Santa Clara 2017 diary: Day 6

Thursday, 8 June, 2017

I slept in today until just after 09:00, since I didn’t have any meetings to go to until the administrative working group meeting at 17:00. After catching up on overnight news and eating the All Bran for a quick breakfast, I had a shower and then got ready for a day of exploring the area on foot. I was astonished that the All Bran was noticeably sweeter than the same cereal back home in Australia. They must clearly have added extra sugar for the American version (thus making it less healthy, of course). Leaving the hotel right on 10:00, I grabbed an apple from the bowl on the reception desk, and munched it while walking.

I took the short cut behind the furniture factory, crossed the Montague Expressway, and then turned into the industrial area, taking a quite street next to the Bandai Namco building. This building had a giant Pac-Man and a couple of ninjas or something on display inside the window, and I walked up to have a look, but didn’t get a photo as I didn’t want to annoy the guard sitting inside watching me.

From here I walked up to the street running along the Amtrak railway line. There are two streets, running parallel, separated by the railway. On the south side where I was it was a quieter residential street, lined with run down houses facing the single track, obviously a poorer neighbourhood. On the other side of the railway line was a busier road, and along that were tech company buildings and then further along brand new looking apartment complexes and fancy gated communities. This was a clear and very literal case of what it means to be from the wrong side of the tracks.

Agnew station
The old Agnew railway station building

A bit down the street, I passed what looked like an old railway station building, a fairly small wooden structure right by the side of the track, that looked like something out of an old western. A white sign had letters painted in black declaring it to be Agnew station, and listed the elevation (32 feet) and distances to San Francisco and New Orleans in miles. It was locked up and obviously not in use any more, but looked in reasonably good condition. Just past this was a railway crossing where I could cross the track and then walk along the more major street.

I walked along here past a small set of corner shops, then past Levi’s Stadium which loomed large on the left, back across the railway line. Beyond here the footpath disappeared and I had to walk along first some grass outside a business, then on dirt and gravel. The road continued through the middle of a golf course, with a footbridge spanning it for golfers to access the two halves of the course. Then past a landfill dump on the right and the Great America theme park on the left. Eventually I crossed a stormwater canal and then a small river, and ended up entering the community of Alviso.

Old timey shed
Old shed in Alviso

I didn’t know what to expect. Nicolas and Margaret had both said it was interesting and had unusual buildings. I discovered from a sign as I entered the area that Alviso was an historical port town on the south tip of the Bay. The sign had photos of old wooden buildings, typical of the old west. And as I walked into town I could see that many of what must have been old buildings left over from this era seemed to still be standing, as houses and businesses. It was like walking back in time, and had more of the feel of east coast places like Provincetown, only not modernised and smartened up.

It had taken right on an hour to walk here, making it 11:00. I looked for a place to sit and have a late breakfast or early lunch, not wanting to go for a walk out to the shoreline and then have to wait another couple of hours or so before being able to eat again. I spotted a place called Maria Elena’s, which looked like someone’s carport turned into an eating area, with streamers of little Mexican flags strung up along it. Maybe this would be good for a late lunch, but perhaps not a late breakfast. I walked a short block and found a place called El Taco de Oro, which had a restaurant in a run down hacienda, plus a food truck parked right outside where a guy was getting a take away burrito or something.

El Tace de Oro interior
El Taco de Oro, interior

Figuring I could sit in the restaurant and maybe get some eggs while I typed up some diary, I entered to find a very casual diner style place with two rooms of tables connected by a doorway, the second room apparently having been added as an extension as there were windows in the dividing wall. The extra room was empty but the first room was half full of people eating. I grabbed a table and a waitress came over to give me a menu. It wasn’t really breakfast oriented at all, being full of burritos and tacos and other Mexican fare, although there was huevos con chorizo or huevos con jamon. I considered one of these, but settled on a burrito vegetariano, which actually cost a dollar or so more than a burrito with any of the half dozen styles of meat.

Burrito vegetariano
Burrito vegetariano at El Taco de Oro

The salsa for the chips was pretty hot, and I poured a bit on my plate to use with the burrito, as it didn’t have any chilli in it. It was filled with beans and rice and chopped tomato and lettuce and cheese, and tasted pretty good. By the time I finished, the place was really filling up with customers. It seems to be pretty popular, and there were a lot of people obviously from some of the nearby tech companies who come here for lunch. The burrito cost less than $8, and I just stuffed all the change into the tips jar.

