Friday, February 5, 2016

A Ski Day in NH

The Mountain View Grand Resort
There are so many options for skiing in New England that it is hard to choose where to stay.  You may remember from old posts that I am not so good at downhill skiing, and only recently took up cross country skiing instead.  Last year, my ski trip up to the White Mountains was cancelled because of a massive storm and rescheduled for May.  This year we barely got snow in January, so it was an easy drip up to Whitefield, NH to stay at the Mountain View Grand Resort.

We arrived around noon on Sunday afternoon.  There were not a lot of signs a long the way, but it wasn't difficult to find the hotel.  It is a large beautiful yellow resort sitting atop a hill with a windmill looming in the sky overhead.  The parking lot had plenty of space, but unfortunately our room was not ready yet.  We pulled on our ski pants and walked out to the pro shop to pickup our rental gear and hit the trails.  The rental was $16/adult and we were out on our skis in no time.  Unfortunately, there wasn't too much snow, but we still were able to enjoy ourselves as we navigated through the woods.  The trails were well marked and by the time we were done for the day, our room was ready.

The lobby was nice, but not as grand at the Omni Mt. Washington.  On the other hand, our room here was beautiful and much nicer than the Omni.  We had a beautiful corner room with awesome views of the mountains.  We walked around the property a bit before ending up in the 1865 Wine Cellar for a wine tasting.  Our selections were a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and a Chianti Classico.  The wine cellar was very romantic; we came back later that night for dinner.

The next morning, we woke up early and went out to the farm for a "Meet the Farmer" talk.  The farmers took us through the barn and let the kids pick some eggs and pet the goats.  I also pet some goats because I couldn't resist.  After the talk, we had a delicious buffet breakfast before heading back home. It was a nice little day up in the White Mountains, but I'm still undecided on which resort I like more!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

2015 in Summary

It’s that time again to reflect on my travels from the last year and re-live some of my fondest memories.  This is my favorite post to write each year because I go back and re-read about all of my trips with a big smile of my face.  The first quarter of the year was pretty quiet.  I was supposed to go for a weekend in the White Mountains in February, but due to the massive amount of snow we got in New England, I postponed my trip.

I finally got out of Boston at the end of March when I headed to China for 9 days.  With time spent between Beijing, Xi’an, and Shanghai, I got a good mix of traditional and modern life.   Some of the highlights from that trip were walking on The Great Wall, eating Peking Duck, seeing the Terracotta Warriors, and having a tea tasting in a beautiful tea house.

Several people came to visit me this year instead of me going to see them, but I did manage to sneak away for a weekend at the Omni Mt. Washington in New Hampshire in May and ride the Cog!  I loved the scenery so much up there last year, I’m planning to go up again for a weekend this winter.

I went home for a weekend in June to celebrate my birthday with my family, but did not blog about the trip.  The following July, I went out to Indianapolis to visit my brother and sister-in-law and see the city when it wasn’t freezing out!  We spent one day touring the Indy Wine Trail and the next riding NASCAR stock cars at the Speedway.  It was such a fun trip!

At the end of July, I went on a Caribbean cruise with a large group of family members.  I didn’t blog about this trip either, but it was a lot of fun and an easy way to transport so many people to a couple different locations.  My favorite part of that trip was taking my nieces to climb Dunns River Falls in Jamaica.

September I drove my car onto the Cross Sound Ferry headed from Connecticut to Long Island for a weekend of wine tasting.  Between all the vino, great weather, and fresh produce, I definitely packed on some pounds.  I will be headed back to Long Island again this year for a wedding and even more wine tasting!

One trip I had been planning since the beginning of last year finally came about in October.  A group of my girlfriends and myself all flew out to Napa for wine, food, and an awesome hot air balloon ride!  We managed to spend a day in San Francisco as well and take a go cart around the city.

I’ve travelled a lot in November in past years.  The flights are cheap and you can usually find good deals at hotels and short lines at attractions.  This year I went to London.  Sadly, I didn’t see the queen.

As usual, I spent a few weeks with family back in Pennsylvania in December.  It’s always nice to be home during the holiday season.

I’m looking forward to see how 2016 will compare!!  Safe Travels, everyone!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Thanksgiving in London

It has become a bit of a tradition for me to travel overseas during American Thanksgiving.  This year was no different.  Hopping off a plane early Thursday morning, my traveling companion and I were at the Park Lane hotel in Mayfair before noon.  It was a bit confusing getting to our hotel since part of it is under construction, but we managed to arrive fairly quickly and it a cheaper manner than if we caught a black cab or took a train. 

