Tag Archives: California

Travelogue: Paso Robles, which means “Pass the Marbles” in Spanish.

12 Nov

Not really. But our trip did a great job highlighting how little Spanish I know. Alan looked at me multiple times each day as if I were Will Farrell on Anchorman, proclaiming, “San Diego. Sahn Dee-ah-go. In Spanish that means ‘whale’s vagina.'” I gave up even trying to guess the real translations.

Tuesday’s adventure took us from Pismo Beach to Napa by way of Paso Robles, which apparently means, “The Pass of the Oaks.” That’s slightly less fun than what I thought it meant – something to do with marbles or a rumble – but perhaps slightly more logical.

[Tip: If you’re ever trapped in car with someone, it’s fun to rub your tummy and wince, then loudly proclaim, “PASO ROBLES,” as if you’re saying, “DIOS MIOS.” Every time, Alan just silently shook his head and rolled down the windows without even looking at me, which I considered a victory.]

Joking aisde: I really liked Paso Robles – everyone was super friendly, the weather was sunny and warm, and the wines were rock solid.

Let me back up. We started our day with a walk down the beach to watch the sunrise and pick up sand dollars. Not bad, until those same sand dollars started smelling like the previously defined “SAN DIEGO” in the backseat of the car as they baked.

After our walk, we lounged around with laptops, writing on the balcony, enjoying our last real time with the Pacific before rolling out later that morning for Paso Robles. We stopped just short of the city, heading into Templeton specifically to visit the Turley winery.

Wine-Nerd Side Note: Turley is one of my favorite zinfandels, and I was worried that visiting their tasting room would put me off of it because they might be snobby. I could not have been more wrong. The women serving the tastings were very friendly and even thew in an extra pour and some great local cheese, and charged us a SONG ($5!) for the airplane carrier we snagged.

With our first official tasting under our belt, we headed downtown PR and wandered the square, which was quaint and packed with good looking restaurants. Because I developed what Alan might call an unhealthy dependency on TripAdvisor, we ate at a small place called the Red Scooter Deli. This pains me to say, but my reuben trumped what I’ve eaten at Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor. And was a fraction of the price. I’m wincing. (Seriously: GO THERE. NOW.)

While we were wandering around, I stumbled across this little gem, which both excited me and made me sad that I didn’t have my own winery – though I’m not really clear on how “soda works” comes into play:

Copyright infringement?

Copyright infringement?

[This town also had a public restroom in its center and I decided to check it out – mainly because I had to pee, but also because I wanted to see if all California bathrooms function as drug lairs. Apparently the answer is no, because this one was very clean and there were no creepers hanging out there.]

The rest of our trip north was uneventful – until we arrived in Napa.

We stayed in an adorable B&B on Main Street. We pulled up at dusk and the placed was super quaint – a darling Cape Cod with a large porch, picket fence and swaying trees in the front yard. When we initially approached the house, it was after dark, so I was glad that the porch lights were on.

Image Source: http://gallery.gosi.at/d/16869-1/funny-pictures-cat-saw-a-really-big-spider.jpg“This is adorable,” I started telling Alan as we ventured up the walk, approaching the house. I was interrupted as he looked up and – covering his head as if it were about to be struck by a meteor – said, “Holy shit!” And there, descending on an invisible line, was THE LARGEST SPIDER I’ve seen in my life. I may or may not have screamed, right as our host opened the front door.

I knew she was awesome when – instead of trying to greet me or look at me as if I were a freak – she turned on her heel and grabbed a broom. “Here,” she said, thrusting it at Alan. “Kill it. I mean – I hope you aren’t animal lovers, because I really want it dead.” Yes, girl.

As Alan spun around to do battle with the descending arachnid, our host asked, “Do you think that was a tarantula?” causing me to climb at least one full level on the terror scale. SERIOUSLY?

When we finally came inside and settled in, our room was a bit stuffy so we went to open the window – but it was lacking a screen. “We’ll be fine,” Alan said, cranking it wide open as sweat ran down his forehead.

“The hell we will,” I said.

And that was our first night in Napa.

Travelogue: Best Monday EVER – seals, a castle, and not dying.

5 Nov
© 2013 pithypants.com

Hey there, snuggles.

Everyone bitches about Mondays. Even though I love my job, sometimes even I am guilty of it. But not this week. I’m pretty sure I had the best Monday known to man. Here’s why…

We left our motel in San Simeon at 8am. (In case you’re curious: there are still places in this world where you can enjoy a good night’s sleep near the ocean in a clean room with a fridge and microwave and remodeled bathroom for $55. I didn’t think it was possible, but there you go. Just do your research and book with Hotels.com.)

