California Dreaming

Trip Start Jul 27, 2003
Trip End Jul 26, 2004

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Flag of United States  , California
Thursday, August 28, 2003

Hi all again,
Back for another installment!!

Monday 25th August - continued
We picked up our car at 4pm and headed North to The Napa Valley. It was weird to be driving again after so long. We had planned roughly to head North to Calistoga at the top of the Napa Valley and check it out. If it was nice we would find somewhere to stay when we arrived. Within an hourand a half we were there. Calistoga was a lovely town, just a main street lined with shops and a few motels. It is a hot springs town so there are lots of spa's offering mud baths and hot tubs and mineral treatments. We called into a couple to get a general idea of cost, They were all coming back at about $100 (60 pounds) We then got to one that looked pretty nice and they said that they had a sister company that ran some holiday cottages and they knew they had a spare one so at this time of day we would probably get it quite cheap. We headed just off the main street to the place called Hideaway Cottages and they were lovely. Just a little cul de sac of different sized cottages with some picnic tables and barbecues. They also had an outdoor mineral pool and an outdoor hot-tub. We went to enquire and explained we were on a budget and they gave us The Rio for just $65 (40 pounds). It was now 6.30 so we decided to go for a swim and then lay in the Hot tub till the sun went down. It was still really warm as it doesn't benefit from the sea breeze here. The hot tub bubbled at a constant 104 degrres F which was just blissful. Then a dunk in the cold pool to wake you up again did the trick. Our cottage had mineral water coming out of the taps and the shower too.

We then walked the 300 yards down to the main street to find some food. We found an Italian so we had a pizza and some pasta and planned what we could fit in the next day.

Tuesday 26th August
We had a packed full day today, it is so nice to have a car. It is already looking like I live in it!!

We first headed to The Petrified Forest, which hosts the worlds largest Petrified trees. 3 million years ago a volcano erupted 7 miles north from where we stood. It was caused by a bad earthquake which of course is a real threat out here, it was even part of our hotel orientation in San Francisco, we were told to sleep with our shoes next to the bed (so not to damage your feet on broken glass) and if an earthquake woke us then we were to crawl under the desk (provided!!) or stand within an open door way. Anyway, I digress. The molten lava coursed down the valley where now lies the Petrified Forest. Water laden with silicates in the ash seeped down into the gaps left behind by the decomposing tree fibres. This slowly, cel by cell, replaced the wood with crystalised silica until the entire tree became stone. Enough of the science lesson, it was amazing. You walked through the forest and you would come across one of these trees which are lying down because of the blast from the volcano. They look like wood, they still have their bark. There are odd bits of logs lying around looking like old bits of driftwood but then when you touch them they are cold solid stone. I will post up a pic soon as it is hard to explain how much they look like trees. We wandered through the forest some of the Petrified trees are enormous, 8 feet in diameter and one we saw was over 105 feet long. These trees were 2000 year old Redwoods before they were buried 3 million years ago.

We left The Petrified Forest and headed a few miles north to Californias Old Faithful Geyser. I didn't realise there was more than one Old Faithful in the world but apparently there are a few including, Wyoming, Nevada, Iceland, New Zealand and Russia. Obviously California believes their Old Faithful erupts more continuously and more predictably than the others!! We paid the $8 each to get in to an area of bare grass ground with a little pond which had a pile of rocks in the middle. This Old Faithful erupted every 16 minutes and it wasn't ond before the steam started to appear from the rocks in the pond, then suddenly a jet of water (smelling slightly of egg!!) jetted 60 feet into the air at 350 degrees F. It lasted about 3 minutes and then slowly died down to nothing again. It was a bit like being at The Bellagio without Frank Sinatra. It was quite impressive, we stayed for another two outbursts to get our $8 worth and then headed off.

It was now lunchtime so we headed back to Calistoga and stopped at a little place called Hydro Grill. We had a cheeseburger and a coke and a little wander around Calistoga before heading back to the car. We headed down the Silverado Trail which is the scenic route through The Napa Valley Wine Region and it didn't disapoint. There were dozens and dozens of Wineries (they don't call them Vinyards here - too French!) There are over 250 in alljust on the 35 mile strip. Everywhere you look there are big bunches of grapes growing on vines. We decided to stop off at the Mumm Winery purely because as a premium sparkling wine producer (they are not allowed to call it Champagne as it is not made in the Champagne region of France) they pick their grapes two weeks earlier than the rest of the region and that just happened to be today!! We would benefit from more of an action tour here (plus I fancied a glass of cold bubbly on this hot day!). We did the complimentary tour which took an hour and was really fascinating. It takes them so long to make a bottle. We saw the guys in the field picking the grapes and watched them go through this machine to be juiced, all the bits that are discarded like skin and stalks are out into a huge compost to use on the fields later so nothing was wasted. We then headed back to their sun deck where we were given 4 half flutes of different varieties. They were delicious. They also explained to us that a Magnum is better than a bottle because a Magnum will be aged for 3-5 years instead of 2-3. It may have been a marketing ploy but hey I am willing to give it a try!!

