Posted by: vlibrizzi | January 3, 2011

Key West Babymoon

Well, it’s official … Polly’s pregnant!

So, to celebrate, and to take our last vacation before the little one arrives, C. and I headed down to Key West after Christmas for a few days relaxing in the sun.

We stayed at the lovely (but not conveniently located) Marriott Beachside Resort. Note: there is technically a beach at this hotel and it is technically in Key West…BUT the beach is VERY small and the downtown of Key West is only accessible from the hotel via a 15 minute hotel shuttle ride. Other than those two minor setbacks, the place is really nice.

On our first night in Key West we took the hotel shuttle into town and after walking on Duval Street for awhile (what a tourist trap!), we detoured to a side street and had dinner at Blue Heaven. Although the wait for a table was really long, we had heard such great things about the restaurant, that we were determined to stick it out. And, it was well worth it. We had amazing fish dinners (shrimp for me! yum!) and ended our meal with the best slice of key lime pie I’ve ever had. Even C. who usually veers away from meringue, almost licked the plate clean.


The next morning, the sun was shining (although it was a bit chilly outside for the Florida keys) so we headed back into town to do some exploring. Our first stop was B & O’s Fish Wagon for some conch fritters, fried fish sandwiches, and lots of limeade…yum-o!
Conch fritters at B & O…yum! They were so good that we had lunch at B&Os two days in a row. Probably not good for our cholesterol…but oh well…we were on vacation.

That afternoon, we joined the other tourists and visited Hemingway’s house. As an English teacher who often teaches Hemingway’s texts, I felt obligated to check out his digs. And, like the fish wagon’s conch fritters, Ernie’s house didn’t disappoint.

We got to see Hemingway’s bed…with one of his many six-toed kitties sitting on a pillow.

And, best of all, we got to see Hemingway’s writing studio. Heck, if I had a studio like this…in Key West, no less…I could write for a living, too. Could I churn out heroes a la Ernie? Probably not. But I could definitely write.

We continued our tour of the side streets of Key West, but at this time, during the day, and stumbled upon this adorable house with some amazing winter foliage. I loved the lush greenery and flowers especially since it is December, and knowing full well that we had just suffered through a blizzard in NJ two days before.

The next day, we took a detour from the downtown and decided to take a walk along the beach. Here’s a photo of us on the pier at Higgs beach.

We also loved watching the dive-bombing pelicans.

Instead of renting any old car, C. wanted to make our babymoon extra special so he rented a convertible (see above). It was so much fun to ride through the Keys with the top down. We felt like we were in a movie.

 

Later on in our second day we went back to our hotel to do some reading by the pool. Then, in the late afternoon, we headed back downtown to do some exploring. We came upon the newly opened Key West Pretzel Company and had to buy one. So we headed to a dock, let our feet dangle off of the side, and ate our pretzel with really funky dipping sauces (pesto or curry mustard, anyone?)

As the sun went down, we did our last tourist-y thing and took a photo of us in front of the last Route 1 mile marker. Route 1, an interstate highway which runs through our hometown in NJ, ends in Key West.

The next day, after lounging around our hotel for awhile, we stopped for our last Key West meal at the highly recommended Louie’s Backyard. The lunch was excellent. I had a light salad and C. had the fish tacos, which we munched on while sitting on the deck overlooking the ocean. The weather was perfect; we didn’t want to leave.

This is as far as either of us got into the water. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so warm for our first two days in Key West so we spent most of the time exploring the town or reading by the pool. C. snapped this photo while we were on our drive back to Miami.

Here’s a photo C. took from the walkway next to the 7-mile bridge in the Keys. We stopped to take a walk on the bridge to break up our looong drive back from Key West to Miami.

We also just had to stop at this place right off the road in Key Largo for some authentic NJ pizza. The owners are all from NJ, and were so nice. They even had a photo of the Belmar boardwalk inside the restaurant.

