last minute.

I’m eager to try out this service! Until Amtrak has an overnight trip between the Bay Area and LA, this sounds like a great option.

New Austin main library

J and I visited my family in Austin for Thanksgiving. One of the cool things we did was visit the new main public library! The opening was overdue by about a year, but the building and landscaping are pretty awesome.

The building is at the intersection of one of Austin’s major creeks and the river in the middle of the city, so it gets some very nice views and hopefully a lot of business!

The front.
The back and side, looking from a new bridge that goes over the nearby creek. That lowered sidewalk goes along the creek for a ways.
A view from the roof of the library, looking south across the river and over to the Long Center and the Palmer Event Center.

The library has an awesome rooftop garden à la green roof and a solar panel array as an awning to provide shade (sadly, I don’t have pictures). There is also a screened porch, so that you can enjoy the weather, but the mosquitoes can’t enjoy you!

Looking down in the central ‘shaft’ of the library. That art clock features grackles, a local menace that, much like corvids, survives very well on human refuse.
Looking up into the central shaft. The staircases and bridges are very Hogwarts-esque. The stairs and floors of the building are much too creaky for my tastes. They feel like they’re going to collapse one day…
Weird street art that we saw nearby :S

Sacramento last day

Our last day started off with a tour of the Stanford mansion! Apparently Leland Stanford (Sr) was the governor of California for a time and lived in Sacramento. The house, originally pretty modest at around 2000 square feet, was expanded to 4k and then 19k square feet.

Front of the mansion in the Second Empire architectural style.

After a really bad flood in 1862, the house was raised up and a relatively low-value ground floor added. That particular flood was so bad that Sacramento was about 10 feet underwater for 3 months. Afterwards, the entire city was raised a story, buildings and roads included. There are tours of the subterranean areas available during the summer.

The alleyways were not raised, which you can see evidence of in the still-present sloping.
A view of the Sacramento River with weird pyramidal building in the background.
Complete with abandoned stroller.
Pizza for lunch! J got a slice of garlic chicken pizza in addition.
Full-size model high-speed train at the State Railroad Museum. There’s a big room full of train cars from different eras.
Snow plow car, essential to rail travel through the Sierra Nevadas.
Dining car with historic train dining car china patterns.
Mail car, back when trains were used to transport mail. Apparently they were vulnerable to robbery.
Shinkansen training simulator. J did it and says its super easy – all you have to control is the brake.

Dinner for J. I had leftover burrito from the previous day.

We took Amtrak home in the evening, and then Caltrain back to our place!

Sacramento Day 2

The day started with a long walk to the farmers’ market! We asked the hostel’s desk clerk for directions.

Downtown Sacramento farmers’ market. Under a highway, dontcha know. We got lots of delicious free samples 🙂
The aforementioned highway.
Fortunately, the farmers’ market was right across the street from a scenic park with solar-powered… ducks?
The local Japanese sweets shop.

We got:

Walnut and red bean.
Peanut butter and mochi (and maybe red bean paste??) in a pancake.
Roasted soy bean flour and red bean paste. Was the mochi green tea flavor? Uhhh…
Sakura mochi.

The shopkeeper even put the sweets into my tupperware instead of the default styrofoam tray. Yay!

After a bit of a walk, we arrived at this hip and trendy mall.
…with a custom cobbler!!!!!!! The shop is also the workshop. In the back there you can see a lasting machine and a welting machine, maybe.

Of course, I was super interested (and pleased to hear that they get enough business). But the shop only uses one particular last, which I’m not interested in. So, that’s a no-go unfortunately.

Huge burrito for lunch. J got ceviche.
Neat street art. Reminds me of this.

We visited Sutter’s Fort and the State Indian Museum after lunch. Sutter’s Fort was an early settlement in California. I knew it only from it’s association with the Donner Party – it’s where they stayed to recover. I assumed Sutter’s Fort was a military fort, but… actually it was this guy’s private village.

Curiously, the fort was renovated in the late 1800s. So despite the fact that it’s not original, it’s historical in its own right.

The entrance.
The doll of one of the children from the Donner Party. She smuggled it during the trip after her mother had all the children throw their toys away to lighten the wagons. The doll is only a few inches tall.
The governor’s mansion! We walked by on the way to dinner. Sadly, tours are no longer available. The half mast flag was for some shooting that had happened recently.

We had disappointing Japanese food for dinner, so I’m not going to include pictures. All the photos are from J, by the way. We figured out a better way to share photos.

Sacramento Day 1

The main attraction!!!! The capitol’s lookin’ nice and tropical with that row of palm trees out front. Another main feature of the landscaping was the MOSS LAWN on the raised bed in front of the bushes. From afar, it totally looks like grass. Awesome 😀
The dome.
Some past governor with an interesting portrait. Arnold Schwarzenegger has one with a steel frame, oooo.
Each California county has a display case in the capitol basement to show off what they’re up to. Stanislaus County is really pumping out those cows…
Dinner at Ramen House.
The meat option.
The dessert not taken. It was a bit too cold for gelato.
Instead, we went to a chocolate shop (where I found a free chocolate abandoned on the ground… It was delicious)!
Hot chocolate with chocolate nibs.
Chocolate macaron. J’s all inspired now.

We also popped into Goodwill just in time for them to close. Since we weren’t actually looking for anything, a 5-minute browse was sufficient. This was the most professional Goodwill I’ve ever seen. The cashier was dressed in a suit (a suit!), and the store was clean and organized. When we walked in, I thought that we must be in the wrong place; it looked like an actual store!

Edit: My mom admonished me for not recognizing the portrait as being of Jerry Brown, a previous and the current California governor.

The hostel

Stained glass in the main stairwell.
Our room! All of the private rooms are named.
Space for two. Unfortunately, the window didn’t open any wider and the heat in the building was set a bit high. Bathrooms and showers were communal but segregated by sex (they definitely could have been unisex. I saw another person in the bathroom on one occasion).

The hostel had two sets of stairs — the main stairs and the servant stairs (verrry steep!). There was a shared kitchen with a grand total of 4 sinks, 4 stoves, and 2 fridges. I never actually saw anyone cooking, but maybe it’s used for the occasional party. Fridge access is always nice. Lastly, free breakfast was provided!

The hostel cost around $50 per person per night. That’s much cheaper than hotels in the area, but I’ve definitely stayed at cheaper hostels ($10/night in Seoul!).

To Sacramento

Two weekends ago, J and I went to Sacramento to take advantage of the President’s Day holiday. We chose Sacramento because it is close enough to ride the train to, but far enough that we wouldn’t go on a normal weekend. It’s also the state capital.

Apparently though, it is not considered a valid vacation destination. Almost everyone we told our plans to said, “Why Sacramento??”, as if there’s nothing there. For the record, Sacramento has nearly 500,000 people (2.1 million in the metropolitan area), a very walkable downtown, and some of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the US (think of them as the antithesis of ghettos). Sacramento is a lot cheaper than the Bay Area too 🙂

Jimmy and I took Amtrak‘s Capitol Corridor line from San Jose to Sacramento. The ride took about 3 hours, which compares very favorably to driving. It cost $40 per person one way.

Flowering pear (so said another train passenger) trees as seen from the train.
Cows as seen from the train. I’m sure they love that 60 Hz buzz.

We stayed at a Hostelling International hostel (J’s first time in a hostel!) just a 10-minute walk from the train station. The hostel is housed in the repurposed Llewellyn Williams Mansion.

A classic and very spacious example of Victorian Italianate architecture. We stayed on the third floor.

I’ll make more posts on what we did in Sacramento.