Daydreaming about… Maine

Today I’ve got Maine on my mind. Can you guess why? Yep, we’re flying coast to coast because we’ve got another wedding coming up (our friends pick good places to get hitched!). I’m so ready for some lobster-crackin’, wine-sippin’, pier-loungin’, good old-fashioned FUN with some dear pals. It will be my first trip to Maine and I have a strange feeling that I’m going to love it. The log cabin is booked and my plaid shirts are standing by. These pics are also helping me get in the mood…

Maine-spiration Maine-spiration Maine-spiration

The pier, the porch, the adirondacks… It all paints this scene of pleasant, breezy summertime. Hopefully, that’s what our trip will be all about. And watching our friends get hitched, of course. 

We’ll be spending time in Portland, deep in the woods and along the salty coast. Maybe a little ambitious, but hey. We’re flying coast to coast here. Gotta take full advantage.

And now for some links…

These maps showing how Americans say the same thing differently is fascinating.

Untranslatable words from around the world. Another good one is gezelligheid from the Dutch. It means cozy and warm time spent with loved ones.

I probably need to do this brewery tour if I consider myself a resident of Portland.

Also on the to-do list: Befriend Jack Johnson and snag a seat at his next dinner party.

Speaking of food, the chefs that did our insanely creative, one-of-a-kind rehearsal dinner combining foods of our heritage (i.e. barbacoa pork perogi and jalepeño-infused borscht) have a top-rated restaurant now, Fat Rice. I’m so happy for them.

Ending with a somber note- Did you watch this? You should. Basic premise: Don’t text and drive. Ever.

xxx

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4th of July in Napa Valley

Napa Valley has been done. Am I right? It’s been written about from every angle, every budget, every preference, every possible perspective, so it’s almost intimidating to write about it, hoping to give it some fresh, new edge.

But, here it goes.

I had vacationed in Napa a few years ago with my girlfriends and we had the time of our lives. In those few days we spent there, I developed strong attachment to some (not all, certainly) of the wineries we visited, promising myself that I’d find my way back there. Lucky for us, some friends planned to marry in St. Helena this summer, so it was the perfect opportunity to go.

After driving down through the Redwoods, we found ourselves in the valley for four days of indulgence. What I love about this region is the ease. It is laid out so well. The downside of this is that it’s extremely commercial. Touristy (a word that makes travelers cringe).

Our goal was to avoid the traps that felt generic and overdone. In fact, as we moseyed up and down Rt. 29 (and the lesser used Silverado Trail), we skipped right over all the heavy hitters. I waved to Robert Mondavi and Sutter Home. We blew right past Sterling and Rutherford Hill. In fact, we attempted Stag’s Leap and walked right back out. Too crowded, loud, touristy and not at all the vibe we were going for during our vacation.

So now for the places we did go. Since we aren’t wine snobs (can’t remember the last time I turned away a bottle), our enjoyment was largely dependent on the atmosphere.

On day one, we first wanted to fuel up for the day of tastings ahead. Stopping at the Oxbow Public Market in Napa, we reveled in Latin American coffee flights and huevos rancheros. It was 10:30am and we were ready for wine!

William Hill Estate Winery

Our first stop was William Hill, just outside of Napa. We lounged on adirondack chairs under a shady umbrella (mercifully, as it was near 100° that day) and sipped on a custom tasting selection, which was just divine. It was very intimate, only a few other chairs speckled the grassy hilltop and guests were respectfully talking in hushed whispers. And the views were spectacular. With sweeping vistas of the valley in every direction, we immediately felt like we were on vacation. It was the best way to start. 

William Hill

William Hill

living the good life

living the good life

Robert Sinskey Vineyards

After grabbing hearty sandwiches from Soda Canyon, we drove up Silverado to Sinskey, outside of Yountville, for another tasting and a picnic lunch. Because of the blazing sun, the rose-lined patio was deserted and we planted ourselves under another umbrella. Enjoyed the solitude and, again, the views.

Robert Sinskey

Robert Sinskey

J+J

J+J

Mumm Napa

Further still up the Silverado Trail, we ended our day of touring at Mumm, near Rutherford. This one was a bit more crowded, but it was worth it for the sparkling bubbles to cap off a great day. It had larger capacity, but if you snag a table at the edge of the patio overlooking the vineyard, you feel miles away from anywhere.

Mumm Napa

Mumm Napa

Mumm views

Mumm views

Frog’s Leap Vineyard

The next morning, after some warm sourdough breakfast sandwiches from Model Bakery, we had a reservation at Frog’s Leap. This might be my favorite. I love the wrap-around porch and their organic, irrigation-free wines. I also love that you can get up close and personal with the vines and the gardens; you’re free to stroll around as you taste. Afterward, we cruised over to étoile Restaurant at the Chandon Estate. Needless to say, it was a luxurious meal.

