Week of April 8, 2019

This week was Atlassian's annual Summit conference in Las Vegas (do I need to say Nevada?). I just wrapped up a long week of work meetings, and filming customers, partners, and colleagues, around the Mandalay Bay Convention Center.

It wasn't all work, but I definitely met my stand goal every day -- and then some.

Arriving in Las Vegas for Summit 2019

Arriving in Vegas with a dozen colleagues meant several awkward (but still interesting) conversations. "Who are you?" "What do you do?" and "how long have you been at Atlassian?" were common conversational themes.

To answer those questions: I'm Nick. I talk to our internal sales people and external partners about how to talk about our products (it's meta, don't worry). And I've been here for 3.5 years.

Coincidentally, my niece was playing volleyball in the same hotel the prior weekend, so she was there with my sister. They were leaving as I arrived, but we got to cross paths enough to hang out for an hour or so :)

Go sports ball 🏐

Motion all day in between Partner Day sessions.

Summit began on Wednesday, but Tuesday was a full day of Atlassian channel partner-related activities, appropriately called "Partner Day."

I gave part of a presentation with one colleague named Paul, but otherwise roamed the halls with another team mate (also named Paul). I work with a lot of Pauls.

Paul (the second one) and I spent most our time interviewing other presenters and expo hall visitors from around the world. Attendees were eager to talk about Atlassian and how they can expand value for our customers.

I can't post any of that content, but the videos were really fun to make. Paul is a standup kind of guy, and I'm an improv guy. That mostly translates to him remembering his lines, and me blanking most of the time. He's also the straight man, and I'm the silly one.

It was a fun dynamic 🙌

Taking a quick break from the mayhem to enjoy a nice dinner with friends.

Two days in, and I was ready to leave the hotel. I literally hadn't left a controlled climate from the moment I landed Monday afternoon to Wednesday evening. It was slightly depressing, and it felt great to step outside -- even if it was to get into a cab to head to another casino for dinner.

We dined at Picasso. The place wasn't exactly what I would have chosen. However, I couldn't help but be impressed by the many Picasso works that surrounded our table. And dinner was with some of my favorite people in the company. Plus the food and wine were fairly good.

Giant inflated balls loomed over the beach party Bash Summit afterparty.

After 4 days indoors, we were released to the Mandalay Bay's sandy outdoor beach for Summit Bash. The traditional conference party was held the final night of the entire event (Dev Day, Training Day, Partner Day, and 2 days of Summit, all crammed into the 4 days).

Whew. That was a long week.

I overextended my 48 hour rule for Vegas by 2x, and I was ready to go home.

Taking off, but not quite leaving Las Vegas.

The ride home was mostly uneventful. I was finally able to visit American Express' Centurion Lounge at Las Vegas' airport. And I can report that it's just as crowded as every other Centurion Lounge I've been to.

I realize they've limited access recently, but they really need to work on finding more space in these airports. They're a nice benefit, though it's difficult to enjoy when you can't find a seat or a power outlet. First world problems are tough 😔

Arriving in Los Angeles for a 30th birthday weekend celebration.

Less than 24 hours after landing, we were on our way to Los Angles for a friend's 30th birthday weekend. It wasn't a crazy weekend 😅. Just friends and their significant enjoying beer, wine, food, and conversations that meandered.

Our friend found an awesome winery located near Chinatown to host the occasion.

I was slightly skeptical at first, but Angelino Winery was impressive. Not only produces their wine in , but they source their grapes from Los Angeles County! And they really lean into Los Angeles' history as a wine producing city, dating back to the mid 1800's. In fact, Los Angeles Historic Park -- located right across the street from their facility -- was one of the first places to grow grapes for wine production in California. There's even a whole book about it 🍇 🍷 🥳

He looks great as a muppet.

A little over 24 hours after arriving in Los Angeles, we were on the road, making our way home. We flew in, and drove back. It's not my favorite drive, but it reminded me of the trips I used to take to LA to visit friends, right after I'd moved to San Francisco.

See you next week!

Week of December 10, 2018

Still at home

Highlights of the week: I enjoyed another week at home, sleeping in my own bed, and enjoying what finally feels like fall in San Francisco.


Hygge night. On Instagram

Getting back into habits means the return of one of my favorite rituals at home -- lighting a candle for dinner. It's really simple, but it's been a hygge-inspired part of our home for the past several years. The small action helps create a sense of coziness :)


Another day, another great sunset. So happy to have windows at work :) On Instagram

Still enjoying the views, but this time, with a new toy -- my new Moment wide angle lens (using the iPhone XS attachment case). Got a bit more crammed into this photo, and it looked really sharp.

Also, I love this view. Have I mentioned that?


Another photo captured with Moment Lens with long exposure effect on iPhone XS. From Wednesday On Instagram

We have a new colleague on the team, so this week took a group of us out to some bars and restaurants. I grabbed a drink with the team at Jones -- one of my favorite bars in the city (mainly because of the enormous outdoor space). As we were perched on a spot overlooking Geary St, I snapped another Moment Lens shot.

I'm looking forward to seeing what this thing can do when I don't have my SonyAlpha mirrorless camera around.


