Thursday, October 25, 2012

Oregon: One day in Portland and a few days in Eugene

After arriving in Portland, the next day we went to hike outside of the city since it was a sunny day. In fact, it was so clear that not only could we see Mount Hood (a near by snow-capped mountain), but also Mount Saint Helen! We drove along the Columbus River for about an hour-- it was a breath-taking scenic drive with rest stops along the way for beautiful vistas and hiking. We stopped at the Multnomah Falls rest area to look at the beautiful falls, visible right from the road!
There is a hike you can do up to the bridge, however Emily advised that it's pretty steep and the best view is pretty much from at the bottom, so we continued on to another famous hiking spot, Punch Bowl Falls. The hike is pretty easy and scenic, though you walk along a (sturdy) path on the edge of a cliff, so if you have acrophobia avoid this one! Still it's a really beautiful trail with a moderate amount of visitors and clearly marked trails. We stopped at the lower Punch Bowl Falls to sit down and enjoy the scenery. The forest is unbelievably lush; in fact, it is considered a rain forest! Moss grows quickly on every tree and there are tons of streams and waterfalls as a result of massive amounts of rain (which is why we were so glad to have a sunny day!).

My friend Emily at the Falls
We then headed back towards Portland, stopping at one rest stop on the Columbus River. It was just a small spot with a tiny parking space and only a few cars, but it was gorgeous:
The next morning we woke up early to go to a traditional Indian good luck ceremony. My friend's mom has a patient who is opening up an Indian restaurant. We arrived a little late, but it seemed alright. There was a Brahman, a religious "priest" in the Hindu religion, reciting prayers and blessing the family and restaurant. It felt really special to be a part of it. All of the other women were wearing gorgeous saris and unbelievable bangles and earrings. I had just finished my book, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, a novel about Indians moving to the US and how their children grow up and find their own identities here, so it was very fitting. We also had a traditional Indian breakfast that was amazing! There were these hand-made dumplings that you poured leek soup over, a kind of pasta dish (reminded me a little of Rice-a-Roni but better), lots of yummy sauces, and more! It was pretty intimate, so I didn't take any pictures unfortunately...

After that, we drove to Eugene, about 2 hours south of Portland. We went straight to the University of Oregon campus and did a little walk around. The campus is really charming, with older brick buildings, lots of trees, and tons of bikers. Since I ran cross country in high school, coming to Eugene is like reaching a mecca: Prefontaine, one of the greatest American distance runners, trained here with Bill Bowerman. It is also the home of Nike and known as "Track Town USA." We passed the track, Hayward Field, and then headed towards the football stadium. U. of O. has an amazing football team, called the Ducks, that's ranked 3rd in the nation!
Hayward Field

Walking over a river from campus to the stadium

The oh-so-tiny stadium (not)
 We went to a coffee shop called The Beanery, which has yummy sandwiches, coffee, and soup. We then pretty much folded right back in to what college kids do: sit around, drink beers (despite it being barely 2pm), watch guys play video games, and talk about all of our options for the evening. Luckily, I am just out of college long enough that I will not subject myself to drinking nasty, cheep beers. Even luckier, Oregon has a strong microbrewery culture, so we were able to drink lots of different local brews. Sadly, it's a common misconception outside of the US that we don't drink anything beyond Bud Light and Budweiser and that we consider Heineken a top-tier beer-- if only they could see Oregon! For dinner we had Burrito Boy, a delicious burrito joint that you should definitely check out.

That evening we went to check out the Ducks V. Arizona State game on TV. Before halftime even started, we stopped watching. The score was something like 40-8 Ducks, with tons of interceptions and 40-yard touchdowns. If you are looking for something to do on a Thursday night, John Henry's is your place to go. On Thursdays they do 80s night, where people dress up and listen to incessant 80s music, and before midnight pretty much all drinks are $2, so you know the dancing gets wild.

The next day it just didn't stop raining. I ventured out once to eat at Albee's NY Gyro; it was probably the best gyro I've had in the world. They also serve tons of different old school sodas. Albee was actually working and I talked with him, and he is in fact from NY, so that was pretty cool. For the most part, unfortunately, the weather was terrible, so I had no motivation to do anything.

