Thank You!

We’ve been writing this blog to say an extended thank you to our family and friends who were so generous in contributing to our honeymoon fund. We really are very grateful and we hope you have enjoyed reading about our trip of a lifetime. Thank you again!

We’re inclined to keep the blog live and use it to share occasional updates going forward, especially since Facebook isn’t used by everyone. If you’d like to be notified when we update, please subscribe using the “follow blog via email” widget (bottom).

Love from,

J&T xxx

Day 17: Homeward Bound

Time to head back to Bristol! We packed up, had a last lovely breakfast and said goodbye to Nick and Gillian. Tom placed a quick order for Gillian’s cook book as a Christmas gift for me (and very good it is too). On the way back to San Francisco and the airport we stopped to pick up some of the Death Valley skull tequila from BevMo in Santa Rosa (think Majestic Wine but super-sized!) and made our flight with plenty of time to spare.

We had a couple of days at home – trying not to fall asleep all day and then trying to get to sleep all night – before we were off on our next trip: to Mansfield for a Christening and becoming a godmother. Happy days!

The date was 17 November 2011. Next – Thank You!

Day 16: Last Day

Our last full day on honeymoon and we decided to have a bit of a touristy day and visit some of the local attractions.

The California Old Faithful geyser is a little sibling to the more famous Old Faithful in Yellowstone. Apparently, the more often it erupts, the less likely is an earthquake.The geyser erupted about every 10 minutes we were there, which made us confident we were safe!

Another timer shot from our trusty gorilla pod!

Our next stop was the Petrified Forest, created 3 million years ago by a volcanic eruption which knocked down and buried a stand of redwood trees.

A petrified tree. Looks like a tree, feels cold like rock. Curious.

Next we drove over to Napa town. We intended to visit “Copia“, which the guidebook told us was a food and wine based cultural centre and ‘visitor experience’ with lovely gardens. We shouldn’t have trusted the guidebook, since it turned out to have closed down a couple of years earlier! Apparently it was a bit of a grand design by the celebrated winemaker Robert Mondavi, but it never attracted enough visitors to be viable. Pity. The gardens still looked lovely, but we didn’t fancy trespassing and instead went to the Oxbow Public Market next door for lunch and a bit of Christmas shopping.

Followed by a wander round the [slightly run down dare I say] town centre and, for Tom, a bit more wine tasting at Vintners Collective, representing small-scale producers.

Driving back to Calistoga along the Silverado Trail – i.e. the pretty way.

Taken from a moving car!

The vineyards are beautifully maintained and frequently bordered by olive trees, flowerbeds and lavender hedges.

Back in Calistoga it was a bit of shopping for volcanic spa products and some beautiful pottery, a bit of a walk, a bit of sorting out and then a final blow out dinner at Brannan’s.

Sigh.

The date was 16 November 2011. Next – more Calistoga photos.

Day 15: Calistoga

What a lovely time we had in Calistoga! A couple of days of relaxing in the sunshine with good wine and good food was the perfect finale to a wonderful honeymoon.

It seems to me that Calistoga is a very relaxed place. For example, when we arrived, we went out for a drink at the Calistoga Inn. We sat at the bar and watched the Monday night football. When we got hungry, we kept our seats and were able to order some excellent food from the formal restaurant next door. We like that kind of thing.

We stayed at the Wine Way Inn, which I would definitely recommend for:

  • The lovely owners, Nick and Gillian (coincidentally, they used to live in Bristol);
  • Amazing breakfasts – not the usual fry up, but interesting and unusual dishes like sausage and tomato plait, chardonnay baked pears and special muffins. It was cool that all the guests sit at the same table, like a family, so you can chat to each other;
  • Traditional, but not fuddy duddy, style;
  • Grape vine round the porch and maple trees in the back garden;
  • The ‘Wellness’ package (see below);
  • The location: just off the main street;
  • Home made wine for nightcaps!

After a good night’s sleep and a gourmet breakfast, we were ready for our Wellness package consisting of bed and breakfast, a couples’ spa session, two local wine tastings and dinner at a local restaurant.

This was Tom’s first spa experience and I think he enjoyed it. He won’t let me show you the picture of him in a volcanic mud/bubble bath 😦

Instead here are some lovely rubber duckies:

Three rubber ducks in foam bath

Image via Wikipedia

In the afternoon we went for our two wine tastings at Lava Vine and Laura Zahtila. We met some very lovely and friendly people.

