America through my eyes -Napa Valley
Telugu Original : Dr K.Geeta
English Translation: Madhuri Palaji
Napa Valley is about 80 miles away from our place – we can reach there in about an hour and half or two hours. It takes more than two hours if the traffic is too much. Everybody talks about wine when we say the name ‘Napa Valley’. We planned to go there many times, but cancelled at the last minute thinking, ‘What are we going to do there anyways? That place is only for alcohol lovers and not for people like us.’ When I told you last time about going to Mount Shasta by mistake, at that time, we came very close to Napa Valley but took a different direction.
I prepared the itinerary as soon as I saw the pictures of Napa Valley with narrow roads just like the small villages, small hills and the hanging grape vineyards with plenty of grapes as far as the eye can see. This place is famous all over the world for wine making. When I looked, I noticed that there are plenty of places that kids would enjoy in that area apart from visiting the famous vineyards, eating sweet grapes, and enjoying grape juice. So, we planned for a trip to Napa Valley for a three day weekend and booked a hotel. We searched the internet for addresses and wrote them down and planned the trip properly a week in advance. We started in the month of April in the Spring break.
We traveled through a bridge over the sea, driving on the heavily crowded roads and reached the hotel on Friday evening by 5.30 in the evening. Since the hotel prices are very expensive in Napa Valley, we booked a hotel in American Canyon, ten miles away from Napa Valley. We decided to take a rest for the remaining day and go around the place the next day. Varu wanted to go for the massage and spa from the moment she saw it in the hotel description. When we looked at the prices, they were very high. Massage, spa and beauty services are highly expensive here. In spite of that, many people spend money for these services. I diverted Varu’s mind by proposing to her that, “Let us do one thing. If we are tired, let’s massage each other’s feet and then we will go to the hot jacuzzi in the hotel swimming pool.”
We went to the chinese restaurant nearby and had our dinner. After the kids went to bed, we made black coffee in the wine glasses and clicked pics for fun. The first program next day was a visit to Castello di Amorosa wineries.
Castello di Amorosa:-
A man named Dario Sattui, in spite of owning another winery, built this winery looking like a fort to fulfill his dream. This construction is built for about fourteen years like the 13th century Tuscan models totally reflecting the Italian culture. This construction attracts tourists a lot. As soon as we enter the premises, one feels like stepping into antique buildings from European fairy tales.
It really feels like it’s built about 700 years ago. Yet, anyone who knows the history of America would know that there was nothing here hundred years ago, they will be forced to believe that this is a new construction. The antique look of the building was possible because all the materials used were handmade and imported from Europe. Castle building was completed in 2007, actually. When I looked at it from the car parking, it felt like some old fort suddenly appeared there. We need one ticket to explore the fort entirely and another to see the wine making, etc. Kids are not allowed to see the wine making. Wine tasting is free for both the tours, though. For those who don’t drink alcohol, grape juice is free (only a quarter glass). When I touched those walls, I felt like touching the walls of Golconda and was very happy. Rooms, doors, walls built in old models, hanging iron lamps, wooden tubs from the middle age, ceiling, everything there boasted about the old European culture. I couldn’t help but appreciated the great artists who designed and constructed this building. There is a gift shop and wine tasting one floor below. If we cross that and go further, there were many hens, baby goats, ducks roaming here and there, just like in a village. I could see the happiness on my children’s faces as if they visited a wonderful place.
When we asked for juice in the cellar at the wine tasting, that gentleman asked again and again, “Are you sure?” Regular grape juice was also transparent and white. We bought a long wine food box and a juice bottle as a memoir.
There are plenty of vineyards and wine making companies around Napa Valley. They build wineries in different shapes to attract tourists. There are few wine tours here that take you to the wineries for wine tasting in a limousine if your stay is near the valley.
It’s a heaven for wine lovers. We must visit at least to enjoy the beauty of lined up gardens with lovely vineyards. There was a house at the corner of the road which had it’s fencing lined with vineyards. It was very funny to look at. If this was my village, I would’ve picked a few grapes and eaten them, if the owner’s dog chased us, we would’ve ran from there and escaped from that fencing. These naughty thoughts came to my mind looking at that place. From there we went to Petrified forest and California’s old faithful geyser, in the afternoon.
These places particularly attract Varu-aged kids if you go to Napa Valley with children. There is no wonder that these places are attractive for adults, too.
