The Lizard Chronicles

Some of this is true. Some of this is better. –Too Much Joy

Northeast Road Trip Part 5: Seizing the Day and Relaxificationizing July 22, 2015

It was the penultimate day of our trip (and the last one that wouldn’t be taken up almost entirely by driving), and we were ready! The socks I wore said it all.

Hell yes!

Hell yes!

There was a threat of rain that day, but the forecast looked most promising in the morning, so we decided to hike first and beer/wine taste later. Off we went to Watkins Glen State Park, which had been described to us by scores of people as a must see. Indeed. It was stunningly beautiful.

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Behind a waterfall

Behind a waterfall

Living (not very) dangerously

Living (not very) dangerously

All that hiking and beauty and nature and stuff made us thirsty, so we went to Wagner Vineyards, which is home to a brewery, a winery, and a cafe–what more could we possibly want? Well, it had a lovely view to boot!

Our view while beer tasting at Wagner

Our view while beer tasting at Wagner

Beer rainbow

Beer rainbow

We tasted beer and wine and then fortified ourselves with lunch so we were ready to move on to our next stop: Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards. There we encountered some of the friendliest and most entertaining staff members in recent memory. Also, the tasting glasses and many of the wine labels had a cat theme going, so I was sold.

RedcatWe weren’t done yet. We tasted spirits at Finger Lakes Distilling, more wine at Heron Hill, and cider and mead at Earle Estates.

Selfie at Finger Lakes Distilling

We were in good spirits at Finger Lakes Distilling

The choice of discerning herons

The choice of discerning herons

At that point, we considered the day pretty well seized and headed back to the hotel (excuse me, castle!). We strolled around the grounds for a bit and enjoyed the view from the patio as a we watched a rain storm roll in on the other side of the lake.

Neener neener, we're on the dry side!

Neener neener, we’re on the dry side!

To top the day off, I coined a new word: relaxificationizing, to describe the combined effects of wine and a soak in a hot tub.

Diem carped.

The next morning, we ate breakfast under guard of the brave knights at Belhurst before beginning the trip home.

Brave guardian of the buffet

Brave guardian of the buffet

We had plans to visit two wineries on our way out, but between the breakfast and the car ride, I began to doze off and was unable to help navigate. We missed the turn for our first intended destination and didn’t realize it for several miles, at which point, we didn’t feel like turning back. So, we proceeded to the next spot on our agenda: Bully Hill. This delightful place is home to many delicious wines, the labels of which bear the beautiful artwork of the late Walter S. Taylor, who was one of the winery’s founders and, by most descriptions, quite a character. A sign in the tasting room indicated that, after one complimentary tasting, additional tastings were one dollar each, but our friendly server assured us as he poured that he was absolutely not keeping track of how many wines we tried and told us just to leave a few bucks, whatever we thought was appropriate.

Last selfie of the trip!

Last selfie of the trip!

During our travels of the preceding week, we had collected about a case of wine, some beer, several gifts, various other souvenirs (including the all-important rubber duck, Isabella), and a lot of great memories. It was time to head home. The drive was long but mainly uneventful save for a traffic jam outside of Cleveland. Isabella enjoyed the scenery and looked forward to seeing her new home.

Homeward bound

Homeward bound

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Northeast Road Trip Part 4: The Great Ducky Controversy July 17, 2015

For a brief time, Ian and I thought we might have to take up residence in Cambridge upon finding that we were unable to extricate our car from the small lot of our B&B. However, vehicles were shuffled, the situation was resolved swiftly, and we were on our way. Our destination: the middle of nowhere (also known as Cooperstown, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame).

Cooperstown is not the kind of place you could easily stumble upon, particularly when trying to drive and navigate in very hard rain, interspersed with periods of only moderately hard rain. Eventually, though, we emerged from wilderness into a sea of baseball umbrellas on a street containing, almost exclusively, restaurants and baseball-themed stores. Yup, we were in the right place. The Hall of Fame and Museum were worth the visit, even though one can only look at plaques and memorabilia for so long. It was interesting to see some of the old equipment (from before safety was invented) and to find one of the few places on Earth where Ian was more interested in the gift shop than I was.