Leaving the restaurant, I walked towards the Bay and Alviso Marina County Park. This is a wetland park encompassing a small area of marshes and adjacent salt ponds. There are levees between the water, with walking and cycling paths on them. A few people were walking around, once guy with birding binoculars, and occasionally a cyclist would scoot past. One path led out 3.5 miles, according to the sign, to a wetlands information centre. This was a bit far for me to think about, so I just did the relatively short circuit walk around the marsh area, which involved the levees and a boardwalk over the water for part of the route.

South Bay
Alviso Marina County Park

I saw several birds of different types, and also some squirrels scurrying about, but only had my phone so couldn’t get any photos of them. The plant life was interesting too, with short scrubby ground cover in green and red foliage, with white and yellow flowers, as well as some stands of faded yellow grass. There were also tall things that looked a bit like thistles, with spikes and large dried flower heads with fluffy white cotton in them. A railway track ran along a levee parallel to the initial one I walked along, separated by a narrow stretch of yellow coloured water. There were a few old relics of human construction, including a decayed wooden pier or sluice or something – it wasn’t obvious what it had been.

Sunshine, ready to fly
Flower seed head, Alviso Marina County Park

I did a slow circuit of the park, taking time to observe the plants, animals, water, and the brown grass hills in the distance to the east. It was good to get out and about and not shut into a building all day. The sky was thankfully cloudy, totally overcast but with high structured clouds, not a low ceiling of grey, and the temperature was cool and comfortable. On my way out, a group of three people were taking a boat out of the water, a man driving the large car with trailer, and two women on the boat as it chugged down the channel to the ramp. They were workers with the US Geological Survey, as indicated by logos on the car, boat, and uniforms.

Layers of wetland
Wetlands in Alviso Marina County Park

After the park I returned to the tiny town of Alviso, walking along the Alviso Slough river channel a bit and seeing some old boats moored at a rickety wharf. There were only really a half dozen small blocks to explore, but several interesting old buildings including an old canning factory, railroad depot, historical residences and businesses, many of them turned into houses with fences and “no trespassing” signs on them. Besides El Taco del Oro and Maria Elena’s, the only other eating establishment in town appeared to be Vahl’s, a restaurant and cocktail bar in a run down but oddly attractive Art Deco building.

Dock of the Bay
Fishing boat moored in Alviso Slough

After a lap of the town to make sure I’d seen everything, I stopped in at Vahl’s to get a drink before the long walk back to my hotel. The place was completely empty except for a waitress, who served me a Sierra Nevada beer from the tap. I took a table in a booth with dark green leather seats in the dark wooden panelled dining room beside the bar, to work a bit on this diary while I sat. Baseball was on the TV and some sort of 80s station was on the radio, both equally loud. No other customers came in the entire time I was there, and I was sipping my beer slowly to have time to write and relax.

After finishing the beer, I left and checked the murals on a building I’d seen on the way into town but hadn’t looked at closely yet. One mural was a map of Alviso, showing all the historic buildings. I was keen to see the railway station building, which had been in a photo on one of the explanatory signs in the park, but I hadn’t been able to locate it, and assumed it had been demolished at some point. But the map had “railroad depot” marked on it, a building back towards the park. So I walked back the couple of blocks to have a look. It turned out not to be the station building, but rather an auxiliary building, and had been converted into someone’s house, complete with a tall fence that obstructed any good view of it, so I didn’t even bother with a photo.

Bayside Canning factory
Abandoned Bayside Canning Company factory, Alviso

With Alviso fully explored, I started the long walk back to the hotel. I decided to try a different route for variety, and after crossing the river and going a bit further on my incoming path I turned right onto a road that led past some tech companies and then onto Great America Parkway, which ran past the theme park of the same name. While different, this didn’t promise to be much more interesting than the road I’d walked in on. But then I ran across the stormwater canal which ran up here to the bay from Santa Clara, and it had a walking and cycling path alongside it. This was a much nicer looking prospect, as it ran between properties and had no road running in parallel, so was much quieter. It also afforded the opportunity to spot wildlife, with lots of birds around, including ducks and egrets in the canal, swallows nesting under bridges, and other birds I couldn’t identify.

At one point I was walking under some pine trees and noticed bits of tree falling to the ground and making impact noises as they hit the path. Looking up, I saw a squirrel perched in a branch not far above me, nibbling on things and tossing away the discarded bits. Further on I also saw a skunk! I noticed something black and white rooting around in the plants on the other side of the canal. I thought it was a bird, and waited for it to emerge so I could see what type of bird it was, but when it backed out a minute or so later it turned out to be a skunk. Fortunately it was far enough away that there was no danger of encountering its scent.

