August - September 2019
  • Day25

    Santa Barbara

    September 23, 2019 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 27 °C

    It is winding down time, as our California journey draws to a close and we are trying not to rush about too much and take things easier.
    The final day in Cambria was spent exploring the little town, walking the beach (great driftwood - if only!), watching the antics of the harbour seals, visiting a really good Friday farmers market and walking to the Sea Chest, the seafood restaurant not far from our hotel. The sunset was again world class and our time in this beautiful neck of the woods was regrettably finished.

    Saturday was for moving on to our final port of call, Santa Barbara. It was about a two and a half hour drive through miles of market garden crops, before hitting the more barren mountainous slopes guarding the coast. We stopped at a little town called Solvang, commonly billed as the Danish capital of America. We had not planned a visit, but knew it was on our way and had heard people discussing it. The buildings are constructed in Danish style and national dress is prominent, plus food and drink redolent of Denmark. There is King Frederick Street and a replica of the Little Mermaid on her rock in Copenhagen Square. Peter’s main concern was to find a Danish Pastry shop which we did pretty quickly. The major problem was to choose one from the many varieties on offer. There was of course lager galore, people in Viking helmets, entertainment, including axe throwing(!) and a parade later in the afternoon. As you can imagine the small town was heaving. It was a good break, but we escaped before the promised parade shut the town down. I do find it a strange concept that American citizens several generations later, need to recreate a country most cannot remember, or have ever visited. There are other examples up and down the country and in conversation, almost the first thing an American will ask you is, ‘where do you come from’? Of course, a large proportion of the population came here to escape tyranny and in particular religious persecution and so often emigrated as whole villages. Everyone is an immigrant of one type or another and roots are important. Consequently, nationalities hold on to their old way of life, whilst adapting to modern America, which one often forgets is a very young country.

    We arrived in Santa Barbara mid afternoon and the temperature had climbed to the high eighties. It is a much larger town/ small city and dubbed California’s Riviera. It was one of the early towns founded by the Spanish and has a ‘mission’ complex and Presidio which were headquarters of the church and the ruling military respectively. It is shielded inland by the Santa Ynez Mountain Range and still has a very distinctive old Spanish feel. In 1925 the town was virtually destroyed by a strong earthquake and the decision taken to rebuild it exactly as it had been. The Old Courthouse is the oldest building still standing, dating from 1786. It remains the working court for the area and is beautifully decorated with murals and original brightly coloured tiles. It was open today and has a viewing tower, from which one can see all over the surrounding area. Again this is a very green city, with lots of trees, particularly palms and the Harbour and Fisherman’s Wharf are very attractive, sitting on its gently curved bay. This is still a working fishing port and you can buy fish and seafood direct from the boats if there at the correct time. Trails lead all over the town and surrounding country and I can see, like Cambria, this is also a lovely spot to live. It has character and community and interestingly is a totally non smoking town in any public building or on the street. I have yet to see anyone smoking or vaping. Incidentally, vaping is heavily criticised here in the US and is considered as dangerous as smoking itself.

    Tomorrow is our final day and we plan to spend it on the Old Trolley Bus Tour, which has been highly recommended. Again it can be hopped on or off and I suspect we will learn a lot. We hope to take a closer look at the Old Mission (well rebuilt, as the original was destroyed in the earthquake) as we gather it is obligatory to do so! It will then be time to repack the suitcases for the last time and head home on Tuesday.

    So, what is our overall impression of the snapshot of California we have taken over the last four weeks. We have driven close on 2000 miles and seen some incredible scenery, which to be fair is our main interest. Death Valley, Yosemite, Napa Valley, the Big Sur and Monterey Peninsula Coast are all world class. We have loved some of the smaller towns and perhaps the only slight question mark would be the large conurbations, of which San Francisco and Las Vegas were the largest we visited and really that is due to the throng of people and traffic. The extreme corporate ethos and wall to wall concrete we could probably live without, but it it has been fascinating to explore. The people of America remain as friendly, well mannered and helpful as we have always found them to be. If you are stuck and unsure what to do next, there will always be someone who will come to your aid unbidden. We can learn a lot from that approach and I will endeavour to follow it as my California lesson learned!

