Category: photography

California Wine Country trip

  • The view from dinner at Trinchero
    The view from dinner at Trinchero
  • Breakfast at Sutter Home
    Breakfast at Sutter Home
  • Jeremy and I waiting outside Rutherford Grill
    Jeremy and I waiting outside Rutherford Grill
  • The view at Round Pond
    The view at Round Pond
  • La Luna Market menu
    La Luna Market menu
  • Tasting at Elizabeth Spencer
    Tasting at Elizabeth Spencer
  • Barrel Room at Mondavi
    Barrel Room at Mondavi
  • Jeremy and I in aforementioned Mondavi barrel room.
    Jeremy and I in aforementioned Mondavi barrel room.
  • Summer vegetable salad with burrata cheese croquette, part of lunch at Mondavi
    Summer vegetable salad with burrata cheese croquette, part of lunch at Mondavi
  • Jeremy and me in amongst the vineyards at Mondavi.
    Jeremy and me in amongst the vineyards at Mondavi.
  • Birthday dessert at One Market
    Birthday dessert at One Market

Additional photos are up on Flickr

Day 0

The day started at 3am, for our 6:30am flight out of Richmond. Thankfully all of the flights were on time (after a brief scare the previous afternoon with our original SFO flight getting cancelled, thankfully TripIt notified us immediately and we were able to get a flight less than an hour later). Our travel mates, Jess and Eric, were on a flight that arrived at 2:30pm so when we landed at noon we grabbed our bags from baggage claim, picked up the rental car and headed to the nearest In-n-Out Burger for lunch. The place was so packed that after 15 minutes of trolling the parking lot for a spot we opted to go through the drive through…two cheeseburgers “Animal Style” with fries and drinks, a fitting beginning to the week. We camped out in the cell phone lot at the airport, ate our lunch and chilled until the Golds arrived. Even sitting in a shade-less airport parking lot is enjoyable when it’s 75 degrees with a lovely breeze coming off the mountains, oh northern California and your great weather.

Once we picked up the Golds we made an immediate departure for St. Helena as we had an appointment at 5pm at Trinchero for a reception and a pizza dinner at 5:30. However, the traffic was not in our favor and we didn’t arrive until 5:30. Despite our late arrival our hosts were very gracious and ushered us past a beautifully appointed kitchen through to a dining room set for five that had floor to ceiling windows that looked out through the vineyards and surrounding valley. Definitely a nice way to start out the trip. We were pleasantly surprised to find the dinner was not pizza, but a multi-course meal paired with five wines.

We started with assorted cheeses and fresh baguette with estate-grown olive oil and a sparkling white. Followed by Sauvignon Blanc paired with a delicious heirloom tomato salad with micro basil and burrata cheese (my love for burrata begins!). The main course was Kobe loin cooked a perfect medium with creme fraiche polenta and yellow carrots with 2010 and 2011 Cabernets. It was very interesting contrasting the two wines, both from the same grape and the same general region but with vastly different flavors and aromas. One was more herbal and green peppery and the other was more of a familiar Cab flavor as it was the same region that Elizabeth Spencer grows their grapes in. The final course was a dark chocolate mousse paired with port. The whole meal was excellent and the lead wine educator for Trinchero joined us for the evening so we had great conversation about the wines and the area.

Once we were finished with dinner we headed to the Vineyard Country Inn, our lodging for the first two nights. The Inn is right on the main road through the valley (29) and is a collection of small bungalow style buildings. Our suite has a separate living room with small fridge and sink, then two double beds with a porch off the back facing the adjoining vineyards and a mountain backdrop. We made quick use of the hot tub and pool when we arrived, then headed back to the room to enjoy some Sauvignon Blanc that we were given at dinner. Afterwards we all called for an early bedtime, being up since 3am EST (with an hour nap on the plane) with lots of traveling made a 9:30pm PST bedtime very welcome.

Day 1

The morning started off pretty early as we all were still kind of on East coast time, with everyone awake by 6:15am. We sat on the porch, enjoying the views and watching the sunrise and then got ready for breakfast at Sutter House. Since we had gotten up early we walked down the road and spent some time at the nearby Dean & Deluca store (the highest grossing store in the country) before walking to have breakfast at Sutter House. We were treated to fresh squeezed orange juice and Illy coffee to start. The breakfast had a southwest flair with a black bean and corn omelette/casserole, amazingly crunchy bacon, mango habanero sausage, fresh berries, sheep’s milk yogurt, and delicate and crunchy lemon poppyseed scones. We ate our fill (got to have a good base for wine tasting) and then walked back to the hotel to relax for a bit before heading to our first tasting of the trip at Sequoia Grove.

