Wine Tour

On our trip to Oregon the second thing I wanted to do was tour the wine country. I like a good Pino Noir and would love to dive deeper into wine, but Florida is not the place to do that. But, if we are going to be in Oregon where they do have a wine country, I want to take a day and explore. Despite this being a trip timed for a beer festival, Bob was in total agreement with the idea of a wine tour.

One of the first things I did was look around for a tour company. I knew I didn’t want to try to drive if I was going to be tasting wines, and I don’t know anything about where to go, or which wineries to avoid. I did a little research and decided to go with Backcountry Wine Tours. I liked that they kept all tours small and they specialized in wineries. A few other companies looked ok, but they did other types of tours, not just wineries and that made me nervous. I wanted to explore wine and the wine country so Backcountry it was.

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This was one of my better decisions. From the initial email exchanges to the tour itself, everything was perfect. We were able to let them know they types of wines we usually drink and what we wanted – which was really just a great day out. I know what I generally like, but both of us were up for trying anything. We ended up on a tour by ourselves (which was great, but I would not have minded other people either) so Jack – the owner of the company and our guide – was able to build the tour around us and what we wanted. After our first stop, he even changed where we went next based on the wine we liked at the first stop.

So the highlights of the day. I ended up liking a lot of wine which should not surprise anyone. But I found a pretty great white wine as well as some beautiful pinks and a few lovely Pino Noirs. But in addition to the wine, the scenery, the views, just watching the world go by as we drove around, was pretty specular. The highlight of the day, which I’m sure was planned by Jack, was Soter.

Soter takes the wine tasting experience to the next level. Rather than just popping in whenever and tasting a few wines, Soter schedules wine tastings. We were greeted with a glass of rose as we walked up to the main building. We had some time to wander around, see the gardens and appreciate the views before we were taken to one of the smaller buildings for a sit down wine tasting that also included some history of the region and the winery. And the wine was amazing. I could go on for several paragraphs about the wines themselves, but I will refrain. We loved this whole day, and Soter was an amazing way to end that day.

 

Stop and Smell the Roses

A few months ago Val texted me and asked if Bob and I would like to join her and Bill in Portland for a beer festival. Portland has been on our travel list for a while, but when Val asked, we still had Jessie and were pretty uncertain about what we could do. I also had to look at my school stuff and figure out if I could make it work. Well, with Jessie no longer with us, we started talking about it and looking at it and decided, sure. We can make this work.

There were two things on my list that I absolutely wanted to do. One was a wine tour (more on that in another post) and one was the Rose Garden. I *love* flowers and roses, while not my favorite flower, remind me of dad and grandmom. I still remember dad pruning the tea roses out front of the first house we lived in and mom’s mom grew these bushes of roses that always just amazed me. On our first full day in Portland we walked to Washington Park and hit the rose garden first. I could have spent the whole day there.

The rose garden is probably not as huge as I imagine it, but there were several sections including test roses and gold medal roses. There were roses of every color, of every size and they were all in full bloom. I actually stopped and smelled the roses. And lingered and took pictures, but really, I just basked in the roses.

The Rose Garden alone made going to Portland worth it. And this is coming from someone who usually plans trips around food and history. But for Portland, it was the roses. And the wine, but again, that is another post all together.

 

New York City

Bob is one of the hardest people to buy for. He has pretty much everything he really wants, what he doesn’t have he will buy for himself, and if I do actually figure out a concept of what to get him, I don’t know enough about that thing to actually get him something. So years ago I decided to just focus on trips for his birthday. May is a beautiful month for travel, and if I can swing a day off work, great – long weekend away. He loves NYC, so this is a popular destination for us. Add in good friends to meet, great restaurants and easy travel from Sarasota, and you have the makings of a good, dependable, never boring birthday present.

Normally I plan everything. Shocking, I know. I research restaurants, find hotels and plan the itinerary. This year, I did figure out the flights and hotel, but I did not plan any activities or meals. Big stretch for me and it was done part of of necessity and part as an experiment to see if I could let go and “go with the flow.” Turns out, I can, but I really, really prefer to plan something.

