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Tours Travel

Santa Clara, California

When I was first asked to accept a technical writing contract in Santa Clara, California, I was not very enthusiastic. I had visited California a few years before and had stayed with friends in Fremont. He had had a wonderful time, visiting all the famous tourist spots, such as Hollywood and Disneyland in Southern California, the fabulous waterfalls and forests of Yosemite National Park, and the old Spanish-style seaside towns of Monterey and Carmel. He had a great time, but he really wasn’t looking forward to going back.

I had just started a Masters course at UCD in Ireland, so the money from such a contract would be great, but the inconvenience of taking ten days off to travel to the other side of the world to offset the benefits. After much soul searching, I decided to give it a try. If the contract turned out to be too difficult, since you had never worked as a technical writer before, you really would have nothing to lose. So on October 19, 2000 I left for Santa Clara, without guessing what destiny was in store for me.

Within twenty-four hours of arriving in Santa Clara, life had suddenly changed dramatically. They booked me an apartment in Milpitas. They gave me my own cubicle in a huge building owned by Nortel, one of the largest telecommunications companies in the world, and introduced me to the team I would be working with. One of the members of this team was Bob, a dazzling, cheerful and very friendly guy who loved the outdoors and had a passion for Irish art, literature and culture. We immediately became friends. We spent the most wonderful ten days touring the Bay Area, dining at exotic restaurants in Palo Alto and San José, walking along glorious Seascape Beach, browsing libraries and bookstores, shopping for long tie dresses in Capitola, and even getting to see Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young at the Shoreline Theater.

When the ten days were up, I didn’t want to leave. I promised to come back for Christmas. Bob made plans to visit me in Ireland. So for a few months life became a frenzied whirlwind traveling between two continents. I quickly began to fall under the spell of the true spirit of California. He had always envisioned it as a sunny haven for artists and hippies, movie stars and revolutionaries. It was certainly the scene of a social revolution in the 1960s. However, I had never realized the extent of its incredible natural beauty – the thousands of acres of stunning forests and hills that have been designated as parks throughout the state. ; the miles of glorious beaches dotted along the entire west coast; the variety of towns and cities, from gold rush settlements to Spanish missions to sprawling iconic cities.

Of course, Santa Clara is in the center of Silicon Valley, known for its high-tech industry where work is brutally competitive and perfectionist standards largely prevail. I obtained a work visa and worked in several of these companies doing contract work. IT workers are generally well paid, but many hours are expected in return, and no matter how much effort you put into your work, you can still be fired without even a handshake in a moment. Then there were other harsh realities of life that impressed me: the application of the barbaric death penalty, the number of homeless people, particularly in San Francisco, the often callous attitude that associated poverty with weakness or laziness, high levels of smog due to traffic congestion and industrial fumes and hugely inflated house prices and rents forcing most people to settle in other parts of the US.

Despite its social problems, Santa Clara County contains some of the most interesting cities and beautiful parks in the Bay Area. There is the small Asian town of Mountain View with its incredible variety of restaurants; the city of San José with its old art deco hotels and Spanish-style buildings; Los Gatos with its charming antique and designer stores; Saratoga, a beautiful old town at the foot of the Santa Cruz mountains. Some of the amazing parks I have visited include Uvas Canyon Forest, Big Basin State Park, Sanborn Skyline Park, Henry Coe State Park, and Coyote Lake in Mount Hamilton.

The town of Santa Clara is the main administrative center of the area. The most beautiful buildings there are are the university and the mission. Throughout California there were twenty-one missions established by the Franciscan order from 1769 onward. The areas where the missions were built gradually became important towns and cities. This is also how the town of Santa Clara began to flourish.

For three years I lived with Bob and his four adorable cats in his apartment in Lick Mill, Eastern Santa Clara, on the Lick Mansion Historic Site. James Lick was one of the richest men in America in the mid-1800s, and he built a fabulous mansion and mill, both of which are still in perfect condition. Every day he took a walk through the Ulistac Natural Area, once inhabited by the Ohlone Indians. He often daydreams about what it must have been like to live in Santa Clara, long before a white person had set foot in its forests, hills, and sacred beaches.

During those years I made many incredible trips with Bob, to towns like Mountain View and Santa Cruz, to the cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles and Sacramento, to magnificent beaches, forests, deserts and mountains of incredible beauty. Santa Cruz became my favorite place, with its wonderful bookstores, great coffee shops, and quirky locals. I attended meditation centers in Redwood City and Mountain View, and also took a bookbinding class. There was always so much to do, from watching old movies in big movie theaters, hiking in the mountains, or surfing at Seascape.

We traveled the length and breadth of California’s diverse landscape: snow-capped mountains en route to Lake Tahoe; lush fall vineyards in Napa and Sonoma; magic redwoods in Santa Cruz and giant redwoods in Yosemite; the splendor of the Pacific Ocean in summer; the arid desert of the Mojave Desert in winter, where there is little to break the monotony of the scorched earth except for the lone Joshua tree. Sometimes we cruise the back roads of the Santa Cruz Mountains in Bob’s blue-green miata, enjoying sumptuous views under turquoise skies and shimmering star blankets. On longer trips, we would take Bob’s truck. Then we would often go off the road and rest for a few hours before resuming our travels.


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