Buenos Aires Re-Visited (Again)

church, Pilar, Argentina, Buenos Aires, Duarte, Recoleta, cemetery, travel, photo, Olympus

When I sat down to write this post, my first thought was:  “What can I possibly write about Buenos Aires that has not been written before?”  Good question.

My visit there was triggered by its being the location of two children’s homes we were going to help via a trek to Patagonia with Trekking for Kids.  I was not disappointed in that being the location as my prior visits to Buenos Aires, even the overnight trip one, were always good:  good city, good vibe, good food, and good wine.

I decided to go two days ahead of the official start of the group trip so that I would have some time to tool around some.  Tooling around soon turned out to include a day trip to nearby Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay, across the river from Buenos Aires.

So, I turned my attention to determining where to stay.  I had already paid a good bit to be able to trek in Patagonia after the time in Buenos Aires so I was looking for a good alternative to just paying a hotel room.  Two others from the trek decided to come early too so, immediately, I decided that an apartment rental was the best option.  Using FlipKey, I found a great 2 bedroom apartment in Palermo on a high floor and with some good views.  Mercifully, it had A/C as it was summer in Buenos Aires.  (FlipKey did a great job of showing me apartments based on my criteria which included not only location and price point but availability of A/C and wifi!)

apartment rental, Buenos Aires, FlipKey, travel, comfort, lodging, Olympus, photo

My room at the apartment: nice corner and a balcony!

The landlord was very friendly and flexible but was spot on on restaurant recommendations – bonus!  And when I looked out of the balcony, I recognized the small square by the building as one I had seen on HGTV’s House Hunters International a couple of years ago.

After the couple of days on our own, we moved to the hotel were the group was going to stay while we worked with the children’s homes outside of Buenos Aires in Moreno.  The hotel was located in Recoleta, another nice neighborhood in Buenos Aires.  The hotel was located across from the Recoleta cemetery where Evita is buried.  I lucked out with the room assignment and had a great view of the cemetery and could even see the ocean, er, the river.

Buenos Aires, Recoleta, cemetery, Argentina, photo, travel, South America, church, architecture, history, Evita, Olympus

The Recoleta Cemetery

Argentina, Buenos Aires, Duarte, Recoleta, cemetery, travel, photo, Olympus

Typical scene at the Recoleta cemetery

church, Pilar, Argentina, Buenos Aires, Duarte, Recoleta, cemetery, travel, photo, Olympus

Iglesia Nuestra Señora del Pilar right at the cemetery’s entrance

I had visited the cemetery in 1991 but still went back in to look for Evita.  Of course, there is a sign indicating where the famous’ tombs are but if you look for Evita under “P” for Perón, you will not find her.  You must look under Duarte, her maiden name.

Evita, Eva, Peron, Argentina, Buenos Aires, Duarte, Recoleta, cemetery, travel, photo, Olympus

The family mausoleum where Evita’s remains rest

Eva looms large in the Argentine psyche – and on the side of buildings too…

Evita, Eva, Peron, Argentina, Buenos Aires, building, travel, photo, Olympus

That’s Evita up there

The other plus for the hotel -and another thing that loomed large for me- is that it was a few storefronts down from my favorite ice cream place in Argentina: Freddos, first discovered by me in 1991!

Freddo, ice cream, gelato, Buenos Aires, Argentina, foodie, food, foodporn

I could not even wait to snap a photo before taking a bite (or 3)

Oh, the food in Buenos Aires…

Maybe the city should be renamed “Buena Comida”, instead of “Buenos Aires”…  In my time in Buenos Aires, I probably gained weight.  The likely contributors certainly included my almost daily Freddo’s ice cream cup but it also included the incredible beef, pastries, desserts, and wines enjoyed at places like Cabaña Las Lilas (which serves some of the highest quality of beef I have ever had as well as an incredible appetizer plate), Campo Bravo (where we enjoyed a highly diverse plate of cow components…), El Trapiche (a locals place with not only great beef but amazing pasta), and even Biking Buenos Aires (a bike tour that provided delicious pastries during our break)!

food, foodie, Cabaña Las Lilas, Puerto Madero, foodporn, Buenos Aires, Argentina, delicious, photo, Samsung Galaxy

The appetizer plate at Cabaña Las Lilas was a home run!

beef, food, foodie, foodporn, Buenos Aires, Argentina, delicious, photo, Olympus, parrillada

The parrillada at Campo Bravo:  name that part

food, foodie, foodporn, Buenos Aires, Argentina, delicious, photo, Samsung Galaxy, pasta

Butternut squash stuffed pasta with an outstanding blue cheese sauce

pastry, churros, factura, food, foodie, foodporn, Buenos Aires, Argentina, delicious, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Pastries served as a snack during the bike ride

mate, Buenos Aires, Argentina, tea, photo, Biking Buenos Aires

Mate cups

dessert, postre, Cabaña Las Lilas, chocolate, Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires, Argentina, food, foodie, foodporn, Samsung Galaxy

Don’t forget dessert: this beauty courtesy of Cabaña Las Lilas

A place to stroll around – and bike around!

Buenos Aires is such a walkable city.  Trees and parks everywhere and, as I shared before, PLENTY-O monuments in this South American metropolis.  Walking down Ave. Libertador, which is bordered by a park between it and the river, is a good way to stretch the legs after an overnight flight – or after a massive lunch on beef and wine…  #justsayin

Libertador, Argentina, Buenos Aires, bike path, jogging trail, Olympus, photo, travel

Ave. Libertador is good for walking, jogging or riding!

One thing I had not contemplated to do is in Buenos Aires is to ride bicycles.  I mean, ride a bicycle in a large metropolis in Latin America?  Nuts, right??  Well, let me tell you, it was so much fun and, actually, safe!  I did not realize it but Buenos Aires has built bike lanes in some parts of town which meant that about 80% of the bike tour I did with Biking Buenos Aires was on bike lanes.  For about 13 of us, we had the main guide who shared a lot of great information about the sights, and two additional guides who supported the group, handled crossing intersections, and were just great guys.

I had never visited La Boca (more on it later) and got to re-visit the Plaza de Mayo and ride around the Casa Rosada.  We rode around Puerto Madero were we had a snack.  And then we hung out at the bike tour office to eat delicious empanadas that we had bought.  Enjoy these final pictures of what we saw during my bike tour and don’t forget to eat and explore to your hearts’ content in incredible Buenos Aires!

