Monday, August 16, 2010


After a much needed cat nap, we headed over to the Napa Valley Wine Train.  I heard about the Wine Train a few years ago on Top Chef Masters and put it on my bucket list.  The food was supposed to be amazing. was just okay.  Better than the food that I've had on any previous trains (Yes, I've been on a train before...but that's a whole other story.), but nothing spectacular.  All in all, maybe a 2.5 out of 5 rating.

 On the wine train waiting for our lunch to arrive.  Our server was actually from Hawaii.  What are the chances of that?  He went on and on about how much he missed  Kind of made me crave a spicy ahi roll, which I devoured the day we got home.

The food wasn't great, but the wine tours were!  We got in-depth, fully personal tours at two wineries, Raymond Vineyards and ZD Wines.  The whole point of the trip, for me anyway, was to tour the inner workings of a winery.  We definitely got our moneys worth on that. 

First stop, Raymond Vineyards.  Our tour guide gave us an extensive tour of the grounds, including an activity where we learned how to pick out different aromas within a wine.  Why does one need to smell the wine in the first place?  Isn't that just something that people do to look like cool wine connoisseurs?  Well, yes, that is what some people do to look cool, but it actually serves a purpose.  The aromas of the wine give you an idea of its character, origin, and history.  For example, you may smell a hint of coffee or chocolate or cloves.  This could be something that is found in the soil (ie. grown in a near by field or was grown there previously, so the flavors are sealed into the soil and thus picked up through the grape as it grew.) or something that was picked up from the barrel during the aging process (ie. as the wine ferments it picks up the flavor of the barrel.  Depending on what the barrel is made from will effect the flavors that it transfers.).  Interesting isn't it?

 The wine vats that hold the wine until it is ready to be barreled and fermented. 

The tour ended with a wine tasting.  I love wine tastings.  They make my heart sing.

The Raymond Vineyard tasting room.

Next stop, ZD Wines.  We started the tour in their Reserve Room, the room where they keep all the expensive "vintage" wine.

  Where can I get one of these?  I need a Reserve Room filled with wine, stat!

The wine was really flowing at this winery.  I don't think I had an empty glass throughout the whole  By this time, I think mostly do to the wine, the other people on the tour with us started to open up.  We made friends with a family from Ohio.  Mama Ohio won my heart when she blurted out how much she loved Guinness beer and that she likes drinking Irish Car Bombs.  We were buddies after that.  Hey, not a lot of women will drink a Guinness!

The family from Ohio is behind La'akea.  Ohio family, if you are reading this, send me an email will ya?

ZD was truly awesome for me because it is an all organic winery run by a bunch of engineers.  Organic wine and engineers?  My two favorite things in the whole world!  And not only because my husband is an engineer, though that does help.  (Dorks of the world unite!)

One glass was my husband's glass.  I'm not double

Our tour guide was funny and informative.  Towards the end of the tour we learned that he lived on Maui for a few years before coming out to Napa Valley and working at ZD.  So we got an "Aloha" and a shaka at the end of the 

Having lived on Maui and knowing that we were familiar with Maui and things that happen there, he told us a story about how a bunch of pot farmers stole ZD's solar panels a while back.  I guess the farmers thought that they could hook the panels up to their grow lamps as an energy efficient/under the radar source of power.  When they found out that they couldn't use them, they returned the panels back to ZD with a plate of hash  I laughed and blurted out, "Well, sometimes pot farmers make bad choices, but they are basically good people."  (I mean everyone knows some one that smoked or at least tried pot in their lifetime.  I personally haven't, but they don't call it a gateway drug for nothing.)  After getting over the shock of a nicey-nice person like me possibly knowing anyone that smoked pot, Papa Ohio jumped on this one and said, "Ah....I see now."  *Pointing at me* "You're the farmer..."  *Pointing at my husband* "and he's the engineer."  Haha...very funny Papa Ohio.  :)

On our way out we bought a bottle of wine and stopped off to take a few photos in front of the fountain at ZD.  Our Ohio buddies offered to take a picture of us.  Mama Ohio said "Look lovingly into your husband's eyes.  You know, how you used to look at each other before you were married."  This is what we got...

