I love walking through the hotel in nothing but a robe and underpants. It makes me feel like I’m getting my money’s worth.

One of the goals of our trip this time was to avoid the madcap drive from winery to winery. We wanted to pick fewer destinations, but make them count. Coppola Vineyards was one of those picks.

The interesting thing about the Coppola Winery is that it is not just a celebrity winery. When Francis Ford Coppola opened it, he wanted to recreate the feel of a resort of his youth (or so he says), so the winery has a resort pool, with rentable cabines, all done in an 1940’s motif. The winery also has a full-service restaurant, and a museum of movie paraphernalia.

We rented a cabin for the day, and lounged out by the pool. The previous day was fairly overcast, and we had some worries that we would get the same today as well.

We stopped on the drive from our hotel to the winery for coffee and breakfast in Healdsburg. We found a fantastic Espresso joint just off the main street. The pool at the winery didn’t open until 11:00, so we tok some extra time checking out the town a bit.

Healdsburg downtown was a very cool collection of old architecture, galleries, and shops. It didn’t take long for the skies to clear, and the weather started getting warm pretty quick. Looked like we we were in luck.

We headed out and pulled into the Coppola Winery. A fine gentleman pointed us to the right parking lot, and we checked in for the day. The place was fantastic. We toured around the main building, Each Cabine had a little flag on top flapping in the breeze. Behind the pool was the bandstand from the Godfather. Inside the building was two floors of memorabilia, with a wall of awards and oscars, props from Apocalypse Now, The Godfather, an original Tucker Torpedo car, and countless other items. It was really stunning. It was more like being in someone’s home than in a winery or museum. A strange feeling really.

The plan was just to swim and relax. Which was all we did for a few hours. We did a wine tasting later on, and had planned on staying the day and having dinner in the restaurant in the evening. Once it really started getting hot, we changed plans. We just got cooked right out of the pool.

Since we were fairly north in the valley, we decided to cut across into Calistoga to check out Old Faithful. We had originally planned to do this the next day, but things worked out in our favor.

The geyser is off the main highway. it kind of lept out with a big gate that looked like it was built in the late 70’s. The building inside seemed to date from the 50’s. We paid and sat on picnic benches to wait. It was hot. The whole space around the pond and rocks was surrounded by tall bamboo. It had a very surreal feeling to it. It wasn’t too long of a wait before the rocks started steaming, then bubbling. We waited a few more minutes, then water shot up a few feet and stopped.

We thought that was gong to be it when the whole place exploded with water. It shot out and just kept going. Yulia and Sasha ran around into the spray, and I could feel the minerals in the spray of the water. It had the smell of a natural spring, just like in Ashland and Bath, England. I love that smell. The water almost feels magical as it soaks into your skin.

After a few minutes it finally died down. We could understand why people have come here for years. We even got to feed some Goats and bighorn sheep next door.

On the drive down the valley, we pulled into a Tuscan Castle. It was stunning, a full stone castle. Apparently the builder wanted it to be authentic looking inside and out. It had elements that looked like damage, rebuilding, remodeling, everything. It was beautiful. The wine they made wan’t too bad either. Sasha was pretty pleased as they also had animals, and she got to pet some sheep. Sasha loves her animals, and they love her in return.

Really an amazing day.

We had plans for the evening to do the Bizarre Bath tour, but we thought a drive into Cardiff would be good for the start of the day. It was about an hour to get there, which wasn’t too bad considering we could get in a tour of the waterfront, the main castle, which had high recommendations, and perhaps stop somewhere interesting on the way back if we had time. It also gave Sasha and I a chance to see the Doctor Who exhibit, since we are both terrible geeks.

It was a very quick drive over, with only a slowdown at the toll gate for the bridge. The GPS was invaluable for driving here, since the signs were largely in Welsh for place names. I could see why the Welsh have been angry at the English for so lone since apparently the English have stolen almost the entire country’s supply of vowels. They did leave a large collection of “L”s apparently since they use about ten in each word.

Yulia was ecstatic at seeing another language here, and attempted pronouncing all the place names that she could find. I eventually had to stop her after running out of tissues to wipe up all the spit that that left on the dash and windshield.

We got to Cardiff, and found that the Doctor Who exhibit moved to London a month back. We were joined by a few frustrated English tourists as well, but since we will be in London in a week or so we can catch it then.

We walked down to Roald Dhal Plas, and along the waterfront for a bit. We saw some wild Swans with newborn swans swimming along the waterfront. The view was beautiful across the harbor. We caught a quick lunch at a place called “Salt”, which was basically a very upscale pub, but cheaper than the ones in Bath, and then headed back to tour Cardiff Castle.

The GPS twisted us around town for a bit, then right into a massive traffic jam. This was Saturday, and we couldn’t figure out what would cause so much traffic all at once. We crawled around corners and forced our way into merging traffic, and then I heard them. The sound was unmistakeable.


Turning the corner we could see the streets packed with screaming drunken sports fans. Scarves for several countries were being waved, horns were blaring, and the stadium was right across from the castle.

This was going to be fun.

After a few minutes it was obvious that we were going to have to pay for parking at one of the sporting car parks, everything was full elsewhere. We found a lot near the castle for £10, and the girl there told us that is was not just rugby, but a motocross, and some third thing in yet another stadium, all witting blocks of each other. Joy.

We got the last spot in her lot, and walked through the park to the castle. The castle itself was magnificent. It was in beautiful shape, with mixes of Roman, 15th century, 17th century, and 20th century changes. Amazing architecture all around. We went through the wall tunnels, which had an audio track of their use as bomb shelters from WWII, walked the parapets and towers, and climbed to the top of the Keep, which was in surprisingly good shape.

The main manor house, which is still used today, is gorgeous. The last family to live there made a series on unique architectural changes including a guilded library, grand dining, small dining that contains special tables to hold live grape vines for dining, and art, armor, and the like.

We took a long time at the castle and once we were done decided to head straight back to Bath so as not to miss the evening tour. We got to our B&B, cleaned up, and took a short rest before heading into town. On the way back to park in town, I took what I thought would be a shorter route to the parking spots, which means that it of course took longer and led me to the wrong spot. Yulia and Sasha head to the Pub to meet the tour, and I ran the car over to the correct location then Ran down to meet the girls at the pub.

I actually ran fast enough that I beat them there, and posed nonchalantly against a railing as they turned the corner. We were just in time for the tour. This was a comedy walk, with no history involved. Basically the guide made fun of Bath, told jokes, and did street magic tricks the whole time. I can’t recommend it enough. It ran pretty long though, and by the end, around 10:30, we were starving. This led us to our next problem to solve, there isn’t much to eat that allows kids past 9:00 or so.

We walked about for a bit, and saw a mediocre pizza place, lots of bars, and finally saw lights on in an Italian place. It turned out to be Jamie Oliver’s restaurant. I loved his show, and was pleased that at least the food would be healthy. Yulia and Sasha waited in line while I ran off to move the car closer to the restaurant. We got our table by the time I got back, and were pleased that the price was pretty reasonable for a celebrity place.

We will be on our way to North Wales in the morning. It shouldn’t be too long a drive.

Or so we thought.