It was pretty warm in Sonoma, about 90 degrees, when we left. We took a little side trip to the Petrified Forest and the Old Faithful of California. Talk about old-fashioned hokiness! The Petrified Forest is pretty much in someone’s backyard. The geyser is a little more formal attraction. The woman who sold us our tickets said that it went off about every 40 minutes and was going up 60 feet or so and at it’s longest, lasting for 6 minutes. After we’re there for a couple of minutes, the rock in the middle of the pool starts to steam and we can hear the water bubbling. However, the water that shot up was a weak little stream. It did that a few times (just enough for Brendan to get annoyed and want to leave). We decided to stay for just a little while longer, and I’m glad that we did. It went off like a rocket for about 5 minutes. Put on quite a little show for us.
Then we were off up the coast.
As soon as we reached the coastal highway, the temperature dropped 20 degrees almost instantly. Took me by surprise a little. I had expected it to be cooler, but it happened so fast. The first chance we got we pulled over to get a look at the Pacific. It was quite a sight. There were sheer cliffs, rocks off the shore and sea lions playing in the water and basking on the beach. The scenery kept getting more spectacular as we rolled north.
Our hotel in Mendocino, the Sea Rock, had wonderful views of the coast as well. We had enough time to go into town and have dinner at the Mendocino Hotel where I had ahi cooked very rare for the first time (it was good, actually) and we had a dessert made of special Mendocino county berries which are a cross between blackberries and raspberries. The town itself is also very cute. We made it back to the hotel in time for a spectacular sunset.
The weather was very cooperative. Apparently, it had been foggy for months until today.
We did Alcatraz today. Awesome tour. It may be one of the most cliche things to do in San Francisco, but I think it’s a good thing to do. After that we had lunch at Pier 39 and walked around. Nothing too exciting. We stopped at a shop on the pier where you pick an oyster out of a barrel and they get a pearl out of it for you. Jess got one and had it mounted on a ring. It felt like a total scam, but it was fun. The woman even gave us an extra pearl because we told her we are on a trip for our anniversary. Very nice Asian women worked there. I got Steelers underwear for game day at an NFL shop. It sounds weird, I know, but it’s actually very exciting for me.
Had dinner at an Italian place where the food was excellent, but the service was horrible. We probably sat for 25 minutes waiting for our plates to be cleared. We had a bottle of wine to get through to pass the time, though.
Sorry, but today just wasn’t as exciting.
Except for when Jess blew up the hotel hair dryer, and clogged the toilet. Although the toilet wasn’t her fault. It was just a coincidence, but a funny one. A repair guy was here for about 30 minutes trying to fix it. We’re fine now.
I believe this negates me being wrong earlier in the trip. The score is now 0-0. Jess loses two points because of destruction of property, etc.
OK, so Jess was going to write about this, but I’ve beaten her to it. She’s in the shower, washing off the stink that is a day of travelling.
The day started off well enough. We both went to work, our bags were packed, and we were going to leave from the office. Fine.
Except that in my rush to leave the office, I happened to forget the laptop. Didn’t find out I left it until a coworker called me as we were pulling into the airport. We thought about turning around, but then decided just to leave it. It ended up that another coworker that lives near the airport (which is about 40 minutes away from the office), was willing to come and drop it off. Excellent. We didn’t even have to wait that long. By the time we checked our bags and walked to find a snack, she was there.
Awesome. Our trip just had its snag, and it was over before the trip even began.
But that was just the beginning.
The flight was fine. We even got in 30 minutes early. Except that we had to wait another 20 or so for our luggage to come on the belt.
So as we’re waiting, we think we see one of our bags coming. Until some old guy, who is completely disheveled, decides that it’s his bag. He grabs it, checks the ticket, says, “Yup,” and proceeds to high-tail it out of the airport. I think, “Well, he checked the ticket, said, ‘Yup,’ and walked out, so it must not have been our bag.” Jess was insisting that the guy stole our bag. I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt.
But it was our bag.
We get our other bag and are waiting and waiting for the big one to come off. No dice. So we finally give up and head into the baggage office. As we’re in there waiting in line, I turn around and see the guy. He’s now carting another bag, A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT COLORED BAG, out, and there’s ours sitting by the baggage belt.
But we’re still ahead of schedule, so I’m happy.
We have no problems getting the rental car, and head for the hotel. Then the ray of sunshine:
THERE’S A SONIC PRACTICALLY IN THE HOTEL PARKING LOT!!!!
Now, Jess and I LOVE Sonic. More than words can express at this particular moment. I can’t tell you what I would do at any given time for a cherry limeade. Perfect.
So we check in. No problems. Literally drop our stuff off in the room and head for the Sonic.