We attempted to stop at a place called Sebastian’s that was highly reviewed on TripAdvisor for breakfast, but – to our dismay – it isn’t open on Mondays or Tuesdays. Their loss – I’m sure we would’ve been their best customers ever.

To recover from this disappointment, I asked Alan to keep driving north for a few miles because I’d heard there was a place to see elephant seals, and I was hell-bent on seeing at least one seal after getting my hopes up about lifting one the day before. Knowing that breakfast wasn’t in the cards and since we both tend to have blood sugar crashes that get ugly, while Alan drove, I began doling out cashews and beef jerky.

Within minutes, we were screeching into a gravel lot behind a motorcycle gang (Alan says it was actually a “club” but I don’t think you should use that word in the same sentence as “seals”) to look for seals. If Monterey had left us high and dry on the seal-front, then San Simeon was our tonic. We peered out at the ocean, shading our eyes. “Alan! Look! Right there!” I pointed to a rock some hundred yards out where there were definitely seal heads in the water.

Then the old couple next to us pointed and said, “Look – right there!” and pointed down some thirty feet off-shore.

Then, as I looked more, I was like, “HOLY SHIT. THEY ARE EVERYWHERE.” Which normally would be an exaggeration when I say it, but this time it wasn’t. There were seals EVERYWHERE. We began counting and estimating and couldn’t keep up. There were thousands of heads bobbing in the water.

And then, when I moved a little bit, I saw hundreds of seals beached on the shore, snuggling, fighting and snoring. They smelled like an elephant house at the zoo, but they were fantastic to watch. MISSON ACCOMPLISHED. (As a side-note, I’m now curious to know who would actually try to pick up a seal. They were HUGE and – according to a sign – weighed between 3,000 – 5,000 pounds.)

After an hour of seal-watching, I glanced at my watch and realized we needed to hustle over to the visitor’s center at Hearst Castle if we were going to get the tour I’d already booked.

If you’re not familiar with Hearst Castle: Think of the movie Citizen Kane, or think of Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch. W.R. Hurst had this estate built  during the first half of the 20th Century, and it is spectacular. Especially the swimming pools.

Here are a few photos from the tour to show you what I’m talking about:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

There was an older couple in a group who immediately caught our attention not only because they moved at a snail’s pace, but also because they were dressed in identical outfits: purple “Hearst Castle” t-shirts covered by hot pink fuzzy fleece pull-overs. Had we somehow managed to NOT notice them for these reasons, they certainly would’ve drawn our attention with the utter nonchalance they demonstrated while farting audibly as they walked. It was impressive. In fact, Alan and I coined a term so we could warn each other of their activity: HEARSTING – to audibly crop-dust an area while walking. 

Back to the castle: it is NOT located right on the ocean. Instead, it’s up on top of a mountain a few miles away. I thought Hearst was batshit crazy to build up there instead of directly on the water, but the views are pretty great. What is NOT great is the drive getting up to the castle. It’s so shaky that the Foundation doesn’t trust you to do it on your own, so you have to park at the bottom at the Visitor’s Center, then ride a bus up.

That was fine on the ride up. They had a soothing soundtrack narrated by Alex Trebeck telling you what you were seeing out the windows. To wit: “Out the right-side windows, you can see zebras grazing – a hold-over from Hearst’s zoo.” And yes, there were really zebras out our windows just roaming around on the side of a mountain, eating dried grass.

After the tour, we hopped a different bus back to the base of the mountain. It is nothing short of a miracle that you aren’t reading about our fiery death in a newspaper right now. Our driver didn’t seem to know where the right tires of the bus were – which would be fine in a lot of scenarios, but not when you’re barreling down switchbacks without guardrails and a sheer drop-off to the right.

There were two specific turns where I white-knuckled on Alan’s arm, then tried to calm myself by looking at the faces of other passengers for reassurance. When the jaws of the people in the first few rows are also hanging open and women are palming their rosaries, however, you can’t find much comfort in the belief that perhaps your own alarm system is just faulty.

It was so bad that I joked with Alan, “They need to have Alex Trebeck come back on and say, ‘If you shit your pants during the descent from Hearst Castle…'” And because I was so overwhelmed with relief, I couldn’t even finish my sentence because I was laughing so hard I had tears coming out my eyes.

Relieved to survive the descent, we stopped in the quaint small town of Cambria for lunch, where we demolished some great fresh Mexican food. Then it was on to San Luis Obisbo for a quick look at the Mission. Directly in front of our parking spot was a public restroom. I used it as soon as we arrived, accidentally walking into the men’s room, where I encountered a sketchy looking guy walking out. We excused ourselves and I found the ladies room.

