Nancy's Travelblogue

... there isn't a train I wouldn't take, no matter where it's going. -- Edna St. Vincent Millay

Location: California, United States

Monday, July 27, 2009


Take 1000 kites plus 10,000 people plus a lovely day at the Berkeley Marina and what do you get? The Berkeley Kite Festival! This annual event draws kite fliers from around the world and kite lovers from all over the Bay Area.

We started our morning at the 4th Street Terrace where Peets is, then walked over the Hwy 880 walkover. This is a trip in itself, to be above all the traffic instead in the middle of it. Here is a photo from overhead:

The kite festival is one of the more visually interesting of all the Bay Area Festivals. There is a kite battle event, kite making activities, and a whole section devoted to a Kite-flying society from Hamamatsu, Japan. But the event that really blows me away is the Kite Ballet. This is where individuals or teams choreograph kite formations to music. The idea is hard to imagine and to catch in a still photo, but here is a video from a previous year.

I'm sure the organizers were delighted to have the right combination of wind --- to please the kites, and sun -- to please the people, and everyone had a great lazy summer day.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Visiting the Okanagan Valley got me really interested in Canadian viticulture, so I looked it up in the Oxford Companion to Wine. So interesting that I will summarize it here.

As of 1997 Canada had as much land cultivated for grape growing as New Zealand. Growing areas are concentrated in four provinces: Ontario (60 wineries, 560 vineyards, 18,000 acres), British Columbia (55 wineries, 132 vineyards, 4000 acres), Nova Scotia (4 wineries, 150 acres), and Quebec (30 wineries, 330 acres). (1998 statistics).

The Canadian wine industry begins in 1811 when the German Johann Schiller domesticated the labrusda vines he found growing along the Credit River near Toronto. But not till 1866 was Canada's first winery, Vin Villa, established, on Pelee Island on Lake Erie. In the late 19th century the industry grew quickly, yielding 76 commercial wineries by the end of the century.

In the Okanagan Valley and along the St. Lawrence River it was the Church rather than the farmers who encouraged the industry. Prohibition in Canada (yes, they had it too!!) began in 1916, and actually was good to the wine trade. Thanks to some wild political lobbying, wine was exempt from prohibition and the number of wineries actually increased during this period.

But other government regulations emerged during this period. The Provincial Board Liquor System created government monopolies which still control alcoholic beverages in Canada and collected millions of dollars in tax revenue. This may have changed in the past decade as some provinces are privatizing wineries.

Canadian wines may have a poor reputation or no reputation at all, but that is changing quickly. Until the 1970s Canada was known for fruity highly alcoholic wines. But recently boutique wineries have emerged in the four wine growing regions. SOURCE: The Oxford Companion to Wine / edited by Jancis Roginson, 2nd ed. (Oxford University Press, 1999)
Since we were in the Okanagan Valley, I was most interested in viticulture from that area. This Valley is actually a desert - the northern tip of the Sonoran Desert, and temperatures are mitigated by the Okanagan Lake which flows through the center of the valley. The most common grapes grown here are Merlot, then Chardonnay. The best known winery in the area is Mission Hills Winery, but I really enjoyed visiting the Gray Monk winery.

Then there is the wine itself and how it makes you feel. I love these quotes from the Gray Monk reception room wall:

In wine there is truth if you drink enough,
In wine there is wisdom if you drink the best,
In wine there is bliss if you drink the rest.
God in His goodness gave us the grapes
To drink both great and small
Little fools will drink too much
And great fools not at all.


Monday, July 20, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA SECRETS: Music Mondays at Jack London Square

It's a perfect Bay Area summer evening. The sun is shining but the fog is rolling in along the horizon. Sailboats are traveling in and out of the marina. You have live music, and you have good friends for company. It's Oakland's Musical Mondays at Jack London Square!

This evening I joined my friend Angie at Jack London Square for the FREE concert that is the Musical Mondays series. Tonight we heard The Bobby Young Project, a local blues band with both talent and energy. Bobby Young's vocalist held the show till Oakland blues singer Wylie Trass arrived and took over. This is when the musical event evolved from pleasant-way-to-spend-an-evening to a blow away! Trass enraptured the audience with his vocal renditions of of old standards and a dialogue with us listeners. Wylie is the guy in the center.

There is only one thing missing -- an audience. I was surprised at how scanty the audience was for a free blues concert in a wonderful setting. There are even board games set out, should you get bored.

Oaklanders! Support local musicians and enjoy yourselves at the FREE concert series which, given the dismal state of the city's finances, may be the last. Head down to Jack London Square for a concert every Monday in July. The stage is located next Heinhold's, which has a history of it's own, but a special meaning for me, because it is where I took my son -- a Jack London fan -- for his first legal drink on his 21st birthday.