    Au revoir everyone and see you soon.
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  • Day21

    Hearst Castle

    September 19, 2019 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 18 °C

    William Randolph Hearst, the media magnate, was born into money. His senator father George had made a fortune in mining and he bought the property that the family always knew as ‘the ranch’ in 1865. They glamped on the hilltop every summer for many years and adored the ranch, gradually increasing it’s size to 250,000 acres. Willie’s mother Phoebe, was a strong and influential figure on her son and society in general, being an educator and strong believer in women’s rights. She took her young son on two Grand Tours to Europe, which had a lasting effect on him and kick started the collecting bug, something that never left him. Hearst was 56 when his mother died and he inherited the ranch, along with the family businesses and fortune, which he had added to considerably with his media empire. By then he was married and had five sons and decided that he would employ his mother’s favourite architect Julia Morgan to build a ‘simple holiday home’ in his favourite spot in the world, high on the hill outside San Simeon. This collaboration continued for 28 years, until Williams’s death and that holiday home evolved into a four storey opulent retreat, one of the most extravagant homes in the world. The main house, or Casa Grande, is based on a Rhonda cathedral and consists of over a hundred rooms, There are three guest ‘cottages’, an incredible ‘Neptune’ pool, indoor Roman pool tiled with over 3million blue and 24 carat gold Murano mosaics, specially commissioned. Italianate gardens, a mile long pergola covered in vines, fruit trees and last but not least the largest private zoo in the world. The access road twists and turns as it climbs towards the castle giving tantalising glimpses of what is to come. Julia Morgan was Hearst’s Svengali, designing this Mediterranean Revival estate and filling it with art and antiques from Hearst’s vast collection. There are beautiful medieval Spanish and Italian ceilings bought, dismantled and incorporated into every room in the house. Tapestries and art work of incredible provenance decorate the walls. Persian carpets are laid on sprung wooden floors. The furniture is a mix of the ancient and modern comfort. Beds are exquisite examples of antiquity with modern springing and mattresses. Doors are carved, painted and studded and in the magnificent library, almost incidentally, there are 450 superb examples of Greek urns, painted to depict the everyday life of Ancient Greece. There are Egyptian statues of the Gods, Italian statuary, alabaster and jade statuettes converted into lamps, Gregorian chants on vellum made into lampshades and I could go on and on. When William Hearst died at 88 years old, only 10% of his vast collection had been incorporated into the ranch. He had seven other homes and there is a huge repository in New York a block long and 4 storeys high filled with artefacts of all types. Collecting on this scale is almost impossible to comprehend, although wealthy individuals have embarked on such schemes before and since.
    We were not sure quite what to expect when we arrived at the visitor centre today. We had a tour of the Grand Rooms booked for the morning and the Upstairs Suites this afternoon. In between we admired the gardens and grabbed some lunch. I knew this was an extraordinary estate, but in truth had not fully comprehended the scale of it. The great, the good and the not so good were invited and entertained lavishly, the heydays being the 20s and 30s. You are conducted on a tour by very knowledgeable guides and room after fabulous room unfolds before your eyes. Bearing in mind prohibition, the drinks cellar and butlers pantry are locked away behind bank vault doors!
    I am sorry if this dialogue is somewhat muddled, but my mind is still in a whirl, full of gorgeous vistas and impressions and I cannot begin to try and explain the overall effect, except to say it is quite unbelievable. I think one of the most interesting aspects is that Hearst and Morgan took artefacts from all over the Mediterranean and of differing periods, plus huge pieces of architecture and blended it so superbly into a homogenous whole. This really should not be the case, but somehow it works and it has been a real lesson in creativity and the power of what unlimited funds can do.
    The ranch is still a working ranch owned by the Hearst Corporation. The house and gardens and tracts of coast have been donated to the State of California for public access, because it was latterly seen as a white elephant in business terms, without the driving force of its creator. William Randolph Hearst and Julia Morgan always felt they were creating a museum of Renaissance and Gothic treasures and would no doubt be delighted that over a million visitors a year now enter its portals. Hearst felt that as many Americans would never be able to visit Europe for themselves to see such magnificence, he would bring it to them and boy has he ever! Hearst worked and played hard all his life, existing on little sleep and his ‘simple ranch holiday home’ must surely be the legacy to end all legacies.

