Sunday, July 30, 2006

Hotel California

You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave....

There were a few -- and we mean very few -- things we loved, or even liked, about our stay at the Cadillac Hotel in Venice Beach.

Here's the good: From our room, we had a clear view of the strand, the beach and the ocean. We loved how close it was to everything in Venice. The cable TV kind of worked, although we only watched about 5 minutes of CNN one morning. The in-room safe was nice to have. And it wasn't too expensive. It was only about $100 a night.

Here's a look at the view from our room.

We found the hotel while heading down Hwy. 1 and reading our until then very trustworthy guidebook, The Eyewitness Travel Guide to California.

"This gorgeous Art Deco hotel attracts a young, smart crowd," it says on page 513.
"It is right on the beach, with a sauna, pool tables and sun terrace."

Sounds great! But in the world of newspapers, such a statement would demand a correction. We found out the hard way that a young, smart crowd is attracted to this place only because guidebooks continue to write that fact.

The truth is, this hotel needs serious improvements to keep people from writing bad reviews about it on the Internet. If we had been able to read in advance what other people have said about the Cadillac Hotel, we probably would have stayed somewhere else. Sadly, some of the negative things turned out to be true. Thankfully, our stay didn't include bedbugs, as others have stated. (Please read this if you ever think about staying at the Cadillac Hotel.)

Here's a top 10 list of our negative Cadillac Hotel experiences:

1. Sticky carpet in our room. It's really odd, but yes, the carpet was sticky, and it got worse when it got wet. So we wore flipflops in our room.

2. No air conditioner. That's not cool when you're staying in an L.A. hotel in the middle of a California heat wave, ocean breezes notwithstanding.

3. A homeless person yelling at nobody. Yes, a person (he, she, it? We couldn't tell) decided to stand outside our hotel each night and have an argument with nobody. This was a problem because we had to keep our window open at night due to the lack of A/C. It's not easy to sleep when hearing shouts of, "Hell no!!! I'm not going anywhere!!!," for several hours each night. If you do stay here, remember to take earplugs. You'll need them.

4. The "free parking" advertised on the Cadillac Hotel's Web site is free, but for anyone unlucky enough to actually get one of the few spots, don't even dream of being able to get it back out again. Within seconds, your car will be blocked in overnight by people who cram into spaces that don't exist. As in, the aisle. Now we know what The Eagles were talking about in "Hotel California" when they said, "You can check out any time you like but you can never leave." Actually, we're pretty sure they were staying at the Cadillac when they wrote the song.

5. The "direct dial phone" advertised on the hotel's Web site is a joke. We guess they must be referring to the front desk phone, because the phone in our room, 406, didn't work. It was a dummy phone. We couldn't call the front desk, or anyone else, for that matter. If you stay here, try taking a phone that works and plug it in. Or make sure to have a working cell phone.

6. The mattress was in really, really bad shape. It hurt to sleep on it. And that didn't help Christian's back, which was already sore to begin with.

7. No shampoo. No washcloths. No bathmat.

8. No security. The area can be kind of sketchy at night, and there is no security in sight for the hotel's guests.

9. The towels (you only get two) were thin and scratchy.

10. You have to pay for Internet access, which is almost always complimentary these days at other hotels.

Here's Kristin, very happy to have checked out of the Cadillac and looking forward to getting on the plane, if only so she can finally get some sleep.

That's using your noodle

Although we've finally made it back home to Nashville, the two weary travelers are still wading through piles of mildewed jeans and dirty hiking boots. And we're trying to stay cool after learning today that we have a broken air conditioner blower motor. Yikes. Fortunately, Christian's uncle (who is actually a few months younger than Christian) is a professional HVAC guy, so that situation will be remedied tomorrow.

In the meantime, we're going to update this space soon with more pictures and stories from our trip. Our next post will detail our L.A. experience, from the grand to the bizarre.

To tide you over, here's a breathtaking snapshot taken by Kristin at our campsite in Point Reyes National Seashore. This memorable moment took place just after Christian's sunset proposal while we dined on a Soy Ginger Noodle Bowl meal prepared by our friends at Simply Asia.

Album of the moment: Feist, Open Season

(By the way, it's a LOT cheaper elsewhere. We bought this one for $9 at Amoeba Music on Sunset Boulevard in L.A. It's like the mothership of indie record stores. Go there. Get lost in the stacks.)

More soon.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Homeward bound

Where in the world have we been? Well, at the moment, we're still down in Venice Beach, wiping away tears because this chapter is drawing to a close. We have lots of new stuff to write about, but it's been somewhat of a chore to get Internet service since we've been in Los Angeles.

We have been having a fantastic time in L.A. We ran around in Melrose, we strolled along Venice Beach gawking at all the kooks and crazies, we went on Christian's dad's patented driving tour of downtown L.A. (kind of like Kristin's dad's patented driving tour of downtown D.C., but with fewer monuments), we met up with She Said What?!?, who is one cool chick, and we caught up with Kristin's old friend Aaron, whose new BBQ restaurant, the Boneyard Bistro, was fabulous!

We have lots of stories and, of course, many more photos, but we have to be out of our hotel in 30 minutes, and Christian is still in the throes of packing. We'll update as soon as we can. See you back on the Nashville side!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Calling She Says What

Hey there -- we have lost your contact info, but very much want to get in touch with you. E-mail or call Roboto -- he has our cell phone number.

Picture San Francisco

Hi, all. We're about to head out to play in Melrose, but first, wanted to let you know we have finally been able to convince Blogger to post the pictures from the San Francisco post. Scroll down for images of a duckling rescued from sweet 'n' sour sauce and other delights. More later!