And our final pit-stop before meeting up with friends in Miami to celebrate New Year’s eve, was at a fantastic side-of-the-road shack called Alabama Jack’s. We ordered the requisite conch fritters…which definitely did not disappoint. If you’re ever  driving from Miami to the Keys, you must take a detour on Card Sound Road and stop at this place.

While we waited for our conch fritters and key lime pie to arrive, C. took this photo of a boat heading out for a sunset fishing trip. The photo encapsulates our whole babymoon…peaceful and relaxing—which is exactly what we wanted it to be.

Posted by: vlibrizzi | January 2, 2011

Autumn weekend in Chicago

Hello readers,

I’m sorry I’ve strayed from posting for so long. Suffice it to say, the end of 2010 was a blur—but in a good way! Check out my next post to see why….🙂

One of my new year’s resolutions, though, is to get back into blogging, so I thought I’d start with a our mini-vacation in October to Chicago.

I had never been to Chicago before, and have always had it at the top of my U.S. cities to visit list. So, over a long weekend in October, C. and I boarded a plane to explore the “windy city” (which isn’t nearly as windy as Boston, by the way).

On the first day we arrived, we sampled the deep dish pizza at the famous Giordano’s restaurant.

I have to admit, though, that we weren’t the biggest fans of this type of pizza. It tasted more like a cheesy pie than pizza, but maybe that’s our NJ upbringing swaying us toward thin crust pizzas. I’m glad we tried it, though.

We made funny faces in the famous bean-like Cloud Gate sculpture in Millennium Park.

We spent time walking around the city and getting guided tours from friends who now call Chicago home.

We went on the Chicago Architectural Foundation’s boat tour (which was WONDERFUL!) and admired the amazing architecture of the city while sitting in the warm sun on the top of the boat.

We gawked at the tallest building in the U.S., the Willis Tower, and like true tourists, took some photos of it.

We admired all of the fantastic and famous paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago.

And in addition to walking (a ton!) around the city, we found time to try out some of Chicago’s yummy, trendy restaurants.

Although we weren’t able to eat at any of the Rick Bayless places (but will make reservations well in advance to go to one of them on our next Chicago trip), we really enjoyed having dinner while overlooking the peaceful pond at North Pond restaurant, feasting on the wonderful, but terribly gluttonous white chocolate pretzel pancakes at the Bongo Room,  and munching on yummy tapas at Mercat a la Planxa.

All in all, it was a fantastic long-weekend getaway, and we have plans to get back to Chicago soon to check out all of the things we missed, so if you have any recommendations, please let me know.

Posted by: vlibrizzi | September 13, 2010

A French Wedding

This past weekend C. and I went to our first French wedding in the charming town of Craon.

The wedding started with a traditional Catholic mass at 3:30 pm. The mass was all in French, so it wasn’t so easy for C. and me to follow, but the music (a full orchestra and choir!!!) were absolutely beautiful.

C. and I had to keep pinching ourselves to make sure that we weren’t dreaming!!!

Then, at the end of the wedding, the bride and groom greeted their guests on the steps of the church.

In addition to many bridesmaids and groomsmen (who each have to get up in church to sign the marriage contract along with the bride and groom), our friends had six young children in adorable matching outfits, as part of their attendants.

The one faux pas that I committed at the wedding was not wearing a hat!

Almost every woman in the church was wearing some kind of hat….and each one was more unique than the last.  At times I felt like I was at the Paris fashion week!

I had C. covertly snap a photo of two of my favorite hats above.

After the ceremony, we all walked over to the Chateau de Craon (check out this link….it’s an amazing place!) and met up with some of our old INSEAD friends (photo above).

I stole the bride away for a minute to take a photo with her and another INSEAD friend. Don’t you love her gown!?!?

Then, after an hour of all you can eat oysters, passed hors d’oeuvres, and all the champagne you could drink, we all walked to the Chateau’s carriage house for the reception.

The bride and groom entered to their favorite song as all of the guests waved their napkins in anticipation for the party to begin.

