Thursday, May 29, 2014

20th Anniversary Adventure: San Francisco

I admit it.  I was not all that keen to spend the day in San Francisco, killing time while waiting for our midnight flight to depart.

But the philosopher was willing to drive, and I was willing to navigate, so off we went!

Driving to the city from Napa entailed a trip across the Golden Gate Bridge.

 It was a bit foggy and hazy, but not too bad for seeing the sights.

We started our visit by parking near the most important place in San Francisco.... Ghirardelli Square! (Yes, I bought chocolate.  We bought an entire case of wine in Napa... why wouldn't I buy some treats for myself??!?!)

We walked down the coastline, and saw Alcatraz in the bay.

From there we headed to Fisherman's Wharf.  We ate lunch at a delightful place called Alioto's.  Clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl.  Fantastic!  We also walked through the Musee Mechanique, an incredibly quirky collection of games, from air hockey and old penny games to Pac Man and such. It's free; they make the money to keep the place open by asking folks to play all the games!

So that was the easy part.  Now we headed back to the car for a death-defying trip to ....


We had some lovely tea at Ten Ren Tea, and browsed all the quirky shops.  I will say we bought some gifts, but I won't say what, or who they're for!  ::grin::

Old St. Mary's

An interesting view of the Transamerica building from Chinatown.  Talk about a class of cultures!

Our final destination was completely inadvertent.  We were trying to find the interstate on-ramp, but because of  road construction, we were thwarted, and ended up driving the length of Market Street!  


Here's the problem with Market Street.  TOTAL INSANITY!!!!  You actually can't make left turns. (Which is of course where we needed to go.)  And if you get into the "car" lane, you can't turn right, either.  Now, those of you know are familiar with the city might say - just continue straight and head into the Mission District and you can get wherever you need to go."  Nope.  The main roads were blocked off for the 2014 Carnaval Festival.  ::sigh::

We finally ended up on the 101 headed back to the airport.  There was a brief conversation about trying to go somewhere else... Haight Ashbury, or Coit Tower, or Lombard Street, but by then we were both so exhausted that we decided to go to the airport, drop off the car, and be incoherent for a few hours before our red-eye home.

And that's just what we did.

20th Anniversary Adventure: Napa Valley

From the wilds of Yosemite, we traveled northwest to the serene civility of Napa Valley.  We encamped at a lovely Bed and Breakfast called Hennessey House.

We stayed in an hidden upstairs room away from the hustle and bustle.  Ahhhhhhhh.

Our first day we signed up with Platypus Tours, a quirky company that visits off-the-beaten-path wineries.  Our driver/guide was named Chris Largent, and he was awesome.  There's a great pic of our whole group on the Platypus FB page... 

Anyway, there were four very different places on our tour.  We started at Honig Winery.

It's a small, lovely place.  Our host was great, telling us about about the family history and each wine we sampled.  (I say "we"... though I only actually tasted a bit of the philosopher's tastings!)

 This is not an uncommon scene - vineyards stretching in every direction!

Our next stop took us to Benessere Vineyards up the valley in St. Helena, where we got a very different feel.
Instead of sitting around a table and tasting, the host encouraged us to wander about on the grounds and come back in when we wanted the next sample.

The host was very generous with his pours, so it's a VERY good thing we also stopped here for our picnic lunch!

Favorite Picture from the Entire Week (well, at least from Napa!)

After lunch we shook off the sleepies and headed yet further north, to the Calistoga area, and to Tedeschi Winery.
Talk about small, family-owned!  Our host (who also helps with the winemaking) liked to say "each year we store fewer barrels of wine than some wineries spill!"

 (That's Chris, our Platypus guide, telling us a bit about the family!)

We got a full tour, from a talk about the grapes and how they're espaliered to a look at the de-stemmer and wine press.  (I won't bore you with pictures of everything... you'll have to come see my scrapbook when it's done!)

From there we headed to our last stop, and the largest winery on our list, Ballentine Vineyards.

Another absolutely lovely spot!  

Chris actually gave us the full tour, taking us into the barrel room and "behind the scenes".

 Then we got to the tasting.  We were all pretty tired - and totally happy - by this time.  ::heh::  But here is where I finally found a wine I adored. Their 2013 Malvasia Bianca Frizzante.  Oh. My. Goodness.  I bought two bottles...  ::sheepish grin::  ...the only double-up we did all day!

We ended the evening at a lovely Italian restaurant called Ristorante Allegria in downtown Napa, and crashed for a long nights' sleep.

We spent the first part of the day at Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa.  We had lunch at the Oxbow Cheese and Wine Market, and had a cheese sampler with a flight and pairing.  Yum.  We visited the spice market and bought fenugreek, and hit up the honey stand too.  We *really* wanted to grab some fresh strawberries and cherries, but how the heck do you pack those in a carry-on?

After all that we staggered back to the B&B, rested a bit, and then it fell to me to drive to our afternoon destination: Stag's Leap Wine Cellars.

This is what the philosopher has been waiting for.