Every Rose Has Its Thorn (And sometimes, the thorn sticks in your back tire)

We’re typing this entry just as we're ending our venture down the main stretch of Highway 1, right past a town called Las Cruces, with the scenic, lush valleys and hills surrounding our little car.

It’s so foreign here. The terrain changes so quickly. As we’re typing, we’ve gone from those verdant valleys to rocky cliffs. And as we’re finishing this paragraph, we’re back at the beach. And now it’s all Pacific Ocean to our right. Nice.

Most of our trip has been this way, and almost everything about it has been nothing less than sheer perfection. But even perfection has a limit. We found that out on Monday, when just about everything that could go wrong did.

For one thing, we got a flat tire after topping a big hill as we were heading toward La Honda. We discovered the flat when we stopped to eat at Alice’s Restaurant. No, it wasn’t THE Alice's Restaurant of Arlo Guthrie fame. The owner, a lady named Alice, named it that, in honor of the song and proceeded to turn it into a tourist destination. (In Alice's favor, they served us right, with a fat, juicy cheeseburger and veggie sandwich).

Bikers were EVERYWHERE. The restaurant sits atop a mountain at the crossroads of several treacherous roads that are very popular with daredevil bikers who zip around the steep, winding hills. We had finished our lunch and were loading up our car when one of the bikers came over and pointed out the very flat left tire. Rats!

The burly, leather-clad bikers were all fortunately very friendly, and they pointed us to a nearby store where we bought a couple cans of Fix-A-Flat-type spray stuff. We sprayed them both into the tire (the stuff foamed out alarmingly through the puncture), then hustled back to the nearest town, where the manager at a gas station assured us we had fixed the problem entirely and would be fine to continue our trip. We continued on with much trepidation and many stops to check the tire pressure. Fortunately, so far, he’s been kind of right. The tire has been fine, if less than prefectly aligned.

By the way, Kristin, who is driving, has just noted that we’re about two hours outside of L.A. 122 miles, the sign said.

Back to Monday. The less-than-perfection started as we were leaving San Francisco. It was what Kristin referred to as “creepy bad driving.” Fog was everywhere -- our first day of anything other than flawlessly blue skies. (We've had at least some fog every day since.)

Keeping all the wine we bought in Sonoma from overheating has been an unforseen challenge, especially since California is in the throes of a historic heat wave. Wine doesn't like to get hot. Cars left in the sun get hot. Herein lies a basic problem. Our solution was to purchase two el cheapo Styrofoam coolers, wrap the wine in plastic bags to protect the labels and cover them in ice. Only problem with that is, the coolers are REALLY cheap. So much so that the Styrofoam has broken down, leaking water all over the back seat of the car. We therefore have to stop periodically to empty out the water and re-ice the wine. We also had to line the back seat with the filthy tarp we use as a ground cover under the tent.

One stop for fresh ice was in Carmel-by-the-Sea. We had been told this little town was a must-see, and if we had been on foot and had time to browse it probably would have been. But we were in the car, playing dodgeball with pushy pedestrians carrying shopping bags and beach chairs, and we were both extremely on edge, so the charms of the village largely eluded us.

We finally arrived at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. There were annoying flies and gnats, loud, persistent and aggressive Stellar's jays (a Western blue jay - pic provided by folks at, and poison oak EVERYWHERE. Plus the campsite was noisy. Very noisy.

But even though every rose has its thorn (we promise not to get that song stuck in your head ever again), not every thorn has a rose. Our thorny day, however, did.

After we got our fly-infested, poison oak-surrounded, noisy camp set up, we set off on a hike. Perhaps we should have realized from the name of the trail, Buzzard's Roost, that it would not be a cakewalk. More fools us. We didn't realize how hot, long or vertical a hike it would turn out to be, but it was all of those things, and we had uncharacteristcally neglected to bring a single bottle of water.

The view at the top of Buzzard’s Roost, however, was unprecedented. The views of the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Big Sur River Gorge were superb and surreal. It was desperately hot and bug-infested, but we managed to snap off a few panoramic frames ...

....before we heard a car alarm echoing up from the valley. Irrationally convinced that it must be our car, we took off running down the mountain. Christian took the lead, quickly disappearing down the steep mountain trails. By the time Kristin made it down, huffing and puffing (some runner she turned out to be....), Christian had gotten into the car, which was, of course, perfectly fine, and he had a bottle of water waiting for her. Sweet boy.

We took the water filter down to the mountain stream and pumped out several more bottles of what seemed to the parched pair of us like the coolest, sweetest water either of us had ever tasted. Hot but happy, we headed back to camp, where we passed a blissful remainder of the evening drinking ice cold sauvignon blanc and nibbling prosciutto and mozzarella (and, nevertheless, cut with a pocket knife) from a market in Carmel and organic strawberries and cherries from a farm stand farther north. A lovely little gourmet picnic. Then we rocked and talked in our Thermarest camp chairs a while, until we were both too tired to keep our eyes open any longer (which happened about 9:30 p.m.).

The biggest rose of the entire trip, perhaps, was the next morning, which we spent at the jewel-like Pfeiffer Beach. This unmarked spot, run by the U.S. Forest Service, is right off Highway 1 on a tiny unmarked road whose only signs say things like “Narrow Road. Not recommended for RVs or trailers.” That’s true.

For two miles, the road is winding, dusty and narrow. But at the end is the most spectacular beach you could possibly imagine.