Cabildo, cathedral, Buenos Aires, Plaza de Mayo, Argentina, history, architecture, bike tour, travel, photo, Olympus

The Buenos Aires Cathedral in the back and the old Cabildo on the left

Puerto Madero, Argentina, Buenos Aires, puente de la mujer, Calatrava, Olympus, travel, bridge, architecture

The Women’s Bridge by Calatrava in Puerto Madero

 

Santiago de Compostela: Food, Charm, and “New” Family

Praza do Obradoiro, Cathedral, west facade,Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain, World Heritage Site, travel, photo, architecture, Olympus

I wrote earlier about my arrival in Santiago de Compostela as a Camino pilgrim and the activities related to the end of the pilgrimage (getting the Compostela certificate, Pilgrims’ Mass, etc.).  Though my stay in Santiago was brief (less than 24 hours due to needing to bring the group back to Madrid), there were some noteworthy things to share about my brief second visit to this incredible city in northwest Spain‘s Galicia

Food

As ANYWHERE in Spain, food is spectacular.  In Santiago, I had a quick lunch at a local tapas bar before going to meet relatives.  I love tapas bars.  These are not the unreasonable facsimiles in many U.S. cities that offer tapas.  I loved sitting at the bar and looking at the tapas on display (salivating at, to be more accurate) and then making my choices.  That and an adult beverage made for a quick and delicious lunch.

tapas, food, foodporn, Santiago de Compostela, Spain, España, Espagne, travel, photo, Galicia, Olympus

A splendid array

tapas, food, foodporn, Santiago de Compostela, Spain, España, Espagne, travel, photo, Galicia, Olympus

One of many had…

Later that evening, after dinner with my group, a couple of us took off in a chase for some hot chocolate and “churros” (fried sticks of dough and sugar; a favorite of mine from my childhood).  Let me tell you, this hot chocolate is not of the watery style.  It is THICK – and delicious.

churros, hot chocolate, food, foodporn, Santiago de Compostela, Spain, España, Espagne, travel, photo, Galicia, Samsung Galaxy

Churros and hot chocolate – the real reason the pilgrims came!

Great vibe to the town – charming architecture and streets

The great Cathedral of Santiago is not the only main architectural piece in this city.  I love its side streets with or without arcades and the many small and big plazas all around.  In fact, it is the whole town, not just the Cathedral or the plaza in front of it that is a World Heritage Site!

Plaza de Platerias, south facade, Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain, World Heritage Site, travel, photo, architecture, Olympus

Hanging out at Praza de Platerías along the south face of the Cathedral

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University building facing the north side of the Cathedral

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I ate at this café called Dakar 20 years before!

Santiago de Compostela, café, architecture, travel, food, photo

Small plaza and cafés near the Cathedral

The grand plaza in front of the Cathedral is named Praza do Obradoiro, which best I know means plaza of the workshop.  It is large and pretty plain except for the buildings around it:  the Cathedral, a palace, and a hostel built by the Catholic Monarchs, Isabella and Ferdinand, back in 1492!

Plaza do Obradoiro, Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain, architecture, travel,photo, Canon EOS Rebel, arcade

Entering Praza do Obradoiro from the northeast corner

Plaza do Obradoiro, Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain, architecture, travel,photo, Catholic Monarchs, inn, Olympus

The inn built by the Catholic Monarchs, now a parador

Plaza del Obradoiro, Santiago de Compostela, Spain, España, travel, photo, architecture, Olympus

Looking around the Praza do Obradoiro – Rajoy Palace

From here, once can admire the façade of the Cathedral (which was undergoing repairs/restoration) and then go into town in any number of directions.  The site of the Cathedral has been the site of a church since the 9th century.  Construction of the current church began in 1075 (!) and the church was consecrated in 1211 – THAT is patience!  Of course, it has been added to in the many centuries since.  It looks like a massive complex.

Praza do Obradoiro, Cathedral, façade, west facade,Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain, World Heritage Site, travel, photo, architecture, Olympus

The massive west façade of the Cathedral

Praza do Obradoiro, Cathedral, west facade,Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain, World Heritage Site, travel, photo, architecture, Olympus

Looking closer at the main façade ‘s exposed towers

Praza do Obradoiro, Cathedral, west facade,Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain, World Heritage Site, travel, photo, architecture, Canon EOS Rebel

Detail of the Cathedral from the side

We stayed at a monastery-seminary called Hospedería San Martín Pinario next to the Cathedral but not within the Praza do Obradoiro – great location!  The rooms, as can be expected, are spartan but clean and functional.  Aside of the massive size of the building, I was surprised at the VERY wide hallways.  I wonder why they made them like that?!

Hospederia San Martin, Santiago de Compostela, hotel, seminary, monastery, travel, photo, Olympus, spartan

Room at the Hospedería

Hospederia San Martin, Santiago de Compostela, hotel, seminary, monastery, travel, photo, Olympus, spartan

One of the massive hallways, this one in the lobby

And the family connection

I mentioned meeting relatives earlier.  The story behind that is that my great-grandfather was born right outside of Santiago in a rural village named Bastavales (made famous in Spain in a song).  I had visited the hamlet 20 years earlier but, unprepared and not having a car, I got to see the church where he likely was baptized and walked past houses in which he and other relatives likely lived.  Years later, I made contact with the parish to see about getting a copy of the records of his baptism, etc. and got some good information, courtesy of the local priest.  I guess he told some of my great-grandfather’s local relatives about my inquiries – years later they reached out to me and we got to meet by letters, email and a phone call.  So, I made it my purpose to go meet them in this trip.  After the tapas lunch, I headed to a house in Bastavales using a taxi.  Back in 1994, I had taken a bus and had taken a while.  Now, with a brand new highway, it took about 15 minutes to get there.  Sweet.

It was really neat to meet one of my grandmother’s younger cousins (only two were alive at this point; my grandmother had been born in Cuba and never got to go to Spain so she never met any of her Spanish relatives), a lovely lady with blue eyes named Flora.

family, Bastavales

My grandmother’s cousin and her granddaughter (my 3rd cousin?)

I also met one of her sons and two of her grandchildren.  She shared some family history and showed me some photos.  Also, she pointed at a distance at the house where my great-grandfather had been born.  I only had a couple of hours to spare and they did not have a car readily available so I had to be satisfied with having seen the house from a distance.  I also saw the church I had visited 20 years earlier and noticed that I had walked in front of the houses she was pointing to after I got off the bus and walked a few kilometers to get to the church…

vines, green, Bastavales, Galicia, Spain, photo, Olympus

The side garden of their house has vines! Beautiful spot

wine press, Bastavales, vineyard, Galicia, Spain, photo, travel, wood, Olympus

Showing me the old wine press they used to use – pretty cool!

This week some other relatives have contacted me and have sent me photos they scanned of my grandmother.  Apparently, she kept in touch with them (though her dad died in Cuba when she was a toddler) and sent them pictures of her as a young woman.  They actually sent me a copy of the little “souvenir” with her baby picture issued when she was baptized; her dad must have sent it to Spain!  I realized with the info they gave me that she had been sending pictures and writing to them because her grandparents were still alive.  I was glad to hear she had some contact with them.

——————————————————————————————————————————

This was a special way to end the Camino:  a pilgrimage to meet relatives my grandmother never met. I love Santiago de Compostela and now I must return to meet these other relatives that have given me such a wonderful gift.  And this will give me more time to explore Santiago more and keep enjoying tapas, hot chocolate and churros!

