On landing and disembarking half an hour late at LAX after the long flight, everyone who had a connecting flight was given their boarding pass in a bright orange express pass holder, and once in the immigration hall, directed to the so called express lane.
Now, I am pretty sure this queue was moving a lot faster than the regular queues, but when you still have to get your bag, clear customs and then drop your bag at the transfer point and leg it to another terminal, any waiting seems to be magnified tenfold.
In reality I think I only waited half an hour, which at LAX is nothing. The guy behind me was also going to San Francisco and I think he was more worried than me, but I saw him at our departure gate so all good. It doesn’t help when one of the immigration guys goes on break and then they put a couple in front of me just as I reached the front of the line. I was eventually called up and had my photo taken and the four fingers on my right-hand scanned (I didn’t need to have all fingers scanned as I had that done last year).
I miraculously stood at the right spot at the baggage carousel so that my suitcase came past within thirty seconds and then it was straight into the express customs queue with no-one in front of me. The customs lady was a robot with her questions and did not even listen to my answers.
Instead of turning left to exit the terminal, I turned right for connecting flights and headed up the ramp to a small check-in area. There is no need to go to the desks if you are just dropping off a suitcase, just leave your bag with one of the guys next to the baggage belts and make your exit.
I walked around to terminal 4, where American Airlines operate from. I wasn’t sure exactly where to go but fluked my way into the priority security line (I had access due to coming off a business class flight) where the queue was shorter and there was only a metal detector, no body scan. That dealt with, I was on the concourse where I purchased a bottle of water and found the correct departure gate.
There was a slight delay in boarding but we were soon all seated and on our way to SFO. The American crew don’t do much. There is no greeting at the door, or check of your boarding pass. And they were nowhere to be seen as everyone was finding their seats, stowing luggage etc. There was an issue in the row in front of me with a family wanting another guy to swap seats, and when the lady on the aisle in my row mentioned it to a flight attendant later on, all the FS said was “if he wants to change seats he can”.
It is quite a scenic flight up the coast and I looked out the window and also tried to doze a bit. I was woken by the drinks cart and accepted a glass of water from the FA. I did notice that the couple next to me got a full can of soft drink each, not just what was poured into their glass, which is what happens on some other USA domestic carriers.
We soon landed at SFO and I quickly walked towards the exit, where J was waiting for me! It is so nice to be met at an airport.
We got my suitcase and headed to the car park. We drove over the Bay Bridge and north up to Napa.
And after three flights and a drive, I was at my home for the next two weeks.
When I posted the above photo on Facebook, I was asked where the American flag was, as most houses have them out the front. Ours was out the back.
J gave me the tour of the house and then we had to organise a shopping list so we could get groceries for the next week. Having a look in his pantry I found these!
I LOVE Goldfish crackers, so it was very appropriate that these were the first thing I ate on American soil.
J had been given a heads up about one of Napa’s best taco trucks and we agreed we would head there for a late lunch/early dinner.
It was a little tricky to find, but we were soon walking up to Taco Michoacan and checking out the menu.
I still can’t believe how cheap tacos are in America, and how good they are. I can’t remember exactly which ones are which, but we had three each on the first round, and then got another two each. I am pretty sure between us we tried the asada, pastor, cabeza, pollo and carnitas.
This was the first order, note the double layer of tortilla. These are cooked to order and super fresh and full of flavour. They were wrapped in foil and we just ate them next to the truck. Most people phone their orders in and pick them up and take them home.
We then went and did our grocery shopping at the local Safeway. Poor J, I love foreign grocery stores, and while there was a lot of familiar brands and products, there was a lot of new stuff, and I could have spent hours wandering up and down the aisles checking everything out.
We eventually found everything we needed and got out of there. Here are some highlights:
The Ben & Jerry’s retails at US$4.99 but that week, if you had a club card (which we did) it was only US$2.99. Bargain!
Oh, and we did buy fruit and vegetables as well, but you don’t need to see pics of those right?
The next day, after Cheerio’s for breakfast, we went for a walk in Westwood Hills Park. Described as a “small park with trails, hiking, and picnic areas”, this piece of nature was only a few minutes’ walk from our house and offered great views of the surrounding country side and Napa town.
This was one of the many cars parked in our street. I swear there were at least 4-5 cars for every house.
After our walk we got ready for lunch at The French Laundry.
After lunch we walked down to Browns Valley market. Browns is an upmarket/gourmet supermarket and while it doesn’t have a huge range, and is a little more expensive than a regular supermarket, it was only a 20-25 walk (good to stretch the legs) and has quality produce. Dinner that night was toasted sandwiches made from ingredients purchased from Browns.
Monday morning we got in the car and drove towards the coast. Our first stop was at Point Reyes Station, where we wanted to check out the Cow Girl Creamery as we had heard they do good sandwiches, and cheese of course! Unfortunately they are closed on Mondays.
We had a look up and down the main street and then decided to warm our bones and our stomachs at The Station House cafe. Did I mention how cold it was? The temperature had literally dropped 20-30 degrees Fahrenheit.
We both started with a cup of the soup of the day, which was chicken tortilla.
Seriously one of the best soups I have ever eaten. I should have just had a bowl of it and not worried about a sandwich. I tried to make my own version of this soup upon returning to Melbourne, and while it turned out OK, it wasn’t a patch on this one.
J then had a chilli dog.
And I had a Reuben sandwich (corned beef on rye with Sonoma Brinery sauerkraut, Jarlsberg cheese and Russian dressing).
