Friday, December 19, 2014

Ceramic Painting

I have done ceramic painting once many years ago. So this time when a friend asked me to join her and others for a morning of ceramic painting, I wanted to give it a try. 

Cranberry Hill Mercantile in Sunnyvale is a craft supplies store. They have a ceramic painting room which was reserved for our group of ten girls. They charge $4.50 per person which covers the cost of paints, brushes and glazing of the piece that we paint. The ceramic room has a huge collection of ceramic items of different shapes and sizes-animal figurines, plates, bowls, napkin holders, salt and pepper shaker, vases etc. We were asked to pick an item that we wished to paint and once we paid for the item along with the sitting fee, we were good to go. 

Paint Supplies
There is no instruction and you basically start painting whatever you want. There are a few stencils that you can use for creating designs. I chose a star shaped plate which would be perfect to hold tea light candles. I googled to get an inspiration for designs and then started painting. There is no time limit so you can paint for as long as you want. I wrapped up in about two hours as I had a lunch appointment with friends after that.

The original plate

It was a fun and creative experience. I enjoyed the process of converting a plain white plate into a colorful piece of art. I was quite happy with the final outcome. The store then took about a week to glaze the plate and here is the completed plate. 

Plate Before Glazing
Plate After Glazing
It is a perfect activity to do with your girlfriends, kids and I think even by yourself. I was totally absorbed in my artistic pursuit and at the same time happy to have the company of friends to experience it with. 

Me absorbed in painting
What: Ceramic Painting
Where: 1014 W El Camino Real Sunnyvale CA
When: Mon, Tue, Wed, Fri and Sat: 10a-6pm, Thur: 10a-8p, Sun: 10a-5p
Fee: $4.50+cost of the ceramic piece

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Death Valley National Park

Thanksgiving is time for our travel. This year we headed to the Death Valley National Park which is around 500 miles from Sunnyvale. We started the day before Thanksgiving, encountered heavy traffic, stopped overnight at Bakersfield and continued the next day until we finally reached the park.

Stovepipe Wells Village Hotel
It is the largest national park in the US and is also the hottest and driest place in North America. The park is located in the valley between several mountains. Winter is the best time to visit as the temperatures are bearable and not too harsh. The hottest month is July where temperatures can rise up to a sizzling 47 degrees Celsius! During the day the sun heats up the land and the air and at night, the mountains recirculate the hot air as a result, temperatures do not drop much at night unlike most deserts. 

Death Valley is the size of Connecticut so you can imagine how many points of interest there must be. A lot of the sites do require a vehicle with 4 wheel drive and high clearance as they are accessed only by unpaved roads. This meant that our sports car will not be able to take it so we stuck to the sites with easy access. Over three days, we covered quite a few places. Here is is list of places we visited:

Badwater Basin: This is the lowest place in North America-about 500 ft below sea level. The basin is in the valley between the Black Mountains and the Panamint Mountain ranges. Erosion from the mountains causes minerals to be deposited in the basin as a result there is a crust of salt crystals on the basin. There is a small pool of undrinkable water in the basin but it doesn't last long due to the high rate of evaporation due to the extreme heat. It is said that the mountains continue to rise at the same rate as the basin continues to sink each year. However, the erosion of soil from the mountains into the basin offsets this change.

Badwater Basin

Salt from Badwater Basin

Devil's Golf course: These badlands have such a rugged topography that only the devil could play golf on it :)
Devil's Golf Course
Artists Drive and Palette: This is a wonderful loop through which you can drive to see some really beautiful vistas. The rocks on the mountains are colored due to the presence of minerals in them. It actually looks like someone has sprinkled color powder on them-like an artist's palette.

Artist's Palette

Golden Canyon: This is one of the many canyons in the park. A short hike through it leads to the views of the Red Cathedral rocks. Water once flowed through this canyon and into the valley. Observing the rocks provides indication of this. Now, it is barren, hot and dry.

Inside the Golden canyon

Dante's view: This was my favorite place in the park simply because of the breath-taking view. It is located about 5485 ft above sea level and gives you a view of the valley. It was very windy, cold as well as closer to sunset which meant no proper pictures. If I were to pick one place to visit in Death Valley, this would be it.
Dante's View

Zabriskie Point: One of the most popular spots of the park, this has some stunning view of erosional landscape. It is composed of sediments from an ancient lake which dried up millions of years ago. We visited it at both sunrise and sunset-both absolutely gorgeous.

Zabriskie Point
Ubehebe Crater: This crater is relatively newer (that is a few thousand years old as opposed to millions of years old) and was formed due to volcanic eruption. It is half a mile wide and about 500 ft deep. One can see black soil and rocks all around the crater which is proof of the eruption. One of the Native American tribal legend has it that this was the place where humanity crawled out of the earth and spread in all four directions. Best time to visit this crater is when the sun is directly overhead so as to get the best lighting for photographs.

Ubehebe Crater
Mesquite Sand dunes: These were located about a mile away from our hotel and are quite popular (read crowded) due to the proximity. These are pretty to look at but was difficult on my injured knee. So I did not walk all the way. Both sunset and sunrise are good times for some beautiful pictures.

Mesquite Sand Dunes
Owen's Lake: On the way out of the park, we saw this lake which was dried up but gave the illusion of having water due to the high quantity of salt accumulation. The area is extremely windy and we had difficulty even open the car door due to the wind. The view was gorgeous.

Owen's lake
It was a very hectic trip mainly due to the long driving distance but I would say it was worth all the effort as the vistas and the landscape stole my heart. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Escape To Alcatraz

Alcatraz-one of the most popular tourist spots in San Francisco. I have visited the island during one of my previous trips to the Bay Area. However, it has been a while so I decided to plan a trip there. It was supposed to be a group visit but one by one everyone dropped out and in the end it was just the two of us.
Pier 33

Alcatraz is an island about a mile and quarter away from San Francisco. It was built as a fort to protect the SF port during the gold rush period. After which it was converted into a high security prison. Some of the most dangerous and notorious criminals of those days were housed in the prison. There are quite a few very interesting stories about escape plans from the prison but none of them are believed to be successful. Although, the island is so close to the SF coast, the cold water made it impossible for any one to survive while escaping.

Prison cell block

Individual cell

Tickets get sold out months in advance so one has to plan well in advance. We gathered at Pier 33 from where a twelve minute ferry ride took us to the island. Luckily for us, we did not expect the fog and cold breeze that is so often associated with SF weather. Once on the island, the tour guide took us to the Cell blocks and have us a brief history of the place. We were then given audio tours which we could listen to at our own pace. This is the best part of the tour. The narration is superb and engaging. It gives you an idea of how life was in the prison and also about the famous criminals and their escape attempts.


An art exhibition by the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei was being showcased in the prison. It was political art work and so had a very strong message against oppression and supporting freedom. Due to the exhibition, some parts of the prison which are generally not open to the public were accessible. We got to tour the hospital wing with the x-ray room, hydrotherapy room and operation theatre.

Room where inmates were handed out clothes

We spent about two hours exploring the place through the audio tour as well as the short lectures by the guides. It is a fun outing at the same time makes you appreciate freedom.

What: Alcatraz Island
Where: Ferry from Pier 33
When: Throughout the year
Fee: $30 for day tour, $37 for night tour