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Sonoma

We stopped at the park before we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. We’ve been lucky with the weather in San Francisco; it’s been sunny every day. Whenever we’ve looked towards the bridge however, the clouds have been low and rather dense. Today the skies were clear. There wasn’t a cloud. We had a couple take our picture at the highest point of the park, but I decided I wanted one of us at the bottom, with flowers and not metal bars, in the foreground. The people we choose at the bottom weren’t the best photo takers. Ah well.

As soon as we went over the bridge and down the mountain, the temperature shot up about 10 or 15 degrees. It was practically instantaneous. I had always heard about the Marin effect, but I didn’t quite believe it until I actually experienced it.

The drive was relatively easy. We planned the trip well in that we weren’t coming to wine country on a weekend. There are still crowds.

We decided to take a tour of a winery, and were told by the nice lady at the Visitor’s Center that the Benzinger tour was quite good. They have what is called a biodynamic winery. “A step above organic,” is what people say that it means. Not only do they not use pesticides, but they also have a healthy ecosystem within their winery. The tour was good — worth the $10 they charge a person. Included in that is a tasting of four wines. All pretty good. Of course, I liked the most expensive red reserve the best. But we’re on vacation, so what the hell. We bought a bottle.

Benzinger is at the northern part of the valley, and the farthest away from our hotel. We worked our way back from there. We stopped at two wineries on our way here, and were not treated as well as we should have. At one, the girl working would just pour it for us and say “and this is our 2003 cabernet” and leave it at that. But she would take care in explaining the tasting notes to everyone else there. We didn’t buy any wine from her. Of course, it wasn’t all that good either. The next winery was a little bit of the same. The gentleman taking care of us did start out explaining the wines to us but he became distracted by some other customers who were apparently getting some wine shipped. We were left at the counter alone and unattended to for quite a while. Another guy came buy to see if we wanted a second tasting. We told him no, we just needed to pay for the one we had. But he couldn’t ring us up for whatever reason. Eventually, the other guy came back. He was very apologetic and gave us an additional tasting of two wines that were not supposed to be available to taste. Both were very good and we decided to take a bottle of the Saryah (which we just discovered we like). The last winery, Charles Creek, which has a small tasting shop and gallery in Sonoma was our last stop. The girl there was very attentive. She treated us spectacularly, explaining the wines, telling us the little stories behind them. We also bought a Chardonnay from her. All in all it was a good experience, but I felt like we weren’t taken seriously by some people. Lord knows why. Everyone here is a tourist.

Sonoma is very quiet. Especially on a Monday. We did a little shopping in town — I bought 6 bars of olive oil soap (most of the wineries also have olive trees). We made it back to the inn in time for their daily wine and cheese reception in the main lobby. The wine wasn’t anything particularly special — just your standard red and white — but still good. I don’t think they make really awful wine here. Anyway, this group of older people (in their 60s probably) came down. There were three couples. A few of the women were really complaining about the quality of the wine. Brendan and I are sitting there thinking, it’s free people, get over yourselves and enjoy it. One woman in particular is pretty vocal about it, making sure to talk to each of the others to say how the wine isn’t bad; it’s just not to her taste. Of course, everyone knows that she really means it’s bad.

After a dip in the jacuzzi, Brendan and I headed back into town to the Irish pub for dinner. After all the wine we’ve had today, a pint (of Boddington’s) sounded really good. We had just finished talking about how the old people at the hotel were slightly rude when they walked into the pub. The men came first. They were perfectly happy with the choice and were scoping out the room for a place where all of them could sit. Then in came the women. One of them seems pretty easy going. She would have been fine. The other two however, were awful. One asked the owner of the pub what the best restaurant in Sonoma was. The other said she could manage to find something that would do. After a whole lot of hemming and hawing they left. Thank God. I can’t wait until we see them again at breakfast!

The landscape here seems strange to me. Except for the grape vines, everything is brown. The grass in the square here is green, but that’s it. Mostly it all looks very dry and very, very brown. It should get greener as we go north towards Eureka.

First Full Day

No problems or issues today. Everything went smooth checking out of the first hotel, getting to San Francisco, and checking into the hotel here.

Lots of walking today. Chinatown, shopping, and doing 300 steps to the top of Telegraph Hill, when we could have cut over halfway up it. It was suggested, but shot down. I believe the quote was, “I want to do all of the steps.” She was stopping after almost every flight. It was pretty sad. We made it up to the top, to the tower, and the view was awesome. You could see the whole city, Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, etc. from up there. Good stuff.

Went to Haight/Ashbury later in the afternoon to walk around and to get dinner. The absolute center of the counter-culture in the ’60s, and now there is a Gap store right at the corner of the famous intersection. Terrible. The whole area is nothing like you would think it would be. It’s filled with “vintage” stores and smoke shops and boutiques. Nothing like I would have imagined. You did see the occasional middle-aged hippie strolling the street. There was a pretty cool music store called Amoeba that we spent some time in. We had dinner at a nice little place on Haight and sat in a little courtyard area in the back. We shared a pitcher of sangria. Good thing we were taking the bus there and back. Great dinner, but expensive.

