Oct 22, 2017

A taste of Paris, yum!

Ah the smell of pastries in the morning. We arrived in the lobby of the Hotel and met up with our other Viking guests all eager to get 'A taste of Paris". We were loaded on a fancy little bus and whisked away towards our gastronomic adventure.

The first stop was just as you would imagine. A wonderful bakery called Carton, located at 6 rue de Buci. We could have spent days here tasting all they had to offer. Making a decision of what to get was almost impossible. The final agreed upon selection was an amazing chocolate eclair. Mmmmmm mmmm good. 

The first impulse was to continue to buy and eat everything we could carry but were reminded we had a number of places to go and to curb the desire to stuff ourselves.

The walking between stops was also wonderful. We stopped and looked at and learned about many interesting places along the way. Some amazing old buildings and places.
One was a famous old Restaurant Le Procope founded in 1686. It was an amazing facility and hope to enjoy a meal here on a future visit. The Le Procope is the oldest café in Paris and after taking a peek inside and at the menu, the prices look quite reasonable for such a place and the ambiance looks amazing.
Next stop was a fruit and veg shop on a corner in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Here we tasted some of the most delirious cherries I have ever had. 500 grams later I had to use every bit of self restraint not to get another kilo!

As we explored this area in Paris we were amazed at the history and the warm feel of the streets. In the years after World War II, Saint‑Germain‑des‑Prés was known primarily for its cafés and its bars, its diversity and its non-conformism. The bars were a popular destination for American soldiers and sailors after the war.

After those amazing cherries it was not just any Macaron store but the world famous Pierre Hermé, home of the worlds best Macarons. Macarons are not the only treat they make. Some of the most artistic and beautiful deserts ever made reside here. We all selected our flavor Macaron and continued on our way.

Our next stop was at Tomat's Epicerie Fine (fine grocery). This magical off the beaten track store, which smells of olive oil and pepper, depending where you stand, is tucked into a tiny cobble stoned courtyard. Some interesting discoveries were woven vines of bright red Espelette peppers, pots of chestnut honey, silver containers of finishing salts (including black and white truffle), chutney, juices and blue bottles of Azzurra mineral water from the Dolomites. Interesting wines and one that had been aged under the ocean for a year.

There are mustard's, olive oils, crackers and foie gras too. The selection is large enough that you can outfit yourself with gifts for friends at home, aperitifs in your Paris apartment, and a hostess gift for a friend. We tasted some lovely wines and some foie gras blended with duck pate as a pairing. Such a cool place and did I mention it is off the beaten path! 

Our final stop was at Le Pré aux Clercs. A charming bistro at the corner of the Rue Bonaparte and Rue Jacob, in the heart of Saint Germain des près. 

We enjoyed a wonderful charcuterie board and some wine. We also enjoyed just sitting and watching Paris wander by.

It was a hot and muggy day in Paris but we all really enjoyed the wonderful samplings the city had to offer. The Viking tour guide was fantastic and we all agreed it was a special day. We would all do it again in a heart beat.

Happy Travel Adventures,


Oct 15, 2017

Paris, Le Meridien Etoil with Viking River Cruises. and Mum...

Paris, Le Meridien Etoil with Viking River Cruises.
and Mum...

We arrived in Paris at the Aéroport de Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle late afternoon and were met by our Viking River Cruise Concierge. Within a few minutes we were on our way to our hotel, the Le Meridien Etoile.  Once there we were taken care of by our Viking River Cruise host who got us all our rooms as well. Speaking of getting rooms there was some issues with married couples getting twin beds and single people getting king bed rooms. 
Personally we had to deal with my 90 year old mum being on a different floor (can you say nightmare) and started with twin beds but managed to get a king room after a while of working with the hotel direct.

 I had talked specifically about this with our Viking contact that setup our Cruise. We had a similar situation with our airline tickets. Our first set of tickets had us on different flights!

The Le Meridien is a very nice hotel close to the Arch de Triumph. Nice clean rooms and a great breakfast. Had a couple of late night dinners at the bar which was pretty good also. The room issue was a Viking booking problem, even after two calls prior to leaving on the trip, specifically about us  traveling together with my elderly mother in different but adjacent rooms.

While all the rooms were very nice the mix ups were poor and for me personally the mishandling of my two rooms was very problematic.
We headed to our rooms upon arrival and after settling mum into her room we told her to stay in the room relax and watch some tv for an hour or so or take a nap. We wrote down our room number (with the 1 in front for dialing) so she could call if needed.  We had a quick check in to see about another tour and headed back to the room.

