Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Muzzi's Ranch Pumpkin Patch and Corn Maze

On Saturday, John and our friends Nick and Melissa made our second annual trip to the Muzzi's Ranch Pumpkin Patch and Corn Maze in San Gregoria, California. We stumbled upon this little treasure last year while camping at Costanoa in Pescadero. What sets this privately owned farm apart from the other cookie cutter pumpkin patches is the pure ridiculousness of it (and the lack of annoying crowds). http://www.yelp.com/ politely calls it "Local Flavor", I call it classic Nor Cal weird.

Muzzi's Ranch is located off highway 84 near Pescadero on La Honda Road. There are a few dilapidated signs leading the way but mostly you'll just stumble upon it by the bright patch of orange off to the side of the road. To call it a ranch is a bit of stretch. At one time, maybe 20 years ago, it was an operating ranch but today its a set of dilapidated buildings, empty fields and pumpkins.

The larger pumpkins are arranged in an open field with cardboard boxes of little pumpkins and gourds off to the sides. You can choose from the basic orange pumpkin or some "designer" pumpkins of bright orange or green. The boxes of little pumpkins are sold 3 for a $1 and so are the gourds which come in an array of colors and sizes (some oddly resembling fruits in color and shape). 

Conveniently at the entrance are 10 red wheel barrows for use by customers to fill up with their pumpkin treasures. We filled up two wheel barrows each. I chose: 2 large pumpkins for decorating and three mini pumpkins for fun. Our grand total was a whopping $6. In the city, this would have cost me at least $20! Our friends made the real killing: 3 large pumpkins, an assortment of gourds, 6 mini pumpkins and 5 smaller pumpkins for only $23.

Old man and his pickup (and farm hand)
How you may ask can pumpkins be so cheap??? I have no idea. It could be all the pumpkins fell off the back of a truck thus they are all profit or the ornery man who works the farm (but never steps out of his pickup or extinguishes the cigarette loosely hanging from his lip) has difficulty counting or merely doesn't care.

Sadly, the corn maze was just not tall enough. The prior year, we had torrential rains around Halloween and a lot of the farm land in the area got flooded and crops washed away. This farm was hit pretty hard as the entire corn maze was one big pool of water last year. This year he built it in a new location, but possibly it didn't have time to mature, thus only a 3 year old would have been short enough to call it a proper maze. Plus the old man, his not so trusty companion leering by his side and the $5 surcharge cannot be appealing to parents of little ones! Thus no one dared enter the maze in the time we were there.

Old farm house with "Unsafe" sign

That being said, Muzzi's Ranch is a wonderful option from the busy Half Moon Bay pumpkin festival but if you are looking for modern amenities and trendy pumpkin ice cream this isn't your place. Its an beautiful drive from the city, cheap, highly entertaining and quiet. I'd much rather go to a pumpkin patch that resembles a scene from The Children of the Corn than Half Moon Bay's yuppie heaven. Its all so very halloween!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Fleet Week Fair

Fleet Week descended upon San Francisco last week with a bang. An estimated 1 million people visited the city over the three day weekend with the highlight for most being the Blue Angels Air Show on Saturday and Sunday. The Blue Angels heart stopping aerial performance seems to defy gravity and amazes me every time I see it. But for me the highlight this year was the fair on the lawn at Marina Green. John and I wandered along the shore taking in the family friendly festivities prior going to a friend's house for a roof top Blue Angels party.

The fair was nothing like the fair I knew as a kid. It was spectacular!

One game that caught my eye was the what I like to call "the hamster balls." Parents, actually pay for their kids to climb into a big hamster ball and roll around in a big above ground pool and try and beat the crap out of each other. It was absolutely hilarious to watch. Most kids were too small to maneuver in the ball thus it was a camera friendly show of kids flopping around in big hamster balls, but the potential was there.

The giant blow up monkey and so many other cool blow up bounce type things for kids to go crazy on.

Another great game was the massive two sided blow up slide shaped like a ship.

While some played at the fair, ten thousand or so people relaxed on the lawn at Marina Green waiting for the big Blue Angel show start to at 3pm. We bought some snacks at one of the three booths selling fair like food; hot dogs, chicken tenders, fries, and other fine unhealthy items and perused at the few souvenir booths selling military t-shirts, hats. I happily gawked at the sailors and made sailor jokes such as "Dirty sailors going from port to port."

Before we left the fair for the roof party we caught the annual United Airlines 747 fly by. It a sight to be seen as a massive 747 flies low along bay at the Marina Green circling over Alcatraz and back two times before returning to Oakland Airport. Its a shout out for the airlines as a sponsor but its spectacular none the less. The plane is so low and seems incredibly big and it brings a smile to most every one's face (and a bit of fear). As the plane flies by the announcer tells of the history and great service of the fine people of United Airlines in a classic baseball announcer of the 50's voice. Its hilarious.

