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  • Barnstorming the Back Country

    Mark Curtsinger and Range Rover PicmonkeyMark will guide us through the woods

    by Dan Clarke

    We meet Mark Curtsinger in front of a restaurant on Dolores Street in Carmel. He will be driving us to our Land Rover Experience, where he will also be our instructor.

    His first request is that we sign papers releasing his company from liability if something bad happens to us. I've just finished a nice lunch in the sunny courtyard of Le St. Tropez and am feeling quite relaxed . . . right up to this moment at least. Driving on cliffside roads in California and on the Amalfi Coast has caused me some trepidation in the past. The release is just a formality, Mark assures us and, as it turns out, we'll pursuing an inland course.

    The press trip agenda has offered our group a choice this afternoon. We can visit a spa or opt for something called the Land Rover Experience. Just two of us intrepid souls take the latter route. Janet Fullwood, a freelance travel writer, will be joining me.

    Mark drives us to over to the Quail Lodge in Carmel Valley, which is home to the Land Rover facility. We're in a 2014 Range Rover Sport, which will be the vehicle we use for our introduction to off-roading. It has a 340 horsepower six-cylinder engine, which is sufficient to propel it from 0 to 60 in just under seven seconds—very quick for a vehicle this size. But as we get into the hilly roads just south of the Lodge, it's apparent that speed isn't the game here.

    We're at one of four venues in North America that host the Land Rover Experience. In Quebec, there is the Fairmont Le Château Montebello. In Manchester Village, Vermont, it's the Equinox Resort and in Asheville, North Carolina the site is the Biltmore Estate. The Quail Lodge is well known for its restaurant and golf course and the atmosphere is a sort of laid-back elegance.

    Right next to this gentility is some rugged back country. We climb into the hills just south of the Quail Lodge parking lot and after driving about 10 minutes Mark finds a fairly level place to stop. We get out and familiarize ourselves with our vehicle from the outside while he explains our pending adventure. There are some similarities between downhill skiing and what we're about to do, he explains. I wonder if taking a sports car quickly down a winding road is also similar. Apparently it is. Mark has made an analogy that each of his tyros understands. But knowing a little theory doesn't assure success, I think as I slide behind the wheel for my part of the driving experience.

    Range Rover coming down hill PicmonkeySome of our wheels were touching the ground

    Our instructor explains each section of the course as we approach it. The roads, if you can call them that, are dirt. They wind. They go up and down. The surfaces are extremely uneven. There are dips and holes. Little rocks and big rocks. And trees. I'm no longer worried about plunging off a cliff and into the Pacific, but I am thinking that I don't want to damage this expensive carriage. Mark has the poise of a good leader or a good teacher. His instructions come across as suggestions, rather than commands. He obviously knows what he's talking about and doesn't seem at all stressed. At least a little of his confidence rubs off on me.

    The Range Rover offers tools both mechanical and electronic to help us deal with the terrain. Braking and accelerating are aided by multiple options of our automatic transmission. A screen on our dashboard gives graphic information about things like whether all our wheels are in contact with the ground. This seems like wonderful technology that must make operating a vehicle in this terrain much easier—for someone who's had more time to familiarize himself with it. I'm experiencing some sensory overload and decide to rely on a combination of natural intuition and Mark's good advice.

    Range Rover dash display PicmonkeyDash display gives visual clues

    While we never attain much speed, power is important. There are sections of our path filled with potential hazards. Once we decide on the line we want to take to deal with them, the judicious application of power and braking seems to be the key. There are no four-wheel drifts to get quickly through a corner on pavement, but even going very slowly our big and solid vehicle will slide a bit on these roads that seem to slant in all directions.

    I've been reasonably successful in negotiating some of these obstacles without getting us stuck or damaging the Range Rover, so Mark poses another challenge. A recent group of drivers has participated in a team-building exercise which left residual slalom gates. Competing teams had points taken away when they failed to negotiate these gates flawlessly. Can I drive between the poles without touching them? Well, the road here slopes gently downward and it doesn't look too tough. However, as we get closer the gate seems only a few inches wider than we are, so it's going to be tight. I get the front end past these two poles unscathed, but we touch one of them before we've passed entirely though. How did that happen? Since it doesn't seem likely that the back half of the Range Rover is wider than its front, I figure that our road slanted in ways I hadn't realized and that we drifted just a bit on the loose road surface as we were passing though the gate. A few more of these slalom gates appear before I relinquish the the reins to my colleague, Janet. I get through one or two ok, but not all of them. No formal scorekeeping is taking place, but it's obvious this exercise could get intense in a competition.

    Range Rover drivers view PicmonkeyDon't clip that tree while focusing on the gate 

    We haven't seen all of the property, Mark tells us as we are concluding our visit. Today the weather has been pleasant and we've had a fairly dry track. On another occasion it might be different. Rain could mean slippery conditions necessitating our choosing different routes through these hills.

    All my prior experiences in four wheel drive vehicles were a while ago and none was in a Land Rover. Most of the time back roads meant back aches. Not so today, as our ride has been cushy on both paved and very unpaved roads. I've had fun and I've learned lessons about driving in rugged conditions that would apply to any vehicle.