"time's fun when you're having flies"

“time’s fun when you’re having flies”

Frog's Leap vines

Frog’s Leap vines

Rustridge Vineyard & Winery  

Sadly, this was the only disappointing stop in our visit. We were the only ones there, and while I like privacy, this was too much. More like a red flag. The grounds were nothing special, the wines were just okay, and the host was terribly awkward. Not sure it’s ever appropriate to make guests feel like they’re inconveniencing you by showing up. Still, I’m glad we went. It was a beautiful drive out on Sage Canyon Rd, way far away from the congestion in town. Our misadventure was framed by the pretty drives.

Rustridge

Rustridge

Rustridge

Rustridge

Sequoia Grove Vineyards

Another favorite. The wooden barn for Sequoia’s tasting room is rustic without being frumpy, a sort of quiet elegance that is comfortable and refined. I love it. We grabbed a bottle since we didn’t want to commit to a full tasting, and enjoyed a glass on the back patio.

Sequoia Grove

Sequoia Grove

Kelham Vineyard

This was the star of the show when I was here with girlfriends a few years ago. Tucked away on a quiet side street and only available by appointment, Kelham delivers a truly five-star experience. Set on the family estate, you are free to roam around by the reflecting pool and play with the dogs. Taking us through eight wines, it was the biggest tasting and most expensive (at $80 p.p.). Worth it.

Kelham

Kelham

Wait, but where’d we eat? Farmstead (the gnocchi!) and French Blue (the cheddar biscuit!) in St. Helena were both that perfect balance of laid-back charm and good, fresh food. Highly recommend. Carpé Diem in Napa was also great and they don’t have a corkage fee if you bring your own wine. Pass on the overbearing service at Goose & Gander; the drinks and apps were tasty, but the server was pushy.

And, of course, the wedding was lovely. How could it not be? Napa Valley is a slice of heaven.

xxx

P.S. I “discovered” the Silverado Trail in February.

P.P.S. French wine country is a little different.

Road Trip: Redwoods National Park

Perhaps my last post made it seem like we don’t do anything fun anymore. That’s not true. We do lots of fun things. And by fun things I mean pretty freaking awesome things.

For instance: When a friend says they’re getting married in Napa over the 4th of July, you say, SEE YOU THERE. Automatically. Without a second’s hesitation.

It was the perfect opportunity to take our first vacation since our move, especially now that we are on the west coast. Like the Barefoot Contessa would say, how easy is that? Speaking of food, we were hungry for more (like Napa was not enough?). We decided that, rather than fly straight to wine country, we’d road trip through the Redwood National Park for some scenic breaks along the way.

So that’s what this post is about. Those redwoods. I’ll get to Napa later. Did you know that the California redwoods are the tallest organisms on earth? With towering heights over 300 feet, no other living thing reaches so close to the sun.

The straight shot from Portland to Napa takes about 10 hours and could feasibly be done in a day. Adding the redwoods to our trip meant an extra 4-5 hours to our journey, so we chose to split it up over two days. Throwing our camping equipment into the truck (and caution to the wind), we figured we’d find a campground to crash for the night. I had read about some coastal dune camping that got us excited.

Fast forward through a gorgeous 7 hour drive through the Pacific Northwest (did you know Northern California is part of it?) and the trees suddenly look as if on steroids. We were in the national park. It’s late afternoon by this point and we needed to find a spot to set up our tent. After a quick visit to the state park visitor center, we see that the dune camping is full. Sad face. But it is first come, first serve and who did we think we were showing up at 4 in the afternoon? Myself, getting a little panicky and Jaro, staying ever so calm, head to a county campground, hoping for some available sites.

We pulled up to a tiny pitch tent campground that, thank god, had ample space and a friendly host. It was located on the banks of a pretty river and filled with giant redwoods. We set up quickly. Sitting on the riverbank, we enjoyed wine and the cool breeze as the sun went down. When the shadows chased us back to our campsite, we huddled around a fire, devouring grilled cheese sandwiches and taking small sips of whiskey.

Riverbank at sunset

riverbank at sunset

Grilled brie, blue and camembert sandwiches with apricot jam

grilled brie, blue, munster and camembert sandwiches with apricot jam

Our roof for the night. Redwoods National Park, CA

our roof for the night

It was very secluded; very quiet, which was only partially comforting as there was a state prison nearby.

MOVING ON.

Upon our survival without a murderer stalking us through the night, we packed up and headed to Big Tree, at the urging of my guidebook. That’s the name. It was… big. As we stood at the base, I stared up in wonder. There’s something about being dwarfed by nature that is so humbling and beautiful. That’s really all I can say about that.

