Archive | August 2010

And then it was time to head home…

Our last day in California was reserved for a trip to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.  I first heard about the Getty several years ago, when they were sued by Italy for knowingly acquiring marble statues and other Italian antiquities that had been looted from archeological sites.  Their former curator stood trial on charges in Italy.  The Getty has returned some of the items after it was determined they were stolen, but they still have other pieces that have suspicious origins.  It will be interesting to see how that all plays out.  Most of these items are housed at the Getty Villa, which is a sculpture museum on a different site than we visited.

We got to the Getty about 10:30 and parked in their massive bomb-shelter – I mean garage – and then came back up to ground level.  From there, you take a tram up the hill to the museum itself.  The views of LA are amazing, and when you see the museum, it is even more impressive.  The courtyards and buildings are made from marble and concrete, and are massive.  There are fountains and gardens with a manicured maze too.  And beyond paying $15 per car for parking, admission is free.  They offer little maps of the exhibits and the grounds, but I have to say, their map kind-of sucked.  Several times we wandered over to a building because I was sure that it was the one the map was pointing us to, only to find out that oops, that’s not it!

The Courtyard at the Getty Museum

Once we figured out our bearings, we started touring.  We started out in their Europeon wing, where they had art and objects from 14th, 15th and 16th century Europe.  Of course art at that point was mostly religious art, so we toured lots of Virgin Marys, Jesuses, and some John the Baptists.  There were some mythical depictions too, to spice things up a bit.  I liked their collection of drug jars.  Apparently the pharmacy jars of the time period survived in better shape than household goods, and many of them were quite ornate!  But, after awhile, you see one Virgin Mary, you’ve seen ’em all, so we headed to another section.

Exhibit two was documentary photography from the 1960s to present.  They had some very interesting exhibits, including a group of photos of Seattle street kids in the 1980s, and one titled “Kids with Money.”  Southern California kids with more money than they knew what to do with shopping, putting on makeup, and getting all dolled up for their 7th grade parties.  It was eye opening.

But the most powerful exhibit was a huge montage of photos from the Iraq war.  Instead of focusing on battle views, the photographer chose to photograph in operating rooms.  These photos of soldiers bloodied and torn apart brought tears to my eyes.  It doesn’t matter what your political affiliation is, to look at these photos is to understand that something has gone wrong in the world.  I left that exhibit feeling very saddened for those men and women and their families.

The last exhibit we had time for was their special exhibit on Gerome, who was a French artist in the mid-to-late 19th century.  I had not heard of him before, but I will certainly look up more about his work.  These works were also on loan from the Musee d’Orsay in France, which is currently undergoing renovations and has loaned many of their exhibits to museums around the world.  But back to Gerome – he paints with a very realistic style, which gives his works a near photographic quality.  He has the talent to pain humans and animals and objects flawlessly and his paintings sometimes have entire landscapes occurring beyond what is going on in the foreground.  His use of color is magnificent.  Jon and I were both very impressed.  Apparently, directors in the early 20th century often used his paintings as their inspiration for scenes in movies – they showed several still photos from early Hollywood movies next to one of Geromes works and you could clearly see that they copied directly from his painting.  If you have the opportunity to see this exhibit, you should.

The Horse Trader, one of my favorites

After we were done there, it was time to head back to the airport.  Of course, it is LA, so there was a traffic jam.  We moved very slowly back to the airport, worried about the time, only to find out that our plane was delayed anyway.  Our friends were on the same flight home though, so we ended up chatting with them before getting on our plane an hour late.  A pleasant flight home and a very late bedtime concluded our Southern California vacation.  Can’t wait to go back and explore some more!

Let’s go Danish in the heart of California

Day 3 of our journey led us back to the cute little Danish town of Solvang.  We didn’t feel like we had enough opportunity to explore it the day before, and both Jon and I were in the mood for relaxing.  We headed up there after taking our time in the morning, and our first stop was the Solvang Antique Center.  I was expecting a place with some antiques, some collectibles and lots of little stuff to go through.  This place had hundreds of antique, ornate, grandfather clocks.  And old, huge European furniture.  And a few glass items.  In short, nothing that we could afford, and even if we could, it wouldn’t fit into our house.  We saw one clock priced at $57,000!  Wow, talk about a step up from my IKEA clock!  So, I was in the mood for antiquing, and this place didn’t satisfy me, so we drove up the road to Los Alamos to another antique mall.  This one had the fun stuff I like to look at.  It is housed in a turn of the century train station, and it was neat to see the original floorboards.  If you get tired of shopping, you can have a seat at their wine tasting bar.  We were tempted, but we hadn’t had lunch yet…  We both saw some things that we liked but we saved our money like good little newlyweds – you have to have some for wine!