We were met at the Sequoia Grove tasting room by a wall of huge bottles of their wine, each etched with the two trees that are the namesake of the winery. We enjoyed a full tasting of their wines, a rose, Chardonnay (lightly oaked with no ML fermentation), Sauvignon Blanc, Cab Franc (much different than VA, more fruit forward), Merlot, and multiple Cabernet Sauvignon (blends and three single vineyards). We were then taken to the vines where our guide checked the sugars on the grapes with a little telescope like contraption. We went past the mobile bottling facility that was set up today and past the fermentation tanks into their barrel cellar. 1400 barrels and we were able to taste a 2013 single vineyard cab from the barrel, much sweeter and nowhere near as complex (as one would expect) compared to what we tasted earlier.

Afterwards we headed to downtown St. Helena for lunch at Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen. The day was getting warm but we opted to sit outside, the table we chose had been shaded but unfortunately didn’t stay that way for long so we were pretty hot by the end of the meal. We ordered a bruschetta appetizer with fig, prosciutto, ricotta and a micro green salad on top. Eric and I each had their highly recommended duck burger (quite tasty, seared well, although perhaps slightly dry and very simply dressed with a nice thin bun and grilled marinated mushrooms). Jess had their adult grilled cheese (option rotates daily, today was a pepper aioli and mozzarella on a walnut bread) with polenta fries and Jeremy had their beef burger.

After lunch we wandered through the various antique stores, wine shops and galleries along Main Street and then headed back to the hotel to cool off for a bit before heading back to Trinchero for their full tasting.

We were met by Sandra at Trinchero and sat in their huge deep sofas with tastes of two Sauvignon Blancs while she recounted the story of how the Trinchero family got into the wine business (a very fun story, White Zinfandel was created thanks to four hot days one summer, and that one fluke brought the winery from barely making it to highly profitable in just a few years). We then tasted a Merlot, two Cabs and a Meritage.

We went to Market for dinner where Jeremy and Jess had jalapeño ginger cocktails and Eric and I had California pilsners. I started with a cucumber avocado soup with mint, creme fraiche and yogurt (a cold soup). The guys had a watercress and potato soup made with cream and cheddar cheese. Both soups were amazing. Jess and Jeremy had fried chicken for their entree, Eric had ribs and I had a very tasty Parmesan Mac and cheese. Everyone was so full from dinner we opted out of dessert and headed back to the hotel. We started up a fire (aka lit a dura flame log) and sat in the living room vegging for a bit before heading to bed.

Day 2

This morning everyone was able to sleep in a bit more, time adjustment is slowly taking place. We headed to breakfast at Sutter Home again (vegetable frittata, maple sausage and bacon, blueberry galette, sheep’s milk yogurt and strawberries) and then stopped by the grocery store for a cheap cooler (to keep the wine we’ve already purchased cool while we are out until we get to the AirBnB spot this evening), packed up the hotel room and headed to the first tasting of the day at Whitehall Lane.

…And here’s where by the end of each day I was too tired to write up a blog post. So, for posterity if nothing else, here’s the itinerary from the last days of the trip.

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6 (Jeremy’s birthday)


California trip – day 8 – San Francisco and Alcatraz

Our last day in San Francisco we started with a tour of the iconic Alcatraz Island. All of the travel websites say this is worth going to and it definitely is. Yes, it may be touristy but it’s also really interesting and beautiful. I purchased our tickets online about a month prior (you have to as this is such a popular attraction) and secured the first morning ferry out so that we’d beat a bit of the crowds and still have a good portion of the day to do other stuff as well. There are night tours of Alcatraz as well which I’ve heard are really cool but, even a month in advance, these were sold out for the day we wanted to go.

So you take a 20 minute ferry ride out to the island, getting a nice view of the city on your way out, and then you dock at the main (and only) dock on Alcatraz Island. We were greeted by one of the park rangers who gave us some general information and were informed that there was a garden tourthat was being offered that

The only thing behind bars on Alcatraz now, are the geraniums (to protect them from the birds)

morning that would take you through some of the less-seen areas of the island as well as see a bit of “behind-the-scenes” stuff. Since this was a free tour it sounded like a great way to tour the island and learn more about its history before heading up to the main prison building.

"Tour Starts Here"

After the garden tour concluded we were encouraged to take the Agave Trail to go back down to the ferry, as it went down past the bird sanctuary on the coast. So keeping that in mind we headed into the main building, picked up our audio tour headsets, and walked around with lots of other folks, hearing from previous inmates and guards, about life at Alcatraz.