That night I hung out with my friend Caroline who I WWOOFed with in France. We went to Cornucopia, a really cozy restaurant that also has a huge fridge full of local beers. You can make your own 12 pack for only $10! So we grabbed a 12 pack full of different local beers and headed home. Caroline made a delicious dinner with some local squash that was shaped like a pumpkin but was bumpy and purple. When she cut it, it was hard as a rock, and after cooking it for 20 minutes (with peanut butter! yum!!!) it was smooth as velvet. So delicious!

The next day, Saturday, was a bit more productive as the sun came out. We headed to the Saturday market, a really great open air market with tons of farmers on one side and tons of artisanal vendors on the other side. The food vendors were spectacular! Tons of beautiful produce, with the farmers there to answer any questions you have on how to cook with the food, how the produce is grown, and more! One of the most interesting stands was the mushroom growers, called The Mushroomery. They had unbelievable mushrooms, including a massive hot pink one! They also sold mushroom tinctures, including Turkey Tail Tincture, which is known to actually prevent and reduce cancer! Some more info here if you are curious:

Later that afternoon we headed to a beer festival, the Fresh Hop Fest! It was a small one, but for $15 you could get a pint glass and 5 half pint drink tickets. The theme of the festival was "hops," so all of the beers had a very hoppy taste. One cool feature was that they had actual hops around the festival so that you could see, smell, and touch them. I had never actually seen or thought about hops, so it was quite interesting and fun. There also were only about 15 brewers there, so it was much more manageable than the other beer festival I went to in Belgium where they had something like 200 brewers. This was much less overwhelming. My favorite beer there was the Track Town beer, which had a strong flavor but a hint of citrus at the end. They also had a food vendor selling Irish nachos, which comprised of corn beef, cheese, sour cream, chives, and hand-made potato chips-- hands down the best nachos I've ever had!

Beer with hops

Irish nachos
That night we had a delicious potluck with a bunch of Caroline's friends. The best thing on the menu was the spaghetti squash stuffed with home made sauce and meatballs! I never knew squash was so amazing until this weekend. It's so delicious!

Then we all took our bikes and headed to Sam Bond's Garage to hear the band He's My Brother, She's My Sister, a really cool fusion band of blues, bluegrass, and rock (I like under genres on their Facebook it says "Cabaret Blues"). The bar itself also boasts having some amazing late night pizza, featuring toppings such as artichoke and pesto.

The next day, I took the bus back to Portland, sad to leave all the new friends I made in Eugene. Besides Bristol, it is the only other city I've instantly felt like I could live there. So awesome, will have to go back soon!!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Napa Valley

After San Francisco, we headed to Napa Valley. We rented a car and headed over the Golden Gate Bridge- luckily there was no fog (though it was still a very grey day).
We then stopped in Sausalito for lunch at one of the best taco places in the area. The Sausalito Taco Shop is not to be missed if you're looking to stop for a quick bite. I had the cup of soup with chicken and cheese and the big donkey, their signature burrito. The donkey was too big; if you get it I suggest not getting a starter or planning to split it with someone. It was delicious though! So was the soup! We also ordered guacamole with their homemade tortilla chips, also awesome. The tacos were great too. One is a normal portion, and if you want to get a little extra get two; three can leave you unbuttoning your pants.

We kept moving, stopping at Muir Woods to see the great redwoods. Redwood trees can live to 2,000 years old and 380ft! They are the tallest living things in the world. Many of them were logged for their wood, but today they are protected in some national and state parks. The other famous tree found in California is the giant sequoia and can only be found in the Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon National Parks. Giant sequoia's are related to redwoods and can grow to 311ft and live 3,200 years!

