A Travellerspoint blog

You Like Wine, Well We Like Beer!

sunny 22 °C

So on Saturday we hired some bikes for the afternoon and spent it pedalling around the Russian River Valley (part of Sonoma County). Another glorious blue sky day here, not a cloud in the sky and t-shirt weather to boot (well, if you were riding a bike it was). We made it round half a dozen vineyards - they were all in very picturesque spots but there was a special wine-tasting weekend going on so it was rather crawling with day trippers. And hardly anyone else seemed to be cycling either, which we thought passing strange...

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Standard vineyard goes to Stuhlmuller - pretty out-of-the-way spot, great wines, lovely people, and even some nice food! Unfortunately they don't ship wines. Bum.

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Jon

Posted by pendleton 09:35 Archived in USA Comments (0)

The French Laundry

sunny

An early, fairly hungover start to the day driving out of SF downtown into Yountville in Napa County (these destination restaurants always seem to be in the arse end of beyond...). We have picked up a slightly more fun car for this leg of the trip (and paid a third over the internet what they told me at the counter; more on this car later though) so the driving itself has also been a pleasure. Lunchtime reservation at the restaurant which we barely made as relying on the GPS to get out of downtown was a slightly confusing and hair-raising experience.

Anyway, we got there. The town of Yountville is one of these picture-perfect towns that they have in the Napa Valley where everything looks like sunshine and happiness and you never see litter or tramps. The restaurant is in a very 'cute' little couple of buildings that was probably an old inn or something. It's a little bit formal than most of the fine dining places we've been to before - collars and jackets required for gentlemen. Once we get inside the ambience is a slightly muted, probably accentuated by the fact that it's split into several smaller rooms (and it's lunchtime and everyone is driving so nobody is half cut), but everything about the place is very... polished. It's a classic dining experience that has been perfected over time and which everyone that works there is very aware of and works towards.

Yeah, i'm wearing a sports jacket. You'd better believe it.

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And of course the food is very very good. There isn't the wild creativity of some of the places we have been to recently displayed, but that's not the point of this place - it is a classic experience and that's what you come here for. I think the closest analogue that I've been to is somewhere like Petrus in London. The courses follow that sort of classic procession - amuse bouche, foie gras, fish, lobster, meat, cheese, desserts, petits fours. And some of the courses are absolute triumphs - the starter of cauliflower panacotta and caviar was fantastic; the veal was phenomenal; and both the meat and both the dessert courses were exceptional. And the bread and butter was really astonishingly good! I lost count of the different types of bread, but we were offered two types of butter (either of which i could have eaten a pint of) and three different types of salt to go with a brioche course, one of which we were reliably informed was from a copper mine in Montana and was 42 million years old. No shit! However we did feel that some of the courses had flavour combinations which didn't gel entirely perfectly. This having been said, nothing is ever perfect all the way through and we are very picky people... it was still an amazing meal. Doesn't top El Bulli for me though I have to say.

More pictures than you could look at during the course of a four-hour meal in the gallery. Here's the bread and butter, yum!

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Jon

Posted by pendleton 09:23 Archived in USA Tagged food Comments (0)

I Left My Heart In San Francisco

Or, why ridiculous hills everywhere make for really fit old people

sunny

We got up bright and early for a bit of pavement pounding thru the city of Saint Francis. First up we took a wander through Chinatown, which was amazingly like all the expectations we had of it - lots of bright colours, shops selling either a) tat b) medicine or c) weird raw meat, narrow alleys et al. We visited the Tien Hau (Chinese Goddess of Heaven and Sea) temple, then went to the American Chinese museum (fascinating history of immigration and institutionalised racism), and also a fortune cookie factory

Then we had dim sum and wandered through North Beach to the Fisherman's Wharf area. Some oysters for supper then a stagger home (we'd been walking for about 7 hours by now).

The next morning we headed off for the Mission, which is the trendy sort-of-like-Shoreditch area. We had to make a pilgrimage to denim mecca Self Edge to satisfy my inner jeans geek, and then we headed off to the Castro. This is the main gay area of SF, and it's pretty astounding how... big, and established it is. Gay bars, gay bakers, gay shops, gay hairdressers. Lots of gaiety. Then we met up with Kiya (head jean geek and man behind Self Edge) and Alan (who writes for the Onion) who very kindly took us out to a biker bar named Benders (good beer, loud thrash metal music) and then out for some grub. Ended up pretty hammered and got back kinda late - quite a nice break from driving I have to say!

