Week 40: Ye Olde Napa

After exploring the breathtaking Yosemite National Park, we drove back northwest to Napa, California, and its famous wine country.  We’re not the biggest wine people, but we definitely enjoyed the beautiful countryside, and we had a few unexpected adventures along the way.

Bay Area Redux

Napa sits just north of San Francisco, and we realized once we got to Napa that we were as close to the Bay Area as we had been at our previous campground.  So, we made another trip into the city, where Jake had lunch with some former co-workers, and Heather ate by herself (her choice) at the amusingly-named “Breaking Bread.”  Afterwards, we drove across the Golden Gate Bridge, and tried to visit the Muir Woods redwood grove – but even on a random weekday afternoon, it was too full for us to park or enter.

Bummer!  You’ll have to wait until our next blog post for redwoods, but we did film a hyperlapse video of driving across the Golden Gate Bridge. As nifty as it is black-barred!

Muir Woods was a bust, but we had better luck visiting Berkeley, California, where we wandered around the downtown area and grabbed some pizza from the locally-famous Cheese Board Collective.  We really enjoyed Berkeley – we’re suckers for hippie college towns – and the University of California-Berkeley campus was even prettier than we’d hoped it would be.

The Gothic Castle

As we mentioned, we aren’t particularly savvy wine-drinkers – our analysis is usually something along the lines of “hmm, tastes like wine” – but considering we were in Napa, we had to check out a winery.  Jake’s former co-worker Liz drove up from San Francisco to hang out, and we headed to Castello di Amorosa, an insanely authentic medieval castle that doubles as a winery.

We’re not kidding when we say “authentic.”  This castle is the real deal.  The details are pretty mind-blowing – here’s Wikipedia:

“Key details and building techniques are architecturally faithful to the 12th and 13th century time period. Among many other features it has: a moat; a drawbridge; defensive towers; an interior courtyard; a torture chamber; a chapel/church; a knights’ chamber; and a 72 by 30 feet (9.1 m) great hall with a 22-foot (6.7 m)-high coffered ceiling.

The torture chamber has an authentic 300-year-old iron maiden which Sattui states he bought for $13,000 in Pienza, Italy, a replica rack, prison chambers and other torture devices. The great hall features frescoes painted by two Italian artists who took about a year and a half to complete and showcases a 500-year-old fireplace.

The masonry, ironwork and woodwork was fashioned by hand using old world crafting techniques. Building materials included 8,000 tons of locally quarried stone, in addition to paving stones, terra cotta roofing tiles and some 850,000 bricks imported from Europe. Extending into the hillside adjacent to the castle lies a labyrinth of caves some 900 feet (270 m) in length. Beneath the castle are a 2-acre (8,100 m2) barrel cellar and tasting rooms where visitors can sample the wines-all sold only at the Castle.”

OK, it might be a tourist trap, but who cares?  It’s awesome and preposterous, the wine tasted like wine, and our server hooked us up with a free tasting of their expensive reserves.

Which also tasted like wine.

Blows, Goats

Speaking of tourist traps, after visiting the castle we stopped at the “Old Faithful Geyser of California.”  The name is a little aspirational – it does indeed have a geyser that blows regularly, but the volume can’t compare to the real Old Faithful.  Can’t blame them for trying, though, and the high-class cabanas they scattered around the geyser were a nice attempt.  That said, we don’t foresee “bottles, models, and blow” becoming a popular combination anytime soon.

Wait a second…

If we’re being honest, we only really stopped at the geyser because they also have a petting zoo with fainting goats, which freeze up and fall over when scared.  But it was pretty anticlimactic in person – we’ve seen videos that make them look adorable and easy-to-seize, but these goats definitely weren’t like that.  The adults mostly ignored our attempts to startle them; the babies would freeze, but mostly at random, and it was more disturbing than cute.  At least there were also some crazy rams, and we did enjoy the “guard llama” keeping watch over its flock.

