Into a small wine glass, squeeze the juice of one lime wedge. Add one shot Repisado Tequila. Drink. Repeat as required.

We are now on vacation. I would normally start vacation writing early, but things were so goddamn hectic that I barely had time for a quality shit, let alone some fancy pants writing. I am now sitting on the balcony of our room, looking at the local tourist “pirate ship” take the current load of drunken tourists around the bay at Cabo San Lucas. I haven’t had internet access in well over 24 hours, and thus my writing was not happening.

This is now alleviated.WP_20130630_001

We always plan our vacations well in advance – at least six months to get good reservation pricing. But for some reason I am incapable of packing anything until I actually have checked into the online checking 24 hours before we fly. So this leads to a mad dash around the house to find all the little piles of shirts, cables, and other things that I think I will need when we travel. No matter what, I am always wrong. This time I have taken too much. Specifically, an extra computer and cabling. I don’t need to dial in for my job anymore, but I took it by habit. I can do everything on my Surface, but oh well.

We had a 6am flight on Sunday out of Seattle, so I was up at 6 on Saturday to check us in. This early bird approach gained us the option for a First Class upgrade all the way to Mexico, so I jumped on it. Flying First Class on an upgrade is always a good choice, but I make it a point to get back the cost of the upgrade in free drinks if possible. On shorted flights this can be a challenge. As this was a 6am flight, this challenge was Expert Level.

We woke up at 2:45 to catch a shuttle from our house. The night before, Sasha had her Spring Showcase for Ballroom Dance. That ended at 10:30. As expected we were not sleeping well. Yulia woke up at 1:00am. Sasha couldn’t sleep until 1:30. The drive to the airport and stumble through security were a total blur. but we were glad to have some coffee and a banana at the coffee stand inside.

Naturally, once on the plane, things were better. First class served a nice yogurt and fruit breakfast. The newlyweds in front of us had mimosas, so Yulia had the same, while I ordered Bloody Marys. After the third one, things felt more normal. We had a short layover in San Jose California, before continuing to Los Cabos. On the last flight, I just had a scotch, and a few G&T’s to get ready for the heat.

That turned out to be a good plan, as it was 93 degrees when we got off the plane, but an easy ride into Cabo to our hotel. We have all the shuttles pre-arranged so we don’t have to deal with taxis and such, and the hotel is just outside of the main strip, across the dry river. We stayed at this complex before, but this time we are at Villa Del Arco, and have the All-inclusive option. Which is nice, so our food and drink are included. Please note: I am at a place where all my booze in covered.

They will regret this.

In the meantime, we have settled into a very nice 1 bedroom suite, so we have a separate room from Sasha, with a fantastic view of the ocean. The whole place is fantastic. And the food so far has been amazing.

We walked to the marina earlier today. It is about 20 minutes to walk down the beach, and every few feet, some guy offers you a water taxi or jetski. If we moved up the surf a bit, they offer to sell you ceramic plates or silver jewelry. You think after seeing me say “no, gracias” to the first 100 dudes, the next one would at least offer something different to say no to. Hell guys, let me say no to the donkey show or something. Throw me a bone here.

We walked the malls,hit the tourist stands, and had lunch at Cabo Wabo. I have to say, the place has really fantastic food. If Sasha was older, we would take in a show there.

Back at the hotel, we rested at poolside, and Yulia ran into one of our fellow First Class travelers from the flight down. Yulia recognized him right away because he looks like The Rock, and speaks with a Scottish accent. Turns out his wife went t Newport with my sister, and he recognizd me from the plane, as the woman sitting next to him was shocked during the flight, and told him:

“Did you see that, someone ordered a glass of scotch at 9 in the morning! What kind of person does that?”

  1. I didn’t know it was only 9 am.
  2. Fuck you, welcome to México bitches.

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 have loved the food everywhere in California. We found a little breakfast place just south of our hotel, called the Redwood cafe. It was right in the center of Cotati, and had a great selection of organic foods, juices, and some pretty darn good espresso.

Of course, like the rest of California, they keep saying “eXpresso” it’s driving me nuts. oh well.

We ordered a big breakfast, with fresh made vegetable juice, and two cups of coffee each, sitting on a little table on the sidewalk. A great start to any day.

The big plan for the day was having diner at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon in Yountville, so we planned on spending lunch at the hotel in the pool. Or at least Yulia and Sasha did. I had plans to meet my buddy Peter Rogers.

If you know of my movie from High School, “Aerobic Boy” then you know of Peter. He was the writer/director, and I hadn’t seen him since we graduated. We managed to connect on Facebook earlier in the year, and he had apparently moved to Santa Rosa.