Michigan Wine Country: Unexpected and Beautiful

Michigan, wine, Leelanau Peninsula, Traverse City, Sip and Savor, wine tasting

I was looking forward to visiting Traverse City, Michigan and exploring the neighboring areas but little did I know my timing was going to be SO good.  You see, that weekend, the Leelanau Peninsula Spring Sip & Wine was taking place (check here for other events!).  Over 20 wineries participated and the ticket included a small appetizer and several tastings of wine at each participating winery.  Heaven!Michigan, wine, Leelanau Peninsula, Traverse City, Sip and Savor, wine tasting

I did have to mind how many places I visited as I only had one afternoon and I would not want to rush just to score more wineries!   (<- crazy talk)  Plus, it was my first time in the area so I wanted to also admire the scenery.

Upon entering Leelanau Peninsula, our first stop was the Ciccone Vineyards.

Michigan, wine, Leelanau Peninsula, Traverse City, Sip and Savor, wine tasting, Ciccone, Madonna

If the last name sounds familiar, it is Madonna‘s last name:  it is her Dad’s winery.  I don’t know the full story but I know at some point (and maybe still) they are not close.  The “savor” part at this winery was the homemade chili by the owner.  It was delicious and perfect given the rainy weather at that point in the day.  We enjoyed chatting with the staff!

Michigan, wine, Leelanau Peninsula, Traverse City, Sip and Savor, wine tasting, Ciccone, Madonna

The grounds of the Ciccone vineyards

My partner-in-crime, er, fellow traveler and I moved on to Blustone Vineyards which stole a piece of my heart…  Why?  They were serving CUBAN PERNIL (pork)!!!!  As a 100% Cuban-blooded human being and cook of Cuban pork myself I was impressed with the quality of the pork.  The pork was from Georgina‘s in Traverse City (I looked at their menu online and I immediately started salivating!!  Next time in TC, I will HAVE to visit!).  Kudos!

Michigan, winery, vineyard, Traverse City,  Blustone winery, Leelanau Peninsula, wine tasting, wine tasting room

Plus, the wine at Blustone was the most impressive of the whole lot I sampled on this visit.  I also did love the space:  modern, spacious, and well lit with natural light.  It got quite packed after we arrived but there still was plenty of space to hang around.  Good job, Blustone!

Michigan, winery, vineyard, Traverse City,  Blustone winery, Leelanau Peninsula, wine tasting, wine tasting room

Random driving led us to encounter 45 North winery.  “What’s with the name?,” you may say?  Well, it is near the 45th parallel, halfway between the Equator and the North Pole!

45 Parallel, Michigan, road sign, halfway

The place was festive on the inside and out as you can see!  We enjoyed being served our tastings there and watching the “hat scene”.  Good job, 45 North!

Michigan, wine, vineyard, winery, 45 North, wine bottle, Leelanau

The tasting area and the bottle tree that greets visitors – pretty cool!

Michigan, wine, vineyard, winery, 45 North, wine bottle, Leelanau, food, white wine

What greeted us upon entering the testing room!

Michigan, wine, vineyard, winery, 45 North, wine bottle, Leelanau, hat, clever

One of the cleverest hats I saw!

It was time to keep on trucking along and we decided to go to Old Mission Peninsula to try a winery that was recommended, Brys Estate.  I enjoyed their reds – and the view of the east bay.  Though there was a great outdoor seating area with Adirondack chairs, because of the slightly weather, we did not partake of the outdoor.  But that was fine because we enjoy chatting with our server and some of the other visitors.

Brys, Estate, winery, vineyard, Old Mission, peninsula, Traverse City, Michigan

Brys, Estate, winery, vineyard, Old Mission, peninsula, Traverse City, Michigan

A view of the east bay

So, after this Saturday spent driving around these and other Michigan wineries, I can safely say it is a GREAT way to explore the beauty of Michigan – and enjoying delicious food and wines!  I do hope to return as there were many wineries I did not get to check out.  I love having a reason to go back to places I like!

Roadside Treats on the Way to Maracas Bay, Trinidad

Trinidad, chadon beni, roadside stand, Maracas Bay, food, foodie, photo

I think I must be hungry because chadon beni has been on my mind today…  It is making me remember my trip to to Maracas Bay in Trinidad.  On the way there, we made a stop for “Trini-Treats”, a roadside kiosk with a neat array of munchies, some familiar to me having grown up in another Caribbean island, but most quite unique to Trinidad & Tobago and, therefore, new to me.  At first, I was not sure these treats were for me.  Definitely not anything with coconut; coconut is just not for me.  Mango slices immersed in some pickled liquid, Patsy’s channa, and other stuff I did not recognize made me wonder if anything here would be for me.

Trinidad, chadon beni, roadside stand, Maracas Bay, food, foodie, photo

My host and I beginning to explore all the offerings – a little overwhelming at first

Trinidad, chadon beni, roadside stand, Maracas Bay, food, foodie, photo

The young writer seriously concentrating on the options at hand

Thankfully, our local host ignored our initial hesitation and got some samples of the different items.  I was very pleasantly surprised.  My favorite was the pears immersed in chow which is some sort of pickled liquid infused with chadon beni (culantro in other parts of the Caribbean, a strong flavored herb; with some garlic and black pepper, depends on the particular jar) – a great flavor combination!

chadon beni, pickled fruits, Trinidad, Maracas Bay, roadside food, food, tasty, treats,, Trini

Pineapple slices

chadon beni, pickled fruits, Trinidad, Maracas Bay, roadside food, food, tasty, treats,, Trini

Pears

chadon beni, pickled fruits, Trinidad, Maracas Bay, roadside food, food, tasty, treats,, Trini chadon beni, pickled fruits, Trinidad, Maracas Bay, roadside food, food, tasty, treats,, Trini

chadon beni, pickled fruits, Trinidad, Maracas Bay, roadside food, food, tasty, treats,, Trini

Mango slices

After that, we decided to get a few more of these delicious treats before continuing to Maracas Bay where bake ‘n shark awaited…  Famous “Richard’s” was closed for renovations so we just headed next door.  I loved the self-serve on the toppings and had a most delicious lunch.

Maracas Bay, bake and shark at Trinidad and Tobago

Bake and shark goodness!

This “beach” food sampler is just one example of many of the great food to be experienced in the lovely islands of Trinidad & Tobago.  Can’t wait to return!

Ideas for Paris Travel with Pre-Teen Kids

Paris, Arc de Triomphe, Paris, Eiffel Tower, Canon EOS Rebel, photo, travel, view

A friend asked me what to do in Paris as she was going with her kids for a week or so.  I do not have kids but I was one once and that, coupled with the fact that I have stayed at a Holiday Inn, fully makes me an expert at recommending stuff for kids.