Back to today, on the way to L.A.: Now we’re staring at palm trees out our window to the right lining the Pacific. Expanse! Beauty!

Right. Pfeiffer Beach. There's no explaining it, really. It's like something out of a dream, of a sci-fi movie. The beach itself is a mile of white sand surrounded by rocky hills and sheer cliffs the stretch up into expanses of scrubby green chapparal. Massive rocks jut up out of the ocean near the shore, criss-crossed and dotted with lines and holes where the surf has broken through and etched deep grooves into the stone. Over the entire scene, even though the day was sunny and even warm, a dense fog roiled and churned, creeping up the hills and dancing on the water, flowing in and out of the coves, leaving some spots in shadow and others completely clear, then switching just moments later. Truly eerie, truly breathtaking.

We also stayed in another park, San Simeon State Park, but we didn't get a chance to explore it because it was too foggy. Plus, we had to wake up early the next day to travel on toward Hearst Castle, the huge domicile created by publishing giant, William Randolph Hearst. We could post a whole blog about the grandness of that home, but we couldn't do it justice.

Once we finally hit the road, we drove on toward L.A. We made a stop in Ventura to see our former co-worker, Eric Parsons, who now works for the Ventura County Star newspaper. Parsons, an excellent photographer whose brilliant work graced the pages of the Tennessean for several years, is having a blast out west and he was far more cleaned and refreshed than either of the two travelers who had been roughing it on wine, cheese and prosciutto, albeit without very many showers. He said he likes his new life out west, and it's not too difficult to see why. Being in Ventura is like having all the perks of LA without actually being stuck in the messy traffic and congestion of L.A. (Shhhh... don't tell anyone!) The feel of the town actually would remind Nashvillians of a quaint section of our own town called Hillsboro Village. Just take Hillsboro Village, magnify its size maybe 30 or so times, stick it beside the ocean with some killer mountains, throw in some organic dining, and there you have it. And on top of that, mountain biking, hiking, skiing, and anything to do with the ocean are all few minutes to a couple of hours away. Plus, we all ate lunch at a great little restaurant in the heart of downtown Ventura called Nature's Grill. Christian had fish tacos that were out of this world good. They were made with fresh tortillas, carrots and bright red cabbage. Kristin had a chicken pita that looked amazing. And Eric...poor Eric... was kind enough to stand next to us and our unshowered bodies for a moment for a photo. Brave man.

So after lunch, we headed straight to L.A., where we hooked up with Christian's father and got the grand tour of the town. We went to Christian's favorite L.A. restaurant, Natalee Thai, on Venice Blvd. Such a cool place with not only some of the best Thai food in town, but also a very nice sushi bar. Comfortable, sleek and stylish, the place is a must see. We could do a whole blog solely on our dinner. It's very, very good. If you go, treat yourself to the Thai sausages (w/cashews). yum!!!

Right now, we're staying at a little hotel on Venice Beach, and then we're not sure where we're staying tomorrow night. We'll update tomorrow with more details. So far, we do know that tomorrow, we head out for a day of shopping on Melrose Ave. Kristin is planning to wake up early to go running on the strand, which is right outside our window. During the day, we can see painters, jugglers, strolling musicians, men walking on glass, and others contributing to the Venice's daily pageant of the bizarre. It's truly a sight to see. We'll write more and post pictures later.


Monday, July 24, 2006

Strolling through San Francisco

On our first night in San Francisco, we set out for dinner and drinks to celebrate the big news. Following the recommendation of Kristin’s father, we took a cab from the Hotel Carlton to Prego, an Italian restaurant known for its fresh pasta. But alas, we stepped out to learn there was nobody home. The shop was closed.

It wasn’t a wasted trip, though. Instead, we followed Kristin’s dad’s second recommendation, and walked a couple doors down to a hot hot hot little Asian fusion restaurant called Betelnut. The food was exciting, the bar was alive and the place was packed. Even the starting helping of edamame was a treat, redolent with chopped garlic and perhaps even a slight hint of cinnamon.

After Betelnut, we walked a few doors down to Perry’s, another bar recommended by Kristin’s father. By the time we were finished with our tawny port and muscato and a wonderful ginger cake, we had to take our sunburned, aching bodies back to the hotel to crash out.

Yesterday, we woke up and set out on foot for … YAY … more giant hills!!! We headed straight for Fisherman’s Wharf, where we got our first real taste of how randomness rules in San Francisco.

We turned a corner to get into the market, and all the fish markets were nearby. As we walked past a trash can, a bush – yes, a real live bush – jumped out, and began moving out toward us.

“Aaaahhhhh!!!!” the bush said.

We turned around as the bush, which was actually a man-in-a-bush, moved back behind the trash can, laughing at us.

“I got you! Ha, ha, ha! I got you!” he cried out.

Random. Good times.

We tried to ride out to Alcatraz, but the ferry was booked through Tuesday. (Note to selves: Next time, make reservations.) We hopped a cable car down to the Ferry Building, where we ate a quick lunch at the San Francisco Fish Co., a little fish shop. We shared fried halibut cheeks and a soft-shell crab po-boy that was worth mentioning. We bought a bag of dried morels from Far West Funghi, and we’re planning on cooking something interesting with them when we get back. We also tasted their truffle salt. Yum!

We also stopped off at a little chocolate shop that featured some unusual flavors. Both of us had the Fleur de Sel chocolate, a salty caramel that’s is their top seller. Kristin also had one filled with star anise and pink peppercorn, and Christian had a hazelnut chocolate. Yum!

