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January 03, 2013
Our primary destination today is the new California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.
The place is worth a visit for the Renzo Piano-designed building alone. A marvel of "green" architecture, it includes a "living roof" and insulation made from recycled blue jeans.
Inside, there are wonders ranging from a four-story recreation of a rain forest to a coral reef transplanted from the Philippines.
The whole thing is new enough that the novelty factor is still quite high, so visitors are advised to get there early and be patient. Or do like we did and be friends with somebody who happens to be a member.
We're in the middle of the West Coast version of Central Park, however, so there's no time for dawdling after the museum.
Curiosities abound, including the scene at Spreckels Lake. This is the gathering place for San Francisco's model yachtsmen, whose lightweight craft glide around the lake with radio-controlled precision. On a sunny day like today, it's a perfect place to rest a while and ponder the difference between "toy" and "hobby."
We've also been provided with a curious little audio tour that clues us into one of the stranger stories involving the park. Scattered around various corners are sections of Santa Maria de Ovila, an 11th-century Spanish monastery that William Randolph Hearst bought and had shipped to California in the 1930s.
Turns out there's not much you can do with an entire medieval monastery, so the pieces have been gathering moss here ever since. We discover some of the historic stones around Strybing Arboretum and find they make a fine platform to sit and ponder the idea of being wealthy enough to not only buy and transport such a building but then forget you have it.
If the mute stones could speak, what would they say?
For a taste of how ordinary folks lived in ancient Rome, head for the suburb of Ostia Antica.