Hogwarts decorated for Christmas!
We didn’t have time to sit around and let the jet lag sink in because when I was buying tickets a few weeks prior to the trip, a lot of dates/times were sold out for certain activities.  One of those activities was touring the Warner Brothers Studio where all of the Harry Potter movie sets and props were stored.  Fortunately, I managed to get tickets for the 2:30 time slot on the day we arrived.  Unfortunately, that meant we had about an hour to grab a sandwich from the local Pret and get some money exchanged at the nearby bank before trying our luck on the subway system.

I did my research and knew which trains we needed to take, but it still managed to take longer than I planned for (about 1.5 hours total from London).  The over ground train we caught from Euston to Watford Junction stopped at every stop along the way and we ended up being about 15 minutes late (they still let us in any way!).  The studio tour was huge and had a lot of very cool stuff.  They had an entire section dedicated to green screen technology and showed how the Quidditch scenes were filmed.  I had two favorite parts of the tour: the first was walking into the Hogwarts dining hall at the very beginning because it was decorated for a Christmas feast!  The flaming pudding was awesome.  The second, and probably my most favorite, part was the giant model of Hogwarts at the end of the tour.  It was so intricate and used to film the outdoor scenes during the movies.  I felt like if I could have shrunk to doll sized, I could have curled up in one of the beds in the Gryffindor dorms.

Traditional Afternoon Tea at the Conrad Hotel
We eventually made our way back to hotel that evening to shower and freshen up before walking to Kensington and going to Harrods’s.  The walk was nice, but pretty long from where we were staying in Mayfair.  Harrods’s was completed overwhelming and not the type of place to go visit after 6 hours of traveling and a full day of sight-seeing.  Eventually we gave up after getting lost several times somewhere between perfume and the gourmet meats and just popped into a pub nearby for dinner before calling it a night.

The next morning we slept in a bit to fight the time difference and then made our way to the Covent Garden area via Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square with a quit pit stop in Leicester square to grab some “The Illusionists” show tickets for the next night.  At 11 am, we met up with a local walking tour guide affiliated with the Sandemanns New Europe walking tours.  I did a tour with the same company a few years ago in Dublin and really enjoyed it. The tour is free and lasts about 2.5 hours.  It is a great way to get your bearings on a new city and learn a bit of history.  Lucky for us, we did the tour on a day where they had the changing of the guard ceremony and we were able to get some great pictures!  The tour ended near Westminster Abbey and from there we did some shopping before making our way to the Conrad hotel for a traditional afternoon tea.

Changing of the Guard Ceremony
One of the things I was most looking to was having a traditional afternoon tea.  I tried to get into the Ritz, but when I emailed the reservation desk they politely told me they book up a year in advance (woops!).  Fortunately, the Conrad St. James Park was lovely and they had a very visually impressive spread.  The tea was delicious and the sweet tray really was incredible.  After tea, we walked over to the London Eye for our Cocktail experience.  From what I read online, I thought we would be drinking the cocktail while inside the Ferris Wheel.  It had just started to rain when we arrived, so there was no line.  I asked around before being directed to the ticket desk inside where I would trade my voucher for a ticket and drink coupon.  That is where I found out we would be having our drinks in the bar upstairs.  The bar was empty and looked like just an empty space where they through a counter and called a “bar”.  I ended up having a good cocktail with Champagne (I also bought a very cute baby bottle of champagne with a British flag label to take home).  After we finished our drinks in the isolated room, we went back outside to line up for the Ferris Wheel.  I really enjoyed the ride, and since it wasn’t busy, there were only a handful of people in our car.  I’m glad I did this at night because the lights were fun, but I wouldn’t do the cocktail experience again.  It was a waste of money in my opinion.

A charming restaurant
We had a late start to our Saturday (due to somebody staying up late for Black Friday shopping online) and ended up not touring the inside of Westminster Abbey per the itinerary.  After stopping at Pret for some coffee and a pastry, we made our way to the Tower of London.  The ticket line was not bad, and even though we bought discounted tickets through Sandemanns, we still had to exchange our vouchers for real tickets.  For the next few hours we explored the dungeon, aviary, various rooms, and stopped to listen to a guide speak about the purpose of the structure and its proximity to the river.  This was a very cool experience and a good way to spend the early afternoon.  When we were ready to leave, we walked up toward the Tower Bridge for a few pictures.

