Sunday, September 30, 2012

Day 26 - The Petaluma Plan

I want to start by saying that Day 26 is quite warm.  It is still 90 degrees in Petaluma and we have had to run the air conditioning.  I am just not accustomed to having to say that at the end of September!  We added another day to our stay in Petaluma so that we could get a campsite near Roseville and my sister starting Monday.  In order to do this, we had to make another reservation of one day and we had to move to a new campsite because the one we were in was reserved already for today.  Checkout time is 11:00am but the people in our new campsite were taking their time and it was noon before we were ensconced again.  It really isn't very much trouble to tear down and set up again and we are getting pretty fast at it.  

We found mention to a historic museum in Petaluma so we decided to go have a look.  It was a good plan.  The old part of Petaluma is what I'm calling typical old Northern California city.  There are a number of 2-3 story older buildings along with some adobe hacienda style and most are filled with shops and restaurants.
 This building said "Seed Bank" over the front door.  I thought it was a funny name for a bank.  It turns out that the place actually does have seeds.  I was having a little Common Ground Fair moment there.

 This must be weekend, outdoor festival time in this part of the state.  We come into the center of things and begin to notice lots of cars and then streets blocked off and then the white tents.  Yup - festival and no on street parking to be had.  We happened to drive by a public parking garage and ventured in.  Nice, nice Petaluma has 4 hours free parking on the first two levels and 10 hours free parking on the top levels.  They don't have any signs noting the clearance to the roof rafters until you get to the roof rafters.  It turns out the 6ft 11in was fine for the truck but we were both sitting hunched over in the front seat (as if that would somehow help) wondering if we were stuck in here for good.  After 3 times around the entire garage and not an empty spot available we had to admit that we might not be visiting the museum today.  GPS said there was parking another mile from there but it was over 90 degrees and even if we'd found a spot I'm pretty sure I would have perished walking back in.  

We did need to buy groceries and luckily the Petaluma Market was right across the street and it had a parking lot (for customers only) and there was a guard enforcing the parking.  
Since it was past lunch time, this outing became one about food.  I like food carts.  There were a lot of other people liking this food cart as well so we decided to give it a go. 
 This young man was working the grill the whole time.  It smelled wonderful and we were fairly certain that we would be getting freshly grilled food.
 We both had a pulled pork sandwich with cole slaw and it was excellent.  There were several picnic tables nearby but the only empty one was in the full sun.  So we asked a lady if we might join her at her table and she was happy to let us eat with her.  She was pleasant but not talkative so no great conversations took place.
The Petaluma Market is a small, busy, wonderful place that is proud to NOT be a chain.  The aisles are narrow and the shelves are stocked with local and fresh and organic and some brand name merchandise.  Meat is ordered from the butcher and wrapped in paper (nothing in foam wrapped in cellophane).  There was also a small station where fresh sushi was being made.  While it was a bit more expensive to buy here than at a Safeway I was happy to support a locally owned business.   The groceries were bagged in these nice paper bags with handles.  San Francisco bans the use of plastic bags and will begin charging 10 cents for all other bags on Monday (at least I think I got that right - Brett read it in the SF paper a little while ago).  
I have never, ever been able to buy a fresh fig in Maine.  When I saw boxes and boxes of these babies I knew that some of them had to be mine.  They taste great.  Dinner tonight was crusty french bread, extra virgin olive oil with rosemary, local cheddar cheese, Saskia's tomatoes, fresh figs and wine.  

We are spending our last evening here relaxing with the newspaper, plotting out the next phase of our journey and still having a merry time of it.  

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Day 25 - Would You Like A Little Wine With That?

25 days in and nobody seems worse for wear yet.  We are still loving it.  The Petaluma KOA is a very organized campground and very popular on the weekends with families.  The staff has several self-guided wine tour leaflets published for the adventurous wine seeker.  We decided to undertake the Valley of the Moon tour. According to Jack London, the Native American word Sonoma means Valley of the Moon.  He used it for his book of the same name.  So we go to the Sonoma Valley.  There are 254 wineries in the valley and 65,000 acres under vine.  It could be a long day...
But no.  We decided to pick one winery, do a tasting and spend some time there.  It seemed wiser than doing some serious drinking and driving.  We did see a lot of "Wine Country Tours" so perhaps some of the wine lovers are smartening up.  We have been to Napa Valley several times before so it wasn't important to us to check out every last Mom & Pop vineyard.  We headed for CA-12 to see what we could see.

