Vacation journal – CA Wine Country and Canadian Rockies

October 7, 2009 at 12:23 pm (Eating Out, Marriage, Shopping, Travel, Weather) (, , , , , , )

I know I haven’t blogged in a long time, but I some very good excuses!! We moved into our new house (pics to follow in a future post), we were out of town for 10 days (subject of this post).

Marc had a conference in Sonoma, CA followed a week later by one in Banff, Canada so we decided to make a vacation out of it.  It was wonderful!!

CALIFORNIA: It was hot, hot, hot in Sonoma and Napa.  I’m talking 102 degrees hot.  Dry heat that makes your skin feel like it’s cracking.  But only during the day.  At night and in the mornings was cool enough that I needed a jacket and long sleeves.   We stayed in Sonoma at the conference hotel – nothing special but it was not bad.   We arrived on a Thursday into San Francisco and rented a car, stopped in Sausalito for lunch and some walking around.   Marc realized that he forgot his jacket so we also stopped to buy him a new one.  Our first night in Sonoma we went to  John Ash & Co. for dinner – it was amazing!! I wish I could have been more awake.  After being awake until very late the night before and only sleeping for 3 hours b/c of an early flight then factoring in the 3 hour time change, I was ready to put my head down on the table and nap.  The food really was excellent though!  The next day, Marc worked in the morning and I slept.  My fantasies about going to a spa were quickly taken over by my exhaustion.   I relaxed in our room – read a bit, and slept off and on until he was done working around 3.   We then headed to Healdsburg mainly b/c my favorite winery has its tasting room there – La Crema.  It is a cute and charming little town.  We walked around for a bit, had some wine then went back to our hotel.  For dinner we went to Johnny Garlic’s – the restaurant co-owned by Food Network’s Guy Fieri.  I am a huge fan of his so I had to try it out.  Loved it! It’s family style casual but with an upscale feel.  The menu selections are what you would expect at a family style restaurant, but with a twist.  We asked our waitress about Guy and she said that he is in the restaurant all the time.  He lives in the same town so whenever he’s in town he goes in.  Apparently very nice and friendly.  Saturday we spent touring the Sonoma County wineries.  We stopped for lunch at a restaurant in the town of Sonoma.  We switched hotels to one that was a little closer to the wineries.  For dinner we drove back into Sonoma and ate at The Girl and The Fig – one of the better known Sonoma restaurants and one both of us had been to before.  It did not disappoint – food was excellent.  Sunday we went to the Napa wineries and then drove back to San Francisco and had a casual dinner at a Chinese place near our hotel.

Monday was a wasted day.  We flew to Calgary via Dallas.  Long day of flying.  Seemed silly to go all the way to Dallas to come back up to Calgary but that was the only option.  We got into Calgary late and just rented a car and went to our hotel – all 3 of our meals that day were either in an airport or bought at an airport and eaten on a plane – yum.

CANADA: Tuesday we slept in a little and then headed out of town.  On the way however, we stopped at Olympic Park – the home of the 1988 Winter Olympics, some events anyway.  It was neat to see.  They have the ski jump towers, luge and bobsled tracks, downhill tracks, etc.  Very neat.  It was a bit of a ghost town because they had closed for summer and were waiting for winter.  After that we headed to Lake Louise.  We stopped in Banff for lunch on the way at Melissa’s  – a yummy little place that is apparently a Banff legend, it was very good and we were starving.  After our quick lunch we headed on to lake Louise.  The scenery is amazing.  So different from what we are accustomed to seeing in S. Florida.   We arrived in Lake Louise just in time for the snow to start – flurries at first then a bit harder.  It wasn’t cold enough for it to stick but it was so cool to see.  We were staying at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise – one of the most breathtaking hotels I’ve ever seen.  It reminded me a bit of the Overlook from the Shining and if there was a haunted hotel, this was it for sure.  We had a suite that was dead center in the back of the hotel facing the lake, we had a beautiful, uninterrupted view of the whole lake and the glacier that feeds it.  We walked around the hotel a little then went to a restaurant at the hotel for dinner, Walliser Stube, a Swiss fondue place.  I know you’re thinking fondue?  Like Melting Pot?  No.  This is the 5 star totally kicked up version of fondue.  The concept is similar but so so so much better – there was nothing left when we were done!!!!

