California dreamin’

With our two sons at university, my wife and I flew off on our first vacation without kids for the March Break. Travelling without children definitely has its advantages.
The first advantage was that we were on our own schedule. We were able to do the things that we wanted to do and not try to find those interesting things to do with our two sons.
For our first vacation alone, we flew off to San Francisco and the Napa Valley.
It was our first visit to the city on the bay—and the city by the bay lived up to our greatest expectations. San Francisco is a people-friendly place with great public transportation. It is a great cultural centre where street singers and actors are only a stone’s throw from the waterfront with everything imaginable.
It is a city of wonderment. Standing side by side along the waterfront, a store may be selling T-shirts at three for $10 while at the next store, you can pick up a Salvador Dali or Picasso original.
We happened to be in luck in San Francisco. They weather was unseasonably warm, with the locals telling us if we came back next year, the weather would be much cooler.
When we packed to travel, we had been watching the weather forecast on the Internet for the San Francisco area. It called for one warm day in the mid-70s, followed by cooler weather in the 50s and 60s. We packed accordingly.
The weather report was incorrect. We arrived to a heat wave, with temperatures for our visit staying well into the mid-80s. The sun shone for all seven days without a cloud to be seen.
San Franciscans will tell you it just doesn’t happen like that in March. Every day saw a heat record. And we ended up buying clothing for the extra warm weather.
On Wednesday as we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge to head for wine county, the sun already had blessed us with sunburns and so we now were lathering ourselves with sunscreen first thing in the morning.
The drive to wine country is no further from San Francisco than Rainy River is from Fort Frances. As I told the newspaper staff back home, the valley that stretches some 25 miles has two main roads that connect more than 200 wineries. It is the longest wine bar in the world.
Even in a mid-March week, the main road was jammed with traffic and the wineries were bustling with tours and tastings.
From the hilltops on one side of the valley through to the hilltops on the other side, fields of grape stock were all neatly lined up—stretching as far as the eye can see.
The unseasonably warm weather had caught many of the grape growers unprepared. People were out in the fields pruning the last of last year’s runners, and grey smoke smudges rose from the valley floor to mark where those canes were burning.
The grapes already were sprouting green leaves. That worried the grape growers, who still can expect a frost late into April. Grapes grow on this year’s growth and those early summer days could cause the buds to form too early and suffer a frost kill-off.
One of the growers explained to us that should the temperatures drop below a freezing, we could expect to see the vines drenched in water or see the huge fans in the fields start up to blow warming air across the fields.
The valley is a true temptation. Nearly every winery offers tasting of their vintages. Every winery has its own story to tell. Every person you stop and talk with has their own favourite wine. Every taste and style of wine is available, with prices starting at $4 per bottle and rising into the several hundreds of dollars.
Many are shipped into Ontario.
Gas was much more expensive in California than it is in International Falls. When Marnie shopped at Safeway on Sunday after our return, the price of navel oranges were less here than at the Safeway store beside our hotel in San Francisco.
We’ve also been to the Okanagan and Niagara wine regions of Canada, which can compete with the Napa Valley of California. They have the same quality of wines and food, and probably the cost of travel is less.

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