Friday, October 27, 2017

California Wine Country

The California Wine Country in Napa and Sonoma suffered during the recent fires. Now they are suffering from a lack of people visiting the wineries. The fire is over and the wineries are open. October is still the best time to visit our beautiful wine country. With fewer crowds the experience will be even better. If you were ever thinking of going now is the time.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Air and Space Museum, Washington Dulles

On my last trip to Washington I took a friend to the Air and Space Museum at Washington Dulles Airport. The building is very large and can exhibit aircraft that won't fit into the Air and Space Museum on Capitol Mall.

Some of the highlights were, Space Shuttle Discovery, Enola Gay (dropped first atomic bomb), SR-71 which set the record for cross country flight time the day they delivered it to the museum, an Air France Concorde, and a Space Lab replica.

I also enjoyed seeing the WWII exhibit which showed Japanese aircraft but the best for me was the experimental German planes, jets and rockets developed during WWII.

You will see military aircraft but you will also see private aircraft, gliders, and balloons. They even have the balloon or replica of it that participated in the highest altitude parachute jump. I also liked the experimental space program exhibit. One was a glider attached to the re-entry module that could glide to a safe landing on land instead of parachuting into the ocean.

I would take at least a half day walking the exhibits. There are free guided tours that I would also recommend. If you like, you can also go to the Imax theater. We watched a movie about the workings of an Air Craft Carrier in 3-D.

The Museum is only a couple miles from the airport. If you have a flight from Dulles and have the time go to the Museum before you depart.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

California Wine Country

Once again, here is my yearly pitch for visiting the California Wine Country in October. First of all, Spring and Fall are the best times to visit. The crowds are smaller but more important is the weather is at it's best. In the summer the inland heat sucks the marine layer off the coast cooling down the cities on the coast. Mark Twain said it best when he said "The coldest winter I ever spent was a Summer in San Francisco".

Come visit the California Wine Country, see the fall colors, see the crush and enjoy a less crowded atmosphere.

Now is the perfect time to visit every wine region in California.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Belgium Grand Prix

I have been going to a different Formula One race every year for quite a while. I know I could get to see more of the race at home with the camera and replay and commentary but you can't get the feel of the race you get in person.

This year my race was the Belgium Grand Prix. For those of you that don't follow F1 the experience is over 3 days. Day one has two "Free Practice" sessions and is on Friday. Day two is on Saturday and has "Free Practice 3" and after that qualifying for the race on Sunday. Qualifying takes an hour and is split into Q1, Q2, and Q3.  All determine the starting position that they start in and is known as "Go fast day". Sunday is the actual race.

One other thing to mention is that a race venue like Belgium can have up to 3 races on Sunday. That means 3 sets of races on Sunday, 3 sets of qualifying on Saturday and 3 sets of practice sessions on Friday and Saturday. When you think of the price of a 3 day ticket and what you get for 3 days and 3 races it is a great deal.

I have said it before that Formula One races in some of the most beautiful destinations in the world. If you planned a vacation around a race you would be going to the top world attractions as well as seeing a great race.

As for seeing the race in person as opposed to TV it is like going to a football game when you can watch it on TV. You miss the pregame activities, the feeling in the crowd, and what goes on during commercials. F1 on TV does not include the other races. It does not include the pre-race activities like seeing Michael Schumacher's son drive a car that he won a race in at Belgium and you will miss the excitement in F1 of the crowd following their team or driver. For Belgium you would not have a feel for the elevation change of the track. The climb up the hills with the cars going over the crest and down hills with a high speed turn at the bottom. I walked the track on Friday and really got a feel of the elevation change.

The new F1 owners are making the fan experience a priority. During the three days go to the fan zone where you can see driver interviews, meet members of each team and watch entertainment. It is more than just a race.

If you are into racing, look at the schedule, pick a destination and have the time of your life.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Italian Riviera


I've been to Nice and the French Riviera and I've also been up and down the Italian Riviera. I much prefer the Italian Riviera. The French Riviera has the mystic with the film festival and movies highlighting the cities on the coast. What I found was a rocky beach in Nice. The beach is long and Nice is beautiful but I wouldn't want to spend a day at the beach.