And we found this.  It is Ledson Winery & Vineyards.  You might well think that possibly vampires live here or that this place has been around forever.  It was actually built about 15 years ago.  But it looked ostentatious enough to make us want to go have a look. 
You start by walking from the parking area through the private reserve vineyard.  These rows may be personally reserved by you for a minimum of 3 years (for a hefty fee) and you will have your name placed on a marker and then you will have the opportunity to purchase wine that is blended from your very own rented grapes.  These are somebody's next bottle of Merlot.

Wine grapes (these are merlot) are much smaller than table grapes.  They do look very pretty hanging from their vines.  They are very dark and I think they look velvety.  The name Merlot is thought to have been derived from the Old French word for blackbird (merlot). 

We continued along the path which led to a nice view of the front of the castle and the ornately landscaped grounds. 

Once inside we were greeted by a hostess (these people are all so cute!) who asked if we wanted to do a tasting.  Of course!  She took us to one of the three tasting rooms where we stood at a pretty wooden bar and met our "pourer".  

The way the tastings work here is that you get to choose how many wines you want to taste and then the pourer will help you narrow those down from the list of tasting wines depending upon what kinds of wine interest you.  We wanted to try some white, some red and some sweet and we opted for one 6 wine tasting for $15.  Some years ago, these tastings were all free.  I've noticed over the span of our visits here that the price has been going up pretty quickly.  I suppose it is a good way to bring in some more income.  We were told that Ledson only sells their wine at the winery.  That is probably why we had never heard of it before today. 
Our pourer guy was named Guy.  After the requisite "You're a long way from home" we settled in to see what we could taste.  We tried 2009 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, 2011 Russian River Valley Chardonnay, 2007 Russian River Valley "Old Vine" Zinfandel "Jolene's Vineyard" (bought one), 2008 California "Gunsight" Red Wine (bought one), 2009 Russian River Valley Riesling Demi Sec (bought three), 2010 Mendocino County Orange Muscat (bought one).  What can I say?  We knew we were going to buy wine, we didn't want to drink our way around the Sonoma Valley and this tasted very good to us.  Guy was very nice to us.  We didn't pretend that we were any good at wine talk and he was patient while we explained (in Maine tourist terms) what kind of wine we thought we liked to drink.

I am glad that we didn't do the tasting with this fellow.  He was dealing with a couple of "serious" wine lovers from Missouri and they were using all the wine terms (probably correctly).  He seemed to be doing the smooth sell and I just felt a lot more comfortable with Guy who was probably only hoping that these dorks would buy at least one bottle. 

Brett is not what we would call the marathon drinker in the family but he was the driver.  That is another reason that we wanted to limit the tastings.  Here he is enjoying a nice Chardonnay that was priced at $36 a bottle.  And he is smiling!  Note the breadstick in his hand.  The man cannot resist a snack.

Once you decide what to buy, you can go through to the shop and a nice lady will pull the bottles for you.  Then you can spend some more of your money on other stuff.  We also came home with some curry flavored mustard and a rosemary infused olive oil.  Since it was lunch time and they also sold sandwiches, we got a couple and sat outside at a picnic table enjoying the scenery as well as the food. 

Brett enjoyed his panini sandwich.  We saw a couple of really cute little girls bouncing around.  One of them was wearing a dress whose hem she kept pulling up around her ears.  Our girls used to do this when they were little and Brett was going to take a picture to remind them of this.  I felt pretty certain that it wasn't a good idea and dissuaded him before some irate mother started to beat upon him.

After lunch we gave the GPS his head and let him lead us back to Petaluma.  This involved driving through downtown Sonoma on a Saturday afternoon when the Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival was happening.  Sonoma looks to be full of a mix of interesting older buildings and more modern ones.  The streets are narrow and at least on the weekend they are full of cars and people.  Even if we had wanted to spend some time walking around there was nary a parking place to be had.  That's okay. 

Afternoon at the KOA featured a nice nap and then a walk. 

It is great to have a friend who likes to garden and who grows much more than she can eat.  These tomatoes are just a portion of the bounty that she sent us home with yesterday. 
They are lovely to look at and even better to eat.

