Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Crazy California

California has gone insane. That's more reason to explore this great state of ours, and appreciate all its diversity and "loco"-ness. So my friend, Jane, and I hit the road on a madcap romp through Cali. Ok, so it wasn't quite the romp, but it was fun nevertheless.

Drove up the dusty 5 to our first destination , Sacramento - our pathetic state capital. I've always had a fondness for Sacramento for some mysterious reason ever since I visited in '96, so I was eager to revisit the capital. They have a charming "old town," Old Sac, as the locals call it. It was pretty mellow for a late Friday afternoon. Old Sac makes you feel like a tourist in every sense of the word. Lots of candy shops and tacky souvenir stores. But the architecture is awesome. You feel like you stepped into a movie set. Buster Keaton filmed one of his movies (Steamboat Bill, Jr.) in the 1920's in Old Sac, and I swear I recognize the buildings from the movie. We had dinner at Steamer's Coffee. They serve salads and sandwiches at reasonable prices ($5-$7). I had the Siciliana, which is a grilled panino with mozzarella, tomato, and pesto. Quite yummy, but a bit too salty. I got the mixed greens as a side, and it was deliciously garnished with raisins, goat cheese, and walnuts.

After dinner, we drove to the state capitol building which will soon see a new governor. All I have to say is that it has a well-manicured lawn.

After an hour and half, we left the quiet, sleepy (and deserted, I might add) town of Sacramento and got back on the 5, heading north towards Chico - our next destination.

We stayed at the YWAM Chico base on Richardson Springs Dr. where Jane's friend is on staff. We stayed in a rustic little cabin next to a bubbling brook. This was my first time in Chico, and I arrived not expecting much. All I knew is that Chico State is the #1 party school in California.

On Saturday we drove into "downtown" Chico, which actually turned out to be charmingly cute. We went to the local mall, and stopped by the weekly Saturday farmers' market which is AWESOME. Fruits and veggies galore. We picked up a few things for the dinner I was going to make later that night. Had lunch at Sultan's Bistro, which is a Middle Eastern fast food joint. I ordered the dolmas pita. First time I had dolmas, which is herbed rice stuffed in marinated grapeleaves. They also have your regular selection of gyros and kebabs.

To my delight, it turned out that my favorite American brewery, Sierra Nevada is in Chico! I was so stoked. (It also explains why Chico State is the biggest party school). So we stopped inside and it turned out that a tour of the brewery was going to commence in a few minutes. Our tour guide was Jeff, who of course had a beer belly (he's worked there for many, many years). The tour was very educational. I'm being serious. Making beer is a meticulous process. It's a craft. Makes you appreciate your libation even more. The highlight was seeing the packing plant. We saw thousands upon thousands of bottles of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (my fave) being systematically filled, capped, labeled, and packed into cases. It was hypnotic.

On our way out we stopped by the pub. We each got to sample three selections for free. So I tried the Stout, Porter, and Summerfest. I ordered a half-pint of the Summerfest which is a tasty, crisp lager. It was the Gold Medal Winner in 2000 at the California State Fair. Chico instantly became hip/cool to me and worthy of revisiting because of Sierra Nevada. If you're a beer connoisseur, go to Chico.

Then we returned to the base to go hiking on the extensive grounds. The place reminds me of being on a African safari. Anyway, it wasn't hiking as much as it was boulder climbing/hopping. Our destination was the hidden pool. One of the people who happened to join us for the hike is from Vancouver! Haha, always making the Canadian connection. Let me tell you, I was in no shape for this hike, pardon me, boulder climbing (I'm still in extreme pain; every muscle in my body hurts). Stretch before you do this hike!

Sunday morning, Jane and I decided at the last minute to go to San Francisco, my favorite city in California. But we first made an important stop in Berkeley. I got to see a part of Berkeley I'd never seen before on my previous trips. We exited at University Blvd. on the 80. It turns out University Blvd. is freakin' Indian row. I was pleasantly surprised since I'm in the middle of a mad love affair with India. We passed by a bunch of Indian restaurants, music shops, and saree shops. Another reason to love Berkeley even more, and even more reason to regret not attending UC Berkeley (what was I thinking!). Anyway, we came to Berkeley with a mission of utmost important: to find Mondo Gelato. The original Mondo Gelato is in Vancouver, and it's my favorite gelateria outside of Italy. I even called my friend Ray in Vancouver to ask him to find out the location for me from Sharon who's the niece of the owner (it's a small world after all). But Berkeley is a small town so we found it pretty quickly ourselves. It's on Shattuck between Center and Addison. I saw the sign instantly and squealed with delight. I think my excitement startled Jane, who was driving at the time.

But before pigging out on gelato we grabbed lunch first at Curry In Hurry which is an Indian fast food joint nearby on Shattuck and University. I had one of my favorite Indian dishes, Dal Makhini, which is brown lentils in curry. Jane ordered the Chole, which is chickpeas in curry. Both only cost $2 each. Indian pop music was playing over us as we ate. I love Indian music so I was tempted to get up and dance like in those wonderful Bollywood films.

Then off we went to Mondo Gelato! I wanted to cry for joy. The store had the same exact furniture as the one in Vancouver, except this one is more spacious. It was kind of bizarre not to see a line coming out of the store as is typical in Vancouver. I drooled over the large selection of gelati and sorbetti. They had my favorite, bosc pear, so I got that and banana on a cone. Sadly, they didn't have my other favorite which is Indian Mango. It is worth driving up to Berkeley just for the gelato alone. Now I don't have to fly all the way to Vancouver just to gratify my tastebuds.

We drove into San Francisco to do a quick drive through the hilly city. Crossed the Bay Bridge (toll is $2) which offers a spectacular view of the SF skyline. We first went to Grace Cathedral which has a replica of the Baptistry doors in Florence, Italy by L. Ghiberti. Then we went to infamous Lombard St. to drive down the crooked little street. Then headed straight to Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill to get a magnificent 360 view of beautiful San Francisco. The weather was absolutely gorgeous. It was breezy and cool. The temperature was perfect - around upper 60's low 70's. I enjoyed every second of it because I knew it was going to be another half year before I experience this kind of temperature again. Then we drove down to Fisherman's Wharf and drove through The Embarcadero to get back on the Bay Bridge, to head back to L.A., back to reality.

When it comes to road trips, music is essential. Chico has some pretty good radio stations. I recommend the alternative music station on 107.5 FM. There's also an excellent oldies station and a soft rock/pop station (it's called Sunny), but unfortuntately I forgot the dial numbers (both are somewhere in the 101's and 102's) . My favorite radio station in the SF area is called Alice (ha ha, and it's not my fave because of my namesake) on 97.3 FM. The playlist consist of mostly pop rock selections. Similar to Star 98.7 in L.A. but with way less annoying DJ's and better song picks. If you like Coldplay, Train, Norah Jones, Matchbox 20, Sheryl Crow, Jewel, etc. then this station is for you.

Huell Howser, eat your heart out.

Steamers Coffee 101 K St., Sacramento, CA
Sultan's Bistro 300 Broadway St., Chico, CA
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. 1075 E. 20th St, Chico, CA
Mondo Gelato 2106 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, CA
Curry In Hurry 2011 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, CA

::5 stars::