We’ve suffered a great deal of loss in both 2019 and 2020. In fulfilling the commitment to take care of our parents and give back to them everything they so generously gave to us, we’ve spent the past few years practically living in intensive care units, emergency rooms, waiting rooms, other small rooms (the ones they take you to when they have nothing good to say), and fluorescent lit and underemployed rehabilitation centers. We are tired, exhausted really, and we feel somewhat medically trained. We are now equipped with a depth of knowledge we’d never expected to have, all due to prepping for and engaging in anxiety ridden conversations with those who really are medically trained, those we’ve put our trust in to keep our loved ones, our parents, alive and well. We are ashamed to say it out loud, that we are tired, for it is they who have fought battles harder than we’ve ever had to face. We can only hope we have been as strong for them.

It is evident then with all this time spent traveling to and from hospitals, that we’ve spent little time actually traveling. In the past year, we spent, without exaggeration, around 80 nights in hotel rooms in Baltimore City and its surrounding suburbs. I could write a guide book to eating well during an extended stay at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and I’m currently writing a detailed and emotionally wrought narrative on what happens when a routine surgical procedure goes terribly wrong. I can write about things I’d rather not write about and now, I have all the time to do so. It is just when we could technically push play on travel again that we are mostly stuck inside our home hiding from Covid.

On July 18, 2020 we celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary in Newport, Rhode Island, eating an overly priced, but otherwise delicious dinner while overlooking the off ramp of a busy, Rhode Island highway. More on that in a few minutes. The truth is, we were supposed to be in Sorrento, Italy. 10 years ago while on our honeymoon, we walked the winding path lined with lemon trees to the charming town below, declaring with almost every step that we’d return to this perfectly picturesque town on our 10th anniversary. We’d never dreamed that a global pandemic would put a halt to those plans, nor did we ever expect to be banned from entering Europe.

We are not well-versed in New England, and we had never been to Newport, Rhode Island. We’d heard it was beautiful, and my research had proven that to be true. With every Relais & Châteaux property I perused, I fell in love with the elegance and the rugged coastline views, to only then fall over in shock at the price for just a one night stay in one of these rooms.

I will admit that we haven’t left the house much since March, and we are only now feeling somewhat comfortable venturing out. We are hardcore maskers who trust the word of Dr. Fauci and believe that science is real and that humans should rely on it. Without getting political, we feel lucky to live in a state that has taken this pandemic seriously and is not rushing to reopen. We also acknowledge that businesses are suffering greatly, so we’ve put all of our efforts into buying local, ordering as much take-out as we can eat from our favorite restaurants, and tipping generously. We outdoor dine at places that demonstrate that they are responsible, and we wear our masks when waiters and waitresses approach our table. They deserve to be protected too.

So I mention all of this because while we are yearning to travel the world like we used to, we are anxious about doing so. When you’ve spent almost an entire year watching someone you love go on and off and back on a ventilator, you realize that you would never want to be on one. It stresses us out to think that irresponsibly touching our face or breathing closely next to someone else might put us or someone we love in a situation like that. And that has been enough to keep us home.

Then we got bored, and we decided it might be okay, maybe even safe, to go to New England.

Before we left for Rhode Island, I started following their governor on Twitter. I even signed up for her daily emails. I wanted to be informed and it helped me feel better to know we were one of the few states allowed to enter without a required quarantine.

Newport is lovely. The people are friendly, the food is divine, and the coastline is the kind of place you go to when you want to forget about your suffering and just be quiet. Or have a good cup of coffee.

We realize that during our short stay and the current circumstances, that we didn’t experience all that Newport has to offer. But we can tell you about what we did see and what delicious things we ate while we were there. We can only hope to return when life and travel gets back to normal.

Newport Marriott

For the past few years, we’ve been SPG Platinum and then Bonvoy Platinum, and as a result of the number of nights we’ve put in in the past year, we have now reached Titanium status. While we were saddened to see SPG go, and were skeptical about becoming Marriott people, we are happy to report that we are quite pleased with the new arrangement and have found the Marriott experience to be delightful.

The Newport Marriott was beyond our expectations. Clean, bright, and situated right on the harbor, it was the perfect location for two people looking to explore downtown Newport. The safety protocol put in place to protect its guests was apparent from the minute we walked in the door, with hand sanitizer stations, masked employees and guests, and an easy check-in experience with the added protection of plexiglass at the front desk.

We only stayed one night, but I wish we’d stayed here the whole time. It was an easy walk to all of the restaurants and shops with a convenient location and a view that screamed, “You’ve arrived in Newport. Check out these sailboats!”

Surf Club, Newport

This is the first place we stopped to have a drink and take in our surroundings. After a four hour drive and a GPS that took us over the George Washington Bridge, the Surf Club’s outdoor venue was an inviting space for us to pull up a chair, sip an ice cold Narragansett, and take a deep breath. We didn’t eat here, but we salivated at the look of the food at nearby tables.

Midtown Oyster Bar

A few days after my mother-in-law’s surgery that went horribly wrong, I promised her that I wouldn’t eat another raw oyster until she got better and could eat them with me. I kept that promise from July 1, 2019 to July 16, 2020. Although I was tempted on several occasions, I did not indulge in any oysters for over a year. I hoped with all my might that we’d get to share a cold plate of oysters with her again, but sadly, it wasn’t meant to be.

Midtown Oyster Bar didn’t see me coming, but I had an oyster craving that needed to be fulfilled and this was just the place to get me the goods. 2 dozen oysters and a bottle of crisp, white wine on their upstairs deck was what seemed to be the most appropriate introduction to Rhode Island I could have ever arranged. I just wish my mother-in-law was there to slurp those salty mollusks with me.

Salvation Cafe

This is one of my favorite finds on this trip. I found it through the extensive research I do prior to going on any trip, and for some reason, I felt gravitated towards eating here. I am so glad we took the chance on this place because the quality of the food was superb and the outdoor dining was so cozy. Here we had the best fried calamari that we’ve ever had, and a fish burrito that provided just the right combination of carbs and fish to coat my belly after all of those oysters.