After the audio tour we took the Agave Trail as recommended. It’s a pretty walk down the island, lots of its namesake plant along the trail,

Air show practice over Alcatraz Island

as well as great views of San Francisco across the Bay. It’s scary imagining being imprisoned there, with the city and its “normal life” seemingly just out of reach. We had to wait a while to board the next ferry and were annoyed by the vast quantity of flies that apparently hatch at this time of year, but thankfully once we were on the ferry and moving they dissipated. As we were leaving the island we were treated to another air show practice, this time not just by the sleek Blue Angels jets but by the older planes as well. All my Fleet Week air show photos are on Flickr if you’d like to see more planes 🙂 Also, the rest of my Alcatraz and San Francisco photos are also online.

Once we were back in the city we headed out towards San Jose, stopping at an amazing Chinese place in the Mission District (aptly names Mission Chinese Food) for a quick lunch. Jeremy had seen this place recommended in the New York Times and it was also well reviewed by the travel sites and Foursquare. So taking Foursquare tip recommendations we ordered the Salt Cod Fried Rice and the Cumin Lamb Belly. The rice was very good with just a hint of the fishy salt cod flavor, but the lamb was amazing, perfectly spiced pieces of lamb broiled so that the fat melted and caramelized along with the onions and few peppers in the dish, so good!

After this late light lunch we headed out to San Jose to meet up with a couple from Williamsburg who had moved out here a few months ago. We met at The Counter, a build-your-own burger place, and had a great time catching up. After dinner we took a stroll around the downtown area, trying to keep up with their two year old son, and then parted ways and drove the hour back to San Francisco. Since we leave very early tomorrow morning we are heading to bed early, back to the real world tomorrow!

It’s been a great trip. It has been quire fun to see Jeremy and my parents interact (and get along well 😉 ) as well as see this side of the country that I’ve heard so much about. There are definitely lots of things I’d like to come back and see, more photos to take, more wines to taste, more great restaurants to find, and I’m looking forward to it 🙂


California trip – day 7 – San Francisco, Ferry Building Marketplace, Pier 39

For our first full day in San Francisco we were greeted with a foggy and rainy morning. Initially the plan had been to ride the bus down to Pier 1 and the Ferry Building Marketplace but the rain swayed us towards the decision to drive down and park for the day. Thankfully the rain cleared up as the day progressed and we only got caught in one stray shower the rest of the day.

"Welcome to Bacon Land"...why thank you!

The Marketplace is definitely a foodie’s dream, dozens of shops, all with some combination of gourmet, organic, free-range, handmade, natural products (all of them beautiful and/or tasty). Mom and I split a blueberry scone as a quick breakfast as we walked the length of the old ferry terminal then we went outside to see the famous tower and “Port of San Francisco” sign. As we were walking around outside we saw that we were right next to where you can take the ferry to Saulsalito. I had heard from a few folks that it was a fun place to go for lunch so we bought Clipper cards (reloadable mass transit fare cards, it was $5 cheaper to use that than to buy the fare with cash) for the 11:35am ferry and then wandered around the marketplace a bit more until the ferry departed.

Our fellow passengers on the trip to Saulsalito were almost exclusively other tourists, so most were crowded at the front or back of the boat taking photos of the passing coastline during the trip (some blatantly ignoring the “please don’t stand on the seats” signs to take photos over the railing). We offloaded at the base of the main street and decided to find a spot for lunch courtesy of Yelp and Foursquare. The highest recommended place was a Thai restaurant at the end of the main road so we walked the few blocks and enjoyed some pretty tasty food at Thai Terrace. We split spring rolls and spicy fried tofu as appetizers, I had a nice green curry and Thai iced tea. After lunch we walked back to the ferry and headed back to the city.

We arrived back at Pier 1 and walked up the Embarcadero along the water up to the attractions around Fisherman’s Wharf. Along the way we sampled some tasty chocolate at TCHO where we had just missed the 2pm tour, looked like it would be fun to do another time. We made a quick tour around the crazy tourist-iness that is Pier 39, saw the sea lions, and walked up around the old Del Monte Cannery and Ghiardelli Square. We stopped at historic Pier 45 which had a fun antique arcade that we walked around (and where I got my customary souvenir penny) and outside along the water we got to enjoy an impromptu Blue Angels airshow as they were practicing for their shows later this weekend for Fleet Week.

We decided to try out Bistro Boudin at the famous Boudin Bakery for dinner. Social media was divided on the quality of the restaurant, some said it was a tourist trap, others said the food was great, overall I think I would lean towards the first opinion. The sourdough bread was very good (as expected), my mom got to have one of their famous bread bowls with crab and corn chowder, Jeremy and I each had a pretty tasty local beer (Anchor Steam), but the main dishes were rather bland, and not worth what you paid. On the bright side, we did have a great view of Alcatraz and the water at sunset from our table.

