Archive | June, 2013
June 29, 2013

Castroville – The Artichoke Capital of the World

Castroville, the Artichoke Capital of the World, is located nine miles northwest of the city of Salinas.  It is called this because this small city, that only has a population of 6,742, supplies seventy-five percent of the artichokes sold in the United States.


One of the most notable events held every year in this pleasant rural town is the Castroville Artichoke Festival, which takes place on Memorial Day. Every year, the Festival crowns a King and a Queen.  In February of 1948, Marilyn Monroe was crowned Artichoke Queen and William Hung (the American Idol contestant) was  crowned  Artichoke King in 2006.


The Castroville Artichoke festival also features a parade and an art competition in which competitors make sculptures from artichokes and other vegetables.  Foodies also flock from miles around to sample the treats produced by the produce and wine vendors in the area. There are usually cooking demonstration, arts, crafts, theatrical and musical performances and visits by celebrities.  There is also an antique car show that takes place as a component of the festival as well.


This old town was founded by Juan Bautista Castro in 1863. Aside from artichokes it is known for it’s wonderful mix of Victorian and Spanish architecture. The original old school house and post office, both built in the 1860s, are still there.


A wonderful, eccentric landmark is The World’s Largest Artichoke which was a sculpture commissioned in 1963 for a road-side stand. The artichoke is twenty feet tall and twelve feet across and stands on Merrit Street in downtown Castroville.

Culinary-wise this town is known for its dishes and street food based on artichokes.


A specialty of restaurants in the area are deep-fried artichoke hearts. These are artichokes dipped in batter, fried in a vat and then served up with all kinds of delicious sauces.   Hot and cheesy artichoke dip is also a specialty of many local restaurants, especially when the artichoke is in season.  These types of treats go well with the wines that are grown in nearby vineyards along Highway 101 and just south of the hills of the city of Salinas.


As the town is so small there are not many hotels to stay in during the Artichoke Festival. However the towns of Salinas, Seaside, Marina, Watsonville and Monterey are not that far away and are home to many beautiful hotels that often run shuttle buses to and from the Artichoke festival.   This spares you the problem of driving along California highways inebriated from enjoying the many California wines that are often offered with the artichoke delights offered at the festival.

June 26, 2013

Visiting Salinas – America’s Salad Bowl

The Salinas Valley is just south of San Francisco in the county of Monterey and is home to many charming small cities and towns including Bradley, Castroville, Chualer, Gonzales, Greenfield, Jolon, King City, Lockwood, San Ardo, San Lucas, Soledad, Spreckles and Salinas which is the county seat. The word Salinas means “salt marsh” in Spanish but the water has been drained from these fertile fields. Now this area which is about ninety square miles running south-east from the ocean-side city of Salinas to King City.


Geologically the Salinas Valley is also very interesting because it is located on a geological terrain that lies right on top of the San Andreas Fault.  The land is on top of granite and it clashes with soft sedimentary soils to the west.  The area is known for having earthquakes that register 6 or higher on the Richter scale roughly every 22 years.


Fresh water from mountain springs in the surrounding mountain ranges help irrigate the mineral rich land.  The Salinas river that runs through the valley is also unusual because it is a “sand river” which means it only really shows a lot of water when it floods.  There are also two reservoirs in the mountains, the San Antonio Reservoir and Nacimiento that help prevent salt water from the ocean from intruding into the fields and occasionally water is released to fill the Salinas River.


The Salinas Valley is called “The Salad Bowl of the World” because of the large amounts of vegetables grown there including lettuce, peppers, strawberries, spinach, tomatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, celery, olives and plums.  It is also a designated American Viticultural Area which means that it has the sandy soils, temperate climate, foggy mornings and full sun that is perfect for growing grapes.


The salad bowl is also a great place to sample wines. If you want to cruise through beautiful countryside visiting winery after winery then traveling along Highway 101 and it’s side roads in central Monterey is a great idea. Famous wineries in the area include Paiso Vineyards, Ventana Vineyards, Smith and Hook Winery and Wrath wines. Most of the wineries are located between Soledad and Coburn on the 101 highway.