It was ridiculously huge and I only ate one half.
After lunch we drove into the Point Reyes National Park. We had a quick stop at the Bear Valley visitor centre to get advice on hikes and then drove to the end of the Pierce Point road, and did part of the Tomales Point trail.
It was very windy but also very pretty.
The trail takes hikers through the Tule Elk Reserve and we saw said beasties sheltering from the wind (and tourists) in a valley below us.
We did about 10kms of the 15km return trail. We didn’t go all the way out to the point as I had had enough by that stage.
We drove back into Point Reyes Station and picked up some snacks and wine from the small grocery store. Amongst other items, J got these:
Dinner that night was the ribs that we had picked up at Safeway on my first day. They come pre-cooked and pre-marinated and all J needed to do was heat them on the BBQ for 7-10 minutes. We couldn’t believe how easy it was to get such fantastic ribs. I thought we were cheating as surely real Americans buy them raw and marinate them themselves. I learnt the following week that this is not the case and how we did them was the way most people do them.
The next day J had to work and I pottered around the house. We did get out for some lunch though. One of the places that I wanted to try on this trip was a burger from Gott’s Roadside.
Gott’s started as a burger stand in St Helena and now has another two restaurants, one in Napa at the Oxbow market, and one in the Ferry building in San Francisco.
We headed to the Oxbow location. Ordering is done at the counter inside and customers are given one of those buzzy things that let you know when you can come and collect your food. We sat outside.
J had the Texas burger (Jack cheese, sliced avocado, salsa, mayo and pickled jalapenos on a toasted egg bun), and I had the Green Chile burger (Jack cheese, lettuce, grilled onions, salsa verde and charred jalapeno mayo on a toasted egg bun).
We then had a look around Oxbow. I had been here briefly on our last visit so it was good to have another more thorough look.
I found myself gravitating towards Kara’s Cupcake stand, where an impressive array of delights was on offer.
I ended up buying four cupcakes, all wrapped up in a pretty pink box.
From left to right: choc caramel, lemon, red velvet and raspberry.
Hands down the best cupcakes I have had. And what I did not know when I bought them was that they all have a gooey surprise filling in the middle, so good!
Dinner that night was a chicken stir-fry.
The next morning J was up early as he had a 1.5 hour drive to a client site. I slept a bit longer then did a back yard workout (running around the deck area plus lunges, squats, bicep curls etc with the hand weights and medicine ball provided by the owners of the house). Breakfast was a bagel with cream cheese.
After breakfast I visited the Napa Premium Outlets for a spot of shopping. This retail haven was only a 15 minute walk from the house and while the list of shops doesn’t look that long on the website it took me three visits to get around most of them (there are still some I didn’t get to). I made the mistake of going to Gap first. I love that place and the prices at the outlet were insane (US$16 hoodies anyone?). It left me with a rather large and cumbersome bag, but I soldiered on, and after three hours, and a subway six inch for lunch, I called it a day. I walked home and had a break back at the house.
After a rest, I walked in the opposite direction to Brown’s Market and picked up two steaks and other bits and pieces for dinner.
There and back took me about an hour all up. I was knackered after all the walking so it was time for a wine and a snack while I read a book.
J got home just before 7pm and grilled our marinated flat iron steaks on the BBQ. And I blanched some asparagus and made roasted potatoes with paprika and lemon salt.
J was back on client site the next day, and after more exercise I caught a taxi into downtown Napa. My taxi driver picked I was from Australia and we had a chat about the tennis. She has been to the US and French Opens, while her mum has been to all four grand slams.
I had not spent much (if any) time in the downtown area of Napa so spent a few hours walking up and down the main streets. To be honest, there isn’t much to see, but I checked out a heap of restaurants for possible dinners and managed to buy a cardigan and top at Kohl’s. I think the main attraction of Napa is Oxbow, the outlets and the surrounding wineries, not the town itself.
I did smile at of the phone number for the Chop House though.
And I made a note to not go anywhere near this building!
J often eats at The Kitchen Door at the Oxbow so I thought that was where I should have lunch. I was quickly seated at a table.
I had a glass of William Hill chardonnay and the Roast Duck Bahn Mi Sandwich with pickled vegetables, spicy mayo, duck liver mousse, toasted roll, sweet potato fries.
The sandwich was nice but I would not order it again, I think there are probably better options on the menu (some of the flatbreads I saw coming out looked really good). There was a taste in the sandwich that didn’t appeal to me at all, I think it must have been the duck liver mousse. The fries were awesome though, especially with the chilli mayo I got with them.
After a bit more wandering I called a taxi to take me back to the house. When I told the driver the address he said “Hello neighbour!”. Turns out he lives a few doors down! We also had a chat about the tennis and how hot it gets in Melbourne.
I relaxed at the house until J got home and it was time to go out for dinner. We joined another couple at Celedon.
As this was a business dinner I didn’t pull my camera out, but I can say the food I had was very very good. Both my entree and main were off the specials board, a quail salad, and then a hangar steak served with risotto (an odd combination but it worked). My dessert was the chocolate and hazelnut mousse bars, fresh berries and chocolate sauce. Amazing but a huge serving. There were two mousse bars, which I didn’t need, I had to convince J to help me. I would recommend sharing this dish.
The next morning we got a glimpse of one of the neighbour’s cats.
And that wraps up my first week in California. Next up, a weekend in San Francisco.