September 2, 2012 Comments Off
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 Ours is out of date and a bit trashed.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.
August 31, 2012 Comments Off
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!”
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.
August 28, 2012 Comments Off
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.
August 26, 2012 Comments Off
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.
August 26, 2012 § 1 Comment
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.
August 17, 2012 Comments Off
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.
August 16, 2012 Comments Off
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!
June 28, 2011 Comments Off
We caught our last breakfast at the Blathwayt, packed our things and headed out at the crack of 10:15.
We wanted to be out and on the road so we could get up and into Wales before it was too late in the day. The last thing we wanted was to get stuck in traffic up the M5 part way there. I was warned in advance that traffic can get pretty bad, and that we might have better luck going straight up through the center of Wales instead. We checked both on the GPS while still int the parking lot of the Blathwayt, and the central route looked shorter and a bit faster overall.
We headed out and saw on the highway display signs that there was a slowdown on the M5, just a few miles past the turnout. This cemented our decision, and we went instead on the inside route, heading back across the bridge to South Wales.
About an hour later we finally made it through the massive queue across the bridge, that started just about 200 feet after the M5 turnoff. Apparently it was cleaning day on the bridge, and they closed all but one lane.
Finally across, (and paying our toll) we headed off the main highway and onto the central roads through Wales. Initially, these were pretty good, with views of the castles and small towns along the route. But as we got into the heart of Wales, the road got smaller and smaller. And with that it got slower and slower. Our arrival time on the GPS kept moving back, and we saw 3pm turn to 4, then 5.
Did I mention the sheep? Holy crap. “The sheep were agitated” is the phrase that pays.
The place was packed with sheep, cows, farms, and hedgerows as far as we could see. There really wasn’t much space left for roads apparently, because we were driving across paths that made the Burke-Gilman look roomy.
Eventually, we made it down to Borth-y-Gest, the port village here our B&B was located. This village was at the bottom of a hill, with a U-shaped bay circled with quaint little houses and a seawall holding it together. It was literally a scenic postcard come alive, but not quite as large as a postcard. Our place, the Ardwyn, was easy to find, and the owner was sitting out on the porch with his wife, waiting for us to arrive. He greeted us in Welsh, or had a coughing fit, I couldn’t tell which, and showed us up to the room.
It was a good size, with a separate side room for Sasha, and the smallest bathroom physically possible. But for the cheap price it was amazing. We got our bags up, then headed back to the main town of Porthmadog to look for some dinner. It was late by this point which meant that we were looking for a Pub that had a late menu, and we found one down by the marina. The moment we walked in, we found the whole staff speaking Welsh, and only breaking into english for the tourists.
We tried to get a nice table with a view upstairs, but only the lower dining room was open, and we got a table next to another, slightly more inebriated customer, who was also not local. Once we started talking, we found out that he was, in fact, Scottish, and down locally for some pipeline repair. When he heard that we were going to be headed to Glasgow in a few days he lit up (though he was already lit) and gave us a big rundown of what to do when we arrived, almost all of which was totally unintelligible, but all very enthusiastic and good hearted.
He continued to talk to us until he finished polishing off his large bottle of cider, then bid us a good vacation and staggered off. He managed to escape the pub without knocking anyone else down, and we had some excellent Welsh Lamb, Bangers and Mash, and Fish and Chips. We strolled back to the car, looking for an open store t pick up a few snacks for the room and a bottle of wine, and found our Scottish friend passed out at the bus stop.
There was nothing surprising about this.
A bit later we came across a couple with a wiener dog, and stopped to talk as Sasha was missing Oscar terribly. Their dog was younger than Oscar, and they were pleased to find out that as he grew older, their dog would not get easier to housetrain, and would also bark more and dig like a madman.
The left us slightly sad, and we headed back to the B&B. We were finally tired, and mostly over our Jet lag, so it would be good to be able to sleep in.
Waiting for us, the owner told us that Breakfast would be at 8:15 sharp.
June 24, 2011 Comments Off
And we’re off.
We’ve become pretty old hat at this whole traveling thing. We got out of the house and into a waiting shuttle, driven by part of the Eastside Russian Limo Mafia. And the roads were clear. We made it to the airport in no time. Being early, we were able to drop off our bags with no line, and had a line at the TSA “Grab and Grope” that was only a few people long.