I love Fleet Week. Planes, boats, food, beer, games, sun and sailors! Next year I recommend checking out the fair and the Marina Green before enjoying the big Blue Angel air show on a friend's roof.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Streets of Lijiang

An article I wrote for http://www.cgrooves.com/, an online expat magazine in China.

The Streets of Lijiang

Lijiang, located in northwest Yunnan Province is rich with cultural heritage and has one of the best preserved “old towns” in all of China. The highlight of Lijiang, and the main reason most visitors travel to the area, is the Ancient Old Town of Lijiang. It is one of the last places a foreign or domestic visitor can experience the historic culture and city life of old world China just like in the movies.
Marble Bridge in Old Market Square
The Old Town was constructed in the late Song Dynasty, more than 800 years ago, while “new town” was built around 50 years ago. Old Town consists of 3.8 square kilometers of beautiful cobblestone streets and intersecting waterways, and is home to numerous cultural minorities including the Naxi, Bai, Lisu, Pumi, Yi, Tibetan, and Miao. The Naxi people, descendents of ethnically Tibetan Qiang tribes, are historically the majority population and have called Lijiang home for over 1400 years. Naxi had the largest influence over Lijiang’s architecture, unique layout, and cultural heritage and comprise 58% of the city’s current inhabitants. Due to its preservation and long cultural history, Lijiang’s Old Town was listed as a World Cultural Heritage City by UNESCO in December 1997, becoming China’s first cultural heritage city and possibly its finest.
Canals of Lijiang
The entire Old Town is a museum in its own right. Dubbed the “Venice of the Orient”, Lijiang is a complex web of canals and waterways transversed by cobblestone streets and over 350 marble bridges. The main water source is Black Dragon Pool (Heilongtan) which extends its fingers to every corner of Old Town. The cobblestone streets branch out from Sifang Jie (Old Market Square) in four directions, providing visitors with a nice jumping off point to explore and possibly get lost among the narrow and countless networks of streets in Old Town. If you do find yourself lost in Lijiang, merely follow the water upstream and you’ll find your way back to Sifang Jie. Along the way you’ll be able to gaze at the traditional Naxi wooden houses with sloping tile roofs; ornately carved wooden doors and archways; the hidden squares and gardens; and engage with the wonderful people of Lijiang. The main streets are lined with open air cafes and countless stone benches where you can sit and enjoy a book or simply people watch. Although the streets are busy with tourists almost every day of the year, if you start exploring early or late in the day, you’ll be able to find some peaceful spots. The farther you get from Sifang Jie, the less likely you will be bombarded with tour groups and their infamous flags.
Black Dragon Pool Park
If wandering along the streets of Old Town isn’t your cup of tea, there are numerous places to see and explore in and around Old Town Lijiang. Among the highlights are Lion Hill Park’s Wanggu Tower, the Mu Family Mansion, and Black Dragon Pool Park.  Wanggu Tower, a recently built five story wooded pavilion located at the peak of Lion Hill park, provides the best panoramic views of the peaked homes of Old Town and the natural surrounding scenery.  

To the north of Old Town is Black Dragon Pool Park. You can easily spend an afternoon there exploring the many pavilions and temples, wandering amongst the willow trees and beautiful gardens, or relaxing by the jade green pond. The view of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (Yulong Xueshan) from the park is one of the most photographed spots in southwestern China. Among the most famous pavilions in the park are Deyue and Five-Phoenix (Wufeng). Not to be missed within the park are two museums; The Dongba Research Institute and the Museum of Naxi Dongba Culture both of which house Naxi cultural artifacts.
Within Old Town, one of the most famous spots is the Mu Family Mansion, the former home of the local chiefdom for 22 generations. The Mansion is fashioned after a mini Forbidden City and is a maze of courtyards and residences set among some of the most exquisite gardens in the region. The Mu Family Mansion is a great place to relax and get away from the crowded streets of Old Town.
Naxi Musicians
Finding a place to stay in Lijiang is relatively easy as there are over 700 Naxi guest houses in Old Town alone. The best places to stay for nighttime action are directly off Sifang Jie. At night Lijiang’s bars and restaurants come alive with boisterous travelers from around the world. If you aren’t interested in spending your night getting drunk at the local bar, you can enjoy a traditional Naxi concert by the Naxi Orchestra at the Naxi Music Academy or at the government run Dongba Palace. Old Town boasts an exhaustive list of caf├ęs and bars serving up Chinese, Western and Westernized Naxi cuisine. However, if you are looking for traditional Naxi food, it’s  best to wander out of Old Town and find street vendors selling Baba, Lijian’s local specialty of wheat flatbread, served plain or stuffed with meats, vegetables, and anything you can imagine.
Lijiang’s Old Town is a destination not to be missed. The minute you set eyes on Lijiang you’ll feel magically transported back in time with its whimsical old world beauty. Look past the crowds and you’ll feel and see the old world come alive all around you.