Muir Woods is a beautiful park that is very well maintained. Parking can be a drag, and if you had a big lunch before hand be warned: the road to the park is steep, narrow, and windy! However, this is an amazing pit stop or day trip and I highly recommend it. Seeing the tallest living things in the world for only $7 is unbelievable!
So tall I couldn't even get the tops!
Afterwards we drove to Napa Valley. The GPS told us to go in some weird way, so I recommend sitting down beforehand and looking at a route yourself. We stayed at the Vino Bello Resort. As we got closer to arriving we were really disappointed- Napa looked pretty commercial, dry, desolate, and boring. The hotel was nice, but it's a very big resort in an industrial park. We were missing the charm we had heard about! We arrived late in the evening and were pretty beat after a long day, so we ate in the restaurant at the hotel, which was pricey but delicious. For appetizers we had clam chowder (I love when they have it in the soup still with the clam shells), tomato bisque with fresh basil, and the tempura dungeness crab nuggets with sweet and sour mango peach chutney. For the main course, I had a cheese risotto with shrimp and prawns- delicious!

The next day we got up and walked around the resort. The resort has two nice pools with grills, hot tub, lounge tents and more. In the back there is a vineyard on a hill that you can walk around on your own. Built into the hill under the vineyard is a tasting room and spa. We took a nice walk around the vineyard, picking grapes as we went along.

Then we headed to our first real vineyard, Domaine Carneros. As we drove up, it was quite impressive. It is a large pseudo-french chateau looming over the vineyards around it. We took the tour ($30) and it was definitely worth it. Our guide, Tracy was knowledgeable, not pretentious at all, and made all of the information accessible and understandable. She explained how the grapes are chosen based on the region, the origins and history of the grape plant, and how the champagne is made. Some interesting facts I learned: the reason why there is always a gold label around the neck of the champagne bottle because back in the old days it was meant to hide any imperfections (champagne was turned by hand back then); a whole bottle of red wine will fit in a standard burgundy glass (the fat bulb glasses); the Frenchmen who made the original champagne and turned it by hand had to wear metal suits because the bottles would often explode; in the Carneros area in Napa Valley, all of the grapes are grown organically because they produce the finest quality grapes (not necessarily simply because of the other benefits). The chateau that the wine is made in is based off of a real chateau in the Champagne region in France, which in my opinion was a little cheesy and pretentious looking, but hey, when you're that rich, you can do what ever you want with your money. Apparently there is a saying, "To make a small fortune in Napa, start with a large one," and it's obvious that that is how it's done. (It doesn't help that it takes 7 years before you can actually have a crop suitable for harvest!) The tour included a glass of champagne, rose champagne, and Le Reve (their very, very expensive champagne) as well as pretty much whatever you want at the end in a private tasting room.

The view from the chateau
For a late lunch we ate at the Rutherford Grill which apparently is a popular spot for the winemakers to go. Well, the word is out on that story, and when we got there, there was a half hour wait. By the time we were seated, the wait was an hour (around 5pm). However, when we passed by around 1pm on a Monday it looked empty. There is also no corking fee apparently, so bring your own wine if you like (the wine list is extensive, so don't worry if you don't byob). The food was great here too. I had an interesting dish- enchilada filled with squash and topped with a sunny side up egg. We also tasted the rotisserie chicken, which you can see being fire roasted, was nice and juicy, the skin was flavorful, and the mashed potatoes were excellent. My mom had the fish sandwich, also great, and the bun was super delicious (possibly the best part of the whole meal!).
As we drove back, the sun began setting and the hills to the east started to burn pink. That night we ate at the restaurant Angele, a French restaurant on the Napa River in downtown Napa. We drove through downtown Napa and it looked quite charming, though it was pretty dead despite it being the high season and a Saturday. At the restaurant, I tried the Country Pâté and French Onion Soup for appetizer. The Country Pâté was okay, but the soup was delicious! For dinner, I had the rabbit which was terribly dry and very disappointing. My mom had the Becquet D’Agneau, which was lamb and couscous and was absolutely delicious. My dad had the duck and that was also very tender and flavorful. I just picked the bad one I suppose...