There are lots of interesting sites to see in the Salinas valley including the Agricultural and Rural Life Museum in King City which features exhibits from 19th and 20th century life in the area including an old blacksmith shop, schoolhouse and train depot.

June 23, 2013

Parkfield – The Earthquake Capital of the World

In the county of Monterey in California is a small town of 18 known as Parkside, which is often called The Earthquake Capital of the World.  The town experiences an earthquake above .6 on the Richter scale every 22 years. The motto of the town is “Be Here When It Happens”, possibly referring to the “Big One” that is supposed to devastate California.


The town is built directly on the San Andreas fault and is about 1500 feet above sea level in the TemblorHills. It used to be a thriving mining community and curious visitors can still visit some of these abandoned mines.  The town itself is very pretty and sits in a grove of very old oak trees.


The bridge across the creek in downtown Parkside has shifted more than five feet relative to it’s original position when it was built in 1936.If you have an interest in geology then Parkfield is definitely the place to visit. It is one of the most closely measured and watched earthquake zones in the world. Just North of Parkfield is the San Andreas Fault Observatory at Depth, which is a hole, drilled 2.5 miles into the earth’s crust that is meant to observe seismic activity.


The town is owned and run by a couple of families of ranchers and farmers and Parkfield is well known for its horse-shows, rodeos and equestrian-related events. It also holds an annual Bluegrass Festival. It is also the site of the Parkfield Classic, which is a collegiate bike race that has been held in the hills in the area since 1989.  This event typically takes place on the first or third weekend of October and consists of three courses: a 9, 16 and 24-mile challenge.


There are also many hiking trails and trails for equestrians to ride their horses high into the hills so they can enjoy some scenic views. There are beautiful valleys and rock outcroppings cloaked in fields of wildflowers; in fact there are over 200 species of wildflowers in the hills around Parkfield.


Parkfield is also a haven for bird-watchers, butterfly lovers and campers. There are both natural and paid campsites in the area so you can sleep outdoors at night under the stars.


There are also heritage style ranches in the area that also double as hotels and spas. The cuisine offered in the area tends to be the organic meat from grass-fed grazing cows in the area. This special meat from the area of Parkfield is free from antibiotics, pesticides and chemicals.

June 20, 2013

The Natural Landmarks of Moneterey

The county of Monterey, California is one of the most beautiful in the entire world and has many wonderful natural landmarks that distinguish it from other parts of the world.


One of the most important natural landmarks in the county is the Cypress tree on the Point Lobos State Reserve. This giant 300-year-old tree that has been eroded by salt and wind stands by itself out on a craggy rock in the ocean. It is the biggest of a rare breed of Cypress particular to the area known as the Monterey cypress. This tree is not found anywhere else in the entire world.


If you love sand dunes you will find many of them right on the coastline of the city of Monterey in Monterey County. The Del Monte beach is covered with sea grass and huge pink dunes.  A boardwalk offers you a pleasant walk near the city’s restaurants and other attractions.


Also in Monterey is Huntington Beach, which features a natural phenomenon, called The Grunion Run. These are small silver fish that jump completely out of the water and into your bare hands and buckets during spawning season.  This happens after a series of high tides every Spring.


The Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is in Big Sur County and features the big 3000 foot sandy ridges that are a famous feature of the Monterey. You can view these beautiful natural cliffs with the surf crashing against them as you cruise along highway 1 which hugs the California coastline.


Limekin State Park features breathtaking redwood forests, limestone caves and beautiful views of the Big Sur coast.  This park is 56 miles south of Carmel.

The historic 260 floor concrete structure known as the Bixby Bridge on Highway 1 is located across Bixby Creek on Bixby Ranch and is surrounded by rolling hills and cresting surf.  The California Coastal Conservancy is currently trying to protect this large property from development, formerly owned by Allan Funt of Candid Camera fame.


However some of the steepest cliffs in Monterey County are found near Gorda where tall cliffs drop into deep waters. The rocks provide a sanctuary for elephant seals, birds and it is the perfect spot to watch migrating birds.


