Saturday, January 31, 2009

On Your Mark, Get Set .... Hold It!!!

Ever hear the expression: "All dressed up and no place to go"? Well, I was all set to depart next Thursday for a professional meeting in Abu Dhabi .... BUT my company is now reacting to the severe economic conditions within the oil industry by cancelling a lot of international travel. What a disappointment! Had I gone to Abu Dhabi, this would have been my first trip to that part of the UAE! Not only that, but I was scheduled to be a 'keynote' speaker at this meeting and also serve as a chairman for one of the conference sessions. Sadly, I had to politely apologize to the conference hosts (the SPE - Society of Petroleum Engineers) and rearrange my remaining travel plans. Fortunately, I am STILL planning to go to the Middle East - just delaying my departure as a result of the cancellation of this side-trip to the UAE. Ah well .... just one of the ramifications of this world-wide Recession.

Mr. Yogi, who just delivered a comment to this post, makes a good point. I shouldn't allow myself to get 'spoiled'. After all, there are sadly many employees around the world who are facing far more serious consequences as a result of the world-wide economic meltdown than simply losing out on having a nice business meeting trip.

On the bright side, Saturday's weather in Houston was fantastic - cool, not a cloud in the sky and no humidity. Perfect picture taking weather! I spent an hour in a park near downtown Houston (Eleanor Tinsley Park) soaking up the sunshine and photographing the Houston skyline. Granted Houston's skyline pales in comparison to the view of Hong Kong island from Kowloon or the Manhattan skyline from across the Hudson River in New Jersey. But here it is anyway.
It won't be long (hopefully) before I am on the road again ....

Downtown Houston

This park is only a mile west of downtown and is a perfect locaiton to view our fair city!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Bakersfield, California (January 19 - 24)

Just returned from my recent trip and have a little time to report about the final segment of my combined business & personal trip to Central California. After a fantastic four days in San Luis Obispo (see my last post), I ventured south to Santa Maria (only for a few hours) and then to Bakersfield for the work-related assignment. I passed through a very little town along the way - Pumpkin Center!. I couldn't resist the urge to photograph the city sign (above).

Bakersfield is quite different from Northern California. Folks are more conservative here (unlike in Marin County!!) and farming is a very vital part of the local economy. The entire city sits within the San Joaquin valley - home to many companies who grow much of the vegetables and fruit sold throughout the USA.

The famous sign near Buck Owens Street.

The most recent population sign ....

Taft, California - about an hour's drive southwest of Bakersfield.

The West Kern County Oil Museum located in Taft, California. Sadly, it was closed the day I passed by (it's open on weekends only).

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Central California Coast (January 15 - 18)

Apologies for the looong delay in getting this post out! But my work has a nasty way of interfering with my blogging!! In spite of the last post with what I thought were those oh-so-cute photos of the baby seals, the delay in my posting may have contributed to my losing a couple of my followers (I hope Cheryl and John will choose to return soon!) but Searching Soul and most everyone else has stayed on through the entire time I was away! Anyway, the "real" work is done (my boss can be proud) and I can relax a little and catch up with all the recent places I've been so fortunate to visit and can now take a few minutes to allow me share with you many of the pictures I've taken along the way. And what a fun time I had! Basically I flew to San Luis Obispo and stayed at the home of a dear friend whom I've known since graduate school. Together we spent four days touring up and down the Central California coastline and taking in many of the beautiful sights along the way including Pismo Beach, Shell Beach, Morro Bay, San Simeon and Avila to name just a few of the towns we traveled through. With no offence intended to my adopted home here in Houston, all I can say after visiting all these fine places is: I only wish Houston were as pretty a place!!

My favorite photo ... I will call him (or her) Pelican Pete. Like most Californians, Pete was mellow and relaxed enough to allow me to approach and take this close-up photo. Location: near Avila Beach.