I want to join!

I want to join!

Such phanatics!

Such phanatics!

Before I married Ian and changed my last name, people often asked me if I was related to Mel Ott, a right fielder who played for the New York Giants and whose name pops up in a lot of crossword puzzles. Although we’re not related as far as I know, eventually, I started answering in the affirmative to amuse myself. “Oh, yeah, sure. Good old Uncle Mel! I heard tons of stories about him when I was growing up.” Hey, why not? I got a picture with his Hall of Fame plaque, and Ian got pictures with those of some of his favorite Cubs.

Uncle Mel!

Uncle Mel!

Ian with Mr. Cub

Ian with Mr. Cub

When we were done at the Hall of Fame, we had lunch at the Doubleday Cafe and perused some of the shops. Then it was time to get into the car again and head back toward the Finger Lakes. We arrived at our next place of lodging, Belhurst Castle, checked in, and proceeded directly to the wine tasting room (before even going to our room) so we could get a tasting in before they closed for the evening. There we tasted what was probably the best dry Riesling we’d had in recent memory.

Belhurst Castle

Belhurst Castle

When we got to our room, I was delighted by one of the first things to catch my eye: a rubber ducky bearing the name and logo of Belhurst Castle. Alas, my delight quickly turned to consternation when I offhandedly mentioned taking the ducky home with us and Ian reacted with shock and dismay. I had assumed that the duck was a promotional item, a complimentary souvenir of our stay. Ian, on the other hand, supposed that the duck was akin to the wine glasses and coffee maker in the room–meant to be used only for the duration of our visit. Our debate became heated. I took informal polls on Facebook, and although “complimentary souvenir” won in a landslide, Ian was not convinced. My distress grew, quickly becoming completely out of proportion to the situation. For reasons I do not fully understand, I really wanted that duck. However, I did not want Ian to think less of me. He seemed to fear that he was married to a larcenist who was precariously perched atop a slippery slope leading toward a life of crime.

I had to settle this. The next time we passed the front desk, I approached and announced. “I have an extremely silly question.” The three staff members looked at me expectantly, so I continued. “The rubber ducks in the rooms–are those meant for guests to take, or are you not supposed to take them?”

A pause followed. The desk clerks seemed puzzled that someone would think to ask about this. “You can take them,” one finally said.

Yes! The ducky was mine!

I named her Isabella after a ghost that has been alleged to roam the grounds of Bellhurst.

Isabella enjoys the view.

Isabella enjoys the view.

"I want some!"

“I want some!”

 

Northeast Road Trip Part 1: Real Rain, Metaphorical Rainbows, and the Dreaded Ditch Monster July 8, 2015

Ian and I had not gone on a significant road trip in quite some time, so for this vacation, we decided to pack the amount of driving we typically do in about 6 months into a single week. Part of our trip entailed visiting wineries (as so many of our vacations do), and we rejoiced at the freedom of simply being able to stow our wine purchases in the trunk rather than worry about putting them in our checked bags or shipping them home.

Hoping to stay well ahead of the morning rush, we hit the road at 4:30 am, an hour I rarely see unless it involves rolling over, glancing at the clock, and delighting in the fact that I don’t have to get out of bed for a couple of hours. We left that Thursday morning amidst light rain, which, not 20 miles from home, turned into a deluge. Showers alternated with blinding sheets of rain for many miles, but after a couple hours, the worst of the rain was over, and after that, the drive was long but mainly uneventful, with few blogworthy observations.

On I-90 in Ohio, we drove past an outpost of the Cleveland Clinic, one of the most highly regarded hospitals in the country. Just moments later, we passed an enormous sign announcing our proximity to the world headquarters for Duck Tape. Naturally, this got me musing about whether the secret to the success of the Cleveland Clinic involves fixing all manner of trauma and disease with strong, sturdy tape. Probably not, but the thought amused me for a while. Later, as we drove through Pennsylvania, I was amused by the sight of groundhogs, though we were nowhere near Punxsutawney.

