Monday, August 07, 2006

Skyline and coastline

Just 2 days ago on Saturday, we drove Skyline Blvd (this drive was recommended by one local I knew). Skyline Blvd, together with attractions such as Castle Rock State Park and Pescadero State Beach, are known to the locals; favored by the locals. In other words, you will not get swamped by tourists like what usually happens in Yosemite. At Castle Rock, a 0.3 mile Castle Rock trail brought us to some unusual rock formations that are popular with rock climbers.

Keen for climbing ?

Pescadero impressed us with its good quality local ingredients. Artichoke everything. Cream of Artichoke is a special in Duarte's Tavern. Served with oven-warm sourdough, this soup is a star. Also popular in this tavern is Olallieberry pie. Served warm as a dessert, the crust is tender and at the touch of a fork, surrenders to the moist purple red interior saturated with sweet, tart berries. A must-try ! So, remember...Cream of Artichoke and Olallieberry pie, ok ?

Also in Pescadero, you find Arcangeli Grocery Co. Like I have said earlier, artichoke what else but more artichokes here. We got ourselves Artichoke Garlic Herb (the signature bread) and Artisan Focaccia-Pesto Artichoke. A family-owned bakery that has preserved traditional baking...breads handmade the old-fashioned way. Worth a visit, worth a sniff of freshly baked and worth a buy of freshly baked !

Sin and Scenery

In search for some cool air and waters during summer July, the sapphire shimmer of Lake Tahoe, one of the largest and deepest alpine lake in the hub of the Sierra Nevada, is one great escape. Interstate hwy-80 leads to Reno,Nevada while Interstate hwy-50 leads to Lake Tahoe, which is divided by the California(CA)-Nevada(NV) state line.

Vacation accomodations in Lake Tahoe are not cheap, costing ~USD140-180 per night. Comparatively, accomodations in Reno are more affordable. For the period 1 July 2006, Saturday - 4 July, Tuesday(also Independence Day holiday), Peppermill Reno offered us a Saturday rate @USD119.99 and subsequent nights @USD59.99. On average, the rates were reasonable for a near downtown location. Themed as the "biggest little city in the world", Reno does not sleep. Reno, birthplace of the gaming corporation Harrah's Entertainment, used to be the gambling capital of the world till Las Vegas' rapid rise. But Reno has not lose its little city charm, with no excessive glitz and glamour.

So much neon!

ba.'fei...yes, buffets. This form of "all you can eat" is found often in restaurants, especially in hotels and virtually every casino in North America includes one, with some being very elaborate. We are definitely not first-timers to buffets. The better ones we have tried in Singapore include Oscars's at Conrad Singapore. But for a fine quality spread of sensational steak and seafood, even desserts, I bet it is an uncommon "SGD40 per pax buffet" in Singapore. Here (we say for Reno), even on popular Saturdays, the buffets in most of the hotel/casino resorts are ~USD24.99-29.99 per adult (excluding taxes). That converts to about SGD40-50 and the spread includes freshly tossed specialty salads; prime rib of beef and roast leg of lamb at the carving station; oysters on the half shell, Jonah crab claws, Alaskan snow crab in the raw bar....and MORE...and MORE...and MORE...

Feasting on snow crabs @ Toucan Charlies, Atlantis Casino Resort, Reno. Spot those oysters rockefeller (baked oysters) & stuffed crab cake

More crab claws @ Pacifica Seafood Buffet, Harveys, Tahoe

Before this trip, we have promised ourselves at least a-buffet-a-day. Since we have been feasting in the past few nights, we decided to have breakfast buffet for a change .

Made-to-order omelet, part of buffet breakfast @ The Lodge, Hilton,Reno

Casino-hopping...Peppermill, Atlantis, Hilton,Silver Legacy, Circus Circus...just for the fun of it but just No Luck. It is said to be the game with the worst odds, but we were ignorant about the rules of the other games eg Keno, Blackjack, Poker etc. So we could only depend on luck. What will be the Marina Integrated Resort in Singapore (Las Vegas Sands)? Sinful buffet? Sinful gambling? We will only know in 5 years time.