Monkey at Levi's Stadium
Outside Levi’s Stadium

The track led directly last Levi’s Stadium, so I got the close up look denied to me in the morning. The canal and path actually ran between the stadium and the enormous car park, so the main entrance gates were right there. After taking some photos from outside and approaching the main gates, I noticed that one of the large gates was open. There were no security guards anywhere on sight, and there were no signs indicating the stadium was closed and not to enter. I walked up to the gate and peered inside, half expecting a guard to appear and shoo me away. A young couple approached as well, having also been walking down the track behind me. I asked them if they knew if we could go on or not, but their answer betrayed a European accent and that they had no idea either. They were keen to go inside, so I followed them, saying that we could at least get kicked out together.

Monkey at the field
Inside Levi’s Stadium

We walked up the main stairs to the top of the nearest seating rows, and looked down onto the grassy playing field, and up to the rows of seats climbing far above us on all sides. We all took several photos, and then wandered around the area looking at the closed food stalls, fan merchandise shop, and a children’s playground with play equipment shaped like footballs and boots. After taking a bunch of photos I left, leaving the couple wandering around inside and poking their noses into various places in the stadium.

Levi's Stadium panorama
Levi’s Stadium panorama

I left the canalside track near the Intel offices and walked back to my hotel to get a few minutes rest and swap my gear before heading out again for the 17:00 administrative working group meeting. During the day I’d also arranged to meet Rohan at 19:00 at my hotel to go out for dinner together. One of the old original CricInfo team, I hadn’t seen Rohan since he visited Sydney almost twenty years ago. In the administrative meeting, we went over the business plan paragraph I’d drafted, only to reject it and decide to include a much more succinct and non-specific statement of scope. Which was fine by me; I’d really just volunteered to draft it because nobody else had, and at least this way people had something to reject and replace.

The meeting ended about 16:30 as expected, then I want back to the hotel and dropped my stuff quickly before heading out to the front of the hotel to meet Rohan. He showed up in his car soon after, and drove us over to Santana Row in San Jose, a development aimed at emulating a European style dining neighbourhood, with lots of outdoor tables and pedestrian plazas. He’d booked us a table at a Chinese restaurant called Sino, which was a very modern sort of fusion place.

Pork belly fries
Pork belly fries, at Sino

We chose five small dishes from the sharing plates section: Spicy chicken “lollipops” (drumsticks trimmed down to have a bare bone to hold, with the meat crispy fried and smothered in a thick spicy sauce), soft shell crab, pork belly fries (bits of pork belly covered in French fries, kimchee, and a sauce), dim sum assortment, and fried pork buns. It was all good, but the chicken lollipops were the stand out, by agreement between the both of us. Rohan had a lychee martini to go with the food, while I tried a glass of Zinfandel. We chatted and caught up on years of events.

Dim sum assortment
dim sum assortment, at Sino

The last time we’d met, we split the “Coppa Mondiale” at Bravo gelateria in Crow Nest, eating half each of the giant eighteen scoop bowl. So of course Rohan had to take me to get some ice cream. He chose Mission City Creamery, which he hadn’t been to but had heard good things about. It was a very 1950s diner decor, with red leather and polished chrome everywhere. They offered multiple generous tasting spoons of the flavours, but I knew pretty much what I wanted after a quick survey. It’s interesting how customers here in the US take so many tastings of flavours before picking something.

Mission City Creamery
Mission City Creamery

I tried the grilled banana, but decided the banana nut combo would be better. I was going to select maple walnut as my second flavour, but then saw one labelled “Horchata”. I asked the lady behind the counter what this was, and she said it was a Mexican drink with rice and cinnamon. She had me at “cinnamon”, so I tried a spoonful, and switched my second flavour choice to that right away as it was delicious. You could make your own sundae combos by adding various toppings, so I had the banana nut and horchata with hot fudge sauce. It was wonderful.

Late night ice cream
Monkey rounding out the day at Mission City Creamery

We chatted until 22:00 when the ice cream place closed, then Rohan drove me back to the hotel and we said goodbye until next time. He had bought the dinner after insisting, so I need to remember that next time we get together it’s my shout for dinner. I had a quick chat with M. via FaceTime and then went to bed, knowing I’d need to get up earlier tomorrow.

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