No. 118 (essentialsaltes) wrote,
No. 118

I call it... minimoon

As a fake, little honeymoon, we made a weekend getaway to the Santa Barbara wine country. We stayed at the Victorian Mansion half of the Union Hotel and Victorian Mansion in Los Alamos. Inquiring minds want to know, so I'll go into some detail here. Also, because it's funny.

Saturday morning, we drove up the 1/101 and made our usual first stop at Mosby, who (like me) prefer the Italian varietals. The counterman is the same as ever. They had a sparkling Cortese, which was unusual... I think it's the first sparkling wine I've seen in the area. Novel enough to get us to buy a bottle. Our next stop was the town of Los Olivos, where we are members of the wine club at Los Olivos Vintners (which gets us a free tasting there and at their next-door sister-winery Arthur Earl). As usual, both had really fantastic wines. By this point, I had had nothing to eat or drink since Friday except about 18 tiny tiny glasses of wine, so it was time to get lunch. Patrick's Sidestreet Cafe is still a favorite of mine and I had a fabulous open-faced prime rib sandwich with plenty of horseradish. I think Rebecca was a bit disappointed by the steamed clams, which had come as a tip from the pourer at Arthur Earl.

Thus fortified, we made our way through a couple more wineries until we finally pulled up in Los Alamos. We pull up behind the Victorian Mansion and find the doors locked and no answer to polite rapping. Well, we think, it's run by the same people that run the Union Hotel, so we go there and find a handwritten note taped to the locked door. "Back in 15 minutes, please go to the antique store across the street."
So we go to Gussied Up Antiques, where the proprietress fills us in on a bit more. Apparently, our would-be hotelier was picking up some other guests in Los Olivos and would be back soon. The antique shop was, fortunately, interesting. I was tempted by a medical bag with literally dozens of shiny sharp medical tools in it. It was 'only' $250 or so for the whole kit and caboodle, but that's a little much for a whimsical purchase. If only I'd had an appropriate LARP coming up.
Eventually Chris from the hotel shows up and she instructs us on the use of the hotel room. You might think this unnecessary, but I assure you it's not when the place is a Victorian with crazy 1980's vintage electronics running it. We were instructed, given a code to the door keypad and sent on our way.
The two of us crept into the building, wondering why there was a boat in the parking lot -- I'll tell you later -- climbed the stairs and entered ancient Rome. Or a fair facsimile thereof. Or a cheesy facsimile with a hottub. Now, I'll say at the outset that I enjoyed this entire vacation (no doubt due to the company) but I will probably say some unkind things about the Victorian Mansion. Let me put it this way: if you like to be pampered, or enjoy luxurious amenities, such as a lock on the door or lighting that is strong enough to read by, then you had better choose someplace else to stay.
The electronic control box controlled almost everything in the room. The box itself resembled a small Atari 2600 with old calculator buttons. Want to turn the ceiling light on? Press 3 and then the On button. You can us the Dim and Bright buttons to affect the radiance and the Off button does just what you would expect. The same goes for the red and orange recessed lights over the fresco of Rome in flames and the moody blue lights over the chariot-bed. Want a fire in the fireplace? Press 5 and On. Want a Roman bath? Press 7 On to lock the drain. Press 8 On to let in the hot water. Press 8 Off when the level gets up to the overflow drain. Enjoy your bath, and then hit 7 Off to let the water out of the main drain. Simple, isn't it?
There is a TV, but there is neither cable nor antenna. Your choice is one of the half-dozen themed VHS tapes: Ben-Hur & Quo Vadis, but no Caligula. There is also a tape player with a tape of 'Roman' music. The most enchanting part is where there's a clunk, a diminution in the sound volume and a voice is heard saying "No, put the mike closer." followed by more clunkings and scratches until the music returns to normal.
Again, having said that, I really enjoyed my bizarre, low-budget, tacky Roman room!
Another tip we'd gotten from a wine-pourer was the American Flatbread Company. It's only open as a restaurant on Fridays and Saturdays. The rest of the time, they make commercial frozen pizzas sold at places like Bristol Farms. We were seated right in front of the oven, and could watch the pizzas go in and out. In summer, that's probably not a good seat, but in December it was pleasantly toasty. The food was really fantastic. If you're up in that area on Friday or Saturday night, be sure to check it out.
After dinner, we ambled into a little market and picked up, Cthulhu help us, a bottle of Andre champagne. We stumbled through the darkness into the mansion and to our room and got the hottub to do its job. I note that this photo has already racked up about as many views as the rest of the photos from the trip combined, so you've probably already seen it. This has probably killed your desire for further detail, so I will skip to the morning, except to mention that a peglegged elephant was staying in the room above ours.

Sunday morning, another portion of our room-lesson is put to the test. "Coffee arrives at 8:30; breakfast at 9; in the dumbwaiter." Fortunately, I know what a dumbwaiter is; unfortunately, I'm not entirely sure I know what it's going to look like. I confess I had hoped for a classy Victorian dumbwaiter, original to the building, but the reality is the cupboard underneath Augustus, beside the door. (Incidentally, the bookcase on the left is the door to the bathroom. Each of the themed rooms in the mansion has a 'secret' bathroom door.) The lower cabinet has a fridge and some plates, silverware and mugs. The upper cabinet has a second door that opens out onto the space outside the door, so that someone can deliver the food through the side. At the appointed time, our helpful ghost delivers coffee and orange juice, followed a half hour later by a great breakfast of eggs, potatoes, bacon and fruit.

Thus ballasted, we were ready for more wine-tasting. Today we spent more on the smaller roads that crisscross through the hills of the wine country. It was interesting to see the grapevines in the fields. Some were bare, but many still had leaves, but they had turned color: bright yellows and reds and even one field of deep blood red leaves. Typically, when we are there, the vines are either bare or green, but the contrast (literally) was very neat. Since we had more time, we finally went up to visit the church that stands above the road leading to Rancho Sisquoc winery and forms the basis of their label. As it was Sunday morning, we got there just as the service was ending and people were trickling out. There is also a graveyard adjacent to the church that was quite interesting. There's a large, mossy monument for William Benjamin Foxen, an English sea-captain who bought land, settled in the area, paid for construction of the church and (eventually) gave his name to a winery, founded by Foxen's great-great grandson. The cemetery also had a number of markers in Spanish from even earlier days of the area, preceding statehood.

For lunch, we finally broke down and ate some goddamned Andersen's pea soup. It was just fine. Now we never have to go there again. Afterwards, some wineries we'd never visited before and a fair amount of driving-around-in-circles with inadequate maps to guide us. Later, a fine dinner at Javy's Mexican Cafe.

Monday morning, after the ghost delivered breakfast, we pointed the car back home, dawdling enough to take the 154, which climbs up over the coastal range before dropping down abruptly on Santa Barbara. Driving through here in the morning was very different. As we finally crested the ridge, there was still early fog lying across the ocean, lit by the morning sun. The Channel Islands were clearly visible in the distance, but their bases faded delicately into the haze, so it looked as though they were floating delicately on clouds of fog.

The 101 got sticky by the time we got to Thousand Oaks or so. Eventually made it home to discover that we had a ridiculous amount of wine in the trunk. After reassuring the cat that regular feedings would once again commence, we went out and got a secular tree and decorated it together.
Tags: bio, travel, wine

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