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City by the Bay, Wine in the Vines

September 23, 2017

As if the past few months haven’t been crazy enough (more on that soon!), I snuck in an end-of-summer trip! It’s actually been planned for several months, but it was my first solo trip since having the baby. I will admit that it was strange to not have a baby and hauling extra stuff around.

So where did I go? San Francisco, Sonoma and Napa!

One of my really good friends lives in SF so I try to get out there once a year to visit. We’ve explored the actual city my last two trips, so I asked if we could do wine country this time. Um, yes!

We spent part of Friday, all of Saturday and part of Sunday in wine country taking a more relaxed pace. We only made one reservation each day so we were able to make decisions based on our mood. It was really nice to just go with the flow and not rush from winery to winery.

Friday
We started the trip at Gloria Ferrer for some bubbles. The winery was so pretty and had a great view of the vines. However, the flies that day were terrible! It was actually quite bothersome. I did the Glorious Tasting Flight which included the Sonoma Brut, Blanc de Noirs, 2014 Estate Chardonnay and 2013 Estate Pinor Noir. I don’t know much about sparkling wines, but I did really enjoy the Blanc de Noirs.

Next we headed to Scribe, where we had a reservation. (I do believe they’re required here.) Apparently it’s the “hip” winery right now. It’s so cute! Rustic and in an old estate home with great views of their vines. Scribe’s website doesn’t say much about their tasting experience, but we knew there was going to be wine and food. The wine changes fairly frequently and the food menu can change weekly. It was all so delicious! We started with a glass of their German style Estate Riesling (so it wasn’t really sweet), followed by a glass of their Estate Chardonnay, Skin Fermented Chardonnay and Caneros Pinot Noir. For food we were give a small board of charred peppers, almonds and olives. Then served meatballs, a garden salad, roasted vegetable medley, toasted bread and a slice of garden melon. This was a favorite of the wineries we visited.

Saturday
We headed to Frog’s Leap around noon after a couple girl’s from the city drove up to meet Nicole and myself for the day. We had such a good Saturday! We all loved the atmosphere at Frog’s Leap. It was so charming and casual. The staff was also extremely welcoming and never pushed a membership. We opted for the Garden/Cellar Tasting which allowed us to get our tastings from an outdoor bar and casually stroll the grounds. The tasting included their Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet and Zinfandel. We were also able to ask for a sample of their Rosé and Sauvignon Blanc, which happened to be my favorite two from FL. (And I’m a red wine drinker!) I’m kicking myself for not picking up a bottle of those.

Next we headed to Mumm for some bubbles! We grabbed a glass while we waited for our turn to sit for a tasting. I opted for a glass of the Bland de Noirs. All four of us girls got the Toast Today tasting option. It came with a tasting glass of Brute Prestige, Brute Rosé and Cuvée M. Not sure if it’s because sparkling isn’t my favorite type of wine or what but I would say my experience there was “fine”. We did all pitch in for a bottle to take back to the hotel and enjoy before going to dinner at Basalt.

Sunday
Nicole and I ended our wine country weekend on the Sonoma side as we headed back to the city. We ate brunch at The Girl & the Fig before heading to Cline for a walk-in tasting. It’s also super casual and you stand around one of their several bars and pick which five wines you’d like to taste. The gentlemen working that day let us try several extra, and I left with a bottle of their Rosé in hand. This is probably one of the cheapest tastings in the area–$10!

Our last stop was at Ram’s Gate. We had been told and read that you go there more for the view vs the wine, but we were pleasantly surprised by the wine as well! The tasting we chose to do included two Chardonnays and two Pinot Noirs. We both purchased a bottle of Chardonnay at the end of our tasting. The winery itself is gorgeous and decorated in Restoration Hardware. The views were great as well. The one thing I didn’t love about Ram’s Gate is that the Sonoma Speedway is super close so you can hear the races happening. However, I was totally okay with it the day we were there because we also got a surprise show by the local Blue Angels.

I’m ready to book another trip with a whole group of girls! Who wants to join me?!