The Italian Riviera is absolutely beautiful with sandy beaches. The best way to describe the Italian Riviera is hands stretching out to the sea. The palm of the hand is inland with the fingers extending to the sea. When driving along the coast you seem to be either in a tunnel, which is the finger, or a bridge, which is the space between the fingers stretched wide. In between the fingers you will find the beautiful cities and towns along the coast. Each tunnel and bridge has a name and the Italians must take pride in them as every once in while I would see the name of a bridge or tunnel and also a sign saying "A fine Tunnel". Most of the beach towns have a beautiful sandy, not rocky, beach.

On this trip I drove down the finger from Bardino down to Pietre Ligure and drove along the coast toward Monte Carlo to Loano and Alassio. Both are sandy beaches. Alassio has a beach that stretches on for miles with a small drop-off that allows you to walk quite a way out into sea. The beach is divided up between different venues offering, for a fee, a lounge chair with umbrella, showers and lockers. Anyone can access the beach but to use the facility you should pay the fee. Since I was by myself I just walked up and down the beach.

My cousin lives in Loano and the next day she invited me to the beach there. They have a shorter beach but still long and the same facilities. She goes there often with her son and rent a space at the same place each time. She likes going there because it has a rock seawall that creates a shallow swimming area for the kids but if you climb over the wall it is very deep. That would be one of the differences between Loano and Alassio. The beach in Loano drops off pretty fast. I climbed over the seawall and swam in the Mediterranean Sea for over an hour. The salty sea made it easy to float.

Each town along the Italian Riviera has it's own vibe. Some are major ports for cargo, or ferries to Corsica and Sardinia. Some have long sandy beaches and others hug the tip of the finger along a cliff. All have narrow streets built before cars as you get closer to the sea which makes for a pleasant walk along the streets lined with shops. Along the beach and even more inland you won't have a problem finding a restaurant or cafe with great food and drinks.

Going to the beach my two last days was the perfect end to a European vacation. My advice is to end a vacation on a relaxing note. Who wants to say, "I have to go back to work to get some rest?".

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Italians Know How to Eat



I'm not a food critic but I know what I like. My relatives serve some of the best meals I have ever had. They always bring out cheese as one of their courses. I've had Parmesan with pear jam before and I thought that was awesome. This trip I had  Parmesan with fig jam along with the best salami.

However my favorite cheese was served on my last two trips. The picture doesn't do it justice. It is a creamy Gorgonzola. What is hard to see in from the picture is that the cheese is so soft it is dripping, not from the heat but the consistency. I asked a friend who owns our local Italian restaurant and he thinks it is called Dolce Gorgonzola. Now I have to find it in Sacramento.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Verrezzi, Italy

I only found Verezzi because my mom's first cousin grew up there. It is very hard to find unless you know where you are going. I would suggest using an application such as Google Maps to make it easier. In general it is between Finale Ligure and Pietre Ligure on the coast and Bardino in the hills.

Once you are there you are in for a pleasant surprise. The village itself is beautiful but it also has, in my opinion, the best view of the coast. There are actually four separate villages that make up Verezzi: Crosa, Piazza, Poggio and Roccaro. It is Poggio that is the main tourist center and also the reason that Verezzi is listed as one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. It is on the hill in old Verezzi where you will find the historic monuments as well as great views across Borgia, which is on the coast, and the Riviera di Ponente. The center of Verezzi is Piazzetta Sant'Agostino, surrounded by ancient buildings and from where you can enjoy the views and also see the traditional stone arcades. The town has an Arabic look and feel. My mom's cousin told me the area used to be hotspot for pirates.

My opinion is when you visit Italy there are always the mainstays of Rome, Florence, Venice, Pizza, etc. If you are willing to look a little harder you will find gems like this where there is a lot of history and you aren't fighting the normal crowds. If you can, go to the bigger cities first and finish your visit to Italy with a visit to the Liguria area or Lake Como and relax before you go home.