The Black Pearl

I know everyone says that the clam chowder here is the best clam chowder there is, and that’s because it’s true. It’s damn near perfect, actually. If you haven’t had clam chowder here, then you haven’t had clam chowder. The broth is creamy but light, and the clams are chopped and numerous. I mean, more numerous then you’d expect for a cup of soup. It will blow your mind, and after a rain soaked walk along the coast, it’s the only thing you need.

Nomi Park

Oh, Nomi Park. This is a tough one to write about. I told you I’d get back to that overpriced yet delicious dinner that overlooked the off ramp of a busy Rhode Island highway. Nomi Park’s food and cocktails are phenomenal, but the prices are steep. It’s a newly opened restaurant that’s part of the newly opened Wayfinder Hotel. The Wayfinder is an old hotel that has been renovated into a chic, exceptionally well-designed boutique hotel. This is where we stayed for the remainder of our trip, and well, we learned a very good lesson. Don’t stay at hotels that have only been open a few months.

While it is situated outside of downtown Newport, adjacent to a closed casino and that busy off-ramp, the Wayfinder’s Instagram, website, and glowing reviews will have you saying and justifying to yourself, “It’s okay that it’s not downtown. There is a pool, and cute rooms, and an overly inviting lobby.” No, it’s not the Relais & Châteaux, and well, it’s not even the Newport, Marriott, but it’s different with definite potential. It’s just not ready yet. They are definitely experiencing some growing pains, and I’m always hesitant to write negatively about a place on our blog. I will reserve my judgment for now (they did open during a global pandemic) and just say this: give this place some time before booking. One day, I could see it being great (it’s just going to take a few years).

The restaurant is serving up quality food though, and because you can’t eat anywhere else without driving or getting a Lyft, you are tempted to eat there frequently. We were never disappointed with our meals, and the sardines were one of my favorite things I ate while visiting Newport. Served in a tin, the sardines are presented like tuna salad, only prepared with a delicious saffron aioli, crisp celery, and grilled sourdough. It was truly one of the best things I ate on the whole trip.

Cliff Walk and Ocean Drive

Paul and I can never avoid the rain when we travel, and Rhode Island proved to be another one of those trips where it poured on our parade. We traveled Ocean Drive and then walked the Cliff Walk in the rain, without the raincoats that we always pack, but, unfortunately, forgot to pack. We returned the next morning to walk it in the opposite direction, and the sunshine made all the difference. The mansions on this walk are quite extravagant, and we got an education in finally realizing where Salve Regina College is located.

So, Newport, it wasn’t the trip we dreamed of, but it was something more than what we expected. We hope to see you again, unmasked. Until then, I will continue to gawk at your Relais & Châteaux offerings and your luxurious sailboats from afar, with hopes of someday seeing you again, in a white adirondack chair, sipping a cocktail on “the lawn.”

Hi everybody…Paul here!  As you may have surmised, Michelle and I have not been doing much traveling and therefore, have neglected our blog. We are grounded for the foreseeable future due to family health issues. So, I decided to put up weekly photos to keep our blog alive. Michelle is busy working, so you will have to deal with my lousy writing for a while…sorry about that! Once we hit the road again, Michelle will be back at the helm here, and I will be back behind the camera.

This image was taken on my ride in to work in Belmar, New Jersey. I retired this past June, and for 28 of my 29 working years, I always took the most direct route to my place of employment. I suppose I was always worried about getting to work early and thinking of only my job during that time.  This past September I decided I would stop and smell the roses (or sea air as it were) and drove in every morning by the beach. I wonder how many great scenes I missed over those 28 years? 

IMG_6924-Edit-Edit-Edit-Edit (1)© Paul and Michelle Shappirio and Bringing Down the White Picket Fence, 2007-2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Paul and Michelle Shappirio and Bringing Down the White Picket Fence with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Before I start this post about Healdsburg and Santa Rosa, I’d like to take some time to talk seriously about the English muffin experience we had in St. Helena. If you read the First Stop: Yountville post, then you know we made a stop at The Model Bakery on the way to Calistoga to get our very first taste of Oprah’s favorite English muffin. After reflecting on this experience over the last couple of months, I’ve decided I need to tell more of the story so you can fully understand the magnitude of visiting this bakery. Because I’m still thinking about those muffins…

So here goes:

While I skipped into the bakery with enthusiastic glee to eat what I knew would be life altering, Paul sauntered in slowly and skeptically stated, “I’ll be the judge of this English muffin.” (I’m glad he said this quietly and only so that I could hear.). Because…

WHO QUESTIONS OPRAH?

I now know that Paul does.

We took our little bundles of English muffin ecstasy to an outdoor table on the sidewalks of St. Helena and took our first bites into what was the most incredible English muffin ever made.

And that’s when Paul said, “Okay, she’s right. That’s really good.”

Oprah doesn’t lie about her favorite things, Paul! She literally throws her favorite things at people so that they can love them too!

I don’t think I can find the words to describe the intensity of these fluffy, buttery pillows of nooks and crannies. All I know is that for the rest of your life, after this first bite, you’ll be saying, “Thomas who?” when it comes to English muffins. You’ll be ruined, and life will never be the same because you’ll have to either move to California or stop eating English muffins. I’m strongly considering the move. They do ship nationwide via Goldbelly, but I’m sure that would cost more than moving.

End of English muffin story. If you haven’t been, WE highly recommend you book a trip just for this because you’ll finally know the truth about what an English muffin should really taste like. I just had to tell you that because you should know.

On to Healdsburg!

After coming to terms that I couldn’t take the Calistoga bungalow home with us, we packed up the rental car and headed north to our favorite little town in Sonoma.

