48 hours in Minneapolis

Did you know that the origin of honeymoon did not actually involve a trip? Or if it did, any travel meant going to see relatives who were unable to attend the wedding. Honeymoon traditionally refers to a post-marriage period full of sweetness and joy for the newlyweds -- one that, wink wink, probably won't last forever. Hence the phrase, "they're in the honeymoon stage" or "they act like they're still on their honeymoon." 

J and I traveled quite a bit in 2014, so we always had plans of driving someplace nearby for a little mini-honeymoon after our wedding weekend, and then saving up for an overseas trip in a year or two. When we received our baby news, it made even more sense to take it easy but do something fun together to celebrate our marriage. It turns out taking a mini-honeymoon AND staying relatively local is not the norm nowadays! 

Consequently, I had this conversation multiple times:

Friend/Relative/Coworker/Stranger: "So, where you are going for your honeymoon?"

Me: "Minneapolis."

Them: ". . . Minneapolis? Really?" (Someone actually replied, "Well, that's okay." Ha! Yes, it is.)

We considered Chicago, Omaha, Minneapolis and Kansas City -- and MPLS won out since neither of us had been there before, together. Exploring new cities is one of our favorite things to do, plus, we've got Minnesota friends here in Des Moines that rave about their former 'hood, so we had plenty of recommendations to check out.

On Friday, we drove up in the afternoon and checked in at Hotel Ivy. We wanted to stay at a swanky hotel, and this one definitely fit the bill. Our room offered great views on the 18th floor, a super-soft king bed, a giant bathtub, and plenty of space. Cheap it was not, but overall a win in terms of accommodations. Upon arrival, we went down to the hotel spa for a couples massage. The lobby area, bustling with platinum-haired women in sky-high heels, may have intimidated J a little bit, as he had never gotten a massage before, but we waited patiently and were quickly ushered into the massage waiting area with plush robes, hot tea and quiet hotel music in the background. (You know the type -- elevator piano music that's surprisingly soothing.)

The massage itself was fantastic; I told the therapist that I wanted a lot of pressure, and she delivered. There were even a few moments where I had to use my yoga breath to get through a tender spot, but in a "hurts so good" way. J said his massage was "awkward at first" but then he relaxed and enjoyed it. As for the couples element? Eh. It was okay. We both agreed that getting a massage side-by-side in the same dark room seemed kind of . . . pointless, but I don't know, some people are really into the concept. Perhaps in the future, if it occurred on an exotic beach, it would seem more romantic and lovely? 

We cleaned up real nice and then walked over to Butcher and The Boar. My sister and her boyfriend suggested we eat there, and every time I mentioned it to someone while detailing our trip plans, they basically responded with "OH MY GOD THE FOOD IS SO GOOD." (This means I automatically had really high hopes for this place, which usually results in being disappointed in some way, or feeling confused about the hype, or thinking "I mean, it was good but not good.") We killed an hour before our reservation in their beer garden, which was packed and I can understand why -- lots of greenery, clustered chairs under twinkly globe lights, diners enjoying slabs of meat that were making my mouth water from afar. AND, it was dog friendly. (PSA: Des Moines needs an outdoor space like this.)

After sipping on some drinks, we headed inside. The decor? Like the inside of your beloved grandfather's den, all whiskey bottles and dark wood floors, but with a stylish, shabby-chic touch in terms of white marble tables and red velvet armchairs. Well done, B&TB.  Then we looked at the menu, and basically wanted to order the entire thing. B&TB is absolutely one of those restaurants where every plate coming out of the kitchen looks better than the one before. On my way to the bathroom, I spied a plate of spare ribs so that's what we ordered as our main dish. Because it looked that delicious.

Also on our table: king trumpet mushrooms (aka large mushrooms in a yummy sauce), brussels sprouts (fried in a buffalo-type coating with ranch on the side; we demolished them), skillet cornbread (all crunchy and golden from the skillet, topped with honey-butter, I ate 3/4 of it myself).

