Thursday, December 31, 2015

Halloween Party

This year I celebrated Halloween for the first time. And boy, did I have fun! Dressing up, posing and having a jolly time with friends. 

Vishnu dressed up as the masked Phantom of the Opera while I was a Gothic Priestess complete with my staff and hood. Finding the costumes and props turned out to be much easier than I had thought. 

It was exciting to see what my friends had dressed up as. There was Minnie Mouse, a Biker, a construction worker and more. Apart from the eating, drinking and making merry, the highlight was the photo shoot in which the men just let loose and posed away to glory. It was a treat to see this side of Vishnu's personality. Who knew dressing up would be so much fun!

Escape From The Time Travel Lab

Ever since I played the last Escape Room game, I have been waiting for a new one.  When I read about the latest Time Travel Lab room, I knew I had to try it. This time, I had a much bigger group comprising mostly of my colleagues. Everyone except Vishnu and I were first timers but super excited about the game. Luckily for us, no outsiders joined our team.

Happy face

As we were familiar with the set up of the game and learned from our mistakes from the past, we met up for dinner before the game to strategize. I explained the rules and split us into two groups: searchers and solvers. The former looking for clues and the latter unraveling the mystery. This really helped us become organized and we did not waste much time.

I won't reveal much about the game and spoil anyone's fun. I will say that it was a lot of hard work and suspense. The time travel element of the game was superb. We almost managed to get to the very end of the game and then ran out of time. Everyone had a blast running around rummaging for clues, puzzles and finally the key to escape. An evening of detective work, laughter and race against time. Can't wait to do more escape rooms!

Sad face
What: The Real Escape Game
Cost: $39

Italian Thanksgiving

The story of our Thanksgiving trip to Italy must be told before the new year sets in, before it goes cold. 

Grand Canal

It is not the Italy one imagines, but cold it was. The average temperature during our visit was below 10C during the day: less than comfortable for attentive sightseeing. Grey skies don't make for good photos either.

Regardless, the places are filled with photo-worthy art and architecture, possibly more than one can absorb in a lifetime. Most are Christian in theme, but such was the Renaissance period. Works inspired awe even if by sheer scale. The norm was to gape, including, and especially, at the ceilings: much of the notable architecture is of churches and palaces, interiors adorned with painting and frescoes. Often, these buildings are accessed through narrow, cobblestone streets, which encouraged walking and made the experience more than mere sightseeing. Venice was quaint as imagined (any piazza could've served as the stage for a Shakespearean scene), and hosted Tintoretto paintings in its important churches and palaces. Florence boasted of Dante, Brunelleschi's dome, Michelangelo's David, and the tombs of Galileo, Michelangelo, and Machiavelli. Rome was the most metropolitan of these, and yet has more history than the other two put together: the Pantheon was in very good shape, and practically every street corner seemed to be a Roman ruin or a structure by Bernini. The Vatican vied with the Roman monuments, and its museum (which includes the Sistine Chapel) contains some of the world's most famous frescoes by Raphael, Michelangelo, and Botticelli.

Restaurants in Italy have different prices for standing and sitting customers, or a cover charge per person for obtaining a table. No matter. Only once was an espresso bad; the food never. We drank wine at every meal. Partly because one need be no connoisseur: any regular Italian wine is as good as another. Partly also because water is not served free; but in Venice and in Rome, potable water flows endlessly from both artistic and utilitarian fountains to be found in every piazza. For me, a dried bean from a water-scarce Madras, that is a paradox of heaven and hell.

View from the Duomo, Florence

It's a vacation cliche, but time was truly wanting, especially for Rome. Rome wasn't built in a day; it can't be seen in two either. Fortunately, we performed the Trevi fountain ritual, so now I wait for the eternal city to beckon again.

