Another Weekend in Sonoma

This was supposed to be a long-awaited weekend snow camping in Yosemite. Finally, Rita had a break in school and we could do this fairly standard Glacier Point x-country snow camping trip together. In addition to that there was some fresh snow (!) finally. Everything would have been fine, I almost convinced Rita to come, but the park service decided to close the ski resort. So? With the resort they also closed the road going to Badger Pass. Thus it would add another 10 or so steep boring walking miles (there was snow, but not that much). In addition to that the x-country trail will to be groomed. So, some replacement had to be found.

Initially we were looking at Napa, perhaps with a visit to Harbin hot springs. But Napa seems a little boring to me. It is all about wine only. Not much else to do there. So eventually Rita found places to visit in the neighboring Sonoma County.

Saturday, April 7th

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We started off on Saturday. The drive to the city of Sonoma was fine except I have messed up the direction on that convoluted I80 interchange in Oakland and ended up on Treasure Island. Nice place. I have actually never stopped there. There is a nice marina with a gorgeous view of the city.

While driving Rita found a place to stay. A regular boring motel would run at $39, but I thought that staying in a B&B may be more interesting. So she found a place called Victorian Garden Inn. They were actually quite particular on the time when we were planning to come. I guess, since it isn’t a place with a full 24-7 concierge, they need someone to be there. We stopped on the way in a Jacuzzi Winery mostly to sample their olive oil. They had lots of varieties with spices or fruit tastes. Very interesting. Expensive too.

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Victorian Garden Inn looked very interesting. It is an old farm house. Nice one too – high ceilings, two stories, in-floor heating, some old furniture, old bathroom fixtures, chandeliers, beautiful garden. They don’t build like this any more. It even had a small creek right on the property. The woman who worked there said that salmon used to go up that creek. That would be a site to see! But now it was all polluted with the winery runoff. There were just a couple of guests besides us. And it was just a couple of blocks from downtown Sonoma. The only downside was that it wasn’t cheap. We payed about $170 for one night.

After setting in we went to see a small farm on CA-12 that I saw while driving to Sonoma. The sigh there advertised olive oil. It turned out to be a very small, pretty much one mad operation. The farmer had just bought a new olive press and was making very small batches of oil. He was also making wine, but he didn’t even have license for that (bootlegger). His oil was very rich in flavor, very thick. I kind of didn’t want to say no to him after he basically gave us personal tasting tour. In addition to that we were planning to get oil somewhere anyway, so I bought a bottle. It is better to support this small farmer than that Jacuzzi conglomerate. Hopefully his oil is as good as advertised. However, I prefer sunflower anyway.

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Then we went to Benziger winery. We just made it to get on a 2PM tour. The tour consisted of ride in a transport pulled by a tractor around the winery with the explanation of the things going on there (classy). This particular winery wasn’t large. In fact, half of the land was in its original overgrown condition. This particular winery was practicing bio-dynamic agriculture, which is even more stringent than organic (well, their wines weren’t cheap either). For a farm to be considered bio-dynamic it not only couldn’t use artificial chemicals (regular manure is fine), but also maintain the surrounding environment in proper state. At the end of the tour we had wine tasting. It was a bit heavy on the empty stomach. I can’t say that I was blown by the wines, but some of them were good, tasty. I’m not a really this wine connoisseur per se. I just go with what I like or not. However, since I don’t really know how, in this case, real wine should taste like, I can be fooled into liking some garbage with the right amount of chemicals. That’s what all our fast food industry do all the time.

Completely by accident it turned out that the Jack London State Historic Park is right next to Benziger – same road, just a bit further. It was getting a bit late so we didn’t go there. We went to visit Wine Country Chocolates in Glen Allen. Well, they did have good chocolates. Comparing to the regular junk, even Ghirardelli, even Trader Joe’s, this stuff tasted really good.

After that we went back, left the car at the Inn and went walking to the downtown Sonoma looking for some nice dinner. The lady in the Victorian recommended La Salette Portuguese place. But it was a bit expensive. Well, considering how much the Victorian cost, maybe if we have stayed in a cheaper place there would have been enough funds to go there. For some reason I doubt that would have happened. It would have been the same argument even if we have stayed in a campground. It seems to me that one compares the price relative to the comparable peers, rather than globally. Thus you compare two salads costing a dollar something and not think about some other product that cost perhaps hundreds.

