Thursday, May 30, 2013

Calistoga Wine Country

So you know on wine labels when it says "Napa Valley?" I never knew that Napa consisted of several smaller cities. Darren and I are staying in Calistoga at Stevenson Manor. It's a beautiful, small city with rolling hills and many vineyards. Today we visited two vineyards: Sterling and Chateau Montelena. Have you seen the movie "Bottle Shock?" That's why Chateau Montelena sounds familiar. Darren and I were looking up reviews about the vineyard, and I kept seeing people writing about this movie, so we ended up watching it this morning before we left on our vineyard tours. Below I will give a brief critique of the 2 vineyards:

Sterling: 4.5/5 stars
Customer service really made this place! Darren and I opted for the $35/person Sterling Silver VIP Experience wine tasting and tour. It included a tram ride, free wine glass, self-guided tour of the facility, and 9 different wines to taste (including some reserve wines). The waiter at the VIP Experience lunch was very friendly and recommended a place for dinner tonight, which we made reservations on the spot. There was also a $5 coupon online that you could present before 12:30 PM, so the total cost for both of our visits was $60. We didn't buy or ship any wine, but we did buy a cheese plate with pate and duck at the VIP Experience lunch. Delicious!

View from the outdoor terrace. We had 2 of our wines out there.

The wine glasses they gave us, but we couldn't take them because there's no glass allowed in Bonnaroo.

View from the terrace

 Chateau Montelena3/5 stars
Darren and I opted for the $20/person wine tasting, which included the tasting of 4 different wines, including 1 estate wine, which means that they make it there on the premise. I may mention that I was feeling a bit tipsy (Darren would say I was drunk) after the Sterling experience, so I didn't fully enjoy the wine here. Darren also rated this vineyard a 3 though. We bought a few bottles of the famous Chardonay. Unfortunately, it wont arrive in CT until November, so that the wines stay cold through the shipping process. Oh well, it will be a nice birthday surprise once I forget I spent $350 on wine. The wine tasting fees were also both waived because I spent so much, so that was nice! No food or tour here. We just walked a bit through their gardens. The staff was 75% friendly... an old man hated us because we switched our minds about where we wanted the wine shipped to (CT or NH).

Their Chardonay won first place in a blind wine tasting test in Paris in 1976. This is what the movie "Bottle Shock" is based off of.

The castle of Chateau Montelena

Tomorrow we are going to wine tastings at Franciscan and Vincent Arroyo. I am so excited for Franciscan! Ever since my friend Victoria recommended their Cabernet, I have fallen in love! Vincent Arroyo has AMAZING reviews. YAY! Off to SolBar for dinner now. XO

***Update: Solbar is a very modern and trendy restaurant that's within walking distance of Stevenson Manor. It is delicious but pricy. The atmosphere is unforgettable.

We Made it to California!

Hello All! Sorry for the delay in the last post--the internet was slow at Keyhole State Park. That feels like forever ago now. When Darren and I go to bed at night, he often says, "I can't believe where we were this morning and where we are now." We have made great timing and are now in Calistoga, California. We are staying here for 3 nights at a Best Western, which feels like complete luxury considering all the camping we've done in the past week. The last time we slept on a mattress was in Wisconsin at my cousin's house. In the past 9 nights we've slept in the car once, on our lovely air mattress 7 nights, and in the mattress in Wisconsin once. Also, I hate to admit, but before last night, we hadn't showered since Wisconsin... I'll let you do the math on that one...

We are going to be completely spoiled here in Calistoga with hot showers & a mattress. Did I mention that our hotel also has a heated outdoor pool, hot tub, & steam/sauna room?!