    Hopefully some photos to follow when possible!
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  • Day20

    The Big Sur

    September 18, 2019 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 19 °C

    Our day started in Carmel, just down the road from Monterey, before we tackled our long drive. It is heavily talked up as a beautiful unspoiled town, that had the temerity to elect Clint Eastwood as its Mayor some years ago. Like a lot of the Monterey area, it has some lovely properties (at a price of course) and upmarket shops galore, which probably reflect its inhabitants. We walked down to the beach which is truly glorious; white, white sand, blue, blue sea, vegetation to the beach edge and not a hint of commercialism in sight. That has been left for downtown, cleverly and artfully done, but somehow soul less. We were disappointed and didn’t stay long.

    The Big Sur is the regional name for the spectacular ninety miles of cliffs and crashing seas along the California coast between Monterey and San Simeon in the south. The coastline is jagged and dramatic and either collected into States parks of one form or another or in private hands. Yet again it is a drive to savour. The sea is blue and sparkling in the sunshine, mountains flow down to the sea, redwoods tower above you in the southern most groves of the trees long coastal chain and the Rte 1 road hugs the shoreline with gritty determination, sometimes at sea level, other times clinging to the rock face several hundred feet high. All the books tell you to take your time and spend days exploring, hiking, nude sunbathing(well of course!), swimming in rivers and the rest of it. All very well if you have days to spare and can yomp for California, some of us have to be more circumspect and a day is all you have. We had to avoid the hikes, both on the time front and the risk of further damage to my knee, but decided we would use the many Vista pull offs to good effect. Travelling north to south, made it easy as we were on the correct side of the road to facilitate this and the views just opened up in front of us all the way down. It was absolutely stunning.
    Yet another drive of your life!
    The road was completed in 1937 and took eighteen years to build. Prior to this, the inhabitants of the Big Sur had to be almost entirely self sufficient, by farming, raising cattle and trapping sea otters for their fur. The only connection with the outside world was the occasional call of the steamship line to Monterey, or a nearly impassable trail over the mountains to the Salinas Valley. This was spectacular wilderness country and in truth still is. Despite the improved transport links, fewer people live here today (approximately 1000), than in 1900. Most of the ranches remain the the hands of the original pioneer homestead families and they have successfully fought off obtrusive development and government plans to allow offshore drilling. Climatic conditions are harsh, hot, cold, windy and the Flora colonising the cliff tops and mountain sides have to be tough and well adapted to survive. Growing wild was pampas grass and fennel, erica ceanothus and mesembryanthemum flowering bright pink all over the salt sprayed cliff tops. I gather in the spring there are wildflowers everywhere, but the fog which drifts on to the coast is more prevalent. You can’t have everything!
    As you reach San Simeon the mountains retreat and the road flattens out. Our final stop was at the Elephant Seal Colony at Piedras Blancas.
    The boardwalk overlooks the beach and there spreadeagled on the sand are these huge torpedo like creatures snoozing. Every now and then, one of them flips sand over its skin ( think sunscreen for the uninitiated!). We watched them for a couple of minutes and then Peter said “is this it - all they do”. ‘Well yes, at the moment’. I replied. “Ok, we’re off”, came the retort. I get it, they’re probably an acquired taste.
    We arrived here in Cambria around 4pm. The Fog Catcher (yep, unusual name for a hotel) is right on the beach and our room overlooks it.
    The sunset over the ocean was breathtaking. This small town is as genuine as Carmel was not. It is quiet and completely different from anywhere else we have been, but then they have all been different! We are booked to visit Hearst Castle tomorrow, but otherwise I sense chill time is coming. Not before time do I hear you say?

