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Posts Tagged ‘wine’


The Blues Highway road trip was strictly over as we prepared to leave Chicago. However, a consequence of booking our transatlantic flights via Newark, because the fares were so much cheaper than to either New Orleans, or from Chicago, was that we were able to fit in a bonus forty eight hours in New York City before returning home.

An 8.35am flight from Chicago Midway meant that our single night in the master bedroom was a short but restful one. Despite the early hour, battalions of Southwest aircraft were already transporting passengers around the country.

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We had been to New York several times before, and had visited most of the major attractions, including the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Empire State Building and the One World Trade Center/Observatory at least once. We had even seen in the New Year there in 2005 after walking the Brooklyn Bridge and having supper in McDonald’s on Broadway at 11pm! For this visit, we decided, therefore, to take it easy (to be fair, after nearly a month away, we were wearied) and spend our time wandering around mid-Manhattan, taking in the vibrant atmosphere of the “world’s capital”.

We had booked the NYLO (New York loft) hotel on the Upper West Side, a part of Manhattan we were not previously familiar with. We arrived at 1pm, and, unsurprisingly, our room was not yet available (the official check in was, after all, three hours later). We left our bags with the concierge and headed out for lunch on a cool, bright afternoon.

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After a light lunch at a local bakery, we walked the five blocks south and three blocks east to the entrance to Central Park alongside the Dakota Apartments, where John Lennon lived, and was shot, on 8th December 1980.

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We were able to witness the plaque that acts as a Garden of Peace along the pathway leading to the Strawberry Fields black and white Imagine mosaic, but we would have had to mow down several dozen, mostly Chinese and Japanese, youngsters to get anywhere near it.

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On the aforementioned visit on New Years Day in 2005 we had taken one of the horse and carriage rides around a segment of the park. There were many in operation this afternoon, and they looked beautiful, but we resisted the temptation to reprise our earlier trip as the cost nearly thirteen years before had been ruinous then.

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After flaking out for half an hour on the Sheep Meadow, scrutinising the ever-changing dance of the clouds above, we strolled through busy Bethesda Terrace to the celebrated Loeb Boathouse for a warming glass of Merlot by the Lake.

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I think a future New York visit might just take in dinner at the elegant restaurant.

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With check-in time at the hotel imminent, we decided to saunter back to our hotel on W 77th Street.

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As we walked along the lovely tree-lined pathway past Shakespeare Garden, there were signs that the Fall (Autumn) was fast approaching (it had seemed far away when we first set foot in the country).

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A beer at the St James Gate Irish pub on W 81st Street punctuated our trek back to the hotel, where we were instantly impressed by the friendliness of the staff on the door, at reception and at the concierge desk.

We had passed the Flying Fisherman on Columbus Avenue and W 73rd Street en route, and resolved to return for dinner. it proved a smart decision as we enjoyed a delightful seafood dinner. I don’t think I had ever eaten such massive prawns!

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Tomorrow, the last full day of the trip, would be more of the same – a leisurely jaunt around mid-Manhattan down to Times Square, with dinner at the Red Lobster (Janet’s choice) in the evening.

 

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We had purchased tickets before leaving home for three San Francisco Giants games at AT & T Park this month. The first was against the American League East’s bottom side, the Toronto Blue Jays, whom they had beaten on the previous day, courtesy of a two-run homer from Andres Torres and a rare for this year, quality pitching display from Tim Lincecum that evoked memories of his Cy Young award winning years of 2008 and 2009.

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We arrived, courtesy of two MUNI routes, around an hour and a half before the scheduled first pitch to enable us to survey the wares in the Giants Dugout Store, perambulate around the park, take photographs and, of course, avail ourselves of the culinary delights on offer. Despite a hearty breakfast, the Polish kielbasa dog on the Say Hey Sausage concession stand proved too enticing to resist.

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Early morning fog had been burned away by the time the Canadian and American national anthems were sung beautifully, though I do not recall the name of the chanteuse  in question.

