Tuesday, May 25, 2010

California Part 3: Zinbitch and other amazing wines in Paso Robles

One of the biggest highlights of the trip so far though is our 2 night stay in Paso Robles on Sat and Sun night (22-23 May). Although we had to head inland again, it was so worth it!! Paso Robles is home to over 200 wineries – the major wine region of the central coast. We arrived into town having no idea that the Annual Wine Festival was on and we had just missed the Grand Tasting (unlimited wine) in the park!! We were bummed to say the least. As it turned out, we weren’t concerned about that after the experience that was to come!

We wanted to get an early night ready to hit the wineries the following day but had no idea where we were going to park. The town was so busy because of the festival and the local RV park office was closed so to cut a long story short we ended up in the middle of suburbia tucked away in the least conspicuous place as possible. Pity our van is just a little bit on the conspicuous side! We rose and left early on Sun morning before any movement in the homes surrounding us! Who would have thought we would ever be doing this!! Another night of dossing!

Among a couple of other forgettable wineries, there were two that we visited that we definitely won’t forget. Changala where we tasted amazing reds….but what was so brilliant is that they food matched all of their wines with different types of chocolate! And really weird flavours – pink peppercorn, lavender, raspberry and garlic!! We received really warm hospitality, got to meet the wine makers – Heidi and Jean and exchanged email addresses. Our initial reason for visiting? Tacos for lunch! What we got was so much more!

The biggest highlight – Four Vines winery. We had seen it on ‘Oz & James Clarke’s Big Wine Adventure’ DVD series. This winery is doing things a little different – a bunch of bikers who are going against the grain with their winemaking. Not so traditional, not so ‘upper class’, just down to earth and a little rough around the edges, but making amazingly brilliant wine! The names are a little different too – Zinbitch (their prized Zinfandel), Heretic, Anarchy, Maverick, Peasant, to name a few and wine bottles with funky, ‘alternative’ designs. We met the winemaker – Christian who we found out later is extremely anally retentive about his wine making, but that’s what makes it so good! After chatting to him for 5 minutes he had to leave, but before doing so led us into the tasting room where he requested VIP complimentary service for us. WOAH!! We were blown away by his hospitality. For the whole arvo, we received a personalised tasting session both from the bottle and directly from the barrel, hosted by two gorgeous girls – Katie & Kristie who we hit it off with instantly.

The arvo turned out to be a very long one – we ended up meeting some people from LA, sharing food and wine with them into the early evening when they had to go. We happened to mention to them that we were having trouble finding somewhere to park/stay in San Francisco….within minutes one of them was on the phone to her sister who lives there and had organised for us to stay with her. WOW!

The winery staff were also kind enough to let us stay over the night in the carpark and they even forgot (on purpose) to lock the toilet! We had breakfast in the winery café next door and hung out for the whole morning (yesterday) which gave us time to really reflect on our experience thus far.

Since we have left LA on Thursday, we have discovered that no plan is a good plan! We have experienced nothing but kindness, openness, genuineness and hospitality from the Americans we have met. A lot less ‘cheese’ and ignorance than we expected and more healthy food as well! The countryside is stunning as is the coast. It’s so easy to be relaxed here (when you leave the city). Surprisingly easy to let go as well, especially when you’re surrounded by nothing but beauty. This is definitely THE LIFE!!

We drove the Big Sur coast yesterday arvo and have stopped to camp at the Big Sur State Park. This morning it’s raining!! Come on! We have already had our fair share of rain! Hopefully it will be short lived.

Stay tuned for more soon!


Monday, May 24, 2010

California Part 2: Our Road Trip Begins

After picking up the camper, Tom Tom led us straight onto a six lane motorway. OMG!! So scary!! Esp since we had to get used to the car on the right, driver on the left and a van with suspension so soft that it felt like we were floating and swaying all over the place.

One thing I was a bit nervous about, was where we were going to stay/park each night, getting a shower etc. After booking the camper, we found out that RV parks and other campsites were a minimum of $25 per night and anything up to $60!! And most of these are unpowered. The other worry was that as we started to look online for campsites, we discovered that many of the best ones were actually booked out months in advance. The night before we left LA we made a call to the national campsite booking service and I don’t think the lady could get her head around the fact that we were wanting a site for that same night! NOT HELPFUL! So…at that point I was reminded about the fact that we actually just wanted to ‘go where our gizzards guide us’. This was my opportunity to let go of control and RELAX!! I had a ‘moment’ – what was I actually trying to do? This was the exact thing we were trying to avoid! PLANNING!! What was the worst that could happen? Sleep in the camper on the side of a road somewhere? The possibilities weren’t really that bad. I am slowly learning (the hard way), that it is so much better to be excited about the possibilities of amazing experiences as opposed to worried about everything that could go wrong, which is usually so much less than imagined anyway.

Leaving the camper company, we drove through Santa Monica which we loved as soon as we arrived!! We bought the most amazing salad we have ever eaten (citrus pecan salad). The ingredients: chicken, lettuce, pecans, blue cheese, toasted almonds, dried cranberries, apple and INCREDIBLE mandarin pieces! Mandarin here is nothing like in Oz…can’t even be compared! Yuuuuuummmmm! Who would have thought the best salad we have tried would be in America.

