With summer arriving I’m back on the road and this time back to Spain. I’ve been one other time but that was to Mallorca and to the Costa Brava. Like that trip, this one is largely about cycling, though not in the first week.

At 4am the bike cases were set out on the porch and ready for a shuttle ride to the airport. A long journey awaits. Like last year’s visit to Italy, this year’s trip routes through Washington’s Dulles airport. Unlike last year though, I went out of my way to avoid arranging for a 3rd leg of air travel. I’ll be going from Washington to Madrid and then from there renting a car and heading north. Last year I went from Dulles to Frankfurt Germany and had to sprint through the airport to make my connection after a delay in the international flight. My luggage was unable to sprint.

This year I planned to be delayed out of both Austin and out of Washington. It’s sad that we have to plan to be delayed, but that is the norm with airline travel for me. If it’s not for you, consider yourself lucky.

My flight from Austin to Washington was in fact a normal one and essentially on time. Fantastic. So, I had hours to kill at Dulles. I spent most of it in the United lounge. One of the few perks of having an “Explorer” card from United is that they give you a couple of lounge passes a year. I don’t generally care or have time for one but this time I had hours of time. So I hung out there. The photo below is from there. Clearly others had plenty of time to kill there as well.

The international flight to Spain boarded as expected on time and with little fanfare. And yet, no surprise, this year’s international flight was also delayed in leaving. And even more than last year. There was some kind of oxygen thing in the cockpit, followed by some kind of snafu with the oven in the galley in the rear of the plane. All tolled we sat there at the gate for about an hour.

And yet, somehow 7 to 8 hours later we essentially arrived in Spain on time. Hmm… sometimes I wonder if ‘maint’ issues are manufactured so that a plane can arrive as planned give the weather conditions of the day. Clearly we must have had some pretty good prevailing winds. We made up nearly an hour of delay.

I was on the road again over Memorial Day and while I finally have a few minutes to do so I wanted to post at least a couple of notes and a photo. For family and friends I visited, I’ll share (or have shared) photos elsewhere. And also, thanks mom for the visit home! It was an excellent time. It was great to get back to home territory for just a short weekend visit. Iowa was green and beautiful in late springtime. As you can see by the photo here, it wasn’t long after planting that I visited. The corn was just getting started. It had rained recently and I pulled off highway 61 near Welton to take this photo. They used to say “knee high by the fourth”… but that was even long before my time and by now I have to believe that corn is way higher than knee high.

With spring weather comes great cycling in Texas. Two of my favorite organized bike tours are the LBJ 100 and the Easter Hill Country tour.

Finishing the LBJ 100

Both of the rides have come and gone at this point but I thought I’d jot a few notes and a couple photos.

LBJ 100 Ride

This will be my 5th LBJ ride if I’m counting right. The ride starts at the LBJ ranch. I’ve written before about the logistics of this ride and this year things were just as well organized. There was once again a bit of speechifying at the beginning but not much and we were soon on our way.

Price for registration was again $50 ($55 last min) though this year they didn’t even include the shirt for that. At least not at the packet pickup I did at REI. Thankfully there’s good support on this ride and good food/beer after but I’ll note once again it seems like an expensive ride despite the charity nature of it.

Ride attendance was very good. I don’t know the count but it seemed like a thousand people were at the start. Maybe it was only hundreds but sure seemed like a lot. You can see a photo here of the group at the start.

You can also see in that photo at the start that the weather was picture perfect. Temp was also great. I was cool enough to be wearing leggings and a long sleeve but that wouldn’t last long. It was going to warm up.

It didn’t take more than 5 miles from the start to also realize that wind was going to be a factor. Wind was stiff coming out of the southwest. That meant you were either going into it or had it as a cross wind for much of the ride. There was of course a few miles near the apex of the loop ride where you got a tail wind and that was fantastic. But the last 20 miles was into the wind. I counted ourselves lucky the temp was so good and it was otherwise a beautiful day.

The photo at the very top was at the end of the ride heading back into the LBJ ranch. The Live Oaks there on the drive in are beautiful and their shade covers the road.