–m.

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Travel

Going Dutch in Holland, Michigan

August 20, 2017

Oh hello! Long time no see–again. It’s been so busy the last five months – more on that later. But first…we went on a little vacation!

Our friends Matt & Ellen invited us to join them and their kiddos on vacation near Holland, Michigan. Ellen grew up going to the area every summer with her family, so she’s pretty familiar with the area. Michigan was on our list for a domestic family vacation so we jumped at the invitation. Michigan’s weather in August is b-e-a-u-tiful! I think the warmest it got while we were there was in the low to mid 80s.

We caravanned up north and stayed almost an entire week. We rented a house through HomeAway.com that was about a mile from Holland State Park. The location was great because it was on a quiet residential street right off Lake Macatawa, was within walking distance to the beach and a short drive to downtown.

We didn’t go up with an itinerary and wanted to play it by ear. The first full day there, we ladies got a run in, followed by a trip to the beach. [Note: it costs $9 per car for a single visit to the state park. $32 for a year’s pass.] School hadn’t started yet so the beach got pretty full. The parking lot actually filled up to where cars weren’t allowed in until 20 parking spots had opened up. We used this trick to contain the baby at the beach. It worked so well! We ended the day by hitting up New Holland Brewery’s Pub for dinner and Captain Sundae for ice cream.

The next day the ladies took the littles on a walk to Albert K’s Lakeside Cafe for breakfast while the guys got a bike ride in. I normally am not a quiche / frittata eater, but for some reason I ordered it that morning and it was so good! We spent that afternoon exploring the shops along main street Holland. I bought a couple things for E at this children’s boutique called Tip Toes, purchased a couple bottles from Fustini’s Oils & Vinegars, and chocolate from the local candy/peanut store.

It was back to the beach the following day. This time Tim and I walked down to the beach with the stroller. We popped into the Ottawa Beach General Store on the way home for some soft serve ice cream. The serving sizes were giant! I couldn’t finish mine.

Tim, baby and I headed up to Grand Haven the following day after a little morning exercise. We didn’t really have much planned this day either. We popped into the Toasted Pickle for a sandwich, explored their main street and then stopped into the brewery Odd Side Ales for a couple beers. We even left with a six pack of one of their beers. We ended the day by going over to Ellen’s aunt and uncle’s house for dinner and drinks. Their house is right on Lake Michigan about 10 minutes away from our rental. We didn’t get the sunset we were hoping for but it was still a beautiful evening with amazing lake views.

Mine and Tim’s last full day on the trip was mostly spent in Saugatuck. The whole crew headed down after breakfast at deBoer Bakkerij. It was Saugatuck’s sidewalk sale event, so we spent some time dipping in and out of the shops before heading over to Saugatuck Brewing Co. Which actually was right next door to an antique mall, so of course I ducked into there before heading home. I may or may not have left with one item. (I did.)

It was a great week spent with great friends. Tim and I had been wanting to visit Michigan and thought this was a great first introduction. I’d love to go even further north to Traverse City next time. Thanks Matt and Ellen for including us in your trip!

–m.

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Everyday Moments, Travel

30 Before 30: #3 Travel Back to Europe = Done!

October 1, 2016

May 2009 was the first and only time I’ve been to Europe so it’s been a goal to make it back (sooner than later).

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We booked this trip ourselves instead of going through a travel agent or company. It was much easier to do than I thought it would be. RomeToRio.com was a big help when figuring out our options for traveling between cities. Cities are relatively close and having the options of train and flying makes it even more convenient. I would even consider hopping between countries comparable to hopping between states here in the US.