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We were meeting Ed and Erin in the city Saturday and Bob had decided he wanted to see the 9/11 Memorial, so we headed in that direction. With Ed and Erin missing (by seconds!) their initial train, we had some time to use up. Neither of us had ever seen the actual Brooklyn Bridge, nor been to Brooklyn, so we decided to walk it. Yep – we walked over the Brooklyn Bridge (with about a thousand other people that day) and into Brooklyn. We were a little worried that Bob’s pants would shrink and he would sprout a skull cap, but we were not in Brooklyn long enough for that to happen. But I did get some great views from the bridge.

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After some misses, we did finally meet up with Ed and Erin, and wandered the memorial for a bit. It was well done – peaceful, open, and poignant. The original plan included the museum, but we decided to head up into One World Trade and view the city from the observation level. It was really worth doing. The views are fantastic and it gives you a great perspective on the city. (I will admit to various tracks from Hamilton running through my head the whole time I was there, but in all honesty, I pretty much have Hamilton tracks running through my head every day.)

Erin picked the dinner location and she hit it out of the park. Scarpetta was perfect. The atmosphere was formal without being fussy, fancy but not stuffy and inviting enough that we didn’t care we were all in jeans from walking around the city all day. And the food. … oh the food. Ed and Bob got to share meat filled pasta and Erin and I dined on perfect polenta before our main courses.

I’m not sure if I will be able to pull off a non planning trip again, but it was a good experiment and it ended up being a lot of fun.

Welcome 2016

Happy 2016! This is going to be an interesting year. While we don’t have any trip planned, my return to school should keep me busy. I definitely want to try to be a little creative in the kitchen, but I’m not sure how often that will happen. But it’s ok – two years for school so there is an end in sight. My boss encouraged me to go back to school, and she thought I should go for my PhD, but … well …. that would take way more time than I’m willing to do so another masters will work just fine. 

By the way, getting a picture of Jessie is a little tricky. She hates having her picture taken, so I had to get her while she is licking cheesecake batter off my finger.

  
After a relatively quiet Christmas, we headed to Tallahassee to see Bob’s family. The weather generally cooperated and we were able to even get out to the Tallahassee museum. I had never been there and didn’t know what to expect, but we had a lot of fun seeing the different animals. The black bear and red wolf were my favorites. 

   
   
Bob and I did our traditional stay in on New Year’s Eve. I made a nice dinner (Bob requested steak, so that is what we had – he doesn’t request meat often, so when he does, I try to oblige, although I ate more of the potatoes and salad than anything else). This morning I decided I was in the mood for eggs, so I made omlets and potatoes. Bob had an onion and cheese omelet, and I had a kale, onion and cheese omelet. It was a nice way to start the new year. 

  

DC Christmas

Everyone (almost, I think) has a favorite holiday and probably a favorite holiday tradition. Christmas is, by far, my favorite holiday. Everything is decorated, people are happy and we think about others during this time. DC is also one of my favorite cities and I began to love the holidays in DC when I lived there. Now we’ve started making going to DC around Christmas an annual event and I think I’m convincing Bob of the joys of the city.

Like last year (and pretty much every year that I’ve gone to DC around the holiday) there were a few stops we had to make – the Botanic Gardens, The Congressional tree, the National tree and all the state trees. We also tried, and failed yet again this year, to get a White House tour, but it’s incentive to plan next year’s trip early. 

  
The Gardens were crowded this year, much more so than in years past. The displays were beautiful, as usual, and really started the holiday off right for me.

  
The National tree was fine, but the state trees were much, much better this year. After the programmed lights last year (that all looked exactly the same) they went back to actual ornaments from each state this year. Much better. I can’t tell you what Florida’s ornaments looked like because we could not see Florida’s tree – it was outside the path to walk through. It was also very crowded; I suppose this is the price we pay for really georgous weather in December in DC.

  
We also decided to do a few things we had never done, or that we had not done in a very long time. The last time I toured the Capitol we walked up the front steps, went through metal detectors and wandered on our own. A few rooms were off limits, but for the most part, we went where we wanted and ran into (in my case quite literally) a senator or two. Not any more. Through the visitors center, through screening, with pre determined passes obtained from a senator, on a guided tour to just a few areas of the Capitol. It was different, but I would highly recommend it. There is some great history, wonderful trivia and just a lot to be gained from going through with someone who knows all about the building. 