It is no surprise that we landed in this adorable town again after our last visit with the moms in 2019. We’ve been talking about it ever since. In fact, if we had it our way, we’d have an East Coast home and a West Coast home, and that western one would be within walking distance to the Healdsburg Plaza. Note: We’d have to restrict Paul’s visits to the Noble Folk Ice Cream and Pie Bar to just once a week (and not every day) if we had this kind of lifestyle. But it’s not something that couldn’t be worked out. We just need to find a few million dollars. In the meantime, we’ll just visit frequently.

On our first trip to Healdsburg, we stayed at the Four Sisters Healdsburg Inn, which was a lovely hotel right on the plaza (and right next to Noble Folk) within walking distance to everything. This time we stayed at the Hotel Trio Healdsburg which is situated on the outskirts of town but directly across from Big John’s Market. Big John’s Market is INCREDIBLE, so it’s almost worth it to stay outside of downtown. Go there if you are into eating insanely delicious breakfast burritos, picnic sandwiches, and cheese. They have lots of cheese!

A wine bottle taller than Paul.

The Hotel Trio, owned by Marriott, is like a glorified Residence Inn. Aside from having a life-sized wine bottle in the lobby, they have a free shuttle that will drop you off and pick you up from the plaza throughout the day and night. It also borders an old rail line turned walking path that runs the length of the town. If you are looking to work off some of the calories from the constant wine and cheese consumption, you can walk to the plaza by utilizing this path. It’s quiet and safe to do so. The most redeeming quality of the Hotel Trio is its adorable robot, Rosé, who tends to your every need while you are there. Paul was enjoying calling her up for extra towels. She carries them up to your room and your phone rings to let you know she is there. The highlight of our time in this hotel was when we coincidentally ran into her waiting for the elevator and took the ride up with her. Thanks for your hospitality, Rosé!

This trip to Healdsburg centered around a Williamson Wines lunch that just happened to be scheduled for the same time we would be visiting. We became members of the Williamson Wine Club during our first visit to Healdsburg. We have their wine shipped to us four times a year, and we adore their business model, as it is a family owned enterprise that combines two of the most important things in life: good wine and good food. That’s a winner in our book. Bill and Dawn Williamson host member events throughout the year both in Healdsburg and abroad, and they all seem extravagantly enticing. We are always perusing their website and reading up on the events wishing we could transport ourselves to Healdsburg and back for a long weekend here and there.

Luckily, for us, there was a Malbec Lunch event scheduled for the day of our arrival. For $35 per person, we each got a multi course lunch with four tastings of wine. Each course of food was made with Herbie’s spices, the exceptional line of spices that they sell as part of their spice club.

The Williamson culinary team is extremely talented, and you can tell that the family holds the kitchen to high standards in creating memorable dishes with intense flavor. Lunch began with a glass of wine and a personal bag of spiced popcorn. Each course was small, but filling, and each bite was one of those ‘close your eyes and sing’ kind of experiences. The standout dishes included delectable bites of pork and short rib each seasoned to perfection and super tender.

We spent our second day in Healdsburg hitting up a tasting room in town, and indulging on cocktails and a small lunch at Barndiva. Of course, we started our day with a breakfast burrito at Big John’s Market before taking a stroll through town, stopping in and out of the shops along the plaza. Then we randomly chose to do a tasting at Soda Rock Winery for some early morning/afternoon wine time. Manny, our server, was very kind and while the wine was good, it was he who made our visit worthwhile. It was nice to talk to him about the wine, the winery, and the town. A lovely way to start the day in wine country, if I do say so myself.

Talk to anyone who knows Healdsburg and Barndiva will always be mentioned. This Michelin star farm-to- table restaurant is a lovely place to spend an afternoon. We recommend heading here for lunch because it is much more affordable than dinner. This was our first time visiting, and we shared the goat cheese croquettes and the fried chicken sandwich. We enjoyed every bite. Everything was presented beautifully, especially my cocktail. Look at this work of art:

Yes, Barndiva has a Michelin star and an extravagant barn and grounds, but it didn’t hold a candle to our newest find in Healdsburg.

The best meal we ate in Healdsburg was at the smallest restaurant in town: Guiso Latin Fusion. There are only about five tables inside this restaurant, and everyone is trying to reserve one. This is because Chef Carlos and his family welcome you home as if you are part of their family. They are the sweetest, kindest group of people, and they are serving up some incredible and authentic Latin American and Caribbean cuisine. This meal was like nothing we’ve ever had before. When we arrived for our reservation early because we were so eager to eat here, we were greeted with a glass of Prosecco and apologies for not having a table ready for us. It was not something we expected since we arrived a half hour early, but they were so accommodating and happy to have us, that they did all they could to make us comfortable while we waited. When we were seated, our server explained everything about the menu to us, even explaining Grandma’s tomato Guiso sauce. We feasted on papusas filled with pork, beans, and cheese and Central American loroco flower bud & cheese. The main events: Cuban sliders with ingredients piled onto homemade sweet rolls and camarones borrachos, spicy shrimp in Grandma’s tomato sauce with potatoes and arugula. We were so full, but so incredibly grateful for the opportunity to eat here. This place deserves a Michelin star, and when they get one, I hope they keep the small space and intimate atmosphere when diners are making reservations months in advance. Thank you, Carlos and family, for treating us like one of your own for our short time at your restaurant.

Our time in Healdsburg came to a close the next morning with a farewell coffee and breakfast burrito at Plank Coffee just across from the Hotel Trio. They have a pretty killer vegan breakfast burrito here that would be a frequent stop for me if we had that house near the plaza.

Our final leg of this trip was Healdsburg to Santa Rosa. We spent one night in the city of Santa Rosa, and I can confidently say, we didn’t see much of the place. It is the former home of Peanuts cartoonist Charles M. Schulz. Statues of Charlie Brown, Lucy, Snoopy, and Woodstock can be found all around the city in honor of Mr. Schulz’s work, and there is even a Charles M. Schulz Museum. We considered visiting, but had limited time to do so.