My brain immediately thought “Paris Disney” but I really thought this would be a criminal offense when they have the opportunity to have a much more unique experience – and ilivetotravel is all about experiences.  Like chocolate and macarons.

chocolate, macarons, maison du chocolat, Paris, France, food, foodie, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

All sorts of good stuff can be found in Paris. And I am sure kids & adults alike will enjoy!

So here is what I tell my friend to do:

  • Jardin de Luxembourg – This, the second largest public park in Paris, was part of the Palace that sits right by it.  The Palace was built in the early 17th century and is now the French Senate.  The park has many statues and fountains.  Maybe your daughter can imagine how it must have felt in the 17th century being a princess walking around the gardens!  And your son may enjoy renting a sailboat to operate in the large fountain while you sit and watch people go by as you enjoy this garden!
  • The Pantheon – This is likely a quick visit.  Some of the most notable French figures are buried here but I don’t think that will impress the kids.  However, it was free (at least when I went years ago) and seeing a building with such a unique interior may be interesting for the kids for, at least, 10 minutes.  And you, the parent, get to see it!
  • Go up the Eiffel Tower.  I don’t know if the kids will be up to hiking up as far as they let you before you have to take the elevator to reach the top but I know you are fit and can climb it with no issue!  While the climb may be more work than the kids want to do, seeing the structure up close as you go up is neat.  But, in the end, it’s the view from the top that matters most so, whether you all climb it or not, go up!
  • Walk up the Arc de Triomphe. OK, if the kids didn’t want to climb the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe is another option available to help you burn the calories of all the delicious pastries you are likely going to be eating (I will be mad if you don’t!).  It is deceiving but it is like 14-16 stories high so it is not trivial.  The view is not as cool as the one from the Eiffel Tower but you can look down the Champs-Elysées from it and, on the other side, towards the modern arc-shaped building in the distance.  Oh, and please use the tunnels that go under the road – don’t attempt to cross the street to get to it!
  • Visit MontmartreIt is a great place to and walk the narrow and hilly streets (still making you exercise with this plan!).  To get up, you can climb the stairs but I will cut your kids some slack and suggest you all ride the little funicular.  Once you reach the top, you are rewarded with the massive Sacre Coeur church.  And guess what?  You can climb it to the top!  This one, I think your kids will definitely enjoy and great views of the city to boot!

    Montmartre, Paris, France, photo

    The narrow and hilly streets of Montmartre – explore!

  • I feel obliged to suggest a museum that may be good for kids.  But I had to do some research on this.  I found the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, or the Museum of Hunting and Nature (60, rue des Archives, in the third arrondissement).  It is supposed to be interesting for kids mixing animals (dead) and art.  Let me know how it is!
  • Pompidou Center (19, rue Beaubourg, in the fourth arrondissement) has a hands-on children’s area, not sure for what age exactly but it is free for kids so you can get to check out some art under the guise of taking them to a museum that has stuff for them (even if it turns out they are too old for what it has!).
  • Notre Dame is quite impressive even for kids but it may be a quicker visit with them.  On neighboring Ile St. Louis (the island in the river near Notre Dame), there is an ice cream place that is really good.  It’s called Berthillon (31 Rue St.-Louis-en-l’Ile).  Use that to reward the kids for letting you visit Notre Dame :)  And you can have one too.
  • Take a boat ride in the Seine.  Some of the boats offer fancy dinner cruises but there is a batobus (boat bus) that you can take to travel up and down the river –more fun than the metro (for the kids AND you!) and you can use this to see the city from a different perspective.
  • The Tuileries Garden (right by the Louvre Museum, at the base of the Champs-Elysées almost) is one of the most kid-friendly spots in Paris, and also one of the most beautiful.  There are trampolines, a merry go round, etc.    A large Egyptian obelisk is located outside on the west side of the park on the Place de la Concorde – could be a unique thing to see from ancient Egypt in Paris.

    Paris, obelisk, Place de la Concorde, Sacre Coeur, photo, France, travel

    A view towards the Place de la Concorde and the obelisk. Note Sacre Coeur in the background!

  • Go into the many places that have phenomenal pastries and other decadent things, like these.  For the kids, you know…
    • Ladurée – several across town (one near La Madeleine, another on the Champs Elysees, etc.)
    • Dalloyau – there is one at 2, pl Edmond Rostand, right across the Jardin de Luxembourg; there are other locations like 101, rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré.
    • Angelina (226 rue de Rivoli, right across the Tuileries/Louvre; incredible hot chocolate).  As you can see, I have conveniently picked places close to the others I have recommended so you have NO excuse for missing these!
  • Visit where Raúl lived (24 rue de Tilsitt).  OK, it’s a boring building one short block from the Arc de Triomphe.  Thinking it over, it may not impress the kids – or you – so only go if you run out of things to do :)

    Paris, Arc de Triomphe, Paris, Eiffel Tower, Canon EOS Rebel, photo, travel, view

    Yea, the building I lived in was boring but this is the view from the rooftop terrace!

Enjoy Paris and be sure to let me know what the kids enjoyed – from this list or otherwise!

Photo of the Week: Dreamy Delights in Paris

chocolate, pastry, Paris, France, food, foodie, delicious, travel

Well, a photo of the week post is typically a one-photo deal but how could I choose between these two beauties???  Yes, I am swayed towards anything chocolate but this one tore me apart.  So, without further ado, two scenes from Dalloyau in Paris.

chocolate, pastry, Paris, France, food, foodie, delicious, travel

I just want to bury my face in these!

fruit tart, pastry, Paris, France, food, foodie, delicious, travel

For a chocoholic to say these look AWESOME is a big thing…

 

2013: A Year in Food and Beverages

chocolate, bombom, foodie, food, Atlanta, gourmet,Samsung

I traveled a good bit this year for both business and pleasure.  As with most travel, eating out plays and essential part of the experience, as do the places at which I stay.  This year offered me some memorable experiences in both areas.  Here I take a quick look back at the food and beverages of 2013!

January blues:  go away, I say

The year opened up with a traditional get together among a group of friends to celebrate the new year and good friendships.  It is our way of extending the holidays into drab January with the cold weather and nothing exciting immediately in the horizon (like, say, spring).  The highlight of the evening is an exchange of gifts but the food and wine usually shows our good taste in the finer things – at least for this little party.  My favorite items are usually the sweets/desserts, as you can tell…

sweets, dessert, chocolate, food, party, photo, Olympussweets, desserts, chocolate, macaroon, macaron, food, foodie, photo, Olympus

Mt. Kilimanjaro

However, I mis-type a little as I did have something exciting coming up early in the year:  my climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro in February.  Yes, the mountain is not going to be the paragon of fine dining and beverages.  On the latter, our beverages on the mountain consisted mainly of water, hot chocolate, and the morning cup of coffee.  Now AFTER coming down the mountain, that is a VERY different picture!  That first cold beer as we exited Kilimanjaro and that first glass of cold South African wine that evening were glorious!  But while we were not enjoying gourmet dishes up on the mountain, we ate well.  The food may have been basic outside of the context of the hike but, during the hike, these lunches and dinners were royals-worthy.  My favorite had to be when we were surprised with grilled cheese sandwiches!  Comfort food indeed!

grilled cheese, Kilimanjaro, food, climbing, hiking, Olympus

Washington, D.C.

