A Quick Visit in the California Sun

As is our usual routine, we returned to the Bay Area for our quarterly visit with family and friends. This time we decided to take advantage of the California sunshine, so welcome after the cold, damp, and gray of Ireland. Pretty country, not great weather. We took a short trip to the wine country and even had time to float down the Russian River. Typical California summertime activities.

Flight Trouble in Dublin

Having wrapped up our month in Ireland, it was time for a family visit to the Bay Area. Way back in October 2022, I found a roundtrip business class flight on Air France/KLM from Dublin to San Francisco for the low, low price of $1450pp in mid-July. “Yes, business class, Yes, roundtrip, Yes, summer, Yes, pretty awesome.”

This was in part why we were in Ireland in the first place. Sure, it was on our list to visit, but now we had a reason to be in Ireland, i.e. so we could leave from there. Our outbound flight would depart Dublin early, with a connection in Amsterdam and a big, lie-flat hop to SFO. Only, it didn’t…

In the middle of the night, we were sent an email saying KLM had canceled the first leg of the journey, and there was no time to catch another flight to make the connection. We learned this as we were about to head to the airport at 3:30 a.m. Diana was upset because she had a medical appointment scheduled in the Bay Area later that day and missing it would cause a ripple effect on other appointments.

The Rocky Start Continued, Then Got Better

From prior experience, we felt our best option was to present ourselves at the check-in counter and politely and somewhat forlornly ask how we could be accommodated. To their credit, KLM threw 3 people on the task and was able to book us on a British Airways/Virgin Atlantic connection through London still in business class that would get Diana to her appointment on time. Truly, kudos to the KLM Dublin staff for that magic.

The British segment still had a little bit of a hitch because… someone forgot to have the plane moved to the gate. Thankfully, the connection wasn’t tight, so the 40-minute delay only impacted how much time we got in the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse Lounge in London.

The lounge was the highlight of the day. Large, airy, and stylish, it was exactly what we thought Sir Richard Branson would deliver in London. A nice variety of freshly prepared food and a great selection of cocktails was our reward for skipping Schiphol (the forgettable Amsterdam airport).

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Was Decent, Not Awesome

Upon boarding, however, I was told the motor on my lie-flat seat wasn’t working. As compensation, I was given a $50 onboard credit (hello, Bombay Sapphire to go) and 35000 Virgin miles. I wasn’t planning on reclining much anyway, so it was mostly upside for me.

In addition, I was very curious about trying the Virgin Atlantic Upper-Class service. I will say that I found the food, drinks, and entertainment to be pretty good. I also liked hanging out at the bar and chatting with other upper-class chaps like myself. Overall, I found the service to be quite good, but the seats were a bit narrow and not very comfortable to me, regardless of whether I could fully recline it. I certainly would fly Virgin again, but I probably would not pay much of a premium for it. Of course, your mileage may vary.

Crosstown Traffic

After a quick trip in the Global Entry line at immigration, we collected our bags and picked up a car at the rental car center. Once on the road, we were a bit saddened to drive smack into traffic, which barely existed where we had just been in Ireland. Diana was able to make her appointment in the end, so all was okay after a very long day of travel (23 hours?) when we finally went to bed in the South Bay.

A few days later, on Friday, we headed north to visit friends for the night in the Sonoma Wine Country. Road work in Sonoma County is one of the rites of summer. After some aggressive back road driving for a couple of hours, we managed to meet our friends at a winery, ready to relax a bit with a tasting.

Wine Tasting in Sonoma County

The wine itself was good, but not worth the price available at the winery. Still, the setting was beautiful and our friends were delightful, as always. I especially enjoyed the large, adjacent flower and vegetable garden. It was fun to wander the grounds and sample some berries. It was a pleasant way to take the edge off the traffic and enjoy a beautiful California summer day.

Floating on the Russian River

Although I always enjoy a bit of a tipple, my primary desire for the timing of this visit was to get out on the Russian River for a float the next afternoon, Saturday. I have fond memories from many years ago of a river float there. I have been wanting to experience it again. With the excess of rain in the region last winter, we figured this would be a great time to get out and partake in the summer fun if it wasn’t too crowded.

So, color me surprised to see almost no one on the river this year. Numerous drought years and other distractions have diminished the popularity of this activity since my last visit. Moreover, there was enough water, but not even as much as I remembered from before. Only one outfitter was providing the service.

Even so, Diana and I enjoyed our time on the river. We had selected a river section that would take 2-3 hours to traverse, with light paddling required. I was mildly disappointed there were not oodles of fresh blackberries to snarf along the float as I remembered from before, but it didn’t diminish what was a lovely and tranquil paddle down the river. Some friends joined us to make the event even better.

Heritage Orchard

A day or two later, while walking near our friend’s house in Sunnyvale, I came across the Heritage Orchard fruit stand—much of the area now known as Silicon Valley was covered in orchards 70+ years ago. The success of Apple (i.e. the Fruit Company) and other tech giants has ushered in a wave of development so that now only a few, protected orchards remain.

I was thinking about picking up some apricots when I learned the pricing on the “heritage” fruit was double what I would pay at a store or even a local farmers market. The nostalgia didn’t overcome the pocketbook. Still, I liked the commitment to preservation that the orchard demonstrated.

Halloween Costumes/Chicken Pricing

Another small shock came when I noticed some Halloween costumes being readied for sale at the local Costco. This was mid-July, mind you. I think there should be a law that says I shouldn’t be subjected to Halloween paraphernalia until I can do so with a Pumpkin Spice Latte in hand. That seems fair, don’t you think?

Also surprising was how inflation had driven up the price of boneless, skinless chicken breast in my local supermarket to $12/lb! This was for store-brand chicken, not even Wagyu chicken. Wagyu chicken sounds intriguing. What would fat-marbled chicken taste like? Happily, swinging around 180 degrees, I found a store special for $2/lb. I chose not to wonder where they found it. It made for a fine, inexpensive green chicken chili the crew scarfed later that day. Yum.

Flight to Dublin

After our week of family visits and the above-mentioned shenanigans, we jetted back to Europe from SFO, this time enjoying Air France’s business class product through Paris to Dublin. We have flown AF a couple of times recently and we always enjoy their service. We were not disappointed this time, either. Their newly renovated SFO business class lounge was quite an improvement, too. I was a little sad to have to leave so soon.

I engineered our return to Dublin with an overnight in Paris. As such, we checked our bags to Paris and would return the next morning for the final flight to Dublin. Or would we? Let’s just say a roundtrip from Dublin to SFO was much cheaper than Paris and we had plans to be in Paris for the next 3 months.

What river float/rafting trips have you enjoyed?

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