The starting pitchers, Barry Zito and R.A. Dickey, kept the offenses quiet during the first four innings, though Dickey took an immediate grip of the Giants batters, whereas Zito (pictured below), whilst maintaining a better, two to one strike to ball ratio, struggled to finish off his opponents.

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Dickey’s dominance with his knuckleball received its deserved support in the fifth inning when the Blue Jays bats scored the only four runs of the game. At the time we thought that Sandoval had made an out at third base that would have ended the innings at the cost of just two runs – and Pablo felt so too as he stood, arms in teapot position, for several seconds. Apparently, however, TV replays narrowly substantiated the umpire’s decision. It proved academic anyway as the Giants “failed to trouble the scorers” in cricketing parlance for the remainder of the game.

Last year’s National League MVP, Buster Posey had a frustrating afternoon, but his presence, at the plate and behind it, still evokes excitement, and not a little adoration, among the AT & T Park faithful. He will not have to wait long before again being a major influence on a game.

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Pablo Sandoval, like Posey, leading the race for a position in the starting lineup in the National League’s All-Star team, was one of the few Giants to come out of the game with some credit, making the team’s first, and until the last inning, only, hit, and performing some neat, efficient plays at third base. Although his “running” around the bases is more likely to elicit chuckles than cheers, he is surprisingly athletic in the field and has an accurate, venomous throw.

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Hunter Pence, like many of his team mates, flattered to deceive with several ferocious swings of the bat that, at the moment of impact like that pictured below, looked as if they might end up in Oakland rather than the hands of the Blue Jays’ outfielders.

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Giants’ mascot, Lou Seal, entertained the crowd, especially the younger fans, throughout the afternoon, though he was conspicuous by his absence at the end of the game. It was hard at times not to contemplate whether it might have been worth Bochy letting him loose as a pinch hitter late on in the game. Having said that, his speed around the field makes Sandoval look like Usain Bolt.

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Tradition dictates that, if the Giants’ are losing at the onset of their ninth innings,  the home crowd is encouraged to join in Journey’s great anthem Don’t Stop Believin’ . It has done the trick many times over the past three years but did nothing to inspire their innocuous bats on this occasion. There was to be no emotional walk-off win this afternoon, though they did manage to get two men on base in the ninth inning when Sandoval came to the plate for the last time with two outs.

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A limp display by the Giants but there were consolations – the weather was hot and sunny, the bay looked serene and we had great seats immediately behind the Blue Jays’ dugout, half way between home plate and first base. I had, however, committed the ultimate sin for anyone visiting San Francisco in believing the weather forecast. The early morning cloud was scheduled to linger by the bay for the afternoon, so we omitted to take either suncream and, in my case, Giants cap, to the park. The resulting sunburn was not what I had  anticipated having to contend with after barely 48 hours in the city!

I did, at least, remember to take my jacket!

After two World Series in three years, expectation is now high, perhaps unreasonably so, in the Giants Nation. And some comments on social media following the game exposed the irritating modern impatience for victory every time the team takes the field. The team has faltered before at various points in the season over recent seasons and, whilst there might be just cause (decline of the pitching rotation, lack of batting power, frailty on the road) to believe that they might not be playing in October, it is still far too early to be writing this proud, resilient team off. And the atmosphere as we walked back along the Embarcadero was resigned but relaxed rather than critical. You cannot get too depressed about the fortunes of your sporting heroes in this city. There is too much else to raise the spirit.

Our first port of call (pun perhaps intended) was the Wine Merchant in the Ferry Building where we mulled over a bottle of Napa Valley “pink” before deciding where to eat. We succeeded in resisting the blandishments of Fisherman’s Wharf, preferring to walk up Market Street and cutting up along Sutter before reaching Union Square.

