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