Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Napa Chronicles: Day 2 - San Fran & Napa Night 1

After sleeping off the exhaustion of traveling, we woke up refreshed and decided to go grab some breakfast. Steven had heard there was a great spot only a couple blocks away that had been featured on one of our fave Food Network shows - Diners Drive-ins, & Dives. I don't know why I let myself watch that show...all those triple-decker burgers, greasy cheese fries, and general plethora of comfort food always make me hungry! When we got to the diner, the line was out the door and wrapping around the back of the building. After standing there for about 20 minutes with no movement, we decided to turn to Yelp for some alternatives. A quick search revealed a highly-rated place only a few blocks away, so we headed off in search of Honey Honey Cafe and Crepery.

Not knowing where we were going, we used Google maps...which, as it turns out, does not warn of crack dens en route to your destination. One second we were in a perfectly acceptable neighborhood near Union Square and the next we found ourselves in someplace known as the Tenderloin District (we didn't know this at the time, but Steven looked it up later). There are various theories for how it got its name, but the prevailing one seems to be that police officers used to get a bump in pay for working in the crime-ridden area, thereby allowing them to afford fancy steak dinners. So there we were, searching for crepes, and instead we found....creeps. And a bunch of strung out crackheads, complete with potential drug deals going down right out in the open. Needless to say, we turned down the nearest street and took a different route.

Thankfully, we finally arrived here:

Isn't it cute?

We ordered one sweet and one savory crepe to share and snagged a table on the sidewalk to enjoy the nice morning. I highly recommend this little place to anyone looking for a pretty inexpensive and tasty breakfast. Here were our lovely crepes and the view from our sidewalk table:

After stuffing ourselves, we headed back to the hotel to meet up with the others. We wanted to get the true San Francisco experience, so we hopped on a cable car headed for Fisherman's Wharf. Along the way we made friends with/annoyed the trolley driver and saw some city sights.

By the time we got to Fisherman's Wharf, it was time for lunch at the fabulous Scoma's on the pier.

Strangely enough, my parents and I ate at this place waaaaay back when we came to San Fran during one of my college spring breaks. It was even BETTER than I remembered it - mostly because I have a much greater appreciation for seafood now than I did then! Steven and I shared the Crab Louie Salad, which was basically a HUGE pile of shredded fresh crab meat with various fresh veggies and a delicious dipping sauce. It was perfect. If you go to Scoma, get the Crab Louie. Period.

Next up was the Alcatraz tour for the Sheps and me & Steven; the rest of the group posted up at a wine/cigar bar and had a grand old time.

The ride out to Alcatraz Island was gorgeous:

Windy, but gorgeous. 

Once we were on the island, we listened to an audio guide with interviews from former inmates and guards. The place was pretty amazing. The cells were TINY, and the security measures seemed so tight that it's hard to believe there was actually a successful escape (fun fact: the three who escaped were never found - did the sharks get them or are they lounging on a beach in Mexico?)

    We wouldn't have been quite as smiley if those doors to the solitary confinement cells were closed! 

We had a ton of fun on the Alcatraz tour and decided the next time we are in San Fran, we'd love to take the spooky night tour! 

After Alcatraz we were running late to catch our charter bus to Napa, so instead of hopping back on the trolley, we all piled into a tiny cab for a somewhat harrowing ride back to Union Square. The city streets are RIDICULOUS...we felt like we were on a roller coaster, and the cabbie joked that the car "hardly ever stalls out on these big hills." Hardy-har...please just let us get there in one piece! When we got back to the bus and the others, there was a mad scramble to get coolers, drinks, and snacks for the ride. It also became apparent that the group who had not gone to Alcatraz had a LOT of fun while we were away. I'm pretty sure the bus driver wanted to ditch us in the middle of the street before the drive even started. Sadly, we have no pictures from the actual drive. Everyone was too busy laughing - we whipped out my new Cards Against Humanity game and proceeded to find out exactly why it's called "the party game for terrible people." It was hilarious. And terrible. I can't even write what most of the cards said, but a good time was had by all! 

Once we got to Napa, we checked in to our lovely hotel, the Meritage. I think the poor concierge was a little apprehensive of our rowdy, wine-splashed group. The grounds of the hotel were amazing - a private vineyard, walking trails, and plenty of places to sit and relax with a glass of wine. 