It is appropriate to have a burger once in a while when camping.  Tonight was the night. 

We are going to stay another night in Petaluma though this will involve moving to another campsite in the morning.  Then on Monday we are moving to a spot east of Roseville so that we can visit with my sister Louise for a few days.  Tomorrow will involve errands and a look around historic Petaluma.

The adventure continues!

Day 24 - You've Got To Have Friends

Did I mention that Petaluma was once know as The Egg Capital of the World?  It still has some grain milling and chicken processing industry and it sits in the middle of some very rich farmland.  Did I mention that the air smells bad at this particular spot in Petaluma?  Maybe the odor is from chickens or maybe it is from all the cows in the area.  It definitely smells farmy.
I have been trying to remember why I seemed to know something about Petaluma.  Eureka - it was the home of the world wrist wrestling championships from 1952 to 2003.  Snoopy wanted to be a champion arm wrestler and he headed for Petaluma.  He was disqualified because he had no thumb.  Also The World's Ugliest Dog contest is held here.  I can now rest easy.

It is no small investment to travel the country in an RV.  I think that our neighbors may have gone a bit overboard.  They are traveling to Florida from Ontario is a huge Class A motorhome.  They are towing the cute little, black Mercedes convertible.  Nice!

This is a campground with a lot of amenities.  They do get a lot of families here in the summertime and have some very nice places for them to play.
The playground has lots of new, well kept structures for climbing.

And a seriously, cool tractor to play on.  Grampy loves tractors!
If anybody asks, he's 5.  I don't want to be asked to leave.

This little guy was very excited about all of the goats at the petting zoo.  He wanted to tell us their names.  There are also sheep, chickens and peacocks.  We talked to the young woman who tends the animals.  She seems to love them very much.  Many of them are rescues so she has also saved them from an early death.

Our driving for today consisted of getting ourselves to the city of Vallejo.  This is where my long time friend Saskia lives.  We have not seen each other for more than 20 years.
The trip over took us through more farm land.  There were several sheep ranches along the way.  The stretch of road just before here was marked with a sign "Falling Trees".  Now that's a new one!  

Vallejo is in the bay region.  It seems most well known these days as being the first large city in California to file for bankruptcy.
I think that this is the Napa River which eventually makes its way to San Pablo Bay.  We saw a big barge on the river a few miles from here.

Here is my beautiful friend Saskia.  We are sitting on her deck drinking champagne.  It is never too early to drink champagne.  There was a lot of catching up to do so the talking was flowing as freely as the wine.  Isn't it nice that even after all these years, there was so much to talk about.  Hmmm.  Maybe there was so much to talk about because of all these years.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Saskia loves cats.  She has four of them and I believe they are all rescued.  Maybe I should put her in touch with the KOA caretaker.  She might want a goat!
As you can see, Vladimir seems to like Brett and Brett seems to like the champagne.  The circle of like.

Food art.  The picture is blurry but I just had to show off my lunch.  This is a vegetable polenta Napoleon.  Saskia took us to lunch at a very nice restaurant in Benicia called Sailor Jack's.  The building dates from 1868 and has been a sea captain's house, a brothel and now a restaurant.  It was named for Jack London who once lived in Benicia and who called himself Sailor Jack when traveling the Klondike. 

After lunch we strolled around Benicia and checked out quite a few antique shops.  This is my wall art offering for the day.  It was in a nice little antique shop "mall".  Best sighting was agreed to be a 1908 National cash register (with a big Do Not Touch sign on it). 

Certain compost aficionados in the contingent were practically agog at the sight of a community garden.  We went in to have a look.  There is still a lot of stuff growing.  Each little bed had a slightly different personality. Most were very well kept.  I liked some row markers that were made from wooden skewers topped with a wine cork.  And of course I liked the name "Avant Garden".

Earlier this week, Brett had a craving for gum drops.  This was satisfied when he found some at the KOA store.  But one mustn't waste an opportunity to visit a candy shop.  We had fun picking candy from quite a large selection. 

Saskia's husband Joe is restoring this Model A pickup.  I think it looks beautiful already and the engine runs!

I was sad to say goodbye but oh so very glad that we were able to say hello.  It was a wonderful day.  You've got a friend indeed!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Day 23 - Willits, CA to Petaluma, CA

The Golden Rule RV Park wasn't too crowded overnight.  Perhaps this is because it isn't really tourist season.  The lady in the office did say that they don't get as many visitors as they like even in season.  It's a pity as this is a charming little spot with very nice people. 