Then, after some toasts, we all sat down to our wonderful meal. Gosh, how I love French food! Chicken stuffed with foie gras, buttery mashed potatoes, chocolate domes, fresh fruit, and strong red wine….yum!

…..

After eating, we thought the dancing would begin, but we found out that French do not do weddings like us Americans.

By about midnight, after gorging ourselves on amazing food and listening to about twenty heartwarming and funny speeches from friends and relatives of the bride and groom, we were then invited to go outside for coffee and…more desserts!!!!

Only at about 12:30 did the music and dancing begin.

And it didn’t begin with the top 40 hits as in the US either. Non.

The first songs the DJ played were old Rock and Roll hits. C. and I watched as all of the french guests did the jitterbug, swing dances, and grooved to Elvis!

Then, after about an hour or so of the old Rock and Roll, the Euro music we have grown to love by living in France began.

C. and I danced with our friends, and then took a break to have some crepes (yum-o!) and champagne!

The party didn’t end until around 6 am (as is common for most French weddings) and the wedding didn’t end until Sunday afternoon when the bride and groom invited all the guests back to the chateau for a brunch.

In all, it was probably the nicest wedding we’ve ever been to…and was definitely worth the trip all the way to France. We’d do it again any day.

Felicitations V et N! Nous vous souhaitons un heureux mariage!

Posted by: vlibrizzi | September 13, 2010

Two days in Brittany: Saint Malo and Cancale

Last Wednesday night, C. and I flew to Paris for an all too quick four-day trip: two days to explore Brittany, and two days at a wedding.

So with only two days to explore a whole region, we weren’t sure where to begin. Talk about last minute planning…by last Monday we hadn’t even reserved hotel rooms yet!

But then I took a look at the weather forecast last Tuesday night and it was obvious where we should go…to the coast!

So, once we arrived in Paris, we rented a car and drove the four hour drive out to Saint Malo on Brittany’s north coast, with a late lunch pit stop for some crumbles and tarte tatins at Dame Cakes in Rouen.

We arrived late at night (oh how we missed the French emobouteillage!) to hundreds of people standing around outside our hotel.

We hopped out of the car to take a a look for ourselves and noticed that the water from the English channel was rising up above the sea walls! (Apparently this happens all the time at the changing of the tides.)

So we cautiously walked into town (narrowly avoiding being hit by massive waves), and had a quaint but yummy French dinner at

The next morning we woke up to survey the damage around town and, to our surprise, it seemed as if nothing had been affected. We sat at in the breakfast room of our hotel on the water (Hotel Beaufort) and nibbled on croissants as we watched people like the couple in the photo above walk by on their morning stroll.

We joined them all after breakfast and walked into the downtown to see the huge castle (photo above) and walk along the ramparts which overlooked the coast (photo below).

The coastline was absolutely beautiful!

And the downtown area was typical of small French towns….utterly charming!

Later that afternoon we took a drive along the Emerald Coast of Brittany and watched the tide quickly changing.

As you can see in the photo below, at sometimes during the day, this island is not accessible by land, and at other times, the water recedes and the residents can access their home. Pretty amazing, huh?

After some driving, we needed to take a lunch break, so we drove to the tiny port town of Cancale, which is famous for it’s oysters, and ordered up about two dozen of them to feast on in a small restaurant that overlooked the ocean. We were in heaven!

Then we continued our drive along the coast, stopping every so often to take walks on the sand or snap photos of the craggy cliffs.

Posted by: vlibrizzi | August 10, 2010

Exploring Petra

We spent our third day in Jordan visiting the ancient ruins of Petra!
We arrived in Petra on our second night, and checked into our fabulous hotel (the Movenpick Petra) which is right across the street from the Petra Visitor’s Center and main entrance.

We had a barbeque dinner on the roofdeck under the stars, and could have stayed out there all night. It was the perfect temperature in the mountains…only about 75 degrees and minimal humidity. What a welcome change from the oppressive Abu Dhabi heat!

We woke up very early the next morning to be some of the first people to visit Petra…and to avoid the hoards of tour groups who descend on the ruins at around 8 a.m.