In the heart of the Salinas Valley is the famous Pinnacles National Monument that consists of acres of rounded rock outcroppings.  The rows of crops in the Salinas area are also landmarks in themselves with lines of produce continuing in the distance for miles as you drive across the county on Highway 101.


June 17, 2013

Great Michigan Bed and Breakfasts

There are over two hundred bed and breakfasts in both the rural and urban areas of this gorgeous Great Lake state of Michigan. You won’t be short of cozy, architecturally unique places to stay. If you like mission style furniture, antique tiffany lamps and cozy quilts then you are going to love a little stay in this relaxing natural and pastoral state.


Michigan is full of elegant inns bed and breakfasts, many of them historical gems that are located in the smaller towns around the ski resorts or on the shores of Lake Michigan.  Typical is the Hotel Frankfort which is a 150-year old bed and breakfast located in Beulah or the Victorian Villa Bed and Breakfast in Union City. If there is anything that Michigan bed and breakfasts are prized for it is their quaint architecture which is often referred to as being “gingerbread Victorian” in style.  Some of the architecture in Michigan small towns goes back as far in time as the late 1700s when America was first being settled.


Most Michigan bed and breakfasts are open year round and offer swimming and other beach sports in the summer, skiing and sleigh rides in the winter and antique hunting and fishing all year round. In fact a cozy Michigan bed and breakfast complete with roaring fire and four poster bed might be exactly what you want to return to after a frosty day spent in an ice hut on the lake.


Union city is a popular destination in central southwest Michigan as it is home to several dinner theaters and special Christmas Dinners (featuring Christmas Goose) that take place during the holidays. If you ever wanted to enjoy Thanksgiving or Christmas Dinner just like the folks in the famous Norman Rockwell paintings then you must experience a trip to an inn in Michigan.


. There are also several dinner theaters in the region. Union City is also near Kalamazoo Michigan which is home of the National Aviation Museum. Allen Michigan which is known as the state’s antique capital and features over 300 stores that can be browsed for treasures.


Southwest Michigan also offers many bed and breakfast treasures including Carriage House at the Harbor which is the state’s only 4 A rated bed and breakfast. This Michigan bed and breakfast is located, along with scores of others in South Haven, which is home to the sandy beaches of Lake Michigan.

June 16, 2013

Peru Trip: Machu Picchu , Cusco & Lima

So, this year I decided to make a trip to Peru. I wanted to go to Machu Picchu , Cusco & Lima. I decided to book my trip again through Orbitz. I priced it both ways and found it cheaper to fly into Cusco first them Lima next. So, I did it that way. There were no direct flights to Cusco, so I had a 2 hour layover in Lima on the flight there.

I also booked my Hotels on again. I like that they give me a free night for every 10 I book. I then booked the Machu Picchu stuff ahead of time, because I heard sometimes it sells out. I tried for a week to book on the official Machu Picchu site, but the site never took my order. So I purchased tough the travel agent, which just charged a small booking fee. I also heard the train to Machu Picchu sometimes gets sold out, so I booked that in advance too. During the trip I found out that I missed buying something else I needed to get to Machu Picchu, I’ll discuss that later.

So, day 1 we fly into Lima on American Airlines for our connection. Customs line was small and smooth. No problems at all. We boarded the connecting flight on LAN Airlines to Cusco with no problems. During this flight we had a TV with a flight tracker. The ride should only be like 50 minutes, but I kept seeing the flight get longer and longer on the tracker. Turns out we were going in circles for a while, then we got sent back to Lima They said there was too much fog to land. So, we get back to Lima and got on another flight to Cusco. That one was allowed to land. We were supposed to arrive at 7AM, we got there about Noon.

Casa Andina Classic HotelWe took a taxi from the airport, it cost 20 Sol. All taxis from the airport cost more than anywhere else in Cusco. For the same ride in the opposite direction it costs 8 Sol. Anyway, we got to the hotel Casa Andina Classic – Cusco San Blas. They gave up a free upgrade, so I ended up liking the hotel a whole lot. Big windows with nice views. It was also in a nice location with a quick walk to the Gatos Supermarket to get some water and also a quick walk to Plaza de Armas. Plaza de Armas is the center of the Historic section in Cusco.