Let's get you all caught up on our travels since Keyhole State Park on Friday night:

On Saturday, we woke up at our typical 5 AM wakeup and packed up camp and headed to Yellowstone! We stopped at Sierra Trading Post to pick up some warm gloves to wear in the mountains. It's freezing at 5 AM taking down a tent and packing up the car! Any who, we ended up spending some money at Sierra Trading Post because of a 25% off all apparel sale for the holiday weekend. I got gloves, yoga pants, and a shirt. Darren got a Buff headband (I've stolen it many times to keep my ears warm) and North Face shorts for hiking etc. Money well spent! After that we headed into the mountains for Yellowstone. The drive there was amazing. We drove through Bighorn National Forest, which is gorgeous in itself. There was wildlife everywhere--deer, bison, elk, etc. Unfortunately, as we left Cody, WY a deer ran out into the road as we were driving, and it hit our car. Luckily, it just bumped the back of Darren's Mazda and was able to keep running across the street to join the other 30 deer (I kid you not) lounging under trees.

Entering Yellowstone we stocked up on the usual: postcards, stickers, & maps. We enjoyed the car ride through the park to our site at Madison Campground. We stayed there for 2 nights and good thing we made reservations ahead of time--the campground was full both nights! Finally, a night where we stayed 2 nights in a row. We didn't have to pack up the tent on Sunday morning, and we were able to sleep in until 7:30! We had an eventful weekend. We watched bison and their young cross a river near our campground. We even named a few of the babies: Pooper and Zipper. We went to Old Faithful and watched it "erupt." We also had a guided tour with a park ranger of the Upper and Lower Falls. The ranger taught the group the history of the formation of the falls along with some Shoshone tales. It was quite educational.
Bighorn National Park 

Bison and their young near the river by our campground
Old Faithful

Me at Old Faithful
Sulfur from the geysers...stinky!

Darren infront of an erupting geyser

By Old Faithful

Upper Falls
 On Monday morning it was back to the grind... we woke up at 5 AM and packed up for The Grand Tetons Mountains. We had a very interesting drive there. I drove through rain, snow, sleet, and hail. Darren made sure I wore my glasses! I'm typically the early morning driver, so that Darren can snooze in the passenger seat while I enjoy a gas station coffee. There's no DD around these parts!

Once we got to the Tetons, we claimed a site at Jenny Lake Campground. I HIGHLY recommend this campground if you are planning a trip to the Tetons. It's tenting only and sits at the base on the mountain range, so the views are indescribable. We cooked a big breakfast on the fire and "tanked up" for our 7.1 mile hike around Jenny Lake. We met Jim and Lauren, another couple hiking the trail. They were very nice and invited us over to their site at the campground that night for a camp fire. Overall, the Tetons have been my favorite National Park that we've visited. The weather was picture perfect!
The Grand Tetons

Panorama of The Grand Tetons
Hiking the Hidden Falls trail

Jenny Lake... Do you like Darren's Buff headband?

A forest fire killed many of the trees from a portion of the hike

Hidden Falls

Our campsite at Jenny Lake Campground. D is in the hammock!
 On Tuesday morning, Darren and I took our time packing up our site and cooked another nice breakfast. We decided to head to Nevada 1 day early due to poor planned weather coming into the Tetons. We arrived to South Fork State Recreation Area before sunset. We were extremely excited about this campground because it had SHOWERS!!! We cleaned up, cooked dinner, and watched the sunset before heading to bed.

This morning, our alarm went off, and let me tell you... It was difficult to wake up. I was exhausted, cold, and it must have been cloudy out (so I thought) because it was still dark. Turns out, Darren didn't set his watch alarm to accomodate for the time change, and we woke up at 4 AM instead of 5 AM! By the time we figured it out we had already packed up the sleeping bags and had just rolled up the air mattress. We stopped for a large coffee and Darren took a good 1 hour snooze in the car on our way to Carson City. We enjoyed a great Thai lunch at The Basil Restaurant. Then we drove around Lake Tahoe (another gorgeous place I need to venture back to) and made our way here to Calistoga. We drove past vineyards and discovered that my favorite wine--Franciscan--has its vineyard just 15 minutes  away from our hotel! We plan to do a wine tour there tomorrow or Friday.
Lake Tahoe. I shall see you again someday!
Wow! That was a lot of info! Time to upload pictures and head to bed. We have a lot of wine to drink tomorrow! hehe Goodnight xoxo

***If you want to see the pictures enlarged, do NOT click on the "P" that hovers over the picture. Click anywhere else on the picture.