The Lava Vine tasting room and (in the garage) wine-making space!

Tom in the Lava Vine tasting room

Interesting idea for tasting dessert wine - dark chocolate, olive oil and sea salt.

Wine tasting aftermath

The very cool BBQ space at Lava Vine - bet they have some great parties!

One of our favourite honeymoon memories is of sitting on the terrace at the Laura Zahtila tasting room. It was a lovely sunny afternoon, we had some delicious wine, there were dogs and a cat running around and we were chatting to the tasting host, a couple who were long-term traveling around the States and some guys from a local restaurant (who we happened to bump into later that evening!)

The wine in the glass is made from the vines in the background.

NB dogs in the background!

That evening we had dinner at JoLé – a ‘small plates’ restaurant where we ate (among other things) lamb bolognese and brussels sprouts with cranberries, squash and hazelnuts. What a good day!

The date was 15 November 2011. Next – Day 16: Last Day.

Day 14: Alcatraz

We were impressed by our visit to Alcatraz. As a ‘visitor experience’ it’s very well done. Considering the National Parks department could probably charge a lot more without putting people off, we thought $26 per person, including the ferry and audio tour, was good value for money.

We made an early start and were on the second boat of the day in order to benefit from shorter queues and a quieter visit. The weather was stunning and we got some good views of San Francisco from the water.

Here are some views of the disembarkation area of Alcatraz island, including informal sign-writing dating back to the 1969 occupation by the United Indians of All Tribes:

The first place you come to on the cell block tour is the gloomy shower block where arriving prisoners were stripped, washed and de-loused. We were just getting our audio tours.

The ‘guide’ for the audio tour is a former guard who explains the history of the island and of the prison while directing you which way to go as you travel around the corridors of the cell block. I think some of the most interesting things were the most mundane – what prisoners ate and testimonies from the guards’ families who lived on the island. The children had to commute to school on the mainland by boat, but had an apparently idyllic childhood!

The cells are even tinier and more oppressive than I imagined. There are some you can go inside, which made me a bit nervous (having seen The Rock).

The only problem with the audio guide was that the narrator was from New Jersey and kept talking about all the prisoners who tried to ‘excape’. Tom said:

“There are only so many times you can hear the word ‘excape’ before you find yourself standing in a crowded cell block shouting ‘it’s escape, you idiot!'”

Unfortunately this led to Tom being incarcerated for breach of the peace!

A view of the cell block from the prisoner exercise yard:

It was surprising how much of the island was derelict – the large parade ground was surrounded by heaps of rubble from demolished buildings and a lot of the island was off-limits. However, some areas you can visit are beautiful gardens which is quite a contrast. The guards and prisoners used to cultivate them.

I particularly loved the agave plants in the garden areas. We’d seen them before in Kings Canyon, but these flower spikes, silhouetted against the sky, were even more dramatic and I took dozens of pictures! I still can’t get over how wonderful the weather was the whole time we were on honeymoon!

Back on the mainland we had a walk around Fisherman’s Wharf and started queuing for a ride on the cable car. Unfortunately hunger got the better of me and we had to go find lunch at In and Out burger. Afterwards, instead of the cable car, we rode one of the vintage trams back to town to pack up and head North to Calistoga in the Napa Valley.

We were rather excited to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge and we stopped at the viewpoint on the other side to take some more photos.

Taken from a moving car!

Making use of the nifty 'sweep panorama' feature on my camera. Click for enlargement.

Tom spent ages trying to get a good photo of the American Flag and the California flag, but the wind wasn’t co-operating!

We were sad to leave San Francisco after such a short visit, but we’ll be back one day. And look what was waiting for us in Calistoga:

The date was 14 November 2011. Next day – Day 15: Calistoga.

Day 13: Match Day

While we had no plans to go to an American Football match when we planned the honeymoon, when we found out that the 49ers were playing at home on the Sunday we were in San Francisco it seemed to good an opportunity to miss. Dom was able to purchase some last minute tickets for the New York Giants at the San Francisco 49ers from a ticket exchange website.

