Our first two days in wine country

For the past few months, Jake and I have been planning a trip out to California wine country with his parents (my in-laws) for spring break. Though we were only in town for a total of 7 days, it felt like far longer, and frankly I’m impressed at how much we were able to do while still taking time to unwind and relax. That, of course, means there’s no way I can fit everything into a single blog post, so I’m breaking this out into probably three chapters. Starting with our first two days primarily in Sonoma:

  • From when we flew in on Sunday to Thursday morning, we stayed at Beltane Ranch in Glen Ellen (in Sonoma Valley). It’s a breathtaking property with architecture that somehow felt Southern and a distinctly rural-luxurious vibe. Every morning, we woke up to peaceful vineyard views and were then served a full country breakfast. In the afternoons, there would be fresh-baked cookies up for grabs in the kitchen. I know that my father-in-law particularly enjoyed reading on the balcony while the rest of us were still asleep. I was extremely sad to leave and would definitely return, especially in the warmer months and ideally when they were hosting one of their signature Sunday dinners.
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Fresh chocolate chip cookies with sea salt!

  • Dinner at Glen Ellen Star, a Michelin-recommended (though not starred) restaurant only five minutes away from Beltane Ranch, was honestly fucking outstanding. We made this reservation for the first night of our trip, and I think it tied for first as one of the best meals of the whole vacation. Also maybe one of the top 10 meals of my life. It gets rave reviews from media outlets everywhere and I am 100% still dreaming about the roasted carrots we got as an appetizer and the strawberry shortcake dessert — not to mention the wine recommendations from our waitress (Three Sticks and Father’s Watch). If you’re planning a trip to wine country, Glen Ellen Star is a must. Must must must.
  • As far as actual vineyards go, we had an educational and beautiful tour at Kendall Jackson on Monday afternoon. I’ll admit, I was skeptical; it felt like we would be better off sticking to smaller businesses instead of industry giants. But, Jake and his parents encouraged me to keep the reservation I had booked for us, and I am so glad we did. The property was stunning, our tour guide was excellent, and I even spotted the Instagram-famous Farmer Tucker.
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Kendall-Jackson

Shopping outfit

Shopping in downtown Healdsburg

  • After Kendall Jackson and some shopping in downtown Healdsburg, we drove over to Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa. This was basically the only thing Jake had really wanted to cross off the list so we made sure to make it a priority. He ordered a flight of 19 two-oz(?)beers that we didn’t finish, alongside their Nu Deal pizza, and it was a fun experience / pit stop for lunch / opportunity for Jake to purchase some to beer with him to Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma, WA, where he’s currently doing an internal med rotation.
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Count ’em

  • We spent most of Tuesday in Sonoma at a close friend’s country house. I cannot possibly overstate how beautiful it was, and their property was extensive enough for a long walk followed by clay-pigeon shooting. Unfortunately, this is not open to the public, but I couldn’t not share.
  • Finally, we (and the aforementioned friends) ate dinner at El Molino Central in Sonoma. The San Francisco Chronicle called it “The Bay Area’s best Mexican food,” and it one-hundred percent delivered. Enjoy any of the red mole dishes and order some guac and chips to share. Important side note: consider bringing a blanket or at least a light jacket because the almost-exclusively-outdoor seating can get a little chilly, even with the space heaters. And basically everything there is at least a tiny bit spicy, but in a really delicious way.

Some other honorable mentions I’d like to note but not give their own bullet point: Ad Hoc (Thomas Keller’s “more affordable” restaurant in the area) and Flying Goat Coffee (which was recommended by The Everygirl). Both were, in my opinion, fine, but I probably wouldn’t intentionally go back to either. Ad Hoc’s menu changes daily, which means that you don’t necessarily know that you’re going to love the menu if you make a reservation. And when we went, it was BBQ, which meant I didn’t love anything except the salad and wine pairings. But if you’ve got an adventurous palette and enjoy most Southern food (like my husband father-in-law), you might disagree. Flying Goat was, similarly, good…but definitely nothing to write home about.

And that’s a wrap on (Jesus Christ I’m gonna have to write a lot of posts) days one and two! Let me know if you have questions as I’m happy to help answer. Now off to draft posts for the rest of the trip…

Love, me.

PS: I love organizing these kinds of things, and I’m really pleased at how the itinerary turned out. I think in another life I’d be a travel agent or event planner. If I were to do a post on how to successfully plan a vacation, would anyone read it? Let me know.

Honeymoon: part 2, Rome

Full disclosure: this was not my favorite part of the trip. It was 90+ degrees, Jake and I argued, and the city felt extremely overwhelmed by tourists. Not to mention the smell was garbage was exacerbated by the heat, etc.

In any case, there were parts I loved. After driving through the traffic and speeding hellscape that is the city entrance, our first day looked something like this:

  1. We stayed at the Hotel Modigliani and really enjoyed it. We got a room with a balcony (as you can see by this blog post’s main image); however, the air conditioning from the room above us was blowing hot air directly down onto the seating, so that…wasn’t ideal. Also a baby bird had apparently fallen from an overheard space and died, so we had to call housekeeping to come clean it up. BUT, once we were over the heartbreak of seeing the bird, we found the room to be clean and quiet. It was also small, which worked for us since we were out and about all day.
  2. We stopped at Pinsa ‘MPo for dinner on our way to Vatican City. It’s a little hole in the wall around the corner from the city entrance and we had found it on some food blog beforehand. We split two personal pizzas and it was plenty of food. Needless to say,  we were not disappointed.

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    I mean.

