Falling in Like

I took my heart to San Francisco, but I didn’t leave it there. I tend to fall a little in love with cities. There are cities that I love all over the world. I love Sydney. I love Venice. I love Prague. My love affairs in recent years have mostly been of the north American variety, and include Vancouver (very passionate and too brief), and Seattle (developed over time and rock solid). I did enjoy my brief trip to San Fran, and I can see why people would fall in love with it, but for now I will happily commit to ‘I am in like with San Fran.’

We had two days there between LA and the start of our road trip. Ben and I both know that two days is too quick for such an iconic city, but it is just our first trip there, our taster. We packed as much as we could into those days, so here is 36 (waking) hours in the beautiful San Francisco.

The Bridge Coming from Sydney, another city where the bridge is a draw card, I was looking forward to seeing the Golden Gate Bridge in the flesh, or the steel. We started to walk along the coast from Fisherman’s Wharf, a pathway that took us up steep hills, and along grey sandy ‘beaches’. When it became apparent that Ben thought we were walking all the way to the bridge (about 11 miles), and I thought we were just walking to where we could see it, we had a minor tetchy moment, and then hopped a cab. This was of great relief to me, as I was fighting jet lag and the wind was doing my head (and eyes) in. The cab took us the eight miles remaining, and we were deposited at the lookout area. They have really spent some money here! I am sure at one time, this was just a semi-industrial lump of dirt that just happened to be under one of the world’s most famous bridges. Today it is a landscaped parkland with pathways and lookouts. The Bridge itself is stunning. It is long, proud and bright burnt orange. Yep, it deserves all the hype.
Guess where
The other side

Galleries Ben and I discovered early in our relationship that we both love galleries, and we tend to enjoy the small, boutique galleries most. On the way to the bridge, we happened upon a (what is the collective noun for galleries? A ‘monet’? A ‘picasso’? How about a ‘da vinci’?) a da vinci of galleries, all in a row. San Francisco has a plethora of galleries, and the handful we visited boasted impressive artists, including Dali at Franklin Bowles, and Warhol, Picasso and Rembrandt at Martin Lawrence. But perhaps my favourite, was a smaller gallery exhibiting artists not known to me. At Dennis Rae Fine Art, an artist called Thomas Arvid caught my eye, with his photographic style depictions of wine bottles and glasses.

China Town We wanted to go to China Town for Chinese food, so we caught a cab on our first night. China Town was dead. A few stores were open, and there was only a handful of restaurants to choose from. We walked a couple of blocks, looking for recommended places, and came across a family style restaurant. It was filled with Chinese people, they were eating and they looked happy, so it was as good a place as any. Except it wasn’t. It was bad. We paid, we left, we tried to forget, and scolded ourselves for not having better directions. There are some spectacular things for sale in China Town, at shops with brightly coloured wares crammed into every space. I wanted to buy a silk purse, and maybe a paper lantern, but not then. I was not in the mood to buy something pretty.

Little Italy On the way home from our spectacularly bad dinner, we inexplicably ended up in Little Italy, which we found on Columbus Ave near Washington Square. “Let’s go in a cafe and order dessert and some wine,” I suggested, wanting to resurrect our evening. We chose Panta Rei, for no other reason than it looked warm inside, and had an Italian man sitting outside, who said “Bueno Sera” back to me. It was warm inside, and smelled delicious. We ordered cheescake and a bottle of Lapierotta Sirah, on the waiter’s recommendation. Both were incredible. The flirtatious waiter brought bread and oil when we’d finished the cheesecake, and we settled in. We took our time, and left a little tipsy as we walked hand in hand back down Columbus to our hotel.