Tolawa Dunes State Park, CA

morning fog. Tolawa Dunes State Park, CA

Redwood National Park, CA

there’s the sun. Redwood National Park, CA

Big Tree

Big Tree

Neck cramp at Big Tree

neck cramp at Big Tree

Feeling small. Big Tree, Redwood National Park, CA

feeling small. Big Tree, Redwood National Park, CA

Once we felt satisfyingly shrunken and tiny, we drove down to Lady Bird Johnson Grove, an easy one mile loop according to my book (and saw bears en route!). While flat, well-maintained, “easy”, etc., it took us a few hours to walk around this gem of a path. Your eyes don’t know what to do with themselves. There was so much to see. So many colors, textures and, not to mention, heights. We noticed all sorts of special moments, both big and small. High and low. Well worth the time to mosey around this one.

momma bear and cub sighting!

momma bear and cub sighting!

Lady Bird Johnson Grove

Lady Bird Johnson Grove

Lady Bird Johnson Grove

Lady Bird Johnson Grove

a reminder.

a sweet reminder

Our final farewell to the woods was a tour down the Avenue of the Giants and through the ever so cliché Drive Thru Tree. The former is a stretch of road that parallels the highway, but offers a more intimate experience than the wide open 101. Driving through a maze of Mother Nature’s skyscrapers gave us this sense of awe that we couldn’t (and still can’t) shake. The latter, well, is pretty self-explanatory.

grazing elk

grazing elk

avenue of giants

avenue of giants

drive thru tree

drive thru tree with all the tourists

So that was our brief trip through the redwoods. More on Napa soon…

xxx

P.S. Most photographs were taken by my talented husband.

P.P.S. I visited other redwoods earlier this year. And the last time we camped. Seems like ages ago.

Monday Travel Memory: Cinque Terre

Hey kids. It’s been awhile. A solid three month absence. Sometimes it’s good to take some distance from stuff, even stuff we love, to come back with better focus and energy. Right? It’s been nice to have some space and not spend so much time at the computer. Sounds like a legit excuse. Maybe nobody even noticed. 

And maybe you did. I know I miss writing on here and sharing bits of our sometimes interesting life. So why the long held breath? This had a little something to do with it:

This is Flinck.

This is Flinck.

Yes, we adopted a tiny puppy from the shelter where I volunteer (Oregon Humane Society). His name is Flinck, in honor of the street we lived on in Amsterdam (Govert Flinckstraat). And, not that I’m biased, he’s the best. 

But back to the topic at hand. As August hit, I realized that I have not been swimming or have even donned a swimsuit this summer. That’s just not right. To me, that’s the quintessential summer experience that I have not had this year. Too many house projects and other commitments have consumed our time. Bummer. Summer bummer.

This had led to some serious reminiscing. About this time last year, we took our summer vacation to Italy. Twelve months and some crazy life changes later, I’m still enchanted. And amazed at just how much Italy has to offer. Oh, Italy. What can I possibly say about you that hasn’t been said before? From your bustling streets in Roma, to the rolling hills of Tuscany, to your seaside luxury in Sorrento, to your decayed elegance in Venice, you truly have it all. And you have more. And on top of all that, you have this glorious little region known as the Cinque Terre.

I know I shared this trip with you before, but it’s fun to look at the pictures with fresh eyes and see the beauty anew. Sometimes I sit here and pinch myself because I cannot believe we were there. While far from a luxurious resort getaway (you lay out on rocks to sunbathe after all), it was the perfect break from reality for my husband and me.

When we arrived, I was instantly smitten with the colorful structures nestled into the rocky cliffs rising from the Ligurian Sea. It was magical. As we walked the narrow “streets” (they can hardly be called streets as barely a moped could squeeze through), you could smell the salty sea and catch whiffs of a grandmother’s sauce on the stove.

Each morning, we would wake up in our tiny room, head out for coffee and fresh fruit, then spend the days alternating between sunbathing on rocks and exploring the twisty streets in each of the five towns. Below are some more pictures that I didn’t include in my original write up. Those initial pictures captured little moments that I felt (at the time) best depicted our experience. Looking back, I realize I didn’t share much of the actual towns or the panoramas that created the wonderful backdrop to all those fried fish cones we devoured. Here you go:

Vernazza

Vernazza

Vernazza

Vernazza

The trail that connects the towns

the trail that connects the towns

Montorosso

Montorosso

Montorosso

Montorosso’s beach scene

Riomaggiore

Riomaggiore

Riomaggiore

Riomaggiore

Kiss!

Kiss! along the trail

sunset from Manarola

sunset from Manarola

Manarola at dusk

Manarola at dusk

happy tree in Corniglia

a happy tree in Corniglia

pretty door in Corniglia

a pretty door in Corniglia

Corniglia

Corniglia

Corniglia

Vernazza

a "street" in Vernazza

a “street” in Vernazza

Negroni & Aperol Spritz for happy hour

Negroni & Aperol Spritz for happy hour

5am quiet

5am quiet in Vernazza

Vernazza at night

Vernazza at night

Our trip to the Cinque Terre was one of my favorite vacations. Ever. These pictures make me want to be back there immediately. August, while brimming with tourists, is still a great time to go. Now if only I could find my bathing suit…

xxx