After about eleven and a half hours on the road, we were more than ready for some wine. Luckily, the tasting room at Glenora Wine Cellars is open late, so we stopped there to sample their wares and made our first of many wine purchases before heading to our hotel in Geneva.

Long drives are best when there is wine at the end of them.

Long drives are best when there is wine at the end of them.

Friday morning, we had the luxury of sleeping past sunrise. We partook of the hotel’s free continental breakfast, when, mainly because they were right there with the rest of the spread, I tried Fruit Loops again, just to make sure I still don’t like them (I don’t). With that, we began the roughly seven hour drive (which seemed almost trivial after Thursday’s trek) to our destination in New Hampshire. We hadn’t been on the road long when my phone began to explode, as friends texted to share and celebrate the happy news that the Supreme Court had ruled in favor of marriage equality. Woo hoo!

This was actually taken a couple of years ago in Milwaukee, but it seems appropriate to post here

This was actually taken a couple of years ago in Milwaukee, but it seems appropriate to post here

Later, as we passed through Vermont, I was somewhat disappointed to find that it was not even close to being entirely filled with maple syrup. I’d never been to Vermont before, but for some reason, in my mind, the state had become synonymous with maple syrup. I pictured veritable rivers of it and was quite certain there would be roadside signs every 12 feet announcing the sale of the sweet liquid. In fact, we saw only 3 or 4 such signs. However, one thing not lacking in Vermont was oversized chairs. We passed the World’s Tallest Ladderback Chair in Bennington, the Best Seat in Vermont in Marlboro, and a few other chairs, which, despite being not quite as grand, were much larger than average.

It was around 5:30 in the evening when we reached our destination, a cabin owned by our friend Jenny’s family, which we lovingly nicknamed Heisenberg’s Cabin. We were greeted by our friends and relaxed knowing that, for the next day and a half, we would hardly need to be a in a car at all! We drank some beers, ate some fajitas, and gathered around the fire pit in back (it was a rather chilly evening for late June). Life was good.

Later, when he discovered that there was a telescope at the cabin, Ian got the opportunity to flaunt his astronomical prowess by focusing it on Saturn. We stood in the darkness near the end of the cabin’s gravel driveway taking turns looking at the ringed planet. At one point, I took a step backward to make way for another viewer, but my foot did not connect with ground. Instead, I felt myself falling, as if in slow motion, wondering what had just happened and fearing I was being dragged away by a horrible ditch monster (after all, you never know what might happen at a cabin in the woods). Thankfully, I escaped unaided, which was good because no one even noticed my brief disappearance until I was in the process of climbing out of the ditch, laughing and a bit muddy. I was unharmed except for a small blow to my pride. I’m not very easily embarrassed, but I felt somewhat abashed, mainly since I feared people would assume that I had stumbled because I was inebriated. I’ll admit to being tipsy, but I feel confident in asserting that I would have done the exact same thing had I been stone cold sober. It’s just the kind of thing I do.

 

Hawai’ian Holiday Part 1: The Mo’o Chronicles March 28, 2015

Filed under: Life tales,photography,Travel — lizardesque @ 5:48 pm
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Not many things will get me out of bed at 4:15 a.m., but a flight to Hawai’i is one of them. So began our adventure. Ian and I bid farewell to our thoroughly confused cats and headed for the airport on a dark, chilly Wednesday morning. Later, during a 2.5-hour layover in Denver, we figured it was probably about time to start drinking. It was vacation after all! The bartender kept trying to coax us (and everyone else in the vicinity) into doing Jägermeister shots, but we declined in favor of a more classic breakfast drink.

Second Breakfast

Second Breakfast

Several hours later, we (and our luggage–huzzah!) arrived safely in Kona, at which time we obtained our rental car and set off to pick up Rachel and Matthew, our friends and traveling companions…at Costco, of course. They had arrived a few hours earlier and decided they would save some time by purchasing provisions for the week before we got there. As a bonus, they perplexed their taxi driver with their requested destination. Who would have thought that Kona Airport to Costco is an unusual fare?

