Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Russian River Valley, CA

Russian River is basically our favorite place on the planet. Pair that with our favorite travel buddies and this is our perfect annual trip. John and Mal picked us up from the airport and we made our first stop at Boon Fly Cafe. We had yummy cocktails, delicious fish tacos, BLTs, chilaquiles and a short rib flatbread. YUM!

We drove to Artesa winery for a brief tasting and also made a pit stop to grab some Pliny the Elder from Russian River Brewing before we stopped in a our favorite place - Taft Street! Jason and I are wine club members, so the tasting was free. They opened EVERY bottle of wine they had and let us try them all. We grabbed 4 bottles, stocked up on groceries and then headed to our home for the next few days. Last year, we stayed in a cute little town called Monte Rio and this year, we stayed in Guerneville at a place called Big Bertha. We used the hot tub that evening and relaxed with some great grilling and wine!

The next morning, we drove over to Schramsberg Winery for our cave tasting. They have over 3 MILLION bottles of wine down there! We tasted 4 sparkling wines and one still red, all while exploring the caves. This is one of my favorite sparkling wines - so glad we can get most of these back in Texas.

After this, we drove to Gott's Roadside in St. Helena for some delicious burgers and fries. The outside area was very cute and we enjoyed the wonderful weather!

Moving north into the Alexander Valley, we stopped at an old favorite, Hawkes. On our first group trip back in 2013 (!!!), we went to the location in Sonoma Square and really loved it. The wine was spectacular and John and Mal even signed up for the wine club.

We got a recommendation from people inside, so for our next stop, we went to a brand-new tasting room called Zialena. They had been producing grapes for a long time, but only recently did they start bottling under their own label. The tasting room had only been open for 6 months! Wow, this was an unexpected find, but might have been some of the best wine we had on the entire trip. 

We made our way back to Guerneville and stopped in a Equality Vines for a quick (yet delicious and super fun) tasting before we popped over the street for Seaside Metal's Happy Hour. The menu was small, but very satisfying and Jason and I agreed that the seafood chowder is on the of best things we've ever eaten.

After dinner, we walked next door to grab ice cream from Nimble and Finns. The location was inside of an old bank and the ice cream choices were so ridiculous. I mean, coriander and lavender & bourbon chocolate pretzel? They were all FANTASTIC though!

The next morning, the guys went to golf at Northwood Golf Club and Mal and I went to get massages and Boon Hotel & Spa. We did this exact morning last trip and loved it so much, we had to recreate it! We had lunch at Big Bottom Market and then went to a quick (and disappointing) wine tasting at Jigger.

The real treat was up next though - we had reservations at Iron Horse. Even better, since it was Sunday, Oyster Girls were onsite grilling up some delicious oysters! Sparkling wine is my favorite - but add in oysters with a spot under an umbrella enjoying the amazing view and weather? Pretty perfect afternoon!

That evening, we set to work on drinking all of the wine we had purchased throughout the trip. (We made a good dent, but also had to bring some home to enjoy and reminisce later!) John also grilled for us again - my favorite was the delicious grilled duck. We made s'mores and had some more hot tub time! 

We might have had a BIT too much fun though because we decided to skip our last wine tasting at Domaine Carneros in favor of a leisurely breakfast at Fremont Diner. After that, we headed back home.

Overall, it was a wonderful trip with wonderful friends. We'll be back!

Up Next: We're heading to Barcelona over Thanksgiving. Thanks to credit cards, we're staying at a REALLY amazing hotel as well - can't wait!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Innsbruck, Austria

We arrived into Innsbruck around 10am. We quickly made our way through the TINY airport, got our rental car and we headed straight to Old Town to eat the famous sachertorte at Cafe Sacher. We also got some drinks, because vacation, right? (and a spritz for me, riesling for Jason) We wandered around the cute little streets for a while and eventually had lunch at a little biergarten.