Port of San Francisco sign and the ferry clock tower at twilight

After dinner we decided to go back to the Marketplace to acquire some desert before heading home. We hopped on the F electric street car all the way back to Pier 1 and went to Ciao Bella Gelato for dessert (mint chocolate chip, honey pecan, pistachio gelatos and lemon sorbet were enjoyed by the group, all good). We walked out to the back of the terminal to catch a view if the night skyline and lit bridges and “Port of San Francisco” sign and then headed back to the car.

Tomorrow, we get to explore Alcatraz and meet up with some Williamsburg friends for dinner in Palo Alto, with I’m sure some more stops in between.


California trip – day 5 – Napa Valley

After a quick bagel breakfast we set off for our first wine tasting of the day at Elizabeth Spencer Winery. The tasting room is situated in the old town post office and Marshall greeted us warmly and led us through a wonderful tasting of a Sauvignon Blanc, two chardonnays, a Pinot Noir and two Cabernet Sauvignons. Jeremy and I confirmed our previous belief that these are some crazy tasty wines and decided to join their wine club (which also allowed us to get a discount on a few bottles to take back with us). We asked for some recommendations for lunch and were told that Farmstead and Cook were two good options so we made reservations for dinner at Cook (after validating the selection on Yelp and Urbanspoon) and headed to Farmstead for an early lunch. We were also given two discount tasting coupons for a nearby winery that (we later found out) Marshall used to work at so that winery was added to the list of destinations for the day.

Lunch at Farmstead was delicious. I had a country ham-wrapped fig salad with arugula and goat cheese and Mom and I split a burger with fried egg, with a side of fried potatoes. I think the fig salad is one of the best dishes from the whole trip, everything was so fresh and just tasted like it “should.” We noticed the tasting room next door (affiliated with the restaurant) had a Foursquare special for free tastings so we walked next door and tasted three wines and two olive oils at Long Meadow Ranch.

Grapes at Cakebread Cellars

Our next stop was Cakebread Cellars and we were given the VIP treatment thanks to some connections with friends back in Williamsburg. We were given a personal tour, tasted probably a dozen great wines, and even tasted grapes off of the vines so we could contrast the same grape being grown in the California and European-style of growing and trellising grapes (they really do taste different!).

Our last wine tasting stop was at Steltzner Vineyards (where our wine server Marshall at Elizabeth Spencer had worked previously). The bartender there also worked in the kitchen of Bottega, which had been another restaurant we wanted to try, so he checked to see if there were any openings coming up, and unfortunately there were not, will just have to be a place to go next time.

Before dinner we wandered around downtown St. Helena, perused two of the many olive oil stores, checked out the real estate listing (very pricey, but hey, you could buy a vineyard!) and then headed to dinner at Cook at 5:30. To start, we split the calamari and mussels with tomato and sausage appetizers amongst the table. Jeremy had the fetuccini carbonara special, Dad had the short ribs (recommended by Foursquare), Mom had a whole trout, and I had the risotto special with seared tuna, red grapes, and a pistachio, fig and bacon tapenade (very different combination of flavors, but tasty). For dessert I tried their “mundae,” chocolate and vanilla gelato with a balsamic reduction, gray sea salt, and extra virgin olive oil. Overall the flavors were good but the chilled olive oil was a bit odd, could’ve done without that but I guess we were in olive oil country.

After a rather harrowing drive back up the hill in the rain we made it back to the house and Jeremy and I decided to “rough it” a bit and sleep in the little garden cottage for the night. It’s really cute and cosy inside. Tomorrow we head down to San Francisco, possibly stopping at a winery, and then definitely going down the Pacific Coast Highway to the city.

Photos from our winery tours and of the AirBnB house are in a Flickr set if you’d like to see more.


California trip – day 3 – Yosemite, Mist Trail and Vernal Falls

Today started off early again with everyone heading out around 7am to get to the Yosemite stables by 8am. As usual, we got there significantly early (about 30 minutes), but better early than late. There were fifteen people all together in the group, with three guides. After watching a 15 year old “training video” warning us of the dangers of horseback riding by a narrator who sounded like he was out of an old western, we were told “enjoy the ride, partner” and were ready to head out.

Lenny the mule

We lined up and were each assigned a mule. Dad got a mule named Guiness (very appropriate considering his fondness for the beer of the same name), Jeremy’s was brown with a white mane named Uno, Mom’s was named Hawkeye, and mine was Lenny. We had a few couples as well as two families along for the ride, with a guide at the front, middle, and back of our single file line. The mules can walk this trail without virtually no guidance so you were just along for the ride more or less unless you decided to let them have a snack on a nearby bush.