Friday, July 17, 2009


In my lifetime of hiking in the Bay Area, I somehow missed China Camp State Park, on the bay side of San Rafael close to the San Rafael bridge. Not only is it a great find for me, but it is the most convenient hiking spot in Marin County for East Bay residents.

The blurb on the park website says, " the park's ridge separates the 1890s from the 21st century. While the view south has changed immeasurably, the view down to China Camp on San Pablo Bay is almost exactly what it was in the early 1900s."

So true. The area was a thriving Chinese shrimp fishing village from the 1870s through approximately the 1930s. Some of the buildings still survive and there is an interpretative exhibit in one of them. Here are some photos of the village area:

In addition to the village there are 1500 acres of open space, laced with hiking and mountain biking trails. The trail that I took -- the Shoreline Trail -- is not a shoreline trail at all, but a view of the shoreline. It was an easy six miles in mostly shade following the ridge above the shoreline. Great walk for a break in woods. Here are some photos:

Friday, July 10, 2009


A story:
Jim and Martha are in a cafe talking about Martha's upcoming trip.
Martha: I'm traveling to San Francisco via London, Cairo, Istanbul and Mumbai.
Jim: Wow, what an adventurous itinerary. But don't you already live in San Francisco?
Martha: I do. But after the experience of these exotic destinations I will be a different person. I will view my own city and every detail of my life through the lenses of London, Cairo, Istanbul, and Mumbai.
This simple story illustrates why travel is so important to me -- that I see my own life differently after each trip. I savor not only the travel days, but also the planning, the anticipation, and most important now, the aftermath

I traveled 4300 miles with my sweetie in his Prius. Early on we figured out who's to navigate and who's to steer, who's to call the shots about how much money to spend and where to eat, and after that it was all smooth sailing. Every day now, we recall something about the trip -- some horrible incident that we laugh about now, some funny incident that we tell our friends about, or something in the news that relates to one of our destinations. And we will keep talking about the trip and recounting the highlights way into our old age. That's for sure.

I learned a great deal. The trip got me out of my intellectual comfort zone of computers, history, and library science, and got me thinking about the natural world. For instance, I learned that climate change is not just another fad of urban intellectuals, but is visible and measurable in the northern latitudes where we visited. This phenomenon is especially visible through the disappearance of glaciers. We spoke to park rangers, long time residents, and saw photos demonstrating the certain and rapid demise of U.S. and Canadian glaciers. Food for thought.

This was, above all, a journey of scenery. We visited five national parks: Yosemite, Glacier, Banff, Jasper, and Crater Lake. We saw wildlife: elk, mountain sheep, as well as all the little critters and birds. We drove through mountains, forests, deserts, farmlands, rivers, lakes, and waterfalls. We had a feast of wildflowers in Canada. It adds up to a great humility for the largeess of Nature, and puts our human contribution to the big picture in perspective.

That said, I have tremendous respect for our forebears who forged lives for themselves in these northern climates before highways and electricity and central heating and wireless internet. For the indigenous peoples who lived well in these harsh climates for thousands of years. For European explorers and settlers who endured physical hardships we can't imagine to make a life for themselves. For the workers who risked their lives to build the railroads and highways through and over mountains in the harshest kinds of climates. Even for the railroad magnates, both in Canada and the U.S., who had a vision to open up the west, and create destination hotels in the most beautiful spots in the world.

We met wonderful people along the way, and a few nasty ones, just like at home. We chatted with park rangers, waitresses, visitor center employees, and fellow tourists. We heard about falling in love and out of love, of missing children at home and loving being away from them, of taking risks in business and the aftermath when it didn't work out, of young people's dreams and old people's dreams.

This journey was also filled with the quiet moments, usually long meals and good wine. Since Jonathan loves to "dine" and I love to try out local wines, long leisurely meals were our way to relax. We visited most of the big hotels in the national parks for a budget meal in an elegant setting. We also looked for restaurants featuring local fare with an elegant twist. Turns out most of the best restaurants in Canada bill themselves as "Mediterranean" though I'm not sure why. We dined at a number of these restaurants, though I usually ordered salmon and local wine -- nothing to do the the Mediterranean. The exception was in Banff where I got one of the best Greek meals I've ever had.

Finally, last stated but most important, is reconnecting with family. This trip was an opportunity to visit with my four Austin cousins -- and their cousins -- all together and as adults. It is unlikely that we will ever convene again, certainly not at my aunt's home, which will soon be sold. Every blood relative is in some sense, a mirror to myself. Though I relate to each of my kin in a different way because they are individuals and so am I, there is another, unspoken connection that is just there. Just because we are kin. Since I've had so little opportunity in my life to know my kin, this convening on the Missoula property was especially meaningful.