I don't think that this is quite  We did try though, but it just turned into this...
So we opted for this...

Thanks Ohio peeps!  You guys really made the train for me.  Until we meet again...

Friday, August 13, 2010

Up, up and away!

The morning of day 4, I awaken to the sound of the alarm clock on my phone.  I roll over in bed to see that it is 5am.  The hubby and I sleepily get read for the day ahead.  Why on Earth would anyone on vacation get up at o'dark thirty?  Why to ride a hot air balloon, of course!  (See what I mean about my husband not being thrifty?  Lol...)

We jumped in the car and drove over to Domaine Chandon Winery, which is where the balloon meeting station is.  They pumped us with coffee while they explained what to expect and what to do and not to do while you are in the balloon basket.  (DO enjoy the scenery while staying relatively still.  DON'T try to jump out of the basket while the balloon is off the ground because you will die.  Etc, etc.)

We took this pic of the Domaine Chandon sign after the balloon ride.  It was still dark when we first arrived.

Once everyone was filled to the brim with coffee and information, we were loaded onto shuttles and taken to the launch site.  (We were also told to go to the bathroom before we got on the shuttle.  Apparently there are no bathrooms aboard the balloon.  Who would have thought?  How the Wizard of Oz survived on his hot air balloon trip I'll never  Surprisingly the 'launch site' was the parking lot of a near by store.  It was kind of a small space, but all the balloons were inflated there without a problem.

We headed over to the balloon that we were assigned to and climbed aboard.  There are no doors to the balloon basket, you just have to climb in and hope that you don't land on the other people that got in before you.  (Being the klutz that I am, I was really worried about landing on people.  I didn't, but it could have been tragic.  The gods have spared me this

Me breathing a sigh of relief for not crash landing on anyone while climbing into the basket.  We had 12 people in our basket.  There really wasn't too much room to move around, which was fine with me.  That meant no crazy thrill-seeker trying to rock the basket back and forth.

In a matter of minutes we were floating up into the early morning sky.

This is what the inside of the balloon looks like.  You could really feel the heat of this, which was kind of nice because it was really cold that morning.  It wasn't on the whole time, though.  They only need to heat the air to climb to higher elevations. 

The view.
This is how close we were.  La'akea is actually leaning backwards to get this shot.
As the flight went on we got higher and higher up over Napa Valley.  The view was incredible!

Our pilot gave us a whole tour of the valley.  Complete with bringing the basket down to where we could reach out and touch the trees.  He even had us reach out and pick the leaves.  It was really cool and totally unexpected. 

We floated around for a little over an hour and began our descent.  We had traveled almost 14 miles away from our starting destination.  Now I know you're thinking, "14 miles away?  How are you going to get back?"  We walked.  No, we didn't!  There is a team on the ground that follows the balloon around via van.  They meet you at the landing site, wherever it may be since it is different every time depending on the weather conditions,  and help you have a smooth landing.  Once the basket is close enough to the ground, they literally grab hold of it and pull you to the ground.  Then part of the team stays there to pack up the balloon and the rest of them shuttle you back to Domaine Chandon where you are greeted with a champagne breakfast.  Mmmmm...champagne.

Me happily on the ground again.

After we finished up breakfast we walked back to the car and headed back to our hotel.  We wanted to get in a little more sleep before our next adventure...the Wine Train!

Well we had to stop to take some photos!
In the wee hours of the morning my husband told me these were mushrooms.  It was dark and I was still sleepy, so I said "Wow those are the biggest mushrooms that I have ever seen!"  He played it off cool like they were really mushrooms.  I didn't protest because, let's be honest here, I'll pretty much believe anything at that hour of the morning.  
By the time we left it was bright and sunny and I had ingested about 3 cups of coffee.  When we walked past it again I had to check it out, thinking that I needed to get a picture of the hugest mushrooms on the planet.  When I saw them I knew I was had.  It was just a bunch of rocks stacked on top of each other.  He laughed for a pretty long time.  Nice one hunny.  Very funny....haha.
So I made him take this silly picture with the sign.  Who's laughing now?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

We are driving! We, we are driving!