We rode for about two hours, passed by Mirror Lake (which was more of a small pond at this time of year), and turned around at a spot where there was a rockslide in 2009 that closed off the trail loop. We doubled back a little and then went down some pretty rocky terrain, good thing the mules are sure footed. Both my mule and Mom’s we quite cautious, pausing at the top of any particularly steep spot for a few moments and figuring out the best way to go. After two hours we headed back to the stables, everyone was a bit stiff from the ride but overall we had a really great time and it’s definitely something we will have stories from and remember as a highlight of the trip.

We ate lunch out of the back of the car, making deli sandwiches and roughing it with no knives (Mom and I learned from the guys that you can just “rub the two pieces of bread together to spread the mustard around”…riiiight). After lunch we decided to split up, Mom and Dad opted to go around via the shuttle bus to the various gift shops and to see the historic lodges in the valley. Jeremy and I decided to go for a short(ish) hike via Mist Trailto see Vernal Falls.

Vernal Falls with a beautiful rainbow

The trail was listed as “moderate” in our guidebook (on a scale of easy, moderate, strenuous or very strenuous), and I hate to see what gets classified as strenuous. Granted the first half of the trail, which was quite popular and had the full gamut of age range hiking it, was a paved path but it went up quite steeply. I have decided it’s a very good thing to have a camera with you on these kinds of hikes as I would just “stop to take a picture” whenever I needed to catch my breath. The altitude definitely came into play here, it wasn’t that I needed to stop because my muscles were tired, it was just that I couldn’t catch my breath. Eventually though we got to the midway point where most folks turned around and just got a distant view of the falls, we decided to continue up the seemingly endless granite steps to finish the trail in pursuit of a better view. Every few hundred yards you would get an ever closer view of the falls, which had the light hitting them just right that there were rainbows at the base of the falls. The water comes over a sheer rock wall so the view is breathtaking seeing the water coming over, and the water rushing around all the huge boulders that have come off the wall over time. Granted, this was the lowest the falls had been all season, so I can’t imagine what it looks like at full capacity in the spring after the snow melt.

One of our avian visitors

We made it to the top of the falls and then walked back a bit to the Emerald Pool that feeds it for a snack stop. We sat in the shade on a big boulder and almost immediately after pulling out our granola bars we had peaked the attention of the surrounding birds and squirrels. A few were quite bold and landed or walked within a few feet of us, making for some fun wildlife photos but we eventually shooed them off. There were huge smooth slightly sloping rocks that in spring must be under a few feet of rushing water but, being we were there at the end of the season, were dry and offered a very comfortable spot to recline for a bit and soak up some sun and listen to the rushing water. We saw glimpses of a wooden bridge and an even higher waterfall, Nevada Falls, so I suggested we walk up a bit farther to try and get a better view and set that as the pinnacle of our hike. We made it up to the top, took a few more photos and then made the significantly faster journey downhill back to the shuttle stop to meet up with my folks.

We swung through the store to pick up a tri-tip steak to grill along with some corn, sweet potatoes and rice for dinner, and we will eat the bit of leftover chili as well to round out the meal. It has been a great stay in Yosemite, not too hurried, not too slow. I feel like we have seen a lot of the “famous” landmarks but managed to avoid really feeling like you were in a tourist spot, I think the photo walk and trail ride helped with that. Tomorrow we have a 5ish hour drive to Napa. On the way we will probably stop in Modesto for lunch somewhere (we will see what Yelp recommends), and be in Napa at our next AirBnB home between 4 and 5pm.

If you’d like to take a look, all of my Yosemite photos are up on Flickr.


California trip – day 2 – Yosemite and Mariposa Grove

So today started off early (in California time, late on East coast) at 6am so that we could be at the Ansel Adams gallery in Yosemite valley a bit before 8:30am. It had taken us an hour to get to the house from the visitors center the day before but we forgot to add in the fact that downhill goes faster so we arrived almost 45 minutes early for our photo walk. We grabbed a cup of coffee at the little cafe at the visitors center and waited with the 11 other folks for the walk to start.

Reflections of Yosemite

We were led by one of the park photographers on an hour and a half mini-class. He explained aperture and shutter speed as well as ISO and how that affects your photos. We had a pretty diverse group both geographically and in terms of photography experience. There was a couple from the UK who had lots of nice equipment (the husband kindly offered to let me borrow an extra tripod when we were taking long-exposure shots), a few ladies from Minnesota with point and shoots, a lady from New Zealand with what appeared to be the same amount of equipment/experience as us except she had brought a tripod, and a few other folks with point-and-shoots. In hindsight, I wish we had stopped by the Swem Media Center at William & Mary and rented monopods to use for the trip, oh well, note for next time.