While the weather was lovely when we set out for Candlestick Park, Dom also went to great pains to advise us that since the stadium was next to the Bay, the weather was bound to change for the worse and we could expect freezing fog to roll in.  Accordingly we all wrapped up warm and set off for the match.

Needless to say, the weather remained bright and sunny all day and we found ourselves stripping off the layers as we sweltered in the sunshine.  It was so hot Dom had to go and buy (yet another) 49ers cap to stop his head burning!

We arrived at the stadium we encountered the usual car park carnival that is found at most matches.  The car park was full of happy Americans throwing a trailer party.  Essentially this involves attaching a BBQ to your pickup truck and consuming half a cow while drinking your own body weight in beer.

Inside the ground we found an amazing atmosphere with the most eclectic mix of fans that I have ever seen.  Directly in front of us was a huge, but very friendly, Latino man who just could not sit still: he just kept bouncing out of his seat every time the 49ers did anything.  Across the aisle from us was Mr Redneck (wispy ginger beard, stained vest and a John Deere baseball cap) while ruling the roost was a little white haired lady, covered in 49ers merchandise, whose job it was to boss the other fans around.

The Americans, or at least those who live in San Francisco, have a very different approach to watching sport than I’m used to.  We get to our seats early and stay to the end. Here, many fans were still arriving at their seats late in the second quarter, then they would wander around and chat with their friends, go for drinks, before leaving early in the fourth quarter to beat the rush home.  It seems a bit strange to pay quite a lot of money for tickets to a match that you don’t watch.

The game itself was quite exciting with both teams moving the ball and scoring.  I found myself in an odd position as I was cheering for the 49ers to win, but also cheering for one of the Giant’s receivers (Victor Cruz) who I had on my fantasy football team. Luckily, both the 49ers and Victor did well so I had the best of both worlds! The final score was Giants 20 – 49ers 27 and we joined many happy 49er fans leaving the stadium for the slow journey home.

After the match we left Dom and Jes (thank you both for your very kind hospitality) to a quiet night in, headed into the centre of San Francisco and checked into the Handlery Hotel on Union Square for a final night on the town.

After wandering around taking in the night life and more of the sights, we both had a hankering for pizza and followed the concierge’s recommendation to eat at Uncle Vito’s pizzeria.  It was (and still is hopefully) a lovely, down to earth, family-run restaurant which does fantastic pizzas.  We slightly underestimated the size of the pie that we ordered (it was massive, about 16 inches across) and while we did our best, we left the restaurant defeated (but happy and very full) for a relatively early night – we were planning an early morning trip to Alcatraz the next day.  Bring on the Rock.

The date was 13 November 2011. Next day – Day 14: Alcatraz.

Day 12: Hanging out in San Francisco.

We had an absolutely lovely day hanging out in San Francisco. Although we were only in the city for a couple of days, we really got the feel that it’s a fantastic place to live. The brilliant sunshine probably helped! I understand that’s not typical.

Dom and Jes very kindly offered to show us around for the day and we started out with a drive up to the Twin Peaks to take in the views across the city.

San Francisco from Twin Peaks

I don’t know whether Twin Peaks are the highest points in the city, but the views are fab. We tried to figure out the names of the various hills sticking up and got ourselves orientated.

After Twin Peaks we went on a whirlwind driving tour of some of the most famous areas of the city: Castro, Haight Ashbury, and Golden Gate Park. It was cool to see the murals in Haight and the bison in the Park. We ended up at South Beach and dropped into the Beach Chalet for refreshments and to watch the surfers! The sea was pretty lively so we didn’t go for a walk on the beach.

Mini beer sampler at the Beach Chalet

On the way back to drop off the car, we tried to track down the famous picture postcard street of painted Victorian houses, but we must have taken a wrong turn. We saw plenty of gorgeous old houses though and we were all looking out for where we’d like to live if money were no object. We also stopped for a quick view of the Golden Gate Bridge:

View of the Golden Gate Bridge

Dom and Jes looking cool

We dropped the car off, jumped on the tram and headed into the city centre to take a a wander through Union Square, Chinatown, Market Street, the financial district and down to the Embarcadero.