It is a small mountain-foot area. This is a place where wonderful tree sculptures are protected very carefully in half a mile area. You are mistaken if you think these trees are short. They are about fifty feet tall and hundreds and thousands of years old. When a volcano, ten miles away from that place erupted a long time ago, the ground was destroyed due to the lava that flew there and these trees are silently sleeping like sculptures behind the stones of history.
California’s Old Faithful Geyser:-
This natural hot water fountain has been turned into a wild animal conservative. Because of the gift shop at the entrance of the premises, it doesn’t look like it from the outside. When we entered through the small path after buying a ticket from the shop, we saw the lake in four feet steaming hot. By the time we went there, there were about ten people sitting on the benches around eagerly waiting. We sat alongside them. Within ten minutes, water suddenly started shooting up to fifteen feet high like a fountain. Kids were excited to see that. It stopped in two minutes. The area covered with water was letting out hot steam describing the heat of the water. That scene was wonderful to look at. It feels like some hot steam is hidden in the throat and bringing water whistles every now and then. Actually there is hot water flowing below the surface among stones and minerals. It was water that was boiling angrily. I could not get enough of that scene. We sat there watching the water fountain shooting up every now and then. Kids watched for a couple of times and then started running around playing. There was a small construction that looked like a well. It was like a pot. But there was a small entrance in the corner with stones. We thought that they must have built it around since it was dangerous. There was another special attraction there. There was a heap of so many old coins in that well. I understood that, no matter where we go, some beliefs never change. I told Satya that we could feed so many hungry people in our country by converting all those coins into rupees.
We had to walk out since it was time to close that place. We entered the animal conservative. Our children were already feeding the goats with the grass from the grass feeding machine. Llama in that place was the special attraction among all the animals. Though there were only a few animals, they all were well protected and conserved.
When we were returning from Calistoga that evening, our ipad fell and broke into pieces. There was pin drop silence between us until we came half way. The evening light was turning bright orange reflecting on the vineyards. Vehicles were coming and going on the village roads. The worldly sorrows didn’t mean much while looking at the twisted roads in those thick gardens. We forgot the ipad on the way itself. It reminded me of the red bus on the narrow roads of the village during my childhood and the road that always had holes in spite of multiple repairs. I was surprised thinking, ‘Don’t these roads ever get damaged? Do they fix them immediately?’ We reached the hotel thinking of the roads from the past on which we had bicycle races with our friends.
We saw many limos on our way. We wondered what was there for them to drink so much. But then I thought there must be some strange happiness for them in that which I don’t understand. We liked that place a lot, though. We went to a town named Sonoma which is about twenty to thirty miles away, for the sake of Varu. We decided to visit everything on the way in our return journey before evening. We went to the Sonoma train town railroad, first.
Sonoma Train Town Railroad:-
This is a small theme park. In spite of that, kids played for some time. Small train trip, toy houses, shops, school, hospital, etc built at the other end of the park attracted the kids very much. Feeding the baby goats was available here, too. Varu enjoyed touching them and didn’t want to leave them. Everytime she looked at her father with tiny hopeful eyes. He gives her 25 cents laughing. She went hopping to buy food for the goats. She sadly said, ‘I don’t have a pet,’ while coming back. When I told her that pets are not allowed in our apartment building, ‘You always say that,’ and got disappointed. This is a regular story. We spent there until 12 in the noon. That is a good place to spend two to three hours easily with children.
Point Reyes LightHouse:-
We started to our next destination since we all had a heavy breakfast and were not hungry. Our journey was through small mountains, green gardens and curvy roads. We were not traveling west to the sea shore to visit the Point Reyes Lighthouse. We reached the place in two hours with the help of directions from Google. When we reached the end of the town where the road split into two, Google asked us to get down and that we reached the destination. But there was one road leading to the right and one to the left. We didn’t know which way to take. “We are done,” said Satya.
We saw a board indicating a lighthouse towards the right and went that way. After going some distance, there was one way onto the hill and another beside it. We went over the mountain for about three to four miles and when we found some space to reverse the car, we returned. We took the other road and went about five to six miles. We found nothing there and came back into the town. We explored all the surrounding paths like we were lost in Tom Sawyer’s cave. By four in the evening, everyone was tired and feeling hungry, so we went into the Chez restaurant and ordered lunch. There were no other customers for them. Yet they brought us burgers and french fries we ordered, in thirty minutes. But we couldn’t eat the food properly. Though we were hungry, the food was not tasty. Kids said they were feeling dizzy traveling on the curvaceous roads. They ate some biscuits and filled their tummies. Satya said that we should go back. But I still had hope. I usually don’t give up until I see the end of it. It was four in the evening and we still had to drive three to four hours to reach hom. I told them that I would drive and took them back.
