The age of long vacations through the developing world seems to have passed for Mike and I. We can’t afford either the expenses or the time, and we feel too old to go to super-hot places in summer, when the kids are off school. Oh well – we had fun while it lasted.
So for the last couple of years we’ve been taking short trips to the wine country. Last year we went to Napa, the Russian River and Mendocino, and this year we went to Sonoma ant the Lake County. I had a great time. Mike less of one as he didn’t really wine taste and had to drive a lot (he’s tired of driving) – but we both, at least, got to relax.

We started our first day by wine tasting in the Sonoma Valley. As usual, I tried lots of wines and Mike drove. We made it to the city of Sonoma for lunch, where the parking goddess was with us – though it was 4th of July and the whole plaza was filled with people (they were having some sort of festival), we managed to park within 1/4 block of the plaza. Then we had a delicious lunch at Sunflower. I’d thought about doing some more wine tasting after lunch, but I wasn’t too diligent and before I knew it we were in Healdsburg – where we were staying for the night. We did manage to hit a couple of wineries in Healdsburg before retiring to the hotel for some rest. We stayed at the America’s Best Value Inn and had a very good dinner at Ravenous.

river1.jpgOur second day consisted of a canoe trip down the Russian River – organized by Russian River Adventures. I chose them because their canoes seemed more sturdy and because the website said there was “less paddle time” on their trips – though of course, this is not the sort of thing that you can believe in. Not having done other trips on that river, I still don’t know if it’s true.
In any case, we started around 10 AM and were given a 2-person canoe. We had some very basic safety instruction, but no instruction at all on how to steer or row, and even on what to do if we flipped the canoe. I decided that instead of asking a billion questions, I’d just hope Mike knew what he was doing.
Soon I found out that he did not. He had never used a kayak paddle before, and he wasn’t very good at steering. As we started our trip, we went on circles several times – just going straight seemed to be hard. I also didn’t realize just how many obstacles would be on the river – rocks, branches, trees, etc. – that you had to actively avoid. Even not hitting the coast was hard at the beginning. Soon after we started we collided with another boat, flipping them! I felt terrible.
river2.jpgBut soon enough we got the handle of things and started our way down the river. It was all in all a pleasant experience. There were tons of different birds, and the view was quite nice. We soon passed all the boats in front of us, and left them far enough behind, that we felt we were alone in the river. For that reason alone I was glad that I chose Russian River Adventures, they only launch 30 canoes in their section of the river, while other outfits do over a hundred.
The trip would have been better if I wasn’t paranoid of flipping the canoe at every moment, specially when trying to avoid one of the many obstacles – or when Mike started rowing hard. Indeed, we soon learned that the person on the back is supposed to steer but the person in the front (me) is supposed to do the power rowing. It wasn’t as hard as I expected, though by the end of the trip my hands (much more than my arms, shoulder or back) were in complete pain.
The big problem with the trip is that it lasted much longer than it should have. The last 1/3 of it was through still waters, which made it much harder and more boring. By then we had seen and done everything we wanted to see and do, and we’d been much happier to have ended it. But, oh well.
After the canoe trip we decided to head to Occidental, where we were staying for the night. On the way, we passed Korbel, a large producer of sparkling wines. It’s free and their champagne is quite nice, we got a couple of little bottles to have later on.
After that we headed towards the cabin we’d rented for the night. It was located in a wooded area, and after resting some we took a walk around. It was very nice, but it didn’t take us long to realize that we were really tired from the rowing. Mike took a nap until dinner, while I staid up in the room’s cozy reading corner reading the Dark Lantern, a very good and engaging novel – I recommend it. We went to a restaurant called Bistro des Copains for dinner. We didn’t like their options for dessert, so we got son Ben & Jerry’s, which we ate at the hotel while watching Food Network Challenge. In these particular episodes, cake makers competed against each other making amazing cakes that looked like Disney characters or scenes. It boggles the mind that people can create such things out of cakes and fondant! I don’t have the food network at home, so it was pretty cool seeing it. We then watch a movie before calling it a night.

Sunday morning started with breakfast at Howard’s Cafe followed by a very relaxing treatment at Osmosis Day Spa. It wasn’t Mike’s cup of tea, but I loved it. Then we did some wine tasting in the Russian River Valley, before heading to Healdsburg for lunch. After a little bit more wine tasting, and some checking out of the market at the park, we headed for Windsor, where we were staying for the night.
It was still early, so we relaxed by doing some reading in the room, and its cute deck outside. At one point we took a drive to downtown Windsor, but there wasn’t much to see over there. In all, it was a relaxing afternoon. By now, I had started a new book, Obedience – which was really interesting and thought provoking until the end, which was a complete disappointment.
My plan had been to go to Chinois Asian Bistro for dinner, but it was closed, so we ended up at KCā€™s Downtown Grill – which wasn’t at all bad. Then it was time for a wonderfully relaxing bath on the hot tub adjacent to our bungalow. It was wonderful, in particularly when coupled with the tiny bottles of ice-cold champagne we’d gotten at Korbel the day before. Heaven.
Alas, after the hot tub, Mike had to work – so I went to sleep by myself šŸ™

ostrich.jpgMike woke up early the next day to do some more work – he said doing so in the veranda while watching the nearby animals wake up was quite fun (our inn was located next to a ranch where they raised several types of unusual animals, including emus).
The place where we were staying provided some minimal things for breakfast – but Mike wanted the real thing so we headed to Omelette Express, where Mike had a very disappointing omelet (I was happy with my simple bagel). After some more reading and packing, it was time to hit the road, this time to our next destination: the Lake County. We decided to go the long way there – first, by hitting the wineries in the Alexander Valley, and then by driving all the way to Hopland, to then head east to Clearlake.
We had lunch at Jack’s Gaslight Grill in Lakeport,
(to be continued)