Sunday we decided to go on a little hike since the region is so beautiful. I found an easy one in St. Helena. The main street in St. Helena was quite charming, reminding us a little of the Hamptons. We drove to Bothe-Napa Valley State Park to walk their 1.2 mile History Trail ($7/car, during the summer they have a pool if you're looking for a good campsite!). The trail starts in the back of the park. When you park and begin walking, you will quickly see on your right some rocks laid in a rectangle. These outline the foundation of the first Methodist church of the pioneers in the area. To your left is the pioneer cemetery which is pretty well preserved. I was surprised that most of the dates are in the late 1800s- a reminder that California wasn't settled all that long ago. You walk through the park a bit and up a hill and you'll see these two strange red trees: manznitas and madrones. Manzanitas' bark flakes off like paper and then underneath shows a bright red skin. Madrones look like thick, red lava has been poured over the tree. I thought maybe the trees had freakish diseases, but they didn't. They were definitely strange! Apparently there should also be red woods from around 1850 (they were cut before 1850 during the Gold Rush for timber), but we didn't see any. At the end of the History Trail, you'll reach Bale Grist Mill which was a mill built in 1846 and still works. Unfortunately, the state parks have been hit bad by serious budget cuts in California. They essentially receive no funding at all, so you can get a glimpse of the mill, but they really want you to pay another $5 per person to get a good look (I would suggest maybe parking here instead of at the Bothe-Napa Valley State Park). We walked back along the highway on the right hand side of the road by the vineyards, then crossed over and back into the park at the gate near the fire department. Before leaving, we stopped at the Native American Plant Garden, which was to have different traditional, native plants that the Native Americans specially cooked and ate. Sadly, because of budget cuts I'm assuming, there was no garden. The plaques naming the plants are still there, but most of the plants are dead or dying.
Pioneer Cemetary

Madrone tree

Bale Grist Mill

Walking along the vineyard
We then headed over to Castello di Amorosa, a vineyard where the wine is produced in a pseudo-Tuscan castle. No expense was spared in trying to create an authentic medieval castle. The owner, Dario Stattui, did an excellent job, as a result, of creating a tourist attraction of his vineyard. Though it's not as tacky as the French chateau, you much imagine the level of snobbery and opulence to spend dozens of years on building a perfectly replicated Tuscan castle in the middle of California. If you are looking for small, quiet country charm, this is not the place for you. However, the castle is quite impressive-- the bricks, wood beams, drawbridge, and stone courtyard impressively and beautifully replicate a 13th-century medieval castle. In the formal dining hall you will find jaw-dropping frescoes, including a replica of the famous work Good Government, all of which was done by hand. The castle is nestled in the side of the mountain, with a spectacular pine forest as a background, vineyards all around, and even an assortment of foul and sheep as you approach the entrance. Somehow, despite the audacity of it all, you are charmed.

We went for the wine tasting, which also gets you into a 15 minute video by the owner, whose apparent eagerness to "show you around" makes you feel welcome and invited, not snobby at all. You also can walk around the courtyard, chapel, and down into the tasting rooms. Be sure to check out the bathrooms-- the spouts for the sinks are dragons! The castle is also host to New Years Eve parties, harvest festivals (where you get to stomp on your own grapes), and an awesome looking Halloween party.

Stunning dining hall
Walk down to the tasting room and I think you'll find yourself equally impressed. Continuing with the Italian theme, the wines are based off of the traditional Italian wine styles (Gewurztraminer, Pinot Bianco, Sangiovese, etc.) and all of the servers are actually Italian. None of the wines from this vineyard are available outside of the showroom (except for online for individual sale). I found  our server, Domenico, to be quite "Italian" (energized, friendly, loved to talk, especially about wine) and therefore an attribute to the whole experience.

Afterwards, we continued down the road to Sterling, a wine my father is a fan of. This one is a bit more expensive because you have to take the tram, a self-guided tour, and tasting. We arrived moments before a massive Asian tour group so we were certain the rest of our visit would be riddled with lines. We did have to wait for the ski-style tram, but it wasn't so bad. You take the tram up to the Greek-style "villa," showing off great views of the forest on the opposite side of the valley, including Castello Di Amorosa in the distance.Once at the top, you receive your first state and listen to a video about the video and owner. One cool fact is that the bells in the bell tower are from the 18th century. After the video, you walk to a patio area where you can grab another glass and have a seat. By now everyone has thinned out in their own pace. Whenever you're ready, you get to walk inside to see the production of the wine, watch informative videos, and read information placards. Something I haven't mentioned yet is that fall is harvest season, so you can see and smell the grapes getting loaded in different containers and fermenting. You also continue a bit more along and learn a lot about the barrels. Here barrels are all hand-made in oak and are sometimes heated or burned to create a vanilla or even chocolate taste. The next patio area is where you'll grab your first red wine and has a spectacular view that is the best you'll get in Napa.
View from the tram