To access the ancient ruins and tombs of Petra, the lost city of the Nabataeans, visitors have to walk about 20 minutes downhill through the Siq, or passageway through the enormous rocks.

The passageway is not manmade; instead it was naturally formed when two tectonic plates separated thousands and thousands of years ago.

The Nabataeans sure knew how to create a dramatic entrance to their burial grounds…even in the 6th century BC, when they carved the tombs out of the rocks!

After walking through the Siq’s maze for 20 minutes, the rocks separate, and you are standing right in front of a massive, carved structure: the Treasury building.

Treasury, here, is a misnomer, because, in fact, it was not  a treasury at all, but a tomb created probably for a Nabataean king.

No matter what the building was carved for, it surely is an impressive way to enter the ruins!

Then, once we get over the grandeur of the Treasury, we walked downhill to the explore the other tombs carved in the rocks thousands of years ago.

The best part about getting to Petra so early was that we had a pretty much unobstructed view of all of the ruins. It felt a bit eerie walking past the tombs with few other people in sight, but at the same time, it was pretty cool to have the place almost all to ourselves.

Here are some more tombs we saw that did not withstand the weather as well as the others, and are now vanishing back into the rocks.

One can only imagine what this place must have looked like thousands of years ago. Pretty impressive!

After seeing most of the tombs along the road, we became adventurous and decided to climb the more than 800 steps and long trails (yikes!) to the second most impressive tomb (next to the Treasury): the Monastery.

The Monastary was carved on the top of a hill, and was probably used as a pilgrimage site.

So we went on a bit of a pilgrimage ourselves, uphill, in the heat. 

We weren’t alone on our journey, though. By that time, there were many other tourists climbing the steps with us, and there were also lots of locals who set up stands along the way (like the one in the photo above) to sell drinks and snacks to weary hikers.

The hike was totally worth it once we got to the top and (boom!) there was the Monastery right in front of us!

Here’s a closer view of the intricate carvings on the exterior of the Monastery.

On our way back down the mountain, we stopped to take some photos of the valley below.

Then, once we reached the bottom,  we re-charged by having lunch at a great restaurant at the base of the mountain, and were off to explore some more.

The photo above is of us standing in front of the Royal Tombs.

Then, Chris (who never gets tired, and loves exploring) climbed to the top of another hill to walk through the Royal Tombs. I was exhausted by then, and very hot, so I rested in the shade while he explored and took photos of the Royal Tombs close up, like the one above.

Then, as we exited Petra through the Siq, we took one last look at the Treasury before heading back to Amman for our flight to Abu Dhabi.

What a great weekend! I wish we had more time in Jordan!

Posted by: vlibrizzi | August 9, 2010

Wading in the Jordan River to bobbing in the Dead Sea

We just got back from a fantastic three-day trip to Jordan.

We arrived in Amman, the capital city, on Friday morning, rented a not-so-reliable (and minimally air-conditioned) car from Hertz, and were off to explore the country.

Our first stop: Mount Nebo.

We were fascinated by how many Biblical sites are in Jordan. You can see me standing at the top of Mount Nebo above, where the Bible says that Moses died after climbing to the top to be shown the Promised Land.  Pretty incredible place to visit!

At first, as we looked out over the mountain, I have to admit, we didn’t think much of the Promised Land. It seemed like a sandy desert to us.

But then we noticed the map in the photo above which pointed to all of the famous Biblical cities that sprung up on this land: Jericho, Hebron, Bethlehem, to name a few.

It was then that I realized, that, wow, this place is pretty special!

Continuing on our Biblical journey, we then drove to Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan, the place where Jesus was baptized.

On our drive, we were momentarily halted by a passing shepherd and his goats….

…and by this sign, which you would only ever see in Jordan!


We arrived at the visitor’s center and joined a group walking tour to the site of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. We were at the lowest point on earth (near the Dead Sea), in the middle of the desert…in August!

So, it was approximately 120 degrees outside.

