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Pinot – No Better End to a Long Day

Today was a long day – not a bad day at all – but a long day.  It started with a great long walk with some friends, up in the Arboretum near my house.  This is always a great workout for my butt and thighs, and I’d like to say my arms got a workout too – swinging to slap the mosquitoes!

Then I showered and ate some lunch and Jon and I headed off to Fred Meyer for a marathon shopping trip.  We are going on vacation soon (YAY!) and neither of us had enough shorts for the hot climate.  And, I needed a new bathing suit too…  Now that’s never a fun trip… So we piled clothes into the cart, did the marathon try-on sessions, and we actually both got some suitable new summer clothes!  And with an extra 15% off coupon!  Then we got groceries too.  And really, that’s enough of a chore for one day, right?

Well, then I went to work.  I moved offices a few weeks ago, with my promotion (another YAY!) and have been so busy at work that I have not had time to unpack my boxes or hang my pictures.  So, I decided that the only way would be to do it on the weekend.  I feel like I got so much done!  8 boxes unpacked and all my pictures hung and only 2 boxes to go!

So, by the time I got home (I had to stop by the store again on the way to get taco seasoning and sour cream) I was ready for some serious kicking back.  Jon opened a bottle of 2006 Hamacher Pinot Noir, from the Willamette Valley.

We discovered Hamacher when we visited the Carlton Winemaker’s Studio in Carlton, Oregon, in November 2009.  We went based on a recommendation from Jon’s grandfather, who lived in McMinnville and was quite knowledgeable about wine.  The Winemaker’s Studio is a cooperative of 14 wineries, so it’s a great place to go if you want to sample multiple wineries in one stop.  The server was friendly and laid back, and liked to tell stories of his upcoming wedding and which wines they were going to serve (I imagine he’s gotten married by now though, since that was in 2009).

2006 Hamacher Pinot Noir – Plus my Chilean Pottery Pig!

The Hamacher did not disappoint. This wine is red wine and chocolate in a bottle.  No joke.  This wine is the color of a dark ruby, with excellent clarity.  It has a nice light mouthfeel.  And the flavor – yum… It is dark ripe cherries mixed with a velvety milk chocolate.  It is very smooth, exhibiting none of the tart acidity that younger Pinots often have.  The finish, while not long, stayed true to the flavor of the wine.

If you have the opportunity, this is a must-have wine!

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Alex Eli Riesling at the Oregon Wineworks

The other evening, I opened a bottle of the AlexEli 2008 Riesling. This is a wine that Jon and I bought when we visited the Oregon WineWorks in McMinnville, Oregon in the fall of 2009. Oregon Wineworks is a cooperative winery, where several wineries share equipment and a tasting room. It is quite close to downtown McMinnville, located in an old brick building that appears to have been a machinist’s shop at one point. They have remodeled the building in a tasteful, modern design, and the result is a friendly, cozy space. The only drawbacks are that there is no natural light in the tasting room, and that makes it rather chilly. But we were there in late fall – and it was raining that day.

I have been meaning to open this wine on several occasions, and for some reason it has never gotten uncorked. I think Jon steers away from Rieslings because he expects them to be too sweet for his taste, so he kept trying to get me to open some other white instead. Until now. I had the opportunity to remember why I like it so much. This is a semi-sweet Riesling, with flavors of peach and Golden Delicious apples. It is a great balance between dry and sweet, and a great complement to Thai or other spicy foods. Now I’m disappointed that I only have one bottle. One thing is for certain – it is time to make another trip down to Oregon WineWorks to try their current vintages.

Sacramento and the Mountains

The second full day of our vacation, we decided to go see Fort Sutter in the middle of town. Fort Sutter was established in 1839, as a part of a land grant to John Sutter, a Swiss immigrant who used his land grant to set up an agricultural empire, called New Helvetia (New Switzerland). Sutter became well known as a generous person when he provided aid to the trapped Donner Party in 1847, and as a result, his Fort because the Motel 6 for travelers on the early pioneer route. Eventually, the properties were overrun by gold seekers and Sutter was driven out – the Fort is all that remains. It was restored to its 1847 status based on maps found in Germany. We wandered around the Fort, but we didn’t take the tour. It has the feel of a children’s pioneer exhibit – with lots of people wandering around in costume, showing visitor’s how to make candles or create iron horseshoes. Educational, but just not what we were into that day.

