Saturday, August 1, 2009

Summer on the go... Part 1

Summer in Chicago has been somewhat disappointing. After a very long and brutal winter, Chicagoans were waiting... and are still waiting, for Summer to begin... preferably before it is officially over. 

To offset the lack of Summer, we have made a couple of trips away. The first trip, in June, was to San Jose in California while Paul attended the Semtech Conference. We stayed a night at the Argonaut Hotel San Francisco on our way there (great for kids with themed rooms and a gift from the ‘treasure chest’ when the kids checked in). We did the obligatory cable car ride, look around Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, saw the seals and ate crab at the ultra-touristy Crab House - made all the more palatable with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and stunning views of the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. 

After making our way to San Jose via Caltrain, we checked into the Fairmont Hotel. This hotel has an excellent location, we received a nice big room, but we found it to be incredibly unfriendly towards families. A series of unfortunate events soured our opinions of this establishment: We had to request a crib (cot) a number of times (despite it being requested in our booking and again on check-in); we had to pay to have the mini-bar removed (took around three attempts - and then all items ended up being charged to our account); we had to request extra towels despite the booking being for 5 people; no kids menu or smaller kid-friendly portions on the room service menu; officious concierge service; convoluted process to organise a sitter; then it took three calls for someone to investigate the leaking toilet in our room; housekeeping rudely exclaiming “Oh, you’re still here” as we prepared to leave our room (well before our check-out time) but delayed a little as we didn’t wish to wake our sleeping baby.... AHHH! On the upside, the kids and I were able to have some really good outings, including seeing a live Sesame Street stage performance, visiting the Children's Museum, eating a burger at Johnny Rockets, playing in the Plaza de César Chávez fountain, the hotel pool and visiting the excellent The Tech science museum. With a little reluctance, we decided not to hire a car while we stayed in California. We were happy with this decision as it was so very easy to get around both San Francisco and San Jose without one.  It would be nice to spend a little more time in and around San Jose to explore a few more sights - such as the Winchester Mystery House and some of the theme parks including Great America, Gilroy Gardens or Raging Waters

While we were in San Jose, I was struck by how unfriendly the people seemed to be. Perhaps I have become too accustomed to the friendliness of the Midwest? It seemed that everyone was a little too preoccupied or reluctant to let their guard down. I gave a few mothers that ‘knowing look’ so often shared amongst caregivers when kids are running amok or just being kids. This was more than often ignored or overlooked. It made me feel very isolated and cemented the notion that I never want to live in the Silicon Valley: it seemed just too hostile.  

We checked into the San Francisco Hyatt Regency on the way out of California and couldn’t be more impressed after our bad experiences at the Fairmont: crib send straight to the room (with extra towels - no need to ask), special welcome package for the kids, kid-friendly room service menu; a concierge that called to see if everything was OK... so fantastic! ....and the people smile in San Francisco. The unfriendly attitude must be quirk of the Silicon Valley. 

Photo: Family standing on Pier 39 with Alcatraz in the background

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