A British Christmas in San Francisco-Don’t Miss it!

The last of couple of years, my friend and I have made it a tradition to attend the Charles Dickens Christmas Fair in San Francisco. Every year, the Cow Palace, which has been home to everything from gun shows to rodeos (yes, even in San Francisco) gets a transformation which needs to be seen in order to believe it. If you’ve never experienced it, definitely go and try to drag those who wouldn’t be caught dead going to something like this. You know who I mean. The boyfriends and friends who reduce anything with a ribbon on it down to a craft fair. I’m not very crafty so I admittedly avoid any run-ins with doilies myself, but this is so much more than that. This is truly a trip back in time, in Victorian London where you leave feeling like you escaped for the day. In short, here is why I love this fair:

The Participants-Everyone who participates in the fair has to remain in character the entire time. That way it stays authentic and you don’t feel like you’re at a decorated carnival. It’s an experience.

The Food-They offer up everything from English bangers, Greek food, hot toddies, roasted chestnuts, and a variety of other goodies. Going back to the bah-hum-buggers in your life, maybe entice them with one of their various pubs found around the “village.” They have varieties of ales as well as hot buttered rum and champagne, among other beers and wines to choose from. Did I mention the bar maids? I could care less but every year they seem to find authentic bar maids who represent what I think were the original Hooters girls. (I usually just get my hot chocolate and leave. Fighting men to get to a bar at the Dickens Fair for hot chocolate becomes silly at some point.)

Entertainment-The entertainment is fantastic. They have full entertainment schedules throughout the day including my favorites, the Irish cloggers, as well as others such as the singing drunken sailors.

Gifts-My favorite part of going to the fair is because of the fabulous gifts I find every year without fail. I have been able to find quality gifts such as handmade silk and faux fur scarves, beautifully made hats, Christmas ornaments, wooden gift boxes, and other goodies that have made for special gifts for loved ones.

Whatever you fancy, take some time out from the dreaded holiday shopping to enjoy yourself!

To see my post from last year, click here.


Travel Essay-Una Festa? ( A Festival?)

A few summers ago I had the pleasure of spending an entire summer in the hills of Sicily with my friend’s family. They showed me where they grew up, introduced me to their friends and families, and I had the most outstanding homemade Sicilian cuisine one could ever ask for. I was included in many gatherings and outings that I otherwise never would have encountered had I not been in the company and comfort of locals.

One such outing started out as just a regular day. During my extensive stay in Sicily, I became very obedient and often just nodded yes when told that we were getting in the car to pick someone up or go off to run an errand. What did I care? I was in Sicily and wanted to see everything including how regular everyday life occurs. On one particular day, the gent who was kind enough to drive us around during our stay, offered to take his friend with us to pick up his daughter from her job at the hospital. We didn’t mind and in fact my hosts and I were happy to oblige.

Off we went, five people in a car equivalent to a Yugo in 95 degree weather, and drove 45 minutes through the winding hills of northeastern Sicily. (Note to self: don’t go back in July. It’s too damn hot for such togetherness.) We picked up this man’s daughter whose acquaintance I was so pleased to make and as it turned out, she could give a rat’s tukus whether I existed or not. I chalked it up to anti-American sentiment which I could care less about so we sat in the car during the drive back for about half an hour, arm to sweaty arm, totally indifferent. She wasn’t that young, probably in her mid-twenties but had the social graces of one of Sicily’s many ancient stones found around the hillsides. My friends in the car with me made a gesture implying that she had “issues” and I just laughed to myself at how such cattiness and people with “issues” are so universal. Crazy people and bitchiness run rampant throughout the world and I found it almost comforting. It took the staleness and the need to act proper out of the equation.

