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Exploring unique places near and far

Friday, June 6th, 2008

Ephesus Library, Turkey

Ephesus Library, Turkey

Contra Costa Times article launched 06/06/2008

Heads rolled and blood paved the way when warriors like Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan ruled Commagene in the province of Adiyaman.  “I had no idea that all these civilizations had passed through Turkey,” exclaims Orinda’s Chris McLain.  Recently retired, McLain, wife Barbara and son, Brian, toured the southern region for 19 days.  McLain noted that Mount Nemrut and Ephesus, a well preserved Roman seaport from 100-300 AD, located on the West Coast near Izmir, were personal favorites. “The people respect their history.  They know that they are at a crossroads between Asia and Europe,” adds McLain. 

McLain selected Kommegene Travel and opted for a driver and guide this trip due to the proximity to Iraq and some of the locations, such as Nemrut, were very difficult to reach.  They enjoyed the people and learning about the Islamic religion.  The family also visited Istanbul and said they would return in a heartbeat as it was very unique.  “We like to focus on relatively small areas,” reflects McLain. 

Speaking of unique places, Lafayette’s Nancy and Mike Scribner have their Sonoma property available to rent through Beautiful Places. The company provides lavish estate accommodations.  “I like Villa Carneros because it’s close to the square and easily accessible to both Sonoma and Napa,” notes Nancy.  Beautiful Places Lorna Taylor says the property is ideal for families or couples traveling together. 

  1801 First Inn

For a beautiful property with concierge service, visit 1801 First, Napa’s luxury Inn.  Former Danville resident Darcy Tunt dreamed of creating a specialized experience for her guests.  “We’re all about the couple, romance and privacy,” adds Tunt.  “We offer individual breakfast times so guests don’t have to mingle.”  

Enjoy a glass of bubbly upon arrival and housemade truffles.  Evening wine and hors d’oeuvres are served in the parlor.  The culinary tour continues with a stop at the relatively new 40,000 square foot Oxbow Public Market.  Save room for dinner at Chef Greg Cole’s Celadon at 500 Main Street.  For a continued sugar high, visit Anette’s Chocolate Factory in downtown Napa. 

Anette Madsen

Anette Madsen

June unveils Tunt’s latest project, The White House Inn and Spa; Napa’s first hip, “green” hotel.  With cork flooring and recycled paint, the 17 rooms and suites are environmentally friendly.  The mansion also offers a 1,300 square foot cottage, ideal for weddings and special events.

Jacksonville Inn  

Jacksonville Inn Frank Carter Cottage

In keeping with our wine country and unique inn theme, I want to mention one I saw on a recent southern Oregon roadtrip.  The Jacksonville Inn in the historic town of Jacksonville is beyond charming.  The Inn offers eight rooms and four guest suites with a full course breakfast included with lodging.  A former gold-mining town, Jacksonville is a food and wine lover’s paradise.  The town is home to the Britt Festival, the oldest outdoor summer music festival in the Northwest.  It’s also home to many ex-Californians.   

Valley View Winery

 Valley View Winery

Every winery I visited had a California connection. Valley View’s founder, Frank Wisnovsky, was an engineer who worked on the Transbay BART tube before retiring and purchasing 76 acres in the Applegate Valley.  Tragically, he drown in nearby Lost Creek Lake in 1980 leaving sons Mike and Mark to run the winery, along with UC Davis Winemaker John Guerrero, now in his 22nd year with Valley View.  Troon Vineyard Winemaker Herb Quady grew up on his family’s vineyard property in Madera.  Finally, Wooldridge Creek Vineyard & Winery co-owners Kara Olmo and husband Greg Paneitz met while studying Enology at Fresno State University.  All of these wineries are a short, scenic drive from Jacksonville. 

The Country Cottage of Jacksonville is a cozy café offering a Brown Sugar Shortbread that would win any bakeoff contest.  School teacher Susanne Glass moonlights as the Cottage baker by night churning out such treasures as the Nanaimo Bar, a closely guarded recipe discovered in British Columbia.  Located steps away from the Jacksonville Inn on West California Street, Farmhouse Treasures Owner and Candymaker, Kelly Cason turns out delicious fudge.  “This is the real deal with butter and sugar,” says Cason.  Across the street Constance Jesser of the Jacksonville Mercantile introduced me to Lillie Belle chocolates.  Owner and Chocolatier Jeff Shepherd reminds me of renegade Rhone Ranger Winemaker Randall Graham of Bonny Doon Winery.  The tie-dyed, free spirited Shepherd operates an organic berry farm in Jacksonville and hand paints the world’s most expensive chocolate bars at his Central Point factory.  While some of his high-end chocolates are only available at the store, Andronico’s carries his groovy Hippie Crunch.      

 Chocolatier Jeff Shepherd

 Lillie Belle Farms Chocolatier Jeff Shepherd

Next door to Lillie Belle is the Rogue Creamery, home to the award winning Crater Lake Blue Cheese and a most unusual Smokey Blue Cheese truffle developed especially for Rogue Creamery by Shepherd.  I caught up with Lead Cheesemaker and Plant Manager Craig Nelson for a little background on the creamery.  Started by Thomas Vella in 1935, cheese production was ramped up during the war years to support nearby Camp White.  Vella’s son, Ignazio, often referred to as “The Godfather of American Artisan Cheese,” took over the business, eventually selling it in 2002 to David Gremmels and Cary Bryant.  