The limited time might be because we prioritized standing in line at the local In-N-Out Burger for what is always an essential California meal when visiting.

We also didn’t have time for the museum because we happened to walk by a place called Grossman’s Noshery and Bar, and my curiosity led us to spending a good deal of time eating matzoh ball soup and cheese knish. When you only have 24 hours to see a city, that’s not a bad way to spend the time.

So there you have it. That’s the final stop. Another amazing trip to California wine country in the books.

Stay tuned for our next post: San Diego and Los Angeles and follow me as I take on the tacos of Southern California.

Downtown Calistoga is an old western town with modern amenities. 

As the northernmost place to visit in Napa Valley, it’s rustic yet charming with a laidback vibe and relaxing atmosphere. Eateries line the main thoroughfare with craft brews and vegan lasagna, while a community of friendly and hardworking citizens gather at the Calistoga Inn to raise a glass to a hard day’s work in the tasting rooms and vineyards. Accommodations range from Dr. Wilkinson’s Backyard Resort and Mineral Springs to the luxurious and pricy Solage from the Auberge Resorts Collection.

I’ve been eyeing up Solage for quite some time. I’ve often perused their website dreamily in hopes I’d find a discount code that cut the thousand dollar room rate in half. Since I’ve yet to find a code that comes anywhere near that, I had to explore some other options.

I did my research and came across something I just couldn’t resist.

This bungalow…

Let us introduce you to The Bungalows at Calistoga.  This is your HGTV dream come true.  With three adorable bungalows to choose from (A, B, or C), you’ll find yourself wanting to book two more trips to Calistoga just so you can try them all.  We chose B for its enticing outdoor space, though the chill of the northern California air kept us inside for most of our visit. 

This gorgeous fireplace kept us warm while sipping on local wine and trying to figure out how to build our own bungalow when we got home. We were in awe of the colors and the design: the vivid artwork, the teal doors, the gold fixtures, the shiplap paneling, and that green sofa.

The Bungalows at Calistoga are conveniently located just a block and a half from Lincoln Avenue. From here, we were able to walk the entire town from top to bottom, drink wine at a refurbished gas station, and treat ourselves to an overly priced lunch at Solbar, the swanky poolside restaurant at the Solage Resort. That $15 beer might have tasted more refreshing if we were allowed to drink it while taking a dip in the “For Guests Only” pool.

But who needs a pool when you have a whole bungalow? A place where you can put your feet up after a long ride through the vines and enjoy a few sips of the local wine.

It’s a must that you bike in Calistoga; we insist upon it. It’s the only way to really explore the beauty and magnificence of northern Napa Valley. Here’s how we did it:

We secured a couple of bike rentals with the Calistoga Bike Shop and opted for the self-guided wine tour with two or three tasting options. For $84.99 per person, we got bikes, helmets, a detailed map, and tasting reservations at two wineries. You can taste at three wineries for the same price, but we don’t advise it. Two is just enough to make for a leisurely day and a picnic lunch without feeling rushed.

We picked up our lunch on our walk to the bike shop and stowed it in these perfectly sized panniers on the back of our bikes. The turkey sandwich from Bella Bakery was, quite honestly, the best turkey sandwich we’ve had in years. Thin sliced turkey on soft focaccia topped with blue cheese crumbles, tomatoes, and mayo. It was heavenly, and much needed after all of the calorie burn.

We were thankful that we also packed this large bag of chips…

Our two tastings were booked at Vincent Arroyo Family Winery and Bennett Lane Winery. We had such a lovely time at both learning about the history, the winemaking process, and meeting the kind people who put everything into creating these incredible wines.

One of the highlights of our trip was meeting Bill at Bennett Lane Winery. Our friend, Roxann, recommended that we visit Bennett Lane prior to us booking our bike tour and that we meet her childhood friend, Bill, while we were there. For weeks, Rox and I tried to figure out just the right date that Paul and I could get there. And then, just like that, fate stepped in and did the rest. The Calistoga Bike Shop booked our tasting at Bennett Lane without any knowledge of what we were up to. As luck would have it, Bill was working that day, and he was able to host our tasting. A Monmouth County native himself, he made the move to Calistoga and now spends his days pouring wine and educating visitors at this gorgeous winery. He convinced us to get a membership, and now we can enjoy the taste of Calistoga delivered straight to our door.

The weather didn’t cooperate much on this trip. Usually, the bright sunshine lights everything up in Napa Valley. Unfortunately, it was cloudy and cool for most of our visit. It didn’t stop us from taking a rest and snapping some photos of the clouds as they floated above the vines.

If you get to Calistoga, we recommend you take it slow. Breathe it all in.

Have the vegan lasagna at Lovina, even if you aren’t a vegan.

Have a drink with the Calistoga locals.

Join a wine club.

Draw up your plans to build your bungalow at the Jersey Shore…

In the meantime, return to Calistoga. Rent A.

Come back to rent C.

Let us know which one you like best.

We booked this spring break trip in January during the height of Omicron when cross country flights were around $320 per person.  We had a flight credit that had to be used, and I considered myself incredibly lucky to find two roundtrip flights to California for the exact amount of our credit.  Even the American Airlines representative was impressed to realize that I did not owe them a single cent more than the total of our account.  I was so pleased with my luck that I decided to put my stress induced insomnia to good use one early morning and upgrade us both to first class for an additional $281 per person.  Apparently, pandemic travel upgrades are at their best around 3AM.

We’d never flown first class before so we were eager for the experience.  We flew out of Philadelphia with a nonstop flight to San Francisco.  We began our trip at the Philadelphia Airport Marriott the night before our departure.  This is an old hotel connected to Philadelphia’s airport Terminal B with extravagant views of the airport and runways right from your hotel room.  If you are like us, you could spend your entire day and night just watching planes take off and land.  