Naturally, this gave us more time at the bar, I mean – gate.
We grabbed a quick bite and drink, then went on a hunt for bottled water. Our lesson from last trip was to carry more water with us, as the plane was dehydrating and you got stiffed at the airport arrival. After buying a big bottle in the magazine shop, we got an announcement from the British Airways ticket desk that they had free bottles of water for the passengers on our flight.
In any case, I took a bunch and filled my bag for later. Time flew pretty quickly, and soon we we were boarding the plane. We had fairly good seats, at the front of the economy class. Naturally we were split up, me in front, Yulia and Sasha behind me. While annoying, this wasn’t too bad. We at least had pretty good seats, and the flight was only 8 hours or so, so it wasn’t that long.
British Airways allows you to opt in for different meals, if you use the website in advance. This let’s you get a kids meal, or vegetarian, or Kosher, etc. They had an option for Gluten Free meals, which is the closest to my diet that I could find. This did not work out well.
The odd, processed rice bun and cake, frozen salad, and mystery meat in white sauce that passed for the Gluten Free meal, surprisingly, did not satisfy. Neither did the snack pack of, largely, an empty box and diced fruit. I was left a bit wanting.
I’m really happy to get an uneventful flight, it was calm enough that Yulia didn’t need to calm herself with too many drinks, and we were tired, but in good shape when we landed. Our bag came through the collector quickly, and we were out on the stop waiting for our shuttle to Hertz in no time.
Naturally, the shuttle ran late to get us, but this was made better with an unnaturally long and slow line at the Hertz office. I would have used the automated check-in, but I had two confirmation mails that listed two different cars, and wanted to make sure that I didn’t have two cars rented by mistake. Once I got to the front, I confirmed that we had just one car, and since I had done everything online, it was a quick process to get signed and get the lot number for our car.
We walked right past our car twice, because we were expecting a significantly smaller and worse car. I still don’t know the model and make, but it’s a black compact wagon of some foreign make, and much larger and nicer than the Ford Focus that they had us pegged for. Yulia was thrilled with the car, and happily jumped into the passenger seat to go and found a steering wheel staring at her.
Right-Hand-Drive issues solved, we got into the correct seats, plugged in the GPS (the UK map pack is so worth the money) and headed out. It took me quite a bit of focus to stay on the left side of the road and in the center of the lane. We stopped about halfway to Bath for a rest and some food. England has rest stations just like France, and we loved it. Gas, a food court, coffee, wifi, and a minimart. All super clean. I was starving from the flight still, and made a beeline for the kitchen. The food looked fantastic! Yulia wasn’t starving, but she was still impressed, so I knew it wasn’t just starvation goggles making things look great.
I found the “brunch plate” for £5.90 which had sausages, chips, beans, and fried eggs. That and two Red Bulls really hit the spot. We hit the road again with the GPS giving us our bearings. About an hour later, we were off the main freeway heading towards our B&B. The road was getting smaller and smaller, ad we were a bit nervous, both about driving on the smaller road, and if our place was going to be ok.
The area around Bath is pretty sparse. We didn’t see much around. Right when the GPS told us we were at our destination, we saw the place, “The Blathwayt”. It was a stunning little pub and B&B just outside Bath. We walked in and found the manager working at a table in the pub, rebuilding the website on her laptop. She was glad to see us, and once we confirmed that we were there to stay and not just have a pint, she got our keys and showed us up.
We were expecting a typical British closet-sized room, and were shocked to find that the room we reserved “the Family Ensuite” was big and fully remodeled. We have a big private bath, and a view out across the horse racetrack behind the pub. Yulia was thrilled again, this was a great start to the vacation. We cleaned up, napped a bit, and got directions on where to park in Bath for the evening to get some food and find our bearings.
Bath is stunning. Absolutely beautiful architecture. We drove around a bit, parked and walked the center of town for a while. This was a great shopping district with some very funky shops, nice food, and close to the main tourism spots (namely, the Roman baths). Tomorrow, we planned on taking the tours, but today we just found a nice Pub and grabbed some food.
We will see how the city is in general tomorrow.