Kristin also walked through her version of wonderland, The Cowgirl Creamery.

We got on another cable car and rode down to the Castro, which includes an intersection they proudly proclaim to be the “gayest four corners” in the world. We stopped in for Cokes at Twin Peaks, which our guide book tells us was one of the first openly gay bars that wasn’t hidden away in a dark, windowless space. Indeed not – it was on a main corner with huge windows looking out at the neighborhood, including the massive rainbow flag flying in a park a few blocks back.

Walking out of the Castro, we ran across a couple of little kids running a lemonade stand. Since it has been something of a heat wave in California, we were grateful for the drink. It was actually the best homemade lemonade either of us had ever tasted. Danielle, the little girl, informed us that the lemons had come out of her grandmother’s garden. Seriously homemade lemonade!

Then we headed up to the Haight district, Mecca for the reformed Deadhead among us. (Hint: It’s not Kristin.) We wandered around – look at all the hippies! – and dropped into a bunch of thrift stores before heading back down toward the hotel.

Walking along past Buena Vista Park, we encountered the duck boys. JT and Jason are a couple of Rutgers students on a massive summer road trip around the country. They had been to Chinatown earlier in the day, and were charmed by a little duckling. Not wanting him to wind up dressed in hoisin sauce and wrapped in a pancake, they bought him and named him Gulliver. He proved to be quite popular – there was a small crowd standing around them when we approached. We aren’t sure how well he’ll take to the car, but the guys said they’re on their way to Michigan for a family reunion at a lake, where they’ll release him into the wild. Good luck, little duckie.

There was more, so much more, but we must pack up and get out of this hotel and on down the road. We’ll update again when we can, although we may not have Internet again until L.A. on Wednesday.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

What happened

Yes, folks, it's true. We're getting married!!! Christian picked the most perfect moment possible to propose. Here's our day at Point Reyes National Seashore:

We started out at the Raford Inn in wine country, where we had spent two truly blissful days in the most gorgeous and spacious room imaginable. Dane and Rita, the innkeepers, have a magical little spot -- a Victorian mansion that looks out over acres ands acres of vineyards. We had huge and delicious breakfasts both mornings we were there, prepared by a lovely young woman named Kristen who reminded us both of our friend Jamie in Nashville. At the end of the day, all the guests gather on the broad front porch to sip wine and sample cheeses and compare notes on the day before heading out to dinner. Thursday night we weren't really up to going out to eat, after hitting all the wineries all day, so we picked up a picnic supper of prosciutto, cheese and locally made bread. We had heard rumors there was a hot tub, but since the guests aren't technically allowed to use it we certainly didn't eat our picnic in it and drink wine and watch the sunset over the vineyards. No, we certainly did not do that. You can ask innkeeper Dane, because he certainly did not come talk to us while we soaked, and he absolutely did not show us how to turn on the local jazz station on the built-in radio. Nope. Never happpened.

The next morning we got up early and packed up. After another of Kristen's lavish breakfasts -- a marvelous chili cheese quiche, vanilla yogurt with fruit and granola, mandarin orange salad, a fresh corn muffin, and chicken-mango sausage -- we were off, back to the coast and more of the celebrated California Route 1. By 2 p.m. we were at the trailhead, overnight packs loaded up and ready to set out on the 5.5-mile hike to Wildcat Camp. The hike was breathtaking, winding along ocean cliffs and back into canyons. It was very, VERY hilly. All the way in we were convinced we were hiking uphill the entire way. Funny thing was, on the way back out the next morning it STILL feelt like we were going nothing but uphill. How does that work, anyway?

We got to camp, where Kristin had secured us the closest campsite to the beach. What she hadn't known was that our campsite also had its own private ocean overlook. There was a narrow trail that led straight up from the site, leading to a tiny overlook just large enough for the two of us. Nice!

Christian took the water filter and went in search of a stream. Kristin, meanwhile, decided to surprise him by setting up camp, which she had never done before. By the time he returned, the tent was up, the fly (tent cover) was on, the sleeping bags and pillows were set up and she was attempting to stake everything down.

We took camp chairs, the camp stove, coffee and supper fixins up to the bluff, where we settled in to watch the sunset. We were already marvelling at how simply perfect the entire day had been from start to finish, and then we were treated to one of those unbelievable Hollywood sunsets -- fuschia, magenta, vivid purple, sinking from a crystal-blue cloudless sky into the sea. It was such a desperately beautiful moment that, even though he had planned to wait until he could ask Kristin's father, Christian decided he simply couldn't let it pass. We were having our little moment, then we turned around and realized we had an audience -- a couple and their two little kids were watching the sunset from the bluff behind us. So Kristin, who was already giddy and giggling, started jumping up and down and waving her hand in the air, yelling, "We're getting married!"

Blissful? You bet.

Oh, I even forgot part of the magical day. After we set up camp but before sunset time, we walked several miles down the beach to the waterfall. Yes, there was a waterfall that cascaded out of the rugged, sun-bleached rocks and poured out into the ocean. The ranger at the park visitor center had told us about it. It was as lovely a little waterfall as you could hope for, green and clear and cold, spilling out into the sea. In fact, it looked a lot like this:

However, there were a few moments after we arrived in our camp when it seemed that our stay wouldn't be so blissful.

We had just come back from the beach, when we discovered that we had an unwanted visitor. Kristin had gone to a restroom (not a real restroom with running water, but more like a toilet that emptied out into a hole in the ground. Someone must clean it out. Or something? Things that make you go hmmmm.) Christian was going back to the camp.

That's when they met.

