A milestone today
It’s my veggie-versary
Thirty years, no meat
A milestone today
It’s my veggie-versary
Thirty years, no meat
The last time we’d visited California, Ian and I had used UPS to ship our newly purchased wine home. Something Bob from Butterfly Creek Winery had said in one of his many stories had stuck in Ian’s head, though, and he decided it would be prudent to check if UPS still performed this function. Turns out, UPS now only accepts packages containing alcoholic beverages from licensed shippers.
We’d purchased 15 bottles of wine and a bottle of cider, and we hadn’t even been to Napa yet! Faced with the conundrum of how to get our wine home, we considered the options.
We still had a few days before we went home, so we decided to defer the decision, at least until after breakfast. We’d been considering two places for our morning meal and decided to try the closer place with the other one as a plan B if the first one seemed too crowded. Upon seeing a bunch of people waiting at plan A, we continued walking toward plan B. A light rain started to fall, and I became irritated with myself for leaving both my umbrella and my rain jacket back at the inn. We arrived at plan B, Jantz Bakery, only to find that they did not serve breakfast per se. They sold pies, cookies, and other baked goods, but did not serve pancakes, waffles, or other breakfast items. The employee there informed us it was their other locations that served breakfast, a fact that (at least at the time) was not clear from their website.
As we walked back to plan A (the Sugar Pine Cafe), I grumbled about all these first-world problems (the wine conundrum, forgotten rain gear, breakfasting options) combing to make me cranky. However, the wait at the cafe turned out not to be too long, and all the while we were there, I was oddly uplifted by the voice of Morrissey as Louder Than Bombs served the restaurant’s background music. The Smiths had provided much of the soundtrack for my teenage angst, and hearing them reminded me of all the ridiculous wallowing I’d done over trivial problems at that time in my life. My crankiness dissipated. I laughed at the inexplicably priced pancakes ($6.50 for a stack of two, $3.00 for a single pancake*) and enjoyed my breakfast.
Afterwards, we packed up and headed out of Mariposa. As we drove along Highway 140, somewhere between Mariposa and Merced, I noticed an oddity–a stone fireplace sitting in a field that was otherwise populated only by grass and trees. I did a double take, but there was no mistaking that it was a fireplace. How did it get there? What possible reason was there for its placement? Were aliens involved?? I didn’t get a photo of it, but once again, I searched handy-dandy Google Earth and found one. No amount of Googling provided an explanation for the presence of this fireplace, though. It remains a great mystery to me.
In Atwater, we stopped at the Castle Air Museum. Again, for some reason, I neglected to bring my umbrella or rain jacket with me, so we were, of course, caught in a downpour. Thankfully, the deluge was short-lived.
Seeing the planes was cool, but this piece of patriarchal bullshit rather ground my gears.
Having made the decision to bring our wine on the flight home with us, we stopped at Target to buy a suitcase, bubble wrap, packing tape, and plastic bags to accomplish the task. I wanted to get the suitcase with adorable little foxes on it (it would be so easy to spot on the baggage carousel!), but Ian wasn’t too keen on that. Being a child-size suitcase, it was probably too small for our intended purpose, so I guess we made the right call.
In Livermore, we stopped at Retzlaff Winery for a tasting, knowing that we couldn’t buy anymore wine during the trip unless we wanted to purchase still more luggage!
Not far outside of Napa, we passed a farm that had several signs proclaiming, “We’re using recycled water!” Perhaps I’m being pedantic when I ask this, but isn’t most water recycled?** Sure, it’s possible to make water, but doing so on a large scale is generally considered too costly and potentially dangerous. Boasting about recycled water struck me as a weird flex.
We arrived in Napa, checked in at the Napa Inn, where we’d stayed during our last trip to the area (same room and everything–but with an updated, non-growling bathtub!). We had a lovely dinner that evening at the Napa Valley Bistro. I hadn’t recalled eating there before, but once we walked in, Ian was certain we had (he was right if my past blog post is to be believed). After dinner, we returned to the inn, where we opened a bottle of wine (giving us one less to tote home) and sipped while Ian began to experiment with different ways of packing the wine to minimize the risk of breakage, or, as he referred to the process, The Anal Retentive Chef Packs a Suitcase.