Nothing says “welcome to the team” like a trip to a great Belgian beer bar. Fortunately we have one conveniently located in San Francisco. Welcome to Atlassian! On Instagram

Wednesday was a great dinner with our new hire. I got to try out The House, which served a wide selection of pan Asian dishes. Sometimes "pan Asian" can get confusing, but they kept their menu simple. It worked, especially while sharing several bottles of wine 🍷

Afterwards, we grabbed drinks at Tony Nik's.

This unique bar bills itself as a sophisticated casual spot, serving up classic cocktails. In reality, it's a hodgepodge of designs, that feels divey at times, and is well maintained, clean, and friendly. I've only been a few times, but it feels like a great neighborhood bar, removed from the tourists that tend to frequent North Beach.


Playing with my new toy — the DJI Osmo Pocket. On Instagram

Another new toy arrived this week...an Osmo Pocket, which I intend to use constantly when traveling. The video above was shot from the Atlassian office, using a feature called Motion Lapse -- a combination of time-lapse and panning.

The pocket-sized camera is compact enough to not draw a lot of attention to the fact that I'm recording or taking a photo, so I'm looking forward to capturing a lot of footage when we go to India next week! Lots of future content to build from this little device 🎬


Holiday party with views On Instagram

This was our last week in town before heading off to India for Christmas and New Years, so errands kept us busy. As did a Golden Girls Christmas drag show.

That evening, we headed to a friend's place for a holiday gathering, featuring delicious Cambodia/Laos-inspired Northeastern Thai food from Esan Classic -- one of the best (and spiciest) Thai restaurants in San Francisco.


The best sushi bar in San Francisco is just two blocks from home. Kuma Sushi also gave me free ice cream. On Instagram

The eventful week left me happy for some alone time on Sunday. The day was lazy and uneventful. I treated myself to my favorite sushi bar in San Francisco, Kuma Sushi + Sake. After a fairly filling meal and a few pours of sesame shochu, they gave me a bowl of ice cream.

I couldn't say no to the gift. And I didn't.

My last full week of 2018 in San Francisco was eventful and balanced. And it made me grateful for the community of friends and colleagues, and the great neighborhood I get to enjoy.

To more shushi, shochu, and ice cream in 2019 🥳

Week of December 3, 2018

Back in the bay

This week was my first full work week in our new Atlassian San Francisco office, and the first time I’d seen the office without the thick haze of smoke.


Found the rooftop today. On Instagram

At 14 floors up, and on the edge of San Francisco’s financial district, the views are nothing short of spectacular. They also vary with sunsets and weather changes.

I was definitely ready to move from our old offices — they were in a seedy part of town, which doubled as a food desert, in an area marketed as an "up-and-coming area" of Soma. I lived in that neighborhood five years ago, and it hadn’t changed much. So, the new office with abundance of natural light and beautiful views, was a huge change. A month in, I finally got to enjoy it :)


So many great angles at the Apple Store. On Instagram

Walking home from work, I dropped by the Apple Store. It’s a new convenience that was an out-of-the-way task prior to our office move. It might seem silly, but it's very nice having shops, bars and eateries, conveniently downstairs all day.

This office move has been like relocating to a whole new city.

Wednesday - Friday

It’s wet out there, so I’ll stay inside up here. On Instagram
San Francisco sunset = all of the light. On Instagram
Got some elevation to capture this San Francisco sunset yesterday afternoon.
(Shot with my DJI Mavic Air. On Instagram

More shots from the office. In rain, at dusk, and at sunset.


Saturday night lights. On Instagram

A movie and dinner


On Saturday, we made it out to a movie — Yorgos Lanthimos's The Favourite. It was the story of Queen Anne, but with updated fashion, quirky humor, and modern dancing.

Afterwords, we checked out a new pinseria place in North Beach (Barbara Pinseria). It was good, but Montesacro Pinseria Romana in Soma is one of my favorite restaurants in the city. Our pizza-like flatbread meal hit the spot, and capped off simple, but great, weekend evening back in San Francisco.

Trailer for The Favourite.

Sports ball

The weekend ended with a trip to Santa Clara for a football game, with the local 49ers playing my Denver Broncos. I haven’t followed American football or the NFL much in recent years, but games are usually a lot of fun. Plus, going to see any sport live generally has a lot of great energy between the fans, the cheers, and some beers.

It was my second game at Levi’s Stadium — I previously saw a FC Barcelona vs Manchester United match there. We were given tickets to a club suite, which was well-stocked. My precious experience (also in a club suite) had hot dogs and Budweiser; this suite had a charcuterie spread, roasted chicken, and craft beer).

The charcuterie plate was mostly picked over when we arrived, but it was tasty :)

The posh seats were fun, but I was overwhelmed by the amount of advertising that covered every visible surface of the stadium. From the benches outside (brought to you by Intel), to an actual Levi’s clothing store (in case you spill mustard on your jeans?) to the escalator that doubled as a Pepsi cup to each section of suites having a major corporate sponsorship; there’s no way to avoid an advertisement during the game. Seriously, every section of the stadium is sponsored.

At some point, I was too distracted trying to figure out what each ad placement was for, that I lost track of the game, the instant replays, and announcements. All I remember is that I need to drink Pepsi and Budweiser at the casino when I visit Yosemite National Park. Also, fly United.

The game hit a lull, so we went for a walk… with more marketing to sponsor the occasion.