The Crocker Museum is near Fort Sutter, so we went there next.  The Crocker is a fine arts museum (the traditional kind, not modern art), and if you have never been there, go. The Crocker Art Gallery was the brainchild of Judge E.B. and Margaret Crocker, who bought the property in 1868 and commissioned an architect to build them a mansion and an art gallery to house their growing art collection. The Italianate style mansion and attached gallery buildings were completed in 1872. The Crocker’s had amassed a collection of art from their tours of Europe between 1869 and 1871, which included Dutch, Flemish and Baroque paintings and drawings. Margaret Crocker donated the art gallery in 1885, and since that time, the collections have grown to include American art, ceramics, Asian art, and pretty much every style you ever learned about in your History of Art class. The place was huge, and apparently now that a 2010 expansion is complete, the Crocker is now 3 times larger. I want to go back and see how much more of their collection they have on display. At any rate, when you go upstairs, they have a gallery room that is floor to ceiling paintings. I imagine they have the most valuable paintings at eye level, but Jon and I had a wonderful time just staring up at the wall and trying to pick out our favorites. That’s hard to do when the walls in that room were covered with at least 100 paintings.

The Crocker wrapped up our visit to Sacramento, and we headed back up to the mountains to make a visit to Grass Valley and Nevada City. We found a little diner called the Classic Cafe to have a late lunch in, and really enjoyed our burgers.  If you have seen the Hallmark Movie “The Christmas Card”, you have seen the Classic Cafe.

The Owners Home at the Empire Mine

Next up on the agenda after my need for food was satisfied was the Empire Mine. The Empire Mine was an extremely elaborate mining operations, with tunnels radiating outwards and downwards under the earth for several miles. At the mine’s Visitor Center, they have a map showing all the mine shafts, and showing which ones are currently filled with water. Apparently this is the major problem with the mine – the groundwater eventually began seeping back into the tunnels.

I Was Promised that Sacramento Was Hot!

In April of 2009, Jon and I were able to get cheap fares to Reno, Nevada, so we decided to fly there and drive over to Jon’s old stomping grounds, Sacramento. We flew into Reno over the mountains and through the turbulence, but we made it there in one piece. The Reno airport is like being in a casino, with all the slot machines and ringing noises. Fortunately, since I don’t like casinos, we were able to escape pretty quickly after picking up the rental car.

Once we were on the road, we made our way to the interstate and heading towards Sacramento. We got to head over the mountains on Donner Pass, which was fun. Even though it was April, it was still snowing on the pass, and quite cold. I wasn’t dressed for the weather, which made stopping at the rest area a chilly excursion. It was really interesting to see the terrain and the conditions that that Donner Party were subjected to as they tried to cross over the pass 160 years ago. I can imagine even now how difficult it would be without the modern conveniences that we have today – cars and paved roads. Those people stuck it out in the deep snow, starving, with no supplies and no idea how far it was to get back to civilization. It is amazing to think about how strong and brave those people were. And here we breezed over the pass to Sacramento in 2 hours.

We stopped for a little while and had lunch in the town of Auburn. It was a beautiful sunny day and we wandered around town for little while. Me being the nerd that I am, I made Jon pose for pictures with me in the sun. And there was antique mining equipment, just begging to be posed with. So we did.

Mining Equipment in Auburn

When we got to Sacramento, I was struck by how cold it was. Jon promised that it would be hot in April. Like shorts and tank top wearing hot. Really, it was more like jeans and sweater weather. I was disappointed. There was one day that I did get to lay out in the sunshine by the pool, but it was too cold to go in the water, and I even had to cover up with my towel at times. Certainly NOT hot like I was promised.