  
We also walked down to the Jefferson Memorial because Bob had never seen it. After the Korean War Memoria, Jefferson is my favorite. It was a long walk from the Capitol, but worth it. 

  
The last time I was in DC and viewing the monuments the King Memorial was not open. We managed to walk from the Jefferson to the King Memorial and I was very glad I did. It was beautiful, and very, very well done. It fit the space and the feel of the National Mall. 

  
From there we decided to find something none of us have ever sought out before – the memorial to Albert Einstein. The statue has been there for decades, but it isn’t something any of us saw before. I loved it not just because it’s science in the mist of history, but because Einstein fit. He fit the idea of thinking big, but understanding that even ideals impact people. Theory is great, but what does that theory look like to the people who live every day? 

  
Needless to say, we walked a lot, we ate a lot and we laughed a lot. The trip to DC was exactly what we needed it to be – a break from reality and getting back in touch with good friends, and ourselves. 

  
And Erin, next year, White House. Or we try again until we get there.

   
 

Home

Lots of people comment about the length of our trips, especially those we take overseas. Why one week? You can’t see everything in that time. If you are going to spend the money to fly, you should stay longer. Etc. etc.

We learned, early in our relationship, that both Bob and I have about an eight day, max, travel limit. Long weekends are perfect, a week is good, but about day 6 we are ready to be home. We want our bed, home cooked meals and the furry creatures. Anything longer than that and we (ok, mainly me) get cranky and tired. I also found that after about six days my appreciation for everything I’m seeing starts to diminish. I know the ancient palace or church, or the gardens or whatever else I’m seeing are incredible, I just can’t enjoy it as much as I did around day three. And honestly, after a while, all the gold foil detail work runs together.

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So one week. One week to experience a new country, see some very cool things that we don’t normally see, eat food we wouldn’t cook ourselves, attempt a foreign language and see how far I can get with it, and appreciate where I am, where we are from and the fact that we can take these trips.

A quick recap of the trip:

  • Six days
  • Five airports
  • Two countries (I’m not counting Amsterdam even though we flew threw it)
  • Three cities
  • ~11: Miles walked per day (estimated average from both Bob’s cell phone fitness app and mine)
  • 14.8: Most miles walked in one day
  • One new pair of shoes
  • Four blisters (including one under a callous, which I didn’t know could happen and not related to the new shoes)
  • Three multi course tasting menu meals
  • Three beer gardens
  • One cat cafe
  • Five churches
  • Four royal palaces/castles/residents
  • One Science and Technology museum
  • 343 pictures (don’t worry, I’m not asking anyone to look at them all)

The trip was wonderful and I can honestly say Bob picked well. He gets the credit for the location, I get credit for the planning. But … I am so glad to be home. I am perfectly happy hanging out at home for a while and appeasing the furry creatures.

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My one tip for travel: travel how you want and forget what everyone says you should do. Go where you want, do only what you want, and stay for as long as you are comfortable. Appreciate where you have been and the home you return to.

Munich Day 6, Part 2  – Deutsches Museum and Our Last Dinner

On our first trip to Europe a few years ago, Bob and I found that we could only take so much art and elaborately decorated rooms. We became overload and just couldn’t appreciate the beauty of these after so many. Our solution was to find a science and technology museum and it had become somewhat of a tradition for us.  The Deutsches Museum is considered one of the world’s oldest and largest science and technology museums. It is huge and could easily take an entire day or more to see. We didn’t spend an entire day there, but we appreciated the few hours we did wander the museum.

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As with most technology oriented museums, there were a number of transportation exhibits. The boats were impressive and thinking about flying in some of the planes just scared me.

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It was a nice way to spend our last day, especially since it was now cool and rainy instead of hot and sunny. We, of course, pick the weird weather week to be in Germany.

For our last dinner we had reservations at Tian.

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This upscale, all vegetarian restaurant (yep, that is not oysters, but a cucumber salad with yogurt cream) was high on my list to try in large part because I thought it would be difficult to find non-meat dishes in Germany. (I was wrong and fully admit it.) This was an experience. The restaurant was beautifully decorated and I had a nice view of the kitchen as we ate. The pots of herbs that lined the plating area were used on the dishes that were sent out. This was also one of the few times I didn’t have to worry about the menu – I can eat everything on it. And eat everything I did.

