Birthdays, Trains, and Wine

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

My mom had a big birthday in April and we wanted to get her something special.  My family has always been more about giving experiences or events rather than *things*. If you took a tour of my mom’s house, you’d know she already has enough things.  Not hoarder status, but she’s definitely not lacking in the “amazing amounts of possessions” department.  She’s a very crafty person and crafts take up space.  Lots of space.

But I digress.  Mom’s birthday.  What do you give a beautiful, mature woman to commemorate a significant milestone? 

Well, if you’re my family, a train ride, of course!

As I’ve said before, we live in an amazing area.  Trains have been an historical part of most communities, but our trains have been turned into 5-star restaurants slowly chugging their way through gorgeous wineries:

wine train vineyard

 

“The Napa Valley Wine Train provides a relaxing three-hour, thirty-six mile round-trip journey from the historic town of Napa, through one of the world’s most well-known wine valleys to the quaint village of St. Helena, and back.

Guests aboard the Wine Train enjoy a freshly prepared lunch or dinner inside a fully restored 1915-1917 Pullman Dining Car or 1952 Vista Dome car as they pass the vineyards and wineries of Napa Valley.”  

wine train wine

wine train set up

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Sounds pretty amazing, huh? 

My mom’s train ride for two included a gourmet meal.  We told her she could take anyone she wanted as her guest – and she chose me!  (I might have strongly hinted that I would be the perfect companion).  Thanks Mom!  And Happy Birthday!

Me and the Madre

wine train table set

Just your typical view from one of the tables.

I’m not in the habit of taking pictures of my food, so I didn’t remember to capture all the offerings, but if you’d have seen them all, you’d be impressed.  And hungry.   What I did get was some pictures of the train, our beautiful view, and me and my mom in one of the luxurious dome car seats.  

I kinda ate most of the salad before I realized a picture was in order.

I kinda ate most of the salad before I remembered to take a picture.  (And if you we’re hoping for entree pics — uh, let’s just say I was too busy eating).

 

Mom's dessert - creme brulee.  Yum.

Mom’s dessert – creme brulee. Yum. (And the coffee was good too!)

 

My dessert -- tiramisu.  I'm not usually a fan, but this is the best Tiramisu I've ever had.  Didn't hurt that it had a chocolate outer layer.

My dessert — Tiramisu. I’m not usually a fan, but this is the best Tiramisu I’ve ever had. Didn’t hurt that it had a chocolate outer layer.

After much wine (mostly me) and food (both of us), we went home very full and happy.  

I got zero compensation for this post.  Just wanted to share what we did for my mom’s birthday among the abundant offerings here in beautiful California. 

Has anyone else had a lunch or dinner on the wine train?

 

Mendocino – A view from our shoes

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

I know I’m lucky.  We live in a beautiful city, within a beautiful state.  We’re 45 minutes by car from some of the most photographed views of the ocean.  We can drive four hours east and we’re at the world-famous Sierra Mountains home of a ski resort called Heavenly.  Head 35 miles south and we’re crossing the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.  Not to mention our mostly sunny, California weather.  Again.  Lucky, blessed, spoiled.  Whatever word you’d assign it, we’re definitely that.

 

This weekend we decided to celebrate my husband’s birthday by visiting one of our favorite places on the California coast.  Mendocino Village is about a three hour drive northwest.  There are two incredibly scenic ways to get there from our town of Petaluma.  A favorite is to go straight out to the coast and soak in the rugged coastline with as many crashing waves, gorgeous rock formations, stunning seaside homes and beaches as our hearts desire.  However, the “price” sometimes includes large RVs, convertibles, and impatient motorcycles all vying for the same narrow hairpin turns.  (Literally, hundreds of miles of turns…and ocean views).

 

The other route is to jet up the freeway for about an hour before heading west through serene redwood forests, vineyards and farms and then up the coast where the Navarro River meets the Pacific.  For most people, the word “freeway” would immediately sway the decision, but let me tell you about “The 101”.  In that hour of driving from Petaluma to Cloverdale, there are five or six municipalities that hug the two-lane Highway 101.  One is the largest city in Sonoma County, Santa Rosa (pop: 170,000 –  California Footwear Co’s headquarters’ location), and another is Healdsburg, just voted second on Smithsonian’s top 10 Best Small Towns in America (April 2014 issue).  Along the way are dozens of wineries (Kendal Jackson and Coppola to name a few) and acres upon acres of rolling hills typically planted with familiar grapes.  There are even some rather intriguing, very large art sculptures that grab your attention and can dominate the conversation for miles.

 

I may sound like I’m justifying driving up the freeway, and you’d be partially right.  That is the route we opted to take for this particular trip.  We brought our youngest (11-year-old) along and we were going for maximum view and ambiance, combined with minimum car sickness (aka ambiance).

 

If you haven’t been lucky enough to have spent time in Mendocino, let me acquaint you with this Victorian village.  What we know as Mendocino today started as a logging community in the 1850’s.  Many of the same buildings and wooden walkways are still standing.  Mendocino has been the backdrop of many movies, but probably most known for the TV series, “Murder She Wrote.” Today, it is a quiet tourist town that welcomes a music festival in the summer and the Whale Festival January through March, the window in which you’re most likely to see migrating whales.  (We didn’t).

 

With a population hovering around 900, it has a very compact “downtown.”  There’s an abundance of small restaurants, café’s, coffee shops, bookstores, clothing stores, and wine tasting as well as specialty shops that feature handcrafted art, jewelry, chocolate, quilts and jams.  There’s a music store, toy store, and even two shoe stores.  All easily within walking distance of wherever you happened to park your car.

 

The historic shops and scrumptious restaurant offerings set the table for a wonderful experience, but the bluff overlooking the ocean is definitely the centerpiece of the village.  In this case, I’ll let my pictures do the talking as I could never string together words that could capture what my camera did (and when I say “camera,” I mean my smartphone, so look at these and imagine something even better).   See below.

 

We managed to eat (and eat and eat), do some wine tasting, shop, listen to some live music, read, and take several walks through the bluff trails and even trek down the bluff to the beach.  A perfect weekend if you ask me.  (It’s really convenient that my husband loves one of my favorite places as much as I do).

 

A quick sidenote:  If you only make it to Mendocino once in your life, please stay at The Mendocino Hotel.  It’s historic, it’s old and creaky, it has ancient plumbing, it’s still decorated with vintage furniture, rugs, and portraits and it’s perfect.  It’s the only hotel on Main Street that has unobstructed views of the ocean.  And, if you’re a book lover like I am, you can spend most of a day curled up in their lobby near the crackling fire with views of the ocean in a wing-backed chair sipping on a glass of wine brought by a friendly server.  Yeah, it’s as amazing as it sounds.  And no, I was in no way compensated for my “review” above.

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Mendo cliff Mendo Clouds Mendo Q Silly Mendo Sunset

We have yet to name one of our styles after Mendocino.  When we do, you’ll know it is, indeed, a very special shoe.