Trunk loaded with luggage, food, wine, beer, and a giant bottle of rum, we began the long drive to Pāhala, where we would be staying for the first few nights. I required a brief vomit-prevention stop along the way (hills + winding roads + no proper meal for many hours = queasy Liz), but the voyage was otherwise uneventful. It was late, and we were all jet-lagged and travel weary, so we had no greater ambitions than to enjoy some snacks and beer on the lanai, but with our beer came the added value of unexpected education! Bottle caps from Kona Brewing Company beer are printed with Hawai’ian words and phrases so that you might satisfy both your thirst for a tasty beverage and your thirst for knowledge.

Educational Beer!

Educational Beer!

The next morning after breakfast, we took a walk over to the nearby Punalu’u black-sand beach with hopes of spotting sea turtles. Alas, there were none to be found, but it was a pretty beach.

Punalu'u Beach

Punalu’u Beach

We had a full day planned, so we didn’t linger at the beach. Ian got the car stereo communicating with his iPad so we no longer had to listen to long stretches of static interrupted by brief bursts of music as we had on the way to Pāhala. Apparently, the car was a bit ornery that day because this is how we were greeted.

Well, that's just rude!

Well, that’s just rude!

Undeterred, we headed to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. On the way there, Rachel expressed her concern that, if given the opportunity, she might have an uncontrollable urge to touch lava. I understood this perfectly, as I have suffered from numerous irrational fears (including a short-lived, but rather intense, fear of yeast) at various points in my life. Thankfully, helpful reminders regarding lava interactions were posted.

Back away from the lava, Rachel.

Back away from the lava, Rachel.

We didn’t get close enough to any lava for Rachel’s fears to be much of an issue. However, we did enjoy free (if slightly sulfur-smelling) facials at steam vents and saw lots of cool craters.

At Halema'uma'u Crater

At Halema’uma’u Crater

We left the park for a short time to visit the Volcano Winery, the southernmost winery in the U.S., where we sampled a variety of delicious wines, ate a giant cheese plate (because Rachel and I go on vacation together primarily to drink wine and eat a lot of cheese), and met a cat named Mele (who seemed completely indifferent to us). I have admit that, after taking several vacations in which wine tasting was a central component, it felt downright odd to visit just one winery without immediately continuing on to another. Of course, the only other winery in Hawai’i is on Maui, so it would have been a challenging drive.

I know where to park!

I know where to park!

We returned to the park and saw the Thurston Lava Tube, which ranks among the coolest things I have ever seen.

Thurston Lava Tube

Thurston Lava Tube

We then drove down Chain of Craters Road, passing the July 1974 lava flow (which we dubbed Ian’s Birthday Lava). For much of the drive, it was a bit difficult to believe that we were still on Earth. Relatively recent lava flows create landscapes unlike any I’ve seen before.

What planet is this again?

What planet is this again?

Lavalicious

Lavalicious

Heart-Shaped Rock

Heart-Shaped Rock

Pu'u Loa Petroglyphs

Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs

Turtle Petroglyph

Turtle Petroglyph

Holei Sea Arch

Holei Sea Arch

Our adventures for the day concluded at the Volcano House, where we watched the eerie orange glow of the Halema’uma’u crater come into view as the sun went down. The view was nothing short of magical, yet we remained at a safe enough distance to prevent Rachel from impulsively running amok and touching the lava.

Lavulation

Lavulation

 

 

That California Trip Part 7: Superman and Garlic, but no Tequila June 18, 2014

Filed under: Food,Life tales,photography,Travel — lizardesque @ 5:45 pm
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One of the things I like about staying at bed and breakfasts (or is that beds and breakfasts? B&Bs? Bs&Bs? gah! I don’t know!), rather than at hotels, is the social aspect. On our final morning in Napa, over breakfast, we chatted with a couple from San Francisco who frequently came to Napa Valley for brief getaways. They described an evening 20 or so years ago when they happened upon what first appeared to be a quaint and rustic-looking launderette but was revealed, upon further inspection, to be a restaurant. They figured they’d try it. Why not? Well, that restaurant was none other than the now world-famous French Laundry, back when it was relatively unknown. Turns out, they got a tasty meal and a great story.