All we want is a little snack and some cherry limeades. Shouldn’t be a big deal, right? Just a small popcorn chicken and some cheese fries. Evidently this was a big deal for them. It took 15 minutes or so to get our order. Was the order ok? No. We got Cokes instead of cherry limeades, my cheese fries must have been out for an hour before they brought them to us, and they completely left out the dipping sauce for the chicken.
So after we finally got the limeades, we headed back to the room. It’s now 2:30 in the morning to us (11:30 out here), and we’re completely exhausted from the day. Hopefully we got all the snags in one day. Updates to come if we didn’t.
UPDATE: We were awoken at 3:00 AM by what had to be either a prostitute or an actress, because the woman in the room next to us should win an academy award. I’ve never heard anyone moan and scream like that. We had to turn the TV on to drown it out.
Then the alarm went off at 3:30.
The shower in this hotel is ridiculous. When standing there, the shower head is at nose level. When turning it on, the water hits at the neck — and that’s only when pointing the shower head straight out.
Also, cherry limeade = crack.
The room is reminescent of our first night in Zurich. The suitcase needs to be standing up if we’re both going to be walking and/or moving about. The heat in here is cranking, too. We’ve got no control — it’s either on or off. They’ve been sending someone to turn it off for 10 minutes now. That’s service. It’s a bed, a toilet, a shower and a roof. It’s all we need. What do you expect for $70 a night. We packed in a whole lot of stuff today. The plan* was a little disrupted when we got in at about 7 and we couldn’t get into the room. There was a place for us to store our bags and have a quick change. Then we were off.
Took the tube all over. First to Westminster Abbey where we beat the majority of the crowds — there was just a small line, er, queue… No photos allowed inside, though.
We took some around Parliament and Big Ben
and then we walked across the Thames to the Eye.
We were way early for our noon reservation, so we grabbed some food and got our tickets printed… and got in line early. No big deal. Don’t imagine it would be unless there were lots of crowds.
So we went around in little pods — they don’t stop them unless there is someone with a wheelchair or something — so you board and disembark while they are very slowly moving. It takes half an hour to go all the way around. After that it was off to lunch.
I didn’t have us “slotted”* to start through the Tower of London until 2:00 — so we had plenty of time to have a good lunch, wait in a slow line for tickets and walk and walk and walk. We saw the jewels, and the White Tower. Good stuff.
Then, since we had loads of time, we took the Tube to Knightsbridge, headed into Zara (odd that I’ve been to the store in Montreal and London, but not in Georgetown) and got a cute dark emerald/hunter knit turtleneck.
And then it was across the street to Harrod’s. What a zoo. It was completely insane. couldn’t stay in there for terribly long. And now, we’re in the room until about seven when we’re going to dinner. Going to try and stay up until nine or so. I got a few hours of sleep on the plane. Bren didn’t get any… Tomorrow’s plan is for St. Paul’s, Buckingham Palace, Covent Garden and Trafalgar Square.
*We don’t normally plan much of our trips. We just go with the flow and do what we feel like, when we feel like it, and take it pretty easy. But since this time we had a little time and so much we wanted to do, plus it was a holiday weekend; I had to make sure we knew what was open when, so that we could see everything.
In the morning, we go to the market. The market is run by what you might consider a typical Italian family. The old man runs the place and he doesn’t speak much English. He helps us pick out produce. His wife works behind the counter. Most items you have to ask for and she’ll get it for you, bread, cereal etc. Their son also works behind the counter. He must carry boxes and crates all day. The old man is short, comes up to my shoulders probably, and hunched over all the time. His wife is also short and stocky with cropped brown hair and unshaven armpits. But they seem genuinely nice. He helps us pick out produce and she tries to understand our broken Italian. She counts out our change very deliberately as to teach us.
The Amalfi coast is known for its lemons. They are as big as grapefruits! They also had tons of other fruit: types of cherries I’d never seen before, nectarines, apples, oranges that were also massive.
We bought some fruit, bread and gallons of water. The heat is unbelievable. Our apartment has no air conditioning and it’s beginning to get oppressive. The entire town shuts down from around noon until three. There is a breeze coming off the water that cools things some.
The apartment has two floors. You walk in off the “street” (which is actually an alley or sidewalk, but they all have street names) onto the second floor. To the right of the door is Geoff’s room and the bathroom. Directly across from the entrance is our room and next to ours Keith and Gail’s room (which also has a bathroom). Our room and the adjoining room open out to the second story balcony. Geoff is not so lucky. But that’s what he gets for arriving a day late.
Downstairs there is a sitting area to the left of the stairs. Immediately behind the sitting area is the third bathroom. The entire thing was tiled dark blue. It contained a toilet, what seemed to be an ill-functioning bidet, a sink and a shower. The shower was just a drain in the tile floor, a nozzle and a couple knobs on the wall. No divides or anything.