Post ride there were tacos this year – and some tasty beer. Can’t recall what the beer was but it hit the spot as you can see by my goofy grin in the pic here. It was refreshing.

Easter Hill Country Tour

I’ve been doing the EHCT on and off since the 90’s. The bike tour has been around a long time. It’s still based out of Kerrville and for whatever reason, this year it seemed to have a bigger crowd than last year, at least judging by the number of cars in the parking lots. It’s otherwise hard to tell how many people are doing the ride because there is no mass start. There are 3 days of riding – though I generally do just the Fri and Sat rides – and people take off whenever they’re ready.

On both days I chose to alter our routes a bit from the published ones. The problem with cycling in the Kerrville area in my opinion is the roads have more traffic than the remote roads up around Fredericksburg. So the Friday ride in particular had a long stretch on the return leg of the loop ride on RR 783. Not my favorite. It’s heavily traveled. So instead, we got the same amount of mileage in by simply making the ride an out and back. By contrast, Zenner-Ahrens Rd is a quiet country road with loose livestock and lots of cattle guards. Almost no traffic – ‘cept bikes and cows.

On Saturday Peter and Bryan joined Tony and me for a longer 55 miler. It too was a hybrid route because I refuse to ride on Hwy 27 for anything but a short distance. Way too much traffic going 70+ mph. Instead, we took Wilson Creek. The photo of the three guys below was taken on Wilson Creek. Obviously you can see you don’t have to worry about traffic on that road. It’s a great road to bike.

The other photo is of me and Tony coming into the little town of Comfort. As you can see the weather was still cool enough we had plenty of gear on. And obviously Tony noticed that Bryan was taking the photo and I was oblivious. Or, I knew the rest stop was just ahead and was making a bee line for the snacks.

Wind was a factor on that Saturday ride. We slogged against it all morning to Comfort and then a good portion of the ride back from Comfort. Winds were out of the NE so it wasn’t until we were well past the apex of the ride and practically 10-15 miles out that we picked up some of the tailwind. That last section of the route from Comfort back to Kerrville is quite hilly though so the tail wind was only so valuable.

All in all, good rides both Fri and Sat. And we lucked out with no rain. Just some drizzle on Fri.

This one last photo of the wagon was taken on the drive back to Austin from Kerrville. Actually, on the road – Ranch Road 473 – between Comfort and Blanco.

Wagon in the Texas Bluebonnets

Work-related travel recently took me to Seattle and I always enjoy visiting Seattle – at least downtown Seattle. I don’t know much about the rest of the city. Our office there is downtown and there’s plenty to do within walking distance. So on this occasion I went up a couple days early.

As has become somewhat typical of a weekend visit such as this one I didn’t have much of an agenda planned in advance. Like the recent trip to San Francisco, I know Seattle is a very walkable city and so with camera in tow, I mainly planned to just choose a direction and see what I found.

Of course I also like to find interesting restaurants so I did actually google around ahead of time and read a few reviews and arrange some places I planned to seek out. Read on for more about them in the ‘Food & Wine’ section below.

So where to stay … I didn’t want to stay at the same place I planned to be at for the work-related visit. I wanted to try some place new. In the past I’ve had good luck visiting Seattle on a weekend using Priceline and this was no exception. I picked ‘downtown’ and rolled the dice. Ended up finding The Edgewater.

The Edgewater

I flew in Friday evening and cabbed it into the city. The cabbie gave the Edgewater high praise — particularly the restaurant — but we’ll see.

The bar/restaurant at the hotel is called Six Seven and on a Friday evening the place was hopping. So often a hotel bar is a depressing and boring thing that one day had high hopes but ends up being some place a few people sit around and watch the ball game. Six Seven was packed and there was a band playing. Oh, and they had a good wine list and you could still order some great snacks from the restaurant. I had some lettuce wraps – and they were good.

I got a better look at the rest of the hotel the next day. I didn’t hang around long but the lobby is inviting. The place is very lodge-like. You can sit by a big fireplace and since you’re literally right on the water you can watch the ferry boats and ships slowly sail by.

