Calistoga Pottery

So…. we were hanging out in downtown Calistoga, California looking at the tourist map on Main Street.  I see it lists of a number of antique shops, coffee shops, restaurants and a bookstore. Off in the corner a little square on the map says “Calistoga Pottery.”

My eyes lit up! Of course and I had to check it out.

Calistoga Pottery is a little shop behind a home on the highway just before the turn into/out of Calistoga. We had the privilege of chatting with the owner/operator/artists, a husband and wife team. He makes the pottery and she glazes the pottery. Together, Jeff and Sally have been in business almost 40 years.

They make dinnerware for more than a dozen of the local restaurants. A list hangs on the wall by the door. They also sell their pottery to the public out of this working studio, the one pictured here.

Both Jeff and Sally were absolutely lovely to talk to and were particularly enthusiastic when we told them we were from Canada. Sally told us of a time when she lived in British Columbia in the 1970s. She remembers it very fondly. When it came time for me to complete my purchase, she joked that I could even pay in Loonies (Canadian coins) if I had them!

Sally showed me a number of her signature glazes, including one that was made from the ash of grapevines from a local winery.  Such a beautiful effect on clay!

I did also mention to Sally, how much her shop reminded me of the pottery business established in Manitoba by another potter, my friend Jeff Bettle. “Manitoba Jeff” has transformed an old church and made it into his home and studio over the course of the last 20 years. I told her how much I admire people who master their craft and share it with others.  Theoldchurch.ca

Maybe someday the 2 Jeffs and Sally will bump into each other at a clay convention. They can swap stories and tell the tales of life and work aside a highway, and the tourists who stop in. And they’ll have a laugh about that charismatic chatty Cathie who happened to connect over clay, in Calistoga California one July afternoon in 2019.

No budget Napa!

Napa is not a budget trip. There are ways to cut corners, however, you can’t cut the pie in half. It would be my recommendation to postpone the trip, and save more money rather than thinking you could go and just pinch pennies.

If budget is not a worry, stay at the Napa River Inn. What an incredible location! You will have amazing dining, and even the Wine Train just steps from your hotel.

If you want to cut back, try the Best Western at the Vines. It’s still $200USD+ (weeknights)/ $300USD+ (weekends)  it’s 10 minutes from the town and will require a rental car.

On the Napa River boardwalk, in town, you will find restaurants like Napa General Store and Celadon.  $200 per couple would get you a lovely meal in a gorgeous setting.

Open air restaurant, Celadon, on the river walk in the town of Napa.

If you want to cut back I would suggest going at happy hour between 4 and 6 PM. There are a few restaurants and pubs along that strip with $6 glasses of wine and $10 appetizers. We popped into Celadon and watched the mixologist at work. That’s right, not bartender, mixologist!

Napa Valley itself, is warm. In San Francisco and the bay area I wore long pants and a jacket and still shivered. Mere hours later in Napa,on the same day, I wore a sleeveless blouse and skirt and was very warm. The difference was “quite normal” said the locals and you can expect the Napa/Sonoma area up about 15°C warmer.

When it comes to paying for things in Napa/Sonoma area I would recommend cash or a credit card. Debit cards with chip or tap were effectively useless. Any of the counter machines I tried to use did not recognize a Royal Bank card. “Tap” is not a thing in this area. Ultimately I found an ATM and withdrew more cash.

In the USA when you say “debit” they think Visa-debit. Which is a completely different thing than our Interac system. Canadian cards are certainly not as useable as I thought they were.

Realistically, I think a couple could spend $400-$500 a day in the area, without even buying souvenirs.

Downtown Napa riverwalk.

If you would like more experiences, there are also two National Parks in the Napa area where you could go hiking and find waterfalls or even camp! Expect to pay entry fee to the park and of course, a fee for your camping site. If you want to see the Petrified Forest,  (only about 20 minutes away) it is on private land and entry is $26 a person. There is also a gift shop.

 The one thing I will say about Napa is the experience is as close to Italy as you can get without being in Italy.   I think it would make the most amazing anniversary trip if you were celebrating 25 or 30 or 40 years together.

Cheers!

 

Napa, California

Napa.

Yes! Wonderful Napa, where the roads are winding and the wine stops are plentiful.

Bus tour is a must! Enjoy the ride and leave the driving to someone else. This way you can fully experience the offerings.  There are literally wineries on both sides of the road and every 5 minutes or so. Plan to spend at least a full day touring this way. 3 nights/days in the region would be better.

You could stay in the town of Napa itself. (Yes!! Do it, if it’s in budget.)  Then, in my order of opinion, American Canyon (because it’s super easy and just minutes from Napa on the right highway), Calistoga because it’s quaint & in the centre of many wineries, Fulton, Santa Rosa, or Novato. Planning to go in/out of San Francisco or the Bay Area will cost you 2 hours in each direction, plus bridge tolls.