So there I was, sitting silent next to this chick who had nothing to say other than to herself (she was muttering to herself) when out of the blue, Silent Maria screams, “Basta! Una Festa! Una Festa!” (Stop! A festival! A festival!) Where the hell did that come from? This chick didn’t even say, “CIAO” to us when we introduced ourselves and all of a sudden, apparently she heard a band playing and wanted to see the Festa. (Festa’s are street fairs that run throughout many parts of Europe during the summer months, especially in very Catholic communities to honor patron saints.) Our driver hit the brakes and suddenly my new BFF grabbed my hand and said in Italiano, “let’s get to the front!” Seeing that this was the first real sign of life from this girl, we all appeased her by grabbing our belongings and running with her to catch the front of the parade coming down the main street of whatever walled village we stopped in. I believe it was Belevedere. I grabbed my camera, my friends grabbed their cameras and camcorders and we headed toward the front, ready to capture the bands and confetti in full color. Our mini-mob got to where we wanted, just in time for five cameras to snap away in unison at a coffin coming right toward us. Holy shit. How do you say faux pas in Italian? Should have known better than to listen to this wayward idiot who had been muttering to herself during a 45 minute hot car ride. Not only did we confuse a funeral with a festa, but because we all looked like American and Australian tourist trash dressed in flip flops, baseball hats, shorts, and armed with cameras, we ended up taking the poor deceased soul’s thunder away from him/her. Everybody was looking at us instead of the coffin. Talk about feeling like a stupid ass tourist.

Is it bad that our tasteless mob found this to be hysterical? Mind you, we all were raised Catholic and should have been absolutely mortified by not only our misstep but how we instinctively laughed out loud upon realizing that we were not at a festa. We laughed so hard we started crying. Welcome to tacky hell. However, we couldn’t stop laughing at how collectively stupid we all were. All we could do was pile back into the Yugo-like car and drive like Cruella Deville into the hills of Sicily just to get as far from the scene as possible.

But guess what happened? Crazy, Silent Maria loosened up and started chatting away. In fact, we all laughed so hard for so long that we all loosened up and let the initial uneasiness fall away. I still thought the girl was nuts but at least she became a nutbag having a good time. My lesson learned on this particular day was not to write somebody off after an initial bad first impression. You can still have a hell of a good time with somebody even if you think you have absolutely nothing in common with them. More importantly, if you’re ever in Sicily, don’t be fooled by a bass drum and a trombone. Check out the scene first to determine if you are about to wear black to a Festa or throw confetti unto a coffin.

Halloween and Harvest Time!

I love this time of year! This is by far my favorite time of year. I love the changing colors, the cooler climate, and the endless amount of things to do as soon as the first leaf drops. It’s the ooey-gooey-ist time of year that I can’t resist.

As mentioned in a previous post, just South of San Francisco in Half Moon Bay, the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival will be underway on October 16 and 17th this year. This is the main event for the community and one that is celebrating it’s 40th Anniversary this year. It’s almost ridiculous that I’m even giving any attention to this event because it’s already popular and has become a tradition for many but they do have a lot of cool things to do beside stuff yourself with pumpkin pie.

You can start your day with a pancake breakfast on Main Street, where you can try pumpkin pancakes with maple syrup, before you move on the pumpkin pie eating contest in the afternoon. This is one of those food events where you need to prep for it and be prepared to inundate yourself with pumpkin everything from ice-cream to sausages. Yes, pumpkin sausages. They’re awesome! Beer lovers can try Half Moon Bay Brewing Company’s Mavericks Pumpkin Harvest Ale.( I wish I could tell you what Pumpkin beer tastes like but my beer drinking days are limited due to sneezing fits.) And don’t forget about the great Pumpkin weigh-off where they weigh colossal sized pumpkins to see which grower gets to be King or Queen of the Coast. Though the weigh-off takes place in HMB, the event is so well known that these monster sized pumpkins come from growers all over the country. Last year’s winner came from Des Moines, IA. Put some wheels on these babies and they would be able to transport Cinderella all over the coast.

Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin festival:    http://www.miramarevents.com/pumpkinfest/about_show.html

Another area that has quickly become a favorite of mine is Apple Hill located in Placerville, CA., about an hour north of Sacramento. http://www.applehill.com This area is filled with orchard growers, many of whom allow the public to pick their own apples and indulge in everything the area has to offer. This area literally has something for everyone. There are award winning wineries in the region as well as plenty of kid friendly activities for families such as petting zoos and hay mazes to run around in. As you can see on the activity calendar on their website, there is always something going on in the region, making it worth it to make many visits throughout the year. I have to say,  I’m not much of an apple pie person but the apple pies we bought at Abel’s Apple Acres were to die for. Want to know how good those pies are? I bought one for my friend who lives very close to the area, so her family is very familiar with Abel’s Apple Acres. Because her kids love those pies so much, her nine year old put a pillow under the oven and fell asleep waiting for the thing to finish baking. I’d say that’s a good testament.