As we walked back to the hotel, we stopped in various shops to look for souvenirs to bring back home.  Around 3pm, we searched for a place to have a quick tea.  By some form of luck or fate, we wandered into The Delaunay, a Viennese restaurant that offered a traditional afternoon tea for about 24 pounds.  The Austrian cakes, Poppy Seed Gugelhupf, and savory bites were all so delicious.  I would come back here in a heartbeat.  This restaurant actually makes me want to go visit Austria now.

We also stopped in the Twinings tea store so I could sample some hot tea (and buy some tea, of course).   After dropping off our goods, we walked back toward Piccadilly Circus to see the Illusionists show.   The show was interesting, but not really worth a lot of money to see.  Each of the magicians did 1-2 tricks.  The best part was the commentary and watching some of the recorded tricks that occurred in the lobby to unsuspecting visitors on the way in.

Photo with the guard at the Tower of London
Sunday morning we woke up early for a 7 am pickup at the hotel with the tour company taking us out to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge & Bath, Evan Evans Tours.  I booked the tour through Viator, but it is always good to know the name of the actual company taking you out for the day.  After missing our pickup time and catching a cab out to the Victoria coach station, we were able to meet back up with the group and get onboard.  Our guide gave us an overview of what we were going to see that day as well as drive times.  She also informed us that some of the guests actually signed up for a Japanese tour.  At first I didn’t think twice about that, but several hours in, I really didn’t want to listen to Japanese anymore.  I wish they would have told me about that in advance. 

Traditional meat pies and chips
Our guide passed out little mp3 looking devices that were all tuned to the same frequency so she could talk to us without screaming.  They actually worked really well and let us spread out a little whenever we were off the bus.  The entire group was pretty big, I’d say around 40-50 people.  If you want a more intimate experience, pick a different company.  The plus side to this tour was that we got all of the information in advance and then explored each site on our own at our own pace.  For some stops, like Bath, that was especially nice because I split my time between the Roman Bath exhibit and the Christmas market out front.

After a full previous day, Monday morning was dedicated to packing.  We jumped into a cab around noon and made our way back to the airport.  I’m very glad I was able to go to London, but it was a lot bigger than I expected.  I’m not sure that I would go out of my way to go again, but I certainly wouldn’t discourage anyone else from going.  The experience was wonderful and I’d spend another day or two there en route to another location (like Scotland!).

Stonehenge

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Girls Getaway - Napa

The Beautiful Napa Valley!
For the past few years, a small group of my girlfriends have all gotten together for a weekend trip somewhere.  Because of weddings, showers, etc it has typically been somewhere one of us actually lives.  This year, we decided to all fly out to San Francisco and stay in Napa!  Being the party planner that I am, I put together a 4 day, 4 night schedule of fun and feasting for our long awaited trip.

Thurs Night - Friday

The first night we all flew in to SFO on different flights from around the US.  My flight got in first so I picked up the rental car and checked us in at the Hojo Express near the airport for easy access back and forth as everyone else flew in.

Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point
The hotel was fine for a night and considering we were up and at 'em pretty early the next morning (west coast time change was to our advantage!), I'm glad we saved our more luxe accommodations for the remainder of the trip.  After checking out of the hotel, we sat in commuter traffic before eventually making our way over the Golden Gate Bridge.  Two of my friends on this trip have never been to the Bay area before.  Fortunately, they were welcomed with clear skies and a fog-free view of the bridge from the several vista points we stopped at along the way.  It was a beautiful sight, though after seeing the movie San Andreas, I kept picturing a different scene in front of me. (Ahh!!)

After an hour or so of photographs, we made our way to Sausalito.  It was easy to find parking at 10 AM in a lot along Bridgeway and the town was very quiet.  Most of the shops weren't open, so we walked along a trail near the water for an hour or so until people starting to arrive on the ferry and the stores opened up.  I hadn't been here before and expected a more lively vibe.  I was feeling a bit down until we made our way back to The Barrel House for lunch and drinks on the back deck.  A bloody mary turned my frown upside down.  From there we drove out to Muir Woods for a self-guided walk through the park.  The windy roads up the mountains made for an interesting adventure... I definitely wouldn't want to go up there after dark!  I went to Muir woods on my last trip and really enjoyed it, so I was happy to be back with my friends.