Unless you're a wine fan, you probably don't know the story of the Judgment of Paris.  In brief, in 1973 a Cabernet Sauvignon from Stag's Leap, in a relatively unknown-at-the-time Napa Valley, took on France's best Bordeaux wines and won in a blind tasting.  That win, plus another Napa win in chardonnays during the same event, is what put Napa Valley on the map.  Of *course* the philosopher was looking forward to this!

It's another beautiful place.

(That's stag's leap promotory there in the background)

  This is where we went big.  We'd made reservations for the tour and estate tasting, and it was worth it.  We got to go through their caves, which immediately called to mind Gimli's exultation of the Glittering Caves of Aglarond!  (And as obvious it is that the philosopher was looking forward to this tour, of *course* I have to come up with a Tolkien reference!!)

(He didn't drink them all, just the four in front of him, and... well... most of mine, too!)

We finished the tour with an estate tasting, which basically means we tasted their best wines.  And according to my resident expert, they were indeed excellent.  We tasted a chardonnay and three cabs, and it's a good thing we didn't have unlimited funds for this trip, because this place could have blown our budget. We did end up with four bottles of Artemis, and plan to lay them down for several years.

We capped off our last night in Napa with dinner at Brix Restaurant.

The food was magnificent.

And so was the view of their gardens!

This endeth our stay in Napa.  I've already promised the philosopher than when he scores a tenure-track position, we'll come back again, take another Platypus Tour (or two), and I'll buy him a bottle of Cask 23 at Stag's Leap!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

20th Anniversary Adventure: Yosemite National Park

So this is the first in a series of posts on our trip.  (A short series, I assure you.)

We went to Yosemite National Park for the first leg of our journey. We stayed at the Blue Butterfly Inn on Highway 140.
This is the front.  The B&B has a quirky story.  The land has been owned by the innkeepers since the late 70s, but only built in 2007.  In the meantime, a huge lodge and hotel complex has been built up right up against their tiny plot.  But - good for them - they refused to sell, and now they have a lovely space nestled up against the park!

This is our room - note the antique English Arts & Crafts furniture!   You can't see it, but to the left is a hug bay window and sliding glass doors leading to a balcony overlooking the Merced River.

We took this from upriver - see that umbrella?  That's on the main deck where we had breakfast every morning. Woot!

The B&B was about 5 miles from the arch rock entrance to the park.

We saw most of the major sites the two days we were there.  The second day we planned to go to Glacier Point and Mariposa Grove.  But a late season snowstorm closed the roads, so we made the wise decision to stay in the valley.  (We didn't think the lime green Kia Soul would do well in ice, and oddly enough, Dollar Rental didn't offer us chains when we rented the car in San Francisco!)

Because all the streams were in full flow, we got some beautiful views of Bridalveil Fall.  And the first day the sky was gloriously blue (though a bit chilly for us Georgians in the mid-50s).  We took the picture of El Capitan from the West Valley Trail.
This is Cathedral Spires and Cathedral Rocks, which is also along the West Valley Trail.

And this is from the Merced River, looking east back down the valley.  You can see El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall, and farther in the distance a hint of Half Dome.

Here's a look of the same valley, taken from the Wawona Tunnel at an elevation around 5000 feet. Again, that's El Cap in the foreground, and in the center right you can see Half Dome.

So that was the morning of Day One.  After lunch we drove towards Glacier Point and stopped at the Sentinel Dome trailhead.  We donned our boots once again, and journeyed to 8000 feet.  (!!!!!)

An exhausting climb, but TOTALLY worth the views.  (It was also 15 degrees colder at the summit  ...  BRRRR.)

This is Sentinel Dome from the lower part of the trail.

And this is what we saw from the top.  Friends and family, I give you the Sierra Nevadas!

(And the philosopher, standing on the marker atop the dome.)

Day two was spent on Mist Trail headed up to Vernal Fall.  This was Plan B - Vernal Fall is considered part of the Valley, not the higher elevations.  So it wasn't snowing, but there was a misty/rainy/cloudiness to most of the day.  Know those of you who know me know I hate being wet (think "cat").  I figured we should hike anyway, and if it was going to rain anyway why not do Mist Trail?  

So off we went.  (Can you see the look on my face? "I'm gonna get wet and I'm not gonna like it but by golly we're in Yosemite, so how can I not be outside?!?)

This is from Vernal Fall Bridge, which is about halfway up.  Oh my, the power of nature was awe-inspiring!

This is Vernal Fall.  All that fog?  Not fog.  Mist.  Pouring out of the canyon.

The brave philosopher made the final quarter-mile trek up the stone stairs to get to the very top.  This is looking back down the fall, and he even managed to get a rainbow in the shot!  Way to go!

The rest of the day was spent poking around Yosemite Village, visiting the Ansel Adams gallery, going through the Indian museum and the welcome center.  Then we ate dinner at Mountain Room, a yummy restaurant at the Yosemite Lodge.

So those are some of the highlights.  (I'm working on a massive scrapbook, so when it's ready in a few months let me know and I'd be happy to show it off.)

Post two, "On to Civilization.... Napa Valley" will be coming soon!