Happy Birthday to Stewart! Okay. We got up and out early and arrived at the car rental place early - it normally takes a bit of time so to leave on time we try to arrive early at car rental agencies. We had booked a compact but this being America they don't tend to have smaller cars at non-airport car rentals...so they offered us a Toyota Uplander mini-van (that could transport a small army!). This makes it comfier for us but will cost us on fuel. After some hassle getting our car (they brought the wrong one from parking) we finally got our luggage onboard and...sat outside the office trying to figure out the controls! It had a stickshift with no markings and more confusing a foot pedal operated "handbrake". The guy came out from the office after seeing us still sitting there and showed us where the odd controls were! On our way at last and our first stop...the JellyBelly jelly bean factory
. We got some nice samples, saw some lovely JellyBelly mosaics, toured the factory and learned that over here JellyBelly have partnered to produce proper Harry Potter Bertie Botts beans - with sardine and vomit amongst the flavours! Although we told them it was Stewart's birthday this didn't get us any extras. We then drove up into the nearby Napa Valley which is famous for wines. Our first stop was Domain Chandon which had a great tour and it was our first ever sparkling wine vineyard visit. We learned a lot about rattlers here (Stewart's B'day got us a free sample of a new champagne). Next was Sattui which had one of the only free tours in Napa (it being on the posh side of vineyard areas) and as a result it was busy. The wines were nice but almost every one was that little bit too sweet - but that's what sells over here. Sattui also had a great deli and a fantastic cheese counter. After a brief stop at the culinary school (we missed the demonstration by 20 mins) we stopped at Sterling Vineyards. It was a lovely vineyard - you ride up to the hilltop vineyard on a cable-car and take a guided tour walk through the vineyard and every so often you get another sample from people stationed along the walk. The vineyard has superb views down the wide Napa Valley and the tree covered hills surrouding it. That brought us up to about 5pm and all the vineyards shut down about now so we headed out of the valley and west toward Russian River Valley. We stopped on the way at a petrified forest where they have a walk through the new forest where you can see the old petrified trees lying around (turned to stone)
. It confuses the brain to look at something that looks like wood but is (and feels like) stone. Robert Louis Stevenson visited here and met the original finder of the stone trees and immortalised them in one of his books. After an hour or two driving along tree lined roads we arrived at our destination - Duncans Mill - population 85 and founded by two Scots in the olden days. We had met the chef (Anna Rae) from the local restaurant in Ecuador and she had told us that this was a lovely area - and it is. We checked in to the fabulous Duncans Mill Inn. The owner has transformed this place into a lovely (expensive) B&B establishment with a games room underneath. We dumped our bags and headed for the Blue Heron where we had a lovely meal (rare tuna, seafood pasta, salmon fishcakes, duck) and the Anna Rae came out for a chat. She gave us some free chocolate cake and was so happy that we had actually come to visit instead of just saying "yeah, yeah, sounds great, we'll come visit" and not bothering. The restaurant/bar had a live band playing in the afternoon and although we missed the performance they had the table next to us and we chatted for a while. They also had some lovely local made beers (a lovely wheat beer) and a non-alcoholic Bitburger ......reminded Stewart of Sheffield.
Day 296 Monday 22/08/05 Duncans Mill - Eureka
The B&B hostess served up a whopping great lovely breakfast - eggs, pancakes & fruit, carrot cake, etc. We chatted to the other "older" guests who were well travelled and we got on really well - we left an hour late! At one point they were telling us about a nephew of theirs who was a talented chef and sort of absentmindly said...oh, his best man at the wedding is quite handy too, a little famous, you might know of him...Tom Hanks
! We headed off to tour some vineyards in the Russian River and Dry Creek Valleys - which are a little more friendly and down to earth than Napa. The valleys are narrower but still beautiful and there are vineyards all along the road - our friendly chef had recommended some good ones for us. Our first stop was Korbel Sparkling and we had a great tour. This little vineyard is packed full of history and now produces all the champagne for the Presidential Inaguarations. At the end of the tour we got to try 6 different champagnes (and good full glass measures too) including one sparkling Merlot and one that was created for the George W Bush Inaguration and it still had the Inaguration bottle label on it! They don't know how many to make and sometimes get some left over. We then stopped off at Mill Creek which had a lovely watermill and more Presidential connections - their local president (Ronnie Reagan) had taken their wine for 3 White House dinners and they had the menus on the wall. Next stop was Quivara which was a biodynamic vineyard and also had a wonderful exhibition of old maps dating to the Spanish arrival. Next up was Prestons - a lovely organic vineyard with a cat who chewed Gillian's shirt when she picked him up and fantastic organic bread for sale. Our last stop was Ferrari-Carano which had some free tastings but more importantly some fantastic gardens. We can see how people could spend their entire holiday in these valleys. We headed North out of the wine area and 3.5 hours later through lovely valleys and some lovely forests finally arrived in Eureka
. We found a cheap motel and headed out to the local seafood restaurant for some nice fish - Stewart went for the clams hoping they were scallops...but no...cockles.
Day 297 Tuesday 23/08/05 Eureka - Fort Bragg
A really poor continental breakfast (sliced muffins & OJ) and an hours drive took us to the Redwood National Park. We headed first for the Lady Bird Johnson Grove - a lovely walking trail through a redwood forest took us to a lovely grove where this national park was dedicated. These Giant Redwoods are just awesome and you really feel tiny amongst them - at one point we helped a family hold hands round the base - it took Mum, Dad, 2 young girls and us. We met some lovely Koreans & NJ's on the walk and chatted. We then headed through Elk Pasture (no elks about today) and across a hill on a gravel road. We headed along the coast on this gravel road and through some small fords and arrived at Fern Canyon. A walk with a family we met in the carpark took us up through the narrowing canyon (50ft high) which was lined with ferns on the walls - it's a lovely dreamy place. We headed back into historic Eureka for lunch and wandered through the town a little. We then stopped off at Lolita Cheese factory where they had an amazing array of flavours. After sampling most of them, Stewart ended up buying some mature cheddars. We headed off the main road near Ferndale (a lovely Victorian town) and drove along the Lost Coast Road - when the new main road was built it by-passed this sea-faring peninsula and it has become lost! It was a stunning windy twisty drive....from grass covered hills, through forests, through valleys & farmland with picture perfect farmhouses. We saw raccoons and had wild deer on the road - a mother & two fawns...awh. We got back to the main road and stopped for fuel in Redcrest where we looked into the tree-house. It's a little different...it's basically a little one room house in a Redwood tree stump! We left Redcrest and drove along the spectacular Avenue Of Giants - it is just amazing to drive along a two lane road lined with Giant Redwoods - again, you feel soooo small. It got dark and we pushed onto Fort Bragg taking another foresty windy road to the coast and finally arrived about 9.30. We found a room in the Chelsea Inn (most motels on the West Coast seem to be run by Indians/Pakistanis so bargaining is fun) and toured the closed town for food. We thankfully found a diner open and had some average food with friendly service.