“Driving Down the 101”

After 4 days in San Fran, it was time to move on. It was about a 10 minute walk from our hotel down to the car rental office, where we were due to collect our convertible. All downhill, though, and not via The Tenderloin, so I figured that we’d be fine to walk down there with our bags.

It was only as I rounded the corner to the Dollar car rental office, struggling under the weight of the backpack (honestly–who needs that many pairs of shoes?) that I realised that we were, of course, there to pick up a car, and that it’s just possible that we could have left the bags at the hotel and swung by later to pick them up.

Once a pedestrian…

Leaving San FranciscoOur directions to get out of San Francisco and down to the winery where we were spending the night were ridiculously easy–first right, take the ramp onto highway 101, and drive for 200 miles–so after the ease of escaping from San Fran, we opted to mix things up a bit by stopping off in Silicon Valley on the way. Well, as I said to Sal by way of justification, it is where the computers come from, after all. And so we decided to pull off in Palo Alto, allegedly home to Stanford with its garden of Rodin sculptures, and a pretty town centre.

Not that we’d know it–my pathetic efforts at navigating resulted in us missing the exit and spending 20 minutes driving along quiet suburban streets only to end up in the next town, Los Altos. It has no Rodins, and no world-class university, but it’s another sleepy, quaint Silicon Valley town and I’m sure they’re all the same really.

We parked up in what passed for the town centre, our tiny car dwarfed by the SUVs around it. As we wandered in search of somewhere for lunch, a young girl with a clipboard stopped us to ask if we could “spare a minute to stop global warming”. I’m afraid to say that we said no. Sorry everyone.

Back on the road, we made just one more attempt to stop, this time in Salinas, birthplace of Steinbeck, and home, allegedly, to a new multi-million dollar museum dedicated to him. Again, we wouldn’t know, because after driving round for 20 minutes all we found were some suburbs, a lot of spinach, and a strip mall where we bought cokes and crisps in a tiny shop where the assistant was utterly baffled and confused and stared back at us blankly when we asked the question “are there any toilets round here?”

We decided not to stop again.

Now, most wine country tourists in Northern California follow the well-worn path up from San Fran to Napa or Sonoma, but, never ones to follow the crowd, we opted to spend the wine tasting portion of our trip in tiny Paso Robles, staying in a lovely winery/hotel with impossibly friendly staff (even by American standards) and complimentary wine and hors d’oeuvres served in the afternoons.

Summerwood Winery, Paso RoblesHeading outside to sip our free wine on the terrace, we realised that we may just possibly be bringing down the average age somewhat. Luckily the oldies were friendly enough–“Let’s go talk to those kids!” said one as they moved over to sit near us, ask us if we were on our honeymoon (!) and give us some good advice on which wineries to visit.

Later, not keen to drink and drive, we booked a cab into town for dinner. Correction: we booked the cab into town for dinner. (And it was just as well we realised just how small a place it was before he dropped us off–it turned out he finished at 9pm).

“Are you the ones who came by cab?” asked the waitress as she showed us to our table. Ah. Small towns. Don’t you love em?