For our last day in California, we decided to skip the wineries and spend the day in San Francisco. We were only about 50 miles away, so it was pretty easy drive into town. The Golden Gate was blanketed in fog as we rolled into town, but it cleared out as we entered the city. We drove straight along Lombard, and followed the street off the arterial so we could drive the car down the crooked section. Its fun to weave down the hill with the gaggle of tourists snapping your picture.

We parked the car for the day near the waterfront, and took a walk around town. We had plans for the evening, as Sasha had one of her friends who also happened to be in San Fran, and they were going to meet for dinner. But for the daytime we just planned to walk about and see what was up.

We started in Ghiradelli Square, since is was early enough in the day we were actually able to get into the little Malt shop they have there. usually, the line heads out the door to get in. We grabbed a couple of espressos and Sasha got a vanilla shake. The shop was very cute, with a display of traditional chocolate making in the back. It was fun to watch the machines churn chocolate while we waited for our drinks. Once done, we headed down the waterfront.

We really had no specific goal, but set our destination for Pier 1, which was the converted Ferry Terminal. Last time we were in San Francisco it had a great series of little shops and restaurants, and seemed like a smart lunch destination.

We just took our time to walk the piers, it was nice to see the various shops, fish-vendors, bakeries, etc. We checked out the marina behind the Aquarium, and I found a Carver Mariner like ours moored there. it was a newer model, and rigged for live-aboards. They had a new top on their boat that I was very jealous of. Ours is out of date and a bit trashed. We kept moving and continued our walk down the Embarcadero.

It was a longer walk than we remembered, and we were overheated and beat by the time we reached the pier. We immediately hid out in a nice cafe and had a full lunch. The place made a fantastic Caprese salad with heirloom tomatoes, and goat cheese. We each had a fresh fish dish, and you could appreciate how fresh everything was. We have noticed this all over California. The freshness of food in general is a big difference. I’m sure that being here at the end of summer when lots of this is picked fresh is having an impact, but it is striking when you compare it to regular food quality. I wish we could eat this fresh all the time. (We actually joined one of the CSA type vegetable delivery things, so having them deliver seasonal veggies may help us to do this more this year, we shall see.)

Once we are and rested, we checked out the shops and headed across to the end of the California street Cable Car line. we caught one as we walked up the hill, and took it to the transfer over to the Powell street line. Sasha’s friend was staying at the same hotel we stayed at on our last trip, so we walked around the hotel area for a bit, and sat in the park for some coffee and to relax before meeting up at the hotel.

Once Sasha went with her friend, Yulia and I caught the Cable Car back to Ghiradelli. It really is a cool way to travel across town. We passed the Lombard Hill on the way, and had a great view of Coit Tower. Once at the end of the line, we found a nice restaurant on the waterfront to relax at, with some live jazz playing. We just hung out until it was time to get Sasha, then we headed back across the Golden Gate.

We had a big drive home in the morning, so we didn’t want to be too late at night. Yulia managed to get a Skype call to her brother as we drove, and they exchanged video of Moscow and San Francisco sites as we headed out.

It was a fun end to a long trip. Time to head home.

We are back in wine country again.

This is our third trip here, and we are staying on the Sonoma side again. Yulia found us a great hotel on a golf course south of Santa Rosa, and having a big place to relax in is really the way to go.

We started the day in downtown Santa Rosa, which frankly is a bit worse for wear. A lot of the Napa and Sonoma valleys date back to the late 1800′s. Downtown Santa Rosa has some pretty col historical buildings, but just doesn’t have the cool kitschy feeling you want in wine countrySo we set the GPS to Sonoma, and headed across the hills.

We hit Glen Ellen after some beautiful but windy roads, and found the wine country we wanted to hit. The whole central Sonoma Valley has the old, country feel, with little storefronts and fruit markets between the wineries, with signposts on the way, pointing to each of the wineries, in all directions.

We hit a little market to pick up some fruit and chocolate. headed into downtown Sonoma to walk inside the shops and parks. it is an amazing city center, with shops, historical architecture, and history all rolled together. We wandered the streets, and the courtyard and alleyway shops. The whole town was amazing. Napa, in comparison is much newer and not nearly as walkable.

We went from there to three of our favorite wineries. First was Cline, which has amazing gardens and pools. THey have a bird collection i the gardens, and Sasha took time to have a conversation with several of the birds. She went over to the turtle pool while we tasted a few wines.

We next went across to the Jacuzzi winery, and since the crowd was too big to do wine tasting, we did an olive oil tasting instead. it was really fantastic stuff, and you really appreciate how fresh and crisp oil can be.

After that, we went to Viansa, which we have visited on every trip to Napa. They have an outdoor pizza oven, and an amazing little store. We got some wine and food for the evening, and headed back to the hotel.

We had a normal room when we checked in, but Yulia worked her magic, (and used some Hilton Honors magic as well) and we were upgraded to a Junior Suite. The staff moved our luggage while we were away, and we cam back to a top floor room of about triple the size.

It’s nice to order room service, hit the pool for a bit and just relax. We should do this more.

Sitting in our room, we wait for the fireworks to start over the park. Our window has the perfect view of Anaheim and the Disneyland park including the full evening fireworks show.

