Thursday, March 31, 2011

Spring Break '11

Oh, wow, where did March go? The last two weeks of classes were busy, but I survived! I'm a bit sad that I'm now planning for next week and trying to mentally prepare myself for 're-entry'. In the meantime, we did manage a quick getaway at the beginning of the week.
There seems to be a trend to our spring break jaunts - head north, see some coast, drink good wine...
Last year we traveled to San Francisco via Monterey, this year we had snippets of a Sideways tour in California Central. (Just a quick aside: I wasn't a HUGE fan of the movie "Sideways", but there are some very funny moments and a good, dark comedy can satisfy one's sense of schaudenfraude like nothing else can). My parents came out to visit us, and we planned a visit full of sights and good food and drink.
They arrived at LAX Friday night, and rather than battling rush hour traffic to try to return to the "east" side, we ate dinner at Piccolo, an Italian restaurant with a small, intimate feel. The touring began Saturday with a 10 am "appointment" to the Getty Villa. We've visited the Getty Museum a few times, but this was our first time visiting the Getty Villa which is north of Santa Monica. Like the Getty Museum, it's a beautiful place (amazing grounds and architecture). I obviously enjoyed all of the museum visit:

Oops! I hope that sleeping in a museum doesn't make me out to be a TOTAL philistine. At least I went to the museum... And it was a cool space with lots to see. I will be honest, however, and say that ancient art and antiquities don't rock my world. Still, it was fun to walk through the rooms and read about Dionysus, Hercules, tales of the Iliad and Odyssey and see scenes depicted in statues or on pottery.

On Sunday, we left mid-morning and headed north and west, driving up the 1 and the 101. The weather, which had been crappy for most of the week, finally cooperated and we made our way north. Our first stop was just west of Buellton, a town close to Santa Barbara in the area that was featured in the movie "Sideways". A friend at work recommended Alma Rosa which ended up being our first stop. We were apparently the first customers of the day because they gave us rather hefty pours of nice white wines (a really great and non-oaky Chardonnay) and tons of Pinot. It was a fairly rustic winery, definitely not as polished as those that we've visited in Napa. The bathrooms were not exactly the finest, but they were clean! My dad and I made a bee-line when we arrived! Although we honestly found the winery thanks to a friend's recommendation, it turned out that Sideways (the movie) did feature it and our Lonely Planet guidebook included it as well. We felt quite trendy!

From the Buellton/Solvang area around Santa Barbara, we drove north to Paso Robles, an upward-trending town that is trying to promote itself as the latest wine-tasting mecca in California. We pulled in around 5:00 pm, headed straight to a cheese store which fortunately was still open so that we could stock up for the evening. We ended up eating a lavish dinner of wine, cheese, fruit and crackers. I was clearly excited about the experience:

On Monday morning, we set out to the coast to the charming villages of Cambria and San Simeon, the Hearst Castle being our destination. This was my first time visiting the "castle" built on what Hearst called Enchanted Hill, and it was an impressive place, to say the least. Actually, it is a bit of a marvel, to think that William Randolph Hearst decided to build and to create this showplace in such a remote yet breathtakingly beautiful place. The castle and grounds certainly reminded me of the grandeur of a past era - a table that could have fed 30 or so people, guest houses in a Spanish-style that looked fit for a king or queen (to me, at least!). While the buildings were impressive, I truly envied the view and the pool (and the view from the pool). I can even envision myself swimming in the pool, or reading a good book while I lounge in the sun!

After touring the Hearst Castle, we ate sandwiches and enjoyed views of this beach. Yet again, I kept pinching myself to verify that I really WAS in such a beautiful spot.

After devouring our sandwiches and plenty of oohing and aahing, we drove back to Paso Robles, winding our way through valleys and hills. It was SO green thanks to the recent inundations in our lovely state. Once back in the Paso Robles area, we stopped by the Tablas Creek winery which another friend had recommended. We did not love the Tablas Creek wine, but through their recommendation, we hit up Halter Ranch before returning to the hotel, and we did enjoy their Sauvignon Blanc and several reds. The day ended with an evening at Artisan, one of the best restaurant experiences that I'd had in a while. The ambiance was relaxed and fun, food was local and fresh, and prices reasonable. At the end of that evening, we rolled into bed, content to have shared good food and conversation, and a day full of experiences.
But wait, there's more! That will have to wait until tomorrow, however!

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