We came back to the hotel, rested for a minute and got our long sleeves on. It’s freaking cold here. Then we found an Irish bar down the street a bit.

Now here’s the funny part.

A band of middle-aged guys is setting up while we’re drinking our first round. The drummer is wearing a black button-down shirt with yellow flames on it. He’s got one of the most complete drum sets I’ve ever seen. He has 5 cymbals set up on the set. Cow bells. Everything. He’s the type of drummer that you would think would wear a Zildjian hat or shirt. The guitarist is just about a couple of years away from becoming the Cryptkeeper, and the bass player (who we thought was the roadie at first) wore a black button-down shirt with some blue flames on it, a black t-shirt with a blue pacman ghost on it, along with a blue fret-less bass. It was completely 80s. Jessica said they would be a new wave cover band. I disagreed. I figured with the flames and the type of instruments they had, it had to be 80s hard rock or metal. Jess was right. It was absolutely hilarious. They started out with Counting Blue Cars, then went to I Ran, then to Don’t You Forget About Me. Then we had to leave. It was getting late, and we have another full day tomorrow. It’s just that these guys were dressed absolutely and completely wrong for the music that they were playing. They shape of the instruments they were playing were priceless as well. Very sharp edges, all 80s-metal-like. Awesome. We didn’t stick around to see if they rocked out any more, but figure that the middle-aged rock we saw tonight is the highlight of the trip so far.

Montreal: Olympic Park and Botanical Gardens

Olympic Park and the Botanical Gardens were really great.

We took a ride up the tower where we have a great view of the entire island.

I liked the Chinese and the Japanese gardens more than I expected to.

And then we went to an Expos game. It was a lot of fun, and a good game to boot — the Expos won in 12 innings. I’ll feel a little bit bad for the fans here — few as they are — if the team leaves. The stadium is most definitely OLD, but the seats are good noisemakers. Also, they served beer the entire game!

Italy, June 2003, Day 8 Part 2

Now that we have all the necessary souvenirs, Brendan, Geoff and I head off to Rome in the BMW. Keith and his mom, Gail are staying an extra week and are traveling to Rome by train since there’s not enough room for all of our stuff in the car. (Ask Keith how the Tower of Pisa was…)

Bren and I have made reservations in advance at a hotel right near the airport. Geoff hasn’t got any, but figures he can probably get a room at the same hotel. He can, but it’s in the hostel room, which has three beds, a shared bathroom and no AC. Our room though has air conditioning so we crank it up and lounge around for a few minutes.

We don’t really have a whole lot of time, but since we’re so close to Rome, we have to go in. We first decide to wait for the bus that stops at the corner, but it doesn’t seem to be coming that often and it’s really really hot out. So, we decide to drive to the airport (since we have to figure out how to do that anyway), and take the train into the city. This train is easy enough to figure out, it’s the metro that gives us all sorts of problems. The machines that dispense fare cards are finicky. Extreme pain in the ass. Then you take the card, and put it through another machine and it stamps the time and date on it. Then you get on the metro. I take the DC metro every day, so it’s not like it’s terribly complex, but the doors on the metro car don’t automatically open, you’ve got to press a button. Well, we can’t get the one to work at the Coliseum stop, so we end up getting off at the next one and then trying to find our way.

It’s not all that difficult, the Coliseum is an easy thing to spot.

The whole thing amazes me. You see something on TV all the time, and then once you get there it’s just breathtaking. The rocks and the stone are what really impress me. Just thinking about how centuries of people have walked on them and worn them down is just awe inspiring. I’m walking up the same stairs as some of history’s most important people. It just blows my mind.

And the sheer engineering that had to go into everything!

The forum which is down the old Roman road from the Coliseum is pretty fascinating as well.

Old buildings and stones are everywhere. I can’t help but think about how young the US is at times like this.

We try and hook up with Keith and Gail who should be in their hotel by now, but are unsuccessful, so we have a late lunch and take the metro (without getting new tickets, just hoping we don’t get caught with invalid passes) and the train back to the car and then to the hotel.

The next day is pretty uneventful, except that Bren and I almost missed our connection in Heathrow. The line through customs was painfully long, and then there was a shuttle bus ride to the other terminal, a run to the ticket counter where we were told that they just made a last call for our seats and we’ve just made it, another run to the gate all the way at the end of the hall, and then being seated in the very back of the plane. So, always, always leave at least two hours for transfers at Heathrow. An hour is not nearly enough.