Suffice it to say, our 45 minute tour turned into a quick 30 minute overview.  The guide was struggling!

Although I too was definitely suffering from the heat, I was disappointed that we didn’t get to spend more time at Jesus’ Baptism site.

As you can see in the photo of the site above, there isn’t much to see, and the Jordan river does not run there anymore, as it had 2,000 years ago, but it was still a very spiritual place to be. No matter one’s religious persuasions, one could quickly forget about the heat and just stand in awe of what happened at this place.


Next, our tour guide took us to see the Jordan river. You can see C. and me standing next to it in the photo above.

And right on the other side of the river is….Israel!

Jordan and Israel are only about 10 feet apart at this point. So, of course, there were military guards with big rifles guarding the river.

For those of you looking to get baptized, or re-baptized, you can do so on the Israeli side of the Jordan River at this point.

Since we were on the Jordan side of the river, C. didn’t get baptized in the water again, but he did step in for a quick break from the heat.

I stayed on the shores. The water looked a bit too murky for my tastes.

Later that evening, we arrived at our hotel on the Dead Sea. We stayed at the Marriott Dead Sea and, after getting stopped by guards at multiple checkpoints along the way and then again at our hotel, and then getting our car, suitcases, and selves checked, we arrived at the very safe hotel…and had a perfectly relaxing experience.

While I was getting a Dead Sea mud facial (which left my skin feeling softer than it had ever been), C. stopped by the infinity pool to take photos and enjoy the sunset over the Dead Sea.

The next morning, we woke up early to swim (or bob!) in the Dead Sea. It was an unreal experience. Our bodies wanted to stand in the water, but every time we put our feet down, they would almost instantly bob back up!

The Dead Sea is 31% salt  (so we had to make sure not to shave for a couple of days or get any water in our eyes…ouch! Now we know where the phrase, “pouring salt into a wound” comes from!), but that creates a unique buoyant effect so that we could float almost completely out of the water (as you can see us doing above) with zero effort.

After our swim in the Dead Sea, we joined the other hotel guests, photo of them below, and covered ourselves with the Dead Sea mud. The mud smelled terrible, and is very thick, but after letting it dry and then washing it off in a shower, you can see that it really does work. Our skin was so soft!

Next, we were off to Petra. More on that tomorrow…


Posted by: vlibrizzi | July 25, 2010

A Saturday in The Berkshires

For our wedding anniversary weekend, we wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and spend some time in the mountains (to try to get a break from this oppressive heat we’ve been having in New England this summer). So we packed up our car and drove 2.5 hours out to the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts.

As soon as we arrived, we drove to the Norman Rockwell museum in Stockbridge (photo above).

The museum displays hundreds of Rockwell’s paintings and magazine covers. We snuck in on a guided tour given by a docent, and learned all about Rockwell’s life and his love of the small, idyllic town of Stockbridge, MA.

As we were leaving the museum, we both agreed that we felt warm and cozy inside. Seeing the idyllic America displayed in Rockwell’s paintings, made us want to paint a picket fence while bobbing for apples (probably, impossible, I realize,..but we were feeling pretty patriotic!)

After an ok lunch of salmon and veggie burgers (which our waiter told me were the frozen Morning Star variety) at Once Upon A Table in Stockbridge, we drove out to Lenox, MA to visit Edith Wharton’s home: The Mount. And from a quick look at the photo above, you can see how the house got its name!

We toured the rooms of the mansion, had our questions answered by friendly docents stationed throughout the house, and listened in on some poetry readings that were taking place there yesterday as part of the Berkshire WordFest literary festival that was taking place at the Mount yesterday.

My favorite room to visit was Wharton’s library.

When I was in high school, my 11th grade English teacher assigned each of her students an American author to research, and whose works to read, throughout the year. I chose Edith Wharton!

So visiting her library, after writing my first ever literary research paper on her works, was really special for me.

We took a quick break on Wharton’s terrace to sip on a root beer while admiring the views.

Then we braved the heat and walked through the Mount’s lovely gardens, from which, we were able to see some great views (like the one above) of the Mount. What a beautiful place!