The next morning we walked around the lake about halfway.  The weather was beautiful – crisp and clear.  The color of the lake is a beautiful aquamarine.  We then headed up to Jasper.  First we stopped at Lake Moraine which was just down the hill from Lake Louise.  It was freezing.  It was so beautiful there that I really wanted to spend more time but it was so cold and the wind so biting that I just couldn’t, I had to get out of there after not too long.  We then drove to jasper via the Icefields Parkway, the only road to and from Lake Louise and Jasper.  It is a 2 lane road that cuts through the Canadian Rockies.  This road is impassable in the winter, with avalanche warnings every few miles.  Along the way there are glaciers that reach down from high in the Colombia icefields, huge evergreens, beautiful oaks that were changing and were a beautiful gold color, aquamarine lakes and rivers, waterfalls, and snow.  We began to see the snow gathering on the pines and firs – Christmas Trees!  We stopped many times along the way to take pictures.  As we drove into Jasper, we spotted some elk along the side of the highway just hanging out.  We then went to our hotel – another Fairmont, this time the Fairmont Jasper Lodge.  Very different – more of a log cabin inspired resort.  One main building and various outbuildings.  We had a suite on the far end of the property with a fireplace.  Before we went to dinner we tried unsuccessfully to start a fire.  We ate at the hotel, The Moose’s Nook Grill, this was a restaurant with regional cuisine – lots of seafood and meat.  It was very very good – one of the best meals we had eaten to date on the trip.  My maple glazed salmon on a bed of barley was amazing!!!!  After dinner we asked a guy at the concierge desk to help us start a fire and he gladly helped so we had a fire going in our room 🙂

Thursday we began our drive back to Banff.  This time we stopped at a few spots to sightsee.  Athabasca Falls, Sunwapta Falls and we did the Colombia Icefields tour.  This tour takes you from the visitors center to the Athabasca glacier.  We have to go on a specially designed bus with massive wheels.  Once there, the temperature was about 15 degrees Fahrenheit.  Freezing.  And slippery.  We were on ice high up in the mountain.  It was spectacular though.  We then continued on towards Banff.  Our last hotel (so we thought) for the trip was yet another fairmont – this time the famed Fairmont Banff Springs.  Marc checked us in and I was on the phone.  When we was finished he came over to me with the good news – they had upgraded us to the Presidential Suite!! He said the woman who checked him in was surprised too when she saw it.  This is a 1500 sq ft room, high up in the hotel with a private elevator entrance.  I think we were in shock.  The room was huge and spacious, the view was just unbelievable, 360 degrees, the largest room in the hotel and the highest point, also the most expensive, the front desk told us it normally goes for$3500 a night!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Once we thoroughly inspected the room we headed out to the town of Banff for dinner.  The Maple Leaf Grill was another regional cuisine restaurant that served up seafood and meats – we loved it 🙂

Friday was a workday for Marc.  I headed into town for a bit of overpriced shopping.  Banff is a lovely little ski town with a main street filled with shops specially designed for tourists.  Souvenirs, crappy art, and fudge shops.  We only brought home things for Alexis, didn’t even buy ourselves anything.  It was cold and snowy but I really enjoyed walking up and down the streets and stopping in the stores.  Marc had a lunch break so we went to a Greek place for some souvlaki.  Then it was back to work for him and I went up to our room to relax and do some reading.   Once he finished, we headed back into town for a bit before dinner.  We had both read and heard about a restaurant called Bison and were told it was excellent, so we decided to go there for dinner.  The rumors were right – it was very good.  The place focused on locally and regionally grown organic foods and it was so fresh and delicious.  Marc ate bison which is the specialty there and everywhere in the area – all the restaurants have it.  He enjoyed it.  I, however, had salmon – the wild sockeye variety – yum-o!!   It had been snowy off and on all day and was freezing so we were thinking it would be more of the same the next day.