I don’t usually promote the Napa Valley Wine region too often because I’ve done it to death and haven’t been back in a while. But, there’s no denying that it’s incredibly beautiful this time of year and just as I recommend visiting it in the Spring when the mustard is growing wild, I also think that the fall in Napa/Sonoma should not be missed. This area has become quite inflated price wise over the years, in part because of the fabulous restaurants in Yountville and along Hwy. 12, but I’m not one to poo poo that which is obviously special and beautiful. This area is just that and if anyone is into photography, traveling to Napa/Sonoma during crush season and the fall season in general will not disappoint. Here’s a link to the endless activities in the area: http://www.sonoma.winecountry.com/special_interest/current_events/oct.html

This is just a sampling of what’s on in the Bay Area during the fall season. More is on the way!

French Festival-Santa Barbara

Every year in July I start to get the blues knowing that Bastille Day in France is approaching and I won’t be there to watch the fireworks go off around the Eiffel Tower. I have sort of sworn off of traveling to Europe in the summer for a while because I’ve become allergic to inflated ticket prices, rather preferring to travel off-season. The downside is that I miss out on all of the cool events that take place during high season so I have to look elsewhere for doses of culture where I can find it.   

The French Festival www.frenchfestival.com in Santa Barbara takes place on Bastille Day weekend every year and never disappoints. Francophiles from all over come together to celebrate everything Francaise (except for this year’s soccer team) and everything from delicious food to belly dancers can be found. However, the biggest and main reason to experience the Santa Barbara French Festival is to watch the tre chic Poodle Parade. Yes, the greatest breed known to mankind will be on display, in all shapes, sizes, colors, and breeds? Believe it or not, the occasional wannabe will enter, trying to pass as a poodle. The last time I attended this event an adorable golden retriever was sporting a beret, trying to pass himself off as a standard poodle. How can you pass this up?? Viva La France!!!!   

Edourd Boubat

Where:  Oak Park-Santa Barbara -From 101 North, exit at Pueblo. 101 South, exit at Mission   

When: July 17 & 18

Santa Barbara-Summer Solstice

Also known to many as the hippie parade. I don’t care. It’s cool. I love a parade in general as y’all may have figured out by now but I especially love the Summer Solstice parade in Santa Barbara because their floats are always so beautiful and colorful. The parade itself is a relatively young tradition, maybe only 15 years old or so, but it has grown to be a great tradition in charming Santa Barbara. You can’t ask for a more beautiful location which is right in downtown SB on State Street, followed by a great festival in the park after the parade is over. Every time I have gone it has turned out to be a beautiful day to welcome in the summer season.          

While in Santa Barbara, there are some Bed and Breakfasts worth checking out that I have recommended to people for quite some time. One in particular is The Cheshire Cat www.cheshirecat.com, located in a residential area one block off of State Street. It is small and charming with a quiet, neighborhood feel to it. As expected, it has references to the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland but it’s subtle and not overdone in a theme park kind of way. Just simple, elegant, quiet, and lovely the way a B & B should be.       





The other property I have always found to be a little bigger than the Cheshire Cat but also very charming is the Upham Hotel. www.uphamhotel.com  Also located just off of State Street, it’s in a residential area offering plush bed and breakfast accommodations. This is a hotel but does not have a big hotel feel to it. It’s still very quiet and does not lack in charm at all.         


If  you’re into good BBQ, one of my favorite stops is the Santa Barbara Chicken Ranch. www.sbchickenranch.com I know, it sounds like something you might find in the Nevada desert somewhere but they serve up some really great BBQ. Check it out if in the area.          

There is so much in Santa Barbara and the Santa Ynez mountains. This is a really special area that I visit yearly and there will be many more posts because there is so much to do. In the meantime, you can check out more photos from the beautiful Summer Solstice Parade.          

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