About 1.5 hours later after showers there is a knock on our door. One of the hotel staff found mum wandering the halls. She left her room, could not find our room, went to go back, keys did not work (she was going to the wrong room) went to the front desk, got new keys still could not get in (still wrong room) got lost in the halls and when found by a hotel staff member could only hand him our room number, which she could not find as I had added a 1 in front of it for calling room to room. Luckily the porter was savvy enough to realize that.
The hotel could not figure a way to get us together so we took to writing instructions for everything which helped but still many, in hindsight and having survived, many more funny events happened.  It was interesting that the group seemed scattered all over the hotel. This posed no issues other than for us with my mum. 

One classic was at breakfast. Mum we will get you and go to breakfast at 8 ok. Ok. 
Next morning at 8am mum's not in her room. Panic as we race to breakfast hoping that she is there. I ask the concierge if her room number had checked in (had to check in by room number for breakfast)   No that room has not checked in. But I gave my room number a went in to be sure. Yep. There she was eating fruit with a cup of coffee. 
Asked why she was there. She said she was hungry and they had given her coffee when she had asked for tea and there were no scrambled eggs today. Did you look under the silver lids? Why would I do that? (She also had a habit of when asked for coffee or tea, she would answer, yes please) Not sure who's room number she used as she couldn't remember.

The Le Meridien Etoil Hotel was a very nice place with a good bar, good bar food and a great breakfast. It rates a 'Good, would go back' on our scale. The booking issues were a Viking short fall, but I'm not convinced the hotel did all they could.

Happy Travel Adventures,


Oct 8, 2017

Fine dining, Jules Verne Eiffel Tower Paris

Travel adventures from European trip #1 Kiwi gores to France.

Some places are obvious points to visit in Paris, such as the Eiffel Tower. Doing the tourist visit is fantastic and a must do, but you really should delve a little deeper.  This goes for a number of things. Paris is known for its gastronomy, and so what better way to indulge in that than indulging on or in I guess, one of the most recognizable structures in the world.

You enter on a private elevator on the Pilier Sud and you arrive at one of the premier restaurants in Paris – the Jules Verne.

Located on the second level of the famous tower if offers commanding views of Paris, including the Seine, Arc de Triomphe, and the infamous “Aweful Tower”.

We booked well in advance for our dinner via the website www.lejulesverne-paris.com.  Reservations are a must, and for good reason. 
At €190-230 for a five or six course meal, plus wine, it is not a casual event, but possibly one of those once in a lifetime events. I mean after all you just traveled half way around the world so why not?  
The wait staff are fabulous, with every request met with good humor and professionalism.  We asked to change tables a couple of times as others opened up to get a better / different view with no problem or eye rolling. 

We ordered several bottles of wine from their 'manual' of wine choices!  All were amazing and the sommelier was extremely helpful.

The food kept coming!  Not a meal but an experience!  Small bites to a delicious main course for all.  The first four courses were fixed menu items with marinated sea bream, duck confit and lobster!  Veal, chicken or fish for the main, and desserts to die for.  Most interesting of all, a spork! Still giggling over that strange utensil. 
And with more wine.  Did I mention the wine?!

Plan to spend some time at Le Jules Verne, have a great meal, soak up the ambiance and extraordinary views, and leave satisfied, with fond memories that will last a lifetime.

Happy Travel Adventures,



Oct 1, 2017

Jet lag... Just don't even...

Oh the places we have been!
We recently talked about staying healthy and not catching some disease during your flights. Jet lag is the other down side to long haul air travel. Once you cross a couple or more time zones during flight it is on the table. Well worry no more.

Having traveled half way around the world at least 40 times between us in the last couple decades we recon we have some sound advice to offer. At least how we survive and maybe, just maybe, our experience my benefit you as well.

So here goes. Most of our survival practices are relatively simple and some seem to be obvious once mentioned but its surprising how few people actually make a conscious effort.

Rule number one is be and stay hydrated. Yeah yeah you say. I always drink water. OK, that may be true but do you drink it in a way that keeps jet lag at bay? Probably not. Here's the deal. Not only do you need to be optimally hydrated 'before' you get on the plane, staying hydrated on a plane takes effort. The super dry 5-20% humidity is in stark contrast to most normal ground levels of 50-80% means you need to be consuming way more water than normal. Constantly sipping and if like us you like to enjoy the hospitality of the more professional airlines and imbibe in the alcoholic offerings you need to double the number of ounces water to alcohol to keep up. While no double blind, scientific experiments have been done to verify this, as stated earlier, this has been tested dozens of times.