We headed further down the valley which is just a fantastic drive. We got to Napa where we thought we would try and find a motel but we left as quickly as we arrived. It seemed quite a big sprawling place and we were enjoying being in the country after having spent so much time in cities recently. We headed west and stopped at Sonoma as our DK guide gave it a good write up as a small place. We arrived at 6pm at a lovely town hall surrounded by a bustling Farmers Market. There was a little tourist information office and lots of little shops. We parked up and headed into the tourist info to try and find lodgings. She found us a lovely motel called Sonoma Creek for just $60 just a mile away, rooms had their own private patios so we booked it and headed out into the Farmers Market. There were lots of stalls with fresh produce and amazing vegetables like lemon cucumbers!! We wandered round getting free smaples of cheese, fruit and honey and bought bread, chees and a basket of baby tomatoes that came in all shapes, sizes and colours. We also met a local artist who had paintings of Sonoam and the town square so we decided to buy one for our picture wall (which is going to look pretty packed when we get back). We found a good picture of the town square on Farmers Market day so we bought it, a bargain at $4!! The artist was so pleased that her work was going to England. We then bought a nice bottle of red wine (Californian of course) and headed to our motel and sat on our patio and ate our food and drank our wine whilst watching the sun go down.

Wednesday 27th August - oh no only 11 months left!!
We got up and headed up to Santa Rosa to see some more sights. We drove though a place called kenwood which had some truly amazing Wineries. They had caves dug out of the hillside for cellars and many had awards for their wines. We got up to Santa Rosa which was just a big town, we stopped at a Wallmart to get our films developed but they couldn't do them in an hour only an overnighter so its their fault I still have no photos to post up. We headed down Route 101 towards San Francisco. We decided to stop our hotel in Oakland to save carrying our bags from the rental place. The hotel was just a sleeping stop as our Amtrak left Oakland at 10am the next morning. We were really pleased to see that our hotel, The Jack London Inn was right next door to our train station, The Jack London Station in Jack London Square!! (Author Jack London was born here!) The Square was a promenade of shops and restaurants including a huge Barnes and Noble bookstore, fast becoming our favourite as it has lots of seats and sofas where you can sit and read their books and magazines. We checked in and dropped off our bags and headed off to drop off our car. We got the BART back to the hotel and then went to Barnes and Noble for an hour. There was a bug TGI Fridays that had a special offer on, Surf and Turf for two with any starter and a bowl of clam chowder for $19.95. So we ate Filled Potato skins, clam chowder, a stack of shrimp and a good steak followed by a hot chocoloate brownie topped with vanilla ice cream and hot fudge sauce, Mmmmmm. We then crawled across the street to our hotel checked a few emails and slept.

Thursday 28th August
Our hotel offered a complimentary of coffee, juice, muffins and doughnuts. So we had a feed and took some muffins for the journey and headed next door to catch our train to Los Angeles. This will be our last Amtrak. We get the train (6 hours) to Bakersfield and then an Amtrak bus to downtown LA (2 hours). I am really excited about going to the Cook Islands on Sunday (its like I am going on holiday not like I am already!!) We have hired a car while we are in LA as it covers more than 460 square miles and I would imagine that some neighbourhoods are none to friendly. In fact our DK guide almost insists upon a car, with doors locked at all times and windows firmly rolled up!! We have booked two more nights on priceline for downtown and we will be staying at The Hyatt Regency, which is quite cool because we started our Priceline/US experience at The Hyatt Regency in washington and we are ending it some 4000 miles later at The Hyatt Regency in LA.

The train journey was uneventful an we got into Bakersfield and transferred to our bus and then got dropped off in downtown LA but I will leave it their and post up our LA stories soon. It will probably be from The Cook Islands before we are back again unless I get the photos developed today which if so I will pop in and post them up tomorrow.

Hope you are all still well - keep up your emails.
Take care and we will speak soon
Lots of Love as always
Simon and Liz xxxxxx
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