One of the famous tourist attractions in San Francisco is, of course, the cable cars which are actually powered by clamping on to a cable running in a loop underground – this pulls the cars up and down the hills.One end of the cable car routes is near Union Square at the Powell Street turntable. The cars can only go forward and so at the turntable the operators have to push them by hand on the revolving platform. The queue of cars and the even bigger queue of potential patrons convinced us that the engines pulling the cables can’t pull too many cars at a time.

We didn’t attempt to take a ride, but we managed to grab a quick photo:

Cable cars in the city centre

Aside from the cable cars, San Francisco has an extensive tram network. Some of the downtown tram routes run vintage trams (or ‘streetcars’) which come from all over the world and still have their original livery. It’s the Municipal Railway’s “Museum in Motion”. Here’s one example, but there were many more:

In the brilliant sunshine, we might have forgotten that Christmas was coming up:

These skaters looked like they were having fun!

We carried on through Chinatown and the financial district to the Embarcadero and the Ferry Building. There was an ‘Occupy’ tented village outside, but politics could not distract us from our goal: lunch.

The Ferry Building

Inside The Ferry Building

The Ferry Building used to be a transport hub, but now it’s full of cafes and food shops. We had to wait for a bit, but we managed to grab a table in the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant for some bread and cheese, charcuterie and, of course, a bit of wine tasting. With all this choice, it would have been rude not to (plus we needed to get into practice for Napa):

Inside The Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant

Tom was very brave to be wandering around SF in a Packers shirt!

Some time later…

Later again, Dom and Jes headed home and we went for a wander down towards Fisherman’s Wharf. We wanted to scope out the Alcatraz tour and to see what else was going on.

Blurry picture of palm trees on the waterfront

I love a carousel, but this one was for kids:

Carousel at Fisherman's Wharf

What a busy day! In the evening we had a rather lovely dinner cooked by our rather lovely hosts and a little more wine!

After dinner

And to round things off, here’s a cute kitty!

I confess I don't know if this is Killer or Jules Verne!

The date was 12 November 2011. Next day – Day 13: Match Day.

Day 11: Driving to San Francisco

Another (mainly) travel day!!

We got up relatively early, raided the the Yosemite Lodge food hall for breakfast and then hit the road to San Francisco, stopping only to visit the Bridal Veil Falls on the way out of the park.The Falls were quite stunning with the mist blowing one way and then the other as the breeze changed.

Bridal Veil Falls

To be honest not much happened on the way to San Francisco. The highlight of the trip was passing a truck carrying two Bat Mobiles.

Holy smoke Batman - that's the Bat Mobile!!

Other than that it just rained for the whole journey. A lot. All the way until we were crossing the Bay Bridge, when it stopped. Oh and our sat nav (optimistically called “Never Lost”) got slightly confused by a change in the road system which meant that we went in small circles for a while.

In San Francisco we met up with Dom and Jes (and their cats Killer and Jules Verne) who had kindly agreed to put us up for a few nights.

Killer and Jules Verne (oh and Dom and Jes)

After quaffing a few glasses of champagne we adjourned, via a nice bar or two, to a Peruvian restaurant called Limón where we ate fantastic chicken and other tasty dishes, before wending our way back home via some more (increasing seedy) bars and retiring for the night in a happy frame of mind.

The date was 11 November 2011. Next day – Day 12: Hanging out in San Francisco.

Day 10: Yosemite

We had the whole day walking around Yosemite Valley seeing the main sights. We didn’t step in the car all day, which was a nice change, although later in the day we took the shuttle bus. Despite some snow on the ground here and there, the weather was actually sunny and mild.

We walked into Yosemite village to post some postcards and then for a walk to see the Ahwahnee Hotel and the trail to Mirror Lake.

Mirror Lake

The water in the lake was pretty low because of the time of year, but it was beautiful and there weren’t that many people around. After the rocky hike up to the lake, we decided to take the road back down and we wound up at Curry Village where we caught the bus to the Yosemite Falls trail.

Yosemite Falls

After that we were pretty tired so we checked out the art gallery in the village and went down into the meadow to take some pictures in the late afternoon light before propping up the bar at the Lodge for a good session of wine, snacks and watching the football.

Tom in Yosemite lodge bar

Please see the gallery for more photos! (NB: click on the photos for larger versions/slideshow.)

The date was 10 November 2011. Next day – Day 11: Driving to San Francisco.