We were supposed to see some sites, but since we were flying for 12 hours because of the delays we decided to just go to Plaza de Armas and take some photos. Then get something to eat and call it a day. While walking to the restaurant for the first time in my life I felt the altitude. I wasn’t feeling sick, I just could feel a difference in my body. We were getting warned by everyone not to overdue it, or you’ll get altitude sickness, so we just took it easy and found a restaurant called “Tinta Restaurante Cultural y Galeria de Arte” to eat in. I choose it cause it had a sign that said food art. It was food art. The food was extremely delicious I ordered some Yuca as an appetizer It was fried balls with an olive inside and peanut butter sauce. I would have never imagined that combination tasted good, but it was delicious. The causa was also great. As an entree we just had some chicken skewers to play it safe because people kept hearing stories of other tourist getting sick and not making it to Machu Picchu. So after a great meal we headed back and went to bed early to catch a 5:30am train.

Machu PicchuDay 2 we woke up and went to the train station. The train to Machu Picchu is no longer running all the way to Cusco, so they put you on a bus for the first 2 and half hours. Then switch you to a train for the next 2 and half hours. I bought the upgrade to the VistaDome train. I was reading on another site that it wasn’t worth it, but I did it anyway. I am glad I did, because it was well worth it. They fed us both going there and coming back. We didn’t even know that was included and neither did the other people around us. Also, on the way back our regular attendants put on a fashion show for us. The point of the show was for us to buy stuff, but it didn’t matter, they made it real funny and lots of dancing.

Wayna PicchuThe train stops and we got off. I already bought my Machu Picchu ticket , and just did a very long bus ride and train ride. So, I thought I was done and ready to walk to Machu Picchu. I was wrong. There is another bus ticket you have to buy to get to Machu Picchu. So after some confusion we bought that ticket and did another bus ride.


Machu PicchuWe were now in Machu Picchu. The best advice I can give you about Machu Picchu is not to buy a regular tour. If you book direct you get the option to buy a limited entry ticket to go to Wayna Picchu and Wayna Picchu is awesome. There are multiple spellings of it. It is also spelled Huayna Picchu. It’s about a hour and a half hike from the beginning of Machu Picchu. It’s steep and fun. They when you get to the top, the view to Machu Picchu is flat out amazing. The peak of Huayna Picchu is about 8,920 ft above sea level, or about 1,180 ft higher than Machu Picchu. During this hard hike we did not feel the altitude at all. Cusco was actually a lot higher at 11,200 ft above sea level.

So, we did this great hike. Enjoyed the top a bit and came back down. We explored the rest of Machu Picchu then had to catch the train back. We had another 5-6 hour ride back. The ride back was a lot longer than they told us. We got back about 8pm and went out to eat. The food in that restaurant isn’t even worth mentioning. I order my favorite soup which is Chupe de Camorines and it was pretty bad.
We then went back to the hotel we had a 6am flight to Lima

Casa Bella MirafloresSo day 3 we get up to go to Lima. When we arrive we already booked a taxi for the whole time we are there. We went to our hotel in Miraflores. It was the Casa Bella Miraflores. It is next to the Love Park in Miraflores. The park is very nice, but I didn’t like this hotel. The bathroom had ants. The towels had dead ones stuck to it. I told the front desk, they came up with RAID. This was a 3.5 star hotel. If I go to Peru again I’ll go with a 4 star.

Since we had the taxi for the whole day we just went to the popular sites and took some pictures and ate at a Chifa Restaurant. Chifa is a term used in Peru to refer to Chinese cooking in which many of the ingredients originally used in China were substituted by those available in Peru due to a lack of ingredients.

Temple of PachacamacDay 4 we booked a tour through the hotel to the Temple of Pachacamac. The tour was actually a lot better than I thought it would be. We started my doing to some sites in Lima I missed the day before. and then the Guide just made the trip very interesting with discussion of life in Lima, jails, poverty,incan sex, sacrifices and lots more.

After that we went to the artisan markets along Av. La Marina to get some Incan gifts. They have lots of booths and a great selection there. And that’s it. That was my short 4 day Peru trip. We left for the airport that night.