It's the morning of day 3 of the vacation and we are heading to Napa.  My husband thought it would be more memorable to rent a convertible car, so that we could drive around Napa and Sonoma with the top down, rather than a regular old sedan.  What did we end up with?  A gray convertible Ford Mustang.  (Thank goodness it wasn't one of those bright yellow ones!  That would have been laughable/embarrassing, but we'd never be able to forget where we  It was fun for vacation driving, but I don't think that I would want to drive that boat everyday.  It was huge!

We loaded our bags into the trunk...or tried to anyway.  We ended up with one suitcase in the trunk and the other strewn across the backseats.  The car was huge.  The trunk, not so

While loading the suitcase into the trunk I found this.  It's the escape pulley for the trunk.  If anyone can possibly fit your, not already dismembered, body into the trunk of this car you can escape by pulling this pulley.  According to the directions depicted on the pulley, you pull it, the trunk pops open, you jump out and run for your life.  Good to

Using Google maps on my husband's iPhone we successfully made it to our hotel, The River Terrace Inn, in Napa.

Driving to Napa.  Top up because it was still really cold in SF when we left.

We spent the rest of the afternoon driving, with the top down, around Napa and through all the little towns surrounding it trying to find our bearings.

The driver.
The Passenger/Navigator (thanks to Google Maps).  I'm bring hats back people!  Floppy hats are always a classic sunny vacation accessory.
La'akea driving.  I love the lighting in this pic. 

One of the towns that we passed through was called Yountville.  It's a pretty small town, so we passed through it in a matter of minutes.  When we finally decided to head back to our hotel we figured out that we would have to pass through this little town again.  La'akea being the internet research guru that he is, remembered that there was a restaurant there called Bouchon that was supposed to be amazing.  He looked them up on his iPhone and called to make a reservation.  They said that they could squeeze us in if we came in the next hour, so we raced on over there.

We were greeted by a full house.  When they said that they could squeeze us in, they literally meant squeeze us in!  To get into the the table that we were seated at, the server had to physically move the table, have me sit down, and move the table back in front of me.  There would be no bathroom breaks for me that  We were comfortable none the less.

 See?  Not too bad of a space to work with.  At least one of us could move

The taste of the food more than made up for the lack of mobility.

Croque Madame: Toasted ham and cheese sandwich on brioche, fried egg and mornay sauce served with French fries
For only $16.95, it was a steal of a deal!  Yum-o to the artery busting extreme.

You know I can't say no to dessert!  Cork-shaped dark chocolate brownies with a rum flavored ice cream topped with a black cherry compote. To die for!

Now that was some wonderfully delicious French food! 

*Note: If the only place that you ever travel to is the 9th island (Las Vegas for all you non-Hawaii readers), rest assured for they are also blessed with a Bouchon restaurant.  It is located in the luxury mall attached to the Venetian.  Now you have no excuse not to eat great quality French food!

Reasons why I have the best husband in the whole wide world...

Top 10 Reasons that my hubby rocks:

Reason #10:
The whiny voice always works with him.  If I want something done, a little whine always does the trick.  (Well a little wine works on me too, but that's a different kind of

Reason #9:
He hates reality t.v. shows, but he'll watch it with me if I tell him that I'm watching it to research how humans interact with one another.

Reason #8:
No matter how obnoxiously annoying I try to be while he's trying to take a nap, he never gets upset.

Reason #7:
When I tell him that it's his turn to make dinner, he whips out his phone to speed dial Assagio's and orders a large order of Chicken Saltimbocca.  Once he returns to our house with the order, he takes it out of the take-out container, replates it onto two plates, opens a bottle of wine, and tells me how much he slaved over dinner.  

Reason #6: 
He can always pick a movie that will put me right to sleep.  I never want for sleep when it's his turn to pick the movie.