One of the other biggies is napping. Here is the scenario. You have been travelling for 24 hours and you arrive at your destination in the am sometime. One of the biggest mistakes is to succumb to the desire for a nap in the mid afternoon. Just don't! Hang in there and stay awake until a reasonably normal bedtime. When in doubt allow for no more than a 10 hour sleep. Ideally a similar length to what you normally would have at home. This help getting you system into a normal rhythm. Just do it! for a couple days.

So Kiwi Chris puts it most eloquently - Maybe I’m lucky, maybe I’m special. Jet lag and I have had many meetings, and we have an agreement. I win. I have read many articles about how to counter the effects of long distance travel, and I here add my two cents. First – drink on the plane. Well, if it’s free I feel its rude not to. Watch a movie, take an Advil PM, and Bob’s your Uncle.

On landing set your watch/phone and live by the new time. Eat at the new time. Drink at the new time. Just because it’s 6 am at home doesn’t mean you can’t have a glass of wine in Paris! Honestly that’s the key. Mental strength of not saying to yourself its bedtime at home. OK, drink a big glass of water and go out, keep moving. If you sit, you’re out and you lose.

Next day – repeat and you are good for the trip!
On the way home its different.      Call in sick. 

What are some of your solutions to avoid Jet lag?

Happy Travel Adventures,


Aug 27, 2017

3 wines before Midnight with Midnight Cellars wines

The note from Nat was 'just bottled on 4/28 Save for a bit". So we did. 
We always look forward to trying new wines. We also love to receive wines in the mail unsolicited. Whats more is both of these things are made even better when we... woah! Getting ahead of ourselves.We finally go together to drink these wine and see how they stack up.  Lets start by telling you what we received  from Midnight Cellars in Paso  Robles.. 

Kiwi started us off with the 2013 Full Moon Red -

VARIETAL COMPOSITION 50% Syrah 40% Zinfandel 10% Merlot AVA Paso Robles, CA SOIL TYPES Sandy Loam TECHNICAL NOTES Alcohol 14.7% Residual Sugar 0.80% Titratable Acidity 0.778 pH 3.11 CASE PRODUCTION 2400

Easy to access with a screw cap has a nice and bright red fruit nose which carries right onto the palate where the red fruit is joined by purple and blue fruits with a medium palate weight and a nice clean finish with soft tannin's. This is a lovely drinking wine that drinks way above its price point and before you know it the bottle is empty and you are looking for more. This is a great midweek wine that will go with all kinds of food and at a price that will not make you hesitate to open that second bottle. A **** wine with a solid six plus that you will enjoy anytime.

Next up it was the 2013 Cabernet Franc "Moonlight"  This is one impressive Cab Franc!

VARIETAL COMPOSITION 100% Cabernet Franc AVA El Pomar District Paso Robles, CA SOIL TYPES Limestone & Shale TECHNICAL NOTES Alcohol 14.1% Residual Sugar 0.02 Titratable Acidity .620 pH 3.45 CASE PRODUCTION 135.

As we gave our taste pour a good sniff well looked up and smiled.  This is one lovely Cab Franc that gives off  lovely red raspberry and black cherry on the nose. The palate is sublimely  infused with flavors of raspberry, cranberry and ripe strawberry on the palate. Soft yet solid flavor, this wine has a  light palate weight and well-integrated tannin's. A *** wine that scores a solid 7

Last but not least was the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon "Nebula" We love a good Cabernet and this example from Midnight Cellars does not disappoint. VARIETAL COMPOSITION 90% Cabernet Sauvignon 10% Merlot AVA Paso Robles, CA SOIL COMPOSITION Limestone & Shale CASE PRODUCTION 815 ACCOLADES 90 Points - Vinous TECHNICAL NOTES Alcohol 15.6% Residual Sugar 0.05% Titratable Acidity 0.679 pH 3.47.

Purple, black fruit and oak on the nose with black and blue fruit with tobacco and cedar on the palate. With medium to full body weight with nice balance and structure that lingers nicely on the finish with well-rounded tannin's. A *** wine that rates a 7. 

As we consumed these lovely wines we realized we have never been to Midnight Cellars in Paso Robles. We know its hard to believe. That being said we were impressed enough we will be paying them a visit in the near future to discover what other wines they have. 

Happy Tasting Adventures,


Aug 20, 2017

How to arrive healthy on vacation.

The best tip for flying. 