After two years of working with a client in Washington, D.C., it was time to end my frequent travels to the U.S. capital (which I knew was going to be hard for me).  I would have to say goodbye to my favorite bar:  Le Bar at the Sofitel Hotel (near the White House), where I discovered the enjoyment of specialty cocktails.  I know the reason God doesn’t make me President of the U.S.A.:  I would be going to Le Bar for some evening relaxation a little too often!

cocktails, drinks, Sofitel, DC, beverage, travel, barcocktails, drinks, Sofitel, DC, beverage, travel, bar

Jordan

Leaving D.C. was hard to do but helping with that was my trip to colorful Jordan in April where the delicious food seemed ENDLESS!  Whether in Amman, Mardaba, the Dead Sea, or the Wadi Rum, I do not know how I didn’t gain any weight in that trip.  Or did I…

food, Jordan, Middle East, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel food, Jordan, Middle East, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel food, Jordan, Middle East, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

And in terms of beverage, though I had been to the Middle East before, I gained a new appreciation for drinking tea (hot tea).  It may seem that what helps in warm weather is iced tea but, actually, a hot beverage is better for you – and I got to understand why!  So good.

tea, Jordan, Middle East, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, photo

Miami

Going to Tampa or Miami is always something I look forward to because I know I will eat some the most delicious food around:  Cuban food.  I may be biased (OK, I AM biased) but it is just such an enjoyable feast for the palate to eat any of the number of traditional Cuban dishes.  And many places around places to do so.  Versailles and La Carreta are good traditional places (I enjoy the latter more) but I “discovered” El Palacio de los Jugos which is more of a take-out place than sit-down place (though there are some tables to go sit after you get your food).

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Manila

My flash trip to Asia took me to Manila where I enjoyed great hospitality, exploring its history and good food.  I really enjoyed M Café in Makati, where traditional food was served with some really neat twists.  Thanks to my local friends for picking this place – loved it.

Manila, Makati, food, tropical cuisine, photo, travel, Olympus, Philippines Manila, Makati, food, tropical cuisine, photo, travel, Olympus, Philippines Manila, Makati, food, tropical cuisine, photo, travel, Olympus, Philippines

Atlanta

While this is a travel blog, others travel to my hometown so I think it is fair to talk about food in Atlanta.  We ARE an eating out city and there are plenty of options from ethnic to mainstream to “nouveau” (whatever the proper term is for places like Local Three, 1 Kept, etc.).  Lots of incredible new ideas in these nouveau-type restaurants.

Local Three, fruit tart, dessert, Atlanta, chocolate mousee, Local Three, Atlamta, food, caramel,foodporn, travel chicken, waffle, Local Three, food, Atlanta, foodporn

Oh, and I also enjoyed a great chocolate tasting from Chocolate South at Perrine’s Wine Shop.  They were innovative and tasty little creations!

chocolate, bombom, foodie, food, Atlanta, gourmet,Samsung

Minneapolis

Before the year ended, I squeezed in a long weekend trip to Minneapolis, a city I had never visited before.  I enjoyed exploring culture in this great city – and some great meals!  One was at Wilde Roast Café, on the east shore of the Mississippi River – the crabcake was THE best crabcake I have ever had by a bit.  The turkey meatloaf was really good and certainly made me feel much less guilty about ordering it and what was to come after the entrée:  the flourless chocolate cake.  It TRULY changed my mind about flourless cakes which never really knock it out of the park for me.  That one sure did!

crabcake, Minneapolis, Wilde Roast Cafe, food, foodporn, photo, Canon EOS Rebelturkey meatloaf, Minneapolis, Wilde Roast Cafe, food, foodporn, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

I also enjoyed brunch at Café Maude where the only bad thing was that my stomach could only handle one of their dishes!  I had the hardest time deciding on ONE plate – I chose the country hash which had chicken confit, red peppers, onion, potatoes and a tomato marmalade.  I did not go wrong (but the Eggs Benedict were very tempting too).

Cafe Maude, Loring Park, Minneapolis, food, foodie, travel, Olympus

So, that wraps up my year in food though I will be having some great food still in the days left in 2013!   Happy food and new year to all!

Great Drives Series – Around Bordeaux

Chateau, Sahuc Les Tours, Sauternes, Graves, Bordeaux, France, travel, wine, vin, countryside, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

I have done a couple of trips into Bordeaux where I have explored the region by car.  There really is no better way to explore the diversity of the region (and its wines!), which may seem at first to be more homogenous than it actually is.  To venture inland, near where Bordeaux runs into the Dordogne is to see a totally different Bordeaux than you may see in the Médoc.  To drive around Sauternes is definitely different than going to Saint-Émilion.

Bordeaux, landscape, vista, France, photo, wine, travel, Canon EOS Rebel, great drive, countryside

Beautiful countryside in Bordeaux

sunflower, Bordeaux, France, travel, photo

Fields of sunflowers dot the landscape in parts of Bordeaux

Both times I went were in the pre-GPS era but that did not make it difficult to drive around.  A good map (and a good map reader somewhere in the vehicle) is all you need to be able to explore this area without too much trouble.

Bordeaux, chateau, signs, driving, France, wine, travel

Plenty of markers/signs help the visitor find their way around!

St. Julien, Bordeaux, large wine bottle, wine, bottle, photo, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

With helpful markers like this one, you know you are in wine country!

One of our stops was the Château Ducru-Beaucaillou where we were taken on a private tour of this grand winemaker (through which I would run the next day when I ran in the Bordeaux marathon!).

Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, Bordeaux, Medoc, France, winery, vineyard, chateaux, wine, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou (I would run right past this spot the next day!)

If you are somewhat interested in wine, there will be plenty for you to do and explore. The town of Saint-Émilion is one of the gems of the region.  Walk around but climb up to the top of the town.  There are cafés up there too and nowhere better to be when the sun sets, glass of wine in hand – of course!

St. Emilion, Bordeaux, French town, France, sign, vines, photo,Saint-Émilion, Canon EOS Rebel

The way to Saint-Émilion!

St. Emilion, Bordeaux, French town, France, sign, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

Always remember where you parked in a new town! In this case, a nice map at the town entrance helped!

St. Emilion, Bordeaux, French town, France, view , photo, Canon EOS Rebel

View from the upper part of Saint-Émilion down to its main square

We enjoyed some of the big (and seemingly more commercial) chateaux but we also loved to more “rural” areas on roads less traveled and discovering the smaller vineyards and winemakers.  Some of the information offices and hotels had displays full of cards of the many chateaux in the area such as the one below.

wine, Bordeaux, France, card, chateau, travel

It was one of these cards that led us to discover a gem of a château in SauternesChâteau Sahuc Les Tours.