Our first stop after our camera “orientation” was to shoot an elm tree in one of the valley meadows in the morning sun. This was the first time in a long time that I had actually shot full manual, and I realized how much I do miss it. Shooting manual makes you really stop and take a bit more time to compose your shot, and playing with F-stops and histograms to adjust the light (even when your light meter says it’s “right”). We walked by the Merced river to shoot reflections of the huge granite formations next, and finished with some shots of Half Dome before heading back towards the visitors center and concluding the tour.

We walked around the gift shop and Adams Gallery for a bit then hopped on the (free!) hybrid shuttle bus that runs around the valley and went to the stables to see if there were any spots open for a horseback ride the next morning, and we were in luck! So tomorrow at 9am (we need to arrive at 8) we will be doing a 2 hour horseback tour of the park (Mom has always want to do this and I am super excited too 🙂 ). After making the reservations we got back on the shuttle and headed back to the main parking area. We decided earlier in the morning we would visit the Mariposa Grove in the afternoon so we stopped at a picnic area along the way to enjoy our peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwiches and then (after a bit of driving around to secure a parking spot) got on another shuttle up to the grove.

See those tiny colored dots on the road at the bottom center of the photo? That's my parents and Jeremy, these trees are HUGE!

The initial plan had been (based on the guidebooks we had) to ride a open air tram up to the upper grove, then to walk down and see all of the famous trees. Unfortunately the tram did not go just one way, and it was $26 per person, so we decided to walk. The lower grove (about a 1.5 mile hike) had a few famous trees, but the upper grove (an additional 2.5 mile hike) showcased some of the larger and more unique trees so once we got to the top of the lower grove we decided we were in good enough shape to visit the upper grove as well. There was quite a bit of uphill on the way to the little museum at the top of the upper grove but we made it, saw everything we wanted to, and were back down to the parking lot by 5pm.

The giant sequoias here are just unbelievably huge, it’s hard to really fathom how large they are until you standing next to them and realizing you could stretch your arms wide around the tree and not even go a tenth of the way around it. It’s amazing how these trees survive, and thrive, from the forest fires that occur every few years. The burned trunks create beautiful patterns and sometimes the fires hollow out entire trees, yet the trees are still alive (like the Telescope Tree). These guys are very resilient, and they aren’t even considered “mature” until they are 800 years old, some of the trees we saw were over 3000, amazing.

After hiking the grove we were all pretty famished and ready to head back to the house so we did just that. We cooked marinated pork chops on the grill with oven roasted potatoes and acorn squash, all the while enjoying a spectacular sunset view from our deck. So now it is quarter past 8 but since we are getting up early again I think we are all heading to bed early as well. Tomorrow we have the horseback ride in the morning then I think my folks will split up from Jeremy and I and we will do a short day hike somewhere while my parents visit the lodges and other shops in the valley, looking forward to all of it 🙂


California Trip – day 0 and 1 – Travel to Yosemite

Our flight from Richmond left at 1:30 in the afternoon on Thursday so both Jeremy and I took off the whole day. We spent the morning running last minute errands before heading to the airport early to meet up with a friend who sold me her scooter (a Yamaha Vino) so we could exchange payment and the title. My parents were flying out of Dulles and it just happened to work out (no really, not planned) that our connecting flight to San Francisco was through Dulles on the same flight. We all were lucky enough to fly first class courtesy of miles and upgrades so we had a pretty relaxing cross-country flight. We landed in San Francisco (hello first time on the West coast!) around 7:30 PST, grabbed our bags from baggage claim and headed to a nearby Hilton for the night.

After our complementary hotel breakfast we set out towards the east and Yosemite National Park. Typically this is about a 4.5 hour drive but we stopped in Oakdale to pick up groceries for the next three days (breakfast, packable lunches and dinner) and to have lunch at a local deli called Ferrareses Deli that came highly recommended on both TripAdvisor and Yelp. I had a very tasty avocado BLT, Mom had the pesto chicken sandwich and Jeremy and Dad both had the French Dip, yum.

Most of the trip we just spent looking out at the scenery, as it changed from tan dry grass hillsides with wind farms, to seemingly endless groves of pecan trees, then finally to tall pine and cedar trees as we entered the national forest and ultimately Yosemite National Park.