Now, you'll arrive in the showroom at the end. The regular admission ($30) ends here with 2 or 3 more glasses of wine in the showroom before leaving. The slight upgrade ($5 more) allows you to sit down and taste more of the reserve wines. As I said, my dad is a fan of Sterling, so he knew he wanted to buy. If that's the case (no pun intended) for you too, it's definitely something you should do. Now, generally you walk into a tasting knowing if you want to buy a whole case of wines. If that is what you are planning, find out about any savings or deals they have. At Domaine Carneros, they had a $5 shipping special. Sterling had a pretty good deal: join their "club" and get 40% of the first 3 bottles, 30% off the rest, and get free tasting to 4 other vineyards. So if you're going to Napa, don't be afraid to ask about all of their deals and do the math and see if it's worth it for you; don't let yourself get bullied into something either.

Watching the fermentation, while looking at an explanatory video and information
Feeling good, we decided to have dinner in. Our hotel was perfectly equipped with a full kitchen (even a dishwasher, washing machine, and dryer!) and there were beautiful outdoor grills by the pool. It was nice to stay in, enjoying wine, cheese, and steak.

The next day was our last full day together in Napa. We were supposed to go on a hot air balloon in the morning, but because of the fog we weren't able to. We had joined the wine club at Sterling and as a result got free tastings to four other wineries. We started at Acacia. Though the vineyard was near our hotel, it had the feel of being secluded and it was a much smaller, quainter place, giving me the rustic feel I'd been hoping for. Tastes are by reservation only as the place is very tiny. We arrived early, 11am, as weren't the first arrivals but were the only visitors there at the time. It still felt a little too early so we stepped outside with our first glasses and explored. 

The winery is small enough that you can walk around yourself and see the production before your eyes. We watched the different sorting steps with admiration. Little by little we got our successive glasses and wandered further. I walked through the vineyard, taking pictures and feeling pleasantly alone to do as I wished. There's a lovely shaded picnic area, as well as outdoor sofas, even a bocci ball court. By noon, however, several other couples interrupted our solitude and we had to wait a while to get the attention of the server to order a bottle. Overall, this was my favorite visit.

Going on a stroll around Acacia
We stopped at the hotel on the way home to pick up sausage, cheese, avocado, and crackers for a picnic and headed to Provenance. The reviews online weren't so great but we decided to scope it out anyway since it was free. The floors here are made of former wine barrel caps which looks cool. the tasting room is furnished with nice couches and through a glass wall you can see the production tanks. Our server was an older man, probably 60s or 70s, and new so I think he was a bit nervous and as a result a little too formal, though he was also very informative. One thing he told us was that they are starting to use specialized twist off caps for heir more expensive wines, since they have a special material that allows for a certain amount of oxygen to pass through (for aging); we would have thought the true cork would have been for expensive bottles. Outside they have wrought iron chairs under trees where we had our picnic. We got the feeling taking our glasses outside would not have been permitted like in Acacial.

After, we hit our final stop of the day, Beaulieu Vineyards (BV), right across the street. The vineyard boasts being the oldest around at about 110 years of continued service. During Prohibition they sold their wine to the diocese of San Francisco and during the Depression (when they sold $100+ bottles of wine for $1) they made enough to scrape by by selling tartar crystals (which are the result of wine making). The tasting room is very much a show room, definitely not as homey as the others. The wines were good, but by now, after tasting so many different wines, they all tasted the same. We happily headed back to the hotel for some TV, leftovers, and packing.

As a warning, getting to San Francisco airport from Napa is awful and even fast and aggressive drivers should prepare for an hour and a half drive. We took a long route around to avoid Oakland & San Francisco (which is the way Google Maps tries to automatically send you), since my flight was at 9am and we'd be hitting the famous California rush hour traffic. It ended up taking 2 hours and fifteen minutes! Be prepared!