Muir Woods
The last stop on our itinerary before getting to our hotel in Napa was the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield.  The traffic out there was horrendous.  As the minutes ticked by, we were closer and closer to missing the last tour of the factory at 4pm.  Fortunately, luck was on our side and we squealed into the parking lot at 3:58, just in time to hear how Ronald Reagan's favorite candy is made.  I expected to learn more about the specific ingredients that go into jelly beans, but perhaps if I knew, I wouldn't eat them anymore?  In the end, we only had a handful of samples along the way as well as a small bag to take home and eat.  I would have preferred to pay $10 for the tour and eat unlimited jelly beans! Yumm...  I should mention that they have a chocolate & wine pairing room on site.  If we would have arrived earlier, I definitely would have stopped in there.

We finally made it to the Napa River Inn in the early evening.  We were greeted upon arrival with a wine tasting in the lobby and our tasting cards that were included in the package.  The staff was very friendly and we were able to park in the lot right outside the hotel. After freshening up at the hotel, we spent our first evening on the town at Bounty Hunter Wine Bar & Smokin' BBQ.  I didn't make reservations in advance, but we were eventually seated after having a drink at the bar. The benefit of sitting at the bar before ordering dinner is that we could watch every plate of food come out and decide what we wanted in advance.  The four of us shared the meat platter as well as several side dishes.  The food was good and the wine flights complimented our meal.

Saturday

Filling the balloons
The next morning, half of our party went on a hot air balloon tour while the other staff explored downtown and Oxbow market. Napa Valley Balloons, Inc. had arranged for a van to come pick us up at the hotel at 6:15am.  They were right on time and after a short ride, we were checking in at Domaine Chandon.  Coffee and pastries were provided while they gave us a brief overview for the day.  Because of the fog in the valley, we went to an alternate launch site in Winters and flew over different sorts of farms and vineyards.  The entire experience was incredible.

Climbing into the 20 person basket was entertaining and once we were floating in the air, everything was quiet and peaceful.  I didn't feel one sway in the wind.  When it was time to land, the ground crew drove ahead to find a farmer who would let us land on their property.  I learned that because you can't really steer a hot air balloon, you never really know where you'll end up.  The pilot finds a good spot and hopes the farmer will say yes, you may land on my property.  If they say no, they keep floating along for a better spot. We landed with a light touch and two small bounces before crawling back out of the basket and heading back to Domaine Chandon for our gourmet brunch and endless mimosas (I think we had at least 6 a piece).   The entire experience was so much fun and one of the highlights of my trip!

A View from Above
We met up with our friends at Domaine Chandon and tried some of the other sparkling wines available there with a 2-1 tasting from Yelp.  The Yelp deal must be a pretty good one and relatively unused since the woman at the tasting bar didn't seem to want to give it to me initially until she read it through a few times.  Our next stop was Bouchon, a french bakery nearby.  There was a bit of a line
when we arrived, but waiting there was easy compared to the difficulty in making a decision on what to order once we got up to the counter!  My two friends who didn't eat brunch ordered salads and dessert while I opted instead just to split 4 different macaroons the size of my hand in half.  They were so good and while I enjoyed the Pistachio flavor, I was pleasantly surprised by the PB&J as well.

We had a 2:30 tour reservation at Hess Collection, so we did not linger long over the food. One of the things I liked most about driving around the Napa/Sonoma areas is that everything was pretty easy to find.  We got to Hess a few minutes early and walked around the inside lobby while the other people who would be touring with us showed up.  Our tour guide, Sam, met us in the lobby and took us out to the vineyard to see some of the vines.   We were able to eat a few grapes right off the plants that hadn't been harvested yet.  From there we went inside to see where they hold some of the barrels and learn about their property and different wines.
Champagne Brunch
We were escorted out to a little garden area to do a tasting.  After we finished our tour, some of the girls explored the art museum portion of the building (I opted out since I don't like modern art).  After Hess, we went back to our hotel to freshen up and decide on dinner.  My wine class instructor from back home suggested we try Morimoto.  We were able to get seated right away on their back patio and placed our orders.   Sadly, everything was just OK.  We all ordered different things (sushi, dumplings, soup, etc) and nothing really stood out.

Sunday

Domaine Carneros
Our last full day in Napa started with a fabulous breakfast in bed. One of the things I didn't mention before is that the Napa River Inn also provides breakfast each morning from the restaurant downstairs as part of their package.  I don't know if I liked the breakfast sandwich or fruit & yogurt parfait better. Either way, everything was so good and it saved us from trying to find somewhere to eat each morning when everything outside was closed!  I did manage to take a little stroll to the Napa General Store that morning and pickup a few souvenirs.  If you are a wine lover, definitely make a point to stop in that store.

