Day 1 – Driving through a Kate Wolf song
After a successful week of work, I think it’s time to take advantage of some free time in sunny northern California. Luckily, I had imparted so much information to my customer, that they were more than ready to call it a week by about 2 pm. So armed with my GPS and an overnight bag, I left Santa Clara to head towards the Yosemite Valley for the start of a major tourist weekend. My goal is to hit Yosemite National Park, Carmel and the Pacific Coast Highway all this weekend. Think I’m going to be logging a lot of car miles. Luckily my Mitsubishi Gallant rental isn’t too bad. I’ve also promised my mother to check in regularly and to avoid anyone who looks strange (how old am I again?) Just kidding, Mom.
My chariot for this jaunt!
After a quick stop to pick up a Subway sandwich for lunch, I joined the mass exodus from Silicon Valley towards Gilroy. Driving through the valley was very interesting. The scenery actually reminded me a lot of Ireland and Scotland. There were lots of very green hills with few trees and lots of sheep and cattle. After making it through a few traffic slowdowns (it’s amazing how 4 lanes of traffic will slow for half a mile for no apparent reason), I made the turn near Gilroy to head through Pacheco Pass. Along the way I passed many fruit barns ( must be the California equivalent of roadside farm stands and boiled peanuts in GA). I really wished I liked oranges because most places were advertising oranges at $1 a bag (and they looked like big bags). I also saw hand-lettered signs touting olives and garlic. Looking back I really wish that I had stopped for at least one of them. Maybe on my way back through I’ll stop for the one advertising Garlic ice cream.
As I headed up the hills of the Pacheco Pass, I couldn’t help but have fragments of Kate Wolf song’s running through my mind. Especially Pacheco (obviously) and Red-tailed Hawk. It’s easy to see where she drew her inspiration. I’ve never really understood the draw of living in California (I guess because I’ve only ever been to the really big cities) but I saw sights today that let me understand the allure better.
After about an hour and a half of driving, I was ready for a break so I stopped at the San Luis Reservoir to take a look at the visitor’s center (not much there) and take some pictures.
Hopping back in the car, I headed on towards my destination for the evening, Merced, CA. Since it is over a 3 hour drive from where I’m staying in Santa Clara to Yosemite National Park, I decided to get a head start by driving to Merced today. One of the perks of travelling A LOT, is the accumulation of Marriott points, so I cashed in a few for a room at a Courtyard in Merced for tonight (only fair since Microsoft is paying for the room in Santa Clara).
After the drive through the Pacheco Pass, I made my way through the town of Los Banos….very slowly….many, many traffic lights. However, once past the town limits I was able to make better time. The terrain became very flat and obviously dedicated to agriculture. I saw many different crops planted, although I had no idea what most of them were. I was able to identify some rapeseed fields since I have seen these before in Scotland. They are easy to identify due to the electric yellow color and the fact that my eyes started hurting. There also were some orchards of what I think were fruit trees of some sort. As I got closer to Merced, I began to pass several very large dairy farms. In addition to a very large number of cattle, I think the field there were probably wheat or some type of feed for the cattle.
I arrived in Merced about 3:30 and checked into the Courtyard. Being a true computer geek and FaceBook addict, the first thing I tried to do was hit the web with my laptop only to find (horror of horrors) the INTERNET WASN’T WORKING. After reporting this fact immediately to hotel management, I decided to do some exploration in the Merced, CA. (By the way, Merced is pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable and not the second…MERced not MerCED.)
Driving into downtown Merced, I found a very pretty downtown area. It seems to be pretty healthy as well. I didn’t see a lot of empty storefronts and there seemed to be a lot of people strolling and enjoying the beautiful weather.
After perusing my dinner options, I decided to dine at Bishop’s on the Square as it promised gourmet dining for lunch and dinner. Boy am I glad I did. It was a truly spectacular meal. I decided to go with several small plates instead of a large dinner entree (mostly because I couldn’t narrow my choices). After being seated on the second level of the converted storefront next to large windows, the waitress brought me my first plate….an amuse bouche consisting of a lobster and goat cheese deviled egg to welcome me to dinner. (Boy am I glad I’ve watched Top Chef. At least I know what an amuse bouche is thanks to Padma and Tom.) The next course was Asparagus and Artichoke Bisque topped with a dollop of crème fraiche. Yummo as Rachel Ray would say. It was truly excellent.
Next course was Sea Scallops with Asparagus, Field peas, Sprouts and crispy bacon over a leek puree. Dad would have really, really like the bacon. It tasted more like country ham than regular bacon. It was maybe the best scallop dish I’ve ever had or at least as good as Maximiliens in Seattle. Lastly (or so I thought), was a spring salad mix with blue cheese, asparagus, field peas and Meyer lemon vinaigrette. I felt very European with a salad for a last course.
Finally, the waitress stopped by to see if I would be interested in dessert. Well although I’m ALWAYS interested in dessert, even the temptation of trio of crème Brule with assorted cookies wasn’t enough for me to be able to order dessert after such a filling meal. However, instead of the check, the server returned with a dessert “bite” as a thank you for dining. The bite was a delicate scoop of chocolate mousse served over a thin slice of strawberry, some kind of simple syrup and an edible sweet pea. I, of course, forced myself to eat every bit and it was scrumptious. Chocolate mousse is one of my favorite things in the world.
Believe it or not, the entire meal was less than $35. After thanking my server for such a wonderful meal, I strolled the sidewalks of Merced to try in vain to walk off some calories. I also made a check-in call to Mom so that she wouldn’t worry (too much). Stopping to grab a hot tea at Starbucks (maybe I can melt some of the calories with hot tea), I headed back to the hotel for the night to find that the Internet was working again. Hurray for technology!
Planning to get up early tomorrow and head for Yosemite. El Capitan or bust!