Italy, June 2003, Day 7

Drove to Sorrento and took a ferry across the Bay of Naples to Capri. Once we got to the island, it became clear that we were going to have to hire a car to take us around. The main cities, Capri Town and Anacapri, are way up a hill. You can see the harbor where we arrived in this picture. We did start to walk, but we just couldn’t do it. Our exhaustion coupled with the short amount of time we had on the island meant we had to hire a car. It turned out to be the best thing we could have done. Someone (Keith?) bargained us a good deal.

The main square in Capri Town, the Piazza Umberto, is quite nice. There are all sorts of fancy shops around. If only we could shop at them! Cartier. Chanel. Everyone is so fashionable. It’s too hot for me to really care too much.

I end up preferring Anacapri. It’s quieter and less pretentious. If I had to live on the island (which is terribly expensive), I’d live here. We don’t really have too much time to explore, though. Our driver is just running us around before we have to go back to the boat. We did have enough time to go shopping. Bren and I picked up some souvenirs for the family, I got a new purse since mine got trashed on the plane to Heathrow and Keith found himself a nice Italian magazine.

Of course we had to see these, the Faraglioni. Then it was back to the boat.

Later on that night, we went back to L’Africana. This time, we went a little bit later, but it really wasn’t too much better. It could have been so cool! Apparently, we were too early in the summer season for it to be packed (with tourists of course). There were some Aussies who were also on the coast for a wedding. They got naked and went for a swim — so it was at least more interesting than the night before. Plus, we had money for the poor parking attendant, so we tipped him extra well. He seemed a little bewildered. I don’t know that he remembered us.

Switzerland, Luzern Day 2

September 11, 2001

The next day we did a little driving around the city and generally fared better with the signs. Did a little window shopping on the Bahnhofstrasse.

Then it was off to Luzern. About half an hour away.

lucern2
I can’t recall if we checked in at our second place before or after we hit town. Regardless, it was a much nicer place than the night before.

The strange thing about Europe is that they push two twin beds together to make a Queen/King. We had separate comforters, too. This was not such a bad thing, because as Brendan will tell you, I’m a big sheet hog.

This place was in the country-side. Rolling green hills with mountains off in the distance. I can’t get over how huge they are. I’ve only seen small, east coast mountains. These are amazing.

It is today that we decide to save money by going to the grocery store and buying cheese and bread. We discover some really good cheese, and some really strange curry butter, this way.

Luzern is a great place. I absolutely fall in love with it. The day we were there was a Tuesday, which is market day. They were just shutting down when we got there (so it must have been afternoon). I love the brightly painted buildings. I love the fountains. I love the Picasso museum. I love the old town center. I love the lake in the middle of town. I love the Kapellbrücke.

The Kapellbrücke is this wonderful covered bridge and tower built in 1333. The bridge has these triangular paintings in the eaves above that tell a story. You’ve got to walk across it and back to see them all (although some were damaged in a fire). The tower was once a prison/torture chamber but now it’s a gift shop.

Brendan has this theory that only old Southern Americans travel to Europe. He wasn’t proven wrong this day. There was this old man buying something in the gift-shop while we were there. The girls who worked there, as well as most of the thirty-somethings and younger, spoke English with no problem, but they started off in German. As the designated speaker, I would just ask if they spoke English and go from there. Anyway, this old man wants to buy something. He talks LOUDLY and S L O W L Y to the girl, pointing to the one he wants. Then, she tells him (in English) how much said item costs. He holds out his handful of Swiss Francs and makes her take the right amount. How hard is it to count? The numerical system doesn’t change. 20 means 20. Seriously. I was embarrassed to be from the same country as this guy. I hope the girl took herself a good tip!

I could go on an on about this city. But we come back on our last day, so I can say more then.

We drive back to our room to relax. I turn on the TV and watch Felicity dubbed in German. (We get no stations in English here, just German and Portuguese.) There’s this message that scrolls across the screen about New York. I figure they are speaking on the show about some landmark or New York specific thing, and they are just explaining it to the Swiss viewers. But the message keeps repeating itself. I remember the word for airplane, but that’s about it.

As it happens, it’s my little brother’s birthday. Turns out this place has an internet terminal (of all the places, this place in the tiny village has one!) so we head down to send him an email and to send a note to our parents. That doesn’t take too long, so since we’ve got money to burn, we head to the Drudge Report. Well, you can guess what happens now — we find out what exactly that little message was scrolling across the screen.

Back upstairs we put on German CNN and watch the whole thing happen. I’ve got the volume turned up so that I can hear the English underneath the translators. Doesn’t help much.

[It’s only after we get back home that Brendan remembers a man passing us on the street in the city saying “You are very lucky.” Creepy.]

At dinner in the restaurant downstairs, the chef comes out and introduces himself. He looks at me and asks if I like fish. I do, I answer. Great, he says, we have some caught today from the lake. He looks at Bren and knows immediately that he is a beef man. We both have incredibly delicious dinners. (Sense a theme?)

Disclaimer.

Brendan joined the party on January 2, 2004. He's cool now.

Jessica has never been cool. She is OK with that.

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