A quick comment here:

I’ve been to American football games in Tampa and Kansas City, and to soccer, baseball, hockey, and basketball games around the world. Some feel more energetic than others, but it usually depends on whether the home team is winning or losing.

And there are ads at most stadiums -- soccer games are usually a full quilt of ads and LED signs all around the field. But usually the game was the center of attention.

Maybe it was just apparent because I don't care for the 49ers, and I haven't been that into the NFL in recent years. But usually I've been able to ignore the plethoras of ads at any sport. Or maybe they're usually more subtle.

At the end of the day, the 49ers haven't had a winning season since leaving San Francisco for the new stadium in Santa Clara, so it's apparent that the marketing value of the stadium is greater than the substance of the team itself.

The real action-packed game.

Critiques about the distracting stadium aside, it was definitely an entertaining experience. But the most exciting part of the game was the halftime show, when a bunch of college mascots played a mock game of football -- the Sourdough Bowl! They looked ridiculous running around, especially the inflated dinosaur bouncing across the field with short arms. It was perfect.

Overall, I had a great time once we got down to Santa Clara. But I wouldn't go out of my way to trek down and look at a million advertisers while trying to spot the football game.


The train ride home from Santa Clara. On Instagram

Whereas we took a combination of Lyft --> Caltrain --> VTA to Levi's Stadium, the ride back was more scenic (and eventful). That's because we took an Amtrak Capitol Corridor train, across the marshes of San Francisco Bay.

The Amtrak line was more scenic than Caltrain's path, and it was also more relaxing -- until we hit the Oakland Colosseum crowds. The Raiders' game had just let out as we pulled into the transfer station to get on BART, and their fans were definitely more energetic and excited about their win against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Week of November 26, 2018

Summary, or TL;DR.

TL;DR: Another week, another work trip. Following a successful Thanksgiving weekend, I flew off to São Paulo -- my second trip this year! The timing of this trip is more remarkable, considering I had previously never crossed the equator until the earlier trip in April.

In any event, this marked my final work trip of the year, and it was an unexpected delight.

Skipping town



Picking up on the last post, I started this week a day early. I had to leave town for work, to make it from San Francisco to São Paulo by Tuesday.

Fortunately, though I was traveling on a busy day, I made it to Brazil without any issues.

Unfortunately, I didn't get an upgrade crossing from SFO to IAD -- or for the more important IAD to GRU overnight flight -- so I was dead tired when I landed in São Paulo. Fortunately, the Renaissance Hotel knew I was arriving early (before noon), and I was able to check in.


Approaching São Paulo–Guarulhos International Airport

Though I'd been to São Paulo just a few months prior, the approach into the city reminded me of San Francisco. The low clouds and foggy haze combined with the hills to remind me a bit of home.

I was smarter this time, and grabbed a taxi that could take the express lanes into the city. I was excited for a nap, and just a few moments away falling into a heavy nap, when a friend pinged me on Facebook Messenger. He was 3 blocks down the street.


I'd known Luis for many years -- all the way back to high school in Tampa. He eventually moved to DC after I'd moved there for college, and we had some overlapping circles of friends.

He now works for the Organization of American States, which is kind of like the United Nations, but focussed on JUST the Americas. We don't hear much about it in the United States, but the OAS is an important forum for Latin American countries to bring up economic, environmental, and human rights issues.

Luis noticed my check-in or post on Facebook, and pinged me. We didn't have much time, as he was on his way out of the country -- he'd come from Argentina the day before -- and had a day to explore São Paulo for his first time in Brazil.

With just about an hour before he needed to run to the airport, and me being incredibly groggy, we caught up on life over an espresso. Then he was off to Peru for more work, and I was off to crash for about 40 minutes before dinner.

Dinner was a feast. During my previous trip, a group of us spent an evening at D.O.M. -- one of the "World's 50 Best Restaurants" (number 30 this year) -- but right around the corner is a spot called Dalva e Dito, a sister restaurant to the famed D.O.M.

At a mere one Michelin Star, the food wasn't as over-the-top, and the experience wasn't as drawn out, as its famous counterpart. Instead, Dalva e Dito served very traditional Brazilian dishes with high quality ingredients and slightly smaller portions.

The meal was delicious, and I was ready to pass out.

Sleepy in São Paulo



I built in a one day buffer to acclimate and account for any travel delays. Getting to Brazil from San Francisco not long required a layover, and it required traveling on the busiest travel day of the year -- the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

Tuesday was hardly a leisurely day. For one, the pool at the Renaissance was closed for resealing and remodeling work. So my Havaianas had to stay put :(

But more importantly, I had a chance to meet with our local Solutions Partner, e-Core Solutions, in their brand new, Atlassian-inspired office, near the Moema district.

Between the hour each way in Ubers, the meetings, and the buffet lunch, I saw a lot of the city, but didn't get a chance to explore much.

Drinking a refreshing Aperol Spritz at a cafe

I had one moment of solitude before two days of delivering training. I found a moment to step out of the hotel for a walk, and I found myself at a cafe. My original plan was to work, but I dropped that idea and just relaxed with an Aperol Spritz in hand.

The servers looked at me weird when I asked for an espresso, too, but we got past it.

After the quick reset and a quick sync with work, I was ready for dinner.