Reason #5:
Knowing that we didn't have his laptop to take with us on vacation, he brought a notebook to journal all of our adventures so that I would remember what to blog about.  He even did all of the journaling!  See him there in the picture?  That was him, almost every night.

Reason #4:  
He's just so darn cute in his nerdy glasses!  (Did I mention that I love glasses?  Well I do...)

Reason #3:
He can always make me laugh.  I usually laugh the hardest when he's not trying to make me laugh.  Like when he has to wear his IPod to do the dishes because it seriously takes him like an hour to wash about 5 dishes.  During which he takes about 3 breaks because doing the dishes is hard

Reason #2:
He loves me even when I'm being a major diva.  Like when we have to clean our house because people are coming to visit and I run around the house screaming "Cleaning is Hades!".

Finally, the #1 reason that my hubby rocks is:
He spoils me shamelessly and tells other people that I'm worth it.

Have you hugged your husband today?  You should...except if he just came back from the gym or doing yard-work or anything that makes a man equally sweaty.  You should tell him to take a shower first and then hug him when he's sweat-free.

Happy almost Friday bloggies!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Drinks and a broadway show? What a way to end the day!

Once we exited the cable car and were safely back on land, we began our journey back to the hotel.  An hour of much needed rest was in order, but unfortunately we didn't have time to waste.  We had to get ready for our evening out on the town.  It was our last night in SF and we couldn't miss out on the night life!

The hubby spent about an hour on the phone the previous night trying to get us tickets to see Wicked.  Apparently the automated system for Ticket Master doesn't understand how to spell "La'akea" or the street that we live  (Isn't there a setting for Hawaiian?  No?)  The machine ended up booking our reservations and having us confirm them in person at the box office right before the show.  The cashier at the box office didn't seem too perplexed by the situation.  I guess it happens all the time.

First stop of the night, Bourbon and Branch.  It's an original speakeasy from the 1920s!  How freakin' cool is that?!?  Going with the whole Prohibition era theme, you have to make your reservations ahead of time online (Though they didn't have internet during the 1920s, so one would have had to have heard about it via word of mouth...small change in the times.).  Once the reservations are confirmed, they give you instructions on how to get there and a password that you must say to get in the door.

This, my friends, is the door.  No sign screaming "Bourbon and Branch right here!", just a door.
Okay so it has a little sign, but it doesn't say 'Bourbon and Branch'.  Actually it says the exact opposite of what a bar is, which goes with the Prohibition era theme.  I love themes.

You aren't allowed to take pictures or use your cell phone once inside the bar (again with the theme...), so I don't have any to share.  No, I didn't go all rouge and take a picture despite the rules.  I'm usually a rebel like that, but this bar is right on the edge of the Tenderloin district and I didn't want to get thrown out of an establishment in that district.  Not that anything would have happened, but who wants to tempt fate?  Not me.

The decore was very 1920s, with candles as the only light source and black and red brocade patterned wall paper.  Even the cocktail waitresses got into character.  For example, as we were being let in the door by the hostess someone walking by asked her what this place was.  She replied "Hmm?" and shut the door behind us.  Now if that's not staying in character, I don't know what is!

Not only was their theme amazing, but their drinks were fabulous too!  My personal favorite was called 'Death in the Afternoon'.  With ingredients like gin, raspberry and lime juice, ginger syrup, and Absinthe, shaken and served in a martini glass, how could I possibly have said no?  La'akea had a great margarita there, which we tried, unsuccessfully, to recreate once we got home.  I ended up asking B&B for the recipe a few days later.  And you know what?  Those sweethearts graciously gave it to me!  I couldn't believe it!  So maybe at my next cocktail party you'll be enjoying one of those...

Now that we were both two drinks deep, we hopped into a cab and headed over to the theater where Wicked was playing.
Me in front of the Wicked sign.  Why, did I bring that coat that I am wearing with me from Hawaii?  No.  Remember how it was cold earlier that day?  I decided that if I didn't buy a coat, at the conveniently located Burlington Coat Factory across the street from our hotel, that I would freeze my patooties off in my sleeveless white cotton shirt-dress and black tights.  Hey, I'm tropical!  We don't need sleeves in Hawaii!  But you sure do in SF...even during the summer.  Looking for a black Betsey Johnson coat with adorable heart shaped buttons, anyone?