We arrived at Domaine Carneros at 11:00 AM for our tour/tasting.  I hadn't been to this vineyard before and it was incredibly beautiful and scenic.  The main building was an old mansion sitting up on a hill.  There were already a lot of people tasting on the veranda with beautiful cheese platters.  Our tour guide this time was a little bit bigger than the last one (maybe 10-12 people?), but still manageable.  We started the tour tasting some of their sparkling wines.  Our guide, Al, was very enthusiastic and walked us through the property stopping to let us taste more wine along the way.  At the end we tried a few more bottles with a cheese pairing and I purchased a bottle of their Pinot Noir to bring home.  It was a great tour and a good way to start the day.

Castello Di Amorosa
We lingered a little longer than I had planned for so we had to cut out a few stops at this point to make sure we had plenty of time at the next vineyard before our spa appointments that night.  We went straight to the Castello di Amorosa for our next tasting.  I had heard wonderful things from people back home and on site about this vineyard, so I was very excited to visit.  The beautiful castle replica was built from a lot of material imported from Europe and took many years to build.  There are barnyard animals, a moat, and a drawbridge.  I knew in advance that I wanted to do their reserve tasting, but my only complaint is that the tasting room is kind of far from everything else so you don't get to soak in the atmosphere.  We didn't really get a chance to walk around and see the property very well.  The tasting was wonderful and the cheese and charcuterie pairings were perfect.  I am enjoying a bottle of their Sangiovese as I write this post... yum!

Our last scheduled stop for the day was to the Indian Springs Spa in Callistoga for a mud bath and massage.  Before our appointment times, we went to check out the mineral pool.  The water seemed nice, but the pool was pretty crowded.  I only stayed up there for 15 minutes or so until I had to head back for my mud bath.  The entire mud bath experience was very cool and relaxing.  I would like to sleep in a mud bath every night if I could.  The mud molded to your body and made it seem like a very dirty tempurpedic mattress.  After 12 minutes in the bath, I rinsed off in the shower and went in the steam room to unclog my pores.  After that was finished, I was escorted to the massage room for 60 minutes of bliss.  I'm surprised I didn't fall asleep at the bar when we stopped for dinner at Rutherford Grille.  The Spa was a great way to end our stay in Napa.

Monday

We left for San Fran early Monday morning.  The plan was to sit in traffic and drop off 2 of my friends before spending the day in the city.  Fortunately we made good timing and we able to see some sights together (full house landmarks, lombard street, etc) before they had to leave. After dropping them off, I parked near Ghiradelli square and enjoyed some Irish Coffees at Buena Vista Cafe.  While walking toward Pier 39, we came across a sign for GoCars.  These little yellow go carts drive on the street and have a navigation/recorded tour guide that takes you through the city.  There was a 2.5 hour loop that went to a lot of places  I hadn't seen before, so the two of us strapped on our helmets and jumped in!  This was one of the other highlights of my trip as we drove through many beautiful scenic points and the Presidio.  The Cliff side neighborhoods were breathtaking... and while my hands were not happy about the handbrakes as I drove down Lombard Street in my GoCar, it was such a fun experience.

Napa River Inn Hotel
After we turned our GoCar back in, we met up with another friend for a drink before heading back home to Boston. All in all, it was a great trip! 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Living off the Land - North Fork of Long Island

Wine tasting at Sparkling Pointe
I began taking wine studies classes a few years ago to become more educated in vino.  As I shared this new proclamation with my friends, one told me about the rich soil and seemingly endless number of vineyards in the North Fork of Long Island.  Unlike the Hamptons and upscale party atmosphere on the South Fork, the North Fork region is primarily dedicated to agriculture.  After a few years, more classes, and  my repeated and not-so-subtle suggestions for an invitation to her boyfriend’s family farm, she finally caved and had a group of people down for Labor Day weekend this year. (Thanks, Katie!)