    Editor's note: The Land Rover Experience at Quail Lodge accommodates both individual participants and corporate groups. Further information can be found at www.quaillodge.com. This is the third in a series of articles on Carmel. If you're planning a visit, you should check out the Monterey County listings in Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options, as well as links to the sites of wineries and craft beer specialists in the area.   

  • San Francisco is Never the Same

    Vishnu in his Man-Lion PicmonkeyVishnu in his man-lion incarnation as Yoga-Narasimha, approx. 1250. India. Bronze. Courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of Dr. Norman Zaworski, 1973.187.

    TravMedia 22 April 2014 - San Francisco is changing and evolving every day, but the reasons that millions of visitors leave their hearts there never change.   A look at some of the events and attractions available this spring illustrates the San Francisco Travel Association's new theme, “Never the same. Always San Francisco.”

    Through May 25, the Asian Art Museum presents Yoga: The Art of Transformation, the first major art exhibition to explore yoga and its historical transformation over the past 2,500 years through more than 130 rare and compelling artworks. Millions of people around the world practice yoga to find spiritual insight and improved health. While many are aware of yoga's origins in India, few may know about its philosophical underpinnings or its fascinating history over thousands of years. Yoga: The Art of Transformation goes beyond postures and delves into how yoga has evolved into a global phenomenon through an exploration of its visual history. Borrowed from 25 museums and private collections in Europe, the U.S. and India, the artworks featured in the exhibition date from the 2nd to the 20th centuries. Images ranging from benevolent deities and gurus to Tantric goddesses and sinister yogis reveal how yoga practices—and perceptions of them—have transformed over time and across communities.   Learn more at http://www.asianart.org/exhibitions_index/yoga.

    Not into yoga?  The Asian Art Museum holds one of the most comprehensive collections of Asian art in the world.   Spanning cultures from Turkey to India and China to the Philippines through 6,000 years, the collection provides a panorama of Asian art and culture. Artworks on view range from tiny jades to monumental sculptures, and include superb paintings, porcelains, arms and armor, furniture, textiles, and bronzes.

    Georgia OKeeffe Petunias PicmonkeyPetunias by Georgia O'KeeffeAn architectural masterpiece itself, the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park never ceases to inspire with it breathtaking views from the ninth-floor observation level or its collection of more than 27,000 works of art.  It is renowned for its holdings in American art of all periods, including painting, sculpture, decorative arts, and works on paper; the art of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas; and costumes and textiles representing a wide variety of Eastern and Western traditions. 
    The newest exhibition, Modern Nature: Georgia O'Keeffe and Lake George, organized by The Hyde Collection in association with the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, brings 55 paintings on view only through May 11. This is the first major exhibition to examine the body of work that Georgia O'Keeffe (1887‒1986) created based on her experiences at Lake George in upstate New York. From 1918 until 1934, O'Keeffe lived for part of each year at the 36-acre family estate of Alfred Stieglitz (1864‒1946) on Lake George in New York's Adirondack Park, situated near Lake George Village along the western shoreline.   During this highly productive period she created more than 200 paintings in addition to sketches and pastels, making her Lake George years among the most prolific and transformative of her seven-decade career. This period coincided with O'Keeffe's first critical and popular acclaim as a professional artist, helped define her personal style, and affirmed her passion for natural subject matter prior to her well-known move to the Southwest.  Learn more at www.deyoungmuseum.org/okeeffe.

    batrayhome original PicmonkeyYou can also see a bat ray at the aquariumWhile most visitors to San Francisco have probably seen the sea lions lounging at PIER 39, the new the Sea Lion Center at the north end puts the playful pinnipeds in a whole new perspective.   The Center is a free nature center where guests can learn about the world famous California sea lions that inhabit the docks on the northwest side of the pier.  Operated and managed by Aquarium of the Bay, the Sea Lion Center overlooks Pier 39's K-Dock, the usual hangout of these charismatic mammals that mysteriously made this their home in January 1990, shortly after the Loma Prieta earthquake. The Sea Lion Center features interactive displays, educational videos, fascinating presentations and one- on-one interactions with naturalists. Guests can touch real sea lion artifacts including pelts and skulls, and size themselves up next to a life-size sea lion skeleton. For information visit www.aquariumofthebay.org.

    Editor's note: Planning a trip to San Francisco? You may want to check out the San Francisco & Bay Area sections at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options, as well as links to craft beer specialists and nearby wineries.

  • Look All Around in Carmel

    Carmel courtyard Look Up Look Down Picmonkey"Look up. Look down. Look all around."

    by Dan Clarke

    Think you know a lot about Carmel? After a walk with Gael Gallagher, you'll know a whole lot more.

    A transplanted Bostonian, she has been leading tours on the Monterey Peninsula since 1984. Tuesdays through Saturdays she meets with visitors in the courtyard of the Pine Inn before leading them on a two-hour tour of Carmel-by-the-Sea. It's beautiful here. Anybody can see that. But even a frequent visitor will appreciate the area so much more after getting the stories and back stories from Gallagher. Part historical, part architectural, her tour also finds time to discuss the artists and celebrities drawn to the area over the years. The tour is a good stretch of the legs, too.