Colosseum, Rome

(Guest writer:Vishnu)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Stage 4 Improv Comedy

This weekend, I attended an improv comedy show for the very first time. Improv shows are basically scenes or stories enacted by actors on stage using suggestions from the audience. This means nothing is scripted and things are made up on the spot. The best part is that it is funny!

The show was performed by the very talented group called Stage 4 Improv at the Black Cat Licorice Theater in San Jose. It was an hour and a half long show. We arrived at the theater early as we wanted to have dinner before the show. We parked at the theatre and walked toward Gojo Ethiopian Restaurant. It was one of the most amazing meals I have had. Highly recommend the place.

The theatre is quite small and seats about 40 people. This means there are no bad seats and everyone gets a good view of the stage. The show started promptly at 8pm. The 4 actors arrived on stage and asked a few questions to the audience. Based on the responses (birthday, undertaker and toilet paper!), they performed a 2 act broadway musical titled 'A life worth wiping :D' complete with songs and acting. My mind was blown away by the sheer talent in terms of the songs, humor, acting and the story. It was incredible! After the long form improv show, they performed several small scenes again based on audience suggestions. Those were superb too.

There was not a single dull moment and I was laughing throughout. I was so glad I got introduced to improv comedy and I'm sure I'll be going back to catch more shows. High quality entertainment at such a low price-what's not to like!

What: Improv Comedy 
Where: Black Cat Licorice Theater

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Crime Scene Investigation Lecture

Bay Area Older Adults organized an event around Crime Scene Investigation. It was held at the Forensic Science Center in downtown San Jose. Our host for the evening was Cordelia Willis, a Santa Clara County Criminalist. She has almost 17 years of experience working in the various labs of the forensic department (blood spatter, DNA, prints, firearms, trace evidence etc).

As the general public does not have access to the labs for obvious reasons, the event was in the form of a lecture with a presentation. It was a very educational session with lots of good questions from the audience. I learnt so much about DNA collection, database matches, trace evidence collection and ballistic reports. Cordelia peppered the lecture with real case stories that she worked on which ensured the audience was hooked. With constant barrage of audience questions, the two hour session got extended to three hours!

I think these lectures are held once a month and are open to the public. If forensics interests you, this lecture is not to be missed.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Hot Air Balloon Ride in Sonoma

As mentioned in my post on our recent trip to Sonoma, we checked off one more item on our bucket list-Hot Air Balloon Ride. I was super excited about the ride and the thought of flying and floating in the air with views of the wine country made me jump with joy. 

When ever I can, I look for deals so I don't have to pay full price. Luckily, I found a good one for Sonoma Valley Balloon on Groupon. On the day of our flight, we were asked to meet at a Starbucks parking lot on Airport Boulevard at 6.30am. Yes, that early! The reason is that the hot air balloons can only fly when the winds are calm and cool which happens only during the mornings. Depending on the wind direction and other conditions for flight, the pilot will choose the launch site. From the parking lot, a shuttle took us to the launch site for the day. 

It was interesting to watch the crew attach the balloon to the basket (also known as the gondola) and inflate it. The baskets vary in size and can hold anywhere from 4-20 passengers. Our basket was one of the larger ones and could hold around 16 people. The crew lay the basket on its side, spread out the balloon and attached it. A fan was turned on that inflated the balloon. Once there was enough air inside the balloon, the crew blasted a burner flame inside it. This heated the air, building pressure until the balloon inflated completely and started to lift. The basket was attached to the ground vehicle, at the same time crew members held the basket down until the pilot was ready to fly. 

When it was time to fly, the pilot released a steady stream of hot flame which heated up the balloon and lifted it off the ground. It was beautiful to watch the entire process. 

Depending on the wind direction and current, the balloon floats in the air and moves while the ground crew follow the balloon in their vehicle to assist with the landing. The experience of flying was incredible. It wasn't a scary one at all. In fact, I did not feel the wind or any movement at all as we were moving at the speed of the currents. The lush green valley was a beautiful sight to look at. The only trouble was the hot sun. So make sure you have your hat and sunscreen to protect you. The flight lasted for an hour and then the pilot found a good place to land. 