Of course, we also enjoyed great scenery in Lake Tahoe. From Reno, we first headed towards North Lake Tahoe, then to the southern end via Zephyr cove to Heavenly, which brings us right up almost 9000ft for a panoramic view of Lake Tahoe.

Lake Tahoe

The clarity of water in Lake Tahoe

View of Emerald Bay

What a winter ski trail look like in summer

I would love to visit Lake Tahoe in fall or near-winter. It will be an entirely different landscape, but still as beautiful, I believe. Yearning for mild-winter sports, or just merely playing snowballs in the ice-fields.

Trip date: 1-4 July 2006
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Half Dome, is to the High Sierra...what the swoosh is to Nike

It is the most famous glacially carved landscape in the world. From Mariposa Grove's gargantuan sequoias to the huge views from Glacier Point, you will find cause for wonder in every corner of Yosemite. As one man had wrote, "None but those who have visited this most wonderful valley can even imagine...the awe with which I beheld it.As I looked, a peculiar exalted sensation seemed to fill my whole being, and I found my eyes in tears with emotion."
I, will write no further. May our pictures tell you THE thousand words of Yosemite National Park.

El Capitan, the largest granite monolith in the world

Yosemite Falls flowing wildly as warm weather sends more snow melt down the sheer cliffs. We came at the right time

Incredible, awesome. Taken at the Glacier Point vista

Another scenic shot at Glacier Point

Can you see him? Or just the Grizzly Giant sequoia

Well, we covered the park in 2 days. Unfortunately, due to the Memorial day weekend, 27-29 May 2006, almost all (I would say 99%) of the accomodations around the Yosemite region were fully booked. Heard that you have to do a 1-yr advanced booking for accomodations during the peak season. Darn. We never liked the crowd (in fact, hate it) but there is no better time to come as we reckoned that a 1-day trip to Yosemite NP will not do justice to us, and the park.

Thus, we pre-booked ourselves a bed and breakfast in Jamestown, which is about an hour's WINDING drive to the park entrance. Victorian Gold B&B is set in good old victorian charm, warmth and gardens in the beautiful, historic California Mother Lode. The last time we have stayed in a B&B was in England/Scotland, and has been ages since we checked into another one now.Our bed and breakfast in Jamestown, worth recommending to you. After a day's "work-out" in our hike at the national park, Solomon Landing in Jamestown pampered us with good, fine for dinner.

Halibut with zesty sauce, done in perfection@Solomon Landing

The prime rib, also "medium-well done"@Solomon Landing

Trip date: 27-29 May 2006
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Cheers... at Napa Valley

Napa vineyards, here we come

We picked Sterling Vineyard and Rutherford Hill Winery, out of the 200+ vineyards and wineries in Napa. Why only two ? Simply because we only had limited time in a day's trip. Why these two ? Well...we are no wine expert/connoisseur. We just chose them based on what we saw in their websites. Each has its own selling point.

Sterling's tour is self-guided (that means we could take our own time and not be restricted by time, or interrupted by any tour guide). The self-guided tour includes an aerial tram ride and 5 wine tastings. The best part is, there is a USD5 discount passport if the tour is done before 12.30pm...savings for us, and that comes to USD15 for each of us. Value-for-money. Cheap(relatively) and good, we thought! If you have clicked the "Sterling's tour" link above, you will know another reason to visit this vineyard. Their website is beautiful. Welcomed by the chimes and soothing background music in the virtual tour for a glimpse of the sightings, I bet you will be as attracted as me to visit this vineyard, if you had to make a choice among those 200+.

Entrance to Sterling Vineyard

View shot from the aerial tram

Generous wine tasting

Rutherford's visit was more for the chance to see the wine-aging cave system. The use of caves for wine storage is a tradition as old as the art of winemaking itself, yet they are extremely rare in Napa Valley. However, during the tour, we found out that the caves were actually man-made.