Despite the ticketing agent questioning our first class status at the luggage drop the next morning, we were able to check our bags quickly and breeze through security.  We eagerly assumed that our first class tickets would gain us access to the American Airlines lounge and made our way to the luxurious gates only to find out that only international first class fliers and upgraded credit card holders are welcome through those doors without a fee.  

We then remembered we could access The American Express Centurion Lounge, and quickly made our trek across the terminal to officially begin our spring break adventure.  Here we began our journey with a healthy breakfast, hot coffee, and a little morning happy hour before take-off.

We never knew that you could get a real plate and silverware on an airplane, and we each enjoyed a charcuterie and fruit plate at 35,000 feet above.  With a headwind of 110 knots, we were grateful for the extra large seats and leg room for what became a much lengthier flight than expected.

Once we arrived at SFO, we exited the terminal in complete awe of the airport and all of its amenities.  We’ve flown in and out of SFO before, but we’ve always admired West Coast airports.  They all seem brighter and more welcoming than their East Coast counterparts.

We took the shuttle to the rental car terminal and bypassed the counters to pick up our National rental car.  Forget the competitors, National is where it’s at. They make renting a car super easy for their Emerald Club Executive Level account holders.  Just proceed to the Executive lane, pick your car, jump in (the keys are in the car), and present your credit card and driver’s license at the gate.  We loaded up the nearest SUV and hit the road to Napa.

First Stop: Yountville

When it comes to California wine country, we’ve always considered ourselves Sonoma people as we favor that region a bit more.  On our past trips, Yountville has always just been a quick stop for lunch when driving through Napa.  This time around, we decided to spend our first two nights here.  We booked a room at the Four Sisters Inn, Maison Fleurie, which looked as if it were picked up from the French countryside and dropped onto a side street of Yountville, California.  We are big fans of the Four Sisters Inns and have stayed in several of their hotels on our trips to California.  Maison Fleurie was just as cozy and quaint as the others with their nightly wine and cheese hour and early morning breakfast.  With a location that’s easily walkable to all of the nearby restaurants, its convenience and price point make it a more affordable option than some of the other hotels in Yountville.  Plus their beautiful outdoor rooftop patio provided the perfect view while snacking on wine and cheese each evening.  There was only one downside to our stay here: our phone booth sized bathroom and shower.  It was so small that our sink resided outside the bathroom and next to our bed!  This was just a minor detail that I neglected to read when booking the least expensive room available.  We met a lot of wonderful guests at the hotel and enjoyed meeting and talking to them over breakfast and wine and cheese.  Ironically, almost all of them talked about how happy they were with their rooms, especially their large bathrooms.  They all laughed unbelievably at the reality of our bathroom situation.

A majority of the restaurants in Yountville are owned by three star Michelin Chef Thomas Keller, as this is the home of the famous French Laundry, Bouchon Bistro, Bouchon Bakery, Ad Hoc + Addendum, and La Calenda.  He’s even got his own garden on Washington Street to supply the restaurants! While we’ve always dreamed of feasting at the French Laundry, we went back and forth about getting reservations considering the cost.  Then, on a whim, we put ourselves on the wait list for Easter dinner and left it up to fate.  Fate kept our money in our wallets as we never got the call.  I’m sure dinner at the French Laundry is life changing, but it wasn’t in the cards during this trip.  

Our first stop in Yountville after our very long flight was for a snack of chips, salsa, and guacamole at La Calenda.  We had reservations that evening at Mustards and didn’t want to spoil dinner.  La Calenda was just steps away from our hotel and we decided to give it a try when we noticed the staff on break out back feasting on plates of food.  It looked so good that we decided we must get our snack there.  

After a good walk around town to stretch our legs, we called an Uber and began our journey to Mustards Grill.  Named for the wild mustard flowers that bloom in the vineyards each spring, Mustards has been serving the Napa community for close to 40 years.  With an extensive wine list and a menu that prides itself in deluxe truck stop classics, Mustards is one of those must-try places when visiting Napa Valley.  We didn’t plan to only eat fish at Mustards, but after having the Ahi tuna cracker appetizer, we couldn’t resist ordering the daily fish tostada and Ahi tuna sandwich for our entrees.  Both were delicious, with the fish tostada being the star of the show.

After a heavy jet-lagged sleep, we were up early on Easter Sunday for breakfast.  We were surprised to see the line for Bouchon Bakery was short, so we made our way there for coffee and snacks.  With a homemade pretzel and cheese roll in hand, we landed back at our hotel (just behind the bakery itself), and enjoyed a sun soaked morning of Napa Valley goodness.  This was just the fuel we needed for a walk to Chandon.

From the Maison Fleurie, you can take a short walk down Washington Street and make a right to walk under the highway overpass.  It doesn’t look like it at first, but after you emerge from the overpass and look right, Napa appears.  The Napa vineyards of a premium sparkling wine company called Chandon are situated here and with a reservation and just a short walk up the road, you can taste the wine and enjoy the sunshine on their exquisite grounds.  Tastings run for about $50 per person, but you can also just enjoy a glass while taking in the incredible view.

After a lovely afternoon at Chandon, we made our way to Bistro Jeanty for an early Easter dinner.  Bistro Jeanty is an adorable French restaurant on Washington Street that, we believe, enjoys some friendly competition with Thomas Keller’s French bistro Bouchon just down the street.  Bistro Jeanty reminded us of a typical tabac shop in Provence, and we enjoyed every minute of our time here.  Our favorite dish was the home smoked trout with potato salad and olive oil.  It was different and divine.  We sipped the local wine and shared a plate of sole Meunière and reminisced about some of our best French memories before heading back to our hotel to watch the sunset over the vines.

The next morning, we packed our rental car, said farewell to our tiny shower, and headed towards Calistoga. On the way, we stopped at the Model Bakery in St. Helena for Oprah’s favorite English muffin. We wholeheartedly agree that this is, by far, the best English muffin we’ve ever had. Everybody should get one of these English muffins in life, Oprah! Picture it: “YOU get an English muffin, and YOU get an English muffin” as she throws these magnificent muffins of buttery love to everyone in America.