Post the landing, we were taken to a restaurant for a champagne toast and socializing. The whole experience was a lot of fun. I must admit that since there was no adrenaline rush but a rather passive activity, I would not do this again. Nevertheless, I recommend everyone have this experience at least once in their life.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Stanford University Tour

Stanford, one of the most prestigious universities in the world, conducts walking tours of their campus for the public throughout the year. I had attended one such tour a few years ago. Since I didn't have a blog at the time, I missed documenting it. Last week, I decided to go on the tour again. It was just as fun as the last time.
Hoover's Tower
Led by students, the tour is a 70 min walk around the campus. It provides the history of the University and helps you get a peek at the culture, campus life and academics. Stanford University was started by Leland Stanford-one of the wealthiest men in America at the time. It was built in memory of his only son who died at the age of 15.

The campus is massive-one that can accommodate 96 Disneylands! It was buzzing with activity as prospective students were visiting the campus along with parents in addition to the regular students. I learned about the various clubs and extra curricular activities that students participate in.

David Packard Electrical Engineering

The tour covers the main areas of the campus including the Main Quad, Memorial Church, Engineering Quad and White Plaza. One can also go to the top of Hoover's Tower to get a view of the Bay Area but we were too tired to walk back to it after the tour ended.

My favorite was the Memorial Church with its beautiful stain glass paintings inside.  Take a look at these pictures to see the insides of this wonderful Italian style Church.

This tour is a great way for the public to get a feel for the university. There were many parents who had brought their pre-teen and teenage children on the tour hoping to inspire them. There is a lot of walking involved so bring a hat and water bottle to keep yourself hydrated.

No reservations are required. All you have to do is show up at the Stanford Visitor Center at the time of the tour. The best part is that it is free. While you're on the campus, do take some time out to visit the Cantor Arts Center and the Papua New Guinea Sculpture Garden.

My friend & I after the tour

What: Stanford University Walking Tour
When: 11am and 3.15pm 7 days a week
Where: Stanford University, 450 Serra Mall, Stanford CA 94305
Fee: Free

Friday, July 17, 2015

Castello Di Amorosa

It has been a while since I updated this blog and that was due to my two month long vacation in India. Now that I'm back, I plan to blog more often. Before our vacation, we went to Sonoma for a weekend visit. We had a very definite itinerary. Reach Sonoma, visit Castello Di Amorosa and the next day take the Hot Air Balloon ride (yes, we did it and I will write a whole separate post on it!).

Me with Castello Di Amorosa in the background

Castello Di Amorosa is a 13th century style Tuscan castle and winery built by wine maker Dario Sattui. He wanted to combine two of his greatest passions in life-wine and architecture which resulted in him building this magnificent castle that is a fully functioning winery. We took a guided tour of the castle which helped us get information about the castle and its history. The tour is an hour long after which there is a 45 min wine tasting. You can upgrade to a chocolate pairing with the wine as well.

Great Hall with marvelous paintings

Wine fermentation process

The castle has 107 rooms and a total of 8 levels above and below the ground. The chapel, a torture chamber, hall, dining area, courtyard and the wine cellar were some of the rooms we visited. The rooms were decorated with frescos, paintings, furniture that transports one to the 13th century. The torture chamber even has an authentic 300-year old iron maiden brought from Italy. After the walk through the castle, the tasting session was a welcome break.
Our tour guide Rachel

Wine barrels

Wine tasting

I loved this place and especially liked their delicious wines. I highly recommend visiting this winery for a taste of ancient architecture as well as wine.

What: Castello Di Amorosa
Where: 4045 Saint Helena Highway, Calistoga CA 9415
When: 9:30 am-5:00 pm (Nov-Feb) and 9:30 am-6:00 pm (Mar-Oct)
Fee: Varies depending on options