Christian walked up the narrow trail into camp ... and came face to face with a giant, hairy, black-and-white skunk with a serious attitude problem, right beside our tent.

Their eyes met. The skunk went behind a little patch of weeds. Christian took several steps back, yelling for the skunk to go away. Stinky wouldn't budge. They continued to stare each other down for what felt like minutes, until the skunk decided he had had enough. He raised his tail ... and then lumbered off into the underbrush. Thankfully he didn't squirt. And the skunk didn't spray Christian, either.

The scenes that played out after that felt like something out of "Caddyshack." Christian was convinced that the skunk was following him. Never mind that we neither saw nor smelled the slightest trace of him for the rest of the trip -- he WAS following Christian. He was around every corner. Waiting. Stalking. Stinking.

Gunga galunga.

OK, we're off to dinner at Nopa, which comes heartily recommended by Kristin's chef friend Aaron, at whose restaurant we shall dine in L.A. We have more interesting stories to share from San Francisco, including two small children who gave us the best cup of lemonade either of us had ever tasted, and two traveling college students from New Jersey who had rescued a darling baby duck from becoming a Chinatown dinner.

More later. Love to all.

Um, guys? We have news....

Friday, July 21, 2006

All that wine!

Today is our BIG hiking day. After breakfast we're leaving Sonoma County and heading southwest to Point Reyes National Seashore, on the coast. We will have a 5.5-mile hike along ocean cliffs to our campsite, which looks from the map like it will be right ON the beach.

But first, our wine-drinking day. Our hotel is a member of the Russian River Wine Road, so at breakfast they gave us a Wine Tasting Hospitality Card, which waived the tasting fee at almost every winery we went to.

After a very hearty breakfast, we started our morning at Silver Oak, a lovely little winery that makes nothing but cabernet sauvignon. We bought a couple bottles of their Alexander Valley cabernet to put away for a special occasion. Kristin's father served us a special Silver Oak cab when we visited her parents in D.C. back in February, so we have warm feelings toward that winery.

From there, we wandered over to Ferrari-Carano, an Italianate manor of a winery whose fume blanc is one of Kristin's all-time favorite white wines. We tasted four wines apiece, making sure to choose different things so we each actually tasted eight. Lisa N. will be shocked and appalled, but we didn't buy the fume. You can get it in Nashville, after all. Instead we bought a bottle of sauvignon blanc, the flor de moscato and the tresor, which Vern, our kindly barkeep, said is the very best wine they make.

Vern also told us about a place down the road that hosts olive oil tastings, which sounded too fabulous to pass up, so we went next to Preston. It was lunchtime, after all. We tasted some lovely wines there and met a cool couple from L.A. who visit Nashville from time to time. Didn't buy any Preston wines, but did come away with the most silky, floral, sensuous bottle of olive oil either of us had ever tasted. We won't be using this one to grease the grill!

From there we hit Quivira, which the woman at Silver Oak had said was known for their zinfandels. No lie -- they had some terrific things to taste. We met another cool couple here, retired computer people from L.A. We kept seeing the same faces all day, actually. A couple from Mississippi who were staying at our same B&B turned up at almost all the same places we hit. We bought a couple bottles of sauvignon blanc and one of the zins.

Yes, it seems like we bought a lot of wine, but we had no choice. Tennessee's baroque liquor laws prohibit the wineries from shipping to private customers in the state, so if we want to have any of these wines ever again we either have to come back (oh darn) or take them with us.

Next we went on to Seghesio, a recommendation from the woman at Silver Oak and from the couple we met at Quivira. This is another place known for its zinfandels. We tasted a bunch, and brought home a couple bottles of an "old vine" zin.

It was getting late and we were getting a little lightheaded, but our friends from Quivira had said we couldn't not go to Rosenblum if we like zinfandel, so off we went to their charming little tasting room in the middle of Healdsburg, which is every bit as charming a wine country town as you could wish for. It felt just ever so slightly like home, as they were playing Emmylou Harris' Spyboy album the whole time. We picked up one more zin and a black muscat, another dessert wine. We tried another dessert wine, Desiree, which tasted like Hershey's syrup for grownups. Good, but too sweet for us.

By now the entire backseat of the car was full of bottles -- and everyone we encountered at all the wineries were well past lightheaded -- and it was almost time for hors d'oeuvres hour at our inn. We ducked into the grocery store next door to Rosenblum and picked up cheeses and bread for a picnic supper at the hotel. We tried to make it to champagne maker Korbel before they closed at 5 p.m., but alas, it was not to be.

Sitting outside watching the sunset and eating our bread-and-cheese supper, all the excesses of the day began to catch up with us, so we turned in rather early. We do, after all, have a long day of hiking ahead of us, and we wanted to be well-rested.

On a completely different note, we have been keeping a list of all the animals we have encountered during our trip.

So far, we have seen:

A bald eagle (yes, it actually was a bald eagle. It flew over our car in Oregon.)
a giant slug on a trail in Portland
wild turkeys
golden eagles - they're everywhere
and our friend, the wild boar

It's going to be late tomorrow before we make another post because we're going hiking now in Point Reyes, and we're staying there overnight. We'll be back in civilization tomorrow night, once we land in San Francisco at the Hotel Carlton, which is very close to Union Square.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

OK, dad....

For Christian's dad, and anybody else who might have been concerned, the blog entries that are more than a week old have not disappeared off the face of the earth. They're on the right-hand side of the page under Archive.