Saturday morning we woke up and opened the curtains to a winter wonderland.  I guess it had been snowing all night b/c everything was white.  It was beautiful.  Everywhere we looked was covered in snow!! We were like kids in a candy store since it’s such a novelty for us.  We got dressed, took some pics of the scenery from our balcony and then off we went.  Our first stop was the hot springs.  The name says it all – hot springs gurgle up from deep in the earth and they have made an attraction out of it.  There is an outdoor pool which is about 97 degrees (F) and people go swimming!!! I took pictures as I stayed bundled in my coat and gloves – no way was i going to get in a bathing suit and go swimming in 30 degree weather!! I’m sure it would have been great, but when I went home with pneumonia, the novelty would have worn off.  The water itself is warm, but the getting in and especially getting out would have been brutal!! And forget getting my hair wet – it would have frozen solid on my head.  I digress – we did not go swimming 🙂  Next we went to the gondola which takes you up to the summit of Sulphur Mountain, elev. 7,486ft.  I do not like heights and I do not like enclosed spaces, so this little gondola ascending up the mountain high above the ground held only by a cable above was a perfect recipe for a panic attack.  Marc really wanted to do this so I agreed, making him swear not to do anything stupid like rock back and forth or make stupid comments about us falling.  So I concentrated on taking deep breaths and not thinking  about what I was doing and I made the 8 minute ride up to the top.  Now that I was there, I seriously considered hiking back down the mountain rather than do it again, but I figured that would be a bad idea.  Once up there we went out on the observation platform and admired the view.  Of course there wasn’t much of a view of Banff since it was snowing pretty heavily and the clouds were low, but it was beautiful.  We went outside and walked along a trail that led to the Cosmic Ray center.  I would have loved to see it – but there were about a million wooden steps leading up to it which were all snow covered, so we opted not to go up.  We went back to the visitors center had a hot chocolate and headed back down in the gondola.  Next we headed into town for lunch at a yummy burger bar which gives you a sheet of paper with lots of options for toppings, cheeses, sauces, buns, even meats.  It was very good.  We walked and shopped some more then went back to our room and relaxed.  This was our last night of vacation (so we thought) and we decided to have a little more casual dinner since we had been going to fancy restaurants almost every night.  We ate at a local Italian place – Giorgio’s which turned out to be really good and just what we wanted!! After dinner we went back to the hotel and packed.

Sunday morning we woke up had breakfast, said goodbye to our fabulous room and checked out.  Our trip home was from Calgary to Dallas then to Miami.  We left the hotel at 10am local time (12noon Miami time) and were scheduled to arrive home at 11pm( Miami time).  We had a tight connection in Dallas – only 40 minutes to make our flight so we knew that if your flight was delayed at all, we would not make it.  It was the last flight from Dallas to Miami for the night and the only flight out of Calgary that was an option for us on American.  So as we got closer to Calgary – we were checking the flight and realized that our plane which was coming from Dallas had not left yet and was held up in Dallas b/c of weather – ruh-roh.  By the time we got to the car  rental place to return the car, we knew that we were going to miss our connection b/c we were now delayed an hour and a half.  We got a call from American telling us that  they had re-routed us on Continental through Houston, leaving in an hour!! A little more notice would have been good.  We hustled inside the terminal to the Continental desk and they would not let us check in b/c by this point it was under an hour and for an international flight they don’t allow that.  Crap.  ok over to the American desk to see if there was anything they could do.  Nope.  No other flights anywhere else that would get us home.  So we were stuck.  Our only hope of getting home was that our flight from Dallas to Miami would also be delayed.  Of course now we had plenty of time to kill at the airport since we were delayed.  Once on the plane to Dallas we asked the flight attendant if there was any way of knowing once we got closer if our flight was delayed.  She was very nice and said she would check for us and if it was that she would move us up to first class so we could run off the plane first.  As we got close and our connection and gate were not announced we knew that we missed our flight 😦  Upon landing we found out the flight had been delayed and left at 7:50pm, we landed at 8pm – that’s right 10 minutes!!!!!!!!!!  Luckily marc is a frequent American flyer and has platinum status so we went to the admirals club to have them help us.  They were so so nice and gave us a hotel voucher for the airport hyatt and booked us on the first morning flight at 6am to Miami.  We trudged up to the hotel without our luggage which had been checked through to Miami so we couldn’t get it.  Lovely.  So glad I put on clean underwear that morning.  The hotel gave us some toiletries like toothbrushes and deodorant and we had dinner at TGIFridays in the terminal – how’s that for gourmet?  We went to sleep and prepared for an early day.  The alarm rang at 4:30am and the only bright spot about all of this was that we were able to get up get dressed, go though security easily with no bags and no people at that time of the morning and go right to our gate – no driving or checking baggage or anything.  We made it home bleary eyed but glad to have arrived at 9:45.