    I’m going to upload this footprint without photos, as the internet is weak here - must be the sea breezes!
    I’ll try to add some pics later.
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  • Day19

    The Monterey Peninsula

    September 17, 2019 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 18 °C

    The small town of Monterey claims to be and probably is the most historic settlement in California, named by the Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino in 1602. It was the capital of the enormous California Alta mission when under Spanish rule. It gradually lost its prominence once California was taken back by the United States in 1849 and the Gold Rush saw the meteoric rise of San Francisco thereafter. There are several buildings reflecting Monterey’s colonial past standing unassumingly in the downtown district. Surprisingly, Robert Louis Stevenson lived here for a while, writing for the local newspaper and apparently started to write Treasure Island in his lodgings, basing Spyglass Hill on Point Lobos just south of here. Another author heavily associated with Monterey is John Steinbeck. During World War 11 Monterey was the sardine capital of the western world catching and canning 200,000 tonnes a year. By the time Steinbeck’s famous novel Cannery Row was published in 1945 the sardines were overfished and all in a can. The canneries were abandoned, falling into disrepair. In recent times the old factories have been cleverly remodelled into shops, museums, restaurants and a world class Aquarium. Having explored the historic downtown we arrived at the Aquarium supposedly for a quick look. It was fascinating and beautifully curated; in fact it was difficult to tear ourselves away. The star of the show for me were the sea otters, gorgeous creatures that they are. As luck would have it Emily FaceTimed at that moment and I was able to show them to Rafe (another fan) and we oohed and aahed together. At one point he said “Grandma, get the sea otter to come to your phone, so I can see him better!” I was just about to tell him it was not possible, when one of them did just that and rollicked about in front of us. Oh wow! The Aquarium is primarily about conservation and covers all aspects of sea and coastal life quite brilliantly and I would recommend a visit to anyone in the area.
    Knowing we only had one day to cover Monterey and it’s Peninsula we tore ourselves away and headed out to drive the shoreline. It was a beautiful clear sunny day and I cannot tell you what an amazing coastline this is. The ocean is a clear green/blue, the surf dramatic as it crashes on to the rocks, the beaches heavenly and the native gnarled cypress trees that grow right down to the shore in parts, paint stunning vistas in all directions. The peninsula is home to several fabulous golf courses, including the world famous Pebble Beach, host to the US Open on many occasions. Fantastic homes in the multi millionaire bracket hug the coast and are continuing to be constructed. We stopped at Cypress Point overlook and there sat a perfect cottage (well, a big very well appointed cottage!) with its own private cove. It would do for me and just to add to the perfection of the scene, I looked out to sea and just off the beach was a wild sea otter playing in the surf. My cup runneth over. We continued on to the Pebble Beach Golf Club and stopped for a look round. What a place. Peter thinks the next golfing away day should be here!! It has to be one of the most beautiful courses in the world. We arrived back at our hotel in time for a quick change for dinner at The Sardine Factory. Humm, I can hear you thinking. This is one of the canning factories, put to new use. The restaurant has been here for 50 years and what a revelation it turned out to be. I had heard of it via Rick Stein’s recent road trip down the California Coast to Mexico and booked it from home on the internet. It looks nothing from the outside, but inside is a palace, consisting of five different themed dining rooms, each one a tour de force. We were in a circular conservatory of vast proportions. The food was of course of similar standard and artistically presented. We had to start with the smoked sardines of course, went on to the Sand Dabs (local specialty) and finished with chocolate coated ice cream Bon-Bon’s, served over smoking dry ice and accompanied by chopped hazelnuts and caramel sauce; pure theatre. Thank you Rick. A perfect end to a perfect day!
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  • Day17