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Anyway, downtown Sonoma was very nice. Lots of shops; wine, of course, everywhere. Restaurants (Victorian Inn actually had a thick folder with all the menus of the places in the area). Same Wine Country Chocolates in another location. There was a historic Mission – Mission San Francisco Solano. The last Northernmost that Spanish built. There was the beautiful old city hall in the center. This one was old and didn’t look like another replica of the capitol building. There was a monument to the first fly of the grizzly bear flag – apparently the California flag was first flown here in Sonoma. After some walking and Rita’s complaining we settled on Mexican food (otherwise she wanted to eat Thai, again).

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We went back to the B&B. It was still light and very nice outside so we could read at the front porch of the house. Other than that it was empty. The owners went home or somewhere, left us the keys to the front door. That’s the nice thing about B&Bs – it is like you are staying in someone’s house. They also left us some sherry. Actually, they left 6 glasses, but I was the only one drinking. Our British neighbors were still partying somewhere and Rita had enough already. There was also a fancy coffee machine and a couple of standard cookies. Other than that the house looked kind of creepy. They had a classical radio playing all the time I guess to make some sort of atmosphere, but it actually was adding to the creepiness. I was reading by book, drinking sherry, reading some books they had there. Since it was a long day with a lot of wine we decided to call it a day at 10PM right when the neighbors arrived.

Sunday, April 8th

Get up to enjoy the breakfast part of the B&B. For the longest time I was expecting a good breakfast from this sort of establishment. Well, they did prepare some of it themselves. There were boiled eggs, granola, some fruits, juice, milk, and pastry that they bought from some local bakery. Seriously, for that money they could have baked their own. Not sure if people still do this. The owner of the place in Virginia city actually cooked a bit more elaborate omelet and stuff. Perhaps it is the expectation. But then, home-made breakfast should the big part of the selling point of these establishments. They provide this personal touch, unlike the “patels“.

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After the breakfast and checkout we went to the local Sonoma state historic park – Mission San Francisco Solano. This mission was the most Northern mission that then Spanish empire built. They wanted to stop the advances of the Russian empire, in particular represented by already established Fort Ross, and also create a foothold on the land both economically and religiously. There were actually lots of these missions all over California, including Baja. And they also were built in a kind of haphazard way (I didn’t know that) – here and there, as opposed to slowly marching Northward. There is little left from the mission (there was probably not much there in the first place) – a couple of rooms, yard, small church – nothing really exciting. It had a nice small gallery of very beautiful paintings by Chris Jorgensen. He painted a lot of landscapes, in particular many of the California missions. A lot of them in obviously deteriorating state. However, his oils had this good pleasant feel to them. Next to the mission were also the remains of the barracks that housed the Spanish soldiers. Interesting fact that the soldiers were supposed to provide their own equipment. It was very specific – one rifle, clothes, boots, 8 horses. The soldiers received pay which would cover that equipment, as well as the salary of their superiors.

After Rita had a small lunch we headed to Jack London State Historic Park. I thought it would be nice to see it while it was still open. It was a pleasant park. It had one visitor center, the remains of the burned up Wolf House, the cottage where Jack London lived, many farming related structures, and lots of trails. We just made it there for the start of a tour. I have to admit that I like those tours in different places. Otherwise you come to a museum, like Getty, or a park like Huntington Gardens, and have no idea why this place may be significant. Sure, there is always a guidebook that can be read, but it is much nicer (and easier) to deal with a live person. Plus I can ask questions. The tours in this country usually are not very long either. So, the volunteer guide told us about the park, its history, what Jack London did there, how he was planning to build this enormous (rather ugly) house, and how it burned down one very warm (110F) summer day.

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The Wolf House was a bit of an overkill, in my opinion. I liked their cottage more. The author apparently became very rich very fast. He died in his 40s, but still he was able to purchase this large chunk of land in beautiful spot and live there for many years. Perhaps the house would have been a bit on a heavy side, but the ruins were beautiful. They were moss-covered and looked rather mysterious. Hopefully they won’t fall down during the next earthquake.

Visitor center was located in the old house where London’s second wife lived after he died. It had his books in different languages, photos he took, lots of souvenirs from places they traveled on their yacht.  It had an excellent model of his sailing ship. I still don’t understand why I didn’t take a photo of it. Beautiful model well made with all the details. On the second floor there was a grand piano, among other things, with beautiful sound. We were just in time to hear a local volunteer play it.

On the way back we stopped at Benziger winery. We had a coupon for some wines, so it would be nice to try their biodiverse wines.

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