With full bellies and a new fond love of the Model Bakery, we made our way to our next and favorite stop of the whole trip: Calistoga. 

Second Stop: Calistoga coming soon!

It all started with a postcard taped to a former colleague’s desk.  A simple postcard from the Wythe Hotel, Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  Intrigued, I inquired, and my colleague raved.  She had gotten married there and her 5 star review made me swoon.  I came home and put it on our list.  

A pandemic put that list on hold, and on President’s Day Weekend 2022, after months of hiding from Omicron, we finally got to put a check mark next to Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Once used to manufacture barrels for the sugar refineries bordering the East River and later a textiles factory producing fabrics for the Space Program, the Wythe Hotel boasts unique character with its storied past.  With a French restaurant just off the lobby and a rooftop wine bar with a stellar view of the Manhattan skyline, one could enter the hotel and be tempted to never leave.  We certainly fell under this spell as soon as we checked in and made our way upstairs.  The interior design of our room highlighted the building’s exposed brick with a cozy bed made up in Italian linens and a mini bar we’d call more mega than mini.  Yet, you have to leave, no matter how blustery the wind or chilly the day because the Wythe Hotel is situated in the most convenient of places, just across the street from Brooklyn Bowl and the Brooklyn Brewery and within walking distance to a variety of shops and restaurants.

We started our weekend with a visit to the Brooklyn Brewery before heading to Bar Blondeau, the rooftop wine bar at the Wythe, for a light dinner.  While we were eager to sit at the bar and soak in the view of the brightly lit Empire State Building on a clear night, we arrived to find a crowd that intended to do the same.  It was impossible to get near the bar let alone sit at it.  Luckily, we had reserved a table for dinner.  Over shared plates of French fries, thinly sliced Serrano ham, Bacalao fritters, and mussels with artichoke hearts, we planned the following day’s itinerary, reserving the afternoon for a few friendly rounds of bowling.

If you want to enjoy a quiet morning view of the Manhattan skyline, make your way back up to Bar Blondeau for a cup of coffee.  In the early morning hours, we discovered there is little to no competition for a bar stool.  We started our Saturday here sipping on deliciously refreshing orange juice that came with a surprising price tag.  Somehow I justified it was worth it for the serenity and the view.

Our journey along the streets of Williamsburg led us to stumble upon an adorable French cafe, Cafe Colette. Here we sat at the counter and shared our favorite indulgence: a croque madame. Served on a long, crunchy baguette with a runny yolk over ham and melted cheese, this was just the fuel we needed to start our day.

After breakfast, we continued to explore the area.  After spotting a Madewell shopping bag, I made it my mission to find the store.  Once inside, I resisted the urge to make any purchases, but enjoyed admiring the spring collection.  Then it was back onto the streets of Williamsburg to explore some more.

In the afternoon, we laced up our bowling shoes for a few games at Brooklyn Bowl.  Brooklyn Bowl seems Asbury Lanes inspired with a grand stage for bands, a couple of bars, a restaurant, and wait staff tending to your every need right at your lane.  I started off strong, but lost every single game.  At one point, our pins got twisted and our lane went dark which resulted in us not being charged for a portion of the time we were there.  This was a great deal considering it cost $30 per half hour to bowl.  Add your $4.95 per person shoe rental, and a few beverages, and this quickly becomes no ordinary bowling bill.

Saturday night’s dinner reservations were at Misi, a popular Italian restaurant offering handmade pasta dishes.  Reservations seemed almost impossible at Misi, but we turned on the notify option on our Resy and somehow nabbed a couple of bar stools.  While Misi was incredibly crowded and highly recommended, we were not overly impressed with our selections.  The food was good, but not what we anticipated.  Would we go again?  Yes, as I think it is always worth trying a restaurant more than once.  

After a busy day, we returned to the Wythe and planned the next day’s itinerary.  We would be changing hotels and moving to downtown Brooklyn for a visit to Time Out Market New York

Leaving the Wythe on Sunday was our biggest mistake.  We should have spent the entire weekend there, but instead we moved to the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge, a mega sized convention style hotel within walking distance to the bridge and not exactly “at it.” In retrospect, we could have checked out Time Out Market New York another time by easily by ferrying from downtown Manhattan.  Yet, this is the thing about travel, you live and learn and use these lessons for better planning next time.

Time Out markets bring the best of a city under one roof with multiple local food vendors serving up their best dishes.  Our first visit to a Time Out market was in Boston, and after having the best roast beef sandwich of my life there, I just had to check out what Time Out New York had to offer.  Located in DUMBO, just steps away from Jane’s Carousel and the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, Time Out Market New York will enrage the indecisive with its 24 different vendors and all of their varieties of food and beverage offerings.  We decided on a massive bowl of Jacob’s Pickles macaroni and cheese, the just-what-we-needed, stick to your ribs comfort food perfectly fit for a wickedly windy weekend.

We roamed DUMBO for awhile, taking refuge from the cold at Evil Twin Brewing Co., then at Bar Tabac, one of our favorite French cafes in Brooklyn.  The weekend concluded with a light dinner at Gage and Tollner, a shuttered restaurant recently reopened and ready to continue its 125 year legacy of being one of the most famous restaurants in Brooklyn.  Again, we weren’t impressed with our fried chicken selection, but absolutely devoured the Parker House rolls.  We’d be happy to return and try again as we envied our dining neighbor’s selections of roast chicken and steak.

We concluded our President’s Day Weekend Brooklyn vacation with a massive and delicious Essa bagel from their Time Out location before ferrying back across the East River and catching the Sea Streak for a beautiful ride home.  As we waved goodbye to downtown Manhattan, we eagerly discussed plans for our next visit.  After all, it will be Billy Joel who will welcome us back to the city in June.  