UGHHHHHH. So good. We didn't even talk when the food arrived except to mumble, "Oh my god," and "Amazing" and "Yum."

Then we rolled ourselves home and called it a night.

Saturday morning, after sleeping in with no actual alarm and no dog-waking-you-up-to-eat-or-pee alarm, we ventured down to Mill City Farmer's Market for breakfast. The sun beat down, but temps stayed in the high '50s/low 60's which is basically my favorite fall weather of all time. (I must note that it was a cool 95 DEGREES on our wedding day the week prior . . .)

Okay, DSM'ers, we are incredibly spoiled by the Des Moines Farmers Market. Seriously. Mill City involved maaaaybe a block's worth of vendors, and it was very cute and friendly and all, but we spent the whole time making comparisons between it and DTFM, like, "I like the other egg sandwich more" and "This pastry is a little crunchy, whereas the ones at La Mie are soft and chewy." (#firstworldproblems) The apples were superb, though, and we walked a whole bag 1.5 miles back to the hotel to eat throughout the rest of the weekend. The whole downtown area right near the market was pretty neat as well with informational signs about the history of the flour mills and Mississippi Valley falls right there. We walked alongside the river for a while, and it was just beautiful and peaceful.

And! There appeared to be some sort of impromptu yoga situation happening near the stairs by the farmer's market, which was really cool to witness in light of Emily and I's efforts for outdoor community here with Pop Up Yoga DSM. One young mama actually wheeled her stroller and toddler up to the group after class had started, whipped out a blanket and toys for her kiddo, and then joined in. I will probably be that woman someday, ha.

The afternoon's plans involved biking around a triage of rivers: Lake Harriet, Lake Calhoun, and Lake of the Isles. Bike rental in Minneapolis is a well thought out concept, with interactive maps online and stations almost everywhere; if I lived there, I would certainly bike much more often. We rented two bikes for about $12 and took off.

I got tired in about 5 minutes (pregnancy problems), but really, the routes were easy to navigate and fairly flat. Lake Harriet = stunning blue water and sky sliced with white sailboat triangles, surrounded by families and children and dogs. Lake Calhoun = primarily runners and walkers, or serious bikers with all their fancy gear, and many more folks on paddleboards or in kayaks within the lake itself. Lake of the Isles = home of the rich and famous. No joke. I should've stopped to take a picture of some of these homes because they were INSANE. We looked some up on Zillow later and all fell in the $2-4 million range. Holy smokes. Several open houses were happening that Saturday as well, and we kept kidding that we should ride our rented bikes on over to them and pretend to be a rich couple shopping for a summer home in Minnesota. NBD.

10 miles later, we were thirsty and hungry, so we stopped at Bread & Pickle, an outdoor cafe right by Lake Harriet, for a hummus plate (my attempt at healthy eating due to nonstop cravings of potato chips these days), a root beer (hers) and a beer beer (his). 

After a quick nap back at the hotel, we spruced up for an earlybird dinner at Bar La Grassa, an Italian joint my sister and I visited the one other time I was in Minneapolis. FYI: the ambiance at 5 p.m. is very different than at 8 p.m. -- choose the latter. We took the only reservation they had, but made a crucial rookie move in that neither of us was particularly hungry that early.

Still, we ordered pork shoulder bruschetta (delicious, but not worth $9 for one piece of toast), linguine with lamb meatballs (still not a lamb lover, but fun to try) and gnocchi with spicy cauliflower and orange (I ate 3/4 of this myself). Two more things about this place: 1) they give you bread as a starter, but with a little dish of a white bean salad marinated in olive oil, which is kind of different, and 2) they brought us a free dessert to wish us a happy marriage, which was nice in general and smart customer service.

Ok, one last thing: our waiter pronounced "bruschetta" as "BRU-SKE (hard K)-TA." I've always pronounced it as "BRU-SCHET-TA" (more of a shush sound). Have I been wrong all these years?!

