Saturday 18 July 2015

Road Trip Diary: Wine Country > Sacramento

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Day 46
Miranda to Vallejo
Thursday 18th June 2015

We entered a black hole of driving. Eight hours on the road with a couple spent on the winding, nausea-inducing California Route 1 north of Fort Bragg which forces you up hills at an excruciatingly slow place and then back down them on tight switchbacks which made me cling to the seat. We've got used to long car journeys now though and our playlists and snacks and regular drive-thru Starbucks trips keep us happy.

We had a brief reprieve from the car to stop at Glass Beach, it was quite out of our way but it has been on my to-see list for quite some time and it was very much worth the extra hour. Between the early 1900's and the late 1960's local residents, along with many other coastal communities, established a water dump site. It's a little bit hard to imagine people thinking it was ever a wise idea but they eventually realised it might be bad for the environment so they cleared away all the things that would degrade. The glass that had been dumped stayed however and over time it became smooth from the natural tumbling effect of the ocean and washed back up on the shores of the local beaches. Glass Beach is now a very busy tourist attraction and on the day we visited it was full of people, but you can see why. A beach with almost no visible sand, only the glistening white, brown and green pebbles of glass. Every handful was a kaleidoscope of colour. They recommend that you don't collect from this beach as they are worried about the glass diminishing over time but when we were there we saw a lot of people taking a few pieces. Also, get there early if you're planning on visiting, the crowds reach peak at lunchtime.

When we finally got to Vallejo, at 5pm, we were shattered. We only had the energy for dinner at an Olive Garden (sort of like Pizza Express but not as nice, FYI) and an extortionate drink at the hotel before crashing into bed.

Day 47
Friday 19th June 2015

One tip: don't come to Vallejo, we made the mistake so you don't have to. Unless you're into theme parks, because there was a massive Six Flags right next to our hotel and you could literally walk over the road to it. We made the decision to come here because: a) we originally had an Airbnb booked for Sonoma but it was tiny- everything in Wine Country is SO expensive - and it didn't have a pool and b) the temperature was forecast to hit 35C whilst we were there so we wanted a pool. We had a look on Expedia and the hotel we saw in Vallejo was only a little further out, nearer to Napa, with a gorgeous king size room, cheaper than the Airbnb and with a big pool. We didn't linger on the fact that the local area was a dump.

It wasn't a big deal and we spent our first day recovering from the driving by just slumping by the pool for most of the day, doing some much-needed laundry and eating dinner at a particularly shady branch of Denny's (top tip: if in doubt, order the veggie burger, this has saved me in many questionable establishments)

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Day 48
Saturday 20th June 2015

I can't quite get my head around Napa Valley. It's an incredibly beautiful place, all rolling hills and Tuscan-style buildings and along the main road there is just vineyard after vineyard, each one with a grand sounding name - Domaine Chandon, Chappellet, Castello di Amorosa etc etc. It was all a bit too much for us two whatever's-cheapest-in-Tesco tasters, so we googled for one with onsite food and picnic area for convenience and found V. Sattui.

It's set out around a big courtyard and gardens and inside a large stone building, I signed on for the six tastings for $15 whilst Ed stood nonchalantly by as the designated driver. That's the main thing I'm confused about - does everyone just drink and drive when they come here for their romantic weekends away? There were so many cars and everyone looked a bit sozzled. Even though it's only a relatively small amount of wine, I was certainly a little bit tipsy when I'd finished and declared their Riesling the best I'd ever tasted (read: the only one I'd ever tasted but man, it was good). We bought two bottles for our travels and $54 later (it isn't cheap this Napa wine) we headed to the busy gardens for some lunch. I'd definitely recommend Sattui, purely for the Deli and the weekend BBQ. The food was excellent and we sat on the lawn and ate our freshly grilled chicken and barbecued pork sandwiches.