    All Around San Fran

    September 15, 2019 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    This has been our final day in San Francisco and we attempted to cover just a few high points of the city. A difficult feat, when in truth you would need to be here a month to come close. Getting around is reasonably easy, as there are a multitude of public transport options. We started off with a trolley bus to market street, which is the main commercial street, walked two blocks north to Union Square. Here you have Saks Fifth Avenue on one side, Macy’s opposite, Tiffany’s to the left and The Francis Hotel on the only side left. Window shopping is by far the best option! We picked up a bus to the Golden Gate Park. This a huge green space bigger than and based on Central Park in New York. This part of the city was originally sand dunes, before being reclaimed and stabilised with natural flora. With in its bounds are the California Academy of Science, the deYoung Museum, a Bison paddock, yes with real bison in it, a large Kew style conservatory, the Botanic Gardens the Japanese Tea Gardens. We neither had the time or energy to explore all, but did our best to cover a small section! Being garden lovers, I suppose it was inevitable that we would eventually gravitate towards the Japanese Tea Garden. It is a legacy from the Midwinter Fair of 1894. It was beautifully landscaped by the Hagiwara family, who looked after the garden until the advent of World War 11, when like all Japanese Americans they were interned and after the war the city would not let them return. Fortunately, their beautiful creation has continued to be be nurtured and has matured into the largest such garden outside of Japan.
    Tired out, we caught the Big Red Bus back towards Fisherman’s Wharf via downtown. ‘Oh look’ says Peter ‘a shop called Good Vibrations-
    after the blog!’ ‘Not a total surprise’ says I, ‘this is California and being a Beach Boys fan, I named it after one of their songs that would set the scene’. It was only as we drew closer that I thought the window display seemed rather odd and on closer examination the wording over the door became readable. Here was the San Francisco Museum of Vibrators! You will probably not be surprised to hear that we did not jump off the bus to investigate further. A final supper at Scoma (very good seafood restaurant in the fishing marina) beckoned and somehow seemed more appealing. A quirky place San Fran, as stated in an earlier episode!!
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  • Day16

    Alcatraz

    September 14, 2019 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 21 °C

    A mile out into San Francisco Bay lies a rocky outcrop known the world over as Alcatraz Island. It has a long and notorious history and began life as a civil war fort in the 1850s, built by the US Army as part of its western defence plan against Confederate raiders. By the 1900s the civil war was long gone and it’s defences had become obsolete, so it was decommissioned, but Alcatraz has been a prison since those early days both for Confederate soldiers, Yankee deserters and Native American warriors captured during the the various Indian Wars. It was not until the Great Depression of the 1930s that the Department of Justice took over responsibility for Alcatraz, opening it as a Federal Penitentiary
    In 1934. Of the 1545 men who did time on Alcatraz, only a handful were notorious, among them Al ‘Scarface’ Capone, George ‘Machine Gun’ Kelly, Alvin ‘Creepy’ Karpis and Robert Stroud ‘ the Birdman of Alcatraz’. The vast majority of the inmates had been escape risks and troublemakers in other prison populations. Possibly because of its isolation, few visitors and secrecy, Alcatraz earned the reputation of being tough and with miserable living conditions. Certainly the routine was hard and the building stark and bleak, this being a maximum security facility, but it was clean and the food good. Only 14 prisoners ever attempted to escape and none succeeded. Prisoners arrived in chains and were issued with a blue uniform after showering and taken to their 9’ by 5’ cell. On the bed were the rules and regulations of the prison and
    No 5 stated “You are entitled to food, clothing, shelter and medical attention. Anything else you get is a privilege.” This was the reality of life within the toughest of US Penitentiary, Alcatraz Island.
    The island is now a National Park and managed accordingly. There are over a million visitors annually. Your journey begins at Pier 33 along with a boat full of visitors and the journey across the bay takes approximately 10 minutes. The crossing is choppy, currents vicious, the water cold and the island is foreboding on approach. The concrete cell block sits high on the citadel of the island with a variety of facilities placed around it. There are electrical sheds, the guardhouse, military chapel, a morgue, a lighthouse, the warden’s house, a general store and officers club, barracks and apartments for the guards and their families and perhaps most surprising of all gardens, planted by the families who lived here in a tight, small, village like community. Most of these are now in quite a dilapidated condition and as you make your way up the long steep walk to the cell block, it is hard to imagine children playing and normal life continuing around this Penitentiary, so far removed from everyday living. As part of your visit you are given an audio guide which is first class in the picture it paints of life here and the inmates incarcerated within.
    I was reminded of our visit to Robyn Island off Cape Town, although there the conditions were undoubtedly harsher, but the principle is the same. In each cell is a lavatory, a rudimentary bed, blankets and pillow, a metal stool attached to the wall and a similar small ledge like table.
    No personal belongings were allowed unless you complied and behaved, when some privileges were then introduced. Two communal showers were allowed per week and meals were taken leg shackled in the dining room, where you had 20 minutes to eat your meal. The wind whistles through the building at all times and bad behaviour resulted in solitary confinement or even locking up in one of the six hell holes permanently in the dark. It is chilling, but men found ways to survive and cope. Surprisingly, bridge was a popular occupation and those men allowed to do so, would spend hours outside in the cold quadrangle playing.
    In many ways, I think one of the most difficult aspects of being imprisoned here would have been the close proximity to one of the liveliest and attractive cities in the USA. The views across to the mainland, the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge are beautiful and it is said that on New Years Eve after lights out at 9.30, the inmates could hear the revelry onshore, voices and laughter carried out on the wind, only reminding them of their isolation. The prison was closed in 1963 by the then Attorney General Robert F Kennedy, due to increasing costs and maintenance. This was a fascinating visit, well worth making and we arrived back on the Wharf perhaps rather more thoughtful than we had left. In search of a restorative cup of coffee we came across the latest dog episode. A seemingly normal couple pushing a largish brown bull dog type dog in a candy pink pushchair, with matching harness and frilly headpiece. If I had had the nerve, I would have asked if I could have taken a photograph, but feared I would have been unable to keep a straight face!
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  • Day15