* I have to assume that extra fifty cents is for the labor involved in stacking the pancakes. I did wonder what would happen if I ordered two single pancakes, though.
** I actually do understand (roughly anyhow) the intended meaning of the signs, but I rather enjoy poking fun at them.
On Monday morning, we set out to tackle the Mist Trail, one of Yosemite’s most popular hikes. I had my new hiking poles, and although I felt a little awkward with them at first, by the time we were alongside Vernal Falls, climbing the steep stairs cut into the cliffside, I had decided they were among the best things ever invented. Some of the steps were quite high; whereas my legs are rather short and were slightly sore to boot. Plus, the steps were wet and slippery, so the poles were a godsend. My new rain jacket came in handy as well. Even on a sunny day, hiking the Mist Trail means getting wet–not just damp. I’m talking about a take-a-shower-with-your-clothes-on kind of wet. Despite its challenges, the hike was amazing!
Taking a tip we’d gotten from Bob at Butterfly Creek Winery the previous day, instead of going back down the Mist Trail the same way we came up (which I think would have freaked me out as I’m not fond of descending steep stairs), we instead hiked over to Clark Point and descended via the John Muir Trail, which allowed us to get some different scenery on the way down.
Once we had descended, we caught the shuttle to the Majestic Yosemite Hotel for lunch at the Majestic Bar. When we were about three-quarters of the way through the giant pretzel we’d ordered as an appetizer, the manager came by to see how we were doing. He remarked that he was impressed at the job we’d done on the pretzel, noting that most people don’t finish it. Now, don’t get me wrong, it was a big pretzel, but we’d just hiked all morning and into the afternoon, so finishing it between the two of us didn’t seem like a particularly impressive feat. We decided to take it as a compliment, though. We conquered the Mist Trail and the giant pretzel! We were killing it!
Since the previous day had been so foggy, we decided to drive back up to Tunnel View to get a look in better weather. We also stopped at a couple of turnouts and get some different views of El Capitan and Ribbon Falls.
When we were about to drive back to Mariposa, we discovered that the car stereo suddenly would not cooperate with our phones. We tried Ian’s phone and my phone. We tried Bluetooth and wired connections. We tried turning the stereo off and back on again. We were just about to consider ourselves stumped when I said, “How about turning the car off and then starting it again?” That did the trick! I fixed it (and I’m not even the IT person in our pairing)! No matter the problem, there’s a good chance that turning something off and then back on will fix it! I just need to figure out how to do that with my lower back.
The second day of our trip was our actual anniversary and a gloomy day, at least weather-wise. Just about everywhere we went, people apologized to us for the rain, as if it was somehow their fault. We spent the first part of the morning browsing around some of the shops in Occidental–actually, probably all of the shops in Occidental (it’s a very tiny town) and then headed out for some wine tasting. Our first stop was Hartford Family Winery, the maker of my favorite chardonnay ever. Normally, I can take or leave chardonnay, but this stuff is freaking delicious.
Since it was our anniversary, some bubbly was in order, so our next destination was Korbel, where we did a tasting, ate lunch, and took a photo re-creation opportunity. Watch the ivy grow (or disappear, depending on which order you view the photos)!
While wine tasting, it’s important to cleanse the palate, so we visited Russian River Brewing Company and split a flight of every beer they had on tap. It looks like a great deal of beer, but it actually works out to a little over a pint for each of us. Even so, I collected countless badges as I logged the beers on Untappd, including the “Take It Easy” badge, which includes the tagline, “Either you must be sampling or really like beer!” I began to wonder if an intervention badge would pop up next.
With our palates cleansed, we were ready to taste more wine–more bubbly actually–and we proceeded to Iron Horse Vineyards. During our tasting there, we got to chatting with the couple next to us and discovered that it was also their fifteenth anniversary. OMG–anniversary twins!
For dinner that evening, we had reservations at Drake’s Sonoma Coast. When we arrived, the host informed us that the restaurant had lost power (owing to downed lines from strong winds) but if we still cared to dine there, they were offering a limited menu. We were game (and hadn’t prepared a backup plan), so she showed us to our table. The dining room has several large windows that look out onto Bodega Bay, and since the sun had not yet set (not that it could be seen), the room was still fairly well lit when we arrived.