Chateau, Sahuc Les Tours, Sauternes, Graves, Bordeaux, France, travel, wine, vin, countryside, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

The beautiful Château Sahuc Les Tours

The owners even sat down with us to share a bottle of their Sauternes and spent a good hour chatting with us about every topic that could concern French and American alike (they spoke excellent English).  Sauternes (in the Graves area), if you are not familiar, produces a sweet white wine bearing the same name made from sémillon, sauvignon blanc, and muscadelle grapes that have Botrytis cinerea (or “noble rot”) which concentrates the sugars.  We got to see the grapes up front as they began to look like raisins.  But don’t let the thought of rot keep you from drinking this wine!

Sauternes,  Botrytis cinerea, noble rot, wine, grapes, Bordeaux, Graves, Semillon, photo, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

Before and after…

That was such a good experience that I returned 7 years later to that chateau – and to my delight, one of the owners was there and, though she clearly could not remember me, realized I really had been there before as I recounted some of the things they had told us the first visit.  Connecting with locals in a real way is one of the rewards of venturing out and exploring this world!

sauternes, grave, Bordeaux, France, winemaker, photo, travel

The friendly owner of Sahuc Les Tours with a delicious bottle in hand

So while this post is about great drives, let’s not forget that this drive is about wine!  Cheers!

wine, Bordeaux, France, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

A beautiful wine in Bordeaux

 

Fried Chicken Worth the Pot-hole in Atlanta

Atlanta, foodie, food, restaurant, Roswell Road, Buttermilk Kitchen

I love finding new places to eat in my hometown, Atlanta, because I can be a creature of habit when it comes to restaurants.  Nothing wrong with that, right?  If you like it, why go elsewhere?  Well, because it is good to expand horizons and you never know what you will find!  So it was easy for me to accept a friend’s invite to try a new place in town:  Buttermilk Kitchen, up on Roswell Rd. but inside the Perimeter (as we call I-285 around here).

Atlanta, foodie, food, restaurant, Roswell Road, Buttermilk Kitchen

In an unassuming building (with a pothole right where I parked,…), the good news is all the assuming will be done on your plate!

arugula, salad, Atlanta, foodie, food, restaurant, Roswell Road, Buttermilk Kitchen

We went for their once-a-month dinner service (they are only open for breakfast and lunch otherwise; I am told I need to try their breakfast on a weekend day).  Their once-a-month dinner service is a fixed menu centered around fried chicken.

My friend is a regular so she knew to sit at the “bar” area (in quotes because they do not have a liquor license since not normally open for dinner; you CAN bring your own beverage of choice though!).  At the bar area, it was easier to interact with the staff and the owner.

The menu started with a fall salad based on arugula with farro, raisins, black rice, and butternut squash with a champagne vinaigrette.  They use produce from the area so the salad was fresh and the combination of flavors really nice.  It was a good way to start our dinner.  The salad actually went well with the Cabernet Sauvignon we were drinking from Conn Creek in Napa Valley.

arugula, salad, Atlanta, foodie, food, restaurant, farro, black rice, Buttermilk Kitchen

The next plate serve was the cheese plate:  herb-goat cheese spread on a homemade emmental cracker topped with a delicious onion jam.  I could have eaten a dozen of these, left to my devices but the main course was soon following AND I knew what dessert we were going to be served…Atlanta, foodie, food, restaurant, goat cheese, onion jam,Buttermilk Kitchen

Then the star of the night made its appearance:  the fried chicken!  A breast and wing battered and fried to perfection.  Moist, well-cooked – how do they do that??  I have never had a perfectly cooked piece of fried chicken like this.  It was paired with a sweet potato puree with quinoa crumbles and with braised mustard greens with apples.  The idea of pairing apple with the mustard greens was brilliant.  I never thought I’d say mustard greens could wow me but they sure did!

Atlanta, foodie, food, restaurant, fried chicken, mustard green, sweet potatoes, Buttermilk Kitchen

But the evening was not over.  Oh no, it was not.  We were about to be shown a masterpiece of pound cake-dom:  a caramel pound cake served next to vanilla gelato with pie crumb around and an apple chip topping it – oh, and those pomegranate seeds added a great mix to the flavor and texture combination.  I am glad they only serve one piece because I don’t care how full I was, I would have done a round two in heartbeat and pounds (sic) be damned!

Atlanta, foodie, food, restaurant, caramel pound cake, vanilla gelato,, Buttermilk Kitchen

Suffice it to say, between the food and great staff and chef, I am going back in November for dinner service -pothole or not-, wondering how Buttermilk Kitchen will top these dishes!!

 

The Highlights of Food and Wine in 2012. Mostly Food.

Papanași papanash from Romania

2012 will be remembered by me for many reasons.  Certainly the travel I did in 2012 ranks up there as do the many fun memories with family and friends.  But another memorable aspect of 2012 will be the food and wine!  Here is a small tour of the most memorable ones… mostly food…

BBQ anyone?

At Salt Lick, outside of Austin, Texas, the year started with some phenomenal BBQ!

Salt Lick BBQ in Texas

Wine, wine, wine

A few wine tastings with friends and some touring allowed me to cover a lot of ground here!  Virginia and Moldova stand out as unexpected wine places for me.  While I was not able to bring a lot of wine from Moldova, Virginia was a different story!

WIne from Virginia's wineries: Pollock, Cardinal Point, Barboursville, King, Veritas

All but one of the bottles I bought in VA!  The state can thank me later.

Deliciousness from Moldavia

As far as I understand, northeastern Romania and Moldova are known as Moldavia.  The region was an independent/autonomous state between the 14th century and the 19th.  I could see quite a few similarities between the two modern areas when I visited Iasi (Romania) and Moldova.  One of the similarities I saw was in the food.  My favorite dish was pork and mamaliga (a sort of polenta).  And my favorite dessert papanași (papanash; a fried pastry stuffed with jam and soft cheese).  I could eat these every day (an almost did!).

Mamaliga (polenta) and pork - typical food dish from Moldavia, Moldova, Romania

Mamaliga (polenta) and pork – typical food dish

Papanași papanash from Romania

Papanași (papanash)

A homestyle wine tasting

One of my favorite events is the quarterly wine tasting with friends.  Our Frog’s Leap wine tasting (normally, we do not focus on one winery in these tastings) was outstanding and the food was a large part of that.  After looking at the following pictures, could you disagree?

Cheese and crackers always good for a wine tasting

Cheese and crackers couldn’t be absent!

Lobster dip from Costco served in cucumbers

Lobster dip served in cucumbers

Chocolate bomb anyone?