Until then, we’ll be in a New York state of mind…

We’ve been embracing train travel more than ever these days. Amtrak has become therapeutic in delivering us from point A to point B without the stress and exhaustion of navigating a car on America’s increasingly dangerous highways. We are comforted by the chug of the train beneath us as we pop in our AirPods and watch the window show. It thrills us that we are well on our way to earning a higher tier status on each of our Amtrak Rewards accounts, and that perks such as companion tickets and discount codes will begin to fill our inboxes soon. Inevitably, this means more train travel.

We’ve been fortunate to see the beauty from Seattle to Vancouver via Amtrak Cascades, and most recently, we’ve been getting the most out of the Amtrak Northeast Regional service with trips to New York City, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Boston, and Providence. This fall season as the leaves on the trees began to turn their most vibrant shades of orange and yellow, we decided to head to Hudson, New York, a two hour slow, but beautiful chug along the Hudson River via Amtrak’s Empire Service.

We started our fall adventure with a night in New York City and filled our time with some new experiences. We booked a stay at the Park South Hotel and enjoyed the last weekend of the season with a glass of wine by the fire on their Roof at Park South.

For a delicious and uniquely fun experience, we had lunch at KazuNori: The Original Hand Roll Bar. If you love sushi, you’ve got to visit this place. We shared the 6 Hand Roll set since we were opting for a light lunch, but each of us could have eaten our own set easily. They are so small and delightful.

In the evening, before seeing the play Is this a Room, we ate at Lidia Bastianich’s famous theatre district restaurant Becco. You can’t go wrong ordering the three pasta special. The three pastas change daily and you get all three along with a choice of Caesar salad or antipasto misto. On the night we were there, the three pastas included mezzi rigatoni with fresh basil, black olives, tomatoes and onion, mushroom ravioli with truffle butter and sage, and fettuccine with veal bolognese and peas. All were fresh, delicious, and unlimited, but so filling that we couldn’t even think about another helping. For $29.95 per person, this is seriously the best deal in town.

I wish we could say that we loved the play Is This a Room, but it was not as entertaining as we’d hoped. We’d read some intriguing reviews in The New York Times and The New Yorker, but the play fell short for us. Maybe it was the dark theater and our bellies filled with pasta that made us sleepy and bored, but we were thankful it was short and inexpensive.

The next morning before picking up the Amtrak Empire in the Moynihan Train Hall, we grabbed coffee and a pumpernickel bagel prior to boarding the train. We were thankful for this because we soon found out that the Empire is a no-frills experience without a cafe car. We’d soon forget that minor detail as soon as the train departed the dark tunnels beneath the city. The Empire’s service runs parallel to the Hudson River and as the train glided along the banks of the river, the fall leaves began to reveal the brightest and most beautiful tones of yellow and orange.

Arriving in Hudson to their adorable little station, we lugged our bags down from the train onto a little yellow stool then down to the pavement. From here, we needed to make our way to our hotel, The Hudson Whaler, which is located on Warren Street, the main thoroughfare of shops and restaurants that make Hudson such an appealing place to visit. It all looks uphill from the train station to town, but we gave it a go using our phones to navigate our way there. Along the way we passed The Wick, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel now owned by Marriott. Ideally, this was our first choice for our stay due to our Marriott Titanium status, but the hotel is booked solid on most weekends which left us to seek an alternative option for our stay. Leaving The Wick behind us, our directions told us to make a left at the end of the road. With a row of warehouses to our right and a steep flight of concrete stairs to our left, we scratched our heads in wonder at just what we were supposed to do next. Yes, we could heave our bags up this flight of stairs and risk being arrested for trespassing, or we could call an Uber. At this point, an Uber seemed like the best decision. Without much cell service to rely on, we made our way back towards The Wick as the Uber app searched and searched for an available driver.

And then we met Don.

Don is the incredibly friendly and helpful doorman at The Wick. When he approached these two weary travelers with suitcases in tow, he expected we were checking in for the weekend. When we told him we were lost and not sure how to make a left at the end of the road, he said, “Well that’s simple. Make a left and go up the concrete stairs. Then walk two blocks and make a right at the corner store. The Hudson Whaler is just five blocks from there.” When we told him we’d called an Uber, he welcomed us inside to warm up from the cold while the app continued to spin. After awhile, Don came back in to check on us and said, “If you’d gone up the concrete steps you would have been checked in by now.” We agreed, and as if fate was on our side, Uber canceled our request and notified us to try again later. Due to the limited availability of Ubers, Don provided us with a list of cab services, and with a warm thank you and goodbye, we made our way to the concrete stairs.

The steps…

He was right. The Hudson Whaler was exactly where he said it would be, and we were so happy to arrive and set our bags down after an exhausting uphill journey.

The Hudson Whaler is a beautiful newly renovated boutique hotel with a lobby that welcomes you with its rich, dark wood staircase, sparkling chandeliers, and cozy fireplace. The magic is in the details, with handmade chocolate whales, one milk chocolate, one dark, perfectly placed next to your bed, and a remote controlled fireplace to warm your room on cold Hudson nights.

We began our journey through town with a glass of wine and a cheese board at Warren & Vine, a must-visit wine bar with heated outdoor seating. We then strolled up and down Warren Street, taking in all of the shops and restaurants along the way. For dinner, we landed a seat at the bar of Le Perche and opted for their pre-fixe dinner of soup, entree, and dessert. The portion sizes of the pre-fixe dinner at Le Perche are huge. We could have easily shared just the appetizer which was a very large bowl of warm, comforting, and delicious Swiss chard and bean soup. It was so good and so filling that we barely had any room for the boeuf bourguignon and the creme brûlée that followed, but we easily found a spot for these delectable dishes. When there’s boeuf bourguignon, you eat it.

When we arrived to Hudson on a Friday night, it seemed a bit vacant. We were able to walk into restaurants without crowds or a wait, and we started to wonder if maybe it wasn’t the hot spot we’d read so much about. Yet, on Saturday, when we walked the whole of Warren Street, entering and exiting bustling restaurants with no room for us, we realized we should have made dinner reservations, way in advance.