I can't recall the number of times Bráz Pizzaria came up in conversations about São Paulo, but it was on my list of places to try during this trip. Luckily for me, I have coworkers who can read my mind.

The food in São Paulo surprised me with its range and richness. Pizza is fairly standard fare in the US, but it's not what one might expect to be a staple in Brazil, where traditional ingredients aren't bread mozzarella cheese, and olives. Maybe it has something to do with Italian immigration to Brazil...

We ordered an "Italian Sausage Bread," two pizzas, and a salad. It was simple and delicious. One item I couldn't find on the menu, but I saw at a table -- Georgian Khachapuri. A flatbread dish with melted cheese cheese and an egg mixed in.

Not pictured above are two enormous side salads that complimented the Brazilian-style cheesy bread goodness.

Time to work



I wasn't in São Paulo for vacation, and two days of running training brought me right back to reality. The picture above was the only real photo I was able to take all day. It was a nice reminder that it was summer outside, and that I was in the heart of an incredible metropolis in an unfamiliar corner of the world.

The dual simultaneous Portuguese and Spanish translators that helped me during the training were another clear reminder of how far away from home I was.

Our partner meal was at Fogo de Chao, a restaurant I’ve never been to before. It was surprisingly good, and with unlimited grilled meats, salad bar, and drinks, in a semi-private space, it was a perfect fit for our group.



I wrapped up training with our Solutions Partners on Thursday afternoon. The week of conversations about ITSM and strategies for talking about Atlassian with customers had come to an end, and I'd be heading home in just a few hours -- my flight time was just before midnight.

My original plan was to join the rest of the team at an Atlassian User Group (AUG), being hosted not far from our hotel. But then it started to storm. I skipped the meet up, and went for a walk instead.

My friend, Luis, had suggested a coffee place he stopped by earlier in the week -- Catarina Coffee & Love. The little shop was nestled inside a boutique clothing shop on the very posh-feeling Rua Oscar Freire.

I spoke with the barista for a bit while sipping on a pour over. He told me about Brazil's coffee industry, and how different coffee producers are trying out different methods with their products, like fermenting their beans. I must have spent 40 minutes at the shop, just chatting about coffee and chocolate.

different coffee producers are trying out different methods with their products, like fermenting their beans.

Yes, chocolate came up. And my new friend had several chocolates to choose from (it was impressive, considering the small amount of space he was operating. He sold me on bringing back some experimental chocolates, made with beans harvested from wild cacao trees found in the Amazon.

He said the chocolate tasted like cheese. How could I resist?

Finally, a moment to rest...

Fortunately, one of the perks that comes from flying so much for work is the idea of upgrade certificates from United. They don't always work, but one came through at the last minute for the long redeye back to DC.

Ready for home



The second leg of my trip didn't include lie-flat seating, but I pretty much just passed out after running from one of the (still weird) Dulles Airport "mobile lounges," through Global Entry, grabbed my bag, re-checked it, ran to my gate, and hopped on my flight to San Francisco as boarding started -- all in under an hour.

I took a break from the nearly 20 hours in transit, from my hotel to San Francisco International Airport, by relaxing at United's (relatively) new Polaris Longe. Atlassian even greeted me with an ad for our newly-acquired product, Opsgenie, after I collected my luggage!

Overall, this trip was one of the more exhausting work excursions I had all year. The previous trip to São Paulo had a week in Buenos Aires, Argentina, attached to to the end, giving me something to look forward to before switching time zones again. Everything was also new, having never been South America before. But with this trip, I was ready to be home.



Relieved to be home for a few weeks, but also reflective of the travel I'd put in for the year, we caught a movie Saturday night. 


Back in the bay, we spent Saturday on a nice, long bike ride to Muir Beach. It was the first time in weeks that I was in town and the air quality wasn't poor from the fires near Chico.

By the late afternoon, the sky had a few scattered clouds. They were perfect for capturing the fleeting moments before sunset.

Travel Summary:

A hop, a skip and a jump.
From To Mileage
SFO IAD 2,419 mi
IAD GRU 4,737 mi
GRU IAD 4,737 mi
IAD SFO 2,419 mi
Total 14,311 mi

Week of November 19, 2018

I finally spent some time in the office, but most of my week was spent traveling or in Southern California for the Thanksgiving holiday.

The smoke won't go away. But the sunsets are quite nice. Instagram

I started the week off in our new office at 350 Bush Street, sitting 13 floor, with great, smokey views of the city.

This was my first full day in the new Atlassian San Francisco office, and I was happy to find central, filtered air, even if the views were a bit obstructed.

Smoke is starting to head out, and the skies are starting to clear. Just in time for rain. Instagram

I stepped out of the office to find some reasonably clear air. I could still smell the burning wood in the air, and I knew the particle count was still high; but I could begin to see more clearly — even in the night sky.

I probably should have waited for the air to clear up a bit more, but I managed to fit in a run after leaving the office.

By Wednesday, the air was clearing up, and the rain began to wash away fires and the remaining smoke. So naturally, it was time to head out of town. We headed down to Los Angeles for Thanksgiving with friends and family.

Lots to be thankful for this holiday season. Walking around Simi Valley in the Woolsey Fire aftermath. Instagram

There were no fires in Southern California — or California, for that matter — when we visited at the end of October for a friend’s wedding. In between that time, an enormous fire erupted in the northern section of the state, in Paradise, and a second one hit near my boyfriend’s family, in Simi Valley.