I got to try one mean chocolate dessert at The Oval Room, across Lafayette Square from the White House (which I also got to tour this year!).  This picture  -no- no picture, can ever do this magnificent monument to desserts justice…

Chocolate S'more Bomb from The OVal Room in Washington, D.C. smore

Chocolate S’more Bomb with cookie crumble and salted caramel

Mofongo from Puerto Rico – in Tampa!

I have written about having great Cuban food in Tampa but over Thanksgiving weekend, I went for my favorite Puerto Rican dish:  mofongo with fried pork chunks!!  MMM!!!

Mofongo from Puerto Rico in Tampa, Florida

Paris, oh, Paris

Forget the fancy restaurants and all that frou-frou stuff.  Paris has awesome small “mere-et-pere” type of places with deliciousness galore.  I am lucky to be an eternal Paris visitor and past resident.  This allows me and my friends to enjoy these little-known places whenever I visit.  However, I still enjoy discovering a new unpolished jewel, like the place in Montmartre where I had this delicious potato-and-egg-topped salad (along with a mini carafe of red wine!).

Potato and egg salad in Montmartre

Of course, Paris’ chocolate houses are a must – and a tour of them should be de rigeur unless you are allergic to the stuff!  I always stop by to enjoy some of Paris’ finest chocolate crafts.

Chocolates and macarons from Paris' finest Jean-Paul Hevin

Italy.  What can I say?

No words are needed when it comes to Italy and food.  Here are some of the images from my visit there in April (discovering new and re-visiting old places).

Suppli fried rice ball from Rome, Italy

Suppli fried rice ball – mmm!!

White wine from Italy with Campo de Fiore reflected

I love how the Campo de Fiore is reflected in this glass of wine

Bucatini all'Amatriciana in Rome, Italy

Bucatini all’Amatriciana

Carbonara and red wine in Rome, Italy

Carbonara rocks!!

Coffee in Rome, Italy

Coffee the AM I arrived… dropped our luggage at the apt and went out for breakfast. SO. GOOD.

Rome, Italy food:  artichoke, buffalo cheese, tomato, basil

My plate full of our appetizers on our first night in Roma

Sweets from Rome, Italy

Sweets!

Gelato in Rome, Italy

Sublime gelato

Year end:  always a time for food!

For Christmas eve (Nochebuena), I cook the traditional Cuban meal.  Instead of showing a beautiful serving plate or bowl with the end result, I decided to leave the end result to the imagination and show you the work in progress.  I love making my black beans and Cuban pernil!

Cooking Cuban black beans

Cooking Cuban pernil for Christmas eve (Nochebuena)

Now good food didn’t end on Nochebuena.  On our day trip to the charming southern towns of Newnan and Senoia, we had some really good southern food (always comfort food!) right at the square in Newnan.  Those sweet potatoes were outstanding!

Country fried steak, green beens and sweet potatoes - great southern food

The year ends

The year went away like the dessert from this plate – it leaves me wanting more.  What a year it was!

Empty dessert plate

The pursuit of a good cocktail begins!

Decor of Sofitel Lafayette's Le Bar in DC

I have been traveling with some frequency to Washington, D.C. for business.  While I get to stay at some nice properties, I have been underwhelmed at what should be one of the most fun spots of any hotel:  the bar.  And maybe for that reason, I have been remiss in exploring the specialty cocktails that the mixologists may be serving at these bars.  This sad state of affairs took a turn for the better – for the MUCH better – when I stayed at the Sofitel Lafayette just about across the park from the White House.

Le Bar at the Sofitel Lafayette was not my first encounter with a Le Bar.  My first was at the Sofitel in Chicago where I enjoyed one of their specialty drinks:  the Wrigleyville.

Taking it from the top

A few step back though before I get to their special cocktails.  I first went to the DC property’s Le Bar the night I arrived just to have a quick meal as it was getting late so I was pretty much focused on eating and getting to my room.  However, the bar area immediately grabbed me:

Le Bar at Sofitel Lafayette in DC

Decor of Sofitel Lafayette's Le Bar in DC

And I hear that in warmer times, the outdoor seating area is great to take in DC – and people watch.

Chocolate in my mind. What is new?

The following day I returned for a chocolate delight “tea” included in the winter special rate I had gotten.  It was delicious and the hot chocolate perfect for the cold and humid late fall afternoon.

Chocolate delights at the Sofitel Lafayette

On the last night of my stay, I spent more time at Le Bar sampling some of their specialty cocktails and the appetizers on offer.  The bar manager and mixologist, Alan Jones, walked me through a couple of his specialty drinks – the Lafayette and the Senegal – before sharing with me one of his favorite wines:  Argentina’s Clos de Siete.

The Lafayette

The Lafayette, a Bourbon-based drink (I will let Alan tell you the exact recipe in person at Le Bar!), had a delicious smoky flavor that could make me drink quite a few back to back without blinking.  But, this was not the night for that.

Bourbon-based cocktail at the Sofitel Lafayette in DC

It was at this point the croque monsieur bites were brought out.  I have to say the competed VERY favorably with any croque monsieur I ate in France proper!

The Senegal

The Senegal was up next.  Made from spiced rum, tamarind and a couple of other ingredients.  It was extremely refreshing and a great alternative to a caipirinha which was Alan’s goal.

Spiced rum cocktail at Sofitel Lafayette in DC

The Clos de Siete

The Clos de Siete, a blend of mostly Malbec and Merlot but also Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.  It was a very enjoyable red with strong personality and intense flavors that I can’t wait to find in my hometown.  Somewhere before this wine the duck confit appetizer was brought out.  Not something I would order on my own but I took Alan’s word that it was outstanding.  And so it was!

A new pursuit

This tasting gave me my first real experience exploring the art and/or science of developing cocktails – all these years missed!  But thanks to Alan and Sofitel’s Le Bar, I have discovered a new pursuit  ;)

Disclosure:  I paid for my stay at the Sofitel at a publicly available rate.  The offerings at the bar were courtesy of the Sofitel.  I write this post because I was very pleased with the offerings!

 

Virginia is for lovers. Wine lovers.

Wine being poured at a winery in Virginia wine country

This past weekend, I got to explore an area most will never think of visiting when looking for wine country:  Virginia!  Virginia may be for lovers, but Virginia is DEFINITELY for wine lovers!

Wine being poured at a winery in Virginia wine country

I have been very lucky as a wine lover AND a traveler to have visited some primo wine country in my travel lifetime.  Bordeaux, Hunter Valley, Sonoma/Napa, Mendoza, Stellenbosch, Burgundy, Moldova, Mosel Valley, the Loire Valley, Tuscany, etc.  I have never thought the U.S. had any good wine regions besides California and Oregon.  And I don’t know but Virginia would have never been in my top guess list…  But some Virginia friends introduced me to Virginia wine with one named Octagon from Barboursville winery, north of Charlottesville, VA.  It was good!