We've been sipping tasty vintages all day and are very content right now. The favorite of the day is the Seghesio 2003 Old Vine Zinfandel. We're off to cocktail and hors-d'oeuvres hour now, so we'll update with details in an hour or two.

And now, for something completely different:

Those tall, tall trees

Hello from wine country. Getting here was more of an adventure than we had anticipated, and we have lots of tales to tell, including a close encounter with a guy who looked a lot like this:

That picture, of course, was taken by someone who is not in our current traveling party. But the subject of the photo is entirely close to the actual size, shape and appearance of the rascal that nearly took off our front bumper.

But first, we pick up where we left off yesterday.

To recap, it's Tuesday. We have driven south from Sunset Bay, on our way to Eureka. We were in something of a rush, because Carter House promised cocktail and hors d'oeuvres hour, plus we had 8 p.m. reservations for dinner. (See previous post for those delectable details.)

On the way, though, we got our first taste of the redwoods.

That's Kristin, standing in front of a really big tree. And that's not even close to the biggest one we saw. These trees are mammoths. They are giants standing out, hovering over all men who are in their presence. Christian's vocabulary was reduced to: "Look at that tree!" "Ooh, look at THAT tree!" "Wait, look at THAT tree!"

From the trees to the coast, much of which looked a lot like this:

As we attempt to describe and document what we've been seeing, we're running into a dilemma. How do you begin to express all this? The majesty of the redwoods isn't about one impressive tree, or even a grove of them. It's the sheer overwhelming majesty of the whole -- the size, the scope, the scale, the density. Same for the coast. It's such rugged, sweeping beauty, but it's all about the scale -- tiny us next to massive cliffs and expanses of ocean.

So to Wednesday. A heavy driving day, as we're getting from Eureka all the way to Healdsburg, and we're not taking the quickest route. Far from it.

First, we got off the 101 to drive down the fabled Avenue of the Giants -- the tallest trees in the world. More choruses of, "Look at all those TREES!"

Then we continued down California's famous Hwy. 1, a twisty and windy drive that continues offering sweeping views of the coast, scattered with thick clumps of redwoods that surprise you along the way.

We drove along Mendicino County, then into Sonoma County, home of wine country. We turned off the 1 onto what looked on our map like a major road that would take us straight into Healdsburg. 20 minutes, we figured. Yeah, right. It turned out to be a narrow, snaking road, full of switchbacks and roller coaster dips and rises, winding along through the mountains. Kristin had entirely too much fun whipping our little car through the twists and turns, grinning broadly and laughing as she whisked us back and forth. Fortunately, Christian doesn't get carsick!

We had just topped this mountain in wine country when he, the wild boar, jumped out of the brush to our right, and nearly plowed into our car. He was mean, dirty and didn't seem bothered by the car barreling toward him. He bounded across the road into the underbrush, and that was the last we saw of him.

We're about to go off wine tasting, so we'll fill in yet more details this evening. However, we have already learned a lot on this trip. One of the most surprising nuggets of information was learning that Superman moonlights.

But when we hit Eureka, we learned that Superman, a.k.a. Tranny Man, makes other lifestyle choices, too.

Disturbing? You bet.

Off to sample the grapes. More later!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Starting to catch up

Yeah, yeah, we said we'd post the details of the first few days after dinner last night. Only problem was, dinner turned out to be a luxuriant, decadent, leisurely four-hour affair. Paolo, our waiter, is also the sommelier, and he went into exquisite detail over why he had paired each wine with each course. By the time we got through five courses and a bonus glass of a sweet, fizzy Italian muscato that he gave us because he liked us best of all the tables he had served (flattery will get you everywhere....), it was midnight. No blogging for us.

So, to start to catch you up on where we've been so far:

Sunday. Portland. Running around with Ian.

We walked from Ian's house to nearby Hawthorne Inn for a hearty breakfast, wherein Christian learned that a marionberry isn't just a crackhead Washington D.C. mayor -- it's also a tart-sweet fruit that makes a pretty terrific coffeecake. It was a great way to start a busy day on our feet.

Next to Mount Tabor, a city park that comprises a huge hill in the middle of town with stunning views of Mount Hood. It also houses several reservoirs that provide the city's drinking water. You can drink the tap water in Portland, and it actually tastes good! Their water supply comes from high mountain ice runoff, so it's very pure and very sweet. We attempted to lose the car on Tabor, but after hiking up, down and around several times we did relocate it, just in time to go to...

...Forest Park, just out from town. To call Forest Park a park is like calling Opryland a little inn. It's simply massive, and drop-dead gorgeous. We went on a breathtaking hike through the north end of the park, which gets less foot traffic, and indeed we saw very few other people.

From there to Washington Park (seeing a trend yet?), where we stopped and smelled the roses, No, really, we did. The International Rose Test Garden is a marvel, and we could have spent an entire day just there. But we dragged ourselves away to a "secret garden" in the park for a lovely late-afternoon picnic of pears, bread, chips and cheese. Mmmm .... cheese....

It was getting late by this point and we were due in Lake Oswego to meet up with Steve and Patti, so we circled back to downtown for a cocktail before hitting Powell's, the best bookstore in the whole entire world. We wandered the stacks a while and bought a few books, then said goodbye to Ian and headed out to Lake Oswego, a lovely neighborhood south of town where Lewis & Clark College is located (Steve teaches there).

We had a relaxing evening with Steve and Patti, sipping wine on their back deck, which has its own magnificent and unobstructed view of Mount Hood. Kristin's father and Steve have worked together on various projects for close to 30 years, so Steve and Patti are really more like family than friends, and we had a great time talking with them. We both agreed the next morning that we'd like to go back to college so we can take classes from Steve.