Anyhow, our time in Napa was almost up, but before we left town, we had an important task to complete, namely, shipping home all the wine we had purchased. We loaded up bags, toted them to the UPS store, and filled out a shipping form. The employees said they’d pack it up for us and e-mail the tracking number and receipt. This sounded reasonable, and we figured a UPS store in Napa probably has plenty of experience with shipping wine, so we went on our merry way. It wasn’t until half an hour had passed with no e-mail from UPS that we began to worry. Perhaps leaving a few hundred dollars worth of wine with some brown-shirted guys who gave us nothing but a promise was not the wisest thing we’d ever done. In the end, it was fine. The e-mail came, and the wine arrived safely at our house.

As we strolled about Napa, we passed Town Hall, where a man sat by the steps near the front entrance, casually reading a newspaper. That might not seem particularly noteworthy, but here’s the catch: the man was dressed as Superman. I know, I know–pictures or it didn’t happen, right? I don’t know what to tell you. I thought about taking a picture, but I was seized by a moment of…I’m not sure what. Timidity? Diffidence? As much as I wanted a photo, I was worried I would look like a weirdo by taking a picture of this stranger in front of Town Hall, somehow forgetting that A) I would probably never see the guy again, and, more importantly, B) he was the one dressed as Superman on a Tuesday morning for no apparent reason and therefore was in no position to judge me or anyone else as a weirdo! I will probably forever kick myself for not taking a picture, but please believe me–it happened!

When it was time to bid Napa adieu, we packed up the rental car, drove (okay, Ian drove, I mostly slept) to San Francisco, and checked in to the Hotel California. We were slightly let down that the hotel had changed hands since we had booked it and no longer offered tequila shots upon check-in, which we’d read about in reviews. It’s not that I love tequila shots. In fact, I rarely drink them and usually only do so when coerced (as in, “Hey Liz, want to do a tequila shot with me?” “Well, I don’t know…” “Aw, come on!” “OH FINE, JUST STOP HOUNDING ME!”), but there is something novel and charming about welcoming guests with shots of liquor. It’s sort of like the welcome chocolate chip cookies you get at DoubleTree hotels…except different. Anyway, although there was no free tequila, we did enjoy the complimentary pineapple cupcakes. Plus, I had a good feeling about the place when I saw this in the lobby. I like a hotel with a sense of humor.

I'm glad they cleared that up!

I’m glad they cleared that up!

There was no pink champagne on ice or mirrors on the ceiling, but there were dolphins on the ceiling.

Livin' it up at the Hotel California

Livin’ it up at the Hotel California

All in all, it was a lovely place.

You can check out any time you like...

You can check out any time you like…

We enjoyed a couple of drinks at Millennium, the restaurant attached to the hotel (more on that in a future post), then headed out to dinner. The rental car had been returned since we intended for our feet to be our main mode of transportation while in the city. As we walked we were quickly reminded that San Francisco has these things called hills, which are few and far between (not to mention much, much smaller) in Chicago. When you live in such a flat place, you forget how taxing it can be to walk up and down huge, colossal, gigantic, behemoth hills. San Franciscans must have fabulously strong legs.

With trembling quadriceps, we arrived at our destination, The Stinking Rose, where we indulged our love of garlic. We had eaten there on our honeymoon, and I had been there once before that. Each of those times, I had considered trying the garlic ice cream, which sounded simultaneously frightening and intriguing, but ended up passing on it. Not this time! We tried it and liked it. I do kind of wonder how it would taste if I had not had just eaten a very garlic-laden meal (which made the ice cream seem tame by comparison garlic-wise), but I did enjoy it as a lovely end to our second-flitterwochen garlic feast.

Mmmmmm...garlic!

Mmmmmm…garlic!

 

 

 

 

That California Trip Part 6: We Eat Giant Sandwiches and Taste ALL the Wine! June 9, 2014

It was day 6 of our encore flitterwochen, and it was time for some, or rather, more wine! As Ian put it, “You have to love a situation where drinking before 11:00 am is not only considered acceptable but actually kind of classy.” Napa Valley wineries are numerous and mostly located along a couple main roads, which made things easy and difficult at the same time. On one hand, there were plenty of options that were easy to find. On the other hand, neither one of us being overly knowledgeable about Napa wines made choosing somewhat difficult, especially since geography wasn’t much help in narrowing down potential candidates. Our choices mainly came down to what looked prettiest and most interesting and which wineries had special offers available through the wine country app.