    San Francisco an Overview

    September 13, 2019 in the United States ⋅ 🌙 24 °C

    Rome is built on seven hills, goodness knows how many make up San Francisco and they are seriously steep. In particular The Lombard St crooked street of Steve McQueen car chase fame! We have had the bad luck to be here in the week that the cable cars are out of commission for an overhaul, so sadly no cable car ride. As a consequence we took the Big Bus tour to give us an overview of the city, which did the job, but was excruciatingly hot (in the 90s today) on the top deck and filled with really irritating people who seemed unable to sit still for more than five minutes at a time. I know, I’m being unreasonable, but every time I had a photo opportunity some sweet soul jumped up in front of me, but some photos did come out as you will see. At the end of the three hour trip it was back to the hotel for a cool down. It is apparently going to be much cooler tomorrow.
    The San Franciscans are very proud of their home as a city of charm and culture. They are not wrong. It is quirky and In general I like it. Like all big cities there are parts that are less than salubrious and they clearly have a huge homeless problem, particularly in certain areas. Fisherman’s Wharf is rather too like an upmarket Gt Yarmouth for my taste, but the seafood is divine.
    The architecture around the city is outstanding from all eras and the buildings sit juxtaposed to one another with great effect. There are still some pre Earthquake and lots from the twenties and thirties. Downtown and the Financial District are ultra modern and there is the largest China Town here in the USA. Haight-Ashbury is as attractive and bohemian as you would imagine the home of flower power and the hippie culture to be. This a very green city. Trees line the streets and there are parks everywhere. The Golden Gate Park is larger than Central Park in New York. There is an very classical Opera House, Ballet Theatre and a brand new Symphony Hall built in the shape of a Grand Piano, key windows and all. As you approach the Golden Gate Bridge, the breeze picks up and the temperature drops. Once on the bridge itself, you need to hold on to your hat and anything else that may be taken by the wind. It is as spectacular a structure close to and from a distance, in its rust coloured glory. (Apparently, this colour is called international orange?! ). I can see why it has become iconic. The views are magnificent and on a majestic scale; looking back towards city, the Wharfs and out to the open ocean. A plethora of little sailing boats cut backwards and forwards, together with larger sea going vessels on their way to goodness knows where. The Bay is made up of a variety of microclimates due to the interaction of the landforms and the sea and whilst it was 80 degrees on the Golden Gate Bridge, it was 93 on the Wharfs and 105 in East Bay. It has a reputation here, similar to the UK, in that you could experience all four seasons in one day. At the moment though it is definitely Indian Summer and this is normal apparently. You are unlikely to suffer the sea fog that can blight the earlier summer months. Having said that we haven’t lost the chance!
    There is much talk of this being the most expensive city to live in, rental and real estate wise. Rents are high and some of the beautiful houses change hands for millions it is true, but the same could be said of Chelsea and Knightsbridge. I suspect it is like many a prosperous city (and it is riding a techno bubble at the moment), it is the place to be and the law of supply and demand rules.
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  • Day14

