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Sunday, 7 May 2017

USA Road Trip: Part 2

In my last post I told you all about the first leg of our US road trip, and I had every intention of getting the rest of the posts live pretty sharpish after that. But then life went a bit pear shaped and everything non-essential took a back seat.

But life has settled down a bit now and I’m back with the my next instalment....

So having said our goodbyes to San Francisco we headed north towards Napa Valley. We were spending the night at The Bergson in Calistoga which was the most darling hotel ever....I loved it.

**Top Tip** If you're planning a trip to Napa Valley then make booking your accommodation a priority. We left ours quite late and we had terrible trouble finding anywhere with availability (although the "Vacant" sign in the picture above makes me out to be a liar!).

We made our way at a leisurely pace to The Bergson, stopping off in the gorgeous little town of Sonoma. Sadly none of us took any pictures but it's a typical all-America town; a Town Hall taking pride of place in the centre of the square with the cutest looking shops dotted around the edges.

If you're ever in the area and Sonoma isn't on your agenda I recommend that you carve out a bit of time to visit, even if it's just to browse the shops and grab a coffee...maybe you can take a few pictures for me!!

I promised you in my last post that I had a cracker of a castle to share with you and that's what today's post is all about. The main reason for our trip taking us north to Napa valley was to take in the stunning scenery. Oh who am I kidding? We were totally there for the wine!!! But the scenery was stunning.
As anyone who has been to Napa Valley will know there are so many wineries to choose from and one of the toughest decisions of the holiday (for me, at least) was which winery do we go for. After much deliberation and “um-ing and ah-ing” we went for Castello di Amorosa, for no reason other than it’s a castle!

According to our tour guide the owner of the castle, Dario Sattui, has "a bit of a thing for castles". So much so that he had one built, you know, as you do! Sattui wanted this castle to be as authentically 13th century as it was possible for a castle in 21st century America to be. So he researched and researched some more. He sourced only the best materials for his castle from Europe; he wanted his castle to look and feel as if it had come straight from the 13th century to the extent that the construction of the castle was carried out the way it would been carried out in medieval times (we’re talking no electric tools, no modern day equipment!) According to its website and flyer, the castle took 15 years to build, has 8,000 tons of hand-squared stones in its walls and of its 107 rooms a whopping 95 are dedicated to making wine!!! Let's take a look shall we?!?
We had pre-booked a wine tour at the castle. I think we were there out of season and so buying tickets on the door, on the day, probably would not have been too much of an issue. But I can imagine that the tours are very popular in high season and so to avoid disappointment you should probably think about booking your tour in advance.
There were two types of tickets available: $40 or $50. We went for the $40 ticket. As well as your choice of 10 wines to taste (from a set list of white, rose, red and dessert wines), the price of the ticket also included a guided tour of the castle. All in all we were there for about 2 hours. From memory the only extra perk that the $50 ticket bought you was an additional two wines to taste.
We were very  surprised to see one these hidden in the depths of the castle....
I made my way as quickly as I could away from this particular contraption ;-)

As you can see from the pictures above the castle itself is gorgeous but that's nothing compared to the grounds it sits in. I haven't got as many pictures of the view as I thought I had, but the few I do have paint a beautiful scene.

So after swigging back the wines we had chosen from the list (well in my case, as the designated driver, had the teeniest, tiniest of sips of each wine), and after parting with more money than we usually would for 2 bottles of wine, it was with a heavy heart and a wistful glance back at the castle, that we made our way towards the exit, our minds already on our next destination: Lake Tahoe. And whilst I was sad to be leaving behind 95 rooms full of wine, I could not have been more excited to be headed to the lake. The only disappointment for me was that we were only going to be there for 14 hours. We were stopping off at Lake Tahoe en-route to Vegas. But more on Lake Tahoe in the next post. I hope to see you there.
Before I go, here's a bonus picture just in case you guys have been missing me ;-)


Bye for now....see you in Lake Tahoe real soon.

xKx

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

USA Road Trip: Part 1

On 24 February the husband and I along with two friends boarded a flight to Gatwick; it marked the beginning of our 10 day whistle stop tour of the west coast of the US.

Our itinerary was jam packed, our suitcases not so much (I'd need space to bring back all that shopping I was going to do, right?) and my excitement levels were simmering away on the verge of spilling over.

Whilst I've been on holidays before and I've been to the US before, I've never had a "touring" holiday, the sort that you have to live out of a suitcase on because you're never in one place long enough to justify unpacking. And to be honest, not only have those sort of holidays never appealed to me, the thought of those sort of holidays made me turn my face up in what was arguably a really ugly way!

Because when I go on holiday I want a relaxing time, I want to do nothing, I want to sit and read and chill and I want the most demanding decision I have to make to be what to wear to dinner that night. So whilst I was excited about this trip I was also a teeny bit reserved about how I would feel about the nomadic experience.

So the plan for our trip:

24 - 26 February: San Francisco
26 - 27 February: Napa Valley
27 - 28 February: - Lake Tahoe
28 February - 3 March: - Las Vegas
3 - 4 March: Escalante

That's 888 miles according to Google Maps if you go direct from one to the other. We didn't do the route direct and we had (planned) de-tours in between and annoyingly not one of us thought to check the mileage in the hire car at the beginning and the end of the trip, but we definitely did more than 1,000 miles over the course of the holiday!