We went through 4 time zones on our trip – pacific, central, mountain, back to central, then eastern.  To say that our internal clocks were totally screwy is an understatement!! Overall it was a great trip and I’m glad we went!! Marc and I are self-admitted hotel snobs and stay in nice places, but the Fairmonts – all 3 of them that we stayed in, were by far the nicest hotels we had ever been in.  Not just the buildings themselves, but  the staff.  They were all over the top nice.  They went out of their way to make our stays perfect.  They were always so nice and friendly.  They definitely have a great corporate philosophy and hiring policy.  It was not easy being away from Alexis for 10 days, especially for me since I am with her all the time, but it was also a nice break.  Since she was with my mom mom I knew that she was in great hands and that she was happy and well taken care of.

Here is a link to my snapfish album with all our pics…  Click here

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Hawaii 2008 (Part 2 Oahu)

November 6, 2008 at 6:14 pm (Travel, Uncategorized) (, , )

10/29: As we neared Oahu from the air I could immediately see this was totally different than the Big Island.  There were high rises and highways and a real airport.  It was more of a city.  We rented our car and headed into Honolulu. During rush hour.  Ick.  We ducked into the Ala Moana Center – a mall on our way to Waikiki and walked around there to kill some time.  It is a HUGE mall with lots of stores.  Very nice.  Next we headed to our hotel – Waikiki Beach Marriott.  We had a nice room with a view of the beach and Diamond Head.  We settled in then headed out.  I’ll be honest, I didn’t really have a good first impression.  What I saw was South Beach.  Nothing different except the mountains.  This was not what I flew 5000 miles for.  Anyway, we walked around the “Ocean Drive” of Waikiki and went into the many touristy shops and to a place called the International Market which was filled with kiosks of jewelry and other wares.  I got a black pearl 3 strand necklace and matching earrings.  We walked some more and around 9 we went back to our hotel for dinner.  Sansei Sushi was in our hotel it’s run by a well-known chef and was supposed to be very good.  We were not disappointed.  It was on the scale of Nobu.  The food was amazing.  We ordered way too many dishes b/c we could not narrow them down.  Definitely one of the best meals either of us had ever had.  We then went to sleep full and happy!!!!!

10/30: We decided to go to Pearl Harbor today b/c it was Thursday and we were hoping the crowds wouldn’t be too bad.  Also there was a slight drizzle.  We arrive at 10:15 at the site of the USS Arizona Memorial and our tickets were for the 10:30 tour, not bad.  At 10:30 we went into the theater for the 20 minute film on the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  I hadn’t thought until that day about the glaring similarities between that attack and 9/11.  Unfortunately the reactions by the governments were vastly different but I won’t get into an anti-Bush rant here – see previous posts for that! After the film we boarded a ferry for the ride out to the memorial.  It was peaceful out there.  The memorial sits over the USS Arizona so we could see the ship on both sides submerged.  There is still oil that leaks out.  There are close to 1000 men who are still buried in the ship so it’s a graveyard as well as a memorial.  On the far side is a wall with all the names of the men who lost their lives during the bombing.  On a separate wall are names of men who survived the bombing but wanted to be buried with their shipmates so they have been brought back and buried there.  It’s very moving and solemn.  I am so glad I was able to go there.   Once we finished with the Arizona we took a bus over to Ford Island to the USS Missouri.  This is a battleship that was the site of the signing of the treaty that ended WWII.  It also served in the Persian Gulf.  It is now decommissioned and sits as a floating museum.  We had lunch on the docks before boarding.  We walked around for a long time and it was so amazing being so close to a part of such amazing history.  Once we left there, we decdided to skip the Aviation Museum and the USS Bowfin submarine.  We then gt in the car and drove to the Dole Pineapple Plantation.  We ddin’t really want to tour the plantation so we just went to the gift shop.  It was great!! Pineapple everything!! We got a couple gifts for Alexis and we each had yummy pineapple ice cream.  Then we drove around a bit and headed back to the hotel.  After some relaxing we headed out for dinner.  We walked around Waikiki a bit again before going to Duke’s.  It wasn’t our first choice but it was one of the few places that didn’t have a wait.  We had a very nice table that was on the beach which was nice.  Luckily we had that b/c the food sucked.  I was not happy.  They had a good salad bar and I wish I would have stuck with that.  Marc liked his food, I didn’t like mine at all.  I was very disappointed but I didn’t think I would like it too much, it was much too touristy!!!