Later, as we were getting organized to leave, we sat in the car for five minutes. The guy was still loitering there, ducking in and out of the restroom periodically. I thought maybe he was in charge of cleaning it. Alan, however, came up with the more probable explanation: drug deals. Sure enough, in the five minutes we were watching, two different guys ducked into the restroom after a furtive glance over their shoulders and were back out faster than any human could’ve peed.

So now I’m suspicious of SLO’s motto, which proclaims it the happiest city in the United States. I think everyone is just on drugs.

Finally, we ended our day at a hotel in Pismo beach, right on the ocean with a great balcony. Falling asleep with the windows open, hearing the surf crashing? Not a bad way to end a Monday.

Travelogue: Monterey Peninsula

4 Nov
Seal Scout.

Jet-lagged seal scout.

Our second day in California was started out a bit rough because of the time difference. Between the time zone difference (three hours) and daylight savings (lose another hour), we were four hours off our regular baseline. Maybe not a big deal for most people, but since I’m an early riser by default, I think Alan found it problematic that I was ready to start our day at 2am.

It ended up working out fine because we spent a few relaxed hours writing and drinking coffee before stepping out for the complimentary hotel breakfast. Fueled and ready to go, we headed to the Monterey Aquarium, which was one of Alan’s Top 3 things to do on this trip. (When prepping for this trip, Alan and I each defined our “Top 3” sites to see or things to do to make sure this trip would have a bit of something for both of us.)

The aquarium did not disappoint. We got there right as it opened, and spent the first half hour watching the sea otters. The big event of the morning was their feeding, so as the time approached, the viewing area started to get packed. Kids crawled through people’s legs to get up to the front near the glass. The guy in front of us was a douche who pretended he couldn’t see the kids and held firm with his front row vantage spot, so Alan and I opened a little aisle and helped the kids move up to the front so they could wedge themselves in front of him. AND I DON’T EVEN LIKE CHILDREN.

Four things about sea otters: 1) They’re larger than I think of them as being, 2) I’d like to have one as a pet, 3) I love how easily they float around on their backs with their legs crossed and their eyes closed, and 4) I’m glad their poop doesn’t resemble dog turds. Would’ve ruined the entire experience.

They have some really nice “touch pools” in the aquarium, where you can handle things like starfish, sea anemones, and bat rays. Of course, I’m too squeamish about textures to bring myself to touch anything (much to my naturalist father’s disappointment, I’m sure), but Alan petted a good number of things.

Interesting segue: They had an awesome jellyfish exhibit, and Alan took a slew of photos. At the time I thought he was crazy, but in hindsight, they’re actually pretty gorgeous. While I don’t want to encounter jellyfish while I’m swimming, they really are a testament to the natural art that exists in this world. I’ve decided to call them Nature’s LavaLamps from here on out. See?

Image Source: Alan 2013

My highlight of the visit was watching a school of anchovies. One word: Mesmerizing. Also, kind of justifies why I won’t eat them, so I can sound noble when I’m really just opposed to their fishy taste. Here’s a snippet someone else shot that can kind of give you the idea:

After leaving the aquarium, we went to Point Lobos State Park and hiked for a couple of hours. The trails are well-maintained and follow the coastline, so you get some pretty epic views. When we entered the park, the ranger handed us a flyer. I assumed it would be a map of the various trails. Alas, no. Apparently the State of California is as OCD as I am and prefers to communicate rules. Looks at all the DON’Ts on this list:

Thanks, dick. Now where's the map that shows me where seals are?

Signs led me to believe I would see some seals and be tempted to try to lift them, so I spent our hike scouting for seals. At one point, I had Alan believing that there were hundreds of them in the waters below us, until his Lasik-vision kicked in and he showed me that it was just kelp and driftwood. Maybe the state should change its signs and encourage people to drag seals out of the water so they can get free hauling on driftwood and kelp?

Finders, keepers. If I find a seal I'm going to burp it like a baby.

These must be gang seals based on all their gun-shot wounds.

Once the hike was behind us, we took the Pacific Coast Highway down to San Simeon for the night. Everyone raves about Route One and the views. It was gorgeous and gave us a spectacular sunset view, but I was ready to hurl by the time we finished the two-hour drive because of all the twists and turns. I’m also pretty sure that Nova Scotia’s trail was as beautiful but had more generous shoulders and guard rails – which should never be underestimated.

When we pulled up to our hotel – nay, MOTEL – at 6pm, Alan said, “You’re shitting me. We’ve only been driving for two hours?” Indeed. This is how I make a week-long vacation feel like a life-time. It’s all part of the strategy. You’re welcome, sir.

NEXT UP: We actually FIND seals, tour Hearst Castle, and almost plummet to our deaths when a bus driver forgets he’s not driving a motorcycle.