So without further ado, here's my run-down of the first few days of our holiday



24 - 26 February 2017: San Francisco

Where we stayed - Stanford Court

Whilst the hotel's location was great and not too far from the touristy things we wanted to do, the biggest pain in the backside was the fact it was situated at the top of a hill! Which meant at the end of the day when we were tired and aching from being on our feet all day, we had a ruddy steep hill to hike up before we could collapse in a heap and give our feet some much needed respite.

As we were only going to be in San Fran for a couple of days were didn't spend that much time in the hotel aside from sleeping and eating breakfast so I can't tell you much about the facilities it had to offer, but the bed was comfy and I don't remember having any issues with the shower. The hotel certainly fulfilled our needs and I don't think it was overly priced either.

**Top Tip** If you're booking a hotel check their cancellation policy. We were able to cancel up to 24 hours in advance without having to pay anything, and this allowed us to search for the same room at a cheaper price a few days before we were due to arrive. This paid off as we found the same room on a different website for. We booked with that website and cancelled the original booking without incurring any lost deposits etc...

OK enough of the boring stuff already. You guys want to know what we got up to right?

Day 1: This was a nothing day as we arrived at the hotel at 10pm and we did nothing more than find our toothbrushes and wash kits before falling into bed.

Day two: We were booked on the official Alcatraz Tour and after having breaking at the hotel we wandered down to the pier at a leisurely pace, making our way through China Town and tackling some of the mighty hills that San Fran is so well known for.

I'm going to shut up now and let my pictures do the talking......  (warning...there are a LOT of pictures, so you might want to grab a cuppa before scrolling any further)

What's really annoying is that the camera doesn't capture the gradient of the hills and they actually don't even look that steep! But they were!!! We were told by a local resident that this was the steepest hill in the city. Yup, I marched up that hill like it was nothing.......I may have needed a gallon of water at the top though ;-)


Those pastel colours are just too cute!! 
Not sure I'm loving the shower room set up!
  And I definitely would not be happy about the loo situation either!!
I'm pretty sure I heard the husband asking an Alcatraz official if there was room for me here on a permanent basis.... ;-) 

We took the audio tour of Alcatraz and would highly recommend it. Without it you're not going to have a clue what you're looking at or the history behind it. I don't think it cost any extra, but be sure to check whether it's included in the type of ticket you're buying. 

After we escaped from Alcatraz we strolled along the harbour towards Pier 39, we saw the Sea Lions that languish in the sun there, we ate lunch at a great place called Baudins (home made tomato soup poured into a sour-dough bread roll.....it was soooo good!) and we rode the tram from the harbour the whole length of the line to Union Square.... 
Just hanging out, lovin' life, as you do....

Day 3: Something we all agreed we wanted to do while in San Fran was to hire bikes, and we lucked out as our hotel had bikes that guests could use free of charge!! (More shopping dollars for me - Woo hoo!!!)

We cycled from our hotel through the streets of San Fran and in true tourist style we followed all signs to the Golden Gate Bridge. We were so lucky with the weather; whilst it wasn't boiling hot, the sun was out and the sky was blue.

After a million stops for photo opportunities, and a few breathers after being challenged by those infamous hills, we made it to the bridge. It was gorgeous. Whilst it would have been nice to see the bridge immersed in the low lying cloud that is a common sight if the Google Image search results are anything to go by, I was more than happy to forgo the cloud in favour of the sun and warmer temperatures!

Cycling across the bridge was an amazing experience and it wasn't until I was half way across it and looking out at a huge expanse of water that I really appreciated how wide the bay is and how huge the place is!  
  
Not sure why but I love these two pictures of me :-)

As this was our final day in San Fran before making our way to Napa Valley, and in a bid to save time, we decided to take the ferry back to our side of the bay. It was a welcome relief for our legs to be ferried back.

Once back on familiar turf we headed towards our hotel and took advantage of the flat streets while they lasted and cycled as far as we could. It wasn't long before we were faced with the the prospect of those dreaded hills and so we de-saddled and huffed and puffed our way back to our hotel, pushing our bikes alongside us.   

We lunched in one of the hip neighbourhoods and I felt well at home......NOT!! I was about as far out of my comfort zone as it's possible for someone to be! This place looked nothing from the outside but the huge queue of people waiting to be served was a sure sign that this place was a gem. So we took our place in the queue and waited. And waited. It was a very informal set up inside with people encouraged to share tables with strangers. It was either that or you didn't get a seat! That's not quite how I'm used to having my lunch but when in Rome and all that.


On our way out of San Fran we navigated the Windy Road which, as the name suggests is a road that is really windy. It's difficult to get pictures of it in "real time" because the hedges and the angle of the camera mean you can't actually see any of the windy-ness. But here's a picture I found online that shows you exactly what I'm trying (so badly!) to explain!
Image via

 Then it really was time to leave San Fran behind....

I don't for a second think that we covered everything that San Francisco had to offer in the two days we were there (actually it was more like a day and a half) but we had a blast and we didn't feel cheated out of anything. But it was time to get our skates on....Napa Valley was calling us and I couldn't wait to get there!

Part 2 is coming soon. I've got a cracker of a castle to show you :-)

Have you visited San Francisco? What would you recommend that I didn't see? Let me know in the comments below; as always I'd love to hear from you. 

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xKx