Now, off to Oregon!!!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

San Francisco

Hello from San Francisco, California! I flew from JFK airport direct to the San Francisco via Jet Blue with my parents. After the long six hour flight, we were ready to get into the city (especially since Jet Blue doesn't have any real food, just junk food! Yuck!). We dropped off our bags at the Hilton and headed straight to China Town. It is exactly how you would imagine it- tacky, touristy, and not terribly Chinese. However, it's famous in San Francisco, so it's a must on your first trip there. There are a lot of junky shops, but my mom and I were hungry, so we stopped in a restaurant that had a teeny-tiny balcony, just enough space for a two person table. It was nice to sit in the sun and have some steamed dumplings, spring rolls, and a Thai iced tea.

 Afterwards, we headed to the Top of the Mark, a swanky bar/restaurant on top of a famous hotel. The building is a skyscraper on top of a hill, so the restaurant has a spectacular 360 view of the city. It's very pricey, but for one drink you can have a seat by the windows facing the sunset. They are also famous for having a cocktail list of 100 different martinis. I had the California Sun: Smirnoff Orange, Cointreau, lime, and a splash of cranberry. Delicious!
California Sun

The view from the Top of the Mark

That night we went to dinner at the Trattoria Contadina, a delicious Italian restaurant. The pasta is fresh and delicious! Everything on the menu is excellent. It's a very small place, so you need a reservation!

The next day my mom and I went to Alcatraz. Going to Alcatraz is pretty pricey ($30/person), however it's a must-see if you're going to be in SF. The ticket includes a free 15 minute video by the Discovery Channel going over the history of the Rock (as it's famously called) as well as a 45 minute audio guide tour of the prison. The video is worth it- see it before seeing the rest of the island. Then, head up to the prison. On the way, keep an eye open on your right for a self-guided tour brochure (I'll go over that in a second). The audio guide to the prison is great. It walks you through the entire prison going over the history that occurred in the very spot you're standing in and it includes real voices of former inmates and guards. Quotes and information are sprinkled throughout; cells and offices are decorated to look as they did when they were occupied.

During our visit, we were lucky enough to be there when they were having a guest lecturer in the dining hall of the prison. Mark Brown, author of Capone, gave a talk on Al Capone, one of Alcatraz's most famous inmates. I learned many interesting things: Al Capone played the mandolin and wrote music in Alcatraz; when he was a prisoner in Atlanta, J. Edgar Hoover himself investigated allegations that Capone was able to smuggle in drugs and money to the prison (no proof was ever found); Capone received hundreds of letters and presents, though he was only allowed to receive mail from designated friends and family, so most of the letters were burned and the presents were donated to charity without his knowing it; Capone was cited as a good worker while in Alcatraz and worked in the library; while in Alcatraz, just months before finishing his sentence in Alcatraz, Syphilis hit Capone's nervous system, causing him to go insane; doctors treated his Syphilis by giving him malaria, which nearly killed him; because of his mental instability, it is believed that he was brought to serve his final year in prison (for a charge of contempt of court) at Terminal Island wearing a straight jacket.

As I mentioned, grab the brochure. It provides you with a walking tour map and descriptions, following along the different gardens on the island. What's amazing is that before Alcatraz was used by humans, it really was just a rock with no plant life whatsoever. Now, it is full of trees, plants, flowers, and shrubs. The gardens are quite beautiful and at one time were started and maintained by the prisoners. When you do the self-guided tour, it takes you around the prison and to finish up you cross into the recreation field. Here you can see the baseball field and stadium seating that the prisoners could hang out in; at the top of the stadium seating they could actually see San Francisco.
The view from the Recreation Field

A cell

Mark Brown's lecture

A rose garden below the prison overlooking the bay
Two hours later, we headed back to the mainland and over a few blocks to Pier 39. Pier 39 is a tourist spot with shops and restaurants, a view of Alcatraz, and a spot where tons of sea lions lay in the sun. The pier looks like it's right out of Disney, with colorful signs featuring different themed shops and restaurants vying for tourists' attention. Since it was the middle of the week and the middle of the day (3pm), we were able to snag a spot at the Seal Cafe/Neptune's Restaurant, a large restaurant with floor to ceiling windows. It's expensive, but well worth the view if you get there at an off-time like we did (or if you're lucky at other times). We had the back left corner window, meaning that we had a beautiful view of Alcatraz to our left and the sunning seals to our right. The food was also good, albeit very expensive. We had the seafood bisque and the Neptune's salmon fish & chips, both of which were delicious.
The seals