Later that day, after relaxing on the front porch of the historic Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, we visited Nejaime’s Wine Cellar to pick up some picnic food to bring with us to Tanglewood (the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer residence) that evening. The store was stocked with picnic sundries (they must clearly know their clientele!); we bought some yummy olives, a sharp cheese from Italy, some bread, fruit, and a nice apricot tart for dessert. The wine, we brought from home…well, really from our trip to Eyrie vineyards in Oregon this past April🙂

We spent the rest of the evening sitting outside with hundreds of other classical music fans, picnicking under the stars while listening to a Brahms concert given by the BSO. It was such a romantic way to spend our four year anniversary!

Posted by: vlibrizzi | April 25, 2010

NoCal/Oregon Road Trip: Portland, Oregon

For our final stop on our road trop, we visited Portland, Oregon, a city we’ve been wanting to visit for a really long time.

Before we dropped off our car (a Ford Explorer rented from Hertz that did us well over the past few days), we stopped in Portland for a true Portland eating experience at the local food carts!

I had a fabulous vegetarian pulled soy sandwich with freshly made sweet potato fries, from a great vegan/vegetarian cart, while C. stopped two doors down at a Mexican cart where he chatted with the cook in Spanish while he waited for his gordita to be finished. Our friends stopped a few carts down from us to try some Indian chana masala and Thai noodles.

The cart owners/operators were all so friendly, and the food choices were cheap and very diverse. It felt like we were sampling foods from carts at a fair, but instead of cotton candy and corndogs, in Portland’s food carts, they served really, and I mean REALLY, good food!

After recovering from yet another wonderful food coma, we drove over to our hotel, the Marriott along the waterfront, and while C. and one of our friends returned the rental car and then beelined it for a pub (Portland has more microbreweries than any other city in the country, and these guys were ready to sample the local goods!), my teacher friends and I met up to go to the first event in our National Writing Project Urban Sites conference.

After the conference dinner and entertainment (open mic poetry…yeah!), I met up with the guys at a lively local bar called Henry’s Tavern and sampled some of their local beers. It was hard to choose from the list though…they had more than 100 beers on tap! If there’s one thing I learned about hipster Portlanders, it’s that they love their microbreweries and local beers! And, after a week of drinking wine, we didn’t mind the switch to beer one bit.

So, the next day while I was in conferences, C. toured around the city, walking along the waterfront, and visiting the Saturday market, which he said wasn’t very impressive because instead of having art from local artists, as it proported to have, the vendors mostly sold “chotchkies” (clearly, my Polishness has rubbed off on him, hasn’t it?). Then, to watch the Portland Trail Blazers in the NBA playoffs (like a true local), he headed over to Deschutes Brewery for some lunch, beer, and TV.

Later that afternoon, I met up with C. and we walked over to the famous Portland institution, Voodoo Donuts. As we waited in the long line, the smell of donuts wafted out of the doorway, and our mouths began to water.

Once we got to the front of the line, we had quite a task ahead of us: choosing which donut to order. They had what seemed to be hundreds of donuts on their list ranging from wacky captain crunch coated donuts to their signature voodoo donut, a chocolate frosted jelly donut in the shape of a gingerbread man with a pretzel sticking out of him. I ordered something less adventurous and had a chocolae donut with butterfinger pieces on top. It was fabulous! Honestly, it was the best donut I’ve ever eaten.

In the photo to the left, you can see me showing off my butterfinger donut inside the store, before I devoured it (which took about 30 seconds…it was so good!)🙂

Then, while we ate our donuts, we did a bit of a walking tour of Portland which ended at the famous Powell’s books, an enormous book store that takes up an entire city block.

We browsed through the new and used stacks, but didn’t have nearly enough time to see the whole store. Honestly, it might take a person a week to see the whole place!

So, then after our book perusing and purchasing, we walked over to the Pearl District to have a sushi dinner at a pretty good sushi restaurant called Sinju. The guys were getting sick of beer and burgers so they needed a bit of a health detox….sushi was the answer!