We were glad to finally get out of LA, we drove through Malibu (nothing too exciting) and came across a state park (like our national parks) which happened to have some available sites for the night. Perfect weather, beautiful surroundings, what more could we ask for. We breathed a sigh of relief….we were finally in the type of place that refreshes and energises us. Amongst nature. We did discover that night though that the clothing we packed and the blankets we were given were slightly insufficient for the weather we would encounter. We did expect Californian weather to be a lot warmer this time of year (the locals also tell us it should be). Sunshine yeah, but so far accompanied by some windy days and cold nights. Some warmer days and nights would be good. Still….we have had the opportunity to thaw out since arriving from the UK.

We rose early on Friday to make the most of the day, drove to Santa Barbara where we began our Californian wine tasting and encountered an amazing, buttery, oaky chardonnay! After umming and ahhhing, we finally went back the next day to buy a bottle. We are mindful that any wine we buy along the way we have to consume or give away before we leave the country (I know a few of you are thinking ‘that won’t be hard’) so we want to be very selective.

We left Santa Barbara and tasted some more wine in the Santa Ynez Valley about half hour from Santa Barbara. After the wineries closed for the day It was getting quite late and we were losing light….we didn’t yet know where we were going to park for the night. That was until we went to a random little bookshop in a random Danish tourist town called Solvang. We went there to access the wireless internet and got talking to the locals. We left there with an offer to stay overnight in the carpark across the road. So that’s what we did! Our first night ever of dossing! We woke up to tourists walking past taking photos of our van and of course of us! We were famous! Ha!

We also have to mention the ‘out of this world’ sushi that we ate in Solvang – OMG!! Spiced crab with asian guacamole and the whole roll was deep fried tempura style and served with an asian style seafood sauce. And the presentation was a work of art! So annoyed that we didn’t take a photo of it! Grrr! YES IT WAS THAT GOOD!

From Solvang, which was slightly inland, we made our way back to the coast. We stopped for lunch in Pismo beach where we had REAL Mexican food at a restaurant called Zorros!! We say real Mexican because it is nothing like we’ve ever had in Oz. So fresh and healthy! Yes….I’m raving about food again! It was at Zorro’s we met Judy and Larry, an older couple from Carmel further north on the coast. After talking with them for 5 minutes they invited us to their home and offered us a place to park the van overnight! Sweet!

Next stop Morro Bay, a quaint seaside town that didn’t feel so quaint because it was so bloody windy!! Honestly, we haven’t encountered winds like that since we left Oz! lol And of course the wind cut right through us like a knife! We definitely didn’t bring clothes to cater for this! Thankfully, the weather has got so much better since we left there. Anyway….in Morro Bay we met a random dude called Phil in a lil internet café who shared his travel tips with us….like if a state park is full and you say to the Ranger that you have to stay in that town/place tonight with nowhere else to go, by law they have to let you stay in the carpark outside. Brilliant!

The bay itself was beautiful, particularly the absolutely massive volcanic rock on the beach. As we drove into the town, all we could say was ‘woah’. Adjacent to the rock we saw sea otters in the wild….much to Tim’s satisfaction – he has a bit of an obsession with them and has wanted to see them in the wild for a long time.

Although we had planned to stay in Morro Bay, after the wind almost flung the door off our camper (literally), we thought we better move on…next stop Paso Robles.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

California Part 1: Los Angeles - not as glossy as Hollywood would have you believe.

Where do we start….a week has passed and it seems like two! The random places we have ended up, the people we have met so far has been nothing short of brilliant! We have let go of control (surprise for me I know) and going with the flow has been rewarding to say the least.

So here goes….we arrived in LA on Monday 17th May and extremely jet lagged, we made our way via shuttle to our hotel just off of Hollywood Blvd, through peak hour traffic. We discovered that LA drivers are ruthless and the only way to get through a gap in between bumpers to turn into a driveway is to honk your horn and use certain hand gestures! After arriving at our hotel, we got some food in Thai town, managed to stay up until 9pm (5am UK time) then hit the sack.

We were in LA for 3 nights, 3 days and it was slightly underwhelming, especially Hollywood. It definitely doesn’t look like the glossy brochures/postcards! It’s actually quite run down and after talking to some of the locals, we learned it’s quite a ‘rough’ neighbourhood. Of course it was a novelty (albeit cliché) to walk the Hall of Fame. We had a bit of fun posing with the stars at Madame Tussaud’s and of course Freddy Kruger out front of the Chinese Theatre. We spent the most part of a day at Universal Studios which was way overpriced and overrated (in our opinion of course – just in case we have caused offence ;-) We have concluded that theme parks are really not for us! They sap our energy and leave us feeling deflated and exhausted. So it will probably be the last one we do….at least until we have kids. The highlight of our visit to Universal was having a photo with Homer! LOL!