That night we went to the Clock Bar in the Westin St. Francis hotel for some fancy cocktails. I would highly suggest to the ladies to get the Tequila Mockingbird cocktail. Afterwards, we headed to La Mar, a Peruvian restaurant that apparently can be found in NY and South America as well. They had amazing seafood, particularly the cheviche, and empanadas. It’s located in a restored pier building, which makes it a historical landmark and gives it an urban chic look. 

The next day we headed to the Haight-Ashbury, which is an interesting neighborhood today. Famous for being a center for gay sociopolitical history in the US, emblemized by the film Milk, today it is a combination of touristy and counter-culture. The many quirky shops and boutiques reminded me a bit of St. Marks in NYC. Walking down towards the Golden Gate Park, you'll pass many cool shops and cafes- be sure to stop in!

Walking towards the park at the end that is similar to Central Park, you'll find a lot of young, dirty hippies, what we call in New York "wookies" or "wooks." They lay around at the front law of the park, playing music and lounging in packs in their dirty blankets with their long, messy dreads, hairy bodies, and scary looking dogs. It could be quite an intimidating scene for those of us from other regions of the country who don't always see this side of life. However, just walk on by. They're not looking to cause trouble, just to renounce worldly possessions and enjoy a simple, semi-communal life without "normal" shelter.

In Golden Gate Park
This rectangular portion of Golden Gate Park is part of Golden Gate National Park, which is the largest urban national park in the country and two and a half times the size of San Francisco. Golden Gate Park is a really awesome part of San Fran. There is an art museum, science museum, monuments, beautiful nature walks, a Japanese tea garden, and more. We hit up the De Young art museum, which was having two exhibitions. 

One was the Rudolf Nureyev: A Life in Dance, which was an amazing highlight of the famous male ballet dancer. There were unbelievably gorgeous costumes on display, with video to boot. Plus, we happened to just arrive as they were beginning a free tour, so we go to hear a little bit about the context of the different opulent costumes. One of the best displays is a whole wall with tons of different female costumes from a ballet he was in, but they were lightly veiled by a screen that had video from the ballet being artistically projected onto it. Unbelievable. 

The other special exhibition was titled A Taste for Modernism. It's a selection of major works from the William S. Paley Collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Paley was a founder of the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), but also a dedicated philanthropist and patron of the arts and purchased the foreign works despite their lack of popularity here in the US at the time. "Particularly strong in French Post-Impressionism and Modernism, the collection includes multiple works by Paul Cezanne, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, as well as significant works by Edgar Degas, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gauguin, Andre Derain, Georges Rouault and artists of the Nabis School such as Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard." I personally love post-impressionism and it was nice to have this collection highlighted (I may have already seen it in New York, but don't remember it by it's collector!). The extra cost ($20 total) for these special collections was well worth it.

Afterwards, we headed to the Japanese Tea Garden. Around 1894, the World's Fair was held in Golden Gate Park. The Japanese Tea Garden was thus built for the Fair and still stands today. For $7 you can see the decently sized and well cared for gardens. There are beautiful examples of miniature trimmed trees, waterfalls, and Japanese structures. There is also an area where you can purchase tea (slightly overpriced and nothing fancy, but on a cold day can definitely be worth it!).

Since we were freezing, we headed back to the hotel to rest. That night we went to an Asian fusion restaurant called The House. The appetizers were delicious and more "traditional" Asian food (dumplings, salmon rolls... and oysters!), while the main course had a lot of fish and red meat (vegetarians be warned: not much selection here). They had a nice beer list and I was able to have Chimay, a great Belgian beer I used to love to drink when I was living in France. Afterwards, we hit up the 150 year old bar just across the street, called The Saloon. The bar itself has a beautiful wood facade and there are some gorgeous stained glass windows as well. They were bumping with live blue grass and blues and the drinks were strong and cheap. I would definitely recommend a stop here!

Up next: Redwoods and wine!

PS: Please let me know what you think of the new look to the blog!