 This is California so it wasn't a complete surprise to find 2 young men car camping and sitting outside playing guitars and singing this morning.  They sounded quite nice and it made for an interesting start to the day.
 There are a lot of deer around the park.  One of the campers was feeding them and the deer didn't seem afraid of him at all.  Brett was out looking at the wildlife last evening and he spotted a white deer (no pictures).  Thankfully he did not spot a rattlesnake.  I advised him not to go tramping in the grass and a sign at the office this morning offered a similar warning.
We were nestled in just about the only position we could be in and still get the slides open.

We are in what I consider more typical northern California terrain.  There are plenty of grass covered hill, the grass is mostly brown and the hills are dotted with oaks.

Not only is it enough to know that we stayed at the home of Seabiscuit, but if we'd been here on a weekend we could have taken a tour of the ranch, seen his stable and had a look at his grave which features a large statue of the equine himself.  Sadly, we had to settle for the photo of the sign.

We had only a 90 mile drive today which makes it our shortest so far.  I am learning to run "Gas Buddy" better now.  I remembered to click on the Diesel tab and I also found that you can see pictures of the stations.  This is handy when you need to figure out if your rig can fit into the driveway and under the canopy before you've torn off the air conditioner. 
This is certainly an agricultural area.  We saw a big truck full of pumpkins!  As we got near Ukiah, we noticed our first vineyard and it was pretty much vineyard sprawl after that. 

In Geyserville, we drove by the Coppola Winery.  This looked very elegant.  Our plan is to visit some of the vineyards in the area later in the week.

We arrived at the Petaluma KOA just before 1pm.  After we got set up and had lunch I had that gotta-take-a-nap feeling come over me and crashed for a few hours.  Who knew that a short day would be so hard on me.

Once revived we opted to go our for a bit of dinner.   We found a tiny Mexican restaurant called El Gallo Taqueria and had a really good meal.  I had chicken enchiladas mole and Brett didn't (he had something with beef). 
 Our chef and waiter.
 I read a review that said this place had the best Mexican food in the area.  We were not disappointed.
 It was a very small space.  Brett was a bit taken aback at first since he was expecting a more proper restaurant.  But he stayed and happily it was a good move.
I forgot to take a picture of the food when it was delivered so I decided that this would have to do.  I think it proves that we enjoyed it. 

Our last adventure was a stop at the Lucky supermarket for some milk.  As we parked and were walking into the market, a man in a parked car whistled and said "sir" so Brett went over to see what he wanted.  I heard Brett laugh and then he came back over to me.  He said the guy told him that he was a jerk because he came from out of state.  Friendly fellow that!  We went into the store and the guy didn't blow up the truck or slash the tires while we were there so all is well.  If something like that happens again I will document his license plate and face with my iPhone before I turn my back. 

We are looking forward to tomorrow when we will be visiting with my friend Saskia in Vallejo.  We haven't seen each other for a very long time and it will be wonderful to get caught up.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Day 22 – Geezers: 1 – Giants: 0

We left this morning under foggy skies and because we’d driven 20 miles of our route yesterday while looking at trees we knew a bit about what to expect.  Still it is exciting to encounter those 7% grades along with a 30mph tippy truck curve with an “Elk Crossing Next 2 Miles” sign in the middle of the whole thing.  Once we got to the crest of the mountain we had the fog in the valley to look forward to.   Apparently the redwoods love this stuff.

Too much chlorine in the water again today meant that we were on the lookout for coffee this morning.  The town of Orick had a little cafĂ© where they were happy to fill our cups for us.  We chatted with the cashier for a bit and he gave us some sightseeing advice before we went on our way.  

The scenery featured many changes today.  These are the Humboldt Lagoons at Humboldt State Park.  They are shallow bays between rocky headlands where coastal was action has formed a sandy bar separating each of the 3 lagoons from the ocean.  We saw some people kayaking in one.  Also there were several people unloading horse trailers in preparation for a ride on the beach.  There seems to be quite a horse culture here about.  The state parks where we stayed in Oregon both had horse camping areas.  Places for camping as well as corrals for horses.  I wonder if horses like to go camping. 
The coastal area is also dotted with little “you are now entering a tsunami danger area” and then “you are now leaving a tsunami danger area”.  I’m not sure what elevation qualifies as no danger.  I suppose it would depend upon the size of the waves.  This is probably another reason why I just couldn’t live here.  I’d be too busy worrying about all the things that might kill me and forget to just go ahead and live.