We all cleaned up and pretended to be presentable for our first dinner at Bottega - which ended up being the favorite meal of the trip for most of us. Steven had really lobbied for Bottega when we were picking restaurants, and I am SO glad he did - the homestyle Italian food from chef Michael Chiarello (of Top Chef Masters) did not disappoint! Everything was amazing, but by far my favorite thing was the ricotta gnocchi. It could not have been more light and creamy. I don't think any other gnocchi will ever measure up!

The only pic that matters from our dinner at Bottega! 

It was late by the time we got back to our hotel from Bottega, so we couldn't muster up the energy to enjoy the fun nightlife offerings of the Meritage (a bowling alley, bar, and nightclub). Instead, I passed out fully clothed on top of the covers approximately 10 seconds after making it back to the room even though it was hot and muggy (something was wrong with our air conditioner).  I woke up about 30 minutes later to find a hotel worker fixing our air conditioner - at least Steven stayed up long enough to get it fixed for us! We both crashed hard that night, looking forward to our first full day of winery tours the next morning! That's for the next post, though. Spoiler alert: we explored some caves, taught our tour guide how to Dougie, and likely got ourselves placed on a watch list for a certain B-list celebrity! 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Napa Chronicles: Day 1 - San Fran Bound!

A few months ago, a group of my favorite people decided to take a trip together. It was Cat and Josh's 5th anniversary, Lane & Lolly's 6th, and Sarah and Derek's TENTH!! Steven and I are about to celebrate our 1 year (dating) anniversary, plus both of us had birthdays in, we all had a LOT of occasions to celebrate! After discussing several potential destinations, we decided on Napa...the thought of all that wine, temps in the 70s, and beautiful vineyards was just too enticing! And thanks to the months of travel at my old job, Steven and I got to fly FREE on Southwest (with my miles and his companion pass) - score!

So on the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend, we headed out to San Fran (well, technically Steven and I headed out to Oakland, since that's where Southwest flies into). Since Southwest doesn't do direct flights to California (curses!), we had to stop through in Albuquerque. The first leg of our flight shall I say this...AWFUL. Horrible. Terrible. It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad flight. The turbulence started almost immediately and lasted the entire time. And this was no run-of-the-mill turbulence...this was pure hell. Sudden HUGE drops, side to side shaking, people gasping, airplane creaking, and me, the girl who hates to fly even on good flights, freaking the F out. Poor Steven, it was his first time to fly with me...not a great first impression, I'm sure. He tried to be sweet and comfort me but I refused to look at him and ignored his hand stroking my arm and leg...I was too busy thinking about how long it would take before the plane started to go down until impact. When we finally landed, I cried a few tears of relief, then promptly went to the airport bathroom and sobbed for about 5 minutes (while researching rental cars and how long it takes to drive from Albuquerque to San Fran). Upon realizing it was a 16+ hour drive, I knew I would have to suck it up and get on the next leg of our flight. Sweet Steven never told me I was being that man! We spent our hour layover in an airport bar, where I downed 3 vodka sodas in about 30 minutes (to calm the nerves, ya know). In a very strange coincidence, we also ran into our friend Taylor and her sweet pup Bartlett on their way from San Diego to Texas. Between the booze and the catching up with Tay, I was finally relaxed enough to board our flight, which was smooth and  uneventful, thankfully!

Me, Leg 1 of Flight:

Aaaaand Leg 2:

Now on to a happier part of the story! We arrived in San Fran and checked into our cool hotel, the Parc 55 in Union Square. Since we were just crashing there for one night, we really didn't get to spend much time in the hotel, but it was the perfect place for  us to call home base for our quick stop in San Fran. Since our flight didn't land till 9:00, we didn't have time to do much (plus we were thoroughly exhausted). Cat and Josh landed around the same time - though at a different airport - so once we all checked in, we met up at Annabelle's Bar and Bistro down the street. They had delicious cocktails, a warm, intimate ambiance, and amazing food. Steven and I split the tomato basil soup and short ribs over polenta. Here are a few pics from dinner:

It looks weird in the pic, but this was a plate of pure deliciousness!

Me and my babe at dinner...the poor guy had to have been worn out from dealing with my neurotic flying freak-out from earlier that day!

Our dinner dates - the Sheps! So glad we got to spend the first night relaxing with these two!

After the self-proclaimed "best dressed homeless man in the city" gave us some advice for catching the trolley in the morning, we drug tired selves back to the hotel and crashed, looking forward the next day in San Francisco. That post is coming next. Spoiler alert: Steven and I found a crack den on our way to breakfast, we walked in the footsteps of Al Capone, and a charter bus driver likely turned in her resignation after driving our rowdy group to our next destination...Napa!