Simi was left relatively unscathed, but the fires got a little too close for comfort. I went for another run — twice in a week might be a new personal record — and I paused to snap a photo of the brilliance in color seen in the fall trees up against the scorched earth within sight, just feet away.

Unfortunately the massive fire destroyed many other communities south of Simi. But the impact could be felt across the region.

Went for a post Turkey Day hike, one valley over. In Lost Angeles. Instagram

I decided to avoid a million photos of Thanksgiving turkey and the fixins. (I was also helping to make the meal).

This year’s Turkey Day feast featured 2 fried turkeys. Most years we fry one and bake a second, but the fried one is always better (duh).

The good news is that we didn’t launch a single turkey into outer space. 🥳

The bad news is that one turkey was just slightly too big for the fryer.

Upon its splash into its 400 degree oil bath, it ran aground, and we had to toss it. 🙈🦃❌

Fortunately a few stores were open, and after grabbing a fully thawed turkey, we were back in business!

I write this story, only to say that I ate too much food, regardless of the missing turkey. And the next day we all needed to walk it off.

Some shots from the the hike.

After quick some researching, we found a park in Chatsworth that looked completely untouched by the fires.

We spent about 2 hours going up the Old Stagecoach Road trail and back. Fun fact: horse-drawn stagecoaches used to actually go up these boulders. Insane to think about today.


With family and friend time waning, we spent Saturday in Malibu, sitting on the beach at Paradise Cove Beach Cafe. The drive went through the worst parts of the Woolsey Fire, and we passed several houses and businesses that were reduced to piles of stone and ash.

The beach was beautiful. And the light rain on Wednesday cleared the air.

A slight delay due to some low clouds, but I'm on my way back to São Paulo for my final work trip of 2018 (and traveling with United, naturally). BRB, San Francisco. Instagram

No, this isn’t a snap from my flight from LA or back into San Francisco.

Off I go again, en route to São Paulo, Brazil, for another week of training.

The busy travel day + mid west snow + the local fog, caused a minor delay. But I was on my way to South America, to wrap up work travel for 2018.

Next Stop: Brazil.

Week of October 29, 2018

The end of October, a wedding, and the start of an insane month of travel. Here's how I wrapped up October and welcomed November.

I kicked the week off with a delicious dinner at Pho 2000. It was Pho-nominal (as advertised).


The Atlassian office on Harrison closed (for good) on Tuesday, for our big move to 465 Pine St. With no office, I worked from home for most of the week. And my mobility dropped to walking within about 4 blocks of home.

Still, even with the sharp drop in daily steps, I managed to snap a photo of this random jet making its way around San Francisco's blue skies.


The end of October brought Halloween night. But a Wednesday night.

Still, San Francisco's inner geek decided to show off, with LED lights atop Salesforce Tower taking the form of the Eye of Sauron.


Next stop: Los Angeles.

Thursday night was the first of 5 flights over the following week.

SFO --> BUR for a wedding.

LAX --> ZRH --> AMS for work

AMS --> IAH --> SFO home.


On Friday, we woke up in Los Angeles, ready for a weekend of wedding festivities. I took in the view over eggs and coffee, before we headed off to Ojai.

We had clear skies, some well-placed fog, and some plane spotting in the distance. Happy fall.


Ojai was gorgeous. And the evening's sunset painted a beautiful backdrop for everyone's photos (including mine :)).


With the wedding weekend wrapped up, I was off to the airport.

I boarded the last Star Alliance flight out of LAX, headed to Amsterdam for a week of training our Atlassian Solution Partners for work (via Zurich). A last minute upgrade from Swiss Airlines made for an unexpected surprise.

I don't know how I lucked out, but thanks, Swiss!


Central Coasting

The Plan

For a second year in a row, I planned a destination Christmas with my family. Last year, we traveled to Munich, Germany, Salzburg, Austria, and Salisbury, England, to explore Christmas Markets and visit family living abroad.

This year, we decided to stay more local (at least for me), with a trip through California's Central Coast.

The enormous region stretches the coastal counties between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It isn't an official region, so maps may vary. But the area includes some of the most famous and dramatic coastal features of California, and the biggest stretches of the Pacific Coast Highway that hug mountains that rise out of the ocean.


From Wikivoyage. Definitions may vary.


While our original plans involved the epic drive along the Pacific Coast Highway, the route remained closed (from mud slides) at a pivotal point along the drive.

From "Big Sur Chamber of Commerce"

Instead, we skipped the long roadtrip and decided to settle into Paso Robles for the week leading up to Christmas. Situated almost exactly in between San Francisco and Los Angeles, we found a home base in the heart of the Central Coast. The plan was to explore vineyards and sites in the region.

Paso itself is a quiet town, surrounded by a growing wine country. Of the 300+ wineries in the Paso Robles AVA, we hit up 8, while visiting small breweries and exploring the coast nearby. Below are the highlights from the trip :)

Escaping the City

The first step in getting to Paso Robles was getting out of San Francisco. Per my usual complicated travel logistics, I planned to leave for Warsaw on Christmas Day from Los Angeles, so my escape wouldn't include a round trip car return. We had travel options, from taking Amtrak's four and a half hour ride to downtown Paso Robles, flying from SFO, or driving the full distance.