10/31: Today Marc had his conference and I didn’t really have anything planned.  I got up and lounged for a bit.  I went to Starbucks for a coffee and then walked along the beach and headed back upstairs.  I changed into my bathing suit and went out to the pool.  I laid out by the pool most of the day – I took a break only for lunch when I went to Cheeseburger in Paradise (not owned by Jimmy Buffet) for an expensive cheeseburger and fries.  Once Marc was done with work we decided to got out of Waikiki for dinner since it was Halloween and promised to be crazy. We went to the original Roy’s in a non-tourist area of the island.  Roy’s is one of Marc’s favorite restaurants, I had only been to one before in Orlando but it was neat to go to the original.  The food was excellent!!!!!! Everything was good – appetizers, entrees and dessert!! This was a good dinner.  Unfortunately, it took us a very very long time to get back to Waikiki because of all the other people trying to get there for halloween.  We finally made it and I was exhausted and I don’t like crowds of drunk costumed people so I went to the room, Marc wanted to be part of the action so he walked around a little bit.

11/1: We got up on the early side and headed to Hanauma Bay to go snorkeling.  We stopped first to rent snorkeling equipment.  I was a little skeeved at the thought of renting a snorkel but it would have been expensive to buy it, not to mention useless since we don’t snorkel ever.  So I asked the people at the rental place how they clean their equipment and I also asked them to please give me one that was relatively new.  I was ok but just to make me feel better I wiped the mouth piece with Purell – yes I am a germ-a-phobic!! Anyway.  We arrived at Hanauma Bay and the view was spectacular.  It’s a bay surrounded by cliffs.  First we had to watch a short video on the Bay since it’s a preserved habitat.  Then we headed down to the beach.  It’s quite a walk. There’s a tram, it’s $.50 to get down and $1.00 to come back up.  We walked down but decided we would need to take that tram back up!!!!!!! We slathered ourselves with sunscreen and headed for the water.  Brrrrrrrr!!!! I’m sure for people from points north of me the water was nice, but for this SoFla girl it was cold!!!! This was not Miami Atlantic bathwater warm so it took some getting used to.  The reef in the bay is enclosed with only a small opening to get out to the open ocean so there weren’t any sharks.  This is something I thoroughly researched before we left miami – I watch Shark Week I don’t want to come face to face with a shark.  Ever.  We had bought an underwater camera so we snorkeled and saw some beautiful colorful fish and took neat pictures.  Unfortunately the coral was mostly dead because of uneducated people standing on it but the fish were still there.  I’m sure if we had ventured out to the portion of the reef beyond the enclosed part it would have been much neater but see my sentence above about sharks.  Not happening.  Once we were sufficiently water-logged we changed and rinsed off and went to have lunch – burgers.  Then we went driving up the coast.  Our first stop was the Halona Blowhole – a natural spot where the foam from the Pacific shoots up creating a marine variety of Old Faithful – very cool.  Next to the blowhole is the Halona Beach Cove, famous because it’s where the love scene in From Here to Eternity was filmed.  Then we went to Sandy Beach – one of the most dangerous beaches, it has an ambulance on perpetual standby for the body-surfers who get sucked under.  Again, a spot I was content to visit from afar.  Next we stopped at Makapuu point where we saw an island shaped like a swimming rabbit with its ears pulled back (supposedly, all I saw was a big hunk of rock) there was a lighthouse tucked into the cliffs and another amazing view.  We could see Molokai (or Lanai, not sure).  Next to that was Waimanalo Beach Park and we were not planning on stopping here until we saw a big commotion so we decided to check it out.  Turns out they were releasing large turtles back into the ocean.  So we watched along with a crowd of people.  Marc lost a flip flop in his excitement to get a close up picture.  Luckily someone caught it before it floated out to sea.  Next we took a scenic route along the Pali Highway back to the hotel.  That night we stayed around our area and went shopping for souvenirs and then had dinner at a restaurant called MAC 24-7 which was open 24 hours – dinner was yummy and we were tired.

11/2: Our last day in Hawaii.  We got up and took one last stroll along Waikiki Beach then packed everything up and checked out.  We headed to the North Shore.  We stopped at Haleiwa – the “capital” of the North Shore and had lunch at what is supposedly the best burger place Kua Aina the burgers were really good.  We then walked around the town a little bit and had a shave ice which is popular there.  It’s like a snow cone – it was delicious!!!!!!!!!!!  Then we drove along and stopped at all the famous surfing spots – and watched the waves and the surfers for a while.  We then headed back to Honolulu.  We had some time before dinner so we went back to the Ala Moana Center to walk around.  Then we went to dinner at Sam Choy’s which was soo good!!!! After  that it was time to go to the airport and say goodbye to Hawaii.  It was a lkong flight to LA then another long flight to Miami.  We were both happy to be home!!!!!!!

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