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!

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