We had a couple of days to hang out, so we did some of the touristy things in town.  We went down to Old Sacramento, which is a tourist area right on the river. Old Sacramento was built around the railroad line, and has original old west buildings and others that have been rebuilt according to period specifications. It is touristy, with the shoppes (yes I meant to spell it like that) selling taffy and souvenirs, along with art galleries and a few import stores. They had some neat stuff, but at tourist prices (translate that to: stuff we can’t afford). We had lunch at a fish and chips place, eating our fish and chips the traditional way with vinegar. I just don’t understand why that hasn’t caught on here – it’s so much better than tartar sauce.

Shoppe in Old Sacramento

What was really cool at Old Sacramento was the Railroad Museum. They go chronologically through the history of the Railroad, from the first laying down of the railroad ties by the Chinese workers, to present day. They document the horrible conditions that the Chinese were subjected to, and the dangers of the work. They talk about the experience of laying the line up and over Donner Pass, and how the workers would frequently get trapped in storms like the Donner Party did. The museum has all sorts of different engines and railroad cars that you can look at, and some that you can go through. They have dining and sleeping cars from the heyday of train travel that reminded me of several classic movies. One day it would be really cool to take a cross country train trip for a couple of days, to live the experience. Just not one that is long enough that I’d really be in need of a shower. I’m not sure how that works on a train, but something tells me I just don’t get one. But I digress… The Railroad Museum also had a whole exhibit on railroad toys (my grandfather would have loved this – he was really into toy trains), and it was neat to think back on a time when all little boys wanted to be train conductors or engineers.

Me with a Railroad Car

So, that wrapped up our day – we were tired but happy.

San Francisco Hill Workout in the Pouring Rain (aka Part 2)

The next day, we slept in a bit and got ready. We headed out for breakfast and found a diner with some really good food, but the grumpiest waitress on the West Coast. Geez, you’d think that she had just waited 45 minutes for her breakfast!

We decided that we were going to head over to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. I’m not sure that I had ever been to a modern art museum, and now that we have, Jon and I both agreed to avoid them in the future. I’m not an art snob by any means, but I think that for it to be art, it needs to be something I can’t do. These exhibits were just weird. There was an exhibit of collages made with other artist’s work (kind of a Van Gogh, Starry Night decoupage kids project), a billiard table with no pockets, a canvas painted all red (I could totally do that!), and my personal favorite, a room sized piece that consisted of a white clay baby Jesus surrounded by concentric circles of black clay poodles. Really, what is the symbolism of that? Are you telling me Jesus is going to get taken down during the second coming by a hoard of rabid poodles!? Jon and I were both in agreement that traditional art and history museums are more our style. But I supposed you have to do it so you can say you have.

Baby with Poodles

We left the museum and decided to have a little adventure with public transit. It was pouring, and we wanted to go see the Haight-Ashbury district and Golden Gate Park. Bus fares in San Francisco include the return ride too! So we got on and passed by the Capitol Building with its gold leaf dome, and passed through the Mission district. We got off in Haight-Ashbury and spent some time wandering around in the shops in the area. There was a really cool used bookstore with lots of good history books. And Jon’s favorite place, at the very end of the road… the record store. Amoeba records is like the Costco of record stores. New, used, movies, they had it all. Jon was in heaven! And I was bored. But he tries his best to not make me wait too long. He got a couple of things, and then we took a walk in Golden Gate Park. Mind you, it wasn’t really all that pleasant, because it was raining, so it was a rather brief walk. Once we got on the bus going back towards the Baldwin, we got to drive by The Painted Ladies! They are as cool as they look in all the movies. If I could live there, I would totally move to San Francisco. Something tells me I can’t afford them.

Golden Gate Park Carousel

Later that afternoon, we hooked back up with Pablo, and we got to go to another record store. This one had a weird valet elevator even! After that, we roamed around looking for something to eat, and found a little Thai place with the best food. The meal was delicious and the company was good. The only bad thing was that afterwards we had to venture back out in the pouring rain. By the time we got back to the hotel, we were soaked. My coat was still somewhat wet the next day.

The last day of our trip we only had a half day in San Francisco before we had to head back to the airport for our flight home. I had been curious about the Cable Car Museum, so after we got some breakfast, we walked to it. It was pretty neat. You can stand on a platform and watch all the cables in action. Literally, there are these gigantic cables, wrapped around gigantic pulleys, and the cable cars are pulled along their tracks from this location. They also have antique cable cars on display, and displays on the history of cable cars and how they came to be in San Francisco. And this museum is free too. We did buy a couple of souvenirs in the gift shop to help support the cause.

