96 days since we left Europe, but all of a sudden, round one bend, up one valley, along one bus route it felt as if we are back. After leaving Yosemite National Park we headed further north up California. Still having 10 days until our flight out of the US, and having seen everything in LA we wanted to see, we changed our plans slightly and added Sacramento and the Napa Valley to our itinerary rather than just heading to San Francisco. California wine country really has the feel of Europe, and not just because of its dense population of vineyards and wineries: the luscious rolling hills and temperature climate it’s easy to see why European immigrants settled there and began building a home away from home.
We were the last ones left on our bus from Yosemite Valley to Merced and so the bus driver, who was clearly a talker, invited us up to the front with him to ride the last hour watching the sun set and chatting. We’re grateful we did as Larry the bus driver (as we’ve since taken to calling him) was such a nice bloke he drove the bus straight to our motel rather than leaving us at the bus stop. It saved us nearly a mile walk in the dark with our bags which we were very grateful for given the heavy legs we were carrying! After a much needed warm nights sleep in a comfy bed we were headed for Sacramento, we were going back on Amtrak for the near 3 hour journey but this was a free ride! Without really realising it we’d amassed enough reward points on our trip up and down the east coast to pay for our trip. This trips beginning to pay for itself! The weather was a full 15 degrees warmer in Sacramento than it had been in Yosemite, and so we didn’t rush around town too much. We did however visit another capitol building (I’m still finding it odd that the state capitols aren’t the big cities. It’s also clear that the United States got a job lot on all their capitol buildings as they all look the same!) and got a free look around, we spent most of our time seeking out the portraits of the previous governors. It took a while but on the 3rd floor towards the back we found Mr Arnold Schwartzenegger hanging proudly!
Sacramento also has a very well preserved old town which runs for 5 blocks along the river. Complete with false front shops, boardwalks and a vintage railway. It was the site of America’s initial gold rush and apparently, at its peak, the river bank was lined with ships abandoned by sailors who were seeking to make their fortune and couldn’t get any further up river in their sea vessels. I wonder how many of them made more than the ships they left were worth!
On our final day in Sacramento we took advice for our Airbnb hosts and got the tram out of town and across to a lake to hire a kayak (a new vehicle to add to our count!) it was another glorious California day but not quite warm enough to warrant a deliberate capsize. There were no accidental capsizes either, and we both got back to shore with dry feet!
After 3 nights in Sacramento we moved on, like the nomads we are, to Vallejo. Our gateway to the Napa Valley. Clearly not anyone else’s gateway though as it’s not a tourist town. It has a public bus that runs up to Napa town but it looks like only locals use it. Anyway, it was good enough for us. We spent a day and a half exploring. Thanks to a few groupon vouchers we were able to get deals on wine tastings and pairings in some vineyards and wineries. Our first afternoon we explored the pretty downtown (much more set up for tourists) and enjoyed dinner and a chocolate and wine pairing. The following morning we wanted to take advantage of our only full day in the area so left the house at 8am to catch our bus up the valley. We arrived at our first winery at the southern tip of he famous wine region at 10am and sat down in their tasting room. After agreeing it was 5pm somewhere and in fact 6pm in the U.K. we enjoyed 4 flights of wine paired perfectly with 4 different cheeses. After soaking up the atmosphere a little we headed through the picturesque valley to our second winery that also had a picnic area and a deli. After trying 5 of their wines in their tasting room and being given all the necessary information to identify a perfect wine for any occasion, we purchased their cheapest bottle to have with our lunch (hey, after 9 tasters it all tastes the same to me… it pretty much all tastes the same before I’ve had any) we selected a perfectly European picnic of bread, cheese, charcuterie and pâté and spent a few very enjoyable hours in their grounds and picnic area. I was quite disappointed that the Americans hadn’t got hold of the region and out their unique spin on the idea of wine growing. But then I guess you can’t really beat us Europeans (article 50 or not) at day time drinking. In Napa, for the first time in the states, I’m glad the Americans haven’t gone all American.