We headed a few blocks away to Marvel Bar, another place I had been to once before that I knew J would absolutely adore. They're known for their inventive cocktails and hidden underground vibe; it's not uncommon to have to ask the bartender for the definition of 4 of 5 ingredients in a single drink, and the entrance is difficult to find. (Reminds me of Violet Hour in Chicago, for my Chitown folks.)

Well, it used to be. This time around, a bouncer stood outside the door underneath strings of lights, checking IDs, so you pretty much knew you were in the right vicinity. But there's no sign outside signifying the name of the bar, and previously, you just had to know to open the one door down the stairs that led to the purple door slash entrance of Marvel.

I'll also add that the Marvel bartenders made me two spectacular mock-tails, in addition to all of J's very boozy drinks, so they cater to multiple preferences with no problem. The audience varies: we saw everything from a bachelorette party wearing Derby-style hats to a group of well-suited men in expensive suits clamoring for whiskey, to a man in his 70s clearly on a blind date and nervous about (note: he requested a drink with "cheap vodka," and had zero shame about it, which was kind of hilarious) to young couples like ourselves lined up around the bar.

After such a fun day and night, we naturally ended up in bed by 10 p.m. watching National Geographic. Living that crazy newlywed life, I tell ya. . . . but truly, I'm happy to be married to someone who doesn't care about being "cool" in the least and has no problem going home early on a Saturday night on vacation when his pregnant wife has had enough. 

We kicked off Sunday by driving over to Five Watt, a coffee place probably famous to all MPLS hipsters. I had the Hibernator -- espresso, toasted almonds, honey and milk -- and J had (I think) something called the Big Easy -- cold press, nutmeg simple syrup, black walnut bitters, and cream (say whaaaat?!) Both were delicious, if on the sweet side. We sat outside, and about 5 minutes into our coffee and conversation, a woman walked by and asked us if we were from the neighborhood.

Us: "Nope."

Her: "I didn't think so. Where are you from?"

Us: "Des Moines."

Her: "Des Moines! What are you in town for, then? Are you here for the weekend?"

Us: "We're here for our honeymoon, actually, and yes, we got here Friday."

Her: "How nice! What all have you been up to?"

She proceeded to ask us all kinds of questions, like where we ate and what lakes we went to and where we were staying and what we thought of the coffee, and even whipped out her phone to show us a few other things to do around town. Super nice lady, and afterwards, we looked at each other like . . . where did THAT come from? I've honestly never had a complete stranger come up to me, in broad daylight, and strike up an entire conversation out of the blue with zero prompting. Apparently we looked really out of place there ;)

We walked down the street to find a bite to eat, and stumbled upon another farmer's market -- similar in scope and vendors to Mill City -- where we snatched up a couple of "downtowners" (breakfast pastries with eggs, tomatoes, and herbs) from Sun Street Breads

After that, we checked out of the hotel (sad face) and went over to Walker Art Museum and the Sculpture Garden to use up a couple of hours before our last event of the weekend, an outdoor concert with Counting Crows and Citizen Cope. The museum seemed a little smaller in scope than Des Moines Arts Center, and it also cost $14 a person to get in -- which, I don't mind paying to support art in cities at all BUT the DMAC is free at all times to everyone, which is awesome and uncommon. A new Jack Whitten exhibit had just opened, which we enjoyed walking around, and then the artist himself came into the exhibit hall and chatted with people looking at his art! How cool is that? (Learn more about Whitten here and here -- he's an extremely talented artist who works in a variety of mediums with heartfelt social conviction; many of his pieces included a quote from him and his life seems really interesting.) As for the sculpture garden, it is currently under renovation, so several of the sculptures had been removed. Another fun fact: I learned from a friend last night that many pieces of this particular sculpture garden were originally on loan, which is another reason there seemed to be a low number of pieces, and the Pappajohn Sculpture Park in Des Moines actually owns all its outdoor public art. Cool beans. Anyway, we still had fun walking around the park area and enjoying the nice weather.