We are staying in the only private residential section allowed in the park (courtesy of AirBnB, the Yosemite Sunset House), about an hour’s drive (15 miles) from the main visitor’s center in Yosemite Valley. We couldn’t check in until 5pm so we decided to head to the visitor’s center to pick up maps, standard souvenirs (I always buy photo magnets from places I visit, my mom always gets one of the 8×10 photo tour books), and to see if there was anything we wanted to make reservations for while we were in the park. The Ansel Adams gallery hosts 1.5 hour morning walks for free most mornings so we called and were able to reserve spots to take that tour in the morning. We are also talking about doing w horseback trail ride, hopefully we can fit that in, I haven’t ridden a horse for probably 18 years but it would be fun to do again, so we will see.

(from left to right) El Capital, Half Dome and the Three Brothers

On our way to the visitors center we passed by many of the park’s most famous sites, Bridal Veil falls, El Capitan, Half Dome, it’s amazing to see these in person, the views almost don’t look real, the scale of everything is just awesome.

We arrived at our house around 5:30, lugged all our suitcases up the three flights of outside stairs to be greeted by a pine tree studded view of the mountains and the sunset on our big deck. The house is situated on a hillside, with three separate apartments, the bottom is not open to the public, then there is a one bedroom apartment on the second level (the folks staying there pulled in around 8pm tonight) and then the top level is a 2 bedroom, one bath place where we are staying. There is a big open living/dining/kitchen area with lots of windows looking out to the forest and facing west towards the setting sun (thus the name “Sunset House”). We bought the makings for chili and cornbread at the store so we got that going and then sat out on the deck, enjoying the cool mountain air and views. Dinner turned out quite tasty (even with some baking dish improvising for the corn bread). Now everyone is getting ready to turn in for the night (we are all still on East coast time, luckily this works in our favor when we need to be at the visitors center tomorrow before 8:30am and we have an hour and change drive to get there).

So tomorrow, photo walk and tips on how to take “nature photos,” then I think a short day hike of some sort is in order. There’s so much to see, and we have two full days to see it, but for now, as it feels like 11:35pm rather than 8:35, I think it’s time to head to bed.


July 4th holiday in CT and NYC – day 3

For our last day in NYC we decided to take advantage of our hotel’s close proximity to the New York Public Library and tour the famous building with all of its gorgeous architecture. They are celebrating their 100th anniversary so there was an exhibition of cool items from their collection, including a Guttenberg Bible, a copy of the Declaration of Independence, and a first edition copy of the music for the Star Spangled Banner. We went through and took photos of the famous reading room (and amusingly found Emily Post’s book on wedding etiquette which we perused for a few minutes). We went down to the children’s room and saw the original Winnie the Pooh stuffed animals (my favorite is Tigger) and then went next door to Bryant Park to sit outside for a few minutes and relax for a few minutes before heading down to Greenwich Village for our food tour.

So this tour I found out about kind of randomly. I had posted on Twitter that I was going to be in NYC for a few days and was looking for non-standard-tourist things to do. I got a reply from @ohmygola (a new travel recommendation website) asking for a bit more detail about the trip. Before I replied I checked out their website to make sure things we legit and not spam and looked around their existing New York City recommendations, it was there I came upon the Foods of NYC Tours Greenwich Village Food and Culture Walking Tour. I explored their site, checked out a few competitors, but this tour seemed by far the most interesting so I booked tickets for Jeremy and I for the afternoon tour. @ohmygola also formatted my reply tweet to them on their site and I got a response as well, so that was pretty cool.

Ok so we met in front of Murray’s Cheese Shop on Bleecker Street (although we did not taste stuff from them until later) and met our tour guide Bert who handed out water bottles and some coupons for the businesses we’d be visiting on the tour, here’s where we went via photos

Joe's Pizza, for a slice of "true and authentic" New York-style pizza (meaning, crushed tomato sauce, cheese, foldable crust made with NYC tap water)

O&CO for an olive oil tasting and a nutella-like spread made from olive oil and cocoa, yum!


Our tour guide Bert heading to get our next batch of food samples

Arancini from Faicco's Italian Specialties

We then went down into the Cornelia Street Cafe basement where many a famous performer (and performance) have gotten there start

Stuffed mushroom, truffle deviled egg, and bacon-wrapped, gorgonzola stuffed date from Centro Vinoteca. Jeremy and I also enjoyed a quartino of wine gifted to us by two ladies in the group who heard about our recent engagement.

Sweet and spicy salami from Faicco's

*amazing* chocolate chip cookies from Milk & Cookies Bakery, wonderful texture plus it was warm and fresh from their oven

The entertaining staff at Murray's Cheese Shop, where we got an olive, cheese, and cheese pastry sampling.