But tonight, high winds end up canceling the show at the last second. We imagine the frustration and screams of those who have been waiting in the park for hours to get the perfect seats. With sleepy children no sadly walking back to their respective shuttles to their hotels.

We laugh.

Staying in the Disneyland Hotel has it’s advantages.

We have been here since – well I’m not sure exactly. There was a lot of squealing and happy chatter, and several roller coasters since then, so I’m not entirely sure. Mai Tais may also be involved, we can’t be sure.

The whole Disney resort has been remodeled, The Hotels, the parks, everything. I’m sure that those who don’t come often might not be able to tell, but we have been often enough that it really shows. So far, we are spending mornings in the park, coming back to the pool for the afternoon, then picking up again in the evening.

When you give yourself enough time, there really isn’t so much pressure to get everything in at once.

This gave us some time to find the ever so slightly hidden Tiki Bar behind the pool. So far, it has proven popular. That, napping at the pool, and trying to catch as many of the shows has been the bulk of our time.

Today also included a trip out to Universal Studios. We got the Front-of-line pass, which is about the only way to see the whole place in one day. All of it is great. Touring the studios I feel a bit guilty as it is hard today for someone like Sasha or Yulia to get exposed to a lot of the films and directors that are classic in a place like Universal. Looks like we have a big rental list coming.

It’s the same problem we have at Disney trying to explain “Song of the South” or “Wind in the Willows” Splash Mountain and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride don’t make sense without these films.

But that’s small potatoes. We are really just enjoying our time, loving the shows, and relaxing.

And laughing at the dorks in the shuttle queue.

NOKIA Lumia 900 000333

Despite the heat, we actually slept well, and were up early. Wanting to not miss breakfast probably also factored into not spying in, as we have learened in the past that the free hotel breakfast can run out pretty quick in some places. But we were pretty lucky here, with a well laid out breakfast, soe we were up, fed, and out of Ashland by 8am.

Morning driving is always better. The roads are clear, and the air is cool. We were in California before we knew it. The drive through Northern california, is a big wind up and down the passes while watching Mount Shasta dance around you on the horizon.

We are on day two of our vacation, and we are still doing nothing but driving. Most people who don’t regularly road trip think this as a waste. In fact, several of our friends mentioned this to us directly, asking why we didn’t fly instead. The point of a road trip is not to get somewhere, but to go somewhere. We get to see and do little things along the way.

We did a little side loop through Yreka, got Olives at the Olive Pit (as we do every trip), stopped at a little mall for coffee, then once we got to Sacramento, we had a great dinner and walked through the Old Town.

None of this was crazy, none of this was something that you would ordinarily go out of your way to plan on your vacation. But all of it was fantastic. Everything has made us just that much more excited to get to our next destination to see what’s next.   Some of that is just going to be sitting on our butts. Some of it will be planned. All of it will be fun.

Today, Yulia said it best:

Sometimes you get so busy doing things on your vacation, you forget to just enjoy being on vacation.

We debated on getting an early start, or even having a first-day destination for our trip. making the final decision to blow the hell out of town was easy, and after a bit of farting around, we decided to get out as early as possible and drive to Ashland. We took a look at the schedule, and thought that if we dove well, we might be able to get in a little bit of the Shakespeare Festival.

In the end, catching the festival mattered less than just getting out of town. When you put off vacation for this long, you literally get separation anxiety from your own stress. You know that there is just one more thing to get done, and just one more email that you need to write. Even as we drove, it was hard not to check the phone for messages and respond.

Once we hit the middle of Oregon, and lost connectivity, it was a relief. The forced separation from our data was welcome. At that point we finally began to decompress. Traffic was actually very light, and the roads were clear all the way. We made good time, and great mileage all the way down, and hit Ashland right on schedule.

Once we unloaded, we drove to the center of town, and checked the place out.

Ashland is a beautiful place, it has a cool European vibe, which is probably why a Shakespeare festival seems to fit here so well. We immediately hit the town center, passing the street stages, and crowds waiting for the night’s performance and the main theatre. I grabbed some mineral water from the central town fountain.

Apparently, Ashland had been famous for the mineral springs, similar to Bath, England. I naturally saved a bunch, and drank from the fountain. it looked like dirty lemonade, and smelled of sulfur.

I love this kind of stuff.

We went to a pub on the river walk for dinner, and then walked main street for a bit before catching a public performance on some side stage. We were too beat to catch a main show, but after seeing what a blast it was here, we decided that this needs to be the center of it’s own trip.

But tonight we were tired and headed back to the hotel.

Well, after a summer of ungodly work and ridiculous stress, we are finally off for vacation again.

I think that forcing myself to write again is probably the best thing that I do to myself each vacation, and I’m sure that I need to translate this into some kind of permanent habit for the rest of the year. But that’s not the immediate goal.

The immediate goal is ROAD TRIP.

Taking road trips to Disneyland has become a staple of our vacation choices, and with the sad destruction of the PAcifica this year, and the purchase of the Magnum, we are well equipped for the drive. Having a 5.7L Hemi to tear up the concrete from Seattle to L.A. should make the trip quite pleasant. Nothing suck more than struggling up a mountain pass in a full car.

We have a few extra days to get down to Disney, we are making stops in both Ashland and Sacramento on the way down. This way we don’t need to rush quite so much.

Tonight we pack, tomorrow WE RIDE!