We went back to the hotel and had another couple of hours by the quiet pool and then popped to the gas station across the road to buy dinner. I call it dinner but it was definitely the least nutritious meal we've had so far - instant noodles, Pringles, a shit ton of candy and some soda. We had a bed picnic and watched a film and it was glorious.

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Day 49, 50 and 51
Sunday 21st, Monday 22nd and Tuesday 23rd June 2015

Sacramento is the state capital, with it's glimmering golden landmark bridge, capitol building, old town and sadly, like many big U.S cities, a large homeless population.
We spent the first afternoon wandering downtown, spotting the street art, getting iced teas at Temple Coffee to keep us cool and relaxing at the motel pool when the heat became just too much.

Monday was much better, we felt refreshed and ready to explore so we headed to Old Sacramento. The motel  (not a recommendation by the way - terrible breakfast, even gave it my first ever bad review on Expedia) was in a great location only a five minutes from there. Old town is a neatly preserved historic state park which still operates like a normal part of the city with restaurants, shops and bars, only it's much prettier. We took photos of the shop fronts, the excellent typography on the railroad signs and the cute yellow school house.
We headed back there later on for dinner at Ten22, a mediocre affair with zero atmosphere, and then for a final few drinks at Back Door Lounge, a proper velvet-lined dive bar hidden away on Firehouse Alley. When we walked in it was almost totally empty and it stayed that way for most of the night. We sat at the bar and ended up chatting to a couple of locals for an hour whilst the bartender kept the cheap margaritas and beer flowing. We talked about all the weird and wonderful differences in language between England and the U.S, a popular topic of conversation for Americans who think the fact that we say 'brilliant' (everyone we have met has commented on this!) and courgette instead of zucchini is hilarious.

On Tuesday the weather was unbearably hot, almost 38 celsius, but we decided to persevere with our sight-seeing so we walked downtown to see the State Capitol building. Across the country, these buildings are strangely similar in style, there's even a funny Washington Post article about the few that don't fit in with the aesthetic here. We got talking to a guide who kindly offered to give us a personal off-plan tour of the rooms which was really fun and informative. It was a good way to pass a couple of hours and we headed back to the motel pool to soak up some more sun before heading off the next morning.

We still can't decide if we loved Sacramento or not. Not enough there to hold our interest really. I think we managed to see the main sights in three days so I can't say it's somewhere we'd plan to return to if we did the trip again, however, it's a great place to stop off for a couple of nights if you're doing a tour of California and I'd recommend it to other trippers!

Friday 3 July 2015

Road Trip Diary: Crescent City & Miranda - Redwood Country

Day 42
Florence to Crescent City
Sunday 14th June 2015

This drive along the last stretch of Oregon coast was beautiful, full of scenic stop off points to allow us to gawp at the beaches and rocks jutting up out of the sea.
Crescent City signified our return to California and the second chapter of our trip. From here on in, we're staying in California. We're making our way down to San Diego and then up to Los Angeles where we'll fly home from on July 22nd.

We booked our Airbnb in Crescent City purely for the incredible reviews but the promise of a complimentary homemade sourdough pizza might also have had something to do with it. Patree's home at the end of a small street was painted all of the colours of the rainbow and came with three beautiful cats including Uncle Steve, the matriarch (yes, female) of the trio.

Patree turned out to be one of the sweetest, most knowledgeable people we've met so far on this trip. Twelve years ago she'd left her home in Ohio and moved to Crescent City because she wanted to be nearer the Redwoods. As simple and as pure as that, the Redwoods were calling her and she answered. Since then she's become an expert on the gigantic trees, their history and significance in local Native American lore and was kind enough to share with us the best places and trails to see the finest examples.

As promised, after dumping our bags and settling in, Patree cooked us the most amazing feta, spinach and sun-dried tomato pizza, we drank some beers and chatted about our trip and the life she'd made for herself in Crescent City. A lovely evening, full of cheer and another reason Airbnb works so well when they have hosts like Patree.