    San Francisco

    September 12, 2019 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 24 °C

    It is not far from the Napa Valley to San Francisco, but it could be a different universe. On a good day it might only take you just over an hour, traffic being the deciding factor. It was a two hour drive today and we were scarcely out of the Napa Valley before the clear blue of the vast tracts of ocean that make up the Bay area came into view. This is a city in an extraordinary setting. Three lanes of traffic became five and six, vast petrochemical plants lined the waterfront at one point and signs indicated names that belong in fiction, newsreels and on the movies: Berkeley, Oakland, San Jose, Haight-Ashbury (of flower power and hippie fame) Stanford and Sausilito. This is the home of Levi’s, Twitter, the genesis of the United Nations and Silicon Valley, a little to the south. The city itself is only 47 square miles, but the suburban sprawl extends all around the Bay Area. Tantalising glimpses of the famous Golden Gate Bridge glittered in the distance reminding me of the explosion of the population from 1848 onwards with the beginning of the California Gold Rush. Within a year fifty thousand pioneers arrived (the 49ers) and transformed a muddy village to a thriving supply and transit boomtown. As most of you will know a massive earthquake wiped out three quarters of the city in 1906 and the city has risen like a Phoenix from the ashes, bigger and better than before.
    We are staying in the Fisherman’s Wharf Area, which we walked round this afternoon. A good lunch was taken at Boudains, founded by Isadore Boudin, a master baker who arrived here from Burgundy in 1849, hoping to make it rich off Gold Rush miners. He perfected the modern Sourdough loaf and the original starter yeast-bacteria culture developed during the Gold Rush is still being used. We had been warned that the Bay Area would be cool in comparison to the Napa Valley. It was eighty in the shade and thronged with people. We retreated back to the cool of the hotel and an iced drink. This evening we ventured out in search of supper. This a fish and seafood lovers paradise and restaurants line the wharfs. We were spoilt for choice and chose one almost on the eeny meeny miney mo method. It didn’t look that encouraging from the outside, although the menu looked promising (in particular the truffled halibut). We were directed upstairs in the elevator and stepping out was a surprise. Here was a well set out room with panoramic views over the marina and the Golden Gate Bridge. As we ate a flaming sun set behind the bridge, turning the sky crimson with the bridge silhouetted against it. It was quite a first night and the halibut was delicious!
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  • Day12