Mission San Luis Obispo - this local mission (church) is but one of many along the entire California coastline.
Only in California! Gum Alley - an alley way in-between two buildings in downtown San Luis Obispo where passers-by over the years have deposited their chewing gum. Ya won't see this in Singapore!!
A close-up view of the gum wall. Apologies to my followers. It's a bit gross to look at but this collection of gum literally represents over many years worth of people chewing gum and then sticking the wads of gum up on the wall. A bit yucky .... but this is California!!!
After a hard day of sightseeing, what's a fella (or gal) supposed to do? Why, relax at a nice coffee shop, sip some fine espresso and watch the people go buy and soak in the wonderful weather! After each day, my host and I camped out at Peet's Coffee and Tea - a wonderful alternative to that Seattle coffee chain ... Star something or other! [Madame Lefty and Cheryl please take note!!]
Peet's also sells excellent loose tea and I purchased 4 oz of their second flush Darjeeling Extra Fancy Kalimpong tea (for $15.00). Not only did I receive a coupon good for $1.60 off my next coffee beverage, but I now can enjoy a fine tea here at home as I type out this posting. Ah the memories of San Luis Obispo linger still ........
Just one of the many highway signs along the way.
I visited the Edna Vally Vineyard on Sunday, January 18 - my last full day before going to "work" on Monday in Santa Maria and then in Bakersfield the remainder of the week (January 19 - 24).
The Edna Valley Winery offers an excellent view ... and some fine wine tasting. (My purchase was a 375 mL-sized bottle of "Sweet Edna" - a white table wine ... more like a dessert wine.)
At the top of the mountain sits the Hearst Castle. This castle was built by the billionaire William Randolph Hearst who made his fortune in newspapers (he probably couldn't do that in today's economy!!) almost a century ago.
A typical beach view north of San Luis Obispo and south of San Simeon. Thankfully the weather cooperated and I was blessed with sunny skies and cool temperatures (60 s - 70 s deg F).
A painfully beautiful neighborhood in Shell Beach (just north of Pismo Beach and about 15 minutes south of San Luis Obispo). If only I could afford one of these multi-million dollar homes with a terrific view of the Pacific Ocean. Sigh!! Dream on ....
Sadly, Continental Airlines does not serve San Luis Obispo so I had to travel via US Airways with a connection in Phoenix, Arizona. Caution: US Airways charges $15 for the first suitcase and $25 for the second piece. And $2.00 USD per soft drink or bottle of water!!! Otherwise my flights were ALL on time. Including the day of departure from Bakersfield when the fog was so thick our pilot needed a lead vehicle to guide our plane out to the runway for take off!
The San Luis Obispo airport .... small and easy to get to and through (unlike Frankfurt, JFK and those other huge airports!).

My ride for the four days in San Luis Obispo .... a Lexus LS460! Nice car !!!

On Monday, January 19 my idyll in Central California ended and I drove to Santa Maria and then to Bakersfield where my next posting will cover. I hope this posting was pleasant enough. Your comments and suggestions for making my future postings even better are most welcome.
PS: This week marks the ONE YEAR anniversary of The Traveling Chemist!! Many thanks to all my loyal followers.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

California Here I Come!!

Well, it didn't take too long for me to hit the road again! I was only in the office for two days and then off I went! This trip takes me to Bakersfield, located in the central valley of California. My work calls for me to audit the five laboratories who conduct most of the water analyses for our company's San Joaquin Valley business unit. Before starting my work, however, I managed to squeeze in a little fun. Mixing pleasure with business never hurts. I had the opportunity of spending a long weekend (Thursday to Sunday) with a good friend in San Luis Obispo. I can report a LOT of interesting events and sights but since time is short, I will makes this initial post rather brief and share with you one of the main highlights of my sightseeing along the central California coast. When I have more time, I will add more pictures and descriptions.

This is the time of year when "elephant seals" arrive in California for giving birth. Here is one baby seal nursing.
A picture perfect moment!! More pictures to come later this week - I promise.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Two Quiet Sundays .... Then BACK to WORK!!

Woe is me!! My 30 days of vacation is over. All over! The old adage is true: Time flies when you're having fun. The four weeks off from work just flew by. As I type this posting, I am finishing up my lunch back here at the "rock pile" a.k.a. The Office. I would like to offer all my followers a few highlights of my last days of vacation here at home:

I had the opportunity to view some real gems here in Houston. One "gem" was Glenwood Cemetery - home of Howard Hughes' grave site along with the final resting places of other notable Houstonians.

Overview of Howard Hughes' grave site. Mr. Hughes is on the right.

A close-up view of Mr. Hughes' marker. I had to lean way over the fence and stretch out my arm and snap the above photo.

The Hobby family plot. If you have ever flown into Houston's Hobby Airport, well, William P. Hobby is buried here (on the left).

Samuel Allen - the brother of the two Allen brothers (two New Yorkers like me!!) who actually founded the city of Houston way back in the early 1800's!!

The Houston city skyline lies in the background of Glenwood Cemetery.
The other "gem" was more touristy and a lot less authentic. But what the heck, it was my last Sunday off and so I went to the Forbidden Gardens in Katy, Texas (about 15 miles from West Houston). Basically a VERY rich Chinese fellow purchased some land and built a miniature replica of the Forbidden City in China as well as of the buried terra-cotta army soldiers. Certainly anyone who has seen the real deal in China will laugh at this make-believe replica but at least it gives those of us who can't get to China a little glimpse of what the real attractions might be like.

The entrance to the Forbidden Gardens.

The courtyard ....

A miniature portion of the Forbidden City.

Close-up view of one of the buildings ostensibly inside the Forbidden City.

And a replica of the terra-cotta soldiers of the Emperor Qin. The original terra-cotta army was discovered in 1974 by farmers digging a well near the tomb of Emperor Qin. Forbidden Gardens in Katy, Texas has 6,000 1/3 scale terra-cotta soldiers in formation just as they were buried in the 3rd century BCE.