Coit Tower On our full day in SF, we planned to go to Alcatraz. Once we’d bought tickets, we had about a two hour wait for the ferry. We wanted to go to the famous Lombard Street – the windiest and one of the steepest in SF, but we were a little far from there. A local directed us, instead, to Coit Tower, which is the highest point in SF. From where we were we climbed up dozens of flights of stairs through people’s backyards and alongside steep driveways. It was worth the climb. We paid the $5 to ride the elevator to the top – lots of Aussies and French that day. The views were incredible, and we could see Lombard Street, where we would go later that day.
Iconic view from Coit Tower
Transamerica Pyramid
Marina and Alcatraz

Alcatraz We paid $24.50, lined up, caught the ferry, and once on Alcatraz, we were free to do as we liked and could catch any ferry back that afternoon. Just as the ferry docked, Bob, a retiree with a gift of the gab, was starting his talk on famous escape attempts from Alcatraz.
Dockside Alcatraz
Bob moved the crowd of 50 a few times, pointing out various places, but the skill was in his story telling. We could just imagine the events unfolding as he described them. None of the stories had happy endings. Officially, no one escaped Alcatraz and survived. The rocks are razor sharp and the currents strong. We took the audio tour of the main prison block.
Cell Block
Jail cell
Incredible. You can stop and start it when you want. It guides you through the whole place at your own pace, and is narrated by a former warden and former inmates. I really enjoyed it. And of course, the most excruciating aspect of being on Alcatraz, is that is it SO close to SF. If the wind was right, inmates could hear the goings on of a city they could not step foot in.
View from Alcatraz

Fisherman’s Wharf We stayed right near Fisherman’s Wharf, so walked its footpaths several times. We ate twice at a restaurant called Tarantinos – once for lunch and once for dinner. The food was outstanding, and we returned for dinner our second day, as it is positioned so you can watch the sun set over the Golden Gate Bridge. Spectacular. Try the chowder!

Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar There is a Tiki bar under the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. No, really. After dinner at Tarantino’s, we grabbed a cab, and headed up the hill. The Fairmont in SF is really impressive, and decorated in a Parisian style. We entered the lobby, ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ under our breaths and started our hunt for the Tiki Bar. Could a bar like this BE is a hotel like this? It just seemed so incongruous, but we went downstairs, turned a corner and there it was. We were two of 6 people in there, as it was a little dead on a Tuesday night, but we made our own fun. We ordered a cocktail for two, with enough alcohol to sedate a bull elephant.
Cocktail for Two
Cocktails for twoBen at the Tiki Bar

Lombard Street We hadn’t caught a cable car yet, so thought we could catch one up Hyde Street and then walk back down the hill via Lombard Street. The queue for the cable car was long, and we had just finished enormous Ghiradelli chocolate ice creams, so we walked up Hyde Street, which is so steep that your body is on a 45 degree angle as you go up. Paying penance for the ice cream, we grimaced at the people stuffed onto the cable car as it clanged past, “Lightweights,” I grunted. We made it, our walk up well worth it to see the novelty of a street where the footpath is steps and the street so steep that it switches back several times.
Lombard Street

A terrific city. And in the immortal words of the Californian governor, “[We’ll] be back.”
Sand and Ben in SF

Road Trip

“I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” Robert Louis Stevenson

This quote is taped to my desk at work – at eye level. I see it every day, and every day I think to myself, ‘How true.” Or mostly true, for me. Robert and I differ in the ‘not to go anywhere’ part, because I often travel to specifically go somewhere, but like R.L.S., I also travel just to move. Moving, going, leaving, arriving, this global kinetic energy that I partake of and contribute to, is part of my internal rhythm.

And this type of energy is heightened in a particular kind of travel: The Road Trip.

R.L.S. died in 1894, so it is safe to say that he never went on a road trip. Not really. Not the kind we take today, in cars, and on actual roads. He never knew the pleasure hitting the open road, with plans and expectations crammed in the mind, like the maps and brochures are crammed into the glove box.

But, as I climbed into a hire car in San Francisco earlier this week, I knew he would have approved. After all, ‘…the great affair is to move’, and the first leg of my trip with Ben, was the same trip Stevenson shared with his new bride in 1880: a journey north to the Napa Valley.

San Francisco is nothing like I imagined, basing my extensive expectations on remembered episodes of Full House and Party of Five, but it did not disappoint. In fact, our 44 hour stint there, our taster of a great city to which we will someday return, was so full that it is a whole post of its own. Soon. I promise.