We ate lunch at the Local, where we tried to watch the U.S. Men's Open before it went on a rain delay, and where we accidentally sat next to a girl and guy loudly talking about how they had hooked up and it was a terrible idea and the guy's ex-girlfriend oddly wasn't "cool with it." DRAMA. However, I secretly love eavesdropping soap opera-y conversations while eating. Free entertainment, amiright?

Then we took a harried trip to the library to print our concert tickets the old school way before heading over to the concert venue . . . to learn that the show had been canceled due to a sick band member. Frustrating in the moment, but honestly, we were both a little tired at this point and ready to get back, so we hit the road home. 

All in all, I'm so glad we spent our mini-honeymoon in Minneapolis. It's a wonderful city with plenty to offer in terms of food, art, recreation and more; slightly bigger than Des Moines and smaller than Chicago, but with the same Midwest vibe. Every person we encountered in Minneapolis was incredibly friendly and kind, from the hotel staff, to our Uber driver, the farmer's market people, waiters and waitresses and even the dude at the library who showed me how to print something. Can't wait to go back!

That Time I Ran 18 Miles

Last fall, my sister asked if I wanted to join her yoga studio's Ragnar relay team for a race in June 2015. The details: Park City, Utah + 200 miles in 24 hours.

I had never heard of a Ragnar race before but I said, sure, why not? 

The months flew by, I semi-trained (aka ran whenever I had time to), and then all of sudden I was boarding a plane to Utah to run 18 miles in a new altitude, with new people, in a new city.


Why not indeed.

We arrived late Wednesday to a rented condo in downtown Park City, and mostly got to know the whole team, talked about our fears and goals for our individual leg distances, and then hit the hay. Thursday kicked off with a hot yoga session, which felt amazing after all that cramped travel on the plane and in the car, and headed out for lunch at a Mexican restaurant (can't remember the name) where we enjoyed drinks, chips and tacos on a patio.

One huge thing about Utah: NO HUMIDITY. Like, it was hot, but you didn't feel as though you were being smothered by a heavy, wet blanket at the same time. I did get a couple of nose bleeds over the course of the weekend, due to the dry air, but for the most part, I loved the lack of humidity.

We spent the remainder of Thursday preparing for Ragnar. While I knew that we would be in vans some of the time going from location to location as part of the race, I didn't realize that we would actually be . . .  living in a van for almost 48 hours. Hence the need for coolers chock full of Gatorade, coconut water, bottled water; snack bags brimming with almond butter and raspberry jam sandwiches, trail mix, granola bars, Clif bars, shot blocks (basically gummy, sugary energy bites --  gross yet effective), pretzels, apples, bananas, etc; bags with changes of clothes and pillows and blankets and extra shoes and race belts and reflective vests and hats and sunglasses; printed directions for when cell service disappeared in the mountains . . . you get the idea.

Thank God I only had to show up and run. The team at the yoga studio was incredible -- they rented the house, collected the money, scheduled the vans, assigned the runners, handled registration, bought food and drinks to cover all dietary needs and desires, and much more. 

Friday morning, my sister and I walked to grab coffee from Main Street, which is the core area of Park City, super quaint, and fairly hilly. The views, of course, are beautiful, and it serves as a neat area to walk through all kinds of boutiques, stores and restaurants. We went to Atticus almost every day during the trip and picked up iced coffee (their fruity iced tea was also outstanding), but also tried some neat nitro brewed coffee at a sweet dog-themed place called Hugo.


Then we were off! After an almost two-hour drive north to Logan, UT, we found the starting line and hung around until our first runner, my sister, began. Interesting fact about Ragnar: teams start at various times on the first day depending on their collective pace; our time was 11 a.m. but teams started as early as 7 a.m., which meant that there were probably only 75 or so other people there with us at the starting line. So if you imagine a big crowd, as with a marathon or half (or pretty much any other race), it was kind of the opposite: a small group of runners with folks cheering from the sidelines.