Image result for airplanes

While most people think that the  “recycled” air you breathe in while flying in planes is the main cause of illnesses, it really isn't. Wait, what you ask? Look, the air is constantly filtered through hospital-grade HEPA filters at a rate of approximately a complete scrub every five - six minutes meaning it's some of the cleanest air you will ever breathe.

What you really need to watch out for are all the other germ covered surfaces. While the trays are far and away the germiest part of a plane (don’t rest any food on it without a napkin or prior to wiping down), there are other surfaces like the armrests, seat belts, remote controls, touch screens and buttons and handles in the lavatory that are truly disgustingly dirty and are cleaned sparingly at best due to time constraints.

Image result for clorox wipesWipe down your area with some sort of bacteria killing cleaning wipe!  Open every thing and wipe it down. Pull out the remote and really scrub the whole thing including the cable. The tray is obvious but don't forget the latch and don't forget to wipe after food trays have been put on your tray.. Armrests all around and if by the window, don't forget the shade and anywhere you may contact or touch. 
Not to say you need to clean the dunny, but wash your hands and wipe them once seated again. You may need to moisturize according to our wives as the wipes can be drying (we would not know about that).

So there it is, the big sickness saving tip you have been waiting for.  Cheers to your health!

From our experience this is the best travel tip to avoid getting sick on or after your holiday. After dozens of flights both domestic and international we swear by this approach.

Happy Travel Adventures,


Aug 6, 2017

Our Viking Vacation, Day 1


It's always an exciting time as you embark upon your trip. The joy of being in an airport 2 hours ahead of your flight and guessing on traffic to get to SFO so you don't get stressed.

At the airport a solid 3 hours early and ready to go. This was going to be an epic Viking River Cruise and #euopeanvacation. Why does this hashtag have a certain familiarity? Anyhow, this was not our first trip to Europe but it was our first flights with Lufthansa. How would it be? Where would they stack up against other airlines we have flown with? Well let us say it felt a bit underwhelming. We left 30 min late. Not finished loading the catering. Not very German but may have nothing to do with them. Efficient and effective flight crew without much else (may we say stereotypical German).

So was it good or bad? It was actually neither. Food? OK. Wine and beer, OK. Entertainment system was OK with limited options and pretty clunky. 
Overall we give  a rating of  'Yeah it's OK'. We did end up arriving on time in Frankfurt. Just as well as we had to hike 24 gates to the end of the terminal go downstairs and hike back 24 gates (not very German). The second leg from Frankfurt to Paris was short and over in no time. Getting off and getting luggage easy enough and just as advertised, as we exited our Viking host was there to greet and take care of us.

From here our #europeanvacation now start. 

Happy Travel Adventures,


Jul 16, 2017

A Look at People, Planet, Prosperity with SIP Certified

The Sustainability in Practice (SIP) Certified program certifies that vineyards and wineries meet a strict threshold for environmental and human resource protection. The program relies on independent verification and inspection, is free from conflict of interest, and is 100% transparent with regards to the standards and rules.

SIP Certified is dedicated to the 3 P’s of Sustainability – People, Planet, Prosperity. They are committed to the ‘3 P’ approach, ensuring that both natural and human resources are protected, all of which means you can enjoy wine that has been grown for the greater good. Gives one that warm fuzzy feeling. But all this requires a vision and a plan and a structure that allows the looking at the bigger picture. One that allows things to change if necessary to stay the course of the vision.

There is a realization for those who follow the SIP practice's that how they farm impacts not only their vineyards, but things beyond their fence lines, so there is an independent verification and certification practice that protect the community, the workers, and the environment.

In this article we are focusing on the 'Planet' P
SIP practices require the monitoring of soils, plants, and weather, irrigating vines only when needed and measuring water usage in the winery to prevent waste. Sustainable viticultural methods include cover crops for erosion control, owl boxes for rodent control, native oak tree retention for ecosystem balance, planting to drought resistant rootstock, and advanced irrigation systems for water conservation.
Keeping water clean by growing grasses to reduce erosion and filter storm runoff and also filtering winery water for reuse. There is the introduction of beneficial insects, attracting raptors, and plant enriching cover crops to keep vineyards healthy and the use of alternative fuels and energy sources like solar and wind, minimize tractor use reduce their carbon footprint, and use insulation to increase energy efficiency. There is even the use of wildlife corridors to give animals access to traditional watering holes and food, helping to maintain biodiversity.

Improvement comes in the form of annually updating their farming and wine processing and using standards such as Best Management Practices to evolve with new science, technology and research. Today, there are over 40,300 certified acres throughout California protecting the future of the land they farm on.