  3. After that, we had night tickets to Vatican City and the Sistine Chapel. I highly, highly recommend this for people who want to experience a few hours of history without the insanity of crowds. You won’t be able to get into St. Peter’s Basilica — it closes earlier than the chapel — but you’ll still be able to wander through the absolutely gorgeous museum and grounds. It’s also great for (and this is embarrassing) people like me who have a limited attention span and only have a few hours of focus in them at a time. Warning: bare shoulders (including tank tops, sleeveless shirts, etc) are not allowed inside the Chapel and you will be expected to cover up. They have paper shawls there that are available, but you’re probably better off just packing a summer scarf.

Our second day was a little rougher. I was miserable in the heat as we spent the afternoon looking at ruins (which I likely would have appreciated more if it hadn’t been 100 degrees). But heat made me cranky, tensions flared, and Jake and I had our first fight as a married couple. I was extremely grateful when we got back to our hotel and heard that our concierge booked us a table at Il Gabriello for dinner.

Il Gabriello, for me, was the highlight of our entire Roman weekend. Despite its mediocre ranking on TripAdvisor, our meal there salvaged an otherwise pretty crummy day. This might have been colored by the 70-euro bottle of wine we split — I have never loved Jake more than when he pointed at the price tag, shrugged and smiled, “When in Rome!” — but now I recommend this spot to anyone who’s traveling nearby. Picture this: exposed brick, candlelit tables, an entire wall of wine as the backdrop. Then add classic Roman cacio e pepe followed by panna cotta topped with fresh fruit. Finish it off by walking home through the gorgeous cities of Rome with a light buzz and your new spouse. It is perfection.

The only other thing that kept my sweaty attitude in check throughout the weekend was the history we found on every street. We’d turn a corner and suddenly be faced with a fountain that had been there for centuries. It’s nice to have a break from being crabby because you’re surrounded by stuff that’s so cool.

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Anyway, to recap: do not drive in Rome! Maybe I didn’t emphasize this enough at the beginning, but “hellscape” is honestly an understatement. Try and do things (esp things like The Trevi Fountain or Spanish steps) early or later in the day when the crowds have dispersed a bit. Have your concierge book you a table at Il Gabriello. Prepare to find gorgeous bits of history around every corner. Maybe also don’t go in July.

Stay tuned for the final — and favorite — installment of my posts about our time in Italy. It’s time for Honeymoon diaries: Amalfi Coast edition. 

Love, me.

Our honeymoon: part 1, Tuscany

I’m not even going to try and catch you all up on the last 10 months. I couldn’t possibly remember it all and I suck at this blog.

But I will say: wedding was a success, Jake has kicked off his clinical rotations (almost 2 weeks down of family med!), and yes we are still fostering kittens. What I really want to accomplish with this entry is get all my favorite Honeymoon spots from the first half of the trip down in writing. There are a lot of them, so hold tight:

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We kicked things off with a few (maybe four?) nights at Casa Portagioia in Tuscany. The property is breathtaking — views of the country, a clean and refreshing pool, comfortable and luxurious bedrooms, etc. I am so, so glad we started here because it gave us a chance to recover from the chaos of the wedding and 20 hours of travel. The owners — Terry and Marcello — are absolutely fantastic. Upon arrival, they greeted us with a complimentary bottle of champagne as a congratulations, and spent the entire week making us restaurant reservations, chatting with us about American & international politics (largely because of my career), and being otherwise phenomenal hosts. Also, the breakfast buffet is great, but what you really want is for Marcello to make you eggs with tomatoes, even if you think that you don’t like tomatoes. And a caffé latte.

Brief side note: do not drink half a bottle of champagne on a near-empty stomach when you haven’t slept in 2 days unless you want the hangover of a lifetime. 

Fave restaurant from that part of the trip was Antica Pieve. Killer wine, pasta, and patio seating. And reasonably priced! The pasta in the photo is a truffle tortellini, basically. I’ve been trying to track down a similar wine because I loved the pairing so much, but no luck. The whole evening was delightfully romantic and delicious.

Terry and Marcello also sent us on day trips to Castiglione Fiorentino, Arezzo, and Florence. Most of those days consisted of wandering and eating, but the three meals I really wanted to mention are:

The ragu we ate at La Divina Bottega. The place doesn’t look like much; it’s basically a deli with a grocery store in back. But it was literally some of the best pasta I’ve ever had in my life. None of the employees speak English, so prepare to do a lot of gesturing and smiling, which is definitely a part of the charm. I think we had a full lunch for like 15 euros? Anyway, this place is wonderfully authentic, affordable, and yummy.

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In Florence, we went the opposite route and booked a tasting menu dinner at Osteria Personale.  I wish I could remember what we ate. I just know that it was very chic and extremely flavorful! And romantic. This is how happy I was all day:

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Hat from a street vendor, romper from Ann Taylor Loft, crossbody bag from Nordstrom.

Can someone tell me what magic Italy has in the water and air so that my skin can always look this way?

Finally, on our very scenic drive from Tuscany to Rome (that Jake planned himself), we stopped in Orvieto for lunch and another walk. We happened to be there during the lunch hours when most things are closed, but Jake found Le Grotte del Funaro. Good food, pretty outdoor seating, etc. What made this place really interesting was the spiral staircase down to an old grotto and cave underneath the restaurant. Just kind of a cool find.

Jake’s favorite, non-food part of that pit stop was, without a doubt, the breathtaking cathedral we stumbled upon. There are no words to describe how enormous, stunning, and really freaking gold this place of worship is.  We couldn’t figure out why the place wasn’t swarming with people, or how we had missed it while Googling the town. If you are ever nearby, it is truly a sight to behold. I feel very, very lucky to have witnessed it.

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And that was Tuscany. Next post will be quite short since it’s just Rome, and that wasn’t my fave part of the trip, but stay tuned! And, as always, feel free to comment or reach out with any questions. Happy to offer more recs (since these are just my favorites) and rave about our bed and breakfast some more.

Love, me.