And, as I sipped on my sake sampler, and laughed with friends, I sadly came to the realization that our vacation was over. I wasn’t ready to leave Portland, Oregon, or even the West Coast. There’s so much to do, and so much to see that a week is not nearly enough. But, in retrospect, I think we covered quite a lot of ground this past week….that’s why roadtrips are so great!

While we were in the car from Dundee to Portland, I polled the four of us road-trippers to find out where we had our best wine tasting experiences this past week (from our first day of biking and tasting in Healdsburg to our last day of driving through the Dundee Hills).

We rated the wineries and tasting rooms we visited on the following criteria: the taste of the wines, the atmosphere of the tasting room, and the experience we had while tasting the wine (ex. the friendliness of the staff).

So, without further ado, here’s our ranking from best to the least best wine tasting experience:

1. Mazzocco Winery in Healdsburg, CA (www.mazzocco.com)

2. Press wine bar in Dundee, OR (http://www.innatredhills.com/press_wine_bar.html)

3. Amista Vineyard in Healdsburg, CA (www.amistavineyards.com)

4. Eyrie Winery in McMinnville, OR (ww.eyrievineyards.com)

5. Dutcher’s Crossing Vineyard in Healdsburg, CA (www.dutchercrossingwinery.com)

6. Vista Hills Vineyard in Dundee, OR (www.vistahillsvineyard.com)

7. De la Montanya Vineyard in Healdsburg, CA (www.dlmwine.com)

8. Armida Winery in Healdsburg, CA (www.armida.com)

9. Ridge Winery in Healdsburg, CA (www.ridgewine.com)

10. Domaine Serene Vineyard in Dundee, OR (www.domaineserene.com)

11. Dry Creek Winery in Healdsburg, CA (www.drycreekvineyard.com)

Posted by: vlibrizzi | April 25, 2010

NoCal/Oregon Road Trip: Willamette Valley, OR

On Thursday we left Crescent City, CA and drove for 6 hours (yikes!!!) over the border to Dundee, Oregon.

To break up the trip a bit, we stopped in the super-cool college town of Eugene, Oregon. We ate lunch at the lackluster Barry’s Deli with too-big sandwiches and no ice cream😦

Despite the meal at Barry’s, we really enjoyed our short time in Eugene. We walked around the University of Oregon campus, which was teeming with students riding bikes to class or practicing yoga on the lawn (my kind of place!). It was a beautiful, sunny day and we loved having the opportunity to feel like college kids again.

But, alas, we had miles and miles more to drive, so we headed back to the car and drove to Dundee.

You might wonder, how did we choose to stay in Dundee out of all of the other cute farm towns in the Willamette Valley. Well, the answer is quite simple (or “logical” as C. likes to say). We looked at a map of all of the vineyards in the Willamette Valley and found the town with the greatest concentration of wineries and tasting rooms; you can see what we were looking for in our time in Oregon🙂

And, in proper fashion, before even checking into our hotel, we stopped at our first vineyard in Dundee: Vista Hills Winery, or as we liked to call it “the Treetop.” As you can see in the photo to the left, this vineyard is perched on top of one of the Dundee Hills, so the views from the top of this treehouse are amazing!

As we sampled our first of the wonderful Oregon Pinot Noirs, we gazed out the windows at the views of the vineyards below. So cool!

I think we enjoyed being in Dundee even more because C. and I have been dreaming about going to Oregon Wine Country for years now…Probably since the first time we tasted an Oregon Pinot Noir or an Pinot Gris and we thought to ourselves, “These wines are from OREGON?!?!? We have to go there!”

After tasting the wines, we walked outside to get a bit of exercise (remember, we had spent six hours of the day inside a car!) and to walk among the vines.