After my antique itch was scratched, we headed back to Solvang to find lunch and enjoy the afternoon.  We looked around at our lunch options – sushi, German food, ice cream, and we finally settled on a place called the Little Mermaid that offered traditional Danish fare.  I ordered the combo plate, which included Danish sausage, Danish meatballs with gravy, pickled cabbage and mashed potatoes.  Jon thought I was nuts to order that on a hot day and went with the salmon.  My verdict on Danish food is that is kind of your typical European, non-spicy meat and potatoes.  I enjoyed it, but I don’t know that I would go seeking it out if our hometown opened up a Danish joint.  They had a really good passionfruit flavored iced tea though.

After lunch, we wandered down the main drag to Lion’s Peak Winery’s tasting room.  It is decorated with lots of leopard and zebra print, and kind of reminds you of an art gallery.  Their labels are taken from art by a local artist whose prints are hanging in the tasting room.  The server was a lot of fun, and liked to growl like a lion periodically (perhaps she was doing a tasting of her own, under the table).  They had several wines that we really enjoyed, including a buttery Chardonnay that was one of Jon’s favorites, a Mourvedre that I really enjoyed, and a dark full bodied Zinfandel that was outstanding.  Of course we got some wine from there, because best of all, they were having a sale!  To make room for new releases!  We even got some wines for our moms – sorry moms, you’ll have to wait and see what you get.

Lion's Peak Winery Tasting Room in Solvang, CA

Next we headed down the street to Lucas and Lewellen.  This place was hopping- it was really packed!  It was interesting though.  They pour you a taste, don’t tell you anything about it, and then leave.  When you finish that one, they are right there to give you the next taste.  I did find it odd that there was no description, no chit chat, none of it.  It was very impersonal.   I wondered if maybe it was because they were chatting up the locals, but they really weren’t very much.  Later that evening, I read an article that described them that way – that they leave you to your tasting.  I guess it is just a matter of personal preference – but I like to hear about the winery.  They had some good wines, and some that were ok.  I didn’t feel any of them were real standouts though.

After wine tasting some, we wandered around in the sunshine for a bit and stumbled upon the Wednesday Farmer’s Market.  Oh wow, the peaches!  Huge and juicy!  We bought 4, and enjoyed one on a bench in the sun.  I wish our farmer’s market had peaches like those – I can dream…  Next up was saltwater taffy.  We picked two of all the flavors that looked good and ended up with about a 1/2 pound of candy.  We were able to make it last a whole day – hey, we are on vacation here, we have to enjoy ourselves!  We should have gotten more.

After walking through a gate in the adobe wall, we were at the Santa Ynez Mission.  We took pictures of the outside, but didn’t do the tour of this one.  I guess at this point we were a little “missioned” out.  They did have a beautiful rose garden, and a youth ministry building called “The Vines.”  Ummm, starting them a little young down here on the wine, aren’t you?

Jon ringing the dinner bell

The last winery of the day was The Presidio Winery.  They are an organic and biodynamic winery, which means no pesticides, but also that they use the lunar cycles to determine when they will plant, pick and do other things to the grapes.  They plant beans and other crops in between the rows to provide nitrogen to the soil too.  I was looking forward to their wines, but I wasn’t impressed.  They do only unfiltered reds, which apparently means they come cloudy and tart.  There was not a red in the bunch that I enjoyed.  The whites were better, but unfortunately, there wasn’t a standout there either.  Jon did get a tealight holder that sits in a wine bottle, so he was happy, but we weren’t tempted to buy any wine.

After heading back to the hotel, we looked up restaurants on and found a Brazilian restaurant called Maqueca (pronounced MAH – CAKE – AH)  in Oxnard, CA.  What a find!  Maqueca is a traditional Brazilian fish stew – you can have it with fish, shrimp, lobster, mixed seafood – however you like it.  It is served with sticky rice, and a gelatin-like stuff that she said was made of flour.  You spread out your rice, put the gelatin substance on top of that, and then spoon your maqueca on the top.  It isn’t very spicy, but you can add VERY HOT chili peppers if you would like to.  I tried one – that was one too many for me!  The stew was delicious!  When you order, they say it serves two, but even with Jon’s appetite, this stew could have been for at least three.  We had a lot left over, even after stuffing ourselves full of big chunks of fish and shrimp.  I would have loved to take it home – our server said it is even better the next day, when the spices have had more time to marinate.