Now I'm home and moving on with the activities of everyday life, but somehow in some small way, my Montana Canada trip keeps me company all day every day.


Monday, July 06, 2009

MONTANA CANADA TRIP - Day 21. Crater Lake, Oregon ->Oakland, California

Today is our last day. Crater Lake was added to the itinerary after the trip was planned, so we didn't give it the time it deserves. But Crater Lake has more visual impact than words, so here is a sample of what we saw:

After a leisurely and late lunch at the Crater Lake Lodge,
we left Crater Lake at 4:30 p.m. and drove straight to Oakland down Hwy 5. Here is a wonderful photo of Mount Shasta.
End of vacation!!


Sunday, July 05, 2009

MONTANA CANADA TRIP - Day 20. Yakima, Washington -> Crater Lake, Oregon

Another long day today, from Yakima all the way through Oregon to Crater Lake on the southern border. We're back in the U.S. now and heading towards home, and I feel the homecoming strings pulling me slightly. Today's trip through Oregon is also desert, much to my surprise. We drive fairly steadily all 330 miles in order to get to Crater Lake at a decent hour. ...

Only to find that our B&B is impossible to find using Google maps. This is the real boonies, Crater Lake notwithstanding. Eventually we do find it, Crater Lake B&B in the town of Fort Klamath, which in itself is hard to find, because it is one of those towns you miss if you aren't attentive. We were tired and hungry and I was annoyed that we had to drive yet another 10 miles to the nearest restaurant for a mediocre meal.

Here is a photo of our B&B.
And some of the lovely country between it and Crater LakeWe went to bed early to rest up for a day at Crater Lake and the long drive home to Oakland.

Accommodations: Crater Lake B&B ****
More photos


Saturday, July 04, 2009

MONTANA CANADA TRIP - Day 19. Vernon, British Columbia ->Yakima, Washington

This is our last day in Canada. We have a fairly long drive, 350 miles to Yakima, Washington. We get a late start because of a delightful conversation with our Okanagan Valley hosts Roy and Liz, and savor our last Canadian moments. The Okanagan Valley extends from Vernon, where we are staying, to the U.S. border. Once on the road we make slow, unpleasant progress along a road under construction that ought to be a freeway.

Anyway, we finally arrive at the border. I have mixed feelings about leaving Canada and stop at the duty free gift shop for a few more souvenirs of Canada to take with me.

Back in the U.S. at last we drive straight south on Hwy 97 to Yakima.

Another surprise! I never knew that Central Washington was as much a desert as the so-called desert states of Utah, Western Colorado, or New Mexico. Here's an example:

We arrive in Yakima in the early evening. Yakima is a city of 84,000 and the population center for central Washington. It's a farming center and also the nearest city to the Yakima Reservation. After we settle in at our B&B we head for town for a twilight dinner at an outdoor cafe.

This is the 4th of July, and again, I'm looking forward to a small town celebration of this uniquely American holiday, but without much luck. There is a large fireworks display which we hear but barely see from our seats in the cafe. The only impact of the holiday is negative -- the freeway exit back to our B&B is closed because of the fireworks, and Jonathan did some quick talking to the highway patrol, and they removed the barriers especially for us out-of-towners.

Accommodations: Birchfield Manor Country Inn ****


Friday, July 03, 2009

MONTANA CANADA TRIP - Day 18. Vernon, British Columbia

A layover day, and we get to explore Canada's wine country. This is the only part of the trip where we experienced warm weather, and had to plan activities around the midday heat, instead of finding ways to keep warm.

Our host Roy suggested a short hike to a small waterfalls nearby, then a late lunch and tour at the Gray Monk Winery. We took him up on the whole plan. The hike was a pleasant two or three mile walk along the stream. We never did get a good look at the falls, but that's not a problem since we kind of overdosed on waterfalls in the past week. Good exercise.

Then we headed for the Gray Monk Winery, spending over an hour in stopped traffic along the way. (Okanagan Valley infrastructure has not kept up with tourist interest). The winery is one of the best known in the area, but one of hardest to get to. We turned off the highway, then down a narrow road, to an even narrower one, and then almost missed the small sign to the winery.

