Stop 14: Healdsburg aka Wine Country!
After the depravity of San Francisco's Tenderloin, arriving in quaint and wholesome Healdsburg was like reaching Mecca! After our 'idiotic British blonde female' act inadvertently helped us save over half of our bus fare en route (we're poor tourists and so didn't feel too bad about it...) we celebrated with a dinner of wine - who needs food when you're in Wine Country?! We then made our way to our new home - a spare room at 'Elizabeth's Birdhouse'- a very calming and quaint house. The lady herself was absolutely lovely - having always wanted daughters of her own, she quickly set about mothering us, greeting us with Yorkshire tea and digestive biscuits before whipping up scrambled egg on toast for the weary travellers - like a wee taste of home.
Day 1 - Tuesday
We woke up raring to get going with the wine tasting, and so leapt onto vintage bikes borrowed from our hostess and made our way into town. Healdsburg itself is really pretty and quaint, made up of lots of wine tasting rooms and upscale eateries around a leafy plaza. We decided to be sensible and line our stomachs first, but not so sensibly chose to line them with salad...washed down with our first of many glasses of wine. We then headed to Williamson Wines tasting room, as recommended by a friendly fellow passenger on our flight into San Francisco. We made friends with sommeliers Reese and Tony who plied us with glass after glass of tasty vino, and taster plates such as slices of Parmesan cheese with truffle salt sprinkled on top, all carefully worked out to bring out the different flavours of each wine.
After a gallon of wine, we thought we'd give ourselves a breather from all the vino by.... Heading to the sunny garden of a little bar and having another glass of wine! You can see where this is heading already... We were by now ravenous, and made our way to a little tapas restaurant for a delicious but sadly minimal dinner of tapas on their outdoor deck. We decided to put our newfound Californian wine knowledge to the test and skillfully ordered a delish bottle of wine to accompany - sadly the amount of wine far outstripping the amount of food consumed. Finally it was time for 'one for the road', and we washed down all the wine with a couple of G&Ts, by now joined at this point by our newfound friends Tony and Reese, before stumbling out of the restaurant to try to locate our bikes. Taking pity on us, Reese drove us the grand total of 100m to the bike stand (we must have looked incapable of locating them ourselves) and we weaved our way home along the thankfully desolate roads. Predictably we couldn't remember where we were staying and did a few aimless laps around streets, before the inevitable happened and Nat crashed into a garden hedge, and unceremoniously went over her handlebars face first into said hedge.... Good friend that she is, Helen found this so hilarious she literally fell off her own bike laughing so much... into a not so soft concrete drive. It turned out our memories were better than we thought and it was actually our host's hedge we had annihilated.... Cue embarrassed scuttling into the house, where it seemed our hysterics had been overheard by our host, who luckily turned a blind eye!
Day 2 - Wednesday
Predictably started the day with the mother of all hangovers and fervent promises to ourselves to never drink again... Once able to stand up, we were whisked away on a day trip by our lovely host Elizabeth, who was a park ranger at the Armwood Redwood Reserve and took us to her outdoor 'office' to let us explore the giant Redwood trees. Helen is definitely not too big a fan of nature and the Great Outdoors when a hangover is raging.... Meandered through Redwoods over 2,000 years old before our trip continued out to the coast, with a very welcome feast of fish and chips at Bodega Bay - of Hitchcock's 'Birds' fame for those old enough to remember.
Day 3 - Thursday
Cast our promises to never drink again to the wind, and hopped on our bikes to cycle through the Sonoma Valley in the sunshine, past field after field of vines in search of vineyards to visit. Found a lovely winery and tasting room at Lambert Bridge Vineyard, and made our way through six or seven of their signature wines while Helen rigorously pumped the 'Lead Wine Educator' Troy for every bit of information possible on wine, promising 'just one more question' to the poor man at least three times. In case you're interested, apparently the Californian wine of choice to look for is a Merlot - it was given a bad reputation decades ago by a throwaway comment in a long forgotten Hollywood film, and many wine makers stopped producing it due to a drop in public demand. Therefore the ones who continued to produce it were the ones really passionate about Merlots, and therefore craft an extremely good drink!
We made our way into the winery's gardens for a picnic before hopping back on our bikes again - much to the bemusement of Troy who didn't believe such 'tiny girls' could handle their wine! FOOL. We continued our bike ride through wine country, so pretty with colourful rose bushes planted all along the vineyards and vines. Giving serious consideration to starting a Pickwell vineyard!
Day 4 - Friday
Our last day in Healdsburg, and unfortunately one of unusual torrential rain, which ruled out any further vineyard trips. In between rain showers we made an excursion to Sonoma valley airport to pick up our hire car for the next few weeks, which entailed a bus ride and then a LOVELY 1.5 mile trek along the side of an unfinished freeway, wading through cement and being shouted at by the foreman for our idiocy, before he realised we were idiot british girls and escorted us across the building site with another builder clutching a 'STOP' sign bringing up the rear behind us..... What will we do when we're home and can no longer play the dumb Brit card?!
Next stop - Yosemite National Park for a few days of wholesomeness and breathtaking scenery!