Medieval Napa

The town of Napa is charming, with lots of classy shops and good food, although it’s extremely upscale.  We first visited the Oxbow Public Market for some beer, tacos, and fancy-people-watching.  The number of polo shirts was out of control.  Next, we headed to the nearby town of Yountville, which is even fancier.  Our destination was Addendum, the “cheap” fried chicken stand attached to Ad Hoc, a restaurant operated by the famed Thomas Keller (French Laundry, Per Se).  Boxed fried chicken lunches were a mere $16.50 apiece, and we want to be angry about that, but we can’t because they were SO FREAKING AMAZINGLY GOOD.

We also spent a lot of time in our campground, Skyline Wilderness Park, which used to be a mental health asylum but has now been converted into a lovely park.  It’s huge and has an impressive collection of hiking trails, along with a beautiful native plant garden.  Astonishingly, the entire park has been run by volunteers since the 1970s.  It’s genuinely cool to see people so dedicated to nature and their community.

While we were staying at Skyline in their little RV park, we noticed a huge festival in the grassy field next door.  Turned out that the “March Crown” festival was being held at Skyline.  It’s basically a giant medieval style tournament, complete with swords, bows, armor, and a royal court – just like in the movie Role Models.

We walked over, expecting a Medieval Times-style festival, but this was a gathering of people deep into the life – there were no turkey legs to be had, unless you brought your own.  We were too late for the fighting, so there wasn’t much to do, and we felt a little uncomfortable just walking around and gawking at everyone in their medieval getups.  It might not be our thing, but it’s hard not to respect the level of effort people put in, and besides, who are we to judge someone else’s hobby when we live in a big metal box?

So we quietly left, and felt thankful we weren’t camping out in plate mail.

Roadtrip Status

Still alive?  Check.

Where are you now?  Near Bozeman, Montana, waiting on some RV repair work (boo).

Next location?  We’ll be spending a week at Glacier National Park with Jake’s family, in a rented house with real plumbing and no wheels!  Crazy.

Follow Us On Social Media


Latest Posts


Week 38: San Franciscan Days

After a sodden weekend in Monterey and Big Sur, we headed further up the California coast to San Francisco and the Bay Area.  Neither of us had been to San Francisco before, but we both loved it.


Power Trip

Before we got to visit the city, we had some RVing issues to deal with.  The first issue was finding a place to stay: as you might expect, San Francisco is not the easiest city to find close, comfortable, and inexpensive RV parking.  We did end up finding a campground that was cheap, comfortable, and close to San Francisco “as the crow flies,” but it turned out that getting there “as the RV drives” required a half-hour detour around a mountain range.  D’oh!  At least the drive was pretty, as was the campground.

The second issue was an electrical problem in our RV.  Every time we plugged our power cord into the brand-new power pedestal* at our campground, the pedestal’s circuit breaker tripped, so we couldn’t get any electricity in our motorhome.   A friendly mobile RV service technician came out and, unbuttoned pants barely hanging on his body, diagnosed our problem: an incredibly tiny fault in our electrical ground wire.  It was so small that only this brand-new power pedestal could detect it; we have stayed at dozens of other campgrounds without a problem.

The technician wasn’t able to fix the problem on-site, so he just disconnected the ground wire completely – and warned us not to use our toaster in the shower this week.  That did the trick, and we had sweet, sweet electricity again.  Maybe a little unsafe, but we re-wired everything when we left (and then fixed it for real later on).

Back in action!  Time to explore San Francisco.

* A power pedestal is basically a shielded box full of outlets that the campground provides for your parking space. 

Day Trip

After months dealing with the endless traffic in California, we were excited to visit a city with public transit.  We left our car behind and took the BART train in, spending the entire day walking and bus-hopping in a big loop through San Francisco.  It was glorious.

Here’s the details, for the interested.  We started out by grabbing some Blue Bottle iced coffee and walking to Union Square, then on through the dragon gate to Chinatown.  Quality ethnic restaurants are often in short supply on our trip, so we binged on some dim sum (yum) before working it off with a walk up to the famous Lombard Street.

