Friday, December 28, 2012

San Francisco & Napa

July 24 - The Second Time

Flying from Taipei to San Francisco on China Airlines
Hello, jet lag!  Whew!  Just hopped off a plane from Taipei and met Mom at SFO!  I'm so beyond over-tired that I'm wide awake.  Really, really wide awake.  Wide awake enough to drive to a grocery store and buy soup, crackers, fresh mozzarella, and a small bag of red hot cheetos for a nice 2:00 am dinner with Mom.  Something's wrong.  Even Spaniards finish dinner before 2:00 am.  Went to sleep around 3:00 or so and woke up bright and early for a day tour of Napa.  I suppose I could have gone to sleep a bit earlier, but I was so excited to be back in the United States that I didn't want to sleep.  The more I'm away, the more I learn to appreciate home.

Sunset over San Francisco - View from the Airplane

Interestingly, I left Taipei at 11 pm on July 24th and arrived in San Francisco around 9 pm, also on July 24th.  I went back in time!  I'm a time traveller.  How awesome is that?

July 25, 2012

Golden Gate Bridge
When my mom woke me on July 25th, I was rather surprised that it was the morning.  A 13-hour time difference is no small feat to get over.  Traditionally, I have a very weak resistance to jet lag, and this was no exception.  Nevertheless, I dragged myself out of bed and put on a bunch of clothes I borrowed from my mom for our tour.  I would have worn my own clothes, but I packed for the wrong season.  I found that it was shockingly cold in San Francisco, especially after coming from Madrid (extreme dry heat) and southeast Asia (extreme humid heat) in July.

Anyhow, we met our tour group, hopped on a bus, and were off to Napa.  Along the way, we stopped to check out the Golden Gate Bridge.  Pleasantly, the day was very clear, so the vibrant, red bars stood out from the cityscape.  We took a few photos and hopped back onto the bus.  You should know that despite my jet lag and exhaustion from being too excited to sleep, I really did "hop" back onto the bus.

Ménage à Trois Wine
Our first stop was at Napa Wine Cellars, where we tried their specialty wine, which is called Ménage à Trois.  Seriously, that's what it's called.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that I liked all the wines I tried there and learned that I prefer sweet wines to dry wines.  In fact, I would say, without reservation, that I liked all the Napa wines I tried better than any other wines I tasted on tours in Tuscany, Israel, Boston, or elsewhere.  My favorites were the moscatos because they're so sweet.  Unexpectedly, I even liked the red wines we tried.  Typically I avoid red wine because it's easy to spill and doesn't wash out, but these were really delicious.

On the bus, our guide kept talking about "varietals".  At first we had no idea what a varietal was, and thought he meant "variety," since we thought he was referring to different types of grapes.  Later in the day, when other people also talked about "varietals" at the different wineries we visited, we learned that a varietal is a wine made mostly from a single type of grape.  Some examples are Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Merlot.

Growing Grapes for Wine - Napa Cellars

Growing Grapes at Napa Cellars
At Madonna Estate, the second winery we toured, the woman giving the tour explained to us that their wines were considered higher quality because they didn't water their grapes.  According to her, watering wine grapes in France is illegal in order to preserve the superior quality of the wine.  Her advice to us was to drink what we like and to drink it with whatever food we like.  No need for all of the, "This wine has a layered cedar flavor with a subtle hint of buttery velvet," stuffy weirdness.  Besides, who wants to drink a velvety tree?  Gross.  Her advice was to just keep it simple and enjoy.  As the tasting started, we found that once again, we liked the moscato they served best, and bought a few souvenir bottles - something which is 100% unusual for us.

The Tasting Bar at Napa Cellars
The third and final winery we toured, Sutter Home, told us they had a wine club exclusively for their sweet wines and would mail us bottles periodically throughout the year if we signed up.  Well, all the wineries had wine clubs, but this one had a sweet wine club.  Knowing that we'd never drink enough wine to make it worth joining, we didn't sign up.  We did enjoy our taste tests though!  I especially liked their pink champagne, mostly because it was pink.  Honestly though, by that point in the day, I couldn't taste anymore wines.  I would definitely say the Napa wines were the best I have ever tasted.