There are wine tastings in castles, in (former) gas stations, in cellars, a former National Bank,  in mini-mall settings, and everywhere in between.

We did a self-guided tour of Castello di Amorosa. An Italian style renaissance castle just about 5 minutes east of Calistoga.

Calistoga itself is a beautiful, quaint town. A former bank on Main Street has been turned into a fabulous wine tasting venue.

In terms of wine tasting cost, if you are just popping in (not part of a prepaid tour) expect to pay at least $20+ per person per flight of wines. More for premium selections. More for a tour plus tasting. For example Castello di Amorosa in the self-guided version was $30 & tax. ($32.73). Entry for children ages 5-20 were $20 & tax.  The guided tour was $65 & up.

There is a wine train that leaves the town of Napa itself. I think it was about $200 a person. Definitely look it up. If it fits your schedule it would be an enviable way to travel & fully enjoy the region.

By the riverwalk in the town of Napa. Gorgeous cobblestone streets public gardens and quaint shops among first class restaurants & eateries.

The wine itself, expect to pay a minimum of $30 per bottle for anything in this region, and $300 or so for special bottles, and of course, there will be even more expensive specialty bottles for collectors.

Most wineries seem to have a “Wine Club” with exclusive invitations to specialty tastings, dinners and events. Standard buy in to the club, seemed to be at least the purchase of a case of wine, or $500.

Monthly winery subscriptions were also advertised often. Shipping included, in USA of course. Like a Netflix subscription they’d just keep charging your credit card & sending the wine until you stop payment.

When you’re in Napa, there’s one more thing to do… announce you’re in Napa by taking a photo at the roadside sign! There’s a pull off big enough for 6 tour buses and I expect most bus tours DO stop at the sign for a selfie and fresh air break.

What’s a wine tasting like?

What’s a wine tasting like?

If you’re going to the San Francisco/Napa/Sonoma/Bay area you will find countless opportunities for a wine tasting experience.  Literally, they’re on every corner, country road and patio.

Your hotel or tour brochure will tell you whether a specific winery accepts walk-ins, or is by appointment only. If you’re on an organized tour, you’re good to go! Everything will be pre-arranged & effortless.

If you’re doing it as a do-it-yourself experience, watch for highway clues and big parking lots. “Visitors welcome” plus business hours, or “by appointment only” notes are common on property signs or gates.

In Sonoma, there is a “staging area” (aka Visitor/Tourist Centre) off the highway just before you get to town, (and the highway junction to Napa) that will give you maps, instructions & even discount passes. (Like 2 for 1 stickers/coupons). This staging area also has 4 wineries for tasting, a gin/spirits distillery/tasting room, a restaurant, gorgeous garden areas, expensive shops and a clean, modern washroom.

Sonoma Corner Stone, or “staging area” as I call it. Many bus tours start here.

The tasting experience itself is generally a stand-up counter. A sommelier will offer you a list to choose from. Then you will select a “flight” of 3-5 wines. The menu will have a brief description of each, but your host will provide more details (and even suggested food pairings) with each. Ask questions if you have any. The host is the expert and eager to tell you what makes their wine special.

Our knowledgeable wine hostess, at the tasting room at Castello di Amarosa.

Each tasting glass of wine is about 2 oz. If you are switching from white to red, or vice versa, expect to receive a new glass. Otherwise you’ll be drinking all your samples from the same glass.

What happens if you don’t like, or can’t finish your sample? There will be a pour bucket at your counter/table/ station where you can discreetly empty your glass.

While I LOVED the wines of Italy, (when I was in Italy, not this recent Napa trip) the pours were more generous on our tour, and the wines were strong. By the time we visited the 3rd winery and 8th or 9th sample, I could barely take 2 sips before having to pour it out into the slosh bucket.  I had reached my comfortable limit.

Here’s a pro-tip: crackers. Have crackers and a bottle water in your purse for in between snacking, as you travel winery to winery.

Above all else, stay sober if you’re driving.  Accompany your friends and drive if there’s no bus tour available, so they stay safe too. Then buy yourself a bottle for home/hotel use later with dinner.

San Francisco Airport

Dear San Francisco Airport;

You’re getting a D+ from me. The only reason it’s not a failing grade is that the exit security line was fast & easier than anticipated. The fog lifted and then the sun came out. That was uplifting, not just for me, but for your overall mark.