This journey starts in SanFran, and ends in Seattle. It encompasses the Napa Valley, the northern Californian coast, Oregon’s coast, Portland, Oregon’s capital, and everywhere in between.

To the Napa Valley

Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge is cool. It is huge and iconic and brightly burnt orange, and crossing it for the first time means, “I have been to San Francisco.” Even though Ben and I had been traversing the streets of the city for two days, this was the moment when it sank in that I was actually there – and we were leaving.

Golden Gate Crossing

The drive to Napa Valley is just over an hour. This is not a long drive, unless you are dying to pee and arrive in Yountville. Yountville is one of many small towns dotted along Highway 29, and is just north of Napa. It is beautiful and pristine and apparently people who visit have no bathroom needs (there are no public toilets). After an excruciating reconnaissance of the town, which oddly was shut at 10:30 in the morning, I hobbled to a roadside porta potty. Back in the car, my mood lifted (Ben is a master of patiently bearing the desperate cries and angry rants that accompany this state of being), and we drove on to Chandon Estate.

Chandon Estate

Chandon sparkling white is a staple for me and my friends when we attend the horseracing carnivals in Sydney, so I was looking forward to visiting the Napa estate. The grounds and building were beautifully situated, and there was a reverent hush in the air. We were directed to a tasting bar, and Ben ordered a flight of wines – three half flutes, each wine distinctive and delicious (offered sips were gratefully accepted).
A taste of California
I ordered a sparkling rose, just released, and drank slowly as I drank in my surroundings. It was a perfect
California day: cloudless blue skies and 26°. We drove on.

I had done my homework and knew I wanted to go to Rubicon Estate, not far to the north. I could not remember why my reading had triggered this desire, until we pulled into the grand gates of Rubicon, valeted the car and walked up the steps onto a red carpet. “Ah, yes,” I said, “now I remember,” a large sign jogging my memory. The estate is owned by Francis Ford Coppola, and it is majestic.

Rubicon Estate

A $25 fee would buy us a three-day passport, which included 5 tastings, tours and, well, just being there. An orientation tour fed us the history of Rubicon, which was once owned by a Russian visionary called Niebaum. Niebaum envisioned the tasting rooms and cellar door culture that is now ubiquitous in wine regions worldwide. He produced exceptional wines, which were served exclusively at the White House and on exclusive trans-Atlantic cruises. In purchasing the winery and making vast, restorative improvements, Coppola has paid homage to its history and has restored its wine-making prestige.

Neibaum and Coppola

We tasted a flight of five wines, including a Sauvignon Blanc and a Syrah, and culminating in the 2004 Rubicon. The first three wines are only available at the cellar door, and Ben bought a bottle of the Syrah – it is outstanding. We would love to have bought a bottle of the Rubicon, but at $125, it is a little out of our price range.
Rubicon 2004
We enjoyed the ambiance and the banter with the older gentleman pouring our wine, and bid farewell to Rubicon, glad we had made the pilgrimage there.

We back tracked to Yountville; we knew there were many choices for lunch, having done our ‘reckie’ hours earlier. We ate at Bistro Jeanty, a French style Bistro on the main street. The food was prompt, and tasty, although I burned my mouth on the excruciatingly hot French onion soup. It made me a little grumpy, because how do you taste wine when your taste buds have been seared off?

I downed healing water as we drove on to Mumm. Mmm, Mumm. We were greeted by a warm woman, who put the officious staff at Chandon to shame. We seated ourselves on the patio overlooking the vineyard, and I presented a 2 for 1 coupon I downloaded from the net (wine tasting in Napa can be pricey).
Our hostess brought us two flutes of yumm, I mean, Mumm. “Hey,” she said, conspiratorially, “would you like to try our signature pour? While we’re not busy.” She brought us a taste of DVX, nearly full flutes and we sipped that along with our Blanc de Noir. Both delicious, but sipping and sitting in the sun was going to my head. Ben took his tiddly girl back to the car, and we drove on to
St. Helena, where we would stay that night in a B+B. We arrived at 4, after a day of sun, sips and sighs of pleasure. Ahhh, Napa.