As a summary of our two weeks in Europe…

Things We Learned
I would totally recommend Delta for international flying. We booked through Delta–flying over on Virgin Atlantic and then Delta coming home. We didn’t upgrade anything and chose to sit in coach, but still had a very pleasant experience. Free food, free booze, pleasant flight attendants. (This was my first time flying with them, and I don’t belong to a rewards program with an international airline.)
We should have invested in the Swiss Rail Pass. Because we changed our trip so late, I didn’t have a ton of time to fully research travel options. The Swiss Rail Pass would have saved us money when traveling to, within and leaving Switzerland.
Water quality has improved. We drank tap water basically the whole trip and neither of us got sick or had issues. This infographic is a great resource for international tap water. We each took a refillable water bottle, too. I took my Hydaway Bottle and it worked great.
Train travel is great, but not always the best option. We could have flown between London and Paris for HALF the price as taking the train, but Tim really wanted to take the train. Another example is that it would have taken us 10 hrs to get from Switzerland to Barcelona by train, so we flew instead. Ticket prices were the same.

Things We Didn’t Do
– 
Check out every tourist attraction. There were attractions that we just weren’t interested in. We didn’t go on our trip with a super strict itinerary. Some days we went with the flow while other days we did have a full itinerary. I preferred it that way…let us avoid some of the crowds.
– Take our DSLR camera. I love the image quality from an SLR camera, but ultimately decided against taking ours this trip. It was one more thing to haul around for two weeks. Between our iPhones and our “life proof” Pentax, we felt covered.

If we ever get to go back…
– Travel to other cities.
I loved being able to re-experience London and Paris, but I’m ready to explore other parts of Europe.
– EatWith Experience. EatWith.com has some really great food experiences that are offered through locals all over the world. I really wanted to do one, but our schedule just didn’t align with any offerings for this trip.
– Get a travel backpack instead of a suitcase. When we went to New Zealand and Australia, I used a full sized suitcase and realized it was way too much to deal with. This time I stuck to a carry on sized suitcase and was wishing I had a backpack instead. Navigating through subways and just the general public, a suitcase became quite bothersome to have. Tim has a backpack and I found myself saying “I’m getting one for our next trip” more than once.

We’ll be doing domestic travels for the next couple of years, but I can’t wait for our next international trip.

–m.

Travel

Adios, Barcelona.

September 30, 2016

I was running on fumes during the last full day of our trip. My nasty head cold hadn’t gotten much better and honestly I was just tired. Note to anyone traveling outside of the US: take plenty of American meds with you because you can’t get them outside the country. I had Tylenol, throat lozenges and orange juice and hoped for the best.

We started the day by walking to Park Güell. The walk was only about a mile from our AirBnB, but it was mostly uphill. I had read to go earlier in the day because there’s very little shade coverage once inside the park, which we did find to be true. We didn’t pre-buy tickets to the paid portion of the park thinking it wouldn’t be a big deal to get them when we got there. Wrong. We arrive about 9:30 AM and were told the next available tickets for the paid portion of the park (where the cool Guadi work is) weren’t available until 2PM that afternoon. We weren’t going to stick around that long or come back, so we walked through the free portion of the park instead. I would by lying if I didn’t say that I wasn’t a bit disappointed. They let 400 people every half hour into that park and there was no way that many people were there.

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We didn’t have much else planned for the day so we were able to take in whatever else we felt like. Tim wanted to check out the F.C. Barcelona stadium (Camp Nou) for the museum and tour. I have to admit that I wasn’t overly impressed with the stadium tour. The ticket price didn’t match the experience. The stadium is getting some major renovations done soon, but for the richest soccer league in the world, it was pretty dumpy. The field was torn up and being worked on, which probably added to the dumpy feelings. The museum portion was okay, but I’m not a diehard FCB or Messi fan either.

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We stopped for lunch at Tapas 24 which was on the outskirts of the stadium’s parking lot. It was a weird location, but we had some delicious (and overpriced) croquettes. It also started down pouring at this point and we didn’t bring our rain jacket with us. We waited the rain out as long as we could before we high-tailed it to the closest metro. It continued to rain and storm most of the afternoon so we took that time to make dinner plans and put our luggage back in order.