Wicked was wickedly awesome!  We had floor seats (thanks "Best Seat Available" option on the Ticket Master automated system) and, bonus, no one's head was blocking my view.  Even the hubby enjoyed himself.

For those of you who haven't seen the production, here's a taste.  Sorry about the video quality, but what do you expect from someone's sneakily filmed in the theater YouTube upload?  No, it wasn't me that took the

After the performance we headed outside with the rest of the masses to hail a cab.  We thought that it would be wise to get away from the crowd a little bit to more easily hail a cab.  So we headed down the street following another couple.  We talked with them and walked a little ways down from the theater.  We all hailed a cab.  Thinking that they were going to be nice to the tourists and let us get the first cab, I was a little shocked when they jumped in and said "Sorry.  Hope you get a cab soon." and pretty much slammed the door shut and yelled to the cab driver to step on it.  (Did I fail to mention that the theater is also on the edge of the Tenderloin district?)  We hauled ass back towards the theater and were lucky enough to hail a cab right before we reached an area where a group of shady men were sitting outside of a store drinking fourties wrapped in paper bags.

Needless to say, when we arrived safely at our hotel we let out a sigh of relief.  I looked at my husband and said "So Napa tomorrow, huh?"  He replied "Yup."  And we left it at

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Cable cars are insane!

My hubby decided that since we missed the cable car ride in the morning that we should make up for it by taking a ride on one back to our hotel...or at least near it.  I think that he just didn't want to walk any more, since we seriously ended up walking like 10 miles that 

So we jumped in a super long line to catch the next cable car.  The cost of not having to walk back 5 miles to the hotel, $5 a pop. 

It was really, really, really cold standing in line.  The whole time we tried to stay out in the sun because it was about 10 degrees colder in the shade.  I wore sunscreen like I always hubby, not so lucky.  Despite the millions of times I tell him to wear sunscreen he still refuses.  So he got a sunburn.  Should have listened to me, huh?  I'm just saying...

I thought that riding the cable cars was going to be like riding the trolley back in Hawaii.  Wrong!  Sure they still cram a lot of people into each car and have people hanging off the sides like homicidal maniacs, but we don't have the steep hills like they do in SF.  That was seriously scary!  I thought that we were going to lose someone off the side for sure.

Me riding the cable car.  This picture was taken before we started going down all those steep hills. 

Don't worry everyone arrived, safe and sound.  The cable car can go on for another day...without me riding

Pier 39

Along our walk from the Ferry Building to Pier 39 we ran across this sign....
"We make CHOCOLATE from scratch. Right here." 

Really?  Right there?  Out in the open in front of a busy street?  That just seems unsanitary to  No, we didn't go in and buy any of the chocolate made right there.  I don't think that I would have been able to eat it after all the jokes that we made about the sign.

After a good 15 minutes of walking, we finally made it to Pier 39.  Ta-dah!

They had everything from sea lions to gift shops.  What?!?  There's a place to shop and eat all while being assaulted by the smell fish?  Count me  Okay so the fish smell wasn't too bad, as long as you weren't standing right next to where the sea lions live.  All in all, two thumbs up.  Fine family fun!

This is only like a quarter of the resident sea lions.  Mmmm...gotta love the smell of fish in the morning!
Candy!  It makes the world a better place.
This is me modeling the crab hat found in the store 'Who you calling a crab?', which ironically has a lobster mascot that greets you at the door.  Did I buy it?  Heck no!  Where am I ever going to wear that hat again?  No where, that's where.  Did the cashier give me a dirty look for taking a picture with it on and not making a purchase?  Probably, but I'm on vacation and everyone knows that when you are on vacation you get to do whatever you want.
Me pretending to be a crab.  Hey, at least the cashier got a laugh out of the situation.  Like I've said before, I aim to please.