Rose Garden at Sutter Home 

One interesting thing I learned about vineyards is that the growers plant rose bushes as soil quality indicators.  During our tour, we were told that rose bushes require similar growing conditions as grapes.  In other words, if the roses aren't blooming, or the rose bushes die, then you know the grapes won't do well either.  If you end up with a beautiful rose garden, then your grapes should do just fine.

Nervous system depressants + extreme jet lag = out cold on the ride back to San Francisco.  Typically, when I have jet lag, I end up taking a midday nap for a few weeks before I can stay awake for a full day.  Much later that night, we drove back out past Napa (I snoozed, Mom drove) to have dinner with one of my Mom's friends from high school.  We had a great time with them and thank them for inviting us over!

We arrived quite late back at our hotel in San Francisco and caught a few hours of sleep before rising once again for breakfast with another of my mom's friends from high school at the hotel's café.

July 26, 2012

Shoe Shopping in Burlingame
After breakfast, at the suggestion of my mom's amiga, we went shoe shopping in Burlingame.  It must have been a lucky morning because a miracle happened: Both my mom and I found shoes that came narrow enough to satisfy the foot curse!  Well to be fair, we each bought the same shoes...but still!  Exciting!

Later, we had lunch with Auntie Lee and Joanie.  We had a fantastic time chatting and catching up.  I first met Auntie Lee when I was in high school, and couldn't wait to see her again!  After lunch, we went boutique-ing, which was really fun until jet lag took over and I once again fell asleep in the car for a short while.  Whatever, it happens.  I pretty much hit the ground running when I landed in San Francisco from Taipei.  For this reason (running quickly and jet lag), this trip is a little blurred in my memory.

That evening, we went back to SFO and picked up Dad, who had just arrived.  As per my family's developing tradition, we all arrived on different flights at different times on different dates.  It's a little complicated, but it works.  At least we all got there.

July 27, 2012

Muir Woods
On the fine morning of July 27th, we continued our tourism by driving over to visit the giant redwoods at Muir Woods.  Seriously, these were the tallest trees I have ever seen, and that's not just the jet lag speaking.  These trees had grown so high that I had to lean even farther back than expected just to see the tops.  You look up, expect to see a top, lean back a bit more, this time really expecting to see the top, and then realize that the tree is way higher that you first predicted.  Additionally, I thought it was super cool that the trees were actually red!

Muir Woods makes their trails incredibly accessible to people with all levels of mobility.  The path we were on was either paved or a raised, wooden platform for the entire trail.  While strolling around and gazing upward into the tree tops, which were so high that we could hardly see them, we happened upon our family friends from home, Aunt Beth and Uncle Alan.  I had no idea they were going to be in San Francisco and was pleasantly surprised to run into them.

I'm inside a fallen tree at Muir Woods.

Together, we all squished into the hollow tree along the trail and took a photo of the group inside the tree.  The tree trunk has such a large diameter that you can comfortably fit about 8 adults inside the hollow bottom part of the trunk.  Since you're supposed to stay on the trail instead of wandering into the forest, the park is designed so that there are certain trees right by the trail with which you can interact.  These human-tree interactions include climbing on/in tipped trees (left), walking into a hollow trunk, seeing how many people it takes to fit around a tree trunk of a tree that old, and more.

Muir Woods

The weather was chilly and damp, especially in comparison with southeast Asia so we decided to leave Muir Woods after a while.  From there, I went with my parents to Sausalito, which is said to be the prettiest town in San Francisco.  After we had been there for a short time, Marissa arrived from the Tenderloin District of San Francisco on the ferry.