Ultimately, because we would need a car to get to wineries, we settled on picking up a car from Walnut Creek (and avoiding airport surcharges) and driving south from there.

But first I had to get to my East Bay rendezvous point.



About an hour later, I reached the end of the BART line at Dublin-Pleasanton station. I'd traversed tunnels and mountains, and I was outside the confines of my peninsular home.



The end of the line #pleasanton #sfbayarea #ca

A post shared by Nick Thulin (@nickthulin) on Dec 18, 2017 at 10:37pm PST


After a quick lunch at Lazy Dog in Dublin, we finally hit the road to Paso Robles. With little traffic and no stops, we made it to the VRBO rental in time to go grocery stopping. I was at home with my family with no hassle of airports during the peak travel season.

We've arrived

There are many people more qualified to talk about the details of Paso Robles' wine country, its grapes, various soil types, and the 11 viticultural areas within the AVA, so I won't venture down that path in this post.

We visited 6 wineries -- Niner, Justin, Ancient Peaks, Hearst RanchDaou, Donati, Proulx (pronounced PRU), and Shale Oak -- and 4 craft breweries and tasting rooms. That's a lot of booze in a week.

But as we explored the region during the week, we found that the wineries and beer are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what the region has to offer.




Starting with wine

We started our wine adventure off at Niner. We spent nearly 3 hours on the property between the tasting room and touring their facilities. They run a very technology-advanced operation with really impressive facilities, but still produce relatively small batches of wine.



A heart on the hillside 💚 #pasorobles #ca

A post shared by Nick Thulin (@nickthulin) on Dec 20, 2017 at 8:41am PST


After the long, extended tour at Niner, we made our way to Justin to end day one. There was no tour or nearly-ready wine tasting, no extended story about how Justin rose to prominence in the region. We just sat outside under the canopy of the tasting room and enjoyed the sunset into the fog rolling in from the Pacific Coast.


Exploring the coast

After a day of drinking at vineyards, it was time for a break. And what better way to enjoy California's central coast than to visit the Elephant Seals in San Simeon?



Taking it easy #nature #ca

A post shared by Nick Thulin (@nickthulin) on Dec 21, 2017 at 3:39pm PST


These enormous creatures make weird noises and mostly just lie on the beach, basking in the California sun. But in the winter months, they become more active. That's when the seals give birth to (relatively tiny pups (which we saw) and mate (which we did not see), so they was a lot of activity on the beach all morning.


We spent over an hour at the lookout spot. The seals went from lazy to playful and back again. But most of them just sat there on the beach.




I couldn't help taking photos nearly every moment the seals moved. This particularly large male was lying on the beach doing nothing for most of the visit, then got up and started making a ton of noise. He then went back to his previous resting state.

Meanwhile, the smaller seal in the background slowly made its way to the water.

Again, nothing really happened, but they kept us entertained.



Coasting further south

After we watched the elephant seals (do mostly nothing) for over an hour, we headed south to the small coastal community of Morro Bay.

Morro Bay is known for the giant Morro Rock, prominently situated at the entrance to the city's harbor. The rock is one of several volcanic plugs that surge out of California's coast and contribute to its nearly boundless geological diversity.

We grabbed lunch at a restaurant called The Galley, hugging the bay, and overlooking the giant rock. Morro is a great stop along the coast, as there are several restaurants that jut out into the water with unimpeded views of the rock. And most of them are fairly good with fresh fish and seasonal ingredients.

Morro Rock

After wrapping up lunch at Morro Bay, we headed back north to San Simeon, just short of where the elephant seals spot.

There isn't much in San Simeon today. There never really was much to the town, as it historically supported communities of whalers with a convenience store. But William Hearst supported one incarnation of San Simeon, and its wharf, which also supplied the enormous Hearst Castle about a mile inland.

Today that store houses the Hearst Ranch Winery Tasting Room. Which was our next stop, before literally crossing the street for a sunset tour of Hearst Castle.

After tasting a few reds, we made our way across the street to the Hearst Castle visitor center, where we caught our bus into the mountain estate.

The tour was brisk, and I didn't bring a tripod. So my outdoor photos suffered from my shaking (and freezing) hands and lack of time to find a good angle. But the sunset behind the marine layer lit the sky up in orange, and the building became a warm refuge from the harsh, freezing winds whipping the mountain.

Overall, the tour was a nice addition to their normal daytime offerings. But I would recommend visiting during the spring through fall months to experience Hearst Castle at its best.

The main outdoor attraction, the grandiose Neptune Pool, was empty and covered in scaffolding for off-season renovations. And the evening tour didn't allow for visitors to walk around and explore the property. On a previous visit I'd been able to spend a lot of time wandering around outside after the tour.

But once we stepped inside, we were treated to Christmas decorations and stories about William Hearst's favorite time of year to host guests at his mansion. This is where this tour really shined.

We snaked around the rooms of the castle until ending up in the theater, where we watched a clip of Bing Crosby and Marjorie Reynolds singing "White Christmas" from the film Holiday Inn.