I drove from Boston down to New London, CT early Saturday morning to catch the Cross Sound Ferry to Orient Point, NY. Fortunately, we didn’t hit much traffic and made it to the dock just under 2 hours.  Because tickets are available online in advance, I was able to drive my car right onto the boat and spend the next 1.5 hours enjoying a mimosa and BLT on the main deck.  For a ferry, the prices really weren’t that bad and the quality of food was shockingly good!   After we disembarked, we headed right to Sep’s Farm Stand in East Marion to meet up with our friends.  Their location is conveniently located right on Main Rd. and there is a nice big sign out front and plenty of parking.  The fresh veggies all looked so good I had to stop myself from picking up tomatoes and eating them right there!  Once the group all got together, we went over to the Huron Suites at the POE (Port of Egypt) to check into our rooms.  The hotel is small and independently owned, not a big chain.  The location is right on the water with tables/chairs setup overlooking the boats docked at the marina.  I spent a few hours sitting in those chairs drinking wine and eating cheese without a care in the world.  I stayed in one of the admiral suites and could not be happier.  Everything was spotless and we had a small kitchenette and spacious combined living/sleeping area. 


Beautiful view outside our hotel
With all the semantics settled, we started off on day 1 of wine tasting!  One of the things I noticed right away at most of the vineyards in the area were the signs deterring away buses, limos, and other large crowds.  Some places wouldn’t even let you walk in if your party was larger than 8 people. I’m not sure what the exact reasoning is for this policy, but I imagine it must have been a problem in the past with people sitting and not paying for a tasting and/or bottle.  This wasn't a problem for our group, but it is good to know in case you are trying to go with a larger group for a special occasion or guided tour.  Our itinerary consisted of: Sparkling Pointe, Borghese, Greenport Harbor Brewing Company, and Duck Walk.  All were enjoyable and I picked up a bottle at Sparkling Pointe; however my least favorite location was Duck Walk.  I wasn’t very impressed with their port wines, which is what they are known for.  The location was absolutely beautiful and they had a very big tasting room.  One of the things that surprised me the most was like a lot of the vineyards did not offer food pairings or a cheese plate.  It seems like that would be a very easy way to upsell your customers when they want a snack.  Borghese had this idea executed pretty well though since they had fresh local oysters for sell by the plate.  We got 2 dozen to share and they were delicious!

After picking up some snacks at the local IGA and going back to the hotel to freshen up, we headed to downtown Greenport for some pre-dinner drinks at Brix and Rye followed by a meal at The Blue Canoe.  Greenport is setup for easy walking from one place to the next.  I really enjoyed how many people were out and about at night.  The Northside Collins drink at Brix and Rye was so good; light and summery and perfect for a night on the town.  The Blue Canoe had great atmosphere with outdoor fire pits and a nice view, but I wasn’t blown away by my spicy tuna roll.  Fortunately, when you are with a  good group of friends, your time together is always great!
Dinner and Drinks in Greenport
The next morning we met back up at the farm and as everyone was getting ready, I took a minor detour to see the lavender farm across the street.  There is a cute little gift shop in the front, but they did charge (I think $8/person) to just walk around the fields, even though only one little patch of lavender was still in bloom.  I was so shocked by this considering how cool my last lavender farm experience was in Maui.  I later found out the charges and bus signs at this particular location was to control the groups of Asian tourists who come to see where a popular Asian romance movie which was filmed nearby. With so many small businesses, I was beginning to see how it might be difficult to manage large crowds and provide them with good service.  Nevertheless, I was not planning to pay to walk through the fields… until I found out a few friends actually made some purchases and received a complimentary entrance for me as well. It was as underwhelming as I expected given the time of year.

After a delicious Green lunch at the Hellenic, we started out on day 2 of our wine tasting extravaganza: Mattabella, Croteaux, and Jason’s Vineyard.  Mattabella had an interesting tasting setup where they would pour two of their wines side-by-side and had you compare which you liked best.  It was interesting to see how climate changes affected the taste each year.  My favorite there was the 2009 Chardonnay and I brought a bottle home to enjoy later.  Croteaux was my favorite stop of the trip by far.  Their focus is on Rose's.  I did the sparkling wine tasting and ending up buying two bottles to bring home.  The tasting area was very small and intimate, but beautifully done.

We split up from the group for a bit to take a side journey to a nearby Olive Oil store before our last stop at Jason's Vineyard.  I really liked the decor there with the ship theme, but the wine did not blow me away.   My friends hosted us for dinner that evening at their family’s house where we feasted on seafood and continued to drink more wine, of course.