The slightly larger city of Eureka CA (pop. 27,000) was the first biggish city that we’ve seen for a while.  US101 becomes “the freeway” for some of the route now and the approach to the city was one of these places.  We noticed a huge cedar (or maybe redwood) lumber yard here.

My quest for art in the wild was rewarded with this bit of wall art and there were also several interesting looking buildings along our route. 

Notice the fuel prices.  They are outlandishly high.

Once again, when we left the city and encountered some flat stretches of land they were being farmed.  In this case a herd of cows. 


Several people yesterday told us that we should drive The Avenue of the Giants.  With those recommendations in mind and with the fact that the road has such a great name we really had to do it.  These gentlemen were preparing for a bicycle ride along the avenue and told us that it was the most beautiful road in all of California.  They just asked us to watch out for bicyclists (especially them).  

The road is a 31 mile stretch along an old alignment of US101 that runs from Fortuna to Garberville.  It gets the name from the giant redwoods that overshadow the road.  The road runs alongside the Eel River and connects several small towns.  Some of these towns have a few thriving businesses and others look a little worse for wear.

These huge trees are right along the road side.  There is no shoulder to speak of but many turnouts.  Each of the bigger trees that stand right next to the road has their own reflectors next to them.  Presumably this is to warn unsuspecting drivers (of 5th wheels no doubt) that there is a tree leaning into the road.

A bit white knuckle in a few spots because of the twists and turns, the drive was worth every minute of it.  Here we have found a turnout and did a little exploring. 

Give a man a fallen down redwood tree and he just has to climb all over it!

This is just so beautiful.   We probably use the word “awesome” way too much to describe things.  I do think that this particular stretch of road deserves the adjective.

We stopped in the little town of Miranda because we noticed another coffee shop.  It is amazing to me how friendly folks have been.  Also amazing that not everybody is trying to rip off the tourists.  We got 2 cups of coffee for $2.00.  There is a high school right next door and the bell rang while we were waiting for the coffee.  The server said they’d be inundated with high school students in about 2 minutes and they surely were.  The little businesses here must do a brisk school year trade with the students.  I wonder if the school cafeteria is really very bad or these kids just have to have their noontime coffee fix.

I found more wall art.  This one must be depicting the local sights or at least using the local settings (ie, that big tree) to make a statement. 

I was surprised to find so many little artists and craftspeople along the route.  They all seemed to be selling their wares.  The old car served as a backdrop for this artist’s products. 

Yet another shop with wood carvings appeared in Miranda.  At this one, 2 gentlemen sitting in rocking chairs on the porch offered to sell us a porcelain decorated coal stove.  We had to decline as it really wouldn’t have been practical to keep it in the 5th wheel.  

I like to take pictures of post offices.  I have a collection that includes many from Maine.  Now my collection includes one from Miranda, CA.

When it got to be lunch time, the only turnout we could find was on one of the “freeway” sections of US101.  It wasn’t really such a bad spot.  There was nobody else pulled over, we had enough room to open the slide and this was the view from the back window. 
We didn’t have a reservation for any particular campground tonight.  Rather, we just drove until we thought we’d gone far enough.  That happened near Willits, CA where we found a campground called The Golden Rule RV Park.   This is in a pretty spot somewhat off and down away from the highway.  The campground is surrounded by Ridgewood Ranch which is the home of Seabiscuit (the famous racing horse).  There is a sign on a gate next to the road on the way down to the campground.  You can actually tour the ranch.   The campground office was closed when we got here but they had a sign directing us to just go pick an empty campsite and then pay them in the morning.  We did just that.  The campground has one curious rule – no mind altering drugs.  Just before we got here, I noticed a place called Mendo Meds which I later learned is a marijuana dispensary so that rule probably has something to do with that establishment.   So I guess we won’t tell anybody about the Ibuprofen or the coffee or the wine that we have on board!
It was another great day and we saw more wonderful sights.  Tomorrow we head towards San Francisco.