Our day in Napa starts with breakfast at the Model Bakery in nearby St Helena.  We’ve read that they have a stellar raspberry croissant, so of course we have to try it, along with a cheese Danish and a pecan roll.  Coffee for the daughter and tea for me complete the repast, although I look longingly at their artisan breads.

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After a leisurely breakfast, we head north along highway 29 to absorb the scenery before absorbing any wine.  Wineries are all around, many with imposing tasting rooms.  But the acres of vineyards and other crops once again remind us that, tourist appeal apart, California is an agricultural state of major importance. Beachcalifornia.com tells us:

California has been the number one food and agricultural producer in the United States for more than 50 consecutive years.

California is the nation’s number one dairy state.

California’s leading commodity is milk and cream. Grapes are second.

California’s leading export crop is almonds.

Nationally, products exclusively grown (99% or more) in California include almonds, artichokes, dates, figs, kiwifruit, olives, persimmons, pistachios, prunes, raisins, clovers, and walnuts.

From 70 to 80% of all ripe olives are grown in California.

California is the nation’s leading producer of strawberries, averaging 1.4 billion pounds of strawberries or 83% of the country’s total fresh and frozen strawberry production. Approximately 12% of the crop is exported to Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom, Hong Kong and Japan primarily. The value of the California strawberry crop is approximately $700 million with related employment of more than 48,000 people.

California produces 25% of the nation’s onions and 43% of the nation’s green onions.

Gilroy, California, “Garlic Capitol of the World,” has hosted 2 million at the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival.

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The bottom line, however, is that Napa is wine country, and with over 400 wineries in Napa and hundreds more in Sonoma, the next valley over, choices are virtually unlimited.  We had a recommendation from my boss and one from a friend of Shannon’s, but we also look online for additional possibilities.  We come up with a clear winner:  Pride Mountain.  They do tours and tastings by appointment only, but we’re able to get in as soon as we can arrive.  The road winds up and up the mountainside, emerging eventually at a winery that straddles the county line.  Part of it is in Napa, the other in Sonoma.  That makes for two sets of books and lots of work but amazing wines.

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Pride Mountain has man-made caves, something most wineries here do not. Our guide is knowledgeable and enjoyable, so the time passes quickly and all too soon we’re off with our purchased bottle.

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Lunch and another tasting are next at V. Santui, a winery that offers not only tastings, but food, a place for picnicking, and almost anything else wine-related you can think of.  In contrast to Pride, it’s packed with people, as no appointment is necessary and it’s also along the main highway.  They make more than 65 wines, none of which can be found in stores, only online, at the winery, or via their wine club. The young woman who does our tasting is not particularly interested in anything beyond parroting the party line about each wine, which makes the experience less than good and proving once again the importance of good customer service!

Our tasting day ends at Elyse, a small winery with delicious products. Even though we’ve only done three tastings, the amount of wine, small though it seems, adds up and we’re definitely done for the day.  We head back to our B&B and then into the town of Napa itself to explore a bit and look for some dinner.

It’s another first Monday and we’re back at “Nature” as the theme for the Mobile Photography Challenge.  I can’t believe it’s already July!  Today I head back to Illinois from an amazing trip to California (and that’s not the California trip of the 60’s.)  On the first day, we drove up the Pacific Coast Highway.  When night approached, we were ready to stop for the night, but there were people sitting on the ridges, waiting for the sunset.  This photo is proof that they were right.  It was worth the stopping before we moved on to rest for the night.

A large drop of sun lingered on the horizon and then dripped over and was gone, and the sky was brilliant over the spot where it had gone, and a torn cloud, like a bloody rag, hung over the spot of its going. And dusk crept over the sky from the eastern horizon, and darkness crept over the land from the east.
John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

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The pale stars were sliding into their places. The whispering of the leaves was almost hushed. All about them it was still and shadowy and sweet. It was that wonderful moment when, for lack of a visible horizon, the not yet darkened world seems infinitely greater—a moment when anything can happen, anything be believed in.
Olivia Howard Dunbar, The Shell of Sense

After I took this photo while relaxing over tea in Pasadena, I realized it was an oddball photo for two reasons.  First and foremost, this is the tail end of a family bike ride.  Mom and son had gone past when Dad and the family dog came by, the dog being pulled in this cart by Dad.  I realize this dog isn’t likely to be able to keep up on a bike ride, but it still seemed more than a bit odd to me.  Secondly, because I had to hurry to get the photo, the pole behind the dog appears to be coming out of its back!  Oddball all around.

A belated Fourth of July to all my US compatriots.  I hope you had a wonderful day.

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Doors are an invitation to what lies inside, an attractive entrance to the unfolding mystery.  These doors are from Carmel or Carmel-by-the-Sea. While they beckoned us in, we were unable to answer their alluring call and I had to make to merely with taking photos of their beauty.

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Carmel is like a Thomas’ English muffin–full of nooks and crannies, although ones you want to explore, not fill with butter and eat. There’s a beautiful beach, hotels everywhere (fitting in seamlessly to the beauty of the town but seemingly perpetually full), restaurants, shops of all sorts, people, and flowers everywhere. There is also, or at least so our hotel manager told us, no air conditioning.

The beach at Carmel

The beach at Carmel

It wasn’t so much that the room was stifling, but closed rooms can get just slightly, well, closed and stale feeling. It was night, late, and we were ready to sleep, so we weren’t going to open the windows to air it out. The manager did send up a lovely fan and we took our respite after a long, beauty-filled day.