I was ready for bed, but we had to trek back down the hill (it's about 20 minutes each way), then drive back to Paso. Thankfully no wineries were open, or I'm sure we would have found another testing :)

Back to the beach

The next day we headed to Pismo Beach, just one community further down the coast from Morro Bay. But before we could get there, we stopped at Ancient Peaks, to sample wines from their unique array of soils.

Ancient Peaks is among my favorite wineries in California. They have unique soils that feature soil rich in calcium from an ancient oyster bed that was thrust up from the Pacific over time. Though the tasting room wasn't on their property, their staff was incredibly knowledgeable about how the different flavors and affects the soil, moisture and climate affect their wines.

I wanted to return for their ugly sweater contest later that evening, but, alas, we had to get going.

The approach to Pismo Beach less awe-inspiring than Morro Bay, and the city and its surrounding towns is more built-up, with hotels, condos and single family homes sprawling across its stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway.

Pismo is known for its beaches and clams -- Pismo hosts an annual clam festival each October. While there are surfers and hotels all over Pismo Beach, the area is nice and bustling with activity, but not fancy or extravagant, maintaining roots as a getaway for working class families in nearby Los Angeles.



Here, I took a long walk on the beach with my family. We made it down to the tips of the sand dunes, where there's usually a lot of ATV activity. Then we grabbed a beer at Pismo Brewing's tap room, located just a few blocks from the beach.

For the last stop for the day, we found ourselves watching sunset at Avila Beach, yet another small coastal community along the Central Coast.

Avila Beach was by far the most upscale area we encountered, and it is filled with relatively new wine bars and restaurants overlooking San Luis Obispo Bay (and its three piers). Though the development hid its messy 20th century past.



There goes the sun 🌞 #Avila #ca

A post shared by Nick Thulin (@nickthulin) on Dec 21, 2017 at 5:38pm PST


Like much of what became the State of California, the Avila Beach area was first developed by Europeans as Mexican land grant from the kingdom of Spain. Named Rancho San Miguelito, and granted to Miguel Ávila, the land where Avila Beach stands today was developed after California became a part of the United States. And as the major port for San Luis Obispo, Avila Beach became a leisure destination for Angelenos to the south and San Franciscans to the north by the late 1800s century.

The region had a mixed record following World War II as California's oil economy developed and a nuclear power plant was built just a few miles up the coast.

After decades of energy production, and subsequent oil cleanup efforts, Avila Beach's economy became mostly tourism-driven.

The economic boom saw many working-class and highly-skilled employees locate to the region, but the oil company hid contamination from an oil spill that led to a major excavation of homes and businesses decades later. The Diablo Canyon Power Plant never suffered a meltdown, but took a political hit after the Fukushima meltdown in 2011.

We hardly recognized the presence of oil production -- until we drove up the prominent hill and saw Chevron's logo splattered across the fencing.

Regardless of the darker parts of its recent past, Avila Beach seemed to have recovered from the oil spill. The new water-front shops and decades-old piers draw visitors and locals to the expansive beach, and make for incredibly scenic sunsets.


After sunset, we found ourselves at another brewery, Central Coast Brewing, where my parents made friends with the brewer's wife. And then eventually the brewer himself.

I was the DD, so I only had a few sips. But their beer was really well crafted with complex flavors.

Unfortunately that was about my only option for tasting, as their beers don't travel very far, even to San Francisco. The brewery they only distributes directly, so they tend to stay within relatively small footprint around the Central Coast.

We ended the evening with a traditional Santa Maria-style barbecue dinner at Firestone Grill in downtown San Luis Obispo. Though a bit of it tourist trap, Firestone makes a mean BBQ tri-tip sandwich that always hits the spot.

Back to wine

After two days of sights and scattered wine tasting away from the vineyards, we were back with a vengeance for another round of exploring vineyards.

This time, we made our way to Daou, revisited Niner for lunch, and finished the day at Donati.



Fire up the pit #pasorobles #ca

A post shared by Nick Thulin (@nickthulin) on Dec 22, 2017 at 7:22pm PST


At Daou, we could see part of the smokey haze drift into the nearby valleys. The view was beautiful, though very brown due to the unseasonably dry winter weather.



Niner's food menu didn't disappoint -- their kitchen was rated one of the best winery food options in the country. And Donati was surprisingly comfortable and unimposing, with its smaller operation and family history literally posted on the walls.

The patriarch of the Donati family was an Italian immigrant, and his story is shared throughout the tasting room from an his ship manifest to the names of the wines themselves.

We had a very full round of wine tasting, and we even made time to sample some very good -- though very expensive -- olive oil.

It's a wrap

As Christmas approached, our time in Paso came to a close. The days were short, the season cold, and shops started to close early in the lead-up to the big day.

We had also slowed down, and we started our final day in Paso walking around the town square and ducking in and out of boutique shops in the heart of the city. Inevitably, we found something to drink before noon at the Santa Maria Brewery tap room (and restaurant).



This is my life, but not exactly my choices #drinking #pasorobles #ca

A post shared by Nick Thulin (@nickthulin) on Dec 23, 2017 at 12:57pm PST


With one drink down, we were off!

We pulled into Proulx, and spent the next hour and a half talking with the wine maker and his wife. They were city-dwelling east coasters who fell in love with the land in Paso, and took to building their winery on land that happened to have some old Zinfandel vines that predated their purchase.