The Good:

  • Leaving on a WestJet flight was easy. The security line that had me completely freaked out & scared when we arrived was no big deal upon my departure. (The 10pm International Security wait line looked 3+ city blocks long and  people were wiggling all about with stress.) I started dreading the exit process about 5 minutes after we actually arrived. Not a joyful feeling. But actually unwarranted anxiety in my case. The security line was no more than 20 minutes, well handled and kept moving.
  • A small cup of plain coffee and a bagel only cost $9 and both were edible. Thank goodness I’m not a “breakfast sandwich & latte person” that would have set me back $18 USD.
  •  The airport Wi-Fi was usable, easy enough to get onto and functional.
  •  You can buy a loaf of sourdough bread and a can of clam chowder here. I don’t know if that’s good or not, but it’s not bad. This fact makes the good list look longer, and me appear less of a b*#~h.
  • On time departure. I liked that.

The Bad & Ugly:

  • Sky train to car rentals. Ugh. Is it working or not? It’s detouring? Ok. No, it’s a bus now. Which bus? Why is it so far from the airport?
  • Coming & going from the airport in a rental car… hell. GPS & Google maps are no help at all when roads and ramps are closed/and or detoured, or both. And you’re on and off freeways & the signage bites. Literally it felt like PAC MAN. Left, right, u-turn, recalculating, recalculating. This is no exaggeration. We had a CAPABLE big city driver, and a sober, articulate navigator AND modern technology. The struggle was real. I’ve never been so happy to arrive, turn over the keys & walk away.
  • If you get more than an hour away from the airport, expect toll bridges everywhere.  $7.95 to cross the Golden Gate Bridge each if you pre-pay. Make that $9.95 plus $5.95 service charge if you just let the rental car service put it on your bill.
  • The airport washrooms are horrible.  How is it that the International arrivals  has small, hard to find washrooms? And when you do find it…. barely operational. 3 stalls, plus 1 Disability-friendly stall. At 8am…. 1 stall clogged & out of service. The other 2, were unclean. The auto-start taps, at the sinks, 1 of 3 worked. I get it, save water, but, a lineup at the sink for a splash of water is not appropriate or sanitary. Zero chance of soap, lather & rinse. Once again, hand sanitizer to the rescue. SFO can do better.
  • Duty free “opens” at 8:30AM. 6 flights have already left and I can’t shop because my 9AM flight is already boarding. (I have a photo from 8:33AM. Still not open.) So, nothing for me to declare going back to Canada!! Except, if given the chance I will declare my mediocre review of SFO! Lol. Just kidding. I don’t want the extra CBA interview for my bad attitude.
  • No phone jacks, or plug-ins by the seats. Very hard to find a place to recharge a phone.
  • Seats are old, dirty & the stainless steel chair arms look like a Petri dish.
  • I couldn’t see a bottle filling station or water fountain.
  • No local or specialty souvenirs shops. Generic newsstand-type place with over-priced Chinese made San Franciso souvenirs. I spent zero dollars.
  • $21.99USD for a bag of Ghirardelli chocolates. Yeah… right. No thanks.
Tables, but no power outlets. Also, the food hall is not open before 9AM.
Wide view of the gate area where WestJet departs from.
Glad to see they’re working on it! The irony of “enhancing your journey every step of the way” next to the broken auto-sidewalk is not lost on me.
Washroom

I have been to several California airports so it’s not like I’m unfamiliar with big cities or California in general.

I love Palm Springs A+ because it’s so well organized, small, easy-breezy (it’s open air). Only thing is, there’s no Duty Free shop that I know of. Perfect “starter” airport for any new or solo travellers with apprehensions.

San Diego, A+ for its proximity to everything touristy, great signage, great food, great washrooms, easy taxi/shuttle. I love SAN & would go anytime.

LAX, B+ and only because it’s so big & changing terminals by bus was a little surprising. But everything was efficient. A well run mega airport.  I didn’t rent a car any of the visits there. Only taxi/shuttle arrival/exit. It’s big, but very do-able. Lots of phone charging stations.

SNA, is the airport code for John Wayne Airport in Newport Beach/Anaheim area. A++. Beautiful. Fantastic. Easy. And 40 mins from Disneyland and lots of airport/Disney shuttles around. 15 minutes from the beach & rest and relaxation. Arrive here, and be in your bathing suit by a beach or pool in less than an hour from the plane landing.

If I could give myself advice

If I could go back in time and offer my younger self some travel advice, it would be this…

Don’t wait for life to be perfect before you take the trip.

Laugh at your mistakes, there will be many.

Enjoy the wrong turns.

Print your photos.  There’s nothing wrong with the picture frame from the dollar store . Put it on your desk.

Don’t over plan.  Give your self permission to rest, to linger over breakfast and once in a while just go and see where the wind takes you.

Don’t always trust the GPS.

Reading a paper map is a life skill. Teach your kids.

Wear good walking shoes.

Take advice & give advice freely. We learn from each other.

Travel often, but appreciate home.