Saturday, July 08, 2017

Sisters in San Francisco (cont.)

Dragon Gate in Chinatown
Day 3

The next morning, we were back at Cafe de la Presse for breakfast. (What can I say? Morning is a tender time. When I find a place I like, I tend to return there!) On this occasion, I had the lovely eggs benedict. (In a twist, I requested that they serve it on a split croissant. Soooo much better than a sad English muffin!) The three of us sat at the bar and thoroughly enjoyed our meal.

Then, it was off to explore Chinatown! We decided on a self-guided tour, and selected this walking tour from National Geographic. What fun! It was still early yet, so nothing was crowded. The tour begins at Dragon Gate, which is conveniently right across the street from the cafe. We browsed curio shops in the area, admired St. Mary's, poked through a kite shop, and gasped at the painted balconies at Waverly Place.

Then, we climbed three narrow flights of stairs into another world, the Tin How Temple. This small space is the oldest Chinese temple in the U.S., and it's fantastic. Bright red paper banners hang from the ceiling. A large shrine dominates the room. I decided to offer a $5 donation. For this sum, the sweet Chinese lady who mans the temple guided me through lighting incense and inquiring about my future. (Her advice to me? If you have a sore spot in your life, "Don't poke at it! Let it be.") She also gave me a packet of lucky tea to take with me. This was a stellar stop, and I'd recommend it to anybody. Unfortunately, they don't allow photos inside, so I can't show you what a beautiful and exotic space it is.

Three goofy sisters in Chinatown!!

We stopped by the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company and sampled crisp, warm wafers fresh from the cooker. Then, we picked up hot cups of tea at the Ten Ren Tea Company. We sipped them a block or so down the street at Portsmouth Square. I LOVED our tour of Chinatown and highly recommend spending some time exploring this part of town while in San Francisco. So unique.

After our tour, we were jonesing for some good dim sum. According to the internet, Yank Sing had a stellar reputation. We found it on Stevenson Street, and we were seated after a short wait. The place was PACKED! We got a table in the outdoor section, then selected all kinds of delicacies from the carts that rolled by - soup dumplings (OMG), scallion prawns, Peking duck, potstickers, and more. It was a delight! When we were done, we fairly ROLLED out of the restaurant! I'd give this place four stars for the food, but maybe only 2.5 for the service. The restaurant was very busy, and because we were in the outdoor seating section, the carts didn't come by as frequently. (I think it was pretty easy to forget about us out there.)

Waverly Place, with its lovely painted balconies!

Now, at this point, I begged my sisters to catch a cab with me to Fisherman's Wharf, our next stop. But they wanted to walk, and they were having none of it. I sighed and complied. So we set out on foot. As we made our way to the main tourist drag, we passed by a stairway to Coit Tower, which stood head and shoulders above the city and promised amazing views. On a whim, we decided to climb.

Oh. My. God. So many steps! We hoofed it up about 400 steps to the top. After a morning of walking (in LOAFERS, no less!) and a big lunch, this may not have been the best idea. Whew! BUT we made it! We were rewarded at the top with sweeping views of the city and the bay. Now, once you get to Coit Tower, you can also go up into it. However, there was a loooong line to do so, so we just bagged it. (Back down the 400 steps we went! Lawdhavemercy!)

Cont Tower against a blue, blue sky
At last, we made it to Fisherman's Wharf. I insisted on a quick break on a bench to rest my feet for a moment. That done, we saw the sea lions, browsed the shops, and danced across the musical staircase. A word - we visited Fisherman's Wharf on a Sunday on a holiday weekend. It was a veritable sea of humanity. Don't make the same mistake! We'd wanted to visit Ghirardelli and take the cable car back, but lines were long, and every place we looked was packed. (Plus, after a day of walking and climbing, we were tired.) After checking the area out a bit, we took a cab back to the hotel.