Proulx's wines were full of flavor, though I missed several tastings because of the energetic conversation.

A band was playing when we pulled into Shale Oak, and the tasting room opened to a cozy outdoor space with a small stage. The space was lively, with the winery's dog roaming around and people bundled up and singing a long to the cover band.



Final vineyard of the Christmas season #pasorobles #ca

A post shared by Nick Thulin (@nickthulin) on Dec 23, 2017 at 9:15pm PST


The week flew by, and it was nearly Christmas. As the weekend hit, we'd reached the end of our wine adventure along the Central Coast.

There were lots of sights, sounds, and, above all, booze, to enjoy along the way, but it was time to venture further south toward Los Angeles -- where our next adventure awaited us.

The Map

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2018 Week 1

I've quickly realized that I won't have enough time to write a post summarizing my Instagram shot each day. In fact, I should have realized sooner that the Instagram post should summarize itself. So below are my snaps from the first week of January, excluding those from my post January 1, 2018.

Wrapping up Warsaw

Temperatures fluctuated drastically each day, and as the air interacted with the Vistula River, the skies would go from clear to foggy to cloudy, with drastic changes in the scenery from one day to the next.

Our final day in Warsaw was a cloudy one, adding some drama and texture to some of the sites we'd already seen for several days.


Last day in Warsaw #waw #fog

A post shared by Nick Thulin (@nickthulin) on Jan 3, 2018 at 6:15am PST


And that was it. We said goodbye to Warsaw and the outer reaches of the Carpathians. We'd spent two trips in 2017 pushing further east into Europe, with a trip to St Petersburg, Russia, and Finland, before exploring Poland and Ukraine.

I'd underestimated Poland and Ukraine, and was pleasantly surprised by their beauty and hospitality.


Next stop, San Francisco. First long haul of the year :) #muc to #sfo

A post shared by Nick Thulin (@nickthulin) on Jan 3, 2018 at 7:05am PST

Back to the grind

With New Years behind, reality was ahead. And returning to San Francisco meant going back to work while providing time to reconnect with friends.


Greetings from Republica de San Francisco #sfo #ca

A post shared by Nick Thulin (@nickthulin) on Jan 5, 2018 at 9:44pm PST


As I was walking around, I noticed that trees in the city were just starting to get ready for fall season, though we were already well into winter by January 1st. The colorful leaves were more visible as rains forced them off their branches, blanketing sidewalks and cars.


Fall has arrived #sfo #ca

A post shared by Nick Thulin (@nickthulin) on Jan 5, 2018 at 9:46pm PST


Stepping into Whole Foods felt like a foreign experience after a month away from home. But I chose to ignore the prices and customers complaining about tables still wet from the over night rain or lack of cabbage as employees hurriedly restocked shelves.

I was on a mission -- to get food for a Greek-themed brunch with friends in East Bay. Oh look, cheese!


@wholefoods is trying to tell me something about cheese 🧀

A post shared by Nick Thulin (@nickthulin) on Jan 7, 2018 at 8:38am PST


Following the successful brunch, and subsequent 10 hour nap, we spent the first lazy Sunday of the new year doing nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Nothing to the point where we thought we should do something.

So we met up with friends and saw a show at Punchline Comedy Club.


Still feeling festive in #sfo #ca

A post shared by Nick Thulin (@nickthulin) on Jan 8, 2018 at 2:22pm PST

January 1, 2018

Lazy Monday

It was New Years Day in Warsaw, and like many places around the world, most things were closed for the day. So after a lazy start to the day, we found our way to the Neon Muzeum, just a few blocks from our Airbnb.

I was expecting the museum to be like the Color Factory and Museum of Ice Cream Instagram hotspots that have been popping up lately, but the space was an actual museum, dedicated to keeping the story of Warsaw's neon signs alive.



Neon, neon #waw

A post shared by Nick Thulin (@nickthulin) on Jan 1, 2018 at 11:16pm PST


If you find yourself in Warsaw, I recommend checking out the space. You can definitely take a ton of photos, but the museum part was fairly impressive.

The museum does a fantastic job talking about the artistic impact that neon signs had on Warsaw in the 20th century, and how the Soviet-backed communist government came to reconcile the artistic nature of the sign while keeping the population in line with communist ideals.



The neon red light shines so bright #neon #neonmuseum #waw

A post shared by Nick Thulin (@nickthulin) on Jan 1, 2018 at 12:43pm PST



She’s always buzzing like #neon #neonmuseum #waw

A post shared by Nick Thulin (@nickthulin) on Jan 1, 2018 at 11:20pm PST

More photos from the museum:



Sanctuary in a food hall

New Years Day ended less eventfully than it started. The whole day was less eventful than New Years Eve the day before.

With so many places closed in the city, we found a food hall open near the central part of town. The space was reminiscent of San Francisco's Ferry Building, Copenhagen Street Food, or LA's Grand Central Market. We grabbed some very traditional Polish Indian food and a cocktail at the central bar afterwards.



Post holiday liver fix #newyear #newliver #waw

A post shared by Nick Thulin (@nickthulin) on Jan 1, 2018 at 12:49pm PST


With New Years over, vacation was slowly coming to a close, and we'd soon head back to the states -- where work and obligations were starting to pile up.

Mapping it out

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