Antique Cable Car

After having a weekend of fun, it was time to go home. Any decent vacation is always too short.

San Francisco Hill Workout – Part 1

The first airplane trip that Jon and I took together was when we had been together about 6 months. At that point, I think we were both thinking that we were in the relationship for the long haul. The extended stay trip is kind of a milestone in a relationship, because it is a great opportunity to assess different skills (how does this guy react when he is tired and cranky and the airline loses his luggage?) Plus, there is the other important factor to be considered: will being around this guy 24 hours a day for several days drive me to the brink of insanity? So, to test our relationship (or just to take a vacation, whatever you want to call it), we flew to San Francisco in February 2009. I had never been to San Francisco before, but Jon had been there several times. We flew into the Oakland Airport, and had decided that for this trip, we weren’t going to rent a car. San Francisco has pretty good public transportation options and we are both physically fit and not opposed to walking places. Once we landed, we took the shuttle bus to the BART station, to make our way into San Francisco. It was dark by the time we got to the BART, so we couldn’t see any of the landmarks, and it took us a couple of stops to figure out that we were going the wrong direction – we had gotten on the wrong train… Oops. So, we hopped off, went over to the other track, and got back on in the right direction. That boo boo cost us about 20 minutes, but we were none the worse for the wear, and made it into the city without further incident.

Once we got there, we went and found our hotel, The Baldwin. The Baldwin is located about a half block from the gates of Chinatown, with a nice central location. The pros, it is a neat historic hotel, with a big clawfoot bathtub. Our room had a view into the condo across the alley, which had some really cool artwork and furniture. Of course, we tried not to snoop too much into the lives of our millionaire neighbors, but hey, they left their shades open! Some of the reviews on one of the travel sites said that the garbage trucks going through the alley in the middle of the night kept them awake all night, but we didn’t have any problem with that. The cons, the bed was soft and creaky, and past its useful life. The hairdryer was attached to the dresser in the room, so you couldn’t really do your hair in the bathroom. That was really just a quirk, but odd nonetheless. They didn’t have a continental breakfast, but most big city hotels don’t. They did have coffee and tea in the lobby at all hours, but no coffeemaker in the room.

Once we got settled, we headed off in the direction of Chinatown to find something to eat. The shops were closing, so could couldn’t peek around into any of them, but we managed to find a conveyor belt sushi place that looked decent. We enjoyed a meal of sushi and chatted about what we were going to do in the city. We headed back to the hotel so we could be up early to do some touristing!

The first full day in San Francisco started out with no rain and somewhat overcast. We had a quick breakfast at Starbucks, and then headed out for a walk up the hill to Coit Tower. Wow, that is a hike! Once you are almost at the top of the Telegraph Hill, which is steep, you have to climb up a series of steps to get to the Tower itself. Luckily we weren’t in a hurry! Coit Tower has been a San Francisco landmark providing butt-burning workouts since 1933, when it was completed at the bequest of funds by Lillie Hitchcock Coit upon her death in 1929. When Lillie Hitchcock was 15 years old, she began a lifelong affliation with the Knickerbocker Engine Company Number 5. As the story goes, in 1858, the Knickerbocker Engine #5 was understaffed, and the men were struggling to pull the engine up Telegraph Hill. Lillie Hitchcock was on her way home from school, and threw her books to the ground and began to help pull the engine up the hill, imploring other bystanders to join in the efforts. The Knickerbocker Engine Company never forgot her efforts and made her an honorary member of the department. Although Coit Tower really does resemble a fire hose, the architects insist that it was not intended to portray any sort of firefighting equipment.