Which brings us to Monday. Our ultimate destination for Monday night had been unclear, but Steve is from the Coos Bay area and was able to give us a bunch of good camping suggestions. We said goodbye to Steve and Patti and hit the road after breakfast -- more marionberries!

By lunchtime we were in Eugene, where we met up with Christian's friend Emily, who took usto a terrific little all-you-can-eat Indian buffet. We also got to hang out with her beautiful babies, Rosie and Sadie, at Emily's cute little house which is nestled beside one of Eugene's buttes.

We hit the road again and headed toward the coast, ultimately winding up in Sunset Bay, Oregon, which more than its name.

This place was truly gorgeous. We hiked in, got our camp set up, then we hiked out along the cliffs for about 2 miles to the perfect sundown spot. We were all settled in and about to make a pot of coffee ... when, in a truly inspired moment, Christian realized he had left the car keys sitting out on a picnic table at our campsite.

We ran back down the trail. No, really. We RAN back down the trail. (Ever tried sprinting in hiking boots? Not fun....) We got back to camp in record time and found the keys -- in the right front pocket of the shirt Christian was wearing. Smooth....

It was now rapidly approaching sunset. We had only about a half hour until the 9 p.m. light show. We booked it back up the cliffs as fast as our aching legs would allow. It was more than worth hurrying back for, though. We were able to catch an amazing few moments as the sun sank into the sea.

Then it was off to the redwoods. We'll give more details once we reach the Raford Inn in Healdsburg, our destination for this evening, but in the meantime, here's a taste:

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Cougars and earthquakes and bears, oh my!

We haven't been ignoring our many legions of fans (our parents), but actually, we've been up a tree hiding from a bear. And the cougar we had to fight off ... well, that's not even worth telling about after you've tangled with a bear. We did, however, almost fall out of the tree because of the earthquake. But we parachuted to safety with one of Christian's bandanas. We then put out a wildfire singlehandedly. As you can see, we've been far too busy to blog.

Actually, we just drove one of the most spectacular drives imaginable. We went south on the 101 through the Redwoods National and State Parks and saw trees that left our jaws agape. Stunning. If it weren't for people like John Muir, our drive through the redwoods would have been something like this. Or this. Listening to Sigur Ros during that drive was a sublime pairing.

We will post more later, but now, we're at this wonderful hotel, the Carter House. We sincerely thank Kristin's father for putting us up here at this beautiful spot.

Here's a view of our room:

Yes, yes, it's beautiful. And we knew we were at the right place when they handed us a complimentary glass of zinfandel as soon as we walked through the front door. We are smelly and gross at the moment after having hiked and camped for two days (the real reason we've been maintaining radio silence). We're about to grab showers. Then we're headed downstairs for a 5-course meal at the hotel's fine restaurant. So far, we love this place.

Our post later will give updates on all the cool stuff we did in Portland, and details about the bear attack in beautiful Sunset Bay, Oregon, where we spent two days hiking along the sunny Oregon coast. Christian is missing an arm and has half his face eaten off. It's odd, because he looks much more rested now. Kristin's leg was gnawed off in her sleep, but she's learning to make do without.

The photo posted above is an actual live action photo taken of the bear mauling.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

We're here, we're here! And we're completely in love with this city. It's preternaturally beautiful, first of all, green and lush, the city crawling up the hills from the Willamette River, which runs through town.

The Jupiter Hotel is funky in the extreme, in all the right ways. It's an old ('50s, maybe) motor court that's been turned into a hipster hangout, complete with a very happening outdoor bar, The Doug Fir, that kept rockin', noisily, until the very wee hours. Thank goodness for iPods!

The guest rooms have lots of funky touches. The doors are painted with chalkboard paint, and there's a cup full of colored chalk so you can unleash your creative muse. They also provide bubbles, designer water and, most importantly for us, speakers with a cord to connect to your iPod.

We got checked in and changed, and then Ian showed up. It was the first time he and Christian had seen each other since Ian left Nashville, so there was lots of catching up to do. Being on the far western edge of the time zone, there was still plenty of daylight left at 9 p.m., so Ian drove us around the city for a while, including a stop by his employer.

We all went to a fun little restaurant stuck under a bridge in an industrial district in Portland called Le Bistro Montage, or just Montage, which is the name posted above the door. It's a dim room that has an atmosphere just as fun as the food, which includes an out-of-this world spicy Mac & Cheese, which was intense with garlic and cheddar cheese and chicken. Kristin had the daily special, the crab casserole, which was full of cheese and onions and lots and lots of very fresh crab. Yummy!

Inside the dimly lit dining room, they play rock 'n' roll, and most of the customers sit along a wall at a long communal table. Above on the wall is a giant painting of the last supper. Employees, mostly of the tattooed and pierced variety, are all playing games that you feel strangely connected to.

For one thing, the servers seemed to be in furious competition to outwit one another, fashioning interesting to-go boxes out of tin foil. There were scorpions, flowers and even helicopters with propellers that really spin. One was a tall, thin giraffe with a little head on top that must have been at least five feet.

We moved on to one of Ian's favorite dive bars, where Christian had Bridgeport Ale, one of his favorite beers, on tap. It's made just down the road.

Driving back to the hotel, we noticed the moon, which was larger than any of us had ever seen it, sitting right on the horizon, huge and golden. Knowing it was an optical illusion didn't make it any less magical. We attempted to get to the top of Mount to see it better, but the park was officially closed and we didn't want to run afoul of the police on our very first night of vacation, so we eventually gave up.