In LA, we were engulfed by fast food billboards from every angle and the ‘supersize’ reputation America is known for is definitely true!! We learned this at dinner on the first night, after eating it looked like a mouse had been nibbling at our serve. I (sal) was feeling a little concerned because it seemed obvious we were going to struggle to find any healthy, unprocessed food and there’s no way I was resorting to junk every day! Our saving grace……Whole Foods Market – an organic supermarket that we found on our way to visiting Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills. We stocked up on Salad for lunch and dinner there and although it was quite expensive (only because Tim got the weight conversions wrong - 1lb is only 450g, NOT 2.2kg!!) it was a brilliant buy! So there was hope…maybe we would find some more good, healthy food in this country!

On our last day in LA, we caught public transport to pick up our campervan. We used Google to find out the best way of getting to where we needed to go and what buses we needed to catch. Something we neglected to do was check what sort of neighbourhoods we would be passing through. We headed south from Hollywood and had to change buses at the halfway point….we got off the bus and needed to get some change for the next bus. Walking into a fast food joint, we immediately noticed the 2-inch thick bullet-proof glass lining the counter. ‘Uh-oh’…. We were not in a good neighbourhood. We hopped on our next bus and realised we definitely were not in Kansas anymore. All eyes were on the only Caucasian looking people and trying to get our luggage onto this packed bus was a little un-nerving to say the least! Thankfully we managed to get to where we needed to go without any hassle.

We have since found out from LA locals, that the corner where we changed buses is gang/violence central of LA and several people on that bus would have been thinking ‘how can we rob these people’!! Probably not a good thing to tell ya Mum or Dad!! SORRY!! Something to laugh about now!

We picked up our camper and were stoked to get a brand new van (right)with a wicked airbrush design! We have since attracted quite a bit of attention with this funky mini-home on wheels. It is our home for the next 28 days.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A little detour from the European Odyssey

Tomorrow we fly to Los Angeles where we will begin our 7 week detour. You might already be aware that we were meant to fly to the US from Oz as the first stop for our trip in April last year but we were rudely interrupted by my hip injury and surgery. It has been a very looooong drawn out rehab and a few weeks ago we decided that it was time to start travelling again. With the US conversion of the Aussie dollar being pretty good, it was a case of ‘what the heck…let’s do it!’ Oh and the fact that we needed and still need sunshine desperately!!

So the plan is….3 days in LA to get our bearings, then we hire a very funky airbrushed campervan for 28 days which we will drive north along the California coast to San Francisco, visit the wine regions, then drive back down through the national parks (Yosemite etc), head to Las Vegas & the Grand Canyon, San Diego (and all the places in between). We will be back in LA or the surrounding area for a few days before we fly to New York where we will spend about 12 days, then fly back to the UK. So…7 weeks in total and a lot of detail to fill in which we will try and do along the way. With a campervan as our accommodation and transport for most of the time, our access to the internet will be limited, but we will do our best to keep you updated.


Friday, May 14, 2010

The bittersweet part of travel

What is it you ask? It’s the people you meet and feel like you’ve known for years…and if you have the opportunity to spend any length of time with them, you become lifelong friends. In moving on to the next adventure, it’s not easy to leave these people behind, to say goodbye (for now) and hope that there will be an opportunity to meet again. We have extended invitations for people to visit us in Australia and we hope they will, but in leaving there is always that thought of ‘will we actually see you again’? We definitely hope so, but we also know that life has so many twists and turns that anything can happen! For now, we will just treasure the time we have spent with a beautiful bunch of people. You know who you are. We hope you hold up your end of the bargain and come visit us in Oz!


Thursday, May 13, 2010

‘Going as our gizzards guide us….’

Before travelling life was fairly predictable. I got up in the morning, had my coffee, had a shower, got dressed, left for work and caught the same 723F bus every weekday into the city…. basically same s**t, different day. I was talking with a work friend the other day on some of these thoughts, which he quoted ‘without making any big decisions in life, the future is just the past with the light turned on…’

Since travelling, life has been as unpredictable as asking you to guess how many fingers I’m holding up in a pitch-black room. You just don’t know what’s going to happen from one moment to the next. But since we have started working and getting back into somewhat of a routine you find yourself becoming a little settled and comfortable again. A place that is likeable. I’m not so sure for me anymore. I love the fact that a couple of months ago, one day we woke up and said ‘Lets go to the US!’ and booked everything in a week. Just went as our gizzards guided us; went with our gut.

Since booking our next leg to the US and giving up our jobs, I’m beginning to feel a bit nervous about the unknown again. But I would have to say I am finding myself embracing unfamiliarity easier than the mundane. I am warming more to the ‘excited-scared’ feeling and somewhat wanting to be in that place all the time. I often think about how I will feel when I get home. Do I want to settle down again or continue with the adventure? Do I want to go back to my old job or pursue a career that revolves around lifestyle; something that I am passionate about and involving little stress but having the element of the less predictable? All I know is my thinking is not as small as it once was and that I don’t want to continue on with life in mere existence as once before.

I would like to open this up for discussion so if you have anything to add or share, feel free to post something.