Sunday, September 27, 2015

We’re not in San Fran anymore

Honestly. I can’t decide if I’m busily occupied or overwhelmed with busy-ness. But blogging hasn’t even registered on my “To Do” list for, like, months. I’ve had a hard enough time fitting paid writing into my schedule, I wasn’t even remotely interested in writing “for fun.”

Except that I’ve now blown two of my rare writing days doing very little, and finally realized I don’t know what to write. I think this is what they call writer’s block. I’ve never had it so bad.

So, to somehow make up for it, or maybe just to get some words down, I’ll unroll the ol’ blog page and see what falls out of my brain.

It seem only appropriate, though it’s three months later, to share the highlights from the remainder of our trip West. These will appear in non-chronological order, and will depend entirely on what sparks my memory and what photos I like enough to share.

There was a half-day on Alcatraz, which was more interesting than I’d expected, if only for the ferry ride across the beautiful bay.



Selfie time!


I had no idea there were gardens there, which have been maintained and restored. Made for pretty pictures.



Also, nobody tells you most of the place smells like bird guano in the summer heat. Birds, birds, everywhere.




Requisite shot inside the cell block.

2015-06-30 15.14.27

There was our day trip down the coast to Monterey, to visit the aquarium, a bucket-lister for me!


Miss Chef has a thing for sea otters, so that was one of the first exhibits we stopped at.



Having visited many an aquarium, including the amazing 6-million gallon tank at the newer Georgia Aquarium, I was a little underwhelmed at how typical the exhibits were. And then I stopped at the kelp forest exhibit. I think my jaw may have dropped, and I know I got a little teary-eyed from utter delight.


This is a fraction the size of that Georgia tank, but the huge strands of kelp swaying in the artificial waves and the natural schooling patterns of the fish make you feel like you are standing on the floor of the bay. I was surprised to remember I was perfectly dry and not in a submersible or something. Amazing. I came back again at the end of our visit, just to soak in a few more minutes of sheer bliss.

We may or may not have spent a lot of money in the gift shop there. Miss Chef does have an astounding number of sea otter themed shirts now, though.

For our foodie friends back home, one of the biggest highlights was our day in Napa Valley and our evening at the French Laundry.


Entrance and cellars to Schramsberg, one of the oldest wineries in the valley. Those bottles are stacked about 14 rows deep, if I remember correctly.


Our tasting room was very dramatic. And delicious.




We only visited 4 wineries, but managed to end up with 14 bottles plus two memberships in wine clubs.


Sending those bottles home in climate-controlled shipping was so prohibitively expensive we ended up buying the packaging and checking them as additional luggage. Every bottle made it safely home.

That afternoon we took a short nap in order to stay awake through our dinner at the French Laundry that night. Our reservations were at 9:15! When we arrived, we had to wait about 10 minutes in the courtyard, which was no hardship.


It’s hard to describe the experience of dining in America’s most famous restaurant. I was surprised the menu wasn’t more innovative, but Thomas Keller is interested in doing pure, quality food grown nearby, rather than pushing the envelope. The service was impeccable, and not in any way intimidating. The servers were warm, though professional, and took care of every detail with poise. One detail: when you leave the table for the bathroom, they don’t just fold your napkin, they bring you an entirely new one. Laundry, indeed.

Something about the place keeps you from pulling your phone out to photograph every dish, though you know your Facebook friends are dying to hear how dinner went. Too bad for them. I took only two pictures inside.


This is what I posted for my Facebook friends. You get to keep the laundry pin that comes with your napkin, and it becomes kind of a talisman for Those Who Have Been.



I stared at one of these across the room for an hour or two before figuring out these weren’t stylized initials or Russian characters. They are laundry instruction symbols! Get it? (Machine wash, no bleach, iron)

We didn’t leave until after 1 am. Along with copies of the menu, we also got some goodies to take home.


So long Napa, you were very good to us.

At some point, we also had dinner at Chez Panisse, where Alice Waters kick-started the whole local-food movement, way back in the 70s. Well, that’s Berkeley for you, I guess.


That was one of our better meals—totally classic French-inspired. Old school, but still fresh and interesting. I also broke the world’s record for painful bladder stretching on the way back via Bart. Half a bottle of wine plus lots of water will do that to you.


With all the amazing food we ate and places we visited, many people asked upon my return what my favorite part was. The answer has to be, just about everything. California is so different from everywhere else I’ve been, I loved getting a feel for a completely novel landscape and climate.




Golden Gate Bridge shrouded in midday fog, from Alcatraz ferry


Huge fields of strawberries and artichokes on the way to Monterey.


Sonoma Valley, which looked more like wine country than Napa Valley.

I was also delighted to forge a stronger connection with my family out there, getting to know my aunt and uncle as an adult, meeting one cousin for the first time, and hearing some old family stories from a different point of view.

As for the most memorable thing I ate? I think that would have to go to the pain au chocolat from Tartine Bakery.



As usual, the end of the trip arrived before we were ready for it. I took a few last shots from the plane as we headed away from the sun, back to the eastern side of the continent.


Some mountain or something, probably east of San Francisco. Notice how dry the land is.

And that, my friends, is that. Now it’s fall in North Carolina, and we’re already planning our annual mountain getaway next month. In between, lots of work, volunteering, special events and full schedules. One of these days I may catch up with myself. In the meantime, hope y’all enjoyed this vicarious vacation. I know I did, just now.