    Ocean Avenue is Carmel's main street. It is avoided when my small group of travel writers accompanies Gael Gallagher on a typical walk through town. Nothing wrong with Ocean, but visitors will find that on their own, she explains. She'll take us to places we might not have seen otherwise. “Look up. Look down. Look all around you,” she tells us. Sometimes she has a story about some little thing we mightn't have noticed. Sometimes not. Maybe there is no story associated with some of what we're seeing, but we writers are having a richer experience after we take our blinders off.

    Carmel tile PicmonkeyTile worthy of Spain or Portugal

    We find that the Pine Inn, from whose courtyard we embark, was once called the Carmelo Hotel. In itself, this fact is not so surprising, as hotels often change names with different ownerships. However, the Carmelo was located at the corner of Ocean and the street that is now Junipero. Partially dismantled, the main building was rolled on pine logs down the dirt road that was Ocean Ave in 1906 to the corner of Monte Verde. There it became a part of the Pine Inn, several blocks to the west of its original location.

    We learn that early residents opted to have all mail deliveries go to the Post Office, rather than to individual addresses. In fact, there really are no street addresses, at least not with traditional numbers. A business or residence, for instance, might be identified as being “on Seventh between Dolores and Lincoln,” sometimes with additional help such as “third house from the corner.” It's a literate little city, too. Over 3,000 of the 3,722 residents possess a library card. They read, but they also visit with their neighbors at the library, too. This sounds much more appealing than meeting your friends at a Starbuck's in the mall (There are no Starbucks or other chains outlets here, by the way, though there are plenty of spots to get a cup of coffee).

    There are many art galleries and our tour guide tells that community really does have a history of being a community of artists. There were—and still are—painters, sculptors and writers, too. Jack London and John Steinbeck are just a couple in that latter category who didn't just visit, but lived in the area—at least for a while. We're led into Dawson Cole Fine Art, where we're encouraged to touch the Richard MacDonald sculptures, even spin them around on their swivel bases to appreciate all their angles. Later we visit Lulu's Silk Art Gallery, where we see an exquisite piece of silk embroidered on both sides—apparently, a couple of years work for two artists in China.

    Carmel old couple in bronze PicmonkeyAn older couple we met in the park

    Currently Clint Eastwood might be the most notable celebrity and Gallagher fills us in on his term as Carmel's Mayor, then walks us by the courtyard of the Hog's Breath Inn, the San Carlos Street restaurant and bar he used to own. Doris Day lives in retirement in nearby Carmel Valley, but is a part owner of the Cypress Inn at Lincoln and Seventh. Though Vincent van Gogh did not live in Carmel, a connection resides here. A table purported to be the one on which he took his meals when painting in Provence is in Casanova Restaurant at Mission and Fifth, one of the many businesses Gallagher introduces us to.

    There is so much to see and so many stories to hear. There are times we pause for reflection and maybe an anecdote or two from our leader, but for the most part we are on the go. In two hours time Gael Gallagher relates an amazing amount of Carmel lore. She doesn't lack for energy and generally is in the lead as our little troupe steps briskly from location to location. But it's not just her physical vibrancy that impresses. She has the passion of someone who loves her community and enjoys telling us everything about it. Details about her tours can be found at www.CarmelWalks.com.

    Editor's note: This is the second in our April series of Carmel articles. A Visit to Carmel appeared earlier in the month and several other pieces will follow. If you're thinking of visiting the area, you may want to first check out the Monterey County listings in the Central Coast section of Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options, as well as links to websites of area wineries and craft beer specialists.

  • April 18, 2014 Wine Pick of the Week

    Ferrari Carano Middleridge PN bottle Picmonkey

    2012 Middleridge Ranch


    Pinot Noir



    Anderson Valley

    Alcohol: 14.6%

    Suggested Retail: $ 42


    “When the 2012 Middleberg Pinot Noir debuts a little later this year, it will be Ferrari-Carano's first release from this vineyard. The winery made its mark with Fumés and Chardonnays in Sonoma County's Dry Creek Valley, but in recent years has expanded northward, building a second winemaking facility in Mendocino County, where all the company's red wines are now made. The Anderson Valley is a cooler region, which has earned a reputation for producing great Pinot Noir grapes and Ferrari-Carano is now producing three separate bottlings sourced from Anderson Valley fruit. The other two are labeled, “Anderson Valley” and “Sky High Ranch”.

    “The Middleridge Ranch Pinot Noir is plush. First impression is dense black cherry and raspberry. The fruit is fairly intense and there's a cola-like background underpinning it. Like its sibling Pinots from this producer, it is a big wine, but not without some subtlety. It will be interesting to track all three of the Ferrari-Carano entries in this category as they develop.”

    Food Affinity: “Try with grilled beef that's been marinated in red wine, some pomegranate juice and tiny bit of cocoa.”