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The Daily Grill, next to Lefty O’Doul’s on Geary Street, was relatively quiet (though, purely coincidentally, full by the time we left), so we took refuge in its old-style San Francisco ambience, the sort of dining establishment that famed San Francisco Chronicle columnist, Herb Caen, would be found in late at night.

And what was the first thing our server wanted to talk about – yes, the Giants ailing fortunes! There is no escape from baseball talk in a city where every third person you see appears to be wearing a cap or Giants sweatshirt or cap.

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I have already written in this diary about our frustration at being unable to find a decent alcoholic drink, especially wine, in Utah.

Imagine our relief, therefore, when we left Panguitch in the “elevated” state for Page in Arizona, our base for Lake Powell and Glen Canyon Dam, safe in the knowledge that we would be able to enjoy a bottle with dinner that evening. Although, I suspect, for different reasons, our guidebook declared that the only reason for driving US 89S was to reach Arizona.

Curiously, the first song playing on  97.7 FM The Wolf this morning was the last broadcast as we pulled into the motel the previous evening – Picture to Burn by Taylor Swift. As the cliffs loomed high on either side of the road, reception was lost, though we succeeded in finding 95.9 FM Classic Rock in time for Led Zeppelin to pound out Whole Lotta Love. 

Cruise America and El Monte RVs sailed past in the opposite direction in equal numbers, and I wondered what it might be like to live on the road full time rather than stay in even the cheapest motels. But I think Janet and I enjoy our creature comforts too much to go to such lengths.

We passed a PT Cruiser wedged in a ditch with the local sheriff”s car on the scene. Fishing resorts and ranches peeked through forestry as we drove through Glendale and Orderville. A billboard in the former proclaimed the Buffalo Bistro where the “crazy sausage” was the house speciality.

After filling the car with gas we left the main road to fulfill another of our Lake Panguitch guide’s recommendations – visiting Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. Motorised buggies were hurtling over the distant sand hills and, eyeing the largest peak in the distance, from which youngsters were sliding down on a variety of contraptions, we set off in pursuit to do the same.

However, after twenty minutes barefoot yomping, and little appreciable distance travelled, we abandoned our plan. The exertions in Bryce Canyon the day before had taken their toll.

We rejoined the highway and continued our journey to our intended lunch time stop in Kanab, Utah, the self-styled “Greatest Earth on Show”, a town with a strong Mormon tendency but which had a distinct western feel to it.

As the photograph below indicates, the lack of wine was beginning to have an alarming effect on my looks.

Kanab’s justifiable claim to fame is that it was once “Utah’s Little Hollywood”, providing the backdrop to many prominent movies. Plaques extolling such Hollywood greats as Ava Gardner, Howard Keel and Maureen O’Hara were positioned along the main street.

We were also pleasantly surprised to find a funky, western oriented cafe and upstairs art gallery open where we had an excellent andouille sausage with cajun (or was it creole?) sauce and Greek salad respectively. Although wine was on the menu we were saving ourselves for Arizona. Isn’t that a film? No, it’s Raising Arizona, Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter I think.

It may have been Sunday but we also found a couple of attractive cowboy / Western stores – Gifts of the West and Denny’s Wigwam Western Wear (Denny must have been a big shot in town because he also owned a restaurant and craft shop) – to browse, and spend money, in.

The most amazing building, however, in this surprising town was the Kane County tourist information office with its beautiful murals celebrating its history adorning the exterior.

In view of my dishevelled state, it was understandable that Janet should find herself a cowboy.

Shortly after leaving Kanab a billboard screamed at us: “TARNATIONS! Did you visit Denny’s Wigwam and get your Levi’s from $29.95? NO? Turn round now”. We felt we had already invested enough of our money in the Kane County economy, so ignored the entreaty.

We skirted the vast Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument area where the jagged rocks resembled the longest bar of Toblerone in the world. Buttes and mesas abounded as we crossed into Arizona, celebrating its centennial as a US state, and arrived at the Travelodge in Page (another decent sized room for the price) where we were to spend the next two nights.