Day 4

Wine country day!! From the beginning, we'd all known we wanted to spend a day in wine country. After much wrangling on how best to accomplish this, we decided to book a private guided tour. Knight Wine Tours had an excellent reputation online, so we called Stan Knight, told him a little bit about us and our trip (what kinds of wine we liked, etc.), worked out a date and a time frame, and called it done.

That morning, we had a light breakfast at the hotel restaurant. Stan picked us up from the Omni at around 10 a.m. in a comfortable SUV. He had provided some literature, and on the 1-hour drive to Napa, we all chatted and enjoyed the beautiful scenery. Though it was still a bit chilly and windy in San Francisco, Napa was balmy, sunny, and in the low 70s. Our first stop was downtown Napa. We checked out the visitors center, talked to some of the tourism professionals there, and browsed the cute shop. Then, Stan took us to the gorgeous Trefethen Winery. This family winery is large and lovely, and the tasting room is in a fully restored building that's more than 100 years old. We admired the courtyard area for a bit (think fountains, arbors, benches, and roses), then went in for our tasting.

Trefethen Winery, with its historic facilities and lovely courtyard

The tasting room is lovely, and Michael, who was helping us, was so knowledgeable and friendly! His family owns the vineyard, and he's been working there his whole life! He was a veritable fount of information, and so charming. We enjoyed our flights, purchased a few bottles, and then Stan collected us for our next stop!

He took us to V Marketplace in Yountville. What a delightful series of shops! We browsed (and bought) artisan jewelry and gourmet chocolates. (The selection of goodies at Kollar Chocolates look like little jewels!) Having satisfied our shopping yen, Stan took us to our next stop - Bell Wine Cellars. Here, he'd arranged for us to have both a tasting and a full tour. We started in the tasting room, where we met winemaker Anthony Bell and saw the big vats that they use to create wine. We learned about the history of the vineyard and sipped some of our first selections. Then, it was off to the vines! Outside, we learned about vine health, soil quality, and companion planting. We also saw some of the machines used to process grapes. (More sipping.) Back in the winery, we marveled at the tall rows of barrels where the wine is aged and discovered the types of wines and grapes that produce the delicious wines they sell here. (Another taste.) We finished up by purchasing a few bottles, including a fantastic port that I've been sipping while eating squares of dark chocolate since I've returned from California. FANTASTIC!

Vines stretch out to the mountains in Napa Valley.

Now, as a rule, we are pretty cheap drunks. By this time, we'd drunk far more (and on fairly empty stomachs) than normal. I'd be lying if I didn't admit to being heartily buzzed. But luckily, Stan was already a step ahead of us. Before dropping us off at Bell Wine Cellars, he'd provided us with menus and taken our lunch orders. Once our tour was complete, we arrived to find a lovely lunch set out for us on the terrace of the winery, overlooking the vineyard. What a delight! We'd chosen big, bready gourmet sandwiches (the better to soak up all that alcohol), and they were delicious! Stan joined us for lunch, and we took our time eating, enjoying the yummy food and the beautiful setting!

After this tour, we had one more winery left to see - Goose Cross. We arrived late in the day, but the lovely English gentleman in the tasting area fixed us right up with glasses of rose. He then invited us out onto the positively magical back patio to sip and rest. The vineyard stretched out all around us, and mountains rose around us and the valley. The weather was perfect, with a light breeze. The vineyard's little garden surrounded us. We drank and laughed and talked and sighed and just felt lucky to be alive.

Wine happiness. That's what you see on our faces.
After this stop, Stan offered to take up by one more spot (Oxbow Public Market), but we were so blissed out and drowsy that we opted to head back to the hotel. He drove us there, dropped us off, and after tips and hugs and promises to keep in touch, returned the to valley.

Now, I'm not going to pretend that engaging a private tour guide to plan and drive for the day was cheap. It was a splurge. But, goodness, it was so worth it. We had such a fantastic time, and we didn't have to worry about a single thing. Stan handled everything, and he was a joy to spend the day with. Highly, highly recommended.

More to come . . .

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