Thursday, February 14, 2013

Escaping the Great Blizzard of 2013 - Trip to California

On Thursday February 7th, we embarked on our long anticipated trip to visit Daniel in Palo Alto. Daniel moved to California a couple of months ago for a new job, and we were eager to see his new living arrangements and take advantage of their location in order to escape winter in New Hampshire over a long weekend. What we didn't anticipate was that we would also be missing the weather event of the season, the Great Blizzard of 2013, aka Nemo. I don't know when they started naming nor'easters; maybe they always have. I had mixed feelings about missing this storm. I was definitely glad we left on Thursday, because if we had decided to leave on Friday we would not have been going anywhere. But I like big, blasting blowing snowstorms, at least up to a point. You'd think the winter of 2011, when we received over 90 inches of snow, would have cured me of that, but no, I still like snow. We called our snow plow guy, asked to to have our driveway plowed by the time we returned, and off we went.

Its a long flight to San Francisco. I was able to watch 3 episodes of season one of Homeland, the excellent new series starring Claire Danes. Its certainly riveting, to the point where at least one inadvertent oral exclamation of shock probably annoyed my neighbors and definitely alarmed Lee. I also started a good book, A Visit From the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan. Its really a collection of short stories, but the characters in the stories are all related. A peripheral character in one story might be the main character in the next one. 

We land at noon, pick up our rental car, and drive to Palo Alto. Daniel is working from home. He's got a room in a nice little house near Stanford. The weather is pretty, blue skies, 50 degrees. Lunch is enchiladas at a little Mexican hole in the wall. Oh I've missed this kind of food!  And dinner is sushi at Jin Sho, supposedly Steve Job's favorite Japanese restaurant. The sushi is good; very fresh. We're not in Kanas, Toto! 

On Friday, Daniel takes day off from work so that he can properly entertain his parents. In the morning I run through the neighborhood by our hotel, in the process finding a nice bike path to run upon and a hill, perfect for doing the hill repeats that are on my running schedule for the day. Later on we pick up Daniel and go to the Stanford campus. There we meet my friend Joan and her children. Joan (who I can't help but think of as Joanie), was one of my good friends back in my college days. She was one of my roommates on Wilkes Boulevard, but like me, she has been a grownup for the past thirty years, married to a scientist, working as an accountant at Stanford, mother to three darling kids. We go up the Hoover Tower from which we can see the mountains and San Francisco in the distance. Stanford is the prettiest college campus I have ever seen; its more like a park than a University. We walk around, looking at the chapel and other beautiful Stanford buildings. 

After we bid goodbye to Joan we decide to go explore the Ames NASA research Center: The main NASA research facility on the West Coast, as we approach Ames we can see the remaining skeleton of a large, mysterious-looking building. This turns out to be all that we can see of the actual research center, since its in a secured area. There is a Visitor's Center right outside the front gates. It is a bit decrepit but the guides more than make up for the state of the building. They are very enthusiastic about space, NASA, and aviation history. They are quick to inform us that scientists from Ames invented the swept-back airplane wing, which helps enhance aeronautical lift, and the famous heat shield on the original Mercury space capsules. We had a great time exploring the weirdness behind an infared camera display. My nose was purple in the infrared display, while most most noses were just red. Well I was cold.

Then Daniel took us on a quick tour of downtown Palo Alto. The Patagonia store was having big sale, so I get a new long down coat, since my old one is almost worn out. He also takes us to Philz coffee, which we declare fabulous: . I'm not sure how influenced we were by their creative descriptions of their coffee, but we like it. I wish we had brought some back to New Hampshire with us, but it also looks like it can be ordered online. 

We meet Dorsey and Katherine for dinner. We get to see their house, which I've had an imaginary vision of for many years. Its a nice little house on a very pretty piece of property. We voice our intentions to try to see each other more often. Maybe we can entice them to come sailing sometime.

Saturday morning I'm due for a 5 mile run. I head to the bike path I found on Friday. Its a beautiful run even though its cold. I wend my way through a park and into the foothills, past the Stanford Medical Center, grapevines, and cyclists. I love running in new places! Then its time to go into city for dim sum at the Hong Kong Lounge. Located on Geary near the Presidio, this is the real thing. Oh. my. yes. Pork buns, egg tarts, shrimp noodles, shanghai dumplings, sesame balls, fish congee, everything is great! Lee and I eat so much we can barely walk. Who knows when we will have a chance to eat good dim sum again. We make total pigs of ourselves. In a food-induced stupor, we wander up to the Presidio. On the way back to Palo Alto we stop off at Half Moon Bay. We walk along the cliffs overlooking the beach. Lee and Dan go off on a walk by themselves, chattering away, while I have fun  taking pictures. It makes me happy to see my son and husband enjoying each other's company.

Lee and I are basically not hungry for the rest of the trip.

On Sunday its time for the wine tour for which I have made reservations. The one drawback is that its a long drive to Napa from Palo Alto, longer than I thought. 

The nice thing about a wine tour, besides not having to drive, is the small wineries and good wines you get to taste. I've made reservations with Platypus Wine Tours, There are only 6 people on our tour, including us. Toni our driver is friendly and knowledgable, with plenty of stories about the surrounding area, the local vineyards, and Robert Mondavi, the founder of the wine industry in Napa. 

The first winery we visit is named Casa Nuestra. The tasting room is in a funky little house, with goats sunning themselves in the back. We do a barrel tasting, of an unusual Cabernet blend, Charbono, that we really like. We order a half a case, that will arrive sometime in April.

The second winery, Paoletti, is one of those crazy places where someone has way too much money. They've spent it decorating some massive caves with faux Greek-like statues of people the owner knows and/or admires. There are statues of Napoleon and Einstein among business associates and relatives. Again there are some good wines here and we decide to buy a couple bottles. Its fun to buy some varieties we usually don't enjoy that much, including Merlot, Chardonnay, and Shiraz. 

After a lunch in the caves we head to the third winery, Rutherford Grove. Here there are friendly, relaxed owners, where neighbors come by to visit and do a tasting with their Wheaton terrier puppy in tow. 

The final winery, Razi, has maybe my favorite wines of the trip. They give us generous pours, but I'm pretty done, just trying a sip or two here and there. Tony and the wine pourer comment that our group, instead of becoming loud and raucous as some groups do, is almost comatose. We certainly are quiet, but content.

We have dinner at Graces Table in downtown Napa. Lee and I are still only minimally hungry, but I have a nice chicken dish and Lee has a steak salad. Nobody wants wine. I drive back to Palo Alto, white knuckles on I-80 cause my contacts are blurry and I hate driving on strange interstates at night. We should have stayed in a b&b in Napa. Oh well, maybe next time!

Monday is our last day. Dan goes off to work; although he loves us he doesn't mind a break from his parents I expect. Lee and I hike the Stanford bowl. Its a brilliant sunny day.. The dish is this big hill with satellite dishes and other research equipment, ground squirrels and dead live oaks. The trail is a 5 mile loop with big rolling hills, a good workout.

On Tuesday we head back to Boston and huge piles of melting snow. The plow guy came, Lee made a path for the dogs with the snow-blower, the mail was delivered, and we're glad to be home in sunny, soggy, slushy New Hampshire!

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