Thursday, May 31, 2018

Spring Vacacay (con't)

Day 2 of 3 dawned bright and early. I mean that literally. San Rafael is far enough north that the beginnings of summertime mean the planet's axial tilt is sharp enough to allow the sun to rise at least an hour earlier than I'm accustomed to. The result was an unexpected beauty at 05:15. The saving grace was that San Rafael is also two hours behind our normal timezone, so it felt like 07:15.

We got out fairly early the second day. Our destination was Stinson Beach and some of the hiking trails around it. The area was breezy and cool, which was counted as a good omen. The planned route was a little ambitious at about 9 miles, considering that we hadn't done any hiking any recent months, and we still weren't sure how well our knees would hold up. Despite any reservations we might've been secretly harboring, we ventured forth with smiles on our faces and hope in our hiking hearts!

The fools didn't know what they were in for...
The first trail we took (Dispsea Trail) led up the mountain. What we didn't realize was that there was a race of some kind on that trail in the opposite direction, coming down the mountain. As such, we wound up spending a decent amount of time on the ascent standing respectfully aside for runners, some of which had clearly taken tumbles during the race. One poor girl looked like she'd been on the losing end of a prize fight. Her slow and staggering descent served as a solemn reminder of yet another reason to NEVER RUN A RACE EVER AGAIN EVER!

The area is heavily wooded and wonderful to walk through. I've always liked the color of light as it makes its way through the foliage to the forest floor. I especially like it when its also illuminating a certain Tanya...

Seriously, have you ever seen anything so lovely? The woods are nice too.
After a couple of hours on this trail, we made it to the top of the mountain. The ascent had been a gradual 1500 feet or so, and we felt pretty good after making it up. It was even cooler and breezier at the top of the mountain; I wish this blogging software supported video better (or at all without hacking the html), because I've got a cool clip of the fog rolling around through the trees, sounding exactly like rain.

One quick note: there were lots of bicyclers at the top as well, although they all seemed to be street bikers. Driving up those winding roads was challenging enough. Riding up them is something I couldn't be paid to do.

The path back down was along Matt Davis Trail, and it was dramatic and even breath-taking in places. The air was still quite foggy despite the strong breeze, so the trail felt very empty as well as mysterious. I'll stop telling and start showing a little.

That's fog, not sky. What's over that ridge?!
Surprise! It was a bunch more fog!
The fog wasn't at a constant level; it flowed over the landscape here while rising above us there. It almost seemed to stick to the tops of some of the trees.

Three hairs and some air to paint all this!
(If you don't understand that caption, I urge you to watch more Bob Ross)

The path on this trail wandered in an out of the trees quite a bit. The fog obscured our view anytime we were in the open, and gave re-entering the trees a slightly ominous feeling.

No, that's OK -- you can go first, honey.
After another couple of hours of walking through this, our legs were shaky, but we emerged from the mists and made it back to the beach!

Civilization! Well, as civilized as Stinson Beach can be...
For anyone that has access to this area and hasn't walked it, I STRONGLY encourage you to do so. It was one of the coolest walks I've been on, and I would love to do it again. We actually considered going back there the next day, but quickly realized two things: first, we were going to be sore and foot-tender after today's walk, and second, we had other outings to attend to.

Last stop: Rodeo Beach!




Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Spring Vacacay!

Followers of this blog might have noticed a trend forming over the past several years: spring expeditions to fun/interesting/outdoors-y locations. In 2014, we went hiking in Utah. 2015 took us to southern California for work, but we got out a little bit. 2016 was a Seattle adventure, and 2017 was the huge London blowout. This year, we really didn't think we were going to go anywhere. Work schedules were such that it didn't appear to be in the cards. Then, Tanya's company unexpectedly scheduled an offsite in northern California (south of San Francisco), which was going to wrap up on a Thursday. We realized we could make a long weekend of it, and our Spring Vacacay tradition was saved!

Arrival

After spending several days writing Wifeless Husband Haikus, I joined Tanya in sunny San Francisco. We drove north to San Rafael, where we had booked a VRBO with a Prince theme. You think I'm kidding, but I'm not -- Prince stuff was everywhere. I wish I'd taken a picture of the gate, because it had the Prince symbol on it. As it is, I'll leave you with this photo, from the living room looking into the bedroom.