We went back to our hotel room, stuffed and happy, to share a bottle of wine.

Who knew the California Missions sell wine – and not the sacramental kind!

We started our day in downtown Ventura, where the Mission San Buenaventura is located.  The Ventura Mission was founded in 1782 by Fray Juniperro Serra – this was the last mission that he founded.  They built an aqueduct from a river 7 miles away to irrigate the mission crops – which lasted longer than the first church building that was destroyed by fire.  The padres had to flee inland in 1812 after a large earthquake damaged the mission, and they had to run again with the church valuables in 1818 when a pirate was pillaging the area.  An earthquake damaged the roof in 1857 as well.  Today, the mission is in the middle of downtown Ventura, but once you enter the gates to the courtyard, you are welcomed with very peaceful atmosphere.  They have a self-guided tour by donation, which is basically the chapel and the garden area.  There are a few of the early priests buried there behind the chapel.  The mission is an active parish with services daily and a school.  The chapel is beautiful, but more simple than some of the other missions we have seen.

After visiting the San Buenaventura Mission, we drove up to Santa Barbara to visit the Santa Barbara Mission.  This mission is much larger, more well-preserved, and more ornate.  It was the first founded by Fray Fermin de Lasuen in 1786.  The current church is actually the fourth on the site, built in 1820, after they decided to build larger and larger churches.  The third was destroyed in 1812.  Turns out the current trend of upsizing of homes is not a new phenomenon.  You can take a self-guided tour of the garden, which was originally a courtyard where the Indians lived and learned trades.  It takes you through the cemetery, where they estimate that 4,000 Indians, Franciscans and early Santa Barbara notables are buried.  From there you go into the chapel, which is absolutely beautiful.  It is decorated with 200-year-old paintings, that are about 7 feet tall.  Gorgeous!  The last stop of the tour was a museum containing information about the history of the mission, and artifacts from the mission.  They had a display of a mission kitchen, which made me glad for my gas stove and refrigerator.  And takeout – yes, definitely takeout.  In the gift shop you can buy Santa Barbara Mission Pinot Grigio and Sangiovese wine – it was tempting, but we settled for some postcards instead.

So all that looking into kitchens made us hungry (plus it was after noon, and I go from slightly hungry to “you could die if you don’t feed me now” in twelve seconds flat) so we drove to downtown Santa Barbara to find us some lunch.  We couldn’t decide, so we ended up at California Pizza Kitchen.  Neither of us had eaten there before, but for a chain, it was pretty good.  I had their Carne Asada pizza, and Jon had a Cobb salad, and we shared them both.  Yummy!  We wandered around for a little while, but neither of us was in the mood for ritzy shopping, so we headed on our way.

After lunch, we drove up to Solvang, California, which is a little Danish themed tourist town.  On the way, we stopped at Gainey Vineyard in the next town over, Santa Ynez, and did a tasting there.  Jon really enjoyed their Chardonnay, which is more on the oaked, buttery end of the spectrum.  We both enjoyed their Cabernet Franc.  I didn’t like their Merlot or their Cab Sauvignon, but Jon left raving about their selections.  They do their tastings in their aging cellar, which has a really neat atmosphere, but was dark and cold – and I didn’t come to California to be cold.  Luckily, they had a lovely patio that you could sit on while you do your wine tasting, you just have to keep trekking back and forth to get your next sample.  We sat and enjoyed the sunshine for awhile, and then were on our way.

We arrived in Solvang a few minutes before 4, so we didn’t really have much time to spend there.  We chose a winery on one of the main streets, Royal Oaks, and did a tasting there.  They had some good wines, and a few that were not so good.  I really enjoyed their Sauvignon Blanc, they did a great job making it a crisp, not too sweet wine.  Perfect for a hot summer day.  Their Pinot Noir was a disappointment – it was very tart.  They had a sweet Gewurztraminer that my mom would love though!  The server at the tasting room was friendly and down to earth, and we enjoyed our visit.

Solvang, CA

We headed back to the hotel that evening and hit Trader Joe’s for some snacks for dinner.  Sometimes dinner is just begging to be blueberries, a steak snack wrap, stuffed olives, 5-layer dip, and tapenade.  With wine of course.