The dining area to the immediate right. With the small kitchen behind it. The best thing about the kitchen was the toaster. Instead of being like a standard toaster where the bread pops up, it had two baskets on handles that you lowered in. Very nice since the bread was a lot smaller than I am used to.
Then farther back another sitting area. The couch there was actually a sleeper, but no one used it for that.
All of the rooms downstairs opened up to the first floor patio.
Being geniuses, we decide to take a walk to the beach in the early afternoon/late morning. It looks like it would be really close, but no. It’s down miles and miles of stairs.
But the views on the way down are just breathtaking. And the Italians are very smart and put in a drinking fountain on the way down the largest hill. Plus the walls of the stairs are just the right height to sit on. The way back is a little rough, but we make it.
Today, Brendan and Keith had to go to Sorrento and pick Geoff up at the train station. They were so proud of themselves, they got to the station all kinds of early, and so they got a prime parking spot and went to wait for the train to come. It arrived (on time even) and no Geoff. Then they realized, they were one town away from Sorrento proper.
So back on the road and they park again and find Geoff waiting at the station. They help him with his bags and walk him to the car. All the time they are telling him about how crappy the place that we rented is. How there’s no AC etc. and then they get to the beemer and Bren says “Well this is us.” Geoff doesn’t believe it, and then Brendan pops the trunk. There is much celebration. Of course then Geoff finds out that in fact, the place rocks.
We decide that we should all go out to a nice restaurant in town. We all eat a whole lot since we’ve been sweating and going up and down stairs for the past few days (which doesn’t change a whole lot the entire trip). All I really remember about dinner is that there wasn’t a whole lot of butter around, but the olive oil and basil was wonderful. And then dessert, we had a sampling of some local pastries. Of my favorite, a light cake with lemon creme filling and icing I said, “It tastes like eating lemon air.” Which inspired Keith to start keeping track of interesting quotes from the trip.
After dinner, we went back to the apartment and drank a lot of lemoncello. Lemoncello is meant to be drunk in small amounts after dinner. It is best when it’s very very cold. Essentially it’s made of grain alcohol, lemon zest and sugar. Strong stuff to say the least. Keith and I got into this heated discussion of God and science and I gave him my second brilliant quote of the evening: “I’m smarter than everyone, and you all know it!”
September 13, 2001
On the way to our next stop, Amden, we see a brown sign along the highway for some ancient ruins, and decide to stop to take a look. The thing that amazes me the most about this entire complex, which was once a really huge Roman city, is that there are houses right next to it. I can just imagine the directions: take the road past the Roman ruins and we live in the first house on the right with the broken column in the front yard.
The majority of the time, we are just guessing at what we are seeing because the signs are all in German. It must have been a decently large place because there is an amphitheatre (in the middle of restorations), a temple, an aqueduct, baths, and intricate mosaics.
The drive to Amden takes us for the first time into the mountains. We take several narrow roads straight up. The village is on the side of a mountain overlooking a circular valley with a lake in the middle. The weather so far hasn’t been terribly spectacular. It’s been mostly overcast, but today it’s sunny and perfect.
It is so pretty, so picturesque; it’s straight out of a movie.
We get the best room in the hotel. The proprietor paid attention to our reservation form and the tick in the Honeymoon box. Our room has two floors and a balcony that is to die for. The picture above was taken from it. I don’t think it is possible to get tired of that view.
Since we are on a mission to see all the surrounding countries, we take a drive to see Liechtenstein and Austria. Technically, our US drivers licences don’t afford us the right to drive in Austria, but no one seems to care when we cross the border. On the way, we pass some spectacular waterfalls and yet more castles. In Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein, we drive by one that says “NO VISIT!” I guess they got tired of tourists like us asking. So I snapped a photo hanging out the window of the car as we passed.
Each time we crossed the border no one seemed to care. We’d just get our passports out and again the guards would see that they were American and would just wave us on through. No stamps, no nothing.
When we get back to the hotel, we ask what’s for dinner. “It’s whatever my wife is cooking,” the owner told us. Turned out to be Swiss steak. At dinner we met a couple about our age from Boston who were biking across the Alps. We talked about home a little and about the craziness. Because the owner was so attentive, he brought us an extra large dessert, vanilla ice cream with fresh blackberries. Oh yes, I forgot, the berries in Switzerland are amazing. They were in season and everywhere we ate. So good. Then he brought us an after dinner drink of this pear liqour. Good stuff.
Since we (the other American couple were exhausted and retired early) were the only guests around, the owner and his cousin (or maybe his sister, I can’t remember) joined us for a long discussion of America and politics and what must be going on at home. He offered us a place to stay if we couldn’t get back. I seriously think we would have come back here, it was that beautiful and peaceful. The picture just doesn’t do it justice.