Travelogue: Carmel-by-the-Sea

3 Nov

We arrived in California today for our week-long vacation. Everything went smoothly until we went to pick up our rental car. For some reason, the line at Hertz was worse than airport security. It took 50 minutes of standing in line before we were given a car assignment. But if that’s the biggest complaint you can lodge after a full day of travel? Not bad at all.

When we went to retrieve it, the car was NOT in slot 161 as promised on our paperwork – so a scavenger hunt commenced to find it. Finally it turned up – a grey Malibu with no pick-up in slot 282.  Maybe this was karma’s way of paying us back for driving through a flash flood in Charlottetown, PEI last year and almost ripping the underbody off our rental.

Oh – I haven’t told you that story? Another time. Still waiting for the statute of limitations to expire.

Once we got our car, we zipped out of town, heading to Carmel, about two hours south of SFO on the Monterey Penninsula. If you’ve never been, it’s an adorable ocean-side town with cute shops, tasting rooms and restaurants that all look amazingly homey. The architecture probably has something to do with that – the town has a funky Bavaria-meets-smurf-cottages kind of vibe. Don’t believe me? Check out these photos.

We were starving when we arrived – with the time difference and the flight, it was approaching 7pm Eastern time and our last meal had been a 9am burger at the airport Five Guys. Fortunately, I’d happened to check TripAdvisor before we tumbled out of the car, so instead of blindly choosing the first place that looked halfway good (and there would’ve been no shortage), we made a beeline to Dametra Cafe.

It’s funny – neither Alan nor I were particularly feeling mediterranean food, but the TripAdvisor reviews were so overwhelmingly positive, that we felt we should give it a go. I’m so glad we did – if I were dying, I might make a special trip to this restaurant for my last meal.

Let me set the stage. The place is tiny. There are approximately 18 tables which can each seat two people. The decor is simple but warm – it feels like you’re a guest in someone’s overly large kitchen. Perhaps part of why you feel like you’re in someone’s home is because of the hospitality the owners show.

Bashar, one of the owners who also serves as the host, welcomes everyone who sets foot into the place as if they’re a friend, placing his hand on your shoulder while he looks around to see if they have a table for you. Unfortunately, the answer to this query is usually, “Sorry – we’re completely full. Do you have a reservation?” Alan and I somehow managed to snag the last unreserved table (probably because we arrived 4:45pm) and felt incredibly lucky every time we heard him turn away another couple.

This photo doesn't do it justice.

This photo doesn’t do it justice.

After spending a ridiculous amount of time debating what to order, we decided to split two of the most basic Greek staples: spanikopita and chicken kabobs. It was the right decision. They were so different than any other version of those foods I’d eaten before that – had my eyes been closed – I wouldn’t have recognized them. The spanikopita was huge – imagine getting served two perfectly golden, flaky poptarts sprinkled with sesame seeds and filled with garlicky spinach hugging little gems of salty feta unlike any feta you’ve ever tasted. Delish.

They split our entree in the kitchen, bringing us each a generous plate with rice, Greek salad and a kabob of chicken, tomatoes and onion, drizzled with a garlic aoili. This sounds like a boring line-up, so you’ll just have to trust me when I say that it was amazing. The chicken was beyond tender, and I don’t know what they marinated it in, but it was magical. The homemade salad dressing and the aoili completely transformed the meal – and I’m normally very finicky when it comes to sauces.

Midway through our meal, as we were marveling over how something so simple could be so mind-blowingly good, we heard someone begin to tune what sounded like a guitar. Then, from the kitchen, Bashar emerged, playing some kind of Middle Eastern guitar, followed by two servers banging drums. They shuffled through the small restaurant playing and people rose from their tables to begin dancing. It was like a party had just broken out, and everyone was up for it. It felt like being included in a secret.  Here’s a snippet:

When we finished our meal, they brought us a plate with complimentary baklava drizzled with honey and whipped cream. I had no room for it, but managed to choke it down since it is tied with fried ice cream as my favorite dessert of all time. One our way out the door, we thanked Bashar for having us. “Every time you turned away someone, we felt so lucky that we had managed to snag your last table,” Alan told him.

Bashar countered, “No – the luck was ours. We were lucky to have you dine with us tonight.” And with that, he asked our names and said he hoped to see us again soon. And like a good host, he truly seemed sincere.

After dinner we walked down Ocean Avenue and it’s adorable cottages to the beach. We arrived just in time to catch the tail-end of the sunset as we smelled the wood smoke from various bonfires dotting the beach. Not a bad way to end our first day of vacation, though it does set a high bar for the rest of the trip.

Sunset in Carmel