At a nearby table, an indignant woman who seemed to think the restaurant employees had cut the power to spite her proclaimed, “I just want to eat what I want to eat!” On some level, I do understand that sentiment, but sometimes the power goes out and you have to make the best of it. She was having none of it, though. She left the restaurant (and the rest of her party) in a ridiculous huff.
Ian and I, on the other hand, had a lovely meal and speculated that this would be one of our more memorable anniversaries. Members of the waitstaff donned LED necklaces (which I guess they just happened to have sitting around?) to increase their visibility. As the evening wore on and we were among the few patrons remaining, we collected more and more candles on our table (accidental romantic lighting!). As we strained our eyes to read the dessert menu, I wondered how the lighting situation in the kitchen was being dealt with. However the staff did it, they managed the whole situation very well. We left full and happy and with an amusing story to boot!
When napkin sticks to
Ice cream cone, what choice is there
But to eat paper?
Looking sharp in our new hats, Rachel and I browsed a few more shops in the Gothic Quarter before stopping for lunch at a restaurant called Momo, the name of which, reflected in glass amused me greatly and would actually make a great restaurant name. Omomnom…
Full of paella and sangria, we continued in our pursuit of Spanish souvenirs be returning to La Vientinueve, which we had visited during our first day in the city. Since we’d purchased a suitcase to bring home our wine, that meant we also had space for shoes and other items. La Vientinueve has a plethora of adorable dresses, skirts, and accessories, but the shoes are the real stars of this shop–colorful, unique, and made in Barcelona. Rachel tried on one pair and quickly determined those were the ones for her. I had a little more trouble making a decision.
I think I surprised everyone in the store when I finally made up my mind and only bought one pair (along with a dress and some sunglasses). Truth be told, if money and packing real estate had not been concerns, I could have easily gotten about five pairs (*pats self on back for exercising restraint*).
We hit a few more shops then headed back to the hotel to drop off our treasures and clean up before our much-anticipated fancy dinner that night at Monvinic. Unfortunately, the restaurant didn’t quite live up to our expectations. First, in order for one person to do the tasting menu, everyone at the table has to order it (which isn’t unusual, but I’ve never understood why this is the case), and they said they could not do a vegetarian tasting menu. Anyhow, I ordered an asparagus salad and the morel stew. Since I’d asked about vegetarian tasting, the server was nice enough to inform me that the morel stew had veal broth in it, which was not mentioned on the menu (again, not unusual in that regard) but that they could prepare a vegetarian version of it. Great!
One of the purported strengths of this restaurant was the extensive wine list and the sommelier to assist in pairing wine with food. The sommelier came along and first asked if we were thinking of getting a bottle or ordering glasses. We told him glasses, thinking perhaps we could dry a few different things that way. Then he asked if we wanted red or white. I said I liked both and was open to whatever he thought might go best with the food I ordered. “Red or white?” he asked again.
“Well, I guess I probably favor red somewhat, but I’m flexible.”
“Red then,” he said and began scrolling through menus on his iPad. “I would recommend this Tempranillo…”
“Oh…” I said. He’d hit on the one type of red wine I know doesn’t agree with me. I like it just fine, but after a few instances of having one or two glasses of it and being very sick the next day, I’ve learned to avoid it. I laughed and gently explained, but the sommelier seemed to take personal offense at my rejecting his suggestion. He turned again to his iPad and recommended another wine (the type of which escapes me) and I said that would be great. When Rachel asked what the sommelier would recommend with her order, he again seemed shocked and confused that we would want to order different things. Why this should be an odd concept to a sommelier, I have no idea. Ultimately, Rachel just said she’d have the same thing I’d ordered.
The wine, whatever it was, was good. I’ll say that much, even though I had been less than impressed with the process of getting it. My asparagus salad was also excellent. When the main dishes arrived, I was rather put off to see a large fried egg right in the center of my morel stew–another thing that had not been mentioned in the description on the menu–and this one I can fault them for. I’m a lacto-ovo vegetarian, so technically, I eat eggs, but only if I can’t taste them. I’m down with eggs baked into cookies or cakes, but I despise the taste of eggs more than anything else I can think of. I ate around the egg, and the rest of the stew was quite good. I know could have sent it back, and I probably should have, but for whatever reason, I didn’t feel like the bother. We declined looking at the dessert menu, instead deciding to cut our losses and go out in search of gelato and found it at Gelats Dino.