Breakfast at the restaurant there was good – though pricey at $20 for eggs, taters, bacon and coffee. It would have been even better had the weather been nicer. While the view of Puget Sound is good even when the windows aren’t open, they clearly all opened to a set of, in this case unoccupied, tables. Maybe someday when the weather is great I’ll make a return visit.

Wandering About

Saturday morning there was a steady rain coming down but I had brought clothes and rain jacket for the occasion so no worries. I struck out up Alaskan Way with the idea to ride the ferry boat over to Bainbridge Island. No particular destination in mind over there. In some ways it was just an excuse to get out on the water and see things from a different point of view.

On a Saturday morning the ferry leaves fairly often so it didn’t take long before the next one came along. Round trip: $8 for a pedestrian.

It takes about 35 minutes to make the trip over. The little town on the other side is very walkable and if you like to window shop for an hour or two it’s an interesting visit. I grabbed a sandwich mid day at the Hitchcock Deli and then later after walking around some more and a leisurely coffee at Pegasus Coffee I headed back to the ferry. But first, along the way I found Classic Cycle. It’s a very cool bike shop that has a lot of vintage bikes hanging on the wall. You can see one of them in the photos I’ve posted here. That bike is said to have gone 80mph.

The ferry ride back was uneventful. In fact, I napped most of it. Surprising considering I’d loaded up on coffee before making the return trip.

Most of the rest of Saturday afternoon was spent poking around the Pike Place Market. The place is always buzzing with people and interesting sights. That day was no exception. A heavy rain for part of the afternoon meant it was even more jammed. The b&w photo posted here of the couple with the dog was one I snapped when miraculously the throng of people parted and they were there alone. They were just waiting out the rain it seemed.

Skipping to Sunday, I stuck close to the downtown area. I walked out to Seattle Center. It’s not hard to find. Just locate the Space Needle and it’s all of the area and buildings around and near the base of the needle. The primary draw for me was a visit to the Chihuly Garden and Glass. It’s an amazing exhibit of glasswork done by Dale Chihuly. You can see a photo of one of the room sized pieces posted here. Even at the $20 ticket price, if you enjoy art glass it’s worth a visit.

Food & Wine & Coffee

Half the fun of visiting a city like Seattle is to find some cool places to eat and drink. Here are some I visited and liked:

Matt’s In The Market


Matt’s In The Market is a place I’ve visited once but it was many years ago. Since then I’ve tried to drop in on other visits but it’s a small and very popular place so my advice is to get a reservation. Even though I was traveling solo I got one this time and I’m glad I did. I ended up with a table with a great location that overlooked the Market. I snagged the photo posted here at right from the window by my table. Despite the touristy location the food is excellent. I had a salad to start but for the main had the ‘bacon wrapped rabbit’. Very tasty. It came with spiced red cabbage, lentils, carrots, parsnips, mustard seed, and some “rabbit jus”. And to enjoy with, they had a favorite Oregon Pinot Noir by the class from Stoller.

Lark

As someone doing the town on foot, at 10th Ave, Lark is a bit of a hike. But not that bad. First, I have to say I enjoyed the wine menu. As a fan of Italian wines and a recent visit, I was happy to find selections from Piedmont. I started with a glass of Roero Arneis. Then moved on to Langhe Nebbiolo. Meanwhile, they also have some great cheese selections here. I stuck with the Italian choices. A Tuscan Pecorino and a 2nd from Piedmont.

Purple Cafe and Wine Bar

While out on Bainbridge Island, I wandered the shops and one was a wine shop. I didn’t buy anything but I chatted up the guy working there and I asked him what wine bar should I visit in Seattle. His immediate reply was Purple. So, I pulled in for a visit. The place is huge. Gymnasium sized, with a circular tower of a wine rack in the middle of it. The draw of this place in my opinion were the wines by the glass. Huge selection. And wine flights too. I had an Italian White wine flight, followed by their “Tour de France” selection of 3 great French reds. The photo posted above of the solo glass of wine was taken at Purple.