    The Wine Train

    September 10, 2019 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    The Wine Train is a relaxed, elegant day out. It is all very civilised and well organised. Several routes are run every day and passengers gather
    In large meeting room reminiscent of a sofa clad departure lounge. You are shown to your carriage according to your destination. The carriages are Pullman types mostly built around 1915. They have been lovingly and lavishly restored using mahogany panelling, brass accents, velveteen armchairs and the tables are beautifully laid ready for lunch. The train gently travels north through the Napa Valley, which in common with all the wine growing valleys we have seen all over the world, is hemmed in with mountain ranges, which together with the soil and climate help create the perfect conditions for growing grapes and making wine. Wineries line the train track and vines stretch as far as the eye can see. Probably the two most well known names here are Robert Mondavi and Grgich Hills and it was to the latter that the Wine Train delivered us. The first two courses were served before we arrived and the food was delicious. How the chefs produce food of that calibre on the move and in such cramped conditions is beyond me. A lively knowledgeable lady called Toni showed us around the winery, combining process with tasting in an action packed hour. We were lucky enough to have a fun and friendly group which added to the experience and the tasting continued on the return, together with the final two courses of our lunch. It was a fun day.
    Miljenko (Mike)Grgich is 96 years old and still checks on his operations daily. He came from Croatia as a young man, with a wine background and bringing with him the Zinfandel grape. Robert Mondavi employed Mike as a young winemaker and then he moved to the Montelena winery. It was whilst he was with Montelena that he created the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that beat the French at their own game, in the Paris Blind tasting competition in 1976 and put Napa Valley on the serious wine producing map. He later set up his own winery with his friend Austin Hills (of the Hills coffee family) and has been there ever since with continuing success. We tasted five wines. The Fume’ Blanc was great, Chardonnay iffy to me, but I’m no Chardonnay lover, Zinfandel yuk (horrible aftertaste on the tongue), good Merlot and a reserve Chardonnay, that has similarly won multiple awards and even I admit was really good.
    We plan to visit one or two other wineries tomorrow. Interestingly, there is quite a high charge at all the wineries for a tasting. There was talk today about the decrease in visitors to the wineries and all sorts of theories put forward as to why. In all the countries where we have visited wineries only once was a small charge made ( Cloudy Bay in New Zealand) and yet this was not mentioned as a possible cause. The minimum charge is $25 and can rise to $45. I would think this must be having an effect.
    This morning, after some housekeeping (haircut & the laundromat!), we set off for the Hess winery in the hills above Napa. This was recommended as an excellent winery, with lunch, a wine tasting and an interesting modern art collection to view. It was a glorious day and a beautiful drive up into the hills. On arrival, the winery was superbly set in gardens with modern sculpture dotted around; very much to our taste. However, on enquiry no lunch, despite the recommendation and information on the website, consequently no tasting, as we needed the food first. I do feel these wineries are missing a trick. The food doesn’t have to be in the Heston Blumenthal bracket, something a lot simpler would suffice and I feel it would attract and hold people. As a consequence, we ducked the wine tasting and went to view the modern art collection. Some was interesting and fabulous, some Peter felt he could have knocked off between main course and desert!
    To my total surprise in one gallery was an exhibition by the British Landscape artist Andy Goldsworth. Andy is much admired by me and others within the floral art world, due to his inspirational use of natural objects in his work. Born in Cheshire and now residing in Dumfries and Galloway, he was the last artist I would have expected to view in California. His pieces had clearly been executed in residence and were for me the stars of the show, although there were some fine pieces by Francis Bacon not to be ignored.
    We rather gave up on the wine tasting after that, as having rediscovered Wholefoods ( superb grocery store) and having devoured lunch we decided to peruse the very good outlet mall and stock up on some essentials. There was no jumping in and out of itinerant cars, but a certain waving about of the ubiquitous credit card.
    I must include a poster that I took a photograph of before leaving Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite. California has a reputation of being a bit ‘out there and alternative’ in the rest of the US and this may partly explain why!
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  • Day11

    The Napa Valley

    September 9, 2019 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    Yesterday, we travelled up from Yosemite to the Napa Valley; a long but uneventful drive. You could say we have moved from the spiritual to the spirit! Today we have explored the town of Napa itself, which is classic middle America, well presented, leafy and clean. It is only about an hour from San Francisco and consequently is a favourite for weekends. Two valleys lay side by side, Napa and Sonoma, both famous for their wines and there are certainly plenty of wineries to chose from. One interesting thing we have noticed since arriving here, is the proliferation of microbreweries and the production of local good quality beers, or so Peter tells me. This would have been unheard of thirty years ago when we first came to America. A gassy lager was the best you could hope for and now there are beer flights to accompany the wine version. We had supper tonight at the Stone Brewery, a large converted warehouse on the river, very atmospheric and with more draught beers on offer than you could shake a stick at.
    Our day tomorrow consists of a trip on the Napa Wine Train. A vintage well appointed train which serves a gourmet lunch whilst cruising the valley. We are to stop at one of the oldest wineries for a tour and a tasting. I’ll let you know how it goes.
    There was one incident of mirth worth mentioning this morning. We parked our car in a designated car park to go and investigate a couple of restaurants. On returning to the car Peter was ahead of me and I hopped into the car as usual and went to put my seat belt on. It took me a second or two to twig that my maps were not in the side pocket and the water bottles in the central console weren’t familiar. I looked up to find no Peter in the driver’s seat and realised that I had jumped into the wrong car! They were both dark grey identical SUVs - an easy mistake I keep telling myself. I’m simply relieved the car’s owner wasn’t in situ and embarrassing explanations could be avoided. My bad luck was that the identikit model had been left unlocked. I was out of there in no time and dashed to our own to find PL in fits of laughter as you can imagine. I will endeavour to behave tomorrow!
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