Our last morning on Long Island started back at the farm where we loaded ourselves up with fresh veggies and walked back to a private beach overlooking the Sound.  Since we were on our own for the rest of the day, we went back to Greenport to peruse the local shops and eat lunch at Bruce’s cheese emporium!  I rate that place with 5 stars for making me wait, and then making me happy I waited for an insanely delicious cheddar, tomato, and maple bacon panini-style sandwich.  My mouth is watering right now just thinking about it…. Mmm, bacon.  Our last hoorah before boarding the ferry was a stop at Kontakosta winery.  A modern barn with beautiful wood and metal designs sat pristinely overlooking a plot of land and beautiful bluffs.  We did a tasting in the barn, then headed out to the bluffs to order a glass of our favorite wine and take in the scenary.  As our vacation came to an end, I decided this would not be my last trip to the North Fork.  This gem is like Napa, only much closer to me!

Note:  All photos in this post are courtesy of my friend Melissa.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

New England Highlights - The White Mountains

Beautiful Omni Mt Washington
 Several years back, I saw a billboard advertising “The Cog” as I was driving around the outskirts of Boston.  Since I did not grow up in this area, I had to look up what it was. Within a few minutes, I became intrigued by the idea of riding an old steam train to the top of Mount Washington, a part of the White Mountains in New Hampshire.  During my online search, I also learned about the beautiful and expensive Omni resort nestled in the White Mountains only minutes away from The Cog’s basecamp.  Unfortunately, not many of my friends were as enthused as I was, especially with the hefty price tag that comes with staying at that resort.  It took a couple of years and a good Groupon deal for me to find a willing companion to come along for a long weekend trip.  Originally, we were booked for a snowy weekend in early Spring, but due to the massive amount of snow in New England this year, we had to postpone to a later day in May.  Both Groupon and the Omni were really great with allowing the change in reservation, so I need to give kudos to their customer service departments.  In the end, I think the change actually worked out better since we were able to walk around outside more and enjoy our time on top of Mt. Washington, which proudly advertises the worst weather in America.

One of the trains
We drove up from Boston late in the morning on Saturday and arrived at the resort just as our room was finishing up.  The hotel is a beautiful, and kind of creepy, old mansion with ornate molding and very large and lavish furniture that promoted socializing in the common areas over the individual rooms.  There were people relaxing in the lobby during our entire stay playing chess or enjoying a drink.   Deciding to have a drink and snack on site, we walked over to the Rosebrook bar and sat next to a large picture window overlooking the stream and golf course.   Two glasses of wine and the antipasti cheese plate perfectly complimented the relaxed yet refined atmosphere.  After our snacks, we went to the concierge to plan the rest of our evening and make reservations for dinner.  Unfortunately, the main dining room was completely booked and the only available for the other dining options were either really early or really late.

Half-way point on Mt. Washington
We decided try our luck at Stickneys later that night without a reservation, but first we had to also book our carriage ride.  One of the prime reasons for my trip to the Omni resort was to partake in a romantic carriage ride around the property (in the winter they do sleigh rides!).  Because our 5 o’clock reservation slot was only an hour away and no one else booked during that time, we opted to do a “semi-private” carriage with hopes that no one would have a last minute booking.  It saved us $50 and actually worked out since we were on our own for a beautiful ride through the property.  After changing for dinner, we spent some time exploring the property before heading to Stickneys for dinner.  Due to the long wait, we decided to eat at the bar.  The drinks and food were all very good and the atmosphere was dark wood/English pub style.    We ended the night drinking martinis and playing chess in the lobby.

Sunday morning, we got up early to take a walk through the trails and get some breakfast in the main dining room.  After we checked out of the room, we were off on our last adventure.  The Cog basecamp was only about 10 minutes away from the resort and very easy to find.  Fortunately, the weather was beautiful and the clouds had all cleared up so we had a perfect view both riding up and back down Mt. Washington.  The entire trip lasted 3 hours, including an hour stop at the stop of the mountain.  The hour was just long enough to take some pictures, mail ourselves a postcard, and grab a quick snack.

Me at the Summit!
All in all, it was a quick and fun May weekend in New England.

Friday, July 24, 2015

NASCAR and Chocolate Port in Indy

Sheik and Zelda
Earlier this year, my brother told me that he and his family would be moving from Indianapolis to Canada at the end of summer.  Since my first, and only, experience of Indianapolis was in the dead of winter (insert hyperlink), I thought it would be nice to go back in the summer before they left.  Since I had planned an extended weekend away from work, I had even more time to enjoy the city and my fam.  I ended up flying into the airport on Friday afternoon.  I remembered how good the popcorn was the last time I was there, so I was sure to pick up two bags (buffalo ranch and smores, yum yum!) before meeting my sister-in-law at passenger pickup.  We drove to their home in Carmel to relax for a bit and play with their dogs before dinner.   That evening, she took me to Drakes, a local restaurant that served both pub food and sushi.  This concept confused me and for a few seconds I considered ordering both fried pickles and sashimi, but ended up sticking to the Japanese portion of the menu with some edamame, fried dumplings, and a crag Rangoon roll.  The dumplings were delicious, but everything else was just ok.  I guess it goes without saying that you shouldn’t order sushi when you aren’t near the sea…  at least all my fish was cooked.

