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Couple travels far from Moraga home

Friday, March 21st, 2008

 Hanoi Street Vendor     

 Contra Costa Times Article Launched 03/21/2008

Imagine hopping a “junk” to visit a dragon in Halong Bay, Vietnam.  According to legend the islands on Halong Bay were formed when a dragon came down to help the locals defend the land from foreign invaders.  The dragon spit jade into the sea turning it into 3,000 islands.  Boats or “junks” are key modes of transportation in Halong Bay.         

An overnight stay on the Halong Ginger was a highlight for Stan

and Wendy Holcenberg who recently returned from Vietnam.

“We got to see the fishing villages,” remembers Wendy,   “and

a very interesting cave that was lit up.”         

The Moraga couple traveled to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam with eight friends using Geographic Expeditions. They selected the upscale company because this was a challenging part of the world to visit.         

Orinda’s Cindy Wong and Charmian Dobell of Lafayette experienced an Asian-oriented two week visit to Vietnam with High Spirits.  Wong described the trip as having a “Vietnamese slant.  We stayed at Asian businessmen hotels in Hanoi and Saigon and overnight in a Buddhist temple.  We went to Hue, the old capital and to the French founded Dalat in the central highlands.  It’s like a resort town only it is much cooler and it rains a lot. It’s a very vibrant up and coming country.”           

Orinda’s Nancy and Milt Schroth along with Greta Westeson toured Vietnam.  They had a veteran in their group and said it was a very moving experience. “He was a tunnel rat during the war and this trip brought closure for him,” notes Westeson.  “What’s unique about Overseas Adventure Travelis that we get to meet people in their homes,” adds Nancy. “Our guide was the son of the mayor of Saigon and his uncle was a fighter pilot.  They take you into their life story so you feel their experiences.”           

All of the travelers noted the building boom with many high-end resorts under construction.  The general feeling was of friendly, energetic people who wanted Americans to appreciate their country.  “The government is allowing people back in,” comments Milt.  “We would see bomb craters, yet Buddhism believes in concentrating on the future.  Don’t dwell on the past,” reflects Milt.       

   I fully intend to dwell on the past because I don’t want to forget my visit to several unique wine country innsOnly a gas tank away, The Inn at Occidental offers an alternative to a B&B. 

“This is not your typical Victorian with a lot of lace,” says owner Jerry Wolsborn.  “My favorite time here is spring when the buds are breaking.” 

Located minutes from the Inn and off the Bohemian Highway, I experienced an enzyme bath and massage at Osmosis Day Spa in Freestone.  Two miles from Occidental, Freestone is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town.  One store you will not want to miss is Wild Flour Bread.  The brick oven breads are wonderful, but timing is everything.  The bakery is only open Friday through Monday from 10:00 a.m.-6:30 p.m. 

While Freestone may be small and rustic, my enzyme bath and massage at Osmosis Day Spa was quite sophisticated.  A form of heat therapy used in Japan, guests hunker down in a redwood tub of finely ground evergreens and rice bran while hundreds of active enzymes create heat through fermentation.  What followed was a 75-minute massage that was part relaxation and part therapy as my masseuse was also a former social worker.  

After a dinner in Occidental’s cozy Bistro Des Copains, I retreated to the Marbles suite and woke to a drizzly morning.  The Wine Cellar dining room radiated heat in the stone hearth as I enjoyed my hearty breakfast.

Marbles Suite

 Inn at Occidental Marbles Suite

From Occidental I drove on Graton Road past some huge metal dogs standing guard on a hillside vineyard at the Marimar Estate.  The winery specializes in Chardonnay and Pinot and offers tasting daily and tours by appointment. 

My next stop was Passalacqua Winery off Lambert Bridge Road in Healdsburg.  Stop at the Dry Creek General Store for picnic supplies and enjoy a hearty cabernet on the property of this fourth generation winegrowing family. 

Did I mention that my travel companion on this road trip was a (GPS) global positioning system? The NUVI GPS didn’t eat, sleep or talk very much, yet was similar to google maps in that it locates direct routes, not necessarily the safest.  I avoided the Hopland Grade CA-175 and headed north on 101 for my Lake County destination.  Next month I visit the historic Tallman Hotel and tour Ceago Vinegarden in Upper Lake.