Octagon from Barboursville Vineyards - a great Virginia wine

We had talked over the last couple of years of getting together and making a trip to Virginia wine country. FINALLY, we scheduled it for this past weekend.

My friends suggested we head to the wine region in the Piedmont area, on the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  One of their favorite wines, the Octagon referred to above, is from the area and they had not been to the winery so I, of course, happily went along with the suggestion!  Of course, going to see Monticello (Thomas Jefferson’s home on the countryside) and University of Virginia (founded by Thomas Jefferson) were of interest so it was a great destination choice.

The Vineyards and the Wine

Jefferson Vineyards

After visiting Monticello, we stopped at Jefferson Vineyards since it was very close to Monticello.  Of course, this likely means it is more touristy and the price tag for the wine tasting showed that (it was $10 whereas the rest of the wineries were $5; oh, and they do not take AMEX in this day and age…).  However, you can take your large Riedel wine glass after the tasting which makes it an OK price.

At Jefferson Vineyard in Virginia wine country

A wine wall:  wine bottles!

Some of the staff was very friendly but our server, though he shared information, just seemed to be going through the motions – he was not rude by any means, just uninspiring.  It was the only winery at which I did not buy a bottle (and I ended up buying no less than 3 at least per winery…).  .  Wineries, remember, your servers are the front line.  It applies to your business as to any other business!  But I did not buy wine because of him.  The primary reason was that it was just not for me.  Most of the wines seem too light for me.  That may be what others find enjoyable in a wine but the whites and reds were not robust enough for me.  Also, the wines, even the Riesling, were generally drier than my preference.  However, it surely is worth a stop – you may enjoy their lighter and drier wines and end up with one of the friendlier servers.

Barboursville Vineyards

Fortunately, the story gets better from here on!  We had planned our first day (of two) in the area with two anchors:  an early visit to Monticello (more about it in another post) and a late lunch at Barboursville Vineyard’s Palladio Restaurant which features northern Italian style cuisine.  The lunch can be done with wine pairings but  we were going to do tastings after lunch since we did not have enough time between the Monticello visit and the available slot for lunch.  Therefore, we opted to save a little money by not doing the pairings with the lunch and instead going for that delicious Octagon wine of theirs.  The wine tasting of 21 wines would come afterwards – but only after we walked the grounds to help push our digestion!

Vines and ground of Barboursville Vineyard in Virginia wine country

Beautiful grounds at Barbousville Vineyard in Virginia wine country

The good thing is that Barboursville offers more than food and wine.  It also gives you a helping of history.  See, Mr. Barbour was a governor of Virginia in the times around Jefferson.   Jefferson designed Barbour’s house which unfortunately burnt down one Christmas Day in 1884.  However, ruins remain of the skeleton of the house which allow you to see yet more columns and another octagon.  Yes, Thomas Jefferson was rather predictable.  (Unfortunately, Charlottesville and UVA keep thing more columns and octagons make tons of sense…)  Anyway, Barboursville offers this and plenty of space and grounds to grab a bottle of wine and hang out some more.

The Barbour mansion's ruins in Barboursville Vineyards in Virginia wine country

The ruins of the Barbour home

 

The grounds in Barboursville Vineyard in Virginia wine country great for picnics

Perfect spot for a wine picnic!

The wines were overall very good.  We also enjoyed having a lady named Jessica as one of our servers.  She was extremely knowledgeable and truly shared that knowledge with us.  We had a good time asking her questions people had just asked her and she obliged with a fun attitude right back – wineries, this is the kind of person you want facing your customers!

Surprisingly for me, I enjoyed Barboursville’s Chardonnay (aged in steel barrels) better than their Chardonnay Reserve (aged in oak barrels).  I especially like their Cabernet Franc Reserve (intense dark fruit flavors), Octagon (which I already knew and loved), and their Malvaxia Passito Reserve dessert wine (nice!!! sweet but overly so).  I departed with a good 6 bottles wishing I could take more (had to pace myself, still had 4 wineries to visit the next day!).  How do they manage to make so many good wines???

Cardinal Point, Veritas, and Pollak Vineyards

 

We hit these two wineries first on the next day.  At Cardinal Point, we enjoyed talking to the two ladies at the tasting room and found their wines nice.  I ended up with a box of 3 to take home.  At Veritas, we got to sit in a nice leather couch for our tasting and soak in the ambiance of the tasting room.

Nice leather couch in the tasting room at Veritas winery in Virginia wine country

Comfy seating to enjoy wines!

The winery has a large tasting room and it was built in the 2000s – the vines themselves were planted in 1999 (quite recently when you think of vineyards in Europe!!).  Their White Star blend of white grapes (Viognier, Traminette, Chardonnay and Vidal Blanc) was pleasantly surprised me – low on residual sugar I think it is a wine to be enjoyed on its own for sure.  Let me re-state that, it very pleasantly surprised me!

The grounds at Veritas Vineyard - great fall colors in Virginia wine country

Best time of the year to visit – just look at this!

We made our way to Pollak Vineyards, which has a spacious tasting room and outdoor terrace.  Its vines were planted in 2003.  Casey was our server.  We learned from her a good bit and enjoyed talking to her – great job!  I especially enjoyed the Petit Verdot and the Cabernet Franc (nice hints of chocolate and coffee) wines.

Pollak Vineyards' outdoor space in Virginia wine country

Pollak Vineyards’ outdoor space

King Family Vineyards

Our final stop in wine country before going to the airport was King Family.  We promised ourselves a short visit to ensure we were on time but we enjoyed our visit so much we stayed longer at the tasting room.  This vineyard has a great setting and outdoor open spaces that are great to hang out – we stayed indoors sampling and talking wine though for a good 45mins to an hour (who was keeping track of time?!) (I did make it to the airport with plenty of time, by the way!).  In the summertime polo matches are played Sundays on the grounds of the winery!

King Family Vineyard in Virginia Wine Country

The grounds of King Family Vineyards

At King Family we were treated to awesome wines.  I liked just about each of the wines I tasted!  The Viognier had nice mango/peach overtones.  The Chardonnay, though aged in oak, was very enjoyable for me (a rarity).  Their Cabernet Franc was lighter than I expected and, as I prefer fuller-bodied wines, was not one I would have bought definitely had good flavors so I would drink it.  The next 4 wines were all outstanding:  the Meritage (a Bordeaux-style existing mainly in the U.S., created to not infringe on the French region’s ownership of the destination of origin), the Seven (a red wine with hints of dark chocolate and vanilla), the Loreley (excellent level of sweetness:  some but not too much), and the Petit Verdot (incredible power!!).

King Family vineyards' Seven - a great wine from Virginia!

What Did I Think of Virginia Wine Country?

Well, as you may glean, I enjoyed it!  However, with a visit to 6 wineries I have barely scratched the surface of wine country in Virginia.  I love Virginia and its wines!

Have you visited wine country anywhere in the U.S. or abroad?  Which ones?  How did you find the experience, the wineries, and the wines??

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