Moore Coffeeshop

Last but not least, what visit to Seattle would be complete without some great coffee. I’ve tried many places there but I still really love the coffee at Moore’s Coffeeshop. This is coffee artistry. Both in taste and in the latte art they manage to pour into your cup. The place is really tiny but they also have some seating these days so it’s not just a ‘to-go’ place. I parked there for a bit and snagged this photo of the wall and my fellow patrons.

With a couple of weeks remaining before Christmas we managed to squeeze in a work related visit to a software vendor. It happened to be in the San Francisco area and given we arranged the meeting for a Monday I figured why not head out a little early and just enjoy the weekend. I always love visiting San Francisco. So I booked travel to leave early on a Saturday morning. With the added bonus of a 2 hour timezone change that meant I could plan on being in the heart of the city by noon.

So what do you do when you’ve got 36 hours to bum around the city of San Francisco? I ended up walking a lot! and eating a lot too! And naturally, I took a few photos along the way.

The first thing very apparent upon arrival at the Powell Street BART station was there were an awful lot of people wearing red outfits. I mean Santa type of gear. Hats, pants, boots, the whole shebang. The streets around Union Square were teaming with Santas. But it wasn’t just there. It was all over the city. The photo I included here is just one I took of Washington Square Park. Turns out it was “SantaCon“. Apparently such a thing has been going on for years but it was new to me. Looked like mostly a roving party. Lots and lots of revelers and the booze was flowing.

It was entertaining to watch – let’s just say some of the outfits or lack thereof were pretty crazy – but I kept on with my touristy walk around the city. My hotel stay was about a block off Union Square. From there I meandered down Market all the way to the Ferry Building. For one, I just like to check out the shops in there and turns out there are also a lot of craft booths nearby on the weekends. You can always catch a bite to eat as well and with pretty decent weather that first afternoon I hung out at Gotts. They make a good grilled chicken sandwich and it’s fun to do a little people watching from that vantage point.

The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering down the embarcadero and up to Coit Tower and then over to Washington Square Park and back up through Chinatown.. You can see some of the photos I took that afternoon to the right.

The one at the top was taken on Pier 7 looking back into the city. By that time of day it was clouding up and I did a little post processing on that photo to give it a bleaker look than it really was.

The one below that one was taken about the time I had lunch at the Ferry Building. I like the old streetcars they have fixed up and are still using in SF.

The more full sized photo at the bottom of this posting is of the Bay bridge. Not a perfect photo by any means and yet I like that one. The birds, the boats and puffy clouds… seemed to capture the moment for me.

The aerial photo of the financial district was taken from the top of Coit Tower. In all the visits I’ve made to San Francisco, I can’t recall ever taking the time to get a ticket to the top. So this time I took the opportunity. Great views of the city from up there. And the walk up the stairs from the embarcadero to get to the tower is pretty cool as well. I can’t imagine what it costs to own a home on that hillside. There were some very cool looking places tucked in there.

Dinner Saturday night was at Aliment. Aside from the fact the menu looked interesting as I walked by, it seemed to get decent Yelp reviews and it had the added benefit of being a stones throw from where I was staying. After hours of walking around, coupled with the 2 hour timezone change, I was ready for dinner early. Full service at the bar was handy but given the early hour there weren’t really many patrons joining me. I had the hearty Bolognese pasta and a tasty red wine. (Bottom photo to the right.)

Sunday I took the opportunity to head further west. In fact, to go all the way to the coast to Lands End and the Chart House. From the Union Square area it’s not exactly a walkable destination. It’s something like 80 blocks west of Union Square. I grabbed a bus instead. Even on the bus it was more than a 30 minute ride. I think we stopped almost every block. Most of the intervening city isn’t all that much to look at. But arriving at Lands End – that was definitely worth a look. There’s a really nice visitors center at Lands End. And from there, you can hike the coastal trail north for miles. You can see at least one photo here that I took along the way of the Golden Gate bridge.