We met for lunch at a little diner. You would think it might take a minute to recognize someone after 20+ years. But Pete looked almost the same.

I, on the other hand, am bald as hell.

For whatever reason he was able to recognize me, and I walked up to him and said, “My hovercraft is full of eels.”

Pete looked at me for just a second, “Brushing after every meal helps prevent tooth decay!”

We hugged.

These were the code phrases from our characters in our high school film in 1987. Some things you never forget.

We were able to have a quick lunch after all this time. We were both drama nerds, with he working in Insurance now and I’m a computer geek. Pete is hoping to find his remaining copy of our film so we can convert it to digital and put up to Vimeo or something. He hopes to come to Seattle around christmas, some maybe we can connect again. Sometimes it’s great to talk about nothing at all. Even after 20 years.

Back at the hotel, we dressed up and got ready for Bouchon. We had originally thought about hitting the French Laundry while here, but the waiting list was crazy. Also, a bistro setting can be much more family friendly.

We let the GPS direct us over to the Napa side of the valley, and again we got turned onto a tiny, winding mountain road. We almost got directed onto a single lane road, but I figured out that things war mis-marked and backed down and got us back on track before things got too ugly.

Once we were out of the mountains, we took a walk through Yountville. Honestly, this is where we should have stayed. It is small, walkable, and amazing. The galleries and shops are fantastic.

Dinner at Bouchon was amazing. We were a bit early for our reservation, and had a bit of coffee from the Bouchon bakery. Once we were seated, it was an amazing diner. Great service, fantastic food, and wonderful wine. Not cheap by any measure, but worth it for a vacation meal.

Looks like I need to re-read that Thomas Keller book that my brother gave me. Amazing.

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 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.

Our final days in Disneyland were a blast. Taking a whole week really means that you can take a lot more time doing nothing instead of rushing the parks like a military assault.

We took a full day just to do shows. Being i the Hotel, we got special priority passes for the Aladdin Musical, and got front row center seats. They re so worth it for this show. you have performers, anamatrionic camels and elephants walking around the theater, and they come right up and interact with you. The singing and jokes in the show are fantastic, and as always, Genie steals the show. It is so worth the wait to see.

We also saw World of Color for the second time, and then ran across both parks to see Fantasmic in Disneyland. You can get Fastpasses for World of Color, but you have to pay for good seats to Fantasmic. Unless you know to go to the restaurant just above the river, and get food before the show. Then you can sit in the patio with a great view of the show for the cost of a sundae.

I managed to see all of World of color this time, as the first time I kept turning to get reaction shots of Yulia and Sasha and missed the whole Pirates part (fire makes it good). It really is an amazing show.

We saw Fantasmic years ago, and they have upgraded the whole production this year. The fire, pirate attack, and dragon are all bigger, and worth the time to see it. The sundae at the shop isn’t bad either.

At the boardwalk in California Adventure, Sasha was desperate to win a Dumbo at one of the Carnival Games. Naturally, I had little chance of doing this as most of them are pretty tough to win, but I tried to do it with one of the squirt-gun-target lineups. A family of four girls was against me in the competition, and luckily they were all bad shots. So I won, Sasha got her elephant, and I only had to crush the dreams of four little girls to do it.

Of course, Sasha had never seen Dumbo, and had no idea who he was. She just loves elephants. So I picked up the DVD from the lobby.

I love the fact that we took extra time in Disneyland to relax and not rush all the rides. We had time to really play and enjoy the new parts of the parks, the architecture, music, and fantasy of it all.

The Dumbo DVD made a great thing to watch on our drive up to Sonoma. We decided to take 101 instead of I-5, which might be a little slower, but it is such a better drive. We had a chance to see Santa Barbra, which was THE soap opera in Moscow, and we got to stop on the beach near the pier and marina to lounge about for a bit.

the rest of the drive through farms, silicon valley, and San Francisco, ending with a drive across the Golden Gate was fantastic.

Now for a few relaxing days swimming and tasting wine.

I’m not much for a blended scotch drinker typically, but I’m beginning to take a shine to the Johnnie Walker Gold. Not too shabby.

We take off tomorrow for the UK. We are all excited, though we just finished working on our house and it would be nice to get more time in it in a finished state before taking of, but that’s just not going to happen. We set our schedule six months ago and we wouldn’t want to give this up. we have a whole three wweeks ahead of us taking a driving tour of the U.K., and it looks to be a blast. we will hit England, Wales, and Scotland.

I’m looking forward to digging into some Haggis.

Now that’s a sentence you don’t hear very much.