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This was also the best service we had in Munich. The other restaurants we went to had very good service, but start to finish, this place was special. The food was amazing and was as good as any Michelian starred restaurant I’ve been to. (It still feels VERY weird to think that I have eaten at one, let alone several of those. Really weird.) the food is beautiful and flavorful and spiced to perfection.  Between Cafe Katzentempel and Tian, this was a perfect way to end the trip.

Munich: Day 6, Part 1 – The Cat Cafe

If you read a lot of tourist information on Munich, and I did before coming over, almost everyone talks about the traditional foods. The snitzel come up, the bratwurst and the pork shanks. For someone who prefers less meat in my diet, I did some research to find some vegetarian friendly placed to eat. It turns out almost every place in Munich, including the beer gardens and the street vendors have non-meat options. However, I’m very glad I didn’t know this before I came over because I would have missed Cafe Katzentempel.

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I found a description of this almost vegan cafe on line and I told Bob we had to go one day. My only regret is that we didn’t fit it in earlier in our trip so we could have gone more than once.

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The cafe is located in the University section of Munich, so it is a little out of your general tourist area. It is right on a main street and close to several public transportation stops. As soon as we got there, everyone, including a particularly cute cat, made us feel very welcomed and at home. We didn’t even need my very basic German as the (I’m assuming owner) immediately switched to English and talked through the menu with us and told us about the cats.

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The important things first – the cats. There are six cats who live at the cafe. They are all rescues, including one former street cat who lost a leg. They all have a private area in the back and can come and go as they please. If they don’t want to interact with people, they don’t have to. All of the cats have decided to stay at the cafe and all of them are fairly social. The two Siamese were particularly playful as they seemed the youngest of the group.

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The food. The food was quite simply fantastic. It’s not fancy but there is a ton of flavor packed into those dishes. I had the summer bowl with hummus and Bob had a sandwich and salad. The ingredients are clearly fresh and high quality, which makes a huge difference in the overall meal.

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I really wish we could go back, but it was our last full day in Europe and we head back to the states tomorrow morning. If you do get to Munich and even kind of like cats, make the trip for brunch or dinner. You will smile the entire time you are there, and it will be one of the most memorable things you do.  And definitely the most unique.

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Salzburg (Munich Day 5)

I debated about heading to Salzburg. I was very, very excited about it before we came over, but with Bob not feeling well, the two hour train ride and the forecast for rain, I just wasn’t sure.

I am so glad we went.

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We headed out early and we’re lucky enough to be relatively alone in the train car for the trip. The scenery alone was worth going for, but once we arrived in Salzburg our adventures began.

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Bob had been saying he needed insoles for his shoes for a few days, but we never got around to getting any. I suggested he look for another pair of shoes so he could alternate, but he didn’t want to do that. About 300 meters from the train station in Salzburg, he didn’t have much of a choice.

Yep. The sole of his shoe split from the shoe itself. There was no way he could walk around all day like that. Luckily we are in a major city and there are lots of stores – if we can find them. We did, Bob got a new pair and we headed into the old city to explore.

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On the map, Salzburg looks huge. When I planned the day I thought getting from one place to another would take some time, but it really didn’t. From one spot in the square you are within rock throwing distance (not that I would rough rocks) at the Cathedral, the Residenz, the monastery and the Salzburg museum. Further afield, a up a very large hill, is the fortress.

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We started with a small church, mainly because we ran into it and I wasn’t sure if it was the cathedral or not. (My map reading skills are questionable) it was a beautiful church.

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We found the cathedral and went in to explore. This church was majestic. It feels weird to say it wasn’t as grand as the Cathedral at Sienna (my standard for churches); it was just as ornate in a totally different way. While Sienna is marble and carved stone, Salzburg is carved plaster and all of the detail blend into the building. It is still impressive and it still shows the wealth and power of the Catholic Church, but in a subtler way.

One of my favorite parts of the Cathedral was the crypts. I expected dark, a little creepy and maybe something a touch different. What we saw was amazing and not anything I could have thought of.

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After the church we decided we had to see the fortress. Just the sight of it sitting on he hill reminded both Bob and I of Edinburgh (still my favorite city). We were going to take the tram up (it is a steep and long walk) but sort of missed the ticket area. So … we walked. We stopped a few times for a picture of two of the views because they are that beautiful.  But when you get to the fortress itself, and look out over Salzburg, you are truly impressed.

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Luckily we made it up to the castle and through most of the open areas before the rain started in earnest. We were up at the highest point in the castle when the rain and wind kicked up and we decided to continue with the interior portions of the castle.

After walking down the hill (cannot take the tram just down) we wander across the river and stopped for coffee and a brownie so we could warm up, dry off a little and just rest out feet. After our break we headed to St. Peter’s Monastery.

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The church here is small, but once again, elaborate and detailed. The most impressive part to me was the cemetery: the graves are all so well maintained and if you didn’t notice the markers (although how you could miss them, I’m not sure) you would think you were In a beautiful garden.

Speaking of beautiful gardens … Since we had time before our dinner, we wandered to Mirabell Gardens  where parts of The Sound of Music were filmed. Erin. I took this photo just for you.

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The gardens were gorgeous. They were well maintained and manicured to perfection. The roses alone were stunning, but the effect of the overall garden is pretty special.

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We had dinner at the restaurant at St. Peter’s Monastery. The restaurant has been open since 803. Yes, 803, not 1803. I’m sure it has not been a traditional restaurant since that time, but as it has served food to the public since then, I’m counting it.

We did a lot in our one day in Salzburg. Possibly too much; I know we didn’t see everything. That’s ok, we go into these trips with a few things we really want to do and if we miss things, we miss them. We enjoy what we do and don’t try to do everything. So far it’s worked for us.

Munich: Day 4 Residenz

With Bob not feeling well we decided to make this day an easy, light day. We had planned to take in New a Town Hall, the Haufbrauhaus and the Residenz before heading to the Opera House for a ballet in the evening. We decided to skip the New Town Hall in the morning and just rest in the hotel. We did meet up with a friend from back home for lunch.

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Leta has been to Munich before and it was happenstance that our trips overlapped. One of her favorite places to eat here is the Hofbrauhaus so we met there.

The Haufbrauhaus is an old building, and beautifully decorated inside. It isn’t overwhelming. They are known for their beer and being very busy so we thought ourselves lucky that it was not crowded that morning.

After having a nice meal and catching up, Leta headed back to get ready for her trip home and we headed to the Residenz.

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The Residenz was high on my list of things to do because it is a little unique. It was the home and seat of power for the rulers of Munich and Bavaria from the 1300s (maybe earlier) through the 1800s. Each ruler expanded the palace and decorated those rooms in the modern style for the time, so going through the palace is like seeing the history of art and decoration for a few hundred years.

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I liked the Residenz much more than Herenchimsse for one simple reason – despite being opulent and elaborate, it didn’t overwhelm and there was enough differentiation in the rooms to make it interesting. One of my favorites was the Room of Mirrors and the adjoining writing room.

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At first glance, these are very similar to other rooms you see throughout Europe. But on looking a little further you notice a few things that make it feel different: the porcelain additions to the walls, the subtle details in the plaster and the way the room is reflected in each mirror so it always feels like you are looking through the room make it unique. it is also a small room, so the opulence isn’t overwhelming. It does make it difficult to get a good picture, however.

We decided to skip any more touring (including the Treasury where the jewels of the rulers were located) in the afternoon and just rested at the hotel before the ballet.

When we decided on Munich, I saw that the Munich Opera Festival was this month and asked Bob if he would like to go see something while we were there. He said yes and we settled on the ballet of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Yes, a ballet of a Shakespearean play in Munich.

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The Opera House is beautiful. It is exactly the right mix of grandeur and simplicity. The ballet itself was beautiful and yet very German. The fairy or dream scenes were … different. The discordant music with the minimalistic costumes were unexpected. I enjoyed the performance but am not sure I loved it. Bob’s comment was while he appreciated the athleticism of the dancers, his debt from making me sit through The Watchmen was now paid in full. Fair enough.

We didn’t do as much this day as we had planned, but that was ok. I think both of us needed a little bit of a rest after wandering around Munich in record heat for a few days. While we have no issue with 90 degree temperature, 90 degree temperature when you are outside and walking, or in buildings that are not air-conditioned, is a little hard on the body. But is was another really nice day.