I took in only a part of the trail. I could easily have spent the entire day there. Instead, I routed over through the fisherman’s wharf area. I didn’t bother much with pictures in that area. Mostly the wharf area is kind of an eyesore in my opinion. Ok, the Ghirardelli Square area on the western edge is kinda cool but a lot of the rest of the area is just tacky touristy stuff.

Eventually I wound my way back south and to near Pier 5 to a place named Coqueta. The location right along the water is pretty cool. There are essentially two parts to the restaurant. The outer part is a little building with a lot more windows. Mostly it’s a bar. You can see a shot here of the wine carafe they use to serve their wines by the glass.

The speciality at Coqueta is Spanish tapas. Small plate restaurants are all the rage. The fare here was pretty good. I had a couple of the cheeses, some kind of lamb meatball dish (that I wish I had better details on because it was really good) and an interesting potato dish. Plenty of food and yet all the servings were pretty small. If you have a hearty appetite here it can get pricey fast. I’d give the place thumbs up though and wouldn’t hesitate to go again.

36 hours goes by mighty fast when you’re trying to cover as much ground as I was. Next time – and I’m sure I’ll visit again – I’d spend more time on the coastal trail though.

As I mentioned in the last post, I visited the Santa Ynez Valley for the cycling but also for the food and wine. The area is renowned for good wines, and especially Pinot Noir.

Hitching Post

So it’s no surprise, perhaps, that I should stop in at the Hitching Post in Buellton – location for the restaurant of the same name in the movie Sideways. It’d been 10 years since I’d seen the movie so I might not have thought anything about it but a friend had recommended the place independently and I really enjoyed it.

The Hitching Post reminded me of a family steakhouse I might stop in somewhere in the Midwest. Not fancy at all. Friendly service found me a table immediately and a plate of olives and veggies followed quickly. Veggies included fresh green onions and radishes. That’s the sort of thing I would expect in the Midwest. What you wouldn’t expect though from such a restaurant in the Midwest is a full complement of restaurant produced Pinot Noir. As you can see in the photo above, I got the flight of Highliner wines – in honor of 10 years since the movie.

The food at the HP was great. A fresh salad and then a steak. Nothing fancy, just good stuff.

Trattoria Grappolo

Another of my favorites on the trip was Trattoria Grappolo in Santa Ynez. Aside from the good food and a nice wine list that included several local wines I really enjoyed the friendly service and the vantage point at the bar. The bar looks over a part of the kitchen where there’s a wood fired oven and so you get to watch the production of pizzas and salads. The abundant staff seemed to have it down to a science.

For a main dish, I had the Veal Scallopini. Excellent though perhaps just a little salty, but then I tend to like things with very little salt.

Mattei’s Tavern

Mattei’s Tavern in Los Olivos was also a fav. Here again, full restaurant menu served at the bar, which is convenient when you’re traveling solo. There’s always someone to talk to. There were also plenty of local wines to choose from.

The photo below is of what Mattei’s calls the ‘Dirty Laundry’. Based on the way the charcuterie is hung with clothes pins, I guess you can see why.

All great places and I hope to visit again one day.

Following my brief Santa Barbara stopover on my recent visit to Calif I made my way to Solvang and the Santa Ynez Valley. My intentions were to find back roads to cycle and interesting food and wine. I was not disappointed.

I think I only scratched the surface on cycling the back roads around the area. But a few of my favorites included Happy Canyon Rd east of Santa Ynez, Ballard Canyon Rd between Solvang and Los Olivos and Foxen Canyon Rd out of Los Olivos.

The photo of my bike leaning up against the tree here is on Happy Canyon Rd. This one I would definitely like to do again. I only rode part of it. There looks to be a long and interesting loop ride with some interesting climbing on that road. Plus it was just beautiful scenery. While the weather looks great in that photo, I could tell it was changing quickly, so I did an out and back ride and got back just before it rained (and sleeted).

The other photo at the end of this posting is on Ballard Canyon Rd. Wonderful vistas along that route. Where it ended in Los Olivos turned into Foxen Canyon Rd across the highway. Together they made for a great out and back route.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 56 other followers