For now, we're going out for a day of exploration in Portland. Tonight we stay at Steve and Patti's house in Portland's Lake Oswego area.

Saturday, July 15, 2006


Wow... not a lot of time to write now, but this place is beautiful. For one thing, it's nice to see a town where they actually use a rail line for commuting in the middle of the town.

The Jupiter Hotel... this place is definitely worthy of its rock 'n' roll name. As soon as you get out of our car, they asked if we're here for a rock show, or if we're here for a room!! The hotel has a neighboring restaurant, the Doug Fir, and that's where a band is playing.

Allright... gotta cut it short. ian's here...we're going out!

Friday, July 14, 2006

T minus....

Twenty, twenty, twenty-four hours to go-o-oh ... well, less, actually. Our flight leaves at something like 1:30 Saturday afternoon, so we're in the final stretch.

The packing got done. No, really. Kristin was a packing machine this time, having absorbed all Lisa N.'s travel lessons over the years they were roommates. You can, in fact, roll jeans into a ball the size of your fist. (Yes, Lisa, we know you can get them even smaller than that, but we're novices compared to the girl who hitchhiked across Albania....)

Zeneba, Karen-Lee and Mark came by to see the chaos in person, and many more friends have called or e-mailed or dropped by our desks to wish us well. Heck, Thursday Night Fever even posted about us. We have a lot of really wonderful friends, and we're honored that so many of you want to follow along on our journey. (Ick. That sounded a lot like the scary woman in that TV ad for Celebrity Cruises. I'll stop now.)

The first stop tomorrow night -- after the Budget car rental -- will be the Jupiter Hotel, which is supposedly a fabulous old motor lodge turned rock 'n' roll boutique hotel. Then we'll meet up with an old friend from Nashville, Ian Demsky, whose writing now graces the pages of the Willamette Week. We'll be in Portland around 7 p.m., so soon after that, we'll be off to paint the town. Hmmm. What color should we paint it? green. Blue. Plaid? We'll see what Demsky has in store.

On Sunday, with Ian's guidance, we're off to somewhere amazing, like this...

Wow... Nice shot, Ian. He says he took the pic at Cape Falcon at the Oregon Coast during one of his walkabouts.

That's about it until we load up and head to the airport with Christian's mom. She's saving us a fortune by avoiding the long term parking! Thanks!!!!

Otherwise, for the most part, we're all set. Ipods. Gear. Underwear. Snap shirts and black cowboy boots. Toothpaste. Plastic Ziploc baggies stuffed with even more Ziploc baggies.


Tired. Bed.

Yawn. Sleep.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Geeking out

Hee hee! So I'm taking a break from editing three week's worth of All The Rage to play around with the site. Christian and I are both like little kids with a new toy, in case you hadn't figured it out yet. We'll calm down soon, I promise. In the meantime, I have begun adding in a few links to people we think are, like, cool and stuff. Special thanks to Nashville's blogosphere cruise director Mr. Roboto for the tech support and blog-iquette advice. (Sorry the Pete Yorn thing didn't work out, Mr. R.)....

Technical update

For those of you who have attempted to leave comments, only to be told you need a Blogger account to do so, we have fixed that. Now anybody can say anything. Just keep it clean, please -- our mothers and grandmothers are reading too.

The laundry is progressing rapidly -- we're not close to done, but at least you can see the floor now. Packing commences tonight. Anybody who has ever been around Kristin when she packs or unpacks knows this is a terrifying prospect. Thank goodness Christian is a patient man....

The key to it all: bocce?

Mount St. Laundry has erupted all over Kristin's guest room. We should have taken a picture of it before we started attacking the monster. Suffice it to say, it's formidable.

We've heard from several of you today, including our mothers, various friends and even our publisher, who gave great suggestions for things to do when we're out west. Mendocino was her top recommendation. "Postcard beautiful," she calls it. She also says we should try to hit San Francisco toward the end of the day so we can watch the sunset over the city from a bayside restaurant in Sausalito. Very romantic, she promises.

Christian's mom also issued a word of caution, urging us to stay away from bears and cougars when we're out. But that leads to a predicament. Do we tell her about our campsite in Point Reyes called Wildcat Campground?

Actually, we''re pretty sure it got that name because of a rock formation there that happens to look like a wildcat. Or something like that. Yeah.

The hike into Wildcat Camp probably will be the longest of our overnight hikes during the vacation. It's going to be a 5.5 mile hike in, and from what other bloggers have said, a large part of the trail runs along the craggy coast with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. Our campsite is No. 7, which is set almost right on the beach, if the picture is accurate. No doubt it has all the potential of being the best morning-coffee-with-the-French-press experience yet.

Our hikes in California and Oregon follow other hikes we have taken this year. One of our favorites was in Big South Fork at the Angel Falls Overlook trail. It turned out to be one of those magical hikes, with a symphony of butterflies floating around the whole time as we breezed up the rocky trail. Once we hit the top, giant hawks began swooping up in front of the ledge in front of us. Then they were gliding above our heads.

I snapped a quick photo at the time, but it didn't turn out so good. Nevertheless, here's a document of a great memory. At the time, I snapped this while we were both lying on our backs on a cliff face that hung out over the Big South Fork.

And we've been finding other ways to prepare.

For one thing, we've played a few cutthroat rounds of bocce in Kristin's back yard. That, we have determined, is a necessary way to get in the mindset for such a fabulous coastal vacation. It sure beats packing.

Witness the smooth stroke of a bocce master: