Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Spring Vacacay!

Followers of this blog might have noticed a trend forming over the past several years: spring expeditions to fun/interesting/outdoors-y locations. In 2014, we went hiking in Utah. 2015 took us to southern California for work, but we got out a little bit. 2016 was a Seattle adventure, and 2017 was the huge London blowout. This year, we really didn't think we were going to go anywhere. Work schedules were such that it didn't appear to be in the cards. Then, Tanya's company unexpectedly scheduled an offsite in northern California (south of San Francisco), which was going to wrap up on a Thursday. We realized we could make a long weekend of it, and our Spring Vacacay tradition was saved!


After spending several days writing Wifeless Husband Haikus, I joined Tanya in sunny San Francisco. We drove north to San Rafael, where we had booked a VRBO with a Prince theme. You think I'm kidding, but I'm not -- Prince stuff was everywhere. I wish I'd taken a picture of the gate, because it had the Prince symbol on it. As it is, I'll leave you with this photo, from the living room looking into the bedroom.

Pringles are ours, not Prince's. Also not shown: all of the purple LED lighting.
First days for us typically entail getting to the lodgings, finding a place to eat, and getting to the grocery and sundries store. The rental was amazing well-provisioned, meaning we didn't have any essential sundries to pick up -- only breakfast foods and snacks.

We headed out for dinner. The evening meal was provided by Chalet Basque, which was a lucky find in that it was only a mile or two from the rental. Tummies full, we procured groceries for breakfast and some other things we'd be taking on our hike(s), and a bottle of wine, because how can you not have a bottle of wine at all times this close to wine country?


A quick note on breakfast: we typically take breakfasts at the rental. This one had a very pleasing view, so on the first morning we were there, we decided to have breakfast on the patio. Some folks might not find it to be worth the effort; those folks would be wrong.

Eggs, bacon, tea, and english muffins with butter and jam. EVERY MORNING PLEASE!!

Wine Country

The first real day of Spring Vacacay was centered around a sojourn into wine country. 

Napa or Sonoma? Why not both! :-D

We had scheduled a wine and food pairing for early lunch at St. Francis Winery in Sonoma Valley and arrived in time to take a short stroll around the grounds.
I was told there would be food here...?
Someone is pretty clever with reflections!
Lunch was five wines, each paired with a thoughtfully, elegantly, and excellently prepared food course. I could have had more of each (yes, food AND wine). If you're the kind of person that likes the idea of going to wine country but doesn't particularly want to drive (or get driven) to a bunch of separate tasting rooms, I strongly suggest something like this. Over the course of a couple of hours, we got to have good conversation, learn about the wine and the chef's processes, and enjoy foods and wines in ways we wouldn't have otherwise. Two sloshy thumbs up, would consume again!

Our next destination was Castello di Amorosa in Napa Valley. Yes, it's a real, Tuscan-style castle, and was very crowded when we arrived. Apparently a lot of other people had the same idea we did -- go to wine country on a Friday afternoon and tootle around a castle.

Roses and dragons and castles! Oh my!

Thanks to my impeccable timing, we got there 45 minutes before our guided tour and tasting was supposed to begin. But, as luck would have it, when we checked in the greeter asked us if we wanted to upgrade to the cheese and wine pairing tour for a few extra bucks. They had an opening for two people on the tour that was supposed to start five minutes later, so I think we got a slight discount. We, of course, said yes. As I've already stated: wine and food are vastly superior to just wine.

Our guide had been at the winery almost since the beginning, so she knew everything about everything there. The castle was constructed from stones imported from Italy (not entirely, but in lots of places), all of the metalwork was done by an actual Italian blacksmith, all of the artwork was done by Italian artists, etc.

Hand-painted walls, hand-forged fixtures... 
Our fearless guide, and knower of all the things!
The owner loves dragons!

The castle had four levels above ground and four below. All of the barrels, as you may have guessed, were below ground. It's a veritable maze down there! If you got lost, at least you'd not get thirsty!

Barrels for days!
As the tour ended, we were led to a private tasting room where we partook of particularly fine wine and cheese. The pairings were supposed to be either "compare" or "contrast." Instead, we all tried all of them -- all the wines, all the cheeses, and adored them all.

From the inner courtyard. The private tasting room is in the lower right.
Maybe the most surprising thing we learned is that we actually like some ros├ęs, and for me, the darker, the better!

Upon finishing with this winery, we realized there was a mountain drive near where we were, and we love those kinds of views. Unfortunately for us, there were no scenic overlooks. If you wanted to get that view, you had to earn it by parking and hiking. Given that we were already planning to hike the next day, we decided to call it a day.

As an aside: we originally had dinner reservations in Sonoma, but by the time we'd finished eating a large lunch and just south of a ton of crackers and cheese along with an un-disclosable amount of wine, we realized that we weren't going to be hungry for dinner. Rather than force another fine meal on ourselves, we went back to the rental and snacked a little later in the evening. Lesson learned -- late dinner reservations are a necessity when lunching in wine country.

Next up: Hiking!

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