We headed up Route 29, first stopping at Domaine Chandon, mainly because I just love bubbly so much. The grounds are also really beautiful, and the tasting room offers a lovely view.

BottleWall

Wall of bottles at Domaine Chandon

Domaine Chandon

Domaine Chandon

During our tasting there, we learned a bit about the glassy-winged sharpshooter, which I mainly remember because its name conjured up images of insects outfitted in Western-style attire with cowboy hats and tiny gun holsters. The actual pest is not nearly so cute and has been a significant threat to the California wine industry.

This is pretty much how I pictured the glassy-winged sharpshooter.

This is pretty much how I pictured the glassy-winged sharpshooter.

Our next stop was Grgich Hills, another estate with absolutely beautiful grounds. We had gotten a preview the day before when we’d caught the wine train there, but we came back for a proper visit and tasting. I, apparently like many others, had assumed that the “hills” in Grgich Hills referred to the hills (and accompanying valleys) of the vineyard. In fact, Hills is a name, as in Austin Hills of the Hills Bros. coffee family. The Grgich, refers to Mike Grgich, who caused quite a stir in 1976 when his Chateau Montelena Chardonnay was chosen in a blind taste test by French judges as the finest white wine in the world. The 2008 film Bottle Shock was inspired by this story, but apparently, Grgich himself did not sign off on the movie.

Grgich Hills

Grgich Hills

From there, we headed to St. Helena, where we lunched on giant delicious sandwiches at Giugni’s Deli. Well fed and ready for more wine, we continued on to Beringer Vineyards. In my opinion, the wine at Beringer is really nothing all that special (not bad, just not outstanding), but the beautiful estate makes a visit worthwhile.

It's educational!

It’s educational!

Beringer Vineyards

Beringer Vineyards

More of Beringer Vineyards

More of Beringer Vineyards

Rhine House at Beringer Vineyards

Rhine House at Beringer Vineyards

Stained glass window on Rhine House

Stained glass window on Rhine House

We took Silvarado Trail back toward Napa and stopped at Chimney Rock winery on the way. We chose it because of its lovely grounds and because the aforementioned wine app promised a free seasonal treat with the purchase of a tasting. The treat turned out to be an extra taste of wine. Actually, we got several extra tastes of wine. It was getting near closing time, and servers often become a bit more generous since whatever is left in open bottles by the end of the day has to be consumed or is wasted. Actually, our server even opened another a bottle of wine because he was just so giddily excited to meet people who were into Cabernet Franc. “Taste ALL the wine!” he demanded. Well, he didn’t actually say that, but he did offer us additional tastes that we turned down as our palates were a burnt out.

The vineyards at Chimney Rock

The vineyards at Chimney Rock

 

Chimney Rock selfie

Chimney Rock selfie

We returned to the inn, where we relaxed in the parlor for a while and pondered dinner possibilities. There we encountered some fellow Midwesterners–visitors from St. Louis. Despite stark differences in baseball allegiance, Ian found common ground with them when it came to light that they were all home brewers. As they shared thoughts on yeast and hops, I made the startling observation that, although they were Cardinals fans and Ian is a Cubs fan, they are all Brewers. Wah wah wah. See what I did there? Yeah, well, you had to be there…

We wrapped up the evening with dinner at Carpe Diem. If the wine industry conjures mental images of grey-haired men in sport coats and Oxford shirts, I should tell you about the bartender at Carpe Diem. This young, heavily tattooed guy told us how he had moved to Napa from Southern California to pursue a career in enology and viticulture and was part of the winemaking team at Crocker & Starr.

We returned to the inn for our final evening there, on the way passing a vacant building with this sign in front of it. What really gets me is not that the sign was blank, but that, despite its blankness, had lights shining on it. Was this actually an art installation serving as some sort of commentary on society? Probably not, but it did kind of make me wish I had been carrying a dry-erase marker.

Tabula rasa

Tabula rasa

 

That California Trip Part 5: Chickens and Goats and Bats, Oh My! June 6, 2014

Filed under: Animals,Life tales,photography,Travel — lizardesque @ 4:10 pm
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Before I describe the next part the flitterwochen redux, let me clear something up from my last post. With my descriptions of the cheesy electric fireplace and snarling whirlpool tub, I may have left you with the impression that the Napa Inn is not a nice place to stay. That is not at all the case. It’s quite a lovely establishment with a very friendly staff. There’s even a wardrobe in one of the hallways that I’m pretty sure leads to Narnia, although Ian suggested it was probably just used for storing towels. Well, Professor Kirke’s wardrobe was ostensibly used to store out-of-season coats, but it still led the Pevensie children to great adventures, so you just never know, do you?

Going to Narnia. BRB.

Going to see Aslan. BRB.

The staff at the inn was particularly accommodating to us on the first morning of our stay. Although the sign-up sheet for the first breakfast seating was full by the time we had checked in, the staff was hospitable enough to let us dine early, al fresco in the inn courtyard, so that we would not be late for our planned excursion that morning. I was grateful for this and couldn’t help but feel bad leaving my quiche uneaten. I even tried a tiny bite, which is quite an unexpected move for me as eggs are my least favorite food in the history of ever, but the cheese and vegetables did not disguise the egginess enough for me to eat more.

After breakfast, we headed to the train station to pick up our bus, which transported us to Raymond Vineyards, an organic, biodynamic estate in Napa Valley. Our time there included a tasting and tour combination. During the Theater of Nature portion of the tour, we learned about all that goes into wine making, from the soil and the plants to the animals and the winemakers. Also, there were chickens, so I got the chicken fix that I had missed in Sonoma. Plus, I fed rosemary to goats and learned that a single bat can eat up to 1200 mosquitoes in an hour. So let me just say–yay bats!

Theater of Nature

Theater of Nature at Raymond Vineyards

Chickens and sheep

Chickens and sheep

Nom nom nom

Nom nom nom

Bat hotel--kind of like the Bat Cave, but different

Bat hotel–kind of like the Bat Cave, but different

The tour also included an exercise in picking out various aromas in wine. We were given several glasses to sniff, and for each, we were told to identify the predominant scent by choosing from a long list. I’m proud to say I only missed one. I mistook clove for herbal, which is particularly odd since I recently underwent a dental procedure that involved oil of clove, after which I smelled and tasted clove for about four days. Maybe I really just didn’t want to think about clove anymore.

The tour also took us to the Crystal Cellar at Raymond, which features stainless steel walls, impressive chandeliers, an extensive collection of crystal decanters, and some other…interesting decor.

Chandelier in the Crystal Cellar

Chandelier in the Crystal Cellar

Maybe it's time to get out of this dunge--erm, cellar.

Maybe it’s time to get out of this dunge–erm, cellar.

We also got quite an education on wine barrels. I’d had no idea they were so expensive! American oak barrels range in price from about $350 to $500, but French oak barrels can set you back anywhere from $800 to $3600! Plus, they typically are used only three times for aging wine.

Barrels at Raymond Vineyards

Barrels at Raymond Vineyards

Relaxing a bit at Raymond Vineyards

Relaxing a bit at Raymond Vineyards

When the tour/tasting concluded, the bus took us to Grgich Hills Estate (more on that next time), where we boarded the Napa Valley Wine Train for a fabulous lunch and some great scenery.

All aboard!

All aboard!

Bunny Foo Foo at Hall Vineyards, as seen from the wine train

Bunny Foo Foo at Hall Vineyards, as seen from the wine train

After the train ride, we strolled around Napa a bit more, tasted some spirits from the Napa Valley Distillery at the Oxbow Public Market, had another wine tasting at Back Room Wines, learned to dance the Cha-cha, sat in an over-sized chair, and had dinner at the Napa Valley Bistro. All in all, it was a fine day. And that’s the truth!

Ian learns the Cha Cha

Ian learns the Cha Cha at the Napa Riverfront

And that's the truth! Pppbpbbbt!

And that’s the truth! Pppbpbbbt!