We ended with a light ricotta dessert specially made for the tour from Scali Caffé

Overall this was a fantastic tour, as we went between the different food places we stopped at cool buildings in Greenwich village, had a bunch of amazing sounding restaurants pointed out to us (essentially anywhere on Bleecker Street is a fantastic place to eat). After the tour we asked Bert for a recommendation for a place to kill an hour or so before we had to head back to the hotel and pick up our stuff to go to the airport, he recommended the Olive Tree Cafe where we enjoyed a great pitcher of sangria and tried not to plan wedding stuff 😉

The trip back to Norfolk was (thankfully) uneventful and we got back to Williamsburg around midnight, concluding a fantastic and (unexpectedly) memorable trip 🙂

Photos: NYPL and Food Tour Flickr Set


July 4th holiday in CT and NYC – day 2, part 2

So fireworks in NYC on the Fourth are quite impressive 😉 We hopped on the subway and heded towards dinner at Spice Market around 7pm. We were a bit off on our estimation of how long the subway ride would take so we were a few minutes late for our 7:30 reservation time but we had to wait for our table a bit anyway so it wasn’t an issue. Rather than trying to choose from their menu Jeremy and I both opted for their nine-dish/four-course tasting menu and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc (decided to not be touristy and take photos this time around but here’s the breakdown per course):

Course 1

  • Shaved tuna with coconut milk, chili tapioca, pear and lime
  • Lobster summer roll with citrus-dill gelee and sriracha emulsion (was very different with the dill, a new flavor combo, but tasty)
  • Poppadum with spicy/smoky tomato salsa

Course 2

  • Pork sausage satay with lime and Thai basil dip (my favorite dish of the night)
  • Spiced chicken samosas with cilantro yogurt

Course 3

  • Ginger fried rice with a panko-crusted fried egg
  • Cod with Malaysian chile sauce, Thai basil and celery
  • Chargrilled chicken with kumquat lemongrass dressing

Course 4

  • Thai jewels (little flavored gelatin balls) with crushed coconut ice
  • Ovaltine kulfi (like an ice cream) with caramelized banana, spiced milk chocolate sauce and whipped cream

Fireworks from 12th street

Everything was served “family style” and overall things were very good (and reasonably priced for a tasting menu at $48 per person). Once we were done with dinner it was about 9:30, the fireworks had started at 9:20 but we had chosen the restaurant for it’s proximity to the fireworks (and ability to make a reservation on OpenTable) so we walked towards the water to be met with a probably 50-75 person-deep crowd at 13th street. We opted to go down a street for a better view upriver and enjoyed the rest of the fireworks from there with 1000s of others 🙂 We were able to see all 6 displays, just not the water below them, nevertheless they were quite impressive.

The fireworks concluded a bit before 10pm and we joined the masses heading to the subway stations and made our way back to the hotel after a lovely evening.

Photos: MoMA and NYC Fireworks Flickr Set


July 4th holiday in CT and NYC – day 2, part 1

So our first full day in New York (as an engaged couple!) started off with a complementary and tasty breakfast in the hotel in their library/dining area. It’s really a great place to come in the morning, lots of windows, tasty coffee, quiet music, so a nice and low-key ways to start off the day.

I had never been to the Museum of Modern Art so we decided that would be our destination for the day. We left the hotel around 9:30, but the museum didn’t open until 10:30 so we opted to walk there to kill some time. We stopped by Rockefeller Plaza, looked around the Lego store (they didn’t have any good girl-with-glasses Lego heads otherwise I totally would’ve come out of there with a mini Lego-me), along with Cole Hahn (where the sales guy followed us around the store the whole time, a bit disconcerting), and Banana Republic (this was by far the largest store I’d ever been in) before heading to the museum.

If you have never been to MoMA, it is huge! And plan to spend pretty much the entire day there. We started on the top (6th) floor and worked our way down through famous paintings like Van Gough’s “Starry Night”, and Monet’s huge “Water Lilly” paintings along with more eclectic video art pieces, an exhibition on fonts and consumer design (they even had a Vespa), and even an exhibit on “serious video games” used for military training.

We stopped at the third floor around 1pm for a lunch break (as long as you keep your ticket you can come in and out all day). We were thwarted at the first place we picked (Burger Joint, was highly recommended on Yelp and Foursquare but was totally packed), so we went across the street to Angelo’s Pizza (also courtesy of some social media outlet). At Angelo’s we enjoyed a fried zucchini and eggplant appetizer (the veggies were cut into chips and deep fried then arranged in an orderly circular tower, really good and excellent crispy texture with just enough flavor from both the batter, salt and the veggies) served with a garlic yogurt, then we split a “small” (aka 14″) coal oven-baked prosciutto and basil pizza.

Now we are killing a bit of time before dinner reservations at Spice Market at 7:30 and then finding some clear river view of the Hudson for the fireworks at 9:20, should be fun 🙂

Photos: MoMA and NYC Fireworks Flickr Set