A Grand Day Out

Everyone needs a Grand Day Out once in a while. So I took a day off.
On a Wednesday.

Imagine that!

K. had the week off (shouldn’t everyone get a Spring Break?) and as I’m not planning a grand tour for this year, I had a few unscheduled vacation days left.

And we discovered that I had not been to Muir Woods.

Shock! Excitement!

We had a delightful morning drive (isn’t it amazing how much one extra hour of sleep will make in your day?) as the fog was burning off, espying Mt. Tamalpais through the mist and enjoying bright sunshine and a cool breeze.

Evidently a lot of people thought it would be a good day for a visit to the park, as we couldn’t find parking for a good half mile down the road. But as it was eleven thirty, we decided (isn’t flexibility wonderful?) that instead of visiting the park first and then having lunch, we would eat and then sneak in as the morning crowd was leaving. So off down the road we went!

A coworker had recommended the Pelican Inn as a quaint and suitable spot for a meal or afternoon drink.

Oh, oh, oh!

Image

What? No footmen?!

It is as if a British inn from a Georgette Heyer novel was just plopped beside Highway 1. It’s white with dark timbers, with a green lawn and crawling roses and brick paths. There’s the dining room with a great fireplace and a tap room and a smaller parlor that can be partitioned off. There are even rooms to let upstairs! We half expected to hear the clamor of carriages pulling up as we waited to be seated.

We lunched on the patio, which was covered with glass and vine-woven trellis and heated by filtered sun and a fireplace. I had the ham sandwich with “chips,” and let me tell you I ate the whole thing, watercress and mustard sauce included. Who knew watercress was so refreshing! The ham was real baked ham, toasted and well balanced with a slice of melted jack cheese. (The chips were very, very British, wink wink!)

It was cozy and warm and fresh on the patio.

It was cozy and warm and fresh on the patio.

After this charming escapade, we drove back up the road and found a reasonable spot that didn’t require parallel parking, and brightly walked upstream through the returning visitors, many of whom were at the stage of bright excitement one adopts when trying to prevent or delay the meltdown of an accompanying child.

The woods themselves were very pretty, though, in the interest of full disclosure, we decided we enjoyed the redwoods in Big Basin more. However, liking one wood better than another does nothing to diminish one’s love of woods in general, and we had a delightful stroll following our “Historical Tour” (this pamphlet was purchased on a whim for an extravagant one dollar at the front gate).

Moss on rocks make any scene complete.

Moss on rocks make any scene complete.

Redwood trees are delightfully tall.

Redwood trees are delightfully tall.

Redwood forests are full of vertiginous life. This fallen tree, bereft of roots, was host to a line of growing vertical trunks.

Redwood forests are full of vertiginous life. This fallen tree, bereft of roots, was host to a line of growing vertical trunks.

Filtered light and shadows emphasize the Cathedral Grove.

Filtered light and shadows emphasize the Cathedral Grove.

There are so many pretty flowers and ferns growing, growing, growing everywhere!

There are so many pretty flowers and ferns growing, growing, growing everywhere!

The walk ended, we purchased two cold milks (for a truly extravagant four dollars!), and sat down to enjoy that for which we had waited the whole day: our chocolate cake.

K. makes the best chocolate cake. I don’t even need to modify it with “in the whole world” or “that you will ever taste.” It is simply the best. You don’t have to believe it, but it’s true. It is dense and fudgy and chocolaty but not too sweet.

She had baked an entire cake so that we could have the joy of each eating a piece under the redwoods (of course, finishing it off as the week goes on is enjoyable, too).

Me, with my extravagantly priced milk and impossible to deny World's Best Chocolate Cake. And a hat.

Me, with my extravagantly priced milk and impossible to deny World’s Best Chocolate Cake. And a hat.

It was a delightful finish to a delightful Grand Day Out. I have not been so relaxed in such a long time, and I was quite refreshed to return to work on Thursday.

You ought to try it sometime!

BONUS! My favorite redwood-grove related poem.

Growing is Forever from Jesse Rosten on Vimeo.

Pros and Cons of Solitary Travel

Due to the shock and awe I have received when declaring that I am (or was) traveling alone, I have decided to share my evaluations of doing so on this trip with the world. (Shout out to you, World!)

Pro: You don’t have to get stuck watching people’s bags while thy’re in the airport restroom.
Con: There is no one to watch your bag while you use the airport restroom.

Pro: When you get sick, there is no one to inconvenience.
Con: When you get sick, there is no one to take care of you.

Pro: You get to do what you want to do, when you want to do it.
Con: There is no one to challenge you to do things out of your comfort zone (unless you have their voices nudging you subconsciously — THANKS A LOT FOR THE HARD BOILED EGGS, K.!).

Pro: You don’t have to worry about staying in someone else’s budget.
Con: There is no one to talk you into (or out of) buying that particularly fetching hat.

Pro: You can go to bed when you feel like it.
Con: There’s no one to talk with until the wee hours of a foreign dawn.

Pro: You can eat when and what you feel like.
Con: There is no one to keep you company at meals.