While we were walking, one of the vineyard’s employees was mowing the lawn between the vines, which was not so great for our grass allergies, but in retrospect, made what we though of the Oregon wine experience complete: local farmers taking part in a growing industry. As I walked around, I couldn’t help thinking that these new wine growers cultivating their vines are just like those people we met while visiting vineyards in France. It’s just that the French vineyards are hundreds of years old and these are fairly new. It’s no surprise, though, that even the French are impressed with the wines from the Willamette Valley; every glass we tasted was better than the previous one.

Later that evening, we checked into our hotel in Dundee, The Inn at Red Hills, a brand new hotel in the center of town.

I can’t even begin to say how much we loved our stay at the Inn at Red Hills. The rooms were immaculate, perfectly decorated, and equipped to the nines (sleep number beds…oh yes!).

Plus, the Inn had a fantastic restaurant and wine bar attached to it, Farm to Fork, where the helpful staff kept us entertained and satisfied from pre-dinner drinks to breakfast the next morning.

Luckily for us, when we arrived, the restaurant was having an Earth Day celebration and were serving free appetizers at the wine bar. We sat down at a table near the bar, I ordered a Oregon white wine flight and C. ordered a yummy Oregon Pinot Noir Rose (with very generous pours!), and helped ourselves to the different types of amuse bouches. For example, the chef prepared a yummy black olive tapenade, parmesan cheese puffs (which reminded us of dining at our dear friend Denise’s home in Fontainebleau), dungeness crab dip, and, best of all, truffle salted popcorn!

While we were drinking and snacking, the restaurant showed a film about local farming called “Ingredients.” It was the perfect film to see at a restaurant called “Farm to Fork” because it stressed the importance of eating locally and supporting local farmers (something that I’ve been taking to heart lately as I just finished reading Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal Vegetable Miracle” and now can’t wait for our CSA to begin in just a few weeks).

Although we were a bit tipsy from our wine and our bellies were filled from the appetizers, we couldn’t resist sitting down to dinner as well (heck, we were on vacation!). We shared a meal of all locally grown products, and everything we ate was fabulous! The menu at the restaurant changes all the time, in order to reflect the ingredients that are in season at the time, but if you’re ever there in April, make sure to order the beet salad, the local escargot, the hen as an entree, and of course, the warm apple cobbler with golden raisons for dessert. Honestly, I could barely drag myself to my room that night; I was so pleasantly full and didn’t want to leave the restaurant!🙂

But after a wonderful night’s rest, we returned to the restaurant the next morning for breakfast where I had some of the best oatmeal I’ve ever eaten, and C. had the traditional farmhouse breafast (sausage, toast, and eggs). While we were waiting for our food, we perused the wine for sale at the restaurant (you can see C. in front of a bookshelf of wine in the photo above), which made us even more excited for the day of wine tasting ahead of us.

So, at around noon (when the tasting rooms in Oregon usually open), we got back on the road to drive to McMinneville where we visited our first winery for the day, Eyrie.

As we drove up to the building, we thought we had made a wrong turn. The place was nothing like the other wineries we’ve visited before. Instead of being in a new building atop a hill, this place was in the center of town in an old bottling factory. But, we didn’t judge this book by its cover and I’m glad we didn’t.  Despite its exterior, Jacques, the man who poured our wine, was the friendliest and most knowledgeable person about wine tasting and wine making that we’d met this whole week. He talked to us for over an hour about how wine is made and how to distinguish the difference between wine that has been opened for a day, or even a few hours, and those that are newly opened. And, the wines we tasted were out of this world, some of the best wine I’ve ever had. If you’re in the Willamette Valley, you must visit with Jacques and buy some of his wine. I guarantee you’ll love him, but love the wine even more.

Then, we went to the opposite type of winery. Back up the hill we went to Domaine Serene winery, a winery with a beautiful view, yummy wines, but with a pretentious attitude (a $15 tasting fee…yikes!)

Unfortunately, we had to make it to Portland, Oregon later that day, so we could only do two wine tastings. In retrospect, I wish we had planned for more time in the Willamette Valley (and spent a few more nights at the Inn at Red Hills), but I’m glad we had the time we did there. And, now we’re even more determined to return.

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