On Saturday, we visited the hamburger diner Grazin’ for lunch. It looks like an old greasy spoon that you’d think would serve the typical breakfast fare, but they don’t. Instead, they serve meat in burger form straight from their farm ,and whiskey straight from their distillery. The kind owner greets you at your table or the counter to welcome you to his unique establishment and will give you the full story of the diner if you ask. He will also buy you a drink if you are jealous of the one your wife ordered (Paul…).

Between Grazin’ and heading back down the concrete steps to the Amtrak Station on Sunday, we visited some other noteworthy places. We highly recommend all of the following:

The Amelia Hotel: check out their events calendar for their literary series in partnership with the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. We were able to hear the award winning poet Monica Youn, the first writer featured in the series. The hotel is charming, Ms. Youn is inspiring, and for an aspiring writer like myself, it was something I will never forget.

Back Bar-We got the feeling that it’s where the locals go, and you should too. You’ll feel like your in your friend’s garage, the friend who knows how to make good dumplings.

Oak-for pizza. For when the pizza craving hits like it always does (on any and all of our trips at least). We got a late night treat-a Margherita pizza with arugula (a warm memory of our favorite pizza in Paris).

Hudson Roastery-for coffee.

Nolitas Cafe-for the breakfast burrito

Governor’s Tavern-trust us.

And, for when you are ready to heave your luggage down those concrete steps and back to the train station, stop at Kitty’s for the chocolate chip cookies. We hear the chicken is good too, but we had just eaten a Nolitas breakfast burrito, so we settled on cookies.

You won’t believe this, because we hardly could. On our trek downhill, down those concrete steps we could have never imagined climbing, two ladies followed us. At the bottom of the steps, they announced, “We followed you because you looked like you knew what you were doing!” And we all enjoyed a good laugh before we headed home.

I’m totally ashamed to admit that my first taste of Frank’s Deli in Asbury Park was today. In honor of Bourdain Day, I had one request. While I was at work, Paul was to go to Frank’s and get me a #4 sub with hot peppers, the same way Bourdain ordered it when he visited for his New Jersey episode of Parts Unknown. It was one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had! The bread was phenomenal, so incredibly soft and fresh, and the thinly sliced boiled ham, salami, pepperoni, capicola, and provolone was just the right ratio of meat and cheese to lettuce, tomato, and onion. Add in the oil, vinegar, and spices, and you’ve got one of the best subs at the Jersey Shore. Add the hot peppers for that extra zing.

I’m pretty sure I’m hooked. This most-of-the-time vegan/vegetarian who does it for health reasons, but cheats a lot on things she loves, like oysters, chicken wings, pizza, and France, just added Frank’s to her list of indulgences. How could this place have been in Asbury the whole time and it took me this long to take a bite? I mean, our friend who works there has only been telling us how great it is for just over a decade. I’ve been starstruck and mesmerized by all things shiny and new and Porta-like, that I neglected to see one of the biggest shining stars our little city by the sea has to offer. I still love you, Porta and company.

You see all those books above? We’ve read them all. We’ve watched every episode Anthony Bourdain ever produced, and we were absolutely devastated the day we learned of his death. He made his mark on strangers like us, and is still making his impact today. As the world celebrates what would have been his 63rd birthday, we feel honored and privileged to raise a glass and a Frank’s #4 to one of the greats, Anthony Bourdain.

This past weekend, we enjoyed some time away in New York City. We love to stay downtown near the Financial District. Here it is always sleepy on the weekends, with great restaurants and magnificent views. The best part is, we are just steps away from the Governor’s Island Ferry or a subway ride or ferry into Brooklyn. Here are some scenes from our recent venture into downtown Manhattan.

I never got to eat at Dooky Chase’s restaurant, and because of that, I never had the honor of meeting Leah Chase, a culinary icon of New Orleans. Sadly, Leah Chase died on June 1st at the age of 96, leaving behind a legacy bigger and more famous than the delicious gumbo she served up to presidents, civil right’s activists, celebrities, and travelers.

Leah Chase transformed her husband’s small sandwich shop in the Treme into a fine dining establishment which soon became the meeting place for leaders of the civil rights movement. Here, everyone was welcome, no matter their beliefs or their skin color. She opened her doors to the Freedom Riders, Martin Luther King, Sr., Martin Luther King, Jr., and in more recent times, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Anthony Bourdain among many others. The walls of her restaurant could tell stories of hard conversations during difficult times, including the horrific aftermath and devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

When the community saw hard times, she stayed in place, even renovated, refusing to abandon the neighborhood, the corner on which they built their foundation and welcomed the world.

I don’t know the man who works for Cafe Du Monde in the photo above, but I do know that the people of New Orleans are more intriguing than any walk down boisterous Bourbon Street. They are hard-working men and women with a robust culture, proud of their roots, happy to welcome you to their city, and give you a taste of their cuisine.

These are the people who have made and continue to make NOLA. May you rest in peace, Leah Chase. I would have loved to have sat at one of your tables and heard about it all. And I know I would have loved that gumbo.

What do you know about this quote carved into the marble of the southeast wall of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.?

If, like me, you read the words and thought, that’s powerful and pertinent, but what’s the context? Did he say it? Write it? Who was it directed at?

So, I did a little research.

This is from a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote to Samuel Kercheval, a Virginia lawyer and author. Kercheval wanted to draft a new constitution for the state of Virginia, and he wanted Jefferson’s support in helping to settle the long-debated matter. Jefferson wrote this quote in 1816. Basically, he didn’t believe that one generation should dictate another generation’s laws. He felt that as society advances, constitutions should be revised to reflect the current state of affairs. Apparently, he and his good friend James Madison had a history of never seeing eye-to-eye on this topic. In 1829, the legislators of the state of Virginia finally gave in to the call for a constitutional convention. Jefferson died in 1826, just three years before.

And he left us these words…