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Our breakfast, included and ordered the night before, was delivered in a cute little cooler and included cereal, milk, juice, and bananas. Showered and refreshed, we spent some time wandering the town, heading first for the beach, then looking at shops while on the prowl for coffee (daughter) and tea (me.) But the constant was exclaiming over how cute/beautiful/whatever the town was. (The other constant, in my mind at least, was how on earth anyone could afford to live here!!) Houses in a variety of attractive styles, although not in this part of town, enormous, were surrounded by beautiful gardens. The commercial part of town was equally as attractive, my cameras (phone and Nikon) were kept busy, and our beauty-meter was sated by the time we got in the car to continue our trip with Napa at the end of this day.

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It was a rather cruel shock to come around the corner, so to speak, and find ourselves in the real world of city, chain stores, and crowded roads. The imposing natural beauty of the coast and the charm of Carmel were abruptly gone. But we were headed to lunch with a friend of Shannon’s and looking forward to getting into wine country by afternoon.

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The wait for lunch was made more than bearable by mimosas served in water glasses (i.e.large), good conversation, and delicious food. After that, we followed her friend through climbing, winding roads to a winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains he liked that has, like much of the area, a gorgeous view. They also had good wine, which we tasted. Then it was back in the car and on the road once more.

Our B&B

Our B&B

Sunday afternoon found us driving into Napa just as several lanes of traffic were trying to move out. That put us on the right side of the highway for a change. Next step was to find our B&B, which turned out to be in a lovely, quiet neighborhood. Our room on the second floor had its own entrance, a large open area containing a kitchen, living room and bedroom, as well as a spacious bathroom. The husband of our host couple welcomed us, as did the bottle of wine they left on the table, and then we relaxed, getting ready to go out and explore the town of Napa that evening.

And before I forget, California is home to one of my favorite foods.  Just imagine if all thistles were artichokes!  Yet much as I love them, I have to wonder:  Who on earth ever first thought of eating one???  No matter; I’m thankful for that person.

Flower of my favorite thistles!

Flower of my favorite thistles!

A beautiful deception

Posted: July 2, 2015 in Personal, Travel
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The setting sun burned the sky pink and orange in the same bright hues as surfers’ bathing suits. It was beautiful deception, Bosch thought, as he drove north on the Hollywood Freeway to home. Sunsets did that here. Made you forget it was the smog that made their colors so brilliant, that behind every pretty picture there could be an ugly story.
Michael Connelly, The Black Echo

I rolled out of bed at 2:50 am CST, was at the airport by 4:30 am, in California by 8:30 am CST, on the way up the coast no later than 9.  Our older daughter, now living in Pasadena, home of the Rose Parade and Bowl, and I were on our way to Napa for some wine tasting and relaxation.  We had four days and the first one would be a long one, as our plan included driving up State Highway 1 for the spectacular scenery.

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As we drove north, we were gradually weaned from the hugeness of LA, the highways of multiple lanes, the city all around.  We drove by beaches, keeping a careful eye out for the hundreds of cyclists on the road, toiling up ever higher hills.  Although he Tour de France starts July 4th, this influx of cyclists is an every weekend occurrence in a state where people tend to live outside. The beaches are lined with rows of nets for beach volleyball, empty at this time of day, but full later on.

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Tesla's a far cry from a stagecoach!

Tesla’s a far cry from a stagecoach!

We stopped in Santa Barbara, enjoying the quaintness of the downtown, where all the upscale stores are present, but hiding in older, mostly single-story buildings.  What a contrast with the hardy pioneers who made it all the way to the west coast by horseback or stage coach!  Not only were there no restaurants, no Sur la Table or Macy’s waiting for them, they jounced and bounced for days or weeks in a stagecoach filled with sweaty, smelly people.  There were Indians but no rest areas; no airports to complain about and delays much longer than air travelers might experience.  They may have started with a wagon filled with goods, but many were left behind along the trail.  And when they arrived, they couldn’t check into a Best Western or B&B to refresh themselves after the months-long journey.

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Part of the beautiful deception of California is that most people it as coast, big cities and Napa, with maybe some redwoods thrown in.  But it’s primarily an agricultural state and all along the way there were fruit and vegetable stands.  We stopped for some strawberries.

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It was chilly and cloudy in Morro Bay, but we enjoyed a stroll along the water, peeking into shops and then having a picnic by the water.  If there had been rain in those clouds, we would have rejoiced at our lost time outside; the state is drying up, although the coast side, between ocean and mountains, appears to be suffering less than the central part of the state.  Rain tends to drop before getting over mountains.

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Here’s something we didn’t expect to see!  Spotting some cars stopped and people taking photos, we joined them, then felt as if we were in Africa. Not sure why these zebra were there, but it was certainly interesting!

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When the highway reaches the coast, the mountains rise steeply to the east and then drop off to the ocean on the opposite side of the pavement.  The road twists and turns and around every bend there seems to be another, more spectacular view.  If you stopped for all of them, the trip would take days.  We resisted as best we could, yet it was 9 pm by the time we reached our hotel in Carmel.  About the time we seemed to be getting no closer and the hours were catching up to us, we saw people sitting on the hilltops, waiting for the sunset.  We had to pull over as well for one last assault on our senses.  Then tiredness kicked in along with the darkening sky and we made port for the night.

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Image  —  Posted: July 1, 2015 in Animals
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