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We headed down near the University of Barcelona for dinner that evening. It was a neat part of town, and I would even say that I would consider staying in that area if we ever make it back. We ate at a restaurant called Vigo. Of course being Westerners, our dinner time was earlier than the locals and the crowds hadn’t rolled in at that point. The food was great! The portions were just much bigger than we had experienced at other places. Of course we still had room for gelato on our last night in town so we stopped at DelaCrem. Hands down, the best gelato of the entire trip. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t know about the place sooner or we would have visited it multiple times.

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Just as we got back to our AirBnb that evening, another storm rolled in. I sat nursing my head cold the best I could while Tim finished some wine. I was in the state of being exhausted, bummed we were leaving the next day but happy to be going home. It had been a really good trip.

–m.

Travel

Sagrada Familia

September 23, 2016

The Sagrada Familia was a highlight of being in Barcelona. I learned about it in more detail during one of my semesters of art history in college, but there’s still so much I didn’t know about it. The Basilica’s construction started in 1882, but won’t be completed until 2026. Though seeing a construction site isn’t always the prettiest, I’m so happy that we got to see it before its finished.

I would recommend pre-purchasing tickets to avoid a long line and even go for the audio tour. I would also take the recommendation we got–go in the afternoon or early evening to see how the stained glass windows change the colors inside the Basilica. There was plenty of room to walk around and explore when we went first thing in the morning, but at the same time there was a lot of people.

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Travel

Barcelona Day 2

September 20, 2016

Our second day in Barcelona was my favorite of our time spent there. We started the day by touring the Sagrada Familia. It looked so different during the day! We pre-purchased our tickets and were instructed to arrive at the entrance off Carrer de la Marina. This was the one thing I was probably most excited about to see while in Barcelona. However, I made the mistake of not doing the audio tour version of our tickets. Usually I’m not much for audio tours, but I really wish I would have opted to do it this time. We weren’t able to add it on once inside either.

The Basilica is incredible. My neck hurt by the time we left because all I wanted to do was look up! One thing we learned after visiting the Basilica is that we should have gone in the afternoon or early evening. There’s less crowds and the colors from the stained glass window just get richer as the day goes on. Next time, right?

(I’m doing a follow-up post with a bunch of pictures from the Sagrada Familia. Because we have a lot.)

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Once we were finished at the Basilica, we headed down to explore the El Born and Gothic Quarter neighborhoods. We signed up for a walking tour of the two neighborhoods through Sandman Tours later that day, so we didn’t want to explore too much beforehand fearing that we would end up covering the same ground. We stuck mostly with the El Born area, grabbing a slice of pizza from Les Dues Sicilies (delicious) and gelato from Heladeria Giovanni. I adored this part of town! I would have preferred to stay in the area vs where we did. I loved just walking around and exploring. Had I been a bottomless pit, I would have stopped into every tapas place I could. We also stopped into Wawas to take a peek at all the neat things.

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The Sandmans tour lasted three full hours. I left the tour with mixed feelings. The tour is “free,” but you’re expected to give a nice tip to the guide at the end. We started by walking through the Gothic Quarter and ended near the El Born Centre Cultural i de Memoria, learning about Barcelona’s history the whole time. It would be super easy to get turned around in these neighborhoods because of the winding streets, so it was nice to have a guide. There’s also no way I would have seen everything we did without going on the tour.

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By the end of our three hours of walking, we were ready to regroup back at the apartment before the evening. We checked out the Arc de Triomph on our way to the metro. No crazy roundabout like in Paris this time.

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We ended the day by heading down to the Barceloneta neighborhood along the water. We quickly figured out that all of the restaurants along the main Passeig de Joan de Borao street were very touristy. To get the good food, walk further into the neighborhood, which is what we did. Our friend Aaron stayed in this area when he had previously visited and recommended the restaurant Rebelot Cocktail and Food. It’s a “0 KM” restaurant so all food is locally sourced. The place is tiny, but it was good. The one standout dish was a grilled seafood platter. We have no idea what was all on it, but the various types of fish was delicious.

There’s a great boardwalk along the beach, so we walked down that after dinner. We couldn’t come all the way to Barcelona without going to the beach and dipping our toes in the sea. It was a great, relaxing way to end the day.

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–m.