Happy Tasting Adventures,


Jul 2, 2017

Tenuta Vitalonga Winery in San Francisco

At the recent James Suckling and Great Wines of Italy 2017 we not only tasted some amazing Italian wines we again made some new friends. Gian Luigi Maraville was one of those new friends. Meeting folks at a tasting is always fun but the expectation of any future followup is low. You know, everyone is having fun and it all sounds good after some wine, food and laughs. However with the type of  offer on hand we cannot miss this opportunity to go back to Italy and have part of a travel plan in that includes what sounds like an amazing place.

We tasted a lot of great wines and as we were discussing some of our favorites we came back to double check our palates and Gian was excited to see us. We started chatting about the wines of Tenuta Vitalonga Winery and the area and discovered he was also the Mayor of his town.  The same town his father and his farther had been Mayor of. As we talked wine and vineyards he told us of the family property and invited us to visit. We warned him that we are the traveling type and may very well come and stay. He was unconcerned and reiterated his invitation. As we sipped on his lovely Terra di Confine we decided that the trip was on.

Terra di Confine is the name by which the Marvalle family has called their estate wine since way back when. Back in the day, this wine was produced on the property in one of the Etruscan caves. This cave has became the wine cellar.  The Ficulle area is on the border of Tuscany and Umbria. Terra di Confine is a blend of Montepulciano and Merlot and is aged in French oak for 12 months producing a very lovey balanced wine.

We enjoyed our tasting and conversation Gian and just so you know we will be coming to visit as soon as we figure out when our next Italy trip is (2018-2020) so be rewarned! Ciao ciao.

Happy Wine Adventures,


Jun 24, 2017

What is SIP Certified?

As we travel around and visit wineries we have often seen SIP certified signs. We also see organic and Bio-dynamic tossed around as well. So you have any number of certifications to show you care. Here is a partial list;

Image result for sip certified wineries in california
USDA Organic. ...
“Made with Organic Grapes” ...
EU Organic. ...
SIP Certified (Sustainability in Practice) ...
Certified Green (The Lodi Rules) ...
Salmon Safe.
Certified California Sustainable Vineyard and Winery (CCSW)

The U.S. government regulates use of the term “organic,” but “sustainable” and “biodynamic” have no legal definitions. So there are two types of organic listings on wine bottles. Wines can be made from certified organically grown grapes, avoiding any synthetic pesticides or additives, or, to take it a step further, “organic” wines are made from organically grown grapes, and are also made without any added sulfites (although naturally occurring sulfites will always be present).

Image result for sip certifiedBiodynamic is somewhat similar to organic farming as both take place without synthetic chemicals but biodynamic farming deviates from organic is it incorporates ideas about the vineyard as an entire ecosystem. Where it gets weird and such is where it also incorporates things such as astrological influences and lunar cycles. A biodynamic wine means that the grapes are farmed biodynamically, and that the winemaker made the wine without doing things like adding things like yeast or making acidity adjustments. Sometimes you may see a wine that says “made from biodynamic grapes”. Basically this means that a vintner used biodynamically grown grapes, but may have followed a less strict list of rules in winemaking (used sulfur to preserve their wine).

Sustainability refers to a range of practices that are not only ecologically sound, but are also economically viable and socially responsible. Sustainable farmers may farm largely organically or biodynamically but have flexibility to choose what works best for their individual property and they also focus on energy and water conservation, the use of renewable resources and other issues.
Some third-party agencies offer sustainability certifications, and many regional industry associations are working on developing clearer standards.
Sustainability in Practice (SIP) Certified is a certification agency that helps farmers and winemakers demonstrate their dedication to preserving and protecting natural as well as human resources. SIP Certified is a rigorous sustainable vineyard and winery certification that has strict, non-negotiable requirements and standards that are based on science and expert input with independent verification, transparency, and absence of conflict of interest.

Both Sustainability in Practice (SIP) Certified and the Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CCSW) programs are important supporters of the sustainability movement and encourage responsible vineyards and winemaking, but there are a couple distinct differences. As an example with SIP You must have a winter cover crop, whereas with a CCSW program you have a plan to prevent erosion during winter?

SIP Certified is all about the 3 P’s of Sustainability – People, Planet and Prosperity. So we will be taking a look at each of these 3 P's individually and talk with wineries and vineyards that follow these practices to get two cents worth as well in some upcoming articles. We might even have a taste or two if all goes well.

In the mean time look around as you drive through the vineyards and see if you can spot these SIP certified signs.

Happy Tasting Adventures,