Not quite ready to call it a night yet, we strolled around with our cones and decided to seek out the Arc de Triomf, which we knew was somewhere in the vicinity. Besides, if I saw one in Barcelona, I knew I’d only need one more to have a collection. Since we’re apparently gluttons for punishment, we consulted Google Maps, which then seemed to indiscriminately pick directions for us to turn at random times. We literally went in circles until we finally spotted a sign on the street that pointed us in the right direction, and we found the Arc…triumphantly!
After four nights in our hotel, I finally was able to remember which switch on the wall next to my bed corresponded to the bedside lamp and which controlled the room’s main lights. With this accomplishment, Rachel bestowed upon me the title Queen of Spain. It’s possible she does not actually have the authority to grant such a title, but I had no readily available proof that she didn’t, so I gladly accepted it.
We began our day with breakfast at the hotel, which, I don’t believe I’ve mentioned before was the Ayre Hotel Gran Vía, but owing to some humorous garbling in my brain, we had come to refer to as the Ariana Grande Hotel. Anyhow, the breakfast buffet was good, despite being somewhat treacherous (at least for a grace-challenged person like me) by tables placed too close together. It included chilled cava, so we could see no reason not to make ourselves mimosas to toast my coronation. There was a minor incident when I pressed the cappuccino button on the magic coffee machine and received only hot milk. Eager to remedy this grievous error, I pressed the espresso button, which delivered the sought-after caffeinated liquid but caused my cup to overflow and created a bit of a mess. How thoroughly embarrassing on the first day of my reign!
Next on our itinerary was a visit to Park Güell. To get there, we climbed numerous hills and roughly half the stairs in the world. In the middle of one of the staircases, we encountered a man who apparently thought it was the perfect time and place to initiate some sort of packing reorganization project. He had taken the contents of several plastic bags (bottles of soda and sundry items) and spread them out across most of the width of the steps (-1 point for lack of self-awareness, dude). All that aside, Park Güell was really cool and made me feel vaguely like I had stepped inside a Dr. Seuss book, albeit with less rhyming.
When we finished exploring the park, we set off in search of snacks, persevering through additional skirmishes with Google Maps and managing to evade a woman on the street who seemed to be trying her best to light us on fire with her cigarette (-1 point for lack of self-awareness, -1 point for attempted incendiarism of pedestrians). But it was all worth it, for, to the victors went the churros!
Since my vacations tend to feel incomplete without a visit to a local hat shop, we went next to Sombreria Mil. Upon entering the store, I knew I was about to undertake a marathon of trying on hats, so I removed the hat I’d been wearing, stuffed it into my purse, and got right to work. A few minutes in, while attempting to extricate a particular hat from a stack, I knocked over a foam mannequin head and sent a different stack of hats toppling to the floor. Then, in trying to tidy up that mess, I managed to drop the hats I’d been holding from the first stack. A shop employee rushed over to tend to the situation. Although I apologized profusely, she simply shot me a death glare and went about restoring order.
I shrugged it off, thinking that perhaps she was just having a bad day, and again began my quest of determining which hat would come home with me. Rachel also continued to try on hats, even though she’d all but decided she was going to buy the first one she’d tried on (which, I do have to say, was adorable). All this time, I couldn’t help but feel that the shop-tender was still giving me the stink-eye. Granted, I was a bumbling tourist who’d knocked some stuff over. Some righteous annoyance at me was reasonable, but I wasn’t sure I deserved the amount of ire conveyed by her glowers. After several minutes of this, I finally made eye contact with her, confronting her glare, and giving her a look as if to say What?!
“Could you open your bag, please?” she snapped.
That’s when it hit me. She must have glimpsed me stuffing my hat in my purse after entering the shop and thought I was stealing. “Oh!” I said, opening my bag wide and pulling out the hat. “I was wearing this when I came in!” I held it out for her to see, practically inviting her to examine the sweat stains and feel the slightly gritty film on it from being accidentally immersed in the sea the previous day. The woman’s face relaxed, she apologized, and the rest of the shop visit passed very pleasantly. Rachel and I both left with new (fully paid-for) hats.