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Impressions of San Francisco

1. It's very clean. We think the sea breeze must drag away most of the pollution and the homeless people seem to pick up all the recyclable trash.
2. It's just the right size. You can walk pretty much anywhere in the city centre (although you might get sandbagged by an unexpected 30-degree hill), and you can drive for an hour out the city and be in beautiful verdant countryside.
3. There is a LOTTTTT to do - pretty much anything you want to. All the usual stuff, plus also you can be whatever sort of freak you want to. We tried to get into a medical marijuana shop but they wouldn't let us in as we didn't have a doctor's note.
4. Angi desperately wants to live here.

Next: The French Laundry & Sonoma...

Jon

Posted by pendleton 21:16 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Utah Saints (and winners)

Or when the Saints go marching in

sunny

A busy week (and we haven't even managed to see Watchmen!)

We left the condo Monday morning and spent the day in the Salt Lake environs getting some more colour on two very odd, insular and quixotic worlds; the Winter Olympics and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

The Winter Olympics were held near SLC in 2002; Park City is the Olympic park which was built nearby to accommodate all the non-ski slope events (e.g. the bobsled/luge/skeleton run and the big ski jump) which is now open for public tours. Interesting fact: they use 11-year old kids to check if the big ski jump (yes, the REALLY big one, 120m long) is too windy or icy for the athletes to use. What happens if it's too icy for the 11-year olds to land safely? "Well, we have a lot more 11-year old kids than we do athletes", said our unsmiling tour guide.

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Then later on in the day, some culture - a visit to the main Mormon temple and other buildings. Very interesting from a historical/sociological standpoint (and the building is beautifully preserved - being used to grimy London buildings we simply couldn't believe that it was as old as UCL, as it looked like new). We were shown around by a few 'Sisters' who were completing 18 month missionary placements anywhere around the world (a bit like us?!), one of whom being a Welsh girl who grew up in a pub! Not sure if the guided tours we had were supposed to convert us or not...but sorry guys, not accepting the science behind the theory of evolution makes it difficult for a biologist and a mathematician to take you seriously. Each to their own though, as long as it's not harming anyone.

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A couple of hours hanging around SLC later and we got on the Amtrak train for our 18 hour journey to San Francisco. It was about midnight at this point so we pretty much got on and fell asleep (*eventually). We woke up to the flat red-brown plains of northern Nevada. Just a bare expanse of absolutely nothing, almost hypnotic in its homogeneity. Every 3 hours or so we'd pass a settlement: small tumbleweed towns with proper old-style Wild West saloons and churches. A nap later and we were speeding through the tops of the Sierra Nevada mountains, which was getting dumped on by 6 feet of snow! (Where is a snowboard when you need it??). Luckily we got through just in time as soon after we left there was an avalanche that buried the track. Lastly we descended through the coniferous forests of the west side and into the rich plains of California. Very green, verdant countryside - kind of like England or Scotland in places but subtly alien with palm trees, cactuses and American signage.

Finally we got off the connecting bus service into SF at teatime that day. We checked into the hotel (bit of a dive but great location) and gave ourselves a real treat - we went for a CURRY! Happy days...

Jon

Posted by pendleton 19:02 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Almost Out Of Eden

sunny

Our time here is drawing to a close. We haven't done a huge amount of riding this week as unfortunately there hasn't been any snow for about 10 days (we blame the Smolen for bringing rain with him). We had about 6 inches land on Thursday night so we had most of a full day yesterday, hanging with the Monopallooza crowd.

No, it's not a load of people with glandular fever, they are actually monoskiers.

UPDATE: we've hit the mountain for the last time. The last run has been ran. The last jump jumped. The last skier has cut me up. Sad but true. We get the train tomorrow for San Francisco. Exciting!

Quick note on the beers of Utah: they are very very good. Despite the fact that you can't just walk into a bar and get a drink (true; you have to be a member of a 'private members club'), and despite the fact that the only things they seem to export are Bud, Rolling Rock and Corrs, there are some fantastic beers here. We've sampled a wide selection, and hopefully will fit a few more in tomorrow as we wait for the train.

The selection (OK, the middle one is from Mississippi)

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The funniest of the lot: Polygamy Porter "Why Have Just One", also "Bring Some Home For The Wives". Tastes a bit like you could make roads out of it, but worth a chuckle anyway

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Our internet access will become a bit more sporadic from now on but hopefully we'll have a bit more to say for ourselves when we do post!

Lastly, we have made the first change to our itinerary. We're now going to fly from Miami to Guatemala on March 30th, then go to Spanish school for 3 wks in Antigua in Guatemala (including over Easter which looks like it should be quite bonkers). Then we are going to overland to Belize, spend a couple of weeks there and then head up to Mexico to (hopefully) meet up with the lovely Daisy and Stu.

I'll have a go at updating the itinerary at some point........

Peas.

Jon

Posted by pendleton 16:54 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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