Coit Tower is decorated with dozens of murals that were commissioned as a project under the Public Works Administration, President Roosevelt’s Depression Era New Deal federal employment program. The murals were mostly done by students and faculty form the California School of Fine Arts and depict city and rural life, the disconnect between the rich and the poor, and other everyday subjects. The murals are incredibly detailed. You can read the titles of newspapers in the pictures, and each time you look, you will see something different. When we went, it was free to enter the rotunda where most of the murals are (I’m not sure if it still is) – you just have to pay to take the elevator to the top. Since we had never been, we did take the elevator up, and I think it was worth it to see the panoramic views of the City. I probably wouldn’t go up every time though. It is like the Seattle Space Needle, it is the type that you only need to see every 5 or 10 years.

Coit Tower Mural

While at Coit Tower, Jon’s friend Pablo joined us. Pablo and Jon met when Jon lived in Sacramento, and they have been fast friends ever since. Pablo made the trip from Sacramento to join us and spend a couple of days. It was my first time meeting Pablo, but I could immediately see why Jon likes him.

After we left Coit Tower, we headed over to get a look at Lombard Street. Jon told me it was really close to Coit Tower, and at the time, I didn’t know enough to not believe his distance estimations. It was, if I remember correctly, about a half hour away (remember we are walking), down one big hill and back up another big hill (remember this is San Francisco). Some of you have heard Lombard Street called “the crookedest street in the world”. Well, apparently it is not, but it sure is close. The block is so steep that in order to accommodate cars, the street was built with a series of extreme switchbacks. In between the switchbacks are little flower gardens. I’m not sure who maintains the flower gardens, but if I lived there, I certainly wouldn’t want to be out there digging in the dirt when someone came barreling down the hill with no brakes! My theory is that all the little flower gardens are roadside memorials to the residents killed by crazy car-wielding tourists. But it sure is fun to take pictures.

Next we headed over to Fisherman’s Wharf. This was a downhill walk from where we were, but sometimes walking downhill is just as difficult. This walk is dotted with mansions, and I think several are being used as embassies. Tough life working in a mansion… But on the way, we found Patagonia! No, silly, not the geographic area, that’s in Chile and Argentina. The store! And they were having a sale! I found a really cool laptop bag with room to hold extra stuff. It is perfect for traveling with your computer. The only thing that has kept Jon from trying to steal it is the fact that it is lavender, that that Jon’s laptop doesn’t fit in the laptop pocket. Of course, that doesn’t always help. Sometimes he just takes it anyway.

All that shopping built up an appetite, so when we got down to the wharf area, we experienced another of those big city traditions that we just can’t get at home – In & Out Burger! Sometimes I just crave a hamburger, and these ones are so good. I’m sure I don’t want to know how many calories are in them – because I’m convinced that they butter the buns. But after all that walking I think I deserved it.

Down at the wharf area, there is a little museum run by the California Parks Department. It is pretty cool. It shows the location of all the shipwrecks that they know about in San Francisco Bay. There is an exhibit about the dangers of the Bay and the hazards that the sailors experience from back in the 1800s to today. And it’s free! We poked around in there for a little while and then it was on to the big reveal – Fisherman’s Wharf.

Fisherman’s Wharf is one of those ultimate tourist traps. I knew that before we went, but didn’t really know what it would be like. It is built on a Wharf (duh) and is kind of like a big, outdoor shopping mall, with all the stores catering to every imaginable tourist desire. T shirts, music boxes, candy, expensive art and lots of over-priced food. We wandered around for a little while, but it really isn’t that big of a draw for me. I was really more interested in finding the sea lions, but there weren’t very many hanging out on the day that we were there. Locals told us that there have been fewer and fewer of them in the last couple of years (maybe they are all heading up the Columbia River to chow down on the salmon at the dam).

Alcatraz Island from Fisherman's Wharf

 

That night was Valentine’s Day, and the next day was our six month anniversary. So, to celebrate, we walked over to North Beach and found a little hole in the wall Italian restaurant that was actually huge on the inside. The three of us enjoyed a delicious meal and Jon and I split a bottle of wine. Sorry guys, I have absolutely no recollection of what kind of wine it was – something Italian – but it was tasty. Funny though, I still remember that I had some delicious gnocchi, and Jon had eggplant parmesan.

That dinner wrapped up our day, and we walked our overstuffed, happy selves back to the Baldwin. I swear I walked 20 miles that day (Jon says it was only really 7 or 8), so I slept well!