After I had booked a tour of Antelope Canyon for the following afternoon, and Janet had tested the pool, we had an excellent dinner in the Dam Bar and Grille –  with wine of course.

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We had been warned that high quality dining options were severely limited in Hurricane, Utah. Moreover, it was likely to prove difficult to obtain an alcoholic drink – beer possibly, but certainly not wine.

And those warnings were sadly endorsed over the next few evenings.

It all began when we went out to dinner on our first night. Having consulted TripAdvisor and selected its number one restaurant, a pizzeria in a cinema complex around a mile away, we were feeling optimistic. Armed with the respective street numbers we set off in our search for the cinema.

We found this easily enough – but no sign of any pizza restaurant. We walked a little further and then around the whole area, all to no avail. It was only when we returned to the motel and read the fulsome TripAdvisor reviews a little more carefully, that we discovered that it was only a mobile street wagon that set up stall during daylight hours (and even then not on a Wednesday)!

We headed off back in the direction of the motel, only mildly disappointed because we had spotted an attractive looking restaurant called Barista’s on the way down. And by the time we had been sat at our table and started to read the hundreds of  alleged customer testimonials claiming that the pizza and ice cream, along with many other items on the menu, were the best on the planet, we had struck lucky in adversity.

I like to think that I am reasonably streetwise, and do not often get hoodwinked by confidence tricks (I’ve conveniently forgotten the guy on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco who screwed ten bucks out for me for “cleaning” my boots), but this proved to be one of my dumbest moves.

The teenage waitress in shorts who clearly wanted to be anywhere else took our drink order. Conscious already that wine was out of the question, we asked what beer they had. With a huge sigh the girl said “St. Pauli” in a “take it or leave it” manner, so St. Pauli it had to be. Now, although I didn’t articulate it immediately, I was familiar with this German brew and suspected that it might be non-alcoholic. After the girl had yanked the bottles out of the fridge and slapped them down on the table, and we had taken our first sips (it was too unpleasant to gulp), we knew it.

The food, whilst not inedible, also fell way short of the absurd praise scrawled over every inch of wall space (the staff must have had great fun fabricating that piece of fiction). My miniscule portion of fish and chips was delivered in a cereal bowl and Janet’s enchiladas came with no accompaniment whatsoever – not a hint of beans, rice or sour cream. The “service” remained surly and peremptory. Indeed, I think it might have been the first time I had eaten in America without being asked continually during the meal by the server whether the food was acceptable.

To add insult to injury, on reading both TripAdvisor and Yelp reviews back in the motel, we read a lengthy litany of furious, even vicious comments about the food, beer and staff attitude. And yet it had looked so appealing from outside. The words book, judge and cover sprung to mind.

We consoled ourselves by purchasing  a six pack of beer in the local gas station, though even this was of low strength (Bud Light, Coors Light and the like).

This was not, however, why I got to sleep so easily that night. I can thank the account of Joseph Smith’s revelation in the Book Of Mormon for that.

Having exhausted the full extent of Hurricane’s gourmet offerings on that first evening, we played safe on the following night by buying in a Domino’s pizza, washed down again by insipid beer.

We were no more successful in hunting down a bottle of wine to have with our evening meal on the following two nights in Panguitch. Raids on assorted supermarkets and gas stations proved equally futile. Only the dining room in the lodge at Bryce Canyon proffered a wine list, but, of course, that was at lunchtime and we were about to embark upon a prodigious hiking expedition that afternoon.

Whilst our stay in Utah was, in all other respects, wonderful, with visits to Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, Cedar Breaks National Monument, Red Canyon and Pink Coral Sand Dunes Park, our first swing into Arizona meant one thing above all other. No, not Lake Powell or the Grand Canyon but an opportunity to partake of one of the most civilised pursuits available to humankind – consuming a glass of wine.

Having got that off my chest, it is time to return to the true hero of this diary – the road.

And the journey between Hurricane and Panguitch had some interesting moments.

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