We admired Lombard’s craziness, then headed down towards the water and Ghirardelli Square.  We strolled along San Francisco’s national historical maritime park and the Embarcadero, then stopped for a snack: an adorable, turtle-shaped piece of sourdough from the Boudin bakery.  (Check the pictures below.)  Despite its cuteness, we savaged its doughy body, and then hopped on a bus for the Golden Gate Bridge.

Then, we hopped off, spent 30 minutes figuring out the bus system, and hopped on the correct bus to the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Golden Gate Bridge is a beautiful landmark, but it doesn’t take long to see if you’re not crossing over it.  We took another bus back into the city, south to Golden Gate Park, where we strolled the meandering paths and admired the grounds.  It’s a really nice park, although I (Jake) hated the look of the De Young Museum, a deeply ugly monstrosity that does the exact opposite of blending in with its surroundings.  Heather was excited to see the museum, since she learned about it in architecture school, and she thought it was beautiful. Just kidding!  She really wanted to like it (emphasis hers), but ultimately had to acknowledge it puts the “ug” in fugly.”

At this point, tired of walking, we realized our bus ticket had only been vaguely stamped with the date – not the time – so we reckoned it should be good all day to do whatever we wanted.  (Also, nobody ever checked it.)  We took another bus down to the Painted Ladies, of Full House fame:

From there, another bus took us to the famous Castro district.  We really enjoyed the rainbow crosswalks, as well as the, um, “subtly” dirty shop names.

Finally, we walked to the Mission district and got burritos from La Tacqueria, winner of fivethirtyeight.com’s burrito bracket.  We have to say, the restaurant lived up to the hype – these were some amazing burritos!  Finally, after 10 miles of walking and eating our way through the city later, we took the train back, and enjoyed not having to drive (for once) while we listened to some Silicon Valley business nerds enthusiastically discuss “six sigma.”

Mystery Trip

We fulfilled a promise to our pre-roadtrip selves by taking the hour-long trip down to San Jose (quietly America’s 10th largest city) to visit the Winchester Mystery House.  The Mystery House is a huge mansion built by Sarah Winchester, widow to an heir to the Winchester gun family fortune, in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  She apparently believed she was being haunted by the ghosts of people killed by Winchester rifles, and so she built the house to appease and confuse the spirits.

Yes: “confuse the spirits.”  The Winchester Mystery House has doors that open onto brick walls, windows in the middle of rooms, and a staircase that leads directly into a ceiling.  We should note that it’s not clear to what extent these were intentional choices, as opposed to mistakes during design and construction.  Ms. Winchester designed the house herself, with no training, and built it ever-larger over the course of nearly forty years.  The home was under construction 24/7, and no blueprints exist.

The Mystery House may not be the most efficient of structures, but it is beautiful and unique. (We weren’t allowed to take photographs inside the mansion, so the last few pics are from here.)

Earth Trip

We planned to visit some bars and restaurants in San Jose after visiting the Mystery House, but as we drove through the city and saw a sea of green t-shirts, we suddenly realized that it was St. Patrick’s Day.  Whoops!  (We were barely aware it was March.)

In any event, we certainly weren’t going to brave the crowds of drunk-by-3-p.m. revelers just for the sake of it, so we headed back to our campground.  We ended up hiking around the park we were staying in, and were treated to some lovely views and what appeared to be a whole flock of endangered condors, right by a lake.  (Take that, supposed Pinnacles condor viewing!)

We don’t have pictures, but it was fun to watch them swooping and circling around us overhead.  Although to be honest, there were some moments when we thought they looked very curious as to whether we might be food.  In any event, we’re grateful for and really enjoy these kinds of random nature experiences.  It’s one of those things we always felt was missing in New York City.

Roadtrip Status

Still alive?  Check.

Where are you now?  Heading out of Moab, Utah, for Cortez, Colorado, and Mesa Verde National Park.

Next location?  Montrose, Colorado, to see the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

Follow Us On Social Media


Latest Posts