Because of the location, Innsbruck is this weird little melting pot of Austria, Germany and Italy. People mostly speak German, but then they pop the random "prego" or "ciao" in there as well! From what we heard, they very much identify with being in Tyrol more than Austria.

We were actually staying in Seefeld which was about 15 minutes away, so we went to check into our hotel, Princess Bergfrieden. I can't speak highly enough of this place! There was a pool, sauna, steam room, fitness center and the BEST breakfast we'd had on this trip (and that's saying something!). Everyone was so friendly. We wandered around Seefeld and then relaxed on our balcony with a bottle of wine.

The next morning, we drove up to Neuschwanstein Castle. This place had been on my wishlist for a very long time, so I knew we couldn't leave without seeing it this trip! This was actually a frustrating morning, but it ended up being one of our favorite days! We arrived in time for an early lunch at Alpenrose Am See restaurant in Hohenschwangau (the town below the castle). The views of the lake were pretty incredible and the food was very yummy. 

We saw some people rowing on the lake, so after lunch, we walked over and rented a rowboat for a few hours. It was SO relaxing and the perfect distraction from an annoying morning. Jason did the vast majority of the work, but I also had to try my hand at it as well.

After we returned our boat, we decided to walk up to the castle (instead of taking the bus) and it took about 20 minutes to reach Marienbrucke. We didn't really have an interest in touring inside, so we were perfectly content with this iconic view.

On the way back to Austria, we stopped in a Leutasch Gorge for this incredible walk (aka Geisterklamm). I'll let the pictures speak for themselves, but it was AMAZING. Definitely not for those afraid of heights. The hike wasn't particularly challenging and can really be completed in an hour.

Our next day was super action-packed! We got picked up by Mountain Fly for our paragliding tour. We got driven to the most optimal mountain in the area and rode the gondola up to the top. We didn't have to do much work beyond walking down the mountain and the wind picked us right up! 

We got to fly for around 25 minutes and it was beyond peaceful - except during the 2 barrel rolls we did. Wow, the G forces were almost too much for me! This was Jason's favorite thing that we did our entire trip. 

We were dropped back in Innsbruck and we grabbed some gelato, pizza and an aperol spritz (wait, were we in Austria or Italy?) and then took it easy for the rest of the day, hanging out in the saunas and grabbing a fast dinner from a little bratwurst stand.

Our last day had the activity I was most anxious about - canyoning! We only got one picture (thanks to some amazing German guys we met), but it was a blast. If you've never heard of it before, you start at the top of the gorge and just make your way down. You do this by scrambling, climbing, sliding, rappelling and jumping. The most insane jump we did was 35 feet - WOW was this fun! It was terrifying, but also exhilarating. 

We had SO many bruises and our muscles were about to give out there at the end, but this was my favorite thing we did. That evening, we ate at our hotel and enjoyed a final glass of wine in front of the fireplace. I would love to come back in the winter - it would be SO cozy!

The next morning, we woke up early for our flight and discovered that Austrian gas stations don't open before 6am. Whoops! We had a brief layover in Frankfurt and then we boarded our flight home. A fun little extra is that we flew on the top deck of the A380! 

We had an amazing trip - the longest that we'd ever had. It was nice to really disconnect from real life and relax into traveling. We didn't do too much on this trip and we really took our time exploring each and every place that we visited. This is definitely our preferred method of traveling instead of bouncing from place to place.

As a wrap up, I thought I'd include some of the freebies we scored during our trip thanks to credit cards/status in case anyone else is interested in playing the credit card game! 

Business class airfare (and corresponding lounge access in IAH, LHR): 87,500 points each (plus taxes) - courtesy of Chase Sapphire Reserve's 100,000 bonus points each
London Marriott room upgrade/breakfast/snacks/drinks: Marriott Gold Status
$300 Travel Credit for each ($600 Total) - Chase Sapphire Reserve Card 2016 Bonus

Next Up: A recap of our trip to the Russian River Valley (right before the tragic fires!)