The lighthouse point is actually 15 miles away from that place. It’s not nearby. This time, I drove forward even when I couldn’t see the way forward. When the lighthouse was about five miles away, we found vehicles parked along the way and guards directing us to go to the beach road. Since the entire road is single, they won’t allow cars to enter until the buses that went ahead previously return. They asked us to come again in 30 minutes. Since we didn’t have another option, we took the other path and headed towards the seashore. We felt energized after seeing ten other cars who came like us thinking, ‘We finally made it.’ That place was high and the sea was below. There were waves of cool breeze, and the sea rising high. Kids forgot their tiredness and jumped out. They played on the shore where the waves were touching. The sky was filled with clouds now and then. Luckily, there was some light for a little while. We waited to watch the sunlight to go to the mountain top from the sea shore.
Almost at about five, they let us go to the lighthouse. We travelled through the curved roads for about half an hour without stopping. There were huge farms here and there. There were wooden gates in between the road for the cows to cross. We can also stay in the farms and look after the animals during our stay. But that arrangement felt funny to me. Everything in this country is strange. We have to pay them to stay there and also serve during our stay. Moreover, it’s very tiring to drive this far through these roads. We won’t be able to stay four days there. Still, we stopped and noted down the number. We have to park the car and walk half a mile to reach the lighthouse. That’s the last hill. Sunlight fades away by six in the evening. We almost ran the distance. It felt like a long walk though it was only half a mile. We saw some deers looking at the sea, not worried or scared about our presence. We finally reached our destination. But we didn’t see anything, except for a small hill turning. We have to cross it and go further. When we crossed the small railing built around the white hill and went to the other side, the view was so beautiful that I felt like we could cross thousands of miles just to look at it. The lighthouse was not there on the hill. It was there on another hill that is at the foot of the mountain that we were standing on. We had no time to climb down 2000 steps to reach there. I felt relieved. It was enough to view from there. There was water on three sides and we were standing on the top of the mountain that looked like a horn. It felt like we were traveling on a big ship in a huge ocean. The sunrays were reflected from the water below and shone in our eyes. The waves below were very beautiful with light shining on them. There was a memory that shone in my eyes. It reminded me of my grandmother bowing to the sun. There was a spell in that air saying prayer asking God to protect this world with thousands of rays. I wanted to bow to the sun and the sea, there. The powerful nature was like a protecting circle around us. We were eager to go back before the light was completely gone. Still we didn’t want to leave that place. We couldn’t fill that scenic beauty in our eyes while the tears filled them. It wouldn’t have been enough even if we suddenly grew wings and flew from that hill top into space. Point Reyes – salute to the people who selected this place to build the lighthouse. Though there was so much science and beauty in building that lighthouse, I couldn’t stop myself from appreciating the artistic heart.
I kept driving in silence in the trance of that scenic beauty. My heart was still in that place. It became dark in half an hour. Home is almost 90 miles from that place. The first 50 miles drive was on the road right next to huge mountains. There were slippery stones at some places on the single road, and at some places, there was sea right next to the road like it was a canal. It was an adventurous drive on weird roads. Kids kept asking, “Did we reach San Francisco, yet?” What can we do? We can’t drive faster than ten to fifteen miles per hour on those roads. After a few hours, until I saw the bright lights of San Francisco in the distance, I almost lost hope that we would reach home that night. It felt strange that the northern area of that big city is like this. We crossed the Golden Bridge shining with neon lights and entered the city – thinking of the memories in the darkness behind. Though there were forty miles to go, kids happily said, “We’re home!”
Photos & Telugu Original:
Madhuri Palaji is a writer and book reviewer from India. Her book “Poems of The Clipped Nightingale” is available on Kindle. She writes book reviews for various publishing houses like Penguin Random House, Meerkat Press, Hot Tree Publishings, Bethany Publishers, etc. She is one of the top 50 book reviewers in India. Her reviews are available at http://www.theclippednightingale.com/