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Day 43
Crescent City
Monday 15th June 2015

Under cold grey skies we left early for the trees. We'd noted some of Patree's tips about the area and headed for Jebediah Smith State park via Howland Hill Road, a deserted dirt track with the best access from Crescent City to the biggest Redwoods. We came across more cars along the route and stopped of for some photos next to some of the biggest fallen trunks we'd ever seen.

We parked in Stout Grove and wandered amongst the giants, hugging numerous ones for the full 'woah' effect. It's incredible to think they are some of the largest trees on earth, just touching them feels very magical.

We made the short drive to the Trees of Mystery, a roadside attraction on Highway 101 signposted by a two huge talking statues of Paul Bunyan and his ox Babe, a Californian legendary figure who features in lots of local tall tales. For the $15 admission fee you get a trail through a huge array of Redwoods and Redwood carvings, a ride on the brilliant cable car up to the top of the ridge and back again and entrance to the End of the Trail museum, a brilliant collection of artefacts and information about the local Native American tribes. It was a great deal and we spent a couple of hours there, then ate our leftover pizza for lunch.

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Day 44
Crescent City to Miranda
Tuesday 16th June 2015

We bid farewell to Patree after another her glorious breakfasts of homemade breads (some of which she packed up for our lunch) and coffee and got back on the road. We stopped in Eureka to get some lunch and we'd tasted a beer at Patree's that was brewed here so we called in at the Lost Coast Brewery to pick up a six pack of the delicious Tangerine wheat ale. I also managed to find an amazing vintage shop, Little Shop of Hers on the main street. It was exactly the type of vintage shop I wished existed in the UK, a massive selection sorted into styles, excellent quality, priced very reasonably (see: cheap!) and best of all, a big range of sizes. If you happen to find yourself in Eureka, make sure you add it to your list.

We were desperate for some sun as for the past few days, it had been cloudy and chilly but as we drove through the Avenue of the Giants en route to Miranda, we could already feel it warming up.
The Avenue is essentially a really long road lined with Redwoods forests and is full of places to pull over to get a better view.

We were staying at Miranda Gardens, an old-school resort on the Avenue with the cutest individual cabins, a great pool and a camp fire each night, all surrounded by the epic trees. The sun was out in full force when we arrived so we dropped our bags, put our swimwear on and got down to the pool quick sharp. We had it all to ourselves, something we've found at a lot of the motels we've been to weirdly, and soaked up every last inch of sun before it sunk behind the forest.

Calling Miranda a town might be a bit of a stretch, it was more like a couple of shops and a restaurant covering a short length of road, so that meant we had limited options for dinner. The only eatery was the inventively named Avenue Cafe. We've eaten in some pretty sketchy places on this trip and I thought this might turn out to be another one but they served us some very good calzone, pizzas and beers for a decent price.

We sat outside our cabin as it got dark, drinking our tangerine beers, playing cards and swatting away the mosquitos.

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Day 45
Wendesday 17th June 2015

And repeat. No, really. We basically did the same thing today. We ate the excellent complimentary breakfast, changed into our swimwear and sat by the pool until lunch time when we crossed the road to get lunch from the food mart. We've taken to eating like I used to when I went to France on family holidays- a baguette, cheese and fresh tomatoes. It's cheap and not necessarily nutritious but it is easy (when you don't have a kitchen or the associated utensils) and it's delicious. I've had real difficulty adjusting to the food here, buying things in supermarkets is fine but when you have limited options, I've found getting fresh, healthy food is really hard. We really are spoilt in the UK. I don't think people necessarily notice it when they're on a two week holiday and have the budget to eat out for lunch and dinner, but because we're having to be savvy it's more of a challenge.

We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing at the pool and then headed back over to the cafe for dinner and more pizza! The motel was so relaxing and I'd recommend it to anyone in a heartbeat. We watched the campfire burning, played some more cards and chilled out so hard, I wasn't sure how we'd get back into the swing of things over the next few days, but I'm sure some wine tasting in Napa might help...
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