Refrigerator Magnet in a Sausalito Souvenir Shop

To be frank, I thought Sausalito was cute and quaint, but not all that interesting.  It had picturesque boutiques and shops with touristy souvenirs and artsy sweaters, along with a wide selection of restaurants.  In terms of the highly advertised aesthetics, I thought Sausalito looked just like some of the beach towns in Cape Ann, Massachusetts.  While it was a nice place, Sausalito's look was not unique, and didn't qualify as the "prettiest place ever" like the guidebooks promised.  I guess being the prettiest ever is a lot to live up to, but I might have been less disappointed if the statement in the books had been more reasonable.  I also had just spent an entire year touring beautiful cities all over the world, so in my mind, Sausalito had a lot to live up to.  It might have been better if it hadn't been raining.

First Family Dinner in Nearly a Year
Though there were a bunch of nice enough looking restaurants in Sausalito, the four of us couldn't agree on a place for dinner, so we went back to San Francisco and ate at an Italian restaurant called Rosa's.  This was the first time that all four of us had been together in the same place at the same time in nearly a year since I had been in Madrid for so long.  It was nice, but also strange, to all be together.  Chatting at the table over a plate of gnocchi, I realized how accustomed to being on my own I had become.  I felt melancholy at the realization that it was unusual for us all to be together, but cheerful because we were finally together again.

July 28, 2012

On this day, we went to see Marissa's performance with the Bay Area Summer Opera Theater Institute (B.A.S.O.T.I.).  The concert was a series of opera scenes, or small excerpts from many different operas.  Each scene featured a few key characters, and some scenes additionally had a chorus.  Marissa sang as Cenerentola (Cinderella) in La Cenerentola, the chorus in Calisto, and Lucrecia in The Rape of Lucrecia.  Not having heard Marissa sing in person for quite some time, I was thrilled and proud to see how much she had improved.  In my biased opinion, and other people's unbiased opinions, she's really awesome!  Her performances blew me away.  Congrats, Lil' Simz!

Arriving at SFO with my
fashion statement hat and wrapped painting.
After the show ended, we went out for dinner with Auntie Lee and Uncle Bob.  I hope to see them again soon.  From there, we went back to our hotel room.  The room started with one person in it, and now had all of us in it, so it was getting a little crowded.  We packed up our stuff, dropped Marissa off back near B.A.S.O.T.I. in the "very lovely" Tenderloin District, caught a few hours of sleep, and went back to SFO.  I was still carrying all my luggage from the Asia trip, which means that I was walking around SFO in a Vietnamese rice picking hat and carrying a long, rectangular painting from Cambodia on its fourth flight.

Flight #1. Siem Reap --> Hanoi
Flight #2. Hanoi --> Taipei
Flight #3. Taipei --> San Francisco
Flight #4. San Francisco --> Chicago

Airport officials seemed to find the painting particularly confusing because when they asked where I bought it, I said Cambodia, yet it was wrapped in a Korean newspaper and had handwritten Chinese characters all over it.  And of course, I was wearing my fashion statement, rice picking hat from Vietnam.

"Life is a Cabernet."
In any case, everything worked out fine, and I flew home with my parents.  A few days later, Marissa flew home, and we frantically unpacked, did laundry, and repacked in order to leave again so we could drive her back to school in Miami.  I'm particularly bad about recovering from jet lag, so through each of these days, I continued to take a midday nap, even if it was only for a few minutes.  It took me two or three weeks to wipe out the midday siesta.

On my next trip to San Francisco (crossing fingers!), I would like to visit the Fisherman's Wharf and Alcatraz.  I have previously been to Chinatown there, but wasn't really in the mood to go this time since I came to San Francisco directly from Taiwan.  (Yes, I know they're not the same.  But I was in the mood for some classic America.  After all, I had been away from the United States for nearly a year.)  I would definitely go back to Napa  - it was a blast, and I recommend it to anyone visiting San Francisco!
The Golden Gate Bridge in the Fog

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