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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

California Vacation, Day 7: Napa Valley

Well this is the end. Friday was our seventh and final day in California. We went on a tour of four different wineries through a tour company in the Napa valley. They picked us up at 10:30 in the morning. It was a shuttle bus, not a big honkin tour bus. There were five other couples and they were already pumped up and in a party mood when we boarded. The first stop was the Jessup winery in Yountville, the first town North of the town of Napa. Jessup was by far the best of the wineries we visited. They set us up with 8 different tastings that day. All of them were very good. I bought a nice varietal and signed up for the wine club there. No pictures, just great wines.

At the second winery, Walnut Creek, we had a nice little lunch in addition to the tasting. I bought two bottles of the Syrah. There was an herb garden there with an overwhelming smell of onions.



















Nancy took some great pictures of the vines.













One of the group was kind enough to take our picture.
































At the next winery (I can't remember the name) I didn't really enjoy any of the wines. I spent most of the time playing catch with the big black lab that was there in the courtyard. The ladies however did take advantage of the "crush some grapes" invite from the somalier.















The last winery on the tour was the Reynolds Family winery, a small boutique winery. I bought two bottles there (can't remember what, cause I was hammered by then). Here we got a tour of the barrel room and a barrel tasting.







































Our last dinner in Napa was at the restaurant called 25 Degree Brix. The name represents the measurement at which grapes have reached the perfect time for picking off the vines. Dinner was outstanding but I don't remember what we had except for two more glasses of wine.





Thus endeth the vacation.

Monday, October 27, 2008

California Vacation, Day 6: Leaving Moonstone to Drive to Napa

We didn't take very many pictures on day six. It was a travel day for us so there wasn't much to report. We took our last walk on the beach around 9:30 in the morning. This picture was actually taken earlier in the trip but I though I'd save it for a slow day on the blog. We had been told by friends (Fran and Dave) to watch for the really unusual sea weed. There's no other way to describe it: giant sperm sea weed. Here it is.


















We left the beach to drive north to Napa around 10:00. Since the trip down the Pacific coast highway had taken so long, we decided to drive the highway this time. It took us through the hills and then the farm lands that line the California highways. We passed lettuce, artichokes, broccoli and of course grapes. It was really amazing to see miles after miles pass by of planted farmlands.












We stopped to take some landscape pictures and stummbled on this lizard.
We stopped at a little diner to have lunch. I forget the town or the name but it was pretty good diner food. We arrived in Napa around 4:00 in the afternoon. We decided to eat in the concierge lounge that night. There was a free appetizer and wine tasting followed by a free dessert bar. We grazed while watching the VP debate that night. I really can't stand that little phony wink she has when she speaks. It was to be an early evening but I made reservations for a bus tour of the wineries on the next day.
Tomorrow: Day 7, Napa.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

California Vacation, Day 5: Moonstone Beach and the Hearst Castle

We had made reservations in advance to see the Hearst Castle, which was located about 15 minutes north of Moonstone beach. The castle was originally built by William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper tycoon, as his summer residence. There are two guest houses that most people would consider to be mansions. The family donated the castle to the state of California and now the state operates it as a tourist attraction. It's pretty spectacular.


You cannot drive directly up to the castle. You park at the bottom of the property and take a bus up to the entrance. The drive up the road has some very nice views of the hills and the California coast line.
















The tour starts out at the swimming pool. Hearst was in the habit of constantly changing the house and the pool was no exception. It was rebuilt three times because he kept wanting it larger. This is the outdoor pool area.























































There are actually four different tours you can take, with each tour focusing on different areas. Each tour lasts about an hour and a half. We took the "Experience tour", which is billed as the best tour for the first time visitor. It highlighted the pool, one of the guest houses, the entrance way and the main floor of the mansion. Here are a few views of the grounds surrounding the pool area.




























Here is the fountain on the staircase leading up to the main entrance to the mansion.

















The main entrance to the mansion.

















The main sitting room when you first enter.














The fireplace in the main sitting room.















Hearst was a collector and one of the reasons he built the house was to have a place to store and display all of his collections. This statue was in one of the entryways.


















All of the rooms were fitted with ceilings and wall panels from ancient castles in Europe. Here are two of the wooded ceilings.























The dinning room and the dinning table.


















The tour ended with a look at the indoor pool which was built underneath the tennis courts. The floors were made of gold leaf and we were actually allowed to walk on them.





This ended the formal tour but there was also a very nice 45 minute movie on the making of the castle. On the ride down the mountain we saw the private zoo that Hearst maintained. The family still owns the surrounding land and maintains summer homes there. They also raise their own beef cattle and we did see them grazing on the way in to the castle. The herd is intermixed with a number zebra. We saw the zebra and Nancy wanted to get a picture before we left, but by then they were not to be found.
Tomorrow Day 6: The last of Moonstone and the highway ride to Napa.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

California Vacation, Day 4: Pacific Coast Highway and Moonstone Beach

I don't know where to begin for this part of the trip, but I'll try. This was one of the most beautiful car rides we've ever taken. We left around 10:00 on Tuesday morning and headed west through the city to the far shore of San Francisco. It took us up and over the hills. Of course we had the top down and here is my pale face. I completely forgot about the sun and by the time the day ended I was close to blistering on my forehead.








Although this part of the ride was still beautiful, it was the last 100 miles that were the best. We stopped just north of the Paso Robles National Forrest for lunch. I don't remember the name of the restaurant but it would be only one of two for the rest of the ride so our stop was at the perfect time. The food was good, not great, but the view was incredible.



















The manager (owner?) was kind enough to take our picture.














The next 74 miles was some of the most twisting road I've ever driven. The road was elevated about half way up the sides of the mountains, with the downward side going straight down to the sea.












About halfway down we saw these turkey vultures by the side of the road.








Towards the end of the ride we saw this nesting area for elephant seals. They were just lying there, throwing sand up over themselves.
Lots more road pictures. None of them really do the scenery justice. There was a fire in the hills and we heard later that there were over 1500 firefighters working the fire. You can see the smoke rising here.
















































We arrived at Moonstone Beach around 4:00 in the afternoon. The cottage was across the street from the beach, with a gorgeous view. There was a nice patio out front, and I had a stogie out there on the first night.







The inside was very cute, with a gas fireplace and a hot tub.















The view from the front door of the cottage.












This feather duster walked right up to us begging for food. Mine! Mine! Mine!








The sunset view from the restaurant that was only two doors down from the cottage.





Tommorow: Day 2 at Moonstone Beach and the Hearst Castle.