Nelson says that the creamery makes three types of cheese, good, very good and excellent cheeses.  “We know our cows and we know our dairymen,” prides Nelson and adds that they offer a quality, handmade, sustainable product. 

Cave tubing in the Mayan underworld

Friday, May 9th, 2008

 Egyptian Women

Egyptian women wearing traditional abaya clothing

Contra Costa Times article launched: 05/09/2008

The girl is wearing an ugly brown Egyptian abaya.  It is so large that her body appears as a lump underneath.  Not one strand of hair escapes from her drab headscarf. She wears no make-up and has large brown eyes and unblemished skin.  She’s watching Orinda’s Monica Salusky watch her as she and her friends visit Egypt’s Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple.  

The girls appear to be fourteen or fifteen years old and take turns photographing each other in front of the monument.  The other girls are not wearing abayas.  Two are wearing loose fitting trousers, shirts, and pastel colored headscarves.   The fourth friend, a mere slip of a girl, is wearing low rise tight multi-pocketed khakis with a form fitting stylish shirt.  She is wearing clunky bracelets and her fingernails are painted red.  The eyes of the girl in the brown abaya lock Salusky’s.  Seeing that she has her full attention, she holds her camera towards Salusky and gestures to her girlfriends.  While Salusky and her husband, John Sutherland, were touring in Egypt, this scene could unfold just as easily in front of a California landmark.  Cameras, it seems, speak a universal language.    

A camera was of no use to Rick and Terri Humman and their kids as they floated on a gentle current inside a cave in Belize.  “You climb into an inner tube and wear a helmet with a light attached as you float in the pitch black cave,” remembers Terri.  “Stalactites cover the rock walls.”  In ancient days it was considered the Mayan underworld; today it’s about cave tubing.  

Ambergris Caye, Belize

The Lafayette couple stayed on the island of Amergris Caye (pronounced key) in the town of San Pedro.  The family met up with their oldest son, Chris, who was traveling through Central America.   “The weather wasn’t great, but the white sandy beaches were beautiful,” notes Terri.  “You rent golf carts to get around the island. The rainforests and jungles are amazing, but it is really expensive.  The people were so friendly.  Wandering into beach front places in town you didn’t get the feeling you were intruding.”  The Hummans also enjoyed discovering the locally brewed Belikin beer.  

 Wine Country Inn 

Wine Country Inn Vintners Cottage

Back in California, beers crafted at Calistoga Inn’s Brewery go down easy.  Springtime in wine country is hard to beat – the valley is relaxed and restaurant reservations easy to come by.  If you want to dine with the locals and winemakers, check out Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen on St. Helena’s Railroad Avenue.  After a bike ride on the Silverado Trail or day of wine tasting, I recommend the Wine Country Inn, a member of Unique Inns.  For a special celebration or if you find yourself in the dog house, request the Vintners Cottage overlooking the vineyards.  The website has a special package “For Men Only” and a simple quiz to see how you rate on the “Thoughtful Partner” scale.

  Napa Valley Wine Auction 2007   

 Napa Valley Auction  Jason Tinacci photographer

If you are serious about rubbing shoulders with winemakers, you’ve probably already registered to attend the Auction Napa Valley taking place at Meadowood, June 5-8 and made your lodging reservations a year in advance.  For wine country lodging accommodations any other time of year, visit MG Concierge.  The four day “Classic Package” for two costs $5,000, while arm chair bidders can join in on the E-Auction lots from the comfort of home with the swipe of a credit card.  The E-Auction opens for bidding May 23.  I have my eye on “Six Sweet Months,” the lot includes 45 bottles of Napa Valley wine and six months of chocolate provided by St. Helena’s Woodhouse Chocolate 

Area families look for help in Hawaii as airlines close

Friday, April 18th, 2008
 Wailea Beach, Maul Photo Courtesy Ultimate Resort – Wailea Beach, Maui Contra Costa Times Article Launched: 04/18/2008 As the cabin door closed on Aloha Airlines ... [Continue reading this entry]

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” ... [Continue reading this entry]

New Zealand trip so good, the kids liked it

Friday, February 29th, 2008
Pelletreau New Zealand   Contra Costa Times Article Launched: 02/29/2008 03:18:20 AM PST [Continue reading this entry]

Vacation wonderland awaits in Machu Picchu

Friday, February 1st, 2008
[Continue reading this entry]

Spanish experience was truly fit for a …pilgrim

Friday, December 28th, 2007
Contra Costa Times
No one snoozed in the pews when visiting Santiago City’s church service.  “It was theatrical,” marveled Lafayette’s Marcia ... [Continue reading this entry]

Travelers enjoy a touch of Midas

Friday, November 30th, 2007
Contra Costa Times
Forty five miles northeast of Winnemucca and eight miles from the Nevada ghost town of Midas, is a place Cory Brown calls, ... [Continue reading this entry]

Rain in Spain falls mainly on San Sebastian

Friday, October 26th, 2007
While "the rain in Spain falls mainly in the plain" according to Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) in the 1964 film "My Fair Lady," the rain in Spain that ... [Continue reading this entry]

Family takes tuk tuk break in exotic Thailand

Friday, September 28th, 2007
For the price of a Hawaiian vacation, you could be riding a tuk tuk in exotic Thailand. Lafayette's Tina Tankka and her family of four opted for the floating markets of Bangkok via Long tail boat and experienced the maze ... [Continue reading this entry]