Next post:

St Helena to the land of the giants.

Mexican Jumping Beans

I am not a huge Willie Nelson fan, but I do subscribe to his sentiment, because like Willie I can’t wait to get on the road again.  It is time.  I have ants in my pants, itchy feet and can’t sit still.  Were I six and were my mother here, she would wonder aloud if I had swallowed Mexican jumping beans.


This happens to me when I am close to travelling again.  It is eleven more sleeps, which means I am in final preparation mode.


The past couple of months have been about the planning.  Ben and I have been online and on the phone, swapping ideas, websites and our latest toy, customised Google maps.  We read up and revise, and discuss and decide.  It is a fun process, and one that lends itself to building anticipation. 


We will both fly into Los Angeles where I have friends, and where we will stay for a couple of nights (a short stay, but we will be back).  We then fly to San Francisco, where neither of us has been, and where both of us are excited to go for the first time.  I bought us a tiny guidebook, but really, we are governed by the ‘laws of first-timers’.  We are staying near Fisherman’s Wharf, where we will eat sourdough bread and seafood; we will ride a tram up an impossibly steep street; we will see the Golden Gate Bridge and visit Alcatraz. 


Importantly, Ben and I have promised each other that while we are following these obvious tourist tracks, we will be travellers.  We will find wonder and fresh perspectives in our touristy endeavours.  It will be our mantra: ‘travellers, travellers, travellers’.


From San Francisco, we hit the road.  We pick up a hire car and will continue north to Seattle where Ben is due for work, taking five days to get there.  We have some varied stops planned, the first of which is The Napa Valley.  Oh, Napa – the scenery, the wine, the Chintz!  


In seeking out a Bed and Breakfast close enough to several wineries, but somewhat off the main strip, we viewed more shots of Chintzy bedrooms that I ever care to again.  Some rooms are even named after the Chintz: The Pink Rose Blossom Room, The Room with Two Many Pillows (Ben: “Where do we sleep?”), and The “Oh my, Grandma’s Sewing Box Threw Up’ Room.  Resigned to the fact that Chintz is a given no matter what, we decided on the place with a spa tub and gourmet waffles.


After being spoiled in The Napa Valley, we will rough it in a Northern Californian coastal town, replete with Redwood Forest.  Yes, we go from wine tasting to woodland trekking, a challenge for even the most experienced packer.  From there, ever north into Oregon, a state I will get to add to my ‘I’ve been there’ list. 


I have friends from Oregon.  They all extol Oregon’s beauty as its greatest virtue.  To honour that, we will drive the coast for as long as possible, and then head inland up to Portland.  At this stage all I know about Portland is that I should shop there, as Oregon has no state sales tax (and Washington State has one of the highest in the U.S.).  I will be as true to my wallet as time allows, for we are due in Seattle the next day. 


Ben has work there Monday to Thursday and then we will be able to explore further a field for a couple of days.  For me, four days alone in a favourite city is a gift, and then of course, we can head out to the wonderful array of Seattle’s restaurants in the evenings. 


We fly out of Seattle on a Saturday, giving us that night in LA, where I have been promised we will Par-Tay.  My LA friends are in the know, which is important when in a city of that size.  LA visitors without a ‘local guide’ can suffer from ‘Disney-itis’.  This is a condition whereby they think they have been to LA, because they stayed in Anaheim and went to Disneyland.  Disneyland is not LA.  LA is a vast and energetic city with much to see and do that does not include a giant mouse and mass merchandising. 


So, eleven more sleeps.  At this stage I write lists: To do, To buy, To pack, To take on the plane.  I am a list-maker in everyday life, but when in travel mode, they are even more crucial.  They keep me sane, grounded.  And for a girl who swallowed a handful of Mexican jumping beans and can’t sit still, some kind of tether is necessary to keep my feet on the ground – for the next eleven days anyway.


“On the road again, I just can’t wait to get on the road again…”