Liv kicked things off with six miles, and our team hopped in the Explorer to travel alongside her. Following along in the van became absolutely essential during each runner's leg -- the temperature quickly rose to 92 degrees, and everybody needed constant encouragement and most importantly, WATER, nonstop. When we reached the first exchange and started watching runners come in, they all had the same look on their face: "That was so hard, and so hot." Many runners flopped on the grass to exclaim their gratefulness that it was over, red faces and all. 


Our next runner went, and killed it since he was super fast, and then it was my turn as runner three. Seven miles -- not an easy-peasy distance by any means but one I'd accomplished back in Iowa multiple times. I became almost immediately humbled by the heat and direct sunlight and straight roads. I'm a runner who needs constant distraction: music, water, hills, turns, scenery, shade, anything to get my mind off the fact that I'm running until I hit a groove. This particular run? No trees for shade. Minimal turns, which had me feeling like I was running with no end ever in sight. Spotty wi-fi service and a cell phone battery depleting faster than I anticipated.

But the scenery? Stunning.

I felt incredibly grateful for my teammates, who kept stopping every two miles or so to offer water and words of enthusiasm, and I picked up my speed slightly toward the end when I realized my phone was definitely going to die if I didn't get moving. 


Once I finished, our next three runners went in order: up mountains, down dusty red paths, through tree-lined gravel roads. Then we had about a six hour break while the other van, and other half of our team, started their first leg. Our downtime included showering, resting in the cool grass, dinner, a quick nap, and then before we knew it, it was midnight and our second leg set to begin.

I had thought that I would sleep while the first few nighttime runners ran, but the exact opposite happened. Honestly, the overnight running turned into one of the best parts of the entire race. The temperature dropped quite a bit, which made a world of difference. I personally prefer running when it is 60/65 degrees or lower, and so at 55 degrees, it was perfect! 

I had two fears about late night running: 1) that I would get lost, 2) that I would be afraid in the dark. Neither occurred. A van, either your team's or someone else's, was pretty much always visible ahead or behind you, and just as we did during the day, we kept pulling off to check on our runners and make sure all was well. That's why I ended up not sleeping much more than an hour -- my sister was the first nighttime runner, and I really wanted to cheer her on and follow along to check in. By the time my route rolled around, I felt wide awake, and took off at a clipped pace feeling like a million bucks. Even as a giant hill rolled around, I felt full of energy and excitement. It was so quiet and peaceful running by a lake, with only the sound of your footsteps pounding the ground. (Note: runners on our other team had many more experiences with wildlife and feeling more scared/lost, so it depends on the route, I think.)

More downhill running had me feeling crazy fast, and then, it was all uphill. For the rest of the run. It didn't help that my leg was 0.5 longer than the map originally said. Trust me, half a mile feels like forever when you thought you were technically done! Again, thank goodness for my team encouraging me from the side of the road, because running up, and up, and up for 2.5 miles was so challenging. 

Still, it was over before I knew it, and by the time the next two runners powered through, daylight broke to show us the most incredible views.


(Yes, we put a Go Pro on the hood of the car. Seemed like a good idea at the time.)

We finished our 2nd set of legs around 7:30 a.m., and the other van took off. Around this time, we realized that we didn't have that much time in between our 2nd and 3rd legs -- partly because the other group of runners were collectively a little faster, but also because their 2nd set of legs distance-wise was slightly shorter. After a group conversation, and in talking to other teams plus some of the race officials, we decided to start our 3rd leg at the same time: both vans would begin running, in the hopes that we would be able to finish by 6 p.m.

Now, nobody on our team was running for time, but we had all indeed been running for almost 48 hours -- and we wanted to be able to enjoy our Saturday night! The thought of not being done until 9 p.m. made everyone cringe. Due to the heat, multiple teams were behind schedule, and so this recommendation was widely distributed to anyone not running for time. I'm so, so, SO glad we did this and finished at a reasonable hour.


