San Francisco: Wine tasting in the city
For many, a San Francisco vacation isn't complete without a day of wine tasting up in Napa or Sonoma. But you can find great wine without even leaving the city—particularly in Fisherman's Wharf, where there are numerous tasting rooms.
At Ghiradelli Square there are two tasting rooms. Wattle Creek Winery is a small family-owned Sonoma vineyard; Cellar 360 boasts more than 200 wines (including a good selection of bottles under $20), wine classes, a food tasting menu with items like bruschetta with roasted figs and goat cheese (served on Friday and Saturday nights), and an outdoor patio. Pair a trip to one of these tasting rooms with a trip to nearby Cannery, where the Winery Collective is located. The Collective is San Francisco's first multi-winery tasting room, with wines from dozens of California's small boutique wineries, like the award-winning Sol Rouge and Gregory Graham.
My favorite, though, is the more social Press Club at the Yerba Buena Arts Center, in downtown. It has a hip lounge where you can enjoy sipping on wine from eight of Northern California's most acclaimed small wineries, plus seasonal small plates made with ingredients from Napa Valley and after-hour parties on Friday and Saturday nights.
Any wine tasting is a guaranteed good time, but knowing a little etiquette can make the somewhat formal environment less daunting. Here are a couple do's and don'ts to get you started:
Taste in this order: whites, then reds, and finally dessert wines. Always go from dry to sweet (which the pourer will help you with). You can always skip a wine, or ask to try only one kind—say, reds only.
Use the provided crackers and water to cleanse your palate in between tastings so that you can really appreciate the different flavors. Water can also be used to rinse your glass if you don't get a new one.
Use the tasting sheets that most places offer—can you taste blackberry? Coffee? Flowers? This is a fun exercise for even the newest wine drinkers.
Ask the host questions. There's no need to be a wine connoisseur to have a good time.
Toss unwanted wine in the bucket on the counter. This is not seen as an insult—hey, there's a lot of wine to get through!
Pour the wine yourself.
Spit directly into the bucket. Instead ask for a small Dixie cup.
Ask for a second taste unless you are sure you'll buy a bottle. It's considered rude to drink more than offered.
Treat the provided snacks as an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Chew gum or smoke a cigarette right before tasting, since it will destroy the wine's flavor.
Bring wine from elsewhere for a picnic (this goes for the Napa and Sonoma wineries, as well).
Feel like you have to tip or even buy a bottle. Some, but not all, tasting rooms charge a tasting fee, anyway, to cover the cost of service and free booze.
London: A side trip to Hadrian's Wall
March is an especially fine time to take a journey north from London to the Scottish border counties. It was in 410 A.D. that the English booted the ancient Romans off of the island. Sassenach descendants all over the U.K. begin celebrations in March with spectacular illuminations stretching the full 84-mile length of the Hadrian's Wall Path National Trail. The wall was built by the Romans to keep the unconquered, warlike Celts of Scotland out of England, and it's presently a World Heritage site. Some 500 lamps separated by 300-yard intervals will illuminate the wall. The first will be lit at a public celebration at Segedunum Roman Fort Baths near Wallsend on Saturday, March 13, with the line of glittering beacons snaking over the rolling rugged countryside for an hour—all the way past Carlisle (where there will be second Welcoming the Light' celebration), to the wall's terminus at Bowness-on-Solway on the Irish Sea. Carlisle and Wallsend are some 300 miles from London, but both jumping-off-points can be reached via National Rail through the Heworth or Carlisle railroad stations. MORE 410.org.uk illuminatinghadrianswall.com Save on trains from London: Advice from Britain's train expert
London: A behind the seams guide to Fashion Week
Late February in London means Fashion Week—and from cafés to cool bars the city over, Londoners are chatting couture over coffees and cocktails. Topic of the moment is the sudden and sad death of Britain's favorite designer, local East End boy Alexander McQueen. There are fond memories of how McQueen helped to make Fashion Week seriously cool in the 1990s, with his hipster pants and angular cuts. And while his suicide has cast a shadow over the celebrations, the show goes on…as do a series of tempting fairs and sales. It's the tenth year of the Vintage Fashion fair this Sunday, Feb. 21, where over 100 vintage dealers proffer their retro-fashion at retro prices. Be at the exhibition space Hammersmith Town Hall, (King St W6) at 8 a.m. for the best deals. The fair's upstart rival, the Clerkenwell Vintage Fashion fair begins later—at 11 a.m., presenting the chance to get a makeover from professional pamperers the Powderpuff Girls. There are a spate of sales too: 60 percent off Britt Letner sharp women's suits, 80 percent off Love from Australia sheepskin boots and some 70 percent off designer items at the show itself, London Fashion Weekend (tickets $25). ELSEWHERE Londonfashionweek.co.uk What Not To Do In London: The Top Five Tourist Mistakes [Jaunted] See London's Punk History: A Web Audio Tour [The Guardian] Find Other Top Travel Blogs at Alltop
London: In search of Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes aficionados in London are up in arms about Hollywood's fresh take on their detective hero. Robert Downey's lusty new Sherlock, they say, is nothing like the invention of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In fact, when I dropped by the Sherlock Holmes Museum last week, I went looking for promotional movie tie-ins—and received short shrift. "There are none at all," said a man in a tweed suit, purporting to be Sherlock Holmes himself. "Any connections with that film and the real Holmes are purely coincidental." The museum itself is a delight for all Holmes fogeys—with descriptive details from the myriad short stories and novels lovingly reproduced on all four stories of the Baker Street town house, at the exact fictional residence for the detective and Doctor Watson as mentioned in the book. The downstairs shop sells all manner of things related to the detective, such as deerstalker hats. Whether it will stock the new movie when it comes out on DVD remains to be seen.
D.C.: Top 3 free things to do in the capital
It's a penny-pincher's nirvana: The Cheap Bastard's Guide to Washington, D.C., which lists about 1,000 freebies. Here's a sampling of some favorite (but lesser known) finds that visitors and locals can enjoy any time of the year, courtesy of the book's author, Rob Grader. Catch a free performance Most evenings (often around 6:30 p.m. at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage. Daily performances run the gamut from classical music, jazz, and popular music to theater, dance, and circus performances, each lasting between half-an-hour and an hour. Take a free tour of the capital city DC by Foot Free Monuments Walking Tours offer 90 minute free tours of the national mall that will fill you in on all of the history, symbolism and architectural details of the monuments around the mall. Guides set out most weekdays at 6 p.m. and most weekends at 2 p.m. No reservations are required. dcbyfoot.com Wholeness for Humanity leads eco-tours around D.C. to highlight the greening of the city. The tours can lead you to many surprising destinations, including the Nationals' ballpark, the roof of the Department of Transportation, the National Geographic Building, and a stroll along the Anacostia River. Tours run a few times a month and reservations are required. wholenessforhumanity.com Attend a blues Jam Every Saturday at 2:30 in honor of the musician Archie Edwards. The jam brings together musicians of all levels to revel in the Piedmont Blues that Mr. Edwards championed for more than 50 years at his D.C. barber shop. acousticblues.com BONUS TIP Enjoy a day on the farm. A drive of a few miles outside of D.C. in Oxon Hill, Md., visitors can get their hands dirty milking cows and working with the chickens or just have a good time petting the farm animals, overlooking the Beltway. nps.gov/archive/nace/oxhi