Pringles are ours, not Prince's. Also not shown: all of the purple LED lighting.
First days for us typically entail getting to the lodgings, finding a place to eat, and getting to the grocery and sundries store. The rental was amazing well-provisioned, meaning we didn't have any essential sundries to pick up -- only breakfast foods and snacks.

We headed out for dinner. The evening meal was provided by Chalet Basque, which was a lucky find in that it was only a mile or two from the rental. Tummies full, we procured groceries for breakfast and some other things we'd be taking on our hike(s), and a bottle of wine, because how can you not have a bottle of wine at all times this close to wine country?

Breakfast

A quick note on breakfast: we typically take breakfasts at the rental. This one had a very pleasing view, so on the first morning we were there, we decided to have breakfast on the patio. Some folks might not find it to be worth the effort; those folks would be wrong.

Eggs, bacon, tea, and english muffins with butter and jam. EVERY MORNING PLEASE!!

Wine Country

The first real day of Spring Vacacay was centered around a sojourn into wine country. 

Napa or Sonoma? Why not both! :-D

We had scheduled a wine and food pairing for early lunch at St. Francis Winery in Sonoma Valley and arrived in time to take a short stroll around the grounds.
I was told there would be food here...?
Someone is pretty clever with reflections!
Lunch was five wines, each paired with a thoughtfully, elegantly, and excellently prepared food course. I could have had more of each (yes, food AND wine). If you're the kind of person that likes the idea of going to wine country but doesn't particularly want to drive (or get driven) to a bunch of separate tasting rooms, I strongly suggest something like this. Over the course of a couple of hours, we got to have good conversation, learn about the wine and the chef's processes, and enjoy foods and wines in ways we wouldn't have otherwise. Two sloshy thumbs up, would consume again!

Our next destination was Castello di Amorosa in Napa Valley. Yes, it's a real, Tuscan-style castle, and was very crowded when we arrived. Apparently a lot of other people had the same idea we did -- go to wine country on a Friday afternoon and tootle around a castle.

Roses and dragons and castles! Oh my!

Thanks to my impeccable timing, we got there 45 minutes before our guided tour and tasting was supposed to begin. But, as luck would have it, when we checked in the greeter asked us if we wanted to upgrade to the cheese and wine pairing tour for a few extra bucks. They had an opening for two people on the tour that was supposed to start five minutes later, so I think we got a slight discount. We, of course, said yes. As I've already stated: wine and food are vastly superior to just wine.

Our guide had been at the winery almost since the beginning, so she knew everything about everything there. The castle was constructed from stones imported from Italy (not entirely, but in lots of places), all of the metalwork was done by an actual Italian blacksmith, all of the artwork was done by Italian artists, etc.

Hand-painted walls, hand-forged fixtures... 
Our fearless guide, and knower of all the things!
The owner loves dragons!

The castle had four levels above ground and four below. All of the barrels, as you may have guessed, were below ground. It's a veritable maze down there! If you got lost, at least you'd not get thirsty!

Barrels for days!
As the tour ended, we were led to a private tasting room where we partook of particularly fine wine and cheese. The pairings were supposed to be either "compare" or "contrast." Instead, we all tried all of them -- all the wines, all the cheeses, and adored them all.

From the inner courtyard. The private tasting room is in the lower right.
Maybe the most surprising thing we learned is that we actually like some ros├ęs, and for me, the darker, the better!

Upon finishing with this winery, we realized there was a mountain drive near where we were, and we love those kinds of views. Unfortunately for us, there were no scenic overlooks. If you wanted to get that view, you had to earn it by parking and hiking. Given that we were already planning to hike the next day, we decided to call it a day.

As an aside: we originally had dinner reservations in Sonoma, but by the time we'd finished eating a large lunch and just south of a ton of crackers and cheese along with an un-disclosable amount of wine, we realized that we weren't going to be hungry for dinner. Rather than force another fine meal on ourselves, we went back to the rental and snacked a little later in the evening. Lesson learned -- late dinner reservations are a necessity when lunching in wine country.

Next up: Hiking!