Pro: You don’t have to get to the train station 40 minutes early because someone else is slightly neurotic (or convince someone else to get to the train station 40 minutes early because who knows what might happen).
Con: There is no one to point out to you that 20:14 is really eight fifteen, not nine fifteen, and maybe you should be boarding the train right now.

Pro: You are more likely to branch out and meet new and interesting people.
Con: There is  no one to shield you from new and interesting people.

Pro: It gives you a fun excuse to buy and write postcards.
Con: You have to write postcards, find the addresses, communicate with someone at a foreign post office, remember to mail the postcards, and then find a way to surreptitiously figure out if they arrived once you got back because you can’t remember whom you actually sent them to and don’t want to offend anyone that you forgot.

In summary, I will point out that despite tendancies otherwise, I am an introvert. This means that I rejuvinate when on my own, away from other people. I like thinking, and thinking about my thinking, and then writing after thinking about my thinking for a while. I feel quite overwhelmed when traveling with more than one other person and rebellious when not in control of my itinerary.

Therefore, I cannot comprehend how sane adult women traveled with our Girl Scout troop. I really, really, really don’t. Thank you, questionably sane women.

As regards to safety, I don’t think I ever felt any more unsafe than I ever have here in San Francisco (which, granted, can mean anything), but there was only one moment where I wanted someone to hold on to, and that passed very quickly (it had to: what with all the riot police around, you didn’t want to start grabbing people). But I didn’t go out drinking, I didn’t hang out in crowded hostels, and I was generally back at “home” by 7 (or as the French say, 19:00).

Would I have enjoyed company? Yes. Would I have enjoyed the trip more with company? No. It would have been a different trip,  not necessarily better, not necessarily worse.

I am very grateful that I was raised by parents and Girl Scout leaders whose goal it was that I become as responsible and prepared and resourceful and daring and adventurous as possible. Thanks, parents and leaders!

Belgian Chocolate: The Verdict is In

See’s is better.

I’m sorry, but it is. It’s richer. It’s creamier. It’s yummier.

Belgian chocolate comes, as, evidently, European chocolate everywhere does, in two types: pralines and truffles. Pralines are hard molded chocolate shells with flavorful fillings of various viscosities. The “caramels” are like Dove or Ghiradelli caramels, spilling out as soon as you crack open the shell. “Nutty” pralines are faint nut flavors, perhaps very finely ground, in bland chocolate. I could not find a single “almond” praline with actual almonds in it. Texture variety is provided by the equivalent of rice crispies sprinkled in surprising spots.

Truffles are very rich, hand-rolled chocolates imbued with mostly alcoholic flavors. They can be hand-dipped or roled in cocoa powder. These were, on the whole, closest to See’s, though apart from straight-up chocolate truffles, the textures were much softer than expected.

Belgians also seemed to be way okay with brazen displays of a whole gamut of molded chocolate gendered nether-regions, frequently on sticks to be . . . I hate to say it . . . sucked. Yeah. It was cultural border jump for sure.

The only thing Belgian chocolatiers produced that made me want to rap on See’s corporate candy door were candied orange peels dipped in dark chocolate: for the WIN.

But if you’re in Bruges, and there is no See’s available, I would recommend the following places:

Neuhaus seems to be the See’s equivalent. It seemed to be a smaller chain than Godiva (though definitely a chain, as it popped up in Brussel’s Grand Place as well), but it was very good quality. The presentation was elegant and upscale, and the service was very helpful. I very much enjoyed their caramels. They are a few blocks down on the main shopping drag, Steenstraat.

Stefs Chocolate was lower quality but still creamy, delicious, and, importantly, cheap. It was just half a block off the Markt (on Breidelstraat between the post office and city hall) and gave me three delightful pieces for just a €1.

And, I hate to say it, Godiva was pretty good. Not miraculously good, mind you, but when it comes to “candied orange peel enrobed in luxurious dark chocolate,” I was pretty impressed with how much better it tasted than all the other chocolate-covered orange peel. It’s impossible to miss the store smack on the corner of the Markt and Steenstraat.

I would stay away from these places:

The Chocolate Line is expensive, even by Belgian standards. One precious piece of not-so-good chocolate (granted, I only had one piece, which is not a huge sample size, but if you are charging me €0.97 for one piece then get used to abrupt reviews) was not bad but it definitely was not up to par. It was even recommended by Rick Steves. I don’t know if Rick Steves has ever had See’s to compare it to, but then, he lives in Washington state, so he has no excuse.

Leonidas was bad. Just . . . no. Did I mention yleuuuch?

Le Clercke‘s was so disappointing because of the incredible display and prices, but the fudge that had been taunting me for weeks was chewy but not quite. It didn’t melt in your mouth, and it was seriously difficult to chew, but it wasn’t sticky like a caramel. The truffle was meh. Rick Steves strikes out again.

. . . and everywhere else, though are undoubtedly shops I did not try. It was just all so disappointing. But then you may disagree. Go ahead and try some and let me know what you think!