My brother got in from his business trip that evening and the next day was dedicated to exploring the Indy Wine Trail!  For my birthday this year, I was gifted a couple bottles of wine from their local wineries.  I really enjoyed them and was looking forward to spending the sunny day outside.  From my research, I learned that there were 7 wineries on this path not far from Indianapolis.  Our goal for the day was to explore 3 of them:  Cedar Creek Winery, Mallow Run Winery, and Chateau Thomas Winery.  We got to Cedar Creek in the early afternoon when it wasn’t very busy yet.  Other than a bachelorette party (or maybe birthday party?), we had the tasting room to ourselves.  It was a very cute setup with a decent size tasting room and lots of little trinkets to peruse.  I have an interest in wine and was prepared to ask lots of questions around where they get their grapes and what types of wine they make, but was quickly shot down because the woman who was helping us said she was new and had no idea how to answer my first few questions.  I spent an hour or so tasting a few of their wines, but ended up only buying two bottles of the same chocolate raspberry port I had on my birthday.
All suited up
Our next stop was Mallow Run Winery.  The tasting room there appeared to be the same size, but it was a lot busier.  We ended up sharing a bottle of the Picnic White with a small cheese platter on the deck until the crowd cleared enough that we could get a spot at the tasting counter.  This definitely seemed like a more popular spot and I believe they have concerts and other events there as well.  Aside from the one white wine, I was not impressed with their selection either.  I think it’s important to note that neither of the two wineries at this point charged for their tastings.  It was only the last spot, Chateau Thomas Winery that charged a $5 tasting fee; however the employees working the tasting counter there seemed much more knowledgeable and engaging.  Their shop was also the nicest and had the largest selection of wine trinkets to look explore.  In appearance, they were less vineyard-y and more warehouse, but still a nice stop along the way.  After a full day of tasting, we got dinner that evening at Boombozz Pizza and Taphouse. They had a fun ambiance and pizza hit the spot after drinking all that wine.  The only thing that made the day better (or worse depending on your opinion) was going to see Magic Mike XXL that night with my sister-in-law and her friend.

Sunday was the highlight of my trip.  I came across an internet coupon deal for a NASCAR style racing experience at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  I purchased three coupons for all of us and we arrived around 11:30 am to check in.  The check-in line was about 6 people deep and the two girls processing the paperwork were moving very slowly.  About 20 minutes later, we were ready to go.  Because of the rain the night before, we could not use the tunnel under the track.  This meant they had to wait for all the cars to finish their racing experience from the time slot before opening the gates and letting us all across.  Fortunately, we only had to wait about 5 minutes.  As part of the ride-along experience (I was not going to drive!), I had to suit up in a fireproof jumpsuit and put on a helmet.  They had freshly-washed little cloth beanies to wear under our helmets to prevent lice/other germs.  Once we were all suited up, we took turns in the 2 ride-along cars going around the track.  One of the best parts was trying to jump into the car through the window with my short legs.  I got in eventually and a guy game by to buckle me up before my 5 laps around the track began.  It was so exhilarating!  We passed by several of the other drivers and by the end of lap 2, my head felt like it was going to vibrate off my neck, haha.  I felt completely safe and really enjoyed the whole  experience, as did my family.  Later that day, my brother picked up their dogs and we all went to the river walk area downtown to walk along the canal before going to dinner.  It was a very nice set-up; I’m only surprised there weren’t more bars and restaurants similar to San Antonio. 
Getting in the car
My flight left in the early afternoon on Monday, so I only had time to get brunch and pack.  After sitting on the outdoor deck at Bub’s Café for approximately 15 minutes, I had 4-5 mosquito bites and I  really bad drink (who puts beer in a bloody mary?).  We moved inside for the rest of the meal and I thoroughly enjoyed my Elk Sausage and Biscuits as my last meal in Indy.  I’m very glad I had a chance to experience the area in the summer, it was way better than freezing in the winter.