Luckily, the 2nd leg ended fairly close to Park City, so we were able to run back to the condo, shower, eat and take a quick hour-long nap before carrying on with the race. This break was CRUCIAL for my mental game -- I was totally reaching that "this sucks, I don't wanna doooooo this anymore" moment and it felt so good to refresh and reset before finishing strong.


We began again around 11 a.m., and our new conditions meant that the first few runners would essentially start at the same time. It ended up being another incredibly H-O-T day. My last run was also my longest run, more than 8.5 miles. It started off entirely uphill and on concrete (fun), again in broad daylight with barely any shade; however, the first mile also went through a golf course at the very top of aforementioned hill. I kept my mind distracted by thoughts of "Is this the golf course for the rich and famous of Park City? What is it like to golf on top of a giant hill? Do a lot of balls get lost?" And so on. Really important questions, I know.

The next two-thirds of my route consisted of running up a mountainside, and then back down the other side, all on a rocky, bumpy trail. I walked off and on quite frequently during this leg, mostly because I was nervous I would sprain my ankle on a rock or trip and fall off the side of the mountain. Ha. Yet again, the views were outstanding, and the higher I ran, the more I felt motivated to reach the top and see the sparkling blue lakes, the snow-capped peaks and valleys, and the greenery stretching as far as my eye could reach.


Ahh. So gorgeous! I remember feeling very triumphant at this point, and glad to only have a few downhill miles left before being done, done, DONE! 

Of course, those last miles ended up being the longest miles of my entire life. I'm not kidding. My shins screamed due to the sharp decline, my mind was over it, and again -- no water, no shade, no nothing in sight except the beautiful views I just mentioned. Which, I mean they were beautiful, but I had started to feel so tired and hot that the novelty wore off fast. Luckily, I saw my sister and another teammate in the distance, waving a water bottle at me; they had brought me ice cold water and a wet towel to put on my neck. Sweet relief. They also informed me that I only had a mile left, which revved my engines to finish strong.


We picked up the rest of our crew, all equally hot and sweaty and sick of running, and headed back to the condo for a quick shower before meeting up with the other half of our team at the finish line.

Amidst a huge crowd, we inched our way to the giant Ragnar balloon indicating the conclusion of the race, and waited in the bright sunshine for our last runner to come through. I have to admit that this took a while, but it couldn't have felt as long as it did for the runner to make it through 6 miles in 95 degrees at 5 p.m. after already running 10 or so miles. Yuck.

We finished with cheers and claps, and felt so proud of ourselves. As a whole, we collectively ran almost 200 miles in less than 48 hours!


Go Team Downward Dog!

I learned so much about myself  by participating in Ragnar, namely, that I'm stronger than I think, both mentally and physically. The race also reminded me that team support makes a significant difference in terms of experience and attitude. I've always been a casual runner, but running so many miles in a different location showed me that moving by foot in an unusual environment allows you to see things you never would have otherwise. There's nothing quite like it.

Traveling to new places continues to be a top priority for me. For all the people who asked me, "Why go to Utah to run?" Well, why not? I love to challenge myself with new opportunities to do something I've never done before, and go to places I've not seen before. The world is a big place, and I'd like to see as much of it as possible. 

Save Me, San Francisco: Part Two

(Catch up on part one of my trip here) After I had tasted everything at the Ferry Building, I decided to walk around a bit more before catching the ferry to Sausalito later Friday afternoon. Vesuvio is a famous bar known as the place where the Beat Generation -- Kerouac, Ginsberg, Cassady -- came to drink and write.


I didn't stop in, but admired the murals adorning the alley between Vesuvio and City Lights, the bookstore across the street. On a rainy day, there's nothing I like more than poking around in an eclectic bookstore, and this one was no exception.