Entrance to the cave system for wine-aging

If you are looking for a refreshing place for lunch in Napa, then drop by St. Helena, Napa, for Taylors Refresher. Hmmm...burgers in Napa wine country...refreshing huh. They do great burgers. But it was the first time to taste burgers since we came here one month ago in April. Maybe this was why it tasted so good. Nope. It was really good. I read a good review about this before we came.


Trip date: 13 May 2006
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Thrills but no spills

The theme, especially that of SpongeBob*, gave us that "kiddy" feel about this theme park but we are not the adventurous-type either, for thrill rides in Paramount's Great America . A good escape in May after first few weeks of stress-induced relocation moving. No spills because we did not enter the waterpark. "Top Gun", "Grizzly", "Vortex"...tried and tested. First time we stood up riding the coaster in "Vortex". Fun. Gave "Invertigo" a miss...too much negative G-force for us. Moreover, my neck-shoulder (left side) suffered a minor sprain in one of the roller-coaster rides and it stopped my enthusiasm for more of the other rides.

"Top Gun"-Suspended jet coaster. Floorless coach. A 360-degree vertical loop, two 270-degree afterburn turns, a full-circle wingover, and a zero gravity roll

"Invertigo"-Too much negative G in speeding down the (138 ft above the ground )lift. Not for us


In the toasting oven, so here we come...Monterey

I can't help but comment that temperatures here have been scorching HOT in Sunnyvale and in the entire Bay Area, since Friday 21 July 2006, setting temperatures as high as 100-110degF (38-43deg C, my fellow Singaporeans) . To make worse, the high pressure acting downwards makes the surrounding air stationary and heat does not get dissipated away at ground level. Though we are used to the year long of high temperatures (avg 32deg C) and high humidity in Singapore, THIS... was really too much to bear.
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Since we have already planned to go for a Monterey day trip on Saturday, we stayed with our plan. It will be by the Peninsula and coastal area anyway, so we gonna get come cooling off along the beach, we hope. But we know it's goin to get crowded because packs of people will get cool off near the ocean when the temperatures are soaring inland. We set off at about 9.30am (the latest... in our records for any short trips we have had in our lives) in the morning. Having planned our itinerary only on the previous Friday night, we estimated to reach our first destination at about 10.30-11am. Just in time for an early lunch.

Phils Fish Market at Moss Landing, CA was a pleasant surprise. I first knew of this place in a recent Food Network channel. And since heading off to Monterey, Phils Fish Market naturally became the via point for us to stop for lunch. This is a fish market-cum-eatery. We were already starving at 11am and ordered for ourselves a Cioppino for Two, and Fish and Chips. Yes, the Cioppino of clams, mussels, white fish, calamari, dungeness crab, prawns and scallops (SLURP !) can already feed two of us but we were greedy enough to get ourselves another Fish and Chips. Of course, we realized it was too much after the orders came but we still finished 95% of it, only with some salad remaining. The cioppino was really really yummy YUM. The city was really out of the way, middle of nowhere, scarsely populated...but the eatery was packed with people by the time we left at about 12.30pm. So, this is what we call good food. Even not set in prime location and convenience, people will go for it.

Piping hot Cioppino...Slurp!

Not a single bit left...Burp!

Fisherman's Wharf, Monterey, is not as big-scale compared to the one at San Francisco, but it has her own unique character, with small little galleries, retail shops and cafe/restaurants.

Traditional candy shop in Fisherman's Wharf, Monterey

We then continued our journey to 17 mile drive (entrance fee $8.75) towards Pebble Beach. Along the 17 mile drive were points of interests such as Restless Sea, Bird Rock, Lone Cypress and Ghost Tree. But my hubbie said it was nothing special compared to the coast in New Zealand-South Island.

Why is the sea so restless

Gave Carmel a miss since we wanted to be back home in the early evening of the same day. Hopefully, we will have a chance to be back in Carmel via Monterey Peninsula in another time of the year. Well, it is at most 2 hrs away from Sunnyvale, so it is not that hard to make a day trip again if we run out of places to go to nearby.