All worth it. We had a leisurely meal plus wine sampler at the Grapevine Restaurant. We arrived during the period between lunch and dinner when the waiters have time to chat and even the owner came over to say hello. All of this on a warm patio overlooking the winery. Here we are at the end of the meal. Very hard to tear ourselves away from this lovely place.Such a lovely afternoon, and I wasn't quite ready for our day to end. Since I was at the wheel, I decided not to turn in on the road to our B&B, but to continue up the mountain to see where it would take us. We drove .. and drove and drove ...up, up, up with only scanty directional signs and no company on the road. Eventually we did arrive. The road went to Silver Star Ski Resort, which in the summer is a lively hangout for the younger crowd. It is an old resort. The Vernon Ski Club house in this photo was established in 1935. All the buildings in town are painted in very bright, contrasty colors -- a Victorian palate gone wild. We arrived at sunset. It was getting cold and dark so we didn't linger, but I'm so glad we took the high road that evening instead of going straight home.

Accommodations: Castle on the Mountain *****
More photos


Thursday, July 02, 2009

MONTANA CANADA TRIP - Day 17. Hope -> Vernon, British Columbia

Today we left Hope to travel north, then east, to the Okanagan Valley, Canada's wine country. It is Canada's mildest region, and actually forms the northern tip of the Sonora Desert. It is the Okanagan Valley as wine growing region that planted the idea for this trip in the first place.

Three or four years ago we were browsing the Sunday New York Times, and Jonathan came across an article about the Okanagan Valley being the northernmost region (at the time) in the world for growing grapes. He wanted to see this area, and I'm always interested in anything to do with wine. So the idea stuck in the back of our heads until this opportunity came up and we planned a three week trip around this destination.

The Valley is 100 kilometers long and the main feature is the Okanagan Lake. In addition to wineries, people come here for summer recreation, winter recreation, and to retire. People here have a sense for business (some tasteful, some not) and there is plenty of development and enticements for tourists to part with their money.

Our destination was Vernon, at the northern tip of the valley. It is one of the least crowded towns and one where we felt right at home. The hospitality at Castle on the Mountain resort sure helped us plan our time in the Valley. Innkeepers Roy and Liz, a youngish couple from London recently relocated to Vernon, were able to second guess just what would appeal to us for food, wine and recreation, and we were pleased with every one of their suggestions.

We dined the first night at town of Vernon at a white table cloth restaurant in town, whose name I forget. Of course, we sampled local wine. The menu, the service, and the ambiance was wonderful.

We came home well fed, relaxed from the wine and sat on our deck to watch the stars emerge as dusk set over the valley.

No photos of Vernon, but here is from the road from Hope to Vernon.

Accommodations: Castle on the Mountain, Vernon ***** (see my review on Trip Advisor)
More photos


Wednesday, July 01, 2009

MONTANA CANADA TRIP - Day 16. Hope, British Columbia

Today is a layover day. The sun is shining and we are in one of the most beautiful spots in the world, being served breakfast by our hostess, Eileen, and learning all about Hope. Here is a photo of our B&B. Our room was on the second floor looking out on the mountains.

Eileen is a native Canadian who spent most of her childhood on a farm in Manitoba and her adulthood in Calgary. Calgary got too big, and other life changes made her decide to begin a new chapter. She visited Hope, bought a wooded lot at the edge of town, and had the vision to see it as a setting for a B&B and a new life. That was just two years ago, and new she has the new house/B&B and her new life up and running.

We wanted to spend the day exploring the area in a fairly leisurely way, so Eileen suggested a hike to the old railway tunnels at Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park. Perfect idea. We started at the bottom of the hill and walked along the river from town up to the tunnels. We enjoyed wildflowers, ferns, and interesting moss on the rocks. Up towards the tunnels the path got steeper and the river more dramatic as we approached the canyon.

Built for the Kettle Valley Railway in 1914, the train route only lasted a few decades. What an engineering and building feat to have hacked through solid granite to construct these railroad tunnels out of the sides of cliffs! The area is hard to photograph but this photo gives an idea of the scenery.

After our walk and a rest, we were in the mood for a fairly nice dinner. Restaurant options in Hope are scanty, but we settled on a Korean meal in one of the three or four restaurants that could be considered decent.

Hope is a world class destination waiting to happen. It has all the criteria -- natural beauty, two hours from Vancouver, outdoor recreation opportunities -- yet somehow it remains a sleepy town, with minimal tourist facilities (especially restaurants!). When I asked Eileen about this, she said that the downtown businesses and much of the surrounding real estate is owned by old British Columbian families with conservative ideas. She said that when this generation passes on, development will be up for grabs, and it will be interesting to see whether Hope the kind of tourist destination it will turn in to.

Today is Canada Day, the Canadian equivalent to our July 4th. Except that the day celebrates the union of Canadian provinces into a single nation, instead of the U.S. celebration of the severance of the colonies from the mother country. I was hoping to see an authentic Canadian celebration in this small town, but in fact, British Columbians don't do much for Canada Day. It's a day off work, and a time for families and friends to gather for a barbeque, but not much else.

Accommomdations: Misty Mountain B&B *****
More photos