Its layout is remarkably similar to the UChicago Seminary Co-op bookstore (the one on 57th) in Hyde Park: winding staircases, dim bookcases, bookshelves literally everywhere. Being at City Lights brought back lots of memories, fond and bittersweet, of holing up on a chair in the co-op in between classes, spending hours thumbing through stacks of novels, reading bits and pieces, and ultimately heading down to the street for a cup of coffee and a chocolate croissant at Medici.


I headed upstairs, the staircase framed by Ginsberg memorabilia, and sat for a while reading Frank O'Hara poems. Reading poetry with nowhere to go, nowhere to be, completely alone made me feel like my 23-year-old self, a self tucked away from years ago. It was nice.

When the rain let up, we took the ferry out to Sausalito, gazing at the Golden Gate bridge and Alcatraz along the way.


Sausalito, a city right across the bay, is small, quiet and picturesque. There weren't many people milling around, and the weather still sucked, but the views made up for it. It almost reminded me of Galena, lllinois, minus the topography.


The pier, full of sailing boats, was lined with tiny shops, and eventually we needed to warm up from the cold. Such an effort necessitated wine, and this little art gallery slash wine shop fit the bill.


I kept forgetting it was Halloween, even though one of their managers kept handing out candy to people passing by on the street while wearing a witch hat. And yes, the pug pillow in the photo above did find its way back to Des Moines. Whoops. Not sorry.


Again, the views? Spectacular, especially as the sun set.


With an hour remaining before the returning ride back, we sipped cocktails at Barrel House Tavern. (Very different from the Barrel House of the Quad Cities, ha!) I had something called a Freddy Kruger: bourbon, vermouth, bitters, and blood orange quince jam. Crazy drink.

The rest of the evening involved walking down to Fisherman's Wharf -- which was as touristy as I expected, the Navy Pier of SF -- and had oysters and fish for dinner.

Then called it a night. I know, it was Friday night, the city was hoppin' AND it was Halloween ... but sometimes you can only take so much exploration. Plus, a day-long Napa trip awaited the next morning.


NAPA. Wine country was my one "must do if at all possible" item on the trip agenda, and it happened. Even though it rained so much the prior day, the sun shined brightly and a crisp breeze set the tone for the day. All of the views? Gorgeous, naturally, and the company was even more enjoyable. Many thanks to a friend who coordinated the entire day and made sure it was excellent.

An hour-long limo ride later, complete with pops of champagne, we arrived at our first stop: Delectus, a family-owned winery specializing in reds. Our host graciously allowed us a look in their barrel room, where we tried more wine around a large, glass-top table. Different types of soils related to the wine industry lay under the glass; it was not only a beautiful decorative piece, but also informative.


Next up: Paraduxx, where we (duh) drank more wine and enjoyed lots of wine and cheese. The grounds were massive and elegant, with people gathering around little tables on a covered outdoor patio.


Finally, we visited Silverado Vineyards, my very, very, very favorite.


Silverado is basically a castle on a hill, with epic views, delicious wine, and most of all, a private stone patio that we were lucky enough to enjoy. That actually made a big difference, being able to hang out as a group and not feel rushed or in the way, and it served as the perfect way for us to round out the day trip.

Fun fact: the winery was originally purchased and owned by a couple named Diane and Ron Miller. Diane was the only biological child of Walt Disney, and Ron served as the former CEO of The Walt Disney Company. Pretty cool, huh? (I didn't know this at all while we were there, but a friend filled me in earlier this week.)

We headed back, sad to leave but knowing we'd all be back, and picked up pizzas and more wine for the road. Then we hung out at a friend's condo for the rest of the night, talking and laughing, eating more food and drinking more wine (hey, it seemed like a good idea at the time!) and glimpsing the city by the bay from a special view.


Thanks to so many new friends for their hospitality and warmth. I'm so glad to check this trip off my bucket list, and hope to return someday ... to check out more of wine country, of course!