Friday, May 24, 2013

We're in Wyoming!


Darren and I have traveled a long ways since we left early Monday morning from CT. We're already in Wyoming and have camping reservations in Yellowstone National Park at Madison Campground for tomorrow and Saturday night. We're staying at Keyhole State Park tonight in our new tent... (I'll get to that later).

Since I last posted many things have happened:

On Tuesday night we stayed at my cousin Paul's house in Deerfield, Wisconsin and had a great time. He gave us the ins and outs of planting tobacco, corn, and soy bean. We learned a lot!

On Wednesday, Darren and I had lunch with my Aunt Georgette and Uncle Paul in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin--just 15 minutes from my cousin's house. My aunt gave us a tour of her beautiful gardens and we ate sandwiches and ice cream, but we had to be on our way to Sioux Falls, South Dakota to make it to our campground before nightfall. There weren't many campgrounds in Sioux Falls that we liked, so we ended up sucking it up and staying at a KOA. It was really windy and cold that night. It wasn't the best time, but we survived!

On Thursday, we drove to the Badlands! The Badlands were spectacular and easily my most favorite part of the trip so far. We went on a hike and explored the area, and we ended up getting very sun burnt. Forgot to put on sunscreen... OPS! That afternoon we made our way to our campground for the night: Sage Creek Campground. It's a primitive campground just west of the Badlands. The campground was something out of The Oregon Trail computer game. There were bison in the campground, and they came within 15ish feet of our car! (Check out FB for a video of that experience.) We set up camp and had to be mindful of the winds--it was gusting up to 30 MPH. Long story short... the wind snapped one of our Kelty tent poles and ripped the rainfly. We decided not to worry about the tent situation and enjoyed a nice hike around the campground area. We observed the bison over large hills--amazing experience! That night we slept in the car because of our tent being broken, and it wasn't that bad. Overall, it was a great time in SD.

Today, we drove a few hours west to see Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial. We also picked up a new tent at Cabela's. This store is like REI or EMS but better! It has everything: hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, boating, etc. equipment. We literally could have bought a lot in the store but settled on our tent and some reflective line, so we don't trip over the tent lines like we so often do in the dark.

Now, it's time to enjoy the campground here at Keyhole State Park. We have the hammock up and plan on eating cheese and crackers and drinking a bottle of wine. Until next time! XOXO



The ground was made of clay-like material. Darren loved it!

More Badlands

Beware! Luckily, we didn't see any!

Sage Creek Campground...before our tent broke.

Mt Rushmore

Crazy Horse

Crazy Horse Sculpture 1/32 of the actual size in the background

Keyhole State Park

Our new tent!

Enjoying the hammock!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

We're on the Road!

Hey all! The first two days of our cross-country road trip are complete! We are still happy, well fed, sleeping well, and enjoying each other's company! :)

Yesterday we left CT and drove to explore Niagara Falls and camped in Irving, NY on Lake Erie. We got to watch the sunset over the lake, which was gorgeous and a great way to end our first day on the road.

Niagara Falls

Darren and I at Niagara

Niagara Falls

Sunset over Lake Erie yesterday

Today we drove about 12 hours to our destination of Wisconsin. First, we stopped in Chicago to eat lunch at Smoque BBQ. It was delicious! We ate pulled pork, Baby Back Ribs, slaw, mac n cheese, and fries--delicious! Then, we drove to Deerfield, WI, where I have family.

Sears Tower in Chicago

Tomorrow we are spending time with my family here then are headed to Sioux Falls. Hope to update everyone here on the weekend when we'll be in Yellowstone. XOXO